Wednesday, September 28, 2016

February 1979 Part One: Major MARMIS Alert! The Incredible Hulk and Captain America Butt Heads

 The Amazing Spider-Man 189
"Mayhem by Moonlight!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Byrne and Jim Mooney
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by John Byrne and Bob McLeod

Spider-Man swings through the Manhattan streets, arriving at the hospital just in time to give Aunt May a poignant send-off as she is transferred to the nursing home. As he ponders his Aunt's greatness, jerky Dr. Tompkins interrupts and Peter picks him up and threatens to smash him, but ends up running off. Changing to Spidey, he is noticed by a mystery man in the shadows, telling another to kill Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson! JJJ himself argues with Joe Robertson, who wants his friend to get a bodyguard, then pours out his heart to Dr. Marla Madison about his son John's recent kidnapping. Spidey breaks up a robbery just as the cops get there, causing a perp to get shot and our hero to continue to think he's "a loser." With no help coming from DA Blake Tower, JJJ offers a million- dollar reward for information on his son's location, while the mystery man, who despises Jameson for ruining his life, puts a fully-bandaged fellow into his "energizer" and injects him with a "special radiation trace" in order to kill his enemies! Betty visits Peter's pad, claims she and Ned are through, and plants an impressive smooch on the surprised Parker. Hours later, Spidey spies Bandage Guy breaking into the Bugle, gets smashed out of Jameson's office when he swings in, then is forced to take the battle from the hallways to the rooftops. When he tears the bandages away, Spidey learns it's Man-Wolf! The lupine foe knocks out our hero, then goes back to kidnap JJJ, his own father!
-Joe Tura

Joe Tura: John Byrne gives this one an instant lift from the front cover to the thumbnails of JJJ on the boob tube. Jim Mooney is not my favorite inker for him, most notably in the last couple of pages, but the art is still a step up from recent issues. The script takes a small step up also, if not exactly breaking new ground, at least including some nice moments, from Peter's inner pontificating about Aunt May to Jameson's revelations to Marla to Betty and Peter hooking up which, let's face it, the poor guy really needed to relax a little. Other moments stick out:

-- I don't know what that book Peter was carrying in the hospital had to do with anything, but he certainly didn't seem too worried about leaving it behind.
-- A great, if not a bit schmaltzy, sequence on the bottom of page 16 finds City Editor Robbie knowing what to print, and in turn, Publisher JJJ knows Robbie will do what's best for everyone.
--The bad guy behind the scenes really hates JJJ and Spidey, and while there are clues everywhere as to who he is, I honestly can't remember. (I hate peeking ahead, too!)
--Why, when Man-Wolf has those sexy pointed ears, do they not show up under the bandages? Oh, that would give it away; so much for that.

Favorite sound effect is the interesting "BZAK" on page 27, which is just the sound a villain and hero make when they smash into a NYC rooftop pigeon coop! I also like Spidey's internal interrogative "What's he after? I can't believe he's an irate Bugle subscriber!"

Matthew Bradley:  I’m not gonna say the artwork is bad, naturlich, but I will say that with rare exceptions such as page 2, panel 7, Mooney leaves virtually no detectable trace of Byrne’s work, so why not simply have the Madman, or someone else of his caliber, pencil the issue, instead of wasting Byrne on it?  Surprisingly, despite Wolfman’s steadily shrinking stature in my eyes and my distaste for the whole Betty Redux business, I rather liked the story.  Note:  just as the lettercol reveals that “the first names of the roster of graduates [in #185] corresponded to those of every writer and artist who worked regularly on Spider-Man from Stan Lee and Steve Ditko to Marv and Keith Pollard,” the kid on the splash page says, “Hey, Stanley, Stevie—look!”

Chris Blake: It's a bit strange to read this issue in the same month as Marvel Premiere #46, which concludes with Man-Wolf returning to the arms of Kristine, right here in the fair city of New York.  So, how did he wind up in cryogenic storage?  I hope Marv won't gloss over that question in our next chapter.  I also hope nit-picking Marvel zombies aren't going to remind us John Jameson had been removed from the storage facility in ASM #188, which was published last month; keen-minded students who have been following our long-running, sometimes-interrupted storylines will recognize that the Kraft/Pérez conclusion to the Man-Wolf story had been plotted (and, likely roughed-out art-wise) long ago, and simply had to wait for an opportunity to see print.  That won't excuse Marv from connecting one chapter of Man-Wolf to another; Marv, I'm watching you.

Chris: I'll admit to being more optimistic than I might've been a few issues ago about Marv's chances of putting these pieces together; this issue is a very satisfying read that addresses many of Peter's ongoing crises, and leaves him fittingly alternating between feeling worse and better about his circumstances.  Marv also revives the sympathetic depiction of Jonah we've seen whenever Man-Wolf problems arise; nice moment as Jonah turns to Marla in his time of need, quietly realized by Byrne (p 11).
The art is probably 60% Mooney, 40% Byrne.  Mooney has a tendency to turn faces into his own; Mooney handles Jameson well, but I'd rather see Byrne's take on Peter.  Byrne's hand is apparent in Spidey's lithe musculature and signature moves, such as: when he grips the wall and peers across the street to the gun shop (p 11, pnl 5); a nimble recovery after he's thrown out the window (p 26, 1st two panels); a quick-fingered grip of the corner that leads into the stairwell, as he pursues the fleeing Bandage Man (p 27, pnl 3); and a clever web-trampoline (p 30).

Chris: Once again, the cover reveals the very last image from the story; for a change, though, we get a different take on the ending, as the figure on the cover still is hidden in bandages, and is capable of speech!  I don't know whether the cover was purposefully intended as a fake-out; I recall that the covers typically were prepared before the body of the issue, so it's possible Byrne drew the cover first, and at that stage, Wolfman's plot might've called for Man-Wolf's identity to be kept secret until after he had absconded with Jonah. 

Mark Barsotti: The mention of the "TV Spidey" on the splash page irks me as a gratuitous plug; Marvelites no doubt knew about the third-rate web-slinger on the tube.

The rest is fast-paced and fairly painless. Our cleared-by-the-cops hero decides everything's aces on his way to the hospital for Aunt May's send off to the nursing home. Getting teary-eyed doesn't stop Pete from assaulting the doc who insults him. Off he runs and, into the blue and red, interferes with New York's finest taking down a stick-up man, leading Pete to decide he is a loser after all. Talk about the Marvel Age of Manic Mood-Swings!

J. Jonah gets a nice moment of emotional vulnerability with Marla as he agonizes over his kidnapped son. Back at the Bugle, J.J.'s attacked by a refugee from a Mummy movie; Spidey intervenes, marking, I believe, the 345th time, he's saved the pugnacious publisher, all without being thanked once. Nobody said it's easy being a good guy...

There's some not terribly convincing romantic nonsense with won't-take-no-for-an-answer Betty Brant, who's veering ever closer to stalker territory, and no reason at all for John Jameson nee Man-Wolf to be mummy-wrapped, except in service of a last page reveal that leaves absolutely no one flabbergasted.

The foregoing is all certainly superior to the name-checked TV Spidey, and if that's praising with faint damns, take it up with Marv Wolfman.       

 The Avengers 180
"Berserkers' Holiday"
Story by Tom DeFalco
Art by Jim Mooney and Mike Esposito
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Rich Buckler and Dan Adkins

Thor, Vision, Beast, and Bloodhawk battle the Monolith on a faraway island while the remaining Avengers are hanging from a wall in Avengers Mansion, courtesy of twelfth-tier baddie, the Stinger. The Monolith puts up a good fight but is finally bested when Beast reinserts the stolen Totem in the rock's head. For good measure, Thor sends the walking mountain into space. Beast talks Bloodhawk into an audience with Professor X but first, they stop off at Avengers HQ to find their comrades in arms. The Stinger explains that he intends to auction off the Avengers to the highest bidder (opening bid is one million clams) but Thor has something to say about that. In the melee, Bloodhawk is fatally wounded but the Earth's Mightiest Heroes triumph in the end. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: The one saving grace of this hunk of junk is that, ostensibly, we won't see a 4-issue Bloodhawk mini-series in the 1980s thanks to his selfless act of bravery. As with the current Captain America (see below), there is entirely too much of nothing going on here. We get two major battles wrapped up in one issue and neither feels as if it should have gone the distance. I had high hopes for the Kirby/Lee-esque Monolith, the Beast that Walked Like a Mountain, but those hopes were dashed fairly quickly; we get no origin nor a display of any awesome power other than a thick hide. Moonosito is neither the best nor the worst team we've seen on this title; squarely right down the line. Nothing much to say except that 1979 is shaping up to be just as mediocre as 1978.

Matthew: Worse. If you really want to lose your lunch, take a look at the lettercol, where these troglodytes are still creaming their jeans over Shooter’s Korvac plotting, and then check out the story itself, where Mr. Big Shot EIC—the only editor formally charged, uh, credited for this dog—doesn’t know the difference between “its” and “it’s” (a mistake he blithely lets pass no fewer than four times in a single issue), and still can’t make up his mind whether the name of the island is “Maura” or “Muara.”  Then, in page 23, panel 1, we get an intensely unwelcome reminder of the “Avengers as Butterfly Collection” routine from the Graviton mess.  As poor Bloodhawk puts it, hitting the nail unerringly upon the head, “You incompetent clods dare call yourselves ‘Earth’s mightiest?’”

Chris: Well, this “Monolith” is about as one-dimensional as they come, isn’t it?  Even Jack Kirby’s monolith from 2001 had more personality – and it never said anything!  It was just a polished block of black granite!  When the Beast puts the stone token in the Monolith’s head-slot, I’m thinking, “Oh no – now that it’s been reconnected with the token, it’s going to exhibit some new power, or split open and reveal … eh, something, I’m sure!”  But no – that’s it; token in slot, Monolith stops – The End.  But wait, we have to deal with the Stinger.  I realize he has some Tinkerer-crafted powers that (somehow) allow him to KO most of the Avengers, but what’s keeping them mounted to the wall (p 23)?  You mean to tell me that YJ and the Wasp can’t insta-shrink from those bonds, and that Iron Man and Wonder Man can’t flex their way free?  I imagine even Wanda and T’Challa could free themselves without help.  I also wondered what they were prepared to do with Bloodhawk (since I couldn’t remember him ever joining the X-Men) once they offered him a ride home; I had forgotten DeFalco had set-up BH to offer a Selfless Sacrifice.  So apparently, with so many of these details missing from my memory, this issue didn’t stick with me as did other Avengers stories from this period.  

Well, now that this JLA business is over, we can get back to real Avengers concerns next issue.  What’s this – “The Old Order Changeth” -?  Well, hold on – this order has been in place for less than thirty issues; it’s hardly had a chance to get “old,” so why should it need “changeth”ing -?  

Joe: Once again, we get an Avenger spouting a line that just sounds a little off, as on the first page Thor says of the Monolith: "With each step, yon grim-faced gargantua shakes this isle to its very foundations!" Sorry, but "grim-faced gargantua" sounds more Spider-Man than Thunder God. The rest of the script is fine, but there's a whole lot of talkin', even by the tragic Bloodhawk. By the way, who didn't see that coming? From like the very first panel of Bloodhawk? Once his "sanity" started to go because of that giant video-game token, he was destined for martyrdom. His end comes via the Stinger, a C-list villain at best who at least has some fun with advertising, with the private auction flyer reading "Not yet in stock" for Thor, Vision, and Beast. The team as a whole doesn't get a lot to do other than the back-ordered heroes. At least Iron Man gets to strut his stuff in the hard-edged Hostess Twinkies® ad!

Conan the Barbarian 95 
“The Return of Amra”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema

As Ajaga’s human and animal warriors lead away the captured Bêlit and her Black Corsairs, Conan plummets to a certain death below, knocked off the mountain peak by two of the Beast King’s fearsome baboons. But the branches of the densely packed trees below begin to slow the Cimmerian’s descent — at the last second, he shifts his body and the ape that is still attacking him in mid-air takes the brunt of the fall. Conan slowly rouses only to find a tremendous black lion inches from his face. But when the cat does not attack, the battered barbarian soon realizes that it is Sholo, the former companion of the original Amra, the jungle lord the Cimmerian killed months ago and the name the Corsairs call him now. After Sholo feeds on the dead baboon, they both head out together towards Abombi, Ajaga’s mountain city, to rescue the She-Devil.

When Conan spies a cave at the foot of mountain, he thinks it might lead upwards to the ancient and cursed city. But Sholo hesitates at the entrance, spooked by a strange rune carved in the rocky earth. Leaving the cat behind, the Cimmerian enters to find an old, half-blind man named G’Chambi waiting for him inside. After welcoming Conan as Amra, the ancient witch-hunter reveals that he is one of Ajaga’s few remaining foes, the Beast King’s animals held at bay by the sign of Jhebbal Sag scratched in the stone outside. Under the spell of the animal master, a velociraptor-like reptile with a razor-sharp beak suddenly attacks from within the cave and G’Chambi is mortally wounded. After a fierce battle, the barbarian breaks the dinosaur’s neck. As the shaman dies, he tells the Cimmerian that if he draws the rune exactly, it will help protect him from “the devils who serve the devil.”
-Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: While you probably do not remember, I was somewhat unimpressed by the three-part story — Conan the Barbarian #61 to #63 — that introduced the original jungle lord Amra. But I loves me some animals so the mighty black lion Sholo is a welcome sight. Now Conan is pretty sure that it’s not a coincidence that the cat arrived on the scene after the fall from the mountain: he was most likely drawn by the call of Ajaga as are other beasts of all shapes and sizes. So the Cimmerian treads lightly — will Sholo turn on him if commanded? G’Chambi is a cool character but, geez, he’s basically introduced and killed in two pages. The bird-like dinosaur — not all that bigger than the Cimmerian but a seriously nasty customer — makes much more of an impression. The fight runs over nearly five full pages and is completely brutal. Roy makes sure to state that the saurian entered the cave from some long forgotten opening, avoiding the Jhebbal Sag symbol at the main entrance. 

Throughout, Conan worries that Bêlit might already be dead. While Ajaga is planning on separating her head from neck, he tosses the She-Devil in his prison along with the kidnapped daughters of the leaders of the Black Coast villages: he wants to exhibit her like a prize animal to show all who is the true sovereign. Roy includes a few flashback panels to last issue which I’m not sure are necessary. And the way Conan survived the fall off the mountain was a bit of a stretch: he basically walks away unscathed. Not sure I’d buy that for a dollar. Do I really need to say anything about the art? Rest assured, it’s as outstanding as always.

Chris: On some level, Conan’s never thought of himself as a lord of beasts.  He’d won the title of “Amra” in a fight, but his aim was not to claim the trappings that came with it.  Roy recognizes this, and places Conan in a rare moment of uncertainty as he encounters Sholo (p 6); quick thinking as Conan recognizes the lion has come to pay respects.  But, the following gesture, as Conan extends his left arm (not his sword arm, right?) to rub Sholo’s head, requires a mighty effort.  Roy concludes the moment as Conan retrieves his sword and sheathes it, seemingly never taking his eyes from the jungle beast (p 7, pnl 2).  

Francoise Mouly casts Conan in a pale blue when his thoughts turn to concerns for Bêlit (p 7, last panel), anxieties Conan capably dismisses as he realizes he can’t do anything about her fate right now; we also see a rich shade of blue as Conan and Sholo stride thru the moonlit jungle night (p 10, pnl 3).  But why does Sholo appear deep blue, when we all know he’s supposed to be shaded black?  It seems George Roussos had a similar problem with Zula’s hue, which he managed to sort out, so it’s unfortunate that the color editor didn’t intervene here to prevent a similar ill-shading.  

 The Defenders 68
"Valhalla Can Wait!"
Story by David Anthony Kraft and Ed Hannigan
Art by Herb Trimpe and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Elaine Heinl
Cover by Herb Trimpe

The much-anticipated, oft-delayed war between Hela and Ollerus finally commences. Both sides have aces up their sleeves: the real Val sides with Hela while Ollerus has duped Hellcat, Nighthawk, and the Hulk into thinking Val is on his side (in actuality, his Val is the loony Barbara Norriss!). With Hulk stomping soldiers right and left, it seems as though Ollerus will be the victor. That is, until Barbara's true side is shown to the three Defenders and they quickly switch allegiances. With his army now on the defense, Ollerus summons the Mystic Mountain and the giant rock lifts and thuds its way across the valley. Not one to be on the losing side, the Incredible Hulk finds his way into the heart of the mobile monolith and destroys Ollerus' pet. Hela declares that both she and Ollerus will be banished to Niffelheim (Land of the Damned) and that Harokin shall be the new ruler of Valhalla. The Defenders are given their lives back and sent back to Earth. Amen. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: In the midst of a whole lot of really odiferous dialogue, Jade Jaws manages to come out with the most on-the-money insight of the month: "Bah -- everyone is confused!" What began, for me at least, as an interesting and intriguing storyline has degenerated into a jumbled, silly mess best left behind. There's not really a whole lot going on once the battle commences (and what's with Hela zipping over to Asgard to get Odin's feedback while her army is being deep-sixed?); Nighthawk and Hellcat are pretty much reduced to spectators (but then, since they have no real powers, that would be the case, wouldn't it?). It's Hulk vs. everyone else. The idea of using a mountain as your secret weapon is a brilliant one (so brilliant that they semi-sorta use it in this month's Avengers as well), I guess, but it doesn't make all that much sense visually. It's more like Monty Python animation: the rock lifts itself and drops on hundreds of soldiers... repeat (maybe give it eyes and lascivious mouth for effect). And can we somehow have Dr. Strange conjure up a spell that allows Hellcat to talk intelligently? "Gee whillickers, Mr. Harokin, that's a real big sword you got there!" Well, at least this Thor-like epic is over and done and we have some more down-to-Earth adventures awaiting us. On second thought... the next issue banner promises the return of Omegatron. I can't win, can I?

Matthew:  Know what my favorite part of this final chapter is?  Certainly not the crappy cover.  No, it’s the fact that it’s finally over; I’ve now read “Val in Valhalla” at least twice since it was perpetrated, uh, published, and if you put a gun to my head, I think I’d still have trouble explaining just what the hell happened, or why I should even give a damn.  As with Ghost Rider, the creative team is reshuffled into an arguably worse configuration, which slightly outlives the blog:  Hannigan (sharing credit with Kraft for the last time until #89) completes his transition from artist to writer, and is replaced in the former capacity by Trimpe.  On the plus side, it’s fun to see a Herb/Hulk reunion, and Marcos—who will return for #86-92—is a surprisingly good fit.

Chris: So Dave the Dude and Ed the Head are deep into their story, building to Hulkster's demolition of Mount Sharktooth, when Dave looks up and suddenly realizes Defenders #68 is pulling in to the station; he and Ed scramble together the disparate story elements, now scattered all over the seats and luggage racks, and stuff everything into the last 1 1/2 pages: Barbara Norriss, who now is Val's immortal self, is consigned to Niffelheim (ouch!  We assume mad Barbara didn't see that coming, since we never hear from her again); Hela is taking Ollerus with her back to Niffelheim (so, now he's okay with abandoning his ambitious power-grab for Valhalla and Hel itself?); all the dead Midgardians are being effortlessly restored to their former lives (that's handy), and the Defenders are free to go!  All righty then. 

The rapid wrap-up is difficult to excuse; still, I don't want to poke too much fun, since overall, this three-parter genuinely is a more enjoyable story than I remember.  This is the final Defenders credit for awhile from David Anthony Kraft, which might not be troubling news for some members of the faculty.  I think Dave had a good, if uneven, run on this title; he had a tough act to follow when he (with help from Roger Slifer and others) took over from Steve Gerber.  To Dave's credit, he didn't try to copy Steve G. (say, by removing Hellcat's brain, or something), and didn't scrap Steve's approach to the title either; mixed-in with the Scorpio/new Zodiac and Sergei/Red Guardian stories, we had the supernaturally-themed Red Rajah and Xenogenesis tales.  If you didn't care for Dave, then I don't know what to tell you, since writing responsibilities now fall to Ed Hannigan; rather than continue with Dave's assortment of venues and circumstances, Ed will root us firmly in limited Lunatik-land and tedious Tunnelworld.  
We certainly know Herb Trimpe can draw the Hulk.  Can he draw the rest of the team, though?  The jury still is out, since Pablo Marcos is here to smooth out some of Herb's sharp corners.  The battle scene on p 7 is pretty terrific, but the effect is diminished by the prominent image of Nighthawk at the top in an ungainly flying-V formation; he appears to be suspended stationary in mid-air, as if he were hanging by a cable from a sound-stage ceiling.  I recall how odd-looking this appeared from my first viewing of this page, and I'm no less distracted now! 

 Doctor Strange 33
"All My Dreams Against Me"
Story by Roger Stern and Ralph Macchio
Art by Tom Sutton and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Jim Shooter
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Frank Brunner

Stephen Strange and Clea continue their battle with the mirror images within the Sanctum. The Doc gets the upper hand but Clea vanishes. Strange hears a scream upstairs and arrives to find Clea in bed, waking from disturbing nightmares. A spectre appears, revealing itself to be Nightmare, who claims no responsibility for the mirror images but hints he knows who's behind the attack. Meanwhile, Barbara Robb (aka Dream Weaver) views the entire incident she cooked up for Strange and Clea on a magical tv set and decides she just must place a visit to the Sanctum. When DW gets there, she asks Strange if he can cure her of the nightmares that plague her. During a long hypnotic session, Strange and Clea fall asleep and Dream Weaver draws out Stephen's dream-self to hand over the Book of Vishanti. Strange is playing possum though and casts a spell over the nutty DW, transporting her back to her apartment and wiping clean any memories of her evil alter ego. In his secret domain, the Dweller of Darkness watches and plots his next move. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: I'm not sure why but I really enjoy this title. The stories confound me and the Lovecraftian prose annoys me at times but there seems to be a multitude of ideas just bursting at the four-color seams and, for that, I admire Stern and Macchio. The Dream Weaver character is a Gerber-esque whack, one I would have liked to have seen more of (according to my sources, this is the last we'll see of Barbara) and the Dweller certainly adds a heaping helping of sinister intrigue. The Sutton-Nebres art is hot and cold, at times not gelling at all, but the best of it reminds me of what Sanjulian, Bea, and a horde of Spanish artists brought to the Warren magazines in the early 1970s.

Chris: Any decent Dr Strange story should leave us disoriented, at least for a while, as we struggle to understand the forces that beset Doc, and/or the measures he requires to rebuff them.  As I’m waiting for this moment, I become impatient with first-time Doc scripter Ralph Macchio; there’s plenty of action as he and Clea fight back the mirror-images, but also a fair amount of thought balloons, captions, and dialog, which makes the battle seem to stretch out longer than necessary.  Doc exudes his usual quiet authority as the action plays out, and takes time to contemplate the true nature of the gem from the purple dimension, which sets us up for a twist as Doc suddenly realizes Clea is fading to mist, and crumbling to ash.  Okay, so maybe the new guy can handle this title.  Doc is very cordial with Dream Weaver when she first presents herself at his door, so it’s reasonable to expect he’s already seen thru her, and is simply playing along in order to learn her game.  I’ll admit I was a bit concerned, though, when he cast the Weaver into the Book of the Vishanti; his voice seems cold, somehow, as he offers to ensure her “fascination with the tome is satisfied … .”  He seems prepared to trap her there, while I’m thinking, “Hey Doc, she’s just a patsy;” thankfully, Doc’s aim is simply to teach her a deeply-embedded lesson.  But, wheels within wheels – the Dweller was only using the novice Dream Weaver to instill false hope, which he intends to dash come the morn.  Intriguing!

Chris: I’m deeply relieved to have Tom Sutton back.  I checked, and Sutton has eight credits (pencils 7 times, inks 1 time) between #27 and #35, which makes him the most consistent presence between Gene Colan’s runs on this title (yes fans, Gentleman Gene will be back).  The pairing with Rudy Nebres continues to work, since – surprisingly – Nebres complements Sutton’s pencils without overwhelming them, and also contributes to the all-important atmosphere (and yes, I checked that too – Nebres has seven credits between Gene-runs).   Highlights include: Clea fights the coils around her neck, which Doc then dismisses completely (p 3, 1st two panels); Doc’s shock at Clea’s fade-out (p 10, pnl 8 – wow, 10 panels on that page!); clever touch as Dream Weaver observes Doc & Clea on her b&w tube at home (p 15); a grand staircase in the sanctum, which most artists depict more simply, and which underscores the legends we’ve heard about the house seeming bigger, somehow, than it appears from the outside … (p 17, 1st pnl); Dream Weaver’s curiosity results in her being dropped by Doc into the mouths of some very nasty-looking critters, and her ego harassed by her id – hate it when that happens (p 26-27).

Matthew: With 20/20 hindsight, it’s amusing to read in the lettercol that because of his multifarious writing and editing duties, Stern is regretfully turning the typewriter over to Macchio, who scripts his plot here, when except for the Claremont Interregnum (#38-45), Sterno will be on hand for virtually every issue through #75; Ralph sticks around for only five, mostly in collaboration with Roger.  Suttonebres is an effective combo for this book, and while I won’t say they appear to be aping his style per se, they do achieve an ornately mystical atmosphere that seems Ditkoesque—high praise indeed.  I find Dream Weaver unattractive and annoying, but the story overall is good, and the Dweller in Darkness generates suspense while pulling the strings…

 Fantastic Four 203
"...And a Child Shall Slay Them!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Joe Sinnott

The downright demonic FF on the cover is something we've never seen before. Early points there. Inside, Ben invites Stretch to go bowling, but Reed's discovered "a highly concentrated radiation pocket in our ventilator shaft" and has to tend to it. With all the trouble RR's had lately - computers trying to kill the Fabs, the top of their building blasting off - Stark, Pym, and Banner are starting to talk...

Pages 2&3 are as dialogue dense as any I've seen lately, as we segue into Reed and Sue visiting a sick boy in hospital. Seems Willie Evans was exposed to cosmic rays while in the Army in '68, and now Willie Jr. is paying the price for Uncle Sam's hubris.

Young Willie is also an FF fan, and from within the confines of the Comatron 5000TM that's keeping him alive, his eyes glow bright as his fevered, cosmic-radiated brain conjures the cover-demons into existence!

Back at the Bax, an apron-clad (really, Marv?) Sue is whipping up cookies for young Franklin when the Fabs see their demon doppelgangers wreaking havoc in Herald Square. Jumping into the old "bathtub" F-car (the new model, wrecked months ago, is still in the shop; you know those auto repair guys), the team heads to 34th Street to give battle. But the doppel-demons are their match and more; they get stronger as the fight progresses. We're treated to the sight of Sue hauling her soaking wet hubby through a storm drain, p.19.

Thus refreshed, Stretch gets a "bizarre idea" and leaves his pards to fight on, while he flies back to HQ. Our trio pulls the old "switching opponents" gimmick, so Thing doesn't fight evil Thing, etc, which works until the Foul Four rebound and demon Johnny starts going nova... 

But then the doppels start to melt into the sidewalk! All are gone by the time Reed lands the front portion of the bathtub to announce his "Radiabsorber"(which he'd obviously whipped up to clean out the ventilator shaft) did it!" Half a sentence later, he reiterates, "I returned to the Baxter Build for my new Radiabsorber." 

Heck, I think even Forbush got it the first time.

Back at hospital, Reed tells Willie's folks their son is a mutant and gives them a card for Professor X's School for Gifted Children. As the Fabs fly off, Willie Senior opines, "They're as concerned for one they are for the entire world!"

Cue inspiring outro music. 

-Mark Barsotti

Mark: Given Marv Wolfman's recent flailing about (here and on Spidey), I was braced for another stinker but Marv comes up with an old school rah-rah winner, lightweight though it may be. Saccharine and sentimental? Sure, but so was E.T. There's nothing wrong with a tried & true formula, if you pull it off.

Admittedly, Wolfie has lowered the bar of late, class, and I'm grateful to be rid of Quasimodo, if only for a month,  so, yes, beware grade inflation. But the concerned parents at hospital who open and close the book give the proceedings more gravitas then we've had of late, and Marv manages to work in some military malfeasance and birth a new mutant, without making a fuss over either.

And even though Wolfman remains pretty clueless about handling the Thing, Ben finally gets a decent line after a couple dozen groaners, telling the Torch, "Don't make an ash of yourself."

Pollard and Sinnott have fun with the demonic FF, and so did I. 

Or at least, it was funish. B-.

Matthew: Meh.  Meh, I say!  Meh, meh, meh.  This is the kind of one-off—however tangential a link in the Quasimodo chain it may be—that Stan and Jack used to do in the good old days so nostalgically lauded in the lettercol, only they did them ten times better.  The Pollard/Sinnott artwork is largely excellent, but the faux-Thing looks silly rather than scary with that big orange horseshoe on his head.  How is it that after 17 years, this is, if I’m not mistaken, the first reference we’ve ever seen to a cosmic ray bomb?  “Beyond all medical science,” indeed; Tuskegee, move over!  And naturally the kid, who apparently knows nothing about that, just happens to be obsessed with the FF.  Who were created by cosmic rays.  Isn’t that a coincidence?

The apron-over-the-uniform thing has always annoyed me.  Are you on duty or off duty?  Do you wear your FF togs 24/7, just in case?  During one of their periodic cash crunches, why doesn’t Reed simply license out his design for that computer-oven?  Beats the Easy-Bake all to hell.  After an entire issue of MTIO has been devoted to Ben’s resentment over the fact that the Hulk was a TV star and he wasn’t, we get a throwaway reference to “our new cartoon show” with no context or explanation whatsoever.  “Reed!  I don’t see my double!”  You mean the double of the Invisible Girl?  Oh, wait:  “she’s invisible!  No wonder I didn’t see her!”  You’re right, Sue, that’s gotta be it.  Nothing gets by her.  Or Ben:  “Cripes!  It’s like fightin’ myself…”

Raise your hand if, like me, you saw the whole “That’s it, Ben—we can’t fight our doubles—but we can take on the others!” twist coming a mile away from the newsstand.  The FF sure didn’t, since despite that being Comic-Book Cliché #87, they made the mistake of charging in and attacking only their own analogs.  By the end, Marv has ladled on so much cheese (“No wonder they’re known as the Fantastic Four!  And thank God for them!”) that one could be forgiven for mistaking the whole thing for a giant platter of nachos.  And you’d think a former editor in chief might know the correct name and location of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in Salem Center, which is in Westchester County, but then, we know all about those pesky EICs, right…?

Chris: The premise of extraordinary powers being exhibited by an immobilized person feels very familiar.  The action makes the story, as we get plenty of fine FF vs FF clashing thru most of the issue, including a needless visit to the Statue of Liberty.  Wolfman then lays a big slice of yellow American cheese on the final panel, as the boy’s parents gush over the team’s heroics, spouting laughably fake lines like “No wonder they’re known as the Fantastic Four – and thank God for them!”  Hey Marv – you forgot to have the kid pipe up, “God bless us, every one – and God bless the United States of America!” as the music swells and the credits begin to roll.  Whew.  Aside from a few moments during the Reed vs Doom storyline that culminated in FF #200 – most of them involving Wolfman’s admittedly admirable characterization of von Doom – Wolfman has not done much to establish this title as a must-read, as it had been until Len Wein’s tenure wrapped up – and that’s close to a year ago, now.  

The Pollard/Sinnott art is fine, if a bit hectic at times, and clearly lacking a Big Moment that would give us a visual takeaway.  There really isn’t anything that matches the promise of the Cockrum/Sinnott cover (although I wish Joe had left the faces resembling Dave’s original drafting, instead of putting his fingerprint on them); if you’re not sure, compare the dynamic cover with the comparably static view of the fever-dream team as seen on p 7.  For all the things that make the Bronze era great, I wish for many other opportunities that never came to pass – so now, I have to wish that Dave Cockrum had penciled at least one regular issue of Fantastic Four, too?  Okay – it’s now on my list.

Ghost Rider 34
“The Demon Within!”
Story by Roger McKenzie and Don Perlin
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Don Perlin

Johnny Blaze awakes on the huge, futurist hovercraft, trapped by the mental shackles of the demon child floating before him in a clear bubble. The grizzled prospector Woody Guthers is also a prisoner in the chamber since he accidentally stole some of the boy’s psychic powers. The unearthly urchin commands his frightened father to commit suicide with a pistol — the sinister son cackles when the handgun misfires. The boy then summons the rotting corpse of his mother: it shambles towards her terrified spouse, arms spread outward for a deadly embrace. Overwhelmed by the horrific scene, Blaze transforms into Ghost Rider, breaks free and hurls the woman at her son — it strikes his protective encasement with a sickening crunch. Enraged that his mother has been hurt, the boy knocks the Spirit of Vengeance unconscious with a flying piece of machinery.
When he comes to, Blaze finds himself in a glass-lined cell inside a strange, metallic mountain complex, the demon child’s father chained beside him. The man tells Johnny that the boy was born evil over a century ago. When the townspeople found out, they stormed the house and beat his wife to death, assuming she was a witch. But the newborn was already powerful and transformed the men into hideous creatures. For decades afterwards, the grotesque family roamed the countryside in a covered wagon, the son keeping his father ageless and the body of his dead mother animated. As the child’s abilities grew stronger his body began to grow frail, so he built the bubble that now protects him. When they finally arrived at Last Chance, Nevada, the bedeviled boy built a secret base into a mountain and constructed the hovercraft and an army of mindless robots.

Realizing that Ghost Rider is the only one who can stop his crazed child, the man begins to beat his cellmate with his chains until the stuntman’s satanic alter ego appears. The Rider burns a hole in the mountain’s rocky side and the man escapes only to age instantly and fall dead. The menacing hero blasts himself free and forms a Skull Cycle. Tearing through the complex he comes across Woody, now transformed into a misshapen man-tree. When the boy eventually floats into the room, Guthers uses the last of his stolen powers to create a spurting oil leak — the Rider ignites the black liquid with hellfire and the entire mountain erupts. Ghost Rider, the only survivor of the tremendous explosion, rides off, haunted that death has brought peace to all except him. -Tom Flynn

Tom: Gawd. Almighty. After finishing the synopsis of the latest issue of Ghost Rider, an inner debate inevitably begins. Do I really need to bother with a commentary? Haven’t I been tortured enough? Besides, more forgiving professors Blake and Bradley always have something to say. Do I actually need to give this series even more of the attention it certainly doesn’t deserve? But then that ole Catholic guilt kicks in and I lace up my boots for another wade into the shit pond. I had hoped to keep my recap as brief and painless as possible but with so many ill-conceived WTF moments in the plot, I fell under their soul-sucking spell and ended up describing them all. Lucky you.

Now he’s not actually called one until the very last page, but apparently the demon child is some type of mutant. During the father’s walk down memory lane, he references that his son has kept his existence a secret even from those who might have helped him: Perlin provides an image of Professor X and Cyclops in the panel. However, lazily, the boy’s powers are completely undefined. It seems that he can do anything he damn well pleases: raise the dead, impart immortality, create amazing technology out of thin air, and more. Guess he can’t save himself from explosions though. Now maybe I’ve missed something, but it seems that the Ghost Rider is nigh indestructible. He motors off at the end with barely a scratch. Where’s the drama in that? Though, Ghosty is “haunted” by the meaning of death in the ham-fisted “voiceover.” 

Listen, if someone like John Byrne or Michael Golden were illustrating this series, perhaps things wouldn’t be so dreadful. You might be able to buy all the sloppy nonsense. But no, we have Don Perlin. So we’re cursed just like the Ghost Rider himself. I will admit that Don’s cover is not that bad.

Matthew: Usually, the villain reveals his origin/motivation/evil plan/whatever at this point in a two-parter, and after his defeat we all go home happy, but this mess of a backstory raises more questions than it answers, most notably WTF?  I can’t even take much comfort in the fact that it marks the end of McKenzie’s stint and—excepting a shared credit on #76—Perlin’s mercifully brief tenure as co-writer.  After the Starlin fill-in next time, Roger is succeeded by Michael Fleisher, who is not necessarily an improvement, while the limpet-like Don will remain attached as penciler and/or inker for the vast majority of “Macabre Michael’s” unbroken 31-issue run, and a more consistently underwhelming collaboration than that could scarcely be imagined...

Chris: It’s a strange issue; Roger McKenzie brings a few good ideas, but doesn’t find a way for them to gell.  He starts off well with a very creepy demonstration of Nathan’s power, and a solid spate of action, followed by a long pause chock-filled with exposition, and a rush to the fiery finish.  Ghost Rider proves in their first encounter he can resist Nathan’s power (p 11); it’s an interesting notion that he’s able to block Johnny’s knowledge of his Ghost Ridery powers after having knocked GR unconscious, but Jonathan Beame solves the problem a little too easily – literally two panels after he’d discovered the block had been placed.  Woody’s trees-formation is a twisted idea (p 26), but his discovery of an oil gusher under the floor (p 27) is riotously rapid.  And we all know that, while oil is flammable, it’s not explosive, right?  

Matthew: Glad somebody brought that up.

Chris: Perlin, self-inked again, has some solid moments, as he continues to give us a craggy-faced, evil-looking Ghost Rider.  Anna’s arrival from the shadows is suitably hideous (p 3, last pnl), and the fiery dispatch of her too-long-preserved corpse by GR also is a highlight (p 7).  

 Godzilla, King of the Monsters 19
"With Dugan on the Docks!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Dan Green
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Shelly Leferman
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Bob Wiacek

Young Rob calms man-sized Godzilla down and takes him 'cross town towards the heli-carrier, but first meets a tipsy hobo, a mounted policeman, and a pair of hoodlums who try to rob them to no avail. Good thing Godzilla is dressed in a hat and trench coat! Dum Dum and the gang are just about ready to give up the search for the missing Godzilla when young Rob walks up on the pier—just in time for Godzilla to grow again! Thinking he's being attacked, the Big G uses a tail "SWUMP," fire breath, dodge, smack, and shoulder throw to take on Dum Dum and Gabe Jones, finally tossing Gabe into the drink, smashing Dugan good and walking away as the "undisputed champ of the docks"—and much to young Rob's chagrin, Godzilla is "big enough for everybody to see."--Joe Tura

Joe: In a title where Godzilla was roped by a cowboy and fought a trio of alien monsters and teamed up with a giant robot against a sasquatch look-alike, this is easily the most bizarre episode yet. Basically, it pits WWF (that's what they were in the '70s) wrestler Godzilla vs. Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones! With Young Rob in his corner, all that's missing is a well-timed salt throw, ala the recently deceased Mr. Fuji. And the Big G in a trench coat that's straight out of Thing's closet? Land sakes alive, this is goofy business! Come on, did Dum Dum ever think, back when he was howling for our country, that he would be going literally toe-to-toe with freakin' Godzilla? Did anyone??? Eventually, as in the Toho films, the King merely stalks off, although this time without trampling much more than some litter or garbage cans maybe. And Young Rob definitely has a future with Gamera if this gig doesn't work out. He's a little better than "Kenny" for sure!

Matthew: Am I the only one who feels that almost 40 years ago, completely unheralded, the world very nearly came to an end when Godzilla—the King of the Monsters, for Eiji’s sake—donned a trench coat and fedora, like some reptilian Humphrey Bogart?  I remain astounded that Toho let this pass.  Okay, you guys want to chart your own course and do interesting things with the comic book, but having the erstwhile (note to Bullpen: that means “former”) Big G get into a brawl on the docks with Dum Dum and Gabe?  Is this supposed to be a comedy?  Guess it must be, because I’m sure Ghidrah, as some of us knew him, laughed himself sick when he got a load of that before he pissed all over Gojira, drowning him in a stream of three-headed-monster urine.

Captain America 230
"Assault on Alcatraz!"
Story by Roger McKenzie and Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Don Perlin
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Ron Wilson and Bob Layton

Steve Rogers heads to Alcatraz with former SHIELD Super-Agents, Vamp and MarvelBoy/Man, to check out a lead on the whereabouts of the Falcon. Meanwhile, the Incredible Hulk and his latest "lil' buddy," Fred Sloan, motor down the highway in Fred's VW bus. Fred's "cigarette" mellows the green guy and, suddenly, Fred is talking with a bare-chested scientist he's never met before. A pair of faux cops pull the van over and shoot the occupants with tranquilizers (as if Fred needed a tranquilizer) and then drive the van into a large truck. In yet another meanwhile, Corporation East head Kligger and Dr. Karla Sofen (aka Moonstone) have captured Jim Wilson and are heading to Alcatraz for a meet-and-greet. Cap and his companions have arrived at the island and discover a passageway that leads to a secret chamber docking a strange vehicle and, more importantly, revealing a chained Falcon. West Coast head of Corporation, Curtiss Jackson pipes up (in his best Bill Dozier impersonation) that if Cap takes any aggressive action, the sea gates will open and the Falcon will drown unless... Cap helps deliver Hulk's Pal, Jimmy Wilson. He then opens door number one and reveals Dr. Banner, strapped to a table, bait for Wilson. Just then, Kligger and Sofen show up, bearing the lassoed Jim. This leads to a chain reaction of events: Vamp reveals that she, like Blue Streak (last issue) is a double agent, working for Kligger; MarvelBoy/Man does not take that bit of news well and starts blasting away; this awakens Banner who Hulks out; Hulk engages in random acts of MARMIS by levelling first Boy/Man and then Cap; Vamp convinces Kligger to give her "the power" and she transforms into Animus, daughter of Mindworm; the floodgates open and Falcon will die... or will he? -Peter Enfantino

Scott McIntyre: This is the first time I’ve read this, but had the Hulk end of this crossover since I was a kid. So, I’ve been looking forward to it. Luckily, thanks to the long stretch I did on covering Cap’s title, I'm familiar with everything that leads up to this. What we get is a fun, fast-paced and very nicely-drawn issue. This could easily have fit into the Hulk’s own continuity. Fred Sloan is dropped in without so much as an explanation (nor do we see him among the captives later). I’ve never known regular cigarette smoke to make anyone sleepy. Fred seems more the type to be toking the Wacky Tobaccy, which would calm the Hulk (I seem to recall Greenskin irritated over cigarette smoke in some past issue – if anyone else remembers feel free to chime in). It would have been nice to see just how Dr. Sofen was able to crash the plane while bringing Kligger, Jim, his dog and herself down safely. And really, I see the need to bring Jim along as leverage, but would Kligger keep the dog safe? Perhaps as a way to keep Jim in line, but seeing all of this happen would have been nice. Marvel Man is useful but a damned lame name for a hero. He’ll change it for exactly that reason. The Super- Agents were a weird idea to begin with and this is their end, thankfully. It’s nice to see the Falcon getting some concern after months of being ignored. The Sal/Don art is pretty sweet. This was well worth the decades-long delay. 

Matthew: With Stern (here scripting McKenzie’s plot) and Our Pal as its common denominators, this crossover was carefully choreographed by the two Rogers to be so seamless that I literally had to remind myself from time to time which mag I was reading, which may be a first.  This is apparently where they establish that Jim and Sam Wilson are related, which seems late in the day with both having been around for almost a decade, and in another possible first, assuming Fred’s “stupid cigarette [that] makes Hulk sleepy” is a joint, is this the first time we’ve seen a character toke up on panel?  Fun to be reminded that at this point, Eastwood’s relationship with The Rock is limited to The Enforcer (1976); Escape from Alcatraz will be released in June.

Chris: The Corporation has reached its tendrils into many corners of the Marvel Universe, touching the affairs of heroes as diverse as the Torpedo, Machine Man, and Jack of Hearts.  They seem to have been most interested in Captain America, so it makes sense that their insidious plans should approach their culmination here.  And what is the Corporation’s plan, anyway?  It’s clear they’re after power, well more like Power (with a capital “p”) – I’m willing to bet it’d be pretty neat to have a good-sized pile of Power.  But why does Curtiss Jackson want to trade Sam Wilson for Jim Wilson – what’s the angle (and could there be a Wilson to-be-named-later to balance it out -?)?  What could Jim possibly know that could be so valuable?  We might’ve found out, if Kligger and Moonstone hadn’t picked that moment to walk in.  Well, maybe next issue – oh, wait, I mean this month’s Hulk – will shed more light on the Grand Scheme.

Speaking of the Hulk, it’s a pretty good idea to tie-in recent storylines at work in pages of the Incredible Hulk, since Hulkster is always likely to add a massive green wild-card to any well-conceived plan.  Plus, as Jackson makes forcefully clear (in a very brief expository passage!), the Corporation has been poking around the Hulk’s bidness since they sent the Constrictor against him in Hulk #212 (so, I guess Constrictor is 0-fer-2).  Well, with all this coming together, we should expect more explosive developments in the next Captain Am– oh wait, I did it again – this month’s Hulk!
I’ve enjoyed the clarity of the tag-team inks of Esposito/Tartaglione for Sal’s pencils in recent issues, but it can get a bit sterile at times, almost akin to Colletta’s (above-par, for him) CAatF finishes for Sal from a few years ago.  The art this time is acceptably solid throughout, not spectacular; the Hulk’s change with his back to us is a variation on the usual trope (p 23).  The letters page informs us Perlin has joined the creative team; he adds a slightly different look, with a bit more texture at times, but overall it’s not a drastic change.  Cool layout concept by Wilson for the in-your-face cover though, isn’t it?  We see how the green fist’s impact with the shield pushes Cap back into the wall, producing lots of neat shrapnel.  Too bad Wilson’s interior pencils often don’t achieve as effective a look as this; why not, I wonder?  
Peter: I found much of this not only unreadable but downright annoying. Five years before, this was the best title in the MU and, as my esteemed colleague, Professor Matthew, noted last issue, we are missing Stainless big time. All this trouble to get Jim Wilson? I assume the goal is to use Jim Wilson to control the beast but, knowing these goofball writers, it might be that Jim Wilson has some latent nuclear talents of his own. Since I meander around the titles here and there and don't read them all, it was news to me that Jim was Sam Wilson's nephew but, then, they are both African-Americans and this is the Marvel Universe (I expect to find that T'Challa and Bill Foster are both second cousins to the Wilsons at some point). It was also news to me that Marvel Boy has finally tackled the whole puberty thing and become a Man (I'm sure Professor Matthew, our version of the Encyclopedia Marvellica, will enlighten us on the particulars) but he still acts like a kid, doesn't he?

Matthew : I see that young Wendell Vaughn was already referred to as Marvel Man somewhere in the original arc that introduced the Super-Agents, Captain America #217-221, and in the execrable Defenders #62-64, but am unable to pinpoint where the exact renaming occurred (with little if any fanfare, it appears).  Sorry to disappoint.

Peter: The MARMISses this issue are particularly odious and predictable; predictable not just because of the tip-off on the cover. Oh, and that cover? Brilliant, poster-worthy, and the best thing about this exercise in tedium. To be continued in...

 The Incredible Hulk 232
"The Battle Below"
Story by Roger Stern and David Michelinie
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dan Adkins

The Hulk, Captain America, Marvel Man and the Falcon are all down for the count, prisoners of Kligger and Jackson of the Corporation. Falcon is chained up against a wall as the tide smashes in, the rising waters swelling to drown him. Moonstone (Karla Sofen) and Animus (the Vamp – one of the former Super- Agents), stand with Kligger, basking in their victory. As Kligger and Jackson continue to bargain, riling up the captive Jim Wilson, Cap comes to and begins to maneuver to a better position. However, Moonstone spots him and blasts Cap into the waters, from which he doesn’t surface. Jim protests and is given a hard slap by Kligger. The dog leaps to his defence and Kligger even threatens him. The Hulk, now revived, does not take kindly to kids and dogs being menaced, particularly when they’re among his few friends and he attacks. He tosses Monstone against a wall and shrugs off a blast by Animus, turns and dives into her.

In the waters below, Cap uses Moonstone’s laser bolt as a cover so he can rescue Falcon. He frees his erstwhile partner and they plunge though the surging water, crashing into an air-filled chamber before their breath runs out.

Animus continues to batter the Hulk, who threatens to lose his temper. In response, she seals the Hulk in a tomb of rock. Kligger and Jackson agree to work out a deal when Cap’s shield rings out and smashes against the safety glass protecting Jackson. Cap and Falcon charge in while Marvel Man has revived and sends a blast at Moonstone. She hesitates, weighing the odds. Before she can move, however, the Hulk breaks free! Knowing she is outclassed, Moonstone makes her escape. Animus charges at the Hulk who grabs her energy club. He smashes it, sending the energy cascading back into Animus. Screaming, she transforms back into the form of the Vamp, but her mind does not survive. Kligger is surrounded and beaten. Yet, he refuses to go to prison, signaling to Jackson, who willingly carries out the Corporation’s policy and guns down the former senator. Jackson continues to fire, endangering Jim’s life. Cap and the Falcon cover him and the Hulk leaps after Jackson.  In a panic, Jackson hits a button and the chamber in which he was housed falls into an escape tunnel. The Hulk follows and both vanish into the darkness.

Victory is theirs, but the feelings are mixed. Marvel Man is satisfied they mopped up the rest of the group, but is frustrated the Hulk and Jackson are gone. Falcon and Jim are thrilled, especially Jim who can hardly contain his excitement in learning the Falcon is his uncle. Cap, however, is solemn. Another government official has betrayed his country and paid the price. As has one of his soldiers, the mindless Vamp. With no joy in this victory, Cap leads his friends home. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: I fully admit this issue is completely colored by nostalgia. This was yet another Hulk that I picked up as a kid at Whittaker’s Drug store, an issue I still have in the old collection. Having said that, I still think it kicks serious ass. This was how to tie up loose ends in a fabulous crossover. The cover alone was fantastic, the Hulk looming large and furious, shrugging off a hail of bullets with the sentinel of Liberty behind him. The story itself moves at a nice, brisk pace with not a moment of boredom or unnecessary side trips to be had. Each scene flows into the next. A few great moments stand out; the Hulk being pelted by Animus’ attack of rocks, the Hulk warns her that she is “going to make Hulk…angry!” First, it’s a great character bit, showing that he doesn’t just leap into a rampage and that he is merely being annoyed at this point. Second, it’s a subtle callback to the classic TV series dialog. I mean, really, Animus wouldn’t like Hulk when he’s angry. Best moment? The full page panel on 16 when Hulk explodes out of his rock prison. Fricking gorgeous. The wrap up is fairly brutal: the Vamp loses her mind and Kligger is perforated by request. That stuck with me, actually. After all of the fireworks, the ending is suitably downbeat. A lot of collateral damage and an unknown fate for our green-skinned hero. An extremely satisfying conclusion to a pretty long arc for Cap. Now that I’ve read most of what led to this, I’m even more impressed with it. It doesn’t seem to drop any balls and doesn’t feel contrived. Back then, I was still getting used to the print version of The Incredible Hulk. As a fan of the TV series, which got me into comics, I was looking for “David” Banner and a mute Hulk. “Oh, he TALKS? How stupid!” Around this time, I was pretty comfortable with it, I just still wished he’d talk a little less. I also think the Marvel Super Heroes cartoon was airing in my area during the week, so I was more familiar with Cap than any of the others in this issue. It’s funny how unfamiliarity didn’t dampen my enjoyment of this one, so much that it stayed in my collection, never being traded out. It holds up well.

Chris: From the page 2 illustration with nine different characters, all of them involved and/or affected by the present Corporation scheme, we see that plotter Stern and scripter Michelinie have assigned themselves a challenge.  To their credit, they attend to all the players as the brisk action plays out, with no one MIA (save Fred) from the proceedings for long.  It's always a good idea, whenever this many heroes and villains are piled into one place, to switch them up, which usually catches the bad guys off guard.  Our "Hulk Moment" comes when he busts free of the "hard darkness" (p 16), relieves Animus of its power-wand, and tells it to "shut up!" (Moonstone wisely takes advantage of Hulk's attention to Animus to take flight).  With the chapter closed on Kligger, Stern & Michelinie leave us with a cleanly streamlined Corporation story; as soon as Jackson and the Hulk stop falling (and they have to hit bottom some time – don't they?), the final resolution should involve just the two of them – a far cry from the nine players we had at the outset.  Maybe then we'll learn why the Corporation was after Jim Wilson in the first place -?

The Buscema/Esposito art is much stronger than I've seen in some of their recent pairings; the details and figures all are clearly realized.  The Hulk gets most of the best looks (fittingly enough), such as: now awake, responding to Jim backhanded by Kligger (p 6 pnl 6); increasingly irritated by rocks pelting him (p 11, last pnl); and, pounding cracks into the bazooka-proof glass (p 27, 1st pnl).   He's gonna be so-o-o-o-o mad once the pod stops falling, and he hits the ground; look out, Jackson.  
Matthew: With the Vamp confirmed as a Corporation plant (their tentacles extended even into Machine Man), revealed as the alter ego of the Animus, and temporarily catatonic, “the Super-Agents have had it,” as she said in part one, which is fine by me.  Although it bespeaks the kitchen-sink nature of the plot, the “who’s who” on page 2 appeals to me aesthetically, and it probably goes without saying that Esposito inks Sal better here than Perlin did there; the somber Cap in the penultimate panel is simply outstanding.  The lettercol explains the writing round robin:  McKenzie having added Battlestar Galactica to his roster, Stern wanted to have his Cap plot scripted by Michelinie, but the printing schedule forced Sterno and Dave to exchange books.

 The Invaders 37
"The Liberty Legion Busts Loose!"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Alan Kupperberg, Rick Hoberg, and Chic Stone
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Alan Kupperberg and Joe Sinnott

Namor is torn between going after the Iron Cross and captive Schneider, or aiding his allies aboard the sinking U-boat, whose crew has decided to go out with a bang by killing the Legionnaires.  While shielding his teammates, Blue Diamond reflects, for three whole pages, on the events that brought them there, and the Iron Cross prevents aerial pursuit by disabling the flagship in passing, forcing Cap to put her down on the Atlantic.  With the crew defeated, the Thin Man flattens himself against the breached hull until Namor can lift the sub above the waves (The bends?  What are those?), where it is floated by Jack Frost’s ice sheet, and the airborne contingent—comprising Namor, Miss America, Red Raven, and the Human Torch—gives chase.

Even one-handed, the Iron Cross quickly downs Miss America and Red Raven—saved by the Whizzer, atop an ice bridge, and his own outspread wings, respectively—yet tossing Subby into the drink has the expected Bre’er Rabbit effect of rejuvenating him.  His counter-attack knocks Schneider loose, forcing Namor to fly to the rescue as the Torch heats up the Iron Cross’s armor enough to melt his mechanisms, sending the foe plummeting to a presumed watery grave.  While our heroes learn that Gruler destroyed Schneider’s papers “to ensure his own uniqueness,” and take off for the mainland in the miraculously functional flagship, their enemy Meranno, the U-Man, surfaces en route to the evil Lady Lotus, summoning him to her lair with an irresistible call. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I find this an only partially satisfying windup to the Iron Cross trilogy.  For example, I like that Kupperberg/Sinnott cover, natch…except the verbiage.  “He’s a one-man armored division!”  And is the Legion really back “by popular request”?  I think Stone does a decent job inking the Bergs (Kupper- and Ho-), and the troika will return next issue—you may recall that Rick himself inked #35—but he can’t conceal the fact that there were two artists, which may also explain an apparent continuity gaffe.  The splash page depicts Schneider wearing diving gear, as established last issue, but when next seen on page 10, he emerges from the water in his checked suit, and it seems unlikely that the Iron Cross paused during the overlong flashback to have him slip that off.

I’ll always welcome the Legion—who look strangely textured, almost like woodcuts, on page 3, which is presumably Hoberg’s work—whether or not that constitutes “by popular request,” but I think neither they nor writer Glut make an especially good showing, and I raised my eyebrows at the confidence that “there will never be another…Iron Cross.”  Yes, the blueprints are gone, but Franz is still here; I guess the presumption is that he has proven himself immune to intimidation.  The camaraderie between the two teams feels forced (“Didn’t mean to jab you with my wing, Torch”), and Don may be overdoing the course-of-true-love-never-did-run-smooth bit with Miss America and the Whizzer, who moons over her like a kid but then is too shy to ask her for a date.

Chris: It’s a disjointed story, with action in fits and starts.  The double-flashback on p 6 gave me a double-take, as it takes us further back to events seen and unseen from our previous issues, and further away from the tasks at hand, i.e.: save the sinking U-boat, rescue the captured professor.  There are a number of story-elements that don’t work: the Iron Cross must not have a third gear in his suit, since his creaky-slow escape allows two Invaders and two Legionnaires to comfortably catch up (p 14-15); Jack Frost is able to nearly-instantaneously create a miles-long ice bridge that allows the Whizzer to race to the exact spot where the battle is taking place, nabbing Madeline as she falls – in the nick of time! (p 16); the Torch winds a few fiery loops around Iron Cross, which is sufficient to fuse the suit and fry its functions – uh, that’s it? (p 26); and, I’d like to assume Meranno would be a strong swimmer, so why does it take him about a half-hour to reach the surface? (from p 17 to p 30).  

The art has trouble achieving consistency, especially in the early pages; at its best, it manages only to look average.  Rick Hoberg is credited along with Alan Kupperberg, but I can’t tell what his role is here (Grand Comics Db also has nothing to contribute to the discussion), so I guess he might’ve applied pencils to some of Kupp’s rough layouts, possibly during the Legion sequence (p 3-7).

Mark: Having neglected to mention them last month, let me note the Kupperberg/Hoberg art is decent and era-appropriate. If Sal Buscema always served up dependable meat 'n' taters, the 'Berg Boys are Velveeta - tasty enough on a grilled cheese sand but not - this is for seniors only - what you want to serve with a six dollar bottle of wine when you invite a girl up to see your etchings (of Thanos). 

But the story's more like a Kraft single that's been unwrapped in the fridge for a couple days. Yes, you can still eat it, but you're not doin' yourself any favors. And I can't even beat up on returning Don Glut this time, since there's no discernible difference between Roy's mediocrity and Don's, with the through-line being too many pages devoted to the furshlugginer Liberty Legion. Thomas was enthralled with Golden Age characters, of course, and maybe he just saw which way the Shooter winds were blowing and decided to entertain himself, at the expense of the reader. That's not meant to be harsh, but with as good a writer as Thomas it would be a greater insult to suggest he couldn't recognize drivel, just because he was helping serve it up.

Start with the absurdity of Miss America "flying over" der Nazis in the  claustrophobic tube of a U-Boat, the veeerrryyy slow sinking of same, allowing for a battle where all the krauts shoot at the one bulletproof guy. Then segue into a recap of the LL's losing tussle with Iron Cross for several pages, in case we forgot what had happened two whole months ago.

And speaking of I Cross, it was the novelty of Helmut Gruler fighting as a German but not a Nazi that gave this arc what oomph it had, and that's totally jettisoned here, not even touched upon amid bad pulp shenanigans like Flat-Man - or whatever the frack his name is - pressing himself flat on the outside of a sinking submarine. Remember, class, he has no special underwater breathing ability; he can just get flat. Heavy sigh.

hope Roy thought this was a hoot.

It gets a D from me.

 The Invincible Iron Man 119
"No S.H.I.E.L.D. to Protect Me!"
Story by David Michelinie and Bob Layton
Art by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers
Cover by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton

 Given 30 seconds to decide between killing Fury or himself, Iron Man naturally goes with option C, “none of the above,” and cybernetically triggers his energy storage pods to emit an electromagnetic field strong enough to overload a ceiling projector—that’s just what I would’ve done!  Dazzled by the blast, Buck loses his grip on Fury, his life likely saved by the fact that IM only gets in one punch before the Helicarrier, its crew literally asleep at the switch, drifts into Soviet air space and is attacked with rockets by M-21s.  While he tries to destroy them without hurting the pilots, Fury recovers and orders the engine room to get them the hell out of there, but by now the ship has been targeted by ICBMs, which IM disables with a church steeple.

With its contingent of NATO officials, the altitude-challenged Helicarrier is about to crash into the mountain range marking the border to free Europe when IM helps it over the top, boards, and explains what’s been happening to Fury, who assures him Buck was leading “a rebel operation.”  Ostensibly rescued by IM in free-fall, Tony has Nick drop him off at S.I.’s Paris office, where he is welcomed by la belle Yvette Avril, and unsuccessfully tries to reach Bethany while decoding the data on the stockholders.  He explodes with rage upon seeing the readout, and a transoceanic video call to Fury confirms that although the cabal’s methods were unauthorized, their goal was in line with “a S.H.I.E.L.D. priority directive”:  buying up S.I.’s stock to mount a legal takeover. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Nope.  Not buyin’ it.  Sorry.  I think I’ve read virtually every prior non-Howlers appearance Fury has made, and I would say this Michelayton travesty is completely out of character.  Do I believe Nick would put national security first?  Absolutely.  But he has also shown himself to be a man of honor, a loyal friend, and a straight shooter.  So do I believe that he would undertake, or facilitate, or even countenance what amounts to a clandestine hostile takeover of S.I., especially so soon after he’d spearheaded the effort to prevent Midas from doing the same damned thing?  Hell, no.  I think that even if ordered by The Powers That Be to do so, he’d have said, “Cram it, pal.  You wanna oust Stark?  Have the balls to tell ’im yourself; he hired me to run S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Which, in fact, is my only serious objection to this action-packed issue, with Romita and Layton delivering the goods both on and inside their sensational cover (whose Beatle-inspired tagline, “Back in the U.S.S.R.!,” I naturally prefer to the formal title, “No S.H.I.E.L.D. to Protect Me!”).  The splash-page image of Shellhead regarding his repulsors as he seeks a way out of his dilemma is quite electrifying, and his lengthy struggle with the Soviet jets and missiles is the centerpiece; its most obvious highlight is the full-page “WHA-BOOM” on 15 as he trashes the fighter, which if you’ll pardon the pun seems to have more impact than many such shots we’ve seen down the years.  Most fetching in her spectacles, Yvette will make periodic appearances for quite a while...

Chris: Michelinie continues to create problems for Tony that can’t be solved with a simple repulsor blast.  First, he has to free Fury without firing on Richlin, so Tony relies on an electromagnetic field to distract him, which works (p 3).  Next, he wants to disable two missiles without detonating their warheads (note: Dave does go a bit nuts here, as he suggests anyone would willingly fire an intercontinental ballistic missile at an object flying about 1-2 miles above a populated area within their own airspace), so he rips off a stone steeple and hits both with it (artistic license makes this possible).  The last problem, as Tony discovers on his own that Fury is, in fact, seeking to acquire Stark International, leads to one solution, as Tony reaches deeper into the bottle.  

Romita Jr/Layton have proven to be quick studies in their presentation of Iron Man in action; this issue includes a number of instances that underscore our appreciation for recent improvements in Tony’s armor.  Iron Man is fast and maneuverable enough to grab a fighter jet by its nose and rip it off (p 10, last pnl), his armor is strong enough to survive two direct hits by air-to-air missiles (p 14), without the cracking and pitting we saw as recently as the battle with Ultimo, and he can Hulk-smash another fighter in mid-air (p 15).  Plus, he can offer a boost to a Helicarrier struggling for altitude (p 22).  And we get a jet-skates cameo (p 23, 1st pnl)!

 John Carter, Warlord of Mars 21
"The Master Assassin of Mars Chapter 6:
The Lady and the Lion!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Ernie Colón and Frank Springer
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Carmine Infantino (?), Ernie Colón (?) and Rudy Nebres

Carter quickly dispatches one guard but ends up on the floor after hitting his head on a column; Dejah plunges a dagger into the other’s back, and John returns the favor by stopping him from throttling her in revenge.  Holding her, he makes a perilous leap to the narrow causeway 100 feet below and they race toward the rendezvous, but are spotted by winged warriors before they can reach the sheltering rocks, fearing they will lead them right to Garthon and Hira.  Refusing to be separated again, Dejah battles beside Carter (as the younger lovers watch from hiding, and reluctantly take the chance he has bought them) until battle-axes hack right through the causeway, leaving John and Dejah to be captured in midair as it crumbles.

Chan Tomar “graciously” grants them a last night together in the dungeon, as Carter assures the self-critical Dejah she has done nothing to dishonor her family, and then has them taken to the Arena of Ancestors, where an unarmed Carter saves the bound Dejah by killing a banth.  Bowing to the crowd’s roaring approval, Chan Tomar agrees to let him live, then spitefully fires an arrow at Dejah—luckily, he’s a poor shot, and only hits her shoulder.  Snapping her chains, John leaps into the Jeddak’s box carrying her, and after he mows down the guards that stand between them, she recovers enough to thrust a dagger through the heart of her tormentor, yet even as Gar Karus is hailed as his welcome successor, he insists there is but one penalty for killing a Jeddak: death. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Proving that it’s not just me, longtime letterhack Beppe Sabatini writes, “It’s hard to comment on the art of [#16-17].  I’m familiar with Ernie Colon’s work and have always enjoyed it, but something seems to be missing here.  While it’s usually a delicate blend of the realistic and the cartoonish, Rudy Nebres’ inks last issue completely obscured both and made it look like nothing so much as Nebres.  While this issue, Bob Layton’s inks emphasized the cartoonish too much, with results that were really weird in places.  Neither of these inkers seem ideally suited to Ernie.”  The armadillo totally sidesteps his query about those non-canonical winged Orovars, but Beppe concludes, “the writing throughout [#17] was a satisfying blend of Claremont and ERB.”

Which—thanks for the segue, Beppe!—I would argue is true of this issue as well, an effect only enhanced by the arena scene, in which Carter’s hand to, uh, paw battle with the banth feels like it was borrowed from a Tarzan book.  The final twist also feels very Burroughsian, while I’m most gratified by Chris’s penchant for strong female characters as Dejah not only holds her own in the battle on the causeway, but also twice saves Carter’s Jasoomian bacon.  The jedwar’s obedience to the nephew he loathes is nicely depicted on page 22, as Gar Karus argues that Carter should at least be allowed a weapon, in light of his valued service to Karanthor in the Ptothian war, only to be backhanded by the Jeddak, which just adds to his ambivalence when he must condemn Carter.

Reunited with his accent and Springer, Colón leaves us at the midpoint of “The Master Whatever of Mars,” after which, per the armadillo, “the pencil chores…will be handled by Mike Vosburg, Ernie Colon having moved on to do work for our Special Projects department.  (In fact, his first job for them is the Marvel adaptation of Battlestar: [sic] Galactica!)”  I’ve thrown my fair share of brickbats Frank’s way over the years, but I must praise the Colónger team here.  Page 3, panel 5—as the dying guard lunges at Dejah—stood out in particular:  the forced perspective makes his hands look bigger than his head, with an almost 3-D sense of forward motion that is increased by having his right leg break the frame and made yet more jarring by coloring him a ghastly yellow.

Forced perspective also provides an economical way to emphasize the vastness of the arena; the last panel occupies less than half of page 17, yet Carter is dwarfed in the distance, the spectators reduced to literal dots.  And there are other instances in which colorist Bean makes a panel pop by reducing it to a single hue, e.g., the humiliated and queasy green Gar Karus in page 22, panel 5 and the literally blue in the face Chan Tomar in page 30, panel 3.  They make good use of deep focus (as in page 6, panel 6, with Carter’s apprehensive face cut off in the foreground, Dejah in the midground, and the unreachable goal in the background), and although the backgrounds are often sparse, the minimalist approach only enhances, say, the shadowy banth in page 22, panel 7.

Chris: Gar Karus and Carter share some simpatico moments, as the two warriors know and respect each other.  Gar Karus’ affinity with Carter also helps to distance us from Chan Tomar, a sniveling weasel.  Claremont sets up two satisfying reversals at the end, first as Dejah gets Tomar with a chain around the neck and a shiv to the heart (“Re-re-revenge!” cries K-K-Ken, as he bears down on Otto with the bulldozer).   But then, instead of Karus handing Carter & Dejah the Key to Karanthor, he locks them back in irons; Claremont adds intensity to this moment as, seconds before Karus’ sentence, Carter tells us he is “itching for a sword,” his battle-senses aware that he and Dejah “should leave this place – at once!”

Claremont ably manages some adult content as Carter and Dejah speak privately in the cell.  Dejah pulls away from him, and crumples to the ground, sobbing.  Carter admits to being frightened, and not knowing what to do (all this being beyond his expertise).  A lesser man would demand an explanation, and force Dejah to justify her self-preserving action; instead, Carter wisely speaks her thoughts, and explains he understands she had “good reason” to succumb to Tomar.  Well played, Mr Claremont.
Colón provides energetic layouts featuring figures in conflict.  Many of the panels, though, are uninspiringly slight in backgrounds and other details, as if Colón had put it all together in a rush; the appearance suggests Colón might’ve intended to go back and fill in the panels later, or that he expected an embellisher to supply the missing substance.  Since Springer is inking, all we have are inconsistently-realized faces, as if the role of Carter could be played by anyone from Al Pacino to John Travolta.  

Marvel Premiere 46
Man-Wolf in
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by George Perez and Ricardo Villamonte
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers
Cover by George Perez and Terry Austin

Man-Wolf, aka Stargod, aka Fangsnout, along with Gorjoon, come upon the mile-high floating fortress of Arisen Tyrk, waiting for nightfall and more power for M-W. Tying his sword to a vine, M-W launches it like a spear to the bottom of the fortress, and the two companions climb up and take out a guard. Man-Wolf comes upon Tyrk's inquisitor torturing Duna, then he busts in and kills the evil dude, learning Lambert the wizard lost his hands. The band frees the other prisoners and moves on Tyrk, but quickly learn he's holding Kristine, John Jameson's fiancée, at swordpoint, having kidnapped her from Earth! Tyrk demands surrender, and Man-Wolf, after much debate, heeds the word of Lambert "you must look within"—which along with the sacred stone gives him the Stargod power to melt Tyrk's sword, halt point-blank gunfire from Tyrk's minions, and blow the fortress to bits with a mighty DAK-KOOM! Of course, all the good guys are still standing, and an understanding Kristine goes through the portal back to Earth, but before Man-Wolf can step though, an injured Tyrk blasts it! Duna kills the "defiler" and Man-Wolf is able to use the Godforce to somehow make his way home to Kristine, where "the light and each other are all they need."  –Joe Tura

Joe: Perez and Austin on the front cover? Yeah, I'm in for that! And the inside is none too shabby either. Sure, it's as oddball as last issue, with Man-Wolf being a "stargod" and all that, exhibiting powers Dr. Strange would be jealous of, but it actually works. Perez is in fine form, with some nice action shots, although far from his best. We get a happy ending in many ways, as Tyrk gets what he deserves, that diabolical defiler, at the hands of, I mean hand of Duna the warrior chick. John gets plenty of revenge by laying waste to the "impenetrable" fortress, and he actually makes it back home—with Kristine, no less! Of course, regular Spider-Man readers know something is up this month with Man-Wolf, so there's no time to "pick up the pieces of their lives" for this sorta happy couple. Well, that's what happens when you have the curse of the werewolf I reckon!

Chris: David Kraft tells us on several occasions that John Jameson is no longer Man-Wolf once he’s crossed to the Other Realm; there, he is nothing less than the Star God.   Well, it’s a lot to take in, so Dave allows Man-Wolf time to adjust to this new reality.  He starts with a clear understanding he’s become more powerful – how else could he throw a spear with enough force for it to connect with the bare rock on the underside of Tyrk’s fortress, a half-mile straight above?  Man-Wolf also dispatches Tyrk’s guards with unearthly force.  When Tyrk is threatening Kristine though, Man-Wolf’s doubts come to the fore; finally, Lambert must challenge Man-Wolf to understand everything they’re been telling him about his powers is true.  I don’t know whether it’s self-belief that allows him to tap into his godlike powers; as Kraft depicts him on p 22, it seems more like Man-Wolf’s full ferocity is unleashed, but in a manner that remains under his control.  In any case, it’s satisfying to discover along with Jameson exactly how impressive his powers have become.  

Chris: Once he finally experiences his full powers, Man-Wolf has to give them away.  The ending feels forced, as Tyrk (inexplicably) survives the complete destruction of his fortress, and has just enough blood still running in his veins to destroy the portal, seemingly trapping Man-Wolf in the Other Realm.  So, I guess we’re supposed to appreciate that Man-Wolf requires the full-extent of his star-stone fed powers in order to will himself back home (it might’ve been easier for him if the star stone had been shaped like a pair of ruby slippers …).  In other words, it’s critical for him to be able to use his powers, in order to leave the place that provides those powers; I suppose there’s some irony in that.
Fortunately, the Pérez art looks fairly strong, despite the shortcomings of the Villamonte finishes, which appear their weakest in the second half of the issue; the results still are far better than the offense to Pérez’s pencils committed by this same Villamonte in Avengers Annual #8, which would have me believe he’d applied the inks in a fully darkened room.  Based on the results visible for the first five story-pages (p 1-7), you could understand why Villamonte might have been selected for this assignment.  But, once the faces begin to appear partially-finished with greater frequency (starting from p 15 and carrying on most of the way to the end), with should-be-impressive Tyrk looking more flat than the others, you have to wonder what the perceived advantage was to signing-on Villamonte, where there had to have been better names available.  

Matthew: Once again, it’s the Perez art, if anything, that sells this, and that’s a little surprising for me to say, since I’m not normally a big Villamonte fan, but I’ll give credit where it’s due and say I have no complaints about his work here.  Listen, I love closure probably more than the next guy, so I’m delighted on behalf of MW fans that these issues got printed, yet the truth of the matter is that DAK introduced Garth et al. in the penultimate entry of his Creatures on the Loose run.  So I don’t know how much chance even readers back in the day, let alone newcomers like me, had to get to know or care about these people; neither the hoary not-quite-dead-villain shtick nor the godforce ex machina ending improve the story, in my humble opinion.