Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2072-8

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists and a plethora of super-villains (and – as seen in this collection – even the occasional monster or alien invasion), quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.

Covering October1967-June 1968 and re-presenting Daredevil #33-41 and crossover issue Fantastic Four #73, this fourth compilation (in both hardback and eBook formats) sees a continuing gain in story quality as scripter Stan Lee blended soap operatic plot-threads with a string of guest supervillains to string together the unique fight scenes of the increasingly bold and artistically audacious Gene Colan…

Following another typically frothy Introduction from Stan Lee the action opens with ‘Behold the Beetle’ (Daredevil #33, and inked by John Tartaglione) and sees the entire cast – legal partner Foggy Nelson, secretary Karen Page and Murdock in the guise of his own (fictitious) twin brother Mike – heading to Canada for World’s Fair Expo ’67 and encountering another borrowed costumed crazy in search of easy glory and untold riches…

With Daredevil crushed and captive the prospects look bleak north of the border, but Ol’ Hornhead soon outsmarts and outfights his techno-savvy foe in the stunning sequel ‘To Squash the Beetle!’

Safely back in the Big Apple, DD’s undeserved reputation as a mere costumed acrobat induces another fearsome felon to attack in ‘Daredevil Dies First!’ The sightless wonder is targeted by old Fantastic Four foe The Trapster, who considers the Scarlet Swashbuckler a mere stepping-stone in his overly-complex plan to destroy the World’s premier super-team. Typically, Murdock manages to turn the tables in #36’s ‘The Name of the Game is Mayhem!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia): a clash that leave the blind hero triumphant but weakened and easy prey for another FF arch-foe. Tartaglione then returned to ink the startling ‘Don’t Look Now, But It’s… Doctor Doom!’

Helpless before the Iron Dictator, DD is trapped in ‘The Living Prison!’(Giacoia inks) as Doom swaps bodies with the sightless crusader to facilitate his own sneak attack on the FF, which culminates in a stupendous Lee, Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott crafted Battle Royale in Fantastic Four #73’s crossover conclusion with the Human Torch, Thing and Mr. Fantastic battling Daredevil, Thor and Spider-Man in ‘The Flames of Battle…’.

As always when involved in mind- swap cases, it’s always prudent to advise your friends when you defeat the bad guy and regain your original body…

The Man Without Fear finally found some of his own bad guys to bash in Daredevil #39 when old enemies the Ani-Men return with a new name and a new boss. Inked by George Tuska ‘The Exterminator and the Super-Powered Unholy Three’ reintroduces Bird-Man, Ape-Man and Cat-Man, now in the pay of a criminal genius working with time-based weapons, but the real meat of the tale is Foggy’s campaign to become New York City’s District Attorney.

That potential glittering prize is threatened, however, after the portly advocate unexpectedly revives his romantic relationship with ex-convict Deborah Harris, but at least now Matt Murdock’s only rival for Karen’s affections is his imaginary twin-brother Mike…

That story proceeded in #40 with DD banished to a timeless other-realm world but still led to a spectacular clash in ‘The Fallen Hero!’ (inked by Tartaglione) before concluding the only way it could with ‘The Death of Mike Murdock!’ as Matt takes advantage of his final catastrophic battle with the Exterminator to end the clumsy secret identity charade.

He doesn’t come clean though, preferring to keep Daredevil’s secrets and let his friends grieve needlessly…

To Be Continued…

Rounding out the experience are number of bonus pages including the unused (presumed lost forever) original cover to DD #35, plus a gallery of original art pages and covers by Colan. Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1967, 1968, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby with Vince Colletta, Joe Sinnott and others (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5058-9 (PB)                     :978-0-7851-1184-9 (HB)

The monolith of Marvel all started with the quirky and fractious adventures of a small super-quartet who were as much squabbling family as coolly capable costumed champions. Everything the company produces now stems from their exploits and the groundbreaking, inspired efforts of Stan Lee & Jack Kirby…

This full-colour compendium – available in hard cover, trade paperback and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #41-50 plus the third giant-sized Annual: issues of progressive landmarks spanning August 1965 to May 1966 with Stan & Jack cannily building and consolidating an ever-expanding and cohesive shared universe with the FF as the central title and most consistently groundbreaking series of that web of cosmic creation.

As seen in the landmark premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm – with Sue’s tag-along teenaged brother – survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak.

Eschewing preamble, the titanic tales of suspense resume here with the first chapter of a tense and traumatic trilogy (inked by Vince Colletta) in which the Frightful Four (The Wizard, Sandman, Trapster and enigmatic Madame Medusa) brainwash the despondent and increasingly isolated Thing: turning him against his former team-mates.

It starts with ‘The Brutal Betrayal of Ben Grimm!’, continues in rip-roaring fashion as ‘To Save You, Why Must I Kill You?’ pits the monster’s baffled former comrades against their friend and the world’s most insidious villains and concludes in bombastic glory with #44’s ‘Lo! There Shall be an Ending!’

After that Colletta signed off by inking one of the most crowded Marvel stories ever: Fantastic Four Annual #3. Inexplicably here it is reassigned to the back of the book however so ignore the huge chronological blip and soldier on: we’ll get there when we get there…

Cover-dated November 1965, FF #44 was a landmark in many ways. Firstly, it saw the arrival of Joe Sinnott as regular inker, a skilled brush-man with a deft line and a superb grasp of anatomy and facial expression, and an artist prepared to match Kirby’s greatest efforts with his own. Some inkers had problems with just how much detail the King would pencil in; Sinnott relished it and the effort showed. What was wonderful now became incomparable…

‘The Gentleman’s Name is Gorgon!’ introduces a mysterious powerhouse with ponderous metal hooves instead of feet, a hunter implacably stalking Medusa. She then embroils the Human Torch – and thus the whole team – in her frantic bid to escape, and that’s before the monstrous android Dragon Man shows up to complicate matters.

All this is merely prelude, however: with the next issue we are introduced to a hidden race of super-beings secretly sharing Earth with us for millennia. ‘Among us Hide… the Inhumans’ reveals Medusa to be part of the Royal Family of Attilan, a race of paranormal aristocrats on the run ever since a coup deposed the true king.

Black Bolt, Triton, Karnak and the rest would quickly become mainstays of the Marvel Universe, but their bewitching young cousin Crystal and her giant teleporting dog Lockjaw were the real stars here. For young Johnny it is love at first sight, and Crystal’s eventual fate would greatly change his character, giving him a hint of angst-ridden tragedy that resonated greatly with the generation of young readers who were growing up with the comic…

Those Who Would Destroy Us!’ and ‘Beware the Hidden Land!’ (FF#46 – 47) see the team join the Inhumans as Black Bolt struggles to regain the throne from his brother Maximus the Mad, only to stumble into the usurper’s plan to wipe “inferior” humanity from the Earth.

Ideas just seem to explode from Kirby at this time. Despite being halfway through one storyline, FF #48 trumpeted ‘The Coming of Galactus!’ The Inhumans saga is swiftly wrapped up by page 6, with the entire clandestine race sealed behind an impenetrable dome called the Negative Zone (later retitled the Negative Barrier to avoid confusion with the gateway to sub-space that Reed worked on for years).

Meanwhile, a cosmic entity approaches Earth, preceded by a gleaming herald on a surfboard of pure cosmic energy…

I suspect this experimental – and vaguely uncomfortable – approach to narrative mechanics was calculated and deliberate, mirroring the way TV soap operas were increasingly delivering their interwoven storylines, and used as a means to keep readers glued to the series.

They needn’t have bothered. The stories and concepts were enough…

‘If this be Doomsday!’ finds planet-eating Galactus setting up shop over the Baxter Building despite the team’s best efforts, whilst his cold and shining herald has his humanity accidentally rekindled by simply conversing with the Thing’s blind girlfriend Alicia.

Issue #50’s ‘The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer!’ then concludes the epic in grand style as the reawakened ethical core of the Surfer and heroism of the FF buy enough time for Richards to literally save the World with a borrowed Deus ex Machina gadget…

Once again, the tale ends in the middle of the issue, and the remaining half concentrating on the team getting back to “normal”. To that extent, Johnny finally enrols at Metro College, desperate to forget lost love Crystal and his unnerving jaunts to the ends of the universe.

On his first day, the lad meet imposing and enigmatic Native American Wyatt Wingfoot, destined to become his greatest friend…

That would be a great place to stop but now at last you can see how Reed and Sue get hitched as Fantastic Four Annual #3 famously features every hero, most of the villains and lots of ancillary characters in the company pantheon (such as teen-romance stars Patsy Walker & Hedy Wolf and even Stan and Jack themselves).

‘Bedlam at the Baxter Building!’ spectacularly celebrates the Richards-Storm nuptials, despite a massed attack by an army of baddies mesmerised by the diabolical Doctor Doom. In its classical simplicity it signalled the end of one era and the start of another…

With these tales Lee & Kirby began a period of unmatched imagination and innovation which cemented Marvel’s dominance and confirmed that they were crafting a comics empire. The verve, conceptual scope and sheer enthusiasm shines through on every page and the wonder is there for you to share. If you’ve never thrilled to these spectacular sagas then this book of marvels is the perfect key to another – better – world and time.
© 1965, 1966, 2011, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby with Chic Stone, Frank Giacoia, Vince Colletta and others (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851- 4566-0 (PB)                    978-0-7851-1183-2 (HB)

The monolith of Marvel truly began with the adventures of a small super-team who were as much squabbling family as coolly capable costumed champions. Everything the company produces now comes due to the quirky quartet and the groundbreaking, inspired efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby…

This full-colour compendium – also available in digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #31-40 plus the second giant-sized Annual: issues of progressive landmarks spanning September 1964 to July 1965 with Stan & Jack cannily building and consolidating a shared universe with the FF as the central title and most innovative series of that web of cosmic creation.

As seen in the landmark premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm – with Sue’s teenaged tag-along brother – survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak.

Without any preamble the wonderment resumes here with the contents of Fantastic Four Annual #2 (September 1964) and Chic Stone inking ‘The Fantastic Origin of Doctor Doom!’

A short (12 page) scene-setter, it momentously details how brilliant gypsy boy Victor Von Doom remakes himself into the most deadly villain in creation, ruthlessly surmounting obstacles such as ethnic oppression, crushing poverty and the shocking stigma of a sorceress mother to rise to national dominance and global status…

Following a fresh batch of rogues starring in ‘A Gallery of the Fantastic Four’s Most Famous Foes!’Super-Skrull, Rama-Tut, Molecule Man, Hate-Monger, The Infant Terrible and Diablo – plus pin-ups of Johnny, Sue, Ben, Alicia Masters and Reed, the past informs the present as the ultimate villain believes he has achieved ‘The Final Victory of Dr. Doom!’, through guile, subterfuge and mind-control but has in fact suffered his most ignominious defeat…

The monthly wonderment resumes with #31’s ‘The Mad Menace of the Macabre Mole Man!’ which precariously balances a loopy plan by the subterranean satrap to steal entire streets of New York City with a portentous sub-plot featuring a mysterious man from Sue’s past, as well as renewing the quartet’s somewhat fractious relationship with the Mighty Avengers

The secret of that mystery man is revealed in ‘Death of a Hero!: a powerful tale of tragedy and regret spanning two galaxies starring the uniquely villainous Invincible Man… who is not at all what he seems…

Supplemented by a glorious Kirby & Stone ‘Prince Namor Pin-up’, ‘Side-by-Side with Sub-Mariner!’ follows, bringing the aquatic anti-hero one step closer to his own series as the team lend surreptitious aid to the embattled undersea monarch against deadly barbarian Attuma who makes his debut in FF #33.

In ‘A House Divided!’ the team are nearly destroyed by Mr. Gregory Hungerford Gideon, the power-hungry Richest Man in the World after which (following a wry ‘Yancy Street Pin-Up’) ‘Calamity on the Campus!’ sees the team visit Reed’s old Alma Mater in a tale designed to pander to the burgeoning college fan-base Marvel was cultivating.

Incorporating a cameo role for then prospective college student Peter Parker, the rousing yarn brings back demon alchemist Diablo whilst introducing the monstrous misunderstood homunculus Dragon Man.

Fantastic Four #36 premieres the team’s theoretical nemeses ‘The Frightful Four’: a team of villains comprising The Wizard, Sandman, Trapster (he was still Paste Pot-Pete here, but not for long) plus enigmatic new character Madame Medusa, whose origin was to have a huge impact on the heroes in months to come…

Most notable in this auspicious, action-packed but inconclusive duel is the announcement after many months of Reed and Sue’s engagement – in itself a rare event in the realm of comicbooks.

Issue #37 finds the team spectacularly travelling to the homeworld of the shape-shifting Skrulls in search of justice or vengeance in ‘Behold! A Distant Star!’ They return only to be ‘Defeated by the Frightful Four!’ in FF #38: a sinister sneak attack and catastrophic clash of opposing forces with a startling cliff-hanger that marked Chic Stone’s departure in suitably epic manner.

Frank Giacoia – under the pseudonym Frank Ray – stepped in to ink #39’s ‘A Blind Man Shall Lead Them!’ wherein a suddenly-powerless Fantastic Four are targeted by an enraged Doctor Doom with only sightless vigilante Daredevil offering a chance to keep them alive. The tale – and this volume – concludes in #40 with ‘The Battle of the Baxter Building’ as Vince Colletta assumes the inking duties for a bombastic conclusion that perfectly displays the indomitable power, overwhelming pathos and undeniable heroism of the brutish Thing.

These are the tales that built a comics empire. The verve, imagination and sheer enthusiasm shines through and the wonder is there for you to share. If you’ve never thrilled to these spectacular sagas then this book of marvels is the perfect key to another world and time.
© 1964, 1965, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Inhumans – By Right of Birth


By Ann Nocenti, Lou Mougin, Bret Blevins, Rich Howell, Al Williamson, Vince Colletta & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8504-8

Debuting in 1965 during Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s most fertile and productive creative period, and conceived as yet another incredible lost civilisation, The Inhumans are a race of incredibly disparate (generally) humanoid beings genetically altered by aliens in Earth’s pre-history, consequently becoming technologically advanced far ahead of emergent Homo Sapiens.

Subsequently they isolated themselves from the world and barbarous dawn-age humanity in a fabulous city named Attilan; firstly, on an island and latterly in a hidden Himalayan valley. After untold centuries in hiding, increasing global pollution levels began to attack their elevated biological systems and the Inhumans relocated their entire city-civilisation to the Moon. This bold act exposed them to military scrutiny and they became known at last to the ordinary citizens of Earth.

The Attilan mark of citizenship is immersion in the mutative Terrigen Mists which further enhance and transform individuals into radically unique and usually super-powered beings. The Inhumans are necessarily obsessed with genetic structure and heritage, worshipping the ruling Royal Family as the rationalist equivalent of mortal gods.

This compilation from 2013 – available as a Trade Paperback and eBook – gathers an original graphic novel from 1988 and bolsters the package with comicbook 1-shot Inhumans: The Untold Story from 1990 that delves into a forgotten corner of their history…

Leading off is a controversial tale from 1988 by scripter Anne Nocenti, illustrated by Brett Blevins & Al Williamson with letters from Jim Novak & Gaspar Saladino and colours by Mike Higgins, which takes a hard look at the underbelly of the concept in a stark examination of personal rights vs. civic responsibility…

With such an unstable potential breeding pool, the Inhuman right to bear children has been taken away from individuals and delegated to a Genetic Council. If on occasion their mandates break hearts or even lead the desperate and lovelorn to commit suicide, that’s sad but just a price the race must pay…

After witnessing one such tragic demise on the day of the annual pronouncement of who may and may not sire offspring, bellicose, passionate and deeply conservative Gorgon has much to ponder upon. Even his own cousin Karnak sympathises with the growing public movement to abolish the Council and let citizens choose their own breeding partners, and the princes have, as usual, come to blows over their always opposing views…

It all becomes agonisingly personal when cousin Medusa, wife and voice of the mighty but voluntarily mute King Black Bolt (whose softest syllable can shatter mountains) announces she is already pregnant and the Council summarily decree the unsanctioned and potentially ultra-destructive foetus must be destroyed…

Horrified when her shocked but resigned family agrees to the appalling Eugenics dictat, Medusa flees Attilan with the unsuspected aid of deranged psychopathic genius (and brother-in-law) Maximus. She hides on Earth, preferring to risk death by pollution rather than the arbitrary murder of her unborn child.

Amongst the Inhumans the rebellious act divides both royal and commoner families, and seems certain to spark civil war. Blithely unaware, on Earth Medusa and faithful companion Minxi are sequestered in a deserted garbage dump on the outskirts of Las Vegas where the soon-to-be-born baby begins to increasingly make its presence – and power – felt…

In Attilan, Blackbolt is crushed and paralysed by the weight of duty and his own indecision whilst Maximus schemes to win Medusa for himself. At last united but still bickering, the Royal Family, Gorgon, Karnak, Triton and Medusa’s younger sister Crystal rush to Earth to stand beside the defiant mother-to-be.

Elementally all-powerful Crystal uses her abilities to collect and banish all the toxins in the air, generating a thirty-mile wide “clean-zone” for Medusa, but as her time nears, strange, unnatural phenomena begin to occur throughout the region…

At last Black Bolt comes to a shattering decision and Maximus makes his final sinister move, Medusa goes into labour and the tortured, twisted environment comes to ghastly unnatural life just as and the full extent of the newborn’s abilities are revealed…

Even after all the horror, death and disaster, there is one last shock and betrayal when the Inhumans return to the Moon under a dubious amnesty…

After navigating that challenging ethical tightrope, more standard fare follows as Lou Mougin, Richard Howell & Vince Colletta reveal the uncanny outcast side of the monumental first meeting with the Fantastic Four.

The Inhumans: The Untold Saga reveals how, many years previously, Maximus sparked an uprising and ousted Black Bolt to assume the throne. ‘Remembrances of Revolutions Past’ follows proud Medusa as she escapes the incipient tyranny, only to crash in the outer world, unharmed but amnesiac…

Compelled by popular outcry to obey their mad cousin, the Royal Family obey ‘A Throne in Darkness’ until they can endure no more and flee too…

‘Of Inhuman Bondage’ finds them separated in the human world, where Gorgon carries a dark secret. On peril of his parents’ lives, he is searching for Medusa, because Maximus wants a bride to legitimise his claim to the crown…

The search takes years and ‘Medusa’s Odyssey’ includes her haunting Europe as a criminal until recruited by the Wizard to his evil enterprise The Frightful Four…

As seen elsewhere the family are reunited by the FF and defeat Maximus before ‘Reckoning!’ depicts their greatest tragedy, with the mad ex-monarch imprisoning the Inhumans behind an impenetrable energy barrier.

Although Maximus believes it his greatest cruellest victory the madman doesn’t realise he has locked himself in with the people he has victimised…

Adding depth to the delicacies on offer are ‘The Inhumans’ – an essay from in-house promotional magazine Marvel Age (#69, December 1988) – plus illustrated info-pages on Black Bolt, Crystal, Gorgon, Karnak, Lockjaw, Maximus, Medusa, Triton and the Inhumans as a race: all culled from Marvel Universe Handbook. Wrapping up the data-fest is a sequence spotlighting 27 other minor Inhumans, a well as pin-ups from Marvel Fanfare by Butch Guice, Colleen Doran, Charles Vess and a run of original covers…

The Inhumans – By Right of Birth is a bold. beautiful, extremely uncompromising and occasionally explicit tale delivering action, tension and soul-searching drama and is something no unabashed older fan of superhero sagas should miss….
© 1988, 1990, 2013, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Inhumans: The Origins of the Inhumans


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, with Chic Stone, Vince Colletta, Frank Giacoia, Joe Sinnott, Tom Sutton & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8497-3

Debuting in 1965 and conceived as yet another incredible lost civilisation during Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s most fertile and productive creative period, The Inhumans are a race of incredibly disparate (generally) humanoid beings genetically altered in Earth’s pre-history, and consequently evolving into a technologically-advanced civilisation far ahead of emergent Homo Sapiens.

They isolated themselves from the world and barbarous dawn-age humans, first on an island and latterly in a hidden valley in the Himalayas, residing in a fabulous city named Attilan.

The mark of citizenship is immersion in the mutative Terrigen Mists which further enhance and transform individuals into radically unique and generally super-powered beings. The Inhumans are necessarily obsessed with genetic structure and heritage, worshipping the ruling Royal Family as the rationalist equivalent of mortal gods.

With a new TV series in the offing it’s worth taking a look at how the voluntary mutants joined the Marvel universe and this trade paperback compilation – also available as a digital edition – scrupulously compiles teasing early appearances from Fantastic Four #36 and 38, the extended introductory saga from FF #41-47, 54 and 62-65, and a team-up tale from Fantastic Four Annual.

Also included are pertinent extracts from FF #48, 50, 52 and 56-61 plus the entire Tales of the Uncanny Inhumans back-up series from Thor #146-153 and a moment of spoofing light-relief from Not Brand Echh #6, cumulatively spanning March 1965 to May 1968.

The first inkling of something epic in the wind came from Fantastic Four #36 and the introduction of a new female super-villain as part of the hero-team’s theoretical nemeses ‘The Frightful Four!’

A sinister squad comprising evil genius The Wizard, shapeshifting Sandman and gadget fiend The Trapster (he was still Paste Pot-Pete here, but not for long) was supplemented by enigmatic outsider Madame Medusa, whose origins were to have a huge impact on the heroes in months to come.

The heroes ‘Defeated by the Frightful Four!’ in FF# 38: a momentous tale with a startling cliff-hanger that marked Chic Stone’s departure in landmark manner.

Vince Colletta assumed the inking chores for a bombastic run which perfectly displays the indomitable power and inescapable tragedy of the brutish Ben Grimm in a tense and traumatic trilogy in which the Frightful Four brainwash The Thing. turning him against his teammates. It starts in # 41 (August 1965) with ‘The Brutal Betrayal of Ben Grimm!’, continues in rip-roaring fashion with ‘To Save You, Why must I Kill You?’ and concluded in bombastic glory with #43’s ‘Lo! There Shall be an Ending!’

The next issue was a landmark in many ways. Firstly, it saw the arrival of Joe Sinnott as regular inker, a skilled brush-man with a deft line and a superb grasp of anatomy and facial expression, and moreover an artist prepared to match Kirby’s greatest efforts with his own.

Some inkers had problems with just how much detail the King would pencil in; Sinnott relished it and the effort showed. What had been merely wonderful now became incomparable…

‘The Gentleman’s Name is Gorgon!’ introduced a mysterious powerhouse with metal hooves instead of feet: a hunter implacably stalking Madame Medusa.

His rampage through New York embroils the Human Torch – and subsequently the whole team – in her frantic bid to escape, and that’s before monstrous android Dragon Man shows up to complicate matters. All this was merely a prelude: with the next episode readers were introduced to a hidden race of superbeings who had secretly shared the Earth with us for millennia.

‘Among us Hide… the Inhumans’ revealed that Medusa was part of the Royal Family of Attilan: rulers of a hidden race of paranormal beings. She had been on the run ever since a coup deposed the true king.

Black Bolt, Triton, Karnak and the rest would quickly become mainstays of the Marvel Universe, but their bewitching young cousin Crystal and her giant teleporting dog Lockjaw were the real stars here. For young Johnny Storm, it was love at first sight, and Crystal’s eventual fate would greatly change his character, giving him a hint of angst-ridden tragedy that resonated greatly with the generation of young readers who were growing up with the comic…

‘Those Who Would Destroy Us!’ and ‘Beware the Hidden Land!’ (FF #46 and 47) saw the heroes unite with the Royal Inhumans as Black Bolt battled to regain his throne from his brother Maximus the Mad, only to stumble into the usurper’s plan to wipe humanity from the Earth.

Ideas just seem to explode from Kirby at this time. Despite being halfway through one storyline, FF #48 trumpeted ‘The Coming of Galactus!’ with the first Inhumans saga swiftly wrapped up by page 7, and the entire race sealed by Maximus behind an impenetrable dome called the Negative Zone (later retitled the Negative Barrier to avoid confusion with the gateway to sub-space that Reed Richards worked on for years).

Those pages and further excerpts from #50 and 52 advancing the “Inhumans-in-a-bottle” plot are included here, but you’ll need to seek elsewhere for the Galactus saga…

I suspect this experimental – and vaguely uncomfortable – approach to narrative mechanics was calculated and deliberate, mirroring the way TV soap operas were increasingly delivering their interwoven storylines, and was introduced as a means to keep readers glued to the series.

They needn’t have bothered. The stories and concepts were enough…

The next full story followed the Torch and college pal Wyatt Wingfoot as they sought a way to sunder the barrier and reunite Johnny with Crystal. This led to the unearthing of the lost tomb of Prester John in #54’s ‘Whosoever Finds the Evil Eye…!’

This became a running sub-plot with the Inhumans increasingly striving to break out whilst, on the other side of the Great Barrier, Johnny and Wyatt wandered the wilds also seeking a method of liberating the Hidden City.

The next major development occurs in snippets from FF #55-61 as Black Bolt finally liberates his imprisoned people by utilising the immeasurable power of his devastating voice: an uncontrollable sonic shockwave which can destroy everything – including the impenetrable energy barrier and the city trapped within it…

Free to follow her heart, Crystal finds Johnny just as Mr. Fantastic is lost in the antimatter hell of the Negative Zone’s sub-space corridor.

‘…And One Shall Save Him!’ (FF #62, May 1967) spotlights aquatic Inhuman Triton who guides the FF’s leader back to Earth after trapped, inadvertently bringing back with them a terrifying brute who quickly teams up with earthly enemy the Sandman. The battle against ‘Blastaar, the Living Bomb-Burst!’ is fast and furious and mirrors the Royal Family’s explorations of the world beyond Attilan and subsequent explosive clash with agents of a totalitarian nation…

In ‘The Sentry Sinister’ – a frenetic romp pitting the team against a super-scientific robot buried for millennia by an ancient star-faring race – the first inkling of the Inhumans’ true origins can be found…

This tropical treat expands the burgeoning interlocking landscape to an infinite degree by introducing the imperial Kree who would grow into one of the fundamental pillars supporting the continuity of the Marvel Universe.

Although regarded as long-dead, the Kree themselves resurfaced in the very next issue as the team are attacked by an alien emissary ‘…From Beyond this Planet Earth!’

The formidable Ronan the Accuser turns up to investigate what could possibly have destroyed a Kree Sentry. Simultaneously, as Johnny and Crystal’s romance grows more serious, her sister and cousins meet the Black Panther to share the stage with the Fantastic Four in that year’s Annual (#5, and inked by Frank Giacoia), wherein sinister sub-microscopic invader Psycho-Man attempts to ‘Divide… and Conquer!’, pitting his emotion-bending alien technology against both the King of the Wakandas and the Royal Family of Attilan until the Fab Four can pitch in…

The Annual also included the now customary Kirby pin-ups: stunning shots of Inhumans Black Bolt, Gorgon, Medusa, Karnak, Triton, Crystal and Maximus plus a colossal group shot of Galactus the Silver Surfer and others – all included here at no extra cost…

That same month the hidden race won their first solo feature: a series of complete, 5-page vignettes detailing some of the tantalising backstory so effectively hinted at in previous appearances. ‘The Origin of… the Incomparable Inhumans’ – by Lee, Kirby & Sinnott from Thor 146 (November 1967) – ranges back to the dawn of civilisation where cavemen flee in fear from technologically advanced humans who live on an island named Attilan.

In that futuristic metropolis, wise King Randac finally makes a decision to test out his people’s latest discovery: genetically mutative Terrigen rays…

The saga expands a month later in ‘The Reason Why!’ as Earth’s duly-appointed Kree Sentry visits the island and reveals how his master in ages past experimented on an isolated tribe of primitive humanoids. Now observing their progress, the menacing mechanoid learns that the Kree lab rats have fully taken control of their genetic destiny and must now be considered Inhuman…

Skipping ahead 25,000 years, ‘…And Finally: Black Bolt!’ reveals how a baby’s first cries wreck the city and reveal the infant prince was an Inhuman unlike any other…

Raised in isolation, the prince’s 19th birthday then marks his release into the city and contact with the cousins he has only ever seen on video systems. Sadly, the occasion is co-opted by envious brother Maximus who tortures the royal heir to prove Bolt cannot be trusted to maintain ‘Silence or Death!’

Thor #150 (March 1968) saw the start of a continued tale as ‘Triton’ left the hidden city to explore the human world only to be captured by a film crew making an underwater monster movie. Allowing himself to brought back to America, the canny manphibian escapes when the ship docks and becomes an ‘Inhuman at Large!’

The story – and series – concluded with Triton on the run and acting as a fish out of water ‘While the City Shrieks!’ before returning to Attilan with a damning assessment of the human race…

Rounding off the thrills and chills is a snippet from Not Brand Echh #6 (the “Big, Batty Love and Hisses issue!” from February 1968) wherein ‘The Human Scorch Has to… Meet the Family!’: a snappy satire on romantic liaisons from Lee, Kirby & Tom Sutton, appended with creator biographies and House Ads for the Inhumans’ debut.

These are the stories that introduced another strand of outsiders to the maverick Marvel universe and cemented Kirby’s reputation as an innovator beyond compare. They also helped the company to overtake all its competitors and are still some of the best stories ever produced: as exciting and captivating now as they ever were. This is a must-have book for all fans of graphic narrative or potential fans of Marvel’s next cinematic star vehicle.
© 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Epic Collection volume 2: The Master Plan of Doctor Doom


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0435-7

Fantastic Four #1 (bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule was crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it and the raw storytelling caught a wave of change starting to build in America. It and succeeding issues changed comicbooks forever.

This full-colour compendium – also available as a digital download – collects Fantastic Four #19-32 plus the first two giant-sized Annuals issues of progressive landmarks (spanning July 1963 to October 1963) and tellingly reveals how Stan & Jack cannily built on that early energy to consolidate the FF as the leading title and most innovative series of the era.

As seen in the ground-breaking premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak.

Here the wonderment resumes with the contents of the first summer Annual: a spectacular 37-page epic battle as, finally reunited with their wandering prince, the warriors of Atlantis invade New York City and the rest of the world in ‘The Sub-Mariner versus the Human Race!’ by Lee, Kirby and inker Dick Ayers.

A monumental tale by the standards of the time, the saga saw the FF repel the undersea invasion through valiant struggle and brilliant strategy as well as providing a secret history of the secretive race Homo Mermanus. Nothing was really settled except a return to the original status quo, but the thrills were intense and unforgettable…

Also included are rousing pin-ups and fact file features ‘A Gallery of the Fantastic Four’s Most Famous Foes!’, ‘Questions and Answers about the Fantastic Four’, a diagrammatic trip ‘Inside the Baxter Building’ and a charming short tale ‘The Fabulous Fantastic Four meet Spider-Man!’.

This is an extended re-interpretation of the first meeting between the two most popular Marvel brands from the premiere issue of the wallcrawler’s own comic. Pencilled this time by Kirby, the dramatic duel benefitted from Steve Ditko’s inking which created a truly novel look.

Cover-dated October 1963, Fantastic Four #19 introduced another of the company’s top-ranking super-villains as the quarrelsome quartet travelled back to ancient Egypt and ‘Prisoners of the Pharaoh!’ This time travel tale has been revisited by so many writers that it is considered one of the key stories in Marvel history introducing a future-Earth tyrant who would evolve into overarching menace Kang the Conqueror.

Another universe-threatening foe was introduced and defeated by brains not brawn in

FF#20 as ‘The Mysterious Molecule Man!’ menaced New York before being soundly outsmarted, whilst the next issue guest-starred Nick Fury: lead character in Marvel’s only war comic.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos was another solid hit, but eventually the brusque and brutal star would metamorphose into the company’s answer to James Bond. Here, however, he’s a simple CIA agent seeking the team’s aid against a sinister demagogue called ‘The Hate-Monger’ in a cracking yarn with a strong message, inked by comics veteran George Roussos, under the protective nom-de-plume George Bell.

By this juncture the team were firmly established and creators Lee & Kirby were well on the way to toppling DC/National Comics from their decades-held top spot through an engaging blend of brash, folksy and consciously contemporaneous sagas, mixing high concept, low comedy, trenchant melodrama and breathtaking action.

Unseen since the premiere issue, #22 finally saw ‘The Return of the Mole Man!’; another full-on monster-mashing fight-fest, chiefly notable for the debut of the Invisible Girl’s newly developed powers of projecting force fields and “invisible energy” – which would eventually make her one of the mightiest characters in the company’s pantheon.

Fantastic Four #23 heralded ‘The Master Plan of Doctor Doom!’, which introduced his frankly mediocre minions the Terrible Trio of Bull Brogin, Handsome Harry and Yogi Dakor, although the uncanny menace of “the Solar Wave” was enough to raise the hackles on my 5-year-old neck…

(Do I need to qualify that with: all of me was five but only my neck had properly developed hackles back then?)

Issue #24’s ‘The Infant Terrible!’ was a sterling yarn of inadvertent extra-galactic menace and misplaced innocence, followed by a two-part epic that truly defined the inherent difference between Lee and Kirby’s work and everybody else’s at that time.

Fantastic Four #25 and 26 featured a cataclysmic clash that had young heads spinning in 1964 and led directly to the Emerald Behemoth finally regaining a strip of his own. In ‘The Hulk Vs The Thing’ and ‘The Avengers Take Over!’, a fast-paced, all-out Battle Royale resulted when the disgruntled man-monster came to New York in search of side-kick Rick Jones, and only an injury-wracked FF stood in the way of his destructive rampage.

A definitive moment in the character development of The Thing, the action was ramped up when a rather stiff-necked and officious Avengers team horn in claiming jurisdictional rights on “Bob” Banner (this tale is plagued with pesky continuity errors which would haunt Stan Lee for decades) and his Jaded alter ego. Notwithstanding the bloopers, this is one of Marvel’s key moments and still a visceral, vital read.

The creators had hit on a winning formula by including their other stars in guest-shots – especially as readers could never anticipate if they would fight with or beside the home team. ‘The Search for Sub-Mariner!’ again found the undersea anti-hero in amorous mood, and when he abducted Sue Storm the boys called in Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts to aid them. Issue #28 is a superb team-up tale too, most notable (for me and many other older fans) for the man who replaced George Roussos.

‘We Have to Fight the X-Men!’ finds the disparate teams battling due to the machinations of Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker, but the inclusion of Chic Stone – Kirby’s most simpatico and expressive inker – elevates the art to indescribable levels of quality.

‘It Started on Yancy Street!’ (FF#29) starts low-key and a little silly in the slum where Ben Grimm grew up, but with the reappearance of the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes the action quickly goes Cosmic and results in a blockbusting battle on the Moon, with the following issue introducing evil alchemist ‘The Dreaded Diablo!’ who almost breaks up the team while casually conquering the world from his spooky Transylvanian castle.

Next up is Fantastic Four Annual #2 from 1964; boldly leading with ‘The Fantastic Origin of Doctor Doom!’, tragically detailing how brilliant gypsy boy Victor Von Doom remakes himself into the most deadly villain in creation.

Following a fresh batch of rogues starring in ‘A Gallery of the Fantastic Four’s Most Famous Foes!’ and pin-ups of Johnny, Sue, Ben, Alicia Masters and Reed, the past informs the present as the ultimate villain believes he has achieved ‘The Final Victory of Dr. Doom!’, but has in fact suffered his most ignominious defeat…

The monthly wonderment resumes with #31’s ‘The Mad Menace of the Macabre Mole Man!’ which precariously balances a loopy plan by the subterranean satrap to steal entire streets of New York City with a portentous sub-plot featuring a mysterious man from Sue’s past, as well as renewing the quartet’s somewhat fractious relationship with the Mighty Avengers…

The secret of that mystery man is revealed in the last tale in this titanic tome. ‘Death of a Hero!’ is a powerful tale of tragedy and regret that spans two galaxies, starring the uniquely villainous Invincible Man who is not at all what he seems…

Adding unique value to the proceedings, this epic encounter closes with a house ad for the first FF Annual plus the unused first cover version, many original art pages by Kirby inked by Ayers, Roussos and Stone, an unused pencilled Kirby cover for FF #20 and a quartet of re-mastered Masterworks collection covers drawn by Jack and painted by Dean White.

This is a truly magnificent book to read highlighting the tales that built a comics empire. The verve, imagination and sheer enthusiasm shines through and the wonder is there for you to share. If you’ve never thrilled to these spectacular sagas then this book of marvels is your best and most economical key to another world and time.
© 1963, 1964, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Epic Collection: Man or Monster?


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9600-6

Chronologically collecting the Jade Juggernaut’s earliest appearances, this titanic tome (available as a hefty paperback and relatively weightless digital edition) gathers Incredible Hulk #1-6, Fantastic Four #2 and 25-26, Avengers #1-3 and 5, Amazing Spider-Man #14, Tales to Astonish #59 and a memorable clash with Thor from Journey into Mystery #112: cumulatively spanning early 1962 to the end of 1964.

The Incredible Hulk was new-born Marvel’s second new superhero title, although technically Henry Pym debuted earlier in a one-off yarn in Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962). However, he didn’t become a costumed hero until the autumn, by which time Ol’ Greenskin was not-so-firmly established.

The Hulk smashed right into his own bi-monthly comic and, after some classic romps by Young Marvel’s finest creators, crashed right out again. After six issues the series was cancelled and Lee retrenched, making the Gruff Green Giant a perennial guest-star in other Marvel titles until such time as they could restart the drama in their new “Split-Book” format in Tales to Astonish where Ant/Giant-Man was rapidly proving to be a character who had outlived his time.

Cover-dated May 1962, the Incredible Hulk #1 sees puny atomic scientist Bruce Banner, sequestered on a secret military base in the desert, perpetually bullied by the bombastic commander General “Thunderbolt” Ross as the clock counts down to the World’s first Gamma Bomb test.

Besotted by Ross’s daughter Betty, Banner endures the General’s constant jibes as the timer ticks on and tension increases.

At the final moment Banner sees a teenager lollygagging at Ground Zero and frantically rushes to the site to drag the boy away. Unknown to everyone, the assistant he’s entrusted to delay the countdown has an agenda of his own…

Rick Jones is a wayward but good-hearted kid. After initial resistance he lets himself be pushed into a safety trench, but just as Banner prepares to join him The Bomb detonates…

Somehow surviving the blast, Banner and the boy are secured by soldiers, but that evening as the sun sets the scientist undergoes a monstrous transformation. He grows larger; his skin turns a stony grey…

In six simple pages that’s how it all starts, and no matter what any number of TV or movie reworkings or comicbook retcons and psycho-babble re-evaluations would have you believe that’s still the best and most primal take on the origin. A good man, an unobtainable girl, a foolish kid, an unknown enemy and the horrible power of destructive science unchecked…

Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby with inking by Paul Reinman, ‘The Coming of the Hulk’ barrels along as the man-monster and Jones are kidnapped by Banner’s Soviet counterpart the Gargoyle for a rousing round of espionage and Commie-busting. In the second issue the plot concerns invading aliens, and the Banner/Jones relationship settles into a traumatic nightly ordeal as the good doctor transforms and is locked into an escape-proof cell whilst the boy stands watch helplessly. Neither ever considers telling the government of their predicament…

‘The Terror of the Toad Men’ is formulaic but viscerally and visually captivating as Steve Ditko inks Kirby; imparting a genuinely eerie sense of unease to the artwork. Incidentally, this is the story where the Hulk inexplicably changed to his more accustomed Green persona…

Although back-written years later as a continuing mutation, the plain truth is that grey tones caused all manner of problems for production colourists so it was arbitrarily changed to the simple and more traditional colour of monsters.

The third issue presented a departure in format as long, chaptered epics gave way to complete short stories. Dick Ayers inked Kirby in the transitional ‘Banished to Outer Space’ which radically altered the relationship of Jones and the monster, with the story thus far reprised in 3-page vignette ‘The Origin of the Hulk’ after which Marvel mainstay of villainy the Circus of Crime debuts in ‘The Ringmaster’. The Hulk goes on an urban rampage in #4’s first tale ‘The Monster and the Machine’ before aliens and Commies combine in the second escapade ‘The Gladiator from Outer Space!’

The Incredible Hulk #5 is a joyous classic of Kirby action, introducing immortal Tyrannus and his underworld empire in ‘The Beauty and the Beast!’ whilst those pesky Commies came in for another drubbing when the Jolly Green freedom-fighter prevents the invasion of Lhasa in ‘The Hordes of General Fang!’

Lee grasped early on the commercial impact of cross-pollination and – presumably aware of disappointing sales – inserted the Jade Juggernaut into his top selling title next.

Fantastic Four #12 (March 1963) featured an early crossover as the team were asked to help the US army capture ‘The Incredible Hulk’: a tale from Lee, Kirby & Ayers packed with intrigue, action and bitter irony as  series of spectacularly destructive sabotage incidents puts the heroes on the trail of a monster when they should have been looking at spies…

Despite the sheer verve and bravura of these simplistic classics – some of the greatest, most rewarding comics nonsense ever produced – the Hulk series was not doing well, and Kirby moved on to more appreciated arenas. Steve Ditko handled all the art chores for #6: another full-length epic and an extremely engaging one.

‘The Incredible Hulk Vs the Metal Master’ has astounding action, sly and subtle sub-plots and a thinking man’s resolution, but nonetheless the title died with the issue, also dated March.

Another comic debuted that month and offered a life line to the floundering Emerald Outcast.  ‘The Coming of the Avengers’ is one of the cannier origin tales in comics. Instead of starting at a zero point and acting as if the reader knew nothing, creators Lee, Kirby & Ayers assumed that interested parties had at least a passing familiarity with Marvel’s other titles, and wasted very little time or energy on introductions in the premiere issue.

In Asgard Loki, god of evil, is imprisoned on a dank islet but still craves vengeance on his step-brother mighty Thor. Observing Earth the villain finds the monstrous Hulk and engineers a situation wherein the man-brute goes on a rampage, hoping to trick the Thunder God into battling the bludgeoning brute. When sidekick Rick Jones radios the Fantastic Four for assistance, Loki diverts the transmission so they cannot hear it and expects his mischief to quickly blossom. However. other heroes pick up the SOS – namely Iron Man, Ant Man and the Wasp.

As the costumed champions on the desert converge to search for the Hulk, they realize something’s amiss…

This terse and compelling yarn is Lee & Kirby at their bombastic best, and one of the greatest stories of the Silver Age (it’s certainly high in my own top ten Marvel Tales of all time!) and is promptly followed by ‘the Space Phantom’ (Lee, Kirby & Reinman), another unforgettable epic, in which an alien shape-stealer almost destroys the group from within.

Ever-changing, the tale ends with the volatile Hulk quitting the team only to return in #3 as a villain in partnership with ‘Sub-Mariner!’ This globe-trotting romp delivered high energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history.

Three months later Fantastic Four #25 featured a cataclysmic clash that had young heads spinning in 1964 and pretty much ever since. Inked by George Roussos, ‘The Hulk Vs The Thing’ and concluding tale ‘The Avengers Take Over!’ in FF #26 offered a fast-paced, all-out Battle Royale as the disgruntled man-monster comes to New York in search of sidekick Rick with only an injury-wracked FF in the way of his destructive rampage.

A definitive moment in the character development of the Thing, the action amplifies when a rather stiff-necked and officious Avengers team horns in claiming jurisdictional rights on “Bob” Banner (this tale is plagued with pesky continuity errors which would haunt Lee for decades) and his Jaded Alter Ego.

Notwithstanding the bloopers, this is one of Marvel’s key moments and still a visceral, vital read.

Over in Avengers #5, ‘The Invasion of the Lava Men!’ (Lee, Kirby & Reinman) revealed another incredible romp as Earth’s Mightiest battled superhuman subterraneans and a lethally radioactive mutating mountain with the unwilling assistance of the Hulk… his last appearance there for many months…

The next cameo came in Amazing Spider-Man #14 (July 1964): an absolute milestone as a hidden criminal mastermind debuted by manipulating a Hollywood studio into making a movie about the wall-crawler. Even with guest-star opponents such as the Enforcers the Incredible Hulk steals all the limelight in ‘The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin’ (by Lee & Ditko) which is only otherwise notable for introducing Spider-Man’s most perfidious and flamboyant enemy (sarcasm alert!).

The second chapter of the man-monster’s career was about to take off and Tales to Astonish #59 (September) offered a bombastic prologue as ‘Enter: The Hulk!’ (Lee, Ayers & Reinman) sees the Avengers inadvertently inspiring Giant-Man to hunt down the Green Goliath.

Although the Human Top devilishly engineered that blockbusting battle, Lee was the real mastermind, as with the next issue The Hulk began starring in his own series and on the covers whilst Giant-Man’s adventures shrank back to a dozen or so pages.

This wonderfully economical compendium of wonders closes with the lead story from Journey into Mystery #112 (January 1965). ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’ is a glorious gift to all those fans who perpetually ask “Who’s stronger…?” Possibly Kirby and Chic Stone’s finest artistic moment, it details a private duel between the two super-humans that occurred during that free-for-all between Earth’s Mightiest, Sub-Mariner and Ol’ Greenskin in Avengers #3. The raw power of that tale is a perfect exemplar of what makes the Hulk work and would an ideal place to close proceedings but fans and art lovers can enjoy further treats in the form of assorted House Ads, original artwork by Kirby and Ditko, a gallery of classic Kirby covers modified by painter Dean White (originally seen on assorted Marvel Masterworks editions), plus reproduced Essentials collection and Omnibus covers by Bruce Timm and Alex Ross…

Hulk Smash! He always was and with material like this he always will be.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Epic collection: The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8832-2

I’m partial to a bit of controversy so I’m going start off by saying that Fantastic Four #1 is the third most important American comicbook of the last 75 years, behind Showcase #4, which introduced the Flash and therefore the Silver Age, and The Brave and the Bold #28, which brought superhero teams back via the creation of the Justice League of America. Feel free to disagree…

After a troubled period at DC Comics (National Periodicals as it then was) and a creatively productive but disheartening time on the poisoned chalice of the Sky Masters newspaper strip (see Complete Sky Masters of the Space Force) Jack Kirby settled into his job at the small outfit that used to be the publishing powerhouse Timely/Atlas. He churned out mystery, monster, romance and western material in a market he suspected to be ultimately doomed, but as always he did the best job possible and that genre fare is now considered some of the best of its kind ever seen.

But his fertile imagination couldn’t be suppressed for long and when the JLA caught the reader’s attention it gave him and writer/editor Stan Lee an opportunity to change the industry forever.

Depending upon who you believe, a golfing afternoon led publisher Martin Goodman to order his nephew Stan to try a series about a group of super-characters like the JLA. The resulting team quickly took the fans by storm. It wasn’t the powers: they’d all been seen since the beginning of the medium. It wasn’t the costumes: they didn’t have any until the third issue.

It was Kirby’s compelling art and the fact that these characters weren’t anodyne cardboard cut-outs. In a real and recognizable location – New York City – imperfect, raw-nerved, touchy people banded together out of tragedy, disaster and necessity to face the incredible.

In many ways, The Challengers of the Unknown (Kirby’s prototype partners in peril at National/DC) laid all the groundwork for the wonders to come, but the staid, almost hide-bound editorial strictures of National would never have allowed the undiluted energy of the concept to run all-but-unregulated.

Fantastic Four #1 (bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, by Lee, Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule) is crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it.

This full-colour compendium (also available as a digital download) collects the first 18 issues of progressive landmarks – spanning November 1961 to September 1963 – and

opens with ‘The Fantastic Four’ as seen in the ground-breaking premier issue.

It saw maverick scientist Reed Richards summon his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother before heading off on their first mission. They are all survivors of a private space-shot that went horribly wrong when Cosmic rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben turned into a shambling, rocky freak. In ‘The Fantastic Four meet the Mole Man’ they quickly foil a plan by another outcast who controls monsters and slave humanoids from far beneath the Earth. This summation of the admittedly mediocre plot cannot do justice to the engrossing wonder of that breakthrough issue – we really have no awareness today of how different in tone, how shocking it all was.

“Different” doesn’t mean “better” even here, but the FF was like no other comic on the market at the time and buyers responded to it hungrily. The brash experiment continued with another old plot in #2. ‘The Skrulls from Outer Space’ were shape-changing aliens who framed the FF in the eyes of shocked humanity before the genius of Mister Fantastic bluffed them into abandoning their plans for conquering Earth. The issue concluded with a monstrous pin-up of the Thing, proudly touted as the first in a series…

Sure enough, there was a pin-up of the Human Torch in #3, which headlined ‘the Menace of the Miracle Man’ (inked by Sol Brodsky), whose omnipotent powers had a simple secret, but is more notable for the first appearance of their uniforms, and a shocking line-up change, leading directly into the next issue (continued stories were an innovation in themselves) which revived a golden-age great.

‘The Coming of the Sub-Mariner’ reintroduced the all-powerful amphibian Prince of Atlantis, a star of Timely’s Golden Age but one who had been lost for years.

A victim of amnesia, the relic recovered his memory thanks to some rather brusque treatment by the delinquent Human Torch. Namor then returned to his sub-sea home only to find it destroyed by atomic testing. A monarch without subjects, he swore vengeance on humanity and attacked New York City with a gigantic monster. This saga is when the series truly kicked into high-gear and Reed was the star of the pin-up section…

Until now the creative team – who had been in the business since it began – had been hedging their bets. Despite the innovations of a contemporary superhero experiment their antagonists had relied heavily on the trappings of popular trends in the media – and as reflected in their other titles. Aliens and especially monsters played a major part in the earlier tales but Fantastic Four #5 took a full-bite out of the Fights n’ Tights apple and introduced the first full-blown super-villain to the budding Marvel Universe.

No, I haven’t forgotten Mole Man: but that tragic little gargoyle, for all his plans of world conquest, wouldn’t truly acquire the persona of a costumed foe until his more refined second appearance in #22.

‘Prisoners of Doctor Doom’ (July 1962, and inked by the subtly slick Joe Sinnott) has it all. An attack by a mysterious enemy from Reed’s past; magic and super-science, lost treasure, time-travel, even pirates. Ha-Haar, me ‘earties!

Sheer magic! And the creators knew they were on to a winner as the deadly Doctor returned the very next issue, teamed with a reluctant Sub-Mariner to attack our heroes as ‘The Deadly Duo!’ inked by new regular embellisher Dick Ayers.

Alien kidnappers were the motivating force behind another FF frame-up resulting in the team becoming ‘Prisoners of Kurrgo, Master of Planet X’; a dark and grandiose off-world thriller in #7 (the first monthly issue), whilst a new returning villain and the introduction of a love-interest for the monstrous Ben Grimm were the breakthrough high-points in #8: ‘Prisoners of the Puppet Master!’ The saga was topped off with a Fantastic Four Feature Page explaining how the Torch’s powers work. The next issue offered another detailing with endearing mock-science ‘How the Human Torch Flies!’

That issue, #9, trumpeted ‘The End of the Fantastic Four’ as the Sub-Mariner returned to exploit another brilliant innovation in comic storytelling. When had a super-genius superhero ever messed up so much that the team had to declare bankruptcy? When had costumed crimefighters ever had money troubles at all? The eerily prescient solution was to “sell out” and make a blockbuster movie – giving Kirby a rare chance to demonstrate his talent for caricature…

1963 was a pivotal year in the development of Marvel. Lee and Kirby had proved that their new high concept – human heroes with flaws and tempers – had a willing audience. Now they would extend that concept to a new pantheon of heroes. Here is where the second innovation would come to the fore.

Previously, super-heroes were sufficient unto themselves and shared adventures were rare. Here, however, was a universe where characters often tripped over each other, sometimes even fighting each other’s enemies! The creators themselves might turn even up in a Marvel Comic! Fantastic Four #10 featured ‘The Return of Doctor Doom!’ wherein the arch villain used Stan and Jack to lure the Richards into a trap where his mind is switched with the bad Doctor’s. The tale was supplemented by a pin-up – at long-last – of ‘Sue Storm, the Glamorous Invisible Girl’

The innovations continued. Issue #11 had two short stories instead of the usual book-length yarn; ‘A Visit with the Fantastic Four’ and ‘The Impossible Man’, with a behind-the-scenes travelogue and a baddie-free, compellingly comedic tale, rounded out with an epic pin-up of the Sub-Mariner.

FF#12 featured an early crossover as the team were asked to help the US army capture ‘The Incredible Hulk’: a tale packed with intrigue, action and bitter irony and is followed by ‘Versus the Red Ghost and his Incredible Super Apes!’: a cold war thriller pitting them against a Soviet scientist in the race to reach the Moon: a tale notable both for the moody Steve Ditko inking (replacing the adroit Ayers for one glorious month) of Kirby’s artwork and the introduction of the cosmic voyeurs called The Watchers.

Issue #14 featured the return of ‘The Sub-Mariner and the Merciless Puppet Master!’ – with one vengeful fiend the unwitting mind-slave of the other – and was followed by ‘The Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android!’, a chilling war of intellects between driven super-scientists with plenty of room for all-out action. The pin-up extra this time was a candid group-shot of the entire team.

Fantastic Four #16 revealed ‘The Micro-World of Doctor Doom!’ in a spectacular romp guest-starring new hero Ant-Man and also offered a Fantastic Four Feature Page outlining the powers and capabilities of the elastic Mister Fantastic. Despite his resounding defeat, the steel-shod villain returned with more infallible, deadly traps a month later in ‘Defeated by Doctor Doom!’

This astounding collection concludes with the tale of a shape-changing alien who battles the FF with their own powers when ‘A Skrull Walks Among Us!’: a prelude to the greater, cosmos-spanning sagas to come…

Although possibly – just, perhaps – a little dated in tone, these are still classics of comic story-telling illustrated by one of the world’s greatest talents approaching his mature peak. They are fast, frantic fun and a joy to read or re-read. This comprehensive, joyous introduction (or even reintroduction) to these characters is a wonderful reminder of just how good comic books can and should be.
© 1961, 1962, 1963, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Marvel Two-in-One volume 4


By Tom DeFalco, David Michelinie, David Anthony Kraft, Jan Strnad, John Byrne, Doug Moench, Ron Wilson, Alan Kupperberg & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6284-7

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing with or battling and frequently doing both – with less well-selling company characters was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the same deal DC had long prospered from with Batman in The Brave and the Bold.

After the runaway success of Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up, the company repeated the experiment with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic and popular member – beginning with a brace of test runs in Marvel Feature #11-12 before graduating him to his own guest-friendly title. This fourth and final economical, eclectic monochrome compendium gathers together the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #78-98 and 100 (the omitted #99 being a pairing with Space Knight Rom, no longer an active Marvel licensed property) plus Annuals #6 and 7, covering August 1981 to June 1983; a period which saw the clearly weary series and concept dwindle and die to make room for straight solo vehicle for the Thing.

The innate problem with team-up tales is always a lack of continuity – something Marvel always prided itself upon – and which writer/editor Marv Wolfman had sought to address during his tenure through the simple expedient of having stories link-up via evolving, overarching plots which took Ben from place to place and from guest to guest.

That policy remained in play until the end, and here sees the lovably lumpy lummox head to Hollywood to head-off a little copyright infringement in ‘Monster Man!’ by Tom DeFalco, David Michelinie, Ron Wilson & Chic Stone. The sleazy producer to blame is actually alien Xemnu the Titan and Big Ben needs the help of budding actor Wonder Man to foil a subliminal mind-control scheme…

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #6 by Doug Moench, Wilson & Gene Day then introduces ‘An Eagle from America!’ as old pal Wyatt Wingfoot calls the Thing in to help in a battle between brothers involving Indian Tribal Land rights which had grown into open warfare and attempted murder.

The clash resulted in one sibling becoming new superhero ‘The American Eagle’, hunting his brother and a pack of greedy white killers to the Savage Land, consequently recruiting jungle lord Ka-Zar before ‘Never Break the Chain’ sees Ben catch up to them and join in a cataclysmic final clash against old enemy Klaw, Master of Sound in ‘…The Dinosaur Graveyard’

Marvel Two-In-One #79 reveals how cosmic entity ‘Shanga, the Star-Dancer!’ (DeFalco, Wilson & Stone) visits Earth and makes a lifelong commitment to decrepit WWII superhero Blue Diamond whilst in #80 ‘Call Him… Monster!’ sees Ben risk doom and damnation to prevent Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze from crossing the line with a pair of cheap punks…

Extended subplots return in ‘No Home for Heroes!’ as Bill (Giant-Man) Foster enters the final stages of his lingering death from radiation exposure. Ben, meanwhile, has been captured by deranged science experiment MODOK and subjected to a new bio-weapon, only to be rescued by old sparring partner Sub-Mariner. Before long ‘The Fatal Effects of Virus X!’ lay him low and he begins to mutate into an even more hideous gargoyle…

Helping him hunt for MODOK and a cure are Captain America and Giant-Man. Their success leads to super-genius Reed Richards taking over Bill’s treatment, resulting in the Thing heading north in #83 to ‘Where Stalks the Sasquatch!’

The most monstrous member of Alpha Flight is actually radiation researcher Dr. Walter Langkowski, but his impromptu medical consultation obliquely leads to the release of malign Indian spirit Ranark the Ravager and a Battle Royale which quickly escalates to include the entire team in ‘Cry for Beloved Canada!’

‘The Final Fate of Giant-Man!’ came in Marvel Two-In-One #85 as Spider-Woman teamed with the Thing to tackle Foster’s arch-nemesis Atom-Smasher, after which ‘Time Runs Like Sand!’ offered an astoundingly low key landmark as Ben and the sinister Sandman had a few bevies in a bar and turned the felon’s life around…

Also included was a short, sharp comedy vignette wherein Ben and godson Franklin have to deal with a bored Impossible Man and his equally obnoxious kids in ‘Farewell, My Lummox!’

The FF call in Ant-Man Scott Lang when Ben is kidnapped in #87, helping the rocky rogue defeat a duplicitous queen in the ‘Menace of the Microworld!’ after which David Anthony Kraft and Alan Kupperberg join Chic Stone in detailing a ‘Disaster at Diablo Reactor!’ with Ben and the Savage She-Hulk countering the nefarious Negator’s plans to turn Los Angeles into a cloud of radioactive vapour…

They then pit the Thing and Human Torch against deranged demagogues seeking to stamp out extremes of beauty, ugliness, weakness and strength in ‘The Last Word!’ before Jan Strnad, Kupperberg & Jim Mooney pit Spider-Man and Ben against time-bending chaos in ‘Eyes of the Sorcerer’. A new extended epic begins as DeFalco, Wilson & Jon D’Agostino reveal what lurks in ‘In the Shadow of the Sphinx!’

When mystic master Doctor Strange asks the thing to investigate a vision of Egypt, the bold battler falls into the clutches of immortal wizard The Sphinx who wants to recover his power-providing Ka-stone. On the voyage home Ben encounters robotic Avenger Jocasta, but not in time to stop her helplessly reviving Ultron in ‘This Evil Returning…!’ by DeFalco, Wilson & A. Sorted inkers…

When handmade hero Machine Man and his human assistants insert themselves into the crisis, they unexpectedly score a narrow win but not before ‘And One Shall Die…!’ (DeFalco, Wilson & D. Hands)…

Kraft, Wilson & Ricardo Villamonte then place a sympathetic and over-protective Ben in the path of Power Man & Iron Fist as they reluctantly hunt down a sad-sack fugitive the Thing has befriended in ‘The Power Trap!’ after which Kupperberg & Jon D’Agostino illustrate Kraft’s supernatural saga ‘The Power to Live… the Power to Die!’, wherein the Living Mummy helps Ben free his beloved Alicia from the glamours of an Egyptian sorcerer.

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #7 is a multi-starred battle bonanza with an Elder of the Universe visiting Earth determined to defeat the world’s greatest fighter in a boxing match. ‘And They Shall Call him… Champion!’ by DeFalco, Wilson and inkers Bob Camp, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, Dan Green & Chic Stone sees Ben improbably remain after Thor, the Hulk, Sasquatch, Wonder Man, Doc Samson, Sub-Mariner and Colossus all fall, not because of superior strength but simply because he won’t lie down when beaten…

Following immediately on, MTIO #96 depicts Ben hospitalised and gradually recuperating in ‘Visiting Hours!’ (Esposito inks). Every villain in town thinks it’s the perfect moment for payback and reputation-building but singly or collectively never considered that Ben’s superhero friends might object…

In ‘Yesterdaze!’ (Michelinie, Wilson & D’Agostino), a lucrative offer from Hollywood lands Ben in a battle with dinosaurs that are definitely not special effects. Thankfully Iron Man is around to help minimise the carnage after which ‘Vid Wars!’ (Michelinie, Wilson & Giacoia) finds Mr Grimm and little Franklin transported to an alien realm where they are trapped in a planet-sized (nigh copyright-infringing) competition against vast, voracious Pac-Man like monsters…

As previously mentioned the penultimate team-up with Rom is not included here, so the series – and this collection – ends with a return to probably Marvel Two-In-One’s greatest triumph.

Anniversary issue #50 took a powerful and poignant look at the Thing’s formative months as a monster outcast and posited a few might-have-beens. Following another failure by Mr Fantastic to cure his rocky condition, Ben stole the chemicals and travelled into his own past, determined to use the remedy on his younger, less mutated self, but his bitter, brooding, brittle earlier incarnation was not prepared to listen to another monster and inevitably catastrophic combat ensued…

For #100, John Byrne, Wilson, Giacoia & Kevin Dzuban revisited the yarn as Ben returned to that timeline in ‘Aftermath!’ What he found was Earth in ruins. Because he had cured his alternate the world was later devastated when Galactus came to consume the planet. Here and now the last survivors of humanity are struggling for their lives against the minions of the fanatical Red Skull. Tormented by guilt, the Thing joins freedom fighter Ben Grimm in liberating the last of humanity from its greatest monster…

Although the company’s glory-days were undoubtedly the era of Lee, Kirby & Ditko leading through to the Adams, Buscema(s), Englehart, Gerber, Steranko and Windsor-Smith “Second Wave”, a lot of superb material came out the middle years when Marvel was transforming from inspirational small-business to corporate heavyweight.

This is not said to demean or denigrate the many fine creators who worked on the tide of titles published after that heady opening period, but only to indicate that after that time a certain revolutionary spontaneity was markedly absent from the line.

It should also be remembered that this was not deliberate. Every creator does the best job he/she can: posterity and critical response is the only arbiter of what is classic and what is simply one more comicbook. Certainly high sales don’t necessarily define a masterpiece – unless you’re a publisher…

This closing compendium is packed with simple, straightforward Fights ‘n’ Tights meet, greet and defeat episodes: entertaining and exciting with no hint of pretension and no real need to swot up on superfluous backstory.

Even if artistically the work varies from only adequate to truly top-notch, most fans of Costumed Dramas will find little to complain about and there’s plenty of fun to be found for young and old readers. So why not lower your critical guard and have an honest blast of pure warts-and-all comics craziness? You’ll almost certainly grow to like it…
© 1981, 1982, 1983, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four: The Life Fantastic


By J. Michael Straczynski, Karl Kesel, Dwayne McDuffie, Mike McKone, Drew Johnson, Casey Jones, Lee Weeks & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1896-1

The Fantastic Four has long been rightly regarded as the most pivotal series in modern comicbook history, responsible for introducing both a new style of storytelling and a radically different manner of engaging the readers’ impassioned attentions.

More family than team, the line-up has changed many times over the years but always eventually returned to Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s original configuration of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing, who jointly 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, 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 Lee’s irreverent humanity coupled to Kirby’s rampant imagination and tirelessly 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 and sustained climb in quality which culminated in their own film franchise, currently experiencing its own radical reboot.

The return to peak quality was the result of sheer hard work by a number of “Big Ideas” writers and this slim hardback compilation – re-presenting Fantastic Four #533-535, spanning January to April 2006, supplemented by a selection of celebratory one-shots comprising Fantastic Four Wedding Special (January 2006), Fantastic Four Special 2005 and Fantastic Four: A Death in the Family (July 2006) – wraps up J. Michael Straczynski’s brief but splendidly entertaining tenure in the command chair.

Illustrated by Mike McKone (with inkers Andy Lanning, Simon Coleby & Cam Smith) the never-ending excitement opens with a bombastic three-part tale which is perhaps the ultimate clash between the Hulk and the Thing… and possibly the funniest yet most heart-rending FF story ever written…

‘What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas’ opens as the Hulk – now governed by Bruce Banner’s intellect and working for SHIELD – dramatically fails to defuse a gamma bomb and is caught in the resulting blast…

In New York Reed and Sue are facing their greatest battle; trying to stop Simone Debouvier of New York’s Division of Child Welfare from placing their children Franklin and Valeria into State custody to protect them from the Fantastic Four’s life-threatening influence and circumstances. It’s almost a relief for the embattled parents to despatch their boisterous and understandably furious team-mates to Nevada so they can concentrate on navigating the tricky legal maze of the Social Services system.

When Torch and Thing arrive it’s too their worst nightmare: the gamma blast has seemingly devolved the Hulk’s mind back to his primitive, enraged and devastatingly destructive state and supercharged his body. The heroes are all that stand between the unstable juggernaut and the utter destruction of the city…

Utterly overmatched, Ben is pushed to his limits in ‘Shadow Boxing’ but even amidst the hurricane of shattering violence, he realises it’s not rage but guilt that is pushing the over-Hulk to such brutal excess, even as back in New York Reed and Sue take a desperate gamble to keep their family together…

The transcontinental confrontations crash into a pair of stunning victories for heart and brains over brawn in the climactic finale ‘To Be This Monster’

The rest of this slim, sleek and celebratory volume concentrates on a wealth of special editions and follows up first with Fantastic Four Wedding Special where Karl Kesel, Drew Johnson, Drew Geraci & Drew Hennessy combine to venerate the past and offer tantalising glimpses of things to come when Sue and Reed go for a quiet meal and – thanks to the technological miracle of time travel – discover that every guest is the happy couple themselves, plucked from key moments of their fantastic past and incredible future…

That gloriously heart-warming spectacle is followed by a far more tense but no less intriguing yarn from Fantastic Four Special #1 with Dwayne McDuffie, Casey Jones & Vince Russell depicting ‘My Dinner with Doom’ as Reed opts to try fine dining and frank conversation as a way of finally ending the long-standing feud between him and the relentless and duplicitous Iron Dictator. If only Doom was as open-minded about the eventual outcome…

Focus shifts to Johnny for the last epic as Fantastic Four: A Death in the Family (Kesel, Lee Weeks, Rob Campenella & Tom Palmer) sees the frat-boy goof suddenly forced to wise up, man up and make a horrific choice to save his beloved, fractious family from certain doom in another time-travel flavoured adventure.

In this story however, there is no happy ending…

A stellar combination of apocalyptic action, heartbreak, suspense and hilarious low comedy, this exhilarating compilation also includes a stunning cover gallery by McKone, Gene Ha, Leinil Yu, Morry Hollowell and Weeks to provide a warm, fast-paced, tension-soaked Fights ‘n’ Tights chronicle which will provide all the thrills and chills a devoted Costumed Drama lover could ever want.
© 2005, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.