Wednesday, February 1, 2017

November 1979 Part One: The Invincible Iron Man Fights a Demon in a Bottle!

 Iron Man 128
"Demon in a Bottle"
Story by Bob Layton and David Michelinie
Art by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Bob Layton

Drowning his sorrows in booze, IM considers giving up his civilian i.d., rather than vice versa; flies out of his office without opening the window first; and creates a deadly chlorine-gas leak while “helping” the police deal with a derailed LIRR tanker.  Returning to S.I., he reaches for another drink in his penthouse and is stopped by Bethany, who was admitted by his secretary, Mrs. Arbogast.  Assured that he can handle things himself, she tells Tony of her husband, Alexander van Tilberg, a West German junior ambassador to the U.S. who used her as “window dressing for his diplomatic ambitions,” and whose reliance on pills was the possible cause of his fatal car crash—an object lesson that finally persuades Tony to ask Bethany for help.

After a grueling recovery lasting an entire page (Tony “spills his pent-up pain like milk from a split pail”), he makes amends with Jarvis, who takes his old job back…but reveals that to pay his mother’s medical bills, he used two shares of S.I. stock given to him on his tenth anniversary of service as collateral, forfeited on a technicality.  Although IM threatens to expose his predatory lending practices, Mr. Benchley has already sold the stock to “a government agency,” giving S.H.I.E.L.D.—which Tony helped to found—controlling interest in S.I.  This setback threatens to induce a relapse, but Beth warns him that he will lose everything if he gets “sucked back into that bottle,” and as they literally drive off into the sunset, he vows to fight on and regain control. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: I’ll leave the paeans of praise for this alleged classic to others, because I’ve never liked it.  At 16, I disliked it because, while I neither expect nor want my super-heroes to be perfect, which would be boring, I do want them to be, oh, you know, heroic.  Over the decades, I disliked it because it set the wheels in motion for Rhodey’s tenure as Iron Man, thus exemplifying the worst excesses of the Shooter Regime, which reached their nadir with the degradation of my beloved Hank Pym.  And now, re-reading it on the very day a personal drama related to alcoholism (not mine) coincidentally unfolded, I disliked it because, his eventual recidivism notwithstanding, it cheapens this supposedly bold and “realistic” development with a sobriety far too easily restored.

Matthew: I dislike the apparent attempts at levity, such as Tony’s goofy face and pose in page 3, panel 1, or the utterly pointless “Mrs. Whiggins” shout-out on page 23.  While I will admit to enjoying Bethany’s wood-inducing cleavage in page 11, panel 1, I dislike the oh-so-convenient parallel between Alex’s and Tony’s addictions; never really warmed to her character or their relationship; and found the accelerated-12-step montage on page 16 pat and cheesy.  And I especially dislike the contrived mechanism of Jarvis’s shares, making Tony’s alcoholism indirectly responsible for his losing controlling interest.  If the papers blown by Beth’s Porsche distressed you (“So long, J.R!  We’ll miss ya!”), worry not:  Romita will return...more than once.

Chris Blake: It might be a somewhat simplistic look at alcohol addiction, but hey, it’s a comic book. Aside from the rightfully celebrated early '70s O’Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories that dealt with social issues, the four-color format does not typically depict this sort of difficulty affecting a long-underwear-ing character.  I give Michelinie & Layton all sorts of transistorized, printed-circuit credit for conceiving of this story, and for trusting Iron Man’s fans well enough to put it out there.  They knew an appreciable contingent of their readership was not grown-up, but also knew they (i.e. we) were looking ahead to adulthood, and could handle this account of a real-life affliction.  If their goal was to take a break from the action and thrills, and to give us all something to think about, then they succeeded.  

The notion that the sale of two shares of publicly-traded stock could determine control of a multi-national corporation is pretty hilarious (English majors …).  Tony Stark, on some level, has to realize he isn’t contending with Midas for control of his home for “modern miracles of design"; with SHIELD as a competitor, it’s more to do with a clash of philosophies.  Tony’s final thought, that he’s prepared to fight for his corporation (remember last time, how he hid away from the fight, and spent a few days riding horses with Whitney -?), gives him a sure opportunity for a successful outcome.  
Mark: The dramatic Bob Layton cover is scarifying enough for a EC horror mag, and surely must have sent some unsuspecting tykes scurrying from the spinner rack to the safety of mom's skirts, in the feminine products aisle at the Rexall

At the risk of being churlish, I do have to point out that David Micheline's depiction of alcohol abuse isn't terribly realistic in detail (a booze detox doesn't last "for days...", and Tony's dive into the bottle, while a lengthy sub-plot for comics, was far too brief to turn him into a hard-core alkie), but it does pack an emotional punch. And in 1979, it was certainly groundbreaking to depict a superhero with, not just feet, but a liver, of clay.

Give this one four Bloody Marys. Virgin. 

 The Amazing Spider-Man 198
"Mysterio is Deadlier by the Dozen!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Keith Pollard and Bob McLeod

The police find Spider-Man passed out in Kingpin's lair and rush him to the hospital, where Doctor Winters refuses to let the cops unmask the unconscious hero. Spidey begins having nightmares, and they have to sedate him before his powers cause damage. At Restwell, Dr. Rinehart reveals his true colors, causing hallucinations that spook The Burglar, or as Rinehart calls him "you stupid, cretinous dolt." The diabolical doc tells how he was defeated by Spider-Man and imprisoned, where he met cellmate Danny Berkhart, who became the "perfect patsy" to be taught all Rinehart's secrets, witness his "death," and take his place, only to be beaten. Then the criminal con man set up this nursing-home scam, amassing money and learning secrets, including The Burglar's plan to get the "treasure" from the Parker home—so he chloroforms the befuddled Burglar!

Spidey wakes up in the hospital, with his arm in a new cast, thanking Dr. Winters before he swings out and heads towards Restwell, realizing who Rinehart really is, especially since "old Spidey villains never go to heaven, they just hide out until I least expect them." At the nursing home, he spooks some of the patients, and tries to use his Spider-Sense to see through the illusions thrown at him, from a fake staircase to a vicious tiger. Cut to the Bugle, where an increasingly stressed JJJ senses a conspiracy, with Parker and Joe Robertson out to drive him insane. Marla Madison goes to a board meeting with the emotionally pumped-up publisher, and good thing, because Jameson collapses with a nervous breakdown when the board questions what he's doing!

Spidey realizes the tiger and the deadly snakes in the hall are mirages, so he fashions a web mask to keep his other senses sharp. Crashing through a wall, he confronts the deadly Mysterio, self-proclaimed master of illusion! The two enemies battle, with Spidey showing some agility, Mysterio some tricks like corrosive acid in his glove to burn webbing, when suddenly a dozen globe-wearing goons appear at once! Spidey's senses "aren't pinpointing the real McCoy," and after he leaps into a wall, the real Mysterio smashes him from behind! Soon after, our hero is chained to the bottom of a swimming pool, normally used to help the elderly patients get some relief, not meant as Spidey's "watery grave"—and the water is rapidly rising!--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: As we head towards issue #200, these issues are much better than I remembered. Maybe the JJJ nervous breakdown is a bit too heavy-handed. The Sal-Jim artwork is super-solid, and the Spidey scenes move at a fast, yet welcome pace. There's some nifty, witty banter going on when Spidey and Mysterio tangle, including my favorite "Ta ta! Just call me Twinkletoes!" and the villain's answer: "No, my fleet-footed friend, I will call you dead!" It's so stupid, it's brilliant! Besides the Bugle aside, Marv does a good job here, even with the flashback to Rinehart's prison escapade and the hoodwinking of The Burglar. Although I will say Mysterio was never really one of my favorite of the Spidey Rogues Gallery, the illusion stuff works well for him, and he has a slew of tricks up his garish green sleeves. I always felt he could just get a crack in the globe and he's out. Of course, he would probably disappear in a puff of smoke and that's that. How frustrating!

Favorite sound effect is when the "tiger" leaps at Spidey on page 16 with a Tony-esque "GROAWLLL!" Luckily, the web-slinger realizes it's as much of an illusion as the idea that Frosted Flakes are good for you.

Matthew:  No major complaints for a change.  I’m not gonna sit here and claim that Mysterio is one of Spidey’s more formidable villains, but he’s definitely old-school, which is suitable this close to #200, and if nothing else, his appearances usually offer a satisfying level of visual interest, as demonstrated here by both Pollard’s effective cover and the “guest layouts” by that consummate utility player, Our Pal Sal.  Over the years, we’ve seen so many supporting characters—primarily, but not limited to, officers of the NYPD—who are reflexively antipathetic to Spidey that I welcome one like Winters, who not only refuses to let his patient be unmasked, but also points out that “he’s endangered himself to save others on all too numerous occasions!”

Chris: Mysterio's never done much for me – all smoke and mirrors.  I'll give Marv full credit, though, for timing our villain's appearance, since: 1) I never suspected Marv to play Mystie for us  [Let the record show that when I made the same pun in reviewing the next issue, I had not yet read this.  --MRB], so good job to keep that info under wraps; and 2) the diving-at-shadows, shutting-his-eyes to block the illusions, etc, approach to battling an opponent is in stark contrast with the rock 'em sock 'em contest we saw with the Kingpin in our immediately-proceeding #197.   

My one reservation – now that we're finally turning the focus on the nursing home scheme: I'd like to know what could possibly be so valuable, hidden away in the house (or maybe was hidden, before Peter found the house ransacked in #196) – “the treasure,” Rinehart calls it.  Okay, so now I’d like to know what it is.  I'm teetering between being intrigued by the prospect of future revelations, and becoming frustrated with Marv for parceling details out so slowly.  Hopefully, he'll have the decency to reveal what this is all about before the last page of ASM #200; we'll see. 
We seem to have Jonah restored back to his usual character; I guess he's gotten over Marv making him feel sorry for himself, as we saw last ish.  Dr Madison – the likeliest person to spare Jonah from feeling alone, as he was complaining about last issue – also is here.  So, did we really need those self-pity panels in our last issue, Marv?  Well, all forgotten now.   
Marv seems to take pride in the stirring speech by the doctor, who waxes romantic about Spidey's role as a hero (or something).  It's really pretty embarrassing, though – all that's missing is a steady build and swell from the string section, maybe with the ol’ stars and stripes flapping firmly in the background.  In fact, the sight of a costumed patient in a hospital bed, wearing a mask that covers his entire face (how are they supposed to take his temperature -?) is more than a little ridiculous.  A practical solution to addressing Spidey's medical needs, while still maintaining his privacy, might've made for an entertaining moment, free of the high-falutinism.  

Mark: Marv keeps the momentum building - barely - toward the Big Anniversary, yet it's anything but a smooth ride. And while Spidey's smackdown with the Kingpin last month was epic enough to paper over most of that tale's shortcomings, here Wolfman's deployment of tired tropes almost sinks the whole enterprise. 

Marv's most egregious cliché-slinging is a near-fatal overdose on that moldiest of oldies - dating to the penny dreadfuls, if not before - the I'll kill you but not before brag-'splain' my master plan/backstory ploy. The Burglar, whose own scheme is the shopworn work with a partner now, kill them later, was actually about to implement it when we check in with our baddies on p.6, but Rinehart/Mysterio (I admit, class, to not recognizing Misty's alias from ASM #24, although I knew the Rinehart name was key. I deliberately didn't look it up or even prematurely peek at this month's cover, to conjure, to the degree possible, a sense of reading this fresh off the spinner rack. And I frankly didn't care much about the mystery.) quickly subdues him then, with a jaunty, "...I can afford to be generous before destroying you." Mysterio launches into his half-baked prison break yarn (Misty's fake death means the guards who fake-shot him had to be in on it, right? What about the prison doctor and the warden? And since he was already "certified dead" and thus off the grid, he didn't need a fake Mysterio at all), after which he decides to let Burglar live a bit longer. Later, a billy club Whakko! to the noggin takes out Webs, who comes to, chained to the bottom of the rest home's empty pool, now beginning to fill with water. Mysterio bloviates about killing with theatrics. I like the big red Hah! Hah! Hah's! as the waters close over Spidey's head in the last panel, but we know next ish Misty's gonna leave our hero to his fate, thus missing his amazing escape. 

And Wolfman opens with another Spidey standard, the Web-spinner hurt, helpless, and in the hands of Authority, but a kindly doctor who knows SM's a real hero keeps the cops from unmasking "my patient." How come the fuzz never think about the mask in the ambulance?

The nightmare Peter has in hospital, with screaming Jameson and hectoring friends, is also a cliche, but also fits perfectly with Misty's temporary psychosis gas. Yet here it's just a regular old nightmare, post K-pin thrashing. One could imagine Marv was going for something twisty there, but I think his Spidey Plot Flash Cards were just in the wrong order.

The Sal Buscema - Jim Mooney art is tremendously... adequate. Jonah's gal pal Marla puts in her first appearance in a while, but it's just to be on hand for J.J.'s meltdown. Whatever's medically wrong with the publisher gives Marv an excuse to rev up Jonah's bluster and paranoia, and the couple pages of J.J. as Rant-Man is the most entertaining thing here, before he tumbles into unconsciousness.  

Admittedly, I was also skeptical of Wolfman's run up to the FF's 200th, but he came up in the clutch, so perhaps the benefit of the doubt is due here (And yes, kids, there will be a supplemental class on Amazing Spider-Man #200, even through it'll be dated - gasp! - 1980!). 

So let's just hope, like Spidey in the pool, we've reached bottom.   

 The Amazing Spider-Man Annual 13
"The Arms of Doctor Octopus"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Keith Pollard and Bob McLeod

In a one-page Prologue, a "government stoolie" is tossed out of his apartment window by a sideburned sadist who wonders if a message was sent to the Feds. In Chapter One, "Spider-Man! I Know Who You Really Are!," Doctor Octopus rails against everyone in sight when he learns his plans have been stolen, an act blamed on "slickly-dressed dolt" Jimbo Ryan. Jimbo himself is spotted prowling around a warehouse by Spider-Man, who takes out the flunkies fast, but Jimbo jets away. While watching the cops take the goons away, Spidey meets a strange man who tells him to go to the funeral of Secret Service agent Kent Blake, to prove Blake's death wasn't a suicide. As Peter Parker "from the Globe," he learns Blake's wife feels the same. At his apartment, the strange man in the suit is somehow there, and he knows Peter is Spider-Man! He gives Peter Jimbo's address, and Pete shows up, undercover, as "Kid Parker," complete with shades, five o'clock shadow, and fists of fury! The gang boards a freighter to get parts for a "super-type weapon," and new member Kid Parker uses some webbing to save a guard from being shot.

Chapter 2, titled "Tentacled Encounters of the Octopus Kind," finds Doc Ock breaking into the police station to find Ryan's rabble-rousers have been bailed out, then he goes in search of Jimbo, finally busting into the hideout and recognizing Peter Parker! Ock skulks away since Jimbo wasn't there, and the goons dump Peter into the river, where he's saved by the strange guy in the suit! After a change to Spidey, it's off to Jimbo's pad to find Doc Ock on the warpath looking for the plans, but after Ock knocks Spidey out the window, he disappears. The mysterious G-man is there to tell Spidey they're at a downtown construction site.

In "Squid Pro Quo," aka Chapter 3, Ock and Jimbo go to the construction site and Ock uses his powerful tentacles to search for the hidden plans across the street, but Spider-Man swings in to break things up! Ock grabs a girder and starts crushing Spidey with it, but the hero breaks free! Then Ock uses his tentacles to nab Spidey, who once again turns the tables, managing to rip off one of his enemy's extra limbs! Meanwhile, the mystery G-man forces Jimbo to the ledge—and over! Spidey swings down to save the crook, leaving Ock to crawl away once again after grabbing the plans. Spidey leaves Jimbo trussed up for the cops, complete with confession to the murder of Kent Blake. In our Epilogue, Peter visits Mrs. Blake to pay his respects and maybe find out who the government agent is who knows his identity…only to find out from a picture she has that the mystery man was Kent Blake! To be continued in Peter Parker Annual #1, next month!--Joe Tura

Joe: Byrne and Austin drawing my beloved Spidey? Sign me up, True Believers! But is this "the strangest Spidey saga ever" or is Marv on the Howling Hyperbole meter yet again? Well, it's strange in a Twilight Zone-esque way, but maybe not to the nth degree as editor Marv would want you to believe. The "shocking" ending you can see coming a mile away, unless you're a 12-year-old distracted by all the Doc Ock-Spidey battling. Nah, today's 12-year-olds would just look it up on their smartphones. I will admit I loved this annual almost as much back in '79. The story may be unbelievable on a dozen levels, especially the ghostly G-man, but it's rousing fun. A little more Kid Parker would have been cool, and maybe a little less Doc Ock dashing off, cutting off the action. Still one of my favorite books of the year. Did I mention Byrne and Austin?

After our story, we are treated to some of Spidey's deadliest foes, from Kingpin and Rhino to Looter and Kangaroo. Well, maybe deadliest is a matter of opinion. We also get looks at Peter Parker's Pad, the Daily Bugle, the Daily Globe, and Empire State University. Think of it as the Google Street View of 1979!

Fave sound effect is the painful "SKROK!" on page 23, as Doc Ock's tentacles hit the floor when Spidey busts out of a nasty hold, followed by one of the aforementioned tentacles being ripped off. Ouch!

Chris: Marv being Marv, he gets so carried away with the hype – he tells us on page 1 “This Is The Strangest Spidey Saga – Ever!” – he nearly pushes it to the point of parody.  I wish I could say Marv simply is offering a taste of Smilin’ Stan-style good-natured hyperbole; but, since this is the same writer/editor who insisted Marveldom was going mental for Nova, I approach the issue with doubts.  If Marv’s going this hard on the sale, I have reason to be suspicious.   

I admit the handling of the ghost character is well-done, particularly the way John Byrne presents him as a corporeal being, not wispy and wraithlike (which would’ve given it away from the start, right?).  Agent Blake’s appearances seem to take Spidey consistently off-guard – again, facilitated by Byrne, as the ghost becomes fully visible in one panel, when he hadn’t been there a moment ago (such as p 8 pnl 2, and p 9 pnl 5).  There’s no Spidey-sense tingle, so he’s not a threat – still, Spidey’s not accustomed to people getting the drop on him that way.  Plus, how could he have figured out Spidey’s secret ID so easily – (p 9, pnl 6)!  
Speaking of secret IDs – over the years, Peter has been very careful to keep his Spidey-powers under wraps; remember the time Aunt May took ill at one of her Grey Panther rallies, and a hastily-reacting Pete picked a police officer off the ground with one hand?   Why, then, would an undercover Pete use the nom de guerre “Kid Parker” – why hand the bad guys your true last name that way, if you’re going to start knocking two thugs over to prove your worth to the gang?  Wouldn’t a name like, I don’t know, “Sneaky Pete” or “Paste-Pot” provide adequate cover, without drawing attention to the real you -?  Also, I can’t remember the last time I saw Pete with a growth of beard; how many days did it take him to sprout it?  Either that, or it’s a bit of burnt cork, like you’d use for a grade-school revue about jaunty pirates.  

Chris: It’s a snowman-in-July sighting of Byrne + Austin outside of X-Men; where’d they find the time?  Byrne must’ve sketched illustrations with both hands, or trained his right foot to draw; next to either Buscema brother, I can’t think of any other Marvel mainstay who’s turning out more pages.  And Austin is plenty busy inking covers, in addition to seventeen X-pages every month.  Well, however they managed it, I’m grateful.  Of course, I’m x-pecting X-caliber fireworks, and while the art is plenty good, the visuals rarely achieve the level of excitement and uniquely high quality of a typical, masterful issue of X-Men.  Doesn’t mean there aren’t highlights, because there are, including: the dingy, graffiti-strewn space where Ock’s been hiding out (p 3); Spidey stops the forklift, by picking it up by its front arms – a neat trick (p 7, pnl 2), then takes a powder, leaving by the edge of a panel, the thugs’ shadows visible on the wall as the PD bursts in (p 7, last pnl); clever moment as Peter surreptitiously snags the watchman and pulls him down, away from the path of the bullet (p 14); Doc Ock in the splash of the streetlight, as he carries Ryan along the Bowery (p 23);  Spidey yanks Ock off-balance (p 26, last pnl), then gives him an undignified toss-around before he whip-cracks one of Doc’s arms – gotta hurt (p 27).
So yeah, a 24-page Byrne/Austin story is jolly nice, but then eleven pages of filler?  She-eesh …
Matthew: I may raise an eyebrow at the many recent annuals evidently stitched together from abortive two-parters, but at least they gave us full value for our 75¢; these 11 pages of Silver Age-style filler may offer retro fun, yet they leave us with a skimpy 24 story pages.  However, as Spencer Tracy put it in Pat and Mike (1952), “what’s there is cherce,” with Byrne and Austin spectacularly moonlighting from X-Men, also reminding us why we loved John’s MTU so much.  While I don’t think I found the “surprise ending” all that surprising even at 16, overselling it doesn’t make it a bad plot device, and I liked that although the “Ock arc” continues in next month’s debut PPTSS Annual, Marv’s episode feels quite nicely self-contained.

 The Avengers 189
"Wings and Arrows!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald, Roger Stern,
Steven Grant, and David Michelinie
Art by John Byrne and Dan Green
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by John Byrne and Dan Green

Calamity time at the Avengers Mansion. No, there are no killer robots stalking the halls; it's just that, with so many Avengers left hanging around after the Arsenal battle (see Avengers Annual #9), things can get a bit hectic. Thor says his goodbyes as he flies off to re-join his Celestials battle (already in progress - neat trick that), nearly downing the Falcon in his jet stream. Sam arrives at the Mansion and learns about the new retinal-scanner installed for security. Hawkeye, feeling useless, insults Sam and goes back to his apartment to pout. The Scarlet Witch announces she needs time off and that sends Agent Gyrich into a tizzy. Back at his seedy apartment, Hawkeye notices an ad for a company needing a security man and breaks into the office of Cross Technological Enterprises' head honcho without setting off alarms. This impresses the chief and he hires the hero, explaining that the firm has had numerous break-ins lately. Later that week, while he is on guard, an alarm goes off and Hawk investigates, discovering a huge hole burned into the ceiling, the work of seventh-tier villainess, Deathbird (from Ms. Marvel #9-10). The winged Shi'ar warrior lets on that she needs some of the equipment located at CTE in order to return to her world and no two-bit ex-Avenger will stand in her way. A fierce battle ensues but, finally, Hawkeye is able to wrap the birdgirl up in one of his net-arrows. He delivers her (with a kiss) to local authorities and feels genuinely pleased with himself for not having to call his ex-comrades for help. Meanwhile, back at Avengers Mansion, Agent Gyrich gets plenty steamed and proclaims that "this is the end of the Avengers!" -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: "This one's got all the answers," my ass! "Where does destiny take Captain America and the Falcon?" To the living room of the Avengers Mansion? "When will the government stop harrassing (sic) our heroes?" Not this issue, so who knows? "What strange new problems plague the Scarlet Witch and the Vision?" They're not telling.  "Why must Thor leave the Avengers?" A better question would be, "How does Thor manage to fight the Celestials and Arsenal simultaneously?" In fact, the only question adequately answered this issue is "Who is the surprise super-villain Hawkeye battles alone?" and the big surprise is that this is a "super-villain" hardly anyone (except walking Marvel encyclopedia Professor Matthew) remembers! Ironic that a rip-off of Hawkgirl should fight Hawkeye. This feels like one of those dreaded filler issues but since it's John Byrne and Dan Green handling art chores (rather than, say, Don Perlin and Don Heck), I'd say it's just a "rest" between arcs. The writers (all 24 of them) do a good job of juggling where the Avengers are supposed to be in all their side-adventures, with the exception of the aforementioned Thor-Celestials snafu, but it does seem to slow down the action when we're constantly reading "* and you'd know that if you bought Marvel Super-Heroes #134." By now, I'm sick to death of Hawkeye's whining but, at least, Gruenwald manages to keep the Falcon's slave-jive to a minimum. Overall, "Wings and Arrows" isn't much more than a bag of peanut M&Ms but sometimes that's all you need.

Matthew:  I’m always surprised that such an issue would require so many writers, in this case plotted by Gruenwald, scripter Grant, and Stern, with “creative kibitzing” by Michelinie.  It’s a shame they couldn’t have thrown Claremont into the mix, since he made such interesting use of his creation, Deathbird, in Ms. Marvel (and as much as I enjoy seeing Hawkeye in the spotlight, he should have had a harder time with her); also curious that, although the guards wear the same distinctive uniforms on page 27, no mention is made of the fact that this is the same CTE from the Michelinie/Byrne Ant-Man stories in Marvel Premiere #47-8.  I wonder, if you’ll pardon the pun, how that Off-Broadway gig is going for Wonder Man when he doffs his shades?

Joe: Awful lot of questions on the front cover, and a decidedly mixed bag at that. Hawkeye gets his moment in the sun, which is welcome because we don't have to hear his bellyaching all issue. The rest of the soap opera stuff, from the Cap & Falcon "destiny" thing, to marital strife between the mutant and the android, to Thor leaving, which is not a huge issue, to my favorite, the Gyrich government harassment, complete with fist-shaking fury! But what about the insides you say? Byrne and Green keep up the fine work on the easel, with Steven Grant's script adding to the aforementioned mixed bag. There's a bit of melodrama, a lot of "superhero play by play," a bunch of asides to other titles, and a Hawkeye tour de force that's pretty interesting. But I could see the archer's shtick wouldn't carry his own title. Well, until the 2000s, that is. At least we get a nice Beast moment on the final page as Cap holds him back from popping Gyrich a well-deserved smack. Maybe this recent run has been so good, this one feels ever-so-slightly disappointing.

Chris: Once again, the assembling writers & editors thumb their noses at the Gyrich Mandate, and choose to present any characters they like in the pages of Avengers.  It’s not an earth-shattering, reality-rending issue, but Steven Grant makes a number of good decisions, to wit: Hawkeye takes an active role in the improvement of his present situation – once he’s gotten some petulance out of his system, that is (“Oh, Hawkeye’s never happy unless he can complain about something!” Dr Pym observes, as he prepares to fly off to pick up Jan in Las Vegas; don’t tell Gyrich he’s borrowing a quinjet …); a nifty continuity move to keep CTE in the mix – I hear they’re looking for a new CEO …; points also for bringing back Deathbird, who started off as a useful villain under Claremont’s direction, and who could’ve easily been lost once Ms Marvel folded; the Falcon feels more connected to the group, as teamsters who don’t have a “hawk” or an “eye” in their name continue to be welcoming and accommodating to their newest member.  

The misleading cover would have us expect the non-Hawkeye Avengers to separate and pursue their own concerns.  Well, the answers to all these questions are all fairly routine: Thor is leaving to renew matters in his own mag; Wanda’s “strange new problem” isn’t new at all, as she continues to work out new information about her origin – the only new bit has to do with Quicksilver as prospective parent, which now has Wanda thinking for herself – surely nothing “strange” about that …; Cap and Falc’s “destiny” takes them to … the, uh, communications room, to report to Gyrich; how long will Gyrich harass the team?  That could be the only question with no easy answer (nice touch at the very end as the Beast basically laughs off Gyrich’s pronouncement of possibly ending the Avengers).  On that score, maybe Cap should give the Chief Executive another ring; he could use his knowledge of POTUS’ favorite jelly-bean flavors to the team’s best advantage.
The Byrne/Green art continues to hold together, with most highlights involving Hawkeye: his grubby apartment, with a saggy window blind, a few unwashed items in the sink, an unmade bed (with a picture of Wanda taped above … interesting touch), and a makeshift Falcon dartboard (p 11); a funny bit involving Hawkeye’s boss, named “Mr Keeshan,” who has a noteworthy resemblance to a certain Bob Keeshan, better known to our younger students as Captain Kangaroo (p 14-15); Deathbird’s arrival in shadow (p 16, last pnl); Hawk’s comical posture, as he’s trapped with his back against a stack of boxes, his legs over his head (p 22); the bright flash takes out the lights, as Deathbird disappears into shadow (p 26, 1st pnl).

 Battlestar Galactica 9
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Irving Watanabe and John Costanza
Cover by Pat Broderick and Terry Austin

The fleet is in disarray and Adama is still in the Memory Machine thanks to Sire Uri’s treasonous actions. He and his men are put under arrest until the counsil can rule. Col. Tigh takes command and, with the agro ship missing, orders the fleet be placed on strict rationing. This will only buy them two weeks before all the food runs out. Meanwhile, repairs and upgrades on the slower ships go smoothly. Working on the outer hull, Master Tech Shadrack gives instructions to Junior Tech Whittaker. Moments later, a strange alien entity, one who was imprisoned in the void, touches the young tech, who reacts in pain. The alien becomes Whittaker, complete with his memories. The alien is a Space Mimic who severs the young man’s lifeline and casts him adrift to die in space. Reaching the Galactica, the mimic attacks Shadrack, who hits the faux-Whittaker with a wrench. He takes the being inside to the Med Bay where Dr. Spang tells Apollo, Starbuck and Athena that Whittaker not only is dead, but never seemed to be alive. Spang is left alone to run tests when the mimic revives and becomes Spang. The warriors return with Muffey to see the duplicate Spang about to murder the real one, who was about to discover the mimic’s secret. Muffey can tell them apart, so a wild chase ensues, where the mimic becomes Boomer, then Cassiopeia, and then finally Adama himself, complete with his memories and feelings for the people in his care. Because of Adama’s submergence in his memories, the alien cannot handle the influx of emotion from the humans who adore him. He becomes Adama and the alien realizes he had no identity of his own. Unable to withstand the pressures, the alien body explodes. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: The first thing we see on a spinner rack is the cover. As a kid, I liked this one, but to me as an adult, it just looks awful. Then, opening it up, we get fairly poor art and a substandard script. It’s obvious Bill Mantlo had no clue what BSG was all about. The TV series didn’t go in for these kinds of alien menaces. What we see here is a Star Wars alien, with a Star Trek ability. The Ovions in the pilot were the most “space alien” of the races seen in the series. The Borays were pig-faced bipeds, but with human motives of greed and sex. This “alien body-snatching” plot was far from what I look for in a BSG plot. Worse, it’s easy to see Mantlo never watched an episode. None of the characters sound right. They are, I guess understandably, loaded down with expositional recaps of the current situation, but more than that, they have no individual personalities. Cassiopeia, for example, was upgraded to med-tech and was Starbuck’s girlfriend. At this point in the premise, so was Athena. Yet you never see any relationship with either of them, with everyone calling her “Nurse” Cassiopeia, even Starbuck!

The alien is repeatedly referred to as a “Space Mimic.” Why not just a simple “mimic?” And it’s established that the alien has to touch the person it intends to imitate. So, how does it mimic Adama? The truth is, the mimic story is pointless. The real meat is in the threat of being without food in two weeks’ time (for some reason, Marvel didn’t adopt the show’s terminology when it comes to units of measurement - time or distance). The mimic story does nothing but show us how Everyone Loves Adama. Like that guy Seth, who makes it a point to thank the commander from saving them from the destruction of “Caprica, our world.” Dude, Adama is well aware Caprica was “our world.” He f’n came from there! Gawd… And why did the alien explode, anyway? Am I the only one reading this comic? Again?

Captain America 239
"Mind-Stains on the Virgin Snow!"
Story by Peter Gillis
Art by Fred Kida and Don Perlin
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Byrne and Terry Austin

Outside the gates of Dovecote, the big bruising Widowmaker is forcing Captain America to eat copious amounts of snow, but a distraction caused by the telekinetic Snowfall (held prisoner inside the fortress) helps Cap get the upper hand. Our hero blasts his way through the massive gates and searches the halls for the cell holding Snowfall. When he thinks he's sniffed out the right room, he busts the door down, only to be confronted by... Nick Fury! Has the entire adventure been a dream? Did Cap imagine the wondrous and pretty darn gorgeous Snowfall? As the Avenger reaches into his suit, he finds one of the concussion packets Nick gave him before sending him off to Dovecote. Fury vanishes and Cap realizes that Snowfall has been guarded with illusions to throw him off the track. After more trickery, Cap bursts through the door and finds the man who has been holding Snowfall the entire time, the retired eighth-tier villain, Mind-Master, now confined to a wheelchair and distant memories of battles with superheroes who no longer have their own books. The old man confesses that he'd been training Snowfall but she proved too rebellious and powerful and he'd had to trap her in  a "life-support coffin." As soon as he's finished his confession, Mind-Master lets on that Dovecote is about to be blasted into atoms and then he vanishes. Cap tears the coffin open to find... a very young, pig-tailed girl. Forgetting that this was the girl he was lusting for, Cap scoops Snowfall up in his arms and hightails it, exiting the building just as it explodes. Outside, the little girl tells Cap that she can see the future and that bad men will be coming for her. She freezes the Avenger's muscles and disappears into the driving snow. When the blizzard dies down, Cap follows the girl's footprints to the edge of a cliff. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Not a completely successful two-parter but different enough that I'll give it a thumbs-up for trying. We never do find out all the 411 on the little dynamo but maybe that's for the best as when these Marvel writers are given too much rope, they tend to hang us rather than themselves. This has to be one of the most downbeat endings ever in a Marvel funny book, no? Certainly one of the stupider story titles. Kida and Perlin do a slightly-better-than-average job for a couple of lightweights, though some of the early panels almost have a 1950s stiffness to them. Best disappearing act of the month goes, not to Mind-Master but his henchmen. Widowmaker is a no-show after the second page and all of M-M's guys must have been watching the gate 'cuz they sure aren't watching the kid. With everything that's wrong with it, I'll still take this issue over just about any of the early Captain America and the Falcon disasters.

Chris: Peter Gillis might be turning Cap in different directions to help illustrate his disorientation, but it comes off as disorganized storytelling.  Part of the problem involves frequent changes in tone: one minute, Cap is fighting for his life against Widowmaker, then a quick turn of his head results in Cap getting a shot to WM’s solar plexus – we even get a semi-comical gush of air (p 2, pnl 4) from the unsuspecting would-be Andre the Giant.  Next, more Keystone capers as Cap plows a hole in the wall, and catches the would-be finest mercenaries with their finger-triggers down (while I think of it, I dislike the whole reliance on gadgets in these two issues – I’d much prefer to see Cap rely on three simple things: his fighting acumen, his ingenuity, and his shield).  

We have a brief highlight as Cap appears to meet Fury, and begin the mission all over again (Gillis cleverly re-uses some dialog from #238 to re-set the sit-down with Fury), but that passes quickly.  Cap finally meets up with the Mind-Master, who apparently has no contingency plan if someone invades the control center, as he self-pityingly hits the self-destruct and fades away.  More drastic shifts in tone as we have Cap’s completely unexpected discovery of little Ginny Snow, followed by a textbook narrow escape timed by the countdown clock, then Ginny’s chillingly empty observation of there being no place for her in the world, as she walks alone into the snowy night and vanishes from the cliffside.  It’s like reading 4 or 5 different issues all at the same time; I don’t know what else to say about it.
Matthew: While digging deep into Marvel lore to dust off a forgotten villain can be fun, it isn’t automatically.  When the Mind-Master was last seen in Sub-Mariner #43, I said, “This matter of Stephen Tuval, rather than keeping us intrigued, is well past its shelf life, and I’m not sold on [Conway’s] turning him into a geriatric version of the Controller to spark an age war, but I did get a laugh out of ‘like a sculpture by Rodan [sic].’”  Oh, those multitalented kaiju!  The revelation of Tuval as our mystery villain is far from this issue’s only problem, yet it does help to ensure that the conclusion is no improvement over a highly inauspicious part one, as well as to confirm that its profound bone-headedness really does go all the way down to the genetic level…

My only complaint about that handsome Byrne/Austin cover (if that’s not redundant) is that it’s pretty conspicuously misleading, and for those of us who still wake up at night screaming the name of Frank Robbins, the Kida/Perlin art really isn’t too bad, but that title bothers me; something about the juxtaposition of a little girl, “stains,” and “virgin” makes me wonder what “guest-writer” Gillis really had on his mind.  I have to ask:  when Cap reached into his belt in page 15, panel 1, am I the only one who half-expected him to whip out Zuzu’s petals?  That seasonal impression was only strengthened when he opened the coffin to find…Cindy Lou Who.  And I won’t even waste time enumerating the manifold stupidities of the whole Dovecote angle.

Conan the Barbarian 104 
“The Vale of Lost Women!”
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 McLeod

Livia, a blonde and beauteous noblewoman from Ophir, rouses from a fitful sleep in the village of the Bakalans, a fierce Kushite tribe: along with her brother, she was captured while traveling to Kheshatta, the City of Magicians, to study their mystic arts. With a shudder, Livia remembers how her sibling was tortured to death soon after. Peering through the bamboo posts of her grass hut, she is shocked to see a brawny white man and a group of Bamula warriors stride into camp and up to the throne of Bajujh, the obese, toad-like king of the Bakalan people. After being welcomed as friends, the bronzed barbarian and his men are given plentiful food and drink as well as lodging for the night. When the noisy festivities are done, the Ophirean woman slips by her drunken guard and into the stranger’s hut. There, she tells the man, who is named Conan, about her kidnapping and offers herself up as a slave if he helps free her. The lustful Cimmerian agrees.

The next day, the Bamulas and Bakalans feast once again, discussing a truce and a combined attack on the village of Jihiji. But the barbarian knows that the hospitality is all a ruse: Bajujh will have his men attack and kill the visitors at an unsuspecting moment. So the Cimmerian turns the tables and his spearmen strike first, completely taking their duplicitous hosts by surprise. After a brief slaughter, Conan’s tribe emerges victorious, Bajujh’s scalp hanging in the barbarian’s bloody fist. Horrified by the massacre, Livia flees from her hut, leaps on the back of a horse and rides off.

Hours later, the woman is thrown from her spooked mount. When Livia dusts herself off, she realizes that she is in what the Bakalans call the Vale of Lost Women, a haunted plain inhabited by ghosts with white, luminous eyes. To her dismay, the legend is true as weird, brown-skinned women emerge from the shadows and force her unto a round altar. Suddenly, a fearsome, winged monstrosity soars down from the sky and lands on the stone dais, its huge, gaping maw lunging for Livia’s throat. But Conan appears with a roar: after a rough and tumble tussle, he manages to slash the reptilian demon across the throat — the wounded creature tears away and flies off. The Cimmerian tells the noble-born woman that she is not of the sturdy stock to survive as concubine of a Bamula war chief and grants her freedom untouched. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: With only one issue to go before the University runs its course, a short editorial piece by Roy Thomas on The Hyborian Page lets us know that “The Vale of Lost Women” (released posthumously in The Magazine of Horror, Spring 1967) was the last of Robert E. Howard’s published Conan tales that needed adapting. There is an unpublished story that remains, “The Black Stranger,” and Roy will tackle that one in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #47. That magazine appeared in December of 1979, so when MU is all said and done, we’ll have covered everything Howard ever wrote about the Cimmerian. Pretty darn sweet. It’s amazing how life falls perfectly into place on occasions.

From what I’ve read about the original, “The Vale of Lost Women” was written from Livia’s point of view and The Rascally One is faithful to that approach. While we all obviously know who he is, Conan is not actually named until page 14. And while she uses the word “slave” when making her bargain with the Cimmerian, sex is obviously what is implied. But when she lays eyes on the blood-drenched barbarian — gripping Bajujh’s ragged mop of hair in his right hand — Livia realizes that she has bitten off far more than she can handle and beats feet out of there. Now there’s not much explanation for the Vale itself. A few of the faces of the blank-eyed women are shown on the splash page and I actually thought they were supposed to be Bêlit with their flowing black hair. What curse makes them wander the plain and sacrifice trespassers to the winged monster? Who knows. But their hideous god is quite a fright — even though Conan manages to wound and chase it off in only about eight panels. 

I rather enjoyed the humongous Bajujh. He’s so fat that he can barely walk and is carried away to his hut by two warriors after the first night’s party, his stump-like legs dragging in the dirt behind him. But Conan knows that his joviality masks a ruthless mind and doesn’t wait for the betrayal he knows is coming. The battle between the Bamulas and Bakalans is very frantic and nasty: not sure I remember Conan practicing scalp-hunting before. In all, a middling issue that jumps a bit awkwardly from jungle savagery to monster madness. But our supreme creative team sees us though with flying colors as usual.

 Daredevil 161
"To Dare the Devil!"
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Diana Albers
Cover by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

Turk has been on the run, from the Fulton Street wharf-rat bar to Coney Island; and, Daredevil has been on his tail, every step of the way.  Turk’s employer, Eric Slaughter, is not impressed that this “frightened little fool” led DD straight to him.  Daredevil makes it clear, though, he isn’t particularly interested in Slaughter and his hit-man crew; DD is after Bullseye, who has taken the Black Widow captive.  DD is briefly drawn to Coney Island’s Astrotower (which provides Slaughter’s crew with another opportunity to pick DD off in an open, exposed area), but a voice over the loudspeaker – Bullseye’s voice – turns DD’s attention to the Cyclone coaster, where the Widow is tied to the rails as a string of roller-coaster cars (filled with armed hoods, their sights on the man in crimson tights) bears down on her.  DD moves in for the rescue, despite the threat of gunfire – but then backs off, as the cars smack into the Widow, and knock her body to the ground, far below.  Except, it’s not the Widow, is it – it’s a faceless mannequin, with a dark-red wig.  “He knew!” Bullseye exclaims; “Somehow … some way … he knew!”  

Bullseye orders one of his men to dispatch the real Widow (still Bullseye’s captive), but as the man throws knives at the Widow, Bullseye realizes too late that she is twisting around not to avoid the incoming knives, but so she can use a bearing-down blade to catch the ropes binding her, to free herself.  Bullseye decides to manage the Widow’s execution himself, until his knife-bearing hand is caught from behind by DD’s billyclub cable.  DD tees off on Bullseye (as Natasha smacks-down the rest of the thugs), his ferocity gaining him the upper hand, until Bullseye snares DD’s flung billyclub, and turns the club against its owner.  DD still isn’t beaten, as he catches Bullseye with a series of blows and knocks him to the floor.  Bullseye doubts himself, as he wonders why Daredevil hasn’t given up – “What sort of man is he?”  He then grabs a loose pistol from the brawl-littered floor, and takes aim.  Daredevil recognizes he’s particularly vulnerable without his club (DD caught a slug in mid-air with the club in #159, right -?), but he picks up on Bullseye’s rapid heart rate, and decides to bluff, as he asks “You tried that before, remember?” [in #146, for those of you scoring at home] “It didn’t stop me then.  And it won’t stop me now.”  Bullseye cracks completely under DD’s unflinching (you might say “fearless”) confidence, and is left unarmed, muttering to himself.  Slaughter states Daredevil has earned his respect; they will meet again, and “things will be different, then.”  DD hoists Bullseye over his shoulder, and as he and Natasha walk out, he quietly fires back, “Count on it.”  -Chris Blake
Chris: We've become accustomed to Bullseye's coolly psychopathic manner, so his quick fold in the last few pages might seem out of character.  Roger McKenzie already had clued us into BE's unsettled mien earlier in the issue, though, when he's troubled by DD's inexplicable sniffing-out of the faux-Widow.  Further back, we've seen BE's angry preoccupation with taking out DD (last page of #159).  So, it's possible BE's gotten himself wrapped a mite too tightly in his anti-DD gambit, and the strain of trying to maintain his belief in his superiority over DD – and his capacity to overcome a foe who refuses to accept defeat – finally gets the better of him.  If anything, I'm sure we'll find an imbalanced BE to be even more dangerous. 
This bit of characterization – conveyed in a few lines of dialog – helps illustrate McKenzie's (mostly unsung) contribution to the vast improvement of this title.  Granted, the look and pacing are the work of Frank Miller, but McKenzie does his part, primarily thru economical use of dialog and stingy application of captions; as a result, the words on the page add to Miller's noir-ish, hard-bitten vibe, without bogging down the action.  A perfect example is on pages 10-11, which feature twelve panels, ten of them long vertical shots of the race to save the Widow (at least, we think it's her ...) from the coaster-cars.  The pages include three dialog balloons, and no captions – not one; McKenzie wisely stays out of the way and lets Miller’s illustrations tell the tale. 
B.D. F. of Chino CA calls the McKenzie/Miller Daredevil “more mysterious, more somber, more of a devilish force to the foes he encounters.”  His inability to save Maxwell Glenn – and his relationship with Heather – have changed Matt Murdock; as Natasha observes, he’s “so grim … so cold-blooded.  He’s changed, he’s not the same man I used to know.”  The self-questioning, gaily-bantering figure is dead and gone, as Daredevil continues to reassert his place as one of Marvel’s standout characters.
Matthew: Befitting the final issue in our formal curriculum, this entry offers a nice sense of closure, although we Monday-morning quarterbacks know ol’ Bullseye will be a bad penny in years to come; I love the “incredible shrinking villain” effect in page 30, panels 2-5, down to that meticulously lettered “…d-don’t hurt me…Devil…hehheh…”  The Miller/Janson art is, quite simply, sustained brilliance, with some interesting echoes that may have been deliberate:  the Widow in page 15, panel 6 reminded me of Gene the Dean, and the up-the-nose shot of Bullseye in page 27, panel 4 looked like a Kane homage.  In fact, the whole thing is so uniformly excellent that I’ll even rise above my customary aversion, and salute Roger with a hearty “Job well done!”

Mark: A great, vertigo-inducing cover by Frank Miller, but I'm almost more impressed that Marvel published it, completely unmarred by word balloons.

Once inside, class, prepare to be confounded by one of the most schizophrenic tales I've read in  many a moon. Fortunately, the plus side of the ledger weighs heavier, thanks to the burgeoning talents of Mr. Miller. Not only does the art itself (Frank in harmonious harness with Klaus Janson) continue to improve (check out the extreme close-up of Eric Slaughter's murderous mug on p.2), but, even more impressively, Miller's genius for panel composition and layout is now in full flower, most notably in the double-splash of DD battling Slaughter's gunsels on the Coney Island roller coaster, but also evident in the thin, vertical panels of Natasha avoiding Cutter's hurled knifes and the two-panel crane-shot on the final page. Miller's multiple time-lapse shots of Hornhead in mid-tumble evoke Steve Ditko's Spidey, and, cover to cover, this one's a feast for the eyes.

The plot-character development side also shows Miller's growing influence, as the Widow notes, "...I don't think I've ever seen Matt so cold-blooded," and the still-new character Ben Urich proves to be a better connect-the-dots reporter than the Bugle's beloved Joe Robertson (admittedly, Robbie's real boss - not J.J.J. but high Bullpen muck-a-mucks - kept him from following P. Parker's web fluid-sticky breadcrumb trail).

So this one has all the makings of a classic, until things break down completely thanks to...Bullseye's breakdown. That one of Marvel's most cold-blooded psycho killers can't pull the trigger on DD just because he's taken a punch or ten, but instead mentally crumbles into thumb-sucking "D-Don't hurt me...Devil" mode simply beggars belief. 

That Miller and Roger McKenzie poop out completely about three pages from the finish line of a long, compelling story arc is, to your humble prof, completely baffling. Outright schizo.

But keep the faith, effendi. Despite the steaming deuce into the punch bowl ending, Frank Miller has just started to vault Daredevil into the big leagues.

 The Defenders 77
"Waiting for the End of the World!"
Story by Steven Grant and Mark Gruenwald
Art by Herb Trimpe, Al Milgrom, Chic Stone
and Steve Mitchell
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler and Al Milgrom

Ruby Thursday confronts James-Michael about the disappearance of Omega and the boy has no answers for her. Just then, one of the space invaders who are chasing J-M busts the door down and heads for the kid. Coincidentally, the four fine females that (at this moment) constitute the Defenders are walking down the same Las Vegas street, looking for the kidnapped teen. A disruption ahead convinces the girls they are close. The space robot has been tossed through a wall and Ruby Thursday and Dibbuk stand among the rubble, urging the heroines to have a go at them. A rumble ensues and J-M wanders off, with Moondragon following. A fleet of spaceships appears overhead and J-M lights them up with his Omega-driven powers, destroying half of Vegas and killing thousands of alcoholic gamblers. Moondragon saps some information from one of the dying robot men and discovers that the Defenders have had it all wrong from the get-go. Meanwhile, "somewhere on the Atlantic Seaboard," the Hulk is absorbed by the white blobby bowling pin thingie (seen last issue) and spit back out, vowing this will all mean something someday.

Back to Sin City... the Wasp has had enough and takes action, blowing Ruby's head off with a well-placed bio-disrupter blast (Jan's guilt lasts all of a half-panel). Dibbuk gathers up the springs, batteries, and gears that once constituted his hot boss and disappears in a burst of flame. Hellcat, Wasp, and Val head off to find Moony, who is in battle with James-Michael. The bald beauty begs J-M to link his mind with the dying space man and, when he agrees, the entire origin of Omega/J-M is laid out for his young eyes to behold. Hoping to survive by sending out "models" of its own civilization, a dying race crafts Omega (né X32) and plans his journey to Earth. At some point, it is determined by other space beings (our big bad robot friends) that the X32 may be too dangerous to ship to Earth and an invasion is planned. The X32 destroys the invaders but the energy unleashed also destroys the planet. Omega heads to Earth. Back in the present, J-M vehemently denies the story he's been shown and gets ready to full-blast Earth until an injured Dian (victim of a falling space ship) begs J-M to rethink his strategy. Knowing the only way to contain his immense power is to absorb it into himself, the kid commits energy Harakiri. Disgusted with the way the Defenders handled the entire situation, Moondragon flies off, vowing never to shop with any of her fellow heroines again.  -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Last issue, I asked if this arc could be anything worse than the original Omega the Unwanted series and this issue answers that question with a resounding... um, well, uh, you see... The whole magilla is a waste of good paper but it has some "interesting" bits among the detritus. Ruby Thursday (oh, and after the Wasp reduces the evil dame's head to what looks like one of those really bad bowling balls down at your neighborhood alley, let's sing "Goodbye, Ruby Thursday...") and her nutty noggin are like something out of a Tex Avery cartoon, with arms and wings popping out at a moment's notice. Steven Grant's almost hell-bound desire to get the job done in this issue forces a lot of information into the second half of the story; way too much confusing information for my small brain (for instance, I felt like the arrival of the space robots on Omega's home-world could have been explained a little more clearly). I'll say this though, that first half is pretty darn entertaining. Moondragon is a bit up her own arse at the conclusion, no? How are our fave femmes supposed to know that an army of big black robots chasing a poor little boy is not what it seems? Granted, Moondoggy might be a bit perturbed that the death toll from their little soirée could number in the tens of thousands. And, to add one more snarky nit, how the hell does the one page of dopiness that the Incredible Hulk appears on constitute the special "Starring..." circle on the otherwise kinda dynamic cover?

Matthew: In Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Sean Howe notes, “An ending to [the Omega] saga, repeatedly promised in letters columns and repeatedly rescheduled, was finally written without its creators’ input.  ‘It just got to the point where we couldn’t work with Shooter anymore,’ Skrenes said.  ‘He was screwing with us and punishing us and trying to have somebody else write it, like they always did with Howard.’  Omega was killed off in an issue of The Defenders.  Gerber and Skrenes swore to each other that they’d take their original plans for the character’s ending to their graves….[She added], ‘they make him an editor, and it’s like, he didn’t get the memo that we get to do what we want with the book,’” which just had to be better.

I’m still not 100% sure what happened here, or what Grant (with a “plot assist by Gruenwald”) wanted us to think had been happening in OTU all along, but one thing of which I am 100% sure is that they don’t make me care, while three inkers don’t make Trimpe’s pencils thrice as good.  I also know that Moondragon’s “You fools—we’ve unwittingly allowed/caused/hastened the end of something wonderful” lament is a direct steal from the Korvac saga, and a callback to that epic turd I don’t need, especially since she doesn’t even keep her vow to “leave this planet to its own foolish ways!”  Greenskin’s tête-à-tête with a Shmoo is prolonged for a page to justify the “Starring the Hulk, Marvel’s TV Sensation!” tagline, and next issue, things just get even worse...

Chris: The cover come-on proclaims “Starring the Hulk,” etc; yeah okay, we’ve seen this before – so tell me, what should we expect of the Hulkster this time – will he commune with a whale?  Will he eat a hot dog -?  Ah, the rich array of possibilities.  No, of course not; all we get is a one-page conclusion of Hulk’s one-page encounter from #76 with “silverthing.”  That’s right, one page each in consecutive issues; that means, of course, this two-page encounter could’ve been presented in its entirety in one issue.  So, despite more than one printed LOC complaining about cover-misrepresentations of the Hulk’s role in a given issue, the trend unapologetically continues.  

Speaking of the almighty lettercol, longtime LOCer Cat Y. of Birch Tree MO sends a lengthy missive, filled with commentary about the inconsistencies and other story-telling breakdowns in the needless Omega wrap-up, and pointedly states, “WHO IS EDITING THIS MAGAZINE? …This kind of sheer unadulterated bogus nincompoopery looks like the work of rank amateurs.”  Well, editor Al Milgrom does step forward and identify himself (and also drags poor assistant Jo Duffy into this), but not until after he’s spent five paragraphs trying to weasel out of Cat’s carefully-observed and well-earned criticisms.  
Moving on.  An advantage to the ol’ non-team model is it entitles you to recruit a non-member to fulfill a specific purpose (sorta like how Daredevil could tactilely “read” both sides of a coin, and thereby outwit the Grandmaster in G-S Defenders #3, remember -?).  The Wasp’s seemingly random presence allows for some fun at Ruby’s expense.  First of all, Ruby comments on how “Dr Strange and the rest” appear no longer to be connected to the team; I guess Ruby missed Dollar Bill’s dynamic Defenders documentary, hmm?  (Although, it’s probably a sound decision on Ruby’s part, when you think about it … .)  Secondly, the Wasp (after flying the team to Vegas in a quinjet – that’s handy) blasts a hole in Ruby’s dome head, taking her out of the fight (that was easy), before she and Dibbuk vanish in a classic puff of smoke (p 15).  
The rest – page after page of exposition – rounds out the issue.  Moondragon laments how the Defenders have interfered with something, but it seems the decision to shut down Omega originates from the robot-men, due to their realization that he can’t adequately handle the power built into him.  Or something like that – I’m not going back to double-check the particulars.  Moondragon (also dropped-in to serve a specific purpose, not part of the organic development of the story) leaves in a huff, stating Earth-based heroes should “never summon [her] again!”  Well, you forget, Ms Moonie (or maybe it was scripter Grant) – you volunteered your services in #76; it’s pretty likely no one would purposely petition your input.  
This title has gone from a showcase for unusual circumstances (Gerber/Buscema) to straightforward team-based action (Kraft/Giffen) to inconsistent (Kraft/Hannigan), to what’s now a downright pointless and uninteresting monthly afterthought (Hannigan, Grant/Trimpe).  But wait – sez here the Hulk is back next issue -!  Reserve my copy ..!

 Fantastic Four 212
"Battle of the Titans!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Byrne and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Walter Simonson

The distracted reader might think they've stumbled into What If? as "Battle of the Titans" opens with the Watcher, nattering on while narrating a three-page flashback stretching all the way back to FF #204. Baldie's his usual contradictory self, first calling the coming battle for Earth " already pre-determined struggle," then announcing "...I do not know" if Earth will survive.

PROLOGUE OVER, new Galactus herald Terrax (his face almost a dead ringer for Kirby's Darkseid) buzzes NYC, terrorizing civilians. The Thing attacks, but it's Big Purple who puts his new hire in his place, while air-walking the Fabs to the roof of the Bax Building. There, we see the effects of the Skull's aging ray have accelerated to the point that Sue is a withered crone, near death! Old man Richards ain't looking so hot himself, but can still scoop up his wife and stretch from the roof down into one of the labs, installing Sue in a cryo-chamber. Wolfman doesn't explain it (or bother to mention it at all), but let's assume Ben's rocky exterior is aging him extremely slowly, since he's still able to throw down with Terrax. 

In his now-standard brief appearance (parceled out here at a stingy two panels), Herbie locates the Sphinx in... Egypt (well, whaddaya expect, Lower Slobovia?). Galax dispatches Darksi... er Terrax to lead the way then transports the male Fabs to his spherical ship so they can accompany him to the battle. You'd think Reed would lobby to be allowed to stay behind and, you know, work on an aging-ray-cure before they all kick, but maybe that's just me.

THEN THE SKRULL who beamed into the Bax on the trail of Princess Adora back in #204 (explaining why the Watcher mentioned him during his bloviations), and was assumed dead, morphs into Skrully shape, after hiding out in the guise of one of Reed's many gizmos, lo, these long months. And then he reveals himself as a robot, soliloquizing about " Skrull creators" and a couple panels later he's working on his mechanical chest with Reed's tools, while pilfering "Earth's primary defense secrets" and beaming them to his big-eared overlords. Seems they're gearing up to invade Earth again. 

Get in line, greenies.

MEANWHILE, IN EGYPT, we get another long flashback, this time by the Sphinx, who, despite his new deity-like powers, remains dishwater dull. Briefly: after losing a staff-into-snake rap battle with Moses, Sphinxie (who, unless I missed it, doesn't have a proper name) was exiled by Ramses, wandered the desert for years before finding a lost temple and the empowered jewel that made him immortal, even as he longed for death. Later, in the Himalayas he found Sayge, "Oracle of all that is true," who shows him an unspecified "damnable fate." Sphinxie then learned of a "cosmic secret," unconsciously possessed by Nova, leading him to Xandar's Living Computers and his burgeoning new powers. Now, before destroying Earth, the Sphinx recreates the splendor of ancient Egypt and is doting on his work when Terrax arrives.

The new herald's blasted off his flying rock and about to be trampled under foot when Big G arrives. The two titans face off. Sphinx's comment to Galax - "The same words, eh (Galactus)... but all I need is one minor alteration," suggests the coming battle was revealed by Sayge and/or lived before.

BACK ON GALAX'S SHIP, Reed is messing with one of the machines (with Herbie in the background, bringing his panel count to three, for those who bet the over), part of his yet unexplained plan to double-cross Galactus after he promised to put Earth back on Big Purple's menu if Sphinxie's defeated. Popping aboard, the new herald  proclaims to the boys, "Terrax shall destroy you [yeah, he talks in the third person]! And he shall destroy you -- now!" -Mark Barsotti

Mark: This one's not bad (and given Marv Wolfman's recent run of stinkers, not bad = good), if largely concerned with running in place, given that nine of the seventeen pages are devoted to flashbacks: three narrated by the Watcher, six by the Sphincter, er, Sphinx. Yeah, we get a bit more of the latter's backstory, but his new Galactus-like height wasn't accompanied by an increase in stature or character-depth. He remains a one-note baddie, no matter how many living computers or faceless ancient oracles he encounters. Let's hope Marv - eventually - provides fan service by letting us see Galax beat the tar out of him.

Not having the specs for the Skrull aging ray, I won't carp about how it barely affected the three Fabs, save for a few crow's feet last ish, for a looong time, and then Sue's suddenly at death's door and Reed looks like the shuffleboard champ at ye ol' retirement home. What I will criticize is Wolfman's on-going marginalization/misuse of Sue Richards. This month's trip to the cryo-chamber was preceded by Sue getting so pooped at Galactus' place that she was almost run over by a giant vacuum! FF's recent scribes had made Sue more powerful and integral to the action, until Marv threw that welcome trend into reverse. Not accusing Wolfie of misogyny, since his characterization of the three boys hasn't done them any favors, either, but even Lee & Kirby's earliest depictions of Sue as love-interest-to-be-fought-over gave her a better shake than Marv has managed.

And what's up with the robo-Skrull? Reminding us of his existence was the only salient point of the Watcher intro, prompting us to remember an anonymous, presumptively-dead Skrull, who'd appeared almost a year earlier, but how does an android that just looks like a Skrull manage to shape-shift like the real thing? Maybe there's an intriguing idea waiting to be revealed, but color me skeptical.  

If you're willing to settle for mere decent execution of the Big Stakes - the fate of the world! - sci-fi super heroics that Fantastic Four once pioneered and now traffics by rote, this one gets it done. And I am willing, class, provided Marv sticks the landing.

We're well-removed from recent atrocities like Security University, thankfully, but that's a really low bar, Marv, so just make sure Galactus wails on the Sphinx... 

Chris: I’ve made no secret of my dislike for Marv’s tendency to fail to capably develop suspense in a continuing storyline, as he either drags out the set-up, or follows a tangent into a dark corner, far removed from the story-at-hand.  For once, I won’t complain that there’s more Galactus vs Sphinx battling featured on the cover than there is in the entire issue.  The fact is, #211 (the Introduction of Terrax) and #212 (the Life and Times of the Sphinx, for Whom Life Had Become a Chore, Until He Did Attain Great Power) serve together as a tantalizing warm-up to the featured attraction; once the battle begins in earnest, we the readers will have a thorough appreciation for the Sphinx’s experience.  It helps that Marv feeds tantalizing lines to the Sphinx, which clearly indicate he’s envisioned (and possibly, in some other reality, already has fought) this battle, possibly countless times before.  At the same time, we also can expect a simultaneous undercard bout, as in this corner, the Aging Unto Death FF will face Already Twice-Cowed Terrax the Once-Tamer, as he seeks to reclaim his mojo!  Instead of momentum-derailment, Marv has managed this time to build up beautifully toward our next thrill-packed chapter.  (Now, if FF #213 turns out to be a full issue devoted to Herbie’s nifty Manhattan shopping spree, then I will take back absolutely everything I just said.)

Byrne excels, as always, both in the big spots, and in the subtler moments.  Let us count the ways: the city-spanning Galactus, as he schools Terrax (p 7 last pnl, aided by colorist Carl Gafford); the Sphinx peers down purposefully at Xandar, before he totally freaks out when he absorbs the knowledge of their Living Computers (p 19, pnl 2 and 3); the splendour of olde Egypt, in a double-page spread! (p 22-23); the Sphinx cast in shadow, as Galactus makes his inevitable, as-prophesied approach (p 26, last pnl).
Lastly, after a series of works by Pollard and Byrne, how do you suppose Walt Simonson was selected to provide the cover art -?  Years, many years from now, Simonson will bring his writer/artist approach – the same one that will shine from Thor as a beacon of brilliance in the later Bronze era – to the FF, and provide a nifty, exuberantly-illustrated series of adventures.  Not assigned reading, but still, you could look 'em up.

Matthew: Can we agree to thank God that Byrnott doesn’t depict Ben with the prune-face he sports on Simonson’s cover?  Holy cats!  Marv’s been spinning out this yarn for so long that he feels the need to expend three pages on an Uatu-provided recap…which, ironically, helps spin it out even longer.  Then, presumably to benefit those who didn’t thrill to his origin in Nova, the Sphinxter walks us through it again, consuming four more pages.  Then, they burn off two more on an admittedly handsome spread of Egypt 2.0 that doesn’t move the plot needle either, so we’ve now accounted for more than half the page count.  At least it all looks awesome, especially the air-walking Galactus and tiny Terrax and FF above Manhattan in page 10, panel 1.

 The Incredible Hulk 241
"Partners in Deception!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Al Milgrom

“They” have Banner bound to a gamma-ray-sucking machine that will use his energies to power the Eternal Flame. For some time now, They have been manipulating super-powered heroes and villains alike to cause upheavals to help provide energies to restore the flame. They have used Goldbug to bring the Hulk to El Dorado for just this purpose. This enrages Banner so much he begins to change, but the transformation is stopped halfway as his gamma energy is siphoned. Goldbug, now awake, sees El Dorado and – at first – is thrilled he has finally found the one place he’s looked for his entire life. However, he was always looking for ruins to plunder. Not a living, functioning city that makes gold common. He thinks the Hulk is responsible for this and goes to find Banner to take revenge, but arrives in time to overhear They spouting off their plans.

 Once the flame is powerful enough, the aged Des releases two giant mechanical claws to grab the others and draw off their life energy. This was the master plan all along: Des uses their energy to recreate a youth-restoring elixir and return to the youthful form of Tyrannus! Now, the mad former ruler of Subterranea has the power to take over the world. Goldbug attacks Tyrannus and lobs a gold-emitting thingamabob at the half-Hulk. It encases him in hard gold, panicking him enough to make the change complete. Hulk breaks free, but it’s too late. Tyrannus has the full power of the flame behind him and declares himself ruler of the world. 
-Scott McIntyre

Scott: I remember when I saw this issue, it was well after publication, roughly around the time The Incredible Hulk TV series was in its fourth season. The premiere that year was an amazing two-parter where radiation from a fallen meteor causes Banner to be stuck in mid-transformation. I snatched up this fairly recent back issue expecting something truly great along those lines. I didn’t get it and have hated this issue ever since. It’s a dreary, talky issue with art and character design so bland that you can’t even tell the figure trapped in the machine is a Hulk/Banner mashup. It just looks like a smaller, lighter colored Hulk. Banner was always drawn very nondescript; Buscema had his own version: white guy, shaggy dark hair parted down the middle. Actually, I don’t know if there was even a model to keep consistent from artist to artist. Other than that, this is so heavily weighed down with exposition, there’s no excitement. Honestly, this is just bland crap, wasting Tyrannus as a villain.   

Matthew: Man, that is one rotten cover, especially since even when he’s trapped in between his Hulk and Banner states, he’s not literally half-and-half; yeah, I know, it’s supposed to be symbolic and all of that…but it’s still rotten.  It’s worth noting that brother John called Sal, who handles both pencil and pen this time out, one of his favorite inkers, and I’ve always been a sucker for those “chess pieces of the characters” bits like page 7, panel 3, so no complaints from me about the interior artwork.  Two suspicions from last issue are confirmed:  the Hulk’s, that he knew Aged Des from before, and mine, that this is yet another arc lumbering on too long, with a captive hero till the last two pages, although I’ll admit it’s nice to have “They” explained at last...

Chris: Tyrannus works the long con, as he plays both Prince Rey and the Keeper of the Light for suckers; don’t these guys know that a three-headed leadership scheme is doomed to failure?  Stern sets up Tyrannus’ double-cross well, as he shows Rey comfortably positioned to assume the lead role in the triumvirate, and “old Des” expected to serve a supporting role – that is, until Des snaps up both Rey and the Keeper and has them drawn into the flame, where their life-forces are unapologetically burned to feed the fire.  To top it all, the Hulk is trapped between Banner and Hulk, in an effort to tap his gamma-fueled power without allowing him to be powerful enough to break free; as a result, Banner sees and hears the results of Tyrannus’ cruelty as he enacts his coup, but finds it “so … hard to think!” and thus is powerless to stop him.  Nice play to have Goldbug (remember Goldbug?  He was asleep down the hall as this played out) step in and amp the Hulk to his full Mean Greenness, thereby foiling a phase of the grand scheme.  Tyrannus still expects to succeed in his plan to become “absolute monarch of the planet Earth!," but I gots my doubts.  You hear dis, Tyrannus – now that ol’ Hulk done got hisself free, I figga you in for a big-time hurtin’; don’ tell me I dint tell ya so, now …

Much ceremony was made over Joe Sinnott’s arrival as new embellisher, and the art-results for #240 were quite good as a result.  I’d had enough to say about last issue, so I thought I’d hold off until this time to respond to the Buscema/Sinnott art.  But now, after the one issue, I see Sinnott is gone, and doesn’t appear to return to the pages of the Hulk for the remainder of the Bronze era!  So, what happened … Sinnott is finished as inker for MTIO, so he isn’t busy with that.  Well, in any case, Sal B. is a decent inker, but he’s not the best self-inker; the art, even though inks have been applied to pencils, appears indistinct, as though it still awaits an embellisher’s arrival.  

The Man-Thing 1
"Regeneration -- and Rebirth"
Story by Michael Fleisher
Art by Jim Mooney and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Bob Wiacek

Late into the evening hours, nearing midnight, Dr Oheimer tirelessly continues his study of a process that could result in brain-cell regeneration.  On his way home for a few hours rest, Dr Oheimer is abducted and taken to a house in the swamp.  There, Oheimer meets a man who identifies himself as a deputy director of the CIA, who recounts for the molecular researcher the incredible tale of Ted Sallis.  Sallis’ failed attempt to recreate the super-soldier formula resulted in his transformation to the mindless, shambling Man-Thing; the agents now hope Oheimer’s processes can help restore Sallis’ mind and provide them with a potential super-solider formula, “before the Russians develop their own version of it!”  First order of business is to build a massive structure in the swamp, intended both to lure and contain the Man-Thing, so he might be subjected to mind-regenerating treatment.  Once construction is complete, a device within the structure broadcasts a “sonic vibration” that unsettles all the swamp creatures; on cue, Man-Thing is deeply disturbed by the discomfort experienced by the nearby living things, and arrives to stop the disruption.  On some level, Man-Thing (somehow) recognizes he’s walked into a trap; but, in short order, he’s assaulted by microwaves, leaving him dehydrated and debilitated.  M-T is contained, and Dr Oheimer injects his “cerebral regenerative serum” into Manny’s form, in the hope that the Sallis brain cells “uniformly spread throughout his mass” will begin to coalesce.  Over the course of the next few days, Manny receives both serum injections and coaching from Oheimer, as a nascent intelligence begins to develop.  Meanwhile, other swamp dwellers (humans, this time) have taken photos, which are sent to Miami, and find their way to the FBI; the Bureau recognizes Oheimer has been taken in by a group of enemy agents who hope to claim the super-soldier formula to advance their own aims!  

A squad of commandos is dispatched, with orders to retrieve Oheimer unharmed (they aren’t concerned whether Man-Thing suffers bruising in the process).  The commandos rout Oheimer’s captors, but when it becomes apparent they mean to eliminate M-T as well, Oheimer (in an attempt to protect the emerging Sallis) is caught by his would-be rescuers’ bullets.  Man-Thing turns on the soldiers, some of whom – as they realize their conventional firearms and small explosives can’t damage M-T, typically passing straight thru him – begin to panic, and to feel fear.  Man-Thing desires, more than anything, to destroy this hateful emotion, and so, those who know fear Burn at the Man-Thing’s Touch.  M-T carries Oheimer’s body with him, into the swamp.  Does he shed a tear, for the loss of a man who sought to help him, and for the forever-lost chance to re-connect with his humanity?  -Chris Blake
Chris: I can’t say I know why a new volume of Man-Thing found its way back to the newsstand shelves and spinner-racks; could fan support for the title’s revival truly have been so vocal?  Speaking for myself, I’m reasonably certain I bought this issue because: 1) MTU #68 had given me an appreciation for the unusual, seldom-seen character, and 2) this is a #1 – a collector’s item (yes, I was a sucker for nearly any #1).  
Michael Fleisher tells a decent story, and gets some of the tragic nature of the once-brilliant, now-mindless character.  Still, the powers of Marvel editorial must’ve realized there’d be no way to match the weird vibe of Steve Gerber’s better efforts on the original title; well, in any case, they thought they’d give it a try, and M-T vol II lasted eleven issues.  Personally, I would’ve preferred to see M-T as a semi-regular feature in a revamped Strange Tales, as an anthology spotlighting semi-retired “mystery” types like Son of Satan, Brother Voodoo, Werewolf by Night, and (dare I say it!) perhaps even Morbius (provided, of course, there’d be no chance of a rematch with Helleyes …).  This way, M-T would’ve appeared only periodically, and only when there’d be a sure-fire (so to speak) Man-Thing story to tell.  
Peter: Who knows why comic companies do the things they do but, for some reason, some muckety-muck at Marvel decided that the time was ripe for another Man-Thing funny book. Since I kinda liked the original series, I have no problem jumping into this new animal, especially when I see the writer assigned to the "frightful 1st issue" is none other than the best horror comics writer of the 1970s, Michael Fleisher. Yeah, sure, there's some trepidation on my part when I see the name Jim Mooney next to the word "pencils" rather than Mayerik or Ploog, but it only takes a few pages to see that Mooney (with some help from Bob Wiacek) has a decent handle on the big guy. In fact, the biggest problem with this issue is what should have been the greatest asset: Fleisher.

Unfortunately, by 1979, Marvel wasn't getting the MF that had written such classic DC horror stories as "They Hunt Butterflies, Don't They?" (from House of Mystery #220) and "The Night of the Teddy Bear" (HOM #222), and broke taboos reimagining superheroes (The Spectre) and westerns (Jonah Hex). They were getting a guy who needed a job and molded his writing-style to the "Marvel Way." In an interview in The Comics Journal #56 (just months before he'd sue TCJ for two million bucks for slander!), Fleisher explains that when Marvel approached him to revive Man-Thing, he agreed to tackle a reboot on the proviso that he could change the character as he saw fit. This included upgrading the beast's intelligence so that Ted would remember the life he lived before becoming muck-encrusted. Marvel agreed but, later, according to Fleisher, decided they just wanted a "reprise of the Steve Gerber Man-Thing," a road Mike wasn't about to go down. This particular issue shows none of the risk-taking or edginess found in Fleisher's earlier work (the attempt to turn Manny into an intelligent being smacks of the changes made to The Monster of Frankenstein and we remember how badly that came off); it just comes off as a job. Fleisher would do three issues of this reboot before amicably parting ways with the title and concentrating on Ghost Rider and Spider-Woman.

Matthew: Volume 1—of which Mooney, ably inked here by Wiacek, drew the last six issues, followed by the first three of these—was effectively before my time, so it shows what a certifiable Marvel Maniac I’d become that I bought every issue of this back in the day.  Despite underwhelming efforts on Ghost Rider and Captain America, Fleisher doesn’t do too badly, and although I feel like we’ve seen this origin retold way too many times, I guess you can’t relaunch the book without doing so yet again.  What’s missing, of course, is the Gerberian weirdness that, like it or not, made Manny what he was, and it’s a shame that Claremont (who kicks everything up a notch) didn’t take over till #4, writing all but one remaining entry in this short-lived revival.

1 comment:

  1. When IM 128 hit the stands I was 19, and I hated the ending. Why bother even taking this topic if you write such a superficial ending. Cured in 5 panels. Yeah, right. Later Denny O'Neil/Luke McDonnel gave Tony's alcoholism much more space, but cranked the melodram to eleven. But I am prejudiced, I fear, because I couldn't stand McDonnel's art. So maybe the O'Neil run is better as I remember.

    This Man Thing is a new one for me. Never knew it even existed. Fleisher should have been a good choice for this. I only know his later Conan, which was disappointing in every regard. Sometimes I think his rightly high regarded Spectre was a fluke. I could never understand his lawsuit.