Wednesday, October 2, 2013

September 1972: Part Two: Doctor Strange's Lovecraftian Tales!

The Incredible Hulk 155
"Destination: Nightmare!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin

Shrinking further and further into a microscopic world, the Hulk lands in a realm that looks very similar to the one he had just left behind. He appears to be in New York City, except that it is in ruins as U.S. troops fight it out with Nazis just like in WWII. Knowing enough that the Nazis are the bad guys after they attack him, the Hulk joins up with the Americans and begins to turn the war in their favor. Things get even weirder when the Hulk knocks out a Nazi soldier who then turns into an alien-like slug. It is explained that in this world The Shaper is in control as he manipulates all the inhabitant's dreams, feeding off them. The reason for the WWII setting is because a Nazi named Kronsteig ventured into the Shaper's microscopic domain by Dr. Doom after a failed partnership. Feeding off the Third Reich dreams of Kronsteig, the Shaper set up this new world of retro violence, hoping Kronsteig would be successful. Since the Hulk's victories have upset his plans, the Shaper grants Kronsteig the power of his fantasy. Kronsteig is able to imagine himself becoming a musclebound powerhouse known as Captain Axis. While he puts up a decent fight at first, Captain Axis is no match for the Hulk's strength. Angry that the Hulk has defeated Axis, the Shaper attempts to manipulate Greenskin's dreams but the monster is able to fight off the mind control. Realizing that he needs to go off and seek new conquests, the Shaper leaves the micro world and the inhabitants revert back to their original alien forms. The story ends with Hulk beginning to shrink again. -Tom McMilion

Tom McMillion: As usual, the best Hulk stories revolve around him being surrounded in creative fantasy worlds. This story being no exception, it had enough different elements going for it to keep things interesting. The Shaper has got to be one of the strangest dudes to ever grace the Marvel cosmos. Both in appearance and his wacky ideas of amusing himself. Even though it was brief, Dr. Doom's cameo was a nice surprise.

Scott McIntyre: So, if there's no atmosphere to catch the sound of Banner screaming, how does he breathe to scream? Or live? This is sort of a weird stopover during his journey to somehow find Jarella's world and considering how they show the "worlds within worlds" of his journey, I have no idea how he ever finds the right micro-planet to land on. There are a lot of panels showing how Banner's shrinking and flailing pulverizes other worlds, but no mention is made of any beings on these planets, yet it still kinda sucks. It's a little hard to wrap my brain around the concept of Bruce shrinking and landing on other planets while shrinking more. He should either be smashing or landing, in my mind.

Matthew Bradley: I’d forgotten that during Goodwin’s relatively brief tenure on this book, he and Trimpe introduced the Shaper of Worlds, an unusual and visually cool character but one who—due to his literally globe-spanning powers—must be used judiciously, like a Galactus.  Certainly, Archie has earned himself this week’s Roy Thomas Award for casting his net as far back as Fantastic Four #10 for the origin of Captain Axis, a name that always sounded to me like a Hasbro toy or something that Roy would dream up for The Invaders down the road.  The Hulk’s interaction with the dogfaces (to whom Herb’s inker, Sgt. Fury and real-life WW II vet Severin, was no stranger) was enjoyable, and overall this issue marks a diverting change of pace.

Scott: Not the worst story ever, though. The Shaper is one of those villains who is kinda cool and boring at the same time. He's someone that creates the situation, but isn't someone to battle. Hulk only fights the illusions, which doesn't make for a tangible threat. The Shaper always looked like a blue cyborg "Gold Key" version of Spock to me. The plot is pretty good, with a nice tie to the Dr. Doom shrinking ray from FF #10, so props for having that continuity. The art remains serviceable.

Peter Enfantino: I liked it. Can't say that I followed the complex story line the entire way but it had enough WTF? goofiness to it to keep my interest. I loved the "alternate reality" New York (even if it was revealed to all be a dream), decked out in flames and rubble, that the Green Goliath stumbles upon. I had, of course, completely forgotten Kronsteig from FF #10 so you'll have to forgive me if I thought he was actually Baron Strucker, a certifiable dead ringer who used to give Nick Fury such a hard time in WWII. I just hope this title doesn't fall victim to Thor-osis ("the inability to get out of an arc, no matter how many arcs are introduced within said arc"- The Marvel Book of Maladies. Page 145, paragraph 2).

The Invincible Iron Man 50
"The Curtain Rises on 'Deathplay!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta

Stung by Marianne’s “betrayal,” Tony must shed his armor to reach an outlet and recharge, barely dressing before the arrival of Jarvis, who is soon forced to tell a ransom-seeking Princess Python that Tony is on his way to S.I.  From the post-apocalyptic, sub-microscopic world of Bast, Jarr had revived the Adaptoid and, despite his cousin Tyrr’s skepticism, evolves it into the metallic Cyborg-Sinister of Marianne’s vision.  A static charge from Tony’s chestplate frees him from the snake long enough for him to armor up (protecting his secret i.d. by broadcasting a fake dialogue from the forest), but when he foils the Princess’s kidnapping attempt, plunges her “precious” into a vat of acid and prevents her suicide, the fragments of the vision are all in place.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This is, I believe, the oldest Bronze-Age issue that’s been in the family since the day it was published, so with pronounced nostalgic affection, I won’t even make a pretense of objectivity.  I give the Tuska/Colletta team top marks here; Iron Man is a badass, Marianne is a babe (if an unbalanced one), the Cyborg-Sinister is one creepy dude, and the only people who look a little odd are the boys from Bast, who are aliens anyway.  Melancholy Mike obviously has a lot of balls in the air here, and for all I know, they may come crashing down in the next issue, which I waited many years to see and have now largely forgotten, but he has my interest, and despite the story’s somewhat discursive nature, he seems to have a better grip on the book than Conway did.

Scott:  For some reason, I'm conditioned to think a milestone issue number, like 50 or 100, should warrant a special story. I'm apparently alone in this since this 50th Iron Man is as bland and drab as most of the stuff we've suffered through. The splash pages looks like Iron Man was channeling William Shatner. Marianne runs off when Tony needed her most and since Tony is an unforgiving bastard and hasn't heard her explanation yet, he's all set to dump her and go it alone. The alien guys have those Tuska screwed up faces and Princess Python is such a nothing villain. An easily forgotten issue.

Kull the Conqueror 4
“Night of the Red Slayers”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Marie & John Severin

During a sweltering summer, the streets of Valusia are aflame with rebellion. A group of conspirators, led by the diminutive Ducalon, Count of Komahar, offer the aged wizard Melkori a fortune in gold if he helps them unseat Kull, the barbarian king. The next day, Melkori and his beauteous daughter Jirane enter the king’s courtroom. After she faints, Kull offers her a cooling trip on the royal yacht to escape the oppressive heat. While the savage king is out to sea, members of his royal guard, the Red Slayers, begin to murder innocent citizens, causing a revolt. Brule the faithful Pict sails off to warn the king about the violence that grips Valusia. When he catches up to the yacht, Brule and Kull witness Jirane melt into a puddle of wax on the deck. Arriving back at the city, the deadly duo confronts the band of murderous Slayers: they too are wax figures brought to life by Melkori’s wizardry. After melting the waxen warriors with flaming oil, Kull satisfies his subject’s bloodlust by tossing them Melkori.  -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Earning his first Marvel credit with Conan the Barbarian #13, John “North and South” Jakes returns to plot this dialogue-heavy tale. It’s not a total stinker, but a few early panels showing Melkori toiling over a vat of molten wax basically gives away the big reveal. Political intrigue and unrest over a barbarian wearing the crown seem to be the underwhelming undercurrents that move this series along. Hopefully, Kull hits the road for some far-flung adventures in future issues. Gawd, I hope so, because it’s becoming quite apparent why this Robert E. Howard hero could never gain traction. It’s all a bit ho-hum right down to the Severins' undeniably professional but rather uninspiring artwork. Am I beginning to repeat myself?

Marvel Feature 5
The Astonishing Ant-Man in
"Fear's the Way He Dies!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Herb Trimpe

The mouse-sized Hank escapes the talons of a goshawk with a makeshift weapon, salvaged from his cybernetic helmet, and ends up in a junkyard, where he sees Egghead menacing Patricia Starr.  Temporarily eluding her vengeful uncle, they try to reach Hank’s lab, but after sewing a new Ant-Man costume, Trixie is tracked by Egghead’s robots and captured.  Stowing away in his van, Hank foils a trap and is believed dead, then watches as Egghead plans to drain Trixie’s mind with his Hypno-Kon to power his machines; Hank crosses some wires, escaping with Trixie just before the resultant explosion apparently kills Egghead, and they part company when she takes him home, only to discover his lab wrecked and Jan lying unconscious. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I greet the return of Egghead with mixed emotions; after all, he does vie with the Human Top—now known as Whirlwind—for the dubious honor of being Hank’s arch-enemy, so bringing him back in the revived strip would appear perfectly natural.  Yet the coincidence of this junkyard encounter with his old nemesis seems far-fetched indeed, and the precise nature of his nefarious plans for taking over the country and/or world more than a little hazy, but I don’t think the next issue (one that I will be reading for the first time, courtesy of our august Dean Enfantino) is going to be of much help there.  In retrospect, we should perhaps welcome Friedrich’s creation of Trixie, later Trish, of whom Steve Gerber would make some interesting use in The Defenders.

Peter: Having read the entire first run of the Ant-Man/Giant-Man... odyssey... in Tales to Astonish and barely surviving (well, my therapist tells me I'm making good progress), I was naturally hesitant to tackle this new series. After all, very little changes with time in the Marvel Universe, right? Well, not exactly. Dopey and Entertaining (Tales to Astonish) has been replaced by Dopey and Dull (Marvel Feature). I can only shake my head in wonder at the marvelous feats of nothingness that go on in this issue and, sigh, understand exactly why it is that Marvel has handed over the film chores on Ant-Man to a comedy director. How could anyone make a straight drama based on this material? Hopefully, the film will feature an extended adaptation of the "Trixie: Seamstress" episode, where the gorgeous blonde manages to sew a fit-to-wear complete two-inch costume for Hank, without measurements, all while our hero takes a gratuitous shower. Pym's boots are blue before the sewing scene and red afterwards. Nice trick that! You could have knocked me over with a feather when I read there was no inker on Herb Trimpe this issue. I love Trimpe but this is awful art, with Henry Pym looking completely different from panel to panel.

Scott:  I don't hate this, but I should since Ant-Man is such a nowhere character. At least now he's trapped at ant size, which makes his predicaments more logical, since being tiny is not really that cool of a power. Egghead was always a dull villain and he's not much different here. Even though I strangely kind of liked this story, the dialog is pretty rough. They're trying to do something interesting with the character, but I'm not buying. The art, again, is pretty awful.

Our smartass Dean feels the need to have the last word yet again.

Marvel Premiere 4
Dr. Strange in
"The Spawn of Sligguth!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Plot by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith and Frank Brunner

Returning to his New York home after his exhausting battle with Nightmare, Dr. Stephen Strange finds a stranger has made himself comfortable in his study. His name is Ethan Stoddard, and perhaps comfortable is not quite accurate. Clearly distressed, it is also a mystery why his loyal servant and friend Wong, was not here to allow Stoddard entrance. Wong appears at Strange’s call, and relates he was overcome with exhaustion, and sleeping. Initially angry, Stephen apologizes for his bruskness.  In the glow of the fire, Ethan tells his eerie tale. He and his fiancée Bethel Doan, who hail from the reclusive New England town of Starkesboro, had come to New York for graduate studies in their chosen field of study, the Occult in America. Bethel had recently returned to Starkesboro to do some research in the local library, whose somewhat dark collection included such rarities as Thanatosian Tomes. Initially she kept in contact, but her letters first took on a distant, disturbing tone, then stopped altogether. Strange’s Amulet confirms Stoddard’s innocence. It also reveals the past events that led to the two students parting, a probing that to Ethan leads to a forgetful night’s sleep. In the morning Stephen tells him that they’re Starksboro-bound, via a dark and stormy bus ride. Wong, meanwhile, has contacted (via the All-Seeing Oracle) the Ancient One, Strange’s mentor and master, to investigate the meaning of the Thanatosian Tomes. Strange and Stoddard book two rooms in the local hotel, where the former witnesses from his room window the emptying of a bizarre midnight church service. He finds a great resistance to the parting of the ectoplasmic form of his body, but he manages to free it long enough to talk to the Ancient One, who warns that the Tomes, and other ancient scripts warn of a slumbering evil, as old as time, and as powerful as they are good. Sunlight the next morning gives an only slight relief from the tension. The townsfolk are all slightly off, vaguely ugly, coolly calm. Ethan heads to the library to look for Bethel, and he finds her, but she is not as before; aged and deformed; enough humanity remains for her concern to appear, warning him he should have stayed away. Investigating the church, Dr. Strange finds iron shackles, an upside cross, an entrance to an underground labyrinth, and a serpentine symbol that represents the Mark of Sligguth, the symbol of ultimate evil. Ethan finds Stephen at the church, terrified at Bethel’s transformation. More zombie-like townsfolk begin to gather, chanting Ethan’s name, both from outside the church…and the tunnel from below! Closing doors to both give brief respite, until Ethan himself begins to transform, into one of the nameless Starkesboro folk! Unbeknownst to him, it appears Ethan was a pawn, to lure Dr. Strange here, where he would be weakened, and where his death would ensure that he could not interfere in the waking of “The Evil One Who Slumbers.” Strange looses consciousness in the mental and physical struggle, and awakens to find himself in shackles—a sacrifice to the one he sought to stop! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Let’s start with: Wow! All titles have their ups and downs; clearly Dr. Strange (in Marvel Premiere) is on a high. It’s tough to know where to start with this one, there’s so much to commend. Of the authors Dean Pete references (below), I’m most familiar with Lovecraft; one of the stories it brings to mind for me is “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” Do places like Starkesboro really exist? If so, one can clearly imagine the sense of isolation and dread being trapped in such a place would bring. The Thanatosian Tomes could be a companion to H. P.’s mythic Necronomicon. Ethan’s duping into trapping Dr. Strange in the very place where even his power might not be enough to protect him is frightening, even if not entirely unexpected. The art and language give this tale the polish to make it truly memorable. 

Matthew: Penciler Smith cedes the plotting duties to Roy, who launches a major new storyline “featuring concepts created by Robert E. Howard” (as were Conan and Kull), while inker Adkins is replaced by Warren vet “Far-Out” Frank Brunner, who in turn takes the penciling baton in #6.  This is sensational—dense in the best possible way, never at the expense of the visuals, with word and image flawlessly combining to create an ominous Horror Hotel/Haunted Palace vibe.  Utility player Archie Goodwin’s pitch-perfect, one-time-only script gives the reader a real sense of mounting dread and big things brewing, while the art has a dash of EC, especially that spooky scene in the library; this Cthulhu-style cosmic horror fits Doc like a glove.

Scott:  Interesting how a Barry Smith illustrated Dr. Strange story has concepts by Robert E. Howard. Quite a co-inky-dink. A fun build up, but it seems a little long. I found Dr. Strange's best tales were back in the split book days, when they moved like a shot. This one seems to drag and still ends up being a multi-part epic. Still, I got a nice smile out of Strange eating a hot dog and really digging it. Earlier, after Strange bitch slaps Wong, he stops his servant to apologize. The final panels on page 2 had me thinking there was an evil duplicate of Wong waiting behind the curtain. I had to look at it twice. Nice art, but this could have been wrapped up in a single issue.

Peter: I'm a sucker for anything with a Cthulhu Mythos vibe and this fills the bill. The credits tell us that the story is based on concepts from Robert E. Howard but, by extension, there's a lot of Lovecraft here as well. The pulp experts (like Professor Gilbert) may weigh in on the relationship between Howard and Lovecraft (and Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Robert Bloch, etc.) while creating the fascinating Mythos universe but I'll stick to "Golly, the mind boggles!" Professor Matthew is right on the money with his mention of Haunted Palace (based on H. P.'s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) as that's what this reminded me of the most. John Carpenter mined the same territory with his cinematic Lovecraft ode, In the Mouth of Madness (very much recommended). But my digressions become digressions, which can happen when you're excited about a funny book. This is stellar stuff. A dense plot, dialogue that means something, and art that's... well, Barry's getting better but his human beings (save a certain Barbarian) lack a certain human look to them in some panels. The definitive Dr. Strange artist is right around the corner (hint: he's responsible for inks this issue), with apologies to Steve Ditko fans, and I can't wait to watch that transformation. The standout bit, amongst half-human zombies and human sacrifices, has to be the conversation between Strange and Ethan while they're on the way to Starkesboro (great name for a creepy place). Ethan launches into a long dialogue, then hesitates to ask the Doc if he's been listening. Strange admits that he hasn't been giving the man his full attention, as the hot dog he's eating is a little slice of heaven. Humor in a Marvel comic book featuring Dr. Strange? Who'd'a thunk?

Mark Barsotti: The doc is definitely in for "The Spawn of Sligguth," a collaborative effort that's firing full-bore on all cylinders: Archie Goodwin scripting Roy's (er, H.P. Lovecraft's) scarifying plot, with gorgeous art by Barry (Windsor) Smith and Frank Brunner. Strange accompanies young Ethan Stoddard to the isolated town of Starkesboro on the Massachusetts coast in search of Stoddard's gone-missing fiancée Beth. The locals give "high 'n' mighty" young Stoddard the cold shoulder; they're so insular and inbred they make the Southern yokels of Deliverance seem like San Francisco hipsters. And of course they be religious folk, but the inverted cross cuddled by a Gila Monster that Strange discovers behind the altar of a church suggests the Starkesboro folks are beyond even Pope Francis' inclusive embrace. Great stuff from first to last, save for the lack of a credit for Lovecraft, since the plot is a direct lift from my one all-time fave skin-crawling tales, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." Bad karma, that. You don't want to anger Cthullhu...

 Werewolf by Night 1
"Eye of the Beholder!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Mike Ploog and Frank Chiaramonte

Picking up where Marvel Spotlight #4 left off, Werewolf by Night stands turned to stone by Marlene Blackgar. But when the sun comes up, he transforms back into Jack Russell and is cured. Discovered by “old pen-pusher” Buck Cowan, he grabs the Darkhold book and discovers old Miles Blackgar survived the fall but is wheelchair bound, and mutant-powered Marlene seeks the book! Jack and Buck race to a rented seaplane (!) and back to civilization. Jack’s sister Lissa calls him but sounds troubled, which she is because stepfather Philip has the Blackgars over. Then henchman Strug smashes in and Marlene takes both Buck and Jack hostage. Jack senses the change coming, smashes Miles’ wheelchair and takes off! The moon comes, and with it our loveable Werewolf By Night, and he skulks back to battle Strug. But impatient Marlene fires a gun—leaving Strug to collapse and die! Then Marlene removes her glasses, but WWBN was in front of a mirror—which ends up turning the Blackgars into stone! WWBN makes Lissa scream, then runs off to the forest. Jack comes back, and reveals he hid the Darkhold in a box of Corn Flakes (!) and visits the Santa Monica Art Museum where the Blackgars stand on display.
–Joe Tura

To her credit, Marlene fast became the only Gorgon in history with a modeling contract.

Joe: Let’s start with the Mighty Marvel Checklist promo copy on this one: “Marvel’s newest, weirdest sensation yet! Man into wolf—at midnight! Far out!” First, I would think Ghost Rider is newer and Man-Thing weirder than WWBN. Second sentence makes sense, except that Jack changes when the sun goes down and unless he lives in Alaska, that ain’t at midnight. But the third? Well, technically Captain Marvel and Warlock are more far out, both in geography and wacky storylines. Then again, the Mighty Marvel Checklist is never known for its subtlety. And neither is this kooky first issue. In a nutshell (that seems appropriate for both the Russell and Blackgar families), the script is super-wordy as befits a Conway effort, and has a lot of Scooby Doo-ness to it. The art is a bit rough around both the edges and the insides, like Ploog rushed himself, or maybe it’s the inks by some guy I’ve never heard of.

Scott:  A little more interesting than the issues leading up to this premiere, but still not that great. Mike Ploog is one of my favorite artists of the horror comic genre. His style is very old fashioned and cold enough to add to the spookiness and horror. Jack Russell, however, still looks like one of the Funky Phantom characters from the same period. Maybe it's my ADD, but these issues are sliding off me like eggs off Teflon.

Peter: Featuring more freaks per square foot than a MTV Awards show, Werewolf by Night loses none of the unique qualities it possessed over in Marvel Spotlight: meandering plots, goofy dialog, silly guest stars, and art that runs the gamut of dreadful to superb. This time out we get a gorgeous Gorgon, resplendent in her salon-coiffed tresses, ruby-red lipstick, designer sunglasses, and Versace three-piece (how did Marlene miss making the X-Men?) who only wants to make things better for her wheelchair-bound pop (add a bell to the chair and you have Hector Salamanca). To aid her in her goals is the latest in a line of muscle-bound shirtless glops (usually these guys are failed experiments of the issue's mad scientist), imaginatively named Strug. As usual, I'm a bit foggy on exactly how Jack/Wolf's memory works. As the werewolf is in action, we get Jack narrating the events in past tense, as if he remembers what happened vividly even though this flies in the face of the werewolf's thought balloons, which are "borrowed" from that month's Incredible Hulk. Does the guy have total recall? At least we get the most unique "flashback" scene I can recall: in the opener, the Wolf/Jack is lamenting his new position as lawn ornament and exactly how he got into the situation but all we see is varying angles of the stone statue. No redrawn recap of last issue. Ploog's still having problems with human characters but his creatures and landscapes are positively Wrightsonian. That's a good thing for a series like this. But, hey, hold on a minute. Did we find out how a gorgon does her make-up and hair in the morning if she can't look in a mirror? I smell a sequel.

Joe: The first thing you notice when reading this oddball, besides WWBN thinks way too much in his head, is that even though he’s turned to stone, he still moves around, as the arms and legs keep changing position. Continuity! In lots of places, shirtless Jack looks like an Action Jackson doll (my favorite AJ accessories were the baseball outfit with whiffle ball bat and the motorcycle!), and even macho mutant Strug looks a bit off in places. Buck Cowan still talks like a Raymond Chandler outtake, including the classic “What in the name of a purple heaven..?” (which is followed a couple of pages later by Jack saying the sky turns a dusky purple…Gerry loves purple!). Really a mediocre start.

Marvel Team-Up 4
The Amazing Spider-Man and The X-Men in
"And Then -- The X-Men!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gil Kane, Steve Mitchell, Frank Giacoia, and John Romita

Still feverish and plagued by nightmares, Spidey goes to see Jorgenson but arrives just after Morbius has taken him and is mistaken by the landlady for his kidnapper, which leads Professor X to dispatch his four remaining students.  Spidey fights them to a draw and then blacks out; Xavier’s mental probe and Jorgenson’s notes reveal that he not only is innocent, but also will die within hours if “adjustments” are not made to the toxin from Morbius in his blood.  The X-Men find and knock out Morbius, from whose subconscious Charles—working through Jean—elicits the location of Jorgenson, and once he has narrowly saved Spidey by inoculating him with an extract of the original enzyme, the grateful hero thanks Jean with a kiss and departs. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This entry has a lot going for it, e.g., some generally good Gil Kane artwork inked by newcomer Steve Mitchell, but as it marks the first time the orphaned X-Men have gone into action as a team (sans Beast or uniforms), I consider Gerry’s story a missed opportunity.  For the second time in its four-issue lifespan, the mag doesn’t fully live up to its title, since Spidey is out cold when the X-Men battle Morbius, although at least they part on good terms.  Even the obligatory MARMIS is more annoying than usual, because in Amazing Spider-Man #92, he met Iceman under almost identical circumstances—events make Spidey appear to be a kidnapper—but this is not even acknowledged, let alone does Bobby think, “Hey, wait a sec, maybe we should hear the guy out.”

Scott: The first team up without the Human Torch and it's not bad. Again, not a fan of Morbius or Gil Kane, who can't draw Jean Grey to save his life. I first read this in a Team Up Treasury Edition, and it's pretty okay. It feels a lot like a regular Spider-Man issue, just with a lot of X-Men stuff. Funny how Professor X can scan Spidey's mind and not see anything of his civilian life. True, he was only checking his subconscious for certain things, but it should be pretty hard not to discover some sensitive secrets. Like his name or something.

Joe: I wore this MTU ish out reading it as a kid. Even though it's not the best comic, it's a solid chapter in the MTU saga, with Spidey and the merry mutants teaming up, which was great fun for me. And I loved the Jean kiss, even as a 5 1/2 year old.

John: Anyone longing for the return of the X-Team must have snapped this title up, but let's be honest, it's still a let down from the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams run, and offers no clue as to the greatness that is coming very soon.

Peter: Strange that Morbius isn't even mentioned on the cover.

Sub-Mariner 53
"...And the Rising Sun ShallFall!"
Story and Art by Bill Everett

The mutant Sunfire has used his ray blasts to capsize a cargo ship carrying chemical defoliants. Acting on the orders of his boss, the wannabe tyrant known as the Dragon-Lord, he has no idea that the chemicals will destroy the ocean's plankton. Without those tiny sea creatures, the ocean would not have enough oxygen to sustain life in land or water. Once Namor brings Sunfire up to speed on the danger of what he has done, the two work together to fix the ship and get rid of the defoliants. As the duo seek out the Dragon-Lord by burrowing underneath his headquarters, it is revealed by flashback how the Dragon-Lord came to be. After WWII when the U.S. left the island after their victory, the man that would become the Dragon-Lord came across a hidden underground bunker, complete with the materials and information available for nuclear weapons. With his eyes adjusting to the darkness, he threw himself into studying all the books he could get his hands on that instructed him on the ways of nuclear weapons. By the time Dragon-Lord was able to find his way out of the bunker, the sunlight blinded him. Overcoming his handicap in the ensuing years, he gained the respect of the natives and they made him their leader. Time is running out for Namor and Sunfire as the power mad Dragon-Lord contemplates detonating his nuclear bombs and destroying the world. -Tom McMillion

Tom: So, the U.S. just left a nuclear bomb bunker on the island after they won the war? Seems pretty stupid and irresponsible even for our government. The Charlie Chan-like depiction and the fact that he is blind make it hard to take the Dragon-Lord very seriously as some fantastic villain. Sorry, but he is not the equivalent of a villainous Daredevil. The story did move along at a decent pace which may have been helped by the fact that it was shortened due to a classic Subby reprint from the 1950's.

Scott:  No young niece to add a cuteness factor this time, but the Sunfire/Namor conflict, and then teaming up, brings back the old feelings of yesteryear (which I never lived though so what the hell am I talking about?) when the original Human Torch and Subby would duke it out, hurling insults and destroying cities. The story is still something of an anachronism, with the weird looking Asians, the crazy origin of the Dragon-Lord and the (still beautiful) art. It sits side by side with a 50's reprint and they still don’t seem all that different. Normally, these could be seen as criticisms, but I'm having too much fun.

Matthew: I don’t know if it’s directly responsible for the filler that rounds out this issue and the next (here courtesy of  Sub-Mariner Comics #41 from 1955), but Everett was less than a year from his death on February 27, 1973, and, I believe, not in the best of health.  Yet he must have stayed in harness right up until the end, his work as both writer and artist appearing as late as #61, while for my money, it is so far only the quantity, not the quality, that has been affected.  I delight in Sunfire’s volte-face as a sign of his possible rehabilitation, and even if Wild Bill’s style is still, uh, wildly out of step with a Marvel exploding in so many new directions, as they say, it’s so old it’s new, and I’ll take it over a crappy Gary Friedrich turkey any day of the week.

Peter: Yep, it's half a story but oh how glorious that half a story is. It's tough, for me, to look at this issue with anything but sympathy for Everett and review the content without that sympathy coloring my opinion. Well, unfortunately, a good portion of the comic books we're reviewing on this blog were shaped by guys (and a few gals) who have been dead for years so that shouldn't enter the equation. Weirdly, when I read these Everett Sub-Mariners, I tend to think about the cats that were running Marvel at the time. The company has always gotten a royal reaming from fans and scholars alike for their treatment of Ditko, Kirby, and others (and a well deserved reaming, I hasten to add), but they never seem to catch a break for their rare act of kindness. This had to be one of those instances since it's very clear that, by #53, Bill Everett could not give the title that amount of energy he once could. And yet, someone (I assume it would be Golden Age fanatic Roy Thomas) not only kept Everett on the title but covered for him when he lagged. The new content that we're blessed with here only makes me pine more for an alternate universe where Bill Everett lived at least twenty more years and was able to handle chores on Captain America, The Avengers, and what would have been his crowning achievement, The Invaders.

The Mighty Thor 203
"They Walk Like Gods!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Vince Colletta

It appears that Thor’s fate may be sealed; he lies almost buried beneath a pile of rocks, his hammer just out of reach, all courtesy of Ego-Prime. Ironically, it is his transformation to Don Blake that releases enough energy to expel the rocks. Blake grabs the walking stick, and voila, the Thunder God is back. Heimdall and Kamoor continue their mysterious Earthly business, driving the human Jason Kimball to the “yacht” Asgardian ship where two other humans wait, part of the plan forming around current events. They are Carter Dyam, a disillusioned Israeli soldier, and Chi Lo, a young Japanese girl who gave up her university studies to return to a life by the ocean, which she loves. All this apparently is part of Odin’s plan, a plan that an angry Karnilla, bursting into Odin’s chamber despite the Vizier’s objection, demands to know. Only because he understands the Norn Queen’s concern for Balder, he concedes to give some answers. While Thor leads his crew against Ego-Prime, a battle that still seems hopeless, other characters align in their places. Heimdall leads his trio of humans to the scene, and Volstagg searches for a place of safety for the young girl who has touched his heart. Then a most unexpected thing happens: Ego-Prime, ready to grasp victory, suddenly keels over and evaporates! A burst of light comes forth the clouds, transforming the three humans into giant, god-like figures. The visage of Odin graces the sky, whereupon he explains the sequence of events: the three humans have indeed been transformed into a new race of gods, whose creation was the culmination of the events including Mangog, Pluto and Ego-Prime. It was time, the All-Father decreed, for this younger race of gods to add spice to the cosmic stew. Thor is not impressed; he and his companions have risked life and limb, not to mention the price to Earth and Blackworld, and he lets Odin know. -Jim Barwise

Jim: When I think of Gerry Conway, it’s this type of storyline that comes to mind. It doesn’t really make sense, but it has enough razzle-dazzle going on that it keeps us entertained. The cover perhaps promises something more intriguing, but in essence is accurate. I can’t blame Thor for being tired of Odin’s games. Why would foes as serious as Mangog, Pluto and Ego-Prime be necessary for the creation of these “gods;” I don’t recall that we see much of them in future issues (don’t quote me on that).  On the other hand, it’s been great to see Heimdall get a change from guarding the Rainbow Bridge, as well as Volstagg’s concern for the child (who perhaps leads him to safety). Hildegarde, Silas Grant, certainly Gerry doesn’t lack for creating new characters, let’s just hope it’s laying the grounds for future storylines and not just random throwaways.

And, Yea, Odin said "Let There Be... Abba?"
Matthew:  Gee, just when things seemed to be going better.  As this great, lumbering oaf of a storyline meanders to its…continuation, it seems strangely appropriate that even John Costanza’s lettering, with its annoying voice-of-God effect for Ego-Prime, is rife with errors.  As a reader, I empathize with the rage of Thor (who appears to be channeling Popeye in page 17, panel 2) at the news that events “from the very beginning—e’en before the dread Mangog did reappear” were just so many strings pulled by puppet-master Odin.  This would annoy me less if, first, the whole thing didn’t seem so haphazard, assuming Gerry even plotted it all out in advance, and, second, the payoff weren’t this hazy, ill-conceived “God Squad” thing.  Cue Odin/Thor hissy-fit.

Peter: You have to think, when Odin assures all gathered that he really does have a plan, that the words may literally be coming from the mouth of Gerry Conway. If there is a plan to all this nonsense, I'm all ears. I've forgotten exactly when this arc-within-an-arc-within-ad-nauseum actually began. The Junior Brigades were all the rage at Marvel in 1972 so here we get ghetto street urchin (and token 1972 black) Jason Kimbal, Israeli blonde surfer dude Carter Dyam ("a man of hidden sensitivity"), and Chi-Lo, a partially miraculous girl, good with her hands and a snorkel, who went out for a swim one day and never came back. So what's the mission these three will embark upon in their embarrassingly bad new outfits? I'm sure we'll still be discussing that in 1979 if the recent events are an indicator. As for the sudden addition of Thor's transformation back into lame Doc Blake as a secret weapon, I politely cry "bullshit!"

Scott: So, when Thor transforms into Blake (and vice versa, I suppose), there is enough energy released to blow tons of boulders off of him? Wouldn't that much force shatter walls in Blake's office, or at least draw all sorts of attention to him every time Blake steals away to make the change? Is it me, or did this all come to an end very abruptly considering all of the issues expended on this epic? Odin gathers up some humans, makes new gods of them for some reason, Ego Prime is defeated, Odin hits Earth's reset button - again - and Thor has a tantrum. The End. I also get the impression that everyone in this book shouts every single word. Does this title get any better before the 80's?

Tomb of Dracula 4
"Through a Mirror Darkly!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Dracula visits the home of Isla Strangeway, a woman who bought his castle. Ilsa, an occultist and practitioner of witchcraft, boldly invites the vampire into her home. She fends him off with a cross while pitching a deal: in return for Dracula making her immortal, Isla will give him a mirror that can take anyone back a century in time. Agreeing to the deal, Dracula gives Isla the vicious bite but must contend with her meddling butler before carrying her off to his hideout, an old World War II bunker along the coastline. The Butler awakens in a hospital where he tells his account to Scotland Yard detectives and the Vampire-Stalkers. Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, and the brutish mute Taj, head over to Isla's mansion to investigate. Using his tracking skills, Taj is able to lead them to the bunker hideout. Dracula and Isla have already gone out to feed, but Taj is able to capture Clifton Graves, Dracula's servant. While Frank and Taj go to Isla's mansion, Rachel stays behind. After she gets done feeding on a young couple, Isla goes back to the bunker where Rachel confronts her. Isla boasts that she made the deal to become young again and brags about setting up Drac, as the mirror really leads into another realm occupied by demons. When Rachel tells her to look at her hands, Isla notices they are still ravaged by time. Graves mocks her because she didn't pay close enough attention to the journal she read about Dracula. Vampires only maintain their youth from the point that they were first turned into the undead. With her dreams dashed, Isla begs Rachel to kill her. Using a crossbow that shoots a stake, Rachel obliges. Back at the mansion, Dracula is ambushed by Frank, Taj, and the detectives. They use flashlights with cross emblems to keep him from leaving. Trapped like a rat, Dracula finds the dark mirror in the attic. Deciding to take his chances in another century, he decides to go through it. Before he can, Taj tackles him. The story ends with the two of them toppling backwards into the mirror passageway. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: It's nice when a series like this can stay consistently least so far. I liked it better when Dracula had the pasty-faced, white dead albino look, but I guess they didn't want him to look too much like a cousin of Morbius. At least the creators gave an explanation instead of ignoring the change like they normally do in comics. Here's hoping next issue's Drac and Taj journey into a demon world is as exciting as it sounds.

Scott: A decent tale with a predictable climax. I'm hoping the title becomes more serialized with a clear direction before too long. We know Dracula won't be defeated, so with that in mind, the adversaries and situations need to be more interesting. Also the supporting cast has to be fleshed out to a greater degree. The art by Eugene Colan is great as always. He really has a handle on this world and leafing through each story is a delight. I just wish the writing was as strong. Still, it's no dud.


Kid Colt Outlaw #162
Marvel's Greatest Comics #37
Marvel Super-Heroes #32
Marvel Tales #37
Mighty Marvel Western #19
My Love #19
Rawhide Kid #103
Red Wolf #3
The Ringo Kid #16
Sgt. Fury #102 ->
Special Marvel Edition #6
Two-Gun Kid #106
Western Gunfighters #11
Where Monsters Dwell #17


  1. Nice work, everybody, and I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one wowed by PREMIERE #4. The next few issues will be a decidedly rough patch, but believe it or not actually culminate in another standout (#8) just before the Englehart/Brunner, uh, magic begins. Stay tuned.

    Once in a while, the Professor Matthew Time Paradox throws a curve ball like this one: I just finished reading and reviewing SUB-MARINER #61, featuring Everett's final few pages, although that post won't actually see the light of day until early 2014. Quelle coincidence...

    Professor Joe, you'll see Chiaramonte's name popping up quite a lot, frequently in connection with Ploog's, although in the early days he was sometimes billed as "Frank Monte." He inked about half of the late, lamented Claremont/Byrne IRON FIST.

    1. Go figure, I don't remember the name. Thanks for the info as always!

  2. I read PREMIERE 4 and the rest a couple of times over the years and never understood the "based on Howard" credit. As Mark wrote this is "Shadow over Innsmouth" (and HPLs "The Festival" imho), there isn't one Howard idea in sight. But there must have been a reason for this as Marvel continued this credit in the next few issues. Strange. It makes no sense.

    Kull the king is the same as Conan the king. More or less boring as a character. Too much of the same. There are only a few Kull comic stories which have withstood the test of time. Mostly later stuff like the Bolton issues. One or two of the original Kull stories by Howard are very well written, though. But as a series character he just isn't very interesting.

    It is kind of crazy how Marvel expanded the program. They must have had a lot of faith in the interest (and wallet) of their customers.

  3. There's some interesting discussion of the whole HPL/REH business on SuperMegaMonkey, as well as in lettercols of subsequent issues (I, for one, will be quoting from the latter as we roll along), and there seems to be widespread agreement that, if nothing else, Marvel stole shamelessly from "Innsmouth." The idea seems to be that the REH credit was just a fig leaf to keep the Lovecraft estate from suing--how likely they may or may not have been to do so--since Marvel had an existing relationship with REH's people but not HPL's. They apparently plucked the name of Shuma-Gorath, and little if anything else, from REH, and basically said that since REH et al. were all playing in HPL's sandbox, it was all good.

  4. Iron Man channeling William Shatner? That's a negative? Kudos to Scott and Joe for mentioning the Funky Phantom and Action Jackson. I used to ride my bike over to Jeff Kroll's house and he had an Action Jackson "action figure" (NOT A DOLL). He also had the Spider-Man record album, which made him kind of my idol. I loved Werewolf By Night and I can assure everyone that Dr. Strange and Tomb of Dracula only get better from here on out. Just wait till Brunner takes over!

    1. Jack, if I ever get my butt in gear, there will be a lot more on that Spidey record.....

  5. @Matthew:
    Ahh, now this is interesting. I never knew, but then I didn't read Howard's fragments that closely. Shuma-Gorath is a name in a fragment of Robert Howard. Now it makes sense.

    As I wrote this yesterday I asked myself if HPL wasn't already in the public domain in 72. I did some further reading about this, and it seems that opinions differ wildly about this.

    But as Marvel had optained the rights for Howard, of course they had to credit him for concepts created, even if it just was a throwaway name.

    I also aked myself why Marvel didn't adapt more of HPLs work at the time. I mean, they bought so many characters and Storys for adopting. Moorcock, John Jakes, Norvell Page, to Name a few. But only 2 HPL as far as I know, those published in Tower of Shadows.

    Maybe Roy didn't feel the material suited for comics back then. "Undescribable horror" is always such a letdown when you describe it :-)

  6. Thanks, Andy. I can't resist sharing this apropos tidbit from my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN:

    "[Charles] Beaumont and [Jerry] Sohl adapted the work of H.P. Lovecraft, who profoundly influenced [Robert] Bloch and [August] Derleth, in THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963) and DIE, MONSTER, DIE (1965), respectively, but Matheson never did, despite his successful [Edgar Allan] Poe films for the same studio, AIP. 'He wasn’t my kind of writer—too heavy,' he said in an interview with the author for FILMFAX. 'Heavy stuff. You know, he’d spend fifty pages talking about some Eldritch horror that is so horrible to describe that he can’t possibly do it, and then in the last ten pages he describes it. I mean obviously, the man was brilliant, I just don’t care for that kind of writing.'"

  7. The church setting could also be inspired by "Haunter of the Dark" (adapted by Marvel in Journey into Mystery), but again that's Lovecraft. It is amusing that there should be any question over Cthulhu Mythos licensing when HPL invited and even encouraged fellow pulpsters to write in his universe, and the reverse is true as well -- the Gothic revival church in "Haunter" turns out to be an "abandoned lair of cosmic evil" housing "the Shining Trapezohedron" once "salvaged from their ruins by the serpent-men of Valusia," which refers back to the Robert E. Howard story "The Shadow Kingdom." Patrice Louinet writes, in his essay "Hyborian Genesis: Part 1" found in Del Rey's The Coming Of Conan The Cimmerian, that in REH's published story "Tower of the Elephant," a "discreet reference to the 'Nameless Old Ones' replaced the first draft's 'Cthulhu, Tsathogua, Yog-Sothoth, and the Nameless Old Ones.'" There may well be other instances. Were the rights at the time of Marvel's Bronze Age with Arkham House? Would that August Derleth and successors have really litigated if Marvel borrowed a name? Derleth certainly wrote plenty of tales with Lovecraft monsters in his day.

  8. Spy Smasher: "I saw what you did, and I know who you are."

  9. "More zombie-like townsfolk begin to gather, chanting Ethan’s name, both from outside the church" -- Not only Horror Hotel and Haunted Palace, but The Fog, or when adding "slumbering evil" to a zombie siege, Prince of Darkness. (Professor Pete already invoked John Carpenter when he cited Mouth of Madness.) As stated above, Lovecraft's "Haunter in the Dark" is set in a church, but no zombies (though mention of Robert E. Howard's Serpent Men!). Like The Fog, there is also a character named "Blake," and like Prince of Darkness a "cosmic evil" and evil artifact.