Wednesday, November 23, 2016

June 1979 Part One: Godzilla, King of the Monsters Takes on The Avengers!

 The Amazing Spider-Man 193
"The Wings of the Fearsome Fly!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Keith Pollard and Jim Mooney
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Al Milgrom and Bob McLeod

On a snowy night, Spider-Man watches J. Jonah Jameson as he talks to Joe Robertson, wondering if the publisher unmasked him while the two were shackled together. As Peter, he visits JJJ's office and is informed he was fired. Plus, when he admits he does not have any pics from the Egypt Delegation assignment, a disappointed Robbie rails on him also. Spidey heads to the museum, and the Fly is on the line disguised in a parka. The "buzzing baddie" [good one, Marv!] plants a package near a statue and slinks off quietly. At Aunt May's house in Forest Hills, the mysterious guy renting it looks everywhere for….something….but needs to talk to May to find it. Spidey crawls into the museum, where the guards shoot at him and the bomb planted by the Fly goes off! Turns out he was after the Art of Dresden exhibit, not King Tut, and begins stashing stuff away.

Spidey gets out of the museum just in time to see Fly fleeing. He leaps up to grab him, and a back-and-forth battle begins both in the air and on the ground, until Spidey forces the flying felon down. But Spidey's jokes get to the villain and he smashes the wall-crawler good and takes off. Peter gets back to his apartment, calls a livid Mary Jane, then gets a visit from Betty, with Ned Leeds right behind her—and the heated hubby cracks Peter with a left hook! A fed-up Peter changes into Spidey and wants to take out his frustrations on the Fly but, by the time he tracks him down, the cops have already apprehended him with help from a SHIELD "gizmo," much to our hero's building-smashing chagrin. Meanwhile, at Restwell Nursing Home, Aunt May is comforted by Dr. Rinehart, who has a visitor in his office—the Burglar who killed Uncle Ben—and he wants to kill Aunt May!--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: "Return of the Fearsome Fly!" Oh, joy…At least there's some good action with the Spider vs. Fly donnybrook. And it's nearly refreshing to see a bad guy get so annoyed at Spidey's wisecracking. He's not the first, but Fly packs quite a punch at the punchlines. Spidey/Peter is next to get his blood boiling, as all the cards come tumbling down on him in one super-annoying day. Must have been a Monday in the Marvel Universe….Pollard and Mooney do better work than usual, until the last page which seems rushed and filled in with a lot of black. There's even a Gil Kane-esque panel, top of page 26. That's not to say I like the artwork, but maybe I'm just getting used to it. Marv has him moments here, but he does tend to overuse words like "bunkie." The one subplot he has going for him is the "Did JJJ unmask Spidey" one, unlike the Burglar, who comes out of nowhere to ravage the old Forest Hills home and go after May. Seems like a bit of a stretch, as is the plug for the Fantastic Four in the two panels featuring Bushkin from the Globe on page 27, which could lead to a new gig for the now-jobless Peter.

Fave sound effect this month, in a book with few that actually stand out, is not the "SPOK!" when Fly sends Spidey into the wall, but the calmer, yet more jarring, "SWOK!" when Ned smacks Peter. Quite the tangled web of a social life our Mr. Parker has, even though this one was an encounter right out of Three's Company.

Matthew Bradley: While no masterpiece, this didn’t leave me the way it did Spidey as he “impotently screams away his frustrations,” which is saying something, considering how low both my opinion of the Fly and Marvel’s batting average for the first half of June are.  I didn’t mind the winged wrongdoer so much here, and in particular that shot of him belting Spidey into Cleopatra’s Needle (with which, as an honorary New Yorker, I’m embarrassed to say I wasn’t familiar) in page 21, panel 7 shows how strong he is.  I appreciated the Gil Kane-esque montage in page 26, panel 1, plus overdue developments like the presumed end of the dalliance with Mrs. Leeds, however unfairly to Pete it may have been handled, and his being in demand at the Globe.

Chris Blake: Once again, Peter is reminded that with great powers, come great big headaches.  As bad as it was for Spidey to be shackled to Jonah for 24 hours, I knew it would lead to further trouble;   I wondered when Marv was going to bring this home for Peter Parker.   His inexplicable absence really earns him a hammering, as his firing from the Bugle now has no remedy, and his breakup with MJ begins to look more irreconcilable; hell, even Robbie’s mad at Pete.  Pete knew all along the Betty thing was a bad idea, but I’m sure it wasn’t going to end with him getting slugged in the jaw by Ned.  Still, Marv hits on one of the fundamental strengths of this title, which is the genuine character of Peter himself; he’s no plastic action figure.  Yes, he has extraordinary abilities, and a well-above-average intelligence, but at heart he’s an average person; this quality keeps us rooting for him, but it also allows for him to be pushed too far (just as any of us normal people might be).  With no other reasonable outlet for Spidey's frustration, the Fly is drawn into his crosshairs; Pollard & Mooney capture Spidey’s rampage in a jam-packed single-panel montage on p 26.  At the end, of course, Spidey doesn’t even have the satisfaction of flattening the Fly’s proboscis; instead, he has to look on as the NYPD takes him down.

It’s a very effective tale, with a single glaring flaw.  A few panels after Peter’s anger is channeled into Spider-Man’s one-man-army attack on the night’s shady characters, we are interrupted by an inexplicable two-panel visit to the office of the Daily Globe, as we learn the paper’s publisher is intent on hiring Peter for a special assignment.  Well, hold on Wolfman – you’ve gone to great lengths, thru the bulk of this issue, to put Peter in a bad place, so he can act out as Spidey, right?  And now, you’re telling us things are going to be looking up for our favorite freelance photog?  Why now -?  So you can sneak in a plug for your other title, Fantastic Four?  Do you really feel it’s worth doing that, and undercutting the tension that’s built up to this point, as Spidey closes in on the Fly?  Bad mistake – really stupid.  I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I’m not; proof yet again that Marv had no business being his own editor.  
I’ll try to finish on a positive note: the Pollard/Mooney art continues to depict Spidey well, as they maintain a balance between Spidey as both muscular and lithe.  I also like a subtle thing around his eyes; on many occasions, we see a curve on the top black border of the eye slots, which contributes to the idea that he might be scowling at his opponents, which could only help to provide some small advantage in a fight.  

Mark: Marv ups his game marginally here, but after the Spider Slayer suck-fest, even baby steps are welcome. The Fly continues to have me yearning for a swatter. Apparently, he has no name (thinking of himself as "the Fly"), no discernable personality beyond Generic Ego-Inflated Baddie in bad tights, but at least his museum heist plan to smoke bomb one floor while robbing another shows some tactical innovation.

Beyond that, his cheesy unitard and way-too-small wings scream Brand Ecch. He's such a tool, in fact, that Wolfman works Spidey into a fake-furious lather - "Where Are You, Fly? Where Are You, Fly? - to pump up the tension. But then, in a drama-draining, wrap-it-up fast move, our wound-up Web-slinger discovers the defeated Fly already in police custody, shot down with a SHIELD bug-zapper, loaned out to the fuzz.    

Wow, what excitem...zzz...

We do get some movement on the characterization/sub-plot side of the ledger. Pete wonders if J. Jonah unmasked him when he was unconscious last month. We know Flattop didn't (although that makes not a lick of sense), but our hapless hero still gets fired (for the 387th time) for booting an assignment. Robbie and MJ are both pissed at him. In the one bit of good news, Betty's enraged hubby, Ned Leeds, shows up to sock Parker on the jaw. Well worth it, if it gets stalker Betty out of his life. All of the above is better than more Fly, of course, but it's strained and repetitive. Superhero shenanigans as Groundhog Day.  

The one genuinely interesting development is the sudden appearance of Uncle Ben's killer, a.k.a "the Burglar," ransacking the old Parker place and planning to deep six Aunt May.

That, of course, kicks off the long run-up to AMS #200, giving some hope to those with the patience of Job...

 The Avengers 184
"Death on the Hudson!"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by John Byrne, Terry Austin, and Diverse Hands
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers
Cover by George Pérez and Terry Austin

On a freighter docked in New York, the Avengers continue their assault on the Absorbing Man (and vice versa), with the balance of power shifting continuously between sides. Crusher insists he only wants to pilot the freighter to another country and thus avoid the pesky superheroes who seem to line the Manhattan streets but the Avengers are having none of that. Cap and the Falcon arrive at Avengers Mansion so that Sam can sign the proper forms in order to become a card-carrying Avenger but Jarvis informs the duo of the battle at the docks and they exit stage right. Cap's arrival proves to be a boon to Crusher as he absorbs Cap's shield and becomes a man made of "top-secret, super-strong alloy!" In the end, the Vision engages in hand-to-hand with Creel and the dim-witted villain soaks up Viz's powers, which alters his density to nothingness. Crusher falls through the dock and the water allows him to return to normal; he momentarily considers swimming to the freighter (which has sailed) before realizing that would be hopeless. The Absorbing Man sighs and melts to water, leaving his hostage, Sandy, wondering if it would have been okay to just let the guy go. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Sandy's naive query, " don't suppose it really would've been okay to let him go, do you?" may not be entirely naive at all. Though this story is nothing more than a slam-bang actioner, Michelinie does a great job of shifting the reader's emotions from "Yeah, get that Absorbing Man and pound him into the dock!" to "Hang on, the dude may have a point!" Of course, we all know that, once in said South American banana plantation, Crusher would get bored and kick up a little fuss, and he did have a hostage after all, but Mich plants the seeds of doubt in our minds. Maybe this second-tier villain really did want to kick back on a beach, become a hammock, and entertain his new "chippie."

Chris: I went in to my re-reading with strong reservations, especially after the lackluster art of the previous two issues.  It’s a better read than I expected, though – first, the team maintains the upper hand most of the time, and even manages to have some fun at Creel’s expense (à la the Beast's baton-twirls on p 14); Iron Man is the only one to suffer a setback, as Cap’s shield’s mysterious alloy (as absorbed by Creel) proves mightier than his recently-improved armor.  The battle is enjoyable enough that it doesn’t suffer too much from the lack of any contribution from Hawkeye, the Wasp, and the reluctant newcomer Falcon. 

Second, the art holds together better than I thought it might; it’s hard to imagine, but “D. Hands” does prove to be an improvement over a single inker (i.e. Klaus Janson in our previous two issues).  It helps that Terry Austin (making his ONLY appearance ever for this title during the Bronze era – heavy, profound sigh …) is one of those Hands, finishing p 14, and likely also p 22.  I’m amazed to see that no one – not GCDb, not even Super Mega Monkey – can definitively identify the other finishers, but I’m reasonably confident in saying Janson (p 1, 2, 23) and Dan Green (p 10, 11, 15, 19) are among them, joined by Josef Rubinstein (p 5) and Al Gordon (p 15, 21).  Bob Wiacek might’ve been in the fire-drill crew, too (p 6, 7 -?).  
On the bottom of the letters page, we get a nice look at the Byrne-realized Avengers headshots; this is a preview of the “lineup” graphic that will be visible in the upper left-hand corner, starting with #185.  We all love the graphic of the Vision comin’ through the cover-corner, but otherwise, it’s about time the Avengers caught up to all the other team mags, right?  
It occurs to me this is the only time I can remember writing to a Marvel mag; the only comment I recall having offered dealt with Jan’s pointless comment to the Falcon, upon his arrival, that she likes his bird (p 11, last pnl).  At the time, I thought Jan deserved better lines than this, but today, I realize that: 1) appearances matter to Jan, which is a fault; and 2) she probably simply was trying to find a way to break the ice, which is an admirable trait.  The armadillo elected not to print my letter.  

Matthew: I was 1-for-1 with LOCs:  I wrote one regarding Defenders #110 that appeared in #114, thus making it a Landmark Issue that, alas, is outside the scope of this blog.
Joe: The fact that we get another George Perez cover, with John Byrne "choreography" and pencils inside, has me giddy like the 12-year-old who first read this issue! At first glance, I like the steely blue Absorbing Man on the cover a little more than the red "hotter than hell" turbine-infused Creel in our story proper. And when did Ms. Marvel become so influenced by Spider-Man? "Bunky?" Well, learn from the best, I guess—at least she didn't say "Blue Blazes" when Creel tossed her off the ship! Lots of nice moments, though, with nearly every Avenger getting one, including the Vision smashing Creel with his own ball and chain (no, not Scarlet Witch, Creel's own ball and chain…); Beast's banter and bravado; Falcon's annoyance with being the "token" Avenger; Hawkeye being completely unimpressed with his "replacement"; Iron Man worrying about taking on too much power, but saving his teammates by unleashing it safely; the awesome flip of Creel; even Jarvis turning his nose up at the stuffy Gyrich, which was maybe my favorite page. Although Creel yelling "Damn their eyes!" at the Avengers on page 23 after the boat has departed was pretty good. I only wish Marty Feldman would have popped up, pointed to his own peepers, and said "Too late!"

Matthew: Never a good start when we see the byline of Professor Chris’s “favorite” inker, D. (for “Diverse,” not to be confused with his twin brother “M.,” for “Many”) Hands, as Byrne is bizarrely credited with “choreography/pencils.”  That may or may not tell you all you needed to know about the art, and although I’ve always liked the Absorbing Man, somehow this battle just never jells for me.  The Vision is handled well, yet I’m sick and tired of people like Michelinie making the Beast the butt of their jokes, in this case having him try to play lifeguard when he apparently can’t swim, and while I’m no more eager than the Falcon was to have him dragooned into membership, his sarcastic “darky” diatribe evokes the worst of Bronze-Age Kirby excesses.

Conan the Barbarian 99 
“Devil-Crabs of the Dark Cliffs”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Ernie Chan

The Tigress prowls the Black Coast, looting and burning native villages that refuse to pay Bêlit her hard-earned tribute. But the crew, shorthanded because of all the recent bloodshed, is on the verge of mutiny — ignoring the rumblings, the She Devil pushes the ship further down the coast. When they reach the towering Dark Cliffs, Conan is surprised to see an Argossean ship moored on the craggy shore. The Cimmerian, his mate and a few of the Black Corsairs board the merchant vessel to find it abandoned, except for two corpses that have been torn to pieces. They also discover that heavy chests have been dragged off the ship: Bêlit assumes that they were filled with treasure and the pirates decide to follow the tracks and recover the riches.

After marching through a cave filled with steaming jets of hot sulfur, they soon come across a bizarre stone village, filled with grotesque, crab-like creatures. Conan also spots the Argossean crew, locked in a prison. Deciding to save the men, the barbarian steals to a barred window and orders the captives to remove their shirts: he ties them into a makeshift rope and wraps one end to a bar and the other around a boulder perched on a rocky ledge. After the mighty Cimmerian shoves the massive stone over the edge, the window gives way and the Argosseans are freed. The crew’s leader, Florannus, leads the pirates to their stolen treasure chests and they all attempt to sneak off — but the crab-men discover the escape and scuttle after them. Weighed down by the heavy treasure, Conan and company are nearly overtaken but, in the cave, the barbarian orders the Argosseans to topple rocks on the stone floor: the fragile crust is pierced and the sulfur explodes, steaming the crabby creatures to death. After taking the majority of their treasure, Bêlit allows the Argosseans to sail home in their ship. 

-Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: I believe we have a screw-up on the splash page: a caption reads “Freely adapted from the story ‘The People of the Black Coast’ by Robert E. Howard.” The problem? Howard never wrote anything with that title. Now Robert E. did pen “Queen of the Black Coast” and “The People of the Black Circle.” It’s safe to assume that Roy meant “Queen” in the caption — I’m surprised that the supreme Hyborian scribe would make such a goof. And honestly, there’s really nothing in this one that can be found in Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast,” except the village-looting on the splash page. Why would Roy even try to evoke “Queen"? Well, since Bêlit pushes her crew to the edges of the Black Coast, the Rascally One is setting up the events for next month’s double-sized Conan the Barbarian #100, which finally wraps up the whole She Devil storyline that kicked off waaaay back in issue #57 (January 1976). More on that next time obviously.

I’m not calling this issue a dud, but you could have totally skipped it back in the day and not have missed a beat. I left out quite a few details about the goofy crab creatures: they seem to have telepathic powers and superior intelligences. And they have been performing deadly experiments on their Argossean prisoners. Are they supposed to be aliens? Plus, they look more like turtles with Metalunan pincers for hands and feet. Either way, steaming them to death is a bit groan- worthy. Conan even cracks a joke about eating their remains. Speaking of the Cimmerian, he has a weird fainting spell on the last page even though he didn’t suffer any major injuries in the encounter: I assume that Roy will make use of that in July’s centennial. 

I left out some of the background details about the Argosseans as well. They were returning from Khitai after discovering a sailing route around the far-southern Black Coast to that isolated eastern region: before, it would take a perilous and long journey over land. When Bêlit lets them go at the end, she laughs that merchant ships heading to Khitai will now flood the Coast — and become easy pickings for the Black Corsairs. She’s a wily one. 

Matthew: Man, I’m with Conan. First, Red Sonja slices up a giant clam worthy of the name, and now we get a heaping helping of steamed crab (as well as a welcome allusion to the telepathic crustaceans of Roger Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters); doesn’t help that I usually proof these things on my lunch hour.  Yum, yum!

Chris: I’m sure I’ve raised this point before, but with a scripter of Roy’s caliber, it bears repeating: I’m reasonably certain a lesser writer would want to explain the strange presence and power of the devil-crabs.  For example, Conan might be made to glance into a large chamber and spy a flying saucer, or something; “They are not of this world!”  Instead, we’re all left wondering how they managed to draw the Argossean sailors to the shore, and how they were able to construct earthen cells with little more than a glance at a drawing of a similar structure.  I much prefer to preserve the sense of mystery.

Conan, somewhat uncharacteristically, errs on the side of caution most of the time; he advises against going up the inlet in search of missing treasure, and also voices his reservations about dragging out the treasure when the devil-crabs are scuttling after them.  He’s ready to take action as he leaps from the top of the incline, in order to draw the crabs after him and into the killing zone of the sulfur jets.  But then, a fainting spell at the end?  What’s simmering within the mighty Cimmerian -?
The Buscema/Chan art doesn’t disappoint, as always.  These guys know how to present bizarre creatures, and make then seem credible, without looking ridiculous; case in point, the crew’s first look at the crab-men, as they appear to shamble on their hind legs, weighed down by the massive tortoise-like shells on their backs.  If there’s a single highlight, it would have to be when Conan snaps off the “arms” of the crab, as parts of the forelegs shatter into fragments (p 22, pnl 3).

 Doctor Strange 35
"Of Knights -- and Pawns"
Story by Roger Stern and Ralph Macchio
Art by Tom Sutton and Pablo Marcos
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Clem Robins
Cover by Gene Colan and Bob Wiacek

The Avengers welcome Doctor Strange and Clea at the Avengers Mansion with a strange request: they would like Stephen to reassemble the pieces of the stone statue of Black Knight, which reanimated itself and attacked the Earth's Mightiest Mortals some time before (way back in Avengers #157). Strange works a puzzle-piece spell and the statue becomes whole again, with only one problem: the Knight's sword, which should be with the man himself (in the 12th Century), is at the statue's side. Strange agrees to delve into the mystery and he and Clea head back to the Sanctum. Meanwhile. the Dweller in Darkness has been keeping tabs on Magic's Favorite Couple and doesn't like what he sees; Strange's investigation into the Black Knight conundrum may derail the Dweller's masterplan. The Dweller possesses a nearby man and has him commit suicide by hot dog stand (Bystander to Strange: "Better run for it, mister. Some lunatic just blew himself to bits -- and took about four hundred franks with him!"). From the ashes of the vending machine rises a beastly apparition, a demon who strikes out at anything in his reach. Back in the Dweller's Domain, the Chief Nasty is auditioning new acts for his "Doctor Strange Vengeance Tour" and one applicant, a winged creature by the name of Ludi, shows some promise. Ludi tells the tale of his brother, the demon Ningal, who is trapped in a "block of lambent energy" with an occultist named Murdoch Adams. It seems that after Ludi was thwarted by Adams (chronicled in Chamber of Chills #4, May 1973), Ningal (first seen in an originally unconnected story in Chamber of Chills #3, March 1973) got trapped while trying to avenge his brother’s defeat, so Ludi will now be more than happy to volunteer his services if the Dweller will release Ningal. For some reason, the Dweller sees more promise in Ningal and Murdoch than in Ludi but he agrees to the demon's terms and Ludi is sent immediately to Earth to wrangle with the Doc and Clea. Just in time too, as the spell-spouting lovers have dispatched Hot Dog Demon with a spell of light. Ludi rises from the liquified mess that was once a New Yawk resident and attacks the Doc. Clea, clearly showing that one woman can have not only a perfect set of breasts but also a quick mind when it comes to battle, runs Ludi through with the Knight's sword. The once-dead Hot Dog Maniac rises, unhurt, from yet another liquified puddle. The Dweller releases Murdoch from his prison and sends him to Earth, where the adventurer finds his way to the Sanctum. When Wong opens the door, Adams tells him he must see... Stephen Sanders! -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Confusion time again. Why are the Avengers only now seeking Strange's help for an incident that had happened months before? Was there some down-time between battles and they suddenly realized Black Knight's pieces were lying around, taking up precious space? There's a wonderful bit of explanation found on the Supermegamonkey site that might help the reader understand this nonsense. That bit of time-wonkiness aside, this issue is a hoot. I love when these writers bring back very obscure Marvel characters (Chamber of Chills?!) and imaginatively tie them into existing threads. Why is the Dweller so opposed to Stephen investigating the mystery of the sword and what's his master plan anyway? The art is a bit sketchy in spots for my tastes but that's what happens when you take a talent like Tom Sutton and restrict him to wee little boxes. The man was a master of big, gooey, tentacled, multi-orbed beasties but there's not enough of that properly on display. All that said, this installment does exactly what it's meant to do: it makes me want to read the next chapter forthwith.

Matthew: The nice momentum the mag has been building up in recent months abruptly ceases, letting this issue drop like one of Dane’s stone fragments.  Asking Doc to investigate his reanimation in Avengers #157 seems logical, yet the 27-month (our-time) delay is ludicrous, and we now know Ultron was responsible, not mystic forces.  Marcos rarely fails to disappoint with his grotty inks; Doc toting that huge gift-wrapped pig-sticker is laughable; I’d be wary of a street vendor selling hot dogs, ice cream and tacos; they misspell Valtorr; the characters Stern drags in from two unrelated Lovecraftian stories by Gardner Effing Fox in Chamber of Chills #3-4 come completely out of left field; and, at the risk of asking a stupid question, could Clea always fly…?

Chris: I’m glad someone remembered the Avengers had contacted Dr Strange regarding the shattered statue of Dane Whitman.  The team’s at a loss, since it really helped to pull the room together, and not even the best efforts of furniture repositioning can hide the statue’s absence, or the rubble on the floor – Jan’s tried everything.  It’s not like Jarvis to leave this sort of mess, either; ordinarily, you’d expect the Whitman-debris to be boxed up and on the curb by the following morning.

The Dweller’s motivation is not clear to me; he’s concerned that Strange might detect his “subtle machinations,” so he decides to create a diversion, and uses the unnamed guy from Jersey to create a midtown ruckus.  Wouldn’t he expect Doc to be curious about where this being might’ve come from?  Sure enough, two panels after the giant creature’s emergence from the propane blast, Doc’s wondering whether it has a “malicious connection with the unknown enemy who set the Dream Weaver upon us?”  Sharp as a tack, ol’ Doc.  So yes, the Dweller buys himself time to shop for allies without Strange sniffing out those evil-gathering vibes (can you sniff vibes -?), but now Strange is going to be even more intent on uncovering you, isn’t he, Mr Dweller -?  I’m not so concerned about the Dweller trying to keep Doc occupied, but it seems that’s what author Macchio is doing to us, as most of the street-battling amounts to very little.  This issue seems to be here to set up further developments, so I will try to be patient with Stern & Macchio.
It’s unfortunate this is Tom Sutton’s final Bronze era appearance on this title.  He’s provided some wondrous visuals in his tenure, dating back to #27, but this is not his most inspiring effort.  Sutton could’ve found a way to make the mostly empty street fight more visually interesting.  His art springs back closer to its usual standard as Sutton shows the Dweller observing Doc thru a large globe, with energy crackling ‘round him (p 14), and sparring with the various powers during the Dweller’s recruitment segment, one of whom he dismisses, first trapping him in a sphere (p 15, pnl 4).  Overall, the art lacks the same quantity and quality of imaginative and clever touches that have made his previous outings packed with highlights.

 Fantastic Four 207
"Might of the Monocle!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott

For those left in suspense when Nova blew up the FF's space ship at the close of our last installment, nibble those fingernails for another 30, kids, 'cause there's nary a panel here devoted to the Fab Three (Ben, Sue, and Reed). It's all the Torch (who was shunned last month in Herbiegate*) and Spidey. 

We open with the Torch blazing across the night sky, on a mission for the Monocle (thanks to Professor Chris, for pointing out the obvious similarly between The M and Dr. Faustus during our last lesson, but be assured Eye-Guy is his own G-lister - not C-lister Doc Faust in disguise - with one unmemorable appearance in FF #95 before popping up again last month after a decade's absence).

Johnny, under hypnotic control, burns his way into the Bax Building, melts open one of Reed's vaults, stealing the "W" - Weapons Restricted - file and flies back to Security University, where he joins the parade of mind-controlled students offering up stolen booty, to the Monocle's greedy delight (presumably lacking the ability to fly/transport/time-shift off campus to commit their crimes, did Johnny's fellow students just rob one another?). He sends the students back to bed with the promise that tomorrow night "...we make our move at last!"

JUMP CUT to Peter Parker, showing up for his new photog gig  at the Daily Globe. J. Jonah fired Pete in ASM, last month, and one might think developments in Mr. P's personal life belong there, but Marv writes both books, so that makes it okay. Parker's first assignment from editor Barney Bushkin is to infiltrate the goings-on at Security University.

Yet after Webs swings down right next to a sign mislabeled Security CollegeMarv uses the C-word the rest of the way, even thought it was a University in two previous issues. What might seem minor nitpicking actually reveals slipshod attention to detail. Get the little things right first...

Pete enrolls with Bushkin-supplied fake-ID, immediately runs into Johnny Storm and they pal around before we cut to the Monocle being told to shut down the fake university and "...return to base two," by his shadowy superior from "the Enclave." But Eye-Guy plans to go it alone, and in an awesome display of power, he slams his fist down on his desk!

Meanwhile, Pete is snapping pix of the campus, but his camera is smashed by a security guard. Then, in a great stroke of luck, he's assigned a room where the baddies have yet to install a hypno-beam, so when Monocle calls forth his slumbering student zombies that night, Pete breaks out the window and scampers down the wall in time to see the students, including Torchie, being loaded into army trucks. He follows them to a nearby base, where the students attack and hide dynamite " certain pre-determined locations." As the students are trucked back to campus, Web is left to carry the knocked-out GIs to safety before the whole base goes "BKOWWW!"

Back at the university, Spidey wakes up the slumbering Johnny Storm, who remembers nothing (natch), so they break into a photo lab, where Webs develops pix he took (apparently with his belt-cam, shooting on auto-pilot) showing Torch attacking the troops. The Monocle, again contacted by the Enclave, declares his independence by blowing up his computer monitor, then has a mob of murderous students storm Johnny and Pete's dorm room. The Torch lays down a flame wall to separate them from their attackers (because dorm rooms are fireproof, duh!), then our daring duo attack Eye-Guy, who promptly puts Johnny back under his control. Our heroes tussle, but Spidey restrains Johnny with his new, flame-proof webbing then chases Monocle, who escapes in a rocket ship "hidden within the knoll behind the tree."

Torchie flies after the ship but the Monocle zaps him! Then the Monocle's ship blow up! Seems the Enclave doesn't care for freelancers. The flame-snuffed Johnny falls safely into a web-net, and Spidey asks him if he wants to go to a movie.

Our last cut is to the still-unseen leaders of the Enclave, chortling over the Monocle's demise and staring down at a captive Madame Medusa! -Mark Barsotti

Mark: So a university/college catering to the pampered offspring of the Rich & Powerful is taken over by a jumped-up hypnotist like the Monocle? Was the Miracle Man unavailable? 

It sounds like a conspiracy theory floated by a certain pumpkin-hued president-elect, but, okay, Marv, spread that fertilizer and hope it yields roses. 

So how did nudnik Barney Bushkin sniff out Scam University? Why did the Monocle blow up a random army base? And, yeah, the post Vietnam army was in bad shape, but could they really be overrun by undergrads in PJs? Why couldn't Eye-Guy zap the Torch and Spidey with his magic monocle? Why does Johnny snap out of said hypno-control when Spidey webbed him up? Who hides a rocket ship "behind the tree"? What insidious plans do the Enclave have in mind for Medusa? 

And who could possible follow the terrifying menace of Monocle? The Riding Crop?  

At least Joltin' Joe's inks buff Our Pal Sal's pencils to a high sheen, and that alone is worth your forty coppers, right, kids?

Don't answer that. Everyone who turned in their assignment gets an A for suffering through this. And don't hesitate to take advantage of MU's trauma counselors...  

Matthew: Or is that Marvel College? Ha ha.

*MARVEL'S MARKETING CONSPIRACY RECAP: It seems likely Marv was ordered by higher-ups to decouple the Torch from his teammates, so as not to muddle the minds of der kinder, presumably grooving to Herbie the Robot on the FF's new TV show. The Torch, when he appears in the comic, can fly solo, just like he used to in the bad old days of Strange Tales. And Marv seemingly does draw on ST for inspiration - those dregs of the early Silver Age - to fuel this near parody of a particularly addle-brained issue of Marvel Team-Up.   

Matthew: The Skrull/Xandar “epic” that has been developing in fits and starts for six months in this mag and the lame-duck Nova has its problems, yet leaving it dead in the water just as it picks up speed is inadvisable, and interrupting it for a turkey of this Thanksgiving-worthy size, Buscinnott artwork notwithstanding, is insupportable.  Again, I won’t dissect Marv’s story (with its tie-in to Peter’s professional life in ASM) in detail, since enumerating its manifest and manifold stupidities would probably fill a post in itself.  And while I’m not sure it constitutes a spoiler to reveal something that doesn’t happen, don’t hold your breath waiting for a resolution of the Enclave/Medusa cliffhanger, which apparently doesn’t occur until #240…in March of ’82!

 Godzilla, King of the Monsters 23
"The King Once More"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Dan Green
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Dan Green

Back at full size, and back in the present, Godzilla wreaks havoc on Times Square, with eyes on the Heli-Carrier. But Reed Richards surmises that the Big G is slightly disoriented from his trip and gets Dum Dum to start moving. Reed sends Johnny to Avengers Mansion while Reed stretches towards the Baxter Building to get their other two teammates. Godzilla continues to smash cars, then stops by to peer in the window of J. Jonah Jameson's office at the Daily Bugle! As JJJ yells at the creature, G uses hot air (not radioactive breath) to ruin Jameson's office. The Torch reaches the Avengers, who head off to help against Godzilla, just as young Rob tells Dum Dum they're antagonizing his fearsome friend by attacking him. The two supergroups arrive to attack, and Godzilla blasts the flying heroes with his radioactive breath! Human Torch gets swatted away, Thor's blasts are not nearly as effective as you would think, and Yellowjacket and Wasp succeed where the others couldn't by flying into Godzilla's ears and causing his to lose balance and fall into the river, but he soon emerges where he first came in to NY, "dwarfing everything in sight and bursting with the power of total destruction." Yeah!--Joe Tura

Joe: A pretty enjoyable romp through Manhattan, if not a bit ridiculous. The FF and Avengers get a chance to tussle with Godzilla, which makes sense in that who the heck else is going to stop our hero if sending him back in time couldn't do it! Some decent action, with a lot more to come if we believe the hype at the end—and how pissed Godzilla is! Trimpe does decent work as always on Big G and the SHIELD boys. His Avengers and FF are just OK, but they'll do for this issue. The cover is certainly enough to draw people in; you can tell they were going for non-G fans.

Best letter of the year, and especially in this comic book, comes from Edward Dunigan of the Bronx, who pulls no punches: "GODZILLA #17 is the worst, most insulting piece of garbage on the streets. Can't your stupid writers come up with an ingenious plot twist without making a fool of Godzilla? King of the Monsters? He couldn't be King of the Mice after this disaster. Godzilla has been defeated—by rotten writing." Well, it wasn't that bad, but yikes, this guy was more pissed than Godzilla was after being shrunk! But probably not more than the rat he fought the following issue.

Matthew: Dum Dum keeps putting it better than I can:  “Oh, no…the only thing worse than a kid—a whole flock of freako costumed clowns,” at least in the context of this strip.  Hedging their bets in what we now know to be the penultimate issue, they throw in both the Avengers and the FF, but if they hoped for high-profile guest-stars to stave off cancellation, they were clearly doomed to disappointment.  Sure, there’s a nice irony, and perhaps an echo of the “littlest things” at the end of The War of the Worlds (1953), to have the (now once again) Big G felled by two tiny Assemblers, yet since actual dinosaurs have been dead for 65 million years, give or take a few days, making such assumptions about Godzilla’s physiognomy seems like a pretty big risk…

Chris: There are a few clear highlights, most notably Robbie’s speechless moment as he sees Godzilla’s massive green head outside Jonah’s window (p 11); as a seasoned newsman, Robbie’s certainly seen his share of extraordinary happenings, so apparently Moench wants us to appreciate that Godzilla’s presence is way off the charts.  Points also to Doug & Herb for the slow afternoon at Avengers Mansion (“Hey, you passed ‘Go’ and forgot to collect;” p 15, pnl 5), and Gojira’s flame-blast at the assembled heroes (p 26, pnl 1).  

The story suffers, though, from slack pacing throughout, as nearly every scene takes longer than it should: Reed and Dugan talk about directing Godzilla out of Manhattan – good call, guys; Jonah swears vengeance; and, Johnny solicits help from the impossibly-unaware Avengers (Cap and Wanda stay behind on monitor duty – you mean there’s nothing on the monitor about the giant green dinosaur on 42nd Street -?!).  Any one of these exchanges could’ve been completed in 2-3 panels instead of 2-3 pages; as a result, there’s no build-up of suspense, as we simply watch the Zilla-carrier lead Godzilla to “the River” (which I hope is the Hudson, otherwise the Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn bridges are toast).  Trimpe and Green present our star attraction well, but with uneven results for our heroes (Thor’s arms seem strangely elongated, both p 19 pnl 6, and p 26 pnl 4).  Also, I’m sorry to say Herb’s Gojira-buster is among the most awkward-looking airborne vehicles I’ve ever seen, as it appears to be nothing but a rectangular box with flat wheels sticking from its sides.  That thing wouldn’t fly even if Godzilla were to grab it and give it a green-giant heave.  

 The Invincible Iron Man 123
"Casino Fatale!"
Story by Bob Layton and David Michelinie
Art by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Bob Layton

En route to his Long Island H.Q., IM experiences another “malfunction” as his boot jets propel him right through an editorial meeting run by “Jim,” then he crashes in the back yard of “Rawger [McKenzie]” and his offscreen wife, Dickie.  Bullpen cameos out of the way, Tony spends hours checking and testing his armor, only to find “not a single hint of flaw, fault or failure.”  Interrupting the obligatory cattiness between Mrs. Arbogast and Bethany, he loses his temper when the latter tells him his “whole attitude stinks,” but as the discussion continues in his private quarters, he learns her true agenda:  as half of Cabe and McPherson, Security Specialists, she aspires to replace Iron Man, who “doesn’t seem terribly professional,” as Tony’s bodyguard.

Having apologized with a Dior original and a champagne dinner at a plush Atlantic City casino hotel, he’s trying his luck at the roulette wheel when Blizzard, the Melter, and Whiplash arrive to crack the vault—literally—after their mix of heat and cold makes it brittle enough to be shattered by an electronic whip.  Tony again runs roughshod over the as-yet-unidentified frump from #120 in his haste to armor up, puzzling as he fights over the resurgence and alliance of three old foes, their current employer and agenda unknown.  Despite being told “hands-off on Iron Man,” whose circuits “can’t cope with both extreme temperatures at once,” the vengeful Whiplash vows to mete out the same fate as he did to the vault door, and is unleashing his whip at the fade-out… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Co-plotter/inker Bob’s eye-catching, otherwise nicely conceived symbolic cover promises more than it delivers in terms of Bethany’s role as Tony’s would-be bodyguard, and raised some false hopes on my part for one of those old-fashioned stories in which the hero faces a tag-team of middle-tier villains whose threat is due more to quantity than to quality.  When the battle finally began with a mere three pages to go, I was afraid it would be too little, too late until I discovered that this was a two-parter.  It seems odd that after devoting most of last issue to the umpteenth retelling of Shellhead’s origin, Michelayton now squanders yet another 2+ pages reviewing his powers (however impressively the montage comprising Romita’s spread on 6-7 visualizes them).

Chris: Tony Stark has introduced a series of much-needed improvements to Iron Man’s armor; so, what are his old foes to do?  Not all of them are capable of jacking-up their powers, which could mean a rematch could amount to nothing but a mismatch.  Points to Michelinie & Layton for bringing together a trio of old foes, and having them work as a mini-team.  It helps when the same abilities that work well in combination to crack a safe also could spell trouble for an armored suit; Whiplash already might feel better about having moved on from the Wraith (from MTU #72), at least until he and Blizzard realize Iron Man’s caught up to them, subtly expressed as “Him!” “Here?!” (p 23, last pnl).

Plenty of highlights for the well-remembered Romita Jr/Layton art: IM’s apparent trepidation as he’s flying on his back toward the midtown Marvel offices (p 2, pnl 4); the two-page full-armor workout, especially the heavily used flexcoil, and the “jet skate/repulsor combo” (p 6-7); Iron Man hefts the craps table and uses it to catch both Whiplash and Blizzard in the midsections (p 27, 1st two panels).

 Battlestar Galactica 4
"The Lost Gods of Kobol -
Part 1: Into the Void!"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Walt Simonson and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Walt Simonson and Klaus Janson

Apollo and Serina have announced their impending engagement to the delight of Apollo’s family and the slight jealousy of Starbuck, who sees their friendship coming to something of an end. Still, he is happy for his oldest and best friend as heads out on patrol with Boomer and Jolly, with a surprise bachelor party awaiting upon their return. As the warriors split off, Apollo and Starbuck discover a starless void that scrambles communications and sensors. Apollo goes to investigate but is quickly lost inside. Disregarding orders to stay behind, Starbuck plunges in and leads his friend back out to safety. Quadrants away, Boomer and Jolly land on a planetoid that hides a Cylon outpost. They leave just before detection. They arrive at the Galactica first, but Jolly is queasy and hot, barely making the landing intact. While he goes to the med bay, Boomer skips decon and goes to the party. Once inside, he passes out. Apollo and Starbuck arrive soon after and are headed off by Commander Adama and medical personnel before they can enter; Jolly and Boomer have brought back a virus that could kill them all.

Meanwhile, on a Cylon Base Ship, the human traitor, Baltar, is brought before the Imperious Leader. He has thought over Baltar’s proposal to lead the Cylons to the humans and found it to be a good idea. He gives Baltar command of his own base ship, with the advanced Cylon Lucifer as his aide.

The virus has spread to all of the warriors at the party, leaving only Apollo and Starbuck, some retired disabled warriors and female shuttle pilot trainees to turn to for protection of the fleet. Adama orders Apollo to train the shuttle cadets, one of them being Serina. When Adama learns of the void, he is reminded of the old legends of the 13th tribe finding the planet Kobol in the middle of such a void. Knowing they can’t take the fleet in the direction of the Cylon outpost Boomer discovered, Adama considers risking the void. Later, the doctor asks Adama to send out a team to the outpost to find the cause of the virus. With only the trainees left, Apollo and Starbuck reluctantly lead the mission. They encounter Cylon forces, but the ladies do fine, defeating the Cylons and destroying the outpost. Even though the immediate threat is ended, Adama still insists on entering the void. The Cylons will send all of their forces after them, and Adama rationalizes that the void might give them cover. Meanwhile, Baltar hatches a plan  that will force Adama to turn over the Galactica without the Cylons needing to fire a shot.
-Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Oh my. This is what I’m talking about! While this is an adaptation of a two-part episode, it’s necessary since it will deal with Serina and Baltar, who will be absent for the remainder of the run. Yet it’s not a dog of an adaptation like that of the three-hour pilot episode. Everything about this works. Walt Simonson and Klaus Janson are magic, both men totally on their game. Everyone looks pretty close to their television counterparts, so much so that Universal Studios asked Marvel to bring it back a little in future issues. Damn those expensive actor likeness rights. The only major character missing is Athena, Apollo’s sister, who is seen for one panel at the dinner announcing Apollo’s engagement. She gets lost in the shuffle during the TV series as well. This was one of the best episodes of the series and Roger McKenzie adapts the script deftly. He uses flashbacks and edits carefully to make the first part fit pretty well. Apollo and Starbuck’s friendship comes across nicely, as does the little bit of Serina’s relationship with Apollo. We’ll focus more on that in the following issue. Baltar is drawn in the shadows and his appearance seems to change from panel to panel, the only real disappointment. I guess there was no getting the approval of John Colicos, which is a shame. He starts out looking like a little African-American boy before getting the more muscular treatment typical of Marvel.

The plot is good, but the usual Glen Larson wacky. The “void” is actually more clearly defined in the comic, having an actual edge. In space, voids are commonplace as stars thin out. The end of the galaxy would be the beginning of a void. However, this seems more like a “hole” or tunnel in space. I can almost hear the series soundtrack as I read this. Okay, not “almost.” I’m actually playing the CDs to the series as I type. Hey, it’s a great issue, giving us a lot of backstory and worldbuilding while providing the requisite action and space battles that made this TV series so much fun. One thing the comic does better than the series is the portrayal of the Cylons. They don't come across as robots but as armored aliens, which makes their threat more real and less frivolous. The network, sadly, wouldn’t allow so much killing that early in the evening, so they were just robots who couldn’t shoot very well, diluting their threat. Good call, Marvel. Great issue.

Chris: In short, it’s a fairly dull story.  There’s an infection picked up by nearly all the pilots, so a crew of women shuttle-jocks is recruited for training as Viper pilots, to ensure defense of the Galactica (yay!) against Cylons (booo).  Lorne Greene – er sorry, Commander Adama sends the fighter squadron back to an asteroid where the infectious material seems to have originated.  On their mission to detect this agent, the squad encounters Cylons and their base, and destroys them.  Easily done.  

It doesn’t help that the art frequently requires little but headshots of characters speaking to each other; there isn’t much for Walt Simonson to do until the last few pages.  Even then, it’s apparent he provides little more than layouts, and the bits we see suggest Walt hadn’t been terribly inspired.  Klaus Janson isn’t a good choice to finish the art; Marvel creates a similar mismatch later on in their Star Wars title, as Tom Palmer will embellish Simonson’s layouts.  In both cases, a heavy-handed inker isn’t contributing the fine details I expect to see for a SF adventure series.

 The Incredible Hulk 236
"Kill or Be Killed!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Al Milgrom

Hulk’s back is turned from Machine Man, who he thought was all smashy. Nope, sorry, greenie, he’s slapped himself back together and he’s still ready to rumble. So the fight continues. Meanwhile, Fred Sloan has Spaulding covered with a gun, demanding the guy spill it or the hippie will shoot. When Spaulding refuses, Fred caves. When he realizes Fred and Hulk were duped by a fake MM, Spaulding gives him back the gun – it’s a replica (D’OH!)  – and takes Fred to see an Army guy named Colonel Simon Kragg. Hulk sees Fred being dragged into a car and thinks his “Shaggy” is being kidnapped. He goes to stop it, but MM intervenes. More smashy. Meanwhile, Curtiss Jackson is watching this via hyper-binoculars. He wants to see how well this plays out because eventually he’ll be in charge on the global front. Or something. Hulk and MM continue to fight. Fred and Spaulding reach the Colonel who calls in the Hulkbusters, who probably won’t arrive in time.  Hulk smashy MM so hard, all of Central City quakes. MM finds a guy in a van who is speaking with Jackson, so he throws him in a pool and keeps Jackson talking so he can pinpoint him. Hulk says no. Ain’t nobody got time for that! He rips up some underground electric lines and shocks MM. MM starts to choke the Hulk, but a gas line is ruptured. And then, suddenly, “BRAKKA-BRAKKA-BRAKKA-BRAM!!!!!”
-Scott McIntyre

Scott: Actually, I made that sound effect up. They didn’t provide one. Another pretty much all-out action issue with very little development in the fricking endless plot of Hulk vs The Corporation. Machine Man was a dull comic, he’s a dull character, and he isn’t helping this issue be any less dull. Some nice tidbits of nostalgia: Central City, as revealed last time, was the Birthplace of the Fantastic Four and now Hulk remembers being shocked by the Thing way back in FF #25. The guy can’t remember that ham goes on a ham sandwich, but he remembers something from the '60s. That’s funny. I’m sure, in Marvel Time, it’s just a few months. Yet this story feels like it’s been going on for years…

Matthew:  This storyline just grinds relentlessly on, like a huge freight train laboring up a steep incline, and making it about as thrilling for those who value more than merely action; there really should have been a way to wind it up here, rather than padding it out for yet another issue.  It presumably goes without saying that the Buscemosito artwork keeps it from being a total loss, but if you think about it, other than the Earth-shattering-kaboom kliffhanger, this installment leaves us pretty much where the last one did.  Sterno once again gives us the feeling that, like Savoir-Faire, the Corporation is everywhere, and having brought back Trish Starr, he does virtually nothing with her (other than to inform us of her “optimum organization quotient”).

Chris: When you contrast Machine Man’s resilience with the Hulk’s savagery, you have a solid match-up.  It might’ve been tempting to focus solely on their continued battling, and while much of the issue is devoted to this, we also have a useful story development, as both Dr Spaulding and Aaron Stack realize the Corporation has played them for suckers.  Now, if only the Hulk would stop, and listen to reason; but, once he’s seen Spaulding drive away with Fred Sloan, can we consider even the slightest possibility that he might listen?  Not so much, no.  Points to the Hulk (and to Stern) for a bit of strategy, as he foregoes the unproductive frontal assault on Machine Man, and chooses instead to zap him with the exposed cables.  

The Buscema/Esposito art continues to deliver.  Page 6 is an obvious highlight, as Spaulding’s realization that he should contact Col Kragg is interrupted by an exterior wall coming down; then, add to that the sight of a fighting-mad Hulk, with Machine Man’s telescoping arms wrapping around him.  Next two highlights: full-on rage, as the Hulk sees Spaulding drive off with Fred (p 10, 1st pnl); pretty cool moment as the Hulk tunnels under Machine Man, and claws his way up thru the pavement (p 27, 1st two panels).

 Captain America 234
"Burn, Cap, Burn!"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Sal Buscema and Don Perlin
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott

A gritty street battle has broken out between a gang of African-American protestors and Captain America but... something's just not right. As the battle progresses, we discover that the entire scene is just that, a scripted scene on a movie set with cameras rolling. Turns out the faux-Cap (complete with swastika-blazing shield) is filming a hate-filled video being televised across the nation in cahoots with the National Force and Dr. Faustus. Matt Murdock catches the telecast and wonders what's become of his good friend, Captain America. He suits up and tracks the telecast to a warehouse, where he finds Faux-Cap, Faustus, and some of the Force goons. A battle royale breaks out between the two but the star-spangled Avenger seems to come to his senses when the swastika washes off to reveal his trademark star. Faustus orders his men to kill both the heroes. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Boy, am I confused. The racism-drenched exclamations and brutal violence point to a return of Steve Englehart's greatest creation and yet... all the nastiness seems to wash away with the swastika in the finale. If Sharon Carter is really dead, this was the most anticlimactic death of a semi-major supporting character in the history of Marvel. DD swings in and is attacked by brainwashed-Cap/faux-Cap in the most subtle of MARMISs; if I was one of the brainier of the staff Professors, I'd call it almost organic, in fact. Like last issue, there's not much substance here but McKenzie lights the flame of interest in my barren hearth. One question I've got though: if this Cap is the other Cap, where is our Cap and, if it's the other Cap, is this the first instance of a hero not making even a single panel appearance in his own title? My head hurts.

Chris: My first thought on page 1 is: didn’t we settle this street-brawl in #233?  Roger McKenzie creates disorientation (perhaps to draw us part-way in to Cap’s scrambled mind) as we have to sort out why this fight is happening, only to realize that it’s all for the benefit of the cameras.  To hear Cap spouting racist ideology is jarring, even a bit chilling.  

Interesting call to have Matt Murdock decide to get involved.  Since Daredevil scripter McKenzie is familiar with DD’s unique skill set, Matt can convincingly determine he is, in fact, hearing the voice of the real Cap (p 7).  I also like how McKenzie has DD use his other senses, as his touch tells him the floor of the warehouse bears signs of wear that could have been caused by a camera dolly, and his smell identifies greasepaint (the smell of the crowd!  Oh, sorry) and powdered makeup (p 21).  Later, DD also can smell a mix of paint and oil, which tells him Cap might be able to see the tacked-on swastika has been washed off, to reveal his trademark star.  
A few reservations: the business as DD rescues the hearing-impaired newsman seems unnecessary, as it adds a little excitement, but does nothing to advance the story; we had seen in the last panel of #233 that the Grand Director resembles Steve Rogers, but no mention is made this time; the art for the broadcast, and during Cap’s tangle with DD is quite good, but the pages in the middle section featuring DD appear to have been submitted by a different art team, as I see little trace of Sal’s layouts until DD “sees” Cap with Faustus on p 22.  It’s not that the art is bad, it’s simply off-putting for Sal to disappear almost completely that way.  
Matthew:  I suppose it was only a matter of time before McKenzie, who recently passed Ghost Rider’s Hellfire torch to Michael Fleisher, should cross-pollinate his two remaining series in the Marvel Universe.  No word yet on DD’s guest shot in Battlestar Galactica, but since we’ve just had his multi-issue visit to PPTSS, this smacks of both overexposure and another arc wearing out its dubious welcome, giving us the sorry spectacle of the separated-at-birth Faustus and Monocle appearing in the very same month.  The title recalls the 1962 Matheson/Beaumont classic Burn, Witch, Burn (aka Night of the Eagle), although perversely, my first association was a childhood memory of the Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos yarn, “Burn, Bridge, Burn!”

Ghost Rider 36
“A Demon in Denver”
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Bob Budiansky and Bob Wiacek
After nearly getting crushed by a pill-popping trucker, Ghost Rider melts the tires of the driver’s 18-wheeler to the asphalt. The satanic cyclist then cruises into Denver, the local police hot on his flaming trail — but he eludes capture by racing across the city’s rooftops. After absorbing his Skull Cycle, the Rider transforms into Johnny Blaze and the cash-strapped stuntman enters Dickie’s Bar & Grill for a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of beer. After Debbie, the bar’s go-go dancer, offers to buy Johnny a side of fries, a jealous customer named Barney threatens the leather-clad lad. When Blaze plucks a fly out of the air and pops it into the construction worker’s beer, a quick fight ensues: Barney comes out the loser.

Debbie quickly ushers Johnny out of the tavern and they drive off in her rundown car. At her apartment, they pick up Debbie’s sister Beth for the teenager’s weekly kidney treatment. Along the way, Barney and his cronies force their car off the road and drag Blaze out of the door. The hoodlums begin to beat Johnny with brass knuckles and baseball bats until he finally transforms into his unholy alter ego. The Rider thrashes the rednecks with hellfire and his satanic strength until Debbie begs him to stop: Beth has fallen ill and needs to be rushed to the hospital. The Spirit of Vengeance becomes human once again, and Blaze drives the sisters to help in Barney’s Corvette.-Tom Flynn

Tom: This one marks the Ghost Rider debut of busy DC scribe Michael Fleisher, who begins an unbroken run on this series until issue #66 (March 1982). And what does he bring to the table? A flat tire and leaky gas tank. We do get a reality-based story unlike the sci-fi Bubble-Boy nonsense we had to endure a few issues ago. But it’s a total snooze, the type of melodramatic piffle seen each week on the The Incredible Hulk TV show. Basically, Blaze rides into town, meets a young woman with a sick sister and gets into a confrontation with a bunch of local rowdies. Who cares?

Let’s touch on a few of the especially dumber bits. Supposedly, Debbie makes a living by doing a little dance every hour or so in what looks like a dilapidated old man’s bar. How can she afford her sister’s kidney treatments — that take place at night? And why does she sidle up to Johnny so quickly and even invite him, a total stranger, to her apartment? Remember, her little sister is living there as well. Seems a bit risky. What’s with the whole fly-in-the-beer bit? Blaze is suddenly some type of kung fu master? Plus, when they arrive at Debbie’s apartment, Johnny thinks “The last thing I need right now is some kind of one-night stand.” But then, four panels later, he grabs her out of the blue and delivers a big smooch on the lips. Worse, little Beth then walks in and says “Come on man! You shouldn’t be doin’ stuff like that … not while a little kid like me is watching!” Gross.  

I’d like to say that Don Perlin’s art elevates Fleisher’s rotten story — but we all know I’d be lying through my gritted teeth. Totally forgettable garbage.

Matthew:  It’s not unusual, especially on a mag like this, for the cover to be better than its contents deserve; the Budiacek one here, for example, not only is visually striking but also, with the sight gag establishing the climactic setting as a Roxxon gas station, displays a cleverness that is mirrored nowhere within.  The one-and-done with which Fleisher and Perlin kick off their long collaboration is neither wonderful nor terrible, ensuring that the title’s status as a poster child for mediocrity is maintained for many years.  “Macabre Michael” perpetuates his predecessors’ error in referring to La Simpson as “Roxy,” rather than “Rocky,” while Johnny vacillates inexplicably from “the last thing I need right now is some stupid one-night stand!” to that aggressive smooch.

Chris: Well, I hope everyone has been enjoying the bits when Johnny Blaze is harassed by petty crooks/space aliens/drunken louts/irate garbagemen, followed by the part with vengeance delivered by the soul-freezing fires of hell.  If you gave it a thumbs-up, you're in luck, as variations on this storyline will play out on a regular basis over the next few years or so.  Fleisher tries to raise the stakes by introducing Johnny's would-be girlfriend's kid sister, who requires routine medical treatment at night (since, you know, most outpatient services are offered after 9:00pm ...); this turns into some cheap drama, as the interruption of her scheduled appointment suddenly becomes life-or-death (p 27).  Anyway, Johnny turns out to be someone other than Debbie thought he was, so he'll be moving on, until next issue.  

Last month's atmospheric Starlin/Leialoha fill-in is more exception than rule; the only other (somewhat) notable stories in the past 12-16 issues involved the run-in with Doctor Strange.  With all the recent title-shutterings at Marvel, it’s hard to imagine that fan interest and sales could've been sufficient to keep Ghost Rider from the axe; and yet, somehow, it has. 

The Defenders 72
"Up From the Sky!"
Story by Ed Hannigan
Art by Herb Trimpe and Fred Kida
Colors by Elaine Heidl
Letters by Michael Higgins
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Al Milgrom

The Defenders (in three separate groups) pursue the Lunatiks through a long valley. Val is the first to catch up to the madmen but they appear to be overtaking her when the rest of the Defenders show up and save the day. Doc trusses up the Loonies and leaves them with the Sputs; now the group needs to escape before the Unnameable One arrives. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the IRS arrives at the ARAD Corporation building to tighten the screws on the missing Kyle Richmond, only to find that his employees are just as baffled by his disappearance. Kyle, in his Nighthawk garb, is just a little too busy to be worrying about audits and capital gains, what with the huge monster who's emitting lightning bolts at the group and attempting to bar their exit from this weird world. Doctor Strange whips up a magical tornado to throw the beast off and the group escapes through a funnel cloud... only to be attacked by a giant purple tomato with eyes and tentacles. Hulk has had enough so Hulk stomp. The Defenders find what they think to be a peaceful spot to rest for the evening but, unbeknownst to them, the surrounding forest has eyes! -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Though not as bad as the previous chapters (which is tantamount to arguing that Jason X was better than Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday), "Up From the Sky" is unengaging and meandering (just like the previous chapters) and the art sucks. Everyone in the cast seems to have a long, iron jaw (even the women) and the two monsters that pop up are straight from How to Draw a Monster the Marvel Way. Is that Clea's golden vibrator lodged in Doc S's head on page 5 (above)? At least the Lunatik "saga" appears to be wrapped up and we're only treated to two random lyric snatches this time out; rather obscure ones at that (Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me" and "Soul Man" by Sam & Dave). Nothing here helps the title to climb out of the "Worst Marvel Funny Book Being Published in 1979" septic tank.

Matthew: “Next issue:  the searing conclusion to the Lunatik saga!”  While I expect any searing to be minimal at best, I’ll gladly settle for “tepid” if it actually ends this train-wreck of an arc, with its Marcel-morceaux villains.  I won’t pick Hannigan’s story apart (loud cheers from the faculty lounge), but I will leave the last word on it to SuperMegaMonkey (loud groans from Professor Tom’s corner of the faculty lounge):  “I don’t know what’s going on here, and I don’t really care….The Defenders spend, oh I don’t know, a hundred issues wandering around an alien dimension…”  Kida does little, if anything, to offset Trimpe’s utter unsuitability for the title, and that two-pager on 2-3 makes Stalwag look like a leprechaun, which may or may not be intended.

Chris: Well, I guess it is possible for me to keep an open mind -- I'm enjoying these first two chapters of the Tunnelworld adventure.  Of course, this installment is mostly action, with virtually no development of the Arisen Tyrk/Lunatik business (and barely any annoying banter from them).  We're no closer to understanding why Dr Strange is so worried about drawing the attention of the Nameless One; but, after all the exposition of #71, for me to complain would be needlessly mean.  Despite the bizarre surroundings, Nighthawk quietly takes command -- even though that's been Doc's role, and the setting is more Doc's element -- so bully for you, Kyle.   

The Trimpe/Kida art is well-suited, as Trimpe delivers some wild creatures -- most notably the flying fanged mouth with tentacles (p 23) -- while Kida's inks soften some of Trimpe's hard edges more effectively than Esposito; at my first glance on page one, I thought Pablo Marcos might've returned.  Trimpe (perhaps for old time's sake) puts most of the highlights in the Hulk's jade paws, such as his mighty plunge to Val's defense (p 11), and his knotting-up of the tentacle-mouth, before he ba-WOOMs it away (p 26).  The gravity-free moment provides the team a brief respite, and their first chance to share some enjoyment in this wondrous new world (p 26-27).  The Defenders settle down to rest ... as eyes peer at them from the underbrush! (p 30).  Good fun so far.  

1 comment:

  1. "With all the recent title-shutterings at Marvel, it’s hard to imagine that fan interest and sales could've been sufficient to keep Ghost Rider from the axe; and yet, somehow, it has."

    I never understood how mediocre to truly terrible books like Ghost Rider made it a few years longer while Tomb of Dracula couldn't even sell enough to merit a bi-monthly schedule. (Not that I would have want to read it without Wolfman/Colan; all of the later Dracula was truly awful, or see the terrible ending of Master of Kung Fu). Still, why did tripe like GR sell enough and ToD not?

    This is the phase where most Marvel characters proved how bullet-proof they were (and still are), regardless how mediocre (or bad) the writers and artists were. Or good. I never became a fan of the then new writers.