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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Marvel Two-in-One volume 4


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantastic Four: The Life Fantastic


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

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

More family than team, the line-up has changed many times over the years but always eventually returned to Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s original configuration of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing, who jointly formed the vanguard of modern four-colour heroic history.

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

When they crashed back to Earth, the foursome found that they had all been hideously changed into outlandish freaks. Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and form force-fields, Johnny could turn into self-perpetuating living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was transformed into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not return to a semblance of normality on command.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this story however, there is no happy ending…

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

Fantastic Four by J. Michael Straczynski volume 1


By J. Michael Straczynski, Mike McKone, Andy Lanning & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-9774821-5-3

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

More family than team, the line-up has changed many times over the years but always eventually returned to Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s original configuration of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing, who jointly formed the vanguard of modern four-colour heroic history.

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

When they crashed back to Earth, the foursome found that they had all been hideously changed into outlandish freaks. Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and form force-fields, Johnny could turn into self-perpetuating living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was transformed into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not return to a semblance of normality on command.

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

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

The return to top-quality was the result of hard work by a number of “Big Ideas” writers and this slim hardback compilation – re-presenting Fantastic Four #527-532 (August 2005-January 2006) – celebrates the transition from one to another. When J. Michael Straczynski took over “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” – with illustrators Mike McKone & Andy Lanning providing sublime visuals – he looked back at the most fundamental moment of the long-lived franchise and found something new to play with…

It all begins with ‘Distant Music’ as an tortured ancient creature asks a devastating question which has shattered many worlds over the ages before cutting to Earth and now where a currently impoverished but still relentlessly inquisitive Reed Richards is unfortunately about to ask the same thing…

Happily he is distracted by wife Sue who drags him to dinner just as the team’s accountant is delivering a shocking piece of news to Ben Grimm. Apparently the rocky pauper has just become one of the richest men on Earth…

Another lucky distraction arrives in the form of Nick Fury, keen on mending fences whilst politely ordering his former friend to join a secret government project.

As Ben lets his newfound affluence go straight to his head, Reed reluctantly heads for Nevada and a hidden lab where scientists are trying to determine exactly why the ever-present Cosmic Rays beyond Earth have affected nobody to the extent they did the Fantastic Four so long ago.

Now Chief Researcher Dr. Stephen Crane claims to have discovered those particular mutative radiations were of a most specific configuration and that they are about to repeat for the first time in years…

To exploit the event he and his government backers have replicated almost all the factors in Richard’s originating space-shot and now just need Reed to fine-tune the details of his long-wrecked ship: details absolutely necessary before America can send up a platoon of ordinary patriotic grunts and bring back a legion of unstoppable super-soldiers…

The unappetising mission continues in ‘Random Factors’ with Reed’s distaste growing and his suspicions further fuelled, even as in the Big Apple Ben’s monetary excesses continue.

Sue meanwhile is keeping a secret of her own. Simone Debouvier of New York’s Division of Child Welfare has just informed her of an official investigation. State authorities are concerned that the Fantastic Four’s lifestyle pose a danger to children and are looking into taking young Franklin and Valeria Richards away from their obsessively do-gooding parents…

When a full test goes catastrophically wrong in Nevada, Reed finds himself under suspicion of committing sabotage and with the military on his heels escapes back to New York in ‘Appointment Overdue’. He lands right in the middle of a family crisis but can’t stop to deal with it because he is carrying a terrifying piece of news: the specific Cosmic Rays which transformed amateur astronauts into superheroes might actually have been a carefully constructed message. Moreover the communication from the great unknown is due to repeat imminently…

After depositing the kids on the Moon with the Inhumans even as General Clement Bragg leads troops into the Baxter Building, the FF blast off in their own spaceship to intercept the cosmic communiqué before once more crashing to Earth in a desolate region.

This time however an astounding entity which has been abiding within the energy message crawls out of the wreckage with them but Bragg’s rapidly responding forces are less than interested in learning ‘Truth in Flight’ and open fire on the creature. Much to their regret…

The entity is in mysterious communication with Ben and possesses bizarre space-warping abilities, so in an eye-blink it ferries the cosmic quartet back to the city where the tragic story of the ancient truth seeker – so much like Reed – is an amazing confirmation of how some traits transcend species.

Sadly, the quester also has obsessive enemies of near-divine power and they have noticed the Entity’s re-manifestation. In an instant the skies are filled with colossal vessels determined to end the searcher – and any other beings it might have infected with dangerous inquisitiveness – in ‘Many Questions, Some Answered’ and to save everything Reed must embark on the most momentous extended trip in all the annals of creation, realising at long last ‘Any Day Now… I Shall Be Released’…

Winningly combining stellar spectacle with apocalyptic action and hilarious low comedy, this splendid romp comes supplemented with a cover gallery by McKone &Lanning plus a brief picture feature on the artist’s ‘Thing Reference Sculpture’.

Funny, warm, challenging and exhilarating, this fast-paced, tension-soaked chronicle provides all the thrills and chills a devoted Costumed Drama lover could ever want.
© 2005 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Marvel Two-In-One volume 3


By Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Tom DeFalco, John Byrne, George Pérez, Jerry Bingham, Ron Wilson, Alan Kupperberg & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3069-7

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

After the runaway success of Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas repeated the experiment with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic and popular member – beginning with a brace of test runs in Marvel Feature #11-12, before graduating him to his own guest-friendly title. This third economical, eclectic monochrome compendium gathers together the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #53-77 plus Marvel T-I-O Annuals #4 and 5, covering May 1979 to July 1981; a period which saw the best and worst the series could offer.

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

Arguably the very best of these opens this volume; a big scale, and supremely convoluted saga known as “The Project Pegasus Saga”…

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

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

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

Nevertheless every so often everybody involved in a particular tale seems to catch fire at the same time and magic occurs. A great case in point is the self-contained mini-saga which partnered the Thing with a succession of Marvel’s quirkiest B-listers and newcomers…

Project Pegasus had debuted in Marvel T-I-O #42 and 43: a federal research station tasked with investigating new and alternative energy sources and a sensible place to dump super-powered baddies when they’ve been trounced. Ten issues later writers Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio flexed their creative muscles with a 6-issue epic that found Ben back at Pegasus just as a sinister scheme by a mysterious mastermind to eradicate the facility went into full effect.

Scripted by Gruenwald & Macchio, it all begins as ‘The Inner War!’ (illustrated by John Byrne & Joe Sinnott) sees Ben visiting his educationally and emotionally challenged ward Wundarr who had been left at the secret base after exposure to a reality-warping Cosmic Cube.

Ben meets light-powered security chief Quasar – who debuted here – only to stumble into a treacherous plot to sabotage the facility which continues in ‘Blood and Bionics’ as a reprogrammed Deathlok cyborg stalks the base until the Thing and Quasar crush it.

Elsewhere, Ben’s old sparring partner Thundra is recruited by a team of super-powered women wrestlers (I know what you’re thinking but trust me, it works) with a secret and nefarious sideline…

One of the resident scientists at Pegasus is Bill Foster – who had a brief costumed career as Black Goliath – and he resumes adventuring with a new/old name just in time to help tackle freshly-liberated atomic monster Nuklo in ‘Giants in the Earth’. Sadly the traitor who let the infantile walking inferno out is still undiscovered and in the darkest part of the Project something strange is whispering to the comatose Wundarr…

George Pérez & Gene Day take over as illustrators from #56 as Thundra and her new friends invade in ‘The Deadlier of the Species!’ but even their blistering assault is merely a feint for the real threat and soon a final countdown to disaster is in effect…

Doomsday begins ‘When Walks Wundarr!’ and, in his mesmerised wake, a horde of energy-projecting villains incarcerated in the research facility break free…

With chaos everywhere the traitor triggers an extra-dimensional catastrophe, intent on destroying Pegasus ‘To the Nth Power!’, but as a living singularity tries to suck the entire institution into infinity, the end of everything is countered by the ascension of a new kind of hero as The Aquarian debuts to save the day…

Released as one of Marvel’s earliest trade paperback collections, the high-tension bombastic action of The Project Pegasus Saga rattles along without the appearance of any major stars – a daring move for a team-up title but one which greatly enhanced the power and depth of The Thing.

Moreover, by concentrating on rebooting moribund characters such as Deathlok and Giant-Man whilst launching fresh faces Quasar and The Aquarian instead of looking for ill-fitting, big-name sales-boosters, the story truly proves the old adage about there being no bad characters…

Another sound decision was the use of Byrne & Sinnott for the first half and Pérez & the late, great Gene Day to finish off the tale. Both pencillers were in their early ascendancy here and the artistic energy just jumps off the pages.

Deadlines wait for no one however and the pulse-pounding epic is immediately followed here by Marvel Two-In-One Annual #4 which offered an old-fashioned, world-busting blockbuster as ‘A Mission of Gravity!’ (plotted by Allyn Brodsky, scripted by David Michelinie and illustrated by Jim Craig, Bob Budiansky & Bruce Patterson) brought the Thing and Inhuman monarch Black Bolt together to stop unstable maniac Graviton turning into a black hole and taking the world with him…

Wolfman, Macchio, Chic Stone & Al Gordon then explored ‘Trial and Error!’ in monthly issue #59 as Ben and the Human Torch played matchmaker for a dopey dreamer, after which Marvel Two-in-One #60 featured Ben and impish ET Impossible Man in hilarious combat with three of Marvel’s earliest bad-guys.

Happiness is a Warm Alien’ – by Gruenwald, Macchio, Pérez & Day – offers a delightful change-of-pace which applies much-needed perspective and lots of laughs as the madcap invader from beyond gets bored and creates a perfect mate…

A stellar epic started in #61 with ‘The Coming of Her!’ (Gruenwald, Jerry Bingham & Day) as time-travelling space god Starhawk became embroiled in the birth of a female counterpart to artificial superman Adam Warlock.

The distaff genetic paragon awoke fully empowered and instantly began searching for her predecessor, dragging Ben’s girlfriend Alicia and mind goddess Moondragon across the solar system, arriving where issue #62 observed ‘The Taking of Counter-Earth!’

Hot on their heels Thing and Starhawk catch Her just as the women encounter a severely wounded High Evolutionary and discover the world built by that self-made god has been stolen…

United in mystery the strange grouping follow the planet’s trail out of the galaxy and uncover the incredible perpetrators but Her’s desperate quest to secure her predestined, purpose-grown mate ends in tragedy as she learns ‘Suffer Not a Warlock to Live!’

Clearly on a roll and dedicated to exploiting Marvel Two-in-One’s unofficial role as a clean-up vehicle for settling unresolved plotlines from cancelled series, Gruenwald & Macchio then dived into ‘The Serpent Crown Affair’ in #64.

‘From the Depths’ (illustrated by Pérez & Day) saw sub-sea superhero Stingray approach Reed Richards in search of a cure for humans who had been mutated into water-breathers by Sub-Mariner villain Doctor Hydro – a plotline begun in 1973 and left unresolved since the demise of the Atlantean prince’s own title.

Richards’ enquiries soon found the transformation had been caused by the Inhumans’ Terrigen Mist but when he had Ben ferry the mermen’s leader Dr. Croft and Stingray to a meeting, the trip was cut short by a crisis on an off-shore oil-rig, thanks to an ambush by a coalition of snake-themed villains.

The ‘Serpents from the Sea’ (art by Bingham & Day) were attempting to salvage dread mystic artefact the Serpent Crown, but luckily the Inhumans had sent out their seagoing champion Triton to meet the Thing…

Thundra meanwhile had been seeking the men responsible for tricking her into attacking Pegasus but fell under the spell of sinister superman Hyperion – a pawn of corrupt oil conglomerate Roxxon, whose CEO Hugh Jones possessed or had been possessed by the heinous helm…

With the situation escalating Ben had no choice but to call in an expert and before long The Scarlet Witch joins the battle, her previous experience with the relic enabling the heroes to thwart the multi-dimensional threat of ‘A Congress of Crowns!’ (Pérez & Day) and a devastating incursion by diabolical serpent god Set

With Armageddon averted Ben diverted to Pegasus to drop off the emasculated crown in #67 and found Bill Foster had been diagnosed with terminal radiation sickness due to his battle with Nuklo. Thundra meanwhile, seduced by promises of being returned to her own reality, wised up in time to abscond from Roxxon in ‘Passport to Oblivion!’ (Gruenwald, Macchio, Ron Wilson, Day & friends), but hadn’t calculated on being hunted by Hyperion. Although outmatched her frantic struggle did attract the attentions of the Thing and Quasar…

Marvel T-I-O #68 shifted gears as Ben met former X-Man The Angel as they stumbled into – and smashed out of – a mechanical murder-world in ‘Discos and Dungeons!’ (Wilson & Day) after which ‘Homecoming!’ found Ben contending with the time-lost Guardians of the Galaxy whilst striving to prevent the end of everything as millennial man Vance Astro risked all of reality to stop his younger self ever going into space…

Issue #70 offered a mystery guest team-up for ‘A Moving Experience’ (Gruenwald, Macchio, Mike Nasser & Day) as Ben was again pranked by old frenemy’s The Yancy Street Gang and ambushed by real old foes when he helped his girlfriend move into new digs, after which the so-long frustrated Hydromen finally get ‘The Cure!’ (Wilson & Day) when Ben and Reed travel to the Inhuman city of Attilan.

Sadly a cure for the effects of Terrigen is a perfect anti-Inhuman weapon and when the process is stolen by a trio of freaks the trail leads to a brutal clash with a deadly Inhuman renegade wielding ‘The Might of Maelstrom’ (Gruenwald, Macchio, Wilson & Stone). The pariah is intent on eradicating every other member of his hidden race and just won’t stop until he’s done…

Marvel Two-In-One #73 by Macchio, Wilson & Stone then ties up loose ends from the Pegasus epic as Ben and Quasar pursue Roxxon to another Earth where the rapacious plunderers have enslaved a primitive population and begun sending their pillaged oil back here via a ‘Pipeline Through Infinity’ (#74), whilst Gruenwald, Frank Springer & Stone celebrate the festive season with ‘A Christmas Peril!’ as Ben and the Puppet Master are drawn into the Yuletide celebrations of brain-damaged, childlike, immensely powerful Modred the Mystic

Alan Kupperberg & Pablo Marcos then detail another tumultuous clash between Hulk and Thing from Marvel Two-In-One Annual #5. ‘Skirmish with Death’ sees the titanic duo team with extraterrestrial explorer The Stranger to stop death god Pluto destroying the universe and cosmic epics remain in vogue in anniversary issue #75 where Ben and the Avengers are drawn into the Negative Zone to stop a hyper-powered Super-Adaptoid, only to find themselves inevitably ‘By Blastaar Betrayed!’ (Tom DeFalco, Alan Kupperberg & Stone)…

Thereafter hitting mundane reality with a bump, #76 exposes ‘The Big Top Bandits’ (DeFalco, Michelinie, Bingham & Stone) as Iceman and the Thing make short work of the Circus of Evil before this paladin-packed tome concludes with a double dose of action in #77 as Thing and Man-Thing nearly unite in a rescue mission where ‘Only the Swamp Survives!’ (DeFalco, Wilson & Stone), which also features a poignant, bizarre cameo from Sergeant Nick Fury and the Howling Commandoes

There’s even one last treat: a revelatory cutaway diagram of Project Pegasus to make sense of all the carnage that you’ve just enjoyed…

Fiercely tied to the minutia of Marvel continuity, 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 some superb adventure romps and a genuine modern comics classic; still as captivating today as it always was.

Even if artistically the work varies from only adequate to truly top-notch, most fans of Costumed Dramas will find little to complain about and there’s plenty of fun to be found for young and old readers. So why not lower your critical guard and have an honest blast of pure warts-and-all comics craziness? You’ll almost certainly grow to like it…
© 1979, 1980, 1981, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four: the Beginning of the End


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.