RETRO REVIEW: Power Man & Iron Fist #79 (March 1982)

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Or – “Do Ya S’pose This Would Be The Twelfth Or Thirteenth?”

Before the fez, before the brainy specs, before the leather jacket and jumper, there was a time when the general public (i.e., the non-nerds in the world) knew nothing of a certain Gallifreyan and his adventure in time, space and dimension.  Luckily for us, the ladies and gentlemen who worked at Marvel Comics were among the nerds, and delivered unto us the most unlikely crossover moment of all…

POWER MAN & IRON FIST #79
Script: Mary Jo Duffy
Pencils: Kerry Gammill
Inks: Ricardo Villamonte
Colors: Christie Scheele
Letters: Jim Novak
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 60 Cents (Current Near-Mint Price: $3.00)

Previously, on Power Man & Iron Fist:  Luke Cage, born of the streets of Harlem and a chemical bath at Seagate prison.  Daniel Rand, born of a life of privilege and the zen teachings of the lost city of K’un Lun.  Unlikely friends, at best, their partnership was one of the best things about the end of the Bronze Age of Comics, outlasting both their respect crazes (Blaxploitation and Kung Fu movies, respectively.)  And no matter how much I like New Avengers, I desperately miss both the tiara and the giant golden disco collar…

We begin backstage on Broadway, as Power Man and Iron Fist visit their old pal Bob Diamond (late of the Sons of the Tiger) on the set of his latest shot at stardom: Day of The Dredlox!

Contrary to what appearances, Bob is NOT playing a color-blind version of Colonel Sanders, but instead an adventurer called Professor Gamble, who fights evil cyborgs that look like overturned garbage cans across time and space.  (Interestingly, Bob looks remarkably like a younger, smarmier version of Jon Pertwee in these sequences.)  At first, Bob is all bravado, but soon it becomes clear that something strange is happening in the theatre, as people and props disappear and various strange occurrences affect the production.  Power Man and Iron Fist agree to investigate, and find that the Dreadlox androids are a lot more than they seem!

“INCINERATE!  INCINERATE!”  Even at the tender age of 11, I knew that something weird was up with this issue, and that it was a reference to something that I didn’t get.  (I had a similar moment the first time I read Mark Gruenwald writing about something he loved called “The Prisoner,” which sounded exciting and exotic and weird.)  The heroes duck into the tiny bookshop, only to find…

…it’s bigger on the inside.  Mary Jo Duffy is still, I believe, working in comics here and there, and I’ve always enjoyed her dialogue, and especially enjoy her faux-Doctor musings here.  At this point in history, most of America would have only known the Fourth Doctor, with his scarf and curls, and Professor Gamble’s interactions with the heroes here is perfectly in keeping with Tom Baker-style characterization.  The REAL Professor Gamble explains that he wrote Bob’s new play (under the name Sergius O’Shaughnnesy, the psudonym that this issue’s editor Denny O’Neil used when he wrote for Charlton Comics) and that the threat of the Dreadlox is quite real.  Worse still, Bob Diamond is now their prisoner!

This, by the  way, is probably one of the places where I gleaned the word “frammistat” as a place-holder, also used by Cyborg at least once in ‘Teen Titans.’  I always liked the 70′s inner-city streetwise characters, which is why I have a complete run of Power Man/Iron Fist in the first place.  Using their respective powers of “kung fu” and “ass-kicking,” Luke and Danny engage the Dreadlox in battle, while the Doctor the Professor sneaks in to undermine their time machine.  Fighty-fighty ensues, and the killer robots use their superior numbers to gain the upper hand… errr, pincer.

Our heroes regroup, just in time for the cops to arrive…

Power Man and Iron Fist manage to spin the whole thing as a publicity stunt for Bob’s Broadway show, and all we’re missing is the tell-tale “VWORP!  VWORP!” noise that the TARDIS doesn’t actually make, but for some reason is always used for the sound effect in comics.  To be honest, I remember this issue as being considerably cooler than it actually is, partially due to an obscure later appearance by Professor Gamble that gives more depth to his character and ties him into a later Walt Simonson Thor story about the Time Variance Authority. Either way, the issues of Power Man & Iron Fist (especially of this vintage) are kind of a crapshoot.  As one of Marvel’s lower-tier titles, it ranges from brilliant (‘The Road To Halwan’ is a good one, as is the Firebolt one-shot) to ridiculous (the Zeno Stardust issue) and it’s funny to see the early-80′s assumptions on both ninjas and urban culture in action.  Overall, this issue has a lot of fun references and tributes to Doctor Who which overcome some flaws in the plotting (it both begins and ends pretty abruptly) and the art (Luke Cage looks uncomfortable simian throughout the book, even if Iron Fist looks as good under Kerry Gammill’s pen as he has since John Byrne.)  Power Man & Iron Fist #79 is better in retrospect, and is more successful as pastiche than as an individual issue, hitting a pretty average 2.5 out of 5 stars overall. 

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  When it comes to tributes like this, is it enough to just be a fan?  Or do you need to have something new to say about things?