Wednesday, November 30, 2016

June 1979 Part Two: A Tale of Young Ben Kenobi!

 Marvel Premiere 48
Ant-Man in
"The Price of a Heart!"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by John Byrne and Bob Layton
Colors by Mario Sen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Bob McLeod

Since, right away, we see a continuation from last issue, it makes the comic way less confusing than it could have been. The magenta-colored, Hulk-like Darren Cross makes a declaration of destroying Ant-Man, who is obviously inexperienced. You can see Scott Lang is inexperienced when he unleashes his ants, a smart move at first, and proceeds to shrink and fly right near the monster. Here is where Ant-Man starts to act dumb. The monster knocks Ant-Man out, un-shrinks him, and locks him up with chains on a hospital bed. He has somewhat of a touching moment when he begins to think of his daughter, Cassie, that is until Cross appears again. We then get some insight into how the magenta menace came to be, finding out he had a lot of money and was normal until his heart gave out, whereupon the "nucleorganic pacemaker" slowly turned him into an uglier, balder, and more purple version of the Hulk. Ant-Man's army of ants comes to him, almost looking like a line of ants at a picnic, and they help to release him from his chains. Ant-Man sneaks back into the room, and the magenta malcontent calls him a flea, then tries to hit him. But the monstrous millionaire dies due to the clever Dr. Sondheim replacing Cross's new heart with his old one. The epilogue contains Cassie all cured, that's a relief, and Hank Pym makes an appearance as Yellowjacket. Pym agrees to let Lang continue being Ant-Man, and everything turns out to be all hunky-dory. That is, until the next villain disturbs the new hero! --Cassie Tura

Cassie Tura: The art right off the bat looks pretty great, and the front cover gives a good analysis what this issue will be about. The small, almost life-like ants flying at Darren Cross's monster form were exceptional, but the small Ant-Man looks a little bit odd when put next to the monster. At times, the script uses intricate words, but at other times it uses more common words, so that is a little bit weird. Then again, it shows how great a vocabulary writer David Michelinie has! Then there are other words that aren't like the "POWS" we usually see in comics, and an example is when the word "THRAP" is used (what does that even mean?!). The art by John Byrne (who my Dad talks about a lot) looks great when the monster uses tweezers to pick up Ant-Man, and the scientists look a little bit like A.I.M. agents (I think I sense a conspiracy theory brewing). When we see the ants again, this time more up close, they look even more life-like than they did before, which I didn’t think was possible. Ant-Man riding on the ant looked like someone riding on a horse at a rodeo, and even though that may sound dumb, let me just say it's pretty great to look at. Scott Lang looking happy as can be at the end with his daughter all healed up can make readers feel very positive; Hank Pym as Yellowjacket looks just as he did in my character guide, and that made me excited. Overall, this issue had fabulous art and a great script, and it leaves you wondering what's next for our new hero.

Chris Blake: Henry Pym’s pretty nonchalant about someone breaking in to his home and taking his stuff, isn’t he?  It turns out to be a nice play on Michelinie’s part, as YJ tells us he had followed Lang and observed him in action – that is, until a stun-blast at CTE knocked him out (for at least 18 hrs, it seems …), which prevented YJ from helping Ant-Man resolve the Cross crisis.  Without this account of YJ’s on-hand involvement, his charitable act toward Lang (“Aw, what the heck, Scott – you keep it!”) would be difficult to accept, and would make the ending much too pat.  Points also to editor Roger Stern, if he had elected not to suggest YJ join the fray (which also could’ve allowed for a “Guest Appearing!” blurb on the cover, right?), since this allows Lang to resolve the issue on his own.  As for the resolution – Lang points out he realistically couldn’t have defeated Cross without help (too true), so it’s a credible twist for Dr Sondheim to inform Lang she had put Cross’ previously-damaged heart back in place, knowing as she did that Cross’ “donors” weren’t always volunteers, and not knowing of any other way to remove herself from complicity in his immoral immortality scheme.  

It’s about the longest night of Lang’s life, not only because he’s waiting for someone to harvest his heart in the morning, but also because ants move ve-e-e-e-r-r-ry slowly, relative to us bipedal mammal-types.  Somehow, though, there’s enough time for the ants to locate the gas canisters, and move them on their backs from one end of CTE to another, in time for Lang to save himself – in the nickiest of times!  How, I wonder, do the ants get the canisters into the cell?  If anything, I would’ve asked Byrne to make it clear the gas-cans had been moving via the air vents; it’s safe to say that even rent-a-security dudes would notice a locomotive canister moving along a corridor in the middle of the night.  
Dominic D. of NYC writes in, asking “I thought the purpose of Premiere was to show bold new concepts?  Why are all the old hat characters suddenly showing up here?”  I’m with you, Dom; there should’ve always been a clear distinction between Spotlight and Premiere, which hasn’t held true since … well, at any time, really – both titles always have been pretty well interchangeable.  And next month?  The Falcon.  Oh well … . 

Matthew Bradley:  An eminently satisfactory conclusion to Ant Man 2.0’s debut, and I can’t wait to see what young Professor Tura—fresh from her Halloween triumph as A Competitor’s Character—says about her namesake’s dramatic delivery.  I appreciated that Michelinie did not feel compelled to have Hank and Scott battle for naming rights, à la Power Man, and I liked the cold equation that Dr. Sondheim made in putting the greater good ahead of her Hippocratic Oath…although it seems unlikely they’d have kept Cross’s unreliable original heart just lying around.  Yellowjacket looks as good as when Byrne drew him in MTU, and unlike some of his recent inkers, Layton lets his style shine forth with well-delineated action and nice size-contrasts.

 Marvel Team-Up 82
Spider-Man and The Black Widow in
"No Way to Treat a Lady!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Sal Buscema and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Rick Parker
Cover by Rich Buckler and Bob McLeod

 In the wee hours, a red-headed woman walks by the Bugle Building and ponders why a picture of Spidey reminds her of something; interceding to save her from a quartet of muggers, he slips on a patch of ice, yet after she uses karate to keep him from being stabbed and he recognizes her as the Black Widow, she denies it and promptly faints.  As the police draw near, he takes her to an upper floor of a midtown building until he can get some answers, but the ones she gives upon awakening make no sense, insisting she is upstate third-grade teacher Nancy Rushman, and the rest is a total blank.  Finding Tasha’s costume in her purse, he suggests she put it on, but just as she says it has failed to jog her memory and prepares to go, all hell breaks loose.

An airborne female S.H.I.E.L.D. strike force—mercifully not identified as Gary Friedrich’s “Femme Force” from Captain America #144-148—attacks, inexplicably ordered to shoot to kill by La Contessa Valentina Allegro de Fontaine, and pursues them across the tenement rooftops of Hell’s Kitchen.  After Spidey is winged by a blaster, “Nancy” becomes even more confused and frightened when she instinctively and fiercely battles the agents, refusing Spidey’s order to run for safety and lose herself in a subway crowd.  His Spider-Sense is justifiably triggered by the arrival of Nick Fury, who cold-bloodedly guns down first the Widow, apparently fatally (“I had my reasons, kid—an’ they’re none of your business”), and then Spidey as he leaps to avenge her. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’m definitely pro-Leialoha, and have no specific complaints about the artwork here—in fact it’s rather nice, especially the splash page and the furious Widow in page 26, panel 4—but I will say I’d have been hard-pressed to identify Sal as the penciler.  In this arc, Claremont finally ties up some of the plot threads he left dangling way back in #57, a process that began, oddly enough, in the SNL issue, #74, when we learned (at least obliquely) why the Silver Samurai sought that clay statuette.  I’ve always been a big Black Widow fan, so even though she’s literally not herself here, she’s a major asset, both in her own right and in Spidey’s superbly handled relationship with “Nancy,” which one again shows why he’s one of the most human of super-humans around.

Chris: This is the start of an ambitious four-parter from the creative team of Claremont-Buscema-Leialoha; up to now, Claremont has kept his MTU storylines to a max of two issues.  We’re left wondering, “What’s going on here?” which of course is completely by design; Claremont knows, and he’s not telling.  Hell, he knows what’s going to happen in MTU #85, but he gives nothing away here.  A lesser writer (and, you know who you are…) would be incapable of bearing-up under so many unexplained plot points, and surely would get up from a sleepless bed, trot right over to his typewriter, and insert a page of exposition, so Val and Nick (most likely, in a dialogue) could recap the whole scheme and make sure they both understood the operation’s desired outcome – which would clue us in too, squeaks the copiously perspiring lesser writer.  Well, Claremont is having none of that – we’ll figure out what’s happening, and why it’s happening, when we’ve reached the point when the story properly requires these revelations, and not a moment sooner.  Which of course has us pestering the guy at the drugstore, as we ask the following week, and the week after, “Hey, is the new Marvel Team-Up in yet -?”
The art is mostly Leialoha, with Buscema’s layouts providing a framework; there are hints of Sal’s distinctive characters from time to time.  I’ll admit I was looking forward to turning the page and seeing the Widow in costume (p 14); she looks okay, not bombshell-caliber – I realize now that Sal & Steve probably don’t want her to appear as glamorous as usual, since she’s still so unsure of herself, so I credit them with making the right choice.  
As for the rest of the issue, the results are fine, if at times slightly indistinctly finished; e.g., when those SHIELD speeders crash thru the windows (p 15), I want the details to be really sharp, so they portray as much realism as possible (while this increasingly unrealistic scenario plays out – the Widow and Spidey, under attack by Val -?!).  Otherwise, the night-battle allows for a heavier, darker look.  I was prepared to dismiss Nancy’s (I guess we have to call her “Nancy,” until we know what’s really happening here) orange coloration on p 10 to a printer’s error, but the odd skin tones are back on p 23 and 26, so the fault might lie with colorist Ben Sean.  
I have one question: it’s always been my impression that Natasha speaks with at least a hint of Russian inflection.  If she does, in fact, have this distinctive speech pattern – or, if it happens to be missing right now as she calls herself “Nancy” – shouldn’t that contribute to the present mystery of her identity -? 

Joe: The beginning of an MTU arc I remember quite well, as one of the most enjoyable tales before I stop collecting comics the first time around. Of course, it helps to have My Pal Sal at the easel for the first time in a while in these pages. Claremont's script is deep and dense also, from what I remember. But let's just see if it holds up after nearly 40 years…. First off, there's mystery afoot when Black Widow thinks she's "Nancy Rushman," a mild-mannered third-grade school teacher (who happens to be super hot), yet shows glimpses of her true self. The SHIELD Strike Force is a tough bunch, and certainly never gives up, while Spidey plays the regal hero, protecting Nancy/Natasha at all costs. Then things take quite a turn when Nick Fury shows up and shoots Widow/Wishy-Washy-Hotsie-Totsie Teacher and Spidey down without a second thought! Alas, we can guess that Spidey is OK, but that's for next time. And yes, the first chapter certainly holds up!

 Marvel Two-In-One 52
The Thing and Moon Knight in
"A Little Knight Music!"
Story by Steven Grant
Art by Jim Craig and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Rick Parker
Cover by George Pérez and Joe Sinnott

An incognito Moon Knight is present while Ben accepts an award on Reed’s behalf, so when uniformed thugs gun down Davey, a man running to him for protection (whose dying words are an address), and briefly immobilize Ben with a sonic blaster, MK lends a hand.  An ungrateful Thing, fed up with a surfeit of super-doers, refuses to share information, but MK switches to his Jake Lockley cabbie i.d., and when Ben hits the street looking for a taxi to Brooklyn, he’s only too happy to oblige, saying he’ll bill the Baxter Building.  MK is thus not far behind when Ben busts into an apparent warehouse, yet after they make mincemeat of the henchmen, the mastermind introduces himself as Crossfire, and knocks them out with nerve gas.

From his days freelancing for the CIA, the captive MK knows William Cross, who was reputedly killed while under investigation for his rogue operation, and now plans to wipe out New York’s super-heroes, controlling Ben’s mind with his Wurlitzer-like “sonic mind-warper.”  MK slips his chains during Cross’s rant, and with the threat of his death negated, the enforced allies mop up the opposition until Crossfire hits the keyboard “like a maddened Horowitz.”  Ironically, the very methods he taught Marc Spector enable MK to resist brainwashing, and the defeated Crossfire is about to throw a bomb at them when MK’s crescent dart pins his wrist just as the elevator door is closing, yet despite taking a blast of nerve gas full force, he is gone when the door opens again… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: It’s apparently a coincidence that Steven Grant—who makes a highly inauspicious Marvel debut here, and will join a veritable Avengers writers’ room for the second half of the year—has the same name as one of Moon Knight’s many identities.  Having the ho-hum Crossfire (whose next appearance is happily outside our purview, in the 1983 Hawkeye miniseries) be someone from MK’s past makes it more personal for him, but has little if any resonance for the reader, because we have so little knowledge of, and nothing invested in, their shared history.  Even the average-at-best Craig/Marcos artwork is, alas, superior to this haphazard script, whose many unanswered questions begin right from the splash page, where Crossfire’s intentions are, to me, quite unclear.

Chris: Fun issue, as the Thing and Moon Knight’s tear thru Crossfire’s henchmen goes mostly uncontested, while Steven “freelance writer” Grant keeps the story moving briskly forward.  Clever moment as Ben (a quick study) uses a ripped-up piece of flooring to deflect an immobilizing ray, until he gets close enough to scrunch the offending weapon (p 7).  As the battle reaches its peak, Jim Craig chooses to present it as a full-page mayhem montage (p 11).  

Moon Knight’s quick-changes are beyond comprehension, particularly when he zips into Lockley garb and is right on time to pick up Ben for a fare to Brooklyn (p 6); but, in the interest of advancing the story, I can allow this bit of license (I wonder how many cabs Steven “Moon Knight” Grant has stashed around the city? And, could they all be started with the same key, or does MK need one of those night-watchman key loops, with fifty-odd keys to flip thru before he found the right one -?).  Crossfire’s gambit is familiar, right down to the keyboard he uses for mind-warp (a devious design possibly stolen from Psycho-Man -?).  Ben’s enthusiastic destruction of Crossfire’s apparatus is another art-highlight (p 27, last pnl).

 Master of Kung Fu 77
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and Gene Day
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Colors by Mike Zeck and Bob McLeod

Leiko and Shang-Chi leave her flat, bound for Sir Denis’ Scotland home to help Black Jack, who fears Sir Denis, Reston, and Melissa might have come to a spot of trouble.  Leiko explains why they have to bring Shockwave’s confession tape with them; she expects MI-6 to raid her place within an hour of their departure, since the tape is the only evidence they have to connect recent attempts on their lives to the agency.  After waiting most of the night, Black Jack makes his way in – the door to Sir Denis’ estate is unlocked.  He finds the house empty, until he spots his three associates in the dining room, all seated – seemingly unconscious – at the table.  Black Jack turns at the sound of a safety release, and dodges gunfire from the two masked figures who had captured his former teammates.  On the road, Leiko and S-C find themselves cut off by a lorry blocking the road.  They step cautiously from Leiko’s car, as three gunmen emerge quickly from the truck’s rear doors.  Stepping from the cab is a cowled man who calls himself Zaran, “a master in the art of handling weapons"; S-C recognizes him as the same man “who had offered money for my capture,” as he’d learned at the conclusion of his fight on the London docks the night before.  Zaran holds out his hand, and demands the confession tape.  Leiko takes advantage of the momentary distraction of a passing train to toss the tape reel toward S-C; Zaran reacts immediately, as he intercepts it with a short blade, causing the reel to drop onto a lumber-bearing train car.  Zaran leaps after the train, with S-C behind him; Leiko subdues her captors, and takes pursuit in the car.  As he blocks Zaran’s pike-staff, S-C notes it seems lightweight, almost hollow.  S-C speculates this could allow for “swifter slashes,” until Leiko draws close enough to fire a shot; Zaran raises the pike to his lips, as S-C realizes it also serves as a blowgun!  The dart catches Leiko’s front tire as she rounds a bend; at high speed, Leiko skids and crashes into the rocks aside the road.  Zaran nabs the tape reel and dives from the train, into a river alongside the tracks.  S-C leaps to the road, and pulls Leiko from the fiery crash; her concern is only for the tape, as she passes out in his arms.  At the estate, Tarr takes out his opponents (both robots), but is caught in the side by a bullet.  Sarsfield prevents him from retrieving his Magnum, and explains that MI-6 suspects Fu Manchu could still be “alive and active again'; it might be wise to eliminate Fu’s son, and the son’s associates, as “a precaution.” -Chris Blake
Chris: We’re getting pulled into the story again.  Leiko makes clear from the start the difficulty they face, as S-C understands “MI-6’s influence extends everywhere in this country,” and recognizes his hope that they could deliver the tape to the Prime Minister is going to be more difficult than he might’ve anticipated.  The prospect of further violence begins to weigh heavily on him, as he tells Leiko his “heart sometimes cannot understand” the realities  recognized by his mind.  During his clash with Zaran, S-C reflects on a thought he’d had earlier in the day: “I was right – I will face a new foe this day.  It will never end.  And in the face of such constant violence, I will do what I must.”  
S-C might’ve had enough of this, but his fans will enjoy the action, especially in the issue’s second half.  Zeck & Day depict Zaran as a resourceful, mysterious foe, his head nearly entirely covered by a cowl that rests on his upper chest; this portion of the material also carries at least a dozen short-handled knives, for easy access and darting throws (p 11, pnl 4).  S-C and Zaran’s hand-to-hand on the train cars is brief, as both parties fight while they simultaneously try to grab the tape reel.  Leiko’s dust-cloud-spewing rear wheels give us a sense of the speed all combatants are traveling (p 21, p 27); Leiko’s crash also is convincingly well-executed (p 30). 

Mark: New villain, Zaran, looks like an Asian S&M dungeon master, right down to sai octagon daggers built into the fringe of his cowl. Speaking of fashion, Leiko is now sporting skin-tight jumpsuits, likely from the SHIELD Discount Outlet, not that we're complaining. 

Z and goons ambush Leiko and Shang-Chi on their way to Scotland, to join Blackjack in the presumptive rescue of Sir Denis & company. A fight atop a train ensues, daggers aflyin'. While stylishly rendered by Mike Zeck, the panels lacks any sense of motion; inker Gene Day needs to add some speed lines or sumthing. Leiko's sports car crash is much more kinetic, but I'm not buying Moench's last-page suggestion that Leiko died in the wreck.

Zaran has potential, if not much personality. Is he after Shockwave's confession tape for MI6 or soon-returning Father Fu? Hostage-holder Sarsfield is bureaucratic killer as fussy British aristocrat, dabbing goose grease off his chin with the good linen.  

Elsewhere, Blackjack doles out high caliber justice to the creepy, annoying mines. Thought the creative team was really pushing the ole ultra-violence envelope by depicting head shots, but turns out the mines were just Mordillo's robots.

Damn it.

The Micronauts 6 
“The Great Escapes”
Story by Bill Mantlo 
Art by Michael Golden and Joe Rubinstein
Colors by Roger Slifer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Michael Golden and Joe Rubinstein

After Ray Coffin and Professor Phillip Prometheus tumble into the mad scientist’s pit, the Micronauts and Steve Coffin flee from the Human Engineering Life Laboratories' mechanical guards. Entering the Microverse, Ray and Phillip begin to shrink — suddenly, Coffin is transported away by the mysterious Time Traveler as Prometheus is driven to the edge of insanity. Meanwhile, the ’Nauts and young Steve make their escape from NASA in the Coffins' pickup and the flying Astro Station while the agency’s security team is distracted by Prometheus’ rampaging robots.

In the dungeons underneath Baron Karza’s Body Banks, the rebel leader Slug frees Prince Argon — now transformed into a centaur — with a disruptor she had hidden on her body when captured. On Earth, the Micronauts arrive at the Coffins' house to find that Biotron has repaired the Endeavor — despite the interruption of the family’s cat. After powering up the microship using the garage’s fuse box, they head to the Coffins' remote cabin in the Everglades to regroup and take the war back to Baron Karza: Mari joins Steve and Muffin in the pickup as the rest of the crew board the Endeavor. Along the way, two Florida State Highway Patrol cars give chase, alerted by the APB out on the Coffins' red ’67 Chevy. Bug’s explosive rocket-lance, Acroyear’s brute strength and the Princess’ lasersonic pistol disable their pursuers.

Meanwhile, the High Shadow Priest informs Karza that a pilotless satellite drone has detected another breach in the spacewall. The Baron launches a fleet of Dog Soldiers and Acroyear warriors to the location. When the fleet discovers the shrinking but still relatively huge Professor Prometheus, Karza senses that they share a common evil. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Bill Mantlo has settled into a nice groove with this series. Each issue moves the major storyline ahead in seemingly minor ways, but the tension is kept tight and there are bursts of explosive action. Luckily, we are given a break from the lovelorn mooning between Rann and Mari — it was becoming quite tiresome. I’ve lost track of how many vehicles they have lost so far, but the Florida State Highway Patrol has been taking quite a beating. And when Rann mentioned that they were heading to the Everglades, I guessed someone might rear his mossy head next issue: the final, “Coming Next Month” panel on the last page reveals that, yes, we will have our first guest star in July. 

I will say that some of Phillip Prometheus’ dialogue is strangely goofy as he floats through the Microverse: “Ray’s gone! I’m all alone! Falling — becoming teeny-tiny! Molecules like little marbles … ! I — I seem to have lost all my marbles — !” He’s Rodney Dangerfield all of a sudden? Mantlo makes a point to stress that the satellite drone surprisingly alerts the Shadow Priests of Prometheus’ presence instead of Karza:  the Baron is suspicious of this as well. And speaking of odd dialogue, after Argon asks Slug where she hid the disruptor, the rebel leader answers “There are places even Karza’s Dog Soldiers sometimes forget to search, my Prince.” Is she implying what I think she’s implying?

While not a highlight of the six issues released so far, this one does a bang-up job in drawing readers even farther into the fascinating world that Mantlo has created. And, let’s face it, the remarkable Golden/Rubinstein art could even make Ghost Rider readable. Well, maybe not this month’s issue. Nothing could save that stinker.

Matthew: As far as I know, Marvel has nothing else like this book at the moment:  it’s got a true ensemble cast, with its sort-of lead character, Commander Rann, in the background as often as not; an epic scope encompassing two decidedly different worlds, in an ambitious saga that Mantlo orchestrates more like chapters of a serial than discrete stories; and Goldinstein art that is highly stylized, very cool, and definitely distinctive.  The “Bill Crooks” sight gag in page 3, panel 4 was an actual Daytona Beach tire business…but why does the Coffins’ next-door neighbor share the name (Abner Jenkins) of the original Beetle?  Despite differences, I would dare to compare this with X-Men in some ways—and there will be a crossover miniseries in ’84. Too bad the house ads for next month’s guest shot perpetuate the “Rubenstein” misspelling.

Chris: Mantlo & Golden continue to make the right choices, as they keep multiple storylines moving briskly forward.  There’s a minimum of recapping, as characters provide bits of context as they race on to the next thing.  Our creators also know what to gloss over, in the interest of pacing; e.g., Biotron’s cat-clash might’ve been fun to see, but we don’t lose anything by having it take place offscreen.  I mean, you wouldn’t want to give up any of those three pages on Homeworld, as Slug frees Prince (Noble) Argon, and Karza launches his fleet to intercept Prof Prometheus, wouldja?  Dallan and Sepsis forbid!

Golden & Rubinstein continues to outdo themselves, if that’s possible.  We have plenty of battling and high-speed pursuit propelling the action, but also a Doctor Strange-worthy sequence as Coffin and Prometheus plunge down to the Microverse (p 10).  Other highlights include: a gigantic Karza about to trample us as he races to see the High Shadow Priest himself (p 14, 1st pnl); Slug slags the cell wall (p 15); blinding glare from the Endeavor as it turns on the highway patrol (p 26, 1st pnl); a smaller detail – Mari, her back to the rushing air, with her hair washing over her right shoulder as she fires back at the pursuing cars (p 27, 1st pnl).  Speaking of small detail, points to Golden for the depiction of the Coffin pickup as it escapes H.E.L.L. – we’re drawn to the sight of it crashing the barrier, but as we look closer, we see the just-landed Astrostation in the bed, plus we can see fragments of broken glass in the passenger window frame, from when the Endeavor shot out the window to release Muffin (p 7, pnl 6).  By the way, I just counted – to present the group’s escape from both base security and Prometheus’ humanoid squad, plus the rendezvous with the Astrostation, Golden employs sixteen panels over p 6-7; that’s the way to keep the pace moving!  
On the inaugural letters page in #5, Cat Y. (no address) credits Tom Orzechowski’s “use of pseudo-Sanskrit” to depict the written language of Homeworld.  This time, the armadillo properly credits Golden for having concocted the typeface, which definitely has some twists and curves that owe something to Burmese and Korean text (as far as I can tell).  Golden includes a translator key at the bottom of the page, plus a message in Homeworldian, which reads: “In the name of the Enigma – Peace.”

Matthew:  I was tempted to take the time to translate that myself…but then I said, “Naaaah!” 

 Power Man and Iron Fist 57
"Pharaohs on Broadway!"
Story by Mary Jo Duffy
Art by Trevor Von Eeden and Frank Springer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Bob Layton

After a brief battle with the Heroes for Hire, the Living Monolith busts his head through an apartment roof, burying Danny and Luke under tons of rubble. Meanwhile, Misty and Colleen are walking the Manhattan streets with Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Storm, on their way to check out the pad of the Heroes' employer (Professor Abdol, the alter ego of the Monolith) and witness the destruction wrought by the Monolith. Scott has Storm tail the big guy while he and Nightcrawler stay to help with the wreckage. Danny uses his iron fist to bust through the rubble and save himself and Luke. Cage tells Scott that he and the Fist must track down the stolen museum artifacts (seen last issue) before they can assist the others in dealing with the Monolith. The partners head for the Halwani Embassy, where Abdol held Havok prisoner the summer before (as related in minute detail in Marvel Team-Up #69-70 according to editor Al Milgrom) and, sure enough, they find a boatload of artifacts in a back room. Amidst the antiques they discover a small crystal pyramid radiating with energy. This is revealed to be the key to bringing down the Monolith and, after a brutal battle, the giant is reduced to a quivering, very-human Abdol. Danny destroys the pyramid to avoid any reruns. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: If I can't say anything good about the script (and I can't, believe me), at least I can acknowledge that the art has calmed down a bit; in fact, it's not bad at all (though I could have done without a lot of those blank backgrounds). There are several panels of the Living Monolith here that mirror Neal Adams' depiction of the giant way back in the 1960s. The problem here is that this two-parter provides no excitement nor motivation to turn the page. The exchange between Luke and Danny to open the story is a knee-slapper; Danny spends what must be a full minute explaining the history of the Monolith while said big guy sits and waits for Danny to finish. Nothing like manners during a fight to the death. The rest is a confusing sack of fertilizer that deserves to be forgotten.

Matthew: To employ a word I don’t use as often as I should, this is a shambles.  Other than pandering, the best justification for the stars of Marvel’s top title—more accurately billed as “Selected Uncanny X-Men”—slumming in this misbegotten mag is the symbiosis between Havok (his name inevitably misspelled in page 27, panel 1) and Abdol, yet Duffy negates that, arrogantly rewriting the rules for a formidable foe who is wasted here and, worse, doing so in a totally muddled manner.  It’s tough to envision that amid the context of the Dollar Bill fiasco, Danny and Alex compared notes on “Villains We Have Known,” while except for page 3, the Von Eeden/Springer art is of a relentless mediocrity epitomizing this feeble book.

Chris: It’s easy to be annoyed by the advertised X-angle.  The cover is more of a come-on than anything; not only do Power Man & Iron Fist hardly tangle with the Monolith (Iron Fist never touches him), the X-Men (a piece of them) are barely involved either.  X-fans expecting a full contingent of X-Men battling the Monolith (not seen since the Thomas/Adams/Palmer days), aided by Luke and Danny, would have to be fairly disappointed to see a handful of pages with Scott and Ororo issuing ineffectual blasts, while Kurt does little but annoy the Big Mono; where are Wolverine and Colossus, you ask?  If Mary Jo knows, she ain’t tellin’.  In addition, the most recent appearance of the Monolith was a city-wide brawl involving Thor in full-tempest mode (as seen in MTU #70), and we get none of that here.

Instead, Mary Jo focuses her attention on Luke and Danny’s efforts to fulfill their contract and recover the missing artifacts.  The air of calm rationality on p 14, as the players all get acquainted and determine how to combat the Monolith, is almost comical; no one seems terribly concerned that this nearly 100-ft-tall being now is striding around loose in a city of approximately eight million (give or take a million).  If Mary Jo prefers to keep focus on the unraveling of the theft from the King Tut exhibit, that’s fine; she shouldn’t bill this as a battle with a figure like the Monolith, though – co-starring Marvel’s stars-on-the-rise – only to provide such a modest return.  

 The Spider-Woman 15
"Into the Heart of Darkness!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald
Art by Carmine Infantino and Al Gordon
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Bill Sienkiewicz and Bob McLeod

Jessica stands in her bathroom as the Shroud introduces himself; there’s no need for modesty, he explains, since he does not have the ability to see.  He had traveled to Nepal to study with priests of the death-goddess Kali.  There, he had received the “kiss of Kali,” which removed his physical eyesight, replaced by “mystic avenues of perception.”  The Shroud had not been prepared for the pain and darkness, and “ran from the temple screaming"; he failed the priests, who proceeded to conceal themselves from him.  After his adventures in Europe (as chronicled in S-V T-U), the Shroud discovered followers of Kali in New York, and trailed them to Los Angeles, in the hope they might provide a lead back to his Nepalese instructors.  These cultists who attacked the Hatros Institute (in S-W #13) clearly had other aims, so the Shroud hitched a ride on their escaping truck’s roof to discover their HQ.  The Shroud learned little in his observation of the cult’s clubhouse, expect a mention of SHIELD.  Now, here’s where Jessica comes in: the Shroud is counting on Spider-Woman to lead him to SHIELD’s LA office; it happens that, thru Jerry Hunt, Jessica knows where to find it.  

They avail themselves of a secret entrance in a Chinese restaurant; once they are inside, a blanket of darkness from the Shroud plus some well-placed venom blasts allow them access to the computer room.  The SHIELD computer system makes no mention of the temple in Nepal, which confirms to the Shroud that the cultists he and S-W had encountered “are related in name only.”  After a dinner break, S-W joins the Shroud in a graveyard; he leads her to a mausoleum to reach the cultists’ “subterranean stronghold” via a secret stairway revealed by “a mere turn of this sarcophagus.”  They find the “dank chamber … dominated by a leering idol,” empty of cultists.  They wait in the darkness, the Shroud confident that the cultists will “bring their victims here to – uh, victimize them.”  After over an hour, return they do, with two bound captives.  Once the captives are laid on the altar and prepared for sacrifice, S-W and the Shroud strike from the shadows and rout the cultists; only the group’s leader evades capture.  Jessica is surprised to find one of the would-be victims is Jerry Hunt; she also takes note of her lack of feeling for him.  Back at Hatros, Nekra – Princess of Darkness – plots revenge against Spider-Woman.  -Chris Blake
Chris: Credit Mark Gruenwald for bringing together two disparate elements from Marvel’s recent past, both the cultists of Kali (last seen in Iron Fist’s run in Marvel Premiere) and the Shroud, now with a breezier, less earnest manner (remember how fixated he was on destroying Dr Doom -?).  The casual interplay between Shroud and Spider-Woman is noteworthy.  He puts her at ease from the start, as she recognizes he poses no threat to her.  He’s agreeable to her request for rest before they go out to investigate SHIELD’s intel on Kali cultists, then surprises her with bacon and eggs in the morning (after sleeping on the couch, of course).  They joke about “bushwhacking the receptionist” (a reference to Shroud’s stealthy entrance to Hatros in S-W #13), S-W calling him “Mr Shroud,” and as they escape SHIELD, with Shroud clinging to her back as she climbs the wall, he states “At times like this, Ms Spider – I’m glad I can’t see!”  Shroud’s dinner proposal (as they wait for the cultists to resume their prowling in the nighttime) also surprises S-W (but not as much as it surprises me – where could they go in costume?  Maybe they stopped by In-and-Out Burger and stayed in the car).  Shroud’s last unexpected move is to fade his surroundings to black (“A fade-out,” Jessica thinks.  "How typically melodramatic!”).  
Overall, she recognizes that, despite some difficult circumstances, the Shroud “sparked a sense of whimsy” she’d “never known with Jerry.”  The letters page hints that, in our next adventure, Gruenwald will reveal (and remove, I hope!) the reason why Jessica’s presence produces a sense of unease among the general population; maybe now, she’ll be free to start Seeing Other People.  

Matthew: As noted, I’ve always liked the Shroud, but the potentially proto-romantic banter that Gruenwald imposes on him and Spider-Woman rings false to me, and having him call his “Kiss of Kali” facial brand a “tattoo” (as he does in page 2, panel 3)—which is hardly the same thing—is just sloppy; yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, Roger and Jim.  The S.H.I.E.L.D. records of subversive organizations on page 11 are  interesting, although I’m not sure if they clarify things or merely muddy the waters even further.  The reference to Shaya and Ushas seems to confirm the connection to Iron Fist in Marvel Premiere #19-22 that Professor Chris theorized, yet the Shroud says, “these cultists are related in name only”…and who the hell are the Ommies?

 Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 31
"Till Death Do Us Part!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Jim Mooney and Frank Springer
Colors by Mario Sen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Al Milgrom and Klaus Janson

With Peter Parker/Spider-Man bound on the table, Carrion, the "living clone of Professor Miles Warren," tells how Warren extracted a cell sample to make a clone, but never returned, so the clone grew old and died. When undergrad Randy Vale woke it up, it turned out to have strange powers. Carrion also promised Vale, now costumed as Darter, the powers of "Spider-Man himself" in return for his help. The conniving Carrion injects a sample of Parker's blood into a pre-clone, which he unleashes as the powerful "Spider-Amoeba!" The slithering symbiote uses its "spider-sense" to move towards Parker on the Electro-Slab, when suddenly Darter, um, darts in, feeling betrayed by Carrion since he gave Spidey's powers to "that thing" instead of Darter. Carrion's comeback is to throw Red Death bacterial dust at his crony, which quickly kills him by eating his flesh. Meanwhile, an inadvertent blast from Darter's special gun zaps the slab, freeing Spidey to fight Carrion!

White Tiger enters, having trailed Darter, just as the Spider-Amoeba lands on Spidey,  trying to choke him. Carrion and White Tiger's tussle starts a fire in the lab, then Spidey frees himself from the oozing blob, which in turn starts to stalk its maker! White Tiger makes it outside, alerting the police to what's going on inside. Carrion's powers don't work against the amazing Amoeba, which has the ability to negate its clone parent. The skinny scoundrel grasps for anything to help and lands on Vale/Darter's skull, which only aids with the irony as the Spider-Ameoba engulfs the Warren wannabe, and both are seemingly destroyed by the flames as Spider-Man busts out to safety. --Joe Tura

Joe: Without a doubt that's one of the worst Spidey covers of the decade. If a 12-year old at the spinner rack in Grand Candy saw his hero being attacked by a blobby octopus with polka dots, with no crazy phrases or words or dialogue….well, it would be on to the next row I think. Unless you were following this arc, so you'd have to see how all this insanity ends. And it's a crazy one indeed, from Carrion's kooky origin to a freakin' Spider-Amoeba of all things. Really. A Spider-Amoeba. I'm not sure why, but hey, at least we get some closure, and some answers, and some icky skin melting. Unfortunately, Darter's costume survived the Red Death. We do also get a classic Spidey insult with his angry "You slime-sucking cadaver! You crummy corpse!" The art is not horrendous, but in the first half, all the heroic action poses look like badly arranged Mego action figures. Shades of Dave Wenzel!

For favorite sound effect this month, I'm tempted to choose Carrion's "EEEEEEEEEE" as he's eeeeeeeeaten by the Spider-Amoeba, since Carrion is nearly as evil as the insane Professor he was made from. But instead, I like the slimy-sounding "SHUMPH!" on page 19 when the S-A lands on S-M, who can merely mutter a "GLECCH!"

Matthew: Meh.  I know it’s supposed to be dramatic and historically significant and all that, yet somehow, this just didn’t do it for me, and I think I recall that being true back in the day, too.  The Pollard/Janson cover, albeit not intrinsically bad,  is an indicator:  sure, tentacled blobs are fun (Caltiki, anyone?), but less compelling than human foes; I also call B.S. on Carrion’s whole origin/explanation, which undercuts his effectiveness for me.  Further throwing the whole thing off balance, I found Darter’s horrifying death more memorable than anything else, and since he was an eminently disposable character from the get-go, that was presumably not Mantlo’s intention, while as expected the Mooney/Springer art is just acceptable.

Chris: It’s clever of Mantlo to suggest that the Prof Warren clone might've died in its clone casket, while the cells continued to grow and form into Carrion; it’s an interesting, and slightly creepy explanation for Carrion's generation.  Mantlo stretches too far, though, as he asks us to believe the aversion experienced by organic matter when in contact with Carrion’s form also allows him to teleport and levitate.  The supposedly cloned Spidey-amoeba is kinda stupid, and doesn't present any credible threat; once Spidey's done tusslin' with it, he simply stands up and tosses it aside (p 22).  And then it goes after Carrion?  That's handy.  

This storyline probably required one issue too many to play out, due mostly to the lack of story development for most of #30.  Maybe Mantlo stretched it over four issues (plus some setup in the three issues preceding #28) so it would become An Epic, but in fact, it merely feels longer than it should.  The Mooney/Springer art is much better than in their previous pairings, either because Mooney's pencils are fuller, or Springer's inks are more clear, or both; if they'd always been capable of the caliber of their results here, I'm left wondering why they couldn't have done as well from the start.

Mark: This is as close to Spidey starring in an outright horror story as I've ever read, and a tip o' the ole rotting skull to Bill Mantlo for making Carrion such a truly revolting villain that the reader almost gags on his fetid, clone-casket breath.

Sure, the Spider-Amoeba (one of Pete's lesser clones) makes nary a lick of sense if you stop to think about it; fortunately, the ghoulish goings-on effectively short-circuit higher brain functions long enough for the Lovercraftian vibe here to ooze our tale over the finish line.

Jim Mooney's sub-John Romita graphics are a bit too bright and poppy for a story demanding Death Metal, but then that would call for mascara on Pete, and I think I speak for all of us in saying we got enough of that in Spider-Man 3 to last a lifetime. 

Still, looking ahead to the MU's 1970s recap, now just a few "months" away, Carrion tops my list of characters I loved seeing absorbed by a giant amoeba.

 Star Wars 24
"Silent Drifting"
Story by Mary Jo Duffy
Art by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Rick Parker
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek

After using deceptive tactics to fight off two TIE fighters, Han and Luke are entertained by Leia with a story of Ben Kenobi from his days in the Old Republic as a Jedi Knight. Ben had booked passage on a luxury liner that was heading in the direction of Alderaan. There he meets an assortment of odd people, including Tryll, a criminal who used his fortune to escape justice. He tries to hire Ben, but Ben is not impressed by his wealth or his microwave fermenting technology (I only mention it because it’s IMPORTANT). As the ship drops out of hyperspace to travel in an asteroid belt for cover, they are attacked by ships. The drunk passengers think Tryll and Ben are responsible. Ben discovers it’s the microwave fermenting thing that makes the ship detectable (see? Told you it was IMPORTANT). The end. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: God what a waste of an issue, a fill-in, and it certainly reads like one. Of all the tales you could tell about young Kenobi, this non-event is what Mary Jo Duffy decided to bring to light? There is no real insight into Ben’s character or anything interesting about life in the Old Republic. It actually feels like an episode of the 1979 Buck Rogers series. In spite of all of this, it’s still better than the prequel movies.

Matthew: Coincidentally, in the lettercol, Reina A. Greene writes that Marvel’s Luke and Leia “act more like young brother and sister than sweethearts,” while the armadillo deflects her certitude regarding their romance, opining that “the film also leaves open the possibility that the lady might be interested in Han Solo.”  Could be.  Haven’t said much about the artwork lately, because…well, because it’s still Infantino, yet while Ben doesn’t look too much like a young—or at least younger—Alec Guinness (or, for that matter, like Ewan McGregor) here, he looks very distinguished, which is what counts.  Duffy’s style doesn’t seem drastically different from Goodwin’s, although I’m not sure why this has to take place after #15, rather than in continuity.

 Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 25
"The Wages of Fear!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Bob Hall
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler and Bob McLeod

Time being nonexistent in Pellucidar, Tarzan returns home with no idea how long he has been gone, arriving just as Juvombu reports Jane’s fate to their child, Jack (aka Korak the Killer).  As father and son race to Masai Gorge by vine and jeep, respectively, to investigate, Ian Chalmers balks at murder, yet Tory delights that the rhino eliminated a witness to their poaching operation, and enthuses that Jad-bal-ja will make a fine addition to his “Bring ’Em Back Alive” safari.  But the “dead” witness climbs out of the gorge, observing from concealment in the grass as the native bearers dismantle his base camp, with Sarah Lyle and the vengeful Jane both curious how he plans to smuggle the anesthetized animals from British East Africa to New York.

Suddenly, Tarzan arrives to trounce the bearers, free the animals, and menace Tory, yet while Martin Smithers draws a pistol to protect his boss, the caged Jad-bal-ja will have none of that, raking the minion’s back.  As cargo planes touch down, Jane realizes that Tory burned the veldt to create a landing strip, and Sarah, seeing her meal ticket threatened, attacks the ape man with an electric cattle-prod, which Tory then uses repeatedly to knock him cold, planning to exhibit him along with the recaptured animals.  Jane appears with a rifle she took from a bearer, but is apprehended after Tory literally kicks a bucket at her, completing his “double bill”; just after the two planes take off with their captives, Korak confronts the natives, demanding their destination. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I thought I’d caught Mantlo in a couple of anachronisms, with Tory’s cattle-prod and reference to “the Big Apple,” yet according to Wikipedia, versions of the former were sold as early as 1917, and the nickname was popularized in the 1920s.  As promised, Korak is getting his moment in the sun, and Bill has caught ERB’s storytelling spirit once again, especially his parallel plotting; I can’t recall how Tory expects to exhibit human captives without being arrested for kidnapping or white slavery, although I guess we’ll find out next issue.  I wouldn’t call the Buscema/Hall art outstanding, yet it is quite serviceable, with a nice jungle panorama spanning the tops of pages 2 and 3, and a determined Jane looking both beautiful and formidable.

 The Mighty Thor 284
"The City of the Space Gods!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Chic Stone
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski and Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Bob McLeod

Just before being vaporized, the Mighty Thor quickly transforms back into his alter ego, Dr. Don Blake, and boards a captured jumbo jet, grasped tightly in the palm of the gigantic Gammenon. The giant enters the domed city of the Space Gods and releases the aircraft safely on the ground. There to greet the passengers are Dr. Daniel Damian and Ajak, one of the Eternals. Suddenly, Damian collapses and Blake steps forward, offering to help. Ajak transports them into one of the temples, where Damian relates the history of the Eternals saga to Don Blake. Once the brilliant archaeologist finishes his monologue, Blake taps his stick and reveals his true self to the blasé Damian, who explains that three years spent with the Eternals can do that to a man. Also privy to the revelation is Ajak, who had suspected he knew the lame doc from somewhere. As the trio makes plans, they are joined by two of the aircraft passengers, a man who reveals himself to be a SHIELD agent (searching for three lost comrades here in the dome) and a woman who drops her facade and shows herself to be Ereshkigal, Queen of Darkness (who looks an awful lot like Satana). Eresh explains that she's in the dome to find out what the Celestials are up to (wouldn't we all like to know?) but she wouldn't mind putting a beating on someone while she's hanging out. Mr. SHIELD pulls a gun and starts firing for no apparent reason other than to stir up some action and Ajak fires his "shroud gun" at Thor for no apparent reason other than to stir up some action. Eresh then whips out her ice gun and freezes the God of Thunder but he quickly breaks free and dispatches the Queen rather easily. Damian tells Thor that all this action has disrupted the invisible dome for a few seconds and that the Asgardian can make good his escape but that the grizzled old professor will be remaining. Thor grabs hold of the plane and flies back to New York, possibly wondering why he wasted a day's trip to the dome in the first place. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: This issue is the perfect example of "Be careful what you wish for," as I've been complaining for months that Rascally and his fill-in puppets have been avoiding the Eternals sub-plot Roy initiated way back in last year's Thor Annual but, once we finally get there, it's much ado 'bout nuttin'. The Thunder God flies to the domed hideaway, gets kicked around by Gammenon, Ajak, and Ereshkigal, and then heads back to New York. Mission accomplished, right? Couldn't Roy have found a better way of writing himself out of the cataclysmic finale of last issue than the old "Luckily, I banged my hammer, turned into lame Doc Blake, and jumped into the airplane before I was reduced to ashes" deus ex? And I love how the powerful goddess Hecate ("Please, call me Ereshkigal!") and undercover agent of SHIELD (who looks more like he'd be working for Michael Corleone than Nick Fury) decide to take a commercial airline into the action.

Seems strange that, after all these years protecting his alter ego's identity from the world, Thor would question why "such mortals as Tony Stark, who be also Iron Man, do place great store by such trivial things" simply because he'd revealed his lame Doc Blake face to a few characters. Is Thor really blind to the reasoning behind hiding your true identity or is Roy falling asleep at his Smith-Corona?

An interesting tidbit is dropped in the letters page when Roy tells a reader to be "on the lookout a few short months from now, for a second Thor-starring mag, a 60-center which will feature many untold tales of the thunder god's amazing past and of his out-of-time clashes with many another mythological pantheon -- coming soon from the House of Ideas!" With a little digging (and a full set of The Comic Reader) I was able to find that the title Roy is talking about is the never-launched Thor the Mighty, which would have joined What If? in a new line of sixty-centers (also announced was King Conan, which would finally appear in early 1980), just as Marvel was cleaning house and dumping books right and left.

Chris: I find myself more disappointed by this issue than the previous one.  At least #283 was leading us – eventually – toward the Celestials.  Now that we’re here, not much of anything happens; last issue (inexplicably) featured a recap of the Ragnarok dress rehearsal, while this one re-tells the Eternals story, with very little new developments (although I do think it was clever of Roy to remind us of the three SHIELD agents atomically trapped in carbonite).  

Roy tries to pull a fast one, as he asks us to believe Gammenon’s blast doesn’t destroy Thor, since in that same fraction of a second, Thor actually flew away from the blast, boarded the downed plane, and transformed to Dr Blake; sorry Roy, no sale – all you’ve told me is that you didn’t really know how to resolve the conclusion of #283.  Roy also expects patience at the end, as the disruption of the dome allows it to hang open long enough for Thor to repair the damaged hull (scene missing), herd all the passengers back aboard, and haul the plane away, without the Celestials taking note.  I can see that the loss of the passenger plane wouldn’t matter to them, but I think the absence of the privacy-insuring dome for the half-hour or so it would take to accomplish all this would not pass without some reaction.   

Matthew: There’s a bizarre irony here:  disappointed though I was, and remain, in what I read of Kirby’s Bronze-Age output, because the cast of Eternals were his creations, and nobody else drew them for a long time, they look wrong here, even as rendered by my favorite penciler, John Buscema (once again well inked by Stone).  And although I understand that there are a lot of moving parts here, for Roy to slow the action down to a crawl yet again, for yet another lengthy flashback, seems almost designed to test the reader’s patience.  Finally, the coincidence of both disguised S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Johnson and disguised Deviant Ereshkigal unwittingly being on the same flight strains credulity, especially if there was no way to anticipate Gammenon grabbing it.

The Uncanny X-Men 122
"Cry for the Children!"
Story by John Byrne and Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

The Danger Room. Colossus is failing his current trial, finding it too difficult to hold back the giant presses geared to crush him. In the control room, Cyclops is worried; Colossus is nowhere near his power limit. Wolverine, however, knows exactly what the problem is. The young Russian doesn’t feel he’s pulling his own weight and feels conflicted in that he considers the X-Men his family, while trying not to forget his own blood back home. Wolverine shorts out the panel with his claws and then joins Colossus below. If the lad can’t stop the presses, both men will be killed. Rather than let his friend die, Peter Rasputin succeeds. While the rest of the X-Men try to restore utility services to the deserted mansion, Professor X is waiting for his love, Lilandra, to be crowned Empress of the Empire.

In Scotland, Jean is shopping and running late to meet Moira MacTaggert. She stumbles into a friendly and very handsome gentleman who introduces himself as Jason Wyngarde. Jean is oddly attracted to him and Jason watches as Jean, Moira and Jaime Madrox depart on a boat for Muir Island.

Back in New York, Scott Summers and Colleen Wing become closer, while Logan drops Storm off at an apartment complex in a truly seedy area. This particular apartment is where her parents met and fell in love. Hoping to connect with them, she instead finds that the apartment is now a den for heroin addicts. She is attacked by the junkies and is about to be fatally stabbed when she is rescued by Luke Cage and Misty Knight. On his way back home, Logan spots Mariko but is shut out of her building when he tries to make contact.

Finally, on a private plane, Black Tom and Juggernaut meet a strange young man named Arcade, a man who guarantees them that, for his price, he can kill the X-Men. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: What other creative team can put together an issue totally devoid of villains until the final two pages and make it entertaining and gripping? This goes against all the rules of creating comics. Instead of more slam-bang action, Claremont and Byrne once again make it about the characters, while laying the groundwork for some epic stories to come. Of note is the introduction of Jason Wyngarde, a man who will set into motion events that will shake the X-Men to their very core. The character is patterned after British actor Peter Wyngarde who played the title character of the ITC series Jason King, which was a spin off of Department S, where the character originated. The briefly mentioned Hellfire Club is straight out of the ABC spy series The Avengers. In fact, much of the Hellfire Club episode, “A Touch of Brimstone,” would be reworked as an X-Men story after the Arcade and upcoming Proteus arcs.

Matthew:  Thought I’d be the only one who remembered Department S!  For genre-film fans, Wyngarde also starred in Night of the Eagle (aka Burn, Witch, Burn), which I coincidentally just cited in connection with this month’s Captain America, and played the male ghost in The Innocents.

Scott: Another nice surprise is how Wolverine, not Scott, immediately deduces Colossus’s problem. He even refers to Peter as his friend, which is another subtle step in Wolverine’s evolution. Scott and Colleen start to get closer, but with Jean still alive (something he will discover soon enough), this relationship won’t go very far. Somehow, Claremont and Byrne manage to show us pretty much everyone while still being able to toss in a guest appearance by Luke Cage and Misty Knight. None of this feels forced and these calmer issues give us a sense of real life happening between battles. I remember back when I actually read Thor, the early '70s post-Kirby issues would never slow down. Operatic epic plot would bleed into the next one, never allowing for moments to breathe. These nuances made The X-Men feel real. We were spending time with people, not just watching guys in funny outfits fight for no good reason. The writing and art, as usual, are perfect. Truly a joy to read. Of all the books we cover in the blog, this is the one title I wish we could ride out, at least until Byrne leaves.    

Chris: It seems like a minor, mundane issue to address in a comic book: Scott and Colleen go to the Phone Company!  But of course, it allows Claremont to work three very important details into the story: 1) we understand why, since the X-ers have returned home to sleepy Salem Center, they still don’t know what happened to Professor X; 2) Scott feels he can pursue his feelings for Colleen – while we still don’t know how he feels about having lost Jean; and 3) sometime soon, Scott & Co will contact Moira and learn the truth about everything.  Now, Scott might plan to call Moira the next morning (afternoon on Muir Island), but in the meantime, Moira & Co might be in for a surprise on the island, if Mutant X spells the same sort of trouble as poor Angus MacWhirter (last heard exclaiming “AEEEYAAAGH!!!”) found upon arrival on Muir Island.  Also, Arcade might throw off the X-schedule.  See that?  Even in a seemingly quiet-issue-of -characterization, featuring an in-town errand, there’s still an awful lot going on.  

Jean’s (choreographed) encounter with Jason Wyngarde is impressive, as it’s yet another plot-element carefully planted by Claremont in the story-soil; I give him credit for his capacity to plan so far ahead.  But this moment also leaves me a bit sad, as I recognize now (in a way that wouldn’t have registered the same way, lo those many years ago), how the Hellfire Club’s inevitable involvement spells the end for Jean Grey, and with her sacrifice, an even worse heartbreak for Scott than the one he’s living with (or quietly ignoring -?) now.  
I’d forgotten about the sequence featuring Ororo’s search for her Harlem home.  She’d been living in Westchester County for some time, so I’m curious to know why she decided to seek out her parents’ old place; Claremont doesn’t clue us in to her immediate motivation.  I can’t say that Marvel Comics were the only influence that kept me from seeking a life of drug-fueled crime, but the desperate squalor of our young smack-heads certainly added no glamour to the proposition.  
More art highlights: Wolverine’s nonchalance as he lights up, contrasted with mounting panic from Colossus in the hydraulic press (p 3, pnl 3); black steam collecting over Wolverine’s head after Cyclops directs him to re-wire the control panel (p 5, pnl 3); fade-out, as Cyke’s visor blurs into the stars of a distant galaxy (p 6, last pnl); a sneaky guy checks out Colleen as she walks with Scott (p 11, last pnl); a spinner-rack!  Can’t make out any of the titles, though (p 14, pnl 2); Logan’s cautious look in the rear-view as Ororo waves from the sidewalk (p 14, pnl 4); the stillness and slow pacing as Ororo walks thru the mostly-abandoned tenement (p 15, p 19); plenty of recognizable names among the graffiti, but one that gave me a grin is visible on the front page of the Bugle, left on the floor: “Abel Escapes City Jail Cell” (p 19, last pnl); Ororo’s shock as her hand is slashed, and her instant switch to Storm (p 22, pnls 2 and 3); broken plaster on the wall, where Cage had thrown Bluey against it (p 23, pnl 4); Arcade’s cufflinks, which are shaped like pinball machines (p 27, last pnl).  Well, I guess that’s all I can find for this issue; maybe Byrne & Austin will do better next time…

Matthew: Per Blade Runner, “Nothing is worse than having an itch you can never scratch!”  The “I thought you were dead” bit, protracted and rationalized past any suspension of disbelief, has become just such an irritant to me, not least because the triangle formed by Colleen shakes the foundational Jean/Scott romance.  I’d mind less if they weren’t planting or nurturing so many blossoms (e.g., the dead-giveaway shadow in page 11, panel 3), while having fun with things like Austin’s shooting-gallery graffiti, with seemingly the entire Bullpen represented.  Setting aside its ludicrous “Trial of Colossus!” tagline, the opening sequence shown on the cover is a microcosm of what set the Dream Team’s X-Men far above Marvel’s downward-spiraling output.

Mark: Guess when you're flying as high as Claremont and Byrne are on X-Men, you've earned the right to just glide once in awhile. Not a lot of action or drama here, but fans of slow-burning, romance-based characterization should be (almost) as happy as Cubs fans. 

Scott and Colleen go on a date, after which she gifts him with a key to her apartment. Jean meets Jason Wyngarde, who, alas, seems destined to put her through hell (fire club). Charles' beau Lilandra is having second thoughts about ascending to royalty. The proceedings are all, no doubt, plot-seeding for sagas to come, but none are particularly compelling here.

Ororo takes down some teenaged junkies, with an assist from Luke Cage (whose Netflix show is awesome, BTW). Logan smokes a lot, wrecks part of the Danger Room to give Colossus an ego-boost, and gets stuck with repair duty for his troubles. 

And the Big Bad brought in at the end to contract-murder the X-ers seems, at first blush, like a goofy mid-60's Batman villain. I'm certainly willing to give Arcade a chance, but only because I'm a sucker for a straw boater...

So... nothing bad or outright boring here, but this is the only X-ish since I added the title to my class load that had me checking my watch.

Matthew: Claremont had, of course, introduced Arcade in Marvel Team-Up #65-66.

Also This Month

Crazy #51
Marvel Tales #104
< Sgt Fury #152
Shogun Warriors #5


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 41
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“The Quest for the Cobra Crown”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga

“Conan’s World — and Welcome to It!” 
Text by Fred Blosser

“The Ballad of Bêlit”
Text by Roy Thomas

“The Return of Sir Richard Grenville”
Poetry by Robert E. Howard
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by David Wenzel

“Swords and Scrolls”

Starting off with an award-worthy Earl Norem cover, the mammoth adaptation of L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter’s novel Conan the Buccaneer continues with the 43-page part two, “The Quest for the Cobra Crown.”

On the Petrel, the two men who let Princess Chabela escape are made to walk the plank, fresh meat for the sharks circling below. Menkara, the Stygian priest, casts an incantation and discovers that the princess is now on Conan’s ship, The Wastrel — but the spell is unable to reveal the boat’s location. Master Zarono and the priest decide to skip to the second part of Duke Villagro’s plan to overthrow Chabela’s father, Ferdrugo, the Zingaran king. They set sail south, towards the stronghold of the supreme sorcerer, Thoth-Amon. 

When they arrive at the isolated and foreboding castle, Menkara presents his master with the Book of Skelos they found on the nameless island, plus the promise of additional riches if Thoth-Amon joins the conspiracy against King Ferdrugo — and helps them find Chabela before they return to the Zingaran capital of Kordava. The horned hellion is unimpressed by the gold but satisfied with the rare spellbook. Suddenly, Thoth-Amon bolts up from his bedeviled throne and screams that his guests had left the ultimate treasure behind. For underneath the altar of Tsathoggua the Toad-God lay the real prize: the legendary Cobra Crown. However, even the Stygian’s sinister powers did not reveal that the Crown is now in the possession of Conan, who had returned to the cave after killing the fearsome stone frog.

On The Wastrel, the stores are running low as the ship has been adrift in becalmed winds. Tensions between the Cimmerian’s Zingaran privateers and the rescued castaways, Sigurd the blonde Vanir and his Barachan sailors, are running high. Plus, the presence of the beauteous Chabela is stirring Conan’s loins. But suddenly, a mighty wind blows and the coast of Kush is soon reached. Leaving a handful of the crew behind, the barbarian, the princess and his men row two longboats ashore, eager to fill their water barrels and stock up on fruit. But they are quickly surrounded by a band of shouting Kushite warriors. Surprisingly, their impressive chieftain strides forward and orders his tribesmen to stand down: when the one called Bwatu continues to threaten the white men, the chief swats him with the flat edge of his spearhead. Finally, Conan realizes that the Kushite’s leader is Juma, his old mercenary friend from the time he served under King Yildiz of Turan. After they embrace, Juma welcomes the visitors into his village for a night full of festivities and tasteless but potent banana wine. Conan is soon groggy from the brew and excuses himself, stumbling drunkenly to his guest hut — taking the sack holding the heavily bejeweled Cobra Crown with him.

During the night, the disgraced Bwatu slips in and steals the crown. When the Cimmerian awakes and realizes the theft, the apologetic Juma says that Bwatu is probably heading to Matamba to avoid encountering Ghanata slavers. After being shown the path, Conan charges after the thief. Sigurd tries to follow, as does Chabela — she does not want to be left behind with the “savages.” Back in Stygia, Thoth-Amon’s dark magic has revealed that both the Cobra Crown and Princess Chabela are in Juma’s village. He orders Zarono and Menkara to set sail for Kush immediately — he will travel there in another, more insidious way.

Exhausted, Chabela lies down to rest and is soon captured by Ghanata slavers under the leadership of Mbonani — as is Conan after he comes across Bwatu’s bloody corpse. But the Cimmerian does not go quietly, taunting Mbonani’s second-in-command Zuru, who has the Crown in his saddlebag. The slavers take their captives to the market at Gamburu, home of fearsome woman warriors and their subservient males. To the regret of Mbonani, both Conan and Chabela are bought for an unchallenged bargain by Nzinga, the Queen of the Amazons. In Nzinga’s palace, the princess is put to work on the lowest and most demeaning tasks. But the brawny barbarian is assigned to serve the Queen’s other, more carnal needs — in return for flowing wine and all the food he can eat. However, Nzinga rules with a jealous hand: thinking that the barbarian still desires the princess, she has Chabela dragged to the depths of the castle and the Cimmerian’s wine is drugged.

Wow. I was a bit apprehensive about a Conan the Buccaneer adaptation that would run over four entire magazines. That’s a lot of Hyborian real estate to cover. But after part two, count me in. I am hooked. I’m sure that having Thoth-Amon front and center is one of the main things that has my blood pumping, but it’s just a cracking good yarn all around. And starting with the amazing splash page, the art is simply fabulous. Not sure if Big John provided more fleshed-out layouts than usual or if Tony DeZuniga raised his game, but each panel is filled with remarkable details. Much welcomed is the return of Juma, first seen in Conan the Barbarian #37 (April 1974), which featured art by the great Neal Adams. On the first page of that original story, Roy Thomas credited L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter as the creators of the Kushite, so I guess that The Rascally One plucked the character from their novel. This one has all that makes the  Savage Sword magazine so great — including bare boobies. Tee hee! Next issue? Can’t wait.

Originally written in 1928 but not appearing in print until the 1968 anthology Red Shadows, “The Return of Sir Richard Grenville” is Robert E. Howard’s poem about everyone’s favorite Puritan, Solomon Kane. There are actually two short fan films about the piece on YouTube. Here, it’s illustrated by Kane’s usual artist, David Wenzel, and Roy provides a one-page Prologue. Basically, Solomon defeats a marauding band of savages with the help of his friend from the title, Richard Grenville. The twist? Grenville was killed years ago during a sea battle with Spanish galleons. Not one for poetry, but there were some fine lines of verse included:

But by him sang another sword,
And a great form roared and thrust,
And dropped like leaves the screaming horde,
To writhe in bloody dust.

Wenzel’s art is serviceable, with his usual stiff and awkward character poses. This issue wraps up with two editorial pieces. In the 2-page “Conan’s World — and Welcome to It,” Fred Blosser basically takes umbrage with Darrell Schweitzer’s new book Conan’s World and Robert E. Howard. Blosser seems rather unimpressed by this short and basic introduction to Howard’s Hyborian Age. Now I’ll tread lightly with Roy Thomas’ “The Ballad of Bêlit.” The piece assumes that you have already read Conan the Barbarian #100, which was not released until a month later in July 1979. So not sure how that works. I’ll just focus on the interesting art included instead of giving anything away. There are a few of Buscema’s early character studies for the She-Devil, including one that has her dressed in an entirely different costume. Plus, there’s Big John’s original cover for issue 100: it’s pretty good, but Marie Severin provided a sketch for a much more dramatic drawing by Ernie Chan. Ultimately, a third illustration — by Buscema and inked by Ernie — was used. Geez, that’s a lot of back and forth. -Tom Flynn

Marvel Super Special 10:  Star-Lord
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“World in a Bottle”
Script by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

“To Sleep, Perchance to … Die!” 
Script by Marc Dacy
Art by Ernie Colon

“Animation and Science Fiction”
Text by Maurice Horn

I’m sure that Professor Tura is as confused as I am: why the heck did Marvel insist on featuring Star-Lord in so many of its magazines during the 1970s? He made five appearances in the black-and-white Marvel Preview from January 1976 to August 1979, and now here, in the full-color Super Special, towards the end of that run. Why? Was he that popular? Highly doubtful. In the main feature, “World in a Bottle,” my new nemesis, Doug Moench, seems to go for a psychological romp in the style of my old nemesis, Steve Gerber. As usual, I find the approach tiresome and pretentious. So I’ll grind this 40-page snoozer down to its rotten core.

While sleeping on Ship, Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill, is jolted awake by a sharp pain. Suddenly, a tendril of light drags him through a black hole: on the other side, he finds himself on a spacecraft a light-year long. Whatever that means. Trust me, it’s pretty big. Anyways, our Lord is approached by the commander of the ship — Noah, seriously? — and a lovely young woman, Aletha, is directed to give him the grand tour. Supposedly, the citizens of the ship were from a planet threatened by a catastrophic meteor storm: their ark was luckily finished in time and the populace escaped before their home was destroyed. Different pods were created within the massive ship to match the various environments from their lost world: a hydroponic farm pod, a skyscraper filled metro pod, a pastoral pod, a military pod, a wildlife pod, etc. When Star-Lord spots animals such as lions and giraffes wandering a preserve, it is revealed that the people aboard the ark are actually earthlings from three million years in the future — somehow, the black hole transported Quill to their time and his world no longer exists.

But later that night, Aletha reveals that all Star-Lord has seen is a ruse — or, as she calls it, “smoke.” The black hole was their way to capture Quill and her nomadic race is not actually from Earth or the future: Noah is picking his mind to prepare for an invasion of that planet. Plus, her true form is not human, but a bit more on the horned and monstrous side. Not that it seems to matter to Peter: they make love under a waterfall. Afterwards, Star-Lord leads a revolution against Noah and his militaristic followers. The coup succeeds and the ark is transformed from a warship to a peaceful paradise. Aletha then leads Quill to Ship: the craft has been hidden on board the entire time. Star-Lord blasts off for further non-adventures.

“Now, whom will you choose, Peter Quill? Noah … ? Or Me?”
“You, Aletha … You.”
“Good. There is little time then … but time enough. Will you love me?”
“I … I don’t really know why … I don’t even really know you … but …yes.”
“Even without the ‘smoke?’”
“I … yes.”
“Remember … both of us behold.”
“And to me, you are alien … on the surface.”
“But in terms drawn from your own subconscious: ‘skin is only beauty deep.’”

Where’s my vomit bucket? With “World in a Bottle,” Doug Moench basically led both Star-Lord and the unlucky reader around by the nose for 28 pages and then, “Jive turkeys, it’s all been a big fat lie!” Now I don’t necessarily have a problem with that technique. However, it would have been nice if the set-up — basically 80% of the story — was remotely interesting in any way. It’s all talk, and worse, Moench talk. There’s endless discussion of “the smoke” that only succeeded in making my eyes water. And what’s with “skin is only beauty deep?” It’s used twice! Plus, I think Doug implies that Aletha and Ship were somehow linked, so Quill basically banged his vehicle as well. At least, that’s what I read from Ship’s dialogue in the last panel: “Yes Peter … me, and Aletha. I don’t know what got into us. We must have been possessed … but it sure felt good.” Gross. Mean Gene and Tom Palmer do their best but even this legendary team can’t save the day. And there are a few forced prospective illustrations that just seem, well, forced. 

Sad to say, the backup piece, the 22-page “To Sleep, Perchance to … Die,” plays the same dirty trick so it will get even less of any effort on my part. 

Astronaut Jeremy Bolld, the pilot of a deep-space probe, is stranded when his ship malfunctions and he is forced to make an emergency landing on an unknown planet. Lost and near death, he is rescued by a beautiful woman, the princess of the Alarians. Impressing the primitive and peaceful people with his knowledge of basic chemistry, Bolld wins the respect of his new friends — and the heart of Princess Larissa. But General Corax, who has long desired Larissa’s hand, betrays his people and helps the evil Tosks, and their hideous serpentine creatures, enter the city. But Bolld’s chemical explosions help save the day. Enraged, Corax strikes the astronaut in the head with a blade handle: Bolld awakes back in his spaceship. It was all a dream — but was it, considering the bloody wound on his temple?

According to Rick Marschall’s brief editorial on the Table of Contents, Marc Dacy is a French sci-fi author, but I couldn’t find a lick of info about him on the interwebs. Regardless, this tale is not as mind numbing as “World in a Bottle,” but is underdone by the seemingly unnecessary twist ending. Why bother to create an entirely new world filled with warring tribes and strange animals if you know it’s all for naught? Maybe Dacy didn’t have a real payoff and took the easy way out. I did really enjoy the Ernie Colon art. The Varags, the snake monsters, are pretty wicked and the super sexy Larissa’s blouse threatens to slip off her shoulders at a moment’s notice — it actually does on page 56. But, in all, ho hum.

Speaking of Marschall’s editorial, he calls this magazine a “landmark.” Well, you could consider a sinkhole a landmark, so maybe he has a point. He does praise the colorwork, which is fair: it is rich and bright throughout. You can actually tell that it was painted. Finally, there’s “Animation and Science Fiction,” a 2-page text piece by Maurice Horn. Marschall call Horn “the nation’s foremost comics critic,” but my half-assed search came up empty. Horn basically namechecks the major players and films in the sci-fi animation genre, starting with George Méliès before moving on to Max Fleischer and even Hanna-Barbera (The Jetsons). At one point, he claims that Mr. Looney Tunes himself, Bob Clampett, was approached to do an animated “John Carter of Mars” — and even produced a six-minute test cartoon — but the project fell through. It was a bit tough to get that excited over an article that spotlights Belgium’s Pinocchio in Outer Space, Japan’s Gulliver’s Space Travels, and France’s La Planète Sauvage aka Fantastic Planet. Though I’ve always admired the bizarre vibe of the last flick. -Tom Flynn

The Hulk! 15
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“The Top Secret”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Ron Wilson and Alfredo Alcala

“An Eclipse, Waning”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Bill Sienkiewicz and Bob McLeod

“An Eclipse, Waxing”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Bill Sienkiewicz and Bob McLeod

“Readers Rampage”

Class, we have hit rock bottom. Not only is the main Hulk feature the pits, Doug Moench gives us his take on Rashomon with the two bland back-up stories, as Moon Knight and Jade Jaws experience the same basic plot from their different perspectives. Sigh™ redux.

In “The Top Secret,” Bruce Banner returns to his long-abandoned laboratory in a Southwestern desert cave, near the site of the original gamma-radiation explosion that turned him into a man-monster — there he hopes to finally find the cure to his curse. Miles away in a secret CIA base misleadingly called New Hope Installation, General Kranak is introducing the elderly Dr. William Gardner to the government’s latest weapon against the dirty commies: giant Cybortron robots that are remotely controlled by the life forces of volunteer soldiers. Gardner has been called in to make sure that the men are not killed if the Cybortron they are mentally linked to is destroyed — though Kranak doubts that is even possible. 

Back in his makeshift lab, Banner’s experiment backfires and he is transformed into the Hulk. When he leaps off and lands smack in the middle of the latest Cybortron field test, the green goliath is subdued by gas and locked into the same truck as the massive mechanical man — but when he changes back, Bruce easily slips through the iron bars of the back hatch, and climbs to the top of the vehicle. Unseen, he is driven inside the CIA base. Desperate to escape without alerting the guards, he knocks a man unconscious and steals his business suit. But before he can slip away unnoticed, one of the Cybortron “drivers,” a soldier named Chapman, confuses him for one of the base’s psychiatrists. Playing along, Banner soon realizes that the man is in mortal jeopardy when connected to his robot: Bruce decides to help him escape as well.

However, Chapman is soon revealed as a fanatic. Believing that Banner is a spy, he attempts to subdue the scientist. The Hulk is once again unleashed: the soldier races off and connects with his Cybortron unit. The two giants clash, but as usual, the smashing eventually commences — Chapman loses his life in the process. After completely destroying the Cybortron lab, the Hulk clumps back into the desert.
The greatest crime that the 36-page “The Top Secret” commits is wasting the supreme talent of Alfredo Alcala. By Crom, couldn’t he have teamed with John Buscema on this month’s Savage Sword instead? But I think he’s actually an appropriate choice for this story. Doug Moench was obviously phoning it in when writing a terrible tale that was more fitting for the ’60s-set stories of this magazine’s previous incarnation, The Rampaging Hulk — and Alfredo was saddled with quite a few of those. Actually, it smacks more of the ’50s: we have commies, secret labs in desert caves, and giant robots. Is it me or does the title seem like it’s missing something? The top secret what? It’s probably just Doug trying to get some type of conspiracy message in the piss-poor proceedings. In the last panel, Dr. Gardner is told “They’ll dust off the standard cover-up, and then … well, it’ll be back to the drawing board, your tax dollars at work.” Don’t worry though: Doug has Chapman ponder, “Not if I can help it.” Yay! I will admit that the splash page is pretty cool. But the big burst included is total hyperbole: “Featuring the Awesome Power of the Crushing Cybortron!” Uh, no. Alfredo does the best he can with Ron Wilson’s mediocre pencils. Ron’s Hulk seems to change size with each panel: at the top of page 19, he looks to be 20 feet tall.

Mr. Moench is back for the two back-up stories. As I mentioned, he must have just seen a revival of Rashomon. “An Eclipse, Waning” tells the story from Moon Knight’s point of view, while the Hulk is the star of the flipside, “An Eclipse, Waxing.” Each is 10 pages long. That’s what we call filling page count. Basically, Steven Grant is upstate, visiting his oddball friend Jason who invited the millionaire to watch that night’s eclipse. When Grant notices some burglars casing the place outside, he slips away and puts on his Moon Knight costume. He takes one of them out with his truncheon but then is pummeled by a shadowy giant who seems to have subdued the other two. The shadowy giant is, of course, the Hulk. In the companion piece, Bruce Banner is wandering through the woods surrounding Jason’s house when he encounters the burglars — I’m sure you can fill in the rest.

A failed experiment at best. It doesn’t help that the burglars are a trio of bumbling boobs. They might as well have yelled “Feets don’t fail me now” when the Hulk tramps onto the scene. Though I guess you can’t blame them. And while both of our heroes can clearly see the “bad guys” in the darkness, they appear to each other as complete shadows. But we do have the increasingly confident art of Bill Sienkiewicz on display — immeasurably helped by the terrific inks of Bob McLeod. Bill does a marvelous job with his handling of the Hulk: certainly multiple times better than Ron Wilson does on the main story, even with the help of my man Alfredo.  For the first time, I am actually looking forward to next issue: Mighty Mike Zeck will be handling the pencils. And Doug Moench will only be torturing us with a single story. -Tom Flynn

(On Moon Knight)  For obvious reasons, I think of this story—or pair of stories, if you prefer—as Rashomoon Knight, and since I’m a huge Kurosawa fan, that’s the best possible kind of association as far as I’m concerned; I also like tales that play with narrative structure, as long as they don’t leave me hopelessly muddled.  It’s fun and different, finally providing a way for the protagonist of the back-up feature to interact (well, sort of) with the book’s actual star.  Not until MK returns in #17, after taking next issue off, do Moenkiewicz get their arguably definitive inker, Klaus Janson, but in the meantime, despite their differing styles, Bill and Bob mesh surprisingly well here, and I liked story page 4, panel 7, as the cape forms a crescent moon. 
-Matthew Bradley