Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

The 1978 Iron Man story arc where Tony Stark reacts to the superhero life by overindulging in alcohol is a generally well-written set of stories. A glaring discontinuity is apparent though, in one of the early issues where a guest penciller fills in for one issue. Bethany Cabe is seen for the second time in the arc and she's presented as a flirty airhead.


Rhodey, who becomes an important character later on, is seen as a chubby, mellow, laid-back working stiff.


Two issues later, both characters are re-introduced. Bethany has gotten much more serious and focused and Rhodey has slimmed down and gotten serious as well.

Bethany & Rhodey
I blame the editors for goofs like this. Somebody just clearly wasn't paying attention, didn't see to it that the fill-in artist was properly briefed on the storyline and permitted these inconsistencies to appear.
And yeah, this next page, where Tony has been tossed out of the SHIELD helicarrier from many thousands of feet up, is really dramatic and well drawn, but there's a bit of a problem here.

Bethany & Rhodey
Erm, how exactly did Tony get his "$300 Pierre Cardin jacket" over the suitcase that's clearly handcuffed to his wrist? Hmm, maybe he did a fast disconnect-reconnect to allow the jacket to slip off? Ah well, that might probably just fall under "willing suspension of disbelief," as it's necesary to the story that Tony remains handcuffed to his suitcase as otherwise he might not be able to do his mid-air change (He got his armor on and got it activated just in time to avoid being splattered all over the town that he was over).


As to the lack of editorship on the Conan the Barbarian series, one particular item I noticed upon a new Editor-in-Chief taking over at Marvel Comics was that Conan would often have as many as three titles, one previewed in the prior issue, one on the cover and one on the first page. With better editorship came single titles that would be used consistently in all three places.

The storyline where Conan spends time on a pirate ship with Belit. the "Queen of the Black Coast," was one where I picked up most of the issues, but was never really all that impressed by them and after reading this review in The Comics Journal #50 (1978), decided to dispose of them all. It annoyed me to have wasted my time on a sub-standard storyline. As TCJ pointed out, the story didn't even count as an arc as it was too aimless and meandering for that. Over the course of almost 50 issues, Belit got captured and had to be rescued three separate times, Conan and Belit fought each other under the influence of sorcery three, perhaps four, times, Belit acted more like a spoiled brat than a pirate queen and was never supplied with any believable motivations.

Conan & Belit

It was hard to believe that she led the pirates under her command with any skill or competence prior to Conan's appearance on the scene. It was also pretty hard to see what Conan's attraction to her was. I don't remember any times when they simply relaxed and enjoyed each other's company. Of course, in order to have a contrast to their usual sailing about, the two of them would have to have been supplied with a believable motivation to begin with, some actual purpose for sailing around on the seas. They were clearly competent enough fighters that they could have filled their ship with treasure and retired long before their story ended. Conan was pretty spectacularly written at times, especially in the early years when it was drawn by Barry Smith, but in the Belit years, it was pretty forgettable.

The current series is a breath of fresh air as this new Belit comes across as entirely believable love interest of Conan's and as a skilled and competent pirate captain. The 2012 Conan spends more time talking with a crew member over the course of a single page than the 1970s Conan did over the course of almost 50 issues. I don't believe the 1970s Conan or Belit ever even referred to any of the crew members by their name.

The three series Swamp Thing, Sandman and the Sandman spin-off Lucifer were all distinguished, for the better, by the fact that they were all conceived as limited series. The 1970s Conan, along with just about all the other comics at the time, were written to be forever-and-ever stories where we saw a lot of filling of pages and dragging out of stories just to make it to issue #100 or some other milestone. With the Swamp Thing under the writer Alan Moore, the series went from 1982 to 1985 and then ended, meaning that the series was always jam-packed with fresh and interesting storylines. The series never felt like it was simply marking time or fillng up pages. The writer Neil Gaiman wrote Sandman from 1989 to 1996 and helped to start up Lucifer (Heavily based on the John Milton book Paradise Lost), which was written by Mike Carey and ran from 2000 to 2006. In all three cases, the series' were full and interesting and never had the "filler" feel that the 1970s Conan often had.


Here's another 1978 work that really annoyed me. This is from Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes #242. Now, I have to admit that the terminology that Light Lass uses here bothers me much more during my post-military career than it did before I was sensitive to the language here, but the four superheroines in this story are not "on leave," they're "on liberty.'

light lass
Being on leave normally means you're not available to your unit for at least 24 hours and frequently, you're geographically outside your usual place of duty for at least a few days. The superheroines are merely out for the evening (The story is called "Girls' Night Out") and have every intention of mustering as usual the next morning. Yeah, okay, that's a fussy objection and I doubt that I noticed it at the time.

 princess projectra
Whuuh?!?!?! The bad guys tied up a bunch of projections?!?!?! Princess Projectra's powers are visual, she doesn't have the ability to project solid-feeling images. If she had any such power, she wouldn't need to engage in straight-up fistfighting as she does below.

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Plus which, y'know, these villainous henchmen are all pretty buff, capable-looking dudes. None of them look weak enough to be thrown around like they do here, yet she handles them all without even breaking a sweat. That might make sense if we saw the superheroines at the beginning of the stoy emerging from the gym after a tough workout and they commiserated with each other about how hard they had to work to keep in shape and to keep their fighting skills sharp. As it is, this amazing ninja-babe type fighting ability just comes, unexplained, out of the blue.

Here, in a story two years later, Shadow Lass explains her powers:

shadow lass
As with Princess Projectra, Shadow Lass' powers are purely visual. But here in the Girls' Night Out story, Shadow Lass engages in incredible physical feats:

shadow lass
I guess it's not out of the question that this character could, without any special super-powered fighting abilities, smack and throw around the bad guy as though he were just a rag doll, but it's not terribly believable.

I can certainly understand that this is a back-up story in a giant-size issue and the writer was probably told at the last minute "Yo, we need a 14-page story [Out of a 35-page issue] and we wanna make the females look really powerful and capable." Of course, Shadow Lass was introduced in 1968 and they just weren't coming up with a lot of tough, capable superheroines at that point. The writer didn't have a lot of leeway to soup up the female characters so that they could do awesome stuff. But as I said earlier, the writer could have spent some time explaining how the women were receiving special training and how they were all seriously in awesome shape. The whole story just annoyed me because they crudely tried to make these characters something that they weren't.

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Now, Shadow Lass or Umbra or "Shady" (Yes, all six of the above pictures are of the same character), given much better writers in later years, never had her powers upgraded, but became a much more sympathetic and respectable character.  Princess Projectra, on the other hand, fell on hard times after being deposed from her position as a princess, became a villainness and made a very energetic and a pretty successful run at destroying the Legion.

The Werewolf story (1973) starts off in a satisfactory manner. A trucker notices the Werewolf's shadowy figure among the trucks.

among the trucks
The truckers are entirely justified in going after our protagonist

but they're clearly going to enjoy themselves WAY too much!
After a lot of in-the-dark scuffling...

the truckers finally get a good look at who they were beating up. It wouldn't have been justified for the truckers to have gotten badly hurt and they weren't. They just got a good scare out of it all.
Our hero and the Werewolf's alter ego, Jack Russell, goes to the circus with his sister Lissa and her boyfriend Buck.

falls prey
Jack quickly falls under the Swami Rhiva's spell and never regains full consciousness for the remainder of the story. The Werewolf is fully conscious, but only has the rather-limited intelligence of a wolf. We're introduced to two other characters, Elmo & Mige.

 Mige and Elmo
Elmo restrains Mige and protects Jack.

But Elmo proves to be an equal-opportunity protector, rescuing Mige from the Werewolf.

Jack's sister returns and questions Rhiva and discovers Jack in a state of stupor.

falls under spell
Buck and Lissa also fall under Rhiva's spell and become the chicken-man and the serpent-girl.

So here's my problem with this story. The good guys, Jack, Lissa and Buck are all taken out of commission and the Werewolf is easily handled, so Elmo, a fellow who's officially on the side of the bad guys, turns out to be insubordinate and disrespectful towards his senior people and refuses to obey orders. This makes for what I felt was an unsatisfying ending as the heroes did nothing to save themselves but were instead dependent on one of the bad guys turning on his own side for their survival. Rhiva, Elmo and Mige all die, saving our heroes the trouble of dealing with their welfare and Jack/The Werewolf, Lissa and Buck all escape without difficulty. No exactly objectionable, but unsatisfying.

Now HERE'S how to deal wtth employees who won't take instructions!

Darkseid learns
Darkseid punishes
That's what I'M talkin' 'bout!