Wednesday, May 29, 2013

April 1971: The Amazing Spider-Man Over London!

Conan the Barbarian 4
"The Tower of the Elephant!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Adapted from the Story by Robert E. Howard
Art by Barry Smith and Sal Buscema

Conan arrives in the thief-city of Zamora, wondering why no one has yet dared to steal the Heart of the Elephant, a legendary jewel safeguarded high in the Tower of the Elephant that, well, towers over the lawless humanity below. While casing the gleaming structure, the Cimmerian spies the levitating wizard Yara floating through the front gates — he then comes across Taurus of Hemedia, a master thief with the same reckless intention of stealing the Heart. After escaping a trio of guard-lions, the pair scale the smooth side of the Tower, marveling at the priceless gems that dot the surface. When they gain entry, Taurus is quickly killed by a gigantic black spider, which is in turn dispatched by Conan. Roaming through rooms filled with untold riches, the barbarian encounters a chained, green-skinned giant with the head of an elephant. Calling himself Yag-Kosha, the forlorn creature tells Conan that he is an alien imprisoned by the wizard Yara, forced to do his evil biddings. Yag-Kosha pleads for Conan to kill him, take the Heart to Yara, and repeat an incantation. The Cimmerian agrees and Yara shrinks inside the jewel, where Yag-Kosha appears to take his revenge. Conan barely escapes while The Tower of the Elephant crumbles around him. -TF

TF: While last issue was also based on a Robert E. Howard story, this marks the first time that Roy actually adapted a tale from Howard’s Conan canon. (Say that three times fast!) Often considered one of the Cimmerian’s finest adventures, “The Tower of the Elephant” was first published in Weird Tales in March, 1933. Even if I could, I won’t bother with a comparison between the two: let’s leave that to Professor Gilbert in the next Sunday Spotlight. The splash page proclaims that “The Tower of the Elephant” was nominated for Best Story, 1972, by the Academy of Comic-Book Artists. Now what that actually means is beyond me. Howard’s original story? If so, took them long enough. Roy’s adaptation? Kinda hard to give an award to something before it was even published. Either way, it’s a humdinger. I’ve read the issue before, but since I never owned the original comic, it must have been in reprint form. It’s three in a row for the Smith/Sal show and I hope the team lasts because they click. For the big Buscema Jr. fan on the faculty, you can easily detect his style of drawing muscle tones in the inks. I noticed that Roy used the word “shrubbery” on both pages 5 and 6 — perhaps he was a fan of Monty Python. Or, by Crom, perhaps Monty Python were fans of Howard.

SM: Easily the best issue so far. A story so good, I had to read it three damned times. Another adaptation of a Robert E. Howard tale and it's nicely done. I don't have the original stories to compare, but Roy does fine work with the prose-heavy piece. It's a gripping tale, and I was hanging on every word. Yet another new friend gets killed just as I'm getting used to him. I was a little disappointed that Conan didn't find or free the girl the slave trader had captured before the start of the story, but that wasn't his concern. Conan is an amazing anti-hero who has his own code. I can't imagine Spider-Man or Thor doing a mercy killing. Right in the middle of page 2, there's a 4 panel string that really looks like John Byrne. If someone would have just put up the first of those 4, I never would have guessed it was Barry Smith or anyone other than Byrne (who didn't have his first professional sale until 1974). It's amazing how Smith's art has evolved over such a short period of time. Truly loving this title, it's been consistently great from the first issue. And from here on, Conan is monthly!

PE: Not enough Conan coverage, you say? Barbarians getting the short shrift at the University? Tired of all these long underwear wimps? We've got just the ticket for you: make sure to tune in on Sunday morning for a special spotlight on "Tower of the Elephant" by new addition to the faculty, Professor Gilbert Colon.

The Amazing Spider-Man 95
"Trap for a Terrorist!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita and Sal Buscema

Aye guv’nah! Spidey can’t get best bird Gwen out of his head, so decides to follow her to jolly old London. But with no schillings to speak of, he heads back to the Bugle, where good ol’ Robbie Robertson decides to send him on a photo assignment for a free trip. As he runs to tell his Auntie, he spies long-absent Mary Jane. On the plane, Peter meets American delegate Herbert Knowles, and as they touch down in the mother country, some right wankers hold the passengers as hostages. Peter discreetly changes into Spider-Man, kicks the bomb away from the plane and heads off in pursuit of the terrorists who’ve kidnapped Knowles and his son. After a quick meet with the local bobbies, Spidey heads off to find the scoundrels, where Gwen spots him and faints. He tracks down the car, plants a camera and—Bob’s your uncle, he makes a good show and defeats the terrorists, only to find Knowles is not with them. From a clue left by one of the sots, Spidey heads to Big Ben with minutes to spare and saves the delegate and his son. But all is not tickity-boo, as Peter spots the headline “Spider-Man Foils Terrorist Plot”! Now he’s in a bit of a sticky wicket since he can’t reveal himself to Gwen or she’ll suspect the two are one and the same! But the good news is the lass’ uncle thinks “the chap’s a bloomin’ hero”…. so is there hope for our dismal do-gooder yet? -JT

Someone needs to inform May and MJ that the 60s are over

JT: The cover claims this story is “torn from today’s headlines”. I have no idea what they’re talking about since I was only 4 when this issue came out and have never read it until last night. A quick check of the internet reveals…reveals…reveals…well, not bloody much. I have no clue unless this is somehow related to some generic kidnapping, generic hostage situation or generic sighting of a swinging costumed hero near Big Ben.

MB: Despite the change in locale (Pip pip!  Spidey’s in jolly old England, where I’ll eat my bowler if Uncle Arthur wasn’t intended as a dead ringer for C. Aubrey Smith), and the topical plotline of the terrorists holding the plane hostage, this strikes me as an average issue.  Of course, I’m not gonna complain about a Romita/Buscema art team, with Sal once again inking Jazzy Johnny’s pencils to good effect, and Scotland Yard’s relatively favorable attitude is a nice contrast to much of the NYPD, since the Brits don’t have J. Jonah Jameson whipping up anti-Spidey hysteria.  The coincidence of Gwen seeing Spidey swing by the window seemed far-fetched, and the fact that helping Knowles prevented Peter from visiting her just felt like piling on.

SM: Pete goes to find Gwen somehow in the huge teeming metropolis that is London. He's not the swiftest customer, as usual, appearing as Spider-Man pretty quickly to stop terrorists and smash crime. It isn't until he sees a newspaper that he realizes Gwen would know they were both in town. And because he's not that smart when it comes to things non-scientific, Pete doesn't realize that all he has to do is bring up his "arrangement" with Spidey; Pete takes the pictures and gives Spidey a cut of the profit. This would have smoothed it over and Gwen would be so happy to see him, she wouldn't care anyway. At worst, she'd pressure Pete to give up his "arrangement." But Stan was never that deep a plotter and was always more interested in giving Pete the hard knocks. Honestly, this merely made Parker look like an idiot.

JT: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again—John Romita does the best sound effects in the biz! “Thakka
Thakka Thak!” “Spkop!” “Twhop!” And that’s just on page 15! Great art as usual for an issue that’s really just for character development, but it’s terrific all the same. Forget the small plot holes, we get action, pathos, love, romance, free trips overseas, glimpses of Spidey on the telly, a Gil Kane-esque panel from Jazzy John on p. 17, etc. By the way, sorry about all the lame Brit-isms in my summary, but who can resist!

PE: Well, Gwen may never know that Peter Parker and The Amazing Spider-Man were in London at the same time ("She'd put two and two together in a minute!") but is Peter hoping JJJ and Robbie Robertson are dim bulbs? Will Robbie scratch his head when Peter brings him action photos and mumble, "Golly, it shore was kismet we had Peer in London the same time as the wall-crawler. You don't think... nah!"  I've had it up to here with the "Spider-Man is ruining my life" routine one issue and the "Swinging through the city as Spider-Man sure is peachy" the next. Were there only two moods on Stan's Spidey template? I'm docking this a half a star for Robbie's ludicrous "hip" line when Parker says he believes in Santa Claus: "Even in one who feeds his reindeer soul food?" What the hell does that even mean?

JT: About that Robbie line, Dean Pete... you're right! Bwahahahaha!

SM: Dean Pete is right on the money with Robbie and his smarts, and thankfully....well, why spoil next month's story? Awesome art with lots of fun action beats. Nothing earth shaking, but a decent issue, even if it does Parker a disservice.

Fantastic Four 109
"Death in the Negative Zone!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

In search of ultimate negative power, Reed’s former friend and college-mate Janus has forcibly gained entrance to the Negative Zone. On the visi-screen the Fantastic Four watch as he meets Annihilus, the zone’s ruler, the self-proclaimed “living death that walks.” Janus gets a quick education in what negative power really is, and the only thing that saves him from certain death is begging Annihilus to save his sorry hide in exchange for showing the insectile alien the path back to our world. Knowing that Janus would do anything to save himself, Reed already has hustled Ben, Johnny and himself to enter the negative domain, leaving Sue to monitor them from his lab. They are all equipped with gyro-homing devices to guide them back. One stroke of luck: Janus hasn’t given Annihilus the critical bit of info yet (overheard by our friends), and is off with two of the zone’s minions to the nega-power area. Not knowing what he’s gotten into, Janus uses his own power to hijack the ship and head to the antimatter zone. The creatures eject him; Janus gets pulled in by gravity to certain death. While Ben and Johnny hold off Annihilus as long as they can, Reed flys after Janus, to save him from ruining our world more than to save him. Stretcho can’t reach him in time, and heads back to the others, using an ionic blast gun to allow his teammates a chance to escape. Thing and Torch make it home, not knowing what Reed decided not to tell them: his homing device was lost in the battle. -JB

JB: If the Negative Zone is a vast universe unto itself, how convenient is it that Janus meets Annihilus as soon as he arrives? The “Living Death That Walks,” ok, so what happens when he’s killed everyone around? He does so more to prove a point than to survive (Galactus); still, he’s a more convincing leader in the zone than, say, Blaastar was. The Negative Zone itself is a little confusing. Where does the anti-matter begin and end, seeing as the FF can safely have some contact with this universe with no ill effects. As much as we feel little when Janus dies, Reed’s imminent passing is quite chilling.

MB:  After last issue’s bizarre mélange, I’d say the new Lee/Buscema team has begun firing on all cylinders, and as with the current Captain America two-parter, Stan seems, if anything, energized by the change in artists.  Ben’s newfound ability to become human at will is used sparingly and to good effect, although I doubt it will stick around for too many issues, while the script nicely complements the sumptuous visuals—enhanced, as ever, by Joe Sinnott’s inks—to create a real sense of tension and drama.  Of course, those of us with long memories will recall that this is not the first time Reed has been trapped and seemingly doomed in the Negative Zone, which I presume will be no more permanent than last time, but the final panel is truly wrenching.

SM: You ever work with someone who insists on creating tension in the office? The kind of person who takes everything super-seriously and makes everything a life-and-death crisis? That's Reed Richards. He's all full of "Shut up, Ben!" and "stow the small talk!" I was getting tense reading it. Reed also whips up this theory that the world will be immediately decimated if Annihilus came into our world because "negative and positive power can't co-exist in the same world!" So how do the FF (and everyone from Earth that goes there) survive just fine in the Negative Zone? Why would Annihilus coming here make the difference? I'm not as enamored with the character as my fellow faculty, I find him to be a raging, one-trick pony.

PE: As predicted in this space last week, the return of the very Lovecraftian Annihilus (The Living Death Who Walks!) shoves this title back into at least the "readable" pile once again. We'll see how long it stays in that stack. Not to be a stickler for details (I usually let the silly things go, don't I?) but how can Annihilus sub-title himself "The Living Death Who Walks" when we have no proof that the guy actually does walk? Usually he's standing on a big floating rock but I guess Annihilus, The Living Death That Stands doesn't have the necessary ring to it. Was anything ever made of the fact that Annie and Ultron look as though they could have been separated at birth?

"And shut up, Ben, I'm trying to self-eulogize!"

SM: It's hysterical that Agatha Harkness would be so clueless as to bitch to Sue about "disappointing" Franklin in the middle of a crisis. She's got these witchy powers, you'd think she'd suspect something was up. And while it's great Stan got some mileage out of Jack's previously rejected work, all of the hassle of last issue leads down a pretty dull path of fights and destruction. Janus is wiped out in the zone and who cares? Still and all, an okay issue with lost of action and fun. The art is fine and consistent again.

The Incredible Hulk 138
"... Sincerely, the Sandman!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Herb Trimpe and Sam Grainger

The Hulk comes out unscathed after he lands on earth from outer space.  He turns back into Bruce Banner and heads to the hospital where Betty is staying after recovering from surgery.  The two lovers are united briefly until Banner has to hide in the closet when he hears people approaching.  The Sandman has shown up to the same hospital so that he can get a blood transfusion to help him with his hand, which has been turned to glass.  He takes a doctor and nurse as hostages and orders the doc to perform the transfusion, at gunpoint, using Betty as the reluctant donor.  Once it's over, the Sandman feels like a million bucks while Betty becomes very ill.  Eventually, Banner turns into the Hulkster, who proceeds to come out of the closet proudly, ready to wrestle with the Sandman.  The two old foes throw down in the hospital parking lot.  General Ross gets involved as he and his men, while in a plane, drop a cage on the two combatants.  However, the cage was built only to hold the Hulk and the fighters briefly stop their squabble, teaming up to break out of the cage.  Ross orders them dropped into the ocean.  Once under water, the Hulk spins his arm in a circle so rapidly that it causes the Sandman to disintegrate.  Back at the hospital, Ross finds that his daughter Betty has been turned completely into glass. -TM

Tom:  And here I thought that the Sandman was an idiot for thinking that a simple blood transfusion would help him get rid of that glass hand.  Turns out he's smarter then he looks, obviously knowing that in the Marvel Universe, nothing makes sense.  I did get a chuckle out of his 'Sand-Witch,' nickname for Betty if she gained his powers.  It's not a bad idea.  This is already the third time that the Sandman has fought with the Hulk but it still felt fresh.  This may be the last time too, believe it, or not as I don't recall the Sandman ever being used again as an opponent.  Hey, if I'm wrong, then you can drop the Professor title and rename me Janitor Tom.     

MB: Sam Grainger begins a three-issue stint as the most recent inker of Herb’s Hulk, with results that—especially on the splash page and in the fight scenes—look a little more like that idiosyncratic Trimpe art for which I had a grudging affection in the mid-1970s.  Here is another case where everything seems to come together this month, and while the change in artists might not have been a catalyst per se, it is certainly a positive factor, as is Roy’s including one of my favorite antagonists, the Sandman. I remember being bothered by his heightened diction in a prior appearance, yet it feels less jarring when we see how Sandy uses it as “protective coloring,” discarded as easily as his trench coat and hat; perhaps he always knew, but chose not to speak so.

SM: Now this is a fun and strange issue. Sam Granger starts inking Trimpe's pencils and we get a very weird look. Somehow cold and creepy. It helps that the bulk of the story takes place at night. Sandman is at his most vicious and cold and it suits him. Betty is around the bend, thanks to all the crap her dad and Talbot and, yes, Banner, have put her through. She's a little tougher this time around and the price of her bravery is being turned to glass. This plot development finally adds some stakes to the title and it's going to fit into some important developments in the near future. I originally read this way back in the Marvel Super Heroes reprint days, when the Hulk was on TV and I was heavily into the character. I loved this run of the book and really appreciated the weird atmosphere.

PE: The Rascally One again reminds us that he's probably the first comic writer to graduate from high school, peppering his funny book with more poetry, this time from Yeats (how could we forget the classic [and highly edjacaishonal] Avengers strip that included Ozymandias?). And is Betty Ross' melancholy "Only that --- and nothing more." a nod to Poe? Only Roy could mix "Mark Twain" and "I'm hip" in the same conversation. Pretension aside, I loved the hell out of this issue primarily because of the art. Finally, Herb Trimpe has graduated to that Herb Trimpe! Still, to my mind, the best Hulk artist ever. The cinematic layouts (that fight scene inside Betty's teensy weensy brain and the shot showing us three of the hospital rooms from the outside of the building) make the story flow as though you were watching it on the big screen. Ya gotta love the doc, who gives up Betty Ross for experimental blood transfusions with nary a bruise ("Why, yes, I think we do have a patient that may fit your blood type. Please don't break my hand as I'm due on the course at 8!") and then whines that he "never should have performed that transferral -- knowing what I know!"  If I'd been Miss Ross' boyfriend, however, I might have hulked out before she got the transfusion. I've often thought The Sandman a buffoonish villain (on par with The Mole Man), a guy who talks tough but is actually a big puppy dog but he's more deliciously sadistic here than ever before, needling Betty as she experiences side effects from the transferral.

The ultimate embarrassment: turned to glass while hailing a cab

Daredevil 75
"Now Rides the Ghost of El Condor!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Syd Shores

Jerome Villiers, an American diplomat in Delvonia, is held up by two kidnappers while attempting to head home to his wife.  Daredevil just happens to be cruising the area and he biffs and boffs the bad guys and gets some fellows from the embassy to call an ambulance.  The ambulance that arrives is another part of the plot to kidnap Villiers, who is taken to El Condor’s hideaway.  Thinking the diplomat is heading to safety, Daredevil asks Bayard, a friend of Villiers, about the very same El Condor and is told that he was a Latin revolutionary hero. Bayard vows to cut the red tape and do something about the kidnappings . . . with the Ambassador already shanghaied, Villers makes two. This worries DD, but he can’t help reflect on his loss of Karen and his inability to be truthful to the important people in his life as he tries to make a difference in the world.  Matt meets Foggy in their hotel and they set out to “fact find”.  But Matthew needs Daredevil in order to stop Bayard and his old friend Chino start all-out war with the native peoples. He deceives Foggy and knocks his best friend out (with much remorse) in order to stop Bayard vs. El Condor.  The two armies have already met with much bloodshed when DD arrives, and he can only watch while Chino dies and Bayard is taken captive by El Condor and his soldiers. -NC & JB

NC:  Wow.  Heavy.  This issue is full of angst, but it does ring quite true.  I found some parts so poignant, for example Chino’s death when we had just seen his lovely wife and little baby, that it read more like a drama than a comic.  The characters were convincing and multifaceted, which is often not the case, so I found myself quite impressed with Gerry Conway.  I must admit, though, that El Condor looks more like a singer from the Village People than like a ghostly powerful villain.

JB: Interesting how both Villiers and Chino have a wife seen or mentioned; a little touch to emphasize their loss? Bayard’s own drive for justice, as he sees it, ironically risks his pal Chino’s own family happiness; is he hiding a personal loss of his own from the past? Sometimes the way Daredevil talks to himself aloud (rather than thinking) has annoyed me. But hey, I know I talk to myself when I’m trying to figure things out; this is what makes Matt/DD such a great character. Being a superhero wouldn’t always be fun, and coming from a grown man, the self-commentary is, to my taste, better than Peter Parker’s teenage angst. The possibility of El Condor being a ghost, while unlikely in the serious context of the story, still adds a little chill.

"Now playing goalie for the San Jose Sharks..."
SM: This is a major step up from the last few issues; a semi-realistic tale of revolution, friendship and vengeance. I say "semi" because of El Condor and his mask. Had he been drawn as a regular person, this story would have packed a little more punch. Nevertheless, Gerry Conway seems to be taking DD down a darker path than other writers, and since the character has always seemed to be a "blind Spider-Man," I like this direction. Even though he goes on for a few pages, DD's monologue of self-doubt and bitterness is well done. It didn't feel earned a couple of issues back, when it came out of nowhere, but his actions in this issue are exactly what should be bothering him. Lying to his oldest friend yet again and assaulting him as he did to make the change (which is a new wrinkle), add to his funk which was fueled by the loss of Karen due to his dual identity half. It's an interesting choice and I'm interested in where young Conway takes this.

Colan! Colan! Colan!
MB:  Conway’s growing pains continue with
an issue that, if nothing else, trades last month’s torrent of implausibility for an attempt at topicality with its Latin revolutionaries, even if the cover’s promise of  “A shocker…ripped from today’s screaming headlines!!” may be a bit hyperbolic.  Those who did not care for Syd Shores as Colan’s inker on this book—I believe they included Professor Jack—will be happy to hear that only a few scattered issues are in his future, and that after the long run ending this month, he turns the pen over to Tom Palmer.  Once again, in a pattern that long predated Gerry’s involvement, the artwork is more of an asset than the plot, with Nelson and Murdock’s “Senate-sponsored fact-finding mission” feeling awfully convenient.

SM: The story itself is fine, a nice change whenever DD gets out of NYC. It's working well and I appreciate the even-handedness in portraying the locals. The art is once again great. Gene Colan puts real power behind Matt's striking of Foggy. And once the DA finds out Daredevil was down there, shouldn't he start to get a little suspicious? Or is he "Foggy" for a reason?

Captain America and the Falcon 136
"The World Below"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Gene Colan and Bill Everett

Cap and Gorbo-as-Gorilla are still falling to their apparent death down the hugh hole created by Project Earth Dig. However, before they can pancake at the bottom, their fall is slowed by the technology controlled by the Mole Man. Moley, who has been defeated too often in the past, wants only peace and allows Cap to explain the situation. Gorbo, however, is insane and stirs the pot, calling Cap a liar and tricking the Mole Man into battle. Meanwhile, Sharon is wracked with grief thinking Cap is dead. The Falcon uses his time to better advantage and gets Tony Stark to whip up a jet pack so Sam can follow and rescue his partner. It's a one way trip, but Falc is determined. The helps Cap defeat Moley's Minions, but Mole Man is about to launch an attack at Shield above. Gorbo realizes the girl he loves, who thinks he's nice but creepy, will be killed, so he gives up the game, taking the full brunt of the blast of Moley's laser cannon. Dying, the Gorilla reverts to Gorbo's form and he admits to lying and stuff. Moley believes it all and says he will continue to live in peace. -SM

Oh, brother!
SM: A decent conclusion which was just a hairsbreadth away from being awesome. Unfortunately, Gene pads out the issue with a three page re-Cap (see what I did there) of the previous issue and then uses another three pages to retell the Mole Man's origin. It's a well- done retelling which does something to solidify Gorbo's physical plight with Moley's, but they made that comparison last issue. There's no need to stop everything for three pages of origin done more quickly in FF #1.

MB:  As promised, Bill Everett has become the latest in a long line of Colan’s inkers on this book, with the team fresh off the Black Widow’s strip in Amazing Adventures and in fine form—the artwork is distinctly Colanesque, but seems to have a little more, for lack of a better word, discipline than some of his other stuff.  Stan seems equally inspired, throwing the not-always-interesting Mole Man into the mix and using him in an unusual way; I don’t recall if this “can’t we all just get along” attitude of his sticks or not, but it was a welcome change from his customary megalomania.  The idea of the Falcon diving into Project Earth Dig head-first had me laughing derisively until I studied the dialogue and the operation of the jet-pack more closely.

SM: In the soap opera above, Sharon and the rest are a little quick to write off Cap. Here's a guy who's survived death traps, sky falls and impossible odds. He stumbled down a hole and everyone's angling to read his will. At least Falc is realistic. Fury tries to act like a Dutch uncle to Sam. "I was just tryin' to look after ya, like Cap woulda wanted." Really, Nick? You just met the guy.

PE: The two-page+ catch-up seems to be de rigeur in all the Marvel titles now (throw in a second flashback involving guest super-villain The Mole Man and we've got a full five pages of cruise control). I'm too smart to buy that it's so the folks who arrived late to be seated can see what came before. It's a lazy way for Stan to shave a couple pages off his scripts. And lazy is a good word for this story. We get Sharon moaning to Nick that The Falcon did nothing to save Cap and then two panels later telling Falc there was nothing he could do. Project Earth Dig officials and a handful of army men finish each other's thoughts. The Mole Man's "anti-gravity beam" contains a "tranquilizer mist" to calm the gorilla down? Wow, that is the definition of fast thinking. The "Stupidest Finale of the Year" Award goes to... both Gorbo and Moley having epiphanies just before the rockets are launched. My LOL-moment of the issue though has to be Dr. Gorbo lost in deep thought, pondering the origin of the Mole Man, for three pages and suddenly thinking "But now -- I'd better to listen to them--"! How would The Falcon flying to the core of the earth help anyone? He's told by Tony Stark there's only enough fuel for a one-way trip so if he finds Cap down there alive, he's in the same boat without a paddle. All this bad karma shall be erased soon, I promise.

SM: It was nice to have the Mole Man more interested in peace for a change, but Cap's parting words are typical Stan Lee sermonizing. The art of Gene Colan and Bill Everett is flawless and a pleasure to behold. With the Falcon glued to Cap's proverbial hip, the countdown to the Civil Rights PSA this book would become begins.

JT: I do believe this was the earliest Cap/Falcon ish I owned, and not having ever read (still) the one before, it never really made much sense to me. But hey, it was fun back then!

The Avengers 87
"Look Homeward, Avenger!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Giacoia and Sal Buscema

T'Challa regales his teammates with a detailed account of his origin, starting with the murder of his father at the hand of Klaw (later the evil Master of Sound) and his henchmen. A young lad, T'Challa is now to be chieftain, so he is sent to school in the States with his best friend, B'Tumba. The two friends excel at all things and return home. T'Challa is to face a series of tests to gauge his worthiness as chieftain and he passes each easily. He is given his Black Panther garb and faces his final test: climb to a high peak and eat a rare herb. This herb, once eaten, gives T'Challa superior physical prowess. However, he is attacked by agents of A.I.M. who are after the rich source of Vibranium on the island. And, in a shocking reveal, B'Tumba is the mastermind behind it all, acting out of jealousy. But when the chips are down, B'Tumba can't kill his friend and they turn on A.I.M. Sadly, B'Tumba is killed in the battle. T'Challa's last act for his friend in one of forgiveness. His tale complete. T'Challa has to make a solemn choice: remain an Avenger, or return to rule his kingdom. -SM

Kirby lives!
SM: This is one hell of a good origin issue for T'Challa. Sal Buscema and Frank Giacola (who is listed first) turn in fine work, at times aping Kirby's work, intentionally no doubt, since one panel is a very close recreation of one of Jack's FF issues introducing Klaw. Later, at the top of page 16, B'Tumba looks as if he was drawn by Kirby and Sinnott. Really fine job.

MB: This issue is attributed to “Frank Giacoia and Sal Buscema, artists,” suggesting a rare occasion on which Fearless Frank provided pencils, although the MCDb credits them with their more common inking and penciling, respectively. Nice to see Roy expand on the Panther’s origin from Fantastic Four #53, even if they’ve taken some artistic license by depicting T’Challa in his modern costume, rather than earlier versions with a cape and/or partial face-mask.  This is one of those issues I’m reading for the first time, thanks to Dean Enfantino’s generosity, and as soon as I saw page 9, the layout reminded me of the Panther’s subsequent strip, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the creators of Jungle Action had looked here for inspirations in more ways than one.

SM: The story is pretty solid, the only weakness is the A.I.M. connection. They were never an effective threat in any book, coming across as a lower rent Hydra. Still, it ties in with the cache of Vibranium on the island, which is the basis of T'Challa's personal fortune. None of the other Avengers figure strongly in the story, this is the Panther's show from start to finish. He was always a good character, but this fleshing out boosts that status greatly. Kudos all around, this is the best Avengers issue I've read in a while. 

PE: I might have suspected the identity of The Panther's betrayer to be N'Baza if T'Challa wasn't constantly questioning the man's sincerity and loyalty (ah, Roy, good try at throwing me off the track but I was on ta ya!). A little too obvious then that it would be the only guy not around: B'Tumba! I've seen some 180 degree turns in villains while reading all these Marvel Comics but this issue's change of heart takes the cake. There's no real reason given for B'Tumba to suddenly see the error of his ways just minutes after telling T'Challa how much he despises him. And, someone please tell me, just why did A.I.M. want to get to the moon so badly they went to all this trouble? 

JT:  Oooh, I loved this Avengers issue, one of the oldest in my long-gone collection, with a portion of the cover missing of course. It's the reason I always liked Black Panther, who really fits in with the Avengers, especially in the recent cartoons.

The Invincible Iron Man 36
"... Among Men Stalks the Ramrod!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Heck and Mike Esposito

(Continued from Daredevil #73.)  The Brothers of Ankh return Iron Man, Fury, Daredevil, and Whitney to S.I., where they battle with, respectively, the Spymaster and Zodiac members Sagittarius, Capricorn, and Aquarius.  After the Spymaster escapes and DD hitches a ride back to Manhattan with Fury and the captives, Whitney confides her love for Jasper to Iron Man, not knowing he is Stark.  Tony decides to take a leave of absence and resume his playboy lifestyle, leaving Kevin in charge and reigniting a romance with Marianne, but his “moratorium” on Iron Man proves short-lived when a huge robot, Ramrod, drops from space to level a landing place for the Changers, and although surviving the fight, Tony is felled by the strain on his heart. -MB

SM: Crap, more Zodiac fun. I hate these guys. At least it's finally wrapped up here. Capricorn is still ridiculous looking with his bionic antlers and skirt. He tries to blind Daredevil with a "blinding karate blow" which fails to work because DD is already blind. All well and good, but he didn't even feel it? That's one hell of a hard head Hornhead has. After all this fun ends, Whitney Frost asks Iron Man how to dump Stark for Jasper, of course not knowing Stark is under the helmet. This sends him back into another "screw the world" funk, gives control of his plant to Kevin O'Brien and heads off to spend his days getting laid. How many times are we going to visit this particular concept? He pulled this crap on Happy Hogan too. Actually, all this tells me is that Stark is still a douchebag. He had no interest in Pepper until she came back from the beauty parlor, while Happy dug her all along (back when he was ugly). Now, Tony Stark, richest guy in the Marvel Universe, with his Errol Flynn looks, can bag any chick on the planet. Jasper is a pencil neck nerd who couldn't nail a hot chick in an orgy, yet Stark is all about undercutting his friend. And he throws a tantrum when the other gal says no? Maybe he shouldn't have dragged his ass, courting Janice Cord (or done better trying to save her life - no, I will NOT drop it). 

In a freak accident, Tony Stark wakes up with the brain of Peter Parker

MB: This issue disappointed in so many ways that it threatened to evaporate from my memory as soon as I finished reading it.  The cover misleadingly implies that the Ramrod—a terrible name, by the way—is just another human lug; the interior reality is not much better, with his largely unknown origin, nature, and purpose threatening to dampen any spark of interest; Tony’s quasi-vow to quit armoring up lasts for but a few pages (during which Marianne [Rodgers] is glimpsed, reportedly for the first time since Tales of Suspense #40); the conclusion of the haphazard Ankh saga leaves so many loose ends as to be barely worthy of the term.  “Kid Conway,” as they have now started to call Gerry in the lettercols, better mature quickly if he expects an ironclad thumbs-up from me.

SM: About halfway through the issue, we finally get to the new menace, Ramrod, who is a completely different personality than what was illustrated on the cover. He's an alien in story, but speaks like a thug on the cover. Weird. I'm glad Spymaster is gone for now and the Zodiac duds (no, I didn't mean dudes) are finally defeated, but half an issue seems a little short to devote to this new menace. Why an alien from space would call himself Ramrod is a mystery. He seems to be a bulky "Silver Surfer" prep force to another "Galactus." We'll find out together! Don Heck's art is the usual bland and sometimes confusing. I don't remember Don's work bring this "meh" in the Suspense days and he was outstanding when he did his Neal Adams imitation in X-Men. Go figure.

JS: Every time Ramrod was on the page, I couldn't help but think that Mecha-Kong from King Kong Escapes had infiltrated the Marvel Universe.

JT: I would imagine the 4-year old me seeing this cover on the comic rack at the candy store thinking "Soooooo, Iron Man gets to fight a flying refrigerator this month?"

JS: And there you have it—once again, MU Professors come up with better story ideas than the Marvel Bullpen. ;) For me, the highlight of this issue was the full page ad for the Life Size Moon Monster.

Sub-Mariner 36
"What Gods Have Joined Together"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Sal Buscema and Berni Wrightson

It's wedding time for Namor and his lady Dorma.  Out of the woodwork comes every character that has made an impact on their lives.  Eventually, Attuma and his crew of thugs attack but Namor is able to fend them off. At the very end of the ceremony, it is revealed that Namor has been marrying Llyra, the evil sea witch, all along! -TM

TM:  Besides the annoying 'Where were you the day they got married?' question that hovers over every damn single narrative, on every page, this wasn't half bad.  Better then most television bsitcoms in the way that at least this issue has new material instead of constant flashbacks.

MB:  Amid a welter of mystery stories both here and at DC, newcomer Berni (later Bernie) Wrightson makes a rare appearance among Marvel’s super-hero books by inking Our Pal Sal’s pencils for one issue; he doesn’t upset any apple carts, but he does bring a suitably ominous flavor to the proceedings, e.g., with his mastery of light and shadow on pages 2-3.  I liked Roy’s use of the “Where were you on the wedding day of the Sub-Mariner?” narrative device, especially as said day had such a grim outcome, and meeting Proteus certainly expands our knowledge of the history and customs of Atlantis.  I’m always glad to welcome back Triton, Attuma, and Karthon, while trivia fans will note that the Octo-Meks returned in early issues of Super-Villain Team-Up.

PE: If I hadn't seen the credit, I'd have never guessed our inker this time out was none other than Berni(e) Wrightson, heir apparent to the throne of "Ghastly" Graham Ingels. There's that brief moment alluded to by Professor Matthew when there does seem to be something different going on but then it just fades into the background. A pity. I'd love to see what Berni could do with a hero like Subby given a free hand. We'll be discussing Berni's classic DC horror art over at bare bones for the next several months. I haven't read this title for months but this story, with its riveting cliffhanger, has put Sub-Mariner back into my "must" pile.

SM: Now this was a fun issue. The approaching nuptials between Namor and Dorma, the invitations to the UN, the attacks from his enemies and then the final twist - all exceptionally well done. This was a packed issue with lots of action and drama. Diane Arliss, I hope, is nearing her exit from the strip as she really is pointless. Now that she sees her cause is hopeless, having her fade away would be most welcome. The art is very satisfying and I'd be thrilled if it would remain this way, but I was so captivated by the cliffhanger, I went right to next issue and...oh man.... Well, Dean Peter will be thrilled, but my gut dropped. Sal Buscema turns over the pencils to Ross Andru, and I'll talk about that next time. Honestly, though, this is a top notch issue, action all the way and a jaw-dropping final panel that sets into motion events which will impact the series, and Namor himself, for months.

The Mighty Thor 187
"The World is Lost!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Odin has lost his battle with Infinity; he’s now one more mindless zombie serving the World Beyond. The problem for Thor, how do you fight your own dad, especially when he’s more powerful than you? The Thunder God’s faster reflexes buy him time until an earthquake separates him from his father. On Earth the distant battle continues to wreak destruction. The Asgardians use a giant vise to sheath the unsettled Odinsword, to little effect. Balder and Sif seek the aid of Karnilla the Norn Queen against this common foe. She agrees, only because Balder likewise agrees to be in her debt. However, even her attempts to break the hypnotic spell on the Warriors Three fail, until Loki, realizing his own skin is ripe to be scalped, combines adds his powers to the mix.  Thor returns to Asgard, hoping to find a clue that will turn the tide. He reverts to his human form –Blake; a different perspective may yield a new strategy. Viewing the giant Odin-screen to update himself, Blake (now Thor again) makes a grim announcement: seeing the secret of Infinity, he knows why the battle cannot be won.-JB

Who says Kirby left?
JB: I must confess to shamelessly enjoying this epic, even if it could have been cut in length. Likewise I have a soft spot for any tale wherein Ragnorak is threatened, even if this is the third such attempt in three years (Mangog, Surtur). Balder continues to be tortured; he can’t have Sif, and he’s forbidden to have Karnilla, although he’s now in her debt. John Buscema has certainly given Sif the sexy costumes of late, and continues to develop his stunning, cinematic style. 

SM: This epic saga is really dragging its ass to the finish line. The Thor vs Odin battle was merely average, with lots of over the top pictures and speeches substituting for excitement and suspense. I found the interactions in Asgard to be more interesting, with the fact that they even have to ally themselves with Loki. This almost feels like a primer for the next Thor movie. John Buscema is a master at depicting human suffering and end of the world calamity. He'll shortly do the same over in Fantastic Four. The issue winds up with Thor reacting to having finally seen infinity and let me tell you, it better be worth all the sturm und drang.

MB:  By the time I saw the Bullpen Bulletin stating that a subtle clue to Infinity’s identity was hidden in Fantastic Four #108, I had already rebagged my Marvel’s Greatest Comics reprint of that issue (from which, for all I know, it was excised anyway) and moved on to April.  Having read this installment—one of five, rather than four, as it turns out—I think I may have developed my own inkling as to what is really going on here with Odin, Infinity, Thor, et alia among all of this delectable Buscema/Sinnott end-of-the-world artwork; I’ll find out for sure in the concluding issue.  Meanwhile, if I have to read Loki’s “Bwuhahahahaha!  You’re all screwed!  But wait—if you’re all screwed, then so am I!  Oh, NOOOO!” routine one more time, I believe I shall scream.

"The Avengers are out shopping? Get me the Justice League fast!"

PE: Between the now-standard two-page flashback/complimentary catch-up and the umpteen times Thor exclaims "I can't hit my own pop. I have to run and hide," there is really not much to take from this issue. Hmmm, yeah, the cliffhanger makes me sorta kinda want to read #188 immediately, but otherwise this was the definition of a 'tweener. This is also one of those issues that makes you scratch your head and wonder where the rest of the heroes of the Marvel Universe have scampered off to. According to the innocent bystanders on the street, this mayhem is happening all over earth so The Avengers can't be using a Tiny Tots drive as an excuse this time. Just wait 'til Reed Richards gets back from that floating rock in The Negative Zone to find out earth has gone to hell without the benefit of Annihilus!

Astonishing Tales 5

Ka-Zar in
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Barry Smith and Frank Giacoia

Zaladane is flying off with Ka-Zar on a pterodactyl, until the Jungle Lord manages to loose the reins, which sends the blind beast crashing down, and even though she’s his enemy, Ka-Zar saves the priestess. The Sun God realizes his powers are growing, as the Savage Land is staying, um, savage, and he vows to kill everyone so there may be peace. Ka-Zar and Zaladane enter a cavern that holds a pool that can remove the curse from the Petrified Man/Sun God/Garokk/Rocky, but it’s guarded by a giant beast! Good ol’ Tongah and Zabu confront Garokk just as Zaladane calls him to her. Ka-Zar battles the guardian of the pool, then Garokk himself, until he pushes him into the pool, which steals his powers and turns him to ash. The Guard-Beast attacks Zaladane, but the Sun God statue falls on her, leaving Ka-Zar safe to tell the tale. -JT

PE: Huh?

JT: I have to say, the art is a little better this month, and it’s probably due to the absence of Sam Grainger. Sorry, Prof. Matthew, but it just seems cleaner, even though there’s lots of odd body placements and too much leaning to the side by all the characters, as if the Savage Land were tilted a little. The characters are dispatched a bit too quickly also, but then again they only had half an ish, so I guess they had to move fast. An ok end to this tale, if not a bit talky for KZ. More Tongah next time, please!

PE: I'm shocked to say I very much liked this story. It's almost an adult fantasy Conway's working on here. Since I've never read nor followed the jungle adventures of Ka-Zar I have no idea where the story will go and whether it will sustain the quality but, like Sub-Mariner, Admonishing Tales starring Ka-Zar has been added to my "must-read" list. Reminiscent of Conan, not only (obviously)in the art but the story and dialogue as well. Perhaps Conway was a Howard fan? High point, to me, is when The Petrified Man accidentally kills a lake full of cavemen and then decides, hey, not a bad idea!

SM: More ho-hum Ka-Zar jungle fun. Barry Smith gives this feature a ton of class that isn't otherwise earned. The Petrified Man is still a cool looking character, but he was when Kirby introduced him, too. I just wish Ka-Zar would stop shouting. Good thing Tarzan wasn't in earshot when Ka-Zar yelled his claim to the title "Lord of the Jungle." Decent ending, though. Mediocre all around, but that's better than when the strip started.

Doctor Doom in
"A Land Enslaved!"
Story by Larry Lieber
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito

Returning from the French Riviera, Dr. Doom is met not with the expected “spontaneous outpouring of joy” from his “beloved subjects” but an ambush from the army of The Red Skull. The evil invader turns one of Doom’s own weapons against him, a handy Chemi-Sleep Gas rocket, and locks up the dastardly dictator in a mummy cage for all to see. But as the incasement absorbs the sun’s rays, Doom activates his armor’s handy thermo-energizer and is soon able to break free! He then cuts the power supply to the palace weapons and lays waste to the Skull’s minions, including all of the Exiles, who are dispatched fairly easily by the ever-improvising evil-doer. Doom deploys a handy hypnotic gas, makes them think they’ve been shrunk, sends them off in a rocket and is left with his bravado. - JT

JT: You have to love Dr. Doom. He’s easily the most arrogant character in Marvel history, and that’s going up against the Red Skull, who’s no slouch in the bragging department himself. Heck, the issue begins with the word “Bah!” With an armor that’s ready for any situation, and an intellect above all others—no, really, just ask him!—Doom runs through everything ol’ Skully throws at him and barely bats an evil eyelash. And it’s all drawn by George Tuska for some reason this month. Not that’s it’s horrible, but a far cry from Wally Wood. Except for Doom’s cape. It must be pretty windy in Latveria because that green cape is flapping like crazy in every panel! Another rushed half ish, but it’s actually kinda fun to see these two big baddies battle.

MB:  My Super-Villain Team-Up reprint is missing the splash page and one other, presumably just Lieber’s recap of last issue’s preliminaries, but making an unduly short story even shorter only reinforces what I already knew: that they couldn’t do justice to this clash of titans within the equivalent of a single issue.  In fact, the two-part format probably hurt, because with the first half being “all set-up and no pay-off,” as I called it last time, said pay-off ends up seeming even more rushed.  Alas, we also bid a regretful goodbye to artist Wally Wood as he turns the reins over to George Tuska, who if nothing else—along with inker Mike Esposito (aka Joe Gaudioso)—has lots of experience drawing guys with metal masks covering their faces.

Encased but, curiously, not unclothed!
SM: George Tuska takes over the art chores and it's a sad step down. Although, I must admit, I do like his Red Skull a lot. Otherwise, it's the same old stuff. Wally Wood was a man who strived for realism in his art. Nobody was contorted or in twisted perspective poses. There was something wonderfully old fashioned about his work. Tuska is all over-the-top craziness. I can't deny that he brings crackling energy to the work that Wood didn't, but it all sees less important now. I'm not sure how the Red Skull's lackeys showing off their respective powers could be "important" anyway, but it's very by the numbers. Doom proves to be softhearted as he tricks the Skull into thinking he's got shrinkage (he was in the pool!), instead of, you know, killing him. Nothing special.

PE: The vibe immediately hitting me with this strip is desperation. Nothing smells like cancellation more than a combo of Lieber and Tuska. That dreadful splash makes it look as though the French Riviera is backed by a painted matte. What kind of sky looks like that? Is the city in flames? Tuska may draw men in metal masks adequately (hell, I could probably do that if given enough time and alcohol) but his Red Skull runs the gauntlet of guises from a muppet to Tom Petty. At times, Tuska's stuff looks, curiously, like primitive Trimpe. I must admit I didn't read the first chapter of this saga so I'm puzzled as to why The Skull would want Latveria in the first place. And can we all agree it's time to dump the "Band of Exiles?" I don't mind nameless henchmen aiding the nefarious Nazi in his evil deeds but this bunch looks and acts like it belongs with Fritz Tiboldt and his zany Circus of Crime. The Skull is a loner and has no use for a dope whose power amounts to commanding a towel. And one last note to Herr Skull: the next time you want Doc Doom to "suffer total defeat," try encasing him in that adamantine mummy case without his armor!

Also This Month

Kid Colt Outlaw #153
Marvel Super-Heroes #30
Marvel Tales #30 ->
Millie the Model #189
Monsters on the Prowl #10
Our Love Story #10
The Outlaw Kid #5
Rawhide Kid #86
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #86
Special Marvel Edition #2
The X-Men #69

Marvel Tales 30
"To Cage an Angel"
Story by Jerry Siegel
Art by George Tuska and Dick Ayers

The Angel's secret identity has been revealed by the Dazzler as he is out to avenge his father's death. Before he can make another move, Dazzler unmasks himself as Warren Worthington's own Uncle Burt! After Burt was released from prison, he got Warren Senior deeply involved in Burt's diamond smuggling syndicate. Burt had him killed when Warren Sr. stumbled upon Burt's ultimate goal: world domination (gasp!). Now Burt needs the Angel to bring him the world's largest diamond for use in the Spatial Destructor machine. After a valiant attempt to stop him, Angel is overcome and placed into a brainwashing machine. However, Burt doesn't know Warren's "homo superior" mind was able to fight off the brain washing, allowing Warren to leave under his own will without his uncle knowing. Instead of bringing back the real diamond, Angel substitutes a fake made of glass. The Spatial Destructor blows up. Angel grabs the captured Candy Southern and Dazzler and flies off as Burt's lair explodes. Dazzler takes a swing at Angel who lets go of both. He catches Candy but Burt falls screaming to his death. Justice is served. -SM.

SM: This story (all three parts) was written a few years before publication and sat in inventory until needed. It is, according to the on line Marvel Database, the only original, non-reprint story to appear in that run of Marvel Tales. It was written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and it shows he wasn't much of a writer, at least not at that stage of his career. He had done two Human Torch stories in Strange Tales under the name Joe Carter and those were no better. The plotting in this story is simplistic and worthy of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. The villain is an evil Uncle who wants to take over the world. The hero pulls the classic switcheroo ("the old swap the diamond for a glass fake trick…and I fell for it!") and falls to his death because of his own stupidity. Siegel couldn't even get Candy's last name right, calling her Summers. And somehow the Angel's mutant status gives his brain superior mental discipline. I didn't realize having wings made him a Professor X variety brainiac. You would think something as game changing as an identity reveal would merit some sort of depiction, but it happens between issues. Last chapter ended with hands grabbing for Angel's mask and the splash page here picks it up with the mask already removed and Warren shrugging it off. All of this nonsense is poorly illustrated by George Tuska, who cements this into Saturday Morning cartoon territory. Everyone looks goofy, especially the Angel in his ridiculous costume, which probably wasn't his fault since he was wearing these hideous threads in the X-Men title when this was being penciled. However, the layouts are simplistic while body positioning is wildly over the top. I can see why Stan held this back for so long. An important and memorable story could have been written with the plot provided, but it's all "back of the book" stuff. Important to the character, but unimportant to us. Still, at least Jerry Siegel was getting work. I mean, the guy did co-create the super hero genre. He deserved something for that alone.

Don't forget to tune in this Sunday for a Special Second Look at "Tower of the Elephant!"