Wednesday, October 23, 2013

November 1972 Part One: Beware The Claws of The Cat!

Special Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

Per the Bullpen Page, “for years now, we’ve wanted to start a comic-mag which dealt exclusively with the derring-do of a gal superstar, instead of the usual hunk of masculine muscle.  So, recently, Stan and Roy sat down to discuss what kind of book they should put out—and guess what!  They came up with no less than three vastly different concepts…”  Two debuted this month, and folded after four issues apiece.  “The Cat [co-plotted by Roy] is drawn by none other than Marie Severin—and written by former Marvel staffer Linda Fite, to boot!  (At least this time, nobody’s gonna be able to write in and say we’ve got artists and writers who don’t understand the female of the species!).”  All three short-lived books initially had female writers.

Night Nurse [is] drawn by longtime pro Winslow Mortimer and scripted by Roy’s [wife], Jeanie Thomas.  Yeah, we know—it sounds like just another romance mag, however well-written and drawn; but take it from us, friend—this one is realistic, exciting—and different!”  Completing the trio in December was the six-issue Shanna, the She-Devil, “starring perhaps the most beauteous and offbeat jungle heroine in the history of the graphic arts!  George Tuska is penciling that one, and it’s being penned by longtime comix buff Carol [sic] Seuling.  That’s right, effendi—three great new mags, all written by gals—yet aimed neither at gals nor at guys, but at true lovers of comix literature everywhere!  Try ’em—you’ll like ’em!”  Yet history suggests that nobody did.

And now November 1972 Part One!

Conan the Barbarian 20
“The Black Hound of Vengeance”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith and Dan Adkins

After the failed siege of Makkalet, Conan and the rest of Prince Yezdigerd’s bedraggled army swim back to their ships. The Cimmerian discovers that Fafnir is still alive, but the Vanirman’s serious wounds have caused the loss of his left arm. Yezdigerd summons Conan and his second-in-command Balthaz: a spy within Makkalet has revealed the location of an unguarded wharf. With only light resistance, the barbarian, Balthaz, and a small squadron make their way into the city and gain entrance into the temple of the wizard Kharam-Akkad, where the kidnapped descendant of Tarim is held. The small group becomes separated and Conan encounters the sinister sorcerer — after a brief skirmish, the Cimmerian flees, soon finding himself in a room of mirrors with a silent figure sitting on a throne in the center. Conan approaches but falls through a trap door to a dark dungeon beneath. A huge devil dog pounces and sinks it’s fangs into the Cimmerian’s arm. Ripping his flesh free, the wounded warrior comes across a length of chain and ultimately strangles the black hellhound. Escaping through an egress, Conan returns to Yezdigerd’s ship. There he discovers that Balthaz ordered Fafnir thrown overboard with the rest of the dead and dying. Conan runs Balthaz through and leaps into the sea to escape the vengeful Turian soldiers. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: My high of Barry Smith’s return last issue mellows a bit with this one, but it’s still a solid installment. The book does read like many of Roy’s earlier adventures, with Conan stealing into a temple, encountering a wizard, and then battling some ungodly creature. But I assume this story arc will continue next issue since the rather intriguing mystery of Tarim’s descendant has not yet been revealed. What stands out is the two-page Epilogue where Conan learns of his friend Fafnir’s fate. It’s drawn like a savage storybook, with no dialogue just Thomas’ poetic prose embellished by John Costanza’s decorative lettering. It’s a beautiful spread. And since the one-armed Vanirman’s body is not seen, perhaps the tough-to-kill warrior is still alive and kicking. The Hyborian Page is letter free instead recapping the 1971 Shazam awards. Conan the Barbarian won Best Continuing Feature and Roy took home the Best Writer award — both well deserved bravos.

Mark Barsotti: By Crom, this is more like it! After last month's botched print job reduced much of the art to a murky mess, here we get vivid Barry (Windsor) Smith (abetted by Dan Adkins' inks) in all his delicate, detailed glory. As the siege of Makkalet continues, Conan learns his friend Fafnir survived the flaming arrow (at the cost of his left arm) before joining a raiding party tasked with raiding a temple to rescue the "man-god" Tarim. The raven-hair Cimmerian again demonstrates his rough-hewn morality by sparing a guard who his bloodthirsty enemy-in-arms, Balthaz, ordered killed. Once inside the temple, Conan mistakes queen Caissa for a "temple wench" and faces off with evil wizard Kharam-Akkad (the "real Purple Man) before finding his way to a vast chamber of mirrors, where sits Tarim himself. Before our hero can speak to the enigmatic "man-god," he falls through a trapdoor and is set upon by the titular Black Hound!

Scott McIntyre:  Best. Cover. Ever. True art. Nobody else came close to the skill level Barry Smith had reached by this point, the cover is suitable for framing. The interior art is just as incredible. The story within is dark and fatalistic as usual, with a very brutal and cold ending. Good bye, Fafnir. We barely knew ye. A masterwork.

Mark: After a death struggle with the demon dog, the bloodied and fang-torn barbarian slinks away, strength slowly returning as he crawls up dungeon stairs to emerge on rocky bluffs that "look down grimly upon the war fleet out of Aghrapur." Conan thinks of Fafnir, then we turn the page and Thomas and Smith deliver a stunning, elegiac epilogue: the words laid out in blocks of prose, beautifully lettered by John Costanza, the art deliberately pale and washed out, dreamlike. Swimming back to the ship, Conan learns his maimed friend was ordered tossed overboard with the dead by Balthaz. The Cimmerian promptly guts him for it, then escapes over the side in a hail of arrows. It's another artistic triumphant, tempered by the knowledge that Barry Smith's tenure is almost over.  

Captain America and the Falcon 155
"The Incredible Origin of the Other Captain America!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema, Frank McLaughlin and John Romita

While Steve and Sharon are enjoying their back vacation in Mosca Cay, Steve spots who he believes to be Bucky! He gives chase and is lured into a trap laid by the "other" Cap and Bucky and is knocked out. Sharon instinctively runs and just as they other two catch up, the Falcon appears and takes a hand. After a quick fight, Sharon and Falc are defeated. When they all come to, the other Cap tells his story: he is the Captain America of the 1950's who took the original's place after his oceanic plunge into suspended animation. As a boy, he worshipped Cap and was inconsolable after his and Bucky's disappearance. He grew up obsessed with Cap and American history. Upon graduating college, he studied in German and stumbling onto the original super solider serum formula while perusing the files of an old Nazi spy. He made a deal with the president; he would hand over the formula if he could become the new Captain America to fight evil during the Korean War. After testing and plastic surgery to look like Steve Rogers, he was shocked to see the project cancelled once the war ended. Taking his history degree, the ersatz Steve Rogers became a teacher and met a student who not only looked like Bucky, but took the name. Finding a kindred spirit, "Steve" and "Bucky" became fast friends, talking constantly about the original heroes. When the Red Skull came out of the darkness, they took the serum; donned costumed Bucky had made and defeated the master spy, who now worked for the communists. However, because the serum didn't work effectively without the original application of Vita Rays, the new Cap and Bucky went wild, beating up on anyone they felt didn't conform to America's ideals. So they were captured and put into stasis. Finally, in the 70's, an employee who hated where America was heading revived the deranged heroes and they started their campaign anew. Their story told, Falcon pushes their buttons and enrages them enough to leave. Steve, who had been able to free himself for some time but wanted to hear the story and gain time, frees the others and they vow to stop these madmen before they can do further damage. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: This is one complex secret origin, peppered with reprints from the actual initial adventure from Young Men Comics #24. They at least come out and cop to it, which actually validates the story and puts those comics into the Marvel Continuity. Most of the issue is devoted to this origin, but it is so fascinating that it works. Of course, there are leaps of faith one must take in order for it to work fully, but I am willing to go with the fake Steve teaching at a school where a student looks just like Bucky and also idolizes the pair to the point of taking his name. Not to mention having enough mad sewing skills to create costumes in their exact size. Or that this guy could graduate from college and years later take a teaching job under the name Steve Rogers. Wouldn't his transcripts only have his real name? Or did the President have his records changed?

Matthew Bradley:  The on-again, off-again Verpoorten is off again, leaving future Justice League of America staple Frank McLaughlin to ink Captains America and Marvel this month.  Stainless gets to the heart of the matter with the “secret origin” of the ’50s Cap, but rather than a simple flashback, he and Sal take the unusual step of incorporating actual pages and, per the MCDb, slightly altering Stan’s dialogue from Young Men #24 (December 1953), earning “a special tip of the winged cowl” to original artist Romita in the credits.  The ersatz Cap and Bucky’s references to “darkies” and “frails” are deliberately and hilariously over the top, and our own Cap’s contention that his doppelganger is not responsible for his actions is refreshingly fair.

Mark: Classic cover, save for Cap appearing eyeless, and once inside it's full speed ahead as Bad-Cap & Bucky ("Call them death and destruction, call them hate and insanity...") ruin Steve and Sharon's vacation like a tarantula in your Mai-Tai. BC&B capture our heroes, including the late-arriving Falcon, and in hoary, time-honored fashion, keeps them alive for a gabfest so they can plot their escape. Would've been nice if Steve Englehart had concocted a fresh way to info-dump BC&B’s back-story, but I’ll give him a pass 'cause said story's a corker. While unnamed here, Bad-Cap is later revealed as William Burnside, a hero-worshipping wannabe who discovers the Super Solider formula in a Nazi archive, takes word of it to President Truman but holds back the formula, insisting only he is worthy of wielding the shield. Burnside even has plastic surgery to further morph into Mr. Rodgers, but the Korean War sputtering to an end causes the Feds to shelf plans for Cap 2.0. So off to teach college, the re-named "Steve Rogers" shares his star-spangled ambitions with Bucky look-alike James "Jack" Monroe, prompting the kid to sew a Cap uniform just in case, you know, they might one day need it. I doubt even Englehart-aficionado Dean Peter would deny this chorology sounds as addled-brained as Texas Senator Ted Cruz expounding on the Federalist Papers, but one of the miracles of art is that sometimes the wackiest shit just works. And Englehart's hocus-pocus works here, like magic.

Peter Enfantino: The gun pushed squarely to my temple, I admit it: this is my single favorite comic book of all time. Re-reading it this week for the umpteenth time only strengthens my love for this arc. Even at the ripe old age of eleven, I felt so much pity for the "Other Cap and Bucky," victims of their own patriotism and idol worship, despite their obvious insanity and racism. The interweaving of the vintage and new material in the origin is nothing short of brilliant. "I am the other Captain America," spouted through clenched teeth still sends chills down my spine as does Cap's final speech, wherein he refers to his evil twin as "malignant." I'm sure a few folks through the years have pointed out a certain Wertham-esque "closeness" between Faux Cap and Bucky that may be a little... creepy. I was ready to throw in some snarkiness just to be fair but the only bit I might have questioned would be when we're shown that the bad guys have been kind enough to bring Steve and Sharon's luggage along. In my finest Dean voice, however, I will explain for Stainless Steve that The Terrible Twosome was being complete in their eradication of the present day Captain America. All traces this guy existed must be removed. No? Okay, how about they're both delusional maniacs and, chances are, they probably did the lovebirds' laundry for them as well? In any event, I'll hear no "Pshaws" from junior staff on this one.

Joe Tura: At the risk of sounding like I'm angling for that better parking spot near the cafeteria, you are right on with this one, Dean! I remember it well, and of course it all starts with Sal B.

Scott: The art is excellent. This is such a great arc after so many months of crap, it's finally a genuine pleasure to not only read Captain America, but to write about it as well. The regular characters only exist to be an audience to the other Cap's mad ravings. Solid and fun with a few hiccups, but well worth the trip so far.

Mark: Lest the MU student body conclude I'm completely chugging the Kool-aid, it bears pointing out that Sam's oft-repeated insistence that he knew Bad Cap's identity last ish is completely jettisoned here. And while incorporating some of John Romita's 50's Cap art into the action is a groovy idea, his and Sal Buscema's styles look nothing alike, and the insertion of a shooting-up Super-Serum scene between pages of Jazzy Johnny only highlights the jarring difference. There's also a glaring historical error: Ike was in office when the Korean War ended, not Truman, but despite such gaffes I gotta admit that if this is our Dean’s all-time favorite comic, he could do a hell of a lot worse.

The Avengers 105
"In the Beginning Was... The World Within"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by John Buscema and Jim Mooney

The Scarlet Witch is on a tear looking for her brother in the mansion's monitor room, allowing nobody to help or bother her. While the exiled Asgardians (see the current Thor story) mill about the Black Panther (now calling himself the Black Leopard) arrives. Just then Wanda comes out telling how Chilean scientists have been kidnapped by strange teleporting people. The assumption is made that this "could have happened to Pietro." So,  the Avengers go to investigate which leads them to the Hidden Land, home of the always fascinating Ka-Zar. They are attacked by Barbarus and his group of snorting idiots, who are then defeated. The Avengers come upon Magneto's old lair where he once created mutants, some of whom remain and there's more fighting and stuff. Long story short, they beat the bad guys, rescue the scientists and don't find any clue of Quicksilver's whereabouts. The Vision is having trouble processing his love for Wanda and when she finds yet another very slender clue to her brother's location, the Vision ignores the hell out of her. They leave him contemplating his cyber navel.
-Scott McIntyre

Scott: Steve Engelhart shows little of the magic touch he was demonstrating in Cap's book. This is overly complex and completely uninvolving. There is just too much continuity being tossed around to connect everyone's appearances to their current comics. Wanda's crazy conclusion jumping with each slender connection to her brother is slightly ridiculous. None of this is interesting and this makes for one of the most tedious and dull issues in months.

Matthew: Assimilating the Assemblers, Englehart continues to consolidate his position as perhaps the preeminent Marvel writer of the Bronze Age, and has the good fortune to do so with a one-off by Big John, subbing for Buckler as the latter (per the lettercol) preps for imminent first-time fatherhood.  As in last month’s Thor, when Jim Mooney inks Buscema, the results fall closer to the Sinnott than to the Colletta end of the spectrum.  This is a perfectly respectable first effort for Steve, with commendable inter-title continuity, and it’s nice to see the Panther back, especially with his original moniker, but I find the Beast-Brood fairly dull, and the cover all too perfectly represents the contents; there’s so much going on that the results are bit of a mishmosh.

Next Issue! The Vision Vs. Bad Posture!
Peter: I, on the other hand, feel like there was nothing going on. This is the perfect example of the "one and done" issue. Nothing really happens and, in the end, we're left wondering why The Avengers ended up in the Savage Land to begin with. Utterly forgettable, save the gorgeous art (Enfantino keeps repeating "The Scarlet Witch is just a comic book figure..."). I respect that Roy wanted certain characters left out of the story as they're attending to "an urgent matter" but explaining away Captain America (off in the Pacific fighting his evil twin) while including Thor and Sif (who are busy confronting Mephisto right now in Thor's title) makes no sense at all. The continuity, of course, is what makes us all Zombies in the first place but it can certainly seem random at times. The Vision sure has a thing for slouching in those arm chairs.

Matthew: As Englehart wrote on his website, “Roy Thomas made Avengers into, arguably, Marvel’s top book—one I admired tremendously.  And then he became Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief and handed the title off  Well, I had no doubt about maintaining his level of quality—which shows how ignorant I was.  I spent the first part of my run trying to do Roy Thomas stories, and feeling that I was missing the mark.  Sales were good but I, an Avengers fan, felt less than happy with what I, the Avengers writer, was producing.  Then in #112, I introduced a new character named Mantis.  And very soon thereafter I was doing Steve Englehart stories, which turned out to work much better for me...”  (Mantis, of course, kicked off the legendary Celestial Madonna storyline.)

The Amazing Spider-Man 114
"Gang War, Shmanh War! What I Wanna
Know Is... Who the Heck is Hammerhead?
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Romita, Tony Mortellaro, and Jim Starlin

Spider-Man is in the middle of a shootout between the Hammerhead and Doctor Octopus gangs, cracking wise all the way, when he smashes HH in the head to no avail. Ock awakes and knocks HH’s gun hand so he only grazes Spidey, then the tentacled terror skulks off angrily. Hammerhead takes Spidey back to his hideout, where he shows off some gangster lingo and a va-va-voom moll, along with a nifty rotating office. We learn HH was a beaten gunman discovered in an alley by disgraced surgeon Jonah Harrow, who replaced the shattered bone in the mobster’s melon with unbendable steel alloy. With only memories of an Al Capone movie poster from the alley in his new brain, Hammerhead was born! Trying to coax Spidey into joining his gang, HH gets a call that his cronies Bert and Ernie have found the big bird they were tailing—Doc Ock, who is living with “some old broad” in Westchester, much to Spidey’s surprise since it’s probably Aunt May! Spidey plants a tracer on the departing Hammerhead, then we get a quick aside to Gwen, who chats with a concerned Prof. Warren and a flirty yet foot-in-the-mouth Flash. Back to action, and Spidey escapes the clutches of gang members Porky and Bennie in a frenetic close-quarters battle, then rotates the office and smashes out a window! Catching up with Hammerhead’s car, Spidey hitches a ride to Westchester, where he slips in to Ock’s place unaware…and is smashed in the head with a vase! By Aunt May herself! --Joe Tura

Joe: Another awesome cover loaded with tommy guns starts this ish off with a proverbial bang (see what I did there), and there’s no let up once you crack it open. The art, as always, is top-notch Romita, with my favorite panel the middle one on page 15 when Spidey hears about the “old broad” Doc Ock is living with and his eyes and slightly furrowed brow betray his shock through the costume mask’s non-white eye holes. Subtle yet great attention to detail. Speaking of detail, I found it hysterical that HH’s henchmen are named Bert and Ernie, and also Porky and Bennie (Porgy and Bess were taken I assume) and his moll Myrna, names that are equal parts ridiculous and cliché. And I would be remiss if I forgot to mention pages 21’s awesome quartet of sound effects! “ZZITTT!” “ZIPPPP”, “KTINGKRUNCH” and the epic “KTOWKTOWKTOWTOWTOW!” (no spell check for that!)

Scott: Another superior issue. I'm not Hammerhead's biggest fan, but his origin is pretty cool. The situation with Spidey's mask and the cliffhanger ending are effective. There's a lot of fun to be had here. Gwen and Flash make an appearance long enough for Flash to be a dickhead and Gwen to defend her man. Great Romita art and a nice Gerry Conway script make a tasty cake. Not much Doctor Octopus here, but he's used well in the short sequences he is in. The upswing in story continues.

Matthew:  Those who share my nostalgia for 1970s reprints may recall that the pagination is off on Marvel Tales #93 (what is now page 14 should come between pages 20 and 21), but that’s no reflection on the wonderment within.  The returning art team of Romita, Tony Mortellaro, and Jim Starlin—who, a Bullpen Bulletin tells us, was brought to Marvel by fellow newcomer Rich Buckler—is firing on all cylinders, especially with that full-page tour de force depicting Spidey’s delirium.  I know the failure of his Spider-Sense to alert him to the “danger” of Aunt May raised some eyebrows, but I was bothered more by the idea that his “Spider-Senses” (note the plural) enhanced his hearing; perhaps Conway has been writing Daredevil for too long?

Just don't give him that blood sample, Gwen!

Mark: So Spidey effortlessly dodges machine-gun fire, but it takes Doc Ock spoiling Hammerhead's aim to save the Web-Slinger from a .45? The glancing head wound gets Pete into a dream sequence flashback (a gimmick that's now being over-used) and into HH's clutches, where we learn Hockey-puck nose was saved by disgraced surgeon Jonas Harrow, whose life-saving measures included installing an "unbendable steel alloy" in the anonymous gunman's noggin. HH's criminal empire was inspired by glimpsing  The Al Capone Mob movie poster, one of the lamest births of a bad guy ever. No matter; Puck-Nose rocks a mean pin-stripe suit and, having taken up residence in the Kingpin's old revolving turret headquarters, is now battling Doc Ock for control on the underworld.

Joe: It’s pretty obvious based on his angst and how he feels about his powers that all of Spider-Man/Peter’s dreams would involve spider webs. But I can’t help but think what Freud would make of it. And the spider-sense-not-working-when-it’s-Aunt-May at the end is a bit of a cheat and a nice touch at the same time, I thought. Yeah it helps move the story along and set up more suspense and a nice cliffhanger, and once again shows Aunt May’s disdain for the “awful monster” she believes Spidey to be even though he’s saved her life umpteen times, but I felt even though she’s “harmless” to Peter’s mind, she’s swinging a vase at him! Was it a benevolent vase she was cleaning at the time? Was it a priceless heirloom and not threatening to anyone besides an auctioneer? Eh, I’m overthinking it probably. Good thing Spidey told us twice in three panels what really happened or we’d really be confused!

Peter: I cry "foul" at the idea that Spidey's senses wouldn't alert him to anyone about to crack his skull open with a vase. How does your Spider-Sense differentiate between "stranger danger" and an otherwise friendly face? Speaking of danger, no way I'd let Dr. Jonas Harrow operate on me with pinwheels in his eye glasses. I wonder if Harrow ever explained to Hammerhead why he replaced his nose with a sausage (cigarette? Lincoln Log?). And I'm a little bit confused about the necessity of putting a "tail" on a guy who walks through the streets on giant tentacles, knocking aside autos, phone poles, and buildings that get in his way. Don't mind all my nits as that's what they pay me for. This was a crackin' good action drama from start 'til about two pages to the end. Then it became asinine. What could be worse than Aunt May as Ock's maid? Stick around, in about a Marvel year, it gets even stupider. Just kill the old broad already. I think the folks next door heard me when I jumped off the sofa and exclaimed "Ooh, ooh, a Professor Warren appearance!" I kept my eyes on the creep the whole time he was in panel and he never once drooled at the sight of his "true love," Gwen Stacy. Could Gerry have already been plotting that fabulous Jackal story line with Warren in mind a full year in advance?

Joe: As Prof. Matthew alluded to, Jim Starlin gets a small shout-out in this month’s Marvel Bullpen Bulletin (written by Prof. Matthew, no doubt) as “a talented newcomer who’s also been assisting JOHN ROMITA on Spidey’s recent capers! Jim, by the way, was brought to Marvel by another of its new lights, RICH BUCKLER!” Speaking of bulletins, The Spider’s Web is taken up by one letter, from Jeff H. Berlin, and it’s a doozy, as Berlin compares Peter’s life to his own and bemoans the Peter-Gwen relationship and the way Peter is acting. Geez, get off the ledge, Berlin, it’s all good…

Mark: Elsewhere, Gwen shares concern about PP with Professor Warren (oh, the foreshadowing!), then tears Flash a new one for joking about Pete's ulcer. Still in captivity, our hero learns Doc Ock is hold up in Westchester with "some old broad." One quick escape later, Spidey hops a lift atop HH's car to Ock's digs, only to be cold-cocked by a vase-wielding Aunt May! Yes, one can quibble over the vagaries of Spider-sense distinguishing friend from foe, but having the old bitty K.O. her beloved nef is a cool twist that sure beats hell out of another sick-bed vigil.

Beware! The Claws of The Cat 1
"Beware the Claws of The Cat!"
Story by Linda Fife
Co-Plotted by Roy Thomas
Art by Marie Severin and Wally Wood

Breaking into a Chicago penthouse, Greer Nelson (née Grant) is felled by gas and recalls how she began assisting Dr. Tumolo, her old physics teacher, after a hold-up man killed her patrolman husband.  Her captor, Mal Donalbain, plans to open a chain of health clubs run by his army of Amazons, each wearing a will-nullifying collar and enhanced by Tumolo’s work helping women achieve their full potential.  Forced to use an unsuitable subject, Shirlee Bryant, Tumolo secretly duplicated the process on Greer, heightening her perceptions and strength; Tumolo was silenced with dynamite after she saw Shirl die in training and took one of Mal’s cat costumes as evidence, so Greer donned it to terrify Malwho fears being touchedinto suicide. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: In The Superhero Women, Stan called this “one of the times we kinda struck out.”  No sooner had Fite, Severin, and Wally Wood created “a truly memorable first issue [than] our titanic little team began to fall apart.  Merrie Marie became head of our coloring department and really didn’t have time to do much more penciling….[Wood left Marvel, while] Herb Trimpe finally got the Hulk’s blessing, and so he and Linda were married.  Then came the first of the Trimpe progeny, as Linda left the ranks of Marveldom for the brave new world of Motherhood!  Almost before I knew it, we had a magazine without a writer, penciler, or inker.  And then, a short time later, the decision was made to discontinue the entire project,” Stan sorrowfully notes.

Peter: What a fabulous concept: cheesecake for ten year olds! We could have reproduced just about any panel of Ms. Nelson, the GGA is that good. I loved this title when I was a kid and remember shedding real tears when I showed up at the stand for #5 and nothing was there. A tight suit highlighting a great set of breasts and a feminine theme. What more could you ask for? Well, you could wish for nice art... and you'd get it.Marie Severin and Wally Wood manage to make a 1972 comic book look like something that might have flown fifteen years before. How about interesting characters, plot and origin? Check, check and semi-check. Mal Donalbain's plan to rule a world of subservient women is a bit eccentric but I get the underlying message. What I don't get is writer Linda Fife's insistence on creating a character, in Greer Nelson, who's born a dominated figure and rises to superheroine, while Helen Reddy sings in the background, only after her mentor is murdered. Wouldn't it be a more powerful statement that this woman was a strong, independent female before she was left on her own in a male-dominated society? Yeah, I know. Leave the essays for my monthly column in Cosmopolitan. Other than that nit, I think the premiere issue of The Cat is well-written and the word balloons are about as densely packed as they can be. Verdict: women's lib, women's glib, this comic book is a winner.

Matthew: Yet, like her namesake, the Cat had multiple lives, two more during the Bronze Age alone:  the costume was adopted with far greater success by Patsy Baxter (néeWalker) as Hellcat in Avengers #144 (February 1976), while Greer herself followed in the paw-prints of Patsy’s pal Hank McCoy by mutating into the furry form of Tigra the Were-Woman in Giant-Size Creatures #1 (July 1974).  And it must be said that her debut is not a bad little story, with solid artwork by veterans Severin and Wood and an appealingly feisty heroine.  The feminist theme is not exactly subtle, with Greer a prototypical oppressed housewife—I never did trust those freckle-faced guys—but considering the tenor of the times and the book’s self-imposed mandate, it’s expected.

Scott: Like most of us, I'm sure, I read this in the Superhero Women collection many years ago. I remember liking it more back then. The art is good, while the writing is iffy at best. It's still a very dark tale and that always stuck with me. Not the worst introduction, but still not someone I'd care enough about to follow. Greer will be a lot more fun when she's Tigra.

Joe: Another of the few #1's I had as a pre-teen, this one always stuck with me for the cool cover and neat logo. But looking  at it again, I think Greer Nelson's goodies probably stuck with me also. 

Captain Marvel 23
"Death at the End of the World"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Wayne Boring and Frank McLaughlin

Megaton absorbs the energy of his battle with Mar-Vell, who uses a power station to drain him temporarily, changes to Rick, finds Lou-Ann, and returns to her uncle.  The jailed Megaton recalls triggering a Psycho-Tron while stumbling on an Arctic outpost the Kree abandoned at the start of the war, then drains his cellmate and breaks out in search of more energy.  After the professor’s photon-ray treatment has an adverse effect on Rick, he agrees to change into Mar-Vell when Megaton arrives, but finds himself unable to do so; warned that he is approaching critical mass, the suspicious Megaton seeks the truth by flying Rick to the outpost, where Rick dons a pair of Nega-Bands, changes, and hurls Megaton aloft just in the nick of time. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: According to the MCDb, this issue—his first of two—is the earliest Marvel super-hero credit for EIC-in-the-making “Marvelous Marv” Wolfman, with Frank McLaughlin the second of Wayne Boring’s one-time-only inkers.  The sine wave mapping this strip’s quality since Marvel Super-Heroes #12 is so deep that it’s amazing the book, once resurrected (why, on the basis of an issue such as this one, I have no idea), survived long enough for its ultimate savior, Starlin, to arrive.  The countdown is a hoary but perfectly acceptable narrative device to generate tension…except if, like Marv, you attribute far more dialogue to characters than they can possibly utter in a single second, while their facial contortions are so extreme that they appear to be made of Silly Putty®.

What in the hell is going on
with Rick Jones' face? Acromegalia?
Peter: From easily the best comic of 1972 (Captain America) to easily the worst (Captain Marvel) in  just a few paragraphs. Where to start? With Marv Wolfman's horrendous dialogue? What does a sentence like "Oh man, I feel like Ringo's doin' a single in my head" even mean? Marv may have left his heart in the Haight-Ashbury as it sure sounds like he was doin' some of that wacky tabacky while writin' this sludge. Every character is "smiley" or "tinsel-top" or "sparkle-plenty" or some other smartass nickname. I can't even begin to follow what's going on this issue as it makes no sense no matter which angle I hold the comic book. Amazing that Wolfman will soon take the four-color world by storm. Wayne Boring and Frank McLaughlin do what very few art teams have been able to do: compliment each other's lack of style. Rick Jones transforms from perfectly fine to through-the-ringer in a space of two panels and Mar-Vell himself looks like a septuagenarian. This is easily the worst piece of crap I've had the misfortune to read since the bad old days of Arnold Drake and Werner Roth's X-Men.

The return of Myron Fass!
Scott:  Bad art. Very very bad. The characters are unrecognizable and nothing kills my interest like a crappily drawn book. Wayne Boring, probably a nice guy, should have been running a dry cleaning business for all the skill he shows here. I've spent more than enough time on something I didn't, or rather couldn't, read.

Joe: Holy cow, I had this in my collection also. Just goes to show you my comic collection was as eclectic and full of ups and downs as my current CD collection.

Fantastic Four 128
"Death in a Dark and Lonely Place!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Having followed Ben down to Subterrania, the rest of the Fantastic Four don’t realize the monster the Torch is attacking full-force is actually their teammate. Reed isn’t the leader for no reason, however, and he recognizes the creature’s movements are his best friends. It takes Sue’s force field to stop the Torch, and the effort all around leaves them all unconscious. The Mole Man and his betrothed lady Kala watch on one of his view screens, and feel it is time to make a toast. Tyrannus, the man who was once a rival for rule of the underground world, is now merely a slave; he serves them wine. Kala suggests that Tyrannus might help her organize the wedding plans; after they depart, the Mole Man finds the F.F. members have vanished! He sends his native minions out in search of them. Actually, Sue, hiding in a crevice, had used her super powers to make them invisible. The team brakes into two duos, Ben and Sue, Reed and Johnny, and the two of them head off in different directions to find their quarry. The latter find the subterraneans to keep their hands full, the former find an elegant structure that appears to be Moley’s “palace.” They also find and free a caged reverend named Josiah Mandiz, brought here to perform the wedding. Soon they find Kala and her fiancée. He sets an android on them that combines their respective powers. Ben prevails, but a series of betrayals completes their victory. The Torch’s light had hypnotized the subterraneans, and Reed used his stretching powers to take the shape of one, and feign their capture. Tyrannus, freed from his own hypnosis, captures the Mole Man in a bunch of energy rings. He is Kala’s real lover, the Mole Man a mere pawn in her game for power…or so she thinks. He then turncoats and does the same to her. Taking off in the Magna Cruiser that was to be Kala’s wedding gift, Tyrannus meets his fate in a huge explosion, set as a precaution by the Mole Man. Our heroes leave in the Fantasti-Car, Reed having set an explosion to seal off their escape route back to the Earth’s surface. -Jim Barwise

Jim: I’ve usually been quite critical of the Mole Man, and this story has as many holes and unlikely happenings as most (where did Kala disappear to after the energy rings encircled her?). Betrayal is the name of the game, and essentially the baddies finish the battle for our team. Still, I enjoyed seeing more of both the Mole Man’s kingdom, and his powers. He seemed more of a complete villain here than in the past, and I couldn’t help feeling for him a bit when things didn’t go his way with Kala, despite the predictability of the outcome. Powerful title.

Mark: I proclaimed myself "all in" after part one of this subterranean smackdown, but just like feeling your oats at a late-night Vegas poker table, such unbridled enthusiasm oft leads to turned-out pockets and a long walk to shame back to your hotel. Roy doesn't completely crap out here, but there's no Champagne popping either. Bashful Ben (appearing as a "vile hellspawn," courtesy of Moley's Monster-Vision) survives the Torch's murderous opening pages assault, although Johnny's, ah, burning desire to melt "that big baboon down to ashes" has no real motivation, save as a plot device. Ditto the rest: what began as Ben's character-driven quest to help Alicia ends as a decent but paint-by-numbers FF adventure.

Matthew:  Even with the all-star Thomas/Buscema/Sinnott lineup, I never warmed up to Roy’s maiden arc; the Mole Man’s belligerence and romantic tragedy, following his pacifism in Captain America #136, blur the character completely.  Anybody who didn’t foresee at least some of that Subterranean betrayal and table-turning, or actually thought the Thing would obtain a cure for Alicia’s blindness (which, as often suggested, might not be desirable anyway, just like returning Ben permanently to human form), go to the rear of the class.  Reed’s imposture, and his rationalization for recognizing the monstrified Thing when the Storm siblings did not, almost broke my WTF-O-Meter, but why he didn’t just yell, “Johnny, trust me, it’s Ben!,” I don’t know.

Oh, Professor Wertham, you were
born too early!
Peter: Speaking of the WTF-O-Meter, how about Reed morphing himself into one of Mole Man's munchkins and adding the cherry on top with some "skin dye I thought might come in handy." Can't you just see Mr. Fantastic, rushing out the door en route to Subterranea, thinking "Hmmm, have I got everything? Should I take an extra Mole-a-Tronometer just in case? Nah, I'll just take some of Sue's make-up in case I have to disguise myself." When did Stretcho become the Man of a Thousand Faces? Extra points in the vocabulary department to The Invisible Girl for using the word "erstwhile" in a sentence during battle. This two issue arc (three if you count the Deadline Doom-esque rebooted origin story in #126) was one giant waste of paper. Included this issue was a four-page glossy color insert of "The Fabulous F.F.'s Friends -- And Foes," a very random spotlight presented by "Stan, Roy, and Big John Buscema." On the Fantastic Four Fan Page, Roy (I assume it's Roy) attempts to explain the reasoning behind the bonus insert: "... just in case you're wondering as to the why and wherefore... as we all know, Marvel was recently forced by ever-spiraling printing costs to raise the cover price of its mags to 20c. All this was happening during the days President Nixon was declaring a war on inflation with his price freeze, and some of our mags, printed before the freeze, hit the stands with an increased price after the freeze. Despite a flurry of activity at the time, there was no real hassle after the situation was explained - but we decided to work up a little something extra for both Marveldom Assembled and the government, anyway. Thus the four extra pages herein." If, in fact, this is the true explanation (which I don't buy for a second) why produce one insert for the entire line? Why not reward "Marveldom Assembled and the government" by giving consumers four extra pages in every title and why did it take an entire year for us to be rewarded? We now know the back alley reasons for the price switch to a quarter, and then down to two dimes, so this "aren't we just the greatest guys to you little kids" expository sounds more like B.S. now than it did in 1972. 

Mark: The Fab Four are beaten until fickle Kala turns on Moley to be with Tyrannus, who promptly turns on Kala to be with, one concludes, ("No one was meant to rule by Tyrannus' side! No one is good enough!") his strong right hand. MM then frees our heroes, but they're still under the (ray) gun until Reed's (who just happened to be packing "skin dye" in his underoos; the better to disguise himself as a Subterranean, duh!) last-minute arrival. The meant-to-be poignant final panel of a teary-eyed Mole Man ("He will always be...alone!" an off-camera Sue laments) falls flat. Hard to gin up sympathy for the guy after his cackling over plans for global genocide last ish. Had Roy zeroed in on the Thing instead, heart-sick over thinking he'd failed Alicia, they'd be Kleenex all around.

Amazing Adventures 15
"Murder In Mid-Air"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Tom Sutton, Frank Giacoia, and John Tartag

An injured Beast falls into Patsy Baxter’s apartment, where she puts him on the couch and patches him up. Coming to, he finds his fur has turned black, as he continues to mutate! Then Patsy stuns the Beast by admitting she knows he’s really Hank McCoy! Cut to Westchester, home of the X-Men, and Warren Worthington III, aka The Angel, reads about the “beast” terrorizing Brand Corporation and flies off to help his teammate. Hank gets attacked by The Griffin, a mysterious yellow-maned, winged villain with the paws of a lion and attitude to spare. Angel swoops in and gets knocked out, but the Beast saves him. The two old teammates go back to Hank’s pad where they suit up in “human” garb and head off to Hank’s hearing at Brand—once again narrowly missing the mystery woman. Two-faced Linda contacts her masters to complain Quasimodo and Mastermind jeopardized her mission, and she’s yelled at by Number One when The Griffin bursts in, telling Linda and the audience he was a New Orleans punk that joined the Empire and they made him into the winged creature. Hank meets with Buzz Baxter and both Warren and Patsy cover for him. Then the merry mutants venture out and The Griffin strikes again! The three battle in mid-air, with a reeling Beast finally grabbing the freaky fiend’s wings while Angel knocks him out. After Warren leaves, Hank heads to the library—where the mystery woman finally catches up with him! –Joe Tura

Joe: If you’ve been paying attention, you know the cover gives away Hank’s fur color change. But is that asking too much? Meaning this is a decent comic, and worth reading, but I doubt it was burning up the old best-seller charts at the time. The story inside is okay, maybe a little too much going on. The Griffin gets a two-panel origin flashback which must be one of the shortest on record. And we finally meet the mystery woman stalking Hank, but of course it’s a cliffhanger. Although the letters page sorta gives it away, but you can’t blame Englehart for that.

Matthew:  The hormonal extract that further mutated Hank in #11 has been a real boon for Englehart; because its effects are ongoing, he can basically write in whatever he wants to, and noted on his website, “Since the book wasn’t selling, Marvel [i.e., Roy] changed the Beast’s color to make him more striking.”  I can’t really get a handle on Tom Sutton’s pencils, because after five issues, Giacoia is the only inker to have made a return appearance, and here is teamed to less than spectacular effect with John “Tartag,” which muddies the waters even further.  Be that as it may, it’s nice to see a rapprochement between Hank and a representative of the residual X-Men, and interesting to learn that the Secret Empire has been behind all of his woes.  I like the Griffin.

Peter: I like the Griffin as well even if, at times, his face looks a little lost in all that mane. I'd say the best adjective to describe this issue is "frenetic." It's a wild mixture of dumb and exciting, intriguing and dismissible, decent writing and mediocre art. I continue to spew whatever liquid I hold in my mouth (this time, coffee) at the visage of Number One. It's not that the KKK are humorous, it's just amusing that these guys felt the need to put their number on their hoods. Perhaps to avoid confusion after the sauna? And could that plea "Number Nine! Number Nine! Come back here!" be yet another subtle reference to The Beatles? Whatever else you can say about this strip, it's never boring.

Joe: Best Steranko imitation by Tom Sutton is 4th panel on page 2 (reproduced at left), with strange coloring, falling captions and a bullseye pattern representing dreamland. Too bad the rest of the issue is mostly the opposite. Weird angles, bad closeups and endless looks of confusion on characters’ faces have me blaming the inkers, but you have to fault Sutton a little. On page 6, the X-Men look like they aged 30 years waiting for their own mag to get out of reprints, and the silent Jean Grey looks and acts like she’s Xavier’s squeeze with her short skirt and odd expressions.

Scott:  The art is subpar and the layouts are very "DC." Some panels look like they would be more at home in a 1950's Batman comic. The villains are dull as dirt, and the Secret Empire can't be that scary if someone like Linda Donaldson can continually wise off to #1 without fear of retribution. Hank's fur has finally changed to its black shade and it's nice to see he has a new ally in Patsy, but the Griffin is just awful. The rubber mask chronicles continue. Next.

Daredevil and the Black Widow 93
"A Power Corrupt!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Swinging through the streets of the city, Daredevil is attacked by the very person he has been seeking: Natasha, the Black Widow! It becomes apparent that she is under some kind of hypnotic spell, and he uses just the right amount of force to knock her out. What’s more, her ticking belt makes it clear that the “plan” was to finish them both off, and would have, if not for DD’s quick tossing reactions. Taking her home to their rented mansion, he tells Ivan what he knows of Project Four. On that note, the man responsible for all this drama, Damon Dran, has gone a step further than just hypnotizing the Widow; he’s managed to use his considerable techniques to drag the location of said project’s mysterious force globe from Danny French. Natasha awakes at her home, and the trance still has a hold. She attacks DD again, before a strike from him brings her back, but the exhaustion of which causes her to pass out. Some mud on her boot gives Matt a clue, and a call to fellow San Fran lawyer Jason Sloan gives him the confirmation he needs. Who else but a rich, war-paranoid man like Damon Dran could be responsible for orchestrating this mess? He heads to Dran’s fortress home, and once past a guard, he sees what’s been transpiring, having taken a little research of his own with him. Dran has been the financer behind Project Four all along, having kept Danny and Natasha out of the loop on that. Moreover he’s directed the focus of the research to what he’s been doing now: using all his scientific knowhow to transfer the recovered Project’s globe power into his own specially constructed suit. Voila, a living human now controls all of it. DD times his strikes well, and escapes with Danny French. A blind strike of force from Dran sets off the reactors in the  house, and the resulting explosion would kill any man. But then, Damon Dran isn’t entirely human anymore… -Jim Barwise

Mark: Another suck-o cover. You'd think Gene Colan doing DD's spinner rack pimping woulda moved more copies, but I'm guessing Stan (per Marty Goodman's Scrooge McDuck budget directives) didn't want to spend a nickel more than necessary on a marginal seller. Gerry Conway continues to confound as he ping-pongs between entertaining and awful, here delivering a high-energy installment that finally zeros in on long-perculating Project Four, but given his track-record, I've zero confidence that he'll stick the landing.

Matthew: This issue has literally one panel where the Widow is a) herself and b) awake.  And she’s crying.  Nice partnership, and the idea that DD, who could once pick a heartbeat out of a crowd, would have so much trouble identifying the woman who shares his house and, presumably, bed is ludicrous.  The less said about Damon DranMarvel’s answer to Sominexand his increasingly Klinesque plot sprawl, the better, but the closer we get to the end of Gerry’s run, the more I wonder.  Did I really like any substantive part of it, despite his adding Natasha and relocating them, or is my memory merely conflating it with the use his successor, Steve Gerber, made of those salutary developments?  Colan’s art merely helps them all blend together.

Mark: The DD vs. brainwashed Natasha scene plays better because of Colan's art, but then you can say that about every issue. Gerry never attempts to explain the floating Project Four "energy globe" or its mysterious powers, which Employer of the Month Damon Dran has siphoned into himself while decked out in Apollo 11-meets-Iron Man armor, the better to continue offing his own underlings. Prof. Matthew is right: Dran, a.k.a the Indestructible Man, ain't headed for the Villain Hall of Fame, but at least we finally know where Keith Flint of Prodigy got his hair style! I'll take my pleasures where I find them, i.e, Colan's masterful two page spread (P. 26-27) of our blind hero in stop-motion acrobatics. When Mean Gene leaves the strip, so does this junior professor.

Jim: I for one am pretty satisfied with this wrap-up to Project Four. But wait, it’s not done yet, is it? Natasha’s unexpected attack was eerie enough, although I doubt Dran could control her for long. It’s almost as if it doesn’t even occur to an angry Matt that he likely couldn’t prevail against Damon Dran once the power of the globe has been absorbed into his body, so DD’s win (battle not war) seems plausible. Gene Colan’s art seems especially outstanding this time around, and as Professor Matthew alludes to, it really holds things together in this sometimes rocky title. The potential for interesting things for Matt and Natasha (so much more upbeat than Karen), keeps our appetites whetted when they really haven’t had much time together to develop it.

Creatures on the Loose 20
Gullivar Jones in
"What Price Victory?"
Story by George Alec Effinger
Art by Gray Morrow 

Gullivar wears the Amulet of Seeing while directing Chak against their invisible foe, a humanoid brute, and together they defeat it.  They climb down the ice mountain and fight their way across a desert vista, Gullivar haunted at every step by the amulet’s telepathic vision of Heru at the end of a sacrificial dagger.  At the palace prison, Chea has unexpectedly turned the fatal knife upon herself in order to preserve her princess’ life, though now Heru must wed the Red Lord Ar-Hap.  The princess, thinking Gullivar dead, contemplates Chea’s desperate way out.  The court minister Jen-In escorts her to Ar-Hap, though the rough handling of his betrothed displeases the warlord.  The guardsmen forcibly take Jen-In away while Ar-Hap shows Heru an unexpected tender side.  When she remains steadfast in her refusal and goes so far as to tell him he is a monster, his familiar old ire rises.  Collapsing to the floor, he orders her out, before his secret curse is exposed – his shadow self, cruel and vicious, wrestling for control of his true self, “the voice of his conscience” (manifest as a small, concealed second head).  Meantime, Gullivar and Chak are overtaken by the wingmen vassals of the Red Barbarian lizardmen and delivered to them as prisoners.  Chak is caged like a bird and Gullivar forced to fight their bloodpet, a wooly wolf-headed beast.  Gullivar triumphs in the gladiatorial wrestling match and bursts into Ar-Hap’s tent.  He finds the Red Lord helpless and unconscious except for the second head who warns him of the humiliated Jen-In’s coup erupting just outside...  -Gilbert Colon 

Gilbert Colon: Another change in artists gives us the finer ink and pencil lines of Gray Morrow. The feather strokes allow for more detailed textures and surfaces, and the comic now takes on a wholly

different look from previous issues – more like, not necessarily inappropriately, Alex Raymond’s intricate Flash Gordon strips. (Morrow would go on to illustrate King Features’ Flash Gordon strip in 1991.) Unfortunately thin means that persons, places, and things do not pop from the page in quite the same way as boldface lines, though this problem may be a printing issue.

Gilbert: It is not only the art and Gullivar’s increasing resemblance to Flash Gordon that evokes constant comparison with that yesteryear series, but also the themes of various planetary tribes and races putting aside differences to unify against a common enemy tyrant who rules by keeping them divided. Retaining the novel’s first-person narration, Gullivar observes “We were a great pair--I, completely useless now, exhausted--and Chak, his injured wings unable to [lift] him long aloft---but we had something better--we had co-operation---.” 

Gilbert: It is worth predicting, at this point, that some will deride Heru as a mere princess-to-be-rescue when it is more accurate to view her as a tragic character betrayed by her own kinsmen, a spineless tribe hiding behind human sacrifice peace offerings with only a brash Vietnam War U.S. Marine to save her from red goliaths. If she is a victim, she is only a victim of her own people’s “peace at any price” cravenness. (Some have seen parallels between the Hither folk and the passive and pathetic Eloi of H. G. Wells’ Time Machine.) For herself, she never exhibits cowardice in the face of her captors, always putting up a strong front, showing sassy defiance and never mincing her words (even if it means calling her bestial groom a monster to his face). She is infinitely braver than any of the Hither men. 

Gilbert: An interplanetary Odysseus, Gullivar is working his way back to his Penelope, Heru, and also to his home and hearth, Earth, though his odyssey is complicated by the fact that his beloved Heru’s homeworld is Mars, not Earth. With only one ten-page issue before THE END MUST COME!, it is hard to envision a satisfying wrap up – tune in here next time to find out. 

Gilbert: Also in this issue, another Red Planet adventure, this one – “Only One Is Human!” (Tales of Suspense #22) – a Don Heck-pencilled-and-inked first contact story pitting skull-and-horned Martians versus Earth forces who hole up in a domed domicile.  When faced with a “Who Goes There?” situation, the captain must make a Solomonic judgment to discover which of his men is secretly a Martian carrying the deadly Virus X.  Meanwhile, the fame-seeking musician of the Steve Ditko-illustrated “For Whom the Drum Beats!” (Tales to Astonish #22) resorts to Gypsy magic to become “King of the Drums” and learns the hard way that the drum...It beats for thee.  


  1. Scott: nothing kills my interest like a crappily drawn book.

    You' re gonna love the coming Brown/Heck/Tuska issues of The Avengers :-)

    1. Did somebody say "sabbatical?"

    2. As of today, all comments warning my Professors of bilge to come will be deleted. :>

  2. I'll be on the other side of the spirited Bob Brown debate.

  3. Is there a Heck/Tuska team-up coming? Oh the excitement, the thrills, the projectile vomiting!

    Elsewhere: Can't believe I completely missed "Bert and Ernie" as Flathead's flunkies in Spidey... I was mesmerized by that hockey-puck noise. Not one of Mr. Romita's most electric moments..