Wednesday, December 31, 2014

May 1975 Part One: The New X-Men Revolutionize Comic Books! Gwen Stacy returns! Howard the Duck! WAGH! a Month!

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

This is a month of myriad major changes, e.g., the returns of Gwen Stacy (sort of) and Howard the Duck (finally) and the prelude to “Snap” Wilson (be still, my gorge), each of which will be addressed in its proper forum below.  But it’s probably not overstating the case to pinpoint the debut of the “all-new, all-different X-Men” in the inaugural giant-sized issue of their title as the single most far-reaching development of the entire Bronze Age.  As the MU faculty’s designated X-pert, our own “Cheerful Chris,” the esteemed Professor Blake, will be spearheading the issue-specific team coverage of that epochal event, yet as the self-appointed Overlord of the Overview, I felt it my responsibility to offer a few remarks that would help put this milestone in its context.

It’s been more than five years since X-Men #66 (March 1970), the final first-run issue of the original team, during which time the book has devoted itself to reprinting its earlier, admittedly variable adventures through last month’s #93, plus two annuals.  As I summarized in my Sunday Special “The X-iles,” over the course of this mutant diaspora, Professor X’s erstwhile students made guest appearances, singly or en masse, in stories written primarily by Steve Englehart and, more recently (albeit not coincidentally), Len Wein, the fledgling EIC who co-created Wolverine in that same period.  Even though the team’s fanbase had been too small to generate sufficient sales, a vocal minority continually calls for it to return, and rumors have run rampant for months.

While still serving as Len’s predecessor, longtime X-Men writer and champion Roy Thomas had wanted to give the team a new lease on life, and saw his chance when Marvel’s increasing sales abroad led the powers that be to give him a mandate for a team of international super-heroes.  He masterminded their resurgence with Iron Man scribe Mike Friedrich and artist Dave Cockrum, “a one-man character machine” who (according to Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story) had a backlog he’d been developing “while in college, while in the army, and while working on DC’s Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes…”  By the time it came to fruition, Len had replaced Roy and Mike, which brings us to Giant-Size X-Men #1—take it away, Professor Chris!

Meanwhile, the Bullpen Page welcomes “three new erudite editorial demons…Jim-dandy John David Warner, who’ll be spending his time from now on Assisting Editing [sic] our bombastic black-and-white line under the stalwart supervision of Dauntless Don McGregor and Marvelous Marv Wolfman….Roguish Roger Slifer, late of our peerless Production Department…, who has carried his beady-eyed blue pencil all the way across the office with him to insure [sic] that each and every mirth-filled mag leaving madcap Marvel is untainted by error or omission.  And…Glintzy Glynis Wein [née Oliver], newly-appointed head of our capricious Coloring Department, who has just recently assumed the reins relinquished by Mirthful Marie Severin…”

And Now May 1975!

Giant-Size X-Men 1
"Second Genesis"
Story by Chris Claremont and Len Wein
Art by Dave Cockrum
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum

Charles Xavier arrives in locales around the world to recruit mutants for an important mission.  Three of them are known commodities: Sunfire from Japan, Banshee (from Ireland, living now in the US), and Wolverine, whose unexpected resignation from Canada’s secret security force is not well-received.  Xavier also invites previously unknown mutants from Germany, Kenya, Siberia, and the American Southwest.  In many cases, he promises these people two things: benefits to themselves, as they each will have an opportunity to hone their unique skills; and, benefits to the safety of the world at large.  At Xavier’s school in Westchester, the seven newcomers appear in costume as a group for the first time.  Xavier chooses this moment to introduce Cyclops, the on-field manager of the X-Men, who reveals the purpose of this new group’s gathering: they are to travel to the South Pacific, to discover the identity of a powerful new mutant, and in the process, to free the existing members of the team, whom Cyclops had been forced to leave behind.  

The X-Men’s strato-jet whisks the group to an island, where Cyclops divides them into four pairs.  All eight adventurers employ their unique skills as they battle their way against various threats, and arrive at the same temple at the island’s center.  There is no doorway, so they blast their way thru the wall, to find the five older X-Men unconscious and attached to tubes.  The rescuers remove the captives from the temple, but at this moment, the ground begins to heave, and reveals itself to be – the sentient island itself!  “Krakoa” announces that it is the product of atomic testing – its living beings have been merged together by radiation to form one organism.  Life-energies of the captive X-Men were sustaining Krakoa while it sent Cyclops back to civilization to bring back more potential energy source.  The X-Men pour all their power into fighting the island-being, while Xavier devises a plan and communicates this telepathically to Cyclops.  As the battle continues, Storm channels power into Lorna, who directs it beneath the earth’s surface; in time, and at great physical cost to Lorna, Krakoa is separated from the earth’s crust, and is flung out past the earth’s orbit.  The resulting whirlpool threatens to pull the team under, until Iceman forms a protective ice-globe around them; the X-Men are buffeted around, but survive.  The new and old teams pile together into the strato-jet (which had been floating nearby), as Angel asks aloud – what are they supposed to do with thirteen team members?! -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: We all know that this is a landmark-among-landmarks for Marvel, for any time in its history.  The issue’s exalted status has little to do with the story itself, and everything to do with the storylines that begin here, and continue for an unprecedented sixteen years to follow.  The last time Marvel introduced so many heretofore-unknown members of a team, it was in 1961, as four adventurers learned of the curious results of radiation exposure while in earth's orbit.  This time, Xavier circles the globe to introduce four young people who have spent years familiarizing themselves with their powers (and in the case of Storm and Nightcrawler, earning a living with them), but who aren’t necessarily at-home with the concept of working as a team.  The other three have seen some Marvel action, but aren’t even close to being A-list commodities.   From the very start, Len introduces personality characteristics that help to define these new team members: Ororo’s mystery and majesty; Peter’s good-nature and team-orientation; John’s shoulder-chip.  We also see more of Shiro’s haughtiness, Sean’s devil-may-care, and Logan’s defiance and quick temper.  The only character whose personality noticeably changes over time is Kurt, who comes off here as a howling hobgoblin, and is better served by the unhaunted playfulness he adopts as he settles in. 

Angie Tusa at the blog “Another One’s Treasure”(posted 8/31/2011) had an interesting  comment on the issue, so I thought I’d include it here: “This issue is almost identical in pattern to X-Men #1 - introduce a bunch of characters, then throw them into a quick fight. . . . It assumes you're already familiar with the old X-Men, which is kind of surprising to me because I wouldn't think back issues were that easy to get in the 1970s. Perhaps the readership of the book in its reprinting stage was so strong they figured people wouldn't have much trouble jumping on and understanding it.”

Chris: I think we all know by now that Nightcrawler and Storm had been living in Cockrum’s sketch book for a few years prior to their premieres here.  It’s easy to overlook today that there had never been a Russian-born hero, or a female black hero, until this issue.  Nightcrawler is arguably the most unique-looking, right down to the tri-digit hands; although, it’s odd for me to see him as somewhat average-height in these pages – his size is scaled down over time, until he can be appropriately referred to as “elf.”   

The issue is like one great-big art-highlight.  The introductions for Nightcrawler and Storm are both, fittingly, very atmospheric, with plenty of heavy darks.  I like the look of Cyclops’ “modified” old visor, but that might be because it’s the one I’m used to.  The reveal of the captured teammates (p 37) is suitably creepy; Krakoa’s emergence is thoroughly impressive (p 38-39), as is the team’s all-out assault (p 42).  For Dave, p 18 must’ve felt like his sketchbook had somehow come to life.  

Chris: And it wouldn’t be a giant-sizer without some reprints, right?  I hope that, if you happen to be paying $100 or more (maybe a lot more) for a VG/F copy, you’ll be pleased to see these little gems included: “Call Him . . . Cyclops!” (Thomas/Roth, X-M #43); “I, the Iceman” (Drake/Roth, X-M #47); and “The Female of the Species!” (Fite/Roth, X-M #57), which I suppose would’ve provided some background info for fans picking up their first-ever X-title.  Either way, it’s filler at its finest.  

Hey kids – guess what!  The next regular issue comes out three months from now, and the next giant-size – coming in six months – is all reprints!  Well, at least the reprint art is by Neal Adams, instead of Werner Roth -!

Joe Tura: I will admit being late to the party when it came to this landmark comic. Not until a couple years after its publication did I nab a copy, which had half a cover, rendering it completely worthless except for the insides. A great intro to a brand-new merry band of mutants featuring some of the more interesting characters to come around in a long time. Nightcrawler and Storm are the ones that intrigued me instantly when I started collecting X-Men, and learning their Reader's Digest version back stories here made me like them even more. And I remember Wolverine doesn't get a whole lot to do, but boy will that change! Certainly one of the most important books of the decade, and a must-read for anyone attending MU. I can almost remember every page, even without having it anywhere close.

Matthew Bradley:  Reading “Deadly—er, Second Genesis!” after the fact, as I have done for three decades, one runs the risk of Monday-morning quarterbacking and/or having its co-creators overshadowed by their illustrious successors.  For me, the second pitfall is more easily avoided, because Cockrum was still The Guy when I came aboard two issues hence, so I’ve long maintained that he deserves his due; he’s turned Banshee from a freakish galoot into a fine broth of a boy, and the improvement over Trimpe’s Wolverine Mk. I is incalculable, plus he “gets” Charles as few post-Kirby artists have.  Looking at the story and characters through fresh eyes is a bit harder but, as always, I will try to take this landmark issue in context and on its own merits.

Matthew: At 36 pages, this is truly a double-length epic, so it’s fine to spend a third on the Magnificent Seven-style introduction (or reintroduction) and recruitment of members—also, let’s face it, Krakoa is more of an excuse to do so than a top-tier villain.  I think the smartest thing they did over the long haul was to keep a few of the founders on hand for continuity, because as much as we grew to love the additions, I for one might have been alienated by a literally “all-new, all-different” team.  Sunfire is, was, and always will be a tool, so I’m happy to hustle him outta here as fast as possible; it’s interesting to note, especially in retrospect, that they don’t even quantify Thunderbird’s mutant ability, just make him “Powerful Indian with Heap Big Chip on Shoulder.”

I consider this the auspicious debut the strip’s later success deserved, with what looked like some Adams homages in the flashback, and a welcome focus on both the personalities and interactions among them.  The group’s dynamics would never be free from internal strife (Scott/Jean/Logan triangle, anyone?), but it’s fun to watch them grow into a family over the years.  Len is off the book so fast that his handling of the pre-existing characters seems almost irrelevant, yet the templates he and Dave establish for the new ones provide a rock-solid foundation for later writers and artists; Kurt, in particular, looks fantastic, and while it wouldn’t be fair to say that Ororo is off-model, since this is the model, she certainly looks a whole lot better as time goes by. 

I got this in the 1983 special edition boasting a boatload of new Cockrum art, e.g., a wrap-around cover (the Kane/Cockrum original is reproduced inside in B&W, as is a pin-up) and “A Day Like Any Other,” a 12-page story replacing the GS issue’s back-up tales from X-Men #43, 47, and 57.  Written by Chris Claremont and inked by newbie Hilary Barta, it is billed as “Secrets of the X-Mansion!,” auguring fluff of the highest order.  “Fluff” may not best describe a tale in which the words threaten to crowd out artwork that isn’t much of a loss, but as Illyana Rasputin tricks Kitty Pryde into a tour to enable the others to set up her surprise birthday party, Chris packs in a lot of characterization and exposition; it’s contemporaneous with #166, far outside this blog’s mandate.

Scott McIntyre: After years of reprints, the X-Men finally got a new lease on life thanks to Len Wein and Dave Cockrum. While I always found the original team to have their high points, they were never truly touched by the “Marvel Magic” like the FF, Thor, Spidey, the Hulk, Cap and Iron Man. Jack Kirby couldn’t spend the time on the book and it soon fell into the doldrums of other artists and writers. However, even though it was “cancelled,” for whatever reason, the title was kept alive until something good could be done with it. This is the result: a huge, finely crafted intro to a mostly all-new team, made up of a disparate group of older heroes. Some of them are borderline villains, with the Banshee making the most drastic turn. All of them are in an embryonic stage, but each has a wonderfully distinct personality. As the series progresses, each character will be explored in great depth and the saga of the team will explode into an epic. The promise is here and it’s a very good start.

Wein is only here for this issue; Chris Claremont takes over for the regular run and he will be the only writer to handle the book through the rest of the 70’s. His imagination will truly help catapult the series to greatness before long. The art is fine, but Dave Cockrum was never my favorite artist. His characters are usually wildly overdramatic. If they’re happy, they’re ecstatic. If they’re angry, they’re totally enraged. There is little middle ground. What we will get is a lot of shouting and threats, but very little realism until later on when John Byrne arrives. When he does, all will be right with the world.

For now, this is a really good start and a lot more interesting than much of what is going on at this point elsewhere in the Universe. There is huge energy and interest in this title and watching all of these people develop will be great fun. 

Amazing Adventures 30
Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds in
"The Rebels of January and Beyond!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Craig Russell and Dan Adkins
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Joe Rosen 
Cover by Craig Russell

The High Overlord stalks the streets of rubble-strewn Washington, D.C., remembering his home planet and making his way to the Oval Office, where he presents his case to the evil Mr. Potato Heads. The mad Martian submits the records of Killraven, M'Shulla and Mint Julep, then flashes back to the story of the captive Killraven vs. the rats and the donnybrook at the Lincoln Memorial that everyone knows about already. Then the last page we're back to H.O. and the revelation that Killraven is searching for his brother Deathraven—but he and Skar will destroy him!–Joe Tura

Joe: One of the better covers kicks off this month, drawn by Russell, although looking at Killraven's body position, I'm sending him a hologram of my chiropractor's number. A who's who of artists pitch in, from the short framing story to the pinups to the flashbacks (aka reprints from issue #22), making this more of a disjointed issue than the usual disjointed Amazing Adventures. In fact, I really don't have much to say beyond that, other than a couple of random thoughts. Is it me, or does the High Overlord look like the grandson of Silver Samurai and Jocasta? I forgot that M'Shulla's kinda cool "Gladiatorial Name" was Bloodarrow. I'm sorry, but...Mint Julep is one of the dumbest names ever for a Marvel character. That's really about it. Unless you want me to reprint some of my comments from last year—seems only fair!

Chris: No time is ever a good time for a fill-in, but especially when it’s a bi-monthly mag.  At least Don & Craig were able to conclude the Death-Birth sequence last issue, instead of leaving our heroes trapped inside for four whole months.  I’m enjoying this series so much that I re-read this chapter anyway.  I will quibble with the fact that Trimpe doesn’t get Lincoln’s posture right (Trimpe’s figure looks hunched forward, as if he’s about to stand up), but I did enjoy the way that the statue seems to topple itself onto Abraxas, as if the spirit of the Emancipator is contributing to the contemporary cause of the Freemen, or something. 

I guess the full-page bios of some of our featured characters would be handy for new readers who have just tuned in.  One question: there is more than one mention in the bios of KR’s brother Joshua, and we’re told that he’s alive, and at Yellowstone.  Doesn’t this take away some of the guesswork of what KR might find once he and the Freemen reach Wyoming?  Or, is this story-point deliberately planted, so that Don & Craig & Co can indicate to fans that the storyline is about to resume this direction?

Mark Barsotti: One step forward...

No sooner do I rhapsodize about the book's dramatic up-tick in quality when Deadline Doom (more evidence that many artists of the era couldn't keep pace with the assembly line demands of Funnybooks, Inc.) reduces Killy to this cut 'n' paste placeholder.

Set-Up: The Martian High Overlord is called before the High Muck-a-Muck Forum (man-sized fecal mounts with bug-eyes and flapping tentacles. Muck indeed.) to explain his failure to bring Killraven to heel. 

Of the five credited artists, Craig Russell delivers three character pin-ups (ringed by text-dumps) early. Twelve of the remaining thirteen pages reprint chunks from issues #23 & #24, presented as the Overload's testimony. Rattack and Squidboy don't improve with age, nor does the Trimpe art. New chatter about Killy's brother, Deathraven, and the Overlord promising success on the last page, manage to just nudge the current storyline forward. One yard and a cloud of dust.

Still, give the frantic bullpenners credit for cobbling together something so the presses could roll, just not much.

The Avengers 135
"The Torch is Passed!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Tuska and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jim Starlin and John Romita

The Vision continues his journey through time to discover his own origin. Ultron-5 comes to sentient life after being created by Henry Pym. He creates his own new body and evolves quickly. He visits the Mad Thinker and demands a new android. The Thinker strikes a compromise and offers Ultron an old one, the original Human Torch. Finding the Torch, he then gathers up the Torch’s creator, Phineas Horton, to help him revive and alter the body, as well as wipe his memory. Ultron, you see, wants a “son” to serve him and carry on when his own life span ends. His near-human sense of humor wants the old hero to be a threat to humanity. Horton, however, cannot bring himself to wipe the Torch’s memory, even though he did go ahead with altering his form. For his betrayal, Horton is killed. The newly minted Vision strikes in vengeance, but is defeated by Ultron who wipes his memory himself. Although the Vision was made to serve Ultron, when he was sent against the Avengers, he broke free of that control. Now the Vision knows he was made from one of the world’s greatest heroes. The time rod sends him back into the void to return to Immortus, but he winds up lost with no way home.  

Meanwhile, Mantis and Moondragon realize they have very similar backgrounds. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: A much better issue than than the previous few and it’s great to have the origin stories move forward. The Vision is much more interesting than Mantis, so my interest in his portion of the tale is much stronger. It’s a very fast-paced and cool origin. Over in Mantis’ end of the issue, which is thankfully only a short amount of time, the ghostly visage of the Swordsman continues to confound everyone. Especially me, since he’s referred to as being “long dead.” Seems to me he’s only been dead a few days in Marvel time. George Tuska isn’t as awful as usual, but Sal Buscema would have done wonders with this.

Chris: I’m ready for this storyline to wrap-up.  I realize that it’s ambitious of Steve to undertake this important bit of history for the Assemblers, but it really has gone on more than long enough.  Part of the problem is that there simply isn’t much of anything for the non-bio-telling characters to do except sit by the campfire and take in the tale-telling (and, you know, these celebrity superheroes are on the clock, you know?).  For example: we get less than a page of an update about Wanda; I would’ve preferred if Steve could’ve devoted a little more time to developing this particular story, instead of the little tease we got.  

So, Vision is a Virgo?  I wonder what color would turn up on his mood ring ..?  In the clear glow of hindsight, I question the decision to root the Vision’s “birth” to a specific date in the 1960s; but then, I consider: how could Steve have known that – 40 yrs later – there still would be people thinking, talking, and writing about these characters -?  (And in something called a blog, no less -?)
You might’ve heard a sharp sucking-in between my teeth when I saw the credits, but overall the art isn’t too bad.  Chiaramonte doesn’t seem to be the best fit for Tuska here; I will admit that Ultron looks particularly menacing throughout, especially when we see the shadows around his face.  
Matthew: Poor Stainless.  First he loses Sal on Captain America, downgraded to Robbins, before he can finish his Nomad saga.  Then he loses Sal on Avengers, downgraded to Tuska (at least until a certain Pacesetter rides in like the cavalry six months hence), before he can finish his Celestial Madonna saga.  I’m obliged to admit, however, that Marvel’s original “Gorgeous George”—no stranger to this mag since 1967, we should remember—and Chiaramonte, although born a quarter-century apart, provide a creditable collaboration for their one-off on the Assemblers.  Steve, meanwhile, pulls out all the stops in the run-up to his nuptial extravaganza in next month’s belated GS #4, opposite a deadline-driven if admittedly appropriate reprint in #136.

“Englehart’s retrofitted backstory for the Vision was slightly less insane [than the Mantis arc], but it carried a metatextual wallop,” explains Howe.  The android Torch had been “absent from the Marvel Universe since his sudden demise [in Fantastic Four Annual #4] amid creator Carl Burgos’s 1966 copyright battle….Through [Phineas] Horton, Englehart gave voice to the regret that the embittered Burgos himself felt about the Human Torch…[and Horton] slowly uttered his last sentiments as he died cradled in the Vision’s arms:  ‘I wanted an issue, creation, some part of me to live on…’  Life would imitate art when Burgos’s own death was not acknowledged in the pages of Marvel Comics, but the Vision—‘some part of me’—lived on.”  Burgos passed in 1984.

Captain Marvel 38
"--No Way Out!"
Story by Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom
Art by Al Milgrom and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Al Milgrom and Klaus Janson

After a history lesson, Mar-Vell is condemned to protonic disintegration by bigoted blue Kree—including Zarek—who seek to reclaim their heritage, and sent the Lunatic Legion after the “mulatto and renegade…[certain to] oppose our presence so close to your adopted planet.”  But the ancient rite is delayed when the time-limit forces the change, and Mar-Vell, reorienting himself in the Negative Zone, compels an unconscious Rick to effect the change again. Realizing that their “mind-storms” have increased his strength and intermeshed their minds, so that the Nega-Bands are no longer needed, Mar-Vell defeats his foes and follows as the apologetic Watcher, calling himself unworthy, enters a teleportation beam for his final judgment.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I have very mixed feelings, and thus relatively little to say, about this arc so far:  the Thanos War being my favorite, it’s downhill by definition after that, yet I adore Englehart and Mar-Vell, so I want to give this every possible benefit of the doubt. But as legitimate as his Thanos credentials are, co-plotter Milgrom is living down to my recollections of him as an average penciler at best, and with Janson applying both inks and colors, the art is definitely nothing to write home about.  So that just leaves the story, and while I’m not hating it, I’m not loving it, either; it seems sort of soon to be retelling the Kree/Cotati lore already, and the idea that, as Howe puts it, “Psychedelic drugs have made them even more ‘cosmically aware’; all ends well” strikes me as a little too pat.

The response to one reader’s suggestion reveals that “Moondragon has left these pages for the foreseeable [future]—in order to take up residence in The Avengers as a possible new Assembler.  ’Way back when this book was under Starlin’s control, Steve had worked out her current involvement in the Mantis epic and optioned her for his straight super-hero title—and now that he’s taken over Captain Marvel, he’s only too happy to honor his own commitment.  Meanwhile, in the continuing game of options, Judgment Jim has asked for and received all the rest of his Titan characters back, for use in future Warlocks.  So who does that leave here?  Well, how about the ‘universe’ part of the Marvel Universe—and a whole lot more?,” observes the lettercol.

Chris: Sometimes, reading this title, I start to think that Mar-vell is going thru them changes more often than Buddy Miles. Now, we have Marv and Rick effectively sharing the same form? Even though Rick is awake in the Neg Zone, he shares the sensation of Marv flinging Kree-foes around in the Watcher’s townhouse? And then, they’re sharing the same body, somehow? Well, I’m not too worried about it – if having the two consciousnesses fused together in the same body means that less precious issue-time will be devoted to talk of Rick’s tour schedule, then I don’t require an explanation.

The storyline lacks focus – we’ve known since CM #36 that there was something up with the Watcher, and mention of his trial is prominently featured on the cover, but now we have to wait another two months to find out what it’s all about. As much as I enjoyed some of the action this time, I would’ve given up some of it in favor of advancing the Watcher story.

Detroit Al “Don’t Call Me Jim” Milgrom gamely applies himself to the vertical and the horizontal. There’s crackling-good fisticuffing and dramatic close-ups aplenty. I’m sorry to report that Milgrom is one of those artists whose work becomes less interesting over time, so enjoy it while you can. I realize that Janson isn’t uniquely qualified to ink a space-adventure comic, but I like the texture he brings throughout. Zarek’s mud-wallow (on p 27 – although, I have to ask where they found the dirt, without having brought it from the earth’s surface) is particularly satisfying. Lastly – I want the number of the model who posed as the Twiggy-like yellow-and-orange alien on p 6, pnl 3.

Conan the Barbarian 50 
“The Dweller in the Pool”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Dick Giordano
Colors by Janice Cohen Letters by John Costanza Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

As Pthassiass devours the serving wench Gwineer, Conan slashes at the soft underbelly of the huge root monster. Mortally wounded, the one-eyed creature collapses amidst the toothy plant tendrils: they strip his mossy flesh to the bone. With the amber Amulet of Merdoramon back in his possession, the Cimmerian and Stefyana exit the garden and find Lupalina, the Wolf Mistress, and the uprising peasants mopping up the army of robber baron Torkal Moh. When Lupalina sees Stefyana, she claims to know the young beauty from when she lived in Alkarion, the capital of Phalkar. Years ago, when Stefyana was the newborn of King Thormond and Queen Chrysala, a reluctant Lupalina became involved in a plot to overthrow the crown, seduced by the evil charms of the royal sorcerers Thalkalides and Elviriom and the glittering riches of Themas Herklar. After Thormond and Chrysala were killed in an “accidental” rockslide, Herklar ascended to the throne — the regretful Lupalina escaped with Stefyana, delivering the infant to the necromancer Zoqquanor, who raised the girl. Back at the Wolf Mistress’s hut, Lupalina uses her crystal ball to conjure a vision of Phalkar. Herklar himself has been overthrown and Unos now wears the crown. A demonic being magically created by Thalkalides and Elviriom, this new Phalkarian king fires blazing red beams from his eyes to destroy all who dare defy him. Using the amulet, Lupalina transports Conan to the dungeons underneath Alkarion. The Cimmerian soon finds Herklar but the repentant former king is beyond help and perishes. Suddenly, the muscular mercenary is swarmed by imp-like demons that slowly drag him to a bottomless pit. However a vision of Lupalina appears and urges Conan to scream: at the last minute the bellowing barbarian blinks back to the Wolf Mistress’s humble abode. He vows to win back Stefyana’s royal heritage. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: Now standing at five issues, Roy’s adaptation of Gardner Fox’s 1970 novel Kothar and the Conjurer’s Curse rumbles on. Even though he was introduced in dramatic fashion last month, the monstrous Pthassiass doesn’t last long, slashed to ribbons by Conan’s frantic sword and buzz sawed by the vicious plant tendrils. It did manage to kill Gwineer, but the life of a serving wench was cheap in the Hyborian Age — they would be beautiful enough to score doddering Texas oil billionaires these days. Or at least shake their moneymakers in the pages of Playboy. Lots of flashbacks in this one, as Lupalina basically explains all the fuss surrounding the amber amulet. It wasn’t enough to save Themas Herklar though, the man who commissioned it from Merdoramon, the magician who gave it to Conan way back in issue #46. Fine art and plenty of action in the scenes that bookend all the exposition in the middle. Methinks this saga wraps up next issue.

Creatures on the Loose 35
Man-Wolf in
Story by David Kraft
Art by George Perez and Frank McLaughlin
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

As Man-Wolf crashes the motorcycle and escapes the sniper, back in NY, JJJ is threatened by the Feds and lectured by Stroud, plus Kristine gets a visit from smarmy-looking replacement art tutor Harrisyn Turk. Man-Wolf is still on the hoof, when he's overrun by a metal-clad madman on a Sky Sled! During the nasty battle, MW accidentally starts up the Sled, which he falls from and is carried off to be studied at "The Project". Turns out the baddie behind it all is The Hate-Monger, who vows to start up his Universal Hate-Ray, but suddenly from above, Nick Fury and his Agents of SHIELD show up as the cavalry! MW breaks his bonds and attacks everyone, including the deserves-everything-he-gets overall-clad redneck who hunted him the past two issues. Hate-Monger puts the metal suit back on and takes to the sky in his ship, but our hairy hero gets on board—until the sun comes up, MW starts to transform, the ship climbs, H-M falls out of the open hatch, and the sun bakes him but good! John lands the ship, is met by Fury and sees his friend Joel, who was killed by the rednecks. –Joe Tura

Joe: Another excellent Kane/Palmer cover promises "the most unexpected super-villain of all" and what do we get? The Hate-Monger. Um…ok….I guess for a redneck Georgia town it makes sense, but against Man-Wolf? Seems kinda random, but maybe that's a good thing since sometimes it's so odd that the Marvel Universe crosses over like this that it almost makes sense. But of course his nemesis Nick Fury shows up to pilfer the "Project", a Universal Hate-Ray that was all the rage at the local toy stores back in '75. Yay for the good guys! As far as the artwork, we start to get a sense of the George Peréz who later made The Avengers so extraordinary for this professor, including unconventional layouts, super 70's title shenanigans and Leone-esque closeups.  Ralph Macchio of scenic Cresskill, NJ continues his non-stop letter writing to every single Marvel mag (and hawking for a job, it would appear…p.s. it worked) by letting the editors know he approves of the new direction of the series and gives advice on what not to do. Gee, thanks, Ralph!

By the way, the ad on page 4 for the new Mego figures of Falcon, Lizard, Green Goblin and Hulk? Had 'em all!

Chris: Dave & George pile on the action, as they appear to be making a deliberate effort to distance themselves from the previous creative team; the quality of the storytelling may have already eclipsed (see how I did that!) Marvel’s other wolf-based title.  I didn’t expect the Hate-Monger to don combat gear himself to go after Man-Wolf – HM strikes me more as a gesturing-and-pointing big-picture guy, who leaves the details to minions.  Nick Fury’s arrival is unexpected – special thanks to Ye Editor for choosing not to reveal that on the cover.  As John takes off in the Mongerocket, my first thought was: “Whoa – are we getting into the Man-Wolf In Space storyline already?”  But no, clearly the seeds of that will be planted next issue.  I can hold out till then.  

Perez’s art begins to more-closely resemble the style we‘ve come to identify with his later Bronze style. The cycle crash is well done, especially as George slows it down, so we can observe how Man-Wolf (instinctively -?) rolls with it and bounces himself out of harm’s way.  George then uses slimmer panels to speed up the Monger’s (apparent) atmospheric incineration (p 30).  Fury’s dramatic entrance, shown from above so we can see all of the battling below, is another highlight (p 22).
Matthew: It’s almost a given that I’d like what Kraft, and especially Perez (again inked by McLaughlin), are doing better than this strip’s early days, a train wreck as spectacular as the one featured on the cover of the previous entry, yet with the new team allotted only two more issues, I’m not sure I’ll ever get the chance to love it.  True, there are encouraging signs such as the opening sequence, which accomplishes its exposition while giving you something cool to look at, rather than  merely showing what it’s already telling you in the kind of conventional recap that I’d complained about before.  But I blanched at the Hate-Monger, and my heart sank at the introduction of Harrisyn Turk, who symbolizes the deepest depths of the late-1970s Kraft/Hannigan Defenders.

Captain America and the Falcon 185
"Scream the Scarlet Skull!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema, Frank Robbins, and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Stan Goldberg
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Steve Rogers awakens from a nightmare brought on by the return of the Red Skull. He and the Falcon, joined by Peggy Carter and Gabe Jones, go to the next person on the Skull’s list of people to kill, Oscar Brenner of the Federal Open Market Committee. Brenner doesn’t believe his life is in danger. However, shortly his home is attacked by the Red Skull’s men with jet packs. They take Gabe and Peggy hostage and, in the confusion of battle, sabotage Brenner’s pipe so it expels the Skull’s dust of death, killing him.  The Skull tortures Gabe and Peggy because their attraction offends the racist Skull. Cap and Falcon search Virginia for any sign of the Skull when they are stopped by the President of Roxxon Oil, who somehow knows Cap was Nomad. He gives them the Skull’s location and the heroes go in. Cap faces off against the Skull and is winning pretty handily, about to defeat him when the Skull barks a command to the Falcon. Suddenly, Cap is struck from behind by his own partner and the Skull triumphantly announces that the Falcon is the creation of the Red Skull! -Scott McIntyre


Scott: Easily one of the best issues in a long time, particularly the last page as this furious action issue reaches a startling apex. The first two pages are the cruelest bait 'n' switch ever. Sal Buscema’s superior dream sequence art takes a step aside for Frank Robbins’ wacky pencils for the rest of the book (although the 3rd panel on page 23 was obviously done by someone else). Even Robbins can’t ruin this story, however. During the melee with the Skull’s henchmen, Gabe and Peggy give a good accounting of themselves. However, Peggy refers to herself as a “woman in her 40s.” The math seems off here a bit, especially considering not too long ago, she was a grey haired, bun-wearing spinster. Now she’s hip, hot and in her 40s. Even if she’s 49, that would put her in her upper teens when she was a spy in World War II. Would it have really made a difference in her spunk if she was in her 50s? That would have at least made some kind of chronological sense. Otherwise, this is a nasty, vicious yarn, with lots of death and torture. Not to mention face-spitting. Jeez, guys. Thanks for keeping it classy. The whole Falcon story will prove to be pretty controversial, but it’s great stuff and has the potential to shake up the foundations of the title. That is, if Englehart would have stayed with the book past the next issue. Unfortunately, after setting up the situation, Stainless Steve will take a permanent powder. The countdown to Jack Kirby’s return begins.    

Matthew: I wish I could somehow blame Robbins for dragging Englehart down to his level, but his cartoony faces and impossibly contorted poses—with Sal’s introductory two-page dream sequence as a cruel reminder of what we’ve lost—only add insult to injury.  Make no mistake:  although the details won’t unfold until later issues, I believe this “shattering shock ending” represents the only serious misstep Stainless made in his Bronze-Age Marvel career, i.e., the retconned idea that “the Falcon is a creation of the Red Skull!”  Conversely, as much as miscegenation may enrage the Skull, a Peggy/Gabe romance is eminently logical, them being contemporaries in a way that she and Cap no longer are, even if Gabe seems to have aged better.

Of course, it’s just possible that Steve’s intentions were not followed precisely, as he was in fact hitting the bricks.  Per the lettercol, “For reasons not unfamiliar to the modern Marvel reader (a backlog of other projects, to be precise), Steve will be turning the scripting chores here over to John David Warner for the next three or four months.  John’s an old friend and an old pro (though new to the halls of Marvel), so you can rest assured CA&F won’t suffer.”  Englehart elaborated on his site:  “At this point I was offered a new seriesthe long-form, mythological adventures of Thor, in a black & white magazine.  I reluctantly decided...that this was a good place to drop my longest-running series...  (Thor the Mighty was later shelved and morphed into Thor Annual #5.)

Mark: Most of my esteemed colleagues are too busy with the wailing and the gnashing of teeth over Frantic Frank Robbins to notice that he and Steve E. delivered another crackerjack tale, with the Skull spreading mayhem, torturing Gabe and Peggy over their innocent, interracial flirting and, oh yeah, last-panel-proclaiming that he created the Falcon!

In re: the graphics. Ole Pal Sal served up comfort food meat & taters art, month after dependable, pat-your-tummy month. Robbins brings the Crazy Fries: that's double-dipped, deep-fried curly fries, smothered with Ka-ray-zee! His Red Skull is a ghoulish, demonic gas, bringing Johann Schmidt's homicidal, Heil Hitler fanaticism to risible life far more effectively than Our Plodding Pal ever could.   

The Defenders 23
"... the Snakes Shall Inherit the Earth!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by June Braverman and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

When the Defenders return to Dr. Strange's  home to discuss the menace of the Serpent, they are followed by a pair of Serpent minions and the man known as Yellowjacket, who comes to the defense of the others. One escapes; he takes care of the other, bringing him to the Defenders for questioning. He tells them the Serpent Sons are a huge group that are undefeatable, and whose leader will be speaking on TV at midnight. Meanwhile a snooper outside the window proves to be none other than Jack Norris, husband of Barbara, Val's other persona--but of course she doesn't know him. The midnight broadcast shows the Serpent leader preaching essentially for a white America; down with all others. The Defenders head out to stop the fire caused by a huge explosion. In the conflict, Yellowjacket twists an ankle, rendering him an easy target for the Serpent men. The others pay a visit to Harold Holliman, the recluse who they think would have benefitted from the building fire. He confesses, but knew nothing of the Serpent's involvement. Returning to look for Yellowjacket, the team is ambushed by more Serpent minions, with enough fire power to render the Defenders unconscious, taking all but Hulk with them as prisoners. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I'm not finding the Serpents to be keeping my interest, although it's hard not to like this team. I'm enjoying Val finding her bearings; I doubt we've seen the last of Jack Norris. I like Hulk's solution to the fire, the giant hand clap. His being left behind his teammates at the end means he's likely to lead the charge to their rescue, with some interesting guest stars, it sounds like. 

Matthew:  Is it merely a coincidence that a Serpents yarn from Avengers #31 toplines the concurrent debut of the short-lived Giant-Size Marvel Triple Action? The scope of the tetralogy featuring them here offers several opportunities, e.g., the use of Yellowjacket, who soon makes a long-overdue return to active status with the Assemblers; since I’m totally in the tank for Steve, I’d like to believe he shares the credit.  Meanwhile, Nighthawk’s horrific treatment by Janson on one of the blah covers that are an unfortunate hallmark of this arc actually makes me welcome Colletta’s interior inks.  Can’t help wondering if the surprising Hulk/YJ rapport is due to the fact that at some level, Greenskin remembers he and Pym, founding Avengers, were once teammates.

And guest-starring
Anthony Zerbe as The Hulk
Chris: If General T. Ross finds out that a combination of laser-zaps and electro-jolts can K.O. the Hulk, then one Hulkbuster base will be out of business!  I wonder what the point of the TV broadcast is supposed to be: The Sons of the Serpent have such a Patently Evil message, that it should be obvious that there won’t be much of a groundswell of support for their divisive aims (where’s the Hate Monger when you really need ‘im? Ooh, that’s right – he just got lost in the upper reaches of the atmosphere).  They surely will be able to endanger some people and destroy their share of personal property, but there’s no indication that they’ll succeed in achieving their aims – I place this group squarely in the “nuisance villain” category.  

Good decision to bring back YJ again – I’ve always been a bit of a Pymster.  I don’t think anyone points out – either here or in G-S Defenders #4 – that YJ and the Hulk go all the way back to Avengers #1-2.  It’s not like I could count on the Hulk to recognize Hank in a different bug-man get-up, but you’d think that YJ would have a thought or two about their long-ago association.  An interesting thing about reading these issues in sequence is that I get a better appreciation for the fact that Pym has been gone from the ranks of the Avengers for years, and right now there isn’t any indication that he’s due to return there anytime soon (although, he does, as we’ll soon see).  So, bonus points to Steve G for helping to keep this character in circulation.    
Good-enough art, as Sal’s pencils once again bear up well against Vinnie’s inks.  I’m distracted by the way Hulk’s face looks in places like p 26-27, but the stuporous expression on p 30 pnl 3 makes up for some of the other lapses.  (I just peeked ahead to next month’s art, as Sal is paired with Bob McLeod – can’t wait!)

Daredevil 121
"Foggy Nelson, Agent of SHIELD"
Story by Bob Brown and Tony Isabella
Art by Bob Brown and Vince Colletta
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Nick Fury clarifies his earlier statement: he doesn’t want to enlist D.A. Foggy Nelson to be a SHIELD agent, but he is asking Foggy to serve on its board of directors.  Foggy wants to think about it.  Matt and Natasha have a bit of a heart-to-heart after a strenuous training session, at which time Matt describes how helpful Foggy has always been to him, particularly in the difficult time after Matt’s father was killed.  Ivan maintains a watch on the D.A.’s apartment, in case Hydra stages another kidnap attempt.  On their way out from court, Matt and Foggy are attacked by Hydra-pillers, and then the Dreadnought joins the fray.  Matt is blasted out of the fight by the Dreadnought, which affords him a chance to find a place to change to his Daredevil attire.  SHIELD agents and the Black Widow spring to Foggy’s defense.  The Dreadnought incapacitates both DD and BW, and threatens to kill Natasha unless she reveals Foggy’s location.  Foggy gives himself up rather than allow Natasha to be hurt, and the Dreadnought grabs his captive and blasts away into the sky.  Natasha confronts Fury, and demands his assistance as she declares her intention to rescue Foggy. -Chris Blake

Chris: The truth about Fury’s offer makes it a bit of a cop-out; if Foggy never was going to be enlisted as a SHIELD agent, then it shouldn’t have been dangled out there.  Matt’s conversation with Natasha is presented in a mature light, as she seems to gain insight into the longtime connection between Matt and Foggy, just as Matt understands that she is not prepared to move back into his life right away.  
The Dreadnought presents a nasty mismatch for both of our heroes, so in a way I’m glad that Tony didn’t dream up some hokey way for DD & BW to trip him up too easily.  The fight sequence is not well thought-out ; as long as SHIELD agents (including Fury himself) were responding to the threat, then there should have been a few of them assigned to protect Foggy, or (even better) to remove him from danger.  Instead, we have the Dreadnought demanding to know where Foggy is, while he’s standing unprotected behind a pillar, 10 feet away.  I understand that Tony wanted to find a way to repair the relationship between Foggy and Natasha, and while it’s the right decision, it’s clumsily done.  
We like you too...
The art is splotchy and uninspiring.  Very few highlights, with a few well-realized expressions here and there; the Dreadnought’s “FWRAP!” of Natasha (far above) is among very few highlights.  I couldn’t detect evidence of Vinnie-erased backgrounds (ie the layouts don’t appear to be particularly spare), which means he might not’ve been doing it here, or maybe he simply got much subtler at it.  The puff of dust at the Dreadnought’s feet as he hustles onto the scene (above) is right out of the Sunday funnies, and makes our iron-clad villain look utterly ridiculous.  
Matthew: What a difference a decade makes—or, rather, four of them, which is how long it’s been since I first saw and enjoyed this issue.  I love the cover, juxtaposing the shades of yellow and blue that have always been one of my favorite color combinations; the title, whose full absurdity I did not appreciate so early in my acquaintance with S.H.I.E.L.D.; the formative reference to Fury as its “ramrod”; the suggestive Mattasha interlude; the motley crew of minor villains serving as Hydra’s division chiefs; the impressive scholarship of Tony’s “Hydra File” and use of the Dreadnought (plus Hydra-Pillers, for God’s sake); “Err, Philip?”; and the ending with Natasha’s fiery resolve on behalf of the man who has finally vindicated himself in her eyes.

"I'd like to buy an 'A', Pat..."

Fantastic Four 158
"Invasion from the 5th (Count it, 5th!) Dimension
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler and Al Milgrom

We open (on what the letters page tell us was intended to be Giant-Size FF #5) with our titular titans out on the town: Ben and Alicia exit the Metropolitan Opera(!), Ms. Masters voluptuously depicted by Rich Buckler, perhaps the recipient of Reed's proto Wonder Bra – not that we're complaining! – but I wish the BP would land on one of Alicia's spinning wheels of hair color. Beset by autograph hounds, the Thing complies in wise-cracking fashion ("Yer lucky I can even get a grip on this itty-bitty pencil...") before a squalling toddler & insult-slinging mom have suit-clad Benjy grabbing Alicia's hand and scampering for the bus stop.  
A similarly duded-up Johnny hits a singles' bar, hoping to "forget a certain honeymooning inhuman," but snappy patter like, "gal o' mine," has the local talent giving him the brush: "Where've you been since 1948?" Her date gets Johnny hot under the collar and he involuntarily bursts into flame (a bit "worthy" of his Strange Tales solo days), ruining his second suit in the last six or so issues, and flies home to the Baxter Building. 

Sue and Reed (yep, 3 for 3, Stretch wears a suit) get two panels. Sue doubts she's ready for full-time FF duty; Reed mentions she's toyed with the notion of becoming a private eye (first we've heard of it but that's a great idea, Roy). Medusa's single panel has her exiting the library with a load of books, begging Prof. Chris' recent question: what's Red doing in this title?

As Torchie touches down on the B.B., we flash back one minute to Quicksilver, zipping toward the same destination, entering via a heretofore unknown subway tunnel entrance to confront Johnny, who, needless to say, ain't overjoyed to see Crystal's new hubby. The FF's arrival stops the skirmish and Pietro informs them he's there to fetch Medusa, under orders from "Xemu, Master of the Fifth Dimension" (first – and last – seen way back in Strange Tales #103). Quick recap of 'Mu & troops overrunning the Great Refuge before the Blue Meanie unveils his "Thunder Horn," a sound-amplifying "saser," which, magnifying 'Mu's "single, shrieked syllable," shears off a mountaintop!

What damage would be wrought by the already destructive vocal stylings of Black Bolt?

Not wanting to find out – and knowing (duh) they're waltzing into a trap, the FF and Quickie (minus stay at home Sue), blast-off from the Baxter B, Great Refuge bound! -Mark Barsotti

Rich: "Did you say 'The four-story Baxter Bldg.', Roy?"
Mark: Spent more time on the character bits 'cause they're the best thing here. Roy (unlike Kid Conway) gets the familial vibe that always fueled Kirby & Lee's run, and speaking of Jack, Buckler indeed oft channels Johnny B in these pages, but Rich's, ah, rock-solid renderings of the Thing (in tandem with Joe Sinnott of course) come closer to the King's quintessential depiction of Benjamin J. than anyone who's touched the title in the last forty years.

Props to Roy for digging deep into the early Marvel canon for Xemu but – barring a stunning uptick next ish – there's only so much face-paint & glitter can do to tart up a Z-lister. And while well done, the plot mechanics – Medusa being called home during an Inhuman crisis mirrors Crys being whistled for during an earlier crisis; 'Mu's Thunder Horn echoes the Overkill Horn from Steranko's first S.H.I.E.L.D. story  – are dulled for long-time fans by a sense of déjà vu. a sense of déjà vu.

...déjà vu. 

Matthew: Mystery man makes ally assault FF; MARMIS ensues. Issue #155?  No, it’s…the same thing three months later, substituting Xemu and Quicksilver for Dr. Doom and the Silver Surfer.  Let’s charitably say that Roy is still finding his feet as he transitions from EIC to writer-editor, and with fondly remembered arcs—which I hope will hold up—not too far off, I’m staying optimistic, aided by Buckler and Sinnott.  (Should I mention the rehash of the Triton-swims-for-help bit from Avengers #95?  Naaah…)  Professor Emeritus Seabrook, who may have been glad to get rid of it, gave me his Essential Human Torch Vol. 1 too late for our Silver-Age coverage, so Xemu 101 is still on my remedial-reading list, but perhaps a little lower down now.

Ironically, the seminal Giant-Size X-Men #1 coincides with the Twilight of the GS Books, as this month’s GSFF #5 becomes the first of the “big nine” to devolve into all-reprints.  “Buckler had some personal problems which prevented his quite finishing a 30-page story…So we simply took the first 17 pages, which led into the action in the Hidden Land, moved it to F.F. #158, and moved the story we scheduled for this ish into F.F. #160 instead.  (#159 will see the conclusion of the current adventure, natch, while we’ve used [GSFF] to re-present [#15 and Annual #5]…).  Only problem remaining:  The story originally scheduled for this issue took place on Valentine’s day—and now it’s gonna come out in the middle of April showertime!,” reveals #158’s lettercol.

Chris: As soon as I saw a splash-page-filling bashful Benjy wearing his Sunday best, I could hear the Dandy-Duds Demolition Device begin its countdown, but surprisingly, Johnny’s the only one to lose a new suit this time; to some extent, the garment-garbage gods had to have been appeased.  (In fact, Ben’s suit survives for the entire issue, which is a record.)  This is 1975, right?  And Johnny’s what, 20 yrs old?  He’s donning a suit and tie to go out and meet some swingin’ chicks?  I wonder how many of our shaggy-maned bullpenners might’ve suited up to go out.  

The pacing of the issue starts out as very easy-going, with some drawn-out character bits to fill the first few pages; it wasn’t until I read the letters page that I learned that this story had been intended as a giant-sizer, so apparently the creative team originally expected to have more time for this story to play out.  This issue’s one-panel blow-off of Medusa – “But frankly, she’s not really doing anything all that interesting.” – made me laugh out loud.  Maybe this tie-in with the Inhumans will give Medusa a chance to return to where she’s appreciated.  Curious moment on page 31 pnl 5, where it looks like they changed the dialog at the last moment – on the bottom of the panel, there’s still a trace of a word balloon coming from Sue, but there’s no telling what she might’ve said – Reed’s chauvinistic pronouncement certainly doesn’t sound like something Sue would take without some reaction.
"Go ahead and make it six!"
Construction crews, working feverishly, manage to take an existing four-story FF headquarters (page 6), and expand it to five stories (page 11), and then somehow wedge in an unprecedented sixth story (p 31, last panel) to the top section of the Baxter Building.  It’s quite the engineering marvel.  At this rate, by the next issue, the FF HQ space could be as tall as 9 stories, and then maybe 13.5 stories tall by FF #160.  I can’t understand how the same penciller could be so inconsistent with the story-count within the same issue –it’s inconceivable (and yes, Diego, I do know what that word means)!
How about the fan design suggestions (reprinted on the letters page) for Sue’s new costume – one is classic ‘70s, right down to the impractical flared pantlegs, while the other has more of an ‘80s whore look, which in 1975, I guess you could say would’ve been ahead of its time.  

The Frankenstein Monster 16
"Code Name: Berserker!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik and Bob McLeod
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Janice Cohen
Cover by Ron Wilson and Mike Esposito

Whisked to Switzerland by shady PI Eric Prawn, The Frankenstein Monster and his boy Friday, Ralph Caccone, find themselves on the doorstep of the last remaining descendant of Victor Frankenstein, the gloriously sexy and sinful Veronica Frankenstein (though she prefers to be called "Fronk-en-shteen"). Despite the bad reputation of her family name, this gal's got something a bit more charitable up her sleeve; to atone for her ancestor's misdeeds, Veroncia wishes to restore The Monster's speech. Meanwhile, Veronica's lab assistant (and lover!), Werner, has ratted out the whereabouts of The Monster to terrorist organization I.C.O.N. (that's International Crime Organizations Nexus, naturally) and the group's helicopter lands outside Veronica's estate just as she's beginning throat surgery. Ralph and Eric do their best to fight off the bad guys but I.C.O.N. has brought their new super-weapon along for the ride, a giant synthetic man dubbed "Berserker, Colossus of Destruction!" (but no "B' on his belt buckle!). Berserker puts the whammy on Eric and Ralph and is about to do some heavy damage to Victoria's gorgeously rouged cheekbones when The Monster rises from his operating table and dispatches Berserker in no time flat. With his voice regained, The Monster expresses some dismay in the fact that he really has no identity. Can someone help him? -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Pretty much anything I have to say about this series at this point can be gleaned from my commentary over the last couple issues. All that's left to do, as we watch the storyline spin around the bowl, is stand in amazement at Doug Moench's prose (I've taken to telling friends that each issue of TFM gives me the Moenchies), the likes of which had not been seen since the days Wyatt Blassingame and Arthur Leo Zagat pumped out three million words a day on their Smith Coronas for Terror Tales and the other shudder pulps. Howzabout: "He grunts again, an inarticulate concession to memories he cannot share... to pain he cannot assuage by vocal catharsis" or, my favorite of the issue: "The door is open. They enter... into a hushed sanctuary of the past, at least as the Monster senses it. The silence throbs to the secret pulse of an age when science was young, its discoveries by turn magical or macabre. The dust tingles to the same rythym, whispering in miasmas only macabre. The Monster feels a bond with that dust, curses it, longs to join it... but the curses are silent, pulsing, and the desire profane." And those of you upset about the big hype afforded "Berserker, Colossus of Destruction," only to watch him die within a few panels of his debut, I have only this to say: don't count the guy out just yet. I love how Werner sneaks up to a window, opens it, and fires off a flare to alert I.C.O.N., all with the rest of the cast in the same room... and no one notices! And then he just disappears. I'd make snarky comments about this title needing an editor but, hell, The Frankenstein Monster doesn't even have a writer!

Chris: What’s this – a story that, for the most part, has direct implications for the future of a character still known only as the Monster.  Someone’s been reading the fan letters – two of the four in this issue’s column demand the return of the Monster’s ability to express himself.  Doug’s writing still isn’t terribly easy to read; try this sentence on for size: “The dust tingles to the same rhythm, whispering in miasmas only macabre.”  Ho-kay.  The tension of the surgical procedure is welcome, until the nonsense with the attacking “synthetic monster brigade,” and the wearisome patter of Payne, gets us off track again.  And now, oh great – the Monster has a new Big Thing to fight.  
Mayerik continues to gamely hold things together, although the backgrounds begin to thin out and disappear starting about halfway thru the issue, and the resulting spare look removes any possibility of establishing some atmosphere.  The Monster’s determined look on p 10 (far above) not only is the art highlight of this issue, but it’s got to be this title’s post-Ploog highlight.  

Giant-Size Man-Thing 4
May 1975

Cover by Frank Brunner

“The Kid’s Night Out” 

Story by Steve Gerber 
Art by Ed Hannigan & Ron Wilson 
Inks by Frank Springer 
Colors by Phil Rachelson 
Letters by Tom Orzechowski

“Frog Death!” 

Story by Steve Gerber 
Art by Frank Brunner 
Colors by Frank Brunner 
Letters by Tom Orzechowski

“I Entered the…Doorway to Doom” 

Art by Steve Ditko 
Letters by Artie Simek 
(reprinted from Strange Tales #72, December 1959)

“The Man with No Past” 

Art by Joe Maneely 
(reprinted from Journey Into Mystery #21, December 1959)

Perhaps the most iconic Man-Thing cover ever graces Giant-Size #4, an instant collector’s item as it also includes Howard the Duck’s very first solo story. 

“The Kid’s Night Out” starts with the funeral of 17-year-old Edmond Winshed. As the priest praises Edmond’s family and teachers for caring for the young boy during his short life, a classmate, Alice Rimes yells that it’s lies: they all hated Edmond and he hated them right back. Edmond’s uncle, Samuel Pinder physically removes the girl, throwing her in the swamp. The Man-Thing approaches and she screams, her shouts further enraging Pinder and he returns to silence her. But the once-man intervenes, grabbing and burning Pinder’s arm. The rest of the funeral arrives and Man-Thing retreats. Days later, at Citrusville High, rumors abound that Alice has Edmond’s diary. At a meeting of the school’s yearbook committee, Alice reads from the diary, titled “The Book of Edmond.” In it, the boy writes that he has much in common with Man-Thing: as an overweight teen, he was abused and ostracized by his family, teachers and schoolmates, just like the monster. Alice also reveals that Edmond died because the gym teacher, Lewis Milner, forced him to run endless laps until his heart gave out. Later, Alice is kidnapped and tied up in the gym by Edmond’s family and Milner: they demand the diary. Drawn to the scene, Man-Thing arrives, and his silent judgment is swift and scorching. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: OK, let’s just get this right out of the way: I am hardly a lightweight now, but I was pretty much a fatty as a kid. So while I feel for poor Edmond Winshed, Steve Gerber goes way over the top. Edmond’s parents, his uncle and Milner are much more than bullies, they are downright criminal. Did they actually think they would get away with kidnapping Alice, hanging her by gymnastic rings? Interspersed by a few illustrations, the five pages excerpting Edmond’s diaries are basically all text — and they rang hollow to me. Not an expert on either, but it looks like Hannigan did the diary pages and Wilson did the rest. 

After months of falling through the Un-World, Howard the Duck lands in Cleveland in the nine-page “Frog Death!” Two youngsters show him to the nearest cigar store: the proprietor balks at the duck’s odd currency but lets him take the smoke if he just leaves the store. The kids tell Howard that everyone in the neighborhood has been behaving strangely since Garko arrived, a disheveled man who stares at a funny jar and shouts that he will conquer the world. Garko decides to finally drink what’s in the bottle and he transforms into a gigantic, car-crushing frog. The boys run off to alert the police as Howard bravely attacks the huge hopper with a stick and garbage can cover. Suddenly the bellowing monster begins to shrink, turning into an actually frog. The cops arrive and haul Howard away, running over the little Garko-frog in the process. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Some great Brunner art in Howard’s first solo story but it’s really too short to work up a full head of steam. There’s no explanation as to why Garko changed from a monster frog to a regular one but guess you shouldn’t ask too many questions when it comes to Howard the Duck. Just a bit of goofy fun not meant to be taken seriously. Carl Barks is credited as “Spiritual Guide” by the way.

And we wrap up with nine pages of old reprints — so I’ll wrap it up as well.

Matthew: Gerber must have shopped at the Odd-Lot Artists Store for this, with pencils by Hannigan and Wilsonfuture fixtures on Defenders and Two-in-One, respectivelyand inks by S.H.I.E.L.D. ravager Springer.  Not surprisingly, the results bear no identifiable style, and although Steve calls this “probably the most ambitious experiment yet in Man-Thing’s short but chaotic history,” it seems revolutionary only in the amount of text, which I can’t help thinking could have been portrayed just as well more traditionally.  The reprints are “I Entered the…Doorway to Doom!” (Ditko; Strange Tales #72, December 1959) and “A Man with No Past” (Lee/Maneely; Journey into Mystery #21, January 1955), but the big news here is the duck.

Like that of the X-Men, Howard’s return had long been in the works:  as early as September, the lettercol in #9 confirmed rumors that “Steve G. has already scripted the fantastic fowl’s first solo story (entitled ‘Frog Death!’), and Neal Adams is indeed slated to draw it.  Someday….As for which magazine it will grace, we don’t know.  We’re not quite sure where it fits, exactly.”  In the event, Dr. Strange alumnus Frank “When I’m Damn Good and Ready” Brunner provided the art, colors, and cover, delaying its scheduled appearance in GS #3.  Much as I admire Adams, I doubt he could have captured the spirit of Steve’s “new concept in comic literature”—with Scrooge McDuck creator Carl Barks credited as “spiritual guide”—any better; it’s just to die for.

Mark: The cold, clammy hand of Deadline Doom prevents full coverage, but I have to chime-in on "Frog Death," Howard's first solo outing (prompting my first & only Man-Thing purchase back in '75. Don't remember where I learned of our feathered friend, maybe the Comic Reader). Boy, I miss Frank Brunner; his duck is daffy but not Disney – a googly-eyed, cigar-chompin' wisequacker, with rash courage enough to fight a giant frog with nail and stick.

Howard the Duck will become Steve Gerber's pin-feather masterpiece, a character absurd enough to be perfectly at home amid Gerber's wackiest imaginings, while somehow attaining a vivid, almost hyper-reality with his flaws, flinty spirit and caustic, every-duck commentary.

The classic, last panel splat signals that Gerber ain't kidding around. He's out for blood.

Chris: I’m undecided on this one. I approve the way that Steve continues to take this title in different directions, but it’s hardly novel (so to speak) for a writer to focus on “trials and tribulations of school days” for subject matter. It was a very effective moment when Alice stood up and chastised the mourners, not only because Steve managed to drastically change the tone from that point on, but he also got me to thinking about who Edmond was, and how he might have died.

Steve then goes on, in the brief moments we have with the characters, to illustrate the self-serving nature of most of Edmond’s family. But then we get a text page, followed by text pages, where Steve tells and tells about Edmond’s longstanding unhappiness; Steve went about it in such a way that I could understand Edmond’s misfortune, but I didn’t succeed in identifying with it, or empathizing either. Elinore, as we’re told, becomes an important figure in Edmond’s life, and I think I would’ve preferred to hear more from her about her understanding of Edmond as a person, but we see very little of her; some of Alice’s screen time could’ve been devoted instead to Elinore telling us her story of Edmond.

The ending takes some interesting turns, as Alice perceives the Man-Thing to be an embodiment of Edmond’s need for vengeance; and who knows – maybe Manny is, in this case. Either way, the mayhem enacted on the adults feels excessive, coming from Manny; the image of the coach’s hands, frozen in supplication, is forced (I was going to say “heavy-handed,” but then thought better of it).

The art is pretty good; in fact, if Springer had always managed to ink Manny this well, he would’ve been suitable as a regular inker on this title. The page 11 reaction by Alice, when she finds herself in the company of a man-bog, works well. I was trying to determine who penciled which pages, but Grand Comics Database unhelpfully lists both artists, without providing a breakdown. One of the highlights is page 27 (with Manny seeing Edmond’s image in the water), and here’s where GCD comes thru, as they credit this single page to: John Buscema!

Steve responds to readers’ demands for more Howard, and in his first-ever stand-alone story, the duck depicted here shows signs of the reluctant courage that contributes to his unique notoriety. Inspired move by Brunner, to show us Howard with his eyes firmly closed as his brandishes his garbage-can lid and swings his pegged stick at the frog-monster. Howard seems to be experiencing a revival of sorts – say, maybe George Lucas could put together a new film, featuring our favorite fowl! George could tell us that he planned it this way from the start! Sorry George – just yanking yer bill – waaauugh!!

The Amazing Spider-Man 144
"The Delusion Conspiracy"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Ray Holloway
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

After the dust-up with Cyclone, Spider-Man swings back to the hotel, where Peter gets a note from the kidnappers then, waiting for instructions, calls Aunt May. A knock on the door and May is off with Anna Watson for a snowy stroll, where she spots a girl who looks quite familiar…Back in Paris, Peter is roughly told to bring the ransom to Notre Dame, but first he stops off at a hardware store to make preparations. Inside the cathedral the next day, Cyclone tells JJJ he developed his powerful device at NATO, but was rejected by the USA, an odd reason to kidnap the publisher. Spidey shows up and teases the Cyclonic goons with the ransom, takes them out quickly, then starts battling the spinning scoundrel. On the verge of being vortexed, Spidey uncovers a giant fan, that creates a reverse vortex that sends the French fiend flying. To throw JJJ and Robbie off the scent, a remote-control activated tape recorder plays Peter's voice from the belfry, and 20 hours later, the trio return home. MJ is not around to meet Peter, but Anna Watson is at his front door, telling him Aunt May is in the hospital and there's someone upstairs….it's Gwen Stacy!!!! –Joe Tura 

Joe: Ah, the cover. Any Spidey-phile would be able to figure out what was going on, but it's still one of the best of the year in my humble opinion. The story inside is OK, with some decent action, excellent art, a long-winded villain (yeah, I went there!) and a goofy solve by Spidey that actually makes sense but happens a bit too fast. But where the heck did the financially-challenged Peter get the francs to buy the equipment to make the giant fan? And the Cyclone's origin story is the quickest one since the kooky Kangaroo—two flashback panels and we get the gist. 

But honestly, the only panel that really matters is the final one. Yes, the Aunt May tease is super-important, and quite obvious to any faculty member. But imagine being 8 years old reading this, not knowing what the heck was going on here and being incredibly surprised by the last page. Maybe not as much as Peter, but still. I mean, freakin' Gwen is alive? What??? No, I won't use the "c" word yet, lest we give stuff away to any student not familiar with what happens in the coming months. And quite honestly, I'm having so much fun re-discovering these issues, I'm going to just let the story unfold and enjoy the ride.

Joe: Fave sound effect this month is the trio of panels on the bottom of page 23, as Cyclone approaches our hero with a "WHUSH!", "SHOOM!" and "FOOM!" Although a close second is the rotating rascal getting smashed against the wall with a pleasant "WHABOOM!"

Matthew: “In 1974, Gerry Conway had not been happy to hear about Wein and Wolfman’s promotions.  In fact, he’d been furious.  He’d been at Marvel longer than either of them, writing the superstar characters, pinch-hitting as an editor when Thomas was out of the office.  And he had been promised [by Stan], many months before, that his turn would come next….Conway felt betrayed.  If the main criterion for the job was familiarity and understanding of the Marvel universe, he wondered, why hire two DC guys who had just come on board in the last year?  He was tired of not being taken seriously, and now suspected [the two] of playing political games.  Apparently his achievements meant nothing to Lee, to Marvel,” recounts Howe.

So it was when “Conway was stuck with orders from Lee to bring back Gwen Stacy, somehow, if only for one issue.  (Steve Gerber cheerily offered to introduce her reanimated corpse in the pages of Tales of the Zombie, as ‘Graveyard Gwen.’) Annoyed with the mandate, Conway nonetheless wrote [this] six-part story,” whose long-range ramifications were obviously quite unforeseen.  But since that last page semi-shocker is not the main focus of this issue, I’ll restrict myself to noting that as much as I love Ross, he is not the man to draw Aunt May, and to asking if we are really, really to believe that Peter—an American, yet—could waltz into one of France’s most beloved sites with his trolley of equipment and set it all up with nobody knowing or caring?

Mark: Behind one of the most iconic ASM covers of the era, lurks the limp finale to a second-rate tale, interspersed with a sub-plot ramp-up to the second most important story of Kid Conway's historic run. Second-rate first: science wiz Pete's epiphany to take-down Mr. Twister is a big fan (with nary of jot of rubber science justification)? Pete's explain-away-Spidey's-in-Paris-presence tap dance is entirely off-screen (saving K.C. the huff 'n' puff hard work of making chicken salad from chicken sh*t)? Boo, I say. Balderdash.

Scott: Regardless of what some of our fans stated in the comments section, I still find the final reveal of the mystery girl as Gwen to be an anti-climax. Yes, I know killed off supporting character/girlfriends had never been brought back at this point. However, there was only one dead girlfriend in Peter’s life. There was only one woman who left his life in any fashion whose reappearance would totally freak him out. Only one girl Aunt May would faint over and who looks like Gwen from profile. Only one girl who wore boots when she died. That was Gwen Stacy. So, honestly, who else could it have been? A stranger? That would not have been satisfying in the least. It would also be really nice if Andru could decide whether or not he wants to draw Spidey’s armpit webs. They come and go so much I actually had to go back a few issues to see if they were there before. Answer: sometimes.

What If?
Mark: The simmering, back from the dead subplot: Aunt May gets the vapors after spotting the maybe Ms. Stacy. The Bugle boys land back in snowy NYC, Mr. Parker daydreaming about a certain groovy redhead. Eagle-eyed Jonah I.D.'s Anna Watson at fifty yards (has J.J. ever even met her), haunting the entrance of Pete's apartment. Anna tells him Aunt May's in the hospital (closing in on that free colonoscopy for her 100th visit). "I don't know how to explain, Peter," Anna babbles,"...upstairs...your apartment..!"

Up he dashes, towards final confirmation of what by now is a Shocking Reveal to only the densest of readers: the maybe Gwen Stacy, awaiting her web-spinning beau. 

We all know how this plays out, class, but use those creative imaginations to fling yourself back forty years to the first read and bask anew in a gen-u-wine WTF moment.

Kid Conway's about to go out with a bang.

Be Sure to Tune in on Sunday for an Expanded Look at the Ground-Breaking Giant-Size X-Men by Professor Chris Blake! Be here, Bub!

My Mego Falcon doll never looked that good!

A perfect ensemble for the fighting woman