Wednesday, December 14, 2016

July 1979 Part Two: The Pegasus Project Digs Up an Old Cybernetic Friend!

 Marvel Team-Up 83
Spider-Man and Nick Fury in
"Slaughter on 10th Avenue!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Sal Buscema and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler and Steve Leialoha

Surprised to be alive (shocker!), Spidey awakens on the snowy tenement rooftop, recovering from an anaesthetic bullet, and vows to find “Nancy,” whom Fury is eager to question.  Nick tells Jasper that the Widow vanished after calling “to warn me of some imminent terrible disaster,” and Val disobeyed orders by trying to kill her.  With the grudging help of the Bugle’s irascible chief librarian, Maggie McCulloch, Peter infiltrates S.H.I.E.L.D.’s local H.Q. in a new corporate skyscraper, eluding the guards long enough to change to Spidey; meanwhile, Dr. Ames receives a hypnotic command via his desk video-phone to kill the Widow, but a confused Nancy awakens just in time to kayo the scalpel-wielding medico, donning Natasha’s outfit again.

Spidey saves her from one guard but, fearing that her incipient panic will hamper them as others approach, somewhat unchivalrously decks her, carrying her via ventilation ducts from the sub-basement complex to the roof and freedom.  Aboard the Helicarrier, an enthralled Quartermain reports Ames’s failure to his “commander,” a shadowy yet familiar female figure in long, green gloves who dispatches Boomerang to kill them, ordering the Silver Samurai to teleport him to NYC and return to her side.  Boomerang follows Fury as he follows the bug he’d planted on the Widow, stopping at a payphone (“What’s that, Professor Matthew?”) to ask “Denis” to send a potential “ace in the hole,” and recalling that Tash had used the “Rushman” alias as a Soviet spy.

In his apartment, Peter is comforting Nancy—traumatized by fragmented memories of torture and interrogation by the same shadowy woman—when Fury bursts in to arrest them, yet as they approach his Porsche, a Spidey-Sense tingle saves them from its destruction by a “boom”-erang.  Slipping off amid the chaos, Peter changes to Spidey and makes it a four-way fight, interrupted by the arrival of the Samurai, wearing the teleport ring he stole from John Belushi (in #74).  Cautioning Boomerang that their off-balance foes are far from helpless, and “too much is at stake to risk defeat,” he teleports them to safety; “I’m still not sure who I am…but I do know that unless we act fast…the world as we know it has only a few hours left to live,” warns the Widow. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: I find it telling that more than a decade after Steranko drew his last S.H.I.E.L.D. cover, Marvel is still using his distinctive rendition for Fury’s logo-image, which to me confirms how completely Jaunty Jim owns the character to this day.  I’d have liked to see a little more of him inside, but I know the formal guest-star can be nominal in these multi-part stories, and half-way through this one, with some reservations, I say, “so far, so good.”  Boomerang’s presence troubles me a little; he seems like a lightweight to serve alongside the Samurai under—spoiler alert!—the Viper, and even though his appearance in Iron Fist #13 (June 1977) was also written by Chris Claremont, he seems to have lost his intrusive “fair dinkum” Aussie accent as suddenly as he displayed it there.

A lot going on here, as the wife would say, hence the lengthy synopsis, but par for the course so deep into a four-part epic, and obviously a momentous one, with Fury fearing Soviet or other penetration of S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Viper ominously awaiting President Carter’s address to a joint session of Congress.  The same dynamic as last time applies to the artwork:  not a lot of Our Pal’s pencils in evidence, but fairly felicitous results overall, even if the Buckloha cover is just a colorful muddle; always tough to please when it comes to my main man Nick, I am reasonably satisfied with his depiction here.  Originating with a Richard Rodgers/George Balanchine ballet from the 1936 show On Your Toes, the title was repurposed for a 1957 film noir, if anyone cares.

Joe Tura: One of the things I remember most from this arc is the odd coloring. Odd in that it's different from previous MTUs, almost noirish and certainly mysterious, befitting the storyline. But I did forget the negative-colored flashback panels, which are pretty cool. The art overall looks increasingly less like My Pal Sal, which goes hand-in-hand with the coloring to my aging eyes. Yet the action is still more than effective. The script continues to crackle, piling on more layers and more characters that certainly keep the reader interested and counting the days until the next issue. Well, if they're me, that is. The one thing Claremont seems to love the most is having Spidey call someone "Bunkie." All in the Family fan, maybe?

Chris Blake: I can see how it might’ve been necessary for Fury to hit Natasha with a tranquilizer at the end of MTU #82, but shooting Spidey seems unnecessary, and accomplished little but to provide false drama to carry over to the first page of this issue.  Really, Claremont, we all know Spidey hasn’t been “murdered,” so don’t waste our time.

Mercifully, Claremont clears up a few questions from last time; naturally, he also introduces some new ones.  We can tell the shadowy figure on p 16 is Madame Hydra, and it seems apparent she plans to employ mind-control and use Pres Carter that evening to hypnotize Congress for her.  So, we have yet to learn how that plan is supposed to work, and then, we’ll have to see whether our heroes can foil her Dastardly Scheme in the Nick of Time!  I hope Claremont & Buscema will be able to keep the pace up for the next two issues; so far, the action has been pretty terrific.  
Fans of Sal Buscema are having a banner month – sort of.  Sal is providing pencil art for four titles in July; you could go back and check, but I’ll tell you now they are Captain America, Fantastic Four, Hulk, and MTU.  This happens to be the best-looking of those four by far, thanks once again to the embellishment of Steve Leialoha.  Granted, as with MTU #82, Sal’s pencils are not much in evidence, as the look is mostly Leialoha; still, credit Sal for his dynamic layouts, which keep the action on pace.  Highlights include: bold choice with the sort-of negative image flashback (p 2-3); Dr Ames stalks the resting (not sleeping, apparently) Widow (p 11, pnl 5); Boomerang swoops in after destroying Fury’s Porsche – the nerve! (p 23, 1st pnl); two awkward falls, as Spidey tackles Boomerang, and the Widow breaks Spidey’s fall – luckily, nothing else is broken! (p 26).
Last thing: nice touch by the cover artists who – clearly, caught up in the excitement of their subject matter – sign their work “Buckler & Leialoha!”  It’s not often you see punctuation added to a credit like that, y’know?  

 Marvel Two-In-One 53
The Thing and Quasar in
"The Pegasus Project
Part One: The Inner War!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio
Art by John Byrne and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers
Cover by John Byrne and Joe Sinnott

Eager to check up on Wundarr, Ben arrives in the Pogo Plane at the Project Pegasus energy-research facility for “a hitch on the special security detail,” undergoes a daunting computerized clearance, and is about to be introduced by one of the directors, Myron Wilburn, to their security chief.  Apparently spotting his old foe the Crusader (from FF #164-5), Ben attacks, only to learn after being imprisoned in an energy-cage that Quasar (formerly Marvel Man) merely bears the uniform and Uranian power-bands of, and a strong resemblance to, the erstwhile Marvel Boy ( Bob Grayson).  Asked by his father, Dr. Gilbert Vaughn—who was studying the bands for Stark International—to test them, Wendell found they wouldn’t come off.

Still lurking about in the cosmic-research section, Dr. Tom Lightner justifies Ben’s suspicions as he reports Ben’s arrival to the Nth Command and is ordered to commence Operation:  Berserker.  On the Lower East Side, Thundra saves diminutive wrestling promoter Herkimer J. Oglethorpe from a thug and gets “the offer of a lifetime”; meanwhile, child psychologist Jeannine O’Connell explains that the cosmic-energy overdose left Wundarr comatose, his natural powers heightened by the Cube “so that anything that comes within ten feet of him shuts down…”  Using a neural-jammer on the guards, Lightner temporarily deactivates the exterior defense perimeters, enabling the ingress of a crimson-eyed figure who lies in wait as Ben sallies forth in search of poker pals... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Just as mags like Captain America and PPTSS threaten to give multi-issue arcs a bad name, here come the team-up books to save the day (The Thing and Mighty Mouse, anyone?).  Harvesting the seeds planted by Ralph in #42, the six-part “Pegasus Project”—whose ending fortuitously coincides with that of this blog—is one of the best-remembered late-Bronze epics, cementing the prolific Gruenwacchio writing team and graced, at least initially, with to-die-for Byrnott artwork.  The MARMIS is, in my opinion, more defensible than most:  it provides some action in an issue dominated by exposition, also justifying the cover; it’s understandable on Ben’s part, given his history with the Crusader; and it prompts full explanation of the Crusader-to-Quasar progression.

The lettercol is supplanted by an insanely complicated schematic that for the first time, if I’m not mistaken, identifies Pegasus as the Potential Energy Group/Alternate Sources/United States, and its location as the apparently fictional Mount Athena, New York.  How plausible it is, I can’t say, yet it sure as hell reminds me of my beloved Andromeda Strain with its underground levels and decontamination procedure.  The larger canvas makes an otherwise inexcusable page-eater like Ben’s clearance not just permissible but an absolute delight, as both the dialogue (“Where’s my decoder ring?”) and the nuanced depictions of his expressions perfectly capture the character; the last page is also a stunner, as Ben prowls the halls with Deathlok waiting right around the corner.

Chris: The hinted-at Project Pegasus storyline (I can’t say it was hyped, but we have been hearing about it for a few months now) begins quietly, as Gruenwald & Macchio lay groundwork.  In Quasar’s final appearance in Captain America, he’d announced the name change; with nowhere else to go, it makes sense to place him here and see how fans react to him outside the “Super Agents” group.  The brief clash with Ben accomplishes little but to introduce his abilities, and history, to casual fans.  We already know Wundarr isn’t doing fairly well, and the energy-absorption angle makes Pegasus the right place for him to continue to be a subject of study.  We also have a conspiracy in the works with Dr Lightner (and who might be the shadowy figure on the other end of the communicator -?), and a sub-plot involving Thundra; with patience, we will see how these disparate elements come together.  

The real surprise here, of course, is Deathlok, who’s been on ice for months now, ever since he’d been snatched from the future (our present past, that is) and programmed to take a shot at Jimmy Carter, back in MTIO #27.  Where’s he been, and how’d he get here?  The close-up of his knotted brow (p 27, last pnl) raises another question: what happened to his right eye?  Fans of the original Rich Buckler model will recall the left eye always had been a red cybernetic model, while the right eye was an organic Luther Manning original.  Curious …
Other Byrne/Sinnott highlights: Ben knocked off-balance as he connects with Quasar’s energy shield (p 11, pnl 3); Wundarr’s gloomy room (p 19, pnl 4); Ben’s carefree stroll thru the corridors, whistling (p 27, pnl 3).

 Master of Kung Fu 78
"Tread the Night Softly"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and Al Gordon
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Mike Zeck

Leiko has been unconscious since Shang-Chi pulled her from the wreck of her car and carried her across the Scottish countryside to the nearest town.  S-C carefully lays her on a table in a local tavern, as the owner’s wife hurries out to call the town doctor.  In her absence, S-C asks the owner about a man named Zaran; “Och, aye,” he replies, “fancies hisself a sportsman, but he’s nae more’n a weekend spoiler if ye’re askin’ me.  Keeps a lodge in the woods, on the loch.”  S-C hires a driver to take him to Zaran’s lodge; S-C settles down in the brush outside, to rest and wait.  At Sir Denis’ estate, Sarsfield tells Black Jack he expects the arrival of interrogators, who will question Tarr and the other MI-6 operatives, in order to confirm they are not complicit in a scheme to return Fu Manchu to power; rumor has it Fu has established himself as a sort of king in a South American country.  
Hours pass outside Zaran’s lodge, until S-C notes Zaran’s arrival, along with a figure that, across the loch, S-C finds naggingly familiar, but is unable to identify.  He swims silently across, and arrives to overhear the two discuss a plan, and how “he must receive it"; the other details have already been settled, as the mysterious figure drives away.  Once Zaran is alone, S-C breaks a window to draw his fire, then crashes thru the door.  S-C’s controlled ferocity (in his anger over Zaran’s attempt on Leiko’s life) gives him a clear advantage, as Zaran (despite his advantage in weaponry) is routed and put to flight.  As S-C watches Zaran escape in a small boat, he finds a glass eye on the deck.  S-C scans Zaran’s stuffed trophies on his lodge wall, and sees a moose is missing its left eye; hidden in that space is the tape he seeks (the recording S-C had made of Shockwave, as he described having been trained and sent out against his will to attempt to kill S-C & Co).  A car pulls up, driven by Leiko; despite a concussion, she has left the tavern and driven over to Zaran’s lodge in search of S-C.  They resolve to press on together to Sir Denis’ home, in the hope they won’t be too late to save their comrades.  At the estate, Zaran arrives to speak to Sarsfield; Sarsfield’s protests that he didn’t expect him are cut short as Zaran knifes him in the mid-section, and announces he now is “under new employment.”  Zaran addresses Tarr as he continues, “Not that the change in plans will do you any good … .” -Chris Blake
Chris: It’s a terrific issue all around, as we have useful plot developments, all of which lead to a showdown with Zaran at Sir Denis’ home.  During his conversation with Sarsfield, Tarr has managed to free himself from his bonds, and we know that Reston has regained his senses; but, will Tarr be able to free Reston and tackle a well-armed opponent before Zaran follows thru on his final threat?  Who is Zaran’s new employer, and who is the mysterious figure he had spoken with at his lodge?  Is there a connection to Fu Manchu -?  We now have the first clear indicator that Big Fu himself might be back on our planet and ready to cause more mayhem.  Either way, all indicators point ahead to an exciting next chapter.  

Al Gordon subs for Gene Day on inks, but there’s no interruption in the quality of the artwork.  Clever moment on p 15 (last pnl) as an arrow from Zaran connects with his stuffed moose head; if we look closely, we notice a glass eye is missing – there’s no caption to tip us off to the tape’s hiding place.  Beyond that simple detail, MoKF #78 features one of the finest fight sequences we’ve seen in some time (p 14–23) – a cinematic series of panels hearkening back to Gulacy, as S-C channels his caring for Leiko into an impassioned attack against the latest force to threaten her.  In the old days, S-C would reflect on how an enemy’s emotions would betray him, and cause mistakes S-C would avoid thru his disciplined self-control.  So, this is a different S-C who stares Zaran in the eye and states “… it makes no difference that you failed to murder Leiko"; and continues as we go to a close-up of his hatred-fueled eyes, “We will fight now … as if you had succeeded.”  Whoa -!  

Mark Barsotti: Moench and Zeck deliver an adrenalized thriller, as Shang seeks revenge against weapons expert/part-time-dungeon master Zaran for Leiko's near-fatal car crash, last ish. Tracking Z to a lakefront cabin, S-C delivers a brutal beatdown, but then allows Zaran to escape, a decision based more on plot considerations than logic (S-C interior monologues that he has to search the cabin for Shockwave's missing confession tape, but he could have just as easily searched after trussing up Z).

Earlier, Shang had delivered the unconscious Leiko to a local Scottish pub (reversing the normal sequencing of pubs & unconsciousness). A local sawbones diagnosed her with a concussion, but that doesn't stop the sexy super spy from commandeering a car and racing to the lake to meet Shang and get on with their mission (no concussion protocol in '79).

Said mission is rescuing Sir Denis and company, still captive by yarn's end, although their captors have been swapped out, with Zaran showing up (thus the need for his earlier escape) to skewer MI-6's Sarsfield because "...plans have been changed." Do the new ones involve the mystery figure, glimpsed materializing behind a pulpit on a church balcony, somewhere in South America? Doug has telegraphed like Samuel Morse that said figure is Father Fu, unless, of course, Moench's running a world-class fake-out.

Guest inker Al Gordon's bolder lines give Mike Zeck's art a moodier, more dramatic feel than Gene Day's lighter, feathery touch. If the results aren't quite a visual feast, they're certainly a hearty three-course meal, and I hope we see Gordon's work again.

MOKF may be a "niche" book, but its remains one of a painfully small handful of Marvel's '79 titles that delivers quality on a consistent basis.

 Spider-Woman 16
"All You Need Is Hate"
Story by Mark Gruenwald
Art by Carmine Infantino and Dan Green
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Bill Sienkiewicz and Joe Rubinstein

 Jessica arrives at work an hour late; she had overslept after her long night’s journey with the Shroud against the Kali cultists.  As she walks in, Dr Leaman puts Jessica’s concerns to rest, as he introduces her to a professor of physiology, Dr Morgan Sachs of Stanford, who intends to run tests to determine why Jessica’s presence tends to produce an aversive reaction in some people.  At the conclusion, he explains that Jessica’s pheromones are unusually potent, but (not unexpectedly) they produce different effects: men tend to detect messages of alarm and allure from her, while women are disconcerted by the alarm signal.  Dr Sachs believes the proper medication will “inhibit [her] body’s pheromone production,” and allow her to interact more comfortably with others.   Jessica meets again with Dr Leaman, who invites her to a gathering of the Institute’s employees at Ms Hatros’ home.  Jessica is excited to arrive at the house, as she’s never met her employer.  She finds the front door unlocked, but no one inside, or in the backyard.  
At that moment, a figure walks down the staircase, and introduces herself as Nekra; this is the same woman who had assisted the Mandrill in his scheme to try to overthrow the US government (before being foiled by Daredevil , the Black Widow, and Shanna – check your notes, class).  Nekra has a unique ability: her natural inclination toward hatred fuels her physical strength.  After the Mandrill’s defeat, Nekra escaped from SHIELD captivity, and eventually discovered the Kali cultists and imposed herself as their leader (her skin’s invulnerability to the cultists’ blades convinces them Nekra is an incarnation of their deadly deity).  The cultists then eliminated Adrienne Hatros, and Nekra assumed the identity of the reclusive founder of the research clinic.  Nekra intended to use the Institute to study the power of hate, but she was not prepared to discover Jessica’s presence inspired completely contrary emotions in her: trust and affection.  As Nekra finds these emotions “alien and repulsive” (and worse, she equates them with feelings she’d had for the Mandrill, which stemmed from his ability to make himself “irresistible” to all women), she is determined to destroy their source.  Jessica fights out of Nekra’s choke-hold, then changes to her Spider-Woman garb (Nekra announces she knows Jessica’s secret identity), and the battle ensues: Nekra’s hate-powered strength vs Spider-Woman’s spider-strength and Hydra-guided fighting skills.  Spider-Woman finally defeats Nekra, seemingly out-hating her, as she pummels Nekra into unconsciousness.  -Chris Blake
Chris: Sorry to relay so much exposition; the story isn’t easy to tell without explaining how Nekra got here, and why Spider-Woman is so important to her.  Letter-writers are expressing delight (and dismay) that Mark Gruenwald went to the trouble to revive an ancient-history villain like Mr Doll to serve as the starting point for the Brothers Grimm; Nekra’s Marvel history isn’t nearly as remote, but it’s a worthy call on Gruenwald’s part to revive this useful villain.  Now that Spider-Woman’s pounded her into a coma (after the most furious fight-sequence we’ve seen in these pages), I don’t know how long it might be before we see her again.  
Points also to Gruenwald for finally putting this “bad vibes” thing to rest.  As she listens to Dr Sachs, Jessica realizes that the aspect of her blood that had been derived from spiders could help to explain why her pheromones have such a profound effect.  Either way, this long-standing undercurrent neither made much sense, nor served much purpose; it certainly worked against Jessica as she tried to adjust to her post-Hydra life.  Now, she can start thinking of herself as a normal person, and continue to move forward.
Speaking of changes, I think we’ve seen the last of Jerry Hunt.  He drops by for the last two pages and announces he’s been reassigned to London; he asks Jessica to accompany him, but doesn’t protest when she states she feels she’s finally settled down in Los Angeles, and doesn’t want to relocate.  So it goes.  

I haven’t had much to say about Carmine Infantino’s art, because he’s done little in these pages to change my opinion of his work; without Al Gordon’s inks to pull everything together, I’m not sure I would’ve been able to fulfill my commitment as this title’s point man.  Misgivings aside, this is one of the better-looking issues from the art team, so it would be unfair not to credit these highlights: Nekra herself, who looks shifty and cruel (p 14, 1st pnl), plus the concise two-page recap of the path that led her to Hatros (p 14-15); nice work as Spider-Woman drops a chandelier on Nekra, but Nekra breaks free and the melee continues (p 22); more vicious fighting, as Infantino shows the combatants in action, with a background of their two faces combined into one, as each woman’s determination to defeat the other sustains the battle (p 23, last pnl).  
Matthew:  Jeff and Margaret, we hardly knew ye:  three months after we learned they’d vanished, and with no on-panel appearance in this arc, Mark confirms in passing the deaths of these minor characters, making me wonder why he chose them instead of making up names.  Odd that the Shroud (next seen in a back-up story that Gruenwald co-wrote with Steven Grant for Marvel Preview #21, from which I have only a Moon Knight reprint) is absent for the “kill,” and this is also the last I’ll see of Agent Hunt, who doesn’t return until Captain America #322 (October 1986).  I laughed when Jessie told Jerry, “I’ve got a job now,” since she just beat the crap out of her boss; never been a big Nekra-phile, if you will, but that is one awesome cover.

 Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 32
"A Zoo Story"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Jim Mooney and Frank Springer
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Bob Layton

Fresh from carrying on with Carrion [yes, I actually wrote that…], Spidey swings back to the Parker bachelor pad only to discover a shock! His friends tidied up the place! But the milk in the fridge is sour, and Peter gets a surprise visit from soon-moving-out-because-she's-making-nice-money-at-the-Bugle Glory Grant, barely managing to hide his Spidey suit—in a vase! (Waump waump…) Meantime, at Empire State University (where the tuition is much more than Marvel University), a security guard enters a messy lab and is attacked by a reptilian…Lizard! And Dr. Curt Connors [spelled correctly in the comic, yay for Prof. Matthew!] hides in the shadows, praying for his torment to end! Peter makes it to campus for some teaching assistant duties, sees Flash and Sha Shan in Flash's flashy new wheels [wrote that too, yes…], then catches up with Hector and Holly and literally runs into Dr. Sloan, with whom he has an appointment! (D'oh!) Snobby blonde Marcy Kane shows Peter around, but the two investigate a strange flash of light from the Biology Lab, where Dr. Connors is on the floor! Peter notices (sort of) an iguana in a cage, that spooks Connors for some reason. As the trio makes their way to the Bronx Zoo for a research tour, Connors is acting strangely, then runs off with his eyes glowing like the iguana, headed to the House of Darkness with Peter in hot pursuit. Parker sneaks off to change into Spider-Man, and when he catches up with Doc Connors, he finds him out cold on the floor, then he's attacked by a reptilian foe that sounds like and looks like the Lizard—but it's "The Incredible Iguana"!! Oy gevalt!--Joe Tura

Joe: The strange throwback Bob Layton cover gives way to a Jim Mooney/Frank Springer average-fest that starts with a neck-aching and left arm-breaking pose by Spidey on the splash page as he swings to his Chelsea bachelor pad. And it's goofy from there on, to be honest. Curt Connors acts messed up the whole time—is he worried about changing into the Lizard, or has he changed and somehow affected this Iguana thing? Can Peter/Spidey's life get any more wacky? He gets his apartment fixed up, then immediately finds out his beloved neighbor is moving out. Then he gets an assistant's gig only to find himself fighting Lizard Junior! Even hot blonde Marcy Kane gives Peter some attitude, constantly turning up her nose at him and dismissing Connors as well. It's a bit  Three's Company in the beginning (Peter has to hide his suit from Glory, oh no!) and the dialogue falls into near cliché mode at times. Very talky issue, with passable art and a pretty badly-invented villain in the Iguana. Not really sure what to think of this one coming off the Carrion kookiness, but let's hope it gets better—and the Iguana disappears fast!

Nothing too exciting about the sound effects here, either. What little there is fails to do anything but pass the time. But in one of the better pages, page 26, we get a nice little "FWAP!" as Spidey is tossed by the tail of Iguana. And the crowd goes not-so-wild!

Matthew: Sorry, Professor Tom, but I’m man enough to admit when SuperMegaMonkey puts it better than I can:  “Let’s face it:  no one needs a Lizard knock-off.  The Lizard is fine and will fill the role of the Lizard for all your Lizard story needs.  And if you do need a Lizard knock-off, there is Stegron, who is the Lizard except a dinosaur.  So what we definitely didn’t need was the Iguana, a Lizard knock-off based on a non-threatening herbivore.”  Much as I love the Lizard, and Stegron, and especially scenes lit only by the Spider-Signal—and as relieved as I am to be moving past L’affaire Carrion—I must agree.  They try way too hard to fool us into believing it is the Lizard, plus this is woefully out of step with ASM.

Mark: After being completely AWOL the last couple issues, Mantlo serves up a heapin' helpin' of Pete the civilian (with - and I believe this is a first - heavy five o'clock shadow!) and supporting cast here. His friends have redecorated Pete's demoed apartment. Glory Grant stops by to let him know she's moving out, involving some old-school hide-the-Spidey-suit shenanigans (it gets dunked in a vase). He runs into Flash just long enough to be called "bookworm" - although with affection rather than 1965-style antagonism - then Hector and Holly. 

And there's new additions to the cast as well; Mr. Parker literally runs into Dr. Sloan, who he'll be working for as a teacher's assistant, and makes goo-goo eyes at blonde Marcy Kane, charged with showing Pete around the grad school campus. Here, soap suds meet super-heroics, as the tour leads our youngsters to the prone form of Dr. Curt Connors. We'd normally expect the Lizard to soon slither forth, but Bill throws us a minor curve, subbing in the newly-minted Iguana as our reptilian menace.

The Jim Mooney-Frank Springer art (including a stark, dramatic cover) is energetic and effective. The Iguana's as-yet-undefined hold over Connors is just intriguing enough to keep me from carping about the meager benefits of replacing one scaly creepy-crawler for another, and Mantlo keeps things moving at a satisfyingly manic pace.

Who knows, maybe we'll get a cameo by Richard Burton or Ava Gardner in next month's "Night of the Iguana!"    

 What If? 15
"What If... Someone Else
Had Become Nova?"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, Walt Simonson, 
Bob Wiacek, Carmine Infantino, Frank Springer,
Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, George Perez, and
Tom Palmer
Colors by Michele Wolfman, Nelson Yomtov,  and
Roger Slifer
Letters by Irving Watanabe and Michael Higgins
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

The Watcher happens to ponder, for some bizarre reason, what if "Someone Else Had Become Nova," recounting the Human Rocket's Richard Rider origin before treating us to four alternate beginnings for Nova-Prime. The first, drawn by Walt Simonson and Bob Wiacek, finds a vengeful redhead looking to make her husband's murderer pay. After four months, the Nova power finds her, and she lays waste to much of the underworld, including The Kingpin. But she's so out of control that the government asks the Fantastic Four to stop Nova, which they do when Sue Storm cuts off her air supply. Then they banish her to the Negative Zone, as the cops find the murderer in a crashed car in the drink. Story over.
In our second tale, brought to you by Carmine Infantino and Frank Springer, a world without super heroes finds a humble homeless man infused with the power of Nova, with his cat as a companion, and nowhere to go. Suddenly, the Skrulls decide to attack Earth, looking for the amazing energy source they detect, just as our hero, Jesse, finds solace at an orphanage. The Skrulls track down Jesse, who changes into Nova costume to save the children, but the Skrulls knock him out. Turns out Jesse was "playing possum," and before the aliens can notify their homeworld to start the invasion, Jesse sacrifices himself to blow up the Skrull ship and basically save the world. 

The third tale is a Spidey throwback, as Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia help tell us the story of Peter Parker, who is, of course, bitten by a radioactive spider. But in this case, it gives him radiation poisoning, which takes away his ability to walk and causes poor Aunt May to have a heart attack and die. Increasingly bitter Peter dives into his schoolwork, when he's suddenly blasted by a "flashing emerald ray," which gives him the Nova powers—a "genuine miracle." He flies home to tell Uncle Ben, just as a burglar is breaking into their home! Peter bursts in as the hoodlum fires his gun, the bullet bounces off the newly-powered teen, and kills the burglar! Thinking he's a "jinx" and he is "cursed" by these powers, Peter throws the costume away, along with the "gift" he was given.

For our "final reality," we are treated to George Perez and Tom Palmer's rendition of a fiendish foursome aboard the Nova ship—Dr. Doom, Red Skull, Sphinx, and an evil, cigar-chomping Nova. Turns out, with the defeat of the Fantastic Four they have officially "offed every superhero on earth" with the help of the Computer Prime, but the "uneasy alliance" is soon broken by the power-hungry and greedy villains. Doom visits the "novice Nova" to kill him, but will spare the Human Rocket's life if he swears allegiance. However, Red Skull attacks Doom from behind, killing him, then is punched by Nova, who is zapped by Sphinx, who claims "I seek only the peace to pursue my own end." The ancient adversary reduces Skull to dust with the Spirit Stone, then impatiently does the same to Nova, then pontificates he will find peace by using the Computer Prime to infiltrate every mind on Earth and turn them into "worthless husks". The Sphinx rejoices, knowing he is free to finally find the answer to "the one question that has eluded (him) for centuries," not knowing that he's just reduced to dust the only man who could have provided him that answer. What a guy! –Joe Tura

Joe: When Student Intern Cassie looks over my shoulder to read some of this issue and laughs, saying "That's so dumb," you get where I'm going with this lesson plan. The good news is the stories get increasingly better (not increasingly bitter like Peter Parkernova) as we turn the pages, as does the artwork. In fact, the artwork certainly outshines the script, as we enjoy a veritable who's who of pencilers and inkers. The first story is way too angry and depressing. In our second, it's like a Hallmark Christmas tale with Skrulls. Hey, that sounds like the perfect vehicle for Danica McKellar! (Oh, Winnie Cooper, you are the hottest math whiz ever…) For the third, it is quite nice to see Andru draw the Parker family again, but he throws in Miles Warren which made my skin crawl a little—hate that guy! Perez and Palmer, as you would expect, save the best of the quartet for last, but ultimately it's just a free for all of greedy goons that ends as expected with the most powerful of the four coming out on top. So what to think of this somewhat indulgent Marv Nova-ganza overall? See Cassie's comment above.

Matthew:  Holy cats, that’s a lot of artists (ten, by my count) for one issue, and although the results are an inevitably mixed bag, the choices are interesting.  Buscinott’s framing art, the best by definition, reminds us that Big John was Nova’s first penciler, while the Infantino chapter helps explain its cancellation, looking even worse with Springer’s inks; the moonlighting Ross is a natural for Peter; Simonson and Wiacek make an effective pair, but Palmer, alas, typically trashes Pérez.  The stories seem surprisingly downbeat for Marv—or, if you subscribe to the Two Marvs theory, the Marv who wrote Nova—yet once again, it’s nice that they’re not tied too closely to events in “our” Marvel Universe, and after all, Nova-Prime’s ray could’ve hit anyone.

Chris: It’s not likely anyone in the Marvel universe – other than Marv Wolfman – would’ve given a blue blaze about the possibility of other Novas out there.  This issue might’ve been commissioned during the days when Marv still was writing letters to himself as Nova editor, to tell Marv the writer how Nova was the greatest thing since sliced cheese.  So, despite Nova being mercifully cancelled, Roy Thomas isn’t about to let the material go to waste, so here we are.  

I’m reasonably sure I picked up this 60-center because of the Pérez-illustrated vignette.  If all the illustrations in the Simonson-Wiacek story had looked as good as the last panel of page 7, we might’ve had history in the making, but sadly, that single panel is by far the best of the non-Pérez pages.  
The fourth alternate-story is the strongest, not only because of the dynamic and atmospheric Pérez/Palmer art, but because its subject matter diverts most significantly from the recognized Marvel reality (which is supposed to be a big part of the appeal of What If?, right -?).  I appreciate how the rogue Nova goes unnamed, and that our meeting with him comes at the end of his chillingly successful crusade against the world’s heroes (and he didn’t even need a crew of Sentinels to pull it off!).  
Pérez/Palmer art highlights: heavy shading on the Sphinx’s face, as the Red Skull berates him for his “irritating silences" (p 37, pnl 6); Nova rockets out of harm’s way (p 38, last pnl); Nova holds up Doom’s dead form, with flames behind him (p 39, pnl 6); the Sphinx unleashes the Ka spirit stone, and liquidates the Skull (p 43, 1st pnl), followed by the Sphinx depicted as filled by faces of the many lives he would destroy to discover his forever-lost secret (p 44).

 The Mighty Thor 285
"Deviants and Doormen!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Chic Stone
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Keith Pollard and Bob Layton

After delivering the wingless 747 safely to JFK Intl., the Mighty Thor wings away to act on the promise he made to Dr. Damian to check on Damian's daughter, Margo, who's been living with Etenal babe, Sersi. When he arrives at the penthouse apartment, he transforms back into lame doc Blake and enters the apartment building. He finds the place trashed and a very large man skulking in the shadows. The man accuses Blake of being a Deviant and then mutates into a giant red-headed freak with tiny feet and a surly disposition. He introduces himself as Karkas, Blake switches back to thunder god status, and the two go two-and-a-half rounds before realizing they're on the same side. When Thor asks after Margo, Karkas tells him a very long and involved story about  his first trip to New York with Thena and Ikaris; the three are searching for the new City of the Deviants, located somewhere under the New York subway system. When they enter the city, they are attacked by Deviants and Margo is kidnapped by Kro, the Deviant Warlord. Karkas escapes in order to fall back and make a new plan; that plan involving the missing Sersi. He reveals that the only thing he found in the apartment was a figurine of the gorgeous Eternal. Just then, the figurine pipes up... Sersi has transformed herself into the small statue in order to observe her two guests. She returns to normal height and waves her magical fingers, converting a plaster-of-Paris cat into a Deviant prisoner. The three fly off, with prisoner in tow. On a nearby rooftop, they grill the demon and he coughs up the location to an unguarded entrance to the City of Deviants in Central Park. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Thoroughly confusing and uninvolving, this tale contains something I've never seen before: a lengthy (and I do mean lengthy) "flashback" involving characters from another magazine. It's all a lot of high-falutin' low-level sci-fantasy that reads like what it is: a quick fix to the mess The King left behind him when he pulled up stakes yet again. Ignoring the problem and forgetting all about the group might have been a better solution; was there really a vast audience crying out for new Eternals adventures? The whole sequence involving the airplane that Thor is dragging behind him on a chain kept me amused; I'm no aerodynamic expert but how was this possible? With no wings, wouldn't the craft hang after slowing? And how did he land it? Yeah, I know, it's a funny book about Asgardians, Eternals, and Deviants and I'm worrying about a wingless 747, but these things keep me up at night. Why do the cops act like they've never seen Thor in action ("I've got a few questions I want to ask that so-called superhero!") when the guy's a freakin' Avenger, for cripes' sake! Totally lame MARMIS between Karkas (who looks like a Kirby Tales of Suspense discard, with cute little pointy feet) and Thor, by the way and The Rascally One shows just how much he knew about the sports world by referencing the famous "Spinx-Ali" fight (Big LOL).

Matthew: An unusually sloppy editing job by sometime EICs Roy and Jim, e.g., “it’s pattern is,” “the Spinx-Ali fight,” “Louie Armstrong,” S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Johnson referring to himself as “a C.I.A. man.”  Meanwhile, the lettercol tells us that as of next issue, recent filler-in “Kinetic Keith Pollard…will be taking over as penciler,” Big John being too immersed in Howardiana (although one such project, “another forthcoming double-size [Conan] mag,” apparently never eventuated) and the Weirdworld epic in Marvel Super Special #11-13 to continue.  So enjoy his Stone-inked grandeur here while you can, without dwelling overlong on such silliness as Thor towing a wingless 747 into JFK; at least this time the lengthy flashback constitutes new material.

Chris: Roy hasn’t used his time well on this storyline, and the trend continues with this issue.  I realize Roy’s aim is to introduce supporting characters from Eternals days, but do we really need nearly seven pages of Karkas & Co and their journey to the center of Manhattan?  I’ve got an idea: once the MARMIS (understandable, under the circumstances) is settled, why not have Karkas explain (over a few brisk panels) how he and the others located the Deviant city, with Karkas fleeing to the surface once the battle is lost; then, Sersi reveals she’s been in the apartment the whole time; next, Thor, Karkas, Sersi and the unnamed captive proceed toward the Deviant stronghold, which allows Thor to confront Warlord Kro on the last page.  

During the heroes’ approach to the Deviant city, we could be introduced to the captive Eternals; it’s no loss to do it this way, since the Eternals contingent doesn’t have much of a chance to demonstrate their powers in this issue anyway, so we might as well have them trussed up.  That would work, wouldn’t it?  Instead, in #286, we’ll have to burn multiple pages on the journey to the subway, and the party’s process thru the tunnels, in a way we’ve already seen in #285.  I shoulda been a editor.  

The Buscema/Stone art is good enough; Buscema’s pencils are in evidence, as Stone complements the work already there, instead of having to supplant it with his own style (I’m looking at you, DeZuniga).  There’s little for the art team to do; the clash between Thor and Karkas takes slightly more than one page, and the Eternal vs Deviant throw-down is almost exactly one page.  Lots of walking around.    

Star Wars 25
"Siege at Yavin!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Carmine Infantino and Gene Day
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek

TIE Fighters have been making attack runs against the rebel base at Yavin. Luke, Leia and the droids have ditched Senator Greyshade’s yacht for a freighter in order to keep the Empire from tracking them. They notice a commercial craft from the House of Tagge is heading into warp in the direction of Yavin, so they tail it. On board the ship, Baron Tagge trains with a light saber in the hopes of one day repaying Darth Vader for robbing him of his eyes, forcing him to wear Cyber-Vision goggles. They reach Yavin, but Tagge’s sensors pick up their tail and leave booby traps in orbit. Luke and Leia evade them but run into a squad of TIE Fighters Tagge’s ship dropped along the way. Luke and Leia’s ship is hit by blaster fire, taking out an engine and their communications! -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: A pretty straightforward story with little plot, but plenty of action. Can I be honest? I never found “action” to be exciting in comics. Whether a character is standing in place or running, it still amounts to the same still picture of a figure. Same with space battles that go on for pages. It’s  just a still drawing of a ship with “speed lines” drawn around it. What makes comic book stories interesting for me are well-drawn characters, a compelling plot, and great art. Sadly, there’s little of that here. Baron Tagge is just another power-hungry guy out to take over from Tarkin or Vader. Luke gets to feel pangs of jealousy when he feels Leia might be interested in Han, but gets a kiss later (ewwwwwwwwwwww – sister kiss). Basically, they’re running in place between movies.

Matthew: I find it hilarious that two years after the release of the film, with the world firmly in the grip of Star Wars-mania and breathlessly awaiting the sequel, there is still a Superhero (sic) Merchandise ad on page 12 of this very issue hawking Kenner’s “Hans” Solo action figure—achtung, baby!  Meanwhile, a multi-purpose item on the Bullpen Bulletins page breathlessly informs us that “an epic begins with [this] gripping tale,” and although I didn’t feel especially, um, gripped, it’s not bad for something drawn by Infantino, who as usual does best with no people involved (e.g., page 19, panel 1; page 30, panel 3).  The imperial machinations and shady salesman have that Lucas feel, even if Baron Tagge looks a little silly in his VR specs.

If the CCA had only known...

The Uncanny X-Men 123
"Listen -- Stop Me If You've Heard It --
But This One Will KILL You!"
Story by John Byrne and Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Terry Austin

Spider-Man, on his way to a date, spots Scott Summers and Colleen Wing on a date of their own, and drops down to say hello. After he webs off, Scott and Colleen are captured by a specially- rigged garbage truck. Spider-Man hears the strange, but familiar, sound of the mechanism and goes back to find only Colleen’s scarf behind. Knowing it's the work of crazed villain Arcade, he goes to find a phone. At Lincoln Center, Nightcrawler and Colossus are taking Amanda and Betsy on a double date to the Bolshoi Ballet, but are also captured. Same with Logan, who is ending his own date with Mariko, as he reflects on how special she is. At the mansion, Banshee and Storm get zapped, too, just as a frantic call from Spider-Man comes in. He’s moments too late, as Arcade gloats upon answering.

Sometime later, the X-Men awaken in individual Lucite globes, but before they can make a move, they are propelled through a giant pinball machine as Arcade welcomes them to Murderworld! The balls are loaded with shocks as they hit bumpers, but each finally goes into its own chute. Cyclops lands in a room and is given a choice of three doors to exit through; one leads to freedom, the others to painful death. To speed up his decision-making process, the wall behind him begins to move forward. Once he opens a door, it will launch the rest of the way, giving him literally a second to get out. What Arcade doesn’t tell him is that all three doors lead to brick walls. The way out depends on Cyclops not trusting what Arcade says.

Colossus wakes up and is faced with a representative of the KGB, who calls Peter a traitor to Russia. Wolverine is stuck in a room of mirrors that produce instant android duplicates of himself, complete with metal claws. Nightcrawler is in an oval room with lethal “dodge-em” cars. Banshee is fighting illusionary Nazi war planes. Storm is in a chamber that reflects her lightning bolts back at her.

Finally, with seconds left to choose, Cyclops blasts the wall beside him rather than one of the doors. His opti-beams cut through the chamber and wipe out some of Wolverine’s androids. They regroup when they are approached by a giant figure. Wolverine is whaled by a metal fist. It is Colossus, brainwashed and calling himself The Proletarian, the workers’ hero of the Soviet Union.  -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Now this is why I read comics. The first ten pages of this move the plot along while delving into the characters and their private lives. There are only so many times I can beat the same drum, so I guess we should be happy we’re near the end of this blog, but even an adversary as cheesy as Arcade is compelling under Claremont and Byrne’s watch. Byrne has a solid handle on Spider-Man, which is a rare thing indeed. Spidey’s recognition of the sound of Arcade’s trap and his imitation of it (“SFLANNG!”) is hilarious. Just about everyone is on a date in this, but none is more important to the character development than Wolverine’s with Mariko. His reflections on how he feels are fantastic and another huge step forward for the character. The one guy who started out as a berserker killer will become the most honorable character in the book. Eventually.

Can I mention Storm in her bathrobe without coming across like a perv? I mean, I didn’t draw the nipple protrusion, so does it make it fair game to mention it?

The giant pinball machine reminds me of those old '40s and '50s Batman comics, when the Caped Crusader would be in those elaborately out-sized death traps. The pinball machine is kind of cheesy, but the individual traps it leads to are great. The only downside: Arcade’s platform shoes. Hello, Arcade? Erik Estrada called, he wants his shoes back in time for CHiPs Does Roller Disco.

Chris: I don’t know how many times I read this issue, way back when; once again, I typically can’t recall what’s about to happen next, but I recognize nearly every Byrne/Austin image once I turn the page and continue reading.  I had thought Spidey was called in to provide some help for the X-ers against Arcade.  Instead, Claremont plays with our expectations, as Spidey is here merely to add suspense, with his well-intended warnings arriving too late – Spidey’s frustrated phone-smash is a far cry from seeing him swing in and save the day.  

Arcade’s Murderworld is a crazy idea to bring to X-Men; it’s certainly a change of pace, not suitable as regular fodder with this title.  There’s no chance this would work without Byrne’s fertile imagination; plus, you need Austin’s clear finishing to provide credibility for the implausible features of Arcade’s big-ass game.  Highlights include: details visible on the Washington Square arch (p 1), plus the cameo by Doc’s Sanctum (p 3, pnl 4); the sanitation truck has the word “ARCADE” visible over the grille, and on the license plate (p 3, pnl 3); Arcade’s eyes, visible as two sneaky slits in the shadows, as he ambushes Ororo (p 11, pnl 4); Scott’s reaction as the red diamond on the far wall advances toward him (p 16, last pnl); funhouse Wolverines (p 19); Cyclops zrraks a stringy “instant android” to pieces (p 27, pnl 2); points also for Peter’s all-red “Proletarian” worker’s overalls, featuring a hammer and sickle, a portrait of Lenin, and of course “CCCP” (so, ya s’pose Byrne’s a hockey fan, eh?) printed across the chest (p 30). 
Matthew: Perhaps it was only a matter of time before this book played the “Soviet card,” which with Putin riding high might seem uncomfortably timely once again; we’ll see how that works out on both counts.  If the top half of this two-parter suffers from anything, it’s probably similarity to Claremont and Byrne’s introduction of Arcade in MTU #65-66, to which they pay a nod with Spidey’s minimal guest-shot, but aided and abetted by Austin (note the MMMS cert in page 10, panel 6), they have all of next issue to put a uniquely mutant spin on things.  Certainly the specialized death-traps facilitate characterization and suspenseful cross-cutting, yet how did Logan jump from getting the bum’s rush at the consulate to dining with Mariko—scene missing?

Mark: After two consecutive (minor) missteps, the X-creators (or - as Prof Matthew dubbed them - the Dream Team) are again hitting on all cylinders. Even what seems like a gratuitous Spidey crossover adds to the fun (and John Byrne draws a righteous Webs). In lesser hands, evil Jimmy Olsen doppelganger Arcade would be a highly mockable villain. Spidey calls him "a crazy assassin for hire," but he has no discernable powers, save for a limitless budget and, apparently, political connections. How else does one get a steel containment cell installed in Lincoln Center?

In keep with the Jimmy Olsen-DC theme, Arcade's other offerings seem straight out of the goofy Batman of the late '50s-early '60s. Loading the captured X-Men into a giant pinball game? Confronting Cyke with a "Lady and the Tiger" test, complete with walls being compressed by a giant hydraulic press? It's a tribute to the Dream Team's near-genius that these silly, scoff-worthy gimmicks not only come across as loving homage, but somehow work in their own right. Ditto for other madness like Nightcrawler being attacked by bumper cars with teeth, and Banshee being strafed by phantom Stukas.

Even letterer Tom Orz gets in on the fun, adding a ZRRAK! sound effect to Cyke's eye-blast on p.26. Elsewhere, Wolfie's budding romance with Mariko continues to take root, and if all that weren't enough, Colossus - apparently brainwashed - has returned to his Red-commie roots as the Proletarian, sporting bib overalls, emblazoned with Vlad Lenin logo that would look right at home in a commie-bashing Iron Man story from 1963.

And I didn't even get to Arcade's platform tennis shoes...  

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 26
"Tarzan Caged!"
Story by Bull Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Bob Hall
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Rick Parker
Cover by Rich Buckler and Bob McLeod

Nearing “a lonely airstrip somewhere in the wilds of New Jersey,” Tarzan learns that Jane is alive and will remain so as long as he cooperates, playing his part as the “wild man” in Tory’s safari revue; meanwhile, Jane is contemptuous of Ian’s attempt to minimize his role as the other plane touches down.  Tarzan gets vengeful bookeeper Smithers in a choke hold with his legs but—bound, outnumbered, and outgunned—is injected with tranquilizers and “a drug that will paralyze certain muscles in your throat and mouth, leaving you unable to speak.”  As Tory’s motorcade crosses the Hudson, we learn that hours earlier, in Africa, Korak ordered Juvombu to place his mercenaries in custody, and headed for the British coastal outpost to seek air transport.

Watched by both eager kids Stan and Jack (“It’d make a great comic book!”) and tony couple Scott and Zelda, Tory leads a parade up Fifth Avenue to promote his Safari Club, with Jad-bal-ja maddened by the scent of so many humans and Tarzan able to communicate only in the language of the Mangani, subdued with electro-prods.  In Tory’s Empire State Building suite, Jane throws her lunch into Ian’s face and makes a break for it, but is tripped up by the dress Roger provided, her escape attempt breeding suspicion of Chalmers among the guards—and inspiring her to use his apparent infatuation to her advantage.  The installment ends with a spectacular full-pager of the club on opening night, Buscema and Hall pulling out all the stops in Mighty Joe Young mode. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Behind that vivid Buckleod cover, the interior art marks Bob’s swan song as Sal’s inker on the book, and they once again make effective use of the modified double spread, with a shot of the planes landing in the rain—impressive, but probably not requiring two full pages—that spans the bottom ⅔ of 2-3, while four panels across the top recap and advance the plot.  The overall results are variable, e.g., the many faces of Martin Smithers:  in page 7, panel 2, he resembles a Gene Colan grotesque, while in page 10, panel 6, he looks demented and almost deformed.  Bill offers some sociological meditation on the contrast between Tarzan and his “civilized” tormentors, and I thought (or subconsciously remembered) they’d go with the old speech-impairing-drug routine.

Beauty being in the eye of the beholder, I was surprised by this apologia in reply to a LOC from one Stephen Friedt:  “If Tarzan Annual #2 failed to even come up to the level of the regular monthly Tarzan title, then the causes need to be examined.  TA #2 was Bill Mantlo’s first attempt to script Tarzan and Sal Buscema’s first shot at drawing the character.  Bill accepts (but doesn’t totally agree with) your criticism of the story [per Friedt “poorly done fluff….poorly paced, trite, and a blight upon his otherwise excellent record”].  Sal is blameless.  His pencils for TA #2 were as good as or better than his work for the monthly book.  As you correctly point out, it was the incompatibility of Fran Matera’s inks with Sal’s pencils that created the discord.”  Well I liked it.

The Micronauts 7 
“Adventure Into Fear” 
Story by Bill Mantlo 

Art by Michael Golden and Joe Rubinstein
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Michael Golden and Neal Adams

At the Coffins' remote cabin retreat in the Everglades, young Steve mourns the supposed death of his father Ray after the ex-astronaut fell into Professor Phillip Prometheus’ pit to the Microverse. As Commander Rann sleeps in his hibernation capsule, Biotron shows Mari what he dreams about on a video terminal: their 1,000-year ’Verse exploration aboard the Endeavor. For the journey, Rann was placed into suspended animation in the capsule, telepathically linked to Biotron: the roboid spread their message of peace to the unexplored worlds they encountered. But during their mission, Baron Karza — who had killed Rann’s royal parents to wrest control of Homeworld — had invented the warp drive, sending his ships to conquer the planets they had discovered. Ultimately, the Endeavor reached the spacewall: multiple Time Travelers welcomed them to the Enigma Force and, during an explosion of light, the Micronauts’ telepathic link became permanent. Biotron piloted the ship away before they both were driven mad and plotted the course back home.

In the Microverse, numerous events are unfolding: Mobile Exploration Labs begin the process of mind-merging Baron Karza with the huge human visitor, the insane Phillip Prometheus; Slug and the centaur-like Prince Argon finally find the remaining rebels, surprisingly led by one of the Shadow Priests; and Time Traveler floats before Ray Coffin, telling the dumbfounded man that he will become Earth’s champion.

Back in Florida, the Man-Thing emerges from the swamp and approaches Steve Coffin, lured by the teenager’s grief. The Micronauts rush to the rescue of their new friend, but Mari’s lasersonic pistol, Acroyear’s energy blade, and Bug’s rocket lance are of no use against the macabre muck monster. The fearful Insectivorid soon finds himself in the grasp of the swamp creature and begins to burn — however, Biotron, in the Endeavor’s Hydro-Copter, blasts him free. His sadness turning to courage, Steve boards his swamp boat and fires up the engine. The Man-Thing — attracted to the boy’s brave new emotion — shambles towards the craft and is splattered apart by the spinning propeller. Meanwhile, Baron Karza climbs out of the Prometheus Pit, full-sized and eager to conqueror this strange new world. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Just loved this issue. Let’s start with the cover, easily one of the Top 10 of the decade. Sure, Golden played fast and loose with the Micronauts’ proportions, but they would have been overwhelmed by the monstrous Manny if drawn as small as they actually are: besides, Michael has earned a heavy dose of artistic license at this point. And don’t think I missed that the great Neal Adams handled the inks instead of Rubinstein. Adams used a stylized “N” as his signature, matching Golden’s trademark “G.” Fabulous. Now some of Biotron’s story about the Endeavor’s mission was touched on in issue #1, but I’m glad that Mantlo took a few pages to flesh out the backstory. And the Man-Thing is one of my all-time favorite guest stars. You don’t need a lot of exposition to introduce the character into a story: just set it in the Everglades and pump up the emotion. He’ll ooze onto the scene in no time. Plus, Golden’s interpretation is positively Ploog-worthy. And, during the flashback, we get our first glimpse of Karza’s actual face before he went with the black armor. He’s suitably evil looking of course — even though he helped raise Rann from childbirth. “Luke, I am your babysitter!”

Mantlo injects plenty of comedy into the proceedings. At the beginning, Steve is fishing for dinner, the water-averse Bug balancing on his float for some reason. If he hates getting wet, you’d figure he’d steer clear. Of course, the Insectivorid is nearly swallowed by a bass. Plus, Rann orders Microtron to monitor the television to see if there is any news about the explosive incident at H.E.L.L. The little robot instead becomes distracted by an episode of Star Trek. “It’s almost believable!” But the battle with Manny is no fun and games. Bug nearly gets fried and the Hydro-Copter is almost totaled. By the way, where do they store the copter — and the Astro Station for that matter? The Endeavor doesn’t seem to be that big. And yes, I had the Astro Copter toy as a kid. Motorized with rotating paddles, it was great fun in the bathtub — you could also replace those with wheels for some all-terrain action on the carpet. But there’s no way that Biotron could have fit inside. Now there’s talk that the swamp creature somehow sacrificed himself in the blades of the propeller to honor Steve’s courage. Dunno, sounds like a stretch. 

But if there is one indelible image to take away from this issue, it’s obviously the last panel of the man-sized Baron Karza clambering out of the Prometheus Pit. Head for ze hills! 

Matthew: The lettercol informs us that the creators “carefully plotted [this] entire saga as a finite epic”—climaxing in #12, conveniently at blog’s end—and that Man-Thing’s appearance confirms this as the Earth of the mainstream Marvel Universe.  Previously the star of Adventure into Fear (hence this issue’s title), Manny seems a surprising choice for the first guest-shot, but holy cow, does Goldinstein do right by him, especially the full-pager on 16 that is depicted on both their stunning cover and the aforementioned house ad misspelling poor Josef’s name yet again.  Mantlo, too, makes effective and interesting use of a character who should be handled carefully, enabling Steve to rebound somewhat from his father’s plunge into the Prometheus Pit.

Chris: The armadillo tells us how Mantlo, Golden, Rubinstein, and Milgrom all were involved with plotting-out the first twelve-issue storyline of Micronauts.  It’s possible Marvel now has learned a thing or two about how to launch a new series, especially one involving characters who aren’t part of the mainstream M-Universe.  Since they took the time to think it thru, they’ve maintained both coherence and a steady pace; casual fans can follow the continuous action, without getting bogged down in exposition, which is worked-in along the way.  Mantlo’s even doing better as he refrains from the self-explanatory captions, which might’ve been the only bit of fine-tuning required for this consistently satisfying series.  

Michael Golden presents the best-looking Man-Thing we’ve seen since Mike Ploog (p 16).  Man-Thing is hardly an organic (so to speak) part of the story; the full-page ads for this issue in every July 1979 Marvel mag inform us Man-Thing is soon to return to his very own title, so I can’t help wondering whether Manny is here simply to plant a soggy seed for possible future sales (yes, I’m cynical).  Golden’s impressive intro of Man-Thing is, of course, bookended by a very sticky end (p 27), which is revoltingly mucky even by Manny-standards; Golden & Rubinstein must’ve had some fun with that.  At least Steve Coffin didn’t plead with the Micronauts to be nice to Man-Thing, and try to reason with him; that’s a hoary trope associated with a decidedly different green monster.  

Also This Month

Crazy #52
< Marvel Super-Heroes #81
Marvel Tales #105
Shogun Warriors #6
Spidey Super Stories #41


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 42
Cover Art by Bob Larkin

“The Devil-Tree of Gamburu”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga

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

“Kings of the Night”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by David Wenzel

“Swords and Scrolls”

The epic adaptation of L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter’s novel Conan the Buccaneer continues with the 33-page “The Devil-Tree of Gamburu.” It’s the shortest installment so far, and, while still impressive, the least of the three.

After being drugged by Nzinga, Conan is carried off by four of the queen’s fierce Amazon warriors and dumped in a cell: the terrified Princess Chabela is hung by the wrists in another section of the dungeon — she spots the Cobra Crown on a table across the room. Convinced that the Cimmerian still desires her captive, Nzinga arrives and begins to whip the helpless woman. Suddenly, in an eldritch explosion, Thoth-Amon appears and blasts the torturess unconscious with a burst of evil energy from his finger. The Stygian sorcerer clutches the bejeweled crown to his chest and proclaims that he finally has the power to become emperor of the entire world. He then disappears in the same malevolent manner that he materialized.

Chabela manages to wriggle free from her sweat-soaked bindings and stumbles away, soon coming across Conan’s cell. After she wakes him with a bucket of water, the mighty Cimmerian bends the soft copper bars of his prison and squeezes through. But they are soon cornered by Nzinga and a band of her savage subjects: while he manages to blind or burn a few of them with a torch, Conan surrenders when the queen threatens the princess’s pretty neck with her knife. The barbarian and the woman are then brought outside and tied to a post in the middle of a shallow arena strewn with bones and strange Kulamtu trees with thick, long leaves and pod-like mouths filled with razor-sharp teeth. As the Amazons look on with twisted anticipation, the trees reach out and begin to wrap their tendrils around the prisoners. 

However, the leaves of the Kulamtu are coated with a vegetable-based acid: while it burns the skin, it also starts dissolving the barbarian’s bonds. To the spectators’ amazement, Conan bursts free and releases Chabela as well. The Amazons rush forward but the Cimmerian tears one of the trees out by the roots, swinging it like a weapon. But there are too many of the woman and he is nearly overrun. But Juma and his Kushite tribesmen — as well as Sigurd the Vanir — surprisingly appear and unleash a volley of arrows. The Amazons are quickly defeated.

See what I mean? Didn’t take much to write up this third chapter. Basically we have Thoth-Amon getting his hands on the Cobra Crown, the flaming fight in the dungeon with the Amazons and the rumble with the Kulamtu trees. It’s much less complicated and features far fewer characters than the first two parts. The Buscema/DeZuniga art is still superb. The splash page is tremendous with the Amazons carrying Conan’s huge mass through the dungeon. The trees are a bit goofy though. But, obviously, the highlight is easy to spot: Chabela is relieved of her top by Nzinga and walks through the entire story half naked — and DeZuniga doesn’t hesitate to embellish nipples. Gulp! When Sigurd arrives, he stammers “Princess! By Ishtar’s teats and Moloch’s fiery belly — you ought to get some clothes on!” He then wraps her with his shirt. Hmmm. Do we think that the Vanir sailor might win the hand of the princess before things are said and done? We wrap up next issue with the 35-page “King Thoth-Amon.” I like the sound of that!

Up next we have the 18-page Part One of Roy Thomas and David Wenzel’s adaptation of “Kings of the Night,” Robert E. Howard’s short story about the Pict warrior king Bran Mak Morn, which first appeared in the November 1930 issue of Weird Tales

Mak Morn has united several tribes to repel a legion of Roman conquerors: standing with them are Cormac and his Gaelic warriors, a group of Britons and their chariots plus 300 Vikings. The night before their battle against the far superior Roman forces, Bran and Cormac discuss how their plan hinges on the Vikings. However, since their king, Rognar, was recently slain, the shaggy Northmen are reluctant to be led by a supposedly savage Pict — they are threatening to desert and join the enemy. 

Before the dawn, Bran is approached by his shaman, Gonar. The wizard claims that through the power of the gem on the Pict’s headband, he can summon the legendary and long dead King Kull: the Valusian will be a welcomed leader for the Vikings. The gem, Gonar adds, was Kull’s gift to his friend Brule the Spear-Slayer, the first in the Mak Morn line. Amazingly enough, Kull does appear through the mists in the morning. The Pict informs the visitor from the past of their predicament and the monarch agrees to fight with them against the Romans. A Viking named Wulfhere approaches and shouts that Kull is nothing but a ghost and attacks — after a vicious battle, the Valusian kills the Northman. But Kull was cut during the conflict: when the rest of the Vikings see his blood and realize that he is actually flesh and not a spirit, they cheer and vow to follow him into battle.

This was quite interesting. Very, very talky so not too difficult to bang out a rather brief summary. There’s quite a bit of standing around and waxing philosophical, much of which I left out. Roy is quite faithful to Howard’s original. What with all the rampaging against Romans and uniting Pictish tribes, the Bran Mak Morn story is much more interesting than both King Kull and Solomon Kane’s, so I always welcome his rare appearances in these pages. Having the Valusian on hand is a bit of a bonus as well. But what impresses me the most is the art of David Wenzel. Never thought I’d say that! He shows previously unseen talent on this tale: call me crazy, but I see hints of Barry Windsor-Smith here and there. It’s the most assured and attractive work I’ve seen yet from Dave. There’s none of his trademark awkwardness. The story will wrap up next time with the 15-page “Pass of Death.”

Lastly we have Part IX of Lee Falconer’s “A Gazetteer of the Hyborian World of Conan Including the World of Kull and An Ethnogeographical Dictionary.” You would think that this would be the final installment since it runs from “W” (Wadai) to “Z” (Zug). But a note at the end promises “Still to Come: Robert E. Howard’s ‘Notes on Various Peoples’ — first publication for a mass-media magazine!” Whatever that means. -Tom Flynn


  1. I never liked Arcade as a villian. He is so one-note and silly, after countless hours in the Danger Room the X-Men should have trashed Murderworld in a minute. But it was a good looking issue, no doubt.

    DeCamp's Conan the Buccaneer is not a very good novel. Basically it plunders a lot of Howard original stories, too many scenes are very familiar. The adaption is better than the original. Buscema and DeZuniga were amazingly consistent artists. Compared to today's soulless computerart this is vibrant and alive.

    1. DeZuniga gets some knocks by the faculty here and there but his black-and-white work is always outstanding.

    2. I admit to being one of those who's knocked DeZuniga; if I have some disfavor for him, it's due primarily to the way he overshadowed Simonson's pencils on Thor #260-271. As I've seen more of DeZ as finisher for Big John on these Conan stories, though, I've developed a greater appreciation; the Hyborean era serves as a far better venue for DeZ's ability to provide mood and atmosphere.

  2. Jimmy Olsen? In an interview read many moons ago, John Byrne said he'd based Arcade's look on actor Malcolm McDowell.

    1. Arcade shares Jimmy Olsen's red hair and freckles; the similarity might end there. I'd never considered it before, but when you consider the madman's glint in his eye, and follow the sneering curl to his lip, I can definitely see a connection to our best droog, Alex. The notion casts a potentially silly villain like Arcade in a new, darker light. Thanks for the background info, Mr Smith!

  3. Prof Matthew -- in response to your observation about John Buscema leaving Thor to devote time to a "forthcoming double-size [Conan] mag,” the armadillo likely was referring to King Conan, a double-sized quarterly that premiered with a March 1980 pub date. Big John provided pencils for the first nine issues.

    1. Thanks, Professor Chris. I thought Professor Tom had stated that some oversized new Conan mag had been announced and never eventuated, but I could well have misunderstood him, or made an incorrect assumption about this reference. My apologies for any confusion.