Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 8


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6294-0 (PB)                     : 978-0-7851-1694-3 (HB)

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

This full-colour compendium – also available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #72-81 plus the epic Fantastic Four Annual #6: spanning March – December 1968 with Stan & Jack outdoing themselves with every successive issue to cement their reputation as the greatest team in comics…

What You Should Already Know: maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm – with Sue’s teenaged tag-along little brother – miraculously survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project forcefields, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. The they agreed to use their abilities to benefit mankind and thus was born The Fantastic Four.

Following another effusive Introduction from Lee the drama opens with the team in crisis. With a baby due Reed and Sue had resigned, leaving The Thing, Johnny and his Inhuman girlfriend Crystal to hold the fort just as cosmic calamity came calling.

In ‘Where Soars the Silver Surfer!’ the sky-born wanderer imprisoned on Earth by the world-devouring Galactus went cage-crazy and attacked humanity, forcing Reed’s return, after which FF #73 presented a classic crossover and the conclusion to a long-running Daredevil story wherein the sightless crusader is ousted from his own body by Iron Tyrant Doctor Doom.

Warning the FF of imminent attack, the Man without Fear then subsequently defeats Doom on his own but neglects to tell the heroes of his victory…

Outmatched and unable to convince them any other way, DD enlists currently de-powered Mighty Thor and the ever-eager Spider-Man in to solve the problem Marvel style – with a spectacular pointless and utterly riveting punch-up – in ‘The Flames of Battle…’

The Surfer was back in #74 ‘When Calls Galactus’ as the planet-eater returns to Terran skies demanding that his one-time herald once more become his food-finding slave. However, despite his increasingly violent and world-shaking probing and the FF’s holding action against the ravenous invader’s robotic Punisher, Galactus cannot locate his target.

That’s because the Surfer has already – and utterly obliviously – departed for ‘World Within Worlds!’, forcing Reed, Ben and Johnny to follow to save humanity from cosmic consumption. When the pioneering micronauts are subsequently attacked by sadistic alien Psycho Man our heroes are ‘Stranded in Sub-Atomica!’

As they struggle to survive, Galactus applies ever-more pressure in ‘Shall Earth Endure?’ until the now-fully-apprised Surfer turns himself in to save Earth by finding the great Devourer an alternative snack.

His reward is to be summarily returned to his captivity here as soon as ungrateful Galactus finishes feeding (just in time to begin his own landmark series – but that’s the subject of another review, another time…)

Meanwhile, after trashing Psycho Man and getting home, Reed and the gang risk another attempt to cure Ben Grimm in FF #78. The procedure goes tragically awry in ‘The Thing No More!’, due to inopportune interference from old foe The Wizard before, in #79, the now human Ben chooses to return to his rocky state to save his friends from the bludgeoning Android Man and possibly remain ‘A Monster Forever?’.

A brief change of pace then takes the team to the Tribal Lands of old friend Wyatt Wingfoot to solve an eerie mystery and save the Indian oil fields from deadly subversion ‘Where Treads the Living Totem!’ before the sixth Annual features – at long last – the birth of Reed and Sue’s baby (known to us now as Franklin Richards).

Unfortunately, the happy event almost never happens since the transformative cosmic rays which gave the team their powers have affected the pregnancy…

Desperate for a miracle cure, Reed, Ben and Johnny scour the antimatter Negative Zone and are confronted by a monstrous creature named Annihilus whose power is the only thing that can prevent the death of Sue and her unborn child. ‘Let There Be… Life!’ is a groundbreaking 48-page epic that is as stunning to read now as it ever was, passionate, thrilling and mind-boggling in its visual intensity.

With Sue a new mother faithful Crystal then elects herself the first new official member of the Fantastic Four and promptly shows her mettle by pulverizing the incorrigible glutton-for-punishment Wizard in #81’s all-action romp ‘Enter… the Exquisite Elemental!’ to conclude this superb chronological catalogue of fabulously compelling Fights ‘n’ Tights tales.

Did I say concludes? Not quite as this book still finds room for a selection of astounding original art pencil pages of Kirby to further dazzle the senses.

Perfect comics, perfectly packaged. What are you waiting for?
© 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Epic Collection: volume 2 1966-1968: Mike Murdock Must Die!


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1004-4

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

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

Covering November 1966 – June 1968 and re-presenting Daredevil #21-41, crossover issue Fantastic Four #73, Daredevil Annual #1 – plus a bonus comedy caper from Not Brand Echh #4 – this second compilation (in both trade paperback and eBook formats) sees a marked improvement in overall story quality as scripter Stan Lee begins utilising longer soap operatic plot-threads to string together the unique fight scenes of Colan, who gradually shook off the remnants of his predecessor’s art style.

In a very short time John Romita had made the Sightless Swashbuckler his own before graduating to Spider-Man, so when Colan took over on DD, he initially kept the clipped, solid, nigh-chunky lines for rendering the Man Without Fear, but increasingly drew everything else in his loose, fluid, near-tonal manner. With these tales, his warring styles coalesced and the result was literally poetry in non-stop motion…

Without preamble the action opens with ‘The Tri-Man Lives’ (Lee, Colan, Frank Giacoia & Dick Ayers), containing Gangland themes and malignant machinations whilst sharing focus with super-menaces The Gladiator and Masked Marauder, whose eponymous killer android proves less of a threat than expected…

The villains had sought control of international organised crime syndicate the Maggia but their master plan to murder the Man Without Fear to prove their worthiness to lead goes badly awry after the kidnapped hero refuses to simply lie down and die…

Concluding in #23 with ‘DD Goes Wild!’ the ending sees our hero trapped in Europe, but soon making his way to England and a violent reunion with Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar who has become prime suspect in #24’s chilling puzzle ‘The Mystery of the Midnight Stalker!’

This tale contains my vote for the Most Obnoxious Misrepresentation of Britain in Comicbooks Award as a policeman – sorry, “Bobby” – warns, “STAY BACK, PLEASE! THE MILITIA WILL BE ARRIVING IN JIG TIME!”

After clearing the jungle hero’s name, Matt Murdock heads back to America in time to enjoy the less-than-stellar debut of a certified second-rate super-villain as ‘Enter: The Leap-Frog!’ introduces a thief dressed like a frog with springs on his flippered feet (yes, really…).

However, the big event of the issue is meeting Matt’s hip and groovy twin brother Mike

By the time ‘Stilt-Man Strikes Again’ (DD #26, March 1967) Colan was totally in command of his vision and a leaner, moodier hero was emerging. The major push of the next few issues was to turn the hopeless romantic triangle of Matt, best friend and Law-firm partner Foggy Nelson and their secretary Karen Page into a whacky quadrangle by introducing fictitious twin Mike Murdock, who would be “exposed” as Daredevil to divert suspicion from the blind attorney who actually battled all those weird villains…

Confused, much…?

Still skulking in the background, arch-villain Masked Marauder was slowly closing in on DD’s alter ego. He gets a lot closer in ‘Mike Murdock Must Die!’ (with Giacoia inks) after Stilt-Man teams with the Marauder and the ever-fractious Spider-Man once again clashes with old frenemy Daredevil before the villains meet their apparent ends.

The Sightless Swashbuckler “enjoys” his first encounter with extraterrestrials in #28’s moody one-trick-pony ‘Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Planet!’ – an Ayers-inked thriller wherein invading aliens’ blindness-inducing rays prove inexplicably ineffective against the Crimson Crime-crusher.

John Tartaglione inked the next tale, a solid, action-packed gangster-thriller entitled ‘Unmasked!’ whilst issue #30 opened a protracted and impressive clash with former Thor foes the Cobra and Mister Hyde. The bombastic first bout comes complete with an Asgardian cameo in ‘…If There Should Be a Thunder God!’

Attempting to catch the rampant super-criminals, DD masquerades as the Asgardian Avenger only to encounter the real McCoy. Sadly, the mortal hero is ambushed by the villains once the Thunderer departs and, as a result of the battle that follows loses his compensating hyper-senses. Thus, he must perpetrate a ‘Blind Man’s Bluff!’ which almost fools Cobra and Hyde…

Naturally, it all goes wrong before it all comes right and against all odds Murdock regains his abilities just in time ‘…To Fight the Impossible Fight!’

Ramping up the devilish derring-do is the first Daredevil Annual: a visually impressive if rather lacklustre rogues’ gallery riot from Lee, Colan & Tartaglione, detailing five old foes ganging up on Daredevil as ‘Electro and the Emissaries of Evil!’

The Scarlet Swashbuckler quickly puts a pretty definitive smack-down on the electric evildoer and his acrimonious allies the Matador, Gladiator, Stilt-Man and Leapfrog…

Of more interest are the ‘Inside Daredevil’ pages, explaining his powers, providing the ‘Blueprint for an All-Purpose Billy Club’ and recapping the Matt/Mike Murdock “Faked News” situation, plus offering stunning pin-ups of Karen, Foggy, Ka-Zar, DD and a host of old foes such as Gladiator, Leap Frog, The Owl and Masked Marauder.

Rounding out the experience is comedy short ‘At the Stroke of Midnight!: An Actual Unrehearsed Story Conference with (and by) Stan and Gene!’

In the monthly comicbook, ‘Behold the Beetle’ sees the entire cast – Foggy, Karen and Murdock in the guise of his own (fictitious) twin brother – heading to Canada for World’s Fair Expo ’67 and encountering another borrowed costumed crazy in search of easy glory and untold riches…

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

Once safely returned to the Big Apple, DD’s undeserved reputation as a mere costumed acrobat induces another fearsome felon to attack in ‘Daredevil Dies First!’ The sightless wonder is targeted by old Fantastic Four foe The Trapster, who considers his quarry a mere stepping-stone in an overly-complex plan to destroy the World’s premier super-team.

Murdock manages to turn the tables in #36’s ‘The Name of the Game is Mayhem!’ (inked by Giacoia): a clash that leaves the blind hero triumphant but weakened: easy prey for another FF arch-foe. Tartaglione was back to ink the startling ‘Don’t Look Now, But It’s… Doctor Doom!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

Rounding out the thrills and chills is a slice of exuberant slapstick schtick from Not Brand Echh #4 (November 1967) wherein Lee, Colan & Tartaglione again lampoon the romantic rollercoaster of Hoggy Nelson, Splat Murdock and secretary Miss Rage. Unable to win the comely lass Murdock decides on suicide by crook and as Scaredevil (the Man Who’s Scared of Fear) sets out to get ‘Defeated by the Evil Electrico!’

Other extras include original art pages and covers by Colan and the unused (presumed lost forever) original cover to DD #35, plus a Richard Isanove paint-augmented Colan cover originally seen as Daredevil Masterworks cover volume 3.

Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period The Man Without Fear blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 7


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott, with Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5062-6 (PB)                     : 978-0-7851-1585-4 (HB)

The FF was the indisputable central title and most consistently groundbreaking series of Marvel’s ever-unfolding web of cosmic creation: a forge for new concepts and characters at a time when Jack Kirby was in his conceptual prime and continually unleashing his vast imagination on plot after spectacular plot as Stan Lee scripted some of the most passionate superhero sagas that Marvel – or any publisher, for that matter – has ever seen.

Both were on an unstoppable roll, at the height of their creative powers, and full of the confidence that only success brings, with The King particularly eager to see how far the genre and the medium could be pushed.

This full-colour compendium – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – re-presents Fantastic Four #61-71 and includes the fifth giant-sized Annual: issues of progressive and increasingly impressive landmarks spanning April 1967 through February 1968 with Stan & Jack cannily leading from the front as an ever-expanding and cohesive shared universe grew around the fruits of their labours.

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

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and the kid could turn into living flame, but poor, tragic Ben horrifically devolved into a shambling, rocky freak…

Following a vivid reminiscence from star inker Joe Sinnott in his Introduction, the magic resumes with Fantastic Four #61.

Even though the team had just defeated a cosmically-empowered Doctor Doom and returned to the Silver Surfer his purloined life-energies there was never a dull moment: no sooner had the heroes relaxed than a new and improved foe attacked once more in ‘Where Stalks the Sandman?’.

This began another explosive multi-part tale wherein Johnny and his imprisoned beloved Crystal were reunited even as Reed is defeated in battle and lost to the anti-matter hell of the Negative Zone’s sub-space corridor…

It was Crystal to the rescue in ‘…And One Shall Save Him!’ as guest-star Triton (of the newly liberated Inhuman Royal Family) plucked the doomed genius from the jaws of disaster and inadvertently introduced another unique enemy who followed Reed back from the anti-matter dimension and straight into partnership with the still-seething Sandman. The resulting battle against ‘Blastaar, the Living Bomb-Burst!’ (FF #63, June 1967) wrecked half the city before some modicum of security was restored…

Looking for a little peace and quiet the exhausted team then tackled ‘The Sentry Sinister’: a frenetic south seas adventure romp pitting the vacationing heroes against a super-scientific robot buried for millennia by an ancient star-faring race.

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

Although regarded as a long-dead race, the Kree themselves resurface in the very next issue as the team is targeted by an alien emissary of vengeance ‘…From Beyond this Planet Earth!’ The formidable Ronan the Accuser has come looking to see what could possibly have destroyed an invincible Sentry and finds out to his great regret but whilst the fight ensues Bens’s blind girlfriend Alicia is abducted by a super scientific stranger…

The mystery of her disappearance is revealed in #66 in ‘What Lurks Behind the Beehive?’ as the outraged team trail the seemingly helpless artisan to a man-made technological wonderland where a band of rogue geniuses have genetically engineered the next phase in evolution, only to lose control of it even before it can be properly born…

‘When Opens the Cocoon!’ exposes the secret of the creature known as Him and only Alicia’s gentle nature is able to placate the nigh-omnipotent creature (who would eventually evolve into tragic cosmic voyager Adam Warlock), after which the tight continuity pauses to allow the Inhumans (a time-lost race of paranormal beings long secluded from mortal men) and old FF ally the Black Panther to share the stage in that year’s Fantastic Four Annual wherein the sinister invader Psycho-Man attempts to ‘Divide… and Conquer!’ the Earth.

Frank Giacoia inked this yarn, with the emotion-bending micro-marauder holding both the King of Wakanda and the Royal Family of hidden Attilan at bay until the FF can pitch in, delayed as they were by the news that the Sue Richards is pregnant… and soon to confined in the most appallingly sexist manner until the birth…

The Annual also includes another comedy insight into the creation of Marvel Epics as Stan, Jack and Frank ask ‘This is a Plot?’ and – after the now customary Kirby pin-ups (Inhumans Black Bolt, Gorgon, Medusa, Karnak, Triton, Crystal and Maximus, a colossal group shot of Galactus, the Silver Surfer and others plus a double-page spread of the quirky quartet) – a rapidly rising star-in-the-making got his first solo appearance in ‘The Peerless Power of the Silver Surfer’: a pithy fable of cruel ingratitude reintroducing and upgrading the threat-level of the Mad Thinker’s lethal Artificial Intelligence murder-machine Quasimodo

In FF #68 (inked as ever by the remarkable Joe Sinnott), the Thinker resurfaces to enact his latest scheme, ‘His Mission: Destroy the Fantastic Four!’ beginning with the cogitating criminal replacing a famous doctor to subvert a potential cure for The Thing’s rocky condition.

Phase two involves a mind-warping scheme to turn the rocky stalwart against his comrades, progressing in ‘By Ben Betrayed!’ as the newly malevolent Grimm tries to mercilessly murder his comrades only to be driven temporarily away.

Desperately searching for their brainwashed friend, the FF quickly capture the Thinker and free Ben’s shackled mind in ‘When Fall the Mighty!’, but the victory leaves the heroes unconscious with only Sue conscious to tackle the villain’s last-ditch killer android in ‘…And So It Ends…’

Art lovers can also enjoy a boundless hidden bounty at the end of this volume as the titanic tome wraps up with a selection of Kirby pencil pages, including alternative covers to FF #64 and #71, plus a gallery of Sinnott-inked covers and pages from #61, 63, 65 and 66.

Epic, revolutionary and unutterably astounding, these are the stories which made Marvel the unassailable leaders in fantasy entertainment and remain the most unmissable superhero comics ever crafted.
© 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1266-2 (HB)                    978-0-7851-5060-2 (TPB)

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

This full-colour hardcover or trade paperback compendium – also available in digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #51-60 plus the new material from Fantastic Four Annual #4: issues of progressive landmarks spanning June 1966 to March 1967 with Stan & Jack topping themselves with every successive issue, consolidating an impossibly addictive shared universe with the FF as the central title and most innovative outpost in that web of cosmic creation.

What You Should Already Know: maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm – with Sue’s teenaged tag-along little brother – miraculously survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project forcefields, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. The they agreed to use their abilities to benefit mankind and thus was born The Fantastic Four.

Following an Introduction from Lee the wonderment resumes here with what many fans consider the greatest single FF story ever. Illustrated by Kirby and inked by Joe Sinnott, ‘This Man… This Monster!’ finds the Thing’s grotesque body usurped by a vengeful and petty-minded scientist with a grudge against Reed Richards. The anonymous boffin subsequently discovers the true measure of his unsuspecting intellectual rival and pays a fateful price for his envy…

Another innovation and unforgettable character debuted in the next issue. ‘The Black Panther!’ was an enigmatic African monarch whose secretive kingdom was the only source of a vibration-absorbing alien metal. These mineral riches had enabled him to turn his country into a technological wonderland and he lured the FF into his savage super-scientific kingdom as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father. He was also the first black superhero in American comics (Fantastic Four #52, cover-dated July 1966).

After battling the team to a standstill, King T’Challa revealed his tragic origin in ‘The Way it Began..!’, which also introduces sonic super-villain Klaw. Johnny and his college roommate Wyatt Wingfoot embark on a quest to rescue the Torch’s Inhuman lover Crystal (trapped with her people behind an impenetrable energy barrier in the Himalayas). Their journey is interrupted when they discover the lost tomb of Prester John in #54’s ‘Whosoever Finds the Evil Eye…!’ and almost perish…

After aiding the quartet against world-devourer Galactus, the Silver Surfer was imprisoned on Earth. The brooding, perpetually moralising ex-herald had become a fan-favourite, and his regular appearances were always a guarantee of something special.

When Strikes the Silver Surfer!’ features him in uncomprehending, brutal battle with the Thing, whose insecurities about his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters explode into searing jealousy, when the gleaming demigod comes calling after which business as unusual resumed when ‘Klaw the Murderous Master of Sound!’ ambushed the team in their own home in issue #56.

Throughout all the stories since their imprisonment a running sub-plot with the Inhumans had been slowly building, with Johnny and Wyatt stuck on the other side of the Great Barrier: wandering the wilds and seeking a method of liberating the Hidden City. Their quest led directly into the landmark tale ‘The Torch that Was!’: lead feature in the fourth FF Annual (November 1966) in which The Mad Thinker recovers and resurrects the original Human Torch (actually the World’s first android and a major star of Timely/Marvel’s Golden Age) to destroy the flaming teenager…

The blistering battle briefly reunites the entire team and leads into an epic clash with their greatest foe. Fantastic Four #57-60 displayed Lee & Kirby at their very best; with incredible tension, drama and action on a number of fronts as the most dangerous man on Earth steals the Silver Surfer’s cosmic power, even as the Inhumans finally win their freedom and we discovered the tragic secret of mighty mute Black Bolt in all its awesome fury.

It all begins with a jailbreak by the Sandman in #57’s ‘Enter… Dr. Doom!’, escalates in ‘The Dismal Dregs of Defeat!’ as Doom tests his limitless stolen power; builds to a crescendo in ‘Doomsday’ with the heroes’ utter defeat and humiliation before culminating in brains and valour saving the day – and all humanity – in truly magnificent manner with ‘The Peril and the Power!’

This breathtaking epic concludes an incredible run of classic yarns in this volume, but there is still room to include some fascinating freebies in the form of pages of the initial designs for Coal Tiger (who evolved into the Black Panther) and Kirby & Sinnott’s unused cover for FF #52 featuring him.

These are the stories that cemented Marvel’s reputation and enabled the company to overtake all its competitors. They’re also still some of the best stories ever produced and as exciting and captivating now as they ever were. This is a must-have book for all fans of graphic narrative.
© 1966, 1967, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 4


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 5


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 4


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inhumans – By Right of Birth


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inhumans: The Origins of the Inhumans


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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