Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars: 30th Anniversary Edition


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For him it is true love at first sight…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Fantastic Four volume 7


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Invasion Fantastic Four


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She even claimed to be carrying Johnny’s baby…

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

Fantastic Four: First Family


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultimate Fantastic Four volume 1: The Fantastic


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The test firing is a literal catastrophe.

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

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

Sue has just vanished without a trace…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Marvel Two-in-One volume 2


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

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, after the runaway success of Spider-Man’s Marvel Team-Up the House of Ideas carried on the trend with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic and popular member – beginning with a brace of test runs in Marvel Feature #11-12, before graduating him to his own team-up title, of which this second economical, eclectic monochrome compendium gathers together the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #26-52 plus Annual’s #2 and 3, covering April 1977- June 1979.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even if artistically the work varies from only adequate to quite superb, most fans of Costumed Dramas will find little to complain about and there’s lots of fun to be found for young and old readers. So why not lower your critical guard and have an honest blast of pure warts and all comics craziness? You’ll almost certainly grow to like it…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Fantastic Four: Disassembled


By Mark Waid, Karl Kesel, Paco Medina, Mike Wieringo & Juan Vlasco (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1536-6

The Fantastic Four is rightly regarded as the most pivotal series in modern comics history, introducing both a new style of storytelling and a strikingly fresh manner of engaging readers’ imaginations and attention. The heroes are felt by fans to be more family than team and, although the roster has temporarily changed many times over the years, the line-up always inevitably returns to the original core group of maverick genius Reed Richards, wife Sue, trusty friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s younger brother Johnny; all survivors of a privately-funded space-shot which went horribly wrong when Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

After crashing back to Earth, the quartet found they had all been mutated into freaks. Richards’ body became astoundingly elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project force-fields, Johnny could turn into living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was transformed into a horrifying monster who, unlike his comrades, could not reassume a semblance of normality on command.

This particular game-changing compilation gathers issues #514-519 (August-December 2004), highlighting more of the spectacular run by writer Mark Waid and much-missed illustrator Mike Wieringo; celebrating their “back-to-basics” approach which utterly rejuvenated the venerable property and marked one more ending of an era.

What You Need To Know: after banishing their greatest enemy to Hell, the team attempted to save Doctor Doom’s now-leaderless nation of Latveria. To do this, Reed unilaterally seized control of the postage-stamp kingdom to keep it being from being torn apart and swallowed by its land- and tech-hungry Balkan neighbours.

Although done for the right reasons, Mr. Fantastic’s drastic solution alienated friends and allies – and even his own team-mates – and lost him the respect and support of the entire world.

Contemporaneously in the Marvel Universe: as the FF became unloved pariahs and practically bankrupt, the “World’s Mightiest Heroes” were shut down and rebooted in a highly publicised event known as Avengers Disassembled (of course it was only to replace them with both The New and Young Avengers).

The event spilled over into the regular titles of current team members and affiliated comic-books such as Spectacular Spider-Man, with close allies the Fantastic Four inexorably drawn into their Big Show.

Said Show consisted of the worst day in superhero history as the unsuspectedly insane Scarlet Witch attacked the Avengers from within, resulting in the utter destruction of everything they held dear and the death of several members and associates. The side-bar sagas collected here concentrate on the uncalculated fall-out of that devastating sequence of events…

It begins in the 3-part ‘Dysfunctional’ (by Karl Kesel, Paco Medina & Juan Vlasco) when, with the heroes at their lowest ebb, incorrigible arch-foe The Wizard targets them, using a new roster of his antithetical cohorts in The Frightful Four. This iteration (Hydro-Man, the Trapster and mysterious new pyrokinetic “Fire Maiden” Salamandra) start enacting the Wizard’s devious plan just as Johnny finds his new girlfriend Cole Wittman at the centre of a bizarre series of tectonic disasters.

When she is invited back to FFHQ for tea and tests, shock follows shocks as Cole reluctantly lets the Wizard’s minions in…

The poor girl is the unwitting product of the evil super-genius’ genetic tinkering: a test-tube baby combining his and Salamandra’s DNA and somehow able to affect gravity. It is, unfortunately, an ability the poor dupe has no control over…

As the two FF’s spectacularly clash and the villains come out on top, the Wizard’s true intentions are revealed as he murderously disposes of one of his own to make way for Daddy’s little girl to join his team. Moreover he has broadcast the entire battle to the world, in his arrogant determination to prove his superiority to the fallen Reed Richards…

Battered but unbroken the heroes pick themselves up, determined to find their foes and rescue Cole. The girl is already regretting her actions as her “father” elatedly reveals the circumstances of her creation and exults in the success of his greatest “experiment”…

The staggering counterstrike almost goes horribly wrong when Salamandra’s true nature is exposed, resulting in a catastrophic struggle and a tragic pyrrhic victory for the Fantastic Four…

The main event sees the return of creators Waid & Wieringo (with Kesel inking) for ‘Fourtitude’ as Halloween finds the team on the road to recovery if not public redemption. Reed has already rebuilt their fortune with a brief flurry of invention and profitable patents – such as the self-inflating, self-retrieving basketball – and, as darkness falls, cosmic calamity offers Fantastic Four, Inc. a chance to restore their shredded reputation…

Out of the darkness of space four monumental alien pylons crash into the waters around Manhattan and begin sucking the island up into the void. With the Avengers gone, the Mayor has no choice but to turn to the pariah-team to save his city and perhaps the world…

They are already at work rescuing citizens when the call comes and soon Richards and his comrades have penetrated one of the vast constructs to discover the horrible truth behind Manhattan’s abduction.

Benevolent alien technologist Zius had discovered a way to mask planets from the attention of world-devouring Galactus, potentially saving trillions of lives and possibly resulting in the eventual doom by starvation of the cosmic cannibal. However he has learned that on Earth a counter to his process exists.

Thus he has raced to our world to remove that single threat to universal salvation.

It doesn’t take long to determine that the force in question is Sue, whose powers include making the unseen visible. Zius was willing to throw New York into the Sun to ensure the safety of the cosmos, but with the World-Eater undoubtedly getting closer every moment she surrenders herself in return for the island’s safe return…

Desperate Reed quickly devises a way to obviate the necessity to kill his wife and the aliens prepare to leave, satisfied but utterly unaware of the brilliant stratagem Richards has used to bluff them.

As New York rejoices in the triumph of its now restored and redeemed champions, Sue discovers she is now a Human Torch whilst her brother possesses the critical invisibility power.

…And that’s when the star god arrives and takes possession of the mortal threat to his infinite existence…

To Be Continued…

With an eye-catching cover gallery by Gene Ha, Morry Hollowell, Wieringo, Kesel & Paul Mounts, this compulsively engrossing epic of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction truly carries on the legacy of mind-bending imagination and breathtaking excitement established by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Epic and engaging, this is a treat for comics fan and newcomers alike – even if you need to get the next volume too…
© 2004 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman volume 1: Solve Everything


By Jonathan Hickman, Dale Eaglesham & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5303-0

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

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

The quartet are better known as maverick genius Reed Richards, his wife Sue, their trusty college friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s obnoxious younger brother Johnny Storm; driven survivors of an independently-funded space-shot which went horribly wrong after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

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

Throughout its history the series has always been more about big ideas than action/adventure and this compilation – gathering issues #570-574 from October 2009 to February 2010 – highlights the first forays of a truly mind-boggling run from scripter Jonathan Hickman (The Nightly News, Pax Romana, Secret Warriors and much more) who truly lived up to the series’ “Big Sky Thinking” antecedents…

It all begins with the breathtaking 3-parter ‘Solve Everything’ – illustrated by Dale Eaglesham – and ‘Is It Playing God If You’re Truly Serious About Creation?’ wherein certified super-genius Richards, driven by childhood memories of his demanding father, faces the greatest challenge and most beguiling seduction of his fantastic life.

After defeating the latest mad assault by scientific criminal Bentley Wittman – giant robots piloted by hideously modified clones of the deranged hyper-intellectual super-foe – the villain upsets and destabilises the victorious Richards by challenging him to examine some cold hard facts.

The Wizard postulates that the world is broken and about to tear itself apart but everyone is too busy applying band-aids to try fixing it…

The exchange stays with Richards. Even as the family goes about its usual business Mr. Fantastic discusses things with his three year old daughter Valeria – a savant even smarter than he is – and then retires to his private lab to mull things over.

The Room of 100 Ideas is the place where Richards has made his greatest breakthroughs and triumphs, the sanctum from which he has changed the world over and over again, but it also harbours one last dream and goal…

Idea 101: Solve Everything…

Now he uses a long-mothballed device to contact a mysterious inter-dimensional organisation of intellectual supermen to help him fix the world and at last discovers that the benevolent Council is completely composed of alternate Earth iterations of himself, all waiting patiently for him to join their elevated ranks. The self-appointed champions of rationality and guardians of the multiverse feel it is time he lived up to his true potential. He is sorely tempted…

The grand tour of perfect possibilities continues in ‘You Stood Beside Me, Larger Than Life and Did the Impossible’ as the newcomer proves his worth by killing an attacking planet-devouring Galactus and a legion of Silver Surfers on Earth 2012, all before popping home to touch base with his friends and family at breakfast. They are preparing for son Franklin’s upcoming birthday and, even though Richards cannot share his new experiences with them, Sue knows something big is troubling him.

After a frank but vague discussion, the distracted super-mind promises to have everything sorted one way or another in seven days…

His time “in the lab” in actuality finds him travelling to every incredible corner of Creation where his agglomerated alternates police and improve the lot of all humanities. Over and again their combined efforts have created a fantastic technological paradise but still Richards has unresolved, inexplicable reservations, especially at night in bed, thinking about his family and recalling conversations with his own father…

The intellectual idyll is rudely shattered in ‘We Are Men We Have No Masters’ when the multiversal Council is attacked by Celestial Space Gods intent on using their inter-dimensional discoveries to take control of all realities. The apocalyptic battle decimates the ranks of the Richards before a solution and ultimate victory is achieved, and, as the cosmic dust settles Reed at last makes his decision – the only one a really smart man can…

Originally published as ‘Adventures on Nu-World’ (and illustrated by Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie) the next tale focuses on the Thing and Human Torch as they take a long-anticipated vacation-break on an artificial resort much like a cosmic Las Vegas, blithely unaware of two extremely important facts.

Firstly, that Reed and Sue’s kids have stowed away aboard their transport, but probably more critical is the realisation that the man-made world is in the midst of a civil war prompted by the entire planet having slipped into the event horizon of a Black Hole…

With a host of guest villains including Skaar, Son of Hulk, ‘These Are the End Times’ follows the slow procession and brutal struggle to total obliteration and highlights the astounding gifts of toddler Valeria who secretly solves the problem and gets (almost) everyone home safely…

The story portion of this splendid celebration of all things Fantastical concludes with ‘All Hope Lies With Doom’ (originally ‘Days of Future Franklin’ by Edwards & Currie again) as the boy’s birthday finally arrives and the extended family – including Dragon Man, uncle Spider-Man, the kids from Power Pack and mutant orphans Artie and Leech – enjoy the party of a lifetime. It’s only slightly spoiled when a time-travelling raider crashes the affair, and he’s soon sent packing by the adults – but not before he delivers a secret warning to Valeria and a unique gift for the birthday boy.

Valeria isn’t worried: after all, if there’s one person she can trust, it’s her grown up brother Franklin…

This collection also includes a huge Cover Gallery by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Dave McCaig, John Rausch & Javier Rodriguez with variants from Eaglesham & Paul Mounts, John Cassaday & Laura Martin, Marcelo Dichiara, Christopher Jones & Sotocolor.

Smart, tense, thrilling and exhibiting genuine warmth and humanity, this is a grand starting point for new or returning readers with a view to recapturing the glory days of fantasy and science fiction, and especially a different kind of Fights ‘n’ Tights theatre…
© 2009, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four


By Christos Gage & Mario Alberti with Bill Mantlo, Mike Zeck, John Byrne & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4423-6

After a shaky start in 1962, The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages, rivalling the groundbreaking creative powerhouse that was Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four. Eventually the quirky, charming action-packed comics soap-opera became the model for an entire generation of younger heroes who imperceptibly began elbowing aside the staid, more mature costumed-crimebusters of previous publications and eras.

Since the 1970s the Astounding Arachnid and his hard-luck alter ego Peter Parker have become full-blown multimedia icons and survived every manner of seemingly insane reboot and upgrade to become globally real in the manner of Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse, Tarzan, Superman, Batman and Harry Potter.

The Fantastic Four are – more often than not – maverick genius Reed Richards, his fiancée (later wife) Sue Storm, their trusty friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother Johnny, driven survivors of a independently-funded space-shot which went horribly wrong after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

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

A core element of superhero comics is the “team-up” wherein costumed champions unite to tackle a greater than usual threat, or even each other; a sales-generating tactic taken to its logical extreme at Marvel wherein most early encounters between masked mystery men were generally prompted by jurisdictional disputes resulting in usually spectacular punch-ups before the heroes finally got on with allying to confront the real menace…

Combining Marvel’s biggest franchise and most creatively influential series, this slim, slick tome collects the 4-issue miniseries Spider-Man/Fantastic Four (from August to September 2010) by scripter Christos Gage and artist Mario Alberti, reprising their earlier trawl through key points of Marvel history affecting the wall-crawler and assorted iterations of X-Men.

Also focussing on the long, convoluted, inextricably interwoven relationship of the solitary web-spinner and the First Family of Superheroics, this compilation also offers an earlier crossover of the icons first seen in Peter Parker, the Sensational Spider-Man #42 and Fantastic Four #218 (both from May 1980).

The first chapter of the main story is set just after stuffy Mr. Fantastic and Sue Storm announced their engagement, a time when Peter Parker had just started college at Empire State University.

A ‘Crisis on Campus’ was triggered when the institution hosted a secret conference of world leaders and Victor Von Doom, absolute monarch of Balkan kingdom Latveria, demanded his arch-foes the FF should be his bodyguards. With the State Department pushing all the patriotism buttons the furious foursome had no choice but to reluctantly comply…

Intended merely as a means to aggravate and humiliate his enemies, the ploy became deadly serious when enraged Atlantean Prince Namor and his sub-sea legions attacked the meeting seeking vengeance on Doom.

Events escalated when the Iron Dictator refused to stay locked in a super-secure Panic Room and possessed the body of the Human Torch to personally rebuke the Sub-Mariner’s insults. Total catastrophe seemed unavoidable until the physically overmatched web-spinner proffered a brilliantly sneaky way to break up the cataclysmic fight…

Unknown to all participants, however, a clandestine time-travelling foe was the chaos as cover to acquire elements necessary to bring about the downfall of his greatest foes and the very rewriting of history…

‘Symbiosis’ skips forward a few years to the time after the first Secret Wars, when Spider-Man discovered that his new smart-tech black costume was in fact an alien parasite. The uniform had attempted to bond permanently to Peter and had to be forcibly removed and contained by Reed and the FF.

The strange invader (see Spider-Man vs. Venom and Amazing Spider-Man: the Saga of the Alien Costume for further details) would eventually bond with deranged, disgraced reporter Eddie Brock, becoming Venom, a savage, shape-changing dark-side version of the Astounding Arachnid, but in this untold aside the cosmic creature broke free almost immediately, seizing control of Richards, temporary replacement She-Hulk and eventually Reed’s son Franklin.

The boy possessed dormant power on a level to reshape the universe and, as Spider-Man selflessly attempted to lure the Symbiote away by offering himself as a sacrifice, the mysterious time-thief again surreptitiously stepped in to purloin another artefact crucial to his plan…

Once the heroes had at last repelled and incarcerated the parasite peril, the saga shifted forward to the time when Skrull outlaw De’Lila invaded Earth, with her own people hot on her viridian high heels.

Evading heavy pursuit she attacked the FF and seemingly killed them. Disguised as a grieving Sue Richards she then recruited four heroes – The Hulk, Wolverine, Ghost Rider and Spider-Man – to hunt down the murderers.

Their quest took them deep into the bowels of the Earth and battle with the Mole Man and his legion of monsters, before she was exposed and defeated. The shapeshifting psionic siren had been seeking a semi-sentient ultimate weapon called a Technotroid and ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ occurs minutes after the close of the original story (for which see Fantastic Four: Monsters Unleashed) as the temporal raider frees De’Lila from her Skrull captors as a deadly diversion whilst he takes the essence of the Technotroid for himself

Deprived of her trademark duplicity but with her telepathic abilities augmented, the temptress simply makes most of the men and Skrull cops her love-slaves and sets them upon Sue, new temp Sharon “She-Thing” Ventura and Spider-Man, forcing the irrepressible wall-crawler to use the most shocking of tactics to free the males from their murderous stupors…

The decade-long scheme of the mystery time-bandit is finally revealed in the concluding chapter ‘Family Values’ as – in the present – Spider-Man is lured to the Fantastic Four’s HQ and attacked with the rest of the team by one they had long considered to be part of their exotic extended family, lost in combat years ago…

Armoured with ultimate power and sporting a colossal chip on his shoulder, the prodigal intends to destroy Dr. Doom and offers the astounded gathering a chance to prove their loyalty by joining him…

When they try to humour the clearly disturbed assailant he cracks and all hell breaks loose…

However not all the heroes’ power can affect the attacker but Spider-Man, child of misuse, ill-fortune and isolation thinks he sees a kindred damaged spirit in the maniacal marauder…

Wry, witty, explosively action-packed, bombastic and genuinely moving, this clever re-evaluation of the bonds between the First Family and the solitary Spider-Man is a delightful celebration of everything that made Marvel such a force for change in the industry, and it’s a real shame that new readers won’t be able to pick up on the historical continuity scholarship that underpins a great fun yarn. That being said, this is still a funnybook frolic the freshest newbie to comics can easily follow…

Following the fearsome festivities is a section of sketches, pencils, unused and working drawings from Alberti, before the compilation concludes with an old-school saga from Peter Parker, the Sensational Spider-Man #42 and Fantastic Four #218.

The action begins when ESU student Peter Parker goes on a class jaunt on a party boat  and is lured into a trap by the Frightful Four in ‘Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death’ by Bill Mantlo, Mike Zeck & Jim Mooney.

The villains had broadsided the wall-crawler after new recruit Electro impersonated the Human Torch and, in the concluding ‘When a Spider-Man Comes Calling!’ (FF #218 by Mantlo, John Byrne & Joe Sinnott, the Trapster repeats the tactic to ambush the crime-busting quartet, allowing his comrades the Wizard and Sandman to take over the Baxter Building citadel of the heroes.

…At least until the fighting-mad web-spinner finally breaks free to launch an unstoppable counter attack…

Most people who read comics have a passing familiarity with all these characters, and even occasional consumers won’t have too much trouble following the backstory in this magnificently compelling Costumed Drama, so if you’re looking for some fun-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy this could well be the one for you…
© 1980, 2010 and 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Fantastic Four by Waid & Wieringo Ultimate Collection Book 3


By Mark Waid & Mike Wieringo, with Howard Porter, Norm Rapmund, Karl Kesel & Paul Smith (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5657-4

The Fantastic Four is widely regarded as the most pivotal series in modern comics history, introducing both a new style of storytelling and a strikingly fresh manner of engaging readers’ imaginations and attention. The heroes are felt by fans to be more family than team and, although the roster has temporarily changed many times over the years, the line-up always inevitably returns to the original core group of maverick genius Reed Richards, wife Sue, trusty friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s younger brother Johnny; all survivors of a privately-funded space-shot which went horribly wrong when Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

After crashing back to Earth, the quartet found they had all been hideously mutated into outlandish freaks. Richards’ body became astoundingly elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project force-fields, Johnny could turn into living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was transformed into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not reassume a semblance of normality on command.

This particular compilation gathers issues #503-513, highlighting more of the spectacular run by writer Mark Waid and much-missed illustrator Mike Wieringo, gloriously celebrating their “back-to-basics” approach which utterly rejuvenated the venerable property, beginning in 2003.

Waid’s greatest gift is his ability to embed hilarious moments of comedy into tales of shattering terror and poignant drama, but that’s sensibly suppressed here for the story-arc ‘Authoritative Action’ (illustrated by guest artists Howard Porter & Norm Rapmund) which sees the team return to Latveria following their spectacular defeat of Dr. Doom (for which see Fantastic Four by Waid & Wieringo Ultimate Collection book 2).

Arguably the most dangerous man alive, their arch foe was also supreme ruler of the tiny Balkan nation, his deadly inventions and ruthless reputation holding his subjects in an all-enveloping security cocoon whilst simultaneously keeping at bay every country surrounding the Ruritanian holdover.

Now, with the Iron Dictator gone,Hungaryis only the first of a dozen states seeking to forcibly annexe the territory and seize Doom’s lethal arsenal of technological terrors…

Maimed and potentially crazy following that fateful final clash, Reed has brought the FF back to the kingdom to keep the far-from-grateful citizens safe until the Latverians themselves can decide their future. Unfortunately the responsibility-wracked Reed Richards has neglected to inform the United Nations and his own government of this arbitrary action. In the eyes of the world it looks like the heroes have simply staged a coup…

Most Latverians are equally suspicious. To them their aloof, autocratic, media-controlling former ruler was a paternalistic despot who provided a paradise free from hunger, crime and strife with all the benefits of full employment and cradle-to-grave healthcare…

As the team break into Doom’s castle they find his robots removing their master’s creations and Reed orders his increasingly uneasy comrades to stop them, destroy the trash and store any devices that might be useful. They are even more disturbed when their leader hangs their logo from a flagpole and tells them that the team is staying to run the country…

The deed precipitates an international crisis and the UN calls in super-spy Nick Fury (leader of the organisation’s peacekeeping force S.H.I.E.L.D.) to take charge asHungary,Serbia and Symkaria all mobilise their armies to take back “their” territory.America too is incensed, fearing the FF’s actions will be construed as Yankee imperialism.

In the beleaguered principality Reed is clearly losing it. All his efforts to show the people what a monster Doom was go awry and he is slowly uniting the culture-shocked citizens against him. Even his devoted friends and family have their doubts – at least until Richards uncovers Doom’s hidden nuclear arsenal and underground intercontinental missile base…

Resorting to a media blitz, Reed opens Doom’s Fortress to the Latverians but only succeeds in provoking a suicide attack by ultra-nationalists, even as the UN issues an ultimatum: unless the FF vacate the country within 48 hours a “Coalition of the Willing’ comprising 39 nations including Russia and China, will declare war on them and America, liberating Latveria – and Doom’s arsenal…

In the postage-stamp kingdom, Ben and Johnny, frightened that Reed’s recent traumas have tipped him over the edge, try to negotiate with the Latverian resistance before the situation worsens, but are caught in a police sweep of deadly Doombots controlled by the now clearly insane Mr. Fantastic…

With Fury compelled to lead the coalition to proveAmerica’s innocence, Reed finally drives away his family just as the massed armies utterly surrounding the kingdom attack. But of course he has always had a plan. It involved plucking Doom from the torments of Hell and exacting a truly horrific and proper punishment upon the dictator and himself, but it’s all ruined when Sue, Ben and Johnny return to save him, allowing the dictator’s soul to escape and possess the Fantastic Four…

Even after that debacle is successfully concluded, Doom dispatched back to Hell and Latveria finally free to chart her own course, the FF are international pariahs awaiting trial for treason…

The battle also cost Ben’s life.

The team return to America in ‘Hereafter’ (illustrated by the returning Wieringo & Karl Kesel) which saw the ultimate inventor push his intellect to the limits of imagination and create a device to take Richards – and his unbelieving wife and brother-in-law – to Heaven and bring Ben back…

Spectacular and truly cosmic in scope, this bold tribute to the unlimited imagination of Jack Kirby acts as an inspirational re-set button for the series and this volume ends with a bunch of far lighter tales celebrating the team’s past and highlighting that comedy touch Waid, Wieringo & Kesel were famed for.

Fantastic Four #512 and 513 led with a 2-part action romp ‘Spider Sense’ as in the wake of the Latveria incident, self-promoting “playa” Johnny Storm went wild after his old frenemy Spider-Man surrendered (after five straight years) the title of “New York’s Least Eligible Batchelor” to the Human Torch…

Unable to handle the prospect of being unpopular Johnny became even more unconsciously obnoxious, demanded satisfaction of the arachnid avenger and got into a battle at a water park that deprived him of his confidence, his dignity and his pants – and that was before the hilariously Z-list villain Hydro-Man attacked…

This outrageous exploration of super-heroic Bromanticism was supplemented by a brace of superb and gently affectionate short stories rendered by the masterful Paul Smith. ‘Gone Fishin’’ peeked into the restored relationship of Reed and Sue as both dwelt upon old potential paramours, whilst the last teamed the Invisible Woman and her husband’s college girlfriend Alyssa Moy in a telling time-travel yarn which disturbingly hinted that  some things were ‘Best Left Forgotten’

With a full cover gallery by Tony Harris & Tom Feister, Wieringo & Karl Kesel

and Paul Mounts, this power-packed primer also includes

 

Superbly entertaining, immensely exciting and genuinely challenging, this run of tales was a sublime renaissance for the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” and this collection also includes bonus material comprising deleted scenes, the ‘E-mail Exchange’ resulting from the proposal to go political and also add God to the list of luminaries who have guest-starred in the series, notes of the art tribute to Kirby in #511 and unused pencil art and promotional designs.

Utterly absorbing, top quality Fights ‘n’ Tights mastery from some of the greatest creators in modern comics, this is another book no aficionado should ignore …

© 2003, 2004, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.