Wednesday, October 19, 2016

March 1979 Part Two: Star Wars! The Return of Darth Vader!

 The Invaders 38
"U-Man Comes to Town!"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Alan Kupperberg, Don Heck, and Chic Stone
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Alan Kupperberg and Joe Sinnott

At an East-Side opticals plant, no sooner have Cap, Namor, the Torch, and the Whizzer trounced a pack of Bundists trying to wrest secret bombsite plans from a loyal German-American than the speedster, on whose mysterious tip they were acting, races to a meeting of the Liberty Legion, pausing to foil a mugging on his way to the Times Building.  He announces his plan to take a leave of absence and work with the Invaders, who are short one man while in the U.S., but Miss America points out that they are also short a woman, and joins him.  At midnight, in Chinatown, a massive figure emerges from the water, steals a trenchcoat from a department-store window, and travels furtively (past the establishment of “Stan Lee”) to the House of Lotus.

It is Meranno, in the grip of an irresistible force, revealed as Lady Lotus after U-Man has proven his power against three of her samurai warriors; with her psychic abilities, she uses a crystal ball to show him their Kid Commando target, Golden Girl.  The next night, the quintet (“we’re all a bunch of winners, aren’t we?”) leaves “Floyd Bennet [sic] Field” in the repaired flagship to investigate espionage in San Diego, dropping Cap and the Torch off in LA. to visit their former sidekicks, whom Lady Lotus—also en route—has divined will foil a group of Japanese saboteurs on Santa Monica Pier.  Once they have done so, U-Man leaps from the water, easily downs the three male Commandos and abducts Gwenny Lou, soon to be “a loyal comrade of Lady Lotus!” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: As the wife would say, a lot goin’ on here.  I’m diggin’ that cover, combining one of my favorite colors (magenta) for the background with the work of my nominee for Greatest Inker of All Time (Sinnott, duh).  The dual-illustrators credit tips us off that we are apparently still using up pages Heck drew for the Liberty Legion mag-that-wasn’t, and as a Thrifty New Englander—read:  “cheap bastard”—I applaud that.  Are they brilliant?  No.  But despite the knocks he takes in the faculty lounge, not all of which I’d contest, I must say that while seeking the earliest use of “Avengers Mansion” recently, I reviewed countless scans of his first TOD on the Assemblers (1964-67).  It was like meeting an old friend, part of what made that my long-term favorite book.

I’ve already started tolling the bell for the many titles that won’t outlive the blog, and this is one of those I will miss the most, especially when it hasn’t been that long since we finally entered the post-Robbins era.  Neither Kupperberg nor inker Stone—leaving no doubt who penciled which pages, even if the characters depicted weren’t a giveaway—is consistently excellent, but they do quite a satisfactory job here, and certainly blow the Two Franks out of the water.  “Guest writer” Glut plays ringmaster of this ever-fluctuating cast:  the Falsworths join, and then are sidelined; Bucky and Toro split off to spearhead the Kid Commandos, and then return; Miss America and the Whizzer temporarily switch teams to form the de facto All-Winners (hyphen optional) Squad.

Mark Barsotti: How come "The Nazi From Atlantis" never made it to TV?

And when did Germans start pronouncing "Fatherland" as Vatherland? What's that, Forbush? On the first page? Very good. When did you start paying attention?

Would that we weren't, what with Don Glut peddling nonsense like American Bundists, dressed like businessmen, invading a war plant like strike-busters. Surely we're not so action-starved that we need to see the 'Vaders taking down a handful of Ratzis with clubs, let alone four pages of it. 

Glut pre-birthing the name "All-Winners" for the post-war supes is a nice touch. Lady Lotus is both a real looker in her Mata Hari-cathouse dress and an intriguing psi-powered new villainess. U-Man's back to muscle-up the opposition, and beyond that, there's not much to recommend this one.

 The Invincible Iron Man 120
"The Old Man and the Sea Prince!"
Story by Bob Layton and David Michelinie
Art by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Bob Layton

Tony is reviewing recent events during a four-martini Paris-to-JFK flight when a tank soaring through the air severs the wing, forcing him to oust an irate old lady (of whom we have not seen the last) from the lavatory to armor up.  After he assists the 747 to a water landing, nearby Special Forces PT boats rescue the survivors; asked if their “maneuvers” include a flying tank, Lt. Grange brings IM to his C.O.  The government has been using an uncharted South Atlantic island for dumping high-intensity radioactive wastes, yet when they arrived on a top-secret mission to bury a new shipment, they were surprised by the appearance of not only Hiram Dobbs, but also a Sub-Mariner inexplicably determined to keep the crotchety homesteader there.

Privately hoping they’ll take each other out, the captain of the U.S.S. Anderson persuades IM to talk to Namor, who’d inadvertently downed the 747, but Subby is no more reasonable than usual, and Shellhead’s reflexes are dulled by alcohol.  As they battle, Dobbs peppers IM with rocket bullets, distracting him just long enough for Namor to plunge them into his element; meanwhile, Rhodey and Bethany race to Tony’s aid in a jetcopter.  Sapping Namor’s strength with heat from a power pod, IM gets him to back off, little dreaming that he’s being manipulated by one Mr. Hammer from somewhere in the Mediterranean, and learning from lackey Philip that Phase I was successful, he launches Phase II as the plexiglass shields in IM’s faceplate open to admit water… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Despite co-starring in that legendary “leftovers” one-shot, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner, these two have fought many times—e.g., Moondragon’s debut in #54—yet the MARMIS here seems more contrived and gratuitous than most.  Michelayton’s efforts to service the new supporting cast also raise such questions as why, if Rhodey has “been with the man ever since ’Nam,” we’ve never heard of him before, or why Bethany is so devoted to a guy she appears to have met only twice.  The other thing that leaps out at me about this issue is the fact that the author of Shellhead’s current woes is…Grand Moff Tarkin?  No, but surely it’s no coincidence that Justin Hammer is a dead ringer for Peter Cushing, famed (pre-Star Wars) as a mainstay of England’s Hammer Films.

Once again, I appreciate Layton—who also provided the okay cover—more for his collaboration with penciler Romita Jr. than with scripter Michelinie on the plot; his finished art has, for lack of a better word, a kind of intricacy that at its best reminds me of Pérez.  And, as with the recent Helicarrier sequences, some of the most effective are those that do not feature the obligatory super-hero-vs.-super-villain (or, in this case, super-hero-vs.-super-anti-hero) smackdown, even if I have no specific complaints about this one.  The scenes of Shellhead aiding crippled aircraft, or duking it out with Soviet military ones, always have a lot of pizzazz, but so do smaller moments such as Tony struggling against the incline in the aisle of the plummeting 747 in page 7, panel 3.

Chris Blake: It’s not a MARMIS at all; no misunderstanding to cloud the atmosphere that separates our adversaries.  No, what we have are two mighty individuals, each angry about something; Namor’s agenda isn’t quite clear yet, but we can tell from Tony’s internal observations he’s frustrated by recent attacks, including SHIELD’s attempt to take over the corporation, and that any possible control of his emotional state is compromised by his recent alcohol intake.  Dave Michelinie hasn’t made Tony’s drinking a focus of a story yet, but even if Tony doesn’t notice it yet, we notice how it’s becoming more problematic for him.

On a lighter note, after being thrown out of the helicarrier, and now knocked from the sky by a flying tank (I didn’t know Namor could throw a multi-ton tank five miles into the sky …), it’d be hard to blame Tony if he never left the house – and especially, if he never left the ground – without wearing his armor. Also, it’s a good thing Michelinie never sought work as an air-traffic controller, since there’s no good reason why a Paris-New York flight should wind up over an unchartered south Atlantic island, right -?  

 John Carter, Warlord of Mars 22
"The Master Assassin of Mars, Chapter 7:
Climb to Freedom"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Mike Vosburg and Ricardo Villamonte
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum (?) and Rudy Nebres

With guns unknown in Karanthor, Carter has pretended that his radium pistol was a harmless ornament, and it proves to be the ace in the hole he had hoped; grabbing it from the padwar holding his belongings, yet not wanting to kill his comrades from the Ptothian war, he fires above their heads and flees with Dejah amid the panic.  They retrieve his cache of supplies and improvised climbing equipment, but before they can begin their ascent, the winged warriors are upon them.  After Dejah scatters his men with the pistol, and John leaps up the base of the cliff with her on his back, Gar Karus calls off the pursuit, certain that they will die in the attempt to scale the wall, which starts in earnest once her shoulder wound is bandaged.

Forced to spend the night roped to the rock on a tiny ledge, John passes the time regaling Dejah with tales of climbing in the Alps, Rockies, and Himalayas, including a failed assault on Everest; the next day’s progress, slowed by hurricane winds and Dejah’s loss of blood, almost ends when John must battle a white ape with his short-sword, afraid to risk an avalanche.  They spend a day recovering in a cave as John tells Dejah of Virginia, imagining her as the belle of the ball, and at the end of the fourth day they finally reach the top.  There, they find her crippled flier (separated from his in #16), but no sooner has Dejah refreshed herself and announced that she will continue her mission than an airship interrupts their playful duel—ordering them to surrender to the guild! -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Following the spirited halftime show by Tal Ent and his all-Thark band (playing two instruments apiece, natch), the third quarter of “The Master Assassin of Mars”—now with assassins!—kicks  off with brand-new penciler Vosburg and inker Villamonte, the latter having made his less-than-stellar Marvel debut on MTU #69.  The V2 team, which will remain in place for the next three issues, makes a very impressive first showing, to which my only serious objection is this:  are we really expected to believe that a Barsoomian radium pistol, shown in close-up in page 2, panel 4, would look indistinguishable from a Jasoomian revolver?  But I quibble, and after three months of sketchy Springer inks, or none at all, their far more polished look is a welcome change indeed.

Page 10 is exemplary:  the vertical panels epitomize the ascent that is this chapter’s focus, while allowing Mike and Ric to show off their impressive physiques of both genders, and it must be said that Dejah’s incomparability has lost nothing in the Colón-to-Vosburg transition.  My eyes also widened when I turned to page 22 and was confronted, like Carter, by that towering white ape in all its ferocity; ERB often observed that they were the one thing the green Martians feared.  Page 11, panel 4, as Carter helps Dejah—her barely clad derrière again peeking out beneath her fur garment—onto the narrow ledge that will be their bedroom, against the stunning backdrop of a Martian sunset, is also impressive, as is the flashback (albeit anachronistic) in page 14, panel 3.

Karanthor is a nice place to visit (at least for readers, if not our long-suffering couple), but since this is “The Master Assassin of Mars,” I experienced qualified relief that the guild has re-entered the picture.  I say “qualified” because their doing so literally minutes after Dejah vows to resume her mission against them is but one of two last-minute coincidences that would’ve made me groan even in a Burroughs book, the other being the oh-so-convenient discovery of Dejah’s flier.  And while Claremont doesn’t go completely out of control by having Carter be the first to climb Everest, our friends at Wikipedia tell us that even the possibility of doing so was first suggested by Clinton Thomas Dent in his 1885 book Above the Snow Line…a good decade after this story.

Chris: Claremont reminds us how mega-powered heroes and villains (or even super-strong Cimmerian sinews) aren’t required to have an entertaining four-color tale.  To achieve the highest degree of drama, Claremont takes his time and devotes nearly ten pages (including two pages of the stakes-raising clash with the great white ape) to the eight-mile climb.  A different scripter might’ve been impatient to move along to the next chapter, and summed-up the climb in a few panels on one page; instead, Claremont exposes us to the pains and perils Carter and Dejah share over their exhausting four-day escape.  Claremont includes all sorts of details to heighten our appreciation of their difficulty, from Dejah’s recent blood loss (from the arrow to her shoulder in JCWoM #21) and her nearly-useless court slippers, to Carter’s bone-weariness from his fight with the banth (also last issue) to his bloodied fingers from “scratching hand-holds in the rock,” as they reach “the end of [their] endurance” moments before they discover – to their joy and relief – there is no more rock to climb.  

Mike Vosburg and Ricardo Villamonte do an adequate job; either Villamonte has learned something, or he’s simply been off his game in his first year’s-worth of embellishment assignments, but his finishes here are far more acceptable.  Pages 10-11 are among their best moments, as Carter and Dejah push themselves to a ledge in the final moments of Day 1, with the sun visibly fading on the far horizon.  We see Carter and Dejah each in their own long panel, with the pair visible in one very narrow panel between them, which helps to suggest how far they’ve come, still with no end in sight far above.   

 The Man Called Nova 24
"The New Champions!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Mike Esposito
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Joe Rubinstein

The Sphinx talks down to Dr. Sun, the self-proclaimed "world's only human computer," telling him he's there to discover the secret inside the Nova-Prime ship that would give him "the power ultimate." Nova wakes up and tries to battle Sphinx, but the confident one wants nothing to do with the "mere infant," instead taking knowledge from the ship's computers and telling a dumbfounded Dr Sun he's returning the ship to its home galaxy. Back on Earth, Comet searches the skies for Nova and is blasted from behind by The Crime-Buster and his snazzy little Crime-Pod. After a brief tussle, Crime-Buster reveals he was testing the AARP-card carrying Comet, then reveals his identity—he's Comet's son, Frank! Turns out he was lifted away by the fateful explosion, and vowed vengeance on the villains of the underworld, determined to follow in his father's footsteps. Comet uses his "Electron Search Grid" to pick up Nova's wavelength, just as Nova is sent by Sphinx to find Powerhouse in London, where the absorbing adversary regains his memories, his powers, and his ability to use "force" against the Human Rocket. As Nova manages to break through and wallop Powerhouse, Comet and Crime-Buster show up, and all four are whisked away to the Nova-Ship. Sphinx shows Powerhouse some star coordinates, which the lunk recognizes as his home planet… and the ship and Nova's costume as being from his home world! Suddenly, aboard the Crime-Pod, the dastardly Diamondhead slithers out to join the fun!--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Another Marvel Misleading Cover (MMC). Well, slightly misleading. Sure, Nova, Comet, and Crime-Buster end up facing the Sphinx—but who the heck are the two spacesuit-clad aliens battling the heroic trio? Nowhere to be found inside, that's who! And would Sphinx need any assistance against these three clowns anyway? Heck no… but he can sure take an insult, as Nova calls him "Rock-Head" and "Gray-Face" on page 3, only to be shrugged off by the mighty multi-colored one. Later, Nova adds "Rock-Face" which makes him sound like a bully who can't think of anything new when insulting a freshman. With the usual so-so Infantino art, finished here by Esposito for some reason, Sphinx is more stodgy and more arrogant than ever, fortunately pushing Dr. Sun to a second robot-banana role, while revitalizing Powerhouse to learn he's really from the Nova planet, which is a shock to everyone. Is this genius or grasping at straws by Marv? Luckily (I guess…) on the letters page, Marv explains to the reader that changes are coming to Nova, as they are introducing "The New Champions," and this prologue to "Worlds' War One" will take us into the pages of The Fantastic Four, as well as "to the world of NOVA-PRIME, to the Skrull galaxy, and to a frightening conclusion you have to read to believe." He almost sounds like he's begging the "Nova-dislikers" to become "Novaphiles," even throwing in "NOVA's longevity is something special to behold." Not so fast there, Marv…

Blue Blazes counter stands at one, on page 3, as Nova wakes up and spots the Sphinx. "Holy Crap" or "Really?!?!" would also have sufficed. Actually, it's two since I shouted a heartfelt "Blue Blazes" when I realized there's only one more issue of Nova left! Yay for me!! Not so much for the ever-optimistic writer-editor Marv.

Chris: "How about explaining all this, rock-face?  I'm getting impatient!"  Well, gee willikers Nova, but I'm with you.  Marv Wolfman gushes about the great excitement brewing in the Marvel offices over his supposed mind-blowing thirteen-part epic ("the likes of which you just won't believe," he claims); but then, he doesn't bother laying groundwork until the last page or two.  Well Marv, you realize this is now a bi-monthly mag, meaning it’ll be two months until the next Nova hits the stands, so maybe it’s not the best idea to squander at least six pages on pointless battling between four of our characters, all of whom wind up pulled aboard the Nova-Prime craft by the Sphinx (which tells us there had not been any reason at all to send Nova on an errand to Earth to retrieve Powerhouse).  It’s time to be especially efficient with the space you have, and refrain from padding pages, if there’s any chance for readers possibly to share in the self-reported bullpenners’ enthusiasm. 

I might've disliked Wolfman's Nova a lot less if I hadn’t disagreed with nearly every decision he made for this title.  Wolfman turned his back on Nova’s best character, the Sphinx, and instead signed up Mr Bullethead for the empty exercise with SHIELD against the Yellow Claw; that move might’ve contributed more than any other to this title’s doom.  Editor Wolfman should’ve directed writer Wolfman to reconnect Nova with his space-based origins a lot sooner – say, before the end of Nova's first year of publication.  Wolfman goes on (again, on the letters page) about how Nova needed time to grow, learn about his powers, etc; that's fine, and it would've been a lot more tolerable way out here, far far away from mid-terms and ice cream sundaes and such.   The process of re-reading these issues has done nothing to change my opinion.  Fortunately, this is the last issue I own of Nova; they aren't coming out of the box ever again – unless, that is, I leave them outside the night before recycling is picked up.
Matthew: Apparently the axe falls abruptly on some of the condemned titles, but was one ever cut down in as untimely a fashion as Nova will be, after unveiling its ambitious plans in this penultimate issue’s lettercol?  Worse, the Pollard/Nebres teaser at the bottom dangles the prospect of that “whole new look” with something better than the usual Carmine train wreck, which Joe on the cover (where they don’t even bother suckering us in with real art) and Mike inside were unable to prevent.  Marv’s “New Champions” are hardly, uh, stellar, and I don’t know how much of this—if any—he had in mind when introducing the Comet and Crimebuster, yet I still like how he built on his own Condor/Diamondhead/Powerhouse/Sphinx ensemble cast.

 Marvel Team-Up 79
Spider-Man and Red Sonja in
"Sword of the She-Devil"
Story by John Byrne and Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by John Byrne and Terry Austin

Having “lost track of time up at Cissy’s” (more on her another time, it seems) on the winter solstice, Spidey webs past the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where security guard Gus Hovannes is compelled by moonlight hitting a black amulet to shatter its display case.  Now a grad-school physics major, Peter arrives at a Bugle Christmas party where Clark Kent can be seen among the guests, Carol Danvers’ firing is being discussed, and M.J. ambushes him with mistletoe.  Non-drinkers Peter and Charley Snow are sent by Robbie to the Met, only to find that M.J. has tagged along in the back seat, and discover a crimson energy-beam shooting up from the museum, prompting Pete to pull his disappearing act, but M.J., although scared, heads inside.

Seeing Spidey beset by monsters, she’s drawn to a glowing sword from the “Hyborean [sic] Age,” grasps it, and is transformed into “Red Sonja, She-Devil of the Hyrkanian Steppes,” whose old enemy Kulan Gath, the sorcerous high priest of the N’Garai in a really tall hat, is responsible.  The language barrier kicks in when Spidey yanks her to the ceiling as Kulan Gath is “about to throw a zap” and, understandably thinking him a demon, she hits his head with her hilt, resulting in a fall that knocks them both out.  They awaken pinioned, and Kulan Gath—whose spell lets them understand him, if not each other—explains that sacrificing them to the “glop” reaching out of the sa’arpool below them will open up the gateway to the home dimension of the Elder Gods.

As Sonja cut out his heart, he transferred his soul into the amulet until a “unique juxtaposition of occult forces” enabled him to secure a host body; Spidey recognizes it as one of the artifacts for which a wing of the museum was remodeled as an Egyptian temple.  He manages to free them both and cave in the roof, sealing the second of three sa’arpools (after Claremont’s Giant-Size Dracula #2), and once Sonja retrieves her sword, he hopes to retreat and reach Dr. Strange, but a wrathful Kulan Gath heads them off.  When Spidey’s leap carries them outside, the unfamiliar surroundings shock the sorcerer, enabling Spidey to deck him and remove the amulet, and both hosts having returned to normal, Peter resists its evil lure, hurling it from the Staten Island Ferry.  -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: As one who was raised atheist and converted to agnosticism, I regard the human female form as the single greatest argument in favor of God’s existence, a fact of which I was reminded when I turned to page 14 (right).  With Conan having “Walked the Earth Today” (well, ’77) in What If?, I sorta hope they’ve gotten all this 20th-century-Hyborian stuff out of their system, yet while leaving it to Professor Tom et al. to assess it as a Sonja story, I enjoyed this issue, which not only reunites Chris and John on MTU, but also sees them co-plotting amid the entire Austyrne/Orzechowein X-Men dream team.  Using M.J. as a host for That Other Redhead is inspired, and Kulan Gath—scary-looking despite his somewhat outlandish headgear—ties this in with Claremont’s N’Garai.

Chris: It’s a strange coincidence, isn’t it, that one month after the long-delayed “Conan in New York” feature finally runs in What If? #13, we have a visit from Red Sonja as well.  X-fans have given Claremont all sorts of credit for his portrayal of strong women in that mag, so it should come as no surprise for Claremont to be interested in a story built around Sonja.  Naturally, Byrne & Austin make her look fabulously fine (p 16 says it all; the moment is nearly marred by Milgrom’s needless, clumsy box on the bottom of the page, to plug Sonja’s bi-monthly mag), and the nasty creatures look great too (p 11-15).  I only wish co-plotters Claremont & Byrne had devised a more active role for her; Spidey controls nearly all the action, and has to rescue Sonja no fewer than three times.  I realize Red is at a disadvantage, since she’s only recently found herself in our foul-smelling reality, but still – there should have been a meaningful way for her to contribute to Kulan Gath’s defeat.

It’s a clever device to have Sonja’s spirit (somehow) contained within her sword, so that she can (inexplicably) spring back to this mortal plane in response to a threat.  My question is: how does Mary Jane become involved in this story from the start?  Peter isn’t the only one surprised to see her at the Bugle Christmas party – what is she doing here?  My working theory is that Claremont had plotted this idea months before, prior to Pete’s proposal and MJ’s turn-down of same, and wound up making minimal changes to ensure MJ would be on hand, so she would hear the call of the ancient blade in the glass case.  
Tom Flynn: With her own series on death watch, Red Sonja finds herself the unlikely team mate of everybody's favorite webslinger. Listen, there’s black magic involved so suspend your disbelief and just go with it. In all, the story is fairly lightweight but with amazing visuals like these, it matters not a lick. A few things made me laugh. At the Daily Bugle party, Pete turns to see MJ, hip cocked seductively — and, of course, he exclaims “Mary Jane!” We must have seen the same exact panel over eighteen hundred times already. And poor security guard Gus Hovannes complains about the Christmas crowds at the Metropolitan Museum, moaning that they are “Worse than the A train at rush hour.” The entire Ozone Park campus knows what you mean Gus. Now considering that Claremont is famous for plucking obscure characters out of the past, we shouldn’t be surprised by the appearance of Kulan Gath, the Stygian sorcerer from the Elric of Melnibone cross-over in the Conan the Barbarian issues 14 and 15. He was known as Kulan-Gath back then however. Now Byrne has a little experience drawing Red Sonja as he supplied a pin-up for The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #15. Not sure how Sonja can even swing a sword with those huge beach balls in her metal bikini top.

Matthew: You say that like it's a bad thing. 

Joe: Claremont, Byrne, Austin, Orzechowski, Wein, Mary Jane Watson, Red Sonja. Yeah, sign me up! Man, what a gorgeous-looking comic! Two stunning redheads in one issue means this professor is ready for sabbatical! OK, maybe that's an exaggeration, but the crazy story doesn't even matter here. Now, crazy doesn't mean bad, because Claremont makes it all make perfect sense. The amulet that controls people, including the poor old guard. The Charlie Brown reverse sweater worn by Peter. MJ kissing Peter under the mistletoe—Good Grief! Red Sonja's "entrance"—holy cats (to quote Spidey)! Red Sonja's gorgeous flowing locks. Spidey's heroic smarts. Kulan Gath, cousin of the Petrified Man. Sonja name-dropping "a certain Cimmerian" she knows. Peter tossing the amulet away at the tale's end. Just a thoroughly enjoyable issue of MTU that more than makes up for the mediocrity of the past couple. Holy cats, indeed!

 Marvel Two-In-One 49
The Thing and Dr. Strange in
"Curse of Crawlinswood"
Story by Mary Jo Duffy
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Gene Day
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Michael Higgins
Cover by Bob Budiansky and Al Milgrom

Vacationing in New England’s Crawlinsport, “a quiet place where nuthin’ ever happens,” Ben is having no luck with his sonic fishing pole, so Capt. Doyle of the Olive advises him to take a room at Crawlinswood, where he helps Jane Crawlins, whose cousins own the hotel, change a tire by holding her car aloft.  He sees Dr. Strange enter, surprised that the mage does not acknowledge him, but as Maude registers Ben and Lester fetches his luggage, Stephen “Smith” thanks Oshtur that his psychic summons has been answered, while mindful of the need for secrecy.  That evening, Ben hears Jane scream as she walks on the beach, smashing through the wall to save her from a shadowy shape that, once clobbered, appears to be driftwood.

Almost 200 years ago, mystic Ennis Tremellyn, who served the dread god Ahriman, went down in a storm swearing vengeance on the Crawlinses, taking with him the spirit of Kemo, the ship’s Polynesian strongest crewman.  Revived when geologic activity dredged up the wreck, he will be freed by the evil constellation of Satvaharan; Doc summons Ben when Kemo tries to kill “the last descendant of the Marquis of Crawlinsdale,” but can only offer “subtle psychic hints” in his astral form.  With Satvaharan complete, he must devote himself completely to battling Tremellyn on the astral plane, yet left to his own devices, Ben smashes the necklace he thinks is the “robot’s” control box, freeing Kemo’s soul and leaving Tremellyn to Ahriman’s tender mercies. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Some months, one or more names seem ubiquitous in the credits, and this time they converge here:  writer Duffy (Daredevil, Defenders) and inker Day (Avengers, Black Panther, Star Wars), neither distinguishing her- or himself.  In Gene’s case, blame probably belongs with Kupperberg, who despite his manifest inability to draw a proper Thing will have several more MTIO gigs post-blog.  Mary Jo’s leisurely start didn’t bother me at first, because such a supernatural tale—its Crawlinsport/wood names an obvious Dark Shadows nod—requires time to build suspense and atmosphere, yet ultimately it was the same old problem:  when you have only 17 story pages to play with, a deliberately paced beginning almost invariably spells a hasty, unsatisfying ending.

 Master of Kung Fu 74
"Brynocki Triumphant"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and Bruce Patterson
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by Mike Zeck and Terry Austin

Black Jack Tarr is awake in Brynocki’s skull HQ.  He looks thru one of the eyesocket-windows to see Brynocki and Shockwave piloting a giant dragonfly, firing laser bolts as they bear down on Shang-Chi and Leiko Wu.  Tarr pushes a large weapon (playfully labeled “Cannon Zapper”) to the window and cripples the dragonfly with one shot.  Brynocki, out of a sense of loyalty to Shockwave, tries to drag him away from the crash site, but chooses the wiser course of retreat as S-C and Leiko draw near; S-C elects to let the little automaton go, thinking he can do “little harm” without Shockwave.  Shockwave presents his dilemma: he feels obliged to carry out MI-6 orders to kill Shang-Chi and the other former associates of Sir Denis, in part because their unjust deaths will provide Shockwave with cause to return to MI-6 and eliminate his hated handlers.  At Sir Denis’ castle in Scotland, Reston has discovered Melissa’s abduction; since she likely had been carried from the room via a secret passage in the wall, Reston follows the passage.  Reston locates both Melissa and Sir Denis, who in turn had been taken while Reston was searching for Melissa.  Their captor reveals himself to be Ward Sarsfield of MI-6; he announces he has been promoted to spearhead Project: Sinking Ship, which is intended “to flush out the oh-so-important rats.”  

Back at Mordillo Island, Brynocki has overheard Shockwave express his revulsion at his MI-6 assassination assignment, and declares that Shockwave has exposed himself as another “traitor to the crown, just like the rest of them!”  Brynocki orders out his Thug-Drones, and directs them to turn all “warm ones” on the island “into meat!  On the triple!”  The robots’ arrival creates an alliance between Shockwave and his former targets.  Together, they fight the robots as they work their way toward the island’s exterior; thru the battle, Brynocki flies overhead, trying to rally the robots.  They arrive at the island’s edge, and find a cliff rather than a beach.  Shang-Chi agrees with Shockwave’s concern of possible electrocution once he hits the water; S-C proceeds to rip conducting wires free from the back of his armor.  Once in the water, S-C suggests they swim around to a point away from Brynocki’s robots and await their pick-up plane, which isn’t due for a few hours.  There isn’t time to execute the plan, though, as Brynocki arrives (in a wetsuit, armed with a harpoon gun of sorts), and directs his “monstrobot of the deep” to attack!  “Too much happens at once,” S-C reflects, “breath runs short … .” -Chris Blake
Chris: I realize every storyline can’t involve the weighty plots of Fu Manchu, or the emotional turmoil whenever Juliette comes to town, but I’m glad we don’t have these semi-comical stories too often.  Doug Moench chooses well when he elects to keep this one shorter than his usual multi-part stories (this one concludes next issue); he might realize that a little lighter-hearted adventure goes a long way.
As long as we’re having a slightly-silly story, then it’s crucial for Zeck & Patterson to make the issue work; thankfully, they deliver a bizarre, deathly-playful feel to Brynocki’s devices.  Highlights include: Brynocki flies a three-wheeler with a horned-devil’s head (p 11); Brynocki stands in a tree, wearing a buckskin jacket and coonskin cap, and calls “Remember the Mordillo!” (p 14, pnl 5), and later appears as a tomahawk-waving Indian brave, calling for his fellow “noble solenoid savages” to conquer the invaders who threaten their “hunting ground!” (p 22); the green-scaled, red-eyed massive undersea monster is pretty good, too (p 30).  

Mark: "Brynocki Triumphant" is a title that both delights and terrifies...

And 'Nocki's creator, Mordillo, may be dead but his twisted sense of humor survives him. Let me assure new students who may have missed that arc that, yes, Mordillo was the type of whackjob who'd write CANNON ZAPPER on the side of his giant, er, cannon zapper. Just the thing to shoot down a jumbo, laser-firing mechanical dragonfly, courtesy of Black Jack pulling the giant trigger with, literally, his hands tied behind his back.

That Moench can pull off details that read like the worst silly sci-fi from late '50's Batman in a pretty-grounded martial arts/espionage mag is a tribute to his considerable skill and the cred he's built up in MOKF over the years. 

Oh no, the creepy mimes have Sir Denis! Never good. But the suspense over the mimes' mastermind (Sir D crying "You--?!!", p.17) is squandered when the big reveal turns out to be Ward Sarsfield (p.27), a character we've never seen before (or if we have, he made so slight an impression as not to imprint on my aging brain).

We're back on track though, when Brynocki (not yet triumphant) abandons Shockwave, summons all the island's robots and sends them forth with a chilling command:

"Clank on over to Skulltop Cranial Cavity and turn everyone warm into meat." 

I'm locking my Roomba in the basement tonight...    

 The Micronauts 3 
“Death-Duel at Daytona Beach!”
Story by Bill Mantlo 
Art by Michael Golden and Joe Rubinstein
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Michael Golden and Joe Rubinstein

Ray Coffin returns home from work, dumbfounded to find his backyard a smoldering scene of destruction and his son Steve claiming the damage was caused by miniature aliens. But when the irate man finds some wreckage and the body of a tiny dog soldier, he immediately realizes that they are not toys. Hidden in the grass, Bug rouses from the explosion that knocked him unconscious. 

Miles away, the damaged Endeavor warps back into real space over a highway headed towards Orlando — Prince Shaitan’s Galactic Cruiser materializes yards away soon after, photon torpedoes blazing. At NASA, the agency’s sensitive radar system detects the ships and two Air Force jets are deployed towards the scene. As Princess Mari and Microtron return fire with the Endeavor’s guns, the Cruiser splits into six smaller ships. The air battle rages through a skateboard park — the skaters duck for cover, terrified by the laser blasts exploding around them. As they are hopelessly overmatched, Commander Rann and Acroyear decide to take the battle to Shaitan and eject from the ship on glider-pacs. The mysterious Time Traveller suddenly appears beside Mari: not only is there a tracking device on the Micronauts’ ship, Baron Karza now knows of the existence of Earth and will soon move to conquer this new world.

Outside, Rann and Acroyear manage to down two of the enemy crafts — Marionette’s sharp aim takes out another. Panicking, Shaitan reunites the remaining sections and dives on his gliding brother: amazingly, the prince stops the Cruiser in midair with a tremendous display of strength. Realizing that the day is lost, the traitorous sibling warps what remains of his ship to safety. Thousands of feet above, the Air Force pilots return to base, unable to see the tiny craft below. After destroying the tracer, the Micronauts fly off in the crippled Endeavor, leaving behind a devastated skate park and dozens of dazed witnesses. Back at the Coffin house, Bug observes Ray calling the Institute on the Cape with the news that his son has had an encounter of the third kind. -Tom Flynn

Tom: Before we get into the cheese and landjaegers, let me explain the odd “Institute on the Cape” phrasing in my last sentence: during his phone call, Ray Coffin uses the terms “Cape” and “Institute.” Now I assume he is contacting NASA, but he never uses that name so I’m not so sure. This might not bode well. Or maybe it’s nothing.

Anyways, after last month’s slight tick down in quality, Mantlo rebounds like Moses Malone and BA-DA-BOOM!!! Wow, this is one of the world’s greatest ALL! OUT! ACTION! issues. There is some type of dramatic explosion on nearly every page, many with multiple. I actually counted: at 17 pages, The Micronauts #3 features 31 fiery events. That might not necessarily make for a good comic, but be sure, it makes for a fantastic one in this case. The battle between the Micronauts and Shaitan’s Cruiser screams across every spread, each twist and turn fraught with tension and deadly consequence. Let’s face it: these are freshly-minted characters in the Marvel universe, so Mantlo could have gone for a cheap “big moment” and killed one off. Unlike an average issue of Conan the Barbarian or, lord help me, Ghost Rider, I actually feared for our heroes. Bill probably wouldn’t have sacrificed Mari: the inevitable romance between the princess and Rann is ramped up by her musing that she likes a man that trusts her with a Thorium gun. The Commander, on the other hand, worries that since he spent 1,000 years in suspended animation, he’s much too old for the young girl. Same Microverse, different worlds. 

Just as professors are running out of plaudits to heap on John Byrne and Terry Austin’s art on The Uncanny X-Men, it won’t be long until I run out of marvelous things to say about Michael Golden and Joe Rubinstein here. Every panel is a dramatic snapshot, whether it captures Acroyear tearing through a section of the Cruiser or Rann leaning over a lighted computer screen. And Golden packs in the panels. We have a few that remind us that Baron Karza is still lurking in his Body Banks: it doesn’t add much content but the imagery is tremendous, reminiscent of the Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader lightsaber fight in The Empire Strikes Back — a little movie not released until a year later. This is great stuff.

Matthew: I’m tempted simply to ask how one could not love a story entitled “Death-Duel at Daytona Beach!” and leave it at that, which would probably delight some of my colleagues.  I like the Coffins (Ray, of course, being destined for—if you’ll pardon the pun—Big Things), and appreciated that Steve’s close-encounter account was so quickly corroborated, sparing us the tedious “Why won’t anybody believe me?” routine.  Hoping that the big Pepsi sign in page 7, panel 1 was historically accurate, rather than shameless product placement in an already toy-based book, I learned via Wikipedia that Pepsi provided some of the original funding for the Daytona International Speedway, although they’ve been replaced by archrival Coke as sponsors.

Chris: There’s plenty of carnage, and things big ‘n small gettin’ blown up real good.  It’s fun, but as I re-read it, I’m reminded of an undercurrent of disappointment I’d felt with this issue and Micronauts #2, regarding Mantlo’s decision (imposed on Bill by toy company Mego over Mantlo's objections) to leave Homeworld so abruptly, and center the action on Earth.  We still know so little about life in the Microverse, and have only one page of the story devoted to goings-on with Karza back home; my preference still would’ve been to have spent more time exploring this new setting.  

Mantlo left us with a pretty serious dilemma at the end of Micros #2, as young Steve has to figure how to explain the scorch marks on the lawn; but, since Steve’s dad is a man of some intelligence, he gives Steve the benefit of the doubt and maintains an open mind, until he discovers proof that the backyard battle isn’t a product of a healthy imagination (p 2).  It’ll be interesting to see where Bill goes with this, as Steve’s dad recognizes his son has had a “close encounter – of the third kind!”
I enjoy the small realistic touches Golden incorporates in the art, such as the Pepsi ad visible in the skateboard park sign (p 7) and the “7 ½ D” and “Sears” printed on the side of the shoebox Ray Coffin uses to store the remains of the broken ships and crew (p 30).  Golden & Rubinstein deliver some other nice moments, such as: the dimly-lit radar room at Cape Canaveral (p 6, pnl 5); Acroyear’s slash of the fighter craft into metal shreds (p 11, pnl 2); Karza, with an eerie look from lighting below his feet (p 14, 1st pnl); the tiny fighter exploding as it crashes thru the window (p 16, pnls 2-3).
You might’ve noticed Marvel is promoting the hell out of this new series, with a box announcing “The Micronauts Are Coming!” appearing on many letters pages.  My favorite one, though, features Baron Karza reading the copy (which appears as graffiti on a wall), and responding, “Not if I can help it!”  ‘Cause, you know, he’s the villain of the piece, so he has to say nasty stuff. 

Red Sonja 14 
“An Evening on the Border”
Story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto

Art by Sal Buscema and Al Milgrom
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Frank Brunner

In a small, nameless town on the border of Argos and Aquilonia, Red Sonja is approached by a nobleman named Gonzallo, a strange phosphorus glow surrounding his body. He offers the She-Devil her choice from a sack full of glittering diamonds if she would act as his body guard that night — while suspicious, the 
Hyrkanian accepts the offer. They board the Argossean’s boat, piloted by the hideous hunchback Karon. Floating down the river that runs through the village, they come to an ominous cave: Sonja is surprised by the almost instantaneous change of environment. The craft glides into the darkness and the swordswoman spots terrifying half-men, half-fish creatures swimming in the murky waters. When they come to a rocky landing, a nightmarish demon surfaces: Gonzallo asks the creature if it will take Sonja’s soul instead of his own. The apologetic nobleman tosses the red-haired woman the entire sack of jewels as the demon and another of its hellish kind drag her away to a dark castle in the distance.

Inside the stone structure, Sonja is taken to a room full of hollow-eyed female demons, who are preparing her bridal bed: a gigantic clam. The She-Devil is tossed inside as the shell snaps shut. As the huge mollusk starts to digest her, the woman warrior feels her body going numb. But she remembers the diamonds and begins slashing at the clam’s tender flesh with the razor-sharp stones. The clam begins to shudder and finally pops open. Sonja leaps out and hurls the rest of the diamonds at the demons — as they scramble for the priceless gems she makes her escape. At the landing, Gonzallo is gone but Karon is waiting in the boat: she leaps and kicks him into the water, where he is devoured by the river monsters. The Hyrkanian rows back to town and tracks down the nobleman — she takes her revenge with a sword through his stomach. -Tom Flynn

Tom: Just like last month’s The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian, Our Pal Sal steps in to pick up the slack for his overworked big brother. The art is just fine and dandy even though Al Milgrom is a mediocre inker. I could be imagining things, but it looks like Buscema the Younger tries to ape Frank Thorne when it comes to Sonja’s face, especially the eyes and lips. Frank Brunner definitely pays tribute on his boffo cover. 

Clara Noto is credited with the plot and it’s fairly lightweight. I’m a bit confused why Gonzallo is glowing during the first half of the story. After he betrays Sonja, the nobleman reveals that he had already died earlier that day, only to be granted a reprieve by a holy man in his employ. What’s that all about? I assumed that the halo marked him as someone who had sold his soul. Did he sell it for the chance at a second life after he died hours before or was it related to something else further in the past? I dunno and Roy and Clara don’t give the details — unless I missed something. But I wasn’t that engrossed with this story to give it a second read. The giant clam is a pretty revolting creation. Its innards are quite liquidy but solid enough to form grasping tendrils. The male demons are by the number and nothing special, the usual reptilian humanoids with pointy ears and sharp teeth and fangs. Sporting bikinis, the shapely female creatures are classic butterfaces: hot bodies, horrible faces. This series will take its final curtain call next issue, released in May ’79. Considering that Red Sonja lost its mojo after Frank Thorne left, I will not be shedding any tears.

Matthew:  My favorite form of sushi is mirugai, the giant clam.  I must say I salivated a bit at the thought of cleaning up Sonja’s leftovers...once I was done salivating over her portrayal in MTU!

 The Spider-Woman 12
"The Last Tale of the Brothers Grimm!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald
Art by Carmine Infantino and Al Gordon
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Bob McLeod

Magnus wakes and finds his landlady’s dolls have walked upstairs, and are there to warn him that Jessica is in danger; as Magnus jumps up and is getting dressed, he muses that his sleeping mind might’ve picked up on Jessica’s distress, and “magically animated” Mrs Dolly’s figurines.  Magnus walks in the front door of the local playhouse, and finds Jessica (in her Spider-Woman costume) and Jerry, each chained by the wrist in separate sections of the stage; there are two Brothers Grimm standing guard by the captives, as Mrs Dolly turns from the front row to greet Magnus.  Mrs Dolly explains how her husband Nathan had purchased two “death effigy” dolls (spoiler alert: Avengers #182 reveals the dollmaker to be Django Maximoff), and in his attempt to enter a trance state and animate one of the dolls, succeeded instead in splitting his life force between the two figures.  Now, Mrs Dolly would like Magnus to transfer Nathan’s essence to another living form, namely Jerry’s; if Magnus will not cooperate, she will have Spider-Woman shot.  

Magnus agrees to assist, and all participants in the ritual are duly arranged in circles.  As Mrs Dolly watches her two sons (who have removed their masks, but still wear the Brother Grimm costumes), Spider-Woman takes advantage of her distraction to kick away her gun.  Spider-Woman kicks her heels up and, still swinging from the chain attached to her left wrist, kicks Mrs D in the chest  [“This is gonna cost me a fortune!”  --MRB], then swings over to Jerry, and lifts his unconscious form by wrapping her legs around his torso.  Nathan’s spirit lurches free of the circle containing his sons, and reaches the space where Jerry had been, only to find his prospective host removed; Magnus closes the circle once Nathan arrives and, denied a host body, his spirit quickly dissolves.  Magnus reveals Mrs Dolly’s husband and sons had been one and the same; Nathan must have found a way to transfer his halved-spirit from the two death effigies to two life-sized mannequins, which Mrs Dolly proceeded to name, and to fabricate “identities and pasts for them.”   Magnus then states that, while she might have lost her husband, and her illusion of having children, it had been long before that Mrs Dolly lost … her sanity. -Chris Blake
Chris: So that’s it for this issue of Magnus the Magnificent (co-starring Spider-Woman).   Spider-Woman has an important role to play, as she removes Jerry from harm, which also creates a vacuum to absorb Nathan’s wandering spirit; but, the active participation of our title character requires less than three pages.  Spider-Woman also is seen in a gas-induced hallucinogenic sequence that plays out in Jerry’s mind, but since his fevered imaginings don’t advance the story, I left these three pages out of the synopsis.  So, these small bits aside, Spider-Woman either is unconscious or speechless for most of the mag.  
The cover blurb promises “All-Out Action!," but it neglects to mention a few other things: “But First,” it might read, “Two Pages of Exposition!”  We finally have some explanation of how the Brothers Grimm got here, and confirmation of our suspicion that they were Dolly’s sons all along; and, it’s a clever twist to have them prove to be animated mannequins.  But while we see how Grimm was able to appear to be in two places at once (because, well, he was two separate people, sort of), we still don’t have any understanding of how the Grimms enacted numerous inexplicable feats (like, flying on a trapeze affixed to a star, as seen last issue), or why they did the zany things they did; did any of their actions contribute in any way to the restoration of their father to independent life?  Have they been messing with people’s heads for the past few weeks in an effort to drive an able-minded man to distraction, break him down, and have him serve as a host?  Give me something here, Mark Gruenwald – what was the point of all this -?

Matthew:  “The Last Tale of the Brothers Grimm!”  From your mouth to God’s ear, Mark.  I’ve just hooted at Hannigan for unearthing an ancient and justifiably obscure Tales of Suspense villain in last month’s PM&IF; now, Wolfman and/or Gruenwald (depending on Marv’s original intentions) have outdone Ed with an even older one.  This whole sorry shtick is an outgrowth of Mr. Doll—himself a pathetic knockoff of the already established Puppet Master—whose only prior appearance, in TOS #48, is notable solely for marking Iron Man’s transition from clunky golden to streamlined red-and-gold armor.  Not sure what the “technical assistance by Paty [Cockrum]” was but believe me, these guys needed all the help they could get.

 Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 28
"Ashes to Ashes!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Frank Miller and Frank Springer
Colors by Mario Sen
Letters by Denise Wohl and Elaine Heinl
Cover by Keith Pollard and Al Milgrom

The falling Spider-Man manages to snag the Birdroid with a web line, leaving Daredevil to battle the Maggia goons, whom he manages to elude enough to cause them to blow the electricity in the penthouse. Fighting in darkness, DD whips the flunkies, but gets blasted point-blank in the face by the Masked Marauder! Back to Spidey, who climbs aboard the Birdroid, using his Spider-Sense to discover…it's a bomb! "Faking" blindness, DD tries to get Marauder to stop the bomb, but the creepy cape-wearer smashes DD good and presses the button! But Spidey is able to rip through the Birdroid and defuse the warhead! DD takes out the flummoxed Marauder with a mighty "SHTPOW!", and  Spidey is able to use his senses to "fly" the damaged Birdroid [I love saying that stupid name!] somewhat out of harm's way, where DD shows up to save him from the cops—and his eyesight comes back! The next day, Flash and MJ discover Peter's pillaged pad (courtesy of Carrion) and when Peter swings in (wearing shades due to a "Chem Lab experiment"), he's as puzzled as they are. As Peter heads to the campus library later to meet Hector, his Spider-Sense is triggered—Hector's been knocked out, with "ASHES TO ASHES PARKER" written in red dust across his chest like in the apartment—and Carrion strikes! Somehow, Carrion knows Peter's identity, calling him "murderer" and saying how he has "suffered" because of the hero. Holly Gillis enters the library and turns on the lights—which affects Peter's still-healing eyes and allows Carrion to gain the upper hand!--Joe Tura

Joe: Lots going on in this issue, like two tales in one. First we get the end of the Masked Marauder saga, supposedly, as Daredevil puts the smackdown on the sniveling snake and Spidey bamboozles the Birdroid. Then Carrion rears his skinny ugly head, and he's a mystery to say the least. He knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man, keeps saying he's a murderer, and is after one thing—vengeance! But vengeance for what? Mantlo keeps the suspense up for unsuspecting readers who either never read these books before (ahem…) or simply forgot who the heck Carrion was. The Miller art features some snazzy layouts, especially in the DD action (but of course) and some of Spidey's acrobatics. You can certainly see the potential, even though Springer's inks mute some of the artwork. Still well done overall, with a good setup for next issue.

Favorite sound effect, besides the aforementioned "SHTPOW!" (after all, this isn't a Daredevil book) is page 27's "SKAM," which is the sound Carrion's fist makes when it connects with Peter's jaw, sending him and Hector flying off the balcony of the library. It can also mean the "scam" that Carrion could be playing on Peter—and the reader—since he's such an enigma at this point in the story.

Chris: The conclusion to the team-up works well, as Daredevil mops up the Marauder and his minions, while Spidey -- hanging on for dear life to the bird/bombdroid -- finds a way to disable the bomb’s power source.  I'm willing to excuse the artistic license Mantlo takes with the blindness-augmented Spidey-sense, maybe because the scenes of Spidey air-surfing on the droid (p 15) are comical without straying too far into the ridiculous.   

Frank Miller delivers another action-packed issue of dynamic layouts, but Frank Springer is no better-suited as his finisher than he had been for our previous issue.  I amaze myself by saying this, but I would have welcomed a many-hands approach to the finishes; Frank Springer could have handled all the appearances of Carrion, and maintained the craggy look that works for him (as seen on p 27), and we could've had Josef Rubinstein handle every single other image in the issue.  Sound good?  I'll wrap up with some of Miller's highlights, which manage to be mostly visible under Springer's heavy wash: in what will become a signature Miller illustration, DD bounces the billyclub so that it takes out several opponents in one throw (p 2, pnl 3); DD moving fast enough that the henchmen only see him as a light-red blur (p 3, pnl 3); Spidey web-snaps a change of clothes from outside the window, from right behind Mrs Muggins (p 22, pnl 2 and 3).
Matthew: The fact that only Carrion is featured on the effectively atmospheric Pollard/Milgrom cover tells us that the tail is wagging the dog, which is not necessarily a bad thing because—as I’ve opined before, and the artwork notwithstanding—Mantlo has dragged this whole far-fetched, blind-leading-the-blind business out for way too long already.  Again, one Frank (i.e., Springer) undercuts the other anyway, and although some people make a big deal about Miller’s use of, shall we say, “time-lapse photography” to depict DD’s movements, I seem to recall a guy named Byrne pioneering that on Iron Fist.  Not that I’m taking anything away from Lanky Frank, especially the Pete/Hector balcony-plunge in page 27, panel 1.

 Star Wars 21
"Shadow of a Dark Lord!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Carmine Infantino and Gene Day
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Terry Austin

Leia has escaped from her cell and duped a guard, snagging his blaster. The guard reveals that Senator Greyshade reassigned the majority of the guards to a special area. She stuns the guard and heads to the Crimson Casino, where they all agreed to meet. A few hours earlier, in the medical bay, Luke is waging an inner war of his own. In his mind, with the help of Ben Kenobi, Luke defeats an image of Darth Vader. The Sith Lord was a manifestation of Luke's own fear and he snaps out of it when Leia calls his name. She was coming to help him, but when she arrived, Luke had defeated a squad of guards. Apparently he was sleep-fighting. He remembers what happened when he blacked out: he was in deep meditation when he brushed up against a force of great evil: Darth Vader! And he is searching for them. At that moment, Vader is on the planet Ultaar, having cut down scores of rebels in his search. He discovers his quarry has made its way to the Wheel. Back at that selfsame Space Casino, Han is prepped for the final round of the Games. Led to an anti-gravity arena, he sees his combatants for the Main Event. One of them is Chewbacca! -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Finally, Darth Vader. He doesn’t sound much like the character, even calling one of his Captain’s “wimpish," which made me smile. This book is so off the beam when it comes to Star Wars, the fact that this title ran well after Return of the Jedi was released in the 80’s, is amazing. It really shows the power of this franchise. Logan’s Run died two issues after its adaptation. Battlestar Galactica won’t run much longer than the TV series and the Star Trek title will die just over a year after it begins in 1980 (DC Comics will have much better luck in '82). This is a fun diversion, but it’s weirdly written and drawn. Still, there’s a moment where Master Com and Greyshade have a really telling conversation about friendship (not in my summary) that’s really a step beyond what we see in this sort of tale. The “Han in the Arena” cliffhangers are getting a little old for my taste. Two more issues left in this arc, which is really two or three too long.

Matthew: I know that at this time, Marvel was caught between potentially opposing forces (demand from readers for the use of Lucas-created characters, most especially Darth Vader, and constraints imposed by Lucasfilm on the use of said characters), so I thought at first that Archie had cheated and found a weaselly Third Way by having the Sith Lord “appear,” but only in Luke’s dream/nightmare/trance/vision/whatever.  Yet no, there he is in living, uh, black in the “Interlude” that begins on page 16 with a positively berserk Infantino/Day image of one of pop culture’s most fearsome villains surrounded by…flowers?  Not sure how I feel about the presumed return of Valance, whose sting-in-the-tail debut in #16 could have been a done-in-one.

 Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 22
"Night of Equinox!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Rick Parker
Cover by John Buscema

Abdul Alhazred’s link to the crystal projects his thoughts, revealing to Simon how he was transformed after fleeing from the slaver he had betrayed and stumbling onto the cavern containing the portal.  Attacked by Mahars, Ayesha wrecks the controls, destroying the chamber; Tarzan parts with The Cid on friendly terms and discovers that the army routed by the cannon is from Amoz, led by Sordarm against the Mahars’ secret weapon while David surveyed the polar regions.  The sonic wail causes Pellucidar’s beasts to stampede—trampling Frazier, who took the treasure—and the Korsars wisely depart as the Mad Arab recovers enough to slay the traitorous Simon, only to face Tarzan as the thundering herd unwittingly aids an Amozite attack on the city. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The Madman meets the Mad Arab as Mooney becomes the latest of Sal’s serial inkers to rack up a single credit on this book, and it’s probably self-evident that the artwork takes a hard right into conventionality after the pen-and-brush stylings of Rudy Nebres.  Notwithstanding the largely successful effort to emulate ERB’s plotting, there’s just so much going on here, with so many plot threads that only a few pages can be devoted to each one.  It says something about the pell-mell nature of the storytelling that we are just now learning the last name of Pierre (LeClerc, if anyone cares at this point), who only last issue was finally disabused of the notion that their trip was undertaken in the glorious name of Socialism—but really, Bill, a soldier named “Sordarm”?

 The Mighty Thor 281
"This Hammer Lost!"
Story by Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Peter Gillis, and Mike Catron
Art by Keith Pollard and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover Uncredited

Having dispatched of Hyperion of Our World (don't ask), the Mighty Thor finally turns his attention to the upcoming apocalypse (fifty years down the road) and his vow to help the Eternals. But, like Bob and Bing, the thunder god finds the Road is a long and winding one. When Thor decides a little background info on the group is necessary, he stirs up a little divided timestream action but something goes amiss and he's stranded in Limbo sans Mjolnir. He's approached by the Space Phantom, who explains that Thor's hammer is deep in the core of Phantus, a warring planet that is slipping fast into Limbo and soon will be unapproachable. SP explains that he and Thor must venture to the planet and the Asgardian must take the plunge into the core if he is to be reunited with his hammer. Thor does so but finds out too late that the Space Phantom has set a trap; he wants the thunder god to remain frozen within the core, "plugging the hole from real-time to Limbo..." Since he is now trapped in two different realms, half of his body begins to change back to Don Blake. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: This one's a little bit over my head in spots (not sure I understood all of Space Phantom's expository  [PE:  It’s not you.  --MRB]) but, hell, it's glorious to have an issue of brain food after last issue's plate of pablum. It doesn't hurt that the art is very nice; it's almost Doctor Strange-esque. The reason we're easing on down the road and avoiding any contact with the Eternals is that Roy needed a breather and Mark and Ralph stepped in to provide one. Thanks, guys! A bit of a landmark in that it's the 200th issue that Thor has been the star (the first 83, of course, were Journey Into Mystery).

Matthew: The good news:  this is better than last issue.  The bad news:  the contrast beautifully demonstrates, like the films of Ed Wood, that what is Truly Bad can be vastly more entertaining than what is merely mediocre at best.  Continuing our cinematic parallel, the coherence of a script is said to be inversely proportional to the number of scenarists, so perhaps it’s no surprise that this required four writers:  the first Gruenwald/Macchio teaming, with a “plotting assist” from Gillis and, in his only Marvel credit, Fantagraphics co-founder Mike Catron.  What I do find surprising is the continued use of the Space Phantom, whose goony appearance bespeaks the early Silver Age, where he shoulda stayed; the art is by Pollard and Marcos, with all that implies.

Chris: Thor practically Hulks-out, as he mentions repeatedly how angry he is at the senseless violence surrounding him, and the resultant delays in his search for all-important Mjolnir.  Thor gives us a few moments to make the Hulk, well, enviously green: Thor rips apart the ship’s hull, and (furiously!) compresses the metal into a weapon – a mock-Mjolnir, if you will (p 22); Thor busts free of the tightly-packed pile of debris (p 26); Thor bowls over an entire contingent of soldiers with one mighty blow (p 27).  Although, Thor's Hulkiest moment might be at the very end, when – despite his misgivings about the Space Phantom – he proceeds to jump into the tunnel to the center of the planet, and gets himself trapped there!  

Gruenwald & Macchio (with some direction from editor Thomas, methinks?) cast the somewhat-useless Phantom in an interesting new light; instead of his old role as a bothersome identity-switcher, we now see him seeking to save his doomed homeworld from its endless, crazy planet-spanning war.  The concept of blinking in and out of reality, seconds before an attack arrives, or seconds earlier to launch one, is inventively chaotic; it also serves as a fitting analogy for war’s insanity on any scale, doesn't it?  Pollard & Marcos capture the experience very effectively, as warriors appear to exist only partially in any given moment of constantly-fluctuating time (p 11, 1st panel).     

The X-Men 119
"'Twas the Night Before Christmas..."
Story by John Byrne and Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

In “The Kuril Islands just North of Japan…,” the X-Men launch an attack on Moses Magnum. Nightcrawler teleports in and activates a signal that gives Cyclops, Sunfire, Colossus and Wolverine the right entrance point into Magnum’s base of operations. Magnum, who is “Master of Earth,” can sense any approach, and sends Colossus sailing with a massive punch. The mutant Russian stops himself and is determined to cease being every villain’s punching bag. Just as Cyclops is about to face a squad of Mandroids alone, Colossus arrives and beats them savagely. Knowing time is running out and that he has threatened to destroy Japan if anyone dared to attack, Moses books away to carry out his threat. He uses his power to build energy to erupt from the volcano, but Banshee, deducing the plan, tells Cyclops to get everyone out, and then flies outside. Using his sonic scream, he blocks Magnum’s power. The strain is unbearable, but Banshee prevails and the island is destroyed. Later, Banshee is released from the hospital, his voice gone, his sonic scream possibly lost forever. He is distressed that nobody met him at the hospital, but is pleasantly surprised at Sunfire’s home as he is greeted by his friends with a giant Christmas toast and a lovely sign. Half a day later, in Scotland, Jean Grey meets Moira, Alex Summers, Jaime Madrox and Lorna. They are to spend a few days seeing the sights before going to Muir Isle to test Jean’s powers. Unknown to the group, Angus McWhirter waits at Muir Isle, seeking revenge for the destruction of his boat some time ago, and plans to destroy the lab. He is instead faced with horror and his own death.  -Scott McIntyre

Scott: As I said last time, Moses Magnum does nothing for me and he’s hardly effective here. He is in barely half the issue before he’s dispatched. However, it is a battle to be noted for the damage it does to Banshee. He sticks around for a number of issues, but this is truly his last stand as an X-Man. His power is gone and he’ll be off the team in a few months. As touching as it is to have him surprised, he is 100% correct: someone should have taken him home. The surprise could have been just as sweet if Storm drove him to Sunfire’s house and then they all jumped out. The X-Men, it seems, are The Avengers lacking in social cues. On the bright side, this last arc is the final mediocre story we’ll see until the 80’s. Some great Alpha Flight stuff and then Proteus and the Hellfire Club. Man, the real shame about this blog ending at 1980 is that this title will absolutely peak right after we leave the premises. As usual, fabulous art.

Matthew:  I haven’t read Power Man Annual #1, wherein Claremont undid Moses Magnum’s first faux death and gave him a second, yet however dull he seemed when Conway created him in GS Spider-Man #4 (not 5, per the incorrect footnote), despite a name worthy of a great Blaxploitation movie, he deserved better than the head-snapping transition from page 22 to 23.  Then, I ground to a complete halt in panel 3 of the latter as Misty thought, “I don’t want to have to tell Jean that the X-Men are dead.”  Wha—?  But she already thinks they are, and vice versa, right?  At that moment, all of the balls Chris had been so frantically juggling to make us accept, or perhaps forget, his increasingly implausible contrivance—even before cellular phones—suddenly fell to the floor…

Chris: This is the first time I can remember finishing an issue of X-Men (a non-fill-in, I mean -- #106 and #110 don’t count), and feeling like something is missing.  All the usual ingredients are here, plus we have charming Christmas gatherings on two separate continents.  So – what is it?  I think the buildup to the conclusion of the confrontation with Magnum is too quick; Claremont establishes how Magnum received his augmented powers, and we watch him prepare to fulfill his threat to destroy Japan, but within the next page, Banshee pushes himself to match Magnum’s output, and his island HQ is destroyed (p 22).  It’s a strange choice by Claremont to have a full page of Misty Knight conducting a search for the team, and one line of explanation from Sunfire about how the team escaped, when instead we could’ve seen a page of the team frantically trying to escape (possibly battling Mandroids at the same time – I’m sure Magnum has more than the two he sends after Cyclops, and that Colossus defeats), which might’ve allowed for Banshee’s frequency-lock battle with Magnum to play out over a longer period.  Yes, this title’s quality is so consistently high that, if everything isn’t done as phenomenally well as possible, then I have to stop and wonder how a 9.7 could be made into a 10.0.

Banshee’s phenomenal effort marks his end as an active X-er; he’ll never recover use of his powers (at least not in the Bronze era; strangely enough, his face will continue to be featured on the cover, while Jean’s never appears there…).  He’s been a useful contributor to the team, as he has a unique power (as evidenced this issue), and also has the respect of his teammates, which has allowed him to assume a leadership role when Scott has not been present.  Claremont might’ve felt it was time to shake up the membership, so I suppose I should be grateful there was no need to kill off our fine lad, Sean Cassidy.  On a personal note, as an Irish-American, I’m also thankful to Claremont for completing the rehabilitation of a character who had started out as a villain (of sorts), and could’ve been allowed to degrade to an Irish stereotype of the playful irresponsible ne’er-do-well, or the belligerent drunken lout.  
Art highlights: the splash page, which features another magnificent in-flight Storm, clouds billowing all around Magnum’s island; a slightly crazed look in the eye of a super-ripped Magnum as he surprises Colossus (p 11); tiny tongues of flame as Colossus digs in his fingers to try to arrest his possible eviction from the island (p 14); page 22, which features forceful effort on the faces of both Magnum and Sean, plus the reactions of the X-team (including Peter holding fingers in his ears) to the building sonic overload; priceless surprise and happiness for Kurt, and wistful melancholia for Peter during the party (p 27 – isn’t it odd that Kurt and Logan are the only two in costume?); a forbidding winter sky over Muir Isle … as Mutant X is loose (p 31, last pnl).  

Mark: Another high octane page-turner, seamlessly sidling from one storyline to another, as the X'ers make Moses Magnum and his tiny island go boom, while Jean and friends are about to run into gods-know-what trouble in Scotland. Inker Terry Austin (who, the letters page informs us, just won an Eagle at the British Comic Book Fan Awards) returns, and the Byrne-Austin team continues to make this the consistently best-looking book in the Marvel roster. 

Peter gets his mojo back and makes short work of MM's "...Mark II Mandroids." Logan nurses his crush on Mariko, which has Storm thinking (without knowing the reason), "I've never seen Wolverine sound or act so...gentle." Banshee indulges in a pity party (deservedly so), before arriving at a real one. We get a righteous blast of rock 'em, sock 'em, island-sinking action and a tinseled dose of (slightly bittersweet) Yuletide cheer.

So, no real complaints, class, but since I'm contractually obligated to pick at something (lest my upgraded parking space be placed in peril), I will note that, after Claremont deftly explains how Moses survived his last presumptive demise and got up-powered - "He should have died. But..." - Chris then dispatches MM rather hastily. Lots of writers would have wrung a couple more issues out of the "Sink Japan" peril, but C.C. is sprinting onto the next episode of our unfolding serial, almost challenging the reader to keep up.

That's an auctorial approach of which I approve, but since our Esteemed Dean spends more time out on the links these days than reviewing lesson plans, I (and my parking spot) should be okay.

Just remember: squealers get the shiv! Or at least eraser-cleaning duty. Class dismissed.

Also This Month

Crazy #48
< Human Fly #19 (Final Issue) 
Marvel Super-Heroes #79
Marvel Tales #101
Marvel's Greatest Comics #82
The Rawhide Kid #150
Shogun Warriors #2
Spidey Super Stories #39
Yogi Bear #9 (Final Issue)

It's a basic good guys vs bad guys story, as the Fly helps Hopi Indians in Las Cruces against evil Frank Sturgis, who runs an "Indian Fair" that flaunts the traditions of the local tribe (and, if I can be a stickler, the pueblo depicted is the type you’d find north of Santa Fe, not hundreds of miles down south in Cruces).  The Fly has agreed to ride a motorcycle on a highwire over Misty Gorge; as Fly rides, a young tribe member projects a film, using the mists as a makeshift screen, that depicts the tribe's traditional creation gods.  When the Fly survives a sniper attack (the bullet severs the wire, but the Fly fires the bike's jets to ride to safety – yes, the bike has jets), the Hopi are sold on the idea that their gods helped protect the Fly – an anglo sympathetic to their cause.  The Hopi unite with other supportive local whites and rout Sturgis' mob.  The Elias/Villamonte art follows the standard, established by Robbins/Springer (and you know exactly what I mean), although the Fly's meeting by a fire with the tribe's elder has an effective atmosphere (p 10).  The letters page hints at future storylines for the Fly, but a typewritten note on the final page informs us this is the final issue; as far as I know, it's also the Fly's final appearance in any Marvel title.  Bye Fly. -Chris Blake


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 38
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“The Road of Eagles”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga

“A Gazetteer of the Hyborian World of Conan 
Including the World of Kull and 
An Ethnogeographical Dictionary Part VI” 
Text by Lee Falconer

“Swords and Scrolls”

Roy Thomas tees up another Robert E. Howard/L. Sprague de Camp novelette with the 50-page adaptation of “The Road of Eagles,” first published in the 1955 collection Tales of Conan. Howard’s original featured a character named Ivan Sablianka and was set in the Ottoman Empire: de Camp did his usual additions and modifications and voila. It seems to be set soon after the last issue of Savage Sword since Conan is still leader of the nomadic Kozaks and he has formed an allegiance with the pirates of the inland Vilayet Sea, something he had set out to do in February’s magazine. There are quite a few intersecting characters, each with a story to tell: I’ll play with the continuity a bit and try to get as many of the numerous information dumps out of the way at the beginning.

A notorious cutthroat, Artaban of Shahpur is ordered by King Yildiz of Turan to destroy an encampment of pirates at the mouth of the Zaporoska River. Sailing across the Vilayet Sea, the commander and his two ships arrive at the waterfront village: most of the pirates are off plundering, so the Turanians slaughter those left behind, mostly the elderly or infirm. But the main body of pirates unexpectedly returns: Artaban and his troops are forced to flee, leaving behind one of his boats. Conan and some of the men commandeer the abandoned galley and give chase — after a feverish battle, both the Cimmerian and Artaban are forced to beach their damaged ships a few miles apart. As the barbarian and his crew continue the pursuit on foot, the Turanian realizes that Yildiz will have his head if he returns without the king’s ships: he decides to find or form a monarchy of his own.

Nearby, a peaceful Yuetshi village in the shadow of an eerie castle, perched high above on Akrim Mountain, is being overrun by savage Hyrkanian warriors. A blonde Zamorian woman — lithe and beautiful unlike the apeish Yuetshi — rushes out of a tent, jumps on a horse and tries to make an escape. But she is spotted and the bloodthirsty bandits charge after her. The woman, Roxana, soon encounters Artaban and his soldiers: they repel the Hyrkanians. Roxana then weaves an intriguing tale for her rescuer: for the past three years, she has been living in the castle above, the stronghold of Gleg the Zaporoskani, along with King Yildiz’ younger brother, Prince Teyaspa. Yildiz had the prince exiled there, fearful that he would be overthrown by his more popular sibling. Over time, a constant supply of drink and dancers have broken Teyaspa’s lust for life. But, if Artaban could manage to rescue the prince and help make him king, he would be in line for untold riches. Roxana originally planned on asking the Hyrkanians for help — that is how she was swept up in the pillage of the Yuetshi outpost. Realizing that if he helped Teyaspa gain the crown of Turan his troubles with Yildiz would also be over, Artaban agrees to the rescue: but first, he would approach the Hyrkanians himself and convince them to join his cause. 

Elsewhere, Conan and his pirates — now starved and parched — continue to track down the Turanian murderers. Scouting ahead, the Cimmerian encounters a wild-eyed Yuetshi, the former chief Vinashko, the only survivor of the raid. The savage leads the barbarian to his village’s hidden food stash inside a strange, hive-shaped cave, hundreds of odd rectangular indentations honeycombing the walls: in the center, an eternal flame burns. Vinashko informs Conan that the shapes are the tombs of an ancient race of vampires that used to feed on his ancestors — the fire now keeps them at bay. After the thankful pirates help themselves to the food and drink, the Yuetshi also informs Conan that Artaban is only a three-hour ride away: hiding in nearby bushes, he overheard the conversation between the Turanian and Roxana and knows of their plan to rescue Prince Teyaspa. Vinashko leads Conan’s forces to a secret passage through a waterfall to Gleg the Zaporoskani’s castle and they lie in wait outside for Artaban and his men.

A few hours later, Artaban’s Hyrkanian allies launch their attack on the castle from below — but it is simply a diversion. Roxana has stolen back inside Gleg’s fortress and opened a heavy door at the rear that is only ten feet or so from the mountain cliff on the other side. After a plank is placed across the chasm, the Turanians steal inside, kill Teyaspa’s mute Kushite guards and make their escape back over the plank with the prince. But Gleg and his archers race after them: while Artaban kills the Zaporoskani leader, only a handful of his men survive the hail of arrows. Thinking they are safe, the men begin their trek back to Turan to install Teyaspa as king. But Conan and his Vilayet pirates pounce, and the last of the Turanians and Hyrkanians are killed, the Cimmerian winning ultimate revenge by driving his broadsword through Artaban’s throat.

Meekly, Prince Teyaspa surrenders himself to the pirates: Roxana, grieving that her lover’s spirit seems permanently broken, kills the prince with a dagger that she then turns on herself. Moments later, a band of Turanian soldiers arrives on the scene. Conan recognizes their leader, the highly ranked general of the Imperial Guards: ironically, Yildiz died a few days before and he was delivering the crown to Teyaspa. Conan orders his outnumbered men to flee through the waterfall and back to their ship — he stays behind and kills a few of the Turanians as they emerge from the downpour. He then races ahead and waits atop the staircase that leads down to the odd, hive-like cave of the Yuetshi. When the first of his pursuers appears, the Cimmerian tosses him below where he falls on top of the immortal flame, snuffing it out. The barbarian leaps to the ground as more of the Turanians swarm the top of the stairs. 

Suddenly, freed from the binding power of the fire, the living dead creatures sealed in the walls burst from their tombs and swarm the soldiers, vampiric fangs finding warm flesh and blood. Conan wades forward, separating heads, arms and legs from many of the dark creatures. But there are just too many, so he clambers up the cave’s wall, using the now-opened tombs as hand and foot holds until he reaches the stair’s landing above. The Cimmerian rushes through the waterfall only to find the Turanian general and a few of his men milling around on the other side. While he does take an arrow to the shoulder, the barbarian scales a sheer cliff to freedom. At the top, he sees that the Vilayet pirates have abandoned him and are sailing away in the distance.

Sorry for another marathon recap but “The Road of Eagles” had a ton going on. It starts out as a pirate story, gets into some political intrigue and then turns into a slam-bang horror yarn. Conan is a bystander for much of the action, basically kicking things off at the beginning and striding back in at the end — but unlike most of the protagonists, he’s still alive and kicking when things wrap up. In a typical Howardian twist, the jailbreak of Prince Teyaspa is all for naught: he would have been crowned king if he were allowed just to stay put in Gleg’s castle. Besides, the prince’s exile didn’t really seem all that bad: he was supplied with a never-ending banquet of fine wine and food as well as a constant parade of eager concubines, including the sexy Roxana. Sign me up. 

I’ve always enjoying the pairing of Big John and Tony DeZuniga and they turn in some spectacular artwork. You don’t get Alfredo Alcala’s rich backgrounds, but Tony’s strong, dark lines are well suited for the black-and-white format. Buscema drew some remarkable monsters in his day and the vampire creatures are some of his best. Their faces really resemble bats, with beady black eyes and large, pointed ears. If you think about it, it’s not very smart of the Yuetshi to store their food in what is basically a tomb filled with these hair-raising creatures. You do sometimes need a playbook to keep track of the characters: many sport horned helmets trimmed with fur and similar facial hair — so keeping them apart was a bit of a challenge. A decent issue, long and involving but not very memorable. Except for the vampires by Crom.

In the sole text piece, Lee Falconer’s “A Gazetteer of the Hyborian World of Conan” returns with the four-page Part VI. This time Falconer covers “N” to “P,” running from “Nahareh” to “Python,” the so-called City of Purple Towers. Earl Norem delivers another killer cover: he must have had a sample of Buscema’s creatures from within because he nails ’em. -Tom Flynn

Marvel Preview 16
Masters of Terror
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Hodiah Twist in
"The Hero-Killer Principle!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Gene Colan and Tony DeZuniga

Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

"The Rise of the Private Eye"
Text by Ron Goulart

Lilith in
"Death by Disco!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Tony DeZuniga

After two issues in a row of Star-Lord, we're back to a horror-themed anthology, last seen in Marvel Preview #12. But it's nowhere near as interesting as that month's roundup of tales. Actually, it's slightly different, according to the Rick Marschall editorial, telling us "detective and horror stories in comics are particularly suited for the black-and-white genre." The editor goes on to brag (lots of bragging) about the Gene Colan tour de force to follow, working with different writers for each story, including "three of the most respected names in comics." 

We begin with Don McGregor and the "Sherlockian sleuth" Hodiah Twist, who first appeared in Vampire Tales #2 (October 1973). "The Hero-Killer Principle" kicks off with a man taking a subway, thinking about his love, and getting killed by what looks like a werewolf when he departs. Cut to Hodiah Twist and Jeavons, with Twist deducing the killer, who has struck during the full moon, will appear next on the subway approaching since it hasn't been the scene of a killing yet. In the next car, there is indeed a slaying, then the lights go out, leaving Twist and the riders trapped in the moving and mysterious "death-car." Soon after, he befriends a young boy, the colonel on the train is killed, and an old woman says she knows who the murderer/werewolf is. Well, the old woman is also killed, and it turns out the boy is the werewolf! Twist attacks quickly, chasing the wolf onto the roof—and the creature is decapitated by an oncoming low bridge! It still walks towards Twist, but Jeavons uses a silver sword to slay the beast, and leaves the men to ponder where life will go from here. 
Well, Sherlock Holmes he ain't, since Hodiah Twist wants to forget all this nonsense after he's almost killed, but the homage certainly has some decent moments. It's been a while since I've covered a McGregor tale, and he's just as verbose as always. Colan and DeZuniga make a decent team, with some cool layouts and moody facial expressions, complete with five-and-dime deerstalker hat! It's not that scary, but there's a level of suspense that keeps the reader interested if not exactly zipping through the pages. I don't believe Twist is heard from again at Marvel. 
Next up we have "Voices" from the pen of Marv Wolfman and the easel of Colan and Tom Palmer. This short tale finds Captain York annoyed that he can't find the "Magnum Murderer," then focuses on loner Jeffrey Berger, who loves to feed pigeons and watch TV, as well as his neighbor Harry, annoyed by his wife and creepily sending signals to Jeffrey through the TV—in the form of a C-B radio—that tells him to commit murders! The latest is of Harry's wife's brother, which leads York to Harry's house for questions, and passer-by Jeffrey hears the voice of the man he knows as "God." Harry tries to cover his tracks by "commanding" Jeffrey to come to his place and kill the first person who opens the door—and he plans on that being his wife! Later, the buzzer sounds and it's Captain York. Harry opens the door—and it's Jeffrey! The young man shoots Harry, then turns the gun on himself—but is halted by York, who is even more annoyed that he didn't get there in time to halt another murder. 

Short and certainly not sweet (unless you count Jeffrey feeding pigeons), this one's a little time-killer that screams "Twilight Zone ripoff." Nothing too extraordinary about it, so let's just move on to the obiligatory prose article. "The Rise of the Private Eye," written by Ron Goulart, is two pages of historical facts and kind words about Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Humphrey Bogart, and Carroll John Daly, and while it's a bit wordy and hard to get through at times, it seems to end too abruptly. According to Marschall, award-winning Goulart is "one of the foremost writers in both these genres," and wrote the Gil Kane newspaper strip Star Hawks. Let's move on to our final tale, and a familiar character.
Steve Gerber writes a story of Lilith, daughter of Dracula, titled "Death by Disco," which naturally would have anyone worried. In creepy bat form, Lilith flies over Manhattan, pausing to save a senior citizen from a two-hoodlum mugging, managing to fight the urge to bite one of the thugs and actually being touched by the old woman's gratitude. Transforming back to Angel O'Hara, she goes back to the apartment she shares with writer Martin Gold, who is working on a piece about discos. Pregnant Angel is a little dizzy and hungry, and a small tiff turns into romantic reconciliation. At the office of the East Village Oracle, Angel is talked into writing her own article, and visits the "Ice Castle," where she's hit on, then smacks the lech after turning into Lilith. Then a lothario named T.J. dances for her, something she somehow finds irresistible. His current flame, Della, seems bored by it all. T.J. mesmerizes Lilith with his passion for music and dance, steals a pair of boots from a front window, then moves in to kiss her—and is shot from behind by Della! Lilith dispatches Della's goons with extra nastiness, hypnotizes Della into dancing for her, and drains the disco queen of her blood, going back home as Angel to ask Martin if their lives have been "lacking a certain passion lately."
So what the heck does this story mean? Is it the usual Gerber oddball tale? Not exactly. Is it a love letter to disco? Don't think so. Does it lay out the hard choices a vampire has to make between the primal urge to feed and the need to show passion for something other than blood? I guess that's it…and it's not horrible, but ultimately brings this magazine to a mediocre close. Maybe I'll go back and read the Goulart piece again.—Joe Tura