Wednesday, December 21, 2016

August 1979 Part One: The Falcon Flies Solo!

 The Amazing Spider-Man 195
"Nine Lives Has the Black Cat!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Keith Pollard, Al Milgrom, Marie Severin, Mike Esposito, and Jim Mooney
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Keith Pollard and Al Milgrom

Black Cat and her team make off with Walter Hardy, while Spider-Man wakes up under the rubble with a dislocated shoulder/broken arm/hangnail, somehow managing to swing home safely. Boris and Bruno are threatened by a mystery man they call "Fatso" [not that hard to guess, for any Spidey fan, who that could be], and Cat takes Hardy, once the "greatest cat burglar in history," to his house. Peter gets his arm splinted and has issues getting lunch at ESU, saying he "broke it avoiding a cat," getting in the middle of a Ned-Betty argument, where he finally acts like "a heel" to get Betty back to Ned, but Ned is annoyed that Peter didn't "let her down gently" and now Betty is beside herself. Mr. Parker, once again, handling affairs of the heart poorly.

Back at the Restwell Nursing Home [wait, that's really the name? I just got how cheeseball that is—then again I once called a doctor in a short story Dr. Healrite so what do I know…], Dr. Reinhart tells The Burglar he has a plan to get "ridda the Parker kid." At the Hardy home, Walter rests well [ha ha ha] as Black Cat tells her tale—she's Felicia Hardy, his daughter, and has modeled her career after him, learning the martial arts, gymnastics, every trick and every move he ever made. When Felicia's mother comes home, she's surprised to see Walter home in the bedroom—and the departing Felicia is surprised to see Spider-Man waiting outside for her! Cat tries to evade the wall-crawler and get away, but even with only one good arm, our hero is too fast and too strong. But the charismatic cat burglar has more than one trick up her sleeve! During the continued tussle, Cat rolls off a roof and Spidey grabs her—but the bad arm causes him to drop the vivacious villain into the "rocky shoals" below. Going back inside the Hardy house, Spidey finds Walter has passed away peacefully—Cat got her wish that her Dad die at home. A weary and troubled Spidey trudges home to the Parker pad, only to be greeted by a telegram from Restwell: "Mr. Peter Parker…Restwell Nursing Home regrets to inform you of the death of your Aunt, May Parker, this morning at 10:30 A.M.. Stop…" –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: "You Won't Believe It! The Most Shocking Climax Ever!," exclaims the cover, but does it hold up? Well, if you don't skip ahead to the next five or six lessons, then heck yes! Aunt May has died! Do we believe it? Are we as stunned at Peter? As empty? Do we have "tumultuous toil bubbling within [our] stricken soul?" Nah, not that bad. After all, there's skepticism immediately if your name's not Peter Parker. Peter has a bad "woe is me" issue from start to finish here. A bad arm; the loss of Betty and Ned as friends for good it would seem; losing Black Cat just as they were starting to like each other; seeing Walter Hardy dead, which makes Cat's supposed death even worse; and finally, the fateful missive from Western Union. I mean, geez, can it get any lower…?

The story is bleak yet zips along at the same time, leaning towards sympathy for everyone, including both Hardys, Peter, heck, even bad guy Boris, who gets belted by the mystery baddie. The artwork on the other hand [pun intended] is one of those "Many Hands" ink jobs that Prof. Blake is always nice enough to digest for us. Whoever inked pages 7-11 needs some time off I think, as most characters look like Walking Dead extras.

Favorite sound effect, in yet another issue that doesn't feature many, is page 19's "FWAK" when Black Cat gives Spidey a nasty and nimble kick to the bad shoulder, setting off a memorable and madcap melee that ends in her "death." But you can't keep a good character like Felicia Hardy down, can you?

Matthew Bradley: Holy Oprah, how many times will the Leedses confront Peter and/or hit him in the face?  Feels like at least three by now.  This indescribably wretched subplot, which should never have started in the first place (M.J., you damned commitment-phobe!), has dragged on for far too long, and I don’t know who’s handled it worse, Marv or Peter.  Betty and Ned used to be among Pete’s staunchest friends, but I second the motion when he says, “I don’t wanna see either of you loonies again!”  Not to be outdone by brother D.’s recent resurgence, M. Hands brings his mix-’n’-match inking style to Pollard’s pencils, giving us Mr. Potato-Head Spidey in page 3, panel 4; Neanderthal Ned in page 7, panel 7; and middle-aged Parker in page 10, panel 7.

Chris Blake: Marv's figured out how to pile-on Pete.  It's not enough to break his arm; there's also room to embarrass him in public as he drops his lunch tray, then have Betty slap him in the face.  This moment is enhanced as Pete quickly tries to determine the best way to handle the situation; in his mind, the desired outcome would leave no doubts in Betty's mind that she should work things out with Ned.  But naturally, his attempt to remove himself from the Leeds triangle only gets both Betty and Ned angry at him, and doesn't seem to have encouraged them to reconcile ("Rats," says Charlie Brown).  Spidey's attempt to distract himself in the sometimes-playful fight with the Black Cat also backfires, as she appears to drop in the drink (she’ll be back – eight lives to go); he then can feel bad about both her father's death and the Cat's apparent demise ("Stupid!  So stupid!" –I feel like I should be able to attribute this quote to someone, but I can’t figure out who).  

All this sets him up for the finish, of course; by the time he gets back to his apartment, Peter's so fed up with everything that he's carelessly pulling off his mask before he steps across his threshold (p 31; try explaining that to Mrs Muggins!).  Now, ordinarily, I'd be getting impatient with Marv for having parceled out such small servings of the sub-plot involving the (unnamed?) Burglar and his plan to boost something of value from poor, unsuspecting Aunt May.  If Marv's plan has been to wait until the right moment to drop the ace of spades on Peter, well, I'll admit he played his hand well this time.  
The many-hands approach doesn't hurt the art too much, as Pollard continues to offer Romita-reminiscent visuals; if anything, the Milgrom-finished pages look thinner than those by Esposito and Mooney.  Highlights include: some pretty good give-and-take on p 22, with the Cat surprised (as, I’m sure, were the rest of us) when Spidey grabs a handful of her platinum locks (last pnl); a cat-stalk, followed by a cat-spring (p 26).  

Mark: While there's more good than bad here - and given the last six months or so, that's laudatory news - will somebody please stop Marv Wolfman from fake-killing characters with high falls into water? We (meaning anyone who's ever read more than ten comics) don't believe that the Black Cat is any more dead than John Jameson, who took his own Ker-splash! header a couple three months back. Enough with the "Gwen Stacy Gambit," further devalued each time it's run through the Xerox. 

Before kitty cat gets dunked, Felicia's dying-daddy jailbreak results in Spidey breaking an arm (one of his most severe injuries ever, although it only needs a splint), leading to some woe-is-Peter dropped-lunch-tray low comedy. His poor arm also get abused by jealous hubby Ned Leeds, who drags Betty along for his confrontation with Peter.

Pete plays the heel to send Betty back to Ned, but his performance is too convincing. Slapping and tears follow. Never-satisfied Ned now accuses Pete of leaving Betty "shattered." Flash and Harry likewise think "the air around (Pete) is starting to stink." Still, a little social ostracization is worth it, if we're finally rid of the Leeds.

The Black Cat fares better, Felicia intriguing enough to breathe life into pulpy dying daddy prison breaks and achieve near-poignancy when she walks out and misses his dying words. And the, a-hem, sexual tension between her and Webs is palpable enough for any ten-year-old with a pulse to notice. 

Pity that Marv can't come up with a better reason for Spidey pursuing her than that the legal system - which has always been so kind to our hero - demands her father die in jail. Cut the bull, Wolfie. Have Pete admit he's horny, then you can also cut tripe like, "I can't belt her like I can my other foes. Besides, there's something about her that I really like!" Maybe that she pulled your mask up and stuck her tongue down your throat last ish? But this ain't Heavy Metal, class, so PG's as racy as things can get. Almost as if to rub that in, Pete as teaching assistant in back 'n' blue blazer and tie, like it's 1964.

The Burglar, whatever his 200th anniversary scheme turns out to be, remains a cipher at this point. It's the scheming doc at menaced-Aunt May's nursing home that comes up with the idea to get the Parker kid out of the way but faking May's death, beautifully captured by Keith Pollard's final panel of a desolate Peter, slumped in his shadowy room (like it's 1964), telegram in the foreground, word ballooning "...the death of your aunt."

Now there's a fake death that works.     

 The Avengers 186
"Nights of Wundagore!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, and David Michelinie
Art by John Byrne and Dan Green
Colors by Roger Slifer
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by John Byrne and Terry Austin

Having rested and recovered from his wounds a bit, Pietro now listens to the "woman" who rescued him: Bova, a talking cow. Bova relates Quicksilver's true origin: his mother, Magda, had fled her husband, a man who had gained superhuman powers and swore he'd rule the world (hmmm). The woman gives birth to twins and then leaves, explaining in a note that if her husband found her, he'd "force knowledge of their children from her." Bova had been created by the High Evolutionary and she goes to him with the twins and their dilemma. The Evolutionary summons the Franks, a couple visiting Transia who are expecting a child, and Bova delivers that child. Madeline Frank dies in childbirth (as does the child) and Robert Frank (aka the Whizzer), grief stricken, flees Wundagore Mountain, leaving behind the twins that were offered to him as his own children. Plan B goes into effect: the Maximoffs adopt Pietro and Wanda and raise the children as their own (years before, the Maximoffs had lost their own twins). After the lengthy flashback, Pietro tells Bova that its time he headed back up the mountain. Meanwhile, up that mountain, the Scarlet Witch has been bound and hovers over the magic book known as the Darkhold, Modred watching over her. Wanda breaks her bonds and a brief scuffle ensues but Modred's power proves too great so Wanda surrenders. With his guard down, Modred is an easy target for the Witch's left hook but it's nothing more than a distraction and Wanda is knocked unconscious. As Pietro is preparing his run up Wundagore, a ghostly vision appears in the sky; his sister warning him  of death if he continues his quest. Bova convinces Quicksilver that he needs help, so he calls the Avengers hot line and summons his ex-partners. Captain America must cut through some red tape to get the government's approval but, once the President calls Gyrich and tells him Cap can have whatever he wants, the mission is a go. Meanwhile, back in Europe, Quicksilver has met up with Django Maximoff and is waiting in a village post office, worried that his call to the Avengers might have been the victim of a bad connection. Suddenly, the men are blasted across the room. Standing above their prostrate figures is the Scarlet Witch... or what was once the Scarlet Witch.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Oh boy, I'm digging this story; it's just humming along. Yes, it's a bit confusing winding my way through all the parents, quasi-parents, and could-have-been-parents, but thank goodness I have the Wikipedia to sort through all this for me. You can see some of the elements here that were lifted for Captain America: Civil War in the Gyrich exchange with Cap. I think I know where this arc is going but I'm still enjoying the ride and Wanda is (thanks to Byrne and Green's final splash, far below) the closest thing to a funny book wet dream we've ever seen.

Matthew:  The Granwalinie Collective steamrolls on.  Perhaps it takes three writers to give what I consider a satisfactory explanation for the twins’ three sets of “parents” (the Maximoffs, Franks, and…?), so no complaints there, or with the unsurprisingly superb Byrne/Green artwork.  Now, I’m not saying that the troika won’t provide satisfaction on the other major plot thread, and God only knows that I am in no way endorsing the Wolfman stories in question.  But because Granwalinie invokes only Marvel Chillers #2, I really hope—perhaps foolishly—that someone’s gonna tell me how they reconcile all of this with Modred’s good-guy status in Marvel Two-in-One #33 and/or the developments regarding the Darkhold from Spider-Woman #6.  I’m waiting...

Chris: Time has done nothing to diminish my enjoyment of this storyline.  I don’t even mind that we have another issue with little more than a cameo appearance by the rest of the team.  Bova’s account of Pietro and Wanda’s origin, and Wanda’s battle with the possibly-manipulated Modred, is plenty satisfying on its own merits.  It’s even more interesting today to read Bova’s tale, as I recognize Magda’s care and her twins’ birth were ongoing at Wundagore while the High Evolutionary was wrapped up in entirely unrelated projects.  I now have a better appreciation for the significance of Jonathan Drew’s appearance (p 2, pnl 2), but I’m intrigued by Bova’s description of the HE’s weariness, “as if from some great conflict” (p 3, pnl 3); does this tie into his creation of Counter-Earth, somehow -?  Byrne contributes beautifully to the sequence, as we see: Magda’s arrival on a cold night (p 2, pnl 3) and recognize her profound worry (pnl 4); the bright lights on the night of the twins’ birth (last pnl, which includes a very realistic detail, as Magda is pictured on her back, knees raised, gripping a bar at the head of her bed – no storks here); Bova’s sadness as she realizes Magda has walked out alone into the snow (p 3, pnl 2); the HE’s exhaustion, as he sits slumped in his chair (p 3, pnl 3); the HE’s impressive display, as, with godlike beneficence, he bestows the twins on the startled Maximoffs (p 5, pnl 2).

I’m willing to bet the Avengers would invite the Grim Reaper to dinner before they’d consider H. P. Gyrich.  Nice play by Cap to stick Gyrich back in his place; it’s not like him to pull rank, but since Gyrich has no legitimate authority – and since he’s a colossal bureaucratic jerk – I’m sure Cap won’t lose any sleep over side-stepping the usual chain of command.  Notice how, once Gyrich takes the phone, Byrne starts him out in a decent-sized panel, then quickly reduces him to two scrawny little panels, as the bluster is quickly kicked out of him (p 26).  The “good will tour of Bulgaria” excuse to invade is classic, with shades of “This is a scientific mission!” or “We are here on a business venture!” – other old favorites when you need to drop your agents into contested territory.  
I’ve already gone to great lengths about how well I enjoy Byrne’s contribution; Green continues to do his part, as much of the art benefits from darker, heavier finishes.  A few more highlights, and I will gladly surrender the floor to the next speaker: Wanda’s “round-house left" (p 11, 2nd pnl), followed by Wanda caught in a huge blast that shreds her costume (pnl 4); Wanda’s impossibly huge, mountain-dwarfing image, as she threatens Pietro and Bova (p 14); Vision’s snow-chilling agreement to settle matters with Gyrich … later (p 27, pnl 4 – hey, who says this guy has no emotions?), followed by Pietro and Django, cast into darkness in their unexpected confrontation by - Chthon! (pnl 6).

Joe: "The Most Bizarre Avengers Epic Ever Told!" screams the buxomy Byrne cover, with Prof. Bradley's cherished headshots and a somewhat enhanced Wanda, in both lips and, as my friend's 3-year-old would say, "boobies." I mean, really, is that not the most obvious example of Byrne boobs ever? Not that I'm complaining…. Inside, the Byrne-Green team is solid as ever, as the story goes from the odd to the interesting to the silly, ret-conning the Wanda-Pietro origin again (with many more to come in Marvel future history). The Cap call to the President gives Gyrich a much-applauded moment of embarrassment, and he gets a little bit back with making Vision stay behind—but almost costs him a beating, which would have been freakin' great! Man, I hate that Gyrich goofball! I always loved the last page, with the previously powerful Quicksilver—yes, this issue is one of the better showings of his powers—being brought down by his Modred-made-evil sister. Yikes is just the start!

 Battlestar Galactica 6
"The Memory Machine"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

Serena is dead, her body sent into the star Kobol. Apollo and Boxey mourn their loss as Starbuck blames himself for her death, so much so that he resigns from Blue Squadron. The fleet leaves orbit as the Cylons are landing on the surface. In the tomb, Lucifer finds the dying Baltar and seemingly refuses to help save the man who was once his commander, if for only a short time. Lucifer, it seems, has his own plans…

 Apollo, having been shaken from his stupor by his sister Athena, does the best he can to assure Starbuck he is blameless in Serena’s death and gets his old friend to retake his place in the squadron. From there, they go to attend an emergency meeting of the Council of Twelve. Before Starbuck can enter, he is distracted by a beautiful young woman named Medea, who says he would be very beneficial to “the movement.” She invites him to a gala on the Rising Star in a few days as her escort.  In the meeting, Sire Uri questions Adama’s leadership as the fleet languishes in the void after a vain search for Earth, a planet they have no proof exists. With many of the ships in the fleet unable to keep up, Uri suggest leaving some behind. Adama refuses and Master Technician Shadrack promises to have the fleet up and running in two weeks. Uri finds this unreasonable and demands Adama furnish the proof of Earth’s existence.  Adama vows to present it and to do so, he has to enter The Memory Machine, which was once used as an interrogation method. However, with care, a man’s memories can be probed to find the smallest forgotten detail – such as the writings he glimpsed on Kobol before the tomb was destroyed. He steps inside and begins reliving his memories.

Two days later, on patrol with Apollo, Boomer realizes two of the ships in the fleet are missing. When Col. Tigh asks Athena to try to contact them, she finds she can’t and worse, the Rising Star has broken off comm with the fleet. She joins Boomer and Apollo and they land on the Rising Star. They find Starbuck enjoying the open gambling tables and Boxey, who said “Uncle Starbuck” told him it was okay to come along. Apollo and Starbuck force their way deeper into the ship, fighting through Uri’s guards until they reach his chambers and burst inside. Uri has been holding his own council meeting and, in Adama’s absence, announces himself as the newly elected President of the Council!
-Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Some really great stuff as the comic goes deeper into the politics and power struggles in a way the series never did. Obviously, a Star Wars-inspired TV series needed to focus on the space warfare and derring do, while the comic can focus inward. Roger McKenzie’s script is really very good. The “game of thrones” is actually very interesting. He balances that with a lot of character development. Apollo and Starbuck’s grief over Serena, never really touched on after her death in the series, is well done here. Also, the personalities of the two men are spot-on. Unlike in other adaptations of late, you can really hear the actors’ voices in some of the banter. McKenzie nails both men perfectly, and that is a real joy. Two of the best go like this:

Starbuck to a guard: “I wouldn’t do that, friend, if I were you. I’m a better shot than I am a gambler...and frankly, I’m one terrific gambler, if you catch my drift. Now where’s you boss?”

And this one:

Apollo: “Uncle Starbuck?”
Starbuck: “Well, Captain, you know how it is…”

The comic deviates from the series continuity here by disposing of Baltar. While the lettercol in a few issues will state they didn’t actually conclusively say Baltar was dead, it’s pretty clear Lucifer has no intention of rescuing the man. The series kept Baltar alive, which was both good and bad. Good, because John Colicos was a fantastic actor and gave the character vivid life. On the con side, Baltar was an idiot and one-dimensional. Finally, the Memory Machine seems a little outlandish, as this sort of technology was beyond what was seen in the series. Worse, this storyline would go on for far too many issues, mostly in the background. For whatever reason, after next issue, a number of stand-alone, seemingly fill-in issues would follow. Perhaps they had to wait and see what was going on with the TV series, but as a comic, it literally stood still. Adama won’t emerge from the machine until after this blog ends, and the Galactica will remain in the void for many issues to come, unlike the TV series, which had them in normal space the following week. However, for now, the story moves along like a shot. The art is passable. Sometimes the characters resemble the actors, sometimes they don’t. Klaus Janson’s inks are his trademark muddiness, but really not all that bad. No, not bad at all.

 Captain America 236
"Death Dive!"
Story by Roger McKenzie and Michael Fleisher
Art by Sal Buscema and Don Perlin
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott

Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty, seems to be on his last mission. Freefalling over New York, the hero attempts to grab hold of Doctor Faustus' dirigible as he sails past but to no avail. Luckily, Daredevil (you know, the blind hero who can pilot a plane?) experiences Sopwith difficulties and is, even now, in a nose-dive towards the Hudson. As he flies by the Star-Spangled Avenger, DD tosses his billy club to him and both heroes manage to land upright in the city. Meanwhile, back at the zeppelin, Dr. Faustus has revealed the true identity of the Grand Director to Peggy Carter. Peggy is shocked to see the resemblance between this man and her ex-lover but even more shocked when Faustus relates the story of what's been going on with the "other Cap and Bucky" since their downfall in Miami "some months ago." The dastardly duo had been confined to a mental institution, overseen by Faustus, and it was only a matter of time before he had the two eating out of his psychotherapeutic hands. To test his power over "Cap," he has the bogus Avenger kill Bucky and then reboots him as the Grand Director. Just then, Cap emerges from the shadows (he's had DD piloting yet another aircraft, this time the Avengers Quinjet) to confront Faustus. The doctor orders the Faux-Cap to act and act, he does. The man touches a stud on his belt and erupts in flames. The sparks ignite a fire and the dirigible heads downward into New York Harbor. DD fishes Peggy out of the water and Cap rescues the drowning Faustus as good once more triumphs over evil. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: One of my favorite horror comics writers tackles my favorite superhero and the results are... meh. The problem, obviously, is the weight of the box full of crap handed over to Fleisher by Roger McKenzie. This Dr. Faustus' Chamber of Fascism storyline that we've all had to slog through for the last six issues has been anything but exciting or, dare I say it, fun. There's hardly any of the classic Fleisher on exhibit here (just check out Mike's contributions to Jonah Hex or House of Mystery in the mid-1970s for some examples); this could just as easily have been a McKenzie or Mantlo or Moench script. Only the self-immolation of "the other Cap" brings to mind Fleisher's run on The Spectre in Adventure Comics. I'm not sure what tested my patience more, the opening sequence, building on the ludicrosity of DD's flying a plane (and tossing his billy club at Cap as he soars past him!), or Fleisher/McKenzie's almost cavalier dispatching of "the other Cap and Bucky" (the latter, in fact, is disposed of with an off-panel head-shot). There's no real reason given for the faux-Cap's suicide other than regret over the murder of his partner, but why would it stew inside him so long? Maybe assigning Fleisher to a superhero title is tantamount to declawing a vicious tiger, but at least this puts an end to the Faustus malarkey and next issue begins a new direction. Will the direction be north or south?

Chris: I honestly didn’t anticipate that the Director – the guy who looks like Steve Rogers – would turn out to be the same person who (way back when) had changed his name to “Steven Rogers” and had his features altered so he would look like the man under the Captain America mask.  I don’t know exactly what Faustus had planned, but it’s a safe bet it had to do with the fascio-Cap assuming the identity of freedom-Cap.  In any case, I share Faustus’ surprise in 1950s Cap’s self-destruction; since Roger McKenzie had gone to so much trouble to bring this character back, it’s unfortunate that he ultimately plays so small a role in the National Front story, and that the character now is permanently unavailable (well, as “permanently” as any Marvel villain is ever demised) for future run-ins with his idol/adversary.  

I appreciate Cap’s ever-present resourcefulness, as he makes like a sky-diver to direct himself toward the dirigible.  Although, it’s a welcome twist to see him near his target, but then narrowly miss the blimp’s fin, since we’ve been conditioned (as longtime comics readers) to expect Cap to make it by a finger tip (possibly calling out “Got it!” as he would grab hold).  McKenzie (aided by scripter Fleisher) then allows things to get out of hand, as he expects pretty broad allowance from the audience.  First, we are witness to Cap surviving a plunge from low-earth orbit.  Next, while we understand how Daredevil employs his radar sense to guide him around, I don’t understand how Matt Murdock – sightless since childhood – could’ve learned how to handle the controls of a WWI-era biplane.  The authors also ask us to accept that Daredevil, while piloting the crippled plane, might be able to pass close enough to the plummeting Cap to toss his billyclub to him.  Lastly, we all know that a quick shoulder-wrenching snag of a flagpole with the cable is not even going to slow the rapidly-descending Cap down, right?  I’m sure I was much more accepting – much less questioning and critical – when I read this story, and others like it, years ago; today, I’m taking the creative crew to task, and asking, “Oh, really -?!”

Matthew:  So they bring in Fleisher, the current writer of Ghost Rider, to script the plot by McKenzie, the former writer of Ghost Rider?  Could there be any more conclusive proof that this elephantine arc has lumbered on for at least one issue too many?  Speaking of elephants, I idly wondered if we could arrange to have Faustus drawn and quartered on panel, not because I’m bloodthirsty (quite the reverse, as my viewing partners will attest), but to ensure that we’d never have to put up with him again.  At least we’ve established beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Grand Director was the 1950s Cap, although I see that—spoiler alert!—he’s not definitively dead himself; pretty nice Pollard/Sinnott cover, and Don does all right by Sal’s inks this time out.

Conan the Barbarian 101 
“The Devil Has Many Legs!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema 

Still mourning the death of his beloved Bêlit, Conan is set upon by a dozen Bamula warriors, perhaps the most fearsome of all Kushite tribes. While the Cimmerian manages to slay their war-chief, he is soon overcome, stripped of his chainmail and bound. Yorubo, the second-in-command, wants to take charge and kill the barbarian immediately. But a spearman named Mulla comes forward and reminds him that only after a tribal council can a new leader be crowned — Conan will be kept alive until then.

At the Bamulas' village, Conan is tied to a post without any food or water, his fate to be decided in a few days. But Yorubo grows impatient and demands that he be named chief and that the Cimmerian is sacrificed to the Many-Legged One even before the next council. When Mulla protests, Yorubo runs him through with his spear. Conan, who learned enough of the Kushite language and culture during his time with the Black Corsairs, challenges Yoruba in the name of the great god Ekku — to save face, the brazen Bamulaian angrily accepts. A large log is placed across a pit in the center of the village and the combatants are handed spears. As the barbarian and the Kushite edge themselves towards the middle, the inhabitant of the pit reveals itself below: a huge, hairy spider, twice the size of a man. 

With years of such battles under his belt, Yoruba begins to exert his superiority over Conan — but the Cimmerian’s brute force wins out in the end and the tribesman is knocked into the pit below. Felida, Yoruba’s mate, screams and leaps in after her lover. The barbarian, driven by honor and courage, jumps down as well. After a brief skirmish, he kills the awesome arachnid by driving his sword through the creature’s mouth and into its brain. When the jealous Yoruba prepares to throw his spear at the Cimmerian from behind, Felida involuntary cries out: the barbarian turns and kills his cowardly foe with his own weapon. The Bamulas hail Conan as their new war-chief and Felida is presented as his new bride. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: What does the ever Rascally Roy Thomas do after finally wrapping up his nearly four-year adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s short story “Queen of the Black Coast?” With the Tigress — Bêlit’s funeral pyre — still aflame offshore, he launches Conan into another multi-part arc that finds the Cimmerian once again leading a tribe of Kushite warriors. It looks like this Bamula storyline wraps up in December 1979 with issue #105: in a nice coincidence, that marks the end of this blog, so we won’t be left dangling. 

Yoruba is a thoroughly unpleasant and one-dimensional character, full of conceit and driven by anger, a sneer constantly on his lips. Felida is much more interesting and nuanced. I think I can understand her shout that warns Conan: she can’t seem to help herself, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to her husband’s cowardice. And on the last page, after Conan carries her to his new war-chief hut, she brandishes a knife after he falls asleep. But, with a sob, she drops the unbloodied blade. Is this because she’s simply not a murderer? Does she consider it her duty to now lie with the Cimmerian? Is it Conan’s bulging muscles and flowing locks? It’s unclear, but I hope that Roy continues to develop this interesting character. 

While suitably creepy, the giant spider is not one of Big John Buscema’s finest hours. Its face looks a bit like a Muppet, let’s say the Cookie Monster. Or Grimace. And Conan kicks its ass pretty easily — he only takes one swat before driving home his spear. I might have enjoyed a bit of a breather this issue after the epic “Black Coast” finale, but it’s also nice that we have moved right along to the next, extended adventure. With only five more issues left before the University locks its doors, there’s not much time left for dicking around. 

 The Defenders 74
"Fools Rush In!"
Story by Ed Hannigan
Art by Herb Trimpe and Steve Mitchell
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Al Milgrom

Dollar Bill and Ledge appease the amped-up Foolkiller by promising to take him to the Defenders for a team try-out. Meanwhile, Kyle's legal problems force him to retire from the non-team, leaving the Defenders lacking for a leader. The Hulk has gone berserk, destroying a commuter train (coincidentally carrying Ledge, Bill, Fooly, Richard Rory, and Amber Grant) and its station. Doctor Strange requests (and is granted) a meeting with Namor to discuss "the unnameable," which was foretold in the Atlantean Book of Neptune, and may just destroy the entire world. After a long commute delay, Foolkiller arrives at the Riding Academy with his posse for his face-to-face, only to reveal he is there to destroy the biggest fools of all... the Defenders! -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Oh boy. Just when you thought this title had hit the bottom of the barrel, they make the barrel deeper. The motivations make no sense, the dialogue sucks, and the art is abysmal. Bill brings up the trek to Defenders HQ as if Foolkiller would be a perfect addition but it's not until later, when he comments that he wishes the Hulk were at the Academy to help "put the kibosh on Foolkiller" that we learn he may have noble intentions. What's got Hulk stirred up? He wants to be alone. So he demolishes a commuter train and threatens the lives of hundreds of innocents. It's no wonder the Army's always hounding the "poor guy." As for the visuals, this has to be the worst Trimpe has ever looked, sketchy and rushed with all mouths open the exact same measure (seriously, just look at page 23 for the proof). What's going on with Foolkiller's midsection on the splash (above)? To paraphrase the Lord of Atlantis, this issue is as murky as a "cuttlefish's effluvium."

Chris: I wonder whether Ed Hannigan – or for that matter, editor Al Milgrom – is aware that a Marvel comic these days is a skimpy seventeen pages.  Could it really take an entire issue for Foolkiller to travel from Prof Turk’s apartment to the riding academy?  You guys realize the next issue isn’t out for another month, right -?  Dispense with all the filler.  Open the story with the scene on p 19 – that’s right, 19 – with Foolkiller & Co already on the train, en route with purpose to Long Island.  Between some talk to establish who Foolkiller is (perhaps with a shorter version of his flashback), and why Richard Rory and Amber are there (not entirely clear to me, as a non-reader of Omega), all we’d need is a thought balloon from Dollar Bill to explain how he hopes the Defenders could defeat this unbalanced fellow.  That way, once we arrive at the Hulk sitting on the tracks, Bill’s observation that he’d counted on the Hulk being at the riding academy “to help put the kibosh on the Foolkiller” would carry more weight.  And yes, we have to retain the senseless violence of the Hulk’s train destruction; it doesn’t advance the story, but it’s the only enjoyable bit in the entire issue.  To recap: cut p 1-3, reduce flashback from 4-5 to a few panels, reduce 7-11 to a few panels, cut p 14, retain Doc’s meeting with Namor for a future storyline (that is, if we really, really have to go back to Tunnelworld -?!  I mean, think about it, guys!).  

Kyle’s “resignation” is extremely unwelcome; to have a superhero sidelined by business or bureaucratic matters is – for lack of a better expression – a very sucky idea.  I realize Marvel shoots for heightened realism (within reason), but escapist fare should be free of this sort of contrived, tepid legal/accounting wrangle.  Now, obviously, if Midas were to have his mind restored, and if he felt like taking over Richmond Enterprises, and the (non) team could help Nighthawk reclaim his own, that would be a drastically different circumstance – I wouldn’t mind that at all.  
I’ve enjoyed Esposito’s inks with Trimpe’s pencils, but Mitchell’s finishes add a bit more texture, which is fine.  Neither inker could explain, or fix, Trimpe’s decision to devote an entire page to Kyle’s long face on p 10.  I realize this is a moment that affects the team as a whole, but it’s obviously not so monumental that it should require an entire page to itself.  There’s more than enough wasted time in this thin issue as it is.  

Matthew: Nighthawk’s appearances in recent years haven’t been especially enjoyable, yet I consider that one of Dave and Ed’s many failings, not an intrinsic flaw, so I’m genuinely sorry to see him go, even if unsure it merits a full-pager, with Kyle looking like he just fell off Mount Rushmore.  This is one of three issues marking a then-rare sojourn away from D.C. by Steve Mitchell, although in later years he will be an Iron Man mainstay; Herb’s patent unsuitability for the book (echoed in the lettercol) sets the bar for inker-improvement pretty low, but Patsy gets an interesting look, e.g., page 7, panel 6.  Is it because there are two overpaid editors—if that’s not redundant by now—that they can’t settle on one spelling of Lunatic/k?  I do a better job for free.

 Doctor Strange 36
"The Man Who Knew Stephen Sanders!"
Story by Roger Stern and Ralph Macchio
Art by Gene Colan and Dan Green
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gene Colan

While flying to London with the stone body of the Black Knight, Doctor Strange, Clea and pilot Murdoch Adams are beset by a freak thunderstorm. Suspicious, Stephen astrally-projects outside the cockpit and discovers a huge vision of Ningal, who swears revenge on Strange for the death of Ludi (last issue). The two duke it out while, inside the plane, Murdoch flashbacks to the events of the last few days: he had knocked on the door of the Sanctum and requested Stephen Sanders, an old aka of Strange's, a name no one should know. Turns out Murdoch was locked in another dimension when the Strange/Sanders saga was unfolding (in the pages of Doctor Strange #177-182 and Marvel Feature #1) and so did not have his memory wiped clean as the rest of the planet did. Outside the plane, Strange must use the Eye of Agamotto on Ningal when it becomes clear he's not beating the giant. Though the beast disappears and Strange believes it to be so due to his powers, Ningal was actually summoned back to the Dweller's domicile. The Dweller informs the demon that he wants Strange to suffer mentally, not just physically, and he has a plan to accomplish just that.

In London, Clea and Strange bid farewell to Murdoch (and his fiancée, the captivating Marcia Trent, a woman who has also fallen victim to Ningal) and head for Garrett Castle, Dane Whitman's ancestral home. Living in the estate is Stephen's friend, Victoria Bentley. Immediately upon their arrival, Stephen and Clea head to the basement where Victoria has prepped the tools Strange needs to contact Dane Whitman (aka the Black Knight) in the Twelfth Century. The casket holding the Knight proves too interesting to Victoria and she pries the lid off, letting out a scream heard far below in the dungeon. Rushing to the woman's aid, Clea and Strange are terrified to find the moving form of the Black Knight... but with the "demonic features of -- Ningal!" -Peter Enfantino

Peter: As with most of these Doc Strange funny books, I have no idea what the hell is going on (the history is deep and well-explored in these pages), but I'm enjoying the ride anyway. That may have to do with the Stercchio script that never lets the reader pause for a breath or the glorious Colan/Green art that brings these words to life. Lots of little titillating teases: a few more panels of the creepy Lovecraftian Dweller; Murdoch's gal, Marcia, who had a run-in years ago with Ningal and, as a result, casts no shadow; Clea's jealousy over Stephen's relationship with Victoria. Lots of great stuff here to keep the pages turning.

Chris: “Am I again beset by unknown enemies whose motives are maddeningly obscure?” laments the mystic master, as his astral form faces down a gigantic, cloud-striding Ningal.  Well yeah, Doc – turn back to the front cover, and you’ll see “Doctor Strange” printed in big bold letters; that’s all you need to know about the type of opponents you should expect to invade your eponymous mag.  It’s not a terribly exciting issue, but it’s clear that pieces on the board are being positioned for some major moves in our next chapter.  I’d forgotten how Ningal – in our story’s closing moments – takes possession of Dane Whitman’s rocky form; as I see it again, I’m reminded how it makes for a very effective finish.  Hopefully, Stephen won’t regret having re-constituted the petrified Knight; if Doc had left it in pieces, it wouldn’t have made much sense for Ningal to move in and set up shop in it, you know?  

I’m struck by how well Stephen and Clea get along thru most of the issue; they work well here as a team, without Stephen’s hasty, dismissive treatment of his lover-disciple, and free of Clea’s why-don’t-you-ever-stay-home-with-me pouting.  Clea even has a chance to point out something “odd” regarding Murdoch’s fiancée, Marcia, which Stephen quickly validates as he observes Marcia “casts no shadow.”  Everything’s jake in the Doc-Clea sphere (they’re even levitating together!), until Victoria’s “help help I’m being possessed!” scream calls Stephen away, promoting Clea’s “petty concern” (as scripter Macchio rightfully calls it) that Stephen’s response could indicate “something more, something deeper ..?” Okay, Clea, whatever you’re thinking, he didn’t mean it that way, okay-?
Any time is the right time to reunite Dr Strange with Gene Colan.  I recognize Steve Ditko’s contribution to the formative look of Dr Strange, but for my money, Gene Colan is the definitive Doc artist (eh, unless Frank Brunner is available, perhaps -?).  I’m not even going to register any complaints about Dan Green’s inks; Green can’t deliver palpable texture and atmosphere to the degree that a Palmer, Leialoha, or Janson can offer, but he manages to flesh out the visuals well enough, contributing to the vibe Colan brings to every page of Doctor Strange.  Highlights include: Ningal’s emergence from the clouds (p 2); a recap of Doc’s encounter with Eternity, as E-man balances a planet in his hand (p 7); two nifty views of the ever-shadowy Dweller in Darkness (p 19); Victoria’s breath-taking view of magicians at work (p 26, 1st pnl), followed by her shock as she (foolishly!) opens Dane’s travel-box (p 27, pnl 4); Ningal, bearing the unconscious Victoria, as he glares stonily at Doc and Clea (p 30).
Matthew: While I’ve always associated this very cool cover with Claremont’s stint, I see now that I was jumping the gun.  It’s actually okay because, in a stunning turnaround, “scenarist” Stern and scripter Macchio have regained every inch of ground they lost last time; the whole Chamber of Chills-redux bit enabled them to posit Adams as the titular “man who knew Stephen Sanders,” and they’ve not only invoked that curious era in Doc’s career but also brought back its artist, Colan—one of his definitive interpreters, well inked by Green—for an 11-issue run.  There are marvelous nuances, e.g., Clea’s wonderfully expressive face at the fringes of the action (from troubled by the “marked” Marcia in page 21, panel 1 to annoyed by Victoria in page 23, panel 1).

 Fantastic Four 209
"Trapped in the Sargasso of Space!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Byrne and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott

We open with Reed building imported-from-the-tube Herbie the Robot as a Galactus search engine (he instantly does a calculation that would have taken Stretch hours), prompting Johnny to crack, "He looks cornier in person than he does on the tube," while Ben takes an instant dislike to the "...cartoon show reject." Reed explains he'd been working on Herbie's design well before "...the producers of our show needed a replacement for Johnny," but the Living Computers of Xandar were necessary to bring HtR to life.

Watching this yakety yak are Nova and (what Marv calls the "All-New Champions," and the Marvel-Wiki calls the "Champions of Xandar," but to me they're just) the Generic Corp. Adora insists that the FF use the Nova Prime ship ("...the fastest...ever created") in their search for the Big G (to seek his help before the Sphinx does in Earth, per last ish).

QUICK SEGUE to the Martha & George of the Skrull Empire, where, to everyone's relief, Empress R'Klll finally offs her hubby when he wants to hightail it to Homeworld at the first hint of personal danger. Nova and the Generics fly off to face the Skrulls, presumably in whatever venue  Marv is planning for the "All-New Champions."

Just not here...we hope.

BACK TO THE Fabs in space, with artist John Byrne (more on him later) giving them a Silly-Putty stretch as they enter warp drive. The Thing jokes about barf bags. The Torch and Sue have a familial moment, with Johnny (courtesy Marv) still more worried about finding himself than Galactus. Then they hit a cosmic traffic jam of dead starships, the "Sargasso of Space." Herbie detects life on one ship, which proves to be a sentient space-bug, dying from wounds inflicted by escaped criminals. Ben figures the bug "wuz some sorta space cop" and decides to avenge him; finding Galactus (and saving Earth) can wait!

Ray-guns from the walls try to zap our heroes, but Sue's force field shelters them. The effort strains her, thanks to the Skrull aging ray that's gonna kill all but Johnny within three days (and fifteen pages in, this is the only the second brief mention of the death sentence). Sue powers down her shield just enough for the Thing to reach the wall, crushing it and the weapons control system. 

THE CRIMINAL SPACE BUGS attack, while their leader Krogg makes for the currently-abandoned Nova Prime ship. To defeat the pests, Reed expands to envelop the swarm before Ben whacks the Fantastic-wrapped lot against the ship's bulkhead. Then the Thing punches out the airlock with a satisfying "SOKKO!" But don't sweat it, kids, because not only can our heroes survive the vacuum of space (and the Torch somehow ignite without oxygen), they can even talk there!

Back at the Prime ship they find Krogg dead. Ben suspects Herbie, who claims, "I'm not programmed for life extinction!" After packing the surviving bugs in a suspended animation pod, they jettison them in space, beaming an s.o.s. so the bug-people can come retrieve their relatives.

WE CLOSE AS the Fabs fly on - with Reed advising Johnny not to worry what others think of him, and Ben suspicious of HtR - toward Galactus.  -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Those slimy-tentacled beasties on the cover? Nowhere to be seen inside, but we do get an eyeful of John Byrne's first work on a title he'll take over completely a few years down the road. He and Joltin' Joe keep things looking fine, while Marv delivers his most coherent script in awhile.

And while I know absenting the Torch from the book wasn't Wolfman's decision, he nimbly finesses Herbie's introduction here, wringing some decent yucks from the entire affair. Similarly, while I'm assuming the woe-begotten and poorly-developed Nova crossover was Marv's idea, at least it seems to be in our rearview. 

The less said about Ben prioritizing justice for Bug Cop over the fate of the Earth and the Fabs talking (without helmets or communication gear) in space, the better. Ditto that Reed, Sue, and Ben show no signs of accelerated aging because, hey, at least Marv remembered to mention it a couple times. I'm just glad the team's intact again, Nova and the Generics are gone, and the Big G looms on the (event) horizon.

At this point in Marvel's Downhill Slide of '79, we'll take what we can get. 
Matthew: So now Byrnott is drawing Ben both here and in MTIO?  That’s almost enough to offset Marv and/or HERBIE  (Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics), yet my gorge rose over a) the perceived need to explain “the great F.F. cartoon show controversy”; b) the alleged humor HERBIE provides; and c) how shamelessly the meaningless “B-type” in his name does nothing but justify the initial.  To make matters worse, we get another nauseating “No wonder they’re called—the Fantastic Four!” ejaculation.  I loathe lines like, “We will be phasing in two point six seconds.  Prepare!,” which probably takes more than two point six seconds to say, so why bother?  The self-pitying whines are ill-timed, and—well, anyway, the art looks great, especially the LIE—er, Sargasso of Space...

Chris: Writer-Marv: “I can’t wait to get going with the ‘search for Galactus.’  I’m excited about the ideas I have for it; I think it’s gonna be pretty great!”  Editor-Marv: “I agree – it’s probably the best idea you’ve had since you took over this title, potentially even better than the Doom-clone story.  But – let’s wait a while.”  Writer-Marv: “Uh, wait -?  Is there a reason you want me to hold this up?”  Editor-Marv: “'Reason'? Oh no, of course not; there’s never a good reason to fail to develop a great story idea like this.”  Writer-Marv: (pause) “O-kay.  So, what should I have the team do in the meantime?”  Editor-Marv: “Oh, I dunno.  Maybe have them fight some bug-eyed monsters in space! That’s always fun.”

Yes, it is fun to fight space-BEMs.  But, Reed himself says he has “no idea how long it will take” for the Sphinx to travel the trackless void of space, reach Earth, and proceed to follow-thru with his threat to destroy it.  Reed mentions more than once there’s no time to avenge Grogarr’s death.  So, why are we doing this?  Marv -?
I'm curious about the Prime Thoran.  In FF #208, we saw him fly off and lead the defenders of Xandar against the Skrulls.  Now, we're told (since we don't get to see it ourselves ...) the battle is going well, so much so that the New Champs will continue the fight as the FF head out to seek Purple Planet-Eater (no rush, though ...).  The standing-around chatting-time (p 5) – plus, nearly three pages of Herbie hijinks (p 1-3) – could've been better spent with a first-hand look at the fight, instead of an offhand discussion by the relaxed cast.  I wonder whether Marv had envisioned the Prime Thoran’s battle taking place in the never-published Nova #26, and simply decided not to change his outline for FF #209 to include some of that action here -?  Another crackerjack call by Marv.
Byrne & Sinnott work well together, don’t they?.  The look for FF should always rely on clean, clear finishes (not too many dark alleys or deep caverns in the labs of the Baxter Bldg, or in the recesses of deep space).  Fortunately, as we'd seen in his previous work with Pérez, Sinnott can complement a penciller's style without obscuring the artist's unique look.  Highlights include: Ben’s pointed comments to the unwelcome mini-bot (p 3, 1st pnl); a one-woman coup d’etat (p 6); the vast size of the mile-long Nova Prime ship, relative to the other ships (which must be massive in their own way; p 11, last pnl); Johnny melts the buggie’s popgun (p 22); risky move as Reed envelops the BEMs, hoping Ben can KO them before they blast thru his stretched form (p 23); the ship hurtles toward a ghostly image of Galactus – hopefully, he’ll be appearing sometime in the next issue or two (p 30, last pnl).  No hurry.

Ghost Rider 37
“Night of the Flame Cycles!”
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Bob Budiansky and Bob Wiacek
While cruising the backroads near Omaha, Ghost Rider comes across a billboard advertising the Spectacular Flame Cyclists, a husband-and-wife stunt team that will attempt to break Johnny Blaze’s record of jumping 22 cars later that evening. While scornful of such mortal distractions, the supernatural superhero cackles that perhaps Blaze would be interested in these frivolous festivities and transforms into his human alter ego. Meanwhile, at Bob Farley’s Super Circus, the site of the stunt, a trio of thugs is threatening the owner to pay off the loan he owes their boss, Dick Varden. Farley begs for patience, claiming that the circus will be flush with cash after the Flame Cyclists break Blaze’s record — the goons leave, unconvinced.

Johnny arrives at the circus just as the married cyclists are preparing for their attempt to leap across 24 automobiles, their son Davey cheering them on. But in the middle of the jump, both of their motorcycles explode, killing them instantly. Later that night, a grief-stricken Davey is approached by a creepy looking monk who gives him a satanic tome that will resurrect his parents — Blazes notices this from the shadows. At the prescribed 13 days later, Davey stands over his parents' graves and prepares to read the book’s resurrection spell. But Blaze arrives and puts a stop to the evil proceedings, transforming into Ghost Rider to show the boy what happens when one makes a deal with the devil. The Spirit of Vengeance reveals that he knows who murdered Davey’s parents and he will mete out the proper punishment.

After burning the location out of a pimp, Ghost Rider arrives at Dick Varden’s mansion, the scene of a crowded mafia party. As the crooked partygoers scatter, he tears through the house looking for Varden, bullets bouncing off his boney body. When he finally corners the mob boss, the heroic hellspawn accuses the man of murdering the Flame Cyclists because of the circus owner’s debt. The guilty Varden manages to make his escape and drives off in his sports car. By leaping over mountains on his Skull Cycle, the Rider gets ahead of his prey and engages the mobster in a game of chicken. Varden swerves at the last second, driving his car off a cliff. -Tom Flynn

Tom: If you lived near New York City in the 1970s and '80s, you had the pleasure of watching Stewart Klein’s snarky movie reviews on WNEW-TV, channel 5 on your dial. Remember those? One night, the anchorman threw it over to Mr. Klein for his take on The Car, a 1977 flick that I will defend to this day. Stew looked straight into the camera and said, “The Car … is a lemon. This is Stewart Klein.” While it is perhaps a bit of an unfair review, I still wish I had Stew’s sharp wit when it came to the latest issue of Ghost Rider. It would be so great to wrap up a review in only nine words.

“Night of the Flame Cycles!” is the usual stinker, a type of “human interest” story that doesn’t star a human or have any interest. And it’s lazy. Think about it: the satanic book given to little Davey told him to wait 13 days until visiting the graveyard. So that meant Blaze had to hang around for nearly two weeks as well. What was he doing all that time? How did he manage to eat or find a place to sleep? He doesn’t have a job and, unless I missed something, didn’t stockpile the money he earned on the Stunt-Master’s TV show. He’s homeless and broke, which might be an interesting angle for Michael Fleisher to explore. But no, we have this crap instead. And Ghost Rider simply states that he learned that Dick Varden was behind the murder of Davey’s parents. How? And if he knew it was Varden, why did he have to blast the pimp with hellfire to get the location of the mobster’s mansion? 

The pimp, by the way, got all “you jive mofo” when approached by a dude with a flaming skull for a head. Sure, right. Varden makes his temporary escape by shooting a chandelier down upon Ghostie. The Rider walked away from an entire exploding mountain without a scratch a few issues back and that’s gonna slow him down? Hardly. And would the Ghost Rider ever intentionally transform into Johnny Blaze on what is basically a lark like he did at the beginning? Doubtful. Finally, with eyes all a groggy, I first thought that the weird, triple mohawked monk was the dreaded Dr. Druid, but it quickly became apparent that he was a new and nameless character.

Ghost Rider … blows exhaust fumes. This is Professor Tom.” Nah, still can’t hold a candle to good old Stewie Klein.

Matthew: This title’s status as a Fleisherlin two-hander is consolidated in their second effort, while another fine, largely undeserved Budiacek cover seals the deal (even if the driver, oddly, looks like he might just as easily be jubilant as terrified).  Yet again, I don’t think it’s terrible, just not very good, either; in other words, another of those unambitious, undistinguished stand-alone stories making me suspect that I’ll be writing essentially the same review for all remaining issues.  Nice that we’re reminded of Johnny’s sometime career as a stunt rider, and that they didn’t give in to the temptation, as it were, to have him—or, worse, GR—make some sort of record-saving grandstand play…but man, that “mysterious stranger” is the absolute worst.

Chris: I will admit to a twinge of despair as I spied the opening page, which features a large billboard touting a cycle show.  Holy Hell, I thought – not another daring bit of cyclist exploits.  I do like the variation Fleisher introduces, though, in the aftermath of the double-murder.  In many cases, this moment would be followed by Johnny switching to Ghost Rider (further upsetting the crowd), then locating the fleeing saboteurs (“Look!  Those two men – running from the tent as if their lives depended on it -!”) and shaking them down, hellfire-style, to learn their boss’ handle and his 20.  This time, Johnny observes Davey in his moment of temptation, and resolves to prevent him from following the same damnable path.  Ghost Rider gets in on the act in his own manner, basically warning Davey not to horn in on his turf (“Vengeance is the devil’s work!”).  We get the same fiery finish we would’ve gotten anyway, but the story is enhanced by this reminder of Johnny’s inherent decency.  

I’ll admit this issue is one that argues for Perlin as his own inker.  The atmosphere in the midnight graveyard is sufficiently spooky (p 10-11), as Johnny emerges from the shadows, then calls forth the red-eyed skull-face (p 11, pnls 2-4); with each of the three panels, Perlin pulls us closer to GR.  Also, the heavy shading on GR’s face is particularly effective, as we have a sense of him being partially obscured by the flames coruscating around his head; we see similar results on p 19, pnl 1.  Perlin seems to have a great deal of fun with GR as he crashes the gate (p 15, pnl 4) and busts up the party, racing up a ladder to launch himself over the pool and set it ablaze, before crashing into the ballroom (p 21).  The seemingly sudden departure from Nebraska to the Alps gave me a double-take (p 26), but I guess there could be a Platte River gorge of some depth around there somewhere.  
I feel badly about the senseless loss of a Ferrari.  There should be a disclaimer at the end, saying something like “No actual pristine Italian sports cars were harmed in the making of this four-color comic.”

 The Incredible Hulk 238
"Post Hulk... Post Holocaust!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Jack Abel
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Bob Layton

Central City lies devastated in the wake of the battle between the Hulk and Machine Man. Clay Quartermain, President Jimmy Carter and Senator Hawk leave on Air Force One, discussing what to do about the “Hulk problem.” This revives Hawk’s plans to revitalize Gamma Base, an initiative he thought was dead. In the week following the fight, the Hulk, having landed in Canada (the events in this issue take place just after the events in this year's Hulk Annual) and scared a father and daughter, leaps across the country, unaware he is being monitored by a mysterious group known as “They.” “They” are moving various heroes around like pieces on a chess board, with the Hulk their “king.” The Hulk lands on Mount Rushmore and falls asleep.

Meanwhile, at Gamma Base, Doc Samson resigns and takes the still comatose General Ross with him., leaving Senator Hawk in charge. This worries Kropotkin, who feels security will be too tight for his liking, and he leaves. At that moment, Hawk and Quartermain are told of the Hulk’s nap on Rushmore. Across the country, the Tinkerer supplies the villain Goldbug with a new Big Ship, which he flies toward the Hulk as part of the master plan of “They.” Finally, in a Mexico City attorney’s office, Glenn and Betty Talbot’s divorce is, at last, final. The lawyer tells Betty about her father’s condition and she leaves in a rush. Glenn, bitter over Betty’s feelings always being stronger for Bruce Banner, blames the Hulk for his life falling apart and is, himself, close to breaking…. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Maybe because there aren’t a bunch of ridiculous fights, maybe because we’re given page after page of character development, maybe because there ain’t no Fred Sloan, this issue isn’t half bad. Also, because this is the last appearance of Kropotkin. And they had to draw him in a single panel just to do it. As if someone noticed they just dropped this idiot from the book at some point and never explained why. So, he’s been hanging around Gamma Base doing nothing for months? Well after Jim Wilson left? Hysterical.

Even funnier is Jimmy Carter. Seriously, Jack Abel’s inks are really bad here. He does nothing for Sal Buscema’s average pencils. He was a great inker for Herb Trimpe, but here he’s lost. Carter is all teeth. Roger Stern does the man no real favors either, but that’s nothing new for Marvel and Presidents. Always go for the easy job or one liner, like how the Hulk problem is “a bigger issue than inflation.” Hardy har har. I’m surprised they didn’t go for the jugular and make a peanut joke.

The Tinkerer hasn’t been interesting since Ditko drew him way back in ASM 2. He was creepy then and wore a mask. I have no idea if that mask is in place or not, or if they just gloss over that part. He just comes across here as an old dude who's a great underworld mechanic. Anyway, a pretty quiet issue dealing with the aftermath of a Hulk brawl and in that regard it’s done well.  The “cliffhanger” final panel sucks though. Booor-innng!

Matthew: A curious phenomenon:  nowadays, when I see Marvel’s caricatures of Carter and read his Southern-fried dialect, I don’t hear his voice in my head, I hear Chevy Chase doing Carter.  For those late to class, “They” were created by Len Wein, seen pulling the strings in various issues of MTU (where they debuted in #15)—hence the chess pieces in page 11, panel 4—before they encountered Greenskin in #208-9, but I don’t know if we really needed to bring them back, which goes double for the Goldbug and Tiresome Tinkerer.  Buscemabel’s artwork is a marked contrast to the current MTU arc; both were penciled by Sal, yet while Steve Leialoha’s inks there might be considered more interesting, Jack gives an unfiltered view of Our Pal’s work.

Chris: It’s a rare misfire from Sterno, as his effort to bridge the Corporation story over to a new go-round with We-Who-Are-They results in a disjointed story, with plenty of needless bits.  It would’ve been a better choice to take a page from Hulk #209, and open with the shadowy They observing Mr Greenskin thru their disco mirrorball; that way, we could dispense with the aftermath at Central City, the Hulk’s struggle with the wheat field, and his run-in with the truck-drivin’ dad and his best gal – in other words, move page 11 up to page 1 and give us more of They’s plot.  As for the other story elements: I’m not at all concerned with Sen Hawk and Quartermain’s plans for Gamma Base; I approve of Samson’s departure with Ross; and I’m deeply unnerved by the prospect of more time with Glenn Talbot/Betty Ross, once they get back from Splitsville.  

Jack Abel’s finishes are paler and thinner than last month; truly uninspiring.  There’s not much action this month, so maybe that’s why Abel was left with the assignment.  The Hulk gets his share of angry faces, but looks weak at other times.  He can be glad he’s not Carter, who winds up looking like Alfred E. Neuman by his final panel (p 19, pnl 2).  The Tinkerer and Goldbug turn out so much better by comparison that I’m almost willing to bet a different inker was on hand (p 22-26).  Hopefully, next time, we get an artist capable of consistently substantial finishes for Sal’s pencils.  

 The Invincible Iron Man 125
"The Monaco Prelude"
Story by Bob Layton and David Michelinie
Art by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Bob Layton

Needing his freedom to clear himself, IM refuses to be taken in; knowing the NYPD lacks his firepower, a lieutenant accedes despite Bethany’s ire, but insists that his armor be impounded, so having removed most of the circuitry, Tony delivers it to City Hall, assuring Mayor Koch he will cooperate in the investigation.  After an all-night bender, Tony checks in at S.I. to cancel his appointments, privately blaming his alter ego for his woes, then pays a visit to Avengers Mansion, where Captain America has just taken over as acting chairman and provides a crash course in self-defense.  Tony plans to infiltrate Ryker’s Island and grill Whiplash about Hammer, but when asked for intel, grateful S.I. employee/ex-con Scott Lang offers to handle it…

Covertly aided by Ant-Man (“Judith H. Crist!” exclaims Whiplash as he appears), and carrying his spare armor, Tony finds another ally when a fully healed Rhodey volunteers to fly his Learjet to—no, not Nova Scotia but Monaco, to “pull a ’Nam number.”  At his joking suggestion, Tony calls Princess Grace to get Hammer’s exact location, yet their arrival in Monaco does not go unnoticed, so when they visit J. Hammer Imports, uniformed mercenaries await.  Smashing their way out of a window with an aquarium, they bypass a police roadblock by driving their jeep right through Beldar’s Red Hots (“Une plume de ma tante, s’il vous plait”—har dee har har) and onto the beach, only to be confronted by a veritable army debarking from an apparent hovercraft. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Layton’s atmospheric cover of 007 wannabe Tony is nice (although the only justification for that Iron Man Foundation poster can be to sneak Shellhead’s image in there someplace), and I’m glad they’re keeping Scott in play, but again, Michelinie’s script qualifies my enjoyment of this run.  Tony’s self-pity and sniping with Beth remain grating, and his need to learn fighting skills at this late date seems as far-fetched as mastering them in an afternoon, even from Cap.  JRJR holds up his end, starting with the effective body language of the U.N. Plaza splash-page tableau—pistol-packin’ Beth defiant and IM overwhelmed—while Ben Sean achieves some interesting effects, draining most of the color from selected panels to render the figures solely in pale blue or white.

Chris: There aren’t many Marvel characters who could get thru an entire issue while out of uniform.  Not that I want the creative team behind Iron Man to make this a habit, but this nearly ferrous-free issue works fairly well.  It helps that “tennis”-playing desk-jockey Tony can deliver his share of the action; still, good call to give his fighting prowess additional legitimacy by devoting a page to his work on hand-to-hand combat skills with none other than Captain America – a regular Joe who knows a thing about scuffling without the benefit of super-duper powers.  The issue has a nifty mix of action, humor (as a call to Princess Grace is a useful suggestion, and a fish tank flying thru a plate-glass window provides a useful means of exit), and pathos, as we see Tony’s drinking begin to take its toll.  

The scene when Tony shows up disheveled, after a long-night’s bender (p 6) is hard to look at (lo, how the mighty have fallen … ).  But it’s the little things too – such as Tony nonchalantly tipping his flask on the flight (p 22) – that tell you this drinking thing has reached past the point of playboy-sipping-the-Napoleon-brandy-of-the-good-life, and has moved into the empty grind of feeling-bad-just-makes-me-thirstier (as evidenced on p 7, 1st pnl).
Dave & Bob create a difficult situation regarding the proper punishment for a killer Iron Man.  The police on the scene recognize the bigger picture; the experienced officer rightfully comments on how Iron Man appears upset by his role in the Carnelian ambassador’s death – beyond that, if Iron Man won’t consent to arrest, whaddaya gonna do, huh?  Nice cameo by Ed “How’m I doin?'” Koch (p 3), who accepts the impounded armor.  It’s a trademark move by Marvel to depict the real-life mayor, so we can imagine this conversation with Stark and the Carnelian delegate as if it were something that actually might transpire (in some Watcher-observed reality), instead of the approach in most other media, which tend to present a generic figure in an elected official’s seat (e.g. David Margulies’ character, a Koch-like mayor named “Lenny,” in Ghostbusters).

 John Carter, Warlord of Mars 26
"The Master Assassin of Mars,
Chapter 11: Night of the Long Knives!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Mike Vosburg and Ernie Chan
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Diana Albers
Cover by Frank Miller

Although Dejah is weakened by her ordeal, she and Kantos wipe out Surbus and his squad of killers, yet as they find the palace guard drugged, a cruiser-class flier lands in the courtyard.  Gathering as many weapons as they can, they follow a secret way to the royal apartments as Mors Kajak kills a “skulker” in his suite and, seeing the assassins debark, sends Tara to warn Tardos Mors while he goes to the nursery to defend the children; he has deduced that the guild must slay every member of his family.  Although she is not a warrior, Tara bravely fires on the assassins waiting outside the Jeddak’s door, alerting Tardos and Tharia, while the timely arrival of Dejah and Kantos prevents the threesome from being shot in the back.

Their position untenable as the main body arrives, Kantos remains as a rear guard and sends the others ahead to the nursery, where they reinforce Mors and the ferocious Sola, although there are casualties among the children and unhatched eggs.  The tide is turned when Carter arrives, but he informs them that the fleet’s commander is a guild agent who has led his ships on a wild goose chase, then leads a “mad dash across the garden” that seems suicidal until Tars Tarkas, having dropped John off, leads the members of the Thark embassy in a mounted rescue.  The guild’s power is shattered, Kantos found barely alive, and the stragglers hunted down, yet at dawn, Tal Mordin appears and empties his radium pistol into the courtyard before he escapes—killing Tara. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Again mirroring “The Air-Pirates of Mars,” we get a climactic battle in this penultimate chapter, a de facto “all-out action issue” that presumably leaves John’s mano-a-mano final confrontation with the string-puller for next month’s denouement.  The logic of introducing a non-ERB character in the form of the senior Tara is now clear, since Claremont can eliminate her with impunity, thus adroitly providing additional motivation.  Inker Chan is, of course, no stranger to this title, and when Carter finally appears, his likeness in page 22, panel 2 immediately catapults us back to Ernie’s outstanding work on the first two annuals, although Vosburg’s impressive full-pagers of the nursery battle on 19 and cavalry charge on 23 offer Chan plenty to work with...

Chris: There’s plenty of action, as Dejah & Co try to protect the royals from the assassin army.  It’s fine to involve so many of the extended family; in all honesty, though, it’s been so long since we’ve seen some of these characters, I’d forgotten how they fit together in the ruling hierarchy.  We have further refutation of Mordin’s rep, as he strikes unarmed royals from his perch high above.  If there’s any serious drawback, it’s Carter’s absence from the battle until p 21 – I’d like to think Claremont might’ve found some way to work him into the story a bit sooner – and then the lightning-fast ending, as the Carter vs Mordin clash begins and ends in a few panels.  Hopefully, Claremont’s squirreled away a few choice nuggets for the big finish, next ish.  

 Marvel Premiere 49
The Falcon in
"Sound of the Silencer"
Story by Mark Evanier
Art by Sal Buscema and Dave Simons
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

Right off the bat, we see Falcon entering what seems to be a party for the upper class. He makes a remark in his head about not being the only one wearing a black tie, and Falcon then meets the Baroness (the hostess of the party). Falcon also meets Count Barzon and Sigjid Roskoff, and Roskoff says that Captain America was a coward for not showing up at the party. Roskoff then says he has received many death threats, and suddenly, a man with a laser gun bursts into the room! This man then shoots Mr. Roskoff in the throat with his laser gun, and he finally introduces himself as the Silencer. Falcon runs after them, but he is too late and finds Roskoff's dead body and a note saying that Roskoff apologizes for statements made against the United States. There are dots under the letters "OTTFFSSEN," leaving the Falcon to figure out the puzzle at the local police precinct. Count Barzon enters the building with the Baroness, and says that the police should work to find the killer; he will put up a reward as well because people cannot count on superheroes. J. Jonah Jameson is also trying to figure out what the anagram means, and he establishes a contest for his readers so they can try and figure it out too (although he thinks maybe it stands for "Old Tony Tiger's Frosted Flakes Should Sell Every Night." Ugh).

Falcon then enjoys dinner with his girlfriend, Leila, and she gets angry with him for being too anti-social because of the case. Falcon finds Captain America and, after their discussion (during a strange athletic demonstration in a park), Cap begins to think how he had never seen Falcon that upset over a case. A little boy tells Falcon he saw the Silencer, and the colorful criminal shoots Falcon in the throat. But Falcon follows the Silencer, who throws a grenade, causing Falcon to detour and throw the grenade in the air to save the citizens. At a press conference where Count Barzon is speaking, The Silencer bursts in the room and the Count shoots him in cold blood. Eventually, the police match a name to the body, but Falcon is still bothered by the meaning of the anagram. When he is at home and Leila says the word "number," Falcon finally figures it out and suits up to meet the Count. It turns out those letters stood for the numbers going in order from 1 to 9, and the meaning of this was "Count," and in the end, justice is served when Falcon knocks the creepy Count out—for the count! --Cassie Tura

Cassie Tura: I love the front cover of this a lot because it shows Falcon flying with his bird on the streets of New York City. The people at the party look just like rich people should, with elegant suits and dresses. The Silencer (and what an ironic name that is) looks like a rip-off of Captain America, with a star on his forehead and a bird across his chest. The art of the ray from his ray gun is not up to par, but it's still way better than I could have done. My Dad says Sal is one of his favorite artists, and I guess he does a good job with Falcon. The author does a nice job of telling this intricate story, but the jumping back and forth between Falcon and J. Jonah Jameson can get confusing and  even a tad bit annoying. The Silencer punching through the door was very odd because I didn’t think he had superpowers. Overall, this comic had some very cliché moments (the whole "grenade being thrown into the air" thing was one that comes to mind), but it still brought the thrill and action of a Marvel comic with one of my favorite heroes, Falcon, being the main character. If only he had a better story to work with!

Matthew:  An obvious choice for Falc’s “own full-length adventure!” (we’ll pass as quickly as possible over Edelman’s dire back-up story in Cap #220), having drawn CA&F so well for so long, Sal is badly let down by his cohorts in this lackluster outing.  With exceptions such as page 5, panel 4, Scientologist Simons gives Falc an unattractively rubbery look in his inking debut, yet by far the biggest debit is Evanier’s script—no surprise to those who endured Howard the Duck #29.  Leila’s antics remind us that her expiration date has long passed, and the “O.T.T.F.F.S.S.E.N.” clue not only generates alleged comic relief that falls flat, but also exceeds even the “J.A.S.O.N.D.” bit from the Spidey/Nova cross-over for its jaw-dropping implausibility.

Chris: Hey cool, a comic about George Sanders’ wartime crime-adventure hero!  That should be something different – oh wait, it’s solo Sam Wilson?  Uhnnn … well, that’s okay too.  
I didn’t recognize Mark Evanier’s name, so I looked him up; seems he’s best known for four-color adaptations of Hanna-Barbera characters, and a Garfield series.  You know, the ones you’d ignore on the bottom rungs of the spinner rack (possibly shuffling thru only to see whether an unread copy of X-Men #94 might’ve been left behind Scooby-Doo #23).  
The Falcon is getting some major-league exposure right now as an Avenger, so I have to pose the far-reaching question: is this “premiere” honestly intended to gauge fan interest in a possible solo title?  Evanier turns in a decent story; he paces events well, relying on economical use of scenes to keep the action moving without making it seem rushed.  The “count” clue turns out to be a bit hokey, but it gives Sam (and us, reading at home) something to chew over, plus it allows for humor at Jonah’s expense (always welcome).  Dave Simons provides clear finishes for Sal Buscema, so the art looks fine.  
But there’s nothing really noteworthy here, not enough to drive up enthusiasm among average fans and have them clamoring for more, is there?  If Marvel really was serious about this venture, then at least they might’ve considered a multi-part story, such as the ones we’ve seen for Ant-Man, Torpedo, and 3-D Man, to allow more time to develop suspense, and interest in the Falcon himself.  Sam’s reliance on Cap for advice (a Cap cameo – a Capmeo? – no, probably not) suggests doubts among the editorial staff that the Falcon could work as a stand-alone solo-series-driving character.  

Marvel Team-Up 84
Spider-Man and Shang-Chi in
"Catch a Falling Hero"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Sal Buscema and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers
Cover by Steve Leialoha

In the Helicarrier’s control room, Boomerang, the Silver Samurai, and a hypnotized Clay Quartermain await Carter’s address as Viper recalls the aftermath of Captain America #182.  Debris from a collapsing floor shielded her from the explosion that destroyed the Serpent Squad’s burning hide-out, and after she fled via a culvert, Ishiro Tagara of the Japanese Red Army, a sometime Hydra ally, smuggled her out of the U.S.  As love grew between them, she evolved a plan, but while her field test of a hypno-beam succeeded—compelling everyone in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s former H.Q. to take a walk for an hour (in #57)—the Samurai’s theft of a figurine that concealed a Cavourite crystal failed, requiring a new energy source for Viper’s teleport unit.

Using stolen schematics, Viper and the Samurai teleported into sick bay and replaced Dr. Ames’s video-phone with one containing a hypno-beam, enabling them gradually to take over the entire crew, and they now plan to wipe out the government in a single stroke.  With hang gliders and radar jammers, Spidey and Nancy/Natasha reach the carrier’s deck, and after his reassuring hug triggers a kiss that surprises them both (what would Cissy say?), Fury’s air-car arrives.  As Viper warns the Samurai that blowing him out of the sky would give the game away, he plays the “ace in the hole” sent to him by Sir Denis Nayland-Smith (sic):  Shang Chi (sic), Master of Kung Fu, who leaps from his concealment in the back of the air-car and topples Fury’s would-be assassins.

Boomerang proves more formidable, felling Fury and then Shang with explosions after a 4-page battle; as he reports their defeat, Spidey and Natasha follow Nick’s directions through a porthole into a storeroom, only to be confronted by Clay et al.  Recognizing Viper as the tormenter whose interrogation caused her amnesia, Nancy screams and collapses, but as Boomerang brings Shang below for questioning, he suddenly reveals himself as Fury, who recovered in time to knock out and impersonate Boomerang.  As our heroes reluctantly battle the enthralled S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, Viper heads for the bridge to carry out her plan, ordering the Samurai to cover her retreat, and a glancing blow from the flat of his blade propels Spidey back through the porthole...two miles up.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I don’t know if it’s a printing error or an off day for Ben Sean, yet the splash page, at least in my copy, is colored almost entirely in a rather off-putting shade of pink; on the plus side, the credits are interpolated as the readouts on Clay’s monitor screens and, cleverly, reproduced in part in the close-up of the same setting in page 11, panel 7.  Otherwise, few complaints (setting aside that mysteriously migrating hyphen in the MOKF characters’ names) and little to add as this tetralogy reaches its climax, with Buscemaloha nicely depicting the Shang/’Rang tussle.  Claremont gets the Slow Boil Award for plot points stretched over almost 30 issues, but seriously, Chris, wasn’t Peter Parker’s love life already complex enough with Mary Jane, Betty, Cissy and the Black Cat?

“You try my patience with your continual bumbling, Boomerang.”  So why hire him, especially when the erstwhile Madame Hydra is such a badass herself?  Although that question continues to rankle, we are reminded that, in the proper hands, a lengthy flashback is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly one like this that consists largely of new material; sheds additional light on an already interesting character (Viper in love???); is part of a canvas large enough to accommodate it comfortably; appears at a juncture where it will not grind the action to halt, in this case as the object of the exercise is standing around waiting and the rest of the cast requires time elapsed to move into position; and, most important, connects long-overdue dots in a fairly coherent fashion.

Joe: This might just be the wordiest Claremont issue of his Marvel Comics tenure. Seriously, it's so packed with words - from the way-too-long Viper flashback to the captions explaining where our heroes are - that you would think Doug Moench is at the helm! The Nancy-Spidey kiss is a nice moment amidst the solid artwork, until you realize she's really the Widow, who would have no interest in our wall-crawling wonder. I'm still not sure where the heck Shang-Chi came from, or better yet how Fury managed to enlist him, but damned if he doesn't make a cool addition to the MTU roster, as well as this increasingly complicated caper. Of course, we end on a "what will happen next?!" moment for our hero that we know will be fine, but in 1979 it was more like, "holy crap, how's he getting out of this one?!" Ah, to be 12 again….

Chris: It’s rare to read a Claremont-scripted issue that feels as disjointed as this.  First off, while I always welcome an opportunity to catch up on the proceedings, Claremont typically never devotes the better part of four pages to straight-up exposition (p 1-4); ordinarily, he’d find a way to work in bits of it over time, rather than lay it down in big slabs like this (although, I will give him credit for tying-in incidents from MTU #57 and #74 into a coherent whole).  

Next, after a few pages with Spidey and Natasha/Nancy (I’m still wondering whether this woman’s spoken English is Russian-accented …), we have Nick and the beyond-left-field arrival of Shang-Chi.  Ordinarily, in Claremont’s hands, the arrival in a continuing story of a new character is an organic development; but not by any stretch, this time.  Nick’s statements about the supposed endorsement of Sir Denis make the moment seem even more false, and forced, since you and I know very well that Nick and Sir Denis have never had a conversation about anything, especially if it were to involve the reclamation of Fury’s pride-and-joy Helicarrier.  No sir – if Nick’s got to take back his Helicarrier, the call goes to Captain America, Iron Man, maybe the whole blamed Avengers, not some kung-fu kid he’s never seen before.  The scene-missing scene, as the seemingly defeated (possibly dead!) Shang-Chi and Nick Fury somehow subdue Boomerang and steal his costume doesn’t work either (p 27), as Claremont has given us nothing but our two heroes in defeat, with no reason to believe this sudden reversal could’ve happened.  It adds up to a strange, un-Claremont read.  
The art continues to be interesting, even if the look is even more Leialoha this time than the previous two issues – not a bad thing at all, but ideally, Sal’s pencils would be more in evidence than they are.  Highlights include: Viper’s navigation of the shadowy sewers (p 3); Spidey and the could-be Widow sweep into view of the Helicarrier (p 7); Shang-Chi retains his focus and smacks a swiftly-moving boomerang out of mid-air (p 21, last pnl).

Matthew:  In fairness to Claremont, and as I’d noted in my synopsis, the scene with Nick’s payphone conversation last issue did set up that “Denis” was sending him an “ace in the hole,” and that with S.H.I.E.L.D. possibly penetrated, he wasn’t sure who he could trust inside it, hence the need for an outsider like Shang.  In fact, that’s also the reason behind the involvement of Clint Eastwood’s character in my favorite film, Where Eagles Dare...


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  2. The Defenders never recovered after Gerber was gone. Ever. I have to say that I read most of the issues when they were reprinted. Back then I thought Valkyrie's costum so idiotic with its cone-brassiere. And I couldn't take Nighthawk seriously. One of Marvel's Batman clones. The team seemed so odd. I bought a few issues, but other books were more important. Still, I missed a lot as I discovered. Gerber was a lot of fun, nothing you could say about all the later writers on the book.

    So you won't have to cover Conan the Barbarian's decline into dull mediocrity? That is kind of a relief. With Thomas went the soul out of the book. Still it is kind of sad that the university isn't open long enough to cover Thomas last issue 115. Of course it is a coincidence that at last he got a decent send-off with this double-sized issue, but it was nice.

    Any plans of what will come after the University?

    1. After we wrap up 1979, many of us plan on doing some post-graduate study posts. I have one on tap about Moon Knight's final two magazine appearances from the beginning of 1980. Not that anyone is clamoring for that! But you have inspired me good sir! Conan the Barbarian 115 it is!

    2. Andy-
      Professor Flynn lies not. After the Dec 1979-2 post, we'll have a Best of the 1970s wrap-up and then, sporadically, we'll pop up with new material from the Professors. Once I have some time freed up, I'll turn my attention back to the pre-hero Atlas titles (JIM, Tales to Astonish, etc.) and the Westerns. Check back with MU every couple weeks for updates. and thanks for being a loyal reader all these years!

  3. Best Ghost Rider write-up ever! Stew!