Howard the Duck #5 ("I Want Mo-o-oney", Sept. 1976). Grade: A-. There's meat here -- from Howard's oversensitivity to racism (vs. ducks in comic books) to a touching scene where Howard can't bring himself to repossess a TV from a down-on-her-luck mother to the return of running gag character the Kidney Lady. The wrestling match doesn't hold up to the same standard and the whole combination of scenes doesn't run as smoothly as it should have.
Howard the Duck #6 ("The Secret House of Forbidden Cookies", Nov. 1976). Grade: A. Gerber at his absurd best, mocking religion and gothic romance virtually simultaneously. What really shines in the early Howard stories, though, is the surprisingly realistic romance between Howard and Beverly. Sadly comes across as a little disjointed, like the previous issue.
Howard the Duck #7 ("The Way the Cookie Crumbles", Dec. 1976). Grade: B+. The previous issue's storyline is wrapped up jarringly fast so Howard can move on to a political convention and political humor. Gerber tears down political straw men as Howard is set up to run for President, but is more subtle and astute while connecting political corruption with sexual harassment.
Howard the Duck #8 ("Open Season", Jan. 1977). Grade: A-. Politically innovative for a comic book, including a then-rare combination of text piece and traditional comic panels, the humor about our political system is still rather obvious and the assassination attempt run-on gag is morbid and not funny.
Howard the Duck #9 ("Scandal Plucks Duck", Feb. 1977). Grade: B-. More disjointed than ever, the running for President plot is dumped entirely to pack Howard off to...Canada? The Beaver isn't a remotely funny villain, but the jibes at the Canadian mountie stereotype are.
Howard the Duck #10 ("Swan-Song of the Living Dead Duck", March 1977). Grade: B-. Gerber gets too cerebral for his own good, devouting a whole issue to Howard surreal dream -- or is it just to give Colan a chance to draw every character from the series to date in one issue?
Marvel Team-Up #49 ("Madness Is All in the Mind", Sept. 1976). Grade: C+. Iron Man is barely important to this story, where Spider-Man and Capt. DeWolff learn more in the mystery of the Wraith. Spider-Man says it best, though, when he says Mysterio and Mirage can already do what the Wraith can. Sal Buscema art does not help. Mostly a yawn.
Marvel Team-Up #52 ("Danger: Demon on a Rampage", Dec. 1976). Grade: B. Sure, it's got Sal Buscema, but it's got Batroc too. Can't go wrong with Batroc! Then Cap and Spidey team up to take down an extradimensional alien previously drawn by Kirby in Cap's title. Odds are Kirby drew it better.
Fantastic Four #176 ("Improbable As It May Seem-- the Impossible Man Is Back in Town", Nov. 1976). Grade: B+. Thomas' exposition-heavy take on the FF is pretty dull, but Perez makes them look good and the fun starts, not with the Impossible Man, but with his trip to Marvel's offices and meeting all the staff there. My copy is signed by Roy Thomas, so it's particularly hard for me to throw this one out.
Marvel Premiere Featuring the Mark of Kane #33 ("The Mark of Kane", Dec. 1976). Grade: B+. Has Chaykin's art ever looked better than in his early days? The first story is a confusing, but thankfully short one about Kane fighting a Spanish illusionist (but if those are illusions, then how did they kill the priest in the pit?), but this is a prelude to a longer piece about the brigands that Kane is tracking and Kane's encounter with their leader, The Wolf.
Marvel Two-in-One #24 ("Does Anyone Remember...the Hijacker?", Feb. 1977). Grade: C+. It's interesting to watch an obscure Ant-Man enemy that hasn't been seen in 14 years holding his own against the Thing, even for a short while. Black Goliath tags along, but is more interesting as scientist Bill Foster before he suits up. Again, another '70s comic saddled with Sal Buscema's lackluster art.
Super-Villain Team-Up #10 ("The Sign of the Skull", Feb. 1977). Grade: B-. A watered down Dr. Doom lets Capt. America tag along, is afraid of his own missiles, and gets beaten by the Red Skull? Sub-plots with Sub-Mariner and the Shroud don't help and only the all-star cast and awesome cover saved this from a C+ or lower.
The Human Fly #4 ("Rocky Mountain Nightmare", Dec. 1977). Grade: B+. Bill Mantlo still on top of his game with an intriguing story of two obssessed fathers, dressed up in superhero clothes.
Spider-Woman #1 ("A Future Uncertain", April 1978). Grade: B. Promising start, primarily an origin flashback with a romantic mystery plot.
Spider-Woman #4 ("H--- Is the Hangman", July 1978). Grade: C+. Wolfman can't seem to decide if the Brothers Grimm or the Hangman is the main villain, nor can he decide if Spider-Woman has super strength or not.
Spider-Woman #5 ("Nightmare", Aug. 1978). Grade: B-. Was the Hangman ever there at all? After providing a bondage scene, he mercifully and mysteriously disappears from comic books. Once he's gone, Spider-Woman has one of those dream sequences that combines "story-so-far" flashback with angst-riddled introspection.
Spider-Woman #6 ("End of a Nightmare", Sept. 1978). Grade: B-. Wolfman seems determined to attract an adult audience, even if he has to fill the dialog with profanities to do it. It would have helped more if the story had made more sense. How does Jessica's venom bolt disentegrate Morgan LeFey? Why are her powers always so variable? Why does Magnus summon Jerry Hunt? Hunt has been reduced by now to a Steve Trevor-like tagalong boyfriend. At least, for once, a Spider-Woman issue has an actual ending instead of a cliffhanger.
Spider-Woman #7 ("July 4, 1978...", Oct. 1978). Grade: C. Spider-Woman's search for her father is wrapped up too conveniently, Pyrotechnics, Inc. is a lame, generic villainous organization, and how does a Brother Grimm just happen to turn up for one panel to stretch the story out? At least we're reminded that Hunt works for SHIELD by the Nick Fury cameo.
Spider-Woman #8 ("The Man Who Could Not Die", Nov. 1978). Grade: D+. Wolfman is still trying too hard for off-beat and revisits the bondage theme from #4. How can Jessica snap chains easily now and rope gave her trouble then? A tragic villain wanting to end his serial immortality was a good idea, but it makes less sense when he wants to kill Jessica too. And where would they find spikes growing naturally at the bottom of a cliff? And what's the deal with the back-up story about a haunted suit? And now Jessica can smash through walls already?
Bugs Bunny #203 ("Rendezvous at Bleak Point", Dec. 1978). Grade: C. Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd tackle smugglers, then Bugs and friends stop a burglar, and finally Bugs helps a fat man lose weight. The art is bland and the stories never live up to the plots.
Machine Man #12 ("Where Walk the Gods," Dec. 1979). Grade: B-. Machine Man finds himself judged by the very people he tries to save, then inexplicably gives five people superpowers just by accidentally shocking them with electricity, and then gets judged a monster by them until a boy speaks up for Machine Man. Without that weird middle part, this would have been a much more effective story. Ditko inks himself here?