Wednesday, April 8, 2015

December 1975 Part One: The Long-Awaited, Much-Anticipated, Nervously-Greeted Return of The Locust!

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

The big news next month will see the return to active-duty status of Jack “King” Kirby, whose departure represents a possible line of demarcation between the Silver and Bronze Ages, and who found awaiting him a Marvel much changed.  Its diversity in every sense—of creators, characters, subjects, styles, tones, and formats—was a far cry from the monolithic Lee/Kirby era, and many of us will argue that by now, Kirby was a man out of his time, so it seems reasonable at year’s end to assess said context.  I will do so from my usual writer-centric viewpoint, befitting the broad consensus that his scripts were his biggest debit, and since I had recently become a full-time Marvel Maniac, the period represents a personal sweet spot, characterized not least by the debuts of several favorites.

Despite the intrinsically musical-chairs nature of the Bullpen, stability has broken out in several bimonthlies that, while clearly not setting any sales records, are often of considerable artistic interest.  Don McGregor’s satisfyingly dense Black Panther strip in Jungle Action has found its perfect visual exponent in Billy Graham, and Rich Buckler’s brainchild, Deathlok, lets Buckler be Buckler in Astonishing Tales instead of aping his predecessors, however handsomely, in Fantastic Four.  Jim Starlin is working his renewed but short-lived miracles with a Warlock who has just made the jump from Strange Tales back into his own book, while faculty whipping-boy Tony Isabella has the dubious honor of presiding over what may be the pinnacle of Ghost Rider.

On his way from DC back to Marvel, Kirby may have passed Gerry Conway moving in the other direction, and in an increasingly familiar scenario, recent EIC Len Wein takes over his tentpole characters, adding Amazing Spider-Man and Thor to Incredible Hulk in his stable.  Marvel Team-Up transitions from Conway’s disappointing second run to what I recall as a period of sustained quality under Bill Mantlo, who also inherits sister title Marvel-Two-in-One from Steve Gerber, and whose prefab fill-in issues will become a fixture in the deadline-challenged Bullpen.  Len’s successor as EIC, Marv Wolfman, expands his turf beyond Tomb of Dracula with Daredevil (after Isabella’s post-Gerber interregnum), while Mike Friedrich’s exit places Iron Man into flux.

My beloved “Two Steves” continue to shine among the writing staff, with Gerber having given the Son of Satan up for adoption (written by John Warner in his new solo title), but going great guns on his sublime Defenders and about to unleash a collecting frenzy with Howard the Duck.  Kirby’s signature co-creation, Captain America, has fallen on hard times since Englehart left it—and will arguably fare little better under the resurgent King—yet Stainless still has many an issue of Captain Marvel and Dr. Strange ahead of him.  And although none of his remaining Avengers storylines may match the epic grandeur of the Celestial Madonna saga, the advent of penciler George Pérez creates a match made in heaven, ensuring that Steve’s stint will end on a high note.

Back in the saddle as a full-time writer (and, controversially, editing his own books), ex-EIC Roy Thomas has retaken the flagship Fantastic Four and launched two new titles, retaining Invaders for himself but leaving Super-Villain Team-Up in search of a consistent creative team.  Monsters are falling out of favor, demonstrated by the demise of the Man-Wolf, Man-Thing, and Morbius strips, yet the newcomers in Marvel’s spaghetti-against-the-wall strategy are mostly short-lived, e.g., Isabella’s Champions and kung-fu master Doug Moench’s Inhumans.  Rising star Chris Claremont simultaneously succeeded Isabella and Wein, respectively, on Iron Fist—whom he has just shepherded briefly into his own title—and the new X-Men, the sole conspicuous success.

I’ll leave the last word to Mantlo, quoted by Sean Howe:  “the key to being a successful Marvel writer was that you had worked for two companies, that made you better than all the hacks like me and Claremont and Moench who’d begun at Marvel [and] stayed with Marvel...It was a sign of success to shit on the company, go somewhere else, and then come back, and Chris, Doug, and I, and maybe Tony [Isabella] at that point, were left cleaning up the manure...[As EIC], you were supposed to write The Hulk, Spider-Man, and Thor.  Maybe Fantastic Four.  It fluctuated, depending on who your favorite characters were when you were fifteen….[N]ow you should be able to write whatever the top books were considered to be, and everybody else got…the dregs.”

And now - December 1975!

The Avengers 142
"Go West, Young Gods!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Perez and Vince Colletta
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Last issue, we left off with Thor, Moondragon, and Immortus in the distant Old West, looking for Hawkeye. What they found were the Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt, the original Night Rider, and the Ringo Kid. These old west heroes are wary of the newcomers, but Thor summons a storm and quickly shows them who is in control. Then they ride into Tombstone, Arizona and find Hawkeye (finally!) and this half of the Avengers is finally reunited. Hawkeye tells the story of how, by chasing Kang, he ended up in Tombstone. Kang is also there, out of sight, but planning to use local bandits to rob a uranium train.

Meanwhile, the remaining Avengers are still on present-day earth, now in a mysterious cage inside a Roxxon Oil building (having been subdued by the Squadrum Supreme in the previous issue). Beast, Iron Man, Captain America, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and a civilian-clothed Patsy Walker are all locked up inside a cage with no apparent way out. Cap announces that he has a plan for escaping, and we're left with a real cliffhanger. -Jerad Walters

Matthew Bradley:  A quick clarification for any latecomers:  the character referred to here as the Night Rider is technically the original Ghost Rider, a Silver-Age Western hero renamed to avoid confusion with his motorcycle-riding modern-day counterpart, Johnny Blaze.  Later on, after someone belatedly remembered that the KKK were also called "night riders," he underwent yet another name change to the Phantom Rider.  When Blaze became inexplicably popular, his early outings were inevitably reprinted in the '90s, with new adventures of the so-called Phantom Rider ironically appearing as a back-up feature alongside them in what was arrogantly titled The Original Ghost Rider.

Shouldn't that be:
"And to the rear, Rawhide Kid!"?
Jerad Walters:  George Perez continues to grow here. The work is, well, workmanlike, except for one very striking full page view of the captive Avengers on page 14. We have two continuing narratives, although wisely this issue focuses on Hawkeye and his adventures with Moondragon and Thor. There’s a great profile of Hyperion at the bottom of page 15 where he looks just like the Comedian from the Watchmen comic. The thread of Roxxon Oil’s continuing evil is intriguing, but I get the feeling that Englehart was just marking time until he could get to the real action.

Stopping the train robbery is well-handled with some inventive panels from Perez, who is clearly still getting used to this material. The characters of the old west are well-drawn. It’s a fairly predictable battle, but at the end of the issue we have Hawkeye and the others preparing to go after Kang in the next issue.

Scott McIntyre: I’ve read worse. George Perez’s pencils are a wonder to behold even under the sketchy inks of Colletta. I can’t say much about the story, other than it being another long, epic slog. It’s nice to see Hawkeye again, but not being much of a follower or fan of the western titles, this one holds little interest for me.

Matthew Bradley:  Hang in there, professors:  we only have to endure Colletta’s inks on one more Perez issue after this (#147), and fortunately, George’s infectious enthusiasm seems undimmed, offering a wide variety of effective layouts that bespeak future greatness when he has some real embellishment.  The title “Go West, Young Gods!” does raise the question, by what right does Celestial Madonna manqué Moondragon—born a human being on Earth, trained as a priestess by the Shao-Lom monks on Titan—claim godhood?  Even as a kid, I was dimly aware of Marvel’s Western heroes and thought it was cool that Stainless incorporated them into a kind of all-star team (their natural kinship with Hawkeye being but a bonus), as noted in his Alter Ego interview.

“If [Patsy] was part of the Marvel Universe, then the Western heroes could be, as well….so when I was doing the time travel storylines and sent The Avengers back in time, I thought, ‘Where are you going to go?’  If you’re going back in Marvel time, there aren’t a whole lot of places where you could have an adventure where they could meet other major characters….The Western heroes, in that context, were naturals….[W]hen the super-heroes were starting to go big-time and the Western books were still being done, those characters met Western versions of super-villains—just like…[on] Wild, Wild West….It made sense to me, in this Marvel context, that if The Avengers went back in time, these guys could be there,” Steve told Richard J. Arndt.

Chris Blake: I guess Steve E thought it’d be fun to turn the Avengers loose in the Ol’ West, but it jest turned out ta be a touch too much a-hootin’ an’ a-hollerin’ fer me (there’s a reason why I never, ever bought a single Western comic).  I thought the point was to go after Kang – I’m not interested in seeing Kang again, mind you, but if the confrontation with him comes soon, at least we might be able to count on being finished with him for the next 2-3 issues, until Steve decides that enough time has gone by for Kang to have yet another try.  

We only get two pages with the entrapped Assemblers, leaving off with Cap stating that he has “a plan -!”  I guess it’s safe to say that I would’ve liked to have heard a little more than that, so now I’ll have to wait til next issue.  

The less said about the art, the better.  One of the illuminating aspects of the MU course of study is that it has given me a chance to follow changes in art trends across the era of the Bronze.  In particular, I now have a better appreciation for why fans have written in to recommend Colletta to ink a certain title; clearly, he is capable of some solid work.  In this issue, however, Perez is thoroughly torpedoed by Colletta-at-his-crappiest; numerous details, and many faces, are left unfinished, or partly finished, or poorly finished.  “Well, how good could it be?” you might inquire.  “Perez is only getting started, so it wouldn’t have been that great anyway, right?”  Allow me to direct your attention to FF #165, also on sale this month, with inks by one of the most consistent pros of all time, who ably demonstrates  how to take Perez’s raw elements and make something great out of them.  
I’m not finished yet – it blows my mind that anyone involved with art at Marvel could’ve looked at Colletta’s pitiful results with Perez’s pencils for #141 and #142, and said “Well, let’s give Vince another shot.”  I’ve asked this question before under different circumstances, but here I go again: was there truly no one else, in the whole blamed bullpen, or even walking by on the street, who could’ve been considered instead for this assignment?  Giacoia? Palmer? McLeod? Leialoha? Sinnott? Giordano? Sutton? Janson? Adkins? Staton? Hunt? Esposito? Mooney? Abel? Milgrom? McWilliams, or Kida, even?  You mean to tell me that not one of these other inkers was available, and that there was no option but to continue to assign Colletta to ink Perez -?  

Conan the Barbarian 57 
“Incident in Argos!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Mike Ploog
Colors by Phil Rache
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Vince Colletta

Conan, Tara and Yusef ride into the port city of Messantia, capital of Argos, looking for work as mercenaries in the war against Stygia. However, they are informed that the warring regions recently signed a peace treaty and hired arms are no longer necessary. Suddenly a group of soldiers, led by the Captain of the King’s Guard, march by, rudely pushing Tara to the ground: Conan trashes them all and threatens the Captain with his sword. Realizing that they are now wanted by the law, the trio race off to disguise themselves. In a clothier shop, the tomboy Tara begrudgingly dons a midriff baring dress while Yusef changes into the outfit of a court dandy. Conan orders the young lovers to wait for him in a tavern while he orders new armor: but the Cimmerian is shanghaied by men working for a merchant named Publio and brought to a Stygian ship to toil as an oarsman. However, Conan breaks his bonds and seeks refuge in the home of an old crone named Momratha. The wizened woman shows the barbarian visions of his future as a king and then of Tara and Yusef killing the Captain of the Guard in the tavern before escaping. Conan rushes off to the bar to find his friends but is overcome by soldiers who recognize him from the earlier encounter. The warrior is brought before a judge named Ephemero Portus for sentencing but, again, he frees himself, kills numerous soldiers and rides off on stolen horseback towards the wharves — Tara and Yusef watch him gallop by in the shadows. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: This is truly a transitional issue as 1976 will kick off with a lengthy run that adapts Robert E. Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast,” one of the author’s most popular Conan stories and the tale that introduced the woman warrior Bêlit. But if we’re gonna go for a bit of wheel spinning, it’s a pleasure to be in the company of Mike Ploog. I always feel like a cheating husband when I praise any other Conan artist besides John Buscema, but Ploog is in fabulous form here and his art is a great change of pace — it’s certainly head and shoulders above anything he did on the dull Kull series. Always the Rascally One, Thomas utilizes a younger version of the character Publio, a figure who plays a part in the adaptation of the Howard novel The Hour of the Dragon, which began in Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian #1 and will wrap up in a future issue of the Savage Sword magazine. It’s shown that the judge wears the same type of ring as a Stygian priest — we’ll see if this is a plot point to come in the “Queen of the Black Coast” issues. On The Hyborian Page — which features a letter by the ubiquitous Ralph Macchio — it is revealed that Roy named Tara after his kid sister. An editorial also mentions that this is the last time we will see Tara and her lover Yusef, at least for the foreseeable future. No big loss there. By Crom, we’ll see you next year!

Captain America and The Falcon 192
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Frank Robbins and D. Bruce Berry
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita and Frank Giacoia

Eager to get home from Los Angeles, Steve Rogers rushes onto an “Acme Eraser” charter plane bound for New York. On board is a collection of armed criminal stereotype toughs. Steve pretends to be one of them as the plane takes off when Doctor Faustus comes in from above to outline his latest criminal scheme: hold Manhattan for ransom, or else he'll use the pilfered Stark Industries cast off weapons he has on board. Having heard enough, Steve slips into the lavatory and into costume, busting forth as Captain America to take on a planeload of gangsters. He fights hard, suffering a brief setback while Faustus uses his mind control ray on him. However, the hero shakes it off more quickly than Faustus expects and the fight goes on. A shot goes wild and one of the windows shatters. Explosive decompression blows Faustus from the plane. Cap takes the pilot’s seat under the suspicious eyes of the gangsters, but uses code “flight 9-1-1” to signal emergency. With the runway lined with foam and the authorities waiting, the criminals are taken into custody in short order. Days later, Cap is still troubled at the turns his life has taken recently, with Sam’s revelations and his own side career as the Nomad, and decides to take whatever is going to happen next as “something new.” -Scott McIntyre

Matthew:  Funny to look back on a time when "911" was not so ubiquitous, and Cap was thus able to use it to warn the authorities without immediately tipping off the bad guys that he was doing so.

Scott: And so we say goodbye to Frank Robbins, finally. For better or for worse, Jack Kirby takes over next issue, ushering in a controversial, if somewhat short, run. In the meantime, Marv Wolfman fills in for one transitional issue bridging the gap between Tony Isabella (who plotted the previous issue) and the King. It’s a frankly silly story and one of very little consequence. I won’t miss Robbins in the slightest and am actually looking forward to covering the weirdness to follow.

One last rubbery kick to the teeth from ol' Franky

Matthew:  Shortly after plotting…#191,” recounted Tony Isabella, “I learned I was being booted from [the book].  I was angry about that, not because Kirby was being reunited with one of his greatest creations, but because I’d been hosed by my editors.  So I decided to end my involvement…[t]wo issues before the editors had wanted….[This] meant someone had to write one more issue…before Jack’s return.  That job went to editor and writer Marv Wolfman.  His concept of Captain America on a jet full of gangsters played out clumsily.  His handling of the predatory psychiatrist Doc Faustus was an anaemic imitation of the unusual villain created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  It was far from one of Marv’s finest hours” (per a “Tony’s Tips” post).

Far be it from me to argue with an authority as universally admired among the faculty; unlike with Stilt-Man last time out, the Robbins/Berry rendition gave me a retroactive dislike of Faustus in the earlier appearances I subsequently acquired.  With Jack back in January, this marks the end of an era by definition, yet the transition from Steve & Sal has been so incremental that those glory days already seem far away, so we really don’t get that line-in-the-sand feeling.  It’s a sorry-ass effort by any standard, with plot holes big enough for Dr. Fatso himself to slip through—as he does in the insulting Fool’s Goldfinger climax—and a final jab in the eyeballs by a Robbins who is helped not a whit by Berry (probably qualifying Frank for inclusion in the rogues’ gallery of Cap’s worst enemies).

Daredevil 128
"Death Stalks the Stairway to the Stars!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Bob Brown and Klaus Janson
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

 Foggy informs Matt of a series of break-ins at museums all over the city; Matt suspects that Death Stalker is among the few villains who could move from site-to-site so quickly.  Matt dons his DD duds and swings over the streets, bounding onto a 7-train to take him to the scene of the most recent theft: the Science Pavilion of the 1964 World’s Fair.  DD is surprised to sense that a small man is walking along panels of light, and up into the night sky.  While he’s pondering this, Death Stalker blasts at DD with a ray gun that he’s fashioned from the ill-gotten collection he’s amassed of Atlantean-made glass, each piece over thirty-thousand years old.  DD and Death Stalker carry their battle onto the space-walker’s light panels.  Once DD has kicked the blaster from Death Stalker’s hand, and it has shattered on the ground, the Stalker falls toward the space man and is seemingly zapped out of existence.  -Chris Blake
And co-starring Liza Minelli...
Chris: I wasn’t aware that radar could be used to detect light; okay, moving on.  I’m not sure how a blaster built with mirrors would be able to generate a light-powered ray at night; next question.  I’m not going to comment on the six-hundred year-old spaceman who’s prepared to spend the next fifty million years walking on light-squares so he can travel back to his homeworld – I’m willing to pretend that he isn’t even in the story, if you are too.
There’s a brief period at the start of the issue when Matt berates himself for having been a superhero, and declares his intention to quit.  Yes, we’ve heard this song before; but for once, I have to admit that there is some justification for it, due to Matt’s self-disgust over having trashed a suburban home in his tussle with Torpedo last issue.  Matt tosses his DD costume on the bed, and leaves it there as he faces the window.  Matt then meets with the Fogster, and as soon as he learns about the break-ins, he excuses himself and, you guessed it, once again he’s swinging along DD-style.  Which means that, despite his proclamation that “it’s time for Daredevil to die,” Matt still proceeded to put the costume on under his street clothes before he left the brownstone.  Oh well.   
“Your so-called humor is revolting, Daredevil --” spake the Stalker, and he’s right.  Matt already has berated himself about bantering with the Torpedo as they were smashing up the family home last ish, but does that stop him once he’s caught up with Death Stalker?  No, he makes up for lost time, as Marv feeds him all sorts of teeth-grating stupidities, the most egregious being this one: “I was just coming to continue our conversation.  Were we on the ‘thud, slam, blam’ topic, or the ‘thakadoom, skam!’ conversation?  I forget which.”  Yes, Marv please forget it – would you please forget it, already.

Matthew:  And here I always thought Professor Joe ghost-wrote that panel.

Scott: An active story, lots going on, with a mystery space character who literally goes nowhere as far as I’m concerned. He just happened to be at the same place Death Stalker needed to be? And both of these guys, who didn’t really interact or even acknowledge each other, had the same “star step” ability? Weird and unsatisfying. Out of all the characters in this issue, I was most interested in Heather and what she and Matt spoke of. I was actually sorry to get back to the usual super-heroics, I wanted to stick with them, particularly to find out what she said to get Matt back into costume too soon after he decided to call it quits. 

Matthew: The returning Death-Stalker now becomes one of DD’s most persistent foes, with appearances spanning 31 issues, three writers (Wolfman, Shooter, and McKenzie), a Ghost Rider crossover, and a Dr. Strange digression.  I have fond memories of my first encounter with him here, and although Marv asserts that “Bob B. outdid himself” with the cutaway of Matt’s new brownstone, I would argue that his depiction of Stalky, all swirling cloak, is the greater achievement, despite the depredations of Klaus; page 16, panel 7 has an especially egregious anime-wannabe look to it.  I also love how, in contrast to the insouciance he’d feel tackling a doofus like the Leap-Frog, Hornhead frets to himself, “I bombed out in all our past meetings…”

In his 1997 interview for the exhaustive Man Without Fear website, Marv Wolfman offers some interesting observations regarding his stint on DD in general and Starron—the mysterious “sky walker” whose return never materialized—in particular:  The sky walker was going to lead into DD’s first real SF story.  I felt DD needed something more than I was giving him.  I was never very happy with my DDI never found the thing that made him mine the way Frank Miller did a year or two later.  So I was trying to find things to do that interested me and therefore, I hoped, the readers.  Ultimately, I couldn’t find anything that made DD unique to me and asked off the title.  Fortunately, Frank Miller came in after me and rejuvenated the title,” he told Kuljit Mithra.

Addendum:  To my constant chagrin, Marvel itself is unable to decide whether or not to hyphenate "Death Stalker"; they do on the cover, but the name appears randomly with and without punctuation inside, which as far as I'm concerned excuses the faculty for its own inconsistency.  There are no wrong answers.

The Defenders 30
"Gold Diggers of Fear!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sam Grainger and Jack Abel
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Ron Wilson and Mike Esposito

Returning to his Greenwich Village home, Dr. Strange gets a less-than-friendly greeting from some thugs. They demand a ransom from him for the life of his buddy Nighthawk.  Stephen isn't worried about the messengers,  and while Wong takes care of them, he summons Val and the Hulk to go to the surmised location of Nighthawk.  It turns out he is being held prisoner by two men; an inventor named Hodges and a young stage magician calling himself Tapping Tommy.  They seem pretty tame but have some robot weaponry and gas bombs at their disposal.  Eventually the inevitable happens and our friends prevail,  and Tommy awaits his trip up the river. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: With The Defenders having faced the Badoon recently,  Tapping Tommy doesn't seem like much of a danger but our friends underestimate him just like I did. Tommy gives us a few scares and  laughs until the Hulk puts him to sleep with a head tap.

Chris: “All right young man – now, finish your dinner.”  “Aww, mom . . .” “No – I mean it!  You finish that dinner this minute, or you’re going straight to your room to read Defenders #30!” “Awk!”  GULP.

A letter will appear in an upcoming issue, identifying Tapping Tommy as the sort of villain you’d expect to see in a Batman story.  Well, that writer was right on – except that we’d have to be talking about the Batman TV show, not even the comic book. TT is ridiculous enough to look at, with his prancy-little would-be Astaire moves (enough to make any hero tremble!!), but when you add in his textbook simply-laughable bad-guy dialog, he comes off as one of the least-credible adversaries in the history of the Bronze Age.  I can see why he wanted a million-dollar ransom – what do you suppose his budget had to be for his big production number?  He’d need at least a million just to break even!  Last point, and then I’m never, ever thinking about this comic again: with this being the Defenders, and no offense to young Mantlo, but – I wonder what Steve G might’ve brought to this same pitifully ludicrous character -?

Chris: Grainger & Abel are not artists whose work I would tend to seek out (and Grainger is rarely employed as a penciller in the Bronze era), but the appearance of the issue might be the very least of its problems; not bad at all for a fill-in – as I’ve said before, we’ve been subjected to far, far worse.  
Scott: That was…not very good. More dreaded deadline doom? This is a hole-filled issue, drawn in “okay” style, but barely interesting enough to finish. Tapping Tommy? Seriously? Was Singing Sammy out of town?

Matthew: Whether he did so deliberately or not, Steve Gerber understandably might have wanted to take a break between his Guardians and Headmen sagas, and this appears to be one of Mantlo’s legendary Marvel Fill-In Comics inventory issues.  Grainger is usually an inker, most notably on Avengers and X-Men; in fact, his only other penciling credit on the MCDb is a posthumously published Volstagg tale in Marvel Comics Presents #66 (December 1990).  With some nice layouts, he and seasoned Hulk vet Abel do a competent job on what is—as much as I love Bill—patently piffle:  Why would the Maggia recruit a loony loser like Tapping Tommy?  Is Kyle trying to blow his secret i.d.?  Did it really take them until pg. 30 to target the Manipulator?

Doctor Strange 11
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Frank Gacoia

Eternity,  the mysterious being who claims the end of the world is nigh (thanks to...ourselves ), has taken Stephen's word as humanity's champion,  and sent him...somewhere. A man with his face approaches from the shadows,  presenting him with an invitation to "The Red Death", leading Stephen out of the fog to a mansion.  All the people milling around look just like him,  but dressed differently. He meets their leader,  who wears a mask of Richard Nixon.  When Strange's power fails him, he is caught by surprise and knocked out, awakening in a dungeon with another one of him, this one the  bitter drunk he was at the end of his medical career. Stephen finds the escape path his roommate had been digging,  and escapes,  after dispatching an attack from behind (thanks to Clea's awareness via the link they share).  Clea is not without trouble, finding Baron Mordo has escaped.  Once out of the escape tunnel,  Stephen overcomes a passerby,  stealing his clothes and returning to the mansion.  He tries to appeal to "Nixon " but is recognized. Red Death appears, but Stephen calls his bluff,  and Death becomes Comedy; another face of the danger at hand. Nixon's face is just a mask, underneath he's yet another arrogant version of himself. Mordo's spirit, meanwhile,  has been led to a kindred spirit, the Aged Genghis. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The mystery continues; what exactly is the nature of this defeat of humanity that we apparently wrought?  Self-deception seems to be a part for sure.  The story and art are stellar as usual  (the go-to status of this title ), and the questions answered open nice new ones. 

Matthew: I’m tempted to restrict myself to a Flynnian “Magnifico!” and leave it at that, but since it’s widely known that the MU faculty is paid by the word (at the competitive rate of $0.00), perhaps I can do slightly better.  All who follow fall under the shadow of Ditko, so I can’t call Colan—reunited here with longtime partner Palmer—the definitive Dr. Strange artist, but he’s certainly one of them, and I offer the portrait in page 16, panel 4 as an example of how well he captures Doc’s essence.  Clearly, Stainless still has Nixon to kick around in comics form, although he may be the first one to link Tricky Dick with Poe, and the team does a wonderful job of evoking both Poe’s story and Corman’s classic film adaptation, The Masque of the Red Death.

Chris: There are times when I'm reading one of Steve E's Dr Strange scripts, and I realize that I'm not quite following his lead. This has been one of those times; I keep looking and hoping to spot a clue that will tie me more closely to the intent of the tale, but it eludes me.  For instance: I don't grasp what Eternity is trying to accomplish with his "Stephen and the Ghosts of Stranges Past" gambit; is he trying to prove that humanity is extinguishable, and deserving of its fate, or is he toying with Stephen, in the hope that Dr Strange might discover, or prove, some truth about himself, or about people in general that disproves Eternity's position? Yeah -- and does even my question about the story make any sense? Well, I usually can fit my neurons around the bends when I read these a second time, so we'll see if that works. 

We've been spinning 'round on an inkers' wheel over the past few months; the pointer has come to rest on some decent names -- the guys assigned to grace Gene's layouts all have been good -- but can I really settle in with a true hope that Palmer will somehow be able to continue on this title for the next few months, as the letters page would have us believe (trusting innocent Marvelites are we . . .)?  If so, then we can count on more highlights like the arrival of the Red Death (p 26, pnl 4), which looks like something straight out of Tomb of Dracula.  Also, dig the way the buildings seem to shimmy around Mordo’s astral form (p 17), seemingly reflecting the present loosely-connected workings of his mind.

Mark: It's Strange vs. Strange, and not just the four previous personas promised by Eternity last ish, no, the Doc's invited to Stephen-Fest '75, a veritable swarm of Stranges held in a manse with a bowed facade that looks suspiciously like the White House, not surprising given the Top Dog Doc wears a Nixon mask. It's as if Englehart, who didn't dare show the face of the Secret Empire's Chief Executive in Cap last year, wants Tricky Dick in the dock, ex post facto, while the real Nixon was already plotting his next comeback in San Clemente. While it's a bit jarring, I'm always up for the opportunity to kick Dick Nixon around again.

The Colan-Palmer art is a joy, as always. The Doc besting his booze-addled former self (with an across the universe assist from Clea) was classic, and while Eternity setting up this Survivor-like challenge seems out of character, the game's afoot. And I'm guessing the astral-traveling Baron Mordo is about to throw all the rules out the window.      

Fantastic Four 165
"The Light of Other Worlds!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by George Perez and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by George Perez and Joe Sinnott

Reed Stilt-Mans to the Greenwich Village crime scene and discovers banker McClary is still alive! Of more import, his distraught wife reports that the Crusader had the same voice of Dr. Horton Grayson, who claimed to have invented space flight before WWII, but was denied a loan to complete his rocket by the miraculously still-breathing McClary.

Meanwhile, the Crusader continues dismantling McClary's banks as Reed zeros in on his m.o. – Cru always attacks at mid-day, when the sun is shining – and also invents a radiation detector, which now alerts the Fab Four that Cru's hitting a bank in the Bronx. Reed puts his pards on the hunt, while he remains busy at the Baxter. 

Johnny drops Dr. Grayson's name, mid-battle, nudging Cru into flashback mode, recapping Marvel Boy's early '50's run, and how he returned to earth one last time for medical supplies, only to have his loan app to pay for same nixed by – you guessed it, class - Mr. Potter's spiritual twin, McClary! 

Returning to Uranus, Cru discovered dad and everyone else dead, flash-frozen when the dome they lived under failed. He might have been able to help, had he not been glad-handing a banker. The one-time Bob Grayson headed back to earth, seeking vengeance, but was caught in comet Kohoutek's tail, delaying his arrival for 25 years.  

Telling this tale gives Reed time to arrive (in what looks like the original "bathtub" F-Car) with an artificial cloud generator, suppressing Cru's power. He's still dangerous, clouting Ben with a bank vault door, then setting his wrist bands to "maximum absorbency of solar energy," just as Reed's clouds burn away, causing the Crusader to overload and explode, scattering him to random atoms. The Thing buries an ungrateful bank manager in a pile of his own money for a closing Scrooge McDuck chuckle as the FF ponder if the one-time Bob Grayson was really destroyed. -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Roy's too much the pro to serve up Irwin Allen-level MDC (Marvel Climaxius Disappointius). Instead this is just... underwhelming. Minor plot pratfalls like a middle-aged man somehow surviving being hit by a large chunk o' building hurled at Nolan Ryan fastball speed are the least of it. Banker McClary didn't kill Bob Grayson's dad (had the medical supplies been needed specifically for his gravely-ill father, that would have amped-up the revenge factor. And Marvelous Bob Boy only applies for a loan at the same bank that refused to underwrite Dad's rocket?), and the Crusader's obsessive quest for vigilante payback is hardly karmic, balance-the-scales-justice.

Thomas' deep Timely/Atlas/Marvel knowledge served him well in dredging up Marvel Boy as a character rich in potential, poor in any compelling idea of what to do with him. Perez's top-notch art and Roy's nimble-handling of story mechanics (using the then-current Kohoutek for the two decades-plus delay is a nice touch) makes this a decent enough, if instantly forgettable, offering, but like the less-disastrous of the Bush presidents, it lacks "the whole vision thing."

Scott: Ah, Johnny. It’s so like you to crab about your love life when the city is in danger. Did I mention lately how much I hate this kid? Here we have the sad fate of Marvel Boy and his dad. It’s not like he was a favorite character, but you really do feel for the lad and all he went through. All in all, a good two parter. More great Perez art and some funny character bits, especially with “Richard Reed” at the top of the issue.

Matthew: Per a LOC from future Marvel writer Peter B. Gillis, “After about two years of muddling about and treading water, [this] has finally resumed its place as a strip of stature.”  While I won’t bother doing the math to see if I agree when the trouble started, he was commenting on “the current Four-World-War,” and this two-parter (planned as GS #6) maintains the same standard of excellence, so I concur completely on when it ended.  The letter-answering armadillo needs to polish up his crystal ball after foretelling that Roy will take over MTIO to maintain Thing-continuity, and that he, “Rich, and Joe…are gonna be masterminding the…F.F. for a long, long time to come,” since Buckler has but three more Bronze-Age issues in his future.

Chris: This was another flea-market find for me, my own version of a “Prof Bradley Cluster” issue.  It was quite the double-bonus, as I got an old FF story, and new (to my eyes) Perez art, all at once!  I had to have been boggled. 

I don't know how many times I might've read this one in days agone, but I put in enough repetitions that certain images (mostly Crusader poses), and even certain phrases in the dialog, jump right out. The action moves crisply along -- if this had been a giant-sizer as had been planned originally, it would've been the best issue of the series.  The origin is a bit odd -- a rocket ride to Uranus (with plenty of diapers packed for the trip, right?  Uh, for the baby boy, I mean), followed by an unexplained year of adolescent heroics back on earth; and then, a few more trips back and forth, mostly for fundraising and financial planning, and to acquire medications seemingly not available to the advanced Uranian society.  I think. When next we see the Crusader (and, we will), I'll be intrigued to see how he transitions into the far more useful Quasar.
All of these pre-read (but, I guess “used” would be a more fitting description) flea-market comics were worn, with bent corners and cover-creasing, but far more importantly, they were artifacts of a time before I was actively collecting – it was like having an extra day to visit the newspaper store and see what was new on the racks.  The downside, of course, was that I couldn’t go back in a few weeks to pick up the next chapter in the story – I had to take what I could find, and then deal with the gaps in the storyline, as various episodes were left unconcluded for years until luck struck again.  Over thirty-five years later, and I’m still collecting . . .

Adventure Into Fear 31  
Morbius, The Living Vampire in
“The End of the Vampire”
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Frank Robbins and Vinnie Colletta
Colors by Phil Rache
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

At the Boston police headquarters, a horrified Morbius discovers that his beloved Martine has been turned into a vampire. Simon Stroud rushes forward to axe her but the Living Vampire stops him, blaming the ex-CIA agent for putting his fiancée in this situation. Morbius tries to reason with Martine but she attacks, ultimately escaping out a window. A lab technician informs Stroud that the blood of the captured female vampire was radioactive, meaning that Morbius is somehow responsible for all the monsters running amuck. Plus, something in the former biochemist’s blood must cancel the effects of the radioactivity since he doesn’t eventually disintegrate like his unholy offsprings — something that will surely happen to Martine. While Morbius retreats to the police lab to whip up an antidote, Stroud finds Martine out on the street, about to fang a cute college coed. Even though loaded with silver bullets, his gun proves useless but the Living Vampire soon arrives on the scene. The two vampires struggle and Morbius drops the hypodermic needle. Stroud picks it up and debates which of the two he should inject, finally deciding on the woman. Martine turns human once again but Morbius cannot control his bloodlust and bites her. Stroud and the mournful vampire rush Martine to a nearby hospital and a plasma transfusion saves her life. Morbius reveals that the antidote wouldn’t have worked on him anyway since it was made from his own blood. Morbius flies away, heartbroken that he almost killed the only person he loves. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Bullets, stakes, sunlight and even the idiotic Helleyes couldn’t kill Morbius the Living Vampire: only poor sales could stop him. Here we have the final issue of Fear, or, since I like to be complete, Adventure Into Fear with the Man Called Morbius, The Living Vampire aka The World’s Longest Comic Book Title. Sure, Fear wasn’t entirely a Morbius showcase considering that it started out as a reprint title and featured the Man-Thing from issues 10–19. But Morbius had the longest run and saw it through to the end. But fear not, the Living Vampire would turn up from time to time and is still sucking to this day. Guess it was inevitable that Martine would turn into a vampire herself for the grand finale. Robbins, who penciled issues 25–28, returns for the final bow and again, I think he’s a good match for Morbius. Not sure how other writers handled him, but Mantlo supplies Stroud with an endless stream of wisecracks, whether he’s calling Morbius “leech” and “paste face” or putting down other characters with “schmendrick.” It gets a bit tiring. Just like this series. Guess I have nothing to fear anymore. Well, except maybe Ghost Rider.

Chris: Mantlo closes out this title well, with our attention focused on the ample action as the three principals are pitted against one other, without a Helleye in sight.  Mantlo does fink-out real horrorshow toward the end, though, when he shows us Morbius finally break down and allow his thirst to kill Martine, followed by Morbius mourning his costly loss of self-control; but then – Morbius claims that he didn’t, in fact, kill Martine – there’s still precious time to save her (?!).  So, Bill backs away from the abyss, when he had an opportunity to provide a truly stark, somewhat tragic, but ultimately fitting final image for this cursed character.  

This issue happened to be the third consecutive December title I read, all inked by Colletta.  I had not planned it this way.  Colletta’s inks somehow do seem to work better for Robbins than for the previous two December titles I’d looked at; it could be that I’m too distracted by Robbins’ funhouse faces and figures to pay much heed to the effect of the inks.  This issue’s gravity-defying moment comes on p11, last pnl, which could result in hip and/or back surgery for Stroud, unless his imminent impact with the ground causes a skull fracture.

Matthew: Third out and the Mighty Marvel Monsters go down in defeat.  Can we draw a causal relationship between the presence of Stroud here and in the Man-Wolf strip with their rapid-fire cancellations?  Now, I am as enamored of the female posterior as any heterosexual male, but I’m fairly certain that Martine’s splash-page pose is physically impossible except among professional Kama Sutra models.  Ofah.  Departing from the norm (aptly), Robbins is billed before Mantlo, as if in acknowledgment that he bears primary responsibility for this whimper of a finale, although Colletta earns unindicted co-conspirator status with an inking job that is wretched even by his low standards.  Bill manfully does his best to play the hand he was dealt, tying up the loose ends.

Ghost Rider 15
“Vengeance on the Ventura Freeway!”
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Bob Brown and Don Heck
Colors by Michele Brand
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia

Hypnotized by the Orb, Karen Page fires a laser pistol at Ghost Rider and her stand-in Katy Milner in the middle of a stunt: Milner is grazed, Blaze loses control of his motorcycle and they crash, their fall cushioned by a wardrobe rack. The Orb grabs Page, vowing to claim the $1,000,000 bounty on her head, and races off on his own bike. The Ghost Rider tears after in hot pursuit, with director Coot Collier, armed with a rifle, and the Stunt-Master following in a convertible. Back at Delazny Studios, the accountant Cosgrove discovers that an employee on the Stunt-Master TV show doesn’t have any past employment records — the irate suit thinks Collier is hiding something. Meanwhile, the furious chase enters the Ventura Freeway, choked with traffic. Blaze gets close enough to blast the Orb with hellfire: the villain’s asbestos outfit prevents any harm but Karen regains her consciousness from the heat. She begins to struggle with her captor so the Orb tosses her from the bike: Ghost Rider catches Karen and drops her off on the side of the freeway. When the Orb finally gets Blaze in his laser’s crosshairs, Collier, a former Hollywood trick-shooter, shoots the pistol out of his hands. The Rider knocks his ocular opponent off his bike and begins to throttle him, transforming back into Johnny Blaze with every vicious punch. Suddenly, the Christ-like figure from issue #9 appears and chastises Johnny for not striking out at the real causes of his fury. Blaze complains that Satan is in Hell and that Pluto is in Olympus, both untouchable. But the holy hippy comforts the hot-headed hero, promising that he will have the chance to confront them both once again. Later, at a nearby hospital, Wendy and Richard Pini visit the injured Katy Milner: when they enter her room, the beautiful young lady has been transformed into a decrepit old hag, screaming about something called the Possessors. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Perhaps I’m being possessed by Satan myself, but I find that I am becoming somewhat of a Ghost Rider apologist — though I have no idea why. The writing is pure hokum, the art usually stinks, and the villains and supporting characters are fifth-tier at best. So why am I not approaching each new issue with dread? Perhaps it’s because things zip along so quickly that I’m done before disgust can set in. The rottenness doesn’t have the time to absorb into my brain stem unlike, say, a typical issue of Fear. And let’s face it, most issues are entertainingly odd. Why does Karen Page have a million dollar bounty on her head? Who knows. Why does the Orb sometimes appear as a spectral vision? No clue. Why aren’t people concerned that Blaze’s skull bursts into flames on regular occasions? Beats me. Will Cosgrove ever have the stick removed from his ass? We’ll see. I seem to recall that I enjoyed the art of Bob Brown as a kid but he totally sleep walks though this one — I’ll avoid the knee-jerk reaction of putting the blame at Heck’s feet. Because I’m sure the legion of Ghost Rider fans were clamoring for it, Isabella brings back Jesus — oh wait, we’re not allowed to think he’s the Son of God right? He pops up out of nowhere, pontificates for four panels, and then he’s gone. Just like this issue from my memory.

Chris: I’m not going to say that the storytelling is poor this time; at best, the story is ho-hum.  But, beyond the tedious chasing, and crashing, and such, Tony makes a number of serious mistakes: 1) he deviates from Johnny’s character when he suggests that Johnny might be willing to kill the Orb, once he’s defeated him (I did like how Johnny reverted to human-form at that moment – that was a nice touch); 2) not only do we have a deus-ex-machina, but the same deus (“the man who saved me from Satan!”) who had been required to resolve a different story, as recently as #9 – the previous time, the appearance of he-who-might-be-Jesus made for a noteworthy conclusion in the showdown with Satan, but his time, it simply seems like Tony is trying to write himself out of a corner; and 3) too many comic touches, first the extended slapstick bit with the studio guards, then Coot’s prattling about his old movie titles – give it a rest, Tony.  

This is the same Brown + Heck team that put together some pitiful-looking issues of the Avengers not long ago, isn’t it?  Well, the art isn’t any good, but it’s not as bad as the Avengers art.  There – I can’t offer praise that’s any more faint than that.

Matthew: This was my first issue, which partly explains my fondness for the Orb, whose MTU debut I retroactively enjoyed in Marvel Treasury Edition #18 in 1978.  Isabella dutifully cross-promotes with his nascent Champions, despite the continuity problems caused by that book’s apparent publication-schedule snafus, while unfortunately, Heck’s inks make Brown’s pencils look like, well, Heck—a joke that I’ve probably used before, yet remains no less valid in this instance.  But Battlin’ Bob lives up to his nickname, fighting the good fight with some interesting layouts (e.g., page 2, panel 1) and that spectacular “helicopter shot” of the motorcycle chase, on which Tony held forth in his interview on the Jon’s Random Acts of Geekery! website.

Marvel was artificially expanding the page count…by doing the equivalent of two pages on a single page and blowing it up [as with that] panoramic shot of Ghost Rider chasing after the Orb…Having researched the [Ventura] Freeway…I proceeded to spend two hours writing captions which described it in excruciatingalbeit brilliantly written­detail.  Then I realized I had managed to bring an exciting chase scene to a complete and utter stop.  So I threw away my brilliantly-written captions and replaced them with a single shouted burst of dialogue:  ‘There they are!’  Two hours of writing.  Three words.  When [Marv] read the script for this spread, he said something like:  ‘You sure made some easy money on this one!,’” Isabella told Jon Knutson.

The Amazing Spider-Man 151
"Skirmish Beneath the Streets!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru, John Romita, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita

Spider-Man swings to an incinerating plant to dispose of the Peter Parker clone, at one point startled by his spider-sense tingling, but he chalks it up to paranoia. Back on campus, Peter, MJ and Flash are pleasantly surprised to see Harry Osborn return, presumably cured of his Green Goblin phase, then everyone meets again later on at JJJ's swanky penthouse apartment for the Ned Leeds-Betty Brant engagement party. JJJ is typically miserly and overprotective of his possessions at the hilarious shindig, which ends early due to a mysterious blackout. Peter hitches a ride on a passing helicopter, changing to his Spidey suit in midair and spying a blacked out portion of the city that reads "SHOCKER", nearly complete. Hopping off the copter, Spidey heads for the sewers and the cables running beneath the streets, where he runs into The Shocker. After a brief skirmish, Shocker runs off with "more important things to do", and leaves our hero buried in debris and when he comes to, water up to his neck! –Joe Tura

Joe: This issue marks the first of the 30 or so issue run of scripts by Len Wein, with Ross Andru back at the pencil after one issue off, teaming up to "begin a new era of wall-crawling wonderment". With inks by Romita (and friends), many of the characters have the Jazzy look, most notably pages 6 and 11, which look like they were ripped from 1967. Indeed, the Shocker returns for the first time since issue #72, another blast from the past, as is the unmistakable, instant-classic Romita cover. A nice start for Wein all around, from the JJJ show at the engagement party to the matter-of-fact reaction of Shocker to Spidey's non-stop banter. Plus, a return by Harry Osborn, who certainly bears watching just in case. And how hot is MJ in that white pantsuit? 

Favorite sound effect: "FFTT!", the sound of an empty web-shooter on page 30, leading Spidey to be stuck in the sewers with no webbing and water rushing around his neck. Should have had more cartridges, web-head!

Matthew: The fact that Len took over ASM so soon after I became a full-timer means the Wein/Andru era is probably the one I know best, and he hits the ground running with a story that does nothing to diminish my oft-noted soft spot for the Shocker.  Ross’s art features many cool layouts—especially in the cremation scene—and Romita provides both excellent inks (aided uncredited at the eleventh hour, per the lettercol, by Messrs. Esposito, Giacoia, and Hunt) and a dynamite cover, with its winking pun/clue.  The engagement party is a brilliant device that gives face-time to Spidey’s large and beloved supporting cast, generating suspense and ample comedy while allowing Len to display his already impressive command of the characters; bravo!

Mark: They're co-credited, but the art's mostly Johnny R on Len Wein's inaugural effort, which opens with what's likely comics' first industrial cremation, as Spidey sends his clone-bro into the fire and up the smokestack. Len no doubt thought he was writing fini to test-tube Peter, never imagining the decade-spanning, convoluted plotlines to come.

A still-twitchy but presently Goblin-free Harry O returns to college, even makes the scene at Betty & Ned's engagement party, hosted by J. Jonah. M.J. shines in a tight white body-suit, courtesy of long-time DC romance artist Romita; Jonah frets over nickels, courtesy skinflint clichés by Wein.

Pete having to dump his civvies - fave hippie shirt & "brand-new sports jacket" - to mid-air change into Spidey while webbed to a helicopter is a nice, new wrinkle. Ditto the Shocker spelling out his name in (absence of) lights. The sewer fight scene is the most Andruish, art-wise, and while Len gets a solid first ish grade overall, he brings nothing new to a Spidey-Shocker dust-up.

And you'd think it would be wise not to play the Spidey trapped-in-rising-water card...unless you've got Steve Ditko booked to have our hero lift something really heavy.

Scott: What a difference an inker makes. John Romita gives Ross Andru’s pencils an insanely good boost. It’s almost like old times. Harry Osborn is back and he’s…well…weird. I guess this is going to lead to something, but he’s really creepy. We also learn that Peter Parker doesn’t really like Dr. Pepper. Is Jonah so cheap that he won’t even spring for a variety of soda’s? No Coke? Or some Un-Cola? The panel showing the Shocker spelling his name out in lights is pretty awesome and something I would love to see in a future Spider-Man film. Fun issue.

The Incredible Hulk 194
"The Day of the Locust!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

While meandering about the forest, the Hulk comes across some hobos enjoying their dinner of beans.  The Hulk steals and eats the beans after the bums attack him.  Naturally, they don't make much headway in their assault.  The Hulk turns back to his alter-ego, Bruce Banner, and the good doctor starts hitchhiking back to New Mexico.  Bruce is given a lift by Bob and Carol Hickman, who take him to a town that is heavily barricaded. The Hickmans relate to Bruce that Carol's father has been following them, and destroying other towns, because he is mad that Bob married her.   Carol's father is the super-villain called the Locust.  Suddenly, the Locust swoops in with his army of insects and Bruce lets himself turn into the Hulk so he can protect everyone.  At first, the Locust uses a stun ray to combat the green brute but, once he realizes that it won't work for long, he transforms some insects into giant-sized beasts.  The Hulk squashes two humongous beetles.  He has some trouble with a giant centipede but manages to crush its jaws. A monstrous praying mantis almost gets Carol.  Fearing for his daughter's safety, the Locust fights with the mantis, only to be knocked aside.  Armed with a pitchfork, Bob Hickman fends off the giant insect and in doing so, gains the Locust's respect.  When all is looking dire, the Hulk smashes the ground, causing a crevice in the earth, into which the giant insects fall into.  He tries to pulverize the Locust, but Carol is able to talk him out of it.  Meanwhile, back at the shattered Hulkbuster Base, the failure known as Doc Samson returns to tell General Ross, Agent Quartermain, and Betty that he screwed up and couldn't capture the Hulk.  Soldiers alert Ross that the unconscious body of the Abomination has been found under some wreckage.  The story ends with Samson implanting a bomb inside the Abomination's head, and Ross ordering the villain to bring back the Hulk.  -Tom McMilion

Matthew: “Is there life after Trimpe?” asks Greenskin.  Well, when his replacement is Our Pal Sal, who precariously hangs on by his fingernails for a paltry 116 issues (a virtually unbroken run that even surpasses Happy Herb’s own, I might add), the answer would appear to be in the affirmative.  With Sal having cut his gamma-irradiated teeth on 29 issues of Defenders, his work here—with Staton in for the long haul—is comfort food rivaling the Hulk’s purloined beans.  While dredging up the Locust from X-Men #24 (September 1966), Len wisely omits the fact that his real name is “Hopper”; since Dean Enfantino’s CD of remedial reading didn’t arrive until after my colleagues covered that issue, this remains my one exposure to the character so far.

Chris: This is another title that must’ve required the story-weaver to put in his share of late hours to concoct a crop of 1-to-2 issue storylines that allow involvement by the title character, without him necessarily dictating the outcome of the action every time.  Len has devised some entertaining Hulk tales, and this one’s fine too, although the family-outsider-proves-himself trope has been seen-and-heard-from many times over the years.  The Hulk’s bewilderment when faced by a problematic family dynamic is a familiar sensation for many of us, I expect.

Ross has expressed concerns for Banner’s welfare in recent issues, but now it looks like he might be willing to employ the Abomination to battle the Hulk.  Are we supposed to expect that Abomo will meet with Hulkster so they can confab rationally about the benefit of an unconditional surrender to Ross and the Hulkbuster squad -?   I mean, Banner (or, a manifestation of him, at least) will come to harm, possibly serious harm, as a result of this impending meeting, right?  Is it really worth the risk, then, to send the Abomination purposely against him -?

Scott: Sal Buscema may not be my favorite of the Buscema Brothers, but there’s an undeniable energy to his illustrations that has been sorely lacking in these pages. Much as I enjoyed Trimpe’s reign, some of my favorite Hulk issue are still to some, particularly a year or so after the 200th issue. There’s a little genial goofiness as the Hulk enjoys his beans (thank you, Len, for not introducing the fart joke into the mythos just yet). Interesting how the Locust is now just a pissed off dad and how Bruce can bring on the transformation simply by tensing up. At least the Abomination is back. He’s always good for a laugh.

The Invincible Iron Man 81
"War of the Mind-Dragons!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Chic Stone and Vince Colletta
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott

His mercenaries routed by Iron Man, Baron Rockler flees, only to be poisoned by his wife; having no further use for him, she is receptive to the partnership proposed by Firebrand, who volunteers to provide the power source for Lord Professor Teller’s new weapon. Assaulted by Iron Man during one of his fits of madness, Jerald reveals the effects of the cosmic imbalance just before the robotic fire-breathing dragon attacks and is narrowly destroyed, leaving IM and Firebrand—both in the throes of insanity—to duke it out personally.  Resisting the impulse to kill his defeated foe, IM propels him back to our world through the globe, but the time-lag lets Firebrand escape as IM ponders the Lama’s contact with “another unstable psychic,” Marianne. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Friedrich the Greater ends his infrequently interrupted 34-issue run on this troubled title, earning points for his stamina but, as I am forced to admit, rarely rising to lofty heights, which could also be said of the Chicolletta artwork as the conclusion of this lumbering storyline provokes a sigh of relief.  There’s an apt juxtaposition between the pro-and-con lettercol comments on the Viet Nam story in #78 and the fact that, by bowing out at the end of his War of the Super-Villains arc, “Melancholy Mike” has, in effect, declared victory and gone home.  In fact, his only remaining Marvel credits are a backup story starring Bobbi Morse (whom he had written extensively in the Ka-Zar strip) in Marvel Super Action #1, and co-plotting Fantastic Four #177 with Roy Thomas.

Scott: We say goodbye to Mike Friedrich and Chic Stone with this issue and, I’m sorry to say, I’m not shedding any tears at their departure. While I have no doubt Len Wein will bring in some well needed superior writing, I have my doubts about Trimpe’s suitability for this book. Still, at this point, almost anything feels like it will be an improvement. 

Chris: This issue continues in the same disjointed vein as IM #80, as characters seem to pop up and do things, but I don’t have a sense of the story developing, of how it might be leading us toward anything, except for an eventual rematch with Firebrand; once that happens, it’s over in a few panels.  I will acknowledge that it was a good plan for IM to duck into the dragon’s head to absorb its heat, and thereby recharge his armor.  

Overall, I’m relieved that I don’t own any other chapters of this storyline, and that we can move onto something else.  It's hard to imagine that this would (eventually) develop into one of my favorite titles.  If the first issues I'd ever read had been like this, I doubt I would have bothered to follow it.  I'm willing to say that, if this title had continued to bump along this way, it could eventually have been cancelled.
Shellhead looks cross-eyed on p 27, last panel (above)– doesn’t he?  I would almost guess that Fred Hembeck snuck into the bullpen to pencil the panel.  I laughed and laughed.  

Iron Fist 2
“Valley of the Damned”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

As Iron Fist sits vigil over the hospital bed of Professor Wing — the scholar’s mind destroyed by Angar the Screamer — his thoughts return to the past and a time in K’un-Lun when he was unable to help other friends. As a teenager, Danny Rand was attacked by Merrin and his loyal warriors, all enraged that an outsider gained the power of the Iron Fist. Only with the help of Lady Miranda Ran’d’Kai and her lover Lord Conal d’Hu-Tsien are the attackers turned away. But the Lady and Lord are arrested: Conal taught her the martial arts, which is forbidden since only males are allowed that knowledge in the mystical city. Meanwhile, in the present, Hassan arrives in Halwan and delivers the kidnapped Colleen Wing to Master Khan. However, Khan is displeased since the defiant Wing has not been totally conditioned as promised — Hassan is killed for his failure. Back in the past, Miranda and Conal are given the ultimate penalty, mindwipes, which will erase all of their memories. But they escape and head out to the notorious valley beyond the mists. Rand gives chase, but mysteriously falls unconscious. When he awakens, the young dragon’s hands are tied and he is face to face with the H’Ylthri, the huge, tree-like dwellers of the lush valley, bitter enemies of the K’un-Lun, who they consider aliens. Rand is told he will be placed into one of the three pods that already contain Miranda and Conal: there they will be absorbed into the heart of the H’Ylthri. Powering his iron fists, Rand bursts his bonds and attacks, but he is overcome by the leafy creatures’ painful stings and falls unconscious again. He eventually comes to, discovering that the H’Ylthri, and his friends, have disappeared. Heartbroken, Rand returns to K’un-Lun. Back in the present, Iron Fist is roused from his reverie by Misty Knight: Lieutenant Scarfe has learned that one of Master Khan’s men has agreed to become an informant and a meeting has been set up in London. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: It could be the absence of any leftover Pat Broderick panels, but this is easily John Byrne’s best work so far. It’s amazing how quickly he rounded into form compared to, let’s say, George Perez in Creatures on the Loose. Not a knock on Gorgeous George of course. The artist already seems totally confident in his style and Iron Fist himself never looked so good. This issue is 90% flashbacks so the needle in the Colleen Wing kidnapping is barely moved — but I guess we’ll find our heroes in London next month. As I mentioned, the trip down memory lane was supposedly brought on by Iron Fist’s grief over failing the brain fried Professor Wing. Seems like a flimsy excuse. Perhaps Claremont was eager to get some of the K’un-Lun mythology into his version of the main character — or maybe it’s just another tip of the hat to the flashback filled issues of Iron Fist’s early run in Marvel Premiere. Either way, it certainly was a pleasure to look at. While long term success would evade this series, it ranks among the very best that Marvel had to offer at the time — and it didn’t take very long to achieve that distinction thanks to Claremont and Byrne. By the way, Frank Chiaramonte’s name is misspelled as Chiarmonte on the splash page. Oops.

Matthew: You are Iron Fistand you are awesome.  This may become a standard refrain, but how a book of such manifest excellence failed to sell is beyond me.  Chiarmonte (sic) might not be Byrne’s ideal inker, but he has the good sense to stay out of the way while John works his evolving magic, from action (the knife-flip in page 11, panel 6) and spectacle (K’un-Lun on page 31, which looks like it was built around a crashed spaceship) to close-ups (especially Colleen in page 14, panel 7) and grace notes (IF ministering to Professor Wing throughout).  As for Chris, he continues planting enough seeds to start his own “Forest of Fear,” e.g., Misty’s stone-crushing hand in page 22, panel 8 and those cryptic “Lady Miranda Ran’d’Kai” and “brother” references.

Chris: The arrival of the Cotati -- oh wait, they're called the H’Ylthri? My mistake. Anyway, the story is derailed once the plant people show up. I realize it's possible that Claremont might've wanted to introduce disorientation to Danny, not to us readers.  Either way, I was more interested in Claremont's sidelong look into the darker side of K'un Lun -- not quite Shangri La this time, is it? There are all sorts of separate storylines at work here (don't forget -- Colleen is still being held captive in Halwan, for some reason, but possibly to draw Iron Fist, for purposes unhinted-at), and I would've preferred more time spent with this look back to a dangerous period in Danny's past.

Chiaramonte's inks -- don't -- quite -- suit Byrne's pencils.  It's close, but -- no, it misses by just a little, but it's a miss just the same. Still, the pencils are noticeably improved each time, aren't they? and better days to come. 

Scott: What can I say that hasn’t already been said by my fellow faculty members? Byrne’s art is amazing; he burst onto the Marvel scene practically at full strength. Claremont’s story is engrossing and gripping. I, too, wonder why this title didn’t prove to be a hit. It has everything it takes. I don’t know how long Claremont and Byrne will be on this title, but I’ll follow along for the duration of their stay. These guys have a special kind of magic. A taste of the greatness to come.

Matthew: C&B will be here till the bitter end, as will I.

The Inhumans 2
Story by Doug Moench
Art by George Perez and Fred Kida
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

Blastaar completes his mission by installing the Gong of Sovereigns as the final component of the Somnotherm, which when struck by his power blasts sends energy to the earth’s core, dropping four egg-shaped capsules into the magma to “hatch.”  As Black Bolt and Triton pass through a force-field into a cavern containing a mass grave, the other three awake and subdue Blastaar, who reveals that the Somnotherm was planted beneath the palace millennia ago by the Kree, who created the Inhumans.  There it lay dormant until needed, and when the imprisoned Maximus was unable to fulfill his part of their long-ago bargain by activating it at the prearranged time, they sent a force-sphere to free Blastaar so that he could fulfill the task instead. 

Black Bolt and Triton watch the first Kaptroid claw its way up through the graveyard; an unholy mix of a Sentinel, the Asgardian Destroyer, and a Soylent Green bulldozer, it is attuned to the Inhumans’ altered molecules and begins scooping bones into the prison of its barred chest…until it senses live prey.  Black Bolt speaks, collapsing the cavern to crush the first, and a second erupts into the Gene Chamber, from which Blastaar flees as Medusa and Karnak disable it and Gorgon smashes its head.  While Black Bolt labors to free his people, Karnak deactivates the last two by striking the Somnotherm’s weakest point—the center of the gong—but after Iridia has emerged from her cocoon as a lovely butterfly, the others are left to wonder for what purpose the Kree sought them.
 -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Except for his impressively long run on Captain Britain, Kida has relatively few Marvel inking credits, and it’s a shame that this issue (my first), reuniting him with Perez from Creatures on the Loose #37, is his only one, because he’s a vastly better match than Chiaramonte.  If I had to find fault, I would say that between the Pacesetter’s penchant for small panels, obviously excepting the Kaptroid’s reveal on page 16, and Doug’s dense script—which I did not feel suffered from the purple prose lambasted elsewhere—it does look somewhat cramped.  With all of the information being conveyed here, a little less recap might have been in order, but it brings this episode to a suspenseful and satisfying close while leaving the door open to future Kree-related drama ahead.

Chris: Solid issue, as the Inhumans face their own version of the Sentinels; the Kree once again are painted as a race capable of trouble-making, and a specific threat for this team going forward.  Nice job by Doug & George to depict the Inhumans working as a team, each making their own unique contributions; hell, there’s more for Medusa to do here than in a half-dozen of her last appearances in Fantastic Four.  One question: how does Iridia fit in to the rest of the story?  At first, we’re supposed to be shocked to see her trapped in some kind of stone sphere, but then she emerges as a bee-yoo-teeful butterfly.  Does Doug want to contrast the beneficence of Black Bolt with the alien threat of the once life-giving Kree -?

The Perez/Kida art has its moments, although I will say that the Kaptroids have a somewhat goofy look to them, probably because of the gapey mouths and empty eyes.  I did like how you could see the various Inhumans desperately trapped behind the robots’ ribs – neat idea.  I’m already looking forward to the next issue (see?  That’s promising, right?).


  1. Professor Matthew: You're claiming that this current Ghost Rider run may be the pinnacle of the entire series?!? Hoo boy. Doesn't bode well for me in the future. And I might be confused, which happens easily, but were you referring to Tony Isabella with your "universally admired" comment for Captain America? I can think of a lot of terms to describe Tony Isabella and universally admired would not be one of them. But perhaps you were being sarcastic.

    1. Professor Matthew, whose computer is pulling a HAL today, wanted me to share this with ya all:

      Professor Flynn: Yes, bearing in mind that this is all subjective anyway, and that it’s only a working hypothesis—which may or may not be borne out by subsequent re-reading—Isabella’s run on GR is the only one I remember with anything approaching genuine fondness. And yes, totally sarcastic, per my frequent references to poor Tony as a “faculty whipping boy.”

      While I have the floor, or perhaps am simply lying on it, I forgot to mention two things about Karla Sofen, the well-endowed woman seen in the first CAPTAIN AMERICA panel grab. First, she was reportedly drawn to be naked, with only the cartridge belts preserving her modesty (?), rather than a skin-tight body suit. And second, she would later become the second Moonstone.

    2. I told you I get confused easily!

  2. Can't image anything less suited for DD then Science Fiction. Weird idea.

    Iron Man's nose looks ridiculous. What were they thinking?

    When I see Perez on Avengers I inevitably ask myself how much better the Celestial Madonna could have been with a decent artist. A shame.

    Those Iron Fist were great. On Marvel most books had a huge supporting cast for the heroes, but Claremont had a gift for this. But there is nothing more obnoxious then second-person narrative. Also wasn't the Kung-Fu craze winding down at the time? Maybe this was a reason why the book was such a commercial failure.

    Thomas' juggling with continuity on Conan is remarkable. Like all his handling of Howard's material. To use a short story as the basis for such a long tale and doing it so well – I guess a lot of readers knew the ending of the story so he had to write permanently against this - is a fine example of his skills.

  3. My favorite of this lot was the Avengers -- fun story, IMO, and great art by Perez. I also liked the FF tale, even if it didn't quite rise to classic level. I missed the Spidey & Cap issues -- eventually plugged in that hole in my ASM collection; not so with the CA&TF hole -- oddly I had missed quite a few issues of Cap during the previous 16 months as for some odd reason the Navy Exchanges where I usually got my comics in this period didn't always get them, but once Kirby came back, I found CA&TF on the racks regularly. Not sure if there's any rhyme or reason for that. I recall being sort of excited at the beginning of the War of the Super-Villains in Iron Man, but boy did that ever fizzle out into something not all that interesting.