Wednesday, February 24, 2016

October 1977 Part Two: What If The Winter Soldier Became Captain America?

Kull the Destroyer 23 “Demon Shade”
October 1977
Story by Don Glut
Art by Ernie Chan and Yong Montano
Letters by Warren Greenwood
Cover by Ernie Chan and Rudy Nebres

Kull and Laralei ride after the huge condor carrying Ridondo away: the bird appears smaller and smaller as it escapes to the far horizon. Realizing that they will never catch up, the fallen Valusian king and the amnesiac swordswoman stop to rest. After a few moments they embrace and kiss, but the woman pulls away — while she has no memories of her former life, she still remembers her vow never to love a warrior. Suddenly, a grotesque hunchback named Nor-Atz appears, dumbstruck by Laralei’s beauty. When Kull asks the ogre if he knows where the condor roosts, the deformed brute says that his master, the wizard Morgara might know, but he is not home. After leading them to the sorcerer’s hut, Nor-Atz offers the Atlantean and his comely companion some wine. Kull is cautious but tastes the offering. It seems to be fine, even delicious, but when Laralei takes a sip she instantly falls into a death-like coma. The cackling hunchback informs the barbarian that the poison only works on females and that the cure lies within a flower growing in the shadow of a large rock that resembles a demon. Kull races off, quickly finding the antidote. But when he plucks the blossom, the monstrous, black shadow comes to life. The former monarch’s deadly battle ax has no effect on the sinister shade, harmlessly slicing through dark air. The powerful demon shadow grips the warrior’s wrist and easily lifts him off the ground — Kull gasps, feeling his life draining away. Back at Morgara’s hut, Laralei awakes. Nor-Atz proudly proclaims that he has sent her friend on a fool’s errand. Plus, he murdered his master Morgara and has all potions he needs to make the woman fall in love with him. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: My frustration over ho-hum stories like this mirrors how I feel about the Dreaded Deadline Doom delays of the assault on Luxor in Conan the Barbarian. Isn’t Kull supposed to be raising an army to take back the crown of Valusia from Thulsa Doom? But issue after issue we pussyfoot around, as our hero gets sidetracked into one lackluster “adventure” after another. In fact, I can’t remember the last time that Kull even mentioned his quest. While she certainly is easy on the eyes, Laralei is totally bland: one can only hope that the whole amnesia thing has a decent payoff. The art is serviceable at best, somehow managing to be sloppy and static at the same time. The shadow demon is pretty cool though — however, he looks much better on the cover, resembling the big shaggy nightmare at the end of the 1957 flick Curse of the Demon. I did find one interesting thing to report. When Robert E. Howard’s original Kull stories were reprinted in Finland, the character’s name was changed to “Kall.” Why? In Finnish, kull means penis. Which is just what this totally generic and uninspiring series is trying to stick up my bunghole on a bi-monthly basis.

Jungle Tales of Tarzan Annual 1
"Tarzan's First Love"
"The End of Bukawai"
Stories by Roy Thomas
Adapted from the Stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Art by John Buscema and Steve Gan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema

“Tarzan’s First Love” is Teeka, a simian former playmate he begins to see in a new light, especially when another young male, Taug, tries to put the moves on her, and a fight ensues.  While egging them on, she is menaced by Sheeta, the panther, from whom only Tarzan is brave enough to protect her; seemingly in like Professor Flynn, he returns from hunting to find her cozied up to Taug and, heartbroken, goes off on his own.  Tarzan sees Gomangani from the tribe of Mbonga building a large cage, into which Taug stumbles, yet while reporting news of his rival’s downfall, he puts his arm around Teeka, and the incongruity between his pale arm and her dark coat brings home the difference between them, so he frees Taug, telling him to go to Teeka.

“The End of Bukawai” hinges on his recollection of a boyhood incident in which the newfound pleasure of swinging on his grass rope—with which he often taunted his foster father, Tublat—suddenly ended when the rope broke, frayed from frequent use.  Years later, Bukawai, a leprous witch-doctor who lives in a cave north of Mbonga’s village and wants revenge on Tarzan for past encounters, is astonished to find his greatest enemy unconscious after lightning topples the tree in which he is taking refuge from a storm.  Bukawai binds Tarzan with his own rope to be devoured by the witch-doctor’s “four-legged servitors,” two hyenas that have long waited to turn on their master, but Tarzan uses friction to free himself and condemns Bukawai to the same fate. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: The only inking credit on the series for Gan—yet another Conan veteran—this is based on the first and seventh of the Jungle Tales of Tarzan, a dozen stories of his youth that first appeared on a monthly basis in Blue Book magazine before being collected in 1919 as the sixth volume in the series.  For my fellow bibliophiles, they take place between the deaths of Tublat and Kerchak in Tarzan of the Apes (from which magpie Roy lifts the description of the amphitheatre where the apes gathered for their Dum-Dum rituals, and Tarzan recalls his youth in the framing sequence).  Marvel would adapt five more, out of sequence and seemingly at random, through issue #14, both interrupting and following their adaptation of the fifth book, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar.

This annual can be seen as the first half of the ape-man’s Marvel run in microcosm: Big John’s art is superb, with Gan doing justice to both the action and the subtleties of Tarzan’s expressions, while Roy adapts ERB with slavish fidelity.  Tarzan later risks his life to save Teeka and Taug’s baby, Gazan, from Sheeta in the third story, “The Fight for the Balu.”  Gorgeously illustrated on the cover of my Ballantine paperback, “Bukawai” follows “Tarzan and the Black Boy,” in which the lonely young ape-man forcibly “adopts” Tibo as his own balu, and “The Witch-Doctor Seeks Vengeance,” as Bukawai—abruptly told his services will not be needed after Tibo is voluntarily returned to his mother, Momaya—kidnaps the boy in a failed ransom bid and is foiled by Tarzan.

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 5
"La Seeks Vengeance"
Story by Roy Thomas
Based on the Novel, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by John Buscema and Pablo Marcos

Werper stays his hand and flees into the jungle, fearing Tarzan’s wrath if his first blow does not succeed, and when Tarzan wakes to find his “pretty stones” gone, he is consumed with thoughts of revenge, as is Mugambi, who slowly heals as he trails the kidnapped Lady Jane.  A returning Werper reports Tarzan dead, so with ransom no longer an issue, he is ordered to take her north to the slave markets, but as he gloats over the jewels, he sees Achmet Zek—reflected in his shaving mirror—spying on him, and slips out of the camp that night.  As the raiders race after Werper, Mugambi enters the camp to find Jane’s tent empty; meanwhile, following an encounter with a pride of lions and Buto, the rhino, a sleeping Tarzan is apprehended by La’s simian allies. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The first lettercol confirms that Roy and John “had purposely done something a bit different both from the usual ‘Marvel-type’ book and from what had been done before with Tarzan.  They employed a sort of leisurely pacing, striving to develop the feel of the strip and the character…, rather than trying to squeeze as many rescues, fights, animals, and baddies into each month’s offering.  Also, since John B. himself inked the first 2½ issues, we were interested in the reaction of Marveldom Assembled to his own art, which relies more upon good drawing than a lot of drawing.”  If I were pressed to find fault with the artwork so far, regardless of inker, it would be a Jansonian blotchiness on the occasional face (although I see no obvious examples in this issue).

The fact that the ERB titles are outside the Marvel Universe makes it easier to accept a different kind of storytelling here, which as I’ve said right from the outset lends itself beautifully to the material, although ironically, Burroughs himself often used extremely frenetic pacing.  The art is, frankly, magnificent, with the obligatory full-page shots of Tarzan in battle making me wonder if the luminaries who drew his long-running newspaper strip (e.g., Hal Foster, Burne Hogarth, Russ Manning) longed for the luxury of such a large canvas.  Again, the “freely adapted” credit seems like the merest formality; as I read the comics, I can “hear” the novel in my head, and placing the issues side by side with TATJOO to confirm their fidelity constitutes just as much of a formality.

The X-Men 107
"Where No X-Man Has Gone Before!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum and Dan Green
Colors by Andy Yanchus
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum

The X-Men have arrived at the far side of a star-gate, and face a full complement of Imperial Guard, who protect those who hold Lilandra captive.  Gladiator, praetor of the Guard, refuses to yield up a traitor to the Empire, and the battle begins.  Lilandra’s brother, the emperor D’Ken, threatens to have her killed by a being called the Soul-Drinker.  Nightcrawler, ever eager to assist a damsel in distress, bamfs to her position, and frees the princess by teleporting her away from harm; Nightcrawler never before had attempted to ‘port with a second person in hand, and realizes that the strain nearly killed them both.  Scott demands to know why the X-Men are here, and what they are fighting for.  Lilandra explains how D’Ken discovered an ancient source of power, “the deadliest weapon in history,” which he decided to take for himself; the power could be obtained at a moment, once in one million years, when nine “death-stars “ achieve proper alignment.  Lilandra opposed D’Ken’s plans, then escaped arrest and fled toward Earth (a planet known to her people as a “crossroads of half the starfaring races in the Milky Way”).  As she raced toward the possibility of safety, Lilandra connected with the mind of Charles Xavier, and felt she had “found a missing piece of my soul.”  Once aware of Lilandra’s likely destination, D’Ken alerted his earthbound agent, Davan Shakari, who adopted the role of Eric the Red and began his crusade to destroy Xavier and the X-Men.  The battle is winding down, but before Gladiator can secure his grasp of the princess, he’s blasted back, as the Starjammers sail into the fray; the X-Men rally with the new support, and defeat the Imperials.  As Scott speaks with Corsair, the Starjammers’ leader, Jean – who notes Corsair’s use of American lingo, and fears he might not be what he seems to be – runs a brief mind-scan, and makes a surprising discovery.  All further conversation halts, though, as D’Ken crows that the moment of celestial alignment has arrived.  Blue-white light pours from the stars, and collects in a crystal on the planet’s surface; the crystal pulses, and bursts, as reality blinks away for a second.  Back in the Sol system, Prof Corbeau places a frantic call to Reed Richards; they both had noted the brief disappearance of reality, and Corbeau is convinced that – if these blinks should continue – “the fabric of time and space will tear itself apart.” -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: Finally – finally, finally! After months and months of clues, teasers, and snippets of story, Claremont finally reveals the matter behind Lilandra's flight, her connection to Xavier, and the seeming return of Eric the Red.  In order to provide all this sought-for information, Claremont has to hold Scott and Lilandra on the sidelines; the battle with the Guard continues, seemingly happening all around the two of them, but we have to allow artistic license in the interest of discovering these long-withheld answers.  So, now that so many of these questions have been addressed, of course Claremont decides to toss out a few new ones: Jean isn't the only one to notice that the fantastical creatures they're fighting with, and fighting against, all are speaking English – Jean, though, is the only one to discover why this is happening, but there's no time for her to tell us about it!; because, we now have this celestially-powered gem that could wipe out all of reality.  There's not really a manual, or something, that informs us how to turn it off – so, that might pose a challenge for our team, right? 

Speaking of finality, this will be the last appearance of Dave Cockrum in these pages for the next several years; Cockrum doesn't return as penciller until XM #145 (May 1981 pub date).  Cockrum, as we know, has been a pivotal part of the resurgence of this title, ever since the arrival of the new X-Men in the priceless G-S X-M #1; not only did he design the look of some of the new characters, but he brought dynamism and excitement to these pages that hadn’t been glimpsed since the days of Adams + Palmer.  Dave doesn’t pass up his last chance to dazzle us, as we have not one, but four full-page illustrations, including: the gate-crashing, tide-turning Starjammers – who, by the way, also are charging forth from the upper-right hand corner of the cover (p 26); a double-page spread, featuring no fewer than fifteen heretofore unseen members of the Imperial Guard, as Cockrum indulges his penchant for character-design (p 2-3); and, an iconic splash page that will feature in X-promotions for years to come (suitable for framing – but no, don’t cut it out!!).  

Green does his typical so-so job on the inks; he doesn’t flub the big moments (ie, the full-pages I just mentioned), but he sometimes loses track of the fine details in the course of the issue-long battle.  It’s a shame that Bob Layton, who had done such a fine job with Cockrum’s pencils on XM #105 (and who should’ve been available, since he no longer is the in-house inker for the Champions), hadn’t been called on to polish-up Dave’s bow-out with this title (for now, at least).  

Matthew: This is Cockrum’s last pre-Byrne issue (he also worked on the fill-in for #110, and starts a second TOD in #145, just outside this blog’s purview), but while not knocking it by any means, I’ve been trying to put my finger on why it left me unsatisfied.  It finally came to me that with all of its full- and double-page spreads, it looks as though some bizarre cross-pollination has produced a Claremont/Kirby X-Men; by the time the Starjammers finally enter on page 26, we’ve had so many colorful but superficial Legion of Super-Heroes clones thrown at us—with Green doing an only average job this time out—we’re suffering from spectacle-fatigue.  Clearly, many far-reaching plot points are sprinkled among them…albeit in danger of getting lost in the shuffle.

What If? 5
"What If... Captain America and Bucky
Had Both Survived World War II?"
Story by Don Glut and Roy Thomas
Art by George Tuska and Russ Jones
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Carol Lay, and Warren Greenwood
Cover by Rick Hoberg and Joe Sinnott

After a quick recap of the famous Captain America & Bucky plane explosion and Cap being discovered by the Avengers, The Watcher treats us to a story from a parallel world, where the motorcycle was a little faster, and Cap made the plane, disarming the bomb and landing safely in the ocean. Baron Zemo makes it to a French medieval castle, where the Red Skull awaits, and blasts the failure Zemo with an experimental weapon that will put him to sleep for "20 or 30 years," then Skull blasts off, leaving his henchman behind to be defeated by Cap and Bucky, who join with Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos to help close out WWII. Ten years later, during the Cold War, Cap and "Buck" (having outgrown "Bucky") fight Russian spies, learn Nick Fury was killed in Korea, not having seen a grenade thrown to the side of his bad eye, then head into the 1960s still battling evil. One day, with Buck in semi-retirement, Cap is called by the White House, where President Johnson shows him a pic of Hydra, asking Steve Rogers to run SHIELD, but he declines, instead recommending Buck for the job.

Buck, Dum Dum Dugan and SHIELD wage a war against Hydra, but are unable to bag the elusive Supreme Hydra. Several years later, Cap and Buck are together when the Hulk attacks (see Captain America #110), and after Cap is knocked out, Buck grabs his shield and saves Rick Jones from being crushed. Then he dons the famous costume, reluctantly telling Steve he's getting older and slowing down. So Buck becomes the new Captain America, with Rick his new sidekick, and Steve takes over as the Director of SHIELD, realising it's a job "better suited to a man my age." On a mission to the main Hydra base, hidden in a volcano, he's joined by Cap and girlfriend Agent 13, aka Sharon Carter, along with Rick. They get inside and go undercover as Hydra agents, but the green goons notice Sharon's curves and the battle ensues! The tide turns quickly and our four heroes are captured by Supreme Hydra, who Steve recognizes as…Baron Zemo! After 20 years, the hooded heavy has returned, and is shocked when he unmasks Cap, and it's not the one he remembers! Steve busts out of his bonds just in time to stop Zemo from killing Cap, then frees his companions. Zemo fires towards Cap, then finally recognizes Steve and the true Captain America, running away, but Steve throws the shield that was originally his, setting off an explosion that douses Zemo with artificial magma, melting him but good. Our heroes escape, but it turns out Buck did get hit with Zemo's blaster, and he dies in front of his mentor. At the funeral, an upset Sharon blames Steve for her lover's death, which months later still has Steve pondering whether Nick Fury would have been better as SHIELD director. When he visits a private SHIELD museum devoted to Captain America, Steve is met by Rick in costume, who asks if maybe one day he can become the next star-spangled hero, and we are left to ponder if this world will see a third Cap.—Joe Tura

Joe: "Bucky Lives! The Cap story your letters demanded!" Well, there's that…This story presents the "other side of the coin" from last ish, according to the editor's note on page 1 where the Invaders stuck around with a new Cap and Bucky. Here, the original Cap and Bucky stick around, with another destiny awaiting the heroes. And in typical early What If? fashion, it's a tragic ending, with plenty of fatality throughout. It's a fun issue that gives the reader plenty of closure, with a script by Glut that has co-plotter and editor Roy's hands all over it, natch. The art is fine, with some trademark Tuska action and close-ups where bodies disappear under explosive bursts. One odd detail is that The Watcher gets a nice body-builder pose in the last panel of the last page, with incredible muscles the Hulk would be envious of.

There's a lot of philosophical talk here, about the effects of aging on superheroes, a topic not exactly tackled often in the mid-70s. Bucky becomes "Buck" Barnes when he outgrows the younger moniker, then assumes a role of maturity as the director of SHIELD. But it's a role he rightly switches with the older Steve, who at first resists, saying "The super-soldier serum has retarded my aging enough to give me another good ten years or so!" Later, he realizes the Director job fits him well, but again the aging issue comes up in the confrontation with Zemo. The older villain goes back to his past, having lost 20 years thanks to the rotten Red Skull, and is taken down when he realizes his old enemy doesn't need a costume to defeat him. Even Sharon brings up age at Buck's funeral, blaming Steve for taking a child into battle, setting him on a path that led to him donning the mask, and eventually becoming "another casualty of war." Having aged nearly 40 years since this issue came out, I can now look at a funny book like this one and actually come up with a more mature reading of it. Hooray for me!

Matthew:  This is What If? at its worst, from its woebegone Tuska/Jones artwork and pages of maudlin pontificating to its conveniently selective parallels with our reality and relentless typos (e.g., “ice flow,” “Frisby,” “indestructable”).  How about Zemo’s “Oophf!”  Remind me, is it the “ph” or the “f” that’s silent there?  Poor Zemo, living in the shadow of “Hitler’s favorite, the Red Skull”—Mom always liked you best!  I’m dying to know how he has a fully functioning mouth in his Supreme Hydra mask with his entire face covered up by the Zemo hood underneath, which somehow doesn’t show through.  Good luck keeping straight the musical-chairs identities:  Cap is now Nick, and “Buck” is Cap, and Rick is Buck, and Zemo is the Supreme Hydra, and…ofah.

Mark Barsotti: Never heard of writer "Don Glut," but I suspect that's a pseudonym for young Bill O'Reilly, since this What If-isode might well be titled, "Killing Bucky...Again."

The plot gyrations in this Watcher-narrated slice of mutated Marvel U are abundant, if narrowly focused. Having both survived Zemo's WWII booby-trapped drone, our star-spangled duo lasts until the mid-'60's before Buck, no longer able to stomach his sidekick casting, retires to become head of SHIELD, in place of killed in Korea Nick Fury. But after BB saves Rick Jones from the Hulk's over-zealous brand of urban renewal (riffing on Steranko's classic Cap #110), when CA fails to do so, he talks aging Mr. Rogers into the ole switcheroo: Steve takes over SHIELD, while Buck dons the colors, with Rick Jones signing on as jr. partner. 

Then the thought-dead-but-not-dead Baron Z, here head of Hydra (wearing two masks...for the two limbs that grow back?), plots to kill Cap (really Bucky), causing Rogers (really Cap) to again fling the shield and, in turn, Zemo to "BA-BLOOOM!" yield.

Oh, and Bucky dies again. 

And since in this world it was Mr. Barnes (as Cap) who was playing hide the flagpole with Sharon Carter, she now hates Steve Rogers.

Solid, downbeat late-Seventies entertainment, that plays better then the mechanical sounding summary would suggest. And the oft-maligned George Tuska does good handyman work on the art here, mostly keeping his taste for toothsome excess in check. 

Ironic that, considering, you know...

The Mighty Thor 264
"Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Walt Simonson and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Walt Simonson and Joe Sinnott

Thor and friends have no sooner brought a tired Odin home to rest than they have a new problem: Loki has taken over the throne in his father's absence. He brings forth a sacred scroll wherein Odin says the first of his sons to grab the throne in his absence shall rule it until he is able, if ever, to reclaim it.  It's a sham, but it fools the tired Asgardians for the moment. When they depart, Loki assigns the job of seeing that Odin doesn't open his eyes to the Enchantress and Executioner, who remove the casket from its resting places and take it... somewhere. The Warriors Three are to watch over Odin while Thor, Sif and the Recorder venture to Nornheim, thinking the missing Balder the Brave to be there with Karnilla. They find her, but no brave one at her side. She thinks Balder had stayed in Asgard, but as this is not the case, Thor realizes Loki was lying to him, and he heads back to the Golden Realm. Meanwhile, Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg find Odin is gone, and run into guess who -- E and E. Before they can wrest the All-Father's new whereabouts from the two villains, a rather comedic battle finds the two evils plummeting down one of the fire-pits to seeming doom! Balder is, in fact, chained in one of the dungeons beneath Asgard, and too weak (after days of no food or water) to resist when guards come to carry him off. The Thunder God returns and demands his friend's location from the Prince of Evil, whose response is to disappear, as the pounding footfalls that approach the throne room make their master's presence known... the presence of the Destroyer! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Well you sure know you've got enemies when every time you go to sleep someone's out to ruin your life, as in Odin, and Loki (or the Destroyer, or Mangog...). Some interesting things here we haven't seen before in Asgard (or at least not that I can recall): the troll-built fire generators and the dungeons where Balder is kept captive. Now the obvious question at issue's end when the Destroyer bursts into the throne room is, who's inside? The timing of Balder's whereabouts would indicate it's him, which would be even more of a problem than usual (like Sif giving the mighty shell life back in issue #151). It's always a pleasure to visit Karnilla's realm, Nornheim, complete with a few Storm Giants to toss along the way. I've got to say, I don't quite buy Loki having enough magic up his sleeve to make  the Norn queen forget what happened to Balder, or that she and the Enchantress would be powerless before him (Loki). The fall of the Enchantress and the Executioner into the fire-pit seems too tidy, even in the short term. You know they'll be back pretty quick. I wouldn't want to be Thor right now!

Matthew: DeZuniga appears to have rendered the artwork with a smeary black crayon and then passed it off to the bewildered colorist; poor Walt.  Loki’s latest scheme seems a little sketchy to me:  he suddenly whips out this forged document that nobody has ever seen before (hello, Vizier?), and even knowing that this guy is the Prince of Lies—who, by the way, Len, is Thor’s adoptive or foster brother, not his half-brother—“all Asgard” just accepts this at face value?  Oh, wait, he “cast a spell of forgetfulness upon them…”  Tell me again why he didn’t do that the last 37 times he tried to seize power?  Because I, uh, forget!  Isn’t it fortunate for him that Thor toddles off to Nornheim without checking on Odin first?  And can a robot even get saddle sores?

Chris: Useful issue, as we’re informed how Loki was able to manipulate his way to the throne.  At the same time, we’re as much in the dark as Thor about the fate of Balder; by the end, we now can ask ourselves where the Executioner and the Enchantress might’ve stashed the slumbering Odin.   Mysteries within mysteries!  Good call by Loki to bamf himself away as the Destroyer crashes thru (damnit man – haven’t you ever heard of a door knob?!).  So, the intrigue of this issue should give way to a resumption of our usual action-packed pace next issue.  

I’m also hopeful, next time, that we’ll see more of Simonson’s art in evidence; there were very few moments here when I could discern traces of Simonson’s hand under DeZuniga’s weighty finishes.  I will say that I like the cragginess DeZuniga brings to Loki’s face at times, such as p 30 pnl 3, as Loki’s ugliness contributes to our sense of him as scheming, and evil.

The Mighty Thor Annual 6
"Thunder in the 31st Century!"
Story by Len Wein and Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colours by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

When our friendly neighbourhood Thunder God stops a group of terrorists brandishing a false nuclear bomb threat, he is intercepted by a "time-probe" ray that stops him briefly in a laboratory where his abductor threatens violence before dashing him off to deep space--where even an Asgardian can, and does, proceed to freeze. Thor is rescued by a colourful group of benefactors known as the Guardians of the Galaxy, the "Avengers of the 31st century," who stumble across our hero floating through space when they are investigating a force beam of immense power. The source of the beam is also where Thor's enemy resides. Korvac is his name, a human/computer hybrid working for the bacon race, surrounded by five minions who share his desire for power. When his eventual exhaustion displeased his new masters, he was essentially grafted to his equipment, becoming a living computer. His newfound state gave him more power than the Badoon intended; he freed himself from their enslavement. A flurry of circumstances found Korvac on an empty planetoid he has transformed with his new powers into his current base, where he hand-picked his henchmen, other undesirables. The plan: use his probing beam, a power-siphon, to cause our sun, Sol, to nova, so that he may absorb its massive energies. Thor and the Guardians trace the beam, in the latter's Freedom's Lady craft, and transport themselves onto the surface of Korvac's planetoid; beautiful, despite its evil intent. Soon confronted by Korvac and his motley crew, the battle match shapes up nicely. Thor and Starhawk take on the boss, while the other Guardians face off with the henchmen. The others eventually realize switching foes is the key to their victory.  Korvac is more powerful and forces Thor and Starhawk to fight each other.  The carnage of the battle damages Korvac's equipment and he decides to escape for parts unknown. Battle won, the Guardians send Thor back to the present, to meet another day.  -Jim Barwise

Jim: Len Wein pulls off another entertaining story that perhaps didn't need to happen but but was sure fun while it did. And Sal Buscema is always a  welcome artist. The Guardians, like the Defenders  (who they teamed with not long ago ) change personnel over time. This bunch is well-balanced and as equally odd as their Korvacian counterparts. Dumog is a dead ringer for the larger Sporr back in Thor issues 256-7. An annual always gives a little more background on what's going on and allows for some extra scenes  (like the messed-up activists-turned-terrorists at the beginning). Nice cover to boot.

Matthew: The good news:  my Guardians are reunited with their finest visual interpreter, Buscema.  The bad news:  Janson’s back, too, but since this is co-plotted by scripter Stern and editor Wein, who’d been writing their and Thor’s own respective strips, its credentials are clearly in order.  I don’t swoon retroactively, as some may, over Korvac, who for the record has brought Grott the Manslayer and most of his other minions along from his debut in Giant-Size Defenders #3 (which Len also co-plotted).  Regarding the story itself, in Mrs. Professor Matthew’s famous phrase, “It was fine,” utilizing the Guardians well—and augmenting their mythos with the advent of the Freedom’s Lady—although I wish it had been paced to allow them more of the spotlight…

Chris: Clever idea by Len & Roger to take an afterthought figure from G-S Defenders #3 and develop him into a full-scale villain. This annual provides some of the factors that make Korvac “Korvac” (if you know what I mean), including a bit of an origin story, as it provides a springboard to the Korvac Saga (so called), coming soon to pages of the Avengers.  

This issue also keeps the Guardians in the conversation; as their strip ran out of fusion power a few months ago, I’m sure fans would’ve been left wondering where or when this still-developing team might be utilized again.  The writers nimbly incorporate the Guardians into the story, as each member has an opportunity to display his/her abilities and personality, so that first-timers might meet and appreciate the self-appointed galaxy-defenders.  The switcheroo tactic, as the Guardians change-up their opponents, is a reliable and consistently satisfying device to secure the victory (p 39, 42).  
In terms of the creative staff, the issue demonstrates a preference I have for annuals, in that we have some continuity with Len as co-plotter, but also a first-time Thor scripter in Roger.  We also have a returning art-team (albeit, with only one previous credit, in #240) in Sal + Klaus; as much as I enjoy Walt Simonson, annuals provide an opportunity (in a non-fill-in setting) to provide us some variation.

There’s plenty of action throughout, and while the finished result is a bit loose at times, it doesn’t impair my enjoyment of the high-spirited proceedings.  I wouldn’t have expected Starhawk to be able to hold his own in a slugfest with Thor (although, Starhawk would already have known, right?); we have another nice reversal as the two amp up the intensity in the hope of wrecking Castle Korvac (p 43, 44) – it works!  Sal + Klaus provide plenty of snarly-faced panels of Korvac (p 23 pnl 1 and p 36 pnl 2 outsnarl the rest), and the undoing of Grott with Nikki’s perfectly-placed blaster shot (p 42, last pnl) is a highlight.

Extra credit to all involved for p 18, as Len + Roger draw a parallel between Captain America’s rescue and thawing-out by the fledgling Avengers (in landmark issue #4!), and the Guardians’ similar situation with Thor.  Vance needs only a moment to wrack his thousand year-old brain, until he identifies our resident thunder god, who confirms Vance’s announcement with a weary “aye …’tis…true.”

Super-Villain Team-Up 14
Dr. Doom and Magneto in
"A World for the Winning!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Bob Hall, Don Perlin, and Duffy Vohland
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by John Byrne and Terry Austin

In Latveria, Magneto interrupts a Doom-declared celebration of his victory over the revolution and the Skull to propose that they “divide a world between us!”  At the behest of Doom, who’d been lamenting that “my greatest triumph remains…unknown,” he relates how he was restored to manhood by Eric the Red to face the X-Men (in #104), but Doom reveals that the neuro-gas he released into the atmosphere has already made “every living thing [his] unconscious servant...”  As proof, he compels Magneto to kneel and pull an array of metal instruments toward himself, yet spares him at the last moment, “Because I am bored, Magneto!  I rule a world—yet none know of it!  My triumph came too easily—and I crave…a challenge!”

They toast the victor, yet Magneto’s drink contains a drug that is also an antidote to the gas; his mind his own again, he goes to the Avengers for aid—not knowing that one of them is Hank McCoy—and battles them to a standstill before he can explain.  They disbelieve his story until Doom’s holographic image appears, asserting control over his slaves, but tells Magneto, “I will allow you an ally.  If you can release one Avenger from the control of my neuro-gas—I will permit his mind to remain free!”  Selecting the Beast, Magneto does so by “regulating the flow of iron-laden blood to the brain,” and finding both the FF and X-Men unavailable, they seek help in L.A. from Hank’s former teammates, Angel and Iceman.  (Continued in Champions #16.) -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Yes, three more issues do appear, on a one-per-year basis (possibly to protect the trademark Marvel and DC share on “super-villain”):  a reprint of the Doom/Skull clash from Astonishing Tales #4-5, and a Skull/Hate-Monger two-parter by Peter Gillis that straddles this blog’s endpoint.  But this is effectively “the end…a demise that’s going to be felt most strongly by all who’ve participated in its brief but stormy history,” per Mantlo’s adieu, which notes that it did sell.  “If you read The Comic Reader, you know…that the Bullpen just didn’t have the people needed to put the book out every other month.  Not the artist or writer or letterer or colorist—but the myriad other production people who take the pieces and put them into a publishable whole.”

I won’t say the book was struck down in its absolute prime—that’s probably the Doom/Skull arc—because even with another issue in which to wind it up, I wish it had been paced to get us to the main event sooner, perhaps with less Latverian byplay.  Don’t know how far Bill was thinking ahead, yet as much as I love the premise, it appears that Doom’s hypno-ray would have achieved the same objective as his neuro-gas, and made for a satisfying carryover.  But I will say they go out on a high note, with the returning Hall (now inked by Vohland as well as Perlin) doing a consistently superb job on Magneto, e.g., page 2, panels 3 and 5; I love both the callback to his mind-control power in Avengers #111, and the idea of ex-X-Man Hank as his unlikely ally.

Chris: If you had to wager on the first appearance of a Byrne/Austin cover, would you think the smart money would be on SV TU #14?  And yet, here it is!  Really sets the tone, doesn’t it? 

The promise of a villainous team-up turns out – yet again – to involve Doom wielding the upper hand, in what quickly becomes an adversarial relationship.  Magneto opens with a brilliant idea – could you imagine what these two could accomplish if they actually were to work together – but is reduced to Doom’s tool.  Mantlo’s reveal of the world-spanning nerve gas as a fait accompli, instead of taking the time for Doom and Magneto to collaborate on a diabolical plan, strikes me as a missed opportunity.  Magneto’s attack on the Avengers, when he’s ostensibly there to solicit their help, reduces the action to a pointless exercise.  Did I mention it has a great cover -?  

Star Wars 4
"In Battle With Darth Vader"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
Art by Howard Chaykin and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Rick Hoberg and Frank Giacoia

Pinned down in the corridor of the detention center, Luke, Han, Chewbacca and the freed Princess Leia are overwhelmed by the greater number of storm troopers. With no other avenue, Leia takes Han’s blaster and fires it into the wall. The strong willed Princess hands the gun back and dives through the opening. Han pushes the reluctant Wookiee after her, then Luke. Finally Han takes the plunge and joins the group in the Death Star’s trash compactor. After failing to open the magnetically sealed hatch with his blaster, Han bristles against Leia’s commanding attitude. Suddenly, Luke is pulled under the watery muck by a tentacled creature. Just when he is thought lost, he is suddenly freed. The monster is gone, but in its wake is a greater danger: the walls of the compactor close in. Frantically, Luke calls Threepio for help, but the droids are distracted by storm troopers who have discovered their location. Threepio bluffs it through without actually lying, sending the troopers to the detention center while the droids leave. After they find another computer terminal, Artoo and Threepio discover the dangers in the compactor. Luke is finally able to instruct him to halt the walls just before they can fatally close in and has them freed. Once they are out, more troopers advance. Han runs toward them, telling Luke and Leia to head for the Millennium Falcon. The troopers, unprepared for a foe who fights back, run, but turn and give chase when they hit a dead end. Han and Chewie run back up the corridor. Meanwhile, Luke and Leia are in a chase of their own and duck behind a door and blast it shut. However, there’s a huge chasm ahead of them with no clear way to get to the other side. Luke grabs a rope from his stolen trooper utility belt and is able to have it grab hold of the pipes overhead. After a kiss for luck, Luke and Leia swing across and away from their pursuers.

Meanwhile, having deactivated the tractor beam, Ben Kenobi is approaching the hangar deck when he is confronted by his old student, Darth Vader. The two former friends activate their light sabers and begin their final duel, with Ben warning Vader that if the old Jedi is cut down, he will be even more powerful than before. Vader dismisses this as pathetic boasts of an outclassed foe. The group is finally united at the entrance to the landing bay, but getting across unseen to the Falcon is nearly impossible. Suddenly, the troopers by the ship all run off. As the group makes their way to the Falcon, Luke turns and sees the final moments of the saber duel: Vader brings his saber down and slices through Obi-Wan! Luke screams Ben’s name and the troopers advance. He doesn’t notice that Ben is not among the empty robes that Vader pokes with bemusement. Luke fires at the storm troopers, refusing to run to safety until he hears the voice of his old mentor saying his name. As he boards the ship, the Falcon takes off into space! -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: A really good, rousing issue. It very accurately captures the most exciting and famous scenes inside the Death Star. Leia’s attitude comes to the fore as she grabs Han’s blaster, takes charge and generally gets under the smuggler’s skin. She is a great character, actually stronger than Luke, who is clearly in over his head here. Luck, not to mention the Force, are working in his favor. The trash compactor scene is very well realized, with only minor embellishments to the dialog. This is par for the course with movie adaptations. Han is given more wisecracks than the film allowed and there are the usual expository statements that are usually clear in a film by the character's actions and the filmmaking choices (such as the storm trooper’s turning to fight when they reach the end of the corridor).

The kiss and leap across the chasm are played up a lot more than in the film. It’s a perfunctory peck in the film, but much bigger here. Ben and Vader’s duel is also given more dramatic weight, something not quite brought across in the film. Vader actually picking up Ben’s empty robe with his live light saber is a little weird in retrospect. It should cut right through it. The art is pretty okay, sometimes on point, other times sloppy and sketchy. The scratchy line work to denote shading is reminiscent of Steve Ditko, but only slightly. All in all, this is great fun and, while not up to the quality of the Logan’s Run film adaptation, it’s still a very pleasant read. 

Matthew: By now I’d quaffed the Kool-Aid, found it to my liking, gone back for seconds, and started buying the once-rejected book, so the remaining issues in my collection (#4-57) are originals, for whatever that’s worth.  Coincidentally, mail has begun flooding in on #1, and I’m sure the armadillo’s response to one LOC “insisting that you carry Star Wars forward in Marvel Comics beyond the movie!” will raise some eyebrows and/or hackles among certain faculty members:  “It all depends on reader response and the sales of the first couple of issues [’Nuff said.  --MRB]…Roy has a zillion ideas for the book’s future, many of them based on earlier, unused Star Wars movie scripts by the film’s writer/creator/director, George Lucas himself!”  Go to it, boys…

Luke Cage, Power Man 47
"Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by George Tuska and Bob Smith
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Howard Bender
Cover by Gil Kane and Pablo Marcos

A normal, everyday commute turns into a nightmare for Luke Cage, Power Man when the train he's riding on derails. Quick thinking and skin of steel save the day. As a result of his heroism, he's introduced to Doctor Alex Cox, a babelicious knockout who invites Luke to her pad for a couple of sizzlin' steaks and, perhaps, some dessert. Knowing a good thing when it bites him in the backside, Cage quickly agrees and the pair head to Alex's swingin' pad. Meanwhile, across town at Edison's Breeder Reactor Power Station, an electrical mishap leads to the rebirth of Zzzax, a beast made of pure electricity but harbouring the memories of Stan Landers, who just so happens to be the ex-(now dead) lover of Alex Cox! After absorbing all the workers at the nuclear reactor, Z makes a beeline for his former squeeze's place. Just as Cage is beginning to unwind and let his 'fro down, Z crashes the party, vowing to transform Alex into a lightning bolt just like himself. Cage is zapped by the giant and, when he comes to, he's confronted by Mark Revel, the co-creator of Zzzax months before. Revel explains that Z has kidnapped Alex and convinces Power Man he's got what it takes to destroy the fiend and the duo set off. They track the monster to another nuclear power station, where the transformation from Alex to Aaalexxxxx  is about to begin. Revel sacrifices his life and, in the end, the Big Z is sent back to that purgatory where all seventh-tier monster villains go between appearances. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Nothing like a little Tuska to make you appreciate Lee Elias. Lee, all is forgiven, please come home. George handles the monster chores all right but when it comes to human features, forget it. That panel on page 6 (left) makes Cage look like a heroin-addicted octogenarian. Not a good look. Not Claremont's fault really, as he moves into the writer's chair, but Cage's best foes have been the type no other title would touch with a ten-foot pole, not giant electric monsters. The whole affair has the odor of a fill-in, which it is really since, as of next issue, we've got a regular team of writer/artist for the first time in a long while (well, for a few issues anyway). "Next Issue" banners like to trot out the "Beginning of an Era" hype almost as frequently as "The Most Shocking Guest Star of All Time!" but, this time, they're on the money. Next issue changes everything in Power Man's universe. I'm crossing my fingers it's a good change.

Chris: Claremont (following-up his debut on this title’s one-and-only annual) takes advantage of Cage’s present surroundings, as he plugs him in (sorry –no way I could resist) to the easily-misspelled world of ZZZAX who, it seems, is permanently grounded (ouch! a little electrician’s humor) to the power grid of the North Side (so, Zzzax is a Cubs fan).  It’s curious that ZZZAX is pitted against another heavyweight, since obviously, the bristling big Z can’t be defeated thru brute force (to his credit, Cage tries his best to fight back against the buzzing ball of electricity); you need a science-guy on hand to figure out how to zap the Z back wherever he came from.  Speaking of which, I hope Dr Alex was taking notes; since heartsick Mark Revel now has been turned to ash, someone’s going to have to figure out how to stuff ZZZAX back into an insulated can, next time he sparks up – and, of course, there will be a next time …

Hey, is that Barry Windsor-Smith on the inks?!  Well no, of course not, you silly underclassman; it’s Bob Smith, who turns in some very acceptable inks for Marvel (and then, a lot more work for DC in the 1980s).  Smith’s results here on Tuska’s pencils are mixed, as we have some well-textured moments – and a fairly-consistently monstrous-looking ZZZAX – but some other panels that are too loose.  For instance: what’s with the Mad magazine-style caricatures on the splash page; how did action figures find their way into p 16, pnl 3; and, what’s happening with Cage’s face on p 16 (last pnl)?  Also, Dr Alex always looks pretty fine, but this is another instance when she seems to be played by several different actresses.  Well, no matter – I’m already feeling good about Byrne pulling into Power Man town next issue.  

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 11
"A Life Too Far!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Jim Mooney and Mike Esposito
Colors by T.S. Chu
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by Al Milgrom

(Best screen caps: pg 10 panels 4-6, pg 11 last row, pg 12 is cool, pg 16 middle row, pg 23 panel 1, pg 26)

Peter Parker watches a man being operated on after a truck accident, learning the man's body absorbed deadly chemical toxins and the only antidote supply is in Brooklyn. Swinging off towards Brooklyn as Spider-Man, he remembers how he and Mary Jane were strolling at Central Park when a runaway truck headed torward them—but a stranger pushed them out of the way, jumped into the truck and avoided the crowd, only to crash and be thrown through the windshield. Spidey makes it to the truck with the antidote, only to discover it's been wrecked, and who has the serum? Medusa from the Inhumans! The flame-tressed femme fatale fights off Spidey quite easily, but he was able to stick a trusty Spidey Tracer on her belt, leading him to the Coney Island boardwalk. The two battle atop The Cyclone (I assume, since it's not named), with Spidey forced to save a moving coaster train before it hits a spot where the tracks were wrecked. Meantime, Medusa makes it to a "derelict pier," where the rest of the Inhumans await, needing the serum to save Kree scientist Falzon. Spidey bursts in, and after a brief battle, he pleads his case to the always-imposing Black Bolt, who wordlessly (of course) flies the remaining serum to the hospital, saving the good Samaritan in the nick of time. We end with an argument between Spidey and the Inhumans where we learn Falzon was disarming a Kree anti-matter warhead when he was hit with nerve gas, which is why they needed the serum, but Spidey is annoyed they didn't tell him so he could help.--Joe Tura

Joe: A decent issue that's graded slightly lower thanks to a couple of things. The script is OK, but the MARMIS is kinda weak. I guess it would be like the Inhumans not to trust anyone outside their inner circle, so it makes sense they wouldn't clue Spidey in. He gets so ticked off, though, that it's hard to figure out who's really right. Do you side with the Inhumans, who supposedly saved the world, or Spidey, who makes a good point that he could have helped, and still saved the guy who saved him and MJ. Well, I don't know that it matters in what's much more like a Marvel Team-Up issue than Spectacular Spidey. The artwork by Mooney is passable, with some nice panels, but a big letdown from Sal. That doesn’t help this issue's cause. I'll keep reminding myself that this isn't the "flagship" Spidey title, and leave it at that.

Fave sound effect is the nearly humorous "BTHOOM!" on the top of page 26, when Spider-Man breaks into the warehouse, ramming Medusa in the backside basically. Wait, that didn't sound right…Don't tell Black Bolt!

Matthew: I’m sure this gave coaster-enthusiast Professor Joe a woody the size of the Mean Streak, but me, not so much, despite the presence of “guest writer” Claremont and my orphaned Inhumans.  Usually, anomalous creative team + context-free story = inventory fill-in, making for a Mooney double-header with Omega’s swan song, yet there’s another curious similarity:  in OTU, we learn that poor Nedley died due to an ambulance caught in traffic, and here, Peter fears the same fate for his anonymous savior.  Inked by Esposito, Jim does well by Medusa (e.g., page 10, panel 6), even if the out-of-left-field, Kree-driven MARMIS does not; the “poorly-packed” Rand-Meachum truck provides an Iron Fist link.

Addenda: The title is a meaningless riff on that of one of my favorite films, the just-released A Bridge Too Far, and—for Kree-watchers—the warhead was the work of our old pal Yon-Rogg. 

Omega the Unknown 10
"The Hottest Slot in Town!"
Story by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes
Art by Jim Mooney
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Howard Bender
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Pablo Marcos

Omega the Uncoweled and his supporting cast attend the funeral of young John Nedley, a friend of James-Michael's, tragically beaten to death in a school toilet (several issues ago- Couldn't- Care-Less Pete). Omega gets up to here with the grief and flies away to Gramps' place, where he tells the old man they're leaving town to "seek our fortunes -- and to perform an act of mercy (as did the publishers after this issue-Smart-Ass-Pete)." They hoof it to Vegas where Omega the Unmoral shows Gramps just how great superhero powers can be by rigging the slot machines and craps tables. The quasi-good guy decides he needs some alone time so he zooms out into the desert, where he's quickly attacked by a demon. After a long battle, Omega is able to zap the demon back to where he came from. Meanwhile, back in Dullsville, James-Michael and his friend, Dian, have run away from home; J-M wants to show the young lady something about his roots so he takes her to the remote and posh house he grew up in. While Dian is wandering the halls of the house, she makes a startling discovery: J-M's parents in a robotic trance, hidden behind a sliding door. With that shock out of the way, we rejoin Bing and Bob on the Road to Riches. By now, up fifty-five grand, Omega and Gramps relax in their room with some tequila shots and porn on the tube when a knock comes on the door. They open it to find a gorgeous but deadly woman: Ruby Thursday, the woman who can put men to sleep with just a touch from the tentacles that sprout from her forehead. We learn that Ruby is in league with the demon who attacked Omega in the desert and the deadly duo escape with Omega's ill-gotten booty. The Unknown gives chase but, just as he catches up with Ruby and causes her to crash her auto, the police arrive and shoot our hero in the back (yet another example of a young Marvel writer exposing the villainy of the "pigs"-Snoring Pete), leaving the saga to be finished in another time and another title (thankfully, not  one of mine! -Smirky-Pete). -Peter Enfantino

Peter: I simultaneously forgot and couldn't care less about the death of John Nedley (who "lies a'moulderin' in the grave" according to the newest folk duet, Steve and Mary) until the quickie burial on the splash.  [I don't think you forgot it, Dean Pete; I don't believe said death was reported until this ish.  --Professor Matthew] Nedley is then forgotten and we're off into another issue of pomp and pretension. At least, on that front, Skerber don't let us down:

Humans crawl from the woodwork, demons pop from solid sandstone...! Ordinarily, of course, the intrusions are less obvious than this one. But it's in their covert nature that their potency resides. Their strength is their plasticity. Try it: attack any intruder into your personal space. You'll find your blow striking a pillow of good intentions.

I can see Steve wearing a hat like Bono and practicing these lines in front of the mirror.

Ya gotta give the Skerbs credit for one thing, and one thing only, this book never went where you expected it to go and that included the final issue. 'Meg and the old-timer bilking Vegas of its dough is the kind of immorality you wouldn't dream of in another Marvel title. Was the sad saga of John Nedley over or would he rise from the dead, hungry for vengeance? Were J-M's parents cyborgs? AI? Fox News reporters? And could The Unknown, The Unclassy, The Unhip, The Underwear-clad Omega really be dead? I'd love to have seen what the Skerb Twins had up their sleeves had there been an issue eleven. Mind you, I ain't complaining about the cancellation, but could events have gotten even wonkier?

Matthew:  I won’t shed crocodile tears over this book’s passing—leaving, as usual, more questions than answers—especially while mourning my beloved Super-Villain Team-Up the same month, but Nedley’s may have hit home at the time, since I was the same age and also unpopular, if not life-threateningly so.  The story will indeed “be concluded in a future issue of The Defenders,” albeit two solid years hence (not, alas, quite late enough to be outside the faculty’s purview).  It also will not, per the lettercol, be written by co-creators Gerber and Skrenes, whose actual intentions are anybody’s guess since, according to SuperMegaMonkey, Steve “refused to share his ideas,” yet he’s clearly set them up by bringing back Ruby Thursday.

Nova 14
"Massacre at Truman High!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Dick Giordano
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza
Cover by George Perez and Frank Giacoia

Under the orders of Dr. Von Flessle, Sandman goes off via Long Island air currents to find Mike Burley, while Nova is trapped by a mysterious villain in a "hermetically sealed room" with pipes filled with liquid oxygen above, gas jets beneath, and a "photo-electric eye" to detect movement and set them off. Blue Blazes, that's a conundrum! Quick cut to Charles Rider, who can't get a bank loan but is given advice by a bank guard to call "The Inner Circle" which can't be a good idea, then back to Nova, who tests his uniform's limits by setting off the traps, which weakens the cables holding him and he escapes! But two nasty henchmen with small maces come rushing in to bash the teen hero, who defeats them by getting downright livid and throwing a massive right hook. Back at Truman High, Sandman blows in and grabs Mike, while terrorizing the rest of the gang enough that when Nova jets into a classroom to change back to Richard, he overhears the hubbub and races to battle ol' Sandy. A frenetic donnybrook that goes to the construction site next door ends when a completely exhausted Nova slips out of a Sandman trap, leaving the grainy goon to fall into a cement mixer and be handed off to the police. But we end on Von Flessle calling Mike, because he's kidnapped his brother!--Joe Tura

Joe: Dick Giordano? Wow, that came out of nowhere. And the results are right on the beach, as he solidifies Sal's pencils quite nicely. For once, I'm not totally annoyed by Marv's script either. This proves that even a blind squirrel can find a nut, or at the very least that I need more sleep because I'm getting delirious. Some nice battle scenes with Nova and Sandman in a six-page brawl, plus some bonafide mystery, plus an actual pan letter instead of the usual fake fawning, give this one an above-the-Nova-norm rating. If such a thing actually existed back then.

Blue Blazes counter: page 2 has "Who in blazes?" which is close, then on the next page, a thought bubble "Blue Blazes!" when Nova realizes he's in deep doo-doo. Page 7 we get another "Blazes!", ironically when the hero is threatened by fire, then again on page 22 when Sandman lands on Nova with a "WHUMP!", and yet again on page 27, when the Human Rocket is knocked off a girder. Where's all the blue? Tsk tsk, Marv…

Matthew: This is Sal’s last issue, and to say that he will be missed is a gross understatement; the remainder of the run (excepting the return of inaugural penciler Big John in #21) will put my status as a Nova-fan to the true test, devolving onto one of my least-favorite artists.  “Blue blazes!”  It’s also among the few examples in my collection of Giordano’s inks, which I think are a good match, with Dick’s old-school style plainly in evidence, especially on Charles Rider, yet supporting and never obliterating Buscema’s own.  Clues to our shadowy arch-villain’s identity include his distinctive silhouette, the presence of his pseudonymous Teutonic henchman and—most significantly—that telltale insignia glimpsed on his golden shuttlecraft in page 11, panel 3.

Chris: Pretty terrific battle with the Sandman.  I appreciate the moments when Marv shows us how hard Rider has to push himself, when he tells us how he has to keep going, despite his exhaustion; the problem is that Marv doesn’t content himself with one thought balloon, when he has room for two or three, which allows an opportunity to tell us (again! And again and again!) how poorly Richie is doing in his classes.  I can identify with a character in his efforts to overcome adversity – I’ll even root for the poor fella – but when I get a line like “I’ve still got zillions of school tests ahead of me to flunk,” well, then I’m right back to seeing Nova as a figure on a piece of paper.  

Speaking of appearances, Giordano’s finishes are crisp and clear, providing us with the best art we’ve seen on this title since Sinnott left town; too bad Dick G had that day-job over at Dustbunny Competition, otherwise the Bronze era might’ve featured a lot more issues that looked this solid.  

Ms. Marvel 10
"Cry Murder -- Cry Modok!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Sal Buscema and Tom Palmer
Colours by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Sal Buscema and Tom Palmer

As chaos erupts at Alden’s, MODOK—who has seen Ms. Marvel unmasked—recognizes Carol, but while she is determined to face Death-Bird herself, her “cursed Kree alter-ego” forces the change, fearing that “our psychic battle will destroy us both.”  En route to the computer command center, MODOK tricks the yellow-clad local A.I.M. contingent into firing an energy cannon, whose beam is reflected back by his mento-force field, destroying it and severely wounding Elliot.  The battle endangers the department store’s customers, attracting the attention of the police, as MODOK secures the cassette programming deck that will control the Satterfield Avenue A.I.M. missile complex, where “a solid-fuel ICBM is on the pad, ready for launching.”

Summoned by MODOK, Death-Bird covers her escape with gas; finding none of his blue-clad forces, Ms. Marvel learns from the evidently dying Elliot that they planned to steal the Cavourite crystal NASA was testing in Skylab, hoping to control the world with the “secret of interstellar flight,” only to be pre-empted by MODOK.  While a concerned Tracy runs interference for the absent Carol, Ms. Marvel reaches the Acme warehouse just before MODOK and Death-Bird can board the capsule, despite the latter’s claustrophobia.  As the women fight, and evidence mounts that Death-Bird is not human, MODOK takes off, heedless of the rocket exhaust that apparently kills her, but after barely escaping and aborting the launch, Ms. Marvel finds the capsule empty... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The artwork seems to have become a perennial half-loaf:  we go from the aggressively average Mooney, pulled immeasurably upward by Joltin’ Joe, to the unfortunate pairing of Solid Sal with serial besmircher Palmer.  Once again, Chris’s consummate skill lends weight to what could well have been touted as an “All-Out Action Issue!”; love the open warfare between A.I.M. factions (“For all we know, these could be more of MODOK’s men, disguised as police!”…there’s a men-in-blue joke to be had there), and it’s nice to see that swine Elliot get his just deserts.  The intra-heroine conflict would be vexing if they weren’t obviously going somewhere with it—ditto the Tracy Burke subplot—so the jury is still out there, but will she finally ditch that damn scarf?

Chris: Claremont continues to pour on plenty of action, as the Modok/AIM threat seems cleared away, at least for now; that Modok is among the baddest of pennies, so we surely haven’t seen the last of him.  Ye author doesn’t let us forget about the Carol/Ms Marvel duality; he works it in as a salient plot-point, when Ms M basically imposes herself past Carol’s determination to deal with Death-Bird without triggering the Kree-change.  Claremont can’t help working in some intrigue, can he, as he has D-B tell us a few times that she isn’t quite human; so then, what is she …?  Lastly, nice moment when Ms M – relying now on Carol’s memories, since Carol knows her way around a space-launch facility – recognizes the “abort” switch, which proves Modok’s undoing (again, for now).

I have an observation, which I don't want to seem a complaint, but here goes.  I don't know how old Claremont might’ve been when he first encountered the phrase "berserker fury," but it clearly left a lasting impression (could've been a book on Vikings – it's a working theory).  Why is it that, whenever a character unleashes a rage-fueled battle-attack, it has to be phrased as a "berserker fury"?  It sounds even more strange when, as in this case with Death-Bird, the character describes him/herself as experiencing this fury (p 26) – excuse me, I meant to say "berserker fury," because it's nearly always the same phrase, isn't it -?  Could you imagine Claremont scripting an issue of the Incredible Hulk, and having Greenskin declare to the Leader that “Hulk is the Strongest One There Is – because of Berserker Fury!”  Well, I've always found it a strange authorial quirk on Claremont's part.

Master of Kung Fu 57
"Call It Thunder!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Jim Craig and John Tartaglione
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Ernie Chan

 The would-be Red Baron comes in for another pass, with Shang-Chi, Tarr, and Reston sitting ducks in the street.  Shang-Chi climbs to a higher position, and times his leap to grab hold of the wing as the plane flies in low.  The Baron is preoccupied with trying to take out S-C; S-C avoids a blast from an energy-weapon, then grabs the Baron’s arm and directs the next discharge into the wing.  S-C jumps and twists in the air, to get himself clear of most of the concussion as the plane crashes.  The three former agents proceed with their plan, and infiltrate MI-6 HQ from the roof.  On the top floor, they discover a war room, with maps on the wall and a 3-D landscape model in a ring on the floor; the space seems intended to plot “cataclysmic death” for a few specific locations.  Before they can study the room further, a group of MI-6 agents arrives, firing shots with silencers; Reston cuts the lights, and S-C subdues his attackers in the dark.  Elsewhere, the Red Baron (somehow having survived the plane crash) determines that he must move Leiko to a safer location.  As he unlocks the door, Leiko makes her move, kicking and punching her way free of the Baron; she then proceeds to lose herself as she seeks an exit from the stone edifice where she’s been held.  Back at MI-6, Reston and S-C locate a file, confirming that War-Yore is a British agent named Eric Slaughter; Slaughter owns an estate in Surrey, so they set off in Reston’s car, hoping to find Leiko there.  They park within sight of a massive castle.  S-C quickly notices a light, thru yonder window breaking; the silhouetted figure resembles Leiko.  Reston and S-C run toward the castle; Reston calls to her, thereby ruining their cover.  As shots are fired at them, S-C grabs Reston and plunges them both into the moat.  War-Yore returns, now clad as St George; once he drops the drawbridge, S-C engages him, which allows Reston a free pass to enter the castle.  War-Yore briefly gains the upper hand, but as he threatens S-C with his sword, a voice calls him to hold.  An agent who had served War-Yore stands before them, holding back Leiko while he gestures with a pistol in his other hand; he states he expects his supervisors to arrive.  Within moments, a helicopter lands, and reveals – Sir Denis himself! -Chris Blake

Chris: In a way, I’m glad that Doug + Jim continued the tri-plane attack that had finished our previous issue; since the plane is pictured on the cover, with Shang-Chi hanging on, I felt it’d be best to complete the sequence, rather than have a second plane-strafing later in the issue.  As I mentioned in the synopsis, Doug provides not the slightest hint of how War-Yore could’ve survived the plane crash; it’s clear that S-C’s survival required some nifty moves in order to clear the blast, so I can’t tell you how War-Yore – who’d been in the pilot’s cockpit, of course – managed to do it.  Well, perhaps Doug will have something to say about it next issue.  

I’m still having a difficult time taking War-Yore seriously.  It isn’t just because of the silly costumes and adopted personalities; even though he’s a capable fighter, he doesn’t project enough of an air of menace for me to fear for the welfare of any of our heroes.  Leiko’s escape is fairly easy, since all she has to do is wait for W-Y (as the downed Red Baron) to unlock her cell, and she’s battered her way free; it’s as if W-Y is completely unprepared for Leiko to take the offensive.  So, despite the souped-up weapons and such, he doesn’t seem to present any credible threat.

The Craig/Tartag art continues to hang in as well as it can; the action is solid when the story calls for it.  Tartaglione’s inks aren’t quite as heavy on the faces (except for the times you’d expect them to be, i.e. when figures are in shadows).  I still find Leiko’s face is not presented with a consistent look (the lack of which is pretty heartbreaking, isn’t it?); this time, we have a similar problem with Shang-Chi, as he can look like Bruce Lee (p 6, pnl 3), or Charles Bronson (p 16, pnl 2), or maybe Bruce Dern (a very different Bruce, indeed –page 26, 1st pnl), or maybe Steven Seagal with longer hair (p 27, pnl 4), or even the Hulk (p 30, pnl 6).  

Mark: Bad news first: Jim Craig's art deteriorates dramatically here. I noted a dip in quality last issue, but this is a quick-march off a cliff. Only ten or so panels throughout the whole book that have been fussed over enough to evoke Gulacy; the rest is cartoony and pedestrian, at best.

Doug's War-Yore (tall) tale continues to entertain, even as Moench's failure even to try explaining Baron Von St. George's transformative powers (to say nothing of conjuring up laser-firing Fokkers) only underscores their goofiness. Don't think, grasshopper. Just accept.

At least Leiko gets out of her distressed damsel cell and gets to kick a little ass. And Sir Denis' last page arrival at Castle War-Yore does not convince me he's the head baddie.

Red herrings aren't just something Forbush orders on pizza.

Marvel Two-In-One 32
The Thing and The Invisible Girl in
"And Only the Invisible Girl Can Save Us Now!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza
Cover by George Perez and Pablo Marcos

Spider-Woman wrests Alicia’s attention away from Ben, becoming her new Hydra-ordered target, but the breather enables him to free himself from the web, and as he phones the FF for help, Spider-Woman lures Alicia away from the crowds; meanwhile, Trevor and Chauncy open the treasure box, said to contain ₤1 billion in printing plates, only to be drawn inside.  Ben warns armed officers from a special assault squad that he will not let them endanger Alicia, yet they remain defiant until Inspector Chelm orders them to cooperate with him.  After Ben deduces the purpose of, and removes, her control device, Agent Four reports this failure to an oddly brawny Supreme Hydra, who has Agent Eight kill him and take charge of the operation.

Having freed herself from yet another web, Spider-Woman explains Alicia’s sudden frenzy, but luckily, Ben’s lachrymose monologue (“I shut off her world!  She doesn’t know what happened ta her…an’ this is all on account a’me!”) is interrupted by the arrival of the Invisible Girl.  Sue’s force field cuts off the oxygen around Alicia’s head, causing her to pass out so that they can take her to the grateful Dr. Kort, who has already managed to save Deathlok’s life (“even though he must remain in that capsule another sixty days”), and believes he can reverse the effects of his serum.  Ben is so busy wallowing in self-recrimination that he is oblivious to hostile Brits pelting him with garbage until Sue informs him that the treatment worked, and Alicia is calling for him... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Over the long haul, MTU was a better book than MTIO, yet you couldn’t ask for a greater study in contrasts than the monthly magnificence now being offered in the former by Marvel’s Lennon and McCartney…and this crap.  The lettercol brings us the unwelcome news that Marv and Carmine Infantino (strike one!) will be ushering Spider-Woman (strike two!) into her own book, but if this Arc of the Incompetent was intended to gin up enthusiasm for that dreaded event—for which we have ten months to prepare ourselves, thank God—then it failed miserably in this reader’s eyes.  Overall, this sorry storyline, which we might informally call “Ben’s Extended Mope-Fest,” has gone on way too long and, worse, begun rehashing itself in a shameless fashion.

Were Ron and Pablo hoping to court the Unapologetic Horndog vote with that up-the-ass double, uh, spread on pages 2-3 (above)?  If so, another epic fail, as my darling daughter would say.  And while we’re venting about “that spider-broad,” as Ben calls her with typical Marv-written rudeness, she reminds us about the potential lethality of Alicia’s newly unstable body-chemistry.  Might I be so bold as to inquire just how Dr. Arachnid came by that vital tidbit of intel?  An offstage confab with Kort and/or her sometime Hydra masters?  Re: page 7, panel 4, I get that we’re in the pre-cell-phone era, but are we really to believe that with all of Reed’s technology, Ben’s only way to summon help—which seemed to arrive at virtual light-speed—is with a regular London call box?

It would be tough to pick a single point at which this issue bottoms out, but just for the sake of argument, I’ll nominate page 10.  It’s there that after teasing us for months regarding the object of Chauncy and Trevor’s treasure hunt, Marv hurls a pie in our face with the lamest of shaggy-dog “endings.”  As Professor Tom would say, “Waah-waah!”  And I wouldn’t mind quite so much if it didn’t basically rip off the exact same Kiss Me Deadly riff that Claremont has used, not once but twice, in recent months, perhaps providing a nice segue into one of Professor Chris’s writer/editor laments.  Now, if you dare, proceed to page 17, panel 3.  Clearly, after an encounter with a headshrinker (a literal one, not Doc Samson), the Hulk is now Supreme Hydra.

Now, who’s this popping up in page 23, panel 4?  Oh, wait, it’s this issue’s nominal co-star, who appears in a grand total of seventeen panels.  Yes, you read that right:  that’s an average of one panel per page.  And, naturally, it only takes her eight of those panels to whine, “I—I wish Reed were here to help me—to guide me.”  Am I the only one who finds it unnerving that in a few months, this guy will be the FF’s regular writer?  Will we get more of Ben weeping over Alicia’s fate and then, in the very next panel, callously referring to her as “that giant Raid-bait”?  And how long do we really think his resolution, that “fer her happiness, me an’ Alicia’s through.  It’s gotta be that way.  It’s gotta,” will last?  Aside from all of that, this was truly a great issue…

Chris: Spider-Woman, who served as little more than a door-stop last issue, observes that she should attempt to shock Spider-Alicia with a venom burst; this not only should serve to stop Alicia’s rampage, but it could spare her from “incredibly rapid metabolism,” which (theoretically) could kill her (that’d be bad).  Spider-Woman throws out this idea on page 6.  She then proceeds to get caught in Alicia’s net, and is cocooned; so, no venom-blast.  S-W rips free of the web on p 22, after a period of time when Alicia’s metabolism should’ve been racing along, unfettered, for about another hour or so – in other words, shouldn’t we be a bit concerned, now?  S-W zips around Alicia for a few pages (again, no venom-blast), and Alicia finally is brought down by a thoroughly anti-climactic force-bubble to the head.  “What,” says Sue Richards to Marv Wolfman, “you have me fly all the way from New York to London, for this -?”  I hear ya Sue – believe me, I hear ya.  It’s another instance of a multi-part story from Wolfman that reaches one issue too long; no reason why this should’ve gone as far as four issues, especially when you consider how little story-development there is between the previous issue and this one.  Further argument against the editor-of-self-as-writer model.  

The art is supposedly by Wilson + Marcos; if this is true, then (I’m sorry to say) it’s not the best effort from Marcos.  I checked GCDb to see who might’ve filed the dashed-together page 7 (Frank Springer, maybe -?), and a few mysteriously indistinct panels throughout the issue, but the Db insists it’s all Marcos.  Well, better luck (and, maybe a better night’s sleep) before taking up the inks next time.  

Marvel Team-Up 62
Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel in
"All This and the QE2"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dave Hunt
Colors by Dave Hunt
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Trying to occupy the Skrull “until some high-powered help arrives” (and unaware such aid is not forthcoming), Spidey notices a diminution in his powers and realizes that the overhead wire grid has set up a field blocking the energy beam that provides them, but as he blasts the generator, Spidey drops the sensor and is buried under the rubble when a section of 11th Avenue collapses.  Wracked with pain, he still hitches a ride on an NYPD helicopter to the harbor, where the Queen Elizabeth 2 is just setting out on a ten-day Caribbean cruise.  The Skrull punches through the hull, his tri-scanner having led him to the cabin of Madison Avenue antique dealer Josiah Rubin, where he locates his prize:  the clay figurine concealing a Cavourite crystal.

The crystal “is the basic power catalyst of a matter/anti-matter star drive [with which he] can construct a starship….[and] return to the homeworld in triumph”—destroying the Earth as he leaves—but also aboard is Carol Danvers, who finally escapes the unwelcome attentions of wing commander Daniel long enough to change to Ms. Marvel.  Her mind clouded by her inbred Kree hatred for Skrulls, she is further distracted when she sees him drop the crystal (“It’s like the one NASA’s experimenting on, but where their crystal is crude—this is refined, perfect”), yet she manages to hold onto it when he punches her toward the Statue of Liberty.  Too stunned to save herself, she is rescued with webbing by Spidey and understandably mistaken for Captain Marvel.

Learning about the effect of the grid, Ms. Marvel asks Spidey—in a nice inversion of last issue—to keep the vengeful Skrull busy when he returns for the crystal so that she can construct a larger, more concentrated one powered by the ship’s generators.  Using the close quarters inside the ship to hamper the Skrull, Spidey leads him to the car park deck, seals the hatch at her behest, and throws the switch activating the grid, but her plan involves far more than weakening him.  As the crystal reaches criticality, she throws it at the Skrull while Spidey cuts the field; the power influx causes the crystal to open a doorway to warp-space and pull him through, just as it did to Grotesk in MM #8, yet “in her hand, the crystal feels almost…alive.  And, Supremor help her—hungry!” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Aside from the cover’s mistaken reference to the ship as the QE II rather than QE2 (a distinction that, coincidentally, came up in some copy I was editing for work recently), this is your basic 17 More Pages of Awesomeness, and I especially want to call out the exquisite body language John and Dave give to Spidey.  Look at, for example, his duck-and-weave stance on the splash page as it becomes clear his trap has failed; how spectacularly splayed he is by the explosion in page 6, panel 5; and his resultant head-down exhaustion and agony in page 7, panels 1-2.  Also, far be it from me to admit an aversion to anything French, but I’ve never been a beret guy, so it always struck me as affected when Sal depicted Jean in one, and I much prefer her without, as seen here.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, Chris addresses a frequent pet peeve as the Skrull yells, “The game is ended, human insect!,” to which Spidey replies, “‘Arachnid,’ if you please.  We spider-types are sensitive souls.”  In general, their interaction is beautifully handled, be it pictorially, e.g., the web-swing where Spidey impudently awaits the Skrull in page 17, panel 3 (“Hi there.  Remember me?”), or verbally, with his constant put-downs.  The MARMIS-free teamwork and mutual respect between Spidey and Ms. Marvel bespeaks sophisticated writing, while the marvelous final image of the Super-Skrull as the warp matrix is triggered evokes both Eternity from Dr. Strange and, fittingly, the visualization of Captain Marvel’s cosmic awareness.

As much as I enjoy seeing Claremont spin his typical inter-title continuity, drawing upon events from the co-star’s strip rather than having them simply make a context-free guest shot, things do get a tad confusing here with the two crystals.  Since I can’t recall, we’ll have to wait and see if Ms. Marvel’s closing “mystery” really is “unravelled in her own mag,” and indeed, it’s not 100% clear where in her chronology this story takes place, although various sources locate it between #10 and 11; moreover, even if it’s not explicitly stated, this is obviously the same clay statuette that the Silver Samurai sought to steal in #57, yet I don’t think the reason why is ever explained.  But I quibble, and it’s refreshing for an overabundance of complexity to be my main reservation.

Joe: Not sure why jokester Spidey has to keep calling Super-Skrull "Skrully," other than to annoy him, but he more than makes up for it by concocting the plan to halt the beam, with help from another first-time meeting, with Ms. Marvel. Of course, Spidey is not up on his Marvel Encyclopedia, so thinks she's the original Mar-Vell at first glance, but either way, they make a decent team. Love MM's Farrah Fawcett-esque locks when she's in costume, and Byrne draws her quite well, as he does most female characters. Ahem… And battles with the S-S end up quite violent, with power-packed punches abounding, and as usual the script and art work together flawlessly. We’re left with a mystery to be answered in Carol's own title, and the promise of Iron Fist, which makes perfect sense and has us camping out at the local candy store!

Chris: Jim K. of Hutchinson KS asks “Why don’t we see more of Peter Parker?” in the pages of MTU.  Well Jim, it’s quite simple: about two years ago, Bill Mantlo took something that was little more than a MARMIS-mag, and brought it out of its one-shot rut by offering continuing stories, sometimes featuring unusual pairings of Marvel characters (Vision + Scarlet Witch + Dr Doom; Iron Man + Doctor Strange; Woodgod + Hulk, etc).  Since then, a brand-new mag called Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man has arrived, which exists in part to satisfy the desires of fans who want to see more of Spidey’s alter-ego life with his supporting characters, etc.  So, since Mantlo has established this winning formula for MTU, there’s really no reason for Claremont to change it.  I’m sure we’ll see Peter from time to time, as the story calls for him; but otherwise, step aside Jim, because this has become the all-action Spidey title, baby.  

Nice work by Claremont to show Spidey and Ms Marvel work out a plan to take down the Super-Skrull; and it’s a two-part plan, no less, which requires them first to interrupt his massive energy feed, then snap it back on at an inopportune moment.  The fact that Spidey and Ms M (and Carol, for that matter) both are science-minded makes the premise somewhat credible.  I will say it was thoughtful of the Über-Skrull, wasn’t it, to decide to take a break from the battle while our heroes set him up; did he drop by the galley for some lunch, perhaps -?

I will mention that I don’t like the way Claremont ends the issue, as – in the very last panel – Ms M suddenly goes a-whirlin’ due to the multiplied visions of herself in the Cavourite crystal; the crystal feels “alive,” and ‘hungry!”  In the “next issue” box, ye editor pipes in: “For Ms Marvel, a mystery – to be unraveled in her own mag.”  Wait – what?  I thought we’d neatly concluded this team-up story, and now you’re telling me I have to start buying this other comic to find out what’s happening?  There should’ve been a way to plant a seed for curious readers to follow, without being so heavy-handed about it.
Byrne art = Byrne art highlights: the Skrull gets glopped with some crude oil (p 2; or maybe it’s sewage -? – quite funny, either way); effective use of scale as Byrne gives us an idea of the massive scope of the Skrull’s energy feed (p 6); the Skrull’s ugly delight, as he discovers the Cavourite crystal (p 10, last pnl); pretty serious punishment dished out by both combatants, with plenty of strikes that could probably take your head clean off (p 14-15); a classic web-to-the-face, followed by a taunting Spidey in a web-swing (p 17); the QE2, fittingly, has a Rolls Royce on board (p 27, far right of last pnl); and of course, the Skrull goes all-dimensional (p 30, last pal).

Marvel Premiere 38
"Weirdworld: The Lord of Tyndall's Quest"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Ploog and Alex Nino
Colors by Glynis Oliver
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Rudy Nebres
The elf Tyndall of Klarn finds the "heart of evil" inside the carcass of a leviathan, but before he can strike it, it hatches Velanna, a female elf. Wondering why the Dwarf-Elders of Weirdworld sent him to slay Velanna, Tyndall goes with his new companion towards the swamp and the mountains, out of the darkness, but they are attacked a swamp-serpent! As "quick as jerky lightning," Tyndall ties the serpent's tail to a rock and saves Velanna, not knowing they're being watched through a magic mirror by the wizard Grithstane and his vulture Hironus. Grithstane creates a squadron of candle wax monsters, sending them to the mountain pass to capture the elves who are "vital to the restoration of [his] evaporated youth." After capturing the two, Grithstane sends Tyndall on a quest to procure dragon's blood, which would restore his youth and win him the love of the Klarn maiden he has shackled to the wall. Armed with a sword and special leather pouch for the blood, Tyndall is sent flying upwards to Klarn and the Realm of the Shadow-Shapers, where he saves another female elf marked for sacrifice by a pack of dwarves. As he runs off with her, she changes into a swamp-serpent! But fate intervenes when the dragon appears, killing the serpent and, in turn, it is killed by Tyndall for the blood. But before he is pulled through the mirror by Grithstane, the girl chained to the wall changes into a serpent and kills the wizard, leaving Tyndall and Velanna alive and kissing. (After reading this synopsis, and then downing three Excedrins, I can only attest publicly yet again that my professors are not paid enough money -The Dean) --Joe Tura

Joe: Ploog! One of my faves, Mike Ploog, reunites with Apes-master Doug Moench for this Lord of the Rings rip-off…I mean, Hobbit homage…Um…the cover says "An all-new adventure into EPIC FANTASY!" So let's go with that. First seen in the B&W Marvel Super Action in Jan 1976, this tale returns us to Weirdworld and the elves Tyndall and Velanna. It has many things you would want and expect from a fantasy tale—elves, dwarves, a creepy wizard, a dragon, a quest, a justifiable death, creatures, monsters, romance, a happy ending. So Doug basically checks off the laundry list, but there's something about this tale I enjoyed. Not greatly, but a little for sure. It zips along fairly well, with not many panels wasted. The Ploog-Niño team does excellent work in creating a fantasy world, with some interesting backgrounds and creepy characters.

Alas, a contract dispute over freelancers will cause Ploog to leave Marvel before he completed the art for Moench's Weirdworld saga, which will be published in 1979 in Marvel Super Special. Other Weirdworld stories were published in Epic Illustrated in the early 80s, and Ploog came back to draw the first part of a trilogy in 1986 in the pages of Marvel Fanfare, which I think I remember from my second wave of comic collecting.

Points to the creative team for the sound effect on page 16 as Tyndall strikes the candle monster with a "PLOOG." If only they could have fit "MOENCH" somewhere.

Chris: It’s a refreshing change to have a sword-and-sorcery tale featuring such naïve characters.  Tyndall of Klarn unselfconsciously admits several times that he either hadn’t thought of something, hadn’t expected something, or hadn’t looked for something; contrast that with your typical Conan story, when he always seems to find the item he needs, or at least the person who can lead him to the object of his search, etc.  The innocence of Tyndall and Velanna is offset (of course) by the evil of Grithstane; but how evil is Grithstane, really?  Granted, he kidnaps Tyndall and Velanna, and threatens to pop Velanna into dust, but he’s only trying to marshal Tyndall’s limited attention span, right?  Well anyway, Grithstane is ugly, and he gets eaten by a shape-changing swamp-serpent, so I guess he really was evil after all.

Anytime I see a fantasy-type title like this one, I have to ask: who would be the target audience?  The cover blurb seeks to entice Tolkien fans, but that seems a bit of stretch, given the light handling of the material.  I for one would probably be a regular reader if Ploog (this being a brief return to color comics for Marvel) were to stay on as artist.  The fun he has with the material is evident in images like these: Velanna points the way forward (p 6, last pnl); the swamp-serpent bears down on Tyndall (p 10, panels 5 and 6); Grithstane uses a spell to scoot across the floor (p 14, 1st pnl); the comically gloopy wax creatures (p 15, last pnl); the creatures bear their captives to an open-mouthed cavern (p 17, last pnl); Grithstane holds a lantern over his desired one (p 22, 1st pnl, with a colorist-assist by Glynis Wein to provide the lantern light).

Also This Month

Crazy 30
Flintstones 1
Human Fly 2
Kid Colt Outlaw 220
Marvel's Greatest Comics 73
Marvel Classics Comics 22
Marvel Movie Special: The Deep
Marvel Movie Special: The Island of Dr. Moreau
Marvel Tales 84
< Scooby-Doo 1
Spider Super Stories 27


The Rampaging Hulk 5
Cover Art by Jim Starlin

“Lo, the Sub-Mariner Strikes”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Keith Pollard and Alfredo Alcala

“Suite Fear”
Story by John Warner
Art by Val Mayerik and Bob Wiacek

After last issue’s cosmic Jim Starlin detour, we are back to France in 1963 for the continuing adventures of the Jolly Green Giant, Rick Jones, Bereet and the annoying orphan boy Spirou — Starlin is still sticking around in spirit as he provides the dramatic cover painting. But before we join our intrepid heroes, the 35-page main feature starts things off with a boffo two-page spread of Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

Swimming back to Atlantis after the events of Fantastic Four Annual #1 (September 1963), Prince Namor finds his underwater city deserted: his subjects were furious over his love for the surface dwelling Sue Storm and have abandoned their liege. Suddenly, a huge sea serpent appears and causes massive and mindless damage to the submerged metropolis — even the combined might of the Sub-Mariner and his aquatic army of curious creatures are no match for the leviathan. But, after a while, the huge monster simply swims away. The enraged monarch follows the serpent to a strange craft on the ocean floor: the monster swims into a tremendous cage next to the ship, joining others of its kind.

Inside the craft, a group of Krylorian invaders is celebrating the successful test of the sea serpent, though one of the aliens wonders why the rock formation they had it attack looked like a city. The aliens then begin to practice their transformative powers, changing into earthlings. One of the disguised Krylorians mentions that they will soon head back to mission control in Rome. At that moment, Namor peers inside a porthole and sees what he assumes are humans — he also hears the comment about the holy city. Furious, the prince smashes a huge hole in the ship’s fuselage: salt water pours in and the craft violently explodes. The Sub-Mariner races away, mistakenly bent on taking revenge on the people of Rome.

Meanwhile, Hulk, Rick and Bereet take Spirou back to his adopted home at the country inn. Jade Jaws threatens the abusive owner with bodily harm if he ever lays hands on the boy again. Boarding Bereet’s Banshee-mask supersonic ship, they then head to Rome themselves, determined to renew their battle with the Krylorians. The craft arrives to find Namor threatening the populace. Bereet approaches the watery warrior and informs him that the sea serpent was the work of her race but that she is a renegade and opposed to their violent tactics. The Sub-Mariner begins to calm down until one of the frightened bystanders hurls a brick and knocks the weird woman unconscious — Namor’s anger returns and he launches himself into the crowd.The Hulk soon joins the fray and begins trading tremendous punches with the amphibious man. Their battle rages across a plaza until the two combatants find themselves in the National Museum: many antiquities are destroyed.

After a time, Namor’s strength begins to wane until Ole Greenskin hurls him into a fountain — the water rejuvenates the Atlantean and the fight begins anew. When the military finally arrives, the Sub-Mariner scoops up Bereet and flies away, hoping that the woman can help him stop subsequent Krylorian attacks on his kingdom.The long and violent dustup between Hulk and Namor is the main attraction here, though the Atlantis sequence delivers some spectacle. I skipped a dopey part about some bumbling French policemen trying to get their hand on Spirou. So glad that little nudnik has exited stage left. “Spirou knew you were good monster! Spirou be your friend forever!”

Bleech. New penciller Keith Pollard — who continues the enjoyable and exaggerated pop art style of earlier artist Walt Simonson — delivers the action with multiple full-page panels. Awesome Alfredo Alcala is back as inker and, once again, he relies on a lot of shaded washes instead of the dark and detailed lines he applies to John Buscema’s art in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian. It’s a nice effect. A breezy and straightforward read, “Lo, the Sub-Mariner Strikes” relies mainly on its oddball premise, rewriting history as it presents what is now to be considered the first meeting of the future Defenders teammates. The story will continue in the next issue: Doug and Keith will be back but Tony DeZuniga replaces Alfredo. Boooo!Now it’s impossible to use the word “straightforward” to explain the latest Bloodstone installment, the 19-page “Suite Fear.” Is that a riff on “Sweet Fear?” I don’t know and I don’t care. I’ll go through this dreck scene by scene because it’s not worth trying to write a cohesive piece — since “cohesive” is another word that cannot be applied.

• In New York City, a man with sunglasses and a fedora enters a subway car and brandishes a gun: after all the commuters flee, the car explodes.

• At Delenor Hospital, two mailroom clerks find a package addressed to the Killer Shrike, who is still comatose and costumed in a room above: inside they find mechanical pieces that they assemble into what looks like a robot skeleton.

• Ulysses Bloodstone checks into the Plaza Hotel and argues with the snooty concierge.

• In Marseille, the mysterious man named Domino takes Samantha Eden to lunch.

• In Moscow, European correspondent Philip Lerou is slipped a small vial by a man being dragged away by the KGB.

• Bloodstone Island explodes.• Back at the hospital, authorities stand over the robot: they decide to disassemble it and deliver the package to the Shrike.

• At the Plaza, Bloodstone discovers that his room is booby trapped with various deadly weapons: he manages to escape them all, blowing up the room in the process.

• A man wearing sunglasses and a fedora enters the Shrike’s hospital room: inside is the robot, now reassembled, activated and calling itself the Modular Man.

You get all that? I have no idea where John Warner is going and what any of this really means. Again, don’t really care. I can only image the reaction of artist Val Mayerik when he received Warner’s script: “Now what the heck is this malarkey?!?” -Tom Flynn

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 23
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“Torrent of Doom”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

“Stygia: Serpent of the South”
Text by Robert Yaple
Art by Rick Hoberg

“The Striking of the Gong”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rick Hoberg and Bill Wray

“A New Song of Sonja”
Art and Poem by Wendy Pini

“Red Sonja at the Mall”
Text by Chris Padovano

“Wizards of the Black Sun”
Story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto
Art by Frank Thorne

“Swords and Scrolls”

Not counting Solomon Kane, this excellent issue features all of Marvel’s major adaptations of Robert E. Howard’s literary creations: Conan, King Kull and Red Sonja. Well, Sonja is not officially Howard’s, just inspired by, but what the heck. The fairly brief Conan story wraps up “The Pool of the Black One” adaptation (Weird Tales, 1933) that began last issue.

As “Torrent of Doom” kicks off, the Cimmerian is watching the return of the tall, demonic creatures to the weird city. Each is carrying the unconscious body of a crewmember from The Wastrel — the last of them is easily hefting all of the men’s weapons. The gaunt grey beings unceremoniously dump the pirates and their swords into a heap and return to the courtyard that contains the black pool. The leader of the monsters — his ghoulish skull adorned by a headband — pulls out a golden pipe and begins to play.

Conan orders Sancha to revive the crew while he buys some time. As she scampers away, the barbarian fearlessly charges the demons and quickly slays three with his flashing blade. He then races off, only to find himself in a dead end. Just when he is about to be surrounded by his peculiar pursuers, the Zingaran buccaneers — awake, armed and angry — appear behind the creatures. A fierce battle begins, Conan in the center of the melee, a whirlwind of violence and death. The headbanded leader flees, coming across the cowering Sancha: when the barbarian sees that she is being threatened he races to her defense and shoves the demon into the pool. But instead of falling into the murky, miniaturizing waters, the monster becomes caught as the liquid bursts skyward in a tremendous funnel. Conan orders the pirates and Sancha to flee as the massive waterspout shoots higher and higher. When it reaches its peak, the spout collapses and destroys the city in a tremendous tsunami. Conan and the crew manage to race ahead of the crashing waves, row back to The Wastrel and sail away.

While I wouldn’t exactly call it a minor tale, this two-parter is a fairly basic adventure. At the end, Conan has positioned himself as the captain of The Wastrel, but I’m not sure that we’ll see him continue in that capacity — the ship, its crew and Sancha will probably be forgotten by next issue. Obviously, I enjoyed this 19-page finale more than the first part: it is graced by the incredible inks of my fave, Alfredo Alcala, after all.

Next up is a new Kull story, “The Striking of the Gong,” and it’s set during his reign as ruler of Valusia. It’s an oddball, playing out like a bad acid trip. Kull finds himself floating in a dark dimension, with undulating waves pounding his brain. He sees a bright light and rushes toward it: reaching the source he is transported to an alien plane, strange planets hanging low in the night sky. An ominous, hooded figure approaches. Kull remarks that the last thing he remembers is sitting on his throne as the hourly gong was first struck. The mysterious stranger tells the king that he is on a different world from his birth and that death has no meaning. He also shows the Atlantean visions of evolving creatures and crumbling societies. Suddenly, Kull snaps to and is back in Valusia, Brule standing above him. The Pict informs the king that he was the victim of an assassination attempt but only suffered a flesh wound. When Kull says that he must have been unconscious for quite some time, Brule points out that the hourly gong is still striking.

My mind is blown! Well, not really. There are some nice, spacey visuals in this quick 9-pager, but don’t ask me what it all amounts to. It’s completely not what you’d expect from a sword-and-sorcery yarn. However, it was actually adapted from a Kull story by Howard, originally written in 1928. The art is pretty decent. Rick Hoberg returns to these pages after illustrating a text piece last issue. It looks like he’s well assisted by the inks of Bill Wray: not sure if this is the same guy who worked on The Ren & Stimpy Show in the early 1990s.

After Kull, the magazine basically turns into The Savage Sword of Red Sonja the She-Devil with a Sword. The first feature is “A New Song of Sonja” by Wendy Pini. The co-creator of Elfquest — and frequent Sonja cosplayer — contributes a lovely one-page pin-up of the Hyrkanian heroine as well as a fairly clumsy poem about the character. The last stanza:

So step up, bold warriors,
When Red Sonja calls —
And match steel against steel,
It you’ve got the _______ !

Saucy! The text piece “Red Sonja at the Mall” covers the first comic-art convention to be held in a shopping center on the East Coast, New Jersey’s Quakerbridge Mall. Red Sonja lookalikes Wendy Pini — her again — and Linda Behrle threatened shoppers with broadswords and Frank Thorne dressed up as a wizard, complete with pointy hat. Dave Cockrum, Rudy Nebres, Ernie Chan and Pablo Marcos were also in attendance. According to the photos, Pablo’s huge, disheveled afro also made an appearance.

The final Sonja feature, the 12-page “Wizards of the Black Sun,” is by the long-time creative team of her color comic: Roy Thomas, Clara Noto and Frank Thorne. With a few more additional pages, it could have easily been slotted into that bi-monthly series.

A tired and hungry Red Sonja rides up on a mysterious Argossean city. Outside, she is approached by a talking, three-legged goat. The animal, named Djali, warns the woman not to enter the walled outpost: but if she does, avoid the door of the black sun. Ignoring the bizarre billy, she enters the city and is soon beckoned into the hut of a wizened soothsayer named Sachette. The crone offers Sonja a tankard of ale as she prepares to read her future — but the drink is drugged and the Hyrkanian slips in unconsciousness.

The She-Devil awakes to find three ghoulish, cloaked men standing above her. She leaps up, disarms one of his sword and drives it through his belly — the wizard turns to stone as he dies. The remaining two offer her a deal: choose from the gleaming weapons hanging on the wall, only one is real. She spies four battles axes and picks the cleaver that’s in the position of where the goat’s missing leg would have been. Her choice is correct and she hacks the remaining sorcerers down. Another of the monk-like men appears, standing under a stone sun that hangs in the air. He removes his cloak and is revealed as a living skeleton. The bony being offers Sonja another challenge: make the choice between two doors, one leads to hell, the other to safety. The swordswoman notices that the floating sun casts a shadow on the door on the left: remembering the goat’s warning, she chooses right. The skeletal sorcerer screams and collapses in a rattle. The Hyrkanian rushes out through the correct door and finds her horse as the city begins to explode and collapse. Riding off, she encounters Djali once again. He tells her to turn around: Sonja sees an empty field where the city once stood. It was all an illusion.

I originally thought that this story was a reprint since the blurb on the Table of Content starts with “First time in Savage Sword!” And I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was familiar. But no, it’s new, never appearing in any other format before. It’s what we have come to expect from a Red Sonja story: outstandingly odd art, an engaging story that never taxes your patience and, of course, ample cleavage. I never really felt that Sonja was in any mortal danger: her quick wit and Djali’s helpful clue were all she really needed to come through unscathed. It’s not explained whether Sonja’s test was created by the bearded goat himself but it doesn’t really matter. A fine addition to an all-around solid issue.

To wrap things up, Robert Yaple’s lengthy and richly researched text piece, “Stygia: Serpent of the South,” is all about the Hyborian age’s Nazi Germany — though Yaple doesn’t really say that they are an outright evil empire. And while Earl Norem’s cover is superb it is totally misleading: yes, readers will find Red Sonja inside but where’s the octopus? Suckers! -Tom Flynn