Wednesday, April 22, 2015

January 1976 Part One: ... Or For Worse, Kirby Returns to Captain America! And... Why a Duck?

Introduction by Matthew Bradley

It’s always amusing to look back with 20/20 hindsight at the prognostications of the Bullpen Pages.  This month’s, f’rinstance, trumpets “the sensational switch-over of Marvel Premiere and Marvel Spotlight…to a pair of pulsatin’ publications premiering totally new heroes and heroines and spotlighting some of Marvel’s greatest do-gooders in their own solo adventures.  On tap for Premiere are the explosive debuts of The Liberty LegionWood-God [sic] and Moon-Knight [sic], among others, while set for Spotlight are single-stories featuring the valiant Vision, the high-flying Nighthawk, and the sword-wielding saga of Sinbad’s seventh voyage.”  They’re batting about .500; Moon Knight wound up in Spotlight, and the Vision and Nighthawk in limbo.

Ironically, what I once would not have expected to be a fait accompli is the second item:  “While we’re waitin’ to unleash the long-awaited series starring both the Guardians of the Galaxy and Tigra, the Were-Woman, why not take a peek at a couple of fabulous fill-ins called Bloodstone and Modred the Mystic….Remember, there will be only two issues each of both these try-outs appearing respectively in Marvel Presents and Marvel Chillers...’cause with issue three of both titles, the Guardians and Tigra will be takin’ over.”  I learned as much in my sketchy research for Bloodstone’s October debut, and although I’ll be damned if I can lay hands on the citation now, I seem to recall seeing mention that those Modred stories were also slated for another book.

One item confirms the temporary return of Invaders to bimonthly status, freeing up Roy to write other things (e.g., Marvel Two-in-One…which he won’t, excepting the Liberty Legion issue nine months hence).  According to another, “virtually every member of the Marvel Bullpen has come to New York for the annual July Comicon, and taking advantage of this once-a-year miracle, our cavortin’ creators have huddled together to concoct a few zillion new surprises for ya in the next months.  Stainless Steve Englehart and Marvelous Marv Wolfman worked out the final stages of their soon-to-be-classic Dracula/Doctor Strange team-up, while Rascally Roy…and Lively Len Wein put the finishing touches on a bit of Thing/Hulk/Fantastic Four continuity”; see FF below.

And now... are you ready for the big bicentennial celebration?

Captain America and the Falcon 193
"The Madbomb Screamer in the Brain!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Esposito
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Romita

Now that the trial of the Falcon is behind them, Cap and his partner enjoy some leisure time arm-wrestling while Leila reluctantly brews some coffee. All is jovial during the friendly competition when, suddenly, Cap is hit with a mind wave and he becomes hateful. Seconds later, the Falcon, hit by the same wave, slips into “Snap” mode. There’s a short fight before both men “snap” out of it. Leila, however, turns violent, brandishing a knife. Falc subdues her just as a brick smashes through their window. Cap goes outside and sees the entire area has erupted into violence. Fighting citizens off at every turn, Cap finds a small device that is emitting these mind waves and manages to destroy it before being brained by an angry guy with a hammer. The Falcon joins him and they are given instructions from a mysterious SHIELD agent, who is holding a piece of the “Madbomb” Cap destroyed, to accompany him to an urgent rendezvous. Once they arrive at a secret base, Cap and Falcon are given test after test to prove their identities before meeting Henry Kissinger. The Secretary briefs them on the current crisis: a series of these “Madbombs” have been found. The smallest, “Peanut,” caused the population of a small mining town to go mad and kill each other. The second, “Dumpling,” destroyed the 200,000 residents of River City. Kissinger shows them the only photograph of the largest bomb, code named “Big Daddy,” which was found on an agent who died before giving over any further information. It is large enough to destroy the entire United States. Cap and Falcon must find it before it is used, which is estimated to be at the start of the nation’s bicentennial year! -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Now things take a huge left turn. Jack Kirby returns and takes over the writing and illustrating chores of this title. He apparently demanded that he not be required to interact with the rest of the Marvel Universe, resulting in an oddly detached run that never intersects with the rest of the line. Even the “mysterious SHIELD agent” is oddly anonymous, looking nothing like any of the agents we have seen in recent years. In fact, he looks like he’s straight out of the mid-60’s with his fedora, dark glasses and suit. No mention of Nick Fury is made at all. Even “Snap” Wilson is only briefly mentioned before we plow head first into this new direction.

The art is fairly standard, latter era Kirby. He is long past his prime here, but the energy he brings is undeniable. The concept is also quite good, honestly. An “emotion bomb” that gets people to kill each other is pretty imaginative. The dialog, however, is not where Kirby excels. All of his characters sound old-fashioned and his characterization of Kissinger is stereotypical. It’s also weird to see Cap and Falc palling around on their off-hours in costume. It’s almost as if neither of them has another identity.

It’s not a bad start, but I confess to having a soft spot for this run. It’s weird. Lunatic, even, but it’s usually fun. At worst, it’s an entertaining train wreck. Your mileage may vary.  

Matthew Bradley: This month’s elephant in the room, Jack Kirby had co-created Cap with Joe Simon in 1941, and returns as not only his artist (reunited here with Frank Giacoia) but also, more problematically, his writer/editor.  Marvel Comics: The Untold Story relates that with the cancellation of his “Fourth World” titles and resistance to his “stilted dialogue…his relationship with DC had quickly turned sour.”  Kirby signed a three-year contract with Marvel yet “declined to revisit Fantastic Four or Thor, or any of the titles he’d created with Lee.  Instead, he would take back Captain America… do an adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey; and… introduce a new creation, yet another ancient-secrets-of-alien-visitors concept, The Eternals,” reports Sean Howe.

I’ll probably throw ample brickbats as the Madbomb saga galumphs along, so let’s start out with a positive note—the cover is sensational, which is no surprise since it was inked by The GREAT John Romita.  There are already signs of trouble ahead in page 6, panel 1:  “A moment later, Cap is greeted by an indescribable sight”…which he proceeds to describe, compounding the error by telling us what we already see.  But while the humorous treatment of Kissinger (“Hah!  You dreamer, you!”) falls a little flat forty years on, I’m obliged to admit that the overall results aren’t too bad; the artwork is Klassic Kirby, which is fine if you don’t mind feeling you’ve regressed to the Silver Age, while the plotline aptly recalls one of those old Cap/S.H.I.E.L.D. Suspense yarns.

Howard the Duck 1
"Howard the Barbarian"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Frank Brunner and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Frank Brunner
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Frank Brunner

 Displaced from home, discouraged by a lack of public recognition (despite his recent city-sparing heroics), a depressed duck seeks his doom.  The moonlit night reveals a spire jutting from the Cuyahoga River, so Howard dares the deadly waters to row out to it, thinking that a plunge from its heights will seal his end.   Once there, Howard finds the tower’s exterior facing is constructed of – credit cards?  Still, he climbs gamely up, and finds a female hairless ape (ie a human woman) in chains, under threat by a ferocious dog.  Unsure of what to do, Howard pulls an axe free from its wooden block, and unwittingly chops thru a rope, which causes a heavy wooden candle-fixture to crunch down on the dog, which then changes form, to reveal – a man.  Enter Pro-Rata, who zaps Howard unconscious.  When he comes around, Howard finds himself clad in helmet, sword, and loincloth of a Cimmerian warrior.  The woman explains that Pro-Rata is a “mad financial wizard” who has taken both of them prisoner.  The wizard declares he must possess a jeweled key, which will allow him to complete his cosmic calculator; with that, Pro-Rata will become “Chief Accountant of the universe!”  The wizard sends duck and female thru a dimensional portal to retrieve the jewel-key, which happens to be protected by stone monoliths in the Citadel of Sai-Fuur.  The travelers find their way to the key, which is suspended above a pit of spikes.  Howard feels he’s unable to concentrate on a plan, since he lacks a cigar to chomp on; the woman then reports that she had stowed Howard’s last cigar in his scabbard.  Howard fires the lit cigar at a rope holding the key, and the woman leans over with Howard’s helmet to catch the freed key.  The key-release springs the monoliths to life; as they run from the living statues, all parties are beset by a giant lizard-bird.  As they face their end, the woman asks Howard his name, and tells him that she is called Beverly.  Meanwhile, Peter Parker has arrived in Cleveland, on assignment to bring photos of the talking duck back to J.J. Jameson for a Bugle exclusive.  Clad in his Spidey-guise, he swings along the river, and feels his spider-sense tingle as he spots a smoldering tower in the river – Pro-Rata’s summoning spell has netted not only Howard and Bev, but the winged lizard as well, whose wing-flapping already has destroyed the top of the charge-card column.  Howard refuses to deliver the jewel-key, as he fears the power of a completed cosmic calculator.  Spidey arrives (having hitched a ride on a passing helicopter), and as Pro-Rata prepares to zap him, Howard smacks P-R; the misdirected mystic bolt instead ignites the incendiary morass of the Cuyahoga.  Spidey continues to be under threat (as he now holds the jewel-key), and with nothing left to throw, Howard pitches himself against P-R, and they both plunge toward the fiery river.  Spidey pulls Howard back with a web; Pro-Rata is not so fortunate.  The lizard-bird flaps its leathery wings and soars off; Spidey follows after it, leaving the key with Howard.  Bev asks of Howard’s immediate plans; he reports he doesn’t know, only that he could use a good cigar.   -Chris Blake
Chris Blake: Sorry about that – I wasn’t expecting the synopsis to be so comprehensive, but for Howard’s first-ever full-length adventure, I wanted to give him (as well as Steve G and Frank B) his due.  
“Hey – who ever thought you could love a play called Springtime for Hitler?!”  Well, plenty of comics-readers might’ve had the same question in late 1975 about Howard the Duck (you know I’m referring to its on-sale date, right?).  There already had been plenty of Man-Thing fans who had seen Howard in action, both as a supporting character and as the star of two short features, and had been clamoring for Howard to appear in his own mag.  I can’t imagine what Steve G had to do to sell Len and Marv on the concept – support from vocal fans had to have been a clincher.  
Thinking of myself at that time, I know that I would’ve expected that Howard would’ve been stupid, which in itself would’ve been a stupid position to take.  I’m sure that I wouldn’t have had a proper appreciation for Steve’s strange humor, and his way of having fun with the comics medium while still working within it.  I can honestly admit that I wouldn’t have fully understood why an ambition to be a cosmic accountant, and the notion of an immediately-combustible river in a beleaguered American city, would’ve been funny.  There are plenty of clever lines that make sense in context (ie they won’t mean much to you if I re-type them here), but note these two: Bev states having felt something in her “bones,” to which Howard responds, “Perceptive skeleton you’ve got there, toots!”; Spidey observes the chaotic scene on the tower, and tells himself, “I’ll worry later whether I believe this.”  

Chris: Gene Colan becomes so closely associated with this title, that I had forgotten that Frank Brunner provides pencil art for these first two issues.  It would be so easy for the art to come off as fluffy and childish, but instead, Brunner plays it straight, and presents all the trappings of the story (barbarian hordesmen, demure damsel, Spidey himself) with a straight face; Howard – fittingly enough – is the only aspect of the story that appears different, and out-of-place.  Another nice touch: Howard’s hesitant heroics are best expressed by Brunner’s tendency to depict Howard with his eyes tightly shut when he happens to be swinging an axe or tackling a maniac wizard-guy.  
Scott: That was…weird. Amusing and fun, but Steve Gerber is off his nut. Frank Brunner’s art, though, is gorgeous. Truly a sight to behold and he nails Spider-Man, which is a feat that tends to elude other artists. This is a nice, spoofy story that wound up being one of the most collectable titles of my childhood. Which means, I was never able to get my hands on any. It’s not ever going to be my favorite book, but I have enough of a sense of humor to appreciate it. 

Matthew: Unlike most of its ilk, Marvel Treasury Edition #12 (which reprinted this issue for those of us who’d missed out on the collecting frenzy it spawned) contains substantive new material, e.g., a 27-page story teaming Howard with Gerber’s Defenders, so it will need to be addressed closer to its chronological place between HTD #7 and 8.  But it’s worth noting that Marvel made a valiant effort to catch readers up on the waterfowl’s past history, re-presenting his first two solo adventures from Giant-Size Man-Thing #4-5.  And although they don’t include his debut from the Fear #19/Man-Thing #1 two-parter in its entirety, they do weave together the pertinent pages, prefaced with a new synopsis supplied by Howard and a “Voice from on High.”

Since I wasn’t a Man-Thing reader as a lad, I didn’t know Howard from Daffy or Donald until I acquired #2 (which as I recall was closer in spirit to “Frog Death” or “Hellcow”), and although I enjoyed this yarn when I finally saw it, I wasn’t transported by it.  Leialoha seems a good match with Brunner, and Bev is as great a slab o’cheesecake as she is a character, so I have no quarrel with the artwork, yet I find I prefer Howard’s brand of satire when he’s juxtaposed with a more or less realistic world.  The last-minute team-up with Spider-Man felt forced and insubstantial, like something done primarily for marquee value, even if the fun scene between Peter and JJJ did tie in cleverly with Len’s “Talking Duck in Cleveland?” Bugle headline in Incredible Hulk #193.

Mark Barsotti: This is the first – and only – comic I ever speculated on, buying six copies (a buck 'n' a half!) at A-1 Comics on South Broadway in Denver. But Marvel did a second printing within weeks, crippling the Howard collectible market before George Lucas killed it off entirely eleven years later.

If my Scrooge McDuck dreams turned out to be fool's gold, Howard's debut is a 24-carat classic, both for what it achieves and promises. Five pages of a dyspeptic alt-dimensional duck, crackin' wise at the ass-end of Giant-Sized Man-Thing? Sure, let Gerber goof around, but putting out a "funny animal" book, even one more Ralph Bakshi than Carl Barks, is a whole nother level of commitment. It happened because the "You Demanded It" cover-blurb is completely  true. Marvel readers, post-Watergate adolescent America, cynical and with a taste for the absurd, brought Howard back to life after Roy Thomas pushed him into oblivion, and the groundswell of interest now puts a sword in Howard's hand and Spidey on the cover. 

Such shameless cross-over promotion has a long, noble history at Marvel, and here it works, with Webs inserted/extracted from our tale with such surgical precision that the seams barely show.  Howard saves the day heroically, but he was planning to kill himself anyway...

More than just lush and gorgeous, Frank Brunner's art plunks our Wallyworld refuge down in a sword and sorcery setting and makes us buy it: Wizards, Dragons, tall towers,  oh my, and most-importantly, the first appearance of Beverly Switzler, who'll prove far more than a damsel in distress. But Pro-Rata and his Cosmic Calculator are spoofs, Gerber absurd-o riffing on a genre with a light-enough comic touch that the story still works as rousing adventure.  

Five pagers are one thing, but so much could have gone wrong here that went right, this one gets four out five Cubans, even with the gimmicks.

And it's just one small step for the web-footed... 

Amazing Adventures 34
Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds in
"A Death in the Family"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Craig Russell
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Denise Wohl and Irv Watanabe
Cover by Craig Russell

July 2019, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the Freemen enjoy some much-needed r 'n' r, including Killraven, M'Sulla and Carmilla in a mutant creature race that the lady wins by a horn. Meantime, Old Skull, Hawk and the still-dying Grok are in the camp near an idyllic waterfall, when suddenly the evil Skar skulks up in The Devil's Marauder and shoots Old Skull with the ship's flame! Killraven starts to reminisce, which leads Carmilla to disclose that Grok is actually a clone of her scientist father that the Martians forced her to create. Back near the camp and Skar goes after Hawk while Killraven spots Old Skull in time to hear his last words. He stalks Skar, who also hunts M'Shulla, trying to sabotage the Marauder. Skar disarms Carmilla, which causes her lover M'Shulla to shoot a crossbow into the yellow villain's neck. But before he can slay the lovers, Killraven leaps on top of Skar and they battle! But throwing Killraven off, Skar uses an energy blast on a high rock, which falls on Hawk and Grok! A furious Killraven attacks again, using his blaster and his fists to take down the cyborg Skar once and for all, but is left to mourn his fallen Freemen.—Joe Tura

Joe Tura: "Today, two…not one…but two of this family…will die!!!" claims the splash page, and well, that's exactly what happens, making this one of the more shocking issues in a while. Usually teases like the front cover promise don't see a pay off, so kudos to McGregor and Russell for what's easily one of the best Killraven sagas yet. Of course, it ain't perfect. There are way too many words on most pages, and yes, there's more of Don's favorite "prose pages". And some of the layouts are cool while others are slightly confusing. But overall, yes I enjoyed this book. Maybe I'm just trying to fight off the cold that's knocking the crap out of me. Next issue claims, per the letters page, we'll get "an astounding visual tour-de-force" and some answers into the mind of Killraven. Sounds ok for once!

Mark: McGregor and Russell serve up multiple causalities here, alas, to no wrenching emotional impact. Old Skull, he of minimal IQ and maximum devotion to Killy, will be most missed. Cyclopean Skar contemptuously kicking OS in the face as he lay dying is a brutal level of sadism seldom seen in comics. As if we needed another reason to hate the Martians...

Grok's death is next on the empathy-meter, coming as it does right after we learn the man-ape hybrid was born of Carmilla's attempt to clone her dead scientist father. Native-American Hawk's - buried in the same avalanche as Grok – sole memorable trait was his pissy, petulant attitude. Hard to mourn characters you didn't care about in the first place.

Chris: Incredible.  McGregor reins in his tendency for the over-written captions, and limits his text to terse, efficient, at times heartfelt observations of the deadly proceedings.  McGregor’s been hinting at two things that he finally is able to deliver: Grok’s back story; and, the death of a Freeman.  In this issue, he masterfully times the events in such a way that we identify closely with all of these title-altering developments.  

We finally learn that Grok is not Carmilla’s lover, but a clone of her father, which helps to explain her careful dedication to preserving his safety.  One page later, peace-loving Old Skull is mortally wounded, as Skar finally is able to collect on his months’ long pursuit of Killraven & Co; this moment allows for a stark contrast with the idle levity Killraven had enjoyed while steed-racing, a scant few pages earlier in this issue.
McGregor’s (uncharacteristic) restraint is most apparent later in the issue, as the details of the storytelling fall to the able hands of Craig Russell.  If you’re in the mood to be thoroughly impressed, then the class should please turn to p 18 of our text, and then most notably to p 30, as Russell ties us directly into the immediate events and emotions of the story, without any distracting text to explain what we already are seeing, and how we are supposed to feel about it.  Masterful.

Mark: Great cover. And while Craig Russell's art is excellent throughout, I can't help but think a top-flight inker would lend depth and density to the sometimes incomplete looking results. Don McGregor, as always, runs hot and cold, and never hesitates to throw in six words, where one would better serve. He doesn't know, apparently, that 2019 is in the 21st Century, not the 22nd, and every gem - "metal chariots twisted to Daliesque coffins" – is offset by WTF head-scratchers - "It's presence pull them into force lines of movement." Still, rather a writer straining after art then one settling for Pablum. If he's failed (as with Hawk) to craft characters whose death makes us grind our teeth, he's created a truly hateful villain in Skar. 

McGregor's boldest move is not offering Killraven, or the reader, satisfying, last page vengeance. Killy of course takes out the vacant eye-socketed obscenity after an epic battle, but not before Skar kills Grok and Hawk, and the dying cyborg continues to laugh derisively at humanity, even as Killraven rages, "Feel pain, damn you!" and pounds his face into broken circuit-boards. 

Much as with Deathlok, Man-Thing, and other experimental titles of this era, I've come not to expect sustained excellence. But the high points more than off-set the stumbles, particularly in a medium content to peddle mediocre, more-of-the-same "product" most of the time.

Paging through "A Death in the Family" again as I scribble this has me revising my opinion about emotional impact. I still don't give a flip about Hawk, but Killraven's non- redemptive "victory," and Skar's mocking laughter sure don't feel like a comic book.

They feel, uncomfortably, like real life.

Astonishing Tales 33
Deathlok the Demolisher in
"Reflections in a Crimson Eye!"
Story by Rich Buckler and Bill Mantlo
Art by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Irving Watanabe and Beth Bleckley
Cover by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

Deathlok leaves the subway, conversing with 'puter where he learns his Luther Manning form has been dead for five years and his life-support system is failing. He angrily destroys the suitcase with the counterfeit money, then hops on the helicopter, while Major Ryker is undergoing the secret procedure he's been planning all along. The copter lands at Ryker's Long Island estate, where Deathlok breaks in to find a Luther Manning clone, created by the mysterious Hellinger, who does not exist in 'puter's memory banks. As the operation to make Ryker become the Omni-Computer is completed, and Travers and Nina get captured by a revolutionary army, Hellinger tells Deathlok he has radiation poisoning and can't help him become human again. Then the truth comes out, that he led Deathlok to him in order to destroy Ryker! Arming Deathlok with hardware, he sends him off to rescue Mike and Nina with a bomb, but along the way our hero is met by the revolutionaries. Then Hellinger takes off his disguise to reveal he's also a cyborg! And as Deathlok escapes the army and gets to the castle, he finds out the bomb is ready to blow—and is still attached to his arm! --Joe Tura

Joe: A decent issue gives us more backstory, false or real we're not sure, to be honest; a new shadowy character in Hellinger that we don't know whether or not we root for (probably not after it's revealed that he's a cyborg too); evil machinations by Ryker who thankfully doesn't get to talk this month; and more back and forth between Deathlok and 'puter that makes them seem more like Felix and Oscar. Nice art with heavy Janson inks seems as dark as the setting, but the layouts are once again unique, although I could do with a lot less omni-computer speak in knockout type. Decent stuff that of course ends on a minor cliffhanger.

Chris: Well, it’s an issue that doesn’t feature a whole lot of action, but there’s a lot of story development, which Rich and Bill must’ve realized was sorely needed by this point.  Hellinger quickly introduces some new curves (including his membership in the ever-growing Cyborg Society), we still don’t know what’s happening in Nina’s head, Ryker is linked to the omni-computer (that’s trouble), Deathlok could be slowly dying (or re-dying) due to damage he’s already sustained, plus there’s a Luther Manning life-size action figure – oh wait, it’s a clone?  Wow – that’s good news, right Deathlok?  Oh – but there’s not enough left of you, I mean the original Manning, to transfer effectively to the clone?  Hmm . . . perhaps there still might be a way to work that out . . .

The Buckler-Janson art, complemented by Janson’s moody colors, cannot be beat for this title.  I want Deathlok’s glowering, shadowed face (from p 30, last panel) printed on a coffee mug, so I can stare at it while I’m at work.  
Matthew: I reopened this issue—which constituted my youthful introduction to the character—with some reverence, yet I don’t think it’s due merely to nostalgia that Buckler seems more assured in his capacities as both plotter and penciler.  I’ll make my standard concession, i.e., that Janson (supplying colors as well as inks) is the right man for the job, bolstered by the evocative reflection in page 2, panel 4 and the superb portrait of Deathlok on page 3.  Scripter and rising star Mantlo brings a refreshingly “clean” style to the storytelling, maintaining the complex narrative structure of his predecessors while not only moving the plot forward but also doing so in a more accessible way, and without the purple prose that provoked Moench-mockery.

Mark: Wait, a full-length story and start-to-finish art by Swash? Do we have the right murderous-schizo cyborg? 

'Tis true, class, so enjoy this, revel in excellence, all the more precious given the mag's on-going production problems, and a complete lack of confidence we'll see its like again. 

Rich buckles down and - inked by the estimable Klaus Janson - has never been better. The unsettling, page three splash of Deathlok may well be the character's archetypical image: gorgeously ugly in close-up, all too human, yet alien, other, part-HAL 9000, part-Walking Dead.

Bill Mantlo brings forward motion to Buckler's plot. We're spared a gory shoot-out, which were becoming gratuitous, and instead there's a moving moment between Travers and Nina. 'Lok expresses common cause with the rebels and finds the presumptive doc who did his Franken-surgery. Then we readers discover Dr. Hellinger, now peeling off his fake face, is really Col. Ryker's "more machine than man" brother! But with a ticking bomb strapped to his wrist, the Ryker boys' rivalry isn't ex-Luther's top concern.

It's a dark story, gorgeous and gripping. And, sure, hope to see its quality again. Just don't expect it.

The Avengers 143
"Right Between the Eons!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Perez and Sam Grainger
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane

It’s a showdown in the Old West when Thor, Moondragon, Hawkeye, Kid Colt, and the Two-Gun Kid take on Kang for the final showdown. Kang imprisons the group in a large box-like room and then sics a giant dinosaur-demon hybrid on them (curiously, it is called, by Kang, a hybrid from 41st century science and a coyote!). The giant monster, while physically powerful, is easily felled by a psychic blast from Moondragon. Meanwhile, Thor, disguised as a man of the time, is somehow in Kang’s inner sanctum and then reveals himself. He and Kang duke it out across several pages until Kang destroys himself. With his disappearance, his atoms “scattered across time,” the citadel-prison disappears. 

In a very well-done final page, Immortus, who is basically Kang in another, and final, time, reveals the story of how Kang was once Rama-Tut, or will become Rama-Tut, or something. Anyway, with Kang gone, the incarnation of Immortus can never exist, and so these gods, or one god, have disappeared. Only Moondragon seems to understand the full impact of what has gone down in this story.

As with last issue, the majority of this issue is spent in the Old West, with only a few pages spent on the remaining Avengers and their escape attempt outside of the the cage inside the Roxxon Oil building. Cap has a plan for the Vision, who cannot pass through the bars, but since he can pass through Cap’s shield, which is flush against the bars, the Vision gets through. The Scarlet Witch feels some pride in her new husband, who works for the team without any thought to enhancing his own ego. Anyway, the Avengers have escaped, but that is all we are given before the return to the Old West. -Jerad Walters

Jerad Walters: George Perez’s artwork is outstanding in this issue, especially on page 7, when Kang reveals himself, and when he stuns the Avengers on page 11. The monster is less interesting, but the battle between Thor and Kang is well done. The Avengers back on present-day earth are also well-drawn. Perez manages to give some sexiness to Wanda and Moondragon, at least I thought so, especially when Wanda reflects on the Vision’s character. This issue has some good action, and Englehart manages to write a lot of that action in the present-day situation while focusing this issue on wrapping up all the loose ends in the Old West. However, I felt that the dissolution of Kang was a missed opportunity. Clearly something important has happened in the Marvel Universe: three characters gone at a single blow, apparently with Kang doing himself in semi-intentionally. However, we're barely given a third of a page of Immortus trying to explain how he, Kang, and Rama-Tut were all tied together. It works but an extra half page of expository might have made his disappearance more poignant and Moondragon’s tearful reaction more understandable. 

Matthew: I’ve had my eye on Grainger ever since the Viagra that was #68, and now that he’s followed the splendor of last month’s X-Men by delivering us (or, more accurately, Perez’s pencils) from Colletta here, I’d say his promise is more than fulfilled.  Speaking of Viagra, you probably won’t require any after seeing the shot of Moondragon that is only the most memorable of page 11’s many delights.  Oh, and by the way, Orzechowski lettered Englehart’s script—would you care for some caviar sprinkled atop your filet mignon and lobster, sir?  As much as I obviously loved this entry, notwithstanding its zany cover, I have a very definite preference for the Roxxon plotline with its feline byproduct, so I’ll be glad to see that take center stage next ish.

Scott: And so Kang ends. The weird, time-bending finale brings also an end to Rama-Tut. However, wasn’t Rama-Tut also thought to be Victor Von Doom many moons ago? The art is sublime and the action fierce. This is a fine finale. Do I believe Kang to be truly forever dead? Naaaah. Who stays dead in the Marvel Universe other than Gwen Stacy?

Chris: Finally – with this issue, we begin to see the greatness that is to come from Perez.  I’m sorry to report that Colletta will seal the art’s feet in cement shoes and throw it overboard again next issue, but at least for now, we enjoy a glimpse into a brighter future.  (Grainger is no Pablo Marcos, but he’s no Colletta, and sometimes that’s all you need, you know?).  I especially enjoyed p 10-11, the Vision’s spooky emergence from the power-cage (p 15), and Thor’s sneak-up on Kang on p 18.

Chris:Speaking of Kang, there had to have been an audible groan in the editorial meeting when Englehart mentioned that he was bringing Kang back AGAIN for another beat-down.  The cover promises “At Last!! The Final Battle Against the Power of KANG!”  Well folks, I’m sure I speak for Avengerphiles everywhere when I say: “No idle promises please – ‘Final Battle’ means the LAST TIME.”  At least the clash with Thor is fairly interesting, even though Thor’s goal is to be not-conquered, which in turn requires Kangster to turn his volume way up past 11.  
Hey – did anyone understand Immortus’ explanation of how Kang is now (supposedly) gone for good?  Maybe he was only able to speak his words “but once” because he was just winging it at the moment -?  That’s my theory.  
Did anyone else here remember whom Cap was referring to when, once the group was freed from the electro-cell, he said “We have some people to see!”  I literally had to go back to Avengers #142 to remind myself that they had been imprisoned by the Squadron, abetted by Patsy’s ex.  I guess we coulda used a trifle more of the secondary story, Steve E.  

The Amazing Spider-Man 152
"Shattered by the Shocker!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Trapped by rubble in a sewer quickly filling up with water (and rats), Spider-Man swims for the next manhole shaft, but a deluge sends him reeling, until he luckily escapes through a large drain. After a quick change of clothes, Peter heads back to JJJ's post-party penthouse, but Mary Jane left ticked off, and JJJ's precious decanter gets decapitated when Peter slams the door. Quick aside to a mysterious hobo in the Bowery who runs from an unseen stalker, claiming he's "not responsible for what happened to you". At the college cafeteria, Peter runs into an angry MJ as he tries to decide on lunch, then ends up at a table with new roomies Flash and Harry (who gets Peter's crummy lunch). NYC's mayor refuses to give in to The Shocker's demands for 1 million dollars, which sends Spidey to every power plant in the area looking for the evil electrician, eventually finding him in Queens. Two cops break up their battle, then after Spidey strings the Shocker up, he's forced to knock out the plucky policemen, then goes toe-to-toe with Shocker again, almost getting beheaded by a deadly dynamo! Finally, Spidey webs Shockie's thumb-triggers into the on position, causing the constant recoil to blast the baddie against the walls, as our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man saves the day again! –Joe Tura

Joe: Kicking off with an awesome Gil Kane cover that I remember very well, we get an issue packed with mystery, action, annoyed girlfriends, close shaves and shocking developments (ha-ha-ha). Plus, two words: Abe Beame! Spidey's solution to beating The Shocker was as cool as it was 40 years ago, and the sound effects are in rare form. My faves would be the final page's "THAMM! BRODD! CRAKK" as Shocker is thrown from wall to wall by his own creation. All in all, a fine script, with a not-so-mystery guest for those who remember but we'll find out soon enough about that, and excellent art, despite some odd close-ups of the supporting cast on pages 10 and 11. No, really, what's with MJ's mouth in panel 7? Looks like "Fish Lips" Watson! Even Peter's face on page 11 panel 6, when he hands a way-too-grateful Harry his meat loaf, succotash and stewed tomatoes lunch looks strange, and not from the menu. But that's only a couple of missteps in another fine chapter in the best comic book of its day. Well, for now, anyway.

Mark: Wein wraps up his first tale, with middlin' results. He gets Peter's voice right (no small thing), but MJ working the silent treatment is out of character for the fiery redhead. Len plucks low hanging fruit regarding J. Jonah, going for low comedy. Harry rooming with Flash has possibilities, but no one has a wondering word about clone Gwen? And whither Glory Grant, who we haven't seen in months? 

But hey, we get a succotash & stewed tomatoes gag, so grant Len some time to get a handle on the cast and give them his own voice.

Matthew:  I find this a completely satisfactory, albeit slightly less rewarding, conclusion to Wein’s maiden storyline.  With master embellishers Esposito and Giacoia applying the ink, Andru’s art can’t be anything less than satisfying—love the claustrophobic effect of the horizontal panels on page 2—and the typically solid Kane cover is, for a change, spot-on in representing the story contained therein.  The teaser on page 7 (with its subtle hint of the Bowery boy’s identity, which I confess I had to have pointed out to me after the fact, probably in some lettercol) is a fun portent of things to come, and as one who appreciates seeing Spidey prevail with brains as well as brawn, I liked the solution Len came up with to let him defeat the Shocker.

Mark: The socko web-spinning is lesser rewarding. After a flashy, name-in-lights gimmick last ish, the Shocker - new pugilistic prowess notwithstanding - is back on the B-list. The cops are trigger-happy, anti-Spidey fanatics, until receiving a gift-webbed villain and a note from your friendly...yada-yada.

Behind a Jazzy cover, Ross Andru is back on pencils and in his goofy groove. Shockie, unlike the Vulture, doesn't benefit from Andruization, but Ross – check the splash page, bottom right - sure draws a cute rat. The art's fine, but can't put meat on this well-gnawed bone. Forget high voltage. The Shocker barely managed to warm up my tea.

Scott: The adventure part works well. Spidey’s tussles with the Shocker are good stuff and well worth the cover price. It’s the comedy that falls flat, as usual. Andru’s obsession with food provides the eye rolling patience testing. The Peter Parker’s crappy love life travails prove to be uninteresting. And Harry Osborn is still weird. What is up with this guy? Is there a story brewing or did they just forget how to write him? And did anyone back then really laugh when JJJ’s decanter smashed to the floor? “Finally, Jameson got his!” Kill me now.

Captain Marvel 42
"Shoot-Out at the O.K. Space Station!"
Story by Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom
Art by Al Milgrom, Frank Giacoia, Mike Esposito, and Bernie Wrightson
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Al Milgrom and Alan Weiss

Our heroes materialize in the poison atmosphere of an asteroid taken when the Kree drove the Skrulls from Deneb IV, and thyamite prospector Shabby—who thinks the star on his chest identifies Mar-Vell as the marshall he sent for to clean up the O.K. Space Station—brings them inside the laminite dome.  Intuiting that his Nega-Band can change matter, Rick creates a complementary uniform, and is attracted to a translucent saloon girl who periodically vanishes.  Routing Jaqe Murania’s gang enrages the Big Boss, revealed as the Stranger, but after his “gunfight” with Mar-Vell cracks the dome, which Rick fuses with his new power, he loses interest and departs, and our heroes head off to Deneb IV on Shabby’s robotic mule, Rusty-Paint. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: On his blog, Englehart wrote, “After issue #41, the strain of putting together this book with Al Milgrom on the East Coast and me on the West began to tell.  It became much more Al’s book with my dialogueironically, a reversion to the way the series had begun for me, with my dialoguing Jim Starlin.  Thus, the fact that both this and Steve’s simultaneous Avengers story are super-hero Westerns is attributed in the lettercol to first-time solo-plotter Al’s ignorance of Steve’s efforts elsewhere, although as they correctly state, “The concept and tone of each tale are actually pretty far apart...”  We also learn that Klaus Janson’s duties on Daredevil have kept him from this title (leaving us with another welcome dose of the Giacoia/Esposito duo for the month).

Alas, Milgrom art inked by G&E is still Milgrom art, while they and/or the colorist seem clueless about the number and location of Nega-Bands on Rick and Mar-Vell, but compensations include the guilty-pleasure retro storyline and an interesting use of the bona fide Stranger.  Following last issue’s Universalite church sequence, we hear talk of thyamite, a term I’m fairly sure was coined by Starlin back in Strange Tales #181. Speaking of whom, I was surprised to see the Destroyer smashing a planetoid in his cameo here, since we were told in #38 that—except for Moondragon, “optioned” to Steve for the Assemblers—Jim had reclaimed all of his Titan characters for use in Warlock (where we now know that Drax’s raison d’être is alive and kicking ass on Homeworld).

Chris: Phew – was there any point at all to this issue?  When last we saw Mar-Vell, he was being challenged by the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree, and now, he’s involved in a purposeless face-off with the Stranger?  For what reason?  The letters page attempts to explain that Al “Too Big For Britches” Milgrom wanted hisself a good-ol Western-themed issue for Cap-Marv (strangely, this issue is appearing in the same month as another needlessly Western-oriented story, penned by Steve E for the Avengers), but that’s hardly an acceptable excuse – the inherent stupidity of this idea should’ve been hooted-down in the editorial meeting.  

Was the grandeur of the Thanos War that long ago, or does it just feel that way?  The art has fallen as far behind, if not further, than the storytelling – the limitations of Milgrom’s pencils are harder to cover-up with Esposito and Giacoia on the inks; betcha didn’t think you’d miss Janson, right -? 

Matthew: I don't.

The Champions 2
"Whom the Gods Would Join..."
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Don Heck and John Tartaglione
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott

A disbelieving Hercules fights the Olympians, faring badly until Natasha devises a plan:  Angel and GR attack Pluto as a diversion, she and Venus drag Herc to safety, and Bobby seals the portal to cover their escape.  Returning to Olympus, Pluto reminds Zeus of his alliance with the rulers of other dark realms, and intends the marriages (agreed to by Zeus to maintain peace with Hades) to bind the only Olympians who might prevent Zeus’s overthrow, since by his own law, spouses cannot oppose each other.  Sent to compel obedience, the Huntsman knocks out Herc and Venus, but after Menoetius, the giant Titan he summons, is defeated, the Huntsman tricks GR—guarding the gods—into felling the others with Hellfire and departs with his charges. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I have to deduce that this book’s publication schedule is awry: in November’s Marvel Premiere, Hercules refers to the group by name, even though it has yet to be formally founded, while in last month’s Ghost Rider, Tony says this issue is “still on sale and more than moderately interesting.”  He obviously dug deep into the Characters We Didn’t Need to See Again Bin for the Huntsman, who debuted in an obscure Hercules back-up story from, of all places, the old reprint Ka-Zar #1 that had to be concluded in, of all places, Sub-Mariner #29.  Tartag is no more able than Esposito was to make Heck’s pencils soar, but they don’t look any worse, and to be honest I think Don’s style is actually pretty well suited to the title, which nobody’s gonna mistake for X-Men anyway.

Conan the Barbarian 58“Queen of the Black Coast!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Steve Gan
Colors by Michele Wolfman Letters by Joe Rosen and John Costanza Cover by John Buscema and John Romita

With royal Messantian guards in hot pursuit, Conan races on horseback to the wharves of the city of Argos. When he reaches the dock, the Cimmerian leaps on board the Argus, a trading galley sailing for Kush, and savagely orders the shipmaster Tito to get underway post haste. The captain realizes that the Cimmerian’s obvious strength and swordsmanship might come in handy during the dangerous voyage — the Argus hastily sets sail leaving the guards howling on shore in frustration. When the Argus reaches Kushian shores, the lookout spots a fast approaching vessel: it is the Tigress, the dreaded pirate ship of Bêlit, Queen of the Black Coast, and her fierce dark-sknned warriors. The Tigress quickly catches the Argus and Bêlit’s men swarm the deck of the smaller galley: the Argossean sailors are slaughtered. Conan, however, takes the fight to the Tigress, leaping to its deck with broadsword slashing — but he is soon cornered by long spears. Bêlit, fascinated by the brawny barbarian, commands her men to stand down. The Shemite she-devil then orders Odongo, her mightiest warrior, to face Conan single-handedly. Odongo gains the upper hand but the Cimmerian manages to flip him overboard: the pirate becomes black bait for the sharks. Overcome by lust, Bêlit launches into a sensuous dance, hurling herself into Conan’s arms when done. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: The splash page proclaims “At last! The fiery beginning of the longest-awaited, most-requested Conan epic ever!” — which is untrue since it actually started last issue. Roy has been talking up this adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast” (Weird Tales, May 1934) for a few months in both “The Hyborian Age” and the “Swords and Scrolls” letters page in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian, so I decided to do my homework and read the original before it began. As with most of Robert E’s Conan stories, it’s short but amazingly heady, perhaps his most spellbinding and blood-drenched tale. Howard has his hero tell the events of what would become December 1975’s Conan the Barbarian #56 in a few short lines of dialogue: Roy does the same, but he uses three whole pages. Not sure why The Rascally One bothers to spend so much space recapping what was published just a month ago: it makes that entire issue seem oddly unnecessary. But I guess we would have missed out on the killer Mike Ploog art. Again, Howard’s original is only 20 pages or so, and while I haven’t peeked ahead, I know that Thomas’ adaptation will run quite a few issues. In fact, when I consulted the esteemed Professor Gilbert, he mentioned that there are online rumblings that Roy takes too much time, adding multiple new side adventures. However, some might anticipate a longer adaptation, with Roy and Big John, masters of the Hyborian genre, adding an abundance of authentic new ideas and textures to Howard’s already highly polished gem. I guess it depends if you call your glass half full or half empty. Or something. Either way, up to this point at least, the adaptation is quite faithful, down to Bêlit’s quivering knees. Inker Steve Gan is highlighted with an “and Introducing” arrow graphic on the splash page which struck me as odd. By Crom, the name would be long familiar to any serious Conan comic collector of the era, as his credit was featured in many a black-and-white magazine. 

Daredevil 129
"Man-Bull in a China Town!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Bob Brown and Klaus Janson
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

Matt has been appointed by the court to defend Bull Taurus, a.k.a. Man-Bull.  Despite Matt’s argument for a 2nd-degree manslaughter charge, the jury finds Man-Bull guilty of 1st degree murder.  Man-Bull storms out of the court, determined to find a way out of the doesn’t-pay life of a rock-headed super-villain.  Man-Bull meets a shadowy figure down at the docks, who promises Taurus money for services rendered; Man-Bull figures that one last job would provide the money he would need to ditch his dead-end racket.  Man-Bull follows thru with directions, as he breaks into a guarded Chinatown temple that houses the multi-ton Golden Bull.  He hefts the bull onto his massive shoulders, and walks out to the street, where he soon is encountered by Daredevil.  The two adversaries exchanges thrusts and parries, until DD vaults to a fire escape to gain time in order to devise a plan of attack for his far-mightier opponent.  Man-Bull turns the tables, as he flings the Golden Bull up at Daredevil, shattering the bull into weighty fragments.  DD picks up on Man-Bull’s talk about feeling wronged (in particular, the people who have taken advantage of him over the years), and tries to reason with him, but Taurus literally bats Daredevil aside and stalks off.  Daredevil elects to let him go.  Once he returns to the docks, Taurus’ project manager is enraged to find him returning empty-handed; Man-Bull grabs his would-be patron, and plunges them both into the depths of Sheepshead Bay.  -Chris Blake

Chris: There are some extraneous details I left out because, at its heart, this is a pretty solid DD story.  The ending has three decent unexpected moments: 1) DD takes a break from the useless banter to consider whether he might be able to reason with Man-Bull (thinking, yes, not yapping – good DD, who’s a good DD); 2) DD lets M-B walk away, once he realizes that M-B isn’t interested in causing any more trouble, and simply wants to be left alone; and 3) M-B seems to snap when he turns on his seeming financial savior (who, as we can see more clearly at the end, is dressed as the Matador, although it’s never definitively stated whether this is the same DD foe who has been left unseen since the Silver Age).  We’re left with the impression that M-B had spent all that time walking alone, thinking how, somehow, the ending of this caper was going to be different from all those other times.  

Chris: I want to mention one of the extra bits, since it will play into a near-future storyline, and since it’s downright interesting on its own.  Matt is home after court, mooning over the fact that he was required to oppose Foggy because of this Man-Bull case, when a new story (delivered by none other than Walter Cronkite, The Most Trusted Man in America) tells us that a photo appearing in the German press seems to suggest that both John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy are still alive.  This certainly would’ve been a rattling idea in 1976 for a significant number of readers, who would’ve been familiar with the circumstances of the murders of both Kennedys; the possibility, if true, that they somehow might’ve survived their attacks would be reality-altering, so I credit Marv with throwing this bold idea out there. 
The Brown/Janson art continues to be good; the grungy atmosphere at the docks is particularly well-done.  One question, though: when he’s appearing in court, couldn’t someone have found an extra-extra large shirt, or even a medium-sized tarp, for the Man-Bull to wear while he’s under the scrutiny of a jury of his peers -?  
Matthew:  However well Janson may complement Miller’s pencils on  this strip in years to come, the same is simply not true of Brown’s; the Man-Bull’s appearance differs disconcertingly from panel to panel, and the whole thing just looks like murky crap.  But I do like the way Marv has woven this story out of harmonious elements such as the Golden Bull of China (“last stolen in Thor #146,” his footnote tells us); the Matador (not missed by this writer since the 1967 DD annual); and the Man-Bull himself, unseen here on his home turf since #96.  At first I couldn’t understand why he’d dug up the Matador for a glorified cameo, until I realized that although the shadowy figure could have been anyone, the thematic resonance of a matador/bull pair is perfect.

Scott: For the first time, I found myself enjoying the Man-Bull, even sympathizing with him a tad. This title has really had an upswing since the Black Widow left for The Champions. I’d like to know more about Heather, so some additional time with her would be nice. I’m not buying Nice Guy Tower, not at face value. Foggy isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, so we’ll see how he makes out. As for the art: I’m still enjoying the Brown/Janson team. Some of my fellow faculty members call it muddy, but I like it a lot. It’s what this book needed.

The Defenders 31
"Nighthawk's Brain!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Ray Holloway
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Nighthawk endures a nightmare where he falls into a dimension that makes no more sense than a vision of Trish Starr walking into the waves. He awakes in Central Park, only to be struck unconscious by a tranquilizer shot. Val and Jack Norriss enjoy Coney Island. The Hulk saves a fawn from the same fate he witnesses its mother endure  (giving the two hunters their due). He takes it to Dr. Strange for help. Nighthawk meanwhile, awakes to see his captors--who plan to switch out his brain for that of a mystic named Chondu, and use his powers to lead them to the other Defenders. Transfer apparently done, he has but to fly around until the Hulk spots him, and they head to Stephen's flat. Once there he launches his attack,  but proves no match for Dr. Strange. They unmask who they have concluded to be an imposter, only to see the face of Kyle Richmond! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: To start at the start,  the opening sequence of Nighthawk fighting for his life is memorable. Watching Trish Starr walk into the waves, blaming him, is eerie. The rest of the story doesn't quite live up to the opening,  but the odd family that forms the Defenders are fun at worst. The killer elf makes another appearance,  this one as off-putting as his last. I like seeing the compassionate side of the Hulk, and watching Val reduce the hammer and bell to smithereens!

Scott: The Hulk gets more childlike every issue, it seems. Now he’s nearly in tears over “Bambi’s Mother.” Apparently, Bruce Banner loved that damned movie since it remains in the Hulk’s meager mind. Or did the Defenders go to a revival matinee one Sunday afternoon? So, are we to believe Nighthawk’s physical brain was removed and replaced by another? With his full head of hair intact? That’s pretty grisly, honestly, for such a light comic. I really do wish they’d settle this thing with Val’s husband, Jack. The guy is seriously annoying.  

Chris: The arrival of Bambi! The return of the Elf! And best of all – Nighthawk’s brain!  Things are about to get re-e-e-eally weird, kids.  But that’s okay, if it’s Steve-G weird.  

In Doc’s easy handling of the badly-overmatched Chondu, Steve plays with our expectations (yet again – maybe by now we should be expecting Steve’s unexpected turns, if that makes any sense).  We’re led to think that the Headmen have this ingenious plan to infiltrate and trap the Defenders, but once Chondu has cast his spell of imprisonment, Doc simply leads the group right out of it!  Brilliant.

Chris: On a different note, how about the nightmare sequence with Nighthawk?  The art, overall, isn’t impressive (not much of Sal in evidence, and too much of Average Jim, not Man-Thing Mooney, dictating the look of the art), except for p 3, especially the last four panels, as Trish walks slowly off into the sea, and Nighthawk is brought down, as Trish’s amputated left arm reaches out of the sand to grab his leg!  I mean, whoa -!  Whether the Headmen somehow planted (or somehow drew out) this hallucination, or it’s a product of Kyle’s own tortured psyche, it’s impressive (I wonder – is Sal a fan of Bergman -?).  
Hey – when’s Val’s headshot going to be included on the cover?  I mean, she was in the group before Nighthawk, right?  But she’s still not pictured (wait – she’s not about to get Thunderbirded, is she . . .?).  
Matthew: With all due respect to Mooney’s efforts on Man-Thing, I think Marvel put him to best use as an inker, especially on a penciler like Buscema the Younger, although in this case, the Sal/Jim ratio is a little lower than I’d like.  Be that as it may, after Mantlo’s frankly feeble fill-in, the Defenders Dream Team makes a welcome return with the start of the arc that, for me, epitomizes Gerber’s run on the book, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the prelude in #21 is one of my beloved cluster issues.  The Headmen represent quintessential Gerber weirdness, and while things are a little weird here, they’re going to get a hell of a lot weirder as the storyline progresses, which for me at least is good news.  Just don’t ask about the significance of that elf…

Fantastic Four 166
"If It's Tuesday, This Must Be The Hulk!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by George Perez and Vince Colletta
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler and Dan Adkins

We open with the FF aboard a 747, in civies, flying to Nebraska with Reed's rebuilt Psi-Amplifier (last seen causing the Thing and the Hulk to swap brains, in Giant-Size Super-Stars #1). Seems the Hulk's been rampaging around the Cornhusker state, so Washington has called in the Fabs, and Reed still hopes to cure Bruce Banner. But why aren't the FF winging west in the pogo plane or Fantasticar? Because then ole Greenskin couldn't randomly damage a civilian airliner during one of his high altitude leaps, that's why, depriving our heroes of an epic rescue: Johnny burns a hole in the fuselage, which Reed promptly rubber-bands out of and onto the tail of the plane. The Torch does some wing-welding, Sue seals the hole with her force field ("But the strain's almost unbearable!"), and Stretch-O forms himself into a giant parachute, slowing their descent enough to allow the pilots to land safely on a stretch of rural freeway. 

An army helicopter whisks the FF away to a briefing in an H-Bomb-resistant bunker, and within a page they're confronting the Hulk. Reed lassos Jade-jaws, Sue throws a force field around his head, cutting off his oxygen, then Ben reluctantly delivers a knock-out punch at Reed's command.

The Psi-amp de-greens Doc Banner, but rather than releasing him into Reed's care, as agreed, snarky young Colonel Sellers orders Bruce rewired to the machine. Taking exception to this treachery, the Thing not only frees BB, who promptly reverts to his anti-social alter-ego, but announces that, just "like Cap'n Fantastic and the Brown-Dirt Cowboy," he's teaming up with the Hulk! -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Hoo-boy. This one flips the expectations script, class. In  almost two years of re-experiencing 1970's Marvel as part of your esteemed faculty, I've come to expect stories that explode out of the starting gate only to fade down the stretch. This time we get the fumblin'-bumblin'-stumblin' upfront. The opening set-piece takes up almost half the mag and nothing about it works, from the FF ignoring their skyscraper full of airships so they can beat long lotto odds to be on the one flight among thousands that the Hulkster accidentally damages, at the exact moment they were mulling how to find him, to the newly up-powered Sue straining mightily ( dizzy...") to seal a tiny hole in the plane and Reed's goofy, Plastic-Man human parachute routine (while supposedly losing his elasticity, remember, Roy?). It's all more  Brand-Echhian parody than death-defying rescue. 

Ben impulsively freeing Banner after the punk Colonel reneges on their agreement is understandable and in character; declaring he's been "on the wrong side all these years" and forming a tag-team with Mean Green is not. It's a hokey plot contrivance that would get you hooted out of Writing Comics 101.  

No Joe Sinnott, either, but Perez's pencils can survive Vinnie Colletta's flatter, more two-dimensional inks. But can we make it through part two without NoDoz? It's gonna take a whole lot of Hulk/Thing smash – and an infusion of logic and/or characterization – to save this stink-burger. 

Chris: This makes a second consecutive Thing-Hulk meeting that has played-out in an unexpected direction.  Roy sets up the conclusion well, as he establishes how Ben has no beef with Hulk, and takes no pleasure in having to smack him around.  Still, Ben’s moping on the plane doesn’t quite ring true – as Reed points out, the Thing has saved the team’s bacon countless times before.  The ending doesn’t quite make sense either, as it’s hard to accept that Ben would help anyone fight against his teammates – I’m guessing that Ben’s motivation is directed toward springing Hulk from the facility, and ensuring that he comes to no further harm.  We’ve seen Ben act impulsively many times before, but his actions this time come at a higher price than usual; you would think it would be obvious to him that a working psi-amplifier (ie, one that has not been smashed to pieces) might also be employed to remove the cosmic-ray effect on his own body, and permanently remove his Thing-ness.  But I’m not complaining – it’s an intriguing story, and I trust Roy to continue to take it in an interesting direction as we move into our next chapter.

The Perez-Colletta art is least-unacceptable, as compared to the awful finished product of Avengers #141-142.  The inks are mostly thin, but the Thing looks unusually good, with some heavy lines that contribute to him looking craggier than normal (in a good way).  So I’ll complain now about Colletta’s inconsistency – if the art had looked this adequate in those Avengers issues, I wouldn’t have made such pointed comments about it (see?  We really can all get along).  I’m willing to bet that Perez, in his rapidly-maturing approach to his work, looked at the finished Avengers pages and decided to leave less for Vinnie to do (if this sounds familiar, it’s the same theory I’ve applied to Sal’s preparation for Vinnie-finishes on Captain America and the Defenders).  Well, either way, Sinnott’s back next issue, so – problem solved.

Matthew: Man, we finally just got rid of Colletta as Perez’s (unworthy) inker on Avengers, and now he pops up here like a one-man Whac-A-Mole game; thank God Joltin’ Joe is back next issue, although even Vince can only do so much damage to George’s brilliance.  The cover touts this as “Not just another Thing vs. Hulk battle,” but while I may never have seen any of its predecessors at the time, and thus had no frame of reference, I’m really diggin’ Roy’s treatment of that well-worn theme in retrospect.  For all of their frequent animosity, Ben and Greenskin probably have as much or more in common as they do differences, a concept Rascally develops with great care over the course of Part One, then pays it off with their “shock ending.”

Scott: A decent issue and it was all going swimmingly until the final panel. I find it difficult to believe Ben Grimm would just up and change sides, to fight hand in hand with the Hulk against humanity. I get the sympathy angle, but not so drastic a turn. Will it be revealed that Ben is under the influence of another mastermind? Find out next ish! The art is lovely. Very clean and dynamic. Almost too pretty, frankly. It’s lacking a little of the Marvel fire.

From the end of the world to your town!


  1. King Kirby is back at last and uh ...Well, enjoyable enough, although Cap and Falc don't seem to be quite the same characters I'd been reading and mostly enjoying under Englehart's run. Yep, Kirby's taken them into his own little pocket universe, but then most of what he did at DC might as well have been in separate universes as well. Quite a change from the Silver Age when Kirby had a huge hand in creating most of the Marvel Universe and drew stories that integrated nearly every M.U. character in them at various points. Looking back, his art still has some charm, but reading it as a 13 year old, it didn't appeal to me in the way that of such artists as Starlin, Brunner or Perez.
    Speaking of the latter, even when paired with Coletta, I loved Perez' art on both Avengers and the FF. I really didn't mind Kang popping up so often as at least Englehart made all these stories fairly unique and it didn't get quite so bad as Dr. Doom showing up again and again in early FF stories in so many done-in-ones, or the Red Skull showing up so many times in later Captain America tales.
    I didn't get on the HTD bandwagon until issue #4, not even seeing the first 3 issues at the Navy Exchange where I got my comics, but I was totally hooked after I got that issue. Anyhow, I did get the Treasury Edition and loved Brunner's exquisite artwork as well as Gerber's absurdist, existentialist humor (admittedly at the time I had no idea what existentialism meant). And that same twisted sensibility and humor was certainly evident in the Defenders. Reading that scene wherein the Hulk sends the not so mighty hunter skipping across the pond and crashing headfirst into a tree left me thinking that in reality land that would likely have killed the guy or at least given him serious brain damage. But in comics fantasy land he'd just wake up some time later with a massive headache. Elves can murder, but not a Marvel Super-Hero, not even the monstrous, befuddled Hulk. And Gerber has some diabolical plans for that poor fawn Hulk would take back to Doc's Sanctum Santorum and home for misfit heroes.

  2. In his afterword for the Dark Horse reprint Thomas wrote how the Code demanded that the third panel of Belits dance had to be redrawn. Her head seen from behind between Conan's legs would give the readers a wrong impression :-)

    I always liked Belit's character design. It was a good fit for the idea of the character.

    I read Kirby's Cap long after its first release and before I knew much about the battles behind the scenes, and still it was remarkable how much it was divorced from the MU. How fast Kirby was disconnected from the rest of the writers. Still, in some regards the "Madbomb" was as far out as anything Englehart or Gerber could write.

  3. Fred and Andy,

    Cogent comments, as always. Thanks, guys.