Monday, September 15, 2008

Last of the Comic Book Eulogies

[The following should -- hopefully! -- be the last comics pulled from my collection for mildew infection.]
Marvel's Greatest Comics Starring the Fantastic Four #56 (May 1975). "When Calls Galactus." Grade: B. Reprinting FF #74, where the return of the Silver Surfer and Galactus should have been much better than this fight between three of the FF and Galactus' Punisher robot (yet another robot, this one without any of the personality of the Sentry). Galactus looks great, everything looks great, but...the whole thing about the Surfer hiding out in the Microverse from Galactus occurs off-panel and is explained to us at the very end. The most important subplot is Reed lying to Sue to keep her out of the fight.
Marvel’s Greatest Comics Starring the Fantastic Four #59 (Oct. 1975). “Shall Earth Endure.” Grade: B+. Reprinting FF #77 when, if you were reading the FF at the time, you were sticking around just for the art. Though Kirby is still at the height of his powers, Lee has slacked off at this point from giving him narrative structure. This whole storyline just doesn’t make much sense. How long was the Silver Surfer in the Microverse, and how did Reed know when the Surfer left? Shouldn’t they have been searching for him harder instead of slugging it out with the Psycho-Man for so long (not that they aren’t gorgeously choreographed fight scenes)? What’s to stop Galactus from coming back and threatening Earth to get the Surfer to work for him again any time he wants?
Avengers #143 (Jan. 1976). "Right Between the Eons". Grade: B-. Englehart meant for this to be the last Kang story, which is odd because he only devotes half of the comic and half of the Avengers to dealing with one of the Avengers' oldest and most important foes. George Perez's art has never looked worse than with Sam Grainger inking it.
Fantastic Four #139 (Oct. 1973). “Target: Tomorrow.” Grade: C. Reed and Sue’s breakup was one of the most natural changes Thomas ever affected on his characters (given how sexist Reed always was), but that is relegated to a single page while Ben, Johnny, and Medusa take on a revamped (but still boring) Miracle Man. Thomas unpersuasively tries to raise the stakes by (somehow?) tying the Miracle Man’s powers to our nuclear arsenal. And, in true Lee/Kirby fashion, the FF don’t win the day so much as are bailed out by a (literal) dues ex machine.
Fantastic Four #174 (Sept. 1976). “Starquest.” Grade: B-. This is epic? Reed finds a switch that turns off all the Mekkans? Johnny is imprisoned in a water bucket and forced to watch Gorr, a yellow Beast-like character, steal his scenes? It’s John Buscema’s art carrying the FF at this point (it may also be worth recalling later that this was one of the stinkiest cases of mildew infestation I ever encountered in my collection).
Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts #18 (Sept. 1976). "The Dream Is Dead." Grade: B+. Likely attempting to outdo O'Neil's road trip for Green Lantern and Green Arrow, Englehart here sends Dr. Strange and Clea back through time to rediscover the magic of America, literally. This requires a bit of historical tweaking, making Sir Frances Bacon and Ben Franklin real mystics, so they don't freak out when Dr. Strange casts spells around them. Intriguing concepts to say the least, seems hard to believe that a human wizard, Stygryo, can elude Strange so many times in a row, and Clea is still being treated as painfully naive, allowing herself to be seduced by Franklin just because Strange won't put out all the way for her.
Superhero Catalog of Games, Books, Toys, Puzzles; Vol. 1, No.1-5 (1976-1977). Grade: D. I loved these catalogs when I was growing up. They are chock full of comic book-related merchandise, accompanied by snazzy art and text done by people like Roger Stern, Rick Veitch, Jim Salicrup, Karl Kessel, and Bob Budiansky (all just starting out?), helped initially by Marie Severin, and master Joe Kubert slapping a brand new cover on each issue. I used to dream about having all the cool stuff pictured inside. But one day I talked my mom into sending away for the Spider-Man webshooters advertised. In the days before silly string, these were cheap, wrist-mounted plunger-shooters. I was so disappointed, that I'm giving the serial a D!
Eternals: When Gods Walk the Earth #1 (Jul. 1976). ""The Day of the Gods." Grade: B. Semi-promising re-start of the New Gods with gorgeous Kirby art and an interesting anti-hero in Kro, but too talky, as Kirby tended to get when he wrote himself. Ikaris, or Ike Harris, is simply boring (the shroud gun that takes him out of the fight basically just throws a sheet over his head). Nice foreshadowing for the arrival of the Celestials.
Eternals: When Gods Walk the Earth #7 (Jan. 1977). "The Fourth Host." Grade: C+. Kirby makes the Celestials look awesome, but the story fails every time a character opens his mouth. Ajak the Eternal is the only Eternal present and spends most of his time groveling like a pansy to the Celestials, except for when he's going down with one punch from an ordinary human.
Eternals: When Gods Walk the Earth #8 (Feb. 1977). "The City of Toads." Grade: A-. Here the Eternals saga kicks into high gear, with the exciting elements of undersea Lemuria, the "return" of Ransak (= Bug from the New Gods), the love/hate relationship between Thena and Kro, and Kirby actually showing the philosophy of the characters instead of telling us (tellingly, the Eternals get bored and leave when an anthropologist tries to sum up their backstory).
Taking a Chance...With No Chance to Win (1976). Grade: D+. Mercifully short, preachy story about kids learning the dangers of cigarettes from a fellow student. Maddening that I can't place the artist, as it looks like it was ghosted by a professional.
Man Called Nova #11 (July 1977). "Nova No More." Grade: B-. Ugh, here's Sal Buscema again! And Wolfman's dialogue is as exposition-heavy as ever. It's so hard to take the Sphinx seriously in his goofy costume, but the Sayge/Sphinx relationship/mystery is maybe the best thing to come from Nova's comic book. Star Trek jogging Nova's memories after the Sphinx tries to suppress them is a nice touch too. Looks like the "proving you're a man by standing up to a superior foe even as he kicks your butt" storyline was a cliche even as early as '77. And is Bernie the first gay supporting cast character in comics, or does he just look gay because he's from the '70s? Hard to tell.
Man Called Nova #12 (Aug. 1977). ""Who Is the Man Called Photon?" Grade: B+. Did I say the Sagye was the best thing out of Nova's comic book? No, it's this, which is not only part one of a crossover with Amazing Spider-Man, but part one of an honest-to-gosh murder mystery with superheroics. Rare as this is, the mystery isn't all that original. Spider-Man is suffering from the de-powering Marvel was subtly doing to him in the '70s, as a suspect with no superpowers is briefly able to hold his own against Spidey (and the same thing happens again in part two). Plus Nova, as Richard Ryder, punches Peter Parker and Peter actually seems to be knocked back by it. And then there's that goofy scene where the soon-to-murdered physicist guesses Peter is a superhero just by using anagrams of his name.
Daredevil: the Man Without Fear #150 (Jan. 1978). "Catastrophe." Grade: B+. Carmine Infantino and Klaus Janson put their all into the artwork here, perhaps inspired by their chance to work with Jim Shooter. Matt's dream sequence deals with the difficulties of proving mind control in a court of law. The dashing Paladin is introduced in a pretty good fight scene that gives DD competition to catch the Purple Man. And the last two pages set us up with an daring, edgy cliffhanger that wraps up Shooter's stint on the book.
Daredevil: the Man Without Fear #151 (Apr. 1978). "Crisis." Grade: B. Edgy material, with Matt's girlfriend Heather's father committing suicide, Matt revealing he's DD to Heather, Heather blaming Matt, Matt blaming himself, and Matt giving up being DD until he sees a boy almost killed by a hijacked bus. Though Heather's problem is nicely left lingering, Matt's defeat of his self-doubt is more pat, with him deciding all he can do is try his best by story's end. I'm skeptical about burning clothes making enough smoke to smoke the bad guys out of the hijacked bus. Guest-artist Gil Kane's art is almost unrecognizable under Janson's inks and might just be layouts. Most of the plot is left over from Shooter's run that just ended.
Daredevil: the Man Without Fear #152 (May 1978). "Prisoner." Grade: B. Infantino's art looks pretty good here, with Janson's inks giving it a modern, gritty look that conceals Infantino's Silver Age origins. DD solves Foggy's love life problems with depressed Debbie in interesting, superheroic fashion, we get an interesting teaser about what Deathstalker (a super-cool villain) is up to, but then have to wait through a dull Daredevil/Paladin fight that is there to remind us that Paladin is tracking down the Purple Man (since DD is too busy with other subplots). Busy, busy!
DC Comics Presents Superman #3 (Nov. 1978). "Riddle of Little Earth Lost." Grade: A. Superman teams up with Adam Strange, thanks to a pre-Marvel David Michelinie channeling Julie Schwartz. This is a smart sci-fi mystery, with the two heroes mysteriously appearing on each other's adopted worlds -- or have the planets changed places around them? It's all thanks to an obscure Strange villain named Kaskor, who even makes use of Superman's little-noted vulnerability to red sunlight. Best of all is the gorgeous art of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.
DC Comics Presents Superman #4 (Dec. 1978). "Sun-Stroke." Grade: B. Superman teams up with the Metal Men in a story that doesn't take itself too seriously, even as the Earth is threatened by an obscure Hawkman villain named I.Q., no less. Highlights include the giant monster Chemo sitting patiently listening to I.Q.'s exposition and Superman triple-checking I.Q.'s math and proving him wrong (something that would never happen post-Crisis when Superman was dumbed down!). Len Wein turns in some above-average writing, and we're treated to more of Garcia-Lopez.
Mickey Mouse and Goofy Explore Energy Conservation (1978). Grade: C-. Long, preachy story where Mickey teaches Goofy about energy conservation and then, because there are more pages to fill, Goofy dreams about a talking ball of energy preaching to him some more. Best moment is Goofy envisioning what his children would look like.

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