Wednesday, March 25, 2015

November 1975 Part One: Some Days You Just Can't Get Rid of a Clone!

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

The succession is now official, and we aptly begin with the party line as Stan’s Soapbox urges us “to wish Marvelous Marv Wolfman lotsa luck as he takes over the editorship of our color comics from Len Wein.  As for ol’ Len, he’ll be serving as consulting editor, to give him more time for script-writing, as in the case of Editor Emeritus Roy Thomas about a year ago, remember?  And Amiable Archie Goodwin says we shouldn’t worry about the black-and-white mags ’cause he’ll be handling them in the usual maniacal Marvel manner—whatever that means!” A “mini-item” states that in addition to the Hulk, Spidey, and Thor (all of whom he will write through ’77), Len is taking over Iron Man, as Trimpe defects from Greenskin to Shellhead, but their tenure is brief.

Tony Isabella opined to Jon Knutson that Marv’s style was “less anal retentive” than Len’s.  “Of course, between supervising the line and writing several books himself, Marv didn’t have a lot of spare time to get too involved with the nuts and bolts of each title.  But, to give him the credit usually claimed by Jim Shooter, it was Marv who really initiated the fill-in issues that, while not as preferable as stories by the regular creative teams, were still preferable to the reprints which had been appearing.  Marv told Les Daniels, the author of Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, “we created a phony [title] called Marvel Fill-In Comics,” written by Bill Mantlo (and usually drawn by Sal B., natch), “and we put it on the publication schedule.”

In Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Sean Howe elaborates on the LenMarv EIC transition, and asserts that for Wein, whose frequent kidney problems were exacerbated by the pressures, the forthcoming Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man #1-and-only represented “the breaking point.”  Certain to be a blockbuster, the treasury-sized first official Marvel/DC crossover was also rich with irony, reuniting Spidey’s Conway/Andru team, but with Gerry now batting for the other side.  After asking why Al Landau—who’d succeeded Stan as president—hadn’t consulted him before removing Ross from his regular duties on Amazing to pencil it, Len reportedly “hurled himself at Landau” when the latter tartly replied, “Because it was none of your fucking business.”

Fantastic Four 164
"The Crusader Syndrome!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by George Perez and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza and Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

The first Jack Kirby FF cover in five years! Buckler and others can ape the King, but one glance at Sue is all it takes to know that this is the real thing. Little did my trip-hammering fifteen year old heart realize this iconic Kirby offering portended...nothing.

We open with Ben bouncing off Sue's new & improved force field. Her encounter with Xemu's thunder-horn (#159) up-powered Mrs. Richards, and she's front & center throughout this issue. Speaking of new, when Johnny last headed out on a date, he was Mr. Button Down Suit; now he looks like a bad brown acid @ Woodstock flashback (making one wonder what 21 year old George Perez was on) as he flies out for a rendezvous with "livin' breathin' doll," Frankie Raye (whatever it is, George – hubba-hubba! - we like it).

Johnny wants to date "normal," without telling the luscious redhead he's a superhero. Yeahhh...that's gonna last less than three pages before the Crusader announces himself in a dramatic full page splash. Says he's "on the side of the angels," but a few panels later he's tossing an aging businessman to an intended death, causing Torchie to bag the normal Joe – albeit in bad hippie drag – routine by flaming on, causing "trauma" in wide-eyed Frankie as he blazes to the rescue.

The Crusader takes umbrage. Battle ensues, with Johnny soon blinded by Crew's wristband ray-gun. To avoid collateral damage, the Torch flies heavenward while the Crusader dispatches the businessman with a chunk of concrete and promptly disappears. Johnny skywrites a blazing 4 before flaming out and plummeting earthward. Reed, anchored by Ben and stretching further than he has in years, manages to snag Johnny. Sue's force field cushions their fall, then parts the gawking crowd, allowing our foursome to brainstorm about the apparently-alien Crusader and his "revenge mission."

Reed tells the others to return to the Baxter Building, then makes like Stilt-Man, taking fifty-foot strides toward Greenwich Village (scene of the murder), mission unknown. -Mark Barsotti

Mark Barsotti: The art makes all the history here; not only does the King provide cover art for his flagship creation, but a young George Perez (aided by Joe Sinnott's stellar inks) makes one of his first full-length appearances. Many new Marvel artists (e.g., Jim Steranko, Barry Smith, Jim Starlin and Paul Gulacy) had an obvious learning curve, but Perez's work seems fully-formed, announcing the arrival of a top talent.

Spoiler alert: there's no hint of it here, but the Crusader is none other than early-'50's flash in the pan, Marvel Boy. We'll leave it to Roy to unfold how he's morphed into a murderous vigilante. It's great to see Sue's star-turn here, on her way to being patronized as a "girl" no more. After the plot contortions of the last four-part saga, this more stripped-down FF adventure is off to an intriguing  start.

But I still wanna know who dreamed up Johnny's bad trip threads.

Scott McIntyre: George Perez and Joe Sinnott; now that’s a damned good combo. Sue hasn’t look this hot in a long time. Not that Rich Buckler’s art was bad, but there was something about it that grated on me. I don’t miss him this issue at all, honestly. We also meet Frankie Raye for the first time, she who would be Johnny’s on and off girlfriend for the next few years. Her trauma over flame, introduced here, won’t be resolved until John Byrne takes over the book, so we won’t reach that issue in the regular course of business. It will be an interesting revelation, however. Hey, is that a Kirby cover?

Matthew Bradley:  “Guest artist” Perez actually pencils the strip intermittently through #192, including the next three issues, and—completing this team-book-lover’s wet dream—not only is inked by The GREAT Joe Sinnott but also debuts on Avengers simultaneously.  Is it any wonder that I consider this my personal Golden Age of comics?  In the meantime, we Monday-morning quarterbacks already know why Roy is completely in his element with this story, yet even for the uninitiated, the combination of his snap-crackle-pop scripting and the Pacesetter’s amazingly assured artwork makes for a prize package of the highest order, while the debut of Frankie Raye will, of course, have tremendous ramifications in the future, albeit outside of this blog’s purview.

Chris Blake: Boy, Stan (and, I guess, Len & Marv) didn’t waste any time, did he?  Kirby’s back in the fold and, right away, bam!  There’s a spiffy new FF cover, just like the King had never left.  

It’s a fast-moving, and action-packed, fun issue, isn’t it?  After keeping her on the sidelines for most of the past few issues, Roy decides to waste no time and demonstrate the newfound expansion of Sue’s powers.  With that will come (over time) a significantly broadened role for Sue – good thing too, as Roy will continue to push many of the right buttons for this title in the months to come.  
So now, are we looking at Perez channeling Buckler, who already had been giving us his best impressions of Kirby and Buscema?  Well, yes and no.  I mean, sure, it helps immeasurably that (once again) we have Sinnott for continuity, and you could argue that his hand contributes significantly to the overall look of the art.  But there are still a number of examples in the layouts that point to Perez’s emerging style, such as: on page 7, the overhead view of the clustered buildings below (above); on p 14, the rubble from the shattered building (below); on p 27, the surprised and awkward reactions as the bystanders are nudged aside by Sue’s force field (last panel, followed by a fist striking the force field on p 30, 1st panel).    

The Amazing Spider-Man 150
"Spider-Man... or Spider-Clone?"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gil Kane, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Peter Parker ponders whether he's the real Spider-Man or the clone, and swings to Dr. Curt Connors' lab to try and get answers, with a mysterious watcher seeing him enter. Connors shows up to help, running a host of tests that has Spidey lying down to rest as he waits for the results. But a troubled Spidey awakes to the Vulture calling his name, and a fracas in flight ends with the old villain exploding! Then a stunned Spider-Man is suddenly smacked by the Sandman, who also explodes when our hero drops a water tower on the beachy baddie. Next, the Kingpin attacks an increasingly woozy Spidey, but one good punch takes care of the corpulent criminal, who explodes like the others! But behind it all is Prof. Smythe, who nabs the wall-crawler with his Spider Slayer, explaining he created self-destructing humanoid robots to torment and batter Spidey, leaving him defenseless. On the verge of being finished, the arachnid adventurer thinks of Mary Jane, not only realizing this means he is the true Spider-Man, but also giving him the will to escape and defeat Smythe. Back to Connors' lab, and with the doctor sleeping, Spidey nabs the test results and scatters them to the wind. He has his answer. –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: This month, for the 150th issue of ASM, we're treated to a one-issue stint by Archie Goodwin, before a long Len Wein scripting run begins, plus an excellent return to the title by artist Gil Kane. A cover that I remember quite well makes the reader wonder what the heck is going on inside, and reminiscent of issue #100, we get a rogues' gallery of villains accosting Spidey who turn out not to be real. But it's good fun all the way through, not a dream, his moral dilemma balanced with physical tests adding to the drama. Sure, we know Smythe won't win, but who cares? It isn't Spidey shrugging the giant machine off his back, that's for sure, but I liked it. Alas, it's also a far from perfect issue, the most glaring error being Curt Connors here again called "Conners" throughout. Tsk tsk.

Matthew:  Proving once again that I should be more tolerant when my colleagues spell a character's name wrong, since the Bullpen can't keep them straight, either!

Joe: In "The Spider's Web", future DC scribe John Ostrander (Suicide Squad, Hawkman, Martian Manhunter, Firestorm and more, including Dark Horse's Star Wars titles) writes in trying to guess the Jackal's identity, rightly saying Marvel characters "stay dead only so long as it suits a storyline" referring to Norman Osborn (how prophetic he will unfortunately turn out to be, long after the doors of the MU close), but wrongly trying to figure out the answer.

Fave sound effect: There are some inventive ones here, from "THWUD" to four instances of "WHUNG!" to "SHRAAASK", but I'm going to go with "VRAK" on page 30 as Spidey finds strength of will and breaks the Spider-Slayer tentacle. After all, it's sorta important, no?

Scott: As much as I don’t normally care for these “summing up” style issues, I give the guys a lot of credit for not going the easy route with the resolution of this story. Still, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to at least peek at the test results to make absolutely sure he’s not a clone, but perhaps he was also afraid he would be proven wrong. Either way, this was a nicely emotional final chapter in the clone saga. At least we’ll never have to hear of it ever again, right? Gil Kane is never my favorite choice as an artist, but over Ross Andru? I’ll take him…

Matthew Bradley:  I know he’s been busy on the B&Ws, but I personally haven’t seen Goodwin’s byline for three solid years, since Incredible Hulk #157; strange that his only ASM credit is on the landmark 150th issue, although they apparently needed someone to plug the hole between the Conway and Wein regimes, and rather seamlessly, I might add.  Andru is MIA (see above), but the return of old hand Kane—well inked by Esposito and Giacoia—is welcome and eminently logical for the inevitable mini-parade of faux villains.  As much of a no-brainer as that is for an anniversary issue, Archie handles it well, and having a second-tier guy like Smythe be behind it is interesting, even if I found it hard to swallow that Peter wouldn’t read that report.

Mark: Another anniversary already? No extra appendages this time, but I still get issue #100 déjà vu all over again: Spidey undergoes invasive medical testing (instead of chugging an untested serum) and begins (possibly) hallucinatory battles with his rogues' gallery. I read on with a rising level of disdain I assumed pinch-hit scribe Archie Goodwin had for the fans (maybe figuring they had a whole new, pimply-faced audience, 50 months on), daring to re-run the plot gimmick from Spidey's centennial...

But wait!

Vulchy, Sandy, and Tubbo are real, they're robo-replicants, whipped up by Spider-Slayer papa Professor Smythe, who conveniently included an acid capsule self-destruct feature into the faux-'bots for the express purpose of making them seem like hallucinations. Thus Archie gets to re-run the ish #100 gimmick with a new, got-ya twist.

Well, maybe, Arch, but no points for originality. Since - according to Prof Matthew - this is a one-off for Goodwin, we'll give that a pass and credit him for having Spidey flash on Mary Jane while at death's door, thus solving Pete's am-I-a-clone? dilemma and giving our hero the Spidey-swagger to take down the 1975 Hummer-sized S. Slayer.

Gil Kane's art further evokes the 50 month flashback. It's adequate at best but even I, no Sugar-Lips cheerleader, felt a nostalgic twinge for Gil's ever-present up the nostril perspective.

Give this one three cloned spiders.

Astonishing Tales 32
Deathlok the Demolisher in
"The Man Who Sold the World!"
Story by Rich Buckler and Bill Mantlo
Art by Rich Buckler, Keith Pollard, Bob McLeod, and The Marvel Bullpen
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Charlotte Jetter

Deathlok uses a knife to take down the stabilizer blades on the escaping helicopter, then causes the fire escape to collapse with his heavy cyborg body and finds the copter, with its passengers killed by cannibals. Meantime, Mike Travers is tracked by Ryker's Terminal Eye as he makes his way to save Nina Ferry, then Ryker watches a replay of Mike finding Deathlok and getting smashed by his former friend. The evil General Ross lookalike laughs them off and presses on for the operation, just as Deathlok tracks a set of footprints to the Lexington Ave subway station. Mike makes his way into the linkage room, unhooking Nina during a shootout, which sets off the destruct pattern, but they're able to get out. Our cyborg hero spies the courier with a briefcase of money getting killed by two thugs, and he dispatches both, only to be attacked by dozens of assailants, who he defeats by bringing down the ceiling—literally! But the bills are counterfeit, the courier died before he could provide any answers, and Deathlok is left searching for the cyborg doctor alone. –Joe Tura

Joe: A crackerjack tale that zips along as fast as Deathlok's computer can analyze his probability for survival. Decent art, decent script and not many answers to the mysteries of this title, although we get a rescue of Nina, some cyborg smackdowning of rotten thugs and the usual frustration at the end that leads to more questions. It's not Eisner-worthy, but held my interest throughout, even with all the "terminal eye" cutaways that feature teeny tiny reverse type that strains my old man peepers.

Matthew: One of my only November issues I didn’t get off the rack, since I won’t “meet” Luther until #33, this marks the Deathlok debut of Mantlo, a worthy successor to Moench who scripts pgs. 10-30 of Buckler’s plot, and will remain on board through the penultimate entry.  The extra month since #31 suggests that deadline problems continue to plague the book (which may have something to do with its sadly truncated lifespan), as do the frequent reprints and, in this case, the artwork credit to “Rich, Keith [Pollard], Bob McLeod, & the Whole Blame [sic] Bullpen.”  Despite its inevitable patchwork nature, this is a decent installment that maintains the cinematic style, time-switching, and multiple narrative voices to which we’ve been accustomed.

Chris: After only 1½ issues-worth of new material over the previous three Astonishing Tales, and with a whole issue lost to the meaningless showdown with the tank (AT #30), this title feels like it’s back on track again.  Cool idea to have ‘puter suggest that Deathlok follow the bag-man’s trail via infrared vision; it not only gives us insight to a heretofore-unknown ability of Deathlok’s, but an example of ‘puter + cyborg collaboration.  This instance also demonstrates how Mantlo has adopted the dark humor of Deathlok’s interplay with ‘puter, but with a twist, as there are a handful of instances that suggest that ‘puter might be modifying itself slightly to accommodate Deathlok’s unpredictable, sometimes illogical statements (best example would be ‘puter’s comment on p 22: “OBSERVATION NOTED FOR FUTURE PROGRAMMING”).  

Mike Travers’ behavior continues to be a bit unclear; it didn’t make sense that he would hustle back to where he had been imprisoned, until I realized that he was going back for Nina – since we hadn’t seen her in a few issues, I had forgotten that Ryker had her wired-up.  Ryker’s reliance on omni-computer surveillance seems well-founded (as we observe on p 2, pnl 3, he’s even capable of accessing a feed from a camera mounted on a fleeing helicopter), but it also could allow Ryker to lapse into over-confidence.  
The art is reasonably solid, but uneven, which can happen when you have at least four hands contributing to the art.  Buckler is credited as the layout-man, and Grand Comics Database tells us nothing to the contrary, but as I look at the pages that are focused mostly on Travers (15, 16, 27), I see very little of Buckler in evidence; I wouldn’t be at all surprised if those pages turned out to have been all-Pollard, with McLeod et al on the inks (with McLeod’s influence most clearly seen on p 15 and 27). Buckler + Janson are credited as sole artists for the next three issues, so that should restore some continuity. 
Mark: A title copped from Bowie and cobble-job art by the "whole blame bullpen." 'Lok looks okay but most of the rest – particularly the Mike Travers scenes – is fast sketch after three drink quality, but at least Team Buckler (w/Bill Mantlo providing two-thirds of the script) manages a reprint free 17 pages, so count yer dystopian blessings. 

The action is non-stop - Deathlok takes down the escaping 'copter from last ish with a well-thrown knife, then inadvertently takes down a fire escape; meanwhile tommy gun-wielding Travers unplugs Nina from Ryker's omni-computer as 'Lok is too late to save the pilot from subway assassins, losing the trail of the "cyborg-doc" he hopes can give him a family-friendly human face – if not particularly logic friendly: Nina-toting Travers outruns the computer's self-destruct bomb in six seconds, while 'Lok escapes a collapsing subway tunnel with nary a dent in his metal dome, right after 'Puter calculated his survival odds at less than two percent.

Math? We got 17 pages; we don't need no stinkin' math!  

The Avengers 141
"The Phantom Empire!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Perez and Vince Colletta
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Praise the Lord! Yellowjacket and the Wasp, although still in the hospital, are well on their way to recovery and the Beast gets some action against weird costumed thugs on the first couple of pages, then gets some help from Captain America, who has been gone from the Avengers for some time.

Cap lets the Beast know about dirty going-ons at Brand/Roxxon, and we shift back to the hospital with Hank and Jan. Thor, who apparently has no godly business to attend to, is still there, with nothing better to do. Wanda and the Vision are also there checking on the recoveries. Cap rallies the troops and they all leave the hospital when Moondragon and Iron Man just happen to fly overhead and the whole team, more or less, is reunited for the first time in several issues. Iron Man reveals that it is Kang the Conquerer behind the kidnapping of Hawkeye. Thor and Moondragon depart to confront Kang via time traveling courtesy of Immortus, and the Beast is visited by an angry, freshly-divorced Patsy Walker.

The Beast apparently made an agreement with Patsy that she could come along on an adventure, and the badly-dressed thugs from the issue’s first pages are the target. Meanwhile, Thor, Moondragon and Immortus confront Kang, who escapes, and then follow him to the American Far West in 1873 where a surprise villain awaits.

Back in the present, the other Avengers break into the Brand Corporation and are confronted with the Squadron Supreme. Surprised and outmatched, the Avengers are quickly subdued, and with the surprise, unknown villain shocking Thor and Moondragon on the last page, we’re left with a good cliffhanger. -Jerad Walters

Jerad Walters: George Perez is a welcome change in the art department, although the continuing fragmented narratives of a team in disarray takes pages away from what should have been a longer, and better, battle with the Squadron Supreme. Seriously, the Whizzer takes on Iron Man and wins?! Perez’s work in this issue is nowhere near the level of sophistication to come, but the action on pages 2 and 3, and the extra-dimensional battle on pages 17 and 18, are well handled. In addition, the Beast is allowed to shine throughout the issue, seeing quite a bit of action.

Scott: George Perez’s art is amazingly good, just what this title needed. While his best years are ahead of him at DC, this is a soild issue thanks in large part to him. Vince Colletta isn’t the ideal inker in this case, but he doesn’t ruin anything either. Englehart does great work in bringing the Beast to life. He is immediately the most interesting and fun member of the team and he’s finally reaching the greatness I’m used to seeing him embody. All in all, a fun issue – finally – although I echo the Vision’s sentiments about Kang…this is getting monotonous.

Chris: “Boy – are things going to start happening – to this magnow . . .” – Navin R. Johnson, upon reading his name in the phone book, circa 1979 (paraphrase).

Matthew: "You want a fill-up, Mrs. Nussbaum?"

Chris: For all the times that Marvel has blared out a “Beginning a New Era of Greatness!” on the cover, this is one instance when it might’ve been a valid claim.  Starting with this issue, George Perez will pencil twenty-five issues of The Avengers over the next five years (plus two annuals, plus a framing-sequence for another issue), and will define the look for this title in the Bronze era.  Yes – I see a hand up in the back – well yes, you’re quite right, Marvel indeed would have published sixty issues of this title in five years’ time.  Why didn’t Perez pencil all of them?  Well, I’ve been asking myself the same question, nearly every day, since that time.  

Chris: The answer is twofold, and both factors relate directly to Perez’s talent: 1) his ability to effectively incorporate figures, machinery, and motion in panel after panel, with numerous details worked into every corner, frequently left Perez prey to the Dreaded Deadline Doom; and 2) Marvel recognized that Perez’s ability was transferable to other titles (he wasn’t a one-team trick pony), which meant that his work also would be featured in the Fantastic Four and the Inhumans (both of which you can see this month), an adaptation of Logan’s Run, and countless covers for titles as diverse as Iron Man, the Defenders, and John Carter Warlord of Mars, all of which took away from time he might’ve devoted exclusively to this title.  
The energy that Perez brings to nearly every page – he’s able to do it at times with an unexpected angle, or positioning of people, even when characters aren’t necessarily springing into action – allows me to overlook the pallid inks of Colletta (Perez’s work, in nearly half of his Avengers issues, is cursed by inadequate inking – ah, what might have been).  More importantly, we have Vision and Wanda back, and Hank and Jan on the mend, and the Beast on board, and Patsy Walker about to make a life-change, and (drumroll -!) Captain America, so hey, get ready for some good times.  I don’t even mind that Captain Underpants – sorry, Kang, I meant Kang, my fault – is back for more humiliation.  (The letters page indicates that this issue would’ve been a prelude to a giant-sizer, so some explanation is not included here that we can expect next issue, which I hope will include a word about how the Squadron got here, after being thoroughly bonked by the Defenders in G-S D #4 – we’ll see.)
So, enjoy this four-issue stretch; Perez tops this only once, in an uninterrupted run of five issues at the end of his Bronze-Era tenure with The Avengers, which appeared in 1980 from #198-202.
Matthew: As Stainless writes on his website, “Not only does the Serpent Crown storyline start here, so does George Pérez,” which by itself makes Steve’s last major arc one of the best by definition, the opening salvo going off like a string of firecrackers with its endless references to earlier mags that, for the most part, I then had yet to read.  After cutting his lupine teeth on Man-Wolf, George—still billed sans accent—seems to have gotten a better handle on balancing the sizes of his panels to maximum effect, despite Colletta’s eroding their magnificence.  There’s so much to love that I’ll forgive such faults as their hilarious inability on the cover to keep straight the Squadrons Sinister and Supreme, even as the Whizzer clarifies that point in page 23, panel 8.

I vividly recalled—despite misattributing it to Shellhead—page 14, panel 1 where the Vision, told Kang is responsible, says, “Again?  This is getting monotonous!”  In his Alter Ego interview, Englehart noted, “the thing that really struck me about Kang was that the guy traveled through time, so time didn’t mean anything to him….He could fight The Avengers tooth and nail until they were all on their last leg [sic], then run away, take six months to rest up, make up a new plan, then return thirty seconds after he left and start over while they’re still lying on the ground gasping….He was a Master of Time, so…[i]f he couldn’t beat you any other way, then he’d beat you with time.  I made sure that each time…he had a good plan and had interesting things to do.”

Conan the Barbarian 56
"The Strange High Tower in the Mist!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema 

Crossing the desert on the way to the Argossian capital of Messantia, Conan, Tara and Yusef come across a high towered, mist shrouded city — Yusef insists that it didn’t exist when he rode through this area a few months back as a member of the Crimson Company. When their mounts refuse to cross the bridge leading into the strange city, the trio walk in, finding it sparsely populated by dazed, whispering men. Suddenly, one of the men strikes a giant gong and a breathtaking woman emerges from the soaring tower in the center of the town. A hideous, bat-like creature flies down and grabs the beauty in its talons, soaring upwards to the tower’s peak. Conan, Tara and Yusef give chase, splitting up when they encounter two separate staircases, the Cimmerian striking out on his own. A few levels up, the young lovers encounter a grotesque halfling named Mad Vakk chained to a throne. Meanwhile, the barbarian arrives at the top level of the tower and the bat demon attacks. At first, the creature gains the upper hand but Conan’s superhuman endurance saps the monster’s strength and it disintegrates, as does the woman. As the tower begins to shudder and crumble, Tara and Yusef arrive and all three rush down the stairs, out of the shattering city and over the bridge as it collapses behind them. Tara tells Conan that the now ruined city was the creation of Mad Vakk: an outcast of society, the deformed loner learned the black arts and conjured the city as his own private sanctuary. However, his creation quickly gained a life of its own, in turn creating the woman and bat creature to lure unsuspecting men to populate its empty buildings. But now, the sad Mad Vakk is finally free, crushed by his own destroyed dream. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: It’s been quite some time since we’ve had a single-issue tale from Roy and Big John — disappointingly, this one is not quite a success. Much of the drama and tension were diffused by waiting until the end and after the city collapsed to reveal Mad Vakk’s secret. I think the story would have been far more effective if Conan knew that the city was actually alive earlier. The bat demon, while a terrifically illustrated monster, went from terrifyingly ferocious to fairly simpering to a puff of smoke in just a few panels. The return of Pablos Marcos is most welcome, a significant improvement over the muddy inks of Tom Palmer. Sorry, wish I had more to say, but this issue is fairly forgettable.

Chris: We all know from Prof Tom’s able reporting (yes – Tom’s been having so much fun with this title that I had to join in) that Conan has plenty of experience with odd situations like this; cities rising from the mist and all.  Roy keeps it interesting with some inspired writing, such as: Conan’s challenge to all the would-be warriors of the city, as he asks whether they are “truly men, or merely children, brandishing sharp toys?”; Roy’s descriptive line, when he states that Conan had been “reared in a land where to admit defeat is to bow one’s neck to death;” Conan’s encounter with the woman-vision, as he prepares to speak, and then silently regrets his lack of skill in expressive verse.  

I like the texture Marcos brings to Big John’s pencils, but then again, I like Marcos’ approach to practically every Marvel artist’s work during this period.  

Captain America and the Falcon 191
"The Trial of the Falcon!"
Story by Tony Isabella and Bill Mantlo
Art by Frank Robbins and D. Bruce Berry
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia

It’s time for the Falcon to face his destiny. While he only remembered he was the Falcon a short time earlier, he knows he is now two men; Sam Wilson, social worker, and “Snap” Wilson, petty crook. Assistant Director Cochren treats the Falcon like a second class citizen and Falc fights back, only to be stopped by Cap for his own good. Finally, Nick Fury arrives and takes command, berating Cochren for his mishandling of the situation and having him apologize to Leila, whom he took into custody earlier. While SHIELD’s lawyers try to work out the fate of the Falcon, Fury finally mends fences previously barbecued between him and Cap. Afterward, the Falcon’s history is made completely public and his old gang members put a contract out on him to make sure he doesn’t turn State’s Evidence. Stilt Man is sent to make the hit on Wilson while in court, stopping on the way to swipe the Trapster’s weapons and use them as his own. As crime bosses and heroes alike try alternately to condemn and save the Falcon, Stilt Man attacks. Falcon acquits himself with valor and defeats the villain, proving himself a changed man. The judge finds him guilty of his crimes as “Snap” but suspends sentence, putting him on parole. With Nick Fury as his Parole Officer, Cap and the Falcon can now resume their heroic partnership. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: A bit of a complex and crowded conclusion to the “Snap” saga, but not altogether bad. It’s nice to see Cochren get his ass chewed out (where did this guy even come from, anyway?) and to see Nick and Cap finally patch things up was pretty cool as well. I’m frankly impressed that “Snap” didn’t turn out to be a trick after all and that his status could be kept without copping out. It’s not a bad job of tap dancing by Tony Isabella. Frank Robbins, however, continues to assault the senses with his insane scratching. Soon, however, his tenure will end with the now officially announced return of Jack Kirby to Marvel and this title. And what a crazy time we will have…

Matthew: A negative times a negative equals a positive, possibly explaining this shocking statement:  I like Robbins’s rendition of the Stilt-Man (the first of four Cap credits for DC inker Berry), especially the cool layout on page 14, with its bizarre tie-in to Tony’s current run on Ghost Rider.  Save for his vulnerability to Redwing - whom you should enjoy while you can, since Kirby apparently expunges him from the strip - Stilty seems a bit more formidable than usual, and leavens the courtroom drama with some lively action scenes.  As for the trial itself, its outcome is certainly welcome, both to put the whole Snap Wilson fiasco behind us as fast as possible and to achieve a rapprochement between the too-often-feuding Cap and Fury, but while the Falcon’s secret i.d. is clearly toast, I have long wondered just how “secret” it ever was.

In his weekly post for the Tales of Wonder website, Isabella wrote, “I was recently asked what I thought of Bill Mantlo’s scripting of [my plot in] issue #191.  Bill did a good job under less than ideal conditions.  He wrote the Falcon as a far angrier man than I would’ve back then and that worked well for the story.  The ultimate resolution of the Falcon’s legal problems—suspended sentence in light of his years doing good and probation with Nick Fury as his probation officer—made sense to me.  The Falcon would still have inner conflicts, but he could go forward as a hero.  I had my cake and Englehart’s cake.  Had I [been allowed to remain] on the title, I could have eaten them both for a good many issues,” according to a “Tony’s Tips” from July 15, 2013.

Daredevil 127
"You Killed That Man, Torpedo -- 
And Now You're Going to Pay!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Bob Brown and Klaus Janson
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

The Torpedo (whose suit now is inhabited by former pro QB Brock Jones) insists again that he is not the man who committed numerous crimes, including the building collapse that resulted in the death of the man who had been the previous Torpedo (as witnessed in DD #126).  Daredevil won’t listen, so Torpedo clonks him and flies off.  Foggy Nelson arrives with the police, and states that DD is wanted for questioning, so DD cuts out too.  Later, Matt meets with Foggy, and overhears that the Torpedo has struck again, this time at a Westchester mansion; the local cops have called the NYPD to request the help of the city’s “special arsenal” for combating “super-types.”  DD arrives at the house, locates Torpedo within, and the battle resumes.  Between punches, Brock explains to DD how the other Torpedo was a Soviet scientist whose family required him to design a super-soldier suit before they could spring him from behind the Iron Curtain.  The scientist complied (the fight is still going on, by the way), but once he reached the States, he realized that his family was “insane,” so he proceeded to build the Torpedo suit in order to steal two sets of suit-plans, secured in the bank safety-deposit box, and in the safe in this mansion.  DD evades the Torpedo, and catches a bus ride; the Torpedo knocks DD off the bus, and the battle is resumed in a small suburban house.  The combatants wreck the place, until the wife/mother screams at them to stop.  The opponents take in the extensive damage, the Torpedo announces that he’s leaving, and DD stands by and watches the police arrive. -Chris Blake

Chris: Major continuity gaffe: after DD and Torp’s parting at the start, we next see Brock Jones seated at his desk, in his office . . . in the office building that he supposedly had blown to the ground with one punch last issue (maybe we should call him “Torpedo the Shatterer”).  This moment only helps to reinforce my point that Marv shouldn’t have gone this way in the first place – even he doesn’t believe that Torpedo could possibly have caused such extensive damage.  You know, maybe if it were a four-story building, but not a sixty-seven story office tower, right?  I had hoped we’d get some explanation as to how Torpedo can blast thru walls without mashing his fingers to pulp (he wears blue gloves that appear form-fitting, with no special protection), but we don’t.  

Matthew: I did a double-take last time when Professor Chris pointed out that the Torpedo's punch took down the entire building, because I always had the impression it just wrecked the immediate area surrounding the elevator.  After letting it go then, I simply had to check on it this time and, naturally, discovered that Chris was correct.  The funny thing is that although Chris is supported by caption and dialogue, my 12- and 51-year-old brains both somehow glossed over that fact.  Ironically, as Chris also rightly points out regarding the gaffe above, the story would have worked better if Torp had merely destroyed the lobby (not least because he and DD would've been Spam if a whole skyscraper had fallen down on top of them), which perhaps points out one problem with having a writer, i.e., Marv, edit his own stuff; no checks and balances.

Chris: We get a brief reminder that DD has these nifty extra-sensory powers, as DD observes that he can’t read the Torpedo’s heartbeat because of the noise of his jets, and that he can’t tell that the new Torpedo’s hair is different – the previous one had grey hair, while Brock’s is blond.  But DD – this first guy was a Yugoslavian scientist – you mean that his voice isn’t going to be different than that of an American ex-quarterback?  And you shouldn’t even need extra-sharp hearing to distinguish that, should you?
(I’m not going to mention the bit about DD finding the mansion, when all we’ve heard is that it’s “in Westchester,” which is kind of a big place, and that he’s able to swing his way there in fifteen minutes, which would mean that he can swing at over 100 mph.  If Marv really insisted that DD get to the house quickly, it would’ve made more sense to place the home in a swanky NYC district like Riverdale.  But I’ll let it go this time.)

The ongoing discussion during the fight, as (between punches) the Torpedo is imparting all the info he received from the dying scientist, reminded me of Calvin & Hobbes discussing existentialism while plummeting down a steep hill in a rocketing sled.  The effect is funnier with C&H, but it’s no less incongruous in DD.
I will say that I like the moment at the very end, when DD and Torp are shocked back to reality by the woman’s call to cease and desist from destroying the house.  It’s a striking reversal from the usual heroic role, as both the proven and would-be heroes become so intent on fighting that they’ve come to ignore the public they profess to protect.   But what is Marv trying to tell us here – how did everything get so completely out of control?  DD thinks that the Torpedo is a criminal, and a killer, but Torp’s attempts to explain himself are overshadowed by his effort to knock DD’s head from his neck; it’s hard to blame DD for continuing what had been, all along, a needless fight.  So, all of this comes down to an issue-long MarMis?  Yes, I’m afraid so.
Scott: Incredibly good conclusion to the Torpedo two-parter. Daredevil is kind of an a-hole here, not giving Torp any real chance. The innocent pay the price and it’s a sober ending. The Torpedo will return before too long and I’ll welcome him. He’s a good character. Bob Brown and Klaus Janson again deliver a near perfect art job. DD hasn’t looked this good in years. Marv Wolfman doesn’t let us down either. Finally, the right mix on this title. It’s not the chore it used to be by a country mile.
Matthew: Preserving my preference for the first halves of two-parters, this had me rooting for the Torpedo, with whom I agreed that DD was being “an A-one jerk.”  The biggest problem suspending my disbelief in this heavy-handed tale is that Brock is supposed to have pulled the old switcheroo with the original Torp—including tying a necktie on a dead man—in no time flat; now, I’ve never tried to dress a corpse, but I’m guessing it just doesn’t happen that quickly.  As usual, I’m not arguing that Brown is any unsung genius, yet whenever I see complaints about his pencils, which is way too often, I lament the times when they are abused by a Colletta or, in this case, a Janson who makes it appear as though we’re looking at the art through a thick L.A. smog.

The Defenders 29
"Let My Planet Go!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita and Frank Giacoia

Nighthawk,  Martinex and Charlie -27 are saved from Badoon execution by the arrival of Valkyrie and Vance Astro. Dr. Strange's astral form rescues the Hulk from an icy fight on the world on which he had been imprisoned. Starhawk,  the recent mysterious benefactor of our friends, finds his family life will have to wait,  as his silent orders find him a part of the Guardians' fight against the Badoon.  Even Jack Norriss,  husband of Val's former identity Barbara,  comes around to helping the day.  Reassembled,  the super teams gain the upper hand and free humanity to fight the good fight. The Defenders return to the present, confident the future is in good hands. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise:  A decent end to the Badoon madness.  From the mysterious purpose of Starhawk  (just who is the on screen woman who gives him his silent orders -his wife? ), to Jack Norriss'  unexpected grounding in reality, or the fire Stephen's apparent death sets in the heart of his fellows; the Badoon may have been beaten by the sheer diversity of the good guys. Interesting to see what this new future will look like -as the comic said,  another story.

Chris: A satisfying final chapter for the Badoon war, even if Steve G relies a bit too heavily on Doc’s seemingly limitless and inexhaustible ability to transport himself, and teleport others, across light-years.  I realize that Doc was drawing some power from the Captain America, but I would’ve preferred some other explanation for this drastic expansion of Doc’s abilities – for instance, the still-mysterious Starhawk might’ve facilitated a way for Doc to tap into some cosmic force or something, which also would’ve contributed to SH’s role in the storyline.  

Very sound choice by Steve to show the Defenders undertaking the first stage of the Badoon’s overthrow, and setting up pieces for the revolt’s eventual success, but without feeling the need to neatly tie up the removal of some fifty million Badooners.  Not only does it make sense that the 31st century terrans would have to complete the job themselves (rather than have a free planet handed to them), but also, this kinda job requires the sorta time that can’t reasonably be worked-in to an 18-page comic tome.  As an added bonus, Steve almost certainly has piqued fans’ interest in the continuing adventures of Marvel’s newest star-spanning team, right -?  Coming soon from Mighty Marvel to a newsstand near you!
Matthew:  Oh, it was so nice having real inks last time…sigh.  Luckily, Sal is on his usual game, so that one word “Colletta” is the worst thing I can say about the wrap-up of this epic starring the true Guardians of the Galaxy; in a typical time-paradox, I’m writing this the day after a trip with Mrs. Professor Matthew to Target, where I cringed at the rows of faux-Guardians merchandise lining the shelves for Christmas.  Jack Norriss, at risk of becoming Marvel’s most widely despised non-villainous character, shows signs of redemption, and although some may have expected/hoped for a more definitive end to Earth’s Badoon occupation, Steve is smart enough to know that such a dramatic situation is too rich and complex to warrant easy resolution.

Addendum:  Said the guy who had yet to reread Marvel Presents #3.  D'oh! 

The Incredible Hulk 193
"The Doctor's Name is... Samson!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Herb Trimpe, Joe Staton, and John Romita
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Bruce Banner is on a ship heading back from Scotland when he witnesses the ship's crew dumping drums of chemical waste into the ocean; they attack him.  This unleashes the furious Hulk, who mops up the floor with the seamen.  As the Hulk swims back to New York, Doc Samson works on a cure for the brain-damaged Major Talbot.  Samson accidently gets doused with gamma radiation and he once again becomes a muscular Adonis.  Needing Banner to help fix Major Talbot, a highly confident Samson goes out to bring him back to the base, once it is reported that the Hulk has been spotted in the Big Apple.  Samson uses a robot-controlled helicopter to bring the Hulkster out into the open but the Hulk quickly destroys the helicopter and he and Samson duke it out.  Being a considerate hero, Samson lures the Hulk up on top of the World Trade towers so that they won't damage the city.  The story ends with the Hulk punching Doc Samson off the tower, and leaping away victoriously.  Samson lands in the middle of a baseball game.  He furiously vows to beat the Hulk the next time they encounter each other. -Tom McMillion

Matthew: The Hulk mopping up seamen. Thanks for the visual.

Scott: So long, Herb. Thanks for the many, many years of fun issues, strange pictures and reliance on inkers. A lot of my favorite stories were done under your watch. Doc Samson’s return is welcome, although it looks like someone else did the art for the large bottom panel on page 15. At the very least, the face feels like John Romita’s style. Hulk and Doc fighting atop the WTC towers is bittersweet in this post 9/11 world and it also feels like a preview of the late 70’s King Kong remake. A fun, final issue for Trimpe, even if Sampson looks a little too muscle bound in a few panels.

Matthew: This marks the end of one of the more impressive runs, with Herb Trimpe penciling and/or inking the lion’s share of issues since, I believe, #106 (August 1968).  Staton’s solid support gives him a strong send-off, yet as usual, when one door closes, another opens via the welcome return of—or, in the case of my 12-year-old self, introduction to—Doc Samson.  I spotted the “Support Howard” billboard in page 17, panel 5, obviously a reference to HTD’s forthcoming solo mag, but I missed the “Talking Duck in Cleveland?” Bugle headline in page 27, panel 2 until the MCDb helpfully pointed it out, and speaking of noticing things, the “flying machine” in page 18, panel 6 is labeled “Robot Chopper Mk 2”; does that mean S.H.I.E.L.D. was in the forefront of drone development?

Chris: Not the brainiest move by Samson – proof yet again that an advanced degree offers no assurance of common sense.  When has a frontal assault against the Hulk ever proven successful?  And once you’ve failed to beat him, when has it ever worked to try to reason with him?  Over time, we’ll see Samson’s muscles become a little more reasonably-sized (compared to the He-Man look Herb supplies him with in this issue), as his thought-process will be more sensical as well.  

I like the little Howard the Duck references (which, I guess, could’ve been planted by Joe as easily as Herb), in a billboard that reads “Support Howard” (p 17) and a Daily Bugle headline that wails “Talking Duck in Cleveland?” (p 27).

Amazing Adventures 33
Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds in
"Sing Out Loudly... Death!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Herb Trimpe and D. Bruce Berry
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by John Romita and Craig Russell

Killraven and the Freemen find a cave to rest in after a week trekking through the West Virginia hills. As KR begins to see visions of puzzles, M'Shulla brings back a deer for dinner, Old Skull takes the first watch, noting how pretty the stars are, and KR heads to the inner dark caverns. He notices he's not alone and goes towards the sound, getting accosted by a band of clichéd black men who live in huts across the lake and fight against the "white man". Seeing visions of the hardships the group suffered, including being driven from their homes by the invading Martians, Killraven watches as the chief is slain by angry Chandra. Then suddenly a "slime-soaked fetid horror rises from the depths of the dark waters", seeking the sacrifice of the chief's body. The Martian monster then drags Chandra down, but he tosses his blade to KR, who cuts the ropes that bind him and dives underwater to save Chandra, who in turns saves Killraven, who then slays the monster. As white man and black man come to an agreement and possibly a friendship, Killraven goes back up the tunnel to his Freemen, and seemingly no time has passed when it felt like days. –Joe Tura

Joe: Any reason why cover artists Romita and Russell can't do the insides too? Well, since this tale is completely out of the regular continuity, why bother. Putting Amazing and Astonishing on the same bimonthly schedule, meaning I have to read both for the same post, just doesn't seem fair, especially when we get a dismissable tale such as this. So, I won't waste too much of the students' time, except to say the next issue is guaranteed to be an improvement over this "far-out fill-in", which teams Mantlo's borderline offensive-in-spots script with Trimpe's average art. Although Herb does draw a hell of a monster, and the splash page and two-page spread on pages 16-17 aren't so bad. Now, I'd never heard of inker D. Bruce Berry, who it turns out was also the letterer on some Captain America issues. Hurray!

Chris: You would think that someone would’ve clued-in Mantlo to the fact that, two issues prior in AA #31, Killraven had battled an underwater creature that relied on willing sacrifices from a worshipping populace.  The creature’s appearance this time is even more unwelcome, as it interrupts the beginnings of a dialog between KR and his non-carnivorous humanoid underground-dwelling captors; that exchange takes two interesting turns as: 1) the Chieftain hesitates once KR challenges him regarding human sacrifice, and then 2) Chandra steps in and responds heatedly to both KR and his Chief, resulting in a quick cave-coup.  Once the tentacles slink into the picture, we get the inevitable former-opponents-put-differences-aside trope, as the story goes all-too predictable and non-credible.  

Matthew: I guess that rules out a cameo by Bud the C.H.U.D.

Chris: I’m all in favor of the return of KR’s mind-vision talent, but I think Mantlo relies on it a bit too often here.  If Bill & Herb really wanted a two-page spread to chronicle the people’s hardships, they could’ve done that without requiring a “vision.”  There’s no reason why KR should have a vision of people’s past recollections, especially when nearly all the people in the cave are descendants of the ones who had lived thru the escape from the surface world following its invasion.  I do appreciate how Bill works in a few instances when the Chieftain admits that he speaks of stories that had been handed down to him, and not of his first-hand experience, so as a result there could be some confusion  concerning the details he wants to impart to KR.  
Trimpe knows his way around the characters, so he’s okay in this fill-in capacity.  Clearly, his depiction of the cave-community would come in handy a few years from now, when he would be called on to bring the images of Tunnelworld (gasp - no! no! he has uttered that-which-must-not-be-said!!) to life.  
Mark: Never mind that "much overworked" Craig Russell and Don McGregor take the issue off from their crushing bi-monthly schedule. Don't wonder how long-time Kirby @ D.C. inker D. Bruce Berry came to work with Herb Trimpe, or from whence came the phosphorescent light that allows a black separatist "tribe" to grow palm trees, deep in a subterranean cavern. No, class, the only question this abomination raises is how pinch-hit writer Bill Mantlo and new editor Marv Wolfman - who I have no doubt thought this was a post-alien invasion paean to racial harmony - managed to serve up a noxious stew of stereotypes that makes an Amos 'n' Andy script read like MLK's "Letter From Birmingham Jail."

The premise: this group of blacks took the Martian invasion as a chance to split "down into the caves – forever!" And in less than 20 years, these mid-20th century Americans became face-painting, loin-cloth wearing, literal "spear-chuckers," as if tribal African customs were encoded in their DNA. Be thankful Mantlo & Trimpe spare us bones-through-noses fashion accessories.

Killy is hipped to this history by the tribal chief, who rolls up in a – I kid you not – carried-on-poles Caddy. With a feather in his pimp hat, the chief regales honky Red in aforementioned Amos 'n' Andy patois, "an' while whitey's cities was burnin' de people decided dey didn't want to switch from bein' slaves to whitey..." 

If Bull Connor and David Duke had a favorite comic of 1975, this would be it.

Captain Marvel 41
"Havoc on Homeworld!"
Story by Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom
Art by Al Milgrom, Bernie Wrightson, Craig Russell, Bob McLeod, and Terry Austin
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Al Milgrom

Approaching Hala, Mar-Vell sends his modified Quinjet back to Earth on autopilot and splits up with Rick, but a run-in with a Black Knight (see Warlock) draws a violent mob, so they cut short their tour of Homeworld, which is completely covered by machinery.  In the Hall of Judgment, they warn the Supreme Intelligence of the plot against him by Zarek, Fer-Porr, et al., and are shocked when said traitors appear, forcing them to merge for battle.  After the bigoted blue Kree are rapidly routed, the Supremor reveals that although aware of their prior attempts to kill Mar-Vell, he conspired with them only on this one, and has been periodically prodding Mar-Vell since his assignment to Earth to offset his “utter lack of personal ambition.”

At an evolutionary standstill, the Supremor must assimilate Rick’s mind to advance, but—unable to do so directly—had to join it with that of a non-blue Kree; ever warlike, he made Mar-Vell his “perfect opponent,” rather than simply take their minds.  Splitting them up, with one Nega-Band apiece, he pits them against Ronan the Accuser to confirm that their linkage has doubled their power, then teleports them away.  Meanwhile, “a space traveler turns from his intended flight-path…a boot trips in loose soil, revealing a pulsing gem…a microcircuit relay snicks into place…an ancient space prospector spies a glint of light on a sharp outcropping…the pitch of cosmic gyros changes oh-so-very slightly…and an intergalactic insect-form pollinates the Millennia-Bloom!” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: If the “Engrom” team is ever going to get it together on this title, it’s likely to be with the arc that starts here in my first post-Thanos issue, although back then I didn’t get the Universal Church of Truth sequence, a hint of resurgent Starlin elements to come.  If last issue explained our heroes’ desire to come to Hala, it still seems odd for Mar-Vell to be reporting to the Supremor in his new capacity as cosmic protector; I am otherwise delighted with the back-to-basics approach, and impressed that Stainless puts a new spin on the book’s entire run, yet ironically, Archie Goodwin did it first back in #16.  Per the lettercol, “a deadline crunch” led Wrightson, Russell, McLeod, and Austin to help Milgrom ink his own pencils, and all things considered, the results aren’t bad.

Addendum:  As this issue demonstrates, some confusion can result from the fact that the Kree sometimes refer to their headquarters planet of Hala as "Homeworld," a name that is now also used by Starlin for the base of the Universalite Church in Warlock.  They are two different planets. 

Chris: Mar-Vell feels that he’s served the Supreme Intelligence with honor and loyalty, and he feels he’s due to be rewarded as he has been in the past.  Instead, the SI recognizes Mar-Vell’s value as a challenger, rather than as a useful, dedicated servant; Marv is thinking on a personal level, but we shouldn’t be as surprised as he is, when we find the Supremor (almost impassively) operating on a macro level, and considering the future of the Kree as his top priority.  It’s a nifty reversal, and the best thought-out idea Steve E has brought to this title since he assumed the helm.  

Chris: I guess I always thought the nega-bands were there to channel brief bursts of inter-dimensional energy – and, of course, to provide a real cool sound when they’re clanged together.  If they served as an energy conduit, I figured they channeled the power of the cosmos to our inter-stellar warrior; I didn’t realize they converted mental energies into physical might (where’ve I been all this time -?).  Steve E has not been content to sit still with this character, as Marv and Rick now each have one band, halving Marv’s power and giving Rick a way to use his “latent mental powers,” as observed by the SI.  I realize it won’t last, but it should be interesting to see where this might lead.  It will be enough for Rick to share Marv’s powers for awhile; thank God that (at least, during the Bronze Age) no one ever took the irreversible step of conferring a superhero ID (and a new name, and a costume) on Rick Jones.  

The art is going be a bit unsteady for awhile.  Despite the “many hands” approach, the art held together well enough this time.  It helped that all of the inkers not named “Milgrom” are good-quality artists in their own rights; from here on, the dark-but-clear approach Milgrom had employed (most notably on Starlin’s pencils) will give way to a sludgy look, which results in many indistinct-looking figures, plus inexplicable results like Marv-the-Demonic-Figure (left).  

Curiosity got the better of me, so I checked Grand Comics Database, which this time had a very detailed breakdown of who-did-what.  Most of the inks are by Russell, with two pages by McLeod and four by Milgrom, plus a few figures by Wrightson, and some backgrounds and panels by Austin.  When a book is already behind schedule, so that you need extra people to help finish faster, how does it save time to have different people inking the same page?  Unless, I suppose, they’re all feverishly crowded around the same newspaper-lunchbag-and-coffeecup strewn desk space of the whole blamed bullpen. 

Matthew:  I always appreciate both Professor Chris's impressive scholarship and his literary elan, but I must say I particularly value how his deconstruction of the artwork serves as (if I may say so) such a perfect counterweight to my own unashamedly writer-centric take on the curriculum.  "You complete me."

The Invaders 3
"Blitzkrieg at Bermuda"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Vince Colletta
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Romita

 En route to Washington in early 1942, with Bucky piloting Namor’s supersonic flagship, the Invaders destroy a U-boat trying to sink a freighter, and take a coded order from its captain. The FBI's Mr. Stuart explains that after visiting the U.S. and Canada, Churchill plans to return home aboard the Duke of York, awaiting him in Bermuda, but the route is infested with U-boats, which the decoded message reveals are commanded by the towering, blue-skinned U-Man, who had led an attack on a Caribbean naval base by Nazi frogmen and sea creatures under his control.  Because his shock troops are apparently rogue Atlanteans, Namor insists on facing U-Man alone, and the others are unable to stop him from flying off (joined by buddy and “spare pilot” Bucky). -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This was my first issue, and even if the Robbins/Colletta interior artwork couldn’t possibly live up to it, how could you get off to a better start than with that (literally) socko Romita cover, complete with an ad for one of the greatest movies ever made?  One could argue that it’s a little disheartening to see the Invaders temporarily squaring off against one another rather than against the Axis, but let’s face it, the discord among them has been there since Day One, and bringing it to a boil at this point is a legitimate way to generate suspense as we prepare for the main event.  In page 30, panel 4, Roy refers to Bucky and Toro as “young allies,” a sly allusion to the Golden-Age team—and eponymous comic—of which they were the best-known members.

Scott: Fun, but a bit of a time waster. I’m not expecting anything heavy in this title, nor do I want that, but so many pages were devoted to the team fighting amongst themselves, it felt like so much padding in an attempt to stretch out this story. Why did we need to have this long dragged-out roughhouse? Honestly, there’s not much story to comment on. The art is goofy, but it suits this title. 


  1. Hey guys, stellar job as usual. One really minor thing: the Astonishing Tales header is lacking the issue number, 32 (and understandable given the sheer amount of text you post). Feel free to delete this comment after you have added the issue number.

  2. Another minor thing is that in the Conan comic the deformed man first introduced himself as Mad Vakk, but throughout the rest of the comic he is referred to as Mad Jakk. Not sure what was up with that, unless maybe "Vakk" was a typo, or they changed their minds and decided to call him Jakk instead.