Wednesday, September 21, 2016

January 1979 Part Two: The Micronauts! Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?

The Micronauts 1 
Story by Bill Mantlo 
Art by Michael Golden and Josef Rubinstein
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Al Milgrom

Blinded by the promise of immortality through the sinister science of evil Baron Karza’s Body Banks, the citizens of Homeworld have overthrown the peaceful Elite class: the king and queen have been killed and Prince Argon and Princess Mari are fugitives, joining the hopelessly outmanned forces of the Underground loyalists. Cornered by Karza’s Dog Soldiers and the armored Acroyear warriors of the turncoat Prince Shaitan, Argon is wounded and captured as Mari and her robotic attendant Microtron are whisked to safety by the mysterious Time Traveler 
— aka the Enigma Force.

Meanwhile at the Air Terminal, Commander Arcturus Rann and his robot companion Biotron arrive on aboard the HMS (Homeworld Micro Ship) Endeavor after a 1,000-year exploration of the Microverse — the astronaut was placed in suspended animation and hooked into the ship’s telepathy channels during the mission. But since Rann’s parents — the murdered Dallan and Sepsis — defied Karza while Rann was away, the Baron considers him an X-Factor: the shocked Commander is thrown in prison. In his cell, Arcturus encounters two strange allies: Bug, a member of the recently discovered and conquered Insectivorid race, and Prince Acroyear, proud brother of Shaitan. With Karza, Shaitan and one of the dark Shadow Priests in attendance, the captives are soon hustled into a packed arena and attacked by a huge Deathtank, a synthesis of man and machine. 

Things look bleak, but Bug tosses a packet bomb he had hidden in his clothes and the living tank is grievously wounded. Other explosions, set by the Underground, rock the stadium and Rann, Bug and Acroyear make their escape — as Karza looks on seemingly unconcerned. Rann spots Mari waiting for them with Microtron on a wagon: they all hop on board and race to the Air Terminal. Biotron, alerted by a telepathic message from the Commander, has the Endeavor ready for takeoff. As Thorium Orbiters close in on the ship, Rann reveals that he and his metallic co-pilot have built some surprises into the craft: while the Endeavor passes through unharmed, the Orbiters smash into the unseen spacewall that marks the fringes of the Microverse. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: If you have any interested why the Hyborian Studies wing added The Micronauts to its class load, you can revisit Marvel Collectors’ Item Classics #24: They Came From Whentoyswerefun!!! from the June 8, 2014 post. That Sunday Special gives some background on the origin of the action figure-inspired series and its publication history so I’ll avoid that here — it also offers Michael Golden’s unused cover art for #1 which I think is far superior to Cockrum’s.

Reading The Micronauts for the first time in over three decades, what strikes me is how the series seems to be a mash up of both Star Wars and Marvel’s The Uncanny X-Men. Obviously, Baron Karza is the stand-in for Darth Vader — though Vader never attached his torso to the body of a horse like Karza enjoyed doing. That’s a big checkmark in the Baron’s column. Rann is Han Solo while Mari is Leia. I assume that Argon is Luke but I don’t remember much about the prince. He is young and blonde so what the heck. Down to his two-toed feet, Bug is a dead ringer for Nightcrawler and I could argue that Acroyear is Colossus. Now while Biotron obviously towers over Microtron, I’d peg the big guy as the smaller R2-D2: he’s much more intelligent and resourceful than the comic relief C-3PO/Microtron. And, of course, the Enigma Force. So The Micronauts had a lot going for it from the get go.

But the biggest weapon in the series’ arsenal was the creative team. Now while no one will confuse Bill Mantlo with Jim Starlin, he was typically a solid writer who did some good work on a wide variety of Marvel titles — including two that featured licensed characters, this one and Rom: Spaceknight. But the real draw was the art. Back in the day, the amazing Michael Golden seemed to come out of nowhere. Looked like he kicked around at DC for a few years but he absolutely exploded on the Marvel scene with this premiere issue. I was blown away by his art the first time I laid eyes on it and remain highly impressed today. Golden’s style strikes me as a combination of Jim Steranko and Gene Colan but with his own special magic in the mix. Plus, he’s perfectly teamed with the talented Joe Rubinstein, one of my favorite inkers of the era. We also have Tom Orzechowski, easily the best letterer on the scene at the time. So it’s not a surprise that Marvel kicked off this new series on a monthly schedule instead of testing the waters with bimonthly releases.

Above and beyond the dazzling illustrations, there’s a lot to like in this premiere issue. Mantlo does a crackerjack job introducing all the main players. But if readers do get things mixed up, there’s a “Meet: The Micronauts” scorecard on page 19 that offers brief bios of the leading characters. And Bill whips up a variety of cool ideas. Karza’s Body Banks can recreate a person from a single molecule — in return for complete subservience of course. And the merging of metal and flesh for the roboids was neat, though, at this point, not sure if that applies to Biotron and Microtron. You have to give Mantlo credit for the scene-stealing Bug: he was supposedly based on the Galactic Warrior but that was a totally humanoid action figure that had no resemblance at all to the Insectivorid. Rann, Mari and Argon are all new as are the nasty Dog Soldiers. In fact, fleshing out an entire world from a bunch of cheap Japanese toys is quite a coup. We are off on the right foot my friends.

Matthew Bradley: Amusingly, the indicia in #1 say “published bimonthly” so they must have changed their minds pretty quickly, since #2 appeared a month later!   Although he was part of the Defenders #53-4 group grope, with five artists on two issues, this is DC veteran Golden’s first regular Marvel gig, lasting precisely until blog’s end and embellished by Rubinstein through #7.  His work is so stylized—not usually my thing—that in retrospect, I’m amazed I would have liked it back in the day.  Similarly, the black-armor-clad Karza may have seemed uncomfortably similar to a certain Sith lord, and I’m pretty sure that even at 15, I recognized Rann’s “my entire exploratory trip was an absolute waste!” as a carbon copy of Vance Astro’s, yet despite (or perhaps partly because of, as I’ll explain in a moment) these potential pitfalls, I consider this one of the few bright spots as the light is dying…

Providing an illustrative contrast, perennial faculty whipping-boy Nova was a strip that was expressly intended to achieve a comfortable, even slavish familiarity, and although it had a supporting cast, they were clearly secondary characters.  Conversely, with its decidedly different look and diverse, colorful-in-every-sense ensemble cast, this is literally a whole new world.  I don’t know how much of the complex mythos was imposed by licensor Mego, upon whose toy line the series is based, and how much Mantlo dreamed up himself (reportedly inspired by his son Adam’s Christmas gift in 1977), but it seems substantial, and jumping into it in medias res this way, without the backstories provided by the forthcoming annual, feels like total immersion.

Chris Blake: For years, I thought Bill Mantlo had been assigned the task of inventing the whole Micronauts backstory.  I imagined Bill and Jim Shooter with Mego execs in a conference room somewhere, all chiming in their preferences for character traits and storylines and such, with Bill taking notes, and then going home to try to make sense of it all.  After I read the story this time, I checked the handy Wikipedia page, which tells us Bill was drawn to Micronauts when one of his children received some nifty Micro-items for Christmas; Bill saw the potential, and asked Shooter to arrange for Marvel to acquire the rights.  So, I'd always thought of this title as a purposeful product tie-in, when in fact (at least, according to Wiki), the title was launched at Marvel's request.

Way back when I originally acquired this pulse-pounding premiere issue, I had given Bill all kinds of credit for creating the M-verse and all its trappings.  Of course, now I recognize how freely he'd borrowed from Star Wars (overthrow of the established order; dutiful droids; rust-bucket ship with a "few surprises" built in over the years; and of course a black armor-clad villain), and Marvel's own Guardians of the Galaxy (single-representatives of subjugated races; a pilot in cryogenic storage for 1000-year deep-space journey, etc).  That aside, it’s a briskly-moving tale that accomplishes quite a lot, as we meet all the principal players in this new cast, and are presented with enough exposition to  introduce the main story effectively, without ever seeming to bog down. 

The real find here, though, is Michael Golden, who makes his full-length color debut at Marvel (previous color work including a few pages inserted in mish-mashed Defenders #53-54).  Golden already had produced some usually interesting work for DC, primarily on Batman-based stories, as he brought a (desperately needed) dramatically different look to the familiar old crime-fighter.  Golden combines fluidity and heft in his figures with atmospheric shadows and unpredictable panel-design; the discerning eye will recognize the influence of Adams, Colan, Ploog, and others.  If you like Golden’s work (and well you should), then pull up a chair; these twelve issues will be his only regular assignment for Marvel during the Bronze era.  

I especially appreciate touches like: the faintly-visible, but impressive other-wordly cityscape (p 1; p 16, pnl 4); silhouetted horses, desperately trying to outrun the crossfire (p 2); reflection on a dog soldier’s visor (p 3, pnl 2); pock marks in the walls from blasters (p 7, pnl 3), followed by the prince’s spattered blood on the ground (p 7, pnl 5), and our first look at Karza, in a bizarre centaur array, his right hand replaced by bright red smoke (pg 7, last pnl); Shaitan’s apprehension, offset by Karza’s languid pose (p 23, 1st pnl); the thorium orbiters flattened against the spacewall (p 31).  

The Invaders 36
"Crushed by the Iron Cross!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Chic Stone
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Alan Kupperberg and Joe Sinnott

Gassed by the Iron Cross, the five Legionnaires are bundled—along with fellow captives Miss America and Franz Schneider—into a truck bound for the waterfront.  Meanwhile, the Invaders racing to their aid stop to help the victims of a train wreck, and although he selfishly runs ahead, the lovelorn Whizzer finds his teammates gone without a trace, but Namor summons his flagship, and his Atlantean technology is able to trace Madeline’s faint communicator signal.  Their quarry is aboard a U-boat, where Schneider refuses to reveal his secrets to the Iron Cross, and has guessed his identity as Helmut Gruler, a childhood friend with whom he parted ways on the subject of Hitler, believed by Helmut to be the only hope for a depression-wracked Germany.

Years later, Helmut visited the recently-fled Franz’s lab and found the armor he’d intended as a post- or anti-Hitler weapon, plus a journal hinting at improvements Helmut wants him to make.  As he threatens the Legionnaires—held in gas-filled cylinders—to compel Franz’s cooperation, Namor leaves Cap at the controls and dives in; fired from a torpedo tube, the Iron Cross mounts a formidable offense with his electrical charge, ink-like black fluid, and armored might.  Subby’s Sunday punch knocks him through the hull, halting the gas-flow and enabling the Legionnaires to break free, but as the Iron Cross flees with Schneider, who had donned diving gear, the U-boat is fast filling up with water…and Namor never showed Cap how to take the flagship underwater! -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Floating (ha ha) heads, a guest-starring Whizzer, a blue-green underwater color scheme…man, I am totally in the tank, if you’ll pardon the aquatic pun, for this Kupperberg cover, complete with Cap’s amusing “Zoinks!” expression.  As predicted, now that it has been freed from the shackles of Springer’s inks, Alan’s interior art can flex its muscles a bit, even if obviously, with no offense intended, I wish my fave Sinnott could have inked that, as he did the cover, instead of Stone.  Those who are so inclined can continue to share in the Liberty Legion-love as Roy spins the Iron Cross storyline into a three-parter, bearing in mind that part one was largely repurposed from the abortive Legion title, although we appear to be into all-new, Heck-free material by now.

Since the Legionnaires sit most of this one out (note the gaffe when, in the Whizzer’s absence, Schneider spots Madeline “and six others whom I recognize from the newspapers!”), let’s hope they play a bigger role in the finale.  Helmut-in-the-Helmet seems like a missed opportunity—he insists that he is no Nazi, yet does not appear to be holding his nose while giving Adolf de facto support with his “for the Fatherland, right or wrong!” attitude, which might have been interesting.  Having apparently aged at a different rate since their pre-Hitler youth, Franz looks like a typical absent-minded professor, but he’s a well-drawn one; Kupperstone also does fine by the action scenes, the Legion’s bust-out (page 26, panel 4), and Miss America (page 27, panel 2).

For those who care, the two-page lettercol comprises one long LOC from “Angry Al Schroeder III” and an even longer reply, devoted to the question of whether the Golden-Age stories “really” happened in the modern-day Marvel Universe, to which the answer is…well, basically, “maybe.”

Chris: Decent issue – too talky in the early going.  I’m not sure why Iron Cross feels the need to lecture Prof Schneider about the rise of National Socialism; the Prof was there too, I’m sure he remembers.  Either way, it slows the issue down and feels like filler.  Namor’s undersea battle with the Iron Cross (a German, not a Nazi – a German) is fine, but if we could’ve gotten to it a bit sooner, there might’ve been time to follow Cap’s pursuit (as pilot of Namor’s flagship) of the fleeing Iron Cross.  I guess the cliffhanger with the trapped Liberty Legion is inevitable; I would’ve preferred to see more of them in action, but again, the sands in the hourglass seem to have run out.  Well, until next time.

Mark Barsotti: Iron Cross is both more interesting than the average German combatant in a WWII comic, and less interesting than I'd hoped. He continues to insist - even while in combat with our heroes - that he is not a Nazi. Which is true, unlike the ten thousand and one funnybook Krauts who've swore undying devotion to der Führer. Instead, Helmut Gruler is a patriot of the "my country, right or wrong" stripe, and while Roy deserves credit for going off-model, more interesting still might have been a German super-hero who actively, if covertly, opposed 'Dolph. And that wouldn't mean no conflict between IC and the Invaders, far from it. You've got a helluva MARMIS, pre-loaded, and it would have - again going off-model - actually make sense! 

In the story we got, IC and his need to get Professor Schneider to up-power his armor are compelling enough. The problem lies on the other side of the ledger. To wit: the Liberty Legion are little more than a joke, one that depreciates further with each re-telling. While I appreciate Thomas' deep dive into Timely/Marvel history, repeated appearances by third-rate characters who were goofy even back in the more simple-minded '40's only helps goofify the entire proceedings, at the expense of at least a dash of verisimilitude. 

This is a matter of taste, of course, and while I generally find Roy's impeccable, his seeming lack of confidence in the "Big Three" to carry their own title is a minor mystery.

Related, in a tangential way, is the extra long letters page, both the debate over whether the Timely '40's stories are "canonical" or not,- a matter of academic interest outside our purview - and the early touting of Invaders #50. Which, with the title hurdling toward cancellation, will never be published.

And then there's the ad for Marvel's adaptation for Jaws 2, touting an interview with director Jeannot Swarc. 

That'll get 'em scurrying to the newsstand!  

The Invincible Iron Man 118
"At the Mercy of My Friends!"
Story by Bob Layton and David Michelinie
Art by John Byrne and Bob Layton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Bob Layton

Tony repairs his armor, noting that he recognized Spymaster’s weapons from a special consignment he’d designed for S.H.I.E.L.D., then prepares to attend their NATO defense symposium as a “special advisor on electronic detection and nullification.”  Arriving uninvited to renew their brief acquaintance, Bethany gets a catty reception from his secretary, Mrs. Arbogast, and the bum’s rush from Tony, who tells pilot James Rhodes he’ll take the jetcopter up himself, welcomed by Fury aboard the Helicarrier.  Summoned by a prearranged signal in order to do a little snooping, Tony gets rid of his chaperon, Val Adair—one of the conspirators—on a pretext, and locates a coded file about S.I.’s stock transfers, which he transfers into his armor’s circuitry.

Donning rebreather units, the cabal floods the ship with pyrodoxin cyllanate-2, which dissipates soon after knocking out all aboard, giving them time to pitch Tony through an emergency hatch; plummeting toward Western Europe, he is revived by the rushing air, and just in the nick of time dons the armor stored in the briefcase he had wisely chained to his wrist.  Crashing back through the hull, he conceals himself long enough to overhear Buck Richlen remind Val of their plans to pressure the stockholders to resume munitions production, now that they’ve “finished” the job Spymaster started.  IM’s chest beam turns on unbidden, initiating a battle in which he flattens the others, but Buck threatens an unconscious Fury’s life if IM doesn’t turn his repulsors on himself. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Okay, that’s a fun Layton cover, so I’ll overlook its divergence from the actual story, especially because it’s probably more realistic…but since it would have left our hero splattered all over the landscape, we can’t have that!  Per the lettercol, “we’d like to thank our old buddy John Byrne, X-Men penciler supreme, for lending a helping hand with the ol’ layouts this issue, whilst J.R. was off drawing our latest and greatest Kiss magazine.”  After his vituperative response to last year’s Hulk Annual, I have to wonder what John thought of Bob’s finished art; not sure who added the “Blaff and Dexter” logo on Tony’s splash-page gizmo, although I have no specific reason to doubt the theory advanced on the Marvel Database (that it’s a spoof on Black+Decker).

Matthew: In addition to signaling that Bethany’s appearance last ish was no one-off, plotters Farmer Dave and Farmer Bob continue planting seeds, in this case with the debuts of Mrs. Arbogast (whose first name will, amusingly, later be revealed as Bambi) and Rhodey; like it or not—which I don’t—the latter will play a major role outside this blog’s purview.  I know the Helicarrier is pretty honkin’ huge, and can’t recall what was stated before, but a mile long, if intended literally, seems hard to swallow, and wouldn’t knocking out the entire crew be a little risky?  My biggest beef with Michelinie’s script is the lazy exposition on page 26: the second Shellhead starts eavesdropping, a conspirator conveniently recaps what we and they already knew for his benefit.

Chris: So, the prospect of a Nick-backed hit on Tony to wrest control of his company turns out to be a red herring; if we didn’t already know that, we certainly were hoping there’d be no basis to a legit SHIELD plot against Stark and SI.  In case we have any lingering doubts, there’s a rogue-element planted here to succinctly outline every detail of the devious plot (p 26), which helps to cement this whole scheme as more Ludlum than le Carré, if that had not already been apparent.

I will say that the cover-advertised plunge from the helicarrier, and Tony’s mid-air change to protective armor (still not sure how he got the jacket past the wrist that’s handcuffed to the briefcase …) is Bond-worthy excitement.  Tony’s flashes of apprehension, as he sees the ground racing up to him, help to humanize the moment; but, the narrow escape, as he snaps the helmet on just-in-the-nick-of-time, turns this right back to a carny ride.

As a back issue, IM #118 has carried a premium price tag due to Byrne’s presence; it’s odd, since the look is almost completely Layton, with Byrne’s hand barely in evidence – clearly, it’s roughed-out layout work (as the credits fairly indicate).  It’s too bad, since ample time for his trademark pencils might’ve produced art on par with the excellent Byrne-Layton issues we saw toward the end of the Champions run.  One of the few recognizably Byrne moments is on the aforementioned p 26; Iron Man chooses the uncharacteristic tactic of using suction discs to hide in the shadows under the ceiling, resulting in a very Spidey-like pose as he crouches in the corner.


John Carter, Warlord of Mars 20
"The Master Assassin of Mars, Chapter 5:
Battle at the Bottom of the World!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Ernie Colón
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Rudy Nebres

Of the 3,000 defending Karanthor’s wall, only Garthon and Carter remain, so John scatters his foes with a sudden attack and—using the Earthly strength thus far concealed—leaps to a nearby roof, carrying Garthon and swearing him to secrecy.  At the second line of defense, Gar Karus lauds Carter for drawing the Ptothians to the wall, leaving their camp vulnerable, but deflects all his efforts to share the praise, and Garthon sadly explains that the jedwar despises his wingless son, with his gardening and poetry.  The war grinds on as Chan Tomar continually flaunts his possession of Dejah to enrage Carter, who in between battles plans their escape by climbing the eight-mile cliff, though she knows nothing of mountaineering.

Carter slips away from a banquet celebrating the Ptothians’ final retreat, and while continuing his preparations surprises an intruder revealed as Garthon, who has deduced John’s plans and eluded the nightwatch to suggest an alternative.  Months ago, he had discovered a volcanic shaft that led to the surface, belying the myth of a hell beyond; already planning to flee with his beloved Hira, he proposes joining forces, so Carter agrees to join them once he has freed Dejah.  Leaping from one stalactite to another, he bursts into her apartments just as a drunken Chan Tomar announces, “I’m tired of waiting for what’s mine by right,” and Carter bests the Jeddak in combat, but as he and Dejah are joyously reunited, their escape is threatened by the arrival of two vengeful guards.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Claremontism Alert:  “Casualties were heavy on both sides—for neither asked for nor gave quarter...”  The credits may suggest that in his penultimate issue, the now-unaccented Ernie “No Relation” Colon embellished himself, but the armadillo tells a different story:  “We’re trying an experiment here, reproducing Ernie’s art directly from the pencils, without any inks.”  As a read-the-lettercol-first guy, I viewed the art through that lens, and thus was sensitized to its literally unfinished but by no means unattractive look (e.g., Carter close-ups in page 2, panel 2 and page 11, panel 2; simmering Dejah in page 10, panel 2; Garthon in page 17, panel 2), yet regardless, it’s fascinating to contrast Ernie unadulterated and as inked by Springer, who returns next month.

Chris: The armadillo politely calls for responses to the art, which we’re told is reproduced directly from Colón’s unembellished pencils.  Well, it’s stylized at times, as facial expressions sometimes are a bit exaggerated (not too much), but overall I like it quite well, starting from the very active, fluid-figured first page.  This title has had its share of artistic turnover, with a different art team for each of the seven issues from #14 to this one; I wouldn’t mind if Colón had stayed on in this capacity, since his uninked pencils provide plenty of fine visuals on their own, but something tells me we can expect yet another change for our next chapter.

Highlights include: overlapping scenes, as Carter and Garthon’s fighting leaks into the banquet below – we plainly see Carter glaring at Chan Tomar, which suggests Carter’s hostility carries over from the battleground (p 10); Carter gets the drop on Garthon, assisted by deep blues from Bob Sharen (p 15); Garthon’s triumphant view of the plains of Barsoom, far below (p 17); Dejah Thoris continues to look luscious, even in a silly headpiece (p 23).  

Master of Kung Fu 72
"Traitors to the Crown"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and Bruce D. Patterson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Mike Zeck

Reston and Melissa are on their way to Leiko’s flat, to surprise her and Shang-Chi, when they’re met by a figure in the shadows; he steps forward, and reveals himself to be – Shockwave!  At the same moment, Sir Denis discloses to Leiko and Shang that he has resigned from MI-6 due to his discovery of a ruthless campaign that extends as far as the highest ranks of the agency hierarchy.  The same fanatics behind the assassination program that sent War-Yore after Shang-Chi now have sent Sir Denis’ nephew, Lancaster Sneed (a.k.a. Shockwave) after him and his former team; all of them are at risk.  Reston holds Shockwave back long enough for Melissa to reach the flat and inform everyone of Shockwave’s attack.  Shang-Chi dives out the window and springs to Reston’s defense.  The battle starts out as roughly for S-C as had his previous encounter with SW, since any contact with SW’s metal exterior causes S-C to feel an electrical sting or burn.  SW’s boasting allows S-C to catch his breath, and spy a wooden sign nearby; S-C taunts SW, and ducks as SW lunges toward him, effectively breaking the sign into smaller, handier pieces.  S-C picks up a long piece, and uses it both to block SW and to club him.  S-C then drops a wood slab in the air between them, and connects with his foot, driving his kick (protected by the wood) into an unprepared SW.  Now that S-C has cleared space between them, Leiko fires shots from the window above and chases SW away.  Leiko’s next step is to call Tarr at the Savoy and warn him of the latest MI-6 threat; MI-6 is likely to use any resource available in order to neutralize Sir Denis’ team, including a weapon captured from one of their opponents.  As Tarr receives the intel, his door opens to reveal Brynocki, the miniature automaton aide to madman Mordillo, now clad as a medieval executioner, complete with double-headed axe! -Chris Blake

Chris: First impression of Shockwave’s return could be a concern that Doug Moench is getting thin on ideas, and is beginning to repeat himself.  There could be something to this.  Another consideration, though, is that Shang-Chi had both hands full in his previous encounter with the former Agent Sneed, so any chance at a rematch (much like his recent run-in with Shen Kuei) should present a formidable challenge.  An unmentioned, but hinted-at element, involves Shockwave’s past (recounted here in a lengthy flashback, omitted from the synopsis in the interest of time).  Sneed had been badly disfigured on a mission, and had metal plates affixed instead of skin grafts; he then went full-metal after being discharged from the service due to mental instability, and became Shockwave during his new career, as he performed electrically-powered feats of strength for a travelling carnival.  Sir Denis speculates that MI-6 might have recalled Shockwave, and pressed him into this assignment, for deniability; if there happens to be a rash of killings of former agents, and if Shockwave is connected to the crimes, then MI-6 could plausibly deny their involvement.   If Shockwave is desperate to prove himself to the agency (he doesn’t say so, but I assume it’s possible), that could make him even more dangerous.  The fact that he’s Sir Denis’ nephew strikes me as some cruel piling-on by the sadistic bastards behind the ordered hit.

Chris: The art continues to develop, but I’m not dazzled yet.  The action moves along briskly; it takes more time to read the issue than for the events depicted to transpire.  For a highlight, let’s pick p 16, as Shang-Chi dodges a backhand slash from the faceless Shockwave, as energy crackles in the air split by his charged left hand. 

Mark Barsotti: Mike Zeck gets his first cover duty and delivers a beauty. Inside, his art continues to mature: higher quality, more consistency from panel to panel, with bolder composition. The graphics get a solid A-.

And after last month's Shang-&-Leiko-play-house respite, Doug turns up the voltage with the return of Shockwave. Not sure we need two pages-plus of flashback to reacquaint us with Sir Denis' mad nephew, but that's my one (contractually required) complaint about this one, class.

Shockwave may well be the title's best baddie (Father Fu excepted, of course), the purest synthesis of Moench and Gulacy's Kung Fu Fighting meets Steranko Super-Spy aesthetic. 

Black Jack hangs Frazetta prints in his hotel room.
Clive get heroically singed slowing down SW. The assaulted Sir Denis informs us MI-6 is " infested by ruthless madmen." Nice to know they're keeping up with the CIA.

Admittedly, there's no time for much characterization here, but Doug serviced that need nicely last month. I was happy enough with a breathless actioner, but then...a last page bonus!

Brynocki - the World's Cutest Murdering Automaton - is back! 

The Man Called Nova 23
"From the Dregs of Defeat!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino, Gene Colan and "Many Hands"
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Bob McLeod

Dr. Sun gloats that all his plans are falling into place, as he lets the reader know he added "intelligence" to Sherlock in order to spy on Richard/Nova, then senses a power drain from the Nova-Prime ship he is watching. Nova and Comet barge in on Diamondhead, but he buries Nova under a "miniature landslide," tosses Comet aside like a pebble, and heads up to confront "the voice." Sun picks up Nova by controlling a bulldozer to unearth him, then tries to get the secrets of the starship from his mind. Meanwhile, Sherlock (aka Dr. Sun's "R-213") knocks out Bobby, then dons a Richard mask (!) to blow off Ginger and Bernie. Mike Burley is called by Comet, who tells a super-short version of his origin and the family tragedy that ruined his career. Back to our main story, and after a two-page Colan/Palmer-drawn Dr. Sun origin/how he survived an explosion after battling Dracula, Nova awakes to hear Sun's plans, then is transported to the Nova-Prime ship by the robotic rascal. Demanding to know the secrets of the ship's computers, Sun easily defeats the defiant Nova, but before he can complete his task of wiping the Human Rocket's mind, he's interrupted by none other than The Sphinx! – Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Dr. Sun? That's the reveal of the Big Bad pulling the strings? Last seen in Tomb of Dracula, Dr. Sun is less than illuminating, and certainly not very threatening. I mean, he's a brain in a robot's body, more Futurama than fiendish. Well, on the surface for sure. He does manage to best Nova, but with The Sphinx ready to join the party, I assume Sun will get "brained," if not worse.

My favorite moment in this fair-at-best issue is when Nova calls Diamondhead "Facet-Face" —he stole my line from last issue's lesson! But then he ruins it by adding "Gem-Head" in the next word balloon, and "Sparkles" two panels later. Marv, always with the excess on this title…it might work for Spidey, but not the mediocre Nova. It seems no one likes "Gem-Head," who gets called "Miscreant" by the Comet and "Dull-witted Cretin" by Dr. Sun. The mind-numbing name-calling continues with Nova and Dr. Sun: "Dome-Head," "Shiney," "Chrome-Dome," "Chowder-Head," "Smiley," "Domey," and "Golden Boy," all in three pages. Yikes.

Blue Blazes counter: On page 27, a perfect "Blue Blazes" when Dr. Sun transports himself and Nova to the Nova-Prime ship and the young hero is a bit taken aback. Just wait until he wakes up and sees the freakin' Sphinx, he'll "blaze" in his pants!

Chris: My first glance of the cover, which informed me Dr Sun has been revived to battle Marvel’s #1 Super-hero Sensation!, earned nothing but an audible groan.  Marv really wants us to be impressed with Dr Sun, but his presence here smacks of desperation; at least Marv has enough sense to bring the Sphinx back into the picture.  The Sphinx’ reappearance also is the only progress we get in an entire issue filled mostly with bluster from Dr Sun.  Virtually nothing happens until Dr Sun teleports himself and Nova to the Nova-prime ship; it’s a deadly mistake to have limited story development in a bi-monthly title, and Marv is rapidly (mercifully) running out of time for his pet project.

Chris: I’m sure it’s fun for Infantino to draw the Flash again, although now it seems Marvel is calling him the “Comet"; does DC know -?  I have nothing else to say about the stringy art, except I’m grateful two of the pages are by Colan & Palmer (rescued from the editing room floor, perhaps?), and that Joe Rubinstein effectively disguises Infantino’s pencils on p 15 and p 31, so at least the Sphinx’ entrance looks reasonably good.

Matthew: Issues like this one make me sadly relieved that there are only two left, and although I’m pleased to see the Human Rocket getting back to his interstellar roots, Marv’s story in general, and Dr. Sun’s plan in particular, seemed pretty incoherent.  I’m sure it wasn’t enhanced by the touch of the notorious “M. Hands” (who, if the Marvel Database is to be believed, included Austin, Janson, McLeod, Rubinstein, Simonson, and Wiacek), but Infantino’s art is simply dreadful.  As for that “special tip of the Wolfman hat to: Gene Colan & Tom Palmer, pencil and inks pgs. 17 & 22,” I’ll have to rely on faculty members familiar with the book to say whether they actually redrew Sunny’s backstory, or it was lifted outright from Tomb of Dracula.

Marvel Team-Up 77
Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel in
"If I'm to Live...
My Love Must Die!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Howard Chaykin, Jeff Aclin, and Jose Ortiz
Colors by Mario Sen
Letters by Rick Parker and Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita, Jr. and Al Milgrom

On the astral plane, Dr. Strange drops his defenses, only to have Laveau bind their minds in telepathic rapport, while Spidey and Ms. Marvel find their disguises fading away as her minions attack, seemingly invulnerable and seeking to destroy Doc’s physical body.  The ankh appears on his astral forehead, indicating mortal danger as his mind floods with ancient demonic lore and a spell of transference returns Silver Dagger—who had enslaved her—to Earth, trapping Strange within the Orb, where he is greeted by the hookah-smoking Caterpillar.  Spidey and the “costumed harlot” are held by the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak as Strange arrives too late to save Clea from the flames, yet the mystic fire forms a pillar from which a new Clea emerges...

This is Clea as she might have been raised by her mother (who, unbeknownst to Strange, was Dormammu’s sister, Umar), but with Dagger focused on the spectacle in the Orb, Spidey trips him with his webbing, breaking his concentration to free our heroes.  Battle rages both inside and outside the Orb until Dagger maneuvers Spidey into it as well, and his twisted vision of New York impinges upon the reality Clea is creating of her native Dread Domain, distracting her just enough for Doc to overpower her.  Ignored, Laveau stabs Dagger in the back, releasing Doc to restore Clea’s soul to her body, her memory blocked, and return the wounded Dagger to the Orb; Laveau knew his death would have kept Dagger there, and says the Tarot’s prophecy is not done. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’m going to have to side with those who lament that neither Spidey nor Ms. Marvel brings much to the table; moreover, their contribution is largely of the generic crash-bang-boom variety, and thus could’ve been made by almost anybody.  Now, I’m not philosophically opposed to Spidey’s taking a back seat to his guest star(s), as demonstrated by my rapturous response to the Steel Serpent story in #63-4, but his and MM’s presence in what is essentially a follow-up to Dr. Strange #1-5 does feel a bit random and/or superfluous.  I also thought the wrap-up regarding Marie Laveau—who, I’ve since learned, is a fictionalized version of a 19th-century Creole historical figure, and debuted in a Thomas/Colan story in Dracula Lives #2—was a little unclear.

But if the whole is less than the sum of its parts, those are still some parts…and I don’t just mean MM, who gets a sensational close-up in page 6, panel 4, yet whose considerable, uh, exposure of late will be sadly unable to save her Claremont-written mag from imminent cancellation.  The one-time-only (defining a two-parter as “one time”) Chaykin/Aclin/Ortiz trio effectively uses modified double-spreads with insets on the sides; pages 2-3 feature a wonderful, monochromatic time-lapse montage of Doc entering Laveau’s trap, and on 10-11, the size of the main image increases the impact of Silver Dagger’s escape from the Orb.  The Caterpillar’s cameo is a nice callback to Englehart/Brunner, and looking ahead, Chris takes over Doc’s book at the end of ’79.

Chris: Terrific story, as Claremont capably keeps several separate story-elements moving forward simultaneously.  Claremont diverges from a familiar trope regarding Dr Strange when he‘s paired with regular earth-reality-bound heroes.  Ordinarily, Doc battles the magic-powered baddie (typically in some other dimension, or on the astral plane), while Spidey or members of the Defenders tackle un-magical minions on Earth.  This time, we see Spidey and Ms Marvel grapple with the newly-freed Silver Dagger in Louisiana, while Doc is trapped in the orb to battle a high-test Clea!  At first, we have to content ourselves with the notion that Silver Dagger would eschew his magical superiority, and be willing to engage Spidey and Ms M in a physical battle.  Later, Claremont pulls a brilliant move; once he resorts to spells, Dagger’s gambit to trap Spidey in the Orb proves to be his undoing, as the Spidey/Peter sensory input throws Clea off her game.  Nice twist also, as Marie plants Dagger’s blade in his back; as we all recall, it was Dagger’s back-stab of Doc that was a key moment in his previous clash with our mystic master.

The Chaykin/Aclin/Ortiz art looks even better than it had in our previous chapter.  As the various battles pick up, we move rapidly from scene to scene without feeling like we’re missing anything; creative use also of panel layout throughout.  Highlights include: Marie smashes Doc’s astral form (gotta hurt; p 7 pnl 3); the return of the Caterpillar (p 11); Doc’s astral form fading to grainy when faced with Clea’s emerging form (p 14, pnl 3); handy foreshadowing, as Marie’s left hand picks up the blade, her head visible only as a shadow on the floor (p 17, pnl 1); an especially nasty look from Dagger, as he closes on a staggered Spidey, while Ms Marvel advances from the background (p 19, pnl 2); four big panels of mystical sparring, with Doc on his heels (p 22). 

Joe: Not being a regular Dr. Strange reader, this MTU seems a little out there for me, but was also as breezy a read as the Winds of Wehrmeister. Future movie star Strange sticks to the script, spouting spells and trying everything to save his lady love, while Spidey and Ms. Marvel simultaneously battle Silver-Haired Dagger, armed with the Quips of Quantrill and the Banter of Bellinger. The art is a little better than last chapter, although Dagger's first appearance makes him look like Jack LaLanne with an old man wig. Still not up to par with past Team-Up artists, but it'll do. Claremont does his usual bang-up job, even though my beloved web-slinger is more of a Second Banana of Stankiewicz than in his own title. 

Marvel Two-In-One 47
The Thing and the Yancy Street Gang in
"Happy Deathday, Mister Grimm!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Chic Stone
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers
Cover by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott

Mobster Carnation intercepts a letter from the Yancy Street Gang to Ben that he thinks is a warning, but their claim that it is merely a birthday greeting is a ruse, and the real package arrives at the Baxter Building as he is playing with Franklin, exploding to reveal no more than a bouquet.  The attached card sends him to Yancy Street via jet-cycle as the others go to a concert, and when Carnation’s as-yet-unseen boss sees Ben appear, he attacks the Thing with weaponized street lamps, driverless semi-rigs, fire hydrants, stun-gas and robots.  The YSG leaps to his aid, having been forced to build the machines, but they and Ben are overwhelmed by the robots, whose master has been hired by the Corporation, and is revealed to be Machinesmith. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: It sometimes seems as if the two team-up titles are competing in the offbeat-story department (e.g., Spidey’s SNL escapade), and here, Stone graduates from inking writer/artist/colorist Kupperberg’s pencils last issue, which was already somewhat wacky, to handling the art chores all by himself.  Increasingly faint praise though it may be, Mantlo was one of the better regular writers on Ben’s book, but this two-parter will be his last effort until #99.  An alliance with the Yancy Streeters might seem like perfect fodder for what the attractively colored cover calls “the most unlikely tale of all!,” yet while I’m having trouble crystallizing my specific objections, I don’t think Bill makes the best use of a premise that might have worked better as a done-in-one.

Yancy Street and its denizens (who, like me, first appeared in June 1963, in FF #15) have been more often invoked than actually depicted, so as an early-Silver-Age gimmick, they should be portrayed sparingly, and with caution.  For a midlevel hood, the Carnation sounds an awful lot like Kasper Gutman (“You have my respect, sir—my admiration!”) but, sadly, is drawn better than Ben; see, for example, if you dare, the dire page 10, panels 3-4.  In addition to crazy-ass facial hair, Machinesmith will turn out to have an impossibly convoluted backstory that is luckily outside our purview—courtesy of editor Sterno’s subsequent run as a writer on Captain America, from which strip the Korporation Kudzu has krept in here—so I won’t waste time dwelling on it.

Red Sonja 13 
“Shall Skranos Fall?”
Story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto

Art by John Buscema and Al Milgrom
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Frank Brunner

Disguised as a harem girl, Red Sonja sneaks into Skranos, determined to regain Suumaro’s birthright as the city’s ruler after his father, the bedridden King Quillos, dies. To gain entry into the royal palace, she seeks out Quillos’ other son, Oryx. Enraged after he realizes that she seeks the attention of his father, he pushes the 
Hyrkanian to the floor and summons Ramin, the albino keeper of Skranos’ herd of battle-tested woolly mammoths. The prince offers the woman to the young man — but when she violently spurns the beguiled keeper’s advances, Quillos realizes that she is actually Sonja and not a common whore. Before the man can kill the She-Devil, Ramin summons the shaggy behemoth named Dom: it crashes through its pen and stamps Quillos to death. 

After she dons her hidden chainmail, Sonja and Ramin surround the palace with the entire herd of mammoths: the frightened guards quickly surrender and the swordswoman makes her way to Quillos’ bedchamber. She asks that the gravely-ill monarch returns Suumaro’s birthright. Knowing that he is near death, the king agrees and hands her the crown that will make his son ruler: but he warns that it has been cursed by the sorcerer Apah Alah, his former wife and Suumaro’s mother. When Sonja grasps the jeweled ring, she is racked with unbearable pain and begins to age rapidly. Quillos calls out to Apah Alah, begging for mercy. She appears and agrees — but only if he joins her in her kingdom on the far side of death. He consents and they both disappear as Sonja’s torments end. Now that the Hyrkanian has gained him the crown, Suumaro materializes from the secret dimension he has been hiding in. When he asks for Red Sonja’s hand in marriage, she rides off knowing that her wanderlust will one day make her unfaithful. -Tom Flynn

Tom: Frank Brunner does his best to capture the vibe of the missed Frank Thorne on the cover, but Al Milgrom’s inks make the interior art adequate at best. It’s easy to spot Big John’s unmistakable forms but, as a whole, things seemed barely finished and quite bland. A shame since this issue basically wraps up plot points that started back in issue #7 (January 1978). Not that the grand conclusion makes much of a ripple. 

Again, felt that it was quite cowardly that Suumaro basically beat feet and hid in another dimension while Sonja did all the work to get back his birthright. But she really didn’t have to do much: with the help of Ramin and his woolly mammoths, getting entrance into Quillos’ palace wasn’t that much of a hassle. Sure, she did suffer some serious torment but you never really got the sense that she was on an heroic quest. After being spoken of in such hushed tones, Quillos basically turned out to be a big softy confined to his royal deathbed. Not sure why Suumaro was so pissed off at his dad: all Sonja had to do is ask and he handed over the crown. Maybe his long sickness had taken some of the fire out of his belly. And considering how Skranos is presented as a rat-infested dump, no one in their right mind would want to sit upon that throne — Suumaro’s tent-city is a much more attractive and lively place. Plus, as a Red Sonja reader from the very beginning, I doubt that our hero would tart herself up as a harem girl instead of taking what she wanted by force. However, Ramin seemed like an interesting character — and is the most well-drawn in the issue — but he disappears from sight after Sonja gains entry into the palace.

Fairly anti-climactic and possibly the worst installment of this series so far — which wraps up in only two more issues. Probably for the best.

Chris: It’s been a lengthy continuing story, long enough that Oryx at first doesn’t recognize Sonja in her (smokin’ hot) disguise.  At one point, Sonja was prepared to lead an invasion of Skranos, so Clara & Roy defy expectations as the conclusion requires far more sorcery than sword.  In fact, Sonja doesn’t kill anyone in the entire story – when was the last time that happened?  Oafish Oryx is killed by Dom the mastodon on orders from Ramin, as he learns the hard way that his way ain’t no way to treat a lady (no way); Oryx is the only casualty.  As for Sonja, she creeps thru the open back gate past a slumbering guard, then uses the mastodon squad to convince the palace guards to allow her in to see ailing Quillos, without having to kill anyone.   The story gets more and more interesting in its race to the finish, with Sonja’s selfless agony providing Quillos with the impetus to reach out to Apah Alah and beg forgiveness.  “We were fools, Quillos … to have hated for so many years when we could have loved.  …This time, perhaps, we shall both of us be wiser than we were before!”

Milgrom’s flat inks are mismatched to Buscema’s energetic pencils; the art is better than I expected, but not nearly as good as it could have been.  As long as you’re signing up Buscema (whose workload clearly precluded him from ever leaving his home), why wouldn’t you ensure Bob McLeod or Steve Leialoha would be available to provide finishes?  (I realize Ernie Chan wouldn’t be an option, since he’s probably even busier than Big John.)  There still are art highlights, despite the Milgrom penalty: the writhing dancing girls (p 2); an atmospheric night scene (p 6, colors by G. Roussos – who else?); Dom’s lumber-splintering entrance (p 11); a dynamic pose by Red, at the foot of Quillos’ bed (p 16, 1st pnl); Apah Alah’s ephemeral entrance (p 26, 1st pnl), followed by Suumaro’s shimmering sign-in (p 27, pnl 3), and finally the disappearance of the reunited Apah Alah and Quillos, in a flash of blinding light (p 30, 1st pnl).  

The Spider-Woman 10
"Things That Go Flit in the Night"
Story by Mark Gruenwald
Art by Carmine Infantino and Al Gordon
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Bob McLeod

Jessica and Jerry are enjoying a quiet moonlit evening at the beach, when Jessica’s eye suddenly is drawn to the sight of a winged woman, flying high above.  Jerry is annoyed with Jessica for having jumped into her Spider-Woman costume to try to reach the flying woman; Jessica is disappointed, since she thought Jerry would understand the importance to her to connect with another super-powered female.  Back at the rooming house, Mrs Dolly informs Jessica about Magnus’ new gig as a magician; Jessica finds a note in her room from Magnus, and a new dress, inviting her to join him at the Hollywood Club.  Magnus introduces Jessica to two women he’s met, one of whom has invited them all back to her Bel Air house for a late soirée.  The party is populated with ponderous poseurs, so Jessica is content to keep mostly to herself.  She stands outside by the pool, and is startled to see the winged woman return; the woman points her finger, and three of the guests find their evening dresses unraveling, the fabric then wrapping itself around them.  

Jessica runs in and asks Magnus if he can conjure her costume; he does, and Spider-Woman leaps up toward the flying figure.  She wonders whether this person might also have a connection to the High Evolutionary, and Wundagore.  “The Gypsy Moth does not fear you,” she states, as Spider-Woman glides near.  Before she can speak to her, GM begins to siphon off material from S-W’s costume, then yanks the thread to pull S-W from the sky.  S-W lands on the rooftop, and propels herself back up to grab GM.  GM ignores S-W’s plea for understanding, and instead ravels S-W up in a cocoon; S-W splashes down in the pool, and barely is able to free herself from the wrapping before she drowns.  Jerry arrives at the house, and fires a shot at GM, which pierces her diaphanous wing; S-W zaps Jerry to prevent further gunfire, and flies off with GM.  Once they are safely away, S-W has a moment to establish that GM’s wings have, in fact, grown from her back; GM revives, and flies off without a word.  S-W insists to herself that she and GM have something in common, something neither shares with “them.” -Chris Blake

Chris: This issue lacks the atmosphere of SW #9, but the mystery surrounding Gypsy Moth is a fair trade.  Thankfully, we are spared a page that features GM at her lair, speaking confidentially to herself about how she got here, what her plans are, etc; instead, we wonder along with S-W about GM’s possible origins and motives.  It’s hard to make sense of GM’s attack on the partygoers’ dresses; I think we’d all like to know how she did it, but why she did it is a more compelling question.  

There’s never been any apparent basis for the Jerry-Jessica connection; this all started when Jerry felt drawn to her by a strange compulsion, and then Jessica seemed simply to join in to his fervor once they finally met.  Mark Gruenwald provides the couple with some trouble in paradise; either Mark wants to get to the root of their relationship and discover whether there truly is any substance to it, or he recognizes that Marv Wolfman made a mistake by fabricating this romance, and Gruenwald simply wants to find a way out.

Fortunately, Al Gordon will continue to be paired with Carmine Infantino for the foreseeable future.  There are some enjoyable moments in the art, such as: Jessica getting her costume together (including hairpiece!) in the moonlight (p 2); the unreal sight of Gypsy Moth as she sails above a palm tree, and into Jessica’s field of vision (p 14); GM snaps Jessica forward, so she loses altitude (p 22, 1st pnl); and a warped view from underwater as Jess sinks into the pool (p 26, last pnl).

Matthew: Ugh.  The Gypsy Moth isn’t as creepy as the Needle, but the idea of being cocooned up is still pretty unpleasant, conjuring visions of Alien and the surprisingly unnerving, albeit bargain-basement, Beast from Haunted Cave.  My main objection to her is an indirect one, i.e., Jessica’s inexplicable “Why can’t we be friends?” reaction to a woman who, for all she knows, may be a deadly menace.  Overall, I’m still not convinced that Gruenwald is an improvement over Wolfman (e.g., Jerry’s multiple wounded-sexist hissy fits du jour, Magnus’s second career as a bearded David Copperfield, that Bizarro party scene), and aside from featuring Jess’s derrière in page 3, panel 4, the Infantinordon art has very little to recommend it.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 26
"Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Jim Mooney and Frank Springer
Colors by Karen Raines
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Rick Parker
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Bob McLeod

The Masked Marauder's "opti-blasts" blind Spider-Man, who manages to evade the Tri-Man momentarily, only to sprain his ankle and get smashed. MM and his Maggia goons take off when the police arrive, but the cops think they've corralled Spider-Man (thinking he's in on the bank robbery). Our hero manages to swing away, hitting his sightless noggin in the process. Betty and Mary Jane run into each other, learning from landlady Mrs. Muggins that Peter hasn't been home all night, and since they both have a key (Peter, you sly dog!), they head up to the door—not knowing Carrion is waiting inside! Spidey stumbles blindly toward home, Daredevil shows up out of nowhere to do some investigating since he knows Spidey is no criminal, and White Tiger/Hector returns to his apartment to get yelled at by sister Awilda for missing classes. At ESU, Holly, Sha Shan, and Flash discuss Hector and the missing Peter who, as Spidey, is still trying to get home when Daredevil confronts him—just as he's falling from a building ledge! Unable to save himself with a web line, the wall-crawler is grabbed by Daredevil and brought to a nearby rooftop, only to fall into a pigeon coop, revealing to DD that he's blind! -Joe Tura

Joe: Here's an interesting issue of PPTSSM that goes from battling villains in the beginning to a "Sightless Spidey Stumbles 'Cross Town" saga. Daredevil showing up is equal parts ironic (him being blind, duh), convenient (showing up out of nowhere), and actually helpful, since he's in New York and all. But how will our hero get out of this one? He's been blinded by "Big M" aka "Little MM," the B-list baddie, and sprains his ankle for one of the few times I can remember. Not a good combo to try and make your way home across the rooftops of Manhattan. Realistically, where the heck is he going to go? And enough of this Masked Marauder guy. He needs to disappear quickly, and I don't mean on the back of his android/bird drone, or through the pneumatic tube that he gets away from the cops in. He's just not interesting enough to be the head of the biggest organized crime group in Marvel's NYC. I give him a big fat "meh." As for the rest, the script is nearly suspenseful, and the art is once again merely OK, with a dozen back-breaking Spidey poses and athletic dodges.

Favorite sound effect this month is "PWOM!" on the first panel of page 3, as Tri-Man tries to pulverize Spidey, who manages to evade his first strike. But this leads to the ankle sprain, which leads to more anguish, which leads to a Daredevil appearance, which leads to Spidey falling into pigeon crap. Now that's something you don't see every day in the Marvel Universe!

Matthew: What is it about this book that brings out the nitpicker in me?  Now, in addition to the annoying “Marvel’s TV Sensation!” cover blurbs (or, in the case of the FF, “See them on TV Saturday mornings on NBC!”), we are exhorted by signage in page 16, panel 4 to “Watch The Incredible Hulk on CBS-TV!”  Enough already.  In page 17, panel 3, Hector’s “¡A casa—por fin!” directs us to the following:  “Spanish to English—‘Home, at last!’  —Translator Jo.”  Man, the damned footnote is longer than the line, and what’s the point?  To remind us, after nine prior appearances in this mag, that Hector Ayala, El Tigre Blanco, is Hispanic?  If you must flex your bilingual muscles, why not just print the translation?

Surprisingly, despite the fact that it’s inked by Springer, my greatest scorn is reserved not for Mooney’s art, which is actually okay—DD looks muy bien (Spanish to English—‘very good’  —Translator Matt) in page 26, panel 2 and page 27, panel 1—but for Mantlo’s whole blind-Spidey premise.  Yeah, I get that even aside from his traditional rapport with Hornhead, who also has a long history with the Marauder, this seems like the perfect opportunity for a lot of “sightless super-hero” irony.  Yet if you’re going to do a story like that, you’d better write it so I believe it, and Bill, you’re not cuttin’ the mustard; why, for example, would our handicapped hero increase his peril by taking to the rooftops, rather than skulking safely through alleyways?

Chris: Too often, the plots for PPSS-M feel like fill-ins for Amazing Spider-Man, modified to allow space for the ESU-based supporting characters; not good enough for Spider-Man?  No problem – we’ll make a Peter Parker out of it.  This time, though, we have a substantial Spidey story, more compelling than anything we’ve seen in recent months in the flagship Amazing (hear that, Marv -?).  The prospect of a hero with temporary blindness isn’t anything new, but Bill Mantlo infuses Spidey’s predicament with the right degree of emotion, as Spidey faces the very real prospect of having to give up his hero-identity (once people recognize that Peter, too, is blind), and swears vengeance against the Marauder for creating this terrible predicament.

Mantlo also handles Spidey’s near-panic well, as the once carefree (well, mostly) hero now is having difficulty moving along a roofline – forget about swinging down the avenues, from building to building – and cannot even determine where in the vast city he might be.  I wondered at first why Spidey didn’t recognize Daredevil’s voice, but then I realized it’s a solid choice on Mantlo’s part, since Spidey never has to rely on his hearing to get along.  Nice bluff, also, by Daredevil, as he can’t determine (without being able to see Spidey) what his problem might be.  I haven’t been able to say this often about this title, but I’m looking forward to the next issue (the Frank Miller art will be a bonus!).

And speaking of art, Jim Mooney does a far better job this time in his depiction of our favorite wall-crawler.  Spidey seems much more filled-out, much closer to the Romita-standard of musculature; too often, Mooney has presented Spidey as if he were some guy working Times Square for tourist photos, not a genuine superhero.  Frank Springer usually is a safe bet only with a night-set story (with lots, lots of shadows …), but his finishes complement Mooney well enough, most of the time; the inks lapse into indistinction when our focus turns from Spidey’s plight, and toward the supporting cast.  Bonus points to Mooney + Springer for the gargoyles and other building ornamentation (p 11, 14).

Star Wars 19
"The Ultimate Gamble!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek

On the Wheel, the droids dodge the searching stormtroopers while looking for the medical facilities to bring the still-unconscious Luke. At the same time, Senator Greyshade manages to stop the Empire’s forces from capturing Han and Leia. He has the princess brought to his chambers while commanding his security to take Han to the Falcon for a search of the hijacked Wheel profits (detailed last issue). Chewbacca, meantime, is able to make his way to the very top level of the Wheel where all the casinos are housed. He is stopped by security and manages to fight off a number of them, but is eventually captured and sent to be used in “the big game.” Leia tells Greyshade what she knows about the Empire’s plan to frame the Rebellion for the theft of profits, using that as their bid to finally take control of the Wheel. Commander Strom and Greyshade come to an agreement to use that plan for their own profit. After the droids get Luke to medical, they are confiscated by Wheel security upon learning they have been pawned by Han Solo as a gambling stake. Han, hoping to win enough money to settle his Wheel debt and leave, has been played for a patsy and loses all of his money, forcing himself to bet his own life in The Big Game… -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: A not-particularly-exciting chapter in the Wheel Saga, it is still a necessary step in setting it all up. What this will eventually, predictably amount to is Han and Chewie facing off in the Big Game. It’s just kind of sad that two fill-in issues were more fun and interesting than the regular continuity. A snoozer.

Matthew: “Trapped on a man-made wheel of death!” screams the cover.  As opposed to all of those naturally occurring wheels.  I’d be less likely to harp on it if I didn’t open up to the splash page and see, “This is the Wheel…a man-made space station.”  WTF?  I suppose that if you really wanted to cut them some slack, you could argue that others were made by aliens, but given the nature of the Star Wars universe, is it unreasonable of me to assume that when we say “man,” we mean something more like “humanoid” or “anthropomorphic beings,” regardless of planet of origin?  Archie scarcely redeems himself by referring in page 27, panel 3 to “the spine [sic] mines of Kessel!”  Um, are those anywhere near the spice mines feared by 3PO in the film?

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 20
"Blood Bond!"
Story by David Anthony Kraft and Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Bob Hall
Colors by Mario Sen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Bob McLeod

As a sabretooth charges Tarzan, they fall through the ground into the council area of the reptilian Horibs, joining forces to defeat the common foe before going their separate ways.  Ayesha and the hunter are taken to the feeding pool of the Mahars, but she proves immune to the lizards’ mesmeric powers and they escape while, below, Abdul Alhazred orders the cannibal ship sunk to prevent turning back and leads the mercenaries overland into the Land of Awful Shadow, the permanent eclipse caused by Pellucidar’s geostationary moon.  Frazier (now identified as Ike) and The Cid sail into a whirlpool; Tarzan is caught by Sagoths, who also speak the language of the great apes, and kicks his captor off of their thipdar en route to the tribal leader, S’Wa-Dak. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Scripting Kraft’s story, Mantlo adds hitherto missing data to what the lettercol calls “perhaps the most convoluted plot-line ever devised,” adding of Bill and Sal that, “[h]aving seen the dynamic duo’s work on this year’s Tarzan Annual [published concurrently], we’re confident they’ll carry the Tarzan monthly mag itself to new heights of wonderment.”  This reunited MTU dream team will round out the run of the book, working with no fewer than eight inkers, if you include both of their annuals.  First up is the title’s erstwhile editor, Hall, who had endeared himself to me as a penciler while working with Mantlo on Champions and my beloved Super-Villain Team-Up, and looks damned good after a steady diet of Janson, although they preserve their predecessors’ style.

Surprisingly for the frequently deadline-challenged Bullpen, “Bill and Sal have already wrapped up Dave’s epic [in #24] and moved on to an all-new adventure that will bring Jane, [their son] Korak and Jad-Bal-Ja [sic]—the Golden Lion—more prominently into the Tarzan milieu.”  Whether that eventuates, I can’t recall, but those hoping for Emperor David I to materialize are doomed to disappointment:  “Unfortunately, contractual agreements with ERB’s estate did not allow the appearance of David Innes this time out…”  Addressing chronology, they note, “our series begins sometime after ERB’s Tarzan and the Lion Man which we place somewhere in the late 1920s….[the Marvel Tarzan] will operate in the time-sphere of the late 1920s-early 1930s.”

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle Annual 2
"The Day of the Death-Dancers!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Fran Matera
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Jean Simek
Cover by John Buscema and Bob Hall

Among a group of unarmed Gomangani slain by others of their race, Tarzan and Jad-bal-ja, the Golden Lion, find a dying old man who relates his fate.  Deposing his brother, Urzula seized the Kingdom of the Cliffs, but the exile he decreed for the royal family was a sham:  “He wanted them…murderedoutside the kingdom…where loyal elements could do nothing!”  With his last breath, the king’s advisor begs Tarzan to help the princess, whom he hid in a grain basket; the ape-man agrees to aid the unnamed girl (“Among my people the names of royalty are sacred—not to be spoken publicly!”) in avenging her parents’ murder, and en route tells of adopting Jad-bal-ja, another orphan, after his mother and a Gomangani killed each other.

The only passage into the kingdom is a tree-bridge across the gorge, where the same guards who ambushed the exiles subdue the black-maned lion and Tarzan with a net and the haft of a spear, respectively.  Fearing reprisals if the true nature of his brother’s “pilgrimage” is learned, Urzula conspires with a corrupt priest to incarcerate Tarzan below the temple and keep the princess from public view, as tradition demands in a state of mourning.  The guards listen intently to her story and “recall the legend…that one day a white-skinned stranger will come with a black-maned lion [How convenient!]—to extinguish the sacred flame and restore the kingdom to its former glory!,” so they plan to sacrifice Tarzan the next day…assuming he survives the dungeon’s rats.

He does, while the princess spits in Urzula’s face as he suggests making her his queen, so come the dawn, the priest—whose influence her father fought—is summoning the great serpent with the drums of the death-dance when Tarzan topples the brazier that both kept it at bay and led it to its prey.  As it sways in confusion, she slays the despot with his own dagger; Tarzan calls out to Jad-bal-ja, who bursts out of his cage to help free his master and face Histah together, joined by the disillusioned warriors, but unseen amid the chaos, the priest kidnaps the priestess.  They are unwittingly followed upward to the cliffs by the pain-blinded serpent, which grabs the priest in its death-plunge, and the newly crowned queen tells Tarzan her name:  Rashida (“little lioness”). -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This stand-alone story from the new Mantlo/Buscema team is an original by Bill, with inks by comic-strip and Charlton vet F[rancis] Matera (1924-2012), whose only other Marvel credit is on the recent The Hulk! #11.  The ERB annuals—of which Bill did both this year—have been pretty solid so far, and this one is no exception, with Mantlo making Jad-bal-ja one of the major characters in the story, and faithfully recounting his origin from the ninth book, Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1923), although I don’t think Tarzan ever referred to him as “Jad,” as Bill has him do at one point here.  He even uses verbatim the Burroughs line, “Lord Greystoke, foster mother to the son of Numa,” despite attributing it to Korak, rather than to the Killer’s own mother, Jane.

Although the coincidence of Tarzan and Jad-bal-ja’s arrival matching the ancient legend is a bit of an eye-roller, the story is otherwise excellent, displaying two conspicuous virtues.  First, while not adapting any existing Burroughs work beyond the accurate four-panel recap of Jad-bal-ja’s history, it bespeaks both familiarity with his oeuvre and a genuine feel for his style, reading like something ERB might have written.  Second, as they did with the FF this year, Bill and Sal have crafted it to maximize the double-length format, offering a plot that feels substantive yet not overly complicated, and allowing Sal and Fran to cut loose with nifty full-pagers of the kingdom hewn into the cliffs on 10, Tarzan chained near the altar on 19, and the serpent unleashed on 30.

The Mighty Thor 279
"A Hammer in Hades!"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Joe Sinnott

After leaving Asgard in a huff (last issue), Thor is winging it over New York when he spots a couple that look startlingly like Jane Foster and her beau, Dr. Kincaid. Knowing that this must be an illusion (Jane had been absorbed into Sif months before), the Thunder God perches atop a skyscraper and remembers an incident involving Jane Foster shortly after she had her memory erased by Odin (way back in issue 196) and hooked up with Kincaid. Jane is abducted by Pluto and suspended over a pit of lava; she will be released if Thor can defeat Ulik in a battle royale. Halfway through the battle, Ulik realises he's being used by Pluto and switches gears. He's about to lower the boom on Pluto when Thor comes to the rescue. Grateful for the save, Pluto grants Jane and Thor safe passage back to Midgard. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Last issue was bad; this may be worse. Don Glut must have been rummaging through his old Thors and thought, "Hey, I can tie a whole bunch of itty bitty strings together and make something of it." Unfortunately, that's not how it works. There's really no good reason for Pluto to kidnap Jane and why the thunder god should suddenly remember this heretofore untold tale of Nurse Jane is anyone's guess. Well, Roy needed a rest is why. Really bad art, by the way, and that's straight talk from a Pablo Marcos fan. A shame too, because I could see Jane rocking that halter top otherwise. All in all, a sad era for a title I proclaimed "The Best of the 1960s."

Matthew: Having cut its teeth on Invaders, wherein Thor recently guest-starred, the Glupperberg team now migrates to another Thomas title, the thunder god’s own, for this flashback-heavy fill-in that helps, uh, fill the gap between Roy’s super-sized Faux-gnarok and Celestials arcs.  They don’t do any major damage, although the whole thing seemed kinda convoluted to me, and a story that throws Ulik, Pluto, and Loki into the mix but uses them to so little effect feels like it’s squandering valuable resources.  Ulik easily looks the best, which is setting the bar pretty low when we’re at the mercy of Marcos, who has become the Vinnie Colletta of his day, bringing to mind Charlie Brown’s lament, “Everything I touch gets ruined.”

Chris: I wonder why Don Glut bothers to include Loki in this story, if he’s only going to observe the festivities from the sidelines in Asgard, until I realize – true to form – the Trickster is going to manipulate and aggravate others.  A benefit is Ulik’s realization that he’s here at the bidding of others, which creates a series of reversals, including Thor’s save of Pluto from his own fiery pit (irony!).  It’s fine as a fill-in; at least Roy and Don make an effort to assign the story some relevance in Thor’s history.

The Uncanny X-Men 117
"Psi War!"
Story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Clem Robins
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

The X-Men, barely clinging to a raft on their journey from the Savage Land, are being battered by an incredibly powerful tropical storm. While Storm is able to dampen its strength a little, it is beyond even her powers to control. Fortunately, a Japanese ship spots and rescues them. However, the ship's crew are on a secret mission and cannot allow Cyclops to contact anyone; the X-Men are to be the captain’s “guests” below. Back at the Mansion, a packed and departing Jean bids Lilandra farewell. The mansion is empty save for Lilandra and Charles, who is inconsolable over the loss of his X-Men (the Prof doesn’t know they’re still alive, natch). He regrets having pulled the disparate group from their former lives and thinks back to the beginning of his own journey as a young man; he meets and falls in love with Moira MacTaggert; they later breakup while he's in Korea; and he deals with his loss of self in the aftermath. He crossed the Middle East, finally winding up in Cairo. A young girl, who he will later meet again as Storm, pickpockets him and he stops her, recognizing her latent mutant ability. Before he can delve further, he is subjected to a sharp telepathic bolt – a warning from a powerful mutant. Charles enters a tavern where he is faced with Amahl Farouk, a mutant telepath who invites Charles to join him in preying on others. Charles’ response is to challenge Farouk to a fight to the death. They meet in their minds. Farouk is powerful and extremely skilled. For a time, Charles tries to counter every move but then realizes he only needs to match his raw power. Drawing all of his strength for one final blow, Charles delivers that blow to Farouk’s mind, killing him. Charles Xavier has defeated his first evil mutant. After he relates this story, Lilandra invites Charles to return with her to her homeworld. As there is no reason for him to stay on Earth any longer, he agrees. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: There’s a nice sinister feeling when the captain of the Japanese ship denies Scott permission to contact anyone. There’s a feeling of “what did they get into this time?” This whole issue would have made a good fill-in, but it is probably more of a “breather” chapter before we get back into longer- form arcs. It’s a really fascinating look into Xavier’s past. His romantic relationship with Moira, meeting young Ororo and finally the repulsive Farouk. John Byrne’s depiction of the mental/astral plane brings up pleasant reminders of Ditko’s work on Dr. Strange.

Claremont’s inner monologues complement the images well. This continues to be the best book Marvel was putting out at the time. The easy fluidity and chemistry between Claremont and Byrne makes it hard to believe that both men were frequently at odds. However, the same could have been said about Lee and Kirby. This run so far has never been anything less than interesting, but always seems to be the most fascinating when the focus is on the characters.

Chris: Let’s face it – even if you were to challenge Claremont, Byrne, & Austin to create a lousy issue, they simply wouldn't be able to do it.  "C'mon guys," Shooter grins from behind his giant desk, "pick one and run with it: Rich Rider's class trip to the zoo, Stephen Strange is summoned to the Greenwich Village zoning board office, or Spidey versus Mr Fish.  You can do this!"  They'd start with any of these shaky premises, and still make something brilliantly entertaining out of it; they can't help themselves.

And the premise this issue is far from shaky!  It's a rare window into Charles' past, with this early challenge for his psi-powers.  I'm accustomed to seeing Charles in charge (so to speak) of a situation, so it's interesting to consider that mastery of his powers hadn’t been automatic, or achieved overnight.  I do have one question: Charles recounts his story to inform Lilandra of how he chose his life's work, and he seems to recognize his mission hardly has been completed, since the forces of evil (MAGNETO, that is) have succeeded (seemingly) in destroying the team; in the X-absence, Magneto will be less-impeded in his efforts to harass homo, both sapiens and superior.  I get that Charles cares for Lilandra (“although, it seems so sudden…” laments Charles’ Aunt Philomena …); the feeling is so strong that he’s willing to change his whole life for her?  Well, I guess it must be love.   

Art highlights: page one, as we see Storm's cape whip around her; Charles rests his hand next to the group portraits of the two X-teams (p 7, pnl 5); the overlapping images of Charles’ montage, p 10; an unmistakable impish Ororo, during her lawless Cairo childhood (p 11, last pnl; p 14); Farouk’s avatar takes delight in the battle (p 23, 1st pal).

Matthew: As we document the last year in the blog’s bailiwick, this title will increasingly be the X-ception to what many on the faculty feel is a steady downward slide in the average level of quality.  In Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Sean Howe notes, “The visual facility wasn’t just the work of Byrne, but the regular team that began coalescing:  the smooth delineations of inker Terry Austin, the high-contrast hues chosen by colorist Glynis Wein, and the neatly uniform Art Deco characters of letterer Tom Orzechowski all contributed,” although Clem Robins is credited with lettering this month’s entry.  After a five-issue hiatus, Cockrum returns as cover artist and, quite frankly, depicts Cyclops far better than John and Terry do with the goofy galoot seen in page 3, panel 6.

Tensions flared behind the scenes over Claremont’s preference for emotional relationships over action:  “‘Chris’ idea of a perfect issue of the X-Men,’ Byrne once said, ‘would be 22 pages of them walking around in the Village or at Scott’s apartment or something like that, where they sit around, out of costume, in jeans and t-shirts, and just talk.’…But although the writer and artist seemed to often be working at cross-purposes, by the time their collaboration reached the printed page, it was a mesmerizing, unified vision of sci-fi extravagance and human-scale tear-jerking.  Sales climbed.”  And deservedly so, judging by this customarily X-cellent effort portraying a formative, hitherto unrecorded episode from the history of one of my all-time favorite characters.

John’s style remains intensely cinematic—I’m thinking in particular of that marvelous sequence of three “widescreen” panels at the top of page 27, with the important action occurring subtly at the edges of the frame, and the reaction-shot bits of business in the center.  Our look inside Xavier’s study in page 7, panel 4 is crammed with impressive detail, and the montage of his past on page 10, superimposed on his splendidly ruminative portrait, is a tour de force.  By now, Chris is bending over backwards to keep Charles et al. from learning that the others are alive, but makes up for it with his usual superb characterization, e.g., Lilandra’s bemusement over creating “this brew he likes so much” (calling forth visions of “Hellcat’s Coffee-Making Catastrophe!”).

Mark: The X-Folk are plucked out of the drink by an honorable Japanese research vessel, the Jinguchi Maru, which is on some unspecified secret mission. A grief-ridden Jean splits the Gifted Youngsters School, still believing Scott and the others are dead. Both plotlines will doubtless play out in time, class, but this one's mostly about Charles Xavier. The Prof's history is fleshed out in an extended flashback: his first love Moira (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jean) Dear John'ed him during the Korean War, prompting his nomadic, post-war wandering. He encounters young pickpocket Storm in Cairo, leading to an early encounter with another mutant. Amahl Farouk is a Turkish Sydney Greenstreet, ruler of the Thieves Quarter and all its sordid business, who foolishly engages Prof X in mental combat and ends up dead for his troubles.

Love how Byrne and Austin depict young Chuck casually getting up, affixing his hat at a rakish angle, and casually strolling out of the bar as Farouk face-plants on his table.

While more subdued and cerebral than the average X-adventure, "Psi War!" is no less compelling. And as the end of the '70's - and, indeed, the mandate of this august institution - approaches, it's heartening that, while most of my fave titles are goin' south (or long-cancelled, or pending cancellation), the terrific troika of Claremont, Byrne, and Austin continue to deliver a comic book that lives up to Stan Lee's more hyperbolic boasts about Marvel. 

                                                                                    Which ain't easy, effendi.      

Gene Colan
& Bob McLeod
Also This Month

Crazy #46
The Human Fly #17
Marvel Super-Heroes #78
Marvel Tales #99
< Rawhide Kid #149
Spidey Super-Stories #38
Yogi Bear #8


Marvel Comics Super Special 7: 
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Cover Art by Bob Larkin

“Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by George Pérez and Jim Mooney
Letters by Janice Cohen

Let’s have George Perez handle this one shall we? According to Gorgeous George, Marvel had “nearly zero cooperation from the Robert Stigwood company [the producers] and we didn’t realize that the script was still in so much flux that things we were putting in the comic were not going to appear in the movie and things we didn’t know about were going to be added to the movie. The plot was so convoluted and cheesy — even on the printed page — and after a while we realized it was not really going anywhere. They said they were going to have all these superstars appear at the end of the film and, of course, in the end they couldn’t get them — not that we could have used them anyway, because we didn’t have the licenses to use their likenesses. Also, I was paired with a very incompatible inker because the book was running so late. I was doing a terrible job on it, Jim Mooney was a terrible fit for me — though he did the best he could — it was just one disaster after another. It was one of the nadirs of my career. I was so grateful that the book never got an American release. I’ve yet to see a copy of Sgt. Pepper.”

Yes class, Marvel Comics Super Special
 #7 never saw the light of day. Well, not in most countries: it was published in France, French-speaking regions in Canada and the Netherlands. And maybe Japan. Dean Pete supplied me with a digital copy of the French version so I’m out of my depths whether or not the magazine is faithful to the totally terrible movie — which, as I’m sure you know, starred the Bee Gees not the Beatles. And Peter Frampton, Steve Martin, George Burns, Donald Pleasence, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, and Earth, Wind & Fire plus such “guest stars” as Peter Allen, Keith Carradine, Carol Channing, Leif Garrett, Peter Noone, Robert Palmer, Helen Reddy, Chita Rivera, Sha-Na-Na, Connie Stevens, Hank Williams, Jr. and endless others. Whew. Doesn’t sound like it was very accurate according to the Perez quote above. And he’s right about the art: I’m not gonna say it stinks but it certainly looks more Mooney than Perez. The file didn’t include any text pieces so beats me if any were included in the original magazine. Let’s move on shall we? -Tom Flynn

Marvel Comics Super Special 8: 
Battlestar Galactica
Cover Art by Bob Larkin

“Battlestar Galactica”
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art and Colors by Ernie Colon
Letters by Jim Novak

“The Wizard of Hollywood’s Dream Factory”
Text by Steve Swires

“Life in the Future”
Text by Tom Rogers

“Battle Tactics”
Text by Tom Rogers

“Spaceships and Such: Hardware of the Future”
Text by Tom Rogers

“Aliens and Robots”
Text by Tom Rogers
During the twilight of the 1970s, battle lines were formed by pimply science-fiction fans in my neck of the woods. On one side, you had the Star Wars diehards; on the other, those who swore by the ABC series Battlestar Galactica. Listen, I tested the unpredictably violent hallways of Herricks Junior High School sporting a “Let the Force Be With You” digital watch, so I obviously leaned towards Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and company. Not that I didn’t enjoy Battlestar — never missed an episode like most everyone else I put my trust into. But to me, it didn’t have the reckless energy of its big-screen rival. A bit too much of a soap opera for my unreliable adolescent tastes.

As I recall, the Battlestar legion argued that the show had more of what they wanted: dogfights in outer space. Which is fine. Again, enjoyed both, so really never got that involved in any debate — besides, I’ve always tried to avoid useless arguments and you have to be a little screwy if you didn’t think that Star Wars
 was the superior entertainment. It’s like having a debate with a Mets fan who insists their loser team is better than the mighty New York Yankees. Plus, due to budgetary limitations, the show constantly recycled special effects from the multi-million dollar pilot, so there was an overriding “I’ve seen that before” vibe in subsequent episodes. But the series was understandedly popular at the time and Marvel was not one to pass on a money-making opportunity.

Hence, Marvel Super Special
 #8 is billed as “The Official Adaptation of the Television Sensation” — and I think it lives up to that claim. While recent issues have skimped on the back-up features, this one is loaded with mostly high-quality pieces accompanied by illustrations from many of the publisher’s top talents: Dave Cockrum, Rick Bryant, Joe Rubinstein, Bruce Patterson, John Romita, Jr. and others. The 4-page “The Wizard of Hollywood’s Dream Factory” is the best of the bunch, a wide-ranging interview with the show’s producer John Dykstra, an Oscar winner for his special effects work on Star Wars. He was also responsible for the effects on the show, but series creator Glen A. Larson could offer him a larger paycheck if he also took on production duties — responsibilities that Dykstra was ill prepared for. The best bits are about the formative years of Industrial Light and Magic, basically a large warehouse at this point. Other articles cover the history and culture of the races involved in the show, the spaceships — including the super cool Colonial Vipers and Cylon Raiders — and more.

As for the comic itself, the 31-page “Battlestar Galactica” sticks to adapting the 148-minute pilot that aired on September 17, 1978. The story is not very complicated: after a thousand-year war with the robot warriors called the Cylons and their reptilian leaders, the Twelve Colonies Of Mankind are ready to sign a peace treaty. But they are betrayed and the Cylons destroy of all dozen of their home worlds. Only the massive battleship Galactica avoids destruction and its commander, Adama (Lorne Greene), leads a ragtag fleet of 220 ships holding the survivors all 12 tribes. His destination? A long-lost colony of humans on a planet called Earth. Dum dum dum!

It’s been decades since I’ve actually seen the pilot, so while it seems that Roger McKenzie hits all the high notes, I can’t swear to that. I rather enjoyed the art. The wraparound cover by Bob Larkin is tremendous, helped, as I’ve mentioned, by the super neat designs of the Vipers and Raiders. I think this is the first time that I’ve come across Ernie Colon. I like his loosey goosey style, as panels flow into one another, helping the action to spread across the page. As for the much ballyhooed Marvelcolor, Ernie does not fare as well with the brush as he does with the pencil. The colors are not very vibrant as compared to recent Super Specials. And it looks like he gets his hair shades mixed up from time to time, giving the dark-haired Apollo (Richard Hatch) the blonde tresses of Starbuck (Dirk Benedict), leading to some confusing dialogue. Colon does put a solid effort into capturing the look of the actors: Lorne Greene is instantly recognizable for example.

While kicking around the interwebs, I stumbled across a few interesting tidbits about the show. I didn’t recall that the premiere broadcast was interrupted by a special report about the signing of the Camp David Accords. I must have stamped my feet at the time. Plus, Larson originally envisioned that Battlestar
 would be limited to three made-for-TV movies. But after the first one scored huge ratings, he switched gears and announced that it would morph into a weekly series. Supposedly the cast and crew were caught off guard and the first few episodes were of substandard quality before things could get back on track.  -Tom Flynn

Having been a fan of the TV series since its original airing and making sure the program was always in my video library (including the recently released blu-ray set), I find this adaptation makes for interesting reading. It differs from the aired version of the three-hour pilot movie in a variety of ways. The Cylons are less mechanical and are to be taken as aliens under some kind of armor, judging by their speech patterns. Col. Tigh was sometimes drawn as a white man in warrior garb and only at the last minute did they realize actor Terry Carter was black. So in a few panels, Tigh looks sort of like a “Black Richard Hatch.” When the story was reprinted in the first three issues of the monthly, much of it was redrawn. In fact, only a few of the pages of the Super Special would be used in the first issue. Issues 2 and 3 would have all original art and the story would more closely resemble the aired pilot. Lyra would become Serena and not die of radiation poisoning, Tigh would be redrawn and his uniform corrected, Baltar would have hair, and some of the more abstract drawings would be made realistic (such as the panel where Adama is apparently missing an eye). Also, they kept inking in underwear for poor Lyra, whose skirt is impossibly high. I would love to have seen someone like John Byrne do the art for this, but we got what we got. I wasn’t crazy about it as a kid, in fact a friend and I would sit on my porch and laugh at this a lot. However, the cover art is to die for. Battlestar Galactica remains one of my favorite shows and I always preferred it to Star Wars. I liked the series’ mythology a little more and loved the effects. Yeah, they reused shots even before the three-hour movie was even over, but they were always cut in beautifully and Stu Phillips’ music was astoundingly good. It was an epic series. -Scott McIntyre

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