Wednesday, March 30, 2016

January 1978 Part One: Last Call for The Champions and The Eternals!

The Amazing Spider-Man 176
"He Who Laughs Last...!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia

Spider-Man brings the rescued J. Jonah Jameson back to his office, and is frustrated by the typically ungrateful publisher, whom he spins around in a chair. The next day, Peter wakes up after a much-needed night's rest with a healed shoulder, goes to see Aunt May, and tracks her to a demonstration at City Hall, where a tussle with a policeman lands her in the hospital with a weak heart, with Peter pushing aside the cop, which is chalked up to a moment of stress. With MJ there for support, Peter visits a recovering May, then heads out to Dr. Hamilton's office to check on Harry—only to discover everything is a wreck! At Flash's apartment, the athlete returns with groceries to find The Green Goblin waiting there for him! Spidey shows up and battles Gobby, until the evil ghoul tosses Flash out the window! -Joe Tura

Joe Tura: The Green Goblin returns, and if you weren't quaking in your Pro-Keds back in 1977-78, you were simply not a Spidey supporter! The battle with Spidey is top-notch Andru, with DeZuniga's inks not harming the pencils as much as I expected. Gobby seems more evil than ever, but a little off at the same time. There's a mystery afoot, and we'll all be pleasantly surprised after the next couple of issues. Lots of Aunt May intrigue also, as we get the 5 millionth heart scare for the poor dear, who we hope has great insurance. And is it me, or does she see a different doctor each time? Do they take turns treating her because she's in the hospital so much? There's a hint that Peter may have ruined his secret identity with the quick and violent reaction, but it's explained away nicely by two understanding policemen, adding to the well-written issue.

Favorite sound effect is the "WHOK!" on page 3 when the nasty-as-always JJJ smashes his head on a window pane as Spidey swings away. And our hero's reaction is perfect: "Well, whaddaya know—that sound proves me right! Jonah's head is hollow!"

Matthew Bradley: You’ll have to take it on faith that I’m not saying this purely to avoid physical harm from protective Professor Tom, but the Andruniga teaming is fairly felicitous, with Ross’s recognizable pencils enhanced, not effaced, by Tony’s inks.  I may be over-sensitized by awareness of his upcoming departure, but I’m starting to get impatient with Len, e.g., Aunt May’s altercation with the fuzz during her Gray Panther protest, which feels like an instant replay of this year’s awful annual.  Whether you consider her Mild Heart Attack and Hospitalization #57 as adding value or insult to injury is strictly up to you; speaking of repetition, people say “wh—what are you doing to me?” in page 3, panel 3 and page 30, panel 2.

Mark Barsotti: Len runs pretty effectively through the paces here, giving old standbys like a Spidey-J. Jonah encounter a whiff of nitrous oxide goofiness, with Webs spinning Jameson around in a chair. Aunt May has a "mild heart attack," like always, but now it's while whacking a cop with her protest sign. Grey Power or dementia? Peter asks Mary Jane to come to the hospital to lend him emotional support, then trundles her off again after ten minutes with Aunt May and somehow doesn't come off as a jerk.

Chris Blake: I’m among those fans of Amazing Spider-Man who don’t mind spending a few pages – about half the issue, in this case – with Peter and his supporting cast, as he addresses concerns in his private life.  I’m sure it’s been said, but I agree with the assessment that so many of these characters maintain our attention because, for the most part, they read as true-to-life people.  May’s and Peter’s devotion to each other is genuine; Peter’s concern for Harry’s welfare is laudable (especially as he takes a rain-check on MJ’s unbeatable offer!); and, Mary Jane’s admiration for Peter, as she values his thoughtfulness, is well-founded.  When I’d first read this, I’m sure I was far too young and naïve to appreciate MJ’s response to May; Aunt May says she doesn’t know what she’s “going to do with that boy,” and MJ – with a little grin – tells her “that makes two of us, … although I do have a few ideas.”  (Hmm … whoa.)

The Andru/DeZuniga art is better than the pages we saw in the second half of ASM #174.  There are more clear-looking panels this time, with useful shading and atmosphere, without becoming as murky as DZ tends to be.  If they’d had more time to work together, Andru and DeZuniga might’ve grown to be a pretty good team.  Points off, though, for the Green Goblin’s reveal on p 22 (last panel) – guys, you need a bigger splash here; regardless of which Osborn is wearing the pointy-eared green suit, this figure is rightfully described as Spidey’s most dangerous foe, so you gotta sell his first panel.  The artists recover well after this missed opportunity, as the battling on p 26-27 – with action so furious that it spills over the panel-outlines – is well done.  

Mark: Something seems a little off with the Goblin. Why would Harry trash his (and Flash's) own apartment? Has he just gone bat-sh*t or...? And even though we last saw Dr. Hamilton being savagely beaten by a gone-berserk Harry, the Doc is now unaccounted for. Nothing special in the brief, by-rote Goblin fight, and Flash getting last panel tossed out the window doesn't present a very challenging save for a web-spinner.

But as a package, this one's certainly entertaining, with the supporting cast getting their due, and there's enough Goblin ambiguity to suggest Len may have something more tricky up his sleeve than just a tired, old pumpkin bomb.

The Avengers 167
"Tomorrow Dies Today!"
Story by Jim Shooter and Roger Stern
Art by George Perez and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by George Perez and Terry Austin

Earth's mightiest mortals answer a distress call from Nick Fury aboard SHIELD's space station. Seems that a gargantuan spacecraft has materialized out of nowhere and SHIELD is right in its path. When the Avengers get there, Fury orders them to get aboard the UFO and either change its course or destroy it. Once they get onboard, they discover the ship belongs to The Guardians of the Galaxy, led by Major Vance Astro. The Major explains to the group that the Guardians have entered our era from the future, tracking Korvac, the mad machine-man who has traveled back in time to prevent Astro from forming the GoG. The Avengers quickly agree to help in any way they can. Meanwhile, back in New York, Janet Pym's debut as a fashion designer hits a snag when the Porcupine gate crashes Janet's show. Luckily, Janet (in her new molecularly unstable ensemble) and fashion show attendees Hank Pym and Nighthawk are able to throw a kibosh on Porky's scheme but something more sinister happens while the "battle" is being waged: a strangely silent member of the audience joins hands with on of the runway models and both of them disappear. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: As has been the case with this title the last few months, we're given fabulous pictures to look at but the words don't add up to much. Silly question: wouldn't it have been easier for Earth's mightiest mortals to move the SHIELD space station than hassle with an unknown commodity (one that weighs quite a bit more) or have I missed out on the story line where it's explained that a universe-ending cataclysm will befall he who changes the SHIELD station's course? At least Shooter didn't mine the MARMIS lode for all seventeen of its pages and, instead, gave us something far more important to ponder: how the hell did Janet Pym get recognized as an up-and-coming fashion designer while dressed as a Delta Chi groupie? I think that's the question that holds more mystery than "who's the mystery man who absconded with Jerry Hall?"

Chris: I’ll be honest with you: when I first read this comic, I honestly thought that it was a self-contained story, with a happy ending.  I grasped that the mystery man at Jan’s fashion show is Korvac, but I truly believed, once he meets Carina and they disappear together, that Korvac shelves his mad plans of time-line alteration toward a goal of future conquest, choosing instead a quiet life with his new, true love.  Please don’t call me a “total sap;” I prefer “hopeless romantic,” although that still doesn’t excuse my being “absurdly clueless.”  

Shooter jam-packs the issue with plot developments and characterization, all within existing continuity.  Iron Man’s absences continue to be a problem – contributing to friction between him and Cap (could you imagine having the audacity to say “shut up” to Captain America ?!) – while Thor’s unpredictable comings-and-goings are a mystery to all, himself included.  Wonder Man’s opportunity to ponder the demands of super-heroism with Thor (and who would be better to discuss these questions) is cut off by a call to assemble.  Thor has met the Guardians recently, Cap longer ago, and Vance recognizes all present, so there’s no reason why anyone but the Beast should be embroiled in a MARMIS.  It’s a good one too, as MARMISes go, as neither party is out to kill the other (Charlie is pretty low-key throughout the conflict), plus the Beast gets to show off both his best bounce-ability, and his erudition, spouting phrases like “I’ll demonstrate the disadvantages of density to dumbo …!”

Chris: Thor Annual #6 now ties in neatly as a prequel to this longer storyline, requiring only a single large panel featuring all the Guardians (p 22) to explain why Korvac is thought to have dropped in to the 20th century.  It’s a masterful bit of economical writing by Shooter (with help from co-plotter Stern), as a lesser scripter might have only managed to reach the arrival of the Guardians on the 10th page of the story, without having time or space to set up the next issue, and without the seeming throwaway of the fashion show, which (as I now realize …) provides a facet that will be crucial to the resolution of the story, a mere ten issues from now. 
So, how much time was required for George Pérez to pencil this issue?  Start with the first page; where most artists would show you plain walls – maybe a few framed pictures to break up the space – Pérez packs the space with electronics and equipment; in addition to the dripping Beast, notice also that Wanda isn’t fully in costume (no boots, gloves, cape, or headgear) and that Cap’s gloves are in his belt, which adds to the effect of these people being in a rush.

The Guardians’ ship truly looks “awesome” (p 3), not only because it dwarfs the SHIELD satellite, but because we can tell that there’s a whole other sphere-section that must be as large as the one in front of us (also, bonus points to whoever decided – Shooter, I guess, although it might’ve been Archie – to leave the panel free of a blockheaded caption; the panel speaks for itself); all the turning heads in the diner, as Thor takes up the entire bench by himself (p 6); the SHIELD crew outfitting the team in full pressure suits, instead of the usual trick of putting an O2 mask on a character and sending him out into the vacuum (p 10); Iron Man zips along the ship’s corridors with his jet-skates (p 14, pnl 4); the Guardians (mostly) group portrait, on the staircase (p 16); Thor snags the Beast in mid-air with the handle of his hammer – too funny (p 16, last pnl); the single small panel, as various introductions and connections are made, featuring Charlie trying to mollify the Beast, and Nikki chatting up Thor, her left hand resting on his forearm (p 17, pnl 3); our first look at Carina, for whom I would abandon my plans for galactic conquest (p 26, 1st pnl); the Wasp’s graceful flight past a goon (p 27, 1st pnl); Nighthawk’s surprising arrival, showing good form as he slugs a thug (p 27, pnl 6); Korvac contacts Carina – looking like a Nordic Sean Connery, hmm? (p 30), and their quiet fade as the robbery-foiling fight is finished (p 31).  One last thing: this is the very first Pérez/Austin Avengers cover, with lots more to come (no interior art ever by this pair in these pages, though …).  

Chris: So, I guess I like this issue a little bit, right?  Well, in fact, it’s the first brand-new Marvel comic I ever purchased at the newsstand.  I’d like to say I don’t know why I decided on this one instead of the others available that day (and, if I had it all to do over, I would’ve cleared out that whole rack right then and there), but I’m sure I flipped thru it, and appreciated a lot of Pérez’s great qualities.  I then was able to enjoy the story on the car ride home; I read the team’s reaction on p 3, with the Beast’s line “It’s big, too!” to my dad while we were stopped at the gas station.
Matthew:  I hope it’s an honest error, but unlike all of the other credits, “Sterno: Co-Plot” has the same blue background as the surrounding machinery, making it virtually invisible; hey, Shooter didn’t color this, too, did he?  Since slamming his scripts threatens to become a full-time job, I’ll focus on the excellent Pérez art—or is that redundant?—as I allow that while I consider Our Pal (especially unJansonized) my orphaned Guardians’ definitive interpreter, the Pacesetter can pencil them anytime he likes, preferably inked by Austin, as on the cover, rather than Marcos.  Love the unidentified Drydock in page 3, panel 1; the nifty way the GOTG’s head shots frame the dreaded Korvac to jazz up the exposition-heavy page 22; and, yes, Jan’s Grecian outfit.

Despite the stealth-collaboration of Stern, who co-plotted the Guardians’ appearance in the Thor Annual after winding up their Marvel Presents strip, there is a continuity issue; it’s more of a question than an outright error, but rather than wait and see if it’s addressed later, I’ll mention it here.  At the end of MP #12, Charlie notes that they could use Drydock to build a new ship to replace the wrecked Captain America, and when we last saw them, it was implied—if not overtly stated—that they’d done just that.  Which makes me wonder why, when traveling to our time, they didn’t simply bring Freedom’s Lady instead of the whole damned Federation starship-yard…of which, to give credit where it’s due, Pérez closely replicates Milgrom’s original image.


Joe: This two-part tale in one issue is actually the second part of something big if you count that Thor Annual, but it adds up to one part of excellence. The art is sumptuous, except George and Pablo really do not draw a good Tony Stark on page 6—unless space adds 20 pounds. The spaceship shots are awesome, the Guardians all look great, and the Avengers look as spectacular as always. Lots of mystery to get through in the coming months, starting with Thor. Should be a fun ride. However…the less said about the awful Hostess ad the better…The Ding-a-Ling Family? Oh man, they have to retire these soon.


Black Panther 3
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Ernie Chan

The Black Panther must make a bargain with the samurais who have captured him and Abner Little. T'Challa agrees to return the urn filled with sacred water in exchange for safe passage out. Shinzu, the samurai leader, agrees and soon the Panther and Little are on a mini-sub bound for freedom. Unfortunately, the "Collectors" who sent the pair to retrieve the immortality serum in the first place don't see eye-to-eye with T'Challa when he explains what transpired. When Princess Zanda reminds the Panther that her missiles are aimed at Wakanda, our hero calls her bluff, noting that the "Collectors" would never recover from such a P.R. disaster. "Fair enough," sighs one of the Collectors, "let's kill them then." Abner distracts the baddies by pulling a test tube of sacred water from his pocket and tossing it to the Panther. The Collectors trample one another in order to take possession of the vital fluid and the tube is destroyed in the tussle. The Panther hops aboard a handy helicopter and flies away to Wakanda. Meanwhile, in T'Challa's native land, his half-brother, a militant named Jakarra, has seized control of Wakanda and exposed himself to Vibranium. Not a good idea as he soon finds when his body becomes unstable and he transforms into a living isotope. The warning drums of Wakanda, silenced for centuries, beat throughout the land. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Looks like there was at least one person on Earth who was as tired of this unending dirge of a story as much as me and, luckily, it was the writer of the damned thing. Jack throws up his hands halfway through the story and ends the long arc with a whimper. If T'Challa was convinced Zanda's threat of annihilation was just that, then why did he agree to go on the mission in the first place? Why does the mini-sub station in Samuraiville look suspiciously like the loading dock of Disneyland's Submarine Voyage? Didn't this whole thing start out with something about frogs?  On the bright side, the newest plot, that dealing with Jakarra and his skin condition, looks as though it was pulled straight out of the pages of Fantastic Four, circa 1967. What could be better?

Matthew: Well, as Marvel Cover-Lies go, “T’Challa returns to his rightful realm” is a doozy, since he’s still in transit at the fade-out, but I’m glad he’s at least moving in the right direction…not that we’ll expect any McGregorian subtlety once he gets there!  The concept of the Collectors admittedly had some potential, yet except for Little and Zanda, the characters are disposable cut-outs, and without better handling, they’ve worn out whatever dubious welcome they had.  As far as I know, this notion of the Vibranium Mound causing an “alien infection” that turns men into “demon spirits” is Jack’s retconned invention; if so, I think it creates a slippery slope that could prove dangerous for future—better—writers and am surprised Archie allowed it.

Captain America and the Falcon 217
"The Search for Steve Rogers!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Don Glut
Art by John Buscema and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson 
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia

Cap and the Falcon are signing autographs for a multitude of young admirers, but Cap’s mind is more focused on figuring out who Steve Rogers truly is than on chatting it up with his fans. Falc comes up woth a phony excuse for ditching the kids and walks him to SHIELD HQ. Once there, they notice it’s just a little too quiet. Suddenly, they are attacked by SHIELD agents. Cap and Falc make short work of them before Nick Fury arrives. Seems the traitor who infiltrated SHIELD has been mentally probed. It was discovered that he was brainwashed by a sinister shadow group called “the Corporation” to implicate Cap and Falc, and this attack was a test to confirm their identities. Before they can learn more, the traitor grabs hidden poison and takes his own life. Frustrated, Fury introduces Cap and Falc to his new Super-Agents: Texas Twister, who can make hurricane force winds, the Vixen, who wears an ability sapping belt, Blue Streak, who wears jet powered roller skates, and Marvel Boy, patterned after the 1950s super-hero of the same name. Fury wants Cap to lead and train them, but Cap refuses, goading them into attacking him. They do well against the veteran hero, until finally Cap puts the brakes on it. He admits they have talent and need leadership, but rather than take the job himself, he nominates Falcon, who agrees. Cap then leaves to pick up the threads of his forgotten life.

Meanwhile, the head of the Corporation, Kligger, needs to be sure Cap’s obsession to find himself is true, not a ruse. He sends his agent, the beautiful Veda to get in his good graces and find out what Cap knows and then kill him. Once home, Steve calls Sharon and tells her they need a break while he gets his act together. She agrees, but decides to go talk to him in person. Outside his apartment, Steve sees a woman being attacked. He initially thinks it’s Sharon, but it’s Veda. After he saves her, she admits to knowing he's Captain America and kisses him just as Sharon rounds the corner. Heartbroken, she leaves, but Steve admits that it might be for the best. He suggests he and Veda go somewhere and talk, oblivious to the fact that he’s walking into a trap. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: With Kirby gone and a reprint issue now under our belts, the new team and storyline finally kick in. The art is a distinct improvement and the story makes more sense than the previous two years put together. Steve looking to discover his true past is an intriguing notion. It’s also really great to have Nick Fury back in person rather than being name-dropped by a man who never seemed to want to draw him into to the story. Cap’s remark to the Falcon about “at least you know who you were before becoming the Falcon” seems an iffy comment. Unless we’re supposed to forget the Snap Wilson story, how awesome does Cap think Falcon feels about learning he was really a two-bit thug programmed by the Red Skull as a trap to kill Captain America. Really, Cap, have a little consideration for your buddy.

Matthew:  Thanks for bringing that up, Scott; I neglected to mention it but thought it was worthy of comment.

Scott: The Super Agents are a pretty ridiculous lot, honestly. Blue Streak is hilarious, with his cute disco outfit and his skates. I – guess – he’s no worse a concept than a hairless guy on a flying surfboard, but he really is a sign of the times (“next on CHiPs, Ponch and Jon compete in the Roller Derby!”). Vixen confused me at the start, I actually thought she was supposed to be Val. She looks like the Contessa and the whole “Femme Force” thing muddied the waters a bit. It is a nice callback, but confusing, since she looks similar. Texas Twister is more than he seems. Since I already saw him in a later issue of FF as a villain, I can guess where this is all going to lead. Marvel Boy, though, will be around for a bit. At least this will give Falcon something to do while Cap is off finding his roots.

The Buscema/Marcos artwork is excellent. Very detailed and more realistic than Kirby’s more cartoonish (yet energetic) work. After a long stretch of torture, the book actually was fun to read. Maybe if this followed Englehart’s run, I might not be as enthusiastic, but it feels like a breath of fresh spring air after the coldest, most endless winter on record. Hoping for the best.

Matthew:  I couldn’t have designed a more perfect example of the drab, uninspired issues that I expect will increasingly be the norm as we wind down the decade/blog; if this is representative of what lay or, God forbid, lies ahead with Glut, then I’m sorry to say it, but it’s a good thing Roy quit while he was behind.  Don’t know which reflects worse on S.H.I.E.L.D., those doofy berets the agents now sport or the unbelievably pathetic so-called Super-Agents, including the Texas Twister, for whose return after the Frightful Four Fiasco in FF #177 positively nobody was clamoring.  I didn’t like the John/Pablo pairing on MTIO #30, and I like it less here as Marcos, a wild card at the best of times, obliterates any traces of Buscema-Grandeur.

Captain Marvel 54
"The Big Bang Theory"
Story by Scott Edelman
Art by George Tuska, Dave Cockrum, and Terry Austin
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karin Doughrty
Cover by Keith Pollard and Frank Giacoia

With the 3GW averted, the Inhumans return to Attilan, Dr. Minerva joins Mac-Ronn and Ronan on the Wilford farm, and Mar-Vell heads for Earth.  Meanwhile, having recently mistaken Omega for the similarly garbed Kree and been soundly defeated, Nitro is more vengeful than ever, and manages to reassemble his scattered atoms, making landfall in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow—a name to strike retroactive despair in the hearts of Secret Wars victims.  Rick visits Avengers’ (sic) Mansion, almost fatally distracts Wonder Man during a Danger Room workout, and explains that his “abduction” was a misunderstanding, which he then must do again for his manager, now planning Rick’s European tour, and concerned sometime girlfriend, Gertie.

Mar-Vell “borrows” another outfit from the Salvation Army (where a colorful character cries, “Oy!  A super-hero!  And me without mine Brownie!”) and is accosted by the Bugle’s inquiring photographer, Tom Murray, who asks about “the chances for peace in the Middle East.”  But his human guise is quickly discarded when, as intended, Nitro’s rampage flushes him out, the heat of their battle melting the very asphalt of the street.  Using this to his advantage in between blasts, Mar-Vell traps half of Nitro’s molecules inside a ruptured tank truck—the boiling tar forming an air-tight seal—to prevent his re-forming, and then, certain that the Avengers can transfer them to a secure container, he “strides nobly down the New York City street—disdaining Earthly garb!”
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: For us Monday-morning QBs, there’s a kind of poignancy—not a word I normally associate with Edelman—to the return of the self-styled (accurately, if indirectly) “killer of Captain Marvel.”  DC-bound Tuska is certainly going out in a blaze of, uh, graphite:  this month he not only ends his near-decade on Iron Man, but also shepherds Champions into cancellation and paves the way for this book’s final penciler.  Providing visual continuity, Austin does his best with what he’s given, but Mordecai looks like an entirely new character, and while I presume Terry contributed such sight gags as the “J. Shooter Hand Me Downs” Salvation Army sign, “Mordecai P. Boggs Presents Elvis” poster and discarded copy of X-Men, they add to the pervasive air of desperation.

“When I was a kid, George Tuska was THE Iron Man artist, so to have him draw an issue of Captain Marvel for me once Al Milgrom moved on was amazing,” Edelman notes; a tantalizing postscript relates that Tuska’s final page was hastily replaced with one by Dave Cockrum, which he reproduces.  “Yes, that’s Wonder Man who’s knocked Captain Marvel to the ground.…As far as I know, the photocopy I own is all that remains of Tuska’s original page.  Why did Wonder Man attack [him] here, and what was his role going to be in the following issue?  I no longer have any idea.  Why did Archie…decide that Wonder Man had to be excised from the plot after having originally approved (or so I assume) his appearance?  I have no memories of that either.”

Had Wonder Man—and seemingly everyone else—not already been disabused of the notion that Rick was kidnapped by Mar-Vell (a rumor that seems intrinsically unlikely, given the brevity of that misapprehension by the Teen Brigade et al.), said attack might have seemed justified, but as it stands, it’s imponderable.  These are not the only questions raised by his appearance, in every sense; he’s sporting his original outfit, unseen since c. Avengers #160, and although it’s likely attributable to colorist Vartanoff, he’s inexplicably gray-haired.  While we’re at it, when Rick recalls hanging with the Hulk in Paris “back in the old days,” Archie’s footnote directs us to Rampaging Hulk #2, a retcon that was itself retconned out of existence as a part of Bereet’s film.
Chris: Wow – there’s an awful lot of wasted space in this issue.  Could anyone tell me what Wonder Man is doing here?  Surely he’s going to help Captain Marvel against Nitro – right?  No, apparently he’s here to bust up some things, and talk with Rick.  Then, once we’re finally done with Rick’s love life and tour plans (let’s hope it's a long, long European tour), we have two pages of Mar-Vell acquiring clothes to wear over his uniform, which he proceeds to chuck as soon as he realizes Nitro has reformed, and is threatening the city.  That leaves all of four pages for Marv to battle Nitro – that’s it!  Once Nitro is contained, Edelman needs the last two pages for Marv to stride off into the sunset.  The notion of Mar-Vell choosing to live among earth-people is an understandable idea; so, why couldn’t more of the issue been devoted to furthering that plan, instead of all the filler we had instead?

Let me get back to the final page.  I really hope you liked it – it’s the second of only two times during the Bronze era that Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin are paired as interior artists.  Both times, they collaborate on a single splash page (Defenders #53 being the other example).  Why was Cockrum required to pencil this one page?  More importantly, why were Cockrum & Austin paired on numerous covers, but never brought together to provide art for an entire issue of some Marvel title (I don’t think I would’ve cared which one)?  I’m sorry to say my answer to both questions is, “I have no idea.”  Before we leave, you might want to stoop down and snap up that issue of X-Men that someone carelessly left on the sidewalk; even if it’s a little scuffed up, trust me – it’ll be worth something someday.  Then, you might want to say Hi to the cute young woman standing by the doorway to the office building, who’s wearing a sweatshirt with the Superman symbol; you never know, she might be into Marvel guys.
Terry Austin’s presence here proves his worth as a comics-art magician.  The Tuska art is fairly attractive under Austin’s finishes, isn’t it?  Highlights include Nitro’s misty re-corporation (p 7), Wonder Man demolishing stuff (p 10, pnl 3); another re-forming (p 22, pnl 4); and, I guess that’s all – like I said, there’s hardly any action.
On the letters page, we have a curious missive from Ed H. of Claymont DE, who is on the mark when he requests that Rick Jones be phased out by issue #62 (which, ironically, winds up being the final issue of this title – and, why wait that long?) and that Marv should establish Titan as a “base of operations” (which will happen, for a while), but head-scratchingly speculates that Al Milgrom will be missed “more than Jim Starlin was,” and recommends that Marv be squared up against Earth-based villains like the Mole Man, Sandman, and Morbius.  No wonder Bullpenners describe themselves as “beleaguered.”  
Lastly, I want to point out that Wonder Man is wearing a variation on his costume we’ve never seen in the pages of the Avengers; it’s green and red like his original garb (destroyed, as you know, by the Grim Reaper in the classic Avengers #160), but it doesn’t have the squiggly lines at the midsection which I know some people didn’t like.  Also, the full cowl is gone, so he has red shades held on by a piece resting against the back of his head.  Years from now, when WM’s solo mag debuts, he’ll be featured with a uniform much like this one, except navy blue in place of the green sections.  I would’ve preferred the costume we see here to the Foreign Correspondent suit that’s about to show up in the Avengers.  

The Champions 17
"The Sentinels Hunt Again!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and John Byrne
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ernie Chan

Their alarm systems damaged during the battle with Swarm, Hercules and Tasha are caught off-guard as the Blob, Unus the Untouchable, and Lorelei burst in, not to attack but to seek aid from the Sentinels that quickly follow.  The Black Widow is able to activate the Champsignal (a prearranged pattern of lights in the upper-floor windows), yet as they await their teammates, the evil mutants are unable to help, their powers neutralized by the Sentinels, and the true menace, the Vanisher, “lurks in the shadows!”  When Warren spots the huge “C,” his effort to gather the others—who are awaiting the premiere of the Stuntmaster’s (sic) movie Hot Cycles, with stunts by Johnny Blaze—is delayed by intra-group strife and a hysterical, anti-mutant mob.

The reinforcements find the Sentinels curiously easy to defeat, and demand an explanation; Unus relates that the ray with which Eric the Red restored Magneto to adulthood penetrated their cell, and after destroying a Sentinel scout, they “sought out the only two X-Men who’d gone public!”  Warren’s skepticism proves well-founded as the Vanisher stuns them with a ray, having awoken aboard Lang’s orbital platform (after X-Men #100) and completed those Sentinels still under construction, which brought Unus et alia to him.  His plan to lure the X-Men with news of their former teammates’ deaths is scuttled when Laynia activates the Sentinels, which subdue the trio, and then—declaring herself to be “more than human!”—stops the Vanisher in mid-teleportation.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Wow, I’d forgotten that my beloved Champs went out on such a low note, and as often happens, tying up their loose ends didn’t go strictly according to plan.  The lettercol tells us that, “in the not-too-distant future, you shall be witness to a scene never before seen in the Marvel Age of Comics—the actual disbanding of a super-group for all time!  Be watching upcoming issues of Avengers for this Mighty Marvel Milestone,” instead depicted, starting in April, in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #17-8.  Interestingly, it also calls this “one of the most bizarre and unlikely [teams]…Could such a group long endure the internal conflicts and problems which surely must arise?  The answer is no,” suggesting that it fell victim to those rather than low sales.

To begin at the beginning, there’s a continuity problem right on the splash page.  Remember my questioning the accuracy of the note at the end of Iron Man Annual #4, directing readers to Champions #16 to learn the fate of the injured Darkstar?  The opening narration here refers to their battles “first against Magneto, then Doctor Doom, and lastly, MODOK,” with a footnote citing #16, Super-Villain Team-Up #15 (sic), and the annual.  Setting aside the fact that Archie gets both the SVTU issue number (#14) and the sequence of the cross-over wrong, Darkstar’s injury is mentioned in neither Champions #16 nor 17, so I see no reason not to ignore the earlier note and follow the general sequence offered here, placing the annual in between the two issues.

Now, can we talk about the Vanisher?  First, guy looks like a freakin’ head of broccoli.  That’s not the fault of anyone here, but does Mantlo really expect us to believe that this D-level bad guy—not hitherto regarded as a scientific genius, as far as I know—was able to get three Sentinels up and running single-handed?  It’s fun to see Byrne get an early crack at them, yet as he fills an unusual role inking fellow Champs vet Tuska, he is perhaps respectful to a fault, and I don’t see too much of John’s style in evidence.  There are moments (and I’m not above including the shapely Laynia discarding her civilian duds in page 16, panel 4), but they are, alas, few and far between...although the full- and double-page shots of the Sentinels are admittedly impressive.

Scott: Leave it to me to check this book out during its final issue. Not bad, really. I’m not a fan of Tuska (as you all know), but embellished by John Byrne, there’s almost nothing of George in there. It’s a shame this title had to stop dead here, the story and the fate of the Vanisher was fascinating and bleak. Perhaps I’ll pay attention to the Avengers to see what happens next in some vague “future issue.”  
Chris: Mantlo tries to push some plot points past us, in the hope we won’t notice they make no sense.  So, let me slow things down here: the Vanisher “awoke on an observation table” aboard the abandoned SHIELD orbital platform, but how did he get there, and what was he doing there?; the Vanisher hangs out and builds himself some Sentinels, using the parts of Lang’s unfinished ones, but how could that be, when the X-Men left the platform a flaming wreck in X-Men #100?; the Vanisher programs his Sentinels to seek out mutants who could aid him in his plot against the X-Men, but why not program them to track the X-Men themselves, and get right to the point?  The action makes up for some of the holes in the story; there are few things more fun to see than a Sentinel being demolished. 

The Champions comes to an unceremonious end, as a yellow box on the letters page acknowledges this group was too miss-fit to work anyway, so they’ll formally disband in an upcoming issue of the Avengers.  So, that’s it?  Someone on the editorial staff decided the team wasn’t such a hot idea, and it’s done?  I’m still curious to know how this series wound up in the dustbin, within only a few months of having produced its finest issues.  I can see how sales might’ve slackened once this title slid down to bi-monthly; still, I can’t help thinking that, based on fan response in the letters page, this title might’ve been able to continue, with a little support.  
The Tuska/Byrne art sure is … uh, different, isn’t it?  Prof Bradley might describe it as neither “fish nor fowl.”  There are times when the Tuska-faces are unmistakable, and others when they appear as a blend of both artists’ styles; the crowd-shot on p 11 (last pnl) is a good example.  I’d be willing to bet Byrne added extra detail – and debris – to the Sentinels.  

Conan the Barbarian 82 
“The Sorceress of the Swamp”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Howard Chaykin and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and Ernie Chan

Conan heads back to Harakht after swapping the Eyes of Set with Ptolemy, the king of Attalus. Wary that there still might be minions of the dead sorcerer Hun-Ya-Di searching for the jewel, the Cimmerian avoids a direct route and rides through a shadowy swampland. Suddenly he comes across a dark beauty: she asks for help, claiming that her brother is injured. But it is a trap as three black Kushites pounce. Conan kills two as the remaining bandit and the woman escape. Continuing on, the barbarian then encounters two Stygian riders, members of a peaceful, renegade clan that lives in the swamp. Their leader, Neth-At, informs the Cimmerian that his people are at war with the blacks who share their land — they have been whipped into a frenzy by the powerful witch-man Toroa and have vowed to slaughter the Stygians. He also mentions the wizard’s formidable companion, the beautiful Sabia: Conan realizes that this is the woman he just encountered but says nothing. At the Stygian’s ramshackle town, Neth-At takes Conan to a black man they captured. So far, the Kushite has revealed no information, but when the barbarian whispers into the man’s ear that he is the legendary Amra, his tongue loosens. The captive reveals that he was sent to see if Conan reached the Stygian settlement. Suddenly, a strange shrill cry rises out of the swamp and the Kushite cowers in fear. The barbarian agrees to investigate and rides out. He soon comes across Toroa’s hut. It seems empty but Conan does not enter, knowing that shaman often protect their domiciles with a deadly presence — the blanched skulls littering the ground support his fears. As he mounts his stallion, Sabia appears from the brush. Using a charm, she immobilizes the warrior before he can bring his sword down. Cackling madly, she claims that, tonight, he will be unable to resist the call of Damballah and will be drawn into the swamp to witness the Dance of the Skull. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Here we go again. After the last three Dreaded Deadline Doom issues derailed the anticipated march to the Stygian capital of Luxor, we have another delay. And this one is a two-parter so the wait will drag on even more. Big John Buscema must be totally, uh, swamped, because Roy dicks around by adapting Robert E. Howard’s “Black Canaan” from the June 1936 issue of Weird Tales. The story had nothing to do with Conan: it was a horror yarn set in the American South. The Rascally One does tie it into the events of the last three issues by having the barbarian riding through the swamp to avoid any of Hun-Ya-Di’s remaining cronies. Called “Guest Illustrators” in the credits, the art team from the Iskander trilogy is back and the results are adequate but awkward. Ernie Chan’s inks give his work a bit of the Big John sheen, but Howard Chaykin is ill-suited for the Hyborian age. This is a fairly ho-hum issue, with only one battle scene. We do have Stygians however, but this bunch is surprisingly friendly, a somewhat rebellious bunch that broke away from Luxor’s dark rule. But who the heck would relocate in a swamp? Tough place to keep clean. After Sabia bewitches Conan and says that he will be drawn by the call of Damballah that night, he swears that, as a warrior born, he will not answer it. But since the next issue is titled “The Dance of the Skull,” methinks he will not live up to that vow. Speaking of Sabia, she certainly is a hot number. I’m surprised that Buscema’s rendition on the cover got past the Comics Code. Look at those things!

Chris: Fans of Big John Buscema shouldn’t have too much to complain in his absence, as Howard Chaykin & Ernie Chan continue to maintain this title’s high standards.  Let’s direct our attention to the two interior splash pages.  To start from the end, first observe p 22, as Conan warily approaches the juju hut of Toroa; his figure might appear to be a bit stiff – I’d prefer to see Conan depicted in a crouch, his sword held with before him, rather than sticking up straight along his right side – but the view from behind the hut makes it appear bigger, more imposing, as Conan moves forward in the moonlight.  The other splash, depicting Toroa on p 16, admittedly is more impressive, aided by George Roussos’ atmosphere-enhancing colors.  Toroa doesn’t appear at all in person, so the full-page illustration here complements Roy’s account of the character, as we develop a clearer understanding of Toroa’s imposing figure, and the potential threat he might pose. 

Daredevil 150
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by Carmine Infantino and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Denise Whol
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Daredevil returns home after another unproductive night of searching for the Purple Man.  He intends to rest for a few minutes before meeting Foggy Nelson in court, but instead, he lapses into a dream about the trial of Maxwell Glenn, which features Matt’s nightmare scenario: he might have to reveal his secret identity as Daredevil in order to clear Glenn’s name.  Matt wakes as Foggy calls, angry over Matt’s absence in court.  Matt switches to Daredevil, and as he takes to the rooftops, he decides to inform Foggy and Heather Glenn that he knows Maxwell is not guilty because Daredevil had told Matt the truth about the Purple Man’s manipulation of Maxwell.  At that moment, DD detects the presence of a figure behind him.  DD confronts the man, who identifies himself as Paladin; DD recognizes “a mercenary, private investigator, and gun-for-hire.”  Paladin demands information, but once he realizes DD does not plan to play along, a tussle ensues.  Finally, Paladin reveals he’s been hired to “hunt down the Purple Man;” DD takes heart at this news, since it indicates some other party (as yet unnamed – Paladin won’t disclose his employer’s identity) also believes that the Purple Man is alive, and can be found.  Heather Glenn visits her father at Riker’s Island, but finds Maxwell distant, and preoccupied with his perceived guilt in the crimes the Purple Man had compelled him to commit.  DD lets himself in to Heather’s apartment, and waits; he’s resolved to reveal his secret identity to her.  He’s resigned to the likelihood that DD would be required to “unmask in court” when he attempts to convince a jury that he, as Daredevil, is aware of the Purple Man’s role in Maxwell’s criminal activities.  As he waits, the phone rings; Matt picks up, and finds himself speaking to the warden of Riker’s.  Since Matt has been Maxwell’s defense attorney, the warden breaks this news: Maxwell committed suicide, shortly after Heather’s departure this morning from her visit to him. -Chris Blake

Chris: Hold on – isn’t the hero supposed to save the day, you know, as he pulls the kids from the burning building, and arrives at the last moment with the antidote, and slugs the bad guy in the eye, so all the good guys and gals can ride home safely in their new Oldsmobile?   Well, class, this being the Marvel Age of Comics, we’re dealing with fallible heroes dealing with difficult issues, who are capable of making costly mistakes, which can have lasting repercussions, with no do-over.  Matt chastises himself as he realizes Foggy’s unfounded hatred for Glenn has begun to wear him down; “He’s my best friend,” Matt tells himself, “I should have trusted him long ago!”  And now, scripter Shooter demonstrates how Matt’s decision has come too late to save Maxwell Glenn; pretty ironic outcome, since Matt’s efforts to locate the Purple Man have been driven by his desire to clear Glenn’s name.  Of course, Matt now knows he’s been trying to accomplish this goal with minimal cost to himself, as his need to preserve his secret identity has been his overriding consideration.   Can he honestly say to Heather that all he wanted was to clear her father’s reputation?  Seems like, all he’s managed to do is exchange one difficult problem for another.  So, the DC and Charlton comics are over here, on this side of the spinner rack, if they’re more your speed; I hear Superman fights a gorilla in this one.
I was able to tolerate the Infantino art in our previous issue, but I find Janson having to work much harder this time to smooth over the evidence of Carmine’s presence.  The fight sequence with Paladin is fairly good, especially as DD swings around and caches Pal with a kick to his back (p 17).  Overall, though, my favorite art bit is the way Janson, with inks and colors working in concert, conveys some of the effect of a cloudy night sky, lit by the city lights (p 16, 1st pnl of p 26 and p 27).

Matthew: Killing off Glenn just when it’s too late to prevent it epitomizes Shooter’s overly contrived plotting and insistence on shaking up a strip’s status quo.  He told Kuljit Mithra that “Infantino’s stuff was so stylized, people either loved it or hated it.  I liked the look, but often had problems with his storytelling.  Carmine was the only one to insist on panel-by-panel directions from me, and he still chose strange shot angles, and misinterpreted many scenes.  Everyone else preferred a (tight) plot with some room for them to interpret the story cinematographically.”  Their creation, Paladin—accent on the “pallid,” I guess—didn’t impress me then and hasn’t improved with age, particularly the jaw-dropper of him hitting on the tourists.

According to Shooter, “during those years, there was increasing concern on the parts of creators about creating characters under work-for-hire, with no compensation.  I encouraged everyone to use existing characters until I got a participation plan in place (I was editor in chief by then) and most people agreed.  Bill Mantlo was a notable exception.  He was a weak writer, so he willingly created characters to enhance his value and endear himself to the company and the editors.  He did it no matter what I said.  I created a few characters, too, because I was on staff and thought that made it my job.  A few people, like Chris Claremont, just couldn’t contain themselves.  It’s tough for incredibly creative people like Chris to rein it in.”  Nice double standard there, Jimbo...

The Defenders 55
"The Power Principle Part 3:
Emotion, Ego... and Empty Expectations!"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Carmine Infantino and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

The being formerly known as Sergei, aka The Presence, is a living source of nuclear power. He has essentially brainwashed the Red Guardian from Defender to co-nuclear mistress. Namor,  Hulk, Hellcat and Nighthawk have tracked him down, barely surviving an underwater nuclear explosion. That's where we're at, and in an effort to stop Sergei from contaminating Atlantis with radiation  (not to mention the rest of us!), they press their attack. Nuclear power proves difficult to resist however,  as the Hulk is sent flying with a gesture. Namor's innate abilities allow him to deflect some of the Presence's shots right back, but it's a small advantage.  Nighthawk, more than the others, is feeling the effects of the radiation. As he struggles to regain strength further down the beach, he spots a giant horn from Subby's ship. He thinks it will summon help but,  instead, it calls forth the Behemoth From Below, a giant rock-like creature.  It's more than Nighthawk can handle; luckily the Hulk is handy to lend a fist or two. Hellcat has her own worries,  dodging Tania's nuclear blasts. She manages to reach the humanity that still resides in the Red Guardian who, in turn, humbles Sergei into stopping his evil plans. Some humanity still must exist in him as well; his love for Tania is more important than his love for power. He departs, leaving the Defenders victorious but suffering from heavy radiation poisoning. Back at Empire State University in Manhattan, Val(kyrie) walks with a friend, Ledge. They are interrupted by the man who calls himself Lunatik. A look at his handiwork on some drug peddlers enrages Val; she draws her sword, ready for battle.

Jim Barwise: Well I have to give Sergei credit; when Tania turns on him, he doesn't respond,  instead an inner good prevails, making for a stronger ending. The battle is pretty decent, especially Hulk going all green on the Behemoth. The epilogue with the Valkyrie reminds me though, how much fuller the title seems with her and Dr. Strange present.  Still, not bad.

Matthew: For those who didn’t get their Jantino fix from DD, the Bullpen Page tells us that this is a “fill-in art job [by] Creative Carmine Infantino, whose ability to adapt his unique style to almost any of our crazy characters is making him a mainstay of the line.  Those of you who have been demanding that Klaus Janson return to inking everybody’s favorite non-group will be pleased to note that he does exactly that with these two issues, and he’ll be staying on when Energetic Ed Hannigan picks up the reins as regular penciler after Carmine’s issues.  Together with writer Dave Kraft, the guys promise some of the most devastating Defenders adventures ever!”  So, like the Lunatik “epilog,” this guarantees us a continued downward spiral.

For some reason, Subby seems to endure the worst of Carmine’s depredations, with his angular stance on the splash page a good example, yet the Hulk’s apparent gyration in page 17, panel 2 (complete with that Kraft staple, a “DAK-KOOM” sound effect), and even more so the rag-doll Red Guardian in page 22, panel 5 (below), once again compel me to ask, is this physically possible outside of the Frank Robbins Universe?  I don’t recall—or perhaps have mercifully blocked out—where the Dude goes with this, but he seems awfully cavalier about blanketing large amounts of territory and personnel with lethal doses of radiation.  Overall, I find this prolix and implausible, with Tania’s domination a continuing irritant, offset only by her rapport with Patsy.

Chris: I had avoided this issue due to the pencils of Carmine Infantino; quite a come-down, I expected, from the art of two of my favorites (Giffen and Golden, you’ll recall) in the previous two (disjointed and brief) issues.  My dislike for Infantino’s art is right there on the splash page; there’s an apparent effort to place the characters in some sort of dramatic pose, but instead Namor looks like he’s about to topple over backwards and land right on his head.  I also dislike how Infantino, whenever he presents any sort of impact, will depict it as a little circle with thin lines pointing out from it; it always comes off as pitifully flat – I don’t get any sense of the power behind the force (as seen on page 2, when Sergei hits the Hulk with a shine-circle that apparently is powerful enough to blast him to Moscow; coulda fooled me). 

Well, I’m glad I elected not to allow my bias to hold me back; as the issue churns on, Infantino shows off some of the imagination that earned him legions of fans dating back to the Silver Age.  In particular, the Atlantean behemoth looks great, starting from when it first surprises Kyle (p 10, last pnl).  Infantino typically shows the beast in close-up, so it dominates most of its panels; this approach emphasizes its size, but also prevents the reader from determining exactly how big it is, so we can only speculate it must be quite massive indeed (such as p 23, last panel, as Kyle and Namor are about to vanish under its bulk).  The beast’s Hulk-resistant might and incalculable size set us up for a reversal, as Sergei blows it into shrapnel with the greatest of ease (p 26).  Credit also to Klaus Janson, as a heavier-handed inker fills in a few stringy pencils I know are hidden under Janson’s finishes.  
We’ve seen this sort of ending before, as the invanquishable foe withdraws on his own, without having been defeated.  I’ll give credit to Dave, though, for involving all the team members in this desperate, against-insurmountable-odds conflict; very clever for Dave to assign a role to Hellcat, as she recognizes she can’t challenge Sergei, but is successful in her strategy to reach Tania’s willful personality.   

The Eternals 19
"The Pyramid"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

The Polar Eternal Druig has overpowered his cousin Ikaris, having drained him temporarily of his most potent powers and imprisoned him in an "unbreakable" cell. Druig leaves the wizard Sigmar to watch over Ikaris, and proceeds to the Pyramid of the Winds, where the weapon that once killed a Celestial is hidden. He believes  that once in possession of this power he will be able to rule over all. Ikaris finds his power slowly returning, and he manages to break free of the cell. A frightened Sigmar agrees to help, having never wanted to bring about such destruction. He goes with Ikaris through a "secret passage" to the Pyramid. They are almost too late; Druig has found the weapon--a giant cosmic pistol of sorts. In the struggle that follows, Druig's desperation overcomes Ikaris' strength, and he reaches the weapon. Sigmar convinces Ikaris that to destroy this fellow is the only course. Ikaris fires his disintegrator eye-beams at the weapon. Its destruction is assured, as is Druig's end in the cosmic holocaust that follows. They flee, the cosmic power unleashed following them; it seems Druig's plan of destruction may have succeeded after all. Instead, they see that Ziran, the Celestial, had matters always in hand. He unleashes a counterforce that reduces the power to nothing, leaving only a scarred landscape as he walks away. Ikaris and Sigmar are left to ponder: will Earth ever be ready for the fate that awaits them? -Jim Barwise

Jim: How do you finish an epic title,  or one that aspires to be epic (succeeding at times)? With the considerable cast of characters we've met so far, it is to Jack Kirby's credit he doesn't try to tie up every loose end in this title in one issue, as many finales do. Instead we continue with the suspenseful story.  The desperation of Ikaris as he and the changed Sigmar race Druid to the punch, seeming to fail even as they succeed, is amply balanced by the discovery they were never a threat to the Celestials anyway. (As an aside I look forward to the crossover of the space gods and their judgement of Earth to the Thor title in the near future.) In this sense we could say mission accomplished for the Eternals; the titanic Celestials have witnessed the baser side of Eternal, Human, and Deviant alike and accepted it without a violent response. Still, I'd love to know more about Zuras, Sersi, Thena,  Karkas and the others. Somehow the chance to explore all this potential wasn't completed in so few issues, but of course never say never in comic land...

Mark: Jack Kirby's most focused, high-end title since returning to Marvel concludes with neither bang nor whimper; there's no "...summing up of the points...or decisions reached." It just ends, with nary a word on the letter page that the title's been cancelled. There are two hints: just as he did in Cap #214, Kirby uses the last panel to show a character walking away, back turned to the reader. And below that final panel a blurb reads, "The End...?"

If you can overlook the elegiac context, "The Pyramid" is a high-energy finale, with Jack still churning out cool concepts like Druig's ice-runner and the "killing winds" that protect the Pyramid and the Space God destroying weapon hidden within. And while the Ikaris vs. Druig battle seems a stark good vs. evil contrast of almost Golden Age simplicity, a closer reading of the ending reveals something more ambiguous. 

It's hero Ikaris blowing up the big red space pistol that unintentionally releases "the devouring celestial force," that implodes the Pyramid in glorious Kirby Krackle then spreads across the land until Ziran of the Fourth Host, techno-porn SG on the hoof, arrives to extinguish the cosmic forest fire.

The subtext here (and we all know Kirby loved subtext) is that squabbling humans (Eternals and Deviants are human, if not homo-sapiens), unleashed a planet killing force and had to be saved by an unfathomable, omnipotent "god." A time-honored if not terribly new theme and (watch the prof back-pedal, class) one that provides a pretty big bang after all.

Chris: “This should cool your ardor for casting flame at others!” POW! “Uhg!  You’ll pay for this!”  And that about sums up Eternals #19, which closes with an enigmatic “The End?”, with no mention on either the last page or letters page about this being the final issue.  In fairness to Jack, there’s plenty of action, which – along with eye-popping visuals – turned out to be the take-away from this title as a whole, despite Jack’s aspirations from the start about this being a mind-blowing look at the Celestials and their supposed influence on the history of the beings who populate our Earth.

I’m now looking forward to the Celestials’ return in the pages of Thor (coming soon, at the tail end of the MU curriculum).  After that, I’ll read the 12-part Eternals mini-series published in the mid-1980s; I acquired them as a lot years ago, but I’ve yet to make time for them.  As I read those other stories, I’m looking forward to seeing whether different writers will be able to build stories around the Celestials – and, the Eternals too – that come closer to matching the potential Jack Kirby had foreseen for these star-spanning, world-judging characters.  

Matthew: In a final flip of the bird, they’ve misspelled the hero’s name once more on the last issue’s cover, which curiously, despite several other features I usually dislike, has always grabbed me for some reason.  The lettercol gives no indication of cancellation, but the tidiness of this entry’s ending—however much Kirby leaves dangling—and that last-page “The End...?” would seem to tell the tale.  It will be more than a year before we see “Ikarus” & Co. again, in a protracted Thor arc (starting in #283) that I do not remember fondly, yet ironically, I’d feel less relieved at the book’s passing if more issues had displayed this kind of flawed but focused storytelling, which he might have used to better effect, creating discrete sections of a larger epic.

Mark:  I'll miss The Eternals, particularly since this is the first time I've read the series, but you can't always get what you want, as a bunch of loutish Brits once told us. What I won't do is mope over the loss of some "cosmic masterpiece" that Jack was cooking-up, long-term. Kirby, thirty-eight year veteran of a volatile industry, didn't work that way. He was used to having books shot out from under him, including a string of impressive efforts with partner Joe Simon in the '50's, few of which lasted long, and his make-it-up-as-you-go ethic was never more in display than in Eternals, where characters and plots flew around like ping-pong balls. 

There were a couple clunkers along the way, but as a creator who always swung for the fences, Kirby's batting average on the title was impressively high. So let's cue a happy end that Jack - whose amazing life-long productivity was fueled by a depression-bred desire to provide for his family - would have loved. In addition to on-screen recognition and named credit for all his myriad creations, the 2014 legal settlement with Marvel/Disney is estimated to have netted the Kirby Klan somewhere between thirty to fifty million dollars.

So rest easy, King.

Even though Disney, cranking the handle on a Midas-touch Movie Machine powered largely by Kirby's oeuvre, got a bargain.  

Fantastic Four 190
"The Way It Was"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

After last's month's reprint, Marv Wolfman tags in for Len Wein at the typewriter to produce an "ALL NEW ALBUM ISSUE!" That cover blurb translates to the Thing sitting around in a funk, sharing his woes with Alicia because the FF "just broke up fer good!" at the end of issue #189. Reed quits because he's lost his stretching power and Sue decides to go with him.

Ben confesses that, "I kept me a diary of all the good' all the bad." He pulls it out of his desk and starts to read, cuing the obligatory origin recap, followed by a few more interesting panels of The Thing 1.0, with the melted-pumpkin-head, squabbling with the Torch, leading to the first Fab breakup: Johnny bugging out at the end of issue #3.

That's the theme throughout, breakups. Even really fighting each other when the Thing was turned again his pards, whether by the Wizard in #41 or the Mad Thinker in #69, after which the Richardses cut out because Sue was pregnant. Johnny threaten to live among the Inhumans in #129, but it was Sue who split for a long absence at the end of #130, and Reed who turned Franklin into a vegetable in #141. As a family, they've always put the fun in dysfunction.

The level-headed Alicia points out that all this suggests they'll ultimately reunite. Ben disagrees, but after almost two hundred adventures, its hard to credit his certainty that Reed will never regain his powers. Still, that gives Marv an excuse to have the Thing dramatically squeeze his diary into pulp and drop it in the trash.

Then he puts his arm around Alicia and they head out for a hamburger.  
-Mark Barsotti

Mark: Have to mention the Kirby/Giacoia cover. The Fabs look fine, the floating-heads background is "album ish" appropriate, but it's also posed and static; one of the least dynamic Kirby covers ever. Things (no pun intended, but I suppose there's one there anyway) are worse inside, with Tony Dezuniga achieving minimal competence over Sal Buscema's layouts. In their defense, this is a one-off, likely last minute assignment.

Marv was also pinch-hitting, but does a better job of it, given that he's tasked with running in place, story-wise. Ben with the post-break blues is entirely in character, and if his diary keeping isn't, it is a handy flashback device and probably a necessary evil, given the alternative was 18 pages of Ben and Alicia sitting on the couch.

Len will be back with our regularly scheduled mag next month. As for this one?

Well, it wasn't a reprint.

Scott: A weird album issue, which really only recaps up to a few years prior, when Reed sapped Franklin’s intelligence. It almost feels like this was written and drawn much earlier and then hauled out as a fill in. For what it is, it’s an interesting variation on the “clip show” that Marvel was wont to do over their history. It’s not the best drawn issue ever, and it feels more like the other “Way it Began” issue after Stan left the title for good, the one they made a book and record out of. A fun enough time waster.

Chris: My first thought is to be put-out by a recap issue.  Not long ago, we had terrific art by Pérez/Sinnott, but then a reprint last issue, so now a rehash fill-in isn’t especially welcome either.  “Ah, come on – what’s this,” I grumble, “yet another retelling of the FF’s origin and greatest battles?”  But as we get further in, we see how Wolfman turns the focus to past breakups; once we recount these incidents, Ben’s conclusion – that Reed has always been the one to hold the team together – carries more weight in light of his seeming retirement.  Alicia could easily be right, that these separations always have had a way of working out, but as long as Reed is out of the picture, it would make sense to continue to doubt.  

Matthew: Just because they’re reversing the Captain America methodology, following the reprint with the “Album Issue” instead of vice-versa, doesn’t make it any less objectionable, nor does the olive branch of crediting Stan for “Inspiration.”  As with the recent annual, Marv could be warming up for his imminent two-year stint as regular writer, yet while this trip down memory lane seems more justified than some, since—like Cap’s—it coincides with a watershed in the book’s direction, it has the unintended side-effect of stressing how overused the plot device of an FF break-up really is.  And, in contrast to this month’s Amazing Spider-Man, Tony does an acceptable job but seems to leave very little evidence of Sal’s layouts.

Godzilla 6
"A Monster Enslaved!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe 
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by Herb Trimpe

Gabe Jones tracks Godzilla to a cave, where the big G lays down and takes a nap. Meantime, SHIELD celebrates the completion of "Behemoth," a "souped-up heli-carrier" built to tackle Godzilla. Back in Detroit, Agent Jimmy Woo and Tamara discuss Dr. Takiguchi's giant robot plans, as well as Jimmy's attempt to kiss her, while grandson Rob has something up his sleeve for the robot. Gabe and Dum Dum continue their debate about killing Godzilla, but Dum Dum orders a gas attack on the cave, and the King of the Monsters stumbles out and collapses! SHIELD loads the big G onto Behemoth and into the new "Constraint Station," where he's held in a special cage. Cut to Young Rob, who sneaks into the robot, puts on the cybernetic helmet, presses a button and collapses. Back on the West Coast, Godzilla awakes, fires his radioactive breath, melts the special glass on the cage, and angrily stomps free! --Joe Tura

Joe: A decent issue that's one of the better ones out of the first half dozen. Godzilla not only gets to strut his stuff at the end, breaking out of the cage built to hold him, but also gets to take a much-needed nap! Dum Dum Dugan's insistence on destroying Godzilla, even though the Big G saved his life, is certainly reminiscent of the films, but am I the only one who thinks it's out of character for the old Commando? Gabe Jones suffers from the same traits, as he's a bit too pro-Godzilla and understanding. Ultimately, they both have SHIELD as their first priority, so they're still good soldiers. Young Rob, on the other hand, is quite annoying. The know-it-all, whiney teen disobeys his genius grandfather at every turn, and all fans will be glad to see him get zapped. But it'll probably end up with him controlling the robot against Godzilla (without skipping ahead), which will increase Rob's annoyance factor even more. Trimpe is back and does an OK job. I just wish his shooting-from-the-ground-up angles didn't make Godzilla look so fat and out-of-shape.

Matthew: So we’re back to Trimpe for the remainder of the run, without even the benefit of a dedicated inker, resulting in such frankly embarrassing visuals as Gabe in page 11, panel 4 and, worse, the guy in the middle of page 22, panel 3, both looking like manga refugees.  When I saw the drawing of the so-called “Future Fighter” (aka “Mr. Project” here, and eventually Red Ronin) in page 7, panel 7, my heart sank for two reasons:  first, the Shogun Warriors appear to have shown up a year early, and second, the scale indicated by the tiny human figure inside the head requires us not simply to suspend but to draw and quarter our disbelief.  Ditto the existence of an aircraft so huge that it can carry Godzilla in its hold, even assuming they could get him inside it...

Howard the Duck 20
"Scrubba-dub Death!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan

Howard has hardly had a half-minute to appreciate the restoration of his duck-self, when Dr Bong appears in the bathroom.  Bong lashes at Howard with his clapper-hand (where his left hand should be), and manages to break thru the tile and plaster; Howard and Bong plunge thru the floor, and drop into a poker game on the floor below.  As the would-be card sharps vent their frustrations on Bong, Howard takes a powder and slides down the drainpipe to the street below.  Bong claps his bell-head, freezing the poker players for the next ninety days, and searches for the absconded waterfowl.  Howard is ready – once Bong finds him in an alley, Howard leaps forward and rings the bell with a crowbar.  Howard realizes each bong-peal (as determined by pitch and intensity) can have a different effect, as Bong suddenly vanishes to … somewhere else.  Howard resolves to provide for himself – he needs stogies, after all – and finds a job as a dishwasher in an all-night coffee shop.  The manager introduces Howard to Sudd, working his last shift.  Sudd is leaving to devote his time to the works of SOOFI – that is, the self-appointed agency to “Save Our Offspring From Indecency;” offensive, corrupting content is to be hunted out and squashed in all media.  Howard and Sudd spend the next ten hours scrubbing and talking; at the end, Howard is plenty beat.  Sudd finishes with some final pointers, such as how to spray and wipe out the “mikerwave oven;” problem is, he mistakenly leaves the aerosol spray can in the oven, just prior to accidently flicking the “on” switch.  The instantaneous radiation-heating of metal-encased pressurized chemicals produces a wave of “foam and fluorocarbon gases,” which resolves itself into a soapy creature calling itself – Sudd!  Sudd resolves to cleanse the world of all its nasty things, so he sets off and begins harassing people on the street, declaring to all that he will “Clean youse!  Purify youse!”  Sudd’s might is a threat to all; “He’s not just soap,” Howard observes; “he’s an abrasive!”  Howard turns the aerosol can around, and finds an “antidote” on a label on the back; quickly, he and the manager whip up a nasty mix of lemon juice, milk, vinegar, and egg whites.  They locate Sudd on Eighth Avenue, and douse him with the concoction, which leaves nothing but a shiny sidewalk.  The block association, however, is incensed; Sudd was “the first effective clean-up in this neighborhood’s history!” they clamor, as they close in with brooms, mops, and sharp-looking axes! -Chris Blake
Chris: Steve G proves -- yet again -- that this isn't your everyday furry-animal funny-book.  You might've expected (based on the fear-fraught finish of HtD #19) this issue would feature the knock-down drag-out Final Battle with Dr Bong.  Instead, Bong's first blow immediately takes him and Howard right out of the fight.  Howard knows he has to go on the offensive against such a determined villain; still, his inspired solution to preemptively bong Bong probably works out far better than he ever could have hoped.  So much for the battle royale!
Steve also hearkens back to his theme of comics-parody, dating from the earliest days of this title, as he nibbles playfully on the hand that feeds.  Sudd's chemicals + radiation origin is about as hokey as half of the ones I've heard of over the years; Steve piles on, though, as he describes Sudd as potentially having the "proportionate strength of a can of oven cleaner” (emphasis added!).  
Closing thoughts: no sign of Bev this time, and only a thought or two of her from Howard.  It's probably for the best not to dwell on her, though, as he realizes how far away she is; instead, Howard directs his energies into something he can do, namely, keep himself busy and try to drum up some cash.  And, I don’t know whether it was Steve’s idea or Gene’s, but Howard finds himself outdoors without clothing, and is forced to grab a shirt off a windowsill (for the sake of decency); he doesn’t notice until later the shirt reads “Foxy Lady,” which prompts the shop proprietor to call Howard “Foxy,” and which still has me chuckling.

Matthew: Although the threat of Dr. Bong remains omnipresent, we are otherwise back to some semblance of what passes for normalcy in this strip, with an avian Howard facing off against an outré, pop-culture-inspired threat.  Not sure if that old canard (ha ha) about putting an aerosol can in a microwave oven would really produce such spectacular results, but I’m happy to suspend my disbelief that far.  And I’ll place another carnation in the rifle-barrel of those with whom I often disagree regarding inkers:  while I still prefer Leialoha to Janson on Howard, I do find Klaus’s work far more satisfactory here than elsewhere, for the simple reason that he allows Colan’s distinctive style, so perfect for visualizing Gerber’s imaginings, to come through clearly.

Mark: Submitted for your approval, class: "Scrubba-Dub Death!" is quintessential Howard the Duck, so much so that if you had to pick a single issue for time-capsule preservation, this might well be the one. 

Absurdism and satire? Well, begin with Doctor Bong, skeezy, ex-gossip journo with bell helmet and bowling ball-sized clapper hand, which he uses to go Gong Show on his own melon, and end with Sudd the dishwasher (and Howard's new job sink-mate). Burly and mustachioed, he looks like a French dockworker and talks like a Bowery Boy while extolling the virtues of his censorship group - " doity woid is ever hoid!" - before a can of oven cleaner exploding in a microwave turns him into a murderous Mr. Bubble, out to scrub away porn peddlers, fallen women, liberals. So, check and check.

There's loads of funnybook action, from Howard's slide-down-the-drainpipe flight from Bong, before ringin' his bell with a length of pipe, to whipping up a vinegar-based, anti-Bubble antidote with his boss, even as they consider that Sudd may be "socially useful" against low life carriers of urban blight - Travis Bickle, by way of Dow Chemical.

And of course Howard's under siege, not just by Bong and bubbles, but every day of his exile among hairless apes. Naked on the streets, even the shirt he's forced to steal seems to mock him with its "Foxy Lady" slogan. His new boss laughs that he can now advertise, "Our Dishes Untouched by Human Hands." Yet when push comes to suds, Howard is heroic, albeit largely in self-defense, and he does so without any parody superhero trappings, which while entertaining, distract from Howard himself. Dyspeptic, self-pitying and hardly a do-gooder, he's also resilient, big-hearted under the bluster, and centered by a no-BS moral compass that gets him in trouble, more often than not.

That's a pretty good role model, kids. And it probably says something about the late '70's - let alone today - that one of the most human, believably aspirational characters comes with webbed feet and feathers.