Wednesday, November 9, 2016

May 1979 Part One: Frank Miller's Daredevil Helps Take the Sting Out of Yet Another Price Increase!

 Daredevil 158
"A Grave Mistake!"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Frank Miller and Joe Rubinstein

The Black Widow is unable to prevent the Unholy Three from capturing Matt Murdock; best she can do is grab Bird-Man and ground him by ripping off part of his wings.  She’s ready to pursue Cat-Man and Ape-Man, but Heather asks Natasha to stay to help tend to injured Foggy; “We both know,” Heather says, “Matt can take care of himself,” which immediately prompts Natasha to ask herself, “Does Heather know -?”  Matt’s captors deposit him in a lower-Manhattan cemetery, and lash him to a large Celtic cross.  Death-Stalker arrives, and gestures toward an open grave, prepared for Matt.  Death-Stalker then proceeds to reveal to Matt what he’s been dying (so to speak) to know: D-S had been the Exterminator, defeated by Daredevil years before.  At the time, DD had destroyed the Exterminator’s time-displacement ray; caught in the blast, the Ext was cast thru the time-fabric, eventually discovering he could move “unobserved” thru time.  The former Ext used this power to raid an A.I.M. lab and pilfer a design for a “prototype cybernetic death-grip"; he then turns and applies his death-touch to Ape-Man and Cat-Man, who had been hungrily counting their payment from D-S.  This momentary distraction allows Matt time to free himself from his bonds; he understands Death- Stalker expects a final confrontation between himself and Daredevil, not Matt Murdock.  D-S is hard to pick up via radar sense, as D-S apparently is “a fraction out of time,” until he syncs up with the present time-plane in order to employ his deadly touch.  DD tries to stay a step ahead of D-S as he phases in and out, then uses his billyclub to break the nearest streetlight.  As DD expected, D-S has trouble locating DD in the darkness.  DD draws D-S to a statue mounted atop a memorial; D-S mistakes the figure for DD and lunges forward, as DD lashes out with his billyclub and smashes D-S’s gloves into the stone under his hands.  Slightly out of phase, D-S doesn’t realize he’s at rest in the same space as the Celtic cross; he tries again to grab DD, and becomes solid while still within the marble tombstone, cursing Matt Murdock to his dying breath. -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: This whole Ani-Men/Unholy Three deal is confusing.  In #157, when the three creatures smash their way thru the Storefront window, an unseen character (possibly Debbie) calls out, “Foggy … oh my God – it’s the Ani-Men!” to which Natasha replies, “But that’s impossible! The Ani-Men are dead, killed in an explosion.  Iron Man saw their bodies,” a reference to IM #116.  But from the very start of this issue, they’re referred to as the “Unholy Three.”  Roger McKenzie confirms the deaths of the original Three (thereby preserving Tony Stark’s secret identity), and Death Stalker tells us these three simply are “mercenary replacements” wearing the old suits.  Could it be they hadn’t been called the Unholy Three in #157, since keen-minded readers might’ve remembered the Three as henchmen of the Exterminator, which in turn might’ve tipped them off that the Executioner is Death-Stalker’s previous identity?  I think I deserve a no-prize for working this out.  

Matthew:  It is indeed confusing, but I think you’re on the right track.  They were known as the Unholy Three when, as former employees of the Organizer, they worked for the Exterminator way back when.  So it makes sense that when the Exterminator, now Death-Stalker, would hire replacements for the slain originals, he would use the same name.  Referring to the originals as the Ani-Men was more a feature of their days working for Count Nefaria in X-Men and Iron Man.
Chris: Now, of course the real story here is Frank Miller, who debuts on his only regular Bronze-era Marvel title.  Miller is often credited for Daredevil’s revival, and it’s true this title takes a dramatic step forward with the introduction of Elektra in Miller’s first credit as scripter + penciller (#168, in case you didn’t know).  Roger McKenzie’s role in the transformation of Daredevil frequently is overlooked in our celebration of Miller; this issue marks the first of eight collaborations between McKenzie and Miller, so I invite you to observe how this title changes between now and Miller’s solo takeover.  In the meantime, here are a few highlights from our burgeoning star: Death Stalker crouches over the smoldering corpses of “Cat-Man” and “Ape-Man” (p 15, 1st pnl); DS looms more clearly to DD’s radar sense (p 15, last three pnls); DD loses DS against the fateful tombstone, and crouches low as DS reappears above him (p 16, last four pnls); DD swings a wide arc to smash his club against DS’s hands, the impact strong enough to knock DS’s hat off, and topple the head from the statue (p 26).

Matthew Bradley: Miller’s DD is probably second only to the sublime Claremont/Byrne/Austin X-Men among this period’s most far-reaching developments.  “I got Frank [on that] penciler around the same time Roger MacKenzie [sic] started writing it.  For a while, every day or so, the financial officer and/or the circulation VP would insist to me that the book, one of our lowest sellers, ought to be cancelled.  I argued to keep it, on the grounds that this ‘Miller kid’ was great, and that the book would catch on.  At one point, Frank almost quit because he didn’t like Roger’s scripts...but I talked him out of it, and eventually editor Denny O’Neil decided ‘enough already,’ and moved Roger onto something else,” Shooter later told’s Kuljit Mithra.

“I think the main factor in that decision was a spec plot that Frank wrote—the first Elektra story.  Denny was amazed at how good it was, I was smug about having picked this Miller kid out as a winner, and the rest, as they say, is well-known.  Shortly after Frank took over writing the book [initially sharing credit with McKenzie starting in #165, post-blog, unfortunately], sales took off, and I looked like a genius to the upstairs execs.  Frank…was a kid from Vermont who wanted to be a comics artist.  He…and I were pretty close in his early days at Marvel.  I’d like to think he learned something about writing in the course of the many discussions we had.  I also think that Denny O’Neil had a lot of positive influence on him and contributed to his development in his early stages,” as Jim recalled in 1988.

Less momentous, yet still noteworthy, is that Roger McKlosure explains/resolves Death-Stalker (“choke”), even confirming the death of the original Unholy Three—aka Ani-Men—in Iron Man #116.  DS has been used for so long by so many writers that I have no idea whose intentions are carried out here, and you can bet I take all that technobabble with a grain of salt, but they’ve sure got some stones reaching back more than a decade to the Exterminator, who employed the U3 even then.  Those expecting anti-Janson snark will be disappointed, because even I acknowledge Franklaus as DD’s definitive late-Bronze team; my only reservation about the art is that three women on our splash page have the exact same hair color, making them difficult to differentiate.

Scott McIntyre: And with the arrival of Frank Miller, Daredevil takes a quantum jump forward. He and Klaus Janson immediately clicked and they’d be a team on many a project. Roger McKenzie’s origin of Death Stalker brings back a very long forgotten foe in a pretty imaginative way. Death Stalker’s own demise is very well done. As Miller gathers steam in the issues to come, Daredevil will be on par with the X-Men, easily the two best books in the line for a while. At least in the 70’s.

Mark Barsotti: My fellow profs will, I'm guessing, be all atwitter over Frank Miller's debut, and rightfully so, given we know Miller will become one of the genre's leading lights in the coming decade.

But since our commission is to deconstruct the funnybooks in the context of their time, I suppose it's up to me to volunteer for turd-in-the-punchbowl duty here and opine that Miller's debut reveals an - cough cough - energetic but raw talent who needs a whole lotta help from Klaus J's inks on this one.

Now, you wanna talk cool, class, how 'bout the way Roger has Death-Stalker materialize inside a tomb---

What's that, Forbush? There's a mob heading this way from the faculty lounge?


 The Amazing Spider-Man 192
"24 Hours Till Doomsday!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Keith Pollard and Jim Mooney
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers
Cover by Keith Pollard and Bob McLeod

Smythe explains to Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson that he's shackled them together with a bomb, primed to explode in 24 hours, strictly for revenge against his two most hated enemies, as he's dying from the plutonium needed to make the Spider-Slayers. Spidey gets annoyed and heads out the window, stopping Jameson from unmasking him and taking "Pork-Face" to Curt Connors' (spelled "Conners" here as usual) lab for some help, with 19:45 left before the bomb blows. Meanwhile, The Fly heads to the Air Egypt terminal at the airport and Joe Robertson worries that Peter Parker is blowing off the big assignment he gave him. Connors is unable to remove the shackle without setting off the bomb—then the police barge in, but D.A. Tower clears Spidey, who takes off again with JJJ. The Fly attacks a man he followed from the airport in order to steal an invite to the King Tut Exhibit, while Betty Brant sets up a group to surprise Peter when he picks up his diploma. Betty has even called Mary Jane, who is worried about falling for the "brown-eyed hunk" again, then breaking up, "like Mom and Dad so many years ago."

Peter is instead trapped in his Spidey suit, attached to JJJ, who is starving, but before they can grab any chow, our hero's spider-sense starts tingling—and The Fly strikes from out of nowhere! He wants to stop Spidey from interfering in "the biggest caper" of his career, eventually knocking the wall-crawler unconscious and tossing him and JJJ off the roof! Spidey was playing possum, so he's able to break their falls, barely, smashing to the ground but saving Jameson from harm…and the publisher is reaching for his mask. At ESU, Peter's pals have to leave, and MJ is also upset, calling "Cliff" to get out of the rain. Spidey wakes up at Connors' lab, JJJ having carried him there, and Web-Head gets a brainstorm. With little over a half hour left, the two break into the Westchester lab of Smythe—who has died! A recorded message taunts the pair, then Spidey rips open the wall to find the power source and computer connected to what he thinks is a camera in the shackle. Not knowing which wire to disconnect as he races against time, he breaks off a canister of liquid oxygen gas from the cryogenic chamber John Jameson was inside, and starts freezing the computer! The shackle falls off with seconds to spare, but the bomb is still active! Spidey tosses it out the window, then, out of danger, swings away after dealing with a once-again ungrateful JJJ. But when he's alone, the publisher weeps, bemoaning the fact that Spider-Man kept fighting to save them, while he made a fool of himself, and is "just a weak and ordinary man." --Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Sorry for another super-long synopsis, class, but this issue was packed with happenings and suspense and supporting-cast cameos left and right. One of Marv's better scripts in the past year or so, even though it's not perfect. The Fly is around for some reason, just to buzz off after being an annoyance to everyone. Smythe meets a tepid end, thinking he's succeeded, yet the only thing he proved is that villains should just kill their enemies right away and knock off the nonsense. Sheesh, it's as if they really don't want to get rid of these superheroes at all! JJJ is all bravado and pathos, switching back and forth, page to page. Then again, I would be too in his predicament! Except I'd probably need a change of underwear… My favorite exchange in a book full of Rickles-esque insults and borderline hatred is on page 22, when Spidey realizes something big: "Hold it, I'm a grade-A-dunce!" JJJ: "I've said that for years!" Spidey: "Jameson, why don’t you—awww, forget it. It's hardly worth the effort."

Top sound effect actually involves that pesky Fly, who smacks the guy he steals the invite from across his apartment with a loud "WAKKO!" Now, is this supposed to be the superlative form of "WHACK" or is the man telling Fly what he really thinks of him? ("I'm no wacko"—Kenneth Keith Kallenbach)

Chris: The Fly arrives just in time, as the one-note squabbling between Spidey and Jonah had grown fairly tedious.  There are a few cliffhanger-worthy moments, including Spidey and Jonah’s plummet to the pavement.  And what do we suppose happens as Jonah reaches to remove the mask of the senseless Spidey -? (p 19, pnl 2).  Clever moment as Spidey realizes he could freeze the computer with the liquid O2 from the cryogenic chamber (even if the explanation makes no sense – how would you provide power to the bomb, and to the camera, remotely -?); Jonah’s amazement as he realizes Spidey seems to know what he’s talking about is a welcome break in Jonah’s continuous complaining and criticism.

I don’t think this was a concern for me at the time, but today, the 24-hr countdown on the bomb seems way too long.  Spidey’s dragging Jonah around for an entire day?  And at one point, Jonah carries Spidey four blocks to Curt Connors’ lab (I’m also not sure how Jonah knew how to find it, since he and Spidey had arrived thru a window; did Jonah use his free hand to jot down the address on his bomb-shackled sleeve as the PD were escorting them out?)?  Wolfman doesn’t pay close enough attention to how he uses the time, as he tells us it takes four hours to reach Connors from Smythe’s Westchester address (“All that remains is … 19:45:08,” p 6, pnl 6), but it only takes “almost a half an hour” for them to walk back (p 22, pnl 5).  Wolfman then undermines the suspense of the final pages by cluttering up the whole deal with entirely too much dialog; I count forty-three word balloons on p 26-27 alone.  Anyway, an 8-hour window would’ve provided enough excitement, and might’ve necessitated less running around.
The Pollard/Mooney art is much more to my liking, as Mooney helps Pollard’s pencils appear more substantial than Esposito had last issue.  Highlights include: the Fly’s unexpected arrival, as Jonah hits the roof (p 14, 1st pnl); Spidey flips out of the way, with Jonah balanced on his back (p 15, pnl 4); the familiar fall-arresting moves fail under Jonah’s added weight, as Spidey snaps a flagpole and digs up the side of a building, unable to secure his grip (p 17).  
Matthew: Unlike many a comic-book character, Smythe apparently stays dead after this, so if nothing else, Marv gets credit for ridding us of one of the strip’s more annoying villains, and I’m including his damned Spider-Slayers, which I’ve never liked, as a part of the package.  I didn’t need to see the Fly (now minus the “Human,” presumably in deference to his heroic, albeit cancelled, namesake) again, although it’s funny to see JJJ’s involvement with both Spencer and Les Frères Stillwell come back to bite him in the ass in the same issue.  I’m really digging Spidey’s pose—counter-intuitively facing away from us—on the PolLeod cover, a nice follow-up to their effort on last month’s PPTSS; Keith’s Mooney-inked interiors are just average.

Mark: Remember, class, no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse. As if another Spider-Slayer slog wasn't bad enough, Malevolent Marv now adds the pesky Fly, a buzzing annoyance better suited to Pureheart the Powerful. I skipped Buzzy's debut in ASM Annual #10, but I'm not surprised to learn he's another J. Jonah-created baddie. Sure, it was a great gimmick the first couple times Lee & Ditko did it (the Scorpion and first S-Slayer), but a decade-plus on that woefully over-milked teat has long since been wrung dry. Yet Wolfman's vision for Webs is so blinkered, he thinks tossing two J.J.-sponsored-villains-who-now-wanna-kill-'im into the same story is quite the brainstorm.

No, Marv. Without bringing anything fresh to the gimmick, one is quite enough.

The Pollard-Mooney art isn't good enough to praise, nor bad enough to bash. You pulled off professional competence, boys, and if that sounds like damning with faint praise, it's a bar Wolfman certainly doesn't clear. 

As Spidey and Flattop make like The Defiant Ones, hopping around town (with relative ease, btw, considering our hero's sans web-fluid) while connected to a bomb, Jonah has nothing better to do than try pulling off Spidey's mask (p.3). Then, after the Fly swats them down and Webs is out cold (p.19), J.J. reaches for the mask again, thinking there's "...nothing to stop me for removing his ludicrous mask and finally learning who he actually is," And then...

A still-masked Spidey wakes up at Doc Connors' lab, having been toted across town in a driving rainstorm by Triple-J! The pugnacious publisher was somehow imbued with great strength and a new respect for his nemesis' privacy, but how? Why? Marv's too shy to share details.


Finally, adding plagiarism to inanity, Wolfman dusts off J. Jonah's soliloquy from ASM #10: "Spider-Man represents everything that I'm not! He's brave, powerful, and unselfish...I'd give everything I own to be the man he is!"

J.J. now: "You kept on fighting...risked everything to save us. And I...I fell now know I'm not half the man you are."

J.J. then: "But I can never climb to his level! So all that remains is for me to try and tear him down..."

J.J. now: "And, for that reason, I've got to drag you down into the gutter."

What's left to say except offer apologies to the good folks at Archie. Pureheart the Powerful never plumbed such depths.

The Avengers 183
"The Redoubtable Return of Crusher Creel!"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by John Byrne and Klaus Janson
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by George Pérez and Terry Austin

Since Wanda will be on indefinite leave (off with Quicksilver and Mr. Maximoff to explore her roots), Ms. Marvel is recruited to take her place. Right off the bat, there's an altercation when special agent Gyrich informs MM that she must be fingerprinted. A middle ground is reached when Tony Stark suggest a retinal scan instead. All parties are, if not happy, a bit calmer. Meanwhile, in a Joisey landfill, all the little bits of Crusher Creel are finally present in one spot (thank Odin there's only one dump in the New York area!) and the Absorbing Man lives again! 'Sorby needs cash so he robs a uniform store and kidnaps its proprietor. Luckily for mankind, the next stop on Crusher's comeback tour is a coffee shop where he, coincidentally and literally, runs into Clint Barton. An altercation ensues and Clint phones his fellow Avengers to get to the restaurant pronto. Changing into his Hawkeye uni, the now-part-time Avenger is able to stall Crusher until the other members of the team get there. The battle spills over to a nearby dock where the Absorbing Man disappears into a ship. He's not gone for long though, as he bursts through the deck of the ship, his body having taken on the properties of the ship's turbines. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Though I really want to go along on Wanda's journey into the past (and, hey, is she not babe-a-licious in that panel to the left of my pithy words?), I have to admit to enjoying the heck out of this distraction. Crusher has always been one of my favorite second-tier villains and it's been too long since we last saw him (Roger tells us it was Hulk #209). The drama of the Avengers' line-up carousel continues but it has yet to get boring. Hey, after so much crud, maybe this title is starting to get back to the quality it enjoyed years before. I'm warming up to John Byrne's art but he does Crusher no favors; the poor galoot looks like a hairless ape in several panels. Ya gotta feel for Clint, nursing a major Jones for Wanda and knowing he can never replace the "lucky machine." Oh, and on the letters page, my favorite Crap Age (1980-present) Marvel writer, Kurt Busiek, bemoans the fact that all the letters printed are from airheads.

Chris: The Absorbing Man is too good a baddie to be left lying around as a pile of shards, so credit goes to David Michelinie (and probably also editor Roger Stern) for finding a way to bring him back.  It’s amusing how we see, despite his formidable powers, Crusher Creel thinking like a small-timer: he robs one safe, and it’s only enough for steamer passage, so that’s fine – he’s not motivated to steal anything else; Creel stiffs the cabbie out of 75 cents (plus tip); and chooses a place to eat, despite it being “a real sleazy dump,” because “it looks cheap.”  

Michelinie demonstrates how he’s getting around the supposed membership restrictions announced in #181.  Wanda’s on leave, so Ms Marvel (who already feels like she’s been a member) is official; Hawkeye is in the wrong place at the right time – active or inactive, he’s in the fight; and, Captain America talks the Falcon past his reluctance to join, which suggests he might not be with the team for long.  In fact, the letters page for Captain America #232 tells us the Falcon will be taking up “temporary residence” with the Avengers; hey armadillo, you probably shouldn’t be blabbing insider information, you know?  
I’m still decidedly unhappy with Janson inking Byrne for this title.  There’s more of Byrne’s hand in evidence this time, which suggests he put more into his layouts than he had for the skimpy-looking #182.  The saving grace is that the nighttime Jersey garbage dump, and the dockside diner, both are suitable for Janson’s heavier, murkier inks.  The earlier pages at the Mansion (pages 1-6), though, appear as if every room is lit by little more than a ceiling fixture with a single 40-watt lightbulb.

Joe: It's not the immortal "BLIFISGURGLE!" (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #11), but when Iron Man tosses the "half-ton of electronic scraps" into the garbage truck on page 7, the ensuing "SHKRUBALANKALANG" is one of my favorite sound effects ever! And sounds like a hell of an Asian-inspired dish to boot. (Sorry…) But that's just a small detail in one of the quickest Marvel reads of the month for sure. Everything flows as fast as Crusher Creel changes from glass to rubber, with heavy Janson inks that aren't as black as usual, yet still affect the Byrne pencils a bit. That's not to say it's not very good art, of course, and the Michelinie script features so many witticisms and character-building moments, from Ms. Marvel to Beast to Hawkeye, that we're left wanting a little more. Then again, a turbine-powered Absorbing Man looks fairly promising for next time.

Matthew: Ah, "BLIFISGURGLE!," you are evergreen…  We all overlook the obvious sometimes, so it didn’t occur to me until Tony’s “sometimes I think you just need a good, stiff martini” that Michelinie is now scripting IM’s adventures in both books.  Conversely, sometime ally Ms. Marvel has the relative good fortune to join the team formally just after the publication of her title’s last issue, although that obviously abrupt decision may not even have been made yet.  Between MM and the reluctant enlistment of the Falcon, only recently extricated from his entangling alliance with Cap, this is another of those issues featuring as much housekeeping as action; I’m not opposed to that in principle, and I appreciated the Vision/Wanda grace note, but the Janson artwork (John who?) really disappoints.

Battlestar Galactica 3
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Ernie Colón
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Rudy Nebres

Apollo, Starbuck and Boomer successfully carve a path through the Nova Magadon, allowing the fleet to arrive safely at Carrilon. Landing parties begin to descend, looking for much-needed Tylium to fuel the ships - Starbuck with Boomer, and Apollo taking Serena and Boxey with him in Landrams to scout the surface. Boxey is the first to notice the Tylium indicator sound and Muffey bounds out of the vehicle. Boxey runs after him, followed by Apollo. But before he can reach the boy, Boxey is taken away by insect creatures called Ovions. Starbuck and Boomer, in their own Landram, stop at what seems to be a very bright and active casino filled with humanoids. The proprietor comes out and makes them feel quite welcome. Apollo and Serena, searching for Boxey, are taken by more Ovions and brought to their leader deep in the Tylium mines. The Ovions assure them they are a peace-loving race and are happy to share their wealth of Tylium. True to their word, Apollo and Serena are escorted to the casino floor where they see Starbuck and Boomer watching over the boy. Unknown to them, the Ovion leader is working with the Cylons, who plan to trap all the humans and bring them to Carillon. On the Galactica, Adama, who trusts nothing about any of this, is putting a risky plan into action. Boomer, meanwhile, also suspects something and alerts Starbuck to the presence of men wearing their squadron insignia, but who are in reality not part of the group. Starbuck gives chase, but loses them as Apollo, Serena and Boxey enter the room. Muffey takes over and Boxey follows.

Grabbing Apollo, Muffey and Starbuck go after the three imposters. They find Boxey, who is about to be killed by a Cylon, which Apollo dispatches. They discover the secret of Carillon: Ovions capture humans to feed them to their young. The warriors take Boxey and split, warning everyone above that it’s all a trap. As soon as they get outside, Colonial Warriors arrive to fight and Adama’s plan becomes clear: he sent down civilians in uniforms to distract anyone counting warriors and kept the majority of the squadrons in reserve to defend the fleet.  Finally, the Cylon base ship in orbit retreats behind Carrilon, but in the dogfight, Tylium is ignited and the base ship explodes. The survivors back in the fleet with tankers of fuel on their way, the last colony begins their journey toward Earth. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: What should be an epic story, one that really was on television, is rendered inert in comic book form thanks to sloppy art and a very rushed story. The big finale is crammed into the last couple of pages and unless you’ve seen the pilot movie, it is slightly hard to follow in the finale. Some good stuff is left intact, like the discussion of racial hate between Apollo and Boxey, but otherwise this is a truly sub-par adaptation of a really fine story. Next issue is a huge improvement in art and pacing, but this is a very weak conclusion to what really was an impressive opener.

Chris: It’s fairly obvious Battlestar Galactica (the late ‘70s series, I mean) was little more than a network-driven attempt to cash in on Star Wars frenzy (our esteemed faculty has already discussed this, to some extent).  As a fan of both SW and Star Trek, you’d think I’d be easy pickings for this ploy, but I don’t remember following this series with any regularity; in a LOC (printed in BG #4), Joel C. of Lexington MA observes “the TV series has been pretty poor,” so perhaps – even as a callow youth – I had the good sense not to be invested (no offense intended to members of the faculty – and fans of our invaluable blog, reading at home – who enjoyed every minute of the series).  With this in mind, it’s harder to explain why I bothered to pick up issues of BG, but I did, and in my sense of duty as tenured faculty at MU, I feel duty-bound to comment on the issues I own. 
It’s pretty obvious the casino-paradise isn’t for real; you don’t need Admiral Akbar of the Mon Calamari to call out “It’s a trap!” to figure it out.  Beyond the would-be story-surprises being fairly thin, the tale is fairly disjointed; there’s neither excitement nor suspense.  Apollo and Starbuck drop in and out as needed.  Somehow, Starbuck and Boomer (another fighter-pilot) get the drop on a Cylon baseship and destroy it in three rushed panels on the last page, as if this were a contractually-required happening; for all I know, every episode ended this way.

The Black Panther 15
"Revenge of the Black Panther!"
Story by Ed Hannigan
Art by Jerry Bingham and Gene Day
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Clem Robins
Cover by John Buscema and Al Milgrom

Klaw has controlled the mind of one of the Thunderbolts gang members and crafted a huge sonic elephant creature to dispatch his enemies. Black Panther and guest star Captain America manage to destroy the creature but then must turn their attention to the resuscitated Klaw himself. After a long battle, BP is able to turn the Klaw's weapon back on him and truth and justice are restored. Or are they? As we see in the closing panels, there may be another villain arriving very soon. To Be Continued. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: To be continued in Marvel Premiere #51 (December 1979), to be precise. An exciting script that doesn't stop much for expository and really nice art by Bingham and Day (a very good combo) help the Panther go out on a high note once again. Hannigan's writing is so crisp it almost makes me wish the series had continued but, since it's all so good, it would have only been a matter of time before Shooter stuck his nose in and ruined things. Hannigan (I presume) explains what readers can expect from the upcoming three-issue stint in Marvel Premiere (written and illustrated by the same team). I'm on board.

Matthew: Unlike Ms. Marvel, this book—part of the May Bloodbath—passed with its affairs in order, reassuring us in the lettercol that the Hannigan/Bingham/Day team would carry T’Challa’s torch into Marvel Premiere (as they will in #51-53, spanning the end of the blog).  As life’s little ironies go, consider the fact that its cancellation, requiring threads to be tied up elsewhere, occurred just as it was starting to tie up threads from the cancellation of its previous, pre-Kirby incarnation, Jungle Action.  Or that the selfsame Ed, whose dumb-ass Defenders is driving me to despair, can simultaneously craft a Panther’s tale whose painstakingly handsome artwork is complemented by a story that oozes intelligence from every panel or dialogue balloon.

Chris: An appearance by Wind Eagle certainly isn’t a good omen for a Black Panther title, is it?  Just as Hannigan/Bingham have cleared out the old Kirby-things, and seem to be developing their own take on T’Challa, this run is done and we’re left waiting months (not until Marvel Premiere #51, a December 1979 publication) until the next developments for the Prince of the Wakandas.  I don’t know what Don McGregor had intended for the Klan storyline, had it continued in Jungle Action (and I didn’t find any information hidden in the recesses of the internet), so now I’m reasonably interested (well, I should say I’ll be interested, once the next six months go by) to see what Hannigan decides to do with Monica Lynne, Kevin Tru(e)blood, and Wind Eagle.  

For now, I’ll give Hannigan a few points for his capable handling of the Vision, including a rarely-seen use of his cranial computational capacity (there’s hardly any time, in a jam-packed Avengers), when he “reads” the frequency of Klaw’s horn as “234.45 cycles per second, Beast – ‘A’ sharp!”  Vizh proceeds to alter density and disrupt things all over the place.  Also, a tip of the cowl to Wakandan technology, as the micro-circuits in the vibranium gloves measure “the intensity of the sound absorbed” and provide a readout on a digital display (p 19)!  I will say, though, that if McGregor were writing this, he wouldn’t miss the chance to describe the superhuman determination required for T’Challa to rend his way thru Klaw’s sonic half-sphere; that’s a significant story-element missing from Hannigan.  

 Captain America 233
"Cross Fire"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Sal Buscema and Don Perlin
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Rick Parker
Cover by Keith Pollard and Al Milgrom

Caught between Morgan's goons and the National Force, led by a brainwashed Sharon Carter, Captain America tries to keep the peace while losing his marbles. His gung-ho talk is worthless and Sharon opens fire on the African-American crowd, sparking a battle royale. When the National Guard arrives, both sides hightail it. The few National Force members still on scene are taken prisoner but they go the "instant combustion" route and are reduced to ashes before Cap can ascertain if Sharon is among their rank. Suddenly fearing that the NF may make a second attempt on Peggy's life, the Avenger heads to the hospital, only to find his old love has been "remanded to the care of private physician, Steven Rogers..." Fortunately, the faux Rogers left his address and Cap makes his way across town. At that address (a downtown skyscraper), we find the Grand Director of the NF and the man who pulls his strings. Out from the shadows comes the portly boss and we discover (to no one's surprise) that it's the evil Dr. Faustus. In the lobby, Cap must dispatch a machine-gun-toting robotic version of Sharon and an elevator that doesn't quite take you to the top floor before busting into the office and coming mask to cigarette with Faustus. A mind-gas has weakened Capo and Faustus delivers a wallop that puts our hero out. As Faustus gloats, the Grand Director unmasks, revealing an identical twin to Steve Rogers! -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Though not approaching Englehart-quality territory (nor will it again until Ed Brubaker shows up in the early 00s), this title is at least keeping my interest. Raise your hand if you were totally flummoxed by the appearance of Dr. Faustus (ok, you two may report to the Principal's office). There aren't too many portly villains with green pin-stripe suits in the MU. We get another forced instance of Cap questioning authority when a National Guard major wants to know the 411 on the sitch and Cap has neither the time nor the patience to fill this guy in (although he then has time to hang around and help with the rescue mission so go figure). The art is sketchy but then you get what you pay for when the inker is Don Perlin. Everyone stands around with their mouth open wider than is possible and, please, can someone tell me what's happening in that panel above? Is Cap lying on the ground and punching these guys or is the goon facing us heading into orbit? I said at the start that this is nowhere near Stainless quality but you get the feeling that's what scripter McKenzie is shooting for. Our final panel, of the faux Rogers, immediately brings to mind Steve Englehart's greatest achievement (more on that next month).

Matthew: Faint praise to call this an improvement over last ish, but there it is, with Sal and Don achieving some unusual textures on Cap, e.g., page 2, panels 1 and 5, and I liked his strategically miscolored ECU in page 27, panel 5.  At least we’re done playing peekaboo with Faustus; not sure if the full implications of the Grand Director’s identity are clear to all at this time, yet I will say it’s a doozy (it wasn't evident to me until I read the next couple months' worth of Caps but, yep, it is a doozy! - Paste-Pot).  As for Sharon Carter’s apparent death here, while it will be revealed—or perhaps retconned—as a fake when she returns in #445 (November 1995), per the Marvel Database, I’m not sorry Roger has written out this once-promising character, who has been so thoroughly debased by Kirby and others that she seemed to have outlived her usefulness.

Chris: Well – Dr Faustus must re-e-e-eally hate Captain America, if he’s willing to go to all this trouble to get back at him.  Seriously, man; couldn’t you have been satisfied with ordering ten pizzas – no twenty pizzas, twenty! – and having them sent to Steve Rogers’ apartment?  Then, ya know, he’d have to pay for all of ‘em, even though he lives there by himself!  Ooh, he’d hate that – now that’s what I call revenge, you know?  No, instead, Faustus has to put together a neo-nazi group, train and equip them, then abduct Sharon Carter.  Biggest step, though, is to dress someone up as Steve Rogers; oh wait, do you think Faustus put that guy thru plastic surgery so he’d be a dead ringer for Steve?  Or maybe he’s a Steve Rogers clone … .  Well, in any case, it’s been an entertaining storyline, as Cap has been kept constantly on the run, and on the defensive.  

The only down note is when Cap gets in the Guard major’s face.  I can understand Cap’s intent to locate Sharon would brook no delay, but it’s not like him to be so disrespectful to an officer, is it?  It feels like a bit of forced drama, much like the uncharacteristically insolent comments he heard from SHIELD agents two issues ago.  Also, the Buscema/Perlin art is shakier this time; Don’s hand is more in evidence than Sal’s, which means the action still looks right, but finer details like Cap’s face aren’t attended to as consistently as they should be.  

Conan the Barbarian 98 
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Bob McLeod

As the Tigress sails the Western Ocean, the lookout — Ajonga — spots a strange sight: a beautiful, green-haired and blue-skinned woman floating on a large lily pad. While the suspicious Bêlit protests, she is hauled onboard. The next day, the pirates come across a Stygian merchant ship. The Corsairs slaughter the crew and plunder the ship’s surprisingly rich bounty. B’Tumi approaches the weird woman and offers her a golden necklace — she accepts the gift but immediately presents it to Conan who refuses the gesture.

Late that night, B’Tumi encounters the sea-woman on the unmanned deck: he is missing the next morning. Even though Bêlit commands that no Corsair is allowed to be alone with their odd passenger, another of the men, Asambi, finds himself in that situation a few nights later. The woman dives into the sea and — floating on a midnight wave — summons the pirate to join her. When he does, she kills him with a kiss. But Conan is observing in the shadows: he leaps into the ocean to avenge the Corsair but soon finds himself under her siren-like spell. However, the She-Devil, roused by the commotion, shouts out for her lover, breaking the hypnotic reverie. The Cimmerian lashes out with his knife and drags the woman back to the Tigress by her hair. But when he climbs back on the boat, the only thing in his grasp is a long strand of seaweed. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: As we quickly approach the landmark 100th issue of Conan the Barbarian, the Rascally One delivers just what readers needed after the end of yet another multi-issue arc: a one-and-done breather. “Sea-Woman” offers little in the way of suspense or surprise — just about anyone could guess that the title character was some type of succubus at first sight. It seems that Roy was inspired by the 1970 poem of the same name by Glenn Lord, Robert E. Howard’s literary agent. The curvaceous creature is mute throughout the story but she recites the verse while Conan is swimming towards her at the end. 

I’d struggle to say much more about this rather flat issue. There’s really only one panel of action — the slaughter of the Stygians — and B’Tumi’s murder is not even shown. I guess you could call this a mystery story, but there really isn’t any mystery. The sea-woman does give Conan a bit of a chubby but he basically drags Bêlit to their chambers to relieve the pressure. And when the Cimmerian is under her siren spell, we get a panel that offers a few flashback images, including my fave Thoth-Amon. This isn’t a story that will convert a non-reader, but we do have the consistently superior Buscema/Chan art to enjoy. And, by Crom, that’s enough for me.

Chris: Conan always has good reason to be apprehensive around enchanters and sorcerers; their magics have rarely spelled anything but trouble for him.  It's obvious from first glance that there's something unearthly about the mysterious sea-woman, so it's a bit surprising Conan doesn't object when N'Yaga asks Bêlit to bring her aboard.  It's possible she already has Conan under some sort of spell; most of his concerns involve a (highly likely!) possibility of incurring Bêlit's jealous wrath, so Conan doesn't recognize the threat the sea-woman poses to the lives of his crew.  The woman recognizes Conan as a prize worth pursuing, as she solicits his attentions on the deck, by day and night; if she is in fact a sea-vampire, she might appreciate Conan's life-force as potentially the most sustaining for her, should she succeed in absorbing it.

Buscema and Chan sell us on the sea-woman's ethereal beauty from the start, as she appears young and beautiful, vulnerable and unthreatening (p 2).  The sight of her floating on the wave adds to her unreal quality, without diminishing her allure (p 16-17).  There's a glimpse of flint in her eyes as she prepares for Conan's determined approach (p 23, last panel), but to their credit, our artists refrain from revealing her to be an outright aqua-harpy; I'm not sure why I feel it's right to preserve the illusion of her beauty.  Conan's seen some amazing things in his life, so it's a nice touch to show he still can be astonished, as he is left holding a handful of seaweed (p 31, 1st pnl).

 Captain Marvel 62
"Earth Skirmish"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick and Bruce Patterson
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Pat Broderick and Bruce Patterson

Revealing his plan to Rick and Gertie, spared for their knowledge of Earth, Stellarax orders them taken to his orbiting saucer and proceeds to D.C., which his death-ray will destroy if Earth does not surrender within 24 hours.  A blackout paralyzes the city—including traffic and batteries—as our heroes return from Titan, with Drax approaching the saucer while Mar-Vell investigates an anomaly sensed below:  an energy disruption, with a concentration at its center.  We cross-cut between his confrontation with Stellarax, who immediately attacks him, and Drax, who breaches the hull of the saucer as the most expedient way to destroy its crew, but then must seal it when he finds the captives and take on the remaining aliens hand-to-appendage.

As oxygen grows short, the Titans and Elysius, unable to force Isaac to resume his life-functions, are depending on Mar-Vell, who absorbs the power of Stellarax’s weapon and turns it back on him, merged with his own.  The defeated foe passes out, but not before ordering the death-ray fired, so it’s up to Rick—Drax having cleared a path through the alien horde—to hit the lever controlling their position, making the ray miss the Earth’s surface by no more than a quarter of a mile.  The blackout draining the city’s power and channeling it into Stellarax ends, and Mar-Vell destroys his weapon; as he and Drax prepare to return to Titan’s aid, taking the saucer (“it may prove useful if anything unexpected awaits us”), Rick and Gertie elect to accompany them there. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The lettercol announcement mirrors the Panther’s, substituting Moench/Broderick/ Patterson and Spotlight Vol. 2 for Hannigan/Bingham/Day and Premiere, respectively, yet with a time frame said to be “just a few short months.”  In the event, they maintain not only the same creative team and plotline, but also the same bimonthly publication schedule, without skipping a beat, which for almost 40 years has compelled me to ask if Marvel’s marketing gurus really envisioned readers saying, “Man, I never bought this mag when it was called Captain Marvel, but I sure as hell will now that the exact same mag is called Marvel Spotlight!” Doubtless there’s an arcane reason akin to the one that forced them to shoehorn Silver-Age super-heroes into monster mags...

Looking back over the above synopsis, I’m obliged to admit that at least in this installment, we get a pretty good story, replete with drama, spectacle, and suspense, but I think I’d be much more favorably disposed toward the whole package if I thought better of the Broderson art, which is all over the map.  To me, at least, the close-up of Stellarax in page 2, panel 1 (above) just screams “Neal Adams,” whether it was a deliberate homage or not, and there are other flashes of excellence, e.g., the gasping-for-air Gertie in page 15, panel 3; the spare but effective full-pager of the death-ray narrowly missing a jet on 26; Gertie’s grim determination in page 30, panel 5.  Yet these are offset by too many moments of goofiness, like Rick’s impossibly toothy grin in page 30, panel 3.

Chris: Who knew, when Starlin first proposed cosmic awareness as a potentially defining power for Mar-Vell, that later writers would continue to find uses for it?  Doug Moench offers another application for this unique ability, as Marv detects an anomaly, “an energy disruption, as well an energy concentration,” that he and Drax suspect might be caused by Stellarax (p 10).  In lesser hands, Marv’s perception might provide a clear view of Stellarax on the earth’s surface – “There Drax, he stands poised before the Washington Monument!” – much like those story-advancing, drama-enhancing, but completely inexplicable “seventh-sense” visions that strike Ms Marvel (similar name, no relation).  Instead, Marv’s awareness requires interpretation; in this case, he can perceive something out of place, without a screen opening up before him to show exactly what it is.  The need to “read” the cosmic input, and draw conclusions prior to proceeding into action, makes for far more interesting storytelling.  

The fight with Stellarax points to further development of Marv’s character.  It wasn’t terribly long ago that Marv might’ve blown right into the fray, swinging fists and launching kicks.  By now, he’s capable of starting out with some careful analysis of Stella, as he recognizes him as a “child, impetuously rebelling against his ‘father,’ Isaac” (p 11).  Mar-Vell has never been a stranger to strategy, so it’s no surprise he’s able to absorb the energy that powers Stella’s weapon, and then turn that energy back onto him (p 19).  Again, the thinking-man’s Mar-Vell is to my liking.
The Broderick/Patterson art continues to shine, even though there aren’t as many opportunities to make a big splash this time, with so much of the action taking place in DC, which lacks the frozen-methane rings we’ve become accustomed to in Saturn’s neighborhood.  The artists do well by the plucky but wacky-looking aliens, all of whom have no chance against Drax (starting from p 16).  Points also to our creative team for finding a useful contribution for Rick, as he slams two bug-eyed critters into the console, thereby throwing the death-ray off target (p 23, 26); whew!  

 The Defenders 71
"Stranger & Stranger in a Strange Land"
Story by Ed Hannigan
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel

At an Empire State University classroom, a mock trial is being held to determine whether Professor Turk is Lunatik (I think). Sitting on the jury are Defenders Hellcat, Nighthawk, and Val. Turk tells a wild tale of interplanetary espionage and Marvel title cross-overs (with Marvel Premiere featuring Man-Wolf), punctuating with the tale of how there became four Lunatiks and various fragments that splintered off Turk (I think). Nighthawk finally pipes up, wondering if the group could possibly find the missing parts and put them all together again. "This might be the solution," pipes up Turk. Since Doc Strange has disappeared (with the Hulk last issue), the group needs to find someone who can transport them to another dimension. The obvious choice is Clea and the now-sizable group pop into another world, a beautiful, unsullied paradise populated by little people. Clea is able to fashion a spell to make the local language a little more urban and the locals explain they are refugees, fleeing some evil known as "the Stain." Suddenly, the group is bombarded by warriors atop giant birds and, while the group is distracted, the four Lunatiks escape. They capture Hellcat and head off into the sunset. The bird battle continues until Hulk and Doc Strange, both of whom have been observing from afar, come to their comrades' aid. Clea and Stephen smooch but the happy reunion is cut short when Clea wonders aloud where Hellcat and Val could be. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: These Marvel funny books can get awfully confusing but, in some cases, if you just give it some time, the train will arrive at the station. Then there are titles such as The Defenders, a rambling, incoherent mishmash of nonsense and pretension, where you don't want to understand. You just want it to end. Story and art collide to create a perfect storm of inanity; it's a Marvel version of a 1970s DC book. At least, for half the running length, Ed held back his urge to quote Kenny Loggins' "Whenever I Call You Friend" or The BeeGees' "Too Much Heaven" or whatever ditty was blasting out of his radio on the way to the office that morning.

Matthew:  If I had to pick a single word to symbolize the depths to which this once-beloved title sank in between my Two Steves and its post-blog redemption by J.M. DeMatteis, that word would be “Tunnelworld.”  How much of this is Hannigan cleaning up messes left behind by the unlamented Kraft, and how much of it sprang solely from his own bifurcated brain (see Black Panther), I don’t know, but he’s taken a milieu that DAK—whose annoying sound effects sadly linger on—created, making it at least mildly interesting in his Man-Wolf strip, and turned into a colossal bore.  And what is the point of having at least some of the local dialect be words like “Houghton Mifflin Company,” “language,” “dictionary,” “American” et alia spelled backwards?

Chris: I found this issue more enjoyable than I had on previous re-readings.  This time, as I read Prof Turk presenting his defense, I still had the Man-Wolf tales from Marvel Premiere #45-46 fairly fresh in my mind.  Since David Kraft had written those stories, and also is Lunatik’s creator, it’s become fairly obvious Kraft had intended all along for Turk/Lunatik to have derived directly from the deposed Arisen Tyrk; whether the splintered-persona element was part of Kraft’s design, or a wrinkle added by Hannigan, I now have a better appreciation for all the pieces fitting.  It’s also more enjoyable to read the account of Tyrk’s fall from Turk’s biased (“slightly distorted,” as editor Al Milgrom tells us) perspective.  

Those of us familiar with Man-Wolf’s compatriots’ views of Tyrk not only have reason to doubt Turk, but also share Nighthawk’s concerns (once the Defenders reach Tunnelworld) about Turk and the Lunatiks being left unsupervised (p 17, last pnl).  Turk credits himself for having concocted his earth-based identity, and then finagling his way into his present position; now, he’s managed to put something over on the Defenders, as well.  Hannigan tells us the three captive Lunatiks are listening attentively as Clea outlines the plan to travel to Tunnelworld, and re-unite the Tyrk-fragments (p 15, pnl 2); has this been their hoped-for outcome, to either trick or coerce some other power into bringing the disparate pieces together to reunite Tyrk into his previous person of power -?   
Trimpe does a nice job with our first look at Tunnelworld (p 15, last pnl); we all know (as I’m sure I won’t be the only faculty member to mention) the notion of a gigantic cylindrically-based reality had been most recently presented in Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and its sequels, but that’s fine – I’m sure the idea didn’t originate as a genre-storytelling concept with Clarke either, but credit where it’s due.  The giant feathered flying-force also is well done; points to Ben Sean for the multi-color scheme.  

 Fantastic Four 206
"The Death of the Fantastic Four!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott

It finally struck me, kids! Johnny Storm bailed on the FF, not to enroll in insipid "Security U," but in protest of being replaced by Herbie on their new Saturday morning cartoon! 

Actually, the reverse is the real Torch conspiracy theory, to be addressed in the comments below. I'm teasing it early because it's more interesting than anything Marv's slinging here.

We open with the Fantastic Three (Johnny is neither seen nor mentioned throughout) awaiting trial on the Skrulls' Home World (apparently named Home World). Uh-oh, you never want a judge named Hagar. Credit Wolfman for resisting the urge to add the Horrible, opting for the Cruel instead, and the jade jurist lives up to his rep, addressing our heroes as "mud-sucking little maggots."

Suddenly released from an "energy-restrainer," Reed rushes forward to argue that Xandar be left alone, and is promptly gunned down for his efforts. Ditto Ben and Sue, though in her case one wonders why she didn't use her force field, instead of just turning invisible. Then the Skrull Emperor and his wife insult each other and plot the other's demise.

CUT TO: Xandar's gerbil-tunnel cities coming under renewed attack from a Skrull armada. Prime Thoran leaves Adora alone with her wounded, in-cryo-storage honey and goes to beseech the "mile high" living computer, actually the brains of all of Xandar's dead. PT's prayer is answered, with all that grey matter intoning, "I-We-All come to the aid of our child-protector" as they begin to reassemble Thoran into - we're guessing - the Quad-City Defender! 

The F3 groggily awaken in a cell. Since they were seemingly shot dead, Sue naturally wonders why they're alive. Their sadistic guard happily explains "...Skrulls do not believe in painless executions!" so the Fabs got "metabolic boosters" to age them to death in three days. Those Skrulls sure know how to roll out the welcome wagon!

Fortunately, it comes with meals - can't have prisoners getting peckish while aging to death, after all - and so the guard lowers the "laser bars," allowing the Invisible G to get the drop on him.  Just where Sue got the gun to ZAPP him with, since the guard's still holding his, is a question best answered, apparently, by having the Thing repeat "ZAPP" approvingly.

The Fabs fight their way to the hangar deck, where the Emperor allows them to escape since "...the ship they are taking is will explode..." Because what space armada doesn't leave deathtraps on the flight line, as perfect escaping-prisoner bait? 

Another dose of Emperor Dorrek & spouse R'klll fighting and plotting. Back to F3, realizing their ship has "ripped energy-cones," but Ben still takes out a Skrull ship in a dog-fight. While on Xandar it's - no, not Prime T, post-brainiac transformation  - but a whole page of weepy Adora greeting now-healed Tanak as he climbs from his cryo-chamber (actually, Keith Pollard forgot to draw it, but use your imagination, kids) for a lip-lock.

Then Marv plugs in Nova and allies arriving in orbit at Xandar, just ahead of, guess who? Uh-oh, the F3 are in a Skrull ship, remember? This MARMISy mess is made worse when Reed, thinking he's talking to Skrulls, passes himself off as a Skrull and...

Nova blasts their ship to smithereens! -Mark Barsotti 

Mark: More bad space opera from Wolfman and, what's worse, bad super-heroics. The Fab Three are prisoners for all but three and a half pages, one of which is dedicated to them getting blown-up! They have no interaction with supporting cardboard characters - who get six and a half pages - we barely know nor care about, from admirable-if-trite Adora, to the laughable Who's Afraid of Virginia Skrull? road show Emperor & wifey put on. 

Marv actually uses the line, "Double-crossing and more double-crossing." It's deadly, double dull, since all Skrulls, apparently, are scheming murderers and sadists. It's somewhat baffling that Wolfman, who masterfully conjured up nuanced evil for years on Tomb of Dracula, can here only come up with soap-opera villainy so broad it can twirl its own mustache. A burlesque in greenface.

And I don't imagine Marv's clumsy, shoehorned-in crossover has them lining up at the spinner rack for Nova.

Let's get on to a far worse crime. Johnny Storm was deliberately written out of the book just before the new FF cartoon (it gets a half-page ad here) debuted, so as not to create confusion among any new readers the show might attract. That fiery dude's not on TV! Why take a chance on dumb kids figuring out the subtleties of cross-promotion? And we don't wanna tamp down Herbie-mania!

Now I haven't read this in any books about Marvel, nor heard it at a Comic Con panel, or seen it on-line. It's only a theory, class. Only a theory.

And it's probably too wild to imagine someone tinkering with the creative integrity of one of Marvel's most hallowed properties in the half-assed hope of pushing a few more Herbie toys in Jim Shooter's bullpen...     

Scott: Is it me, or does it feel like the Skrulls spend every moment shouting? Notable mainly for beginning a long arc where the three selfless, heroic members of the FF grow old over the course of a few days ,while that d-bag Johnny Storm wallows at home because he can’t get laid. Speaking of the Torch, he gets the issue all to himself next month. Yay…

Chris: Marv’s got a thing for countdowns this month, doesn’t he?  At least the FF have three days, as opposed to Spidey’s one (while attached to a kvetching Jonah the whole time, no less), to find a solution.  We’ve witnessed the demise of our fabulous foursome hundreds of times now, but I credit Marv (and Keith, who makes those death-blasts look pretty convincingly permanent) – I’m legitimately curious to see how he’s prepared to write the FF out of certain expiration.  With all the palace intrigue in the mix (Jaketch seeks to prove himself worthy of High Executioner, and also to eliminate the horrible high judge Hagar; meanwhile, Emperor Dorrek and Empress R’Klll have lost that lovin’ feeling, and now are pitted against each other like Albee’s George and Martha), I couldn’t help but wonder whether one of the internecine warriors might’ve substituted the captive FF for three other Skrulls (or something), in the hope that the FF could help a palace-plotter achieve his/her devious ends.  See, I really do believe in the utter irredeemably evil nature of Skrulls, and see how they might employ earthmen against one other.

Editor Marv also deserves some credit, as he wisely directs writer Marv not to delay the pace of the action so we can check-in with whatever trouble Johnny’s got himself in back on earth; although, that appears to be the focus of next issue’s frolics.  For now, though, this is one of the more enjoyable chapters of Fantastic Four we’ve seen in some time.  
Matthew: Some improvement, including the full-pager of the high court on 3, easily outstripping last issue’s spectacle manqué, while the two halves of the world’s most roundabout cross-over are finally converging.  Yet we still have no direct contact between the, uhm, Terrific Three and the unwieldy cast of Nova, a septet with whom Keith and Joe gamely try to familiarize us in three horizontal panels, forcing us to wonder if the book might have survived with real art.  Marv’s tin ear for dialogue and character persists, e.g., Sue’s “How could you?” speeches, when she knows full well she’s dealing with an utterly merciless species; the next-issue blurb (“Might of the Monocle!”) warns us that the entire saga will be back-burnered just as it seeks momentum.

 Godzilla, King of the Monsters 22
"The Devil and the Dinosaur!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel
Colors by Mario Sen
Letters by Clem Robins
Cover by Herb Trimpe

The lizard-warriors attack, and Godzilla, Devil Dinosaur, and Moon-Boy are on the defense "with equal ferocity," but are soon surrounded by the overwhelming horde! Back in present-day NYC, Dum Dum and crew get ready to go back to the "spy game,"  Jimmy and Tamara share a bittersweet moment over coffee, Young Rob convinces Gladstone and Dr. Takiguchi that a "higher force" decreed Godzilla "should awaken here in our world," and the Thing feels something may have gone "kaflooie" when they sent Godzilla back in time. Meanwhile, an angry Godzilla follows Moon-Boy to "the pits" and the lizard-warriors chase after them. Moon-Boy sets a trap as The Hag, who rules the Region of the Pits, tells him his plan is "crafty and wise." As we switch back and forth furiously, Reed and the Thing find Doom's time machine is glowing, affected by Godzilla's radiation, as Reed hopes for a "slingshot effect" that would propel Godzilla back to the present day—but first they have to get the time machine into a large open area! Devil and Godzilla draw the invaders to the pits, where they fall through the grassy trap Moon-Boy set for them, into the Great Pit—where they vanish! Human Torch clears Times Square, and Reed is able to stretch-place the time machine there in a highly implausible maneuver, as the glow from the pits causes Hank Pym's shrinking gas to wear off completely—and much to Moon-Boy's astonishment, Godzilla grows…then vanishes…and ends up in Times Square, with the Heli-Carrier there to greet him!--Joe Tura

Joe: Well, that was another wacky adventure in the life of the Big G, wasn't it? From battling lizard-warriors side by side with a red dinosaur and a hairy kid who reminds him of Young Rob (the only human he likes) to helping get rid of said insolent invaders to growing back to full size and being zapped back to Manhattan, Godzilla endures quite a ride. Trimpe adds his usual decent art (except for the FF, especially Thing who's drawn like the Saturday morning cartoon Marvel advertises everywhere possible), and Moench's scene-shifting script works quite well, even with the cheesy "Godzilla's inner thoughts" captions. Maybe there's a Devil Dinosaur-Godzilla Marvel Team-Up in the future? Nah, I think we just saw it, even though it seems to end a bit abruptly. And the less said about Reed Richards grabbing the irradiated time machine without wearing protective gloves, and then stretching it out a window, all the way to Times Square, the better. How freakin' silly was that? Is the time machine that light? Does it not burn his hands? Can he stretch that far while carrying it? And who opened the window? At least we're left with a great setup for next month, with Godzilla back to raise hell—or at the very least, Heli-Carrier! (Sorry, couldn't resist…)

Matthew:  I’m always fascinated by the little patterns that I detect when I compile a monthly overview for my own reference (especially when I’m otherwise hard-pressed for something to write about!).  Last month, Jack returned to his old Incredible Hulk stomping grounds, albeit sans Herb; now, the two are reunited both here and on the covers of this mag and its Moench/Trimpe sister title, the mercifully extracurricular Shogun Warriors, as well as with Greenskin in Defenders—or at least the cover and a big half-dozen panels of it.  Doug’s got a lot of balls…in the air, demonstrated by this installment’s relentless cross-cutting among five sets of characters, and, as we Monday-morning quarterbacks know, has just two issues left to wrap it up.

 Howard the Duck 31
"The Final Bong!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Gene Colan and Al Milgrom
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Irv Watanabe
Cover by Gene Colan and Al Milgrom

Howard has been caught flat-(web)footed at Skudge Hospital by Dr Bong; Howard and Lee have not had time to set up the sonic trap that will neutralize the effect of Bong’s bonging.  Howard tries to take the offensive, but Dr Bong is barely fazed by the flame thrower built into Howard’s makeshift armor.  Bong raps his clapper on his head, and causes the room’s equipment to shift and shimmy until it buries Howard!  Howard escapes the pile by activating his “whirling butt-bit,” which saws thru the floor; once Howard clears a path straight down, his foot-springs catch the floor, and inconveniently bounce him up the stairs, right back to the room where Bong awaits him!  As Bong closes in, Howard recalls that Claude Stark (the non-international industrialist who had constructed the Iron Duck armor) had built something into the hip pod, to be used “only in case of mortal danger!”  Since this moment seems to qualify, Howard breaks the “In Case of Mortal Danger, Break Glass” glass, and finds a metal mallet.  Howard leaps forward, and despite Bong’s objections, claps the mini-hammer to his head, and rings them outta western PA, and back to Bong’s Himalayan hideout.  Bong decides this doesn’t present a problem; this way, he can vanquish Howard before Bev’s blue eyes!  And what of Bev?  While her would-be has been otherwise engaged, she has enlisted a few of Bong’s genetically-accelerated creatures to assist her on a two-pronged anti-Bong campaign.  Bong proceeds to vibrate Howard’s armor to pieces, so he is left with nothing but his feathers (and white gloves – no stogie, though).  As Bong boots up to belt a baleful blow, Bev bursts in, and warns Bong to proceed no further.  She is prepared to use the power of the press against him; Bev displays a set of Bong quintuplets, and a headline she has prepared for the morning’s edition of the Plain-Dealer, declaring Bong a negligent father, as his quest for world domination has detracted from his parental responsibilities.  “We have yet to even consummate our marriage!” Bong sputters (“Whose fault is that?” Bev retorts).  In his frustration at Bev’s betrayal, Bong howls “Begone!” and sends Howard and Bev back to Skudge.  In her surprise and delight at Howard’s return, Winda darts up from bed and shouts “I’m fuwwy wecovered!”  Meanwhile, at the offices of the Plain-Dealer, Bev’s mocked-up headline arrives (by llama, C.O.D.), where it’s dismissed as a prank worthy of National Lampoon, and is cast to the trash. -Chris Blake
Chris: In a yellow box, the armadillo presents a good news/bad news scenario.  First, the bad news: HtD is Howard’s final appearance in color comics.  Apparently, retailers couldn’t figure out what to do with Howard, and frequently mistook it for a “funny animal” mag, which meant it wound up with the other titles intended for the “bubble-gum brigade,” and not the discerning readers who would appreciate Howard’s uniquely satiric content.  This explanation points to a larger issue, though: Howard isn’t really a satiric mag anymore, and lost a fair amount of that societal-skewering edge well before Steve Gerber turned in his final script.  Bill Mantlo has managed to continue the comedy-angle, and that’s fine, but we all know HtD – at its best – was more than a collection of quips and sight-gags.  
Anyway, the good news is that Howard is about to arrive in a bi-monthly 64-page B&W format (with new stories illustrated by Michael Golden [? – wow] and Gene Colan), which sort of fits the argument that Howard had not been connecting consistently enough with a (chronologically) mature audience.  The B&W mag will run for a total of nine issues, which I guess means early 1981 (the first B&W doesn’t arrive until about four months from now).  
Strangely enough, two more full-color issues of Howard (numbered #32 and #33) will appear in 1986, to help promote George Lucas’ well-intentioned movie (starring an undersized actor in a creepy rubber Howard suit).  Say George – you’ve got some free time right now; maybe it’s time to take another crack at a Howard movie -?  Knowing now what you didn’t know then -?  It could be a six-part series, with three chapters preceding your original 1986 release; you could insist you had it planned this way all along -!
Matthew: As the foregoing attests, several of the titles cancelled this month segued smoothly into some sort of afterlife, and HTD is no exception, although in five months rather than the two asserted in the lettercol, when its B&W status automatically ruled it out for some of us.  Gerber notwithstanding, I really liked this; the Colgrom art maintains Gene’s high standards for the book, while Mantlo’s script not only made me laugh consistently, but also provided us with desirable closure.  At the risk of stating the obvious, the poem paraphrased in page 15, panel 1 is that cited in page 27, panel 1 (i.e. Poe's "The Bells"), and as a former book publicist, I can say with authority that although published there, The Plain Dealer (no hyphen) does not include “Cleveland” in the title.

Mark: As the immortal Leonard Pinth-Garnell might say, that wasn't very good now, was it? 

And it all started so promisingly last month, with Bev and Bong back (Bev and Bongback's ok, but she's no Erma Bombeck! Share that with grandma, class, she'll love it!), with our desperate duck, outfitted for battle as "Iron Duck" by a damaged Vietnam vet named Stark and fighting to save his friends...

And while credit's due Bill Mantlo for summoning enough of the gonzo ghost of the departed Steve Gerber for that spirited set-up, "The Final Bong" tolls a sour note for Howard's four-color finale. The face-off between our aquatic hero and the bell-headed baddie carries the tale nicely to about the halfway point, thanks mainly to Gentleman Gene's energetic art. Colan's blurred, jiggle-vision presentations of "Bong's sinister soundwaves" stripping Howard of his cut-rate armor are particularly fine.

But the Beverly to the rescue conclusion sends things right down the porcelain convenience. Seems the ravishing redhead has conceived the "Bong Quintuplets" in her hubby's evolvo-chamber, cloned from Lester's nail-clippings. Not only does Mantlo pretend Bev and Bong never consummated their marriage (when Gerber strongly suggested otherwise), but the whole "negligent father" threat against the Doc doesn't make a lick of sense. Bong could have killed Howard, exiled Beverly, and still cared for the quints. Where did she get the baby-bong helmets? The fake newspaper? And who expects super-villains to be Father of the Year anyway?

It all lands with a resounding thud, proving yet again that simply making up goofy shit does not equal either lacerating satire or coherent storytelling. But oddly, class, it's actually all for the best.

That Howard the Duck, perhaps the prime example in '70's comics of a singular and very odd creative vision, existed for as long as it did in a sausage factory industry was a triumph. But not one meant for the long haul.

As anyone who's ever made the horrible last ride to the vet's office with a beloved pet beyond repair knows how painful doing the right thing can be. Howard should have been put down when Gerber hit the bricks, but it's hardly surprising that a corporate entity opted for life support long enough for sales figures to trickle in. 

Consider this a mercy killing, if a few months too late. 

 The Incredible Hulk 235
"The Monster and the Machine"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Al Milgrom and Steve Ditko

Carrying Fred Sloane along for the ride, Hulk is on the trail of Machine Man, whom he believes has kidnapped Trish Starr. Meanwhile, Machine Man is awaiting a trial decision to determine his rights as a machine being. The discussion is tabled indefinitely in the wake of the death of Senator Kligger Stivak and MM goes free, but in the custody of Dr. Peter Spaulding. Hulk and Sloane are at Dr. Spaulding’s house, MM’s forwarding address, when MM and the Doc arrive. Hulk smash stupid robot. MM denies taking Trish. Hulk not be tricked. Hulk smash even more.  MM lies in pieces and Hulk decides it’s really Spaulding who needs some smashy. MM begins to reassemble himself, knowing he has to stop the Hulk…"or die trying!” -Scott McIntyre

Scott: That was some boring comic booking. Hulk doing his thing, Fred being Fred, and some very dull congressional chit chat. Not what I look for in a comic book, really. Just when I thought it was safe to finish an issue, we leave on another cliffhanger. Yay, Machine Man gets to come back again! This Corporation storyline is just freaking endless. And to think a scant couple of issues ago, this title was at its best. The 70’s…oy.

Chris: It's quite an opening, as the Hulk is flying towards us, with a terrified Fred Sloan giving new meaning to the expression "hanging on for dear life!"  The Corporation plan works like clockwork, as there's no chance the Hulk's going to entertain denials from Machine Man; after all, as far as the Hulk's concerned, he "saw" Machine Man abduct Trish in #234.  The only chance of this coming to a peaceful conclusion is if Dr Spaulding can talk Fred into putting ... the gun ... down ... so they can talk.  Good luck, Doc!  

Roger Stern does a nice job as he brings non-readers of Machine Man (and you are legion) up to speed, as he acquaints us with Aaron Stack's fervent hope to be permitted to live as a man.  It's an expedient move to have Brickman table the congressional hearing regarding Aaron's rights, etc, since 1) fans meeting Machine Man for the first time won't care about this, and 2) the Corporation simply wants him eliminated, so why waste taxpayer money on these proceedings?  Roger presents the character in a similar style to Kirby’s, as Aaron is comfortable making repairs while waiting in a hotel room (p 10), and relies on gallows humor when facing the possibility of being deactivated (p 11, 1st pnl).  Roger (and Sal & Mike) also keeps Machine Man's abilities in line with what we've already seen, such as his use of finger weapons (p 10, p 26).  I was concerned to see the Hulk smashing Machine Man to pieces (literally, on p 27), but I realize that allows him to be taken temporarily out of the fight, and maybe also so we can witness him reassemble (p 31), which again is in line with MM’s past capabilities (as seen in 2001 #10).
Matthew: As a mild acrophobic, I perhaps felt the impact (if you’ll pardon the pun) of that opening scene more than most, and I’ve gotta give Sterno points for focusing on just how terrifying an experience that must be, when other writers often casually depict the Hulk leaping around with people clinging to his back.  Alas, the lettercol urging us to “be back here next issue for part two of the Machine Man trilogy” pinpoints the problem with this arc, which goes on far too long, not even including the machinations, ha ha ha, that brought us here in #234.  For those who, like me, took a pass on Aaron’s book, it’s way too much exposure to a set of characters in whom we may have no interest, and the Buscemosito artwork can only do so much to draw us in.

The Invaders 40
"V... is for Vampire!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Don Glut
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Chic Stone
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Joe Sinnott

As the soldiers finish filling up sacks with his native soil, Baron Blood refuses to leave before sating his thirst on his supposed brother and unrecognized niece, but a skirmish set off by Brian’s electrical powers is ended when Lady Lotus imposes her will on the vampire.  The siblings fail to prevent the Axis contingent from flying off, which they duly report to the de facto All-Winners, who compare notes while flying east as Namor reveals that the reports of espionage in San Diego were greatly exaggerated.  Japanese involvement in the return of both U-Man and Baron Blood suggests a link in the shapely form of our femme fatale, enjoying a bath of renewal at New York’s House of Lotus, where she replaces the vampire’s stalagmite-shredded old outfit.

Hypnotically squelching the animosity between her new henchmen, Lady Lotus gives the Baron a mission; several nights later, the Invaders’ exhibition at Fort Dix is interrupted when Captain “Happy Sam” Sawyer asks them to investigate reports of a German-looking aircraft flying under the radar.  Racing to Idlewild Airfield to employ the flagship’s instruments, they arrive just after the vampire has taken over the control tower to guide in the plane, which disgorges a mysterious couple, and having smashed the communications gear, Baron Blood escapes the ensuing battle as the heroes save two colliding Air Corps pilots.  As Cap contemplates “a threat to this nation none of us has even seen,” she introduces her two latest “servants”:  Master Man and Warrior Woman. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Another victim of the May Bloodbath?  Yes and no.  The lettercol duly delivers the sad tidings that, “due to rescheduling necessities [?], this will be the final issue, at least for the present.”  But then they invoke Shooter, who “assures us that the contents of Invaders #41-42 will appear somewhere-or-other in the next few months, possibly in special issues…”  The benevolent, all-wise EIC was good to his word, because come September, instead of materializing in Premiere or its ilk, said contents are conflated into one “Double-Size Dynamite!” really final issue.  And since the Glupperberg/Stone “multi-part saga” is obviously just kicking into high gear on our last page, with the return of the Reich’s answer to Fred and Ethel Mertz, that is good news indeed…

I don’t know if they’re getting more assured, or just meshing better, or what, but Alan and Chic’s art seems to be improving steadily, achieving a consistently higher batting average on this issue, and as usual, Orzechowski’s subtle yet solid contribution kicks it up another notch.  While I was a little nervous when I heard that Baron Blood was getting new threads, I think they are indeed “comparable to [the] original,” as Lady Lotus put it, and I like the detail of exhaling the cigarette smoke through her nostrils in the next panel; other highlights include Namor’s dramatic pose in page 10, panel 1 and the ill-fated ATC on page 17.  It’s always fun when the villains assemble an all-star team in this book, and we’re told that this quartet will be formalized as “the Super-Axis.”

Chris: It’s a fairly good story, as Lady Lotus marshals her anti-Allied forces on American soil; the action with Baron Blood is fairly good, even though too much time is chewed up while Namor and the Torch rescue people falling from the sky (Cap, the Whizzer, Miss America, and two pilots), when they could be battling the aristocratic blood-fiend.  

I have a few questions: if you’re working for the Japanese military, I could understand why you’d want to abscond with some British soil (for use in Baron Blood’s coffin, yes, I get it), but why would you leave behind two mighty Axis opponents, the vanquished Spitfire and Union Jack?; I’m not sure why we see the Invaders staging their morale-boosting demonstration, unless it’s to establish that they’ve temporarily stopped over in the northeastern US before their return to England?; and, if the demonstration is at Fort Dix, why would Namor’s flagship be at Idlewild (the original name for modern-day JFK International, dontcha know)?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for the flagship to be at – I don’t know – maybe Fort Dix?  Call me crazy!
The Kupperberg/Stone art is improved, but there isn’t any image in the issue’s pages to rival its cover.  I for one would’ve voted for some of Cockrum’s vision for the story, as Cap, Namor, and the Torch search a shadowy cavern for Blood and a captured Miss America.  The Torch gives off some light, but Cockrum shows the faces of Cap and Namor in partial shadow, to indicate his light doesn’t carry terribly far; at the same time, we see Blood revealed crouching behind them, his hand locked over the mouth of a struggling Miss America.  Turn around, guys – he’s right behind you!  Yes, I would’ve welcomed some of this atmosphere and suspense in the story.  
Prof Matthew might’ve mentioned this already, but the armadillo announces the Invaders are going on the shelf for awhile; seems sales have tailed off in the past year or so, which is understandable given the drop in story quality overall.  To their credit, Marvel editorial + circulation will find a way to bring the conclusion to the present story to us in a double-sized issue, four months hence.  
Mark: Lady Lotus not only gets some sexy tub time, but is powerful enough to win a stare-down with Baron Blood, adding the Limey fanger to her cohort of henchmen, along  with BB's new bunkie, U-Man. Alas, she's not powerful enough to survive Jim Shooter and his pesky sales figures. 

In the lettercol, Roy Thomas chalks up the cancellation to "rescheduling necessities," a euphemism  that - while worthy of the Ministry of Information  - is understandable given that Roy was penning a eulogy to the title (and wouldn't bolt to DC until '81). But let's continue with the lesson plan, class, as if the plug's not been pulled. 

A gripping dark and dramatic - if inaccurate - cover. Don Glut's early machinations keep the Baron from putting the chomp on Spitfire or Union Jack before LL's long-distance psi-powers summon the vamp to her side, to get his marching, eh, wing-flapping, orders.

Union Jack, some 166 years after the revolution, still refers to America as "the Colonies." I was considering striking "Limey" above, since it's mildly pejorative (even though I'm an anglophile), but now? Fuhgeddaboudit!

The Torch vividly calls Baron Blood a "salivating gargoyle" and a "stinking horror." Guess Don did learn something hanging out with Roy. Thanks for saving it up for the last ish.

Kupperberg and Stone make nasty woman Lotus look stunning throughout. Glut throws in some B&D at the end, in the person of Warrior Woman and Master Man, and, honestly, it's all pretty neat-o and we're jazzed for next ish.

Oh, right

Never mind.


  1. Huge tip of the hat for Professor Joe's shoehorn mention of one of the greatest Wack Packers ever, the hair eating, smoke blowing Kenneth Keith Kallenbach. Rest in peace ya freak.

    1. And another for Professor Chris' whack at George Lucas in his Howard the Duck comment. Take that Professor Gilbert!

  2. I love your blog! Your comparing the Skrull royal couple to Edward Albee's characters is priceless!

  3. Prof Chris and I both went Virginia Wolf on Wolfman's FF...