Ultimate Fantastic Four volume 3: N-Zone


By Warren Ellis, Adam Kubert & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-904159-93-1

After Marvel’s financial problems and creative roadblock in the late 1990s, the company came back swinging. A critical new concept was the remodelling and modernising of their core characters for an older and more sophisticated “youth culture”.

The Ultimate imprint abandoned monumental long-grown continuity – which had always been Marvel’s greatest asset – to re-imagine major characters in their own self-sufficient universe, offering varying degrees of radical makeover to appeal to the contemporary 21st century audience and offer them a chance to get in on the ground floor.

Peter Parker became again a nerdy high-school geek, brilliant but bullied by his physical superiors, and mutants were a dangerous, oppressed ethic minority scaring the pants off the ordinary Americans they hid amongst. There were also fresh and fashionable, modernistic, scientifically feasible rationales for all those insane super-abilities manifesting everywhere…

The experiment began in 2000 with a post-modern take on Ultimate Spider-Man. Ultimate X-Men followed in 2001 and the Mighty Avengers were remodelled, becoming The Ultimates in 2002.

The stories, design and even tone of the heroes were reworked to cater to the apparently-different tastes of a new readership: (hopefully) new consumers unprepared or unwilling to deal with five decades (seven if you include Golden Age Timely tales retroactively co-opted into the mix) of interconnected story baggage.

The experiment prospered but quickly filled up with refashioned, morally ambiguous heroes and villains. Eventually even this darkly nihilistic new universe became as continuity-constricted as its ancestor.

In 2008, imprint-wide decluttering exercise “Ultimatum” culminated in a reign of terror which excised dozens of superhumans and millions of lesser mortals in a devastating tsunami which inundated Manhattan, courtesy of mutant menace Magneto.

Long before then, though, Marvel’s original keystone concept was given its Ultimate work out and this third tumultuous collection, gathering Ultimate Fantastic Four #17-12 (January to June 2005), relates how a subtly different, still clandestine Awesome Foursome explosively came to public attention in their brand new, yet chillingly familiar world.

The most significant change to Stan & Jack’s breakthrough concept was a rather telling one: all four heroes were far, far younger than their mainstream antecedents…

Whereas in the original, middle-aged maverick genius Reed Richards, doughty college buddy Ben Grimm, ineffectual girlfriend Sue Storm and her younger brother Johnny survived a privately-funded space-shot which foundered when cosmic rays penetrated their vessel’s inadequate shielding before mutating into a quartet into quirky freaks, here a child prodigy and lonely super-genius was increasingly despised by his abusive blue-collar dad.

Bullied at school and obsessed with other dimensions, Reed’s only friend was classmate and school sports star Ben, who had unaccountably appointed himself the wonder-nerd’s protector…

Reed’s life changed the day his High School science project – teleportation – caught the eye of a government talent scout from a high powered think tank. Soon the kid was ensconced in a federally funded New York facility for budding geniuses…

Run by Professor Franklin Storm, the Baxter Building was a wonderland of top-flight resources, intellectual challenges and guarded support, but the school was primarily an ideas factory and the 100 strange, bright kids were expected to produce results…

The Chief Administrator’s little boy Johnny was there mostly as a courtesy, but daughter Sue was a biology prodigy and one of the biggest young brains on Earth…

Reed’s teleportation researches were just a necessary preliminary to his greater goal: mastery of a strange sub-dimension – a place the Baxter scientists call the Negative Zone. With their aid the passing years were largely spent in trying to fully access it, but regular studies continued too, with quite a few burn-outs and casualties.

Some kids thrived on the aggressive hot-housing; especially creepy, arrogant, insular Victor Van Damme who, after a particularly galling incident with Reed, somehow managed to swallow his seething animosity to collaborate on cracking the dimension calculations…

At last 21-year-old Reed and still-fractious lab partner Victor were shipped out to Nevada for the first full test of the N-Zone teleport system. The Storm kids went along for the ride, but as army technicians counted down, Victor argued with Reed before secretly changing the still hotly debated and contested calculations…

At that moment backpacker Ben Grimm had wandered into camp to see his old sidekick after more than a decade apart, and snotty Johnny distracted Reed by disclosing that his sister Sue had the hots for the long-obsessed but crushingly shy wonderboy…

The test firing was a literal catastrophe. The site was devastated in a shattering release of energy with Reed regaining consciousness some distance away as an amorphous blob of eerily boneless flesh, mistaken by the soldiers for an extra-dimensional invader.

Ben came to in Mexico, a huge rocky monster, and Johnny eventually called in from a hospital bed in France. He kept catching on fire without ever burning himself…

Sue simply vanished without a trace…

She was eventually recovered from miles below New York City, gifted with invisibility and force field powers but captured by disgraced, long-missing Baxter boffin Arthur Molekevic: a literal Mole Man re-populating ancient, previously inhabited caverns with a selection of his own dish-grown monsters and homunculi…

The unsavoury savant had deduced that the quartet’s uncontrolled projection through N-Space – utterly unprotected from whatever transformative energies and unknown physical laws might apply there – had transformed them on some unfathomable fundamental level. Their incredible new gifts and appearances were the result…

When Mole Man attacked the surface world the foursome had chaotically united to defeat him – although their participation had been covered up by the army, as were all their subsequent activities.

This third 6-part saga – by Warren Ellis, Adam Kubert, and inkers John Dell, Scott Hanna, Mark Morales, Nelson and Larry Stucker plus digital colour wizard Dave Stewart – picks up the story after Reed and his companions met again their old classmate Victor…

Always seeking the most intimate secrets of their incredible transformations, Reed’s quest for a cure to their conditions temporarily stalled after his clash with “Dr. Doom”, but upon returning to the Baxter Building the young genius resumed researching and as this tale opens has not only deduced how Johnny’s flame powers actually work but also discovered something new about the enigmatic N-Zone…

Before long he has convinced Dr. Storm – and military liaison General Thaddeus Ross – to let him pilot a reconditioned space shuttle into the mystery realm…

Greed and the thought of potential military advantage eventually seduce the reluctant adults in charge and soon the mutated quartet are exploring a completely new kind of space in a dimension previously impossible to define.

As they progress, Reed and Sue deduce that the crimson otherspace might be a sub-universe in the process of dying. The sheer amazement of the revelation is quickly surpassed however when they pick up a signal that can only have been made by thinking beings…

Johnny doesn’t really care: for the first time since he got his powers, he’s feeling sick…

Their rendezvous with an immense creature leads to a meeting with a wide variety of life forms on a colossal, ramshackle space station, but Ben has a hit upon a worrying thought that has escaped the wonderstruck Reed. If your world was ending, wouldn’t you try to find another?

Soon the heroes are being feted by the bizarre ancient insectoid their translator tech describes as “Nihil”. The ruler of a ragtag world of survivors from a myriad races and species is happy to share knowledge, explaining the true nature of multiversal architecture and the perilous state of the N-Zone.

Unfortunately as Johnny’s condition worsens and the humans prepare to take him back to Earth for medical treatment, the arthropod alien shows his true colours, attempting to kill Ben and Reed, determined to make their fresh, healthy young universe his own…

Breaking free and making a desperate dash for home, the explorers inadvertently bring a legion of hungry monsters with them and Earth learns of its newest heroes when the team is forced to battle the ravening hungry horrors who so spectacularly crash into Las Vegas…

With their unlikely triumph captured by a thousand phones and cameras, the Fantastic Four are now the world’s latest super-sensations and no amount of military manoeuvring can change the fact…

To Be Continued…

Rocket-paced, razor sharp and blisteringly action-packed, this riotous romp is also awash with smart engaging teen-oriented humour for the era of the acceptable nerd and go-getting geek, delivering another sublimely enthralling alternate view of Marvel’s most important title that will impress open-minded old fans of the medium just as much as the newcomers they were ostensibly aiming for.
© 2004, 2005 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

 

Ultimate Annuals volume 1


By Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughn, Brian Michael Bendis, Jae Lee, Tom Raney, Mark Brooks, Jaime Mendoza Steve Dillon,& various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2035-3

After Marvel’s financial problems and creative impasse in the late 1990s, the company took stock, braced itself and came back swinging. A critical new concept was the remodelling and modernising of their core characters for the new youth culture.

The Ultimate imprint abandoned monumental long-grown continuity – which had always been Marvel’s greatest asset – to re-imagine major characters in their own self-sufficient universe, offering varying degrees of radical makeover to appeal to the contemporary 21st century audience and offer them a chance to get in on the ground floor.

Creepy vigilante Spider-Man Parker was not-so-secretly a high-school geek, brilliant but bullied by his physical superiors whilst mutants were a dangerous, oppressed ethnic minority scaring the pants off the ordinary Americans they frequently hid amongst.

The Fantastic Four were two science nerds and their dim pals transformed into monsters, and global peacekeeping force S.H.I.E.L.D. kept them all under control with their own metahuman taskforce humbly designated The Ultimates

The revived series all sported fresh and fashionable, modernistic, scientifically feasible rationales for all those insane super-abilities and freaks manifesting everywhere…

The experiment began in 2000 with a post-modern take on Ultimate Spider-Man. Ultimate X-Men followed in 2001, and the Mighty Avengers were reworked into The Ultimates in 2002 with Ultimate Fantastic Four joining the party in 2004.

The stories, design and even tone of the heroes were retooled for the perceived-as-different tastes of a new readership: those tired of or unwilling to stick with precepts originated by inspirational founding fathers Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, or (hopefully) new consumers unprepared or unwilling to deal with five decades (seven if you include Golden Age Timely tales retroactively co-opted into the mix) of interconnected story baggage.

The new universe quickly prospered and soon filled up with more refashioned, morally ambiguous heroes and villains but eventually even this darkly nihilistic new universe became as continuity-constricted as its ancestor.

Eventually, in 2008, an imprint-wide decluttering exercise “Ultimatum” culminated in a reign of terror which excised dozens of superhumans and millions of lesser mortals in a devastating tsunami which inundated Manhattan, courtesy of mutant menace Magneto.

Long before that, however, Marvel’s original keystone concepts were awarded their own celebratory summer specials and this stellar volume collects Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual#1, Ultimate X-Men Annual#1, Ultimate Spider-Man Annual#1 and The Ultimates Annual#1 (all from October 2005): a selection of relatively stand-alone sagas displaying the daringly different tone of the alternate yet chillingly familiar world.

The compilation kicks off with ‘Enter the Inhumans’ by Marl Millar, Jae Lee and colourist June Chung from Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual#1 wherein dim but pretty party boy Johnny Storm gets involved with a runaway princess bride.

The ethereally beautiful girl is named Crystal and she is fleeing from an arranged marriage to her creepy, crazy cousin Maximus. The match was decreed by her sister Medusa and King Black Bolt, rulers of a hidden race of super-powered parahumans who have concealed their existence from humanity for ten thousand years.

Even after the Human Torch almost dies defending her, Crystal is successfully abducted, compelling Reed, Sue, Ben and recuperating Johnny to go after her into the heart of hidden city Attilan, thanks to the teleporting talents of the princess’ faithful giant bulldog Lockjaw

The subsequent confrontation with the lethally powerful Inhuman Royal Family leads to an inconclusive resolution but a shattering end to the lost city…

Romance plays a part in the next tale too. ‘Ultimate Sacrifice’ by Brian K. Vaughn, Tom Raney, Scott Hanna & Gina Going (Ultimate X-Men Annual#1) finds Nick Fury warning Charles Xavier that the unstoppable Juggernaut has escaped and is hunting the mutant girl he holds responsible for all his recent woes…

Unfortunately for everyone, Rogue has absconded to Las Vegas in the company of sexy bad-boy thief Gambit, where the rampaging monster maniac finally corners the duplicitous duo. Tragically Juggernaut completely underestimates his former squeeze’s lethal powers and the self-sacrificing ingenuity of the besotted Cajun…

The most significant change to Stan, Jack and Steve’s breakthrough concepts was a rather telling one: all the heroes were conceived as being far, far younger than their mainstream antecedents. This even affected the sensational Spider-Man tales wherein – after decades of comicbook stardom – the perennially youthful Peter Parker was at last portrayed as a proper High School kid rather than a stodgy 40-year old geek trapped in a teen’s body…

In ‘More than you Bargained For’ by Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Brooks, Jaime Mendoza, Scott Hanna & Dave Stewart – from Ultimate Spider-Man Annual#1 – the guilt-driven lad’s constant round of villain thrashing is derailed when cute but shy mutant Kitty Pryde makes the first tentative moves in her painfully adorable bid to make the mysterious hero her boyfriend…

That sweet, silly and utterly charming yarn is followed by a far darker and cunningly convoluted tale focusing on S.H.I.E.L.D. supremo Nick Fury and his long-term plan to mass produce an army of metahumans in ‘The Reserves’ by Millar, Steve Dillon & Paul Mounts.

Rather than highlighting stars like Iron Man and Captain America, the story follows the far from smooth development of a legion of Rocketmen, Goliaths, weather based warriors “The Four Seasons” and the short, tragic career of heroic hopeful super-soldier Lieberman. Of course the one-eyed master strategist has no time for regrets as he’s busy trying to avoid becoming the latest successful contract of infallible hitman Mister Nix

Rocket-paced, razor sharp and blisteringly action-packed, this riotous romp is also liberally dosed with teen-oriented humour for the era of the acceptable nerd and go-getting geek, offering a smart and beguiling entrée into of Marvel’s other Universe that will impress open-minded old fans of the medium just as much as the newcomers they were ostensibly aiming for.
© 2005, 2006 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Dark Reign Fantastic Four


By Jonathan Hickman, Sean Chen, Adi Granov & Lorenzo Ruggiero (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3908-9

When the draconian Federal mandate known as the Superhuman Registration Act led to Civil War between costumed heroes, Tony Stark was hastily appointed the American government’s Security Czar – a “top cop” in sole charge of the beleaguered nation’s defence and freedom. As Director of high-tech enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D. he became the very last word in all matters involving metahumans and the USA’s vast costumed community…

Stark’s subsequent mismanagement of various crises led to the arrest and assassination of Captain America and an unimaginable escalation of global tension and destruction, culminating in an almost-successful Secret Invasion by shape-shifting alien Skrulls.

Discredited and ostracised, he was replaced by apparently rehabilitated, recovering schizophrenic Norman Osborn – the original Green Goblin – who assumed full control of the USA’s covert agencies and military resources, disbanded S.H.I.E.L.D. and placed the nation under the aegis of his own new organisation H.A.M.M.E.R.

The erstwhile villain had first begun his climb back to respectability after taking charge of the Thunderbolts Project; a penal program which offered a second chance to super-criminals who volunteered to undertake Federally-sanctioned missions…

Not content with legitimate political and personal power, Osborn also secretly conspired with a coalition of major malevolent masterminds to divvy up the world between them. The Cabal was a Star Chamber of super-villains working towards mutually self-serving goals, but such egomaniacal personalities could never play well together for long and cracks soon began to show, both in the criminal conspiracy and Osborn himself…

As another strand of his long-term plan, the Homeland Metahuman Security overlord fired Iron Man’s Mighty Avengers and created his own, more manageable team consisting of compliant turncoats, tractable replacements and outright impostors. Constantly courting public opinion, Osborn launched his Avengers whilst systematically building up a personally loyal high-tech paramilitary rapid-response force.

During his Dark Reign, the rapidly destabilising madman – through means fair and foul – officially worked to curb the unchecked power and threat of meta-humanity, whilst his clandestine cabal of dictators divvied up the planet between them. The repercussions of Osborn’s rise and fall were felt throughout and featured in many series and collections covering the entire Marvel Universe.

Reed Richards had been a major supporter of Stark and key proponent of the Superhuman Registration Act even though his actions tore his family apart; driving his wife Sue and brother-in-law Johnny Storm into the opposing camp of costumed resistors dubbed the Secret Avengers.

His best friend Ben Grimm – unwilling to choose sides – left the country to become an exile in France…

This collection compiles the 5-issue miniseries Dark Reign: Fantastic Four and Dark Reign: The Cabal (May to September 2009) and serves to explore and explain Mr. Fantastic’s side of the argument as well as the terrifying motivations which prompted his uncharacteristic behaviour even as the still-wounded family painfully try to reconcile in their old home The Baxter Building……

The drama begins a week after the Skrull invasion as the greatest mind on Earth constructs a colossal interdimensional transit threshold. ‘The Bridge’ (written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Sean Chen & Lorenzo Ruggiero) is a pathway to alternate Earths. Demoralised and confused, Richards wants to explore all the other Earths to see if the Civil War and subsequent tragedies which followed happened elsewhere and how other Mr. Fantastics dealt with it.

He needs to know how to prevent such a catastrophe ever happening again…

He has only just convinced Sue, Ben and Johnny that he must go before the metaphorical roof caves in…

Acting with sublime overconfidence and seemingly blessed by fortune, Osborn has chosen that moment to invade the Baxter Building with an army of H.A.M.M.E.R. troops, determined to shut down the Fantastic Four and confiscate all their incredible technologies.

Outraged and ready for trouble, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing head for the ground floor just as Osborn’s men cut power to the building. The resultant surge in energy interacts with Reed’s Bridge and when the elevator doors open they find themselves in another realm: a primitive jungle where men and dinosaurs and space gods exist side by side…

With the adults out of action, children Franklin and Valeria take charge of the situation, bluffing the H.A.M.M.E.R. heavies into leaving, but little Val knows its only a matter of time until Osborn comes in person. She might be only three, but she’s already as smart as her father…

Setting to, she begins repairing the building’s electrical and defence systems even as in a distant time her devoted guardians battle a horde of time-lost terrors and, in a place where all places meet, her father views universe after universe and sees few happy outcomes…

As hours pass in the normal world, Sue, Johnny and Ben are bounced from one bizarre alternity to the next, gradually a gathering a stout band of like-minded heroes about them.

In fact they are strange variations of themselves: a gentle, noble erudite Thing, chamberlain to the court of the Virgin Queen; a blazing pirate Torch on a flying galleon, sharp-shooting sheriff Black Susan from an extremely wild, Wild West frontier town and so many more, all assisting as they determinedly fight their way to somewhere they can get home from…

After a night on their own Val and Franklin are awoken by Security Czar Osborn and his forces, accompanied by Dark Avenger “heavy” Spider-Man (in truth deranged impostor Scorpion possessed by the Venom symbiote). In a moment of sublime bravado the forces of Big Bad Government are stalled and legally finessed by the really annoying little girl…

In Collapsed Time, Sue, Johnny and Ben inexorably carve their way through a cascade of colliding realities whilst, in No Space, Reed – having analysed an infinity of alternate Earths – is forced to accept a truly humbling hypothesis…

His switching off The Bridge instantly returns the displaced FF to the Baxter Building where Osborn, having lost all patience, is trying to shoot the kids. After a brief but brutal battle the Federal forces are routed, and when the Czar tries to shoot Reed in the back after surrendering, Franklin displays a burst of the dormant power which will make him the terror of reality in years to come…

In the tense aftermath of a temporary, portent-laden standoff, Mr. Fantastic dismantles The Bridge at Sue’s insistence, but keeps from her the incredible beings he met before returning and the new resolution he has made: a decision that will also have devastating repercussions for all the universes in the months to come…

Rounding out this spectacular segue into the unknown is a sinister snippet from Dark Reign: The Cabal.‘And I’ll Get the Land’ by Hickman & Adi Granov gives a salutary glimpse into the scary mind of Doctor Doom as he debates a side deal with fellow Cabal associate Sub-Mariner whilst pondering what to do with maniac upstart Norman Osborn once his usefulness is ended…

Fast-paced, action-drenched, furiously imaginative and wickedly funny, this sharp sortie into strange worlds also includes a covers-&-variants gallery by Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi, Pasqual Ferry & Dave McCaig and Marko Djurdjevic to complete the perfect package for all tried-and-true Fights ‘n’ Tights aficionados.
© 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ultimate Fantastic Four volume 2: Doom


By Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1457-4

After Marvel’s financial problems and creative roadblock in the late 1990s, the company came back swinging. A critical new concept was the remodelling and modernising of their core characters for the new youth culture.

The Ultimate imprint abandoned monumental long-grown continuity – which had always been Marvel’s greatest asset – to re-imagine major characters in their own self-sufficient universe, offering varying degrees of radical makeover to appeal to the contemporary 21st century audience and offer them a chance to get in on the ground floor.

Peter Parker was once again a nerdy high-school geek, brilliant but bullied by his physical superiors, and mutants were a dangerous, oppressed ethic minority scaring the pants off the ordinary Americans they hid amongst. There were also fresh and fashionable, modernistic, scientifically feasible rationales for all those insane super-abilities manifesting everywhere…

The experiment began in 2000 with a post-modern take on Ultimate Spider-Man. Ultimate X-Men followed in 2001 and Mighty Avengers reworking The Ultimates came in 2002.

The stories, design and even tone of the heroes were retooled for the perceived-as-different tastes of a new readership: those tired of or unwilling to stick with precepts originated by inspirational founding fathers Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, or (hopefully) new consumers unprepared or unwilling to deal with five decades (seven if you include Golden Age Timely tales retroactively co-opted into the mix) of interconnected story baggage.

The new universe quickly prospered and soon filled up with more refashioned, morally ambiguous heroes and villains but eventually even this darkly nihilistic new universe became as continuity-constricted as its ancestor.

In 2008, imprint-wide decluttering exercise “Ultimatum” culminated in a reign of terror which excised dozens of superhumans and millions of lesser mortals in a devastating tsunami which inundated Manhattan, courtesy of mutant menace Magneto.

Before that, however, Marvel’s original keystone concept was given an Ultimate working over and this stellar volume collects Ultimate Fantastic Four #17-12 (August to December 2004), and digital-colourist Dave Stewart relates how a subtly different Awesome Foursome began to affect the brand new, yet chillingly familiar world.

The most significant change to Stan & Jack’s breakthrough concept was a rather telling one: all four heroes were far, far younger than their mainstream antecedents…

Whereas in the original, middle-aged maverick genius Reed Richards, doughty friend Ben Grimm, ineffectual girlfriend Sue Storm and her younger brother Johnny survived a privately-funded space-shot which foundered when cosmic rays penetrated their vessel’s inadequate shielding and were mutated into a quartet into quirky freaks, here events transpired in a far more sinister manner…

Infant prodigy Reed was a lonely super-genius increasingly despised by his abusive blue-collar dad, bullied at school and obsessed with other dimensions. His only friend was classmate and school sports star Ben, who had unaccountably appointed himself the wonder-nerd’s protector…

Reed’s life changed the day his High School science project – teleportation – caught the eye of a government talent scout from a high powered think tank. Soon the outsider kid was ensconced in a New York facility for budding geniuses…

Run by brilliant Professor Franklin Storm, the Baxter Building was a wonderland of top-flight resources, intellectual challenges and guarded support, but school was primarily an ideas factory and the 100 strange, bright kids were expected to produce results…

Administrator Storm’s son Johnny was there mostly as a courtesy, but his daughter Sue was a biology prodigy and one of the biggest young brains on Earth…

Pretty hot, too…

Reed’s teleportation researches were just a necessary preliminary to his greater goal: mastery of a strange sub-dimension – a place the Baxter scientists call the Negative Zone. With their aid the passing years were largely spent in trying to fully access it, but regular studies continued too, with quite a few burn-outs and casualties.

Some kids thrived on the aggressive hot-housing; especially creepy, arrogant, insular Victor Van Damme, who after a particularly galling incident with Reed, somehow managed to swallow his seething animosity to collaborate on cracking the dimension calculations…

At last 21-year-old Reed and fractious lab partner Victor were shipped out to Nevada for the first full test of the N-Zone teleport system. The Storms went along for the ride, but as the army technicians counted down, Van Damme argued with Richards before secretly changing the still hotly debated and contested calculations…

At that moment backpacker Ben Grimm had wandered into camp to see his old sidekick after more than a decade apart, and snotty Johnny distracted Reed by disclosing that his sister Sue had the hots for the long-obsessed but crushingly shy wonderboy…

The test firing became a literal catastrophe.

The site was devastated in a shattering release of energy and Reed awoke some distance away as an amorphous blob of eerily boneless flesh, mistaken by the soldiers for an extra-dimensional invader.

Ben came to in Mexico as a huge rocky orange monster, and Johnny eventually called in from a hospital bed in France. He kept catching on fire without ever burning himself…

Sue has simply vanished without a trace…

She was eventually recovered from miles below New York City, gifted with invisibility and force field powers but captured by disgraced and long-missing Baxter Building boffin Arthur Molekevic: a literal Mole Man re-populating ancient, previously inhabited caverns with a selection of his own dish-grown monsters and homunculi…

The unsavoury savant had deduced that the quartet’s uncontrolled projection through N-Space – utterly unprotected from whatever transformative energies and unknown physical laws might apply there – had transformed them on some unfathomable fundamental level. Their incredible new gifts and appearances are the result…

When Mole Man attacked the surface world the foursome had chaotically united to defeat him and this second 6-part saga – by Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger and digital colour wizard Dave Stewart – picks up the story as Reed, perpetually pondering and fixating upon what transformed them and how, at last deduces that Victor had tampered with the N-Zone Superpostioner codes…

He is then pressured by Sue into finally submitting to a barrage of biological tests; even convincing barely-reactive, stonily shellshocked Ben into doing likewise. The findings are astounding, unbelievable and – for us readers – rather gross and pretty hilarious…

Victor has been missing since the test went so explosively awry. Unknown to all, he was also transformed into an uncanny new life-form and now lurks in a ramshackle communal squat in Denmark, obsessing on his abusive father and the daily cruelties that direct descent of Vlad Tepes had inflicted upon his only heir in the name of honouring the august and reviled line of Dracula

Victor wants revenge and needs data, so his nimble but malformed hands have cobbled together a lethal swarm of killer spy wasps from discarded cellphones and the electronic detritus scattered in the streets…

As the bugs head for America the last scion of the Draculas advances his other plan: building a kingdom of the wretched from the city’s outcasts and dropouts. They all love and revere him. The electronic tattoos admitting them to his Order of the Dragon guarantee that…

When the swarm at last reaches the Baxter Building they utterly overwhelm and eradicate the military forces “protecting” the unsettling quartet of freaks, but after a spectacular struggle fall before the incredible power of Ben, Sue and Johnny.

Aware at last that the accident has turned the trio into beings as advanced as he, Victor lays new plans whilst largely discounted and loathed Reed frantically attempts to track the source of the assault.

The furious prodigy realises that if he can get the altered N-Zone Superpostioner codes from Victor, there’s a strong chance he can reverse the process and restore them all to true humanity.

Sadly, Professor Storm won’t let them go and instead dispatches a military squad to covertly rendition Van Dammer from sovereign Danish territory, but Reed is no longer the docile star pupil and sneaks off with “his” team in a flying supercar he built when he was thirteen.

He’s going to get those codes out of his treacherous lab partner and have a normal life no matter the cost…

Unfortunately Victor is waiting for them with an horrific range of new powers, deadly weapons and an army of unwashed hippie slaves, but the manic control freak is totally unprepared for the fact that his deadly rival has powers too: a fact none of his death-bugs managed to convey before they were destroyed.

The conflict then spirals completely out of control when US Special Forces blaze in to snatch Van Damme and run slam-bang into an extremely ticked off Danish army a trifle upset by the illegal American incursion…

Rocket-paced, razor sharp and blisteringly action-packed, this riotous romp is also liberally dosed with teen-oriented humour for the era of the acceptable nerd and go-getting geek, delivering a sublimely enthralling alternate view of Marvel’s most important title that will impress open-minded old fans of the medium just as much as the newcomers they were ostensibly aiming for.
© 2005 and 2005 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars: 30th Anniversary Edition


By Jim Shooter, Mike Zeck, Bob Layton, John Beatty & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-589-5

Has it been thirty years? Cripes!: stir the Horlicks and break out the Zimmer frames…

The “maxi-series” which started the seemingly insatiable modern passion for vast, braided mega-crossover publishing events originally came about because of an impending action figures licensing deal with toy manufacturing monolith Mattel.

Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, a great advocate of tales accessible to new, younger readers as well as the dedicated fan-base, apparently concocted the rather simplistic but amazingly engaging saga starring the House of Ideas’ top characters as a result of urgings from a potential major licensor. He then built his tale around a torrent of unsolicited, inspirational mail from readers, all begging for one huge dust-up between all the heroes and villains…

The 12-issue Limited Series launched with a May 1984 cover-date and closed (April 1985) with a double-sized blockbusting battle that left many characters changed forever – or as least as “Forever” as comics get…

The premise of the secret saga was that an all-powerful force calling itself The Beyonder abducted an army of Earth heroes and villains – and the most dreaded destroyer in the universe – in its quest to understand the emotion of desire…

The enigmatic, almighty entity dumped them all on a colossal purpose-built Battleworld created from and populated with fragments of other planets as a vast arena in which to prove which was better – self-gratification or sacrifice…

In his introductory reminiscence ‘The War to End All Wars’, Shooter recounts the concatenation of circumstances which led to the creation of the series, after which an tantalising page clipped from the Daily Bugle outlines the mounting mystery of a seemingly unconnected legion of missing heroes before the furious Fights ‘n’ Tights epic opens…

As crafted by Shooter, Mike Zeck & John Beatty, ‘The War Begins’ found the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four, Magneto, the Hulk and utterly out-of-his-depth Spider-Man all teleported into the deep unknown to see a galaxy destroyed and a world constructed before their astounded eyes. This was achieved purely so that a cosmic force could determine which of two philosophies was correct.

Arrayed against them were Doctor Doom, Molecule Man, Ultron, Dr. Octopus, the Lizard, the Enchantress, Absorbing Man, Kang the Conqueror, the Wrecking Crew and Galactus, all of whom had no problem with a disembodied voice telling them “slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours”…

Whilst the villains instantly turn on each other, the Devourer of Worlds doesn’t care for the offer and attacks the disembodied force, only to be smashed casually and unceremoniously onto the brand new world below. The heroes too touch ground but dissent starts to split them into suspicious factions. The mere presence of mutant supremacist Magneto on their “team” divides the champions along human and mutant lines…

Elsewhere Doctor Doom tries to explain the underlying threat to his fellow villains in the huge super-scientific citadel they have commandeered, but the rogues refuse to listen.

Exasperated, the Monarch of Latveria decides to swallow his pride and consult with despised rival Mr. Fantastic but is blasted out of the skies by his greedy, treacherous companions before he finds the heroes’ camp. The bushwhackers then rashly go on to attack the gathered Good Guys… and The War begins…

‘Prisoners of War!’ sees the first of many pitched battles, but as the cataclysmic conflict proceeds, elsewhere Doom, having survived the sneak attack, is on site to see Galactus revive and ominously repair to a mountain top to begin his own unique response…

Leaving the cosmic glutton to his own devices, the Iron Tyrant returns to the fortress of evil; dubbing it Doombase as he reprograms the dormant AI Ultron to be his slave.

He is waiting when the thoroughly trounced malefactors limp home, having lost the Lizard, Enchantress, Kang and Thunderball, Bulldozer and Piledriver of the Wrecking Crew to the heroes.

The triumphant yet troubled victors have occupied their own city-sized futuristic castle-complex where, after imprisoning their captives, they soon return to bickering with each other. The suspicions of some human heroes quickly drives Magneto away – taking the Wasp as a hostage – but even as the remaining mutants begin to feel the weight of prejudice, bigger problems manifest.

As the rocky Thing unexpectedly reverts to merely mortal Ben Grimm, on his distant mountain top Galactus is preparing to consume Battleworld…

The suspense builds in ‘Tempest Without, Crisis Within!’

As the master of magnetism discusses a truce with the Wasp, in the hero citadel Spider-Man misconstrues an overheard conversation and accidentally sparks a schism between human and mutants.

Whilst the webslinger and Hulk remain with Reed Richards, The Thing, Human Torch, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man (unknown to all Jim Rhodes not Tony Stark), Hawkeye, Captain Marvel and She-Hulk, the much-aggrieved X-Men Storm, Cyclops, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Wolverine and diminutive space-dragon Lockheed follow increasingly doctrinaire Charles Xavier’s demands to separate from the assemblage and join Magneto…

Doom meanwhile has used his fortress’ alien technology to turn two mysteriously-arrived earth girls into super-powered allies. When his remaining forces attack the heroes at dawn, the power of Volcana and Titania tips the balance against the defenders, deprived as they are of the might of the now-missing mutants…

Thor too is gone. Having journeyed with the captive Enchantress to a pocket dimension – hoping to persuade her to switch sides – he returns too late to stop the felons freeing their comrades and crippling the Torch and Captain Marvel…

Bob Layton stepped in to pencil the next two chapters, beginning with ‘Situation: Hopeless!’ wherein the resurgent rogues move to end the war by having Molecule Man drop an entire mountain range on the already-reeling heroes. Trapped under 50 billion tons of rock – only barely held up by the Atlas-like Hulk – the heroes are rallied to hold on by Captain America whilst Reed and Iron Man devise a technological solution to their dilemma.

Outside, Thor’s unexpected return almost overwhelms the exultant evildoers, but he too is eventually destroyed…

As the dust settles, Doom kills the newly liberated Kang (for shooting him down as he flew to confer with Richards), blithely unaware that Thor has survived and escaped to rescue his buried comrades…

In another quadrant, as the X-Men arrive at Magneto’s bastion – giving the Wasp a chance to escape – the recently disinterred heroes find an alien village in the shadow of Galactus’ peak where a comely healer named Zsaji uses her empathic abilities to heal the battered, wounded warriors from Earth…

However even as Ben unpredictably becomes the Thing again, Galactus makes his next move…

Above the skies of Battleworld, the Devourer’s solar system sized starship materialises, signalling ‘The Battle of Four Armies!’ At Doombase meek, socially inept Molecule Man Owen Reece is starting to blossom under the romantic attentions of Marsha Rosenberg AKA Volcana and, after being teased and bullied by the Wrecking Crew, smashes them all and flies off to be alone with her.

Whilst Magneto and Xavier attempt to communicate with the disdainfully oblivious Galactus, the X-Men speed to assist the human heroes against an outlaw assault on Zsaji’s village. In the melee Colossus is gravely injured and only saved by the healer’s intervention.

For him it is true love at first sight…

Oblivious to the conflict Doom, meanwhile, has again accomplished the impossible and invaded Galactus’ ship…

Zeck returned for ‘A Little Death…’ in which the Wasp, frantically making her way back to her friends, encounters and befriends the savage, confused Lizard.

Thousand of miles above her, Doom’s explorations have led him to find and restore sonic scourge Klaw. The malign, sentient sound wave had been trapped in the system-ship for months but although reconstituted in a solid-vibrational body construct, the Master of Sound is completely crazy….

Xavier’s confrontational leadership style is causing contention amongst his students and Colossus is having his heart broken every time he sees Zsaji fawn and simper over the shallow, lustful – human – Torch…

As Captain America and the big brains strategise ways to stop Galactus, Cyclops, Wolverine and Rogue unexpectedly rout a pack of bad guys on a mission for Doom which leaves the nigh-omnipotent Molecule bleeding out. Elsewhere, however, the fates are less kind when the Wasp, still cosying up to the Lizard, is ambushed and murdered by the Wrecking Crew.

The primordial predator is unable to save her, but his vengeance is terrible to behold…

And back at the Healer’s village a new player is about to enter the fray…

‘Berserker!’ introduces a new Spider-Woman and reveals where Titania and Volcana came from. Whilst assembling his war world The Beyonder appropriated segments of many other planets, including an entire suburb of Denver, Colorado from Earth…

Before the enigmatic arachnid can explain further the Wreckers blaze in to dump the Wasp’s corpse and gloat, but the Star Spangled Avenger refuses to let his enraged comrades pursue the killers. He needs everyone to stay ready for the moment when Galactus starts to eat the planet and the billions of kidnapped innocents unhappily inhabiting it…

As the villains retreat with the wounded Molecule Man they are ambushed by the rest of the X-Men and Magneto, resulting in another savage yet inconclusive battle, whilst high above them all Doom continues to plunder Galactus’ home. When the World Eater finally notices him, the Master of Latveria is casually expelled and sent crashing like a bug to the planet below …

Back at Doombase She-Hulk, filled with righteous rage and ignoring Cap’s orders, attacks the amassed murderers alone. After a ferocious fight she eventually succumbs to their greater force and ruthless brutality…

So when Xavier informs the heroes that his mutants will stand guard over Galactus, the Sentinel of Liberty at last lets his enraged comrades loose to take on the killers and live up to the name “Avengers”…

She-Hulk is near death when ‘Invasion!’ (inked by Beatty & Jack Abel) opens, as the champions of justice thrash their enemies with great enthusiasm, especially the enigmatic new Spider-Woman. In the course of the spectacular melee, Spider-Man single-handedly beats the impossibly strong Titania and his costume is destroyed.

As they imprison the crushed criminals, Captain America finds Doom, slumped in defeat and despair. Whilst the triumphant heroes use matter-shaping machines to repair their clothing and uniforms, the Wall-crawler accidentally uses a different device and receives a new all-black costume similar to Spider-Woman’s…

His, however, can change shape, colour and design, is thought-activated and somehow produces an inexhaustible supply of webbing. In the days to come on Earth he will learn to deeply regret his error…

Back in the village Zsaji has pulled out all the stops and resurrected the seemingly dead Wasp, but any joy the victors might feel is instantly erased as Professor X broadcasts a desperate telepathic alarm: Galactus is at last beginning to consume the planet…

As the X-Men begin their ‘Assault on Galactus!’ the human heroes rush back to assist them, but Reed Richards – the greatest intellect on Earth – suddenly has a flash of insight and vanishes as the Devourer teleports him to a private conference.

At that moment Doom rouses himself from his despondent funk, having conceived a grand plan of his own to conquer both Galactus and The Beyonder, erasing forever the humiliation of his ignominious defeat…

Due in part to his discussion with Reed, the Cosmic Carnivore abandons Battleworld and instead absorbs his own system-ship…

In the confusion Doom makes his move, using a hastily constructed device to absorb all the omnipotent instigator’s power and deal out ‘Death to the Beyonder!’

Despite being all but incinerated in the struggle, the Iron Tyrant uses the stolen energies to rebuild himself and declare the Secret War over with Doom the sole victor…

In ‘…And Dust to Dust!’, having successfully stolen the Beyonder’s power, he exults in the joys of becoming omnipotent. However the troubled new god finds it hard to hang on to lust for conquest, or even personal ambition after achieving all-consuming divinity, and his benign acts and vapid indolence betray a certain lack of drive and ambition…

With heroes and villains nervously awaiting the new supreme one’s next move, events take a subtly disturbing turn as a strange energy wisp begins to possess a succession of heroes as it makes its way ever closer to the Doom Deity…

The other do-gooders remain deep in conference, debating their response to the self-proclaimed saviour of the universe. At the moment they finally decide to oppose him they are all vaporised by a bolt of energy…

Of course it doesn’t end there as the resurgent Beyonder battles through heroic and villainous proxies to reclaim his purloined power and put everything to rights – sort of – in the blockbusting finale ‘…Nothing to Fear!’

Although perhaps a little dated and rather straightforward – although peppered with plenty of convoluted and clever plot twists – this bombastic box of delights still reads exceedingly well (especially for younger readers) and this commemorative edition also includes a couple of added extras.

‘The Toys’ features many of the action figures, packaging and ads for all us kids to salivate over and the whole show concludes with scholarly overview ‘The Birth and Legacy of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars’ which rounds off the cosmic nostalgia-fest by discussing the secret origins of mega-crossovers from crucial prototype Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions to a few of the more memorable descendants such as Civil War, Age of Ultron and Infinity

Fast-paced, pretty-looking and impressively action-packed, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars was – and still is – sheer comicbook magic that no true aficionado of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction can do without.

™ & © 1984, 1985, and 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Essential Fantastic Four volume 7


By Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Ross Andru, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3063-5

By this seventh collection of tales from “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” the Fantastic Four had settled into a kind of comfortable stylistic nostalgia, although the stories – no longer fuelled by Jack Kirby’s staggeringly inventive imagination and High-Concept conveyor belt of mind-bending ideas – maintained the new taste for urbane melodrama and topically-tinged new characters all wrapped up in soap-opera methodology, science fictive social speculation and super-villain-dominated Fights ‘n’ Tights romps.

It wasn’t Stan and Jack but it stood up on its own terms…

This volume covers Fantastic Four #138-159 (June 1971- August 1973) and includes FF material from Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 and Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2-4 as well as the other half of a rather significant crossover tale from Avengers #127.

In the previous collection the never-ending stress was forcing Sue Richards apart from her husband and Inhuman warrior-princess Medusa had taken her place in the team whilst the Invisible Girl (as she still was) cared for son Franklin, now a toddler with strange, undiagnosed cosmic powers and problems…

Mr. Fantastic was not taking the trial separation well and issue #138 saw him left behind in an increasingly disturbed depressive state when old comrade Wyatt Wingfoot came looking for assistance against impossible, unimaginable disasters.

Madness is… The Miracle Man’ by Gerry Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott began a period when rocky everyman Ben Grimm became the de facto star of the Fantastic Four and here he, the Torch and Medusa travelled to Wingfoot’s tribal lands to battle the former hypnotist they had first seen in their third adventure.

Now, however, thanks to the charlatan’s subsequent studies under ghostly Cheemuzwa medicine men, the maniac actually could alter reality with a thought…

The battle concluded in the next issue wherein ‘Target: Tomorrow!’ saw the villain who could control matter but not himself spiralled frantically out of control with our heroes struggling indomitably on until the Miracle Man made a fatal error…

Reed’s travails took a darkerturn in Fantastic Four # 140 as ‘Annihilus Revealed!’ found the insectoid Negative Zone tyrant kidnapping the ever more powerful Franklin and invading the Baxter Building in search of new worlds to ravage. In triumph the bug horror disclosed his incredible origin to the helpless Wingfoot before dragging all his enemies back to his subspace hell to engineer ‘The End of the Fantastic Four!’

And as the heroes languished in the Negative Zone, on Earth Ben’s girlfriend Alicia was lured to the Balkans by another arch enemy…

However, even though the beaten heroes counterattacked and gained an unlikely victory, Annihilus’ prior tampering with Franklin had triggered a cosmic catastrophe. As the boy’s limitless power began to spiral out of control, his tormented father was compelled to blast the boy, shutting down his mutant brain and everything else.

Appalled at the callous cold calculations needed to put his own son into a coma, Johnny and Ben joined Sue in deserting the grief-stricken Mr. Fantastic and declaring their heroic partnership defunct…

With only ruthlessly pragmatic Medusa remaining, FF #142 saw the shell-shocked Richards with ‘No Friend Beside Him!’ (by Conway & new artist Rich Buckler – whose faithful pastiche of Jack Kirby under Sinnott inking produced a wave of favourable nostalgia in fans then and now) whilst the Thing followed Alicia to Europe.

Here they were attacked by a sinister supernatural horror named Darkoth the Death-Demon even as Johnny and Wyatt headed for Metro College to see their old sports coach Sam Thorne on his way to an Alumni reunion.

Reed was another attendee, despondently dragged there by Medusa, but nobody expected that weird foreign kid who had been expelled so long ago to turn up, leading to ‘The Terrible Triumph of Doctor Doom!’ (Conway, Buckler & Frank Giacoia)…

The Mad Monarch was never one to forgive a slight, real or imagined, and as he gloatingly revealed himself to be the creator of Darkoth and jailer of the Thing he also boasted to his captives of his latest scheme to eradicate human free will.

Typically, though, the Iron Dictator hadn’t considered how his death-demon might react to the news that he was an artificial puppet and the monster’s ‘Attack!’ (#144 with Buckler & Sinnott art) resulted in a cataclysmic clash and Doom’s defeat…

Back together but still disunited, the FF again parted company in #145, as the Torch then accompanied Medusa on a visit to Attilan – the hidden city of the Inhumans – only to be brought down by a lost race of ice people to endure a ‘Nightmare in the Snow!’ (art by Ross Andru & Sinnott).

The snow troglodytes’ plans to turn the world into an ice-ball only they could inhabit went bizarrely awry when the Thing joined the crashed heroes and a dissident faction trained by a Buddhist monk pitched in, leading to a happy ending all round in the concluding ‘Doomsday: 200° Below!’

This was period of great experimentation and expansion at Marvel and Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 (May 1974) launched as a forerunner in a line of supplementary double-sized titles starring the company’s most popular stars.

In this initial exploratory outing – the title became Giant-Size Fantastic Four with the next quarterly issue – Conway, Buckler & Sinnott crafted ‘The Mind of the Monster!’: a blockbusting battle team-up as Bruce Banner came calling, still seeking a cure for his mean green alter ego and the sympathetic and occasionally self-loathing Thing foolishly let him play with one of Reed’s devices…

Unfortunately their mutual meddling with the Psi-Amplifier only switched their minds leaving the Rampaging Hulk trapped and running amok in the Thing’s body whilst Ben/Hulk struggled to stop him.

The situation worsened when trans-dimensional Femizon Thundra pitched in, mistakenly believing she was helping her main squeeze Ben battle a big green monster, and the violence intensified when Reed, Johnny and Medusa got involved in  ‘Someone’s Been Sleeping in My Head’

Of course in the end it took everybody and a cunning plan to set the world to rights in the spectacular conclusion ‘…And in This Corner: the Incredible Hulk’

Fantastic Four #147 continued the action-tinged melodrama with ‘The Sub-Mariner Strikes!’ (Conway, Buckler & Sinnott) as Sue started divorce proceedings whilst taking comfort from long-time stalker Prince Namor.

When Reed, Johnny and Ben tried to “rescue” her, the Atlantean thrashed them and she sent them packing…

To add insult to injury the dejected men returned home to find the Baxter Building invaded by the Frightful Four and were forced to fight a ‘War on the Thirty-Sixth Floor!’ Sadly for The Sandman, Wizard and Trapster they had no idea their newest ally Thundra was smitten with the Thing…

Issue #149 then resolved the Sub-Mariner storyline as the undersea emperor invaded New York in ‘To Love, Honour, and Destroy!’, but his awesome attack was only a cunning plan to trick Sue into reconciling with her husband…

Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2 then revealed a time-twisting ‘Cataclysm!’ courtesy of Conway, John Buscema & Chic Stone wherein cosmic voyeur The Watcher warned of a hapless innocent who had inadvertently altered history thanks to Dr. Doom’s confiscated time machine. Moreover the imposing extraterrestrial expected the FF to fix the problem…

With more than one temporal hot-spot, Reed and Johnny headed for Colonial America to rescue the Father of the Nation in ‘George Washington Almost Slept Here!’ whilst Ben and Medusa crashed into the “Roaring Twenties” and saved the time-lost wanderer from being rubbed out in ‘The Great Grimmsby’

Thinking their mission accomplished the heroes were astounded to then find themselves trapped in timeless Limbo battling a monstrous giant dubbed Tempus before escaping to their restored origin point in ‘Time Enough for Death!’

For months Johnny had been fretting that his first true love Crystal had decided to marry super-swift mutant Quicksilver but that plot-thread finally closed with a 2-part crossover tale that began in Avengers #127 as ‘Bride and Doom!’ (by Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema & Joe Staton) saw the Assemblers travel to the hidden homeland of the Inhumans for the marriage of the aforementioned Pietro to elemental enchantress and Royal Princess only to stumble into a uprising of the genetic slave-race known as Alpha Primitives.

Once again the sinister robotic colossus Omega had incited revolt but this time it wasn’t insane usurper Maximus behind the skulduggery but an old Avengers enemy who revealed himself in the concluding chapter in Fantastic Four #150.

Here ‘Ultron-7: He’ll Rule the World!’ ( Conway, Buckler & Sinnott) found both hero squads join Black Bolt’s Inhumans against the malign A.I and only saved by a veritable Deus ex Machina after which, at long last, ‘The Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver’ finally ended events on a happy note… for everybody but the Torch.

FF #151 then began revealing the truth about the mysterious Femizon as ‘Thundra and Lightning!’ introduced the male-dominated alternate Future Earth dubbed Machus and its brutal despot Mahkizmo, the Nuclear Man, who explosively invaded the Baxter Building in search of a mate to dominate and a new world to conquer…

Inked by Jim Mooney #152 revealed ‘A World of Madness Made!’ as the team were held captive in the testosterone dimension whilst Medusa seemingly fled, but actually sought reinforcements from the diametrically-opposed Femizon future alternity, resulting in two universes crashing together in the concluding ‘Worlds in Collision!’ by Tony Isabella, Buckler & Sinnott.

Reworked by Len Wein, Fantastic Four #154 featured ‘The Man in the Mystery Mask!’ – a partial reprint from Strange Tales#127 in which Stan Lee, Dick Ayers & Paul Reinman pitted Ben and Johnny against ‘The Mystery Villain!’.

Here, however, Bob Brown, Giacoia & Mike Esposito found that Reed’s early lesson in leadership had been hijacked by another old friend with explosive and annoying results…

The next extra-special adventure in Giant-Size Fantastic Four #3 revealed ‘Where Lurks Death …Ride the Four Horsemen!’ as Conway, Marv Wolfman, Buckler & Sinnott described the invasion of cosmic aliens intent on scourging the Earth. Forewarned after the team battled the first horror in ‘…There Shall Come Pestilence’, the harried heroes split up with Medusa and Johnny striving against international madness in ‘…And War Shall Take the Land!’ whilst Reed and Ben strove to conquer the personification of Famine in ‘…And the Children Shall Hunger!’, before all reuniting to wrap up the final invader in‘…All in the Valley of Death!’

A minor classic followed in Fantastic Four #155-157 as the long dormant Silver Surfer resurfaced in ‘Battle Royal!’ (by Wein, Buckler & Sinnott), apparently a murderous and willing thrall of Doctor Doom.

The dictator could command the Shining Skyrider because he held the alien’s lover Shalla Bal – had indeed threatened to take her in marriage – but as seen in ‘Middle Game!’ (with Roy Thomas joining as co-writer and Editor) the Surfer could not kill and merely delivered the FF as prisoners to the Devil Doctor’s citadel.

However there were schemes within schemes unfolding and Doom was playing a waiting game whilst he covertly stole the Skyrider’s Power Cosmic to fuel a deadly Doomsman mechanoid…

With Thomas in full authorial control ‘And Now… the Endgame Cometh!’ saw the heroes fight back to conquer the Lethal Latverian, but all were blithely unaware that the entire charade had been a crafty confection of malign and manipulative demon Mephisto

Meanwhile over in Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4 Wein, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Chic Stone & Sinnott united to introduce ‘Madrox the Multiple Man’, a young mutant who had grown up on an isolated farm unaware of the incredible power he possessed.

When his parents passed away the kid was inexplicably drawn to New York but the hi-tech suit he wore to contain his condition began to malfunction and the boy became a mobile fission device that could endlessly, lethally replicate itself…

Thankfully the FF were aided by mutant Moses Charles Xavier who took young Jamie under his wing…

This formidable high tension Fights ‘n’ Tights tome terminates with another nostalgia-tinged 2-part epic which began in FF #158’s ‘Invasion from the 5th (Count it, 5th!) Dimension’ by Thomas, Buckler & Sinnott, wherein one of the Torch’s earliest solo scourges returned to occupy the land of the Inhumans.

Extra-dimensional dictator Xemu began his campaign of vengeance by dispatching Quicksilver to lure Medusa back to Attilan. The intention was to make the defiant Black Bolt utilise his doomsday sonic power on the invader’s behalf, but the conqueror needed the silent king’s beloved as a bargaining chip.

However, when the FF accompanied her into the obvious trap, they brought a hidden ally who unobtrusively turned the tables on Xemu, unleashing ‘Havoc in the Hidden Land!’ and thereby at last reuniting the First Family of comicbook fiction…

This power-packed package also includes unused cover versions for Fantastic Four #141, 155 and 156 to add to the overall Costumed Drama and delight fans everywhere.

Although Kirby had taken the unmatched imagination and questing sense of wonder with him on his departure, the sheer range of beloved characters and concepts he had created with Stan Lee carried the series for years afterwards. So once writers who shared the originators’ sensibilities were crafting the stories a mini-renaissance began…

Although the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” didn’t quite return to the stratospheric heights of yore, this period offered fans a tantalising taste of the glory days and these solid, honest and intriguing efforts are probably most welcome to dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but will still thrill and enthral the generous and forgiving casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 1973, 1973, 1973, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Secret Invasion Fantastic Four


By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Barry Kitson (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851

Since Fantastic Four #2 (cover-dated January 1961) the Skrulls have been a pernicious cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. After decades of use and misuse, the insidious intergalactic infiltrators were finally made the stars of a colossal braided mega-crossover event beginning in April 2008 and running through all the company’s titles until Christmas.

The premise of Secret Invasion was simple: the former all-encompassing empire had been crippled and scourged by a devastating catastrophe which destroyed much of their power, and the race subsequently underwent a mass fundamentalist religious conversion. They became utterly resolved and dedicated to make Earth their new homeworld – just as their ancient scriptures foretold…

To this end they gradually replaced a number of key Earth denizens – most notably superheroes and villains. When the plot was first uncovered no defender of the Earth truly knew who was on their side…

Moreover the Skrulls had also unravelled the secrets of Earth magic and humanity’s unique genetics, creating amped-up equivalents to Earth’s mightiest heroes and villains. During this period they hid amongst us, primed, able and waiting to destroy the world’s champions in head-to-head confrontations.

Not all Skrulls were fanatics however. Earth also harboured a few dissidents opposed to the new regime or non-fanatics simply unwilling to get properly involved, and one of them became the unlikely star of the 3-issue Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four (July-September 2008) which makes up the premiere half of this tantalising tome. The rest of the book collects a triptych of her earlier appearances from Fantastic Four #300 and #357-358 (March 1987 and October-November 1991)…

Scripted by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, pencilled by Barry Kitson and inked by Mick Gray, Scott Hanna, Paul Neary & Kitson, the main event opens with ‘No One gets Out Alive!’ and sees Invisible Woman Susan Richards ambushed at a most intimate moment and replaced by a sinister Skrull. A little later “she” calmly walks into the team’s top security home/HQ and catapults the entire top of the building into the eerie sub-space Negative Zone, trapping The Thing, Human Torch and the children Franklin and Valeria in an inescapable dimension of horror…

Stuck without their genius leader, Ben and Johnny are stuck trying to fend off the horrific, invasive beasts of the realm as at length “Sue” reveals herself to be Lyja – the Skrull agent Johnny once unwittingly married…

The drama continues as, after initial frantic and unresolved-issue fuelled combat Johnny and Lyja enjoy a sort of rapprochement and determine to join forces to bring everyone out of the Negative Zone. Linking up with Ben and the most formidable little kids in comics, the makeshift family battle their way across the ghastly inner cosmos to one of Reed Richards’ ongoing experiments – a super-penitentiary for super-criminals too dangerous for incarceration on Earth – to find an evil super-genius willing to help them return to save the world from the imminent and possibly already ongoing Secret Invasion…

Fun, frolicsome, action-packed and delightfully entertaining, this slight but charming family furore is counterbalanced with a selection of earlier Lyja appearances beginning with ‘Dearly Beloved…’ (Fantastic Four #300 by Roger Stern, John & Sal Buscema), wherein the Thing returned to Earth after an extended stay in outer space to find his best friend the Torch about to marry his old girlfriend Alicia Masters

After understandable friction and some fist-flinging Grimm sadly accepted the situation and even stood up as Best Man for his pal, but only Alicia’s evil step-father The Puppet Master had any suspicion at the true nature of events…

After a further 50-odd issues of wedded bliss the truth was shockingly revealed in FF #357 with Tom DeFalco, Paul Ryan & Danny Bulanadi’s ‘The Monster Among Us!’ as Puppet Master linked up with manic mentalist Mad Thinker and inadvertently forced Mrs. Storm to reveal her true nature…

This prompted the Fantastic Four to stage a rescue bid into Skrull Space to discover ‘Whatever Happened to Alicia?!’ in the concluding #358…

Heading into deadly danger the team encountered a new major menace in the super-augmented Paibok the Power Skrull but were mercifully aided by his old inamorata Lyja, who had gone native, professing to now love her human husband…

She even claimed to be carrying Johnny’s baby…

With covers by Alan Davis & Mark Farmer, Mike McKone, John & Sal Buscema, Paul Ryan & Danny Bulanadi and despite the cliff-hanging nature of the extra material, Secret Invasion Fantastic Four is a smart and slickly engaging Fights ‘n’ Tights romp that will meet every fan’s ecstatic approval.
© 1987, 1991, 2008, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four: First Family


By Joe Casey, Chris Weston & Gary Erskine (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1703-2

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 a family than a team, the roster has changed many times over the years but always eventually returns to the  original configuration of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Thing and the Human Torch, 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, non-governmental 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 sense of adventure.

However, after decades of erratic quality and floundering plotlines following the original creators’ departures, Marvel’s First Family began a steady climb in quality at the beginning of the 21st century which culminated in their own blockbuster film franchise.

To augment the increased casual interest, in 2006 a canny, edgy retelling of the team’s earliest days was produced as a 6-issue miniseries by scripter Joe Casey and illustrators Chris Weston & Gary Erskine, re-examining the quartet’s coming to terms with their new status in terms far more in keeping with the cynical, jaded 21st century…

It opens with ‘There’s Was a Crash…’ as USAF General Walter Montgomery is called to a top secret military installation where four survivors of a fallen space-shot are being held. They were human once but have been hideously mutated by Cosmic radiation.…

The boy keeps bursting into flames, whilst his older sister is totally transparent. The pilot has become a rock-like atrocity and the General’s old friend Dr. Richards has been reduced to a catatonic mound of shapeless flesh.

His coma has nothing to do with the accident however. The scientist is locked into a cerebral mindscape where he is being lectured to by a fifth cosmic ray survivor…

The entity is explaining some facts of life. The facility they are in is a Air Force base designed to hold a variety of cosmically mutated humans. This is not the Government’s first Rodeo…

In ‘Late-Night Creeping’ Sue Storm surreptitiously escapes her cell to check on her companions, but boyfriend Reed is still beyond reach inside his own head. Dr. Franz Stahl is currently explaining to him that a fallen meteor supercharged with C-radiation has been transforming humans under USAF supervision for months and his own forced evolution is the most significant result.

Seeing Richards as a kindred spirit, the mind-ghost shares his radical theories of evolutionary dominance with his fellow future man but Richards remains unconvinced…

‘The Afterburn’ sees Ben Grimm’s fiancée run screaming from him and prompting a minor riot, allowing Stahl to take matters into his own psychic hands and instigate a further distracting crisis. Provoking one of his fellow monstrous transformees to go on a ‘Cosmic Ray Rampage’, the doctor escapes whilst the super-powered quartet gamely assist the soldiers in stopping the unholy horror.

In return Montgomery agrees to release the four on their own recognizance with assurances of Federal backing…

‘Remember the Alamo’ occurs just after the events of Fantastic Four #1, beginning when the heroes escape the atomic destruction of Mole Man’s Monster Island. Reed later briefs Montgomery and they plan to formalise the team. However, Reed is still being regularly mentally shanghaied by Stahl, whose agenda to improve humanity begins with the culling of his own far-too mundane family in ‘Domestic Disturbance’

Ben then heads for a disastrous drink in his old neighbourhood in ‘The Homecoming Dance’ even as Johnny, Reed and Sue all realise that their old “normal” lives are forever denied them.

A Mole Man monster resurfaces in New York ready for ‘Round Two’ and Franz again tries to convince the elastic hero to aid his plan to forcibly fix mankind, but Sue begins to worry that her man has lost all interest in a normal domestic future…

After General Montgomery sets up the four in a fabulous new, government funded HQ – The Baxter Building – the outcasts quickly begin to fall apart in ‘The Ties That Bind’ and no one is available when Stahl invades the Air Force’s secret Cosmic facility in ‘Evolutionary Modern’, intent on taking the life-warping meteor

In ‘Cold, Hard…’ Sue, Johnny and Ben discuss Reed’s distraction and underhandedness whilst the subject of their grievances has opted to tackle Franz in ‘Alone + Easy Target’

As they rush to save him, Reed is locked in psychic combat with Stahl, who has used the meteor to mutate the base personnel into a legion of monsters and has begun his ‘Extinction Event’ for humanity. The battered hero is losing however until his erstwhile cosmic comrades fight their way in and are pulled into the mental arena of ‘Signs and Salvation’ to happily tip the balance…

The titanic battle ends with a ‘Mind’s Eye Open’ leaving the four closer than ever and set upon together ‘Finding Destiny’

Dark, grimly post-modern and disregarded by many purists, First Family nevertheless offers a compelling rationalisation of epochal events from simpler times framed in the context of a more cynical century and certainly inviting to fans of a more grounded, less optimistic society. It’s also a pretty good yarn for open-minded fans who love the baroque theatrics of modern superhero stories.
© 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ultimate Fantastic Four volume 1: The Fantastic


By Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Adam Kubert, Danny Miki, John Dell & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1393-5

After Marvel’s financial – and indeed creative – problems in the late 1990s, the company came back swinging. A key new concept was the remodelling and modernising of their core characters for the new youth culture. The Ultimate imprint abandoned monumental continuity – which had always been Marvel’s greatest asset – to re-imagine major characters in their own self-sufficient universe, offering varying degrees of radical makeover to appeal to the supposed contemporary 21st century audience and a chance to get in on the ground floor.

Peter Parker was once again a nerdy high-school geek, brilliant but bullied by his physical superiors, and mutants were a dangerous, oppressed ethic minority scaring the pants off the ordinary Americans they hid amongst. There were also fresh and fashionable, modernistic, scientifically feasible rationales for all those insane super-abilities manifesting everywhere…

The experiment began in 2000 with a post-modern take on Ultimate Spider-Man with Ultimate X-Men following in 2001 and Avengers retread The Ultimates in 2002.

The stories, design and even tone of the heroes were retooled for the perceived-as-different tastes of a new readership: those tired of or unwilling to stick with precepts originated by inspirational founding fathers Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, or (hopefully) new consumers unprepared or unwilling to deal with five decades (seven if you include Golden Age Timely tales retroactively co-opted into the mix) of continuity baggage.

The new universe prospered and soon filled up with more reinterpreted, morally ambiguous heroes and villains and eventually even this darkly nihilistic new universe became as continuity-constricted as its ancestor. In 2008 the cleansing event “Ultimatum” culminated in a reign of terror which excised dozens of superhumans and millions of lesser mortals in a devastating tsunami which inundated Manhattan, courtesy of mutant menace Magneto.

This volume collects Ultimate Fantastic Four #1-6 (February to July 2004), the fourth pillar of Marvel’s radical new edifice; more tweaked than reconceived by writers Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Millar, and illustrated in a lush, painterly manner by artists Adam Kubert, Danny Miki, John Dell and digital-colourist Dave Stewart.

The biggest change to the concept was a rather telling one: all four heroes were far younger than their mainstream antecedents…

Whereas in the original, middle-aged maverick genius Reed Richards, trusty friend Ben Grimm, sort-of girlfriend Sue Storm and her younger brother Johnny survived a privately-funded space-shot which foundered when Cosmic Rays penetrated their vessel’s inadequate shielding and mutated the quartet into quirky freaks, here events transpired rather differently…

The saga opens with telling snapshots from the unpleasant life of infant prodigy Reed: a lonely super-genius increasingly despised by his abusive blue-collar dad, bullied at school and obsessed with other dimensions. His only friend is classmate sports star Ben Grimm, who has unaccountably appointed himself the uber-nerd’s protector…

Reed’s life changes on the day his High School science project – teleportation – catches the eye of a clandestine government talent scout from a high powered think tank. He’s offered a place at a New York facility for budding geniuses and Reed’s dad couldn’t be happier to be rid of him – especially as the school pays parents for the privilege of educating their odd, smart kids…

The Baxter Building was a wonderland of top-flight resources, intellectual challenges and guarded support, but it was still a school and the kids were expected to produce results…

The ideas factory is run by brilliant Professor Storm and, although the administrator’s son Johnny was there mostly as a courtesy, Storm’s daughter Sue is one of the biggest young brains on Earth… and pretty too…

Reed’s teleportation researches were only a necessary preliminary to his greater goal. The boy had long posited – and now proved – the existence of a strange sub-dimension – a place the Baxter scientists call the Negative Zone – and with their aid the next five years were largely spent in trying to fully access it.

Regular studies continued too, with a few casualties. Some burn out like young Phineas Mason but creepy, arrogant, insular Victor Van Damme, after a particularly galling incident with Reed, somehow manages to swallow his animosity. Soon they are working together to crack the dimension calculations…

The tutors also walk psychologically fine lines. One such is creepy aberrant Dr. Arthur Molekevic, whose constant barracking of the not-overachieving-enough young boffins leads to a breakdown, unsanctioned experiments with artificial life and eventual expulsion by the military brass who actually run the establishment…

Jumping to now, 21-year-old Reed and his fractious lab partner Victor are in Nevada for the first full test of the N-Zone teleport system, with the Storms along for the ride. As the army technicians count down, Van Damme is still kvetching about the final hotly-contested calculations, but Richards is doubly distracted.

Firstly, young backpacker Ben Grimm has just wandered into camp to see his old sidekick after more than a decade apart, but most importantly snotty teen Johnny has just revealed that sister Sue has the hots for the obsessed and diffident Reed…

The test firing is a literal catastrophe.

The site is devastated in a shattering release of energy and Reed awakens some distance away as an amorphous blob of eerily boneless flesh, mistaken by the soldiers for an extra-dimensional invader.

In Mexico, Ben awakens to find he’s become a huge rocky orange monster, and Johnny eventually calls in from a hospital bed in France. He keeps catching on fire without ever burning himself…

Sue has just vanished without a trace…

Eventually gaining control of his limbs and the acceptance of the grown-ups, Reed discovers Victor had changed the settings just before the test, but now he can’t be found either…

Susan regains consciousness in a strange place with a familiar and unwelcome companion. Arthur Molekevic has become an actual Mole Man, re-populating ancient, previously inhabited colossal caverns 1.4 miles beneath New York with a selection of his dish-grown monsters and homunculi. Somehow she had materialised right at his scurvy, sweaty feet…

The rapidly reunited Reed and Johnny are joined by the tragically incredulous Ben at the BaxterBuilding and begin to learn how to control their incredibly altered states, even as the unctuous, unpleasantly foetid Mole Man is exploring his unwilling guest’s newfound and unwanted ability to bend light rays.

The unsavoury savant postulates that somehow the quartet had been projected through N-Space, utterly unprotected from whatever transformative energies and unknown physical laws might apply there, and their new gifts and appearances are the result.

The madman’s knowledge of current affairs above ground is easily explained. Ever since his ignominious dismissal – after which he had retreated to these mysterious subterranean vaults – he has kept an unceasing eye on his former pupils by tapping into every camera and computer feed in the BaxterBuilding…

He also reveals that he loves Sue and that she actually rematerialised three miles from Vegas, but his faithful creatures carried her all the way back to him. Moreover, as a gesture of his sincere affection, he has despatched one of his most gargantuan creatures due up to fetch her beloved brother…

On the surface when the monster erupts out of the ground, Johnny’s biggest worry is that it might be Sue, but soon he, Reed and Ben have soundly defeated it, despite being complete neophytes with their powers. Instead of receiving grateful thanks they are summarily attacked by the Army who accuse them of being rogue mutants…

Whilst Dr. Storm tries to placate the terrified soldiery, Reed talks his new comrades into jumping into the mile deep hole and finding out where the beast came from… straight into a cataclysmic clash with their old teacher and his apparently unlimited legions…

With a cover gallery by Bryan Hitch and Kubert plus design sketches by Hitch, this smart, fast, action-packed and brimful of teen-oriented humour for the era of the acceptable nerd and go-getting geek offers a solid alternate view of Marvel’s most important title that will impress open-minded old fans of the medium just as much as the newcomers they were ostensibly aiming for.
© 2004 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Essential Marvel Two-in-One volume 2


By Marv Wolfman, Jim Starlin, Tom DeFalco, John Byrne, Peter Gillis, Bill Mantlo, Alan Kupperberg, Mary Jo Duffy, Steven Grant, Ron Wilson, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Frank Miller & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1729-2

Innovation isn’t everything. As Marvel slowly grew to a position of dominance in the wake of losing their two most inspirational creators, they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding and exploiting proven concepts and properties.

The only real exception to this was the en masse creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

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

Although confident in their new title, they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch. In those long-lost days editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline they may well have been right.

Nevertheless, after the runaway success of Spider-Man’s Marvel Team-Up the House of Ideas carried on the trend 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 team-up title, of which this second economical, eclectic monochrome compendium gathers together the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #26-52 plus Annual’s #2 and 3, covering April 1977- June 1979.

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

Here the tactic begins with busy bombast in ‘The Fixer and Mentallo are Back and the World will Never be the Same!’ (illustrated by Ron Wilson & Pablo Marcos) which unites Ben with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. battling a brace of conniving bad guys trying to steal killer-cyborg-from-an-alternate-future Deathlok .

The heroes spectacularly failed and the artificial assassin then co-featured in #27 as ‘Day of the Demolisher!’ found the now-reprogrammed killer targeting new US President Jimmy Carter. This time Big Ben had an alien ace up his sleeve and the hit failed…

The tempestuous Sub-Mariner shared the watery limelight in #28 as the Thing and his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters ferried the deactivated Deathlok to a London-based boffin. When they were shot down in mid-Atlantic by a mutated fish-man, Ben was forced to fight against and beside Namor whilst Alicia languished ‘In the Power of the Piranha!’ (with John Tartaglione inks).

Master of Kung Fu Shang-Chi then stepped in as Ben and Alicia finally landed in London. ‘Two Against Hydra’ (Sam Grainger inks) saw aforementioned expert Professor Kort snatched by the sinister secret society before the Thing could consult him: the savant’s knowledge being crucial to Hydra’s attempts to revive their newest living weapon…

As part of Marvel’s obsessive ongoing urge to protect their trademarks, a number of their top male characters had been spun off into female iterations. Thus at the end of 1976 Ms. Marvel debuted (with a January 1977 cover-date), She-Hulk arrived at the end of 1979 (Savage She-Hulk #1 February 1980) and Jessica Drew premiered in Marvel Spotlight #32 a mere month after Ms. Marvel as The Spider-Woman

Her next appearance in Marvel Two-In-One #29 (July 1977) began an extended six-chapter saga which was designed as a promotional lead-in to her own series and ‘Battle Atop Big Ben!’ in #30 (by Wolfman, John Buscema & Marcos) saw her logo beside the Thing’s as she struggled to be free of her Hydra controllers, even as a couple of thieves embroiled Ben and Alicia in a complex and arcane robbery scheme involving a strange chest buried under Westminster Abbey.

Although the Arachnid Dark Angel was unable to kill Ben she did kidnap Alicia, who became ‘My Sweetheart… My Killer!’ (#31 by Wilson & Grainger) once Kort and Hydra transformed the helpless waif into a spidery monster. In #32’s ‘And Only the Invisible Girl Can Save us Now!’ (Marcos inks) Sue Storm joined the repentant Spider-Woman and distraught Thing in battling/curing the out-of-control Alicia whilst those two robbers continued their long-term campaign of acquisition and accidentally awoke a quartet of ancient elemental horrors.

It took the Arthurian sorcerer Modred the Mystic to help Spider-Woman and Ben triumph over the monsters in the concluding ‘From Stonehenge… With Death!’ before a semblance of normality was restored…

Back to business as usual in Marvel Two-In-One #34, Ben and sky-soaring Defender Nighthawk tackled a revivified and cruelly misunderstood alien freed from an antediluvian cocoon in ‘A Monster Walks Among Us!’ (Wolfman, Wilson & Marcos) before Ernie Chan stepped in to illustrate a 2-part wrap-up to one of Marvel’s recently folded series.

Issue # 35 saw the Thing dispatched by the Air Force through a time-portal in the Bermuda Triangle to a fantastic world of dinosaurs, robots, dinosaurs, E.T.’s and dinosaurs as ‘Enter: Skull the Slayer and Exit: The Thing’ detailed the short history and imminent deaths of a group of modern Americans trapped in a bizarre time-lost land.

Marooned in the past it took the intervention of best buddy Mister Fantastic to retrieve Ben and his new friends in #36’s ‘A Stretch in Time…’

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 then provided the second half of a landmark story, by Jim Starlin & Joe Rubinstein, which completed a tale which began in Avengers Annual #7 (not included here).

In that missing episode, the World’s Mightiest Superheroes in combination with Captain Marvel and cosmic wanderer Adam Warlock had forestalled a massed alien assault and prevented the Dark Titan Thanos from destroying the Sun – but only at the cost of Warlock’s life.

Now, in ‘Death Watch!’, Peter Parker was plagued by prophetic nightmares, revealing how the Titan had snatched victory from defeat and now held the Avengers captive whilst he again prepared to extinguish Sol.

With nowhere else to turn, Spider-Man headed for the BaxterBuilding,  hoping to borrow a spacecraft, unaware that the Thing also had history with the terrifying, death-obsessed Titan.

Although utterly overmatched, the unlikely champions of Life upset Thanos’ plans enough that the Avengers’ and the Universe’s true agent of retribution was able to end the threat forever – or at least until next time…

Marvel Two-In-One’s apparent function as a clearing-house for old, unresolved series and plot-lines was then put on hold for awhile as issue #37 teamed Ben with Matt Murdock (alter ego of Daredevil) for ‘Game Point!’ (Wolfman, Wilson & Marcos).

Ben had been framed for monstrous acts of wanton destruction, and when the case went badly he faced decades in jail. However, DD and a strange street punk dubbed “Eugene the Kid” determined that the Mad Thinker was behind the plot to place the ‘Thing Behind Prison Bars’ (by Roger Slifer, Wilson & Jim Mooney) and tackled the maniac whose ultimate game plan was to corner the future and mass-produce his own android Avenger in #39’s ‘The Vision Gambit’ (with inks by Marcos).

Slifer, Tom DeFalco, Wilson & Marcos then detailed a spooky international yarn as the Black Panther became involved in a monstrous reign of terror: a zombie-vampire stalking the streets and abducting prominent African Americans. The concluding part – ‘Voodoo and Valor!’ (David Kraft, Wilson & Marcos) – saw Jericho Drumm (AKA Brother Voodoo) volunteer his extremely specialised services to Ben and T’Challa, in hopes of ending the crisis…

The trail took the heroes to Uganda for a confrontation with Doctor Spectrum and the far more dangerous real-world crazy killer Idi Amin

Marvel Two-In-One #42 then introduced a mainstay of the Marvel Universe as Project Pegasus debuted in ‘Entropy, Entropy’ by Ralph Macchio, Sal Buscema, Alfredo Alcala & Sam Grainger

The Federal research station designated the Potential Energy Group/Alternate Sources/United States was dedicated to investigating alternative power sources and soon became the most sensible place to dump energy-wielding super-baddies once they were subdued.

Ben found and started trashing the place whilst tracking down his educationally- and emotionally-challenged ward Wundarr who had been renditioned by the Government, only to be contained by Captain America in his role as security advisor. They were only just in time to stumble over a sabotage scheme by martial maniac Victorius who unleashed a deadly new threat in the ghostly form of Jude, the Entropic Man

This phantasmic force easily trounced Cap and Ben but found the macabre Man-Thing a little bit harder to handle in the concluding episode ‘The Day the World Winds Down’ (Macchio, John Byrne – & Friends – & Bruce Patterson)…

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #3 then offered an old-fashioned, great big world-breaking blockbuster in which Nova the Human Rocket battled beside the Thing to free captive alien princesses and save the Earth from gigantic cosmos-marauding space invaders a simple yet entertaining tussle entitled ‘When Strike the Monitors!’ carefully crafted by Wolfman, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt.

Back in the monthly comicbook issue #44 strayed away from standard fare with ‘The Wonderful World of Brother Benjamin J. Grimm’ (Wolfman, Bob Hall & Giacoia) with the Thing telling rowdy kids a rather fanciful bedtime story concerning his recent partnership with Hercules to free Olympus from invading giants…

In issue #45 Captain Marvel’s Cosmic Awareness warned him that the Thing had been targeted by vengeful Skrulls in ‘The Andromeda Rub-Out!’ (Peter Gillis, Kupperberg & Esposito), after which the Incredible Hulk’s new TV show compelled an outraged Ben to head for Hollywood, only to become embroiled in ‘Battle in Burbank!’ (Alan Kupperberg & Chic Stone)

Perpetual gadflies The Yancy Street Gang headlined in MT-I-O #47 as ‘Happy Deathday, Mister Grimm!’ (Bill Mantlo & Stone) saw a cybernetic tyrant take over Ben’s old neighbourhood. The invasion ended – once awesome energy powerhouse Jack of Hearts joined the fight against ‘My Master, Machinesmith!’ in #48 by Mantlo, Stone & Tex Blaisdell.

Mary Jo Duffy, Kupperberg & Gene Day then piled on the spooky laughs in #49 as the ‘Curse of Crawl-Inswood’ saw Doctor Strange manipulate Ben into helping him crush a supernatural incursion in a quaint and quiet seaside resort.

The anniversary issue #50 was everything a special issue should be. ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ by Byrne & Joe Sinnott took a powerful and poignant look at the Thing’s history as a monster outcast and posited a few what-might-have-beens…

Following another failure to cure his rocky condition, Ben steals the chemical and travels into his own past, determined to use the remedy on his younger, less mutated self, but his bitter, brooding, brittle earlier incarnation is hardly prepared to listen to another monster and inevitable catastrophic combat ensues…

Issue #51 was even better. ‘Full House… Dragons High!’ by Gillis, up-&-coming artist Frank Miller & Bob McLeod, detailed how a weekly poker session at Avengers Mansion was interrupted by rogue US General Pollock, who again tried to conquer America with stolen technology. Happily Ben and Nick Fury found Ms. Marvel, Wonder Man and the Beast better combat comrades than Poker opponents…

This mammoth tome ends on a sinister paranoic note with Marvel Two-In-One #52 and ‘A Little Knight Music!’ (by Steven Grant, Jim Craig & Marcos), as the mysterious Moon Knight joins the Thing in stopping CIA Psy-Ops master Crossfire from brainwashing the city’s superheroes into killing each other…

These stories – from Marvel’s Middle Period – are certainly of variable quality, but whereas some might feel rushed and ill-considered they are balanced by many timeless classics, still as captivating today as they always were.

Even if artistically the work varies from only adequate to quite superb, most fans of Costumed Dramas will find little to complain about and there’s lots 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…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.