Wednesday, October 5, 2016

February 1979 Part Two: This Week! It's All Conan! All the Time!

 Marvel Team-Up 78
Spider-Man and Wonder Man in
Story by Bill Kunkel
Art by Don Perlin and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Mario Sen
Letters by Irving Watanabe and Rick Parker
Cover by Al Milgrom

En route to a chemistry make-up exam, Spidey is attacked by seagulls, following as they depart while, at Avengers’ (sic) Mansion, Wonder Man is reading Raymond Chandler when the Griffin bursts in, seeking his old foe the Beast and his teammates.  Wondy is floored by the time Spidey arrives, and the Griffin reveals that he has been made stronger by the changes continuing to mutate him, which are now coming faster and harder; in the throes of the latest, he flees to rest until it stops, using the birds to cover his escape.  Spidey—who faced him along with the Beast in #38—explains to Wondy that after the operation with which the Secret Empire turned Johnny Horton into the Griffin, the serum’s effects continued, driving him insane.

Told to contact the others while Spidey follows the Griffin, Wondy is unable to reach them and, feeling he has something to prove, decides it’s time to field-test Stark’s prototype astro-fighter.  Trailing the gulls to an unnamed stadium (Claremont, where are you?), Spidey deduces that “the Griffin keeps mutating only as long as we ‘good guys’ keep battling him.”  Flying to the rescue, Wondy can’t hear his warnings, yet as the ever more bestial Griffin yanks him from the cockpit, Spidey realizes that Simon may have the right idea after all; ineffectually hit with the downed fighter’s guns, the Griffin hefts the burning craft but, before he can hurl it at our heroes, reverts so totally that his animalistic fear of fire causes him to drop it on himself, seemingly killing him. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: This Kunkel-Klunker isn’t as bad as his Falcon-Fiasco in #71, yet I will express relief that he appears to have only one more Marvel credit, and outside our purview, shared with Michelinie on Dr. Strange #46.  Of course it doesn’t help that—like the damnable Robert Montgomery—the writer, letterer and/or multiple editors can’t spell “Phillip” Marlowe, and there’s only so much even Fearless Frank can do with Perlin’s pedestrian pencils.  I would once have called a Spidey/Wondy/Griffin match-up promising (take heart, Griffin-Fans; he has a long career ahead of him), until reminded in recent years of how annoying the Whiny-Simon persona is, but Bill didn’t originate that, and perhaps deserves a nod for his “Variations on a MARMIS” plot device.

In the hands of a proper artist, Wondy can look pretty cool in his shades, especially when you know what’s behind them, but Don just leaves him looking like a goober, and ironically, the increasingly leonine Griffin comes off best of all.  Similarly, a better writer would’ve given Spidey a better comeback to “Oh, it’s you, insect!”; instead of “I don’t like being called ‘insect’…it’s Mister Insec—aargh!,” he should have pointed out that he’s an arachnid, not an insect.  I guess the battle in the stadium—home of the New York Generics!—is supposed to be pretty spectacular, but I can’t help, uh, wondering how Wonder Man located them, and whether Mr. “I won’t die again!” (again) would be able to operate that unfamiliar vehicle so successfully.

Joe Tura: Why does Wonder Man look like the Mole Man's sleazy uncle on the front cover? Why is Don Perlin penciling an issue of Marvel Team-Up? Why is Spider-Man punching seagulls? Why did I chuckle when Wonder Man said "Err, no, that's not Jarvis' growl!" on page 3? Why does Wonder Man age 20 years on the next page? Why is the Griffin like a winged Don Rickles, between "Sunglasses," "Insect," "Bug Man," and the highly original "Stupid Jerk?" Why, on page 15, panel 3 (above), does Spidey look like he's a giant while standing on the roof of the stadium (I assume Shea? Not sure…) he trails the Griffin to? Why does Wonder Man suddenly panic, screaming "I won't die again!" when Griffin has him on the ropes (albeit in the air)? Why does the reader feel sorry for poor Griffin when he turns into a cuddly lion and lets the ship drop on top of him? How much hot water will Wonder Man get into when Tony Stark learns his prototype has been destroyed? Most importantly, how the heck does Griffin survive to show up in West Coast Avengers in 1986 and, a couple of years later, be brought back by John Byrne in Namor?

 Marvel Two-In-One 48
The Thing and Jack of Hearts in
"My Master, Machinesmith!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Chic Stone and Tex Blaisdell
Colors by Mario Sen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Elaine Heinl
Cover by Chic Stone

Jack of Hearts has just finished a training session with his “electronic instructor,” missing the excitement of his apprenticeship with Iron Man, when his S.H.I.E.L.D.-appointed minder, Martins, shows him an invitation to a midnight meeting with the Corporation, still seeking the secret of the Zero Fluid for which they had killed his father.  Meanwhile, Ben is hooked up to a “force-bar” that turns the power of any escape attempt against his fellow captives, the Yancy Street Gang, and fitted with a headset—perfectly attuned to his alpha waves—that lets Machinesmith control his mind.  He intends to use the Thing to destroy not only his teammates, gaining Reed’s technology as a little bonus, but also “a thorn in the side of the Corporation…”

Duly arriving at Pier 9, Jack lands on a suspicious-looking yacht, where he is attacked first by faceless robots and then by Ben, observed by the highly amused Machinesmith and Carnation.  As the mobsters prepare to abandon and destroy the base, the Gang breaks free and flattens them, while Jack concludes that the seam he sees on the inexplicably silent Ben’s head means he’s also a robot, atomizing the headset with a blast that fells the Thing.  Mourning his apparent death, the Yancy Streeters deck Machinesmith—who now has aspirations to replicate or control Jack—and Carnation but swiftly change their tune when he turns up alive; Machinesmith, on the other hand, is not, revealed as a robot himself, and the Gang gives Ben a peace offering:  an exploding cigar.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The import of the Corporation’s role and Bill’s brief return becomes clear, since both bespeak his efforts to keep his creation in play; Jack appeared continuously in one mag or another from July ’77 to October ’78, although it will be almost two years before he resurfaces in Mantlo’s Rom #12.  Here, Stone turns the inking of his pencils over to T[ex] Blaisdell—better known for his work at DC and on such comic strips as Little Orphan Annie—whose two rare Marvel outings this month include the extracurricular Human Fly #18.  Sadly, Ben looks as bad as I’ve ever seen him (e.g., page 7, panel 1; page 10, panel 5), and even as a two-parter, the story feels thin and rushed, the tricky Yancy Street gimmick making a poor fit within the traditional super-hero yarn.

Chris Blake: I’m certain I’d bought this issue only because of the presence of Jack of Hearts, who caught my attention during his apprenticeship with Iron Man a few months ago.  The story features a few nice moments of Jack flashing his powers, including a huge blast at the midsection of a loveable pile o’rocks; but, there’s also far too much chatter, with the worst moment being “No amount of training seems to be able to stifle my abominable prep school sense of humor!” as Jack is tossed by a robot.  Well Jack, “Go stifle yourself.”  Jack might be young, but Mantlo’s previous instances as his scripter cast him as more level-headed and businesslike.  What happened, Bill?  Spending too much time lately with Marv “Blue blazes!” Wolfman, I suppose.  

The Stone/Blaisdell art hovers around average throughout, with the Thing looking awkward or scrawny, or awkwardly scrawny, far too often.  The armadillo promises Sherriff Byrne is about to ride back into MTIO town, and not a moment too soon.  

 Master of Kung Fu 73
"Prisoners of the Crown"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and Bruce Patterson
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by Mike Zeck

Shang-Chi and Leiko parachute into the lush, fancifully-colored jungle of Mordillo Island.  Their last contact with Black Jack Tarr had been interrupted when Mordillo’s automated assistant Brynocki had surprised Tarr in his hotel room; now, they suspect Brynocki and Shockwave have brought Tarr here.  Assuming, of course, Tarr is still alive; Sir Denis has told Shang-Chi & Co that MI-6 is going to unusual lengths to eliminate Sir Denis’ former operatives, due to agency concerns that the agents might divulge precious secrets.  Sir Denis has arrived at an ancestral home far from London, and plans to hide there (in plain sight, thinking MI-6 would expect him to flee Britain) with Reston and Melissa.  Back on the island, S-C & L marvel at the plant life, shaped and colored like none other in the world.  Previously, Mordillo’s solar chute had focused solar radiation on the island, completely burning all the vegetation from its surface.  Leiko speculates that radiation might have affected seeds below the soil, which then grew thru the ashes to produce these wildly mutated plants.  Before they can begin their search, they are attacked by elves riding giant snails and a dragon; as they defeat these robotic creatures, S-C & L realize these are constructs of Mordillo’s fevered brain – either they had been left behind, or they’ve been restored to function after being appropriated by MI-6.  SC & L then are met by a wheeled caterpillar that offers to cart them around the island; fearing no harm, they accept the ride (S-C recalls a benign “Pufferbelly Express” that had performed a similar function on his previous visit).  The ride takes them to a giant skull; S-C & L agree it does not appear to be the work of Mordillo, and wonder whether its appearance reflects Shockwave’s more “chilling” insanity.   The skull’s teeth retract to unleash club-bearing ogres; as they swing at S-C & L, Brynocki – spying down from within the skull – alerts Shockwave (who is trying to revive the unconscious Tarr to begin his interrogation) they have “company.”  Brynocki opens the top of the skull, as he and Shockwave board an oversized dragonfly; Shang-Chi has a moment, as the dragonfly comes into view, to reflect how “madness descends” on him and Leiko.  -Chris Blake

Chris: We’ve seen other fantastical storylines in MoKF before, such as the first trip to Mordillo Island (#34-35) and Moon Sun’s mythical menagerie (#36-37), so it’s fine to change things up; in fact, we haven’t seen a MoKF story with bizarre trappings since Dr Doom’s game with Shang-Chi in #59-60.  My concern, though, is to have a story with Brynocki and Shockwave, right after one with Shen Kuei and Juliette; Doug Moench is at risk of resorting to recycling when it comes to Shang-Chi’s adversaries.  At least he’s lost none of his flair for the inventive, which means there are plenty of novel ideas to enjoy, such as: a fairly steady stream of wisecracks from Mordillo’s creatures, left behind on the island; Brynocki's failure to grasp that Shockwave isn’t amused by him, which allows him to keep chattering, despite Shockwave’s clenched-teeth requests that he “shut up”; Melissa’s abduction from Sir Denis’ home (I had to omit that point from the synopsis), as two figures wearing white masks appear to emerge from a framed illustration on the wall.

The Zeck/Patterson art, in its fourth pairing, has finally found its footing.  Zeck goes with a few odd panel alignments, but doesn’t experiment too much.  His attention seems to be toward realizing the crazy creatures well, and allowing us a clear look at them.  There also is a nice atmospheric moment as Sir Denis leads Reston and Melissa out of the fog and into the house.  Zeck lets the group walk past, as in a series of four panels, he draws our attention to a sere tree on the property; the final panel reveals at the tree’s base four faces, apparently wearing white masks, peering thru the fog and toward the house ...  

Mark: It's been quite awhile, class, but here's a tale that can be discussed in the same breath as X-Men without snickering, no mean feat as Marvel's late "Bronze Age" further corrodes into hackdom and self-cannibalization that at time borders on parody.

Returning to madman Mordillo's isle let's Doug Moench get his freak on, with murderous robo-elves riding giant snails and a bewheeled, bad-tempered caterpillar that cabbies Shang and Leiko across the lushly-mutated island. All this is vividly served up by Mick Zeck and simpatico new inker Bruce Patterson. Zeck's been improving rapidly; how much this ish's art is another leap forward by Mike and how much is Patterson is immaterial. The results - panel to panel and page to page - are primo throughout, and not just the funhouse stuff; our cast hasn't looked this consistently good for quite awhile. Even colorist Carl. G chips in, his use of yellow and red giving a static scene like Clive and Sir Denis riding in a car dramatic oomph (below).

True, we don't learn any more about the baddies now running MI-6, but given the creepy mimes that capture Clive's squeeze Melissa, S-C and Leiko tussling with club-wielding Cyclopes, and my fave mordant automaton Brynocki, swooping down on our heroes with Shockwave from inside a giant dragonfly on the final page, the deets on the evil overlords of espionage can hang fire for now. 

Doug's shrink woulda loved this one, and so did I.

The Micronauts 2 
Story by Bill Mantlo 
Art by Michael Golden and Joe Rubinstein
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Michael Golden and Joe Rubinstein

After escaping Baron Karza’s Orbiters in the HMS Endeavor by transporting through the spacewall that surrounds the subatomic Microverse, the Micronauts crash-land on an unknown planet. After activating the visi-screens, the refugees marvel at the gargantuan vegetation that surrounds the ship. Since the Endeavor’s solar reserves need time to recharge, they disembark and explore their new environment. Soon they come across a huge man-made metallic structure — actually a simple swing set. Then, a shaggy, four-legged mammoth attacks — actually a normal-sized cocker spaniel. A punch to the nose by Biotron and a phaser blast by Commander Arcturus Rann chase off the curious canine. Another danger quickly threatens as a teenager pushing a lawn mower nearly overwhelms the ’Nauts: but the mighty Acroyear reaches up and stops the whirling blade, knocking the surprised boy off his feet. 

After the grass clippings settle, Microtron adjusts the Interlingual Translator and Rann explains their situation to the towering teenager, who says that his name is Steve Coffin and that they are in Daytona Beach, Florida. Suddenly, two Galactic Cruisers materialize, one commanded by Acroyear’s turncoat brother Prince Shaitan: they breached the spacewall through the rift caused by the Endeavor. One of the Cruisers splits into four smaller crafts — Steve swats one out of the sky and it bursts into flames against a palm tree. The Micronauts manage to bring the three remaining parts down, but Bug is pummeled by one of the explosions. With Shaitan’s battleship in hot pursuit, the Micronauts manage to escape in their ship — reluctantly leaving their green Insectivorid companion behind.
-Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: It’s fairly obvious that this one is a major step down from the world-building premiere issue. Bill Mantlo jumps the gun way too early by having his newly minted heroes land on Earth a scant month later. I could have used a few more issue of Microverse intrigue to ramp up the drama — and the stakes. We do have a some cool panels of Baron Karza’s foreboding Body Banks: within, the Baron threatens the captured Prince Argon — Mari’s brother — with breeding experiments. Since I owned the Argon toy as a kid, methinks I know where this is going. I also had a Galactic Cruiser and felt a warm glow when it split into the four smaller ships. Brings me back my brothers.

It doesn’t take long to realize that the Endeavor crashed on our planet. Then again, the front cover gives it away at the very start. While killer, I think it would have been better if Marvel’s latest dream team — Golden and Rubinstein — had the ’Nauts threatened by an indistinguishable giant instead of the shadowy but obvious human pushing a lawn mower. But, I guess, it could have been a titan from the Black & Decker galaxy. Plus, Mantlo might have avoided titling the story “Earth.” 

But I don’t want to give you the feeling that I didn’t enjoy The Micronauts 2. Obviously, the art is freakin’ great. Golden and Rubinstein move from the dark and electronic interior of the Endeavor to the light and green exterior of Daytona Beach with ease. Each panel crackles with energy and movement even if the characters are standing still. And the sequence set in the Body Banks is tremendously cinematic. Luckily, the fabulous visuals help mask some of Mantlo’s other shortcomings. I can’t remember if Microtron rounds into the dreaded comedy relief, but Bill seem to be pushing the robot that way. Plus, Rann basically lugs Mari around during the attack by the Galactic Cruisers, as the princess protests “I’m not helpless, you know!” Let’s hope that we don’t have another Sue Storm on our hands. And I’m not sure how I feel that Bug was left behind. Maybe they were confident that he can handle himself — but since Shaitan was about to destroy the Endeavor, the Micros could have thought that they had no choice. I guess we were in for a bit of a letdown after the creative team set the bar so high with issue #1.

Matthew: I believe Professor Tom called the Micros’ debut a breath of fresh air, and that remains true for their follow-up outing, despite the fact that Mantlo has segued from the rich Microverse milieu to the more time-worn Land of the Giants routine on Earth (reportedly an unwelcome contractual stipulation by Mego to keep the “micro” in the Micronauts).  But the exuberance of the Goldinstein art offsets that to a large degree, e.g., Muffin—a poignant reminder of one of our departed cats with the same name—bounding into the frame in page 10, panel 4.  Bill peppers the drama with some laughs, such as Rann’s chagrin when reminded that he had relieved Biotron at the helm or Microtron’s “Uh—would someone please turn me over?”

Chris: There isn’t much time to advance the story, with all this action flying by!  We do learn that our Acroyear is the “rightful prince” of all Acroyears, a nifty gig nabbed from him by the devious Shaitan; last issue, Acroyear mentioned a “blood-feud” between them, but obviously it’s an even bigger deal; this should be interesting.  Also, we hear Karza has some experimentation in mind for Prince Argon; that should be … unpleasant.  

Well, it wouldn’t matter; even if the Micronauts was little more than a comic about miniscule marauders tapping-out tempestuous tirades on tiny typewriters, I’d still read it if Michael Golden were the illustrator.  The two pages at the body banks are well done, as first we see the impressive stony edifice from outside.  The panel of the appreciative, restored couple is instructive, as it illustrates how the public has bought into the bill-of-goods of Karza’s immortality plan (p 11).  The mood changes on the next page, as the shadowy interior and hooded shadow priests suggests the unnatural reality behind the banks (p 14).  Golden does very well with all the 'splosions; even though the fiery bursts in Steve Coffin’s palmy backyard are comparatively small, Golden still infuses them with plenty of plasmic energy.  The last page is priceless, as the scorched backyard confronts Steve with any kid’s nightmare: after all, “no one’s ever gonna believe this …”

 Ms. Marvel 22
"Second Chance!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Mike Vosburg and Mike Zeck
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

 Carol is fired, bids adieu to the Woman staff (leaving Tracy as interim editor), and goes to the roof for a head-clearing spin as MM, but is immediately attacked by Death-Bird, who explains her survival in the ICBM silo in #10 by simply saying, “I am not human…”  She vanishes during the skirmish, and after treating herself to a shopping spree and new hairdo, Carol returns to her Greenwich Village apartment, where she is met with a surprise party.  There, she gets a kiss from Frank; urges Tracy to take JJJ’s offer of her job, with her blessing; makes music with fellow guitar-player Sam Adams; and is splashed with a drink by the drunken Mike Barnett, who wants to turn her into a housewife, and has attracted the attention of an incognito Mystique.

Mike’s declaration of “love” is interrupted by Carol’s painful seventh-sense flash of Death-Bird, who has led the theft of selected crates out of a cargo en route from Tokyo to Stark International; MM incapacitates both truck and goons, identifying the cargo as “destined for the Avengers—to rebuild the computer systems that Federal Agent Gyrich ripped to shreds.”  Sufficiently tipsy to throw off her timing and reflexes, she still survives the impact of a cargo boom, pulling herself from the icy water to counterattack, but an energy javelin shatters the roadway.  Cursing her foe for endangering a father and daughter, MM is surprised when the enemy holds a concrete slab so she can effect a rescue, yet no sooner are they safe than Death-Bird drops it on her and flies off... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: However you feel about “The New Ms. Marvel” or this issue’s “dramatic turning point in the life of Carol Danvers,” those wholesale changes were obviously too little—or too much?—too late.  It’s a shame for various reasons, not least that Claremont is keeping Mystique in play and revealing a little more about Death-Bird; in hindsight, I’ve been taking the latter’s exclamation “Shigon’s bones” as a clue to her origins, but aside from the fact that she also says it when she next appears in Avengers #189, I’m unable to find anything else on Shigon.  To me, the art hasn’t been a big selling point on this book for a while, so at this juncture, I won’t agonize over the average Vosburg/Zeck visuals (although MM looks like she’s doing the Frug in page 7, panel 2, above).

To their credit, there’s a nice three-panel montage on page 2 (above) that shows JJJ’s growing frustration with Carol, who presumes that her repeated absences were the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The ending, with Carol emerging unscathed from both the collapsed roadway and the explosion of the ill-fated car’s gas tank, recalls the inferno she survived at the hands of Grotesk.  With her unusual appearance and “ancient codes of honor,” Death-Bird is an interesting character, whose dialogue tantalizes us:  “do not waste your time judging me by the standards of your frail race”; “I was first-born of the Aerie.  I am outcast…”; “I’ve no chance now to escape with the components I needed.  And without them, I’ve no chance of ever returning home.”  Hmmmm…

 Power Man and Iron Fist 55
"Chaos at the Coliseum or:
What List Price Victory?"
Story by Ed Hannigan
Art by Lee Elias and Jim Mooney
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers
Cover by Bob Layton and Joe Rubinstein

The newly-formed Heroes for Hire company is rolling right along and Luke and Danny are a major success. In fact, they're so big, they're the main attraction (and security) of a major car show. Thugs show up to ruin their fun though; they're after the visiting FantastiCar (as if we didn't remember, Helpful Hannigan reminds us - twice - that Luke used to be a charter member of the FF). The thieves manage to get away with the vehicle but the Power Fist duo track them down and restore balance to the universe.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: The Pits. Truly wretched. Hannigan's obviously not enjoying himself (or else he's enjoying cashing a check for hackwork) as the plot goes nowhere, the dialogue is odiferous, the titular heroes are reduced to something approaching clowns, and the job itself (stealing the FFCar) makes no sense. One of the thugs exclaims that "once we figure out how to make (the FFCar) run, we'll run the town!" How so? What special powers besides flying fast and maybe some laser gun turrets does this thing have? Elooney art is horrendous -- Luke's forehead goes through six different phases of evolution through the story. And we get the "A new writer, a new artist, and a whole new direction for the Power/Fist team" banner that we've seen so many times before. Will the new direction be even crappier than this new direction we're just now diverting from? Ordinarily, I'd welcome a new team after the swill we've ben subjected to lately as anything would be better, right? Problem is, I said that last time too.

Matthew: “Next:  A new writer, a new artist, and a whole new direction…”  It can only be an improvement over a steaming turd that doubtless had Claremont and Byrne scrambling to see if they could expunge their names from the lettercol, along with any other evidence of their having midwifed this monstrosity of a mag.  Hannigan again justifies the reflexive aversion I feel at the sight of his byline, inexplicably dredging up an utter nonentity of a villain from Tales of Suspense #59 (November 1964); Elias again shows himself to be at the level of Robbins with his cartoony scribblings; Mooney wisely keeps his head down; and Milgrom feels a curious compulsion to cite Luke’s stint with the FF in not one but two footnotes.

The motherin' car? Seriously, Ed, what neighborhood did you grow up in?

 Spider-Woman 11
"And Dolly Makes Three"
Story by Mark Gruenwald
Art by Carmine Infantino and Al Gordon
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Frank Giacoia

Jessica is restless in the front parlor of her rooming house, as she waits for Jerry to arrive to take her to dinner.  She looks at the landlady’s doll collection, and idly runs her hand along a bureau, unwittingly releasing a hidden drawer that holds two dolls, dressed to resemble her nemesis, Brother Grimm!  She quickly closes the drawer as Mrs Dolly enters the room, hoping she did not notice Jessica looking at the Grimm dolls.  At the restaurant, Jerry doesn’t have a suitable explanation for why Mrs Dolly might have dolls like these; before they have a chance to discuss the question further, Brother Grimm himself appears in a burst of smoke!  As he taunts and harasses the diners, Jessica has a moment to switch to her Spider-Woman costume.  Grimm throws sneezing powder into the room, then lands a left cross on S-W’s jaw as she tries to tackle him.  Grimm bids the diners a good evening, and walks out; S-W pursues, and arrives outside in time to see Grimm sailing away, sitting on a trapeze suspended from a flying star!  Grimm throws an egg in her face, which buys him time to swing away on his star.  Jerry is following the star with his car, checks his mirror, and is surprised to see Grimm seated behind him!  Around the same time Grimm is zapping Jerry to sleep, Charles Magnus wraps up his magic show and prepares to head back to the rooming house.  He wonders whether it might be time to leave Jessica alone.  After all, he already has helped her find her father’s killer, and since then, Jessica seems to have found love with Jerry; it might be time for Jessica to grow on her own.  

As Magnus drifts to sleep, he’s unaware that a number of Mrs Dolly’s collection have awoken, and are climbing the stairs toward his bedroom.  Spider-Woman glides within range of Grimm’s star, and fires a venom blast, which causes him to –explode?  She alights on a nearby rooftop, and realizes that, somehow, she had hit an empty costume; S-W asks herself how Grimm could possibly have reached the ground in the brief time it took to clear the egg from her eyes.  She looks to the streets below, unaware that Grimm is sneaking up behind her; he bats her in the head, and S-W falls unconscious.  She wakes to find her wrists chained, and Jerry similarly restrained in the same room with her.  They discuss the tricks Grimm had played on them both, then turn to see Mrs Dolly, flanked by two men, both dressed as Brother Grimm! -Chris Blake

Chris: After all the changes Brother Grimm has put Spider-Woman thru, it almost would be unfair for there to be any fewer than two of him.  Grimm still comes off as Joker-lite, but I don’t find his patter as irritating (under Gruenwald’s pen) as I had in his previous appearances (Wolfman-written).  Gruenwald astutely attends to keeping all our parties in motion, and to keeping us guessing along with our heroes; the action moves along well, with plenty of questions piling up in the process.  We’re no closer to an understanding of how Brother Grimm pulls his slights-of-self, and I’m not sure our next issue will reveal all of his secrets, but I do think we’ll learn how he got here, how the two selves operate – who knows, we might even find out why he does these crazy things.   In addition to answers about the Brother Grimm, another expectation we should bring to SW #12 is a resolution of story-elements from Spider-Woman’s first year in print: Magnus could be leaving – if, that it, he survives The Attack of the Dolls; we might learn the cause of Jerry’s attraction for Jess (aside from ample reasons provided by Infantino/Gordon visuals, that is); and clearly, Jessica will have to move out of Mrs Dolly’s house, right? 

I continue to tolerate Infantino’s pencils well, with the help of Gordon’s finishes.  Highlights include: Jess’ acrobatic move as she grabs Grimm’s calves and swings around to impact his face (p 15); slightly creepy moment as the dolls close in on Magnus, aided by deep blues from Ben Sean (p 27, 1st pnl); and, S-W’s fallen form still looks fine (p 26, 1st pnl). 

Matthew: So the villain hitherto identified as Brother Grimm is in reality one of two Brothers Grimm, just like the famed 19th-century German storytellers known around the entire world?  GASP!!!  Man, I don’t know how anyone could possibly have seen that coming.  Enough of this dreck had already accreted during the late, unlamented Wolfman Administration that Gruenwald almost has to be carrying out Marv’s intentions to a substantial degree, so rather than taking Mark to task (as I’m sure I often will on this book), I’ll simply express my hope that he can wind this up and move on.  In Infantinordon’s hands, Jess not only varies from panel to panel, but also sometimes looks somewhat Asian, which—as I recall—is also true with Leialoha.

Addendum:  I wonder if Jessica’s “Can’t I go a week without getting tied up by somebody?” was inspired by complaints about all of the bondage covers…

 Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 27
"The Blind Leading the Blind"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Frank Miller and Frank Springer
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Al Milgrom

A shaky Spider-Man, blinded by the Masked Marauder early last issue, tries to navigate the rooftops, but needs to be helped by Daredevil, to the point that his frustration leads the wall-crawler to lash out at the Man Without Fear and just about give up. DD takes him back to Matt Murdock's apartment and calls ophthamologist [sic] Dr. Henry Orlock. At Peter Parker's Chelsea pad, Mary Jane and Betty agree to be friends, and Mrs. Muggins goes back into the open apartment, which is wrecked—by the evil Carrion—and the words "THE DEAD WALK PARKER" are written on the wall! At Orlock's office, the eye doc tells Spidey (wearing a web mask on the lower half of his face) that his eyes are recuperating, but the hero's frustration merely increases. Cut to the Marauder, who is readying for a "history-making broadcast" to blackmail New York, then Spidey picks up the spider-tracer signal, and the two "blind men" work together to find the exact location. Marauder contacts the Mayor of NYC, showing how his Tri-Man now has a warhead implanted that turns him into a Bombdroid! Suddenly Daredevil busts in, which causes Marauder to unleash the Bombdroid; Spidey tries to stop it—but the blinded hero falls!--Joe Tura

Joe: One Frank out of two ain't bad? Frank Miller does quite a nice job here as guest penciller, but also contributes to the overall feeling that this should have been a Daredevil issue instead of PPTSSM. Miller's love of Horn-Head is as evident as the contrived frustration in Spidey's head. Contrived? Yes, because it's out of character for our hero. Sure, he can get emotional and annoyed and pissed off, but to be whiny and "woe is me" and ready to give up? Nah, that's a bit too much. Sure, this is the hero who threw his costume in a garbage can once, but to come off as a three-year-old who lost his blanky is a bit much and Mantlo, who's written plenty of Spidey stories already, should know better. Again, Daredevil comes across as the big man on campus, helping Spidey (like any good New Yorker would do for another), but to the point of being the focal point of the issue. You don't see Spidey getting any "ghosted acrobatics" panels, do ya? Well, the web-head is left in quite a predicament—besides the blindess—so we'll see how he manages to stop the Bombdroid. (By the way, dumb name, but at least it tells you what it is!) And let's not forget the creepy Carrion, who's up to no good for sure!

Favorite sound effect in a Daredevil-laden issue that is packed with good choices on nearly every page, especially every time DD uses the billy club, is page 30's "KLUGGGGG," the sound you hear when Daredevil gives a Maggia goon a two-legged backflip kick to the gut. Ouch!

Scott: Another childhood favorite and a great start to a two-issue run penciled by Frank Miller. This was back when he was good, but before he teamed with Klaus Janson. The art makes this one special, really, but I always liked the story. Not the “ransom of New York” plot, but the idea of Spider-Man being blind. It’s “TV episode” stuff and will only last until next issue, but it’s interesting to see Spidey go through the stages of dealing with it. Captain America would handle it quite differently. Yeah, this is Miller’s Daredevil audition, certainly. He’ll take over DD’s book with issue 158.

Matthew:  Interestingly, for those of you with graying hair and/or long memories, they did the reverse with Romita back in 1966.  With Ditko eyeing the exit, Stan supposedly inserted a Spidey two-parter into DD’s own mag, which Jazzy Johnny was drawing at the time, as a back-door “audition” (in #16-17) for Amazing.  The villain of the piece?  Some clown named the Masked Marauder.  Guess it worked out okay…

Chris: Mantlo takes his time with the city-wide manhunt for the Masked Marauder, as he’s more interested in examining the relationship between Spidey and Daredevil.  Except for a few moments of hysterics, their time together is well-spent.  DD wisely brings Spidey to an ophthalmologist (one who understands the value of discretion, and is tolerant of destruction of office furniture) to give him hope for the future, and encourages Spidey to use his senses to lead them to the Marauder, which allows him a valuable role in the present. 

Characterization is one thing.  But the real reason we’re all reading this issue is because of – Frank Springer!  No wait, who’s the other guy … Miller, Frank Miller.  Frank M. shows his early feel for DD, as he emphasizes DD’s acrobatic skills, especially when we see DD lunge and twist, and appear to be moving so fast we only can catch glimpses of him in motion (p 3, p 23).  Two other DD moves Miller will incorporate to the character’s repertoire when he assumes art-duties on Daredevil are presented on p 30, first as DD snags a weapon (in this case, a swinging chain) with his billyclub (KTANGG), then drives both feet into his attacker’s midsection (KLUGG); nice.  Miller also captures some uncharacteristic awkwardness as Spidey struggles without sight, desperately reaching for foot- and handholds, such as when he falls off the roof (p 3), and then when the Bombdroid shatters the window (p 31).  Springer adds shadows, which contribute to atmosphere, but he also plays too much into the murk, especially when instead he should be finishing details on Daredevil’s face (p 10, p 26).

Matthew: Miller’s sophomore gig coincides with the debut in Hulk! of Bill Sienkiewicz, epitomizing a turnover whose causes ranged from dissatisfaction with the work-for-hire contract or Shooter to layoffs at DC.  “Many of the most provocative and vital writers and artists of the previous generations, chased away by the industry’s paternalistic and/or just plain unfair policies, were off to other pursuits…It seemed like the mass exoduses that marked the 1950s might be just around the corner….Those who remained in the field would have to make a go of it within the strictures of the system, waiving royalties and reining in their more esoteric flights of fancy,” author Sean Howe recounts in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

So in retrospect I understand its historic significance as the first time Miller drew Hornhead, later to become his signature Marvel character, but don’t know that at the time, I was exactly dazzled.  I think that has a lot to do with this new incarnation of The Two Franks (see way too many issues of Invaders), since Springer is neither a great inker nor particularly well-matched with our “guest-penciler,” who nonetheless shines forth with some creative layouts, e.g., the montage of DD’s origin on page 10; “MYZPTLK [sic]” eye chart in page 11, panel 2; ECU of Spidey’s eye exam in page 15, panel 4; and inexplicable balloon vendor in the foreground of page 17, panel 6.  I was already dubious about this blind-Spidey stuff, which Mantlo is stringing out way too long.

 Star Wars 20
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek

On the Wheel, Senator Greyshade dines with Princess Leia, who rebuffs his hospitality, throwing the food off the table and then kicking said table in “anger.” Greyshade leaves, ordering his droid to clean up, neither of them knowing she has palmed a serving knife. Greyshade meets Strom, the Imperial Captain, and they discuss their plan and partnership in very great and boring detail. It still boils down to faking an attack by Rebels, the Empire taking control of the Wheel and Greyshade making a lot of money. The droids, meanwhile, are scheduled for a mind-wipe and then a melting down when the droid version of Master Computer takes them as part of a “study.” In fact, he has found the droids' devotion to Luke fascinating and assists them in finding relative safety. At the same time, Leia uses the knife to short out her door and escape her room. Han is put in the arena and made to fight a big alien. He wins, barely, and Strom is upset. He needs the rebels dead so his plan is not uncovered. Greyshade is unworried, since Han still has to face The Main Event. Oh yeah, and Luke is missing from the infirmary. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: This arc continues to bore me. A really decent concept, but this issue is loaded down with so much exposition and very little action. Greyshade (he’s playing the middle, shades of grey…GET IT??!!) keeps referring to Han as the “Corellian.” Never once in any of the films was this word used to describe Han. It’s part of his bio, but jeez, this comic wears it out. They can’t get to the end of this story fast enough for me. It would make a great Blake’s 7, but for a Star Wars comic, it just lies there.

Matthew: The lettercol contains Roy’s first LOC in more than 13 years, written “to comment on the truly fine work [the Goodwinfantino team has been] doing on Star Wars since Howie Chaykin and I left.”  Coincidentally or not, while far from seconding that emotion overall, I did find myself pleasantly surprised to be enjoying Archie’s story this issue, with its various Empire/Rebel/Wheel machinations and the intriguing intervention of Master-Com on behalf of the droids.  That’s despite the fact that Wiacek seems completely unable to rein in the worst of Carmine’s excesses, epitomized by that crazy stick-figure Solo in page 11, panel 4; they contributed the cover as well, and if nothing else, at least it faithfully replicates page 27, panel 5.

 Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 21
"The Land of Awful Shadow"
Story by David A. Kraft and Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Rudy Nebres
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and Bob McLeod

On his stolen thipdar, Tarzan confronts the Mahars’ Sagoth slavers over the swamp city that is Abdul Alhazred’s destination, while above, Ayesha and friend watch as the Mahar scientist she blinded in one eye is ordered to fire his sound cannon at the primitive Pellucidarians storming said city.  As the Mad Arab is drawn toward the power, all hell breaks loose:  focused by a crystal in the city, sound waves boil the blood of the attackers, and Tarzan’s aerial battle is interrupted by a geyser spewing up the Korsar galleon.  After saving The Cid’s life again, Tarzan learns of Frazier’s lies; Simon shoots Barrett to prevent him from killing the Mad Arab, who haughtily dismisses the mercenaries and approaches the crystal as Ayesha fires the cannon at it… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Yes, I realize that Mantlo is once again merely scripting the Dude’s plot in this second and final transitional issue, and that he still has a few installments in which to pull it together, but as much as I appreciate having such Burroughs creations as the Horibs, Mahars, and Sagoths thrown into the mix, I do hope that by the time Bill starts flying solo next issue, he’ll work toward resolution rather than additional complexity.  Yet another Filipino mainstay of the Conan franchise, Rudy Nebres—also heavily represented on the sister John Carter book—displays a style consistent with those of his countrymen as Sal’s inker du jour.  Interestingly, this issue and the last give us a somewhat clearer look at what lies beneath Abdul Alhazred’s hood than we got from Big John.

 Tomb of Dracula 68
"The Return to... Transylvania!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

A very human Count Dracula speaks mano a mano with Satan when Drac's son, Janus, arrives and whisks him to the family castle in Transylvania. Waiting there are the Fearless Vampire Killers themselves, Frank, Rachel, Quincy, and best-selling author Harold. A knock-down drag-out ensues and Drac, bloodied and bruised, barely escapes. While convalescing in the family cemetery, Dracula is approached by Quincy; the vampire begs his most hated enemy to kill him, renouncing Satan in the course of the conversation. Van Helsing reveals himself to be Satan, explaining that now Drac has renounced Old Nick, the Count is a man without a country and will drift through immortality without heaven or hell. Dracula discovers he's become a vampire again. As the real Quincy approaches, he tells the rest of the FVK to leave the Count be. He's got problems. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Another instance of the FVK having Drac right where they want him and letting him go. B.S., says I. This is a series meandering around in circles, always coming back to the same spot. At least we get Tom and Gene to keep our minds off the faff and Harold is kept to a cameo but can we (please, please, pretty please) place a moratorium on the phrase "stinking filth?" I would swear Doug Moench had slipped into Marv's office and done a bit of dialogue doctoring.

Chris: From the moment Janus zaps Drac to his family castle, and he finds himself faced by Harker & Company, we share Drac’s sense of the situation’s unreality.  Then, as Drake and van Helsing take the offensive, we lose track of whether circumstances are out of the ordinary, so it’s easy to miss that anything else has changed once Drac flees the castle and finds himself in the cemetery.  So, it turns into a great twist as we realize Satan has doomed Dracula to an eternity without any clear outcome, as Drac finds himself “now a being without a place!  Neither heaven nor hell shall claim you … .”  Some job there, Satan – what a bastard.

Gene & Tom grabbed me right from the start, as an issue filled with seemingly inexplicable moments opens with the impossible shot of Drac standing at the base of the spire of the Empire State, as if crowing his defiance to the entire city.  Gene & Tom then masterfully match this visual in the very next panel, as we turn the page and see who Drac really is shouting at: a gigantic, deep red, yellow-eyed Satan, who glares back at Drac as he drifts in the mists that hang over the city.  Terrific hand-to-hand combat with Drac, as we see the supreme effort and pain on his face as he battles back his persistent foes (p 17, pnl 1; p 19, pnl 3), followed by rarely-seen weariness as Drac walks alone (p 22), and even bloody-faced resignation as he tells Harker (well, he thinks it’s Harker, and we do too) the fight has gone out of him (p 26, p 4).  Finally, bonus points to Gene & Tom for another awful, glorious flame-mouthed Satan, pointing his spiky nail at a defeated, disoriented Dracula (p 30).

Chris: Curious moment at the end, as Harker asks Drake to hold back, since this Drac is “different,” as if “someone else already ‘got’ him.”  And who is the figure Janus addresses in the corridor, who will have his chance “another day” (p 11, pnl 5) -?  Intriguing.  Well, after this outstanding issue, I’m eager to see what surprises Marv has left for our one-time scourge, now beaten-down to a broken bloodsucker.  

Mark: Have to disagree with our Esteemed Dean calling "BS" on Harker and crew, who let our re-vamped but thoroughly demoralized Count slouch off in the last panel, instead of serving him a "stake" dinner. Not that Dean P's reasoning is faulty, just his timing. TOD has two issues left, and this seems to be one of the rare cases - particularly back in the day - when a book's creators learned they were getting axed with enough time to craft a finale. So rather than "meandering around in circles," it seems we're building to a climax, prodded inexorably forward as if by a pitchfork wielded by Gene Colan's giant Satan.

I don't know that for sure, class, having never read the final installments, but In Marv We Trust on this mag, if nowhere else. The whole familial Drac-Janus-Domini drama will be resolved in blood and thunder, sending TOD off in wowza glory!

And if not...we'll raise an angry mob and hunt us a Wolfman.

 The Mighty Thor 280
"Crisis on Twin Earths"
Story by Don Thompson, Maggie Thompson, and Roy Thomas
Art by Wayne Boring and Tom Palmer
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Joe Sinnott 

The Mighty Thor walks the streets of New York, unaware of a mysterious figure in the shadows, when a rip in the fabric of our dimensional cosmos opens and out pops the Hyperion of Other-Earth (heretofore known as HOE). After a few threatening mutterings, the two engage in an altercation, the likes of which has not been seen since Pedro Martinez charged Mike Williams on the mound. After the dust settles, Thor realizes he may have been a bit rash attacking Hyperion (or is it vice versa?) and the two talk shop. HOE is here on Earth to recruit the Avengers for a film being made on his Earth. While Thor has no interest in movie stardom, he agrees that his partners should be able to give "first refusal" themselves. As the pair head to Avengers Mansion, the shadowy stranger leaps into the time/space continuum and lands in HOE's ship. Now, this next bit gets confusing so, before you nod off, please pay attention as I sure as hell won't repeat it. This character doffs his trenchcoat and Fedora to reveal himself as the Hyperion of our Earth (oh, boy, let's call him HOEII), a rather nasty tenth-tier villain who wishes to destroy our world after we "wasted" his atomic world (back in Avengers #69). Since the Avengers are off on an adventure somewhere, Thor and HOE speed back to the ship and, in a lovely example of trans-world friendship, HOE invites Thor to tour his planet. Thor quickly agrees but chides himself when remembering he has to join the Eternals to save the world; he has no explanation for the urge that spurs him on (and neither does Roy, evidently). When HOE introduces the Thunder God to his movie friends, he begs his leave, insisting he has a few things to "check out" in the HOE-Ship. HOEII jumps HOE and tosses him into space, assimilating his identity and taking his place on the movie set. The cameras are interrupted when HOE's "arch-foe," Emil Burbank, swoops down to zap HOEII (whom Emil thinks is HOE -- told you this gets complicated) but the nutjob is clearly not up to the task. HOEII takes Emil off and explains the situation; the two become quick friends and allies. Meanwhile, HOE has been rescued from space by his fellow Squadron Supremers and arrives in time to see Thor making time with his lady, Lonni. After a brief tussle, the thunder god and HOE make up and battle HOEII and Emil to a standstill. The two really evil geniuses get away but HOE claims it's all right; he'll get them another day. Thor chortles.

-Peter Enfantino

"Here I am! Yoo-hoo! Over here!"

"You can't see me!"
Peter: Jesus H. Where to start? Half of me is convinced this is played straight (especially considering the plot was cooked up by mega-fancouple, Don and Maggie Thompson) and the other half tells me Roy is yanking our collective chain. The whole thing is just so camp and juvenile, as if we've jumped through that cosmic door and entered a world where Electric Company Presents: Thor Super Stories is a reality. How to explain all the goofy crap going on here but to chalk it up to Roy having a larf? Two super-duper heroes can't see the badly-drawn guy in the Spillane outfit peering around every lamppost? And how about that whopper of a coincidence that HOEII was just standing around looking for a way to destroy Earth when HOE showed up (he even comments on it)! Thor and HOE engage in what could be the worst example of MARMIS ever presented in four colors. One page after attacking Thor with the line, "I'm no mirage, Avenger -- as you'll learn when my fist plummets you straight into the day of the week that was named for you!," the obviously Alzheimer's-afflicted HOE tells our hero that he "came here to offer my hand in friendship -- and you scorned it!" When HOEII discovers he's on the wrong Earth, he decides to rain hell down just to "keep in practice!" Ostensibly, HOE's space banishment lasted only a few panels because there were only a couple pages left in the issue and, well... it had to end somehow, right? Cherry on top of this cake though has to be the evil Emil Burbank, brother of the film's director and a man who became a super-villain because HOE's atom-vision did a number on Emil's hormones and prevents the cutting of his hair!

Yeah, I see right through you, Roy. Lou Reed took a similar dump on his fans a few years before with Metal Machine Music. These lemmings will buy anything.

Panel 1
Matthew: Our august Dean having heroically done much of the heavy lifting on this train-wreck of an issue, I’ll pitch in as best as I can, while taking the liberty of redesignating our two Hyperions—members of the Squadrons Supreme and Sinister—as HSup and HSin, respectively.  And I’m going to lay most of the blame on the plot by “Roy’s old friends” the Thompsons, best known to readers of this blog for their “Fantastic Worlds” column chronicling SF fandom in the pages of Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction, as so diligently analyzed by Professor Gilbert.  I’ll even allow that given the mirror-image nature of the two Squadrons, a story involving conflict and/or mistaken identity between analogs is not the worst idea, and in fact is probably inevitable.

Panel 2
If the member in question is Hyperion, that pretty well restricts you to Thor as your hero, yet when you reach a point, as I surely did toward the end, where you neither know nor care which is which, that’s not a very good sign, and your tolerance for an “awesomely offbeat” story like this one may vary.  The “Crisis on [fill in the blank] Earths” title, coupled with the fact that the two Squadrons were conceived as a riposte to the Justice League of America, signals from the get-go that this is a spoof of those JLA/JSA wingdings that had already been a staple at DC (artist Wayne Boring’s longtime employer, lest we forget) for more than a decade.  In case you were in any doubt, the increasingly ludicrous Emil Burbank subplot couldn’t possibly be taken seriously.

Here’s the thing:  in his most recent appearance, Avengers Annual #8—published just last month, mind you—HSin went on his usual anti-our-Earth tirade, only to be talked down by the Vision, who used logic to persuade him that “frustration can be put toward constructive goals.”  When that story opens, Hyperion is still under the influence of the amnesia enforced by Dr. Strange on all Squadron Sinister members in Giant-Size Defenders #4, meaning this can’t occur beforehand.  So what happened in between?  Is it a reversal of the Pythonesque “I got better”?  Did he simply backslide, or was he just scamming Vizh?  I’m not saying those things couldn’t have happened, but such sloppiness from a company, and a writer, once prized for their continuity is inexcusable.

Panel sequence 3

Panel sequence 4
It’s certainly interesting to learn, as we do in the lettercol, that Boring was lured away from his Florida real-estate business (temporarily, thank God) to pencil this story when Thomas found out he was Ralph Macchio’s uncle.  But neither that nor the fact that he was “one of the artistic idols of [Roy’s] youth” means I have to like his work, and interested parties may recall or consult my scathing critique of Captain Marvel #22-24, which I’ve collectively characterized as “abysmal.”  I don’t think “Wondrous Wayne” improved with age, making me inclined to give inker Palmer the benefit of the doubt for once, and what I consider this story’s greatest WTF aspect must, I guess, be attributed either directly to Boring or to the writer and artist working at cross-purposes.

“The Great Costume Confusion” begins as HSin flies through HSup’s portal after ditching his hat and coat, clad in a brown suit and white shirt (Panel 1) that he soon sheds to reveal his Hyperion togs (Panel 2).  Entering his satellite with Thor, HSup says, “perhaps I could give you a guided tour, in my secret identity as a newspaper cartoonist.  No, on second thought, why bother?”  The art shows him donning or doffing—it could be either—what appear to be identical civvies (Panel sequence 3).  On page 16, HSup returns to find HSin once again in his (or someone’s) civvies, but after subduing HSup, he says, “I’d better don these clothes he wears in his secret identity,” which he is already wearing, in another donning-or-doffing panel (Panel sequence 4), and thereafter, his shirt alternates between open and closed.

Chris: Owing to his place as a comic-art pioneer, it would be unfair of me to make fun of Wayne Boring’s name.  Still, it strikes me that a man named Wayne Boring might be friends with Ron Obvious.  

In any case, this struck me as a good month to take a short break from Thor.  I’ll be back next month.  

Amen to that!

 What If? 13
"What If Conan the Barbarian
Walked the Earth Today?"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Ernie Chan

Describing the age and legend of Conan, everyone's favorite Watcher ponders what may have been if he lived in "another eon, such as your own?" Then he tells us it almost happened—when Conan, as War-Chieftan of the Zuagirs, was riding through the trade-city of Akbitana, was drugged by the amorous Alahambra, and bound in the citadel, where he meets Babylonian time-traveler Shamash Shum-Ukin. Shamash threatens to lower Conan and Alahambra into the Well At The Center Of Time, where the Barbarian sees visions of the past until he's able to break his bonds and get the two of them to safety…but in this timeline, the rotted rope snaps, sending Conan plummeting into the "black Well of Stars"! He dives in, and into New York City in July 1977, where his appearance sets off an electric shock that blasts power plant Indian Point and lands Conan in the middle of a busy Greenwich Village!

The curious Conan walks off to survey this mysterious new land, drawing strange looks and meeting the rock group Grope, which he scares off with his sword and "elvish" talk. As the hungry hunk peruses a grocery-store window, a silly old crone hits him with her pocketbook for having his "bare bejeesuz hangin' out," so he deposits her into a nearby garbage can, which in turn brings the police, who fire a warning shot that sends the Cimmerian up a wall and a block or two away. There me meets a "horseless chariot" in the form of a taxi cab, which he tries to slay with his sword! Out pops red-headed female cabbie Danette, who puts Conan into her cab and away from the cops, into Brooklyn.  Meanwhile, a second and third lightning bolt strike power lines across New York, causing power outages everywhere. At Danette's apartment, Conan the Comforter kisses the upset "attractive mortal" just as the lights go out, which leads to more intimate relations. Later, Conan awakes to the sound of looters, hopping down the fire escape to confront them, literally tossing the hooligans out and toppling a Volkswagen Beetle for good measure.

The next day, after much looting throughout the boroughs, Danette decides to help Conan out by looking through books of landmarks, and he recognizes an upside down picture of the Guggenheim Art Museum as the Citadel! The pair drives there, where an armed heist is in progress, naturally. The bad guys wing Conan in the shoulder and shoot Dan in the back, which sets Conan into a killing rage! From impaling one with his sword to tossing one off the stories-high ramps, to crushing one's skull with a piece of sculpture, Conan uses all his skills. Back to Danette, and the comely cabbie gives the warrior her beret, and he gives her his armband, each to remember the other by, as he heads to the rooftop, where the answer to the mystery may lie! Indeed, as the lightning crackles around him, a bolt sends Conan back to his time and Akbitana, where he has a token to remember the damsel Danette. -Joe Tura      

Joe: The cover says it all for both Conan fans and What If? groupies: "AT LAST!! The most-requested, longest-awaited, and most controversial tale ever, of the WORLD'S MOST SAVAGE HERO!!" Skull the Slayer? Nah, it's the cut-like-a-brick-outhouse Cimmerian, in one of the few CTB-related books I actually owned once upon a time, and with good reason. There's so much to like here, from the dense, devilish, and dynamic Roy script to the vibrant, moody, and solid-as-the-citadel-rock artwork from Big John B. and Ernie Chan. And I know my summary was super-duper long, but it's a comic where a lot happens (albeit not much in the way of plot to be honest), and it seemed necessary to describe the fish-out-of-water tale. Well maybe more of a shark-out-of-water based on the kicking ass and taking names Conan does of the less-than-lovable looters and annoying museum robbers.

So many little things make this a cracker-jack comic book that nitpicking anything seems needless. Like the tin pitcher Shamash wears on his head—but at least he can get a drink any time he wants! Or the horrible aim on everyone except the cop who fired a "warning shot." Note Conan's aim when he tosses the sword into a bad guy's gut is (pardon the pun) dead on! But who cares, let's just enjoy the beauty of ravishing redhead Danette (I guess I really have always had a thing for the flame tresses), the derring-do of the warrior king, the nifty little cameo from Peter Parker and Mary Jane on page 17, the coincidences that always drive such stories as this, and the endless yet always interesting narration by the Watcher throughout nearly every panel. Especially for the pages of What If?, this was an intelligent, thorough, and simply terrific tale that--upon a second reading 37 years later--can be called one of the best issues of this title ever.

Chris: This story had been hinted-at and talked-about in letters pages for months; the cover acknowledges the delay between first reports and final delivery, as the cover blurb refers to this as the “longest awaited” installment of What If?.  I don’t know what accounted for the holdup, whether it was the daunting volume of John Buscema’s workload, or whether Roy simply was a bit stumped for a good story-angle.  “Oh, I know,” says a trying-but-failing-assistant editor, “You could have Conan battle Thoth-Amon in Times Square!”  Well no, thinks Roy; this tale will involve as little as possible of the usual scheming kings, duplicitous sorcerers, and devil-creatures.  The city-wide blackout of July 1977 affords Roy a rich backdrop, as the five boroughs not only are plunged into darkness, but also descend into barbaric behaviors.   

Interesting choice by Roy to permit Conan some moments of consideration and compassion, which extend to his efforts to avoid killing the furniture-store looters, as he tries to comply with Danette’s request (well, as much as he can understand of it, that is).  Roy places the requisite blood-letting scene at the end, as Conan smites the would-be Guggenheim thieves; the action is furious, although it does feel a bit tacked-on.  Bonus points to Roy as he elects not to resort to the tired device of some mysterious spell which allows Conan and Dan to speak the same language; it’s far more compelling to watch as they struggle to grasp each other’s meaning, and occasionally achieve moments of connection. 

Matthew: Man, I sure hope Professor Tom is weighing in on this one, even if he doesn’t take the point.  I felt I was at a bit of a disadvantage, coming into it without being a Conan reader, yet paradoxically, I think it’s quite likely the greatest issue of What If? ever—faint praise though that may be—and I appreciated that they didn’t wimp out and have the Cimmerian merely “subdue” the bad guys.  I was singularly impressed that despite the unusual premise, they not only maintained the traditional What If? structure of diverging from events established in his own mag AND drafted the Conan Dream Team, Thomas and Buscema (I’m assuming Chan is an acceptable Alcala-fallback), but also interpolated the “perfect storm” of the ’77 N.Y.C. blackout.

Tom: Conan traveling to the future? Not much of a stretch since he has already traveled to the past in his own series, meeting the long-dead King Kull in #68 (November 1976). That was one of the Marvel Feature crossover issues. So we had Red Sonja in the mix as well.

The Rascally One keeps things at a street level, pitting the Cimmerian against looters and thieves — occupations he’s had himself at one point or another. Roy could have made the decision to let him loose on some type of appropriate Marvel villain/hero of the day. I dunno, Sauron? Or, Jebus help us, Doctor Druid? But The Rascally One sticks to his swords and does what he would basically do if this tale took place in a Conan annual or some other special edition: make it as faithful as possible to the Robert E. Howard tradition. However, the looters are the most multicultural that the barbarian would ever encounter: there was a fat old white guy in the mix. He was chomping on a stogie, so perhaps he was a dirty Mafia type. And come on, it couldn’t be luckier that our hero faced off against the thieves who couldn’t shoot straight. Even at point-blank range. “Let’s wing him in the shoulder!!!”

Tom: Plus, when Conan first arrives in Manhattan, he walks around for five pages before bumping into a running automobile. Really? Roy lived in New York City right? Totally lame. He does meet a ridiculous, Kiss-like punk group. Ugh. Love them both, but Roy and Big John show what musical squares they are by lumping Kiss in with punk rock. If The Sex Pistols ran into Kiss, they would all slap at each other like ninnies until Gene came up with another marketing opportunity — or Sid and Ace stumbled off to do dope. But perhaps Thomas and Buscema were laying the groundwork for a Super Special featuring Grope.

But all that meant nothing. A huge, corn-on-the-cob-eating grin spread over my ugly mug when I realized that The Watcher’s set-up was based on The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #7 (August 1975). Roy Thomas, you magnificent bastard, are a genius of yourself. Once again, he moves his Hyborian chess pieces into perfect position. That totally memorable issue was one of the high points of the magazine’s entire run of the 1970s — and a remarkable artistic achievement by the unparalleled team of John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala to boot. Check it out if you don’t believe me. By Crom, for that aspect only, Roy Thomas earns another hearty Bravo!

Mark: Let's leave it to our Cimmerian scholar, Professor Tom, to wax rhapsodic over Roy's clever tie-ins to his own oeuvre. As an embattled What If? reader, I'll rhapsodize over a ripping good yarn - convenient lack of vehicular traffic notwithstanding - in a book known for bunkum. 

Roy's "well at the center of time" is as good a gimmick as any to get Conan to '70s New York, where said travel contributes to the 1977 blackout, allowing our barbarian to stalk through Naked City in darkness. Assaulted by an old lady for running "...around with your bare bejeesuz hangin' out..." he deposits the crone in a trashcan. He's shot at by cops (we'll forego comments about NYC's finest being trigger happy around people of color) before running into sexy cab driver Danette - and attempting to disembowel her cab.

They get frisky, then Conan goes Guardian Angel on looters before being returned to his own time from the top of the Guggenheim. Oh, he also foiled an art theft there. Danette got shot by the crooks, but 'tis only a flesh wound.

Art lovers get a treat as John Buscema (inked by Ernie Chan) does yeoman work on his signature character. Conan gets to spread his seed across the centuries and Danny's cap as a souvenir. And WI? readers get a high point in an anemic series that's unlikely to be topped.

By Crom, enjoy it! 

The X-Men 118
"The Submergence of Japan"
Story by John Byrne and Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Ricardo Villamonte
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski

For six weeks, the X-Men have been passengers on the Japanese freighter Jinguchi Maru after being rescued from a monsoon while sailing from the Savage Land. Now, as they approach port, they see the city of Agarashima engulfed in flames. The X-Men rush over to assist the populace and find the city has been evacuated thanks to an early warning. They head toward the mansion of X-Men ally, Sunfire, who angrily confronts them when they arrive. However, Misty Knight talks him down and they are allowed in. After a time, Cyclops, unable to speak Japanese, feels useless in discussions of the crisis. He finds a phone and tries to call Professor X, only to discover the number was disconnected. Unknown to Cyclops, the professor has left Earth with Lilandra. Meanwhile, Wolverine seeks quiet in the garden and meets Sunfire’s cousin Mariko and is instantly taken with her delicate beauty. There is another sudden earthquake and everyone evacuates only to run into a trio of Mandroids. The X-Men defeat them but are confronted by a hologram of the man who has caused all of this: Moses Magnum, Master of the Magnum Force. He demands the Prime Minister make him the ruler of Japan or in 24 hours, he will sink the entire country. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: With Ricardo Villamonte stepping in for Terry Austin on inks this issue, the art isn’t quite up to its usual perfection. This is the first thing that hit me opening this issue. The smoothness, and some detail, is gone. I was also very relieved that this wasn’t a Godzilla crossover or something. Sunfire is still an insufferable prick, but the Wolverine bits are amazing. Byrne loved this character and so do I. I really enjoy how they sprinkle little bits of his personality here and there. We learn that he speaks and reads Japanese and has been to Japan before. Such a great way to sustain interest in a character who was originally just an obnoxious madman. Otherwise, this is just a pretty standard story. It’s a great Marvel comic of the era, but for this run, it’s merely average. Moses Magnum does nothing for me.

Chris: Len Wein had the right idea to nominate Sunfire for a role with the new X-Men; we’re reminded right away, though, how thankful we all can be that he turned X-membership down.  Chris Claremont takes a page from Roy Thomas as he pulls Mandroids out of mothballs; the team has had its share of experience working against Sentinels (granted, not world-class Sentinels, but still), so it’s gratifying to see how well they’re able to work together to dispatch the Mandroids here.

Claremont has been allowing more and more exposure for Wolverine in recent issues, revealing a more complete character.  We see a different side to him again here, in an uncharacteristically quiet moment as he seeks solitude in the garden, and meets Mariko; nice touch by Claremont as Wolverine, who already realizes he has unintentionally surprised Mariko, thoughtfully recognizes he should be careful not to “spook her” (p 17, pnl 1).   Byrne contributes to the delicate meeting, as he pictures Wolverine sitting nearby, but not too close, while Mariko faces the intriguing foreigner, but still sits back, to maintain distance between her and this alien (p 17, pnl 2).  Once the ground starts to heave, Wolverine springs to action as he slashes the falling tree, but also shields Mariko with his body (p 22).  Lastly, classic Wolverine as he slashes open the Mandroid’s headpiece, revealing the shocked operator (p 27).

I cringed when I read the credits, and saw that Ricardo Villamonte somehow is the “guest inker”; if I’d ever heard Villamonte was coming by to guest-ink my title, I’d hang a sign reading “No Vacancy.”  Most of my misgivings about Villamonte stem from the shaky pages he submitted for the end of Avengers #177, and the simply horrendous job he did on Avengers Annual #8.  But then, I recall Villamonte’s finishes for Byrne on MTU #69 weren’t bad, so either Byrne still was providing fairly complete pencils at this time, or Villamonte had a better idea of how to finish Byrne than he did for other pencillers; either that, or we simply dodged a bullet with his inks this time, and we can thank the great gods of Shi’ar that Terry Austin will return next issue.  

Matthew:  This mag not only gets better and better, but also looks better and better next to the downward spiral of much of Marvel’s other output, and neither guest-inker Villamonte, the Mandroids, nor Moses Magnum can put a damper on this one.  The double-spread on pages 2-3 alone (its title sure to inspire a woody for Professor Gilbert) says it all:  word and image nail the characters perfectly, with Logan opting out of the green sweaters borrowed from the crew and Kurt clinging to a pole; Glynis socks us with the blood-red sky above the fire; Orz’s lettering puts many in his profession to shame.  Sunfire lives down to his rep as a total dick, the ladies of Nightwing are always welcome, and we get the first inkling of Wolverine’s affinity for Japanese.

Mark: Among its other abundant virtues, I love how Claremont is writing the book as a serial; various battles end and obstacles are overcome against the backdrop of longer, slowly unfolding storylines. The only equivalent examples I can think of offhand are Lee and Kirby on peak Fantastic Four, circa '65-'66, and Lee and Ditko's early Hulk stories in Tales to Astonish

Here, John Byrne's double-splash of a city aflame sets the high stakes. And if the art throughout suffers slightly in the absence of regular inker Terry Austin, the drop off is so minimal that only a nitpicker or someone contractually obligated (I'm both) would complain.

Sunfire's greeting to his eX-teammates ("Arrest them, Captain!") seems unnecessarily dickish, but since I haven't read the early rebooted issues since they were published, it may be in character. We learn Wolverine knows Japanese and the first syllable of his name. Charles and Lilandra continue their amorous encounters (apply reverb) IN SPACE! Our heroes make quick work of the Mandroids (obviously not upgraded since the Kree-Skull war), and Colossus gets some of his mojo back by de-wheeling a fleeing semi. We end with Moses Magnum's threat to "sink Japan!" and on Christmas Eve, no less. 

Scrooge has nothing on MM, lemme tell ya... 

So, class, by the mag's high standards of eXcellence, this one might be graded as low as a B-, merely effective connective tissue, spiced with a juicy personal detail or two. But if you grade on a curve that encompasses the sorry, sagging state of the Marvel U at large, it's all smiley faces and gold stars.

Also This Month

Crazy 47
The Flintstones 9 (Final Issue)
The Human Fly 18
Kid Colt Outlaw 228
Marvel Super Action 12
Marvel Triple Action 46
Scooby-Doo 9 (Final Issue)
Shogun Warriors 1

Marvel Tales 100
Two-Gun Kid and Hawkeye in
"Killers of a Purple Rage!"
Story by Scott Edelman
Art by Michael Netzer and Terry Austin
Colours by Mary Titus
Letters by Dom Balardi

Two-Gun Kid and Hawkeye are enjoying a horseback ride in the desert when the ground opens up below them and they find themselves in the subterranean hidey-hole of The Purple Man. Killgrave is contemplating his return to villainy and cooking up ways to befuddle Daredevil (this story takes place before the events of Daredevil 147, we're helpfully told) when the two heroes make their tumbling entrance. The Purple Man immediately uses his powers to pit Hawkeye against the Kid but, luckily, the wild west hero has trained his horse, Nancy, to do more than just rodeo tricks and The Purple Man  perishes in a terrific blast. Or does he? Not much reason for this six-page bit of nonsense and not much reason to read it, now that I think about it but then, we here at the University pride ourselves on covering every little bit of originality that was pumped out of the House of Ideas, don't we? So, why is this thing included along with a reprint of The Amazing Spider-Man 123 (August 1973)? Well, as Roger Stern explains, this was yet another of those "shelf stories" that was commissioned "partly to audition new talent and partly to help ease some deadline crunches." Stern, who was, at the time, editor of the reprint line, goes on to explain that the powers-that-be wanted the anniversary issue padded out so they could slap a higher price on it. Oh, and that art? Pretty good! This was, by the way, a landmark issue in that it was the second time the same Marvel title had reached 100 issues (well, technically, the first volume had seen its first 92 issues as Marvel Mystery Tales before truncating the title and lasting a further 66 issues before being laid to rest in 1957). This incarnation of MT would survive a whopping 291 issues! -Peter Enfantino


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 37
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“Sons of the White Wolf”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by Sal Buscema and Rudy Nebres

“Moon of Skulls, Part Two”
Script by Don Glut
Art by David Wenzel

“Swords and Scrolls”

Since his big brother is tied up with this month’s Conan Super Special, Sal Buscema strides into the fray for Roy Thomas’ adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “Son of the White Wolf,” originally published in the December 1936 issue of Thrilling Adventure. Roy changes “Son” to “Sons” — which makes total sense — and the main character from El Borak to our beloved Cimmerian. It’s a pretty decent issue, definitely superior to the simultaneous Special.

In the remote Turian outpost of Ashraf, Commander Mahal wakes to find that his soldiers — all Hyrkanian mercenaries — have mutinied, tired of fighting King Yezdigerd’s battles for little glory and low pay. Their leader, Mahal’s second-in-command Oshmann, who has christened himself the Executioner, vows that his men will now follow the outlawed ways of the ancient White Wolf clan from the time of King Kull and create a new master race of warrior conquerors. After killing the outraged commander, the frenzied Hyrkanians ride on the trading-city of Djemal: they slaughter everyone in sight, including the elderly and children, many from their own country. However, all young women, including Lady Alondra, the beautiful, red-haired wife of the murdered Mahal, are dragged away for breeding purposes.

To the east, Conan, leader of the fierce Kozak nomads, is riding to form an allegiance with the pirates of the inland Sea of Vilayet. Along the way, he comes across the gravely wounded Hauran, a former Kozak and victim of the Djemal massacre. When the man finally dies, the Cimmerian vows revenge. He tracks the Hyrkanian fanatics to the Well of Adhmet: sneaking into the camp, the barbarian makes off with Alondra and they race away on his camel to meet up with his Kozaks to eventually crush the White Wolf uprising. Along the way, they stop at the Well of Sulimar to refill their water sacks and take a refreshing swim. But unknown to the Conan, a gargantuan lobster lurks in the pool’s depths: after a brief struggle, he kills the crustacean with a rock. Exhausted, the Cimmerian drags himself on shore — he and Alondra make love that night.

The next morning, they continue on to the Well of Harith, the meeting place with his Kozaks. But his warriors are not what they find waiting: instead, a band of Juhanna nomads — vicious enemies of the Kozaks — are drinking from the well. Calmly, Conan approaches, leading Alondra on his camel. The nomads recognize him instantly but their leader, Betkal Tor, orders them to stand down as the Cimmerian tells the tale of the renegade Hyrkanians’ bloody rampage: if they murdered their own kind, wouldn’t the insane army of the White Wolf do the same to the Juhanna’s unguarded families and herds? Betkal Tor agrees and his men prepare for the arrival of the cultists by stoning up the well: when the thirsty Hyrkanians are forced to remove the rocks, they will be easy picking for the nomad’s arrows.

Conan and Betkal Tor’s men conceal themselves in the hills around the well — the banners of the White Wolf soon approach from the distance. But when the Hyrkanians arrive, Oshmann the Executioner commands that they search the surrounding area before entering the outpost. Their plan foiled, the Juhannas let loose their arrows. But when the fanatics begin slaughtering their female hostages, the nomads are driven into a frenzy and rush forward, scimitars flashing in the sun. While the tolls are heavy on either side, Betkal Tor is one of the fallen, Conan and his temporary allies finally overrun the Hyrkanians — the Cimmerian decapitates Oshmann before he can kill Lady Alondra in a last-ditch effort for revenge.

At 46 pages, “Sons of the White Wolf” has a lot to recommend. First, like him or not, Savage Sword regular Rudy Nebres is on hand to give Our Pal Sal’s pencils a similar look to his older brother’s — if you passed by the credits, you might have assumed they are the work of Big John, always a good thing. And the White Wolf cultists are a frightening lot. Sure, they were not much of a match for Conan and his savage Juhanna mates, but the slaughter at Djemal was truly horrifying. And it got worse: while trailing the radicals, Conan came across the bodies of newborns that some of the woman had hid in their robes. Throughout the entire story, their fanaticism was unsettling. They are bloodthirsty jihadists with little regard for human life — even their own. Conan’s bloodlust is set on high this issue as well: after the killing of his friend Hauran, he grumbles “I will kill them all” on multiple occasions.

The giant lobster did call for some suspension of disbelief: how the heck did that thing wind up in an oasis in the middle of the desert? Highly unlikely. And it must have been feeding on something to get that large, so I’m sure that news of its existence would have gotten around. There’s a little subplot that involved Betkal Tor’s black slave Hassah: he was to kill Conan whether the battle was won or not. But Hassah was one of the first Juhannas to fall so that was the end of that. Now some might consider Alondra a bit of a hussy for sleeping with the Cimmerian when the body of her husband is still warm: but it’s revealed that theirs was a marriage of convenience. And Conan is Conan of course.

Now the last time we had a Solomon Kane story was issue #34: three months later, we finally get Part Two of “Moon of Skulls.” But this brief, six-page chapter barely moves the story along — and two of the pages recap Part One. In Africa searching for a young girl named Marylin who had been sold into slavery, the somber Puritan tracks her to the lost city of Negari, the domain of the legendary vampire queen Nakari. When he finds Marylin in Nakari’s bedchamber, the seductive vampire soon enters the room and Kane is tricked into falling through a trap door, knocked unconscious below. That’s it. Seriously. I think even the amazingly thorough Professor Gilbert will be hard pressed to find much to say about this installment. It’s like Editor Roy realized that this issue was six pages short, threw up his hands and just plugged in a remnant of what Don Glut and David Wenzel had already completed. The art is fine, but Wenzel’s figures remain awkward. We’ll have to wait until The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #39 for the conclusion: at 19 pages, there should be more meat on the bone. For Gilbert at least.

There are no editorial pieces this issue, but the “Swords and Scrolls” letters page does include a sample of the daily Conan the Barbarian newspaper strip. At this point, Ernie Chan had taken over for the woefully overworked John Buscema. -Tom Flynn

Marvel Super Special 9: 
The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian
Cover Art by John Buscema

“The Trail of the Bloodstained God”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga

“Uncle Crom Wants You”
Text by Don and Maggie Thompson

“A Chronology of the Conan Comics: From the Nemedian Chronicles as Interpreted by Marvel”
Text by Jim Neal
“Day of the Red Judgment”
Script by Roy Thomas and Christy Marx
Art by Howard Chaykin

The Super Special returns to the Hyborian age with Roy Thomas’ adaptation of The Blood-Stained God, the 1955 Conan novella first published in the Gnome Press collection Tales of Conan. Basically, L. Sprague de Camp took Robert E. Howard’s unfinished Kirby O'Donnell story “The Curse of the Crimson God,” swapped in Conan and Bob’s your uncle. This month’s regular Savage Sword  magazine actually gives you more bang for just a buck, but if you did decide to pony up the extra 50¢, you got full color — though it’s not as vibrant as past Marvel Color releases — an interesting Red Sonja backup, and two text pieces, one that could be the best I’ve encountered so far in a Conan magazine.

Tracking some bandits he only knows by name who stole his map to the location of the priceless Statue of the Bloodstained God, Conan finds himself once again in Arenjun, City of Thieves. Stalking the back alleys, he hears the sounds of torture: peering in a window, he spies a group of men dropping hot coals on the chest of a Kezankian tribesman. Knowing that the God is located somewhere in the Kezank’s homeland — a savage region forbidden to all outsiders — the Cimmerian decides that the victim can be of some use. He bursts into the room and, after slaying some of the torturers, make his escape with the tribesman. The Kezankian rushes off ahead and climbs a wall: Conan follows but is struck from behind by a thrown stool. Dazed, he tumbles over the other side of the wall, landing groggily at the feet of an adventurer named Sassan. A friendly fellow, the man reveals that he too is after the Bloodstained God, and that the gang the Cimmerian just encountered were led by Zyras of Corinthia and Arshak, a disinherited Turanian prince. The barbarian realizes immediately that these are the thieves he has been searching for. Conan and Sassan decide to join forces and ride after the gang: they have raced out of Arenjun towards the Kezankian Mountains — and the treasure.

Following the trail left behind by their prey, Conan and Sassan are soon ambushed by a group of Kezankian warriors, led by their brutal leader Keraspa. They narrowly manage to escape, but Sassan’s horse is killed: he jumps on the back of the Cimmerian’s steed. With Keraspa and his men in hot pursuit, the new allies quickly ride into another ambush, this time by Zyras, Arshak and their Zamorian henchmen. When Arshak sees the Kezankians approaching in the distance, he agrees to let Conan and Sassan join them in their hiding places: perhaps their combined forces can repel the desert raiders. And that they do, but only the barbarian, Sassan and Zyras remain alive before Keraspa finally orders a retreat. 

After Zyras reluctantly returns the stolen map, the survivors ride on, agreeing to share the  treasure. The next morning, they come upon the Temple of the Bloodstained God, an ancient, mound-like structure carved into a mountain peak. Sassan rushes forward and tries to open the huge, bronze doors but one suddenly falls forward from the top, crushing him — Conan leaps and jams the mechanism with Sassan’s spear before it can swing back up and close. In the center of the temple, a 15-foot bottomless chasm on its left side, stands the Bloodstained God, a man-sized bronze statue of a troll, draped in gold and rubies. Predictably, Zyras attacks the Cimmerian from behind — to his ultimate regret. As the victorious barbarian ponders how to manage removing the statue by himself, Keraspa arrives with the only one of his men not wounded: Rustum, the Kezankian Conan saved from torture yesterday. After Rustum refuses to attack his rescuer, Keraspa kills his mutinous tribesman with an arrow.

Suddenly, the toad-like God lurches to life and tosses Keraspa into the chasm to his horrifying death. Conan hefts a heavy brazier and knocks the living statue’s head off its shoulder — but the creaking creature continues to  advance. The Cimmerian bashes the God in the chest with the brazier and it clumsily tumbles into the abyss. Conan rides off, satisfied that the treasure he discovered was his own life.

Not a bad tale, but not much about the 34-page “The Trail of the Bloodstained God” stands out. My main beef is with the setup: the theft of the map. Now why does Conan know the thieves’ names but not their faces? Was he sleeping off a bender when they lifted it from him and a snitch witnessed the dirty deed? Or temporarily blind? Were they invisible and taunted him? “Nah, nah, it’s us, Zyras and Arshak!” Who knows. Perhaps Robert E. and L. Sprague didn’t offer an explanation in the original. But Roy Thomas could have come up with something in short order: he’s rarely 100% accurate with his adaptations and more than entitled by now. It feels like we are missing a vital piece of information right from the start. I rather enjoyed the art and always welcome DeZuniga’s dark contributions to Big John’s fierce pencils. The story does have a fair share of lopped hands and heads so that’s a plus. And I smiled when one of the Kezankians tried Jack Walsh’s old trick from Midnight Run: “Marvin, look out!” Sassan falls for it and turns around but it takes much more than that to pull one over on the Cimmerian. The jokester is quickly sliced and diced. Plus, Sassan’s sudden death was totally unexpected. But I was hoping for a yarn above and beyond what would appear in a regular issue of Savage Sword since this is supposed to be a “deluxe” format magazine. Come to think of it, I said something similar when I reviewed Super Special #2, the first appearance of Conan in this series.

The 15-page “Day of the Red Judgment” puts a new spin on the origin of Red Sonja, which first appeared in Kull and the Barbarians #3. That story was illustrated by Howard Chaykin, so it’s nicely appropriate that he’s on hand here. Christy Marx, the creator of, yikes, Jem and the Holograms, collaborates with Roy, something she had already done on the girl-power misfire “Child of Sorcery” from Savage Sword #29. 

Returning to her childhood home of Hyrkania, Red Sonja feels strangely drawn to a mysterious mountain range. Finding a cave, she climbs man-made steps and comes across a door: opening it, she enters a room filled with bronze-skinned, heavily-armed men and woman, all with fiery red hair like her own. Shouting that Sonja is the Pale Destroyer, the weird warriors swarm the She-Devil and toss her in a cell. That night, a young woman named Zora steals into her prison with food and wine — and a remarkable story.

According to Zora, the cave dwellers are known as The Favored, a race created by Tamil, the Red Goddess, to slay the bestial Drommach who also live in the mountain. One day, a Pale Destroyer will arise and lead them to final death and everlasting glory. Sonja herself is one of The Favored, but born with white skin instead of bronze: her parents used dyes to hide her identity as the Destroyer. But they were discover and killed, Sonja abandoned in the caves to be devoured by the Drommach. But somehow the baby survived — and has now returned. Incredulous, the Hyrkanian refuses to believe the story, claiming that her parents were simple farmers.

After Zora takes her leave, Sonja is dragged before the huge statue of Tamil to be sacrificed — the icon is the same image of the one that visited her after her parents were slain. But before the swordswoman can be beheaded, the ape-like Drommach attack and The Favored rush off leaving Sonja alone in the temple. Raging at the statue, the She-Devil cuts free the stone ball-and-chain around her ankle and swings it at the Goddess: it collapses to reveal that its reverse side was facing another temple and carved into an image of the Drommach. Enraged that the “two-faced bitch” set race against race for all these years, Sonja rushes to join the battle outside. When the blood settles, she and an injured Zora are the only survivors. The woman warrior slings the young woman over her shoulder and they make their escape as the mountain crumbles around them.

I’m not sure if this is what you’d call a reboot, a revisionist history, or what, but “Day of the Red Judgment” adds a lot more depth, dimension and mysticism to Red Sonja’s simple, revenge-based origin. I’ve always run hot and cold with Howard Chaykin and this effort is on the chilly side. It’s just way too sloppy and stylized. Beat me if the Drommach are supposed to look like apes or wolfmen. The colors are very murky as well. But there are quite a few effective panels so it’s not all bad, especially those that feature the Tamil icon. Now I’ll always have a warm spot for the Red Sonja comics — at least the issues drawn by Freaky Frank Thorne — so it’s nice to see the sassy lass here, considering that there are only two more to go in her own series. In all, an above average back up, much better than the Solomon Kane stuff over in Savage Sword. Sorry Professor Gilbert.

This Super Special also includes a pair of text pieces, something that’s becoming a rarity in Savage Sword. Don and Maggie Thompson’s 4-page “Uncle Crom Wants You” is a feature on The Hyborian Legion, a “fan club” in the vein of Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars. Members included Martin Greenberg, owner of the aforementioned Gnome Press, and L. Sprague de Camp. It sounds like anyone could join, and for the $2.50 membership fee you got a bronze badge, a parchment certificate with your Hyborian name and a copy of the Conan fanzine Amra. Sounds like a good deal but the Legion still bit the dust in 1968.

To me at least, the best thing about this magazine is the 4-page “A Chronology of the Conan Comics: From the Nemedian Chronicles as Interpreted by Marvel” by Jim Neal. Mr. Neal must have put a considerable amount of time and effort into this article since he arranges, and comments on, every Conan story from the Marvel canon into chronological order — and as we know, there are a ton at this point. He includes all the tales from Conan the BarbarianGiant-Size Conan, and the annuals as well as everything from the magazines, including Savage Tales and Savage Sword— but, for some reason, not the two Super Specials. And since there was a Conan/Red Sonja crossover in Marvel Feature #7, he includes that one as well. It’s an amazing roadmap, running from “Conan the Callow Youth” to “Conan the King.” By Crom, not sure that I will ever find the need to reference this article, but it’s fabulous to know that it exists.

Sad to say, John Buscema’s painted cover is a bit of a stinker. Conan and Sonja’s faces look completely distorted. The big guy should stick with the 
                                       pencils. -Tom Flynn

The Hulk! 13
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“Season of Terror”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Ron Wilson and Bob McLeod

“The Big Blackmail”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Bill Sienkiewicz

“Readers Rampage”

It’s a supremely sad commentary that we are reviewing a Marvel Super-Color magazine with front-cover copy that could still work 38 years later: “Ripped from Today’s Headlines: The Titan and the Terrorists.” Seems that this type of insidious inspiration will never go away.

Following last issue’s racially charged misfire, the 31-page “Season of Terror” finds Bruce Banner still in Chicago. After he reads a newspaper article about a Swiss scientist who has found a way to eliminate radiation poisoning in living organisms, he boards a flight to the land of tulips and Toblerone. Banner takes his seat next to an elderly woman named Mildred Shaw: she is traveling to Zurich for a “miracle cure” as well, a last chance to finally eliminate her cancer. When the plane makes a stop in Frankfurt, West Germany, two men and a woman board — all three are terrorists. After retrieving their automatic weapons from the cargo hold, they commandeer the plane and demand 5 million dollars and the release of their comrades. 

However, the pilots are accidentally shot and the plane plummets towards the Alps. Bruce transforms into the Hulk and smashes through the fuselage, landing on a rocky peak below. As the jetliner bears down on him, the green goliath thinks he is under attack: he leaps up and forces the plane upward and over the mountains where it crashes into a thick forest. Most passengers are either dead or gravely injured, only Ms. Shaw and the female terrorist are unscathed. After transforming back, Banner arrives at the crash site and convinces the radicals to let him give the survivors medical attention. Mildred — after telling Bruce that the dense and tall trees will obscure the wreckage from any of the search planes above — decides to sneak away and find help: she is quickly gunned down by the female terrorist. 

Enraged, Banner turns into his gamma-radiated alter ego. The Hulk crushes the two male terrorists with one of the plane’s detached wings and pummels the woman with the battering wind of a mighty swat. Foggily remembering Mildred’s concern that the jet is hidden among the trees, he orders the survivors to get back inside the plane and lifts the wreckage to clear sight on a stone outcropping. Help soon arrives to find Banner cradling the corpse of Mildred Shaw.

I’m writing this in early August, making the sickening events that took place in France and Florida — and it seems everywhere else — fairly fresh. So I’m really not in the mood to take Doug Moench to task on the shortcomings of this story. Besides, the inclusion of the cheerful old biddy Mildred Shaw should tip everyone off on the strings this story fails to pull. Lazily, none of the terrorists are given a name: neither is their cause. They are all white so perhaps that’s original. Banner and the woman have a three-page debate over the rights and wrongs of terrorism. It’s filled with tired clichés, with no moving or convincing thought in the heated discussion. But Bob McLeod is on hand, so the art is easily the best we’ve seen in this mediocre series. The panel where Hulk swats the woman is almost Starlinesque. I’m not sure if we are to think that Jade Jaws killed her and the two male terrorists — it’s hard to tell. As usual, the painted colors are incredibly vibrant.

“The Big Blackmail” continues the convoluted “Graven Image of Death” storyline that began in issue 11. A corpulent creep named Smelt is showing his shadowy boss a slide show about Moon Knight: his alter egos — mercenary Marc Spector, millionaire Steven Grant, cab driver Jake Lockley — his associates — Marlene, Frenchie — and his weaponry — grappling hook, truncheon, crescent throwing darts. At his mansion, Grant prepares to change into Moon Knight, the “courier” who will deliver a half a million dollars for the Horus Statuette to the terrorists — them again — working with the Chilean ambassador Alphonse LeRoux. But before he does, the playboy dons his Jake Lockley persona and visits his snitch Crawley: the homeless man reveals that the terrorists are preparing to highjack a truck after the exchange. 

At the handoff, the terrorists attempt a double cross but Moon Knight easily subdues the Hispanic men: strangely, he takes the statue but leaves the money behind. When they all come to — surprised that the Knight didn’t take the suitcase filled with cash — the terrorist leader tells a man named Ruiz to deliver a letter to Gracie Mansion. Later that evening, the terrorists do indeed highjack a truck: but heavily armed guards lie in wait in the trailer. However, in another strange turn of events, Marc Spector bursts on the scene and blasts the guards with a machine gun: since protected by bulletproof vests, they are not killed but knocked unconscious. Spector lies and claims to be the terrorist’s backup, hired by LeRoux. While suspicious, the Latinos unload the truck — the mercenary is shocked to see that the cargo is forty pounds of plutonium waste. 

Meanwhile at Gracie Mansion, the mayor receives the terrorists’ letter: it demands one billion dollars or New York will be destroyed by a nuclear detonation. Back at the highjacking, Spector is dumbfounded when someone pretending to be Moon Knight appears and vows to “root out a rotten apple.”  In his medieval castle, Smelt’s boss strides into the light: he is Lupinar the Wolf, a fanged and clawed swashbuckler who claims to be the puppetmaster of the night’s odd proceedings.

While I’m growing a bit weary of this multi-part story, the 20-page “The Big Blackmail” is a landmark of sorts: it features the debut of Bill Sienkiewicz, the man who would become Moon Knight’s signature artist. Like many of the Marvel newbies of ’78 and ’79 — I’m thinking guys like Mike Zeck and John Romita, Jr. — Sienkiewicz takes some time to round into brilliant form. I’ve read that Bill’s early work was inspired by Neal Adams. While you can certainly make that case, I see a heavy Mike Grell influence. While a tad awkward, the art is pretty solid and often dynamic, but blocks away from his later loose and phantasmagoric style. As with the Hulk main feature, the colors are rich and deep.

However, Moench continues to operate in a haphazard style, as if he’s making things up to fill out the page count. “What if this happened? And then this?” I can understand why Moon Knight leaves the cash behind: he wants to see what the terrorists are up to. But can’t he just follow them in the Mooncopter instead of bringing Marc Spector into play? And the fake Moon Knight at the end? I dunno Doug, not very confident that things will gel successfully. I felt obliged to play with the Lupinar/Smelt slideshow: while Doug had the subplot popping up in a tiresome manner every other page or so throughout the entire story, I packed it all into the beginning of my synopsis. Plus, I left out a brief sequence that featured Wolf practicing his fencing with some punkish underlings. Lupinar looks a bit silly with his thigh-high Solomon Kane boots, Kiss-like codpiece and longhaired wolfen visage.

Speaking of lycanthropes, Moench pays tribute to his earlier series Werewolf By Night, referencing that Jack Russell bit the Knight so his strength increases in the moonlight. Guess it’s true, but that’s the first time that Doug has mentioned that “superpower” in the pages of this magazine.  A totally odd ommitance. Plus, Doug pulls a character from the pages of the Moonie stories in Marvel Spotlight #28 and #29 (June and August 1976) by having Smelt acquire the slides “from a jerk who called
himself Conquer-Lord.” Now that’s a name that will make you jump up in your seat. Well, maybe if you were at a showing of William Castle’s The Tingler. “Graven Image of Death” wraps up next time and, disappointedly, I’ll be somewhat relieved. -Tom Flynn

On Moon KnightTaken in context, this is a rather curious animal.  Certainly the fact that it marked the advent of future superstar artist Sienkiewicz explains why, despite being the third installment of a four-part arc, it was selected to kick off the three-issue 1983-4 Moon Knight Special Edition from which I’m working, which connects the dots leading up to the 1980 debut of MK’s own mag by collecting all of his subsequent intermittent appearances in this one (he is, shall we say, eclipsed in #16 and 19) and Marvel Preview #21.  Yet the story itself feels like a jumping-off point for not only Bill but also readers, introducing a new villain and subplot while providing a thorough rundown of  MK’s hardware, history, identities, and supporting cast.

Since #12 fell through the crack between my Marvel Firsts and this, I’m playing catch-up on the plot, so I’ll just allow that the Moenkiewicz team—which will own MK for the next several years—does a nice job, even if neither the character nor the creators are among my favorites.  I’d normally never say this, but I actually think it’s a shame that the mag shifted from B&W to color shortly before Bill came on board, because his moody style cries out for monochrome, rather than Steve Oliff’s aggressive palette.  Inker “Rubenstein” (as he’s billed in the SE, featuring an introduction in which Shooter sings the praises of...Ralph Macchio?) does well by him on what will be Joe’s only MK outing in this mag, though he’ll be back post-blog on Moon Knight #16-7. -Matthew Bradley

1 comment:

  1. As I pointed out on another forum that presented that "What If" issue - Roy Thomas was really trying to score some brownie points by making the heroine a spunky redhead called Danette (well, at least Conan didn't meet her at an est meeting, as happened in real life).