Wednesday, October 12, 2016

March 1979 Part One: Jumbo-Sized 350th Anniversary Issue Featuring Battlestar Galactica!

Battlestar Galactica 1
"Battlestar Galactica"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Ernie Colón
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Jim Novak and Ernie Colón
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Bob McLeod

Across the galaxy, a massive peace conference is taking place in space on the battlestar Atlantia with delegates from all of the Twelve Colonies. The Cylons, a reptilian race, have sued for peace after a thousand years of war. The Colonies delegates contacted the human Baltar to broker the treaty and now they await the Cylon delegation. President Adar is toasting each of the members of the Counsil of Twelve, among them Balter and Adama, who commands the battlestar Galactica. Patrolling the perimeter are two colonial warriors in their sleek Viper fighters launched from Galactica, Apollo and Zac, both sons of Adama. Zac is nervous about this being his first patrol. Out by the moon Cimtar, they discover an abandoned fuel tanker. Just as they take a scanner reading, confirming that it’s empty of fuel, a swarm of Cylon fighters emerge and begin firing. Apollo and Zac have stumbled upon an ambush. The peace treaty is a ruse to get the entire military might of the colonies into one place. The warriors fight off as many as they can, but thousands are on their way. Communications are jammed, and Apollo knows they have to return to the fleet to give out the warning. However, Zac’s Viper takes a hit and he can’t keep up. Reluctantly, Apollo leaves Zac behind and proceeds on his own.

On the Galactica, Commander Adama has returned with his daughter Athena to the news that coms are being jammed. Adama calls the President, who is assured by Baltar that all is well. When they detect readings of ships approaching, Baltar suggests that it is a Cylon welcoming committee. Adama sees something is amiss and wants a patrol launched, but the President dismisses his concerns. Col. Tigh is angry at the bureaucracy, telling Adama both of his sons are on the same patrol. Adama, as a way of protecting the fleet and still obeying the President, orders a battle-stations drill. Zac, meanwhile, is almost home when his luck runs out: the Cylons catch up and destroy his ship. The attack has begun and each Battlestar is under heavy fire. Only the Galactica was prepared and was able to get fighters off. Apollo finally reaches the bridge and is told of his brother’s death. Still, he informs his father that there were no base ships, just fighters filled with fuel. Adama deduces that the fighters are keeping the military busy while the base ships attack their home worlds. He calls the President, but the President's ship is in flames. Just as the old man realizes Baltar is gone and they’ve all been duped, the Atlantia explodes into countless glowing splinters. Adama sets a course for Caprica, leaving the Vipers behind to defend the fleet.

On Caprica, reporter Serena is filming a story on the planned celebration of peace at the Caprica capital when the attack begins. She sees her little son Boxey and his dog-like daggit Muffey running her way. She grabs him up but Muffey is killed. They try to find shelter. A short distance away, Adama and Apollo have landed on Caprica (their original home), only to find it obliterated with no sign of Adama’s wife. Before he can spend much time mourning, a crowd of survivors arrives, along with Serena and Boxey. Just as they begin to lose hope, Adama tells them to spread the word... get into whatever ships they can find and rendezvous with the Galactica. Once there, Adama tells them they have one chance to survive, to fight back. Their history tells of a thirteenth colony that left their system eons ago. Adama means to seek out that colony, to regroup and reclaim their place in the galaxy. However long it takes, they will journey across the stars to a planet called…. Earth.
-Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: How far we’ve fallen from the excellence of the Logan’s Run adaptation. That was a perfectly drawn and plotted version of a popular film that was sheer goodness from beginning to end. This is a pretty sloppy mashup of art from the Marvel Super Special and new art. This newer art fills in the huge differences between the televised pilot and the Super Special, which was based on a much earlier draft. Unless they just neglected to revise the credits, Ernie Colón apparently did the fill-in art as well, but the inking is totally different. The styles are readily apparent; however, at least certain characters were corrected. Tigh is now black every time we see him and he’s wearing the right outfit. Baltar has hair.  The story locksteps in with the televised version, which was pretty impressive back in 1978 (at least the first hour, which had all of the effects and battle sequences). The costs for the series were so high, they had to resort to reusing just about all of the FX sequences made for the pilot movie. In fact, they started during the movie. The first hour is the most exciting and thus the first issue runs about the same. Not the greatest start.

The Avengers 181
"On the Matter of Heroes!"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by John Byrne and Gene Day
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Elaine Heinl
Cover by George Perez and Terry Austin

Peter Gyrich informs the Earth's Mightiest Heroes that the National Security Council is prepared to return the team's "priority privileges" once the Avengers are whittled down to a more manageable seven members. He then explains to a befuddled Avengers chief, Iron Man, that the NSC itself has determined exactly which members will stay: Shellhead, the Vision, Scarlet Witch, Captain America, the Beast, the Wasp, and the Falcon. That last choice seems to raise more than a few voices in the room since Falcon has never even been a member, but Gyrich explains equal opportunities for minorities. Quicksilver, obviously a bit upset at his omission from the group, passes out and Thor brings him to the Medlab. There, Dr. Don Blake examines the speedster but results are inconclusive barring several diagnostic tests. Shortly thereafter, the Witch collapses as well. Tests finally come in and it appears that the hearts of Wanda and Pietro have stopped but they remain alive. Meanwhile, in a seedy boarding house on 4th Street, a bearded man in a trenchcoat opens a medical bag and extracts two puppets resembling the fallen Avengers. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Not another storyline about dead superheroes we know are not dead! The art's great but nothing really happens. There's a bizarre scene atop Avengers Mansion where Iron Man bids farewell to the Guardians of the Galaxy and thanks them for their help in defeating Korvac, thus ignoring the events of the last three issues (not that I don't mind ignoring the last three issues) or revealing that GoG is one very patient team, hanging out while other battles are fought and won. As I've said before, I never cared for John Byrne and his big mouth but the guy's got talent -- there ain't no denyin' that -- so I'm pleased as punch that he'll be the regular artist on this title from now until the closing of the University doors.

Joe Tura: George Perez is back! With a crowded cover that has all the teen professors intrigued! John Byrne is back! With the usual excellent artwork, except that everyone looks like they've lost five pounds off their faces—Gene Day to blame? Henry Gyrich is back! And the annoying "suit" is causing issues for everyone, dictating the Avengers roster and spouting government mumbo-jumbo. That weird bearded guy is back! And based on that creepy last panel, he's up to no good—and certainly won't get any Father of the Year votes. The Guardians are back! But why the heck are they at the Gyrich meeting? Did they expect to be part of the team? That one made no sense to me, unless maybe they were hanging around to get a lunch or two before saying bye-bye. Wait, Jarvis packed them a snack, so that's covered. (P.S. Jarvis is a keeper!)

Matthew Bradley: Such a landmark issue—for better or worse—makes me extra-annoyed that Shooter and the rest of those dragging my Assemblers down to their level can’t be bothered to get the name of their H.Q. straight.  It actually drove me to document that at least as early as #43, it was “Avengers [not Avengers’] Mansion,” as it appears on the Marvel Database and the official site, so I’m not sure what authority ol’ Jim-Bob invoked.  Also, the splash page shows Hank and Wondy at the Regency, watching that B&W classic The Adventures of Robin Hood…released in glorious Technicolor, and don’t jive me with “artistic license”; just pick one of the countless real monochrome films Dad and I saw at that lamented revival house.

Are these errors the end of the world?  No, but they’re sloppy and disrespectful and a constant irritant to people like me who put a lot of effort into getting things right.  New line-up?  Don’t like it.  Breaking up the founding-member Pyms is heresy (foreshadowing greater evils to come?), and I’m as upset as Hawkeye about his replacement by a token black.  Why the hell has Captain Marvel been lurking on the fringes both here and in the horrific Defenders membership rout, when joining either group would be utterly out of character for him?  After I pointed out the “S. Lang” office in Michelinie’s Iron Man #117, Monday-morning Q.B.s can see Scott’s official debut here; he’ll go on to, um, smaller and better things, courtesy of Dave and John, next month.

Chris Blake: I hate to agree with Gyrich, but sixteen Avengers (past and present), plus the Guardians, plus Jocasta, Ms Marvel, and Captain Marvel, is an awful lot of people to billet, even in spacious Avengers Mansion.  (I wonder what Jarvis has had to say about it; the need for clean linens and towels alone would be enough to break a lesser gentleman’s gentleman.)  I find it interesting that Byrne (interior) and Pérez (cover) both present the same number of characters (yes, I counted them), with one exception: Byrne somehow misses Yondu is his suitable-for-framing assemblage on page 11.  It makes me wonder whether the artists compared notes regarding who should be included in the respective illustrations, or whether editor Roger Stern requested that the depiction of present membership (both official and visiting members) be kept consistent.  

It’s fair to question why there still are so many people at the Mansion on 5th Avenue these days.  Ordinarily, the extra hands scatter back to their respective places (or eras, if we’re talking about the Guardians) once a mega-threat is dealt with.  Could it be that, after their horrific experience (which resulted in so many of them dead, but now feeling much better) as they combated the apparent threat of almighty Michael Korvac, the team has unconsciously hung together to provide a sort of moral support?  After all, their understanding of the details of the battle with Korvac might be dimly understood by most, after Moondragon had sought to protect them by causing their memories of both their near-deaths – and Michael’s seemingly benevolent intentions – to fade.  
The notion that a paper-pusher like Gyrich could assign or withhold membership is fairly appalling.  It’s true to their characters that Pietro is insulted by Gyrich’s presumption, while Cap is pragmatic, as he advises restraint.  I had forgotten Wonder Man is cast out by Gyrich; the decision is hard to justify, since Wonder Man is easily among the most powerful mortals, Avenger or otherwise.  Maybe Gyrich is suspicious of people who revive after lengthy, death-like periods of suspended animation.  
In any case, three cheers to Michelinie for getting thru the first stage of the lineup change without a pointless battle.  The closest we come is Simon and Hank’s wrestling with the security coils by the front door (p 3-6).  Scott Lang (soon to be Ant Man II) makes his Marvel debut in the role of the Stark International installer of the new security measures; I found out today that Lang’s three-panel cameo has contributed to this issue becoming an extremely valuable commodity, so be sure to safely return your VF copy to its mylar sleeve!
If you enjoyed the art, then treasure it dearly.  The visuals are recognizably built on Byrne’s pencils, with texture and fluidity added by Gene Day; all the characters (many of them seen only briefly in this dense crowd!) look just right.  There will be one more issue of superlative Avengers art for the remainder of the Bronze era (namely, the only-ever pairing of Pérez & Rubinstein in Avengers #194).  Dan Green will trick his way into our confidence, when he provides capable inking for Byrne as we are drawn deeper into the role of the Man from Vladivostok (a novel by Graham Greene -?) in the retelling of Pietro and Wanda’s origins, before Green turns on us and poisons the well when Pérez returns, after Byrne’s run concludes.  Mercifully, those Pérez/Green issues (which nearly drive me to wistfully wish for more inks by Ricardo Villamonte …) are outside the MU curriculum, which means I won’t have to look at them again.  

 The Amazing Spider-Man 190
"In Search of the Man-Wolf!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Byrne and Jim Mooney
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Keith Pollard and Al Milgrom

Man-Wolf takes off with J. Jonah, as Spider-Man lags behind to change his web-fluid, watched by a drone controlled by…Spencer Smythe! The slipping-away Smythe blames Jameson for the radioactive materials that are killing him, claiming Man-Wolf is his "only hope." M-W crashes into the nearby Auto Show, where he battles Spidey, smacks JJJ, and listens to sniveling Smythe's commands, hightailing it out of there with Jameson until Spidey picks up the fight again! JJJ thinks back to when John came home from the moon (enroll in the Marvel Premiere class for that craziness) and he opted for cryogenics to stop the moonstone from poisoning his son, then we cut to the Daily Globe, where publisher K.J. Clayton tells City Editor Bushkin that he wants to hire Peter Parker away from the Bugle! JJJ is unable to shoot his lupine son, who smashes Spidey good as suffering Smythe struggles with chest pains. On the Brooklyn Bridge, JJJ starts to reach M-W with tales of their lives as father and son, until steadfast Smythe insists M-W get to the top! Spidey shows up as anticipated, M-W changes back to John, then sneaky Smythe activates the device he hid in the astronaut, sending him reeling off the bridge. John purposely slips out of Spidey's hands and disappears in a flash of light—leaving J. Jonah to blame his nemesis for letting his son die. --Joe Tura

Joe: "NEVER BEFORE SUCH A SURPRISE SHOCK ENDING!!" yells the nifty Pollard /Milgrom cover, complete with tugboat and goofy angle of the cars on the bridge that works quite well. And after reading the insides, we can all be aware that the hyperbole meter is off the charts once again. Overall, the art looks more Mooney than Byrne and that's a small problem. Certainly layouts such as page 11 panel 3 are Byrne personified, but the faces (except for shifty Smythe) are all Mooney. Meaning the artist, not that they look all "moony" and depressed. Well, maybe JJJ looks that way throughout the tale, from trying desperately to touch the heart of his son (which is quite well done) to being annoyed at Spidey after John is gone. Just wait until he hears his rival is plotting to steal his star shutterbug! Marv does an OK job here, keeping the schmaltz to a manageable level, even during the Jameson flashbacks, and having suffering Smythe pulling the strings is a bit out of nowhere but still a good nod to the past.

In a book that mostly features "GRRRR"s and "GROWL"s from Man-Wolf, my favorite sound effect pick is the last page's "FWISH" as Man-Wolf/John flits away in a flash of light after smarmy Smythe hits a button back at his lab. What really happened we won't find out until the early 80s, after the hallowed MU halls have closed.

Scott: This was a really nice issue. A good look into JJJ’s past with his son, actually giving depth to ol’ flat top. There are a lot of nice touches. I especially enjoyed Spidey not just webbing up John as he fell at the end, remembering what happened with Gwen. Sure, the “shock of the sudden fall” is what we tell ourselves to sleep better at night, but we, and Spidey, all know it was the sudden stop that broke her neck and killed her.  You can’t tell John Byrne did the layouts other than this is really too good for just Jim Mooney. It’s a really nicely drawn book with a tragic ending. Is John really dead? Naaah, but Jonah don’t know dat.

Chris: On page 26, Spidey observes that “this driving rain’s playing havoc with my spider-sense” as he tries to draw a bead on Man-Wolf, which tells us Wolfman has confused trademarked Spidey sense for Daredevil’s copyrighted radar sense.  Marv, listen to me: the spider-sense is something that warns Spidey of imminent DANGER.  Since the arrival of the spider-tracer, fans have allowed for a stretch of this ability, as Spidey homes in on the tracer’s signal once he gets close it.  There is room for fine-tuning of the sense, as Claremont demonstrated in MTU #70, when Spidey measures the threat posed by a potential booby-trap wire by pointing his finger to it, to see whether the wire produces a tell-tale tingle.  Since Spidey had not placed a tracer on Man-Wolf (I checked ASM #189 twice to be sure), he wouldn’t be able to detect Man-Wolf’s presence; and, tracer or no, the degree of rain has zero influence on the effectiveness of the sense.  I realize I may seem to be harping on the writer/editor, but the question of what the sense can and can’t do has been so thoroughly examined on past letters pages, I feel Wolfman really should not screw this up.  

Matthew:  Outstanding point; that bothered me, too.  Thanks for bringing it up.

Chris: Now, with the other hand, I will salute Marv for dutifully providing an explanation for Man-Wolf’s  emergence from cryogenic storage (p 15), and for his tender depiction of Jonah’s relationship with his son John; the paternal, less blustery, more human side of Jonah has not had much time to shine since Man-Wolf’s appearances in Creatures on the Loose.  We also get some rare glimpses into Jonah’s past, as he tries to reach the son within the wolf; this also contributes to an effective ending, as John seems to have been vaporized.  I’ve always liked the panel of a strapping young Jonah carrying little John, which appears as if it were a family snapshot (p 22 pnl 6).  
Byrne’s hand is even less in evidence this time than it had been in ASM #189, with the look mostly Mooney; the effect is similar to how Byrne’s rough layouts for Iron Man #118 were resolved by Bob Layton into his own look.  I have to wonder why Byrne was signed on, if he only had time to provide a framework for the story; if we’re going to wind up with so little of Byrne’s million-dollar look, then why not simply have Mooney do the whole thing, and be done with it? 

Mark Barsotti: Oh, no, not Spencer Symthe! And why in the world would he need "radioactive materials" to make Spider-Slayers (let alone this is the first time we've heard of it)? And when did Wilbur ever fight Mr. Ed? We're only on p.6, class, and Marv has already fulfilled this month's nonsense quota.

On the plus side, we get some fast and furry-ious (go ahead and groan class; I couldn't help myself) action. some tender J. Jonah & John flashbacks, and Barney Bushkin (who we haven't seen in years) of the Daily Globe being tasked with hiring photog Peter Parker away from the Bugle. Or else.

I don't believe for a moment that John-Boy is really dead, but did Marv have to get all hacky with another friend 'o Spidey's being tossed off the top of a bridge? And the last panel angst Wolfman ladles out to simulate honest emotion is just plain wrong. John's presumptive death didn't result from Spidey hesitating. He caught him and John deliberately let go. His fall didn't result because our hero "...stood back when he should have acted." Marv, the editor, apparently can't spot obvious errors from Marv the writer.

But we still have - apparently - another Spider-Slayer to look forward to.

Matthew:  Insert obligatory joke about a Man-Wolf story (and don’t you believe it’s the last) written by Marv Wolf-Man.  He makes a go of connecting the dots between this Spencer Smythe arc—fine by me if he really dies—and the long-mothballed Creatures on the Loose plotline that was recently resolved in Marvel Premiere but, alas, carelessly overlooks Marvel Team-Up #36-37, which we must now retroactively assume took place at some point during the interim.  This time, I did a better job of mentally peeling back the encrustation of Mooney finishes to reveal the Byrne layouts beneath, which are really rather nice; I especially liked the little horizontal shot in page 6, panel 6 of Spidey getting punched right through the car.

 Captain America 231
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Sal Buscema and Don Perlin
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Keith Pollard and Al Milgrom

The Falcon informs Captain America that he'll be moving on (again); Cap wishes him well (again) and then flies to SHIELD HQ with the blubbering idiot once known as the Vamp (see the events of The Incredible Hulk #232 last month). Once there, Mr. Stars and Stripes is verbally assaulted by Lt. Stanford of SHIELD Internal Security, who scolds Cap for not showing up with proper credentials. Cap tells Stanford to stick his credentials where his SHIELD don't shine and sulks away. Arriving at his apartment, he remembers that he never cleaned up after the VW drove through his living room (back in #222) and commences a good Hoovering. Afterward, he decides to go for a walk and finds himself at Sam Wilson's office, where he finds old (emphasis on the old) flame Peggy Carter, clearly flustered. Peggy explains that Sharon and SHIELD Agent Janacek were assigned to investigate a hate group called the National Force, whose leader, the ominously monikered Grand Director, seems to have an almost hypnotic power over those who listen to his hateful rants. Sharon and Janacek go missing and Peggy is convinced the Force is behind their disappearance. Cap promises he'll find the agents and heads off. As Peggy drives away, a pair of National Force thugs open fire and Peggy's vehicle is reduced to ash. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Another white supremacist group? Why not fall back on the Hate-Monger (or, for that matter, the Sons of the Serpent? - Prof. Matthew)? The Grand Poobah's speech about making America great again and flushing the country of its dead weight is just as timely now as back in 1978 (if not more so). Pretty silly costumes though; I get the white sheet look but the horns have to go. Not having read issue 222, I have to ask: where did the VW go and did they rebuild the wall it drove through? Our Pal's art is just as great on Cap as it's always been (remember Sal was half responsible for the greatest funny book arc of all time) but Don's inks do no favors in several spots (especially that shaky Steve Rogers profile, panel 1 of page 17, below). It's been ages since I read these issues but I recall this story line will lead up to a major mishandling of a landmark event in Cap's life.

Chris: As Cap and the Falc share a heartfelt handshake, my only thought is “Well, they won’t have a chance to miss working together, since they’ll both be Avengers pretty soon!”   The Falcon’s eventual dissatisfaction with having been forced onto the team is hinted at from the very start, as he tells Cap he has to fly solo for awhile (p 1), little knowing he’s about to be denied an opportunity for me-time.  

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a real-live Nazi in these pages.  After run-ins with two self-important SHIELD agents (and what’s the deal with those guys, anyway?  Could you imagine giving Captain America a hard time -?), we can expect Cap to give the Grand Director a thorough thrashing.  Of course, the Director’s mind-control power complicates things; at least Sharon didn’t need to get her hair done before she was hypnotized.  
The Buscema/Perlin art is okay, but not as consistent as their previous pairing.  Pages 1-14 look different from 15-17, which also differ from 22-31.  Maybe Don needed a new nib.  
Matthew: The Pollard/Milgrom cover is so gorgeous that I’m inclined to overlook its inaccuracies—obviously, Cap wasn’t at the rally, and it seems a bit of a stretch to question America’s continued existence—in the name of artistic license.  The problem isn’t that nothing like what’s shown on the cover happens in this issue…it’s that nothing much happens at all in this issue (aptly entitled “Aftermath!,” and featuring a detailed recap for the benefit of those who didn’t read the Hulk half of the recent crossover).  McKenzie makes Cap’s break-up with Falc official, and his biggest adversary this time is, ironically, S.H.I.E.L.D.; Perlin seems to have been affected by the torpor as well, turning in a singularly uninspired inking job on poor Sal’s pencils.

 Captain Marvel 61
"Chaos and the Pit!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick and Bruce Patterson
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Pat Broderick and Joe Rubinstein

With Drax left unconscious by the serpents, a weakened Mar-Vell faces Elysius’s beasts alone, but challenged to prove why she should disobey Isaac’s order to kill him, he fills himself “with the dead calm of the deep cosmos,” taming the griffins with a “spell of docility.”  Alrighty then.  As Drax revives, she decides that in light of the, uh, special qualities she sees in Marv and Eros, she will betray Isaac, so they head for his control center in her flying galley.  Meanwhile—supposedly—having raced from Europe to Kentucky with Gertie, Rick tells the sheriff he’s with U.F.O.R.C.E. (Unidentified Flying Objects Research Center), then hares off again after overhearing reports of flying saucers over, no, not Hollywood but the nation’s capital.

The sky-ship disgorges Elysius’s “pets,” which attack the drones, yet Isaac—previously said to have eyes and ears everywhere—is unaccountably surprised as she arrives and frees the Titans, whom Mar-Vell revitalizes with solar energy.  As they battle their erstwhile captors, the rebels reach the life-baths too late to stop the emergence of “Isaac’s most powerful creation—Chaos, the deity of space,” whose form “contains…space itself!”  Drawn into a vortex, Mar-Vell faces tentacled eyeball “Tartarus, god of the abyss—and brother of Lord Chaos, from whose heart I was born,” while in the latter’s aura, Elysius and Drax watch his form turn white as his “foul essence” drains out, “eventually blotting out the whole of normal space itself,” as Eros foretells.

In a “last desperate gambit,” Mar-Vell uses his sonic screwdriver---uh, Nega-Bands—to jar the nearby atoms, freeing him and canceling Tartarus’s “opposing anti-life force…with the energy of light and life…”  Like ya do.  Too weak to escape the gravity of the abyss, he is saved as Drax and Elysius pierce Chaos’s heart, creating “a backlash of infinite chain-reactions” that destroys him, and conveniently leaves Mar-Vell amid Isaac’s circuitry.  In a fit of pique, his hologram now disconnected, Isaac says he will cease maintaining Titan’s automatic life-functions, but the Titans vow to hold out while Mar-Vell and Drax race to save the Earth, where Rick and Gertie (having made the trip in 11 pages flat) see the UFO and are captured by a barely glimpsed BEM.  -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’ve really tried to like this…but I don’t.  I found the whole shtick with Chaos (whose name is ill-considered, given how pivotal Lord Chaos and Master Order were to the Starlin mythology) incomprehensible and his appearance too similar to Eternity’s, albeit fairly cool.  In page 15, panel 4 (right), Mar-Vell looks like one of those withering pod-victims in the Body Snatchers advertised inside the cover; the Destroyer looks most un-Draxian in page 17, panel 4; and Elysius looks like a freakin’ poodle with that hideous hair, as well as being such a horndog that she seems ready to jump on anything short of “Isaac’s hologrammic [is that even a word?] form.”  Rick’s subplot simply cannot be concurrent, and he’s gonna compound that by driving from Kentucky to D.C.?

Chris: I’m going to let the fans speak for me.  “Mar-Vell has stopped being a cardboard figure and started being a real person again.  It’s about time” (Ann N., Sierra Vista AZ); “When Rick Jones shared the limelight, he seemed to pose most of the internal questions, leaving the characterization of Mar-Vell an enigma.  Now that Mar-Vell has full possession of the stage (and his consciousness), [we appreciate] a more fully developed philosophy” (Curtis B., Green Bay WI); in the person of Mar-Vell, Doug Moench presents “the impression of a remarkable mind, and a man more cosmically aware than he has been since issue #33” (Matt K., Urbana IL).  

Doug continues to show Mar-Vell putting his cosmic awareness to best use, first as he infuses himself with “the dead calm of the deep cosmos” to inspire Elysius’ griffin-creatures to back off from their threat to him and Drax (prompting an awed whisper “Mar-Vell? Wh-what … happened?” from Drax; p 2), which earns both admiration and proffered alliance from Elysius; next, Marv goes all-aware to connect with Isaac’s inner circuitry and disconnect his holographic self (p 27).  We see another clever variation of Marv’s powers as he uses negative vibrations from the ktanged-together nega-bands to startle Tarturus into releasing him (p 22).  All this is a welcome change from Marv simply punching and kicking his way around obstacles and opponents, which has been the norm during the post-Stalin era (or PSE, if you will).  
Pat Broderick continues to contribute to this title’s entertainment value.  Back on the letters page, Beppe S. of East Lansing MI observes “the art is stunning, reminiscent of Starlin yet entirely original"; I think that’s a fair assessment.  One clear connection to Starlin is Broderick’s use of small panels to pack in maximum story development, and to keep action moving – both of these a must for a bi-monthly mag.  Highlights include: Titan donnybrook, which includes Drax firing a shot that hits a drone bot about ten feet away, across the crowded fight site (p 11, 1st pnl); the sight of terrible tentacled Tartarus, as Marv drops toward him (p 15, pnl 5); Marv sits patiently on the husk of Tartarus, who now is deprived of his anti-life force (p 26, pnl 4, left).
And after all that, Drax still regrets, once this Isaac affair is all settled, he’ll still have to kill Mar-Vell (p 31, last pnl).  Well, some people never change.  Either that, or does Drax’s deeper respect for Marv allow him to joke about destroying him?  No, Drax don’t joke.  

Conan the Barbarian 96 
“The Long Night of Fang and Talon Part One”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema

Leaving the corpse of the ancient witch-hunter G’Chambi behind, Conan and the mighty black lion Sholo continue on their quest to save Bêlit from Ajaga the Beast King — the big cat partly drawn by the call of the evil disciple of the legendary wizard Jhebbal Sag. They enter a cave, hoping that it leads to Abombi, Ajaga’s headquarters, a cursed city carved into the rock above. But a stone trap door falls away and the Cimmerian and Sholo plunge into an underground river below. As the jungle beast is swept away by the current, the barbarian is attacked by a vicious moray eel — he is brutally shocked by the sea snake’s electrified skin when slashing at it with his sword. Changing his tactic, Conan manages to bash the creature’s head in with a rock from the river’s floor. But, out of air, he loses consciousness and floats to the surface: he is pulled from the water by Krato, Ajaga’s second-in-command, and two other black warriors. 

Down river, Sholo manages to claw himself on shore. Led by blind instinct, he soon pads to an outside window of Bêlit’s cell: inside the She-Devil is trying to convince the kidnapped daughters of the Black Coast chieftains to mount an escape. They fearfully refuse. However, the lion rips one of the bars out of the window with his powerful jaws: the She-Devil recognizes the cat as Amra’s companion and crawls to freedom. Sholo leads her away, she hopes to her mate Conan. Meanwhile, the barbarian has been tied to the altar of Jhebbal Sag. Ajaga blows an ancient horn: from miles around all manner of animals — baboons, jaguars, crocodiles, snakes, hyenas, hawks — begin to make their way to Abombi for a feast of the Cimmerian’s flesh. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Kicking off in issue #94, the four-part saga of Ajaga the Beast King continues in fine form. Roy, John and Ernie will wrap things up next month. This installment doesn’t move the needle forward in a major way, but it is completely engaging throughout. Not sure that Roy could have shoe-horned in any more animals — and lucky that Big John is a master at drawing a wide variety of beasts, birds and reptiles. I’m digging Sholo’s participation but we must remember that he could be turned by Ajaga at any time. At least I think that’s the case — Conan certainly does. I loved the panel that shows him in the middle of a huge yawn as Bêlit shimmies trough the barred window. “What, me worry?” The fight with the moray eel is pretty brutal: Conan actually mashes the serpent’s head off the rest of its body with the boulder. But the little dinosaur from last issue was much more impressive.

Jhebbal Sag, the original Beast King, is name-dropped a few times here: the protective power of his rune, revealed by G’Chambi last issue, doesn’t come into play but I assume it will in the conclusion. The cliffhanger is pretty cool: not sure how the dozens of animals that Ajaga has summoned will fit in the temple. And will they wait in line for a bite each? As always, Conan the Barbarian continues to roll merrily along, offering an unwavering high quality nearly each and every month.

Chris: Roy takes his time, and positions his pieces with care, to build up to an exciting finish.  First, Ajaga puts himself in a trance, supposedly to commune with the spirit of Jhebbal Sag, who reportedly green-lights the execution of Amra and Bêlit; it would be easy to dismiss this as a brief performance Ajaga lays out for his followers, to reinforce his standing as their chieftain.  Next, Bêlit has a much-needed assist from timely-arriving Sholo, who (seemingly at her command) breaks the bar of the dungeon window.  Bêlit expects to use this rescue to establish her bona-fides as one whose powers are derived from the death-goddess.  She figures the other women in the dungeon will jump up and escape with her, and we the readers are ready for this too; instead, the women are too fearful of Ajaga’s power to attempt to leave, one stating “To go with you – is to run to death!”  It’s easy to dismiss this as superstition on their part, and to attribute their fear to Ajaga’s purposeful management of his reputation.  Once we reach the end, though, we see Ajaga’s summons of all the jungle’s predators is for real, and we realize now exactly how desperate Conan’s situation has become.  This is not some simple illusion, or stunt; unless the freed Bêlit can come up with something real quick-like, she’ll find “naught remaining of Amra but fang-marked bones!”   Very effective rising action to an exciting cliffhanger. 

We’ve probably come to take for granted the routinely superior art for this title.  Still, I want to point out the deft use of perspective Buscema & Chan render on p 26, last panel.  We see a bound Conan, dangling from a staff by his ankles and wrists (as if he were a slain elk).  As always, we can be impressed by the artists’ depiction of Conan’s sturdy bulk, as we overlook the other figures.  But, see what they realize here: our eyes draw gradually across the image from left to right, and we finish with the first bearer, closest to us.  The lead bearer walks towards us, down the stone steps as he prepares to leave the frame on its right side, with the second bearer walking past Ajaga, who points ahead from a raised stone.  We accept the figures as being in motion, with Conan likely the largest person in the frame, since he appears taller (even when stretched out) than the second bearer.  But look more closely: as drawn, the figure of the first bearer is nearly twice the size of the second; still, we don’t see him as a giant – we recognize he is nearer to us, and perceive him as proportionately equal to his counterpart at Conan’s heels.  It’s subtle, but artfully done.  
Really striking cover, too.  I bet Prof Matthew will be pleased by the effective use of color.  

Matthew: Well, now that you mention it...

 Daredevil 157
"The Ungrateful Dead"
Story by Roger McKenzie and Mary Jo Duffy
Art by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gene Colan and Al Milgrom

An expertly-placed shield-sling from Captain America prevents Death Stalker from reaching Daredevil, who is no longer comatose, but still asleep and defenseless in a hospital bed.  DD revives quickly enough to catch the Beast in a bedsheet before he can bounce too close to Death Stalker’s outstretched hand.  The Widow fires her stinging bite, which DS allows to pass harmlessly thru him; Hercules uses the distraction to haul both DD and Beast to safety.  DS realizes that his moment to kill a helpless DD has passed, and that he’s outgunned by the present Avengers contingent, so he chooses to teleport away.  DD and the Widow recognize they both escaped unharmed, and share their relief with a kiss (Hercules, who’s had designs on the Widow’s affections, storms out).  DD and the Widow work out together at Avengers Mansion, but DD resolves not to renew their working association.  Instead, he travels across town and switches to Matt Murdock garb to visit Heather Glenn and try to heal their rift.  Heather expresses her lingering hurt over DD’s role in her father’s death, and her frustration with Matt’s identification with his responsibilities as Daredevil.  Matt nearly leaves when Heather tells him to go, then turns and states he’s staying with Heather, since he’s “needed right here.”  The next day, Matt is about to close up shop at the Storefront office for the day, when both Heather and Natasha arrive, each one reminding Matt of their plans with him that evening.  Matt doesn’t have a chance to worm out of this dilemma, as the wall is caved in by the Ani-Men!  Matt thinks quickly, realizing he’s helpless to act while holding Heather.  Natasha and Foggy quickly are removed from the fight, as the villainous crew closes in on Matt. -Chris Blake
Chris: It’s not really one issue; it’s more like three issue-thirds all strung together.  It helps that we know the four-man Avengers mini-unit (I always find it strange when a small parcel of the team is still referred to as “The Avengers”) has been keeping a vigil outside of Matt’s room, otherwise their arrival would be disarmingly unlikely.  As it is, Death Stalker withdraws without allowing us any opportunity to learn who he is, how his powers work, why he holds a grudge against DD, etc; we’re told all will be revealed next issue, but it seems to me this has been promised before.  The next segment is with poor Heather, who’s hardly been seen in these pages since DD #151; DD rescued her (with help from Paladin) from Killgrave in DD #154, but after she was led away, we haven’t even checked in with her, you know – see how’s she doing.  The third and final bit provides some brief comic relief, as Matt has managed to create a conflict involving Heather and Natasha; bad idea, really bad idea, when you consider his history with both women.  This also is curious when it had appeared DD already had suggested he and the Widow should not re-join forces.  And then, the Ani-Men crash the party.  I didn’t mention in the synopsis that we have glimpses of all three Anis before their arrival, so it’s obvious they know Matt Murdock is DD (since two of them had stalked DD, before the change to MM).  Natasha reminds us the Anis had been reported killed following Iron Man #116, but Matt’s radar sense tells him these are the Ani-Men, “or something very similar,” so it’ll be interesting to see how this works out.
After he has been the definitive Daredevil artist for the late Silver age and early Bronze era, this will be Gene Colan’s final appearance in these pages.  It’s too bad he doesn’t have more of a chance to shine, but the story doesn’t require much from him once Death Stalker leaves the stage.  That said, DS’s fade out is well-done, assisted by Klaus Janson, as heavier blacks around DS’s head give way to lighter shades along his body, which make him appear to lose substance (p 7, pnl 2).  Toward the end, the Ani-Men arrival is an easy choice as a highlight (p 27), with a good decision to put the fierce Ape-Ani at the front of the image.  

By the way, the momentous impending arrival of Frank Miller is barely hinted-at, as the teaser at the bottom says only “Roger Welcomes a New Penciller to the Book …”  

Mark: Sorry to see Gene Colan exit his return engagement, from what, for almost a decade, was his signature title, at about 80% of his formidable powers. Klaus Janson isn't the best match for Gene, but there's no excuse for Heather looking like Rosie O'Donnell (pnl 2, pg.22) or Becky's receding hairline (last pnl, p.26). But his Ani-Men look great, and as for the rest: Colan at 80% is still better than most comic artists at their peak.

But while the Ani-Men look great, they were always yawn-inducing D-listers. Fortunately - I'm guessing - they won't be tasked with carrying the villainous load in next issue's installment.

I cop to being unfamiliar with both Roger Mac (plot) and  Mary Jo Duffy (script), class, but they fortunately follow the recent DD template of keeping the pace brisk and get bonus points for a yuck-worthy Cheshire Cat/Hat joke.

I'd planned to dump DD from my class load when Dean Gene split, but now I'm practically obligated to stick around for Frank Miller's debut.

So see ya in 60, horn-heads.

Matthew: “The insiders’ hot tip of the month,” per a typically overhyped Bullpen Bulletins item, is to “buy yourself a copy of Daredevil…Some of you will likely recognize the guest-writer’s name, though she’s relatively new to the scripting biz, and once you’ve been dazzled by her inaugural effort [plotted by “Roger Mac”], we’re willing to bet that few of you will soon forget the lady’s style!”  Those who survived the tenure of Mary Jo Duffy—hitherto an editor and prolific letterhack—on Power Man and Iron Fist #56-84, which will prove this stinker no fluke, may find her unforgettable for other reasons.  Despite my frequent potshots at Klaus, having him ink Gene on DD is a no-brainer, but even Colanson art cannot redeem Jo’s dialogue.

We’re already putting up with Peter Parker being torn between fiancée manqué M.J. and married first love Betty Brant Leeds; now, we not only have Heather and Natasha fighting over DD, but also get the soap-opera sobs of wheelchair-bound Becky Blake:  “Matt will never care for you while he can choose between an heiress and one of the most glamorous women in the world.”  Murdock, you stud!  The frustration of Hercules (“’Tis beyond enduring.”) just throws fuel on the fire because, unless I missed something, whatever is supposed to be going on between him and Tash, although hinted at as early as the dying days of my beloved Champions, has never really been made explicit or clear.  Once again, poor Hank is effectively reduced to a punchline...

I hated Gentleman Gene’s rendition of the Assemblers during his mercifully brief tenure on their book (#63-65), and it hasn’t gotten any better here, with Cap looking particularly ghastly in page 3, panel 1, although the Dean still draws a fetching Widow.  The issue in general has a sloppy and rushed appearance, and am I wrong, or is Death Stalker (no hyphen this week, class) missing a finger in page 2, panel 1 (way above, dude!)?  His periodic hit-and-run routine has gone from intriguing to irritating, making me long for the overdue resolution promised in the lettercol, and the explanation for DD’s strange behavior of late, which at one point seemed to border on possession, is no better:  “I hit my head and started acting funny, but I got over it.”  Seriously…?

The Defenders 69
"The Anything Man!"
Story by Jim Shooter and Mary Jo Duffy
Art by Herb Trimpe and Al Milgrom
Colors by Ben Sean 
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Bob Layton

As he walks the beach that is the final resting place of Omegatron, Doctor Strange remarks to Nighthawk that there may be something foul afoot. Someone has been near the still-deadly wreckage of the robot and may have have absorbed some if its power. Meanwhile, at a nearby country club, Jeff Colt is destroying his girlfriend, Hilary... at tennis. Hilary remarks that, previously, Jeff had been a bit of a wet noodle when it came to sports but now seems to have absorbed some strange new-found power and just can't lose. The couple head back to the animal shelter Jeff works at, just in time to catch a trio of bandits looting the office. Jeff gets into a tussle with one man and hurls him across the office just as one of the other robbers opens fire on the nattily-dressed tennis buff. The bullets seem to bounce right off Jeff; all parties are astonished and the bad guys exit stage right. Outside, the villains attempt to run Hilary down but Jeff steps in and the car is reduced to rubble. Jeff and Hilary remark that something sure seems to be up. At the Sanctum Sanctorum, Doc Strange assembles his Defenders and explains that somewhere out there is a heap of trouble just waiting to materialize. Hulk welcomes a battle and Hellcat says, "Gee, whillikers, Doccy, could we go shopping first?" Across town, Jeff comes up with an amazing hunch; he's convinced the marina race will be burgled and this would be a perfect time to test his newfound powers. He heads down to the dock and, sure enough, a gang of felons is cracking the safe that holds the award money. Jeff makes like a superhero again and quashes the robbery but a couple of the criminals escape in a boat. Jeff swims after them. Dr. Strange detects the sudden aura of superness in the air and the Defenders head for the New England coast, where they find a triumphant Jeff standing over the boat wreckage and the bodies of the robbers. Strange realizes that Jeff's powers have corrupted him and attempts to talk the young man back to his senses; when that doesn't work, Strange sics the Defenders on him. That proves to be the wrong strategy as Jeff's power feeds off the energy of the battle. Nighthawk figures this out and flies Jeff to a deserted island where he can do no harm. When he realizes he'll never see his beloved Hilary again, Jeff begs Doc Strange to cure him. Steven whips up an incantation for a happy ending.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter: It's all a bit on the juvenile side but, whereas that worked against last month's dreadful Thor, here it works in the story's favor. Jeff's a genuinely good and likable guy caught up in a bad situation he never asked for (but, I'm sorry, in those tennis shorts he should be known as "The Anything But a Man"). If there's one thing I would have changed it would have been the flowers and sunshine climax. At one point, Doc explains that Jeff will have to live on this island all alone for the rest of his life, never again having contact with his tennis instructor, Hilary, and I thought, "Holy crap, that is some dark turn for a lightweight strip like this!," but then my hopes were dashed and all lived happily forever.

Matthew:  “Next:  They’re both back!  Energetic Ed Hannigan and the lethal Lunatik!”  How fast should I have cancelled my subscription right then and there?  Before succeeding Ed on PM&IF next month, Duffy spells him here, “to relieve some of the deadline pressure,” this time co-plotting with EIC Jim “Wad” Shooter.  While not ballyhooed on the Bullpen Page, this is a bit better than her current DD-bacle and—setting the bar equally low—is, if nothing else, a welcome change of pace from the recent Valhallapalooza.  To be honest, I never need to see another story about the Omegatron or its kissin’ cousin, frozen “Eternity Man” Jason Beere; if there’s a power outage and he thaws out, or the Omegatron speaks Yandroth’s name, the world comes to an end.

 Fantastic Four 204
"The Andromeda Attack!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Al Milgrom and Joe Sinnott

We open with a science/domestic tranquility combo: Reed trying to figure out who's draining their computer power, while little Franklin in cowboy gear rides on Ben's back. Quasimodo (who stole one of their spaceships back in #202) is the leading suspect, but Ben's got a date with Alicia, Johnny flies off to hunt up a date, and Sue leaves her hubby to his calculations.

Stretch locks onto a "ion beam," unrelated to the 'puter drain, and by the time he realizes it's coming from the Andromeda Galaxy, an alien female beams into the Baxter. There's a Skrull hot on her heels, who blasts the lass with his ray gun. Reed is losing the ensuing battle, but fortunately the Thing (conveniently & without explanation) returns to occupy Green & Ugly long enough for Reed to zap the Skrull with a "stasis-ray." Joined by Sue, they get the alien fem to the medical lab, where she recovers and regales them with a tale of woe. 

Her planet was destroyed by (what may or may not be a strangely unnamed) Galactus, but four cities survived in translucent globes, and then connected by giant gerbil tunnels. They were perhaps aided in their survival by the Watcher (who appears, without speaking or being alluded to in the text); it wouldn't be the first time he violated his non-interference code. It's really more like a suggestion.

Just when the Quad-Cities were getting fat and sassy, the Skrulls attacked, prompting Suzerain Adora (their mystery guest) to jump into an altered ion beam and zap across the cosmos in search of help. After telling her story, Adora conks out again, leaving the three Fabs to debate their strategy and await Johnny.

But Torchie doesn't respond to the F-flare. He's busy visiting Empire State U, where he's considering re-enrolling after some 13 years. He's making time with a hot babe until she opines how inspiring visiting other worlds must be and then Marv puts this groaner in Johnny's mouth, "Frankly, I never paid much attention." 

Instant buzz-kill. But then Johnny runs into Frankie Raye (who we haven't seen in ages) and is just starting to wear down her resistance when his belt radio goes off, summoning him back to the B Building. There, after a Skrull skull session, our heroes prepare to beam back to Adora's world, sans Johnny. The Torch begs off " sort things decide just what it is I am."

Well, we know it's not a good teammate.

So while his fellow Fabs blip off to battle over the fate of worlds, Johnny visits the old hot rod shop (closed), is turned away from Avengers mansion by Jarvis (they're in conference), and even his old frenemy Spidey (busy fighting Man-Wolf) fails to show up at their usual meeting place atop the Statue of Liberty. So Torchie reads a "special delivery letter" (what is this, 1956?) Sue had slipped him earlier, and learns he's been invited to explore the educational opportunities at "Security University." Like Johnny, we wonder how this strangely named school knew of his renewed interest in higher education (or at least co-eds), but that doesn't stop him from being instantly enamored of SU.

But soon after he lands, a mystery ray (Marv must be getting kickbacks from the Beam, Ray, and Blaster Association) blows up a building, and the Torch has to slag falling stones and carry students to safety. Afterwards, he's welcomed by the Dean, who shrugs off the explosion by noting, "That's the science lab...all sorts of dangerous chemicals stored there," and puts his arm around Johnny as he extols the virtues of SU.

Observing the Dean's sales job through a telescope across campus is the bewhiskered visage of - wait for it, class - the Monocle! -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Marv, Marv, Marv...

The Wolfish one faked me out of my socks, students, and I shoulda known better, given his awful track of late, both here and on Spidey (my two first and fiercest Marvel loves). Until the last five pages, Wolfman had his strongest FF in months going...and then the whole thing went blooey

He starts out with a nice mix of the familial and the fantastic: Franklin playing horsey with Ben while teasing a return to the unfinished (if unwanted) Quasimodo storyline. Soon thereafter Adora and the Skrull show up and we seem to be off to the races. So much so I was willing to overlook incongruities like not naming Galactus or the alternative - which is worse - bestowing the Purple Planet Eater's power upon an anonymous alien - and the Watcher's silent and unmentioned two panel appearance after Adora's planet ka-booms. Are we to infer Chrome Dome saved the four cities, or was he - for once - doing his job and just watching? Maybe Keith Pollard threw it in and Marv ignored it, but more to the point, do we care?

Nope. I've come to expect plot holes and unanswered questions (and bad or zero characterization, but that's a whole other kettle of carp) from Wolfman's FF, class, but, as mentioned, our tale was cookin' with gas, so I was willing to ignore such eccentricities. And then Marv blows it, big time.

Much as I enjoy seeing the Torch get some solo screen time, the last quarter of the book is flat out awful. Let's first dispose of the "Frankly, I never paid much attention to other worlds" nonsense Wolfman puts in Johnny's mouth. All the way back in FF #50, after retrieving the Ultimate Nullifier to defeat Galactus, a mind-blown Johnny observes, "I traveled through big...we're like ants...just ants..." Marv's the one who hasn't been paying attention. And, no, the on-going dictum that characters in the Marvel U should experience only the "illusion of change" doesn't give the writers carte blanche to present them as morons.

And if the infantilizing of Johnny isn't bad enough (and it is), Wolfman's next move is beyond the pale. Reed explains that not just Adora's Quad-Cities, but the earth itself may well be in peril, yet Johnny's gonna take a pass to get his head together? And that segues into the nonsense of "Security U" and their odd letter about events they couldn't possibly be aware of.

And if that's not bad enough, behold the Monocle! The blank looks on your faces are understandable, kids; even you, Forbush, although that's your default expression. Even someone as steeped in FF lore as myself had to think hard to remember this nudnik, fifth-rate baddy that Kirby dreamed up on his way out the door, back in ish #95.

How low will you go, Marv? If anyone left from the Great Shooter Purge should be able to serve up their own fifth-rate mediocrity, it's you. 

Matthew: My reaction is similar to last time, albeit my objections are less numerous and specific beyond a general feeling that Wolfman’s story is simply…off somehow, and inferior to the Lee/Kirby model to which he seems to aspire.  Assets include the generally blameless Pollard/Sinnott art and the start of an epic plotline with distinct possibilities, although it’s odd that Marv, who never met a cross-promotion he didn’t like, ignores the obvious Nova tie-in.  Liabilities include uninspired exposition (“Our people can adjust our language”), unbelievable coincidence (Frankie Ray [sic]—here?!), unlikely characterization (Nah, you save the galaxy—I need to get laid), unrecognizable Jarvis (page 26, panel 3), and unwanted return (the Monocle?).

Chris: Stan & Jack built the FF legend on inventive, thrill-packed single-issue adventures, before they began to branch into longer, multi-issue storylines that are among the title’s highly-revered moments.  So, I didn’t mind that Marv had allowed himself three one-and-done issues, following the buildup to landmark FF #200; as for the stories themselves, they weren’t all that exciting, but I didn’t mind that Marv wanted to try them out (although, I would mind if I were required to read FF #202 again).  

Now that he’s launching a multi-part story (partly in an effort to save his flagging Nova title), I raise my hand and say, “Let’s go!”  And we’re off to a strong Skrull-seasoned start (with some manageable soap involving Adora and her adoring champion, Nova-clad Tanak), until Marv derails the whole thing so Johnny can try to pick up chicks, and then mope about striking out; most of the last seven pages (and, as you know, there are only seventeen pages in each issue, right?) are chewed up by Marv’s needless preoccupation with Johnny’s self-indulgence.  
Stan, Roy – and probably Len and Gerry too – would’ve rolled the story straight into its next phase, as we would’ve travelled to the imperiled imperial homeworld, to measure for ourselves the steepness of the odds faced by our heroes.  But Marv?  No, he’d rather have Johnny sit on the Statue of Liberty and wonder what it’s all about.  I wouldn’t belabor the point, if not for Marv’s oft-demonstrated tendency to allow momentum to bleed out, and leave readers asking, “So, what are we waiting for?  Why is this taking so long?” when said readers would rather buckle in and enjoy the ride, without having to wonder when the wheels will start turning again.  
There isn’t much for Pollard & Sinnott to do, but they hit their marks when given the opportunity, such as when Ben decks the Skrull (p 11, 1st pnl), and when we see the globe-protected planet-fragment cities (p 15).

 Godzilla, King of the Monsters 20
"A Night at the Museum"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Dan Green
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Elaine Heinl
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Bob McLeod

In the midst of Manhattan traffic, Godzilla surges up to 20 feet tall, panicking the citizens and alerting Dum Dum and friends. Young Rob is sent back to the Heli-Carrier, while Gladstone Hawkins suggests trapping Godzilla in the planned museum, so Gabe sets off a flare that gets Godzilla's attention. At the Baxter Building, Thing's favorite show ("the one based on that Hulk clown") is interrupted by news of Godzilla, and the Fantastic Four set off to investigate. The flares lead Big G to the door of the museum, where he's intrigued by the lure of the "cozy lair." The FF show up and enter the museum with the SHIELD contingent, but their plans to help subdue the creature go awry, setting off a battle that almost ends when Sue traps Godzilla in a force field…but he's too strong and breaks out!  Slipping away for a moment, Big G continues to fight Thing, who punches the "Japanese dinosaur" into the new aquarium exhibit—filled with sharks! --Joe Tura
Joe: Well, that was as light and breezy, yet thoroughly more enjoyable, than the kiddie's movie, Godzilla's Revenge. And maybe a bit more intellectual. OK, a lot more intellectual, and no talking Minya in sight! Godzilla is finally growing, but not enough to make much of an impact on the city besides kicking cars like he's a bully tossing around some Matchbox, and certainly not enough to beat the FF. Not that they couldn't give him a run for the money if he were "normal" Godzilla size, but hey, he's not the King of the Monsters for nothing! Alas, the Marvel King is not exactly unbeatable. Thing manages to get in some good licks, Sue almost saves the day, Johnny is a waste, and Reed contributes where he can, while the whole time Dum Dum sits back to "let them take a few lumps" so he doesn’t have to. With Trimpe's art more blocky than ever (must be all those orange rocks?) and Moench keeping things slightly-less-than-serious, it's a quick read that's notable for the first costumed guest stars from the Marvel "cast" since the SHIELD agents back in issue #3. And before you ask, Red Ronin does not count.

Matthew:  I realize we’re speaking in general about a book that features a dinosaur stomping around in modern times, and in particular about a storyline in which said dinosaur changes sizes more often than a yo-yo dieter, so to carp about this issue being far-fetched is probably the height of folly.  But Doug’s whole “let’s lure Godzilla into the Natural History Museum [misidentified, with stunning ineptitude, as the Metropolitan on the cover], and then get the Thing involved, but make sure they don’t break anything” plot is really pushing it.  Plus, I’m no more enamored than Dum Dum is of mixing the Big G with super-heroes (“That’s all we need—another batch of costumed clowns muckin’ up the works”)—especially after the fiasco with the Champions in #3.

 Howard the Duck 30
"If This Be Bongsday!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Gene Colan and Al Milgrom
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Elaine Heinl
Cover by Gene Colan and Al Milgrom

Howard and Bev (Bev’s Uncle Beverly, I mean) continue their vigil at Skudge Hospital, as Paul and Winda slowly recover from their injuries.  When suddenly – a head-splitting BONG heralds the arrival of Howard’s greatest foe, and only Bev-snatcher, Doctor Bong!  He declares that Howard has interfered with his two most important aims: 1) world domination; and 2) Bev’s devotion (Howard reflects that Bong’s second complaint has made him “happier than [he’s] been in months!”).  Bong issues his challenge: Howard will meet him in single combat (so that Bong can debase him properly, and prove himself to Bev) in twenty-four hours, or Bong will destroy the hospital.  Once Bong has bonged himself away, Bev – that is, Bev’s Uncle Bev – thinks he has a plan to help Howard.  As they drive to Cleveland, Bev (i.e. Uncle Bev’s niece Bev) has busied herself back at Castle Bong.  She has enlisted help from some of Bong’s neez-creations to re-start the devices of the Evolvo-Chamber; before she can reach Bong’s inner sanctum and grab his ultimate weapon, Bong bongs back, temporarily shelving Bev’s plan.  In Cleveland, Lee (Uncle Bev’s friends call him Lee – I hope that clears that up) introduces Howard to mechanic Claude Starkowski, who prefers to be called Stark.  Claude offers to build a suit of armor for Howard, just like the one he’d built for Iron Man (“Hah?” – Lee explains: Claude’s “a little off, Ducko – so what?”).  Claude makes some modifications to a suit he’d designed for his nephew, and in an afternoon of work, Iron Duck is born!  Once inside, Howard’s not crazy about the suit (“Gt m ot hre – !”), but Claude states the armor will help Howard occupy Bong and draw him into a circle of sonar dishes; properly arranged and activated, the dishes will create a “sonic field” that should “nullify Bong’s own sonic vibrations!”  Howard doesn’t have much time to field-test the suit, since his twenty-four hours are nearly up, and he and Lee have to get back to Skudge Hospital; once there, Lee has only begun to set the sonar dish trap, when Dr Bong returns, an hour earlier than Howard expected! -Chris Blake
Chris: The armadillo had to have been crossing its forepaws as hard as possible, as it tells a great big fib on the letters page: “Despite wildly spreading rumors, Howard the Duck will not be cancelled.”  Well, I laughed out loud when I read that.  Of course, by now we all know the scenario denied on the page – that HtD would be replaced by a larger-format, higher-priced B&W magazine – is exactly what did transpire, later in 1979.  Sales for HtD had to have taken a beating over the past four months (two fill-ins, and not good ones at that), so surely the editorial powers knew the sands were about to run out for the color comic.  Why was Marvel so afraid of announcing a book’s cancellation? Did they really think that, if they had said “HtD #31 will, in fact, be our final issue,” no one would buy it when it came out in sixty days?  Why not use this space to promote the upcoming magazine, so fans would be assured that this character’s exploits would continue, but in a different, larger format -?
It’s really, really good to have Gene Colan back; it’s really, really too bad that he’s paired with Al Milgrom, who flattens and stiffens most of the illustrations – Dr Bong’s entrances are hard to screw up, so those are as about as impressive (in their bizarre way) as Colan surely had intended.  The appearance of the Iron Duck suit is truly ridiculous (p 26), as there’s an obvious resemblance to the real Iron Man suit, but it’s also apparent the torso covering is merely a small red metal trash can, with hubcaps on its sides (where the power pods would be), and a single headlight on the front.  Howard has heavy-duty springs on his webbed feet (also colored red).  The tiny windshield wipers on his glass faceplate are a nice touch.  No word on jet-skates.  The gauntlets might be closest to the workings of the real Golden Avenger’s armor, since Claude has equipped them with flamethrowers!  
Matthew: Sean Howe notes in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story that with Gerber’s firing, “Stewardship of Howard was split up:  Marv Wolfman took over the newspaper strip, and Bill Mantlo took over the comic book.  When the strip was canceled later in the year, Gerber complained publicly about the ‘downright horrible’ quality of Wolfman’s work.  ‘Once I was gone,’ he told the Village Voice, ‘Howard was lobotomized, devoid of substance, and turned into a simple-minded parody.  So, they’re putting him out of his misery.’”  As for the mag, the lettercol hastens to reassure readers that, “Despite wildly spreading rumors, [it] will not be canceled [or] replaced by a $1.50 magazine-format package...”  At least, not until our next issue.

I won’t say I wanted to dislike this one, despite presumably being irate even at 15 about Gerber’s loss, but I will say I fully expected to, so looking at it again, I find myself pleasantly surprised.  Yet maybe it’s not that much of a surprise after all, even aside from my frequent fondness for Bill:  after all, we’ve had two suck-ass fill-ins to make it look better; Colan’s back, with minimal damage done by embellisher Milgrom; and we’re returning to our regular storyline after an unconscionable six-month delay.  Is Iron Duck—whose dramatic reveal is somewhat undercut by the switching, at least in my copy, of pages 23 and 26—really that different from, say, Master of Qua[c]k Fu?  (Plus, we get lines like, “Bong’s just made me happier than I’ve been in months!”)

Mark: Maybe it's the return of Gene Colan behind the pencil. Maybe it's that the fill-in issues were pretty dreadful, or the awareness that Howie's color mag is nearing extinction, but new scribe Bill Mantlo comes damn close in "If This Be Bongsday!" to returning our dyspeptic waterfowl to former glory. At least for one issue.

The return of Dr. Bong - the closest Howard has to a nutty nemesis - hopeful presages the return to Howard's side of Beverly Switzler, and in the meantime Bong challenges our fine feathered friend to a death-match. It's an offer Howard dare not refuse, lest the Doc bring down (bong down?) the hospital where Winda and Paul Same are recovering from injuries suffered back in HTD #27. Points to Mantlo right off the bat for backing Howard into a corner and forcing him into conflict, an element absent from the recent place-holder installments.

And, class, let me freely admit to judging a book by its cover and groaning upon seeing Howie in his faux Iron Man armor. Yet wounded Vietnam vet and auto repairman Claude Stark, who whips up the Bong-battling gear, is a poignant, funny character worth of Steve Gerber, and his handiwork, complete with foot springs right outta Roadrunner and flamethrowers, should give Howard at least a puncher's chance against the demented Doctor.

Colan works his normal magic, and Bev, assisted by the snack-bribed Neezers, has her own plan cooking (literally, in Bong's reactivated Evolvo-Chamber) to rescue her pin-feathered paramour.

And now I have hope that Mantlo and Colan, since they can't save our ducky from approaching cancellation, can at least send him off in style.

The Incredible Hulk 233
"...At the Bottom of the Bay!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Chic Stone
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Al Milgrom

Hulk plummets after Jackson’s escape craft as it descends through the chute beneath Alcatraz. They crash into the water, which does little to slow the Hulk down. He rips open the rear compartment of the craft. Jackson hits the release button and self-destruct, hoping to blow the Hulk up with that section of the craft. Of course, that fails. On the surface, Marvel Man remained behind with SHIELD Agent Sitwell to look for the Hulk and Jackson. MM flies toward the explosion and nearly collides with the Hulk. Jackson makes it to port and his waiting car, ordering his bodyguards to kill the Hulk. Naturally, they are no match for him, but Jackson makes good his escape. Hulk hears noises from a large semi-truck and discovers Fred in his van, bound and gagged. Marvel Man arrives to take the Hulk back, but Hulk smashy, and the curly-haired super-hero goes flying a thousand yards away, landing in front of a group of bystanders. A kid asks him his name and laughs at how dopey “Marvel Man” sounds. Fred and the Hulk drive off, continuing their journey while, at Gamma Base, Senator Hawk still wants Doc Samson’s job, even after finding out Kligger and Dr. Sofen were traitors. Meanwhile, in Mexico City, Glenn Talbot greets Betty as they discuss something personal we are not quite privy to yet. Finally, Hulk and Fred arrive at Berkeley and a place where Fred says they’ll be among friends. At the house, a blonde girl comes out and Fred is wary about the Hulk, but he need not worry. The Hulk knows Trish Starr…. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: This was a lot of fun. Most of the issue was given over to the Hulk's pursuit of Jackson, which is really excitingly done. It’s frustrating, as Jackson makes a pretty clean getaway, but all in all, very nice. The real fun moment is when Marvel Man is humiliated for having a crappy name. Everyone in the panel is beaming with joy over the guy getting egg on his face. I am assuming this was the reason (SPOILERS!) he changed his name to Quasar. Still not a big fan of Fred Sloan, but the conclusion is intriguing rather than thrilling. I never read the next few issues, so I’m still interested to see what’s next. Lots of threads dangling. Such as, what are Glenn and Betty talking about? Divorce? Or maybe something to do with old T-Bolt, who has been MIA from these pages since his wig-out. Really nice art.  

Chris: It looks like the Corporation storyline has run its course.  Even though he doesn’t succeed in catching Jackson (talk about barely escaping with your hide intact!), the Hulk’s dogged pursuit is very entertaining.  Roger Stern is sure to remind us how the Hulk hates water – so, when he hits the “icy depths,” we can count on him being even angrier!  I can’t say I expected to see Trish Starr; Stern has me intrigued by his next direction.  Lastly, I’m grateful that Glenn and Betty’s pre-divorce meeting in Mexico is mercifully limited to a mere six panels.  

Chic Stone isn’t a great artist by any account, but his finishes work for Sal on this title – dare I say, even better than the Buscema/Esposito art we saw last issue.  As I’ve mentioned before, my strictest art-test for the Hulk involves the depiction of his facial expressions, which is something Sal & Chic manage well.  I’m pretty well hooked from the opening page, as the Hulk is all-rage as he plunges down the steel tube, still reaching his right hand toward the escaping Jackson, in view but out of reach.  For two other highlights, I’ll also pick him leaping from the water (p 10), then facing down the latest crew of armed men (seen from the shooters’ POV), until he can reach and wrench their weapons (from Hulk’s POV; panels 1 and 3 on p 15).  
This issue begins a strange trend on the cover art, as editor Al Milgrom hands himself the assignment.  Milgrom has proven capable of delivering the occasional impressive cover (Defenders #50 comes to mind), but the artists who have provided covers over the past year (such as Ernie Chan, Herb Trimpe, Rich Buckler, and even Ron Wilson), whom Milgrom now supplants, all are capable of far greater art-heights than Milgrom could reach, even on tippy-toes.  It’s part of the editor’s job to ensure his title will sell, and that typically starts with the cover, so it’s surprising Milgrom directs his attention to a little extra freelance cash, instead of the overall success of the mag he’s shepherding.  Maybe he had a kid in private school.  
Matthew: Although neither overdoes it with jaw-dropping new developments, the Two Rogers take different approaches to the “aftermath” of the recent crossover, and unlike McKenzie, who basically took a breather, Stern gives us an action-heavy entry that follows directly from last issue’s cliffhanger, planting the seed (“I can harness the power of the stars…of quasars!”) of Marvel Man-Boy’s new name.  The problem is that the action is largely content-free; I naturally haven’t read Jackson’s Machine Man appearances, yet he seems to be devoid of not only special abilities but also any personality whatsoever.  Again, Sal is treated better by the inker—in this case, a surprisingly effective Stone—here than in the concurrent Captain America.

The Black Panther 14
"The Beasts in the Jungle!"
Story by Ed Hannigan
Art by Jerry Bingham and Gene Day
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by John Costanza and Rick Parker
Cover by Bill Sienkiewicz and Joe Rubinstein

T'Challa entertains some government bigwigs, who sweet-talk the prince, promising him good things to come if he sides with them. The Panther knows that what the officials want is the coveted Wakandan Vibranium , the most powerful element in the entire world. A conversation with Captain America only confirms T'Challa's suspicions, and soon he's out on the rooftops, deep in thought. His thoughts are interrupted by a skirmish below; some gang punks are threatening a lone figure. The Panther recognizes the man as the terrorist Klaw, the man who murdered T'Challa's father years before. The thugs put the KO on Klaw and steal his... klaw. Our hero brings the comatose baddie back to Avengers Mansion for rehab and sets out after the thieves to reclaim the deadly weapon. He arrives just in time, as the gang is about to put the limb to use. Too late, BP learns that Klaw isn't as helpless as he seemed and he still controls his deadly weapon. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: I'm not sure I know where new writer Ed Hannigan is taking us, but one thing is for sure, he's made an interesting plot line rising from the ashes of Kirby Kalamity. I'm just not sure Ed can wrap up all the threads before the axe falls next issue. The letters page is a bizarre "Our Story Thus Far" that manages to go all the way back to FF 52. This was probably easier than the powers-that-be explaining The King's exit. Nice cover by future superstar Sienkiewicz (with an assist by Rubinstein).

Matthew: Like a lot of books, T’Challa’s has only one more issue before the year’s big bloodbath (which technically begins this month with the extracurricular and, as far as I know, unlamented Human Fly), similarly struck down at the start of a new direction and/or creative team, although the strip will have a brief afterlife in Marvel Premiere.  So it’s especially unfortunate that poor Hannigan has to devote so much of its penultimate entry to turning-the-supertanker transitional stuff, e.g., flashbacks to both the Kirby Krap and Klaw’s origin, plus the teaser-reintroduction of Monica and Kevin.  But exploring Wakanda’s role in the modern world is a worthy concept, and I’ll come right out and say it:  Jerry and Gene make T’Challa look as good as I’ve ever seen him.

Chris: The letters page ignores LOCs regarding the previous Kirby issues; instead, we have a lengthy missive (presumably, penned by editor Roger Stern) that points ahead to a restoration of the Panther to Marvel normalcy.  The armadillo promises to offer “a deeper look into the Black Panther.  We’ll be following T’Challa’s adventures in New York, down South, in Africa and any other continent the Jungle Monarch stalks.”  Marveldom Assembled is asked to submit comments regarding this new direction for T’Challa – unless, that is, readers prefer previous directions for the character.  Well guys, don’t you know this is the penultimate Panther?  Either this change has come too late, or it’s not the change readers wanted, or something; in any case, after BP #15, the Prince of the Wakandas will go back into mothballs for a while.  

It’s too bad, because this re-set issue shows some promise.  Wakanda is opening to the west; T’Challa continues to associate with the Avengers, and has a heart-to-heart with Cap (another man who has borne the weight of the world); he nobly finds a way to keep Klaw alive, when some of us would’ve left him on the pavement to rot – in any case, we have to wonder what might’ve caused Klaw to be injured; Monica, Trublood, and Wind -Eagle (!) are on their way back into the picture; T’Challa manages to locate the Thunderbolts’ hideout without the help of any vibranium-boosted psychic powers.  But best of all, sonic-formed red elephants can sprout claws, and wings!  Should make for an entertaining final issue.  

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