Wednesday, January 28, 2015

July 1975 Part One: The Avengers Welcome The Beast On Board!

The Avengers 137
"We Do Seek Out New Avengers!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Charlotte Jetter
Cover by John Romita

The Avengers head home, now a few members shy of a full roster; the Swordsman is dead, Mantis and her tree husband have departed, while Wanda and the Vision have gone off on their honeymoon. Agatha Harkness remains with the team, proclaiming that Wanda was not as destined for greatness as she once presumed, but she will be “very good” at sorcery (a C student to be sure). The remaining Avengers turn their attention to finding new members to replenish their ranks. Iron Man nominates Moondragon, who accepts. Thor suggests asking former Avengers to rejoin, but the Black Panther is (I think) too busy with problems in his homeland and Quicksilver is too bitchy and racist about Wanda marrying an android. Cap is too busy with the Red Skull, the Black Widow is still working out her love life and Hercules likes his bachelor's taste for freedom (apologies to George Lazenby). However, the Wasp, itching to get back into action, accepts. She, along with her hubby, now named Yellowjacket, arrive shortly thereafter. Yellowjacket suggests putting out the word they need new members, but Hawkeye is still focused on the past and decides to go ask the Black Knight, who still lives hundreds of years in the past. Finally, the rest of the team meet the Beast at Yankee Stadium and accept his application for Avengerhood. At that moment, they are ruthlessly attacked by The Stranger, who sends “hover mines” at them. Thor is knocked out, then Iron Man. Finally, the Wasp takes a hit. The Beast uses his superior agility to dodge the mines and shut down their power source. Frustrated at his failure to destroy the team, the Stranger attacks Moondragon, who succeeds in driving him away. The new members have acquitted themselves well and while the future is in doubt, the new team has passed their first test. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Well, now that previous “Beast story” fill-in issue choice makes sense. After a series of truly horrific issues, the winds of change give us something somewhat better. Or maybe I’m just in a good mood. George Tuska and Vince Colletta handle the art chores and they’re not bad, especially after Don Heck’s scribbling in the previous Giant- Size issue. Hawkeye is suddenly annoying as hell again. After a few issues of actually growing up, he’s back to being argumentative and petulant and, frankly, pretty one-note. Seeing Wanda in a bikini was nice, but I couldn’t get over the absurdity of seeing the Vision in a Speedo. Hank and Jan make a welcome return to the team, which in itself is enough to raise this issue to a higher bar. A relief after so long a dry spell.  Oh and what the hell was the Black Panther saying? “The fine fools' gold of stark velvet morning seems to light the mottled tapestry of desire and disaster that comprises the legend of life for my people and myself..etc..” I mean, it was this hideous, two balloon long run-on sentence so twisted and confusing that Thor has to think “nay” for us dullards to understand WTF the guy just said! Wow…

Matthew Bradley:   It's worth noting that Hank has used the Yellowjacket i.d. on and off since #59, and more often than not (with the exception of his abortive reversion to Ant-Man in Marvel Feature).  As subsequent issues will show, Moondragon and Beast will not be formally considered new members for some time.  And although non-readers of Jungle Action may not be in on the joke, Stainless is affectionately (I presume) spoofing Don McGregor's prolix scripting in the Panther strip there.

Chris Blake: Thoroughly chatty issue.  It takes us the entire first half (which includes some needless sparring between Hawkeye and Yellowjacket) until we finally reach the highly-questionable, Defenders-style “come one, come all!” open audition at Yankee Stadium (good thing they didn’t pick Shea – didja hear there’s a Hydra base under there -?).  Another blundering response to an attack, as – for some reason – the Avengers approach the floating mines (which really could’ve had “Acme” printed on the sides) singly, instead of (call me crazy) taking 20 seconds to devise a team-oriented counter-play.  Is there any reason why Moondragon is just standing there for the first three pages of the mine-challenge – maybe she could’ve used her highly-trained psychic powers to flush out the voice behind the curtain (I mean, hiding up in the stands), hmmm?

Despite his origins as an X-Man, the blue-furred Beast to me is an Avenger, so I’m glad to have him aboard.  I hope we won’t be seeing too many “master of disguises” moments though – I’m eternally grateful that, starting with his re-introduction here, the Beast will be able to (literally) become more comfortable in his own skin.  

Chris: I make no secret of the fact that Tuska/Colletta ranks up there among my all-time least-favorite art teams, regardless of the title.  The fact that Marvel could offer no better than this pairing for four consecutive issues, to me, is pitiful.  My objection to inferior art in the Avengers always comes back to the same point: this is supposed to be one of Marvel’s flagship titles.  I will credit the artists for being able to depict the Beast with a different appearance for every frame – that should stand as some sort of achievement.  Guys – you nailed the Beast’s look on page 18, panel 1 (right) – I mean, you got that sly, jaunty look just right.  If you aren’t sure how he’s supposed to look, then I refer you back to your own artwork.  
Credit where it’s due, I will admit that I enjoyed the Vision & Scarlet Witch honeymoon sequence (p 10-11), especially the odd look of the Vision out of costume (I would’ve enjoyed it better if Tuska could’ve found a way to make Vizh look uncomfortable), and the shaded kiss among the palms, nicely complemented by Steve’s discreet caption, “and only their senses ever go swimming . . .”

Matthew: After sending Mantis—whom he later recycled as Willow at DC—to her cosmic apotheosis, Englehart infused his next stretch on the title with a gradual process of tinkering with the line-up, in the grand Assemblers tradition.  I seem to recall Professor Chris singling this issue out for special scorn in days past, presumably due to the Tuskolletta artwork, but the Don McGregor parody is worth the price of admission alone, and I believe this is the first time a Marvel super-team put out a public call for recruits (sadly anticipating the Defenders’ Dollar Bill disaster).  Although the Beast gets the spotlight, it’s noteworthy that amid the fanfare over new personnel, this marks the long-overdue return to active-duty status of my beloved Pyms, who were founding members.

Stainless wrote on his site, “I brought in the Beast, my first characterthere was still no X-Men book at this timeand he bonded so well with the Avengers that now…many people still prefer him here.  Also introduced was Moondragon, a creation of Jim Starlin’s who’d ended up in the Mantis epic as the loser in the Celestial Madonna sweepstakes.  She lacked Mantis’s humanity, but maybe hanging with the Avengers would muss her up a little.  Or not....Then came the Two-Gun Kid, a simpler man from a simpler time, thrust into superhero madnessand Patsy Walker, whom I [had also repurposed] in Amazing Adventures, fighting her way into the superhero world as Hellcat.  Finally, I resurrected Wonder Man, who went on to become an Avengers mainstay.

Conan the Barbarian 52 
“The Altar and the Scorpion”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and Tom Palmer

With the help of the young female acrobat Tara of Hanumar, Conan kills a bull that’s rampaging through the streets of Belverus, capital of Nemedia. Afterwards, they encounter the barbarian’s old acquaintance Murilo (issue #11), now the captain of a mercenary army called the Crimson Company. In town looking for additional soldiers of fortune, the former nobleman offers Conan a paid position in the ranks as the Company has just been hired by the Ophirean government — he accepts and Tara comes along as his squire. As the army rides out, the Cimmerian notices dissension among the ranks: many think they are being used by the Ophireans and are heading towards a cursed land. Soon, the mercenaries arrive at their destination: a golden altar topped by a huge crystal scorpion within a ruined mountain city. The Ophir don’t want the altar,  Murilo proclaims, but a treasure that lies below. When some men try to move the glittering statue, it comes to life, slaughtering many before Conan uses his sword like a dagger and plunges it to the hilt in its neck, killing the creature. Down the steps, they discover the legendary Ring of the Black Shadow, rivaled in power only by Thoth-Amon’s nefarious Serpent Ring. Murilo leaves two men, Dirkov and Coppolus, to guard the ring as the rest ride off to find what their employers want done next. When Coppolus dares put it on, his body transforms into a shadowy demon that also absorbs Dirkov, growing in size. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Definitely a transitional issue, but there are moments of note. As explained in a lengthy sidebar on The Hyborian Page, this marks Conan’s debut as a full-fledged condottiere, the Italian word for “soldier of fortune,” a term that dates back to the Renaissance. “The Altar and the Scorpion” also introduces the Cimmerian’s famous chainmail shirt, flowing cape, and horned helmet getup. Guess it’s tough to get hired when you stride around shirtless. Not sure about Palmer’s inks. Sometimes he adds a welcomed density to Big John’s pencils; other times his thick strokes muddy smaller drawn expressions. Talking about faces, for the second issue in a row John Romita supposedly finished Conan’s puss on the totally misleading cover. What’s up with that? “The Altar and the Scorpion” was actually a King Kull story, published decades after Howard’s suicide in the 1967 Lancer paperback King Kull. Kull is actually mentioned in a flashback that really didn’t have much impact on the story so I skipped it — looks like it recapped the original in a handful of panels. By Crom, hope Tara doesn’t become an annoyance.

Captain America and the Falcon 187
"The Madness Maze!"
Story by John Warner
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Gil Kane

Cap, Gabe and Peggy stand over the comatose Falcon, unsure what their next move should be when Cap is suddenly spirited away by a large saucer. He is taken to a remote mountain and deposited in a weird “Maze of the Ancients” and must find his way to the center…where he will die, apparently. As an additional challenge, he is attacked by silent, faceless sulfuric composites in the shape of men. He defeats them before having to avoid and escape death traps while a mysterious figure taunts. After fighting off some robots, Cap breaks out and finds a group of robed people working in an underground laboratory. Armed guards attack and Cap defeats them all until he is stunned by a sudden beam. He comes to, now in the center of the maze, and the mysterious figure reveals himself to be The Druid, who boasts he will destroy both Cap and SHIELD. To that end, he releases the Alchemoid: a creature of alchemy making his way toward the dazed hero, on a mission of death. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Boy, do I suddenly miss Steve Englehart. A real jaw dropper of a come down after leaving us hanging with the “Snap” Wilson saga. Instead of following up on that intriguing storyline, fill-in writer John Warner gives us this middle-of-the-road yarn that does nothing for me. Are these people the same group who intercepted Gabe and Peggy’s distress call the previous issue? The only real continuity is the art of Frank Robbins, if that’s any comfort.

Matthew: The first of Warner’s two solo issues is a certifiable mess that starts with an otherwise okay Kane/Romita cover blowing the identity of our “surprise” villain, and contains the supremely ironic line, “Doesn’t anything make sense around here?”  Demand for the Druid’s return, let alone the Alchemoid’s debut, was surely nonexistent, while allusions abound to Lewis Carroll, Rube Goldberg, Lake Erie sponges and, presumably, Ray Bradbury (whose story “The October Game” ends, “Then…some idiot turned on the lights”).  With Chiaramonte as the latest sacrificial goat to ink him, the obligatory Robbins WTF moments include Cap doing the Twist in page 18, panel 6 and page 27, panel 4 and his best broken-doll impersonation in page 30, panel 1 (far below).

Mark Barsotti: Wait, we lose both Englehart and the Red Skull? Who's John Warner and why does he suck Cap up in a UFO, first panel, page two, and deposit him in a subterranean freakshow, with claymation monsters, boiling oil trap-vats, and a dude in a cattle-horn hat that looks like the Caddy hood ornament of a Houston pimp. Robbins brings his splayed-limb, Gumby energy to bear, but without his great, grotesque Skull anchoring the proceedings, his goofball charm wears thin.

Start to finish: a big yuck!

Daredevil 123
"Holocaust in the Halls of HYDRA!"
Story by Bob Brown and Tony Isabella
Art by Bob Brown and Vince Colletta
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Sal Buscema

Daredevil and the Black Widow have been subdued by Blackwing and the Man-Killer.  As our heroes come around, they find themselves held in a secret Hydra base beneath Shea Stadium, in the presence of Silvermane, the Supreme Hydra himself.  Also on-hand are other high-ranking Hydras, including El Jaguar, Mentallo, and the Dreadnought, who continues to serve as “personal bodyguard” of Foggy Nelson (since his abduction of Foggy in DD #121).  Mentallo announces that Nick Fury and his top SHIELD aides are about to enter the explosives-packed warehouse; Hydra can observe their progress on a monitor.  Silvermane throws the switch himself, and the warehouse is obliterated.  Foggy witnesses the carnage and snaps, as he grabs a laser rifle from a Hydra goon and zaps DD and BW free from their chains. The battle is interrupted before it can begin by a shattering explosion – Nick Fury then appears again on the monitor, this time to announce that the agents who were destroyed were only (taxpayer-funded) LMDs.  Now, the real SHIELD is about to descend on the Hydra base.  The Hydra forces are quickly taken down, but Blackwing enables Silvermane to escape, as they both fly away.  Fury asks Foggy again whether he’s interested in serving on SHIELD’s directorial board; Foggy surveys the damage to Shea, and says only “I don’t think so.” 
- Chris Blake
"She'll kill you with her eight breasts!"
Chris: The conclusion to the Hydra three-parter gets a bit jumbled, as Tony has too many fire-irons to handle in too few pages.  There are far too many foreshadowed moments required to explain how everything’s playing out: those are LMDs being sent into the death trap; the LMDs are equipped with thought-simulating devices, so that they look and think as the people they double, to confuse any ESPer eavesdropping; and, apparently there’s been a tracer in DD’s cowl, so that SHIELD would know where to find him, but which Fury hadn’t thought to mention before.
Tony doesn’t make his life any easier by introducing two more Hydra heavyweights, Man-Killer (who Len tells us had last been seen in MTU #8), and someone calling himself Jackhammer, who claims to have built the underground base (and whose costume looks like something Trimpe might’ve dreamed up for a Hulk opponent).  Since there was no further explanation, I went back to review Tony’s History of Hydra, and sure enough, there’s Jackhammer listed under “Engineering.”  Well, either way, he’s dispatched in two pages, which isn’t bad, since most of the others in this disjointed, rushed fracas are bested in less than a page.  Maybe if Tony hadn’t wasted space on Ivan extolling Fury to get going (it does beg the question – why is Fury sitting there, with his feet up?), and on Silvermane’s age-changing experiences, we would’ve had more time for the battle to play out.  

Chris: The art, after looking fairly good last issue, slips back a rung to the level we had in DD #121, with the inks indistinct at times, although not as scratchy as they could be; there are plenty of backgrounds, so the eraser appears not to have been enlisted to speed up work.  Brown does a nice job of conveying the scale of the inexplicable underground base, paired with DD’s rarely-seen radar sense as he’s trying to get his bearings (above).  Minor complaint over the depiction of Shea, which Brown pinches-in as an Ohio State-style horseshoe (below), when in fact Shea was about the bowliest bowl ever built.  The widespread destruction on p 31 (far below) is fairly good, although I’m not sure why SHIELD would bring tanks to an underground base-busting party.  

Matthew:  Once again, the lettercol’s crystal ball needs a little polishing up:  it accurately foretells Isabella’s exit after this issue, but notes that he “moves on to Son of Satan [of which he wrote precisely no issues, and] Captain America [true, albeit briefly]…His replacement?  None other than our effervescent Editor-in-Chief himself, Lively Len Wein,” whose long-delayed tenure will consist of a single shared credit.  Tony’s swan song is nobody’s finest hour, from the Brown/Colletta team, whose work is variable at best, and Len’s overly cute footnotes to Roussos, who mistakenly colors Dugan’s red mustache white, and letterer Mantlo, who confuses “to” and “too.”  Page 10, panel 2 looks more like an offbeat mixer than a confab of Hydra division chiefs.

Scott: So, not only was it necessary to bring back the apparently deceased Silvermane, it was necessary for him to wear a Bea Arthur mask to disguise his youth? What’s with the damned masks? A decent enough adventure, I guess, but I agree in general with some of the faculty: Tony Isabella isn’t the best writer. Seems like a hell of a nice guy, though.

The Defenders 25
"The Serpent Sheds Its Skin"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Jack Abel
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Ray Holloway
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Dr. Strange, with Nighthawk a prisoner beneath the sea, has regained consciousness. This enables Clea to connect with his mind and send Daimon Hellstrom and Luke Cage to their location and help free them. Stephen is still weak but Hellstrom locates the passage to the surface, which they follow. On their way to rescue the Valkyrie from death by fire, they have no idea the deed has already been done. Hulk recovers from his temporary blindness, DD wakes up, but it is the courageous efforts of everyman Jack Norris (unremembered by Val as her Earthly persona Barbara's husband) that turn the tide when he inspires the crowd to join the fight and overpower the Sons of the Serpent. When the others get to the surface, it is in the office of J.C. Pennsyworth, financial wizard for Nighthawk's other identity Kyle Richmond, who it seems has been using Kyle's money to fund the Sons of the Serpent! Nighthawk, angry at himself as much as Pennysworth, brings the culprit to the other Defenders, and gets from him the location of the Serpent's lair. The evil-doers are put to route, and Richmond is left to deal with his conscience. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The Serpent seemed inexplicably powerful last month, here not so much. Fittingly it is the anger of the common white folk, as much as the Defenders, who the Serpent sons claim to champion, who turn the tide by standing up for their fellow men. Nighthawk's bout of conscious at the calamity his Tony Stark-esque greed has wrought is commendable. Mystery scene: Tom and Linda Pritchett meet killer elf--have to wait to see the deal behind that one!

Matthew: I certainly made no secret of my feeling that Abel was a step down from Trapani as Trimpe’s inker on the Hulk, yet in this issue, one of the baker’s dozen with which he peppered the book’s run, Jack nearly equals McLeod at letting Sal be Sal.  The end of this impressive arc is notable for several reasons, most obviously the double-whammy of the Serpents being funded not only with Kyle’s money but also by his black financial consultant, whose “Is every white man your ‘brother’?” speech shows Gerber’s gift for complex issues.  Another gift, i.e., for absurdity, is on display in the debut of a certain pistol-packing elf, and despite attempts by later writers to explain and/or resolve his presence, Steve apparently meant him to be utterly random...

Scott: I find myself echoing the comments of Prof Matthew; this is an impressive end to a really fine arc. I especially enjoyed the twisty arguments on racial loyalty. Also, I enjoy the role Dr. Strange has taken with these people. He is sort of a mentor, almost father figure who provides the wisdom to allow them to function as a team while retaining their individuality and giving them room to grow. A fine issue in writing and art. I find myself liking Nighthawk the most; his character is showing remarkable growth.

Chris: It should come as no surprise that Steve G is able, yet again, to play with our expectations.  First, he shows us that Clea had been behind the sudden disappearance of Daimon and Luke (at the end of #24); clever device to have the Eye of Agamotto serve as a means of transit.  Second, the seemingly selfless (but, in fact, misguidedly territorial) gesture by Jack Norriss to free Val entices the bystanders to morph into a mob.  In effect, there are three climaxes, as the Serpents are routed in the street, when Kyle learns the ugly truth from Pennysworth (who is incongruously sitting at home, at ease with a book and a cigar -?), and the last of the Serpents are rounded up; the last battle feels sort of perfunctory, more of a mop-up than anything, but I’m not complaining.  I agree with Kyle, in that I hope there’s more to Pennysworth’s story – race hatred and/or blind pursuit of profit doesn’t seem to cover it.  

Sal’s ever-capable work contributes to the brisk pace of the action.  I know that Jack Abel has his supporters among the faculty, and although I ordinarily find his inks too thin, I will say that if the results consistently turned out as well as they did this time, then I’d be a fan too.

Fantastic Four 160
"In One World -- And Out the Other"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Chic Stone
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Ray Holloway
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

We open with the Thing under attack from Arkon (one of Roy's not very interesting off-world barbarian baddies, last seen in Avengers #84) while – wouldn't you know it – Alicia (sporting another new hair color) wanders onto the scene. She talks to the down-but-not-out Thing, yet "the words - they're not like you!" the blind sculptress declares before Arkon and his cold-cocked adversary blink away into another reality.

Alicia grabs a cab (the driver, thanks to archivist Roy, is the very man Sue freaked out by turning invisible in FF #1) to the B Building, only to find Ben there with his teammates! What she saw might all be a fever dream, save for a scrap of the other Thing's shirt she holds in her hand. Playing a hunch, Ben calls Crystal on the 200 inch flat screen and requests the services of her transporting pooch, Lockjaw. Sniff the shirt, Lockie. Now fetch!

One-page diversion: our three remaining members meet with Mr. DeVoor, a portly businessman whose company wants to buy out F.F. Inc., the team's corporate entity that makes money off Reed's patents. Sue and Johnny have reservations, but Mr. 51% Stockholder Reed says, "what I say goes..."

Ben and Lockjaw blip into a castle on what my esteemed colleague Professor Matthew assures me is nifty alt-Earth-721, (created by Archie Goodwin in a great back-up tale in FF #118), where Reed became the Thing after the abortive FF #1 rocket ride, and the unaffected Ben and Sue got married. After Ben goes monster mash on Creature Feature ghouls who turn out to be robots, he hips Sue and Ben that, "I'm from whatcha call yer 'nother dimension!" They know nothing of Arkon, but their rocky Reed spends all his time on robot research and alt-Ben notes that the plaque by the castle door wasn't there recently. It says that "Reed Richards Robotics" is a "division of Inter-Related Technocracies."

While back on our world, Reed signs the contract with DeVoor. Hot under the collar Johnny storms out. And the last panel close-up of the contract reveals that Reed has just inked a deal with..."Interlocking Technologies."

Cue sinister outro music... -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Big John Buscema takes the pencil from Rich Buckler this month, teamed with the title's second best Silver Age inker, Chic Stone, and they don't disappoint (although a Thing-centric story would have been better served by Rich & Joe's Kirbyesque Mr. Grimm). Roy returning to Archie Goodwin's Earth-721 is an unexpected kick, Arkon astride a flying dragon not so much, but the mysterious Mr. DeVoor and the similarly named corporations, doubtless up to no good on both Earths, is an intriguing hook. Lockjaw chasing a "bug-eyed mini-monster" on a Doc Strange-worthy dimensional bridge before Ben and Big Slobber get to E-721 is chuckle-worthy, and I trust Thomas enough to have high hopes for more tricksy dimensional hopping derring-do next ish.

Matthew: This begins an arc that will already be in full swing when I get a fatal dose of the Marvel Kool-Aid in two months, giving me a retroactive affection for it that enhances its existing merits.  It’s like watching the planets line up for a harmonic convergence, and although Stone’s inks are as unpredictable as ever, even a one-off return visit by Buscema is as heavenly as you can get.  Other celestial bodies being maneuvered into position include Arkon, reunited with Roy and Big John after Avengers #84, and Earth-721 (aka Earth-A), the alternate world created by Archie Goodwin in FF #118 for an earlier Ben/Lockjaw romp; this one was originally intended to appear before its ripple effect was revealed in Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up #2.

Chris: Cold opening is a good call by Roy, as we have to try to figure out (as does the harried populace) how Arkon got here, and why he’s in hot pursuit of Ben Grimm.  Although, Roy clues us in that this orange rockpile might not be who we Thing he is (sorry –couldn’t resist), since we all know that we’d never see the face of our ever-lovin’ hero contorted with “fear” and “panic” (p 2).  Mercifully, Roy chooses not to insert expository statements into Arkon’s mouth, and the mystery deepens as the Thing is zapped away.  From this point on, the story turns into sort of a Two-in-One co-starring Lockjaw, as the other FFers are concluding a business deal that no one – not even Reed – seems chipper about.  Intriguing first chapter of a new arc.

As much as I appreciate pencils from Swash, it’s always, always a good thing to have Big John back, even if it’s for one issue; as we’ve learned thru hard experience, Marvel can do much worse when circumstances call for a fill-in art team.  Stone isn’t going to make anyone forget Sinnott, but he does consistently deliver the sort of clear lines that we expect from art in these pages.  My one gripe about Stone is that he tends to leave Ben with a weirdly intense look in his eyes, when some additional shading might tone down that effect (last panel on p 14, reprinted below, is an example).

Scott: I like the art, but the rest comes off pretty bland and not all that interesting. I appreciated the “alternate universe Thing”, but Arkon isn’t the most gripping villain. The plot of Reed selling his patents is the sort of thing I’d see John Byrne get into, but he had the ability to make mundane decisions seem interesting. Sadly, that’s not the case here.

The Amazing Spider-Man 146
"Scorpion... Where Is Thy Sting?"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, John Romita Sr., John Romita Jr., John Tartaglione, Mike Esposito, and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita

In his underground lair, the slimy Jackal gloats to a bust of Spider-Man that he's been planning his demise for two years—since the day Spidey committed murder and the Jackal was born! Gwen asks Peter if she's insane or just confused, and confuses Peter when she declares her love for him. What is he supposed to say now that he cares for Mary Jane? As Peter does some web-swinging to clear his head, Scorpion does some trespassing up in Monticello, as he threatens to take over mobster Santonio's turf—but his boasts of offing Spidey are proven wrong and he storms out angrily. Then he's jumped by the Jackal, who spins a plan to destroy Spider-Man. Our hero swings to Gargan's apartment, having broken into the parole office to get the address, discovers the stolen bank money and phones it in to the cops. Visiting Aunt May in the hospital, Peter is stunned when Scorpion breaks through the window to her room! Turns out the Jackal tipped him off that Spidey would be there, and he tries every door on the floor before the Web-Head shows up, taking the battle outside. Beating him up but good, Spidey ends up tracking the bad bug to the Chrysler Building, where he ends the fight and makes him apologize to Aunt May. --Joe Tura  

Joe: Ah, a John Romita Spidey cover… July is looking up already! Gerry begins his "third year as Web-Head writer" per the splash page, with a Shakespeare gag that gives us a chuckle, paired with a Ross shot of a seated Jackal that almost gives us the dry heaves with an upskirt. Overall, a good issue, but to be honest Scorpion is made to be such a meathead, you almost feel sorry for him. It's as if being out of prison makes him stupider every hour. Sure, he's just a small-time crook with a powerful suit, but still. And did he have to break Santonio's sweet (for 1975) television? And his suitcase has tickets for the '71 World Series? Pirates fan, I guess.

It's easy to see the Jazzy one had a hand in the inking, especially Peter's head on the odd page 17 (just look at the body positions of the three characters, reprinted below), along with a gang of artists that apparently included John Tartaglione, Mike Esposito and Frank Giacoia. They bump up the action when Spidey squashes the green goon outside the hospital, visiting "the immortal old woman known as Aunt May". Yes, Gerry wrote that and boy, is it ever true. I love how Scorpy tells May "I'll make you a brand new set of dentures—the hard way!" And later she retorts "I haven't a very high opinion of Spider-Man…but at least he has manners….Watch your tongue or I'll slap your face!" Silly, but true to May's character at least.

Favorite sound effect: There are some good ones this month ("BOMP!", "CHA-RING!", "CROMP") but I really love the wacky "BOMK!" when Scorpion swipes the swanky 19" mob TV with his tail. And that complicated remote, with two buttons—two!

P.S. Prof. Matthew must have flipped for the Captain Marvel Twinkies ad on page 31!

Matthew: With Nitro, yet! If only they knew...

Scott: Again, the whole Scorpion plot isn’t nearly as interesting as the Gwen Returns story and I rather wish more was done with that than the brief exchange between Peter and his apparently resurrected girlfriend. It's somewhat redeemed by having Scorpy threaten Aunt May, causing Spidey to freak and beat the snot out of him. I think “making him think I’m a maniac” is a bit of a stretch at the end, as far as risky gambits go. However, the finale of Scorpy apologizing is pretty amusing. Okay, it’s not a spoiler to bring up the fact that the Jackal is wearing a costume, right? So what’s with the underwear? And his prancing around is annoying as balls.

Matthew:  This was apparently a Crusty Bunkers-type fire-drill situation, since the embellishment is credited to “J. Romita and the Gang,” but as far as I’m concerned, you’d never know it from the results, which to my eyes give Andru’s art a smooth finish.  I do love that splash page of the Jackal—even if his coloration isn’t quite what I remember it from the issues where I came in shortly afterward—and it’s a nice way to signal the fact that after moving in and out of the spotlight for so long, he is the prime mover of this historic arc. I’m not thrilled with the way Conway handles the Scorpion in this entry, making him a bit too whiny, yet since he’s an old favorite of mine, I’ll give Gerry points just for bringing him back home where he belongs.

Mark: The Jazzy One (and "gang") inking Andru makes this a feast for the eyes. The story, like the last couple, is schizo: the chewy goodness of the deepening Gwen mystery & Jackal machinations undercut by the acrid taste of Scorpion numbskullary (e.g., Gargan's parole office not realizing he "was back to his old tricks," even after he robbed a bank last ish while proclaiming, "I'm the Scorpion! That's Scorpion, pal!" A thoroughly-whipped Gargan, rather than disappearing among the canyons of Manhattan, goes King Kong on the Chrysler Building. Pete, during Scorp's way too precious Aunt May apology, blurts out, "It may not be exactly what Spider-Man had in mind..." Uh, how do you know anything about that, Peter Parker?).

No matter. Groove on the disco-boogie Jackal dance that opens our tale, culminating in a Spidey wig-head smashing, on the emotional landmines going off in the wake of "Gwen's" return: Peter, over his "you're an imposter" rage, but unable to respond to Gwen's kiss or return her "I love you." I summon the fourteen year old who first read this Lady Lazarus tale without knowing the end and he finds it good.

Captain Marvel 39
"The Trial of the Watcher"
Story by Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom
Art by Al Milgrom and Klaus Janson
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and June Braverman
Cover by Al Milgrom and Klaus Janson

Emerging from the beam on Uatu’s world, Mar-Vell asks to speak in his defense, but is encased in stasis to prevent interference; young Aron watches as Rick escapes the Neg Zone with their new mental power, breaking the stasis, and they are attacked by Mad-Eye, a “rackcat” angered by the disruption.  Mar-Vell subdues it, and the intruders reach the Temple of Justice just in time for a review of Uatu’s history, including the creation of a certain star over Avengers Mansion.  The court is further disrupted by the arrival of Mad-Eye, followed by Aron, who advocates action on behalf of the imperiled Kree; despite the example set by Rick, who uses his Nega-Bands to stop the cat, the repentant Uatu vows that he will not violate their code again. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Such an entry sorely tests my allegiance to both Steve and Mar-Vell (I frankly have none to Al, who is dragged down by the usual millstone of Klaus, so he’s a non-issue, as it were).  It’s your basic shaggy-cat story, with an ending unsatisfying on multiple levels, in which the Watcher is revealed to have aided the Lunatic Legion because he was envious of Mar-Vell’s action-man status as protector of the universe.  Enabling our august Dean to consider him a constant irritant, like the proverbial grain of sand in an oyster, Tony Isabella is credited with “research,” presumably for the Watcher’s trip down Memory Lane, while Stainless, never one to drop the cross-promotional ball, ties Uatu in with his just-completed Celestial Madonna saga in Avengers.

Chris: It looks like Isabella (credited as researcher for this story) might enjoy reading old comics as much as we do – when you put it all together, the Watcher, over time, has been a pretty meddlesome old washer woman, hasn’t he?  And worse, he plays favorites!  Marv’s defense of Uatu is well-done, as is the Watcher’s acknowledgement of his lapse into envy.  I think most of us can accept that Uatu would get off without even 50 hrs of community service, but it makes sense that Rick wouldn’t quite get it, since all he’s thinking about are the various threats to Marv over these three issues (the persistent Mad-Eye [down kitty! Bad kitty!] winds up being a fairly obvious plot device).  I take a deep sigh of relief, knowing that Marv and Rick are permanently separated – I don’t even care how Steve E did it, or whether it makes any sense; I’m glad it’s finally done.  

Creatures on the Loose 36
Man-Wolf in
"Weird Stone"
Story by David Kraft
Art by George Perez, Frank McLaughlin, and Terry Austin
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

John Jameson flies toward the moon in a rocket, headed for a space station suffering from a power failure, when the moon transforms him into the Man-Wolf! Flashback five days with a recap of the past two issues, then Nick Fury returning John to NASA, where he's asked to use Hate-Monger's spacecraft to check out the space wheel in return for the AWOL charges bring dropped, after a night in solitary, where the wolf is subdued. Cut to the present, and a green-suited character nabs the creature and takes him on board the wheel, attacking his savior from behind and attacked in turn by the mysterious Gorjoon! The two send MW down an air shaft, but not before they notice the "weirdstone" on his neck. Flashback to Kristine, who's hypnotized by icky Harrisyn Turk (who claims he's "God") and JJJ gets a visit from Stroud and the FBI, who tell him John turned himself in. Back to the moon, and MW survives the fall, but is hunted by blonde Garth, who zaps the creature with a power conduit and looks to kill him to get the stone! --Joe Tura

Joe: That's right, True Believers…Man-Wolf is on the moon! But it sorta makes sense. Yeah, it's a gimmick to say the least, but the way Kraft's story is laid out gives us a reason to see what happens next. Although the trio of goofy guys on the space wheel is way out there, especially the guy with the Ka-Zar cosplay costume. All in all, I liked this issue quite a bit, with George starting to hit his stride, especially in the action scenes and sequences like page 26, whetting our appetite for future issues of Avengers. And it wouldn't be a month of Marvel comics without at least one Ralph Macchio letter being published!

Matthew: Another first-timer, courtesy of Dean Enfantino, leading with the one-two punch of a terrific Kane/Janson cover and Pérez/McLaughlin splash page. Interestingly, in the lettercol, future Marvel scribe Ralph Macchio echoes my sole complaint about Pérez to date, “an abundance of small panels”; per the reply, “Regarding larger panels, we think by now you’ve noted a trend in that direction, as George and Dave grow more accustomed to working with each other and to gauging just how much plot will fit in one issue.” Kraft is clearly taking Man-Wolf into a brave new world, throwing so much at us that we can’t assimilate it all right away, but alas, we won’t get the chance, because the strip is about to be cut down in its newfound prime when the purge begins.

Chris: So the Man-Wolf is able to survive in the vacuum of space for a brief period without dying?  That’s fine – I almost prefer not to know why, just as I don’t need to know what’s happening with the alien crew on the station, and why the godstone/weirdstone is so important to them.  Dave has caught my attention, so I’m more than willing to play along. Dave & George manage to squeeze in a lot of story and action, as we get updates on most of the growing cast of those who are looking after/looking for John Jameson; which reminds me, our look-in on Kristine has me very concerned (p 23).  Perez’s developing style offers us plenty of highlights, but if I have to pick just one, I’ll go with M-W’s solitary, frustrated expression of ferocity on p 14 (above).

The Frankenstein Monster 17
"A Phoenix Berserk!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik and Bob McLeod
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Dan Adkins

Now that his vocal chords have been repaired, The Frankenstein Monster wastes no time telling Ralph, Eric, and Veronica what he wants: to know who he is and why he is. To get a bit of quiet time to think, The Monster heads off into the snow by himself. At the same moment, hovering in a chopper over Veronica's Swiss chalet are the henchmen of Rainbow, the main bad guy behind the ICON terrorist organization. Rainbow's not very happy since his much-hyped android, Berserker, had his circuits cooked (last issue) by The Monster and orders the men to fix the robot by any means possible. Luckily for them, their mole, Veronica's assistant, Werner, is able to fix the fried Berserker and the android heads off in search of his prey. He meets up with The Monster, who very quickly reestablishes who's boss by tearing one of the android's arms off. A sudden wave of sympathy overcomes The Monster and the two commiserate about life in a cruel world and a lousy comic book. Together, the two head off on a mission to find out who they are.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: The only good news I have is that this is Doug Moench's final assault on The Frankenstein Monster and he'll be replaced by newcomer Bill Mantlo next issue (which will open up a fresh can of Spam). It's hard to hypothesize just what road Doug would have traveled had he been allowed to commit even more crimes on comic book buyers but, needless to say, it would have been poetic and reminiscent of several other works of fiction. The action takes place high in the Swiss Alps but no one in the cast seems to be worried about the sub-zero temperature in the slightest.  The chalet has holes in the wall, ferchrissakes; Eric and Ralph are gallivanting in the snow in jeans and t-shirts and Veronica's perfectly content in form-fitting attire. Favorite Moench-ism of the issue is when Ralph tells Eric The Monster is not doing well: " You didn't see his eyes -- the stuff burning in them... That dude's just found himself talkin' to a world that doesn't want to listen... and he's mad, Prawn -- mad at the whole stinkin' world." If I was Bill Mantlo coming into the middle of this epic turd, I'd have The Monster fall between two icebergs and find himself transported back to the 18th Century. Don't even try to explain it, Bill. Hell, anything would be better than this.

Matthew:  Funny that the exact same dynamic played out with Morbius in Fear, where Moench plopped the enormous stool of Helleyes in poor Mantlo's lap.

Chris: The notion that lackey Schmidt could use the edge of a scalpel to send a paragraph of detailed information via Morse code was downright hilarious.  At least Doug had enough sense to realize that the helicopter couldn’t continue to circle the chalet indefinitely, without running out of gas.  So, at least we can score a few points for reality-testing.

Doug seems to be spinning his wheels, as nothing much happens until the Monster storms out into the alpine winter.  If he could’ve found a way to develop a story without the “colorful” (but useless) ICON villains, then he might’ve been on to something here, since the Monster’s struggle to understand his identity and purpose are the sort of ideas that Doug needed, as far back as about five issues ago.  In a way, it’s almost too bad that we couldn’t conclude the series with the image of the Monster and his new android friend walking off, to find their way to the “beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
I like Bob McLeod as an inker, but the art is a little too clean and bright over Mayerik’s pencils.  Still, pages 16 and 23 contribute very effectively to our appreciation for the Monster’s emptiness, and loneliness.  
One issue to go.

Giant-Size Defenders 5
"Eelar Moves in Mysterious Ways!"
Story by Steve Gerber, Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, and Scott Edelman
Art by Don Heck, Jim Mooney, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Artie Simek and Dave Hunt
Cover by Ron Wilson and Al Milgrom

Pawn shop owner Milton Childs is held up by three thugs on his way home one night. He is saved by a giant behemoth of a man named Charlie-27. Meanwhile, Dr. Strange leads Val and the Hulk to a spot in the ocean by the city where a dimensional disruption is taking place; it churns the water and sends a massive school of fish like missiles, attacking the city. Flying over the water, Stephen is grabbed and pulled out by a lizard-like creature, calling itself Eelar, who is surrounded by an electrical field and whose thoughts the Doc can hear: thoughts of destroying the Earth and any others who oppose his "race." The creature flies over the city, releasing Strange, and freeing the heroes to try and stop him. Elsewhere, a flying Nighthawk witnesses a "UFO" of sorts crash land and investigates. Three figures, all in costume, from the Earth's future emerge: astronaut Vance Astro, Yondu of Centauri-4, and Martinex, a silicon creature from a future outpost on Pluto, all last survivors of a sort. Collectively--along with Jupiter outpost survivor Charlie-27-- they will be known as the Guardians of the Galaxy, when Earth is invaded in 3007 AD by an alien race known as the Badoon. Martinex transports Nighthawk and the GotG to Charlie's location, where they find what they were searching for: a Badoon war helmet. Alas, it does not work. Back at the battle scene, Eelar is fighting a dead tree (?) and Stephen figures out the puzzle. Eelar is a result of, not the cause of, the displacement phenomenon, which itself was caused by the arrival of the Guardians. Stephen's powers lead him to the source of their current troubles: another Badoon helmet that had been lost in the sea, and, home to some electric eels. The radiation in the helmet mutated one of the eels into Eelar. Programmed by the war propaganda broadcasting in the helmet. he is essentially brainless. Strange and Astro psychically pierce Eelar's protective electric field and then transform him back into an eel to be returned to the ocean. The GotG plan to repair their ship and return to the future. Unbeknownst to them all, Martinex has had a visitor, a young boy investigating the scene. His name: Vance Astro(vik)! -Jim Barwise

Jim: A busy tale featuring an early team of the popular Guardians of the Galaxy, this one from the alternate time line Earth-691. They fit in well with the non-team nature of the Defenders. Vance Astro as a boy meeting Martinex is a cute touch, and a nice way to end the story. Eelar's origin might be one of Marvel's silliest, which is saying a lot. It all comes down to radiation of a sort! The multiple writers working on the story no doubt contributed to its packed pace.

Matthew: “You won’t believe this,” asserts the splash page, “but…Steve Gerber, Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, and Scott Edelman plotted this tale.  Steve scripted it.  Don Heck drew it.  Mike Esposito inked it.  Dave Hunt inked the backgrounds and lettered it.”  The lettercol also “acknowledge[s] belatedly, the plotting assistance of Don McGregor and…Slifer on GSD #4….And…though it seems impossible, two names were omitted from the credit lines in this issue, too.  Jim Mooney, currently Steve’s co-conspirator on the macabre Man-Thing mag, inked several pages…And the late Artie Simek was the letterer of several pages toward the front…[that were his] last work…”  (He passed on February 20, 1975.)

Although Sal’s absence kicks our non-team’s GS swan song down a notch, the takeaway here is that in collaboration with the five-man army, scripter Steve resumes the rehabilitation of the true Guardians that he began in Marvel Two-in-One #4-5—as, in real time, I continue to seethe over the success of the Tinseltown wannabes.  “In just a few short months [seven, to be precise], you’ll witness the premiere of [a] new bi-monthly 25¢ Marvel mag entitled Starhawk and the Guardians of the Galaxy.  And by some weird coincidence, the story in this very ish…(which will continue into our regular monthly magazine, as of Defenders #26) is a sort of prologue to the Guardians’ debut in their own book,” although the vehicle for it was, in fact, Marvel Presents #3.

Partway through, I was preparing to classify this as a means to an end (as I did MTIO #4), partly because I consider the Guardians tetralogy in the monthly mag the main event, and partly due to its intrinsic flaws, some of which—e.g., the confusion over how many heroes are present on page 35 (reprinted far below—may result from too many cooks.  Chief among them is the artwork, which while not awful is far from flattering to Charlie-27 and Martinex, and a pale shadow of the definitive Buscema interpretation on either side.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the Captain America when Steve, who will own these characters for the first 2½ years of their revival, got up a good head of steam; as a bonus, Nighthawk’s villainous past is revisited in a reprint of Daredevil #62.

Chris: This prologue to the four-part Guardians vs Badoon story really puts the new team on the map, after the teaser we got in MTIO #5.  I would’ve preferred a bit more substance with the Guardians; in other words, the oddball (but Defenders-typical) Eelar threat could’ve been figured out and dismissed without having quite as many sequences of Defenders running to wherever the pointless fish-powered mayhem happened to be taking place.  Instead, the longer-format giant-size allows for padding-out of the action.

I knew it! I knew it!  In keeping with the “many hands” approach to plotting (an unheard-of six people credited), I suspected – as I looked at the first few pages – that there might’ve been another inker involved, other than Mike Esposito, and that the other hand might belong to . . . Jim Mooney.  Sure enough, I checked the Grand Comics Database, and they report that the Madman had, in fact, inked pages 2-7.  How about that!  Mooney is properly credited on the letters page, as is Prof Joe fave Artie Simek, who died before he could complete his work on this issue (now I’m going to get cocky, and observe that p 15 bears resemblance to Trimpe’s style).  And speaking of the letters page – some willowy young armadillo must’ve had a few bites of Steve G’s homemade brownies, because there are a few letters that appear twice on the pages – in slightly altered (as was the armadillo) versions, no less.
I will say this for the reprints in the G-S Defenders line; at least some thought seems to have gone into their selection, instead of simply taking whatever late-1950s mystery story happened to be on top of the pile at deadline time.  
Scott: With this issue, we say goodbye to Art Simek. Pages 2 – 8 and 10 represent his final work before he passed away on February 20th, 1975. His lettering skills defined the Marvel house style for me and is still the most pleasing for me when I read the classic Marvel Age stories of the 60’s. I honestly feel Marvel lost something special when he died. So, thanks, Artie. 39 years later….

Amazing Adventures 31
Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds in
"The Day the Monuments Shattered"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Craig Russell
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Irving Watanabe and John Costanza
Cover by Craig Russell

April, 2019 in Gary, Indiana: Killraven and his Freemen wait for Atalon and the Sacrificer to catch up to them, as Eve 3,031 is nearly ready to give birth. They make their stand near a broken golden arching monument when winged Death Trackers attack! One of the metal creatures sinks its teeth into Killraven and Hawk blasts it. Another is ruined by Old Skull, yet its head still records images of the Freemen, sent back to Atalon on his sky cycle's monitor receptor. After the battle, Volcana flirts with KR, while dozens of worshippers walk by, bringing offerings to someone they call the Devourer. Meanwhile, near Lake Michigan, the seedy Skar tracks Killraven in his Martian tripod, meeting lonely human sailor Kelly on the docks. Back to Indiana and a passionate kiss between M'Shulla and Carmilla is interrupted by the appearance of the slimy, gigantic one-eyed mutation known as The Devourer! Rising from the depths, it attacks the Freemen, just as Atalon arrives to get his vengeance and is struck by the creature's tail. Volcana sprays a couple of Martian henchmen while Killraven shoots a nearby stalactite, which punctures The Devourer's eye! Suddenly, the Sacificer jumps Killraven from behind, but as they fight, the monument falls right on top of the blade-handed baddie! In our trio of Epilogues, Adam shoves mud into Atalon's face, punches him, and watches Volcana finish him off, then bestow a kiss on Killraven! Finally, Adam, Eve and their newborn leave the Freemen, who stand under a second golden arch, with a nearby sign in the rubble promising "over 77 trillion sold". –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: A creepy and effective Russell cover proves he's got the sci-fi chops for those who might have been seeing his work for the first time on the spinner rack. For instance, I never picked up any of these. Not sure Grand Candy even carried them to be honest. But the voluminously verbose McGregor kicks things off with a recap of what the heck is going on, making this one a great starting point for new readers. Not that I'm recommending it, just trying to present the facts, ma'am. Personally, I'm used to the endless captions and non-stop dialogue, but newbies might have been turned off by all those words in between the fine fantasy art that needs more room to breathe. In quick summary, the story zips along even with all these words, the fight scenes are way too short, and the big reveal that the monuments were part of the McDonald's "M" must have made the Bullpen chuckle like the Hamburglar after snatching a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

The "War of the Words" letters page is a hoot and a holler this month, from the long explanation about why there was a reprint last ish and no letters page, to the reasoning why they can't reprint the entire epic letter from '80s Marvel writer Peter B. Gillis (The Eternals, Doctor Strange), to a poetic missive from one Adam Warlock of Norcross, Georgia!

Chris: Even without Don & Craig’s curious choice to give us three “epilogues” (despite the fact that all three events play out as continuations of the climax), there is a clear sense in this sequence of the story being over: no more Atalon or Sacrificer; Eve’s baby safely arrived (it’s a girl!); and Volcana departed.  Carmilla makes a valid point: Killraven’s got to think big-picture, and try to be more systematic in his attacks on the Martians and their collaborators.  Although, the next phase could just as easily involve a revival of the quest for Killry’s brother . . .

A very text-heavy issue, even by Don’s standards, but the action still moves nimbly along.  For the first time in a while, we have a story that involves all the Freemen.  Here are a few character-driven moments – M’Shulla: “K.R., I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to flinch every time Hawk opens his mouth;” Old Skull’s befuddlement over Eve’s as-yet unborn baby’s “moving;” Killraven’s cool dispatch of the Devourer, followed by his fiery in-battle response to the Sacrificer.  
What the hell was the deal with Cap’n Kelly (p 14)?  Uh, Cap’n if you really have this burning desire to return to the sea, maybe it’s time to stop hanging out in Milwaukee.  I can’t remember whether our beleaguered nautical plays a role in any future stories; for now, his moment plays out like a deleted scene from a straight-to-video art movie.
Tip-of-the-beret to Craig for these moments: the curious assortment of “twilight people” assembling to the monument, for the devourer (p 10); the mirror-images of agony and support (p 15, panels 2 and 3); M’Shulla’s subtle caress of Carmilla’s fingertips (p 15, pnl 5); Volcana viewing her handiwork, as Atalon suffers further disgrace, with his dead hand pawing the muck (p 30, 1st pnl).  
In the next few months, we’re going to see two bi-monthly non-superhero titles bite the dust, as both Creatures on the Loose and Monster of Frankenstein will fold; both series end with story threads left unraveled.  I have no idea what sales were like for Amazing Adventures; as we know, supportive missives alone would not have kept this title afloat.  We’ll see that Don had to wrap up this story sooner than he wanted, but I’m grateful that he and Craig had time (not available to those other folded titles) to continue to develop plot ideas and characters.

Mark: McGregor returns to his almost fetishistic riffing on '70's consumerism, here to good, Happy Meal effect. Two baddies bite it: clean freak human butcher Atalon, after getting a mud-pie facial, then the steel-jawed Sacrificer crushed by a Golden Arch. Good stuff, Don, and we get it. Again.
Skar still stalks Killy & crew in his tripod.

Tonsil hockey happy ending for Ms. Frost & M'Shulla, for Killraven & Volcana (okay, she leaves after the smooch, a non-happy ending). A child is born to a liberated Eve even as Grok dies (in nifty twin panel contrast). Craig Russell conjures a truly loathsome sea monster in a two page spread of the Devourer (reprinted far above). Mega ick-appeal. 

The last 6 or 7 pages, the art's more unpolished, under-inked by Russell, but given that double duty and always looming Deadline D, be glad they managed to get out an all new issue. The art's still excellent, including the minimalist finale.  

Giant-Size Spider-Man 5
"Beware the Path of the Monster!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

After dealing with the Scorpion and Gwen's "return", Spidey is in the mood to get away, and seeing Man-Thing on TV, gets the idea to convince JJJ to send Peter Parker to take pix of the ooze-monster—and it works! Calling ahead to Dr. Curt Connors (not Conners as it's spelled throughout), Peter also calls a disappointed Mary Jane, and finds out Gwen is staying with Betty. Connors knocks down a beaker (oops…really?) and the gas turns him into the Lizard! He heads to the swamp in search of Man-Thing, to use him against the world. Peter visits Gwen at Betty's upscale pad to apologize, but she's confused from missing the past two years.

Chapter 2, "The Lurker in the Swamp", starts with disgraced scientist Edmond Arnstead, whose fast rise and sudden fall has led him to the Florida swamp to commit suicide, but Man-Thing rumbles forward and attacks…a crocodile that was about to bite Arnstead! Seizing a golden opportunity, Arnstead drives off after the monster, just as Spider-Man swings into the muck—and is met by the Lizard! After a frenetic and preachy battle (the old mammals vs. reptiles debate), with Nancy Connors trying to help, Spidey bites Lizard on the tail and webs him to a tree. (Yes, bites him on the tail…I didn't believe it either.)

Off to Chapter 3, "Bring Back My Man-Thing to Me!" Arnstead tracks Man-Thing and a host of other swamp creatures to the Connors home, where Lizard has mentally summoned them to free him and destroy Spider-Man! Manny swats Spidey, sensing his anger, as the reptile gang frees Lizard. Meantime, Nancy enlists chemist Arnstead to recreate the antidote formula to her husband's serum. Manny attacks Lizard when the scaly scoundrel jumps at Spidey, starting a swampy slugfest that ends when Arnstead runs out of the house with the antidote, trips, and watches Spider-Man save the day by webbing the vial and turning Connors back into the friendly doctor. As Man-Thing shuffles off, Spidey swings away with pix and a feeling that the monster he's just met is not exactly mindless, plus the depressed Arnstead is left with hope. –Joe Tura

Joe: Spidey and Man-Thing? Um, sure. Why not? Set between Amazing #146 and 147 (so we are led to believe), and given oddly coincidental reasons to visit Man-Thing's hood, we get a strange "team-up" that brings back the Lizard but isn't as much fun as you would think. Not that's it's bad, just a mere shell of a story with a "tragic tale" thrown in to appease the Gerber fans, and artwork that seems rushed at times, especially on pages 6-7 between the odd Peter head shot and fractured MJ arms (above). Lizard looks a bit goofy at times also, with his head being a bit too Charlie Brown-round. I don't remember this comic at all, so must not have owned it, blowing my allotted "haircut comic money" on the latest Planet of the Apes mag instead of the expensive Giant-Size Spidey, I guess. Probably because of Man-Thing, of whom I was never a huge fan even though I admit he's one of the more interesting Marvel anti-heroes. And let's face it, I never would have forgotten the bite on the tail if I had read it before. Holy moley, that's a doozy if there ever was one. After that tail's been dragged through the dingy swamp, I hope Spidey has a good sanitizing mouthwash back in his hotel room!

Fave sound effect is not the "CHOMP" from the infamous tail-bite, but the Lizard's shout of "SKRAWWW" when Manny flips him by said tail. Equal parts shock, pain and anger, that one.

Our reprint is a rousing Lee-Ditko classic from Spider-Man #21, guest-starring The Human Torch as they band together to battle The Beetle, and boy, do they ever beat his butt into bug juice! (After the usual misunderstandings and name-calling) It's fun to see the incredible positions Ditko draws the swinging Spidey in, and interesting how the Torch looks like he has a broken back while flying.

Matthew: This final first-run issue preserves the traditions of close continuity with Amazing and offbeat team-ups, from Dracula to the Punisher…speaking of whom, it’s nice that in plugging his solo tale in Marvel Preview #2, they acknowledge author Don Pendleton for “spawn[ing] the whole field!”  Aptly for this big brother to MTU, its rotating stars, Spidey and the Torch, team up against the Beetle in the reprint of ASM #21; meanwhile, a swamp-set story mixing Man-Thing and the Lizard is a no-brainer, but I do wish “Arty” Simek knew how to form the possessive (e.g., not “Conner’s” for Curt Conners, only compounding the misspelling of the latter -- thanks for spotting that, Professor Joe!).  Not to speak ill of the dead, but shouldn’t a man who literally made his living writing words on a page have been able to punctuate properly?

Matthew: Ever since Fear #11, Man-Thing has been the almost exclusive province of Gerber, although the other of my “Two Steves,” Englehart, did use him in, of all places, Master of Kung Fu #19, which is outside my jurisdiction.  So it’s daunting to see another writer take a trip to Citrusville, yet damned if Gerry doesn’t deliver a genuinely Gerberesque story with suicidal loser, montage depicting his downfall, and redemptive ending, plus Spidey biting the Lizard’s tail!  There has, of course, been far more variety among Manny’s artists, a decidedly eclectic group to which Andru and Esposito—the six-decade “Partners for Life,” warming up for their long stint on ASM that begins next month—make a worthy addition, especially with that full-page establishing shot.