Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #2:

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:

Closing the Book on Captain Marvel
by Professor Matthew Bradley

Marvel Spotlight 4 (January 1980)
Captain Marvel in
"Shadow Doom!"
Story by Archie Goodwin and Marv Wolfman
Art by Steve Ditko
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Steve Ditko

Denver scientist Lyman Shaw is killed by his own shadow before breaking “a big discovery” to a local reporter; the cause appears to be a coronary but Mar-Vell senses “the otherworldly” and visits his home, the former Harlow mansion, where he too is attacked by his shadow.  A photon burst saves his life, yet when the shadowy figure pulls him in the doorway, he becomes humanoid, and Marv finds himself not in Harlow House but in another dimension.  Hiding the Kree from a patrol of shadowy Screamers, Primus brings Mar-Vell to his people, who hail him as “avenger of the faith” for finding a champion to help them overthrow the Soul Masters, and is greeted by his wife, Stara, before finally giving an agreed-upon explanation.

After his father, the “last of the old warriors,” was killed by the living shadow, their dimension was “absorbed into that of the Soul Masters,” who draw power by draining souls and made them into “slave reserves.”  Just before the attack, Primus learned that Shaw, attempting interstellar contact, had also pierced the dimensional fabric with ultra-high frequencies, so the chief scientist bargained for his people’s lives and souls.  Since the Soul Masters—unable to leave their own dimension—can send Screamers and shadows to Earth via Shaw’s sonic waves, Primus agreed to strengthen and broaden the wave bands, with Harlow House as a base for their conquest, while secretly recruiting Marv…who, alas, can never return, his soul having been stolen in the process.

With his military training and secretly manufactured weapons, an attack force leaves Stara, “the most experienced monitor,” on duty, but the Screamers take her from the monitoring chamber to the citadel of the Soul Masters, whose mind scan extracts the plan.  Sans the element of surprise, the attackers are wiped out in stopping the Screamers, leaving only Mar-Vell and Primus to enter the citadel and find Stara dying, her soul stolen.  Battling the Soul Masters as Marv destroys the generators maintaining the dimensional link, Primus is mortally wounded, yet they prevented the enemy from stealing the souls of those who fell in battle; infusing his own into his ally, Primus enables Mar-Vell to return via the swiftly closing rift, thus regaining some measure of his honor.

Coincidentally, the antipodal prior credits of plotter Wolfman and writer Goodwin epitomize the strip’s dizzying highs and lows.  Marv and DC escapee Wayne Boring perpetrated its arguable pre-Starlin nadir in Captain Marvel #23-4, yet while Archie’s one-off in #16, which introduced this classic uniform, was overshadowed by #17’s seminal Thomas/Kane/Adkins revamp, he did (as I said in my coverage) “extricat[e] the character from the Drake/Friedrich mire...[He] does a superb job—inevitably awash with exposition—of not only weaving together their dangling plot threads but also putting an entirely new spin on Mar-Vell’s career since Day One [and] throws us an out-of-the-blue, game-changing cliffhanger” by first stranding our Kree in the Negative Zone.

Well, this is a gloomy little tale “Marchie” tells—true, Primus is redeemed, but the victory over the Soul Masters is Pyrrhic in the extreme, coming at the cost of both races’ apparent destruction.  Despite lip service to recent events (e.g., “my love Elysius,” “Could this be the alien threat which Eon warned me of?”), this is a quintessential one-and-done that leaves nary a ripple on the river of Mar-Vell’s existence, while blithely suggesting that all souls are interchangeable.  Yet it is uniquely suited to the former Kree warrior, who, “unlike most of the super heroes [sic] Primus might have secured for the task…adjusts swiftly to the alien setting and culture,” with Archie adeptly handling his spilt-milk attitude and able leadership (“Flexibility is the best battle plan”).

I won’t beat a dead horse by dwelling on my dislike of Bronze-Age Ditko, although ironically, this story’s otherworldly nature suggests that he, too, might have been singularly suitable.  Steve is certainly no stranger to shadowy dimensions, at which he excelled on Dr. Strange, yet these seem perfunctory; many of the panels have white backgrounds (e.g., the training scenes on page 10), pastel colors, or uninteresting geometric shapes.  The rubber-faced humanoid characters and largely featureless Soul Masters are similarly ill-defined, so the whole thing has an unfinished look to it, as though Ditko were simply phoning this in, even if the destruction of Harlow House in page 30, panel 1, just as Shadow-Marv emerges from the rift, admittedly has a little zing to it...

Before and after Mar-Vell’s final appearance therein, the short-lived Spotlight revival remained a showcase for characters without their own books, starting with Marv and Steve’s creation in #5 of Dragon Lord, whose handful of appearances would span decades.  Next was a double-header by erstwhile Kree chronicler Doug Moench and artist Tom Sutton featuring Marvel’s most peripatetic hero, future Hollywood cash cow Star-Lord.  Rounding out the run, Bill Mantlo spun off his Micronauts champion Captain Universe in #9-11, all drawn by Ditko (as were both of his Micronauts Annuals); the twist here is that the Uni-Power possesses different hosts in each issue, starting with Steve Coffin after inducing a luckily non-fatal heart attack in his aging father, Ray.

Marvel Spotlight 8 (September 1980)
Captain Marvel in
"Planet Where Time Stood Still!"
Story by Dick Riley and Mike W. Barr
Art by Frank Miller and Bruce D. Patterson
Colors and Letters by Bruce D. Patterson
Cover by Frank Miller and Terry Austin

Nearing a strangely silent planet, Mar-Vell recalls how a tour of an observatory became “a busman’s holiday” when the latest shift of Operation: Starlight, a search for new stars, failed to emerge from its top-secret camera-telescope.  Tearing off a three-foot-thick, tempered vanadium steel door, he found the scientists gone, leaving a purple glow in the sky; no sooner had Dr. Wilcox noted that the photographic plates were broken—except one showing a star-like streak that was headed to Earth and, if guided by intelligence, might return—than she and Dr. Carson also vanished.  Marv followed the glow there, and as he spots a Skrull, his instinctive hatred makes him attack, but an unseen force hurls him from the unmoving figure.

A humanoid, Vindar, welcomes him to Norsec, explaining that all his “guests” are paralyzed yet conscious, cruelly punished by Those-Who-See; sensing that a “blank wall” is not what it seems, Mar-Vell finds the scientists being prepared for punishment, and demands an audience.  Their power source a violet gem, TWS are the supreme council, who transferred their intellects into a sphinx-like vessel after a dike (whose inspection was Vindar’s job) broke, drowning the entire population.  Marv must defeat their sentry, an energy-construct in the form of Cerberus, before he can destroy the gem—leaving TWS helpless, and restoring those punished for “merely trying to gain knowledge” to their own worlds—while threatening to return if this lesson is not learned.

DC vet Mike W. Barr scripted this farrago of unanswered questions (and I’m not even including “Will we ever learn what Eon was on about?”), which deservedly appears to be co-plotter Dick Riley’s sole credit; the marquee player here is, natch, penciler Miller, now firmly in writer-artist mode on Daredevil, whose okay cover is embellished by Austin.  Unfortunately, one-man band Patterson—serving as interior inker, letterer, and colorist—drowns Lanky Frank’s style so much that we seem to be back in the bad old days of Marv’s dying mag, blonde bouffant and all.  That said, this is the visual antithesis of #4, with ornate planetscapes and a background figure in page 15, panel 2 that looks like a two-armed Thark, echoing Miller’s masterly job on John Carter #18.

I find it a curious choice to put Marv in an observatory setting, again evoking the Broderick era, but then make it a different one from his erstwhile Colorado hangout—wouldn’t a meeting with, and perhaps a rescue of, Jacqueline Carr have given this more resonance?  Yet the plotting is so haphazard that such logic is perhaps superfluous, and the script oddly repetitive:  he “need not be cosmically aware to realize,” “one need not be one with the universe to perceive...” Vindar inexplicably looks like nothing so much as Victor Buono’s King Tut, befitting an Egyptian motif that makes as little sense as anything else, and overall, lame-duck Mar-Vell’s final appearance toplining a regular four-color issue is, if you’ll pardon a mixed avian metaphor, a sad swan song.

During the nomadic existence of those with cancelled strips, Marv was reunited by Mantlo with an old sparring partner and their mutual sometime sidekick, Rick Jones, in Incredible Hulk #245-248 (March-June 1980), a complex arc that I should probably cover in its own right elsewhere.  Ditto—albeit for different reasons—Marvel Two-in-One #69 (November 1980), in which I think Mar-Vell is limited to a one-panel cameo, while a tale planned for the never-published Spotlight #12 that, believe it or not, ties in with an old Dr. Strange storyline was apparently excavated in Marvel Super-Heroes Vol. 2 #3 (Fall 1990).  Aptly, Moench teamed him up with Reed Richards against some Skrulls in Fantastic Four Annual #15 (1980) before Starlin drew the final curtain…

The Death of Captain Marvel (April 1982)
A Marvel Graphic Novel
Story and Art by Jim Starlin
Colors by Steve Oliff
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Jim Starlin

En route to Thanos’s ark—towed past Pluto and abandoned by the Avengers—Mar-Vell begins recording a mini-autobiography that “may prove of some use to those I leave behind,” recalling how he switched his allegiance to Earth from his native Kree after the death of Medic Una (misidentified as a communications officer).  Eros and Mentor wish to return Thanos’s stone body to Titan’s royal crypt, but Mar-Vell sees that it is now on an altar-like platform, and anticipates an attack by intergalactic worshippers awaiting his resurrection.  Marv reluctantly joins in, calibrating his counterattack to avoid bloodshed, yet after Mentor orders the craft vacated, planning to destroy it, the Kree is overcome with a coughing fit.

Back on Titan, Isaac’s medi-scan confirms what he already suspected (“Cosmic awareness can be turned inward.  My body has no secrets I cannot unravel”).  Due to the carcinogenic effects of Compound Thirteen, the nerve gas to which he was exposed while battling Nitro in CM #34, he has cancer—called the “inner decay” on Titan, or the “blackend” by the Kree—and, with the photonic power of his Nega-Bands only slowing its progress, about three months to live.  Marv breaks the news to Elysius in the royal gardens, watched by Mentor in a poignant dialogue-free page, then resumes recording his fights with the Kree Supreme Intelligence, exile in the Negative Zone, enforced partnership with Rick Jones, revenge on Col. Yon-Rogg, friends, and many foes.

This prompts a visit to a 44th Street tenement roof, where Mar-Vell urges Rick to get a check-up in case “our symbiotic relationship would allow this disease to be passed on to you,” but the lad accuses him of giving up—Mentor’s radiation treatments aside—and storms off.  Reminded by Elysius that “all his life people have been leaving [the orphaned Rick] behind,” Marv contrasts himself with Adam Warlock, who “welcomed [Death] as a friend.”  At Avengers’ (sic) Mansion, Rick gathers a septet (Yellowjacket, the Black Panther, Vision, Wonder Man, Beast, Iron Man, Thor) whose expertise might save him; he again storms off when they point out that this is a little outside their line, not knowing they all had already agreed to go to Titan and work with Mentor.

Worlds across the galaxy receive the news with mixed feelings and provide all of the oncological data they possess (except the Kree, who consider Mar-Vell a traitor), enabling Isaac to design a life-support tunic that reduces the degeneration.  Knowing of his feelings, Marv asks Eros to be a friend to Elysius when he’s gone and recalls how, after a “honeymoon” touring Earth together, the enemies-turned-lovers decided to settle on Titan.  Rick’s Dream Team, joined by Dr. Strange and Mr. Fantastic, is stymied by an increased dependency on the Nega-Bands, to whose photonic energy the mutating cancer has gained an immunity, yet that energy blocks all attempted cures; per Dr. McCoy, “the one thing that’s keeping Marvel alive is also keeping us from curing him!”

Marv collapses, and the final vigil begins as “the family of super-man” gathers to say goodbye, a shaken Spidey observing, “We die from bullets and bombs…not from something like cancer.”  Visitors include an apologetic Rick; Drax, who is reconnecting with daughter Moondragon, and has experienced death; and General Zedrao, who has made “guarantees of proper conduct” and—in marked contrast to the Kree’s snub—presents him with the Royal Skrull Medal of Valor as  their greatest enemy.  Mar-Vell falls into a coma, yet amid the litany around his bedside that it’s “so unfair,” a curious thing begins to happen:  in his sub-basement tomb, the stone figure that is Thanos “hears the call and must answer,” coming to life and ascending to the royal bed chamber.

Restoring the frail Mar-Vell with a wave of his hand, Thanos has “returned from the darkness for one last, magnificent battle,” showing Marv the literal heart of his universe and challenging him to prevent its destruction.  He faces and defeats his foes who have died over the years, yet in the end, he must accept the inevitable, and when Thanos’s beloved Death appears, Mar-Vell passes his hand over her face, which changes from beauty to a skull:  “It is not that I fear her.  It’s just that…I no longer need…the illusion.”  While the heart stops beating, Thanos announces, “She will lead us on our journey.  She will show us that this is not the end…only the beginning!”; as the trio walks hand-in-hand into the light, and the monitor flatlines, Mentor says, “He’s gone…”

At 62 unnumbered pages, Marvel’s debut graphic novel was 3.65 times the length, 10 times the price, and roughly 1.16 times the trim size of a then-standard issue.  Per Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, EIC Shooter suggested this landmark opus after seeing sales soar on X-Men #137, while Starlin agreed to write and draw it (with colors by Steve Oliff, whose name I now know from those Moon Knight backup stories in The Hulk!) “on the condition that he could do another graphic novel featuring Dreadstar, a character he owned.”  When it was published, two weeks after Elektra’s death in the bestselling Daredevil #181, “it quickly sold out of three printings, and Jim…made himself a tidy sum and bought himself a new Camaro Z28,” as Sean Howe recounts.

At this late date, I don’t recall when I acquired this (I don’t think it was immediate, probably due to distress over the concept, plus my “Marvel age” was waning by then) or how I reacted to it at the time; on a re-read, it affected me more than expected and, shocker, reduced me to tears.  Yet as much as I love the creator and characters, it seems a little too aware at times of its status as A Big Thing, and I found minor annoyances, e.g., since when does Wonder Man possess “special scientific or medical knowledge”—ditto Thor, even if Don Blake does—while the “Why didn’t we cure cancer before?” bit feels out of place.  But to be brutally frank, Mar-Vell had been in a slow downward spiral since Starlin left, so if euthanasia was called for, Jim should pull the plug.

The “autobio tapes” make this as much a recap of The Life of Captain Marvel—a five-issue 1985 special edition reprinting Starlin’s Thanos War—as an account of his death, and amid all of the inevitable handwringing (“Who would have thought that, in the end…it’d be my own body that would turn on me and do me in”), Jim treats us to some mighty fine tableaux.  These include, but are not limited to:  Marv surrounded by friends and foes (story page 21), a montage of Thanos and his “network of schemes” (page 22), the super-heroes assembled for the vigil (page 38), and Marv shattering his resurrected enemies (page 56).  These are, of course, balanced by the quieter moments, e.g., those with Elysius, and among his friends as they try to grapple with the situation.

I’m sorry to see from Wikipedia that—as with Thanos, Warlock, and so many others—poor Mar-Vell was not allowed to rest in peace, while to maintain its trademark, Marvel further cheapened the brand by churning out lesser characters bearing the “Captain Marvel” name, only the first of whom, Monica Rambeau, I endured.  These are among the reasons why I stopped buying new comics c. 1985 and have never looked back, leaving Marv’s Bronze-Age glory untarnished and this work a transitional milestone:  the “end” of the character who starred in my favorite arc ever, and the beginning of a new format that would prove very successful.  And, having chronicled his adventures since Day One in our regular curriculum, I’m honored to bring closure to them now...

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #1

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:

Full Moon by

Professor Tom Flynn

With an Assist from Professor Matthew Bradley

The Hulk! 20
April 1980
Cover Art by Joe Jusko

“A Long Way to Dawn”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Bill Sienkiewicz
Colors by Steve Oliff

Marvel Preview 21 Moon Knight
May 1980
Cover Art by Bill Sienkiewicz and Klaus Janson

“The Mind Thieves”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Bill Sienkiewicz, Tom Palmer and Dan Green

Call it separation anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder, but when I finished my write-ups for December 1979 — the last month that Marvel University was commissioned to cover — my thoughts turned to “well, what’s next?” But then I remembered: Dean Pete had mentioned that professors could contribute post-graduate studies if moved by the mood. So I pondered for a bit. Did any of my series end on a cliffhanger? Not really. Well, The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #47 was the first of a two-parter, but my review worked in a bit of coverage for the finale published in the January 1980 magazine. 

But then I remembered: “Shadows in the Heart of the City,” the Moon Knight backup in The Hulk! #18 (December 1979), ended with Marlene on her deathbed. In hindsight, we all know that she’ll pull through: the character will be featured in Moonie’s solo color series that debuted in November 1980. But still, readers back in the day were left dangling — not unlike Jaye Davidson at the end of The Crying Game. Sorry about that. Anyways, it also struck me that Moon Knight was the main attraction of Marvel Preview #21, a black-and-white magazine published in May 1980. By Crom, not only could I wrap up the “Hatchet-Man” storyline from The Hulk! backups, I could also cover his final appearance in a Marvel magazine. And here we are.

Clocking in at a slim 7 pages, “A Long Way to Dawn” from The Hulk! #20 opens with Moon Knight standing over Marlene’s bloody body in a hospital — she was grievously wounded by the Hatchet-Man, Mark Spector’s insane brother, Rand. When a nurse informs the costumed crusader that they won’t be able to tell if Marlene will pull through until the morning, the Knight walks out into the dark streets of Manhattan, allowed to leave by two cops who decide to “look the other way” since the hero put an end to the Hatchet-Man’s reign of terror. Tortured by visions of Marlene’s face in the full moon, the white avenger performs a variety of good deeds — stopping a mugging, calling an ambulance for an overdosing hippy, etc. After returning to the hospital at dawn, the relieved Moon Knight is told that Marlene will live. 

This wisp of a story basically pads things out until the end’s big reveal: Marlene survives. And Moon Knight’s little “adventures” during the wee hours are pretty pedestrian. Besides the mugging and 911 call, he chastises a drunken doorman and a cabbie who let the air out of a rival driver’s tires. He also intervenes when a pimp is about to put the smack-down on one of his prostitutes. But the woman calls Moonie a freak and tells him to get lost. Surprised she didn’t yell “whitie!” Not exactly earth-shattering stuff. What the heck, Bill Sienkiewicz’s self-inked art is outstanding. There’s no doubt why Bill quickly became Moon Knight’s signature artist: you can nitpick some of his artwork, but he made the character cool. 

Moon Knight is given a much bigger showcase in Marvel Preview #21, published the next month, May 1980 — six before his solo color comic debuts in November. Things kick off with a one-page editorial by Ralph Macchio titled “Full Phase.” Much of it is spent on how lucky it was that Bill Sienkiewicz walked into the Marvel offices one day with his portfolio. Indeed.

In the 39-page “The Mind Thieves,” Steven Grant and Jake Lockley take a backseat to the Marc Spector persona as the story focuses on the mercenary’s CIA background. Things open up at Grant’s mansion: a coffin-sized box has been delivered, surprisingly addressed to Spector. After Frenchie decides that it is not a bomb, the crate is opened to reveal the brutalized corpse of Amos Lardner, Marc’s old agency buddy. Spector recalls that Amos disappeared after he dropped him off at the Ravencrag sanitarium in Montreal on an unknown assignment. Months later, Lardner's brother James joined the CIA but remained close-lipped whenever asked about the whereabouts of his missing sibling. Spector left the agency soon after. Suddenly, a shadowy figure launches an incendiary grenade at the mansion and races away in a getaway car. After the fire is extinguished, Marc tells Frenchie to fire up the Moon Copter — they leave for Ravencrag.

That night in Montreal, Moon Knight breaks into the sprawling institution only to encounter the masked man who fire-bombed Grant’s home: while the stranger manages to escape once again, the crescent crusader disarms the explosive he was setting. Next morning, Marc Spector meets with Ravencrag’s director, Mr. Hanson. Hanson informs Spector that the sanitarium is no longer a front for the CIA — it is now a legitimate hospital. He adds that LeBlanc, the former director, is living in Paris, apparently continuing his sinister mind-control experiment, Operation Cobra. Spector flies out of Canada to Paris on the Concorde, telling Frenchie to take the Copter back to New York, book a trans-Atlantic flight later in the day and meet him at the Hotel Regina. Against Spector’s orders, Marlene takes an earlier plane to the City of Lights.

In Paris, Marlene surprises the annoyed mercenary at Orly Airport and they take a cab to the hotel. When darkness falls, Moon Knight slips into LeBlanc’s office on the Left Bank and confronts the fat CIA operative. LeBlanc quickly spills the beans: he is in the last phase of Operation Cobra, the implantation of electrodes in the human brain. Using a simple radio controller, he can then bend patients to his will, making them mindless assassins. The portly psychiatrist adds that he is delivering his findings to agents the next evening at the bizarre Museum of Robert Tatin. Unexpectedly, the doors to LeBlanc’s office burst open and the shadowy stranger rushes in, machine gun drawn. He removes his mask and reveals himself as James Lardner — he is here to get revenge on LeBlanc and Marc Spector, the murderers of his brother Amos. Moon Knight proclaims Spector’s innocence and then disarms Lardner with a crescent dart. Lardner flees, jumps in his car outside and tears off. The midnight avenger gives chase — on the street, Marlene drives up in a rental convertible and the Knight hops on the sideboard. But, after a tremendous traffic accident (caused by LeBlanc’s associates Jenkins and Crane), Spector, Marlene and Lardner are all knocked unconscious. 

Unmasked, Moon Knight wakes hours later, tied to a chair in the psychiatrist’s country estate: Jenkins and Crane inject him with a psychotropic drug. As hallucinations set in, he overhears his captors speaking of Marlene — even incapacitated, Spector breaks his bonds, overpowers the men and stumbles out of the room. Fighting off terrifying visions, he manages to find Marlene tied to a bed in another room. They both make their way outside and are whisked to freedom by Frenchie’s waiting and rented helicopter. 

After Spector recovers from the drug’s effects at the Regina, they all rush to the Tatin museum to foil the hand-off. But LeBlanc is waiting along with the mindless James Lardner: the Cobra electrodes have been implanted in his head, giving him immense strength and agility, all under the control of LeBlanc. Lardner begins to throttle the Knight but the costumed hero smashes the controller out of the psychiatrist’s hands with a well-thrown truncheon. Realizing that all is lost, LeBlanc tries to flee in his car. But Spector flattens one of his tires with a crescent dart and the fat man crashes into a tree. Freed from control and driven by an animalistic rage, Lardner begins pounding the flaming automobile. It soon explodes in a huge fireball, killing the creator of Operation Cobra — and his final victim as well.

Well, it’s yet another convoluted and unengaging magazine story from Devil-May-Care Doug Moench. I’ve always had the feeling that Doug starts with a simple idea — here, CIA mind control experiments — and then gets to the padding, stretching and long, dull blocks of dialogue to fill up the page count. Plus, to hold the slim thread together, he makes quite a few unexplained — or simply ignored — leaps in logic. Let’s start at the beginning. James Lardner sends the corpse of his brother Amos to Marc Spector in care of Steven Grant. Does this mean that the younger Lardner knows that they are the same person? If so, that important plot point is completely dropped. And, if you consider Moon Knight’s adventures in the pages of Werewolf By Night (August 1975), Marvel Spotlight (June 1976), The Defenders (May 1977), Spectacular Spider-Man (September 1978), Marvel Two-in-One (June 1979), and The Hulk! magazine, it has been years since Spector quit the CIA. So where has Amos’ corpse been all this time? It looked pretty fresh — it would have been a skeleton by now. Was he one of LeBlanc’s experiments and kept alive? Nah. My guess is that Doug didn’t bother to think things through yet again.

Also, how does Frenchie know that LeBlanc brought the unconscious Knight and Marlene to his country estate? The pilot is waiting outside when they make their escape: did he just guess and, if so, how did he know where the estate was even located? Plus, at the end, Marlene uses some high-kicking karate skills to help take down LeBlanc’s associates Jenkins and Crane. Where did that come from? She hasn’t displayed any knowledge of the martial arts at this point. Speaking of the sexy assistant, she’s very sexually aggressive towards the Spector and Grant personas throughout the story, eagerly tearing off her shirt at one point. Sadly, poor cabbie Jake Lockley isn’t the recipient of these amorous advances. Moon Knight/Spector’s escape from Jenkins and Crane is a stretch as well. Despite being under the thrall of a powerful psychotropic drug — as demonstrated by Sienkiewicz’s horrific visions — he still breaks bonds applied by CIA agents, beats the two well-trained men and finds Marlene. Seems a stretch.

Speaking of the Spector/Grant/Lockley three-headed monster, when Doug Moench created the character for Werewolf By Night #32 (August 1975), only Spector was Moon Knight: the other two personas were introduced in Marvel Spotlight #28 (June 1976). Now I’ve only read the Moonie backups in The Hulk!, but not sure Doug had a firm grip on how to handle the three characters from the very beginning. While they all seem to consider themselves three distinct individuals, the only thing that really separates the trio is what they wear — well, and Grant’s money and Lockley’s hack license. Not sure what Moench thought he would gain by giving them some type of split personality. In this very magazine, Marlene asks “But one question first! Just who are you, Steven?” Grant replies “Sometimes I’m not sure I know.” It would have made more sense — and made it easier to write about Moon Knight — if the crescent crusader was the alter ego of Marc Spector and Grant and Lockley were just the mercenary’s disguises. But, I don’t have to worry about that any more. Not that I really needed to worry about writing this post at all!

As always, Bill Sienkiewicz is the perfect artist for Moon Knight. It’s a dark character and he has a dark style. I couldn’t really tell the differences between the pages inked by Tom Palmer or Dan Green: they both used a heavy brush so everything meshed well. I will say that I much more enjoyed Sienkiewicz’s self-inked art in “A Long Way to Dawn.” Oh, forgot to mention: the oddball Museum of Robert Tatin is an actual place. Looks extremely interesting.

As you must have noticed, I didn’t spend a second on the main feature story of The Hulk! #20 — that’s not what I signed up for. It seemed to involve the green giant actually stopping a meltdown by smashing the insides of a nuclear reactor. Whatever. Now Marvel Preview #21 included a backup, the 15-page “Walk a Crooked Mile,” starring The Shroud. While I’m not going to cover that as well, I’ll note that it was written by Mark Gruenwald and Steven Grant (him again!) and illustrated by Steve Ditko, the Golden Age legend I last encountered in The Micronauts Annual #1 (December 1979). Ditko’s art is much better here. Though the Crooked Man, the bad guy in this extremely dopey story, has the oddest haircut in the history of comics (see below).

Matthew Bradley:  The two tales reprinted in the third and final issue of the 1983-4 Moon Knight Special Edition, although both by Moenkiewicz, are a decidedly mixed bag.  The first, marking MK’s swan song in the unlamented Hulk!, is but a belated 7-page coda to the Hatchet-Man epic of #17-8, while the second, anonymously colorized here from its first appearance in Marvel Preview #21 (with a Shroud backup story that I sadly don’t have), weighs in at a whopping 39 pages.  The self-inked Sienkiewicz is at his moody best in the former, depicting a snapshot of each hour during the long night while MK awaits news of Marlene’s fate, and Moench cleverly contrasts the hopelessness felt in several episodes with the promise of literal new life as he learns that “She’ll pull through.”

The latter unsurprisingly required some helping hands for Palmer, with “Add’l Inking” credited, at least here, to Sienkiewicz and Dan Green.  Those who know me well may be surprised to learn that I have any reservations whatsoever about the generous helping of cheesecake Bill serves up, and yet I have two, starting with the fact that, although Marlene has just narrowly survived an attack by a guy wielding a hatchet, who if memory serves me correctly struck her in both back and front, her “squeaky velvet” doesn’t display so much as a blemish, let alone a big scar.  And it epitomizes the aptly schizoid way in which MK’s main squeeze is often portrayed:  one minute, she’s like bubble-headed (pun intentional) eye candy, and the next, she’s kicking rogue CIA butt.

Obviously, Savage Swordsman Flynn—who, by a bizarre coincidence, sent me a recent review of The Manchurian Candidate the very day before I read LeBlanc’s allusion to it here — has far greater experience than I do with these economy-sized stories, yet I think Moench handles the plotting and pacing of this one pretty well.  To me, it seemed substantive, never dull, and free from conspicuous padding.  My biggest beef is with the electrodes sticking out of Lardner’s head, which not only look ridiculous (how on Earth did he ever get that hat on?), but also seem like they’d be incredibly vulnerable; how hard would it be to disable him, control board or no, by whacking a couple of those with MK’s truncheon?  Is that supposed to be Shooter on the splash?

Two Weeks From Today:
Professor Matthew Answers the Question:
Whatever Happened to Captain Marvel?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The 1970s Wrap-Up

Over the last six years we've reviewed a total of 4,381 comics plus 243 magazines. The following are our highly biased picks for the best and the worst...


Prof. Chris

Avengers #160-171: Grim Reaper! Ultron! Bride of Ultron! A heavyweight Count Nefaria! A near-omnipotent Korvac! Then more Ultron!  Okay, so obviously it’s not one continuous storyline, but this year of Avengers includes so many treasured-memory stories within the same stretch, it’s down as a favorite.  Even the presence of two sketchy fill-ins (#163, #169) doesn’t diminish this run’s standing in my book.  And the art!  Pérez, followed by Byrne, then back to Pérez!  Can’t be beat.  

From Defenders #45
X-Men #125-128: X-Men vs Mutant X/Proteus.  Beginning of the end for Jean Grey.  Exceptional art from Byrne & Austin.  
Defenders #44-45, 46, 48-50 (you could skip MARMIS between Wonder Man and Hellcat, #47): first, Doctor Strange is possessed by the Red Rajah; next, Doc announces his resignation from the non-group; then, we have an unusual portrait of a villain, as Scorpio is presented as more of a pathetic dreamer than a traditional power-madman; lastly, gleeful carnage as the Defenders (plus Moon Knight, in an early appearance) dismantle the would-be New Zodiac.  The Giffen-Janson art isn’t typical for a team mag, but I’ve always enjoyed the look they bring to this title.  Several of these comics are among my treasured flea-market finds.  
Avengers #185-187: Wanda seeks her destiny at Wundagore, and learns more than she’d ever expected. Avengers arrive in time to derail possession by Chthon.  Atmospheric depiction of snowy mountainsides, rainy villages, and scheming possessor-spirit by Byrne & Green.
Iron Man #103-107: the Midas Saga, a subject of frequent re-readings.  Mantlo ushers Shell-head’s title back to the big time, in a powerful tale of Iron Man’s battle to retake Stark International after Midas’ successful takeover.  Tuska’s last stand with his signature character, followed by a solid final chapter by Pollard & Kida. 
From Iron Man #103
Marvel Team-Up #65-70: again, not a continuous storyline, but by far my favorite MTU tales, as Spidey is trapped (with Captain Britain) in Arcade’s Murderworld, tangles with Tigra (at the bidding of Kraven the Hunter), fights back against D’Spayre (aided by Man-Thing), and frees Havok to unplug the Living Monolith (while Thor battles the Monolith above the stormy skies of Manhattan).  Unbeatable work by Claremont & Byrne, inks by underrated D. Hunt, plus B. Wiacek (well-suited to the Man-Thing tale), R. Villamonte, and T. DeZuniga.  (Side note: I brought #68 to school one day, and it got wet and wrinkled while in my book bag, which afforded me a Painful Lesson about proper care of these priceless items.)
Captain Marvel #59-Marvel Spotlight (vol II)#2: Mar-Vell & Drax vs Isaac the Thanos-infected mad computer and his Titanic minions.  Cosmically-charged art by Broderick & Patterson. 
Fantastic Four #166-167: the FF take on the Hulk, until the Thing turns the tables, joins the Hulk, and the two battle the FF!  Purchased at a flea market, a few years after initial publication.  Crazy fun, with Pérez pencils as a deal-sealer.
Micronauts #1-12: great fun with small toys!  Brisk pacing, high adventure, extraordinary art by Michael Golden.
From ASM #162
Amazing Spider-Man #161-162: Spidey vs Nightcrawler vs Punisher (plus Jigsaw, sort of an afterthought); these comics – more flea-market finds – have survived multiple re-readings.  Second choice for Spidey would be #176-180: Spidey vs Green Goblin III (vs Goblin II) vs Silvermane.  
Jungle Action, featuring the Black Panther #6-18: “Panther’s Rage.”  Intense storytelling, recommended for Mature Audiences (Erik Killmonger’s merciless treatment of T’Challa could be too intense for readers of Baby Huey).
Thor #273-278: the Ragnarok run-thru; art by John Buscema & Tom Palmer gives this title an atypically heavy, shadowy look, which suits prophecy of Impending Prophesized Doom. 
Doctor Strange #1-2, 4-5 (#3 is a deadline doomer): vs Silver Dagger.  Amazing art by Frank Brunner, plus a rare appearance (in a Marvel mag, I mean) by Dick Giordano for fine finishes.  
Hulk #209, #222: I read, and re-read, and then re-re-read these two issues more than any other Hulk stories in my collection.  #209 is a fairly routine smash-em-up with the Absorbing Man (Creel accidently turns himself to glass as he falls from a collapsing skyscraper frame –ooops), while #222 – script and layouts by J. Starlin, finishes by A. Alcala – is an unusually creepy Hulk tale about an overgrown boy who, well, eats people.  Gulp!
Marvel Two-In-One #53-58: the Project Pegasus affair, the high-water mark for this title.  Solid narrative by Gruenwald & Macchio, great art by Byrne & Sinnott, followed by more of the same by Pérez & Day.
Master of Kung Fu #29-31: Shang-Chi leads Sir Denis’ crew vs Carlton Velcro, Razor-Fist, Pavane, and those deadly lions stalking in the pit below.  Doug Moench establishes this title as a bona-fide actioner.  
Fantastic Four #155-157: Doctor Doom steals the power cosmic of the Silver Surfer!  Norrin Radd finds Shalla Bal in Latveria!  Or does he -?  Buckler does his best Buscema impression.   Oh wait – I might also have to nominate Fantastic Four #210-213, as grizzled vet Galactus proves to be Earth’s unlikely savior in his KO victory over Kid Sphinx.  Heavyweight art by Byrne & Sinnott.
From Master of Kung Fu #30
Astonishing Tales #25-Marvel Spotlight (vol I) #33: Rich Buckler’s Deathlok saga has its fits and starts, but it’s an ambitious project, with a compelling anti-hero, and moody, atmospheric art. 
Monster of Frankenstein #1-6: I’m taking a cue from the August Dean, since these issues also were on his list.  Outstanding atmospheric art by Ploog (I’m glad to have found a way to include his work).  If only Marvel had quit while ahead, and #6 had been the final issue -!

Marvel Spotlight on the Son of Satan #20-22: Steve Gerber flings Daimon Hellstrom down the rabbit hole, as Madame Swabada lays out the Tarot to mess with him.  Capable art, with some inventive moments by Sal Buscema, who once again demonstrates his versatility.  

Prof. Scott-

I certainly don’t have 20, but I think I can fart out a few mentions:

The "snap!" heard round the world.
1.      Amazing Spider-Man #121-122: Yeah, the jump-start to the 1970s. The Night Gwen Stacy Died still resonates throughout the MU. While the years, and resurrections, have blunted the impact, Gwen is still the one real open wound Peter still carries. Not even his inaction that caused the death of Uncle Ben bothers him like his failure to save his one true love. The Green Goblin’s death was a great follow-up, but bringing back Norman Osborn in the '90s scuttled the effect.
2.      Incredible Hulk #223-225: I get it…how many times can they toy with a cure? But this trilogy was really a cut above and, for a long time, my favorite story of the '70s. It’s still a high-water mark for the Hulk that decade. Great art, fantastic characterizations and a fun resolution. 
3.      Conan the Barbarian #1-24. Barry Smith made this title great. His art evolved at light speed and made Conan a hell of an interesting character. Something John Buscema couldn’t do. I totally lost interest once Big John turned Conan from a lean, almost handsome warrior into a muscle-bound, Marvel standard brute. Every “barbarian” John drew looked just like his Conan.
4.      Steve Englehart’s “Secret Empire” story in Captain America #169-176. A legendary run, totally earns its rep, all the way to the shocking conclusion. It shook Cap to his core and was a lot of fun getting there. 
5.      The Claremont/Byrne X-Men run. Every single issue. How many times can I write the word “brilliant?”
6.      Logan’s Run #1-5. The best movie adaptation Marvel ever did. Loved every issue and to this day, I am still annoyed the title was cancelled so soon. 

Man-Thing #5
7.      Captain America #186: retconning the Falcon’s origin, and making him a creation of the Red Skull and a former drug dealer, was shocking and life-changing…potentially. This superior story was completely ruined by Englehart’s sudden departure from the book. “Snap” Wilson went nowhere and was quickly glossed over. However, for a brief moment, Cap’s life went sideways. 
8.      Man-Thing #5: Night of the Laughing Dead. Mike Ploog’s art scared the crap out of me and this story (immortalized on a Power Book and Record) haunts me to this day. 
9.      The Incredible Hulk #169: the intro to the Bi-Beast and one of my earliest purchases. Great Trimpe/Abel art and a fun cliffhanger.

10.   Giant Size Man-Thing: because the title sounded like a porn comic. 

Prof. Joe
1. The Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 (June – July 1973) 
Spidey 121 is seriously a nearly flawless comic book, and one of the few that could make 50-year-old fanboys tear up. Followed by a hollow Spidey victory the next issue. Just magnificent.

ASM #122
2. Uncanny X-Men #108-129 (Dec 1977 - Dec 1979) 
Claremont/Byrne/Austin. Thrown in Orzechowski and Wein and you have one of the greatest creative runs in Marvel history. This was a "read first" when you got home with a stack from Grand Candy, which is always high praise when you're a teenaged Marvel Zombie. Even today, there are not enough adjectives to heap on this incredible blend of story and art, even counting the fill-ins.

3. The Amazing Spider-Man #129 – 137 (February – October 1974) 
OK, this is really three or four little arcs, but the run is Conway & Andru at their best! From the first Punisher appearance to Doc Ock vs. Hammerhead Round 2 to Doc Ock marrying (almost) Aunt May, to the freakin' Molten Man, to Harry becoming the Goblin….there's no rest for our hero – or the reader!
4. The Amazing Spider-Man #144 - 150 (May - November 1975) 
The Spidey Clone saga (well, the first of way too many let's just say) begins with the smarmy Jackal (hate that guy!!), the gorgeous Gwen clone, a confused Spidey, and ultimately, vindication! Well, until Marvel retcons the whole thing.
Gwen Meets Gwen
From ASM #149
5. Marvel Team-Up #59 -70 (July 1977 - June 1978)
Claremont, Byrne, and Spidey. A match made in Marvel Zombie heaven! I honestly couldn't pick a favorite, but if pressed would lean toward the two Arcade/Captain Britain books. Or the Yellowjacket and Wasp story. Or the Havok/Thor/Living Monolith. No, it has to be Iron Fist/Daughters of the Dragon! See what I mean, who can choose!
6. The Amazing Spider-Man #112 - 115 (September- December 1972) 
Doc Ock vs. Hammerhead Round 1, with Aunt May kinda sorta in the middle. Conway & Romita kicking tentacle butt!
7. The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (May – July 1971)
Comics Code? Who needs a Comics Code? The slightly infamous "drug issues" are a great example of how to tell a comic-book story the right way.
8. The Avengers Annual 7 (November 1977) and Marvel Two-in-One Annual 2 (December 1977)
Is there a better crossover in the 1970s? Heck, no! Great is an understatement, to be honest. Who didn't read these 10-15 times each?
9. The Amazing Spider-Man #157 – 159 (June - August 1976 – October 1974) 
Doc Ock vs. Hammerhead Round 3, complete with ghosts, flying garbage cans, the Spider-Mobile, and more than can fit on the page!
10. The Amazing Spider-Man #163-164 (December 1976 – January 1977)
The Kingpin is back, and beefier than ever! Not to mention, he's pretty damn peeved! This Wein-Andru two-parter may be the corpulent crime-boss at his best in these pages. 
From Avengers #143
11. The Avengers #141 – 144, #147 – 149, #161, #167 – 168,  #170 - 171 (November 1975 – May 1978) 
George Perez. 'Nuff said. No, I can't pick a favorite.
12. The Avengers #181 – 190 (March - December 1979)
John Byrne's second run on Avengers, after the Count Nefaria stuff, is brilliantly drawn, with some fine characterization if you can get past a handful of annoyances. Obviously, I can.
13. What If? #13 (February 1979)
We finally get the long-promised Thomas-Buscema Conan What If tale, and I do believe it's the best issue of this title, ever.
14. The Amazing Spider-Man #83 - #85 (April 1970 - June 1970)
Lee, Romita, Kingpin, the Schemer, a twist ending, and brilliance all around!
15. Captain America and the Falcon #153-156 (Sept-Dec 1972)
The "Fake Cap" stories were well-remembered by just about the whole faculty when they were covered for MU, and I know the Dean will want everyone to pick them lest they lose their parking spots and cafeteria access…Nah, they hold up on their own, packed with awesome My Pal Sal art!
16. What If? #1 (February 1977) Reading this again, not the best comic book, but a great introduction to a very up-and-down series, and one that I think if my parents would have allowed it, I would have slept overnight at Grand Candy to get the first copy. Hey, it was Spider-Man!
17. Iron Man #123-128 (June – November 1979)
One of my favorite comic book runs. Romita Jr. shows why he'll become one of the more creative artists around in the future, perfectly embellished by Layton, who adds plot points with Michelinie. Great stuff, packed with plenty of drama and intrigue!
Mighty Thor Annual #5
18. The Mighty Thor Annual #5 (Sept 1976) 
The War of the Gods was one of those comics that I wore the cover off of almost. Being such a big fan of mythology as a kid, it was a natural fit!
19. Marvel Premiere #47 - 48 (April – June 1979)
Yes, more John Byrne. But this time it's a dynamic new introduction of a beloved character, aided by Layton and yes, more Michelinie. And of course it was my best girl Cassie's introduction to the faculty, so that's extra credit for sure!
20. Nova #12  The Amazing Spider-Man #171 (August 1977)
Including this one for sheer nostalgia. When we first started doing this and I volunteered to teach Nova, these were the two issues I remembered vividly. Jason Dean! Boy, I thought that was so clever as a 10-year old! Well, at least one issue of Nova was worthwhile.

Prof. Matthew-
(In alphabetical order)

Captain Marvel #27
The Amazing Spider-Man #
147-149 (

 The Avengers #115-118 Defenders #8-11 (Avengers/Defenders War; Englehart triumphant)  

The Avengers #153-156/Annual #6/Super-Villain Team-Up #9 (Doom/Attuma/Whizzer; still bliss…) 

The Avengers Annual #7/Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (Starlin/Thanos redux)

 Captain Marvel #25-33  (Thanos War—my very favorite arc; #28 may be my single favorite issue ever)


The Defenders #26-29 (Guardians/Badoon)

The Defenders# 31-40/Annual #1 (with #21 as prelude; Headman)

 Fantastic Four #160-163 (Arkon/multiple worlds; ah, youth...)

 The Inhumans #6 ((aftermath of the captive Black Bolt’s scream; Moench’s finest hour?)

 Iron Man #55 (Enter Drax/Thanos; seminal in every sense)

Iron Man #103-107 (Midas)

 Marvel Premiere # (“The Doom That Bloomed on Kathulos!”; Doc/REH/Starlin)

Marvel Team-Up #13 (Cap/Grey Gargoyle/A.I.M.; pure nostalgic fun)

Marvel Team-Up #55 (Warlock/Stranger/Byrne)

Marvel Premiere #8
 Marvel Two-In-One #7 (Valkyrie/Executioner/Enchantress; middle of a trilogy but the best part) 

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1/ #20 (time-traveling WW II vet Ben meets the Liberty Legion; hate to say it, but I prefer this to the Legion/Invaders crossover)

 Super-Villain Team-Up #2 (yeah. It's Tony Isabella. Bite me.) 

Super-Villain Team-Up #10-12 (Cap/Skull/Shroud)

 Strange Tales (featuring Warlock) #178-181/Warlock #9-11 (Magus Saga; Starlin's #2 triumph)

 X-Men #125-128 (Proteus; because I have to single out something from the Dream Team)

Prof. Mark-

FAVE STORIES (In Random Order)

Amazing Spider-Man #121-122: The death of Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin? A gut-punch to a twelve-year-old kid and a seismic shift in what mortality could mean in the funnybooks (although it's rarely applied). 

Marvel Premiere #12-14: Dr. Strange meets God and witnesses the re-birth of the cosmos, courtesy Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner. Praise the Lord and pass the metaphysics. 

Captain Marvel #25-33 Jim Starlin dazzles the eye and begins to reinvent "cosmic comics." And Thanos (yeah, I know he first appeared in Iron Man).

The debut of Deathlok!
Strange Tales #178-181/Warlock #9-#15 See above, in re: dazzles; invents. Bonus points for Pip, the Magus, and suicide.

Astonishing Tales #25-28, #30-36, Marvel Spotlight #33:
The quality of individual installments varies but with Deathlok, Rich Buckler and Doug Moench invent the amoral, dystopian protagonist a decade before that became a genre. The stories remain startlingly bleak, forty-plus years later, and Buckler's art rocks.    

Captain America and the Falcon #169-176 Tricky Dick Nixon heading a Secret Empire to subvert American Democracy? I'd already seen the original, but I'm still up for this reboot. 

Captain America and the Falcon #153-156: Steve Englehart stumbles a bit in the finale, but retconning post-WWII, pre-Avengers #4 Captain America and Bucky as unhinged red, white, and blue racists, inadvertently driven insane by the very government they served, was nothing short of brilliant. A pure distillation of Parallax View '70s paranoia.

Master of Kung Fu: #33-35 Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy mash-up '70s Kung Fu fightin' with '60s super-spy fetish, add liberal doses of Jim Steranko and Kwai Chang Caine as 006, stir in one insane billionaire inventor, bent on world domination, and garnish with a little robot, cute as a button and twice as homicidal!  

Red Sonja!
Conan the Barbarian #23-24: A pre-bikini clad Red Sonja brings Grrrl power to the Hyborian Age. And leaves Conan with a couple very blue body parts. Artist Barry (pre-Windsor) Smith leaves his signature character with an Aubrey Beardsley-inspired flourish, while writer Roy Thomas goes from strength to strength.

Howard the Duck #1-15: Multiple stories linked by Steve Gerber's satiric vision* and bruised humanism, which found its singular voice in Howard's wise-quackin', hairless ape critiques and fight-for-the-little-guy grit. Top-flight artists Frank Brunner and Gene Colan brought our web-footed wonder to neurotic-aquatic life, but it took a semi-kook like Gerber to turn a dyspeptic duck into one of the most jarringly human comic characters of the post-Watergate '70s. 

*It began to flounder in issue #16, with Gerber's confessional striptease, "Deadline Doom," and never completely regained its footing. 

Tomb of Dracula #45-47: A stellar trio of terror that starts with Blade battling good-guy vampire detective Hannibal King, and ends with the Lord of the Vamps wedding a nice Satan cult girl and consummating their marriage in a desecrated church, beneath a large painting of Jesus, who has a sneaky-if-holy hand in the conception. Heresy and horror, served up bloody and delicious by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, and Tom Palmer.

Fantastic Four #136-137: Gerry Conway's not-so-nifty '50s futurama, with greasers on jet-bikes battling super-patriots in Bucky-like gear and 3-D shades, was a great premise with a whiff of social conscience and excellent art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott. Alas, part two devolved into battling a giant ape with a Sputnik head, but as a kid who read about the Red Scare, McCarthy and the Cold War, and liked '50s hoods long before the Fonz, I remember this story fondly enough to read again someday. Part one, anyway.

What If? #11
Avengers #93-96: The complete Kree-Skrull war has lots of moving parts, not all of which mesh harmoniously. This four-issue run, reuniting Roy Thomas with Neal Adams while inspiring them both, is the savory center cut of the saga.

What If #11: A weirdly sentimental fave, given I didn't read it until the middle of the 'oughts. Jack Kirby's sole return to Marvel's first family (not counting covers) imagines the early Marvel Bullpen becoming the Fantastic Four. A fun, nostalgic romp, bursting with the King's high-voltage creativity and fake Bullpen brotherhood.

Tomb of Dracula #59-70: This meandering, long goodbye stakes (yeah, you get it) its claim that TOD was one of Marvel's best books of the '70s, of any genre. Dracula becomes human again while battling Satan, his heaven-spawned son Janus, and the uncomfortable vestiges of his own humanity, all while trying to be a good husband. Then he gets blown up by wheelchair-bound Fearless Vampire Hunter Quincy Harker, but we know only a lapsed licensing deal with the Bram Stoker estate can really remove Drac from the Marvel U.

Prof. Tom-
The first eleven picks are somewhat in order. The last nine are a grab bag of greatness.
  1. Savage Tales #2 (October 1973) and Savage Tales #3 (February 1974): Roy Thomas and Barry Smith’s two-part adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “Red Nails” is Marvel’s pinnacle achievement during the 1970s — and perhaps of any decade. 
  2. The Avengers Annual #7 (November 1977) and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (December 1977): The two greatest comics I ever bought off a spinner rack.  
  3. Conan the Barbarian #100 (July 1979): The epic ending to Roy’s massive adaptation of Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast.” Other Conan comics and magazines might have been better, but none as important.
  4. The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #7 (August 1975): With the help of the Dream Team of Big John and Alfredo Alcala, Roy’s all-original “The Citadel at the Center of Time” matches anything that Howard ever wrote. The inspiration for What If  #13.
  5. Conan the Barbarian #4 (April 1971): Masterful Thomas/Smith adaptation of the heart-breaking “The Tower of the Elephant.”
  6. Conan the Barbarian #19 (October 1972) to Conan the Barbarian #26 (May 1973): Even though #22 was a reprint of the premiere issue, the “Siege of Makkalet” —  as I came to call it — became a blueprint for a series filled with multi-part arcs. Red Sonja made her debut in #23, Barry Smith drew his last with #24, Big John came on board with 25 and Ernie (Chua) Chan inked his first with #26.
  7. Conan the Barbarian #14 (March 1972) and Conan the Barbarian #15 (May 1972): The Cimmerian gets his first guest star, Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone — and Moorcock co-plots. This is also the series’ first continued story, something Roy will come to rely heavily on. See #6.
  8. The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #2 (October 1974): A Neal Adams cover wraps Roy, Big John and Alcala’s magnificent “Black Colossus.”
  9. The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #30 (June 1978): Call me a philistine, but Frank Brunner’s art for “The Scarlet Citadel” rivals the best of both Barry Smith and John Buscema. Sorry boys.
  10. The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #5 (April 1975): Roy, John and The Tribe deliver “A Witch Shall Be Born,” Howard’s legendary crucifixion story.
  11. The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #16 (December 1976): John Buscema. Alfredo Alcala. Barry Smith. Tim Conrad. Walt Simonson. Richard Corben. Earl Norem. Mike Zeck. Gene Day. ’Nuff said.
  12. The Amazing Spider-Man #119 (March 1973) and The Amazing Spider-Man #120 (May 1973): The two-parter featuring the Hulk. Can’t really remember if the stories hold up, but I’ll never forget those, well, amazing John Romita covers. I paid plenty for these when I started my obsessive Spider-Man back-issue phase.
  13. The Amazing Spider-Man #129 (February 1974): Meet the Punisher. The only comic I wish I kept when I sold my collection so that I could afford to move out of my parent’s house. Well, not really. Couldn’t have Movie Nights in my parent’s basement. 
  14. The Amazing Spider-Man #100 (September 1971) to The Amazing Spider-Man #102 (September 1971): The “Six-Arms Saga.” Could have been ridiculous but these three-armed issues are packed with horror and heroism. Love how Gil Kane handled all those extra appendages.
  15. Marvel Feature Presents Red Sonja She-Devil with a Sword #2 (January 1976): “Blood of the Hunter” is the best Sonja story of the decade. And it marks Freaky Frank Thorne’s first work on what would become his signature character.
  16. Marvel Team-Up #79 (March 1979): Claremont. Check. Byrne. Check. Austin. Check. Orzechowski. Check. Red Sonja. Check.
  17. Iron Fist #12 (April 1977):  Claremont, Byrne and Dan Adkins team The Living Weapon with The Living Legend, Captain America. 
  18. The Micronauts #3 (March 1979): As I said in my review ALL! OUT! ACTION!
  19. Daredevil #159 (July 1978): While Frank Miller debuted in 158, this one made it obvious that something special — and dark — was brewing.
  20. The Silver Surfer #1 (August 1968): Yeah, I know this isn’t from the '70s but screw it: I only came on board MU in October 1970 with Conan the Barbarian 1, so never got a chance to weigh in on stuff from the '60s. The premiere issue of The Silver Surfer is what great comics are all about. I owned this masterpiece: the cover was torn off and taped backed on so it was a Flea Market bargain. But I treasured it all the same. Remember, this was a 68-pager, so we got a double dose of Stan, Big John and Joe Sinnott on the criminally underused Sentinel of the Spaceways. (A Watcher reprint from Tales Of Suspense 53 took up the additional real estate.) A big salute to Professors Jack and Matthew for including this classic on their lists of Top 20 for the 1960s.
"The Scarlet Citadel"

Prof. Pete-
     1. Captain America and the Falcon #153-156 (Sept-Dec 1972): I've written thousands of words about this life-changing arc over the years but I'll just say this about that: Forty-plus years has not diminished the impact this story carries one iota. To me, this is still what great comic story-telling is all about
Captain America and the Falcon #155
     2. The Amazing Spider-Man #121-123 (June-August 1973): The deaths of Gwen and the Green Goblin shocked and shook the comics world but, more importantly, it's a well-written arc. Sure, the impact has been minimalized in the ensuing decades thanks to a new generation of comic vultures who won't leave well enough alone (I'm staring right at you, Mr. Straczynski) but, reading it forty years on, there's still the tug. I included #123 as well since I felt like the scabs were pulled off and salt poured into the wound of poor Mr. Parker. His almost insane stare on a few of those pages is genuinely scary.
     3. The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (May-July 1971): The infamous drug issues!
     4. The Monster of Frankenstein #1-6 (January-October 1973) For six insanely well-crafted issues, this was Marvel's greatest monster "hero."
     5. Power Man #35-46 (September 1976- August 1977): Marv Wolfman rescues the suddenly cool Luke Cage from virtual obscurity and invests the character with life and some of the best jive-shuckin' lines this side of Sweet Sweetback!
     6. Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #3 (October 1972)
"Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper!"
     7. The Amazing Spider-Man #144-150 (May-November 1975): The Jackal/Prof. Warren/Gwen Clone/Spidey Clone epic was not everyone's cup of tea (opinions tend to stay in the "loved it" or "hated it" camps) but I ate up every panel. The definition of a comic book I waited for at the stands every month, anticipating new twists and turns.
     8. The Incredible Hulk #142 (August 1971) The hilarious "They Shoot Hulks, Don't They?" parody issue.
     9. The Amazing Spider-Man #136-137 (September-October 1974). Harry Osborn is the Green Goblin!
   10. The Amazing Spider-Man #90 (November 1970): The Death of Capt. Stacy.
   11. Journey Into Mystery #2 (Oct 1972) Marvel's finest horror story adaptation: Robert Bloch's "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper!"
   12, Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1 (June 1972) I surprised myself by enjoying so many of the early issues of Cage. Never cared for them as a kid but appreciated them on the second go-'round.
   13. Sub-Mariner #53-55, 57, 61 (September 1972-May 1973) You could tell that Bill Everett's best writing days were behind him but his art had not suffered one bit. Reading through these glorious issues was like finding a stack of 1940s funny books in your grandpa's attic.
    14. Amazing Adventures #11 (March 1972) The first solo adventure of the Beast, drawn by Tom Sutton. Subsequent installments would leave me wanting but this particular issue is dynamite.
    15. Marvel Premiere #4 (September 1972) Doctor Strange Meets Cthulhu!
    16. Amazing Adventures #18 (May 1973) Killraven and the War of the Worlds!

Oh, that Shanna! Grrrrrr-owl!
    17. Shanna the She-Devil #1-5 (December 1972-August 1973) What are you looking at? Yeah, I enjoyed the hell out of this goofball series, especially after Steve Gerber jumped on board. Other than Daredevil and Claws of the Cat, this was the best place for an 11-year-old MZ to get some cheesecake!
   18. Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 (May 1974) The greatest Hulk-Thing battle ever!
   19. Giant-Size X-Men #1 (July 1975) Yes, I'm sure that the Byrne run is better but this one has a very special place in my brain.
   20. Daredevil #160 (September 1979) Perhaps my first inkling that this Miller guy was something else entirely.


Prof. Scott-
The X-Men, once Byrne came on. Nothing touched it in terms of art and consistent quality of characterization. Even when the stories themselves might not have been a home run, the characters always were.

Prof. Joe – The Amazing Spider-Man
As if there were going to be a different answer?

Prof. Matthew- Long-term/traditional:  Avengers, despite its drastic ups and downs.  Short-term/underdog:  Super-Villain Team-Up.

Prof. Tom- I have to say Conan the Barbarian, right? But I will admit, The Micronauts was an amazingly exciting breath of fresh air when 1979 rolled around.

Prof. Pete- Has to be The Amazing Spider-Man with all its classic storylines and twists and turns.


John Byrne
Prof. Chris- George Pérez (pencils)
Josef Rubinstein; Terry Austin (inks)

Prof. Scott- John Byrne. Always...

Prof. Joe- John Byrne
Boy, I wanted to say John Romita again like in the '60s, but the '70s Spideys were known as the Kane and Andru show. And My Pal Sal Buscema is so solid 99% of the time he would be a proper choice. But in the early '90s, when I was traveling all around Queens tracking down Byrne-drawn issues that I missed in my comics sabbatical, that makes the co-plotting Canuck my pick.

Prof. Matthew-  Penciler: John Buscema.  Inker:  Joe Sinnott.  No-brainers both.

Prof. Tom- Sorry Big John, I have to go with Barry Smith. Again, just look at “Red Nails.”

Prof. Pete- I loved everything Alfredo Alcala did for Marvel but there wasn't enough to warrant a "Best Artist" label so (not that I'm having to scrape around for a #2) I'm going to lay that claim on Gentleman Gene Colan.


Chris Claremont
Prof. Chris- Well, Chris Claremont seems like an obvious choice, for all the right reasons.  Claremont raised the bar on comics writing, as he anticipated his reading public would be prepared for complex characterization and interpersonal situations that, prior to his arrival at the helm of X-Men, might ordinarily have been reserved for a slightly more mature audience.

Credit also to longtime vet Roy Thomas.  The action that drives Conan the Barbarian probably would have ensured robust sales, even with routine, formulaic stories.  Instead, Roy invests each tale with atmosphere, sharp dialog, and an intriguing cast, while always maintaining a firm grip on the character of the man in the title role.  Thanks also to Roy for drawing both Fantastic Four and Thor out of minor slumps, and re-establishing them as must-read titles.

Prof. Scott-
A tie between Steve Englehart and Chris Claremont. Both changed the course of their titles and did it with class and verve.

Prof. Joe- Chris Claremont
Not only for the sheer magnificence of his X-Men run in the last couple years of the decade, but the incredible (for the most part) Marvel Team-Up tomes where he captured Spidey perfectly.

Steve Englehart
Prof. Matthew-  Steve Englehart, succeeded by Chris Claremont (if I may have my cake and eat it too).  Steve Gerber was up there—when he was good, he was great, but I don’t think he was consistently good enough.  Jim Starlin gets honorable mention for a small oeuvre that packed a disproportionate punch, although it’s impossible to separate his brilliant writing completely from his brilliant artwork, so that slants things.

Prof. Tom- Oh, Roy Thomas for sure. And not just for his consistent quality. Not only did he adapt every single one of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories — and an impressive chunk from his literary heirs — The Rascally One added mightily to the mythos with just as many originals. Probably more. Roy’s work on the Hyborian Age in the 1970s was a monumental achievement. It was a great pleasure to experience the majority of it for the very first time.

P.S. Thanks to a suggestion by A+ student Andy Decker, look for a post-graduate lesson on Conan the Barbarian 115, Thomas’ last on the series.

Prof. Pete- No one approached the sheer heights of quality comic-book literature that Steve Englehart seemingly pumped out in the 1970s for both DC and Marvel.


Prof. Chris- Captain Marvel #37 (Gil Kane) –stellar!
Amazing Spider-Man #188 (Cockrum/Austin) –inventive!
Power Man and Iron Fist #50 (Dave Cockrum) –comin’ atcha!
Defenders #50 (Al Milgrom) –bristling! (Al’s most interesting-looking cover; a little help from John Romita to finish a few characters’ faces, perhaps -?)
Micronauts #11 or #12 (both by Michael Golden) –both cool-looking, but very different –I can’t decide; which one do you like best?
Spectacular Spider-Man #21 (Pollard/Austin), which reminds me that Pollard & Austin would’ve been a solid regular art-team.  Or I might have been thinking of Pollard/Wiacek (Iron Man #112).  No wait!  I betcha it was Pollard/Rubinstein (Iron Man #107).
X-Men #113 (Byrne/Layton) –furious, fiery action; but, if that’s too hectic, you might prefer #114 (Bryne/Austin), which is muted and somber.  Impressive range from our new X-artist.
and finally,
Avengers #167 (Pérez/Austin) –I can’t help it; I have to pick the first-ever Pérez/Austin cover.

Prof. Scott-
Captain Marvel 29. Jim Starlin’s amazing but simple cover was poster-worthy.

Prof. JoeThe Amazing Spider-Man #100 
First off, it's John Romita. Second, it features a slew of Spidey supporting-cast faces, and has been imitated ad nauseam over the years, which equals accolades enough. Marvel is even remembering it today, as evidenced by one of the latest Ultimate Spider-Man covers that Student Intern Cassie got in the mail.

Prof. Matthew-  Avengers 109.
Prof. Tom- For color comics: Barry Smith, Conan the Barbarian 21 (December 1972).
For magazines: Neal Adams, Savage Tales 4 (May 1974).

Prof. Pete- For purely personal reasons (but then aren't they all?), I'll nab Captain America and the Falcon #155. Mio amico Prof. Mark gifted me with a laminated version of this cover and it hangs in my office.


Prof. Chris- Roger Stern.  Granted, most of Sterno’s best work is yet to come, but I still feel the early efforts we’ve covered have been noteworthy, with Stern showing some range with wildly dissimilar titles such as Incredible Hulk and Doctor Strange.

Doug Moench.  Doug has the thankless task of taking over Master of Kung Fu after the departure of originator Steve Englehart.  Moench establishes MoKF as an adventure title; in response, fans of the early issues bemoan the loss of Shang-Chi’s philosophical aspect.  Over time, Moench establishes a balance (fittingly enough) between the title’s penchant for action and intrigue, and Shang-Chi’s continual self-examination as his involvement with violence (and his budding love for Leiko Wu) changes him.  In the process, Moench develops the non-super-hero-based MoKF into one of the Bronze era’s truly unique series.

Roger McKenzie.  Say what you like about his work for other titles (okay, okay – not so loud!  I concur, his Captain America scripts are, at best, shaky); regardless, McKenzie’s contribution to a much-improved Daredevil is routinely overlooked.

Prof. Scott- Marvel Super-Heroes, Marvel’s Greatest Comics, Marvel Tales…all of those wonderful reprint mags that showed me the earlier days of my favorite characters. Without them, I’d never have gotten into comics as much as I did, since the '70s were pretty weak sauce.

Prof. Joe- Mike Ploog. From putting his unforgettable stamp on Werewolf By Night to the ocular oddity of Weirdworld, Ploog was plenty good! Too bad his tenure with Marvel ended so poorly, but you know these artist types…

Honorable Mention: The last four to six issues of Godzilla. Wacky, bizarre, and kinda fun when you stop to think about it, from a cowboy roping Godzilla like a steer to Little G fighting a rat in the sewers like a modern-day MMA brawl. Plus nice Trimpe art.

Prof. Matthew- Bill Mantlo.  He had his off days just like everybody else, but more than his fair share of good ones on Champions, Iron Man, Marvel Team-Up, Micronauts, Super-Villain Team-Up, and Tarzan, among others…plus, what happened to him shouldn’t happen to a dog, which makes him a sentimental favorite in my book.

Prof. Tom- Roy Thomas. See “Writer.” Plus, how he ushered Marvel through Stan’s gradual departure. Roy is on the Mount Rushmore of Marvel.

Prof. Pete- Marv Wolfman's run on Power Man was easily the most fun I had reading during this journey. Marv realized there were differences between the races but, by golly, he didn't need to rub it in our faces and he didn't. He infused Luke with humor and character, something the Hero for Hire was lacking before Marv's tenure and has lacked since Marv moved on. As a non-funny book runner-up, I'd nominate Monsters of the Movies, Marvel's much-maligned Famous Monsters of Filmland rip-off that featured better writing and a bit more of a grown-up attitude towards horror films.


Prof. Chris- Marv Wolfman’s editor

Prof. Scott- Ross Andru on The Amazing Spider-Man. I loathe his work and he’s the main reason I stopped reading the title until the 80’s.
The Kree-Skrull War. Too many side trips, too many artist changes and Rick Jones saving the day by dreaming up comic-book heroes just didn’t do it for me.

Prof. Joe- Marv Wolfman's Nova

Blue Blazes! With the hype meter on the highest setting, Nova, The Human Rocket was launched to be the greatest thing since sliced Nova-Prime bread. Well, according to Marv, that is. Not even Stan himself could have banged the drum as loud for this mediocre-at-best series that got even worse when Carmine Infantino took over the easel. So many solid background panels of people leaning to one side! Blazes!

Prof. Matthew- I guess Doug Moench, with the caveat that I never read his venerated Master of Kung Fu.  Really, uh, dug his Inhumans, but disliked much of the rest, especially the one-two punch of Godzilla and Shogun Warriors.  Runner-up:  Marv Wolfman, with the caveat that I never read his venerated Tomb of Dracula.

Prof. Tom- Steve Gerber. I don’t care what anyone says. Just read “A Death Made of Ticky-Tacky,” from Tales of the Zombie 8 (November 1974). In fact, go back and read any Tales of the Zombie magazines he worked on.

Does anyone mind if I regress? Someone named Grant actually commented on my review of “Ticky-Tacky.” While there is no official category — so a cash reward will not be forthcoming — I nominate it for “Greatest Reader Comment of the 1970s”:
“Even though I’ve never read it, there are two comments about the Tales of the Zombie issue I really like.

First, there’s the “Must have had a bone to pick with swingers” remark. That’s because countless people — including countless people you wouldn’t really suspect — can be very touchy about that subject. Believe it or not, as recently as five days ago, I heard the actual word “swinger” used in a scathing way!
Also (and this leads to a much darker subject), it isn’t much of a leap for some people from “swinger” to stereotyped hippie, and hardly any leap at all from that to the whole overworked Charles Manson idea. So it doesn’t surprise me that these fictional characters go from having some harmless sexual hijinks at a party to setting up a set of murders! I'm not saying this particular writer muddled those three things, but so many people DO.

And the facetious remark, “Gotcha — organized religion stinks.”

It might have been less true in ’74, but now more than ever, organized religion gets the blame for nearly EVERYTHING that goes wrong, no matter how unconnected the two things might be. I don’t actually belong to one, but that whole way of thinking about it gets really unimaginative.”

Prof. Pete- Hands down, Doug Moench, with all his pretentious "I'd like to teach the world to sing" lecturing disguised as funny-book stories. Very close runner-up: Bill "Angry-Young-Man"-tlo (although he did teach me that there's a difference between black people and white).


Uri Geller? WTF?
Prof. Chris- Daredevil #128: during a battle with Death-Stalker, DD witnesses a space alien who walks on light-discs, and then proceeds up thru the atmosphere, to go out to the galaxy somewhere.  DD is not on acid.  I kid you not.
Daredevil #133: for some reason, DD battles alongside psychic charlatan Uri Geller.  No, this is not a DC comic.
Fantastic Four #202: the Baxter Building can fly.  No really – all you have to do is release the couplers, and … oh, never mind.

Prof. Scott- Captain America and the Falcon 144: The Femme Force. Nuff said…

Prof. Joe- Marvel Premiere #50: starring Alice Cooper (Oct 1979)
Without a doubt this was the oddest, and close to worst, comic book I read for MU. I'm sure my daughter, who I tortured by having her take the lead on this one, would agree! I'm puzzled as to why Marvel would even create this, and their explanation made little to no sense—like the story itself!

Dis-Honorable Mention: The goofy Moench-Perlin run of Werewolf By Night featuring Dr. Glitternight, or the Moon Knight Marvel Spotlight issues (or any title) with the idiotic Conquer-Lord, easily one of the worst villains of the decade.
Polka-dots and fur? WTF?

Prof. Matthew-  Lacking an immediate answer of my own, I think I’ll have to second Professor Tom’s nomination of the Helleyes train wreck, while respectfully suggesting that it should go in this category instead.

Prof. Tom- Seriously? Didn’t you see what I wrote about Steve Gerber? Tales of the Zombie 8 (November 1974).

Prof. Pete- Iron Man 26 (June 1970), wherein the Tin-Pot Titan battles alongside the nattily dressed (polka dots and boas) barbarian of the 23rd Century, Val-Larr. Conan fever taken to its most idiotic peak, with dialogue like "For he who battles the shadow spawn of Shar-Kahn must ever have an ally in Val-Larr, champion of great Luminia!" One of Archie Goodwin's few bad moments.


Prof. Chris- Nova
Prof. Joe- Ka-Zar

As much as I wanted to pick Nova, I kept thinking "Blue Blazes! I bad-mouthed Ka-Zar for three years, how could I not pick that long-haired loincloth-wearing lunk!"

Prof. Scott- 2001: A Space Idiocy. Made me hate Jack Kirby.

Prof. Matthew- Gotta go with Dean Paste-Pot on Omega the Unknown, which made even Ghost Rider look like Proust; after 40 years, I still haven’t warmed up to that sucker.

Prof. Tom- The Ghost Rider. By a mile. On a rough road. With two flat tires. 

Prof. Pete- Omega the Unknown. A character so bland, so vacuous, writer Steven Grant felt compelled to tie up all loose ends in The Defenders, a title so bland and vacuous...


Prof. Chris- Ghost Rider #16.  The Jaws rip-off.  You remember – wait, you don’t?   You forgot all about it -?  Then, help yourself to the prize box.

Dishonorable mention: Nova #17-18.  A 50 foot, or 5000 foot, or 5 mile-high tsunami (depending which of Infantino’s pathetic illustrations happen to be on a given page) threatens Manhattan, until SHIELD agents somehow are able to dispel it In The Nick Of Time.  Meanwhile, Nova’s taking a Spanish test, or something.

Prof. JoeMarvel Spotlight # 25 (December 1975)

John Warner's snore-fest about Sinbad was equal parts boring and tedious. It's a Sin this comic was created because it's Bad.

Prof. Scott- It’s the '70s, this is the toughest question of all. I wish I kept track, but I blotted so much out of my mind. I’m gonna go with the El Dorado arc in the final issues of the Hulk I just covered. So unbearably bad, it just showed me how much a beloved title can fall into a pit of feces.

Helleyes? Hell yes!
Prof. MatthewEternals 14 (if only to epitomize Kirby’s Folly; letting him near a typewriter was the single biggest writing misstep of the Bronze Era).

Prof. Tom- If I had to read it, I’m using the entire title: Adventure Into Fear with the Man Called Morbius, The Living Vampire 28 (June 1975). One horrendous word: Helleyes. 

Prof. Pete- Captain America and the Falcon 137 (May 1971), wherein Captain America and the Falcon travel to the center of the Earth because the army wants to store radioactive sludge down there and, oh, Spider-Man guest stars too! Pre-Englehart, this title sucked salmon-flavored lollipops and Stan rode it right down into the depths. Scene most indicative of how far we've sunk: Cap rises from the bowels of the world, only to pout because Sharon Carter didn't raise a "Welcome Home, My Lover" banner. If we needed proof that Stan without Jack was like John without Paul...

Professor Mark's Off-Category Meanderings on Marvel's Mixed-Up "Me" Decade 

Favorite Artists: Jack Kirby (1970), Jim Starlin, Barry Smith, Gene Colan, Paul Gulacy, John Buscema 

Best Utility Artist: Sal Buscema, never great, always good

Favorite inkers: Joe Sinnott, by a country mile. Tom Palmer, honorable mention

Best Kirby Kopy Kats: Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott on Fantastic Four

Artist I disliked then whom I like now: Ross Andru

Artist I hated then whom I like now (sometimes): Frank Robbins

Favorite Writers: Roy Thomas (everything), Jim Starlin (space opera), Steve Gerber (muck monsters & ducks), Marv Wolfman (Tomb of Dracula), Steve Englehart (Captain America, Dr. Strange), Doug Moench (Master of Kung Fu, Deathlok)

Least Favorite Writers: Gerry Conway's inane run on Daredevil. Marv Wolfman on most anything that wasn't Tomb of Dracula (or Fantastic Four #200). 

Favorite Titles Born in the Seventies: Howard the Duck, Conan the Barbarian, Tomb of Dracula, Warlock, Master of Kung Fu, Deathlok

Favorite Titles from the Sixties: Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man

Biggest Decline in Quality from the Sixties: Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man

Best Patricide: Shang-Chi kills his father, Fu Manchu, in Master of Kung Fu #50, but we know only a lapsed licensing deal with the Sax Rohmer estate can really remove Fu from the Marvel U.

Biggest Disappointments:

Jack Kirby leaves Marvel, 1970
Fantastic Four #100
Crystal breaks up with Johnny Storm, Fantastic Four #131-132
Dracula battles the Silver Surfer, Tomb of Dracula #50
Crystal marries Quicksilver, Fantastic Four #150
Jack Kirby returns to Marvel, 1975

Favorite covers: Too many to mention, and I don't have time to look.

Worst Titles/Worst Single Story: Too many to mention, and I refuse to look.

The Most WTF issue: Johnny Storm transformed into interstellar hockey goalie, Gaard, Fantastic Four #163

Best hopes for the future (had I been reading comics at the end of the decade): Frank Miller, Daredevil; Chris Claremont and John Byrne, X-Men

Professor Joe's Department of "There Just Aren't Enough Lists!"

Hands down, the dumbest yet most fun sound effect of the decade, from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #11, Sept 1977. A passing grade to any student who can pronounce it correctly! (Not that I know how…)

What If? #2 (April 1977)
Reading "What If The Hulk Had Always Had Bruce Banner's Brain" hot off the presses of Grand Candy in scenic Maspeth, NY, this 10-year-old professor was geeked. The second issue of what would turn out to be one of my favorite titles! But reading it umpteen years later…boy, it's bad. But at least it's laughable bad! "Honey, I made your favorite. Mixed greens!" Oh, I have a headache in my eye….


"From Beyond The Grave" would have made a decent three-part Amazing Spider-Man arc, but instead it became an exciting, action-packed, mysterious, goofy and groovy record album, with tunes by The Webspinners, voices by such future "stars" as Rene Auberjonois, and Jazzy John illustrations that stay in the mind forever. I had the poster of the album cover on my wall for 20 years! Zowie!
"Goin' cross town, gonna brawl tonight,
Gonna kick a tail or two
Teach a bad dude the lesson
That he better stop messin' 
With the likes of me and you
'Cause we got the power To turn wrong right
If we get together and stand up and fight
Goin' cross town, gonna brawl tonight,
Gonna kick a tail or two…"

A few misc. awards from Professor Chris...

Most Improved Writer
Bill Mantlo.  Mantlo’s earnest early offerings can be hard to take.  Over time, though, he develops a better feel for the fundamental skills of telling a story – rather than Imparting an Important Message.  So, while Mantlo’s writing in the '70s might never reach the extraordinary, he settles in, and presents reliably consistent, enjoyable reading.  

Special achievement
Jim Starlin, for taking an underutilized character like Captain Marvel, and making his title into something magnificent.  And then, a few years later, for achieving the same results with Warlock.  The Warlock stories are even more imaginative, and thought-provoking, than Starlin’s well-crafted work for Captain Marvel.  Well done, sir.  Double points. 

Special achievement -Honorary mention 

Don McGregor, who – ably assisted by artists Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Klaus Janson, Craig Russell, et al – creates a unique portrait of the unbreakable spirit of a man, T’Challa, prince of the Wakandas, in “Panther’s Rage” (Jungle Action #6-18). 

A Special Message from Professor Chris

So, Why Stop Now -?
It’s a fair question; after all, Marvel is still going strong as the calendar turns from 1979 to 1980.  Marvel University – thanks in part to the support of our dedicated student body – isn’t doing so badly itself, if I do say so.  By some measures, the Bronze Age still has 3-5 productive years to go (for me, the arrival on newsstands of Secret Wars brings down the Bronze curtain).  So, the December 1979 cut-off seems arbitrary, doesn’t it?  After all, a number of storylines have yet to be resolved; doesn’t the esteemed faculty have more to say about what’s to come?
Well, yes and no.  If careful readers of our mighty blog have noted reduced enthusiasm regarding some of Marvel’s 1979 offerings, it’s for good reason.  Up to now, we’ve extolled the wonders of many of these titles; but, it’s fair to say that – by New Year’s Day 1980 – an appreciable number of them already have seen their finest moments.  
The news isn’t all bad.  Yes, some of the titles we’ve talked and written about will continue to maintain their usually high level of four-color storytelling quality; others will (eventually) bounce back and shine yet again with restored brilliance.  For those of you interested in self-directed study of the later period of the Bronze Age, I suggest you direct your attention toward these titles from 1980 (dates in parentheses are for issues with a post-1980 publication date, which would have hit newsstands and spinner-racks in calendar-year 1980) :

  1. X-Men #129-142 (Feb 1981); Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin.
The Hellfire Club is just the beginning; Mastermind’s manipulation of Jean Grey leads directly to her transformation to Dark Phoenix; and yeah, it’s a hell of a ride.  Dark Phoenix is not the victim of some temporary hypnosis, which Professor X could fix with a quick brain bolt.  Dark Phoenix soars to a distant sun, and blows it up, just to Feel It; as a result, a planet of a billion souls is wiped out.  Her fellow X-ers fight to spare her from condemnation by the Shi’Ar, but Jean chooses self-destruction rather than risk the possibility of the Dark Phoenix force/persona being loosed again.  Scott, heartbroken, resigns and leaves the team.  Oh, and looking ahead to 1981, #141-142 tells of the Sentinels’ ultimate triumph over mutantkind in “Days of Future Past.”  Required reading.   

  1. Daredevil #163-167 (#162 is a fill-in); Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller, Klaus Janson.
McKenzie & Miller continue to build on the noir vibe they established in 1979, as stories become more character-driven, the storytelling more visual, less reliant on dialogue.  Be sure to stay tuned-in to 1981-82; Miller assumes solo creative reins with #168 (January 1981), as he introduces Elektra, Matt Murdock’s first love, who returns to Matt’s life as an assassin for the Kingpin (repurposed here as a true string-pulling crime boss, less likely to sully his meaty mitts in base fisticuffs).  Need I say more -?

  1. Doctor Strange #39-45 (Feb 1981); Chris Claremont, Gene Colan, et al.
Claremont & Colan continue to turn out first-rate Strange tales, as Doc battles Azrael the Angel of Death, Shialmar the Shadowqueen, and – with a little help from a mindless, soggy bog-beast – tackles Mordo and his minions.  As a bonus, Michael Golden provides covers for three issues. 

  1. Captain America #247-255 (March 1981); Roger Stern, John Byrne, Joe Rubinstein. 
Stern & Byrne establish a new private life for Steve Rogers, with everyday people – including a prospective girlfriend – in a Brooklyn Heights tenement.  This Cap is refreshingly angst-free, whether in regard to his past, or his relevance in a continually-changing America.  Plus, the Byrne/Rubinstein realization of the Living Legend is consistently excellent.

  1. Master of Kung Fu #84-95; Doug Moench, Mike Zeck, Gene Day.
Shang-Chi has his latest showdown (you’ll notice I didn’t call it a final confrontation), with Big Daddy Fu Manchu, whose latest devious plot threatens to reduce the Big Apple to a glowing pile of radioactive ash (MU closes its doors after MoKF #83, Chapter 1 of this seven-part story).  Shang & Leiko spend some time in New York, where they intervene in a Chinatown gang war.  

  1. King Conan #1-4; Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Danny Bulanadi.
A middle-aged Conan has a series of stirring adventures, accompanied by son and heir Conn (Queen Zenobia is his mother), who learns of courage and leadership at the feet of the great warrior.  John Buscema somehow was able to add this double-sized quarterly – which essentially required enough work to fill another four annual-sized issues – to his to-do list without any slackening of quality.

  1. Marvel Two-in-One #60-66; Mark Gruenwald & Ralph Macchio, George Pérez, Jerry Bingham, Gene Day.
The high caliber of the six-part Project Pegasus storyline (#53-58) carries over to two three-part stories, one involving Starhawk and Moondragon in a search for Adam Warlock, the other a new Serpent Crown crisis (co-starring Triton, Stingray, and the Scarlet Witch) versus the new Serpent Squad.  Oh, and there’s also a single-issue run-in with the Impossible Man (with some outstanding art by Pérez & Day) that you won’t want to miss.
You’ll note many familiar titles are missing; so where, you might ask, are these favorites: Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Marvel Team-Up, Thor?  Simply put, these titles suffer from inconsistent, uninspired, and/or poorly-assigned creative teams, and/or a reliance on fill-in issues for the bulk of 1980-1981.  Amazing Spider-Man alone has no fewer than five fill-ins from #206-222, which is staggering; in the mix are issues by a new creative crew (O’Neil-Romita Jr-Mooney or Milgrom) that aren’t a whole lot better.   Show of hands: who here thinks Gene Colan should pencil the Avengers, Bill Sienkiewicz should lay out the Fantastic Four, and Herb Trimpe should render Spidey each month for Team-Up?  See, that’s what I mean.  

So, to paraphrase Baseball Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey, it’s better to trade a player a year too early, rather than a year too late.  By signing off on Marvel University now, you might say we’re trading in our rosy memories of 1970s Marvel, while they still have their highest value.   

Two weeks from today, Professor Flynn returns for a bit of
overtime and gives his account of the activities of one
Moon Knight in 1980. Be here for our first foray into the 1980s!

In the meantime, I'll leave you with some words that I always thought appropriate for fans of our genre, with thanks to Bernie and Elton:

Beneath these branches,
I once wrote such childish words for you.
But that's okay,
there's treasure children always seek to find.
And just like us,
you must have had
a once upon a time...