Wednesday, February 15, 2017

December 1979 Part One: The Reunion No One Cared About? The Return of the Original Defenders!

The Amazing Spider-Man 199
"Now You See Me! Now You Die!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Keith Pollard and Pablo Marcos

Mysterio leaves Spider-Man chained in the pool to drown, then berates The Burglar, who manages to smash a mirror when the ill-mannered illusionist glides off. Meanwhile, Spidey crafts a web bubble around his head to breathe, but when it springs a leak, he uses his guile and grit to undo the drain plug! After a couple of moments Spidey comes to and he and the pool are dry—it was "another blasted illusion!" He breaks off the chains and heads home for a good night's sleep, where his "recuperative powers" heal his broken arm. Making breakfast in his Spidey bottoms, Peter is visited by Flash, Harry and their loves, but somehow snags his robe from the other room. Distracting his friends from seeing his tunic hanging from a bedroom chair, Peter gets into a chat about Betty, and how he acted poorly towards her to save her marriage, but it turns out they're separating, and Betty is rooming with Liz.

After they leave, Spidey heads to the wrecked Parker home to find out what was being searched for, when suddenly the ceiling vanishes—Mysterio is on the scene! Right away he makes Spider-Man vanish! But our hero determinedly blinds himself to the illusion and pops back to reality, webbing the blades of the green-clad goon's mini-copter shrouded in smoke, but a fireblast and a chimney get the best of the web-slinger. Following Mysterio back to Restwell, he bashes in a door only to be shot with a tranquilizer dart! Telling Spidey he has no idea what treasure is hidden in the Parker home, Mysterio takes his leave, but not before the wall-crawler passes out and the vaporous villain proclaims: "Spider-Man is dead!"--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Our splash page looks a bit like Ross Andru at first glance. Is this done on purpose by My Pal Sal? Same with a lot of panels of Spidey-Mysterio action, and it adds to the coolness of this issue. Illusions abound as usual when Mysterio is involved, never something I liked as a Spidey fan. Maybe it was how he was easily able to hoodwink our hero, or maybe how there's not much of an explanation for his powers. Not exactly sure why he's not one of my favorites, but boy, he is a formidable foe. The pool escape is well-done, once again mimicking the famous "lifting the rubble" scene that's been redone a zillion times, but it works—especially when we learn it was all phoney! See, that's why I don't like Mysterio. What's real, what's not…Well, we do get an interesting ending as we head to issue #200. I mean, with our hero dead, it might be a short trip to the '80s!

Did Marvel's partnership with Hostess come to an end with the '70s? Every book seems to have different one-page ads, as if they were cramming them in like a frat house crams Twinkies in their gullets. (Isn't that a thing?) Here we get Captain Marvel, drawn like a California surfer, against Professor Sneer and his "Sun Killer" spaceship. But some Twinkies make it all better, of course!

Fave sound effect is page 23, when Spidey hits the chimney with a hurtful-sounding "PLOK!," leaving his head "pounding like Spinks after Ali downed him!" Well, that doesn't sound like fun.

Chris Blake: This issue includes one of my all-time favorite memories from Bronze-era Amazing Spider-Man, when Peter springs out of bed, flexes, and shatters the plaster cast on his right arm (p 10).  Ever since we found Peter had broken his arm, I knew his recuperative powers would repair it ahead of the schedule for an average person – I couldn’t remember how soon it might be, so I’ve waited a few issues to see when it would happen.  It’s a great look at Peter at his peak – rested, recovered, ravenous!, and ready now to take on Mysterio, and learn the object of his search thru Aunt May’s old house.  Of course, this being Spider-Man, nothing ever comes easily – clever moment as Peter realizes he’s standing in the kitchen area wearing half his Spidey costume, as he uses webbing to snag his bathrobe from the other room.  I much prefer this bit of Spidey-strife to  Wolfman’s decision to cast Spidey in a pathetic, pitiful place, as he tells himself “Spider-Man’s always been a loser!” while he struggles to free himself from Mysterio’s illusionary flooding-pool trap.  

Sal B.’s busy month begins here, as we’ll also see him provide layouts for Iron Man, and pencils plus inks for the Hulk; Sal and Jim Mooney prove to be a solid pair for a Spidey title.  If anything, I’d prefer the cover artist team had done as good a job as Sal + Jim to depict Spidey’s disappearing act, as Spidey sees his legs shimmer away, and then we fans (reading from home) watch as his torso, and finally his face disappears (p 19); it’s an effective sequence, but on the cover, we’re left with the impression Spidey is sinking into the ground, or something, without the peril his possible disintegration conveys as it happens within the issue.  

Mark Barsotti: Since I'm feeling less than MARVelous, having had to lesson-plan Marv Wolfman's suckie FF Annual earlier today, let me double down on Professor Matthew's distain for the "umpteenth variation" of Exposed Spidey-Suit Theatre, contained in this less-than-scintillating 199th edition of The Amazing Spider-Man. Yes, Harry, Flash & their gal-pals make the Least Observant list for not noticing Pete's distinctive red-webbed Spidey socks protruding from the bottom of his bathrobe, but much worse, class, is the procurement of said robe. Check panel one, page eleven (below), as our caught-in-his-uniform-bottoms hero webs the robe from the kitchen, a feat unnoticed only because his four friends have crossed the living room, heading for Pete's tiny bedroom, even though he yelled to them he was in the kitchen, and the four look like they're doing close-order drill, eyes front. It's one thing to riff on a "beloved" trope, quite something worse when it's served up with such laughable, club-footed staging. 

Mark: Sadly, Marv's Mysterio wrangling ain't much better, as we're sloshing about in a rinse repeat Spidey-escapes-one-illusion-but is-last-page-trapped-in-another spin-cycle that peaked back in ASM #67. 

Yeah, the Burglar's still out there, along with the This Old Parker House mystery treasure and the undeath of Aunt May, so I'm hoping that Marv has been hoarding the good stuff and, having now (one can hope, right?) purged all the trite and tripe from his system, is gonna knock our unseen Spidey socks off. 
Matthew Bradley: We’re winding down with several average-at-best issues; it didn’t bode well that they contravened my preference for single images on both cover and splash page.  Does another installment of Play Mysty for Me constitute nail-biting suspense, or mere wheel-spinning, as we approach #200?  Your mileage may vary, but I submit that the following applies equally to this or #198:  “Spidey battles Mysterio, uncertain what’s real and what’s illusory, and ends up seemingly doomed at his old foe’s hands.”  I loves me my Sal, and always felt that the Madman was a more effective inker than a penciler, yet Pete on page 10 looks like pure Mooney, while Marv still suffers from terminal Tin Ear…and would a swimming pool really drain so fast?

I might enjoy it more if I realistically expected a better explanation for the illusions than “Because science/prestidigitation/hypnosis/whatever.”  Is this like A Nightmare on Elm Street?  If Spidey hadn’t escaped from the “water,” would he have died?  Howcum Mysty’s whatever-it-was suddenly stopped working?  While we’re at it, sure, the Burglar gets a piece of glass under his heel, but with his arms bound behind him, what kind of contortions would he have to undergo to cut himself free?  Still smarting from the recent “Spidey suit in the vase” fiasco, I rolled my eyes at the umpteenth variation on that hoary theme, and as much as I welcome a rapprochement with Pete’s friends, they must be pretty damn dense to miss those Spidey booties below his robe.


The Amazing Spider-Man 200 
January 1980
"The Spider and the Burglar... a Sequel"
Story by Marv Wolfman and Stan Lee
Art by Keith Pollard and Jim Mooney
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita

Spider-Man comes to at Restwell, weak from the depressant Mysterio shot him with—and without his powers! After speaking with some residents, Spidey makes his way back home in the rain [somehow managing to pick up pants and a trenchcoat]. In the basement, The Burglar gets out of the ropes binding him and vows to find Peter Parker, who will make him a billionaire or "there's gonna be hell ta pay!" Speaking of Peter, he goes back to the Parker home, still wondering who is behind the destructioin, and has a chat with next-door neighbor Anna May Watson, who leads him to the rental office in Jamaica, Queens. There, blowhard Harold R. Grimsby gives Peter the name and a face-ful of cigar smoke, as well as memories of his origin and Uncle Ben's murder. Peter now knows Uncle Ben's killer has returned and swears to track him down once and for all!

Chapter Two, "Less Spider Than Man," picks up with Peter poring over some newspaper files, then he heads to Black Rock to get video-tape records, but it's not an easy break-in without powers. He finds the TV special he's looking for, switches back to Peter, then after watching an "astonishing story" for 30 minutes, stops a thief and is thanked by the same guard from that fateful night whose pleas he ignored. Back at his apartment, Peter's door has been jimmied open…by The Burglar!

Peter jumps at the petty crook at the start of Chapter Three, "Let The Burglar Beware," but the hood manages to crack the powerless Parker in the head with his gun, and then ties him up in the same darkened warehouse where Spider-Man caught him all those years ago. We learn The Burglar is after the treasure of former famous mobster Dutch Mallone, who lived in the Parker house in the '30s and was captured by Eliot Ness of all people. Turns out The Burglar broke into the house to get the treasure and ended up killing Uncle Ben, but now he says he will get Peter to talk, storming off to show him exactly how. But Peter has frayed the ropes enough that he breaks free and changes into Spidey, about as ticked off as it gets!

Chapter Four, "Murder Most Foul", picks up right after, with Spidey working around not having his powers to tail The Burglar, resorting to walking down a fire escape and running to hitch a perilous ride on a bus. The bus lets The Burglar out [very conveniently] right in front of Restwell, where the "looney" takes a shot at Spidey for hounding him. Once inside, Spidey breaks down a door and is shot in the side for his troubles! The Burglar walks off triumphantly, but a determined wall-crawler struggles to his feet.

In Chapter Five, we get "The Final Confrontation," starting with The Burglar making his way back to the old warehouse—with Aunt May in tow! The frail yet feisty Mrs. Parker recognizes the man who killed her beloved husband, who thanks her by explaining how Rinehart hoodwinked her nephew, but he still wants that treasure! Suddenly, Spider-Man appears in the rafters, complete with "jury-rigged web-bandage" for his injured side! Moving fast and talking fast to throw The Burglar off from realizing he's powerless, Spidey calms May down and takes up the battle, smashing his nemesis as best as he can until The Burglar claims a "bum ticker." The distraction gives The Burglar the upper hand for a second, but mentioning his Uncle and Aunt sends Spider-Man into a tizzy and he knocks the baddie silly! Asked why he cares "so much about Parker," the hero rips off his mask, which sends The Burglar running scared through the warehouse! Spidey follows, flashing his spider-signal and dodging shots, until he corners the hated hood, vowing to turn him over to the police instead of exacting the ultimate revenge, because if he's learned anything, "it's that with great power there also comes great responsibility!" The Burglar's bad heart gives out from the fear of being killed, and he falls down, dead. Spidey goes to Aunt May asking to be her friend, and she lets him take her to the hospital. There Peter talks with her, learning he gave May strength and comfort "because of the kind of man you have become," and also that she and Ben found a box behind the wallboards many years ago—what was inside was eaten away by silverfish! So The Burglar's shenanigans were "all for nothing!" But now both Aunt and Nephew realize "love is the strongest medicine of all."

Our one-page Epilogue, "Resolutions," finds a powered-up-again Spidey swinging happily around the city, realizing his spider-power did more than increase his strength, but also his "longing for justice" and "loathing for cruelty and crime," swearing to be worthy and grateful for the rest of his life. --Joe Tura

Joe: Like last month, the splash page looks like a former Spidey artist, this time Gil Kane if you ask my humble opinion. But enough of that. For our "Double the size! Double the thrills! 200th issue anniversary spectacular" we get an awesome Jazzy John cover that's poster-worthy and sets up the story that's been nearly 30 years in the making. In fact, the tale is dubbed "a sequel" and we are also told "200 issues ago, Stan Lee & Steve Ditko created a classic!" Overall, this was a completely satisfying issue in both art and script to close out the web-swinging 70s, as The Burglar gets his just deserts, Aunt May is alive (as if there was a doubt—harrumph to the nay-sayers!), Peter gets his powers back after a brief respite, and we get another look at the "moldy dump" where Spider-Man's true career began! Through 10 years of spinner-rack stalking, The Amazing Spider-Man was packed with thrills, chills, spills, an incredibly memorable Rogues Gallery (even The Kangaroo!), and the best supporting cast in the history of funny books. Of course, right after this is when the title began running out of juice faster than a web ball after an hour, until Todd McFarlane gave it a new web cartridge. But more on that in our post-graduate studies!

A note on the splash page reads "SPECIAL NOTICE: Spidey's creator, Stan (The Man) Lee, decided it would be a kick to write one page of our 200th Anniversary epic. Try 'n guess which page the Master scribed! (A special non-bronzed no-prize to the first correct answer!)" Now, I vaguely remember reading that and trying to figure out which page it was, but didn't give it much thought afterwards, and can't recall if I ever found out the answer. Well, according to the Marvel Database, it's page 47, the final page, which sounds a lot like Stan, right down to the final "So heads up, heroes! Spidey's here to stay!" Sure, it's schmaltzy, but it works! Well, works much better than the first time I read this as a 12-year-old, that's for sure.

Let's not forget this month's Hostess ad, Human Torch vs. The Icemaster, where the villain's cold heart is melted by some Apple and Cherry Fruit Pies. Holy cow, this is one of the worst ones yet…I'm sure the faculty will be glad I'll no longer be mentioning these dumb distractions!

Favorite sound effect, and the most pleasing one in the book, is the full-page Burglar-bashing punch on page 39, with our hero thinking this is his "second chance" at redemption for Uncle Ben's death. The resulting "KURUMKK!" is original, deadly, and so welcome you can almost see the Baby Boomers reading this in 1979 standing up and cheering! With that said….final exam cancelled! Class dismissed!

Mark: Well, this one does have a great cover by the Jazzy One, John Romita.

But before we get to the flaying portion of our program, let me praise Marv Wolfman for the tricksy plotting and - far rarer - genuine innovation he brought to the long run-up to Spidey's bicentennial. The (still nameless) Burglar has been integral to Webhead's mythos since those epochal eleven pages in Amazing Fantasy #15, and if he got residuals every time the tale's been re-told, he coulda gone straight years ago. But Marv had the 1000-watt light-bulb-over-head inspiration to not just bring Burgie back, but in a way that both explained Uncle Ben's death (long seen as a random act of violence) and put the old Parker house and its ex-occupants in the middle of a bull's-eye.

Spinning off from that was something else we've never seen: the "death" of Aunt May, after a couple dozen trips to the Reaper's waiting room. Admittedly, the ruse would have been far more effective if Wolfman hadn't tipped the alert reader that it was faked in the same issue Pete got his Aunt's death-o-gram, but it's still a new wrinkle added to the canon (and May's prune-like visage). Further, an illusionist like Mysterio was the perfect foil to fake a death. All in all, a brilliant set-up.

Alas, the big anniversary pay-off (as in most of the set-up installments) flounders badly in the execution. Mysterio had Spidey helpless at the end of the last two issues; indeed he actually declared Webs dead last month! Now, superhero comics wouldn't exist without death-defying escapes (duh!), but this may be the first time ever that a verge-of-victory villain simply wanders out of the story without so much as a fare thee well (or an explanation) for the sake of expediency. I mean, Misty thought he'd killed Spidey (or completely incapacitated him), wanted the presumptive Parker house fortune just as much as Burgie, yet he simply vanished up his own fishbowl. You'd think with DOUBLE THE SIZE to work with, Wolfman coulda cobbled together something to fill this Jim Shooter-sized plot hole.

He could have found the space, for instance, by cutting Pete's file-riffling, safe-cracking sleuthing to solve the mystery of Uncle Ben's murder, because, class, the one interesting fact (and thus found in the first riffled file) reporters would have found to spice up a routine (sorry to sound callous, Uncle Ben) 1962 murder would have been that the victim lived in a house once owned by notorious mobster Dutch Mallone. Mystery solved. But such basic journalism would have negated Pete's need to burgle a TV station's tape library, thus setting up his this-time-he-tackles-the-crook faux redemption.

And the Spidey-Burgie back-and-forth bus chase between Restwell, the Parker place, and the old Acme Warehouse is so poorly dialogued that it seems the Burglar goes to retrieve Peter (it's actually Aunt May, but I had to look at this four or five times to ferret out Wolfman's poorly-rendered intent) from the basement at Restwell, when he'd just left Pete tied-up back at Acme!

And honestly, kids, this is not just middle-aged grumpiness. Such hackneyed, ham-fisted execution of a great premise would have pissed me off just as much at age 18, had I read this when it was published.

So you were right, Dean Peter, in nixing my idea that Web's big anniversary deserved a stand alone post, beyond the MU's decade-ending expiration date. More's the pity.

This one sleeps with the silverfish.   

The Avengers 190
"Heart of Stone"
Story by Roger Stern and Steven Grant
Art by John Byrne and Dan Green
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Byrne and Dan Green

A meteor-like object falls Earth-ward but then veers off and lands near Brooklyn. Turns out it wasn't a meteor but some kind of stone monster. The thing rises from the muck and heads for Manhattan. Which is a good place to head, since that is where our titular super-team is meeting at the federal courthouse. Defended by Jeryn Hogarth, lawyer for Heroes for Hire; Emerson Bale, former council for the Champions; and Matt Murdock, the Avengers face growing government concerns and the chief  muckety-muck against the Avengers is Henry Peter Gyrich. The NSC agent contends that the team is a threat to the nation and intends to prove his point with a series of questionable witnesses. Meanwhile, the stone creature has found its way into the New York subway system and is causing all kinds of havoc. Ironically, the NYPD call for the Avenger's help and Gyrich is forced to agree to the call. Matt doffs his civvies and swings his way to the battle area to see if he can lend a hand. After a grueling battle, Wanda realizes that the thing in front of them is actually a suit and that someone/thing is inside (the rocket pack on its back is the tip-off); she concentrates her energies on the suit and sends it flying towards Iron Man and Vision, who are waiting to wallop the big rock. After the simultaneous blow reduces the creature to pebbles, Iron Man and Daredevil investigate and both are turned to stone. Too late, our heroes discover the occupant of the suit is the Grey Gargoyle! -Peter Enfantino

Chris: Could this be the same Steven Grant who's penned those dull recent installments of the Defenders -?  Grant was credited as co-plotter (along with Mark Gruenwald) on the Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch re-origin storyline, and now has turned in two solid chapters of the Avengers.  Good decision right from the outset, as Grant starts with two pages of the Mysterious Meteor, then dives straight into the team's arrival for their hearing at the federal building.  A lesser scripter might've been inclined to pick up at the exact end of #189, which would've required a splash page of Gyrich gesturing angrily at the team, and threatening its end, while the Beast scoffs; the menacing meteor, which seems to pace its own plummet, is far more intriguing, isn't it?  In addition, the skip ahead in time to the hearing-day is neatly economical, as it's implicit the team has had time to discuss the possible value of their “day in court,” and to arrange for counsel; there would be little gained from burning up a few pages in a depiction of the pre-hearing team conference.  Wanda had stated she was going to extend her leave, but she's here, which shows us (without our having to be explicitly told) she's chosen to stand by her husband, and her team, and hold off on the search for self (team player -rah!).  

The hearing itself goes well – mostly free of Hollywood-scripted histrionics – as it's possible to see both sides: Gyrich has legitimate security concerns; but, the team has to operate unfettered in order to be effective.  If Gyrich weren't so intent on being a control freak, the team might likely have little difficulty implementing a few new security protocols; but, as DD observes, Gyrich’s highest priority seems to be that the team “play by his rules.”  One minor question, though: since the Wasp is here, it means she's returned from her Defenders weekend – did YJ (her quinjet pilot, you'll recall) hide out in Cresskill in the lab, or did he decide to stay and shoot craps in Vegas for awhile -?  (If so, was he in costume?  Might he have been tempted to signal some gnats or mites cybernetically to turn the dice a certain way -?)
The art for this issue serves to illustrate (if you will ...) my reservations about Dan Green as inker.  We've seen a few reasonably solid issues of late, but with this one, the look is beginning to unravel; we’re left with more neglected details and unfinished-looking faces than in previous chapters.  The effect has me thinking of a surface that requires another coat of paint – unsmooth, thin in patches.  I mean, it'd be fine if Green gave the pencils a rough finish, and intended to come back after dinner and tighten it up, but this is all we get.  Still, with Byrne on board (and for one more issue, after this one), there will be art highlights, such as: the Stone Being pauses to get its bearings before it shambles from the bay (p 2); the Beast vaults over a reporter on his way into the building (p 3, last pnl), then swings out of the hearing room as he grabs the molding over the doorway (p 21, 1st pnl); the stone-thing is smacked on its back against the building, throwing its “head” back and shattering its “arms” (p 26, pnl 3), before a two-fisted Iron Man + Vision belt finishes it (p 27, pnl 3), both Avengers getting their backs into it as they drive their fists forward; an understated, almost comical moment as we see Daredevil’s hand contact Iron Man’s shoulder, at the same moment grey fingertips are visibly reaching up to touch IM’s chest plate, and cast both heroes into stone (p 30, pnl 3).
Peter Enfantino: The perfect way to end our 190-issue discussion of The Avengers; a boffo, first-class entertainment in both action and sub-plots. The courtroom drama crackles; there's something being moved forward here and we can feel it. The big giant rock keeps us guessing right up to the reveal. Byrne and Green are producing insanely good work here and the biggest compliment I can heap on Stern/Grant/Byrne/Green is that this issue makes me want to climb over the December 1979 electric fence.

Matthew:  It’s too bad our cut-off point chopped this two-parter in half, since I’ve long had a soft spot for the Grey Gargoyle, although his effectively envisioned Byrne/Green appearance here, looking like some kind of ambulatory stingray (a creature that has always fascinated me), is pretty cool.  I liked certain aspects of the courtroom stuff, like the callback to the Craddock hearings in #93 or the Bale/Hogarth/Murdock legal Dream Team, both of which give a sense of the history and interrelations of the Marvel Universe.  But in general, trying to shoehorn super-heroics into an even vaguely realistic judicial framework strikes me as working no better than it did in Mantlo’s Wraith saga...for which editor/plotter Stern and guest-scripter Grant share blame.

Best dialogue:  “Vision!  Scarlet Witch!  Have you been harassed—?”  “Yes…by you!”

Worst dialogue:  “Yes, it’s Jarvis, your butler, sir!”  Oh, that’s who that Jarvis guy is…

Runner-up:  “No one ever said being on a S.W.A.T. team would be easy, Barry!”  Do tell.

Joe: Well, you can't go wrong with a headshot roster on the splash page, as well as the next-to-last issue of Byrne's Avengers run, to close out this class. The artwork is solid as always, the script not too shabby, including some courtroom craziness that ends with my fave the Beast handing Gyrich a table leg and giving him some much-needed humility. Hate that Gyrich guy! Daredevil is a natural to show up and help with Matty M. on the legal team, and he gets a couple of nice moments—but eventually is turned to stone with Iron Man by the surprise villain—the stinkin' Grey Gargoyle! Another of Marvel's angry, chip-on-his-shoulder (no pun intended) bad guys who always gets what he deserves at the end. This time he seems a bit confident, though! Well-done, and a fond farewell to the '70s super-team's adventures. Best of all, there's a fight between Spider-Man and June Jitsu on page 29 that's a rousing affair, and Spidey is on the ropes until he tosses some Twinkies at June: "Thanks to Hostess®, June won't be bustin' out all over for quite a while." Oh, wait that's not part of the story, is it?

Battlestar Galactica 10
"This Planet Hungers"
Story by Tom DeFalco
Art by Pat Broderick, Eduardo Barreto, and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Pat Broderick and Terry Austin

Still trapped in the memory machine, Adama relives a terrifying incident when Apollo and Starbuck find a living planet. After landing on it, they bring back a grossly disfiguring plague. Meanwhile, Cylons approach from the other direction and attack. Apollo seems to go nuts after being haunted by weird mental communications, and the ship’s doctor says the plague is transmitted telepathically. Apollo leaves in his viper and heads to the planet. The Cylons attack and Adama has to make a choice of destroying the planet and saving humanity or saving his son. Before anything can be done, the planet destroys the Cylons and communicates with the Galactica mentally, telling them the “plague” is just a step toward making contact. It means them no harm, the symptoms will pass. Adama beats himself up over totally misjudging the situation. Back in the present, it is discovered that if they don’t free Adama soon, he’ll die. -Scott McIntyre

Attack of the Gil Kane homage

Scott McIntyre: What a load of crap. An obvious fill-in (again), padding a story that feels less like a BSG episode than anything they’ve done yet. Nobody knew what to do with this title and it shows. The art is awful and I have no regrets leaving this behind as we close off this blog…

Chris: Apollo and Starbuck encounter a planetoid, which proves to be organic.  Upon returning to the Galactica, they discover – despite following decontamination protocols – they’re growing spores on their skin; soon, numerous crew members are similarly affected.  A ship’s doctor concludes the infection is being spread – telepathically.  Commander Adama is committed to the planetoid’s destruction, perceiving a threat to all colony ships, despite the imminent arrival of three Cylon base-ships in their sector.  The planetoid interferes with the Cylon craft, causing two of them to collide, and crushing the third.  The planetoid connects with the crew (via telepathy) and explains the apparent “plague” it caused was intended only to create a connection to allow it to communicate with the crew; there will be no lasting harm to any of the humans.  The planetoid has been painfully alone in the empty tracks of space, and wants to keep the Galactica company for awhile; based on its performance against the Cylons, let’s hope Adama’s reply is in the affirmative.  It’s a marked improvement over previous issues I’ve read of this title, due to both DeFalco’s able handling of the mystery involving the planetoid, and Broderick’s imaginative take on the unique characteristics of this other-worldly, um, world. 

Captain America 240
"Gang Wars!"
Story by Paul Kupperberg and Alan Kupperberg
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Don Perlin
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Bob Budiansky and Bob Wiacek

With the Red Skull retired and no word on that 17th Sleeper, Captain America finds himself with nothing to do so he helps an old man who's having trouble with a local biker gang. Things get rough for our hero when the bikers decide to use unfair methods of warfare. All's well that ends well though and Captain America helps his new friend find a new apartment and gives the old codger the numbers of some of his WWII girlfriends. Next month: Cap finds homes for neighbor Jimmy's kittens. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Look, I've read nearly 200 issues featuring Captain America (including Tales of Suspense and Annuals) over this long journey we've undertaken and can I say, without hesitation, that this is the worst Cap ever produced? No, I can't, but what I can say, with a bit of thought, is that it could very well be the most inconsequential. If Big Jim Shooter had come to me and said, "Hey, I need a filler for an issue of Captain America!," I'd like to think I could come up with something a little more original than a rehash of an old Baretta episode. The Kupperbergs obviously subscribe to the Moench-Mantlo school of funny book writing: "Always make your audience think you read the paper every morning and hate what's going down out there in the urban blight." And who would slap the name Bobo on a biker tough, ferchrissakes? From beginning to end, this is one major misstep.

Matthew: Quite frankly, I enjoyed this unassuming one-off, which so ably fulfilled its modest ambitions and had a real feel for the Sentinel of Liberty, far more than the discursive drivel that has so often characterized the book of late.  And I’m not surprised that it’s the work of guest-scripter/penciler Kupperberg, with brother Paul’s plot marking his only Marvel four-color credit; he also worked on the short-lived novel series and a 1991 Savage Sword of Conan.  Cap consistently came off best during Alan’s impressive Invaders tenure, and with its nostalgic setting (“Many’s the time I thrilled to a Saturday afternoon ride on [the Parachute Jump] before the war!”), this tale—well handled by “embellishing artist” Perlin—feels like a companion piece.

Conan the Barbarian 105 
“Whispering Shadows!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Bob Wiacek

A deadly drought has gripped the land of the Bamulas, resulting in weeks of fires and plague. Conan attempts to control his temper as the High Priest of Ajujo angrily lays the blame at the feet of the towering white man — but eventually, he cracks and lays the raging witch-man low with his blade. His formerly loyal warriors erupt in a blind rage and Conan is forced to flee into the jungle, leaving his hard-earned standing of war chief behind. The Cimmerian decides to head north, determined to sell his sword to the highest bidder. Along the way, the barbarian is stalked by a hungry pride of lions. While his bow brings some of the big cats down, he is forced to find refuge in a crumbling, stone fortress — strangely, the fearsome felines do not follow him into its dark shadows.

As he wanders the strange, over-sized corridors of the citadel, Conan is overcome by a gnawing unease. But he is unable to fight off his exhaustion and falls asleep on a balcony overhanging a huge, high-vaulted hall. During the night, he is tormented by horrid nightmares of demonic creatures that actually seem to materialize on the physical plane. Later, a weary group of Stygian slavers take shelter from a brewing storm in the fortress themselves. As the men bed down for the night, the Cimmerian’s vile visions manifest into a grotesque mass of malformed heads and quivering tentacles — it overcomes the Stygians, slaughtering each helpless man. Conan, wakened by the screams, escapes through an upper window, climbs down on vines, and rides off on one of the horses tethered outside. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: After 105 straight issues and 61,384 total words, we finally close the book on Conan the Barbarian 101. Luckily, Roy ends things on a one-and-done high note that seems to wrap the course up perfectly. Conan is forced out as leader of the Bamulas — putting an end to that chapter of his life — and heads north for further adventures and, hopefully, riches. And we have some dirty Stygians in the mix, a race too long absent from these pages. The Rascally One adapts L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter’s “The Castle of Terror,” a short story that first appeared in the 1969 Lancer Books paperback collection Conan of Cimmeria. According to sources, Thomas was very faithful.

With the revolting Bamulas hot on his heels, Conan is off to the races by the start of the third page: the sequence with the lions takes up four pages and the terror in the castle wraps up the rest of the comic. It’s a bit unclear why the Lovecraftian creature doesn’t attack the Cimmerian in his sleep, though I guess we should expect the unexpected in the Hyborian age. It is explained that the disgusting blob is the sum total of all who have died within the ancient citadel — they seem to have been giants, based on the ceiling heights and wide steps. The tentacled horror is massive, at least 20 feet high and over 50 feet wide, resembling one of the multi-headed creatures from John Carpenter’s The Thing. In all, “Whispering Shadows” is a bit of an oddball. While he does manage to kill quite a few of the lions, Conan is almost a fearful bystander when the real slaughter starts towards the end of the story. Plus, wasn’t he somehow involved in the very creation of the monster?

So there we have it, the end of our time with Conan the Cimmerian — well, we do have an annual and one more Savage Sword to tackle this month. As I’ve endlessly mentioned, I rarely bought Conan the Barbarian back in the day. But since my ever lovin’ father passed down his Conan paperbacks, I’ve always felt that the character was an old friend. So I’m gonna miss the big galoot. As well as Rascally Roy Thomas, Bashful Barry Smith, Gil “Sugar Lips” Kane, Big John Buscema, Earnest Ernie Chan, and every other talented guy or gal involved. And thanks to Dean Pete and Professor Matthew for giving me the opportunity to experience all I missed. Whaaaaaa!

There could be a debate about whether Conan the Barbarian was the best Marvel series of the 1970s. However, there is no doubt that it was the most consistent. And, by Crom, that consistency was far superior than most. 

Conan the Barbarian Annual 5 
“Bride of the Conqueror”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema 

[Note: this annual picks up immediately after Conan the Barbarian Annual #4 as the Cimmerian is in his middle 40s and king of Aquilonia.]

After crushing the latest threat to his throne, King Conan of Aquilonia faces a new crisis: his people are restless since their leader does not yet have an heir. Conan, however, is planning on asking the former slavegirl Zenobia to become his queen but wanted to locate her missing parents first so that they could attend the ceremony. Deciding he can delay no longer, the Cimmerian has the upcoming nuptials announced to the jubilant citizens.

The night before the wedding, Zenobia goes to visit her future husband and is crestfallen to see one of Conan’s harem girls enter his chamber — she tearfully retreats, unaware that the king is only summoning his concubines to tell them that their services are no longer needed. Suddenly, a stranger climbs the wall into the future queen’s room and beckons her to follow him: he can take Zenobia to her parents who, as Nemedians, are afraid to enter the Aquilonian capital of Tarantia. But it is a trap. The man leads Zenobia into the clutches of Conan’s foe Count Drago and his co-conspirator Tsotha-Lanti, thought long dead after being beheaded by the Cimmerian — the sorcerer used a fast-fading spell to reattach his separated skull. Tsotha-Lanti then summons a lithe figure from the shadows, an exact duplicate of Zenobia herself.

The next day, the wedding ceremony commences, the entire population of Tarantia in attendance. Afterwards, Conan grows weary of the never-ending festivities and retreats to his bedchamber with his new queen to consummate their marriage. But the faux Zenobia finally reveals its true appearance, a slavering monstrosity with razor-sharp claws. The barbarian-king strikes the grotesque demon with a brazier — but the monster simply absorbs the flames and grows in size. Not believing his own eyes, Conan cracks the creature with the torch once more. To his regret, it again increases in mass — worse, the fallen brazier starts an inferno. Flames licking around it, Tsotha-Lanti’s creation begins to fill the entire room, pinning the Cimmerian against a wall. But, before he is crushed, the warrior escapes through one of the hidden passages in the chamber. The secret tunnel leads Conan outside of the palace: as he turns to look up at his bedchamber, a strange green glow fades from the windows and the monster disappears.

When he spies a similar light emanating from a building a few blocks away, the king summons his royal guards, the Black Dragons, and rushes to the scene. As his soldiers begin to rout Count Drago and his men, Conan rushes inside in time to see Tsotha-Lanti push the real Zenobia into an alligator pit. The Cimmerian dives in and manages to drive off the ferocious lizards with his flashing dagger. Tsotha-Lanti, enraged that his scheme is falling apart, attempts to cast a spell that will turn both Conan and Zenobia to dust: but the incantation that reunited his head finally fails and he lunges forward, falling into the pit himself. The alligators tear the wizard apart as the king and his bride are freed by the Black Dragons. Later, in a private ceremony, Conan marries his true bride. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: The final Conan the Barbarian annual to be covered in the halls of Marvel University is a step down from last year’s — and, if you somehow remember, I thought that one could have easily fit in a standard monthly issue. Clocking in at 33 total pages, this fittingly titled “king-sized” offering includes three different flashbacks, the first recapping the previous annual. The last is a result of The Rascally One’s awkward plotting. On page 34, Conan is shown at the mercy of the Zenobia-demon and we are left with a cliffhanger. He next appears on page 36, bursting in on Tsotha-Lanti as his future queen is about to be tossed into the alligator pit. Roy Thomas then applies the brakes and reveals how the barbarian escaped the rapidly growing monster. Which was odd in itself. The Cimmerian manages to make his way outside and there’s a green glow and the creature just disappears. Why? Did it outgrow the room and was crushed itself? And why was there another flash of light across town? It was obviously the location of Tsotha-Lanti and his conspirators, but it’s not mentioned what caused it.

Speaking of Tsotha-Lanti, he’s another odd choice by Roy. The sorcerer was the baddie from Robert E. Howard’s “The Scarlet Citadel” (Weird Tales, January 1933), so memorably adapted in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #30 by Thomas and the fabulous art of Frank Brunner. At the end, the Cimmerian lops his head off and it’s plucked out of the air by a giant eagle — actually the good wizard Pelias — that flaps away as Tsotha-Lanti’s headless body stumbles after the bird. There was no other villain whom Roy could have used for this original tale? I will say that it was a nice touch that Tsotha-Lanti is clutching his throat throughout the story: the spell he used to make himself whole is about to fail at any second. And it does, at the very worst moment. For him at least.

Not including the clash with the Zenobia-demon and the alligators, this is a fairly static issue. There’s a lot of talk between Conan and his advisors, public proclamations, cheering crowds, wedding festivities and whatnot. Not the subjects I usually look for in a tale about everyone’s favorite barbarian. That stuff is usually the dull domain of King Kull. But perhaps romantic softies will enjoy this offbeat story. I’m looking at you Professor Matthew.

The Hyborian Page states that 1980’s annual will kick off an adaptation of The Return of Conan, the 1957 novel written by Björn Nyberg and L. Sprague de Camp and originally published by the fine folks at the Gnome Press — it was the first Conan tale not written by Robert E. Howard. Return was an episodic story and the armadillo states that it will run over a few annuals. I couldn’t find proof if that came to pass. I can easily confirm that Marvel will launch King Conan, yet another comic about the Cimmerian, in March of 1980. Priced at 75¢, this double-sized quarterly focused on the barbarian's further adventures as king of Aquilonia. The supreme team of Roy Thomas, John Buscema and Ernie Chan handled most of the first few issues until a mixed bag of writers and artists carried on until the cancellation with issue #55 (November 1989). For some reason, the titled was changed to Conan the King with #20.

Chris: Now then, class; what Conan epic would be complete without dialog like this: “The spell which stitched head back to body will last but a little while longer …” (Tsotha-Lanti, p 17 pnl 2); “If I were free to go out there and teach those two mummers how to really wield a sword – !” (Conan, p 27 pnl 2); “Not even a wizard can carry another sorcerer’s head forever, fool …” (faux-Zenobia, p 32 pnl 1); “Here, devil – dine on this, rather than my blood!” (Conan, p 32 last pnl); “Unhand her, wizard – or, by the guts of Crom, I’ll make you wish you’d stayed in two pieces!” (Conan, p 36 1st pnl); “The wizard will not rise a third time from the grave … divided as he’s been between two crocodiles!” (Conan, p 43 pnl 3).  Whoa nellie!

Roy takes advantage of the longer format to present a story of rebellion, intrigue, demon-battling and croc-wrangling, with a bit of romance and political machination (not too much) woven together.   Somehow, the irreplaceable Buscema & Chan find time to illustrate a full-length annual, without missing a regular monthly issue (not to mention Big John’s work on Savage Sword!).  Their presence is especially fortunate, since they’re equally capable presenting a bit of battle-action (p 2), a grand capital city (p 9), and its wedding parade (p 23, 24).  The transition from seeming Zenobia to undeniable demon is well done, as the creature gets uglier (p 31) and uglier (p 34, 1st pnl), while the fire encourages its growth (p 34).  Final highlight is Conan’s headlong dive into the water after the crocs (p 38, last pnl), as he twists limbs around the first huge reptile and seems immediately to gain the upper hand (p 39, 1st pnl).

The Defenders 78
"The Return of the Original Defenders!"
Story by Ed Hannigan
Art by Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Clem Robins
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Bob McLeod

Doctor Strange feels the need to call together the original Defenders so both Hulk and Sub-Mariner answer his plea and the trio set off to Tunnelworld to, as the green goliath so aptly puts it, "smash more monsters!" Meanwhile, the other non-team known as the Defenders say their goodbyes to Richard Rory (who has decided to stay in Las Vegas) and climb into the arriving Avengers quinjet (piloted by Hank Pym in his Yellowjacket long johns) and spirit away. Accompanying them are James-Michael's friends, Dian and Amber. Yellowjacket receives a distress call from an air force base in Colorado and heads there to investigate. When the non-team arrive, they are set upon by the Mutant Force, a gang of super-powered baddies led by some very attractive (and very deadly) females. The battle goes well until Yellowjacket is captured and spirited away in the villains' aircraft. Searching for Hank, the girls land in a neighboring town and enter the police department for aid, only to discover the Mutant Force has been lying in wait for them. Meanwhile, in Tunnelworld, the disguised Dr. Strange, Hulk, and Subby enter a pub and meet the unique individual known as Aeroika. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Not that it would make one lick of difference in the long run as far as the quality of this title goes but that there cover is one huge case of false advertising since the "Original Defenders" appear on only a handful of pages. This a schizo book, almost like a Tales of Suspense-esque anthology book, featuring two separate Defenders non-teams working on two non-relating Earth-shattering cases. Dialogue heavy (and not very good dialogue at that) and silly at times (witness yet another pout-fest by Kyle "Nighthawk" Richmond), this is just another waste of time and paper. The Tunnelworld saga will not wrap until #83 (May 1980) and the dual adventures will continue during that time.

Chris: In a way, it’s oddly fitting that our MU coverage should finish with the (needless, ill-advised!) return to Tunnelworld – the DMV of Marvel comics.  In its way, the Tunnelworld storyline epitomizes what the Defenders should be, but at times fails to achieve in the latter part of the Bronze Era.  We’ve all come to accept (thanks to looney-bird Steve Gerber) the Defenders as a team that faces unusual, sometimes mystically-powered threats to our world and reality.  Even if the trappings are atypical, though, basic rules of adventure-storytelling should apply: the action needs to move briskly forward, toward a recognizable goal.  Without that, if dialog and illustration tend not to work toward any real purpose, the excitement level will rarely rise above the minimum.

Case in point: this time, once the Original Defenders (I think I see a copyright infringement coming here – more legal headaches for Kyle Richmond …) have committed to return to TW and finish the job of tackling the Unnameable, we should be off without delay, right?  Since this Unnamable business is so house-afire important … .  No – instead, we go, where -?  Well, to Las Vegas, for a wrap-up of the (unwanted, unasked-for) Omega thing.  After that, the flight back to New York takes the “spare quinjet” from southern Nevada to Wyoming, then Nebraska, before they fly back to Colorado (? -might want to have that navigational system checked out, Dr Pym).  Now I’m flipping ahead – you can read these pages that feature a villain-crew having taken over an air base, if it matters to you – and I see we’re resuming the plunge into TW story on page 27, with two pages left in the issue.  Ed Hannigan will continue this practice of splitting between two unrelated settings and storylines for the next few chapters, which will effectively prevent expedient development of either storyline (and we desperately want both to develop, and thereby conclude).   
Hey, maybe I should go thru the next few issues the same way, and read only the pages dealing with TW, and ignore the other stuff?  Perhaps, if read on its own, the Tunnelworld story might not be so tedious?  No – better not to risk it.  
Matthew:  In theory, I lament our stopping in mid-storyline, let alone multiple ones, but Hannigan’s writing credit, at least on this book, virtually guarantees a conspicuous exception, and the tagline on that ugly cover, which he also penciled, tells much of the tale:  “At last—exploding into the Tunnelworld!”  You say that like it’s a good thing.  Our first visit seemed interminable, and this one is twice as long, not even redeemed by the return of Namor, on whom Trimposito does a surprisingly good job (e.g., page 5, panel 2).  It’s not worth taking the time to try to confirm it, but I don’t think the ship in which Moondragon departs on page 6 bears much resemblance to the one she arrived in, and I’m not sure we even have a consensus on the Quinjet.

As for the rest:  those check-ins with countless cast members are tedious, and believe me, more moping from Clea I don’t need, so let’s hope Claremont can find something to do with her as he takes over Doc’s book.  The faster anyone associated with Omega is hustled offstage, the better, and the Nighthawk-interdiction subplot spins its wheels endlessly.  I’m probably the faculty’s biggest Pym-booster, but I don’t think they’re too well handled here, or a good fit in this context.  I lambasted the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants 2.0 when Kirby inflicted them on us in Captain America Annual #4, which lazily isn’t even footnoted, and see no reason to do otherwise now, while the match-up between the Distaff-enders and the “surprise villain” is way too coincidental.

Doctor Strange 38
"Eye of the Beholder!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Gene Colan and Dan Green
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Bob Hall and Terry Austin

The gorgeous Clea wants to spend a night on the tiles but the ponderous and meditative Stephen Strange is spoiling her mojo so she does what any lover would do... she casts a spell and brings Stephen tumbling in from his astral plane. Strange admits he's been a bit of a party-pooper lately and changes clothes, eager to please. Meanwhile, Wong meets up with an ominous man named Sung, whose bodyguards take Wong prisoner. On a flight over the Atlantic, Cardinal Spinosa, curator of the Vatican library, wings his way to bring some dire news to his old friend, Doctor Strange. Clea and Stephen find themselves boogying at a local bar when they bump into Strange's next-door neighbor, Sara Wolfe. The girl is happy to see Stephen but a bit bummed that her date, Douglas Royce, has perched at the bar and refuses to join in the party. Just then, a stranger approaches Royce and Royce strikes out, knocking the stranger to the floor. Royce hightails it but the stranger's female partner is waiting for him outside and, soon after the stranger joins them, a scream tears through the night. When Stephen and Clea rush out to see what's happening, they find Doug Royce reduced to ashes and a "concentration of malevolent energy" surrounding the remains. Stephen and Clea track the energy to a park in Manhattan, where the murderous couple materialize and attack. Stephen manages to fight back with the Eye of Agamotto and the secret identity of the devilish pair is revealed: they are "Eye Killers," notorious for stealing souls. Stephen opens up a chasm in the Earth and the two demons tumble in, with Strange sealing the hole afterwards. Returning to the Sanctum, Stephen is surprised to see his old friend Alfeo Spinosa waiting for him. Strange's joy soon turns to melancholy when the Cardinal reveals the reason for his visit: the day before, the Vatican library was robbed... by Baron Mordo!
-Peter Enfantino

Peter: There's a lot going on here, and pert near all of it is exciting and thought-provoking, but there are a lot of Strange questions that go unanswered at the end of the 1970s. Why are the "Eye Killers" after Doug Royce? Is it merely a coincidence that his lady happens to live next to the Master of the Mystic Arts? Stephen admits that the underground prison he's created for the pair can only be temporary so I assume they'll be returning soon. Do the nefarious deeds of this pair have anything to do with the re-emergence of Mordo? If you lived with Clea, would you do anything as mundane as save the world? I've said it before and I'll say it again: Gene Colan makes anything readable (well, he might not have been able to help with this month's Captain America so maybe I should say just about anything); his Clea is desirable, his villains cinematic, and his action scenes are eye-pleasing. This is one title I will miss chronicling.

Matthew:  As Homer might say, “…mmmmm…Claremont…”  I’ve long called Chris the standard-bearer among Marvel writers in this twilight of the Bronze Age, and am sorry his first Doc entry is our last, albeit confident the title is in good hands (Mordo!).  With the regulation page count having dwindled to 17, many a Marvel issue feels almost ephemeral, but with its rich writing, careful pacing, and deeply textured art by Colan, this one seems both substantial in its own right and a tantalizing prelude to future greatness.  Ironically, the garishly colored cover—which was drawn by Bob Hall and Terry Austin but smacked of Tuska to me—and “Panic in the Park!” tagline make it look like a standard sorcerous super-hero yarn, the antithesis of what it is.

Fun credits attribute “vision” to Claremont; “shape” and “form” to Colan and Green, respectively; and “sound,” “hue,” “view,” and “judgment” to usual suspects such as key X-Men collaborator Orzechowski—I can’t let our formal curriculum end without reiterating that he more than anyone taught me what a difference lettering can make.  Some of the early stuff with Clea feels familiar, yet I’ll cut Chris some slack because he must initially play the hand he’s been dealt, handles it more thoughtfully than some, and can presumably be relied upon to do her justice in the months ahead.  Wisely, he doesn’t ignore the ominous groundwork laid by Stern and Macchio…and nobody does moody like the Dean (i.e., Gene, not Peter), well served by Dan.

Chris: Claremont keeps the story moving in multiple directions; I had to re-view the issue to ensure I hadn’t missed any developing plot-points.  Doc seeks a break from his troubles related to the presence he can’t identify (i.e. the Dweller in Darkness, who achieved his aim to sow doubt in Stephen’s breast …), when the twin Eye Killers reduce a man to ash, thereby scotching Doc’s all-too-rare evening-out with Clea (who, by now, might be thinking of giving that nice Kyle Richmond guy a call …).  It requires consultation of Impressive Tomes (yes!) for Doc to get some ideas, followed by the encounter with the twins in Inwood Park (last seen, courtesy of Claremont, in MTU #64).  I had wondered why Doc hadn’t detected the male twin when he accosted Doug Royce in the bar; Doc determines later (again, courtesy of Claremont) these two are capable of masking their psychic auras – that can’t be good.  While Doc is otherwise engaged, Wong’s getting beaten up, and Baron Mordo has returned and stolen something dangerous (I’ll warrant) from the Vatican library of the occult; neither of these developments are good, either.  Claremont keeps everything in play, and it’s a rock-solid bet we’ll see how these pieces fit in ensuing issues. 

The Colan/Green art works best in the issue’s biggest spots, during the encounter in the park: the stone-faced twins plan the destruction of Dr Strange, with black and purple clouds swirling behind them (p 23, pnl 3, colors by Bob Sharen); the all-seeing Eye reveals the twins to be the hideous soul-snatching Eye Killers (p 27, 1st pnl); Doc fires the off-balance twins into a magma-fired Great Abyss (p 27, last pnl), their snake-bodies twisting in the open space, “tumbling end over end as the molten core of the earth rushes up toward them" (p 30, 1st pnl).  No, they’re not destroyed – still, that should hold them for a while.  

Fantastic Four 213
"In Final Battle!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Byrne and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Byrne and Joe Sinnott

"In Final Battle" picks up where we left off last month, with new Galactus herald Terrax on the attack, still whizzed off that the Fabs humiliated him before the plebs on his home planet (or moon, Marv wasn't sure). Ben's "snazziest punch" doesn't faze T-rax, nor does the now-decrepit (thanks to the Skrull aging ray, hereafter abbreviated as SAR; do try to keep up) Reed's rubber-band wrap. As the not-aging Torch takes up the attack, cancelled-cartoon-show-robo Herbie grabs "two metallic containers" and beats gyros toward the nearest exit, "mission: unknown!"

Page three gets us to the long-awaited meat: Galactus vs. Sphinx, with Earth's fate hanging in the balance. Admittedly, both talky titans plan to destroy it - the over-grown Egyptian in a fit of self-loathing, hate-my-home-world pique, Galax merely as a late lunch, if with a garnish of I've-finally got you, my pretty revenge, though he claims to be above such emotions.

The Sphinx talks like he's in a time-loop, "How often have I heard that pompous speech, World-Eater?" Galactus says he has no time for riddles and battle is joined. Byrne and Sinnott have the energy bolts flying, but there's only a couple-panel sequence where the Egyptian seems to gain the upper hand, driving Big G into the ground with "...the fury of my Ka stone!" But Galax pops up behind him and slaps him so hard it shreds Sphinxie's purple and green unitard!

Aboard Big G's spherical scout-craft (which Marv later confuses with his "miles-long starship"), The Thing plants a final two-fisted punch on Terrax, but the SAR suddenly puts him on the critical list and as Johnny occupies T-rax, Reed orders Herbie to "Use your grappling hooks...carry Ben back to the Baxter Building..."

Battling the Torch, T-rax apes his powers, coming off as a cut-rate Super Skrull (at least he sure looks that way, per Byrne-Sinnott). Johnny flames a condensation-covered pipe and a big blast of liquid oxygen turns T-rax into an instant-popsicle.

Back at the main event, Sphinx lobbies Galax to let him have Earth, since "There are galaxies ripe for your plucking!" The Purple Planet Eater isn't buying as he shrinks the Egyptian back down to human size, plucks the ruby power gem from his forehead (does Warlock know a good copywrite lawyer?) and grinds it to dust. The ancient oracle Sayge appears to ask Big G if he wishes to see "his destiny reflected" but Galax cares not for fortune-tellers, and returns Sphinxie to the moment before he found the Ka stone, thousand of years ago, starting the whole time-loop over again.

Meanwhile, Herbie has flown Ben to the Bax Building, installing him in a cryo-chamber next to Sue. In Egypt, the Watcher pops in to witness Galactus deprived of his meal, for Johnny flies the rapidly decaying Reed down from G's scout ship, clutching what he claims is an Ultimate Nullifier (the only weapon Galactus fears; see FF #50), built from odds 'n' ends from the scout ship. Galax doubts this, but can't read Reed's mind, thanks to Uatu's "non-interference," and decides retreat is the better part of valor. He also vows to return, his previous don't-eat-Earth vow voided by Reed's treachery, at a time of his own choosing.

As the PPE departs, we learn the Nullifier was a fake, and Uatu serves up some jive about how his interference really wasn't before he, too, takes his leave. But there's no time to celebrate, since the now-ancient Reed, all weak and rubbery, collapses in Johnny's arms. -Mark Barsotti

Mark: This one is fairly satisfying, inasmuch as we finally get to see Galactus kick the Sphinx's tail all the way (literally) back to ancient Egypt. We don't ordinarily think of Galactus delivering fist-sandwiches, but Sinnott and Byrne, all force lines and Kirby krackle, bring the appropriate heft and gravitas to our bigly pugilists. Admittedly, the payoff was months - and many distractions - in the offing, so part of the pleasure may simply be sweet relief that half of Marv's loooonnnng story arc has come to climax. Yet it's pleasure nonetheless, so I have to disagree with Prof Matthew's tutting that it took Galax thirteen pages to dispatch Sphinxie. Since it took an eternity to serve, let's us linger over the entrée.

Just don't think about it overly much. While the Big G having an extra appetite for Earth - having unexpectedly been denied the morsel since 1965 -is understandable, even for a demigod who eschews emotion, his trapping the Sphinx in a torturous 5,000-year time loop is pointless, sadistic, and ill-befitting Galax's haughty, amoral integrity. But since Wolfman went with the idea anyway, how come time-loop-trapee Sphinx remembers the dénouement in the desert, while loop creator Galactus doesn't?

The faux Nullifier that staves off Big Purp has it problems, too, starting with the fact it looks nothing like the real thing. Byrne may not remember what it looked like in FF #50, but be assured, class, that Galactus surely does. But we won't belabor the point, since semi-effectively invoking past glories represents Wolfman's high-water mark on the title.

As this in the last FF lesson plan before the moving trucks arrive, kids, and three of the Fabs are still at death's door, I peeked ahead and can report that Johnny - for once not written as a self-absorbed idiot by Wolfman - saves the day!

Nice to go out on a high note.

Matthew:  If I regret that we’re not seeing this one through to the end, it’s due to my passion for closure rather than to enjoyment of Marv’s writing, which annoys we with the usual quotient of stupid stuff, e.g., confusing bequest/behest and acrid/arid.  Page 5, panel 1:  “these twin gods unleash their inextinguishable power.”  Page 21, panel 2:  “even Galactus is no god!”  Well, which is it?  Galactus looks great, perhaps a given in Byrnott’s hands, yet drones on about how he can take out the Sphinx without breaking a sweat…while taking 13 story pages to do it, and although Reed may have known about the “interference” (Clever or careless word choice?  You decide) caused by Uatu’s anticipated probing, I don’t think we’ve ever heard about it before.

Chris: The clash of the super-heavyweights proves worth the wait; I’m surprised Don King didn’t hijack the bout and charge $50 to see Sphinx vs Galactus on PPV.  The contest starts out fairly evenly, but it’s very satisfying to see Galactus overpower the Sphinx, and prove to be the Power that overwhelms the Pretender; three cheers to Wolfman for playing the fight straight, and not resort to having the Sphinx undone because Herbie snuck in and zapped him in the eye, or something.   As momentous as the events depicted might be, while perhaps not requiring a Landmark shield, it’s a great issue nonetheless.  

These past 2-3 issues have been Wolfman’s best since he assumed the FF mantle.  At the same time, I remember when Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler (and sometimes George Pérez) would routinely turn out issues that delivered this much excitement; Wolfman’s doing really well, but it’s taken him a while for his work to match this title’s previous proud standard.   
Most of the art highlights involve the Ali-Frazier clash on the sands of Egypt: page 5 stands on its own, especially Galactus’ Kirbyesque power-blast that batters the Sphinx back into his Ancient Egypt props; same can be said for page 7, as the karate-chop that sends the Sphinx sprawling, his costume shredding, signals the turn of the tide in favor of the Planet-Devourer; Galactus seems to sense, and revel in, his imminent victory (p 15, last pnl); p 21, as Galactus either absorbs the Sphinx’s power, or forces it to dissipate, which causes the Sphinx to shrink to pitiful mortal size, followed by the indignity of Galactus destroying the once-powerful Ka-stone; and finally, the image of almighty Galactus, his face dominating the horizon of an Egyptian plain, five-thousand years removed from our time (a pyramid quietly under construction in the background), as he condemns the Sphinx to his hateful fate.  
There are other highlights – the issue is that solid: Ben rallies and knocks Terrax back (p 10, 1st pnl); Johnny matches Terrax’s power-output (p 11, pnl 4); the condensation on the pipes, which clues clever Johnny to a means to defeat gloating Terrax (p 11, last pnl); the Watcher and Galactus, looming over puny Johnny and Reed, as G’s immense spherical shuttle casts shadows over all (p 26, pnl 3).  That Reed is some poker player; and, that Watcher can be some sneak.  

Fantastic Four Annual 14
Story by George Pérez and Marv Wolfman
Art by George Pérez and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Joe Sinnott

Weird opening to "Cat's Paw," with the Thing in mid-battle with the Sandman "...fer what he did ta Alicia!" Sandy's turned into "a statue of living crystal" by p.3 and we never even glimpse Alicia!

Instead, Agatha Harkness is waiting back at the Baxter Building, and soon everyone is flying to New Salem, Colorado (by commercial airliner, even though all the other passengers changed their reservations). We're treated to a dazzling double splash by George Perez (pgs.8-9) of the Fabs' arrival, and we learn that a sinister cabal will be up to no good at New Salem's annual ceremony of renewal " midnight... the witching hour!" 

At the ceremony, the local witches and warlocks' powers flow into Agatha to be cleansed but are then siphoned off by the disembodied Nicholas Scratch (Agatha's son) and the cabal, who morph back into the Salem Seven (see FF # "186 & 186 - M.W." - the blurb really says that - if you must), an undistinguished group of hexed-up baddies (Vertigo, Thornn, Reptilla, Brutacus, blah, blah, blah) without an engaging personality among them.

As the rest of the NS folk are entranced, the FF give fight but three or four pages later are rendered unconscious. Sue instructs little Franklin to flee before passing out, and the Seven let him go, since he's "merely a child." Little Frankie climbs the mountainside altar where, Agatha, arms outstretched, is caught in an energy field. As Frankie cries, "Where are my Mommy and Daddy?," his long-dormant and ill-defined mind powers unleash a wave of energy that wakes the spell-bound natives and transports the Salem Seven and the Fabs to the roof of the Bax (for reasons known only to Wolfman). The Seven begin to drain the FF's powers, while their expanding "power sphere" keeps the rest of NYC's supes and the military at bay. The disembodied Nick Scratch, looking like an emoji mash-up of the Monopoly Man and comedian John Hodgeman, cackles in delight.
Meanwhile, Agatha and Frankie have arrived and, immune to the "power sphere," march down a Manhattan street toward the B. Building. Scratch unleashes a locus swarm, but Agatha sends them away in "a great scarlet tornado." When the duo reach the Bax lobby, the in-thrall Fabs await them, but Frankie's mind-power breaks the spell. Agatha then de-powers the SS and dispatches them and her wayward son to "...the land beyond beyond"...wherever that may be.

Agatha also removes all memory of what happened from the minds of New Yorkers. The readers, alas, aren't so lucky. -Mark Barsotti

Mark: This one's a semi-coherent witches' brew of non-wonderment, from the WTF Sandman opening, complete with non-appearance by the in-peril Alicia Masters, to the non-triumphant return of Nick Scratch, that I'm confident absolutely no one was clamoring for. And I won't even mention the outright stupidity of Reed and Sue flying out to face Sandy with little Franklin along for the ride in the Fantasticar. 


The one attraction is the gorgeous graphics by George Perez (inked by Pablo Marcos), which include five full splash pages. Not only are they all eyeball ticklers, but they cut down, at least a bit, on the woo woo Wolfman's slinging here. And for the little the Fabs get to do, hero-wise, this one would have been more accurately titled The Amazing Agatha Harkness, featuring Franklin the Wonder Boy.

The one semi-nifty feature is the return of the Fabs' rogues' gallery (which also saves us from six more pages of New Salem silliness). Nicely rendered by Keith Pollard and Pablo, the pin-ups are marred by the inclusion of null entities like the Invincible Man and the Man called...Gideon!

Instantly forgettable from start to finish. Maybe Agatha's final spell is working after all, but can she get us our 75¢ back?

Matthew: Strike one:  was there ever a less propitious cover?  Strike two:  Salem’s Seven.  Pérez (who co-plots and pencils) made them look cool in #185-6—and largely does so again here, despite being inked by the dreaded Marcos—but that’s really all you can say in favor of them, or for that matter their tiresome introduction.  Strike three:  scripter/editor Marv.  If these idiots are ever stupid enough to go back to New Salem again, they deserve whatever happens to them.  The murkiness of this story is, for me, more excusable than the murkiness about events in the interim, e.g., what’s the SS been doing since then?  The timing is a coincidence, since this takes place after #216, but at least we can bid adieu to a non-decrepit FF.

Chris: FF fandom was scandalized when Reed zapped his young son into comatosity (way back in #141, as any true believer already knows), for fear that his untapped potential could prove planet-rending.  Fans were relieved when Franklin snapped out of his lengthy nap without any apparent ill-effects (although, after so much rest, I’m sure it was hard to put him down before midnight, at least for a few weeks), but his powers thereafter were only hinted at, cause for neither concern nor celebration.  So, full credit to Marv Wolfman for completing the circle, and showing us: 1) Reed was right about the possible height of Franklin’s power-ceiling, and 2) Reed might’ve overestimated the potential harm Franklin could cause; unless, perhaps, the imposed vegetative state pushed his son’s capabilities deeper into dormancy, until he attained an age when he might be able to exert some control -?

Page 7 has some honest-to-goodness laffs: Ben pleads, “There’s still time ta go to Disneyland!” and under his breath, tries to assure himself “There ain’t no such thing as ghosts … there ain’t no such thing as ghosts” (hey, you think maybe 'Salems Lot got under his rocky orange skin -?); the stewardess informs Johnny that, once the other passengers learned they’d be sharing a flight with the FF, they all changed their flights (ba-dum-dum!); the stewardess (how’d she draw this short straw, anyway?) then is befuddled to find Agatha Harkness, somehow, has helped herself to tea – in a silver cup, no less.
It’s great to see Salem’s Seven again; the team is another testament to Pérez’s flair for character and costume design.  Their battle with the FF is satisfying, but brief – barely five pages.  The annual’s last six pages would’ve been better served by a rematch of opposing teams (fought on the roof of the Baxter, no less!), perhaps while Scratch and Agatha tangled in the stormy skies above, instead of the ho-hum rogues gallery.  
We tend to talk about the FF as a family.  Most of the moments this time involve Franklin (fortunately, Wolfman & Pérez employ restraint, and don’t oversell Franklin’s role to the point that we’re wishing Godzilla would eat him), such as: when the precocious youngster points and asks “What are they doin’ now, Mommy?” to which Sue replies “shhh…” (p 11, pnl 2); a heartbreaking moment as Franklin, witnessing the poor progress of the battle, shouts “Daddy!  Can’t you stop them, Daddy?” (p 19, last pnl); Sue, her eyes fading to unconsciousness, desperately grabs his cloak, and orders her cub to “Run into the desert – hide! Don’t let them get you!” (p 22, 2nd pnl).  Wolfman also convincingly explains how Franklin could take heart from stories of his family’s unusual exploits, as he bravely returns and walks thru the pack of zombie Salemites (p 23).
Pérez doesn’t skimp on his final FF go round, beautifully finished by Marcos.  Plenty of highlights, but I’ll limit myself to: Reed attempting to encircle Sandman with one arm, while slugging him with the other (p 2, 1st pnl – slight goof, as Reed has two right hands!); a stunning two-page view of the spires, elaborate stone and wood facades, and colorful citizenry of New Salem, featuring (if you look closely) all of Salem’s Seven, in their unassuming human forms, plus Johnny talking-up a comely succubus before he’s even stepped completely out of the jeep (p 8-9); bristling battle action as Ben smashes up the pavement, scattering Thornn and Hydron, then gets tied up by Gazelle and Reptilla before Brutacus slams him – Pérez zooms in on Brutacus in the final frame, which makes him look even bigger (p 17); coruscating energy over a packed cityscape, seen from further above (p 25); a disaster-movie image, as the red waves push back the crowds, including one P. Parker (p 26), followed by an always-welcome Avengers cameo (p 27); insanely powerful Agatha Harkness – sheltering a frightened, then wondering Franklin – sets everything aright, as Scratch is cast down to a fading light in the bottom right panel (p 37).  

Ghost Rider 39
“The Cult of Doom”
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Clem Robins
Cover by Bob Budiansky and Bob Wiacek
Blasted off a mountain road by four flamethrowing Death Riders, Ghost Rider plunges into the deep gorge below. But the hellspawned hero manages to flip his bike over in midair, hit a rocky outcropping with his rear tire and throttle back up the cliff. The shocked cultists tear off towards the bridge spanning Thompson’s Gorge, hoping to cut the suspension cables and strand the Rider on the other side — but the Spirit of Vengeance leaps across the chasm and lands in front of his prey. Shouting “We worship death,” the cultists commit suicide by leaping off the bridge. Still determined to exact revenge for the murder of his new friend Harley Baggs, Ghost Rider transforms into Johnny Blaze and seeks out Karen Sterling.

Later that evening, Johnny joins Karen at the house of her crusading father, State Senator Arthur Sterling, along with the senator’s attorney, Mark Crane, and son, Billy. As Sterling talks of launching an investigation into the cult — under Crane’s “freedom of religion” objections — Death Riders appear outside and set fire to some shrubbery. Blaze runs off, becomes Ghost Rider and quickly catches the cultists, melting their tires to the asphalt. Using hellfire, he gets the men to reveal their leader: it is the lawyer, Crane. Back at the Sterling estate, Crane slips away after telling Billy, secretly a cult member, to kill Blaze with his flamethrower. When Johnny returns, he easily overpowers Billy but the boy still manages to escape — Karen races after her brother on a motorcycle. 

At the cult’s high mountain plateau meeting place, the masked Crane asks for volunteers for another fatal Death Ride joust — Billy agrees to take part. But Karen soon arrives and knocks her brother off his bike with her ride: she is quickly subdued. Suddenly, Johnny Blaze cruises on the scene as well. Changing into the Ghost Rider, he stops the cultists from engaging in a mass suicide and, using hellfire, forces Crane to admit his villainy to the authorities. Karen is horrified by Blaze’s current appearance: the Rider cruises away alone. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: I'll put down my sharpened knives for a bit and start off with an apology to Michael Fleisher:

“Dear Mr. Fleisher: Last issue, I basically called you an unimaginative and lazy so-and-so, predicting that Senator Sterling would be unmasked as the leader of the Death Cult. But I was wrong. It was actually the Senator’s lawyer, Mark Crane. So I apologize. Though, when Crane shows up an issue later, it was obvious that he was the culprit. With that said, Ghost Rider still sucks donkey dongs.”

Marvel University’s study of Ghost Rider grinds to a merciful halt with the finale of the Death Cult two-parter. Towards the end, the series has veered entirely away from any type of supernatural storyline, offering drab, everyday “adventures” that are completely inappropriate for a satanic hero with a flaming skull for a head. The one thing I found remotely interesting in this issue is how the cultists were willing to die for their cause at a drop of a hat — which works for Crane since, as revealed last issue, he then inherits all their worldly possessions. I guess that’s why he called for another joust even though his plan was crumbling down around him.

Continuing from last time, Ghostie’s plunge off the cliff at the beginning is completely devoid of excitement or tension. He pontificates throughout the ten panels including this whopper: “They are fools to attempt to destroy me with flame, for the Ghost Rider was spawned in flame, in the fiery pits of hell itself! But this plunge into the abyss will destroy me, unless I can find some way to check my descent!” Sheesh, he’d have hit bottom already. Plus, Perlin doesn’t have the talent to actually pull off the maneuvers the Rider uses to save himself, making it unbelievable and dull, the worst type of ending to a cliffhanger. 

Even though I was the point person for the Adventure Into Fear with the Man Called Morbius the Living Vampire issues that featured Helleyes, it’s an easy decision to label Ghost Rider the worst series that I had the displeasure of chairing for MU. But, unlike Johnny Blaze, I am finally free from the hellish curse of my own making.

Matthew: What, no Ghost Rider post-graduate studies? But seriously, folks... Wow, talk about dodging a bullet:  Professor Tom escaped this wretched excuse for a mag, with his sanity arguably intact, at the precise moment it went monthly!  Like him—absent another nominee even to be invoked, let alone depicted—I thought Senator Sterling would be revealed as the cult leader, but I’m sure Tom didn’t need a very long acquaintance with slimy lawyer [redundancy joke optional] Crane to reconsider; I’ll have to brush up on the Constitution in search of that First Amendment protection for those who roast others with flamethrowers.  This double dose of Fleisherlin flummery is so profoundly stupid as to make me nostalgic for Coot Collier.  “Dead?  Wait…sure, that’s our escape!  Death!  We worship death!!”

Chris: It’s a fairly dull story; but, it usefully illustrates weaknesses by both of our creative crew.  First, Fleisher’s reliance on captions at various points; I image he expects these extra words will enhance our reading experience, but typically, they only seem to tell us things we already know, without contributing any excitement.  The captions also tend to bog down moments that should be inherently exciting (e.g. “Only one motorcycle in the universe could perform this mind-stunning feat …”), such as Ghost Rider’s (inevitable) self-rescue from his plunge into the chasm (p 2-3), and GR’s face-down of the death-worshippers (p 27).  

Secondly, speaking of plentiful words, I’ve offered many supportive ones to Perlin during his Marvel tenure; but, I can’t speak up for him this time, as Perlin’s ordinary layouts convey hardly any suspense.  GR’s jump across the gorge to cut off the death-squadders should be one of those moments (p 5), as should be his confrontation with the lemming-like cultists (p 27 again); GR’s furious battle, presented in montage-format on p 26, might be nice to look at, but again, there’s next to nothing in the visuals to keep me turning the pages.
And yet, despite all our carefully-observed criticisms, GR now has gone monthly.  My best guess is that a core group of flaming-skull lovers (enamored enough of the character, consequently put-off neither by weak stories – and their foregone conclusions – nor by uninspiring art) has pushed this title into exalted territory.  Either that, or Prof Tom was sneaking out to buy extra copies – and boost sales – when none of us were watching -!

The Incredible Hulk 242
"Sic Semper Tyrannus!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Bob Layton

So, okay, let’s get through this. One final Hulk issue. Tyrannus controls the living flame of El Dorado. Hulk smashes the mountain and discovers a giant machine left behind by the Deviants of Kirby’s wacky Eternals comic. It makes Tyrannus stronger and, as the Hulk gets closer and closer to defeating his old foe, he is knocked out by a Brain Mine (or something). Then Tyrannus make the flame take on physical attributes, creating a giant silver arm to smash things. He picks up the high priest and orders him to submit. The priest refuses and is killed. Goldbug revives the Hulk, who goes apeshit and smashes the arm. Because of the symbiotic nature of the flame, Tyrannus feel his arm go dead. Hulk goes in to Super Smashy mode and Tyrannus, fearful for his life, becomes the flame itself. Then Hulk topples the altar and, in a very confusing last panel, Tyrannus screams and something weird happens. I have no frigging idea what. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Worst. Issue. Ever. Seriously. Gad, the art is crap, the story is dull as dirt and the ending is too abstract to register. I mean, what actually just happened to Tyrannus? He screams and the flame warps and we’re out. I’ll never know. I only read this stuff because Dean Pete is such a demanding overlord. What a way to go out. I loved this title not too long ago. These days, not so much. See ya, greenskin.

Matthew: When I first lamented how Sterno was dragging out his plotline, it never occurred to me that we’d run out of blog before he could finish it, thus leaving me ambivalent about this overlong and, for us, unfinished arc—it’s sort of like a variation on the old “terrible food/small portions” joke.  As with the current Amazing Spider-Man, coincidentally also drawn by Buscema, the cliffhanger doesn’t leave us much further along than we were last time, and several story beats are repeated, e.g., Tyrannus turns a sometime ally to dust; Goldbug extricates Greenskin from his predicament.  Unlike others, I have no particular quarrel with Sal’s self-inked art, but I question Roger’s decision to tie this in with the Celestials, Deviant “brain mine” and all.

Chris: There may be no greater opportunity for hubris than when a Marvel character challenges the Hulk.  We’ve seen, time and again, how the Hulk’s unflagging confidence in his inexhaustible power makes him nigh-on invincible.  Points to Roger Stern for introducing complications to the story; it’s always more entertaining when the path to the Hulk’s inevitable defeat of his foe isn't a straight one.  In this case, Sterno culls the pages of the Eternals for a useful device like the brain mine (previously employed against Ikaris, if memory serves), which requires an assist by story-afterthought Goldbug to remove.  Stern makes it clear Goldbug is helping the Hulk only so the Hulk might save his buggy bacon, despite the fact that the Hulk only wound up in El Dorado due to Goldbug’s duplicity; nice moment as Stern describes the Hulk’s awakening as realizing Goldbug’s hopes “…and his deepest fears!” (p 19).

The other highlights require the direct assistance of solo artist Sal B.: the first crease in Tyrannus’ confidence, once the Hulk tears open his fire-fed force field (p 6); the immense fire-column, at the direction of Tyrannus, “coalesces into a mighty arm of flame-forged metal,” with Tyrannus’ tiny forearm visible below to provide a clear sense of scale (p 14); Tulak pays for his defiance, as the metallic hand withers him away (p 15); Hulk – in blood-eyed rage – promises harm to Tyrannus, met by a fearful, defensive posture by his stammering foe (p 23, last two panels); Tyrannus merges with the flame (p 26, pnl 4), then appears to dissipate in a Munch-howl as the Hulk rends his Deviant-devised flame pit, with the once-glorious El Dorado already reduced to rubble below (p 30).  Nice.

The Incredible Hulk Annual 8
Story by Roger Stern and John Byrne
Art by Sal Buscema and Alfredo Alcala
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Al Milgrom

The Hulk, sent flying into the stratosphere by Machine Man, crashes in the Canadian Rockies. He is found by Maureen Mores Friesen, who lives in a cabin with her husband, an Army Doctor who is away delivering a baby. The Hulk is unconscious, his face buried in the dirt. Maureen tries to help by digging away enough dirt to allow him to breathe. He comes to and is initially angry when he sees a girl with a shovel, thinking she meant to bury him. When Mores runs, she twists her ankle and falls, expecting to be killed, but once the Hulk realizes she meant to help him he accepts her as his new friend and takes her home. Once there, he calms and becomes Bruce Banner again.

Meanwhile, in Department H, a Canadian government facility, it is decided to send Sasquatch of Alpha Flight to find the Hulk. In his human identity, Dr. Walter Langkowski is excited to be assigned this task; he always wanted to test himself against the Hulk. He takes off in an Army chopper to the Hulk's last-known location.

Back at the cabin, Bruce and Mores get to know each other. When Mores’ cat runs off, she leaves Bruce to get him back. Bruce, hearing the news that the Hulk destroyed Central City in his fight with Machine Man, contemplates suicide. When he hears Mores scream, Bruce forgets his distress and runs to find her. He is faced with Sasquatch who captured Mores to lure him out but the beast  doesn’t want Banner, he wants the Hulk. Sasquatch tries to panic Banner into the change by tossing him in the air repeatedly. Bruce resists the change and when he accidentally goes over a  sharp cliff, he fights the transformation, even though it could mean his death. He impacts and the Hulk returns.

From here, it’s just one big brawl as Sasquatch discovers that, the madder the hulk gets, the stronger he gets. Finally, their fight brings down the side of a mountain and Sasquatch shields Mores while Hulk is buried. After he frees himself, Hulk is more enraged than ever, but sees how terrified Mores is of him. Knowing his insane rage has cost him another friend, Hulk leaps away, while Sasquatch deals with the fact that his ego was the catalyst that destroyed an entire forest.
-Scott McIntyre

Scott: When I first bought this issue in 1979, I was excited. The prior year’s annual, drawn by John Byrne, was my all-time favorite. I was young enough to expect the same experience this time around.


Byrne was involved, but only as a co-writer. When I want John Byrne, I’m really asking for his artwork. The Buscema/Alcala art isn’t bad by any stretch, but it’s a far cry from the earlier annual. The story is practically non-existent. Just one big excuse to fight. The size of the annual gives them a reason to pause and go into greater detail, explaining Sasquatch, showing his transformation, having Mores find the Hulk, etc. All of this could have been edited down to fewer panels in a monthly. The ending is typically downbeat Hulk stuff and this is really nothing to write home about, but not as bad as some of the other annuals I’ve had to read.

Matthew: Byrne has been co-plotting X-Men for almost a year, and of course collaborated with Stern on the prior annual, yet at this stage it’s unusual to see him credited only as a writer.  I think this could have been done in a regular issue, distilling each individual story beat into half as many pages; mind you, I’m not saying it should have—quite the reverse, in fact, because I consider it another double-sizer that benefits from taking its time to relate a tale that’s not incredibly ambitious.  Sasquatch’s very deliberate actions remove this from the realm of the MARMIS, but we don’t know Walt well enough yet to say whether being so boneheaded is in character; faculty-fave “A.P.” Alcala gives Sal’s pencils a really nice flavor that fits the material.

Chris: What would you do if you found a seven-foot, half-ton, rage-fueled, green-skinned creature, and observed that – somehow – that creature needed your help?  Many of us might vacate the scene, in order to notify a park ranger (or in this case, a do-right mountie); no thank you, not getting involved with that, no sir.  So every now and then, it’s interesting to read a Hulk story that includes a character who can overcome the Twilight Zone moment (in this case, the sight of a thirty-foot trench, filled with a face-down unconscious Hulk) and its initial disorientation, who can proceed to find a way to press on and attend to the Hulk’s human needs.  

Once we get past that, though, the story amounts to little more than Sasquatch using the Hulk as a tune-up; “finally, a challenge worthy of us!” Dr Langkowski muses, including his alter ego in his anticipation.  And of course, his thoughtlessness contributes to the Hulk’s loss of a newfound friend.  The action’s fine, but it doesn’t compensate for a story that becomes both thin and all-too-familiar.  With Stern & Byrne (hey – that rhymes) manning the four-handed typewriter, I expected a far more involved story.  As it is, this story would fit comfortably (with a little less action) in a single routine issue of the Hulk’s regular mag; it’s hardly worthy of an annual.
I know now that Alfredo Alcala has familiarized himself with the Hulk’s fierce facial expressions from his work on the Hulk’s B&W mag; I wouldn’t have been aware of that fact back when this annual was first published.  So yes, Al & Sal work together to deliver a range of Hulk faces, from bored, hungry , and rage-fading tired (p 17), to outraged – don’t call him “Banner” (p 31), to ragefully dismissive, for lack of a better expression (p 36, pnl 4), and finally to a rarely-rendered red rage (p 43, pnl 4). 

The Invincible Iron Man 129
"Dread Night of the Dreadnought!"
Story by Jim Shooter, Bob Layton,
Roger Stern, and David Michelinie
Art by Sal Buscema, Al Gordon, Joe Rubinstein
Eduardo Barreto, Bob Wiacek, and Ricardo Villamonte
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Bob Layton

 A striking splash page depicts Tony, dwarfed by a massive “Stark International” sign, at a podium addressing a special stockholders’ meeting to discuss their direction “under the auspices of their new management.”  The reverse shot reveals that he is playing to an audience of one, a not-amused Nick (“cut the clownin’!”), who hands him S.H.I.E.L.D.’s plan to return S.I. to munitions production, into which Tony introduces the odd monkey wrench:  he owns the patents on most of the weapons, and has decided to sell them on the open market; virtually all of his loyal staff have submitted their resignations; and he’s going to take his accumulated leave of nine months.  Thus stymied, “the fascist gentleman”—per Mrs. Arbogast—decides to reconsider.

Telling a jubilant Beth and Rhodey that Nick will sell Jarvis’s shares back at cost and put most of the remainder on the market, Tony agrees to a hatchet-burying dinner.  During a stop at “one o’ my favorite waterin’ holes” on the Lower East Side, Guido’s Bar & Grill (boilermaker for Fury; ginger ale for Tony), Nick’s beeper flashes an alert on Channel D—U.N.C.L.E. homage?—and he literally flies off in his coupe.  Recognizing the significance of “Priority Alpha,” Tony armors up and follows him due west, tracking the “unique energy matrix” of the conversion reactor he’d designed for Nick’s car; it descends through a gaping hole in the central dome of Project 13, the installation housing the doomsday device the Avengers protected from F.A.U.S.T. in Thor #271.

Nick finds the “impregnable” complex’s guards and defenses totaled by a Dreadnought robot yet, despite having defeated the original in Strange Tales #154, is quickly kayoed by this one.  When IM arrives and confronts it, the robot denies any knowledge of Hydra, saying he has been sent by “the director”; after his armor’s refractory coating compensates for both its liquid fire and frigi-breath, the robot catches him in its “electronic embrace,” but IM reverses the electron flow to fuse and overload its circuits, destroying it.  Thanked by a recovered Nick, who says, “at least we know where your loyalties lie,”  IM responds, “my loyalties are exactly the same as Mr. Stark’s!  The only difference between us is this suit of armor.  We both believe in justice and…humanity.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’ve rarely said so in the post-Mantlo era, but I really liked this interim issue—laid out by Sal before Layton’s year as desultory penciler—which is all the more surprising considering its tag-team nature; sure, we all know the “M. [or D.] Hands” byline for inks, but when did you ever see a plot attributed to “D. Minds”?  The results, both story and art, are surprisingly cohesive, and although largely sidestepping it here increases the sense that Tony’s alcoholism was too easily beaten, credited writer Michelinie provides commendable closure in other areas.  Coincidentally, the (or technically a) Dreadnought appeared, its name misspelled on the cover, in Daredevil #121, a nostalgic favorite narrowly bumped from my Top 20 list on the day before I re-read this.

Multiple sources list cover artist Layton, editor Stern, and EIC Shooter as the other Minds, with Gordon, Rubinstein, Villamonte, Wiacek, and Eduardo Barreto—who also inks Our Pal on the current MTU—as the Hands.  Delights:  as Tony asks Mrs. A to “entertain Colonel Fury for  few minutes,” each thinks, “Oh, swell”; Guido’s reply to Tony’s Perrier order (“A pair o’ what?”); Nick’s “I can’t believe my eye”; the bracingly confident Shellhead’s “Whoa, son!  You play rough!”  At blog’s end, we leave our hero in fine form both inside and out of his armor, as Tony masterfully outmaneuvers S.H.I.E.L.D. every step of the way and IM takes on a formidable foe with relative ease, while Fury, on whom I’m famously picky, is handled well in word and image.

Chris: It would be reasonable to look at the credits, see both “diverse” and “many,” and proceed with very low expectations.  Fortunately, the “diverse minds” of Shooter, Stern, and Layton effectively unravel the controlling-interest conundrum introduced in #128 by Michelinie and Layton.  It’s to this title’s advantage to avoid several months’ worth of legal and corporate wrangling; poor Kyle Richmond (and his fellow-suffering readers) could only wish for such an expedient resolution of his personal problems.  The only downside is the unlikelihood that Fury would back down, and agree to sell off SHIELD’s stock, seemingly without any concessions on Stark’s part; e.g. Tony might’ve agreed to design and produce several new advanced weapons systems exclusively for SHIELD, to compensate for his hard-line on not resuming general munitions production.  

The “many hands” aspect doesn’t deliver quite as well.  Iron-fans have seen very little of their favorite Avenger in action, since the repulsor-triggered death of the Carnelian ambassador in #124, so it’s a good idea to stage this little workout with the Dreadnought.  It’s unfortunate, though, that Al Gordon and Joe Rubinstein are handed the Tony-talking-with-Nick pages, while the battle-action pages – the ones you really hope to look their best, right? – are finished by (gulp) Ricardo Villamonte.  Granted, I can consider how Villamonte’s finishes have improved since prior, truly awful outings like Avengers Annual #8, until pages like 22-23 take me back to those sad, murky days.  I mean, Iron Man looks like he’s got clumps of shoe polish stuck to him, you know -?  
Well anyway – for a fill-in, it isn’t the worst; at least the story follows logically from the previous issue, we’re able to straighten out a potentially distracting business matter, plus we get a bit of bust-em-up action for good measure.  Could be worse.  

Marvel Premiere 51
The Black Panther in
"The Killing of Windeagle!"
Story by Ed Hannigan
Art by Jerry Bingham and Gene Day
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers
Cover by Al Milgrom and Klaus Janson

 As T'Challa is returning to the Wakandan consulate in New York, he is attacked from above by Windeagle.  T'Challa gets the better of his opponent, and flips him into a snare set by his loyal security chief, Taku.  As he walks inside, T'Challa wonders who this "Windeagle" might be, and why he'd been sent to attack the King of the Wakandas, "a mission for which he was so unsuited?"  Taku is surprised his monarch does not recognize his foe (previously seen in Jungle Action #24).  Once T'Challa is inside, his footman Omoro introduces two visitors, Monica Lynne and Kevin Trublood; T'Challa politely acknowledges them, and walks off, stating he'll meet with them later.  Taku again is surprised at T'Challa’s lack of recognition; Monica laments "the Dragon Circle got to him," which could mean "the Black Panther we knew could be dead forever!"  T'Challa reflects on a possible gap in his memory -- "a hidden area in my awareness" -- before he meets with his visitors.   Monica relates her tale of her sister Angela, dead of an apparent suicide, but which by all accounts appeared to be a murder.  Investigation into possible foul play pointed to possible involvement by the Klan, and also the mysterious Soldiers of the Dragon Circle.  Monica describes how she was aided by a brave and resourceful man, who fought "with the speed and strength of a jungle cat"; the further Monica progresses with her story, the more T'Challa recognizes himself, and his involvement in these events.   T'Challa recalls how, despite his efforts at the time, the mystery of Angela's death continued "as deep as ever.  But I -- the Panther -- survived to search once more."  Kevin underscores how the mystery remains unsolved, and "the threat of the Dragon cult is still very real!"  On that note, Windeagle plunges thru the window to renew his attack (he had gassed the Wakandan guards and escaped), which takes both him and T'Challa back outside.  T'Challa observes Windeagle's flying apparatus resembles "a product of Wakanadan technology," as he wonders whether the Dragon cult might've "somehow infiltrated my country's scientific elite!"  T'Challa feigns being stunned to lure Windeagle in close, and delivers a series of shattering blows.  Windeagle appears to withdraw from the fray, only to be felled by a bullet from a nearby window.  T'Challa races to the building and springs to the window ledge, but as he reaches the interior, he knows he will find the room empty.  The battle might have ended, but clearly, "the war has been reopened!" -Chris Blake

Chris: Something I have to address from the outset; I went back and checked Windeagle's previous appearance in JA #24 (when he was called "Wind Eagle"), and although there are a few inconsistencies in the coloring, for the most part WE is a green-and-white clad black man, but now, WE is a blue-and-yellow costumed white guy (at least Dick Sargent had the courtesy to continue with the same attire when he became the new Darren).  So, even though our story closes with the question, "Who was Windeagle?," the greater issue might be phrased, "Who is Wind Eagle/Windeagle?"
Ed Hannigan does a thorough job recounting Monica's story – thorough enough to take up six entire pages.  Basically, anytime we're not reliving past events from JA, we're watching a fight with WE.  Hannigan introduces an interesting angle with T'Challa's apparent memory loss, but once he's recovered some memories, why stop there?  Rather than recount so many details from JA, wouldn't it have made sense to explain what happened after the enigmatic finish of JA #24?  I suppose I have to hope those details might be disclosed in our next issue.
At this stage in his career, Jerry Bingham is not the world’s greatest comics artist; his humans tend at times to look spindly and awkward.  He requires a solid finisher to give his work substance – so, three cheers for Gene Day.  Highlights include: a flashback of T’Challa, ready to fling some dragon-cultists (p 14, last pnl); flashback to the Panther’s fiery crucifixion and its aftermath (p 21, last three pnls); the Panther hangs low, in wait for Windeagle (p 26); the Panther springs from the street to the ledge, as seen from the perspective of the now-empty window, vacated by the rifleman who had shot WE (p 30, 1st pnl).
Matthew: The Hannigan/Bingham/Day team must feel like those poor schlepps who clean up crime scenes, disposing of the remains of not one but two Panther titles.  People joke about Two Marvs, yet a more plausible theory is that there are Two Eds, one who makes me long to be struck by lightning while reading Defenders, and this one, who tries two risky gambits:  the old amnesia trick, to explain why it’s taken three years our time to pick up the Jungle Action threads, and a 5+-page flashback, perhaps inevitable yet possibly trying the patience of new readers.  I say he pulls them both off, matched by Jerry and Gene—look at the detail and texture of those outstretched hands on the splash page and in page 5, panel 4, with an almost 3-D effect.

Joe: Is that PC, even in 1979? "Marvel's #1 Black Super Hero!" on the front cover? I guess, but in 2017 I'm thinking not so much. Eh, I'm probably overthinking it. The insides of this one are "not so much" also, from the so-so story to the mediocre artwork to certain moments like Black Panther picking up the big throne on page 2, which seems like a bit of showing off, kinda out of character if you ask me, even though it's out of necessity. Not sure what the heck is going on as a non-Jungle Action reader, even with the feast of flashbacks. Monica Lynne is sort of annoying to be honest. And oh, the less said about Windeagle the better. Bad outfit that's derivative of so many other heroes and villains. And it's just a suit so there's no real powers (outside of flight). Although he probably didn't deserve to be shot by a mystery assassin. Panther does get in some haymakers on page 26, which is the highlight of the book for sure.


Matthew:  In #52, T’Challa learns that Windeagle—likely slain for failing to kill him—was Hector Santiago Ruiz, the son of Dominican immigrants, a criminal and junkie who fell in with the Spiritual Light Society (a “street mission” assumed to be the Cult of the Dragon Circle) in prison, and was paroled into their custody.  His flying apparatus was stolen from Wakanda (which is never explained), while the rifle found at the scene was not the murder weapon (which is never explained), leading T’Challa to posit a parallel with Angela’s death.  He, Kevin, Monica, and Taku are followed from the precinct house, but a contingency plan lures their pursuers into a Wakandan-owned lumberyard, where some are killed in a crash and another mortally wounded by an unseen sniper...perhaps the same one who killed Angela and Windeagle.

A card bearing the symbol of the Klan is found in one car, and when their attackers are released for insufficient evidence, T’Challa tracks them to a rally that confirms “this is war between two lunatic factions,” the KKK and the Dragon Cult led by traitorous ex-member the Reverend Mr. Addison, whose real-estate deals caused a scandal.  Suddenly, a spectral, mounted figure appears whom T’Challa recognizes as the Soul Strangler, “the bogeyman of Monica Lynne’s childhood nightmares” (see Jungle Action #22), who reveals the Panther’s presence in the rafters and vanishes during the mêlée.  As our heroes head for Georgia in his “strange, spherical machine,” T’Challa tells his former inamorata, now paired up with Kevin, “I think I know who killed your sister—and why!”

Alas, the tidy resolution suggested by his certitude is not forthcoming in #53, which opens as Lt. Jerome Azoff tries to get Angela’s nominal boyfriend, Leroy Ames—found unconscious in a car outside the rally (which is never explained) and arrested on a gun charge—to confess to the killings.  Reunited with the Lynnes, the Panther is momentarily stricken by returning memories, and suddenly the idea that the Cult brainwashed him, which sounded loopy when advanced by the Klan leader last issue, is taken as an article of faith.  Sheriff Broderick (sic) Tate enables T’Challa to question Cult member Roman Scaggs, who was in jail when his rifle was found near the scene of Windeagle’s murder, and insists they are nonviolent; this triggers more memories, and suggests that even if unable to control T’Challa, the Cultists made him forget them.

Hannigan cites the “paranormal mental abilities” that Kirby unwisely gave T’Challa, but never states outright that they helped him resist the brainwashing, and when the Klansmen at the Water Crest Country Club (where the Panther underwent his waterwheel ordeal) vow to stamp out the Cult—fearing its infiltrators—the Reverend is suddenly referred to as “Blackburn.”  Lloyd Lynne’s belief that the Klan killed his daughter Angela is “explained” by the implausible revelation that he is a Cult member (which perhaps surprised his creator, Don McGregor, as much as it did me), and realizing he’s been lied to, he is saved by the Panther from “punishment” after resigning.  Abandoned by his flock, the Rev is left to the tender mercies of the KKK, trying to negotiate with them as they take him out in a boat for “a nice, decent bayou funeral,” and it’s at this point that things go seriously off the rails as the two Klansmen get lost in an unnatural fog.

Bargaining for his life, Blackburn guides them to an old, supposedly long-deserted plantation, but is surprised to find it peopled by Caleb and other Civil War-era slaves, whereupon the Soul Strangler appears, battles T’Challa, is defeated, and vanishes, as do the slaves (those expecting bloody EC-style retribution were doomed to disappointment).  Apprehending the Rev and the Klansmen, the Panther summons the good guys and confirms that the Cult killed Angela to prevent her from exposing the crooked deals, leaving Kevin to marry Monica and publish the truth, including Blackburn’s indictment, while the ghosts remain unexplained.  With Alan Gordon replacing Gene Day on the inks for #53, the art remains as solid as ever, but how satisfying you find Hannigan’s resolution of these years-old dangling plot threads is up to you and your tolerance for supernatural activity.

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