Karen: After a brief hiatus, I'm back to the wonderful world of Deathlok, with issue 31 of Astonishing Tales. This issue has a memorable cover by Ed Hannigan to start it off. Doug Moench is back as writer, and Rich Buckler and Keith Pollard are credited as artists, with the inimitable Klaus Janson beginning his turn on the title as inker (although unfortunately he's not the inker on the next issue!). I have to say, the Janson-inked issues are the ones that really stand out in my memory. He brought a really smooth, solid look to the book -it looks more professional, more polished, when Janson is the inker.
Karen: We only get a 10 page story this time around, as the last half of the book contains a Watcher reprint. I'm assuming that Buckler and company had some sort of problem cranking out a full story, and rather than letting the 'dreaded deadline doom' force a full issue of reprints, maybe they just went with a shortened version? Whatever the case might be, this brief story has a couple of nice points to it, chief among them, the Janson finishes. After defeating Ryker's cyber-tank, Deathlok runs into best friend Mike Travers, a soldier buddy who once saved Luther's (Deathlok's) life. Unfortunately in the five years that passed since Luther's 'death', Mike and Luther's wife Janice have now become a couple, and this naturally sends our cyborg pal into a rage. He'd been hoping, probably foolishly, that he could find someone to 'fix' him, to give him back his humanity. Then of course he would return to his wife and son. Now, that option is gone. He pummels Mike a bit until he reminds him that he did save his life. With that, the disconsolate cyborg lets Travers go and wanders off.
Karen: When Deathlok sees a helicopter on a roof, he decides to take it. But he stumbles into a deal going down between some gangster-types, and overhears them say that they're going to kidnap the surgeon who created Deathlok! He manages to take out three of the four goons, but the fourth runs to the chopper and starts to take off. Despite his internal computer's protests, Deathlok decides that he's going to jump after it - "Cuz Mr. Briefcase up there knows where to find Mr. Surgeon. If it's a choice between livin' in this putrid body and missin' the jump to go splat on the sidewalk - then I'd rather die!!"
Karen: Moench and Buckler probably do as much as they can with ten pages, although it still feels far too brief. But we see a definite goal now forming for Deathlok, to find a way to regain his humanity, his identity. Travers' revelation is brutal -how far down can Deathlok go? - but brings another layer to the story. So the plot thickens.
Doug: Today's picture story hearkens back to December 1975 in a hero- and villain-packed extravaganza. Marvel Team-Up #40 featured Spider-Man (natch!), the Human Torch, the Sons of the Tiger, the Sandman, the Enforcers (sans the Ox), the Big Man, and the Crime Master. I had this one as a wee lad, and loved it to death. Bill Mantlo provided the words and Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito handled the graphics.
This one starts like a downhill rollercoaster, apparently continued from the previous issue (although it's hardly referenced) -- all-out combat between Spidey and the Torch and all of the above-named do-badders. Seems the Big Man and the Crime Master are trying to be the one to kill Spider-Man; curious, however, that both of these would-be crime lords met their ends much earlier. Sandman is just sort of in this story as a heavy, with no clear allegiance to either "boss"; same for the Enforcers. The Torch is eventually captured, as is Spider-Man, and it ain't lookin' good for the longjohn crowd.
But, lo and behold if the Sons of the Tiger aren't in the adjacent building, a run-down and abandoned martial arts school. While training, our young kung fu fighters (a veritable United Nations of heroes!) are alerted to loud noises coming from not-too-far. Heading next door to investigate, Tiger Lin Sun and Tigress Lotus break up the assembled gang and free our heroes. You guessed it -- more melee as Bob and Abe, the remaining Sons of the Tiger, join the fracas. Crime Master eventually launches a gas grenade, giving the villains a cover under which to escape. The Torch cuts out because he has a date over in FF #165 with Frankie Raye, and Spidey and the Sons of the Tiger split up as well.
Sooner than later, the baddies show themselves, Spidey pursues, and discovers that the Sons of the Tiger were ambushed are have been taken captive. Of course Spidey jumps in, begins administering beatdowns, and it's game on! again. I'll tell you, this comic made me want to take a deep breath a few times. The ratio of action pages to inaction pages was seriously 15-3. What a great memory from my childhood -- Sal Buscema cutting loose in his own way, and everything a team-up book should be: lots of style and not much substance required. If I have one criticism, it's that scribe Mantlo doesn't quite have Spidey's "voice" down. But it's minor -- overall, the three primary creators move the story along well.
The "big pay-off" is the reveal that both the Crime Master and the Big Man were in fact the son and daughter (respectively) of their crooked fathers. However, in each other's crazed drive to kill Spider-Man in revenge of their father's death, Crime Master plugs the Big Man. Only thing is, neither had known the other's secret, and they'd fallen in love some years before. So in effect, Crime Master had killed the love of his life. A nice little twist, and a decent closing scene to what had been a fun Bronze Age comic book!