Yup, I threatened to do this, now it's going to happen. I'd thought about waiting until I was finished with Howard the Duck but I decided to go ahead and get started.
For this discussion, I'll be covering Luke Cage: Hero For Hire #1-16, Luke Cage: Power Man #17-27 and Power Man @28-48.
Seems like the only way Goliath would think he could make lots of money at a circus would be if he knew it was crooked and intended to insist on his share of what they stole. This was a time when long running circuses and carnivals were going out of business, unable to compete with Disneyland. Remember those Palisades Park ads DC ran in the 60s? It closed in 1971. And it even had a hit song advertising it.
Randy Jackson said:
Luke begins to storm off angrily but Claire tells him that the man she's here to see is Bill Foster, her ex-husband (it's interesting to note that apparently their being divorced was a really big deal back then).
I don't think divorce was still a major no-no in society back then. I suspect they were trying hard to make it palatable to the Comics Code.
Sorry I haven't been keeping up with the thread, Randy. Here's my catching up thoughts.
Luke Cage, Power Man 22 - I think Stiletto is the best example of seeing how at this point Tony Isabella was a young and inexperienced writer. He added Stiletto to the 3rd and final chapter of the Retribution storyline in issue 16 and I found the character to be a bad fit, just there so Luke has someone to fight as Randy said at the time. After being a bad fit, the character comes back in this issue in a contrived and overly complicated story, he and his brother Discus both seem deranged as they think they're heroes but they are definitely not. They're not even good vigilantes. Then it's revealed their father is a minor character from issue 1, a reveal meant to shock but just leaves a reader perplexed. Isabella crammed a lot into one issue, as Randy noted, and didn't do a good job explaining things.
Luke Cage, Power Man 23 - I agree with everything Randy said, just not good or fun. I think Isabella was trying to say something profound about gated communities, which I think were starting to come into vogue around this time, but it really fell flat. The ending was especially bad, as Luke was leaving innocent people to die in my view, as I suspect Mace and his forces wouldn't have too much trouble with an unorganized resistance even if the townspeople were armed. Mace had tricked ordinary people into moving to Security City - families, seniors, and children - so when D.W. said at the end
"When you really think about it, Cage, maybe places like Security City are a good idea. If you send all the jerks like Mace and all the clowns like the people who fell for his line of bull there -- maybe they'll just go after each other and let the rest of us alone."
that really left a bad taste in my mouth. People who want to get away from crime and drugs are no better than a killer like Mace? Really?
Luke Cage, Power Man 24 - I'm not as down on the Circus of Crime as Randy is, as by 1975 they have had run-ins with many Marvel heroes but I have only read a few of those stories. They haven't yet reached their jumping the shark moment of losing to Howard the Duck. Luke has certainly faced less memorable foes. I think a super-group versus Luke is an interesting idea. My biggest disappointment with this issue is Goliath, who comes across as an unlikable jerk so he and Luke can fight. I like Bill Foster and I wish Marvel had done more with him, but I'm surprised he got his own (short-lived 5 issue) series less than a year after this two parter.
Oh and I think Foster joined a circus not because he thought it would be fast, easy money, but because he didn't have many other options. He's trapped at 15 feet, it kinda screams "circus freak". He should have swallowed his pride and asked Stark or Pym for help.
Was he afraid Hank would say "I told you not to mess with that growing stuff" or something?
The truth is worse than shame or crime!
Luke Cage, Power Man #25 - "Crime and Circuses"
Cover Date: June 1975
Writer: Tony Isabella & Bill Mantlo
Artist: Ron Wilson
Claire is shaking a hypnotized Luke, attempting to snap him out of his hypnotic state. A little quick exposition introduces the Circus of Crime and the fact that they have both Luke and Goliath hypnotized. We also have Claire coming to the realization that it's Luke that she loves. I will give plenty of kudos to the team for pulling this off in a one-page splash.
As the other members of the Circus of Crime are introduced (including newcomers Live Wire and Strong Man (Guido should sue)--oh, and the Clown is now Funny Man, as if that makes him more threatening) D.W. is still running loose and trying to figure out what to do.
As the Circus bickers among themselves (Luigi Gambonno owes Luke his life and wants to make sure he isn't killed) Live Wire recounts his personal history, including somehow escaping the Fantastic Four, when he got the idea--after seeing an article in the paper about the Circus getting beaten by Daredevil...again--that maybe these guys would make good partners (Live Wire is not the sharpest knife in the drawer). He busts them out on the way to the pokey and joins up. Meanwhile, Princess Python is making goo-goo eyes at Luke while recounting her own recent history with the Serpent Squad. Claire isn't going to take this lying down and...
[Joey Styles] CATFIGHT! [/Joey Styles]
It's a quick one though, as a Dr. in a store front clinic just plain isn't a match for a woman in scaled clothes with a doohickey that shoots electric bolts. Live Wire does give her some static about this, feeling that she used excessive force. The good Princess reminds him that she answers to no man, and done is done.
Meanwhile, D.W. is wracked with indecision as to what to do. He does notice they're carrying Claire off to Princess Python's wagon. Inside the wagon, the Princess wants some rope to tie up Claire, and Live Wire leaves, a little non-plussed about the people he's hooked up with. Somehow the Princesses attack has bothered him greatly. In the meantime Claire wakes up without the Princess noticing.
Back in the center ring, the Ringmaster suggests planning their next job. Strong Man asks if they're just going to leave the heroes there (really, he and Live Wire are way too smart for these guys), and the Ringmaster says that as long as they're under his hypnotic control, they aren't a threat. D.W. has an idea--if he can get the Ringmaster's hat, he can snap Luke and Goliath out of their hypnotic state. The members of the circus depart, each to their own wagons. D.W. attempts to jump the Ringmaster, but gets caught by Live Wire. He tells the Ringmaster that he's going to tie him up while he joins the boys back in the tent. Ringmaster says yes, but wonders aloud why Live Wire's lariat wasn't set for kill. Live Wire doesn't answer. In the meantime, we see a shadowy, robed character leaving Princess Python's wagon.
The shadowy figure joins the rest of the circus in the tent. Strong Man assumes that it's the Princess(because she must like walking around casually in shadowy robes) until he notices the hands in the robe are dark-skinned. They're also carrying Princess Python's electrical gizmo. The circus attacks, and Claire stops Funny Man(see, clown, funny man, it doesn't matter--he still gets taken out by an untrained civilian). After that, Claire throws the Electro-Prod at Luke's head, snapping him out of his trance.
Luke proceeds to open up a can of whup a** on the Circus. Funny Man attempts to gas him, but fails, then Strong Man tries a full Nelson but is given a half Healey in return. Luigi warns Claire to stay out of the fight until his debt to Luke is paid. Meanwhile, Luke is mopping the floor with the rest of the circus, even to the point of boasting.
At this point, the Ringmaster and Live Wire show up. Live Wire suggests using the hat on Luke again, but the Ringmaster says that he's prepared for that, but he has another idea. As Cage disposes of Strong Man, he's grabbed by two giant hands--the Ringmaster's sicced Goliath on him!
Luigi Gambonno makes a difficult decision. As Goliath is crushing the life out of Luke (and Goliath's hands look way too big for this), he intervenes, shocking the Ringmaster and Live Wire. Grabbing the Ringmaster's hat, he removes the trance from Goliath.
The two heroes--despite the Ringmaster's proclomation that "they haven't got a chance against all of us!"--wipe the floor with the would-be supervillains. The Ringmaster tries to get Live Wire to charge up his lariat to a lethal setting, but Live Wire refuses. Goliath takes Live Wire out of the fight. Luke drops Strong Man during a sneak attack. Now that Luigi's debt of honor to Luke is paid, the Gambonnos sneak attack Goliath to little avail as he grabs them both in his ridiculously over-sized hands. Funny Man tries to run away but is stopped by a flying crate. The Ringmaster is looking for his hat, when he's confronted by D.W. (I guess they forgot to tie him up) with his hat. D.W. hypnotizes the Ringmaster. He then hypnotizes Princess Python (I guess she woke up). Finally the police show up and haul the Circus off to the pokey.
Bill talks to Claire, and they break up for good.
My rating: 4/10
So, that wraps up this particular failure of the Circus of Crime. As villains for someone like Daredevil or Captain America, they can work because of sheer numbers, but up against someone with actual super powers, they're a complete and utter joke.
Speaking of something odd, the Ringmaster's hat is obviously a nice piece of technology, but anyone can use it, and I'm pretty sure it can be rebuilt again if need be--I'm sure the Ringmaster hasn't been breaking into police impounds to get his hat back. So one has to ask--why hasn't that technology been appropriated by S.H.I.E.L.D. or the army or law enforcement (I know the real reason, but it makes you wonder)? It's a nice weapon. Of course, there are tons of nice weapons used by supervillains that aren't adopted by others, so it is what it is.
There are a number of plot holes in this story, and that reduces my rating by a point or two, plus it's just impossible to take the Circus of Crime seriously even before they were taken out by Howard the Duck.
It may sound like I'm bashing these stories, and it may make one wonder "just why is he doing this reading project if he dislikes this so much?" It's a fair question, and I think the answer is that there's more for me to like than for me to dislike with these comics. Sure, it's been a poor period for the title, but things will pick up soon.
I guess I have more of a soft spot than you for the admittedly corny Circus of Crime. I suppose it helps that the CoC stories I'm most familiar with are ASM 16 and 22 - both fairly entertaining stories - and I haven't read their encounter with Howard. In the Spidey stories, he needs DD's help in the first tale, and the Ringmaster unintentionally gives him him an assist in the second one, after the other members give him the boot (temporarily). The group are definitely not jokes there. But I can see how hard it would be to take them seriously after their defeat by HTD.
I have more of a problem with the storytelling than the villains of the story. The editor seems to have spent about 3 seconds reviewing this issue. Bill Foster is called Bill Temple twice. We get no explanation of why the Clown is now called Funny Man or why he longer speaks, although it's pointed out to the reader for some reason. Live Wire's behavior makes little sense unless maybe he turns out to be an undercover cop at the end. He isn't, of course, so when he seems offended and disgusted that a group of his fellow criminals aren't very nice people, it doesn't ring true. After all, he sought them out and freed them, what did he expect?
I was also put off a bit by the over-the-top violence - Luke smashing the retaining ring (which looked like a large, heavy block of wood) over Strong Man's head, and Goliath using his oversized hands to crush the Gambonnos' bones; both seemed like killing blows to me. Yes, there's been plenty of violence in this series before, but usually the over-the-top stuff is directed at Luke, and his indestructible skin and super-strength counter attacks like that. There's no indication Strong Man or the Gambonnos had any super powers to prevent massive, possibly fatal injuries.
One last thing: if this was meant to be some kind of showcase for Goliath, it fails miserably. He was a huge jerk to Luke before he was hypnotized and he spent most of issue 25 still under the Ringmaster's control. Plus, he apparently didn't know he was working with the Circus of Crime despite them being featured in newspapers (that's how Live Wire heard about them). At the end of the story, he's still stuck at 15 feet, he has no circus to work in, and Claire is through helping him. A panel of "I'm going to swallow my pride and ask Tony Stark and Henry Pym for help" would have been a good idea. They were in his debt anyway when he helped Pym before with the exact same problem. It's almost amazing Goliath got his own book a few months later but not so surprising it was short-lived.
This was Isabella's last issue and I'm not sorry to see him go.
ps - this wasn't Strong Man's debut. He appeared in Hulk 3 and ASM 16. "Guido should sue" - hah! Should be the other way around!
Neither writer nor the editor knew "Funny Man" should have been called The Clown or "Strong Man" is namedTh Bruto? I'm surprised the Gambonnos got their names right. Again I have to say it sounds like they're stuck with a book they have no interest in and they're just phoning it in to get a paycheck. The fact the series keeps going despite this shows it had a lot of potential, if they could just get somebody that wants to be on the book writing it. The idea this story was a successful pilot for another series is shocking. This would probably have made me dislike Foster and not cared if he found a cure or not. I'm surprised he ended up with the same problem that Hank did since he treated him and should have known how he eventually got his powers back. Haven't read every Avengers issue with Goliath II but I'm pretty sure Hawkeye never had any trouble with that power except it wore off at the worst possible moment. (In fact there's something funny about the way it forced Clint back to human size while it trapped everybody else in giant form.)
The biggest issue I had in this issue was with the out of proportion hands of Goliath. He was supposed to be 15 feet, and certainly his hands should be large, but not large enough to fully enclose a man of average height or greater. Yet his hands are shown to be big enough to completely trap Luke and later the Gambonnos within.
I think the Circus of Crime can work, but only against non-powered characters. Throw them up against the likes of Daredevil or the Black Widow and I think they're a reasonable menace. Put them up against the likes of Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Thor or others and it's pretty much signaling a butt-whupping. I wouldn't bring up the Howard the Duck thing so much, but it was allowed to happen--but well after they'd had their read ends handed to them by pretty much every hero in the Marvel Universe.
It's kind of like the Enforcers: they made sense initially, mainly because of Spider-Man's inexperience. Later on, the very idea that they'd take on Spider-Man again when they kept getting beaten again and again should have told them that perhaps they should stay within their weight class.
For what it's worth, I didn't get the feeling that it was as violent as you suggest John. Perhaps that's a weakness in the storytelling--true, Luke did bash Strong Man with the retaining block, but it looked like it wasn't lethal, and although Goliath did trap the Gambonnos, I didn't get the feeling that he was applying any more pressure than was necessary.
I think Goliath was included in the story because they wanted to team Luke up with another Black superhero, but by the time these comics hit the newsstand, he'd dropped the "Black" from his name. Maybe the powers that be felt that bringing in another Black superhero would show some sort of solidarity, but the story doesn't reflect that.
I don't see Howard the Duck beating them as making them useless villains. After all Squirrel Girl beat Dr. Doom. (And Forbush Man beat the Juggernut.)
I felt the big problem with the Enforcers was the Ox was killed off very early on (twice!) and Fancy Dan and Montana were just a novelty act without him.
If that was the reason for adding Goliath then they should have made more of an attempt to actually show some solidarity between these two. It's an already long established Marvel rule that heroes meeting must fight before teaming up against the bad guys, but when exactly did these two agree on anything besides they both liked Claire?
Since you don't list it (and GCD doesn't), who was supposed to be the editor on #25? I no longer have the comic. Is this when they started having "writer-editors," which is to say no editors except the executive one? That was a preview of the "artist-writers" which came much later with similar poor results.