Wednesday, September 14, 2016

January 1979 Part One: Marvel Sheds a Public Tear as it Fires Steve Gerber

 The Amazing Spider-Man 188
"The Jigsaw is Up!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Keith Pollard and Mike Esposito
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

A gang of costumed crooks cracks a Cryonics lab during a blackout to commandeer the canister containing John Jameson. Hours later, a  (literally) tearful and "morose" Peter visits Aunt May in the hospital, with Betty in tow (wearing her best red halter top…wait, what?) and May is quick to impart some words of wisdom to her beloved nephew. Cut to the docks, where Jigsaw agrees to lead his goons into action, but wants to say clear of "those costumed creeps" who cause him such issues. Betty takes Peter on a midnight cruise around Manhattan, complete with Harry & Liz and Flash & Sha Shann [sic], who barely gets seen or heard from in this comic. Suddenly Peter's spider-sense starts tingling—it's Mary Jane with beefcake Brad Davis, star qb of ESU! Quick aside to JJJ, who's convinced by Robbie that he should send out a team of reporters to find out who kidnapped John, rather than blame Spider-Man. Back to the cruise ship, and a chummy chat between Peter and Betty is interrupted by MJ and Lunkhead Davis, then further disrupted when Jigsaw and his goons show up looking for easy pickings! They rob the passengers, but Peter is able to slip away and change into Spidey, planting his camera for some pix and planting his fists into some criminals!

A jumpy Jigsaw is able to nab Liz and Harry in order to get away, which allows Spidey to change back into Peter. Once ashore, Peter takes off and changes back, swinging toward the docks, where Jigsaw shoos his captives away and splits before Spidey shows up. Tracking Harry and Liz via Spider-Tracer, web-head next takes off after Jigsaw, shining the Spider-Signal to get him to crash the car he stole, then creepily stalking the quickly-cracking crook until he nabs him for good aboard another ship. But as he swings off, triumphant yet again, an introspective Spidey realizes he forgot his camera aboard the ship! (Cue Price Is Right fail song) -Joe Tura

Joe Tura: One thing's for sure. Pollard does a rotten job drawing our supporting cast, as evidenced on page 7. Liz' hair changes from panel 1 to 3. Harry appears to be falling asleep. Flash looks like he stepped out of the pages of Nova. Even the amazing Ms. Watson looks less Mary Jane and more Plain Jane, with some damn ugly green shorts. Thank the lord for Betty's borderline indecent halter top! And Marv is no better, with a super awkward conversation between Peter, Betty, MJ, and Blonde Lunkhead on page 14 that has Lunkhead saying "So, that's the famous Peter Parker? He really is a zero!" And MJ thinks to herself "Two zeroes…with a one before 'em!" While that does say a lot about how she really feels, all I can say is "yikes." And right after that, the peanut gallery of Harry and Liz seem to know just what both Peter and MJ are thinking, then they're the first to see the hook hit the rail, which makes Liz say "I knew we shouldn't have seen Jaws 2!" What the hell does that have to do with anything? Is there a hijacking scene in Jaws 2 that I don't remember? Was it a deleted scene? Come on, Marv! 

As for the rest of our tale, the intriguing John Jameson caper, which picks up from last month's Electro shenanigans, goes just about nowhere, dropped in favor of a shaky Jigsaw, who definitely has a couple of end pieces missing. Spidey really freaks him out that much? This is the goon who becomes one of Punisher's main rivals? I say again: "Yikes." And Peter is quite schizophrenic himself, going from teary-eyed in the hospital to sarcastic and dismissive to MJ on the cruise, to worried about his buddy Harry when Jigsaw nabs him and Liz, to jokey about the Spider-Tracer to nearly evil when making the bad guy fall to pieces. Plus, we get a quick vignette on the top of page 16 about "Terry O'Conner, two-bit hood" and no one except for Marv himself knows why. Flash gets the worst of the dialogue, as if he's back in 1962, but more boring than anyone could have imagined: "There goes that crumb." Maybe the most hilarious panel is when Jigsaw's goons start robbing the passengers and Peter Pauper says "All I have is ten dollars!" Jiggy's answer: "Wrong—we've got it. You've got nothin'!" A very odd, very mediocre at best, comic book. Sorry, class. I did warn you the final year would not be kind.

Joe: Favourite sound effect this month is the "THWACK" of my head hitting the laptop after reading this issue. Sigh…OK, it's really, in a book that doesn't feature many at all, the "FUMP!" on page 11 when Blonde Lunkhead Brad Davis, wearing a sleeveless shirt to show off the guns, smacks Peter on the back in a show of sheer blockheaded bullying.

Matthew Bradley:  I wouldn’t rule out pure crass, cross-promoting commercialism to explain the Jaws 2 allusion, since Marvel is ballyhooing its adaptation the same month. We now know that last ish was belatedly repurposed from a proposed MTU fill-in, and that—as shoehorned into current continuity—the object of Electro’s blackout was the “liberation” of John Jameson, yet we still don’t know why, or at whose behest.  Equally mysterious to me are the anti-Keith sentiments elsewhere in the faculty, especially since I think his splash page is quite effective; alas, Jigsaw not only ranks high on my Villains I Never Needed to See Again list, but also defeats the best efforts of the Espollard team, looking consistently crappy.  If I recall aright, Marv’s scaredy-cat-psycho climax rehashes Jiggy’s first outing, while the cruise-ship hijacking warms over Conway’s Punisher/Tarantula tale (#134-35).

Chris Blake: This Cockrum/Austin cover is one of my all-time Spider-Man favorites.  The way Cockrum uses mostly negative space to create our view of Spidey is masterful.  Wouldn’t Cockrum have been a wild choice as Spidey’s regular penciller; if not that, then perhaps to illustrate an annual?  (He’d paint quite a picture of Mary Jane Watson, right?)  Oh well. 

It’s the most enjoyable ASM we’ve seen in awhile, certainly since Wolfman took the reins.  His characterization of Spidey is on-target, as our hero (in contrast with Peter Parker) is comfortably in control of the situation involving his hopelessly-overmatched opponent.  The Pollard/Esposito art is thin at times, but improved overall in comparison with their previous pairing in ASM #186.  The sequence toward the end, as Spidey toys with Jigsaw and prompts him to further heights of panic, is a highlight, especially when Jigsaw slams his stolen VW Beetle (Jigsaw isn’t even capable of stealing a good car) into the corner of a building (p 27, pnl 3). 

In a LOC, future Marvel scribe Kurt Busiek takes Wolfman to task for failing to deliver the “taut characterizations” and “nice conflicts” that he has dreamed up for Tomb of Dracula over the years; hear hear, Kurt.  Specifically, Mr Busiek criticizes Wolfman for backing away from the possibility of Peter and MJ getting married; sharing a household with someone could be rich with new complications for Spidey, instead of running Peter thru his usual litany of hassles.  The intrepid armadillo points out Marv has introduced some significant changes, including Spidey’s being cleared of pending charges by the NYPD, and Peter’s almost-graduation from college.  There’s also a letter from a Karen W. (no address given), who thinks MJ is “shallow” and no good for Peter; in fact, Karen sees herself as a perfect candidate to be Mrs Parker.  OK Karen, maybe you have a rich sense of humor, or perhaps it’s time to get back into treatment. 

Mark: This one boasts an evocative Steve Ditko-homage cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin...and not much else to recommend it. At least we get to spend some time with Pete's friends, but the Betty Brant subplot is goin' nowhere fast, if not fast enough for me. And robbed on a sightseeing cruise? Been there, Marv, done that.

Jigsaw's return, I'm guessing, was hotly anticipated by no one, and what kinda crime boss has to be shamed into pulling a job by his bored-to-tears crew? Yes, Forbush, a lame-o one. You may get that gentlemen's C yet.

It's all pretty much a waste of pulp paper. Even the John Jameson kidnapping, which could be promising, fails to get the arachnid juices flowing. With Wolfman batting well below the Mendoza Line on ASM, only a sucker would think he's about to belt one outta the park.

Who does Marv think we are, Cubs fans?

 The Avengers Annual 8
"Spectrums of Deceit!"
Story by Roger Slifer
Art by George  Pérez, Pablo Marcos, and Ricardo Villamonte
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Joe Rosen, and Elaine Heinl
Cover by George Pérez and Terry Austin

Though it's done with the best of intentions (a birthday gift to his wife), Hank Pym's monkeying around with Doctor Spectrum's Power Prism gem sets in motion a deadly series of occurrences. When Jan gets nosy, the gem grafts itself to her and transforms her into a new version of Doctor Spectrum. It takes the might of the entire team to defeat her but, once Jan/Spectrum is laid low, the team call Dr. Don Blake to inspect the injured Wasp. Dr. Blake explains that the gem has not only grafted itself to Jan's palm but also dug its way into her nervous system; to remove it would be fatal. The Avengers decide to enlist the aid of previous victims of the gem so they call on Dr. Strange, who recommends they visit the various members of the Squadron Sinister (whose memories were wiped clean by the good Doctor), but with one warning: if they question one member of the Squadron, all members will recover their memories. The team fractures and heads off to find each member of the SS. This leads to several MarMis (especially when one of the SS has just employed Thundra at his health club and the beauty is feeling feisty) but, eventually, the Beast rounds up evangelist Billy Roberts, aka the prior Dr. Spectrum, who happily agrees to come see the fallen Jan Pym and aid her in whatever way he can. Too late, the team discovers that Roberts merely wants to take control of the Power Prism and a battle ensues. The PP (having a "mind" of its own) manages to take control of Thor at one point but, when the Thunder God drops Mjolnir and sixty seconds elapse, hammer turns to stick, the Prism has nowhere to go and disappears. -Peter Enfantino

Matthew: Multiple sources place this before #178, yet since that fill-in had no real “dependencies,” I don’t think it makes a lick of difference.  Now, I’m not gonna sit here and claim that a double-length story featuring Pérez pencils, a baker’s dozen sometime Assemblers, and (briefly) Dr. Strange is a write-off, but sadly, the inking of gruesome twosome Marcos and Villamonte keeps George’s work from achieving its full potential, and Slifer’s is the kind of script that can give annuals a bad name.  Virtually all of his undistinguished prior credits—e.g., Marvel Two-in-One #13, a train-wreck of epic proportions, and this story’s antecedent, Giant-Size Defenders #4—were collaborations by up to six writers, making this a rare solo Slifer effort.

Let’s start with the premise that Hank Pym, as if he won’t be sufficiently degraded by other writers in the months ahead, is profoundly stupid enough to reassemble the power prism.  Ah, you say, Hank wisely anticipated the problem:  in page 14, panel 1, he thinks, “should I wait and hope the measure I already took has some resul—.”  And?  Not only is his sentence cut off, but unless I spaced out while trudging through this turkey, that’s the last we hear of his unspecified “measure.”  Then there’s the contrivance of having to contact all ex-members of the Squadron Sinister and…well, basically, “hope for the best” seems to be the plan, although it’s obviously an excuse to break our unwieldy roster into more manageable JLA-style sub-assemblies (as it were).

That venerable gimmick, used in countless oversized issues, is one I normally enjoy, but between Spectrum-Jan’s virtual omnipotence and the individual fights with super-villains in mufti, I had the uncomfortable feeling of being back in Korvac-World.  Thundra’s presence, as the result of a shameless coincidence, seems like overkill with so many heroes crowding the book; perhaps they just wanted an excuse for a girl-fight between two super-women.  Finally, note to The Other Rog regarding the Whizzer:  you’ve given us mini-doctoral dissertations in multiple footnotes here, yet you didn’t think there might be one reader who didn’t know offhand that this Whizzer is not the same as Wanda and Pietro’s nominal father, Bob Frank, as seen in Invaders this very month?

Chris: It's one of a handful of issues featuring the team's all-mightiest assemblage, plus two, as Quicksilver and Ms Marvel provide bonus heroics.  It features two formidable-opponent battles, as Doctor Spectrum battles the Avengers, and then Thor clashes with his own team!  Avengers fans had lost George Pérez from the Korvac saga, but now, here are his pacesetting pencils, and for a double-sized dynamite issue, no less!

So, what happened?  Pablo Marcos inks for two pages -- that's right, two -- and then hands off to ... Ricardo Villamonte, whose finishes are positively putrid.  Many of the figures look flat and insubstantial, the faces murky and indistinct; faces sometimes appear doubled, as if their heads are vibrating, or are constantly out of phase with themselves.  There could be some dynamic layouts under there (especially in the two-page encounter with the Whizzer, and the two-page Iron Man vs Thor), but it's difficult to be certain thru all those crappy finishes.  It's as bad as anything we've seen slathered over Pérez's pencils since the uncelebrated days of ill-suited Vinnie Colletta, back before Pérez became PÉREZ.  I can't believe I'd prefer a "many hands" approach to this; at least, if there were 5-6 different inkers at work, there'd be a chance that 7-8 pages would be worth looking at, instead of nearly all of them sucking. 

Why was Marcos ever here at all?  I mean, the first page, as Hank is reflected in the multitude of facets, is brilliantly done, but then that's it.  After all the time and effort and great care that went into making Avengers Annual #7 one of the best-looking annuals of the Bronze era, it’s hard to understand how, the very next year, Marvel follows it up with one of the worst-looking (even the letters look dinky and scrappy), as Pérez's effort goes almost completely to waste.  It's criminal.  I suppose I can take some consolation from the handling of Pérez's next two annuals, 1979’s X-Men #3 (inks by Terry Austin) and Fantastic Four #14 (Pablo Marcos, covering the entire issue this time), but it’s cold consolation for me right now.

I wasn’t sure whether any of the team might still be with-it when the sixty-second lapse turns Thor back to Donald Blake MD.  I had thought Henry Pym PhD, dutifully at the side of his ailing bride, had not been involved in the scuffles, and therefore might question how Thor might plunge into the pool, and Don emerge; but, it looks like he’s out as soon as Spectrum reclaims the gem from Jan.  I do have one question at the very end; the illustration of Jan’s birthday party features every Avenger in the story – except, that is, for Quicksilver.  Uh, Simon?  You did bring Pietro when you walked back from the beach, didn’t you -? 

 The Avengers 179
"Slowly Slays the Stinger!"
Story by Tom DeFalco
Art by Jim Mooney and Al Gordon
Colors by Mario Sen
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Keith Pollard and Rudy Nebres

The Black Panther busts up a truck heist but is then captured by a costumed baddie going by the handle of the Stinger (he's got a "shocking touch"... no, I'm being serious here), whose goal is to destroy the Avengers. Meanwhile, across town, the Earth's Mightiest Heroes are hosting a museum benefit, but the festivities are broken up by two strangers looking to steal an ancient relic known as "He Who Protects." The more docile of the pair explains that they must take the totem or evil forces will destroy their homeland of Maura. Though Criminal #2 had remained relatively quiet, his impatience gets the best of him and he casts away his trenchcoat to reveal his secret identity... the Bloodhawk (no, seriously!), a mutant who can call for aid from any bird in the area. Iron Man and Thor shut the bad situation down and the group shuffle the unconscious bird-man and his buddy off to Avengers HQ. There they hear the sad origin of "bird-brain" and of the need to get the relic back to Maura as soon as possible. The group takes a vote and the "Help these guys" side wins. Half the team heads off in a Quinjet, which leaves the other half vulnerable to attack from the Stinger. Thousands of miles away, the jet arrives at Maura just as a monstrous stone creature rises from the sea.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: New writer Tom Defalco slips into the role of Captain of the sinking ship. Lazy, cliched writing ("Quick! Somebody clobber 'im before he blows our caper!"), two brand-spanking new villains who could very well test our theory about the mythical thirteenth-tier, and uninspired, bland-as-all-hell visuals make me wonder if this title can ever regain its past glory. So, what is the Stinger's grand plan? He wants to destroy the Avengers, and he seems to think his shocking device will be able to take out an armored guy and a god. Good luck with that. It took seventeen years but Marvel finally got around to ripping off Hawkman (RAWWWKKK!). Having dumped all this negative, I'm holding out hope that the giant stone monster that closes out this bottomless pit of mediocrity may provide a bit of entertainment next issue. Not holding my breath.

Joe: Here's one of those comics with a pretty good cover that ends up being a slight letdown. Mooney, an artist who can draw nearly any character with some degree of talent, is not really the right choice for some of the Avengers. His Wanda looks like a high school student with changing hairdos—page 14 panel 1 is especially rotten. Bloodhawk is generic, goofy, and boring at the same time. Well, except that he can control pigeons—think of how much the NYC mayor would pay him if he became the modern Pied Piper and ran them out of Manhattan! Script-wise, DeFalco has his characters talk way too much, especially Black Panther, who seems to have taken witty banter pointers from Spider-Man. Or they spew silliness, like Iron Man's order to Vision: "My repulsors will slow down this overgrown canary—while you make with your disruption schtick!" Ouch. And since when does he call Thor "Goldilocks" in public? And do the Avengers all use nicknames in conference like on page 23: "Blondie" and "Shell-head?" Is this just DeFalco showing off, trying to make an impression? On the plus side, Thor is able to save the famous Blue Whale exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, so it can live on to scare future children like it always scared me!

Matthew: With its below-the-tiers—but mercifully one-time-only—Constrictor-knockoff villain, C-List creative team, and clumsily constructed story, I would say this screamed “Fill-In!” if we hadn’t just had one last issue and it weren’t a two-parter; who knows, maybe it is anyway.  Yeah, I know DeFalco becomes EIC after I’m gone, yet since that exalted club also includes Shooter (who seems to have given Tom a tutorial in “Earth’s Most Easily Defeated Heroes,” and is equally unable to decide between “Muara” and “Maura”), well, ’nuff said.  Gordon’s inks don’t really ennoble Mooney’s aggressively average pencils, while Bloodhawk’s sketchy origin and the inevitable MARMIS are lazy writing of the worst kind, almost making me miss Korvac...

Chris: You’d think that, given the opportunity to fill-in a 34-page Avengers story (over these two issues), it might be possible to schedule some major talent to step in and deliver a dream, as the plot outline from a Thomas or Claremont might meet the rough sketches of a Ploog, a Wrightson, a Gulacy, or even a Starlin, and produce a unique, memorable pair of issues.  Instead, we have the debut of the uncelebrated Tom de Falco as a writer for Marvel, paired with Jim Mooney.  Well, at least Isabella, Heck, and Colletta aren’t here; but, we aren’t missing them by much.

I realize even major titles require fill-ins from time to time, especially when there’s a changeover in the creative staff.  And, I appreciate that this is the first of a two-part story; if you’re going to schedule a fill-in for the Avengers, you might as well make it a two-parter, since then you have a better opportunity to include as many of the broad cast as possible.  But here, de Falco offers a premise that was old before the Avengers ever saw print, that of the displaced native artifact that causes trouble; I will say some of the trouble takes on Avengers-worthy proportions by the end, as the stone monolith emerges from the sea.  As for the team’s other contenders, the so-called Bloodhawk (prominently featured on the cover) is little more than an unbalanced man with wings and a beak and a tendency to say “awwk!”  The unlikely Stinger, though, is even less; he’s a man with tools to rival the Rinky-Dink Ringer (admittedly, invisibility would be a useful ability), who somehow can unerringly catch the throats of half the team with his poisoned dart, and has a “shock” to KO genetically-altered, nearly-invulnerable Wonder Man?  No, probably not. 

I’ve been very appreciative of Al Gordon’s finishes in recent issues of Spider-Woman, since his heavier approach has smoothed out some aspects of Infantino’s pencils that I dislike.  You’d think Gordon would be even better with Mooney, whose pencils are reliably ordinary, but the results here are less than I’d expect, as many of the finishes look muddy and indistinct. 

Thank God X-Men is now monthly.

 Black Panther 13
"What Is... and What Should Never Be"
Story by Jim Shooter and Ed Hannigan
Art by Jerry Bingham and Gene Day
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jerry Bingham and Bob Layton

The Black Panther peels back the Wizard of Oz-esque curtain and views Kiber as he really is: a bubbling mass of semi-human flesh and goo, looking like something straight out of H.P. Lovecraft's character in "Cool Air." The creature invites T'Challa to have a psychic conversation and the Panther agrees, dropping his guard at an inopportune time. Luckily, Khanata interrupts the zen-like spell the creature has cast over T'Challa just before it can deal what would have been a crippling blow. Khanata and the Panther escape, only to find that Kiber's henchmen, the Uglies, have fed the rest of the prisoners to the matter convertor. T'challa destroys the gizmo (and saves the cube holding the life essences of the prisoners) and the Uglies, then turns his attention to the mouldering Kiber. The creature begs the Avenger to feed the souls trapped within the cube to it but T'Challa walks away, remarking that the advanced brains of Wakandan scientists may be able to release the prisoners of the cube.
 -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Sorting out the dangling threads of  nonsense The King was throwing together in the first twelve issues of this series could not have been easy, so Ed Hannigan has all my sympathy (can't fool me, by the way, that title must have been Hannigan's idea as Shooter was never hip enough to listen to Zeppelin) and a couple of extra stars out of the gate. Not that what's presented is actually all that great but it is pretty creepy; the climax is about as pessimistic as these spandex adventures got. True, T'Challa offers hope he'll be able to give the cube people back their lives but I'm willing to bet we'll never hear about it again. Probably got mixed up in Avengers Mansion storeroom with Thor's extra Mjolnirs. I'm on board with the nice art (never heard of Jerry Bingham and had very little exposure to Gene in the Day); the Panther is muscular and lithe (see page 17, below) and Kiber is deliciously Ploog-esque. Let's see if this crew might make a little magic before the boom is lowered.

Matthew: Be careful what you wish for:  I kvetched about Kirby’s writing, and got Hannigan scripting Shooter’s plot, but all things considered, the clean-up crew does an admirable job, with a promised return to long-abandoned storylines next ish and Orz’s delicious lettering frosting the cake.  Bingham, who did the cover of Captain America #227, makes his Marvel debut as an interior artist; he, Ed, and inker Day—absent only on the final entry—will see the strip through this book’s cancellation and beyond, to its curriculum-exceeding conclusion in Premiere #51-53.  Their lithe, shadowy Panther is a far cry from Jack’s blocky palooka, recapturing some of the old Billy Graham magic and restoring the dignity that T’Challa deserves.

Chris: I have a mixed reaction to this issue; I want to like it more than I do.  Things start out well, as the Panther unexpectedly elects to sit and commune telepathically with Kiber, rather than fight him physically.  I don’t blame T’Challa for being intrigued by this bizarre life form, but what about Khanata and company, fighting for their lives in the next room?  Kiber’s turnabout is not fair play, but it makes for an interesting development, as we recognize T’Challa should be able to defeat his physical form.  Instead, T’Challa withdraws from the fight as minions show up and things get too hot; good strategy, perhaps, but why does he then take himself on a tour of the facility?  What exactly is he looking for – doesn’t he already know where the converter room is?  Wouldn’t it have been better to, I don’t know, maybe arrive before everyone (except Khanata) has been fed into the machine?  Call me crazy.

Jerry Bingham is not a great artist; he’s well-aided by the sure, full-finishing style of Gene Day to complete the illustrations.  Kiber himself is an inspired bit of comics-art, a lumpy glop with a head and arms and machinery hooked to him (p 2-3); clearly, not what anyone had expected him to look like.  The Panther looks good throughout, lithe and strong; p 17 is suitable for framing, as he leaps to the attack.  Clever bit, also, on p 27, first as we see a knocked-out minion trapped in the wall (p 2), then a few panels of T’Challa’s stealthy progress back to Kiber.

On the letters page, Steve W. of Daytona Beach FL observes, regarding T’Challa’s “sudden display of extrasensory perception,” that it’s fine if it proves to be “a heightening of his natural Pantherish instincts,” since that would “bring him back up to the power stage [of] the old FF days.”  Beyond that, though, things like clairvoyance and seventh-sensing and such: “the Black Panther doesn’t need them.”

 Captain Marvel 60
"Moon-Traps and Paradise"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick and Bruce Patterson
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Annette Kawecki
Cover by Herb Trimpe

As Mar-Vell and Drax depart to stymie Isaac’s conquest of the Earth, Gaea is about to blast them from behind when the Destroyer whips around and once again justifies his appellation.  The action on Titan is intercut with scenes of “close encounters in Kentucky,” as the cover exploitatively calls them, where the switchboard operator at the state police barracks is besieged with reports; her boss (any relation to “R. Neckk” in Hulk #230?) sees a UFO set fire to the corn; and backwoods boys Caleb and Ezekiel are ordered by Stellarax to “spread the word.  First Earth—then Titan itself.”  Implausibly read in a newspaper in a European rehearsal hall, the phrase makes Rick rush back Stateside, bailing—to Mordecai’s chagrin—on a sold-out show.

Leaving the tunnels, our heroes are drawn by strange music, the scent of wine, and a diminutive dancing figure to a glade, where Mar-Vell saves Drax from death-traps and they meet Dionysus, a pipe-playing faun, who gives them a drugged jug and has his sprites take them to “Paradise.”  Isaac notes his disobedience in not killing them; received the aborted alarm from the expedition craft, stoking his suspicions that “Stellarax had too much of an independent nature”; and orders Elysius to the life-baths “to examine the progress of our new creation,” found to be satisfactory.  Our heroes awaken with an epic hangover near what resembles a Greek temple, but no sooner has Marv saved them from giant serpents than Elysius, Mistress of Paradise, decrees their deaths. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: We finally have a consistent creative team; how’s it doing?  Broderson goes for some interesting effects, e.g., page 3, panel 3, an Escher-like bird’s-eye-view triptych that follows as Marv and Drax approach and pass under the “camera,” and panel 4, bordered with apparent roots.  They also have fun with oddities like Elysius’s pet griffins, yet while her thrusting forth her bustier-clad figure in page 17, panel 7, just after reiterating the more-than-professional interest she showed last issue in one of the captive Titans (“I find Eros to be so…touchable”), is hardly subtle…I’ll take it.  Moench evidently finds the Kentucky stuff more hilarious than I do, and it’s unclear whether Stellarax’s selection of landfall and heralds is a fluke, or inexplicably deliberate.

Chris: Mar-Vell and Drax realize time and again they’re out of their element.  Still, they’re mighty enough to vanquish any threat, provided their drinks aren’t drugged; Marv makes a good point (on p 30) that his lack of solar-exposure has depleted his powers, so this should prove a further equalizer as our story continues.

Marv & Drax would have a beautiful Rick & Louie friendship here, if Drax weren’t so dead-set on carrying out his promise to destroy Marv once the threat of Isaac is resolved.  Doug Moench ably portrays the cool confidence they share, and the relaxed conversational style that’s developed in their association, which even allows Marv to joke about Drax’s death-threat.   After Drax blasts Gaea, which also causes the earthen ceiling to collapse on him, Marv credits Drax for his quick thinking, but asks, “…did you have to be so final about stopping him?” Drax’s reply: “I am called the Destroyer, Mar-Vell.”

The Kentucky business goes on longer than necessary, so now that Stellarax has sent his message, hopefully this plot-element has been concluded (and Rick had to hear about it, did he?  Well, at least this only required three panels).  I enjoy the irony of knowing something that Isaac only suspects regarding Stellarax’s “independent nature” (p 17); we also have reason to believe Elysius might share some of the same tendency, don’t we -?

The Broderick/Patterson art continues to excel, as we have plenty of fantastical images to enjoy.  Highlights include: clods of earth and rock that continue to drop from the shattered ceiling, burying Gaea even deeper (p 3, 1st pnl); Drax, weighing his right leg unsteadily, one second before he hits the ground (p 15, pnl 8); the intriguing metallic figure now taking shape in the life-baths (p 26, 1st pnl), followed by a frustrated shrug by the servo-bot, behind Elysius’ back (p 26, pnl 4); Marv and Drax, looking like they crashed in a public park at the end of a long night (p 26, pnl 5); the view from over Marv’s left shoulder as he catches a snake in the mouth with a photon blast, which causes flames to appear in its eyes and nostrils – gotta hurt (p 31, last pnl). 

Conan the Barbarian 94 
“The Beast-King of Abombi”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Bill Spicer
Cover by John Buscema

His thirst for revenge on those who sold him into slavery slaked, Zula bids farewell to Conan and Bêlit — a few Black Corsairs join him to plunder the Hyborian lands of the north. With a lighter crew, the Tigress sails south, heading for the She-Devil’s domain, the Black Coast. When they arrive at the jungle region, the crew is shocked to see that village after village lies in ruin, either totally razed or completely deserted. Finally, they come across one that is still standing, Watambi, their long-ago allies against the River-Dragons. A weary Chief Ombassa welcomes them through the gates — the pirates cannot help noticing that the natives are as listless as their leader. 

Ombassa informs his guests that a savage warrior named Ajaga now rules the land. After being exiled from his tribe for trying to overthrow his ruling father, Ajaga led a band of other castoffs to the cursed and deserted city of Abombi, a sprawling structure carved into the shore of a huge mountain. There, the disgraced prince was overcome by a strange mist and somehow gained the power of the legendary Jhebbal Sag: command over all the animals of the land. Using the vicious might of leopards, baboons, birds of prey, venomous snakes and other creatures, not only has Ajaga confiscated all tributes meant for Bêlit, he has also kidnapped the daughters of all the local chiefs — including Ombassa’s beloved Nyami — and plans on founding a new tribe with the offsprings of his “brides.”  

Conan and Bêlit agree to mount a rescue of the kidnapped princesses and kill Ajaga. Along with a few of the Corsairs, they approach Abombi from the rear and, led by the Cimmerian, scale the sheer cliff on the other side of the haunted city. But Ajaga is waiting at the top with a troop of baboons. Two of the huge primates leap at the barbarian and he is propelled off the cliff, plunging to the forest far below. A shocked Bêlit is knocked unconscious by another of the monkeys — the Corsairs put down their weapons when Ajaga threatens to have their queen torn apart. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: So what does Roy Thomas do after wrapping up the epic Luxor adventure that spread over the past two years? He throws Conan, Bêlit and company into another lengthy arc, this one covering four issues. This first part ends with a killer cliffhanger — literally — as our hero plunges to a certain death. Well, I’m sure things will end up fine, but it’s still a gut punch. I read the first pages a few times and methinks that something was bungled. Of the Black Corsairs who, for some not-really-defined reason, leave with Zula, only Yarunga, Lasanga and Ajonga are mentioned or even seen. But, two pages later, Conan mentions that M’Gora was also with them. Now M’Gora was Bêlit’s second-in-command and has become a fairly major character, so have no idea why his name or easily recognized face didn’t pop up. Speaking of Zula, guess I deserve a demerit since, for all these many months, I failed to remember that Grace Jones’ character shares the same name in Conan the Destroyer. Shame on me. This is the last we’ll see of Zula for the remaining Marvel University curriculum — looks like he returns to these pages in the early ’90s. He was a very solid addition to the cast but nothing lasts forever.

The Rascally One reaches back to issues 60 and 61 for the Watambi tribe: Conan and Bêlit helped them against the Riders of the River-Dragons, fierce black warriors who rode huge crocodiles. And Jhebbal Sag — the legendary sorcerer who could communicate with animals — was already referenced in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 27 (March 1978). That tale was set in a future time from this one, so it’s understandable that the Cimmerian wouldn’t have heard of him yet. Sag really didn’t have an impact in either story, just a means to an end. Brilliant cover by Big John: inside, Buscema and Chan are in such a lengthy groove that it seems nearly impossible to find something to complain about. However, Bill Spicer’s lettering is borderline terrible. Big and blocky, it takes up way too much space, crowding the action and obscuring faces. Seems that Spicer is more well-known as the publisher of Graphic Story Magazine.

 Captain America 229
"Traitors All About Me!"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Sal Buscema and Don Perlin
Color by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Keith Pollard and Bob McLeod

Buried under tons of rubble, the Sentinel of Liberty must find a way out before the air goes bad and suffocates both him and the Constrictor. Safety comes thanks to an emergency exit (always handy in a super-secret headquarters) and, soon, Cap is grilling the Constrictor for info on the missing Falcon. The interrogation provides a slim lead and, after turning to the Avengers for a cash loan, Cap is soon heading to Los Angeles, home to the quartet of heroes known as the SHIELD Super Agents (aka Texas Twister, Vamp, Blue Streak, and Marvel Boy)! The Red, White, and Blue Avenger is convinced that one of the four is a traitor and can provide him with additional intel on the Falcon's whereabouts. After a brief tussle, Blue Streak owns up to his deceit and, after a good clobbering from Vamp, confesses that the Falcon is being held by the Corporation on Alcatraz! -Peter Enfantino

Peter: When does a Boy become a Man? Seriously... Marvel Boy after all these years? Not only are we hampered by a low-tier villain in the Constrictor but then, to add misery to the muck, we get four nothing "heroes" as well. I love how Steve Rogers turns down a ride to LaLaLand from Thor because it would "attract too much attention" and then, the second he gets there, changes into his Cap suit and lays waste to dozens of guards around the SHIELD compound (leaving the bodies strewn here and there) in a very low-key fashion. And don't get me started on Steve's bus companion, a precocious but oh-so-cute youngster who's raving about Gentleman Gene's return to Daredevil. As if little kids actually cared about the artistic carousel in 1978 (let alone read DD in those pre-Miller days). If Ramblin' Roger McKenzie intends to restore this title to "the Captain America you demanded...," he's got miles to travel.

Chris: It’s finally an interesting issue, after the last three have been fairly flat.  McKenzie does a solid job of catching us up on recent events in Cap’s life, as he surveys the VW-wrought damage to his apartment, and realizes he’s without credit cards; no, this is not a character who can simply leap to his waiting Cap-copter and zip off to adventure.  I don’t know if anyone is going to miss the SHIELD Super Agents, but clearly McKenzie was not a fan, as he paints not one, but two as Corporation spies (that Corporation certainly is prepared for any contingency), and sends a third one twisting the night away.  (Marvel Man will be wise to maintain his security clearance – I hear they’re hiring at Project Pegasus.)

The fact is, if Cap really had taken a bus from New York to Los Angeles, we’d still be waiting for him to arrive.  There are horse-drawn carriages that made the trip in less time.  It’s a good thing the need to discover Sam’s whereabouts could afford the extra delay, while the Greyhound stops every six miles, and parks for ten minutes as people clamber on and off.  As soon as we’re informed that Cap’s stuck on the bus, I figured right away it would play into the story – there would be some super-villainy incident along the road that would require Cap’s intervention, so we all could say, “Phew – good thing Cap wound up taking the bus after all!” while the Beetle and the Porcupine would sputter “Wha – Captain America – here?!  How could he possibly know ..?”

Matthew: Things have come to a pretty pass when “not too bad” seems like an ambitious goal for this once-essential book (*cough*Stainless*cough*), and without Sal as the keeper of Cap’s flame, even that might be aiming too high.  Not sure I buy the lettercol’s assessment of the incoming Perlin—whose tenure will outlast the blog—as “one of the best inkers at Marvel,” but he’s here now, and the results are, well, not too bad, with page 2 alone showing that Our Pal’s talent is undimmed.  At least McKenzie makes a pretense of explaining the Texas Twister’s presence in FF #192, although Cap was clearly naive to assume there could be only one traitor among those tiresome Super-Agents…and oy, that shameless Daredevil plug!

 Daredevil 156
"Ring of Death!"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Elaine Heinl and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Gene Colan and Joe Rubinstein

Daredevil faces down the Widow, and states he will kill her for the pain she’s caused him.  Natasha holds back, as she tries to understand what could be causing Matt to act this way.  Matt slings his billyclub cable around her neck, and when he won’t ease up, Natasha has no choice but to zap him with her Widow’s sting.  DD then catches the Widow in the midsection with Captain America’s shield, but before he can pursue further aggression against her, he grabs his head in pain; he begs Natasha’s forgiveness, as he collapses on the floor.  The modest assemblage of Avengers (Cap, Hercules, and the Beast) has come around; Natasha finds Matt is barely breathing, so Hercules hefts the unconscious form and they rush him to a hospital.  The doctor reports DD has lapsed into a coma. Natasha and the others can do nothing but wait for updates on his condition; the Beast hands Natasha a flower to try to cheer her up.  A nurse in Matt’s room overhears whispered words, as he talks to himself about being a “real … fighter… .”  In his delirium, Matt sees himself clad as DD, in a boxing ring, with his deceased father coaching him; at the far side of the ring, Matt himself refutes his father’s encouragement, while his opponent (wearing a robe with “Battling Murdock” across the back) turns, and reveals himself to be – Daredevil himself, wearing the crimson-and-yellow garb of his earliest crime-fighting days.  As he steps into the ring, DD promises his father: no matter what, he will never give up.  The old DD berates and batters the present-day DD, as he declares “Life just isn’t worth all this pain – all this suffering!”  DD resists, until the old DD drops his disguise, and reveals himself to be – Death himself!  Death declares he will take Matt, just as he took Matt’s father, and his mother before; Matt insists his time has not yet run out, as he hears his father’s voice reminding him that he had promised not to quit.  Matt hammers the Death-figure, until he awakes and finds himself in the unfamiliar surroundings of the hospital.  As he drifts into exhausted sleep, a hand reaches from the shadows, toward his helpless form – the death-dealing hand of Death-Stalker! -Chris Blake

Chris: It’s a taut, exciting issue, leagues removed from the tedious story (5+ pages devoted to the gripping search for a new office assistant) and mediocre art (Frank and Frank …) of the rightfully-forgotten DD #155.  Regardless of whether Matt’s feverish self-fight is happening within his own mind, or whether Death-Stalker (or some other menace …) might have placed it there, we have a clear sense of Matt facing the highest of stakes, in a legitimate battle for life.  The presence of Matt’s dead father – who lost his last fight, we recall – adds to the drama.

Speaking of Death-Stalker’s probable role in Matt’s boxing with Death, we still don’t know whether it was he who got ahold of Matt’s mind and sent him after Natasha in a murderous rage.  We’re told on the very last page that DD #157 will reveal the fear-fraught identity of D-S – a mere 60 days from now (aw, man …).  Roger McKenzie has ably righted the good ship Daredevil; this issue has renewed my enthusiasm for the title, so I’m interested to see where the story goes from here.  

Could you ask for a better team to portray a fevered Death-match than Gene Colan + Klaus Janson?  Tom Palmer is the only other embellisher who could hope to realize the full effect of Colan’s nightmarish images.  Page 17 alone is worth the price of admission, as Colan stages the frame with three distinct versions of Matt, and Battlin’ Murdock left of center, his face half-shadowed as he offers Matt last-minute advice (“this won’t be an easy fight!”).  A small detail done right is the texture of the towel, visible in Murdock’s left hand; its appearance as a tactile item adds a concrete object to this otherwise unreal environment.  This helps to ground the illustration, but probably also contributes to the confusion Matt is experiencing, as he’s unable to distinguish reality from illusion. 

High grades also for the depiction of Natasha in the early pages.  Page one shows her hesitant, her fingers spread in anticipation of Matt’s attack.  Despite her readiness, she still is shocked by the billyclub cord (p2, 1st pnl), then rallies to firm determination as she turns a stern eye to Matt and directs him to stop (pnl 3).  The action on p 6-7 is pretty terrific too, with another highlight as Matt snaps back to a moment of clarity, and we read his expression of regret and confusion before he passes out (p 7 pnl 3). 

Matthew: I’m less enthused about the Dean/DD reunion than the annoying kid on the bus was in McKenzie’s Captain America this month, if not for the obvious reason, i.e., that he’s inked by Klaus.  Actually, the Colanson pairing is usually one of the more acceptable outlets for his squid-like ink-spraying, yet here, their moody efforts are partially wasted on a type of story that I often find intrinsically unsatisfying.  Whether they take place in a dream, a hallucination, a mental manipulation, or some sort of tiresome What If?-style alternate universe, the events in these stories never “really happened,” and thus amount to nothing from a canonical standpoint, however cool they might be otherwise.  Tash looks great, but is she trying to blow his secret i.d.?

Scott McIntyre: Gene Colan is back and the results are…kind of okay. He draws DD with some crazy bow-legs. What really bugs me though, has nothing to do with the art. Throughout the whole fight between Black Widow and DD, she refers to him as “Matt.” Repeatedly! Ten times in seven pages. And Hercules is still conscious. There’s no indication that the Avengers know his identity, unless I missed that issue (very possible – I’m only reading this for Colan’s return). That, and the awful inking, pulled me out of the story very quickly. Not long from now, Frank Miller will pencil a classic origin that has DD stuck in a hospital bed. This issue reminded me of that, because the Miller was vastly superior.

Mark: I'm intrigued by what's going on, but not enough to go back and brave last month's Frank Robbins art. An outta-his-head DD is attacking the Avengers, Natasha in particular. Got it.

Roger McKenzie's lean, no-frills script speeds right along, allowing Gene Colan's fluid dynamism (his Black Widow is still gorgeous, but seems to have added about 15 lbs since the early '70's) to carry the tale. Not surprisingly, Hornhead's Avengers Manse invasion - he wields a mean shield - and his narcotized dream-battle with Yellow Kid DD and Death are the high points, with Avengers emoting at the hospital sandwiched in between.

The last panel peril reveal of the Death-Stalker primes us for next ish...

Barring the return of the Robbins horror.  

 The Defenders 67
"Val in Valhalla Part Two:
We, the Unliving..."
Story by David Anthony Kraft and Ed Hannigan
Art by Ed Hannigan and Bruce Patterson
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Elaine Heidl
Cover by Herb Trimpe

A moment of peace and quiet is violently disrupted for the Incredible Hulk when soldiers attack him in the woods. Jade Jaws fights back but, just as he's about to pummel the puny humans, he's struck by an invisible force and... dies! Meanwhile, Valkyrie remains a prisoner in the dank dungeons of Ollerus the Unmerciful. The nattily-dressed baddie seeks to usurp the throne of Hela as God of Death and his plan is to snatch souls randomly from Earth. On Midgard, Hellcat and Nighthawk are involved in a fiery car crash and... die! Val's "mad alter ego," Barbara Norriss arrives on the scene and convinces the late Defenders to join her on a trip to Valhalla. The real Val manages to escape from the dungeon but she's immediately set upon by two of Ollerus' more interesting bodyguards, the invincible Watch-Dragons, but is saved in the nick of time by the gallant Harokin. Just then, Barbara, Hellcat, Nighthawk, and the Hulk materialise before the mountain lair of Ollerus. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Not nearly as enjoyable as the first installment of the Val's Road Trip trilogy nor nearly as coherent. This one's all over the map; I'm not sure I was able to follow every nuance and twist (and that may be reflected in my synopsis above). I will say this though, in defence of DAK: pretentious as a U2 lead singer he may be, at least he's not pumping out boring swill like Avengers, Captain America, and Power Man and Iron Fist (sleeping pills disguised as funny books). We all know the various members of the Defenders are not dead so how DAK will write himself out of that corner will be interesting. Hannerson provide inconsistent visuals; Val is rendered exquisitely while the Hulk is a bit too "boxy" for my tastes. That cover is pretty hideous, by the way. Hellcat's head looks to be at an angle that would ensure neck trauma while Hulk's bottom half is running in a different direction than his top. Dr. Strange... well, he's not even in the damn book.

Chris: The cover is another Big Stinkin’ Lie, as the Defenders supposedly battle together in Asgard, when they don’t even arrive until the very last page, with the Hulk cruisin’ by a mere three panels from the end.  And are we supposed to expect Doctor Strange to be here?  No, this cover – without Doc – might be appropriate for our next issue.

There isn’t a whole lot of progress in the story; there should’ve been a way to include the other team non-members in a meaningful way a lot sooner.  Now that the Val we know is free, Defenders #68 could feature a battle of the Valkyries – that would be interesting.  Nice moment as Kyle resists Val’s call to Valhalla, basically stating he doesn’t “want to be dead!” and isn’t even sure he’s seeing the real Val before him (p 22); I hope Hannigan will continue with this thread of Kyle’s doubt regarding Val’s identity.

The Hannigan/Patterson art continues to be adequate, with highlights including Ollerus’ creepy cradling of Val’s sleeping form, and her quick payback of the affront (p 14), and Val (well, Barbara Norriss)’s impressive entrance with the chariot (p 17).  I realize we’re supposed to be impressed with the self-propelled shark-toothed mountain, but it reminds me of a Terry Gilliam animation, sorta like the office buildings that behave like pirate ships in the opening sequence of The Meaning of Life

Matthew: Oh, excellent.  The Defenders are now dead.  That’ll give us another chance to hit the effing Cosmic Reset Button, wave our magic wand, sprinkle some fairy dust, and make it all better.  Again.  Can’t wait.  This one starts out with a reference to “Val Halla [sic]” on the cover, which also allows Dr. Strange to succeed the Hulk as Sir Not-appearing-in-this-film, so you know it’s going downhill from there.  Out of the Frying Pan, into the Fire Dept.:  “As of this issue, the scripting chores for Defenders pass from the hands of long-time writer Dave (the Dude) Kraft into those of one-time artist Energetic Ed Hannigan,” the lettercol tells us.  “One-time” usually means “former,” but since he pencils it, they’ve obviously screwed that up, as well.

Sean Howe relates that when DAK (who shares Ed’s plotting credit) sought to emulate Gerber, negotiating a royalty for the Beatles Super Special, he succeeded via the loophole of forming an incorporated entity with Perez—reusing Steve’s Mad Genius Studios moniker—since Marvel did not own the Fab Four.  But he balked at signing a work-for-hire agreement, recently instituted in response to new copyright laws, and quit Defenders.  Ever in the vanguard to champion creators’ rights, as he had done on behalf of Superman’s Siegel and Shuster, Neal Adams spearheaded an abortive attempt to create a Comics Creators Guild, yet some old hands like Gene Colan were reluctant to make waves, especially with Marvel and the industry overall in a financial downturn.

 Fantastic Four 202
"There's One Iron Man Too Many!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Dave Cockrum, John Buscema, and Joe Sinnott

A pleasant surprise to find John Buscema back behind the pencil. Less inviting is Iron Man's sudden invasion of the Bax. That he assaults the Fabs with nary a word tips us he ain't the real Shell-Head, but the pseudo Avenger blasts the Thing right through the wall. Reed stretches down to street level to play catch. By the time they return to the tower, fake IM is pulling the "uncoupling lever," sending the top five floors of the B. Building rocketing into the sky. 

And the team tumbles groundward again. 

Said silliness (the rocketing, not the tumbling) is a new safety measure Reed installed to placate Landlord/Monopoly Man Collins, in case the Fabs ever "created an unpreventable disaster." What are the odds of that ever happening?

A quick visit to Tony Stark convinces our foursome of I.M.'s innocence, and the team-up's underway. Stretch can track his equipment (natch), and they've soon found the B. Building sitting in a jungle somewhere (Marv doesn't bother to specify a continent). Sue's, "We're going to have to fight for our headquarters, won't we, darling?" is representative of the sparkling dialogue. Nah, it's just some fraternity prank, Suzie.

While Reed and Tony ponder strategy, Ben punches through a wall - it's smackdown time! Inside await faux rust-bucket and his creator, Quasimodo, the Living Computer (see FF Annuals 4 & 5 and Marvel Team-Up #22, if you must). Shell-Head fights his clone, while the Fabs tackle 'Modo. Just as they're getting the upper hand, he breaks away and blasts off in their ICBM, hunting a space ship that will give him "...the ultimate power."  
-Mark Barsotti

Mark: If this one was any more generic, it would have had to have been printed in black and white - from the absence of sub-plot or characterization, to the Golden Age goofiness of unsnapping the top of a skyscraper so it can zoom off into space. It's not that you can't sell such outlandishness - indeed, you could argue it's the meat and mead of the genre - but that Marv and a seemingly really bored Johnny B. completely fail to do so, with the results resembling a lame '50's Batman gimmick. 

Similarly, Quasimodo was a poignant, tragic figure when Kirby & Lee first unveiled him, but it's been diminishing returns ever since. There's absolutely no reason for 'Modo to create an Iron Man, except, ya know, team-up potential. As if Marv needs more characters to neglect.

And if you thought Sue's dialogue, quoted above, was bad, the indignant lines like, "You? Bless my bite-sized buns!" heaped upon Ben Grimm are far worse than any Cosmic Rays.

Wolfman managed to huff and puff his way to a pretty satisfying anniversary ish, but he's been running on fumes since.  

Matthew: Oh, Marv, you just keep digging yourself in deeper.  If I were in an unusually forgiving mood, I might just buy that the Baxter Building had been constructed in such a way that the top five floors could be disengaged and “repelled” in case of emergencies.  But now, you little dickens, you’re asking us to accept that Reed has somehow severed every architectural connection between those floors and the rest of the structure, not to mention adding those big-ass couplings and magnetic gravity-repellers, all with his clearly unsuspecting teammates none the wiser?  And you do this in the service of a story that subjects us to the soporific villainy of Quasimodo?  All I will say about the art is that it’s by my #1 favorite team...

Scott: The Baxter Building has magnetic repellors? It can uncouple and fly off into the baby blue sky? Damn, Reed, you think of everything. I get that it’s some kind of safety measure, but isn’t that a little over the top? Them’s must be some powerful magnets to launch five or so floors into space. By the way, this measure is conveniently forgotten in the 80’s. And would someone mind telling me how they got it out of that jungle and back to Manhattan? This one feels a lot like a fill-in. For whatever reason, whenever a comic reaches a hundred mark, the next few issues feel like they’re treading water. I’m not saying we need another epic story arc, but the art team has changed and this story has little connection to the issues around it. It is good art, but the bland “Iron Man double” plot and the middling villainy of Qusimodo doesn’t do much for me after the stellar Doctor Doom epic.

Chris: I’m not sure what to make of this.  It’s pretty obvious from the very start the FF isn’t battling the real Iron Man.  Are we supposed to surmise that Quasimodo wanted to confuse the team by sending a familiar figure against them?  Or is Iron Man’s presence here simply a gimmick to drum up sales?  The notion that anyone now can pull a lever and cause the top five floors of the Baxter Building to uncouple from the lower floors, and fly away, is a pretty crazy idea (better keep Franklin away from that console, I think); but I feel it might be too crazy, as we’re asked to stretch our willing belief in comics-science past its breaking point (e.g., in the lettercol for FF #205, Ed V. of Roanoke VA dismisses the notion of launching the upper floors as “patently absurd.”).

Quasimodo’s tale doesn’t make a great deal of sense either.  Right before Hawkeye struck him with an arrow, Quasi separated himself from his body (a neat trick – extra points to Quasi for his quick thinking), and drifted as energy to the far reaches of reality.  But then, there’s a scene missing: why would he rejoin his inert physical form (related question: how did he do it -?), so he could seek to acquire the power to return to those self-same stars?  And, if he couldn’t move, how did he manage to construct a working Iron Man double -? 

I fear the answer is related to a big shiny blurb on the cover, which demands “See Them on TV Saturday Mornings on NBC!”  So, if the reading audience for the Fantastic Four is going to include grade-school Saturday cartooners (watchers of classic Warner Bros shorts excepted), then the explanations don’t have to make sense at all – things just happen, that’s all, and people talk about those happenings for a few seconds, then we’re right back to the action!  If this nightmare-scenario is true, then we’re in for a great deal of trouble, which starts with T and rhymes with V, the last letter of “Marv.”

The Buscema/Sinnott is solid, if largely unspectacular.  The Iron Man (real) vs Iron Man (fake), and Thing (real) vs Quasi (uh, real) clashes have their share of smashes and bashes.  Maybe you could tell – this issue went back into the box rather quickly. 

Matthew:  It’s not obvious here, but the Quasimodo, Space Ranger routine is actually the first strand that will connect two Marv-mags, one of them—hint!—soon to be cancelled.  Trouble, indeed…

 Godzilla, King of the Monsters 18
"Fugitive in Manhattan!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Dan Green
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Diane Albers
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Joe Rubinstein

Aboard the Behemoth Helicarrier, young Rob visits the impetuous tiny Godzilla, asking the mini-monster to trust him that Dr. Hawkins' New York museum will be a "special place" for him to live. But as the crew tries to unload their captive, Hawkins slips, the cage springs open, and Godzilla drops into the East River! As the humans begin the search for the "specimen," the little lizard traverses the city streets before falling into a sewer, where he battles—and bests—an angry NYC rat! Meanwhile, on the Behemoth, young Rob slips away from Hugh Howards, dons a SHIELD water suit, and starts his own search below, which ends when Godzilla hears his "friendly" voice, climbs out of the sewer, and suddenly grows to four feet tall—the shrink serum is starting to wear off!--Joe Tura

Joe: Dare I say, I kinda liked this issue. There were some actually enjoyable moments in between the ridiculousness of it all. Tiny Godzilla singes Dum Dum Dugan's famous mustache and Gabe Jones guffaws. Young Rob "maybe" unlocking the cage, helping set the Little G free. The tugboat driver's face when the Behemoth blocks the sun. The cab driver's face when he spies the "weirdo lizard." The entire two-plus pages of the Godzilla vs. rat brawl, complete with a couple of nasty rat bites. Big G climbing out of the sewer to confront young Rob. Overall, the story contains the usual caption-heavy Moench-ness, including more internal dialogue of Godzilla. Trimpe plays along nicely, with some hilarious shots of Big G on the "rampage" on pages 16 and 26. Body-flipping a rat? Sure, why not.

Matthew: There isn’t really much to say about the art, except to remark upon page 7, which merely emphasizes the fact that the Behemoth looks like a cross between the Enterprise and a shoebox, and as for Moench’s story, well, let’s just say that I was right to dread re-reading this arc.  I can’t help wondering what the licensors at Toho made of this whole Gojira tai Murinosaurus bit; I mean, I know it’s a comic book, and a Godzilla comic book at that, but that doesn’t equal a free pass to be both far-fetched and profoundly stupid.  So, Hawkins just happens to trip at the crucial moment, and then Rob gives us that B.S. about going into a trance?  And do we really believe they think they can search NYC effectively for an action-figure-sized Godzilla?

 Howard the Duck 29
"Help Stamp Out Ducks!"
Story by Mark Evanier and Steve Gerber
Art by Will Meugniot and Ricardo Villamonte
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gene Colan and Terry Austin

Has-been comic Joey Goniff falls over Howard on a Cleveland sidewalk.  Once they get past their initial differences, Howard agrees to participate in Joey’s scheme of staging a 36-hour telethon to raise exposure for Joey and jump-start his career, while simultaneously raising (potentially) a substantial sum of money.  Howard is to pose as a youngster suffering from poultritis ampelopsis, a condition that causes a potentially normal human to develop a duck’s anatomy.  Joey’s handlers book the telethon at the Rancho Zircon in Vegas, which immediately causes him to sweat, since Joey’s last time in town, he’d walked away (hastily) from a $54,000 marker.  Joey takes a deep breath and proceeds with the plan.  The telethon is wildly successful, raising over $250,000.  Howard gets wind of the mob debt, and is distressed, since he thought the bulk of the money would go to a legitimate charity; he threatens to blab to the press, but settles instead for the case filled with Joey’s $54K debt.  Howard quickly notices the large sum he’s carrying around is making him acutely paranoid, so he hands it off to a young girl who had raised $22 for his would-be charity by going door-to-door to raise funds.  Howard uses the scraps of cash he has left to buy a one way bus ticket, “no frills,” back to Cleveland. -Chris Blake

Chris: Howard has a job offer from Bev Switzler – Mr Bev Switzler, that is, the uncle to Howard’s onetime companion; what happened to that?  Greater concern: since when has Howard turned into a clip artist, willing to degrade himself and boldfacedly lie in order to make a buck?  This is a duck who has eaten a candy bar for dinner (well, half a candy bar – he and Bev had to split one, after Howard tore up a comic book in outrage – well, it was a while ago), rather than steal to raise enough cash for a full potato-chip bag.  This is a duck who typically aims his beak straight at cheaters and manipulators, and calls them out for their behavior; he’s one who rails against those who use the system for their own gain, not one who indulges in these acts himself.  

By one estimation, Steve G. is only partially to blame for this story, since he only wrote a script for a plot by a “Mark Evanier,” whoever he might be (hang on – around the same time, this same person wrote three episodes of “Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo;” so, now we know).  Another perspective reminds us how Steve continues to be listed as editor for this title; as editor, and as creator for this character, you’d think Steve would be uniquely qualified to defend Howard, and prevent him from being unduly, unfairly presented.  But, the letters page informs us this is Steve’s final issue; Steve himself includes the following comment, in his own words: “thanks, one and all.  It’s been fun.”  It’s not quite the same as writing yourself into the script, and connecting with your character on some other plane as part of a sendoff, like you did in Man-Thing #22, is it Steve?  Tha-he-da-he-da-he-da-that’s all, folks. 

The issue might’ve been redeemed (somewhat) if the Gene Colan–Terry Austin art team from the cover had carried over to the interior, but instead we have Will Meugniot – who gamely provides a few decent visuals of our title character – paired with the incompetent Ricardo Villamonte, who typically flattens out most of the humans’ faces.

Mark: Steve Gerber's swan song on his signature title is neither bang nor whimper. Instead Gerbs hit the bricks with a middlin' effort that bespeaks a raised middle finger to the New Regime. Unfortunately, his parting shot at Shooter ricochets into the waterfowl's fans as well.

That Howard's final foil's rooted in the real world rather than Spandexville is a sunshiny ray, dim though it may be. Joey Goniff is a hack comic on the make. Thinking Howard's avian appearance the result of some disease, Joey envisions a Jerry Lewis-like telethon, his visage beaming from the Glass Teat for 36 straight hours, launching him to superstardom. 

Take that, Buddy Hackett!

Matthew: The lettercol blandly reports that “this is—for reasons much too complex to elucidate here—Steve’s final issue of Howard the Duck for Marvel” (like he’ll be writing some for another company?), but as usual, Sean Howe elaborates in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story regarding the Erection-in-Chief’s war of attrition:  “the last to sign a writer-editor contract, and falling behind on deadlines once again, was the first to go.  In February, he was relieved of his duties as the writer of [Howard’s] newspaper strip.  Gerber’s lawyer informed Marvel that this was a violation of his contract, and that he was considering legal action regarding the ownership of the…character; shortly thereafter Marvel terminated Gerber’s contract altogether.”

Call me partisan, but since I always enjoyed Steve’s HTD, I’m inclined to lay the blame for this disappointing issue primarily on the plot by future Groo the Wanderer mainstay Evanier, making his first of what seem to be only two appearances in my collection, along with the Falcon story in Premiere #49.  Chiefly, I think it’s out of character—Howard’s savvy and basically an honest, uh, drake, so I doubt he’d let himself get roped into this scam.  As for the art, I haven’t seen Meugniot’s byline since his two Tigra outings in ’76 (and will see it only once more in the post-blog MTU #98); to be frank, I haven’t missed it, yet in fairness, his highly stylized pencils, inked here by the problematic Villamonte, are better suited to an offbeat title than to a super-hero strip.

Mark: The Lick Poultritis extravagance is slated for Vegas, where Joey owes 54K in gambling debts to gangsters. That he's left to the tender mercies of "Beefy" when Howard gives their take to 'tween girl who was raising money for the cause, is an appropriately Gerberesque twist of the knife, but there's no passion behind the thrust. Steve knows how to milk an outlandish premise better than most, but Howard's best (mis)adventures have always been grounded in the fights he couldn't avoid. Here, he has no reason to debase himself in a charity scam (and that nobody recognizes the duck who ran for President was bad enough last ish from a fill-in writer; from Gerber it's downright inexcusable), shedding crocodile tears and undergoing a cold stethoscope exam in the offices of Amalgamated Charities. Gerbs is slicing the baloney so thin, he has Howard signing on for "mountains of cash" on p.3, but by 23, Howard's just getting "expenses," with the rest of the loot going to a "real charity."

But since the duck doesn't care much for either cash mountains or philanthropy, we gotta call b.s. on both, class. It's a goofy gimmick in search of a story, when it's supposed to be the other way 'round. The whole set-up smacks of what I expect the up-coming Duck scribes to offer - Synthetic weirdness, leeched of all alienation and outrage.

That Gerber himself supplies this bland blueprint is a sad exit from the creator of one of the most genuinely weird & alienated characters in a decade of weirdness and alienation.

Thanks, Steve, and rots of ruck.

Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

The Incredible Hulk 231
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Herb Trimpe

The Hulk walks in the late night hours in the sleepy town of Gilbert, California when a young hippy is thrown quite dramatically from a local pub. The young man runs back in, but is again thrown out by a patron who doesn’t like long-haired types.  Mistaking the bully’s shirt for a military uniform, Hulk intervenes and as a result, the bar is emptied quite quickly. The hippy introduces himself as Fred Sloan and he wants to be Hulk’s friend. Hulk thinks Fred is crazy, but goes along with the man to his home to sack out.

Back at Gamma Base, a plane lands carrying Senators Andrew Hawk and Eugene K. Stivak, aka “Kligger” from the Corporation (see the current Captain America arc). Hawk is angry over the recent chaos at Gamma Base and wants to know what is being done to capture the Hulk. In a meeting with Doc Samson, Clay Quartermain and Dr. Karla Sofen, Hawk and Kligger seem to play “good cop/bad cop,” but when Kligger quietly drops a Corporation code phrase, Sofen realizes he knows she’s Moonstone. When Jim Wilson barges in to give them all info on the Hulk’s whereabouts, Samson explains that Jim is the Hulk’s best friend. Kligger suggests he take Sofen and Jim to California to try to calm the Hulk and bring him back to Gamma Base. Once in the air, Jim is knocked out with sleep gas and Kligger explains his plan to Sofen; he has been failing in the eyes of the Corporation’s Board of Directors and needs to redeem himself. This is all part of his plan to get back into a position of power and he offers Sofen the chance to grab some for herself.

Meanwhile, Hulk is making a mess of Fred’s life: his girlfriend freaks when she sees the Hulk and runs off to call the police. Fred and the Hulk speed off in his VW Bus but soon run into a roadblock. The Hulk makes short work of it, tearing through the police cars and giving them their bid to freedom as Fred wonders what he’s getting himself into. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: The most interesting part of this story is, honestly, the stuff going on at Gamma Base. How often does that happen? Since this is the start of a cross-over with Cap, there’s a lot of exposition, but the Stivak/Corporation plot adds a layer of intrigue that works very nicely. For a guy with a brilliant mind, Samson is pretty stupid to admit he’s “no administrator.”  When you have the government pounding their way onto your base with an obvious problem, you don’t admit you suck at being the acting commander. That just gives them a green light to put someone else in charge. While the government would do it anyway, at least give them something to argue about. However, it didn’t go in that direction. A missed opportunity.

We meet Fred Sloan as he’s tossed from the bar. Not only should he have been severely injured by that throw, the guy who tossed him apparently has latent super damned strength. Sal Buscema is a little too accustomed to drawing super-heroes; no average dude should have been able to pitch a (I guess) 180-pound guy like that. And when the Hulk throws the guy in to the bar, not only should he have been killed, but the toss isn’t much more impressive than the one that ejected Fred. Speaking of weight, it’s clearly stated Hulk is a thousand pounds. And fine, there’s no reason why Hulk should know that, but the kitchen chair in Fred’s house should have something to say about it. Not to mention his rickety Scooby-Doo van. Yeah, I’m comparing them to Shaggy and Scooby. I totally went there. Speaking of Fred, how many sidekicks does the Hulk need? Jim is the Hulk’s best friend, and now we have Fred the hippy. Why not just bring back Rick Jones? At least we’re not suffering through Kropotkin.

Really nice art, but I would have liked a better inker. Still, the images of the Hulk happily eating breakfast are pretty funny (no change to Banner? Was last month’s fill-in not part of the continuity?), and the full page Smashy panel is really kind of awesome in a way. Next month, another favorite issue from my kidhood as we have the Hulk/Cap Crossover. Really looking forward to that one.

Chris: It’s sort of a bridge-issue, as we resume the main-storyline elements ignored by last issue’s fill-in.  Fred Sloan is the latest in the series of unnecessary temporary supporting characters, another passenger on Mr Hulk’s Wild Ride.  I was surprised to see Dr Sofen still in the picture (she’s doing a remarkable job of maintaining cover, isn’t she?), and the arrival of Senator Stivak should makes things very interesting, as the Corporation scheme enters its latest phase.

The Buscema/Esposito art is pedestrian, with Hulk’s face varying in recognizability throughout the issue.  The Hulk loves his beans, and we get a clear sense of his enjoyment (p 14-15).  The conclusion features most of the highlights, first as the Hulk surprises the state trooper when he emerges from the microbus (p 26, pnl 3 – in the next panel, this image is reinforced as we hear one of the troopers exclaim, “My God, look at the size of him!”), then the Big Moment when the Hulk uses one car to smash the other (p 27, 30), which features plenty of metal parts and fragments scattered over the two-lane blacktop. 

Matthew: Aptly, I consider this “Prelude!” less on its own terms than as the lead-in to next month’s Captain America crossover, to which we’ve been building up over many months and writers.  Kligger dates to the end of Kirby’s Bronze-Age run on Cap in #213; as Senator Stivak, he tangled with the Torpedo in Wolfman’s Marvel Premiere #39-40, not to mention the Corporation’s involvement with Mantlo’s Jack of Hearts; and the Constrictor “failed to capture that Wilson kid” as far back as Wein’s Hulk #212 in June 1977.  So it’s a pretty long-simmering pot that the two Rogers (Stern and McKenzie) are bringing to a boil, while Fred Sloan signs on for a two-year hitch and Buscemosito delivers a quintessential Hulk close-up in page 14, panel 1.

Addendum:  It is perhaps worth mentioning, since Marvel does not, that Senator Hawk was the boss of ill-fated Mandarin minion Jonathan Rich in Iron Man #95-100.

We'll be the judge of that!

1 comment:

  1. Why don't you guys do a evolution of the marvel corner box whit the dates shown.