Spider-Man: Marvel Team-Up by Claremont & Byrne

By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Ralph Macchio, Dave Hunt & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5866-0

The concept of team-up books – an established A-lister joining or battling (usually both) less well-selling company co-stars – was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of a new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch.

In those halcyon, simpler days editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure and since super-heroes were actually in a decline at that time, they may well have been right.

Nevertheless, when it launched in March 1972, Marvel Team-Up was the second official Spider-Man title (an abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the more respectable – and pricey – magazine market in 1968 but folded after two issues) and it immediately began bucking the downward trend for costumed crusaders.

Encompassing July 1977 to November 1978 and re-presenting Marvel Team-Up #59-70 and 75, this highly selective and utterly engaging volume gathers the (almost) complete oeuvre and cathartic collaborations of late 70’s wonder kids Chris Claremont and John Byrne: at that time setting the comics world on fire with their Iron Fist and new X-Men tales. Why “almost”? Because the book sadly omits a lovely Red Sonja pairing presumably unavailable as the “She-Devil with a Sword” is now licensed to another publisher…

The tense suspense and cataclysmic action commence with #59 which declared ‘Some Say Spidey Will Die by Fire… Some Say by Ice!’ by (Claremont, Byrne & inker Dave Hunt) as veteran Avenger Yellowjacket is apparently murdered by rampaging mystery maniac Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man and the Amazing Arachnid is hard-pressed to stop the traumatised Wasp exacting bloody vengeance in concluding episode ‘A Matter of Love… and Death!’ in MTU #60

Claremont had actually begun scripting the title with issue #57 as a succession of espionage-flavoured heroes and villains battled for possession of a mysterious clay statuette.

The secret of the artefact is now revealed in #61 as the Human Torch Johnny Storm joins his creepy-crawly frenemy in battle against the Super-Skrull and learns ‘Not All Thy Powers Can Save Thee!’, before the furious clash calamitously escalates to include Ms. Marvel with the next issue’s ‘All This and the QE2’

Despite the very best efforts of Claremont & Byrne, their Kung Fu fantasy Iron Fist never quite achieved the kind of sales traction of their collaboration on the X-Men, and thus the living weapon lost his circulation battle with issue #15 of his own title.

The series ended in spectacular fashion, but the cancellation was clearly unplanned, as two major subplots went unresolved: private detective Misty Knight had disappeared on an undercover assignment to investigate European gang-boss John Bushmaster and K’un Lun kid Danny Rand was still suffering repeated attacks on his chi by the enigmatic and murderous Steel Serpent

Frustrated fans didn’t have to wait long for a resolution though: Marvel Team-Up was becoming the creative team’s personal clearing house for unresolved plot-lines. Issues #63 and 64 exposed the secret of the sinister K’un Lun pariah on the ‘Night of the Dragon’ before Rand and Spidey – with the assistance of Daughters of the Dragon Misty Knight and Colleen Wing – finally ended the threat in blistering martial arts manner with ‘If Death Be My Destiny!’

After a short and sweet flurry of original adventures in his own UK title, Captain Britain eventually succumbed to the English version of funnybook limbo – his title subsumed by a more successful one with CB reduced to reprints. Soon after, he pyrrhically debuted across the water in Marvel Team-Up #65 ‘Introducing Captain Britain’ by originating scripter Claremont and British-born, Canada-bred Byrne.

The story depicted Brian Braddock on student transfer to Manhattan as the unsuspecting house-guest of Peter Parker. Before long the heroes had met, fought and then teamed-up to defeat the flamboyant hit-man games-obsessed Arcade with the transatlantic tale concluding in #66 wherein the abducted antagonists systematically dismantled the maniac’s ‘Murderworld’.

The mystery of a long-vanished feline were-woman warrior was then resolved in ‘Tigra, Tigra, Burning Bright!’ as the webslinger is targeted by Kraven the Hunter, using the Feral Fury as his enslaved attack beast until Spider-Man breaks her conditioning, after which Claremont, Byrne & Bob Wiacek explore ‘The Measure of a Man!’ in #68 as the Arachnid philanthropically returns the captive Man-Thing to his Florida swamp habitat. No good deed ever goes unpunished and soon he encounters horrific demon D’Spayre torturing benevolent enchanters Dakimh and Jennifer Kale. It takes every ounce of courage both man and monster possess to defeat the sadistic dark lord…

A clash with Egyptian-themed thieves next draws Spidey into the years-long duel between cosmic powered X-Man Havoc and his nemesis the Living Monolith in ‘Night of the Living God!’ (inked by Ricardo Villamonte), but when the battle turns against them it requires the thunderous might of Thor to stop the ravening astral menace in ‘Whom Gods Destroy!’ by Claremont, Byrne & Tony DeZuñiga…

This epic clash signalled an end to the good times as MTU then downshifted to short filler tales but this collection of top-rate comics entertainment still end on a stellar high as Claremont, Ralph Macchio, Byrne & Al Gordon unite in tribute to the New York Fire Department with #75’s ‘The Smoke of That Great Burning!’ wherein Spider-Man and Hero for Hire Luke Cage are caught up in a robbery and hostage crisis which soon turns into a major conflagration…

There’s tons of great Fights ‘n’ Tights action here and younger readers will have a blast, so why not consider this tome for your “Must-Have” library…
© 1977, 1978, 2011, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Superman vs The Flash

By Jim Shooter, E. Nelson Bridwell, Dennis O’Neil, Marty Pasko, Dan Jurgens, Geoff Johns, Curt Swan, Ross Andru, Dick Dillin, José Luis García-López, Rick Burchett & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0456-3

The comicbook experience is littered with eternal questions that can never really be satisfactorily answered. The most common and most passionately asked always begin “who would win if…” or “who’s strongest/smartest/fastest…”

Teenaged scripting wunderkind Jim Shooter knew that very well when he pitched and subsequently scripted a Superman story in 1967 that created a sub-genre of comic-plots and led inevitably and delightfully to the graphic compilation under review here.

DC Editors in the 1960s generally avoided such questions as who’s best for fear of upsetting some portion of their tenuous and supposed-transitory fan-base, but as the superhero boom slowed and the upstart Marvel Comics began to make genuine inroads into their market, the notion of a definitive race between the almighty Man of Steel and the Fastest Man Alive became an increasingly enticing and sales-worthy proposition.

This sporty trade paperback chronicle collects Superman #199, Flash #175, World’s Finest Comics #198-199, DC Comics Presents #1-2, Adventures of Superman #463 and DC First: Flash/Superman: spanning August 1967 through July 2002.

Long overdue for re-release and translation to digital formats, it gathers together that initial contest and numerous rematches between the heroic speed-demons, but if you’re seeking a definitive answer you won’t find it here. These are splendid costumed entertainments; adventures designed to catch your breath and quicken your pulse. It not about the winning: it’s all about the taking part…

‘Superman’s Race with the Flash’ (Superman #199, August 1967) gets the ball rolling in a stirring saga by Shooter, Curt Swan & George Klein, wherein the two speedy champions are asked to compete in an exhibition contest by the United Nations, thereby raising money to fight World Hunger.

Naturally they agree, but the clever global handicap, circling the planet three times, is secretly and insidiously subverted by rival criminal combines attempting to stage the greatest gambling coup in history…

Of course, justice and charity triumph in the end, but the stakes are catastrophically raised in the inevitable rematch from Flash #175 (December 1967).

‘Race to the End of the Universe!’ sees the friendly rivals speeding across the cosmos after ruthless alien gamblers threaten to eradicate Central City and Metropolis unless the pair settle who was fastest.

Scripter E. Nelson Bridwell added an ingenious sting in the tale, whilst Ross Andru & Mike Esposito delivered a sterling illustration job in this yarn, but once more the actual winning was deliberately fudged…

When World’s Finest Comics became briefly a team-up vehicle for Superman the first guest-star was the Flash who again found himself in speedy if contrived competition.

‘Race to Save the Universe!’ and its conclusion ‘Race to Save Time’ (WFC #198-199, November and December 1970, by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella) once more upped the stakes as the high-speed heroes are conscripted by the Guardians of the Universe to circumnavigate the entire cosmos at their greatest velocities to undo the rampage of the mysterious Anachronids: faster-than-light creatures whose pell-mell course throughout the galaxies is actually unwinding time itself.

Little did anybody suspect that Superman’s oldest enemies are behind the scheme…

Chase to the End of Time!’ and ‘Race to the End of Time!’ opened the new team-up series DC Comics Presents (#1-2, July-August and September-October 1978) as Marty Pasko and the utterly superb José Luis García-López & Dan Adkins rather reprised that World’s Finest tale with a brace of eternally-warring alien races tricking Superman and Flash into speeding through the time-stream to prevent Earth’s history from being corrupted and destroyed.

As if that wasn’t dangerous enough, nobody could predict the deadly intervention of the Scarlet Speedster’s most dangerous foe, Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash

After the Crisis on Infinite Earths mega-event, DC heroes got a sound refitting, and the frankly colossal power levels of the heroic community were suitably downscaled to more believable levels. Some stalwarts even died, and so, when ‘Speed Kills!’ appeared in Adventures of Superman #463 (February 1990 by writer/artist Dan Jurgens and inker Art Thibert), the issue was touted as the first race between the fastest men on Earth.

There was a new kid in the Flash’s uniform: former sidekick Wally West had graduated to the role after his mentor Barry Allen perished saving the universes in that aforementioned epic…

The story itself is a delightfully whacky romp wherein 5th dimensional gadfly Mr. Mxyzptlk coerces the pair into running a race everybody knew was fixed from the get-go…

This collection concludes with a spectacular saga unerringly aimed at older fans. ‘Speeding Bullets’ (from one-shot DC First: Flash/Superman July 2002) is by Geoff Johns, Rick Burchett & Prentis Rollins, and features futuristic villain Abra Kadabra who challenges the Man of Steel and 1940s Flash Jay Garrick to catch the current Vizier of Velocity – currently running amok at hyper-speed and rapid-aging with every step he takes. If they can’t catch him then the Fastest Man Alive won’t be for long…

With the inclusion to this book of some of the very best covers the company has ever produced – courtesy of Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson, Mike Esposito, Curt Swan, Neal Adams, García-López, Jurgens & Brett Breeding and Kevin Nowlan – readers casual or deeply devoted alike are guaranteed a joyous thrill-ride from some of the most entertaining stand-alone stories in DC history.

On your marks… get set… Get!
© 1970, 1972, 1973, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 4

By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, Bill Everett, Archie Goodwin, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe, Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2682-9 (HB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result of continual ongoing mutation, stress and other factors can cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years, the gamma-irradiated gargantuan finally found his size 700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, the morose man-monster shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour until a new home was found for him.

Covering May to December 1968, this sturdy hardback (and eBook) collection re-presents issues #103-110 of his second solo-starring series and also includes the first Incredible Hulk Annual from autumn of that year.

Following a rather incredulous and self-deprecating Introduction from artist Herb Trimpe the never-ending saga resumes. Trimpe, associated with the character for nearly a decade, began his tenure as Marie Severin’s inker in Tales to Astonish #94 and would eventually take over pencilling the Jade Juggernaut, but before that epic handover rising star Gary Friedrich scripts, Marie pencils and veteran artist Frank Giacoia inks the all-action advent of a tragic alien antagonist in #103’s ‘And Now… the Space Parasite!’: a former hero who seemingly perished after attempting to consume the Green Goliath’s abundant life energies.

‘Ring Around the Rhino!’ in #104 is another paean to the Hulk’s destructive potential and visceral appeal as the gamma-fuelled enemy agent is tasked by his cruel masters with abducting Bruce Banner before a longer plot-strand, tinged with pathos and irony, began in Incredible Hulk #105, courtesy of surprise scripters Roy Thomas and Bill Everett, ably illumined by Severin and inker George Tuska.

‘This Monster Unleashed!’ sees the Missing Link – a radioactive and violently mutating victim of Soviet aggression – dumped in New York, and easily capable of burning our dull-witted hero into glowing ashes.

The second part, ‘Above the Earth… A Titan Rages!’ – by Thomas and Archie Goodwin – was pencilled by the neophyte Trimpe over Severin’s breakdowns, with Tuska inking. Sadly, the result is rather a muddle nearly as great as the story itself since the action abruptly switches from New York to Russia after the battling behemoths are suddenly abducted by Yuri Breslov, the Soviet counterpart to Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who promptly loses them over a rural and isolated farm collective.

The story neatly segues into a much more polished yarn with #107’s ‘Ten Rings Hath… the Mandarin’ (by Friedrich & Trimpe with wonderfully rugged inking from the great Syd Shores) as the oriental despot tries to enslave the emerald engine of destruction…

The extended epic concludes with savage success as Stan Lee returns to script and Trimpe – inked by the legendary John Severin (yep, Marie’s big brother) – pulls all the strands together in the action-packed finale ‘Monster Triumphant!’, guest-starring Nick Fury, Yuri Breslov and even Chairman Mao Tse Tung!

Cover-dated October, The Incredible Hulk Annual #1 was one of the best comics of 1968. Behind an iconic Jim Steranko cover, Friedrich, Marie Severin & Shores (with lots of last-minute inking assistance) delivered a passionate, tense and melodramatic parable of alienation that nevertheless was one of the most action-stuffed fight-fests ever depicted.

In 51 titanic pages ‘A Refuge Divided!’ sees the forlorn and perpetually lonely Jade Juggernaut stumble upon the hidden Great Refuge of genetic outsiders. The Inhumans – recovering from a recent failed coup by new players Falcona, Leonus, Aireo, Timberius, Stallior, Nebulo and their secret backer (the king’s brother Maximus the Mad) – are distracted by the Hulk’s arrival.

All too soon, suspicion and short tempers result in carnage and chaos. The band of super-rebels start the fight but it’s the immensely powerful Black Bolt who eventually battles the infuriated Hulk to a standstill…

This is the vicarious thrill taken to its ultimate, still one of the very best non-Lee-Kirby tales of that period, and the issue also provides a pictorial extra with a Marvel Masterwork Pin-up featuring 11 different versions and a challenge to identify the artists…

Back at the monthly venue, Incredible Hulk #109 takes up from the end of the Mandarin saga with the Hulk rampaging through Red China, but still without a settled creative team in place. ‘The Monster and the Man-Beast!’ was written by Stan Lee, laid out by Giacoia, pencilled by Trimpe and inked by John Severin, as the Hulk trashes the Chinese Army and accidentally interferes with a Red super-missile…

The upshot is that the man-monster is hurtled into space and blasted into the Antarctic paradise known as the Savage Land. This preserve of dinosaurs and cavemen is a visually perfect home for the Hulk and the addition of Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar, and a primitive death-cult worshipping an alien device designed to destroy the world, ramps up the tension nicely.

The tale and this edition wrap up with the attack of ‘Umbu the Unliving!’ (Lee, Trimpe & John Severin) as yet another extraterrestrial device left to facilitate Earth’s demise goes into overkill mode. Thankfully Banner and his green alter-ego dispatch it with Ka-Zar’s assistance, albeit at the cost of Banner’s life.

As they said at the time “To Be Hulkinued!”…

Adding even more deal appeal to this book is a stunning selection of comedy sketches and cartoons devised by the infamously puckish Marie Severin to cheer up her fellow Bullpen pals as well as Hulk original art pages and covers by her, brother John, Trimpe, Giacoia, and Steranko – plus her unused cover for that iconic Annual.

This titanic tome of Hulk heroics offers visceral thrillers and chaotic clashes overflowing with dynamism, enthusiasm and sheer quality: tales crucial to later, more cohesive adventures. Even at their most hurried, these epics offer an abundance of full-on, butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” catharsis to delight the destructive eight-year-old in all of us.
© 1968, 2007, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 14: The Dashing White Cowboy

By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W. Nolan & Simone Kunzig (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-66-3

Rangy, good-natured Lucky Luke is a doughty cowboy able to “draw faster than his own shadow”, amiably roaming the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic know-it-all wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. He constantly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk…

His unceasing exploits over 70 years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating in excess of 83 individual albums, sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far…

That renown has generated the usual mountain of spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

First seen in the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, Lucky was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”), before ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny, who became regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying, legendary, heights starting with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began serialisation in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus numerous spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke has previous in this country too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled British readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy weekly Giggle, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In all these venues – as well as many attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix – Luke laconically puffed a trademark cigarette which hung insouciantly and almost permanently from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, thereby garnering for himself an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…), and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re at 69 translated books and still going strong.

As Le Cavalier Blanc The Dashing White Cowboy was Morris & Goscinny’s 33rd collaboration, originally serialised in 1974 (and the hero’s 43rd album release a year later): a brash and engaging comedy of errors with the laconic freelance lawman encountering cunning bandits with a seemingly unbeatable modus operandi…

In the desolate wilds between frontier towns Luke and Jolly Jumper cross trails with a small but determined travelling troupe. The merry band consists of actor/impresario Whittaker Baltimore and his repertory company of the range: ingenue/leading lady Gladys Whimple, character (villain) player Barnaby Float and props man, set shifter and applause-starter Francis Lusty.

An affably welcoming bunch, they gift the wanderer with a complimentary ticket for their next performance in the nearby town of Nothing Gulch

Following a sardonic and satirical aside describing the nature of theatrical entertainment at this time and place, the story resumes with that much-anticipated melodrama “The Dashing White Cowboy” before the rowdy a not-particularly-au-fait Nothing Gulch crowd hungry for a break from everyday monotony.

Also eagerly lapping up the raucous entertainment are Luke and good friend Hank Wallace, but the boisterous audience participation turns ugly after a horrified cry of “The bank’s been robbed!” starts a riot…

Despite Lucky’s best efforts, the crime goes unsolved and soon after the motley crew up stakes for the next town. Coincidentally Miner’s Pass is Luke’s next port of call, too. At least it is now…

When the same performance is identically disrupted, the coincidence is too much to swallow… and then Luke – present at both crimes – is accused of robbery!

Barely escaping being lynched, our hero sets off after the Whittaker Company, Catching up to them in Indian Flats, he joins the cast, but when another bold theft occurs, he is once again the prime suspect…

By the time he gets out of jail, the trail has gone cold. Can it be that he has at last met his match?

Of course not, and, following a fortuitous break, the vengeance of the affronted justice-rider finally falls upon the deserving party… or is that parties?

Wry and devious, The Dashing White Cowboy is a fast-paced slapstick romp with plenty of action, vaudevillian chicanery, dirty double-dealing and barrel-loads of hilarious buffoonery. Superbly crafted by comics masters, this performance affords another enticing glimpse into a unique genre for today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1975 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Spider-Man: The Graphic Novels

By Susan K. Putney, Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Charles Vess, Berni Wrightson, Alex Saviuk, Ross Andru & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6065-6

When Marvel began its line of Original Graphic Novels in 1980, the books were based on European Albums: large, square-bound paperback volumes offering 80 to 100 pages of new material on high-quality paper. The project – which began with Jim Starlin’s The Death of Captain Marvel – produced some classy results that the company has seldom come close to repeating since. Both original concepts and established characters were represented in that initial run and many of the stories still stand out today as huge successes: debuting many new series, celebrating licensed properties and devising special stories featuring the company’s proprietary superstars.

Marvel icon the Amazing Spider-Man graced a bunch of extraordinary sagas which were reprinted in 2012 and now form the contents of this splendid oversized (190 x 286 mm) hardback and eBook edition.

The web-wrapped wonderment begins with Hookey – originally released as Marvel Graphic Novel #22 in August 1986. This charming fantasy fable written by Susan K. Putney and painted by comic-book legend Berni Wrightson with the colouring assistance of Michelle Wrightson took the wallcrawler on a journey unlike any other he had previously experienced…

Marandi Sjörokker is not the carefree little girl she appears to be. For a start she’s been twelve for over two hundred years, and after introducing herself by calling Spider-Man “Petey”, she goes on to reveals how she knew him when he was a toddler and she delivered newspapers to his Uncle Ben…

And so begins a wild and beguiling other-dimensional romp, full of action and spectacle, as the webslinger takes a break from his grim and grimy reality to help the permanently adolescent sorceress battle against the demonic and unstoppable TordenKakerlakk (which I’m reliably informed is Norwegian for Thunder Cockroach).

Moreover, this witty, whimsical coming-of-age tale is beautifully and imaginatively illustrated by a master craftsman. A wonderful change-of-pace tale that perfectly displays the versatility of everybody’s favourite wall-crawler – and one that once read will never be forgotten…

Marvel Graphic Novel #46 was first released in May 1989, soon after Peter Parker married Mary Jane Watson and comes courtesy of Gerry Conway, Alex Saviuk & Andy Mushynsky. By referencing the stories crafted by a host of creators since the Amazing Arachnid’s debut, the tale (with Doctor Octopus as menace du jour) sheds new light on how the newlyweds grew up and grew together against terrible odds to live their now-united but always Parallel Lives

Charles Vess’ Spirits of the Earth is one of the prettiest graphic novels ever produced, not to say one of the most entertaining Spider-Man adventures ever told and was first released as premium hardcover Marvel Graphic Novel #63 in August 1990.

Here Mary Jane and Peter Parker are astounded and delighted to discover that an unknown relative has left the bride a castle deep in the Scottish Highlands. Setting off for a second honeymoon they soon become embroiled in ancient magic and high-tech abominations courtesy of the Celtic branch of the perfidious Mutants and Millionaires cabal The Hellfire Club

Ghoulies, ghosties and villainous super-criminals combine with some of the best artwork you’ve ever seen for a truly wonderful adventure that desperately needs to be on your bookshelf. Also included here is a delightful pictorial travelogue by Vess entitled ‘A Scottish Journey’

Wrapping up the vintage adventure is Fear Itself by Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, which was in February 1992 stand-alone OGN Marvel Graphic Novel #72.

This taut thriller is a good, old-fashioned, nostalgic Spidey yarn for readers who yearn for simpler times long past. Unlike many all-new works, it’s also quite tightly bound to Marvel continuity (perhaps it was intended as an annual but got “promoted” to a more expansive and therefore expensive format?), so if you need a lot of footnotes to read Spider-Man you might want to think carefully before plunging in.

The plot concerns the return of old Captain America villain Baron Zemo – radically transformed here by Hitler’s deranged geneticist Arnim Zola. The revived, resurrected and radically revised Zemo steals a new, weaponized drug from the US government developed at the company owned by Peter Parker’s friend Harry Osborn.

This chemical contagion drives victims mad with fear and – in alliance with Nazi-hunting mercenary Silver Sable – our hero travels post haste to Bavaria for a series of life-or death showdowns in a terrific ticking-timebomb-thriller.

Although there are some plot holes you could drive a Kampfpanzer through (that’s a big Nazi tank, you know) the dialogue by two of the wall-crawler’s greatest scribes is still effective and engaging, but the real joy is the last hurrah of the fabulous and criminally undervalued art team of Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, who had been crafting great comics in innumerable genres since the early 1950s, and were Spider-Man’s artists for a huge part of the Seventies.

Thrills. Spills. Chills. Ancient Hills and indomitable wills: this confection of Spidery classics is something no Fights ‘n’ Tights fans should miss. Go on. You know you want to…
© 1986, 1989, 1990, 1992, 2012, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved

Legion of Super-Heroes: Archive Edition volume 1

By Otto Binder, Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, John Forte, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-020-8

Once upon a time, in the far future, a band of super-powered kids from dozens of alien civilisations took inspiration from the legend of the greatest champion of all time and formed a club of heroes. One day those Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited that legend to join them…

And thus began the vast and epic saga of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as first envisioned by writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino in early 1958, just as the revived comicbook genre of superheroes was gathering an inexorable head of steam. Since that time the popularity of the Legion has perpetually waxed and waned, with their complex continuity continually tweaked and rebooted, retconned and overwritten again and again to comply with editorial diktat and popular whim.

We Silver Age Legion fans are indubitably the most persistent, passionate, finicky and snitty of all – and editors crossed us at their peril – so when DC announced that it would be gathering all the titanic team’s appearances in a chronological series of deluxe hardcover Archive Editions we were overjoyed (actually most of us thought it was about time and long overdue…) and eager.

Sadly, even in this anniversary year those stories are no longer all in print, but at least old editions like this one from 1997 can still be found if you look hard enough. You’d think in the advanced world of the 21st century a popular series about the future would be available digitally, but you’d be wrong…

Spanning 1958-1963, this glorious full-colour compendium assembles the numerous and far-ranging preliminary appearances of these valiant Tomorrow People and their inevitable progress towards and attainment of their own feature; specifically, all pertinent material from Adventure Comics #247, 267, 282, 290, 293, and 300-305; Action Comics #267, 276, 287 and 289; Superboy #86, 89, 98 and Superman #147.

Also included are an introduction by editor, publisher and devotee Mike Gold, creator biographies and a Curt Swan cover gallery (all inked by either Stan Kaye or George Klein) featuring all the burgeoning band of brothers’ pole positions from those comics.

The multi-hued mob of universe-savers first manifested in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) in a Superboy tale wherein three mysterious kids – Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy – invited the bemused Boy of Steel to visit the 30th century and join their team of metahuman champions: all originally inspired by his historic career.

Created by Otto Binder & Al Plastino, the throwaway concept inflamed public imagination and after a slew of further appearances throughout Superman Family titles, the LSH eventually took over Superboy’s lead spot in Adventure for their own far-flung, quirky escapades, with the Caped Kid Kryptonian reduced to simply a face in the in-crowd…

Here, however, the excitement was still gradually building when the kids returned more than 18 months later in Adventure #267 (December 1959) for Jerry Siegel & George Papp to play with.

In ‘Prisoner of the Super-Heroes!’ the teen wonders reappear to attack and incarcerate the Boy of Steel because of a misunderstood ancient historical record…

The following summer Supergirl met the Legion in Action Comics #267 (August 1960, by Siegel & Jim Mooney) as Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy secretly voyage to modern day America to similarly invite the Maid of Might to join, in a repetition of their offer to Superboy 15 years previously (in nit-picking fact, they claimed to be the children of the original team – a fact glossed over and forgotten these days: don’t time-travel stories make your head hurt…?).

Due to a dubious technicality, young and eager Kara Zor-El fails her initiation at the hands of ‘The Three Super-Heroes’ and was regretfully required to reapply later – but at least we got to meet a few more Legionnaires, including Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid and Colossal Boy

With the editors still cautiously testing the waters, it was January 1961 and Superboy #86 before the ‘The Army of Living Kryptonite Men!’ (by Siegel & Papp) turn the LSH into a last-minute Deus ex Machina to save the Smallville Sentinel from juvenile delinquent Lex Luthor’s most insidious assault.

Two months later in Adventure #282, Binder & Papp introduce Star Boy as a romantic rival for the Last Son of Krypton in ‘Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes!’

Action #276 (May 1961) then debuted ‘Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends’ (Siegel & Mooney, which finally sees her crack the plasti-glass ceiling and successfully enlist, sponsored by Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl and Triplicate Girl.

We also meet for the first time Bouncing Boy, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy and potential bad-boy love-interest Brainiac 5 (well at least his distant ancestor Brainiac was a very bad boy…)

Next comes pivotal two-part tale ‘Superboy’s Big Brother’ (by Robert Bernstein & Papp from Superboy #89; June 1961) in which an amnesiac, super-powered space traveller crashes in Smallville, speaking Kryptonese and carrying star-maps written by the Boy of Steel’s long-dead father…

Jubilant, baffled and suspicious in equal amounts Superboy eventually, tragically discovers ‘The Secret of Mon-El’ by accidentally exposing the stranger to a lingering, inexorable death, before desperately providing critical life-support by depositing the dying alien in the Phantom Zone until a cure can be found…

With an August 1961 cover-date, Superman #147 unleashed ‘The Legion of Super-Villains’ (by Siegel, Curt Swan & Sheldon Moldoff): a stand-out thriller featuring Lex Luthor and the adult adversary Legion coming far too close to destroying the Action Ace until the temporal cavalry arrive…

Adventure #290 (November 1961, Bernstein & Papp) seemingly gave Sun Boy a starring role in ‘The Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero!’ – a clever tale of redemption and second chances, followed in #293 (February 1962) by a gripping thriller from Siegel, Swan & George Klein: ‘The Legion of Super-Traitors!’

Here the future heroes are turned evil, prompting Saturn Girl to recruit a Legion of Super-Pets including Krypto, Streaky the Super Cat, Beppo, the monkey from Krypton and Comet the magical Super-horse to save the world – and yes, I typed all that with a (reasonably) straight face…

Siegel & Mooney’s ‘Supergirl’s Greatest Challenge!’ (Action #287, April 1962) has her visit the Legion (quibblers be warned: it is mistakenly described as the 21st century in this story) to save future Earth from invasion. She also meets a telepathic descendent of her cat Streaky. His perhaps ill-considered name was Whizzy

Action #289 featured ‘Superman’s Super-Courtship!’ wherein the Girl of Steel scours the universe for an ideal mate for her cousin. One highly likely candidate is the adult Saturn Woman, but her husband Lightning Man objects…

Perhaps charming at the time, but modern sensibilities might quail at the conclusion that Superman’s perfect match is a total doppelganger of Supergirl herself, albeit thankfully a few years older…

By the release of Superboy #98 (July 1962), the decision had been made. The buying public wanted more Legion stories and once ‘The Boy with Ultra-Powers’ by Siegel, Swan & Klein introduced a mysterious lad with greater powers than the Boy of Steel, the focus shifted to Adventure Comics #300 (cover dated September 1962) wherein the futuristic super-squad finally begin their own series; even occasionally stealing the odd cover-spot from the still top-featured Superboy.

Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes opened its stellar run with Siegel, John Forte & Plastino’s ‘The Face Behind the Lead Mask!’; a fast-paced premier pitting Superboy and the 30th century champions against an impossibly unbeatable foe. All looks bleak until Mon-El – long-trapped in the Phantom Zone – briefly escapes a millennium of confinement to save the day…

In those halcyon days humour was as important as action, imagination and drama, so many early escapades were light-hearted and overtly moralistic. Issue #301 offered hope to fat kids everywhere with ‘The Secret Origin of Bouncing Boy!’ – by regular creative team Siegel & Forte – wherein the process of open auditions is instigated (providing devoted fans with loads of truly bizarre and memorable applicants over the years) whilst allowing the rebounding human rotunda to give a salutary pep talk and inspirational recount of heroism persevering over adversity.

Adventure #302 highlighted ‘Sun Boy’s Lost Power!’ as the golden boy is forced to resign until fortune and boldness restore his abilities after which ‘The Fantastic Spy!’ in #303 provides a tense tale of espionage and possible betrayal by new member Matter-Eater Lad.

The happy readership was stunned by the events of #304 when Saturn Girl engineered ‘The Stolen Super-Powers!’ to make herself a one-woman Legion. Of course, it was for the best possible reasons, but still didn’t prevent the shocking murder of Lightning Lad…

With comfortable complacency utterly destroyed, #305 further shook everything up with ‘The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire!’ – who turned out to be the long-suffering Mon-El, finally cured of terminal lead poisoning and freed from his Phantom Zone prison.

The Legion is undoubtedly one of the most beloved and bewildering creations in American comicbook history and largely responsible for the growth of the groundswell movement that became Comics Fandom. Moreover, these sparkling, simplistic and astoundingly addictive stories, as much as the innovations of Julie Schwartz’s Justice League, fired up the interest and imaginations of a generation of young readers and built the industry we all know today.

Naive, silly, joyous, stirring and utterly compelling yarns are precious and fun beyond any ability to explain, and if you love comics and haven’t read this stuff, you are the poorer for it and need to enrich your future life as soon as possible…
© 1958-1964, 1991, 1997 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend

By Winsor McCay (Dover)
ISBN-13: 978-0-48621-347-7

Born in Spring Lake, Michigan, on 26th September, 1869 (or perhaps 1871- records differ) Winsor McCay was a brilliant and hugely successful cartoonist and animator who worked on strips and political cartoons from 1903 until his untimely death in 1934.

The first of these was Jungle Imps (1903), for The Enquirer, after which the dashing dauber moved to New York and created Dull Care, Poor Jake, The Man from Montclair, The Faithful Employee, Mr. Bosh, A Pilgrim’s Progress, Midsummer Daydreams and It’s Nice to be Married for New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett between1903 and 1911.

He also originated Little Sammy Sneeze for the Herald in 1904 and Hungry Henrietta in 1905 before abandoning both for two much more important features.

On October 15th 1905 the most important children’s strip in the world debuted in the Sunday HeraldLittle Nemo in Slumberland.

Even before that momentous moment the tireless McCay had conjured up a version for adult readers of The Evening Telegram, entitled Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend. The editor, wishing to distance the feature from other strips, required McCay to use a pen-name, and he complied, signing the strips “Silas”, reputedly after a local garbage cart driver.

Where Nemo was a beautifully clean and surreal fantasy of childish imagination, Fiend was aimed at grown-ups and displayed a creepy, subdued tension that resonated with the fears and worries of its audience. Black, cruel and often outright sick humour pervades the series combining monstrous destruction and expressionist trauma. Even the root cause of the otherworldly nightmares was salutary. Each self-contained episode, every disturbing sequence of unsettling or terrifying, incredibly realistic images was the result of overindulgence; usually in late night toasted cheese treats!

Every anxiety from surreal terror to social embarrassment became grist for the fantasist’s mill and the startling perspectives, bizarre transformations and uncanny scenes – always immaculately rendered – made Fiend a hugely successful and well-regarded strip in its day.

In 1906 the American film pioneer Edwin S. Porter created a landmark 7-minute live action special-effects movie entitled The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend and the Edison company created a cylinder recording with the same name the following year – played by the Edison Military Band.

McCay himself produced four animated films in 1916-17: Dream of a Rarebit Fiend; Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Pet, Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Flying House and Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: Bug Vaudeville.

Despite his other later successes McCay also returned to the feature sporadically over the years: between 1923 to 1925 he revived the strip under the title Rarebit Reveries and attributed the strip to his son who signed the panels Robert Winsor McCay, Jr.

This slim sleek monochrome book is an almost exact reproduction of Rarebit Fiend, a vintage collection of the first year’s strips originally released by the Frederick A. Stokes Company in 1905. The very last strip has been excluded from this edition however, due to its content being regarded as potentially offensive and at odds with modern views on race and ethnicity.

Although working more than a century ago Winsor McCay still affects every aspect of graphic narrative produced ever since. If you can’t locate or afford Ulrich Merkl’s superb complete edition, reprinting everything from 1905-1914, this lovely package – still readily and economically available from internet retailers and packaged as an oversized paperback album or eBook – is a superb introduction to the darker side of an absolute master of our art form.
© 1973 by Dover Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 4

By Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2678-2 (HB)

Marvel’s rise to dominance of the US comicbook industry really took hold in 1968 when most of their characters finally got their own titles. Prior to that – and due to a highly restrictive distribution deal – the company had been tied to a limit of 16 publications per month. To circumvent this drawback, Marvel developed “split-books” with two features per title, such as Tales of Suspense where Iron Man originally solo-starred before being joined by patriotic cohort Captain America in issue #59 (cover-dated November 1964).

Marvel’s fortunes prospered – thanks in large part to Stan Lee’s gift for promotion, but primarily because of superbly engaging stories such as the ones collected in this enticing hardback and/or eBook edition.

With the new distributor came a demand for more product, and the stars of the split books were all awarded their own titles. When the division came, the Armoured Avenger started afresh with a “Collector’s Item First Issue” (but only after a shared one-shot with the Sub-Mariner that squared divergent schedules) with Cap retaining the numbering of the original title; thereby premiering in number #100.

Herein find contained in chronological order the remaining tales of the transitional period, reprinting Tales of Suspense #84-99, plus the pertinent portion of place-holding one-shot Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner #1 and at long last Iron Man #1, cumulatively covering December 1966 to May 1968.

Tony Stark is the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous ultra-rich industrialist and inventor – and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his secret alter-ego, Iron Man.

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions, the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard and better the World, seemed inevitable. Combine the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and business could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil and the concept behind the Golden Avenger seems an infallibly successful proposition. Of course, it helps that all that money and gadgetry is great fun and very, very cool…

Following a critique by critic and historian Arlen Schumer in his Introduction, this stunning all-Gene Colan illustrated volume begins with ToS #84 and picks up soap opera fashion with Stark submitting to months of governmental pressure and testifying to a Congressional Committee hungry for the secrets of his greatest creation.

However. at the critical moment, the inventor keels over…

Stark’s controversial reputation is finally restored as the public at last learns that his life is only preserved by a metallic chest-plate which keeps his maimed heart beating in ‘The Other Iron Man!’ (scripted by Lee and inked by Frank Giacoia). Somehow, nobody at all connects that hunk of steel to the identical one his Avenging “bodyguard” wears…

With the hero stuck in a hospital bed, best friend Happy Hogan foolishly dons the suit to preserve that precious secret only to be abducted by the insidious Mandarin in another extended assault that begins with ‘Into the Jaws of Death’.

Propelled by guilt and fuelled by fear the still-ailing Stark breaks into his own Congressionally-closed factory and creates new, more powerful armour before flying to his rescue in ‘Death Duel for the Life of Happy Hogan!’

The epic encounter successfully concluded, the Americans return home just in time for #87 and #88 to host the merciless Mole Man who attacks from below, prompting a ‘Crisis… at the Earth’s Core!’

The villain has no idea who hostage Stark really is, believing the inventor and his assistant Pepper Potts ‘Beyond all Rescue!’ but is soon proved very wrong, after which another old B-List bad-guy takes his shot in ‘The Monstrous Menace of the Mysterious Melter!’

Its tense, terse sequel ‘The Golden Ghost!’ fabulously features a glorious reprise of Iron Man’s original battle suit and a wonderfully twisty conclusion.

‘The Uncanny Challenge of the Crusher!’ offers an all-action tale – possibly marred for modern audiences by a painful Commie-bustin’ sub-plot featuring a thinly disguised Fidel Castro – and the impressions of the on-going “Police Action” in Indo-China are also a little gung-ho (if completely understandable) when Iron Man goes hunting for a Red Menace called Half-Face ‘Within the Vastness of Viet Nam!’

The urgent insertion results in another clash with incorrigible old foe Titanium Man in ‘The Golden Gladiator and… the Giant!’ before our hero at last snatches victory from the mechanical jaws of defeat in ‘The Tragedy and the Triumph!’ (this last inked by Dan Adkins).

Giacoia returns and a new cast member debuts in #95 as eager-beaver adult boy scout S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell is assigned as security advisor to America’s most prominent weapons maker, just as veteran Thor villain Grey Gargoyle attacks in ‘If a Man be Stone!’ The mismatched and overpowered maniac is then summarily defeated in ‘The Deadly Victory!’

Tales of Suspense #97 began an extended story-arc that would carry the series to the launch of the solo series and beyond, in which criminal cartel the Maggia schemes to move in on Stark’s company.

Their campaign opens with the hero’s capture, as ‘The Coming of… Whiplash!’ depicts the Golden Avenger cut to steely ribbons, drawn out in ‘The Warrior and the Whip!’ and – as the magnificent Archie Goodwin assumed the scripting reins and EC legend Johnny Craig came aboard as inker – finds Iron Man trapped on a sinking submarine ‘At the Mercy of the Maggia’ just as the venerable Tales of Suspense ends with its 99th issue…

Of course, it was just changing its name to Captain America, whilst Tales to Astonish seamlessly shifted into The Incredible Hulk, but – due to a scheduling snafu – neither of the split-book co-stars had a home that month (April 1968).

This situation led to the one-and-only Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner #1 to carry concluding episode ‘The Torrent Without… The Tumult Within!’, wherein sinister super-scientists of A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics, acronym-fans) snatch the Armoured Avenger from the Maggia’s swiftly sinking submarine, intent on stealing the hero’s technical secrets.

Invincible Iron Man #1 finally appeared with a May 1968 cover-date, triumphantly ending the extended sub-sea-saga as our hero stands ‘Alone against A.I.M.!’: a thrilling roller-coaster ride supplemented by ‘The Origin of Iron Man’ offering a revitalised re-telling to conclude Colan’s long and impressive tenure on the character.

Supplementing and counterpointing the ongoing graphic dramas herein are a stunning selection of original art pages and covers by Colan from the stories in this volume and even a brace of Don Heck pages from the previous Marvel Masterworks edition…

Despite some rough narrative patches this is a fantastic period in the Golden Gladiator’s career: one immaculately envisioned by Gene Colan and perfectly encapsulating the vast changes Marvel and America went through at the time. These unmissable tales of a true comics icon are some of the best and most memorable efforts of a simply transformative era and no Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatic can afford to be without them.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection Volume 7: The Avengers/Defenders War

By Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Jim Starlin, Gerry Conway, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema, John Buscema, Rich Buckler & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1000-6

One of the most momentous events in comics history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate gang of heroic individuals banded together to combat an apparently out of control Incredible Hulk.

The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the intervening decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in the Marvel multiverse has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket can pay off big-time. Even when all Marvel Royalty such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, the founding stars always regularly feature due to a rotating, open door policy ensuring most issues include somebody’s fave-rave.

After instigators Stan Lee & Jack Kirby moved on, the team prospered under the guidance of Roy Thomas who grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic. He then handed over the scripting to a young writer who carried the team to even greater heights…

This stunning seventh trade paperback compilation – also available in eBook iterations – assembles Avengers #115-128 and Giant Size Avengers #1, plus crucial crossover episodes from Defenders #8-1, Captain Marvel #33 and Fantastic Four # 150; collectively covering September 1973 to October 1974 and celebrating an era of cosmic catastrophe and cataclysmically captivating creative cross-pollination…

For kids – of any and all ages – there is a simply primal fascination with brute strength and feeling dangerous, which surely goes some way towards explaining the perennial interest in angry tough guys who break stuff as best exemplified by Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner and the Incredible Hulk.

When you add the mystery and magic of Doctor Strange the recipe for thrills, spills and chills becomes simply irresistible…

Last of the big star-name conglomerate super-groups, the Defenders would eventually number amongst its membership almost every hero – and some few villains – in the Marvel Universe.

No surprise there then since the initial line was composed of the company’s major league bad-boys: misunderstood, outcast and often actually dangerous to know. For Marvel in the 1970s, the outsider super-group must have seemed a conceptual inevitability – once they’d finally published it.

Apart from Spider-Man and Daredevil, all their heroes regularly teamed up in various mob-handed assemblages, and in the wake of the Defenders’ success even more super-teams featuring pre-existing characters would be packaged: The Champions, Invaders, New Warriors, Inhumans, Guardians of the Galaxy and so on… but never again with so many Very Big Guns…

The genesis of the team in fact derived from their status as publicly distrusted “villains”, and they never achieved the “in-continuity” fame or acceptance of other teams, but that simply seemed to leave the creators open to taking a few chances and playing the occasional narrative wild card.

In 1973 wunderkind scripter Steve Englehart was writing both Avengers and Defenders (as well as Doctor Strange, the Hulk and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire) and, yearning for the days of DC’s summer blockbuster annual events, decided to attempt his own massive multi-player epic.

Bravely given the editorial go-ahead at a time when deadline crunches regularly interrupted ongoing storylines, the author and his regular pencillers Sal Buscema and Bob Brown laid their plans…

Threads had been planted as early as Defenders #4 with Englehart carefully putting players in place for a hugely ambitious cross-over experiment: one that would turn the comics industry on its head.

After earthly madwoman Barbara Norris was cursed by amoral Asgardian Amora the Enchantress, the human was transformed into an incarnation of old Avengers enemy Valkyrie. The denouement of the tale also left part-time Avenger and Defender the Black Knight an ensorcelled, immobile stone statue. As Strange and Co. searched for a cure, aided by the Silver Surfer and tempestuous Hawkeye (another ex-Assembler looking to forge a solo career), they all fell into a subtle scheme orchestrated by two of the greatest forces of evil in all creation….

This bombastic tome commences with Avengers #115 as lead story ‘Below Us the Battle!’ (illustrated by Bob Brown & Mike Esposito sees the critically- understaffed Avengers travel to England and the castle of the Black Knight, only to find mystic resistance, a troglodytic race of scavengers and their old comrade long missing…

The issue also contained a little prologue, ‘Alliance Most Foul!’, which revealed other-dimensional Dark Lord Dormammu and Asgardian god of Evil Loki united to secure an ultimate weapon which would give them ultimate victory against all their foes.

This despotic duo would deceive the Defenders into securing the six component parts by “revealing” that the reconstructed Evil Eye could de-petrify and restore the Black Knight – a plan that began with a similar prologue at the end of Defenders #8…

‘Deception’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Esposito) was the first chapter in ‘The Avengers/Defenders Clash’ disclosing that a mystic SOS message from the spirit of the Black Knight is intercepted by the twin gods of evil, leading directly to ‘Betrayal!’ in Avengers #116, wherein the heroes, hunting for their missing comrade, “discover” that their oldest enemies Hulk and Sub-Mariner may have turned the Black Knight to stone…

This and third chapter ‘Silver Surfer Vs. the Vision and the Scarlet Witch’ see the rival teams split up: one to gather the scattered sections of the Eye and the other to stop them at all costs…

Defenders #9 (with Sal Buscema & Frank McLaughlin art) begins with tense recap ‘Divide …and Conquer’ before ‘The Invincible Iron Man Vs. Hawkeye the Archer’ and ‘Dr. Strange Vs. the Black Panther and Mantis’ sheds more suspicion and doubt on the vile villains’ subtle master-plan…

In Avengers #117, ‘Holocaust’, ‘Swordsman Vs. the Valkyrie’ and crucial turning point ‘Captain America Vs. Sub-Mariner’ (all by Brown & Esposito) lead to the penultimate duel in Defenders #10 (Sal Buscema & Frank Bolle) in ‘Breakthrough! The Incredible Hulk Vs. Thor’ and the inevitable joining together of the warring camps in ‘United We Stand!’. Tragically, understanding comes too late as Dormammu seizes the reconstructed Evil Eye and uses its power to merge his monstrous realm with Earth.

Avengers #118 delivers the cathartic climactic conclusion in ‘To the Death’ (Brown, Esposito & Frank Giacoia) wherein all the heroes of the Marvel Universe resist the demonic invasion on hideously mutated home soil whilst the Avengers and Defenders plunge deep into the Dark Dimension itself to end forever the threat of the evil gods (well, for the moment, at least…).

With the overwhelming cosmic threat over the victorious Defenders attempt to use the Eye to cure their petrified comrade, only to discover that his spirit has found a new home in the 12th century.

In #11’s ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight’ (Sal B with Bolle inks), the group battle black magic during the Crusades, fail to retrieve the Knight and acrimoniously go their separate ways – as did overworked departing scripter Englehart, who dropped the “non-team” to concentrate on “The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes”…

The drama resumes with a delightfully traditional spooky Halloween tale as the Avengers, warned by clairvoyant vision from martial arts enigma Mantis, head to Rutland, Vermont for the ‘Night of the Collector’ (#119, illustrated by Brown & Don Heck); encountering old friends, a dastardly and determined foe, blistering action and staggering suspense…

In ‘Death-Stars of the Zodiac!’ (Avengers#120, by Englehart, Brown & Heck), terrorist astrological adversaries and super-criminal cartel Zodiac attack again with a manic plan to eradicate everyone in Manhattan born under the sign of Gemini.

Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman and Mantis are seemingly helpless to stop them but the blockbusting battle in #121’s ‘Houses Divided Cannot Stand!’ (illustrated by John Buscema & Heck,) and even the added assistance of Captain America and the Black Panther is of little advantage…

With Mantis injured the team begin to question her mysterious past, only to be lured to their seeming doom and ‘Trapped in Outer Space!’ (Brown & Mike Esposito) before at last turning the tables on their fearsome foes after the criminal Libra reveals a shocking secret…

Avengers #123, ( Brown & Heck) begins a vast and ambitious saga with ‘Vengeance in Viet Nam – or – An Origin For Mantis!’ as Libra’s claim to be Mantis’ father (a story vigorously and violently denied by the Martial Arts Mistress) sends the team to Indo-China in a big hurry.

The former mercenary declared that he left the baby Mantis with pacifistic Priests of Pama after running afoul of a local crime-lord, but the bewildered warrior-woman has no memory of such events, nor of being schooled in combat techniques by the Priests. Meanwhile, the gravely wounded Swordsman has also rushed to Saigon to confront his sadistic ex-boss Monsieur Khruul and save the Priests from being murdered by the gangster’s thugs… but is again too late. It is the same old story of his pathetic, wasted life…

Issue #124 has the team stumbling upon a scene of slaughter as dead clerics and criminals lead to a monstrous planet-rending alien horror freshly awakened in ‘Beware the Star-Stalker!’ (limned by John Buscema & Dave Cockrum)…

Mantis is forced to accept that her own memories are not real after Avengers #125, which unleashed ‘The Power of Babel!’ after a vast alien armada attacks and, in combating it, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are trapped out of phase with their home-world.

This blockbuster battle bonanza was a crossover, and the penultimate episode of the spectacular Thanos War Saga that had featured in Captain Marvel, Marvel Feature and Iron Man.

Included in this compendium is climactic last chapter of that epic, plotted and illustrated by Jim Starlin, scripted by Englehart and inked by Klaus Janson. ‘The God Himself!’ (from Captain Marvel #33) sees mad Titan Thanos finally fall in combat to the valiant Kree warrior: a stunning piece of comics storytelling which stands up remarkably well here despite being seen without benefit of the preceding ten chapters…

It’s back to Avengers business as Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler & Dan Adkins return to the fold to delve and reboot some superhero history with ‘Nuklo… The Invader that Time Forgot!’ for the first quarterly edition of Giant-Size Avengers.

The stirring saga reintroduced 1940 Marvel sensation Bob Frank AKA The Whizzer in a taut and tragic tale of desperation as the aged speedster begs the heroes’ help in rescuing his son: a radioactive mutant locked in stasis by the US Government since the early 1950s. Unfortunately, within the recently unearthed chrono-capsule, the lad has grown into a terrifying atomic horror…

Moreover, while in the throes of a stress-induced heart attack the Whizzer lets slip that he is the also the father of mutant Avengers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver

Back in regular continuity, Avengers #126 offers ‘All the Sights and Sounds of Death!’ (Englehart, Brown & Cockrum) as villains Klaw and Solarr invade Avengers Mansion in a devious attempt to achieve vengeance for past indignities, after which in #127 Sal Buscema & Joe Staton sign on as regular art team with ‘Bride and Doom!’ as the team voyage to the hidden Himalayan homeland of The Inhumans to attend the marriage of the aforementioned Quicksilver to elemental enchantress Crystal. Sadly, the happy event craftily coincides with an uprising of the genetic slave-race known as Alpha Primitives. Once again robotic giant Omega has incited the revolt, but this time it is controlled by an old Avengers enemy who reveals himself in the concluding chapter of the crossover…

The story wraps up in Fantastic Four #150 with ‘Ultron-7: He’ll Rule the World!’ by Gerry Conway, Buckler & Joe Sinnott, in which a devastating battle between FF, Inhumans and Avengers is ended by a veritable Deus ex Machina moment, after which, at long last ‘The Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver’ ends events on a happy note.

But not for long as a final tale from Avengers #128’ sees the FF’s nanny Agatha Harkness get a new job tutoring Wanda Frank in actual sorcery to augment her mutant power. In Bewitched, Bothered, and Dead!’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Staton), the new student unwittingly allows dark mage Necrodamus access to the Mansion and the souls of the occupants, even as increasingly troubled Mantis makes a play for the Scarlet Witch’s synthezoid boyfriend The Vision; heedless of the hurt and harm she will bring to her current lover The Swordsman…

Extra enticements include Roy Thomas’ ‘Avengers Re-Assemble’ article from Giant-Size Avengers #1, art and features starring assorted Avengers from company fanzine F.O.O.M. (#3, 5, 6, 7, by John and Sal Buscema, John Byrne & Duffy Vohland, Marie Severin, Dave Cockrum, John Romita); comedy skit ‘Those Wedding Bells are Bustin’ Up that Avengin’ Gang of Mine’ by Tony Isabella & Paty Cockrum; House ads, covers from previous collections by Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino & Ang Tsang and Romita & Richard Isanove and an original art gallery of sketches, pages and covers by Brown, Romita, Starlin, Ron Wilson, John and Sal Buscema, Buckler and Byrne.

Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers, brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creation of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko: spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to.

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right and also a pivotal step transforming the little company into today’s multinational corporate colossus. Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new acme of cosmic adventure…
© 1973, 1974, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.
Avengers Epic Collection Volume 7: The Avengers/Defenders War is scheduled for release on April 24th and is available digitally or for pre-order now.

Papyrus volume 1: The Rameses’ Revenge

By Lucien De Gieter, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1- 905460-35-9

British and European Comics have always been keener on historical strips than our American cousins, and the Franco-Belgian contingent in particular have made an art form out of combining the fascinations of past lives with drama, action and especially broad humour in a genre uniquely suited to beguiling readers of all ages and tastes.

Papyrus is the astoundingly addictive magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. Launched in 1974 in legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, it eventually ran to 35 collected albums and spawned a wealth of merchandise, a TV cartoon series and video games.

De Gieter was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on September 4th 1932 and, after attending Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels, worked as an industrial designer and interior decorator before moving into comics in 1961.

Initially he worked on inserts (fold-in half-sized-booklets known as ‘mini-récits’) for Spirou, such as the little cowboy Pony, and produced scripts for established Spirou creators such as Kiko (Roger Camille), Jem (Jean Mortier), Eddy Ryssack and Francis (Bertrand). He then joined Peyo’s (Pierre Culliford) studio as inker on Les Schtroumpfs – which you’ll know as The Smurfs – and soloed as latest creator on long-running newspaper comic cat strip Poussy.

After originating mermaid strip Tôôôt et Puit in 1966 and seeing Pony graduate to the full-sized pages of Spirou in 1968, De Gieter relinquished his Smurfs gig, but kept himself busy producing work for Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey. From 1972-1974 he assisted Flemish cartooning legend Arthur Berckmans (AKA Berck) on comedy science-fiction series Mischa for the German Rolf Kauka Studios anthology magazine Primo, whilst preparing the serial which would occupy his full attention – as well as that of millions of avid fans – for the next four decades.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieu; mixing Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction, fantastic action and interventionist mythology. The enthralling Egyptian epics gradually evolved from standard “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content to a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Each tale also deftly incorporated the latest historical theories and discoveries into the beguiling yarns.

Papyrus is a fearlessly forthright young fisherman favoured by the gods who rises against all odds to become an infallible champion and friend to Pharaohs. As a youngster the plucky Fellah (peasant or agricultural labourer, fact fans) was singled out and given a magic sword courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek before winning similar boons and blessings from many of the Twin Land’s potent pantheon.

The youthful champion’s first accomplishment was liberating supreme deity Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos and restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but it was as nothing compared to his current duties: safeguarding Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely danger-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a dynamic princess with an astounding knack for finding trouble …

The Rameses’ Revenge is actually the seventh collected album, originally released on the Continent in 1984 as La Vengeance des Ramsès and finds Papyrus en route to the newly finished temple at Abu-Simbel on a royal barge; part of a vast flotilla destined to commemorate the magnificent Tomb of Rameses II.

Although his sedate Nile journey is plagued with frightful dreams, great friend and companion Imhotep tells him not to worry. Nevertheless, the boy hero dutifully consults a priest and is deeply worried when the sage declares the dreams are a warning…

That tension only grows when headstrong, impatient Theti-Cheri informs him that she has permission to go on ahead of the Pharaoh’s retinue in a small, poorly-armed skiff. Unable to dissuade her, Papyrus is furious when she imperiously orders him to remain behind. As they set off, the Princess and Imhotep are blissfully unaware that a member of her small guard has been replaced by a sinister impostor…

The vessel is well underway before they discover Papyrus has stowed away, but before the furious girl can have him thrown overboard, the boat is hit by an implausibly sudden storm and attacked by a pair of monsters.

Although boy hero Papyrus valiantly drives them away with his sword, Theti-Cheri sees nothing, having been knocked out in the storm. Still seething, she refuses to believe him or Imhotep and orders the expedition onward to Abu-Simbel. The next morning Papyrus and the guards are missing…

Pressing on anyway, the Princess and her remaining attendants reach the incredible edifice only to be seized by the band of brigands who have captured it. They want the enormous treasure hidden within the sprawling complex and already hold Papyrus prisoner.

If Theti-Cheri or the hostage Temple Priests won’t hand over the booty, the boy will die horribly…

The repentant Princess cannot convince the clerics to betray their holy vows, however, and in desperation declares that she will surrender herself instead. Appalled and moved by her noble intention, High Priest Hapu determines that only extreme measures can avenge the bandits’ sacrilegious insult and calls on mighty Ra to inflict the vengeance of the gods upon them…

The astounding, spectacular, terrifying result perfectly concludes this initial escapade and will thrill and delight lovers of fantastic fantasy and bombastic adventure.

Papyrus is another superb addition to the all-ages pantheon of continental champions who combine action and mirth with wit and charm, and even though UK publisher Cinebook haven’t released a new adventure since The Amulet of the Great Pyramid in 2015, anybody who has worn out their cherished Tintin, Spirou and Fantasio, Lucky Luke and Asterix collections would be well rewarded by checking out the six epic volumes still available (in paperback or eBook editions) and even harassing the publishers to start translating the rest of the fantastic canon…
© Dupuis, 1984 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.