Wednesday, August 24, 2016

November 1978 Part Two: Spider-Man at the Disco! How Is It We Never Got Pet Rock Man or I'm Okay You're Okay Woman?

The Invincible Iron Man 116
Story by Bob Layton and David Michelinie
Art by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Annette Kawecki
Cover by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton

Gort (aka Ape-Man) is beating the crap out of Stark as Whitney pleads, “For God’s sake, Father, I said I’d do what you want!  Now call off the Ani-Men—or they’ll kill Tony!”  The superannuated super-villain goes against his word—imagine!—to reveal that’s just what he had in mind, and even a handy sample from his old munitions days only delays Tony’s trouncing, but Nefaria’s duplicity leads Whitney to hesitate when she sees her lover reaching for his briefcase, and before the stunned Ani-Men can react, he’s armored up, choosing life over his secret i.d.  Meanwhile, our persistent mole, revealed as the Spymaster, activates a time-bomb in Tony’s study from a rooftop opposite the penthouse, the resultant explosion killing the Ani-Men.

Hurled to the street, his boot jets damaged, IM races back upstairs, terrified for Whitney’s safety, only to learn from a security guard that she survived and fled with Nefaria, who’d crawled away after his life-sustaining pod was shattered by the battle with Arsenal.  Deducing that she took her father to an S.I. research facility sophisticated enough to sustain him, IM is attacked by his own Whitney-programmed LMD, forced to overload its circuits with his power storage pods.  When he insists that Nefaria must be returned to the Mansion, Whitney turns NASA’s Jupiter Landing Vehicle against him; IM removes her from the controls, but must push it aside to protect Stark’s guards, accidentally crushing the machinery keeping Nefaria alive, so she tearfully leaves Tony... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: As the new team coalesces around Romita, there’s a tonal shift from Mantlo to incoming scripter Michelinie and inker Layton, who share the plotting credit.  Last issue ended with Whitney seemingly happy to entertain the notion of Tony’s death, yet here she’s depicted as a dutiful daughter acting out of filial obligation, trying to safeguard Stark as best she can.  I’ll try not to let Dave’s collusion in the Korvac Saga prejudice me, but since he’s collaborating again, I can assess neither his solo skills nor the degree to which Bill laid this out; meanwhile, JRJR does a good job on the JLV (not identical to that seen in Captain Marvel #50, although to be fair it is “under development”), even if IM’s armored mask might be showing a pinch too much emotion.

For all of you historians out there, this apparently marks the honest-to-Stan death of the original Ani-Men, although there will be multiple further incarnations (and Ani-Woman Dragonfly hasn’t been seen since her escape on Muir Island).  When one door closes, another opens, and the new creative team is off to a good start; normally, I’d say we can evaluate the Michelayton plotting better after this two-parter, but again, I don’t know how much of Bill’s intentions for the long-running Spymaster subplot were known and/or followed.  I’m not as adept at analyzing the art as some of my colleagues, yet I find Romita the Younger’s style smooth, if a little lightweight, and his action scenes flow quite nicely, with IM looking pretty damned invincible in page 7, panel 1.

Chris Blake: Dave Michelinie sweeps away a significant part of Tony’s past, as Madame Masque sees herself to the exit.  Clever device to have Whitney caught between her love for Tony, and her sense of loyalty to Nefaria.  Also, special thanks to Dave & Co for refraining from some sort of spontaneous regeneration of Nefaria’s powers; fortunately, his depleted husk is confined to a wheelchair for the entire proceedings, when a lesser writer might’ve decided the Ani-Men could push a certain button on a particular console, and voila, instant Super Building-Toppling Nefaria!  No, not this time.

Speaking of the Ani-Men, I wonder how Dave expects to get around Tony’s reveal of his secret identity, when he takes time out from the heat of battle to change to his super-charged armor; an understandable choice, considering the beating he was taking in his unprotected civilian guise.  Are we expected to surmise the Anis all were taken out by the Spymaster’s explosive?  If I were Tony, I’m not sure I’d be satisfied with that possibility, especially when you consider the resiliency of your average second-tier super-villains. 

I realize Iron Man isn’t in the same class with X-Men, but this issue marks the debut of this title’s dream team of Michelinie-Romita Jr-Layton, who will establish IM as one of Marvel’s best of the late-Bronze era.  The consistent quality of their work might allow you to forgive (but maybe not completely forget …) there had ever been a War of the Super-Villains. 

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 18
"The Master Assassin of Mars, Chapter 3:
Meanwhile, Back in Helium!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Frank Miller and Bob McLeod
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Jean Simek
Cover by John Byrne and Rudy Nebres

Apparently attacked, Tars tells Kantos Kan—whose help he declines—it is the “greeting” of old companion Barak Sol, who challenges him to formal combat in a ruined city.  After Tars explains to Tardos Mors that “many think my policy of friendship towards Helium is a sign of weakness,” we get check-ins with Carter, chafing at his captivity, and Dejah, vowing to deny Chan Tomar the prize he seeks.  In Marahn, the Tharks battle for hours, falling onto a frozen lake, where a floe tips over, trapping Barak as crimson hands claw at him from below; leaping to his aid, Tars throws Barak to safety before being pulled under, and when he emerges, Barak bests the weakened warrior but lets him live, for now, to repay his debt. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This is like that Hulk issue where Greenskin got a token page and the rest was devoted to Doc Samson, as Chris builds on a foundation laid by Marv in #9, that of a Thark who resents Tars for neglecting his people.  Solid as the story is, the real star is the art:  it’s the first Marvel credit for guest penciler Miller, who had two issues apiece of Gold Key’s Twilight Zone and DC’s Weird War Tales under his belt.  Despite its being a one-off for both the soon-to-be superstar and the oft-impressive McLeod, they manage to make the art beautiful (Tars looks fabulous throughout) while feeling consistent with what’s gone before; the scene depicted on the nifty Byrnebres cover also recalls the climax of Mrs. Professor Matthew’s favorite film, Dracula—Prince of Darkness.

Chris: Hey, who's this guy Frank Miller?  His pencils look pretty sure, coming from a youngster; he certainly captures the feel of this title well.  Hey, you know what?  He should commit to John Carter; with all this excitement in the wake of Star Wars, I'm sure future-based, extra-planetary titles like this one will be around for ages, and Miller will benefit from being part of it!

But seriously.  The battle between Tars Tarkas and Barak/Barok Sol is furious, as Miller frequently employs as many of the combatants' eight hands as he can.  Examples include: Tars holds his scabbard with one hand as he simultaneously draws his sword and tries to use two other hands to regain his balance (page 1); Tars braces himself against a wall, as he uses two crossed hands to deflect flying spears (p 2, pnl 3); Tars blocks a two-handed sword-blow from Barak with two hands, while he uses a lower arm to pull free the blade that had lodged in his mid-section (p 22, 1st pnl); Tars, spider-like, uses arms on either side to pull himself up the ice block, as another arm is stretched out ahead, with a sword planted hilt-deep in the ice (p 23, last pnl); p 26, though, might be the best page in the issue, as Tars and Barak fight off the horde of three-fingered hands reaching up from the unseen underwater demons.  

I realize Miller is destined for greater things, and won't be appearing again in these pages, but I wish McLeod could've been retained as the house inker; he brings a clearer, cleaner look to the art than we've seen with Rudy Nebres.

Master of Kung Fu 70
"Home to Die"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick and John Tartaglione
Colors by Various
Letters by Jean Simek
Cover by Pat Broderick

Black Jack Tarr has asked Shang-Chi to accompany him on a mission; they are to assist the CIA with the transfer of a Chinese defector from New York to London.  Sir Denis is concerned that Red Chinese terrorists – the so-called Black Demon Sect – might attempt to assassinate the defector.  As the two operatives stand outside a house on Long Island, Tarr reminisces about his first meeting with S-C, at this house, as adversaries.  Tarr also shares a bit of personal news: he recently received a note from an old flame, Anna, who has asked to meet Tarr in New York.  She and Tarr were very close while working in post-war Hong Kong, but she left him unexpectedly; Tarr has not seen Anna in thirty years.  S-C asks whether this could be a trap, but Tarr replies “No way,” since Anna had included a locket that had been a gift from Tarr (in lieu of a ring, which was beyond his means), way back when.  Tarr and S-C step indoors out of the rain, and are surprised as the doors and windows seal behind them.  Tarr recognizes that the house’s various weapons systems (originally intended to destroy S-C) have been activated; as they move thru the house, Tarr realizes some other party is controlling the deadly devices.  They fight their way past robotic suits of armor, trap doors with explosives below, and electric-eye activated machine guns, and arrive at a monitor room; they now can view the scene in the control room, where Anna appears to be a captive of the Black Demon Sect.  Now more determined than ever, Tarr and Chi battle on to the control room and defeat the Black Demons.  As one tries to escape, Tarr wounds the Demon in the shoulder; this one is revealed to be Anna herself.  Anna complains bitterly to Tarr about how his commitment never was to her, but to the “dirty games” of his “dirty job”; she felt she had a better offer from the Communists, and left him thirty years ago to serve Tarr’s enemies. -Chris Blake

Chris: For many months, if not years, armadillos have hinted at a future issue to feature illustrations by Pat Broderick; that alone tells me this story might’ve been in the can for many months.  We also hear Tarr is still an active serviceman of Sir Denis; we know that hasn’t been the case since MoKF #51, which featured the mass exodus of Shang-Chi & Co from the ranks of MI-6.  So, two questions: 1) wouldn’t this have made sense as a fill-in prior to the start of the just-concluded storyline, circa MoKF #61; and 2) shouldn’t there have been a framing sequence, to provide some explanation for why Tarr – and, by extension, Shang-Chi – are working for Sir Denis?  You know, the “My thoughts return to a time, when Black Jack and I …” – sort of set-up, which allows a story from the near-past to be viewed from the present moment in the title’s continuity. 

Aside from the concerns over timing, it’s not a very interesting issue.  Tarr makes his investment in Anna fairly clear, but we the readers have no connection to this character; for us, there’s no sting in the revelation that she had turned to the enemy.  Her justification also makes no sense: she felt resentment stemming from Tarr’s over-investment in intelligence work, so in response, Anna joined an intelligence service, because they made her a “better offer” – meaning what, weekends off?  Paid vacations to the Yangtze River dam?  The story of the Chinese defector also is lost; most of page 23 is devoted to CIA agents speaking with “Dr Chow,” then there is a mention on the last page that he might’ve been a spy, but no substantiation.  This subplot might’ve made more sense if Doug Moench had played it out over several issues, as he usually does with a Shang-Chi storyline. 

I’m a big fan of Broderick; he’s another of those dynamic stylists whose work is particularly well-suited to the comics realm.  Highlights include: rapid-fire action in tight panels (p 10); Shang-Chi drives a fist into an armored robot, severing its head (p 15, pnl 3; the panel follows the action as the fist and robot head move upward and to our right); Shang-Chi powers down, into the Black Demons (p 22, another unusually-shaped panel); more fast-paced action on p 30, as we race toward the reveal of Tarr’s former lover as a Black Demon.

Mark Barsotti: Titanic secrets revealed! Posit early-20's James Cameron reading MOKF and we know where he got the deep-sixing jewelry ending (Cameron's pinched ideas before; Google Harlan Ellison + Terminator for details). Before the pendant drops here, it's Black Jack's turn to go through romantic torment - Doug's high- quality soapy plots are always tied to the Chop Fuey/espionage, keeping the book from becoming Broken Hearts of Kung Fu - and it's gotta be worse when your beloved went over to the Dark Side for filthy lucre.

To jazz up the heartbreak, B.J. and S-C return to Tarr's murder manse, where he and Sir Denis tried to kill our boy way back in... Sorry, class, I assigned Forbush to look that up for me, but he's out sick today with "bottle flu." The Black Demon Sect our duo battle have hideous masks befitting their name, but from the neck down their look is more Pink Patrol. Thank God their Inspector Clouseau recruitment efforts failed...

Pinch-hit artist Pat Broderick's work varies; as is oft the case, the stronger stuff is upfront, then erodes under DDD pressure. B- there.

Overall, give this one three broken hearts - and bones - outta five.      

The Man Called Nova 22
"The Coming of the Comet"
Story by Marv  Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Joe Rubinstein

A trio of thugs is pulling off a robbery when Diamondhead smashes through the wall, enlisting them for …something. Cut to the Rider house, where Richard is being questioned by his family about what it's like to be a superhero, and fly, and have super-strength [and to be drawn as badly as in page 3, panel 1—then look completely different in the next panel!], so he takes them to Montauk Point, treating Bobby, Dad, and Mom to quick flights as Nova. Then they have a family picnic and show concern for his heroic feats. Back at the NYC hospital, the strange old man from last issue feels energy from the x-rays coursing through him, claiming "I never wanted these blasted powers again!" and, as he breaks through the wall and flies off, "Why must The Comet live again?!" Mixed-up Mike Burley, who found the old-timer, catches up to him and recognizes the 1950s hero from an old magazine, learning he gained the powers from being hit by a "gaseous comet." [Oh, that old gag!] Later that night, a confident Nova soars through the night when the three thugs from the opening set off explosives to get the young hero to intervene—and Diamondhead sends a building crashing down on him! The cops can't stop the faceted fiend, but Nova emerges from the rubble…to get his butt kicked! Diamondhead treats Nova and the reader to his resurrection story after being bamboozled by the Sphinx—he was set free by a group of engineers blasting rock—and leaves Nova trapped under a car! Out of nowhere comes a costume-clad Comet to focus his "electron energy into that automobile" and free Nova, then the two fly off to confront Diamondhead, who is warned by a mysterious robotic character through the TV screen that the pair is on the way—and of course, the gleaming goon vows to crush both of them!—Joe Tura

Joe Tura: I don't really know what to think of this one. It's certainly not horrible, as Nova comics go, but it most definitely is not great. Let's just say it's Swiss cheese—tastes good but full of holes. Some decent action, especially when Diamondhead beats the holy heck out of Nova, and the scene where Richard gives his family some rides is sweet and goofy at the same time—except for what they're wearing, like they just got out of Sunday mass. And that mysterious villain is back, which is intriguing, if annoying. But Marv slips up in places, making Diamondhead so arrogant and overconfident that there's no way he won't be beaten next issue. The Comet is clichéd but interesting; so out of left field the reader is left slightly puzzled by his odd attitude and cryptic statements like "the costume I vowed never to wear again"—cue the organ music! And the art…oh, the art…. There are some nice horizontal panels, but for every decent one there are five poor panels. The top of page 3 and bottom of pages 30 and 31 are the biggest culprits, as Richard and Diamondhead are drawn with different faces in each panel, as if they're aging, then young again, then with their faces pressed against glass, then wearing masks. Pretty much ruins the book if you stop to think about it—but who stops to think about Nova? Well, enjoy it while you can if you do!

On the plus side, the Blue Blazes counter is back! When the building smashed by Diamondhead falls on him, naturally Nova exclaims "Blazes!" As would we all—among other much more colorful epithets!

Matthew: Glass half-full:  Infantino is eminently suitable to illustrate this issue because its 1950s guest star, the Comet, evokes the pioneering Silver-Age super-heroes Carmine himself drew for DC in that era.  Glass half-empty:  Infantino shamelessly rips himself off in this issue because its guest star, the Comet—“born” in 1956—bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the pioneering Silver-Age Flash whom Carmine himself co-created for DC in Showcase #4 (October 1956).  We’ve seen the Infaloha team before (Ms. Marvel #14, Spider-Woman #7), but Steve’s efforts are largely wasted here, with Diamondhead looking especially egregious; the countdown now at three issues to cancellation, Marv is developing a WTF carryover from Tomb of Dracula.

Marvel Team-Up 75
Spider-Man and Power Man in 
"The Smoke of that Great Burning!"
Story by Chris Claremont and Ralph Macchio
Art by John Byrne and Al Gordon
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Bob Hall

We open in medias res as Spidey is pinned under a beam, recalling the events that led him to this blazing South Bronx tenement, which began when he reluctantly went to swanky new disco Studio 13 to be with M.J. While she hustles with beautician pal Andre, Pete heads for the bar, where he spots Luke Cage (with Truman Capote between them), who naturally doesn’t recognized him from tangling with Spidey in Amazing #123.  Suddenly, a gun-toting Rat Pack arrives, but the battle that ensues after Pete slips into the men’s room to change is cut short as the thugs take a girl hostage, so Luke persuades Spidey to let them escape, since he knows the protection mob has an arson job planned for that night on a tenement building off Willis Avenue.

They douse Luke with gasoline and ignore his warning about flicking a Bic amid the fumes, the blast blowing him out of the building (past a sign reading “Hulk Annual 1978—Miss It Not!!”).  Snagged with a web, Luke returns the favor by freeing Spidey when he’s trapped seeking to alert the residents, and having exhausted his web fluid to save a fireman imperiled on a cherry picker, he leaps to the roof, joining Chief Ken Jorgenson.  Grimly agreeing that the building must come down to save the block despite their presence, Cage begins demolishing it, using the crane like a sledgehammer; Spidey leaps to a nearby building carrying Ken and—after his fears that Luke has brought the building down on himself prove to be misplaced—they salute the FDNY’S heroism. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Curiously, the lettercol states, “This issue was Byrne art without Claremont; it somehow seems fitting that next issue is a Claremont story without Byrne,” yet Chris is credited with plotting Macchio’s one-off script—does that not count?  Only recently escaped from Power Man’s own book, the Dynamic Duo actually manages to make me like a Spidey/Cage combo, with Luke’s collegial reference to “m’man Webs” a major contributing factor, while Gordon, in his first of only two MTU gigs, does well by John’s pencils.  The other cool thing is that the so-called Rat Pack (no relation to the one that took on Captain Marvel and Tigra) is more the catalyst than the true antagonist, which is the fire, making this a richly deserved tribute to “New York’s bravest.”

Joe: When John Byrne is drawing MTU, you know it's going to be a good time. And this one doesn't disappoint. It's more of a character piece than a hero vs. villain battle, and it works, except for maybe the Biblical title that for some readers (like myself) will seem obscure but interesting, and for others will be confusing. My favorite art panel in an issue filled with flames and orange backgrounds and action-packed poses is actually right after the wall starts falling on the fireman in the bucket: a thin panel of a filthy Spidey startled and eager to help. It's quite original in that a reaction shot gets a wafer-thin panel instead of a large one with dialogue. Instead, Spider-Man leaps into action to save the firefighter. As far as the taut script, rightly dedicated to the FDNY, Macchio does a fine job typing Claremont's plot, even capturing the Spidey-ness of our hero. My favorite line is Cage's, though: "Easy with that mask, doc. He don't wear it in public 'cause he's got pimples." You should have seen Peter before the spider bite, Lucas! Sweet Christmas, what a pizza-faced nerd he was!

Chris: We’ve grown accustomed to an often confrontational relationship between our heroes and the NYPD; the police frequently resent the involvement of super-powered characters, as if their presence diminishes the role of those sworn to serve and protect.  By comparison, the dynamic with the Fire Department this time is refreshingly different, as there is a sense of teamwork and common-purpose from the time the trucks arrive.  No one complains about Luke tearing a burning collapsed wall out of the way to spring a trapped Spidey; there is no admonishment about staying clear and letting professionals do their job.  In fact, one fireman goes so far as to request Luke smash down the remnants of a burning building, to allow a chance to save the rest of the block (p 23), and another one advises his crew to stand back and give Spidey room to dig Cage out of a full-building’s rubble (p 30).  The resignation of the fatalistic chief (p 27), though, does cut into my enjoyment of the sequence.

Oh wait – this is a Spidey + Luke Cage team-up, isn’t it; let’s move on to that.  Claremont establishes an easy affinity between the two “loners” from the start, as Spidey resists his instinct to throw himself to the captive woman’s rescue, and responds to Luke’s firm hand and quiet reassurance that he knows where and when to strike back at the Rat Pack (p 7).  Once the fire kicks off, the two heroes continue to look after each other, first as Spidey web-snags a hurtling Power Man, then as he advises Luke not to test his three-hundred-pound frame against the building’s burning timbers (p 15).  I also like how Luke calls him “Webs,” and how Spidey doesn’t mind if Luke calls him “shorty” (p 21); who needs a MARMIS? 

I couldn’t turn away from a Byrne-illustrated issue without highlights, could I?  Solid work by Byrne & Gordon in their depiction of dripping, licking flames (p 1-2).  Nifty swing-in kick by Spidey (p 7, 1st pnl).  More impressive fire, as Spidey shields his face from the growing intensity (p 23, pnl 3 – ably assisted by Michelle Wolfman on the colors).  Lastly, nice moment as Spidey half-turns when he feels Luke’s quiet tap on his shoulder (p 31, 1st pnl).

Marvel Two-In-One 45
The Thing and Captain Marvel in
"The Andromeda Rub-Out!"
Story by Peter Gillis
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Mike Esposito
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Michael Higgins
Cover by Ron Wilson and Bob Layton

On a rainy night, a rocky orange figure buys a 20¢ Globe, insisting to newsagent Marty Bronkowitz that, “Where I come from, papers cost a nickel,” and outside the Loew’s Yancy St.’s screening of The Roaring Twenties, he scans the cover story linking Ben and Farrah, vowing, “Mr. Thing, you’re gonna die!”  Outside Denver, the cosmically aware Captain Marvel detects a shielded yet familiar energy discharge, investigates on the edge of space, and is struck by a blast just as he realizes its target is Ben.  Meanwhile, at Manhattan’s Café Milhaus, the object of the exercise has a dinner date with Alicia interrupted by an anonymous threatening phone call, and as they depart the restaurant, Ben is fired upon by the occupant of a 1920s sedan.

Following via taxi, he leaps aboard as the sedan takes flight and abruptly vanishes, fished out of the Verrazano Narrows by Mar-Vell, who after regaining his senses was led to Alicia and then to Ben, deducing that the foe is “hiding in some sub-space dimension.”  They await his next move in a Brownsville, Brooklyn tenement, yet as “Ben” returns from a walk, Marv senses the enemy, who zaps him and reveals himself to the real Thing as Boss Barker of Kral (see FF #91-3).  The Skrull racketeer taunts Ben with the head of his robotic ally, Torgo, and subdues him with brain-blast rays, but before his androids can rub Ben out, Marv arrives, buying time for Ben to break his shackles, and as the Skrull starship phases out of sub-space, Torgo’s living head slays Barker. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: It looks like we don’t have to wait for the Post-Springer Era on Invaders to start proving my theory that Kupperberg’s pencils can look quite serviceable with some decent inking, in this case not surprisingly provided by mainstay “Mighty Mike” Esposito.  Now, you know I’m going to be hypercritical any time my beloved Mar-Vell is involved, and at first this looked like a somewhat generic MTIO yarn that could’ve guest-starred almost anybody; the acknowledgment of their shared history against Thanos was nice, although it seemed odd that Ben’s more recent run-in with Torgo (FF #173-5) wasn’t even mentioned.  But Gillis, of all people, pleasantly surprised me, because having the villain be Boss Barker immediately opens up the whole Kree-Skrull bit...

“When I was a soldier I fought many Skrulls,” Marv muses, “but until I met this…this creature I never truly knew why we fought them so fanatically.  His lack of respect for life saddens me.”  Luckily, he is certain that Torgo can be repaired, and says he can program the starship to return him to Mekka.  In a nice touch, Kupperberg and Esposito give the Skrull a somewhat goofy look that is consistent with Kirby’s depiction in the original Kral arc, and there’s some terrific byplay between our co-stars.  As Mar-Vell stands lost in thought, focused on trying to detect the enemy, Ben grouses, “Nuts!  I could get more chatter outta Black Bolt!,” and when—going stir crazy—he starts his constitutional, Marv cracks, “Do what you must, Ben—just try not to get mugged.”

Red Sonja 12 
“Ashes and Emblems”
Story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto
Art by John Buscema and Joe Rubinstein
Colors by Barry Grossman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Frank Brunner

In Apah Alah's sprawling tree palace, the demon Kthonn offers Red Sonja and Suumaro a fortune if they can find “the emblem.” The huge winged gargoyle does not know the location of the item, but it is the only thing that can free them from the sorceress’ prison. Suumaro, who possesses some of his mother’s mystical powers, asks for an object that had touched the emblem. The thief Marmo offers a piece of red lace that once wrapped around it and the young prince senses the location in an imposing spire in the near distance. Sonja and Suumaro set off towards the tower and eventually find a room that contains a broadsword, coin, wand and chalice, all emblazoned with a star-like rune. The Hyrkanian guesses that the chalice is the emblem — when Suumaro picks up the cup, they are both transported to a weird land filled with man-eating plants that drink from the buckets of blood that dot the fertile soil. 

Apah Alah suddenly appears and demands the emblem: it is the final piece she needs to unleash the preternatural crop and destroy Quillos, her former husband and ruler of Skranos. But her son refuses to turn over the totem, claiming that he will kill his father himself. Enraged, the sorceress summons Kthonn who attacks the She-Devil. But Sonja manages to splash the creature with blood from one of the buckets and the killer plants swarm the demon, ripping his flesh with menacing maws and tearing tendrils. As Kthonn succumbs to the leafy legion, Suumaro vows to transport himself to a safe place with the emblem only to return when his “birthright as ruler of Skranos is regained.” He asks Sonja to secure his crown — when she agrees, he blinks away. Apah Alah herself disappears in a demonic rage as the She-Devil finds herself back in the woods outside of Skranos, a horse and broadsword waiting. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: It’s as I feared: Red Sonja doesn’t really hold up without the weird visuals of Freaky Frank Thorne. Listen, you can’t go wrong with John Buscema on a sword-and-sorcery title, but his style is just too, um, normal for the nutty storylines. Joe Rubinstein does a fine job on the inks, but it looks to me that Big John only provided loose sketches because the art is all over the place. Sure, John’s pencils come across most of the time, but some panels look like the work of John Byrne (the one panel face shot of Sonja on the top left of page 7) or even Frank Miller (middle panel, page 23). Speaking of Byrne, I thought he did the cool but completely generic cover at first glance until I saw the Frank Brunner signature. Now Brunner would have been a fabulous choice to finish out this series until the upcoming cancellation with issue 15 — though it seems that Marvel had a hard time convincing him to do much of anything during this period. A shame. His Savage Sword 29 remains a highpoint of that outstanding series. 

While he’s dabbled at necromancy in the past few issues, Suumaro’s mystical abilities come to the forefront here — but rather oddly. At the end he simply blinks away leaving Red Sonja to topple his father Quillos by herself. Seems a strangely laissez-faire tactic to me. By the way, even though he seems to be driving the action, we haven’t even been introduced to the king of Skranos at this point. And Apah Alah’s plan to destroy her ex-husband with monstrous foliage is one for the record books. The killer plants are totally bizarre but pretty cool, a mix of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors and huge but garden-variety ferns. And buckets of blood? Gotta be a Roger Corman connection. It’s a major bummer that Frank Thorne didn’t stick around to wrap up this “Red Lace” arc that ends next issue — Marvel could have just cancelled this series at that point. Methinks the bong is spent.

Chris: Sonja doesn’t think much of mangy Marmo, does she?  First she calls him “vulture meat,” then states his supposed powers are best suited to locating “ale-houses and widows’ purses,” and finishes by declaring she’ll locate the Emblem and “imbed it in [his] thick skull!”  That’s, like, three separate insults in one discourse; she must rehearse put-downs during long-distance rides, or something, to be that adept at it.

I realize Frank Thorne has done more than any artist to establish the look of this character, but after the last two issues, I’m ready now for John Buscema to offer a new approach to this title; it helps that he’s hardly a stranger to Sonja.  Highlights of the all-too-rare pairing of Buscema with Rubinstein include the nasty attack of the blood-drinking giant Venus fly traps (p 22-23), Apah Alah’s shock at Suumaro’s disappearance – with the all-important emblem, no less (p 30, 1st pnl), and the rapid stripping from our dimension of the infuriated demon, whose power had backed Apah Alah (p 31, 1st pnl). 

And how about that suitable-for-framing cover by Frank Brunner!  If this issue were to be nothing more than seventeen pages of various drafts by Brunner for this cover, I can’t say I’d feel cheated. 

 The Spider-Woman 8
"The Man Who Could Not Die!"
"The Suit!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Al Gordon
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Steve Leialoha

Spider-Woman is a captive in a remote cabin.  She has been forced to come here by Samuel Davis, who claims to have been cursed for his cowardice -- two hundred years ago, during the Revolutionary War.  Davis discovered a Loyalist ambush, but remained hidden and failed to alert a group of friends, neighbors, and family, who all were killed due to Davis' silence.  Since he could not love others, he is cursed to live until someone is inspired to love him, to the point of being willing to die with him.  Davis has led Spider-Woman to the edge of a cliff, and intends to throw them both off, until they are beset by a bear; Davis fends off the bear until S-W can free herself of her bonds and stun the bear with a venom blast.  S-W praises Davis for his selflessness, and states he now is ready to be freed of the curse; S-W plunges (willingly) off the cliff with him, and glides to safety, as Davis finds his long-sought release.

 Two-bit hood Gunther Malone is gunned down, moments after hiding stolen money at a construction site.  Elsewhere, Marcus laments his prolonged unemployment; his wife Linda calls her brother, a police officer, who agrees to lend Marcus a suit -- the same suit that had been Malone's custom-made calling-card.  Marcus lands a job in book sales, and places a sample book in his breast pocket.  As he walks home, Marcus is unable to resist a compulsion to walk to the construction site.  At the site, two of the shooters observe Marcus, and mistake him for Malone due to the distinctive suit.  They fire on him, but are prevented from killing him, thanks to the timely arrival of Spider-Woman.  Marcus reports that the book in his pocket prevented the bullets from piercing his heart; Linda is grateful for the good fortune the suit has brought them. -Chris Blake

Chris: Marv Wolfman has had some intriguing anthology-story installments of Tomb of Dracula; those issues worked as they provided some of Dracula’s unknown history, and afforded insight to his unique character.  These two stories don't tell us much about Spider-Woman, though, except that she has a sense of decency (as she is willing to help a man who had taken her prisoner), and a remarkable sense of timing (as she drops from the clear blue sky to save Marcus).  This is Marv's final issue as scripter, and the impression is that he's clearing out his bottom drawer before moving on.  I'm grateful to Marv for not padding out the first story; at its length, it says what it needs to say.  The second story, though, doesn't seem to have any connection to Spider-Woman, and its placement here seems fairly random.

Al Gordon continues to allow Carmine Infantino's pencils to work to their best advantage.  Gordon's finishes emphasize the fluidity of Infantino's pencils, without making them look loopy, simultaneously smoothing out most of the sketchiness.  The splash page is probably the best-looking of the issue, as Spider-Woman's vulnerable position, her wary look in our direction (as we see her from Davis' POV), and her torn costume set the stage, immediately alerting us to things not going well.  I also like the heavy grain in the dark wood.  One question, though: how is it possible for S-W's costume to appear intact later the same night (p 10-14)?  Does the venom power somehow allow her costume to self-repair, or something -?

Matthew:  “Enough of these bondage covers, damn it!  This time, instead of having Jessica tied up, we’re gonna have her…chained up.”  Because what could be more empowering than showing your heroine helpless every other issue?  Rather than a middle finger, Wolfman signs off with a head-scratcher:  two entirely unrelated stories, the second of which reminded me of nothing so much as those moldy old reprints they used to use to pad out the back pages of Fear (because God forbid they’d pay the Bullpen to create an entire issue of Man-Thing).  In fact, considering how little impact Spider-Woman actually has on the events of “The Suit!”—i.e., virtually none—she could easily have introduced that as some kinda cackling Crypt-Keeper.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 24
"Spider-Man Night Fever"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Frank Springer
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Frank Springer

A distracted Peter Parker rides the subway, where a group of goons tries to take an old woman's purse, so our intrepid photographer leaps into action, tossing one baddie when the lights go out in a tunnel. Peter uses some Spidey-strength to knock the rest around and web them into submission. Heading to his apartment for a quick shower and studying before class (trying to make up those last college credits), Pete's surprised by all his buddies—they're taking him dancing to the Beyond Forever Disco, complete with Travolta-esque suit! Cut to the George Washington Bridge, where some Maggia goons use a huge electro-magnet to swipe "a truckload of processed plutonium" as directed by Big M. Now, back to the "disco palace" where Peter is as uncomfortable as the suit, especially with Mary Jane also in attendance, and the headline act—the clumsily-clad and stupidly-named Hypno-Hustler and his trio of backup singers, the Mercy Killers—is robbing the owner's safe! H-H stops robbing and starts playing—and the music is literally mesmerizing the crowd! Peter tries to fight it ("H-haven't felt anything t-this strong since Mindworm!"), somehow manages to sneak off, change into Spidey and shove balled-up webbing in his ears to muffle the music. Hypno-Hustler orders the crowd to give up their cash and jewels, but Spidey jumps in, starting a close-quarters battle where Hypno shows off an impressive yet goofy set of costume upgrades, from gas to boot blades. Yet our hero is able to turn the tables and take off Hypno's headphones as the Mercy Killers are singing their siren song, which zonks the zany Z-list villain! Spidey webs the backup singers' mouths shut and the headlining hooligan to the disco ball, waking up the crowd as well as a supposedly hypnotized Peter. -- Joe Tura

Joe: Why didn't I own every issue of Spectacular Spider-Man, as opposed to Amazing Spider-Man? Just look at the cover! Who the heck would want to see Spidey battle some moronic looking singer called the Hypno-Hustler, with three zombie backup singers and an oblivious crowd drawn quite blandly? Not this 11-year old. Turn the page and we get a dumb title trying to capitalize on the disco craze, and we see Frank Springer is the artist. Even worse, the Bugle headline on the subway car says "Mets Win 7-1, 3-0 Take First!" Ugh! I believe the Yankees were the team that "took first" that year, albeit in the famous Bucky Dent playoff game. The Mutts [yes, that's spelled correctly] lost 96 games that season! The only "first" they took was first to be last! Harrumph, I say!

And it goes on from there, as I'm reading this one for the first time ever. After some decent action on the subway car, we get the Joker faces of the gals on the bottom of page 7, as none of them look like they ever have. Almost like it's the Archie version of the Spider-Man cast. Or maybe Richie Rich and Jackie Jokers. [Now THAT was a comic book!] And how does Peter, with Flash and Harry basically dressing him, manage to get the Spidey suit underneath the disco duds? Did he slip away into the bathroom to change, since the long underwear was probably already on? You have to admit, it makes you think for a second. The Hypno-Hustler basically sucks, as do the unblinking Mercy Killers. Mantlo can do much better than a low-grade Nova-type bad guy with a ridiculous bag of tricks ("Is there no end to this goofball's gimmickry?") who's horribly drawn on page 26, including 6 panels of different-colored, solid backgrounds that make everyone in the disco disappear. Looks more like a Spidey Super Stories to me—nah, some of those were better than this issue. Springer is certainly not a good Spider-Man artist, and draws everyone as if they're hypnotized—even if they aren't. Bring back Cyclone and Jim Mooney, please!

Favorite sound effect is the aforementioned putrid page 26, panel 1 where Hypno zaps Spidey with a blast from, well, nowhere really—like I have no idea where the blast is coming from! His guitar? His belt? His glove? His little hustler? Anyway, it hurts our hero with a mighty "SPRAZ!" which is the same we all feel after making it to the end of this issue.

Matthew: The…Hypno…Hustler?  Come back, Rocket Racer and Big Wheel, come back!  Of all the pop-culture juggernauts on which Marvel has capitalized over the past few years (e.g., Jaws, King Kong, Star Wars), Saturday Night Fever would seem to be the least suited to comic-book treatment.  Yet this month, we’re subjected to Disco Pete not once but twice, here facing a feeble Ringmaster-knockoff who was still appearing as recently as MARCH OF THIS YEAR in Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 3 #2.  And if you think I disliked Springer embellishing others on Invaders, you may well imagine my response to his inking himself on this epic fail; pardon the pun, but Bill, this is a real black mark against you.

Addendum: It's been pointed out that Peter's late-night studying is a continuity gaffe, since his sole unearned credit was for a gym class.

Chris: Fans were pretty down on the Hypno-Hustler.  LOC printed in PPSS-M #30 had this to say: the Hypno-Hustler’s method of mind control is “completely unbelievable,” as Marvel tries to cash in on “a fad like disco to squeeze out a cheap villain” (Beppe S., E. Lansing MI); “the Hypno-Hustler looks like a Rocket-Racer rip-off to me” (James J., Malverne NY); and best of all, “Who’s the fool who came up with the Hypno-Hustler?  Didn’t he first appear in a Batman ‘Twinkies’ advertisement?” (Carlton D., no address). 

Star Wars 17
Story by Chris Claremont and Archie Goodwin
Art by Herb Trimpe and Allen Milgrom
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Rick Parker
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Bob McLeod

Luke sits alone in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon as she cruises through deep space. On this lone watch, his mind travels back to his days on Tatooine, just before his best friend Biggs is about to leave for the academy. After losing a speeder race with Biggs, Luke goes home to his moisture farm, but is unable to complete repairs on their “Treadwell” because of a missing part. Since he won’t be able to do much work, Luke is able to secure permission from Uncle Owen to attend a farewell gathering the next day, where their closest friends will race speeders. Before they can begin, a wounded militia scout crash-lands nearby and warns them of rampaging Sand People. Then, they attack, with Biggs gravely injured in the process. Luke puts him in his speeder and they race to warn the militia and get Biggs help. However, the only way to get there quickly is to go through dreaded Diablo Cut, a narrow, winding mountain pass. Luke, inexperienced, doesn’t know if he has what it takes, but miraculously, he is able to navigate the dangers and get Biggs to Owen’s farm. The militia pushes the Sand People back into the Judland Wastes and Luke feels he was being tested for something… Awakened from his reverie by an apologetic, late-sleeping Han Solo, Luke assures him that he is exactly where he wants to be. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: This fill-in issue isn’t bad, just a little on the bland side. Just a quick glimpse into Luke’s life shortly before being swept away into the “greatest adventure of all time.” Yet, we gain no real insight into the character. We get to spend a little more time with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, neither of whom look like they were depicted in the first issue, let alone the movie. Owen is far too well dressed and Beru is very young and thin. Owen is just, simply, a crab-ass. Luke is just a daydreaming, lazy farmboy. We get name drops like Beggar’s Canyon, but there’s little meat on this carcass. Herb Trimpe is ill-suited for this title.

Chris: It’s a handy little chapter, as Chris & Archie postulate how a moisture farmer’s nephew might’ve been capable of firing the torpedo that sank the mighty Death Star.  The Beggar’s Canyon contest with Biggs demonstrates Luke’s skill and desire; but later, as he skims the edges of Diablo Cut (p 26), we have a glimpse into the Something Extra that sets Luke apart (not that Luke is aware of the Force flowing thru him during his high-stakes flight).  Luke’s adolescent fantasy of daring rescue and wrong-righting, as he longs to escape his hum-drum serfitude, is another highlight (p 7).

This title continues to be saddled with ill-suited artist pairings.  Herb Trimpe is an adequate choice, as he manages the heavy equipment well, and knows how to tell a story (back to p 26, as the narrow panels speed up the action).  Al Milgrom isn’t suited as inker, though, as his style tends to emphasize the stiffness of Trimpe’s characters and their faces; better to have a finisher who could smooth out some of the rough edges.  We get a solid Cockrum/McLeod cover – is it too much to ask that they be paired for the interiors also?  Oh well.

Matthew: Well, we were inflicted with Duck à l’Infantino this month, but now we are spared Carmine’s cruelty to animals and/or students in favor of guest artists Trimpe and Milgrom, so that might be considered a fair trade-off, and of all people to plot this “untold tale of Luke Skywalker’s past” for writer/editor Goodwin…Chris Claremont?!  It’s a matter of record that neither Herb nor “Allen” is among my favorite artists, yet with the former’s effectiveness being as inker-dependent as it is, Al actually has a mitigating effect that is all too often absent in, say, Godzilla.  In fact, giving credit where it’s due, I thought this throwback to Owen, Beru, Biggs, and womp rats had a more authentic Star Wars feel than anything I’ve seen here since #6.

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 18
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by John Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and Bob McLeod

The warrior pulls an astonished Ayesha to the back of a thipdar, a flying lizard that has been trained as a beast of burden, but he is hit by a shot from one of the mercenaries; below, Korsar leader The Cid offers Tarzan the choice of death or joining his Pellucidarian pirates, and he opts for the latter in the hope of revenge.  Encountering the cannibal cult, Abdul Alhazred is revealed as “the one whose coming was foretold,” and his anger at losing his sacrifice increases when he learns that Tarzan—mistakenly believed responsible—still lives.  As Tarzan spots them on a nearby cliff, the longboat is smashed by a giant reptile, and after Tarzan kills it, The Cid calls him his blood brother for saving his life, while unknown hands unearth his buried treasure... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Time will tell, but here’s where Kraft risks compromising continuity with the canon set down in Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, for while the ape-man did not meet The Cid personally therein, DAK gives no indication that he’s familiar with the Korsars—when the entire point of the mission he had led aboard the dirigible 0-220 was to rescue David Innes, first Emperor of Pellucidar, from the dungeons of those anachronistic pirates.  Otherwise, though, this issue displays a mastery of ERB’s frenetic pacing and endless recombining of characters into groups whose fortunes he follows in alternate chapters.  More than ever, Janson lets Buscema be Buscema in John’s swan song, enhancing what may fairly be said to deserve the oft-used label of an “all-out action issue.”

Chris: It’s a bit strange to have a Tarzan story that’s so far removed from the heart of the jungle.  With the prehistoric creatures and disparate plotlines, I had to turn back to the first page to ensure I hadn’t picked up a Doug Moench Ka-Zar story by mistake.  In fairness, Tarzan’s battle with the water-beastie is well done, particularly the reptile’s splashy (!) entrance on p 15, as Buscema refers to the artistic tradition associated with whaling expeditions.  If there’s any downside, the time required for the beastie-battle gets in the way of further advancement of the overall story.

The Buscema/Janson art is quite effective, especially since Janson is more attentive than usual to details of facial expressions; although, the shadowy face of Abdul Alhazred might be the most compelling look for any of the characters.  Ben Sean adds dark blues, greens, and purples to the battle’s conclusion, as Tarzan is required to stand in the mighty reptile’s mouth in order to break its jaws (p 27-30). 

The Mighty Thor 277
"Time of the Trolls!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Bob McLeod

Odin is befuddled, Thor is unconscious, a mortal lies dead, and Asgard is in a perpetual state of Ragnarok-alert, all thanks to the "New, Improved Thor," a cameraman from Earth who was goaded by Loki into wearing Thor's belt and gaining God-like powers. Thor comes to in time for Loki to tell him the skinny on what just happened and how long the plan has been in effect (like, really long). The long story made short is that Ragnarok is on the doorstep and Thor will die. Loki is carted off to his place of punishment, where large snakes spit burning venom and conjugal visits are out of the question. Or so you would think, for merely moments after Loki is placed on his rock, his wife, Sigyn, begs Odin (and receives permission) to allow her to travel to her husband's side. Meanwhile, "on a world far distant in time and sub-space," the honeymoon is over and Sif wants to go back to Asgard to help defend the realm. Thor II is having none of that and, instead, asks the gorgeous goddess if she knows how he got his powers. Sif explains that, long ago, Odin created an "image" of Thor, one that could help defend Asgard if the time came and the real thing was busy elsewhere. Suddenly, Heimdall's tuba blows, signaling the coming of the trolls to Asgard. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Rascally is unfolding a super-epic on the scale of The Lord of the Rings (at least that's how I see it), but it's taking a loooooong time to get there. Now, granted, creating an exciting adventure centering on Ragnarok, a menace that's splashed the covers of Thor more times than The Absorbing Man, is tricky, so let's give Roy some props. I think what makes this a bit of a slow burn is the constant insertion of flashbacks and "quasi-flashbacks" (you know, where a character relates a story he/she can't possibly know about but we'll jump on the running board and go for the ride anyway?). I still want to know why, minus Mjolnir, Thor hasn't transformed back into the lame Doc Blake and how mild-mannered Red Norvell managed to pick up the heretofore unpickupable Hammer of the Gods. 

Matthew: I think they're covered on at least the first of your two questions: I believe it was established some time ago that the reverting-to-Blake business only applied on Midgard. As predicted, Roy’s gymnastics while he seeks to extricate himself from his self-dug hole are, aptly, little short of Olympic caliber.  So, all this time, unknown to almost anybody but Sif (and, apparently, the one guy to whom you never want to entrust any secrets, ever), Père Odin has had a back-up plan, a one-time-only offer that could, as/if needed, turn Mr. Magoo into Thor in defense of the realm, when sufficiently equipped with his spear and magic helmet—er, Belt of Strength and Iron Gloves?  Right-o.  In the face of such silliness, Palmer mercifully allows a little more of the old Buscema grandeur to shine through than usual; Sif looks absolutely stunning, and I loved that shadowy shot of the suitably grim Hogun in page 5, panel 5 (above).

Chris: Roy packs a great deal of story into this chapter; we finally discover how Loki learned the details of Volla’s prophecies of Ragnarok (which also explains how Loki was able to return to Asgard, so quickly after having been banished, since he and Hela already had planted the dreams of Asgard in Hobbs’ head), and of how Red has managed to appropriate the powers of Thor.  Along the way, we see Odin struggle to maintain the shield that preserves the delicate balance of Balder’s life, plus, we have the rare satisfaction of seeing Loki punished (painfully!) for his crimes; nice moment also as Frigga intervenes on Sigyn’s behalf, in support of Sigyn as she takes pity on her husband’s (deserved!) plight.

I expect Roy had confidence in his efficient advancement of the various story-elements, since he knew he’d be handing his plot outline over to longtime collaborator Big John Buscema; our veteran artist extraordinaire does, in fact, make room for everything.  Most notably, he doesn’t sacrifice the Big Moment when called for, as we see the combined forces of Hela and the Trolls (along with Fenris and the Midgard Serpent!) as they move toward the Rainbow Bridge (p 21).  We also have some choice views of Loki, such as his hate-filled visage when he crawls from the wreckage of his stone shield (p 10, last pnl), and his agony and outrage as he’s doused with venom (p 15, pnl 3); the serpent is noteworthy in its own right (p 14, last pnl). 

I’m especially impressed, though, with the multi-page sequence at the end, when Lady Sif describes to Red Thor the scene she imagines playing out at the gates of Asgard, as the forces of the Final Conflict converge (p 27-31).  In her account, we sense emptiness plaguing her, as Sif realizes Red’s selfishness not only has removed her from her rightful place in Asgard’s defense, but more importantly, it has depleted the possible effectiveness of the true Thor, Asgard’s mightiest defender.

Thor Annual 7
"And Ever - The Eternals!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Walt Simonson and Ernie Chan
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Walt Simonson

In a ponderous mood (with the dying Balder heavy on his mind), the Mighty Thor roams Asgard and finds himself before Mimir, the guardian of the well of wisdom. The Thunder God asks Mimir if Earth will be swept away by the upcoming Ragnarok festival as foretold in all the legends. Mimir takes a deep breath and tells Thor a story our hero cannot recall. A millennium ago, while visiting Earth (and what we now know as Mexico), Thor was first attacked and then befriended by a band of Eternals. One of the Eternals, Druig, taps into an ancient deity named Dromedan and inadvertently unleashes the menace upon mankind. Thor and the Eternals battle the powerful Dromedan and his bag of dangerous goodies, including a gargantuan earthworm who swallows everything in his path and grows larger with each meal. Eternal Virako absorbs a "lethal dose of nuclear energy" and allows himself to be gulped down by the big worm, blowing it to smithereens. The band of heroes then manages to defeat Dromedan but Thor's memory is wiped clean by Eternal Valkin just as the Celestials arrive. -Peter Enfantino
Peter: You gotta give the Rascally One credit (as I do frequently); the man doth knowest how to tell an enjoyable story even when the damn thing is so complicated it's nearly incomprehensible. This has the feel of a "Tale of Asgard" combined with one of those "Previously on..." catch-ups they run on prime time before your favorite show. Like those "trailers," this jumbo-sized adventure is missing bits, almost as though it's a tale being told around the campfire, losing some detail here and there, emphasizing the battle action with several jump cuts. The whole cosmic Eternals plot is genius, a way to tie in Mexican legends with Marvel funny books, but I'd have probably been able to follow along had I read the entire series of Kirby's Eternals. I didn't though, so I have no idea how Batman was mummified and came back as the demon, Dromedan; or if Druig is actually Loki spelled sideways; or if I can get a Deviant Coagulation Canister down at Home Depot. Oh, and this annual is unique in that it sets up an upcoming multi-issue arc with The Eternals (which doesn't kick off until mid-1979) rather than resorting to the "one and done" format usually associated with the annuals. The art by Simonson and Chan is impeccable (dig that gorgeous splash). Well done, crew.

Chris: Regarding the overly-enthusiastic covers to our nifty Marvel titles, we’ve grown accustomed to enduring a certain degree of, shall we say, inaccuracy.  In this case, it’s right there in a spiffy circle on the bottom-right corner, stating the “Secret of the Third Host!” will be revealed to us!  Well, that’s pretty good – I had walked away from the Eternals with some idea of what had gone before, and suppositions of what might be, once Arishem and the Fourth Host give ol’ Earth the Celestial thumb up – or down.  Roy takes time to recount the role of the First (evolution-triggering) and Second (Deviant-quashing) hosts, but right when the cover-touted Third Host are about to pull into their priority parking space, the Eternals yell “Hold it!," then Valkin reprograms Thor’s memories, and sends him on his way.  So Roy, about that Third Host; are we now to understand we’re to learn their part of this process in the thrill-packed pages of The Mighty Thor?  Well, all right – but no more welshing on the cover-blub promises, ya hear me?

Roy includes a lengthy explanation of the desire of Marvel-editorial-assembled to include the Eternals (a Kirby-created, but not Kirby-controlled commodity) in the framework of the larger Marvel continuity.  Of course it’s a good idea, and I agree that Thor, in its breezy familiarity with godlike characters, seems the best venue to continue the Celestial saga, and to see if it leads anywhere this time.  Roy considers the challenge, as he states “we’re proud as Pandora of the box of problems and paradoxes we’re unleashed into the omnipresent Marvel Universe, [and] we’re aware that we’ve many another pantheistic pitfall ahead of us.”

It’s good to have Walt Simonson back on pencil-duty, especially when paired with Ernie Chan, with whom Walt had only one opportunity to work during his twelve-issue stint on the monthly title.  Most of the purely-Simonsonian visuals are in the early pages, as a creeping deadline might have limited time to provide fuller pencils.  Still, highlights include: an ornate, towering archway (p 2, pnl 2); a one-panel representation of Balder’s mortal injury, and Loki bearing the mistletoe-tinged arrow that made it happen (p 2, last pnl); the great and powerful Mimir, looking especially big and nasty (p 6, 1st pnl); a one-panel reference to the Greco-Asgardian clash from Thor Annual #5 (p 8, pnl 3); Thor strides purposefully to Bifrost-edge, as Heimdall looks on (p 9, pnl 3); Dromedan’s elaborate trap, seen on a canted angle (p 10, last pnl); the all-consuming, rapidly-expanding earthworm (p 38).

Matthew: The cover horrified me, because I had forgotten that this is where Roy begins to interpolate the Eternals into the strip, which he explicates at great length in his lettercol essay, and resulted in a monthly arc that I recall as interminable—time will tell.  So this was a pleasant surprise, partly because “the cosmic concepts of one J. Kirby, Esq.” suddenly seem a lot more palatable when they are served up by a real writer, although I was already a little rusty on guys like Dromedan and Tutinax.  And while the artwork was never my complaint about Bronze-Age Jack, this is pretty sumptuous; under Ernesto’s masterful touch, Walt’s pencils once again don’t look much like his later work (although his self-inked cover surely does)…but do look awesome.

Tomb of Dracula 67
"At Long Last - Lilith!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Count Dracula knows the only way he'll be able to shed his human skin and reclaim his title as Lord of the Vampires is to have his daughter, Lilith, bite him. For her part, Lilith is content to watch dad die as a human and steadfastly refuses to come to his aid. The two quarrel and Dracula's daughter flies off into the night. The Count follows her into a small theater where the two once again have words and a tussle spills out into the street. Author Harold H. Harold is there to witness the kerfuffle and add moral support to the man who used to be his mortal enemy. As Lilith summons rats and hounds to do away with Dracula, Harold finally gives the vampire-hunters a ring and lets them know what's what. The stakers head down to the theater just in time to see Lilith fly away into the night. Dracula decides that if this child won't help, he has no choice but to find the other, his son, Janus.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Marv's wheels have been stuck in the mud for so long on this title that I fear he'll never get them free (and will remain so if the finale is an indication -- didn't we just leave the father-hating Janus not too many issues ago?). The re-introduction of Lilith is a big plus (as is the cheesecake that accompanies her arrival) but if she wants pop dead so badly, why not do it already rather than summoning rats, dogs, and rainstorms? The huge chunk devoted to Harold H. Nebbish is truly awful and just went on and on and on. Obviously, this storyline was a dead end from the get-go so let's get it done and gone already.

Chris: I’m sure there are plenty of writers who would’ve found a way (however unlikely) for Drac to appeal successfully to Lilith, and for the two of them to put past differences aside toward a greater goal, etc.  Instead, Wolfman keeps two prominent factors working consistently: first, Drac’s loss of his vampiric powers affects all aspects of his persona – he not only has lost his ability to hypnotize, but in turn, he’s lost his flair for command; Wolfman depicts Drac sputtering at times, as if he’s unable to focus on expressing his (typically devious, self-serving) thoughts. Second, Count Vlad still might be capable of brazenly walking into Lilith’s apartment, but he’s not going to convince her to do anything she’s not prepared to do on her own, due to the damage done to their relationship ages ago – well, centuries ago; Lilith doesn’t allow for any possibility of reconciliation with her estranged father.

Chris: There are a few aspects of the story that don’t quite work: what, more Harold? -  please Marv, please cut it out; needless distraction from other snippets of incongruous humor, from the theater-going fans who decide they shoulda seen a Broadway musical, and later from the drunken hobo who observes bleeding Drac don’t look so hot – all these bits do is reduce the immediacy of the pain and frustration Drac is struggling with in his hated human form.  Also, the presence of Harker & Co in Manhattan seems tacked on – what could possibly have possessed the Vampire Hunters to move away from Drac’s most recently known location -?

I’m not sure where Marv intends to take us now – Drac seems to think Janus has information he needs about the possible outcomes of pre-ordained events, but Janus is in Boston, and the teaser at the bottom of the last page says our next stop will be Transylvania.  Stay tuned – we’ll see if Marv (with Gene and Tom, of course) is capable of delivering this title to a deservedly superlative finish. 

Mark: Both the Count and his Marvel chronicler Marv have been stumblin' an' bumblin' through the Drac-turns-human arc, but by the end here there's hope both have righted the ship.

Marv doesn't fill us in on why Lilith in disguise (with rubies?) was showering with McDreamy - musta been his good dental hygiene, see p.3 - but back in her hot bodysuit, Drac leads her on a merry, murderous chase. Right into the romantic fumblings of Harold H. Harold - no doubt to the delight of several of my esteemed colleagues - leading to some high-spirited Marx Brothers-meet-Elvira mayhem.

Beyond the yucks, we check in with Domini for the first time in months and, more importantly, Janus. Drac resolves to now seek out his angel/demon son and - hopefully - wrap up that long, lingering story line before TOD goes down for the third time.  


 Take the normal ghoulishly tasty graphics by Colan & Palmer as a given.

The Uncanny X-Men 115

"Visions of Death!"
Story by John Byrne and Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Rick Parker
Cover by John Byrne and Terry Austin

In the Savage Land, Sauron has an unconscious Storm in his clutches, after absorbing her life energy. Wolverine attacks against Cyclops’s wishes and Sauron’s gaze twists Wolverine’s mind, making him think the X-Men are demons. Cyclops and Banshee fight Sauron after knocking Wolverine unconscious. Sauron tries to absorb Colossus’s energy but he transforms, causing a feedback that turns Sauron back into Karl Lykos. Before Wolverine, now back to normal, can flay Lykos, Ka-Zar appears and says Lykos is under his protection. Later, at a native village, the X-Men recuperate and Lykos tells his part of the tale: months earlier, after his last fight with the X-Men, he didn’t plummet to his death but to a ledge a few meters below. He worked his way down and found the Savage Land, where he made peace with himself. Before the new X-Men arrived, he happened upon a “strange procession of priests and acolytes and an exotically beautiful woman to a nightmarish temple.” There they take a man from the outside world, Kirk Marston, and transform him into Garokk, the Petrified Man, who then destroys a city in the Savage Land. Later, Ka-Zar, after his battle with the Sheenars, discovers that Garokk has built his own city where he means for all who live in the Savage Land to live. Those who refuse are to be killed. Ka-Zar wants the X-Men to help defeat him, but Cyclops fears the escaped Magneto is going after Professor X next. Against the wishes of Wolverine, they leave, but stop when they find the weather has turned to blizzard conditions, which is impossible there. It is Garokk’s doing and if it isn’t stopped, the Savage Land will not survive! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: The Savage Land and Ka-Zar are far from my favorite subjects. Ka-Zar is just a warmed-over Tarzan whom Stan kept trying to convince us was some amazing character. I have yet to be convinced. Also, not a big fan of Sauron, so this issue isn’t going to win any awards for me on the “gripping story scale,” but the Byrne art is, as always, fricking amazing. The initial fight with Sauron is pretty great, with Wolverine under the dino-mutant’s spell. It was also nice to have Ka-Zar’s final story of his own cancelled book concluded here. I didn’t follow that title, so it took me a few minutes of wondering why they were focusing on some unfamiliar battle when I decided to look it up. So there ya go, Ka-Zar fans. 

Chris: Credit to Claremont, as he wraps-up the orphaned Ka-Zar story, while he simultaneously points ahead to the next adventure for the vacationing X-Men.   If there’s any downside, the exposition required in the five-page transition slows down the terrific pace of the issue’s first half, as Cyclops tries to protect his team from Sauron.  Wolverine won’t listen (so, what’s new?), but Banshee and Colossus tune into Cyke’s directions at the exact right time, which helps to burn out Sauron’s stolen life-force.  The fight with the hypnotized Wolverine gets a bit hairy; fortunately, Scott knows he can blast him some distance away without killing him.  It’s a clever development to recognize Ka-Zar considers Lykos a friend; it seems that, with no mutant-energies he can certify, Lykos has safely supported himself on the abundant life in the lush Savage Land (as explained on p 22).  It helps that, once the encounter with the X-Men is smoothed over, Lykos is pictured with protective bandages on his hands (p 21, 1st pal).

Wolverine again crosses swords with Cyclops, as Scott once more points Logan in a direction he dislikes.  I can’t remember whether his fascination for Jean, and his chafing under Scott’s leadership, finally comes to a head; it’s a compelling bit of characterization that plays its part, and that I will continue to follow with interest.  It helps no other team member shares Wolverine’s distaste for Scott’s decision-making, otherwise we’d have a palace X-coup on our hands.

Byrne & Austin continue to deliver the visuals, as only they can.  Highlights: a framing-worthy two-page spread, as Wolverine goes full-slash at Sauron – and, how’s about the textured shading we see under Sauron’s leathery wings (p 2-3); a small detail, as Scott leaves ripples in the stream bed when he trots to the far shore (p 7, pnl 3); the split-second of Peter’s power-filled change to Colossus, as Sauron reacts in shock (p 14, pnl 2); a commanding entrance by Ka-Zar (and Zabu!), with plenty of nifty vegetation in both foreground and background (p 15, 1st pnl); the un-human presence of Garokk (p 23, pnl 6).

Matthew: This is largely a recap/set-up combo that must join two distinct tributaries :  the saga of Sauron—hard to believe we haven’t seen him since #61—and threads left dangling almost two years from Ka-Zar’s late, faculty-unlamented book, some stretching right back to Astonishing Tales.  But trust Claremont, Byrne, and Austin (shall we just agree to call them “ABC” or something?) to turn it all into a riveting read; I rank John with Adams himself when it comes to depicting “this bargain-basement Rodan,” a longtime fave, although everybody looks fabulous, even the poor man’s Tarzan.  The character stuff is great, too, with Storm bristling at her unique violation, Logan and Sean ready to rumble, and Scott rightly putting Professor X first.

Mark: This month's scintillating superlatives:

Jaw-dropping double page splash on #2-3. The X-crew don't believe in slow starts, do they?

Byrne & Austin's Sauron positively channels Neal Adams.

I was so wrapped up in the opening battle it was a surprise when Ka-zar showed up... which was of course a given.

And then, it turns out, the creative crew does have a lower gear. The Karl Lykos info dump isn't boring, but say it's the most sedate stretch of pages I've seen since hopping on the title a few months ago. And Ka-zar seldom helps; his "pussy cat" has more personality. 

And good, says I, finally convinced that Claremont, Byrne, and Austin are just ink-stained wretches, toiling in the four color fields, and not some primordial hive-mind composed of peak Stan Lee & Will Eisner, Kirby & Adams & Sinnott & whoever, belching up well-nigh flawless epics like Krakatoa (it's west of Java, BTW) lava-vomit, auguring god knows what but it can't be good, since sumptuous feasts, at some point, demand a pretty penny. 

But they're just men after all, so scratch another explanation for Donald Trump... 

X-Nits: What's Colossus doing in a combat zone unarmored, save for plot convenience?   

And you can't fall from Tierra Del Fuego to Antarctica. Even in a comic book. 

So, class, a minor tick-down in quality. But still pretty great.

Also This Month

Crazy #44
Devil Dinosaur #8
Human Fly #15
Machine Man #8 
Marvel's Greatest Comics #80
Marvel Classics Comics #35
Marvel Super-Heroes #76
Marvel Tales #97
Rawhide Kid #148
Sgt Fury #149
Spidey Super Stories #37
Super-Villain Team-Up #15  >
(Straight, albeit truncated, reprint of the Dr. Doom stories from Astonishing Tales #4-5 [February & April 1971]).
Yogi Bear #7


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 35
Cover Art by Ernie Chan

“Black Tears”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by Ernie Chan

“A Gazetteer of the Hyborian Age: Part IV”
Text by Lee Falconer

“The Poems of Robert E. Howard”

“Swords and Scrolls”

Based on the L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter short story that first appeared in the 1968 Lancer paperback Conan the Wanderer, “Black Tears” is much too long at 38 pages. It’s not bad but the pay-off is too abrupt to warrant all the desert wandering that precedes it. Just like in this month’s color comic, Big John Buscema is nowhere to be found as the pencils and inks are handled by his frequent partner-in-crime, Ernie Chan. And the results — as in Conan the Barbarian 92 — are subpar Buscema.

Commissioned by King Yezdigerd of Turan to eliminate the nomadic Zuagir bandits, Boghra Khan and his men lie in ambush on the cliffs of a narrow valley. Conan and a battalion of his desert warriors approach in the distance. At the head of the war party is Vardanes, who has betrayed his tribesmen’s location for 200 silver shekels. As the Zuagirians enter the valley, Vardanes drives his horse forward to safety as Khan’s men unleash a volley of arrows. But to the Turian’s amazement, Conan urges his men to rush up the rocky embankments and take the battle to the ambushers. Moments later, all the Turians are dead except Boghra Khan: the Cimmerian owed him a debt and sets him free. But Vardanes will be shown no such mercy — the barbarian selects four men and heads out into the deadly red sands of the Shan-E-Sorkh desert to track down and kill the traitor.

Two scorching days later, they have not yet caught up with their prey and Conan’s men are near death. That night they mutiny and drug their leader’s wine. When the Cimmerian wakes the next morning, he is alone except for his sword and two goatskin water bags. Refusing to turn back, he continues on, risking life to take his revenge. Miles ahead, an exhausted Vardanes stumbles across a small, walled city on a fertile plain. Three grim-eyed warriors come up from behind and take him through the front gates into the isolated compound, known as Akhlat the Accursed. There, he is bathed and plied with rich food and fine wine — like a lamb to the slaughter, worries Vardanes.

Meanwhile, after finally succumbing to the heat, Conan comes to in a lavishly appointed tent, his weapon within easy reach. A beautiful young woman named Zillah enters, saying that she is the daughter of Enosh, a lord of Akhlat, and the man who found him face down in the desert. She guides him to her father who tells the barbarian that a demoness now rules his city and she feeds on the very populace to remain young and powerful. Enosh also adds that Conan is the prophetic liberator who will free Akhlat from her terrible reign.

Back in the city, Vardanes is taken to a strange room, the heavy door bolted behind him. In the center, a large throne is surrounded by stone statues of men, woman and children — on it the withered body of a woman, a death mask of gold on her face. In his greed, the traitor removes the priceless covering: the eyes of the corpse pop open, as does the third one on her forehead. At the same time, Enosh guides Conan to a secret passageway to the demoness’ lair. He enters just as Vardanes is being transformed into stone by the evil goddess — she is growing younger as he slowly dies. Fully restored, the now beautiful woman turns her attention towards the barbarian. But before Conan falls to her accursed gaze, he lunges forward and splits her third eye with his sword. She falls back dead and crumbles into an ashy powder. Afterwards, the barbarian rides off with Vardanes’ horse — Boghra Khan’s 200 silver shekels still in the saddlebags.

See what I mean? Not a lot of plot for something that is more than twice as long as a regular color comic. But not sure if it was Roy who was dragging his feet or the blame lies with the source material. Now that Marvel has the rights to the de Camp and Carter Conan stories, the Rascally One seems determine to adapt them as soon as possible. Let’s hope they stand up better than this one. It takes place after the events of The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 9 and two pages of unnecessary flashbacks to that issue add nothing. The ambush at the beginning takes up nine pages and that simply sets up the rest of the story. As mentioned, the climax seems completely rushed: after 34 pages, Conan encounters and kills the goddess in a mere four — and one of those is a full-pager. The last few Savage Swords have been a bit spotty and this one doesn’t exactly get things back on track. Ernie’s art isn’t bad, just not up to the usual standards of say the mighty Buscema/Alcala team. Or even Buscema/Chan. Fortunately John and Alfredo will be back next issue. And it’s a corker.

“A Gazetteer of the Hyborian Age” returns with Part IV. Running six pages, this installment spans “I” to “K,” with mostly brief descriptions of place-names from Icy North to Kyros. The lengthy history of Koth takes up a full page. Illustrated by unnamed and fairly amateurish artists, “The Poems of Robert E. Howard” offers three pieces of verse by the Texas author. Not a big poetry fan, but “The Ghost Kings” struck me as the best. Finally, I had to chuckle at this issue’s “Subscribe to Savage Sword” ad. With Thulsa Doom leering in the background — and Laralei in the foreground — it’s obviously a rejected cover for Kull the Conqueror #28. Someone just went in and replaced Kull’s head with Conan’s. -Tom Flynn

1 comment:

  1. Without a doubt, this Claremont/Byrne/Austin run of X-Men still ranks as my favorite comic books of all time. Yes, more than Spidey, if you can believe it. But I always forget how much I enjoyed this Thor saga, being a sucker for Ragnarok anything, as well as Iron Man and the issues to come. Certainly beats the heck out of Diamondhead or the Hypno-Hustler...