Wednesday, February 8, 2017

November 1979 Part Two: Spider-Man... Meet Spider-Woman!

 Marvel Spotlight 3
Captain Marvel in
"Blue -- Red -- Blue!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick and Gene Day
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Al Milgrom

It’s springtime for Titan, as the hollow moon is reborn and love flourishes among Marv & Elysius & Rick & Gertie, although after telling Una’s story, the Kree admits that “I have been…uncertain about love…ever since.”  But almost a month later, Rick begins to fret over his career (really?), so learning that Mar-Vell will not return after taking the humans back to Earth, to which he feels he owes a debt, Elysius—a blank slate with only false memories—elects to join him.  The quartet bids farewell to the grateful Titans, who have provided “a sleek craft”; en route, Mar-Vell recalls the Supreme Intelligence stating in Avengers #97 that with Kree and Skrulls at “dead ends…the only other race with the potential to evolve unto glory—is on Earth!”

Mar-Vell feels a responsibility “to guard the cradle,” yet is uncertain “what to do between eating, sleeping and fighting cosmic evil” (per Elysius and Rick, respectively).  Conveniently, they are then attacked by a “mammoth alien ship,” which Marv disables using his cosmic awareness, and detecting no life forms, they enter, only to face death-drones, Elysius saving him with a weapon made to slay him.  Entering a portal alone, Mar-Vell faces Eon, who effected his metamorphosis in CM #29 and now warns, “Great danger faces Earth,” to which the ship’s occupants have gone, their main objective coded “blue—red—blue”; those being, gasp, the colors of his uniform, Marv knows it is he, and per Eon must “live up to the reality of your being…protector of the universe.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: I’m only partially kidding when I say that I’m not sure which of Mar-Vell’s two appearances this month is better, his Spotlight gig or his epic confrontation with Professor Sneer in the Hostess® Twinkies® ad, because the former is about as far from his Starlin apex as he’s been since the bad old days of Drake or Boring.  He’ll have two stand-alones in this title, yet the final entry in our formal curriculum fortuitously (in both senses of that much-misused word) marks the end of the Moench/Broderick regime, with Day supplanting Patterson on the sinking spaceship.  I’d mind it less if Mar-Vet Milgrom’s cover weren’t such a cheat—this incomprehensible “Eon Encounter” doesn’t even start till page 26, and represents another shameless plundering of Judo Jim’s legacy.

It’s clearly intended as closure of some sort, since the lettercol reveals that next issue will be a “rather special story” (uh oh) by Goodwin, Wolfman & Ditko, and they have no immediate plans for Marv thereafter, as the other one-off—with a resurgent Bruce inking Miller—doesn’t appear until #8.  But it’s ambiguous at best:  while Rick’s shocked “Their main objective is…you?!” seems at least potentially ominous, Marv’s closing line, “Let’s go home,” doesn’t sound too concerned.  I joked last time that this should be called Marvel Denouement, yet My Kree Romance might be more appropriate for the bulk of this saccharine overdose; mind you, that’s coming from a sentimental slob who likes chick flicks, albeit selectively, and cries at The Abyss.

Feminine pulchritude has no bigger admirer than I, yet in page 3, panels 2-3 (below), Elysius—bizarrely said to miss Mar-Vell’s mask—and especially “Unu” (sic) seem to be boasting, “Hey, check out my boob job!”  Doug notes that Eros was “once hoping to name Elysius for his own love,” but having covered every issue of this strip, I have to wonder when; created in Isaac’s life-baths, she was an enemy holding the Titans hostage when first seen in CM #59, and despite deeming Eros “touchable,” perhaps without his knowledge, she soon shifted her attention to Marv during her conversion.  Told that Mar-Vell detects “no presence of life” aboard the alien ship, Gertie asks, “You mean we killed ’em all?!,” but her expression makes it tough to tell how she feels about it.

Chris Blake: Very solid issue from Doug & Pat (& Gene).  It’s certainly the right time, now that the Isaac Crisis has concluded, for Mar-Vell & Co to enjoy a quiet moment.  Doug might be feeling particularly confident in his capability for non-action sequences, after scripting passages like these for recent issues of MoKF (#61 and #70 come to mind).  A different writer might’ve taken the Una bit and tried to build an entire issue around Marv’s reluctance to put his heart at risk.  Instead, Marv shares this moment with Elysius over a few panels on one page and part of another (as Broderick recaps enough of the essential details in the last two panels of p 3).  It’s kind of a weighty matter to discuss – especially as both parties recognize the way they handle Marv’s painful memory could affect the prospects of their own budding relationship.  So, they step back, and resume carefree enjoyment of their time, until they find themselves back on the topic; after having some time to consider Marv’s concern, Elysius has had the opportunity to properly defuse the moment, with a simple “I’m not Una.”  Marv seems to recognize the multiple meanings in this brief phrase, such as “I’m here,” “I’m alive,” “I’m not afraid of the life you live,” and “I’m not going anywhere.” 

In the process, Doug Moench illustrates an important facet of Mar-Vell’s character.  Scott Edelman had tried to establish a work environment for Marv, when he brought Marv to the observatory; the setting might’ve proven to be a useful means of generating storylines, especially as it would’ve involved entanglements with a burbling supporting cast.  But here’s the thing: Mar-Vell’s more of a loner, isn’t he?  He’s certainly not a joiner – his involvements with teams like the Avengers, while momentous, have not been terribly long in duration.  He’s comfortable with the ruling tribunal of Titan, but he’d never want to settle there for good.  Marv’s fine with Rick, or Drax, or perhaps – Elysius; with Rick now on his own (with Gertie – for now), and Drax off finding himself, it would’ve been interesting to see where this relationship with Elysius – not a sidekick, not a comrade-in-arms – might’ve taken him, and us.
Eon’s appearance is dramatic, but it hardly seems necessary.  After all, hasn’t Marv already committed to returning to Earth, and resuming his role as Protector of the Universe?  Unless, of course, Eon’s purpose is to draw Marv’s attention to the departed occupants of this ship, who apparently have preceded him to Earth.  Marv’s only got two issues left, and I don’t know if this storyline is pursued in our next issue, either.  Marv has shown some interesting character-development under Doug’s direction; when I re-read The Death of Captain Marvel (it’s been quite a while …), I hope I’ll have some appreciation for Starlin’s decision to finish Marv off.

 Marvel Team-Up 87
Spider-Man and The Black Panther in
"The Razor's Edge!"
Story by Steven Grant
Art by Gene Colan and Frank Springer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Clem Robins
Cover by Al Milgrom

Outside Manhattan’s federal courts, Pete is snapping pics while newsmen ask Thomas Agar about a preliminary Justice Department hearing into allegations that Agar Ores swindled Wakanda out of half a billion “on a deal for bad tungsten.”  Just as he asserts that the government—desiring vibranium—is giving Wakanda preferential treatment, a figure garbed as Spidey’s sometime ally the Black Panther grabs Agar, decks Pete when he tries to intervene, and carries off his victim in a helicopter.  After a fast change, Spidey swings in pursuit, only to have the “Panther” slice his web with a weapon that shoots razor-like projectiles, and a narrow escape leaves him prone to misinterpret T’Challa’s remarks, overheard outside the Wakandan consulate.

The ensuing MARMIS ends when BP explains that his “further measures” were to request U.N. intervention; as the State Department’s Aubrey Pearson tries to stop armed forces from violating “sovereign Wakandan soil,” the gaudily garbed Hellrazor arrives to challenge T’Challa.  Pitching in, Spidey belatedly puts two and two together, only to take a seemingly fatal hail of razors to the gut, but after admitting the imposture, Hellrazor—disarmed by Spidey, who’d shielded himself with “glob webbing”—is kayoed by BP.  Our heroes confront the entrepreneur behind it all, yet despite being informed by flunky Walter that “the Agar plan has failed,” the Roxxon Corp.’s Mr. Gamelin is satisfied that with its name now linked to terrorism, Wakanda has been discredited…  -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Ominously ubiquitous, Grant is credited on no fewer than four titles this month, collaborating with Gruenwald in some capacity on Avengers, Defenders, and Spider-Woman; with nobody else to share the blame here, we’re reminded how lame MTU can be absent a Mantlo or a Claremont, and also that this sort of thing just isn’t Colan’s strong suit.  I won’t go so far as to say that he—or even Springer—does a bad job per se, but I will say that when Hellrazor (aptly, a victim of the Scourge-purge in Captain America #319) strutted onto the scene in page 16, panel 3, missing only a Bee Gees song on the soundtrack, my heart sank.  I can’t claim to have remembered this unaided, but Pearson also appeared in Black Panther #14, while Gamelin returns in ASM #235-6.

What we might call the Engineered MARMIS (i.e., a deliberate deception by the villain) is, of course, my biggest beef.  At the time, I remarked on how well Spidey and the Panther meshed in #19-20.  So when Faux’Challa shows up, behaving completely out of character and turning an unaccustomed weapon on him, it never even crosses Spidey’s mind that it’s an impostor?  But wait, it gets worse:  during the battle, he thinks, “If I could just figure out why Hellrazor sounds so familiar…”  Well, it might be because you heard him impersonating the Panther an hour ago, but if you recognized his voice, wouldn’t you also notice that it wasn’t T’Challa’s?  Worst of all, Grant seems to expect we will be equally surprised.  “How could I have been so stupid,” indeed!

Joe Tura: I honestly do not remember if I owned this issue. The cover looks vaguely familiar, but I don't remember any Colan-drawn MTUs. That said, is it any good? Well, it's written by Steven Grant, so that's our first problem. Frank Springer's inks aren't too bad, and Colan's pencils look great for Panther, but Spidey looks average at best, T'Challa's face keeps changing, and Peter Parker looks like the poor man's Drac. Page 7 is the consummate mixed bag. While it's full of Spidey action, the more you look at it the worse it seems. Page 14 may be the best of all, both art and script, without Spidey saying a word. Does that prove Grant can't write my beloved wall-crawler? I guess it does! For instance, after meeting the horrendous Hellrazor [more on him in a sec], our hero's answer is "That's a name? Am I supposed to laugh, or what?" Not exactly Stan-worthy banter, that. Speaking of not worthy, Hellrazor is a stupid villain. He looks ridiculous, sounds stupid, is defeated fairly easily, and isn't a threat to anyone or anything except the reader's allowance. Not such a great team-up tale this time around.

 Marvel Two-In-One 57
The Thing and Wundarr in
"The Pegasus Project Part Five:
When Walks Wundarr!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio
Art by George Pérez and Gene Day
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by George Pérez and Al Milgrom

At an emergency meeting of the Pegasus Security Council (the three project directors including Wilburn and Dr. Margret Mayfair), Quasar agrees that an inside job is likely, and has started reviews of personnel files and monitor tapes.  As Ben fruitlessly questions Thundra, Wundarr leaves his chamber, neutralizing both the force-bars of Solarr’s detention cell and the mutant’s attempted attack.  Realizing that “this is not going to be an easy place to escape from,” Solarr seeks help, and after rejecting a bandaged Electro—in traction after ASM #187, and thus useless—renews his partnership with Klaw (see Avengers #126); finding only his sonic claw in his cell, Solarr rages, “They killed you!”…but his hurling it starts vibrations that reform Klaw.

Ben is unsurprised to learn that Lightner was the only person in the area within two hours of each incident; asked why he hadn’t voiced his suspicions earlier, he says, “I been wrong before, kid—an’ ya don’t condemn a man just ’cause of a hunch!”  Informed of unauthorized personnel on the Loopcar that services the whole project, Quasar assumes it is a fleeing Lightner, who is actually in the Pit, reveling in his ability to shut down the project forever, “projecting the entire complex into another dimension!”  In true super-villain fashion, he first wishes to reward himself by using the Nth Projector to “tap the mysterious, extra-dimensional darkforce,” restoring his powers as Blacksun (in #21), but after flipping the switch, he screams, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this!”

Reaching the Loopcar first, Quasar is blinded by Solarr, but soon in hot pursuit with Giant-Man, Ben—gunning for longtime enemy Klaw—and a security detail; their car crashes when Solarr blasts the track, yet Quasar protects them with “a field of quasi-stellar energy,” and Ben plays crack the whip, derailing their foes.  As Quasar follows, attuning his wristbands to their energy trail and knocking out Solarr, Wundarr approaches the “dormant” Cosmic Cube, which begins to sparkle.  Klaw erects a sonically-induced barrier, yet while Ben pierces it, quietly concentrating tons of pressure with a single fingertip (neat scene), Klaw soon recovers from Giant-Man’s blow, restored by the vibrations of their voices, and after laying our heroes low, he prepares to kill Ben. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The double-spread on pages 2-3 exemplifies the Pacesetter’s élan:  the top two-thirds provide a verbal and visual recap that combines expository dialogue with images (mostly emerald-hued, as seen through the council’s apparent Dome of Silence) spread across several playback monitors.  This is a rare occasion when the cover faithfully recreates a specific moment from the story—in this case, page 22, panel 7, as Ben, his arm still bandaged, lifts the Loopcar to free Quasar and Giant-Man from the debris—and does so beautifully, although Pérez is inked there by Milgrom rather than Day.  The Gruenwacchio team takes its time building up to the big finish, allowing for such treats as the interesting character stuff involving Solarr, surprisingly solicitous of Klaw.

Chris: Ben is not required to drive or dominate the action, which proves to be a strength of the story; our bashful blue-eyed star is an effective part of the mix, along with Bill Foster, which allows confident young Quasar to run the security show.  This way, we have an agreeable balance of characters and personalities, without Ben having to provide all the hero-dialog and throw every punch.

The creative team maintains the momentum established last issue, as circumstances at ProjPeg grow more and more complicated.  The notion that walking-about Wundarr is contributing to problems – without him being aware of it, and without the base brain trust being notified yet – adds most agreeably to the chaos. Toward the end, Quasar asks aloud what Lightner might “have to gain by releasing these two” (i.e. Solarr and Klaw), but Lightner doesn’t know anything about it!  He’s busy (on some other level) having a negative reaction to the extra-dimensional darkforce (p 17); that, without doubt, will have further consequences for our heroes.  Great fun!
It wouldn’t be likely to have a multi-issue story featuring battles and re-matches with the same villain, so this time we have Solarr and Klaw causing trouble.  Clever moment as Solarr considers recruiting Electro, only to find him in traction (p 11), following his run-in with Spider-Man and Captain America (in ASM #187); score another fifty points for mighty Marvel continuity!  Nice touch also as Ben – not known for his subtlety – encourages Giant-Man to hold off from pounding both giant-fists into Klaw’s wall of sound (Phil Spector patent pending), as Ben instead drills one rocky index digit thru the barrier (p 27).  But the true highlight of the battle is when Ben plays crack-the-whip with the loopcar tracks, sending Solarr and Klaw all a-sprawlin’ (p 23); truly inspired.  Great finish as Klaw hoists his soni-claw and saps the sound of Ben’s speech, causing the words themselves to diminish in size (!), before he blasts the crew senseless (p 31 – assist by pro’s pro John Costanza for the tiny-letters touch).

Master of Kung Fu 82
"Like a God, Weeping Fire"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and Gene Day
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Diana Albers
Cover by Mike Zeck and Gene Day

Shang-Chi and the rest of Sir Denis’ crew settle in at Reston’s flat to hear Leeks’ report about renewed activity by Fu Manchu in South America.  Leeks received a report from a local “Indio,” who shared news of a “god” who had arrived from the sky in a great show of fire (i.e. Fu’s escape capsule, re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere).  This god made an immediate impression on native tribesmen, who have lived in near-isolation in the Andes; he then walked among them and performed healing miracles (the “devil doctor,” thru various medications and potions).  The mighty newcomer recruited the people to build a fortress; some of the new followers also were trained as leopard-skin cultist warriors.  Leeks had reason to believe Fu’s warriors might’ve infiltrated his local MI-6 branch, which necessitated his in-person “info transfer.”  Tarr questions whether these might be little more than stories related by “superstitious natives,” which prompts Leeks to produce high-altitude aerial reconnaissance photos, and leads to a different reaction from Tarr, as the photos show “A bloody pagoda!” in the jungle.  As Leeks describes it, “He has created paradise from hellish jungle, installing himself as lord of a fortress styled after his beloved old China.”  Leeks also has reason to believe Fu has apprehended scientists from around the globe, and has them working at the jungle-pagoda on an unknown assignment.  The next problem is that the photos can only suggest Fu’s possible location within one hundred kilometers.  As the team re-enters Scottish airspace (in the helicopter Leiko had flown in, last issue), they are just in time to see Melissa Greville as she is forced off the road by a pursuing van.  Reston and Shang-Chi reach the ground (via rope ladder) in time to chase leopard-cultists away from Melissa.  S-C follows two cultists into a nearby mill, certain of a trap.  S-C dupes one assassin, who lunges toward S-C and plunges out the window onto the rocky ground below; S-C then grabs the windmill fan, whips himself around, and knocks out his remaining opponent.  Melissa tells Reston how upset she is at her helplessness in the face of peril; “I failed,” she cries, “I let them kidnap Sir Denis!” -Chris Blake
Chris: Doug Moench is no stranger to an issue that requires extensive exposition; in his auctorial experience, he’s learned how to keep these passages from becoming tedious.  One useful technique is to vary the speaker; not simply to change our view of the head speaking, but also to allow a different perspective.  Most often, Reston serves this role, as he clarifies Leeks’ straight-forward report, and speculates how and why Fu had taken various measures to boggle the natives’ minds and gain their willing servitude (Tarr chimes in, referring to Fu’s “bloody parlour tricks,” which contributes a bit of color – or “colour,” if you prefer).  On previous occasions, Moench has tuned readers in to Shang-Chi’s reflections on a subject as he learns of it, but this time, he is completely silent – we are not privy to a single moment’s word, or thought, from S-C as Leeks offers his report.  
The lengthy, detailed intel presentation also can be aided by the work of an imaginative artist.  Mike Zeck intercuts panels throughout, depicting various scenes from Fu’s empire-build in the jungle, as if to suggest the team is picturing these images as Leeks describes them.  Among the most effective are: the fire-from-on-high, as natives recoil before the astounding sight (p 11, last pnl); Fu’s silhouette, framed as he emerges from the fiery capsule (p 15, pnl 2); Fu in shadow, inspecting from above while his new warriors train, all practicing the same left-handed punch as a single unit (p 17, 1st pnl).

Mark: While I appreciate that Doug Moench has always done slow-burn set-ups on this title, often to fine effect, learning that Father Fu's spacecraft (last seen in ish #50) crashed to Earth amid a primitive tribe in a rain forest at the base of the Andes and thus sparked a Fu-centric cargo cult would have more impact if Fu's new Si-Fan assassin cult offshoot, the Leopard-boys, didn't look like escapees from gay Disneyland.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

At least Fu (not just Shang-Chi's old man - 'til daddy & the Rohmer estate takes the licensing deal away -  but one of the great villains of 20th-Century pulp) appears a couple times in silhouette and we do get good views of his hands, but at this rate it's doubtful he'll utter a word before the decade ends. Nor does S-C's sis, Fah Lo Suee, appear, her current allegiance yet to be untangled.   

Instead we get lots of Leopard-boy attacks, energetically rendered, Ms. Grenville realizing she's not cut out to be a field agent, and the not-terribly engaging Leeks recounting Fu's splashdown. And for some reason - I know it's the printers' fault - Clive has purple hair. 

The Zeck-Day art takes an upturn from the recent doldrums, so that's nice. 

This isn't a bad issue, but it's a bit of a meander. And, yes, class, impatience sparks my dissatisfaction, since the leisurely pace here means these hallowed halls of learning will pass into history while Doug's still clearing his throat.  

That's show-biz, kids.   

The Micronauts 11 
“We Are the Enigma Force!” Story by Bill Mantlo 
Art by Michael Golden and Al Milgrom
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Michael Golden

As the Body Banks burn, Baron Karza’s Galactic Command Center descends to the surface of Homeworld — Commander Arcturus Rann and Princess Mari are his helpless prisoners. With Arcturus and Mari floating behind him, Karza exits his craft and transforms into his centaurian form before the ragged rebel forces. The dark dictator laughs that his grand plan has finally fallen into place: he wanted to draw out the rebels all along as well as reveal the Shadow Priests as traitors to his evil empire. Prince Argon leaps forward and the armored horse-men engage in a fierce battle. But the Baron is much too powerful and Argon is ultimately brushed aside.

Suddenly, the Shadow Priests remove their cloaks and show themselves as Time Travelers: they combine with the Commander and make him the living embodiment of the Enigma Force. After breaching Karza’s impenetrable force field and forcing him to change back to human form, Rann begins to drain the villain’s strength. He then shouts that the Enigma Force represents everything that the Baron despises, the prayers and dreams of the Microverse for the past 1,000 years. Realizing he is defeated, Karza attempts one last desperate gambit: he vows to unleash a massive mindshock from the vast pit underneath the Body Banks and destroy Homeworld. But the plan backfires and his lifeforce is torn from his armor and hurtled into the bottomless pit — becoming the only victim of his own despicable mental attack.

Fresh from defeating Karza’s forces on Spartak, the Acroyear fleet fills the sky above. The armored warriors descend and rout the remaining and demoralized Dog Soldiers. The Enigma Force leaves Rann’s body and the Micronauts reunite victorious. 
-Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Hmmm. After ten issues of building drama and suspense, things conclude with a … well … I’m not quite sure. Why did the Baron’s mindshock backfire? Rann says “He was struck by another force, as mighty as ours, when he reached the peak of his power.” What does that mean? What force? I think that events are explained more clearly next issue but are a bit elusive here. However, the unfolding spectacle is tremendously impressive.

From the opening splash of Karza’s Command Center descending amidst a lightning storm to the arrival of the impressive Acroyear fleet on page 27, the art is just spectacular. Michael Golden and Al Milgrom have become an amazing team, though I’d guess that the main reason is the ultra-talented Golden. Just about every panel features some type of fantastic “special effect”: licking flames, energy bursts, searing explosions, psychedelic swirls, starry backgrounds and more. I might not have understood some of what I was reading but the visuals are stupendous. This issue might feature the most impressive artwork the series has offered so far — which is no faint praise. 

With only one issue left, this is the last the Marvel University campus will see of Baron Karza. Wait, I take that back: Karza appears in next month’s annual which offers three short stories set days before the events of The Micronauts #1. But he will ultimately return within the pages of this series, rising from the ashes in issue #26 (February 1981). He’s a great character and it would have been a shame if he remained dead and buried. After being seemingly blown to bits last issue, Bug is still among the missing. He’ll be back as well and eventually become the series’ breakout character. 

There’s a strange note on the title-free splash page: “Take our word for it —  when you find this issue’s title you’ll know it!” Now “We Are the Enigma Force” is featured on page 16 and given a headline treatment. So I assumed that was the ticket. But the very last panel features “… there will be peace at last,” which also gets a larger and special design. So maybe that’s it. But I guess it doesn’t matter above and beyond the fact that Mantlo or Milgrom felt the need to bring it to our attention.

Matthew:  The cover tag, “Saga’s End!,” is a tad premature, since it requires another issue to tie up the threads of this first major arc, but as climaxes go it’s a hell of a wingding that leaves me grasping for new accolades to bestow, with only Bug’s absence (not that I really believe he’s dead, mind you) detracting from my enjoyment.  Golgrom continues to deliver the goods, laying down panels that look like nothing else I’ve seen, and knocking it out of the park with, among other things, the Acroyear attack on page 27; shout-out to Carl for the groovy pink-and-blue hues making each page glow like a neon sign.  Bill not only depicts the hard-won defeat of Karza and liberation of Homeworld, but also clarifies the Enigma Force/Shadow Priest/Time-Traveler stuff.

Chris: Well – for awhile there, it’s as if we’ve wandered into an issue of Doctor Strange, when we start with Bill Mantlo’s notion of Arcturus Rann having been “born anew into the time stream” with each passing second of his thousand-year space voyage; then, we’re told he collects “the infinitude of individuals arising from that first man into a single collective whole” to manifest the Enigma Force (whew!).  Next, add manifestations of bristling power as depicted by Michael Golden on pages 22-23, and I can’t help wondering whether this battle is against Baron Karza for Microverse’s Homeworld, or if it might be in opposition to Baron Mordo on some far-flung dimensional plane (the panels are even oddly slanted on p 23,  à la Gene Colan).

The Micronauts might be stocked with time-proven characters and storylines, but it’s impossible to deny this title adds up to something greater than its basic elements.  A major aspect of Micronauts’ appeal is the action, which is fairly steady (especially in the three most recent issues, as we’ve returned to the Microverse), but also reliably purposeful, tending not to be empty, non-story-advancing “running around” for its own sake.  I’ve had a lot of supportive comments for Golden’s art, for good reason: he’s kept the story moving as he’s blended in plenty of excitement; he’s worked economically to keep us from ever bogging down; plus, he’s presented the characters and settings in a credible manner (i.e., in Golden’s illustrations, we can overlook the fact that all of these items are small plastic toys).  There are few illustrators working at Marvel around this time who could’ve produced these results as well as Golden has. 

 Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 36
"Enter: Swarm!
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Jim Mooney and Mike Esposito
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Pablo Marcos

Spider-Man swings onto the top of a pair of hoods' getaway car, and the police are willing to let him "show his stuff" (for once), which he obliges by peeling the roof "like the lid of a sardine can" and taking out the bad guys fairly easily, but Spidey is feeling a little ill, thinking it's the West Side pollution. Later, at Empire State U, secretary Debra Whitman stumbles about in a blonde moment, then introduces Peter Parker to Dr. Sloan's other teaching assistant, Steve Hopkins, a recent transfer to ESU. He has Peter meet another TA, Chip Martin, who's a bit jittery and worried about losing control, so we may want to keep an eye on good ol' Chip. We also meet Phillip Chang, for the first time since Amazing Spider-Man 185 [The White Dragon Chinatown gang stuff for those who have taken that class], and as Peter, Steve, and Phillip walk by Sloan's entomology lab, we get a peek behind the door, where Sloan is showing Marcy Kane his new experiment. His work revolves around a skeleton and cloak that once belonged to "expatriate Nazi" Fritz Von Meyer, who was assaulted by a swarm of irradiated bees that turned him into the "collective entity" Swarm, who fought the Champions (ish 14 & 16) and lost. But Sloan thinks he can use a possible trace of radioactivity on the skeleton to help control                   the bees and help mankind. Peter meets Curt Connors in the ESU cafeteria, and Curt asks the TA to set up his lab, then suddenly Marcy bursts in screaming—hundreds of bees are loose, attacking the students! Peter scurries off to change into Spidey, thinking something may be controlling the bees, and heads for Sloan's lab, where he finds the doctor under siege by the resurrected Swarm! Spidey spins a protective web cocoon and learns from Sloan that there was a dormant killer queen bee inside Von Meyer's skull who bred millions of bees instantly! Spidey gets Sloan to slip out the window and contact the FF or Henry Pym, then suddenly the bees eat through the webbing and, under Swarm's command, start viciously stinging our hero! –Joe Tura

Joe: Swarm? Haven't we had enough of B-list villains after Iguana and Mindworm? No wonder I stopped buying PPTSSM after the first 20 or so issues! At least I had good taste before I turned 13….In my 20s I bought every freakin' book there was, many for no good reason. This one I was glad not to have. Mantlo gives the names of the two hoods as Tony "Gloves" Alonzo and Terry "Motormouth" Doyle. What, no back story? Why bother giving them names? Should we care? Is this just "detailed writing"? Oh, I don't know….At least we finally realize what Sloan was up to, and it's a total snafu. His research brings back the deadly Swarm, who no Marvel fan was asking for. Sure, no one likes getting stung by a bee, but a bad dude made up of bees? Not for me, honey! This Spidey title is limping into 1980 on a wing and a prayer.

Favorite sound effect is a double-shot from page 10 as Spidey causes the runaway truck that "Gloves" is driving to head off a small bridge with a "WRAM!" and a "PLOOSH!" Just how our brain feels after reading the rest of this so-so time killer.

Chris: Spectacular Spider-Man retains its firm hold on third place among the Spidey titles.  The opening scene, as Spidey apprehends two would-be armed robbers, won’t make you forget an opening sequence from a Bond movie – any Bond movie.  The introductions with the T.A.’s take a looong time, as various staff feel the need to state various departmental positions to each other (“As senior teaching assistant, Marcy’s assigned to Dr Sloan,” speaketh Phillip Chang, apropos of nothing).  We also get a too-obvious look at Chip Martin, who has a Spidey-sense activating something-or-other.  Those are the first ten pages of the mag; no reason why this material couldn’t be addressed in less than half the time.  

Chris: We then get recaps of Champions #14-15 and PPSS-M #34, which means this month’s story doesn’t have a chance to get going until page 23, allowing us a mere four pages of activity involving Swarm.  Hey, why not open with Marcy’s panicked arrival in the cafeteria (p 22, last pnl), proceed with Swarm-based action, and fill in some the other details as we go?  Hmm -?  Mantlo’s been writing these stories for awhile now; surely, he’s learned by now how to use his time more efficiently, and how to introduce some excitement, without having to wander thru so much other business. 
Matthew: Given my fondness for both The Champions and killer-bug movies, I should be delighted that Espo and creator Mantlo are reunited here with Swarm, yet I’m dubious; it doesn’t help that his debut was penciled by John freakin’ Byrne, and not the merely competent Mooney.  He was never the most plausible super-villain in the first place, and his revival via overlooked and hyperactive queen stretches our credulity further, while despite this title’s avowed focus on Pete, the noodling around with ESU’s teaching staff (which has more than its share of secrets and/or colorful pasts) and bank robbers feels like filler to justify a two-parter.  That said, Spidey’s collegial relationship with the NYPD was a nice change.

Addendum:  I’ll never forget how, at the age of 15, I somehow conned my Mom’s cousin’s wife into taking me to see Irwin Allen’s The Swarm (1978), which she—and virtually everyone else—hated.  Must’ve been a persuasive little cuss.

 Spider-Woman 20
"Tangled Webs"
Story by Mark Gruenwald and Steven Grant
Art by Frank Springer and Mike Esposito
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Frank Springer and Frank Giacoia

Jessica reports for work at the Hatros Institute, and is informed there has been a “change in management,” necessitated by the disappearance of Adrienne Hatros (who, as Nekra, had battled Spider-Woman – and lost, badly – in #16); Jessica has been terminated, without severance or back pay.  Arriving home, Jessica finds an eviction notice.  Apparently, she had failed to renew her lease in a timely manner; she now has one week to locate a new residence.  The timing isn’t her primary concern; with little money saved, and no cash coming in, how will she pay for a new place?  Jessica changes to her Spider-Woman garb and glides to the Hatros Institute, lets herself in thru a window, and helps herself to $300 from the safe in the payroll office (roughly the sum she was owed as back pay).  Once home again, Jessica questions her actions – “Will it stop here,” she asks herself, “or is this my new way of making a living?”  She resolves to return the money.  Her second trip to Hatros that evening coincides with the arrival of two visitors from the Daily Globe, a reporter and a photographer, Peter Parker, who is here to take photos for use in a story about “pop psych clinics.”  

A Spidey-sense tingle encourages Peter to step out to investigate, as he leaves the reporter and a Hatros spokesman talking together.  Peter discovers Spider-Woman, and misinterprets her attention to the safe to be a robbery in process; in fact, S-W has just finished returning the pilfered cash to the safe, and was preparing to leave (that’s right fans – an honest-to-goodness MARMIS).  S-W zaps a venom blast and glides off; Peter changes to Spidey and swings after.  Spidey tries to nab S-W in a (block-wide) webbing net, and dodges a second blast, finally catching up with S-W on a rooftop.  S-W demands of him, “Who are you?  What is it you want from me?”  As he (incredulously) declares himself to be Spider-Man, S-W wonders to herself whether he might be connected with Wundagore (“Did they neglect to mention a male counterpart?”), or might possibly also have been trained by Hydra -?  Spidey gets to the point: he saw her cracking a safe.  S-W states Spidey wouldn’t understand the circumstances, to which he replies “Try me,” so S-W recounts Jessica’s recent trials.  Spidey relates to her situation, and states he’s “had enough grief … to last five lifetimes,” but he’s always kept going – Jessica can, too.  With that, Spidey abruptly remembers he’s supposed to be back at the Hatros office, says “gotta run,” and with that, the two spider-people go their separate ways, into the moonlit L.A. night, baby.  -Chris Blake
Chris: No, I’m not kidding – Spider-Woman supposedly never has seen or heard of Spider-Man.  Okay guys, I realize S-W has spent an appreciable part of her life in isolation – first at Wundagore, then in training with Hydra – but she’s been out in the world for more than a few months now, and has met SHIELD honchos, mystic mavens, urban werewolves, and orange-rock-skinned super-heroes.  Surely, she’s aware of other similarly-unique personages in the world.  I mean, Danny Rand and Moondragon both spent an appreciable period of their lives removed from Western society, and they’re not this clueless, are they?  The MARMIS and ensuing fight seem perfunctory, and there also is a lengthy recounting of Spider-Woman’s origin (as she pauses to wonder whether Spidey might also have a Wundagore connection) which feels like filler – I also omitted some unnecessary details from the fight, since they’d only bog down the synopsis – until we get Spidey’s pep-talk on the last page.  Instead, couldn’t we have had the two arachnid-derived heroes find common ground early on, and work together on some caper?  Rather than rely on a speech from Spidey, wouldn’t it have been of more value to S-W’s self-confidence for her to feel she’s contributed usefully to a crime-bust or villain-bash, alongside a hero-legend?  (I coulda been a editor.) 
I feel I did very well by Carmine Infantino, as I tried my very best to be supportive of his artistic take on this title.  That said, I’m ready for a change, even if it means Frank Springer; his depiction of Spider-Woman is solid (although admittedly less curvaceous than Infantino’s).  Curious moment, though, as we see the Hatros Institute has undergone not only a management change, but apparently a change of address.  In previous issues, the Institute was a free-standing structure, outside the center of L.A., but now it’s on the upper floor of a building “downtown.”  If there’s any reason for this difference, apparently it’s to allow Spidey to have buildings to swing from; although, as he observes, “these low buildings are ridiculous!  How does L.A. expect a Spider-Man to get around when there’s so little to connect a web to?”  So, ½ credit for this amusing little observation.  
Matthew: I’m sure there were those clamoring for a meeting of Spider-Folk (which, naturally, had to be a MARMIS rather than an alliance), yet I wasn’t among them, especially a fiasco like this for which Grant’s “co-scenario” credit does him no favors.  They drop last issue’s lycanthropic nonsense like a hot rock, which while no loss seems sloppy, and Gruenwald’s script—padded with flashbacks for the dubious benefit of unlucky Spidey readers who got suckered in—even cheats us of the big “You’re Spider-Person?  But I’m Spider-Person!” moment.  Asked to name Infantino’s three-issue successor, I’d have said “almost anybody”…if maybe not Springer, whose Esposito-inked aping of Carm’s style is at least consistent, I suppose.

 Star Wars 29
"Dark Encounter"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek

Darth Vader has extracted a name in his search for the rebel pilot who destroyed the Death Star. The man who might help Vader in his search is Tyler Lucian, a rebellion deserter  hiding on a backwater planet. He orders his Star Destroyer to proceed to the planet. The bounty hunter Valance has arrived ahead of Vader and gotten the name. He seeks out the hiding Lucian and chooses to protect him, to keep Vader from learning of Luke Skywalker, as Skywalker is a force for good who may make even cyborgs feel welcome in the galaxy. Vader arrives and he and Valance do battle, while the cowardly Lucian watches from a deserted resort tower situated above a lake of lava. The battle is short and Valance is killed. Lucian, affected by how Valance gave his life for the greater good, finds his own courage and leaps into the lava, protecting the identity of the hero of the rebellion. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: A nice, straightforward, uncomplicated action adventure tale. Valance is one of the best, most interesting characters to originate in the Marvel continuity. It’s a shame to lose him, but his arc is satisfying and complete. Still, he deserved a better fate and it would have been interesting to see him interact with the rebels. Darth Vader finally gets some real “screen time” as we ramp up to The Empire Strikes Back. His quest to learn the name of the pilot who destroyed the Death Star is a wonderful thread and something I would love to see the “non-saga” movies pick up. It’s funny how much more interesting this title is when they focus on original characters and not their versions of the movie cast, where they usually fall short. For example, the interlude with Threepio and Artoo is a chore, mostly because Threepio, while always a nag, was never this bad. Good stuff, if a bit simple.

Matthew: Well, with Nova euthanized and Springer having taken over Spider-Woman (for the nonce), we’re down to a single monthly dose of Carmine, which is a good thing by definition, and as Goodwinfantino issues of this title go—which is admittedly setting the bar at subterranean levels—the current opus is pretty good.  A fascinating lettercol even explains the tag-team efforts by Day and, here, Wiacek; since the U.K.’s Star Wars Weekly consumed the same material twice as fast, Marvel produced two or more issues per month, relying on multiple inkers to meet the British schedule and creating an enviable backlog.  I, for one, did not feel deprived by the brief appearance of our regular cast, but regret the apparent loss of two interesting original characters.

 The Mighty Thor 289
"Look Homeward, Asgardian!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Keith Pollard and Chic Stone
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Keith Pollard and Chic Stone

The Mighty Thor stands in shock, mouth agape, at the revelation that his father, Odin, is subservient to "The One Above All." Reacting in anger, Thor strikes out at the gigantic figure but, amazingly, just before connecting, he finds himself teleported to Olympia, home of the Eternals. Right behind him comes "Hero," who metamorphoses back into the Forgotten One! Zuras, leader of the Eternals, proclaims that Hero/FO is a traitor to his people and must be dealt with severely. Even though the thunder god had battled with Hero, he doesn't like Zuras' tone and, anyway, he's itchin' for a fight, so he raises his hammer and vows that Zuras will not touch a hair on FO's head. Before things can get really heated, Makkari tosses the mischievous Sprite in front of Zuras and explains that it's Sprite who's the traitor. Zuras commands FO and Sprite to be joined at the hip so that they'll keep each other in line. Just then, the sky is filled with Eternals and Zuras explains to Thor that he summoned these new arrivals in order to begin the ritual of the Uni-Mind, a process that will allow all on Olympia to become one "organic whole," the better to breach the space gods' vessel. Thor asks for twenty-four hours to find a better solution and, after Zuras agrees, he heads for the skies.

Meanwhile, Odin visits Olympus in order to convince Zeus that they should become pals and battle anyone who "would strive to save Midgard from death and destruction!" (say what? has the old man flipped his crown?) Back in Asgard, Karnilla still grieves over the comatose Balder but her pitiful wailings are interrupted by the Horn of Heimdall, a warning that Asgard is about to be attacked. The guards are called out to the Rainbow Bridge, where they find the Mighty Thor just landing. The warriors bar Thor's entrance to Asgard and the thunder god raises his hammer, and once again play time is interrupted. This time, the distraction is the beautiful Sif, who arrives with Destroyer in tow. When Sif tells Thor she cannot allow him to pass, he tosses her aside and plows his way through the guards. Destroyer becomes animated and joins the proceedings. Thor suddenly realizes (when he sees Sif lying still on the bridge) that he's actually battling his beloved. Knowing he could not harm Sif, he rolls with the punches until Destroyer picks him up and tosses him from the Bridge. Thor's body burns as it hits Earth's atmosphere and hurtles toward the Andes, coincidentally the current home of 3000-foot celestial Arishem, the being who will destroy Earth in fifty years time (well, it was fifty years when this arc started so maybe twenty now?). -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: This empty epic just keeps rolling along, hopefully laying the groundwork for a boffo finish sometime in the 1980s. I'm sure there's a great reason why Odin wants to see Earth destroyed and the old guy's intentions are just misunderstood but enough's enough. Who does Roy think he's foolin'? Eventually, we'll see the return of big, happy, Thor-lovin' Odin and all this will be for naught. Silly as it may sound, I enjoyed bits of the Omega the Unknown wrap-up over in The Defenders a lot more than this here saga. Yep, it's big and it's loud and it's energetic and it's got a high-falutin' agenda but if the damn thing's putting me to sleep, what's the use?

Chris: The Eternals/Celestials storyline continues to toddle along, with marginal progress.  It’s noble of Thor to speak in Hero’s defense (Thor responding to the nobility of his erstwhile opponent, while he also detects a kinship he shares with the outcast Eternal).  I must’ve been out of my mind to expect the Uni-Mind to be wired-up and ready to fire anytime this issue; at least the laborious nature of Uni-Mind assembly (numerous far-flung parts required) allows Thor a day to see if he can settle accounts with the Celestials without provoking them.  

It makes sense to confront Odin directly about the nature of his possible role with the Celestials – servant? colleague? collaborator -?  Odin’s proposed alliance with the Greek board of directors suggests no willing cooperation, past or present, with the sky-gods.  But, why is it so critically important to bar Thor from entry to Asgard?  Did we really need another Destroyer battle so soon?  And did the Destroyer have to be empowered once again by the spirit of a close ally (Balder, last time) or loved one (Sif, this time)?  Any Thor-scribe worth his salt (and Roy surely is) knows how to utilize Odin for long-range plotting, so hopefully clarity-enabling developments are in the works.  Roy gets the benefit of the doubt, but still, I’m not accustomed to a Thor storyline – even one admittedly as intricate as this one is proving to be – that still, at this late date, has so many open questions concerning its basic premise.  
Matthew:  For me, despite being consigned to the story’s final five pages, any appearance by the Destroyer automatically kicks things up a huge notch, not to mention inspiring an excellent, mercifully Eternal-free cover.  Although the impressive Pollard/Stone artwork—both inside and out—continues to provide a major compensation, I still find this interminable plotline a slog that needs every “Bam!” it can get, even by the standards of this mag’s many meandering, only sporadically successful quests.  Dragging in both Zeus and knockoff Zuras, Roy spreads himself so thin that there is insufficient room to check in this time with the supposedly dragon-bait Warriors Three; at least Sif and Heimdall are correctly identified as siblings, a frequent bugaboo.

 Thor Annual 8
"Thunder Over Troy!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Keith Pollard and Bob Layton

After battling (and defeating) Storm-Giants in Jotunheim, Thor and Loki step through a mysterious crevasse and discover a new land. Loki wanders off and a strange mist leaves the thunder god with a form of amnesia. Hearing a commotion, Thor heads into the woods where he finds a boar charging a youth. He slays the boar and accepts the gratitude of the young man, who introduces himself as Aeneas, son of Aphrodite. Aeneas explains to Thor that his people, the Trojans, are deep in a decade-long battle with the Argives (aka the Greeks). Once Aeneas sees the power of Thor, he begs him to join the battle. Thor is loath to take sides until he can regain his memory but a nasty battle between a Trojan warrior named Paris and an Argive brute who goes by the handle of Menelaus convinces his otherwise. Aphrodite, in spirit form, intercedes when it becomes apparent that Paris will be slain and this jogs Thor's memory. He joins the fray. This irritates Zeus, who watches the action from his palace, and the God heads to Troy to teach the upstart a few new tricks. When Zeus commands Thor to leave, the thunder god sniffs and tells his elder that he answers to no one, which pisses off the old guy so much that he transports Thor and himself to the nearby Mount Ida. While the battle rages between the Trojans and Argives, Thor and Zeus trade lightning bolts and profanities. At last, Zeus looks down on the exhausted Asgardian and asks why he fights on. Thor answers that if he gives up, Zeus will think Asgard is a pretty easy place to conquer. Zeus reveals that he and Odin long ago made a pact of peace and so they no longer have anything to fight over. Thor returns to Troy to say his farewell to Aeneas and heads to the forest to search for Loki. His brother is waiting for him but the god of mischief can't help letting on to Thor what he's been up to: talking the Greeks into creating a giant wooden horse. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: When I was a young lad, I tried to lose myself in funny books in order to forget the hell known as school. Professor Rascally seems to think kids wanted their superhero tales liberally spiced with the classics (who can forget the Avengers/Ozymandias cross-over?) and history. A tale of young Thor (which takes place sometime after Thor battles Hercules in Journey Into Mystery Annual #1), "Thunder Over Troy!" takes way too long to get interesting; blame it on my tiny brain but I couldn't care less about the Argives and the Trojans and the vast supporting cast. The art is splendid throughout but this one doesn't start cooking until Thor and Zeus have their misunderstanding. The dialogue, oaths ("By Kronos' bottomless maw!"), and captions are almost painfully dry (as maddened electrons wildly dance about both embattled forms they seem to make time itself to tread at a varying pace past the peaks of Mount Ida...) and the whole affair reminded me of homework for history class. Why does Thor consider Aeneas (careful about that pronunciation) to be some fabulous best bud after knowing him for approximately eight minutes? That final panel is a winner though; I'll give you that.

Matthew:  Whole lotta mixed feelings goin’ on here.  Let’s start, logically enough, with that Pollard/Layton cover, which looks perfectly fine, but when I read, “Thor vs. Zeus,” my first thought is, “Well, there’s a battle that should last about two panels, tops.”  And conveniently, “in the midst of the Trojan War!” segues nicely into Point #2.  I’ve certainly made no secret of the fact that the Bataan Death March—er, Celestials arc—is far from one of my favorites.  Yet I’m also leery of these “long ago and far away” stories (characteristic of, but by no means unique to, this strip) that are not strictly in continuity, notwithstanding Roy’s heroic footnoting of three Olympus-related annuals in this month’s issue, so this being an improvement was hardly a given.

For the record, I am neither a dullard nor reflexively antipathetic to Homeric epics; in fact, I rather like them, and am apparently more favorably disposed toward them than Roy is to the “crafty,” “scheming” Odysseus.  But I must second Buscema’s complaint (per Roy’s customary explanatory essay) that there are “too many characters” for a comic book, even an annual, so that after a certain point, I no longer knew or cared who was doing what to whom.  I’ll give Professor Tom a pleasant surprise by opining that DeZuniga was the perfect choice to ink Big John on these venerable literary/mythological figures, yet I’m far from disappointed that Roy’s promise to tell “the untold saga of Aeneas, and of the true founding of Rome,” in #9 went unfulfilled…

Chris: It should come as no surprise that Roy's delight in tales of adventure should extend far back, to one that dates to the origins of Western literature.  Thor’s insertion into the action is cleverly done, as he’s typically mistaken for Apollo.  It doesn't always work, though, and -- except for sticking up for Aeneas -- Thor's motivation for entering the fray isn't always clear, so these moments sometimes seem forced.  The story gains momentum and excitement once Thor clashes with Zeus.  It's an intriguing notion that the gods-battle could race by in a series of stormy instances, intense enough to somehow disrupt the flow of time, while months of war continue on the blood-soaked plains below the deity-fray (p 42). 

Buscema's layouts are visible beneath the DeZuniga finishes.  There's little to note about the appearance of the male characters, nearly all of whom appear to be variations on the same bearded, heavy-eyed, swarthy-complected warrior.  The female characters, for the most part, are better-handled, as both Cassandra (p 10, last pnl) and Athena (p 19, pnl 4) appear as if they 'd been finely-inked by Dick Giordano.  Helen don't look so bad herself (p 14, pnl 3).  Hey Helen – how you doin’ -?
There are noteworthy action-panels here and there: Thor frooms the storm-giants (p 2 pnl 3); Diomedes advances, only to have Thor shatter his sword along with his lance (p 26); Thor throws the combatants off their feet with a hammer-blow to the ground (p 30 1st pnl), then sets them all to whirling (p 31 last two panels).  The Thor vs Zeus title-fight fittingly brings out the best Buscema-DeZuniga art; p 39 might be the single best-looking of all, especially the visual of Zeus hammering Thor down into a pile of rocks (1st pnl).  Points also for the depiction of an exhausted thunderer, determined to fight on for the "honor of Asgard itself!" (p 43, lst pnl). 

 The Uncanny X-Men 127
"The Quality of Hatred!"
Story by John Byrne and Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by John Byrne and Terry Austin

Proteus is advancing on Storm and brutally attacks her. Wolverine is gripped in fear and can do nothing. Nightcrawler is about to sacrifice himself to save his friend when a sniper’s shot rings out, hitting the ground between them and driving Proteus back. It is Moira MacTaggert, separating the X-Men from her mutant son so she can put a bullet into him. Cyclops, however, ruins her shot to keep her from taking his life. Moira decks him, and a rock on the ground meeting his head does the rest. Proteus, still in the form of a possessed policeman, makes his escape. Moira goes after him. Later, the team has gathered. Banshee doles out the hot cocoa as Storm’s sprained shoulder is bandaged. Nightcrawler is back on his feet, but Wolverine is barely functioning. Cyclops knows how bad his teammate had it and picks a fight with him to snap him out of it. He works in Nightcrawler and Colossus and, as it escalates, Wolverine’s rage grows. By the time Storm gets involved, Cyclops ends it, calling it a “session in the Danger Room.” Wolverine, now back to his former self, finally admits his respect for Cyclops as a leader and a man.

As the team tries to track Proteus, the mutant discards his policeman body for that of a young woman, Jennie Banks, and drives her car into Edinburgh. Moira, however, arrives there ahead of him and sees her estranged husband, Parliament member Joe MacTaggert. She tells him that when they split, he left her not only in the hospital, but also pregnant. And that bitter, mutant son was coming to kill him. Joe throws her out and shortly thereafter, Proteus arrives and absorbs his father and is thrilled by the great strength. The X-Men arrive and attack, but before Phoenix can let loose, Proteus takes his leave, dragging Moira with him. Cyclops realizes Proteus must be stopped, no matter who or what the cost.
-Scott McIntyre

Scott: The only real consistent joy I get out of reading these Marvel books is all due to the X-Men. This fabulous arc is full of what makes this title great under the Byrne/Claremont team. The mega-powered villain, the pacing, the great art…but most of all, the characters are so rich. That interlude where Cyke tests his shaken teammates by combat is genius as well as entertaining. Best of all, Claremont is able to throw in more growth for Wolverine, who finally admits Cyclops is a good leader and a strong man. They will always fight, but now there’s respect. Jean’s powers continue to grow, shocking Cyclops when she effortlessly carries them all to Edinburgh. Joe MacTaggert is a right bastard and there is the hint that he abused Moira 20 years earlier. Before we can learn more, he’s possessed. That’s kind of a shame as we don’t get to spend much time with Joe. Fantastic arc, perfect art, lots of fun here.

Matthew: As with Micronauts, it’s getting tough to find new positive things to say, but I am tickled at the recurrence of a delightful effect from the concurrent annual, as Cyke’s blast neatly threads the needle of the “O” in “ZAKOW” in page 14, panel 5—that’s good comics, people.  We’re lucky to be closing our formal curriculum with Proteus, a great villain in so many ways:  he’s powerful enough to give the X-Men a run for their money, his body-snatching is truly creepy, his reality-skewing powers engender cool visuals, and his being Moira’s son increases the drama.  Highlights include the high-nutrition group shot in page 7, panel 2; Scott earning Logan’s long-overdue respect; the bird’s-eye-view of the Jean-levitated team in page 26, panel 3.

Chris: Scott grimly observes that – with the portable Cerebro failing to detect Proteus, and with Jean unable to locate him telepathically – the only way to trail Proteus is to follow “the bodies of his victims.”  Under these grisly circumstances, it would’ve been perfectly understandable for Chris & John to keep up the pace, and have the X-Men fire on all cylinders to locate the body-snatching threat.  So, instead, what do they do?  We have Scott’s impromptu Danger Room session, once he observes Wolverine’s badly shaken self.  It’s a brilliant segment, as Wolverine and Nightcrawler wonder what the hell might be going on (Nightcrawler is so unsettled, he fears Proteus might’ve taken possession of Scott!), while Scott – as he methodically manages the fight – seems to be genuinely enjoying the chaos he’s causing.   All concerned have a chance to reconnect with their fighting skills, Wolverine develops a new appreciation for Scott, and everyone – for a few minutes – has to chance to stop thinking about the horrible force they’re contending against.  

Could Scott also be using this exercise to avoid thinking about his feelings for Jean?  Could be.  Jean asks Scott if he’s feeling better after his knock on the head, and he replies, then moves on to how badly the team fared in their first meeting with Proteus.  Scott clues Jean in to his plan to shake his teammates back into fighting-shape, but this seems more of a strategic move (“She’s my ace-in-the-hole, if things go wrong,” Scott reflects as he caroms an optic blast off Colossus, catching Wolverine in the back) than a shared confidence with a woman he has loved.
The death of unsuspecting Jennie Banks always gets me (p 16).  Claremont describes Proteus acting without malice, stealing bodies as a means of survival.  But, reading it now, the sequence reads almost like something from Tomb of Dracula; poor Jennie has a terrible second to recognize what’s about to happen – “OH! No – please, no!” – which of course makes it worse.  The carelessness with which Proteus sheds a burned-out body, discarding it “as easily as an overcoat,” seals our appreciation for him as an inhuman predator.  All that’s missing is Dracula’s thrill for the kill.
Every page has art highlights; where to begin?  Storm, appearing to be chased by globs of mud (p 2, pnl 3), then lying on the dirt as Proteus approaches, on a plane turned 90 degrees relative to her position ( pnl 4); Jean’s graceful form, effortlessly in flight, as she spies Nightcrawler waving in the distance, the forms of the others visible nearby (p 7, 1st pnl); closeup of Wolverine as he bares the claws – snikt (p 10, pnl 5); Nichtcrawler materializing directly above Cyclops, which leaves him open to an optic blast (p 14); confusion on Ororo’s face as Scott reveals the ruse (p 15, pnl 2), followed by Wolverine resting a hand on Cyclops’ shoulder (pnl 3); Proteus, inhabiting the former Jennie, peering from behind a phone box, observing Moira as she weeps in fury, her forearm covering her face (p 19, last pnl); Phoenix takes off, with five X-Men in tow (p 23, 1st pnl); the sight of the street below, seen from Scott’s POV as he follows Sean’s finger, indicating two tiny figures visible in the Protean “light show” (p 26, pnl 4); Proteus reduces Cyke’s optic blast to blossoms (p 27, pnl 5).  
Polaris has one line of dialog, as she helps cinch up Ororo’s sprained shoulder; Havok doesn’t say a single word.  Ya know, I’d like to see two of the most powerful X-ers in the mix next time.  Aside from that, I guess I can safely say – I have no complaints.  

Mark: More X-cellence from the Professor Matthew-dubbed Dream Team, so my biggest complaint is that this is the next-to-final installment your humble facility will have the opportunity to elucidate upon before we all gotta get out of the tree house and help shutter MU's hallowed halls forever.

Ah, covered parking space by the co-ed lounge, I hardly knew ye...

But it's too soon to get misty just yet, so I'd better get my contractually-required carping out of the way, slight though it may be here. Logan is the wrong candidate to be left quakin' in his hot cocoa (p.7), post-Proteus. Yes, even calling Wolverine "Logan" betrays a post-'79 mindset, but ever since his debut in Hulk #181 he's been a feral ball of fury, one certainly less likely to succumb to post-combat heebie-jeebies than the beside-him-in-the-foxhole Nightcrawler. Claremont/Byrne sacrifice logic here so Cyke can provoke a fight with Wolfie and, having tut-tutted the underlying premise, we can now kick back and enjoy the fun, frenetic outdoor Danger Room session, 'cause not everything needs to advance the plot. 

There's plenty of that as we meet Moira's despicable hubby, a rising politician and apparent wife-beater, and don't shed any tears when sonny boy psychic-vamp Proteus shows up to feast on Pop (ah, but poor lass, Jennie Banks...). As the now-late Joe MacTaggert was a strapping ex-Royal Marine Commando, Protie's now even more powerful. Said powers - beyond his mutant gift for hostile takeovers - remain poorly defined, his characterization thimble-deep, but he's such a nasty piece of work that he can't help growing on ya. Just keep him out of his cut-rate Psycho Man duds.

The art's the now-expected gourmet eye candy, the pace pulse-pounding, we end with a classic son-threatening-to-snap-mom's neck cliffhanger.

Matthew:  Having now re-read #128, I think it makes Wolverine’s funk a bit more clear and thus defensible.  He’s a being who relies first and foremost on his senses, and since Proteus’s power makes those senses unreliable, he affects Logan in a uniquely disturbing way.  Fair

X-Men Annual 3
"A Fire in the Sky!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by George Pérez and Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Frank Miller and Terry Austin

Arkon the Magnificent materializes in NYC and proceeds to Avengers Mansion looking for Thor. Since the Thunder God is off on his own private mission, Arkon, acting on the advice of his Grand Vizier, looks for someone else to help in his cause.

Meanwhile, at the Xavier School, the X-Men are drilling in the Danger Room. When Storm is trapped, she panics and lashes out. Shrapnel hits the controls and the room goes wild. Finally, it's all brought under control, but Storm knows she almost killed everyone. She seeks solace in her plants and while she tends to them, Arkon arrives and tells her she is to come with him. She resists and his attack brings on the others. Arkon is defeated, but not before sending Storm away. Using his teleportation bolts, the X-Men go to Arkon’s kingdom, with him as their prisoner. When they arrive, Arkon shouts attack orders and another fight ensues. Under orders from Cyclops, Nightcrawler tries to find Storm, following the Vizier to where she is. Storm is apparently quite willing to help even if it costs her life. Nightcrawler covers Storm’s head in a tapestry, which makes her lash out. Per Nightcrawler’s plan, the lightning she released draws the others and they finally get the full story: the energy rings around the planet, which act as their sun, were depleting some time ago. Tony Stark provided them a device for restoring the rings, but it’s on the fritz, and they are not long for death. Arkon hoped Thor would be able to help, but he was off on his own journey so Storm was the next possible choice. She can save them, but the effort will probably kill her. Cyclops hatches a plan: Storm summons the lightning, while Wolverine and Nightcrawler repair the machine. Then they feed the energy into Cyclops, who uses his optic blasts to restore the rings. The plan works, Arkon’s people are saved and the X-Men return home with the thanks and the loyalty of Arkon and his people. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: I hate annuals. They are bloated, almost never done by the regular creative team, and need to be squeezed into the continuity, such as this one, which is noted to fall between issues 124 and 125. Since those issues passed with nary a mention of the incidents of this story, it is generally pointless. It’s not unenjoyable, it’s just a waste of time. The X-Men meet Arkon and, really who cares? He starts off belligerent because “it’s not our way to ask for help,” which means pointless fighting. The Danger Room sequence goes on forever and doesn’t really have an  impact on the story. Georg Pérez’s art is quite nice, but this is a perfect example of how much John Byrne brought to the plotting: it doesn’t feel like it fits in the current X-Men continuity. There are no real personal stakes. It’s just go to the barbarian’s world and save it. Oh, and spend a dozen pages fighting people who aren’t your enemy. On the plus side, at least the panels are large and it’s an easy read. It just didn’t deserve the additional pages. Annuals…ugh, did people really like them? I rarely did.

Matthew:  Reading this for the first time thanks to Dean Pete, I had neither nostalgia nor preconceptions, other than reservations about Arkon; these guys who desperately need our hero’s help, but are too hasty/proud/warlike/whatever to ask, always annoy me.  Chris beefs up a fairly simple plot with enough interesting stuff to justify the length without its feeling padded (seeking Storm as a Thor-substitute is logical), and I’ll never complain about Pérez art, especially since he excels at team books, with regulars Terry, Orz, and Glynis ensuring a consistent look.  Felicities:  the Byrne’s Drafting Equipment/Hembeck Deliveries sight gags; the “VORP” sound effect with Cyke’s optic blast going directly through the “O”; Peter’s understated “It looks very dangerous.”

Chris: Annuals can be a mixed bag.  Some annuals are little more than a big fill-in, while others can offer a story that transcends the title’s typical output.  In the case of the X-Men, it would be impossible to expect an installment superior to the now-expected unbeatable standard of Claremont/Byrne/Austin/Orz/Wein –wouldn’t it?  Our story in this installment is on-par with a monthly Claremont/Byrne chapter; but there’s no way to top Byrne/Austin/Wein, right?  Well, I’m not about to blaspheme and tell you the art is better, but I gotta tell ya: in the hands of Pérez/Austin, it’s pretty flabbergastingly incredible.  Page after page, the art gives me a sense of “incredible,” in line with the term’s meaning as “defying belief.”  

In their combination of pure high-octane action and shadowy atmosphere, Pérez’s pencils rival his best work from the Avengers’ battle with Tyrak the Treacherous in #154, and from the Fantastic Four’s tangle with the Eliminator at Whisper Hill in #184.  Did anyone look at this art, stop and rub their eyes, and think, “Wow – Pérez & Austin should be the next Avengers team; it’d be legendary!”  In fact, Pérez’s final Bronze age assignment will be back with the Avengers, for eight issues between #194-202; so, do you think Terry Austin inked any of those issues?  Why, no.  Anyway, by the time Austin left X-Men, Pérez already was full-time penciller for New Teen Titans at DC, so I guess it wasn’t meant to be.  Enjoy this issue for the truly unique art-pairing it offers.  
The plot takes a back seat to the scene-splintering action, but since it’s Claremont, there’s a damn fine, swiftly-proceeding story.  Cyclops is comfortably, capably in charge for nearly the entire time, first as he offers instruction during the Danger Room sequence (p 6-15), and later when he recognizes a clear angle to send a pin-point beam to trigger the kill switch after all-heck has broken loose.  Cyke recognizes Arkon, provides some direction during the poolside battle (p 18-26), and keeps negotiations under control as he arrives at a solution to locate the seemingly-dematerialized Ororo.  Cleverly understated moment as Cyclops and Colossus approach on the dragon’s back, Storm’s lightning-fed tempest atop the temple dead ahead; Colossus observes, “It looks very dangerous. What should we do?” to which Cyclops replies, “Land.”  (p 37, last pnl).
It’s a refreshing change to see Wolverine working more comfortably with his team leader.  Wolverine helps Cyclops to his feet after the Danger Room debacle (p 15), then takes his cues from Cyclops as he has Arkon under claw-threat (p 26), and later asks after the welfare of his “boss” as he notices Cyclops’ optic blasts losing their potency (p 37).  Once the “device” that maintains the “life-giving energy rings” is fully prepared, Wolverine’s call, “Cyke – let 'er rip!” adds some nice spice to the climax.  
Ororo appears prepared to forfeit her life in order to save the light of Polemachus (p 35-38).  It seems odd she’s taking her self-sacrifice so serenely; what is it about this warlike place that inspires her to give completely of herself?   She doesn’t seem compelled to do this; is she simply behaving as a hero?  Either way, Ororo’s motivation isn’t clear.  Not a huge deal, simply a question I’m posing for our author.
Art highlights; where to begin?  Well, on the very first page, Terry Austin’s hand is apparent in numerous minute touches at the newsstand, such as one paper’s headline of “Escaped Abel Sight—,” while I think we can credit Pérez with the more prominently-displayed Bugle header (visible in bottom-right corner of p 2), which ties in with the Avengers’ battle with the Absorbing Man (Av #182-183); Marvel continuity!  These are tiny-little touches; let’s move on to splashier stuff: Storm pinned in place by two Danger Room fans (p 8), freeing herself with a chaos-inducing lightning strike (p 10, 1st pnl); Arkon spills headfirst thru the ceiling and into the living room (p 18, pnl 3); Wolverine slashes Arkon’s once-mighty shield to jagged bits with his left claws, while his right hand is primed and ready to strike (p 22, pnl 4); Colossus broadsides Arkon with a mighty oak (p 25, 1st pnl; I’m guessing – I don’t know what sort of tree it might be, but it looks oaky); the X-ers arrive at Polemachus palace, complete with Gothic ceiling, impressive statuary, and plenty of heavily-armed guards (a full-page p 27); the intrepid team dives headlong into the fray, as they face-off against no fewer than twenty-three soldiers (long panel on 30-31; it’s hard to be sure exactly how many warriors are crammed in there!); Colossus arrives on dragon-back, and flies off so suddenly that Wolverine has no choice but to grab a scaly leg and hang on (p 37).  
Yes, there are Big Moments by the dozens, but I would be remiss to overlook a few quieter spots: Ororo, communing silently with her plants, as Arkon looks in from the skylight (p 17, pnl 3); Nightcrawler, only his eyes and the end of his tail visible, stalks after the fleeing Vizier (p 31, last pnl); the Vizier somberly dreads the prospect of perpetual night on his world (p 34, pnl 3), as he approaches a temple, which appears hewn from the very stone (last pnl); we share Nightcrawler’s astonishment in a jaw-dropping look at Ororo, attired for the imminent ceremony (p 35, a page-length vertical panel).

Also This Month

Crazy #56
Fun and Games #3
Marvel Super-Heroes #93
Marvel Super Action #14
Marvel Tales #109
Marvel Treasury Edition #24 >
Spidey Super Stories #43

 In “Welcome to the Hotel Macedonia,” the new six-pager that tops off Marvel Treasury Edition #24, Hercules saves a woman from a speeding truck in Times Square, yet upon escorting her home, he discovers that she and the titular inn are but facades for, respectively, Hippolyta and “one of the touchstones of immortal Olympus on this mortal Earth.”  Armed with the Gauntlets of Ares, the Amazon queen seeks to destroy him for spurning her years ago; when a pillar toppled in the fight threatens her, their combined might is required to cast it aside, and they call it a draw.  Mary Jo Duffy’s script correctly refers to Herc as a demi-god, while the art by Ricardo Villamonte, who inked much of her long run on Power Man and Iron Fist, includes a lavish montage of the battle. -Matthew Bradley


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 46
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“Moon of Blood”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by Ernie Colon and Tony DeZuniga

“The Savage Swordbooks of Conan” 
Text by Fred Blosser

“This Sword for Hire”
Script by Don Glut
Art by Hal Santiago

“Swords and Scrolls”

An awesome and rather accurate cover by Earl Norem masks what is a rather bland issue. Things kick off with the 46-page “Moon of Blood,” which The Rascally One adapts from the L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter short story first published in the 1978 Bantam Books paperback Conan the Swordsman. Following the events detailed in the excellent two-parter “Beyond the Black River” (Savage Sword #26 and #27), it finds Conan still employed as a mercenary in the Aquilonian army of King Numedides, serving as a captain under the command of General Lucian in the frontier regions that abut the rampaging Pict nations. 

Conan regrets his current employment: not only is the new Pict sorcerer, the wild-eyed Sagayetha, attempting to unite the feuding tribes, Lucian seems to place his men in dangerous situations. Out on another nervous reconnaissance — with Flavius, the only soldier he trusts, close by his side — the Cimmerian’s patrol is attacked by thousands of relentless savages as well as a slithering horde of venomous snakes under the control  of Sagayetha. Half his men are wiped out: the others flee for their lives. With all the stealth they can muster, Conan and Flavius follow the celebrating Picts back to their Council Rock and witness a shocking sight: Captain Arno, the General’s right-hand man, strides into the raucous campsite. It seems that Lucian has made a bargain with Sagayetha: for a huge chest full of gold and silver, he has promised the Picts the region of Schohira. That is why Lucian has been leading his soldiers astray.

Conan and Flavius rush back to the fort at Velitrium and tell a few other trusted mercenaries the shocking story. Afterwards, they head to Thunder River, the logical place that Arno will use to sail the treasure back to camp under the cover of night. When the corrupt captain’s boat hits shore, the Cimmerian and crew strike — while some of the traitors manage to row away, Arno is captured and quickly confesses. The next morning, the barbarian marches to Lucien’s cabin and confronts the general: but he makes his escape on the fastest horse in the region.

The Cimmerian takes command of the garrison and rallies the men for the Pict assault on Schohira. He orders the soldiers to line a hill overlooking South Creek, the savages’ logical crossing point. Conan’s intuitions prove correct and a third of the Pict forces are slaughtered. But the Cimmerian realizes that they are still hopelessly outnumbered — and the soldiers remain deathly afraid of Sagayetha’s deadly serpents. So when darkness falls, he steals through the forest to the wizard’s hut: while he manages to behead the mad mystic, he is bitten by one of his deadly vipers. Feeling the effects of the powerful poison, Conan makes it back to the creek at daybreak, Sagayetha’s head dangling in his right hand. Placing the head on the end of a pike, the barbarian mounts a horse and leads one last charge — but the venom takes its toll and he falls unconscious.

When Conan awakes — under the care of a doctor — he finds that not only were his soldiers victorious, King Numedides has given him the rank of general.

Not a bad tale, but at 46 pages it seems drawn out way too much. It doesn’t hold a candle to the aforementioned “Beyond the Black River,” but I loves me some Picts and Conan stalking through thick forests is always a refreshing change of pace. And you must admire how much he gives a damn: remember, he’s just a sword-for-hire, but he puts his life on the line for his men on a few occasions. Now Conan and Flavius are forced to hide in a fetid beaver pond to spy on the Picts: that’s a very effective sequence as they are assaulted by leeches and in constant danger by all the water serpents slithering by. And there’s a bit of a detective/mystery angle at work, as the mighty Cimmerian puts one and one together to ferret out the traitors. It was a bit of a surprise that General Lucian gets off scot-free. Some of the men urge Conan to give chase, but the barbarian was too impressed by his mount to bother. Besides, the safety of the Schohira settlers was of utmost importance. Ernie Colon — who I have encountered in a few Super Special
 magazines — does a more than adequate job with the pencils. Of course, Savage Sword vet DeZuniga makes sure that the art is consistent with the quality we have come to expect from this magazine.

Now the 8-page backup, “This Sword for Hire,” is a complete lark, something more fitted for an early '70s anthology title like Monsters on the Loose in the Tower of Shadows
. The beautiful Kamala has been beguiling the patrons of a Numalian tavern with her exotic dances for the past three nights. But suddenly, the floating face of a magician appears and vows that the curvaceous dancer will make a fine slave  — he transports her away in a flash of energy. Crestfallen, the lustful citizens pool their resource and offer Atola of Aesgaard, a mercenary warrior new to town, a fortune of gold and jewelry to rescue the maiden. With the eager townsfolk following behind, Atola hunts down the wizard, who transforms into a horrifying dragon. But the Aesgaardian manages to land a death blow: as he does, the witnesses suddenly freeze, eyes unblinking and blank. When they regain their senses, they discover that Atola, the magician and the sorcerer have vanished, along with their rich payment. It was all a con job, as the three conspirators laugh over their newfound treasure leagues away.

Oh boy. Not much to recommend here. Don Glut — Mr. Solomon Kane — delivers another subpar backup. This is the first time I’ve encounter Hal Santiago, but supposedly he wears the crown of “Philippines’ Greatest Comic Illustrator.” Really? Have they never heard of Alfredo Alcala? The art isn’t bad just completely unmemorable.

Things wrap up with a Fred Blosser article, “The Savage Swordbooks of Conan.” During this time, Ace Books published a pair of paperback samplers — The Howard Collector
 and The Blade of Conan — that showcased the best unpublished Robert E. Howard stories and literary criticism found in Amra and The Howard Collector, two semi-professional fanzines I’ve mentioned before.  The always reliable Blosser seemed much more excited by the Collector book but deems both worthwhile purchases.

-Tom Flynn

Marvel Preview 19: King Kull
Cover Art by Bob Larkin

“Riders Beyond the Sunrise”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by Sal Buscema and Tony DeZuniga

“Tiger of Atlantis: A Comics Chronology of the Violent Career of King Kull of Valusia From the Thurian Chronicles, As Interpreted by Marvel Comics”
Text by Jim Neal

“Kull II”
Art by Marie and John Severin
“The Footfalls Within”
Script by Don Glut

Art by Will Meugniot and Steve Gan

Now, Marvel Preview is the province of Professor Joe, but when I heard that issue #19 spotlighted characters created by Robert E. Howard, I felt that the chair of the Hyborian wing should step in. So, in the spirit of academia, I challenged my colleague to a debate, the winner securing the rights to the magazine. The topic? Why the dirty Minnesota Vikings will never win the Super Bowl. Joe rolled his eyes, tossed me the issue and went back to his eBay search for the ultra-rare complete series boxed set of his all-time favorite TV show, the Matt LeBlanc vehicle, Joey.

In hindsight, I should have kept my big mouth shut. The King Kull comics have always been a chore. Which might be considered a surprise since the character shares a lot of similarities with my man Conan. They are both barbarians, kick ass when needed and wore crowns during their lifetime. But the similarities end there. While he often is, Conan will never be mistaken for the smartest guy in the room. But he always keeps his cool in even the most dire situation. Kull, on the other hand, makes rash decisions and is easily duped. And “Riders Beyond the Sunrise” is the perfect example. It looks like it’s based on a story fragment by Robert E. Howard — The Rascally One, with the assist of Lin Carter, fleshed things out.

The 33-page story opens up with a familiar scene: Kull sitting impatiently on the throne of Valusia as Tu, his royal counselor, regales him with the latest political scandal. It seems that Countess Lala-Ah has run away with the lowborn Fenar the Farsunian, even though she is betrothed to the nobleman Ka-Yanna. Tu warns the bored king that this scandal threatens the Valusian tradition of forbidding a union between commoners and the higher caste. When the  counselor adds that Fenar has vowed to return to Valusia and fart in Kull’s face or some other nonsense, the barbarian suddenly snaps into action and vows bloody revenge for the indignity. He gathers Brule and 300 Red Slayers and chases Fenar and Lala-Ah to and fro, finally tracking them to the cursed land known as the World’s End. Cut off from his men, Kull is shocked — as usual — to see that Fenar is actually his mortal enemy Thulsa Doom: Lala-Ah was simply a mist-phantom. Things look bleak as Doom’s flaming sword saps the king’s strength with every blow. But, using a fencing trick, the Atlantean manages to disarm his enemy and kills the sorcerer with his own magical blade.

See what I mean? Obviously my synopsis is truncated, but there are multiple warning signs throughout the story that should tip Kull off that all is not what it seems to be. Halfway through, he actually manages to corner his prey in a hotel room: but they make their escape by jumping from a second-floor window and racing away laughing, no mean feat for a dainty damsel. Plus, numerous characters warn the king and his men that no one ever returns from the World’s End. Even without Thulsa Doom being featured and namechecked on the cover, any reader would realize that the sorcerer was involved. But Kull? Nah, he just barrels along like a thickheaded dolt. Now Mr. Doom was supposedly killed in Kull the Conqueror
 #29 (October 1978), the final issue of the series, but the skull-faced wizard himself states that “I died, as men know death, long ago — and naught that lives can die twice!” Not sure what that means but it sounds impressive. Oh, and once again, numerous pages are used to retell Kull’s dull origin — this was done just about every other issue in his cancelled color comic. Sal Buscema and Tony DeZuniga, who have teamed up before in the pages of Savage Sword, do a fine job on the art chores. Not sure that there is an actual highlight, but the black-and-white illustrations are solidly consistent throughout.

We also have the 12-page “The Footfalls Within,” a Solomon Kane yarn based on the Howard story first published in the September 1931 issue of Weird Tales. This one follows up “The Hills of the Dead” (Kull and the Barbarians, July 1975) as Kane is still wandering Africa, carrying the mystical Staff of Solomon given to him by the shaman N’Longa. He soon comes across Arab slave traders and is shocked by the brutal treatment they give their native captives — in a rage, the Puritan attacks but is quickly overcome and imprisoned himself. The slavers’ leader, Sheikh Hassim Ben Said, tosses away the staff but it is quickly recovered by Yussef of Hadji who realizes its power and importance. Later on, the caravan comes across a strange mausoleum. Sheikh Hassim, thinking it stores riches, orders the doors to be chopped open, unleashing a hideous, oozing mass of tentacles and flesh-eating gelatin. The sheik and a few other men are absorbed quickly as the rest of the Arabs flee. Kane breaks his bonds and retrieves the staff, using it to first subdue then push the creature back into its prison. Solomon then berates the slaves, telling them to, as Pete Garret of the late, lamented Midnight Oil sang, die on their feet instead of living on their knees.

“The Footfalls Within” includes a ton of talk about Solomon and his staff, which I completely left out for the sake of brevity: I assume that Professor Gilbert will delve into all that stuff with gusto. The Will Meugniot and Steve Gan art is a step down from the work of the usual Solomon Kane artist, David Wenzel, which is obviously problematic. It seems that Meugniot tried to ape Wenzel’s usually weak and awkward style. I actually thought it was Dave until I double checked the credits. Kane was a bit of a dick to the slaves at the end, chastising them for being, um, slaves — he glosses over the fact the vicious Arabs were armed to the teeth with firearms and scimitars. I’m sure Gilbert will have kind words to say, but this is another blah Solomon Kane tale. Luckily, it’s the last I’ll have to cover — that goes for King Kull as well. By Crom, they had to wait until November 1979?

Marvel Preview 19 also includes a pair of backup features. “Kull II” is a portfolio of eight pinups by the brother/sister team of Marie and John Severin. John illustrates five of them, while he inks Marie on the rest. They are all nicely done and filled with drama. But what’s with the “II?” Can’t remember ever seeing “King Kull I.” 

Lastly, Jim Neal, who supplied the outstanding “A Chronology of the Conan Comics: From the Nemedian Chronicles as Interpreted by Marvel” for Marvel Super Special 9 (February 1979), gives Kull the same treatment with “Tiger of Atlantis: A Comics Chronology of the Violent Career of King Kull of Valusia From the Thurian Chronicles, As Interpreted by Marvel Comics.” Whew! Here, he arranges every Marvel appearance of the character in chronological order, commenting on the stories included in Monsters on the ProwlCreatures on the LooseKull the ConquerorKull the Destroyer, and Conan the Barbarian as well as the magazines The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian and Kull and the Barbarians. Oddly enough he doesn’t include the very magazine that this article appeared in — time constraints? — but it’s a very good work of comic book scholarship. -Tom Flynn

A taste of things
never to come.
It makes sense that Prof. Tom would take the lead horse on this one, because the story makes little to no sense to me! Roy tries to make the main tale easy to follow for non-Kull Kids [I'm thinking that was the fan club name], complete with quick retelling of the Destroyer's life up until "now," but this Spidey Squad member still has only an inkling of what he just read. That said, the My Pal Sal – DeZuniga art was better than expected, and in B&W, Buscema the Younger's art looks a little more like his older sibling's scribblings. It does appear Kull is an impulsive ruler, and certainly loves a good donnybrook. His ramblings, as well as the narration, are dense with dramatic bravado that reads like a novel (which of course is the point). The goings-on echo Homer's The Odyssey, only without Cyclops or suitors, instead doing the road trip thing. Could also be a nod to Stephen King's "Dark Tower" magnum opus (which had just kicked off the year before), with the "gunslinger" Kull chasing the "man in black," aka Felnar, who's a little ahead of him and in the shadows. Even the revelation that Felnar is actually Prof. Tom's villain crush Thulsa Doom reminds me of King's Randall Flagg, man of many names and of supernatural evil. All in all, the last third brings us to a rousing finish that redeems the slow pace of the build-up. Just don't quiz me on what I just read…

The Solomon Kane story is more of the same, yet more original because it looks like halfway through we have a different art team and a different letterer. What gives? Is it my half-asleep eyes and brain? Is it a two-parter smooshed into the back of a Kull Marvel Preview? Is it up to Professor Gilbert to set me straight and smack with me a ju-ju staff? The Faculty Lounge would be buzzing! – Joe Tura

Originally, it was announced (in The Comic Reader #171, and that ad above from MP #19) that MP #20 would be a "special photo-album which will include photos of the Japanese Spider-Man TV-show." Obviously, something went haywire (rights issues?) because #20 actually was an all-reprint issue featuring two stories starring Howard Chaykin's Dominic Fortune and a couple of standalone stories by Marv Wolfman and Tony Isabella. The Japanese-Spidey issue was never rescheduled.
-Peter Enfantino


  1. Did you know that Motörhead wrote a song about Hellrazor? Supposedly they also did an unreleased tune about Water Wizard.

  2. So, the Hellrazor song was worth release, but the Water Wizard song was not? Did Lemmy write any songs about Stilt-Man -?

  3. After reading now fellow profs, glad I couldn't find time to read Mar-vel in Marvel Premier...

    A Motorhead Stilt-Man song? If only...

  4. "A Motorhead Stilt-Man song? If only..."

    ZZ Top did one, but changed the gender at the last moment.

    She's got legs, and knows how to use 'em....