Wednesday, August 10, 2016

October 1978 Part Two: Who Cares #11 -- Stan and Jack are Superheroes! And Saturday Night Live Teams Up With Spider-Man!

 Kull the Destroyer 29 
“To Sit the Topaz Throne!”
Story by Don Glut
Art by Ernie Chan and Ricardo Villamonte
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Ernie Chan

Thulsa Doom appears before Kull and quickly binds his hands together with a spell — he then transports them both to his birthplace, a shadowy dimension on the edge of the world. There, the skull-faced sorcerer reveals that the fallen monarch has been his unwitting pawn for the past few months. For eons, the people of Torranna have been cursed by their goddess Syndra: if they ever leave the city gates, each will crumble into dust. But an ancient prophecy states that one man can lift the malevolent magic, a scar-faced stranger who risks his life to save another’s and also rescues the stolen crown of the land. When the crown is placed on the man’s head, the Torrannanians will finally be free to leave — but the scarred man will be trapped alone in the city for all time. Doom boasts that Kull will now become this legendary figure. But, for one last humiliation, the sorcerer materializes a battle axe in Kull’s hand while creating a flaming sword in his own. Doom proceeds to thrash the Atlantean — however, the royal barbarian does manage to nick the wizard’s boney cheek.

Growing bored with humiliating his foe, Doom transports them both back to Torranna, leaving Kull slumped on the throne. But just as the sorcerer is about to place the crown on the former ruler of Valusia and complete the curse, Kull gathers his last ounce of strength and leaps forward, grabs the crown and rams it down on Doom’s head. He then shoves his nemesis on to the throne: Doom, with his newly scarred face, is now the victim of Syndra’s spell, forever trapped in Torranna. As the city begins to crumble, Kull and Ridondo make their escape, the minstrel holding the crown of Valusia that Doom dropped. They make their way back to Valusia and Kull takes his rightful place as monarch once again — even as his court begins to grumble with treasonous discourse. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Strike three and you’re out. For the third time, Marvel cancels a series featuring Robert E. Howard’s Atlantean barbarian — and if you listen closely, you can hear cheers of joy emanating from Marvel University’s Ozone Park campus. Believe it or not, the publisher still hadn’t learned its lesson and would resuscitate the series two more times: an extremely brief two-issue run in 1982 and another ten issue go-around just a year later in 1983. But those are not our problem, thank Crom. Or, more appropriate, Valka. I guess Don Glut deserves some props for tying things together in a fairly satisfying package, but he played a little fast and loose with the facts. As Thulsa Doom himself stated, the stranger must have a scar on his face, risk his life and rescue the crown. Now Kull gave the wizard a scar but I doubt Doom ever put his life on the line for someone else and he certainly didn’t get the crown back from the cyclops Gasshga. So he couldn’t possibly be the guy to release the citizens from their hopeless fate. Plus, when Kull jams the crown on Doom’s head, the people of Torranna crumble just as if they had left the city. Why? Shouldn’t they be free? Don tries to play that off by having Kull say that Doom had actually died once before so all he could bestow was more death. “Well, it’s as good an explanation as any,” Kull concludes. Gee, thanks Don.

 I give myself a pat on the back though: I guessed correctly about the curse while writing up last issue. Considering that Kull has been trying to regain the crown of Valusia from Thulsa Doom since issue #11 — waaaay back in November 1973 — the grand conclusion seems to have been totally rushed. But since Thulsa Doom states that the barbarian has been under the control of his machinations since what would be issue 22, I guess it’s been unfolding for quite some time. Doom claims that Laralei was part of his ploy, but she has not been seen since storming off last issue. I actually chuckled a bit at the end: after all this time and struggle, his subjects immediately start bitching and moaning about their barbarian king the second his ass hits the Valusian throne. Ungrateful louts! But not me: couldn’t be happier that Kull the Destroyer is off my course load. I will have to deal with the character in this month’s Savage Sword, but he enjoys a much more enjoyable format there. As for this series, class dismissed — forever!

 Master of Kung Fu 69
"Stairway to Rage!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and John Tartaglione
Colors by Mary Ellen Beveridge
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Jean Simek
Cover by Mike Zeck

The silent monastery of Po Lin rises into view.  He has walked all this way from Hong Kong; with every step, his rage building.  Twice before, his adversary has tried to kill him; then, he tried to kill her.  This time, the outcome will be different, as Shang-Chi will kill Skull-Crusher.  As he arrives at the temple gate, S-C is met by a group of Buddhist monks, who explain they have been evicted by a new master of the house; the monks await assistance, which they expect the True Master (whom the new master cannot touch) to deliver to them.  At first, Shang-Chi had rejected Skull-Crusher’s challenge: S-C would have to prove himself by passing three tests, before being worthy to face Skull-Crusher.  S-C’s thoughts had been that he seeks to prove himself “worthy of nothing but life.”  But, as he swiftly dispatches underlings and moves purposely forward, S-C thinks back to Skull-Crusher grazing Juliette’s skull with one of his swinging steel spheres; his thoughts now are of a decidedly different nature.  
S-C finally confronts Skull-Crusher.  The battle is vicious, and bloody.  S-C is so determined to punish Skull-Crusher, he is not distracted by his thoughts of Juliette – he thinks now of her decision to leave him, and of her walking away.  Skull-Crusher seems privy to S-C's thoughts; he asks why S-C would fight so fervently in Juliette's defense, when S-C never meant much to her in the first place.  In that instant, S-C realizes he has been wrong – he is capable of greater depths to his rage.  He hammers Skull-Crusher, and is about to administer the killing blow, when he is called to stop – by Juliette.  He realizes she had left him for Skull-Crusher (he had thought she had returned to Shen Kuei ...), and Shang-Chi is stunned.  He walks from the temple without another word, thinking he has worshipped her falsely.  As he passes the monks, they rejoice at S-C's success on behalf of their Master; S-C dispels the notion, stating he had not come by virtue of a godly directive, but due to his own human frailty.  -Chris Blake
Chris Blake: Terrific issue, unlike any we've seen in many issues.  For the first time in his tenure, Mike Zeck intercuts the action with flashback panels, as we're reminded of S-C's preoccupation with Juliette and the circumstances of her injury, and of their eventual separation.  Along the way, Doug Moench resumes the practice of including running commentary from S-C; that hasn't been so easy to do in recent issues (going back a year or more), since these MoKF adventures have tended to have all hands on deck, with S-C an integral part of the mix, but not necessarily at the center.  Most importantly, we follow along as S-C tells himself he is upset by Skull-Crusher's injury to Juliette; it isn't until later that we learn the true cause for S-C's unrest, namely Juliette's decision to leave.  An ordinary issue might've been built around Skull-Crusher's desire for revenge, as he could've blamed S-C for his own failures.  Instead, we see S-C uncharacteristically taking out his frustrations on Skull-Crusher, who unwittingly paints a bulls-eye on his forehead when he issues his challenge to S-C.  
Juliette's choice of Skull-Crusher over Shang-Chi is ... curious (“He chose … poorly.”).  She certainly is trending down, as she goes from the controlled, calculating Cat, to the quietly noble Shang-Chi, and now seems ready to settle for the bloviating blunderer Skull-Crusher.  She clearly has a thing for martial artists.  The only clue Doug provides is Juliette's statement that Skull-Crusher would not harm her – of course, he does wind up causing her harm.  Maybe he’d convinced her the head-blow was meant only as a love-tap?  Or, maybe Juliette simply wants a reclamation project, after having been with high-functioning types like Shen Kuei and (however briefly) S-C.  Takes all kinds, right?
John Tartaglione continues to do well by Zeck's pencils.  The results still aren't consistent, though; I'm left wishing every page would look as solid as the splash page, with both combatants poised to strike, and the giant jade Buddha in the background.  I also wish more panels turned out as well as the view past S-C’s shoulder as he faces his third challenge (right), and the one of Skull-Crusher on p 23 (below), as he appears in a grainy shadow, suggesting he's lit from behind.

Mark Barsotti: This one's an unexpected stunner, about desperation, false hopes and Freudian transference, about the decay and diseases of the human heart that are immune to modern medicine.

You know, typical funnybook stuff.

After the puzzle-box complexity of the lengthy Hong Kong saga, a straightforward one 'n' done tale is the appropriate palate cleanser. Here, writer Moench strips away all the deliciously pulpy, plot-dense artifice, strips Shang-Chi down to the emotional bone - no angsty uncertainty about  warring against his father or the murky amorality of international espionage - driven only by the thirst for revenge. 

Skull-Crusher plied his namesake trade upside Juliette's head, and while the emotionally damaged saloon singer survived, Shang resolved that the other S-C would not. This is the first time we've seen our oft reluctant hero, not with a license to kill, but a burning desire to do so, with no world-saving stakes in play, just payback for his on-the-rebound paramour.  

Then he discovers that after their impulsive tryst, Juliette ran back to, not the Cat as S-C expected, but the very man now helpless at his feet. She threw him over for Skull-Crusher, and now pleads for his life.


Ms. J may be the most twisted, disturbingly dysfunctional, and just plan f*cked-up character ever to grace a comic page. Returning to Shen Kuei the Cat we could understand - he has an ethical code, fairly bristles with outlaw élan. And we've seen the Cat make Skull-Crusher his little bitch for the last several issues. And no doubt Juliette did as well, and yet it's to Crusher's arms she longed to return, no doubt seeing in him a reflection of her own self-mutilated psyche, and convinced she deserves no better.

S-C falling for her is more predictable, bruised and on the rebound from what he thinks was Leiko's rejection. And then the basketcase torch singer gives him the brush. No wonder he was raging, but forget the titular stairway. That's more like being shoved down the elevator shaft.

Push provided by Doug Moench, the four color Edward Albee.

Top marks.  

 Ms. Marvel 20
"The All-New Ms. Marvel"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Mary Ellen Beveridge
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Annette Kawecki
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Bob Wiacek

 Admiring her new outfit (“A fresh-brewed batch of unstable molecules, a little design assistance from Janet Pym—and voila!”), Carol is interrupted by Frank, who reports that Sharon Cole has vanished while covering the murders of New Mexico ranchers for the Bugle; we then see Sharon pulled out of her jeep by something as she flees Trinity Canyon amid the San Andres Mountains.  At the state police’s Elephant Butte station, Carol is hindered by Col. Harry Butler, an old acquaintance who tries to stonewall her in favor of a military investigation, but helped by a state trooper who liked Sharon and resents the interference.  Yet he, too, disappears abruptly as they survey the wreckage of an armored column Harry had called up from Fort Stark.

After Carol observes what appear to be the tracks of an oversized, three-toed biped, the “all-new, better-than-ever Ms. Marvel” makes her official debut, narrowly defeating the reptilian Khadar (a stunning full-page reveal on 14, reproduced below), a warrior-prime of “The People.” Yet he is not alone, and his flying brother, Tak, lures her into a trap that she barely survives, decimating the lizard-warriors when unable to reason with them.  Aracht’yr, their patriarch and the leader of their high council, calls a halt to the combat, but states that their safety will not allow him to trust her, so he has her felled by Haemon with a telepathic energy beam, and although “the High Onesss have sssaid that [her] kind may no longer be consssidered prey,” she is borne unconscious into their cavern lair... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: In Defenders #62, we got to see Ms. Marvel’s new costume.  Then, in MTU #74, we got to see Ms. Marvel’s new costume (as modeled by Laraine Newman), plus a premature reference to her as an Avenger.  Now, here in her own title, we finally get to see…Ms. Marvel’s new costume.  Interesting rollout strategy.  Even as an avowed fan of this mag and the Claremont/Cockrum X-Men, I’m not enamored of it; of course, my Kree-philia may be a factor.  It obviously displays Carol’s commendable figure to great advantage—although whether those who found the original too heavy on the cheesecake will consider this an improvement, I don’t know—but the whole thing looks a little, dare I say it, Infantinoesque, which may be partly inker Bob Wiacek’s doing.

I short-sightedly omitted the first mention—last issue, I believe—of the ill-fated Sharon’s assignment from my synopsis, because I couldn’t recall if anything ever came of it, so shame on me.  I’ve always had a soft spot for Stegron, and these guys seem like a bit of a rip-off, right down to their ssspeech patternsss, but I will award Chris some compensatory points for invoking one of my all-time favorite films, Them!, as “Sergeant Jim Whitmore” searches the desert for missing persons.  (I recently viewed some picture, I forget which, where the characters were standing outside a house with someone watching TV inside; that unmistakable sound effect came through the window, and they didn’t even have to bother showing us what was being watched...)

Chris: Freed of any high expectations for this title (unlike the ever-expanding renown for X-Men), Claremont can relax and have some fun with this character.  It helps Carol has finally reached full incorporation with the Ms Marvel persona; the switch to Kree warrior now necessitates little change in presentation, as most of the straightforward “Ms Marvel” delivery seems to have been subsumed under Carol’s lighter mannerisms.  Claremont will have to be careful, though; in his ease with the character, he allows Carol some very corny dialog, the worst being: “Heads up, world! Now taking center stage, is the all-new, better-than-ever Ms Marvel!”   Uh, who you talking to, Carol?  I don’t remember her being this enthusiastic about being the divine Ms M; even if it has to do with feeling at home in the costume, I still don’t want her waving pom-poms and such.

Cockrum is a good choice to illustrate practically any Marvel mag.  Cockrum + Wiaceck deliver some of the best art we’ve seen on this title in a long while; I say this despite Wiaceck washing out Cockrum’s signature style to some degree.  We’ve always known Cockrum to draw women particularly well (thank you Dave), and he wastes no time, as page 1 offers the reveal of Ms M’s striking new costume.  Cockrum also presents his share of great action shots, such as Ms M in full swing (above), flipping the lizard (p 17), then rebounding from a scratched back (p 23) to bat away a flying tank (p 26).  I don’t know yet what these lizards are doing here, but of course Cockrum presents them well, as they’re both big and tough-looking (p 14), as well as oddly scaly-headed (such as on p 30, 1st pnl).  

Marvel Premiere 44
Jack of Hearts in
"The Jack of Hearts!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Keith Giffen and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Roger Slifer
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers
Cover by Mike Zeck and Rudy Nebres

After the events of Iron Man #113, The Jack of Hearts crosses the Long Island Sound, but pauses to save the inhabitants of a capsized yacht in distress by leading the Coast Guard vessel to their spot with his powers. Making his way to the family Connecticut home, he's greeted by butler/radiation-poisoning expert Martins, and enters the study, the room where his father was murdered! He remembers his father's death at the hands of The Corporation, and how he was bathed in Zero Fluid, giving him "power beyond measure," and how it led to encounters with White Tiger, Hulk and Iron Man. Wearing armor to prevent the energies locked within his body from erupting, Jack uses "neutro-mist" to power down for an hour and actually take off his armor, yet the radiation has caused certain parts of his body to blacken. The Corporation sends Jack a "challenge" letter, from Jonathan Hemlock, a deadly assassin who's after the Zero Fluid power. Traveling to Ithaca, NY (courtesy of the return address from the letter—no, really…), Jack meets Hemlock, who soon after tosses a capsule of poison gas at the face-card hero, but Jack is able to battle on since he's "pure energy," including a "computer mind." He battles Hemlock in the fog, then takes the grappling to the greenhouse, where the assassin sends a trowel (!) after Jack, armed with a deadly warhead that explodes into the azaleas and "prize orchids," making the fight personal for Hemlock! The heated horticulturist is on the ropes when he tricks Jack into getting nailed by a tiny hand-blaster, and cuts into Jack's armor—which explodes and knocks Hemlock out! Jack leaves a calling card and flies off, no closer to giving the Corporation their comeuppance.
-Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Another Premiere, another short one-and-done tale of a B-list hero. This one features the interesting yet sorta arrogant Jack of Hearts, who I always kind of liked. Then again, I never read this comic before, where Jack comes off a little bit like a snot-nosed brat who doesn't stop talking. There's plenty of mystery, though, getting some back story and recaps, and a formidable villain in Hemlock. Alas, this is Hemlock's only appearance, as Jack leaves him knocked out, and maybe close to death. The decent battle makes the issue fly almost as fast as Jack's energy explodes out of him, yet the first half makes us feel as subdued as the neutro-mist. The Giffen-Nebres art is workmanlike and maybe more suited to a black and white format, while Mantlo's script is up and down. The card thing works, but is mentioned or seen about 33 times, like a bad Western. I've certainly read worse, let's just put it that way.

Chris: I'm sure I'd purchased this issue because of Jack's key contribution to a year's worth of Iron Man stories.  Bill Mantlo has had time to think of how to present his zero-fluid powered hero to his best advantage, so I’m surprised to find this story to be so pedestrian.  Ordinarily, I'd be grateful for a Premiere that only requires a one-page recap of a character's origin and early exploits, but there isn't much else that catches my attention.  Who is Hemlock, and how did he get the job of capturing Jack?  If Hemlock survives their encounter, it’s certain Jack could expect to see more of this horticulturally-minded foe.  Hemlock gathers some useful information to pass on to the Corporation; in the process, of course, we the readers are learning about Jack's powers.  Still, I prefer that Jack's opponent would've served as more than a device to broaden our knowledge. 

Ordinarily, I'd be excited by the prospect of more art from Keith Giffen, but there isn't much to write home about.  We're told those are his layouts buried under Rudy Nebres' finishes, but there’s very little peeking thru to speak of Giffen's dynamic style.  The most noteworthy moment is in the Jack career recap, as White Tiger, Hulk, and Iron Man are all depicted on playing cards (p 7); subtly nice touch as Jack’s calling cards show a face blacked out on its left side, to match his radiation burns.

Matthew: I think Jack looks cool (although that phallic thing dangling between his legs—seen in, uh, Cockrum’s character sheet and the full-pager on 27—is questionable), and have liked him since he started appearing in Marvel’s four-color comics, especially when creator Mantlo used him in his Iron Man supporting cast.  So I was pleased to see him get a solo tryout, and enjoyed it with minor reservations, e.g., I found the villain somewhat annoying, partly because Bill “borrowed” the name of Trevanian’s assassin, played by Clint Eastwood in The Eiger Sanction.  While Giffen’s card-themed flashbacks on page 7 are beautifully conceived and laid out, the finished art evidences no style but that of Nebres, who also inked Zeck’s nifty cover.

 Marvel Team-Up 74
Spider-Man and the Not-Ready-For- Prime-Time Players in
"Live From New York, it's Saturday Night!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Bob Hall and Marie Severin
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Annette Kawecki
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Marie Severin

After waiting a year, Pete and M.J. get tickets to Saturday Night Live, but arrive at NBC just minutes before showtime amid a cataclysmic summer storm, and on their way up to the balcony are shoved aside by a burly Asian man in an usher’s uniform, who sets Peter’s Spider-Sense off and has a familiar voice.  In his dressing room, John Belushi is ribbed by the other Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players for his inability to remove a ring he received in his fan mail from Japan as, in a storeroom, the usher armors up as the Silver Samurai, “bound by giri—obligation” to retrieve the ring, sent inadvertently.  “One false move and we could easily be drowned beneath a flood of super-heroes,” he warns, cautioning his minions to utilize subtlety.

As Stan Lee launches into his monologue, Pete sees a page attacked and slips off to investigate as Spidey, yet his vantage point through the control-room window hides the fact that producer Lorne Michaels is held at gunpoint.  Taking a prop hammer to Garrett Morris for a Thor sketch, Bill Murray overhears the Samurai giving orders to his men, one of whom he knocks out and impersonates, his absence forcing Gilda Radner to replace Bill’s Weekend Update commentary with an Emily Litella “violets on television” riff.  She and Jane Curtin are pulled below the stage via trapdoors to be searched; Spidey intervenes, but is forced to close a steam pipe severed by the Samurai’s sword while the ladies subdue the “crook” revealed as Bill, who explains the situation.

With the phones out, security staff imprisoned, and exits covered, behind-the-stage chaos worthy of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off ensues as Spidey and the Players try to stop the Samurai while the show goes on.  A costumed Laraine Newman is taken for Ms. Marvel by the thugs; an electrified catwalk—don’t try this at home—abets Garrett’s Thor impersonation; Jane and Stan improvise a soft-shoe shuffle; Dan Aykroyd embodies Mad Dog Mulcahy, the “crazed, killer colonel of the Crimea,” to sow confusion.  Belushi’s duel with his counterpart is going badly (“Help!  I need somebody!”) when the Samurai removes the ring, “the core of a teleportation matrix,” using it to escape, after which Peter rejoins M.J., fuming about a fellow audience member’s proposition... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: First, a bit of housekeeping:  I believe that, at least as far as quantity goes, this month represents Claremont’s high-water mark for the 1970s, with his byline appearing on no fewer than five series, although he has a lame-duck plot credit on one (Power Man and Iron Fist), and another (Ms. Marvel) is three issues from cancellation.  Next, two vital questions.  Was this issue a phenomenally stupid idea?  Yes, which I knew even at the time, and even as one whose sole experience as a regular viewer of SNL was during this precise incarnation of the Players.  Stan hosting the show represents, in my opinion, meta-comics at their worst, which just exacerbated things, and while Rick Jones was an inspired choice as musical guest, I didn’t spot him on-panel.

That said, is this the train-wreck it might have been?  Mais non.  With his theatrical background, editor “Broadway Bob” Hall was a natural to double as penciler and depict the backstage antics, although of course the work of inker Marie Severin, famed for her caricatures, is most in evidence, with recognizable portraits of the SNL cast.  Pitting the Silver Samurai against Belushi, famed for his “Samurai [fill in the blank]” sketches, is clever, and with his line in page 30, panel 3, Chris acknowledges lifting the basic plot mechanism from the Beatles film Help!  Among the more felicitous in-jokes/inspirations:  Statler and Waldorf (page 7); “Super-hero in his spare time” Pete caught on-camera (page 10, panel 8); Murray’s “Kurosawa-clone” (page 14, panel 4).

Scott McIntyre: I looked at the cover and just had to check it out. Because, outside of KISS or Alice Cooper, no other celebrity (or group) seems more unlikely for a team up with Spidey than the cast of Saturday Night Live. So, I read it…and now I want that 20 minutes of my life back. It just doesn’t seem right. None of the cast is seen snorting coke. Not once. Watching Belushi attacking Silver Samurai while in his own Samurai get-up would be great if he was tripping, but nope. Nobody seems like their real personalities; everyone comes off the way the Marvel Bullpen cameos usually do – they say the person’s name so we recognize them and then some all-purpose wisecrack, or bland dialog gets thrown in. Really, read any of it and tell me if it sounds at all like Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd or John Belushi. Would Garrett Morris say “gunsels?” Hell, would anyone not in a comic? At least they flattered Belushi enough to have Marie Severin not draw him fat. Eh, I’d have saved this for a What If?

Chris: It’s a really strange concept, isn’t it?  Marvel seems to be purposefully playing to its high school and college-age fans (not all Maniacs were permitted to stay up so late, even on a Saturday …); the problem is Claremont’s script captures so little of SNL’s early appeal.  I’m not expecting a color comic to break societal taboos (e.g. sexually suggestive humor, biting comments on race relations, fun with hallucinogens, etc), but we don’t get enough of a sense of the show’s delightfully unpredictable quality.  A show that, on a given week, might offer Henry Kissinger wangling a pay raise from Richard Nixon, a Mr Bill short, and “The King Kong Dirge,” consistently kept us off-balance.  The closest we get is when Dan (dressed as a Cossak) suggests they keep the thugs off balance with a steady dose of the unexpected (p 23); well, this idea only results in Dan and Laraine dousing them with a fire extinguisher, which I’m sure was a hoot in the dorm toward the end of freshman year.   Claremont also isn’t able to present the cast members’ distinctive voices and styles; granted, it’s a 17-page comic, but the players’ speaking parts are uninspiringly unvaried.  

My take is this: if Marvel really wanted an SNL-based comic, they should’ve sent Claremont and Hall to meet with the cast and have them co-plot the story; if this gathering of crazies actually took place, it certainly doesn’t translate to the page.  And another thing: the Hall/Severin art works well enough – Mary Jane looks especially fetching, and the bit with Garrett Morris is an amusing highlight – but if they really wanted something a bit off, they should’ve signed up Tom Sutton to provide some crazy visuals.  

Joe: It was the best of ideas, it was the goofiest of ideas. Spidey and the cast of SNL teaming up. My favorite superhero and the stars from one of my favorite LPs ever. ("New Shimmer is a floor wax!" "It's a dessert topping!") And in 1978 I loved it! In 2016, it's merely OK. The first thing that struck me was page 3's introduction of the cast, where every word balloon has someone's name in it, in case we don’t know who everyone is supposed to be. Which is not the worst idea, since the depictions aren't exactly photo-realistic, although in a couple of panels they look quite good, like the Emily Litella close up on page 15. Then we get the ultimate Stan Lee "cameo," plus Rick Jones as the musical guest? We must be in a comic book! And Statler and Waldorf are sitting right behind Peter & MJ, what are the odds? Sigh…The plot advances quicker than any recent SNL episode, that's for sure, and there are moments that reek of mid-show skits that are usually stinky (Stan Lee and Jane Curtin's soft shoe on page 26, just the thought makes my gut hurt.), and I imagine the audience was bored to tears since most of the time the NRFPTP weren't even on stage! The MJ and audience member Ken Morrow subplot was a charming throwaway; Belushi seemed a bit too interested in the intrigue; and Silver Samurai gets away with his plans, which doesn't happen too often in these pages. At least Peter & MJ went out after the show in the wee hours of the morning!

Okay, I'm in. Not only was I a big-time fan of the original Not Ready For Prime Timers, but the sheer weirdness of pairing Spidey with a coke-fueled troupe of comic anarchists holds more promise than MTU's standard MARMISie fare and slapdash pairing of long underwear worthies, which often resembles comedy of a sort, if you chuckle over wrecks on the highway.  

Chris Claremont opens with an unforced error: who didn't know in the '70's that summer was re-run season (part of the Three Network tyranny, kids, and that ain't the worst of it. Ya ever hearda rabbit ears?), and thus Pete and MJ would have braved "...the worst summer storm in 30 years" to arrive at a darkened and deserted 30 Rock. No matter, after that, this all goes down pretty smooth. Silver Samurai is a perfect foil for Samurai Belushi, and those who fret that John couldn't trade sword strokes with a Marvel villain, see "coke-fueled" above. Besides, Stan Lee hosting SNL is an inspired touch, and Claremont gives him borscht belt, monologue groaners about the Thing feeling rocky that are worthy of the "Man" himself.

Caricaturist Bob Hall's Players are just okay, save for Dan Aykroyd, who he nails, and Bill Murray, who is all but unrecognizable, if appropriately heroic. Hall's no Mort Drucker, but 'twill serve.

As for Silver Samurai and his magic, transporting decoder ring, who cares? This one's all about Stan and Jane Curtin doing a soft shoe. About Garrett Morris as Thor. Danny and Laraine taking out baddies in the control room with a fire extinguisher. And I wanna know what the guy sitting beside MJ suggested...

So did any of it make me laugh? Nah, but I smiled.

'Twill serve.

 Marvel Two-In-One 44
The Thing and Hercules in
"The Wonderful World of Brother Benjamin J. Grimm"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Bob Hall and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Bob Hall

To calm the rambunctious children of Camp Run-A-Mok, Ben relates an adventure that began when his constitutional was interrupted by Hercules, who plucks him up in his flying-horse-drawn chariot and takes him to Olympus; finding his home wrecked by a race of evil giants who came from a star, and unable to locate Thor, he then sought to enlist the Thing.  In search of the missing Zeus, they defeat poisonous flying pythons and the escaped Crimson Tiger of the Titans before confronting the first giant.  After failing to catch the chariot and falling hundreds of feet, the bull-like Y’Androgg reveals Zeus’s location—“for rescue is impossible”—in the Tower of the Sun, which per a perturbed Hercules “means death to all—even Olympians.”

Inside the tower, due to revolve so that its steeple faces the sun, Herc saves his father from “the fires of Apollo” by the expedient of hurling Ben at the stake to which he is bound, which when severed forms a handy bridge permitting egress from the fiery well, wherein they topple the goat-like Manduu the Merciless just in time to reduce him to ash.  At the watergate (insert obligatory Grimm-pun), they face the last of the giants, who had invaded “while we slept off the fruits of the spring festivals!”  Krokarr the Cruel blasts the trio from the chariot with a water-funnel, but Zeus, his power no longer “constricted by thy sinister sorceries,” summons the steed for a mid-air rescue and freezes the avian alien, while the kids clamor for Ben to return with another story. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Given my dim view of Wolfman’s MTIO run, this was rather a pleasant surprise, even the title, a play on George Pal’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962).  Hall is primarily an editor now, so to see him penciling both the month’s team-up books is also a surprise (and if he is indeed the unconfirmed cover artist, he did a bang-up job), yet as with MTU, he’s an eminently logical choice, since Herc’s late, lamented—by a few of us—Champions was Bob’s first regular Marvel gig.  No surprise, at least to me, that Giacoia has done a largely excellent job inking him; they give the tale a genuine atmosphere that really sells these quasi-mythological doings, with Herc being granted commendable gravitas, most notably in page 6, panel 1 and page 16, panel 6.

Ben and Herc seem to be already acquainted, yet offhand, I can’t think for the life of me where they might have met before; I know it shouldn’t really matter, but these little things bother me, and of course editor Marv doesn’t tell us.  He also doesn’t explain why the Thing is “called on to perform a deed above and beyond his call of duty” by putting up with these little hooligans—perhaps community service stemming from his recent Wolfman-created legal woes?  Naturally, the storytelling aspect was where this was most likely to head south in a hurry, yet it’s handled relatively well and allows for a goodly number of hit-or-miss “Grimmisms” (e.g., “I don’t care if they’re Monty Pythons,” “Sheesh, ya ask fer a medical report an’ ya get back Shakespeare!”).

 Power Man and Iron Fist 53
Story by Chris Claremont and Ed Hannigan
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Jean Simek
Cover by Lee Elias and Frank Springer

Misty Knight attempts to extricate herself from a car sinking to the bottom of the Hudson. Co-occupant Luke Cage, Power Man, is no help as he's sleeping with the fairies behind the wheel. Misty wakes the Hero for Hire just as the windshield gives in and Luke transports the both of them to safety. Leading the police to the vacated tenement building where she was held captive, Misty discovers that Nightshade, Chunky, and their army of robots have flown the coop. The cops are not amused. The exhausted Misty collapses and is taken to the hospital while the boys track the robots to a deserted warehouse. When they bust in, Nightshade unleashes her entire army of metal men upon the heroes but Luke and Danny reduce them to nuts, bolts, and shrapnel. Nightshade is apprehended and led off to the pokey while Iron Fist and Power Man contemplate their future as Heroes for Hire. 
-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: I'd, by no means, label it "cataclysmic," but this was certainly the highpoint of the "Deadly Nightshade Trilogy," The action flows nicely; we seem to be moving in a direction that might answer the question, "Why Power Man and Iron Fist?"; and Buscmooney (or whatever nickname Prof. Matthew will tag Sal and Jim with) can handle the heavy lifting quite nicely. One question though: if you were trapped in a sunken Oldsmobile and the windshield shattered, why would you try to open the door to get out? Reminds me of the joke about the three guys walking across the desert after their car broke down.

Chris: Claremont’s plot moves along swiftly and smoothly; fortunately at times, the action’s happening quickly enough for us to overlook clunky moments in Hannigan’s script.  The art’s kind of the same; Sal B.’s layouts adequately tell the story, but Jim M.’s finishes don’t realize the details as well as some of his previous efforts.  Sal & Jim deliver on the Big Moment, as Cage and Danny blast their way into Nightshade’s backup HQ (p 17 – plenty of dust and debris, too).  But, the art I liked best – oddly enough – is in the realistic depiction of the abandoned high school, with its shattered windows, doors knocked off hinges, trash cans toppled over (p 14, 15); the location appears to have legitimately suffered its share of abuse, and neglect.  The reveal of the clean, clear, tech-filled HQ (p 15) seems even more impressive when contrasted with the squalor of the preceding panels.  

Iron Fist has been sort of an afterthought for most of these past three issues; it’s unfortunate, since we’ve gotten away from the standard of their first three issues (PM #48-50), as Danny’s meeting and eventual collaboration with Cage demonstrated how these two unlikely comrades could work effectively together.  Danny’s pivotal contribution at the end illustrates some of his unique skill set; hopefully, this is an indicator that we can expect to see him and Cage paired more closely in issues to come.  

Matthew: I’m constantly amazed at how out of touch I’ve gotten.  For instance, I’d have thought that the scripter, letterer, editor and/or editor-in-grief of a comic book called Power Man (in the indicia) or Power Man and Iron Fist (on the cover) might know how to spell “Power Man,” even if they can’t decide what the title is.  Right?  Yet at the top of the splash page, and at least thrice throughout this issue, he’s referred to as “Power-Man.”  Which is it?  Likewise, I’d expect that the employees of a company based at 575 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022—per the selfsame indicia—would know how to spell “Manhatten.”  Anyway, some robots get blowed up real good and Claremont, perhaps realizing his folly at last, bows out.

 Spider-Woman 7
"July 4, 1978..."
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino, Steve Leialoha, and Al Gordon
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Rick Parker
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Steve Leialoha

Jessica and Jerry resolve to discover how Pyrotechnics was involved in the death of Jonathan Drew.  Jessica, as Spider-Woman, eavesdrops on a Pyrotechnics board meeting, and hears Congressman Wyatt express his concerns that S-W has been seen snooping around, and states his preference to be rid of her.  She glides thru the air and follows his car to a base, with uniformed staff, who ask him when the "injections" will be ready.  Meanwhile, Jerry sneaks into Pyrotechnics, knocks out a guard, and snags his uniform so he can infiltrate the Pyrotechnics records room and click photos of files for later review.  Jessica and Jerry think Magnus has not told them everything he knows about Jonathan; Magnus describes how Jessica's father, distraught over his inability to treat Jessica's radiation poisoning, had left her to the care of the man who became the High Evolutionary.  Jonathan's future work then led to a discovery that caught the attention of Pyrotechnics.  Magnus wonders whether Jonathan had tried to leave Pyrotechnics, and was killed as a result.  Spider-Woman, now certain of Wyatt's connection to her father, leaves in a rush; she breaks into Wyatt's home and compels him to reveal Pyrotechnics' grand scheme.  She then breaks into Pyrotechnics to declare their "mad scheme" will be stopped, but S-W herself is KO'd by Brother Grimm.  When she wakes to find herself a prisoner, Wyatt assembles the pieces for her: Jonathan Drew's spider-extract serum proved to be a key to cure Jessica's radiation poisoning.  Wyatt and his associates will take an injection of a similar serum in order to protect themselves from the detonation of a neutron bomb, set to go off in a few hours.  Wyatt thinks he is sending out his inoculated troops to set off the bomb in Los Angeles, but instead, Jerry has intercepted Wyatt's troops on their way from Pyrotechnics; so now, Pyrotechnics is overrun by SHIELD agents!  Jerry shoots Wyatt, but not before the congressman activated the destruct sequence; with his dying breath, Wyatt admits to having Jonathan killed, before the final testing of the spider-serum had been completed.  Jerry and Jessica, and the SHIELD force, make their hasty escape, before the complex goes up in a huge, fiery explosion.  -Chris Blake

Chris: Marv does a solid job of (finally) wrapping up the Who Killed Jonathan Drew? storyline.  Marv had become so distracted by Brother Grimm, the Hangman, Jessica’s nightmare, and Morgan Le Fay, that I was beginning to wonder when he would focus on wrapping this up.  Marv led us down a similar garden path while writing Daredevil, as months went by, with little progress in the Maxwell Glenn story.  Come to think of it, we had a similar problem in our long, long wait for the Blade and Hannibal King showdown with Deacon Frost in Tomb of Dracula, as Marv also strung that out.  
Well anyway, Marv keeps the action moving briskly along, and holds back on a few facts (most notably, the notion that spider-serum might protect Wyatt and his ilk from radiation poisoning) to keep this chapter interesting.  One completely curious moment on p 16-17 as we see Jessica impetuously jump out a window so she can confront Wyatt.  “But wait” we all yell, “you’re in your regular-person clothes; everyone knows you’re only capable of flight due to the glider wings on your Spider-Woman costume!”  And yet, once Jessica arrives at Wyatt’s (dramatically crashing thru a door), she now has her costume; so, does that mean she jumped out the window and flew to Wyatt’s, after having changed into costume on the lawn outside?   Or something like that -?
The heavier inks of Leialoha and Gordon suit Infantino’s pencils well, as this is the best-looking art we’ve had for the series to date.  Glynis Wein adds to the shadowy atmosphere well, as she offers dark hues to suit Jerry’s and Jessica’s clandestine movements (p 7), with some dark blues and grays helping Jerry stay hidden as he sneaks into the records room (p 11).

Matthew: I had this pegged as a big, fat middle finger raised by Wolfman on his way out the door, until I saw he writes one more issue—can’t wait.  Its title and premise suggesting a sorry-assed Madbomb ripoff, the story is a mess, if no more so than #6 would suggest:  Magnus (not Merlin!) has hinted at vast knowledge of Jonathan Drew’s fate…yet now claims very little, while this cockamamie conspiracy and the whirlwind Jessie/Jerry romance are equal head-scratchers.  Not sure who did what to Infantino’s work, so I’ll reserve further judgment on the art until we have just one inker at a time, but Gordon is kicking off a 10-issue stint in that capacity, and Leialoha will pencil virtually all of #25-46, albeit inking himself only at each end of his run.

 Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 23
"Guess Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Jim Mooney and Mike Esposito
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Keith Pollard and Frank Giacoia

Cyclone attacks Spider-Man and Moon Knight, sending the caped mercenary flying and making Spidey vanish, before the "Gallic blowhard" [love that Spidey zing!] sucks the air out of the Maggia assassin's lungs for daring to phone "Big M," and walks off. Spidey comes out of a nearby manhole, and hops aboard Moon Knight's copter to try and figure out the Maggia's "whereabouts." Quick aside to our supporting cast: Hector Ayala is annoyed at his sister and the world in his South Bronx apartment;  Holly Gillis picks up the phone, then puts it down out of guilt; Mary Jane calls Peter, who isn't home, and goes to the disco with "a square"; and Betty Brant gets no answer from Ned in Paris, bemoaning her lost love and that seeing Peter couldn't rekindle anything. Our heroes get to Moon Knight's mansion, with artificial fog, a secret underground pool entrance, and having Marlene hide out to try and keep some secrets from Spidey. In MK's "war room," we see his files on the Maggia, and that there's a major meeting happening tonight—which Spidey surmises is being held at Grant's Tomb from the assassin's circling the landmark on a tour guide. At the meet, Cyclone holds court, with the rest of the Maggia mobsters awaiting Big M's arrival. The terrific twosome lay some traps to hold the goons in, then leap in and take out nearly the entire entourage before Cyclone "joins zee fray" by blowing some wind—which pins his own men against the walls! Big M peeks out from Grant's sarcophagus in the middle of the room, then quickly closes the lid again to let Cyclone "stew" in his own "insane brew of a battle." Lurking above, Moon Knight drops a capsule that he picked up at a quick stop at Stark International (on the way to the Tomb), which causes the temperature at the "eye of the storm" to drop and stiffen Cyclone's limbs, ending the battle—but no doubt, the Maggia war will continue!
- Joe Tura

Joe: So, why does Cyclone look like Power Man (the bad guy) on the front cover? Well, that's because Keith Pollard is not exactly the best Spidey artist, something we'll learn in the pages of Amazing soon enough. But then again it's C-list Cyclone, so you have to beef him up a little to get people to buy the comic I suppose. And he looks even worse on page 1—again too muscular, and with this poop-eating grin that just looks dumb. Not a good start to say the least. But Mooney is a solid professional. Nothing crazy, nothing extraordinary, but solid, especially with Esposito, one of my favorite finishers, helping out. A lot of panels look almost like homages to Ditko and Romita, which is OK by me. Mantlo's story is a bit of a throwback to Stan also, with Moon Knight gee-whizzing over Spidey most of the time, and the wall-crawler himself basically solving all the issues and taking out goons with more banter than usual. And it all ends with Moon Knight saving the day after a quick stop at Stark International for the capsule gizmo, and no answers to who "Big M" is, which sets up the next issue, as well as a hinted-at Maggia vs. Spidey war.

Fave sound effect: I like "SKRAPE!" when Spidey comes out of the sewer, after dodging Cyclone's attack, and the manhole cover "skrapes" against the street as our hero emerges unscathed.

Matthew: Remember my prediction that, as things steadily declined under Shooter, many a review would start this way?  “Well, it isn’t terrible, but…”  But it doesn’t work.  The return of that boring and forgettable Gallic embarrassment, Cyclone, was bad enough, as was the slowness of Spidey and Moon Knight to get past their MARMIS, yet to me, it said it all that MK’s “Rogue’s [sic] Board” in page 16, panel 2 left me scratching my head.  The Kingpin has, I believe, consistently been a formidable rival, not a stooge, of the Maggia.  A.I.M., too, was in opposition to the Maggia as early as Tales of Suspense #99, more than a decade agone.  And since when has Hydra, seen as recently as MTIO #32, been “defunct”?

Chris: Pretty average issue.  Mantlo finally wore me out with all this thought – from both heroes – about whether or not to trust the other; I’ll take you up in my ‘copter, but I still don’t trust you – Hey, he’s pretty good, I guess I was wrong not to trust him, etc etc.  The Stark International angle seems pretty clearly to have been tacked-on in the late innings, as it’s fairly obvious the lettering is by a different hand for Moon Knight’s thought balloons about “a surprise” to get from “a physicist” he knows at SI (p 17, last panel); I guess Bob Hall wasn’t buying Mantlo’s explanation for why MK would have a quick-freeze capsule in his utility belt, so they had to scramble-up a quick Plan B.  This seems like a perfectly valid way to foil Le Cyclone, so it’s too bad Mantlo couldn’t figure how to make it read as an organic facet of the story.  

The criminal-hierarchy on p 17 is fairly impressive, as we see the unseen Big M as a heap big cheese.  At the sight of the big black mark stating Hydra to be “defunct,” Hydra-storian Tony Isabella signals the waiter for another extra-large with double anchovies.

 Star Wars 16
"The Hunter!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Walt Simonson and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Walt Simonson

An ex-Imperial Storm Trooper named Valance (who was once left for dead in a battle some time earlier), accompanied by a team of bounty hunters, rampages through the galaxy searching for Han Solo and Luke Skywalker for their part in the destruction of the Death Star. Valance’s obsession with Luke is fueled by his own obsessive hatred for all droids and Luke’s friendship with them. After raiding a medical station, they find Don-Wan Kihotay in a sick bed, babbling deliriously about Han, Chewbacca and “a boy with two droids.” Valance tracks the rag-tag group Han teamed up with months earlier, finding the walking Rabbit Jaxxon and Amaiza on a backwater planet. Jaxx is captured by Valance’s men who torture him for information he refuses to give about the location of where they met Han. The men are shot down by Amaiza, who absently spills the location of Aduba-3. One of the men was still alive and gets the information to Valance. The hunter arrives on the planet after Jaxx and Amaiza arrive and warn Jimm, the Starkiller Kid, and his wife, Merri. Valance’s men are picked off by the group and Valance realizes Jimm is not Luke Skywalker. He has been hunting the wrong person. He drops his blaster and laughs like a madman until he suddenly stops and blasts them all with an energy bolt from his hand. He makes his escape and on his own ship laments his carelessness in nearly exposing his secret: his battle injuries long ago resulted in his becoming a cyborg.  -Scott McIntyre

Scott: A fill-in issue, but a good one. Aside from a full page panel recapping the movie, none of the main characters appear. Yet, Valance is such an interesting character, you barely notice. It’s a quick, breezy tale with lot of little in-jokes, such as two of the bounty hunters torturing the Bugs Bunny- looking Jaxxon being named Fud and Dafi. Valance’s secret is saved for the last panel and it’s a good one, but the eye is drawn to that final image before it reads the entire page. So it is somewhat blunted as a surprise. Of course, there’s no good reason why a man who wants to keep his mechanical nature a secret would tear away his faux flesh to expose half his face and all of his hand that way. You could say, “yeah, but he repaired it afterward.” You could. But future issues would just say you were wrong. Really good art by Walt Simonson and Bob Wiacek accompanies Archie Goodwin’s superior script. The best fill-in issue I’ve read in a while.

Chris: Being turned into a cyborg really brings out the worst in a person, doesn’t it?  Credit to Archie for not tipping his hand until the very, very end.  I questioned why Valance was so determined to destroy evidence of his past, and it wasn’t until he fired that blast from his wrist, that I figured something might be up.  I would have accepted he might have some weaponry built into his battle suit, so I wasn’t prepared to see it was permanently part of him.  Nice job also to suggest it might be possible to have the sort of misunderstanding that would lead Valance all the way to Aduba-3 to hunt “a boy with two droids” who once worked with bounty-hunted Han Solo; it helps to demonstrate how single-minded Valance must be.  I’m sure the crewmen who didn’t survive the bantha charge won’t miss having to work for him.  

It’s an enjoyable story, despite the absence of both primary and secondary characters from the original movie; I find it hard to believe Marvel might’ve expected to sell this mag without any recognizable figures from the movie.  I know for a fact that I bought this issue due to the presence of Walt Simonson.  The art is pretty good; the bounty-hunting creatures are among the more interesting images.  I would’ve liked to have seen Simonson back on this title around this time, particularly for a story built around an in-space dogfight; instead, it’ll be a few years before he becomes the regular penciller for Star Wars, and by then, he’ll only provide thin layouts for ill-suited finishes by Tom Palmer.  Simonson will be no stranger to space-battling, as his long-discussed project Star Slammers will appear as a graphic novel in another 5-6 years (beyond the scope of MU).  

Matthew: Proving once again that Mrs. Bradley didn’t raise any stupid children, the lettercol admits, “a lot of people were reading the Star Wars comic who don’t normally read comics at all.  So, in our sneaky, mercenary, but basically lovable fashion, we decided to let this great, untapped group in on what they had been missing by putting in as many ads as we could about the multitude of other Marvel masterpieces available for the discerning reader.  In order to insure [sic] maximum exposure, we even sacrificed the letters page for a few issues.”  Despite a “surprise” ending telegraphed more clearly than “What hath God wrought!,” and the return of some annoying characters, this was a fun change of pace enhanced by guest artists Walt and Bob.

 Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 17
"Passage to Pellucidar!"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by John Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and Klaus Janson

 The mercenaries, and the Mad Arab who is their only ticket home, emerge from the portal near a circle of stone monoliths, and go in search of the princess while Tarzan, unseen and badly beaten, passes out.  Blindly obeying the command to advance, Ayesha is brought back to her senses by stumbling into a frigid river, and is taken to be a goddess by a young Pellucidarian hunter; although they cannot communicate, he helps her survive attacks by hyenadons and crocodiloids, leading her away when they hear her enemies approach.  At the ruins, Tarzan runs afoul of a cannibal cult riding giant birds and—vastly outnumbered—is forced to flee, but after making a thousand-foot cliff-dive into a river when cut off, he emerges face to face with corsairs. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Well, we’ve finally arrived in the land down under—way under—and I believe this is the first time we’ve seen entrance effected by mystical means, rather than by iron mole or polar opening, but with his measured plotting, Dave the Dude so far tells us very little of Pellucidar itself, barely alluding to Tarzan’s prior visit.  Its upward-curving horizon has gotta be a tough thing to depict, although Big John gives it the old college try on page 3, while Janson, who did double duty as colorist on the last two issues, is here replaced by Roussos in that capacity.  There will presumably be a point to Pierre’s political mouthings (“What prestige I can bring to the light of Socialism!”), although right now I can’t imagine for the life of me what that might turn out to be.

 The Mighty Thor 276
"Mine... This Hammer!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Thor and Sif come to the aid of a weakened Odin but the old man insists that they make preparations for the trial of Loki. Speaking of the Mirthful One, Loki remains chained in an Asgardian dungeon but is visited by "Red," one of the camera crew from Earth, here in Asgard to film a documentary on Gods. "Red" has been trusted by the Thunder God to hold on to Thor's belt of strength for safekeeping but the allure of Sif makes the mortal dream of bigger things. Egged on by Loki, "Red" dons the belt and performs a few other menial tasks and, as the trial gets underway, the new improved "Red" (now calling himself Thor) first kills former comrade Joey, then busts through a wall and challenges the God of Thunder to a battle; the winner gets Sif. The New God on the Block proves to be much too powerful and Thor goes down in a heap. To head off the death of her loved one (and Balder as well), Sif agrees to fly off with Red Thor for a bit of romance. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: I gotta say I enjoyed the Rascally One's script and the art is to die for. It's nice to see that at least one of these "foundation" titles can still get it up now and then. Little bit of Loki, little bit of new menace, little bit of Sif, and a whole lot of exciting action. What's not to like?

Matthew: Yes, I understand there are supposed to be some unanswered questions remaining in regard to the insufferable Red Norvell, aka Thor 2.0, yet I had sufficiently lost patience with them by the end of this issue that I was ready to agree with that misguided minicam-operator himself and say, “Nuts!  No sense tryin’ to figure out just what happened.”  By the time Roy gets around to explaining it all—assuming he ever does so to my satisfaction—he’ll presumably have bent over backwards to rationalize the apparent contradictions of established, uh, Thor lore, and taken an equally tortuous path toward restoring the status quo.  So I can wait, especially with my complaints about The Effect of Palmer Rays on Buscema-in-the-Moon Pencils, or something.

Chris: I think the situation has gone well past the point of “bad to worse,” hasn’t it?  It was bad enough Balder had to be mortally wounded, and that Odin had to devote a portion of his power to the shield to keep Balder from slipping to the bosom of Hela.  Now, Thor – our title character! – has lost his signature weapon and the powers that come with it, and perhaps worst of all, his best gal!  The new “Thor” might bear a closer resemblance to the figure of ancient Nordic myth, but otherwise his unfettered expression of his power – including his killing of our pal Joey – doesn’t mark him as an upgrade from the Thor we know (“Classic Thor,” if you will).  And all the while, the light that was the All-Father grows ever dimmer.  Roy is doing a bang-up job in his first extended storyline for Thor, as he deliberately trims the tendrils of hope, and leaves us wondering how there could ever be a peaceful resolution of this worsening situation; compelling, Mr Thomas!

The Buscema/Palmer art continues to do well, although it seems there are more loosely-realized panels this time than in our previous chapters.  I will focus my attention on the highlights: a truly spooky image, as Loki’s disembodied astrally-projected head compels Red to dive into the flames; despite the fact that Loki is facing the fire, his face is hidden in shadow (p 11, last pnl); Red’s crazy look of triumph, as he grabs hold of the hammer’s handle (p 17, pnl 2); Thor holds up his right hand to urge his allies back, as he struggles to regain his feet (p 22, last pnl); Sif’s determination, challenged by Red’s threats, crumbles to resignation, as she slowly turns her back and lets her sword drop from her hand (p 30).

 What If? 11
"What If the Fantastic Four Were the Original Marvel Bullpen?"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby, Mike Royer, and Bill Wray
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Mike Royer and Bill Wray
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

On an alternate Earth, the Fantastic Four are battling a giant creature—but the players are a little different: Mr. Fantastic is Stan Lee, Human Torch is Sol Brodsky, The Thing is Jack Kirby, and Invisible Girl is Flo Steinberg—all members of the Marvel Comics family! The brute fires his weapon to take out the men, but Flo is able to project a force field around it as he fires again, knocking him out…and there's something familiar about the face, Flo thinks….it's Doctor Murrow, the man they came to find! He's been transformed like the foursome has, so they search his lab for hours, finally finding "the box"—which starts emitting cosmic rays! The group flashes back to the day in the Marvel Comics offices when the quartet unwrapped a package that was a similar box and results in a shower of cosmic rays that gives them odd powers! Kirby is turned into a thick, scaly monster; Flo turns invisible; Sol turns into a real-life Torch and flies out the window, only to be rescued by a stretching Stan's giant hand. The group realizes the "S" People are behind their new powers, and dub themselves "The Fantastic Four."

As the new group prospers, so do the comic book characters they create, in the guise of the characters we've come to know and love (Reed, Sue, Ben, Johnny). In fact, Marvel takes off like a rocket, as does the quartet, including the Baxter Building, where there are "all the technical wonders profusely displayed in the comic magazines." After years of searching for the S People, the Four foray to the far-below realm of Sub-Mariner, the only other person capable of detecting the S People. The assuming Atlantean knows they are coming, so zaps their rocket ship and shows them "the box" for which he blames them. Kirby breaks free, and starts to battle Subby as Stan, Flo and Sol have to work together to stop them. Stan reveals they were the first victims of the cosmic rays and Namor realizes he is sincere, so shows them the "Extra-Terrestrial Monitor," which shows the alien who hid the box is in the chamber with them! One of the guards is the S Person, and after knocking everyone out, he changes into a deadly Skrull, and slips away quickly. Namor awakens, having pretended to be out, and boards a cool craft in pursuit of the Skrull to stop the alien race from changing "every human on Earth." Subby and Jack swim out and destroy the Skrull plant causing a chain reaction that destroys the Skrulls and all the "boxes," ending the Fantastic Four's long quest, as they vow to keep the "mystery of the cosmic ray" secret. --Joe Tura

Joe: The first words of this issue are "Behold, scion of Earth!" Wait, what? I'm a scion? What the heck is a scion? Would any 11-year old know what a scion is? Hell, no. (OK, besides Prof. Bradley maybe…) But let's not linger on that. Instead, let's talk about yet another What If? that fails to completely delight 38 years after it originally did.

The Why Not? letters page explains the origins behind this month's alternate-reality tale. After noting it's the first Kirby art of the Fantastic Four in a long time, and it's also the first script he's written for the characters, the editors explain Roy Thomas (the guy doing the explainin') wanted to do a story where the Marvel Bullpen gained the powers of the F.F., with himself as the Human Torch. But in order to properly devote his time to other mags, he offered the concept to Kirby, who replaced Roy with Sol Brodsky since he knew him better and the setting of the early 60s was more realistic.

The end result is typical late-70s Kirby, in that the art is vintage for the most part—except that Sub-Mariner looks like he's wearing a wax Sub-Mariner mask—with some excellent stretching shots that are better than a lot of the old FFs. However, it seems to get more generic as the pages turn, as does the story. At the end, we're left to wonder what the heck the point was, among other interrogatives. Things end when they destroy the Skrulls? Does the story move on in the alternate reality's FF issues? Did Kirby run out of time and energy? Would Stan Lee really use his money to become as smart as Reed Richards? Was Flo that much of a flirt? Why does her hairdo often look like she's straight out of The New Gods? Does Sol get less to do than Johnny Storm would often get? Why is Kirby's head so damn round like Charlie Brown? Subby is really the only other guy that could detect the S People? Jack/Thing can swim under water and talk without oxygen?

There are some nice moments also. Flo shaking Stan on page 7 is pretty funny, as is his exclamation on the next page "By the faithful fans of FOOM!" The page 9 full page is neat, and includes an impressive neck stretch (Stan gets a ton of great moments for some reason—I guess this was pre-feud). The origin was pretty cool, corny dialogue like "I just want to disappear" and "I'm really getting hot under the collar about this" notwithstanding. "Production men can't fly--!!" was maybe my favorite line, and it's followed by Stan's saving Sol with a humongously stretched fist that's simply awesome. As is the giant balloon Stan that blocks Sub-Mariner from attacking Jack, who does get to share some witty repartee with the Prince such as "fish-face" and "scaly buffoon." But ultimately, not as great overall as I remembered. It sucks to get old and mature (finally!).

Matthew:  Mixed feelings here:  with one foot out the door again, Jack isn’t exactly leaving me with warm and fuzzy memories of his Bronze-Age stint as writer/artist/editor, and since I’ve already kvetched about the art-imitates-life aspect of Stan hosting SNL, you can imagine my reaction to this premise.  And yet…since it is, by definition, more a flight of fancy than a variant version of an existing Marvel tale (as it were), it avoids some of the more annoying traits of prior issues.  The current enmity between the pro-Lee and pro-Kirby kamps makes it charming, even bizarre, to see them depicted by Jack with such relative collegiality; the artwork looks like, well, Kirby, so I’m forced to assume that double-duty inkers and letterers Royer & Wray did their job.

Mark: Got this one during my Great Comic Buying Splurge of a decade ago and I'm anxious to see if my affection for it holds up under the strict academic scrutiny demanded within these hallowed, ivy-covered halls. 

It does. Over and above my lifelong Kirby Krush (and the historic significance of this being the King's first "FF" story since he left his signature title - and Marvel - in 1970), this one could serve as a model to breathe life into a title running on fumes. The basic WI? formula is to rework specific origins (e.g., Jane Foster becomes Thor instead of Don Blake) or famous Silver Age stories by changing a few key details while otherwise aping the original, but here Kirby as writer (working from Roy Thomas' idea) doesn't just go off book, but pretty well lights it on fire (Better Call Sol). 

As a "model," I don't mean repeating the self-referential, almost incestuous transformation of Bullpen staffers into spandex heroes (it's a one-off idea, forunately wrung for all its delightful worth here), but rather letting the creators go wild rummaging through the Marvel toy-box, not just substituting a piece or two in continuity-heavy simulacrums of past glories. Bringing Conan into the modern world next issue is a perfect example. 

Chris: So basically, the answer to this issue’s question, “What If the Fantastic Four Had Been the Original Marvel Bullpen?” is this: the FF would’ve gone on almost exactly as before, except with four different people in the roles.  We glimpse the opportunity for this to have become something more on p 36, as Sol’s flame separates Namor from Jack, prompting Jack to yell, “Well, good fights don’t grow on trees, ya know!  This one could be a classic, if you’d only stay out of it!”  The Watcher points out that the FF comic, with our recognized team from the mainstream Marvel continuum, also exists to chronicle the team’s adventures in this alternate reality; that being the case, wouldn’t Stan – knowing him as we do, as a creative guy with a fairly savvy business flair – have been inspired to push the team into potentially risky situations, in the hope that the challenges they’d face would produce boffo material for some thrilling, best-selling comics?  Jack (the writer/editor, I mean) depicts Sol as a bit of a worrier; couldn’t Stan’s risk-taking-for-better-sales approach produce tension within the group, as Sol and the others might question whether they should put their lives at stake simply to help the corporation’s bottom line?  Instead, we have Stan remind everyone he’s their boss, which the others accept quietly.  

No, the whole thing comes off as opportunity for Jack to put pen and pencil to work on his beloved FF, one more time.  The letters page reminds us Jack hasn’t produced art for the FF in eight years, and had never scripted an FF tale before now; but, all I could think of is how Jack’s second, and final, separation from Marvel is soon to arrive, which means there are but few Kirby stories for us to savor, FF or otherwise.  
Scott: This is one of those issues that should change the title from “What If” to “What the F…?” I can’t tell if this is supposed to be a comedy or not, since not a lot of it is funny, yet I can’t possibly take any of it seriously. Obviously, a spoof kind of issue made to appeal to the Bullpen and Marvel Age fans. Did any kids back then know who Flo and Sol even were? Jack, man, I love you and I forgive you for the Year of Hell I lived through reading the Cap run, but stop. Just stop. Stan almost never looks like himself and these guys take their new powers in stride. However, I give Jack credit for asking something that Reed never asked Ben when he changed that first time: “are you in pain?” I don’t know why that stands out for me, but it’s a lovely touch. Silly, goofy, and not unenjoyable, just…seriously…What the F…?

Mark: No fateful rocket ride for the Pre-Fab Four, nor does Kirby rework anything from the title's extensive canon. Instead, his amiable, energetic romp goofs on some of the title's treasured mythology. Rather than being the first supes to go public, the P-Fabs keep their heroics hush-hush, a slick trick considering they still show their faces. And this Thing can turn back into Jack Kirby at will, reducing his orange-cobbled condition from tragedy to very-useful (for Clobberin' stuff) inconvenience. And he gets to keep his eyebrows - one of the King's weirdest looks ever, and that's sayin' something.

Before leaving the two Jacks, I need to take issue with a couple anecdotes about the creation of the issue, as reported in Sean Howe's Marvel Comics The Unknown Story. While an estimable tome, I've discovered FF-related errors therein before, and here Howe exaggerates one detail and perhaps invents another, both amping up page-turning drama and conflict. Roy Thomas, who the letters page explains offered the concept to Jack, knew full-well Kirby's contract called for him to write every book he drew. And as WI? editor, Roy had been farming out the writing for months anyway, circumstances hardly worthy of Howe's heated, crossed-swords description that "...Kirby refused to allow Thomas to script it..."

More egregious - because Howe could have checked this but didn't - is his yarn that an unnamed editor "...corrected all the grammar in the dialogue -- except that of the Jack Kirby character," the implication being this would reveal Kirby (the writer) as a monosyllabic hack, barely fit to scribble with crayon. Great story. Another young buck twisting the knife in a burnt-out old-timer. Except it's bunk. 

To wit: 

"We must remind Sol to trim down a bit..."

"I'm afraid we'll be subject to change from now on."

"It's very nice of you to say that, Flo."

"Don't deprive your boys of a good fight." 

And that last comes in the heat of battle! Not only is there no taint of the Bowery in the character's "uncorrected" dialogue, it's far more staid and straight-laced than anything Lee ever put in the Thing's mouth. Giving Howe the benefit of the doubt, let's assume someone told him that story. He's still responsible for ladling it out, unverified. 

Hope you enjoyed the rant, class. Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Loved the throwaway, Island of Dr. Murrow Wellsian reference, the gleeful embrace of the pre-FF, "monster book" sensibility that has Skrulls sending notes signed "the 'S' people." Ditto that notion that writing about Reed Richards transforms Stan into a genius inventor, and that Namor keeps an "extra-terrestrial monitor" behind a curtain in his throne room. In all this - hardly tossed off - Kirby captures the outlandish, bursting-at-the-seams sense of what next? energy and invention of the early FF. 

And pity the fool who can only look at it as pre-adolescent pabulum, rather than through the wonder in an eight-year-old's eyes. 

The Uncanny X-Men 114
Story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Jean Simek
Cover by John Byrne and Terry Austin

Trapped in Antarctica in the aftermath of their devastating battle with Magneto, the nearly frozen Beast carries Jean through the thickness of a blizzard. Then, he sees the lights of a U.S. Navy helicopter, but he knows they won’t be seen in the storm. He wakes Jean, yet she is still in shock, crying out for Scott and she lets loose a Phoenix burst. The chopper doesn’t fail to see it and approaches as Hank calms Jean and tells her that Scott and the others are dead. However, unknown to them, the others survive and finally make their way to the surface in a much different climate – a section of Antarctica exempt from cold and ice…the Savage Land! And they’re being watched by a lone man… While the X-Men spend the next week acclimating themselves to their new home, fighting off strange prehistoric creatures, Hank and Jean return to the mansion to tell Professor X and Lilandra that the others have perished. Back in the Savage Land, the X-Men enjoy the relaxation and hospitality of a friendly tribe. Scott tells the others they'll leave in the morning and to enjoy the rest while they can. While Scott shaves over a reflecting pool, his own reflection reminds him of Corsair and he is about to make a fateful connection when Storm breaks his train of thought. They speak of Jean and how her death never registered for him. Hank’s, yes, but not Jean’s. Ororo suggests that perhaps what he felt for Jean wasn’t love after all. Meanwhile, Colossus goes off to get laid while Wolverine grieves over Jean. Relaxing after a swim, Ororo is caught off guard by the man who was tracking them and he violently syphons some of her life energy. It is so overwhelming, the man begins to change into a winged creature. Both he and Ororo scream, and a lightning bolt erupts from the ground, which brings the others running.  When they arrive, they see Storm unmoving and in the clutches of the mutant Sauron! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: I feel like a broken record gushing over this title. But damn it, this is good stuff. After the epic battle of the previous issue, this one is more leisurely-paced. The biggest strength of Claremont’s X-Men is in how he takes the time to get into their lives and personalities. This is no simple running, jumping and fighting series. The X-Men are people. I give Byrne a huge dose of credit here as well, since this level of detail was not as evident in the Cockrum run. It’s no secret that Byrne pretty much saved Wolverine from being “fired.” However, Byrne’s shared Canadian heritage gave Logan a place in his heart and the fleshing out began. He’s not even a focus here, but in the one page we get into his thoughts, we learn a lot, and his evolution from “madman” proceeds nicely. He’s no mindless berserker. He’s a man of deep and complex emotions. Everyone is handled delicately; each being given an inner monologue (a Claremont trademark).  The art, especially in the first few pages, is gorgeous. Hank, covered in snow, is a wonderfully cold image. On the flip side, the lush jungle of the Hidden Land is wonderfully realized. Storm never looked hotter. A change of pace issue, a moment of rest and reflection, but never boring. Proof that comics could hold the attention without throwing punches every other panel or having world-shattering plots. I actually find this sort of X-Men issue to be the most interesting. Wonderful!

Chris: At first, I thought Scott’s lack of grief at Jean’s apparent loss might be due to his psychic link with her; if he hadn’t sensed she had died, he would have no need to grieve.  The reason he cites, though, is quite different: since her manifestation of Phoenix power, Jean has become a different person to him.  Ororo chooses to judge Scott, as she thinks he is resistant to change, and misses the fact that Scott is right; the point is not that Jean is no longer a “girl,” but that she isn’t quite Jean anymore, a distinction Scott should appreciate more than anyone.   (I don’t want to spoil the moment on p 16 – hence this comment is in parentheses – but wouldn’t Xavier have picked up on the deaths of the X-team, if in fact they had died at Magneto’s HQ -?)

The Byrne/Austin team never flags from greatness.  I’ll start with a subtle moment, as we see a shaft of sunlight reach toward Ororo as Peter helps her out of the tunnel (p 6, pnl 5); the daylight, and fresh air, certainly mean more to Ororo than anyone else present.  The full-page reveal of the Savage Land reminds me of a 19th-century landscape of the Hudson Valley school, as there are fine details in the foreground, and a sweeping vista further off (p 7); Byrne clearly states the Savage Land is no simple idyll, as we see a gnarled, twisted branch, and an assortment of torn and bug-eaten ferns and leaves.  The pterosaur’s attack is masterfully done (p 10), as a shadow encroaches on Banshee, who can’t tell what his distant teammates are shouting and gesturing about (pnl 3), before the nasty claw closes around him (last pnl).  Another creeping shadow as Karl Lykos closes in on an unsuspecting Ororo, in an unusual vertical panel (p 27, pnl 4).  OK, now I’m going to flip back and share in some of Sean’s delight at the sight of Ororo’s supple curves, as she adopts native garb (p 17, last pnl).  

Mark: How great is that frigid splash page? It makes me shiver in the middle of July, in San Diego

I'm just gonna riff a bit, class, because this lesson plan is so late that Dean P is casting a baleful eye at my recently upgraded parking space and, worse, threatening to guilt-trip me again with his woeful tale of Harlan Ellison cleaning his glasses on the Dean's shirt, without so much as a fair-thee-well

My tardiness defense is simple. Nearly everything about this series - yeah, I'm only three issues in, but that's plenty of time for huge quality swings - has been so consistently excellent it doesn't just blunt the critical scalpel, it snaps it right off, leaving at least this professor bereft of quips or cogent analysis, when I just wanna indulge a troubling fan-boy impulse to shout, WHAT A GREAT FRICKIN' COMIC! in all caps.

But I won't.

In fact, criticism:    

While appreciating Hank McCoy's scientific and emotional detachment, after fifteen years as an X-Man, Avenger, and recently uncloseted furry, he should know better than to emphatically pronounce the team dead over a minor inconvenience like a molten lava flow.

Take that, Chris Claremont!

Gotta love Ororo's modest-sounding description of her borrowed bikini as "robes," just because it comes with a little, moth-eaten cape. And that John Byrne sure knows a little sumthing about human anatomy...

Enough. I gotta shoot this up the pneumatic tube to the Dean's gilded-office before Fan-Boy really gets off the leash.  

Matthew: Neither markedly better than, nor drastically different from, its predecessors, this somehow gave me a greater sense of the well-oiled Claremont/Byrne/Austin machine, with its consistent excellence easier to take for granted if most mags weren’t steadily declining.  I forget the explanation, but Chris wisely planted a recent seed of Charles fretting that his mental link with his students—always loved how he calls them “my X-Men”—was on the fritz, or he wouldn’t waste a moment thinking them dead.  The drama of that belief is moving; Ororo is stunning, as are pages 7 and 31; Sean is a refreshing voice of reason (page 15, panel 4); Scott is literally commanding (“No one makes a move except on my mark!”); Sauron is ever welcome.

Also This Month

< Crazy #43
Devil Dinosaur #7
Flintstones #7
Human Fly #14
Kid Colt Outlaw #226
Machine Man #7
Marvel Classics Comics #34
Marvel Super-Heroes #75
Marvel Super Action #10
Marvel Tales #96
Marvel Triple Action #44
Scooby Doo #7


Marvel Preview 15
Cover by Joe Jusko

"A Matter of Necessity!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek

"Time Travel: The Fantasy of Science Fiction"
Text by Arthur Curtis
Illustrations by Tom Yeates and Janet Elizabeth Aulisio

"Worlds Enough"
Story by Don and Maggie Thompson
Art by Lee Elias and George Roussos

Another Preview, another Star-Lord saga; again drawn by Infantino, much to mag buyers' chagrin. That makes 4 Star-Lords out of 15 Previews, and one more to come in issue #18. Geez. Someone up there likes Star-Lord. Either that or they ran out of original ideas. Ironically, the editorial by editor Rick Marschall doesn't mention Star-Lord at all; instead he talks about our second tale, "Worlds Enough," and how it's the greatest thing since sliced bread—until next issue's horror spectacular, that is!

Claremont is at the helm of Star-Lord once more, starting us off with an invasion of the planet Carillon by the seemingly evil Haalmhad, as their gunships raze the air and land defenses then the cities, turning the planet into a "radioactive dust-ball," according to the soldiers on the ship, led by nasty Commander Caine, who then blow Carillon away forever…then Star-Lord wakes up from a nightmare. He asks Ship for information, and sure enough, she thinks the Haalmhad are after another planet in the same K'yndar system—and she wants to stop them. On the gunship, Caine and the Haalmhad leaders debate whether or not to destroy the second planet, in order to save themselves, but others think they're just mass murderers. Meantime, on Cymoril, the doomed planet, President Baku worries for his staff, his people, and his family. Yet he is unable to do a mercy killing of his children, so that they might not suffer a horrible fate at the hands of their enemies.

At the outer reaches of the system, Star-Lord and Ship pick up a lone survivor in a protective spacesuit, then we learn Ship was originally a yellow dwarf star (???) that grew into a life-sustaining planet but was destroyed by the Haalmhad. Yet her consciousness survived and she, with help from the "master of your sun," reshaped her "self" into the physical form of a star-ship to help young Peter Quill find his destiny. Star-Lord sneaks aboard the Haalmhad Homeship, camouflaging himself as an officer as Ship evades the big ship with a mesmerizing attack, but is eventually brought aboard safely. Suddenly, Quill is found out by security, but quickly takes out all the guards and ducks behind a door. As more troopers make their way in, Quill evades them too, making his way to "Computer Central," and after "slagging their precious computers," makes his way back to Ship, who starts to heat up…turning into a "small scale super-nova" that overloads system after system on the Homeship, helped by Star-Lord's sabotage of the defense systems and back-ups. Star-Lord tells Caine they have one choice—let Ship tow their inert Homeship to a nearby Type-M planet, sparing their lives and humbling the once-formidable military crew—and more importantly, earning the gratitude of his beloved Ship.

Well, this one wasn't too bad, but more of a straightforward revenge tale/sci-fi caper/suspense yarn/military battle story than the previous Star-Lord issues. Claremont starts off with Moench-like captions, but quickly gets back to business with dialogue that doesn’t waste many words and moves the story effortlessly from panel to panel. The art looks like Infantino, but on some pages it seems Wiacek's inks are heavier than others. A bit too many instances of exploding planets where there are rocks filling the panel, which seems a bit lazy, but the nice drawings of the ships almost make up for it.

Next on the docket is "Time Travel: The Fantasy of Science Fiction," an essay by Arthur Curtis. There's two pieces of odd art, a mention of the comic strip Alley Oop, and that's enough of that. Let's move on to the aforementioned "Worlds Enough" which, like a poem I wrote in high school (one of my better ones, which isn't saying much), takes its name from Andrew Marvell's "Had we but world enough, and time..," the first line of "To His Coy Mistress," written in the 1600s. Written by Don and Maggie Thompson, taken from Don's award-winning short story (although I can't find what award it won). The Thompsons were well-known critics, and went on to edit The Comic Buyer's Guide, which every faculty member has owned at least one of I'm sure, along with other checklists and price guides and publications. Groundbreaking figures in the industry for sure. Don passed away in 1994, but Maggie still appears on her son's pop-culture podcast and makes appearances at conventions.

On to the story proper: Harry Pitzer "winks" into yet another dimension, this one featuring a statue of Hitler where the Lincoln Memorial would be in our United States. So he keeps trying, and trying, and trying, hitting the wrong dimension every time, including a Roman Empire-ruled world and one where dinosaurs still roamed, but starts to worry the "interdimensional patrol" will find him if he keeps jumping. Flashback to a time when Harry accidentally hit a patrolman and took his jumperpack, which gave him the ability to dimension-hop, and seemingly endless tries get him no closer to home. Witnessing so many different versions of the year 1990, Harry knows just by looking at newspaper headlines, such as "JFK Named To Supreme Court" and "Katharine Hepburn Elected President" that nothing is quite right. Finally, on the 77th try, Harry finds his real home, down to the car with the dent where he struck the policeman. He sticks a pin in the jumperpack and sends it through the dimensions to get rid of the evidence, then heads to the drug store to get some aspirin and browse the reading material, where he discovers a book that makes him nervous—The Collected Love Poems of Edgar Rice Burroughs! Wrong again, and Harry was doomed to be found by the patrol…

Lee Elias and George Roussos (formerly George Bell, and "out on inkers' retirement" for this one) tackle the art in this offbeat story, and many of the full pagers feature interesting layouts. The art itself is nowhere as amazing as the editorial claims, but it's passable, and lends itself nicely to the black-and-white format, with deep grays and tons of shadows. The Thompsons present a Twilight Zone-esque tale that you just know isn't going to end well once Harry sends that jumperpack jumping, although by that time you're actually rooting for the poor slob. We end on a letters page where most of the writers fawn over "The UFO Connection" from Preview #13, and I'm wondering why I bothered even to look at that nonsense, because these people did not read the same magazine I did. --Joe Tura

The Hulk! 11
October 1978
Cover Art by Bob Larkin

“The Boy Who Cried Hulk”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Ron Wilson and Fran Matera

“Graven Image of Death”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan and Tony DeZuniga

Text by Rick Marschall

“Readers Rampage”

We know we are in trouble immediately with the text on the back of Bob Layton’s excellent wrap-around cover:

Emotion, Pain and Joy Clash
As Hulk Battles Child Abuse
Against Bright Carnival Backdrop

Oh boy.

The 45-page “The Boy Who Cried Hulk” starts off with Adorable Ragamuffin™ Todd Gregory and his little dog Jip standing on a hilltop looking down on an under-construction carnival below. Little Todd’s excited anticipation for tomorrow’s opening day is tempered when he spots the Hulk clomping through the woods towards the roller coaster. Thinking that the “monster” is part of the show, the boy follows, only to see Greenskins knock over a lantern and set the ride on fire — the bored brute wanders off as carnies rush to the scene. The carnival’s owner, Frank Torrance, arrives and blames Todd for the damage.

Torrance drives the youngster to his home and tells his parents that they are responsible for the cost of fixing the coaster — Todd’s drunken father John defiantly challenges him to take them to court. After Torrance storms off, Todd tells his parents that a monster caused the fire, enraging Mr. Gregory who beats and whips him with a belt. The next day, Bruce Banner awakes in a field and comes across the battered and bruised boy on the same hilltop as yesterday. He quickly realizes that child was abused for something that the Hulk did: overcome by guilt, he promises to meet Todd at 6:00 and treat him to a night at the carnival.

Bruce wanders down to the site and secures a job from Mr. Torrance who needs help to get the roller coaster in shape for tonight’s crowds. After finding new clothes in a tent — and meeting the surly strongman Bruno and the kindly clown Coco — Banner gets to work, earning enough money to treat Todd to a grand time of fun and food. But when Torrance spots the kid he erupts: only Bruce’s intervention stops the boy from being beaten again. As Todd runs off, Banner stumbles away, feeling his gamma-radiated transformation coming on. The Hulk rampages through the circus, smacking Bruno and battling lions. When the carnival owner trains a gun on Jade Jaws, Todd rushes back and puts his body in harm’s way. Hulk cradles the boy and leaps away taking him back home. After the green goliath leaves unnoticed, Todd is grounded by his furious father for attending the carnival with Banner, “a stranger” — he also threatens to send him away.

The next day, Torrance hatches a plot to capture the “monster” and put it on display — and even though he now realizes that Todd was telling the truth, he plans on using the boy as bait. Todd, worried about his new friend Bruce, sneaks out of his room and heads back towards the carnival: he is soon caught by Torrance and smacked after refusing to help draw the Hulk inside a lion’s cage. Banner witnesses the abuse and changes into his awesome alter ego. This time, the coaster is completely destroyed. Hulk again leaps off with Todd, landing directly in front of his parent’s car: they were searching for the boy after they noticed he was missing. Greenskins hands the boy to his father, warning that no one better hurt him ever again. After the Hulk jumps off for good, Mr. Gregory sobs that perhaps he should go away for a while — when he comes back, hopefully the monster inside him will be gone as well.

Grrrrooooaaaannnn. I knew that the magazine’s new direction would be painful, but not on the level of a root canal performed with a soldering iron. What audience did Doug Moench have in mind when writing this maudlin and juvenile crapola? Can’t image that anyone who read the monthly comic would have approved. And this story probably wouldn’t even make the cut as an episode of the TV series. I also have to take Moench to task for, yet again, having the Hulk injuring innocent animals — tossing the lions around — something he already did in The Rampaging Hulk #7. I guess abuse only counts when it’s done to kids, huh Doug? And there’s a long scene where Coco the clown tells Banner that he could never understand carny folks because they are considered freaks, don’t fit in, blah, blah, blah. The art is terrible as well: really not sure, but I think that Ron Wilson was trying to capture the vibe of early Jack Kirby. If he was, total fail. 

But fine: perhaps this magazine is now aimed at indiscriminate ten-year-olds who only know the Hulk from the CBS show. However, if that’s the case, it makes no sense to have Moon Knight as the backup character. Not that I’m complaining: sure Moonie always struck me as Batman in a white costume but he’s a pretty interesting character. At the very least, sure as heck beats the Bloodstone junk we had to endure in the Rampaging days. However, “Graven Image of Death” features not one, but two murders and a healthy dose of violence. Sure, the Hulk does do quite a bit of smashing in the lead story, but no one had to call the coroner afterwards. The tone of the two stories could not be more different. It’s like having a double feature of Pippi Longstocking and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Stalking the rooftops of New York City, Moon Knight — aka mercenary Marc Spector, aka  jetsetter Steven Grant, aka cab driver Jake Lockley — is on the trail of a murderer, three victims to his credit so far. While he does spot a suspect, he is too late to stop another killing. He glides away and quickly changes into his Jake Lockley identity: the killer’s modus operandi is to flee the scene of the crime in a taxi. After picking up the gunman, Jake drives him to a sprawling estate on Riverside Drive. After the man exits the car, Lockley slips back into his Moon Knight outfit and pins him to a tree with a crescent-moon throwing star. The hitman stammers that he was hired by the man who lives in the mansion, Joel Luxor, and told to steal a locker key from that night’s victim. The Knight takes the key, ties up the killer and tosses him in the backseat.

Inside the well-appointed house, Luxor is playing pool with his stooge Packy. Moon Knight leaps through a window and subdues Packy: suddenly, two shots ring out from the street and Luxor falls forward dead. The dark avenger calls his associate Marlene to come to the mansion and search the place before the cops show up, mentioning that the house is filled with valuable artifacts — he bets that some type of collector’s item is at the core of the murders. When he returns outside, the Knight is surprised to see that his cab is gone. He calls up his pilot Frenchie for a helicopter ride to the Sun-Times: the key has the initials “S-T” stamped on the round end.

At the newspaper office, Moon Knight talks to his friend, an editor named Curt, who informs him that the key belongs to the locker of Jim Polhaus — Spector, in turn, tells the newsman that the reporter had been murdered a few hours earlier. In Polhaus’ locker, Knight finds an unpublished article about a statuette of Horus now on display in the Natural History Museum, a priceless icon under the personal care of curator Fenton Crane and something that Joel Luxor wanted to steal. Frenchie flies the Mooncopter to the museum and the night hero slips inside. He immediately realizes that the Horus treasure is fake and that an archaic flintlock is missing from a display — the weapon fired the same type of bullets that killed Luxor. 

After finding Fenton’s address in the administration office, he heads to the curator’s apartment: inside he finds Luxor’s hitman in a closet, still tied. The killer, Anton Varro, confesses that he is not really an assassin, but a rival collector who wanted to use the key to bargain for the figurine. Moon Knight deduces that Fenton is heading to Luxor’s mansion. Fearing for Marlene’s life, Moon Knight flies him back to the end of Riverside Drive: Spector sees his cab outside and hears a shot from within the house. 

Had high hopes for “Graven Image of Death,” but, at only 15 pages, it is way too complicated and convoluted, as you can probably tell by my lengthy synopsis. Too many characters, too many leaps in logic by our hero, and too many plot points completely dropped by Doug Moench. For example, when Moon Knight breaks into Luxor’s house, the man is with a weasely looking dude named Packy. But after Luxor is murdered, Packy just ups and disappears. Where did he go? And when Lockley drops off Anton Varro at the same house, he’s shown in his Moon Knight costume in the very next panel. How did he switch so fast? Can he pause time? And things start off with Moon Knight trying to solve three murders: is Polhaus’ death completely unrelated and he just stumbled on a whole new crime? Plus S-T is an automatic Sun-Times? I had assumed that this was set in New York City with the mention of Riverside Drive, but the Sun-Times is a Chicago newspaper. I also have one of the same major complaints that I had with John Warner’s Bloodstone stuff: it’s written as if everyone is completely familiar with the character’s background. At this point, Moon Knight is a fairly minor hero in the Marvel universe, so readers could have used some type of origin recap and introduction to the supporting cast before we dived right in to this rather bland mystery. Of course, Gene Colan is a natural for the character and Tony DeZuniga is a nice match. Looks like this is one and done for Mean Gene — Keith Pollard takes over next issue.

By the way, the title for next issue’s Hulk story is “The Color of Hate.” Gee, do ya think Dougie is gonna clue us in that racism is bad? -Tom Flynn

On Moon Knight: This is in my trusty Marvel Firsts (in fact, it’s the last such story to fall within the purview of this blog), so I’d never read it before and was surprised, first, that the “back-up” story is only two pages shorter than a regular issue and, second, that it’s drawn by Gentleman Gene.  No surprise, of course, that creator Moench would usher MK into his solo strip, debuting smack dab in the middle of his two-part PPTSS guest-shot, but alas, the Special Edition reprints don’t kick in until Sienkiewicz takes over in #13, so I’ll never find out if Marlene gets killed by Crane—oh, wait…  Never been a big fan of “Moonknight,” as the cover sloppily calls him, yet freely admit he looks cool, especially with the commendable Coluniga art. -Matthew Bradley

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 34
October 1978
Cover Art by Ernie Chan

“The Lair of the Ice Worm”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by Carmine Infantino and Alfredo Alcala

“Moon Skulls: Part I”
Script Don Glut
Art by David Wenzel and Bill Wray

“Conan of Des Moines”

“The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by Mike Ploog
“Swords and Scrolls”
Beginning with the rather poor Ernie Chan cover, this is, sadly, a sub-par issue. However, it is one of the rare Savage Sword magazines that features three of Robert E. Howard’s major characters: Conan, of course, plus Solomon Kane and King Kull. I assume that John Buscema was overwhelmed by the extra workload of this month’s 34-page annual, so Roy was saddled with Carmine Infantino on the Conan story — fortunately Alfredo Alcala is on hand so the art is fairly palatable. In all, the most impressive tale is surprisingly Kull’s, thanks to the phantasmagorical artwork of Mike Ploog. Listen, I have nothing against the Atlantean barbarian as a character, it’s just that his now-cancelled series sucked on a consistent basis.

Set during Conan’s youth, “The Lair of the Ice Worm” finds the Cimmerian in the frigid Eiglophian Mountains, riding south to sell his sword to the highest bidder. He soon comes across a helpless maiden being attacked by hairy man-beasts. Without thinking, he charges on his horse, driving a few through with his lance — when that weapon shatters he continues the carnage with his battle axe. While he manages to drive off the remaining brutes, his horse is killed in the process. The strangely-accented woman reveals that her name is Ilga of the Virunian tribe: she was traveling with her uncle and other men to the Hyperborean city of Sigtona to find her a suitable mate. But the party was attacked and slaughtered by the shaggy cannibals — only the barbarian’s intervention saved her from becoming their next meal.

As night begins to fall, Conan finds a shallow cave and starts a fire. After a meal of horse meat, they bundle up for the night, eventually making love. When the Cimmerian awakes, Ilga is gone. He ventures outside and finds a strange groove-like track that leads to the horse’s carcass: its flesh has been completely stripped and only bones remain, each mysteriously frozen solid. Continuing onward, he also finds Ilga: she is in the same horrifying condition as his mount. Vowing to slay whatever killed the woman, the barbarian returns to the cave and gathers his gear, wrapping himself in his heavy, bearskin cloak.

Following the weird trail, Conan fights against the bitter cold until he finally comes across another, larger cave. He enters to discover it is the home of the legendary and vampiric Ice Worm, a tremendous, fur-covered snake. The Cimmerian throws back his cloak to reveal that he has filled his Aesgaardian helmet with smoldering embers from his fire. He tosses the red-hot helmet into the creature’s mouth — it literally explodes into a nauseating mixture of steam and living ice. The violent reaction causes an avalanche: tumbling downward, Conan barely survives.

At 25 pages, this is a totally lightweight tale: Conan screws a woman, she is killed by a monster and he takes his revenge. As simple as that. What makes it such an oddball is, of course, Carmine Infantino. Never thought I’d see him illustrate my favorite barbarian. The Awesome Alfredo basically pours an entire bottle of ink on each page, adding a ton of fine embellishments, impressive backgrounds and facial details. But we still have Carmine’s goofy flat-footed running around, oddly bent waists and fey arm and hand positioning. Alcala can only do so much. And the Ice Worm looks too cute to be creepy: think Falkor the Luckdragon from The NeverEnding Story. The face looks more catlike than reptilian so it’s a complete misfire. The story is based on the L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter short first published in the 1969 Lancer Books anthology, Conan of Cimmeria.

From a wintry mountain to the West Coast of Africa, we have a complete change of scenery for Solomon Kane’s “Moon Skulls: Part I.” Searching for someone he calls the Vampire Queen of Negari, the Puritan avenger is climbing a perilous mountain, barely surviving a suspicious rock slide before he reaches the plateau. At the top, he encounters a band of fierce-looking ebony warriors: even though Kane bears no gifts, the leader agrees to take him to meet the queen, whom he calls the Mistress of Doom, Nakari. But it is a ruse: when the party begins to cross a stone bridge, one of the Africans attacks — Kane manages to kill the warrior but they both fall to a rocky ledge below. The others think they are both dead and march off. 

Solomon, cushioning the fall by landing on the African’s body, recovers and discovers a cavern. He enters the forbidding crevice, slaying a huge constrictor that strikes from the darkness. Moving on, he comes across a stone wall, man-made and crumbling. The somber adventurer throws his weight against the barrier and it collapses. Kane then finds himself in a dusty hallway: continuing on his way, he soon discovers a peephole. Peering through, he sees a grand royal chamber, the half-naked Nakari of Negari lounging seductively on the ornate throne. When the chief proclaims that they have just killed Kane, the queen erupts, screaming that he slew the “first great man who ever came to Negari” — she orders him to be executed by his own warriors.

The horrified Puritan continues to explore the strange, maze-like palace, finally spying an ornately carved building guarded by two more muscular Africans. Kane clambers up an elaborate trellis and make his way inside through a window. When he opens the first door he comes across, he beholds the object of his thousands-of-miles search.

Talk about an abrupt ending. Our usual team of Don Glut and David Wenzel — now joined by inker Bill Wray — deliver what we have come to expect: 12 pages of nothing special. They adapt the Howard tale of the same name, first published in the June 1930 issue of Weird Tales — Part II appeared a month later in the same magazine. There’s a one-page frontispiece that accompanies the story: a small caption at the bottom states that Kane is in Africa to rescue a girl named Marylin who was sold into slavery to a Barbary freebooter named El Gar years before. Now if you missed the caption — which I nearly did — you would have had no idea about this supposedly important bit of information while reading “Moon Skulls: Part I” because it’s never mentioned. And Kane even states that he's there looking for the Vampire Queen. But perhaps Marylin is what he sees in the final panel. Part II will not appear until issue 37. I think I can wait. But let me move on to King Kull as I’m sure Professor Gilbert will have kinder, more intelligent things to say …

I’m not sure that it’s appropriate to handle the 11-page “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune” in the usual manner: it’s more of a visual experience instead of a literary one so the amazing art is what really matters. Basically, Kull has grown bored of his duties as king of Valusia, so when a courtly wench suggests that the wizard Tuzun Thune knows the secrets of life and death, he visits the mystic on the outskirts of the capital. There, Thune shows Kull a mirror: when the monarch stares within, he is shown grand displays of the past — dinosaurs and cavemen — and the future — Spanish conquistadors and Native Americans. He also sees visions of another version of himself returning his gaze. Over the next few days, the Atlantean is drawn back, spending hours in front of the mystical mirror, ignoring his royal obligations. But soon Brule appears and smashes the glass: Kull was starting to vanish inside the mirror. It seems that Tuzun Thune was actually conspiring with Kaanuub, the Baron of Blaal, to dethrone the king.

So, not much of a plot but, again, that’s secondary. It’s been a while since I covered anything that Mike Ploog produced and it’s a real treat. Ploog himself seems impressed, signing his name to a few of the larger illustrations. He certainly deserves to pat himself on the back. His self-inked effort looks like it was enhanced by some type of charcoal, adding ominous shadows and smoky backgrounds. I love the impressive musculature of the characters: everyone is totally ripped. And the visions are remarkably well done. The dinosaurs are fabulously realistic as are the imposing figures of the future. There are times that Roy adds too much dialogue: not much is really needed and it tends to obscure the amazing images. Though I bet that Howard’s original — published in Weird Tales during 1929 — was a wordy affair since it’s basically a metaphysical rumination. A tremendous back-up feature, one of the most enjoyable to date.

There is only one text piece and it offers a heavy dose of the AWOL John Buscema. At three pages, “Conan of Des Moines or, Son of Conan the Syndicated” features a few paragraphs about the new syndicated strip by Roy and Big John as well as a healthy sampling of both daily and Sunday installments. Sure seem violent for the funny pages. -Tom Flynn