Wednesday, January 25, 2017

October 1979 Part Two: If at First You Don't Succeed in Color... Try, Try Again in Black and White!

 Marvel Team-Up 86
Spider-Man and The Guardians of the Galaxy in
"Story of the Year!"
Story by Chris Claremont and Allyn Brodsky
Art by Bob McLeod
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Bob McLeod

Rumors of imminent skullduggery draw both Spidey and ace journalism student Lawrence Whittier “Rap” Reynolds III to the tower H.Q. of the Deterrence Research Corporation.  The former fears that its illegal activity continues despite the presumed death—in X-Men #119—of founder Moses Magnum, whom he and the Punisher defeated in Giant-Size Spider-Man #4, while the latter seeks the “Story of the Year!” (this issue’s title).  Eavesdropping, Rap hears renegade NASA scientist Eric Salter tell Magnum’s successor, Ivor Carlson, that they are ready for a space shot to steal scientific and military hardware from the orbiting Drydock, but after they leave, Rap’s videotaping of the mission control center captures more than he expected.

Caught on camera, and with the security alarm triggered, Martinex flees to rejoin his teammates Nikki and Starhawk on the roof.  He is confident that if they change Drydock’s orbit, cloaking devices can prevent the D.R.C. from relocating it without stolen S.H.I.E.L.D. files, so Nikki goes to “find the sneaky shutterbug” while the others erase the records.  Spidey saves Rap from guard Johnny Anvil (yes, that one, alas), but a MARMIS ensues when Nikki makes off with the tape, prompting a pursuit of her cab through midtown traffic—Rap snapping a still as she flees—and a fight with the Guardians before the cooler-headed Marty offers Spidey minimal explanation and shows his temporary Avengers i.d., this story evidently occurring before the recent retrenchment.

Carlson gives Anvil and ex-cellmate “Hammer” Jackson back their energy synthecon, which he assures them can now be removed at will, and they embarrassingly kayo Spidey with one joint punch, yet before the electro-shackled captive can be unmasked and interrogated, the Guardians burn through the wall, having erased the Drydock tapes.  While being toppled by Hammer and Anvil, Nikki frees Spidey with an energy bolt, but amid the ensuing free-for-all, Marty freezes the synthecon with a sub-zero blast, making it brittle enough for Spidey to shatter with webbing.  As the Guardians’ ship departs, the thugs’ memories wiped with a “psi-comp” (?), an oddly self-denigrating Spidey fulfills his promise to Marty, exposing the film marking Rap’s only evidence. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: I’d put this in the “average” column.  I sure loves me my Guardians, even if only half of them are represented here and, for the most part, handled well by both writer and artist, with Martinex and Nikki’s contrasting appearances and personalities effectively portrayed, although so little is done with Starhawk that he could have been anybody.  Yet it feels disjointed, as if Claremont—or perhaps plotter Brodsky, at whom I’m always happy to throw a brickbat—assembled too many disparate parts, and Exhibit A is the D.R.C.; it’s been four and a half years our time since Spidey tangled with Magnum, and absent big future plans (Chris does bring it back in Spider-Woman #34, but Carlson and Salter are apparently never seen again), its resurrection feels rather random.

I rarely see a penciling credit for “guest artist” Bob, and since he’s inking his own work, this is presumably as close to Unfiltered McLeod as it gets, marred somewhat by periodic goofiness, especially on Rap; Spidey looks awesome on the splash, but positively squat in page 30, panel 4 (below).  The lettercol notes that Chris will take over Dr. Strange effective with #38 and, on a related note, explains the tortured backstory of Doc’s recent MTU quartet, intended as a trilogy comprising Annual #2 and a roughly simultaneous #76-77.  After the annual was repurposed into what is now #76-77 (although an unrelated one appears belatedly in December), the remainder was first pushed back, aptly to Halloween, then moved up yet again to fill a gap in the schedule as #80-81.

Chris Blake: When this issue first came out, I remember being slightly disappointed to see a mere three Guardians (but in fairness, Martinex, Nikki, and Starhawk are the only team members pictured on the cover).  In hindsight, Claremont’s decision makes sense, since there’s barely time or space to involve these three, let alone an additional  three Guardians (especially when one of the missing three, by far, takes up the most room).  Starhawk explains the situation (p 7), but otherwise is called to do little in the story, except take a punch to the face from both Spidey (p 15) and Anvil (p 26).  Since Starhawk is the most powerful Guardian – and among Marvel’s most powerful characters, period – I suppose Claremont might’ve amped down his abilities to allow the other players to shine.  I’m glad to know someone is keeping the Guardians in circulation, but if it were me, I would’ve teamed-up Spidey with Starhawk alone, since his enigmatic manner (again, little time for that here) would’ve been an entertaining contrast with Spidey’s playful demeanor.  As it is, I’m glad the MARMIS depicted on the cover for the most part is avoided.  

Two favorite moments: getting back to Spidey’s wit, there’s his comment when Martinex introduces himself, “ I run into talking mirror-men with Avengers I.D. every day;” and the depiction of Nikki’s sharp shootin’ on p 23, as she scores two hits on Spidey’s electro-shackles while she’s falling over the full-extension Hammer-Anvil synthecon (last pnl).
Joe Tura: Well this one was, as they say [they who?], much ado about nuttin'. There's non-stop MARMIS between Spidey and half of Prof. Matthew's fave Guardians line-up, as well as an annoying journalism student who thinks he's Geraldo Rivera and a pair of B-list villains aided by a mystery man who smokes a pipe, which of course makes him "intriguing."  Certainly one of Claremont's worst Team-Up issues, not helped at all by McLeod's average art. Average in that for every cool scene or character, like the splash page or Nikki's seemingly enhanced bustline [Seriously, I don't remember those! Did she merely have a good summer like the girl, Joanne, I had a mad crush on in 9th grade who lived two blocks away?], there are awkward poses, poor angles, and body masses changing from page to page. And did I mention the annoying wanna-be reporter? Thankfully, his vow of revenge will go unfounded. With any luck, no one will remember this and try to reinvent the character in today's Marvel funny books!

 Marvel Two-In-One 56
The Thing Battles Thundra in
"The Pegasus Project Part Four:
The Deadlier of the Species!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio
Art by George Perez and Gene Day
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by John Byrne and Terry Austin

 On the outer perimeter, Thundra and the Grapplers prepare to enter via the nuclear module’s emergency exit, from which Thundra rips the locking cap.  As they descend through the tube, she recalls awakening from the drug to find a shadowy figure from “a vast organization whose tentacles extended into all areas of government and international finance”; her “chance” meeting with the unwitting Oglethorpe was to recruit her for this mission, placing a “strange device” at a specified location for “a reward that could mean the world to me.”  The five make short work of a maintenance crew before an alarm can be sounded, yet no sooner is the device placed in the Pit than the Grapplers, with “other orders you ain’t been let in on,” abscond.

Meanwhile, a guilt-wracked Thing visits the comatose Wundarr, yet just after he leaves, the lad rises and says, “Ben…I understand”; encountering Thundra, who refuses to explain her presence, Ben goes all security-detail on her, and when she belts him, the clobberin’ begins, “bum arm” or no.  Quasar has pushed through a separate clearance for Giant-Man, to preserve the shreds of his secret i.d., but their clean-up after the battle with Nuklo is interrupted by yet another flurry of alarms, so they split up to investigate.  En route to the thermal dome, Bill frets over the repeated delays in his radiation research (ominously noting that “I can’t afford to lose the time.  Every moment is vital!”) as Quaze comes upon Letha and Screaming Mimi smashing unspecified stuff.

Sonic earplugs protecting Letha, Mimi’s “electronically-modified vocal cords” warp his reality, making him see them as monsters, yet Quasar stays sane just long enough to imprison them in a light-cage and stun them.  Foster is toppled into a vapor-tube by Titania, growing large enough to stop his fall, and stomped with Poundcakes’ “seismic boots,” but as they try to yank his arms out of their sockets, he bashes their heads together.  Denying her assertion that “we are fated to be mates,” Ben battles Thundra to a stalemate until the others arrive with the captive Grapplers, the Femizon refusing to break her vow of silence; levels below, Dr. Lightner exults that Operations Berserker and Expurgate will enable him to complete the Nth Projector and destroy the project… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Okay, now we (sorta) know the reason for the luchadoras’ interludes; whether you find their role plausible is another matter, and I’ll second Professor Chris’s motion that the saga’s become a bit formulaic, although I expect that may change in the next chapter.  The Grapplers’ “costumes possessed energy elements that heightened their formidable natural abilities,” yet aside from the battle-of-the-sexes novelty value, they’re decorative but not all that interesting, and seem to give our heroes too hard a time.  Although scarcely original, the distaff Angar had the most successful post-Pegasus career, later rebranded as Songbird, and the twisted visions she induces in Quasar on page 16 give the formidable Perez/Day pairing its greatest chance to shine in this installment.

The Pacesetter remains a master of the irregular layout, impeccably matching the size and shape of each panel with the action depicted, e.g., page 2, panel 4, Thundra’s face segueing smoothly into her flashback; and the “widescreen” page 15, panel 3, packing a dramatic confrontation into a minimal space.  Despite the familiar “alarms go off and our boys battle the Intruder(s)/Escapee of the Month” scenario, Gruenwacchio is clearly using this framework for significant character development of Quasar (“This is my world here…it’s my life”), Wundarr, and the long-orphaned Foster, if not necessarily for the better in his case.  Conversely, although it’s examined in greater detail than usual here, I don’t know if this really resolves the bizarre Ben/Thundra “relationship.”

Chris: Wall-to-wall action, in the mighty Marvel manner!  After three reasonably-okay issues to establish Project Pegasus, its mission, and its cast of characters (including boo-hiss Lightner, who appears to want to ruin clean energy to suit his shadowy superiors.  A pox on him!), the pace finally picks up.  Gruenwald, Macchio, and Pérez (!) manage to involve everyone in the story (Deathlok’s ashes excepted …), as Thundra finally is involved after the seemingly unrelated business with the women’s wrasslin’.  Even Wundarr gets a few words.  So, while it really shouldn’t have required four issues to get us this far, at least now I have a sense that our storytellers have a plan for the next two chapters; we’re building up to something.  

It would’ve been easy to assume that, once Pérez left Fantastic Four, we wouldn’t have another look at his rock-solid depiction of the ever-lovin’ Thing, but here it is!  I’ll never know how editor Roger Stern (or could it have been Jim Shooter -?) talked Pérez into providing pencils for Marvel’s second-best team-up mag, but now that he’s here – with Gene Day as his fluid-fingered embellisher – the Project Pegasus storyline picks up energy and excitement that (strangely enough) had been lacking while Byrne + Sinnott provided the interior art.  Pérez will pencil a total of seven issues over the next year, ensuring MTIO’s very finest days are here.  
For now, art highlights include: the atmospheric approach of the Grapplers (p 1); a highly-charged Femizonian left to Ben’s noggin, which shoots him completely out of the frame (p 10, pnl 4); some hypnotic-scream face-warps, reminiscent of Angar the Screamer’s unsettling effect on Danny Rand and Colleen Wing (p 15, 16); Giant-Man palms a Grappler’s head (p 22, 2nd pnl); an elbow to Ben’s midsection literally knocks the wind out of him (p 30, 2nd pnl), before the “embarrassin’” moment of being caught with Thundra’s legs (ahem!) wrapped around his neck (ooh la la –p 30, last pnl).

 Marvel Two-In-One Annual 4
The Thing and Black Bolt in
"A Mission of Gravity!"
Story by Allyn Brodsky and David Michelinie
Art by Jim Craig, Bob Budiansky, and Bruce Patterson
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Joe Sinnott

Using Lockjaw to bypass the Baxter Building’s “impregnable” security systems (which, like those of Avengers Mansion, seem to be laughed off by someone or other on an almost monthly basis), Black Bolt and Medusa seek aid with the increasingly intense “air quakes” that endanger Attilan.  Finding the 35th floor deserted, he signals her to return and, remembering Alicia’s name, locates her address—419 Kurtz Place, for you completists—in the phone book, proceeding there incognito in search of Ben.  Communication between a blind girl and a man who dare not speak appears daunting, but transmuting one of her statues into Ben’s image conveys his objective, so she leads him to…the DMV, where Ben is renewing his license.

Also there is Jarvis, who’s been a second father to Judy Parks since saving her from a plunge off Graviton’s sky-island (Avengers #159), and has just helped the ex-Canadian get her U.S. license.  Just then, she is accosted by a “mysterious” figure who has been searching for her, and roots the butler’s feet to the sidewalk; the just-arriving BB leaps to assist, with Alicia in tow, so that the emerging Ben sees “Some guy—grabbin’ some girl—grabbin’ some guy—GRABBIN’ SOME GIRL,” one of whom is his.  The ensuing MARMIS is mercifully brief, although giving Judy enough time to recognize her captor as, gasp, Graviton, whose amnesia conveniently excluded her face but is exacerbated by the fact that his “bodily substance flickers like a guttering flame!”

Sending Alicia home with Jarvis, Ben and BB are drawn to the alley by Judy’s scream, and as the Inhuman dodges solidified gravity bursts, she recounts Graviton’s history to Ben, with the unexpected side effect of restoring his memory.  Having absorbed the mass of the sky-island, he changes into “a sentient pocket universe [whose] gravitational aura…warps space around him, rendering him visible only by the distortion he creates.”  Since this is a comic book and not Predator, the apologetic “living black hole” looks like a walking slab of orange pavement with a fiery ’do; enraged when BB—fearing recidivism—declines  his petition for sanctuary, he sends a “beam of directional gravity” into the sun, triggering a solar flare aimed straight towards Attilan.

He also launches a barrage of mini-black holes to turn Ben into Swiss cheese, drawn by BB into “a glimmering bottle of magnetic, immaterial force,” then rampages off as President Carter and Nick Fury learn that the S.H.I.E.L.D. space station is right in the flare’s path.  Flying into space, BB stops it with a counter-explosion, then rejoins Ben while Jarvis drops Alicia off and returns to the mansion to check on Judy.  Things look bad, as the authorities consider nuking NYC, until BB scrambles some electrons to etch a message on a wall; absent “a Berlitz crash course in basic Inhuman,” Hoboken University physicist Charles Herkowitz explains that “since Graviton is the manifestation of another universe,” anti-matter might create a “dimensional rift,” forcing him in.

Black Bolt scrambles the electrons in a chunk of pavement, turning it into anti-matter, and puts another magnetic bottle around it to shield Ben as they confront Graviton, now wreaking havoc in U.N. Plaza.  Ben suggests a diversion, enabling him to hurl it past Graviton’s defenses, but at the last second, BB swats it away, sensing that Graviton, who still has lucid moments, wants to be destroyed, and “came to this place that symbolizes brotherhood, to issue a warning” about losing one’s immortal soul.  After he “releases conscious control over his unstable form” and dissipates, Ben laments, “it’s kinda sad that he never found any place where he could really belong,” yet in silent answer, Black Bolt points up toward the stars:  “Maybe he did, after all…” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Another annual divided suspiciously neatly into 17-page halves, complete with cliffhanger on 23 and splash on 24, this opus was published midway through, but takes place before, the monthly Pegasus Project arc.  As an “Ever Loving [sic] Blue-Eyed Letters Page…Extra!” confirms, the presence of Medusa means it must take place even before her captivity in FF #207; we’re told that the mysteries of the Enclave and of the air quakes threatening Attilan will be resolved…one of these days.  Meanwhile, the inexplicable resurgence of early-’70s Iron Man stumblebum Brodsky, who plotted both this and the current MTU, is as unwelcome as that of Graviton, for which I guess I can gleefully blame Allyn, with Michelinie merely handling the scripting chores.

Dave, in fact, just had Jarvis resign in Iron Man, another clue to this tale’s chronal displacement, while the Budiansky/Patterson artist tag team also supports the repurposed-two-parter idea, albeit commendably integrating Craig’s layouts; like him or not, Graviton looks consistent with Sal B.’s original rendition.  Conversely, editors Stern and Shooter let pass an embarrassing array of errors—e.g., “the roll of conqueror,” “it effected the experimental element,” “the the very core,” “coalese”—in the first half alone.  This week’s “Because Science” Award goes to Herkowitz (“Hoboken?  Ooh, I’m dyin’ again!”  --B. Bunny), whose technobabble solution feels far more plausible than his convenient presence or jaw-dropping ability to interpret Black Bolt’s message.

Chris: Members of our esteemed faculty might greet the return of Graviton with a resounding “Why -?!” while my response is a heart-felt “How -?!  After all, when we last saw Graviton, he’d been compressed into the center of the multi-million tonnage of his former grav-defying formerly-floating base.  Early in the battle, Gravvy gives us a “ – But somehow, I survived!” (p 17) to which I replied, “Oh no, you don’t!”  At least plotter A. Brodsky (I’m sorry, who’re you -?  Oh, I see – Allyn Brodsky, some past Iron Man credits, not the Son of Sol – OK, moving on) and scripter D. Michelinie have the presence of mind – and the courtesy of consideration – to provide a pseudo-scientific explanation on the very next page.  It’s a bit easier to accept the possibility that a converted-to-energy Graviton might’ve been able to walk away – or maybe seep away is more like it – from the big stone ball at the bottom of New York Harbor.  

We recognize Grav as disconnected from his usual self, what with them changes he been thru an’ all.  Still, the rapid series of shifts that ensue become difficult to follow, as Gravie goes from confused, to threatening, to aggressive, to conciliatory, to irate, to homicidally omnipotent – as he pulls a solar flare from Sol (i.e. no, not Brodsky) and launches it toward the Earth (by the way, I don’t think even Galactus could do that …), then he’s anguished and self-pitying, to suicidal, and finally to calmly instructive, as he offers a maudlin wish of peace and “brotherhood” to us all, before he blinks himself out.  I’m sure he’s having a rough time, not a fun day by any stretch, but the seemingly-constant variations in Graviton’s presentation seem less a product of a disturbed mind, and more a matter of shaky scripting (not that I’m laying all blame at Dave’s feet – A. must bear some brunt as well).
It’s pretty obvious this story was planned as a two-parter for the monthly mag, isn’t it?  I mean, at the bottom of the story’s 17th page (p 23), Ben is faced by a barrage of black holes – kind of an end-issue cliffhanger.  The very next page is a splash, basically repeating the illustration, this time from behind Ben – a stage-setting moment for the second issue of a two-parter.  We see menacing Graviton, and Black Bolt getting into position to jet some cracklin’ electrons and spare Ben from Swiss-cheesing.  All this should be taking place in a fraction of a second – I imagine those mini-black holes are moving rather quickly, but apparently there’s plenty of time for Ben to speak five complete sentences as he asks Bolt for help.  If I can get back to the Earth-threatening solar flare for a moment, I’m distracted by the near-impossibility that Graviton could be capable of this feat; the other problem is that this bit effectively removes Black Bolt from the action for too long.  
The Craig art is serviceable; I like Budiansky’s clear finishes (part I) slightly better than Patterson’s (part II), which reminds us that Craig’s pencils for Master of Kung Fu might’ve turned out better if he’d been paired with an inker other than Tartaglione (I realize this is old news by now, but it still bears pointing- out).  I’ll always wonder why Budiansky didn’t have more Bronze era art credits; it seems most of his Marvel work was on the editorial side, when I would’ve preferred to see him ink more stories, and also provide pencils like those we’ve seen for recent covers of Ghost Rider (side note: Budiansky will take over pencils for Ghost Rider, but that’ll be far, far down the road from now).

Master of Kung Fu 81
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and Gene Day
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Gene Day

 Tarr, Reston, and Shang-Chi careen thru the streets of London in Tarr’s bullet-riddled car.  They avoid pursuing MI-6 agents (but, are they MI-6, or do they serve Fu Manchu, or could they be MI-6 working for Fu -?!) long enough to give Reston a moment to find a call box and ring Sir Denis.  He relates the riddle Lyman Leeks had told him with his dying breath.  Sir Denis works it out – the riddle points to a peacock sculpture Petrie’s wife, Karamenah, had made for him after Petrie (aided by Sir Denis and Leeks) rescued her from Fu’s clutches in Singapore in 1933.  The sculpture later was donated to the “London Museum"; the riddle suggests that, if they were to view the sculpture by the light of dawn, it should reveal the location of hidden information (Reston coolly takes the last bits of intel while under fire, bullets shattering glass in the call box; Shang-Chi outflanks the gunmen, gets the drop on them, and knocks them out).  Tarr suggests they deposit Leeks’ body at the Whitechapel HQ of MI-6, since “they killed him.”  While Tarr works on picking the front-door lock, Lyman Leeks walks around the corner, and sees himself, lying dead in the back seat of Tarr’s auto!  He elects to stash the dead Leeks in the boot, while he settles in to the back seat, in the corpse’s place – Leeks manages to give Reston quite a fright.  They examine the corpse, and find he has a false, peel-away face (possibly placed there for an impossible mission -?).  At that moment, the real Leeks (at least, we’re assuming he’s genuine) takes a bullet in the back, as the chase by MI-6 resumes; in the process of escape, Tarr’s damaged boot springs open, casting the faux-Leeks back onto the hood of a pursuing MI-6 car, which crashes.  

The boys hide out at Reston’s for a spell (as Clive laments the sorry state of his orchids), reload, and patch up Leeks – merely a flesh wound – until driven out by more gunfire, thru the windows.  They manage to reach the museum safely, and locate the peacock statue; by the light of dawn, it casts a green shadow on a tapestry, hung on the wall behind it.  Before they can proceed, leopard-skinned assassins descend on the group; Tarr and Reston fall back as Shang-Chi takes them on.  During the battle, a leopard-skin slashes open the tapestry, grabs a small paper parcel, and heads for the roof.  S-C catches him there, where they both have to avoid fire from agents in the street below.  Leiko arrives via helicopter (Sir Denis sent her to meet the lads at the museum, as he had “a hunch” they might require her assistance), and drops a gas bomb into the street, KO-ing the gunmen.  S-C takes a moment to inspect the paper note, shaped like a small dragon, which reads: “Fooled Again, Little Spirit.”  Tarr, Reston, and S-C abandon Tarr’s wrecked auto in the street as they join Leiko in the helicopter.  S-C considers how “Tarr liked that car.”  -Chris Blake
Chris: I have a question: the team is annoyed that this message from the museum has no useful value to them.  But, let’s be clear: they pursue a lead given to them in riddle form by someone who winds up not Leeks, but a stand-in for him – right?  So, once they know the real Leeks isn’t dead (well, we’re pretty sure we have the right Leeks now), and hadn’t imparted this riddle to them, then why trace it down?  It would have to be a dead end, or worse, a trap.  The other question is how the Leeks understudy knew these details about Sir Denis and Petrie’s operation in Singapore in 1933, so – wait a second – aw no, don’t tell me Fu’s gotten into Petrie’s head again!  Poor bugger.  Well, that’s one possibility; if not, then either I missed something, or Doug missed something, or we’ll find out more next time (fingers crossed Petrie’s not brainwashed again …).
The art continues to present plenty of furious action, with plenty o’ hot lead flying 'round sleepy Olde London Towne.  I’m a bit distracted, though, by Zeck’s depiction of the cars as American models, instead of zippy little Euro numbers; even Tarr’s sturdy vehicle looks like a Pontiac, not a Rolls (and why is Tarr driving on the left-hand side?  Maybe it is a Pontiac).  Clever action highlight: Tarr and Reston bury shots in the left-front tire of a pursuing car, causing it to lurch left and crash into an agents’ car alongside it (p 2); to top it off, the second car has a license plate reading “HI – 007.”  Hee hee!

Mark Barsotti: Fortunately, "Breathless" answers a question that had me in a quandary last ish; namely, when Sir Denis' old pal Leeks was assassinated but then showed up alive in the very last panel. Was Doug Moench losing the ever-more-complex plot threads, or - more importantly - was I the victim of a TIA?

Fortunately, class, the answer to both questions is no; the solution was the ol' Mission: Impossible face mask on the anonymous dead guy. The real Leeks almost buys it this time, but fortunately is only wounded and lives to explain his hidden evidence riddle that the fake Leeks still told Shang, Black Jack, and Clive, raising the question of why the still-unknown plotters broke out the latex in the first place. But pondering that is producing that throbbing in my temples again, so let's just put ourselves in S-C & D-M's hands, and assume they know what they're doing (which they usually do).

As with Shockwave's confession tape last time, Shang's sinister sister gets to the hidden evidence before it, ah-hem, leaks.

The rest of this is a fight and flight actioner, mostly concerning S-C and the boys staying (barely) ahead of the MI-6 hit squads in Black Jack's increasingly damaged and dilapidated sedan, which is so bullet-riddled by story's end that it literally falls apart on the last page, when B. Jack pounds on the roof. 

To quote Leeks, poppycock and poodles, indeed.

Mike Zeck's art, for the last couple installments anyway, seems not only to have topped out, but even regressed slightly. There's no dramatic splashes or "oh, wow!" eye-grabbers here, just very competent cartooning. Nothing wrong with that, save when we know the artist can do better. Gene Day's inks don't help.

At least the art and story are consistent here: both mediocre. Still, no cause for panic. We'll consider this, like most of Forbush's homework, a beat-the-deadline rush job, give it the appropriate C- grade, and tut tut about expecting better next time.  

The Micronauts 10 “Defeat!” 
Story by Bill Mantlo 

Art by Michael Golden and Al Milgrom
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Diana Albers
Cover by Michael Golden

As Baron Karza holds the lifeless body of Commander Arcturus Rann on the deck of his Command Center, Mari dive-bombs the armored despot in a Wing-Fighter, photon beams blazing. But Karza launches one of his detachable hands and it grabs her by the throat: she is captured as well. The Baron orders his galactic fleet to continue their devastating bombardment of Spartak, the rocky planet of the mighty Acroyear warriors — he will return to Homeworld to wrest the secret of the Enigma Force from the Commander. Elsewhere, Bug attacks a Phobos Unit with his rocket-lance: the ship’s fuel pods explode and the Insectivorid is consumed by the inferno. A heart-broken Microtron flies his Fighter back to Spartak and reunites with Biotron.

Meanwhile on Homeworld, the Body Banks are in flames as the rebels — lead by Force Commander aka Prince Argon — have freed and armed all prisoners. When a group of aristocrats approach and still pledge their allegiance to Baron Karza and his promise of immortality, a disgusted Slug fries them with her laser rifle. But all eyes suddenly turn skyward as Karza’s ship materializes above.
Back on Spartak, Prince Acroyear finishes his merge with the Worldmind, and the very planet begins to strike out at the invading forces. Huge chunks of jagged stones fly upward and obliterate numerous battleships as others are gripped by an incredible gravitational force and smash into the planet’s surface. Major D’Ark orders the rest of the fleet to land and the Dog Soldiers disembark, slaughtering entire families. But, Acroyear’s mate Cilicia rallies her people and Karza’s forces are soon defeated. 
-Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Another quick-to-read issue that barrels along like a runaway freight train. There’s quite a bit of bloody violence on display, from Slug coldheartedly blasting the Karza supporters to Cilicia’s beheading of Major D’Ark. And on page 22, we have the gruesome panel of a Dog Soldier training his blaster on a bawling Acroyear infant, his mother lying dead in the background. Once again, each page features some type of explosion, most with multiple. As in issue #2, Bug takes the brunt of a fireball of his own making — though we all know that the master thief will pull through somehow. I’m a little unclear as to the meaning of Mantlo’s title, “Defeat!” Who was actually defeated? The Micronauts since Rann, Mari and Bug are down for the count? Or was it Karza’s galactic force?

The intervention of the Worldmind was wildly impressive. With all the flying stone missiles and gravitational forces, it a surprise that any of Karza’s fleet survived for the final assault on Spartak. But enough did to cause shocking carnage after landing. Along with the aforementioned infanticide, a group of Dog Soldiers chase an entire family into a temple with the criminal cry of “Burn them!” Yeesh, these bastards deserve all they get. After pages of slaughter, the Acroyears' final triumph is detailed on a single panel page, a beauty by Golden and Milgrom: the bodies of Dog Soldiers fly as Cilicia leads the charge, the scrappy Microtron by her side, chest lasers ablaze as the little roboid vows “For the Micronauts!” After the battle is over and he disconnects from the Worldmind, Acroyear’s exhaustion is palpable — yet he realizes that the war will not be over until Baron Karza is killed. Next issue we find out if the Micronauts succeed. Be there effendi!

Matthew:  Both Mantlo’s epic interstellar storyline and the distinctive Golgrom art make this title continue to stand out amid the current crop and justify Professor Tom’s praise; yes, it’s technically part of the Marvel Universe, but especially now that the ’Nauts have returned to the Microverse, it feels like its own entity.  I’ll echo another colleague (Professor Chris, IIRC) in his observation that the Worldmind of Spartak was far likelier than the Uni-Mind of the Eternals to get the job—any job—done.  The title, “Defeat!,” turns out to be nicely ambiguous, since there are wins and losses on both sides, and I was particularly struck by how bloodthirsty this issue is, with vast numbers of participants from all factions being mown down with abrupt “BVREETs.”

Chris: Not a lot of room for sentiment here, as the oppressed and subjugated begin to turn the tide against Karza, and mercilessly collect some payback.  Slug cuts down two unarmed members of the upper class, not only because they chose not to support the rebellion against Karza, but worse – the “stolen bodies they wore” belonged to friends of Slug’s (which still would make it a bit tough to shoot them down, wouldn’t it, when they still look like people you care about -?).  Major D’Ark’s scorched-Spartak campaign comes up short; after he has killed fleeing civilians, he’s on his knees, with the audacity to beg for mercy – Cilicia’s response is a sword-slash across his throat.  Even Microtron gets into the fray, as he swears to avenge his captured and fallen allies.  

I can’t cite a particular example, but it seems to me we’ve seen planet-as-combatant stories before.  Mantlo and Golden distinguish themselves this time, though, as Spartak (linked with King Acroyear as Worldmind) gives the invasion force some major willies, as fighters are cut down by rock projectiles, quickly-emerging cliffs, columns of flame, instantly yawning chasms, and other planetary perils.  The widespread destruction of Karza’s forces, intercut with images of the Worldmind directing the carnage, reminds me of Kirby somehow (p 15-17), and that’s no bad thing.  

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 35
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Lee Elias and Mike Esposito
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Clem Robins
Cover by Lee Elias and Mike Esposito

Web-slinging around town, Spider-Man is suddenly taken down by a mental blast from a strange yet familiar figure seeking "revenge," and smashes through a store window. Two policemen show up looking to nab Spidey for attempted burglary, but the mystery man orders him to knock out the cops, hurl himself against the wall, and make his way to Queens, where he meets up with…The Mindworm! The freakish fiend explains how, after his defeat at Spidey's hands, he was in the hospital for months until finally he regained strength, yet still felt alone among normal society, blaming Spider-Man for everything and sending him crashing through a mirror where his "punishment awaits below." Mindworm's psychologist, Joyce Phillips, shows up, followed by two giant rats that are relatively easily defeated by our hero. Dr. Phillips surmises they are trapped inside Mindworm's mental state, a "labyrinth" [thus the title. Hurray.], but suddenly they're swept away by hurricane winds! They are met by a disgusting creature Dr. Phillips believes is "how the Mindworm sees himself," a mental-blasting protoplasmic form that has Spidey on the ropes until the wall-crawler mentions Mindworm's parents, which causes incredible guilt that ends the battle. Peter Parker wakes up at 5 in the morning, confused. He swings to Manhattan Psychiatric Hospital to meet Mindworm, noticing Dr. Phillips is actually the large-headed lunk's nurse. Turns out Mindworm (aka William Turner) may have been dreaming the whole affair, but with Spider-Man's help me may have beaten his demons, and is now ready to accept that "with power comes responsibility." Spidey leaves, wishing luck to his now-former adversary. –Joe Tura

Joe: Strike One: "All-New Offbeat Excitement" according to the cover. Hmmm…Strike Two: Tony Isabella, Guest Writer. Uh-oh. Strike Three and ballgame over: Mindworm. Freakin' Mindworm! Really? This is why I stopped buying this increasingly average-at-best title. Come on, who the heck asked for another Mindworm appearance? And to have him end up being a "good guy" and redeemed at the end? No thanks! I don’t understand the point. Was Isabella reading old issues in the Marvel cafeteria and thought "Hey, that Mindworm guy was misunderstood, we need to set the record straight!" Could he at least have given the poor slob another outfit? What is he, Charlie Brown? I don't know what was more ludicrous here, the two giant rats (and why does Spidey call one of them "Mickey"--he lives in Manhattan, I think he would know a rat as opposed to a mouse.) or the icky Mindworm creature that's almost as cute as the immortal Belial from the classic Basket Case. The true definition of a fill-in issue—as in fill in the cat-litter box!

Favorite sound effect is on page 23 when Spidey gives a double-kick to protoplasmic Mindworm's noggin with a gross-sounding "SPLOW!" Which does nothing but annoy the horrible head—as well as the reader!

Matthew:  It’s an all-guest creative team this month, with writer Isabella—little-seen at Marvel for three years, if unlamented by most of the faculty—and artists Elias (who wouldn’t be missed by me) & Esposito.  Hilariously, just before we’re reduced to a skeleton crew for post-graduate studies, a context-free fill-in of indeterminate vintage brings back one of our perennial whipping boys, the Mindworm.  Believe it or not, despite all of the inauspicious signs, including E2’s generic if striking cover, I didn’t think it was such a bad little opus; Mindy’s murine appearance is consistent with his Andru-drawn debut in ASM #138, and the Tiger’s tale provides the character with both an interesting progression and apparent closure.

Chris: A fill-in; a guarantee of Peter Parker’s third-place ranking among Spidey’s three monthly mags (look out, guys – Spidey Super Stories is closing in).  And then, we have Tony Isabella and Lee Elias – what a treat.  Couldn’t we have had a Romita reprint from 1972 instead?  It’s sorely tempting to wallop Tony for his “It was only a dream” finish, but admittedly, it does make for something of a twist, and it does explain why Spidey saw buildings in Flash’s old neighborhood as they were, instead of replaced by high-rises.  Tony torpedoes my temptation to give him a little credit, though, as we close with “And good luck to you … my friend.”  Uuuuhhhggghhh.

As I’ve re-read my comics from 1978-79, I’ve noticed many are more dog-eared than I remember; they’re worse for wear, not only because I didn’t have a ready supply of boxes and mylar bags to store them (comics-storage items not typically available at the local newsstand), but I also tended to read them repeatedly.  This issue, I find, is pristine – I read it once.  
Last comment – could you ask for a cover more generic than this one?  Not only is the comic a fill-in, they stamped an inventory cover on it too.  The poised-for-something pose reminds me of Jungle Action #23, which trumpets T’Challa as battling “like never before!” or whatever, when clearly, he had battled this way previously, when the story originally had run in Daredevil #69.  Anyway – I’m done here.  

Power Man and Iron Fist 59
"Big Apple Bomber"
Story by Jo Duffy
Art by Trevor Von Eeden and Al Gordon
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Diana Albers
Cover by Bob Layton

Danny Rand has reservations for dinner at the very ritzy Ducal Cellar (located high atop a skyscraper) but, first, he and Colleen Wing head to Danny's brownstone so that he can change into something a little more appropriate. When Danny opens his door, he is attacked by a shadowy figure and the two engage in some Kung-Fu Fighting (and they're as fast as lightning). Just as Colleen is about to step in and cleave the stranger in half, Iron Fist calls her off; revealing he's known who the attacker is the whole time. Welcome back former Sons of the Tiger member, Bob Diamond (last seen in an interminable number of Deadly Hands of Kung Fu issues). Bob's back in town and just wanted the Fist to know; he begs his leave and Danny and Colleen head off for their evening. At the restaurant, a to-do breaks out when a supremely uncouth Irish cad (white trousers with grey overcoat, and blue turtleneck, indeed!) tries to get in to see the attending Halwani Ambassador. He is about to be shown the door when Danny steps in and admits he knows this clown (lots of old friends popping up today); the maître d' begrudgingly allows the man to sit at Danny's table. Misty Knight (who has joined the couple at the Ducal) immediately recognizes the stranger as I.R.A. terrorist Alan Cavanaugh  but Danny tells the woman she's overreacting. Just as the debate heats up, a bomb explodes in the restaurant and the patrons are trapped in the Towering Inferno. Luckily, Luke Cage happens to be watching the news, sees what's going on, and heads down to the Cellar. Cage bashes a hole through the wall and dumps a huge fountain of water over the fire, extinguishing the blaze. When the heroes get down to street level, they encounter Alan again. Misty informs the police that she's convinced the bomb was placed by... Alan Cavanaugh! -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: A couple issues after I'd declared this title one of the biggest cesspools of the 1970s, Mary Jo Duffy (who drops the Mary, beginning this issue, for some reason) seems to be pulling a Frankenstein on the dead carcass. The action speeds along and there's nary a dead space. I will say that, if I was the Fisters, I wouldn't go out at all. Tragedy seems to strike whether they're at the disco, a restaurant, or the aquarium. Coincidence? I think not. Trevor Von Eeden gets a helpful hand from new inker Al Gordon, a much better fit than last issue's Dan Green. Luke looks like Luke again, the fight scenes crackle, and Colleen gets a full-body overhaul, re-emerging as quite a lovely lady. Von Eeden still loves his runway model poses but at least the articulations seem to be a bit more humanly possible this time out.

Chris: M. J. Duffy demonstrates her early confidence as a writer, as she continues to present storylines free from dependence on brightly-clad super-villains to oppose our heroes.  Duffy gets PM/IF is a small-time operation; no world-saving here, and plenty of time for our principal characters to interact with each other and their supporting cast.  

Luke and Danny are aware of the realities involved with running a business (although Danny can continue to be a spendthrift in his private life), as they also have developed a deeper concern for each other.  Luke isn’t put off by not being invited the Ducal Cellar for dinner; penny-ante poker with D.W. is more his style (plus, he probably hasn’t replaced the evening wear ruined by El Aguila in #58).  But, as soon as he hears the news report of the bombing at the restaurant, Luke is out the door to see if he can help his friend (D.W. generously offers the money from the evening’s cards – Luke still has to think about where his cab fare’s coming from).  Luke saves the day as he puts the fountain to good purpose.  Danny might not apply his abilities to a solution, but we’re not cheated, since we already had a sparring sequence with former Tiger-Son Bob Diamond earlier in the issue – good thing too, since Danny (as he observes himself) hasn’t had much of a chance lately to employ his notable skills.  
This marks the last issue featuring Von Eeden on pencils, which is too bad; he obviously knows how to place panels together, and to use perspective within a panel.  Points for: the close-up of outraged Cage (p 2, 1st pnl); the one-page practice fight with Diamond (p 6); the well-placed explosion, after a page turn (p 22, 1st pnl – I literally did not see that coming); the sense of helplessness among people in the street below, looking up at the fire spewing from the top of the building, far above (p 22, last pnl).
Matthew: For those who care, this is the last issue for Von Eeden, inked by erstwhile Spider-Woman mainstay Gordon, even if Duffy, alas, is seemingly forever.  Our august Dean doubtless choked on his coffee when he had to suffer through a Deadly Hands of Kung Fu redux, and speaking of unwelcome returns, Alan’s an interesting character, yet I sure didn’t need to revisit the animosity from Misty that threatened to break up her and Danny before, especially when it leads to a ludicrous cliffhanger.  The Trevor/Al pairing is not a happy one:  Luke’s broad nose in page 2, panel 1 seems out of character; Colleen in page 3, panel 2 looks like a misplaced caricature from MTU’s SNL issue; and Danny in page 30, panel 2 looks like…anyone but Danny.

 Spider-Woman 19
"The Beast Within"
Story by Mark Gruenwald and Steven Grant
Art by Carmine Infantino and Mike Esposito
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Bob Layton

Spider-Woman glides thru the pre-dawn light, and thinks of her recent losses (Magnus, Jerry Hunt), and two opponents who have come to harm (Nekra, the “Waxman”) in their fights with her.  Unsure of where to go, S-W lands, changes to her Jessica-attire, then walks thru the front door of Sunnyview Mental Hospital.  Once inside, she asks to speak to Mrs Priscilla Dolly; Mrs Dolly doesn’t quite remember Jessica (Mrs D is still more than a little addled in the aftermath of her fabricated belief in the Brothers Grimm as her living sons), but asks her to say hello to her boys.  Jessica feels slightly better from having connected with Mrs Dolly, and also assures herself she won’t wind up “off the deep end.”  Jessica tries to involve herself in group therapy at the Hatros Institute, but cannot commit to full disclosure of her problems, due to concerns for her secret identity.  A fellow group participant, Lindsay McCabe, supports Jessica’s safeguarding of her privacy; the two leave and ride to Lindsay’s apartment building, for a quiet evening of tea and conversation.  Jessica is enjoying these early indications of friendship (the pheromone-controlling medication seems to be working!), and accepts Lindsay’s invitation to stay overnight (in the guest room).  Jessica’s rest is disturbed by sudden howling; she changes quickly to Spider-Woman, and is outdoors in time to see Werewolf by Night hurled out a third-floor window!  The Werewolf twists and lands on his feet (but afterwards is shown lying on the ground), as a man in a trenchcoat follows him out to the pavement below.  The mystery man is resistant to S-W’s venom blast, and fires shots at S-W.  S-W feigns injury, and spins toward the ground, slamming into the mystery man.  The man shreds his coat, and is revealed to be the Enforcer.  He seeks to immobilize both opponents with tranquilizer darts, but isn’t prepared for S-W’s metabolism’s capacity to counter toxins; once she’s knocked him down, a close-range venom blast puts him out.  S-W carries Werewolf back up to the third floor, ahead of the LAPD’s arrival.  In the privacy of his apartment, the Werewolf changes back to Jack Russell (the change is involuntary only on the three nights of the full moon, in case you were wondering).  Jack’s friend Buck Cowan had come to discuss the circumstances of a fire at his house, when the Enforcer burst in; Jack isn’t sure what he was looking for, and Buck is still unconscious (tranquilizer dart by the Enforcer).  Spider-Woman tells Jack she has to leave, but hopes to follow-up with him later.  As she glides off, S-W is pleased with the connection she has made with Lindsay, and with her re-acquaintance with Jack (they had met briefly in S-W #6). -Chris Blake

Chris: Okay class, who can tell me about possible fan interest in an issue guest-starring the Werewolf, with the Enforcer as a villain?  Any ideas?   Seriously, can anyone tell me who the possible target audience might be?  The Enforcer is a fairly useless Ghost Rider villain, and Werewolf’s mag has been in the retired-title bin for a few years now.  The last few pages, as Jack talks about his former supporting cast, is oddly similar to the Omega wrap-up going on now in the Defenders (miss it if you can!).  I remember reading those Werewolf issues, and frankly, I don’t recall any loose ends lying around; I mean, there could be some I’m sure, but I simply haven’t given it a thought since the title folded – so, why are Mark Gruenwald and Steven Grant bringing them up now -?  Who are the readers whose needs are being met here -?
Brief comment on scripter Grant: several times in the issue, different characters react to adversity (shots fired, PD arriving, etc) by saying or thinking “Oh-oh,” which strikes me as a perfectly appropriate sound to utter when a toddler has accidently knocked over a block or a bottle.  Briefly on the art: the Infantino/Esposito team continues to slip, as the action is tame and the backgrounds and other details growing sparse.  
Matthew: This is terrible even by S-W standards.  We see her land outside Sunnyview (above) and don her civvies, stashing her uniform in her purse.  Where did those civvies and purse come from?  Beats the hell outta me.  Her work ethic is crap, especially for someone who had so much trouble finding a job:  unaccountably late again, she gets a pass again, then bemoans the lecture and thinks, “I should have called in sick,” when she clearly isn’t.  Bitch.  The remainder brings back a heavy I didn’t need to see again, and seems to be tying up loose ends incomprehensible to non-Werewolf by Night readers.  “Cute” credits follow writer Gruenwald, artist Infantino, and editor Stern with “underwriter” Grant, “overartist” Esposito, and “overeditor” (I’ll bet) Shooter...

Star Wars 28
"Whatever Happened to Jabba the Hut?"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Carmine Infantino and Gene Day
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek

Han and Chewie are pinned down under blaster fire on the rain-beaten, backwater world of Orleon. Jabba the Hut (sic) has tracked the Falcon to Han’s old hiding spot and has sent his hit men after the smuggler in payment of the old “dumped spice shipment” debt from the pre-Death Star days. Han and Chewie have been stuck in the leaky cave for days and their only remaining food is nutrient paste. The Falcon’s damage sustained during their escape from The Wheel has been repaired and is ready to go, but Jabba will no doubt open fire if the ship even tries to launch. Then, Han notices something even worse: the cave is infested with Stone Mites. The products of genetic mutation during the Clone Wars, they eat rock bone, metal, everything. When a team of assassins use photon grenades in the cave, the Mites swarm out of hiding and begin to crawl all over the Falcon. Han and Chewie look for a way out when Han notices that their scans reveal the Mites have hollowed out the rock above them. Firing their main guns, they open a large enough hole to make a break. Once in orbit, they are met by Jabba’s ship, but instead of firing, Jabba calls over. The Mites infested his ship and his is the last one alive. In exchange for cancelling the debt and the price on their head (plus throwing in a nice bonus), Han agrees to give Jabba safe passage aboard the Falcon. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Not a bad story, just no real meat to it. If nothing else, it removes the price on Han’s head, but at some point that will have to be reinstated for The Empire Strikes Back. Not my problem, though. Having nobody but Chewbacca for Han to talk to makes Han ramble and he’s really annoying. He also has to repeat what Chewie says before he responds, which makes the dialog pretty clumsy. The art is awful, again. Never has Han looked less like Harrison Ford than in this issue. Ignoring that he only has one pupil in his eye on the splash page, he looks like a weird Asian version of Bruce Jenner. Jabba the Hut (missing a T) is the same “random background alien design” used back in issue #2. Nothing like the giant slug he would become.

Matthew:  As has been noted, because Jabba the Hut (sic) was not shown onscreen until the original theatrical release of Return of the Jedi (1983), Marvel had to come up with its own ideas regarding his appearance, hence his rendition here by Infantino and Day, looking something like a jaundiced walrus in need of a shave.  This significantly more anthropomorphic interpretation, if nothing else, allows him to be a bit more of a hands-on boss as he leads his, er, men on a mission to grab the Millennium Falcon for Han’s unpaid debt.  Despite Solo’s ever-malleable features (he looks like different characters on different pages), and poor Chewie seeming more like a Yetiee than a Wookiee, it’s not a bad little yarn, and I particularly enjoyed the stuff with the stone mites.

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 29
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and P. Craig Russell
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by John Buscema and Bob McLeod

We open in medias res with a trio of Claytons and sundry animals amid those dying of thirst aboard two lifeboats from the African Star, then begin cutting between their predicament and flashbacks explaining it.  Owed a favor by Captain Peleg, Blackjack arranges to smuggle his friends and the purloined animals back to Africa, and when  the NYPD arrives just after the liner has pulled into the East River, he redirects their attention from the club’s destruction to Tory’s involvement in a double kidnapping.  As Peleg gives Jane and Korak a tour of the ship, Tarzan visits the animals, then overhears a man in a top hat trying to blackmail Count Vorga, threatening to show the Countess some indiscreet letters her husband wrote to a buxom “singer,” Fanny Day.

Per Top Hat, war-mongers wish to end the Count’s influence on the “delicate peace negotiations between his country and mine,” and Tarzan earns his enmity by returning the letters to Charles, warning off the blackmailer.  During that night’s masked ball, his clown-clad henchman, Gustav, stabs Vorga, who survives, and when Tarzan gives chase, Top Hat brandishes dynamite in the boiler room, heedless of the passengers’ fate, only to fall to his own death, triggering explosions that sink the ship.  Freeing the animals from the cargo hold, Tarzan joins Peleg, the Vorgas, and his family aboard the lifeboats, but after countless days at sea, all are saved when they spot land, and Tarzan realizes…they are approaching the very cabin where he was born and married.  “Fin
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Russell, of all people, replaces Villamonte—who may have been busy with the concurrent annual—as Sal’s inker on the final issue, and the results are, as you’d expect…unusual; not sure if Tarzan’s gaunt look is due more to dehydration or to P. Craig’s spare style.  The pièce de résistance is page 30, panel 2 as Tarzan (beside Jad-bal-ja, both limned by Sharen only in red and black amid the flames) avows, “We are all God’s creatures!  All deserve a chance to live!”  No lettercol to announce the cancellation, but Bill’s ending, with its underdeveloped “castaways” framing device and banshee-howling coincidence, is about as final as can be.  Am I the only one who read this and immediately thought of “Candidate Kane Caught in Love Nest with ‘Singer’”?

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle Annual 3
"A Night at the Opera!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema, Ricardo Villamonte, and Joe Sinnott
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Bob McLeod

Suddenly, we’re back in 1929—November 5, to be precise—as the Claytons arrive at the London Opera House with Korak’s wife, Meriem (invoked but unseen in #29), and Tarzan’s old friend Pierre D’Arnot.  When an overzealous doorman chases off children dressed up for Guy Fawkes Day, Tarzan teaches him a lesson by hanging him from a lamppost, but as the Claytons help a newsboy gather up his scattered papers, Jane sees a story about anthropologist Dr. Evelyn Hague, who has vanished in Africa.  In a positively Burroughs-worthy coincidence, she is the sister of Jane’s friend Julia, the very singer they’ve come to hear, whose reluctance to speak of it is explained by the note Julia tries to hide, revealing that Evelyn has been kidnapped.

Surprising a midget eavesdropping outside the dressing-room door, Tarzan is unable to catch him, and during the performance Rolle tries to silence Julia, yet Tarzan, alert to danger, spots the Man Who Knew Too Much-style pistol peeking through the curtains of an upper box.  As he and Korak spring into action, spoiling his aim so that Julia is merely grazed, Rolle tries to escape by leaping onto a chandelier, but it falls and “the fear-crazed midget” dies in a crystalline crash that is more Hammer’s Phantom of the Opera than the chapter title’s “Night at…”  Recovering, Julia theorizes a connection between the kidnapping and the odd package Evelyn sent her, and once he sees the box’s contents—“It’s a tiny human skeleton!!”—Tarzan knows just where to seek her...

Days later, in their “DeHaviland [sic] Moth two-seater,” Tarzan and Pierre fly over the Valley of the Basins, but the virtually impenetrable Great Thorn Forest encircling it has been breached, as evidenced by the presence of both tank-treads and Max Hunter, who shoots down the plane.  He tells his fellow kidnappers, Sykes and Marin, who duly relay the news to their cronies in London, yet reports of Tarzan’s death are, of course, greatly exaggerated.  Thrown clear, he finds Pierre trapped in the wreckage and surrounded by one of two strange races he had encountered within the forest:  the savage Alali women, referred to as “she-devils” on the cover (where “ant men” is also, in this case, improperly hyphenated) but nowhere else, either here or by Burroughs himself.

Pierre’s pistol disperses the Alali, but as he and Tarzan investigate another shot, they see a larger band attacking the kidnappers, who had been employed by their own victim, and are tied to a tree after Tarzan drives off the Alali with the flame-tank Evelyn used to penetrate the barrier.  Telling Pierre to summon Korak with their wireless, Tarzan tracks the Alali who took Evelyn, only to find them attacked in turn by the 18-inch ant men, the discovery of whose burial mound was thought potentially valuable enough to lead to the kidnapping.  Tarzan and the ant men defeat the Alali, but he passes out after slamming his head against a tree during the fight, awakening to find that he and Evelyn have been borne off by the ant men to their city and reduced to their tiny size.

After Tarzan helped them flee Veltopismakus, Princess Janzara wed scientist Zoanthrohago (the effects of his, uh, shrinkage now lasting only hours), and they established Janzaramakus, “a place of freedom and dignity.”  The army of her father, Elkomoelhago, fells Pierre with tiny darts and frees the kidnappers, who blame Tarzan for desecrating the mound and side with the king’s men, seeking specimens.  As Tarzan thwarts their attack by immobilizing the tank, Evelyn returns to normal, and Hunter also becomes a pincushion but, unlike Pierre, is not saved by a leather flight-jacket; accepting Tarzan’s word that Evelyn will not reveal their existence, the Janzaramakusians allow her to depart with Korak et alia, while Sykes and Marin must remain, permanently shrunk. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: And so it ends:  Bill and Sal—inked by Villamonte and Sinnott, although who did what, I have no idea—sign off with a story that, like “Blood Money and Human Bondage,” is a follow-up to an actual Burroughs work, in this case the tenth book, Tarzan and the Ant Men (1924), originally serialized in Argosy All-Story Weekly.  It’s an interesting choice, and perhaps an irresistible one for the folks who brought you Henry Pym and Scott Lang, but the results are at best partly successful, with so many pages devoted to Chapter 1 that the rest feels rushed.  The business with the midget, which would presumably be considered politically incorrect today, feels totally random; one might expect an eventual connection to the ant men, if anything, yet none appears.

Moreover, I’m going to contradict the conventional wisdom and say that TATAM is not among ERB’s better books, which may or may not help to explain why Mantlo wrote a sequel rather than an adaptation.  That would enable him to pick and choose what he wanted to take from it (I’m guessing that renaming Paul, invoked but unseen in the novel, as “Pierre” was an error rather than a deliberate choice, unless they feared “D’Arnot” sounded insufficiently French).  For example, Bill totally sidesteps the inevitable existence of male Alali, along with the concomitant, and literal, war of the sexes that might raise some eyebrows today; under Tarzan’s tutelage, one of their oppressed, essentially emasculated males leads a rebellion, restoring the “natural order.”

Tarzan’s sojourn among the Minunians, as the ant men are formally called, periodically grinds to a halt with digressive longueurs belaboring their socio-political structure, military strategy, architecture, etc.; lengthy, polysyllabic names—e.g., Adendrohahkis, Komodoflorensal—and confusing multiple nomenclature for various groups and individuals compound the problem.  We are asked to believe that the highly intelligent Tarzan cannot even conceive of being shrunk, instead believing that the entire Veltopismakusian society has been enlarged.  And the subplot about actor Esteban Miranda, who impersonated and came to believe himself Tarzan, provides a direct continuation of Tarzan and the Golden Lion…but ultimately has little bearing on anything.

So, in the final analysis, we’re left with a story that, like Mantlo’s John Carter, Warlord of Mars Annual #2, is somewhat frenetic but, if nothing else, incorporates a heaping helping of authentic Burroughsiana.  The tag-team art is unexceptional yet quite acceptable, although I swear that Dr. Hague’s face in page 45, panel 2 seems like it could be Gil Kane’s work; the Veltopismakusian captain in page 37, panel 7, creatively rendered all in gold by colorist Roussos, looks particularly fine.  As an ERB fan since middle school, I think that whatever the reason(s) for its cancellation, Marvel should be legitimately proud of this title, which combined uniformly solid artwork by the Buscema Brothers with respectful scripts that faithfully adapted ERB or stayed close to his spirit.

 The Mighty Thor 288
"Fury of the Forgotten Hero!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Keith Pollard and Chic Stone
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Bob Layton

The Mighty Thor trades blows with "Hero" before the towering figure of "The One Above All" and it's a losing battle. The guy is just too strong! Meanwhile, in Asgard, Odin gazes into the fires of Mimir and watches the entirety of the battle. Suddenly, Karnilla materializes to give the All-Father a piece of her mind for sacrificing her beau, Balder. Odin explains that it's not just Thor and Balder who are laying down their lives but also Sif (who defeats a storm giant to gain access to the cave of... ah, you'll have to wait for that!) and the Warriors Three, who are seemingly burnt to a crisp by fire-breathing dragon, Fafnir. Tired of Karnilla's caterwauling, Odin vanishes, leaving the sorceress to muse with Mimir. Back on the ship of "The One Above All," the thunder god finds a reserve of strength and defeats "Hero," then turns his attention to the behemoth above him. In Olympia, the Eternals are getting antsy and decide to attack the spaceship. Thor's attempts to take down his mountainous enemy prove useless and, in a final shocking moment, our hero is shown something that brings him to his knees: a vision produced by "The One..." showing Thor's father taking a knee before Celestial Arishem. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Believe you me, I'd like no more than to tell you folks that this gargantuan epic is chugging along nicely but I can't lie; this is an old run-down, coal-driven train in search of a station to rest in and it's got a loooooong way to go. There's just way too much going on and nothing going on at the same time. It's hard to keep track of who's on the Celestials team, who was born an Eternal, and where the Deviants went to. The Rascally One's dropping hints here and there as to where this might be going but, hell, can I trust him? My time is precious and 1979 is coming to a close. I can't foresee caring enough to read the rest of this mega-arc past December.

Matthew:  The lettercol is of considerable interest, comprising a single LOC in which Jonathan Hochberg argues that Jack Kirby’s Eternals mythos and the mainstream Marvel Universe are essentially incompatible, so that trying to reconcile them will do irreparable harm to the latter, and Roy’s reply, about thrice as long, in which he not only explains and justifies his attempts to do so, but also asks (perhaps fairly) that he be allowed to finish the arc before Hochberg judges it.  Of course, said arc will not end until many months after this blog, and patience is certainly required as Roy cross-cuts among no fewer than five different locations and sets of characters.  Yet the Pollard/Stone art, and that telltale arm discovered by Sif in page 11, panel 5, offer hope...

Chris: Another Uni-Mind?  Does that mean the previous one, as chronicled in the Eternals, was a dress-rehearsal for this one?  It’s gotta be hard to coordinate all the Eternals; are they supposed to RSVP?   Is there a rain date?  Roy was slow to get into this Celestials saga, but things have picked up since then, with an honest-to-goodness encounter with the One Above All, and a suggestion that Odin is either in league with the Celestials, or possibly subservient to them.  Well, even though the story has made appreciable progress, I honestly hope Roy is ready to wrap things up fairly soon; overall, this has not been nearly as compelling as the center-does-not-hold circumstances of the recent Ragnarok (or faux-narok, if you prefer) storyline.  

The fight with the Forgotten Hero has been packed with bludgeoning goodness, but with Thor and the Hero so evenly matched, it has been worthwhile to change channels to view other unfolding battles.  Both Sif’s solo square-off and the Warriors Three group-effort have been entertaining, but I don’t think we’ve been given the slightest inkling of what these contests are intended to accomplish; I don’t recall whether Odin specified goals for these two battlin’ squads.  If Roy wants to continue these threads, that’s fine, but it would be helpful if he clued us in to what the desired end-results might be.    

 What If? 17
"What If Ghost Rider, Spider-Woman, and Captain Marvel
Had Remained Villains?"
Story by Steven Grant
Art by Carmine Infantino, Frank Springer,
Mike Esposito, Chic Stone, and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Roger Slifer, Carl Gafford,
and Bob Sharen
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gene Colan and Jack Abel

A sleek and slimmed down Watcher explains there are three lives that had a chance to choose between heroism and infamy—but what if the other paths had been taken? First up is Prof. Tom's beloved Ghost Rider, who meets Daimon Hellstrom in the desert, and the Son of Satan mentions the demon's alter ego, Johnny Blaze, which starts the Rider thinking to his origin…but in this reality, Crash Simpson makes the jump and lives, then Satan comes to claim Blaze's soul—and Crash walks in to see Johnny turned into GR, who kills him with hellfire just as daughter Roxanne, Johnny's girl, comes on the scene! Johnny/GR rides off. As GR and Hellstrom continue to battle to a near standstill, another flashback takes us to New Mexico, and Roxanne is tracking her former love, who kills anyone who he deems guilty, including two policemen who try and stop him, and escaped con Chill Miller. Roxanne confronts the out-of-control Rider, and he kills her in a blast of hellfire, actually shedding a tear for what he's done. Back to the battle, and Hellstrom says he can save Johnny Blaze, but the suddenly guilty Ghost Rider rides off without hope for salvation, and Hellstrom draws the fire out of him, ending his torturous life.

Our next tale is of Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman, and the moment from Marvel Spotlight #32 when she held Nick Fury by the throat after her lover Jared dies, and this time SHIELD's Contessa Val bursts in, startling Spider-Woman into blasting Fury with her sting, killing the director! Back at Hydra's hideaway in the Carnic Alps, Count Vermis tells Jessica/Arachne he is proud of her, but suddenly SHIELD bursts in, slaughtering the Hydra agents until eventually Val catches up to SW, who is spurned by the escaping Vermin, I mean Vermis. But Val blasts his ship, which crashes into a mountain. Spider-Woman is captured and stands trial, during which her counsel brings in a surprise witness—Count Vermis! The smarmy survivor tells the court Arachne cannot stand trial, since she's a mutated spider, not a human being! The puzzled and p-o'd Spider-Woman escapes, but must now spend the rest of her life on the run, from Paris, where she is betrayed by a confidant, to London and beyond, all in search of answers to her mysterious origin.

Finally, we turn to Prof. Matthew's main man Mar-Vell, at a stage in his life where he still wears the green Kree uniform, battling the Sentry on Earth while on an orbiting ship, Ronan does not overlook Yon-Rogg's "transgressions," but instead relieves him of his command, but the suddenly crazed Colonel shoots his way off the ship, tossing aside Medic Una, the woman he loves, heading towards Earth to kill Captain Mar-Vell! On the surface, the Sentry continues wrecking the base, and Mar-Vell tells Chief Security Officer Carol Danvers to fire a missile at the runaway robot in five minutes, no matter what! The Captain's Uni-Beam has no effect on the Kree Sentry, yet he keeps fighting, distracting the giant from the missiles. With a last bold attempt, the Uni-Beam causes the Sentry to be magnetized to a launched rocket—sending it into space and exploding! But no time to rest, Yon-Rogg arrives to kill his nemesis, and seems to have the upper hand after a brief battle, until he collapses, not having taken his breathing serum! [I hate when that happens!] Yet again Mar-Vell is not in the clear as Ronan the Accuser appears! However, Zarek, the Imperial Minister, clears Mar-Vell and names him Colonel, placing him in charge of studying the "primitive beings" of Earth—and they'd better watch out if they "prove to be a menace to the Kree"!--Joe Tura

Joe: "3 ALL-NEW TALES OF FANTASTIC WONDER, TO BOGGLE YOUR MIND!", screams the crappy cover (if you really look at it for a while…a quick glance and it's not horrendous, but mostly not so good), and yes, my mind was boggled…for lack of a better word. Steven Grant plays fast and loose with these three anti-heroes, which is also a good way to describe the reader's wish to be far away from this average-at-best script. There is a lot of Carmine Infantino to handle, as the linear one tackles everything with his usual "meh" level, with the help of four different inkers, including Chic Stone on the splash page. Frank Springer finishes Ghost Rider, which is about as depressing as it gets.
At least for Prof. Tom's sake, the cycling creep gets an absolute end!

Spider-Woman's tale is a little more exciting, but the character herself is bland and busty, so at least she has one thing going for her. Mike Esposito's inks don't do much other than accentuate the positives on Arachne/Jessica/Spider-Woman and Contessa Val, and the unfortunate Nick Fury looks pretty bad here. Another not-so-uplifting ending, too. Finally, Mar-Vell is far from mar-vell-ous, although the battle scenes with the Sentry are maybe the best thing about the entire story. This one at least has a happy ending, but is Mar-Vell only a "villain" because he says the Earthlings should "beware" if they bother the Kree? What if they bring flowers and candy? Will the editors go back and say, "whoops"? Will the reader do the same after getting to the end of this tepid trio of tales? I say thee "yea"!

Chris: The basic premise is flawed.  Of these three, only Spider-Woman could truly be said to have been a villain, and that was during her brief (misguided) Hydra tenure.  Otherwise, Captain Mar-Vell might’ve been a spy for the Kree, but how does that make him a villain?  And how do we call Ghost Rider a villain?  He’s always been the same – a hell-spawned creature of vengeance – his actions regulated by Johnny Blaze’s conscience (well, to some extent); it’s not like he’s ripping off late-night bodegas, or something.  

If anything, the vignettes suggest an unintended course of villainy for two of the three, as Ghost Rider kills indiscriminately after accidently killing Crash Simpson, and Spider-Woman is consigned to life as a fugitive after unintentionally killing Nick Fury; only Colonel Mar-Vell seemingly chooses to continue to spy on Earth for the good of the Kree.  So, the issue does not successfully ask “What If They Continued to be Villains?” but rather “What If Circumstances Caused Them to Embrace Villainy?”  
Of the three stories, only the Ghost Rider segment is slightly worth the time; as horrible as it was for Crash to die anyway after Johnny had made his pact with Satan, certainly it would’ve been worse if Johnny had killed Crash himself.  And then for him to purposely kill the (correctly-identified!) Rocky, too?  Can’t imagine.  It’s consistent with his character for Ghost Rider to resist destruction, but the subtle note of the tear on his skull-face (never thought I’d see that – it’s worth a stretch of artistic license to include that visual, on p 15 last pnl) tells us Ghost Rider welcomes his end at Hellstrom’s hand.  
As for the other two stories, both are filled with empty action; by now, I’m ready to see someone else other than Carmine Infantino illustrate a Spider-Woman story, while the Mar-Vell story is helped by Marcos’ solid finishes.

The Uncanny X-Men 126

"How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth...!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

After the call from Lorna went dead following her scream, the X-Men hopped in their jet and began their journey to Muir Island, without waiting for The Beast to return. Upon arrival, Banshee and Cyclops find Lorna out cold. Banshee, still unable to use his sonic scream, remains with her as Cyclops goes with Storm to the lab. Nightcrawler and Colossus enter the facility and are fired upon by Havok, who is carrying the dazed Jaime Madrox. Colossus stops him. In the lab, Cyclops finds Moira MacTaggart, literally running into her as she hunts the missing “Mutant X.” Finally, Scott runs to meet Jean, who is out cold on the floor. He revives her and she thinks she sees Jason Wyngarde, greeting Scott as “Jason.” Everyone at the complex is thrilled and stunned to learn the X-Men are alive, but the celebrations are short-lived as they focus on how to find this horrible menace who sucks the life out of people and inhabits their dead bodies. Moira reluctantly tells them that this being is her son. Earlier, Angus MacWhirter was possessed by the mutant and approached Lorna, who when she attacked was rebuffed and knocked out. Jaime created mutant clones and one of them was taken over by the mutant. Jamie is still reeling from the effects of experiencing that death.

In Stornoway, the rotting clone of Jamie Madrox possessed by Mutant X tries to take over his next body: Jason Wyngarde! Yet, Wyngarde has a psychic block that prevents the possession. Soon, though, a younger man, Ferdie Duncan, makes for a more than acceptable substitute.

The next morning, the team splits up to find the mutant. While Jean flies over the countryside, she suddenly gets a vision, returning to the 18th century on a hunt with her “friends” and Wyngarde, whom she feels she loves. She reels in shock when she sees the stag she had been hunting is a man dressed as an animal. Snapped out of her illusion, she sees the discarded body of Ferdie Duncan. She radios the position of the corpse to the team, but Wolverine, with Nightcrawler, ignores it in favor of his own instincts. A possessed body has a unique scent that Wolverine is following. He is stopped by a police officer, but Wolverine knows it’s Mutant X, who states he prefers to be known as “Proteus.” Before Wolverine can go in for the kill, Proteus attacks, trying to take over his body. The creature screams in pain, however, when he realizes Wolverine has a metal-coated skeleton. Proteus can be contained and even killed by metal. Instead, Proteus bends reality around the mutants. Wolverine is hit worse, as all of his senses lie to him. The attack is brutal and vicious, then Storm arrives and does her best. She is smashed down, her shoulder sprained. With no recourse, she creates a powerful, killer wind storm. Wolverine and Nightcrawler are helpless and can only hold on while Proteus moves in for the kill…. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Lots of really great stuff as we really get into the Proteus arc. Finally, the X-Men, aside from the Professor, are reunited. They reunions are rushed and muted, as befitting the crisis, but absolutely no time is given to Scott and Jean. This seems a little weird. I get that Scott “felt nothing” and there is a brief mention of his being distant and having grown since Jean last saw him, but after all these months, some look at their rediscovery should have been seen. Other than that, this is a fabulous issue. The show stopper is Proteus’ attack on Wolverine, where Nightcrawler’s words of reassurance are to Wolverine “drops of orange rain.” Hearing orange rain. That’s a wonderfully incomprehensible image. Jason Wyngarde pops up a lot here, his influence expanding. It is rather a shame the awesome build up for his reveal isn’t quite as earthshattering as it could have been, but – as I’ve said previously – there are no bad issues left in the run we’re covering. Not even less-than-good. Proteus is a terrifying villain, one who really puts flesh on Moira’s character and who will test the X-Men to their limits. The art, is – duh – sheer perfection.

Chris: “Scott – is it really, truly you -?” “Jean … oh Jean, I – I thought I’d never -!” “Oh Scott – oh hold me Scott, I have to know it’s you!” “Yes Jean … shhh … it’s all right, I’m here – everything’s going to be fine, now …”   Seriously, how hard would it have been for any writer to zip together a little reunion scene like this?  I mean, it’s a given, when you’ve separated two principal characters for so long (over a year, publication-wise), to then bring them back again, so everything can be Just Fine.  But I ask you, class – is Claremont going to resort to this convention, when there’s a different (i.e.: unpredictable) option to pursue?  

Claremont does permit a glimpse into Scott’s mindset, as we’re told he has, in fact, been bottling-in his feelings regarding his apparent loss of Jean; he’s insulated himself so thoroughly, so completely, that her return to him doesn’t even bring Scott relief, or pleasure – he’s not sure how he feels about Jean anymore.  Scott hearing Jean call him “Jason” doesn’t seem to foster conversation, either – which leads me to another thought.  Scott and Jean are getting reacquainted after a long absence; simultaneously, Jason Wyngarde already has made inroads into control of her mind as he has – for lack of a better term – been seducing Jean, from a distance.  Jean reflects on how Scott has changed (we see her peering at him in Moira’s dining area, while Scott looks straight ahead as he listens to Jamie, p 11 pnl 7), but Jean doesn’t realize Jason already has changed her.  The tragedy is that – due in part to Wyngarde’s self-serving, disastrous interference – Scott and Jean don’t have a legitimate opportunity to examine their relationship, and to decide how to conduct it, going forward.  
Byrne & Austin shine, as always.  Numerous moments to spotlight: Nightcrawler’s concurrent presence in the Blackbird and Moira’s house as he 'ports from the plane (p 3, pnl 3); Kurt’s three-fingered “OK” as he bamfs away to the lab (p 6 pnl 4); Jamie’s haggard expression as he recounts his duplicate’s absorption by Mutant X (p 11 pnl 8); the lurking Mutant X, inhabiting a Madrox-multiple that has nearly burned itself out (p 15, 1st pnl); Wyngarde’s matter-of-fact offer of the “man-stag” for Jean to finish (he smiles, yet there’s a hooded look to his eyes…), followed by an abrupt reversion to reality, as Jean realizes she’s discovered Mutant X’s latest mummy (p 22); Proteus turns Nightcrawler’s and Wolverine’s realities inside-out (p 26 last pnl, p 27), with Kurt’s dissolution into liquid globules a nasty highlight (p 27 1st pnl).  

Next issue, we learn the origin of Mutant X/Proteus.  I hope Claremont will tell us how Moira kept him alive for so many years, when he appears to require new host bodies every few hours …
Matthew: About as close to perfection as it gets:  the complete Dream Team (i.e., including Orz and Glynis) is operating like a well-oiled machine, and it’s no coincidence that—unlike the disarray on prior missions—our merry mutants are, too.  The Scott/Jean/Jason Devil’s Triangle rankles, as well it should, but at least everybody now knows everybody else is alive, and there’s tons to love.  The socko cover reminds us of Cockrum’s seminal contribution; tension crackles like wildfire; Angus’s corpse is deliciously ghastly; the Havok/Colossus reunion delights; we get unequivocal confirmation of Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton, and tantalizing hints of Moira’s past; the hallucinations are awesome; everyone shines, but Logan and Ororo stand out especially.

Mark: It's pretty creepy that Moira calls her own son (and, according to last ish, even thinks of him as) Mutant X. I mean, it's not the kid's fault he sucks the life force out of other people. Even mutant killers need their moms. 

And it's pretty cold that when Jean comes to in Scott's arms and - after not seeing him in months (real time)- imagines he's Jason Wyngarde. We know Jean's being gas-lit and all, but Chris Claremont still sticks the knife in a little deeper by having her think of Wyngarde as "...the man she loves."

It's these sort of unusual, slightly off-kilter relationships that stood out in this one, not the shiny and chromed super-heroics and current menace, Mutant X, who looks like he rummaged through Psycho-Man's closet for his get-up. Plus, I want my mutie life-force vampires a touch more angsty and conflicted than "I am... consuming this shell too quickly. Must find... replacement..." Come on, X-ie, think of your mom!  

Thankfully, Wyngarde's long-con seduction of Jean continues to intrigue, and the man-stag hunting dream is nicely twisted. Enjoyed Byrne's distort-o panels on pgs 26-27, and from there Mutant X, aka Proteus, goes from looking clipped from a Beatles cartoon (bottom, p 27) to a melted-face menace, forging through Ororo's storm in the final panel,

Come to think of it, class, those chromed super-heroics are pretty darn good, too. 

Also This Month 

Crazy #55

Fun and Games #2
< Machine Man #11
Marvel Super-Heroes #84
Marvel Tales #108
Sgt. Fury #154
Shogun Warriors #9

Marv Wolfman seems aware of the limitations of a bi-monthly title, as he works many story elements into this issue: Machine Man foils a robbery by a man calling himself the Binary Bug; the would-be target offers Machine Man to name a reward of his choosing, so MM requests a job, to allow him to support himself, while simultaneously observing humans in their natural environment; Spaulding helps Machine Man acquire a new wardrobe, plus a hairpiece and glasses, so he can pass less noticeably as Aaron Stack; Aaron alienates co-workers as he diligently attends to his tasks at Delmar Insurance; Aaron gets at the root of a recent string of robberies – all victims lost extremely valuable artwork and other valuables insured by Delmar – and identifies former Delmar employee Joseph Rambo (not, he’s not a lone wolf Viet Nam vet) as the Binary Bug; Machine Man foils another Binary Bug caper, as he prevents thefts from the heavily-insured (yes, by Delmar) Khan of Xanadu (no, Olivia Newton-John is not skating there); in his attempted escape, the Binary Bug catches high-tension wires and fries himself (gotta hurt); Aaron bemoans the excesses and foolishness of humans.  So yes, there are plenty of goings-on, but it proves to be a thoroughly text-heavy issue, packed with word balloons and captions on every page.  Wolfman also deprives Aaron of his wit and sense of curiosity regarding the people he meets, choosing instead to present Aaron as a cold, purposeful machine (i.e. more machine than machine man, if ya know what I mean), who finds most of the needs and behaviors of humans vexing and pointless.  -Chris Blake
Matthew:  Delmar was, if I’m not mistaken, the employer of Brock “Torpedo” Jones back in the day.


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 45
Cover Art by Nestor Redondo

“The Gem in the Tower”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga

“Chains and Fetters: A Study of Slavery in the Hyborian Age” 
Text by Jim Neal

“A Conan Quiz”
Text by Jim Neal

“Master of Shadows”
Script by Christy Marx
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga

“Swords and Scrolls”

A very nice magazine, featuring the return of Red Sonja, not seen since the cancellation of her color comic in May 1979. While highly entertaining, the two main stories are fairly basic so, lucky you, the recaps should be brief — no chunky bits though. That’s a Bad Taste reference that probably only Professor Joe will recognize. “I’ve been reborn!”

The lead Conan tale, the 30-page “The Gem in the Tower,” is adapted from the short story of the same name by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. The original was in turn based on Carter’s Thongor the Barbarian short “Black Moonlight.” Carter and de Camp rewrote it for the Bantam paperback Conan the Swordsman (August 1978). 

The Cimmerian has signed on as Second Mate for Captain Gonzago, a Zingaran privateer sailing for the Barachans. Gonzago is hunting for the lost island of Siptah, a high prince among sorcerers who possesses a fabulous gem that can control the sea winds. When the desolate patch of palm trees is discovered, they soon come across the wizard’s impenetrable tower, its smooth side featuring nary a window or door. The captain orders his men to bed down for the night — he will come up with a plan of attack the next day. But when darkness settles, Gonzago and a few other men are slaughtered by a giant, bat-like humanoid with gleaming fangs and razor-sharp talons.

When morning comes, Conan orders the survivors to build a bonfire around the base of the tower: they will smoke the creature out. The plan works to perfection — however the horrifying creature eludes the pirates' arrows as it dives down upon them. As more men fall to slashing claws, the Cimmerian leaps on the monster’s back: it flies back up and into the tower’s parapet. After a fierce struggle, Conan retreats down a flight of stairs into a chamber below. There, Siptah sits long dead on his throne, the wind-controlling gem on a small dais before him. When the wounded bat beast clambers into the room, the barbarian hurls the jewel at its head but misses. However, when the gem smashes to pieces on the wall behind, the monster collapses and crumbles into dust. Conan lowers a gold-filled chest to the men below and climbs down a rope made of tapestries.

A simple enough story but one with considerable impact. The visuals drive this one, with many impressive panels throughout. The single-panel page 18 is simply fabulous, as the pirates work to pile up tree trunks around the tower’s base. Of course, Conan is putting in the most effort. Siptah’s tower is impressively illustrated throughout: it resembles a soaring lighthouse as it rises from the beach on the island’s shore. The sorcerer’s demonic guardian is quite a fright, with bits and pieces resembling other Hyborian monsters from the mighty imagination of Big John Buscema. I felt that it was a bit of a mistake that the monster was revealed during the night attack of Gonzago and the other helpless victims: a big reveal when it flees the smoke might have been more effective. It’s not really explained why the jewel was the key to killing the creature, but I can imagine that such a treasure would be highly valuable: it could save a ship from a raging storm or propel one through becalmed winds. Such a priceless prize would be worth many lives. Lucky that the gem did do the trick though: the bat-beast took a sword to the head, an arrow to the back, a knife to the chest and Conan cracking its skull with a heavy lectern — it took a licking and kept on flapping. 

At 17 pages, “Master of Shadows” was originally scheduled as issue #16 of Red Sonja before that series was cancelled. Which is a bit surprising since it’s quite a dark and deadly affair. It opens up with Sonja lounging on a bench in the garden of Ashmir. Her seductive curves attract the unwanted attention of three brothers: her powerful kicks and flips embarrass the two younger ones. The oldest — revealing that they are a family of assassins known as the House of Shadows — warns the comely Hyrkanian to leave town or suffer their wraith. When she refuses, they come at her over the next two days with a variety of deadly weapons: a knife and garrote in dark corners, throwing stars and small spiked balls on precarious rooftops, and more. But each murder attempt fails and Sonja manages to slay all of the familial assassins one by one. But two animals are not so fortunate. Along the way, Sonja’s horse is killed for revenge and a housecat eats poisoned food intended for our heroine.  

Again, this is quite a nasty little story, but one I really enjoyed. Red Sonja dispatches four men in fairly shocking manners, including a rather nasty drowning. The art team carries over from the Conan story and, not surprisingly, is terrific. Most of the action takes place at night and a dusky sense of dread hangs over most pages. It would have been the perfect piece for Freaky Frank Thorne. And not sure if Christy Marx could have gotten away with all the animal deaths in a full-color comic. If you remember, Marx was responsible for the plot of the girl-power misfire “Child of Sorcery” from The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 29 (May 1978). That one and “Master of Shadows” could not be any more different. Thank Crom.

This issue also includes two text pieces by Jim Neal. The 5-page “Chains and Fetters: A Study of Slavery in the Hyborian Age” tackles a rather mature and sensitive topic. Focusing on the Eastern and Southern lands, this is just Part One of a study that delves into the works of Robert E. Howard and successors like L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter to form an incredibly detailed look at slavery in such regions as Turan, Kush, Stygia, and others. I’m happy to report that Cimmeria was one of the few states that did not resort to slavery. An illustration of a Power Pyramid is included, offering a general structure of society in the civilized Hyborian nations. Needless to say, slaves are at the bottom. Priests and the higher nobility are on the top. Marvel University professors are somewhere between prostitutes and slop farmers.

Finally, Jim returns with “A Conan Quiz.” Now I perked up when I saw that the ten-question test was based on Marvel’s Conan. I haven’t read most of the actual Howard material or the stuff turned out by de Camp and company, but I have read every single Hyborian comic that the House of Ideas has published so far. After you're done, you count up your points to find out if you are a “Hyborian Hero” or a “Brythunian Joke.” Shouldn’t it have been a “Brythunian Buffoon?” However, my puffed-out chest deflated instantly when I laid eyes on the first question:

For two points each, give the self-assumed nicknames of the following characters encounter by Conan:
1.     Taurus
2.     Mikhal Oglu
3.     Skol Abdhur
4.     Rotath
5.     Constantius

Uhhh … I have no clue. I thought Mikhal was from Red Sonja? I skipped around and could answer some of the questions but not many. I guess I could go back through my write-ups to find the answers but what would be the point of that? So I gave up without much of a fight. The University doesn’t pay well enough to be stuck with the label of “Vilayet Galley Slave.” I saw how those poor souls were treated in Neal’s previous article. -Tom Flynn

The Hulk! 17
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“The Biggest Game”
Script by Doug Moench
Art by Ron Wilson and Alfredo Alcala

“Nights Born Ten Years Ago” 
Script by Doug Moench
Art by Bill Sienkiewicz and Klaus Janson

“Readers Rampage”

While I have mixed feelings that Marvel University is winding down in a month or so, I will say that I have had my fill of this lousy magazine. Look, the Moon Knight backups have boasted some very nice art and the Hulk main stories, including this one, have often featured the incredible inks of my man Alfredo Alcala. But this book has been giving me a headache in my eye recently and I’m limping to the finish line half blind and holding my aching head. An obvious example why? In his one-page editorial, editor Rick Marschall suggests that any reader who hasn’t finished high school read the La Salle Extension University ad on the back cover. Oy vey.

The 39-page “The Biggest Game” is a hot mess. Valerie returns from last issue and tells Bruce Banner that her ex-husband, Jason Strack, a gamekeeper at an African wildlife preserve, has a powerful tranquilizer he uses on the animals: they remain completely conscious but perfectly calm. So even though she has already double-crossed him once, Bruce agrees to fly to the Dark Continent with Valerie to check out the drug. Why does she want to help? Who knows. First she says she wants revenge since the Hulk killed her brother. Then she says she actually wants to help Banner. Later Valerie says she hopes Bruce is killed to release him from his curse. Moench doesn’t seem to be sure himself so why should I care?

Anyways, Jason Strack is a real a-hole. He uses his position to hold illegal hunting expeditions of the elephants and rhinos he is supposed to protect — the animals are fattened up and drugged to make them easy kills. His rich, white clients head home with ivory horns as their prize, leaving the rotting corpses behind. Strack also runs guns to a group of rampaging rebels. Plus, he treats his mentally-challenged brother Dimi like a schmuck. So when his hated ex Valerie calls and says she’s arriving with Bruce Banner — aka the Hulk — he grumbles but eventually sees the opportunity to finally hunt the most dangerous game alive. After Banner arrives and is slipped a shot of adrenalin, his awesome alter ego is unleashed and bounds off into the jungle. Jason and a few of his men  — including Yeboa, an undercover agent for the government — head out after the angry brute, the slimy warden armed with an elephant gun, rocket launcher and hand grenades.

After a friendly encounter with Dimi and his friend, a chimp named, groan, Cheetah, the green goliath soon comes across a herd of rhinoceroses. Strack fires a shot at the Hulk and accidentally hits one of the massive ungulates instead: it angrily attacks the gamma-radiated brute and they battle back and forth. Too evenly matched, both eventually give up and tramp away. Strack opens up with his arsenal once again and finally brings down his prey with the rocket launcher. After the Hulk is locked in an elephant cage, Dimi approaches to free “the green guy” — Jason shoots him in the back. Furious, Jade Jaws bursts out of his pen. But before he can take his revenge on the murdering warden, Strack is shot and killed by Yeboa.

Sigh. I left a bunch of stuff out of my synopsis because it would have just slowed me down. There are two other gunrunners in the story — Strack gives them his shotgun’s double-barrel when they attempt a double-cross. And there’s a white guy in a pith helmet named Dreesen who lurks around in the shadows and speaks with Yeboa from time to time. It he a government agent? Another game warden? It’s never explained. And, as I mentioned, Valerie’s motivations are unclear. Plus, she’s completely forgotten after Banner Hulks out. Was this a statement about the illegal ivory trade? An anti-hunting manifesto? Or was Moench commenting on how the white man meddles with the black man’s world? Again, I don’t care. 

The art runs from impressive to lousy. The elephants and rhinos look great, wonderfully enhanced by Alcala’s painstakingly inked wrinkles. But it’s hard to tell many of the characters apart. If I was engaged at all, things might have gotten confusing. And the rhino fight was just goofy. At one point, Hulk rips up a huge chunk of earth and the charging animal tumbles inside the hole. But the Marvelcolor is bright and brilliant as usual. Basically, Moench’s idea was to have Bruce Banner travel to Africa so that the Hulk could fight an … evil big game hunter. Yawn. 

Now while the oddly titled, 15-page “Nights Born Ten Years Ago” looks great, the plot is as thin as Moon Knight’s cape. The Hatchet-Man, a masked maniac who only wears pajama bottoms, has murdered nine nurses in New York City. Jake Lockley visits his snitch Crawley who reveals that the police are hiding the fact that the killer has vowed to strike every night until he “gets Lisa and her lover.” Lockley is shocked as he now knows who the Hatchet-Man is: Rand, an associate of his mercenary persona, Marc Spector. Ten years ago, Rand betrayed Spector to a communist faction — after a three-day chase across the Italian countryside, a well-tossed grenade seriously injured the traitor. While recovering in a hospital, Rand escaped after killing a nurse — he then murdered Spector’s lover, Lisa.

That night at Steven Grant’s mansion, Moon Knight prepares for the hunt — against his objections, Marlene comes along, dressed in a nurse’s uniform and serving as bait. While the plan works and the Hatchet-Man is flushed out, not only is Marlene accidentally shot by a nervous cop, the crazed killer buries his hand-axe in her back before he makes his escape. Cradling her body, Moon Knight screams out the Hatchet-Man’s name, Randall Spector, his brother.

Not really much happens in the first half of this two-part tale. There are a lot of flashbacks interspersed throughout, telling the tale of Randall Spector, which is very loosey goosey. It’s not really explained why being injured by his brother’s hand grenade turns Rand into a homicidal maniac. Now I guess you can say that it’s a bit of a cheat that Moonie — in his Steven Grant persona — doesn’t mention that the Hatchet-Man is his brother when telling the background to Marlene. However, the big reveal on the last panel is very effective and unexpected. Moon Knight’s dialogue is pretty dramatic: “This time I’ll hunt you down like a mad dog, Randall Spector, and this time the tie of blood will be broken! Say your prayers to our mother in her grave, Rand … for tonight you die, my brother!” Not sure why the Hatchet-Man only wears pajama bottoms when stalking his latest victim. And the second page shows him buying his distinctive fright mask at a novelty store in Times Square. However, he had the exact same one when he killed the first nurse ten years earlier. 

While Janson’s heavy brush is not as good a match for Sienkiewicz as the strong lines of Bob McLeod, the art is fine, suitably gloomy for such a dark tale. Looks like this story will conclude next issue, the last on the curriculum. Thank Jebus. -Tom Flynn

 (Moon Knight):  Proving again that nothing is sacred, and clearly enabling them to cram in the two-parter that will round out the blog, reprint editor Bob Budiansky expunged the splash page of #18, indeed any transition between halves, from Moon Knight Special Edition #2; guess it wasn’t that special.  The Moenkiewicz team would appear to have found its perfect inker in Janson, although he’s actually only on the strip for an intermittent handful of issues.  I always have mixed feelings about such tales:  a long-lost brother (or the like) seems to be a no-brainer to amp up the suspense and drama quotients, also augmenting our hero’s backstory, yet the fact that we’ve never heard anything about Rand before robs his appearance of any context for the reader. -Matthew Bradley

 Howard the Duck? 1
Cover Art by Gary Hallgren

"Fowl of Fear! Chapter One"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Mike Golden and Klaus Janson

"Chapter Two: The $64,000 Desperado!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Gene Colan and Bob McLeod

"Chapter Three: From Hell It Cometh...
The Chair-Thing!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Gene Colan and Dave Simons

A flat tire on the interstate puts Howard, Bev, and Bev’s Uncle Lee on the doorstep of Fairer Fowl Farms, where they are unexpected guests of – Mr Chicken!  Their host (clad in a fully-feathered chicken suit, complete with splayed-toed feet and a prosthetic beak) has found fulfillment “in the breeding of the most perfectly developed fowl ever to be served up to America’s dinner tables!”  But when he sends our heroes to the Henhouse, Lee escapes thru a window.  Howard watches helplessly as a machine attempts to “pluck” Bev; she tries to evade the devices, finally snatching and smashing the prodding arms.  Howard finds a way to fire eggs at Mr Chicken, catching him multiple times in the face, until Lee roars thru the wall with his Plymouth Valiant (by the way, Lee had found a farmer with a spare tire).  As they make their escape, Howard has never been happier to make it safely back to “sweet home Cleveland!”  Lee offers him work with his new taxi service; Howard initially balks once he realizes Lee’s mechanic is Claude Starkowitz, the unbalanced young man who built Howard’s non-invincible Iron Duck armor for his final battle with Dr Bong (in the slightly historic HtD #31).  Howard relents and takes the test for a hack license, as he realizes he and Bev have to make a living – somehow; now that they’ve found their way back together, he doesn’t want to lose Bev again.  Howard’s first drive around town (Claude has equipped the cab to allow 2’ 7” Howard to reach the pedals) is interrupted when he crosses the route of the Cleveland Marathon.  
Bev (riding with Howard) recognizes the lead runner, Cleft Chin, right before he pitches onto the cab’s hood, apparently drugged.  Bev wants Howard to drive Chin to the finish, to compensate for the unfair way he’s been taken out of the race, when they encounter Jackpot, the One-Armed Bandit (so named due to his having bet an arm and a leg and losing, managing to get away with the loss of the left arm only), who has bet on Chin’s competitor to win.  Jackpot spews a pile of coins in Howard’s path (there is a slot mounted over his mouth, with two feeder tubes), sticking the cab in place.  Howard jumps on Jackpot, yanks his right arm, and causes all the coins to spill out; Jackpot is left gasping in the road as Howard and Bev drive Chin to the win.  Later that evening, Howard is waiting for his fare outside a department store, when a flying cash register wallops his cab, hard enough to knock it forward into the taxi parked in front of him.  The irate driver threatens to wreck Howard’s vehicle in retaliation; in the ensuing fracas, Howard nearly is arrested, when his fare – a famous Hollywood spectacle-producer named Dino Digitalis – returns, and insists that Howard be released.  
Digitalis goes two steps further, as he offers Howard the lead in his new film, and Bev a co-starring role; it seems his accountant recommended filming in Cleveland, and hiring a diminutive actor – someone around, say, 2’ 7”.  Bev leads Howard back to their new apartment, where they are ambushed by – the Kidney Lady (Bev had not recognized her in the near-dark when she agreed to rent the space)!  The KL reports she has arcane powers, and has been plotting Howard’s end (sorry – couldn’t resist) since she detected his arrival thru the dimensional distortion that brought Howard here, months ago.  The KL tries to trap Howard in her black-magical Chair-Thing, but Howard foils this as a stogie-ash sets the chair afire.  The KL withstands a full-on fowl flurry, then douses the Chair-Thing (which has been calling for “Help!” as it burns) with water, returning it to a regular chair; she then zaps herself and the chair out of the apartment, vowing revenge!  Their abrupt departure is offset by the arrival of Winda and Paul (Paul has been in some sort of trance since he woke from his coma in the Skudge PA hospital …).  They share a mattress on the living room floor, as Howard and Bev retreat to the bedroom, for a little inter-species action (be sure to cover the tender eyes of young readers!).
The longer format doesn’t necessarily work to Howard’s advantage, as the magazine basically is made up of encounters with three different (bizarre) villains; any one of these “chapters” would’ve been fine as a stand-alone 17-page Howard story.  Mantlo gets Howard’s caustic view, but little of his humor, and none of his irony (yes folks, there’s only one Gerber).  The best art-moments are during the chaotic fight with Kidney Lady and her Chair-Thing (p 58-60), but Golden and Colan deserve credit, respectfully, for their ridiculous Mr Chicken (p 10) and Jackpot (p 34).  If there’s any clear advantage to the magazine format, it’s a (long-awaited) view of a half-nude Bev (p 63), and Howard’s fourth-wall violation as he reaches for the light and asks us, “Well, what are you lookin’ at?”  -Chris Blake

The Tomb of Dracula 1

Cover Art by Bob Larkin

"Black Genesis"

Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Bob McLeod

"The Newest Dracula"

Text by Jason Thomas

"Love at First Bite"

Text by Tom Rogers

"Legend: According to the Movies Part 1:

How to Find and Destroy a Vampire"
Text by Tom Rogers  

The Count starts his brief second (Marvel) life as the b&w magazine format The Tomb of Dracula debuts. Fans (those who could find it) will feel right at home, as long-time co-creators Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan (with Bob McLeod pinch-hitting for Tom Palmer at the ink pot) pick up where they left off in TOD #70, with Dracula dead, decomposed, and buried in the rubble of his own castle after Quincy Harker blew them both up. Before Drac's skeleton shows up on p.16, we've met the following: an old Arab, Gholem Yazsi, who follows a falling meteorite to an empowered green space gem, which he grabs to his hand-burning regret; an unnamed woman who slips a "a faintly green-glowing jeweled ring" from the finger of her dead wizard husband and slips it on her own; Sandy, a woman scorned who responds by going full Mr. Goodbar, with diminishing returns; David, a low-rent promoter who hires Sandy just in time for her to co-host his sparsely-booked, European "Tour of the Supernatural"; Alan and Betty Gold, jeans-clad honeymooners, show up the cruise ship docks, to little purpose, as does the no longer unnamed Lady Ebers, wearing a green glowing ring. 

At sea, the newly-chaste Sandy rebuffs Dave's advances. The tours reaches Transylvania, where Lady E unearths Drac's bones, removes the silver spike from Harker's wheelchair, and the Count is once again among the "living" undead. He puts the chomp on Betty, but is distracted from draining her, and the one tourist with the foresight to have packed a crucifix gets crunched by the Count under a heavy beam from the tumble-down castle. Drac focuses his hypno-mojo on Sandy, but Lady Ebers commands his attention and the two of them transport away...although to where we never learn, but it was presumably to discuss space jewels.

QUICK CUT TO Betty, on the mend in a back-in-England hospital bed, then Drac sends rats to break in on Sandy and David, who are sharing a hotel room, if not a bed. While they nibble on Dave, the Count has under-his-spell Sandy strip down to the buff, but bleeding Dave pulls the Bible from a bedside table (and makes a mental note to send a check to the Gideons!), which drives Drac away, flapping out the window. He meets Lady Ebers at a bridge by Big Ben. We get a history of the space gem, then the pair transports to a mosque somewhere in the Mid-East, where she retrieves the rest of the gem, then transport them to the home she still shares with her dead wizard hubby. She brings him back to life, but he's still half-decomposed, and Lady E (whose first name's Florence, we finally learn on p.38)  plans to finish the job by infusing him with Drac's life essence. But half-dead hubby wants the gem for himself! A three-way fracas ensues, with Lady E destroying the stone to keep it from the Count, starting the fire in which she and half-dead hubby both perish. 

We check in with Sandy & Dave, visiting Betty in the hospital. Strolling back to their hotel, Sandy's still giving Dave the cold shoulder; now she's unnerved by falling under the Count's spell. Frustrated Dave goes down to the docks, where he's attacked by Drac, who, having a spot of fun, drives his intended victim back to the hotel. Mounting the fire escape, Dave crashes through the (newly repaired) window into their room, and this time its Sandy who uses the bible (another check for the Gideons!) to send Drac packin' for good. Tending to the wounded Dave, Sandy decides that he's a keeper after all.

There's a text piece of Hollywood's then-lastest Dracula, Frank Langella, and celluloid Counts of the past. Another about George Hamilton showing fang for laughs in Love At First Bite. And a final article about how to kill vampires, according to the movies. Did I read every word of these essays? Should Dean Peter ask, of course I did!

Pretty happy with how the color TOD had wrapped with double-sized issue #70, I was quite prepared to ignore the very existence of this short-lived "adult magazine" resurrection. But when the Dean calls with a hint that our beloved covered parking spaces are for volunteers only, I volunteer! 

While there's pleasure to be had here, I'm struck by how this long-form, forty-five-page "epic" takes what was a major strength in the comic version and turns it into  a weakness, namely the warm-blooded cast interacting with our fearsome fanger. There's a brief, go-nowhere cameo by Inspector Chelm for long-time fans, but the tourists are a group of loss luggage. Nudniks and null-entities, to the degree that Sandy calls Dave "Gary" on p. 21; if Wolfman can't remember his own characters, what's the poor reader to do? Even Sandy's early bout of promiscuity - including brief nudity to take advantage of the "adult" format - still manages to be maybe half as sexy as Gene Colan's Black Widow or Clea.

The irony, of course, is that Wolfman's transitory bit-players in TOD were often masterpieces in miniature, offering rich, lived-in lives, usually in only two or three pages before they either succumbed to or escaped Drac's fangs. Those characters regularly  gave TOD a startling jolt of reality, and so it's puzzling that, given a more expansive canvas, Wolfie craps out here. From dead-wizard loving Florence Ebers on down, our cast gets more banal by the page. And the leaden, space gem okey-doke doesn't help. 

In his defense, Marv pretty much swept the playing board clean in the four-color finale. Quincy Harker dead. Drac's really bi-polar son Janus finally split into his component parts of goo-gooing infant and heavenly avenger. Domini is still out there, we imagine, with goo-goo Janus, but Daddy Drac spares nary a thought for wife or child here.

It all looks good, of course. Gene Colan rarely disappoints, and doesn't here, but pinch-inker Bob McLeod is hardly as simpatico as the absent Tom Palmer. Still, McLeod generally - and wisely - treads lightly here, but the cheap printing did nothing to enhance the often washed-out looking art. Martin Goodman may be long gone, but his business practices remain. The generic cover is another crank of the sausage grinder, schlock horror-Harlequin Romance art and nothing suggesting a connection to Marvel Comics.

I'm torn, class. Sure, it's great to see more of this character in these hands, even for such slight effect. So while some might see this as a slog, a forty-five page circle jerk, I disagree and prefer to see it as a week-old slice of pizza in the fridge.

Just remember, it's still pizza. 

-Mark Barsotti