Wednesday, March 18, 2015

October 1975 Part Two: Please Welcome Future Superstar (and Super-Ego) John Byrne

The Man-Thing 22
“Pop Goes the Cosmos”
Story by Steve Gerber 
Art Jim Mooney
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Irv Watanabe
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Klaus Janson

In a letter to his editor Len Wein, Steve Gerber writes that this will be his last issue of The Man-Thing: not only that, everything he wrote before about the character actually happened. When Gerber accepted the assignment, he was visited by the ancient sorcerer Dakimh who would tell him the tales of the swamp creature’s strange adventures. When Dakimh died, Thog, the Nether-Spawn, was freed from his prison on Therea, a world of eternal light. Thog hatched a plot to destroy the last obstacle between him and control of the entire universe — Man-Thing. The Nether-Spawn created nightmare boxes, receptacles for emotional energy. He sent his reptile demons out in the world to find those who could fill the boxes. In Atlanta his minions found Dani Nicolle, an insane woman prone to bursts of violence: with her box she could control her raging emotions. Furthermore, they created a psychic bond between Dani and her brother, Robert, aka the Scavenger. Using Roland Duhl as a conductor, the Scavenger’s rage would also feed Dani, filling the receptacle even faster. When enough boxes are filled, a huge pyramid would be constructed: as the captured emotional force was released, the world would be plunged into madness. In New York, the oddly-dressed man who stole a nightmare box in Atlanta knocks on Gerber’s door, offering him the powerful object. Soon, Thog’s demons arrive. The writer surrenders and is sucked inside the box. When the demons return the box to their master in the Atlanta junkyard, Thog draws Man-Thing inside it as well. In the box, Gerber and Man-Thing meet as friends — Dakimh, returning from a higher plane, joins them. When Thog places this final nightmare box on top of the pyramid, Dakimh urges Gerber and the muck monster to hold their emotions in check: the pyramid collapses and everyone is transported to a mad dimension. Thog and the Man-Thing grapple. The Nether-Spawn, sensing that his grand plan is failing, becomes fearful and burns at the hands of the being formerly known as Ted Sallis. Gerber awakes back in his apartment. Dakimh and Man-Thing appear and thank him for his help. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Well you can’t say that Steve Gerber didn’t manage to tie everything together — and no matter what you think of his method, it certainly is a unique way to end a series. Was it Gerber’s egotism that made him work himself into his own storyline? Did he simply write himself into a corner with his numerous plot lines and this was the only way out? Had he planned this from the beginning or just made things up as he went along? Or just Gerber being Gerber? Beats me. I dunno, feels a bit like a cop-out to me, a reverse treatment of the old “it was all just a nightmare” trope. I guess Gerber is owed some measure of respect for trying something so odd in a funny-book, but I just wasn’t entirely engaged. By the way, was the weirdo who dropped the box off to Gerber someone I should recognize? He seems too important to be a random character. So bon voyage The Man-Thing. At least for now, because Manny remains a major character in the Marvel universe to this very day. And to think it all started in the pages of Savage Tales #1, a black-and-white magazine covered by this very professor. I think Gerber himself would have appreciated the cosmic coincidence. 

Mark Barsotti: Steve Gerber attempts to get out of the sprawling, existential mess that Man-Thing has become (Exhibit #1: Professor Flynn's synopsis of the deep-down-the-rabbit-hole story. Just reading it gave me a headache) by not just writing "Steve Gerber" into Manny's swampy swansong, but giving himself a starring – not to say heroic – role in the very mess he (and we) are now desperate to escape. 

The demon Thog – who looks like the devil in Richie Rich – becomes the peg on which Steve attempts to hang all dangling, disparate plot threads. All very Zen and zany, but it brings to mind Ronnie Reagan's on the stump parable about the farm boy who, when confronted with a huge pile of horse sh*t, dug in with gusto because he was convinced there had to be a pony in there somewhere.

So, like the old wizard on the final page, I express my appreciation for all Gerber attempted and sometimes achieved on Man-Thing. But it's time to stop digging when you run out of ponies.

Matthew Bradley: Man-Thing follows Man-Wolf as the second out of The Great Marvel Monster Three-Pitch Inning of ’75 (up next:  Morbius), but of the trio, he has by far the best second act of the Bronze Age, an 11-issue Volume 2 four years hence.  While we are denied a farewell lettercol, the crew goes down with flying colorsif I may mix sports and nautical metaphorsin perhaps the most elaborate stylistic tour de force yet, an epistolary meta-comic!  Written in the form of a letter from Steve to lame-duck editor Len, mixing text pages with visual spectacle courtesy of the Madman, it can certainly be said to tie up any loose ends, and proves that Steve Englehart has no monopoly on destroying and re-forming all of creation within the bounds of a single comic book.

Chris Blake: I feel like Mongo when Sheriff Bart is preparing to ride off into that big, Western sunset.  The regret is from the realization that there is no other title that could replace this book.  Sure, there will be other well-written, intriguing titles to read, but there won’t be anything to provide that same unpredictable wild-ride that characterized Man-Thing at its best.  

Case in point: Steve G’s inventive thought to insert himself in the story. The issue doubles as "The Conclusion of the Scavenger/Thog Story," coupled with "Why I Can't Write Man-Thing Anymore." I can't say I blame Steve -- as he points out, he's already written thirty-seven Man-Thing tales; one basic problem, as we've seen over the most recent 10-12 issues, is that it's become more and more challenging for Steve to find a way to keep Man-Thing at the forefront of these stories, instead of shambling along in the background. 
I don't know the inside scoop, so I'm not aware of whether Steve was stepping down, and no other bullpenner felt he could match the oddball outlook required to continue the series, or whether sales had slacked off and if Man-Thing was going to feel the bite of the axe anyway -- chances are, it's a combination of these two considerations. Steve might've felt that it was the right opportunity to build on the groundswell of support for Howard the Duck, and turn his satiric eye toward new possibilities.

Either way, this is probably the only series where you could open with the author telling you the story about the story, so that Steve's telling the story and the story itself are playing out simultaneously.  I'm accustomed to Steve's preference not to explain all the details, but in this case I'm glad he was willing to relate the function and purpose of those nifty little light boxes. It's a bit of a deus ex machina for Steve to have Dakimh return from beyond to "set things right," but at least Man-Thing and his unique skill set are front-and-center for the fear-fraught conclusion.
Mooney's art continues to be inspired, especially the kaleidoscope of characters (p 6), Thog’s inter-dimensional escape, and his ornate throne room – notice also the creepy slitted eyes lurking just beyond his chair (p 11), the bizarre underground pyramid-construction site (p 16), and fittingly, Steve’s meeting with Manny as they’re both trapped in the box (p 22), complete with handshake (p 23, 1st panel).  

Marvel Premiere 25

Iron Fist in
“Morning of the Mindstorm”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Al McWilliams
Colors by Michele Wolfman 
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

Iron Fist spars with the massive Khumbala Bey, Princess Azir’s royal bodyguard. The man known as the Mountain is enraged as he was absent when Rand saved the princess’ life and takes things too far — a furious Azir puts an end to their battle. Lieutenant Scarfe drives Iron Fist back to Professor Wing’s brownstone, unaware that they are being tailed by two men under the employ of someone called “The Fat Man.” In Wing’s apartment, the Professor attacks Iron Fist with a samurai sword raving about monsters — after being disarmed, the screwy scholar is carted off in an ambulance. Back at police headquarters, Scarfe and Rand spot Colleen Wing being ushered into a patrol car. But the cops are imposters and open fire: Iron Fist throttles one but the other manages to drive off with the girl. They give chase, nearly running over a group of small children in the process. Scarfe follows the vehicle into a dead end alley but his steering wheel suddenly transforms into a dragon and the car crashes — Rand drags the Lieutenant out of the wreck before it explodes. Weird colors and shapes begin to swirl around the Living Weapon and he finds himself back in the Himalayan mountains. His father, Wendell Rand approaches, striking his son across the face. But it is all an illusion created by Angar the Screamer. Angar conjures up other false threats: a dragon, a man made of bricks, Lei Kung, The Thunderer and Khumbala Bey. But Rand soon realizes that they are fake foes and strikes Angar down with his mighty Iron Fist power. Searching the villain, Scarfe finds a Stark International security card.
-Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Iron Fist’s last appearance in the pages of Marvel Premiere also marks one of 1975’s major events: the first collaboration between Chris Claremont and John Byrne, the duo that would soon become the most popular creative team of the last half of the decade. While his first professional comics work was actually for Marvel — “Dark Asylum” (Giant-Size Dracula, June 1975) — Byrne was breaking into the business over at Charlton Comics at the time and Claremont was a fan. When Pat Broderick missed the deadline for this issue, John Verpoorten showed him the door and hired Byrne on Claremont’s recommendation. I couldn’t find any proof of this but looking through the issue it seems that some of Broderick’s work remains: Byrne was obviously still finding his sea legs but a few panels look decidedly worse than others. Not sure whether this was a conscious decision or not, but Byrne starts to draw the Iron Fist power for both hands while it has mainly been just the left so far: double fisting is much preferred in my book. Marvel Premiere will continue on with a mix of other characters, starting with Hercules next issue. Iron Fist will jump to his solo comic next month and Claremont and Byrne will usher the character through the entire 15-issue run. See you there!

Chris: It’s an odd little authorial affectation of Claremont’s, but when one of his characters is faced with a Big Moment in a story – and this can happen with any character, except maybe Doctor Strange, or Man-Thing – Claremont will give them a sotto voce line like “O my dear heart of the living God,” or “O by the light of the most dear lord,” or some other overstated thing, typically presented in mini-Simek type, at a time when most people tend to leave it with “Wha -?” or “How -?” or some other nearly speechless reaction.  Lt Scarfe and Danny both find themselves inspired to a seemingly spontaneous whispered prayer in this issue; I don’t know why Claremont finds this necessary, but it nearly always rings false with me.  

We can tell that Byrne is our artist this time, can’t we?  It’s particularly evident in the Screamer-induced hallucinations (p 17, p 23, p 26), especially the Phoenix-like dragon-image on p 26; I really dig the Danny-double-as-skeleton on p 23.  We also recognize Byrne in some of Iron Fist’s moves and poses, such as the bodyguard battle on p 2-3.  Plenty more to come!

Scott McIntyre: If the credits didn’t list John Byrne, I wouldn’t have recognized his pencils in this issue. The inker takes all of the spotlight. Byrne's partnership with Chris Claremont will reap major dividends. At the moment, however, it’s a marginally good issue. The best between these two guys is yet to come.

Matthew: History in the making as the very first Claremont/Byrne collaboration (reportedly due to a blown deadline by Pat Broderick), and while I didn’t expect I’d be able to say this, it’s true, by gum:  you can see the seeds of greatness that led to their later triumphs in X-Men and elsewhere.  McWilliams is not the ideal inker of Byrne’s pencils—nor, I would submit, is John himself—but neither does he impede a fluidity and power that are especially impressive in a newcomer.  In fact, both halves of this legendary team perform with remarkable assurance as Chris, who’d apprenticed on Angar’s home turf of Daredevil, weaves his complex and beautiful tapestries; I loved the deflation of Danny’s unwittingly summoning the Iron Fist to defeat…a car.

Marvel Spotlight 24
The Son of Satan in
"Walk the Darkling Road!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Sal Buscema, Bob McLeod, and John Romita
Colors by Diane Buscema
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane, Tom Palmer, and John Romita

Daimon is jolted awake on his flight to Los Angeles by a disturbing vision of his sister, Satana, taking possession of a man’s soul by kissing him, and then taking Daimon’s soul in the same manner!  Daimon is headed west in response to a letter he received from Dr Lewis Hefford, who had run the orphanage where Daimon had grown up; Dr Hefford is concerned that his daughter, Gloria, has become involved with some evil power.  Gloria meets Daimon at the terminal, and speaks matter-of-factly about how her satanist group has changed, and how a woman named Ruth Cummins was found murdered, since a new member had joined a few months ago; this new member is none-other than Daimon’s sister.  Daimon locates Satana, and accuses her of killing the man he had seen in his vision, and of possessing as many as a dozen souls.  Satana denies the charge, and the battle is joined, ending abruptly as she disappears in the consuming soulfire projected from Daimon’s trident.  Daimon wonders why he would kill Satana, and has only begun to wonder whether some other hand had guided his, when Gloria appears, and subdues him.  Gloria informs Daimon that she is no longer Hefford’s daughter, as her form now is occupied by Kthara, who has escaped hell, and now requires one last soul – Daimon’s – to release her ravagers  and claim the earth.  Satana interrupts the sacrifice, releases Daimon, and the two battle minion-demons summoned by Kthara; Kthara resists expulsion by Daimon, but once Satana summons the basilisk contained within herself, Kthara is torn from this mortal plane, and cast away, screaming back to hell.  Daimon tries to explain why he attempted to destroy her, but Satana rejects his efforts, promises future harm should they meet again, and stalks away, leaving Daimon standing alone. -Chris Blake

Chris: Claremont densely-packs the story into this solid one-shot.  It’s a clever device for Gloria/Kthara to plant the image in Daimon’s mind of Satana committing the soul-stealing which had, in fact, been perpetrated by Kthara; Daimon then is convinced (possibly nudged further this way by Kthara) that Satana is the guilty party, and does not allow the rational side of himself to take a moment to question her before he takes violent action.  Claremont does not provide us with Kthara’s motivation for pitting sibling vs sibling, but based on the outcome, I assume that Kthara was concerned that Satana’s basilisk-access could prove to be her undoing, and she hoped that Daimon might be employed to dispose of Satana for her.  Divide and conquer.
I will admit to some confusion early on, at the moment Daimon is met by Gloria.  He is there to assess whether she might, in fact, be involved with evil forces; instead, the two speak rationally, as Gloria feeds him misinformation about Satana, and Daimon listens uncritically.  Ordinarily, I would expect Daimon to be on his guard, even with a person he has known for some time – so, why does he have implicit trust in her?  There really needs to be a panel or two for the reader to gain some understanding of what Daimon is seeing and hearing during their conversation.  Are there any doubts that he carries with him to his fateful meeting with Satana?  

Claremont pours some soap over Daimon’s largely uneventful separation from Katherine Reynolds, as she gets a little squishy once she realizes that he’s leaving, and not likely to return.  In Daimon’s defense, he hasn’t provided any encouragement that there might be any chance of some relationship – I mean, it’s not like he led her on (maybe Kathy has daddy issues -?).  Claremont rightfully closes out this encounter when he observes that Daimon already is forgetting Kathy as he cooly turns his attention to his next assignment.  
The Sal + Bob art is among the best we’ve seen for this title.  They set the tone from the start, as neophyte Gloria foolishly is taken by Kthara, and then Kthara nabs her first soul, literally shriveling her victim (p 1-3).  The action, of course, is high-octane, punctuated by demon biting (p 26, pnl 2) and hair-pulling (p 27, 1st panel).  Other images: Daimon’s dreamscape descent into Satan’s mouth (p 11), Daimon’s moment of peril as he faces Kthara’s knife (p 22, last panel), and Kthara’s piteous plunge back to the pit (p 30).
I was disappointed that, again, there was no letters page this issue.  At the very least, there should have been an opportunity for fans to be informed that Daimon’s next appearance would be in his very own (short-lived!) title, which would appear in two months, right on schedule with Daimon’s appearances in Spotlight.  

Matthew: This month, Premiere and Spotlight bid adieu to their longtime tenants, spinning them off into solo titles; each will become, per MP’s lettercol, “the mag…it was always intended to be—a premiere book, showcasing new strips and characters and giving experimental try-outs to old favorites…” Both issues are written by Claremont, who here provides connecting links for these Satanic siblings:  for Daimon, between his two major writers, Gerber and Warner, and for Satana, between the strip Chris inherited in the abruptly cancelled Haunt of Horror and their solo effort in Premiere #27.  It’s a solid story, despite the busy agenda and tying up of loose ends (e.g., Dr. Reynolds), with Sal, again well served by McLeod, maintaining visual continuity.

Marvel Team-Up 38
Spider-Man and The Beast in
"Night of the Griffin"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Ron Wilson and Mike Esposito

Swinging home by the docks, Spidey sees a man falling from the sky, but his rescue effort flounders, and after the Beast—responding to a tip—pulls them from the East River, the dying doctor reveals he had turned hood Johnny Horton into the Griffin (see Amazing Adventures #15).  Now insane and sporting a tail, the Griffin broke out of prison seeking revenge and dropped the surgeon to his death upon learning that his former masters in the Secret Empire were no more.  Master of all that fly,” he sics a flock of seagulls on the ex-X-Man, who follows when the Griffin flies off with Spidey on his back, yet having dumped his unwanted passenger and returned for the kill, he is flattened by our heroes’ fists on the Brooklyn Bridge and captured. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I misremembered this as being a big disappointment when I finally acquired it years later, and am quite delighted to be wrong, partly because I love the Beast, on whom Sal and Esposito do a conspicuously fine job.  More important, it thus also constitutes a flying (har) start to the almost-unbroken 19-issue Mantlo/Buscema run, which I consider one of MTU’s two high points; you can do the math regarding the other.  The leads are a match made in Heaven, and unlike some of the missed opportunities from earlier issues, Bill’s maiden effort hits all the right notes, avoiding the MARMIS in favor of a collegial and bantering relationship right out of the gate, and reviving a formidable villain from Hank’s short-lived solo series (next seen in—wait for it—Champions).

Joe: Any time Sal B. is on the credits of Marvel Team-Up it's great, but when Mike Esposito is inking him, it's cause for celebration! I remember this cover vividly, and always liked The Griffin as a villain, but not sure why to be honest. Here, he shows up to battle his old adversary, The Beast, who I will say is not drawn well, which is surprising. Maybe it's because it's all set in the rain, which gets distracting after 20 pages or so. This ain't Seattle, after all. The donnybrook doesn't last very long, but at least that's honest since it really shouldn't last long. Spidey and Beast can take down a Griffin in their sleep. Good stuff, even through its small faults.

Master of Kung Fu 33
"Wicked Messanger of Madness"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy and Dan Adkins
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Reston is attacked on the street by a mechanical man, which fires bullets from its eyes.  Black Jack shoots the robot dead-center, but Shang-Chi realizes that the automaton can only be defeated by its own firepower, so he wrenches its head down and causes the robot to blow-out its own midsection.  Sir Denis and his associates agree that this appears to be the handiwork of Mordillo, a brilliant but twisted freelance assassin; Mordillo had been thought to be dead, and his true identity has remained unknown.  Reston introduces S-C to the new London flat arranged for him by Sir Denis; S-C takes a shine to Leiko, another of Sir Denis’ operatives, who happens to be soaking in the tub when S-C and Reston arrive.  It turns out that Leiko and Reston have some history, but they’re keeping things professional.  At Scotland Yard, Sir Denis reveals clues hidden on the slugs fired by the mechanical man, which ties in to the killing of three agents at Tower Bridge.  Mordillo’s renewed activity ties in to efforts by the Yard to preserve a dangerous military secret.  Sir Denis reveals that scientists working for British intelligence have devised a way to strategically pinpoint segments of the ozone layer for destruction, which would instantaneously imperil an enemy populace.  The technique is determined to be too dangerous to employ, so it has been hypnotically recorded in Leiko’s mind, with all printed information now shredded.  Sir Denis and Reston determine that a clue to Mordillo’s identity could be hidden on Tower Bridge, and that Mordillo could be so desperate to safeguard his secret that he’s willing to destroy it all!  S-C and crew defeat a goon squad on the bridge, and S-C tosses the explosive into the Thames.  The clue that had been left by one of the murdered agents is discovered – it states that Mordillo is another British agent known as Bretnor, who happens to be . . . Leiko’s present paramour.  Leiko has disappeared in the scramble to save Tower Bridge, so now the hunt is on to save an agent, and preserve the deadly secrets hidden in her mind. -Chris Blake

Chris: Well, that went on a good deal longer than I had expected; I had to trim the edges off a few of the plot details so that they would fit a little more cleanly in the summary.  The story is every bit as involved as it reads here.  There are pages and pages jam-packed with word balloons, in some cases so dense that you can barely see the face of the speaker (this happens to Sir Denis a few times).  It’s not bad – it’s kinda fun, in its way, to try to follow the twists and turns.  The only possible downside is that there isn’t a whole lot for Shang-Chi to do, as he sits next to Leiko and tries not to be distracted by her bewitching scent.  Oh sure, he gets to bang some heads, and he gets to play hero as he tosses the bomb in the water, but otherwise he’s waiting with us to see where the story is going to go.  Now that Doug has gone to such great lengths to set things up, I’m game to see where he’s prepared to lead; either way, I’m hoping for a faster-moving second chapter.  
My first thought was that this might not have been a bad time to schedule a fill-in artist, since there are a total of seven pages that feature little more than talking heads, as the giant iron wheels of the story are made to turn.  But, of course, when we get to the fight scenes, and even the full-Bond apartment sequence (complete with tantalizing glimpses of Leiko), I’m perfectly happy to have Gulacy on board for the whole ride.  
Mark: While the recent narco-kingpin spy trilogy, excellent though it was, coulda come Straight Outta Hollywood, rest assured the newly-launched mad inventor Mordillo arc is cut from far weirder, only-in-comics cloth. So much so that I'm gonna give Doug Moench's most outlandish plot point – that Sir Denis felt the ozone layer destroying plans for Project: Ultra Violet were so dangerous they had to be destroyed, but only after saving a hypnosis-hidden copy in the mind of babeilicious agent Leiko – a pass without batting an eye.

Paul Gulacy's back, and if the art isn't his best effort there are still highlights enough – another movie poster splash; the robo-assassin w/machine gun eyes; Shang and Reston framed under the arch of Leiko's in-the-tub- à la-The Graduate-leg – to satisfy. Still, this one is mostly set-up: dialogue heavy, with briefing room word balloons the size of the Hindenburg. Assume the Lotus position and take a deep breath, oh impatient ones. The high kicking, unhinged fun begins next ish!

Luke Cage, Power Man 27
"Just a Guy Named 'X'"
Story by George Perez and Bill Mantlo
Art by George Perez and Al McWilliams
Colors by Diane Buscema
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Luke Cage is busy fretting his unpaid phone bill, when a big lummox punches through his wall.  The wrestler accidently missed the heavy bag he was hitting while training next door.  Named Willie Dance, the wrestler is mildly retarded because of all the hits he took to the head over the years.  An angry Power Man lets his hair trigger temper get the best of him, and he starts fighting with Willie.  While he may be dumber than a box of rocks, Willie still has his skills from his time in the ring.  Before the fight can go too far, Willie's manager Bernie breaks it up.  A lowlife hoodlum has recently killed a scientist and has stolen a canister of formula that was similar to the concoction that made Captain America.  The hoodlum hides the cannister in Willie's locker, and later on is shot and killed by the cops out in the street.  Now wrestling as the masked "X, the Marvel," Willie finds and drinks the potion which transforms him into a giant, muscular brute.  Seeking revenge on Cage for calling him names earlier, Willie pays him another visit at his office.  It's the rematch of the century as both men punch the daylights out of each other.  Power Man has a much harder time than before; Willie tackles him through the office window and they land on the street below.  Bernie the manager comes along just as Willie throws a wad of bricks at Cage.  A chunk bounces off Cage's iron skin and smacks Bernie right in the puss.  The story ends with Willie shrinking back to normal, as the serum wears off, and Bernie is carted away in an ambulance, where they will take him to a hospital and he will most likely die a painful death. -Tom McMillion

Scott: Sort of a pointless beat-em-up that feels like a fill-in issue more than a tale they just had to tell us. The art is okay, but there’s so little to this. The “Steve Rogers Super Soldier Formula” plot, crammed into the captions, along with how it just wears off in time for the issue to end, makes this as lazy and paint-by-numbers as comics get.

Chris: Nice early effort by Mantlo and Perez, as a frustrated Cage’s callous treatment of Willie (shouldna called him names, Luke) turns a simple misunderstanding into an all-day brawl.  Mantlo’s handling of the simple Willie is touching at times, especially at the end, when he asks to accompany his stricken manager Bernie to the hospital.  Personally, I would’ve trimmed down the number of “fate” references to less than a half-dozen, though – we get it, Bill.

I’ll look at anything by Perez.  I enjoy his work on multiple levels, whether it be eye-catching moments like his use of perspective (on p22, an unusual overhead view of Cage and Willie as they crash thru the window, with bystanders  below already seeming to stop and look up at what’s happening) or depiction of energy (p14, as the transformation takes effect), but also simple things like the range of expressive faces we see with Willie (despite the fact that he has a mask on for nearly the entire issue) and Willie’s wrestling-earned cauliflower ears. 

Supernatural Thrillers 15
The Living Mummy in
"Armageddon at the Aleph!"
Story by John Warner
Art by Tom Sutton
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

The Elementals have N'Kantu and his band of rebels right where they want them, backed to the wall and ready to surrender, when Dr. Skarab finally learns how to tap into the power of the scarab and uses it against the Gods. Meanwhile, Ron McAllister, Olddan, and The Asp fight for their lives against Elemental sympathizers in a dark alley somewhere in Cairo. Back at the main event, Hellfire one of the Elementals, threatens to channel Zephyr's heat powers and destroy Cairo if the professor does not surrender the scarab. As a show of his power, Magnum creates an army of rock monsters to annihilate N'Kantu but The Living Mummy manages to overcome the creatures. Dr. Skarab swears as long as he stands, Cairo will not fall and, in that instant, the city magically disappears from earth and reappears in another dimension (the titular "Aleph"). Once the scarab is transferred to the new dimension, its powers radiate in the air around the combatants and, luckily, N'Kantu is the first to realize this and put the knowledge to good use. The power of the rebel band combined is too much for the Elementals and the three crazed Gods find themselves cast off into the void. Cairo is returned to earth and the heroes go their separate ways. The Mummy ponders his future (fraught, he's sure, with guest stints with webbed superheroes and vampires) while Dr. Skarab discovers that sly thief The Asp has made off with the scarab.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: And so endeth "The War That No One Paid Any Attention To" and a series that certainly saw its share of ups and (especially) downs over its ten-issue run; a run that was brought to you by five writers and eight artists. In the end, the "epic" was a whole lot of hot air (literally, if we consider the climax) and no substance. Each entry was formatted the same: a bit of a rundown on the last few issues, a bit of a conflict with The Elementals, a whole lot of self-doubt on the part of our heroes, and maybe a wee bit of plot advancement if we were lucky. This issue's gimmick, to take Cairo to another dimension, was a wasted concept. At one point, Hellfire screeches, "Blast it -- someone do something!" Took the words right out of my mouth! Tom Sutton sits atop the final unicorn on the artist carousel and, while Sutton is one of my five favorite horror artists, his style is completely wrong for the series. Whereas Val's N'Kantu was tall and lithe, Tom's is podgy and gawky. On the letters page, editor Len Wein lets us know that the saga of The Living Mummy will be tied up soon by writer Len Wein in the pages of "a certain green-skinned goliath's mag." That wrap-up never materialized though and N'Kantu languished in Marvel Lower-Tier Hero Purgatory (MaLoTHPu for short) until January 1983 when he teamed up with Ben Grimm in Marvel Two-In-One #95.

Chris: Warner has the unwelcome task of trying to find an ending for a conflict that had no identifiable origin, and whose conclusion always seemed comfortably in the grasp of the Elementals (with their powers, they should have been able to walk up and snatch the scarab several issues ago), had they not given in to the age-old mistake of villainy, which is: toying with our heroes when they could easily have been dispatched.  At least N’Kantu plays a role in the climax, although I would’ve liked to see Warner do more with the link he shared with Dr Skarab (ie, Skarab and N’Kantu might’ve realized together that N’Kantu’s ages-hardened body could’ve served as an ideal conduit for the dispersed power of the scarab, or something).  Sutton’s art comes thru, especially in his mind-crushing depiction of the dimensional aleph; I can’t help but imagine how the art might’ve impressed the mighty bullpen when the larger-format originals arrived by the mail.  

Cairo must be a sister city to Citrusville FL, since they’re both nexuses of realities, right?  So that could mean that N’Kantu could walk thru a portal and visit Man-Thing in his natural habitat.  Oh wait – Man-Thing’s finished this month, too?  Oh well – some other time, perhaps.

The Mighty Thor 240
"When the Gods Make War!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

Thor returns to Asgard, feeling the answers to Odin's disappearance are there. He finds Heimdall, fearful and downcast, at his post. Likewise, other Asgsrdians are similarly despondent.  The Warriors Three and Vizier are in the throne room,  and the Thunder God shakes them from their reverie with a little force. Vizier calls upon Mimir, the all-knowing guardian of Mimis -Brunnen,  the Well of Wisdom.  The fiery spirit answers Thor's questions and shows them the whereabouts of the All-Father. He also shows them the origin of the Egyptian gods who have Odin captive. Osiris was their ruler,  Isis his queen. The falcon god Horus was their son, Seth his evil step-brother. When Seth slayed his sleeping father,  Isis found magic to revive him. Horus then set out to find Seth. They battle for ages, Seth finally triumphant. He seals all three inside the  Pyramid of Kings,  sealed off should Atum-Re, the father of the gods ever return. Thor returns to Earth and attempts to break into the pyramid.  Horus emerges and a battle ensues when he refuses to release Odin. The reason becomes clear when Odin appears; he has been brainwashed into thinking he is Atum-Re! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The follow-up to the Egyptian storyline lives up to its promise.  We learn that the history of the Egyptian gods is not unlike the Norse, complete with an evil step-brother. The cover is a stand out; I recall seeing this one on the newstand when it was new. The initial silence when Thor returns to his home is eerie; especially seeing Heimdall so helpless. Mimir is an awesome figure; more cooperative here than usual. And "Odin-Re" gives that "oh no, not him" feeling. The purpose of the reincarnation will have to wait...

Chris: 70s malaise strikes Asgard! Clever idea to depict the typically vibrant realm as having gone all sluggish. Also a good decision to show Thor having to work as he tries to jog his comrades out of their stupor, rather than simply crack down some thunder and wake everyone in one blow. The keepers of the realm didn't lose their vigor in one instant -- it drained away over time -- so it makes sense that it would have to be restored somewhat gradually as well.  Thankfully, the clash with the Warriors Three was very brief -- the events in the story at that time were interesting enough, in an offbeat sorta way, so I for one didn't need to be distracted by a lot of bashing around. Thor's definitely going to be in the doghouse, though, for trashing Odin's favorite stone-wrought throne-room self-portrait.
I'm sure not everyone is going to enjoy the Sal + Klaus art this time, but I welcome a different look to a title every now and then, especially when the results are this good. Klaus goes with heavy lines to provide some atmosphere, but doesn't go so far that he gums up the images in murk. I want the "Deadly Foes of Asgard" image as a wall-poster (p 14). The Egyptian gods tale also was well-told pictorially. For a lighter moment, check out Volstagg with his hands covering his quivering jowls; Sal goes with this little gag three times, but the first instance yields the best effect, as he contrasts Volstagg's timidity with the ferocity of his companions (p 16, panel 3). For thou purists, fear thee not -- Big John & Joltin Joe doth return ere #241. 
Matthew: Part two of this interstitial interlude shakes things up a bit as plotter Roy (co-editing with LenMarv in a “triumvirate of tamperers”) turns the scripting duties over to Mantlo, and the embellishment—on both Sal’s interiors and Kane’s cover—plummets into the inkpot of Janson, all the way from the lofty heights of Sinnott.  But my spirits rose when I noted that Heimdall’s name and familial associations had been corrected, while Bill’s command of the characters is so good that it’s a shame next issue is his only other 1970s credit on the book.  As an adult, I find it weird when they mingle the Norse and Greco-Roman pantheons, but as a kid it didn’t bother me that they threw in the Egyptian as well, providing the unique spectacle of an interfaith MARMIS.

Scott: A lot of padding to get to the final panel, setting up the Odin vs Thor battle to come. A shame, the whole Orrin storyline was actually fascinating. Having it degenerate into this is a disappointment. The art is good, I’m becoming a huge fan of Klaus Janson, but the story is so plodding and meandering, there’s no energy. Perhaps the sleepy Asgardians cast their spell on me…

The Tomb of Dracula 37
"The Vampire is Coming! The Vampire is Coming!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

Out on the spooky streets of Boston at night, a weakened Dracula skulks about. He thrashes some college kids who have the audacity to gawk at him. Meanwhile, a hack writer of vampire horror stories, Harold H. Harold, tries to overcome his writer's block. Unsuccessful, he goes to visit his boss, who berates him for his poor writing skills. Harold desperately blurts out that he has an interview lined up with an authentic vampire. This makes his boss optimistic, and he happily sends Harold on his way. Drac ends up attacking and feeding on a couple of cyclists just as Harold drives up on the murder scene. Not believing his own eyes, Harold takes advantage of his good fortune and takes Dracula (who has collapsed from fatigue) back to his crib. Nervous about what he might have on his hands, the hack writer calls his boss's secretary, Aurora, and invites her over to his place to see if she can help him out. Meanwhile, in Brazil, Frank Drake gets a pep talk from Brother Voodoo, encouraging him not to look at himself as such a failure. Brother Voodoo then uses his powers to send Frank Drake to the airport where he is reunited with Quincy Harker and Rachel Van Helsing. Also during this time, a scarred up henchman of Dr. Sun's, Juno, prepares to battle Dracula. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: Harold H. Harold better receive a death in the next issue or he is going to be a painful addition to the cast of this series. Just a terrible, obnoxious character who isn't funny at all. Even back in the 1970's, readers had to have been turned off by this tool. Please God, let Dracula kill this hack writer before he can do any further damage to a great comic series.

Chris: An oddly light-hearted Tomb, as Marv keeps the focus on Harold, the unlikely vampire-keeper.   The Harold/Aurora dyad will serve as a counterpoint to the doomed couple of Sheila/David; the only downside, as I recall, is that Harold is kept around a bit too long to dispense the yuks.  A LOC shares the same thought I had – where’s Hannibal King?  And a big yellow box tells us that Blade will have a four-part story in one of the B&W mags before he returns here.  Well, instead of introducing new comic-relief characters, we should be seeing one of those vampire hunters in these pages, especially now that Taj appears to have been retired.  

Chris: Gene & Tom turn up the dark on page 16, as if to remind us that this is a comic about a merciless vampire who kills defenseless people.  Dracula speedily clutching his first victim is especially effective (left), and Marv’s comment about Rachel’s action three weeks later to dispatch one of these newly-converted vampires serves as a pitch-perfect coda to the scene.
Scott: This goofy dude Harold looks a lot like Tom Baker. Aside from that bit of self-amusement, this was a middling issue. Not nearly enough Dracula and too many pages of guest stars. The fun of having Drac in Massachusetts is squandered. Great art as always, but this issue is a bit of a let down.

Mark: More set-up for the coming Texas Cage Match with Dr. Sun, via the two page intro of scarifying, Franken-stitched Sun henchmen Juno, he of the (insert Boston accent) wicked prosthetic dagger left hand. Pep talked by Brother Voodoo, feckless Frank Drake sparks a glimmer of interest for the second consecutive ish (but I ain't sold yet). The real highlight here is the introduction of nebbishy, would-be Hemingway, Harold H. Harold, who, if memory serves, will bring an effervescent if indefinable élan to our Fearless Vampire Hunters in the months to come.

Or maybe it's banana peel pratfalls...    

Werewolf by Night 34
"Not All the Shades of Death, Nor Evil's Majesty"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Debra James
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

Jack, Topaz, Lissa and Elaine arrive at the spooky house of Belaric Marcosa to help save Buck's life and to learn something about lycanthropy. As they stare up at the "Sentinel of Hell" gargoyle above the boarded-up door, the planks start flying off, the door opens and slams shut when they all enter. Topaz starts flipping out, being strangled by a shadow, but survives, even though as an empath, she is most sensitive to attacks from the house. Jack goes to light a fire, but the fire lights itself; then he thinks back to yesterday, when comatose Buck mumbled "go to Marcosa", which it turns out was where Elaine's husband did a year earlier, a psychic phenomena researcher trying to unlock the secrets of death in the creepy home. His client: Jerome Selwin, a wheelchair-bound, dying elderly man seeking to defeat death through the dark secrets at Marcosa House, who hires the gang for $100,000 if they are successful. With Buck's notes as a starting point, off they went in Selwin's limo, which back to the present sinks into the quicksand with a "BLURG" and a "CLUSH". Suddenly, Elaine's husband Steven emerges and as Jack rushes to help, he starts to transform! "Steven" turns into a skeleton head, and Werewolf knocks his head off, but the demon tosses our hero aside and explodes. Then a shadowy figure with a wooden leg starts laughing—Elaine says it's Marcosa himself! She goes to lie down while the other three have a "sitting", where a man in medieval attire is freed from Jack's soul, the spirit of the werewolf who possesses him, imploring Jack to leave the house. Instead, he goes to sleep, dreaming of the gargoyle as a red demon, awaking with a shriek to find Elaine looking for Topaz, who they find in a dungeon where they find a decapitated skeleton. Worried about Lissa, Jack bolts for the front door, when the peasant from his vision appears, transforms into a werewolf and lunges at Jack! --Joe Tura

Joe: Another month, another big claim on the front cover: "The Most Supernatural Shocker of All!" Well, we've got a werewolf getting accosted by a skeleton and a winged gargoyle grabbing a brunette in a tight turtleneck, plus the title "House of Evil…House of Death" Hmm, maybe… But do the insides measure up to the hyperbole? Well, it's like House of Secrets meets Henry James meets Chiller if you ask me. Not sure it's a Werewolf By Night issue to be quite honest, but all the main cogs in the wheel are present. Does that mean it's bad? Nope, it's kinda OK, this issue, with its Halloween craziness (it is October after all) and non-stop goings-on, and attempts to unlock some of the secrets held by Jack and Elaine. Plus, all the stuff that happens (and sorry for the way-long summary) sets up a nifty cliffhanger for next month.

Matthew: But don't forget, October issues would go on sale around July.

Joe: Lots and lots of words, though, especially in the captions. Man, Dougie really liked his captions. And Perlin does a pretty good job drawing all the supernatural shenanigans, inking his own pencils again which seems to be the best course of action since he came onboard. Again, it's a very long exposition/setup issue, but it works even though there's seemingly no end and sometimes no logic to the frights and festivities.

Chris: Go ahead and scoff if you must – yes, scoff I say, scoff! – but I feel that Doug has finally managed to settle on an effective tone for this title.  As we have gotten further and further away from stunt-man jobs, and sexy single girls down the hall, and pointless tangles with crackpots in the city and county of Los Angeles, Doug has chosen instead to immerse Jack & Co with some truly creepy, evil beings (I’m willing to excuse the past two Committee-related issues, especially if they mean that we don’t have to involve ourselves with that bunch anymore).  

Doug and Don combine to catch my attention early.  I realize that the setting is right out of decades-worth of similarly-themed movies, but our creators realize it well, right down to the grinning gargoyle over the front door (above).  Good choice by Doug to drop us in, as Jack and crew are arriving, and to save the Marcosa House back-story for later.  I had to wonder, “Why the hell would Elaine agree to go?”, which meant that Elaine’s explanation about her husband’s death carried more weight.  Plus, pretty creepy for Buck to rasp the words about Marcosa while he’s in the coma, right – wasn’t it -?
Perlin surprises me at times, which I haven’t reported here as often as I wish I could have.  He keeps the mood dark and oppressive throughout (with the scenes in sunny L.A. standing in stark contrast), and clearly has fun with some of the ghoulish bits of furniture and wood-trim he scatters around the house.  Other highlights: the barely-seen shade attacking Topaz (p 7); Steven seemingly walking from the fire (p 17), and revealed for what he truly has become (p 18); the Werewolf shearing the skull off Steven’s body (p 18); Jack’s nightmare about being chased along an endless plain of skulls (p 27).  

Super-Villain Team-Up 2
Namor, the Sub-Mariner and Doctor Doom in
"In the Midst of Life...!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Sal Buscema and Fred Kida
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

As Doom reviews recent events, Jennings fells his guard, Saru-San, to seek help and Tiger Shark destroys the tracking device, believing it to be a part of the island’s security.  Doom flies to Hydrobase, laughingly absorbs its defensive electrical charge, uses his Instant Hypnotism Impulser to make the operators of two Octo-Meks destroy each other, joins forces with Betty—whose history is known to him—and uses a silent sonic drill to penetrate the special low-moisture cell where Dorcas is keeping Namor barely conscious.  Doom shoots Tiger Shark and Attuma with his driller while Namor, seeing Betty in danger, starts to break his chains, but she intercepts the electrical blast Dorcas meant for him and dies in an enraged Namor’s arms. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This is where I came in, but I can’t say it’s as good as I recalled.  It’s better.  My colleagues can heap all of the abuse they want to on Isabella and/or this title, even asserting—with no argument from me—that its very premise is flawed since Namor, having headlined his own series and been a founding, uh, non-member of the Defenders, is hardly a super-villain; I guess Super-Villain and Anti-Hero Team-Up didn’t have that ring to it.  But I don’t care.  I stand by it.  Having seen precisely one issue of Sub-Mariner (#59) at the time, and a post-Dorma one at that, I probably had no idea who even she was, let alone Captain Leonard MacKenzie or Betty Dean Prentiss, yet Namor’s snarling face on that powerful last page said it all about how big a deal Betty’s death is.

Rereading this now in context, I can even see that it’s decisive step up from #1.  The focus has reversed, converting Doom from an offscreen spectator into the protagonist and reducing Namor to an unconscious prisoner until the very end.  And I’m not that familiar with Kida’s inks, but this time out, he’s blessed to be embellishing the great Sal Buscema, who exquisitely calibrates his layouts from big, spectacular panels to the little ones in the effective montage of Doom boarding his rocket.  This might be the tipping point where I turn from a mere apologist for or defender of Isabella into an outright fan as he knocks it clear out of the park, handling Doom and his interactions with other characters as well as, if not better than, many a recent issue of the FF.

Scott: The death of Betty Dean in a low rent team-up title like this? What a waste. I can only hope it’s a trick, otherwise a long standing character from the Golden Age will be getting a send off very few people probably read. And when did Namor and Von Doom have a “friendship?” They had an uneasy alliance. This book is not good. Not good at all.

X-Men 95
Story by Len Wein and Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum and Sam Grainger
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum

The X-Men have safely bailed out after Count Nefaria shot their Blackbird out of the sky, but the two flight-empowered team members have to work fast to spare the others from a fateful meeting with the ground; Banshee manages to grab Cyclops with mere seconds to spare.  Nightcrawler teleports into the Valhalla Mountain base, subdues Croaker, and then opens a passage for his teammates.  Nefaria attempts to subdue the X-Men with gas, and with an attack by a hypnotized Air Force security team, then finally has to send the Ani-Men to combat them. The X-Men prevail, but Banshee and Thunderbird are KO’d in the fight; Cyclops elects to leave them behind as the team resumes its search for the Doomsmith mechanism, which Nefaria has set to fire off all the nuclear missiles under NORAD command.  Banshee and Thunderbird come around, and find Nefaria making his escape via fighter jet.  Thunderbird leaps aboard the tail of the plane as it takes off, with Banshee close behind.  Banshee wants to use his sonic power to disable the jet, but his calls to Thunderbird to bail out go unheeded.  Thunderbird climbs along the body of the speeding plane, then smashes thru the cockpit and begins to pull apart Nefaria’s controls.  Prof Xavier alerts Cyclops that there are other team members in danger; the X-Men arrive outside of the mountain base in time to see the jet explode, taking Nefaria and Thunderbird with it. 
-Chris Blake 

Chris: So Thunderbird has one of the quickest exits for any Marvel hero; probably only Wonder Man bowed out faster, and I think he’d only turned hero for a few pages, way back in Avengers #9.  I can understand the intention by Len & Chris (& Dave) to offer stories that are All-New and All-Different, so killing Thunderbird certainly qualifies as a bold move.  The only problem I have is that we’ve barely gotten to know John Proudstar; frankly, I don’t even know what his mutant power is – I mean, he’s fast and he’s strong, but I don’t know what it is about those qualities that put him on a mutant scale.  We know that the team has been training together for a few weeks, and that Xavier feels personally responsible for Proudstar’s death (I’m sure Cyke does, too), but that doesn’t necessarily translate to fans having the same degree of investment in the character at such an early point.  So, I can understand why the X-creators wanted to take this chance, but I think they pulled the trigger a little too soon.
Thunderbird’s death also takes out a brewing three-headed spar between himself, Wolverine, and Cyclops, which clearly would’ve had its moments, as Cyclops might’ve been forced to side with one against the other, or face the wrath of both simultaneously.  Did Len & Chris (& Dave) feel that one contrary personality was all the title could manageably handle -?
Unintended fallout of the Thunderbird death sequence is that Len & Chris felt that it was necessary to derail the Doomsmith plot.  When Xavier’s thought projection pops in, he says that he has mentally scanned the base’s computer system, and that the missile launch is offline, so now the X-Men should run off and Save Thunderbird.  Well, first of all, I don’t know how Xavier is capable of reading the electronic signals of an inanimate system, and secondly, the screen over the console where Scott is working (p 27, first panel) states in big angry letters that the countdown is on.  I would’ve preferred that Xavier showed up to link Scott in with an Air Force engineer who could then walk him thru the disengagement process, which would’ve allowed for some payoff on this earlier tension-generator, plus it could’ve easily been done in a few panels on one page.  
Cockrum’s pencils continue to shine, particularly in the ferocious battle with the Ani-Men (p 16-22).  Grainger’s inks suit Cockrum a bit better than McLeod had last issue, but it’s still doesn’t have the same texture and energy of his self-inked art from G-S X-M #1.  Xavier’s anguish as he perceives Thunderbird’s death, a moment intensified by Cockrum as he depicts Xavier also engulfed in flame, is an obvious highlight (p 31).  On a subtler note, how about that over-the-shoulder look by Ororo on p 15 (last panel), with an appreciative look by Scott?

Scott: Notable mostly for the death of an X-Man, the revamped title is still looking to find its legs. Everyone shouts a lot and grimaces and bursts blood vessels in their eyes. Professor X is short- tempered, Cyclops is short-tempered, the doomed Thunderbird is short-tempered. The 90 second fall from the sky is ludicrous as Cyclops barks orders and everyone chats away as if anyone would be able to hear over the rushing wind. Not to mention how Banshee snatches Cyclops at terminal velocity without killing him. Marvel Physics. The ending, though, is fairly touching as Xavier maintains his mind link with Proudstar as the X-Man burns to death. The villains, Count Nafaria and his costumed cronies, do little to hold interest, but this is still a much better book now than it used to be.

Matthew: If I wanted to give my confrères a reason not to dismiss Grainger too lightly, I’d ask them to put this and the prior issue side by side, helping to explain why, coming on board here as I did, I liked Cockrum from the get-go.  As I enter, Len exits with a final plotting job (although accounts vary as to the precise thinking behind knocking off Thunderbird) that paves the way for scripter Chris’s apotheosis and racks up a high body count this month, with Marvel deep-sixing not only a newly minted Bronze-Age character but also an old—literally—Golden-Age one in Super-Villain Team-Up.  As much of a pill as Thunderbird was, I find his passing powerful, less because I’m going to miss him than because of its dramatic effects on Professor X and the others.

Marvel Chillers 1
Modred the Mystic in
"...Magic is Alive"
Story by Marv Wolfman and Bill Mantlo
Art by Ed Hannigan, John Romita, Frank Giacoia, and Yong Montano
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Tony San Jose
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

Archaeologists Grant Wittaker and Janet Lyton search below the Isle of Wight for the mythological Cairn of Darkhold, a place thought to hold magical powers. When a rock slide bars their way out, the pair must go deeper into the mountain where they find a cavern containing light and a strange comatose man. An accident starts a fire in the small room and the man awakens, extinguishing the flames with his body. He tells the couple that he is known as Modred the Mystic and, with very little prodding, he tells them his story. In the Ninth Century, Modred is a young sorcerer's apprentice, learning the arts from the great Gervasse. A disagreement with King Arthur sends young Modred from his home and the woman he loves in search of the Book of the Darkhold (see Werewolf by Night for more information on this bargain-bin Necronomicon), in hopes it will make him a powerful wizard. He finds the Book but the contents drive him a bit mad and send him into a coma. Gervasse seals him up in the Cairn until a cure for his curse can be found. Obviously, that was not until Grant and Janet came along. Modred waves his hands and the entrance to the tunnel is open once again. As the three ponder their future, Modred explains that soon someone will show up on earth to hunt him down. Until then, he's gonna party like it's 1999. -Peter Enfantino

"Emergency in the O.R.! We're losing this one, doctor..."
"Art seems to be lifeless. I'm calling it..."
Peter: Nope, my synopsis was not lifted from the liner notes of a Styx album, this was really a comic book. Originally slated to run in the aborted  Giant-Size Werewolf #6 (Oh, Professor Joe, did you catch a break!), Modred the Mystic finally found a home in Marvel Filler before heading off into the MU as a Marvel Lower-Tier Supporting Guest Star (MaLT SuGS for short). Have we ever seen a funny book so laden with captions and balloons that the characters actually crouch to get into the panels? If the verbiage were eloquent or enthralling, that would be one thing, but Marv's script canst not get out of its ownst way. Seriously, it's like watching an episode of Inspector Morse without the closed captions; what the hell is this guy saying? Obviously, Marv wanted to tap into the college crowd's fondness for Lord of the Rings and Doctor Strange but to do that you must have captivating characters and a strong plot line, neither of which are in evidence here. The art, by a whole bunch of guys, looks straight out of a Classics Illustrated; lifeless and by-the-numbers. Who, in the Marvel offices, actually thought this could be a hit? Last panel screams we're in for a treat so get ready for the one, the only Tigra, the Werewoman NEXT ISSUE! Only.... she's not coming. One more episode of this mystical bilge to come and, holy crap, it's scripted by Bill Mantlo. How will Angry Young Man-tlo work racist cops and jive-talkin' muthas into a series about sorcerers? Stay tuned!

Rounding out the package is "It Happened in the Attic," an anemic time travel paradox thingie with serviceable art by Frank Bolle, taken from the pages of Mystical #7 (June 1957).

Marvel Presents 1
Bloodstone in
"Dweller from the Depths"
Story by John Warner
Art by Mike Vosburg, Bob McLeod, and Pat Boyette
Colors by Diane Buscema
Letters by Tom Orzechowski and Pat Boyette
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

A giant orange amphibious creature emerges from the San Francisco Bay and demolishes docks near the ferry terminal.  A man with a red gem on his chest, calling himself Ulysses Bloodstone, emerges from a side street and attacks the creature.  Bloodstone determines that the creature is controlled by a man playing a flute; Bloodstone batters the man into a wall, and a one-eyed octopusian being emerges from the body and floats away.  Bloodstone stands by the man in the hospital; a flicker from the man’s eyes seems to trigger the arrival of a new creature, a giant humanoid (with epaulets, chaps, and a helmet) calling itself a “possessor,” which casts Bloodstone thru a window and then crashes out thru the wall to the street below.  A sound transmission from a film crew (which has arrived to capture images of the creature for their own “B” flick) interferes with the creature’s attempt to possess Bloodstone, but an energy bolt from the creature pierces the red gem and seems to have killed Bloodstone. -Chris Blake

Chris: It’s really a mess of a head-shaker.  So Bloodstone got his powers, whatever they might be, from some being he met thousands of years ago, when Bloodstone was a simple hunter.  Since that time, Bloodstone has learned to handle a shotgun, but seems to have no other weapons or special abilities.  He seems to think he’ll live forever, possibly because some factor causes him to arrive at times of need; he might inhabit a new body each time, and that body might be chosen because it resembles the one he had thousands of years ago – or, maybe the body is altered to reflect Bloodstone’s original appearance -?   You tell me.  I think we’re going to need more than one more issue to work these questions out, but that’s all we’re gonna get, right?  (And does anyone know what happened to the giant orange creature we had seen in the first half of the issue -?)
The art goes from adequate (Vosburg’s layouts) to damn funny (Charlton and Warren vet Pat Boyette; I’m reasonably certain it’s his only pencil work for Marvel), as we have an inexplicable switch of artists in mid-issue.  So guys – you have a #1 issue of a new title, and you want to use it to launch a new character, right?  Do you think the best way to do that is with two different looks for the character, neither one of them all that great?  How is that going to help?  Do you mean to tell me that it wasn’t worth postponing this by four weeks (or eight weeks – it’s a bi-monthly, after all), so at least you could assign an art team that you might want to carry you thru the whole issue?  
I decided to look for answers to some of these seemingly rhetorical questions – I guess I never truly expected to find any information on this character.  But, I found something on Wikipedia that tells us that John Warner developed the monster-fighting Bloodstone series as a 10-page feature in Where Monsters Dwell (with the rest of each issue devoted to reprints, right?).  When WMD was axed ( a fitting end for a monster title!), Warner was informed that the first two already-completed installments would be squished into one issue (which gives us a reason for the mid-issue artist switch, but doesn’t explain why they picked Boyette), and that he would have one more issue (ie MP #2) to wrap up the character’s introduction.  After that, most of Bloodstone’s future appearances will be as a back-up feature in the Rampaging Hulk magazine.  There now – don’t you feel better?

Scott: Bloodstone could be interesting and the first chapter isn’t bad. Just run of the mill. I find it amusing that the cop who wanted to question him didn’t do anything to stop Bloodstone from walking away, carrying a full grown man. The second part was done by a different artist; Pat Boyette’s pencils are primitive, almost like a 12 year old got a job in the Marvel Bullpen. Boyette was a regular at Charlton Comics, which is where I first ran into his work. It’s pretty awful, frankly, and it caused me to give up a page or two in.

Peter: If Bloodstone had shown up in the pages of Where Monsters Dwell #39 and 40 (where it was supposed to drop before the axe fell on WMD), chances are we wouldn't even run a mention but since the series materialized in a prestigious title like Marvel Pretense, we felt obliged. Why the powers-that-be at Marvel would even try another supernatural series, even while all the others were falling like flies, is beyond me but then, if you're going to do it, try something new and original. There's not one moment of originality in this comic book. Everything we see we've seen before. Right in the middle of what action there is, we get an origin story; well, actually, part of an origin story, one that ends pert near in the middle of a sentence.  This must have been the easiest script John Warner ever wrote since most of the dialogue goes like this: "GRAAHHH-HH!" and "GWAAARRMMM!" I assume Warner's direction for the look of Bloodstone was "I'm thinking Doc Samson meets Doc Savage!" The art, be it by Vosburg or Boyette, is barely functional and downright ugly in a lot of spots. Check out that panel reprinted below of the monster preparing to lay waste to the Ferry Building, towering above what looks like four plastic figurines and a whole lot of white pavement.

Matthew: When I read this in my trusty Marvel Firsts, my metaphoric jaw dropped at the realization that Warner had excavated the supporting characters of P.D.Q. Werner and Brad Davis from all the way back in Steranko’s Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 (July 1968), but that’s just one of the unusual aspects of Bloodstone’s debut.  Per Wikipedia, the series was conceived as a 10-page feature to run in Where Monsters Dwell, so Warner—in between his stints on Captain America and, less fleetingly, Son of Satan—wrote the first two installments, drawn by Vosburg/McLeod and Charlton vet Boyette, respectively.  When WMD was cancelled, breathing its last with #38 this very month, the pair was slapped together into this “instant issue.”

But, as they say in Logan’s Run (Marvel’s continuation of which, ironically, Warner wrote), “there’s just one catch”:  he had to wrap up his planned epic in the second issue, thus making room for the long-promised Guardians of the Galaxy strip, although Warner later revived the series in the B&W Rampaging Hulk.  Since that’s outside my jurisdiction, and I don’t have Marvel Presents #2—illustrated by Sonny Trinidad—I have no idea where any of this went, leaving me just as at sea as readers in ’75.  I will say I’m surprised they went with a symbiotic-gem concept so similar to what’s concurrently featured in Starlin’s Warlock, and that while Ulysses himself looks pretty cool, the art, especially Boyette’s, is Dick Ayers-style rudimentary.

Warlock 9
"The Infinity Effect"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Jim Starlin
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jim Starlin

His true self resembling a silver version of Adam with an Afro, the Magus explains that madness is the first step as “you become adjusted to my distorted thought processes and altered perceptions in stages…because my view of reality is so opposed to yours that a direct jump into my consciousness might destroy your very soul!”  Gamora tells Pip she cannot act just yet, urging him to do so, but his ineffectual attack is swatted aside, and as the Magus—unaware of her presence mere steps away—continues his origin, she reports telepathically to her Master, who orders her to wait for the agreed-upon moment to strike.  The Magus foretells that when his tale is done, his Soul Gem will saturate Adam with a harmless radiation that will act as a beacon.

This is to guide the In-Betweener, whose touch transports Adam to his domain between fact and fantasy, where Adam will float for centuries, learn the “dark secrets” whispered by the powers of chaos and order, take refuge in his cocoon, emerge as the mad Magus on Homeworld 5,000 years earlier, and establish the church.  Gamora strikes while the Magus—whose senses refuse to accept a foreign element in his reality—summons the In-Betweener, but he detects her in time to deflect her special dagger as his prophecy begins to unfold.  He departs, condemns the Matriarch for her betrayal, and orders all 2,500 Black Knights to liquidate everyone in room #7, sub-level #2, where the Master, for his own reasons, arrives to intervene as Adam’s unlikely ally: Thanos. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: More fun credits as Adam’s eponymous book briefly rises again, with “fussing,” “blotting,” and “scribbling” respectively attributed to Len, first-timer Leialoha (a future mainstay of Howard the Duck and—ugh—Spider-Woman), and Orz, and “everything elsing” to You-Know-Who.  I envy the effect that last-page reveal of Thanos had on readers back in the day who, unlike me, were unaware of his involvement, for once not given away on the cover.  Starlin told Newsarama’s Zack Smith that his creation of Thanos and Drax dated back to “junior college…I’d just gotten out of the service, and I took a psych course, where the concept for the characters came together.  I just spun off from there.  This was around 1970, 1971I started working at Marvel in 1972...”

I am a little at a loss for words, since for the first time I felt that Starlin’s complex expositionor “complexposition,” a phrase that particularly tickled Professor Gilbertthreatened to overwhelm the story.  Make no mistake, there’s still plenty of awesome artwork (e.g., the obligatory Escher-like distortion of reality in story page 11, panel 1; the alternating and increasing close-ups in the page 13 countdown sequence), intriguing concepts (e.g., Gamora’s “multi-actual camouflage”), and felicitous moments (e.g., one of my all-time favorite lines, “look out world, ’cause here comes Pip the God-Basher!”).  And I know that all of these plot elements are needed for the storyline, so I’ll consider any breaking of eggs necessary for Chef Jim’s Thanos-flavored omelet.

Chris: It’s frying-pan-to-fire time for our golden-hued hero, as Magus establishes madness and mercilessness as Warlock’s fixed price for future godhood.  Fans tuning in from last issue might’ve expected Warlock to have adopted an “antic disposition,” following his encounter last ish with the Madness Monster; but, there simply isn’t time, as Magus taunts Warlock with his choreography of Warlock’s every step to this point, to ensure that Warlock will follow his Magus path, just as he had last time, in order for the Magus to come to be (Yes, I’m reasonably sure I got that right).  

Starlin also takes a moment to look out for fans of Warlock who (somehow) might’ve missed the recent Strange Tales chapters – can you imagine waiting a couple of years for Warlock #9 to follow #8? – as his very concise summary includes a brief mention by Adam of his days on Counter-Earth, when he had been viewed as a messiah-figure.  
Imagine how startled and amazed Bronze-Age fans might’ve been to see Thanos stride on to the scene (literally!), thru a sort of inter-planetary portal.  And he states that he’s prepared to fight alongside Warlock against the Magus (so that Thanos can further his own purposes, of course)!  You know what they say, Warlock – with friends like these -!

Steve Leialoha (I had to go back and check the spelling) is one of a handful of inkers who are capable of finishing Starlin’s art well enough, so that you might forget that Starlin himself hadn’t inked the art (we’ll be graced by the work of another of these select few, Josef Rubinstein, before Adam re-joins the choir invisible).  

Mark: Back in his own mag, but under the thumb (and electric hair) of his evil future self, Warlock is schooled by the Magus on his future/past: centuries of in-the-cocoon (it all started with – shocker!- Kirby, FF #67) banishment, touched off by the In-Betweener's (not one of Jim's better names) touch, before reemerging as a purple, Jewfroed demigod, out to enslaved the universe!

Classic cover (no Gil Kane hackwork for hire here!) and interior graphics that move & groove magnificently. Jim no doubt worked hard, but harder still is the plight of us poor profs, thumbing yon thesaurus and straining after superlatives as, issue after issue, Starlin takes "cosmic comix" to ever-rarefied levels.

Pip is heroic and ineffective. Gamora is stealthy...and ineffective. Can no one contest the frizz-haired fury that is Magus?

Uh, how 'bout Thanos? 

Also This Month

Adventure on the Planet of the Apes #1 (new reprint title)
Crazy #13
Crypt of Shadows #20
Dracula Lives! Annual #1 (all-reprint)
Giant-Size Daredevil #1 (all-reprint)
Giant-Size Doctor Strange #1 (all-reprint)
Giant-Size Fantastic Four #6 (all-reprint)
Giant-Size Iron Man #1 (all-reprint)
Giant-Size Power-Man #1
Giant-Size Thor #1
Journey Into Mystery #19 (Final Issue)
Kid Colt Outlaw #199
Marvel's Greatest Comics #59
Marvel Double Feature #12
Marvel Spectacular #18
Marvel Super-Heroes #53
Marvel Tales #62
Marvel Treasury #7 (The Avengers)
Masters of Terror #1 (all-reprint) >
Mighty Marvel Western #42
Our Love Story #36
Outlaw Kid #30 (Final Issue)
Queen-Size Millie the Model #12 >
Rawhide Kid #129
Savage Tales Annual #1 (all-reprint)
Savage Sword of Conan Annual #1 (all-reprint)
Sgt Fury #129
Spidey Super Stories #13
Two-Gun Kid #126
Uncanny Tales #12 (Final Issue)
Vault of Evil #22
War is Hell #15 (Final Issue)
Weird Wonder Tales #12
Where Monsters Dwell #38 (Final Issue)


The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 17
Cover by Neal Adams

"The Key to the Dragon's Heart"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Rudy Nebres

"Politics of Death: Chapter Two"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Perez and Jack Abel

Still searching for the elusive Golden Dragon, Shang-Chi is wounded by the deadly Shadow-Thief, who drugs our Master of Kung Fu and takes him for a trip into the "Dragon's Heart." There, Shang-Chi plays host to the bevy of Dragon seekers, all laying out their individual arguments for sole possession of the ancient artifact. When the roll call is complete, Shadow-Thief returns for a brief tussle before revealing himself to be the only Kung Fu fighter Shang-Chi cannot defeat... himself!

Shareen reacts in terror to the growths
that have formed on the Master of Kung Fu
Well, I'm not sure why but I found "The Key to the Dragon's Heart" to be the most enjoyable chapter of the "Golden Dragon" saga thus far. Inconceivable though it may be, Doug Moench damn near writes a novel here with all his captions and wordy balloons and, yet, I can't find more than a handful of Moench-able quotes to tickle my funny bone. And nothing really happens in this chapter, no advancing of the storyline at all. It may be that I find the parade of personalities (among them Sir Denis, Shareen and Black Jack) intriguing, with each one begging Shang-Chi to take their side in this little battle. The final confessor, Shang-Chi himself, is obviously meant to be the hidden piece of S-C that begs to unearth himself and cry out "Use your skills for profit just once, lunkhead!" Nebres' art is fabulous in spots, not so in other spots (on the splash, S-C looks built for danger, but for those nasty tumors in his six-pack), with a general confusion and leaking of panel action on nearly every page. I've not reversed my opinion that this "epic" is just a messy nothing but if I can get through this Doug Moench script without rolling my eyes and remembering how I wrote in grade school, maybe the final chapter will make the whole thing worth it. No, you're right.

Motherless Sons of Slugs, indeed!

Now that the prison is in lockdown, The Sons (and One Daughter) of the Tiger find themselves teaming up with a bunch of cons to try to make it out of the prison alive. The warden calls in the National Guard and the soldiers storm the keep, taking no prisoners. Eventually, it comes down to one hellaciously bloody battle in the infirmary, with both sides taking heavy casualties but with our heroes coming out the victors. The perfect conclusion to what began as the worst piece of crap I've ever read between Marvel covers. If anything, this installment is even more vile (with Bill "Doug Junior" Mantlo using the perfect word at one juncture: filth) with more than enough "black boy" and "white pig"-laced dialogue to satisfy the thirteen year-old rebel Marvel Zombies out there. By the time the gory climax roles around, Mantlo's managed to trot out every bad Streets of San Francisco/Kojak/ The Rookies racial cliche every aired. When he's not ripping off bad TV, he's resorting to maudlin melodrama:

Old Con: Just gonna lay down here and die, lord!
Lotus: Let me help you, old one!
Old Con: Sure thing, ma'am! I take it back, lord! I ain't comin' yet! Tho' I ain't sure this isn't heaven, ma'am! You sure do look like one of them angels I hear tell about back in Sunday School!

Call me Captain Obvious but why didn't the Sons (and One Daughter) of the Tiger simply tap their ABBA bracelets together and make all this racial turmoil go away? I'm hoping that once Bill got "The Politics of Death" out of his system, he settled down and wrote some good, old-fashioned enthralling adventures, but I won't hold my breath. The guy probably thought there were so many more souls to save. -Peter Enfantino

Marvel stumbles upon the nadir and embraces it

Planet of the Apes 13
Cover by Bob Larkin

"The Magick Man's Last Gasp Purple Light Show"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Ploog

"Escape from the Planet of the Apes Part Two:
Strangers in a Strange Land"
Adaptation by Doug Moench
Art by Rico Rival

This month's "We Heard It Through the Ape Vine" features a long letter from none other than Fred G. Hembeck of Buffalo, NY , a future Marvel writer/artist whose style I always loved, but I feel was probably an acquired taste then and now. I liked him…

We kick off the good stuff with "Terror on the Planet of the Apes Phase 2" whatever the heck Phase 2 is. Maybe it's the Ploog art that looks more polished and less funky than the Ploog us Ape-philes are used to. Jason rages at Brutus in the wind, searching the ape's home then spying a map which may or may not lead him to Brutus' hideout. Off he goes to the East, and Alexander and Malagueña get permission from the Lawgiver to pursue their friend. Jason tames a big lizard to ride when he's met by wayfarer Lightsmith and his "magic torch" and "Wonder Wagon", as well as simian sidekick Gilbert, who cooks and smokes stogies. Meantime, Alex and the Gypsy are captured in the forest by mysterious apes. Jason and Lightsmith rumble on in the Wonder Wagon, and into "Assimian territory," coming upon one of their war-dances where they see Alex and Malagueña tied to stakes on fire! The rescuers make big noise to distract them, then head out in costume, holding the apes transfixed until some fireworks gets them riled up and a battle ensues, ending with Jason getting an arrow in the thigh. Having rescued his friends, Jason is off again with Lightsmith to the traveler's home—the nose of Abe Lincoln on South Dakota's Mount Rushmore!

Light on action until the end, this chapter of our original tale has quite a bit to like about it, from the bonds of friendship to the introduction of a couple more oddball characters to Lightsmith calling a TV "the most sacred thing the ancients had." Yeah, that sounds right actually! Then he hands him an "I Like Ike" button which really made me laugh. Then he plays the radio show "War of the Worlds" for distraction, a regular pop culture librarian, that one. Like a man after Prof. Gilbert's heart! Part II of Jim Whitmore's "Two People Who Are The Planet of the Apes" interview has me wondering why I'm reading this at 12:35 am, so let's move on to the next chapter of Escape, shall we. 

Part 2 takes us from Zira first speaking to the scientists; to Milo getting killed by the gorilla in the next cage (which was always a cool part on The 4:30 Movie's Apes Week); to Zira and Cornelius befriending Lewis; to the committee not believing any of this; to the entire commission being shocked by talking apes; to a mysterious Dr. Hasslein being way too interested; to Zira admitting they came over on a spaceship but who the heck is this Taylor dude (wink wink). A fun chapter with most of the setting in prison or in front of disbelieving constituents, with lots of talking but it moves thanks in part to the fine Rival art. –Joe Tura

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 8
Cover Art by Frank Brunner and Bob Larkin

“The Forever Phial”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Tim Conrad

“Gods of the Hyborian Age, Part Three: The Elder Gods”
Text by Robert L. Yaple
“Death Song of Conan the Cimmerian”
Poetry by Lin Carter
Adapted by Roy Thomas
Art by Jess Jodloman

“Sorcerer’s Summit”
Story & Art by Bruce Jones

“The Hyborian Age, Chapter 2: The Rise of the Hyborians”
Text by Roy Thomas
Art by Walt Simonson

“Corsairs Against Stygia”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Yong Montano

“Swords and Scrolls”

Roy Thomas and the powers that be take a break from the 50+-page, single-story format and offer a grab bag of shorter works in this issue — and it’s a good one. The longest, “Corsairs Against Stygia,” is just 13 pages and it’s perhaps the most noteworthy since it continues Roy and Gil Kane’s adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s only Conan novel, Hour of the Dragon, which began in the now defunct Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian. But to me, the highpoint is the first story, mainly because of the boffo art.

In “The Forever Phial,” a young Conan kills a huge white wolf, unaware that it is the creation of the mighty sorcerer Ranephi, a being granted immortality by the dark gods after drinking from the titular vessel. But Ranephi has been warned that, one day, his life will be taken by a wild barbarian. And the prophecy comes true after the Cimmerian manages to evade the wizard’s elemental guardians, one fire, one water, one wind. There’s an interesting format to Roy’s writing as most of the tale is told by Ranephi in what amounts to a voiceover. It’s obvious that the wizard has grown tired of his endless existence. While his does conjurer elementals to attack Conan, he seems resigned to his fate. But let’s get to the art. Tim Conrad does his best to evoke the artistry of Barry Smith, even down to the barbarian’s sandaled feet and ornamental necklace. Conrad doesn’t have quite the talent of Smith but he’s pretty close. You couldn’t call Conrad prolific but it looks like he was active up until 1991, working for Dark Horse. There was a nice touch in the second to last panel: it’s colored red to signify Conan’s axe smashing into Ranephi’s face. I appreciate thoughtful little touches like that — I wonder how much it added to the printing cost. 

[Crackle, bzzzz, crackle. Hello, this is Professor Flynn calling from the future. I am currently working on Savage Sword #10, and am not surprised to find that, according to the "Swords and Scrolls" letters pages, the red panel was Roy Thomas' idea. Someone in production named Lenny Grow "handled the delicate coordination with the printer." Roy rules.]

Robert L. Yaple continues his “Gods of the Hyborian Age” series with Part Three, focusing on such Elder Gods as Set, Hanuman, Ishtar, Pteor, and others. Yaple takes great pains to notate his article so you could easily trace his information back to Howard’s original source work.

Lin Carter’s lengthy poem “Death Song of Conan the Cimmerian” is accompanied by some nice art by Jess Jodloman, another talented Filipino illustrator. Running 10 pages, it’s a quick read that offers a top-level look at the Cimmerian’s life. Not bad but not much meat to sink your teeth into. An “adaptation” is credited to Roy Thomas: not sure what that means.

Written and illustrated by Bruce Jones, “Sorcerer’s Summit” is a comic, 9-page throwaway. A barbaric character named Dars-Khras accepts a challenge to climb the frigid mountain called the Demon’s Tooth. At the base, he discovers Luhra, a barely dressed beauty tied to a crucifix. After he frees her, the beguiling woman says that her parents are held captive by the evil wizard Brodmore: if they steal his crown of light he can be defeated and untold treasures will be the reward. After a few encounters with ghastly beasts, the pair reach Brodmore’s mountain castle. But Luhra has been lying: she has been a decrepit witch all along and her parents were actually under the protection of the friendly wizard. A fun, well-drawn little romp. Dars-Khras is a horny little scamp and every time he tries to get busy with the disguised Luhra, some type of creature intervenes — a huge bird, cave spiders, and a giant octopus — all of them conjured up by the disguised witch herself.

Roy and Walt Simonson are back with “The Rise of the Hyborians,” chapter two of their adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s essay “The Hyborian Age.” This time, they cover how the Hyborians emerged after numerous natural disasters, including the sinking of Atlantis. Excellent, energetic art by Walt.

After a one-page recap of all that has come before in the pages of Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian, “Corsairs Against Stygia” picks up with Conan sold into slavery after being betrayed by Publio. After regaining consciousness, the Cimmerian finds himself on board an Argossean trading ship captained by the brutish Demetrio. The fallen king notices that the rest of the slaves are black, most Kushites, but others are Black Corsairs, brave men Conan fought and pillaged with years ago. After Conan kills Demetrio, the Corsairs rise up, recognizing their former brother-in-arms, hailing him as Amra the Lion. With the ship now in his possession, Conan and the Corsairs sail to Stygia to find the priest who made off with the Heart of Ahriman back in Messantia. When they arrive at the dark and foreboding Stygian port city of Khemi, they find a fisherman casting his nets on the shore. Conan interrogates the frightened peasant: apparently the priest Thutothmes has just returned from Messantia with a hidden power that could rival even the mighty Thoth-Amon. Leaving his new crew behind, the Cimmerian boards a skiff and heads to Khemi to seek out Thutothmes. This is the shortest of the Hour of the Dragon installments, so it doesn’t move the story forward in a major way. I always enjoy a mention of the dreaded Thoth-Amon but I’m not sure he will play a part moving forward. It looks like we will have to wait for The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #10 for the next chapter — I believe things will finally wrap up then. -Thomas Flynn

Last issue chronicled the Age of Kull, closing with “the Cataclysm [that] rocked the world!” and brought that era to a catastrophic close.  With the Thurian continent “vanished under the waves,” this issue commences with the coming Age of Conan and, in between, all the intermediate history of pre-humans, “another, lesser cataclysm,” bloody tribal wars, Atlantean and Lemurian remnants, and the rise of the Picts.  

“In the North, one tribe is growing: the Hyborians or Hybori,” giving their name to this chapter of pre-history – the Hyborian Age.  “Their god is Bori, some great chief whom legend has raised to the status of a deity.”  (In Greek mythology, Boreas is the god of the North Wind.)  

This tribe, after failing “to exterminate” the “ape-like men, descended from the beasts...,” instead “drifted ever make the following age an epoch of wandering and conquest.”  In the decade following the Scopes Monkey Trial, the scientific community doubtless swirled with theories about Early Man, but Howard’s essay comes half a century before a New York Times article, “Fossils Point to Giant Ape’s Violent Death,” reporting that “EARLY Stone Age man may have wiped out a race of monster apes that would have towered over their predatory human contemporaries…”  

While the new finds did not suggest Gigantopithecus possessed human traits, longstanding conjecture that Homo sapiens may have annihilated Homo erectus and Neanderthals – the Neanderthal hypothesis worked its way into the plot of his first published short story, “Spear and Fang” (Weird Tales, November 1924) – demonstrates that the largely self-educated Howard grasped the trajectory of man’s ascendancy and the violent domination that marked it.  

NEXT: THE HYBORIAN KINGDOMS,” by which Marvel means issue #12 since Savage Sword of Conan #9 features instead “THE HYBORIAN AGE: A MAP” from artist Tom Conrad, not an adaptation of Howard’s original essay.  Future installments will likewise skip issues as illustrious illustrator Walt Simonson plies his painstaking paints – or in this case, inks – to make what reads as a dusty history lesson (to some) into a mighty blood-and-thunder epic chronicle.  

—Professor Gilbert


  1. I am not afraid to admit that I thought the Sons of the Tiger stories were really cool when I was 12 and reading them as they came out. But the highlight of this post has to be the contrast between comments on Super-Villain Team Up. Classic!

  2. This is the issue were Tomb of Dracula went of the rails in some regards. I loathed HHH, thought him spectaculary unfunny and a serious misstep as far as the atmosphere was concerned. Dracula worked because Wolfman took it seriously. I will never understand why he sacrificed this for needless slapstick.

    Leiko Wu could have been a terrible character, one just has to look at all the one-note bad girls characters which came later. But for all his purple prose in MoKF – didn't anyone edit this ever? - Moench did a lot with her.

    This Werewolf was one of the first imported Marvels I bought back then. A nice adaption of the Hell House plot.

  3. Interesting to contrast Marvel in the 1st half of the '60s with the company in the first half of the '70s. In the former, Marvel recreated itself, introducing several new characters and series that would remain in print for most of the following 5 decades while in the latter, while Marvel did create many new series that last 5 or more years, there were none I can think of right off that were entirely new, with never seen before characters, that lasted even 2 decades. The X-Men doesn't count because although they introduced new characters with the re-start in 1975, it was still a series that started in 1963, with and although there no new stories for nearly 5 years, the title at least continued in publication during those years. Luke Cage, with or without Iron Fist stuck around for about a decade before getting the axe, so he may have been the most successful new character who started out in his own title in the '70s, while Wolverine gets kudos for starting out in the '70s as an antagonist in one series and team member in another before migrating to his own long-term series in the '80s. Shang-Chi, Dracula and Conan were all had good runs, but they were each largely based on literature, even if Shang-Chi himself was an entirely new character, however much inspired by roles played by Bruce Lee and David Carradine.
    Of course, DC's most successful characters either started out in the late '30s or are re-workings of characters created in the early '40s, with relatively fewer entirely new characters from the '50s or later.
    Anyhow, of this batch, Warlock was easily my favorite, and I really don't mind issues that are a bit heavy on exposition in service of a good story, particularly as a balance to wall-to-wall action, which can get monotonous issue after issue. At least that's how I saw things even as a 13 year old in 1975. Once again Moench & Gulacy's MOKF comes in a strong second in my rankings, and is certainly significant for the introduction of Leiko Wu, one of the best supporting characters in comics IMO. As for Thunderbird's death, I seem to recall reading somewhere that he was specifically created to be killed off early on, and that was why his powers and personality were not all that unique and they never really bothered to describe what his mutant powers were other than being faster and stronger than the average homo sapien. Geez, if they're gonna call him Thunderbird, they should have at least given him the power of flight. Well, yeah, Batman & Robin were also named for flying creatures and neither of them had the power to fly and it was several years after his introduction before the Falcon got that power.

  4. Oh man, didn't even think of Hell House when summarizing WWBN. Detention for me!

    Thunderbird, we hardly knew ye...but his brother will be around in 9 years to carry on the family tradition, don't worry. One of the few comic books that made me sad, and a forbearer of great stories to come.

    Man, I had Super-Villain Team-Up and Thor this month. Both packed with good, dramatic stuff.

  5. ToD #37 represents the moment the title jumped the shark for me. While there were some good stories still (I particularly enjoyed the "Kolchak" riff and the Domini cult storyline - but Harold H. Harold was a lead balloon, and sub-Captain America storylines with Dr. Sun and the appearance of the Silver Surfer did not help this series, which didn't right itself until the final storyline starting with #60