Wednesday, August 17, 2016

November 1978 Part One: Fantastic Four #200! But Is It Still the World's Greatest Comic Magazine?

Fantastic Four 200
"When Titans Clash!"
"Beginning of the End"
"At Long Last, Defeat! At Long Last Victory!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

Reed and Doom go mano a mano on the cover, in 3-D Kirby-Vision. On the splash, we find Doom's in full "Out, damn spot," Lady Macbeth mode, boo-hooing over his clone-son, whom he murdered last ish. Of course he blames the FF, seals them in the room, and goes to disperse the rebels massed in the courtyard with his vortex/tornado machine.

Two problems solved, the tin-pot tyrant oversees the loading of his Alicia-sculpted statue aboard DD Airlines (it's right on the side of the plane!), and off they fly to New York - and the UN.

Reed frees the Fabs by stretching through the lock. They pow-wow with rebel Zorba and Ben frees Alicia. Stretch says they have no time for sentimental reunions, but is overruled by Sue, who demands "...a proper hello!" Both couples take a timeout for crowd-pleasing lip-locks.

Doom, now ensconced at his upstate New York lab, fires missiles at the fast-approaching pogo plane. Johnny flies off so the missiles will track him. Reed ejects and human-parachutes groundward. Torchie explodes the missiles with a nova-burst then flames out but is snagged by Sue's force field. Reed confronts Doom, who recaps his origin, insisting Richards sabotaged his back-in-college work, leading to the face-scarring explosion (we know Reed really pointed out an error in Victor's math). Their spirited battle inadvertently leads him into Doom's "...macabre murder room!" There, Stretch overcomes razor wire, lasers, and ax-wielding Doom-bots, before the floor drops out beneath him, revealing a pit of flame!

Meanwhile in NYC, Doom's gunnies wheel his statue into the UN. The three other Fabs soon follow, prompting the Doc to "...hurry to my Solartron," and so he won't be able to witness Reed's presumptive demise. Back in the murder room, chlorine gas is pumped in - a little extra for those times when, you know, a flaming fire pit just doesn't say I hate you. Holding his breath, Stretch forces his way through the gas outlet nozzle (apparently using his increased powers from #197, although Marv's already stopped mentioning them) until his bulk bursts the gas canister. He's survived, but the pain "cutting through him abrogates all sense of victory..." (and "abrogates" gives Marv the victory for vocab word of the month).

In the Solartron Complex, with its massive multi-faceted crystal of "eye-numbing radiance," Doom's about to hit the statue-activating switch when a resurgent Reed attacks, attaching a device (which he whipped up after being rescued by SHIELD, ish #197) to the Doc that short-circuits all the electronic doohickeys in Doom's armor (and blows away most of his green tunic). But the suit's reserve energy allows Victor to "activate my refrigeration controls" and freeze Reed inside a giant ice cube. Doom powers up the statue and, at the UN, hypno-rays radiate from the statue's eyes and all the General Assembly delegates attack the three Fabs (why aren't they susceptible? For the best reason in literature: dramatic license). As Ben points out, "We can't even smash 'em," so our heroes shelter under Sue's force field.

Just as Victor crows that "The World is Doom's! DOOM'S!!" Reed breaks free of the ice cube and several pages of really vicious combat ensue before Reed manages to pry off the Doc's face mask. And without the protective lenses therein, Doom's confronted with "...millions of reflections of my grotesque face!" and, promptly driven starkers, collapses in a heap. Reed deactivates the Solartron, and the UN delegates return to their rational, peace-loving ways.

In the epilogue, the full-strength Fabs are back in Latveria to congratulate new-installed leader Zorba. Inquiring about Doom, they learn "...he will receive the best care we can provide," which here means a mummy face-wrap, a straightjacket and a luxuriously padded cell. Told ya Doomcare would never work.

We close with three symbolically time-lapsed panels of Doom's statue as it - described by Marv's elegant and  elegiac coda - "...crumbles with time, a testament to a man who, seeking more than flesh - became a thing less than clay." -Mark Barsotti

Mark Barsotti: Yeah, yeah, we all know Doom will be back. 

But in an imaginary world, one where when a great comic character's fate is sealed, you can't unlick the envelope, this is the way you want to see Doom put down. Not just beaten but broken by his greatest nemesis, his greatest weapon ever (creative license, remember?) turned against him in a way befitting Doom's Olympian hubris and narcissism (for you freshmen, that's my vocab word of the month).

Admittedly, Marv had me worried after the last two so-so installments, but he comes up pretty big here, delivering an adrenalized page-turner that ties up most loose ends (some stretching back to the Wein régime) and brings their (and perhaps the Marvel U's) number-one foe to heel in fist-pumping fashion.

And since Reed and Victor are old-time college rivals, I don't mind Stretch getting the spotlight (as he's had since #197), but the mag's called the Fantastic Four, not Mr. Fantastic and His Handmaidens. Marv deigns to employ Sue's force field a couple times (and gets to play smooch cop), and lets Johnny take out some missiles, but the Thing - one of the most popular and poignant comics characters of the 1960's - might as well be a sack of orange rocks, for all he's given to do here (the one notable exception is his first-ever onscreen kiss with Alicia). We'll be carefully monitoring this imbalance in the future.

The other nits are minor: Zorba went from leading less than fifty rebels to rallying the lumpen masses (and being by-the-way revealed as the late King's brother) to Doom's castle without any catalyzing event to spark an uprising. And sniveling Dr. Hauptmann disappeared after Marv spent a lot of time on him (and revealing his brother, the other Dr. Hauptmann, served Doom way back in FF #85), to no apparent purpose. 

The Sinnott-Pollard art is slick and effective, if not the best we've seen. Not surprising, given "Double the Size!" on the same deadline. And I LOL'ed over Reed's panting dog tongue on p.43, although I doubt that's the reaction they were going for.

In sum then, class, the bicentennial blowout of Marvel's First Family isn't the riveting classic of ages that we all would have hoped for.

But as Larry David would say, it's "pretty, pretty, pretty good!"  

Matthew Bradley: This has been building up inside me for months, and the “17th Anniversary Spectacular” seems as good a time as any to say it plainly:  as one who’s never followed Tomb of Dracula, I think Wolfman is totally overrated.  I wouldn’t dream of saying I never liked anything he did—although I might have to dig a little to come up with some examples—yet to me, his script for this landmark issue falls far short of the handsome Pollard/Sinnott artwork.  One reason why I loved the late, lamented Super-Villain Team-Up was that it really gave Dr. Doom a chance to shine as a nuanced, multi-faceted character, almost as much of an anti-hero as a titular super-villain, but my one biggest complaint here is that Marv has reduced him to a dyspeptic blowhard.

There’s plenty to lament, though. Ben’s gone from “Kiss my zits!” to “Bite my buns!,” but I’m not sure which is worse, and Marv just gave him that “crisper’n the Colonel’s chicken” line in last month’s MTIO.  As usual, no time to seek precedents, yet my instincts tell me the logo on his plane would be “D,” rather than “DD”; I think he styles himself simply as “Doom,” and not “Dr. Doom.”  Despite Reed’s beefed-up power, my suspension of disbelief is insufficient to buy his thread-the-needle routines, and even as incurable a romantic as I rolled his eyes at the “smooch break” on page 14, where writer Marv and editor Marv confuse “lam” with “lambaste.”  Who really believes that controlling the U.N. delegates (“Allah!”) will enable Doom to rule the world?

Scott McIntyre: That was a fine conclusion to a storyline which had been building for the better part of a year. The expanded length of the 200th issue was perfect for containing this epic confrontation. Doom’s totally around the bend at the death of his clone and Reed’s relentless determination to stop the monarch from destroying the world. The whole “rule the UN, rule the Earth” thing is pretty hilarious in retrospect, since the UN is nothing more than an ineffectual yammer club. Even more hilarious is the one delegate seen packing heat at the end just as Reed shuts off the mind-control ray. There are some amazing panels, two which really accent the adversarial relationship between Reed and Doom. And having them square off alone is truly fitting. This is why Doom is always the villain in the (godawful) FF movies: he is the primary villain, the greatest bad guy in the Marvel Universe, Reed’s alter-ego and, damn it, we all know George Lucas patterned Darth Vader after him. The art is fantastic. Pollard and Sinnott work their magic here to great effect. The final defeat of Doom is hugely satisfying. The perfect irony to wipe out this egomaniacal menace. Victor Von won’t be back until the 80’s, so this is the final epic struggle between Reed and Doom that we’ll see on this blog. It’s a hell of a fine conclusion.

Chris Blake: Too often, these encounters with Doom have ended in stalemate, typically because the FF find a way out, without necessarily a way to strike back at Doom on his own turf.  The climax of FF #144, which strongly indicated Doom had been blown up in earth orbit (spoiler alert: he survived), presents a seemingly definitive ending, which has been more exception than rule when Doom comes to town.  So, I agree with Marv’s decision to stage a winner-take-all contest between Reed and Victor.  Good call also to find a way for Reed to short-out Doom’s armor, which makes for a level fighting-field between the two (since Reed doesn’t have electrical bursts, force fields, etc); my question is, since Reed had prepared an armor-knockout device in anticipation of meeting with Doom, why would he wait until the second half of this issue before employing it?  It might’ve made sense for Marv to establish that Reed had brought the gizmo with him, then had it separated from him at one point, and was only able to retrieve it right before the team prepares to leave Latveria for upstate New York. 

The Pollard/Sinnott team continues to prove it is no fluke, as the issue is infused with energy throughout.  Doom’s mask has real weight and substance all the way thru; start from page 2 panel 5, and page 3 panel 2, and pick up as many Doom-art highlights as you like.  Other highlights include: page 23, as Reed dodges Doom’s blasts, then stretches to grab a table that he proceeds to smash against Doom, before finally wrapping him up; the razor-sharp victorium wire, which presses so tightly into Reed that it separates the “4” on his chest into four separate segments (p 26, pnl 2); the all-too-impressive arrival of the Trojan statue at the UN general assembly (p 27); Doom in tatters, basking in his brief moment of victory, before Reed puffs his way out of the ice block (p 38), and the two again slamming no-holds into each other (p 39); Doom’s confrontation by the fantastic, prismatic, solar-magnified images of his grotesquerie (p 44), a Big Moment that Keith & Joe deliver without breaking a sweat.

 The Amazing Spider-Man 186
"Chaos is -- The Chameleon!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Keith Pollard and Mike Esposito
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Keith Pollard

With a three-alarm fire raging and TV reporters covering it live, Spider-Man swings in and saves a man trapped on a high floor, much to the chagrin of J. Jonah Jameson, watching in his office. Wondering why the man jumped, and is unappreciative of being saved, Spidey swings off, brushing off the cops who tell him the D.A. wants to see him. As Joe Robertson shows JJJ something that makes him run off, the strange man reveals himself to be…The Chameleon! Peter goes to visit Aunt May in the hospital, where the cranky doctor tells him Medicare won't cover expenses, and she may have to be moved to a nursing home since Peter is broke. Peter goes back to his apartment and is about to enjoy a delicious "barbecue chicken dinner" (a TV dinner) when the bell rings—it's Betty Brant, who's been hired as Robbie's secretary, and the two spend the night… talking and drinking coffee! Changing to Spidey, he heads to D.A. Tower's office, where he's told the charges against him for Capt. George Stacy's death are being dropped since it was Dr. Octopus who caused his death—and there's a press conference about to start! Besieged by curious reporters asking inane questions, Spidey leaps off joyously. Holding his own press conference later in Central Park, our intrepid hero meets with "merchandisers" in search of some easy money, when a little old lady asks him for an autograph for her grandson. But the web-head's spider-sense starts "buzzing like a beehive"—the little old lady is the Chameleon! He slugs the crooked costumer, while everyone else still sees the old woman! The master of disguise slips away, and Spidey races after him, stopping a rampaging rhino as he figures out Chameleon's caper, catches up to the crook, and clocks him. Removing the control belt, Spidey tries to convince the approaching public that Chameleon was trying to frame him, but only Flash Thompson comes to Spidey's aid, letting everyone know Spider-Man has always been a hero, and poor JJJ is left spitting out his coffee as he watches the crowd carry Spidey off heroically on TV. In our last panel, we meet a mysterious villain who is annoyed that Chameleon could not carry out his instructions, and vows to end Spider-Man's life!--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Thus begins the official downslope of my beloved Amazing Spider-Man. Well, that's how I remembered it, and I've always blamed Keith Pollard. But really, it's more likely that Marv Wolfman should share the blame. Our story is decent, if not a little light on the suspense and easy to figure out. Nice of Marv to let Spidey off the hook with the law, but Chameleon is nearly wasted except to be somebody else's flunky. Lots of questions after reading this one—Who the heck designed that horrible disco suit for Chameleon? Yikes! Why would it be okay to send Aunt May to a nursing home—who the heck is going to pay for that? Sure, it's probably less than a hospital stay, but Peter can barely afford his swingin' bachelor pad! Why does Pollard draw Spidey's eyes with too much mascara around the whites, and too much to a point? There are some nicely done panels, like on page 11 and 19, but mostly it's merely OK, saved slightly by the returning Esposito. Except for the horrendous outfit on Chameleon. And Marv tries too hard at times, having a marketing suitor echoing DC's "Superman vs. Muhammad Ali" scrap by proposing a "Spider-Man vs. Leon Spinks" comic. And the dumbest line is a reporter at the earlier, more cramped press conference who asks "Are you shorter or taller than Robert Redford?" Even as dumb jokes go, that one misses the mark by a giant web-parachute.

Fave sound effect: There are a couple of good ones, but I have to go with the last page's "SPITTU!" as JJJ watches Spidey being hailed as a hero and spits out the giant swig of java he just took. Of course, the pissed-off publisher storms off with a customary "BAH! I'll get that misanthropic masked madman…I'll get him!" Gee, will Marv bring back the Spider-Slayer?

Chris: After a few uninspiring issues with lower (perhaps lowest)-tier villains, Marv turns his efforts toward some much-needed progress for our title character’s public life.  First, the graduation (well, almost) last issue was a long-awaited step.  This time, Spidey’s clearance of suspicion in the deaths of Osborn and Stacy will allow him freedom of movement, rather than having to flee bullets from the NYPD every time they see him.  I’m a bit unsure how Spidey expects to cash in on his celebrity; are his merchandisers going to cut checks that read “Pay to the order of the Amazing Spider-Man”?  Or, does Spidey plan to operate like Chuck Berry, and be paid in bags of cash (tens and twenties)?  

The Chameleon (on loan from DC – his power is he can change his appearance -?) plays his miniscule, largely-unthreatening role; I will admit his ability to appear as himself to Spidey, while all others perceive him to be a helpless old lady, creates a useful complication.  Pretty comical, though, how the Chameleon waits around for Spidey to pursue him (p 27, after the needless delay with the rhino), then gives up the moment Spidey has his hands on him (p 30).
The art is really tepid, easily the weakest we’ve seen on this title in I-don’t-know-when.  Either Andru had been inclined to provide fuller layouts for Esposito to finish than Pollard does here, or Espo didn’t have the time to fill-in the pencils as thoroughly as he’d hoped; in any case, the art is flat and weak throughout, well beneath title-standard.  The generic cover’s acrobatics offer our only art highlights.  

Matthew: I’ve been pretty pro-Pollard since his days on the late, lamented Inhumans, and feel his recent work on Fantastic Four has lived up to that promise.  So, despite what I believe is some negativity in other corners of the faculty lounge, I for one am looking forward to his doubling up with Wolfman on this second strip; you’ll notice that his self-inked, in-your-face cover, although hardly breathtaking in the complexity of its design, fairly screams, “Here I am, world!”  Esposito does his usual fine job finishing Keith’s layouts, and while I can’t recall how well the whole post-fugitive thing works out for Spidey, I will say that I’d have absolutely hated it if Marv let the Chameleon succeed in putting him right back to Square One…

Mark: Quick twipps:

Some will consider it heresy, but I didn't miss Ross Andru at all, even though I expected to. Keith Pollard's Peter is a wee bit off model, but everyone else looks fine, and Spidey looks great throughout, i.e. very Ditkoesque (check the floating heads on p.19), so much so that some images almost look like swipes. Always steal from the best.

Thought the Chameleon got his gooey-gumdrops outfit in another mag, but apparently they were provided from the last-panel mystery villain. Think we can rule out Christian Dior.

Is it just me, class, or is Betty starting to give you the creeps?

Really appreciated Marv going off model here, as this may be the first time our misunderstood Web-Spinner is hailed as a hero by both the authorities and media. Enjoy it while at lasts, kiddo.

 But the cathartic good vibes fizzle a bit when Marv gives the happy drum one thump too many and has Spidey carried off on the shoulders of a cheering crowd.

 At least they didn't sing "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow"...

The Avengers 177
"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

The Avengers assemble at Forest Hills Gardens to make their last stand against Michael Korvac (aka "The Enemy") but things do not go well for the Earth's Mightiest Heroes. One by one, the Avengers fall before the awesome power of Korvac until only a handful stand. Iron Man suddenly gets the bright idea that Korvac won't take kindly to his squeeze, Carina, being threatened so IM orders Yellowjacket to "get the girl!" (what he'll do with said girl after he "gets" her is not fully explored). Korvac blows his top and lashes out at the remaining team members but it gives the Avengers a chance to pick away at his defenses. In the end, it is not the power of the collected heroes that kills Korvac but the realization that Carina doubts him. Michael dies but his power is transferred to Carina, who goes on the warpath, zapping superheroes to and fro. All this is a ruse though, as she's only trying to incite the Avengers to blast her and blast her they do, allowing her to die and be with her one true love. Thor transforms into (a badly drawn) Don Blake and surveys the damage done to his comrades.
-Peter Enfantino

"Oh my God - You killed Kenny!"

Peter Enfantino: Do I have to reiterate what a pile of smelly underwear this "saga" has been? So, Jim baby, The Collector wasn't really a bad guy but a friend who was trying to stop Korvac from ruling the world and now you tell us Korvac wasn't really trying to rule the world and destroy the Avengers, but was, rather, a Christ-like figure who "wished only to free us from the capricious whims of Eternity!" My grandpappy had a term for  such nonsense but since we try to keep this blog PG-rated, I'll simply label it "hooey." This nonsense deserved a ten-issue run? Also bogus is the faux deaths of many of the heroes this issue. Inexplicably, we're informed of the "deaths" of Vance Astro, Gamora, Quicksilver, Yellowjacket, and Captain America (at least three of these RIPs are announced in the caption boxes rather than by stressed-out heroes) and we're to assume many of the others buy the farm as well. The art's not bad except for the afore-mentioned Don Blake, who looks kinda sorta like a hunchback in his final shot. Korvac Saga: don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

"Oh my God - You killed Kenny!"
Joe: And, as my Mom used to say, "dat's dat" for the Korvac Saga, and it certainly goes all-out for shock value, offing just about every Avenger in the room (and there are plenty) except for the two gods—well, maybe Moondragon is sorta a god. If you ask her, certainly! Any 11-year old who reads comics every week would have said "holy mackerel" at the sight of all these heroes getting beaten so easily and fatally. But the 49-year-olds who look for more than entertainment and have a critical eye know there's a lot wrong with this final chapter. First off, Shooter's script reeks of pretense from the scroll on the splash page  to Moondragon's pontificating at the end to a just-about-hypnotized Don Blake looking like a young blonde Moe Howard as he goes to work saving his friends. The sad part is, before the denouement [that's for you, Prof. Matthew], Wenzel's art was actually not horrible. I guess it helps that characters went flying across the room, so it didn't matter if they were drawn standing or turning awkwardly, or even waiting to jump or let out a wet fart. Others get dispatched with nary a word spoken at all. In a way, it's good this is over, so we can move on to something else in this title. Like all the loose ends forgotten about, including that Henry Gyrich fella.

Matthew: Remember what I said two months ago about how the Exacerbator-in-Chief takes his already annoying trends and aggrandizes them to operatic dimensions in this arc?  Well, if you’re a truly alert reader, you might have noticed that there was one item out of my standard litany missing from those I enumerated with regard to #175, but this issue’s cover completes the set without further ado, depicting a floor full of dead/dying Avengers.  Again.  Yawn.  It’s not bad enough that every rinky-dink new (Graviton), old (Nefaria, now literally), and new-old (Korvac) bad guy can flatten Earth’s Most Ill-Treated Heroes in a heartbeat; between those clowns and Ultron, they must regularly leave our humbled Assemblers at or beyond death’s door.

Well, at least for his ending, he came up with something new, and by “new,” I mean he ripped off somebody else instead of himself.  Yes, it’s that increasingly ubiquitous standby, The Cosmic Reset Button, featuring James Shooter in the role of Emily Litella (“Never mind”), as poor, misunderstood Korvac, “with his last strength,” magically undoes the death and destruction he had sown amongst the Assemblers; Englehart pioneered it in the Dr. Strange strip, but by now it’s so debased that Wolfman used a cheapjack variant in the recent MTIO Annual.  And we’re left with a tearful Moondragon, mourning the passing of this godlike figure…oh, wait, Stainless did that first, too, when he “killed” Kang—and, by extension, Immortus—at the climax of #143.

Is it any wonder, then, that I want to puke my own intestines out, like some refugee from a Lucio Fulci film, when I see the sycophantic slime oozing from the Bullpen Page, which this time even outdoes last month’s hagiographic rant, trumpeting “a ten-part epic saga intended to stand as a true achievement in comics art.”  Speaking of which, despite my staunch support for the primacy of the writing over the artwork, it would have taken at least some of the sting out of this if, say, Perez had stuck around to finish what, for better or worse, he helped Shooter start.  But you’ll get no help here from Wenzel or the “twins of evil,” inkers Marcos and Villamonte, who disgorge their typical trough-full of doodles that range from the aggressively average to barely competent.

Chris: As a longtime reader of funny-books, I’m accustomed to the flexible nature of death; there’s always an out, an improbable sequence of events to turn a character’s apparent demise into nothing more than a momentary setback.  This issue is different.  Michael raises his hand, and his gesture ruptures the orbiting Drydock in flames, as Vance Astro “dies screaming.”  Nikki’s attempt at retaliation leads to her death, which “buys little” against the unvanquishable power of the former Korvac. The Avengers – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – prove their mettle as they press their attack, despite the impossible, insurmountable odds.  But each volley ends in more team members killed – not injured, or knocked out – but killed, as in Dead.  It’s a chilling story, as Shooter allows no possibility of a reversal; I remember my first time reading this story, and being convinced of the permanence of each character’s end.  

I know now that, whenever our heroes face an unbeatable opponent, the only path toward victory is thru either: 1) a critical error by the enemy, which exposes an exploitable weakness (a la the key to Captain Marvel’s defeat of Thanos), or 2) a decision by the enemy to break off the attack, rescind his ambitious plan of life-taking conflict, and retire quietly.  Shooter plays a bit of both with Michael: first, Michael already has doubts about Carina’s fidelity to his mission, so her hesitation causes him to give up; and second, Shooter makes it clear Michael takes no gratification in killing, and in fact is remorseful over having to defend himself by killing the Avengers, which makes it easier to accept how he could elect to restore them to life.  

Moondragon, in her self-important way, wants Thor to appreciate her understanding of Michael’s intentions; basically, Michael saw himself as a benevolent force, capable of wresting control of reality from the “capricious whims of Eternity” (I for one think Eternity has done a fairly decent job since taking office).  Moondragon overlooks the point Michael had made earlier; once exposed, the other great powers of our plane of reality would unite to strike against him, to prevent Michael from upsetting the status quo.  Regardless of whether or not the Avengers tried to interrupt Michael’s power-grab, at some point, the rise of other, greater powers would’ve led to widespread destruction.  Far better that the Avengers suffer abrasions and a near-death experience, and for a Forest Hills Gardens home to require extensive structural repair, than for reality to be rent asunder in the battle that would follow.  Stand down, Titan; you’ve had your say.  
Dave Wenzel bows out, after a solid job wrapping up the “Korvac Saga” (no, I will not play “what-might-have-been” regarding the absent George Pérez).  There’s a noticeable break in the quality of the finished art once Pablo Marcos goes out for a pack of cigarettes, also never to return (after page 21), as Ricardo Villamonte applies inks with his non-dominant hand, leaving post-Cubist takes on many of the faces on the remaining six pages.  Before I go, credit is due to Wenzel for his careful attention to detail in his ascending-spirit view, high above page 30, as his placement of many of the downed forms scattered around the room is consistent with where they had fallen in the course of their fruitless, frenetic battle with The Enemy.  It helps put this in some perspective, as we’re reminded that a contest to determine the governance of reality had played out in the prosaic setting of a suburban living room.  

The Black Panther 12
"The Kiber Clue"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Rubinstein

The evil fiend Kiber continues feeding his prisoners into his "conversion chamber," where the poor souls are converted into "cheap voltage" to power up the madman. T'Challa, investigating the scene where Kiber's henchmen kidnapped Khanata, finds himself manhandled by the very same thugs. When he comes to, the Panther finds himself in front of the great Kiber (actually a holographic image) and manages to get off a telepathic message to Khanata, instructing him to incite the other prisoners to stage a jailbreak. With a mighty POW!CRASH!BAM!, the intended victims bust out and the diversion allows Panther to gain the upper hand. Kiber flees for the safety of his back room, with T'Challa close behind. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Jack goes out with a Ker-Plop rather than a Bang. Jim Starlin, in the oft-quoted Marvel Comics: the Untold Story, relates just how bad things had gotten for The King in the Spring of 1978: "The Editorial staff up at Marvel had no respect for what [Kirby] was doing... All these editors had things on their walls making fun of Jack's books. They'd cut out things saying 'Stupidest Comic of the Year'... [T]his entire editorial staff was just littered with stuff disparaging the guy who founded the company these guys were working for." Quite the kick in the teeth from a batch of little-to-no talents to a guy who had literally created the characters these dopes were now systematically destroying month in and month out. Again, I think this speaks volumes to just what kind of air the bullpen was breathing when Shooter became The Man. So, if I was in Jack's shoes, would I be giving my all to the monthly chores? Nope. The script is meandering and never really gets to the point (I doubt if the incoming writers will blaze new territory either) but I do have to say that Khanata's speech to his fellow inmates was a humdinger as, about ten seconds after he finishes, the lot of them bust through steel with nary a scratch.

John Belushi couldn't have said it better
Matthew: Since I spurned his now lame-duck Devil Dinosaur and Machine Man, this is almost certainly the last new Kirby story in my collection, and at this point, only Silver-Age nostalgia generates any regret at his second departure.  Times change, yet despite his inarguable status as one of the two primary architects of the House of Ideas, he seemed archaic and out of place in 1970s Marvel—in short, he was not a Man of Bronze.  So, we’re left with acceptable Kirbyer artwork that is indistinguishable from the rest of what he’s laid down for almost three years; dialogue with no closer relationship to spoken English than usual; and a cliffhanger, although whether next issue’s “Final Chapter” remotely reflects Jack’s intentions, I have no idea.

According to Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, “Lee announced that Kirby had signed a long-term contract as an artist only…But there was no new contract,” so he left for Hollywood.  “His latest return had been a major disappointment, to him and to Marvel.  None of his books had sold as well as hoped, the reaction from readers was less than  enthusiastic, and even his supposed autonomy had been undermined….Kirby was invited by Hanna-Barbera to produce storyboards for NBC’s new Fantastic Four cartoon…[He] still wasn’t calling the shots—because the Human Torch had already been optioned by Universal, Kirby had to create a cute robot named H.E.R.B.I.E….—but the pay was better, and the treatment was more respectful,” as Howe notes.

 Captain Marvel 59
"The Trouble With Titan..."
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick and Bruce Patterson
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Clem Robins
Cover by Pat Broderick and Bob Wiacek

As they approach Titan—observed by two eyeball-headed aliens (slightly resembling The Simpsons’ later Kang and Kodos) who “return to the outpost on Saturn-surface” to report—Mar-Vell reminds Drax that “all computers can be programmed,” certain that “there was more to Isaac’s holographic image than met the eye!”  They plunge through a crater in the dead crust but, flying over the Lost Nature Preserve toward the city, hear cries for help from Eros and Mentor, trapped in cocoons by spider-like monsters in the branches of the Tree of Eternity.  Both monsters are ejected from the tree, yet one manages to shoot out a web-line, resulting in a race against time to liberate Eros and Mentor before it can climb back up and attack them again.

Eros reports that they were trying to free the other 17 survivors from a cavern in the root-system, but as they enter, Mar-Vell exposes them as impostors when Eros “recalls” an incident that never happened, and after returning to their true, plant-like forms (“Eros” looking oddly like Swamp Thing in page 15, panel 5), they flee.  In his main control chamber, where the real Titans are indeed captives, Isaac boasts that this trap has left unguarded the primary objective of Stellarax, “the first of a new breed—created through me, in the life-baths,” and the shapely Elysius, left in command.  As the mixed-species warriors depart the outpost to conquer Earth, Mar-Vell tells Drax, “My cosmic awareness perceived that [Isaac] was lying,” yet also sensed danger to Titan.

Mar-Vell and Drax encounter the bizarre sight of Lord Gaea, the corpulent earth-god, who orders his “dirt demons” to slay them, and since they are self-proclaimed minions of “our dead lord Thanos,” the Destroyer needs no further invitation to live up to his name.  Aboard the transport ship, Stellarax reveals that he “was created too well,” eliminating the sole crewmember to resist his plan to follow the conquest of Earth with that of Isaac and Titan (proving once again that you really can’t get, or even create, good help these days).  His demons finished, Gaea fills in our heroes, who must “sabotage Isaac’s main control center without impairing its life-support functions”—can you say 2001?—yet “all of Titan…is now one vast trap designed to slay you!” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This at last represents the solidification of the Moench/Broderick/Patterson troika that shepherds Mar-Vell through the twilight of his strip, followed by various one-offs and guest-shots between its demise and his own.  Reading the two Captains, America and Marvel, back to back this month was a fascinating study in contrasts, at least as far as the artwork; Starlin has spoiled me for other renditions of Marv, but Broderson’s ornate style is the antithesis of the aridity that bothered me about the otherwise excellent work of the Buscema/Esposito/Tartag team.  As for Doug, the “I’m going to kill you when this is over” bit is as old as the hills (e.g., The Guns of Navarone), yet I’m guardedly optimistic about anything that not only keeps Drax in play but also gives him purpose.

Poor Eros. He was already caught in the limbs of what was then called the Eternity Tree back in #32 while he, Marv, and Iron Man took a shortcut from the observatory to the Hall of Science, a curious callback to the classic Thanos War that is this story’s “grandfather.”  Too bad I don’t like Pat’s face and figure work better, because his layouts are often quite impressive, with pages 2-3 reflecting well on the entire team.  Opposing images of Marv and Drax dominate; as they hang in space, their dialogue both recaps and advances the plotline; actual flashbacks are eschewed, save for an image of them confronting Isaac in one of four inset panels across the bottom; another two show them resuming their journey; the last introduces the aliens with a “met the eye” visual pun.

Chris: If Doug Moench is at the helm of a several-issue continuing tale, it could mean we’re in store for multiple storylines involving various supporting characters, with little time in each chapter for progress on these multiple fronts, which can be particularly problematic with a bi-monthly title (see: Ka-Zar #15-20).  Doug reins himself in this time (so far), as the focus remains with Mar-Vell and Drax most of the way, with some useful time devoted to Isaac and his machinations, including the introductions of Stellarax, Elysius, and Lord Gaea.  The idea that Earth conquest is Isaac’s goal shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but it’s an interesting twist that his creation, Stellarax, already has turned on Isaac; also, we see that Elysius has fallen under the spell of Eros, which could turn into a plot point that receives further development.  In all, the issue provides a useful bridge to the next chapter in the Battle for Titan.

Moench builds on an agreeable character development that had been initiated during Edelman’s brief tenure.  Marv may be the “protector of the universe,” but he’s pretty cool about it.  Marv relies on his cosmic awareness to keep connected with the bigger picture, so he doesn’t have to worry whether he and Drax might be led to one trap or another; if anything, Marv is willing to play along and see where the trap might lead.  I much prefer Marv’s quiet confidence to earlier depictions of him as a single-minded crusader for cosmic justice.   He’s even able to put Drax’s death threats into perspective, as he agrees they have reason to be allies for now; it’s amusing to observe Drax as he tries to keep up with Marv’s command of various situations.  
Broderick & Patterson is – by far – my favorite post-Starlin art team for this title.  We’ve learned thru hard experience that not every artist is suitable for a space-based title; Broderick, though, is able to present some of the vastness and wonders of the final frontier.  I remember being impressed with his depiction of Saturn’s rings as an assembly of frozen blocks (p 2-3); I’d never thought of the rings that way before.  Other highlights include: the nasty giant spider-critters (p 6-11); the far-out creatures of the Stellarax invasion force (p 23, p 30); Lord Gaea’s mud-throne is cleverly done (p 26, 1st pnl).

Conan the Barbarian 92
 “The Thing in the Crypt!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan

[Note: this fill-in issue takes place between Conan the Barbarian #2 and #3.]

After escaping from a Hyperborean prison, a young Conan races through a snowy Brythunian forest, a pack of ravenous wolves nipping at his heels. The unarmed Cimmerian finds refuge in a cave: the snarling animals stop nervously at the opening. Exploring the pitch-black interior, the barbarian stumbles across odds bits of crumbling furniture, finally scavenging enough wood to start a fire. When the cavern is lit, he is shocked to see a huge skeleton slumped on a throne, an impressive-looking broadsword resting across its boney lap.

When Conan picks up the weapon, the towering skeleton lurches to life, creakily slashing at the warrior with razor-sharp talons. However, the Cimmerian manages to trip the creature and it falls into the fire — its desiccated body bursts into flames. The barbarian leaves the cave, the sword his just rewards. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: After my little rant last month about how Conan is a unique Marvel character since his stories are often set during different stages of his life, we have another example. Unfortunately, this “tale from his youth” is a stand-alone fill-in that is as lightweight as they come. Seventeen pages was a tremendous stretch: it could have been told in six. The fight with the giant skeleton runs over seven and it’s not what you would call a nail-biter. The Cimmerian basically hacks the dusty thing to pieces before it finally tumbles into the fire. Sure, it gets a couple of bloody slashes in there, but the sequence made me think of the Black Knight bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “it’s just a flesh wound.” One of the hands that Conan lops off does scuttle around and grab his ankle but the ending was never in doubt. 

An editorial note on the splash page states that Big John was on vacation so his little brother came to the rescue. I’m not buying that one. If Our Pal Sal “stepped in” — as the blurb states — why couldn’t Roy have simply continued on from last issue? We had a terrific cliffhanger with the mesmerized Conan, Bêlit, Zula and M’Gora facing off against one another, so why keep people waiting? I’m guessing that this was prepared at an earlier date, ready to go if there was a hiccup. Especially since it could have been slotted in at any time. Now I’m tempting the wraith of many of my fellow professors, but I’ve always been lukewarm on Sal Buscema. I find him totally mediocre: his art is never really bad but it’s never really good. He’s in fine company with Ernie Chan though, so what we basically have is sub-par John Buscema without the fluid energy and drama. As is appropriate, Sal draws Conan in the manner of the early Barry Smith issues, complete with sandals, horned helmet and three-piece necklace. Sal actually inked many of those, including the two that supposedly bookended “The Thing in the Crypt!” In all, a very forgettable issue. Oh, and a “Special Note” on The Hyborian Page trumpets that Conan the Barbarian Annual #7 is still available on newsstands. Listen guys, I know that Conan’s timeline jumps around, but it’s actually only #4. 

 Captain America 227
"This Deadly Gauntlet!"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and John Tartaglione
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Rick Parker
Cover by Jerry Bingham

Aboard the SHIELD heli-carrier, Captain America finds himself battling not one, not two, but a whole crap-load of Red Skulls. The scarlet army is actually made up of mind-controlled SHIELD agents and Cap's number-one mission is to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. As the Sentinel of Liberty mows through the faux-Skulls, the real thing has rigged a gigantic magnifying glass above a chained Nick Fury; as soon as the sun rises, Fury will sizzle. Cap fights his way to the room where Fury is being held but discovers his arch-enemy has created an elaborate mirage. The Skull standing before him, goading the Captain to take him out, is actually a mind-controlled Nick Fury! The Star-Spangled Avenger doesn't bite though and both he and Nick survive the day. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Though it's a bit too complicated for my little brain to dissect, I did like this, my initial jump back into Captain America after an absence of several "years" (thanks, Professor Scott, for filling in). There's not much to the story (McKenzie ain't no Stainless), we've read this kind of thing several times before, but I must admit to being completely blindsided by the switcheroo climax. The Skull was always my favorite Cap villain so I welcome any appearance (even if the BuscEspTart art leaves the vile villain looking a little Ben Grimm-like at times) but, perhaps, the next time he's dredged up we can find an innovative way of doing so.

Matthew: That splash page of Cap, looking every inch the Super-Soldier, inspired the thought that between them, the Buscema Brothers may have created more pages of solid art for Marvel than anybody else has, yet the double-spread immediately following, which basically recombines the same elements at twice the size, evoked the same reaction as its counterpart last ish:  did this really need to be two pages, especially with so much space devoted to bland backgrounds?  The Skull’s half-hearted banquet in page 23, panel 1 is similarly sterile—it looks as if Sal, or the Helicarrier’s chef, was barely trying.  I am by no means totally satisfied with the scattershot story, but at least McKenzie has extricated us from the unholy mess he had inherited.

Chris: Gotta hand it to the Red Skull.  He might lose a world war every now and then, but he doesn’t let that get him down; he’s right in there pluggin’, trying to find ways to torture his arch-foes.  The Death’s Head is a clever concept, but Cap seems to see right thru it – if it really were so powerful, then why wouldn’t its rays have transformed him also into a Skull-minion?  (I’m not going to ask how the ray could’ve selected everyone else on the Helicarrier for the Skull-draft, and somehow not transformed Cap.)  Plus, it’s about time someone spotted a LMD for what it is; Cap’s awareness of the supposedly-broiling Nick’s inability to perspire is probably the story’s only interesting twist.  

Otherwise, this would-be battle of wits with the Skull doesn’t deliver as much tension and excitement as a battle like this ought to.  And, I’m still waiting for an explanation – or an acknowledgement, even! –  of how the Skull was able to escape Certain Death on the surface of the moon.  This title has had an interesting run recently, mostly under the scripting hand of Steve Gerber, as Cap has delved into the hidden secrets of his past; as that search now has been largely abandoned, Captain America has slid back to being another ordinary title, with a fair share of action, but not a whole lot else for the intrepid reader to look at or be required to think about.  

 Daredevil 155
"The Man Without Fear?"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Denise Wohl and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Gene Colan and Frank Springer

 Daredevil's rooftop swinging is interrupted by a sudden pounding in his head, which interferes with his radar senses.  He narrowly survives a drop to the pavement, then has to leave the scene quickly once he is surrounded by curiosity seekers (one of whom manages to grab DD's cowl and rip the material close to his left eye!).  DD retreats to an alley, and changes to Matt Murdock as he prepares to return home and rest.  Matt fails to notice a figure hiding among the trash cans; it's Death-Stalker, who states his "net draws closer around" the unsuspecting Daredevil.  Matt arrives at the Storefront legal office the following morning, and is surprised to see the door blocked by a horde of applicants for a position as his office assistant; Foggy Nelson abashedly admits he should have notified Matt about the listing he had posted in the Bugle for the job opening.  Matt is off-balance and distracted for most of the long day's worth of interviews; he tries to dismiss the final applicant without a formal meeting with her.  The applicant, a Ms Betty Blake, takes offense, and accuses Matt of bias, since she is wheelchair-bound.  Matt and Foggy smooth things over with Betty, and she is hired.  On their way to a nearby establishment to officially welcome Betty aboard, Matt overhears a newspaper vendor announce that the Black Widow is in town, and staying with the Avengers.  Matt takes a powder, and changes to DD gear before swinging toward Avengers Mansion, intent on meeting with Natasha.  Before he can get started, DD is hit with another headache.  Once DD arrives at Avengers HQ, DD takes the offensive, as he attacks the Beast, Captain America, and Hercules.  DD then stands before the Widow, and angrily declares she will "pay dearly" for the pain and suffering she has caused him, and that she will not escape him. -Chris Blake

Chris: There are a number of problems with this issue; you might have noted some of them from my synopsis.  I'll start with the most obvious one: I perused the decent (not spectacular) cover art by Gene Colan -- remember the great art we saw from Colan and Leialoha last issue?  Well, to open the front cover and see art by Robbins and Springer is, frankly (!), a punch in the gut – and not in a good way, either.  The exaggerated curvature to DD's spine on p 7 pnl 1 (above) could be due to severe malnourishment.
Could anyone tell me where Heather Glenn might be?  She and Matt have been thru an awful lot lately.  Matt holds himself responsible for Heather's father's suicide, and Heather broke up with him once he revealed his identity as Daredevil.  Then, Heather disappeared, and was a captive of Killgrave, the Purple Man; DD narrowly prevented Heather from shooting herself while under Killgrave's mind control (as seen last issue).  So, uh, how's she doing?  Has Matt talked to her, since she regained her senses?  Is she still harboring hatred toward Matt?  It would help to have some idea where their relationship stands; but, Heather warrants not a single mention.  Instead, we have nearly six pages tied up with Matt's interview process; that's right, this goes on for six inefficient pages.  
At first, I thought DD's invasion of Avengers Mansion was another of these stupid "no-time-to-talk-will-fight-instead" MARMISes.  Thankfully, he appears to be fighting because he's under someone's control; the smart money is on Death-Stalker.  So, instead of a pointless misunderstanding, we all can be intrigued by DD's irrational behavior; this is one of a few things in this issue that turns out right.  As I give, though, I will take away; the presence of the Widow and Hercules isn't news, since they had arrived at the Mansion months ago (publishing-wise), in response to Iron Man's call to former members and associates during the Collector crisis (Avengers #173, July 1978).  The job of editor Bob Hall (B.H., take note) is to correct Roger McKenzie on this point, and recommend some other way for Matt to discover Natasha has been in town without him knowing it.  
I'll close on a positive note: this issue premieres Matt's new-and-improved billy club. When Frank Miller arrives (in a few more months, in time for DD #158), he will allow our hero to take creative advantage of this more versatile tool/weapon.       

Matthew: “Featuring:  The Avengers!“  Well, two, one of them a poorly portrayed Beast (“By-cycle!  An’ brother, I’m peddlin’!”—WTF?).  Do the Widow’s five panels and 14 words, including “uh,” qualify as “the most requested return of all”?  When Robbins left Invaders, I think the lettercol said something about him taking over DD and I blew it off, evidently having blocked this from my memory.  It adds another to the list of titles in which he has drawn Cap badly, and slapping on a Colan cover makes seeing the Two Franks reunited here even more of a rude surprise.  Not that McKenzie gave them much to work with; virtually nothing happens in this big, smelly turd of an issue, and the “dueling handicaps” stuff with Matt and Becky is awful.
Scott: A classic cover that gives way to “wtf?” Frank Robbins art. In spite of his doodles, this is a really good issue. This was one I had in my childhood and I remember being sort of lost, but I always enjoyed it. Death Stalker is a great villain and I liked the intro of Becky Blake. Still, it’s hard to get past the art. Especially at the climax when, for some reason, DD’s reveal is meant to be a shock, but it’s painfully obvious who it is. So, what was the point of obscuring him when we see the color of the suit and enough of the outfit to make the connection long before Natasha does? Having said, that, I kinda like Matt’s look under Frank’s pencils (even though Matt gets heavy stubble in a matter of hours) and there’s a great, very “Batman-esque” rendering of Daredevil at the bottom of page 23 that’s pretty spooky (left). A mixed bag, to be sure.

Mark: I cracked the cover of DD #155 in giddy anticipation of more Gene Colan magic.

Closed it after gagging over Frank Robbins' splash page. 

 The Defenders 65
"Of Ambitions and Giant Amoebas"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Don Perlin and Bruce D. Patterson
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Keith Pollard and Terry Austin

After having unleashed her awesome powers and inadvertently destroying half the city, Hellcat is dressed down by one of New York's finest. All around her, heroes and villains complain about her abilities; once she's had enough, she hightails it to her Hellcatmobile and remembers that Millie the Model had written to her, requesting her company. With destruction in her rearview, she races to Millie's agency. Meanwhile halfway around the world, General Kharkov realizes that The Presence (aka Sergei) will soon be a big problem so he visits his prisoner, The Red Guardian (aka Tania, who was once Sergei's lover), asking her to investigate. RG agrees and flies off to the scene, observing incredible damage along the way. Once she gets there, she discovers that it's not Sergei, but a giant amoeba that is causing the calamity. The organism has absorbed The Presence to feed off his nuclear energy. Mistakenly reading a gesture from Sergei as a cry for help (rather than a "get the hell out of here!"), RG gets a little too close and is also absorbed into the monster. Back at the Richmond Riding Academy, Nighthawk is trying to determine if Val is all right (she had a bit of a meltdown last issue) but she shirks his help. Minutes later, she flips out and begins destroying random objects (the horse trough is the first to feel her fury) until Nighthawk douses her in cold water. Val snaps out of it and then collapses. Nighthawk scoops her up and heads to the living room couch.

Millie the Model (now a corporation owner) wants Hellcat (aka former hot runway model, Patsy Walker) to join the company but Patsy is too enamored of her superhero life. Meanwhile, back at the amoeba, Sergei reaches out to the unconscious Red Guardian and their combined power is too much for the giant blob; it spits them out. The two Russkies combine forces yet again and destroy the monster. Tania turns to Sergei and vows that this land is their land and they shall live there forever and ever. Val has awakened and sees something ominous in the fireplace, something that calls out to her. She scribbles a note to her comrades and disappears. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Floaty head cover alert! One issue after bemoaning the fact that this book is crap, I'm buying into said crap and having a good time. Don't ask me why. I also enjoy listening to Chicago ("If you leave me now, you'll take away the very heart of me... ooooo, oooo, dog baby, please don't go...") and binging on Come Dine With Me; these pleasures I have no explanation (nor excuse) for and fly in the face of the quality entertainment I stand for. Maybe I just wasn't in on Kraft's joke until the entry. Christ, what serious funny book writer would introduce Millie the Model into his title's continuity? The saga of Tania and Sergei has me hooked and I hope they'll be sticking around for a while (though the giant amoeba  was a bit random and, in the scheme of things, disposable). If Kraft manages to keep coming up with engaging plots, liberally sprinkled with the kind of eccentricity that made Mike Allred's run on X-Factor in the early 2000s so engaging, then maybe this title won't become the albatross I had envisioned.

Matthew: I believe this koncludes Kraft’s systematic degradation of the Red Guardian, symbolizing his ruination of what was once a great book under her creator, Steve Gerber.  Now that The Presence has ensured she can never interact with a normal human being again, Tania—rather than damn Codename: Sergei for his brainwashing, and perhaps suffering from some form of Stockholm syndrome—decides that all is forgiven, so they can live happily ever after as the Dude insouciantly exposes Earth to more nuclear explosions.  The art by Perlin and the surname-averse “Bruce D.” is average at best; Patsy’s reunion with Millie the Model is excruciating; and say, who’s that big green guy shown on the cover, who doesn’t seem to appear in the story at all?

Chris: It's a disjointed story, as we switch from Hellcat to Tania to Val, then around again.  Overall, the issue successfully provides a transition, as the Tania/Sergei storyline that has played out piecemeal for over a year seems to have reached a conclusion; plus, Val has a new concern -- involving her disappearance in a flash of light! -- which likely will require the entire team's involvement.  Patsy's meeting with Millie is harder to figure.  Patsy sees the letter from Millie and is brimming with excitement as she drives to her office; I expect work with Millie to provide Patsy with her own income (so she won't have to sponge off Kyle), and also something to do when the Defenders aren't fighting for their lives.  Instead, Patsy seems to realize her life has changed too drastically to allow her to return to the simpler pleasures of fashion and modeling.  I'm basing my conclusion on her comment about how she's "seen so much," and how she was so "innocent" when she started out; Dave Kraft doesn't clue us in to Patsy's innermost thoughts, so I don't have any other clues to her sudden change of heart.

Bruce Patterson brings a different look to Don Perlin's pencils; Bruce adds fluidity to the characters that is hard to find in Don's self-inked work.  Still, while the amoeba is sufficiently massive and disgusting, it isn't anything special.  Pollard & Austin's capable realization of the team members' floating faces makes me wish for their collaboration on interior art for a future issue, but we'll only ever see these two paired on cover art.  

 Godzilla, King of the Monsters 16
"The Great Godzilla Roundup!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Dan Green
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Jean Simek
Cover by Herb Trimpe

Godzilla smashes the ranch, but keeps walking as Hawks, Jake and Hal evade him in a ditch. Next morning, at a rancher's meeting, Hawks asks for help in taking the creature down, but smarmy Bill Ford just wants to buy his remaining stock. Soon after, the "Great Godzilla Roundup is underway," led by Hawks, and just as Hal becomes a little suspect of Lefty's strange behavior, Godzilla is spotted across the canyon! Lefty rides ahead and causes a rockslide to keep the Big G from revealing Ford's secret. And as Godzilla turns, he's attacked by the cadre of cowboys!

Seemingly overmatched, the men fight on, roping the ornery cuss and "crazy Luke" even manages to lasso G's jaw and rides the bucking beast! Alas, Godzilla, tired of this whole affair, bucks Luke off, uses his radioactive fire-breath to demolish the rockslide, and heads into the pass. The men pursue, but walk into an ambush—it's skinny and slimy Bill Ford! Hal smacks his former best bud Lefty, who he realizes is a turncoat, and a gun battle is over quickly as Ford's men surrender. Hawks and crew go into the canyon and discover the missing cattle that Ford was hiding! Ford has Hawks in his rifle's sights, but Godzilla appears and pushes the bespectacled baddie off the canyon and to his death, leaving Hawks in awe of Godzilla's smarts and heroism.--Joe Tura

Joe: A goofy tale that belongs as part of that below-average Godzilla Saturday- morning cartoon. Fortunately, no appearances by Godzooky, but Bill Ford certainly looks cartoonish enough, with his slim frame, slim smokes and slim pickins of goodness in his heart, willing to stop Hawks at any cost to keep the rustled cattle to himself. Moench keeps his characters honest, although a bit nutso, as these crazy cowboys are not only willing to go after Godzilla, but dare to try and lasso him like a runaway steer. Man, Hawks must pay well over minimum wage! Trimpe turns in another steady but unspectacular art performance, except for some winning expressions on Godzilla's face, like he's thinking "Really? These little men are using ropes and revolvers? I survived Red Ronin, you knuckleheads!"

My favorite page is the last one (left). Not only does Godzilla flick Ford off the canyon like a human booger, but Hawks comes to the realization that our "hero" was with the good guys the whole time, with a speech that sounds more like a Gerber wacko from Howard the Duck: "I dunno, but one thing's for sure—he flushed out the varmints, located my missing cattle, saved my ranch, and stopped a murderer. Only thing he didn't do is save the schoolmarm from a fate worse 'n death. If he ain't got a brain, he sure is good at wingin' it."

Next issue, we're promised an "offbeat epic". So what does that make this issue?

Matthew: This is pretty dire, with a bespectacled cattle-rustler who tips his hand by actually gloating “heh heh,” and its last-panel groaner (“who was that masked lizard?”).  I know I’m not the only one who was struck by the demented appearance of the cowpoke in the foreground on page 14, yet while they both wear red shirts, his mustache means he can’t be the clean-shaven guy identified as Crazy Luke soon afterward; and speaking of red shirts—like those sported by doomed Star Trek characters—it’s never explicitly stated, but I don’t see how Luke’s plunge from Godzilla’s head (“Uh-oh”) could be anything but fatal.  Is there a better example of Herb’s shortcomings when drawing faces than the blocky slab of flesh that is Hawks in page 3, panel 4?

 Howard the Duck 28
"Cooking with Gas"
Story by Marv Wolfman and Mary Skrenes
Art by Carmine Infantino and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Bruce Patterson
Cover by Gene Colan

A psychiatrist, Dr Pheel-Goode, has three patients this afternoon.  The first, a geriatric spy who calls herself “Miz,” reports she has passed classified information about the Army’s secret gas-testing to a duck – although, she was supposed to pass the intel to someone named “Dutch.”  Miz’s insistence to her superiors that she had spoken with a duck has bought her a ticket to see the doctor; the psychiatrist now punches the ticket, as his orderlies carry Miz off to a nice quiet room somewhere.  The doctor next is visited by a myopic city bus driver named (what else?) Seymour Driver.  Mr Driver maintains that his bus was hijacked by a talking duck, who held a sharpened #2 pencil to Driver’s head as he forced the bus off its normal route, and to the nearest Army base; Dr Pheel-Goode orders Driver to be borne off to a place of peaceful rest.  The third patient is U.S. Army general D. Zastermarch (subtle!), who (after assiduously checking the examination room for bugs and other sneaky commie tricks) reports that a talking duck – “a barnyard bolshevik!” – had snuck into his office, disguised as a dish of chicken Kiev.  The general pulled his army-issue sidearm and fired away, but the duck was too slippery; instead of taking out the infiltrating fowl, the general succeeded only in blowing the lock off his safe.  The safe now compromised, the duck escaped with the general’s secret files.  The doctor proceeds to order a fade-away for the old soldier, as the orderlies parade him out.  The doctor wonders whether the three accounts might be evidence of mass hysteria, or part of a professional conspiracy against him; the distinction is lost, though, as he looks out his window, and spies a clothed (well, partially clothed) duck walking by, shooting the breeze with a slender redhead.  The final straight-jacket proves to be just the right size for the mentally-exhausted psychiatrist, who hollers about duck invasion and quacks aloud as he too is hauled away.  -Chris Blake
Chris: There is a surface-weirdness as the hairless apes calmly describe their unexpected encounters with Howard; of course, the humor turns on the psychiatrist’s unknowing dismissal of their accounts as evidence of madness, until he too is undone by his duck-sighting.  It hardly makes up for our separation from Howard; we have these brief tune-ins with him at the center of another person’s story, but it’s not the same as following Howard around and witnessing his reactions to the trials and indignities that have defined his average day since he landed in our unbearably inexplicable reality.  It’s also problematic to see Howard clearly directing the action this time, which goes completely against his usual standard of hanging back and taking a stand only when forced to do so.  Since when is Howard a righter of wrongs?  His decision to strike back against the Circus of Crime (as seen last issue) was driven by Howard’s need to channel his anger into a useful pursuit; what’s got him so hopped-up this time, that he feels compelled to expose the illegal laughing-gas testing?  He’s annoyed by the indifference of the riders on his hijacked bus, but that alone doesn’t tell us why he fells justified in threatening the driver with a pencil point.  
So yes, there are some silly elements in the story (most notably, a top secret file with “Re: Testing Secret Gases on Civilians Without Them Knowing What Was Going On” printed on its manila cover), but we all know it takes more than silliness to make a true Howard story work.  Steve Gerber is listed only as “Editor”; we might assume Marv Wolfman (plot) and Mary Skrenes (script) are here only to buy Steve a little breathing space, but it also could be a sign that Steve’s merry-go-round is about to fold up and leave town. 
Frank Giacoia’s inks are better with Carmine Infantino’s pencils than I might have expected, but the results still are fairly slight, with backgrounds omitted in many panels.  The only inspired visual is the presentation of septuagenarian Miz in revealing (not in a good way!) Playboy Bunny-type attire (p 4-6).  This title has been known for its loony art since Howard’s inception, so it’s a bit sad to see there’s now … well, not much to see.
Speaking of sights, Howard, who’s that redhead I saw you with?  It’s not Winda, she doesn’t look like that.  Could it be – Bev?  If so, how did she manage to escape Dr Bong?!  Uh, Steve, you’re the editor here; could you tell us anything about who this character might be, and how she happens to be here -? 

Mark: We get our first unwanted peek at post-Steve Gerber Howard, and it ain't pretty, unless you've been having "funny dreams" about Aunt May as a scantily-clad b-girl, in which case you hit the jackpot, tiger. 

The rest of us just wanna claw our eyes out.
Wolfman's headshrinker-committing-people-who-see-talking-ducks riff would be marginally amusing, one supposes, except for little inconveniences like, oh, I don't know, Howard's been on national teevee running for President! Marvel's vaunted continuity isn't what it once was, but come on, Marv, that wasn't some obscure sub-plot.
Carmine Infantino's art is...certainly drawing.
As for the rest of it - Howard inexplicably appearing under a serving dish and a commie-hunting General who makes M*A*S*H's Colonel Flagg seem like a nuanced character - random goofy sh*t does not satire make.

Matthew:  One thing we don’t need is another Wolfmantino production (e.g., Nova, Spider-Woman).  Until now, the book has had two constants: creator Gerber wrote every issue, and whatever else you wanted to say about the generally excellent art, Howard himself somehow always looked good, but this fill-in breaks both rules spectacularly, with Steve emasculated to editor.  To stoop to his level, guest plotter Wolfman seems to be plotting “fowl” play—A bus driver who can’t see?  Hilarious!—and those who’ve suffered through Omega know to fear co-conspirator Skrenes’s dialogue.  La Miz as a scantily clad Squirrel Cage Café waitress is a horror show, conceptually and visually; a Colan cover, at once tantalizing and misleading, tops it all off.

 The Incredible Hulk 229
"The Moonstone is a Harsh Mistress!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Bruce D. Patterson
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Bob Layton

The Hulk, still at Gamma Base under psychological analysis, is in a rampaging frenzy, holding the lady called Moonstone overhead, and ready to toss her to her death from three flights up. He hasn’t noticed that she has reverted to her human form of Karla Sofen. Doc Samson is able to convince the Hulk that he’s holding an innocent and he gets Greenskin to leap gently to ground level. Seeing Samson having a calming effect on the Hulk, Sofen grows anxious that her secret is about to be uncovered. She is Moonstone (having stolen the original Moonstone’s powers months earlier) and has pilfered highly classified components. Moonstone uses her force beam to blow up a gas line, but the Hulk spots it and throws Samson to safety just before the explosion. Samson plays up Hulk as a hero to the press on scene, calming him further, until Sofen zaps Hulk from behind and sends him back into a fury. He throws Samson, and General Ross orders his men to attack. Sofen becomes Moonstone again and reveals herself as a hero, attacking the Hulk and enraging him further. However, the Hulk’s rage becomes too much for her to handle and she reverts to human form in front of Ross. Sofen shifts back and forth between forms, using a soothing tone of voice to confuse the already shaky General until he collapses from a nervous breakdown. Hulk grabs Sofen just as Samson arrives. Seeing the General on the ground and Sofen in Hulk’s clutches, Doc comes to the conclusion that the Hulk truly is a menace. After swatting Samson aside, Hulk leaps away. Doc, enraged and no longer an ally, is ready to hunt the Hulk along with the rest of the world. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Well, after a string of nostalgic trips and fun stories comes this fairly standard issue, one I didn’t pick up as a kid. So this is my first time reading it. It’s certainly okay with unobjectionable art, but it’s not anything great. It’s actually fairly predictable. I mean, did anyone really think the Hulk would suddenly be seen as a hero? And that old T-Bolt would sidle up and be his buddy? I kind of half-forgot the Moonstone from Captain America’s book, but the flashback was weirdly placed. In the middle of a battle, that’s what you think of? T-Bolt’s breakdown seems a little odd, too. He always struck me as being tougher than that and his change in behavior last issue was pretty sudden. I’m wondering if there’s going to be something hidden causing it. The art is okay, but Mike Esposito doesn’t mesh well with Sal Buscema. And Sal gives everyone the same angry-shaped mouth. Everyone. Nearly every panel. Even the Hulk when all he says is “eh?” An average issue.

Chris: This latest effort at Hulk-taming has been a worthy experiment, so this final chapter’s weak spots are disappointing.  Last issue had left off on quite a cliffhanger, as the Hulk’s rage – as provoked by Moonstone – seemed to have built to a homicidal peak; but, as the action resumes, all it takes is for Hulk to realize he’s no longer carrying Moonstone (“Hulk did not grab girl doctor!”), and a few reassuring words from Dr Len, and the Hulk simply hops down from the ledge – no harm done, as the moment goes pffft.  Now, I suppose I should acknowledge we’ve been witness to a different side of the Hulk recently, as he’s now proven he can be reasoned with; but still, the resolution to this green-skinned crisis seems to come too quickly, too easily.  I also have a problem with the end, as Moonstone’s series of quick changes somehow triggers a “nervous breakdown” for the once hard-bitten Thunderbolt Ross, who’s surely seen his share of bizarre happenings at Gamma Base over the years; there’s no good reason why this experience should be tizzy-inducing.  Lastly, after several issues of solid inks by fellows like Rubinstein and McLeod, Esposito’s inks here are good, but they don’t compare as well.  

Don’t get me wrong; there are things to enjoy, most notably Samson finally cracking at the end, as his aggressive, hateful response to the Hulk proves to be the final nail in the pacification project.  Points also for Sal & Mike’s depiction of Samson, bruised and bloodied, his uniform torn after the Hulk had buried him under a tank (p 31).  It seems the indignities he’s suffered, and the constant pressure to make this unlikely experiment work, finally got the better of ol’ Len; under the circumstances, it would be unfair to judge him too harshly.   

Matthew: Featuring typically reliable Buscemosito artwork, this is pretty good, so it seems like a masterpiece after some of the month’s train-wrecks.  As usual, Transgenderstone (yeah, I know she’s really not, but come on, how often does a super-villain persona switch from male to female?) is perhaps the biggest point of interest, putting a new spin on the psychological shtick of her erstwhile mentor, Dr. Faustus.  I presume it’s a coincidence that here and in the concurrent Amazing Spider-Man—both strips recently vacated by Wein—the heavy is trying to undermine the protagonist’s growing respectability; obviously, at least in the short term, Karla has enjoyed greater success, and one might argue that Thunderbolt’s breakdown is long overdue.

The Invaders 34
"He Who Destroys!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Don Glut
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Frank Springer
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer

 Amid headlines of the Destroyer aiding the Axis, Brian expresses disbelief that Roger would turn traitor, but Jackie reminds him that his old friend has been brainwashed before.  The Invaders take to the air after he is reported to be on the wing of a plane bombing London Bridge, with Cap and the Falsworths following the German craft as Namor and the Torch race to support the bridge and control the flames.  As the Nazis land near a castle on the British moors, Jackie is gliding down the air currents when Brian bails out without a parachute, putting his fingertips together to generate electrical explosions enabling him to “ride” down from the sky via static electricity, Thor’s lightning properties having apparently affected his Super-Soldier serum.

The Falsworths overhear “Roger” uncharacteristically speaking fluent German, confirming that he is framing the Destroyer for sabotage, and as they burst in, Brian claims dibs on his former i.d., leaving Jackie to flatten the troops and locate Roger in the dungeons, learning that he was overpowered by the imposter’s superhuman strength.  The “Destroyer” unmasks as Master Man and defeats Brian while his henchmen turn tail and fly off, but after he leaps to the wing of the plane carrying his captive, Brian breaks free with one last burst, saved by Jackie’s updraft.  With the status quo restored, Roger reiterates that he “can fight the Nazis best alone…and on their own soil,” and Lord Falsworth gives Cap a communiqué ordering him and the Torch back home. -Matthew Bradley

Mathew: Somehow, during the transition, editor Thomas had an embarrassing memory lapse and allowed returning “guest writer” Glut to include a whopping error.  As Brian informs Jackie, “I’ve had these limited electrical powers ever since I came into contact with Thor’s hammer,” yet Roy himself took great pains to establish that Thor erased their memories of him, leaving Brian with no idea whence came said new powers.  Springer has ever been one of my nemeses (longtime readers will recall how vexed I was at his depredation of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and I’ve long felt that he keeps Kupperberg’s pencils from achieving their full potential; that theory will be tested in the days ahead, but I certainly won’t shed any crocodile tears over his departure.

Following the Falsworths’ own musical-chairs personae, Master Man’s imposture as the Mighty Destroyer left me with the feeling that questions of identity are a recurring theme, perhaps even an obsession, in this strip.  Meanwhile, I’m always amazed at the felicitous discoveries I make in these things, e.g., Cap’s splash-page comment, “To contradict a certain Stateside newscaster—there’s bad news tonight!,” which finally allowed me to identify Gabriel Heatter—apparently heard but not seen in the original 1951 Day the Earth Stood Still—as the subject of Daffy Duck’s parody in The Stupor Salesman (1948).  As usual, Jackie fares best at the hands of Springerberg (e.g., page 7, panel 2; page 14, panel 2; page 23, panel 3), with the Destroyer the close runner-up.

Chris: It's fine to have an issue built around Spitfire and Union Jack, with the team's Big Three consigned mostly to the background.  Of course, without Namor, it's difficult to achieve anything better than a stalemate against Master Mensch.  A greater concern with this title is it’s beginning to repeat itself, as once again an Allied hero is made to appear to have changed sides (more propaganda from those rotten Ratzis); we also we have another instance of Jacqueline running in a swift circle to create an air-cushion (although last time, the Torch was here to super-heat the air), and yet another captured hero requiring rescue.  


  1. Keith Pollard is to fat thighs what Gil Kane was to up the nose shots.

  2. Fat thighs -? Could be; I never really noticed this tendency before. I'm sure our heavy-limbed Marvel characters prefer to think of themselves as "big-boned."