Wednesday, May 28, 2014

February 1974 Part One: His Name is... The Punisher!

Astonishing Tales 22
It! The Living Colossus in
"... We, the Gargoyles!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Dick Ayers and Jack Kirby
Cover by John Romita

On Stonus Five, winged gargoyles battle the giant Granitor, to prevent him from conquering their world, but the Gargoyle Lord is soon transported to Earth, with hopes of killing that world also! As mogul Dorian Delazny is forced to claim the Colossus by the cops, good-guy gargoyle Magnor is attacked by gun-toting gargoyle Crustor [these names are great fun if not goshdarn silly], but manages to get away and to the office of crippled f/x guru Bob O’Bryan, where he warms them of Gorgolla, Granitor’s son. Gorgolla was trying to conquer Earth, but the denizens of Stonus Five turned against him, which is the reason Granitor seeks vengeance! The gargoyles strike, carrying away the humans, but O’Bryan manages to swing his legs up with a “PUM!” and enters the Colossus’ consciousness. Attacking the gargoyles on the Capitol Records Building, the Colossus refuses to join Granitor’s troops and battles him to a stalemate—until the evil leader flies off with O’Bryan’s love Diane in tow. Next month: Fin Fang Foom! —Joe Tura

The Colossus Came C.O.D.

"The Best Art! The Best Stories!"
Joe Tura: A cool Romita cover kicks us off, along with the promise “The Marvel Age of Monsterdom is Back—Better Than Ever!” But what awaits inside? A halfway decent tale of our beloved Colossus against the gargoyles, but comicus interruptus for a flashback that reprints the original King Kirby-drawn tale of Granitor’s little pebble. Is it any good? I don’t know. I mean, I’ve read worse but all in all it’s just OK. OK script. OK art, and OK action. At least they’re making an effort here, that’s for sure, and Isabella is doing his all to generate some excitement. Ayers’ art gives it this retro feel before retro was a thing, and I can’t help but feel this was a real niche market in 1974. One BIG question: how does a crippled Bob manage to swing his legs up to strike? Tsk tsk, Continuity Department….

Peter Enfantino: Nice catch on "lame" Bob's sudden muscle regrowth, Professor Joe! I think the best quality of Tony Isabella's writing this issue is that, in several panels, it squeezes out Dick Ayers' abysmal art. I love expository just as much as the next guy but that set of panels telling us everything that happened in the last issue (and, really, not that much happened!) reads like a National Lampoon parody. Then I remember Dick Ayers' art (could a giant gargoyle really support his weight on legs as thin as a stick and what is going on with Diana's mouth at left?) and I shout "More Expository!!" I thought we might get an Uh-Oh moment when It! blows on his hands to pillow Bob's fall. Wouldn't it have been great (and led to even more interesting plot twists) if the Colossus had blown too hard and Bob had fallen several stories to his death? Do you think Granitor is the only gargoyle on his planet that has a crown on his muscle shirt? Double entendre of the month when Bob thought balloons that the confusion may keep him from "concentrating hard enough to enter the Colossus." Not that there's anything wrong with that! This series could emerge as the Kitsch Klassic of 1974 if it survives long enough.

Joe: The “Astonishing Mails” page give us a prose article from Tony Isabella about his background, his history with monster comics and his reason for being on this book. Um, thanks, Tony! (We think…)

Peter: Oh, Professor Joe, you are too polite. My favorite section of this welcoming page is when Tony describes how he and Roy brainstormed for months, maybe years, on how they could best utilize such a wonderful character name. You know? It! You can't just use It! for any character after all. It! needs something special. At some point in the story, one of the characters mentions that this giant stone statue has become known as It! By who? Who "named" It!? The mind boggles at the plethora of alternate names had not the right person been in the right place at the right time. It! Could be That!

For the minutiae-minded, the Jack Kirby-penciled section of the story (actually only a fraction of that original fear-fraught classic) originally appeared as "Gorgolla, the Living Gargoyle" in Strange Tales #74 (April 1960) and was inked by Ayers.

The Avengers 120
"Death-Stars of the Zodiac!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Bob Brown and Don Heck
Cover by Jim Starlin and Frank Giacoia

In the New York Criminal Detention Center, Joshua Link aka Gemini, is visited by Taurus, leading and representing a cartel calling itself Zodiac. They aim to kill everyone born under the Gemini sign in the city, but plan to free and protect Link. Link then explains that he and his twin brother Damian are psychically linked due to a prior accident and Joshua can take over his brother’s mind and body. Therefore, both Damian and Joshua must be spared if Joshua is to survive. Meanwhile, Sgt. Damian Link arrives at Avengers Mansion to act as liaison between the police and the Avengers due to Cap’s predicament in his own magazine. Once there, Link has a “blackout spell” as his brother takes over his mind. Mantis feels that his “vibrations” have suddenly changed. The Swordsman notices Link looking at an Avengers manual, but trips on his way to intercept and his electric sword reveals Gemini’s costume beneath the uniform, one that Joshua had his brother put on every morning to be “ready for action.” The battle is brief as Gemini is quickly defeated. The Swordsman collapses due to his wound (received in Bolivia) becoming infected. As they take the Swordsman for help, the rest of Zodiac breaks in. They gain the upper hand and momentarily defeat the Avengers long enough to leave a tape recording of their plans and demands before making their escape. After another battle, Mantis is put in the line of fire and Zodiac demands they be let go or she will die. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: These guys look a trifle ridiculous in their Zodiac sign animal costumes. The team of Bob Brown and Don Heck don’t light the art world on fire, with Heck’s ink taking point in many panels, so much that it looks a lot more like one of his books than anything else. The lip service paid to Cap’s predicament was appreciated, but all in all, a less than stellar launch of a new epic.

Peter: God love 'em (and I do) the Zodiac boys (and girl) are just about the goofiest looking super-villains in comic history. Crab claws, lion heads, Versace dresses... and how in the world do you fight with full bull and lion heads atop your shoulders? And what's with the throwaway "Whitey" comment from Aries? I've got really fond memories of this arc from way back when I bought it off the stands for two thin dimes. Whoops! Looks like I should have kept this one in my rearview. Brown and Heck team up to be...

Joe: Oh man, what a boffo cover! One of my favorite Avengers covers ever, and I had no clue until today it was by Starlin. A rousing start to the Zodiac saga, this arc was one of the reasons I started buying Avengers every month back then. Well, OK, my parents bought it for me...but every haircut got me two comics, so I was getting a buzzcut every month! As I'm not re-reading these, I'm going by memory, and this is a good memory for sure!

Matthew Bradley: Englehart has a lot of balls…in the air, juggling them with impressive mastery, like the Swordsman’s rocky but fascinating road to redemption. Facilitating his ongoing efforts to ensure that at least some members of the Zodiac are more than mere ciphers, Stainless not only alludes to Gemini’s recent misadventures with Ka-Zar, but also harkens back even further to the Brothers Link back-up story from Astonishing Tales #8. In contrast to Steve’s ironclad consistency, the book doesn’t have a “permanent” penciler until the advent of Pérez in #141; starting next issue, it oscillates between Brown (here inked by Heck again) and Big John before spotlighting Our Pal Sal—who predominates throughout the Celestial Madonna arc—and Tuska.

Chris Blake: Here’s another issue where the battling is resolved all too quickly: first, nearly all the Avengers are felled in a mere four panels on pg 18; then, the Zodiac’s selectively-homicidal Star Blazer is kla-toomed by a single combined Mjolnir + repulsor blast on pg 31. Where’s the ebb-and-flow of a bonnie donnybrook? Seems like a glaringly missed opportunity for more action, especially with so many characters crammed into this ish (that opportunity won’t come for a few years, publishing-wise, until a solo Scorpio returns to bedevil the Defenders with his own mechanized Zodiac).

I’ve already said everything I needed to say (in my comment for Av #119) about the art. All I could do this time was hold the issue at arm’s length and squint as hard as I could, but even that didn’t help. I’ve also given up trying to identify the land mass Taurus is addressing on the top of pg 30 – there are a few bridges, so it could be Brooklyn, I guess, but since when is the Newtown Creek as wide as the East River? Didn’t these Marvel guys have their offices in New York? Oh well.

Of all of Marvel’s supposed “pillar” titles, The Avengers has consistently been the least interesting – in terms of both story and art – for most of the last 20+ issues. Steve’s writing has lagged behind the standard he has set with his other titles. At least I know that this situation is about to drastically improve – but if I had been reading this title at the time, I can’t imagine what would have retained my interest, or my commitment to buy it, every month. 

Conan the Barbarian 35
"The Hell-Spawn of Kara-Shehr"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chua
Cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chua

Mounted on camels, Conan and the diminutive thief Bourtai cross the barren desert of Khitai, headed towards the Turian capital of Aghrapur. The mismatched duo comes across four brigands attacking a lone nomad. Conan rides in and kills the bandits. Before he succumbs to his fatal injuries, the nomad tells his would-be rescuers of the priceless Azure Eye of Kara-Shehr, the City of Death. Searching the desert, the Cimmerian and Bourtai discover the long-abandoned fortress. Within a temple, they come across an ancient skeleton splayed on a throne, the Azure Eye in his boney grasp. Before Bourtai can lift the jewel, a larger force of brigands enters the room, led by Conan’s old foe Kai Shaah (issue #27). Bourtai and a battling Conan are soon overwhelmed. Fearing that the skeleton will leap to life, Kai Shaah splits its dusty skull before grabbing the blue gem. Suddenly, a fierce sand storm whips up, a black winged demon in its midst. The brigands flee but not before Kai Shaah is slain — so to is Bourtai when he greedily picks up the dropped jewel. When the demon disappears, the Azure Eye is back in the grip of the skeleton, now sharing his throne with the fleshless corpses of Kai Shaah and Bourtai. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: Thankfully, Roy kills off Bourtai before the weasly sidekick wears out his welcome. A running joke from last issue continues, as Conan belittles the dwarf by calling him Monkey-Face with Bourtai whining that’s not his real name. For my money, this is the best work so far by the legendary Buscema/Chua team — the two-page spread that reveals Kara-Shehr is an outright stunner. Would love to have the original artwork hanging on a wall. It’s a leisurely paced affair, with sudden bursts of frenzied Hyborian violence. While he does dispatch a number of brigands, Conan doesn’t actually do battle with the demon, which seems flesh and blood but is drawn in a spectral style. The issue is based on Howard’s “The Fire of Asshurbanipal,” first published in the December 1936 issue of Weird Tales. This was a few months after Robert E. had committed suicide, so the story was actually submitted by the author’s father, Isaac. Supposedly it was originally written in the late ’30s and part of Howard’s The Cthulhu Mythos Stories. Calling Professor Colon!

Mark Barsotti: Another finely-crafted adventure, as Conan and new sidekick "Monkey-Face" Bourtai trek across the desert on camelback to discover the lost city of Kara-Shehr. John Buscema and inker Ernie Chua serve up their usual top-notch art, from sandy wind-swept vistas to a grizzled band of brigands and a fearsome shadow demon, who jealously guards the fabled Blood-Jewel of Bel-Hissar, clutched in a skeleton's hand upon a dusty throne, deep in the bowels of dead city.

Roy Thomas ticks all the now-expected dramatic boxes. Conan displays a steely, not-always-in-his-best-interests sense of honor, taking on four brigands attacking a lone traveler, then spiriting the wounded man away so he can die in peace. Our hero fights a group of swordsmen "like a blood-crazed tiger," gets conked on the head and captured, only to later break free and wreak further havoc. And while he lusts for treasure as much as any on-the-make soldier of fortune, Conan's learned to never go Gordon Gekko over riches protected by supernatural forces. It's a lesson, alas, Bourtai only learns upon pain of death, leaving the young Cimmerian to stride off into the rising sun, alone once more, save for his well-used sword.

'Twill serve.

Captain America and the Falcon 170
Story by Steve Englehart and Mike Friedrich
Art by Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Cap’s in hot water now, blamed for the death of the Tumbler by the loudly accusing Madison Avenue ad exec Quentin Harderman. The police arrive, but Cap isn’t sure they’re not part of the set-up, so he makes his escape. He is intercepted by a new “hero” called Moonstone (the party actually responsible for killing the Tumbler). Moonstone defeats Cap and Harderman comes forth declaring he is representing this new champion. In the meantime, the Falcon is in Wakanda working with the Black Panther to acquire new powers. The bored Leila is taken to Nigeria for some party time and is confronted by Stoneface, who looks to take Leila hostage. Word gets back to the Panther and the Falcon who has just finished the improvements on Falc’s costume. Cap awakens in jail and witnesses a press conference where the Moonstone’s origin is explained. Afterward, “supporters” of Cap’s smash their way into the jail to break him out. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: A solid warm up issue as things begin to heat up for Cap and the Falcon separately. A good start to what will be one of the greatest arcs of the 70’s and definitely a defining one for Cap himself. Certainly better than what was going on over in The Avengers at the same time, the usual issue of “why don’t they remove Cap’s mask” jumped out at me when he was tossed in jail. Maybe his identity doesn’t really matter. He is the symbol and that symbol being tarnished is enough. The Falcon’s story is interesting enough, but Leila remains abrasive. However, it’s odd that the Falcon can bring her along but still won’t share his identity with her. Considering how little his mask really covers his face, the fact that she hasn’t deduced Sam Wilson is under the tights doesn’t say a lot about her powers of observation. Then again, that always was a shortcoming in the comics.

Mark: A bit of a letdown, honestly. Oh, the Big Story moves forward nicely, with Cap jailed for the presumptive murder of the Tumbler after being attacked in an ad campaign so harsh you'd think he was running for Congress, but the nut 'n' bolt details of this chapter are less than stellar. Start with the cops showing up, guns drawn, almost immediately after Tumbler's last fall to announce, "We've heard there's a murder charge against you, Captain America..." Well, no. Being charged with a crime is a legal proceeding, requiring an appearance before a judge, not H.R. Halderman, er, ad executive Quentin Harderman shouting "Murderer!" in a TV studio. And in what world does accuser & henchman (Harderman & Moonstone) get to hold a press conference at police headquarters with the accused on display in a cell behind them?

You're charged with lazy penny dreadful writing, Messrs. Friedrich and Englehart.

Matthew: It’s good to see that even with Iron Man now a bimonthly, Friedrich is keeping busy: this month, he not only continues scripting Englehart’s plots here while Stainless is relocating to California, but also launches the four-color Morbius strip in Fear. Credits: the Falcon’s new abilities are welcome and eminently logical—what could be more appropriate than the power of flight for a character named after a bird?—while Colletta’s inks are surprisingly unobtrusive. Debits: Leila’s back in full-fledged pill mode, the coincidence of her meeting up with Stoneface in sunny downtown Lagos is a howler even by comic-book standards, and Moonstone’s origin is a note-for-note rehash of the Basilisk’s just two months ago (in MTU #16).

Mark: We get a deadly dose of Bad Urban Theatre (with your host, Leonard Pinth-Garnell) every time Leila opens her mouth. "You musta been born wrong-side out!" "Panther-Baby, you rap with that school-teacher jive you used back in the States." "The foxes on the street are gonna be blown away." Ugh. Look, I know the Bullpen was composed of young white dudes whose closest relationship to a black guy was probably Gabe Jones in Sgt. Fury, but they shoulda picked up better street jive just by watching Good Times.

Moonstone gets a lame moon rock origin, a la John Jameson going Larry Talbot in Spidey, and Leila's spear tossing hissy-fit is worse (if that's possible) than her dialogue.

The bright spots? Sal's tasty Vince Colletta-inked art and the Falcon's new "super-strong, super-strong" glider-wings. And the next installment has to be better, right?

The Defenders 12
"The Titan Strikes Back!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Jack Abel
Cover by John Romita

When the Hulk is peacefully enjoying some solitude during a forest walk, inexplicably animate rocks and trees attack him. The explanation is soon apparent—Xemnu the Titan! He fells the Hulk with a mind-blast, but not before Greenskin can mentally call his “dumb magician” companion for help. The dummy in question, Dr. Strange receives the summons just as he is presenting the Valkyrie with a mystical sword from his home. With the help of her horse Aragorn, they follow the trail to a sleepy town named Plucketville, where the mayor Amos Moses tells them he knows where the Hulk is. It is a trap however, and inanimate objects turn against these Defenders now, not mention townspeople in the mental grip of Moses. Said mayor reveals himself as Xemnu, who shows his now bound prisoners the starship that he plans to use to abduct the townspeople to his world. Stephen’s powers may be blocked, but he summons the Hulk to awake from wherever he’s hiding—inside a town statue! Greenskin is angry enough to resist the Titan’s mind blasts, and when the latter seeks an airborne respite, the Hulk takes care of him by hurling his starship at him like a missile. The three D’s depart as pals. -Jim Barwise

Jim: I saw a preview for the Marvel movie version of Guardians of the Galaxy the other day and I thought if they can bring those guys to the silver screen, the Defenders can’t be far behind! A lot of elements of their success are on display here. Sal Buscema’s art is prominent among them (certainly the artist whose work I’ve most grown to appreciate doing this blog). The opening of the Hulk in the forest is pleasantly humorous; a slightly lighter side of many of these heroes is another of this mag’s strengths. The Valkyrie’s decision to leave the group in search of Barbara, the woman from whom her essence is partially derived, may be a hint of future developments. Her and Stephen in everyday clothes is a nice touch (not to mention a rather shape-revealing panel on page 27!). And Plucketville? A small town is a great story springboard anytime for me, albeit clichéd. And who is the dude paying a visit to Wong?

Matthew: Xemnu? Really? So Wein’s gonna kick off his eight-issue run on the book with a return appearance by one of the goofiest-looking villains this side of the Big Wheel? Okay, whatever you say, man. Luckily, Len has the solid support of Defenders mainstay Sal Buscema, and although Jack Abel’s inks aren’t a perfect match, they look a lot better here than on Trimpe’s pencils in the Hulk’s own mag. Speaking of which, the big white furball will be back to marshal five of his fellow pre-super-hero monsters (from Strange Tales, Suspense, and Astonish) against Greenskin in Hulk Annual #5; on the plus side, we have Dragonfang to replace the Ebony Blade the Black Knight reclaimed, and the Hulk finally admits to his friendship with “dumb Magician.”

Chris: Len begins an adequate 8-issue transition between the two Steves. First appearance of Dragonfang (I forgot Doc had found it in his unmatched-socks drawer), and first mention of Val’s identity concern, which Steve G up-and-runs with in later issues. Len doesn’t really have a handle on Doc’s dialog, so he comes across sounding like an odd mix of Reed Richards and Thor. Question #1: Xemnu the Snuggly Titan is able to channel his “mental essence” into the unwitting vessel of Amos “Supposes” Moses; ok, so how does Xemnu’s non-animated physical form then follow him to Plucketville USA ( --scene missing? deleted scene available on Defenders blu-ray?)? Question #2: Doc is able to reach out mentally and rouse the Hulk, since Xemnu “could not have had time enough to remove him” from the vicinity; ok, but it seems there was ample opportunity to hollow out the statue and stuff the Hulk’s inert form (talk about dead weight!) into its interior. A good-enough issue, with that’s-fine art by Sal and Jack A., but there are better – and far weirder (not that there’s anything wrong with that) – things to come as we get through the next 12+ issues.

You just knew we were gonna do it, didn't ya?

Adventure Into Fear
Morbius in
"Morbius the Living Vampire!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Paul Gulacy and Jack Abel
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Michael Morbius conducted an experiment to save his life. He added an enzyme to his blood stream. It worked, but at a cost—he became a vampire! His first victim—the closest at hand—was his best friend. Though regretful and aware of his actions, he is unable to stop them. Others tried to stop him: Spiderman, the Human Torch, Marvel Girl and some of the X-Men. The only one who managed was Cyclops, who along with Professor X, deduced Morbius’ affliction. The Vampire escaped, and eventually fled to New York. Resting after drinking a victim’s blood, Morbius is awoken by two men of the cloth: Reverend Daemon and Rabbi Krause. Their lack of fear puts him at ease, and they try to figure out how to help him scientifically. Soon Morbius is hungry again, but Daemon uses a spell to gain control over him. It turns out the cloth he serves is the one below, and he sets Morbius to kill the Rabbi. Next up he orders Morbius out into the night to find another victim that Daemon feels is a threat to him. Instinct drives Morbius to find his target, which he is shocked too find is a young girl riding in a limousine! -Jim Barwise

Jim: Morbius has a conscience about the killing and harm he feels compelled to commit. Already we have a great premise, a reluctant vampire. The horror scenes are very effective; i.e. the attack on Judy. Artist Paul Lugacy deserves kudos for his artwork. The inclusion of "Midnight In The Wax Museum!” is a great addition that sets a good tone for the Morbius tale.

Matthew: I think this is literally the only example I own of Paul Gulacy’s pencils, although I see he’ll ink Daredevil #108 and work extensively on Master of Kung Fu; Gulacy, inker Jack Abel, and writer Mike Friedrich will all be replaced next issue. Nothing against the incoming team, but that’s a shame because this is terrific, with an engrossing story and underrated art—Morbius looks wonderfully ghoulish—and even feels substantive despite being truncated by several pages of flashbacks to his tussles with Spider-Man, the Torch, and the X-Men, plus that pesky reprint. Depressing as it is to see a return to those, as well as to bimonthly status, the Richard Doxsee-drawn “Midnight in the Wax Museum” from Astonishing #61 (May 1957) is nicely atmospheric.

Peter: And let's also note that "Wax Museum" is scripted by EC veteran, Jack Oleck who, at the time of Fear #20, was writing lots of first-class scripts for the DC mystery line (unabashed plug).

Chris: I only got into this series to see the art that Craig Russell provides for a few of the later issues, and I wound up working backward to pick up the sole issues by Gulacy and Kane. I think Morbius the Sometimes-Reluctant Vampire is an interesting-enough figure, and you would think that Gerber would be particularly well-suited to handling the character, but my recollection (without having re-viewed these issues yet) is that the series lacks a clear focus. The ever-changing parade of artists (the same creative team appears in consecutive issues only once between Fear #20-#31) doesn’t help either. But now, for starters, Gulacy is an inspired choice to kick off Morbius’ run, as the vampire is depicted as savage, serene, suspicious, and finally –shocked! I can’t help but wonder whether a Gerber/Gulacy team might’ve made a difference on this title, but it’s pure speculation on my part, since they were never paired up. 

Fantastic Four 143
"The Terrible Triumph of Dr. Doom"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Dr. Doom has lured Reed, Medusa, Sam Thorne and his wife Belle to his new hideout, where he turns back a brief battle, dropping the first two in an opening floor, zapping Sam, and taking his wife on a tour of the place. His plan is to release via missile, a “vibration bomb” that essentially breaks down people’s personalities so they are almost mindless, and his to control. Doom demonstrates this on two of his subjects that have betrayed him. Johnny (yet to be captured) and his buddy Wyatt Wingfoot, end up spending the night in jail for accidentally damaging public property, while Sue and Franklin hang out with her friend Carol in Pennsylvania. When Doom leaves to get the Torch and Wyatt, the rest of the team get an unexpected ally in the form of Darkoth the Death Demon, who feels betrayed by the Doctor, and wants to join the FF in the struggle against Victor Von. -Jim Barwise

Jim: First thing: some nice Rich Butler artwork. Second: most any tale of Dr. Doom isn’t too bad, and that looks like where we’re headed here. Kind of amusing seeing Johnny and Wyatt in a jail cell for property damage! Darkoth’s reversal is an interesting development.

Matthew: Okay, I know this is a comic book, and comic books are full of weird science, but come on: the “vibration bomb” that forms the centerpiece of Doom’s latest scheme for world domination, which is supposed to erase emotions “like a cloth cleaning a blackboard,” is one of the hokiest examples of lazy writing I’ve seen in some time. It’s depressing when I’m finding it tough to say something—let alone something nice—about an issue of the FF featuring Doctor Goddamn Doom. Giacoia clearly doesn’t bring quite the polish to Buckler’s sophomore effort that Sinnott would, but it’s a respectable effort on both counts, especially the spread on pages 10 and 11…and while we’re on the subject of artwork, I do rather like that Gil Kane cover.

Mark: No MCD this time, folks. Rather than botching the finish, G. Conway removes any suspense by tanking Doc Doom's return on the second installment. Prof Matthew has already skewered the harebrained "vibration bomb," with its personality destroying radiation, so I'll note the opening continuity gaffe that got us off to a bad start: Doom stood behind a banquet table in last month's final panel, but the opening splash finds him in an empty room a second later. I've heard of dine and dash, but that's ridiculous!

And why in the name of Stan's toup does VVD blast his own henchmen (p. #16) while scolding, "You should have realized before you approached the spies of my enemies..." What spies? What enemies? Maybe Ger knows, but the reader hasn't a clue.

And Darkoth, the purple, presumptive "death demon," frees the FF and tells them he's really Doom's former aide but "real or false...I am Darkoth and Doom must pay for the indignity he fostered upon me." For turning you into your heart's desire? That ain't normally grounds for betrayal, Koth, but it makes as much sense as the rest of this Z-grade cow plop.

I mentioned in my Spidey review that Gerry Conway strikes out a lot, but this is swinging at a pitch over the backstop.

Chris: My first thought was: poor decision by Doom to go out and leave the Death Demon in charge, which allows for a betrayal and rescue of Our Heroes. But then, I realized: since Doom is an incurable egomaniac, he expects his orders to be followed without reservation. So it’s more a fault of hubris than poor judgment. And we still don’t have the full story of how Darkoth came to be, do we? The Vibration Bomb doesn’t do much for me; strikes me as more of a Red Skull kinda ploy – sinister-sounding, but somehow easily foiled. Clearly, though, the device is capable of Manchurian Candidate-type results, to chilling effect. The FF is felled fairly easily, as Reed and Medusa are tripped up by a trap door (no time to stretch body or hair to safety -?), Johnny by a single finger-zot by Doom (the Torch undoubtedly slowed by a high-starch prison diet). How did Doom know where to find Johnny and Wyatt? Does Doom have operatives within the Mayberry – I mean, “Buffalo” – police force? The Sue/Franklin interlude is thankfully brief, especially since there’s nothing new to report. Hey – anybody seen Alicia?

Joe: Dr. Doom (greatest Marvel villain ever?), my fave Wyatt Wingfoot, Darkoth, Rich Buckler...what's not to love about this issue of FF? Great Kane cover, bang-up story, terrific action, all made this then-seven-year-old exclaim "Excelsior!" OK, not really but boy if this wasn't a rousing run of FFs for pre-teen me. If only the time to re-read the whole damn thing....

Chris: I’m sure we’ll all agree that the Buckler/Giacoia art is well short of the Sinnott-inked panels of #143. The art here is underwhelming throughout, with Doom sometimes looking like a cardboard cutout of himself. The Bond-villain underground big-science lab doesn’t quite fill up the two-page spread – it has an empty look through the middle, and Doom is somewhere all the way in the back (he’s the one in green, pointing). Wouldn’t it have been more impressive to show a view from Coach Thorne’s wife’s perspective, and present the room as it spreads out below the balcony? Buckler and Giacoia both have done better work elsewhere, and Sinnott will be back for the most of the rest of the decade, so there isn’t really a whole lot to worry about. I do like the panel on pg 23, as Doom anticipates his future glory. And Darkoth’s bristling antennae (on pg 32) provide another Kirby-worthy moment (with thanks to fnord for informing us [in his comment of 5/14/14] that Buckler was encouraged to “swipe” from Kirby).

Ghost Rider 4
"Death Stalks the Demolition Derby"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Jim Mooney and Vince Colletta
Cover by Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Esposito

Once more, the police pursue Ghost Rider across the desert at night. He gets past a roadblock, but is then chased by a souped-up dune buggy. He is followed up a corkscrew rock to a dead end at the top. He un-creates his fire bike and hides behind some rocks. The police are confused at his disappearance, but it is becoming daylight, and Blaze returns to his human form of Johnny Blaze, complete with injuries. He comes out of hiding and is taken to the hospital, leaving. Blaze’s girlfriend Rocky is convinced by the Carson City attorney general that if she can get Johnny to cooperate with him, all charges against him will be dropped. Concurrently, Johnny is approached in hospital by Dude Jensen, a stock car promoter, who makes him a similar offer, provided Johnny will work for him in the Demolition Derby. He happily accepts, so when Rocky makes it to the hospital, he spills his news first, prompting her to keep quiet with hers. Johnny goes ahead with the demolition derby. Meanwhile Rocky overhears that Jensen is running a criminal operation, including murder, and she is captured and held at gunpoint. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Non-stop action is the byword here. The desert car chase complete with dune buggy is a lot of fun. Jim Mooney’s art works well with Vince Colletta’s inks to create some memorable visuals. We’re set up for some Jensen/A.G. and Linda/Rocky conflicts next issue. It’s been years since I’ve been to a demolition derby, but I don’t remember ever seeing a flaming skull on a bike!

Matthew: I recoil reflexively when I see Colletta’s name, but since Mooney’s pencils often seem somewhat amorphous, and Vince is infamous for running roughshod over whatever he touches, the pairing isn’t too bad. It looks like Steranko compared to Gary’s story, wallowing in Johnny’s out-of-left-field triangle with Linda, who tried to kill him not long ago, and Rocky, who’s usually depicted as too level-headed and understanding to condemn him without hearing him out, but now seems trapped in helpless-female mode. Gary passes blithely over how Johnny “somehow manag[es] to keep secret his other identity”; I know what he means, but it sounds a little silly when he makes a living as the Ghost Rider, and how did he handle that in the hospital?

Chris: GR’s self-dialog during the obligatory chase scene (it’s as if I’m reading an episode of CHiPs) is tedious and distracting, particularly when you get worn-through nuggets like: “Good thing my luck’s all bad – “ [no no please don’t say it just leave it please Gary don’t don’t] “—otherwise I wouldn’t have any luck at all!” [uurgh – acghk – nn nnngh . . . ya got me . . .]. It seems that no one has spoken to Gary about how the self-explanatory captions and speech serve only to slow down the action (that’s right, Roy’s intern – I’m talking to you). Halfway thru the issue, I had to page ahead to see how much more wordiness there would be for me to wade thru – it was a lot. I’ll finish reading it later – well, maybe.

Why, exactly, is GR still concerned about being stopped by the police? How could they take him into custody – can’t he chase the cops away with a gust of hellfire? We know he can’t be injured by a bullet, so that’s also no threat. Johnny is intent to escape across the desert, until the dawn reverts him to still-injured Johnny, and he proceeds to give up immediately. Hey – what happens in Johnny’s hospital room when he’s there overnight – does Satan somehow forget to curse him back into GR? The Colletta-inked Mooney pencils aren’t nearly bad as I anticipated – how’s that for faint praise?

The Incredible Hulk 172
"And Canst Thou Slay... The Juggernaut?"
Story by Steve Englehart and Tony Isabella
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel
Cover by Herb Trimpe

General Ross is unhappy that Colonel Armbruster has captured and imprisoned the Hulk in a cell. Worried that the Hulk will eventually escape, Armbruster has overseen a new experimental time transporter, used to banish the Hulk into another dimension. The transporter works, but it ends up switching the Juggernaut from his dimensional exile into the Hulk's place. Not thrilled with being held captive, the Juggernaut also starts trying to pound his way out of the cell. The transporter is used again, in an attempt to send the villain back to his exile, but it malfunctions and ends up bringing the Hulk back to the base prison. The Juggernaut gives the Hulk a brief rundown of his history. Even though he doesn't trust him, the Hulk agrees to team up with the villain so that they can escape. With their combined strength, the duo are easily able to bust out of their confinement and defeat the army. The Hulkster leaps away to a mountain where he observes Juggy terrorizing a family traveling down the road. When the Hulk confronts him, the brief alliance the two had goes south and they start fighting each other. With both brutes evenly matched, the battle goes back and forth. It isn't until the Green Goliath almost gets his neck broken that he gains the upper hand. He grabs the Juggernaut by his helmet and spins him around in the air until the helmet piece becomes dislodged, causing the Juggernaut to fly into a mountain. The Hulk thinks the donnybrook is over so he journeys off. The story ends with the Juggernaut planning to attack Jade Jaws again, only to have the X-Men arrive and blast him into submission. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMilion: I'm a little surprised that this first encounter between two of the most powerful bruisers in the Marvel Universe was kept to an even contest, with the star of the comic not getting his usual clear cut victory. This was the early 1970's after all, and neither the X-Men nor the Juggernaut had yet received the high popularity that they would later achieve. Whether intentional or not, it was a good move in keeping the Juggernaut the powerful being that he is, one not easily defeated in a test of strength or physical fight. Strangely, it would be almost twenty years until these two would meet and fight each other again.

Matthew: On his site, Stainless says that his plot (scripted by Isabella) was credited to Roy, and I have no reason to doubt him; it certainly seems plausible, tying in as it does with Englehart’s use of the Juggernaut in Amazing Adventures and the X-Men in Avengers and Captain America. Yet just as with Trimpe’s pencils when filtered through Abel’s inks, Steve’s story seems to lose something in translation via Tony’s too-clever-by-far “cute” captions and his gobbledygook explanation of Juggy’s return. And even though Hulk refers to Dr. Strange as “dumb magician,” would he truly not have recognized Doc’s name among the foes enumerated by Juggy, and so known that, let’s say, the enemy of his friend was his enemy, not to be trusted?

The Amazing Spider-Man 129
"The Punisher Strikes Twice"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

The Punisher, a blue and white skull-garbed mercenary, shoots a plaster statue of Spider-Man with the villainous Jackal watching, all in practice for their plan to kill Spidey. Speaking of the web-swinger, he stops an armed robbery with a dazzling display of derring-do and brings the pics to JJJ at the Bugle, with a quick but welcome appearance by Betty Brant. JJJ of course wants more pics of the Punisher, who’s waging a war against the mob, so off Spidey goes—and soon the Punisher strikes with a concussion rifle blast! Spidey tracks him to a nearby rooftop, and the vigilante nabs him with a wire gun, but our hero breaks free, gaining the upper hand until the evil Jackal slashes his head from behind, causing Spidey to fall off the roof and manage to get away, but returns to see the wire gun was from Reiss Armorers. Back in his pad, Peter starts narrating his troubles out loud and sewing his ripped mask, with a close-to-cracking-for-good Harry listening from the apartment door! Quick aside to Prof. Warren asking MJ about Peter, who wonders if she even wants to see him. Punisher smacks the putrid Jackal over their philosophical differences and storms out, just in time for Spidey to go to Reiss Armorers—and Johnny-get-your-gun-on-the-spot Punisher attacks, blaming Spidey for killing Reiss, but Web-Head soon knocks him out! Noticing claw marks on the back of Reiss’ head, Punisher realizes the scum-bum Jackal is to blame—and needs to pay for what he did—but for now the low-life villain still swears to destroy Spider-Man!- Joe Tura

Joe: Thank the stars for Marvel Tales! This was one of those Amazings that I didn’t have in the beginning of my run, and man was it ridiculous to try and nab when I got older and started trying to fill all the holes in my Spidey, Avengers, FF and X-Men collections. But, Marvel Tales to the rescue for this teenager! A pretty damn nice cover starts us off, but did anyone expect the Punisher to become the phenomenon he was later on? Based on this issue, why not! He’s ruthless and methodical, is in it for the money yet has a “code”, and revenge is always in the forefront, even though we’re really not sure why. And The Jackal? Man, I hate him. Creepy, nasty, slimy, rotten, evil, etc. etc. Plenty more reasons to hate him in the coming months, too! Make that years, like 40 years!

Favorite sound effect is on the splash page as the Punisher shoots the Spidey statue with a “PUMPT” from his red concussion rifle. I don’t even have a good pun for this one, I just found it to be kinda cool for some reason! Second fave is “KRASSH!” as Punisher comes krassh-ing through a window to attack my beloved Spidey during the climactic battle, that we’re told is the climactic battle by Conway in his best Stan Lee caption-copying.

Future Spidey scribe/Marvel executive editor Ralph Macchio writes in this month’s “The Spider’s Web” about the “spiderly” talents of Gil Kane, his love of issue #124 even though he dislikes werewolf characters, and the “masterful” job by Conway on ASM. And I see the Bullpen Bulletin page gives a sneak peek at one of my all-time favorite Marvel things ever—the silly stamps that I stupidly cut out of all my comics! Sigh…And let’s not forget the back cover: Evel Knievel and his Stunt Cycle! Yeah!!!!!

Matthew: I presume this one merits landmark status for introducing both the Jackal, whose long-term influence on the strip will far outweigh his actual appearances, and the Punisher. Overall, this is a very good story with two very good villains (for the Punisher must be classified as such at this juncture), albeit ultimately mismatched, and drawn in the unmistakable Andru style. For me, the only faux pas is when the Jackal thinks, “If the Punisher is captured, he might tell Spider-Man about me…and the time is not yet ripe for the world to learn about the Jackal,” and then proceeds—in the very next panel—to announce himself to Spidey: “The Jackal’s claws dig deep…You’ll not soon forget this day!” Way to maintain a low profile, guy!

Mark: After punishing Spidey fans for several months, Kid Conway earns his way off the dartboard by introducing both Marvel's gun-toting vigilante, the as-yet unnamed Frank Castle, and the Jackal (the first Goblin knockoff, right down to green costume and slow, simmering reveal of his WTF secret identity, but it's a good copy, better, if memory serves, than Harry hopping on dad's glider). This taut one 'n' done tale also launches an extended subplot that will see the Jackal popping in and out of stories for the next 20 issues, a run that still reverberates to this day. Gotta give G.C. credit: he whiffs a lot at the plate, but his hot streaks made history.

Peter: My 40 year-old memories can play tricks on me. I remember some of the details of the end game of this long Jackal arc, but knowing how it ends and who he really is helps me to look for clues in Gerry's scripts. It's obvious Conway wants us to think The Jackal is Harry. My recollection is that (SPOILERS AHEAD!!!) Warren became the Jackal because the death of Gwen Stacy flipped his lid. Why then does The Jackal, at this point anyway, want to run the city's underworld? And, yeah, I know it's a comic book universe, but there's no way you can convince me that, underneath his business suit and lab smock, Professor Warren is as cut as The Jackal! Oh, and The Punisher? Nice way to handle this new character.There are only hints as to his past, no four-page expository to stop the action. That landmark is well-deserved.

Mark: Classic cover, looks like Kane and Romita. Inside, Russ Andru's slightly goofy style shows flashes of making the title his own. Dig the bouncy-house gymnastics on p. #6, Spidey flitting panel to panel until he lands atop a bus, bending over backward awkwardly to thwip! up the crooks with Russ's distinctive woozy, limp pasta webbing.

As for Dean Peter's assertion that Jackie is too buff to be Pr*f W##ren (no spoilers here!), surely a master criminal's clever enough to sew a fake six pack into his bad guy suit...and I think I just won a No-Prize!