Wednesday, June 24, 2015

May 1976 Part Two: The Amazing Spider-Man Somehow Teams Up With Killraven!

The Invaders 6
"And Let the Battle Begin"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Vince Colletta
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

A radio press conference heralds the formation of the Liberty Legion in response to the Red Skull’s hypnotized Invaders, with the Patriot deferring to Bucky as their leader, and they rout Nazi espionage on the northeastern coast.  The Skull has modified Brain Drain’s equipment, salvaged by Krieghund (last seen in GS #1), to produce “will-deadening nulla-rays,” although the heavy dosage required to control the Invaders slows their reflexes.  From his hideout nearby, the Skull broadcasts his challenge, announcing that he will send the Invaders against the Legion at three “doomed American landmarks”—Independence Hall, the Statue of Liberty, and the Lincoln Memorial—with orders to kill any innocent bystanders if the police or military interfere.

Jack Frost freezes Namor’s water trail as he leaps from New York Harbor toward Lady Liberty, but a rash punch from Blue Diamond shatters it, allowing him to flee; in Philadelphia, Cap fares poorly against the Patriot and Miss America, and is similarly recalled to base by the Skull.  In Washington, Red Raven and the Whizzer combine their wind-powers to snuff out Toro’s flame, and the Torch reluctantly obeys the Skull’s order to abandon him.  Having achieved the objective of capturing an Invader, Bucky and the Thin Man monitor the Torch’s flight-path, which when matched with the reports on Cap and Namor confirms that the Skull’s H.Q. is in Manhattan…and that the Torch is headed straight for the NCA studio base!  (Continued in Marvel Premiere #30.) -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: Despite my beef with Bronze-Age Kirby, his rarely broken run of covers on #4-16 makes me sad that he didn’t reunite with his co-creation here instead of in Cap’s own book, but alas, his ego presumably wouldn’t let him work with writer/editor Roy.  Regular issues now being down to 17 story pages, I’m even less tolerant of lengthy recaps, although in this case it’s more defensible, since they couldn’t assume people had read Marvel Premiere #29.  It’s almost a given that so many characters must be divided into sub-teams, and I like Roy’s match-ups, with the three patriotic heroes a no-brainer; pitting the strongest Legionnaire against Subby equally apt; and the Jack Frost/Namor “ice water” clash a refreshing—ha ha—change from the standard fire and ice...

Mark Barsotti: Our story steamrolls forward, with the Bucky-created Liberty Legion doing battle against our Red Skull-hypnotized heroes. Beside minor nits like writer and artist not coordinating on what's clockwise vs. counter, this one thrills like Veronica Lake on a USO tour.

Okay, maybe not that exciting, but Roy shows his mastery of fast-paced, subtlety-free rah-rah action that works far better than the comics of his youth he's paying homage to. We see the Skull's shoot-your-own henchmen viciousness, the L. Legion demonstrating their pluck by defending fabled landmarks from attack by the Nulla-Ray-entranced Invaders (they're also slightly down-powered, a nifty side effect that explains how the B-Team can battle the big boys), while Frank Robbins demonstrates his contortionist take on human anatomy.    

Matthew: .......mmmmm....Veronica Lake.... 

The Invincible Iron Man 86
"The Gentleman's Name is Blizzard!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Frank Giacoia

Despite an Indian-summer heat-wave, Tony gets the cold shoulder from Pepper while visiting a hospitalized Happy with no recollection of his recent Freak-out; the mysterious Blizzard breaches S.I. security via a sudden snowstorm.  O’Brien resumes his accusations against Tony, who armors up when informed of the break-in, while Pepper is shocked upon hearing that Blizzard seeks the Climatron (“But the man who invented that was—no!  It couldn’t be!”).  She enters the plant to warn Tony, and finds a frozen guard outside the dynamo room where Iron Man—baffled by Blizzard’s statement that they have met before—is trying to counter the cold penetrating his armor, but by the time she reaches the combatants, Iron Man is apparently dead… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Save for the autumnal upheavalMarvel’s four-color writing credits are pretty stable in 1976, but Shellhead is a notable exception, with a new scripter on average every other month.  Mantlo, who will become the regular writer for most of 77-’78contributes only this fun two-parter for now (with “special thanks for encouragement, enthusiasm and assistance to Marv Wolfman, editor”), following which the lettercol promises a reunited Goodwin/Tuska “superteam supreme” from #5-23, albeit for only three issues.  After the ill-advised Trimpe Interlude, I welcome George’s return, and the break seems to have done Tuskolletta some good; on top of the usual solid action, the non-ferrous cast—O’Brien in particular—looks less like typical Tuskaricatures.

Chris Blake: Fortunately, the Bronze Era will see radical improvements in Mr Stark’s bodyguard’s armor; future editions will feature repulsors that pack some actual punch (ie they’re more than bright lights popping out of his gauntlets), while the armor itself will not be as vulnerable to extreme temperatures or flying ice chips.  At this point, this past winter has proven that I would’ve had a better chance against Blizzard if I’d driven my car at him, rather than take him on with this armor in its present form.  

Jungle Action 21
The Black Panther in
"A Cross Burning Darkly Blackening the Night!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Billy Graham and Bob McLeod
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Harry Blumfield
Cover by John Romita

T'Challa is lashed to a burning cross; he feels the hungry flames bite into his flesh. The fire consumes the bonds holding his ankles; T'Challa snaps his feet free, twists his weight over his head, and breaks the cross first at its top, then at its middle.  The Panther plummets toward the startled klansmen with the burning crossbeam still tied across his back.  He scatters his oppressors, and plunges himself into the cooling waters of the murky swamp.  T'Challa spends the next two weeks in the hospital, healing from his burns; he then deems himself ready to confront the klan at a recruiting rally, together with Monica, Trublood, and Monica's folks. The klansmen respond angrily to accusations that they might've been involved in Angela's death; shots are fired, with Mr Lynne and T'Challa each saving the other from potentially mortal wounds. -Chris Blake

Chris: The in-its-time sketch show In Living Color had a bit that featured Damon Wayans walking into an office building, locating an executive-type white guy, and then smacking him (with a red ball, attached to an elastic band) across the bridge of his nose; he then would turn to the viewer and declare,  "I bopped The Man."  The end-result of this issue is similar – while T’Challa & Co might’ve disrupted a rally, and provoked some klansmen to fire on them, there is no moment that establishes that they’ve exposed the klan’s wrongdoings, or gained any advantage against them, or seemingly anything else; it’s unclear what we should expect from the next issue in our story.  Case in point: while we know far more about the circumstances of Angela’s death (thanks to a 2-page expository sequence narrated by the sheriff), we're no closer to determining whether there might have been foul play involved, and if so, who might’ve been behind it.  
It’s impossible not to compare this storyline to the sprawling epic that preceded it, ie “Panther’s Rage,” and here’s one critical point of departure: as opposed to the larger-than-death figure of Eric Killmonger, the opponent in this case is defined as “the klan,” but for the most part, Don has not done enough to establish who these people might be.   We have a few names mentioned, but the cloaks and hoods have successfully maintained the members’ anonymity.  We’ve seen klansmen involved in criminal activity, but since we don’t know which townspeople might’ve been complicit in these wrongdoings, we don’t have any identifiable figures to root against.  

The Graham/McLeod art continues to be very good; although sometimes, we don’t get the same mood that Janson et al had been able to establish with Graham’s pencils.  Page 10, which features steam rising from the back of a scorched and exhausted T’Challa, is a highlight for this art team – not only for this issue, but for their work in toto on this title.  Still, I have a significant objection: despite McGregor’s pain-filled description of T’Challa’s exposure to the flames, we see him arrive at the hospital without a visible scorch, or scratch, or anything.  Graham has shown us that he hasn’t been afraid to depict the Panther barely holding himself together, covered by little more than the rags that used to be his costume; so, why now present him as seemingly having endured no harm from his latest brush with death -?

Matthew: Although this installment doesn’t do all that much to move the plot forward, the cross-burning sequence is admittedly a tour de force, reminiscent of the many physical indignities T’Challa suffered back in Wakanda in “Panther’s Rage.”  The two-page account of Angela’s death (“glacial progress,” per SuperMegaMonkey)—complete with classic bullet-stopped clock—echoes the “Collection of Pantherish Clues” in #11 surrounding Zatama’s murder, with a typically evocative Graham layout of the Panther crouched on top.  In his penultimate issue, Graham is yet again given solid support by McLeod, with the aerial acrobatics on page 27 another highlight, and Don delivers excellent character development with Mr. Lynne.

Master of Kung Fu 40
"The Murder Agency"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Annette Kawecki
Cover by Gil Kane

Shang-Chi sits alone in his London apartment, reflecting on his recent confrontation with Sir Denis.  As he expressed his frustration, S-C accused Sir Denis of having become so immersed in espionage that he no longer recognizes the truth.  S-C is discouraged, in part, because recent events have caused him an unacceptable sense of anger.  Black Jack Tarr arrives at this inopportune moment, and implores S-C to join him to help flush out a mole who has infiltrated their ranks; already, five MI-6 agents have been killed, and any of S-C’s associates could be the next targets.  Tarr and his Chinaman comrade arrive at Leiko’s apartment, just in time to help free her from enemy agents.  Leiko reveals to S-C that she’s been assigned to meet with Agent-D, who has successfully positioned himself within the enemy camp (note: the enemy is not specifically identified); Leiko hopes that Agent-D has learned the identity of the MI-6 mole.  She approaches the assignment with some trepidation, since Sir Denis expects Leiko to have only a 1% chance of returning safely from the mission.  Leiko mentions to S-C that she has revealed their love to Reston, to which S-C offers only an awkward reply; Leiko leaves quietly, to hide her tears from S-C.  On her way out, she directs Tarr to re-enlist Larner; Tarr is shocked by this development, but he brings S-C to Larner’s residence, only to find both the disgraced former operative and Reston fully soused (Reston bemoaning his lot, as he has lost Leiko again).  Suddenly, there is an attempt on all of their lives, as shots are fired through the window, followed by an incendiary grenade; S-C & company are safe under the rubble, and take the fight back to their attackers. S-C wrestles with one hooded thug on the fire escape; he tries to keep the man from falling, but manages only to rip away part of his shirt as the assailant falls seven stories to the street below.  Tarr finds a business card in the shirt pocket, identifying a Soho address.  Tarr announces his intention to follow this lead, even though it surely is a trap; S-C faces the other direction, as he realizes that he has no means to escape his present predicament. -Chris Blake
Chris: This one’s a bit darker than other recent issues; of course, there’s plenty of action, but without the almost gleeful Bond-like air we’d seen with the Velcro and Mordillo escapades.  Moench builds on Shang-Chi’s frustration with the deceits and futility of the espionage game, but he’s also raising the stakes.  S-C is accustomed to dealing with trained killers, but the situation is different now, since (as Tarr knows, and takes full advantage) S-C is invested with this group, and his unarticulated feelings for Leiko (concerning these, S-C himself might not have come to a complete understanding) make it even more impossible for S-C to distance himself from this present threat.
Gulacy continues to find ways to top himself.  The sequence on p 2-3, with alternating panels depicting both S-C’s present conversation with Tarr and his earlier one with Sir Denis, emphasizes how preoccupied S-C continues to be by the earlier confrontation.  The technique also allows for a direct contrast, as S-C rejects one argument (Sir Denis’ attempt to convince S-C that the discarded documents were vital to world security) while (seemingly) simultaneously accepting another (as Tarr is able to appeal gradually to S-C’s sense of  duty toward other people).  The overlapping panels on p 15, frankly, have a wild, slightly disorienting effect, as the views of water dripping from a faucet into a glass are superimposed over both a frame of Tarr’s car arriving outside, and a series of vertical slices of the floor of Larner’s flat, as a (presumably) empty bottle rolls toward us and is stopped by Tarr’s shoe.  Not sure what exactly Gulacy was going for there – maybe he wanted to contrast the bare, characterless flat (where the two drunks have become so quiet that you could hear water drip) with the presence of the rainstorm and the powerful car, right outside the window.  On a smaller scale, Leiko’s exit (p 11, last panel), with her fingers clutched to the doorknob as her closed eyes yield a single tear, is elegantly done.

Mark: Returning from Hong Kong with anger in his heart, S-C tries to resign from the now-mistrusted Sir Denis' service, but just like Michael Corleone, every time our peace-loving badass tries to get out, they pull him back in!
A mole inside MI-6 is getting agents killed. Leiko's next on the hit list, barring Shang and Black Jack's timely arrival at her apartment, where she's being grilled by four assailants ("Your face is extremely beautiful, Miss will cover the walls, floor, and ceiling...if you do not talk.") The baddies are taken down, as is the budding romance between Leiko and our hero, when she casually mentions they're in love and P.J. Shang throws up a "I never said..." yield sign.

Gulacy's now inking himself, with stellar results. As Paul and Doug are both hardcore cinephiles, it's not surprising that cashiered-now-called-back-to-service Smith agent Larner is a dead-ringer for (young) Marlon Brando. And if S-C is looking less like Bruce Lee, Clive Reston looking more like Sean Connery (P. 17 in particular), is understandable, given the not-so-subtle hints that Clive's dad is Bond. James Bond. 

Mark: Yes, a raised eyebrow is appropriate over the probability (or lack thereof) of the good guys not merely surviving the bomb blast that wrecks Larner's seedy flat, but emerging from "under the debris" in full fight to rout their attackers, but such resilience is well within acceptable genre limits, both funnybook and super-spy.

We end with S-C pondering his fate, deep within the hall of mirrors maze of international espionage. The reader pondering Leiko's unstated mission, with its "99-percent negative" survival odds, and your humble Prof pondering how long a marginally-selling title of such high quality can endure. 

Matthew:  I think the main question is whether you guys will ever look at this mag the same way again after reading the "Master of Quak Fu" parody in Howard the Duck

Marvel Feature 4
Red Sonja, She-Devil with a Sword in
“Eyes of the Gorgon”
Story by Bruce Jones
Art and Letters by Frank Thorne
Colors by George Roussos
Cover by Frank Thorne

Thirsty for a flagon of wine, Red Sonja rides into a strangely desolate town. When she enters the tavern, it is empty, only a stone statue of a man sitting at the bar. Suddenly, enraged villagers burst in, screaming that Sonja is the gorgon that has been turning people to stone. The She-Devil is soon overcome and the crowd, led by a woman named Delores Garde, takes her to the center of town and hangs her by the neck from a tree. As Sonja painfully struggles in the noose, a cry rings out from a few blocks away: the villagers rush off to find that a young boy has been turned to stone while they have been executing Sonja. Realizing that the Hyrkanian heroine was innocent, they race back only to find the noose empty. Red Sonja awakes in the cave of Unkas, the town’s hulking half-wit, who has saved her from the hanging. A vengeful Sonja returns to the town only to discover that the citizenry is sacrificing a young girl to the gorgon. When the swordswoman faces the terrifying snake-haired creature, she becomes unconscious, awakening in a prison. Unkas appears and lets her out of her cell, showing Sonja the gorgon mask he has been using to terrorize the townsfolk, many of whom are locked in another cell. Delores Garde arrives and reveals that she is Unkas’ sister and that their parents were stoned to death after the birth of their deformed son. For revenge, Garde has been secretly drugging the citizens: when they become paralyzed, Unka exchanges their bodies with the stone likenesses. When Sonja attempts to escape, Unkas' army of rats attacks. But the Hyrkanian kicks Delores into her brother and they tear her apart instead, thinking she is harming their master. The enraged half-wit attempts to kill the She-Devil but he accidentally spills a cauldron of the boiling liquid rock used to make the statues upon himself — he is frozen in stone for all eternity. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Our ultra-hot heroine finds herself back in the horror milieu with another top-notch issue. An ugly brute with a pig’s nose, Unkas first comes across like Lennie from Of Mice and Men, all “You not got snakes for hair, you got shiny hair, pretty!” But during the mayhem at the end, he turns into Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre— but without the actual leather on his face of course. Speaking of a pig’s nose, Thorne draws most people in an unflattering, grotesque manner, with the only attractive characters so far being Delores Garde, the boy toy Dunkin from issue #2 and, of course, the bubba hubba Hyrkanian herself. Delores mentions that she uses the imprisoned townsfolk as slaves but not sure how that happens: there are dozens of them so the captives seriously outnumber the captors. Perhaps Unkas lets them out one by one for household chores like scrubbing toilets and weeding the garden. First time reading this series, but it’s quite obvious why Frank Thorne’s run on Marvel Feature and 1977’s Red Sonja solo mag is held in such high regard. Great stuff.

Matthew:  I believe this was the last of the issues that I (more or less) inexplicably bought back in the day, and ultimately bequeathed to Professor Flynn, knowing he would do a far better job on them than I ever could.  I haven't read them for many years, yet the imagery from this issue was imprinted on my brain, and his recap did an excellent job of conjuring it up.  Great stuff indeed.

Chris: My first thought was that Delores must be a hell of a sculptor, until we get the real explanation, which involves capturing people, forming clay molds of them, then employing wax, plaster, and “liquid rock” to form the “granite copies;” this terribly convoluted idea takes me out of the story, which is too bad, since I find much to enjoy here otherwise, in this tale of a terrorized town.

Thorne’s art is terrifically dynamic, with plenty of action crammed in, and effective close-ups of Sonja’s expressions.  I don’t understand why Thorne’s art for this title is nearly always self-inked; the finished product is too loose for my liking, so I wonder why he isn’t paired with an inker to impose some clarity on the energized layouts.  
Speaking of the art, I can tell you with certainty that I bought this comic strictly because of its cover.  The moment depicted has nothing to do with the interior, except for the appearance of the Gorgon head in the background. Still, I’m sure it took no more than one glance at that chain-mail bikini (ooh la la) for me to add this issue to the handful to be carted home (from the flea market, yet again).  

Marvel Team-Up 45
Spider-Man and Killraven in
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Jean Izzo
Cover by Gil Kane

Spidey is returning from Salem when a storm derails the time platform, causing him to overshoot his own time period and appear in 2019 amid the “War of the Worlds.”  He meets Killraven, leader of the Freemen, and they destroy three Martian tripods, but as they get acquainted, they are overcome with hallucinogenic gas by masked figures on behalf of the Overlords.  In “a deadly double dream,” Killraven and Spidey are menaced by, respectively, an evil version of Volcana Ash and a Green Goblin unmasked as Mary Jane, yet after besting these personal demons, they discover that they have also defeated their real foes, literally in their sleep, and part as friends, with Spidey offering his encouragement as he boards the time platform again. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I missed this (or perhaps passed on it, due to unfamiliarity with Killraven) back in the day, so it’s quite likely that Amazing Adventures had long since been cancelled by the time I actually saw the character.  Even with no expectations, Mantlo’s story seems somewhat disappointing, apparently adding nothing to the K.R. mythos, although I’ll go on record as stating that the jaw-dropper on pages 6-7 (above) makes up for a lot of deficiencies even as it eats up precious space.  So no quarrel with the Buscemosito artwork, but I do have reservations about the 4½-page parallel-dream sequence, which—since it never “happened”—doesn’t really further the plot and, perhaps more important, deprives us of the opportunity for chemistry between the two leads for a full quarter of the story.

Joe: This was my first taste of Killraven back in the 70s, and since Spider-Man was involved, of course I was happy. Reading it so many years later, I'm not sure. Yeah, it's great art, and decent action, and I still liked it, especially the initial meeting where the two heroes knock out the tripods, but somehow the end seems a bit too easy. I buy the hallucinogen that has them seeing their loves as villains. Just not sure about the "oh, wait we beat the bad guys up while we were dreaming". Or the fact that the time machine was hanging out there waiting for Spidey and no Martian mayhem was done to it, or that no kid tried to spray paint it with some graffiti. Maybe I'm just smarter now that I'm 40 years older. Yes, that's it! Note to Prof. Matthew: still a couple of issues of Amazing Adventures left, which is both good and bad.

Matthew: I know, but I never bought any of those, and didn't get this--which was probably my first exposure to the character--until years later.

Chris: Decent story.  The basic premise of a novel Martian-devised manner of torture is consistent with the theme of the ongoing Killraven series.  Once our heroes are gassed, I thought their captors were about to take them Somewhere; one of the gassers crows at how the overlords will be pleased that they’ve captured Killry.  At the end, we see that Webs and Red have hardly left the spot where they were brought down – so, does that mean that the hallucinogenic effect of the gas kicked in sooner than expected? 

I realize that it would be practically impossible to weave this story cleanly into the Killraven continuity, but I have a few minor issues: Killraven mentions the Freemen, but there’s no explanation of how he happened to have been separated from them, or whether he’s concerned about it; Mantlo doesn’t quite get Killry’s manner of speech right – there’s an earnest, almost blustering Asgardian-warrior aspect to it that’s not consistent with his usual presentation.  When I think of Killraven, I recall the moment in Death-Birth (AA #29) as he quietly contemplates how to use the building’s reactors to destroy the structure from within, while furious fighting goes on all around him.  Lastly, how long a conversation can you reasonably have while your sword is flying thru the air toward another person? (answer: apparently, all of page 26.)
Even though the two-page spread no longer is a Marvel staple, it’s well-employed here by Sal + Mike.   

Marvel Two-In-One 15
The Thing and Morbius in
"The Return of the Living Eraser!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Ron Wilson, Arvell Jones, and Dick Giordano
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo

Ben arrives at Alicia’s apartment just in time to save her from Morbius (of whom he knows from MTU #3), and she asks Ben to let him flee, sensing his torment.  Giant-Man’s old foe the Living Eraser appears in the alley below, having returned from Dimension Z, so when Ben intervenes to rescue Morbius’s victim, they are “erased” and materialize in a cell with the overthrown Supremor, his minister Petril, and his daughter Roween.  Freeing them, thus earning Morbius Roween’s affection, our heroes locate the interdimensional transporters in the Eraser’s lab, and travel to Earth to buy time for the Supremor to rally his loyal army; the Eraser’s conquest is thwarted, but a self-loathing Morbius erases himself rather than return with Roween. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I always liked this one (even before acquiring the two prior issues, which set the bar at virtually subterranean levels), giving me a fondness for the Living Eraser not shared by our august Dean on his debut in Astonish #49, and while Mantlo didn’t really have any loose ends to tie up after inheriting Morbius’s ill-fated strip in Fear, I appreciate his efforts to keep the character in play.  The artwork is largely functional; Giordano’s a fine inker, but I don’t think Jones gives him too much to work with, although he rises to the occasion here and there, e.g., the close-up of Morb in page 2, panel 5 (right), and the Eraser’s entrance in page 10, panel 4 (below).  The attraction between Morbius and Roween is, to say the least, sudden, but it enables Bill to highlight Morbius’s innate nobility.

Omega the Unknown 2
"Welcome to Hell's Kitchen!"
Story by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes
Art by Jim Mooney
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Rich Buckler and Al Milgrom

After defeating The Metal Man (last issue), Omega the Unknown is in the process of dispatching the now-lifeless robot when he's zapped by Electro. The super-villain steals away with the robot and Omega sleeps it off. When he awakes, he becomes involved in a brawl with some toughs but, on the bright side, meets an old man known in the area as "Gramps," the closest thing Omega has found to a friend since landing on earth.  In an effort to remain "The Unknown," Omega finds himself some civilian clothes and a job and attempts to fit in with this new society he's become a part of but, this being the Marvel Universe, it's tough to walk the streets without bumping into another hero. When Bruce Banner is taken for a wino and roughed up by some thugs, his heart races, his clothes begin to rip and he... changes, enabling Omega to experience his first MARMIS. Before the fight can get really interesting though, Electro makes a return appearance, zaps Omega again and then carts him away, explaining to the Green Goliath that he needs "The Unknown" to revive the stolen robot. -Peter Enfantino

Who could our mystery villain be?
Galactus? The Rhino? Paste-Pot Pete?
Peter Enfantino: Not a whole heck of a lot to get excited about here. Sloppy, by-the-numbers art by Jim Mooney; a script by Skerber that takes their character absolutely nowhere; and a glorified cameo by The Hulk in a handful of panels. This reads like a series that was in trouble before it even got off the ground, never mind the low numbers that are bound to turn up any day now. I'm in the minority when it comes to Gerber -- a lot of his stuff comes off as pretentious and self-important and that includes a good portion of his legendary Howard run -- but I'll allow that he filled out his characters with believable back story and kept things interesting (if a bit loony) at times. Here, the guy is just cruising, almost not bothering to show up to work. Hard to believe this tripe lasted ten issues. It's hilarious that Electro is kept in the shadows throughout most of the issue, as if daring the reader to guess who the guest villain is. It might have made it a bit more suspenseful, though, if we weren't given a good shot of the lightning bolts on the second-tier baddie's head!

Matthew: In a time-honored ritual, a book at one end of the life-cycle or the other (i.e., struggling either to survive or to establish itself) hosts a superstar in the hope of drumming up sales.  Greenskin is, naturally, among the most frequently utilized in this capacity, but his eleventh-hour arrival on page 23 just makes this feel even more gratuitous than usual, and aside from the admittedly significant developments regarding the status of our protagonists and their supporting cast, the whole thing seems like one big set-up for the tussle with Electro next issue.  The artwork is uninspired even by Mooney’s standards, and Skrenes, who conceived and wrote this with Steve, envisions an encounter with “Sanchez of the mailroom” in an odd lettercol essay.

Luke Cage, Power Man 31
"Over the Years They Murdered the Stars!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Sal Buscema 
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Jean Hipp
Cover by Rich Buckler and Dan Adkins

A deadly canister emits poisonous chemicals into the air while Luke Cage must fight off Piranha Jones, his henchman Cockroach, and mercenaries.  Detective Chase is able to buy Cage enough time for him to pound on the canister with his mighty fists.  Cage's powerful blows cause the chemical components to reform, which causes it to explode.  Luckily, everyone in New York is safe from the poison, but Luke is battered by the explosion and kidnapped by Piranha.  At his penthouse, Piranha threatens to throw Cage into his pool filled with man-eating Piranha but a rejuvenated Power Man beats up on Cockroach, and smashes his special gun to pieces.  Jones tackles Cage into the pool, but Luke knocks him out to win the final battle. -Tom McMillion

Chris: Quick thinking by Cage to agitate the volatile chemicals and cause them to explode, which prevents them from slowly seeping into the atmosphere – either that, or he has succeeded to rapidly propel minute  quantities of the poisonous chemical a greater distance than it might’ve drifted on its own; well, moving on.  The problem with this decisive action is that we’re left with a palpable “now what?” moment, as if Piranha, Cockroach, and Cage had returned from a smoke outside, only to discover that the bridal party, and the DJ, had left already.  

Matthew: A welcome nod to recent faculty festivities?

Chris: As a way to move past the awkward gaffe, and since they’re short of options, Piranha graciously invites the others back to his place for a bite (ouch! sorry), so Doctor Jones can regale his new friends with winsome anecdotes about his steel teeth.  Then, once he shows off the piranha tank that he’d bought from the set of From Russia with Love, we all can begin counting down to the moment when Cage proves that he has nothing to lose but his chains, and he and his host try not to sleep with the fishes (how about that for some mixed allusions!).  

But seriously folks – if Don had used his time more expediently in PM #30, we could’ve seen that issue end with the slam-bang finish of Cage containing the chemical blast, and we all could’ve moved on to something else.  Instead, the climax hits before we’ve reached the end of the first half of this issue, and then there’s not a shred of suspense as we await Cage’s inevitable exit from the Piranha Penthouse.  
It also doesn’t help that Don devotes three pages – yes, three – to The Life and Toil of Quentin Chase, who is yet another paper-thin dullsville cop-caricature.  A whole page each of Chase, as he spins barbs at a patrolman, quizzes D.W., and then – somehow! – tucks his daughter to bed.  What – why? How?  Is Don trying to introduce some contrast between Chase’s pedestrian goings-on and Cage’s life on the razor’s edge?  Well, all that we get are abrupt, distracting switches from one scene to the other; as I said, the sequence at Piranha’s home has no juice as it is, so Don’s tuning away from it doesn’t succeed in whetting my desire for more.  

Skull the Slayer 5
"Magic, Myth and Madness!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Sonny Trinidad
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Rich Buckler and Dan Adkins

With the minions of Slitherogue closing in on them fast, Scully, Merlin, and The Black Knight must think fast. Merlin conjures up a portal that sucks all the creatures in but it leaves him in a bit of a state. Investigating, Scully discovers that the old wizard is nothing more than a construct sent to keep our hero busy while Slitherogue creeps closer. Working with Morgan Le Fay, Slitherogue is wise to Scully's discovery and changes gears. He raises Skull's former teammates (Anne, Jeff, and Corey) from the dead and reminds them that Scully abandoned them to die in Proto-Egypt. Fueled by anger, the trio set out to find and kill their betrayer. Meanwhile, Skull and The Black Knight wander over to Camelot, where they find the court ruled by even more automatons. As they debate the merits of an army of robots, they are attacked by Morgan LeFay and the three charter members of the "I Hate Skull the Slayer" Fan Club (membership soon to grow larger, I assume), riding winged horses and armed with ancient swords. Reasoning with the three is useless so Skull wades into battle. The Knight and Scully prove more than a match for their attackers and LeFay, revealed to be a construct, is destroyed with a blast from the Knight's jousting stick. Skull is left to mend fences with his three traveling companions.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter: When you go from the world's greatest funny book scripter to "Angry Young" Man-tlo in the course of one issue, there's bound to be some erosion of quality but, aside from a few gaffes, I thought Bill did okay. That's in keeping with the writer's newly-discovered maturity on display over at Deadly Hands of Kung Fu where he's transformed the dead-end bilge that was Sons of the Tiger into the intriguing White Tiger arc. Here, Bill manages once again to rein in his anger at a world that's just not fair long enough to remember he's writing about characters stuck in a time pyramid who ride winged horses and wear energy belts. Taking the fascinating threads devised by previous writers Marv and Stainless, Bill advances the plot nicely and manages to script some nice barbs for our characters to throw at one other (when the white-as-snow Ann tells Scully he'll die if he comes near her, our "hero" quips, "You don't mean that, Ann! They never taught killing back in any of your Home-Ec classes!").

I do have one major bone (let's say, the Fibula) to pick with Mr. Mantlo and that would be his choice to effectively undo last issue's jarring death scenes with the resurrection of Ann, Corey, and Jeff. I know these things happen constantly in the MU but that doesn't mean I have to like it. If you're going to raise characters from their grave, at least tinker with the after-effects. The trio show up, battle with Scully a bit, and then seemingly forget they wanted to kill the guy. Why not explore the idea that these three characters might be constructs as well? After battling robots all over this crazy pyramid, that should have been Skull's first thought. New artists Sal Buscema and Sonny Trinidad contribute solid work. As I remarked to my colleague, Professor Matthew,Skull the Slayer is fast becoming that hidden gem no one talks about, a smartly-scripted oddball title that has no business being as good as it is.

On the letters page, some young rabble rouser named Barsotti gives Skull the Slayer #3 an "eight or a nine" and opines that the art (by Steve Gan) was "not great, but above average in these days when Marvel seems to be hiring artists who aren't fit to work for the dump compost heap that spews out the trash they call comics." Wow! Pretty strong words for a fourth-grader. Nice to see Mark hasn't lost that acerbic insight.

The Mighty Thor 247
"The Flame and the Hammer!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

Firelord and Thor, both bewitched by the gypsy's charm, attack the army of Coste Verde, not realizing they represent the wrong side. In Asgard, Odin finds Balder guilty of treason, but the brave one knows something is amiss, and flees to Earth to warn Thor. Meanwhile, Jane Foster hatches her own plan. She overpowers her guard and steals his rifle, firing warning shots and demanding the Thunder God's release.  She challenges the gypsy woman to a deadly fight for the man she loves. Jane wins (with the help of Sif's spirit ) but the rebel soldiers elect to gun her down anyway. Something inside Thor stirs, and he breaks the hypnotic spell. When Jane sees that the gypsy's necklace is the source of her power, she tosses it in the fire. Firelord now sees things clearly,   and the two of them run the rebels out of business,  delivering them to justice via a wind vortex! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: This satisfying tale reaches its conclusion with a decent helping of fun. The background plot of Odin's madness continues, with Balder lacking neither courage nor skill in making his escape. Jane takes a role she wouldn't have been able to without Sif's help in the knife battle against the gypsy. In a way we get the best of both of the ladies.  Thor and Sif sometimes seem to be going through the motions, so take Jane's history and add it in, and you get an intriguing hybrid.

Matthew:  The crazy credits continue in Wein’s tentpole titles, with EIC successor Wolfman billed in this month’s Amazing Spider-Man as Caterer, in Incredible Hulk as Military Advisor, and here as Token Gringo.  Len himself is turning out to be quite a reliable purveyor of Bronze-Age goodness, of which this is an excellent example, bringing an enjoyable two-parter to a satisfying conclusion—with typically to-die-for Buscinnott artwork—and keeping future plotlines percolating away in Asgard even as these are resolved.  Thor and Firelord end up maintaining their traditional frenemies status, while the character of Gypsy gives Big John a chance to show off the pulchritudinous skills he’d honed in Marvel’s late-1960s romance comics.

Chris: Jane signs up for the knife-fight, and my first thought is: “Whoa – she’s finally lost it!”  Nice play by Len to have the mostly-mousy nurse call on Sif’s warrior spirit to see her thru the challenge; this also affords us a welcome variation on the Love-Frees-the-Hypnotized  theme.  I didn’t mind the change of scenery, but I’m glad that the South American Way story could be wrapped up as a two-fer.  

John & Joe have a grand ol time as they smash up several tons of retired US Army material.  I particularly enjoyed the sequence when Firelord crushes the hypnotic gem (p 23), especially his impassive look as he initially reaches into the flames to retrieve it.  Don’t try this at home, kids -!
We’ve grown accustomed to Odin’s sometimes inscrutable decisions, but it’s impossible to see how this recent pattern could possibly have a positive outcome.  Balder must be wondering whether the Asgardian governing charter provides for term limits…

Werewolf by Night 38
"Rebirth Also Kills"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Debra James
Cover by Don Perlin

Coming up to a cabin in the snowy woods, Werewolf is attacked by a pack of wolves (who in turn are being shot at by someone from the cabin), and takes them all out until the sun comes up and he turns back into Jack Russell. Jack awakes inside the cabin and is given coffee by a man called Mack, who tells of the evil Morrison, who's after Mack's baby daughter because Morrison is involved with Mack's ex-wife Maura, who was mistreated by Morrison but they're trying to get custody of the child, so Mack went to the cabin where he and Maura spent their honeymoon to hide out. And these are the Days Of Our Lives….

With sundown approaching, Jack tries to leave before he changes, but Mack smashes him, then Jack hallucinates a cowled figure speaking of "The Three Who Are All" and how they will show Jack how he can "aid the affairs of the world". Jack passes out, then we cut to Raymond Coker in Haiti, where the bespectacled second banana sees Jessala turn into a snake woman who tells him to lead Jericho Drumm to Jack. Now we zip to Malibu, and Buck turns into a Goat Man vision in front of Topaz and Lissa, telling them to stick around and not look for Jack, which they agree to do. Back at the cabin, Jack transforms into Werewolf just as Morrison and his goons throw a gas canister through a window, which annoys the beast enough so he attacks the men savagely, including ripping Morrison to shreds and tossing him off a cliff. The next morning Jack stumbles back to the cabin, where Mack bemoans opening the last baby food jar for his daughter, then Jack hears an otherworldly voice through him, telling him to return. As Coker finally visits Brother Voodoo, Jack and Mack set out in Morrison's car—Jack realizing he never told the man his name, but happy that Werewolf "had done something good for a change."--Joe Tura

Joe: Here we go, a new direction for Spinal Tap! I mean, a "new beginning for the macabre Moon-Beast…Featuring the most unexpected guest star of all!" So screameth the cover of the first of our bonus issues of WWBN, which was supposed to end last time out. And we get, what I realized at second read, a slight knock-off of A Christmas Carol for our troubles. Not to be a Scrooge, but it's a gimmick hidden within what's actually a decent issue. I expect more to come from the "Three Who Are All", which may or may not be a good thing. Seems like supernatural craziness just for the sake of being supernatural and crazy. Still, odd characters notwithstanding, the savage action is pretty good, and drawn well by Perlin. And the Coker saga goes on and on again, like a slow boat to Haiti that needs to find land real soon. Not sure who the unexpected guest star is, unless Doug means Brother Voodoo, which is not a big surprise if you ask me, thusly a big cheat. Tsk tsk!

Chris: As I speak as someone (admittedly, one of the few) who has stuck by this title, I can honestly say that it has been well worth it to continue reading.  Moench’s storytelling-strides this time involve the unexpected (and as yet, tantalizingly unexplained) shifts as the Three Who Are All snap into the frame (their last zap-in, on p 30, truly gave me a start!).  This device also serves (finally) to tie the Coker sub-plot back into the mainstream of the story.  In a way, it’s hard to be completely sure of Mack’s identity – is he the person he appears to be, as he hides out in the forest with his infant daughter; or, is he simply a construct of the Three, to get Jack’s attention and affirm that Jack is capable of accomplishing some greater purpose?  Well, regardless of our understanding of Mack’s presence, Morrison’s grisly death at the Werewolf’s hands is real enough.

Perlin’s art continues to have its moments, typically involving his depiction of our title character (no, I don’t mean Jack – the mag isn’t called “Jack Russell, Kid Werewolf,” is it?  Hmph).  The silhouetted Werewolf is effective (p 22, pnl 6), but the Werewolf’s savage look is one of Don’s best (p 22, pnl 7).  The restrictions of the CCA undoubtedly required Don to reign in the killing of Morrison, and even though the figures are shadowed, we get a sense of how awful it is; I particularly liked the Werewolf’s twisted claw, with blood streaming after it (p 26, pnl 4).  Don’s use of long horizontal panels on p 26 (thereby requiring the reader’s eye to travel quickly from left to right) seems to make the action appear to be happening faster, dontcha think?  Is Perlin taking a page (so to speak) from Starlin and Gulacy -?

Also This Month

Chamber of Chills #22

Crazy #17 >
Kid Colt Outlaw #206
Marvel's Greatest Comics #63
Marvel Classics Comics #5
Marvel Super-Heroes #57
Marvel Tales #67
Marvel Triple Action #29
Rawhide Kid #133
Ringo Kid #27
Sgt Fury #133
Strange Tales #185
Tomb of Darkness #20


The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 24
Cover by Bob Larkin

"The Angry Dragon Kills!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Rudy Nebres

"Tiger, Tiger... Burning Bright --"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Keith Giffen and The Tribe

At last returned to earth from the land of the dead, Iron Fist faces a supremely powerful Dhasha Khan for high stakes: the soul of Jade and the postponement of man's extinction. The final battle takes place atop the World Trade Center and, with the help of the Bowman, Danny manages to defeat the evil Khan and restore Jade's soul. Alas, to save the girl also means to lose her and Danny bids Jade farewell. Later, the Bowman reveals his big secret to Iron Fist: he is, in reality, Sir Lancelot of Camelot.

Iron Fist... the hero with a better ass than his girlfriend.

Oh no!
Here we go again!
After six long chapters (over 100 pages, boys and girls) the Firebird saga comes to a thudding halt, allowing me to breathe and emit a long-contained yawn. To say I'm relieved is an understatement. Before being subjected to a seventh installment of Rudy Nebres' "Guess what this is Supposed to Be!", I'd sooner read The Collected Novels of Danielle Steel; watch the entire six seasons of Hogan's Heroes; listen to the complete catalogue of The Doors... (well, alright, maybe not that last one). Any nuance or clever plot twist Chris Claremont was trying to convey is lost deep inside a whole lot of panels of incomprehensible gobbledygook disguised as art. Having said that, Chris needs to share his load of responsibility as well; I'm not sure I understand what the goal was here. Over a hundred pages of Danny trying to save Jade's soul and hinting there would be a big battle, but when the brawl actually occurs, it's punctuated with a huge MEH!

At the hospital to check on the prognosis of Jack of Hearts (injured during last issue's melee), White Tiger is cornered by the detectives and his sister, Awilda, and asked about the whereabouts of Hector Alaya. Not wanting to cause any more suffering for Awilda, the Tiger unmasks and reveals himself to be Hector Alaya. Rather than cause more tension, this seems to alleviate stress... at least from the point of view of the police; Awilda is another matter. Suddenly, a ruckus breaks out in the OR: Jack of Hearts is beginning to explode! It seems Jack needs to keep his uniform on or risk going nova. The Tiger quickly assesses the situation and redresses Jack. Meanwhile, in Africa, Abe Brown awakens to find himself in a precarious position. The attache he had been tricked into taking on board the downed jumbo jet contains a superhero uniform and the Moslems expect he and The Mole, one of the thugs who hijacked the plane, to duke it out for possession of the tights. Unfortunately, The Mole has a pistol and he knows how to use it. At the same time, Lin Sun and Lotus get word about Abe's plane and attempt to contact Bob Diamond so they may join forces to search for their fellow ex-Tiger. Alas, Bob has been buried under an avalanche on a film set. Just as The White Tiger zips up Jack's trousers and buttons his cuffs, a band of super-powered ninja assassins busts the door down and grabs Awilda. They tell the Tiger she will be returned unharmed when Jack of Hearts is surrendered to them. Decisions, decisions.

Another fun installment of an overlooked gem, "Tiger... Tiger..." can not be accused of lapsing into exposition at any time during its 18-page length. If anything, there may be a little too much action packed into this one chapter. It's a tad busy but, hell, I'll take that over the tripe that opened the issue. Bill only falls back on his "Angry Young Man"-tlo alter ego a couple of times (such as when Awilda launches a stilted diatribe about what's expected from the average Puerto Rican youth: "Puerto Ricans are supposed to be janitors, Hector! Cab drivers! Delivery boys! No risks! No problems! They stay alive! Like our father! They don't go out and become super-heroes!") so my eye-rolling was kept to a minimum. Bill seems to be concentrating on cooking up a good story rather than stumping for better wages for migrant farm workers... most of the time... but you still get the feeling he runs right past Tomorrowland and hops on board the "Small World" boat any time he's in Anaheim. The Abe Brown section of the serial is still the most compelling and the intrigue is ratcheted up to ten before we're left hanging. And we'll be left hanging until #26 thanks to a deadline snafu that sees filler stories inserted next issue. -Peter Enfantino

Planet of the Apes 20
Cover by Michael McN

"Society of the Psychedrome"

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Sutton

"Army of Slaves"

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Chapter Five
Story Adapted by Doug Moench
Art by Alfredo Alcala

The worst news of the month appears when we skip ahead to the letters page, "We Heard It Through The Ape Vine", where we learn the following: "Due to conflicting commitments, Mike Ploog is no longer able to illustrate the adventures of Jason and Alexander, and we are as dismayed about this as any ape fan. However, there is a bit of good news tied up with the bad, in that Tom Sutton is now the regularly-scheduled artist for that feature. And we're glad to have him!" 
Well, I guess Sutton is a decent fallback, but Ploog made this story his own, illustrating mutants, apes, and humans alike as only he could, bringing larger-than-life characters like Gunpowder Julius, Steely Dan, and the Lawgiver to the page brilliantly. According to an interview in 1998's Comic Book Artist #2, Ploog said he "got a big kick" out of drawing for POTA, and "Doug Moench is a brilliant writer", but ultimately "the material started getting weak." Sigh….But there's still a tale to be told, so enough of my yakkin', let's get to the summarizing.

Michael McN's war-like cover, which really has nothing to do with the insides, gets us right into the chaos of the Sutton chapter of Terror, as Alexander is grabbed by a winged monkey-demon, with Brutus firing upon the city, Lightsmith getting brainwashed, and Malagueña and Gilbert desperate to help. Jason fires a machine gun to free Alexander, who falls to a lower ramp, fights off more flying fiends and is saved by an angry Jason, who also falls, yet manages to save himself and take down even more demons. Then the two friends are drawn towards the center of the Psychedrome, where Lightsmith lies weak and defeated, with a strange caped figure proclaiming his "indoctrination complete". Meantime, Malagueña and Gilbert head towards a tunnel, but Brutus spots them and fires a cannon that sends them falling and demolishes the city of the cliff-dwellers. Assisimians leader Maguanus stupidly yells at Brutus for his lies (the general promised to let him kill Lightsmith) and gets a rifle butt in the kisser for his troubles. 

Jason and Alexander enter the chamber and meet a mysterious caped figure with long eyeballs coming from his hood, and he takes them to Lightsmith via a sleek shuttlecraft, explaining the Psychedrome allows for upside-down walking and water due to a crash that affected the gravity inside (Huh???). Quick cut to Ape City, and the Lawgiver is having a heart attack! Back to Brutus, who gets no info about Jason from Malagueña, but heads off to the other side of the mountain in hot pursuit. Lightsmith vows to tell the tale of his brainwashwers, reciting a litany of what it is to be "a good person", and is suddenly nabbed by Jason and Alexander. But as they find a "snaker-railer" to escape, the creepy "Eyeballs" (as they have dubbed their so-called guide) and a myriad of monkey-demons halt their progress until a pained Jason wrenches free from Eyeballs and the trio manage to start the rail car and head off. But Brutus has entered a tunnel that leads to a cadre of missiles, which he greedily vows to use to destroy every last human on Earth, unaware dozens of monkey-demons are watching him—and there's a certain railcar careening towards him fast!

Tom Sutton is an interesting choice to replace the Mighty Mike Ploog, and with the unorthodox layouts and crazy goings-on and nasty mood of the script, it sorta works. The tale is almost more suited for him instead of Ploog due to the insanity, which leaves me totally clueless as to where this is going, more so than ever. I kind of remember this chapter, but not much that followed, so the last 6 issues will be a discovery of sorts for me. But first we are treated to Part 1 of an article about the SFX of the saga, which I skipped over quite fast. Probably faster than 40 years ago.

But that's good, so we can get on to Part V of the Conquest adaptation, again featuring very good art by Alfredo Alcala. Caesar reveals himself to MacDonald and talks of rebellion to gain the apes' freedom. The aide lets Caesar go, but he's captured and sent to electroshock therapy in an attempt to get him to talk, eventually saying "Have…pity…" An angry MacDonald walks out on an amazed and pleased Gov. Brent due to the barbaric tactics, but goes to shut off the circuits, just as Caesar is electrocuted and thought dead. But the chimpanzee awakes, slips out after killing the man at the dials and frees the captive apes, kicking off a rollicking riot that has the Governor calling to end it by any means necessary and setting us up for next month's "seething conclusion"! That's what I'm talkin' about!