Wednesday, December 7, 2016

July 1979 Part One: The Lady's Name is... The Black Cat!

 The Amazing Spider-Man 194
"Never Let the Black Cat Cross Your Path!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Keith Pollard and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Al Milgrom

A sultry mystery woman with silver hair, dressed in black, breaks into police HQ to grab some papers, which she tosses away after perusing them. A day later, the beautiful Black Cat interrupts strong thug Bruno while he's moving tires, and does some funky hypnosis or something to get him to work for her. Next she visits "Doctor" Boris Korpse, "master scientist and demolitions expert," during a heist for seemingly the same reason. Peter Parker visits Aunt May at the nursing home, watched by Dr. Reinhart and The Burglar, who now wants to "get ridda the Parker kid." At the Daily Bugle, a nasty Ned hassles a bored Betty, and Robbie shows JJJ the front page of the Globe—with photo credit by Peter Parker! Jameson is angry about his fired photographer, then gets a visit from none other than Spider-Man, who wants to talk, but the petulant publisher says he has a "surprise" in store for his nemesis. Our hero changes to Peter, gets accolades from Bushkin at the Globe, then spots the Black Cat swinging around, so he follows her to Emil Greco, who is selling Cat guns. Spidey intervenes, getting kicked around a little by the gorgeous gymnast as well as hitting some "bad luck" before Cat "gives up," hikes up Spidey's mask halfway and plants a memorable kiss on him! In a Greenwich Village loft, Black Cat reveals her plan to the pair of goons she's enlisted—break into prison! The next day, a puzzled Peter, worried about Aunt May, is nasty to just about everyone, including blonde beauty April Maye who works in the Globe City Room, but figures out after hearing a news report on the files Cat stole that she's after terminally ill convict Walter Hardy—and he's right on time as Cat shows up with her goons to break Hardy out of the hoosegow. Spidey is determined to stop her, but suddenly the wall explodes, knocking our hero out for the count! –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Our main character doesn't show up until page 10 of this issue, which is certainly a small detail that probably seems like a Marv accident in hindsight. But it works because we are introduced to one of the more memorable of Spidey's late 70s – 90s adversaries, The Black Cat, designed by Dave Cockrum (so sayeth the letters page), whose identity goes unrevealed in her first appearance. The fetching feline makes quite the impression, between her athletics, resilience, strange "bad luck" powers, and slinky curves. Of course, no one drew Cat as well as Todd McFarlane, but that's quite a ways off, so let's just enjoy her shady shenanigans here and wait to see what happens next time. The script is decent, except for the supporting cast stuff, riddled with annoying dialogue, and the art is passable, slightly different with Giacoia on the inks instead of Mooney. Not quite landmark status, but certainly a noteworthy issue of Amazing.

"The Spiders Web" letters page is chock-full of revelations, starting with the Joseph Kary letter that basically trashes the "second Marv Wolfman who writes NOVA and wrote MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE" and "took all the fun out of SPIDER-WOMAN." Mr. Kary surmises that the less-than-marvelous Marv is starting to creep into the pages of Spider-Man, and well, he's about half right. We also learn whether or not Marvel has "forced poor Keith Pollard into mimicking Steve Ditko's style" and it turns out "he wanted to draw it in this manner." Funny, I never really got that at all. And there's more, including an alternate cover for this issue (a bit more feral than Al Milgrom's), which was asked for by none other than Stan himself. How quick to throw the boss under the bus!

Favorite sound effect in an issue that only contains four, all having to do with Black Cat fighting Spider-Man, is the "BARRRAMMM!" as Korpse's explosives take out the wall of the prison—and our hero with it!

Matthew Bradley: Okay, I’m no DC reader, so correct me if I’m wrong, but Catwoman is a literal cat burglar who has a love-hate relationship with Batman, and the Black Cat is a literal cat burglar who has a love-hate relationship with Spider-Man.  Seriously, Marv?  Way to impress us with your breathtaking originality!  It took me more than a year of high-school friendship to fall for Mrs. Professor Matthew, so I’m also no expert on love at first sight, yet unless it’s some kind of Spider-Woman—spoiler alert!—pheromone routine, I’m also suspicious of these sparks-fly-at-a-moment’s-notice things.  Anyway, if nothing else, Frank helps Keith make it look good; oddly, the July issues contain ads featuring two future fallen idols, Pete Rose and O.J. Simpson. I do see one overtly Ditkoesque touch in this issue, namely Spidey's outflung hand in the last panel.

Chris Blake: Solid issue, as Spidey is constantly kept off-stride by the beguiling Black Cat; he’s so distracted that, on the last page, he’s ignoring his Spidey sense, even while it’s banging a gong!  The BC proves a formidable opponent, even though she doesn’t have an apparent power that would help in a fight (she seems to have a hypnotic ability, as seen on p 6 pnl 1); that it, unless she truly is capable of causing “bad luck” in others – if that’s the case, then some explanation will be required.  This power, if it proves to be so, also would be preferable to a cinematic seventh sense, or the invaluable ability to cause negative vibes in people meeting her for the first time.  

The armadillo offers a response to a fan who asks whether Keith Pollard has been required to mimic the style of Steve Ditko for his AS-M art.  I don’t see Ditko; the solid musculature for Spidey, the realistic depiction of faces, and the detailed backgrounds remind me of Romita – Romita Sr, I mean.  I’m thinking specifically of the Black Cat’s break-in on p 2, Dr Korpse’s safe-cracking (holy cow, Marv – “Dr Korpse” -?!) on p 6, and the close-up of “ex-convict Bruno Grainger” on p 7, pnl 3.  The kiss is Romita-esque too, isn’t it? (p 19).
Joseph K. of Montreal, Canada informs us he has “uncovered a conspiracy” involving the two Marv Wolfmans – one of them writes Tomb of Dracula, and the other one “writes Nova and wrote Marvel Two-in-One.”  Well good for you, Joe – you’re absolutely right; the drop-off in quality between Marv’s writing for Tomb and – well, nearly everything else he’s done at Marvel – is significant.  In fact, you even can tell when the former Marv has taken a month or two off from Tomb, and had the latter Marv fill-in.  My question is which Marv is writing AS-M; if we get another effort like this in #195, then I think it’ll be safe to assume the Marv who had retired Tomb might have slotted over to AS-M.  I’ll be watching.  

Mark Barsotti: I had no idea who the Black Cat was until I started reading comics  - old and new - again in the early aughts after a twenty-five-year-plus break, and even though I don’t want to discount Marv’s ability to muck things up, he’s due ample credit for creating a significant character here.

The banter! The sexual tension! Flat-out necking with a pouty-lipped antagonist who swears she doesn’t want to have to kill Spidey!  I’d think I woulda figured out Walter Hardy was the Cat’s pappy without a brain cramp, but suspense over the as-yet-unnamed Felicia's jailbreak motivation is hardly the attraction here.

Webs was due for a break in the female companionship department, and bonus points for anything that gets Betty Brant outta Pete’s hair sooner rather than later.

Marv does cop that "Peter snubs his college friends and a pretty girl at the new job (the unfortunately named April Maye)" stuff almost whole cloth from Ditko & Lee’s "Peter snubs his college friends and a pretty co-ed (the ultimately unfortunate Gwen Stacy)" riff from a hundred and sixty-some months ago, but the rest of this works so well that I’m willing to consider that a homage.

New boss Barney calls our hero Pete and pays top dollar. The Burglar sub-plot simmers on the back burner (still six months ‘til the big anniversary), and Doctor Korpse is such a corny name that Wolfman gets points for sheer gall.

So, class, while this one ain’t purr-fect, it’s almost as much fun as chasing a laser pointer. Wolfman, against all odds and evidence, just might make Spider-Man great again.

 The Avengers 185
"The Yesterday Quest!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, and David Michelinie
Art by John Byrne and Dan Green
Colors by Roger Slifer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by George Pérez and Terry Austin

Having defeated the menace known as the Absorbing Man, the Avengers now stand amidst the rubble of the battleground, a demolished warehouse on the New York harbor. Iron Man promises the local police that Tony Stark will pay the tab; Captain America introduces the Falcon and Ms. Marvel as new members of the team; and Clint sulks, taking his marbles and going home. Later, at the Mansion, Tony hits on Ms. Marvel; Jocasta, feeling uncomfortable (join the club!) heads off to find the Vision to compare notes on android life. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Pietro and Wanda arrive, with Mr. Maximoff, in East Transia to delve further into the mystery origin of the twins. The three settle into a comfortable inn but, that night, Wanda gets a startling visit from Modred the Mystic, who tells the Scarlet Witch if she wants to get to the bottom of her roots, she'll accompany him up Wundagore Mountain. At the top, Modred shows Wanda the ruins of what appears to be a futuristic castle and then zaps the awe-struck girl with a bolt of energy. Discovering his sister is missing, Pietro scours the city and receives a tip from a local girl; he heads up Wundagore but, nearing the top, is similarly zapped. He tumbles down the mountain and awakens some time later in the home of a bovine rescuer clad in old Bay City Rollers scarves. The creature identifies herself to Quicksilver as the "one who brought you into this world." -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: The closest title you could compare this to, in both depth of story and gorgeous art, is The Uncanny X-Men. "D'oh," I hear you say, "Professor Peter, could that be because John Byrne is involved in both books?" Could be! I was hoping, when we were teased this arc months ago, that we'd get a juicy, exciting side story explaining the "true origins" of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch and, through one chapter at least, we got it. It's confusing as all get out but, like all great comic stories, the proof in the pudding is that you want more now. All our heroes look great and Wanda looks scrumptious. What is that dilapidated structure hidden deep in Wundagore? What's Modred got to do with this whole affair? Why is Hawkeye such an annoying little prat? Does Wanda always sleep nude? These questions, and more, to be answered (hopefully) in the next couple issues.

Matthew: In a multiple-writers pattern that persists through the end of the year (and blog), Michelinie scripts Gruenwald and Grant’s plot, which doesn’t necessarily make it three times as good, the excellent Byrne/Green artwork notwithstanding.  I’m always annoyed by those “we’ll bill you for the damages” scenes—sure, Stark can afford it, but should super-heroes have to undergo a credit check before saving the world?—and although I hate to see Hawkeye go, the uncharacteristically morose marksman’s exit rang false after all the times he’s quit to try to strut his solo stuff.  I thought the Tony/Ms. Marvel/Jocasta/Vision “small talk” sequence was, at best, forced, even if Vizh’s preoccupation helps explain his rudeness, while Modred never bodes well.

Joe: Another solid, if not above average, issue switches gears to the traveling Maximoff twins. But there's lots to like in both story and art. Last panel of page 3, the look on Jarvis' face is pure English glee as he marvels at Beast's triple date plans. Who knew ol' Jarv was secretly one of those '60s porn-lovin' British politicians! Good thing we get this light moment, too, right after the bitter (despite his protestations) and gloomy Hawkeye storms off in civvies. Geez, Clint, missing Two-Gun much? Green's inks give us Byrne-lite, with the art a bit softer at times than we're used to from the cartooning Canuck. But still filled with nice moments like the Jarvis scene, or the perspectives on page 7's Vision-Jocasta tête-à-tête, the arrival of the mysterious Modred on page 15, the expressions on Quicksilver's face in every panel, his Road Runner-esque fall on page 27, the final shocking panel (except for the soup—ewwwww), and let's not forget the Pete Rose Batting Practice ad! (I was more of a Mr. Quarterback kid…that never worked completely right either.)

Chris: This issue retains the high enjoyment-quotient I recall from numerous past readings.  It’s a strength of this title that it’s possible to build a three-issue arc around a co-star who hasn’t been a full-time member for several years; of course, I’m sure the ranks of the team proper will be drawn-in fairly soon, but for now, the Avengers editorial cadre trusts it won’t alienate fans by turning the focus to Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.  
For years, I’ve wrongfully attributed this story to Dave Michelinie; I wonder how Gruenwald & Grant got together to develop this idea (especially since, if Gruenwald would co-write with anyone, typically it would be Ralph Macchio).  Michelinie contributes well as scripter, both in Clint’s petulant self-sendoff (p 3), and the Vision’s denial of his concern for Wanda (p 7); Dave also reminds us of Jocasta’s neglected presence in the Mansion.  Michelinie’s depiction of the Vision’s contradiction – dismissing himself as inherently incapable of worry, yet clearly evidencing this feeling – reminds us why this character has, for so many years (in the right writerly hands, that is), always been so wonderfully intriguing.  
Byrne sets the rainy, gloomy East Transian mood well (p 10, 1st pnl).  Modred’s entrance is quite impressive (p 15, last pnl).  And, does Wanda sleep in the, um, altogether (a terribly suggestive consideration for 12 yr-old me)?  As much as I like Pietro’s rapid-fire recon of the town (p 23, 1st pnl), my favorite moment is his lightning-fast rush up the side of the mountain (p 26-27), as the four panels along the bottom of p 26 add to the impression of him covering vast distances in a few seconds.  I’ve always wondered about that pink plastic-looking thing at the top of p 27 – did it suddenly pop into place to impede Pietro’s progress?  It doesn’t seem likely for him not to notice it right there in his path (after the collision, Byrne offers us Pietro’s version of a Failure to Jump Springfield Gorge).  The effect of Pietro’s swim back to consciousness (p 27 last pnl, p 30 1st pnl) also is well-realized.  
Green offers above-adequate finishes; they surpass his par, as he ably contributes to the atmosphere, which means the inks still are a few rungs below the sort of complete mood + details finishing we’ve already seen for Byrne by Dan Adkins, and the work we’ll see later (post-MU, that is) when Byrne is paired with Josef Rubinstein on Captain America (#247-255, for those of you scoring at home).   If there was a moment for Green to bring his “B” game, this is the time.  

 Captain America 235
"To Stalk the Killer Skies!"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Sal Buscema and Jack Abel
Colors by Roger Slifer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Joe Rubinstein

Captain America has broken the mind control of Dr. Faustus but now faces total annihilation at the hands of the National Force. Luckily, he's got a Daredevil in his corner and the duo are able to escape a burning building without too much damage. Outside the crumbling warehouse, DD and Cap meet up with the police commissioner and Cap shows the old man a piece of smoldering packing crate that's (for some reason) caught his eye amidst the tons of detritus. Though the plank is badly burned, DD is able to "read" it with his superhuman Braille abilities and the address leads them to... "a small private airfield outside New Jersey" where Doc Faustus and the Grand Director (disguised as Captain America) hijack a dirigible in order to distribute Faustus' mind-control gas over New York. The real Cap, with DD still in tow, arrives to pee in Faustus' cornflakes but the rotund villain holds a major ace up his sleeve: Peggy Carter! Using Peg as a human shield, Faustus and the Director load the gas onto the zeppelin and hit the sky. Cap and DD commandeer a nearby Sopwith and follow the leader. The Sentinel of Liberty decides the only way to save Peggy and decommission the big bad balloon and its contents is to jump from the old rickety plane. Unfortunately, his jump isn't well-timed.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter: This here gawdawful arc just seems to meander on through the ages without actually getting anywhere, doesn't it? The action is limp (the blazing building scene lasts nearly half the book's length) and the art uninspiring. And what's with Cap continually calling Daredevil "son"? DD finally asks the old-timer to "please... don't call me son." Let's thin out the supporting characters; Peggy's been threatened or nearly killed a few too many times for my tastes. Time to let the old bird go.

Chris: Roger & Sal roll out an agreeably action-packed story.  Roger once again puts Daredevil’s unique skills to best use, as he detects a section of sagging ceiling a moment before it can fall on Cap, then locates a water pipe for Cap to chop open with the edge of his shield.  DD also uses his super-sensitive fingertips to “read” the faded text on the packing crate.  It’s a somewhat amusing twist at the end, as Cap places DD in the pilot’s seat; I bet DD never thought he’d fly a plane.  I imagine Roger is drawing a contrast between DD’s unusual powers and Cap’s straightforward determination, as DD takes note of Cap as he continues to move forward in the smoke-filled warehouse, and later marvels at his fearlessness when Cap climbs out onto the biplane wing, and prepares to leap to the dirigible below.  

So, the story is pretty good, but the art really is not.  I’m not the biggest fan of Don Perlin, but most of the time , his inks have suited Sal’s pencils for this title; by comparison, Abel’s inks are pale and thin.  It’s as if he’s done little more than gloss over the existing layouts, without adding much shading or definition.  The lack is especially noticeable over the last 5-6 pages, as many of the faces look plain wrong; especially Cap himself, as he’s often little more than an “A”-mask with a chin and teeth. 

Matthew: I used to love multi-part stories, yet here’s another recent one that has dragged on for way too long.  And yes, I can see that there is a watertower involved here, but am waiting for somebody to explain why, unless consummate jack of all trades Sal Buscema was mysteriously unable to draw one, they required Frank Miller’s services as a “special watertower consultant.”  However, even those concerns pale beside the “blind guy flies a plane—again” bit.  When Stan pulled that back in Daredevil #24 (January 1967), I wrote, “bullshit explanation aside, even a sighted person with no training wouldn’t be able to handle that on a moment’s notice, and it’s difficult to imagine Matt Murdock having signed up for flying lessons”; still true.

Conan the Barbarian 100 
“Death on the Black Coast”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Ernie Chan

Against the urgings of Conan and the rest of the crew, Bêlit guides the Tigress down the poisonous River Zarkheba: she has heard that it leads to an ancient and crumbling city that contains a fabulous treasure. That night, with Laboto at lookout, the She-Devil vows that she will come back from the grave itself to protect her beloved Cimmerian. Suddenly a cry rings out: Laboto is in the grip of a tremendous anaconda. The barbarian leaps forward and buries his sword into the snake’s scaly skin — it slithers overboard, dragging the Black Corsair under the foul water as well.

The next day, the ship sails to the long-abandoned city: the shaman N’Yaga spies a winged, ape-like shape flying above. After rowing ashore, the pirates discover a stone altar in front of a jagged tower, strangely shaped handholds on its slab-like top. Making sure that Conan does not join in on the effort, Bêlit orders four of her Corsairs to open the structure. When they do, the tower collapses, killing the men — the She-Devil suspected a trap and did not want her lover crushed as well. After removing the rubble, all are stunned to see the altar filled to the brim with diamonds, emeralds and sapphires: Bêlit gleefully proclaims that a long string of crimson stones is the ultimate prize. When one of the Corsairs spots the winged-ape rising from the deck of the Tigress, Conan rushes back to discover that the brazen beast has staved in their water barrels.

As most of the Corsairs gather up the treasure, the Cimmerian takes M’Gora and a few others into the jungle to search for more water. When he hears a strange noise, the barbarian tells the pirates to move ahead: he will stay behind to find what is following them. But Conan is soon overcome by a patch of noxious Black Lotus flowers and falls unconscious. He dreams of the strange race that used to inhabit the city, winged humanoids who built a colossal empire. After a natural disaster, they were driven mad by drinking the poisoned waters that resulted. Generation by generation, they resorted to cannibalism and devolved into savage, flying apes. When only one remained, the survivor feasted on any human who entered its land, somehow transforming their corpses into an army of giant hyenas.

Forcing himself awake, Conan stumbles after the Corsairs. He comes across M’Gora, his loyal ally, now slavering like a hungry animal: the Cimmerian is forced to run him through. The barbarian finds the rest of his men broken among the rocks of a deep pit. Racing back to the Tigress, Conan is shocked to see Bêlit swaying dead from the yardarm, hung by the long, crimson necklace she had so admired. Gathering all the arrows he can find, the grieving Cimmerian prepares for the attack he knows is coming. As darkness falls, the huge hyenas pour out of the jungle: the fiercely determined barbarian manages to kill all of the carnivorous creatures with a steady stream of arrows and ultimately, his deadly sword and savage strength. As the hyenas return to the forms of the humans they once were, the last of the brutish devil-apes sweeps down on the exhausted warrior. Suddenly, a tall column gives way behind Conan: he is pinned under the fallen stones, sword out of reach, as the horrifying monstrosity approaches for an easy kill. But Bêlit, temporarily returning from the dead to fulfill her promise, appears and thrusts her blade into its hairy stomach. The barbarian uses the reprieve to force himself free — he charges forward, disemboweling the winged ape with a mighty slash of his blade.

Heartbroken, Conan loads the Tigress with the priceless haul of gems, rests the body of his beloved Bêlit on her final treasure, and lights the ship afire. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: After 43 issues, Roy Thomas finally wraps up his adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s tremendous short story, “Queen of the Black Coast.” While issue #58 was the one that actually used that title, Roy started laying the groundwork with Conan the Barbarian #57 (January 1976). So obviously, The Rascally One sailed off Howard’s course in a tremendous way, teaming Bêlit and Conan on many other, mostly new, adventures.  Combined, those two issues only told about 20% of Howard’s original, so Roy certainly needed this double-sized centennial to wrap things up. I’m thrilled to say that he is remarkably faithful — which actually made me proud to summarize one of Robert E.’s finest achievements. Hope I gave it some justice because it is terrific, one of the greatest Conan the Barbarian comics of all time. 

Now in the annals of shocking Marvel deaths, Gwen Stacy’s will most likely remain the most legendary. But Bêlit’s is much more horrifying, as she hangs like rotting meat from the post of her own ship — and by the very object she prized only hours before. Here, Roy Thomas gives the She-Devil more of the bloodthirsty nature from Howard’s story, as she sacrifices her men to protect Conan. She couldn’t have told everyone that the altar was booby-trapped? Perhaps in Conan the Barbarian but not in “Queen of the Black Coast.” Not only did John Milius and Oliver Stone include the crucifixion from Howard’s “A Witch Shall Be Born” in their script for the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian, they worked in the “resurrection” of Bêlit as well. And rarely have we seen Conan resigning himself to his fate as in Big John and Ernie’s small and single panel on the top left of page 30 as he awaits the final attack of the hyenas and the devil-ape: it’s a stunner. But you know what? By Crom, the barbarian basically grunts “screw this” and, as usual, goes balls to the wall. And Roy is smart to use plenty of Howard’s poetic prose in his captions.

Another tragic moment is Conan’s killing of M’Gora. Both Howard and this series never shied away from featuring characters of color, and Bêlit’s second-in-command is probably my favorite. In fact, this entire comic is drenched in dread and death, a remarkable achievement considering the state of most other Marvel publications of the time. Many have lamented over the state of anniversary issues during the late ’70s. Happy to say that Conan the Barbarian #100 not only lives up to the hype, it exceeds it. Magnifico.

Chris: I’d like to say this issue left me speechless; but, I’d be overstating myself.  I will say I’m thoroughly impressed with Roy, John B, and Ernie’s handling of this turning point in Conan’s life, and it’s taken me some time to figure how to respond properly to their efforts.  

Fans of REH have written in from time to time to observe Bêlit’s presence is only one chapter of Conan’s life, so the understanding all along has been that Bêlit eventually would die; the question has been how, and when.  Roy sticks close to the source material, as many of the circumstances here (as Prof Tom undoubtedly has told you already) are chronicled in “Queen of the Black Coast.”  Roy’s contribution has been to make Bêlit more of a complete character, in his presentation of dozens of adventures featuring the daughter of Atrahasis.  Through these stories, we’ve learned of Bêlit’s determination and fortitude, as she and Conan and the Corsairs have confronted arcane powers and overwhelming odds; they’ve faced certain death numerous times, yet always made it thru (admittedly, with more than a few Corsair casualties along the way).  So, knowing what Roy has told us about this character, the prospect that anything might gain the advantage over Bêlit, and kill her, is as surprising to Conan as it is to us reading at home (even though we knew it had to happen, someday).  
In addition, over time we’ve seen the bond develop between Cimmerian sword-bearer and Shemite she-devil , so we recognize the severity of Bêlit’s death to Conan.  Conan’s loss must be even more painful as he realizes that, had he not been in a drugged sleep in the jungle, he might’ve been present to fight – and die – at Bêlit’s side.  Bêlit’s seeming return at a critical moment (as she had promised she would, if Conan’s life depended on it – and boy, does it ever) seems to provide this opportunity to fight together, one last time.  In some way, it also seems to indicate that Bêlit – or, her spirit – absolves Conan for not being with her as she faced the abyss; her love for him, and dedication to him, is all.
Too bad the Buscema/Chan/Roussos art is so terrible – no brilliant, I meant insanely brilliant.  Roussos sets the tone from the earliest pages, as the River Zarkheba appears a murky brown, while the surrounding vegetation is an off-putting pale-grey, mossy green, and dark purple.  He uses darker tones to a different effect on p 6, to add quiet to a shared moment – and an honest promise – between the two lovers.  The bat-ape thing has a threatening air from its first sighting, seen from a distance by the crew, Roussos again complementing the moment with early-dawn shades (p 9).  The vision sequence has its share of horrific visuals, as the land of winged men is reclaimed by reptiles, and the ape-like bat creatures (p 17-19).  Conan’s discovery of the dead crewmen (p 25, last pnl; from the POV, if you will, of a dead Corsair, among the pile of dead) solidifies his fear that things have gone Terribly Wrong.  Interesting choice by Buscema to clad Conan in his helmet and mail shirt, as if to indicate he’s about to leave this life, and return to places where those two items had been more familiar to him (p 27).  Savage action as Conan slays every last attacking hyena (p 32).  

Mark: Checking in with our favorite Cimmerian for his centennial, we find the title still in good hands, both the long-running creative team of Roy Thomas and John Buscema, and the fierce but feminine charms of Belit, pirate queen of the Black Coast, who’s been appearing in the title for years.

One criticism first: both the cover blurb, “Death on the Black Coast!,” and the cover art of Conan holding the apparently lifeless pirate queen in his arms telegraphs the doomed ending of their romance.

Still, in S&S (as well as, of course, in comics in general) death need not be permanent. As if we need a reminder of that, Belit - or her departed spirit again made flesh - returns a mere ten pages after Conan discovers her body dangling from the yardarm to offer timely, sharp-sworded assistance  in his battle against the demon ape-bat, last member of “...the oldest race in the world,” now - not so sadly - extinct.

Also returning, in the one modest nod toward the title’s birth - is Conan’s original double-horned helmet, although it’s lost after a few pages, perhaps forever. Because Conan isn’t a superhero, we’re spared all the tropes that generally plague such anniversaries, notably a  dream/drug-induced sequence where the title character faces off against his rogues’ gallery of repeat-appearance bad guys - one of the unexpected advantages of most of Conan’s antagonists being put to the sword.

I’ll close, class, by pointing out something that struck me after returning to a title I largely abandoned after Barry Smith left the title with issue #24, a not-so-original observation about any long-running genre fiction. All the creative virtues that made Conan a hit - the mix of swashbuckling swordplay and supernatural menace, exotic locales and his unquenchable spirit - are still vibrant and intact. Conversely, save for the long running relationship with Belit, this story could have appeared in issue 40, 75, or - I’m guessing - 135, with nary a whit of difference.

As a semi-popular singing group who also had a taste for fantasy once wrote, the song remains the same. As long as it rocks - and thanks to Roy and John it still does - there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

 Daredevil 159
"Marked for Murder!"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

 Eric Slaughter sits with his crew of hit-men in a smoky screening room, and observes film of Daredevil in battle with Bullseye (events from DD #146).  A man is here to offer Slaughter two hundred grand as an advance, with another three hundred if he can produce Daredevil’s corpse, “or conclusive proof of his death.”  Slaughter accepts the terms, and observes “You must hate this Daredevil very much.”  Outside the Storefront legal clinic, Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson return from court.  On the sidewalk, Matt picks up whispers, “They’re here,” and “Let’s get this over with!”  They’re jumped by a couple of thugs, who have a message for Matt to forward to Daredevil: “Mr Slaughter would like to see him,” tonight at midnight on Pier 42; if DD doesn’t show, the thugs will be back for Matt and Foggy.  At midnight, DD approaches the pier carefully; he pauses to smell cordite and gunpowder, and listen as firearms are loaded and safeties snicked off, as a dozen armed men ask themselves “Where is he -?”  DD swings behind the boat, dives into the river, then fires his billyclub onto the deck; slashing with and tossing the club, driving punches and kicks, DD scatters the crew.  DD is slowed only momentarily by one man, Leech, who grabs DD by the face and drags him over the railing; Leech catches bullets in his back as his overzealous associates try to hit DD as they fall to the water.  

Back on deck, DD repeats one question: “Who set me up?”  DD leaps toward one man, Turk, who fires his .45 in the same instant DD’s right fist connects with his jaw; the bullet passes DD’s head, but the pain to his super-sensitive hearing is almost unbearable.   He walks slowly back to the dock, and tries to regain control of his radar sense, as sharp ringing continues to sting his ears.  There is one man left to face.  As the man draws and prepares to fire, DD has to make his best guess where the gun might be, where the bullet will be coming from; still his billyclub swing is on-target, the bullet deflected.   DD resumes his demand: “Who set me up?”  Before the last man can express his thought, a life preserver connects with the back of his neck and kills him.  DD detects a small boat in the river, moving away, while its pilot seems to be pointing something towards him – a movie camera?   Back at his HQ, and now in costume, Bullseye reflects on the usefulness of the film to study DD’s moves and fighting skills.  He then offers this promise: first, he’ll subdue the Black Widow (“your woman,” as Bullseye calls her), “then I’ll break you!” -Chris Blake
Chris: Despite his unique abilities, and despite his fifteen-year publication history, Daredevil was far from the path to comic stardom.  In the Bronze Age, Steve Gerber had tried some inventive storylines, but Marv Wolfman followed by reducing DD to Spidey-lite, his character cluttered by self-doubts and empty banter.  In fairness, Wolfman made a notable contribution to this title in the creation of Bullseye; Jim Shooter, in his first solo turn as writer, hustled budding star Bullseye right back onstage after an absence of only 3 ½ issues.  Shooter turned the emphasis back to DD’s signature skill set, but didn’t stay long enough to establish a new focus for the title.  Enter Roger McKenzie, who did a capable job (not to mention a solid favor) as he wrapped up both the Killgrave and Death-Stalker storylines.  And now, teamed with Frank Miller, he adopts a darker, pulpier tone, as the crime-settings turn grittier, and Daredevil becomes more mysterious, and dangerous, bordering at times on merciless.  In the process, Daredevil finally will have the opportunity to assume center stage.  
The extended sequence on the docks works on so many levels.  Miller introduces the setting as we see DD perched high above, using his billyclub to hook onto a pipe above his head; the image’s angle emphasizes the great distance he is above the ground, which surely gives him an advantage over the waiting gunmen (p 11, 1st pnl).  The pause before he strikes, as he uses his senses to size up his opponents, increases the suspense (p 14).  Miller has an unmatched understanding of the billyclub’s potential as a weapon; notice how DD reaches back for it as it caroms toward him, then swings the club forward into the face of an attacker (p 16, pnl 2, 3).  By the end of the fight, DD literally has the crew jumping at shadows, as DD and the billyclub seem to come after them from every direction (p 22).  I could go on and on; there are art highlights on nearly every page.  Points also to Glynis Wein for her subdued tones as DD and Leech sink into the murky, cold water (p 17).  

Matthew:  In retrospect, and even with McKenzie still writing it, this feels a lot like the revered Miller/Janson run that lies ahead, right from their strikingly conceived and colored cover to the maybe-debut of perennial whipping boy Turk Barrett.  Apparently, the fact that one of the Thunderbolts in #69 was named Turk has caused that issue to be considered his retroactive first appearance, which I guess is sort of like the possible proto-Misty Knight in Marvel Team-Up #1, but for all intents and purposes, this is it.  Certainly the focus on Bullseye (who now succeeds the late Death-Stalker as Hornhead’s most persistent foe), the film noir moodiness of the narration on pages 11-14, and the at times almost minimalist artwork are all portents of things yet to come.

Mark: Starting with the double splash on pgs. 2-3, Frank Miller's art takes a quantum leap over his debut. There's a lot to love here, from a dark alley panel focused on tumble-down trash cans, to DD swinging past a water tower, darkly silhouetted in front of a full moon; thugs tumbling like ten pins before Matt's fists of fury; DD diving into the sea from a dilapidated pier. And even more than the art itself (ably abetted by Klaus Janson's moody inks) Miller's flair for dramatic, inventive composition is on display throughout. Hindsight's always easy, class, but I think it's fair to say that with DD #159, a star was born.

It's quite the bonus that Roger McKenzie's script keeps up with the graphics. We're introed to the, ah, unorthodox Judge Coffin, with his extra-legal thirst for punishment. Lines like, " the relentless slap of black, briny water against rough-hewn wooding pilings as a lonely figure paces slowly back and forth along pier 42" get the noir juices flowing, as does the Black Widow front page appearance on the Daily Bugle (musta been a slow news day) as Bullseye plots revenge.

Even the "Marvel Bonus Page" about "Daredevil's Billy Club" manages seamlessly to fuse a beloved feature of the early Silver Age with Miller's embryonic urban grit.

Props all around.   

 The Defenders 73
"Of Wizards, Shadows, and Kings"
Story by Ed Hannigan
Art by Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza and Clem Robins
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Don Perlin

The Defenders arrive at the fortress of Xhoohx, hoping to enlist the magician's aid in reconnecting the fragmented Arisen Tyrk. Outside the compound, the team is attacked by giant multi-eyed humanoids sent by "The Unnameable" to stop the heroes in their tracks. Hope dims until the Hulk puts all his fury behind his roundhouses and eliminates the peril. The Defenders enter Xhoohx's castle and approach the magician with their story. Xhoohx agrees to help and quickly reassembles all the Lunatiks into one very angry, very powerful Arisen Tyrk, who engages the team in some major fisticuffs. Strange conjures up the Rings of Ragadorr and Val gives the villain a push through the threshold, thus ending yet another impending apocalypse. Back at the Riding Academy, Nighthawk receives a call from his lawyers, summoning him to Manhattan; the gals put some Procol Harum on the phonograph; and Strange heads out, explaining that "the battle is just beginning." At that moment, across town, at Empire State University, Dollar Bill and Ledge are rifling Professor Turk's wardrobe when through the front door busts Foolkiller. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: I was so tempted to put The Defenders in the Also This Month column and see if anyone noticed. Sure would have saved me a lot of trouble. Abandon hope, all ye who expect me to explain just what the hell's going on here as methinks the real Lunatiks are the creative force behind this mind-numbing expanse of fecal farm acreage. It's like trying to translate the lyrics to one of those fifteen-minute Yessongs (Sparkling trees of silver foam cast shadows soft in winter's home...); you know you probably shouldn't attempt it but, doggone it, there's gotta be some reason and rhyme, right? Not necessarily; not when you're dealing with Ed Hannigan. You'd think editor Al Milgrom might have stepped in at some point and asked the question every reader would ask: "why, in the world, do you have a character who speaks in jumbled sentences?" It's annoying as all hell and serves no purpose, but at least we can point to yet another source George Lucas stole from. Did I fall asleep and miss The Unnameable's appearance? After hearing throughout this arc how important a cat he is, he's a no-show. My only smile came in the splash when Ed obviously pays homage to Tony Curtis' infamous "Yonda is da castle of my fadda..." line. Arroo!

Matthew: As I think I said when Kraft finally had the decency to skulk off, having dragged the book down to his level, I’d be more relieved over the end of the first—gag—Tunnelworld arc if I didn’t know now that things would be as bad or worse long past our purview, and I refer not solely to those issues cursed with, as it were, tunnel vision.  The lettercol, for example, promises a resolution of the threads left dangling by the cancellation of Omega the Unknown (strike one), written by Steven Grant (strike two), while the last panel reveals that Hannigan, wasting no time, will lead the dance on Gerber’s metaphoric grave (strike three) with the Foolkiller.  Note that on page 2, Kyle and Doc are clearly carrying Clea, adding to my perplexity re: her flying in DS #35.

Chris: Okay, so the Lunatiks are gone, Arisen Tyrk is safely contained, and the menace of the Unnamed is still a long ways off, due in part to Doc’s discreet use of his powers while in Tunnelworld.  So Ed, that means we’re all thru with Tunnelworld, and we won’t have to go back, right Ed?  I said, we don’t have to go back, right Ed -?!  Well, as we all know by now, Ed Hannigan will ignore my well-intended suggestion, but if it’s any consolation, MU will wrap up without having to cover the second chapter of the ill-advised “Tunnelworld II: the Tedium” storyline, so it won’t hurt too much.  In the meantime, Defenders will feature the “breathlessly” awaited conclusion of Omega; so, what’s the connection -?  And who exactly has been clamoring for this story – we want to know, so we can, um, “have a word” with them.  And better yet – before Omega, we have the Foolkiller -?!  Aw, jeez … .

The Trimpe/Esposito art continues to work well.  Points for: the atmospheric effect of the gathering storm (p 3, 1st pnl); the approach of the rapidly-shambling multi-eye creatures (p 3, last three pnls – even though I’m sure their appearance gave some of the faculty a Helleyes flashback); the impressive palace of Xhoohx (p 14 – Aroo, aroo indeed!); Xhoohx himself, and the peculiar sight of him seated, as he comfortably rests his three legs, gestures with his three arms, and looks around with the eyes of all three faces (p 15).

 Fantastic Four 208
"The Power of the Sphinx!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema, Al Milgrom, Frank Giacoia, and Frank Springer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum, Keith Pollard, and Joe Sinnott

Back to our regular feature after last month's Torch-Spidey team-up, we return to the Fab Three's stolen Skrull spaceship being blasted apart by Nova, who then sees the survivors floating in Sue's force field and flies to the rescue. Back aboard Nova's "mile-long starship" (it sure doesn't look it), Ben tussles with the Sphinx, who made so little impression on me that only the blurb referencing FF Annual #12 reminded me that, not only had the Fabs tangled with him before, but we even had a class about it!

The pointy-head pest gets majorly up-powered here. Sensing the "Living Computers of Xandar," Sphinx transports away. When Reed stretches after the dematerializing form, he feels the first effects of the Skrulls' aging ray (from #206), scheduled to kill him, Sue, and Ben, in three days

Back on earth, Johnny returns to the Bax and finally decides to join his pards on Xandar. After a brief, happy reunion, we cut to the Prime Thoran, last seen floating amid the Living Computer's brains. PT now emerges from his transformation and promptly flies away, presumably, into battle against the invading Skrulls.

The now-full-strength FF, plus Nova and the Generic Corp, storm the Living 'Puter before Sphinx can suck up all the knowledge (funny how Prime Thoran somehow missed Pointy Head on his way out), but they're too late. Sphinx now stands a hundred feet tall and has, Reed laments, "...learned the secret of the Universe itself" (is it 42?)!

Our heroes valiantly attack, but the overgrown Egyptian  swats them away as mere annoyances. Then, announcing, "For five thousand years, the planet earth was my prison," he heads for home " a destroyer!"

Their only hope, Reed decides, is somehow to whistle up Galactus! -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Credit Where It's Due Dept.: Marv Wolfman somewhat rights the ship here, class, at least to the degree possible after absenting the Torch from the team with the Security University nonsense (in conjunction with the Torchless-TV version of the FF) for the last two and a half issues. Johnny's back in the fold and, even though the world-threatening menace has morphed less than seamlessly from the Skrulls to the jumped-up Sphinx, Marv at least achieves minimal coherence by tale's end as both the Fabs and Sphinx head back to earth for the big showdown.

What's remains a confusing cluster muck is Wolfman's woe-begotten attempt to promote the dying Nova by shoehorning Richard Rider et al into an FF already leaking oil from Johnny's Dictated-From-Above absence and the ham-fisted handling of same (The Monocle? The bumbling Big Brother higher ed offerings of Security University, or was it a College, Marv?).

Maybe Nova & the boys coulda been great, even good, had Wolfman actually penned a coherent crossover, instead of having them simply show up, back in #206, along with other anonymous members of the Nova Corp, seen but never referred to in the on-going battle for Xandar (which was then all about the Skrulls, conspicuously absent this month). Marv must've assumed FF readers were already reading Nova and would thus be up to speed on everything, a wrong-headed assumption that had him explaining so little that when we last saw Nova etc. in #206, unsuspecting readers had no reason not to think Sphinx was one of the good guys!

He's still a crappy character, but I guess you gotta pay attention when someone shoots up to a hundred feet and is suddenly imbued with god-like powers. At least for the last few pages here, we knew who the assembled Good Guys were trying to fight and why. Small victory that, but better than none. 

The same can't be said for Sal Buscema's obviously-rushed work here. The various inkers manage to slick things up at times, notably on a splash page of Sphinx, but the awfulness of Sal's Reed and Ben - Sal always struggled with the Thing - can't be saved, although Sue and Johnny fair much better.

Marv's still got Ben spouting nonsense like, "Brush my shoes and nail in taps!" - what does that even mean?" - but at least Johnny's back from Stupid College, and the Big G's on deck. As an ally. Great idea, but is it beyond Marv's capacity to muck up? 

Who says Wolfie can't gin up some suspense? 

Matthew: Fresh from his triumph on last month’s Avengers #184, Bullpen favorite “Debonair D.” Hands returns to ink Sal’s pencils with his unmistakable style in this…uh, what?  Okay, never mind.  Anyway, the group-grope approach is much better suited to an issue clotted with so many characters:  what did Marv really think the effing Crimebuster, with nary a super-power to his name, was gonna do against an army of Skrulls, other than—you guessed it—get zapped?  And are we honestly expected to believe that the ever-brash Ben Grimm would actually cower and say to the Sphinx, “Yer like a hunnert Hulks—only worse!”  I think not, my friends; probably something more like, “Aah, I’ve had worse from the Yancy Street Gang’s joy-buzzer!”

Chris: Shouldn’t Xandar be completely destroyed by now?  The Skrulls have been hammering it, pretty much nonstop, for over a week, with faltering opposition.  Our heroes are all set to contribute to the defense when they’re delayed by the mega-wattage Sphinx; the battle that follows is disjointed, as most of the heroes stand aside and politely allow one another to attempt solo attacks on the Sphinx.  Ordinarily, Reed would need about 4.2 seconds to devise a coherent plan of attack, but instead, he’s working on the solo-salvo approach himself; as he asks Sue to surround him with a force field until he can reach the Sphinx, I’m wondering, “Reed, what do you expect to do once you get there -?“  The sequence also is packed with empty bravado, as Johnny declares, “The Fantastic Four will cut you down to size,” and Nova asserts, “This time you’re taking on a pro!," both with completely empty results; well, chalk it up to youthful enthusiasm.  Again, you’d expect a plan from Dr Richards.  

The Prime Thoran might’ve figured into this Sphinx-tackling strategy, but after he emerges from the Living Computer, he signals a few Xandoran defenders to follow him, and is seen no more (p 15, pnl 2).  You planning to let us know what he’s up to, Marv -?  Well, maybe next time.  No rush.  
Final thoughts on this one, though: all it takes is a one-issue absence to remind us (yet again) how crucial Joe Sinnott is to maintaining the look and feel of this mag.  In the place of one of Marvel’s finest finishers, we have two of the least, in Milgom and Springer, and an average inker in Giacoia who demonstrated in a few issues of Nova a while back how he’s not the best choice for Buscema.  Despite the uniformly crummy finishes, it’s a testament to the skill of Sal Buscema that we still can see some very solid action taking place in the layouts.  
In fairness, I will say the few pages that bear Giacoia’s influence are among the better-looking ones; p 19, 22 are the only pages I can say for sure are his.  The others – not so much.  I realize I rarely have anything positive to say about either of these inkers, so this time I will offer the following: no one can provide a better depiction of a penciled character as a cardboard cutout than Al Milgrom (p 11, 30); and, if you want a space-based story to look like it’s taking place in an abandoned subway tunnel, then Frank Springer’s your man (p 14).  None of the three do well by the Thing, who looks purely ridiculous most of the time (examples too numerous to count).  

 Godzilla, King of the Monsters 24
"And Lo, a Child Shall Lead Them"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Dan Green
Colors Uncredited
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Herb Trimpe

With Godzilla raising havoc near the East River, the Avengers surmise he's headed for the Empire State Building, as do SHIELD and the Fantastic Four. The heroes are able to slow the Big G down a little, but before the Heli-Carrier can blast him, Young Rob smashes the controls in a whiney fit of anger. Thor and Iron Man save some citizens from falling rubble and a burning building, while a poorly drawn J. Jonah Jameson and Joe Robertson wonder where Peter Parker is, bemoaning a lack of pics. Godzilla reaches the Empire State Building in hopes of causing the "greatest destruction" he can, but Thor slows the damage by pushing against the creature from the other side! Then, in a fantastic  two-page spread (16-17), all the heroes and SHIELD try an "all-out blitz" to slow Godzilla down. Suddenly, Young Rob gets away from Gabe Jones, runs out to the rooftop, and pleads with Godzilla through his tears, blaming himself for everything bad that's happened. The heroes halt, and Godzilla amazingly picks up Young Crazy Rob tenderly—and he talks Godzilla into leaving the city peacefully! Seriously, he talks Godzilla into leaving the city peacefully! I mean, what the heck? It's straight out of freakin' Godzilla's Revenge! But, anyway, Spidey arrives "a little too late to crash this party" but manages a quick photo for the Bugle, as Godzilla walks into the river, disappearing with a final roar. --Joe Tura

Joe: Young Rob, that often-annoying brat, saves the day? Well, I guess that sorta makes sense, and certainly fits in with Toho's mid-to-late '70s crappy scripts. It was actually pretty cool to see the Marvel heroes battle Godzilla this time around, with that excellent two-page spread leading the way (maybe the best art in the entire series if you ask me). The Thor vs. Godzilla against the Empire State Building was fairly hokey, but also exciting if you don't stop to think about it. Thor also gets to do a lot of internal pontificating, such as "can even the God of Thunder hope to stop the savagery of such a massive creature before he reaches yon towering spire?" Iron Man, as well, spouts some chest-puffing nonsense: "Somehow, bringing this down to the level of one small child…makes it more terrifying than a dozen crushed buildings." It's dialogue like this that knocks this issue down a bit from the heights it could have hit. Well, that and Godzilla picking up Young Rob with a tender claw. Big G wading into the sea (river in this case) is also straight off the screen, and it works in this case, making for an uneven end to the series. Yep, this is it for Marvel's Godzilla. It seems the rights only lasted two years, but yet Marvel would try and use Godzilla again over the years, in different forms. But I guess you'll have to wait a couple of months for some after-school studies to find out why and where Godzilla has roamed since then in the comics world. How's that for a tease, Dean Pete! (Be still my beating heart!- Dean)

Chris: The low point of any Godzilla movie is when the annoying kid(s) start calling for the adults to back off the giant prehistoric creature that’s deliberately destroying a Japanese city.  The moment is no less implausible here, as Big G supposedly can hear Rob’s voice over the din of the attacking heroes.  To his credit, Moench brings some tenderness to the moment (without making it unbearably sappy), as it seems Rob’s trust in Gojira allows Big G-san to believe that, if he were to turn to leave the city, he would come to no further harm.  Not that the combined might of the FF and the half-Avengers were doing much to even slow him down, let alone stop him; points to Herb & Dan for a spirited two-page onslaught (p 16-17).

Points off to Doug, though – and to editor Al for not catching the mistake – as Jonah calls for Peter Parker, and Robbie tells him simply that Pete “isn’t home.”  Instead, how about having Robbie reply, “Now Jonah, remember – you fired Peter Parker.  He’s at the Globe now,” which not only is in keeping with Spidey’s present continuity, but also allows Robbie to get in a little zinger at Jonah’s expense, hmm -?
Matthew: Dude, they can’t even be consistent among Spidey’s own mags, let alone with other titles!  Given the number of brickbats I’ve aimed at this book in its two-year lifespan, I won’t shed any crocodile—or other reptilian—tears over its cancellation (while even after this and the May Bloodbath, there is further carnage to come before year’s end).  But by gum, I will give Trimpe and Cockrum a Godzilla-sized claws up for their gorgeously colored cover; not only is it beautiful in its own right, yet even unmarred by explanatory verbiage, the image of the Big G literally walking off into the sunset says “Final Issue” like nothing else can.  Curiously, that is nowhere hinted at in the lettercol, which ends with an ad for the Moench/Trimpe/Green Shogun Warriors sister title that outlives this by more than a year…but it is implied by the concise “Fin.”

Alas, it’s all downhill inside.  Doug screws the pooch scripting guest-stars like Iron Man, who veers between bad jokes (“he seems to be putting his foot down!”) and hurl-inducing platitudes (“Somehow, bringing this down to the level of one small child…makes it more terrifying than a dozen crushed buildings”).  Said child humbles an ex-Howler and agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (“Ow!”) and, if you can believe it, cries more often than I do.  On page 11, JJJ looks like a Mad magazine caricature in panel 1, while Robbie appears to be suddenly sporting an afro in panel 2, and the whole “inside-out tug-o-war” routine, as Thor and Godzilla do their isometric exercises with the Empire State Building stuck in between, seemed ludicrous.  I did like Spidey in page 27, panel 2.

 The Incredible Hulk 237
"When a City Dies!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Jack Abel
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Rick Parker
Cover by Al Milgrom

Thanks to Hulk and Machine Man’s stupid fight, a whole neighborhood of Central City is in flames. I mean, it was an accident and all, but it still happened. The gas-main explosion conked Hulk, so he’s in sleepy time while Machine Man reads his mind. He sees the memory of a fake MM taking Trish Starr and understands the two-issue rampage. He then sees the memories of Hulk's creation and those friends who became villains and those who died. While still fingering Hulk's brain, MM locks onto Curtiss Jackson’s location. Hulk wakes up at that moment, sees where Jackson is and swats MM away before leaping off. Stupid robot is kind of hurt, but goes after Hulk anyway. More smashy. Big fite. Hulk gets to Jackson’s tower, MM follows. Trish is saved, Jackson is tossed over the side, but MM catches him. Feeling he was robbed, Hulk smash stupid building. It goes down. Later, Hulk climbs out of the rubble. MM lull him into a trance and sends Hulk away. MM stays behind to deal with the authorities after turning over Jackson, but does the robot version of passing out before he can explain. -Scott McIntrye

Scott McIntyre: Well, that’s finally over. Gawd, that was like passing a stone. Jackson, who looks more and more like Fred Flintstone with each issue, is finally done away with. Not permanently, because this was the '70s and Hulk is a TV SENSATION, but as far as this arc is concerned, he’s done. The art has taken a drop and I’ll blame Jack Abel’s inks. He was great working with Trimpe, but is a poor mix with Sal B. I’ll never know what happens to Machine Man and the Hulk is apparently…Innn Spaaaaaaace!

Matthew:  Check out this year’s annual (published in December) to see what happens next.

Chris: Roger & Sal send off the Corporation in a giant fireball, with a 10-story pile of debris to bury Jackson’s devious schemes; until his lawyers get him off, that is – Jackson is likely a dutiful-enough campaign contributor that he won’t serve any time.  But enough '70s-inspired cynicism.  In hindsight, the middle section of this storyline – with its extended battling between Machine Man and the Hulk – was fun, but it probably ran one issue longer than it needed to.   Roger takes a few more liberties with Machine Man’s capabilities, most notably at the very end, as he fires some sort of anti-grav bolt at the Hulk’s feet, to send him flying away!  In fairness, Roger’s emphasis thru most of the story is not on gizmos, but on Aaron Stack’s human qualities, as MM inadvertently learns some of the Hulk's tortured history, alerts Kragg to the threat the Hulk poses to the center of Center City, and plucks a plunging Jackson out of the air, since he doesn’t “want to let the Hulk become a murderer!”  Good going, Aaron.  

Jack Abel had done a fine job as Herb Trimpe’s inker, but he’s not my first choice to finish Sal Buscema; the faces look flat and ill-defined.  Even if Abel isn’t an ideal complement, there’s no holding back Sal’s dynamic visuals, especially in the second half.  Highlights include: the Hulk’s irresistible approach, seen from Jackson’s POV, seconds before his full weight lands atop the helpless helicopter (p 19, last two pnls); the Hulk emerges from the fiery remains of Jackson’s intended getaway (p 22, pnl 4 – hey, how could that huge fire burn itself out by the next page?  Weird.); the Hulk’s unmistakable form, in silhouette as he emerges, wearied, from the rubble (p 27 pnl 5).

Matthew: Okay, I finally get it now—this whole elephantine storyline has been one big, fat, oil-leaking shill for the Wolfman/Ditko resurrection of Machine Man’s mag next month; between that and the Eternals endurance race underway in Thor, the Bronze-Age Kirby stuff I didn’t like and/or buy is experiencing a sudden, and quite inexplicable, resurgence.  Buscemabel rarely falters (e.g., Jackson’s Silly Putty face in page 19, panel 5), and shines in the greatest-hits montage on page 6, but our overpaid editors let pass the misspellings “Curtis,” “theraputic,” and “nemises” on a single page.  Note to self:  when next plunging to my death, I must remember to “cancel the gravity equation,” and all will be well…talk about better living through mathematics!

The Invincible Iron Man 124
"Pieces of Hate!"
Story by Bob Layton and David Michelinie
Art by John Romita, Jr., Bob Layton, Bob McLeod, Bob Wiacek, and Joe Rubinstein
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton

Bethany severs Whiplash’s weapon with her Smith & Wesson, and as Blizzard is distracted by freezing it—and her hand—IM’s refractory coating can compensate for the other source of extreme temperature, enabling him to put both Melter and Blizzard down for the count.  Yet after doing the same for the fleeing Whiplash, she chastises IM for neglecting his duty as the bodyguard to Stark, who soon reappears, claiming to have tripped while running to call the cops.  Checking in with Mrs. Arbogast, Tony learns that Rhodey is recovering nicely, and that IM has been asked to represent S.I. at the same U.N. ceremony where Beth has been hired to guard the ambassador of Carnelia (the fictional republic Michelayton introduced in #117), Sergei Kotznin.

Concerned that there is one way S.H.I.E.L.D. could buy a controlling interest, Tony is relieved to confirm that, “as long as he owns those two shares, there’s nothing to worry about”; unable to concentrate on the redesign of a fuel cell distributor, he has the satisfaction of aiding stranded motorist Pam Sayer on the LIE en route to the U.N.  Closed to Western industry for decades, the strategically located Carnelia has agreed to let S.I. build an electronics plant, a diplomatic coup due in part to Kotznin’s admiration for IM.  But during a photo op, with IM’s hand on his back, Hammer (who seeks “to bring Carnelia into line—and Stark International to its knees”) remotely activates a repulsor ray, which rips through the ambassador’s chest with a deadly “SKOOOSH.” 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The drumbeat continues with references to Tony’s consumption of champagne, brandy, etc., and things will obviously get worse before they get better, now that IM has been made a murderous puppet.  Within his earshot, Whiplash tells Blizzard, “to blazes with what Hammer wants!,” so the cat is conclusively out of the bag concerning their employer, although as yet there is no sign that Tony recognizes the name; Michelinie seems to be having way too much fun with comic-opera Kotznin’s dialogue (“The so fabulous Iron Mans!”).  “JR,JR + Babyface Bob,” as they are credited on the cover, do their usual fine work, although it should be noted that the finished art is by “Layton & Friends,” presumably while D. Hands was laboring on the current Fantastic Four.

Chris: I remember being disappointed by the brevity of Part II of the clash with Melter, Blizzard, and Whiplash.  Basically, the whole fight could’ve been contained in IM #123; but, then there wouldn’t have been a cliffhanger (i.e. the imminent shattering of IM’s armor) to draw us back for IM #124, right?  Despite his contribution to the armor becoming more brittle, Blizzard turns to Whiplash and states they have strict orders not to cause “permanent damage to the Avenger.”  For a moment, I’m thinking, “So, what are they doing with Iron Man – are they simply supposed to knock him around for awhile?”  Since then, I’ve figured out the theft from the casino and the encounter with Shellhead are unrelated; this would be consistent with the villains’ surprise at having seen him appear while they were attempting their getaway, last issue.  It’s a bit creepy to realize there is a greater scheme to get the armored Avenger, of which the villains are aware, and which they are forbidden to derail.

As for the nasty scheme, we all can be doubly thankful it’s not broadcast by the cover, right?  Would’ve completely ruined the shocking finale.  When you consider all the cruel games Midas played with Iron Man during his S.I. takeover, at least he never caused IM to kill someone; an ambassador and a fan, no less.  
It would be easy to fear the phrase “Layton & Friends – Finished Art.”  Fortunately, Bob Layton must have the right kind of friends, so the art doesn’t suffer too much in his absence from several pages – aside from a few odd looks to Iron Man’s faceplate (e.g. p 19, pnl 4; p 26, pnl 4).  Pretty sure that’s Bob Wiacek on p 10, 19, 26 and 27, Joe Rubinstein on p 11, and Bob McLeod on p 17; the Grand Comics Dbase thinks McLeod finished some other pages, but his style might be too similar to Layton’s for me to tell the difference.  

 Battlestar Galactica 5
"The Lost Gods of Kobol Part 2:
A Death in the Family"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Walt Simonson and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Walt Simonson and Klaus Janson

The medical team has returned from the asteroid and the fleet begins its trek through the void. Dr. Spang was able to get the info he needed and is hopeful for the vaccine he has created. Meanwhile, the Galactica sensors have picked up a vague blip of things just outside the void, following them. Apollo and Starbuck are ready for takeoff when Serena arrives. As she and Apollo debate whether she should go, Starbuck launches his viper. Apollo and Serena follow, but Starbuck is getting too far ahead. As soon as he leaves the void, he is ambushed by a Cylon patrol and taken to the nearest base ship. There he is brought before Baltar, who has a proposition to make…

Grieving over the loss of his friend, Apollo is consoled by Serena who wants to get married now, before they lose whatever time they have left. Apollo agrees and the wedding takes place. As soon as it ends, a light shines through one of the portholes. Adama is ecstatic. If his suspicions are correct, in orbit of that star is the planet Kobol, the birthplace of the human race.

Adama, Apollo and Serena lead an exploration party to the planet, which is dotted by ruins of cities and ancient pyramids. They enter one of the pyramids and work their way into one of the old crypts where they are met by Baltar! Adama delivers a bone-shattering blow to his old rival and friend, but Baltar explains his position. That he was tricked and has a plan. The Cylons are spread thin, looking for the fleeing humans and the route back to the Cylon capital is barely defended. One single Battlestar, posing as Baltar’s prisoners, can make their way through the enemy lines and bring the empire to its knees. While he sounds sincere, Adama refuses to trust the man who brought destruction to the human race. Baltar demonstrates his good intentions by returning Starbuck.  Above, Starbuck is greeted by the girls, but they all scramble when they learn a base ship is standing by.

On the base ship, the Cylon Lucifer decides that Baltar’s mysterious plan is a failure and orders the attack on Kobol. The machines launch their attack and the barely recovered warriors on the Galactica take to their fighters and reach the battle as the trainee warriors are close to defeat.  Laser volleys hit the pyramids, sending rubble crashing down on Adama’s group. Baltar is pinned under wreckage, but there’s no time to save him. Adama, Apollo and Serena leave him behind. On the surface, they find the warriors defeated the Cylons and Apollo and Serena look forward to their honeymoon….until the two Centurions who escorted Starbuck arrive and gun Serena down. Apollo, married barely a day, weeps over the broken body of his dead wife. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: This fabulous issue is a little more rushed than the last, mainly because there is so much story to cram into it. Think about it; a two-part TV show was about the same length as the average movie. The usual movie adaptation over at Marvel could run three, five or six issues. I think this could have benefited from one more month to flesh it out, get into the characters more. It works best if you are already familiar with the episode and characters. After this, they go into their own original story arcs and can dig a little deeper. However, considering the limitations, this is fine work.

The art is just a notch lower than last issue, which felt cleaner, but a lot of the likenesses are really close. The only two real exceptions are the doctor - named Spang here instead of Salik, perhaps confusing the name of actress Laurette Spang (Cassiopea) and Baltar. Not only does he not resemble actor John Colicos, he doesn’t look the same from panel to panel. Some differences from the TV episode include Serena’s death. She actually dies on the Galactica in a protracted scene where she gets to say goodbye to Boxey and Apollo. Here, she dies suddenly - and more realistically - on Kobol. Also, the Galactica stays in the void for a number of issues. Much of this plays out as on TV, but the comic will pick up a few threads dropped in the series. Good stuff, a very nice start to this short-lived comic series.

Marvel Spotlight 2.1
Captain Marvel in
"The Saturn Storm!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick and Bruce Patterson
Colors by Carl Gafford and Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Elaine Heinl
Cover by Jeff Aclin and Bob McLeod

Sky-sleds bearing laser-cannons cripple Stellarax’s saucer, forcing it down on a fragment of one of Saturn’s rings while Rick and Gertie don the aliens’ space-suits, conveniently equipped with oxygen.  With the Titans suffocating, the traitor reported dead in the crash, and possible threats Mar-Vell and Drax presumed killed by him, Isaac is rearranging his structure to continue Thanos’s plan, but all are surprised when the quartet emerges from the ship.  The Kree—sucking the Terrans along in his photon trail—and Drax follow the fleeing sleds to their base on Saturn-surface as Isaac, needing “time to complete my circuitry resequencing, to regain full power”—prepares to sacrifice his forces by launching a missile-storm at said outpost.

As the missiles fly from silos hidden in Titan’s craters, Mar-Vell ponders why the aliens cower at their arrival, and one supplies the answer before his cosmic awareness can.  He and Drax put chunks of the rings into “a stable mesh of energy,” forming a web-like “nearly solid grid-shield” that miraculously intercepts every missile with frozen ammonia, and the “Saturn-folk,” knowing that Isaac cares nothing for them, agree to collect the prisoners in the saucer—which, as the quartet proceeds to Titan, begins glowing, and Stellarax vanishes.  Our heroes arrive to find that Isaac, “no longer a mere hologram,” has not only been reborn as a “carnate being,” Isaac-Prime, but also resurrected his servants Stellarax, Chaos, and Gaea with increased powers.  GAME ON!
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The transition from the cancelled Captain Marvel is seamless, and Moench’s post-Starlin saga grinds relentlessly on.  Doug’s penchant for purple prose remains in force:  Isaac’s outpost on Saturn-surface in page 15, panel 1—one of the more impressive aspects of the Broderson artwork, which I usually seem to like better when they’re not trying to depict faces—“rises from the jaggedly barren terrain like a blister…smooth and nasty, holding the taut promise of pain.”  Gertie’s conscientious-objector status (“I don’t think I could use any weapon, Rick”) in the face of almost certain death, and her constantly comparing their interstellar adventures with being a rock groupie, seem odd, but since the character has been a virtual cipher, there’s no context here.

Chris: We don’t have much advancement of the story, but first-time tuners-in to Mar-Vell’s exploits (i.e. people who might not have bought Captain Marvel #63, but who pushed other kids aside to grab Marvel Spotlight #1!) would surely enjoy the nearly non-stop action, and would then be likely to return for MS vol 2 #2.  

Broderick & Patterson continue to have a great deal of fun with the art.  It’s completely implausible to suggest Marv and Drax don’t have time to evacuate the Saturn base, and yet, they do have an opportunity to construct a missile-buffer made of frozen ammonia blocks; good choice on their part, since their decision does allow for an impressive (and fun!) art moment (p 22).  And yes, sure, Marv and Drax should’ve pressed straight on to Titan, and not allowed Isaac more time to prepare; but if they had, would there have been an opportunity for the final stage-setting two-page spread?  So yes, the delays inherent in this chapter don’t make sense at face value, but they do point toward a terrific conclusion – sixty days from now (grumble grumble).
I can’t tell you any reason why I should remember this, but I clearly recall Marvel Spotlight #1 as one of six or seven comics I bought in one day.  So, what’s the big deal, you ask – there still are plenty of solid offerings from Marvel, even if the Bronze era now is on the wane.  Up to this point, I’d typically still been a 2-3 comics per purchase guy; to spring for as many as seven at one time tells me 1) I had a little extra cash, and 2) the Marvel Mania was taking root, in a way it hadn’t before now. 

 John Carter, Warlord of Mars 25
"The Master Assassin of Mars
Chapter 10: Hide 'n' Seek!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Mike Vosburg and Ricardo Villamonte
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Elaine Heinl
Cover by Frank Miller and Rudy Nebres

The series resumes without explanation after a two-month hiatus, but while Vosburg and Villamonte (much better matched with Mike, in my opinion, than on his earliest Marvel efforts for Claremont’s MTU and Ms. Marvel) do a commendable job with their last issue together, unless Ricardo is one of the “Many Hands” to ink #27, the real star here is Chris.  We begin as Carter and Tars continue their game of “Hide-’n’-Seek”—this chapter’s title—by quietly taking down the engine-room crew, with the haft of the Thark’s well-aimed knife stopping one from alerting the corridor guards.  Carter is careful to cause neither damage nor bloodshed, hiding the unconscious assassins in a barricaded storage hold they’d appropriated.

A marvelous interlude in Helium follows and solves a micro-mystery from #23, for it seems that Dejah’s daughter will be the namesake of her mother, the wife of Mors Kajak, although I’m 95% certain that’s a Claremontian interpolation with no basis in Burroughs.  “People might see,” Tara says as Mors surprises her in the Jeddak’s garden and literally sweeps her off her feet for a little afternoon delight, but he replies, “Let them…And let’s hope they follow our example.  We love each other—that’s nothing to be ashamed of.  It’s a miracle, a sacrament to be celebrated every moment of our lives.”  On the balcony above, Tharia notes that Tardos Mors, impatient for his reports, has “been at drawn swords with everyone,” and tactfully deters him from calling Mors...

Next, we finally get the confrontation between Carter and Tal Mordin, in which not only the latter’s hitherto-shadowed face—which had suggested that Nebres-Nose might be contagious—but also his master (assassin) plan, or at least some of it, is revealed.  It was a little unclear to me just how the coup would further his goal of uniting Barsoom’s warring peoples, although the idea seems to echo the subtitle of Roger Corman’s ill-fated Gas-s-s-s!...or It May Become Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It (1970).  What I find most interesting is that as different as the two serials are in many ways, the underlying premise is identical to that of Marv’s “Air-Pirates of Mars,” i.e., what can be saved, and what must be sacrificed, to ensure this dying planet’s future?

Their exchange and ensuing duel are both beautifully rendered (see just about any panel on pages 14-17) and effectively intercut with Tars executing John’s ingenious plan:  he positions a series of radium rifle shells that will be detonated by the rising sun, each group carefully placed so that the hole it blasts in the hull exposes the next.  Sure enough, as Mordin lures Carter among his men, with Tars evening the odds once the charges are set, the explosions cripple the ship, which sinks toward an eager tribe of green Martians while John and Tars extricate a serviceable flier and escape.  In Helium, suspicious of Surbus’s odd behavior, Kantos finds Dejah, who has been fending off the ulsios with well-placed but weakening kicks, yet as they prepare to raise the alarm, Surbus arrives.
-Matthew Bradley

Chris: We’ve been led to anticipate the showdown between Carter and the mighty Mordin, the deadliest man of all Barsoom!  Well, he might have more than a little Count Rugen in him, as after a bit of sparring, he weasels Carter toward a larger contingent of assassins.  Dejah Thoris sets a new record for personal futility, as Kantos Kan frees her long enough to walk thru the door of her cell, where she is promptly recaptured; Carter might want to consider getting her an orange jumpsuit for her next birthday.  

The Vosburg/Villamonte art is better than we’ve seen so far, until it slides back to its previous standard for the last 2-3 pages.  There’s no letters page, so there’s no word on how John Carter got back on its publishing track; well, maybe next month.  


  1. Professor Chris: I couldn't agree more with the end of your commentary for Marvel Spotlight. With all the hand wringing over the state of Marvel in 1979 -- mine included -- Part One of July seems to offer some quality stuff. We have the landmark 100th issue of Conan the Barbarian, the outstanding artwork of John Byrne and Frank Miller and what sounds like pretty decent issues of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and, heck, even Godzilla. Perhaps all is not yet lost.

  2. Conan 100 was a wonderful piece of work. Roy's instinct was spot on to not use Belit on Savage Sword where they could have taken a more adult approach on the character. These kind of stories, fitting between two pages of an original story, are often awkward. But Roy made a lot of it. The Belit-story always felt a natural extension of the original. In Savage Sword it would have been wasted.