A Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium II


By Rick Geary (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-907-6

Master cartoonist Rick Geary is a unique presence in both comics and true crime literature. His compelling dissections – in the form of graphic novel reconstructions – of some of the most infamous and groundbreaking murder mysteries since policing began never fail to beguile or entertain.

His unblinking eye has, of late, been examining the last hundred years or so in his Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, but Geary first began his graphic assignations with Mankind’s darker aspects in a delicious anthologised tome entitled A Treasury of Victorian Murder in 1987. That initial volume and three of the eight that succeeded it (Jack the Ripper, The Fatal Bullet and The Beast of Chicago) were re-issued in 2012 as a splendidly morbid monochrome deluxe hardback – because, after all, bloody murder is always a black and white affair…

At last, more of his most compelling past triumphs have been gathered into a second blockbusting 400 page black-&-white hardback to delight fans of the genre and, without a shadow of a doubt, make new converts out of the as yet unconvinced…

Combining a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and meticulously detailed pictorial extrapolation with his fascination with the ruthless propensities of humans throughout history, Geary’s forensic eye has scoured police blotters, newspaper archives and even history books to compile more irresistibly infectious social sins and felonious infractions.

Moreover, his unique cartooning style is the perfect medium to convey the starkly factual narratives in a memorable, mordant and undeniably enjoyable manner. Each epic endeavour is accompanied by an Introduction and scholarly Bibliography, with most adaptations also offering splendidly informative maps and diagrams to set the stories firmly in place.

Starting off this catalogue of crime is The Borden Tragedy, dissecting the wealth of details surrounding one of the most infamous – if not mythic – crimes ever perpetrated.

In Fall River, Massachusetts on August 4th 1892, prosperous self-made man Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby were found slain inside their own home. Death in both cases was caused by multiple axe blows.

Rather than his later neutral narrative stance, here Geary illustrates the “first-hand account” of an acquaintance of youngest daughter Lizzie Borden who, after much inept investigation and public speculation, was settled upon by the authorities as the likeliest suspect.

The various suppositions, theories, scandals and gossip-points are scrupulously examined as she stands trial for the crimes – a case muddled by a subsequent axe-murder whilst Lizzie was in custody – and follows her through the much-protracted case, past her acquittal to her eventual death in 1927…

The graphic re-enactment is accompanied by a copious photo and text section featuring a wealth of ‘Press Clippings of the Time’ as well as a reproduction of ‘Borden’s Indictment’ and The Boston Advertiser article on her eventual “Not Guilty” verdict. The Mystery of Mary Rogers concerns the assault and murder of a New York City cigar shop girl which mesmerised the citizenry in 1841. Such was the furore that author Edgar Allen Poe appropriated the events for his C. Auguste Lupin tale The Mystery of Marie Roget: a rather unwise move since he knew the deceased and opened himself up to loudly-voiced suspicions of complicity…

The facts are that on the 28th July 1841, a number of well-to do citizens left stifling Manhattan Island for the Jersey Shore and discovered the body of the “Segar Girl” floating in the Hudson; battered, strangled and with her hands tied across her chest.

A hasty autopsy and even quicker inquest, held under insultingly cavalier circumstances, produced no culprits or suspects but somehow managed to throw suspicion on everyone from the men who pulled her out of the water to her drunken suicidal fiancé and even her own mother…

A talking point for all and sundry from the highest society paragon to the lowliest street trash, her death produced ever-more scandalous revelations and groundless lewd rumours – all scrupulously explored by Geary – over the next few years but the case remains unsolved still…

The Saga of the Bloody Benders began in largely unsettled Kansas, in the period immediately following the American Civil War, after a family of German-speaking immigrants settled near the Osage Trail. There they built a General Store-&-Hotel equidistant between the nascent townships of Cherry Vale, Parsons and Thayer.

By the time they vanished four years later, provably ten but probably many, many more travellers and settlers had been robbed and murdered. Thereafter, the insalubrious Benders simply vanished from the sight of man…

Geary, with supreme style and dry wit, presents the facts and the best of the rumours in his inimitable cartoon style to create yet another unforgettable masterpiece of Gothic whimsy.

The Case of Madeleine Smith focused on the true and scandalous secret affair between Emile L’Anglier, a low-born French clerk, and prim, proper, eminently respectable Miss Madeleine Smith, daughter of a wealthy Scottish merchant.

The slow poisoning of the Gallic Romeo led to a notorious trial in the 19th century and the eventual verdict shocked everyone and satisfied nobody….

The entrancing chronicle of carnage and venality concludes with the epic account of The Murder of Abraham Lincoln, covering the 62 days from 4th March to May 4th 1865 when actor John Wilkes Booth and a band of like-minded Confederate patriots schemed to murder the President (and other Northern politicians they held responsible for the destruction of the South), and how their wild plot came to startling, implausible fruition…

Following the Inauguration Ceremony for his second Term of Office, the normally fatalistic and security-disparaging President Lincoln was troubled by unease, disquiet and dreams of assassination, possible generated by the sack-full of death threats stored by his Secretary John Hay.

Elsewhere Secessionist sympathiser Booth was planning a blow for revenge and personal immortality but increasingly found his co-conspirators a disappointing bunch. Driven and desperate, he persevered for his cause…

All the many players are scrutinised in Geary’s careful examination and the peculiar circumstances which left Lincoln vulnerable are counterbalanced by insights and minutiae provided into his less-than-fanatical killers.

Only one of the many assassinations planned by the Secessionist cabal came to anything, and following the foul deed, grisly death-watch and post mortem, Geary’s depiction of the bold but inept manhunt which followed is capped by Booth’s satisfyingly dramatic end, leaving nothing but the artist’s masterful summing up to ask the questions nobody has answered yet and leave us all with the certain knowledge that this too is a murder still largely unsolved…

These compelling cold cases are a perfect example of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simplistic fantasy entertainment, and such merrily morbid murder masterpieces as these should be mandatory reading for every mystery addict and crime collector.

Such seductive storytelling, erudite argument and audacious drawing produce an irresistible dash and verve which makes for unforgettable reading: Geary is a unique talent in the comic industry, as much for his style as his subject matter and methodology in telling tales. Always presenting both facts and the theories – contemporary and modern – with chilling graphic precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, he attacks criminology’s greatest mysteries with a force and power even Oliver Stone would envy.
© 1997-2007, 2015 Rick Geary.

Black Widow: Kiss or Kill


By Duane Swierczynski, Joe Aherne, Manuel Garcia, Brian Ching, Lorenzo Ruggiero, Bit & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4701-5

The Black Widow started life as a svelte and sultry honey-trap Russian agent during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days. Natalia Romanova was subsequently redesigned as a super villain, falling for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – defecting and finally becoming an agent of SHIELD, freelance do-gooder and occasional leader of the Avengers.

Throughout her career she has been considered efficient, competent, deadly dangerous and somehow cursed to bring doom and disaster to her paramours. As her backstory evolved, it was revealed that she had undergone experimental Soviet procedures which had enhanced her physical capabilities and lengthened her lifespan, as well as assorted psychological processes which had messed up her mind and memories…

Always a fan favourite, the Widow only really hit the big time after featuring in the Iron Man, Captain America and Avengers movies, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her print escapades have always offered a cool, sinister frisson of delight.

This particular caper compilation (reprinting Black Widow volume 4 #6-8 spanning November 2010 to January 2011) was the second and final story arc of a short-lived series and includes a riotous team up tale from the Iron Man: Kiss & Kill 1-shot (August 2010).

The espionage elitism opens with the eponymous 3-chapter ‘Kiss or Kill’ by writer Duane Swierczynski, illustrated by Manuel Garcia, Lorenzo Ruggiero, Bit and colourist Jim Charalapidis, as idealistic young journalist and recently bereaved son Nick Crane finds himself the target of two mega-hot, ultra lethal female super-spies in Houston’s club district.

Both of them say they want to save him but each seems far more intent on ending Nick’s life, and in between mercilessly fighting each other and hurtling across the city in a stampede of violent destruction both have demanded that he name his privileged source…

Nick is inclined to believe the blonde called Fatale. After all, he has a surveillance tape of the redhead – the Black Widow – with his father moments before he died…

After his senator dad was found with his brains all over a wall, Nick started digging and uncovered a pattern: a beautiful woman implicated in the deaths of numerous key political figures around the world…

After a staggering battle across the city Natalia is the notional victor but isn’t ready when Nick turns a gun on her. She still goes easy on him and he wakes up some time later in Roanoke, Virginia utterly baffled. She explains she’s on the trail of an organisation devoted to political assassination using a double of her to commit their high profile crimes but the angry young man clearly doesn’t believe her.

Further argument is curtailed by the sudden arrival of an extremely competent Rendition Team who remove them both to a secret US base in Poland. After a terrifying interval the Widow starts thinking that her extreme scheme to get the name out of Nick might be working but that all goes to hell when a third force blasts in and re-abducts them.

Realising that her government liaison is playing for more than one side, the Widow blasts her way out, dragging Nick with her, and soon they are on the run with only her rapidly dwindling and increasingly untrustworthy freelance contacts to protect them.

The escape has however almost convinced Nick to trust her with his source but that moment passes when the latest iteration of Crimson Dynamo and illusion-caster Fantasma derail the train they’re on…

Another explosive confrontation is suddenly cut short when Fatale arrives but rather than assassination she has an alliance in mind. The mysterious mastermind behind the killings and framing the Widow has stopped paying the killer blonde and thus needs to be taught a lesson about honouring commitments…

Now armed with Nick’s contact’s details they go after the enigmatic “Sadko” but the shady operator seems to be one step ahead of them as usual.

But only “seems”…

To Be Continued…

Rounding out this espionage extravaganza ‘Iron Widow’, written by Joe Aherne with art by Brian Ching and colourist Michael Atiyeh from Iron Man: Kiss & Kill, sees the Russian émigré give Avenging inventor Tony Stark a crash course in spycraft after a very special suit of Iron Man armour is stolen.

Fully schooled, the billionaire succeeds too well in locating his missing mech but falls into a terrifying trap set by sinister Sunset Bain and becomes a literal time-bomb pointed at the origin of The Avengers. Luckily Black Widow is on hand to prove skill, ingenuity and guts always trump mere overwhelming power…

A fast and furious, pell-mell, helter-skelter rollercoaster of high-octane intrigue and action, Kiss or Kill also includes a captivating collation of covers-&-variants by Daniel Acuña, J. Scott Campbell, Brian Stelfreeze, Ching & Chris Sotomayor and Stephane Perger, making this such a superb example of genre-blending Costumed Drama that you’d be thoroughly suspect and subject to scrutiny for neglecting it.
© 2010, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Zorro – the Complete Classic Adventures volumes One & Two


By Alex Toth & anonymous (Eclipse Books)
ISBNs: 0-913035-41-6 and 0-913035-51-3

Alex Toth was a master of graphic communication who shaped two different art-forms and is largely unknown in both of them.

Born in New York in 1928, the son of Hungarian immigrants with a dynamic interest in the arts, Toth was something of a prodigy and after enrolling in the High School of Industrial Arts doggedly went about improving his skills as a cartoonist. His earliest dreams were of a quality newspaper strip like Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, but his uncompromising devotion to the highest standards soon soured him on newspaper strip work when he discovered how hidebound and innovation-resistant the family values-based industry had become whilst he was growing up.

Aged 15, he sold his first comicbook works to Heroic Comics and after graduating in 1947 worked for All American/National Periodical Publications (who would amalgamate and evolve into DC Comics) on Dr. Mid-Nite, All Star Comics, the Atom, Green Lantern, Johnny Thunder, Sierra Smith, Johnny Peril, Danger Trail and a host of other features. On the way he dabbled with newspaper strips (see Casey Ruggles: the Hard Times of Pancho and Pecos) but was disappointed o find nothing had changed…

Continually striving to improve his own work he never had time for fools or formula-hungry editors who wouldn’t take artistic risks. In 1952 Toth quit DC to work for “Thrilling” Pulps publisher Ned Pines who was retooling his prolific Better/Nedor/Pines comics companies (Thrilling Comics, Fighting Yank, Doc Strange, Black Terror and many more) into Standard Comics: a publishing house targeting older readers with sophisticated, genre-based titles.

Beside fellow graphic masters Nick Cardy, Mike Sekowsky, Art Saaf, John Celardo, George Tuska, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito and particularly favourite inker Mike Peppe, Toth set the bar high for a new kind of story-telling: wry, restrained and thoroughly mature; in short-lived titles dedicated to War, Crime, Horror, Science Fiction and especially Romance.

After Simon and Kirby invented love comics, Standard, through artists like Cardy and Toth and writers like the amazing and unsung Kim Aamodt, polished and honed the genre, turning out clever, witty, evocative and yet tasteful melodramas and heart-tuggers both men and women could enjoy.

Before going into the military, where he still found time to create a strip (Jon Fury for the US army’s Tokyo Quartermaster newspaper The Depot’s Diary) he illustrated 60 glorious tales for Standard; as well as a few pieces for EC and others.

On his return to a different industry – and one he didn’t much like – Toth resettled in California, splitting his time between Western/Dell/Gold Key, such as these Zorro tales and many other movie/TV adaptations, and National (assorted short pieces such as Hot Wheels and Eclipso): doing work he increasingly found uninspired, moribund and creatively cowardly. Eventually he moved primarily into TV animation, designing for shows such as Space Ghost, Herculoids, Birdman, Shazzan!, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Super Friends among many others.

He returned sporadically to comics, setting the style and tone for DC’s late 1960’s horror line in House of Mystery, House of Secrets and especially The Witching Hour, and illustrating more adult fare for Warren’s Creepy, Eerie and The Rook. He redesigned The Fox for Red Circle/Archie, produced stunning one-offs for Archie Goodwin’s Batman or war comics (whenever they offered him a “good script”) and contributed to landmark or anniversary projects such as Batman: Black and White.

His later, personal works included Torpedo for the European market and the magnificently audacious swashbuckler Bravo for Adventure!

Alex Toth died of a heart attack at his drawing board on May 27th 2006 but before that the kids he’d inspired (mostly comics professionals themselves) sought to redress his shameful anonymity with a number of retrospectives and comics compilations. One of the first and best was this Eclipse Books twin set, gathering his many tales for Dell featuring Disney’s TV iteration of the prototypical masked avenger.

In 2013, Hermes Press released a lavish complete volume in full colour but, to my mind, these black and white books (grey-toned, stripped down and redrawn by the master himself) are the definitive vision and the closest to what Toth originally intended, stripped of all the obfuscating quibbles and unnecessary pictorial fripperies imposed upon his dynamic vision by legions of writing committees, timid editors and Disney franchising flacks.

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world, “El Zorro, The Fox” was originally devised by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 in a five part serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’. He debuted in the All-Story Weekly for August 6th and ran until 6th September. The part-work was subsequently published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co. and Tor respectively.

Famously, Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford read the ‘The Curse of Capistrano’ in All-Story Weekly on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the adventure to be the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro was a global movie sensation in 1920 and for years after, and New York-based McCulley subsequently re-tailored his creation to match the so-different filmic incarnation. This Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Spider.

Rouben Mamoulian’s 1940 filmic remake of The Mark of Zorro further ingrained the Fox into the world’s psyche and, as the prose exploits continued in a variety of publications, Dell began a comicbook version in 1949.

When Walt Disney Studios began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957 (resulting in 78 half-hour episodes and four 60 minute specials before cancellation in 1961) the ongoing comics series was swiftly redesigned to capitalise on it and the entertainment corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various quarters of the world.

This superb set reproduces the tales produced by Toth for Dell Comics; firstly as part of the monumental try-out series Four-Color (issues #882, 920, 933, 960, 976 & 1003), and thereafter as a proven commodity with his own title – of which the restless Toth only drew #12. Other artists on the series included Warren Tufts, Mel Keefer and John Ushler and the Dell series was subsequently relaunched in January 1966 under the Gold Key imprint, reprinting (primarily) the Toth drawn material in a 9-issue run than lasted until March 1968.

Zorro – the Complete Classic Adventures Volume One opens with an effusive and extremely moving ‘Introduction by Howard Chaykin’ before steaming straight into the timeless wonder, but I thought that perhaps a brief note on the scripts might be sensible here.

As part of Disney’s license the company compelled Dell to concentrate on adapting already-aired TV episodes complete with florid, overblown dialogue and stagy, talking head shots which Toth struggled mightily – and against increasingly heated resistance from writers and editors – to pare down and liven up. Under such circumstances it’s a miracle that the strips are even palatable, but they are in fact some of the best adventure comics of the practically superhero-free 1950s.

Sadly, all the covers were photo-shots of actor Guy Williams in character so even that graphic outlet was denied Toth – and us…

One bonus however is that the short, filler stories used to supplement the screen adaptations were clearly generated in-house with fewer restrictions, so here Toth’s brilliance shines through…

The origin and set-up for the series came with Four-Color #882 (February 1958) in ‘Presenting Señor Zorro’. Retelling the first episode of the TV show, it introduces dashing swordsman Don Diego De La Vega, returning from Spain in 1820 to his home in Pueblo De Los Angeles in answer to a letter telling of injustice, corruption and tyranny…

With mute servant Bernardo – who pretends to be also deaf and acts as his perfect spy amongst the oppressors – Diego determines to assume the role of a spoiled and cowardly fop whilst creating the masked identity of El Zorro “the Fox” to overthrow wicked military commander and de facto dictator Capitan Monastario.

Shrugging off the clear disappointment of his father Don Alejandro, Diego does nothing when their neighbour IgnacioNachoTorres is arrested on charges of treason but that night a masked figure in black spectacularly liberates the political prisoner and conveys him to relative safety and legal sanctuary at the Mission of San Gabriel

The second TV instalment became the closing chapter of that first comicbook as ‘Zorro’s Secret Passage’ finds Monastario suspicious that Zorro is a member of the De La Vega household and stakes the place out. When the Commandante then accuses another man of being the Fox, Diego uses the underground passages beneath his home to save the innocent victim and confound the dictator…

Four-Color #920 (June 1958) adapted the third and fourth TV episodes, beginning with “Zorro Rides to the Mission” which became ‘The Ghost of the Mission Part One’ as Monastario discovers where Nacho Torres is hiding and surrounds the Mission. Unable to convince his lancers to break the sacred bounds of Sanctuary, the tyrant settles in for a siege and ‘The Ghost of the Mission Part Two’ sees him fabricate an Indian uprising to force his way in. Sadly for the military martinet Diego has convinced his bumbling deputy Sergeant Demetrio Garcia that the Mission is haunted by a mad monk…

Despite appearing only quarterly, Zorro stories maintained the strict continuity dictated by the weekly TV show. “Garcia’s Secret Mission” became ‘Garcia’s Secret’ in Four-Color #933 (September 1958) and saw Monastario apparently throw his flunky out of the army in a cunning plot to capture the Fox. Once again the ruse was turned against the connivers and El Capitan was again humiliated.

The last half of the issue saw a major plot development, however, as TV instalment “The Fall of Monastario” became ‘The King’s Emissary’ wherein the Commandante tries to palm off ineffectual Diego as Zorro to impress the Viceroy of California only to find himself inexplicably exposed, deposed and arrested…

The rest of this initial outing comprises a quartet of short vignettes commencing with ‘A Bad Day for Bernardo’ (Four-Color #920) wherein the unlucky factotum endures a succession of mishaps as he and Zorro search for a missing señorita and almost scotch her plans to elope, whilst Four-Color #933 provided the tale of youngster Manuelo, who ran away to become ‘The Little Zorro’. Happily Diego is able to convince the lad that school trumps heroism… in this case…

In ‘The Visitor’ (Four-Color #960, December 1958) Diego and Bernardo find a baby on their doorstep and help the mother to free her husband from jail before the volume concludes with ‘A Double for Diego’ (Four-Color #976, March 1959) wherein Sgt. Garcia – now in temporary charge of Los Angeles – seeks Diego’s help to capture Zorro, necessitating the wily hero trying to be in two places at once…

Zorro Volume Two leads off with ‘A Foreword’s Look Back and Askance’ by Alex Toth, who self-deprecatingly recaps his life and explains his artistic philosophy, struggles with Dell’s editors and constant battle to turn the anodyne goggle-box crusader back into the dark and flamboyant swashbuckler of the Mamoulian movie…

Four-Color #960 (December 1958) has TV tales “The Eagle’s Brood” and “Zorro by Proxy” transformed into visual poetry when a would-be conqueror targets Los Angeles as part of a greater scheme to seize control of California. With new Capitan Toledano despatched to seek out a vast amount of stolen gunpowder, ‘The Eagle’s Brood’ infiltrate the town, sheltered by a traitor at the very heart of the town’s ruling elite…

Made aware of the seditious plot, Zorro moves carefully against the villains, foiling their first attempt to take over and learning the identity of an untouchable traitor…

The saga resumed and concluded in ‘Gypsy Warning’ (Four-Color #976, adapting “Quintana Makes a Choice” and “Zorro Lights a Fuse”) as Zorro foils a plot to murder pro tem leader Garcia and stumbles into the final stages of the invasion of Santa Barbara, San Diego, Capistrano and Los Angeles…

With The Eagle temporarily defeated, short back-up ‘The Enchanted Bell’ (Four-Color #1003, June 1959) sees Zorro prevent the local tax collector confiscating a prized bell beloved by the region’s Indians to prevent a possible uprising, after which the lead story from the same issue details how ‘The Marauders of Monterey’ (adapting “Welcome to Monterey” and “Zorro Rides Alone”) lure officials from many settlements with the promise of vitally needed supplies and commodities before robbing them.

Sadly for them, Los Angeles sent the astute but effete Don Diego to bid for the goods and he had his own solutions for fraud and banditry…

After more than a year away Toth returned for one last hurrah as ‘The Runaway Witness’ (Zorro #12, December 1960/February 1961) found the Fox chasing a frightened flower-girl all over the countryside. Justice rather than romance was on his mind as he sought to convince her to testify against a powerful man who had murdered his business partner… This stunning masterclass in comics excellence concludes with ‘Friend Indeed’ from the same issue wherein Zorro plays one of his most imaginative tricks on Garcia, allowing the hero to free a jail full of political prisoners…

Full-bodied, captivating and beautifully realised, these immortal adventures of a global icon are something no fan of adventure comics and thrilling stories should be without.
Zorro ® and © Zorro Productions. Stories and artwork © 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961Walt Disney Productions This edition © 1986 Zorro Productions, Inc.

Hulk: Red Hulk volume 1


By Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2882-3

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result stress or other factors would cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury. As both occasional hero and mindless monster he rampaged across the Marvel Universe for decades, finally finding his size 700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most beloved features.

A phenomenally popular character both in comics and more global accessible media like TV and movies, he has often undergone radical changes in scope and style to keep his stories fresh and his exploits explosively compelling…

In the early part of the 21st century the number of gamma-mutated monsters rampaging across the Marvel landscape proliferated to inconceivable proportions and the days of Bruce Banner getting mean and going green are long gone, so anybody taking their cues from the small or big screen incarnations would be wise to assume a level of unavoidable bewilderment.

There are a few other assorted ancillary atomic berserkers roaming the planet, so be prepared to experience a little confusion if you’re coming to this particular character cold. Nevertheless these always-epic stories are generally worth the effort so persist if you can.

At the time of this collection – gathering the contents of Hulk volume 2 #1-6 from March-August 2008, plus a gamma-tinged bonus tale from Wolverine volume 3 #50 (and March 2007) – the Banner iteration of the Jade Giant is presumed dead and a smattering of new gamma gargantua are only just beginning to appear…

This will be eventually revealed as the first public phase of an extended plot by the world’s wickedest brain trust to conquer everything (as would be later seen in the epic Fall of the Hulks) but here action and enigma take precedence in the form of a bizarre murder mystery as She-Hulk, gamma-augmented psychologist LeonardDocSamson, veteran Hulk-Buster General ThaddeusThunderboltRoss, SHIELD agent Maria Hill and her new boss/Director TonyIron ManStark work a crime scene in Dimitri, Russia.

The assembled experts are standing over the corpse of Emil Blonsky – formerly the vicious indestructible monster known as the Abomination. He was beaten near to death by something which can only have been the dearly-departed Hulk but finished off with a gun of implausibly large calibre and power…

The assembled experts are baffled and suspicious. Since when has the Hulk ever been calm enough to use a gun? Other things don’t add up either – most notably the Hulk-sized footprints which were somehow so hot that they turned the ground to glass…

Before they get too far into their CSI task, however, Russia’s metahuman unit The Winter Guard show up and claim jurisdiction in a manner which can only lead to a fight and international incident…

The still-unexplained gamma-assassination took out an entire village as collateral damage and the battle between the American intruders and People’s Patriots Dark Star, Ursa Major, Crimson Dynamo and Red Guardian looks set to do even more harm until a shellshocked little girl shambles from the wreckage, muttering one word over and over. The chastened warriors stop and Darkstar translates. The broken waif is saying “red”…

Sometime later in Alaska, Banner’s greatest friend Rick Jones wakes up amidst a scene of devastation only a Hulk could have made, whilst in Gamma Base, Nevada, Samson and Ross enter a top secret dungeon to ask a prisoner ‘Who Is The Hulk?’

Just like the rest of the American investigators, they both know Blonsky’s killer can’t be Banner. The world at large may believe he’s dead but all the Hulk experts know he’s still alive and well, locked in the inescapable cell where they shoved him…

The mystery of the new Hulk resumes in ‘The Smoking Gun’ as aboard SHIELD Director Stark’s new Helicarrier, Hill reveals the gun used to kill Abomination was stolen from their own armoury deep within the flying super-fortress. She has no chance to expound further as She-Hulk is savagely attacked and beaten – by a colossal crimson monster that resembles the Hulk – so swiftly that even battle-seasoned Iron Man cannot react in time…

With the monumental vessel crippled and about to smash into New York City, the heroes’ attentions are divided between hunting the monster and preventing an appalling disaster, leaving Red Hulk to pick off the champions at his leisure…

In Nevada, hitchhiking Rick Jones has reached the supposedly decommissioned Gamma Base, only to be attacked by a massive scarlet horror. The assault triggers a strange change and the young man suddenly transforms into a huge and hideous blue abomination calling itself A-Bomb

With more than one gamma suspect at large, ‘Creatures on the Loose’ opens in the smouldering remains of the downed Helicarrier as Stark reviews security footage from Gamma Base and realises that the captive Banner has had unmonitored conversations with Ross and Samson. Suspicions aroused, he takes the recordings to an expert even as at the Nevada site Red Hulk and A-Bomb engage in a furious no-holds barred battle.

So cataclysmic is the clash that it shatters the mile of ground above Banner’s cell and triggers the San Andreas Fault…

With a fight this ferociously apocalyptic, the impassive alien observer known as The Watcher naturally materialises to record the event but even he is not immune to the Crimson Barbarian’s unrelenting fury. However the beast’s attempted celestia-cide is interrupted by the resurgent return of the original Jade Juggernaut in ‘Red Light, Green Light’.

It is clearly what the devious scarlet newcomer has been wanting all along and their hyper-destructive duel carries them all the way to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge…

With catastrophe imminent ‘Rolling Thunder’ introduces another recently resurrected champion as Asgardian storm lord Thor dives headlong into the fray seconds after the Red Hulk seemingly drowns his viridian counterpart. As their subsequent staggering struggle takes the combatants from Earth to the Moon, A-Bomb and green Hulk struggle out of the choppy waters in time to join a band of heroes (Iron Man, She-Hulk, Human Torch, The Thing, Sub-Mariner and Ares, God of War) in preventing the roiling San Andreas Fault tipping the city and a good part of the Golden State into the Pacific Ocean…

The semi-mindless Green Goliath soon falls into fighting with his allies and hurtles away – somehow able to track to his scarlet-skinned alternate – and arrives as the beast returns to Earth after trouncing the Thunderer. Loathing each other on sight they clash again with the ‘Blood Red’ barbarian finally falling before the pounding fists of the unstoppable original Hulk. As the weary victor wanders away, however, the mastermind behind the Red Hulk finally reveals himself…

To Be Continued…

Also included in this collection is a collation of cartoon comedy vignettes (‘Hulk Art Class’, ‘Hulk Splash’ and ‘Hulk Zoo’) by Audrey Loeb & Chris Giarrusso) and a brief but visually bombastic retelling of the Jade Juggernaut’s first clash with manic mutant mainstay Wolverine in ‘Puny Little Man’ by Jeph Loeb, McGuinness & Vines from Wolverine volume 3 #50, and an assortment of covers and variants by McGuinness, Vines & Jason Keith, Michael Turner, Dale Keown, Daniel Acuña, Marko Djurdjevic, David Finch, Olivier Coipel and Arthur Adams.

If staggering, blockbusting Fights ‘n’ Tights turmoil is your fancy, a Hulk of any colour is always going to be at the top of every punch-drunk thrill-seeker’s hit list…
© 2008, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Physics of Super Heroes – Spectacular Second Edition


By James Kakalios (Duckworth Overlook)
ISBN: 978-0-71563-911-5

I grew up in the 1960s reading a lot of comics – as well as books, papers, bubble gum cards, magazines, cereal packs and sweet wrappers. With so few other distractions, the printed word – with or without attendant illustrations – held a magic no other medium could match, no matter how much my oversized nostalgia glands tell me I still need Space Patrol, Twizzle or Champion the Wonder Horse in my rapidly decelerating life…

One thing my parents and the nuns at primary school noticed – apart from ink-stained fingers – was that I always seemed to have a fount of scientific snippets at my beck and call. That’s clearly the same experience physics professor and author James Kakalios recalls – except perhaps the nuns and Twizzle parts.

As explained in his Foreword and Preface, Silver Age comicbooks – especially those published by National/DC – were honeycombed with scientific and historical features and anecdotes whilst the stories, mostly written by jobbing pulp science fiction writers like John Broome, Gardner Fox, Alfred Bester, Edmond Hamilton, Otto Binder and others, all emphasised a world of physical rationalism – albeit one loaded with aliens, mutants, monsters and flying guys in capes and perpetually suspended disbelief…

Thus our topic for today is the splendid second edition of his oddly captivating text using extracts from comicbooks to highlight and explain the basic principles of how reality works. Sadly he also tells us where – and exactly why – superpowers and Fights ‘n’ Tights shenanigans are strictly hot air, wishful thinking and pure Balonium…

Working from a genuinely funny script (remember when teachers were allowed to be funny in class?) and utilising forthright and not at all forced comparisons, examples and illustrations, Kakalios translates his copious knowledge of comics continuity to detail everything you – and most importantly your kids – need to know. It begins, following a Foreword by Lawrence M. Krauss and brace of Prefaces (to the First and Second Editions), with Introduction: Secret Origins: How Science Saved Superhero Comic Books recounting the most important facts of all: how comics were created and evolved…

After that it’s a spectacularly engaging tumble through the discipline (each with an appropriate – and suitably summarised – comics event whether your background and major is primarily Science or Costumed Drama) beginning with Section 1 and all you need to understand about Mechanics

Subsection 1. Up, Up and Away: Forces and Motion features Superman, whilst 2. Deconstructing Krypton: Newton’s Law of Gravity moves off-planet to glean the truth about his vaporised home before 3. The Day Gwen Stacy Died: Impulse and Momentum at last explains Spider-Man’s big mistake on that tragic night.

Running up walls and across water gets a thumbs-up in 4. Flash Facts: Friction, Drag and Sound, Ant-Man’s shrinking comes under a microscope in 5. If This Be My Density: Properties of Matter and 6. So He Talks to Fishes. Want to Make Something of It?: Fluid Mechanics considers Aquaman and Sub-Mariner’s surprisingly difficult trick of breathing underwater as well the pressures of the job…

Although he makes it look easy, 7. Can He Swing from a Thread?: Centripetal Acceleration examines the forces in play when Spidey goes web-wandering whilst 8. Can Ant-Man Punch his way Out of a Paper Bag?: Torque and Rotation handles the problems of sustained strength and diminished height as well as how Spidey can jump so far whereas 9. The Human Top Goes Out for a Spin: Angular Momentum reveals why Whirlwind and the Top should be the most powerful bad guys in town…

10. Is Ant-Man Deaf, Dumb and Blind?: Simple Harmonic Motion covers how a host of shrinking super-folk could communicate with the larger world after which 11. Like a Flash of Lightning: Special Relativity wraps up the easy stuff with a round-up of the Scarlet Speedsters top tricks…

Section 2 – Energy – Heat and Light concentrates on scalar physical quantities (look at me showing off!) with 12. The Central City Diet Plan: Conservation of Energy as the sources of Flash’s vivid vitality are divined, whilst Ant-Man and the Atom are thoroughly quizzed on 13. The Case of the Missing Work: The Three Laws of Thermodynamics before Iceman and Storm are drafted in to discuss 14. Mutant Meteorology: Conduction and Convection.

15. How the Monstrous Menace of the Mysterious Melter Makes Dinner Preparation a Breeze: Phase Transitions is a quick briefing on how materials can be made to change states, after which the most visually iconic powers in comics are called up for 16. Electro’s Clinging Way’s: Electrostatics, 17. Superman Schools Spider-Man: Electrical Currents, 18. How Electro becomes Magneto when he Runs: Ampere’s Law, 19. How Magneto becomes Electro when he Runs: Magnetism and Faraday’s Law and 20. Electro and Magneto do the Wave: Electromagnetism and Light

The lesson endeth by bringing us cosmologically up-to-date with Section 3 – Modern Physics and the inevitable team-up of Doctor Doom and Max Planck for 21. Journey into the Microverse: Atomic Physics, whilst Erwin Schrödinger does or does not lend his weight to theories of parallel Earths and time travel in 22. Not a Dream! Not a Hoax! Not an Imaginary Tale!: Quantum Mechanics, before Kitty Pride and the Golden Age Flash go through a helpful phase in 23. Through a Wall Lightly: Tunneling Phenomena.

It only remains to take a look at the stuff we build – and build with – in 24. Sock it to Shellhead: Solid-State Physics and 25. The Costumes are Super, Too: Materials Science to bring this foundation course in physically measurable existence to a satisfactory conclusion…

Nonetheless education never ends and Section 4 – What Have We Learned? brings us what we’ve all really been waiting for in 26. Me Am Bizarro!: Superhero Bloopers. This is where you can find out if the things you think of as the daftest in comics can be compared to what an accredited thinkologist can prove, and I’m personally pleased to find that two of my all-time “yeah, buts…” and “oh, come ons…” have at last been countersigned by an expert. Of course there were a whole bunch more that I missed…

Kakalios winningly wraps up his delicious brain-expanding exercise with the Afterword: Lo, There Shall Be An Ending! but can’t resist giving further opportunities to get smarter and more rounded with Recommended Reading – happily that’s a list of great comics as well as key texts – and, just like hair product commercials there’s even a genuine “science bit” as Key Equations list the fundamental magic formulas you need to conquer the world or pass a test. There’s even a section of Notes, Acknowledgements and an Index to make this seem more like a proper book but they can’t diminish the glee and wonderment one iota…

Filled with penetrating insights and explanations of how this universe really works with illustrations from a pantheon of America’s greatest comics-makers (yes, there is a little bit of maths – but not enough to trouble even a bright 7-year old) this a brilliantly accessible tome no comics-loving kid should be without. Tell them teacher said so.
© 2009 James Kakalios. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four: the Beginning of the End


By Dwayne McDuffie, Karl Kesel, Paul Pelletier, Tom Grummett & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2554-9

The Fantastic Four has long been considered the most pivotal series in modern comicbook history, introducing both a new style of storytelling and a decidedly different manner of engaging the readers’ impassioned attentions.

More family than team, the roster has changed many times over the years but always eventually returns to the original configuration of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing, who have together formed the vanguard of modern four-colour heroic history.

The quartet are actually maverick genius Reed Richards, his wife Sue, their trusty college friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s obnoxious and impetuous younger brother Johnny Storm; survivors of an independent space-shot which went horribly wrong once ferociously mutative Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

When they crashed back to Earth, the foursome found that they had all been hideously changed into outlandish freaks.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and form force-fields, Johnny could turn into self-perpetuating living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was transformed into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not return to a semblance of normality on command.

The sheer simplicity of four archetypes – mercurial boffin, self-effacing distaff, solid everyman and hot-headed youth, uniting to triumph over accident and adversity – shone under Stan Lee’s irreverent humanity coupled to Jack Kirby’s rampant imagination and emphatic sense of adventure.

Decades of erratic quality and floundering plotlines followed the original creators’ departures, but from the beginning of the 21st century Marvel’s First Family experienced a steady climb in quality which culminated in their own blockbuster film franchise.

A key factor in the series success was an incredible roster of unforgettable villains and this slim compilation – re-presenting Fantastic Four #525-526 and #551-553 – features a brace of the very best at their very worst…

By this time the FF had achieved the comfortably universal status of being defined mostly by their current creators (like a Brannagh or Olivier Hamlet, Rathbone or Cumberbatch Sherlock Holmes or Stan Lee vs. Frank Miller Daredevil) and this beguilingly mismatched collection gathers two story-oddments which wouldn’t comfortably fit in the themed compilations that surround it, but nonetheless offer some splendidly entertaining Fights ‘n’ Tights action from the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” for fans and aficionados to enjoy…

The drama anachronistically kicks of with a 3-part ‘Epilogue’ from Fantastic Four #551-553 (January-March 2008) which followed the return of the original quartet after a period when the universe had been championed by a substitute team (see Fantastic Four: the New Fantastic Four)…

‘The Beginning of the End’ by scripter Dwayne McDuffie, illustrated by Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar, opens 75 years after the great superhero Civil War. Reed Richards has triggered a global revolution in humanity, but he spends his days as warden of a high security facility with only six incorrigible reprobates pent within.

When that number is suddenly reduced by one the science hero isn’t too bothered: after all, he remembers it happening decades ago…

Back at Now, the in-their-prime FF are astonished to find Doctor Doom accompanied by elderly incarnations of Sub-Mariner and recent team-mate Black Panther sitting on their couch. After the usual violent preamble the visitors explain they have come from the future to stop Richards from making the greatest mistake in human history…

Reed has a secret room in the Baxter Building where he brainstorms his “100 Ideas” to create a utopia, but Doom and his fellow time-travellers are determined to stop the super genius from instigating Idea 101 – the concept which made the future a living hell.

To prove his point the Iron Dictator reveals the shocking fate of his wife and comrades in years to come. In response Reed picks up a gun and murders one of his “guests”…

The shocking saga continues with ‘The Middle of the End’ as Reed proceeds to expose the time-tossed terror’s true intent, but as combat climaxes his comrades – so recently sundered by the Civil War and still trying to regain trust in each – other cannot shake the dread that there’s a kernel of truth in what Doom predicts …

The suspense then roars into overdrive when the Fantastic Four of Doom’s distant era materialise, determined to recapture the fugitive and prevent catastrophic time-branching no matter who has to pay the price in ‘The End’

After a stunning all-out battle, a measure of equilibrium is restored before this cunning chronicle harks back to Fantastic Four #525-526 (June-July 2005) for ‘Dream Fever parts I and 2’, written by Karl Kesel with art by Tom Grummett, Larry Stucker & Norm Rapmund.

A less conflicted First Family have just returned from a peril-packed jaunt to the Micro-verse when alarms alert them that arcane immortal alchemist Diablo is attacking a bank, but this time he’s not looking for loot or even a fight…

Revealing his origins in 9th century Spain the mage wants the FF’s time machine so that he can return to his birth era and crush the sadistic Inquisition before it can torture and murder millions – and he’s prepared to raze New York to get his way…

After failing to capture the mystic maniac the heroes return home but are plagued by shared horrendous dreams which increasingly set the family at each other’s throats. Reed’s researches, however, soon prove Diablo is not the cause but only another victim of what seems to be a globally debilitating epidemic of nightmares…

Frantically racing against time the pliable genius traces the true cause of the contagion but to save the world the quarrelsome quartet might well have to strike that deal with the devil…

Supplemented with a cover gallery by Michael Turner and Jim Cheung plus a selection of pre-inked pencil pages from issues #551 and 553, The Beginning of the End is a fast-paced, action packed and tension-soaked chronicle of fantastic fragments that provides all the thrills and chills a devoted Costumed Drama lover could ever want.
© 2005, 2007 and 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Valerian and Laureline book 8: Heroes of the Equinox


By Méziéres & Christin, with colours by E. Tranlé; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-213-3

Valérian and Laureline is the most influential science fiction comics series ever created; an innovation-packed, Big-Ideas bonanza stuffed with wry observation, knowing humour, intoxicating action and underpinned throughout by sardonic sideswipes at contemporary mores and prejudices.

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent debuted in weekly Pilote #420 (November 9th 1967) and was an instant hit. It swiftly evolved into its current designation as his feisty, fire-headed female sidekick developed into the equal partner – and eventually scene-stealing star – of light-hearted, fantastically imaginative, visually stunning, time-travelling, space-warping fantasies.

Nevertheless the so-sophisticated series always found room to propound a satirical, humanist ideology and agenda, launching telling fusillades of political commentary and social satire to underpin the astounding imagination of the space opera.

At first the tough, bluff, taciturn affably, capable – if unimaginative – by-the-book space cop just did his job: tasked with protecting official universal chronology (at least as per Terran Empire standards) by intercepting or counteracting paradoxes caused by incautious time-travellers.

When Valérian landed in 11th century France during debut tale ‘Les Mauvais Rêves (‘Bad Dreams’ and infuriatingly still not translated into English), he was rescued from doom by a capable young woman named Laureline. He brought her back to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative capital, Galaxity, where the indomitable firebrand took a crash course in spatiotemporal operations and began accompanying him on his missions.

Heroes of the Equinox was originally serialised in the monthly Pilote (issues #M47 to M50 from 21st March to June 27th 1978) before being collected later that year as eighth album Les héros de l’équinoxe: a sparkling, over-the-top spoof of superheroes and political ideologies which also found time and space to take a good-natured, gentle poke at the eternal battle of the sexes.

Spectacularly visual and imaginatively designed, the story starts as a quartet of vastly disparate planetary champions depart for the distant and distressed world of Simlane, where an ancient and cultivated civilisation is experiencing a uniquely tragic crisis…

The heroes comprise three dedicated – almost fanatical – supermen whilst Galaxity – far more concerned with courting public opinion than actually helping – have packed off a handy and presently unoccupied Spatio-Temporal agent named Valerian, just to show willing…

With Laureline mocking him for the entire trip, Earth’s Prime Champion touches down on Simlane to be greeted by a crowd of effusive oldsters from a glorious city of once magnificent but now crumbling edifices with an incredible story to tell.

The inhabitants of the derelict tourist trap are uniformly old and sterile and desperately need a new generation of children to repopulate the world, but their manner of achieving their goal is unique. For the lifetime of their civilisation, every hundred equinoxes the best and bravest males of Simlane venture to isolated Filine, Island of Children in a fierce and often deadly competition. The winner then somehow spawns a whole new generation who sail back on little boats to re-people the world.

That didn’t go entirely according to plan last time so the planetary leaders have invited four prime specimens from other worlds to do the necessary this time – much to the anger and dismay of a creaky host of crotchety, doddering indigenous old would-be sire-heroes…

At the packed but painfully weathered Great Theatre the assembled geriatrics are treated to a destructive floor show as the brazen alien warriors display their prowess. Bombastic Irmgaal of Krahan is a godlike superman wielding a flaming sword whilst proletarian technological wonder Ortzog of worker’s paradise Boorny reveals the power of a united people through his blazing, flailing chains. Mystic nature boy Blimflim of elysian, arcadian Malamum calmly displays the gentle irresistibility of the spirit harnessed to willpower. Each couldn’t be more different yet the result of each display is catastrophic destruction.

When eager eyes turn to Galaxity’s representative, Valerian simply shoots a chip off a distant stone cornice with his blaster… to tumultuous disinterest…

Dwarfed by the Herculean alien supermen, he shambles off to prepare for the great contest and dawn finds him with his fellow contestants ready to brave the stormy skies for the grand prize and glory…

This is one of the most visually extravagant and exuberant of all the albums, with a huge proportion of the book dedicated to the fantastic foursome overcoming their particular challenges and monstrous foes in astounding demonstrations of bravura puissance and awesome might… well, three of them anyway. The earthman’s travails are generally nasty, dirty smelly and ingloriously dangerous…

Eventually however all the warriors prove themselves a credit to their particular lineage and system before facing one final test. It’s in the form of a simple question: “If you sired the next generation how do you envision their future?”

Each strange visitor propounds a glorious agenda of expansion according to the customs and principles of his own culture but it’s the rather diffident and lacklustre vision of the Terran slacker that wins the approval of the incredible being who is the eternal mother of Simlane’s repopulation…

When the trio of failed supermen wash up on the shores of the city, the people realise who has fathered their soon-to-arrive new sons and daughters and patiently wait for the equinox tide to bring them over.

Laureline, horrified to discover that each successful father is never seen again, quickly sails to the Island of Children and navigates the trials which so tested the wonder men with comparative ease. She arrives at the misty citadel atop Filine in time to see an army of disturbingly familiar-looking toddlers tumble into little sailboats…

Broaching the idyllic paradise further she finally meets the Great Mother and sees what the breeding process has made of her reprehensible, sleazy, typically male partner…

Reaching an accommodation with the gargantuan progenitor, Laureline negotiates the release of her partner and they are soon winging home to Terra, with him having to listen to just what she thinks of him whilst praying Galaxity’s medical experts can make him again the man he so recently was…

Sharp, witty and deliciously over-the-top, this tale is a wry delight, spoofing with equanimity human drives, notions of heroism and political and philosophical trendiness with devastating effect. Whether super-heroic fascism, totalitarian socialism or even the woolly mis-educated, miscomprehendings of new age eco-fundamentalists who think aromatherapy cures broken legs or that their kids are too precious to be vaccinated and too special to share herd immunity, no sacred cow is left soundly unkicked…

However, no matter how trenchant, barbed, culturally aware and ethically crusading, Valerian and Laureline stories never allow message to overshadow fun and wonder and Heroes of the Equinox is one of the most entertaining sagas Méziéres & Christin ever concocted, complete with a superb sting in the tale…

Between 1981 and 1985, Dargaud-Canada and Dargaud-USA published a number of selected albums in English (with a limited UK imprint from Hodder-Dargaud) under the umbrella title Valerian: Spatiotemporal Agent and this was the fourth, translated then by L. Mitchell.

Although this modern Cinebook release boasts far better print and colour values plus a more fluid translation, total completists might also be interested in tracking down the 1983 edition too…
© Dargaud Paris, 1978 Christin, Méziéres & Tran-Lệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

Essential X-Men volume 2


By Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Terry Austin, Brent Anderson & Joe Rubenstein (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0298-4

In 1963 TheX-Men #1 introduced Scott “Cyclops” Summers, Bobby “Iceman” Drake, Warren “Angel” Worthington, Jean “Marvel Girl” Grey and Hank “The Beast” McCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo Superior. After years of eccentric and spectacular adventures the mutant misfits disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during a downturn in costumed hero comics whilst supernatural mysteries once more gripped the world’s entertainment fields.

Although the title was revived at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe and the Beast was refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories until Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique with a brand new team in Giant Size X-Men #1 in 1975.

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire was added one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine, and all-original creations Kurt Wagner, a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler, African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin, who transformed at will into a living steel Colossus and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The revision was an instantaneous and unstoppable hit, with Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont taking over the writing from the second story onwards. The X-Men reclaimed their own comicbook with #94 and it quickly became the company’s most popular – and high quality – title.

Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster shifted and changed the series rose to even greater heights, culminating in the landmark “Dark Phoenix” storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character.

In the aftermath team leader Cyclops left but the epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the epochal working relationship of Claremont and Byrne. Within months of publication they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with the mutants whilst Byrne moved on to establish his own reputation as a writer on series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionised Fantastic Four

After Apache warrior Thunderbird became the team’s first fatality, the survivors slowly bonded, becoming an awesome fighting unit under the brusque and draconian supervision of Cyclops and this second superlative monochrome Essential collection re-presents the groundbreaking tales from (Uncanny) X-Men #120-144, covering April 1979 to April 1981.

The action begins here with the introduction of a foreign super-squad in ‘Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!’, as the enigmatic mutant, accompanied by Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Banshee and Nightcrawler, return from a bombastic battle in Japan but are covertly herded into Canadian airspace so that the Ottawa government can confiscate their property.

Forced down by a magical tempest the heroes are soon on the run in Calgary, ambushed by the aforementioned Alpha Flight – specifically battle-armoured Vindicator, super-strong Sasquatch, magician Shaman, shapeshifting Snowbird and mutant speedster twins Northstar and Aurora – all ordered to repossess former special operative “The Wolverine”…

After a brutal but inconclusive clash at the airport the X-Men fade into the city but only after Wolverine and Nightcrawler are captured…

The retaliation results in a ‘Shoot-Out at the Stampede!’ with the mutants confronting their pursuers as Shaman’s eldritch blizzard spirals out of control, threatening to destroy the entire province. Even after Storm fixes the problem, the Canadians are adamant and to end hostilities Wolverine surrenders himself in return for his comrades’ safe passage.

Of course he never promised to stay captured…

With Byrne producing light breakdowns, inker Terry Austin stepped up to produce full art finishes for issue #122’s ‘Cry for the Children!’ as the heroes finally return to the Xavier School to find their home boarded up and deserted.

Months previously, following a catastrophic battle against Magneto of which Beast and Phoenix believed themselves the only survivors, heartbroken Professor X had grieved for his fallen pupils and left Earth to be with his fiancée Empress Lilandra of the Shi’ar.

As the prodigals slowly settle in at the Professor’s mansion again, they try to resume their previous routines but psychological stress testing shows Russian Colossus is having second thoughts about deserting his family and country…

Reborn as the cosmic-powered Phoenix, Jean Grey went globetrotting to bury her woes and is currently in Scotland, unaware that she has been targeted by one of the team’s oldest enemies for a cruel assault. In New York, Storm has at last taken the time to trace her roots, visiting the old home of her American dad, only to find it now a junkie squat filled with doped and feral kids who viciously attack her…

Stabbed and bleeding she lashes out and only the sudden arrival of hero for hire Luke Cage and his friend Misty Knight (coincidentally Jean’s Manhattan room-mate) prevents a tragedy. None of them are remotely aware that they have been targeted by the world’s most outrageous hit-man…

With Byrne back in full pencil mode X-Men #123 includes a cameo from Spider-Man as jolly psycho-killer Arcade proceeds to pick off the oblivious mutants and run them through his fatal funfair Murder World in ‘Listen… Stop Me if You’ve Heard It… But This One Will Kill You!’, subjecting the abductees to perils mechanical and psychological.

The former prove understandably ineffectual but family guilt and cunning conditioning soon transform the homesick Russian into a vengeful mind-slave dubbed The Proletarian, determined to smash his former comrades in the concluding ‘He Only Laughs When I Hurt!’ Happily his inner child and the assorted heroes’ gifts and training prove too much for the maniacal killer clown…

Jean re-enters the picture when her stay with biologist Moira MacTaggert leads to the release of a long secret family shame in ‘There’s Something Awful on Muir Island!’ Throughout her long holiday Phoenix has been gradually turned and psychically seduced by a psionic predator. Groomed for a life of refined cruelty and debauchery by a man calling himself Jason Wyngarde, the intention is to create a callous “Black Queen” for the mysterious organisation known as the Hellfire Club…

At the other end of the galaxy Charles Xavier reviews records of how Phoenix once reconstructed the fragmenting universe and is gripped with terror at the thought of all that power in the hands of one frail human personality, whilst in his former home The Beast checks a tripped alarm and discovers his long-mourned friends are all alive.

The first thought is to tell Jean the incredible news, but no sooner is a transatlantic call connected than a scream echoes out and the line goes dead…

Issue #126 resumes frantic hours later as the X-Men approach Muir Island in their supersonic jet. With all contact lost and no telepath aboard, Cyclops assumes the worst and the team infiltrate in battle formation only to find a withered corpse and badly shaken comrades Lorna Dane, Havok, Madrox, Moira and Jean slowly recovering from a psionic assault.

In ‘How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth…!’ Dr. MacTaggert bitterly reveals the attacker is a psychic bodysnatcher imprisoned on Muir for years. He’s also her son…

Rapidly burning out one of Madrox’s duplicate bodies, the monster has already reached the mainland, but as the mutants disperse to hunt him down Jean is hampered by a torrent of seductive mirages projected by the smugly confidant Wyngarde, allowing the predatory Proteus to ambush the X-Men and try to possess Wolverine.

It is his first mistake. Metal has an inimical effect on the formless horror and the feral fury’s Adamantium skeleton forces him to flee his victim in screaming agony. It is then the creature unleashes his most terrifying power: warping reality to drive Wolverine and Nightcrawler to the brink of madness. Only the late-arriving Storm prevents their immediate demise but soon she too is at the edge of destruction…

‘The Quality of Hatred!’ finds the badly shaken team undergoing desperate “tough-love” remedies from Cyclops to regain their combat readiness whilst Moira tries to make up for her dangerous sentimentality by putting a bullet into her deadly offspring.

Frustrated by the idealistic Cyclops but having divined the path Proteus is taking, she then heads for Edinburgh and an unpleasant reunion with her former husband: brute, bully, Member of Parliament and father of most merciless monster the world has yet produced…

As Jean finally shrugs off her distractions and telepathically homes in on Proteus, the team swing into action a little too late: the sinister son has possessed his scurrilous sire and created an unstoppable synthesis of world-warping abomination…

With Edinburgh and perhaps the entire world roiling and rebelling as science goes mad, X-Men #128 sees the valiant champions strike back and spectacularly triumph in ‘The Action of the Tiger!’ after which ‘God Spare the Child…’ sees another happy reunion as the heroes (all but the now retired Banshee) find Charles Xavier awaiting them when they reach Westchester.

Jean is increasingly slipping into visions of a former life as a spoiled, cruel child of privilege, contrasting sharply with her renewed love for Scott, but the home atmosphere is troubled by another discordant factor. Xavier is intent on resuming the training of the team, haughtily oblivious that this group are grizzled, seasoned veterans of combat, rather than the callow teenagers he first tutored.

Elsewhere a cabal of mutants and millionaires plot. Black King Sebastian Shaw, White Queen Emma Frost and the rest of the Hellfire Club hierarchy know Wyngarde is an ambitious and presumptuous upstart but the possibility of subverting the Phoenix to their world-dominating agenda is irresistible…

When two new mutants manifest Xavier splits the team to contact both, taking Storm, Wolverine and Colossus to Chicago to meet the parents of naive thirteen year old Kitty Pryde who has just realised that along with all the other problems of puberty she can now fall through floors and walk through walls…

However no sooner does Professor Xavier offer to admit her to his select and prestigious private school than they are all attacked by war-suited mercenaries and shipped by Emma Frost to the Hellfire Club. Only Kitty escapes, but instead of running she stows away on the transport; terrified but intent on saving the day…

The other mutant neophyte debuts in X-Men #130 as Cyclops, Phoenix and Nightcrawler head to Manhattan’s club district to track down a disco singer dubbed ‘Dazzler’ unaware that they too have been targeted for capture. However little Kitty’s attempts to free the captives at the Hellfire base forces the villains to tip their hand early and with the assistance of Dazzler Alison Blair – a musical mutant who converts sound to devastating light effects – the second mercenary capture team is defeated…

In #131 Kitty is frantically fleeing but her ‘Run for Your Life!’ leads straight into the arms of the remaining X-Men. Soon the plucky lass – after an understandable period of terror, confusion and kvetching – is leading an incursion into the lair of the White Queen and freeing Wolverine, Colossus and Xavier whilst Frost faces off for a psionic showdown with a Phoenix far less kind and caring than ever before…

The saga expands in #132 as ‘And Hellfire is their Name!’ brings the Angel back into the fold. The Hellfire Club is in actuality a centuries-old association of the world’s most powerful and wealthy individuals and Warren Worthington’s family have been members in good standing for generations. What better way of infiltrating the organisation than with someone on the inside?

As Wolverine and Nightcrawler scurry through sewers beneath the society’s palatial New York headquarters, Warren inveigles the rest through the grand front doors into the year’s swankiest soiree whilst he and the Professor await events.

It’s a bold move but a pointless one. Although the rank and file are simply spoiled rich folk, there is an Inner Circle led by Shaw which comprises some of Earth’s most dangerous men and women… and they have been waiting and watching for the mutants-in-mufti’s countermove…

As soon as the heroes are inside, Wyngarde strikes, pushing Jean until she succumbs to the fictitious persona he has woven to awaken her darkest desires. With her overwhelming power added to the Inner Circle’s might, former friends quickly fall before the attack of super-strong Shaw and cyborg human Donald Pierce. Even Wolverine is beaten, smashed through the floors to his doom by mass-manipulating mutant Harry Leland

As the Inner Circle gloat, Cyclops – connected to Jean by their psionic rapport – sees the world through his lover’s corrupted, beguiled eyes and despairs. However, when Wyngarde, revealed as mutant illusion caster Mastermind, apparently stabs Cyclops the effect on “his” Black Queen is far from anticipated…

Far below their feet, a body stirs. Battered but unbowed ‘Wolverine: Alone!’ begins to work his ruthless, relentless way through the Club’s murderous minions. His explosive entrance in #134’s ‘Too Late, the Heroes!’ gives the heroes a chance to break free and strike back, soundly thrashing the Hellfire blackguards. Sadly for Mastermind, not all his tampering has been expunged and when Jean catches him Jason Wyngarde’s fate is ghastly beyond imagining…

As the mutants make their escape the situation escalates to crisis level as the mind-manipulation unleashes all Jean’s most selfish, self-serving desires and she shatteringly transforms into ‘Dark Phoenix’

Manifested as a god without qualm or conscience, Jean attacks her comrades before vanishing into space. Soon she reaches a distant system and, cognizant that she is feeling depleted, consumes the star, indifferent to the entire civilisation that dies upon the planet circling it…

Passing the D’Bari system is a massive ship of the Shi’ar star fleet. Rushing to aid the already extinct world they are merely a postprandial palate cleanser for the voracious Phoenix…

X-Men #136 opens with the horrified Empress Lilandra mobilising her entire military machine and heading for Earth, determined to end the threat of the ‘Child of Light and Darkness!’ On that beleaguered world Cyclops has called in the Beast to build a psychic scrambler to disrupt Jean’s immeasurable psionic might but when she cataclysmically reappears to trounce the team, the device burns out in seconds.

Sporadically Jean’s gentler persona appears, begging her friends to kill her before she loses control, but Dark Phoenix is close to destroying the world before, in a cataclysmic mental duel, Xavier shuts down her powers and establishes psychic circuit breakers to prevent her ever going rogue again…

With Jean left as little more than human, the heroes shudder in the aftermath of Earth’s latest close call when suddenly in a flash of light they all vanish…

The epic tale concludes in X-Men #137 as the outraged and terrified Shi’ar arrive in orbit to settle ‘The Fate of the Phoenix!’ With observers from the Kree and Skrull empires in attendance, Lilandra has come to exact justice and prevent the Phoenix from ever rising again. She is not prepared to accept her fiancé’s word that the threat is already ended…

Summary execution is only avoided when Xavier invokes an ancient rite compelling Lilandra to accept a form of trial-by-combat. Relocating to the Blue Area of the Moon (with its pocket of breathable atmosphere) the mutants engage in all-out war with brigade of cosmic champions The Shi’ar Imperial Guard (an in-joke version of DC’s Legion of Super Heroes), but despite their greatest efforts are pushed to the brink of defeat.

With collapse imminent and her friends doomed, Jean’s psychic shackles slip and the Phoenix breaks free again. Horrified at what will inevitably happen, Jean commits suicide to save the universe…

Days later on Earth the X-Men mourn her passing in #138’s ‘Elegy’ as Cyclops recalls his life with the valiant woman he loved so deeply – and we get a comprehensive recap of the mutant team’s career to date. Heartbroken, the quintessential X-Man resigns just as Kitty Pryde moves in…

A new day dawns in issue #139 ‘…Something Wicked This Way Comes!’ as the Angel rejoins the squad in time to see Nightcrawler join Wolverine in heading north for a reconciliation with the Canadian’s previous team, Alpha Flight. The visit turns into a hunt for the carnivorous magical monster Wendigo, culminating in a brutal battle and a rare clean win in #140’s ‘Rage!’

X-Men #141 saw the start of an evocative and extended subplot which would dictate years of tales to come. ‘Days of Future Past’ depicted an imminently approaching dystopian apocalypse wherein almost all mutants, paranormals and superheroes have been eradicated by Federally-controlled Sentinel robots.

The mechanoids rule over a shattered world on the edge of utter annihilation. New York is a charnel pit with most surviving superhumans kept in concentration camps and only a precious few free to fight a losing war of resistance.

Middle-aged Kitty Pryde is the lynchpin of a desperate plan to unmake history. With the aid of telepath named Rachel (eventually to escape that time-line and become the new Phoenix) Pryde swaps consciousness with her younger self in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the pivotal event which created the bleak, black tomorrow where all her remaining friends and comrades are being pitilessly exterminated one by resolute one…

‘Mind Out of Time’ sees the mature Pryde in our era, inhabiting her juvenile body and leading her disbelieving team-mates on a frantic mission to foil the assassination of US senator David Kelly on prime-time TV by a sinister new iteration of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – super-powered terrorists determined to make a very public example of the human politician attacking the cause of Mutant Rights…

Fast-paced, action-packed, spectacularly multi-layered, bitterly tragic and tensely inconclusive – as all such time-travel tales should be – this cunning, compact yarn is indubitably one of the best individual tales of the Claremont/Byrne era and set the mood, tone and agenda for the next two decades of mutant mayhem…

With history restored and tragedy averted things slowed down at the X-Mansion as John Byrne left for pastures new. His swan song in #143 was a bombastic romp which found lonely, homesick Kitty home alone at Christmas… except for a lone N’garai ‘Demon’ determined to eat her…

Her solo trial decimated the X-Men citadel and proved once and for all that she had what it takes…

The story portion of this classic compendium concludes with ‘Even in Death…’ from X-Men #144, scripted by Claremont and illustrated by Brent Anderson & Joseph Rubenstein wherein heartbroken Scott fetches up in coastal village Shark Bay and joins the crew of Aleytys Forester’s fishing boat.

Trouble is never far from the man called Cyclops however and when she introduces him to her dad the hero must draw upon all his inner reserves – and uncomprehending help of the macabre Man-Thing – to repel the crushing soul-consuming assaults of pernicious petty devil D’spayre

Accompanied by fact-filled entries on Professor X, Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Beast and Angel, all taken from the Marvel Universe Handbook, this comprehensive monochrome includes some of the greatest stories Marvel ever published; entertaining, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating. These adventures are an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 1979, 1980, 1981, 1997, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Superman: President Lex


By J.M. DeMatteis, Joe Kelly, Jeph Loeb, Greg Rucka, Mark Schultz, Karl Kesel, Ed McGuinness, Carlo Barberi, Doug Mahnke, Mike Wieringo, Paco Medina, Tony Harris, Duncan Rouleau & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-974-4

Superman has been altered and adjusted continually over his many decades of fictive life since Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic inspiration first appeared in Action Comics #1. Moreover, every refit and reboot has resulted in appalled fans and new devotees in pretty much equal proportion, so perhaps the Metropolis Marvel’s greatest ability is the power to survive change…

Although largely out of favour these days as the myriad strands of accrued mythology are carefully reintegrating into an overarching, all-inclusive, multi-media dominant, film-favoured continuity, the grittily stripped-down, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Man of Steel (as re-imagined by John Byrne and superbly built upon by a succession of immensely talented comics craftsmen) resulted in some stunning high points.

Actually, no sooner had the Byrne restart demolished much of the accrued iconography which had grown up around the “Strange Visitor from Another World” over fifty glorious years than successive creators began expending a great deal of time and ingenuity putting much of it back, albeit in terms more accessible to a cynical and well-informed audience far more sophisticated than their grandparents ever were.

Even so, by the mid-1990’s Byrne’s baby was beginning to look a little tired and the sales kick generated by the Death of and Return of Superman was fading, so the decision was made to give the big guy a bit of a tweak for the fast-approaching new millennium: bringing in new writers and artists and gradually moving the stories into more blockbusting, hyper-heroic territory.

The fresh tone and new look were celebrated by a new sequence and style of trade paperback editions. This fifth themed collection gathers material culled in full or in part from President Luthor Secret Files and Origins #1, Action Comics #773, Adventures of Superman #581 & 586, Superman #162-166, Superman: Man of Steel #108-110 and Superman: Lex 2000 #1, spanning June 2000 to March 2001 and detailing the improbable success of the villainous magnate as he accedes to the highest political office in the land…

“City of Tomorrow” Metropolis is now fully adapted to its status as the most technologically advanced population cluster on Earth, rebuilt and overwritten into a technological wonderland by Brainiac-13. Judiciously selling scraps of the future-tech has made Luthor immeasurably rich and oppressively influential. It has even allowed him to massage his own history: accentuating the positive and deleting the negative… or “the truth” as those who know him call it…

The blueprint to power begins with ‘The Why’ (by Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark & Ray Snyder from President Luthor Secret Files and Origins #1) picturing the provocations which inspired the nefarious businessman to throw his hat into the political ring.

Following an extract from Adventures of Superman #581 (J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Miller &Walden Wong) in which he announces his candidacy, ‘The Most Suitable Person’ (President Luthor Secret Files and Origins #1 by Rucka, Dale Eaglesham & Ray Kryssing) follows his conniving and murderous ploys as he selects Daughter-of-the-Demon Talia Al G’hul to run his various commercial enterprises while he’s running the world – and why he won’t take no for an answer…

Next comes ‘The American Dream’ (Superman #162 by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Cam Smith) which sees Lex hits the campaign trail, naming Clark Kent’s boyhood pal Pete Ross as running mate. Frustration is continually building in the Man of Steel at the impossible situation and he’s in no mood for extreme or arbitrary actions from JLA team-mate Aquaman who chooses this moment to attack Metropolis for alleged pollution crimes generated by LexCorp and the super-city…

After tackling a colossal sea monster and winning no leeway from the King of Atlantis, Superman is equally unhappy to deal with an invading aquatic army led by former Aqualad Tempest or the monstrous tidal wave generated to inundate his home town…

Even with teen terrors Young Justice lending a hand in concluding episode ‘Where Monsters Lurk!’ (Loeb, McGuinness, Paul Pelletier & Smith from Superman #163), the flood still distracts him so much he is unable to prevent Atlanteans from abducting Luthor. He is utterly aghast when the Presidential candidate negotiates his own release and even closes a deal with the repentant and conciliatory sea-dwellers…

Then the most popular man in town all but guarantees his clear road to the White House after a failed assassination attempt leaves him (barely) bloodied but proudly unbowed…

Another extract, ‘Soul of the City!’ (Adventures of Superman #586 by DeMatteis, Miller, Armando Durruthy & Wong) depicts the ultimate indignity as the defender of Truth, Justice and the American Way has to publicly congratulate his greatest enemy on becoming the new boss before ‘Metropolis is Burning’ (Superman: Man of Steel #108 by Mark Schultz, Paco Medina, Doug Mahnke, Juan Vlasco & Tom Nguyen) discloses a council of war with inventive genius John Henry Irons AKA Steel to handle the Luthor situation.

The talks are soon shanghaied by a more immediate crisis when B-13 tech terrorist Cyber-Queen Luna returns from the Phantom Zone, accidentally unleashing a Brobdingnagian energy-leeching parasite to ravage Metropolis. As the heroes deploy to defeat the beast, they are unaware of a felicitous side-effect which also frees long lost friend, genius and Luthor-loather Professor Emil Hamilton

Elsewhere, as scarily obsessed Batman warns Superman and Lois Lane to do something about President-Elect Lex, ‘Tales from the Bizarro World’ (Loeb, McGuinness, Carlo Barberi, Smith & Vlasco from Superman #164) finds safety-averse newsboy Jimmy Olsen adopted by the immensely powerful simpleton doppelganger and dragged around town until Supergirl comes bombastically to his aid…

Eventually however it takes the experience of the Man of Tomorrow to glean what the skewed duplicate needs…

From Superman: Lex 2000 #1, an assortment of vignettes follow, the first of which offers chilling insights into the mettle of the new President in warts-&-all origin yarn ‘Lex Luthor: Triumph over Tragedy’ by Loeb, Tony Harris & Snyder, after which the Dark Knight takes matters into his own gauntleted hands in ‘One or the Other’ (Rucka, Dwayne Turner & Danny Miki) and suffers a rare defeat…

Jimmy gets stuck with a tedious assignment that provides a glimpse into the nature of his work colleagues in ‘Where Were You?’ (Loeb, Mahnke & Wong), whilst Superman finally expresses his own furious frustrated emotions – thankfully off-planet – in ‘He’s Heard the News’ (Loeb, McGuinness, Barberi & Smith), before ‘Lana’s Story’ (Loeb, Todd Nauck & Klaus Janson) focuses on the feelings and fears of Superman’s first girlfriend, current wife of the new Vice President…

A seasonal jam session, Superman #165 offers a string of short guest shots as Mr. and Mrs. Superman distribute presents to the Justice League in ‘Help!’ (scripted by Loeb, with art by McGuinness & Smith, Humberto Ramos & Wayne Faucher, Rob Liefeld & norm Rapmund, Mike Wieringo & Smith, Art Adams, Ian Churchill & Rapmund and Joe Madureira & Tim Townsend).

Meanwhile time-guarding Linear Man Liri Lee heads Earthward to warn that planet Pluto has been transformed into a lethally voracious war-world…

Despite the Christmas cheer and temporary goodwill the Action Ace is slipping into despondency, losing faith with the American people who elected Lex. Happily time-bending Liri is able to show him how horrific the ‘World Without Superman’ (Superman: Man of Steel #109 by Schulz, Duncan Rouleau, Jaime Mendoza & Marlo Alquiza) would be and, re-galvanised, the hero is ready if not particularly willing to join dynamic duo Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. and Steel when grotesque invader Earthquake attempts to kill the President at his inauguration in ‘Saints’ (Superman: Man of Steel #110, Schulz, Mahnke & Nguyen)…

The campaign catalogue concludes with a brace of sidebar stories from President Luthor Secret Files and Origins #1 as ‘Rockets’ Red Glare’ (Karl Kesel, Pelletier & Smith) introduces Lex’s surprising selections for his Inner Cabinet whilst showing how he deals with aggravating old business after which ‘He’s Coming Mr. Lew-Thor’ (Loeb, Wieringo & Alquiza) wraps things up with a foreboding look at his unlikely Special Advisor Nathaniel Mackelvany

With a cover gallery by Harris, Snyder, McGuinness & Smith, Mahnke & Nguyen, Rouleau & Mendoza and Glen Orbik, this book can seem a tad confused and a little perplexing due to playing fast-and-loose epic with chronological order but all-in-all provides plenty of action, thrills and even some humour as it embarks on one of the boldest and most inventive periods in the Man of Steel’s decades-long history.

Drama, doom, shock, spectacle and feverish excitement which no lover of the Fights ‘n’ Tights genre can help but adore…
© 2000, 2001 and 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

X-Men Legacy: Salvage


By Mike Carey, Scott Eaton, Phil Briones & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3876-1

Since its creation in 1963 and triumphant revival in 1975, Marvel’s Mutant franchise has always strongly featured powerful, conflicted and often controversial characters with the balance never resting solely on the side of light. One of the least explored and underused – except perhaps as the last-reel, deus-ex-machina, nuke-the-fridge problem solver – was the man who started it all: Professor Charles Xavier.

This particular collection gathers X-Men Legacy #219-225 (cover-dated February to August 2009); written by Mike Carey, it smartly redresses that imbalance as the usually sedentary mind-master becomes a fully participant mutant warrior determined to put right a number of sins and omissions plaguing his conscience and repay some too long outstanding debts…

At this point in time, the evolutionary offshoot dubbed Homo Sapiens Superior is at its lowest ebb. As seen in the House of M and Decimation storylines, Scarlet Witch Wanda Maximoff – ravaged by madness and her own reality-warping power – has reduced the world’s multi-million plus mutant population to a couple of hundred individuals with three simple words…

The quest begins with ‘Jagannátha’ (illustrated by Scott Eaton, Phil Briones & Cam Smith) as Xavier is summoned by his murderous half-brother Cain Marko to settle a lifetime of grudges. The bullying wastrel was transformed by evil magic in decades past into the brutally unstoppable Juggernaut and wants to finally end the savant’s perpetual efforts to save and cure him.

Taking a bar and all its patrons hostage Cain thinks he’s got the upper hand, but when confronting the mightiest telepathic mind on Earth it’s never wise to trust what your brain and senses are telling you…

At last accepting that all he can do is contain his savage sibling, Xavier moves on to the student he feels he has most failed in the 4-part epic psycho-drama ‘Salvage’ with art by Eaton, Andrew Hennessy & Lee Bermejo.

When former Evil Mutant Rogue originally joined his school she was desperate to find a way to turn her power off and still the voices inside her. Anna-Marie could steal abilities with a touch but overlong contact stole the donor’s mind and personality, cramming them screaming inside her head until Rogue couldn’t hear her own thoughts.

After conflicted years of world-saving service she disappeared: exiling herself from the X-Men in search of peace. Now just as Xavier resolves to finally fix her, a brace of extra-terrestrial terrors simultaneously hone in on the missing mutant…

In New Orleans the savant asks former X-Man Gambit to join him in his mission. Remy Lebeau had spent frustrating years loving a woman he could never touch and knows her better than anyone, but Xavier doesn’t want him for his insights: where he’s going the mind-master might need a capable bodyguard…

In desolate Maynards Plains, Western Australia, Rogue is hotly debating her life with adopted mother Mystique. It’s not a conversation she can avoid: the murderous mutant is the most strident and forceful personality still stuck inside her head…

The argument is postponed when a lone social historian wanders into the ghost town Anna-Marie has made her home. The woman is going to be trouble – but not as much as the crew of the Boneyard Dog, a Shi’ar salvage vessel which has just picked up a most appetising and potentially profitable tech signature…

As Xavier and Gambit approach the town – once a hidden base and scene of a colossal battle between the X-Men and an army of cyborgs – the alien scrap dealers land and trigger a horrific metamorphosis in the annoying anthropologist…

Revealed as a sentient but crippled AI born of the amalgamation of Shi’ar hard-light holographic technology and Xavier’s Danger Room programming software, the stranger fixates on Anna-Marie whilst transforming the entire region into nested scenes from her troubled past: everything from Sentinel assaults to attacks by past foes such as The Marauders, Magneto and Mystique and even the boy she killed when her powers first manifested.

Caught in the reality storm, the Shi’ar raiders unite with Gambit and Xavier as Rogue physically confronts past demons in the centre of a horrific mind-maze, but even as they gradually battle their way through to the victims at the heart of the chaos, the mutant heroes are painfully unaware that their alien allies are only in it for profit and are preparing to betray them…

Events take an even stranger shape when Xavier admits that he knew his hologram training suite had evolved into a free-thinking being. When it happened years ago he had, in a moment of weakness and fear, shackled, lobotomised and psychically enslaved the unique technological newborn.

With the Shi’ar about to kill them all to strip-mine and cannibalise her consciousness, Charles removes his hastily-applied psi-chains and Danger becomes a fully autonomous, remarkably forgiving but momentarily ticked-off creature. Deep within her, Rogue has been reliving her own crisis-moments and has reached an accommodation with her selves and her sins. Achieving a balance previously denied her, Rogue is ready and more than willing to take out her pent-up hostility on the unscrupulous scrap merchants… as is the now irrevocably autonomous Danger…

With two more stains removed from his escutcheon, Xavier finally seeks to end a thorny problem which is more a threat to his race than his soul.

Charismatic mutant terrorist Magneto was responsible for many crimes and tragedies but the undoubted worst was inspiring a fanatical squad of zealots known as the Acolytes.

Led by almighty Exodus, JoannaFrenzyCargill, Carmella Unuscione, Amelia Voght, Omega Sentinel Karima Shapandar, HeatherTempoTucker and shapeshifter Random are some of the most powerful beings on Earth and a constant threat to humanity and Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence.

They are utterly unprepared for their greatest enemy to walk alone into their citadel, intent on ending the animosity forever. Exodus is even less ready for how the telepathic scholar and humanitarian achieves this major miracle in ‘The Retreat’ (Eaton & Briones)…

With covers by Mike McKone & John Rauch, Lee Bermejo, Morry Hollowell and Daniel Acuña and variants by Marko Djurdjevic, Frank Miller/Hollowell and Adriana Melo, this slim, stirring, compelling Fights ‘n’ Tights chronicle also is a superb example of how, even in comicbooks, brain always trumps brawn .

© 2008, 2009 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.