Wednesday, November 2, 2016

April 1979 Part Two: Alpha Flight!

Marvel Team-Up 80
Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and Clea in
"A Sorcerer Possessed!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Mike Vosburg and Gene Day
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Rich Buckler and Bob McLeod

After enjoying the Bard’s work at the Delacorte Theatre, Peter and Cissy Ironwood are crossing Central Park one midsummer night when they are attacked by, no, not a mugger but a werewolf, impervious to both the incognito Spidey’s powers and the bullets of a brave mounted cop.  Driving “Shaggy” off with a faceful of webbing from a cartridge on his belt, Peter finds the Eye of Agamotto nearby, so after confirming that Cissy is out of danger, he heads for the Village, only to get the bum’s rush from an obviously terrified Clea.  Next stop:  fortune-teller Madame Xenobia, who asks her granddaughter Ruth’s help in interpreting the Tarot layout described by Peter (recalling Marie Laveau’s ominous words that “its prophecy is not yet done”).

“The cards said we’d win [against Silver Dagger], and by winning Doc would lose everything,” thinks Peter as he sees the mage return home, his Spider-Sense tingle confirmed by Doc slapping Clea, so he leaps in through the window shattered by a thrown chair.  The battle goes badly until her intervention lets Spidey deck Doc, drawing the correct conclusion (no, not that one) from his hairy palms, and Clea uses the Eye to expose his lupine self.  Wong rents a 707 to take his master to “a certain lamasery in Tibet,” planning to stay ahead of the moon, but it rises before the jet can leave JFK, the transformed Doc escaping in the resultant crash as the flight crew is rescued; meanwhile, Satana arrives to save Strange’s soul or, “if he has tasted human blood…to kill him.” 
-Matthew Bradley

I presume that Vosburg is credited as “guest penciler” at least partially because he’s following Byrne’s bang-up job last time, but that turns out to be John’s swan song on the book, excepting his reunion with Claremont, who outlasts this blog by a single issue, for the backup story in #100.  Voz himself will be back only once more—in #90—after this two-parter, which will make for five out of six months during which Doc appears in one team-up title or the other (hope the exposure is helping sales of his own, which has been on an upswing of late).  Inked here by Day, Mike is currently collaborating with Chris on no fewer than three mags, including John Carter, where they will finish out their run together in September, and the last two issues of Ms. Marvel.

Looks like Voz will go on to draw all but the first issue of The Savage She-Hulk, which probably says it all, yet even with years of experience under his belt here, both Peter on the splash page and the cop on page 3 have shoulders that appear to defy basic human anatomy.  Gene doesn’t seem to bring a lot to the table, because the faces—especially Doc’s, although he’s admittedly possessed—are all over the map, while I’m at a loss to explain what’s befallen poor Wong, who looks like Half-Face in panel 11 of the extremely crowded page 23.  I suppose I have to express my admiration for page 15, but perhaps more for the concept, which replicates the Tarot layout thrown by Marie Laveau (right down to those inverted cards), than for its perfunctory execution.

It’s totally legit to bring Doc back so soon, because the end of #77 told us overtly that this story wasn’t over yet, but I can’t tell you how annoyed I am to have La Ironwood foisted on us.  Sure, she looks hot in her tank top and short-shorts, yet we really have no more idea than we did last time of who she is, how Peter met her or, most important, why in the name of all that’s holy he’d get involved with a third girl when he’s already been bopping back and forth between Betty and M.J. like the electronic “ball” in a game of Pong (for my fellow old-timers).  Mercifully, if I’m not mistaken, after Chris uses her in Marvel Team-Up Annual #2 and Steven Grant borrows her for the aforementioned #90—outside our curriculum—she returns to the void whence she sprang.

Joe: That was a bit of a bizarre issue. Dr. Strange turns into a werewolf? And he's a nasty jerk to Clea? And Peter Parker is dating some hot blonde named Cissy? Not that I have a clue who Cissy is yet, but she seems to exist only in the pages of MTU. So lucky Peter, he gets a babe for every Spidey book! That's just the start of the mysteries, and we don't get any answers except when Satana shows up—if the question was "Can this issue get any stranger?" And how about that letters page? It's a fictional-person frenzy, with not only a "review" of MTU #74 by "Roseann Rosannadanna," but also a letter from "Generalissimo Francisco Franco." 

Chris Blake: Claremont demonstrates that a Spidey-Dr Strange team-up is no easy thing to engineer.  Part of the challenge is to find an opponent, or force, that requires a combination of their unique skills; often, one character or the other takes the prominent role, with the other party either waiting to lend a hand, or possibly held out of the battle while trying to extricate himself from something.  In the case of their previous pairing, Spidey spent a significant part of the story on the sidelines (MTU #76; for part of the time, Spidey is mystically disguised, and so not even appearing to be himself).  This time, it’s Doc’s turn to be out of it – he’s really not himself these days, you know.  

Claremont had achieved this balance, with both characters making their separate contributions to defeat a mystically-powered foe, when Spidey and Man-Thing tangled with D’Spayre in MTU #68; the same sort of partnership has been missing in these Spidey-Doc issues (and while I think of it, how did Claremont ever convince editor Milgrom to have Doc as the co-star in 4 out of 6 issues?).  I’m left reflecting on how unfortunate it is that the two distinct personalities of Spidey and Doc have no opportunity to interact and trade observations, since anytime they happen to be in the same place, the possessed Doc is fighting Spidey; I almost wish for a MARMIS, since then, there might at least be some remedy after a page or two of sparring.  
I have another criticism: what’s with the plane almost-takeoff?  Doc’s possessed, so now we have to charter a plane, and fly to Tibet?  Then Doc snaps back to lupine-ness, and crashes the plane as it’s about to take off (scene missing)?  And somehow, everyone walks away from the flaming wreck, after it had been moving at speeds well over 100 mph when it smashed to pieces?  It seems like a needless bit of noisy carnage (in the letters page for MTU #86, Thomas O. of Tucson AZ seems to agree with me, as he posits “I think you just wanted a big plane so you could have the fun of destroying it.”).  Wouldn’t it have been an option – and, possibly more visually interesting – if Clea (listed right there on the cover as the co-star) had used the Orb of Agamotto to reach out to these learned others, for direction on a potential remedy for Doc’s condition?  No, Clea’s left at home again (maybe she has to sort Doc’s laundry, or something) while Doc and Spidey go crash a plane.  Makes no sense.  
It’s a mind-boggler to think that, in the same month, three issues scripted by Claremont would include pencils by Mike Vosburg.  How do these things happen?  Well, at least this is the best-looking of the three, thanks to Gene Day, who smooths out some of Vosburg’s awkward depictions of the characters (he isn’t able to fix Peter’s shoulder pads on the first few pages, nor the cop’s squared-off shoulders on p 3).  Clea comes thru the experience fairly well, even if she does appear to have a fragile-looking Barbie-waist.  Highlight is the full-page of the mysterious tarot (p 15); I’m fairly certain this is the first time we’ve heard the cards tell their tale since the noteworthy presentation by Sal Buscema & Al McWilliams in Marvel Spotlight/Son of Satan #20.  

Marvel Two-In-One 50
The Thing and The Thing in
"Remembrance of Things Past!"
Story by John Byrne
Art by John Byrne and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by George Pérez and Joe Sinnott

Reed continues his tireless efforts to restore Ben’s human form, yet the tests inspired by his own recent power-loss show that unlike the early days, when Ben sometimes reverted spontaneously as his body tried to shed the effect of the cosmic rays, its evolution “from something akin to dinosaur hide…to its present rock-like state” means it is getting increasingly “comfortable” as the Thing.  Told that Reed’s new formula would have cured him back then, but not now, Ben sets Doom’s time machine for a few months after their fateful flight, forgetting to set the space displacer.  Glimpsing Reed as he prepares to rent their H.Q., Ben slips out unseen and heads to his old apartment block, frightening a tenant and drawing the attention of…himself.

Calling New Ben a “monster,” the more misanthropic Old Ben—no, not Kenobi—refuses to talk it over, and has never heard of “Doc Doom,” so he hurls New Ben into a condemned brownstone (“Coming soon on this site:  another soulless glass and steel monstrosity with absolutely no architectural merits, courtesy of Rand/Meachum”).  Finally, 1970s-style clobberin’ time prevails and New Ben cures his unconscious ’60s self, expecting he will also change when he returns to the present, but as Reed explains, “Any change you make in the past results in another reality—a new one caused by your presence.”  Hey, that’s Earth-7490 to you, pal, if the Marvel Database it so be believed; Ben philosophically notes, “compared to him, I’m a reg’lar Robert Redford!” 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Byrne shifts into full writer-artist (or, per the credits, “words & pictures”) mode, and although as a scholar I’m compelled to admit that Sinnott’s embellishment—also gracing the Perez cover—downplays John’s distinctive style, the result is such Russell Stover-worthy eye candy that I’ll just start woofing down chocolate creams.  As off-beat team-up stories go, Ben’s battling himself is tough to top, with two full-pagers among the 10 out of 17 devoted to a straight-ahead slugfest, as well as an unusual MARMIS.  Byrne’s grasp of the characters of this half of the FF, whose own book he will write for five post-blog years, is better than some, and as one with an aversion to time-paradoxes, I appreciated how simply and straightforwardly he obviated creating one here.

Joe: I had quite a nice run of Marvel Two-In-One issues in my collection, and of course this one was included. A John Byrne comic featuring two Things? Yeah, I was there. I remember the story was almost like a What If?, which was a plus for me, and even though it's ultimately a bit hokey reading the recap now, I'll still hold on to the fond memories. 

Chris: It’s hard to believe Byrne could’ve nailed down a writing assignment – and for an “anniversary” issue, no less – so soon after arriving on the scene.  He must’ve made quite an impression among the editorial brass.  While it’s not an earth-shaking story, it does offer an entertaining twist on the familiar “A Cure for the Thing!” installment.  I had forgotten Byrne’s presentation of the old Ben speaking in a very formal style, which must have been true to Stan’s writing for the character in the earliest days of the FF, before Ben’s characteristic outer-borough speech pattern developed (if only I had a mint-condition copy of Fantastic Four #1 to take down from my shelf to consult; in its absence, I’ll have to assume this is Byrne’s reason for writing the character this way).  

Byrne knows a meeting of two Things wouldn’t be expected to play out along intellectual lines (even if one Thing happens to be an alternate-Earth Reed Richards, as seen in FF circa #162), so the action sells the story.  The battle has its moments, but the Big Moment (wisely captured in a full-page illustration) is on p 10, as Things past (reddish dinosaur hide) and present (tan terracotta) come face-to-face.  
For once, the armadillo-fed hype on the letters page proves true, as this issue kicks off the strongest year of this title’s history, featuring scripts by Macchio & Gruenwald, and art by Byrne and … Pérez!  It’s fortunate we’ll have this opportunity to re-view the first chapters of the Project Pegasus storyline as part of the Marvel University curriculum.  

Mark Barsotti: Had to chime in for the "Big 50th issue" Thing vs. Thing throw-down, and future FF auteur John Byrne makes it well-worth adding to my class load.

Fighting yourself from a different era is the ultimate MARMIS, and to pop the obvious plot-pimple here, all Ben-'79 had to do to avoid a dust-up was tell Ben-'61 a personal secret only he/they would know. But then we wouldn't have much of a story.

So let's dispense with suspension of disbelief, class, and enjoy the show. While its been referred to occasionally over the years, Byrne's the first to gives us a flowchart of the Thing's evolving appearance (all - almost needless to say - at the whim & wisdom of Jack Kirby), but makes it key to the slender plot of Ben grabbing Reed's latest failed turn-the-Thing-human potion (that, Stretch assures Ben, woulda worked back when), firing up Doc Doom's time machine, and making for the New Frontier.

Mark: Thing-'61 doesn't really look like Kirby's, but invokes the proper spirit of melted-pumpkin grotesque. More interesting is Byrne recreating Ben Grimm's first, more formal voice, "And the Thing does not talk...he acts!" and "Now Reed will only have a corpse to examine," is a long way from Aunt Petunia 'n' Clobberin' Time.

What Ben's original, bitter adult voice reveals, of course, is that it took Lee and Kirby a while to evolve the characterization that made the Thing one of the most popular comic characters of the '60's, namely a wise-crackin', alienated outsider. No matter, since Byrne uses to it great effect to underscore that the differences between the "two Things" was more than merely cosmetic.

With long-time FF inker Joe Sinnott on-board, the graphics are great throughout, the "my enemy, myself" battle appropriately epic. So much so that it would almost be churlish of me to wonder how the vial of potion, which Thing-'79 pours down his counterpart's gullet (apparently creating a whole next timeline) at the end of the tale managed to survive all the carnage.

As Ben himself might say, "Jeez, do you expect me ta figure out everything?"

Master of Kung Fu 75
"Shattered Crowns"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and Bruce Patterson
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by Mike Zeck and Rudy Nebres

Brynocki’s greatest threat, the immense undersea monstrobot, reaches for Shang-Chi & Co.  He flicks Shockwave away, but grabs S-C; S-C twists out of the monstrobot’s grasp and kicks in its left eye, successfully disabling it.  Tarr and Leiko swim to the surface to join Shockwave; S-C follows, but only after removing the small tape device that had provided the 'bot with its threatening voice.  The rescue plane is behind schedule, so as the crew discusses their options, Shockwave offers the seaplane that had brought him here, which presently is on the far side of Mordillo Island.  The journey across the island is soon interrupted by two giant crabs, which apparently are motion-activated; the only sure way to get past would be for one person to serve as a decoy, to allow the others to get thru.  Tarr volunteers Shockwave, calling him a “freak,” which prompts an enraged reaction from Shockwave; he proceeds to recount his dream (back when he still was known as Lancaster Sneed) to follow his Uncle Nayland and pursue adventures as a member of MI-6.  Sneed was injured and disfigured by a blast on his first mission, which resulted in his departure from the service, followed by a series of surgeries to repair and obscure his injuries, and finally his self-exile, as Sneed became Shockwave and occupied himself by entertaining carnival-goers with feats of strength.  Shockwave then found his way to the employ of Fu Manchu, “and then,” he says, “I failed … at that … too.”  

As he concludes, Shockwave describes how MI-6 then took him back, supposedly for deprogramming from his Fu days, but instead “fed” him orders, and made him “an assassin without [his] knowing it!”  Back in Scotland, Sarsfield informs Sir Denis and Reston that MI-6 isn’t concerned whether or not they “know too much”; their fear is that the ex-agents might have been compromised by the enemy, even possibly without knowing it.  Sarsfield expects their confessions; in an effort to buy time, Sir Denis indicates he and Reston will comply.  S-C has travelled alone across the island and reaches the seaplane, but isn’t able to get it airborne, so he drives it over the water back to his comrades.  By the time he reaches them, he is just in time to save them from a final onslaught by Brynocki’s robots.  Once free of the island, S-C states he must speak to the Prime Minister about rectifying “what has been done to Sneed”; to help his cause, S-C produces the tape machine he had lifted from the monstrobot, and demonstrates how he had used it to tape Sneed’s confession.  -Chris Blake
Chris: The saga of Shockwave takes an unexpected turn, as we now can anticipate his rehabilitation.  I figure there also might be a rescue of Sir Denis and Reston in the offing; call it a hunch.  It’s been a mildly entertaining multi-parter built around the Return to Mordillo Island, and while Brynocki has a peculiar appeal, I’m more than ready to move on.  Curious choice by Moench to omit the sequence that would’ve shown Shang-Chi’s peril-packed journey from one end of Mordillo Island to another; maybe this bit had to be trimmed for space, but a judicious use of panels elsewhere in the issue might’ve allowed for an additional page of content.
I’m not knocking Zeck & Patterson, since again they deliver solid and clear graphics.  My one concern is that their art over the past few issues has been suitable for Mordillo Island and its funhouse attractions, but I hope it will translate as well to a markedly different setting, such as a dark and shadowy story, or one that requires smaller panels for faster action; as I suggested in the previous paragraph, Zeck hasn’t shown much inclination towards this well-established MoKF art-technique.  

Mark: "Shattered Crowns" brings our latest trip to Mordillo's island to a largely satisfying, if unexpectedly muted conclusion. Most of my gripes are minor - giant robot sea-monster too easily dispatched; Lancaster "Shockwave" Sneed's expanded, neurotic childhood bio doesn't expand our interest; hordes of attacking robots play as more annoyance than menace (due, in part, to Mike Zeck's demented Disneyland rendering of same); even old fave Brynocki, without a boss to annoy, almost begins to annoy me - but they accumulate.

And we notice them at all because the pace here is askew throughout. The Big Threat (robo sea-monster) is dispatched on p.3. There's a long pause for Sneed's flashback, when Shang-Chi and company should be plotting to outwit giant crabs. S-C tapes Sneed monologue - on a recorder ripped from the sea-monster's throat (!)- as evidence to convince the Prime Minister MI-6 is rotten. That's gonna go well.
But we also - with ears perking up - get our first hint that Fu Manchu will return, when Sarsfield casually asserts he's still alive on p.22. One trusts we won't have to wait too long for more details.

And, despite the itchy nits, this one was entertaining, albeit far more leisurely wind-down than thrilling wrap-up. One might argue that this was deliberate, that instead of finding himself bereft of a Big Finale, Moench set out to subvert the tropes of the genre.

One might argue that, but this deep into the Presidential Sweepstakes, there's not a bag of fertilizer left to be found...

 The Micronauts 4 
“A Hunting We Will Go!”
Story by Bill Mantlo 
Art by Michael Golden and Joe Rubinstein
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Joe Rubinstein

On Homeworld, Baron Karza’s Dog Soldiers swarm the subterranean sewer sectors hunting for fresh meat for their master’s Body Banks — they are also searching for a loyalist called Slug, unaware that the fugitive is a young woman. After the rebels are either killed or captured, a man named Tril claims to be Slug to protect their leader: Karza launches one of his detachable hands and crushes his throat.

Back on Earth, Commander Rann struggles to keep the heavily damaged HMS Endeavor in the air. Even as the solar collectors begin to fail, Rann pushes the limping ship towards Daytona Beach to rescue Bug from Steve Coffin’s backyard. At the Coffin homestead, Steve’s father Ray places the wreckage of the Wing Fighter from one of Prince Shaitan’s Galactic Cruisers into a shoebox and they jump into his pickup truck with their dog Muffin and drive off to NASA — Bug, after surviving a spray of “nauseating” water from a sprinkler, jumps on the vehicle’s back bumper. Ray, a former astronaut, is let through the front gate and parks at the agency’s Human Engineering Life Laboratories. Leaving Muffin in the pickup and taking Steve along, Ray meets with a former co-pilot named Philip Prometheus, now a high-ranking administrator, and shows him the miniature UFO. Unnoticed, the tiny Bug cautiously follows — the Insectivorid thinks that the Wing Fighter is his key to getting back home.

Meanwhile, Prince Shaitan breaches the spacewall in what remains of his Galactic Cruiser and returns to the microverse. A projection of Baron Karza appears before the traitorous Acroyear prince: enraged that his underling failed in his mission to destroy the Micronauts, he severs all ties. Karza also removes the thoughtwash he placed on the prince’s warrior race that made them believe that Acroyear, his brother, was dead. Shaitan screams that the Acroyears will destroy him if they know that he betrayed their beloved and rightful ruler. In Daytona Beach, the crippled Endeavor arrives at the Coffin house and Rann manages a rough landing into the garage through an open window. Leaving Biotron behind to begin repairs, the rest of the Micronauts blast off in the smaller Astro Station on board and begin tracking Bug’s unique brainwaves. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: OK, never mind my confusion over why Ray Coffin used the terms “Cape” and “Institute” last month: yes, he was actually referring to NASA. Not sure why Bill Mantlo didn’t just come out and say so. By the way, supposedly the agency’s Human Engineering Life Laboratories was completely finished until someone realized the acronym was H.E.L.L. Really? We are talking about NASA, right? Besides, the spelled out name is worrisome enough.

Anyways, the Micronauts creative team seems to be settling into a fabulous groove. We haven’t really had a stand-alone issue yet — each month has pushed forward a single, sprawling storyline. But, after last issue’s slam-bang action, Bill Mantlo gives us a chance to catch our breath. Besides the introduction of Slug and Shaitan’s shame, Mantlo doesn’t move the plot forward in a major way: what we have are a few beautifully illustrated vignettes. But there is plenty of brutality on display. The Dog Soldiers basically slaughter the rebels for a few pages at the beginning using deadly weaponry straight out of the toy line. And the strangulation of the sacrificial lamb Tril is quite bloody. You can feel the crunch of Karza’s Thunderball Fist. I can’t remember if Slug becomes a major part of the proceedings, but with a name like that, it’s understandable that the Baron’s forces think she’s a he. 

Plus, we have more of the blossoming romance between Rann and Mari. Microtron interrupts their “lover’s quarrel” while, on the very last panel, Biotron muses that the “tension running between the Commander and the Princess is that emotion commonly referred to as … love!” Come on Bill, we can all see it coming a mile away: there’s no need to spell things out so clumsily. Now Acroyear is the name of the actual action figure, but not sure why Bill used the same for his race. Makes things a bit confusing when trying to describe the action. “Acroyear, prince of the Acroyears …” To make matters worse, two of the Dog Soldier vehicles are a pair of Giant Acroyears. Now they were not named, but I knew what they were instantly — recognizing toys from my childhood is one of the aspects that make this series so enjoyable. But still, that’s a lot of Acroyears. Of course, the art is superb.

Matthew: Especially with last issue’s debut of the Duchess Belladonna, I kept thinking that Baron Karza’s whole selling-new-bodies-to-evil-rich-old-people (is that redundant?) routine reminded me of Jeddara Xaxa and Ras Thavas, the eponymous Master Mind of Mars.  Yet while I’m sure that such a durable SF concept is scarcely unique to Edgar Rice Burroughs, the penny finally dropped when I sat down to read this:  Mantlo conflated Master Mind and its immediate predecessor, The Chessmen of Mars, in his John Carter, Warlord of Mars Annual #2.  Which is fine, don’t get me wrong; the Goldinstein art remains impressive, and I like the fact that they feel they can treat individual installments more as parts of an ongoing serial than stand-alone entries.

Chris: Mantlo & Golden patiently move the storyline forward.  We learn there still is an active (though dwindling) resistance on Homeworld, but based on the observations overheard from citizens, its liquidation by Karza and the dog soldiers has public support.  Karza's command of the situation plays into his arrogance, as he thoughtlessly jettisons his alliance with Shaitan's Acroyears; once the Acroyear people learn that Shaitan's rule is illegitimate, couldn't their forces then be marshaled against Karza?  We'll see.  We also have a new character, Dr Prometheus, who is very interested in Steve Coffin's miniature (but HUGE) discovery.  In any case, it's become clear that Mantlo & Golden know where they're going with this story, so we should stick with their plan.    

The Golden/Rubinstein art helps to underscore the savagery of Karza's attacks on the underclass; whether aligned with the resistance or not, they're fair game for the body banks.  Highlights include: page one, as the scurrying, desperately-firing populace is contrasted with the dispassionate, cooly professional soldiers, as they pick their targets from above; a spectacular explosion, and a panicked look on the face of a fleeing citizen in the bottom corner (p 2, last pnl); spooky image of the giant fighter robots as bodies are swept up (p 3, last pnl); Karza's bloody hands-on (sorry ...) execution of Tril, who sacrifices himself to keep the heat off Slug (p 10, first three panels); the depiction of the crippled Endeavor, as it wobbles its way around the Coffin residence, looking very much like a self-propelled kid’s  toy (p 23), which I find quite comical, since ultimately, that’s what all these things are.  

Spider-Woman 13
"Suddenly... the Shroud!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald
Art by Carmine Infantino and Al Gordon
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Bob McLeod

Jessica and Jerry see Magnus off at the airport; he’s about to start a gig as a Vegas magician.  Jerry then has to leave too, as SHIELD has called him in for a new field assignment.  Jessica finds herself alone, now living in Jerry’s apartment while he’s away, and resolves to find work to support herself.  She has a series of temporary assignments, but none last very long; Jessica is reminded that she seems to inspire an instinctive dislike in people.  Discouraged and looking for harmless distraction, she catches an interview on the Tonight Show with an actress who credits the Hatros Institute for helping her identify and address her “innermost feelings.”  Jessica takes advantage of a free trial session at Hatros, and finds it helpful, but can’t afford to continue weekly sessions; so, Dr Leaman offers Jessica a job at the Institute as a receptionist.  Dr Leaman then excuses himself, and informs Ms Hatros that Jessica has accepted a job as their receptionist; Ms Hatros is pleased, as she expects Jessica may “hold the key to unlocking emotion!”  A few weeks later, Jessica is at the front desk in the evening, when the room grows dark; she feels a pinch at the base of her neck, and passes out.  Moving thru the spreading darkness is the Shroud, who is surprised a few minutes later by Spider-Woman (reviving quickly from the Shroud knockout grip).  She chases him around the shadowy Institute, frequently missing with venom blasts, as the indoor gloom makes him hard to target.  Spider-Woman then uses a fire extinguisher to coat the floor with foam; as the Shroud slips to the floor, S-W zaps him and knocks him out.  As she crouches down and prepares to lift him, S-W notices scarring on his face.  She has moved him from the darkened corridor to an unlit room, when the door slams shut, the lights come on, and S-W finds herself surrounded by “a dozen dagger-wielding men … crawling out of the woodwork … .” -Chris Blake
Chris: It’s the right decision to move on from Magnus, and to create space between Jessica and Jerry; Jessica and Magnus both seem to understand she’s learned as much as she reasonably can expect from him, and readers have known all along that there’s no basis for Jerry’s attraction to Jessica.  There’s still an awful lot Jessica doesn’t know about herself, and how she’s going to make it in the world of ordinary humans, so now is her chance to start working thru that.  The “bad vibes” deal is a curious thing that’s been poking around in these pages since close to the beginning, so I’m hopeful Gruenwald will either dismiss it, or explain it, or something; it doesn’t make a great deal of sense, and it only seems to hold Jessica back, so I hope there’s a way to put it to rest.
The Shroud’s return is unexpected, but welcome; with Super-Villain Team-Up having closed its doors, the Shroud’s been sorta left between assignments.  In a two-page spread, Gruenwald & Infantino recap Shroud’s career (moving quickly past the parts of his origin that had been ripped from the pages of Batman).  We also are informed that the Shroud, in addition to his “mystic sense of perception” that compensates for his loss of sight, now also has found – after surviving bombardment by the Red Skull’s deadly satellite – he is capable of summoning up “absolute darkness.”  We don’t know yet what he might’ve been seeking at the Institute, or why knife-bearing characters might’ve followed him there; we also don’t know exactly what the Institute’s interest is in Jessica (we’re told that they fired their present receptionist in order to hire Jessica!), but if we all can be patient, we’ll find out soon enough.

Matthew:  I’ve always liked the Shroud—created for SVTU, we may recall—so I was naturally nervous about how Gruenwald will handle him, but apparently they have some big plans, judging by the admittedly impressive two-page spread recapping his history.  I chuckled at the tagline about “A Secret Mission for Jerry Hunt, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.!,” since so far he’s acted about as much like an agent as I am; in fact, my novelist pal Greg Cox immortalized me as one in his Gamma Quest trilogy.  I’ll admit Mark stumped me with Margaret Huff, who made her only appearance in Nick Fury #14, but presume he expected duffers like me to recognize the names of Jeff Cochren and especially Laura Brown, so I’m interested to see what he has in store.

It’s probably worth explaining his new assignment, which is to find out what happened to field agents Margaret Huff and “Jeffrey” Cochren, who disappeared while investigating the cult of Kali, hence the Shroud tie-in; clearly, neither he nor his new partner, Laura Brown, is thrilled about their pairing.  I’ll admit Mark stumped me with Huff, who made her only appearance in Nick Fury #14, but presume he expected duffers like me to recognize the names of Cochren and especially Laura, so I’m interested to see what he has in store.  For you youngsters, it was Jeff Cochren who—under Nightshade’s influence—made a lot of trouble for Captain America and the Falcon in #188-191 (and perhaps was demoted to field agent as a result), while Laura, the daughter of erstwhile Supreme Hydra Arnold Brown, became an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and, for a time, Nick’s pre-Val girlfriend.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 29
"Dust to Dust!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Jim Mooney and Frank Springer
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Keith Pollard and Bob McLeod

The angry Carrion is choking Peter Parker at the campus library, with the words "DUST TO DUST" scrawled on Hector Ayala, whose friend Holly Gills is screaming in terror. Peter manages to break Carrion's stranglehold and gets Holly to go for security, dragging Hector with her. Left alone with the macabre mystery man, Peter is smacked around and has Red Dust thrown in his face. He leaps at Carrion, who disappears—and Peter plummets toward the pavement! Hector changes into White Tiger and leaps to his friend's side, taking him to the hospital after Parker lands in some bushes. The hospital stay doesn't last long, but neither Peter nor his friends can figure out the Carrion conundrum. Student teacher Peter walks into science undergrad Randy Vale, who shuffles off to a lab in the ESU Science Building—where Carrion awaits, ordering Vale to trap Parker! Peter's pals and landlord clean up his pad, while Hector/White Tiger keeps a close eye on Peter from the rooftops…when suddenly he's knocked out by a flying fiend called "Darter," one of Carrion's cronies! The dust-dealing devil pops up in a flash of light, goads Peter into donning his Spidey costume, and taunts him with cryptic conversation after they end up in the gym. White Tiger recovers and forces Darter to take him to Carrion. Darter smashes through a window (Hector on his back), and the distraction allows Spidey to grab Carrion and demand answers. He's told by the skinny scoundrel, "I accuse you of the murder of Gwen Stacy and Professor Miles Warren!" --Joe Tura

Joe: So mysterious, this crazy Carrion! Always talking of vengeance against Peter/Spider-Man, and he's aware of Peter's secrets. We get more clues during the second battle, in the gym, including "I am one you knew, Parker, but I am not who I was!," and "Revenge for what you stole from me! The only beautiful thing I'd ever known—the only thing I'd ever loved—and finally, my life!," plus "Liar!! You murdered them both—by fall and by fire!" Now, there are miles to go before we figure out Carrion's identity, but it does warrant an answer soon. All we know, without skipping ahead to next month's spinner rack, is that it has something to do with Gwen and the Jackal. Which can't be good!

Darter is a stupid villain, but at least B-list hero White Tiger gets to battle him, not wasting Spidey's time. He kinda has his webs full with Carrion anyway, who looks thinner here than before. The Mooney art looks thin all around, with clichéd poses and murky backgrounds, although it's nowhere near as horrible as it sounds. Mantlo's script leans heavy on mystery, from giving us more Carrion clues to befuddling us with more White Tiger. Still a decent issue, despite being talky and distracting.

Favorite sound effect is one that struck me as funny, when Carrion "repels" a library bookcase, books and more towards Peter and it strikes him with a mighty "FRUMP!" Probably would have been funnier, and made more sense, if it happened to "frumpy" landlady Mrs. Muggins.

Chris: Could Prof Warren still be alive – or worse – returned from the dead somehow?  Carrion’s declaration at the close of the issue points directly back to Warren himself, so now we have to figure out how he became Carrion.  It’s a big bit of news, but it’s the only payoff to speak of in an issue devoted mostly to cat-and-mouse, as Peter tries to evade, and then to flush out Carrion.  Peter’s confusion and frustration provide most of the dramatic tension, especially at times when his Spidey-sense doesn’t tell him anything, even though it clearly should indicate that Carrion presents an imminent danger.  As for Carrion himself, if he’s so intent on killing Spidey, you have to wonder why he’s drawing this out over so much time.  Okay Bill, you’ve got my interest, but I’m warning you: wrap this up next issue, or I’m going to start calling you Barv Manolfman.

Matthew: Since Mantlo has moved Carrion from the back burner to the front, I’ve started enjoying this run more, yet while I’m sure there are those lamenting the fact that the art has reverted from Miller—whose work, per the lettercol, was rapturously received (“Look for fabulous Frank in upcoming issues of Daredevil!”)—to Mooney, the Springer Effect mitigates the comedown, and honestly, I don’t really mind this.  What I do mind is cheapening a formidable foe like Carrion with a boring, ugly, stupidly named flunky.  I already liked that truly striking PolLeod cover, but I liked it even more when I got to page 22, and I thanked Crom that it does not feature “Marvel’s Newest Super-Villain Sensation, Darter!”

Power Man and Iron Fist 56
"The Scarab's Sting!"
Story by Mary Jo Duffy
Art by Trevor Von Eeden and Frank Springer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Bob Layton

Well, the boys are up-and-running with their new Heroes for Hire venture but bills must be paid so the duo sign on to guard an exhibit of ancient Egyptian artifacts. The first night, a group of banditos attempts to make off with the antiquities but their efforts are easily foiled by Power Man and Iron Fist. In the excitement, the leader manages to escape. But that's not the worst news the boys receive: turns out all the exhibits have been stolen and replaced by forgeries. Question is: who managed to get in and swap the goods right under the noses of the Heroes for Hire partners? After Luke hits the street and "interviews" a boatload of snitches and Danny uses his police connections, the heroes discover the identity of the real swindler: Dr. Abdol, the man who hired them in the first place! They bust down the door to his crib only to find... the Living Monolith! -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: I've run out of sarcastic wit to describe the goings-on here so I'll just say that I can't think of a worse way to spend a half hour than reading Power Fist. New writer, new artists, same old crap. At least it's consistent. Mary Jo seems to have just as good a handle on the Cage character as Hannigan did; that is to say, no clue whatsoever. With all the differences between Danny and Luke (and how those differences obviously bother the big guy), would someone please explain to me how this partnership was a good idea?  The old switcheroo and the secret behind the culprit were about as big a shock to me as the circulation statement that reveals that 107, 231 zombies actually bought every issue of this tripe back in 1979. With the tease that the X-Men would be visiting these pages next issue, there were probably a whole bunch of those zombies who thought we'd see a return visit from Mssrs. Byrne and Claremont. Think again, bub.

Chris: Mary Jo Duffy makes her debut on this title, and will script most of the next twenty-eight issues, making her the definitive Power Man/Iron Fist writer of the Bronze era [Some achievement! -- MRB].  From the start, MJD establishes her understanding that this title is about the relationship of Danny and Luke; they do not always agree with or understand each other, but they are partners, and their friendship gains substance over time.  There is hardly any action to speak of, but both characters are involved in the mystery that affects them; Cage doesn’t want their supposed mistake to cost Danny his fortune, plus he’s reasonably sure this has been an inside job.  Danny mentions how the story of the robbery has been carried on the wire services, but Luke is similarly concerned about their rep on the streets.  The battle with the Living Monolith (coming soon in our next pulse-pounding issue) is more exception than rule for Duffy; for the most part, she will keep the activity to the street level, where it belongs for non-super-powered, non- world-saving characters like Luke and Danny. 

Trevor Von Eeden also is a welcome addition; the art of veteran Lee Elias was not going to become any more interesting (Von Eeden will become better known for his atmospheric work on various Batman titles for the Dustgathering Competition).  Von Eeden sometimes misses the chance to show Cage to be as broad and solid as he can be (e.g., he seems much more muscular on p 3 pnl 5 than he does in pnl 6).  More importantly, Von Eeden recognizes how he can contribute to characterization, such as: the sheepish look on Danny’s face when he doesn’t realize he’s insulted Luke (p 6); Luke’s frustration with the swanky new offices, as he knows his regular neighborhood contacts wouldn’t ever show up there, and Danny thoughtfully considers his point (p 10, pnl 2); Danny smirks at Luke when he complains about the dull nature of their detail (p 14, pnl 2), but then turns and is ready when Luke signals for him to be quiet (last pnl); an intriguing bit as Danny’s presence somehow compels a captured thief into spilling his intel, as Danny is pictured as an overwhelming, looming presence (p 26, pnl 7).  
There are three nice humorous moments, first when Luke decks the bunch of would-be museum thieves, after Danny has tried so hard to teach Luke some martial-arts moves (p 16), next when a well-placed blow to the soda machine triggers a free drink for Luke (after all the times it screwed him out of a Coke he’d paid for!), which he doesn’t notice as he walks away (p 19), and finally when Luke offers to knock on Abdol’s door, and proceeds to kick it to splinters (p 27).

Matthew: First, we had Conan in the Guggenheim; then, Godzilla in the Natural History Museum (sic); next, Spidey and Red Sonja in the Metropolitan; and now, with breathtaking originality, the cover promises…“Mayhem in the Museum!”  Echoing the lettercol, which touts Duffy and Von Eeden as the new “permanent” creative team—although Trevor will last a big four issues—a Bullpen Bulletin raves that “Jo has finally snagged her first regular series…and right off the bat she’s made a winner!...You just plain won’t believe who Luke Cage and the K’un-Lun Kid come to scratch against!  It may be the mismatch of the century—and not in favor of the good guys!”  Or readers, relegating the freakin’ Living Monolith to this crap book.

Neither the fake-out “rematch” splash page nor the labor-saving background-free panels endear this to me any further, and Trevor being a newbie, it’s hard to assess whether Springer was more of a help or a hindrance, although bitter experience suggests the latter.  Either way, the results are wildly uneven, with Danny looking fierce in page 2, panel 5, and then like two totally different characters between panels 2 and 4 of page 6; Luke (“Jennie-love”?  Seriously?) inviting an NAACP complaint in page 10, panel 2; and Jeryn one again being completely unrecognizable.  I’m amazed that at this late date, Dr. Abdol—which I could’ve sworn was “Abdul”—can even show his face publicly without being held accountable for the mayhem the Monolith has caused.

Star Wars 22
"To the Last Gladiator"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Clem Robins
Cover by Dave Cockrum, Carmine Infantino, and Bob Wiacek

Han and Chewie face each other in the Wheel’s holographic arena, which is projecting the illusion and weightlessness of deep space, complete with floating asteroids. Other warriors abound and for a time, the two friends are able to work together to defeat them, even though their blasters are not activated while those of their opponents are. All they have to protect themselves are small ray shields. Senator Greyshade and Strom discuss their plot to allow the Empire to take control of the Wheel, but Greyshade has a deeper scheme in mind. He has drugged Strom’s drink and the solider of the Empire loses consciousness. While this is going on, Luke and Leia trail some guards to the hangar bay, only to have them turn the tables and face them. They underestimate Luke, however, and the former farmboy ducks and fires. Just as Luke defeats them all, Greyshade arrives with a proposition: he will let them all go if Leia agrees to stay with him, as he takes the stolen Rebel treasure, and live a life of luxury in secret. However, in the arena, Han and Chewie are the only combatants left and only one can survive. If one warrior fails to kill the other, both are mandated to die. So, before Leia can make her decision, Chewie, at Han’s urging, fires at his longtime friend and partner, ending the duel. Grief-stricken, Leia agrees to go with Greyshade to save the lives of the rest, but she promises him this will be the most bitter victory he has ever earned.  -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Actually a pretty enjoyable issue, as Greyshade’s plot twists and turns and he finally acts on his feelings for Leia. The pacing is good and the art is solid for this team. Bob Wiacek proves to be a suitable inker for Infantino. I found it amusingly interesting that George Lucas would later appropriate the “ray shield” term for his later prequel films. In a sequence with the searching Darth Vader (not summarized here), his man Wermis complains about the warp drive. Sorry, Archie, wrong franchise. I wonder how long this series would have gone on if it wasn’t named Star Wars. It’s a fun enough space opera, but not better or worse than Marvel’s version of Logan’s Run. Which tanked. And yeah, I’m still crabby about that.

Matthew:  If you’ll pardon the rather obvious pun, I’m starting to think this Wheel has been spinning a little too long; it’s been a largely enjoyable arc, but I’m not sorry that Goodwinfantino will wind it up next issue.  And, since we know Lucasfilm would never allow Marvel to kill off Han, I presume nobody’s losing any sleep over his apparent death on the last page, although in general I think Archie handles the venerable “how can I duel my friend/lover/partner/whatever?” plot device pretty well.  Having Senator Greyshade be motivated at least partly by unrequited love for Senator Organa—talk about reaching across the aisle!—is an interesting twist, while Bob Wiacek continues to take the money and run for the thankless job of inking Carmine’s work.

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 23
"Fight to the Death"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and Bob McLeod

The cannon’s destruction fills Abdul Alhazred with the full power of the sentient, parasitic crystal that created the rift between worlds, and will feed on the strongest emotion in range, but to the Mad Arab’s chagrin, it might be his rather than Tarzan’s.  Pierre fends off the cannibals while a dying Glenn shoots the Arab just as Tarzan stabs him, and the combined effect leaves him vulnerable to the crystal, which is silenced as he turns to dust.  Finding Ayesha near death, her rescuer realizes she is mortal and, after killing the one-eyed chief scientist, carries her aboard a thipdar; the Amozites agree to destroy the crystal, and as Ayesha arrives to share a kiss with the savage—finally identified as Dangar—it is clear she will not be returning to the surface. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Another day, another one-time-only Tarzan inker in Marcos, who confounds my expectations by raising the bar and giving the saga a solid send-off.  Bill’s conclusion leaves lots of unanswered questions (e.g., Pierre’s intended role in this caper, given his prior non-combatant status), mostly regarding that pesky portal, and how we’re gonna bring the boys back home with our Arab heavy blowin’ in the wind, but perhaps some answers will be found in next issue’s epilogue.  ERB was obviously no stranger to SF, yet his was of a relatively low-tech variety—John Carter, after all, basically thinks his way between planets—so this tale of sound cannons and sonic crystals ill fits our hero, already a fish out of water under Pellucidar’s eternal sun in Tarzan at the Earth’s Core.

The Mighty Thor 282
"Rites of Passage"
Story by Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio
Art by Keith Pollard and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Pablo Marcos

The Mighty Thor finds himself stuck in the butthole of Space Phantom's home planet of Phantus and things do not look good. Problem is, half of his body has transformed back into lame Doc Blake and that half can't survive the pressure of the world's core. Phantom suspects something's up and releases Don/Thor from the plug. Despite feeling some ill will towards the crafty little alien, the Asgardian agrees to help save Phantus but only if the Phantom takes our hero to his precious Mjolnir. To retrieve the hammer, the duo must travel to the crazy palace of Immortus, where they are met with hostility by Immortus' watch dog, Tempus (Keeper of the Castle!). Thor's had just about enough of this nutty Limbo/Phantus crap and beats the tar out of the giant. At last Thor and the Phantom have an audience with Immortus and the Master of Time only too happily hands over Mjolnir as he gives Thor a rundown on his origin. Thor saves the Phantom's world with a mighty burst of energy from deep inside his hammer and then remembers he has an apocalypse to catch. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: The latest chapter in the "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Latest End of the World" arc. It's a doggone lucky thing, too, that Thor has been told that said doomsday (involving the Eternals) is scheduled to happen in approximately fifty years. Could you imagine having to pick between world-ending crises? I must say that I was thoroughly lost by the two-page reboot of Immortus' history. "You told me this," says Thor. "Yeah, but I lied; what I really meant was..." confesses the Master of Time, who serves no purpose in this time-waster other than to hand over Thor's mallet. The art, for the most part, remains semi-stunning (although Space Phantom has bigger eyes than the little buggers of Invasion of the Saucer-Men) but I must say I'm looking forward to the old team returning next issue after a four-month vacation. Those poor Eternals have been hanging out, waiting for the arrival of Thor almost as long as I've been waiting for a good, solid story.

Matthew: I liked the conclusion a wee bit better even though, per Thor, “Thy tale mystifies as much as it enlightens,” because Gruenwacchio—accent on the “wacchi,” this time unassisted by Gillis and Catron—burdens us with a little less of the gobbledygook ’splaining that only made me more confused.  Tempus seemed vaguely familiar, and the footnoted reference on page 16 to Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2, which I called “surprisingly underdeveloped,” explained both the vagueness and the familiarity.  As usual, poor Keith suffers from the uncongenial Pollarcos blend (e.g., Thor’s face in page 16, panel 4 or page 23, panel 3), and as with the Forbidden Planet rip-off in the current FF, I think the extremely limited palette sharply reduces the impact of page 10.

Chris: It’s sort of a mixed-up issue, as we bop from Thor’s near dis-incorporation, to a battle with Tempus, and finish with a history lesson from Immortus.  If the Space Phantom had known Mjolnir contained the power to put his planet back into time-sync, wouldn’t it have been worth his time to lead Thor back to the hammer a lot sooner, and not try to trap him at the “nexus of Phantus’ temporally unstable core”?  Plus, we’re left with two things that don’t quite add up: I wouldn’t expect Mjolnir to be powerful enough to restore an entire planet to a given phase of space/time – that strikes me as a bit of Green Lantern’s immeasurably-powerful ring nonsense to me; and, even if the planet is restored to a stable slice of reality, what’s going to resolve the seemingly endless time-war that has cast the planet into chaos, and apparently had been at the root of the planet slipping out of its dimensional plane in the first place?  

The Pollard/Marcos art isn’t as smart as it had been last issue.  Still, high marks for their depiction of the M. C. Escher-inspired reality-defying castle of Immortus, which undoubtedly required a painstaking effort by Pollard to get right, without looking fake or stupid; of course, points also to Marcos for sealing the deal (p 10).

 Tomb of Dracula 69
"Batwings Over Transylvania!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Dave Cockrum, Gene Colan, and Tom Palmer

Now that he's a vampire again, Dracula runs in fear. Not from the usual Fearless Vampire Killers though, but from his own kind. Vampires across the land have been ordered by the new Lord of the Undead, Torgo, to destroy the Count. Meanwhile, widow Maria must venture out into the bat-filled night to take her deathly ill daughter to the village doctor. She leaves her other small children in their cabin (with a crucifix to protect them) and warns them not to open the door. During the journey, Maria is attacked by Dracula but is able to ward him off with her cross. Next in his flight path is the small cabin housing three terrified children. Though they have been warned, the pleas of Dracula to open the cabin door convince the kids to let him in. The Count saves the children from the oncoming undead horde by clutching the crucifix and wading into the crowd. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Perhaps the best chapter of ToD in years, "Batwings Over Transylvania" injects some much-needed tension and excitement in this waning title. Maria's journey and the threatened children sub-plots are the best distraction Marv Wolfman can offer up in the wake of endless "Fearless Vampire Killers trap Drac and let him escape" paper wasters. Marv seems to be breathing a sigh of relief that the end is near. Let's see if Wolfman can wrap the whole saga up next issue with just as much excitement. As for the end of the title, Marv weighs in on the letters page, mapping out a future for the title that would never come to fruition. Gene Colan had grown tired of drawing vampires and wanted to "move on to other, different projects. His Jaws II full-color magazine triumph [italics mine] was but the first of his new work." (Who says Marv Wolfman couldn't write comedy?) Wolfman touches on several interesting factoids. His assertion that "Jim Shooter tells us that the two most consistent sellers at Marvel, the two books that hardly vary in sales at all from month to month, are Tomb of Dracula and Conan" can be taken several ways. It could mean that ToD was a big hit and always sold lots of copies or it was one of the worst sellers and sold just as few every month. There's also some talk of the title continuing past the Wolfman/Colan/Palmer era and that the final issue would be #72. All that will change though when the double-sized "triumphant climax" finally arrives in August 1979.

Mark: Despite familiarity with Jim Shooter's, shall we say, contentious reign as Marvel's editorial honcho, I never had personal feelings about him, one way or tuther, having ditched funnybooks a couple years before his long, lanky frame beshadowed the Bullpen. But reading the letter col in the penultimate edition of Tomb of Dracula sparks retroactive scorn and loathing for Shooter. 

For said letter col - another Marv confessional - reveals artist Gene Colan's decision to leave the book, and that he and Wolfman plan to drop the curtain with ish #72. This pre-farewell address promises a Big Finish of long-percolating plotlines. Sounds great, except we know TOD gets axed after #70, prematurely snuffed out by Shooter in a naked display of schoolyard bully power. Wolfman's written about being a thorn in Shooter's side as - aside from Roy Thomas - the last early-'70's Marvel scribe to still be, not just around, but editing his own book, so why wouldn't Jimbo demonstrate the pecking order to all and sundry by staking the Count a couple months early?

One can understand such office politics, petty though they may be, but as a comic fan Shooter should have been big enough to allow Marvel's sole remaining (and highest quality) horror mag and its longest-tenured creative team to have an appropriate and well-deserved finale.

Shooter went Lilliputian instead. 

Chris: Marv’s lengthy missive on the letters page informs us Tomb of Dracula will conclude its uninterrupted run as a Wolfman-Colan-Palmer co-production, due primarily to Gene’s need to move on from ToD to other projects.  Marv states there has been a “unique chemistry” among the three of them with regard to this title, and “to lose one member of this team would nullify what makes it so special.”  To his credit, Marv thanks Colan for agreeing to stay on so that the three of them could complete the present storyline.

Once again, we see Dracula in the hated position of experiencing a situation outside of his control.  His need to reach the interior of the house is driven by self-interest, not only to escape the bloodthirsty pack of bats, but also to spare himself the indignity of dying like some commoner.  Once inside, Drac finds himself presented with the fairly easy pickings of the mostly defenseless children; when he states his blood-eyed need for “other nourishment,” I really thought the poor kids had had it.  But then, “for some reason, he pauses,” and recognizes that, prior to his fateful meeting with Satan, he never would have hesitated; “Why now?” From that moment on, Drac’s need for self-preservation is secondary to his desire to prevent the crucifix-wearing children from harm; he’s even willing to take a crucifix in his burning hands and use it to chase the home-invading vamps (a moment partly telegraphed by the cover, but still retaining its punch in the story).  Is this a desire to foil the vampires who’ve been harassing him, and to assert his authority over them, or is this due to some deeper change in Dracula himself?  High marks to Marv, as he still finds ways (in this title’s waning moments!) to continue to develop this character, and to leave us with moments that defy our expectations.  
The sands in the ToD art-hourglass grow fewer and fewer; for now, here are some highlights: Drac pauses in the open field by a scarecrow, as he sees the cloud of bats approaching (p 2, pnl 3); the desperation and fear on Maria’s face, as she presses on in the moonlit night (p 11, last pnl); Drac’s shadowed, but almost panicked face, as he demands entry (p 15 pnl 5); Drac’s exhaustion, followed by the seeming return of the predator? (p 17, pnl 3 and 5); Gene and Tom deliver some more ghoulish undead (p 26), who then cringe from the crucifixes (p 30, 1st pnl). 

Mark: It's hard to read this - knowing the fate of the book - without wishing Marv would hurry up, at least at the beginning. But then Wolfman, amplified and abetted by Gene and inker Tom Palmer, segues into a storytelling device he once used with regularity on the title: putting everyday people into Drac's path. In this case it's young widow Maria Turaka and her four tykes, one of whom, Teresa, is in desperate need of medicine. And so Turaka puts crucifixes around the rest of her brood and heads out into the Transylvanian night with her sick daughter.
The Count is likewise out and about, fleeing a colony of bats, in reality other fangers who've been tasked to slay him, on orders from Torgo. Of course, Drac finds his way to the tykes' door (after first attacking Teresa on the road, but being driven off by her crucifix). And despite mom's order NOT to admit strangers, they can't leave a helpless traveler to the "dark ones" swarming above their cottage.

In years past, the story would end in predictable, if poignant, tragedy. But the Count's been changed by his recent bout of unwanted humanity, the residue of which prompts him to tell the kids, "Believe in your God - He is your only salvation now!" And then Dracula takes up the hated symbol of Christ himself and, hands burning, drives the vamps from the door and back into the inky sky.

Powerful stuff. And it works because we believe that, after all he's been through in recent months, Dracula's gained the capacity - if unwillingly and unwittingly - to both acknowledge and embrace a rare flicker of light in his coal-mine-black soul. The monster, at bottom, is still a man. 

What's Jim Shooter's excuse?

What If? 14
"What If Sgt. Fury and
His Howling Commandos Had Fought
World War II in Space?"
Story by Gary Friedrich and Don Glut
Art by Herb Trimpe and Pablo Marcos
Colors by D. R. Martin
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Joe Sinnott

The Watcher shows us Space Station Pearl on "this infamous day of December 7, 1941," based in an alternate reality with space divided into Alpha and Beta sections, and Nick Fury and Red Hargrove try to fight off invading forces. Suddenly, one Betan ship goes on a kamikaze mission and sends the two men flying. Captain "Happy Sam" Sawyer finds them in the wreckage and gets blasted for his troubles, telling Fury he wanted to form a new Commando Squad. Watcher describes how, in this reality, the inventions of Da Vinci were actually "built and utilized," leading to the advancement of technology where man landed on the moon in the 1800s.

In Part 2, Fury leads the Howling Commandos against training robots, with Dum Dum Dugan's fedora falling over his eyes under his helmet (!); Gabriel Jones showing off a "sonic laser bugle"; Izzy Cohen demonstrating his mechanical skills; Dino Manelli and Junior Jupiter loafing a little; and Rebel Ralston rounding out the squad. Inside a massive space station, they meet the new commanding officer—a talking computer! Before an angry Fury can blast the computer, a robot appears to immobilize the men with paralyzing gas, leaving Fury muttering under his breath. The Commandos' mission is to fly out with the initial assault wave and help defend Earth station Midway.

Part 3 begins with the Betans readying their attack cruisers, stressing victory at any cost, with the help of a "mole" Admiral on the inside of the Yorktown crew. The Betans lauch the attack against Midway, and Red is at the head of the "courageous rocket pilots" while Nick is leading the defense on Midway, even saving the robot superior he dislikes. Red is forced to eject from his damaged ship as they attack the Betan ship, while Sgt. Fury and his team land at the Yorktown to confront the Admiral—who is Baron Strucker! Suddenly, Betan ships appear, having changed their attack plans to the Yorktown, and the traitorous Strucker is escaping also! Fury tracks him down, and watches him fall out the escape hatch, managing to hold on himself and get back to the Commandos. As the Betans await the killing blow, the Terran fleet and a bomber attack their flagship, Fury saves Red, the robot pal is blown up, and the commanding-officer, computer tells the Commandos they did well, but disobeyed orders, much like Sam Sawyer would have.--Joe Tura

Joe: Is this the only Trimpe-drawn comic that features faculty fave Orzechowski on the letters? They certainly make an odd combo, with Tom O giving the book the sci-fi feel it merits, while Trimpe's pencils lend an air of classic WWII action. And the action is there, with space battles and training exercises, and Commando rah-rah talk, and scaly nasty aliens, and even a traitor in the midst, with Baron Strucker the Admiral of the Terran ship Yorktown. Certainly transplants the classic Commando comics into outer space, but ultimately it seems like eating a tofu steak. It's enough to fill you up, but it's not entirely satisfying. A nice try by Friedrich, and at least he understands the "source material" more than the new breed of Marvel writers would have. There aren't even any side dishes, unless you count the Red Hargrove mission and survival. Trimpe does fine, with Marcos supplying OK inks that make it a little less blocky. And Fury's emotions throughout almost seem as if he's going through the motions at times. Sorta like the reader?

Matthew: Briefly dismayed to see Friedrich the Lesser’s byline before my training kicked in, I then remembered he had written countless issues of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos (“countless” meaning I haven’t the time to investigate that title’s bizarrely alternating first-run and reprint material).  So he’s eminently appropriate to plot this Glut-scripted tale, and even Trimpe, inked here by Marcos, has his one Howlers credit, having penciled the new lead story in #92.  I’ve no idea what relationship, if any, this has to their “real” adventures—dimly recalled from brother Stephen’s occasional war-comic purchases in my youth, which gave this an oddly nostalgic flavor—yet it’s nice to be spared the footnote-choked “as we saw on page 18 of #6” bit.

Chris: The answer to the question posed on the cover is pretty simple: if Nick Fury and the Howlers had fought in space, it would be the same as when they fought on the European continent – plain ol’ flag-waving adventure and fun.  This issue might lack the human-interest angle of last issue’s Conan-out-of-Hyboria story, and it might not address a portentous turning-point in Marvel lore; the fact is, though, this issue’s breathless activity makes this WWII story more entertaining than anything we’ve seen in the pages of the Invaders in quite some time.   

This premise might’ve been seen as lacking appeal to the majority of Marvel zombies (after all, Sgt Fury has been in reprints for years and years by now), and as a result could’ve been consigned to backup status, as a 10-12 page backup to a sexier lead story.  That would’ve been a mistake, since Don Glut (with help from Roy, natch) uses his full-issue time well, as he spends a few panels with most of the best-known Howlers; the interplay in the squad adds to the story’s appeal.  
I really like the Trimpe/Marcos art, although most of Herb’s spacecraft are a bit insubstantial; too many of them look like flying platforms with fins.  The splash page really sets the tone (and apparently, the Watcher’s been hitting the gym), while the parallel histories on p 11 apply the What If? formula to the history of western civilization.  For the most effective in-battle sequence, I’ll nominate p 36, as Red bravely keeps his eyes front, on the targeted flagship’s broadside, while the other members of his fighter squadron are shot down around him.  

Mark: More half-baked alt-history that's halfway entertaining. Among the title's many bad habits is conjuring up parallel worlds in lockstep with our own, so that here Space Station Pearl is attacked on December 7, 1941, later followed by a comeback win at Earth Station Midway, which includes a sacrificial attack by the men of Torpedo 8, even though they neither have, nor apparently need, no stinkin' torpedoes!

One supposes it takes more time and talent to riff on history, ring changes on famous events, than to merely mimic them. But with a jumbo-sized mag to fill, semi-competent Don Glut is not the man to push the envelope. The semi-clever premise here, that Da Vinci's airship ideas became reality in his time, is completely subverted by the knuckleheaded notion that despite a centuries-sooner technological revolution this alt-Earth's politics play out pretty much just like ours, right down to Baron Strucker still being a Nazi spy even though...

Wait for it...

There's no stinkin' Nazi Germany!      

The half-fun part(okay, class, that's a generous fraction)? Herb Trimpe gives the Space Howlers a real Dick Ayers vibe. Fury smokes "she-roots" inside his fishbowl space helmet. Gabe Jones blows a "sonic laser 'bugle.'" But by far the best bit: Captain "Sam" Sawyer gets kills, his consciousness uploaded to a computer, which - I kid ya not - Fury later threatens with a can opener!

Stanley Kubrick, eat your heart out.

The Uncanny X-Men 120
"Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!
Story by John Byrne and Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Bob Budiansky and Terry Austin

In Canada, Major James Hudson – Vindicator, aka Weapon Alpha – is tasked by the PM to bring in Weapon X, or as we know him, Wolverine. Hudson activates his own team of mutants known as Alpha Flight: Northstar, Shaman, Snow-Bird, Sasquatch and Aurora. In Japan, Sunfire thanks the X-Men for their help in saving Japan. As they take their leave, Wolverine bids a private farewell to Mariko and finally introduces himself by his real name: Logan. The X-Men take Jeryn's custom-built plane home and are diverted to Canada by a massive man-made hurricane that even Storm can’t dissipate. When they finally land at Calgary, Alpha Flight intercepts. Sasquatch who, not knowing his own strength, tosses the plane into a hangar, destroying it. Under the cover of the storm, the team manages to escape; they split up and try to blend into the population. Nightcrawler is captured and Vindicator attacks Banshee and Storm as they are in a boutique getting her some clothes (to use to look like everyone else). Banshee instinctively tries to use his sonic scream, but the pain from his earlier injury causes him to black out. Storm, thinking Vindicator has hurt Sean, sends the Canadian hero through the wall. Hudson takes off to regroup, feeling the pressure of his failure. Meanwhile, in a seedier part of town, Sasquatch finds Wolverine and knocks him out savagely, capturing the scrappy mutant. Finally, the remaining four X-Men get their bearings as Scott vows to finish this fight even if it means taking the lives of Alpha Flight. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Oooo, another lovely issue no matter how you look at it, with lots of little milestones. First we are introduced to Canada’s own mutant team, Alpha Flight. John Byrne wanted a Canadian super group and he created a good one. Character wise, anyway. They’re not exactly good at their jobs, though. Hudson is a pretty crummy leader and bungles his responsibilities fairly often. Sasquatch is blissfully ignorant of his own power.  The name "Logan" is dropped again (the first time it was used was way back in #103); as for whether that’s his first or last name, we won’t get that answer in the 70’s. Apparently, Byrne and Claremont had Logan’s backstory all worked out and they just dropped little bombs whenever they deemed suitable. It’s a great way to build interest and add depth. Finally, and this is pretty minor, Sunfire stops being a prick. [A landmark in itself --MRB] Fantastic first part of a dual-issue story, this one moves like a shot. Each page, every panel, is wonderfully interesting and gorgeous. Home run.

Matthew:  In retrospect, I found this marginally disappointing, for reasons I can’t necessarily enumerate, but it is after all the debut of Alpha Flight, and as my colleagues are inclined to point out, we’re talking about minor gradations of excellence here.  One thing I did love, as a pathetic Pollyana who abhors strife between real or fictional people of whom I am fond, is the collegiality in page 15, panel 6 between Scott and Logan, whose references to Cyclops as “boss” display his level-headed acceptance of the leadership he sometimes challenges.  Minor kvetch:  when you’re introducing Anne McKenzie (Snowbird) and Walter Langkowski (Sasquatch), maybe you don’t want to confuse readers by also having a pilot named Annie and a guy in the tower (avec Shooter sight gag) named Walt.

Chris: Damnit Claremont – can’t you follow the manual?  Look here: you’re supposed to have the whole team KO’d in a quick battle, maybe 3-4 pages, and then have them trussed up together in the same room, so the Big Baddie can strut around and outline his Devious Plan, roughly 2 pages.  Okay?   Then, either a guest star or Rick Jones or someone finds a way to sneak in and spring the team, another page or two, and once the team’s free, you need another 2-3 pages for them to rout the foe.  Got it?  It’s really not hard.  And what’s the deal with the Canadian team, Alpha … Alpha Fight?  Right, Alpha Flight.  Where are they?  I mean, we’ve got glimpses and such here and there, but howcum we can’t see, you know, their whole selves?  Doesn’t Byrne know what these characters look like, for God’s sake -?  

Once again, Claremont chooses the intricate over the simple, much to our enjoyment.  Despite the X-ers being driven by Shaman’s storm to the Calgary airport, and despite Sasquatch wrecking Hogarth’s plane, Vindicator’s words and actions indicate he’s trying not to make the situation worse than it already is, and that he’s trying to avoid injuring both bystanders and Wolverine’s present teammates.  As for Logan and his unaccepted resignation, he’s ready to fight Jimmy Hudson over it; but regarding the still-unknown Alpha Flight, he clearly states, “They ain’t villains, folks.”  Alpha Flight appears still to be taking shape; we have to piece together who they are, and their capabilities, much as the X-Men themselves have to work this out.  For all we know, this could be AF’s first mission as a unit; the winter storm provides a means to tip the odds in favor of the relatively-inexperienced team.  Plus, having them strike from the shadows certainly plays into greater suspense, doesn’t it?
Byrne/Austin = Art/Highlights (and, it’s shame there isn’t a single moment like any of these in this month’s Avengers): Storm responds quickly to the storm outside the plane, as the artists react instantly to protect impressionable eyes against her immodesty (p 7, pnl 3); he’s under the wing, and he might not be at 20,000 feet, but the view of Sasquatch grasping the wing certainly is an evocative image, isn’t it? (p 11, pnl 5); the plane wreck is a Big Moment (p 14); rough moment for Banshee as he instinctively reacts and tries to fire a scream at Vindicator, but crumples to the ground instead (p 23); Storm blasts Vindicator out of la boutique (p 26, 1st pnl); touching view of the two derelicts, before Sasquatch reaches over to grab Logan by his lapels (p 27).  I assume the blond-haired young man seated in the terminal holding a page marked “Terry – Ink This NOW!” is Austin himself (p 16, pnl 3); and, what’s with Scott getting cozy with Colleen (p 6, last pnl)?  Wait’ll Jean picks up that stray thought!
So ah – Sasquatch?  Now that you ah, wrecked that American lawyer’s private jet, I ah, wouldn’t expect a call to ah, meet the Prime Minister in Toronto for a Leafs game anytime soon, eh?  Hose head.   

Joe: When I read the summaries and comments on all these amazing, uncanny, sensational Claremont / Byrne / Austin / Orzechowski / Wein issues, I can just about see every single panel jump in front of my eyes, even without the actual illustrations and words in front of me. But one question remains: Why the heck did I get rid of my X-Men comics???? AAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!

Mark: Political junkies will notice that although he goes unnamed, the Canadian Prime Minister directing Alpha Flight is indeed Pierre Trudeau. Which raises the What If?-worthy question: if Trudeau'd had a real Alpha Flight at his disposal, could they had prevented his wife from getting into tabloid trouble with the Rolling Stones?

That question's lost to history, but here Major Maple Leaf (aka Vindicator) and co. give the X-ers trouble aplenty after Shaman uses his Storm-like, blizzard-controlling powers to force their jet down in the Great White North. And we're off to the races...

Along the way Claremont and Byrne demo how to invent a team of supes from scratch - with minimal introduction, just plug 'n' play and have 'em start smashing stuff, e.g., Sasquatch's don't-know-my-own-Hulk-like-strength, as he unwittingly turns the X-ers' jumbo jet to scrap. That all passengers emerge with nary a scratch would, in lesser creative hands, have the No Way! police issuing multiple citations. But even your humble professors, class, are too busy turning the page to care, class, demonstrating again one of the cardinal rules of fiction, four color or otherwise: you can get away with anything if it works.  

Between setting up an international rumble, Wolverine gives Mariko a white chrysanthemum and tell her his name's Logan, a bit of intel he won't share with his pards for nearly two more years. Storm goes clothes shopping and kicks Maple Leaf butt. Shiro has a non-dickish moment. Scott expresses a flexible attitude toward homicide, and readers would kill for a couple more pages... 

But we can't get no satisfaction...until next ish.

Ms. Marvel 23
"The Woman Who Fell to Earth"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Mike Vosburg and Bruce D. Patterson
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers
Cover by Dave Cockrum, George Pérez, and Joe Rubinstein

Still on cloud nine after a date with Sam Adams (obliquely introduced at last issue’s party, and never seen again), the now-unemployed Carol answers the door and is shocked to find Salia Petrie, believed dead since the explosion of the Athena One space shuttle back in #12.  Passed out and put in bed, Sal appears to be suffering from shock and fatigue, instead of having burned up in re-entry, and is unmarked despite the burn-scars on her pressure suit, yet upon rising, she fells Carol with eye-beams, saying, “I didn’t die, but I went to Hell.  And now I’ve come to take you back with me.”  Carol awakens a thousand miles up aboard Drydock, the orbital space station that is home to the Guardians of the Galaxy, known to her via the Avengers. 

As her captor, the Faceless One, explains, “The only way down is via a teleport chamber which I alone control.  As I control the ship.  As I control [Salia and] soon will control you.”  But she foils his attempt to break her will in the environmental test chamber—preparatory to remolding her in his image with his “psycho-surgical skills”—by peeling back the deck plates under cover of a blinding storm.  Seeking the Guardians, she is found by Major Vance Astro first, and after she stuns him during the obligatory new-costume MARMIS, he explains that with his teammates checking out the Collector’s ship, he’d spotted her while trying to trace malfunctioning systems, but her attempted warning is interrupted by Salia, armed with hunter missiles and an ionic sword.

When Sal suddenly turns and runs, they follow her to the access hatch to the primary computer core, where “Faceless” hopes to consolidate his control; as Vance flattens Sal with his psycho-kinetic burst, MM literally knocks the foe’s globular head from its android body, only to be hit with the nerve toxin in its claws.  His body shattered when a still-reeling MM freezes it with liquid helium, the Faceless One plans to return to his “own space,” but Vance stops him from bringing Sal along by disrupting the teleport sequence with his PK powers, which he then uses to destroy the psychic control module implanted beneath her skin.  Disoriented and hysterical, Sal is about to snap when Ms. Marvel gets through to her by unmasking as her beloved friend, Carol. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The Great Marvel Massacre of ’79 starts hitting close to home, claiming a book I always liked despite its inevitable ups and downs; this is a decent, if not outstanding, conclusion, especially when it wasn’t supposed to be a conclusion at all, with the “Next Issue” promos on the final and letters pages testifying to its unexpected demise.  Two more Claremont/Vosburg issues in various stages of development at the time were belatedly completed and included in Marvel Super-Heroes Vol. 2 #10-11 (July-September 1992).  Since those have eluded all of my attempts to lay hands on them, I must refer fellow interested parties to these pages on SuperMegaMonkey to satisfy their curiosity as to what we missed and, to a degree, how the material saw print at last.

As tickled as I am at the Faceless One’s return, Stern’s footnote saying he was “last seen waaaay back when in Astonishing Tales” overlooks the fact that he was still scheming against Dr. Doom in, of all places, Hero for Hire #9.  Don’t know if reading that legendary Stainless-scripted Luke-in-Latveria issue would clarify anything, but his presence here is a true WTF moment, raising more questions than it answers.  Inked by the self-styled “Bruce D.,” the artwork is amateurish at times, with Sal’s body armor a total disaster and instances of what I’ve begun calling “Vosburg-Shoulder” (e.g., page 16, panel 4), yet our leading lady, despite mismatched eyes in page 7, panel 6, looks good much of the time, notably in page 3, panel 2; page 7, panel 3; and page 17, panel 5.

Chris: Our letters page offers no indication at all that this title is about to be cancelled.  Instead, we’re told the next issue will feature Sabre-Tooth – and an issue featuring his second appearance would’ve been worth some real money!  The story and art are a bit thin this time; the threat of the Faceless One carries no weight, the action is disjointed, and Vosburg’s pencils are stiff and amateurish, with wide variations in the appearance of characters’ faces – strangely, inks-pro Patterson isn’t able to straighten it out, so there must’ve been some real problems there.  

But, one shaky issue does not a cancellation make; this had to have been in the works for the past few months, which is surprising, considering Ms M’s recent dynamic Cockrum-designed costume change, and her affiliation with the Avengers.  I’m inclined to blame Ms Marvel’s bi-monthly status, and a glaring lack of creative continuity; every one of the past eight issues has had a different art team, with four different pencillers and eight different inkers – that’s right, every one of those issues featured a different inker, and thus a different look, than the art for the issue preceding it.  It tells me that, despite Claremont’s investment in the character, there wasn’t strong enough editorial backing to make this title a priority.  

Also This Month

Crazy #49
< Kid Colt Outlaw #229 (Final Issue)
Marvel Super Action #13
Marvel Tales #102
Marvel Triple Action #47 (Final Issue)
Sgt. Fury #151
Shogun Warriors #3

After 31 years and 229 issues, Kid Colt the Outlaw finally hangs up his spurs, marries that wonderful bar maiden with the heart of gold (and checkered past), and settles in to life on a ranch with chickens and cows. Only a couple years later, Maybelle (his wife, not his cow but, at times, Colt couldn't really tell the difference) would give birth to... Kids, of course. Legend has it that, every Friday night, Colt meets up with Rawhide, Two-Gun, and the original Ghost Rider to have a poker game in town at Frenchie's. A tip of the hat, then, to the saddle-sore cowboy who outlived almost all the other pahdnas.


The Savage Sword of 
Conan the Barbarian 39

Cover Art by Earl Norem

“Legions of the Dead”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by Sal Buscema and Tony DeZuniga

“A Portfolio of Robert E. Howard”
Art by Rudy Nebres

“A Gazetteer of the Hyborian World of Conan Including the World of Kull and An Ethnogeographical Dictionary Part VII” 
Text by Lee Falconer

“The Moon of Skulls Part Three”
Script by Don Glut
Art by David Wenzel

“Swords and Scrolls”

“A Tale of Conan’s Youth in the Frozen North,” according to the burst on the splash page, “Legions of the Dead” is adapted from the short story by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter that first appeared in the Bantam Books paperback Conan the Swordsman, which was published in August 1978. So it’s the most contemporary tale that Roy has tackled to date. It’s also one of the worst: the conclusion is totally abrupt and leaves you dangling. That’s what she said.

A youthful Conan, fresh from the mountains of Cimmeria, has joined up with a band of Aesir barbarians who are battling a horde of Hyberborean albinos on the wintery borderland between the two kingdoms. Rann, the daughter of the Aesir’s chieftain Njal Njalsdatter, has been kidnapped and a band of the blond-haired men, led by the master huntsman Egil, has been sent to rescue her from Haloga, the great stone stronghold of their enemies. But when the raiding party does not return, Njal rallies the rest of his men and they go in search of their missing kin — under the brusquely ignored protest of the young Cimmerian newcomer. When the warriors arrive at Haloga, they are shocked to see their dead comrades hanging from ropes on the castle wall, their skin flayed by curved swords and hooks — all under the sinister, watchful eye of Vammatar the Cruel, Queen of Haloga. 

Njal orders his men to bed down for the night — they will plan their next move in the morning. As they sleep, Conan steals away, scales the outside of the fortress, slips through an arrow-slit and finds Rann’s cell. Before they make their escape, the Cimmerian sets the wooden floorboards on the second floor ablaze and the castle erupts in flames. After they reunite with the relieved Aesir outside, Njal orders them all to march back to their camp in the woods, confident that they can easily outdistance themselves from any pursuers. But, with Vammatar on horseback at the rear, a legion of soldiers from Haloga begins to gain relentlessly on the barbarians. When the Hyberboreans get close enough, the Aesir are shocked to see that they are actually Egil and his men — as well as some of their enemies killed by the fire — all brought back from the crypt by Vammatar’s sorcery. The undead ghouls swarm the Aesir: Njal is soon killed and many men are captured as the Queen of Haloga shouts that some should be spared for the slave pens. Conan rushes at Vammatar and knocks her off her mount and tosses Rann on the horse — while she protests, the girl rides off to safety. The Cimmerian is then overcome, placed into chains and led by the zombies to the pens with the rest of the survivors. 
The end.

Yes, the 22-page “Legions of the Dead” finishes with our hero a prisoner in chains. Talk about disappointing. Again, that’s what she said. To help drown the howls of protest, Roy includes a caption on the last panel that reads, “It is written in errant stars that Conan shall escape from the Hyperborean stronghold, to wander south across the borders of Brythunia.” But that hardly helps matters. This whole story felt like a dirty cheat and left a bad taste in my mouth. I haven’t encountered L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter’s original, but a little research leads me to believe it ends the same way. Now it seems that the authors detail Conan’s escape from Haloga in the short story “The Thing in the Crypt,” which was adapted by Roy in Conan the Barbarian #92. It’s weird: even though “The Thing” is obviously supposed to come after “Legions” chronologically, it was published in 1967, more than a decade before. This whole thing is a mess. As with Savage Sword #37, Our Pal takes over the pencil chores from his older brother: DeZuniga helps makes the art look like Big John on a bad day. Let’s move on to Solomon Kane and the 19-page “The Moon of Skulls Part Three,” which does have an actual ending. At least.

After falling through a trap door, Solomon Kane awakes in chains in the dungeon of the vampire queen Nakari in the lost African city of Negari. When the temptress offers the Puritan both her love and the kingship of the evil empire, he refuses and she storms off. Days later, two dark warriors undo his shackles and lead him away — the vampiress has summoned her pale prisoner. But Kane manages to slip away and escapes through a hidden door he found earlier. The Englishman soon comes across another secret entrance: inside the prison cell beyond, he finds a near-dead man who claims to be the last of the Atlantean high priests. After Atlantis submerged, the survivors retreated to Negari but were soon overthrown by Nakari and her minions. The crazed priest also reveals that during the Moon of Skulls, Marylin will be sacrificed on the Black Altar — and that all the people in Negari worship the skull of the long-dead wizard Nakura.

Kane leaves as the doomed Atlantean finally succumbs to years of torture. Moving on, the Puritan soon finds another door: after opening it slightly, he spies the temple where Marylin is to be executed, a great obsidian tower rising above the Black Alter, the skull of Nakura looking down from a perch on its surface. Luckily, a guard standing nearby has Solomon’s musket tucked in his belt. The Puritan sneaks up from behind, grabs the man’s dagger and kills him, regaining his pistol. Just before the masked priest can thrust Kane’s own rapier into the heart of Marylin, the Puritan shoots and shatters Nakura’s ancient skull. The black warriors in attendance panic as Solomon rushes forward and frees the white woman. As Kane and Marylin make their escape, Negari crumbles, killing everyone including the vampire queen.

Since Professor Gilbert is sure to chime in on the conclusion of the three-part “The Moon of Skulls,” I’ll be brief. I know that Robert E. Howard was fascinated by Atlantis, but the last of the high priests seemed to come out of nowhere. He tells much more of the origins of the lost city of Negari, but I skipped out on all that. Also, Nakari is actually killed before the city crumbles: one of her warriors is blinded by Kane and he mistakenly strangles her. The art is pretty good in places, as the self-inked David Wenzel uses plenty of deep blacks. The herky-jerky publishing schedule of this story — Part One appeared in issue #34 (October 1978), Part Two in #37 (February 1979) and Part Three here — didn’t help things, but as with most Solomon Kane back-ups I was underwhelmed. Take it away Gilberto!

This issue also includes “A Portfolio of Robert E. Howard” by frequent Conan inker and Professor Bradley nemesis Rudy Nebres. We get five finely illustrated pinups, two of Conan and one apiece for Kane, Kull and Red Sonja. Enjoyed them all. Finally, there’s Part VII of Lee Falconer’s “A Gazetteer of the Hyborian World of Conan Including the World of Kull and An Ethnogeographical Dictionary.” This installment covers “Q” to “S,” from “Qirlata,” a Zuagir tribe, to “Sword, Cave of the.” Yup, the very same cavern featured in the aforementioned “The Thing in the Crypt.” Full circle, by Crom.
-Tom Flynn

The Hulk! 14
Cover Art by Bob Larkin

“A Cure for Chaos!”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Ron Wilson and Rudy Nebres

“Countdown to Dark”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Bill Sienkiewicz and Bob McLeod

“Readers Rampage”

After surviving the airliner hijacking of last issue, Bruce Banner finds himself in Switzerland, still searching for Dr. Feldstadt, the scientist who supposedly found the cure to radiation poisoning. Banner finally tracks the man to the remote mountain hamlet of Jungfrau but the townsfolk claim to have never heard of the doctor. Seeking shelter from the winter cold, Bruce stops in a tavern and chats up a friendly barmaid named Katrina — he finds out that a mysterious Dr. Klein lives in the castle on the edge of the village. Following a hunch, Banner heads out towards the looming stone fortress.

When Bruce — who introduces himself as, groan, David Bixby — realizes that Klein is actually Feldstadt, the strange scientist refuses to help the American and calls the police. Unable to control his anger, Banner transforms into the Hulk and bounces away, eventually causing major damage to the town below. The next morning, after waking half naked in the snow, Bruce returns to Feldstadt’s castle: this time, he is welcomed by the doctor who deduces that his visitor is the marauding monster from the night before. But Feldstadt only wants to experiment with the “benefits” of gamma radiation and doesn’t care about the cure. Banner storms off and returns to Jungfrau only to discover that the villagers have blamed Feldstadt for the green giant’s rampage and are marching on the castle. He races ahead to warn the scientist, but is shocked to see him preforming gamma experiments on Katrina who has a rare blood disease. Suddenly, one of the villagers hurls a torch through a window and ignites a bottle of chemicals — the laboratory bursts into flames.

While Bruce manages to carry Katrina to safety, 
Feldstadt takes the full brunt when his gamma machine explodes: he is transformed into a huge, animalistic brute. Banner hulks out and the two giants exchange mighty blows — but Jade Jaws proves to be the stronger and his foe is soon laid low. After crushing the gamma machine into a ball to stop the radiation leak, Hulk picks up the Feldstadt-monster and leaps down, placing the mutated doctor’s unconscious body before the stunned townsfolk — only to jump off again.

Blah. If what the burst on the splash page says is true — “The Hulk faces his biggest challenge…” — it doesn’t bode well for the hundreds of other challenges the character has already faced. I dunno, isn’t the Abomination a bigger menace than the goofy Feldstadt-monster? After the previous months’ racism and terrorism riffs, Doug Moench gives us his take on Frankenstein. We have the mad scientist, the monster — well two — a European setting, a castle and even torch-bearing townsfolk. There’s a lot of moping around by Banner as he walks back and forth and back and forth and back and forth from the village to the castle, until on page 25 of the 35-page story we get down to brass knuckles and the big brawl begins. And the fight between the Hulk and the Feldstadt-freak ends in Moench’s usual method: the green guy bellows that he’s the strongest there is and delivers the coup de grace. It’s getting repetitive and tiresome. Alarms went off with the first appearance of Feldstadt: he looked like a refugee from “Villains ‘R’ Us” with his cape, Fu Manchu moustache, long hair and widow’s peak. And his monster form was pretty laughable. Frequent whipping-boy Rudy Nebres raises the quality of Ron Wilson’s unimaginative pencils considerably. A drab affair.

The 23-page “Countdown to Dark” is the final chapter of the four-part “Graven Image of Death” Moon Knight mystery. After the fake Moon Knight appears during the hijacking of the plutonium waste, Marc Spector leaps at the imposter — but one of the terrorists opens up with a machine gun and both fall to the ground, apparently dead. The terrorists finish loading the radioactive material and drive away in two separate cars. Spector, who was only playing possum, rises and strips away his clothes to reveal the real Moon Knight suit. He radios Frenchie and orders him to follow the car containing the plutonium in the Mooncopter — the Knight climbs a tree and glides off, quietly landing on the roof of the other automobile.

Frenchie follows his car to an isolated farmhouse in upstate New York: there he contacts the government agency N.E.S.T. — Nuclear Emergency Research Team — and informs them of the plutonium theft. While it takes a few moments of convincing, N.E.S.T. agents are dispatched and the terrorists arrested. Meanwhile, the men in Moon Knight’s car are contacted by Smelt — the rotund underling of the wolfen Lupinar, the mastermind behind the terrorist’s “revolution” — and told to come to his master’s mansion. When they arrive at the ominous castle-like structure, Moon Knight leaps from his hiding place and throttles them with his truncheon. The ghostly avenger steals into the mansion and knocks Smelt unconscious. Stalking through the dark corridors, the Knight soon encounters Lupinar.

The fanged freak reveals that he is suffering from hypertrichosis — the “hirsute disease” — and that he bankrolled the terrorists simply for revenge on those who have spurned his monstrous appearance. He then sneers that he will destroy Manhattan with the nuclear bomb even after the billion-dollar blackmail is paid. When Moon Knight informs Lupinar that the radioactive waste has been safely recovered by the authorities, the criminal refuses to surrender, instead forcing the hero to run him through with a rapier.

While the Sienkiewicz art of the last two chapters was quite excellent, I am somewhat relieved that “Graven Image of Death” is finally over. Now I’ve said it before, but I’m convinced that Doug simply made things up as he went along with this arc. If you remember when this thing started in issue #11, Moon Knight was trying to solve a series of murders. Then he got mixed up with some shenanigans about a priceless statue of Horus. After that, we had the crooked museum curator Fenton Crane and the corrupt Chilean ambassador Leroux. But then, things went blammo and we’re dealing with Hispanic terrorists and a suave Lon Chaney Jr. It looks like Moench himself realized that numerous plot points were dropped willy nilly so he provides a few captions at the end — designed to look like some type of computer tape — that sum things up and reveal what happened to the Horus idol and Leroux. A bit of a cheat. 

The last two chapters spent quite a few panels building Lupinar up as a brilliant Renaissance type but he basically boils down to a rich guy with lots of facial hair and pointy teeth who’s pissed at the world. Boo hoo. This is the character’s only appearance. There was a lot of chatter about N.E.S.T. as well but the agency doesn’t have much of an impact: Frenchie basically leads them by the nose to the radioactive waste. Oh, and the fake Moon Knight was one of Lupinar’s men but that useless subplot goes nowhere. There are quite a few dramatic panels on display: a shame they were wasted on such a disjointed story. Let’s hope that Doug can raise his game because the powerhouse art team returns next issue. -Tom Flynn

(On Moon Knight) Sienkiewicz doesn’t get a long-term embellisher anytime soon, but while I wouldn’t have thought McLeod (who inked and colored last issue’s Hulk lead story, and here begins an MK double-header) a good match, he doesn’t seem to do any major damage to Bill’s pencils, especially exuberant in the duel, e.g., story page 15, panel 1.  Smelt is left alive knowing Marc’s poorly kept “secret” identities, and I’m skeptical that Frenchie would have so much trouble getting through to N.E.S.T.; if you’re calling in a nuclear threat, even anonymously, would you really get the “please hold”/Muzak routine?  Given the writer and the nature of the story, I assume it’s not a big stretch to take slain reporter Tom Polhaus as a nod to The Maltese Falcon. -Matthew Bradley

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