Wednesday, January 4, 2017

September 1979 Part One: Frank Miller Hits the Bullseye!

 Daredevil 160
"In the Hands of Bullseye"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

 Natasha Romanoff returns to her penthouse apartment.  Someone awaits her – Bullseye.  The assassin has no intention of killing Natasha; she has a role in a broader scheme.  He intends to capture her and use her as bait to catch Daredevil, so he can kill them both.  Bullseye makes good on the plan’s first step, as a miniature explosive takes down a large crystal chandelier, with Natasha pinned beneath it.  Before he leaves with her unconscious form, Bullseye throws a knife into a large mirror; the knife pins down a photo of Natasha, cut from the Daily Bugle.  The following day, Matt Murdock has brought Heather Glenn to her father’s gravesite (Heather was too heartbroken to attend her father’s funeral); Foggy, Becky, and Debbie wait at a respectful distance.  Heather asks why she had to come here.  She renews her accusation of Matt, stating he was too busy “playing Daredevil” to help her and her father when they needed him (Matt doesn’t point out that, as Daredevil, he had been trying to find a way to locate Killgrave and use him to clear her father’s name).  Heather asks Matt to promise he won’t “ever let that happen again"; when Matt tries to explain how he has “certain responsibilities,” she slaps him and walks off.  Alone in his brownstone, Matt decides to look up Natasha, to talk about his recent troubles.  As Daredevil, he lets himself in thru the open window, and immediately senses something wrong; his radar sense informs him of the disturbed furniture (including the downed chandelier), he smells dried blood on a ceramic vase, and his hearing picks up the gentle flap of the newspaper clipping.  Super-sensitive touch verifies the image to be “Natasha!”  DD figures this to be the work of Bullseye; a short visit to Ben Urich at the Bugle confirms Bullseye had escaped (in dramatic, deadly fashion) from Bellevue four days earlier.  DD hits the dockside bars, and locates a few of Eric Slaughter’s men who had taken shots at him earlier in the week.  After he thoroughly roughs them up, DD’s instructions are straightforward: “Find Bullseye. …When you do, tell him – Daredevil is coming!” -Chris Blake
Chris Blake: Roger McKenzie has a curious way of opening the issue, with the word “Epilogue--” on the top of page 1.  If we look back to the final page of #159, we see that also identified as “Epilogue” (that’s when Bullseye slices the photo from the Bugle page), so perhaps that’s McKenzie’s way of telling us Bullseye’s attack happens immediately after #159 closes out.  After DD wins the bar fight, we see the final two panels called “Prologue,” as McKenzie wants us to look forward to next issue; as if we weren’t already doing that!  
The wait between issues wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t sixty days long.  Our letters-page armadillo cheers DD fans along, and encourages us to join M.O.B. (i.e. “monthly or bust”); so far, 273 letter-writers have expressed their support for DD to resume monthly status.  Curiously, it will be nearly two more years (publication-speaking) before this happens, as the cover of #171 (June 1981) will announce, “At Last … Monthly!”

Chris: In the space of only three issues, Frank Miller already has established a distinctive look for this title, marked by a thoughtful approach to his presentation of figures in every panel, ably aided by Klaus Janson and Glynis Wein.  Three sequences bear special attention: the opening fight between the Widow and Bullseye has plenty of action (played out in a linear fashion), the colors muted due to darkness in Natasha’s apartment (p 2-6); toward the end of the visit to the cemetery, Foggy states Matt probably wants to be alone, which transitions to a single panel of Matt standing in place, thinking  “I hate being alone …,” as we see a long horn-headed shadow on the red-colored floor behind him (p 11), and Matt colored in tan as he sits alone in the darkened room (p 14); lastly, once DD arrives at Natasha’s apartment, we see his radar sense active right away, represented as a bright-red light surveying the room, with the heavy, fateful chandelier presented in the foreground (p 16, 1st pnl).  

Matthew Bradley: I didn’t like this idea of the “Widow’s Curse” back in her Amazing Adventures solo strip, where it turned a self-assured super-heroine into a sad sack, and I like it no better now.  I’m similarly unenamored of stupid scenes like the one in which DD swings through her window saying, “Natasha, it’s Matt!,” when the next panel makes clear that his radar sense has yet to tell him who, if anyone, is there and might not know his “secret” i.d. already.  So while in retrospect this continues consolidating the Miller/Janson greatness, McKenzie still isn’t off the hook; the nonsense with Heather drags on to no apparent point, and I guess it’s supposed to be ironic that the “carefree” couple Matt envies in page 14, panel 1 appears to be long-since-split Pete and M.J.

Mark: I'm gonna go out on a limb here and proclaim - without a lick of research - that this the first superhero comic in history to prominently feature a blow-drier on the cover. With Bullseye, of course, "anything and everything is a deadly weapon," and when the drier fails to take out the Black Widow, B-eye drops a chandelier on her head!

Fortunately for Natasha, she's merely bait to bring DD arunnin', and after Matt gets slapped by Heather at her father's burial (in a driving rain storm, natch) for not swearing her emotional needs would now get priority over his alter-ego, the Devil's on the hunt. He stops by the Bugle and learns details of Bullseye's recent escape from Bellevue, while we learn that intrepid reporter Ben Urich's Daredevil file is cross-indexed with one for Matt Murdock!

But that's a complication for another day. Having sussed out that ol' Target-head must have hired Eric Slaughter and goons for the failed hit on him, our hero - in civvies - wreaks havoc in a shady bar, in search of intel. These six pages of well-choreographed carnage serve as a showcase for Miller's burgeoning talent, while little serving the plot, since DD doesn't learn Bullseye's whereabouts, or even what he paid for the hit. Yet readers are likely to be left in such a state of panting excitement that they'll hardly notice that all the dismantling of Josie's Bar & Grill revealed was that ol' Hornhead is really pissed. 

And on a collision course with Bullseye. Can't wait.      

 The Amazing Spider-Man 196
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Al Milgrom, Frank Giacoia, and Jim Mooney
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Keith Pollard and Al Milgrom

Injured and confused, Spider-Man swings towards Aunt May's nursing home to see if she truly is dead, ignoring a mugging when he sees the police are near and hopping a bus the rest of the way. Inside the rest home, he does a quick change to Peter, then Dr. Rinehart shows him his deceased Aunt. Angry, depressed, and helpless, Peter "staggers back toward Manhattan," thinking about his relationship with May and his inability to ever save anyone he loves, from Gwen and Capt. Stacy to John Jameson, Felicia Hardy, and of course, Uncle Ben and Aunt May. At the Daily Bugle, a gloating J. Jonah Jameson wants to publish a story of Spidey not helping the person who was mugged, which leads Joe Robertson to quit, tired of JJJ's biased attitude toward the wall-crawler. Cut to a Westchester County mansion, where the mystery man tells Boris and Bruno to bring him Spider-Man—alive—using  something in a briefcase.

Distraught, Peter smashes a lamppost then ends up at ESU, where he barely talks to his buddies, then takes a leave from teaching. Back at Restwell, Anna Watson pays her respects to her dear friend May. Later, Peter is at the docks, where he imagines May is talking to him; he's then visited by Robbie who, as always, is a steady voice, telling Peter about the death of his infant Patrick, and how you must go on no matter what. This leads Peter to Forest Hills and the old Parker home—which he finds ransacked! Suddenly, he remembers who Dr. Rinehart is and races through Manhattan to Restwell to confront him—but out of nowhere, Bruno and Boris shoot a gas bomb, knocking Spidey woozy; they capture him in a net and pummel him into unconsciousness. When our hero awakes, it's to the sight of… The Kingpin!--Joe Tura

Joe: Talk about an eventful chapter in the life of Peter Parker/Spider-Man and friends! Aunt May is dead, Robbie quits the Bugle, The Kingpin is back, and much more, including Spidey saving money on the return trip to Queens by swinging back to Manhattan! But will any of this last? Is beloved May really gone? Is JJJ going to be without his right-hand man? Well, that's why we keep reading, I guess. But in the meantime, Marv packs this issue with pontificating and pity, but manages to make it work. The artwork is fine but not earth-shattering, with some decent shots that throw back to Gil Kane (especially pg 23-27). And how about that broken lamppost—talk about a blast from the past! You do remember Spidey's origin, no? Lots of unanswered questions, including who is Dr. Rinehart really? (Well, it's not that hard to figure out.) What the heck is with The Kingpin, who's like a bad penny? OK, since he's a beefy baddie, more like a silver dollar.

This month's favorite sound effect is at the top of page 27, when Boris shoots the gas bomb at Spidey who claims, "I didn't realize my spider-senses were buzzing for someone other than Rinehart!" But either way, he's knocked silly with a mighty "BARANNGG" that sounds as noisy as it must have been for our hero!

Chris: It would be easy to accuse Wolfman of staging an issue-long Peter pity-party, but in plain fact, Peter’s loss of Aunt May would be devastating at any time; her kindly spirit has been a solace for Peter thru many difficult times, for as long as he can remember.  It would be inappropriate to depict Peter as anything less than bereft and heartbroken at his loss.  Three cheers to Joe Robertson for his dignified exit; the cynic would say “Damn, man, what took you so long?!”  My only question is why Robbie chooses not to confide in Peter when they meet on the foggy docks; if anyone else could appreciate the daily difficulty of dealing with Jonah, it would be Peter –right?  

For once, I’m not going to harp on Wolfman’s stringing-out of the grand scheme as it plays out at the nursing home.  For once, the delays as Wolfman continues to withhold information are contributing to suspense, instead of derailing it.  Now that Spidey has figured out something regarding Rinehart, and is rushing back to the nursing home, the Kingpin’s resurfacing couldn’t have come at a worse time; it’s a classic moment of bad luck for our hero!
Milgrom’s layouts also are better than I expected.  Granted, we have two Spidey-pros in Mooney and Giacoia to provide finishes, but it doesn’t diminish Milgrom’s effort as he provides a decent framework, especially:  the swingin’ splash page; Peter walking on the street, boxed in by buildings and an oppressive night sky, his shadow stretching alone on the empty sidewalk (p 7, pnls 1, 2); Peter absent-mindedly takes out a steel pole (p 15, pnl 2); multi-exposure look as Spidey moves quickly down the side of a building, and vaults to the next one (p 26, last pnl), before he’s caught in the jarring explosion (p 27).  
If I have one criticism, it’s the morbid idea that a nursing home would stock coffins, and have an in-house viewing room to display their departed residents already laid-out as soon as next-of-kin are notified (p 3, last pnl).  I for one sincerely hope I don’t wind up in a rest home that doubles as a mortuary!
Matthew: As I feared, we’ve already come so far from my heyday (God only knows what kept me buying through the mid-’80s) that the home stretch of this blog feels like an endurance run, most titles devolving into a haze of mediocrity and a frequent refrain of the art being better than the writing.  With its unusual Day-Glo coloring, the cover is striking, yet I think that even turning 16, I was savvy enough to know Aunt May wasn’t dead, both because we’ve seen the Burglar scheming to get Peter out of the way, and because a glance at the issue number suggests a “surprise” in #200.  The Mooney/Giacoia finishes over Milgrom layouts look pretty nice, but Pete’s failure to identify Rinehart—blinded by grief though he may be—is inexcusable.

The whole thing feels like Marv is just rehashing his FF shtick:  “They’ve broken up—but only until #200!”  So many things bothered me about this issue, not all of which (e.g., blowing off the arrangements for May, relentless dickishness toward his friends rather than telling them up front of his loss) can even be potentially discounted due to Pete’s emotional state.  Why clear Spidey’s name and then work tirelessly to undercut your own milestone development?  Why not say to the cops, “Hey, you guys got this?  I have a crisis!”  Would he really risk lamenting his secret i.d. aloud?  Robbie’s quitting is nice, and overdue, but the sudden revelation of his lost child seems awfully convenient; including the two-issue-old Black Cat among the honored dead is offensive.

Mark: The dramatic, moody cover by Keith Pollard and Al Milgrom would pack even more punch if all but the thickest of readers - note, class, I'm deliberately not looking at Forbush - knew from last ish (if ya missed it, you're on your own) that Aunt May's death is a hoax, since shady Doc Rinehart promised Uncle Ben's killer & current Aunt May hostage-holder the Burglar he'd get rid of pesky Peter Parker, right before Mr. P received the telegram announcing May's demise.

Admittedly, the Doc's pretty committed to the scam, since he's displaying either drugged Aunt M or a very realistic dummy in a coffin at the old folks' home. Rinehart's ploy, it must be said, is far more successful than Marv's, if one posits that Wolfie doesn't think readers picked up on his Manhattan-sized hint. The alternative, that we're meant to grok that Pete's grief is unfounded, would seem a misplaced strategy, since readers would be much more engaged if we were suffering through May's "death" along with our hero.

Barring that admittedly large head-scratcher, this one still manages to sweep us up in its pulpy pathos, as Parker rages against cruel fate under thunder and lightning skies, even if half the folks on his "died on my watch" list are actually still alive. Robbie quits the Bugle over Jonah's unfair attacks on Spidey then randomly runs into Pete on the docks and tells him of the first son, who died at six months old. Grab another hankie.

Pete finds his old Forest Hills home has been ransacked by the absent-except-in-spirit Burglar, and if all that and a broken arm ain't enough to bum him out, the Kingpin (before Frank Miller signs him in free agency for Daredevil) puts in a last-page appearance (I guessed it was him from his large shadow, earlier in the mag) keeping our hero from running down whatever it is he's remembered about Doc Rinehart.

It's all clicking along so well, in fact, that I can't help thinking this arc would have all the makings of a classic, if we thought for one minute that Aunt May was really ten toes up.   

The Avengers 187
"The Call of the Mountain Thing!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, and David Michelinie
Art by John Byrne and Dan Green
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by John Byrne and Terry Austin

The Avengers' quinjet is tossed about by the massive storm above Wundagore and the team must leap to action by evacuating, leaving the invincible Wonder Man to crash-land the vehicle. Once on the ground, the team (composed of Cap, Ms. Marvel, Falcon, Beast, the Wasp, and WM) regroups and begins the search for Quicksilver, but is attacked by Modred, who defeats the Avengers in no time at all. Heading back from the downed quinjet, Wonder Man is approached by a being he first takes to be Wanda, but the energy she exudes renders WM helpless. That same energy lifts the other Avengers and transports them up Wundagore, where they are suspended like pigs about to be slaughtered. Chthon, the being within the possessed Scarlet Witch, relates its origin: eons before, Chthon and his sister were the "last of the earth-spirits" about to be "deposed by newer Gods," so Chthon fled, leaving the Darkhold volume as a gateway for his return. That return came when the Scarlet Witch was born. Realizing how powerful Wanda was, Chthon kept his eye on her all through her crime-fighting career, "hoping she would turn to sorcerous alternatives." When Wanda sought the help of Agatha Harkness, Chthon knew it was time to act. Modred interrupts the demon's story to let it know something approaches. It's the Beast, clad in an ancient armor (belonging to a Knight of Wundagore) he'd found deep in the snow on the mountain. His attack serves as a distraction and Chthon takes his attention away from the imprisoned Avengers. The team attacks but it's Django and his Wanda puppet that put the nail in Chthon's coffin; the demon's soul is absorbed into the puppet and Pietro hurls the toy into the snow, while Wanda adds the tombstone by bringing half the mountain down on top of it. The strain is too much for Django's heart and the old man expires. The team buries him in the nearby forest and heads for home. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: A satisfying climax to this fabulous arc but... I could have done with one more chapter. Events seemed to be a bit rushed towards the climax. If I was on the fence before, I'm now firmly in the Pro-Byrne camp; his visuals are a delight, vibrant, exciting. Equally praise-worthy is the story, pieced together from several titles; I've always loved when a writer could reach back into the Marvel Mythos and make something new out of something old. Am I the only one who sees echoes of Chthon/Wanda in the Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix saga?

Matthew: You are not sir, and of course Byrne is the common denominator there. Pretty tortured Grieg allusion in that title, yet despite being a “self-described middlebrow snob,” I will accept it on general longhair principle.  Now, I’m not gonna claim that I fully understand all of the Magnus-Machinations surrounding the Darkhold (so, if I’m reading this right, he was Jonathan Drew, and thus Jessie’s father…?), but do pronounce myself satisfied that the Granwalinie Collective has done due diligence on the Spider-Woman web strands—uh, plot threads—Mark inherited from Marv.  Befitting an issue drawn brilliantly by Byrne, if that’s not redundant, Cap’s “Everyone who flies, grab someone who doesn’t” sounds like vintage Scott Summers, and abetted by Green’s inks, the “Chiffon”-possessed Wanda looks incredibly creepy.

Joe: I'm with the Dean on many of his points. Yes, this could have been one chapter longer. And Byrne's art is certainly exciting, as awesome as any in the history of comic books. (How's that for Stan-level promotion!) Also, the parallel of this story with the immortal Dark Phoenix saga makes a lot of sense, and it never really hit me until now. It's also a harbinger of Wanda's powers to come in many years from 1979. (Those in the know can think "No more mutants.") But I'm not sure I'm buying the fact that Chthon implanted himself in Wanda at birth and is the one holding her back, even though it does kinda make sense in the same hindsight. Especially when she takes down half a mountain with one simple hex.

So many great little moments other than the Wanda revelations, most of them involving Beast, possibly the best Avenger (my humble opinion, of course) of the late '70s-early '80s teams. Page 3, panel 2 when Beast goes "SHOOP"-ing through the sky thanks to the rocket belt. Cap yelling to Modred, "You talk it up big, Mister!" Ms. Marvel telling Falcon to stop talking and do his job, almost a reflection of the entire history of comic books. Beast pondering on the mountain with the armor of the Wundagore Knights, quite Hamlet-esque on page 10 panel 2. More Cap-speak, with "Guess again, Modred! My life belongs to me! And yours will soon belong to a warden!" Oh, that stickler for the rules, assuming Modred will go to the Wundagore County Jail! Wasp having a big moment—literally, a moment before she's zapped. Beast gliding in as a Knight with the words "Close enough, toots!," followed by Modred getting shut up by a face full of shield! Yeah! Quicksilver getting to play the big hero, saving his sister with deduction as well as the help of friends—led by Ms. Marvel, who in another harbinger of recent 2016 Marvel events, seems to want a larger role of power with Iron Man not around (Hmmmm….). And finally, in our last panel, the Avengers walk off triumphant, with Modred's book still on the lance Beast is carrying! Boy, this title was on a nice roll in 1979.

Chris: I wonder how long it’s been since Captain America led a small contingent of Avengers on a mission, aided by neither Thor nor Iron Man (I expect Prof Bradley might know the answer …)?  Wonder Man’s presence demonstrates how the supposed membership shakeup in #181 should not’ve been cause of great concern regarding any fan’s favorite team member; clearly, the writers will continue to cherry-pick various former regulars as circumstances dictate.  Each member has a chance to contribute, if only in a minor way; the Beast’s role is noteworthy, as his unexpected swooping-in, and disrespectful skewering of the very tome of the Darkhold itself (p 23), completely deflates Chthon’s pronouncements of bending “all of nature to my will!” After the Beast’s interruption, the tent folds fairly quickly on Chthon, as the Avengers take a page from X-Men #108 and employ group power to trap the ancient being in the Wanda marionette.  Clever moment as Pietro realizes the wood used to make the puppets was exposed to both uranium and Chthon’s magic – “The power is in the wood!

The Byrne/Green art continues to work, although the finishes are beginning to slip compared to the previous two issues, with some figures more loosely realized than before.  High points to the boys for a few of Chthon’s expressions, beginning with a sense of triumph (p 22, last pnl), followed by some nastier, bony-faced looks as Chthon’s evil appears to manifest itself (p 26, 27), until it is wrenched free of Wanda and buried under Wunder-rubble.  Points also for the animated Wanda marionette itself, first (as Wanda) as it reaches for Pietro’s giant hand (p 27 1st pnl), and then (as Chthon) as it attempts to defy the indignity of tons of rock falling on it (p 31, 1st pnl). 

Battlestar Galactica 7
"All Things Past and Present!"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Clem Robins
Cover by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

In the memory machine, Adama relives a past swordsmanship competition against Baltar, when they were both warriors. Baltar is outclassed by the athletic Adama, but resorts to cheating to gain the upper hand. Regardless, Adama wins the match handily. Outside the machine there is great unrest on the Galactica since Sire Uri had taken over as President of the Council. He also takes command of the Galactica and orders Colonel Tigh off the bridge and puts him in charge of the repair efforts to get the fleet all up to light speed. Uri then orders Apollo, Athena and Starbuck to find the missing ships in the fleet. Apollo realizes Uri is only trying to get his opponents off the chess board. Uri, it seems, wants to just leave the slower ships behind. However, suspecting Adama’s life is in danger, Apollo has Boomer take his place while he stays on the Galactica and heads toward the memory machine. Unfortunately, Uri’s guards intercept Apollo and drag him to the bridge. Once he's there, Uri’s plan begins to unravel when he is told the agro ship has also disappeared. Panicking, Uril realizes it’s all going wrong and they need Adama alive. There is a running battle as Apollo and the returning Tigh make their way to Adama. However, a stray laser bolt hits the controls, trapping Adama in the memory machine!
-Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: A lesser effort and the beginning of a storyline that won’t be resolved before this blog ends. Adama will be trapped in this damned machine for(seemingly)ever and we take side trips that don’t move the storyline at all. Actually, this title will grind to a virtual standstill until Walt Simonson comes aboard. After that, things will pick up. As it stands, we get some nice bits here and there. Since the fleet is still in the void (the TV series took them out of it after Serena’s death), this apparently falls between that episode and the next. I guess it would explain what happened to Sire Uri, who disappeared after the pilot movie (this guy in the comics looks nothing like Ray Milland). Rich Buckler’s art is okay, with likenesses going in and out. They finally get Dr. Wilker’s name right, but the very same bald, bearded guy was Dr. Spang in all prior issues. Still, it's a fun action-packed story. The last good one we’ll see here.

Captain America 237
"From the Ashes..."
Story by Chris Claremont and Roger McKenzie
Art by Sal Buscema and Don Perlin
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Keith Pollard and Al Milgrom

After a press conference held to distance himself from the National Force, Captain America has a lot of weight on his muscular shoulders. Just before he leaves the building, a reporter confronts him and explains that she has something he really must see. When Cap sits down in front of a TV screen, footage of Sharon Carter's self-immolation pops into view. Though the Star Spangled Avenger suspected the truth, this video hammers it home. After a good cry, Steve moves out of his apartment and drops out of sight for a spell. When next he surfaces, it's at Avengers Mansion to let his comrades know he's back to work but also to let them know he's got a side job now: commercial art ("Get the F**k out of here," thinks the Vision). Moving into his new apartment, Steve is befriended by a neighbor, Joshua Cooper, and invited to dinner at the landlady's pad. Once there, Rogers is introduced to his landlady, Anna Kapplebaum, and immediately knows he's met her "somewhere... a long time ago." Once the number on her wrist is revealed, her story about life in death camp Diebenwald unfolds. Anna lost her entire family to the Nazis and would have died herself, mowed down by the butchers in the last days of World War II, had the camp not been liberated by Captain America and the Allied soldiers. Later, in his own apartment, Steve's deep sleep is disturbed by the ring of the telephone. It's his old sparring partner, Nick Fury, requesting his presence at SHIELD ASAP. "Grumble...grumble," but Steve Rogers rises from bed to save Nick's bacon once again.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter: Let's ignore the fact that Steve's new landlord ("Anna Krumplecakes? I know that name! From somewhere back in my haunted past!") happens to be the girl he saved from the machine guns of the SS. Let's ignore the fact that (unless I missed that special issue of Tales of Suspense where Steve Rogers chucked it all, moved to Paris, and bought an easel) we've never so much as seen a paint roller in Cap's hand. Let's ignore the fact that Sharon Carter's death is the most egregious example of flushing a beloved character (granted, a character who had outlived the date on her carton) in the history of Marvel. Let's ignore the fact that, even by 1979, Marvel, the company who keeps telling us they're responsible for black characters in funny books, still paints African-American supporting characters with a George Jefferson/Jimmie Walker brush (dig those crazy clothes on Josh Cooper!). If you can ignore all that, you're a more forgiving reader than I.

Matthew:  Surprised to see plotter Chris’s byline, both because this is not his usual beat—#258 is his only other Cap credit—and because, passable Buscerlin art aside, it's not that great, for which scripter Roger can take only so much blame.  I do welcome the closure concerning Sharon (at least until the inevitable 1995 retcon), and there’s an interesting symmetry in juxtaposing the confirmation of her “death” with WW II, when sis Peggy became Cap’s first love.  But notwithstanding the lip service paid to the artistic aspirations during, I believe, the brief Gerber flail, and as relieved as I am that he won’t be reduced to panhandling, the advent of “Steve Rogers, Commercial Artist” feels as abrupt as that of new BFFs Josh, Anna, and as-yet-unnamed Mike, while Anna recognizing Cap 30-odd years after a fleeting encounter at Diebenwald is silly.

Chris: Hey gang – what do you suppose Superman is up to this month?  How about Batman – do you figure he might be fighting the Joker, maybe?  Or perhaps the Penguin, just to change things a little.  Any chance – any chance at all – that either of them, or any non-Marvel figure for that matter, might be concerned with a real-life occurrence like this one – an all-too-real brush with merciless, purposeful evil?  Call me cynical.  Credit goes to Claremont’s plot, and McKenzie’s script, as neither pulls a punch; there are only three pages devoted to Mrs Kappelbaum’s recollection of her concentration-camp experience, but in that time, she’s herded into a train, separated from her family, then is witness to her parents’ murders.  As if that weren’t horrible enough, she manages to survive another six years in the camp, as “days became weeks … weeks became months …,” until Cap leads the cavalry to the rescue, in time to save some – far too late for most.

Extra credit to the authors for their restraint, as they show Steve listening attentively, but refraining from taking credit (“You know, Mrs Kappelbaum, it so happens that I am Captain America -!”), and don’t turn her story into a flag-waving party (“As long as there is evil in the world, there will always be a need for – Captain America!”).  Instead, when Steve returns to his shadowy loft, his thoughts are of Sharon, and Bucky – two people he couldn’t save.  He takes solace from Mrs Kappelbaum’s story, as he realizes “maybe someday, when the hurt stops, I’ll be able to talk about Sharon.”  
On a final note, Steve’s decision to move to Brooklyn, and apply himself to work as a commercial artist, will take root and allow Steve Rogers an identity outside the uniform.  This new direction will be in place for most of the remainder of the Bronze era; the decision is a good one, as it finally allows Steve Rogers to move past thoughts of his history, and to establish something meaningful for himself in the present.

Conan the Barbarian 102 
“The Men Who Drink Blood!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Al Milgrom

With weeks under his leather belt as their new war chief, Conan is firmly in charge of the Bamula tribe. After a successful battle against the neighboring Kungados, the Cimmerian shows mercy towards the survivors — however, Basotu grumbles that no one should have been left alive. That night, back in his hut, Felida — the woman he inherited after killing the previous chief — offers her body: the barbarian declines, leaving the lovemaking for another night.

Suddenly a scream rings out from the cattle pen. Conan leaps from bed, rallies a few men and arrives to see a gaunt, fanged stranger biting the neck of the lone guard. A Bamulan shouts that he is a drellik, those who drink blood, undead beings who can’t be slain. The Cimmerian ignores his fearful soldiers and hurls his spear, instantly killing the ghoul, proving that he is a simple man not an unholy monster. But another cry shatters the still night air: this time it is Felida. Rushing back to the village, the barbarian and Basotu kill two of the faux vampire-men threatening the woman — they manage to capture the other. 

Vowing to wipe out the blood-drinkers, the barbarian commands the creepy captive, called Ashido, to lead his Kushites to their hive-like mountain lair. After climbing the spiked wooden wall surrounding the dark city, Conan unlatches the front gate and lets his Bamula spearmen inside. Searching the dark caves within, the war party soon comes across a vast cavern: dozens of drelliks lie sleeping throughout, one seated awake on a bat-winged throne in the distance. After a stone gate falls and blocks their escape, the Cimmerian rushes forward and drives his sword through the chest of the blood-drinker on the carved chair: to his astonishment, it causes no harm and he quickly realizes that this is a true vampire. The fearsome creature hurls him across the room and into an unforgiving rock wall — the barbarian is knocked unconscious and Basotu and the rest of the Bamulas drop their swords in surrender. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Believe it or not, I’m writing this recap on Halloween — which is totally appropriate because this is one nasty and creepy tale. Now the drelliks are quickly revealed to be human, but they still boast deadly, sharpened teeth and bat-like ears formed at birth. And they believe their own hype, drinking the blood of livestock and sleeping during the day, wearing clumsy sunglasses made of smoky crystals if forced out into the sunlight. Plus, they only have need for women during mating season: they are killed soon after giving birth as are any babies unlucky enough to be born female. Yikes. In another grisly twist, the spear that Conan uses to dispatch the first drellik drives through the goon’s body and impales him on a steer, which is also killed in the process. Pretty gratuitous. Their leader is an out-and-out vampire though — he brushes Conan away with a flick of the wrist. Uh oh.

You can’t exactly call this issue action-packed: Roy relies mostly on atmosphere and a sense of overhanging dread. But it works. Of course, the art is as stellar as we have come to expect. There are a few subplots at work that help raise the bar as well. The interesting relationship between Conan and Felida continues: she comes right out and says that he can lie with her but the big guy decides that the time is not yet right. And Basotu comes across poorly at the beginning when Conan lets the Kungado surrender without further bloodshed. But his standing rises considerably among his tribesmen after he slays one of the blood-drinkers with his spear. And let’s not confuse Conan’s mercy with weakness: he did kill the Kungados' chief by smashing his face into a tree. 

Now Conan has encountered men with sharpened teeth before. The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #14 featured Darfar cannibals with the same kind of chompers. In a strange coincidence, this month’s Savage Sword #44 directly follows the events in that earlier black-and-white magazine. I told you it was Halloween! Ooo eee ooo!

 Fantastic Four 210
"In Search of Galactus"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Byrne and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Keith Pollard and Frank Giacoia

Galactus on the cover is an obvious upgrade over last month's anonymous/inaccurate space tentacles, and boy howdy, does the Big G look pissed! 

The Thing swats meteors on the splash; Sue does the same with her force field, both standing on the hull outside the Nova Prime ship as they battle the space-rock storm. Inside, Herbie the Robot tells Reed it'll be two minutes plus before they exit (I think Herb means enter) hyper space to - hopefully - find Galactus. Johnny asks if he can help. Reed tells him to pray.

Advised to come inside for the warp jump, Ben decides too many meteors still need clobberin', so he tosses Sue into the ship, crunching the airlock door shut behind her. But the Torch is not having "the big, stupid lummox" go all Noble Sacrifice on them and flies off  " save my friend." Heating up the hull until an airlock blows gets Johnny sucked into space without a helmet (which he needs, unlike in last month's inexplicably hospitable and ill-advised "Sargasso in space"), but Ben grabs him by the ankle on the way by, hauls him aboard, and administers mouth to mouth. The oft-squabbling pals have a bromance moment, and it's one of the few times Marv has effectively evoked the Fabs' familial bonds so well during his tenure.
They make the warp jump and are soon approaching the Big G's really big ship, which dwarfs the mile-long Nova Prime craft. Reed explains how, after Galactus got a case of cosmic indigestion after gobbling down the planet Poppup (FF #175), the High Evolutionary turned Galax into a giant brain, which subsequently exploded. The gooey remains were Hoovered up by Big G's own ship, which subsequently used them to recreate its owner. 

Our heroes are here to convince Galactus to save Earth from the Sphinx - grown to a hundred feet tall after absorbing all knowledge from the Living Computers of Xandar - who's zoomed off toward Terra with a mad-on for the home world. But first the Fabs have to get Big G's attention. He's performing an experiment, and his personal force shield leaves him both untouched and oblivious to the Torch & Thing's attacks.

Reed has a plan, so they trek back through the ginormous ship. Earlier, Sue had grown faint from the accelerating effects of the Skrulls' aging ray (and since her "family has always died young*," Sue expects to be the first to go), so they left her on a bench to rest but now she's in danger of being Hoovered up by an automated two-story-tall vacuum! The Thing tosses Sue to safety for the second time in twelve pages and gets sucked up instead, but soon bursts free from the machine, claiming, "I even got waxed an' polished fer my troubles..."

Back at Galax's cosmic zoo - seen on the way in - the Fabs release the beasties and stampede them toward the Big G's lab, provoking the hoped-for attention. With a wave of his  hand, Galactus returns the animals to their cages and suspends the FF in mid-air for a good tongue-lashing, but is "almost" intrigued when he learns they're here with palms out, seeking his help. 

But his answer is a big no. Down to a desperate last resort, Reed reminds G that Earth is the only planet ever to escape his appetite, so if he takes down the Sphinx for them they'll release Galactus from his hands-off policy and put Earth back on the menu! He agrees, but first the Fabs must find him a new herald.

So, from Sphinx frying pan to Purple Planet Eater's gullet? Find out, next month!

*Sue and Johnny's dad, Franklin Storm, did die in middle age, but he was killed, ironically enough, by a Skrull, way back in FF #34.  -Mark Barsotti

Mark: This is easily the best FF, cover to cover, since the Big Anniversary, leaving me little to carp about, which, believe me, class, is a pleasant change. I'm happy to proclaim that Marv gets most everything right here, from the outlandish meteor-busting and Ben's impulse to redemptive sacrifice, to Galactus' god-like arrogance and indifference, to big-brain Reed forsaking cool calculation for a roll-the-dice gamble. 

While the John Byrne-Joe Sinnott art, somehow, isn't as great as that combo sounds, it certainly gets the job done in fine fashion. Toss in wild SF concoctions like Big G's menagerie, some Torch-Thing bonding, limiting "that second rate R2-D2" to a couple panels (addition by subtraction), and one cliffhanger ending building on another (Find Galactus! Find Galactus a herald!), and you have all the elements of a winner.  

So, well-done, gentlemen. I closed the cover content enough to almost not ask why Marv only seems to be able to come up with a winner every four or five months.
Matthew:  I’m not exactly a “jingo unchained,” but I sure as hell take exception when Marv has Ben call Galactus “taller’n the Stachoo of Liberty, an’ twice as ugly!”  Wolfman, if the sight of our beloved Lady Liberty offends you—as I seriously doubt it would a World War II veteran like Ben Grimm—then please, feel free to leave.  A small thing?  Maybe, yet once again, it demonstrates what I consider his total tone-deafness for these characters and vastly overrated rep.  The faux drama of Ben’s disobeying the withdrawal orders gobbles up several pages, while making the FF look like blithering idiots—so much for “well-oiled action!”—and again it’s left to Byrnott (who, fortunately, are more than equal to the task) to give this whatever value it has...

Chris: Marv (finally) starts moving things in the right direction, as we not only locate Galactus, but also have a welcome diversion as the double-F team is flung off somewhere to retrieve G’s herald (a new herald!).  We’ve had a few reminders that the rapid-aging clock is ticking, so this ill-timed side trip should contribute to suspense instead of derailing it (we’ll see).  Another interesting consideration is two-fold: Reed offers Galactus a tasty morsel – he can snack on the continents of Earth, and wash them down with the oceans! – for which Galactus will extend his massive hand, knowing full well (in his all-knowing, know-it-all way) that Reed, in his treacherous human fashion, has some scheme to “prevent [him] from draining the earth’s energy.”  Now, provided Galactus has capabilities of both light-speed and time travel, we should be able to reach Earth, before the abruptly-vengeful Sphinx (for reasons known only to him) leaves our home planet looking like the galaxy’s greatest pile of Kirby-rubble.  

Marv continues to invite more than his share of criticism, but I will try to be brief, since I’m relieved to be moving forward.  These two silly bits could’ve been cut easily: Ben wants to stay outside the ship and swing away at meteors, since he feels (yet again) the world won’t miss an ugly orange rock-monster – um, something tells me the mile-long Nova Prime craft has protective shielding, both metallic and deflector varieties, so that it can, you know, withstand the rigors of space; and, Sue stays behind, takes a little nap, and nearly gets caught in a bristly self-cleaning device – Ben has to fling her away to safety, since Sue “couldn’t work up [a] shield in time!” – haven’t we already moved away from Sue as the weakest member, most likely to be in need of rescue?  I only mention these sequences because: they don’t advance the story; they play on false drama, as Marv expects to build excitement over these unnecessary would-be non-concerns; and, if these bits and the BEM sequence from #209 had been excised, then we might’ve caught up to Galactus on schedule in our previous issue.
Okay, back to the positive: Byrne/Sinnott art highlights: the weird, Mobius-like intricacy of Galactus’ ship (p 10); “It’s the Big G himself!” (p 16); the bizarre creatures of the Galactus zoo (p 23-27 – I especially like the brown one with the big head and pseudopod-like arms swinging, p 27, 1st pnl); two images reminiscent of Kirby, both involving the imperial hand of Galactus, first as it puts things right with the creatures (p 27, last pnl), then as it prepares to dispatch the team on their cosmic errand (p 31, pnl 4).

Scott: At least this issue looks great. Byrne and Sinnott are a hell of a match. Not much of Byrne’s pencils get through, but every so often, we see glimpses. Still, none of this stops Johnny from being a total idiot. He really thinks he can make a hole in a spaceship and he’ll be fine as long as he holds his breath? In deep space? Dude, first: exhale. Second, yup, explosive decompression. And, what, he expected his flame to stay alive? This isn’t his first time in space. After f’king up and nearly dying in FF 6, you’d think he’d learn. But he was never the hottest match in the book….

 The Incredible Hulk 239
"All That Glitters..."
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Al Milgrom

Hulk is snoozing atop Mount Rushmore but stupid Army won’t let him sleep. Hulkbusters are on their way but creepy villain Goldbug gets there first and zaps Hulk awake. Hulk not morning person and is pissed to see soldiers standing close by, ready to gas him. Goldbug uses his weapon to turn the soliders into gold statues and tells Hulk he’s his friend. Hulk is beamed up and taken away. Goldbug is a fast talker and gets the green goliath to grab power handles, which start to suck the strength out of him. The shadowy people called “They” make Goldbug’s ship short-out and Hulk breaks free. They bail out before the ship can crash and Hulk is about to turn Goldbug into bread pudding when a priest shows up from a mist and says Hulk is a savior. Hulk, thinking it’s a trick, follows him with Goldbug in tow, into the mist, ready to smashy their destination: El Dorado. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: I remember picking up this issue, as a kid, off the spinner rack at Tangleson’s drug store. It was disappointing then, it’s doubly sucky now. The mystery of They isn’t particularly interesting and nothing bored me more than some native dude from El Dorado. I was so disinterested, I never bothered to wonder what happens next. I still don’t, but since this is my title, I have to read it in a week or so. At least the inking is better than last issue.  

Chris: “No!” hollers his Hulkness; “You will not gas the Hulk!  All the time, soldiers attack the Hulk, shoot at the Hulk!  But no more!  You hear?  No more!” (p 11).  And all I can think is: you tell 'em, Hulk; I’ve seen my share of useless attempts by the military to overwhelm, or even slow down for a moment, the mighty green force (I don’t know that I’ve fully recovered from the pointless, empty exercise of #199 yet).  Well, shame on me in that moment for thinking so little of Roger Stern; I should’ve realized he wouldn’t settle for a mindless tank-bashing issue.  First, the Goldbug throws us an interesting curve, as he seeks not to defeat or destroy the Hulk, but rather to use him as a living battery.  Goldbug couldn’t anticipate his plans might be undone by They – but then, neither could we!

But then, right when we’re ready to see the Hulk exact some half-ton-powered revenge, he touches down and meets the acolyte of They (much to the consternation of Goldbug, who already has found himself in a heap of trouble!), who welcomes the Hulk to the city of They.  As if we hadn’t already had our share of unexpected developments, Roger drops in one more: as the Hulk walks to the city, we’re privy to his thoughts (not a frequent occurrence in this title – the Hulk typically is one to speak his mind, you know?), as he realizes this is likely to be a trap.  “But Hulk will fool his enemies,” Hulk thinks to himself – as he formulates a plan (wait – what ?!) to enter the trap, and then “smash the trap … smash the city … smash everything!”  Bottom line is what started as a fairly routine premise develops into an issue with more than its usual share of unexpected developments – with more to come, I expect.  Well, except for the smashing, that is – we should know by now that it’s going down.

Matthew: I guess this isn’t bad for the 37th “let’s dupe the poor ignorant green guy into helping the villain” routine.  In fact, Sterno handles that aspect of the story pretty well, while mercifully refraining from trashing another national landmark, and although its selection by the Hulkster among “all the mountains in the Black Hills” for his nap seems far-fetched, at least he didn’t run into Rocky Raccoon.  The Buscemosito art is as rock-solid as Mount Rushmore itself, making the Goldbug look far better than a mere pawn of They-Who-Wield-Power (and evidently received a Nomenclature-Upgrade) deserves, and I liked the depictions of the Hulk’s perplexity over both the soldiers’ surrender and the high priests’ prophecy, of which he is sagely suspicious.

 The Defenders 75
"Poetic Justice"
Story by Ed Hannigan
Art by Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Al Milgrom

Foolkiller aims his blaster at Val, but tells the Defenders he wants to show them why they are fools before he vaporizes them. He has Dollar Bill roll the unflattering Defenders documentary and carps about how this shows the world how dopey superheroes can be. Val uses the distraction to act; she launches at FK but he blasts her. The shot doesn't reduce her to scattered molecules but it does hurt a bit. Seeing that his "Purifier Ray" might not work on the non-team, FK blasts the ceiling and leaves the heroes to perish. Some quick thinking from Val saves them. Meanwhile, Ledge has snuck off and called Kyle, who's being chauffeured to the D.A. by the government blokes, and the ex-Defender hops out of the car, doffs his civvies and takes to the sky as Nighthawk! Hellcat has trailed FK and a scuffle breaks out; Val follows and puts the villain out of our misery. Kyle arrives to find half his home burning, throws a fit, and announces on national television that the Defenders are hereby extinct (as if they existed in the first place!). Hulk helps a beached whale get through some tough times and Hellcat and Val are convinced to look into the disappearance of James-Michael Starling (don't do it, girls!) while, thousands of miles away, coincidentally, Gramps identifies the body of "Sam," aka Omega the Unknown! -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Just when I thought I was out, they drag me back in! What's worse: reading this issue's non-story (laden with its non-art) or looking forward to my return to chronicling the non-adventures of Omega the Unwanted? The whole Foolkiller plot went absolutely nowhere; Hulk is reduced to a few panels of whale love (complete with a plea from the writer for readers to donate to Greenpeace!) and Kyle/Bird-Nose whines and whines and whines. This guy was a leader? The Trimposito art is, as usual, awful; I picture the two of them lining up action figures in their studio and replicating the dolls'  wooden poses. Come to think of it, a beached whale may be a perfect metaphor for this bloated carcass.

Matthew:  I hate to say it, but at the time—after about 40 issues that were largely excellent, followed by about 35 that…weren’t, and with no inkling of far-future redemption—it might not have been the worst thing in the world if this actually had marked the cover-promised “end of the Defenders,” especially since that would have spared us the Omega-Redux.  The Hulk does little more than save a beached whale (and what the hell is with that random Greenpeace plug?), while the reduction to ruins of the Richmond Riding Academy by A GUY WITH A GUN merits a two-page (Night)hawk’s-eye-view spread.  The wisdom of Clea following Val’s judgment is, at best, questionable; Kyle’s flouting his subpoena is all too inevitable; Trimpe never fails to disappoint.

Chris: On page 2, Val asks that Clea not “do anything,” since “Dollar Bill’s life is at stake!”  (“Do something, Clea!  Go ahead, do something!!” clamors the ordinarily peace-loving MU faculty …).  As the team follows Foolkiller’s instructions to adjourn to the next room, Clea observes that “a simple spell” would be sufficient to stop Foolkiller.  So Val, if you had it all to do over, wouldn’t you have Clea zap Foolkiller on page 2, and thereby save the team and its hangers-on from risk of injury, and spare the riding academy from extensive damage?  If the Foolkiller story is wrapped up early in the issue, we all could move on to something else, like tying up the loose ends of the Omega story, or maybe a return trip to Tunnelworld.  Okay – let me try that again: Val, please go ahead and let Foolkiller wreck the Defenders HQ; at least then, there’ll be some action to follow.   

I had criticized Trimpe for his questionable panel-management in #74, so now I will give him proper credit for the double-spread on p 22-23, which gives us a sense (as viewed from over Nighthawk’s cape) of the three-ring chaos at the academy; as Nighthawk rightly observes, he’d only left there an hour or so earlier!  And this is before the Hulk drops in, and starts flinging patrol cars around!  Sheesh.

 The Invaders 41
"Beware the Super-Axis!"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Chic Stone
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diane Albers
Cover by Al Milgrom

 At Idlewild, Captain and Miss America pitch in to save the exsanguinated ATC, yet despite being reminded of what happened last time he donated blood to the vampire’s victim, the Torch suspects androidism when passed over and flies off in a fit of pique, following Baron Blood’s fading fog-trail to Chinatown.  Spotting the House of Lotus, he makes the connection, entering just after “that Nip lady spy” has extended her control over Master Man and Warrior Woman, who join U-Man and Baron Blood as the Super-Axis.  He fares no better, succumbing to her charms immediately; 12 hours later, pondering his absence in a government-provided hotel room, his four teammates hear reports of the Super-Axis wrecking Chicago’s vital railroad yards.

Lady Lotus’s plan to destroy the U.S. from within (as payback for the relocation camps) is off to a good start until the flagship and Miss America fly in, as Cap and the Whizzer hit the silk, and a furious battle ensues.  The Super-Axis appears to be on the ropes when the Torch arrives, vowing to kill his friends “for the love of Lady Lotus,” who mentally dispatches the others northwest to their next morale-busting target.  Miss America lures the Torch into Grant Park, and is saved by the Whizzer from a toppling stone column in front of the Field Museum of Natural History, but culture saves the day when Namor fills the Band Shell with the waters of Lake Michigan—which had just restored him—and douses the Torch’s flame, enabling Cap to snap him out of his trance.

Having heard the psychic command, the Torch leads them to Riverview amusement park (where they save a Major and his bespectacled companion, Diana, on the Pair-O-Chutes), yet instead of landing the flagship, he commandeers it to return to New York.  Lady Lotus escapes while he beats the samurai fighters—revealed, like her handmaidens, as enthralled Chinese—and soldiers.  Namor rescues a Strat-O-Stat plane thrown into the Chicago River, kayos U-Man by hurling him into the main entrance lights from the Bobs, and impales Baron Blood with a wooden shaft from the coaster’s damaged framework; Madeline slams Warrior Woman into the Aladdin’s Castle fun house; and Cap barely survives Master Man’s self-defeating damage to the Pair-O-Chutes tower.

The supersonic flagship actually gets the Torch back in time for the wrap-up, in which Namor notes that shaming Lady Lotus broke her power, and the defiant Meranno is threatened by the Chicago police with “a nice public fish tank…down at the Shedd Aquarium!”  The seconded Legionnaires are last seen holding hands as the Invaders proper return to their wartime home of Falsworth Manor, where they and their British teammates reunite for a hearty “Okay, Axis—here we come!”  Days later, Lady Lotus encounters little Suwan and her uncle, the Yellow Claw, who boasts, “I can admire your ambition, woman—but you struck prematurely.  I shall wait for the proper moment.  And though it takes over a decade, the United States shall be mine.”  The end? -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: It’s a damn shame:  four months after its formal cancellation in the May Bloodbath, the title goes out with a bang in a giant-sizer combining the contents of what would have been #41—obviously ending on page 23—and 42.  With all due respect for creator/editor Roy, Glupperberg is firing on all cylinders, showing what the book could always have been with proper art, and if Stone’s inks aren’t as polished as an Austin’s or Sinnott’s, they complement Alan’s pencils in a style suitably evocative of Golden-Age comics.  Don also handles the period stuff nicely, doling out a flavorful but not oppressive number of timely (ha ha ha) references, and I enjoy Miss America’s spirited banter; for me, the only discordant note is the Torch’s apparently unsupported fears of prejudice.

We end with Alan’s two-page “final pulsating pin-up of all the halcyon heroes who’ve appeared in the pages of The Invaders,” which is quite nice, yet as a completist, I might’ve preferred to see the splash page for #42, assuming it was drawn, perhaps with a final lettercol and/or essay by Roy regarding their swan song.  One thing that I’ll freely admit I don’t regret is the choice of dramatis personae, with the Kid Commandos nowhere to be seen and the Falsworths confined to a last-page cameo.  With the de facto All-Winners Squad, Super-Axis, and Lady Lotus, we have characters aplenty as it is, and I’d rather see the future Franks, who have Golden-Age credentials, than annoying sidekicks (founding Invaders though they may be), or the admittedly likable Brits.

There’s a nice moment when Master Man remembers Miss America and the Whizzer from the Liberty Legion, whom he and U-Man fought in MTIO, and she says, “What’s wrong, Super-Fritz?  There’s a law in this country against being in two super-groups?  Shucks, I’m also an Ovaltine-drinking member of Captain Midnight’s Secret Squadron!”  Juxtaposing the Torch’s suspicions of discrimination with his constant “Nip” references seems odd until we allow for the wartime attitudes in 1942.  Both the copious action scenes and the Windy City travelogue are handled well (although I can’t speak for the accuracy of the latter)—coaster alert for Professor Joe!—while Cap, as usual, looks conspicuously terrific in page 19, panel 3 and page 44, panel 4.

Mark: Readers - like your humble prof - hoping that the Invaders would go out with an epic war movie bang will have to settle for predictable and somewhat threadbare B-grade serial thrills, all viddyed in one over-sized dose. For best results here, class, pop some corn, put your brain into neutral, and go with the pulpy flow. Surrender to serial silliness like Baron Blood suddenly leaving a fog trail (bean-rich blood for dinner?) for the Torch to follow to Chinatown, where he instantly finds Lady Lotus and falls sway to her "I'm not so particular as to whom I give my love" come-on and a big "Banzai" smooch. After - presumably - getting his android ashes hauled, the Torch attacks his teammates while in hypnotic thrall to the chain-smoking vamp.

All this is served up by Alan Kupperberg and Chic Stone with punchy, energetic professionalism, if little artistry, which, one could argue, suits the material. The Super Axis never work as a team (much like the real Axis) and are a bit of a bust. It's as much fun watching Lady Lotus take down alt-right, er, Nazi fetish couple, Master Man and Warrior Woman, with demonic images of the 'Vaders than seeing them trade blows with the real McCoy.

Still, Don Glut and the Kupperstone kids wring maximum mileage out of set piece battles at the Chicago train yards and Riverview amusement park. Lots of carnage, but no one even gets hurt except for Baron Blood, on the receiving end of Namor's well-thrown stake. The Whizzer saves Miss America a couple times, prompting her to finally respond to his long-time mooning. They later walk off hand in hand.

Lady Lotus escapes to have a brief, last page encounter with '50's baddie the Yellow Claw, ending with the sort of knowing wink toward Marvel (Atlas-era in YC's case) history that editor Roy Thomas loves.

Lots of popcorn-chomping action throughout, but zero depth or characterization, save for the Torch throwing a brief Android Lives Matter snit over not being allowed to give blood, all the way back on page two. Admittedly, a formula of straightforward (or, if one prefers, simplistic) "Golden Age" action in place of '70s "realism," or even '60s "heroes with problems," was Thomas' original template for the Invaders all along. Roy and crew have served up lots of Get the Japs & Ratzis! fun, but this is one of those titles that you can argue got cancelled at the end of its natural life span. This double-sized dose of Star-Spangled sock and bash evokes, one last time, the raw, primal appeal of WWII-era comics, but it's not like it's leaving the spinner rack with untapped potential and great stories left untold.

Chris: Don and Alan glance toward the wings, and see Roy standing there, drawing his hands apart, then drawing them even further apart; after all, it’s a two-issue story (combined into one double-sized issue) that needs filling!  So, following the battle at the train yard, Don and Alan pick up the characters and place them at Riverview amusement park, so the fighting can continue for a while.  “Now?”, they ask Roy; Roy shakes his head, again slowly pulling his hands to either side.  Okay, so the Torch goes to New York to face Lady Lotus; he fails to capture her, but manages to shut down her operation and put her on the run (nice touch to have her meet Yellow Claw).  “Okay, now?”  Roy checks the page count, and raises his right thumb – all set!  

And that’s it for the Invaders, a fun run of Axis-bashing battles that lost its excitement some time ago.  Many issues ran like this – a fair share of action, but mostly action for its own sake, without much direction or sense of purpose.  Over time, as other projects and demands required Roy’s attention, Don Glut stepped in, but wasn’t able to match Roy’s enthusiasm; Roy also wasn’t afraid to make the stories a bit corny, in keeping with comics of the wartime era, but Don rarely matched the tone Roy had developed for the team’s stirring exploits.

 The Invincible Iron Man 126
"The Hammer Strikes!"
Story by David Michelinie and Bob Layton
Art by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton

We begin in medias res, as Rhodey is arrested by Monaco’s Finest and pilloried by a hostile beach crowd, before flashbacks—almost three pages of them eaten up by a rehash of what we already knew—reveal that after knocking them both out, the soldiers took Tony across the Mediterranean in their amphibious craft, along with all evidence, and left Rhodey holding the bag.  Tony awakens chez Hammer, whose “power and holdings in the business world are second only to your own,” but sufficiently diversified to remain under official radar.  His aide, Phillip Barnett (as yet unable to “override the print-lock mechanism” on Tony’s briefcase), took control of I.M.’s armor with “a hypersonic scan technique to bypass the protective refractory coating…”

Passed over for the Carnelian franchise, Hammer killed two birds—and Ambassador Kotznin—with one stone, now watching sanguinely as Tony karate-chops a guard and goes over the wall, only to discover that the entire compound is a floating island.  While Beth tells her partner, Ling McPherson, she fears her history with Alex will repeat itself, Tony escapes his quarters by taking out the guard with an electrical shock.  He observes the return of the casino thieves, sprung from Ryker’s; uses Scott’s mini-grapple to infiltrate the control room; destroys the armor-hijacking computer with “incendiary bomblets”; suits up; and prepares to take on Hammer’s “reserve operatives” (a veritable army of super-villains), professing that Stark has “been taken to safety.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This time, inker Layton gets a “conceptual assist” rather than a co-plotting credit, but you’d have to ask him or writer Michelinie (who tantalizes us with a few dollops of back-story concerning Cabe & McPherson, Security Specialists, and keeps the pot boiling on Tony’s alcoholism) what the difference is.  Meanwhile, Bob and Romita maintain their usual high standards with both the interior art and cover, although the latter is about as generic as you can get, and the penultimate page promises a fun-filled fracas with third-tier villains next issue.  In addition to the original Atlantic City Trio of Blizzard, Melter, and Whiplash, I spotted the Beetle, Constrictor, Discus & Stiletto, Leap-Frog, Man-Killer, Porcupine, Spymaster, and—be still, my gorge—Water Wizard.

Special guest star...
Peter Cushing
Chris: The cover seems fairly generic, unless you consider the additional significance for Tony Stark to be donning the armor this time, when he’s had to make do without it for nearly two entire issues.  Some nice Bond-influenced moments (from the movies, not the novels) involving Hammer, from his super-confident manner (“I’ll tell you my plan, since there’s no possibility you could defeat me,” etc), his HQ (the “houseboat,” p 15), and his immediate recognition that Stark has, in fact, foiled his plans.  In keeping with the Bond flick vibe, Tony suddenly has Q-gadgets Scott Lang had made for him (a grappling belt, and incendiary “bomblets”); while these items simply seem tacked-in to keep the story going, it’s not a deal-breaker.  

So, I’ve enjoyed a bit of “Tony Stark: Secret Agent Man,” but I’m ready to see Iron Man (reserve armor or not) take apart this bunch of second- and third-tier villains next time.  Did you see who’s in the group sprinting forth from the barracks: Spymaster (ok, he’s not bad), Constrictor (maybe), Discus and Stiletto (probably not going to give an armor-clad hero much trouble), the Porcupine (um …), and the Beetle (hee hee! Daredevil can crush him with his bare hands!).  Yeah, should be fun.

Joe: One of my favorite Iron Man covers ever! Yeah! Go git 'em, Shell-Head! Another great Marvel arc, and another great art team.

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 27
"The Master Assassin of Mars, Chapter 12:
Marathon of Death!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Mike Vosburg and "Many Hands"
Colors by Roger Slifer
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Bob Budiansky and Joe Sinnott

At the end of last issue, Carter leaped aboard the fleeing Tal Mordin’s flier but was knocked off, and we open as Tars finds and revives him in the desert just outside the city walls, damaging the flier with a radium-rifle shot before it can cross the horizon.  Knowing that Helium will still be in chaos, Carter elects to follow on thoat-back as the ship loses speed and altitude, and after being resupplied by a Thark hunting party, they find the flier outside the ruined city of Marahn, where Tars faced Barak Sol.  Despite his warnings of “demons who lived beneath a sheet of cold, slippery earth,” the vengeful Carter insists they press on and split up to search the ruins, barely surviving Mordin’s ambush as they battle across the central square.

As they tumble onto the same “sheet” from which Tars narrowly escaped, Carter’s experience fighting on ice, with which Mordin is unfamiliar, gives him an edge until Tars abruptly pulls him to shore and, over John’s objections, fires three shots that shatter the ice.  The surface refreezes minutes after the screaming Mordin is pulled under by the hellish hands, although “the ice now had a faint crimson cast to it.”  Too late, Carter explains that his fighting style had revealed him as an impostor, leaving them with no lead to the real Mordin; worse, en route home, they find the wreck of a flier shot down by Warhoons and evidence that Dejah—who had obviously followed them in the hope of helping—is now a prisoner of that notoriously merciless green Martian tribe.

Sending Tars to seek the hunting party and head for Helium, Carter runs across the desert with his Jasoomian strength, following the trail to the Warhoon camp where (in a grim echo of his friend Powell’s fate) they are torturing the captives to death, one by one.  Just as they turn their attention to Dejah, John stampedes their thoats and charges in wildly firing his pistol, simulating a full-scale attack as they escape amid the confusion.  Back in Helium, we learn that—to the surprise of no alert reader—he found out he was going to be a father when he read Dejah’s mind aboard the guild’s ship; she literally lays an egg, and he suggests that when it hatches in seven years, they name the child Tara after Dejah’s slain mother if it should happen to be a female one. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Man, they really just don’t know how to end these things, do they?  I mean, the stuff with the Warhoon is fine (except that the otherwise excellent Budiansky/Sinnott cover might give one the misimpression, as it did me, that Tars was once again inexplicably threatening Dejah…since we never did find out exactly how he ended up facing her in the guild’s “test of the one” in #23), and the callback to Powell’s fate is nice.  But Chris, do you really want to tack that on after hastily dispensing with the resolution of your 12-part story in the first half—especially when we Monday-morning quarterbacks know that, with only a final fill-in issue by Peter “Be Afraid” Gillis and an apparently unrelated annual still ahead, you never actually resolve it at all…EVER?

Similarly, on the face of it, circling back to Tars’s superb solo story in #18 is inspired, and having Tal Mordin suffer such a gruesome fate would be eminently suitable…were he in fact Tal Mordin.  Yet it ends up being, if you’ll pardon the pun, a double-edged sword, because it merely emphasizes how vastly inferior the finished art here—especially on the green Martians—is to the Miller/McLeod magnificence on display there.  Because the inking represents one of those “M[any] Hands” group gropes, I’m going to consider Vosburg innocent until proven guilty, and since neither the Marvel nor the Comic Book Database enumerates said hands, I’ll leave further investigation, if any, to Professor Blake, who ably chairs the faculty Embellishment Department.

Now, about that last page:  Mrs. Bradley didn’t raise any stupid children, so when—also in #23—Carter accidentally “heard” a secret he wasn’t meant to from Dejah, impending fatherhood was the obvious conclusion.  I thought I had finally caught Claremont contradicting canon, since their firstborn, Carthoris, was not hatched until the very night Carter was wrenched back to Jasoom at the end of A Princess of Mars, whereas Chris clearly established that there are seven years left in the lacuna during which the Marvel series is set.  But by gum, he got me, due to the incubation period (on which, at this point, I’ll take it on faith that his calculations are correct), and the “if it’s a girl” caveat even allows him to close the loop on his creation of the senior Tara.

Chris: It’s not a strong finish to a 12-issue storyline.  First, a laughably weak moment as Tars and Carter have a few moments to chat while Mordin’s flier very gradually speeds away.  Ordinarily, it would be reasonable to expect him to be completely out of sight even before Carter hit the ground, but there Mordin is, still plainly visible less than a half-mile away, as Tars’ shot cripples the craft.  It’s ironic that our scene moves on to the dead city of Marahn; while the four pages of Carter’s fight with Mordin are a highlight, the sequence emphasizes this issue’s lack of excitement and atmosphere compared to our previous visit to Marahn, in JC WoM #18.  Then, a strange anticlimax as Carter declares the man he’d fought for hours, and who wound up sucked under the ice, was not Mordin; Carter would’ve liked to hold him for questioning, but the whole idea to me is questionable (so to speak).  Lastly, for good measure, Dejah Thoris’ capture quotient is increased once again; I’d be willing to bet there’s never been a Marvel character who required more rescuing.  

Claremont clearly is capable of better.  The same could be said for Vosburg, who’s turned in a few adequate-if-unspectacular efforts for this title; but, the many hands at work on the finishes do little to complement the layouts, so this issue is left lesser-looking than the ones preceding it.  Grand Comics dbase has no idea who the inkers might’ve been, and I don’t readily recognize any of the meager contributors; although, l will say – based on glimpses of shading and texture I see on p 30 – that this unnamed person might’ve been a fitting choice to cover the issue as a whole.  

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