Wednesday, April 27, 2016

March 1978 Part One: The Long-Awaited Reunion of Man-Thing and Howard the Duck!

The Amazing Spider-Man 178
"Green Grows the Goblin!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Jim Mooney
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ross Andru and Joe Sinnott

The Green Goblin vows to deliver Spider-Man to the cadre of crime bosses. After he glides out, the hiding Spidey bangs his arm, forcing him to break out of the vent and break some bad guy heads! Cut to Aunt May in bad shape in the hospital, and Mary Jane goes off to find Peter, who is terrorized back at his pad by a horrible Glory Grant "carrot mik shake." Meantime, the Goblin jets back to his hideout, gloating to his hooded prisoner as he loads up his bag of tricks. MJ goes to the Bugle, where an angry J. Jonah Jameson changes his tune after finding out May is ill. MJ calls Peter, who starts swinging off to stem his distraction over Goblin, only to finally swing back to answer the persistent caller, then heads towards the hospital to see his beloved Aunt…but a pumpkin bomb explodes behind him! The Goblin attacks, with Spidey explaining to his arch-enemy that he needs to see his Aunt, hoping his demented friend Harry will let him go. But Gobby keeps fighting, even after Spidey smashes him but good, eventually tossing a ghost at the web-slinger that captures him in a net "formed from a polymer plastic—stronger than steel," taking him towards the mob "associates" as MJ awaits Peter at the hospital, sitting with an ailing May.--Joe Tura

Joe: Even on the pages where nothing happens, like the carrot milk shake caper, this issue zips along like Spidey going through midtown Manhattan. Goblin manages to come up with something new in his ghost net, and a distracted Spider-Man is almost too easily caught. May is in legitimately bad shape, but we all know she's actually the toughest character in the whole supporting cast. MJ is a great sympathetic friend—could this steer her back towards a romantic relationship with Peter? Assuming he survives the Goblin-napping, that is. Mooney keeps Ross' pencils a bit darker and heavier inked than Espo, and it's well done for the most part, except for a couple of long shots that make Spidey's head look like the Mego Spidey action figure's head (page 7 middle panel when he plays toss-a-flunkie). Len keeps the suspense about the hooded character ramped up, and all things point towards Harry being the culprit. Stay tuned, though!

Favorite sound effect has to be page 30's ear-splitting "SKWA-FOOM!" when an angry and annoyed Spidey smashes the bejeezus out of the Goblin. But the nasty no-goodnik recovers all too quickly and pulls a Pac-Man on our hero with the ghost net. Oh, those crafty villains!

Chris Blake: I can’t think of too many strips that would play out nearly twelve pages of story before the title character has his chance for some battling.  But since this is the Amazing Spider-Man, friends, we don’t mind that Aunt May is in the hospital, and that Mary Jane is going out to look for Peter, and that Jonah recognizes his jackassery and offers MJ use of his phone (but, did she have to leave a dime for each call, Jonah -?), and that Peter dashes back for a last-second pick-up of MJ’s call.  No way – if this is ASM, then the supporting team is always a big part of the goings-on.  Nice job by Len, as Spidey’s search for the Goblin ranks right behind MJ’s efforts to locate Pete in order of significance.

This is another issue I’ve owned for hundreds of years, but as I re-read it now, there are two art-moments from Andru I appreciate far more than I might have, way back when: immediately after Spidey twists out of the path of a pumpkin bomb, we see him sailing past the distinctive triangular windows of the Chrysler Building’s crown, right before he web-snags one of the building’s iconic steel eagles (p 26, first four panels); Spidey’s fight with the Goblin brings him within a few feet of the hospital – we can tell, because on p 31 pnl 2, we see the back of Mary Jane’s head in the window, the same window Spidey sails past in the last panel, as now we look out, past MJ, to see Spidey is the Goblin’s helpless captive.  
I’ve developed a far better appreciation for Jim Mooney’s mid-Bronze era inks than I had during my avid-collecting days.  I know most Spidey fans prefer to see Andru paired with Esposito, but I like the weight and texture Mooney brings to issues like this one.  Andru/Mooney highlights (where the art is a result of their combined effort, not just Andru’s already-mentioned creative layouts): Jonah’s irritation (p 16, last pnl), and his realization that he’s been an unreasonable jerk (p 17, pnl 3); Spidey’s full flex, out of the way of the concussion (p 23, last pnl); the Goblin’s heavy-lidded look, as he fights off the cobwebs and Spidey swings away (p 30, pnl 2); the semi-translucent goblin-net, as it settles down around our hapless hero (p 31, 1st pnl).  
Matthew Bradley:  There are differences, I admit, but I find this cover strongly evoking that of #146, another dramatic confrontation at the window of Aunt May’s sick bed.  The story inside, however, harkens back even further as, more than most of Wein’s run, it put me in mind of the old Lee/Romita glory days, and however much I prize the diversity and sophistication of some of the Bronze-Age generation of Marvel writers, I still consider that quite a compliment.  Although to me Silvermane looks no more like himself than he did last issue, the Androoney art is solid (with a nice time-lapse shot in page 6, panel 1), and—Professor Tom notwithstanding—the Madman allows a good deal of Riotous Ross’s distinctive style to shine forth through the ink.

Mark Barsotti: Heart-string soap opera cover, proving the great Joe Sinnott can make Ross Andru look like John Romita. Inside, Ross is inked by Jim Mooney, who's always been a clutch hitter on ASM, a streak that continues here.

Len keeps the pace frantic, toggling between Spidey battling the Goblin (and Silvermane's gunsels) and Mary Jane desperately searching for Peter, who needs to sign the consent forms for Aunt May's life saving surgery. On the subplot side menu, we're reminded of J. Jonah's core decency beneath the Hitler 'stache bluster, and Pete plays guinea pig food-taster for Glory Grant's carrot milk shake.

Under seal for spoilers, I'll only say that the Goblin's hostage makes an inept escape attempt, while Gobby himself seems so disassociated from his "civilian" identity that he views Harry Osborn as "...just another insignificant flea." Make of that what you will.

I'd be remiss, class, if I didn't note that rushing to Aunt May's hospital bed is a tired, played-out trope except when it works. Which it does here.

Ditto the inspired, last panel lunacy of Spidey, sealed in a baggie like Forbush's liverwurst sandwich, being towed via Goblin Glider past May's hospital window. 

The Avengers 169
"If We Should Fail -- The World Dies Tonight"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Dave Hunt
Colors by Ken Klaczak
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Joe Sinnott

At Avengers Mansion, Captain America, Iron Man, and The Black Panther enjoy a rare day off until a wall explodes and the trio are attacked by a metal man beseeching the boys to kill him! Iron Man zaps the villain and then unmasks him. It's gazillionaire industrialist Jason Beere, who confesses he's dying and wants to take the world with him. IM zips Beere down to Stark International to hook him up to one of his life-saving chest plates. In a rare epiphany, Iron Man suddenly knows just what's going down: Beere has hidden four bombs in the world, set to explode when Beere's heart stops. The trio split up, each taking a different location. Cap battles Peruvian natives protecting a temple housing one of the bombs; The Panther must take down a huge polar bear and survive sub-zero temperatures; and Iron Man rockets to Russia, where an army of Soviet soldiers is eagerly awaiting him. All three overcome imposing odds to gather up the three initial devices but where, oh where, could the fourth one be? In a second epiphany, Iron Man realizes that Beere has placed the final warhead inside his own body. A quick cryogenic freeze and the threat is neutralized... at least for now. -Peter Enfantino

Joe: Regular storius interruptus results in a mixed bag of Avengers derring-do. The Sal and Dave art is mostly excellent, but the Marv script is uneven. In the beginning it would appear he has no idea how to write any of these three characters, and by the end you realize he can't write Cap at all. The Star-Spangled one comes off like an impulsive fatalist, right down to the slamming of the fist. The tale is easy to figure out about halfway through, but is still OK as a mystery and not too bad overall.

Chris: If I were an ambitious young aspiring bullpenner, I'd sit right down at my Smith-Corona (not so old that I’d own a classic Underwood, you see) and bang out a script that would allow our stalwart team to discover the as-yet undiscovered bomb, so that they could defuse it, and then release Beere from cold storage.  But, you and I know that we'll never hear from bomber Beere again; it's obvious from the very start that this issue is a forgettable fill-in. 

Fans bemoan the arrival of the fill-in with good reason; not only is the regularly-scheduled storyline interrupted, but the quality of the replacement story rarely ranks alongside the usual creative fare. Ordinarily, an M. Wolfman-Sal B.-D. Hunt offering would be just fine, but it can't hope to compare with Pérez's work on the budding Guardians story from the previous two issues, or with the pure excitement of the Nefaria story by Shooter-Byrne-Marcos in Av #164-166.  Tough competition.
I'm a bit ambivalent about the results; Marv's premise is suspect, as these three supposed world-destroyer bombs require our heroes to race to random parts of the globe, which comes off as nothing but a bit of business to provide some empty action.  As for the bombs themselves, what was Sal thinking?  The things are spiked mini-bowling balls; they couldn't take out a quarter of the faculty parking lot, let alone a half a hemisphere.  Clever moment as Marv has the Panther compare the polar bear to the White Apes (which we recall from the pages of Jungle Action), until Marv loads T'Challa down with some overcooked self-thoughts ("Must reach the bomb … must find the bomb!").  There's also a purely stupid moment as Iron Man crashes thru the wall, and Marv has him say, "Make way, world!", which you and I know IM would not say, for any reason (couldn’t IM have turned to Marv and stated, “You know Marv, I’m not feeling this line; is it all right with you if I try something else -?”).  

Chris: Marv redeems himself somewhat with the ending; instead of a clock ticking down and a last-minute reprieve for humanity, the three teammates are required to settle on Plan B, with the Beere deep freeze.  This sort of inconclusive ending is a bit of a surprise, but it’s consistent with Marv's better efforts as writer for Daredevil, when a collision between DD and an opponent might end without a victory for either side. 
The art results (mini-bombs aside) are better than I remember; again, it's not fair for any artist to have to temporarily replace Pérez.  Sal B, though, always is a fitting choice for this title, since he draws all our team members well.  Dave's inks are clear and firm, dare I say of Sinnottian quality. 

Peter Enfantino: The whole thing smells like an unused Giant-Size Avengers chopped down to fit in a monthly, complete with the obligatory "You go to that end of the world and I'll go to this one..." team break-up and chapter headings. Though I've read the blamed thing a couple times, I'm still missing the panel that explains how Iron Man knew about the bombs and their location. He just suddenly knows. With one-liners sure to raise a groan or two ("Well, I'm waiting. What are you tossing against me now? Cobalt missiles? Hydrogen grenades? How about reruns of "Captain and Tenille [sic]"?), Marv proves once again that even great writers can pump out a dog now and then.
Matthew:  Just as he winds up his final, stellar stint on MTU (although who knows how long this thing has been languishing on the shelf), Hunt notches his only inking credit on the Assemblers and, in so doing, proves himself one of the most Sal-friendly embellishers with whom Buscema the Younger has been blessed for quite some time.  Their Panther an especially welcome change from Kirby’s version, the art easily outstrips Wolfman’s somewhat tedious fill-in story; for completists, “Eternity Man” and full-time popsicle Beere will be glimpsed again in Iron Man #115.  Speaking of which, coincidentally contributing to this issue’s warmed-over feel is the partially obscured “Stark Ind—” sign in page 7, panel 4, which should read, “Stark Int—.”

Black Panther 8
"Panthers or Pussycats?"
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

Coptering home to Wakanda, T'Challa is reflecting on his origin when a raft bearing two men catches his eye. After rescuing the pair, T'Challa discovers they are mobsters escaping the law. The men hold a gun to the Panther's head, ordering him to take them to Corsica, but quick reflexes and a hard right win out in the end. Unfortunately for our hero, a stray bullet has damaged the copter's fuel line and the flying machine heads straight for the ground. One of the hoods is killed but T'C saves the life of the other and then begins the long walk home. Meanwhile, in Wakanda, the military is attempting to hunt down and capture the mutated Jakarra, who has been terrorizing villagers and stealing goat's milk. 

-Peter Enfantino

Peter: So continues the Tale of Two Titles; one a home for purple prose and meandering nothingness and the other a continually fascinating flowerbed of engaging story lines and intricate twists. No matter how hard he tried, The King just couldn't distance himself from the Tales to Astonish days (and he might not have wanted to in the first place), here transforming the wanna-be-csar Jakarra into a Goom, the Man Who Walked Like a Crimson Monster, even while weaving a political web of distrust and backstabbing. Even when this book has disappointed, Jack managed to keep the supporting cast interesting and this issue is packed with strong background voices. The gathering of Royal Panthers might be one of The King's finest moments in that regard.

Matthew:  I keep thinking Bronze-Age Kirby is in the descendant, but that is skewed by my perceptions, because his departure from Captain America and the cancellation of Eternals are offset by next month’s debuts of Machine Man (presumably a wash with the late, unlamented 2001) and Devil Dinosaur, both of which I nixed.  Yet the relatively straightforward storytelling on display here almost suggests a Jack chastened by the blowback from his more conspicuous flights of fancy.  This will never be mistaken for Jungle Action, but excepting his vacillation on the spelling of “Wakanda[n]s,” I have few specific complaints, with T’Challa’s not-quite-there-yet homecoming most welcome indeed, and Royer remains as solid an inker as any for the King.

Chris: There’s a fair amount of wasted time, as T’Challa picks up the needless baggage of a would-be hijacking mobster.  The business with Jakarra seems intended to build up to a confrontation with the Panther (the real one, I mean, not his cousins in the Panther clan), until he’s chased off on the last page; while we’re at it, it’s news to me that prolonged exposure to vibranium could be harmful – did I miss that somewhere, or has that concept been introduced here?  

No, the highlight is the ceremony captured on the first few pages, as T’Challa asserts his position as Panther Prime (although, I can’t see how a man serving as Wakandan regent would be permitted to wear the Panther habiliment); Kirby devotes another big-splash two-pager to the moment (p 2-3).  I especially enjoy these elements: a few men have climbed ladders for a closer look at the battle; Kirby and Royer provide some grain to the wood, both the massive logs and the smaller segments, to give it a real feel; there are no less than four drummers, whose steady work (even while their eyes haven’t left the fight!) adds to the atmosphere.
On our letters page, Richard R. of Pine Plains NY expresses the ambivalence that many fans might experience regarding this title: as much as Rich enjoys Jack’s “hard action and high adventure,” he misses Don McGregor’s T’Challa, whose conflicts “dealt totally in reality,” and who was “so human, so realistic, that he transcended the world of comics.”  Rich asks whether Kirby’s Panther adventures could be depicted as transpiring at a different period in Marvel history (sort of like Kirby’s Cap living in his own pocket dimension, I suppose); I’m sure other fans would support this idea.

Captain America and the Falcon 219
"The Adventures of Captain America"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Carol Lay
Cover by Sal Buscema

Cap stands dumbfounded in front of Lyle Dekker and his giant Captain America replica. He jogs Cap’s memory of when they met back in 1944. Captain America and Bucky were sent to Hollywood to investigate a serious of mysterious accidents occurring on the set of the Adventures of Captain America serial. While they watch an action scene being filmed, the stuntman in the inaccurate Cap costume is shot down with live bullets rather than blanks. Cap agrees to take the actor’s place to remain close to the production and get to the bottom of it all. He meets the special effects wizard, Lyle Dekker, who, unknown to anyone else, is getting his marching orders from the Red Skull himself. The Skull wants Cap and Bucky killed and the film destroyed to keep the propaganda value non-existent. After what is thought to be a prop laser cannon nearly kills an actress, Cap deduces Dekker is his man. Dekker flees and the heroes give chase. After a time, the truck Dekker is driving goes over a cliff. Cap and Bucky, who were inside, scramble to the surface. Dekker is thought dead, but he did survive and says soon his “Ameridroid” will live.

-Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Good art and a fast pace help make up for a story that seems to be delaying progress rather than moving forward. It’s a fun yarn, though, with plenty of nods to the Dick Purcell Captain America serial. The costume depicted in this issue is pretty damned on the mark. The Red Skull sounds a little out of character, actually wasting time on a plot like this one and even taking a personal interest. Dekker is boring, frankly, but Cap and Bucky are always a fun combo. No real steps forward, no actual clues to the whole “Search for Steve Rogers” plot. We could probably skip this issue altogether and not worry about it. We’re left almost in the same place as we started.

Matthew:  This should be required reading for serial-king Professor Gilbert; per Wikipedia, the real-life 1944 Cap-terplay (which Glut and Jim Harmon had covered in their book The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury) was both the costliest in Republic’s history and Timely/Marvel’s theatrical debut, although as far as I know it was never sabotaged by the Red Skull.  Since the indescribably inauspicious #217, this plotline has been incrementally upgraded to the point where I would bestow the faint praise of “anodyne” on the latest entry.  That is, of course, a reflection only on Don’s story, and not on the peerless Buscema/Sinnott artwork, which—like the current Avengers—places this firmly on the wrong side of the Bradley Principle.

Captain Marvel 55
"Beneath the Mask... A Man!"
Story by Scott Edelman
Art by Pat Broderick and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Bruce Patterson
Cover by Pat Broderick and Bob McLeod

New Yorkers react in a variety of ways as Mar-Vell unmasks, regarding himself in a window’s reflection and pondering his future among humans.  Unnoticed as he flies away, a trenchcoated figure, with features obscured by his hat brim, leaves a young boy’s dog a shriveled husk just after stunned recognition (“Mar-Vell can’t be—him!”) has stopped him from stealing the Kree’s cosmic energy with a touch.  He flies by the plane bearing Rick, Gertie, and Mordecai to France, saluting the lad as he departs for his “showcase tour of the Continent,” then continues west to Colorado, where his arrival at an observatory creates chaos among the staff as he presents himself to the annoyed—and astonished—Director Jacqueline Carr in search of a job.

On the Wilford farm, Mac-Ronn watches the mighty yet childlike Ronan mature “in a friendly, loving environment,” and Minerva wonders if his Ultimate Annihilator might have other uses; meanwhile, Mar-Vell demonstrates the value of cosmic awareness.  Reports of his hiring in the Denver Post draw huge crowds…and Deathgrip, a lackey of the evil Organization who alone survived—but was transformed into an energy vampire by proximity to Walter Lawson’s super-aging Eon Ray—when Mar-Vell destroyed their H.Q. in #10.  Ignoring Mar-Vell’s protestations that he only borrowed the long-dead scientist’s identity, and thus lacks the knowledge to effect a cure, Deathgrip is only strengthened by his biogenic photon blasts and prepares to kill the Kree... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This transitional issue (with inker Wiacek providing continuity through #57) marks the start of future Micronauts artist Pat Broderick’s first regular four-color Marvel gig, and the swan song for Edelman, who will be replaced by Doug Moench as Mar-Vell’s last consistent creative team begins to congeal—uh, solidify.  As Scott wrote on his blog, the story “opened doors for my characters that I never got to step through with them.  Once I’d made the decision to separate Marvel from Rick Jones…they needed to figure out what it was they’d do with their now-separate lives, and this was the issue that had them starting to figure out what was next.  [This] was penciled by Pat…who I felt did a wonderful job of capturing Captain Marvel’s cosmicness.”

I consider the jury still out on that one, but will allow that it’s probably better to put the pencil into the hands of a relative newcomer whose style has so far left me, as Dad used to say, “just whelmed” (you may recall that he did a couple of Iron Fist issues of Marvel Premiere back in 1975) than to lay it off on some old warhorse who will be a built-in disappointment.  Won’t shed any crocodile tears for the loss of Edelman, one of my favorite self-incriminated whipping boys, but might weep a little over the mess he left poor Moench to clean up.  I will definitely give Scott a special Arnold Drake Award for extruding his villain out of the steaming pile of a nine-year-old plotline, from a period when the book was so debased it made his stuff look like Starlin.

Dance off, bro!
We’re in trouble right from the splash page, and as the guy who has covered this strip from its infancy in Marvel Super-Heroes, I feel qualified to ask, since when would Mar-Vell revealing his face draw a crowd?  The vast majority of his adventures having taken place offworld, I doubt he’d have much of a recognition-factor among Joe Average Earthlings; worse—complementing their standard fear and distrust of aliens, mutants, etc.—when he first came to his adopted planet, he was considered a menace…a viewpoint that, as we know, was not entirely unwarranted.  So, Deathgrip just happens to be present when “Lawson” (for whom Mar-Vell was never established as a physical dead ringer) unmasks?  And where’s he been all this time?  Gimme a break, Scotty.

Interestingly, the Broderick/McLeod team responsible for this issue’s not-bad-at-all cover will be handling the interior art on #58 as a one-off.  The notepad next to the phone in the Post city room in page 17, panel 1 reads (if I’m deciphering it correctly), “Sorry I haven’t written lately but I’ve been inking tons of stuff for Marvel.  Deadlines are always tight and the editor, Archie Goodwin, gets excited when he hears that an artist took time off to sleep or eat or use the lavatory.  He’s given to fits of uncontrollable anger, wherein he foams at the mouth and his arms flail wildly, steam shoots from his nose…”  Based on what I’ve read about Goodwin’s relationship with the creative staff, said to be unusually harmonious, I have to assume Bob’s being totally affectionate.

Chris: When Scott Edelman first introduced this idea of Mar-Vell’s search for his identity, it seemed like little more than navel-gazing in the guise of an existential crisis.  I’ve made no secret of my weariness regarding Rick Jones (I would have paid for his plane ticket), but that didn’t mean I necessarily was crossing my fingers in sincere hope of a new supporting cast.  Credit where it’s due, though, as the observatory is an inspired choice for M-V.  The exchange with Jacqueline Carr, as M-V regains his composure and demonstrates his worth to her, is well done; personally, I would’ve moved on to the next observatory down the road, rather than put up with Carr’s guff.  

There’s a plot element that wasn’t clear to me until I took another look at it.  On p 3, the cleverly disguised Death-Grip is preparing to absorb Mar-Vell’s cosmic energies; he hesitates, though, once he sees Marv’s unmasked face, stating to himself his knowledge of Marv’s identity requires D-G to modify his plans.  Since I’ve never read CM #10, I wasn’t aware D-G had made the connection between Marv and the Lawson persona; nice job, by the way, to provide a villain for this issue whose roots reach back so far in this title’s history.
Pat Broderick’s value to this title will become more apparent in subsequent issues, once our focus shifts back to space, where Broderick will be free to unleash his imagination fully.  For now, we have highlights such as: a gleeful Ronan the Accuser, pleased to help out at the farm (p 14, pnl 2); Death-Grip’s well-polished chrome uniform (p 22, last pnl); his strength dimming, Marv narrows his eyes in concentration as he tries to swing D-G away (p 30, last pnl).  Wiacek’s heavy inks complement the pencils more effectively than I remember. 

Conan the Barbarian 84 
“Two Against the Hawk-City”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Ernie Chan

After his adventures in the Valley of Iskander and the swamplands of Viper’s Head, Conan returns to Harakht, eager to reunite with his mate B
êlit. When he discovers that she’s not in her quarters, he finds Mer-Ath in the temple. The new ruler informs the barbarian that he recently had a dream: in it, the She-Devil had killed Ctesphon, the king of Stygia, resulting in Harakht’s destruction. So the priest-king ordered her imprisoned for all time. But the She-Devil escaped, taking Mer-Ath’s lover, the former slavegirl Neftha, hostage. The king proclaims that the Cimmerian will now be thrown into the dungeon underneath the roosts of the giant hawks, bait for Bêlit’s presumed rescue. Conan attempts an escape himself but is soon ensnared in a sticky net — as he attempts to cut himself free, a muscular and mohawked black slave bolts from his master and knocks him unconscious. He awakes in chains, the slave sharing his prison. His cellmate introduces himself as Zula of Kheshatta, the city of magicians. Leagues away, Neftha has guided Bêlit to a temple on the outskirts of Luxor, capital of Stygia, the location of the She-Devil’s captive father, thought long dead. The slavegirl gives the pirate queen half of the serpent-charm that hangs around her neck. After Neftha performs an incantation before a huge statue of the snake-god Set, they both collapse and their consciousnesses are transported in a pair of small pythons the slither away. Back in Harakht, Zula offers Conan a deal: freedom if he will accompany the warrior-magician to Kheshatta and help him with some unfinished business. After the Cimmerian agrees, the brawny black man removes a vial from his belt and melts their chains with the liquid inside. Zula then calls out to the guards that Conan is killing him — when they unlock the cell door, the two prisoners leap out and make short work of the Harakhtians. Arming themselves, they rush to the hawk roost on the roof and massacre the trainers. Zula uses a special flute he lifted from one of the corpses to control two of the huge raptors and they take to the air. 
-Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Now this is more like it! After nearly a half a year of Dreaded Deadline Doom fill-ins, Roy finally gets us back on track. And after five issues of subpar Howard Chaykin pencils, even the cover is excited, trumpeting the return of Big John Buscema. Now I’m going to stop complaining about the last few issues but I do have one final thing to say: #79 to #81 were all about Conan, on the behalf of Mer-Ath, swapping Eye of Set gemstones with Ptolemy of Attalus. But when the Cimmerian returns in this one, there is not a single mention of the jewel. Grrrrrr. OK, I’m done. Zula looks to be a great new character, both a swordsman and a sorcerer. Phil Rachelson colors him as dark as the ace of spades — he’s nearly purple. While bonking our friendly Cimmerian on the noggin isn’t a very positive introduction, the Kheshattian admits that he thought Conan would be a worthy companion on his mysterious quest and feared for his life. Fair enough. Even though she’s basically been kidnapped, it’s nice to see that Neftha upholds her promise of guiding Bêlit through the underbelly of Luxor — and obviously she’s much more than a simple slavegirl as evident with that neat snake trick. Let’s hope that someone doesn’t stumble across the women’s bodies before their slithering is done. Needless to say, this is one of the more enjoyable issues of Conan the Barbarian in quite some time. Though I did roll my eyes when Zula uttered the final line of dialogue: “I think I’m going to be air-sick!” Ofah.

Chris: Betrayal upon betrayal – with more betrayals beyond them!  It’s got to get frustrating for our hero after awhile; as Zula observes, barbarians such as Conan “set great store by [their] word,” but who else can we count on to follow this code in Conan’s savage land?  It’s an interesting move by Roy, as Conan has no choice but to adhere to his promise and accompany Zula to Kheshatta (and Crom only knows what sort of trouble will await him there), while Bêlit’s quest for her father goes on without Conan’s help.  Roy will capably balance the two storylines, I’m sure; knowing him, he’ll even find some way to intertwine them.

Chaykin did a solid job filling-in, with Chan on hand to provide continuity for the past few issues (I realize Prof Tom did not appreciate his pencils as much as I did); but, returning champion Big John Buscema is the real deal.  Yes, Barry Smith established the look for this title, and the artistry of his work is unquestioned.  Buscema, though, has staying power, as his work continues to deliver.  Highlights: slashing thru the crowd of guards (p 10, pnl 2); the cavernous cell (p 22, 1st pnl); more bloodthirsty battling, as only Big John can bring it (p 27).  

Daredevil 151
Story by Gil Kane, Jim Shooter, and Roger McKenzie
Art by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

Heather Glenn returns from having visited her father in jail, only to find Matt Murdock in her apartment, clad in the familiar scarlet costume of Daredevil.  Matt tells Heather that, as Daredevil, he had learned of her father’s innocence, and – given time – could have proven it.  Heather’s brief glimpse of hope is permanently, horribly ended as Matt informs Heather of her father’s suicide after she had finished her visit with him; Heather blames Matt for her father’s death, and tells him she hates him.  Matt leaves, pulls on his mask and swings home; he recognizes the irony of his public perception as the “man without fear,” when in reality, his identity as DD has cost him everything that truly mattered.  Matt declares himself through with Daredevil, as he vents his rage and frustration in a furious tirade.  Foggy drops by Matt’s brownstone, after not having seen Matt in two days, and finds him surrounded by a roomful of broken furniture.  Foggy persuades Matt to get out of the house, and come to work, since the productive activity might help clear his head.  Matt fumbles around the office, in a deep fog; before he turns and walks back out, he hears a news report about a bus hijacking.  Matt walks dully along the street, until the bus roars past, nearly killing a child who had gotten in its path; Matt channels his energies into a determined effort to foil the hijackers.  He switches to DD, catches up to the bus and jumps on the roof; he smashes the windshield with a brick-laden roll of laundry he had infused with smoke, which succeeds in chasing the fiends once the bus careens to a stop.  DD takes down the three hijackers, and as he hears the accolades following his achievement, Matt reflects on how the good he has done makes it easier for him to live with his mistakes. -Chris Blake
Chris: Ordinarily, a character’s reveal of his secret identity is cause for wonder and amazement by the revealee; “I never knew!” and “It all makes so much sense, now!” they exclaim.  Matt chooses to inform Heather of his double-life after having held off for as long as possible; he had been concerned that Heather’s knowledge might push her away, much as it had affected Karen Page.  Instead, Matt’s hesitation comes at a cost of the life of Maxwell Glenn, and as a result, he breaks Heather’s heart.  
It’s not an easy assignment for Roger McKenzie, in his debut as DD scripter (working from a co-plot credited to Kane & Shooter), as he portrays Matt’s attempt to express his good intentions, naturally countered by Heather’s shock and outrage.  McKenzie won’t shy from difficult moments for our hero as he assumes the DD helm; thankfully, McKenzie will build on the groundwork established by Shooter, and continue to shape Daredevil’s voice as a grim, dark figure, forever spared the flippancy and self-doubt frequently plaguing the character’s presentation under Wolfman’s direction.  Daredevil in the latter days of the Bronze era is associated with the distinctive stylings of Frank Miller; McKenzie’s contribution to the character’s development, and his able complement to Miller’s noir take on DD, frequently are overlooked, so I’m bringing it to your attention from the scripter’s first association with him.  How about this moment, from p 31: “It almost seems he can hear the man’s eyes widen in fright before a scarlet-gloved fist closes them … roughly … painfully …”
We’re graced with Kane/Janson art, which is fortunate, since the interpersonal moments this time require the skills of a penciller who can capably represent human faces and emotions.  A few highlights: Heather crouched over in shock (p 2, pnl 3), followed by her rageful dismissal of Matt (p 6, pnl 2); Matt’s intense outburst, followed by the quiet moment once he’s run out of things to break (p 11); Matt sitting wordlessly, expressionless as Foggy talks to him (p 15, last pnl); Matt’s turn to be shocked when Foggy mentions Heather is gone (p 17, last pnl); DD knocks a hijacker into a trash can, from his POV (p 27, last pnl).
Matthew: Here’s another transitional issue, in this instance scripted by incoming newbie McKenzie, with several personnel doing double duty:  penciler Kane once again co-plots with lame-o duck Shooter, who handed Ghost Rider off to Roger last month, while Janson continues to provide both inks and colors.  For once, the cover is spot-on, and the Kanson kombo offers big moments like page 10, panel 3 as well as the quiet contrast between disheveled (page 15, panel 2) and, uh, sheveled (page 31, panel 5) Matt, but the hijacked bus—inevitably reminding me of Monty Python’s line “Take this bus to Cuba!”—seems an awfully convenient device to reaffirm that DD ain’t so bad.  “How could I have been so blind!?”  Perhaps one of your bons mots, Jim?

“I had trouble keeping up with the schedule, and eventually [Archie]…took it away from me and gave it to Roger MacKenzie [sic], who…had done some horror stuff…for Warren…I tried to be an adult about it, and help Roger all I could, but honestly, I didn’t much like what he did with it.  Then Frank Miller came along....[and] brought Daredevil clearly into the ‘first string’ by anyone’s reckoning.  That’s where it belongs.  That’s always been my assessment…even when it was being badly handled….I thought it was a breeze to write [him].  He’s an incredibly rich and unique character, full of possibilities.  I found endless potential there.  I’m sorry I wasn’t in a position to devote full time to it, stick with it and do it justice,” Shooter related to Kuljit Mithra.

The Defenders 57

"And Along Came... Ms. Marvel!"
Story by Chris Claremont and Gerry Conway
Art by George Tuska, Dave Cockrum, and Dan Green
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Pete Iro
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Joe Sinnott

A few months prior to our tale, the Hulk had gone on a frenzy at the home of Dr. Strange. A vision of a woman (whose mask resembles Captain Marvel's, of whom he has bitter battle memories) mysteriously floated through Stephen's abode, and Greenskin sought to smash them/her. He refused to see reason until bound by Strange's magic, after which the mage bid the images vanish. Any plans to investigate further were lost in events that followed. Fast forward to the present, where psychiatrist Michael Barnett sits at a bar, lamenting the whereabouts of  missing client Carol Danvers, whom he also knows is Ms. Marvel, our vision from before. A man named Arthur Shaman appears, and hypnotically bids Barnett follow him. Fun has been had elsewhere, as Kyle Richmond and Patsy Walker return home from a date. When the alarm goes off in his apartment, it's not them, but Hellcat and Nighthawk who burst in, only to feel rather foolish when one Ms. Marvel calmly waits  inside, seeking the Defenders' help, for her sake--and theirs! Barnett has been dragged into the headquarters of A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics), where he gets his brain picked by a "psychic conditioning helmet" to learn all he knows of Danvers. They seek a means to destroy her. One of A.I.M.'s mechanical creatures, known as Warbot, attacks the home of Dr. Strange. The goal is to kidnap the Hulk, who is there with Clea and Valkyrie. Its mission is shortly accomplished and Warbot departs in his craft with a frozen Hulk.  Nighthawk flying around, witnesses this and gets Hellcat and Ms. Marvel to follow. While A.I.M. had planned that an angry Hulk would take care of Danvers for them, so to speak, the good guys win the fight with this one, destroying Warbot and their headquarters. Later, back at the Sanctum Sanctorum, Clea asks Carol why the image of Ms. Marvel appeared those months back, a question for which she has no definite answer. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Lots of secret identity flipping here; like Kyle and Patsy after a night on the town. The aim of A.I.M. isn't quite true here, as they seem more invincible at first than they turn out to be. Warbot looks like a recycled version of the Beetle while the rest of the thugs look like a bunch of Masked Marauders. It comes together in the end, with the promise of Stephen's return welcome news for us Defenders fans. 

Matthew:  I’ve long wondered about this issue’s patchwork nature, probably explaining the mare’s nest of continuity it creates with various books.  I also had to buy the economy-sized box of demerits to dole out to letterer Iro (“This unit and conveyance presenty [sic] under assaut [sic]”), editor Goodwin (“Emmisaries [sic] of Evil,” “I’m here to ask the Defender’s [sic] help”), and colorist Mouly, for making the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, uhm, not crimson.  The plotting credit to long-gone Conway suggests that this was conceived about a year ago, when Gerry was writing both Defenders and Ms. Marvel, while presumably early work from Tuska—by now an ex-Bullpenner himself—had to be beefed up by Cockrum with pages 7-10 and 31 (per the GCD).

That left it up to “guest writer” Claremont and inker Green to impose some sort of order on the whole mess, which they not surprisingly have done with only mixed success, and even Chris, through the mouths of the characters, must confess his bafflement over that prologue with Ms. Marvel appearing in the Orb.  Since we’re told that the main story takes place after her Boston visit in #13-14, I guess I buy that these A.I.M. guys are “strays” who didn’t get the memo about the takedown of Alden’s, but their robot’s close resemblance to the Beetle is confusing, and the waters also remain murky about the sequence of her professional and romantic relationships with Michael.  Arthur Shaman—seriously?  Yeah, I knew his cousin, Robert Witch-Doctor, very well.

Fantastic Four 192
"He Who Soweth the Wind...!"
Story by Len Wein and Roger Slifer
Art by George Perez and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by George Perez and Frank Giacoia

Johnny's off to the American Southwest (likely New Mexico or Arizona, but "guest scripter" Roger Slifer, working from Len Wein's plot, doesn't tell us) for the cross-country auto race mentioned last ish. He apparently never got around to inviting Frankie Ray (or she declined), but he's met at the airport by Wyatt Wingfoot, now teaching at a local Indian school. WW intros Johnny to another racer, the gorgeous, buxom Rebecca Rainbow, who trades competitive barbs with the Torch.

A quick Ben & Alicia interlude finds the Thing, thinking a ticking package is a bomb, drowning a "retirement" watch from, of all people, the Yancy Street gang. Reed searches the want ads but explains to Sue he's over-qualified for everything. One Arthur Thornhill arrives at the Richardses' door with a 20K a month job offer from an unnamed corporation. Sounds great, but I'm laying 20-1 odds evil, odious strings are attached.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a mustachioed stranger is stalking Johnny, but now it's Race Day and the luscious Ms. Rainbow is handing Torchie his lunch as they speed across the desert. But both cars are soon swept skyward in a tornado, the stalker revealed as Frightful Four-wannabe the Texas Twister (see FF #177). Battle is joined, with George Perez serving up the high wind hijinks in fine fashion, even if the story's all hot air. Wyatt joins the fray, followed by a fleet of helicopters, inexplicably documenting a small town race in the middle of Saudi Nowhereia. After fighting to a draw, T. Twister is - I can't resist, kids - gone with the wind, leaving the Torch wondering who hired him. -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Even as the faculty's biggest Johnny Storm booster, this one has very little to recommend it, beyond the high calorie Perez-Sinnott eye candy. Let's acknowledge the plot-seeding dangles - who hired the Twister & who wants to hire Reed? - but setting up future adventures ain't worth our thirty-five shekels now

George makes her gorgeous, but the name Rebecca Rainbow would make a New Age chick blush, let alone a native-American. Similar sloppiness: Slifer mistakenly calls Wyatt a Comanche (p.27), one page before correcting his lineage  to (the fictive) Keewazi. Were the proofreaders at a Peyote ceremony?

And Torchie is a long-time gearhead, going all the way back to FF #1, but Len and Roger also manage to muff matters automotive, calling a long distance event a drag race, which is a quarter-mile, burn rubber sprint. Or maybe they just forget to mention Ru Paul was an entrant...

Chris: Well, that's too bad -- the Fantastic Four always was a big seller; it’s unfortunate they had to cancel the mag, after Reed broke up the team.  Oh, you mean they're still publishing?  Well, how can they do that when they don't have a team's exploits to document?  Fans had to be asking the same question as this issue came around; from now on, is FF going to be little more than Johnny's solo adventures?  It's a decent story -- I'm sure fans were excited to see Texas Twister show off his abilities, after he’d appeared in little more than a few panels in his FF #177 debut; Johnny’s sequence wouldn't have been bad at all, if it had been part of some other, larger story.  But what else is there to talk about?  It's not like you can devote half the issue to multiple pages of Ben breaking furniture. 

The art, being Pérez, is very good, but there simply isn't enough happening to require his talents at their best; I mean, anyone can draw a friend meeting an old friend at an airport, right?  We have a few things to admire once the dust-up with the Twister gets going, most notably Johnny getting twisted, Texas style (p 22, pnl 3),Wyatt slugging the Twister (p 27, pnl 8 – wow, lotsa panels on that page), and the Tex getting plowed into the ground (p 31, last pnl).   
But wait -- what's this about an enticing offer for Reed?  Something that will allow him to apply his creativity, get his patent-building juices flowing again?  I get the feeling our next issue won’t concern itself with Reed's morning commute and office location (no anonymous cube for the inventor-genius, no sir); but, what should we expect to happen, in our next episode ..?
Matthew: Well, if you’re really gonna run with this break-up business, the inevitable corollary is some solo yarns, of which this first one has been handed off by plotter Wein to guest scripter Slifer.  Johnny’s automotive aspirations are such a longtime staple as to provide a natural milieu; this could almost be a jumped-up version of one of his moldy old Strange Tales capers.  I love how Wyatt towers over the Torch on that nice Perez/Sinnott splash page, and he serves the function of giving Johnny someone to play off besides the usual suspects, but I hope someday they’ll get around to explaining how the tiresome Texas Twister can remain a villain in this strip while simultaneously serving as one of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. Super Agents in Captain America...

Godzilla 8
"Titan Times Two!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Fred Kida
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Ernie Chan

Red Ronin faces off against Godzilla, with young Rob planning to drive the King of the Monsters off "before the Americans use their missiles on him." The Big G strikes first with a couple of radioactive breath bursts, but Ronin uses his Laser Blade to drive him back, until the SHIELD craft swoops in, then he slashes at them! Using Magneclamp-Cables, Ronin starts to fly Godzilla away from the nukes, but instead the creature breaks free and plunges into the bay below. As the battle gets more intense, both combatants land effective blows, some major—but when SHIELD comes in again, Ronin blasts the ship, knocking out the power, and points Godzilla towards a way to leave, which he does, much to Dum Dum Dugan's chagrin!
--Joe Tura

Joe: Not a lot happens in this issue to move the plot along, but it's easily one of the most enjoyable issues of Godzilla so far. The battle scenes could have been more destructive and more intense, but with a 12-year old kid at the helm of a giant robot, who's looking out for Godzilla as much as he's trying to survive himself, you can figure he'll pull some punches. The Big G seems more curious than mad for once, and is more than happy to walk away from a fight. This is not your father's Godzilla in Marvel-dom! SHIELD is around just to try and play spoiler, only to look fairly stupid most of the time.

Trimpe's art is in fine form here, with some excellent shots during the dust-up. Godzilla's drooling on the splash page; the King's lighting up when he fires some heat breath at the "friendly" robot with a "HRAHHHH" (pg 3 and 6); Rob's concentration to get the laser blade recharged (top pg 7); Dugan losing his cigar when yelling, yet never truly losing it (throughout); page 15's three long vertical panels; the nearly awesome full page 22; all of page 23; and Ronin's left hand turning into a cannon. Nicely done, and probably the only time young Rob won't be annoying.

Matthew:  It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to try to critique these issues in any meaningful way, simply because I feel that both the premise (which I’ve always considered a bad idea) and the artwork (which is, um, Trimpe) are inherently self-limiting.  That leaves Moench’s scripts to carry the burden, and since this one asks us to accept that a colossal, zillion-dollar robot can function with the slightest degree of success at the command of a precocious pre-teen who actually thinks, “Wish I knew what all these controls are for,” well, you do the math.  Kida seems to have inked Herb’s pencils with a lighter hand on their sophomore pairing, which alas is not a good thing, resulting in such rudimentary facial features as those found in page 11, panel 1.

Howard the Duck 22
"May the Farce Be With You!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Val Mayerik and William Wray
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Frank Giacoia

Howard’s rooftop relaxation is rudely interrupted as a six-foot tall green salt shaker, with simian limbs, pulls itself up and onto the roof of Howard’s building.  The shaker pulls him down, turns itself over, and buries Howard under his weight in salt.  Its purpose seemingly fulfilled, the shaker stands on the ledge, then plunges to the street.  Howard can’t believe his eyes, until he looks below, and sees the shattered shaker on the sidewalk.  Howard then fights off a giant housefly, battering it with a guitar that had been left on the roof.  As he sidles toward the stairwell, Howard notices a “queasiness,” much like the feeling he’d had before he fell into our dimension.  At that moment, Dakimh the Enchanter appears before him, accompanied by Man-Thing!  Dakimh (well, more accurately, his spirit-image – Dakimh is no longer alive, as we know it) transports them to his dimension, so that he may re-unite them with Korrek the Barbarian and sorcerer’s-apprentice Jennifer Kale; together, it is their destiny to save the universe!  Howard is met in a spirit of good fellowship, which he dashes with his cranky attitude; “Didja ever stop ta think I might not wanna save the universe?!” he squawks.  Dakimh assures Howard this fight is in his best interests, since Howard already had been “under attack by the entity we oppose” immediately before Dakimh arrived.  The sorcerer leads his companions to the Waters of Eternity, where they are witness to a world called Megrim, and its immortal queen, Sombra.  Thru the millennia, it has been Sombra’s practice to call together savage warriors for a tournament.  The sole survivor of the battling becomes Sombra’s mate; her embrace takes the champion’s life, and produces her heir, “suffused with power beyond measure,” who then is loosed on the universe!  The problem is, this most recent time, that Sombra’s victor-mate outlasted his competition only because “he was too insane to stop fighting, even though he’d been hacked and stabbed within an inch of his life!”  The unbalanced offspring, named Bzzk’Joh, is not evil, but humorless; if Howard & Co can tap into the Farce – “the binding energy of the universe” – they can “yok it up in the face of death,” and have a chance to defeat Bzzk ’Joh.  Howard still wants no part of this; he flaps off, followed by Man-Thing, who lurches after Howard to what appears to be a complete modern “all-electric kitchen!”  Howard opens the fridge, and is beset by a giant pickle, who shouts “KO-CHUR!”  The pickle is surprised, and frightened, by the counter-attack of Man-Thing, and proceeds to burn.  The sharp tang of burned pickle-brine, and the sound of a sudden scream from above, are enough to drive Howard from the modern conveniences of the kitchen; he arrives in time to see Jennifer carried off by Bzzk ‘Joh, who states he is taking her to his “imperium emporium!”
-Chris Blake

Chris: This series has had its share of downright funny moments, but I’m still reveling in the absurdity of the encounter with the salt shaker.  I don’t even know where to start with the questions this moment inspires; how did it know where to find Howard?  How did it get here?  Is the shaker trying to dissolve him with its contents, as if Howard were a slug, or something?  Mayerik’s art really sells it, right from page 1, as we see muscular, fur-covered paws grabbing hold of the roof’s edge, ready to arrive and spoil Howard’s quiet night.  The moment ends with a Humpty-Dumpty visual of the ruptured shaker, its contents poured out (quick! someone throw some of it over your right shoulder!).  I can’t think of any other artist I’d want to have on a series like this, if Colan happens not to be available.  Other highlights include the crumbling walls in the interior of the castle (p 15), and the page of montage-exposition as we’re informed of the warriors’ less-than-dream-date with Sombra (p 17); the menacing pickle is pretty hilarious, too (p 27).
Matthew: Howard’s reunion with Dakimh, Jennifer, Korrek, and You-Know-Who (making for another spot-on cover that largely replicates page 10) was prematurely announced for his one-and-only annual, which also brought him back together with co-creator Mayerik.  I chortled consistently throughout this one—on a crowded commuter train, no less—and find it hilarious that “May the Farce Be with You” and its follow-up, “Star Waaugh!,” gently tweak the same space-fantasy film whose adaptation was supposedly helping to keep the lights on at that time.  Speaking of which, this and Star Wars #6 were both one-offs for inker Wray, upgraded from “Bill” to “William,” although once again I dislike the look of the non-waterfowl characters.

Mark: With original duck artist (albeit for only a handful of panels in Adventure Into Fear #19 and Man-Thing #1) Val Mayerik again in saddle for (the hopefully vacationing) Gene Colan, it seems appropriate that Gerbs goes Back to the Future here, reuniting Howard with the Man-Thing mystic warrior crew: Dakimh the Enchanter, Jennifer Kale, Korrek the Barbarian, and everyone's fave, fetid muck monster, before crashing the whole motley crew against the just-emerging pop cultural monolith that is Star Wars , to - one feverishly hopes - spectacular effort.

But that's next ish. With the M-T band back together, there's no reason not to unleash the lunacy asap, and our fine feathered friend is the immediate recipient, coming under attack from an "ape-shaker" (that's part-gorilla, part-giant salt shaker, for you uninitiated) on p.2. Dakimh and Manny then make their appearance, recruiting our reluctant hero for another mission to save the universe. The backstory involves Gerber's inspired brand of nonsense, some bonding between duck and cancelled swamp dweller, and much improved art from the aforementioned Mayerik (check the above mentioned issues, should you doubt that).

That's all to the good, and all merely prelude. What we really want to know is how Howard & friends will fare when faced with the forces of Lucas-Man!