Wednesday, November 16, 2016

May 1979 Part Two: For the First Time Ever! Post-1979 MU Coverage!

 Iron Man 122
Story by David Michelinie and Jim Shooter
Art by Carmine Infantino and Bob Layton
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Bob Layton

Frenemies IM and Namor go their separate ways as an unnamed admiral vows to get Hiram, Rhodey, and Bethany ashore.  Conserving energy, IM switches from full jet power to “solar flying mode,” recalling how inoperable booby-trap shrapnel lodged near his heart as he field-tested his transistorized hand-mortars in Vietnam; how Wong Chu pledged to save his life in return for a new weapon; how he and fellow captive Professor Yinsen built his life-sustaining chestplate right under the warlord’s nose; how the physicist sacrificed his life buying time for the armor to charge up; and how the gray original IM avenged him, liberating the oppressed village.  In the Mediterranean, as IM is reported over Montauk Point, Hammer gives orders for Phase III. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: Is it me, or has Shellhead’s origin been retold more often than most?  So I had grave misgivings when I saw that this issue was “based on the original story by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber [sic] and Don Heck,” and they weren’t due solely to the fact that they managed to misspell the name of Stan’s freakin’ brother.  I guess writer Michelinie, letterer Costanza, editor Stern, and especially plotter/EIC Shooter (what’s to plot already, if you’re just rehashing his damned origin for the umpteenth time?) can line up to get slapped on the wrist for that one.  But I also felt that if we didn’t need yet another retelling of Tales of Suspense #39, we certainly didn’t need one penciled by Infantino; admittedly, Layton’s inks do smooth Carmine’s harsh lines and provide continuity.

To give credit where it’s due, there’s a pretty damned nifty full-pager on 27, a montage with five different models of IM’s ever-evolving armor flanked by representations of his involvement with the Avengers and Nick Fury.  I’ll also allow that there’s slightly more going on here than a trip down Memory Lane, e.g., Hammer’s next move and possible foreshadowing of Beth’s aspiration to be Tony’s bodyguard.  But the segue into the flashback is especially awkward:  in his more leisurely travel mode, IM relaxes and checks out his FM receiver, chancing upon New York’s WNEW playing tracks from the new Poco album, Legend, yet while there’s no direct connection, “the sound of four-part harmony and pedal steel guitar” evidently inspires his little 1960s reverie.

 John Carter, Warlord of Mars 24
"The Master Assassin of Mars,
Chapter 9: Betrayal!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Mike Vosburg and Ricardo Villamonte
Colors by Roger Slifer
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Rick Parker
Cover by George Perez and Terry Austin

Unaware that her cover is blown, Dejah bravely battles the green warrior, whose fighting style is familiar, and when he blocks a feint unknown on Barsoom, which Carter had taught her, John realizes that—to the surprise of no alert reader—it is Tars.  Knocking Dejah to the deck with the flat of his sword, he leaps at Carter yelling, “Dotar Sojat—your time has come!” as the assassins scatter, but the nom de guerre alerts John to stand fast, and the mighty stroke severs his chains.  The guild has ignored Dejah at its peril, for with her radium pistol she topples a 200-foot “carborundum-aluminum” mast; amid the chaos, the trio reaches the hangar, where John and Tars set off an explosion that destroys all but the single flier they spared.

As planned, John sends Dejah back to Helium to warn Tardos Mors of the coup, but remains on board to harass the enemy and introduce Tars to guerilla warfare, whittling down the crew from places of concealment as Carter plots to destroy the ship.  Dejah’s imposture backfires when she approaches the palace and is taken for Daria; guard captain Surbus arrests her, but (as we briefly learned last issue) he is an assassin, and imprisons her far out of earshot in the catacombs below.  Surprised by Kantos Kan—whom he plans to kill—Surbus assures his “friend” that he is merely making sure the catacombs are secure, leaving Dejah chained up in the pits, with only a dying torch to stave off the darkness and the huge ulsios, “the fanged, multi-legged Barsoomian rat…” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The V2 team is hard-pressed to match the vibrant Pérez/Austin cover that beautifully poses our trio—as seen in their battle on the deck—against a dark, starry backdrop; there’s a nice shot of Tars and John in page 17, panel 4, although their Thark pales before those of Miller and McLeod in #18.  The scenes of the two gradually picking off the guild, like something out of Alien or an Agatha Christie novel, provide abundant atmosphere and suspense, yet Tars’s bemusement at their tactics (“This isn’t my way of fighting, John Carter”) is also amusing.  Oddly, the lettercol announces that the cliffhanger must remain permanently unresolved, hinting at complications in their relationship with the Burroughs estate, yet four more monthly issues appear starting in July.

Chris Blake: It’s quite a huge help to discover Tars Tarkas is here, so that Dejah doesn’t have to fight for her life again.  The question is: how did Tarkas infiltrate the Assassins Guild?  How was he able to assume this position, as an arena-killer for the Guild’s greatest trials?  Claremont is mum on the subject.  I kinda thought we’d see our heroes face Mordin, the Master Assassin himself (as promised on the cover, no less …), but all Mordin does is bark orders from the shadows, and shrug as Dejah flies off, uncontested.  

It’s an interesting reversal as Dejah’s masquerade as Daria comes back to bite her; well, Dejah’s been captured by every other group on Barsoom, so it’s something new to have her imprisoned by her own people.  Although, they aren’t real palace guards, are they, as Dejah walks straight into the conspiracy she’s trying to forestall.  The armadillo can only apologize for having to exit on such a cliffhanger; it’s not clear whether the interruption of the series is due to flagging sales, or some holdup on the character rights; the yellow box indicates only that publishing John Carter can be “complicated … by the fact that Marvel licenses Carter from Burroughs Estate,” so I’m guessing it’s a needless legal wrangle.  
The uninspiring Vosburg/Villamonte art certainly isn’t driving sales.  It’s a pretty great (if generic) Pérez/Austin cover; you weren’t expecting to see either of these creative forces unleashed to provide interior art, were you -?  My, my – silly undergraduate.   

 Marvel Team-Up 81
Spider-Man and Satana in
"Last Rites"
Story by Chris Claremont 
Art by Mike Vosburg and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Rick Parker
Cover by Al Milgrom and Steve Leialoha

Using the Orb of Agamotto, Satana learns what has happened to Spidey and Wong and, saving them from a police grilling, transports them to the Sanctum, where they’re told Doc can still be cured until he kills or tastes human blood.  Satana, “torn between her satanic and human birthrights,” has elected to defy her father and help—prepared to shoot Strange with a silver bullet if she fails—but needs Spidey to locate and hold him in a mystic pentagram.  Having had the foresight to plant a Spidey-Tracer on Doc, Spidey reaches Roosevelt Hospital just in time to keep him from finishing what he started with Cissy, disables him with the arachnid version of a Vulcan nerve pinch, and then schlepps the webbed-up werewolf back to Sanctum-sweet-home.

With Wong and Clea “in a place of safety” (vacated by Cheney?), Satana seals the entrance to the circle’s “psychic wall” with protective flames, and Spidey must prevent Doc from breaking it as she enters the astral plane.  Unable to reach Doc’s soul in its crystal casing through an endless demon horde, she must resort to the “ultimate enchantment [that] will drain me of all my power, leave me human—wide open to an attack”; enabling her to shatter the casing and free Strange’s soul, it also releases the demon within her, who quickly strikes her down, yet she achieves a double victory, for her death claims the Basilisk as well.  “She fought all her life to be her own person, Spider-Man,” says the restored Doc.  “To live on her own terms.  Now her fight is over.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I haven’t seen much of the Devil’s distaff offspring, except for her brief debut in Vampire Tales #2, found in my trusty Marvel Firsts, and her family reunion with sib Daimon in Spotlight #24, which—like all of her last four appearances—was also written by Claremont.  Her death at the end of this issue, although “real” enough, is of the impermanent supernatural variety, although our ivy-covered walls will be long deserted by the time she rematerializes in the 1990s.  How much a greater familiarity with her prior exploits would have helped, I don’t know, but as it stands, I don’t feel I have enough invested in her to either find her of more than passing interest here (especially after her portentous and scantily clad arrival last time) or mourn her particularly.

In fact, I find this whole issue uniformly and surprisingly blah—especially for Chris—right from the Leialgrom cover, a bad combination of overly busy, undifferentiated figures with a boring white background.  And Steve doesn’t seem to have made much more of an improvement to the interior artwork, which tends to look sloppy and unfinished, e.g., Doc’s lame lupine Don Post fright mask; the hoped-for spectacle of Satana’s demonic donnybrook left me equally flat, yet at least no examples of the dreaded Vosburg-Shoulder leaped out at me.  Not that I give a crap about her either, but Cissy’s first name is now revealed to be short for “Priscilla,” while her last name has mysteriously become “Ironwode” (perhaps an homage to longtime letterhack Cat Y.?).

Joe Tura: When Spider-Man says to himself, "I'm so out of my league tonight, it's ridiculous," you have to believe him. After all, Satana is there with big ram horns, flowing red hair, crazy powers, and an outfit that defies description unless she was going to walk the red carpet at the Oscars®. The devil's daughter is all feminine bravado, big words, and no feelings towards anyone—yet she's there to help! She actually does just that, sending Spidey off before he has time to stop and take this all in. Funny that when Spidey's strength can't help him against Werewolf Dr. Strange, he uses the Spock trick to knock him out. Then things get really weird, and I totally forgot Satana died at the end of this issue! What the heck? Never fear, she'll be back, like all good Marvel characters—in Hellstorm #8, November 1993—a full year after I stopped collecting comics. Claremont does a decent job wrapping up this wacky two-parter, and Vosburg provides interesting pencils that might have been better in a black-and-white, especially since Satana is on hand to heat things up.

Chris: Ordinarily, I’m not looking to the scripter for a detailed explanation of a character’s motivations; ideally, we’re picking up on a number of influences and considerations that cause a character to choose one direction at the expense of another.  In this case of Satana, though, I was struggling to understand her actions and attitudes; I remember the creature who took delight in interfering with arcane forces and regular humans, and reveled in the additional power provided by the Basilisk.  At heart, though, Claremont seems to be consistent with Satana as always true to her own motivations, whatever they might be; if a part of her had determined it was more important to safeguard the life of Doctor Strange than preserve her own, then I’m sure no one would’ve talked her out of it.  

What’s the deal with Priscilla “Cissy” Ironwode, that the transformed Doc is compelled to travel all the way across the city to finish her off?  I honestly expected she would be revealed as the repository of some other power, or unwittingly carrying the spirit of some other persona, or something.
Another consideration regarding Satana: there’s hardly a venue to showcase her in the present composition of the Marvel universe, now that all the “mystery” titles have been mothballed (with the possible exception of Ghost Rider, if we’re still thinking of that as an occult title, and not a “road” story) – Tomb of Dracula bows next month.  If the decision is to close out her character on a high note, then Claremont certainly succeeds.  
As I took my first look at the cover, I thought, “Man, Leialoha is a magician – he even makes Milgrom’s pencils look good.  Why couldn’t they get Leialoha to finish the interiors?”  Yes, I’d forgotten Leialoha begins a mini-run of five issues beginning with this one.  As much as I appreciated Gene Day’s finishes on #80, Leialoha is better suited to the darker tone of this issue.  Highlights include: subtle shading and texture to the right horn on her head, seen from behind in close-up (p 3, pnl 3); Spidey spins around and crashes on the were-Doc (p 11); a levitating, meditating Satana (p 17, pnl 2); Satana frees her spirit to access an astral plane (p 19, last three pnls); the goblin-battling is pretty cool too – points to Ben Sean’s deep reds as they apply more menace to their look, with occasional switches to greens and blues to make them appear more unreal (p 22-23).

 Marvel Five-In-One 51
The Thing,  Beast, Ms. Marvel,
Nick Fury, and Wonder Man in
"Full House, Dragons High!"
Story by Peter B. Gillis
Art by Frank Miller and Bob McLeod
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by George Pérez and Joe Sinnott

Learning from Fury that Cap and Iron Man had canceled out (“I’m not exactly on the best o’ terms with ’em”), Ben arrives at Avengers’ (sic) Mansion late for…a poker game with Wonder Man—grudgingly permitted to wear his shades—the Beast, Ms. Marvel, and D.A. Tower.  As Jarvis prepares to deal, a special shipment to S.H.I.E.L.D. Arsenal Six ordered by General Pollock proves to be a ruse, felling the guards with nerve gas and disgorging soldiers whose “sky-crew” steals the contents of Hangar Alpha.  Just as MM “does the worst possible thing a woman kin do in poker—she wins!,” Fury drafts the players to answer a call from Dum Dum Dugan, getting “one lousy furlough from Godzilla duty” when the Helicarrier is attacked.

In the Fantasticar, the quintet interrupts a raid by “the only single craft that could ever challenge the Helicarrier,” the Yellow Claw’s Sky Dragon, as Pollock—last seen in Avengers Annual #6—seeks the final component of the Ultimate Annihilator, stolen by the Claw from A.I.M.  His men machine-gun Nick, but their escape is foiled by a super-hero at each exit, and in another nod to Steranko (not to mention Bond), Nick credits armorer Boothroyd for the bulletproof jacket that saved his life.  The sun is already rising as they return to the Mansion, where after alluding to his recent discussion with Hank on the subject of heroism in Avengers #181, Wonder Man brews a fresh pot of coffee, only to find that those not nourished by ionic energy, as he is, are fast asleep. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess I was in the minority when I recognized Pollock’s name before they footnoted him.  This is one of those larks that isn’t necessarily quite as fun as its creators think (perhaps not surprising, given my unfavorable memories of Gillis), but since Guys and Dolls is my favorite musical, I like the debut of “the world’s only floating superhero card game,” which became a fixture, and am fond of all four guest-stars.  It demonstrates that Miller and Colan have more in common than being the definitive DD artists, because as much as I grew to love his Hornhead, Lanky Frank—like Gentleman Gene—is not right for all super-hero strips, and even McLeod’s customarily steady hand can’t change that, with Ben looking especially dire.

That said, I do love the imaginative layout on page 7 (they are curiously unnumbered), with four-color “cards” featuring each participant—including dealer Jarvis—surrounding an atmospheric two-toned vignette of them around the table.  While it doesn’t look much more logistically viable than when the situation was reversed, with Dum Dum’s grappling-hook assault back in Strange Tales #165, the panorama stretching across the tops of pages 16-17, which shows the renegade U.S. paratroopers boarding the Helicarrier from the Sky Dragon via a kind of zip-line, is nothing if not spectacular.  Ms. M is getting a lot of exposure, if you’ll pardon the pun, for a gal whose sales couldn’t justify her mag’s continued existence; all of the characters are pretty well handled.

Chris: This series has had its share of turgid tales, so it’s refreshing to have a brisk and breezy one.  It’s hard to believe a full-bore attack on the Helicarrier, with a commandeered Sky Dragon leading the charge, could be straight-up fun (and not weighed with dire portent), but for the most part, it is.  It’s even more surprising to see this coming from Peter Gillis, who I think of as that What If? guy, not necessarily someone who could take us on a quick spin like this one.  On some level, Gillis might recognize that many of those old SHIELD stories – even in the pre-Steranko Stan an’ Jack days – could get a bit crazy, and fail to bear-up under close scrutiny.  So, perhaps he’s trying to capture a bit of that manic feel, and be sure to let us in on it, so we’ll know not to expect too high a degree of credibility.  

It’s ambitious of Gillis to include so many characters – wouldn’t it have been clever to rename the comic “Marvel Five-In-One,” just this once?  Nick Fury is required to direct most of the action; clever moment on p 10, as Fury hopes the break-in at Arsenal Six can be contained, so he won’t have to ditch the card game (as we simultaneously witness Pollock’s troops advancing further).  Everyone else contributes, even if Ms Marvel is more involved in the earlier poker segment than during the Battle for the Helicarrier.  
Frank Miller delivers the action masterfully, as the spread on pages 16-17 might take you back to the last reel of a 60’s 007 flick.  As for the two featured characters who are hardest to realize artistically, Miller & McLeod do well by the Beast (especially p 17, last pnl, as he springs from the Fantasticar), and get the Thing’s rocky hide right, although they struggle with his face, which nearly always looks goofy.  Maybe his terra-cotta cranium also is a bit undersized; again, it’s a hard thing (so to speak) to get right, especially on a first try.  Points to our artists for the pacing and atmosphere of page 7, as Miller presents each player framed by a playing-card’s border (which requires us to concentrate on each player in turn), while McLeod fills in the unpencilled space around the table, which helps to emphasize the pale yellow light shining over the table as the room’s only illumination.

 Master of Kung Fu 76
"Smoke, Beads and Blood!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and Gene Day
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Mike Zeck and Joe Rubinstein

Along the foggy London waterfront, a young man seeks advice from an elder Asian.  Why, he asks, does his life involve so much violence?  He prefers to live according to the meaning of his name, and work towards a rising and advancing of his spirit.  The older man asks the youth's name, and is told "Shang-Chi"; the older man responds with interest, and asks S-C to follow him to a quiet space.  Once there, S-C asks again why his life has been "so torn, so shattered," to which the elder replies "We all do what we must ...," as an armed group enters the back room.  S-C reflects on how this seemingly learned older man reflects "a China which no longer exists," and whose weathered face is "as shattered as the spirit of my name."  S-C is directed out onto the docks, and uses a quick distraction (he flicks a pebble with his toe to draw the gunman's attention elsewhere) to bring the fight to his would-be abductors.  A group of thugs responds to the sound of battle, but no matter; S-C soon has scattered all of them across the docks and into the Thames.  He finds one who still is (somewhat) conscious, and extracts the knowledge he seeks: a man named "Zaran" had offered payment for S-C's "delivery."  S-C stalks back into the bar and dumps banknotes and coins (retrieved from an assailant’s pocket) on the floor by the old man, and strides out; as he leaves, he asks himself whether his gesture was just, or somehow “more cruel than what he did to me?”  S-C arrives at Leiko’s flat, and asks her whether she remembers the pleasant, peaceful weeks they had spent together (following the China Seas adventure), until “that last night … and then … it was … shattered” (as chronicled in MoKF #70).  Leiko assures him she remembers; “It was real, and it was beautiful … .”  The phone rings, interrupting their reverie; it’s Black Jack, calling from a town near Sir Denis’ Scottish estate.  Shang-Chi takes the phone; “I listen, already knowing what Tarr’s words will be.”  He hangs up, and resignedly says to Leiko, “We will do … what we must.” -Chris Blake

Chris: On the heels of the oddball madness of Mordillo Island, I was ready for a traditional MoKF installment.  The best stories of this series tend to work this way, as they strike a balance between Shang-Chi’s desire to understand as he pursues his inner quest for peace, offset by the necessity (and inevitability) of violence.  Moench works in some intrigue as well, as we follow Black Jack in his stealthy recon of Sir Denis’ manse; we already know Sir Denis (not to mention Reston and Melissa) are in a spot of trouble, but Moench provides no update, which means we’re as much in the dark as Shang-Chi & Co about their present circumstances.  
The issue features the first extended martial-arts display we’ve seen in some time (from page 11 to 19, a chop-socking six pages!), which leads me to the illustrations.  This marks the first pairing of Mike Zeck with inker Gene Day; this team will provide the dragon’s share of the art from this point until issue #101 (Mr Day becomes the featured solo artist after that).  As much as I enjoy Bruce Patterson’s inks, it’s apparent from this first collaboration that Day should be a better fit.  He contributes well to the murky atmosphere, both on the docks and among the moors, with offshore fog behind S-C a highlight (p 19, 1st pnl).  Day also effectively adds shadows to S-C’s face (p 2, pnl 2; p 7, 1st pnl) and tones down the youthful look we’d seen from Zeck & Patterson; we see more looks of S-C determined – angry, even – than we’ve seen in a while, such as on p 19 pnl 3, p 22 pnl 3, and p 23 pnl 2.

Mark: A somewhat odd, transitional issue, one that's oddly satisfying. Doug gives us one of the deepest peeks we've had into Shang-Chi's psyche - "But I wish to engage only in quiet pursuits - the search for harmony, universal peace, solitary tranquility" - shared not with Leiko or one of his battle-hardened allies, but to an old man he just met in a bar. That's S-C's quest is futile is soon made apparent, when the old man betrays him, leading to six-plus pages of martial-arts mayhem, energetically depicted by Mike Zeck.

That Shang's attackers are not up-powered baddies or ninja assassins, but drunks and dockside toughs, only underscores his futility; S-C's not fighting to save the world, or save his comrades, but simply because he's under attack. Well, whaddya expect, hanging out in a dockside bar in your P.J.s?

There's a couple panels of Black Jack on a surveillance op, then Shang and Leiko have a teary-eyed heart-to-heart in their Soho digs, with S-C wondering what their moments of happiness are worth, "...measured against so much violence?" Before Leiko can answer, Black Jack's on the phone. More violence beckons. 

Lots of angsty soul-searching here, broken up by one of the longest chop fuey segments we've seen in awhile. Moench stitches it all together fairly seamlessly, dropping in the name - Zaran - of an as yet unseen antagonist, while Zeck - teamed with new inker Gene Day - continues to impress.

And S-C ruminating over his need for a father figure leads one to believe that he's likely to get his wish in the not too distant future.

The Micronauts 5 
“The Prometheus Pit!”
Story by Bill Mantlo 
Art by Michael Golden and Joe Rubinstein
Colors by D. R. Martin
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Michael Golden and Joe Rubinstein

In the Endeavor
’s low-flying Astro Station, the Micronauts track Bug’s brainwaves to NASA’s Human Engineering Life Laboratories. After Acroyear tears through an electrified fence, they come across Ray Coffin’s parked pickup: Muffin is inside barking furiously. Marionette slips into the truck and manages to befriend the cocker spaniel. When Mari is unable to unlock the vehicle’s door from the inside, Commander Rann blows out a window with the Station’s rocket cannon. Muffin leaps through the opening and — with the princess holding on to the dog’s collar — races past guards and inside the laboratory, looking for her master, the young Steve Coffin. After removing an outer vent covering, Rann pilots the Astro Station inside of H.E.L.L.: they disembark and start searching for their compatriot.

In Phillip Prometheus’ lab, Ray Coffin is shocked to find out that his former co-pilot is already aware of the Microverse and has built a pit that connects the two worlds. As Bug watches from the shadows above, Prometheus reveals that he is part cyborg, rebuilt by machines of his own design after an accident aboard Starlab — he also plans on using the advanced science of the Microverse to become a god among men. 

Meanwhile, at Baron Karza’s Body Banks, the dark ruler promises the decrepit Duchess Belladonna the form of one of the recently captured rebels: the attractive host he unknowingly chooses is the loyalists’ leader, the woman called Slug. Suddenly, Mari’s brother Argon escapes from his cell, now transformed by Karza into a gleaming white centaur. But the prince is easily subdued by the Baron’s laser eye beams.

Back at H.E.L.L., the Micronauts arrive en masse at Prometheus’ facility and open fire on the mad professor and his robotic guards. Steve is nearly knocked into the pit but Microtron extends his arm and grabs the teenager. However, as Ray rushes to help his son, the elder Coffin trips and falls into the entrance to the Microverse, taking Prometheus with him. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Like last issue, this month doesn’t push the needle very much. We do get the big reveal of the new and improved Prince Argon. Yup, I had the toy. It’s a bit odd that Karza boasts that he let Argon escape just to demonstrate his supreme power to the captive rebels. Seems a risky and totally unnecessary tactic. Plus, I hope Bill Mantlo reveals the Baron’s motivation for transforming Argon into what looks to be a much more formidable foe. I’m also not sure about Mari and Muffin. The dog was in a bit of a frenzy locked up in the pickup: she probably would have pounced on a small, darting figure that worked itself inside. Ever see a dog go after a bee? Plus, I was somewhat unimpressed by the origin of Phillip Prometheus. Apparently, he rebuilt the medical systems on Starlab to replace damaged flesh and blood with robotic parts. Really? Someone on NASA is going to sign off on that? He also goes from fairly friendly to bloodthirsty megalomaniac in a handful of panels. And I could live without the monthly Rann panel that has him mooning over Mari. This time we have “She’s done it — the dog’s befriending her! What a ... girl! If only I didn’t feel so old.” Yeah, yeah, we know, you’ve been in suspended animation for 1,000 years. You still look pretty spry to me.

Now, minor complaints aside, this one is another super-solid issue. Not what you would call action packed, but the last few pages are very explosive. As usual, Mantlo keeps the intrigue boiling from start to finish. Besides Muffin, he throws the Coffins' cat in the mix: the hungry feline eyes Biotron as the roboid is repairing the Endeavor in the family’s garage. Ever see a cat go after a robot? Me neither. The Body Banks stuff is chilling as usual. Golden’s art really shines when the scenes are set in the Microverse — he has a fabulous grasp of the dark and sinister. And just about everything else of course. At this point, I’d say he’s Marvel’s #2 artist after Byrne. 

Chris: Bill Mantlo turns in a tale worthy of comparison to Chris Claremont (I know – high praise indeed), as he advances the story on several fronts, while simultaneously providing characterization for multiple characters, with plenty of action and humor blended in.  The reveal that Prometheus isn’t just interested in the Microverse – he’s invested – is a highlight (p 15).  

All is made possible, of course, by collaborator Michael Golden, who hints at something strange (the multi-faceted left eye, visible in pnl 2), before the chilling gravity-less medlab repair, and the ghastly view of the halves of Prometheus’ face (pnl 3)!  Other Golden/Rubinstein art-highlights include: Mari’s graceful leap from the craft to the truck (p 6); Microtron, covering its “eyes” as it awaits Mari’s consumption by gigantic Muffin (p 7, pnl 3); Microtron releasing the outdoor grate, zipping off the metal nuts so quickly that they’re smoking (p 10, pnl 6); Bug slashing the un-mechanized side of Prometheus’ face, to free Steve Coffin (p 16, pnl 3); discreet covering of naughty bits of the latest “donors” to the body banks (p 17); the crazed face of Prometheus, with blood still oozing along his cheek (p 27, last pnl); Microtron, Mari, Acroyear, and Bug all holding Steve back after his dad and Prometheus both vanish into the pit, and shrink to “sub-molecular size with each passing second!” (p 30, last pnl).

Matthew:  Is it me, or does Steve Coffin look a little younger on the otherwise eminently satisfactory Goldinstein cover, where you can almost feel heat emanating from the Prometheus Pit (located in H.E.L.L., you may recall), than in their interior art?  That and a mild harrumph at the evil-cat stereotype in page 3, panel 6 may be as close as I’ll come to actual criticism of this customarily fine entry, in which we learn that Homeworld now has dog soldiers but no more dogs.  I was certainly struck by how slow Ray was to grasp, or perhaps to accept, the nature and magnitude of Phillip’s diabolical plan, but since Professor Prometheus was an old friend of his, it’s probably more human nature than a failing on the part of either Coffin Père or writer Mantlo.

 The Man Called Nova 25
"Invasion of the Body Changers!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Keith Pollard and Rudy Nebres

The New Champions and old villains are traveling to the Andromeda galaxy in the Nova-Prime ship, piloted by Powerhouse, and they enter "phase condition." Dr. Sun demands an explanation from Sphinx about why he's on the starship, and the ancient antagonist tells how he was cast adrift in space by Black Bolt, spent a year on a small moon, spotted Quasimodo in a spacecraft, hopped aboard, and made his way to the Nova ship. [Sounds plausible!] Comet and Crime-Buster (father and son, if you remember from our last class) share a nice moment, which makes the lurking Nova miss his family even more—and the Riders miss him also. Dr. Sun starts tinkering with the computers, which angers Sphinx enough to shatter the robot scientist's arm, toss Nova aside, and watch Powerhouse absorb Comet's lightning bolt. Suddenly, Diamondhead comes out of the shadows to confront "gray-face," who shatters him with one power bolt. As things settle down, the ship is under attack! Returning to "normal space," Nova and Comet take up the defense outside the ship, discovering the aliens are Skrulls. Powerhouse joins the fray, using his Bounty quicker-picker-upper powers to absorb the Skrull shape-changing powers and throw it back at them in a huge explosion, which knocks him out! Crime-Buster tries to stop Diamondhead from flying the ship home, with Sphinx delivering a freeze ray, as the group needs all their power to stop the Skrull armada that may be coming. To be continued…in Fantastic Four #206!—Joe Tura

Joe: Well, if you're one of those people (there aren't many of you) who actually paid attention to the masthead of Nova, you knew something was up when the words above the logo appeared changed here, from "HE'S HERE! THE HUMAN ROCKET!" to "HE'S GONE! THE HUMAN ROCKET!" Oh, how clever that Marv is as he says bye-bye to his pet project's flagship title. Yes, our class is over, and Klaus Janson is on inks to give it a murky goodbye. Then again, Infantino's pencils look better than usual! Maybe not "better" but "different." The Riders, on page 11, look as if they've aged 30 years! Even Bobby looks at least 10 years older. Boy, what a long space trip Richard/Nova is taking—maybe this is where Christopher Nolan stole that black hole time slip idea for Interstellar! [Yeah, right!]

Marv tries to put a positive spin in "Nova Newsline!," telling us "for the moment" that this is the last issue of The Man Called Nova, falling victim to "slow" sales, but "we take pride knowing that we've lasted 25 issues, and in today's comic market where most mags last less than an even dozen, that's just not too bad." Meanwhile, the story will continue in the pages of FF, and there's a Nova What If? coming up. But that's about it for a while on the Nova front, which is fine by me. A very uneven title to say the least, from story to artwork.

The last Blue Blazes counter numbers just one: A very well-timed "Blue Blazes!" as the spaceship travels through "negative" space on page 2. What, the reveal of the Skrulls didn't even merit a colorless "Blazes!?"

Matthew: They’ve obviously kept their sense of humor, changing the tagline from “He’s here!” to “He’s gone!,” yet in spite of the equanimity with which it was revealed, this mag’s cancellation must have had them crying on the inside, after the great expectations set up by the prior lettercol (whose Pollard/Nebres illo apparently became this issue’s cover).  In a retaliatory move, they said, “What can we do to make Carmine’s work look even worse?  Oh, wait, we’ll have Cephalopod Klaus spurt some ink all over it!”  As if we’d be insufficiently grateful already that when Marv’s overpopulated and underwhelming storyline resumes in FF #206—having finally dropped the other shoe here concerning Quasimodo—it’s graced with Pollard/Sinnott art.

Red Sonja 15 
“The Tomb of Three Dead Kings”
Story by Roy Thomas 
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Riding through a wintry Aquilonian mountain range, Red Sonja comes across a bizarre sight: a mummified body, propped upward and encircled by swords. But she is more concerned by what she sees next: three finely dressed but ominous horsemen, a white man, a dark Kushite and a Khitain from the East. But hungry and tired, the Hyrkanian hellcat turns away and heads for the nearest town for food and shelter. At the local tavern, Sonja wins a few games of dice. However, she is waylaid by three drunken louts, robbed, disarmed and tossed outside in the snow. Bent on revenge, she steals a sword from another man and charges back inside. After killing all three, the hellcat is shocked when a giant of a man storm into the room, a weird mask of poppies obscuring his face. The sickening scent of the flowers overcomes the swordswoman and she falls unconscious.

The poppy-headed villain, whose name is Sharlo, takes Sonja to the castle of his father, Lord Flurdelie, who has been transformed into a hulking, plant monster. The father used to serve three dead vampire-kings, supplying them with fresh blood for riches — his traitorous son stole his position and the undead ghouls cursed him with his present, grotesque form. Dragging along the still weakened She-Devil, Sharlo rides off to the vampires’ hidden tomb to deliver the warrior woman as his latest offering. But as the creatures — the haunted horsemen she saw the day before — rise from their sleep, Sonja manages to slay Sharlo with his own sword and flees on his horse: the vampire-kings, who ignore the man’s bloody corpse since they only feed on females, follow in hot pursuit. She races back to Flurdelie’s keep and lights the plant-monster aflame when he clumsily attacks. As the creature burns, the vampires burst into flames as well — Sonja assumes that they were somehow linked by a mystic bond. -Tom Flynn

Tom: Well, let’s toss another series on the funeral pyre. Just wished that the last issue of Red Sonja had more to offer. “The Tomb of Three Dead Kings” is a completely slapdash affair. It’s odd that Roy Thomas can’t deliver the same high quality of the standard Conan the Barbarian issue with his recent work on the She-Devil’s series. Maybe he knew the end was nigh. The image of the mummified corpse on the splash page is a terrifically ominous sight — but it is then completely forgotten about, never to be mentioned again. There’s a lot of time wasted in the tavern and small town, seven entire pages, until the story goes off in a more horrific direction. Sharlo looks positively ridiculous in his poppy-mask and I’m not sure why the vampire-kings changed Flurdelie into a plant creature. Is it because his name is so similar to fleur-de-lis? Or that he had a garden? And why does Sonja jump to the conclusion that there was some type of magical link with the vampires? Seems a bit of a leap. I’ve always enjoyed the team of Big John and Tony DeZuniga, but the art here is a little bland: great faces and whatnot but little background details.

Now I’m sure I’ve come across like a broken record, but this series completely lost its mojo when Freaky Frank Thorne departed. So it was ripe for cancellation. But that didn’t stop Marvel from resurrecting the title on multiple occasions. In 1983, another series of the same name lasted all of two issues. But the publisher tried yet again that very same year, launching another Red Sonja in ’83 that was a bit more successful: it ran to May 1986 with #13. Marvel also published a 5-issue Spider-Man Red Sonja miniseries from October 2007 to February 2008, pairing two characters who had already met in Marvel Team-Up #79 (March 1979). 

Red Sonja marks the eleventh series that has been stricken from my Marvel University curriculum at this point. I’ve witnessed the cancellation of four separate black-and-white magazines: Tales of the ZombieSavage TalesKull and the Barbarians and the single-shot Marvel Super Action. Plus I’ve lost five color comics: Adventure Into FearMan-ThingMarvel FeatureIron Fist and Kull the Conqueror/Destroyer. It looks my kiss of death has given up the ghost, since every other series I am currently covering easily makes it to December 1979 and beyond. I’d give my right nut if it would come back one more time. I’m puckering up for you Ghost Rider

Oh, one more thing: the page 31 teaser for the next issue that never comes promises, “‘The Master of Shadows!’ But see our letters page for where and when!” Looks like the story will finally appear in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #45 (October 1979). See you there effendi!

Chris: The curtain opens on what begins as a fairly straightforward payback story; Sonja has stolen – and been stolen from – enough times to know how to reclaim what’s hers.  It’s a nice touch to see her stop and rest at another inn for a few hours before she returns to take the three knaves unawares.  The arrival of the poppy-masked Lord Sharlo is completely unexpected, barring on the nonsensical; how many women does he expect to find out in the pre-dawn hour?  Then, it appears he’s brought her to his father’s castle as a sacrifice to him, until he returns to pick her up and take her to the crypt of the three vampire kings; what was Sharlo doing while Sonja slept in Flurdelie’s greenhouse?  Still, I don’t want to split hairs too much, since it is an enjoyable one-and-done, with solid action on Sonja’s part, and an unusual menace on hand with the royal bloodsuckers.  

The Buscema/DeZuniga art works better this time than it had on previous pairings, with Buscema’s pencils more in evidence; perhaps it took time for the two artists to find a balance in their styles.  The vegetative giant-sluggish Flurdelie is particularly awful-looking (p 22), but I think my favorite passage is the one-sided brawl as Sonja surprises her assailants, and ensures these three never repeat their mistake of messing with a red-haired she-devil (p 14-15).  

 Spider-Woman 14
"Cults and Robbers"
Story by Mark Gruenwald
Art by Carmine Infantino and Al Gordon
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Diana Albers
Cover by Bill Sienkiewicz and Tom Palmer

A moment after having defeated the Shroud, Spider-Woman finds herself in a room, surrounded by twelve men, each armed with a nasty-looking knife.  S-W notices that the knife-bearers each wear a pendant that resembles an image imprinted around the Shroud’s eyes; based on this connection, S-W assumes the Shroud is in league, and tosses his unconscious form into a group of them.  S-W clings to the ceiling as she kicks her legs at the attackers below, temporarily unable to employ venom-blasts as she waits to bio-charge.   She turns to see the knife-bearers apparently preparing to stab the Shroud; realizing her mistake, S-W swoops in and saves him.  The room then begins to fill with darkness, and soon after, with the sounds of battling.  As the light returns, S-W finds the twelve assailants all sprawled around the room, senseless.  S-W changes back to her garb as Jessica Drew, and calls the LAPD; she returns to examine the room again, and finds it cleared, with no evidence of the fight.  Jessica leaves for home after a lengthy grilling by the PD; apparently, there have been other reports of activity by a knife-wielding death-cult.  Jessica looks for possible leads, and learns of a society of assassins, devoted to “Kali the Dark: Death Goddess of Death and Destruction.”  Jessica proceeds to a local museum to see a jade idol of Kali, only to discover it had been stolen the night before (i.e. the same night Jessica had battled the cultists).  Jessica decides to wait til dark, then prowls the waterfront for possible news of the stolen idol.  She meets a scurvy dog named Weasel and, after a quick switch to Spider-Woman, hangs him out a window to coerce information about a gang that might’ve nabbed the statue.  Jessica busts open the gang’s hideout, and finds they did take the idol, but there is no connection to the cult; the theft of the idol might only be a coincidence.  S-W returns home, and after stepping out of a late-night shower, finds a visitor in her home: the Shroud himself! -Chris Blake
Chris: Mark Gruenwald’s reclamation project branches out from the Shroud to the Cultists of Kali, who I will assume are affiliated with the same bunch that had harassed Iron Fist a few years ago.  So, Gruenwald isn’t doing much with new ideas yet, but the old ideas he’s elected to revisit are well chosen.  For now, Jessica is in the dark (so to speak …) regarding both parties; based on the conclusion of this issue, it’s safe to say she’s about to learn a great deal more about the Shroud.  (And he may’ve already learned a thing or two about her ..!)
Another good choice by Gruenwald is to devote a minimum amount of time with Jerry Hunt (four panels on one page), and to turn Jessica’s unexplained bad-vibes deal into a plot-point.  We see Jessica observed while participating in group therapy at the Hatros Institute (Jessica’s treatment is comped, as she is an Institute employee).  It appears the observer is Dr Hatros herself, who seems to think she might be able to isolate the quality in Jessica that elicits emotional responses in others; with this knowledge, Hatros expects to “achieve the power to enact [her] wildest fantasies!”  So, we’ll see where this takes us.
The art continues to be above-acceptable, as Infantino/Gordon offer an appealing Spider-Woman.  The highlight has to be the seedy dive Jessica strolls into as she searches for information (p 16), which is poorly lit, and has visible wear to the walls and the floor; the beefy barkeep is as unappealing as his clientele.  I’m not sold on the liberties taken with Spider-Woman’s powers on p 26, though, as she uses a stiff ocean breeze to glide quickly enough to catch up to an escaping speed boat, then lands on the bow and clings with her feet (yes, that part makes sense), and spreads her glider wings to catch the onrushing air, raise the bow from the water, and capsize the boat.  It might be inventive, but they appear to be trying too hard here.  

Matthew:  How apt that one week before Halloween, I’m re-reading Jessica’s line, “I doubt they use those knives for carving pumpkins!”  Not a lot happens in this issue, especially since the kerfuffle with the Warleggan Gang (a Poldark homage?) turned out to be a wild goose chase, although there is historical significance to be found in the introduction of Gruenwald’s first major supporting character, Lindsay McCabe, who will outlast the book’s 50-issue run.  We not only get almost nowhere with those missing S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, but also are more confused than ever about the animosity between Jerry and Laura: why does she resent being teamed up with him and continually bait him, presumably addressing him as “Gerald” simply to annoy him?

 Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 30
"Secret as the Grave!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Jim Mooney and Frank Springer
Colors Uncredited
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Keith Pollard and Bob McLeod

Carrion continues to charge Spider-Man with the murders of Miles Warren and Gwen Stacy, and seems to know more than Spidey thinks, while across the gym, White Tiger battles Darter. Spidey makes his way to the pool, where he burns his hand when Carrion stomps on it! The wall-crawler dives down to the pool, springs up to give Carrion a good "SWAK," then watches the pool water turn black, boil, and empty, as Carrion naturally repulses both solid and liquid organic matter. Back to White Tiger, who uses a blanket to cause Darter and his custom-made pistol to smash into a wall, then into the gym and into Carrion right as he's about to give Spidey the "Touch of Doom!" As the two heroes regroup, the rag-wearing rascal knocks Tiger into the empty pool and tosses his "Crimson Dust" to put Spidey out for the count! As Awilda Ayala discovers brother Hector is missing, Darter wakes up and flies towards Carrion, so his "boss" can live up to what he promised the colorful cretin—and White Tiger follows close behind. Carrion carries Spidey to a lab across campus, the same where he "first laid eyes" on him and "first came to loathe the name…Peter Parker!" Describing how Prof. Warren's hatred was passed on to him, Carrion boasts he is "the ultimate negation—the anti-life!" Yet he also possesses a "sense of the macabre" [no kidding!] and shoots some of Spidey's blood (or so it seems) into a strange chamber before smacking our hero awake, unmasking him, and exclaiming "I am the living clone of Professor Miles Warren!"--Joe Tura

Joe: Well, that clears that mystery up! And considering how much I hated (and still hate) the smarmy Jackal, the big reveal makes me dislike the creepy Carrion even more. The action is amped up a bit in the gym, then the suspense builds as we make our way across the grounds into a lab we've seen before (supposedly) and learn the truth. Which is not completely surprising, seeing as how the skinny scoundrel has been dropping hints for what seems like 20 issues. Yet is still is a shock to read, having never perused these pages before. Spectacular Spider-Man wasn't a must-buy of mine during this time, so I'm enjoying some of these, and this issue was one of the better ones. Certainly made me forget the Hypno-Hustler! Or maybe not…. The art is fine, the script is better than expected, and I'm hoping for a nifty ending. How optimistic of me!

Best sound effect this go-round is the "WATHROOM" on page 17 as White Tiger hits the bottom of the empty pool in the ESU gym, unable to land on his feet since the drop is too short. What makes this more interesting is that Mantlo is willing to give his favorite character a moment of weakness and pain. The Spidey fans, meanwhile, give a little snicker as they order another Egg Cream at the candy store counter.

Matthew:  In an amusing right hand/left hand dichotomy, the lettercol calling this our “last chance to guess at the sinister secret identity of the cadaverous Carrion” appears directly opposite the full-pager in which he announces, “I am the living clone of Professor Miles Warren!”  It somehow suits a plotline that, like the blind-Spidey foofaraw preceding it, is going on too long, especially since, excepting that climactic revelation, this feels like a “Special Sound and Fury Issue!” barely budging the needle on the Forward Plot Motion-O-Meter.  Fans of crash-bang-boom were doubtless delighted; I did like the sequence on page 10 in which Spidey pushes off from the bottom of the pool hard enough to deck Carrion as he emerges.

Chris: Credit is due to Mantlo for creating a SS-M arc that ties directly into a major recent storyline from AS-M, as the two Spidey-titles continue to work toward closer continuity.  There’s plenty of action, which is fine.  The mystery is well-played, as Carrion doles out tiny clues about who he might be, and how he knows what he knows.  But Mantlo can’t be serious about drawing this Carrion story into yet another chapter after this one; last issue ended with Carrion accusing Spidey of killing Gwen Stacy and Prof Warren, and this issue concludes with the reveal that Carrion (somehow) is Warren’s clone (how do you clone a living person, and have the clone become a living-dead organism?).  Scripter Mantlo might be content to provide one revelation per issue, but editor Milgrom should not be; this storyline should be concluded already.  The action alone does not justify carrying this on for 2 ½ issues with so little story-progress.

Pollard & McLeod deliver a socko cover (an inert Tiger is visible in the bottom right corner), easily the best cover since Cockrum/Milgrom for PPSS-M #27, or Pollard/Austin for #21.  It’s too bad neither of the cover artists is available for interior art, as the Mooney/Springer art continues in its adequacy.  On the letters page, Carlton D. (no address) asks when we might expect to see a regular penciller, such as Pollard or Byrne (!); the armadillo says only that they’re “in the process of searching for a steady artist” for this title.  Oh well.  

Mark: After threatening this for months, I decided to actually dip into Spec Spidey (a title I may have bought two issues of, back in the Swinging '70's) in an effort to get a decent arachnid fix, what with less-than-Marvelous Marv Wolfman mucking things up on a regular basis, over on Amazing. And while acutely aware that Mantlo has a mighty low bar to clear, Billy Boy soars over it like Webs on a sugar high after gobbling down the entire Hostess selection from one of their cheesy Marvel ads.

What makes Mantlo's feat even more - cough - amazing is there's not one single panel of Peter's supporting cast here (an omission I've pummeled every ASM scribe for neglecting). Plus, I'm coming in mid-fight, have never heard of Carrion or Darter, and have a scant-at-best acquaintance with White Tiger. 

But who cares when we're talking Jackal, we're talking Gwen-clone and Professor Warren amid frantic action, served up by the criminally underrated Jim Mooney. Sheer Spidey momentum carries the day, although interest does wane a bit when we cut to White T and Darter, but one accepts their plot utility and reads on.

Carrion is appropriately creepy for just-past Halloween, and his last page reveal as Prof Warren's clone is both completely expected (except maybe for Forbush) and unexpectedly satisfying.

Marv Wolfman should be taking notes.   

 Star Wars 23
"Flight into Fury!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek

Though the occupants of the Wheel had seen (and bet on) the death of Han Solo by the blaster of Chewbacca, all is not as it seems. Before heading out into the arena for the duel, Solo had grabbed a dead gladiator's ray shield and used it as a bullet-proof vest to survive Chewie's blast. The two carry on their ruse into the Wheel but then Han slips the sheet off his face just as a group of stormtroopers are about to serve an "Imperial death warrant" on Chewbacca and the two make their escape. Meanwhile, Leia agrees to go with Simon Greyshade to avoid any more slaughter of her friends. She gives Luke a (very un-sisterly) kiss and a squeeze and says her goodbye. Luke feels a numbing pain in his head (tantamount to the pain this reviewer is feeling detailing the events of Star Wars #23- Paste Pot) and knows that Darth Vader is close by, searching for him. Sure enough, Vader arrives in the same star system and waits patiently for his enemies to show themselves. Master-Com and R2-D2 broadcast a tape, of the Wheel guards making off with the casino profits, to the entire ship and that sets off a riot. Luke, Leia, Threepio, and Artoo board a space yacht and head off into space, unaware that Vader lies in wait. As is usually the case, Han arrives in time to save the day and our heroes make good their escape. -Peter Enfantino

No doubt about it.
George had the whole thing mapped out.

Matthew: “The embrace is clumsy, the kiss awkward,” and for the umpteenth time, I’m left wondering, since Marvel presumably didn’t make a move without Lucasfilm’s blessing, how this quasi-romance squares with the ultimate revelation that Luke and Leia are siblings.  (I think I can predict what Professor Tom’s answer to that question would be.)  Perhaps surprisingly, I found the unspecified fates of Senator Greyshade and Master-Com rather poignant, but visually, I think the biggest casualty of this latest Infantino/Wiacek Train’a’reck is Chewbacca, who—especially in page 14, panel 3—looks like a cross between the Seaweed Man, whom Namor battled in Tales to Astonish #71-2, and a guy who started mutating after he was bitten by a radioactive mustache.

 Super-Villain Team-Up 16
The Red Skull and The Hate-Monger in
"Shall I Call Thee Master?"
Story by Peter Gillis
Art by Carmine Infantino and Bruce Patterson
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Al Milgrom and Frank Giacoia

In his Caribbean stronghold on Exile Island, the Red Skull toasts his new partnership with the Hate Monger over a banquet, served on a transparent floor above the slave pits, and the next day, he exults in the start of the plan that will make him the “supreme field marshall [sic] of the master race.”  Captured while hunting such war criminals, Shin Bet commando Yousuf Tov is kept in luxury to make his colleague, Rachel, and the other captives think him a collaborator, his silence compelled by a neuro-detonator implanted in his neck.  The Skull shows him the secret project the Israelis were seeking, creating a second Cosmic Cube, but it “can only be wielded by one,” so he wants Tov as a “hidden trump card” to dispose of his ally.

The self-proclaimed Hitler recalls sheltering the Skull—left to die by Dr. Doom and found by the Hate Monger’s men—aboard his moon probe, introducing him to Arnim Zola, and helping him build the Death’s-Head satellite, “the supreme modification of my hate-ray.”  Feigning a glitch in the detonator, Tov tricks his “valet” into neutralizing the implant, escapes, and frees the captives, who are galvanized out of their initial skepticism when Rachel sees him wounded.  Stealing a boat and reaching a U.S. cutter, he is greeted by the Skull and Hate Monger; it was all a ruse to crush their spirits, the revolt quickly put down, but when they return to the island, the captives are filled with defiance and pride, while he and Rachel have shared in “a special sort of victory.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The first new issue since October ’77 (#15 having been all-reprint) kicks off a two-parter written by Gillis and inked by Patterson, with the first half one of five titles Infantino pencils this month, which seems like cruel and unusual punishment.  I always, er, hated the Hate-Monger, and this is a pale shadow of a former favorite title, but I’ll give Peter this:  he digs deep, connecting the dots between the Skull’s lunar predicament in #12 and this—via Captain America #208-12 and 227-8—while positing HM as the éminence grise behind them all.  This is structurally sound, as well; they are obviously setting all sorts of wheels in motion, yet with the conclusion more than a year away, whether they knew that or not, they end part one on a note of closure that seems satisfying.

Chris: The Namor/Doom pairings had their moments, but the problem from the get-go was Namor’s unwilling participation in Doom’s schemes.  In this chapter, Gillis gets the tone right for how a team-up of super-villains should be, as the two nazis tolerate each other in the interest of a far-reaching power-grab.  The Skull’s offer to free Tov if he were to rub out the Hate Monger (once his usefulness has ended, of course) tells you this is nothing but a marriage of convenience; the Skull might’ve once pledged loyalty to hitler, but now the world is his to rule, alone.  Points also to Gillis for providing some explanation for the Skull’s survival after Doom had left him to die in SV TU #12; although, due to what has to be a printer’s error, we’re left with the impression that the moon really might be made of green cheese (p 15, pnl 5).  

Patterson helps out Infantino’s pencils, particularly with the Skull, who is ugly without appearing too cartoony.  There’s no remedy for page 1, though; the image of Skull and Monger dining while their captives writhe in torment below their feet is marred by poor handling of perspective, as the two vertical lines drawn along the middle create angles that don’t allow us to perceive the cells below as cubes, thereby ruining the illusion.  
This is the only non-annual Marvel title I knew of to identify itself on the indicia as “published annually”; sure enough, Chapter 2 of this nasty tale of spirit-crushing in the name of world conquest will see print in June 1980, a mere thirteen months from now.  Don’t ask me how anyone knew to look for it, so far removed from SV TU #16; I seem to recall having found it on the newsstand, purely by accident.

Super-Villain Team-Up 17 (June 1980)
The Red Skull and The Hate-Monger in
"Dark Victory!"
Story by Peter Gillis
Art by Arvell Jones and Bruce Patterson
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Keith Pollard and Bruce Patterson

BONUS!  With SVTU now being published only once a year—and not even consistently in the same month—the final issue, containing the conclusion of this story, will not appear until June of 1980, technically outside our purview, but with our passion for closure, we bring it to you here…

 The Skull and Hate Monger greet an unwilling guest:  Dr. George Clinton, sole survivor of the A.I.M. team that created the original Cube, whose history is retold (minus Two-in-One #42-3).  “Rather than risk creating another MODOK, we are using normal human brains hooked in series as our biocomputer”—replaced from the slave pens when burned out—and Clinton has “volunteered” to share his information.  Rachel tells S.H.I.E.L.D. how she was punished for her part in the revolt by having the S.S. bolts carved on her face, then effected her own escape, garroting a guard with a rope made from hair and spittle; unbeknownst to them, she is really a pawn of the Hate Monger, controlled via telepathic link with another prisoner, Ali.

Zola reports that the outer shell, “the perfect prison,” is almost ready; “within that matrix shall be captured the mysterious, omni-dimensional X element” that is the Cube’s essence.  In a bizarre scene, African-American Agent Willam Collins, reluctant to “go off half-cocked” without super-hero backup, orders Rachel to stay behind, but changes his tune after the “abrasive loudmouth” bursts into tears and, holding her “in a brotherly embrace” (y’know, like S.H.I.E.L.D. agents do), he feels a “mass of welts and scars” on her back.  “Scramble!”  The Skull covers the isle with an adamantium dome, quickly breached by the strike force with Hydra’s Overkill Horn, and then commands, “Let loose the decoys!”:  doubles of himself and the Hate Monger to sow confusion.

Amid his diversion, the Hate Monger unmasks to Zola, who “specially energized” Hitler’s brain before his body was burned by the android Torch, enabling him to project his mind-essence into a cloned brain and transfer among specially prepared bodies (e.g., Nazi X from Captain America #211).  He now plans to achieve godhood, using mind-transference techniques to enter the matrix and become the Cube itself; meanwhile, Bill and Rachel remove Yousuf, whose brain has been burned out, just before incendiary bombs destroy the island.  Yet in a chamber far below, the Red Skull is “musing on—one of my failures”:  he knew the Hate Monger’s plans, concealed the fact that they had failed to isolate the Cube’s essence, and let him transfer into that “perfect prison…”
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The only change in the creative troika is the switch from Infantino to Jones—then notching a rare Marvel credit between stints at DC—as penciler, and despite the continuity Patterson provides as inker, the halves couldn’t look more different.  I presume Gillis kept a stack of Strange Tales by his bedside, since just after mining them for the Sky Dragon and Ultimate Annihilator in MTIO #51 (assuming this was written soon after the contemporaneous part one, despite the publication delay), he reaches back even further, to #150, for the legendary Overkill Horn.  Despite a rather rushed ending, he also makes a heroic attempt to explain, and perhaps to resolve once and for all, the various Führers, masked and otherwise, who have populated the Marvel Universe since 1963.

 Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 24
"Jane's Story"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Bob Hall
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Clem Robins
Cover by John Buscema and Bob McLeod

The Cid appears, having recovered his treasure, yet distributes it to his crew when his offer to share it is declined by Pierre (“The cause could use it—but it would not be right!”); Tarzan, well supplied by Opar; and Ayesha, reluctant to be burdened while seeking Dangar’s lost tribe.  After returning through the portal with Pierre, Tarzan destroys the mine with dynamite and heads for home, where “Jane’s Story” begins in British East Africa in 1929, as Lady Greystoke and Waziri warrior Juvombu—a Mantlo creation, I believe—regard a fire that the wind is luckily carrying away from the estate.  Those who started it to clear the overgrown veldt watch from the other side:  corpulent Roger Tory, eye-candy Miss Lyle, and Chalmers, hired to poach for Roger.

To his horror, Chalmers sees—and is seen by—Jane as the fire drives a multi-species stampede toward her party, which starts a backfire to turn them and consume fuel, but she takes immediate action, using jeep and rifle in a reckless attempt to turn them herself with Jad-bal-ja, the Golden Lion, at her side.  She fears the herd will charge over a nearby ravine, then finds herself caught in between, and although the rest finally turn, a rhino heads directly for her, so Jane must shoot it in self-defense.  Hurled from her seat by its charge, Jane is clinging to the edge of the gorge as the mortally wounded beast propels the jeep over the side, forcing her to drop into the river below as Jad-bal-ja is caught in a net and Tarzan swings toward home, little dreaming of his wife’s peril… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Providing poor Sal with the first inking consistency he’s had on this title, Hall not only returns for the first time since #20, but also sticks around for three whole months, virtually unheard of at this point.  Bill, meanwhile, provides a satisfying epilogue to the Kraft-initiated “Blood Money and Human Bondage” before charting his own course with the book’s final arc; not sure how the eminent ornithologist and naturalist Roger Tory Peterson (1908-1996) might have felt about the dubious honor of having one of the villains, and a poacher at that, share ⅔ of his name.  While not unattractive, the split BuscemcLeod cover—a style I’ve never cared for—seems rather bland, even generic, but if nothing else, it represents this issue’s bipartite nature with pinpoint accuracy.

Here and in Bill’s recent annual, Marvel makes good on its pledge (in #20) to integrate Jad-bal-ja into the storyline, although they persist in referring to him as “Jad,” but as yet the Greystoke heir, Korak the Killer, is largely unseen.  And while Jane is still placed in danger in the literal cliff-hanger, Mantlo is to be commended for portraying her as a brave, bold, resourceful woman, in a marked contrast with the vapid Miss Lyle (“I say, Mr. Tory—I’ve never seen anything even half so thrilling as this!”).  Sal and Bob depict the stampede sequence with great verve, while in the “Epilogue!”—which in this case serves more as a “Prologue!”—they give Tarzan a satisfying gravitas, and there’s a nifty shot of him and Pierre jumping to avoid the blast in page 10, panel 4.

 The Mighty Thor 283
"Suddenly -- The Celestials!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Chic Stone
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema

On his way to rendezvous with the Eternals (and solve the latest threat to mankind), the Mighty Thor just can't help becoming involved in a bank heist (at least, I think it's a bank heist since the dialogue in this part of the comic is presented in Spanish!). That altercation is swiftly put in the rear view mirror and Thor can, at last, head off to meet those pesky Eternals (the clock is ticking...). But... suddenly, at the last second, Thor decides he should contact his estranged pop, Odin, to ask what the old man thinks about this Eternals situation. Odin reminds him that the two of them are on anything but speaking terms and slams the phone down. Thor decides it might be best to finally meet up with the Eternals and get a handle on this Ragnarok Jr. Suddenly, Thor is gripped by what some physicians have labeled Semi-Album-Issue-itis (or Deadlineloomingarosis) and decides to ponder the events leading up from , oh say, Journey Into Mystery #83. Suddenly, he remembers he's late to the end of the world and zooms off to the Andes to apologize to the Eternals for being so late. The God of Thunder arrives to find a dome sunken into the mountains and, hypothesizing this is the home base of the Celestials, he tries to bust in to no avail. Meanwhile, a jumbo jet cruising in the area is snatched out of the sky by the gigantic Gammenon, who has risen from out of the dome. Trying to rescue the plane, Thor attacks but is struck with a bolt of energy emanating from Gammenon's fist. The Mighty Thor is vaporized and the giant walks away, jumbo jet plaything in hand. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Why is it so hard to get Roy to commit to this arc? He started it a long time ago in Thor Annual #7 and we've had to endure one-offs and hilarious parodies (any other explanation for issue #280 will not suffice) ever since. Wouldn't "Eventually... Maybe... The Celestials" have been a more appropriate title? I get it, Roy was off playing in L.A. and didn't have time to script Thor so is only now getting back to the big event. But, instead of using the entire issue to plunge us into the action, Roy stalls and stalls with silly-ass distractions, almost as though the Eternals have become an abscess the Rascally One knows he needs to remove but doesn't want to bother with. Once you cut out the fat, you're left with six pages of story or (as the really smart synopsis writer above deemed it) Semi-Album-Issue-itis. The one-on-one with Odin goes nowhere, the flashbacks are random, and even Thor remarks on how un-Godly it is for him to waste time with bank robbers when there's an Armageddon right around the corner (fifty years on). Hey, though... the visuals are spot on, with Buscone doing a fabulous Kirby imitation when Gammenon appears. This issue sets off a mega-arc that will last nearly 20 issues, far beyond the scope of the MU timeline, and Thomas will attempt to put the Eternals Universe in some kind of order. Good luck with that, Roy! As far as I'm concerned, you've got seven issues to right this ship and then I'm off to retirement land.

Matthew: So, the Celestials and Eternals and all that stuff I didn’t particularly like when they had their own short-lived book.  Yay.  Part of me is surprised that after the months of delays and diversions in resuming this plotline, which technically started way back in Thor Annual #7, Roy squanders another four pages on a pointless encounter with bank robbers—in Spanish, yet—and then four more recapping recent events, or at least revelations.  But I suppose that very delay makes it incumbent upon them to bring non-subscribers up to speed, and at least it all looks great (e.g., the many moods of Thor in page 2, panel 5; page 10, panel 3; and page 15, panel 1), courtesy of Buscema and Stone; to me, the latter can replace Palmer as Big John’s inker any day.

Chris: Our title is “Suddenly, the Cesletials!” which is odd, when you consider we’ve waited since the last panel of #278 to see how Thor and the Fourth Host might mix things up.  Then, we have a long, long lead-in – I was all set to propose an alternate title of “Eventually – the Celestials!”  But in fact, we do see a mountain-topping Celestial, as Gammenon arrives on the fourth page from the end – and in true Kirby fashion, he hogs nearly the entire page!  

There surely would’ve been more time to gaze gape-mouthed in awe, if not for the empty activity involving the Mexico City banditos (even Thor tells himself he doesn’t have time for this – well, how do you think we feel, Thunderer?), and then the thorough recap of the previous year’s worth of issues.  It’s a good idea to relate the circumstances of Thor Annual #7, for the benefit of fans (like myself, at the time) who didn’t find it at the local newsstand, especially since that story acts as a prelude of sorts to this new storyline.  But is it really necessary to rehash the whole faux-Ragnarok?  I admit I’m intrigued by the information Odin chooses to withhold from Thor, but I don’t think this has to be the time for Thor to pose these questions.  
Chic Stone again provides above-adequate inks for John Buscema.  Given the choice of Stone or a return to the likes of Tony DeZuniga, my preference is for Stone’s clarity, even if his finishes lack depth.  In fairness, he provides some atmosphere; see p 10, most notably Odin’s piqued pose, as he stands among the clouds, his cloak billowing around him (pnl 4).

The Uncanny X-Men 121
"Shoot-Out at the Stampede!"
Story by John Byrne and Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza and Diana Albers
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

Cyclops, Storm, and Colossus track the captured Wolverine and Nightcrawler to a massive arena known as the Calgary Stampede. They find the duo, chained to each other in the middle of an ice field. When they attempt to rescue them, the heroes are approached by Alpha Flight. Vindicator lays out his terms: Nightcrawler may return to the States with the X-Men but Wolverine must remain in Canada. That doesn't sit well with Cyclops and a huge brawl ensues. One of the Alpha Flight members, Shaman, has the power to control the elements and conjures up a monster storm. Problem is, the storm gets out of control and the public is in danger. Luckily, Storm is able to calm the weather but is sucker-punched by AF's version of Quicksilver, Northstar. This returns the two teams to battle until Wolverine calls a truce and tells Vindicator he'll stay in Canada as long as his fellow X-Men are allowed safe passage. Vindicator agrees and Logan is loaded into a heavy duty cage and driven away. Later, on the X-Men plane, Cyclops announces that they're going to turn their plane around and rescue Wolverine. "No need for that, Bub," says a familiar voice. -Peter Enfantino

Chris: The fight is more street brawl than a battle to the death; it doesn't seem like anyone's really trying to seriously injure anyone else.  Claremont uses the fight to introduce Alpha Flight, as we see: Vindicator wanting to settle the dispute, without causing further risk to civilians (hence staging the clash at the empty Stampede grounds); Shaman's pride in his knowledge and skill, as he also feels ashamed if his grandfather were to know of his involvement in the fight; Sasquatch's enjoyment of the scrap, as he toys with Colossus; Aurora's preference to play than fight (unless the fun is at her expense); Northstar's sneakiness and cheap-shotting (I'd whistle him for five minutes for roughing after his headshot to Ororo).  We don't learn as much about Snowbird, but perhaps that helps preserve her sense of mystery. 

Good call by Claremont to wrap up the story at this point. You realize the X-ers have been on the road non-stop since prior to X-M #111; we don't know how long Mesmero had convinced them they were a carny act, but the Beast seemed to think they'd been gone for a few weeks. Then you add in a few torturous days as Magneto's prisoners, and a week's vacation (well, sort of) in the Savage Land, and probably a week's passage to Japan – it might be nearly three months since they've seen home. 
So, what's going to happen when Scott realizes Prof X has left the planet, and that Jean is still alive -?  We don't know what Scott's thoughts might be; he's been mum on the subject of Jean's loss for most of the time since he was separated from her.  Knowing Claremont as I do (and I could be wrong – CC retains the capacity to surprise), I expect he's withheld Scott's inner thoughts for a reason; we'll find out soon enough. 
Art highlights: the dim atmosphere as Scott, Peter, and Ororo enter the Stampede, contrasted with the bright lights that reveal Alpha Flight (p 6); Byrne's emphasis on Sasquatch's incredible size, as he appears almost twice the size of any of his teammates – his hands look as big as Snowbird’s torso! (p 7); more amazingly fluid cape-work as Ororo twists around to evade Snowbird, plus I don’t remember ever seeing her fly in costume without the cape (p 22-23); Sean’s separation from the fight is somewhat symbolic, as his loss of his powers points ahead to his departure from active duty (p 10, p 27).

Matthew: Okay, even without Orz, this one is about as good as it gets, right from its dramatic splash page to its highly satisfying final twist, and now that they’re co-plotting, it’s impossible to say where Claremont’s contribution ends and Byrne’s begins, so just throw Austin in there and call it the Dream Team.  Plotting, pacing, action, and dialogue are uniformly excellent, while the full reveal of Alpha Flight on page 7 was worth the wait; Major Maple Leaf jokes aside, I always thought Vindicator’s costume was really cool.  Strange to see level-headed Peter overreacting, but since even Ororo observes that “it’s unlike him to be so rash,” I’ll have faith that Chris and John are cooking something up for the future, rather than carelessly writing him out of character.
Mark: Well, class, we learn this month that Claremont and Byrne can deliver a stinker, complete with stagey (if non-MARMISy) fights among good guys that scream spin-off setup, and one of the worst WTF endings in recent memory. Even after battling some last ish (including Sasquatch "scragging" the X-er's plane, albeit without inflicting a scratch on any of the occupants), talking is on the agenda when the two teams first confront each other. Then, inching toward MARMIS-land, Colossus initiates festivities when he suspects that Northstar's about to do the same.

Almost as if winking at us not to take the dust-up seriously, Claremont has Nightcrawler plant a smooch on Aurora while she's having similar thoughts about him. Logan tells ex-teammate Vindicator on p.19 that, "An' I'm gonna stay free--or die!" but then abruptly surrenders on p.26, and is soon ushered into an "escape proof" Brinks truck. All this could be overlooked, save for the groaning, eye-roller of an ending. Just as the airborne X-ers are about to turn around and, per Cyke, "...rescue Wolverine whether he wants us to or not," we discover...

...Logan's already in the cockpit, chatting up the sexy blonde pilot! No cage can hold me, Wolfie says jauntily. Nor, one might add, can anyone see him sneak aboard the plane and make his way to the cockpit. I'd call Deus ex machina but for the fact that the co-plotters bother with neither Deus nor machina.

That Claremont and Byrne have been masterful at letting one story bleed over a few pages into the next, à la Lee & Kirby in the FF's '65-'66 salad days, makes this unforced error all the more baffling and egregious.

Mark: Even though this one gets a C- (on the admittedly elevated X-grading scale) there's still plenty to like. Ororo gets an awesome solo bit, storm-wrangling at the edge of space. Scream-less Sean provides some comic relief. The tension between Wolfie and Captain Canada, er, Vindicator, is palpable, their grudge obviously to be settled somewhere down the road. Among A. Flight, Snowbird has the most distinctive powers, but while turning into a "giant Artic owl" is unquestionably cool, when facing another supe, a big bird is likely to get wrangled, as happens here. The rest of the Northerners seem fairly generic, but to be fair they weren't given the space to distinguish themselves.

So...nobody bats a thousand, and even the best can look silly striking out.

Get 'em next time, champs. 

Also This Month

Crazy 50
Marvel Super-Heroes 80
Marvel Tales 103
< Rawhide Kid 151 (Last Issue) 
Shogun Warriors 4
Spidey Super Stories 40

Just thirty days after canceling their longest-running western zine, Marvel unceremoniously dumps its second-longest (and last standing) oater, Rawhide Kid, which began its life in March 1955. Once the home to gorgeous shootouts by the likes of Joe Maneely and Jack Kirby, the title had found itself homeless and living on the streets of Reprint Avenue for its final decade. You just watch; some day you'll come to this page and there will be a massive appreciation of the Atlas/Marvel westerns. This we swear! -Peter Enfantino


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 40
Cover Art by John Buscema

“A Dream of Blood”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga

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

“The (Almost) Forgotten Tales of Conan”
Text by Fred Blosser

“Swords and Scrolls”

After a few missteps over the past few months, Roy, Big John and Tony get us back on the right foot with the start of a four-part adaptation of the 1971 Lancer Books paperback Conan the Buccaneer by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter — things will wrap up in issue #43. The first installment, “A Dream of Blood,” takes place following the events chronicled in Savage Sword #22: after killing Zaporavo the Hawk, the Cimmerian is in command of The Wastrel, a Zingaran buccaneer ship.

In the Zingaran capital of Kordava, Princess Chabela awakes from another of her recent nightmares — they have also been plaguing her father, King Ferdrugo, who has grown weak under the duress. When she tosses a handful of rune sticks, they form the name Tovarro, her uncle and an ambassador currently in Asgalun. Dressing in an outfit more appropriate for a swordswoman, she boards the royal yacht, The Sea Queen
, and sets sail for the Shemite city.

Meanwhile, in another part of Kordava, an impatient Duke Villagro waits for his fellow and tardy conspirators: Master Zarono, a Zingaran privateer, and Menkara, a Stygian priest. When they arrive, Zarono blames their lateness on a tavern argument over a roast shank with a Cimmerian named Conan. The three then discuss their devious plot: in an effort to help Villagro win the hand of the beautiful Chabela, the priest has been bewitching her father, the king. However, the Stygian is not powerful enough to also control the princess — they will need the assistance of another sorcerer, the fearsome Thoth-Amon. After the Duke informs his guests that Chabela has just sailed from Kordava, he sends them off to both track her down and contact Thoth-Amon. On their way to the dock, they bump into Ninus, a former thief and now a minor priest of the Mitraic order. When Ninus recognizes Menkara, he shouts out for the night watch since Stygians are forbidden to enter the city. But before help arrives, Zarono stabs the man and lifts a map tucked into his belt.

At the same moment, Conan is waiting for Ninus in the aforementioned tavern: his little friend has promised a map to the infamous Nameless Isle and the priceless treasure buried there. When the priest fails to show, the barbarian goes out in search for the man and finds him clinging to life in a back alley. Ninus croaks that his attackers were Zarono and Menkara — and they stole the Cimmerian’s map. After leaving the wounded man with a doctor, the barbarian strides off to the docks and boards The Wastrel
, which quickly get underway after Zarono’s ship, the large and lumbering Petrel.

Miles away, the Petrel
 overtakes Chabela and the Sea Queen and Menkara summons a strange, green mist that paralyses the crew. Zarono’s men board the ship and kidnap the princess: they also set the Queen on fire, mercilessly dooming the incapacitated crew. When The Wastrel sails upon the scene soon after, Conan is confused why Zarono, a man in the pay of the Zingaran king, would attack a ship from his own nation — regardless, he continues to sail after his prey. 

On board the Petrel, Menkara finally translates Ninus’ map. Realizing that it leads to unimaginable riches, Zarono and the Stygian decide to detour for the Nameless Isle — still unaware that the Cimmerian is following in their wake. When the Petrel arrives, a landing party sets off in a longboat, leaving a skeleton crew behind. Unnoticed, Chabela uses a concealed knife to free herself from her bonds: she jumps overboard and swims to shore. While drying her clothes, the princess is surprised by a shipwrecked sailor named Sigurd from Vanaheim — his crew a distance away, building an escape raft.

On another part of the island, Zarono, Menkara and a handful of sailors discover a dark and crumbling temple. The Stygian realizes that it is protected by a Z’Thoum Ritual: if anyone enters the abandoned relic, the guardian inside would be awakened. After the priest performs a temporary counter-spell, they enter the black temple and soon come across a huge, stone, toad-like statue, a fortune of gold coins and gems at its clawed feet — as is, to Menkara’s delight, the legendary Book of Skelos. The looters grab all they can carry and return to the Petrel
. On the other side of the Isle, The Wastrel anchors and Conan and a landing party rows ashore. They also soon come across the temple: the barbarian enters alone and, since Menkara’s spell has dissipated, the stone toad lurches to life and leaps down at him menacingly. Conan bolts and yells for his men to return to The Wastrel, racing off in a different direction to draw the creature away.

Tearing through the jungle, the Cimmerian quickly comes across Chabela and Sigurd: they join his desperate retreat when they see the huge, stone-like creature crashing through the bush. But the trio soon run out of jungle and find themselves at the edge of a cliff, the pounding sea far below. Conan orders the princess and the sailor to run to the left and the right and tosses a stone that strikes the toad beast square in the forehead. As the mighty monster hops towards him, the barbarian performs a perfect swan dive off the edge, landing safely in the water beyond the jagged rocks at the shoreline. But the beast stumbles and falls awkwardly, smashing into pieces against the unforgiving stones. Conan rejoins Chabela and Sigurd and they discuss their next course of action.

At 46-pages, “A Dream of Blood” kicks off what looks like the start of a sprawling epic, spreading over the next three issues. I didn’t read Conan the Buccaneer
, but I must image that Part One has introduced the major players — my main man Thoth-Amon has only been mentioned so fingers crossed he actually appears. I am, of course, a bit suspicious of Sigurd. Seems to be a bit of a coincidence that he’s stranded on the island when all the others converge there as well. He’s also the least interesting of the players involved — at least so far. Chabela is royalty but she seems ready for action and shows an appealing independence: and her skimpy outfit reveals the requisite skin. Zarono comes across as a bit of a moustache-twirler, but he appears intelligent and cunning. But Menkara is the one who really stood out for me. He’s obviously a pretty powerful wizard, but his spells take a significant toll on his strength — and he doesn’t strike me as an out and out villain. Plus, he came up with the idea to reach out to Thoth-Amon, another positive in my book.

Conan does lollygag a bit by letting the Petrel
 beat his ship to the Nameless Isle: it’s mentioned that the Petrel is a large and lumbering so I assume that the sleek Wastrel could have caught it at any time. We’ve seen Conan mix it up with toad-like monsters before and this one is a keeper. It’s almost ape-like in appearance, with a row of gems where its eyes should be. Clumsy brute though. Once again, the Cimmerian’s encounter with the creature demonstrates his rock-solid moral fiber: his first thought is for his crew as he leads the hopping horror away from them. By Crom, bully for you good sir!

After stumbling a bit with this month’s Red Sonja series finale, Big John and Tony DeZuniga deliver the goods. All the new characters are well defined and nicely outfitted. Obviously he has a lot to work with, but DeZuniga’s inks are sharp and clear and add quite a bit of details to Buscema’s base. We are off to a good start — though four full issues of Savage Sword might be a bit of an overkill for the adaptation.

Lee Falconer’s “A Gazetteer of the Hyborian World of Conan Including the World of Kull and An Ethnogeographical Dictionary” returns with the 5-page Part VIII, running from “Talakma Mountains” to the much-sailed “Vilayet Sea.” Lastly, Fred Blosser reviews the Power Records Conan LP in “The (Almost) Forgotten Tales of Conan.” Produced by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano through their Continuity Associates collective, the record featured four stories acted out by professional voice artists: Len Wein wrote two while Roy Thomas scripted the rest. So, Wein’s work is the only Marvel-related Conan tales not created by The Rascally One up until this point. The bestid! The piece is five pages long since Blosser actually recounts the plot of each adventure, something I won’t recap here. -Tom Flynn

Marvel Preview 17
Cover by Romas

"The Mind Demons"
Story and Art by Gil Kane

This month's Marvel Preview is a full-length tale, featuring Gil Kane's Blackmark character, written and drawn by Gil himself. It's more of an extended prose piece or novella, with words mostly in the captions of the art panels, and few, computerized word balloons. The unique setup for these pages certainly lends itself to the black-and-white format. This is the sequel to Kane's famous 1971 graphic novel, and many have commented online that they dislike the layout. I don't mind it, but certainly the attempt at originality makes it harder to read. But is it any good? Well, that's the $1 question, isn't it.

Having never read the original, it's hard for me to give any opinions as to how it stacks up, or increases the reach of the Blackmark saga. Heck, it took me a while to figure out who the heck anyone was. But I'll do my best to recap the story, and try to make sense of it all, although it'll probably be as long-winded as some of the writing.

On New Earth, Reynard of the Commonlands bests Smythe of the Southern Iles among the waves, earning the right to be spokesman when they "assemble before the young barbarian" known as Blackmark, who had been "slave and thief, outlaw and mercenary," and also "hoped to unite the Earth." Warriors gather at Silvertower, the castle of Blackmark, where the leader studies each Warlord, looking for a challenge, which he finds in the gaze of Reynard.

When the time for toasting arrives, Blackmark raises a goblet and Lord Reynard is the first to rise—and pour out his wine! The men clash, with Raynard gaining the upper hand, nearly cutting Blackmark's throat, until the leader shoves him off, nearly defeating Raynard, until the bearded warrior throws a torch, that is knocked aside. Suddenly the blade Blackmark holds, the demon sword of the Wizard-king Amarix, erupts in hellfire, and the power of the pulsing steel defeats Reynard—but he spares the angry Lord's life.

Blackmark's advisor, scientist/warlock Balzamo, reminds him of the sword's power, which makes him think of his vow to unite the armies of New Earth while searching for the warlord who murdered his parents. At night, Blackmark dreams---of a mysterious voice telling him to "USE THE SWORD," and Balzamo warning him, and the sword nearly consuming him! Balzamo has no answers the next morning for this dream, instead studying old weapons and Blackmark's ship's engines. Outside Silvertower, a rider approaches on a mutant steed, claiming "DOOM" as Psi-Keep's hordes have invaded his castle in the Icewastes. The hellish mind demons are feared throughout the land, yet Blackmark orders his warriors to ride for the Icewastes.

In Chapter II, we learn the history of the mountain fortress of Psi-Keep, where mutants overran men and the road to Castle Shannux was overtaken by the Shadow horde. Blackmark and his men arrive to the "stench of death," and from the Castle dozens of giant mutant bat-animals fly towards the warriors! The men panic, many dying down an abyss or in the ice, and brave Blackmark sounds the retreat. As Blackmark, Reynard, and the rest regroup, Balzamo appears, with a pre-holocaust weapon from the flying ship, which fires an electrical charge that may interfere with the mental commands of the mutant masters. The flying creatures approach again, but this time the electric fire from the weapon blows a monstrosity to bits! The sorcery leads the way, and the men fight with renewed vigor, making Blackmark a hero, much to Reynard's chagrin.

Blackmark surveys the castle and finds the beautiful Shandra, daughter of Lord Shannux, with whom he is instantly smitten. After the Spring thaw, Blackmark and Shandra are married in the great hall of Silvertower, but the war against the demon hordes continues, causing harm to Blackmark's marriage, and causing even more mysterious dreams, as well as the desire to attack Psi-Keep and defeat the monster legions once and for all. As the warships gather for sailing, Blackmark calls for his wife…but Shandra has left with Reynard!

The warriors set sail in Chapter III, with Blackmark's flagship leading the way through obstacles, until they come upon a small craft that holds a wounded Shandra! Turns out Reynard seduced her, then planned to sail to Psi-Keep and betray Blackmark to the mutants. When she tried to fight, the traitor stabbed the beauty, leaving her for dead. Blackmark tasks Balzamo with saving his wife, as he urges the fleet forward, sailing into a deadly storm controlled by the power of Psi-Keep that crushes nearly every ship! In the aftermath, only three battered ships remain, and they sail on!

Chapter IV sees the fleet make land, with the most of them hesitant and dreading the power of the mutant masters. An avalanche of death is brought down, thinning the ranks even further, but Balzamo finds a crevice in the mountain leading to a safe trail that brings them to the walls of the Keep. Armed with the powerful sword of Amarix, Blackmark cuts a path through the evil ones, leading to a confrontation with Reynard—who sees Blackmark's birthmark and realizes he was the one who killed Blackmark's parents! With pain and anger, Blackmark fights with savage power, but Reynard is able to hold him off and call on more mutants. But a furious Blackmark sends the mutants to Hell, and fights his way into the Keep to find Reynard again—and he stabs him in the eye, his 17-year wish for vengeance fulfilled. Blackmark finds a lone flower growing in the ground, plucks it to give to his Queen to mark the victory…but Shandra is dead, and the small ships sail back toward home.

Well, that was freakin' long, wasn't it! I will admit the story picked up quite a lot as the action did, and while Kane's art is better when it's bigger instead of these smatterings of crazy layouts, it works. It's a lot to read though, maybe too much. But that's what Kane is going for, a novel with artwork. "The Mind Demons," a sequel to what is considered the first graphic novel, premieres here, but the layout is supposedly reconfigured from what was planned. And it does seem the Blackmark books end here also. –Joe Tura

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