Wednesday, November 26, 2014

March 1975 Part One: Giant-Sized Mega-Hyphened Super-Villain Team-Up!

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

Stan now drops the other shoe regarding “the new, cataclysmic changes in our editorial line-up. Effective immediately, I’m proud to announce the appointment of Lively Len Wein as Executive Editor of mighty Marvel’s greater-than-ever group of color comics! While with equal pride, I hereby acclaim Marvelous Marv Wolfman as Executive Editor of Marvel’s sensational series of black-and-white story-panel magazines! And, even before our heads can stop reeling from this cataclysmic communique, let me add that Len and Marv will be assiduously assisted by their newly-appointed managing editors, Marvel’s own Cheerful Chris Claremont and Dauntless Don McGregor!” Curiously, said announcement is made on the Bullpen Page, but not in his Soapbox.

Splitting the EIC position into two seems logical at this juncture, and will permit an orderly succession when Len later follows in Roy’s footsteps, Marv moves into his old slot, and Archie Goodwin replaces Marv. According to a follow-up item, “Len and Chris and Marv and Don will be bravely backed up by yet another two stalwarts; Sparkling Scott Edelman, former Associate Editor on our ever-burgeoning line of blockbustin’ British weeklies, has shambled several doors over to become the latest—easily the LARGEST—Assistant Editor our cavortin’ color comics line has ever seen, while Dave (The Dude) Kraft [of Man-Wolf fame] has assumed the title, not to mention the diligent duties, of Articles Editor for our bombastic black-and-white magazines.”

Childhood best friends, Wein and Wolfman were famously joined at the hip, sometimes to the detriment of other staff. “With the inseparable ‘LenMarv’ running things, Marvel could get two minds in perfect sync,” Sean Howe writes in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, then quotes Jim Shooter: “The story was that when Roy [stepped down as EIC], Len and Marv went together to Stan and told him that everybody hated Gerry [Conway], and if he hired Gerry, everyone would quit. And Stan decided, for whatever reason, to go with that theory, and he hired Len as editor in chief. And Gerry quit and went to DC.” Added Len, “It took me a year to understand why [Roy stepped down]: It was an impossible job. And as long as we kept doing that impossible job, they wouldn’t believe it was impossible.”

Meanwhile, on a purely personal note, this month marks another important step on the road to my total immersion in Marveldom, containing one of the last—and easily the largest—of those random “clusters” of issues presumably acquired by my older brother back in the day. Providing me with my single biggest snapshot to date of the Marvel Universe at a specific point in time (and setting aside the reprints Marvel Triple Action and The Human Torch), it encompassed a whopping eight titles: Avengers, Defenders, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Jungle Action, Marvel Premiere, Marvel Team-Up, and Thor. There would be only one more, and far smaller, cluster to follow in May before the seminal month of September, when it became a brand-new ballgame.

And now -- March 1975!

Amazing Adventures 29
Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds in
"The Hell Destroyers"
Story by Don McGregor
Art and Colors by Craig Russell
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Craig Russell

Killraven and his Freemen escape from the citadel of Death-Birth and the clutches of The Sacrificer and Atalon on the "Pneumatic Transplanter," saving Adam and Eve (who is starting to have contractions). KR operates the "Holographic Megaphone" to let all the captives know the alien masters are slain and they should flee. Volcana burns through the wall to search for her sister—one of the Eves—as Hawk bemoans KR's compassion for the Eve they've saved. KR uses the "Molecule Disruptor" to tear down the cage walls and chains, then Volcana finds her sister, her memory tragically wiped. Atalon rallies the Death Breeders and the Sacrificer vows to make KR pay. Then the Freemen find the Crucible Center—and the Crucible Guardians, who attack, but our heroes are too much for them, and KR uses an "ionic blade" to cut into the heart of the reactor, destroying Death-Birth! M'Shulla and Carmilla watch over the injured Grok—and almost kiss! But KR interrupts, and the band heads out on snow skimmers and mutant horse, followed by the Death Breeders until a supposedly trapped KR turns the tables and he and Volcana vanquish the evil ones. Yet Atalon still swears to get Eve's unborn child! –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Full disclosure, the first read of this one nearly put me to sleep. Literally. It's not a bad comic book, especially for this title, but there are just so…many…words. McGregor is fully caffeinated as he goes into more Martian backstory, gives us some nasty villains that are easy to root against, throws in a handful of wackily-named gizmos and advances the adventures of the Freemen, with a bunch of moments for each of the supporting cast. But do we need four—count 'em—four prose sections? No! But I'm not surprised the whole book wasn't prose. Russell does the best he can with the non-word balloon space, pulling double duty on colors and lending the book an eerie sci-fi look that pushes it above the usual Amazing Adventures mediocrity. Just so many words to read!

Mark Barsotti: Wow. I miss one small issue and Killraven takes a giant leap forward, progressing from a highly-pedigreed but unfocused, hit and (mostly) miss property to epic, Cinemascope SF. Don McGregor still waxes prolix at times, but gone are the corny breakfast cereal gags, replaced by Holocaust serious, slaughter-pen genocide, carried out by odious Martian collaborators (Craig Russell's Sacrificer is as scarifying as any villain of the era), opposed in page-turning, high stakes fashion by a cadre of scrappy rebels who are now far more three-dimensional, mid-battle, than they were, jaw-boning and trading insults, a few issues ago. Flashes of Kubert, Adams, Ditko & others in Russell's evolving, eye-popping graphics. Volcana Ash has grown from goofy-named eye candy to hellion Firestarter in two issues. My highest compliment to McGregor & Russell: I'm now compelled to backtrack and read the issue I missed.

Chris Blake: There’s nothing unexpected about the demise of Death-Birth.  But that doesn’t mean Don can’t weave in unexpected or unpredictable elements: Volcana’s inability to connect with Melonie; Killraven’s intense concentration on the workings of the fusion reactor (much to the Hawk’s frustration, which makes for another conflict between the two of them) during the fight with the Crucible Guards; Eve’s calm and patience as she’s experiencing contractions, as opposed to the usual trope of the panicked imminent-parents-to-be (which could be justified in this case, since they’re outdoors in wintertime) followed by the one-minute child delivery (as I’m sure many of us know, the time it takes for a child to be born can cut into both ends of a doubleheader).  

It’s interesting how, despite the dire predicament of the Freemen, Don is able to provide moments of levity in a non-forced manner; we don’t see a similar allowance for humor in Jungle Action.  Don gives us some more information about Grok, only to pull out the rug – we share M’Shulla’s disappointment.  As a fan of this title, can you imagine having to wait another two months in order to possibly learn who Grok is/was?
Russell’s art continues to shine, with Volcana’s attempt to reach Melonie a short standout sequence (p 10).  The destruction of the citadel also works, as we see a series of small bursts in its skin before the final, spectacular cataclysm (p 22).  Russell’s colors complement the art well, without dominating our attention. 

The Avengers 133
"Yesterday and Beyond..."
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum

At Avengers Mansion, Agatha Harkness is training the Scarlet Witch in the use of her powers as Wanda makes a chair come to life. Agatha cautions her never to relinquish control when harnessing the power, before informing her that the Avengers are no longer on Earth. They are, in fact, in limbo, being hosted by Immortus. He wishes to repay the Avengers for using them against Kang by showing the Vision and Mantis their “hidden pasts.” The Vision is sent back in time alone, since his past is too recent and can too easily alter their timeline. Mantis, however, can bring company, so the rest of the team goes with her.  As the Vision travels through time, the staff given to him by Immortus announces itself as being able to read the android’s thoughts and will guide him through his journey. He sees the creation and subsequent public rejection of the original Human Torch. The staff then takes Vision into time to the height of the Torch’s eventual popularity, a story we will see next issue. Meanwhile, Moondragon journeys to Earth, while awaiting her in Saigon is the unmasked hooded man: Libra, who still speaks with the specter of the Swordsman. Concurrently, Mantis and the team reach their destination: Hala, the Kree homeworld in their year zero.  They see the primeval Kree and the Cotati, intelligent, telepathic tree creatures. We see a Skrull ship arrive and give the two species a deal: representative groups from both will be taken to separate worlds and left to their own devices for a year. The group which has done the most for themselves in that time will be given knowledge and technology enough to advance in exchange for their loyalty to the Skrulls. The Cotati are taken to a more primitive world while the Kree are taken to Earth’s moon. After a year, they have built a wonderful, gleaming city. The impressed Skrulls return the Kree to Hala, after which they conclude a lack of reception by their countrymen to mean the Cotati will be judged more worthy. The Kree slaughter all of the tree people on Hala, which the Cotati on their world had allowed to grow into a beautiful garden. When told of the Kree barbarism, the Skrulls reject them from their list of favored worlds, and the Kree attack and kill the Skrull party. The Kree decide to take the captured Skrull spacecraft and kill all Skrulls they encounter as they become masters of the stars. Mantis wonders what all of this has to do with her, and is told that it has everything to do with the coming of the Celestial Madonna. They continue their journey… -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: I won’t deny this is fairly interesting, but it still feels like so much tap dancing. How many issues will they drag out these origins? I hesitate to look ahead, so I’ll just hope it’s not as long as all that. In the meantime, we learn the origin of the ruined city on the moon first seen in FF #13 way back when. I did sort of expect one of the Cotati to say “I am Groot.”

I find the Vision’s origin to be much more interesting so far, primarily because it seems to involve him directly, unlike Mantis, who is part of this epic saga, but seems so unrelated at this point. I found myself not really giving a flying trapeze. I’m much more interested in the origin of Mantis herself and less about the origin of the Kree/Skrull hatred.

Chris: I wasn’t looking forward to re-reading the Mantis and Vision origins (in part, because I feel I’m already familiar with their stories), but this chapter’s introduction to the basis for the Kree-Skrull conflict holds up well today.  It’s an ambitious bit of storytelling by Steve, especially as the recounting of Mantis’ story requires the other Avengers to do nothing but stand around and observe, without any action directly involving any of them.  I will quibble that Hawkeye’s Thing-like wisecracking is out of character, and a needless distraction.  

Chris: Also, the story sort of ends at an odd point, with no hook a’danglin’ for next month; I’m sure readers at the time were very intrigued, but the need to buy the next issue simply would be due to the fact that this issue lacked sufficient space to tell the whole Mantis story.  Wouldn’t it have made more sense to schedule the entire story for a giant-sizer?  That possibility had to have been considered, right?  I have to wonder why they didn’t pursue that option.
Matthew Bradley: On his site, Englehart notes, “I plotted [#132 and GS #3] but Roy scripted them so I could get ahead and write, well, the history of the universe and the history of the Vision simultaneously, in the midst of an action book racing toward Mantis’s finale.”  The March clusterpalooza—which comprises about half of the issues I’ll be reviewing this month—begins with a chapter in the Celestial Madonna saga that was well worth the wait and effort.  Although the serialization of the parallel Vision/Mantis origins meant that I saw only the beginning back in the day, many moments (e.g., the animated chair turning on Wanda; the Torch’s claustrophobia-inducing imprisonments; “Kill the Cotati!”) have been burned into my memory for four decades.

I’m giving the inaccurate Kane/Cockrum cover a pass, since it’s striking and symbolic, so my only real complaint is with Staton’s inking, which drags Sal’s art down somewhat, even if it didn’t bother me at the age of 11.  Otherwise, I am frankly in awe of this issue, demonstrating as it does how completely Steve has equaled Roy in his mastery of Marvel history and his ability to synthesize it into new wonderment, not to mention harvesting the seeds so carefully planted by both writers along the way.  Hawkeye provides some comic relief, and with the welcome return of Moondragon, we even get a little continuity with the current Captain Marvel; it’s probably no coincidence that Stainless is now writing both titles while relating the history of Mar-Vell’s race.

Captain Marvel 37
Story by Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom
Art by Al Milgrom and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

Learning from the Pyms that the Living Laser drew his power partly from a chunk of blue rock, which betrays the Lunatic Legion’s lunar origins, Mar-Vell heads for the moon, promising Rick—who dons a space suit for their obligatory three-hour changes—he will make his appointment with Mordecai and Dandy in Denver five days hence.  On the edge of space, he is attacked by Nimrod the Hunter, but senses that this agent of the Legion is a robot and destroys him.  In the Neg Zone, after his exo-skeleton enables him to smash Annihilus into a swarm of smaller beings, a bored Rick takes the “vitamin C” pill Dandy had given him; the bad trip that results leaves Mar-Vell easily captured when he confronts the Watcher in the Blue Area. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Between the Friedrich/Alcala bridge” and last issue’s reprint—whose cover was obviously meant to illustrate the story that ultimately appeared here, which may explain this one’s generic look—Mar-Vell has basically been treading water since Starlin’s departure.  So, whether you like the new direction or not, it’s nice to have the arc co-plotted by Englehart and Milgrom (Thanos War veterans, like Janson and “Orz”) truly underway.  Mind you, we don’t know much more about the Lunatic Legion than before, and the android/cyborg/robot confusion over the Living Laser persists, but the gang is clearly in there punching, so I’m willing to stay the course…not that I have much choice, since I’m committed to covering the rest of the book’s run!

Chris: Solid issue. The story feels a bit disjointed at times, even before Rick’s mind-trip infects Mar-Vell, as we have a succession of unexplained incidents: the sudden, brief battle with Nimrod; the disruption of Annihilus into tiny bits; and the Watcher’s attack. If Marv is cosmically aware, then why wouldn’t he anticipate the aggression from both Nimrod and Oatu?

Nice touch by Steve to have Marv plan for his 10-hr journey to the moon – if this were a Green Lantern adventure, GL would be there in an eyeblink. Rick’s rocker business is kept to a minimum, which is fine; the internal conversation, as Marv agrees to respect Rick’s privacy, works well. Milgrom & Janson realize the space-adventure illustration well, and the freak-out (p 26) is fine; it would be unfair of me to expect these two to match Starlin at any time.

Conan the Barbarian 48 
“The Rats Dance at Ravengard”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema, Dick Giordano and Dan Adkins
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Dick Giordano

On their way to Phalkar to deliver the amber cube to Themas Herklar, Conan entertains Stefanya with a story of his youth in Cimmeria, when he lost his virginity to Ursula, a ravishing priestess who ruled the mighty polar bears in the high mountains surrounding his village. After the tale is told, Conan and Stefanya are surrounded by the forces of Torkal Moh, Baron of Ravengard, who demands tribute. When the barbarian refuses he is overcome, tied to stakes and left to be ravaged by the giant rats of Ravengard. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: The lengthy adaptation of Gardner Fox’s 1970 novel Kothar and the Conjurer’s Curse continues. This installment is only nine pages, redrawn by Big John after they were lost in the mail during the creation of February’s issue. Conan’s memories of his childhood deflowering really don’t amount to much, as the expected attack by Ursula never arrives — he simply does his business and returns home with a smile on his face. The art is a little sketchy which is understandable since it was a redo. So, with nine pages left to fill the issue, we have:

Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Dick Giordano
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

Red Sonja rides through the Darkwoods, on the way to met her childhood friend Sigfal, he of the pure-gold earring. When her mount becomes entangled in a huge spider web, a giant tarantula slows approaches — but two Kushite warriors appear and free her, leaving the horse to be devoured. Sonja is brought to the castle of the aged Vincentius who drugs her with spiked ale. When the She-Devil awakes, she is tied on a slab next to a blond, bearded man named Hunwolf. Vincentius reveals that the unnamed gods he serves demand sacrifices of both a male and female, and Red Sonja will be the first. Just before the dagger finds it marks, Sonja manages to wrap her legs around the wizard’s necks and impales him with his own weapon. When the Kushites attack, Sonja and Hunwolf kill them. Hunwolf boasts that he already has treasure for them both, twirling a pure-gold earring around his finger. Red Sonja recognizes it as Sigfal’s and avenges her friend’s murder. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: Truth be told, I haven’t been that impressed by Red Sonja’s solo adventures so far. This one has superior art by the Buscema/Giordano team, but really nothing special. However, as a last-minute filler, it’s certainly better and more appropriate than an old Atlas reprint.

Creatures on the Loose 34
Man-Wolf in
Story by David Kraft
Art by George Perez and Frank McLaughlin
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by George Perez, John Romita, and Tony Mortellaro

Man-Wolf tumbles down a hill, narrowly escapes being hit by a freight train and hitches a ride—until two rednecks blow a bridge and the train careens off the track, with our leaping lupine again escaping death! Collapsing near a campsite, John awakes at dawn to travelers Joel and Mary, who take him in and ride through North Carolina as John remembers: after being arrested by Stroud, John convinced him to head back to his pad for clothes, then snuck out the window and drove off until the moon caused his transformation and tumbled down the hill and…the trio arrive at scenic Lakemont, Georgia where John takes a motorcycle ride and goes to Tallulah Gorge, where he's shot at! But the moon is up and Man-Wolf appears, soon brought down by a host of hunters, who have a nefarious operation that included blowing the bridge. Man-Wolf escapes but is captured again and the next morning the baddies are perplexed to see John. Flashback to NYC and Stroud angrily tells JJJ that his son has flown the coop, then back to Georgia where Joel distracts the hunters before they can toss John into the gorge. John takes off on the cycle, but Joel is killed by the head redneck, who follows John in Joel's van…until the moon rises and John changes!-–Joe Tura

Joe: A super cool cover starts us off, and it makes me wonder why I didn't have this one, as it's the kind of cover that would have been attractive to 8-year-old Prof. Joe. But alas, I did not. Inside, we get lots and lots of panels, sorta cramped as Prof. Matthew notes and that makes the two page spread so jarring it stops the book in its tracks a little. All in all, an OK issue with, as promised, no reprints but plenty of rotten Georgia rednecks to make up for it. Man-Wolf is particularly cranky here, with good reason as no one likes an evil hick, and we end on a nice cliffhanger that we "dare not miss" per the Mighty Marvel Marketing Machine. The only note that rang super false for me was Kristine calling JJJ "Papa Jonah". That seemed like the strangest thing in the whole book to me—and she says it twice!

Chris: Dave’s so intent to pour on the action that he doesn’t want to pause long enough to tell us what Boss Pegleg’s profitable, illegal activity – which requires a Bond-villain underground lair, complete with whirring gizmos and bubbling vats of deadly chemicals – is all about.  The ease of John’s complete escape from Stroud is a little hard to believe – is Stroud really dumb enough to fall for a “wait here, I have to look decent before I go to the hoosegow” sort of dodge?  Don’t get me wrong – I’m enjoying the faster pace, and the sense that Dave is leaving behind the somewhat-uneventful early chapters of this series.

Perez’s art is beginning to take shape, but for now, his future brilliance is only hinted at in a few moments of character posture and movement – for instance, the way Man-Wolf turns in surprise, his head and torso pivoting to the right and hands about to rise up, on p 19.  The Starlinesque small-panel sequence of cat-and-mouse on p 16 also comes off well.  It’s interesting that Perez got the nod to pencil the cover, for only his second issue of CotL – Romita must’ve seen something he really liked in this (pacesetting) newcomer.   

Matthew:  This one is a real mixed bag, despite the presence of the Pace-Setter (whose name is accented on the striking cover, inked by Romitellaro, but not inside); it’s a relief to see him embellished by McLaughlin instead of Janson, yet his panels are frustratingly cramped, except for the welcome two-page spread.  The murkiness we avoided in the artwork is transferred to the Dude’s story—note the “DAK-KOOM” sound effect in page 3, panel 8—although since that’s continued next time, the jury must fairly be regarded as out, and he has certainly managed to make Stroud a little less annoying.  On balance, however, I salute this refreshingly reprint-free issue, with which the new Kraft/Pérez team comes into its own, for getting it out of first and doing something.

Captain America and the Falcon 183
"Nomad No More"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Stan Goldberg
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Nomad is fighting a group of ridiculously clad toughs. One, the equally sadly named Gamecock, puts up a particularly hard fight. The conflict ends inconclusively, and Leila appears telling Nomad about the Falcon who seems to have gone missing. Nomad begins an arduous search, meeting disrespect and distrust along the way due to his “newbie” status. Finally, he runs into Roscoe, hanging upside down by rope and beaten to death. The Falcon is nearby, brutally battered but still alive. The Red Skull was furious over being duped by a child and killed Roscoe in anger, leaving Falcon behind to deliver the message that he wants to beat the real Captain America. Cap no longer wants to be Nomad. After some final soul searching, he realizes the failure was not that of America, but of himself for not realizing who his enemies were. Vowing never to be so blind again, Nomad is no more. In his place: Captain America! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: What would be an amazing story is completely sabotaged by laughable art. Blackhook and Gamecock are bad enough, but Nomad  looks like he’s got some kind of nervous disorder judging by the last panel on page 10. Roscoe’s murder is blunted by Frank Robbins’ ineptitude, which is a shame. We got to know the kid just long enough for his death to be effective. All of the other “wannabes” to Cap’s mantle we had to endure finally got their payoff here, but it doesn’t pack the punch it should (particularly since Nomad and Falc just leave the kid hanging there during Steve’s long monologue). No mention of cutting him down is made after that. “Thanks for dyin’, kid, but I’ve gotta get into costume.”  Steve’s soul searching is well written, but dull as dirt in a comic book, honestly. Two pages of Nomad standing around blathering on and on. However, the final full page panel of Cap back in his rightful costume is well done. Worth the trip, I guess.

Matthew:  Roscoe, we hardly knew ye…thank God, and that’s a big part of the problem:  based on our mercifully brief acquaintance, I found him stupid and annoying, so his death—which, as the catalyst for Cap’s return, should have been huge—left me at best indifferent and at worst relieved.  I so wanted to like this landmark issue, but as soon as I saw that splash page of Nomad dueling the Funky Chickens, who if possible looked even more absurd as rendered by Robbins, my heart sank like a stone.  By the time I reached what should have been the triumphant last page, with Steve finally back in his star-spangled duds, all I could think was, “It’s just not right that this moment belongs to Effing Frank, rather than Our Pal Sal.”

Mark: Cap's return after seven months of self-imposed post-Watergate exile should be a Big Red, White & Blue Deal. Instead the spur is the off-screen death of a character we barely knew, cared about less, but was obnoxious enough that some of your esteemed MU facility (I'm not naming names, Senator) would have fought the Red Skull for the knife. Steve E. crafts a Comeback Address for Steve R. so stilted and non-rousing that its makes the rube-baiting, red meat homilies of Sen. Ted Cruz seem downright Lincolnesque. And Frank Robbins' novelty appeal is fast wearing out its rubber-limbed welcome. A star-spangled dud.

Zero stars. Not even you, Alaska.

Daredevil 119
"They're Tearing Down Fogwell's Gym!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Bob Brown and Don Heck
Colors by Stan Goldberg
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Jim Mooney

Daredevil is ecstatic. Not only has he realized he belongs in New York, and he's got dinner plans with a healed Foggy Nelson and sister Candace, but Natasha, aka the Black Widow, is coming back to town soon. Candace, it turns out, is heading off as a star witness for a Senate committee to investigate the Ted Sallis papers. Matt pays a visit to see Pop Fenton, the man who has run Fogwell's Gym for years, since back when a certain Battling Murdock was a star fighter. Pop wants to make the gym a community sports centre, where kids can fight, but maybe learn something too. Matt sees that a friend named Kid Gawaine has become Father Gawaine. They need a lawyer's perspective: an ambitious young fighter named Juan Aponte has been the subject of a questionable experiment. When the body of the late villain the Crusher was recovered from the ocean, and handed over to scientist Dr. Jakelburr, he studied the Crusher's body in order to duplicate the strength-increasing process that created him. Juan is the guinea pig to try out the same process. It is achieving results, but with side effects, and a lawyer may be needed. When Jakelburr appears with Juan and some thugs, making sure his fight is going forward, the boy undergoes a transformation--into a newer version of the Crusher. He is very powerful, but after wreaking havoc, Juan's spirit comes through, and he returns to normal. The experiments have damaged him, and Juan dies in Pop's arms. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The Crusher is more of a pawn in this story than anything else. We get a chance to visit Fogwell's Gym again, and catch up with Pop Fenton and now Father Gawaine. Sadly, young fighter Juan Aponte meets a fate much like Matt's father. The revisited sadness isn't the only emotion however; Matt gets to feel some hope and joy at Natasha's decision to come to New York. The ride on the subway is a nice down to Earth touch.

Matthew: Wow. It’s hard to believe that after Isabella reviewed his Hornhead collection in readiness for this maiden effort, his muse grabbed him by the lapels and said, “Tony, we gotta go all the way back to #1 while revisiting that conspicuous clunker, #68, and throwing in a justly obscure Iron Man villain—with a lame twist!”  In short, WTF? Heck’s inks do an unusually brutal disservice to Brown’s work, making Don’s own pencils last ish look like Buscema’s, any Buscema’s, by comparison.  Perhaps worst of all, despite nominally being the second incarnation of the Crusher (in God’s name, why?), this heavy, in every sense, may as well be considered the third version of the Freak, making him a retread of a retread that didn’t need retreading.  “Ofah.”

Just another day in the color-blind Marvel Universe, homey.

The Defenders 21
"Enter: The Headmen!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Sal Trapani
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

In Cobbler's Roost, Vermont, the Valkyrie tries to understand her past as the woman Barbara Denton. She plans to go meet the husband she is told she has. In Westbury, Connecticut, the Hulk's enjoyment at watching children play backfires when parents misunderstand his intentions. In a neighbouring house, Dr. Arthur Nagan, and Jerry proceed with their experiments. Val and Stephen Strange return to his New York home, Nighthawk meets up with Trixie Starr and tells her his story, and the Hulk, now as Bruce Banner, stumbles into the Dr.'s home. Nagan and Morgan meet the one who will allow their chemical experiment to succeed: Chondu the Mystic. They inject the latter with their serum, which allows the psychic to unleash a "black rain" on the city that creates a temporary madness on all of the people it falls upon. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Steve Gerber has given us a few pieces of the puzzle here. Chondu, Morgan and Nagan are a trio of malcontents who seem to have more power than their intellects would warrant. Val's mystery continues, on the backburner for the moment. Hulk's scene with the kids is memorable.

Matthew: This is another cluster issue that got me in on the ground floor of something big, marking the debut as a group of the Headmen, who were among the defining characteristics of Gerber’s nascent run on the book, in what Doc correctly calls “but a prelude…to the weirdest menace we’ve ever faced.”  I say “as a group” because, Steve being Steve, he has plucked its members from three pre-FF horror stories, all reprinted in December’s Weird Wonder Tales #7:  Nagan (Mystery Tales #21, September 1954), Morgan (World of Fantasy #11, April 1958), and Chondu (Tales of Suspense #9, May 1960).  For good measure, he adopts as a recurring character Trixie—now Trish—Starr, last seen in Marvel Feature #5, although I had no inkling of that then.

Steve makes a memorably tasty stew out of these ingredients, seasoned by the perfect pairing of the two Sals, sadly their only collaboration on this title.  Having dabbled in prior plotlines with his first monthly issue, he begins staking out his own characteristically offbeat turf, combining the settings of Connecticut, Vermont, and Manhattan, respectively the primary, secondary, and former homes of the Bradley clan.  Already, Gerber’s grasp on the characters is rock-solid—built on the core quartet bequeathed to him by Wein, yet still allowing for him to vary the mix with a guest-star, as he will once again in the next GS issue—while the photo album that fleshes out the story of Val’s past, to which Mrs. Lafferty’s outburst adds another ominous note, is a nice touch.

Chris: Steve wastes no time as he establishes the Defenders as another title where just about anything can happen.  The Headmen, as Doc observes, might be “the weirdest menace” any super-group has ever faced.  This title has some of its finest moments when the non-members have time, as they do in this issue, to be involved with their own concerns: Val continues to search for answers; Nighthawk chastises himself for his feelings for Val, only to reunite with Trish Starr; the Hulk single-handedly disrupts one family’s dream of suburbia.  The three-page Westbury sequence has its moments of humor and poignance, as we share the Hulk’s quiet enjoyment of the kids’ play, then see how easily the whole thing can come apart – once again – for the long-suffering green goliath.  How like the Hulk to recognize that puny humans tend to be upset – and to attack – for no reason, which in turn infuriates him, while a child’s distress prompts him to reflect and acknowledge the harm he might have caused.  If Steve hadn’t been so busy writing a half-dozen other titles, can you imagine what he might’ve brought to the Hulk’s own title?  I like Sal + Sal on the art, especially their depiction of the Hulk’s emotional reactions during his Westbury encounter.  

Fantastic Four 156
"Middle Game!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Len Wein
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

Doctor Doom has enlisted the aid of the Silver Surfer to destroy the Fantastic Four. Somehow he has the Surfer's beloved Shalla-Bal under his control, with her as his bride! While the Surfer cannot bring himself to destroy the Fantastic Four, he delivers them to Victor in a trance. While the spacefarer could match Doom for power, the trump card is Shalla-Bal's safety. Doom returns his four foes to confinement in a way that negates their powers to escape, while the Surfer sits in a chair with a sympathetic (remembering?) Shalla-Bal beside him. Little does he know that the chair is studying his powers to learn and duplicate them. The FF manage to break loose by destroying each others' shackles, only to find the Doom they face is a robot. The real deal gets ready to unleash the power he has been stealing from the Surfer. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The artwork here (Bucker/Sinnott) is outstanding, and perhaps the highlight of another Dr. Doom installment, none of which are too bad. Shalla-Bal's returning memory--if it's that--seems to be gaining some sympathy for the Surfer, which may aid him next month. The chess pieces are a nice symbolic little bit, in an issue that may not break much new ground, but has a lot of fun attempting it.

Scott: Doom’s got trouble. On Page 6, second panel from  the bottom, his iris is popping out of his eye. The first 7 pages are made up primarily of recaps. Over on 26, Buckler gives us a massive 2/3 page panel of the Thing leading the charge and all Roy Thomas can put in there is a lame “London Bridge” thing? It really took the excitement out of it. A middle chapter in this saga and as such there is less forward motion than I would have liked.

Matthew: Aptly, this cluster issue coincides with Roy’s return (he shares credit with Len as “writers/editors,” but he is curiously omitted on the MCDb), a two-year stint that within a few months will encompass what is probably my favorite Bronze-Age run on this title…although that might be faint praise indeed!  They “originally discussed this three-part battle royal between the FF, Dr. Doom, and the Silver Surfer back when [Roy was EIC].  Later, when Len took over, he suddenly found that he was up to his blue pencil in editorial chores and had to ask Roy to bail him out by finishing off parts two and three…Since Roy was slated to start scripting the FF again with issue #158, he simply got into harness a couple of issues early,” as they note in the lettercol.

Well, this is certainly an effective harbinger of things to come, as I don’t know when I last enjoyed an issue of the FF so much, and for me, at least, it’s a return to form for Dr. Doom, with the nice detail that he relishes playing the puppet-master and manipulating the Surfer as much as he did wielding the latter’s power cosmic himself.  Contributing factors include Reed’s correct assumption that Doom would rather toy with them (in those neat customized restraints) than just obliterate them out of hand, and that FF chess set I thought was so cool as a kid; I also vividly remember Ben’s reference to Reed as “yer egghead brother-in-law.”  The Buckler/Sinnott team has never looked better, from that socko cover to the raw power of the Thing in page 26, panel 4 (below).

Mark: "Don't know what turned you against us, Space-Man," Johnny says as we open. The Torch instantly forgetting the Surfer's seconds-old Doom-has-Shalla-Bal explanation doesn't bode well. While Doom plays chess with his Mego action-figures, the zonked-out FF are delivered to Latveria by Surfie, now apparently a master hypnotist. The dungeon escape is re-nuked leftovers, turkey ten days after Thanksgiving. Ben's new WTF battle cry, "It's about that time!" sounds like the Bard compared to Johnny's, " swell foop!" Only Roy being distracted/distraught over his recent abdication as editor could have led to this botch.

Pretty pictures, though.

Chris: Outstanding!  The promise of #155 carries-over into this chapter, which bristles start-to-finish with classic FF excitement; it’s easily the best of the past 15-20 issues.  (I had forgotten that Len never really had a chance to take over this title – if these two issues are any indication, it looks like we’ll be in good hands – once again – with Roy.)  Doom is crackling with menace, as he snarls over his chessboard, and faces down the ever-dignified Norrin Radd.  Can you imagine slapping the Surfer across the face?  Very effective sequence, as (over three panels on p 11) the Surfer composes himself, before he strikes back to send a message to his despotic tormenter – but is careful not to endanger his chance of reuniting with the still-vacant Shalla-Bal.  

The art is so unusually good that I had to go back and verify that John Buscema had not snuck in to provide a fill-in for this chapter (no offense to Buckler, but hey, Buscema is Buscema).  Every page has a panel or two that’s worth an admiring second-look.  It’s not just the big broad stuff, either – for every poster-worthy frame like the Thing in full bull-rush (p 26, pnl 4), you get moments like Norrin carefully reaching up to touch Shalla-Bal’s hand on his shoulder (p 17, pnl 3).  If I’d owned this comic as a youngster, I would’ve re-read it twenty times.  At least.  

The Frankenstein Monster 15
"Tactics of Death!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik and Klaus Janson
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

The Frankenstein Monster, and his pals, former gang member Ralph Caccone and private dick Eric Prawn, are threatened by a man code named Cardinal and his henchman, the eloquent Zandor ("Zandor Kill! Much Fun!"). Cardinal has been ordered by the organization he represents, ICON (International Crime Organizations Nexus), to bring The Monster back to their laboratory for research. The terrorist group want to study our patchwork hero to create an army of intelligent, but really ugly, super soldiers (ICON desires "an army of hideously deformed soldiers, an army whose very appearance will obliterate all resistance on a psychological level."). Zandor and the Monster tussle and Prawn manages to escape. Cardinal eventually gets the upper hand though when he promises to blow Ralph's brains all over the Monster's mohair suit and the group moves to ICON's super secret laboratory. Meanwhile, the clone creature (see last issue if you're confused... well, wait a minute, I saw last issue and I'm confused) tracks the Monster to the lab, seeking revenge for the pain inflicted on him by the Baron's creation. The creature busts in just as a machine gun-toting Eric Prawn reappears to save the day. Clone creature is ostensibly destroyed with a tusk-busting right upper cross and a pelvic thrust. ICON lab goes up in smoke. Eric Prawn shows his true colors when he reveals to Ralph that he's there to take the Monster to Switzerland and, if Ralph gets in the way, he's prepared to ventilate the misguided youth. -Peter Enfantino

Feets don't fail me now!
Peter Enfantino: WTF? WTF? WTF? Just when you think this bottom of the scum bucket series can not get wackier/worse, up pops this chapter. Not content to rest on monster rallies, writer extraordinaire (SARCASM alert) Doug Moench decides to shift gears and turn The Frankenstein Monster into a quasi-espionage book with its very James Bond-ian ICON and its elaborate scientific fortress. At least Cardinal didn't have a scar across his eye and fondle cats. There are far too many loose threads clashing here (clone-monster, gumshoe with a devious plan but a heart of gold and, oh yes, there's the matter of the titular character who does quite a bit of standing around and not much more) but Doug feels the need to end this chapter with yet another sub-plot, the upcoming meeting with the daughter of Frankenstein. With all this going on, you'd be expected to forget all that's happened in previous issues so Doug is kind enough to include perhaps the wordiest exposition ever presented in four colors. Moench Delectable Prose of the Issue:

Stark pandemonium grips the witnesses to this thrashing ballet of blistering carnage... and they flee in raving terror. They flee, as the gleaming appurtenances of science, industry and electronics erupt in weltering gouts of hellish flame.

You're welcome.

Chris: I enjoyed this issue in spite of myself.  I’m sure it helped that I went in with lo-o-o-o-o-w-est of expectations, based on the past several issues.  At least we’re getting back to the idea of the Monster being capable of independent thought, as he wallops Tor Johnson—sorry, I mean Zandor, then breaks off the assault when useless Ralph winds up on the wrong end of a gun.  Doug ably keeps us informed of the stalker’s whereabouts, and its motivation to inflict harm on the Monster; the stalker’s timely arrival spares us from what surely might’ve been another whole issue devoted to the super-zombie army plan, as the highly flammable warehouse-laboratory is consumed in a few panels. 

The true saving grace is inspired art by Mayerik & Janson, who dish out the best-looking issue of this title since Ploog’s departure.  The Monster is expressive when the story requires it (surprised and then resigned on p 6; surprised and enraged, quickly breaking free of his bonds on p 17); the “clone creature” and the tube-bodies are unreal and gruesome in their own ways.  Page 22-23, top right panel, is my favorite moment, as the coldly-determined Monster slams the creature hard enough to fracture its tusks.  Nice.
Peter: Our random reprint this issue is the horrendous "The Shadow" (taken from Suspense #10, September 1951), more proof that pre-code horror could be just as tame and lame as post-code horror.  My vote for letter writer of the year goes to Ohio's Mark Spirit, who calls for the cancellation of a once-great series. Rather than paraphrase, I've reprinted Mark's well-thought out but not well-received missive below.

Letter of the Month

Giant-Size Dracula 4
"Let It Bleed"
Story by David Kraft
Art by Don Heck and Frank Springer
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

In the year 1939, a small town in North Dakota is under a horrific spell that draws Count Dracula to its source.  Aboard a steamship, Drac meets a beautiful woman named Beverly. She is also on her way to the town where her father lives and works on their farm.  Something is not right with him as he succumbs to murderous impulses.  First he crushes a bird in his hand, then he stabs the family dog to death with a pitchfork. When he seeks the counsel of a priest, the two begin to attack each other.  This is just the beginning of the madness as the whole town seems to be under some trance that makes them bloodthirsty.  Beverly is kidnapped by her father and husband and they take her down a well that leads to an underground layer beneath a mountain.  The Count is able to locate her and the evil power that had drawn him to America.  A giant pulsating heart is what has been controlling the town and its people.  It commands its minions to attack, but Dracula easily defeats them.  Beverly is stabbed by her father with a knife and she dies.  The monster heart begins to bleed out and disintegrate, happy that its taste for death has been finally satisfied. Before it perishes, Drac learns that the grotesque being was once a Native American necromancer.  The story ends with Beverly's father committing suicide after Dracula refuses to help him die. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion:  Very dark stuff for the 1970s era.  This issue gives us a great Dracula adventure that plays like an H.P. Lovecraft story.  Usually, an evil giant heart would be a laughable monster, but when you have a tale that builds up to it with an older man crushing a bird to death, and killing his own pet dog, a giant ear or nose would still be creepy.  Dracula's flashback stories are always welcome since they seem to have a more gothic atmosphere.

Chris: Dark, dark story from Dave the Dude.  It’s more than half a stretch that Drac would sail the sea and travel over more than half a continent (with his coffin-shaped “trunk,” no less – try getting that thru customs) to check out this perceived threat.  But the story is effectively creepy enough that I’m willing to play along.  The sequence of the dead and possessed townspeople bearing Beverly’s unconscious form thru a driving rain is very effectively done.  Heck’s art is better than usual, but Drac himself doesn’t come off well, looking more bored than haughty, or menacing.

The letters page acknowledges the average fan’s dissatisfaction with “deathless reprints,” and promises all-new material for the next issue.  Well, good timing guys – that’ll be the last one.  Although, I hear there’s this Canadian newbie with a story due for publication in that issue.  
Peter: Speaking of reprints, the moldy oldies we get this issue include: "Forbidden Drink" (Mystic #2, May 1951); "The Gargoyles" (Tales of Suspense #46, October 1963); "I Am the Living Ghost" (Tales of Suspense #15, March 1961);  and "You Can't Escape" (Adventures into Terror #6, October 1951).

Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu 3
"Fires of Rebirth"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy and Vinnie Colletta
Colors by Bill Mantlo
Letters by Tom Orzechowski and Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott 

Shang-Chi accepts a car ride from a man who had presented ID, identifying him as an emissary from Sir Denis; S-C curses himself for a novice when a sliding glass panel traps him in the back seat.  S-C forces his way out feet-first via the roof, and spins safely away from the car crash.  Prior to evading police, S-C retrieves a dragon amulet from the driver – he recognizes it as belonging to the Phansigars, an East Indian assassin cult.  S-C decides to inform Sir Denis of this development; at the agent’s Central Park West townhouse, S-C is introduced to Clive Reston, another of Sir Denis’ trusted associates.  Shang and Reston fight off an attack by Phansigars, after they are surprised by the assassins’ defenestrative entrance.  Reston and S-C meet with Sir Denis in London, where they learn that there has been a series of attacks on holdings of oriental art, with Phansigars leaving their amulet as a calling card on the bodies of murdered guards.  In addition, Sir Denis confides to S-C that he has received an unconfirmed lead that suggests Dr Petrie might still be alive.  S-C foils a later attack, and takes one of the assassins captive; interrogation provides one useful bit of intel: Fu Manchu next will strike at Buckingham Palace.  Sir Denis decides that his team should position themselves at the palace; on their way, their car is attacked, but as S-C sprints after the assailant, another – Fu’s prime agent, the Shadow Stalker – KO’s Black Jack, and abducts Sir Denis.  Fu’s next attack does come at the palace, as expected, except – when S-C pursues one of the Phansigars, he finds a passageway that leads deep into the palace itself.  As S-C is processing this, he is barely prepared to discover the imprisoned (still alive) Dr Petrie himself!  Fu appears, and explains that he had captured Petrie so that he could interrogate him, and substituted a non-living “creation” in Petrie’s place.  Fu requires S-C to fight for his life, but promises death for Sir Denis regardless of the outcome.  S-C bests the Shadow Stalker in single combat, while Reston’s timely arrival prevents the execution of Sir Denis, and requires Fu to make his exit.  Petrie reveals that Fu’s campaign was directed toward the recovery of a small statue, which had been filled with Fu’s irreplaceable elixir vitae.  S-C says nothing, but reflects on how the statue had been shattered, and its contents lost, during the fight at Sir Denis’s New York home, at the start of the whole affair.  -Chris Blake

Chris: Whew – and I’m trying to go with a concise summary here.  I’ve had to leave out all sorts of details about the terrific fight sequences, plus Shang’s latest showdown with his diabolical father.  Well, that’s what can happen when a giant-sizer lives up to its promise, and offers a 40-page original story.  Of course, Doug & Paul could’ve spread this across two regular-sized issues, but the extended format provides an opportunity to build up momentum, without having to force a stopping-point in the middle.  The longer issue also allows for either greater length to fight sequences, or a greater number of them – this issue opts for some of both as there are seven different outbursts of fighting, plus one instance that is devoted to its own 6-page section (“Chapter III”). 
I’ve made no secret of my disparagement of Colletta’s inks, but he seems to bring his Captain America form to these pages, rather than the approach that has impeded my enjoyment of recent issues of Werewolf, Daredevil, and slightly older issues of Thor. The art doesn’t begin to flag until the last few pages, but by then, it’s built up enough good will that I don’t mind the lapses as much as I might’ve if they’d been there from the start.  The recollection sequence (p 22) is very effective, as is the interrogation (p 36), with intercutting of narrow panels to add to the tension.  The battling throughout “Chapter III” (p 26–34) is another highlight, with p 31 pnl 2 (below) a particular favorite. 

Chris: Jack Kirby drops in to provide art for these two reprint chapters of Yellow Claw, which involve Jimmy Woo foiling an attempt by the Claw to warp reality with hypnotized mutants who have been trained to maximize their brain power, and Jimmy’s attempt to use his budding relationship with Claw’s niece, Suwan, to locate Claw’s hidden headquarters.  They’re quick little ditties, but they lack the atmosphere that Maneely was able to provide in his earlier installments. 

Mark: Another 40 page tour de force performance by Paul Gulacy (but a title-wide moratorium, please, on victims strapped to mad scientist gizmos in crucifixion pose), effectively & unobtrusively inked by the oft-castigated Vince Colletta. I've spun endless superlatives over Gulacy's work, so I'll simply encourage students & staff, even if you hate chop-fooie as a genre, to request a digital copy from Our Dean and ogle the art. Doug Moench also ups his game, introing obnoxious but entertaining special agent Clive Reston, and revealing that Professor Petrie, presumably killed by Shang, way back in Special Marvel Edition #15, is still alive. Mix in an assassin with maces affixed to his top knot and a subtle sub-plot involving Fu's serum of immortality, and MOKF is setting the artistic pace for the Giant-Size titles, and by a wide margin.  

The Amazing Spider-Man 142
"Dead Man's Bluff!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita

Spider-Man dives down to get a look at the submerged Spider-Mobile, wondering if he's going nuts, until Mysterio appears on the pier! Spidey passes through him, then the ill-mannered illusionist vanishes when our hero webs him! Back in his new unfurnished Chelsea crib, Peter calls Aunt May as MJ pops in, then he whips the phone into the wall when he sees a vision of The Kingpin! At the Bugle, JJJ literally kicks up his heels after getting a phone call, right before Peter and MJ arrive to get the news that Ned and Betty are getting married. Getting off the elevator, Peter spots someone who looks like Gwen and he goes running after her! Thinking it's a Mysterio illusion, an angry Spidey sets out to find the diabolical domed one, having discovered the image inducer planted on his costume. Tracking Mysterio to his lair, Spidey stops every trick he has in the bad guy book and discovers he's really stunt man Danny Berkhart, who used to work with the old Mysterio. In the Epilogue, Berkhart calls JJJ—who hired him to destroy Spidey—promising to spill the beans unless the publisher gets him a good lawyer. –Joe Tura 

Joe: Much like back in 1975 itself, reading Amazing Spider-Man is a breath of fresh air for this faculty member. From the always-interesting characters to the nifty art to the action, suspense and all-around good feeling I get seeing my favorite hero on the page, there's nothing I don't like about this title every month. And this issue is no exception: Gerry moves things along nicely, JJJ eats some humble pie, Ross turns in the usual fine work, we get some new drama and supporting cast moments. But I'm left with some questions. Did we really need to see an illusion of The Mindworm? No! Is it me or does Aunt May, on pg 10, look like Norman Bates' mom as she's talking to Peter on the phone? Note the misspelling of "scary" on pg 22 ("scarey"), but is that due to letterer Joe Rosen? Where is my Artie?

Best sound effect of the ish is a tie. "SPRIIP!" is a new one even for Marvel, as Mysterio tries to use the drug mist on Spidey but is thwarted quite nicely. And the other is "SPRANNGG!" when Peter throws his telephone at the Kingpin illusion, with nary a crack in sight to the wall it smashes or the phone. Ma Bell made good stuff back then!

Scott: Is there a reason to keep mentioning (and drawing) the Spider-Mobile if they never do anything with it? Last issue, “yesterday,” it went into the drink. This issue, Spidey takes a rope and swims down…and does nothing. He doesn’t attach the rope to anything, nor does he mention not being able to haul it back up. Not for anything, a car underwater for a day or so should be pretty well unsalvageable. And once again, Spidey gives no credit for building the car to Johnny Storm. We all know the car sucks. Can’t we just forget it…? Over on page 10, Aunt May looks positively sinister. And if we learn anything in this issue, it’s never to tell MJ a secret. It’s really no mystery who the girl in the boots and overcoat is, but let’s just drag this out issue after issue.

Matthew: “Don’t it make my hazel eyes blue…”  Is it so much to ask that after 142 issues—or 143, if you count Amazing Fantasy #15—Marvel should know what one of its most famous characters looks like?  Not only does Linda Lessmann miscolor Peter’s eyes, but Gerry actually has MJ address him as “blue-eyes.”  Oh, silly me, this is the mag where they can’t remember how to spell Liz Allan’s name half the time.  And that’s two consecutive issues with the Spider-Mobile on the splash page; let’s not push it, guys.  Meanwhile, first shots fired in the Clone Wars (and we’ll have more on that story as it develops), Mysterio Mark II (was the taking-on-your-cellmate’s-identity shtick as old helmet, er, hat back then as it is now?), yada yada yada.

Mark: The pleasures here are on the margins: Ross depicting Aunt May's daytime soap habit; M.J. & Glory's passive/aggressive sparring over up-for-grabs Mr. Parker ("Glory. Cute Name." M.J. Spiffy tag."); Jonah's heel-clicking ass-plant; Betty & Ned's engagement. Such slice of life details have always made ASM special, redeem it when - as here - the web-fluid goes flat. A con inheriting dying Mysterio's gig is a direct lift from the new Vulture saga (ASM #48-49), Fishbowl's takedown & J.J.'s sponsorship paint-by-numbers yawners. Kid Conway's one plot-lure (which readers are encouraged to chalk up to Mysterio's mind-games. Nifty misdirection, Ger) that will land a trophy fish: the glimpsed-from-the-back blonde who has Peter dashing through the streets.

Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up 1
"Encounter at Land's End!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, and Johnny Craig
Colors by Janice Cohen and Marie Severin
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

 Plummeting from space after the explosion that ended his battle with Darkoth, Dr. Doom is floating near death, his automatic force field almost exhausted, when he is retrieved and revived by Namor aboard his imperial flagship.  Embittered against the surface world, Namor reminds him of their meeting in Sub-Mariner #20 and Doom’s statement that “we are natural allies!”  He proposes conquering various coastal cities, but Doom recalls that their encounters and his enforced partnership with Diablo in Marvel Super-Heroes #20 resulted in betrayal, and concludes that any such alliance must end the same way; Doom decamps rather than battle with his powers at a low ebb, yet Namor vows they are destined to fight side by side... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Like last year’s Giant-Size Defenders #1, this is devoted largely to flashbacks with new material relating an “untold story” that happened earlier, and therein lies a tortuous tale that unfolds in an editorial by Roy, who wrote or-co-wrote both reprints and was reunited with Subby artist John Buscema on the ten-page framing sequence, inked by Joe Sinnott.  Its primary raison d’être is to connect the dots between Fantastic Four #144 and 155, replacing a sequence omitted by penciler Rich from this month’s ish to explain how Doom survived his seemingly fatal plunge.  Both this and Marvel Two-in-One #2 are said to have occurred shortly after Sub-Mariner #69, but in what order is not stated; I would place this second, because Namor did not seem so vengeful in MTIO.

Chris: Doom is able to design a force field that can resist atmospheric re-entry burn, protect him from a fall into the ocean at speeds of several hundred miles per hour, and then keep him afloat? That’s some technology (“Hah! I’d like to see the pitiful Richards design anything half as remarkable!” All right, Vic, pipe down).

So we’re told how Doom gets here, but not Namor. This is supposed to be taking place after Sub-Mariner #67, when Reed helps save Namor’s life by designing his new suit, and before the horsepucky events of FF #149, when Namor effectively tricks Reed and Sue into reconciling. If we are to understand that Namor’s thinking vis-à-vis the FF has been positive of late, then why would he even consider resorting to seek help from Doom to revive his dormant citizens, when clearly he could expect help from Reed without there being strings attached (i.e., the promise of Atlantean forces to conquer coastal cities)?

I really like the concept, and Doom is one of few Marvel villains who could make this sort of series work, but the basic premise in the first issue simply doesn’t work; I wonder whether we find out more in the next issue about Namor’s need to take this desperate position, rather than opt for a sensible route. One thing I seem to remember is that this leads to a lengthy Hydrobase-based storyline that carries on for far too long.