Wednesday, November 27, 2013

January 1973 Part Two: Gullivar Jones Rides Off Into the Sunset

The Incredible Hulk 159
"Two Years Before The Abomination!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Herb Trimpe and Sal Trapani

As Bruce Banner flies through the air in the Leader's spaceship, he is spotted by the military troops. General Ross orders missiles to shoot down the aircraft but, before he crashes back to earth, Banner turns into the Hulk. One of the waylaid missiles lands in the barren desert. In a bizarre stroke of bad luck, the missile’s explosion reawakens the Abomination, who had lain dormant for two years after losing his previous encounter with the Hulk. Mistaking him for the Hulk, the army captures the Abomination and brings him back to the Project Greenskin base. In a desperate move to keep his daughter away from Banner, the General makes a deal with Abomination. Ross will help cure and release the villain if he captures the Hulk for him. The Abomination hunts down the Hulk and the two monsters renew their rivalry. During the course of the brawl, the Abomination tells the Hulk all about Betty's impending marriage to Major Talbot. This infuriates the Greenskin Goliath and he ends the spar quickly, turning his sights toward Betty Ross. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: While it was most assuredly unintentional, the dialogue in the issue had me laughing out loud. I don't remember the Abomination ever being this entertaining before. Calling Talbot a loser, and referring to both himself and old Jade Jaws as freaks while cackling like a loon was spot on. Love him or hate him, the Abomination tells it like it is.

Matthew Bradley: Okay, strap yourselves in: Stainless adds Greenskin to his stable, and I’m expecting big things from the Englehart/Trimpe/Trapani team until Sal hands the brush over to Jack Abel for his 15-issue run starting in #167. Much as I loved the last issue,  I knew it was a one-off, whereas Steve satisfies right out of the gate once again (making the Abomination your opening bid is always wise), and with the art having finally come together, this feels like a Hulk I could actually love, somehow more modern, as if he’d finally entered the ’70s at last.  If I must kvetch, the business about keeping the date secret from the Abomination seemed needlessly complex; was Emil’s time-loss really just to justify Steve’s titular Richard Henry Dana allusion?

Scott McIntyre:  An excellent issue all around. It's hard to believe the Abomination has been used so sparingly in these pages, but there you go. He's used to great effect here and his interaction with General Ross is exceptional. The deal, Ross' quick thinking about the calendar and especially the panel at the bottom of page 15 (below), where the two are face to face, are all great. Yeah, it's a mighty coincidence the Hulk lands not far from his adversary just as Abomination came to and remembered his hatred of ol' Greenskin, but it's all worth it for the outstanding story which results. This is some damned good Hulk. 

Peter Enfantino: Could it be that The Abomination has only appeared a couple times in the Marvel Universe? I was under the impression that he'd popped up here and there but it's been a couple years since he last showed his purty face in these pages. Such despicable treatment for a villain I'd put in the first tier (that may be controversial but I think he belongs), but thank goodness we have Stainless to resurrect him. I'd have preferred a two-parter but the one-off we're given whets my appetite for Steve's run, which will get very close to "essential" at times. That final clock cleaning Hulk gives to 'Bommy is priceless. You get the sense our greenskin goliath was toying with his foe and then just got tired of the whole thing, finishing him off with one blow. This is the Trimpe I loved on Hulk.

The Invincible Iron Man 54
"Sub-Mariner: Target for Death"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by George Tuska and Vinnie Colletta

 Studying human hybrids, Dr. MacEvil tells her sentient computer to call her Madame, and lures Namor to the North Pacific by sinking a ship with a missile that he can easily track.  Taking control of Iron Man’s armor as he interrupts a heist on a morale-boosting visit to S.I.’s Seattle facility (hard hit by the “priority conversion”), she forces him to attack and try to capture Namor, who dismisses his attempts to explain.  MacEvil unwisely makes Iron Man pursue Namor into his element; her squabbling with the computer hampers their control over the armor, which ends when his repulsor-ray blast accidentally damages her submarine, so Iron Man beats a hasty retreat, knowing Namor will not believe him, and leaving MacEvil vowing revenge. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: For some reason, Shellhead and Subby seem to duke it out more often than most Marvel heroes; here, perhaps to repay Friedrich’s scripting efforts in several recent issues of Namor’s own mag, Bill Everett provides a “story idea & helping hand.”  While the peripatetic Jim Starlin has briefly wandered over to The Avengers, Mike takes another incremental step toward the splendor that is waiting in the wings next month by introducing the hilariously misnamed Madame MacEvil (of the Edinburgh MacEvils, no doubt), known to us Monday-morning QBs by a different moniker.  The enforced MARMIS is a gimmick as old as the hills—Sub-Mariner #2 springs immediately to mind as a single example—yet there’s Tuska/Colletta action aplenty to paper over the plot holes.

Scott: The usual Iron Man vs Namor dust up with different details to get everyone into place. Also per usual is the Tuska Touch. I will say he does Namor pretty well; there's a dash of Everett in the face that's refreshing. The story is no great shakes, however. Madame MacEvil? Fricking seriously? Is she the chairperson of McDonalds? They're saving her origin for next issue, but without it, she's just a bald bland non-entity with a very stupid name. Another piss poor member of Iron Man's rogue's gallery.

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire 5
"Don't Mess With Black Mariah!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Tuska and Billy Graham

On the way to meet a potential client, Luke Cage arrives just as two hoods attack the man. Cage is too late to save him but he knocks out the two thugs. When an ambulance takes away the body before the police arrive, Luke knows something is wrong. The sight of a grieving widow puts Cage in an angry mood and he vows to get to the bottom of things. A low-life snitch named Flea tips the hero off that supposedly fake ambulances and paddy wagons are picking up dead bodies and taking them away so that they can be robbed of their possessions. In an abandoned warehouse, Cage stumbles across the gang of thieves led by a 900 pound black woman named Black Mariah. The mammoth tries to crush Cage under her tremendous girth. Not wanting to hit a woman, Cage uses her size against her as he dodges her. When Mariah tries to escape in a boat, Luke tips it over and lets her float until the cops arrest her. In the end, the grieving widow shows up at the same time as Flea, who's demanding Cage pay him for his information. She mistakes Cage for being greedy and throws some money at him. Flea collects the money as Cage walks off, misunderstood yet again. -Tom McMillion

Tom: Ah, this issue came out in the good old politically incorrect days before things got too sensitive. Even the term 'paddy wagon,' is a derogatory slur for the Irish. I enjoyed it though. It was an easy read with some good heavy action. Black Mariah's dialogue may seem to be a little stereotypical but a ghetto woman thug from the early 1970s wouldn't sound like Dr. Doom. The story did seem a little rushed as it never really explained Frank Jenks' back story. Did he stumble upon the fake ambulance plot and was trying to hire Cage to stop it or was he going to talk to him about something else and was killed before doing so? Like all the great mysteries in life this one will probably never be solved.

Scott: Well, that was pretty terrible. I had hoped the presence of Billy Graham would keep this title in good shape, but the art is right back to Tuska Town and Black Mariah is a hideously racist caricature. She speaks like she's straight out of a 1930's cartoon and she's drawn as insultingly. There's really nothing good in this issue at all. Sweet sister!

Peter: As much as I dislike George Tuska's art, I have to admit a certain fondness for the almost outre look this issue pulls off. There's an obvious see-saw battle going on here between the Chip 'n' Dale approach of Tuska and the more realistic grit of Graham. That panel on the final page of Jenks' widow ("Sweet Sister!!!") confronting Luke about his fee reminds me a little bit of the small press comic artist, Jaxon (I said just a little bit, Jaxon fans!). You haven't lived until you've seen a giant black transvestite with buck teeth. This begs the question: was Tyler Perry a Marvel Zombie?

Marvel Feature 7
Ant-Man in
"Paranoia is the Para-Man!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Craig Russell, Dan Adkins, and Mark Kersey

As the presumed-dead Pyms travel through a neighbor’s yard, Jan is trapped in a butterfly net, and Hank, in hot pursuit, is also caught and gassed by a meek and weak-eyed inventor, Boswell, mistaking them for insects.  Boswell is dominated by Ree-Zee, a robot he had created as a houseboy, which repeatedly prodded him to upgrade its strength and size, and now seeks insectoid power as the self-styled Para-Man (“a being beyond mere man”).  Hank frees himself and Jan while Boswell sleeps and Ree-Zee—drunk on oil—steps out for some air, yet the escape is interrupted by Para-Man; with Jan overcome by a reaction to his serum, Hank starts a fire, and the ensuing blast leaves Para-Man a disembodied head as Jan becomes a monster wasp. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Although this strip will be too brief for his artwork to make a major impact, it is historic as an early gig for Craig Russell (initially credited without the preliminary “P.”), inked here by the late Dan Adkins and one-time-only Marvel footnote Mark Kersey.  The credits indicate that Russell was intended only to fill in for Trimpe, but he ended up finishing out Ant-Man’s run, further truncated by repeated reprints.   Friedrich lets us draw the Hank : Ultron : : Boswell : Ree-Zee analogy ourselves—even if the Pyms do not—while Russell turns in some striking work, notably the beautifully detailed close-up of Boswell’s hand clutching Hank in page 6, panel 5, and future Marvel scribe David Michelinie offers the pro-Ant-Man viewpoint in a vigorous lettercol debate.

Scott:  Another series that trudges on and on with very little going for it. Ant Man was never touched by the Marvel Magic of the 60's and his resurrection in the 70's is an interesting try, but the talent behind it is low. Honestly, there's very little that is compelling about someone who is stuck at ant size. The only thing going for the strip now is the fact that Herb Trimpe is no longer doing pencils. However, the art hasn't actually improved much. Forgettable.

Marvel Premiere 6
"The Shambler From the Sea"
Story by Gardner F. Fox
Art by Frank Brunner and Sal Buscema

Dr. Strange, in the dread undersea domain of Sligguth, faces the trident of Ebora, the High priestess of Shuma-Gorath (the sleeping evil one that all the dark forces serve).  He manages to grasp the trident and free himself from drowning, only to again face Sligguth, who he defeats by using a giant cross as a battle-axe. A new menace arrives on the scene, however, a hideous creature called N’Gabthoth. Meanwhile, heading to the aid of the struggling magician are his servant Wong and friend Clea, soon joined by a desperate man named Johnny Thames, whose girlfriend Deborah has become one of the slaves of the town of Starksboro. Ebora sends her Troglodyte slaves to capture them as a sacrifice for N’Gabthoth. Far away, the Ancient One, Stephen Strange’s mentor, is held captive in Kaa-U, the lost city of Shuma-Gorath. He sends his astral self to aid the doctor against N’Gabthoth. Eventually, this turns the tide in Strange’s favour, and he destroys N’Gabthoth, who had stolen from beneath the floorboards of Starksboro’s church, a box that contains a map of England leading to Stonehenge. It is clear they must head there forthwith—before the next round of evil strikes! 
-Jim Barwise

Jim: What a crazy mix of madness! First Sligguth arrives on the scene. After his defeat it’s N’Gabthoth. How much more dire can Shuma-Gorath him(it)self be? And where more fitting than Stonehenge to find our next blast of evil? The story is perhaps too full of happenings, what with the trio heading to assist Stephen in his battle only to become sacrifices-to-be themselves, not to mention the Ancient One sending his astral form to aid in N’Gabthoth’s defeat. It’s hard not to love all the colourful names, and the likewise artwork that portrays all this menace. I’ll never again think of Dr. Strange as the somewhat frail looking man he appears to be!

Matthew: If I had to choose between good writing and good artwork, I’d take writing every time, but the art can certainly lessen the sting of  problematic writing, and takes a drastic upswing here now that Brunner is back, having traded the brush he wielded so well on Smith’s work in #4 for a pencil.  It’s not that the script by Gardner “Effing” Fox is as unspeakably awful as the demons it portrays, yet he once again chokes the pages with purple prose that mostly duplicates what the atmospheric visuals show us, although I’m not sure Our Pal Sal is Frank’s best inker.  Fortunately, the Lovecraftian—excuse me, Howardian—storyline laid down by Roy and Archie withstands much of the damage, and N’Gabthoth is really cool; I just love that cover!

Peter: Well, pulp veteran Fox has certainly got the formula down, from the penny-a-word dialogue ("I shall say as much as I can without using nary a contraction for that would be the wisest of actions...") to the near-unpronouncable shambling shamblers (and how, exactly, would someone call out to N'Gabthoth without first bursting into laughter?) but unwisely ignores what both HPL and REH knew: keep "that which shall not be seen" in the shadows 'til the climax. Reduced to nothing more than a henchman, N'GabbaGabbaHey is about as fearsome than Tobonga, the laughable tree monster in From Hell It Came. Having bitched and moaned though, I have to say that this is the path this character should be taking, fighting Lovecraftian winged demons rather than The Leader or Mysterio. I'd just prefer that the writers bite off more than they could chew; bring in Cthulhu for a three-issue arc. Where the heck is that Necronomicon? I wonder if Strange has any powers that don't alliterate. Here, he calls on the "powers of the demons of Denak," the "crimson crystals of Cyttorak" and the "vapors of Valtorr." Will he ever zap a foe with the "Eyes of Dishwalla" or the "Feet of Nautilus"?

Matthew: The lettercol responds to an accusation that they ripped off HPL’s “Shadow over Innsmouth”:  “Maybe the credits should have read:  ‘Based on concepts created by Robert E. Howard, who was, in turn, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft.’...You see, though Howard and Lovecraft never met face-to-face, they were in fact correspondents for many years, and when Lovecraft began writing what have come to be called his ‘Cthulhu Mythos’ tales, Howard was one of many writers in the ‘Lovecraft Circle’ of literati to use elements of the Mythos in his own stories....However, we hasten to add, the concepts utilized in our Dr. Strange yarn were Howard’s, not Lovecraft’s.... Our…epic is exploring the Howard branch of a mythology which was begun by H.P. Lovecraft.”

Peter: Horseshit, I says. Give credit where credit is due. Did the Lovecraft estate ask for a larger licensing fee than the Howards? As for the art, I'll quickly point out that Sal Buscema (whose work I love elsewhere ) is not doing Frank Brunner any favors. The result of the pairing is akin to Tom Sutton inking Gil Kane, a mishmosh of styles. This, too, will pass.

Mark: Frank Brunner's art is certainly an upgrade over last outing's Archie & Jughead chicken scratch, even if Brunner's not well-served by Sal Buscema's inks, but writer Gardner F. Fox remains clueless in his scripting of Strange. For the second ish in a row he has the master of the mystic arts, sorcerer supreme, duking it out with foes like a generic muscleman in tights. Here the Doc, already mid-underwater escape like Namor the necromancer, grabs a random floating cross and uses it to cold-cock giant lizard Sligguth into unconsciousness. If that's not enough, the good doctor then holds Sliggy's gills shut until he drowns. That's all you need to know about this water-logged Lovecraft rip. As Eric Idle said in mock newscaster role in The Rutles, "Palpable nonsense."

Marvel Team-Up 6
Spider-Man and The Thing in
"... As Those Who Will Not See!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Ben is angry to find Spidey in the Baxter Building until he sees the Puppet Master; when Alicia recognizes his voice as her stepfather’s, Philip Masters reveals that in a fit of jealousy, he’d planned to destroy his work and killed his friend, Jacob Reiss, in a fight just before their radioactive clay reached critical mass, blinding Alicia, whose late mother he wed.  Leading the trio to his Pennsylvania lab with the prospect of a cure, Masters eludes our heroes, who leave Alicia alone in the Fantasti-Car, and must evade various death traps while searching for him.  When his partner, the Mad Thinker, sends an android after Alicia, Spidey helps Masters subdue him, and as Ben bests the android, the lab is blown up, apparently by a repentant Masters. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I am second to none in my admiration for Gil Kane, but I can’t imagine why on earth they put him on this issue when he has no more facility for drawing the Thing than I do; I mean, individual style is one thing, but this is embarrassing.  I have less invested in the portrayal of the Puppet Master, although it’s a relief to see that his appearance is more what we’re used to than the roly-poly circus clown Colan depicted when Phil and the Thinker teamed up with Egghead in that ill-advised Sub-Mariner/Captain Marvel/Avengers three-way.  The most interesting aspect of Gerry’s otherwise so-so story—which at least supplies a logical rationale for Spidey’s disappointing first MTU encounter with Ben—is a look at the blended, and twisted, Masters clan. 

Scott: This is the only time I've read any real origin of the Puppet Master and it's strange it didn't wind up in the pages of the Fantastic Four itself. Gil Kane does this story no favors. The Thing looks terrible, as do Alicia and the Thinker. All around, everyone is off model. A rough ride, truth be told.

Joe Tura:  One of my favorite early MTU covers kicks this one off nicely, but all in all it's uneven reading it 40 years later. Conway does a nice job with the Thing here, although maybe he's a bit too Brooklyn. I loved the death traps gimmick as a 6 year old, and still like it now, but man, it's all pretty obvious. The best gag is Spidey "helping" Puppet Master bash Mad Thinker on the bean with a wrench. And you have to love Thinky's line "trapped like a scurrying rat" which reminds me of Silas Barnaby from March of the Wooden Soldiers. (How's that for a Thanksgiving tradition mention!) The ending is a bit abrupt though, more abrupt than I remember for sure and a bit too easily solved. And I'll agree with Prof. Matthew on Kane's mediocre Thing, but what throws me is page 3 (a sample is shown above), where in every panel, Spidey's head looks like he's in a funhouse mirror!

Sub-Mariner 57
"In the Lap of the Gods"
Story and Art by Bill Everett

Venus, the goddess of love, journeys to earth to lead war protests with college students. This causes Ares, the god of war, to track her down since he has a mad crush on her. He causes the car she's driving to crash into the water while he magically creates a new continent that has two nations at war with each other. Since Venus was Namorita's professor at college, she asks Subby to help find her. Namor finds Venus being held captive by Ares so he battles him to free her. It's a fast and furious underwater fight as Ares transports his mind into various sea creatures to take Namor down. Using Venus's magic girdle, Subby is able to defeat the mad god and let Venus return to her rabble rousing. -Tom McMillion

Scott: Bill Everett is back with another rousing, beautifully drawn tale. His writing is still on the retro/corny side. His voice for Namor is a bit "regular guy" for my taste ("how do you like that?"), but the jauntiness of his narration is infectious. Are his Namor stories really part of the overall continuity? There's Ares, who doesn't seem to be the same Ares we met in Thor's book some years back (and "Thor" is mentioned, but is it our Thor?). Also Nita finally returns to the book and all of a sudden she's some kind of teenage protestor. It's all in good fun, but this is a strange issue.

Tom: Being stupid and weird makes for a very bad comic story. This issue had both in spades. Hopefully the Namorita cameos don't continue on from here. I'd write more of a critique but any story that relies on a magic girdle to save the day doesn't deserve to be analyzed further.

Matthew: I don’t know if Namor met Venus in the Golden Age, when she had her own book (a sample of which was reprinted in Marvel Spotlight #2), but it seems natural for Everett to bring two of his old-time characters together as part of his delightfully retro run on this title, even if at one point I thought I was reading Current Events Comics Starring Betty and Nita.  Subby certainly gives no sign of recognition when he encounters “Professor Victoria N. Starr” here, although that may simply have been a concession to Bronze-Age readers, who would see her again in Champions #1-3.  Speaking of being unrecognizable, if this is supposed to be the same Ares/Mr. Talon/Warhawk with whom the Avengers tangled recently, you’d never know it.

Peter: Holy Marvel Coincidence! Nita's teacher is Vicky Starr, the same girl Namor finds washed up on the rock at the beginning of our tale (and subsequently forgets the name of, even though she introduces herself)! Best line in a Marvel Comic Book this month (and perhaps this year) comes when Venus cries out: "Aphrodite? I am Venus! And you-- Oh No!!! -- My Girdle!" Lots of great exclamations this issue: "Zeus's Zither!" "Nereid's Nemesis!" "By the tilt of Neptune's Trident!" and "Off with thy Picatroid Pate!" That's got to be one of the weirder poses I've seen on the splash page; what exactly is Namor doing when we enter the picture? Ballet? What, in the name of George Michael, is Subby wearing in that final sequence (above left)? Looks like he put his yellow varsity cardigan on backwards. And I have two words for Vicki in a bikini: Everett Cheesecake! Everett Cheesecake! Everett Cheesecake!

The Mighty Thor 207
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema, Marie Severin and Vince Colletta

On Halloween night in Rutland, Vermont, a group of young people (namely Steve, Len, Glynis and Gerry) head to their friend Tom Fagan’s house. A costume party is in full swing in the old mansion, and a humble looking figure with two dogs is present but not participating. Thor, Sif and Hildegarde meanwhile, have tracked the Absorbing Man to a forest locale not far from there. Hildegarde holds Sif back from protecting her loved one as the titans clash.  Our young friends enjoy a meal at a nearby diner, until Glynis disappears after a long stint in the washroom. Events soon mesh together. Thor defeats the Absorbing Man when his foe's entry into water causes him to dissolve. The humans are merely a few of many who have been duped by Loki—the “man” with the dogs—into providing him with an outside power source. Loki has set up this whole scenario to draw his brother in, and uses the human’s life force to power his “firesword.” The tide is turned when Karnilla comes to offer her aid, seeking permission from, and later assistance of Sif, to find and save her own love, the Brave Balder. It works; a stunned Loki is blinded by the lightning, and wanders off, withdrawing his attack. Hildegarde then informs the Thunder God that Sif and Karnilla are gone on their mission, perhaps never to return. -Jim Barwise

JB: One thing that strikes me right off the bat is this bit about the “real name” of Mjolnir, that can summon Thor’s hammer back at any time. Why wasn’t this ever used before when he had those desperate sixty seconds between him and death? He almost doesn’t use it later when Loki has him on the verge of defeat. The Bullpen antics seem out of place to me; I don’t mind the mixing of two realities, but it doesn’t gel for me here. It seems a little too easy to defeat Crusher Creel too; he’s a top-notch villain who deserves to be better than Loki’s bait for Thor. On the other hand, using Thor's beloved humans against him is interesting, and the Halloween feel does come through. I’m curious about the Sif/Karnilla team-up, not remembering it offhand… 

Matthew: I must confess that as novel as the idea presumably was back in the day, I am not as enamored of the fictional exploits of author Gerry, colorist Glynis, and fellow travelers Steve and Len as they were, and even more so than in the companion piece, Amazing Adventures #16, the “good works” of caricaturist Marie Severin are at odds with the predominant Buscema/Colletta art, such as it is.  Of course, watching our resident Thunder God mix it up with his foster brother (who refreshingly notes “that thou alone art [Odin’s] blood”) and  the Absorbing Man isn’t much of a chore.  Sif’s volte-face regarding Karnilla seems not only abrupt but also unnecessary, as the grounds for her objection to accepting the Norn Queen’s assistance were shaky in the first place.

Peter: I'll agree with Professor Matthew about Sif's sudden change of mind if it doesn't lead to interesting character motivations in the future, but I have to believe that Gerry will enlighten the Thunder God to the helpful hand he inadvertently accepted from Karnilla. An ego blow like that to the proud Asgardian could jeopardize the Thor/Sif relationship and spice up the (let's face it) dead-end romantic angle in this book. There's only one aspect I find interesting in the fanboy crap that acts as grout between the action segments this issue: does this Gerry Conway, who's on a road trip with the other badly drawn bullpen occupants, write a title called The Mighty Thor for Marvel Comics? The enigma within a conundrum of that situation fascinates me, but nothing else about the tiring ego stroke of the writer who makes himself part of the plot raises my interest. And I get that the adventures of these four "exciting individuals" should have an almost Crazy-esque delineation but from now on could we keep said adventures in Crazy where they belong (Severin's panel of Loki trying to stop a car after he's been blinded threatens to turn a fabulous climax into parody)? Does Gerry Conway really look that much like Rascally Roy or does Marie draw all her real life folk the same (Len looks just like Marv Wolfman to me and I wonder if Glynis really was that hot)? Put aside the nonsense, the good stuff (i.e. The Absorbing Man and Loki): 'Sorby doesn't last long enough to make a dent in the story (if all you need is a lake to defeat Absorbing Man, why do our heroes always need two or three issues to put the guy away?), but Thor's interaction with Loki drudges up some of the motivation behind the cantankerous nature of the God of Mirth. With their dialog, Conway provides us with some of the deeper insight behind Loki's jealousy, of Odin's love for Thor, that we've seen in years.

Scott:  Did John Buscema really pencil this issue? There are hints of his style here, but otherwise it's pretty horrible. Amateurish, even. Did he do the layouts and Vince the penciling, because it's lacking detail and real skill. Bad enough we have to continue the Rutland stuff and the Marvel staff involvement BS. However, there are some artistic highlights, such as the full page panel showcasing Loki. Even though sketchily rendered, the image of Loki's blinded eyes packed a good punch. His plunge over the abyss, however, was a little on the cheesy side. Then again, we could say that about the whole issue.

Kull the Conqueror 6
“The Lurker from Below”
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Marie & John Severin

Mauled by a huge bear, King Kull is saved by a grinning stranger, Zarkus from Zarfhaana. Zarkus informs the mighty monarch that he was paid a tidy sum to deliver ancient scrolls to Valusia’s librarian, Malakar. The elderly Malakar claims that the scrolls are maps to the treasure-filled city of Quar, buried underneath Valusia. Kull dismisses the librarian, demanding more proof. But after beating back a worm-like creature that breaks through the surface of a Valusian street, Kull agrees to mount a search for Quar. Combing the sewers and led by Malakar, the war party soon discovers the subterranean city. Slipping away, Malakar uses an ancient flute to summon the slug monster. After a lengthy battle, the slimy terror is burned to death by Valusian torches. Looking for treasure, Zarkus wanders off, pausing to admire a field of mysterious purple flowers. The Zarfhaanian — who had slain but originally conspired with Malakar — is overcome and killed by the poisonous aromas of the cursed blossoms that befell the original inhabitants of Quar. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: It’s two-in-a-row for young Gerry Conway, and anyone looking for the orphans of Demascar from last issue will be disappointed — that interesting plotline is completely abandoned and the ragtag ruffians are not even mentioned in passing. Oh well. I’m starting to wonder about this barbarian king: so far, every single member of his royal council is an obvious villain. If he had one, Malakar might well have twirled his moustache and chuckled ominously in the background like a cut rate Snidely Whiplash. The grinning Zarkus is totally suspicious from the first panel as well. Though I guess his death after a turn of heart at the end is supposed to be tragic. Meh. The highlight to me is when Zarkus says he was paid a “tidy sum,” a line also found in the greatest movie ever made, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. We takes what we can gets.

Creatures on the Loose 21
"Two Worlds to Win!"
Story by George Alec Effinger
Art by Gray Morrow

Jen-In and his mutineers burst into two-headed Ar-Hap’s tent and conveniently blame Gullivar Jones for the king’s incapacitation.  Ar-Hap’s strange second head bids Guillvar to flee before his cruel self wakens, but the Earthman bests his foes and it is Jen-In who flees.  Gullivar, on the run, cuts Chak down from his canary cage to escape with him.  Elsewhere, Jen-In seizes Heru as his queen so he can make her “the mother of a red soldier horde.”  Chak flies Gullivar to her rescue, and the Earthman kills Jen-In with bare fists for holding his beloved Heru at swordpoint.  Gullivar, Chak, and Heru strike out across the eerie Martian landscape, and Ar-Hap sends his host in pursuit.  When they catch up, Gullivar and Chak take up arms against the entire legion.  “And a good fight it was!  My sword and my fist accounted for a respectable pile of lizardmen...”  Even Heru joins the fight, lifting a sword from a fallen barbarian to prove to her Earthman that “though our culture is decadent...some of us are stirred by the call of duty and honor--!”  Yet they are hopelessly outnumbered.  The tides turn when the wingmen swoop in and, resentful of their vassalage to Ar-Hap, side against the Red Lord.  The Red Barbarians fight to the last man, save for Ar-Hap whom Gullivar exiles.  The wingfolk pledge their friendship, but cannot accept Chak back into their tribe: “...his beakless outrage is a matter for the gods.”  Gullivar secretly disdains their friendship because he “knew what sort of gods the Martians worshiped...”  “The whole monstrous tale...ended,” Gullivar, Heru, and Chak ride off into the Martian sunset to build a new life, mindful “that such treasures as peace and love must be constantly defended...” -Gilbert Colon

Gilbert Colon: Thus concludes the Gullivar Jones saga, but with “the first Earthman on Mars” still far from his home planet, Chak banished from his fellow wingfolk, and Heru alienated from her Hither tribe, Marvel kept things open-ended enough to prompt the last line, “If you want more of the mystery and excitement as Gullivar explores his mad prison...well, write and let us know!”  Nobody must have written since, almost two years later, Tony Isabella disclosed in his Monsters Unleashed #8 editorial epistle that “Gully bombed when he originally appeared in our color comic.”  Ending “Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars” (Creatures on the Loose #16-21) in what they twice compared to a Fugitive-style finish, Marvel hedged their bets by boasting in this final issue that the “concept of concluding a running serial is a relatively new one to comix” while still leaving the door ajar with a description of the overall series as “the first segment of our try-out feature.”  Then came the news, in Monsters Unleashed #4’s contents page, “By popular demand!  Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars returns!,” running the first of two stand-alone stories (the second appearing in #8). 

Gil: Since George Effinger took the series’ writing reins, there has been less “mindless action,” but what purposeful derring-do there is can frequently be unclear.  This issue’s action is much more coherent, the breezy battles in the early swashbuckling panels standing in stark tonal contrast to the deadly serious carnage on the climactic battlefield.  With the constant change in artists (among them Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Sam Grainger, Wayne Boring, Jim Mooney, and Gray Morrow) throughout this series, Heru and Chak (resembling more than ever a Hawkman from Mongo) wind up looking like almost entirely different characters by the end, the art having taken a startling turn in the hands of Morrow’s pen since issue #20. 

Gil: The final issue’s Jim Steranko sword-and-planet cover of Princess Heru at the feet of a triumphant Gullivar recalls the Brothers Hildebrandt’s famous Star Wars movie poster art which posed Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia similarly.  The same might be said of #17’s cover, with Gullivar whisking Heru to safety recalling Luke’s dashing rescue of Leia in Episode IV and, even down to her slavegirl garb, VI.  Long after the release of A New Hope, George Lucas acknowledged the Edwin L. Arnold novel Lt. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation as an inspirational source for Star Wars, leading one to wonder if Marvel’s strikingly familiar character poses are simply a common trope of science fantasy cover art or, a mere five years later, an unacknowledged influence on either Lucas or his marketers.

"I Was a Prisoner of
the Martians!"
Scott:  Steranko's cover is the best thing about this issue - other than it being the final adventure of Gullivar Jones. Another hero in a diaper on an alien planet, this series never felt right to me. Everything was accepted by Jones too quickly with no exploration of the situation before he settled in. It lost me early on, but I had a little more time to kill this week, so I thought I owed the Dean a few more keystrokes.

Gil: While only very loosely based on Arnold’s novel, Marvel’s overall adaptation adds up to a flawed but fun planetary romance with an adventuresome imagination at work, and one worthy of revisiting.  Luckily readers will twice more get to revisit “that most lunatic of worlds” in Monsters Unleashed for further Gullivar Jones adventures. 

"The Green Thing!"
Gil: More Mars in “I Was a Prisoner of the Martians!” (a Tales to Astonish #4 reprint) as tyrannical director “D. W.,” filming The Day the Martians Struck, is abducted from the set by real Martians and pitifully wonders if any of his mistreated cast or crew will come to his rescue.  Stan Lee seems to playfully pay tribute here to some notable science fiction history, starting with the play on the title The Day the Earth Stood Still to studio boss “Mr. Farnsworth” (a possible tip of the hat to Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright?).   

Gil: In “The Green Thing!” (reprinted from Tales of Suspense #51), a vegi-form from Planet Fernius tests a simple farmer to see if Earthlings are inferior specimens easily enslaved by his kind.  The Stan Lee denouement (“scribbled and sketched” with brother Larry Lieber) invoking “a Providence...safeguarding mankind” with “one of Earth’s simplest creatures” “defeat[ing] a mighty alien intelligence” feels like a definite nod to H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.  (Again the Red Planet thematically shines in the night sky!) 

Tomb of Dracula 6
"The Moorlands Monster!"
Story by Gardner F. Fox
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Dracula and his lady friend, Lenore, transport back into the modern world using the dark mirror. While stalking the moorlands outside of an abandoned castle, the pair attack and feast on some villagers. A hairy beast finds Dracula's dead prey and carries her back to the castle. When Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, and Taj come back home using the mirror, they are informed by authorities about the recent murder on the moors. The vampire hunters track Dracula and Lenore to the castle. When Frank Drake shoots a stake at Drac,  the vampire uses Lenore as a shield, killing her, before he escapes. Finding the body of the dead servant girl Dracula had feasted on, they bring it to a village family to identify. It is then revealed that the mysterious monster on the moors is their son. Suffering from a rare family disease, the monster was tucked away into the ruined castle so that ignorant villagers wouldn't attack him. Dracula leads the vampire killers into another one of his lairs and attacks them. Knocking them unconscious, he dumps them into a underground bunker that has an exit hatch with a door too heavy for them to lift. Our heroes are about to die from starvation when the monster lifts up the door to free them. They thank their new friend and leave. -Tom McMillion

Scott: I love comic book writing. Frank Drake is about to fire a wooden stake from a crossbow at Dracula. Drac takes Lenore and uses her as a shield. Frank has plenty of time to voice the fact he sees this happening and, hilariously, "it's too late to stop my trigger finger!" He's either the fastest talker in history or has the slowest trigger finger (which he doesn't have the will power to stop). Aside from that, the story is fine and well-paced. The shaggy creature looks like he stepped out of Harry and the Hendersons, though. Why Dracula would toss Frank and Rachel into a hole instead of, I don't know, killing them and/or drinking their blood is lost on me.  

Tom: That's it!? What was seemingly advertised as a monster versus vampire brawl turned out to be a big scam. Dracula never even saw the hairy goon, much less 'feared him' like the cover advertised. Everything else in the issue was good, but it seems like a cool confrontation was missed.

Werewolf By Night 3
"The Mystery of the Mad Monk!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Mike Ploog and Frank Chiaramonte

Father Joquez finishes translating the Darkhold, and an “inquisitive tendril of mist” escapes from the pages, attacking him as he calls Jack Russell. Jack speeds off towards him in Buck Cowan’s car, but the full moon causes him to change into Werewolf By Night! Since werewolves can’t drive, the beast hops out of the car, which smashes through a guardrail and explodes. Lissa Russell overhears smarmy stepfather Philip on the phone and, realizing he was behind her mother’s death, races off to find Jack. But Jack is at the rectory, where Father Joquez has been possessed by Aelfric, the Mad Monk! Aelfric was a Satan-worshiping monk in the abbey of San Michael who used his grey mist powers to fry an important knight and was then burned at the stake. But his demonic scrolls remained intact, and were passed from “hand to bloody hand” through the centuries until they ended up being bound into The Darkhold by Jack’s father—which led to the family’s lycanthropic curse! Flashback over, Werewolf lunges at Aelfric, who uses the Grey Death to bind him to the wall. Heading towards the rectory, Lissa is stopped by cops, but the mist kills one of them and she speeds off, then is met by a security guard who is also consumed by the mist, and she’s accosted by Aelfric. Werewolf breaks free of his bonds, but Aelfric summons the freakish Dragonus to protect him! After a short but frenetic battle, Dragonus is thrown into Aelfric, after which the monster fades, and the Mad Monk turns back into Father Joquez, who sadly dies, leaving our faithful werewolf to skulk off into the night, carrying Lissa –Joe Tura

Joe: It’s Werewolf wackiness this month with one odd turn after another! Start with a non-stop, melodramatic Conway script that tries to throw in all the old horror and suspense clich├ęs. Add some creepy Ploog art that includes weird and sleazy characters (yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, Dragonus, you knight with a bull’s head like a wanna-be minotaur), oodles of oozing flesh and a bazillion gaping mouths with saliva strings. Then you have the evil grey mist that eats the local law enforcement like a group of piranhas eating through anyone stupid enough to stick their leg in an Amazon river. At least we finally get some answers about the Darkhold and its “hold” over the Russell family…or do we? Hard to tell because there has to be more secrets to unfold, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many years of WWBN left. All in all, probably the best issue so far, which ain’t saying much, but hey, we’ll take what we can get!

Scott: The art here is very strange, alternately unsatisfying and effective. It feels like a lot of detail is missing and just as things are getting really odd, we get a powerhouse illustration of a policeman's melting face. I'm not a big fan of religious storylines, so a lot of this issue kind of just sits there for me. But it's all dark and strange. I give Marvel props for embracing the horror tales in earnest.

Also this Month

Chamber of Chills #2
Crypt of Shadows #1
Kid Colt Outlaw #166
Li'l Pals #3
Marvel's Greatest Comics #40
Marvel Super-Heroes #34
Mighty Marvel Western #22
Monster Madness #2
My Love #21
Night Nurse #2
Rawhide Kid #107
Red Wolf #5
The Ringo Kid #18
Sgt. Fury #106
Special Marvel Edition #8
Spoof #3
Tex Dawson, Gun-Slinger #1
Two-Gun Kid #108
War is Hell #1 ->
Where Monsters Dwell #19

Though I never picked up War is Hell as a young MZ, it's a title I came to appreciate later on in life, mostly for its vintage material. For its first six issues, editor Roy Thomas was content to fill WiH's pages with reprints from the Atlas age of war comics, titles such as Battleground and Battle Action. Issues 7 and 8 give way to Sgt. Fury reprints before, bizarrely, becoming a showcase for new war stories (the first of which is scripted by Roy Thomas, Tony Isabella, and Chris Claremont) hosted by Death himself. Time and space permitting, we'll comment on some or all of those issues when we get there. War is Hell limped along for a total of fifteen issues before being put out to pasture with its October 1975 issue. Not that the vintage material would have helped sales (there's a reason why Sgt. Fury showed up), but I wish Rascally would have left well enough alone. A lot of those Golden Age Atlas war stories are really good, scaling at least three-quarters of the way up the mountain peak occupied only by EC's Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales. Recently, over at our sister blog bare bones, I read the entire run of Atlas' Battlefield. You can see my verdict here. -Peter Enfantino

Crypt of Shadows was the latest in the line of Marvel horror reprint titles that would eventually flood the market by 1974 (and pretty much die out by '76). At least Roy, or whoever picked the 85 stories that made up Crypt's run, had the good sense to educate readers to some of the glory of the Golden Age rather than trot out the same old Kirby and Ditko once again. The first issue provides glimpses of the brilliance of Basil Wolverton and DC war great Russ Heath. Future issues will do the same for the likes of Joe Maneely, Bill Everett, Paul Reinman, Tony di Preta, and EC's Bernie Krigstein. As a young MZ, I bought all 21 issues of Crypt the second they hit the stands and absorbed every single glorious panel of its horroriciousness. Fair warning: One of these days, I fully intend to write an ode to the underappreciated horror reprint titles that dominated my childhood in the early to mid-70s. A book-length study is overdue. -Peter Enfantino

It's unfortunate that Loki will miss the concluding chapter of our special look at Atomic Comics this Sunday, but you don't have to! While you're munchin' away at that turkey leg, have a... gander!

Don't forget to tune in this Sunday for the conclusion of our exclusive coverage of Atomman!!!