Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 6

By Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Johnny Craig & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4129-7

Having finally overtaken the aging colossus of National/DC, upstart Marvel Comics sometimes seemed to be at a loss for what to do next. The answer is obvious to us: more of the same… but back then the rules were being constantly rewritten, the country was changing and conflict was everywhere. Perhaps what was needed was more experimentation…

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions, the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison employing Yankee ingenuity, invention and wealth to safeguard and better the World seemed inevitable.

Combined with the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and business could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil, and the concept behind the Invincible Iron Man seems an infallibly successful proposition.

Of course where once Tony Stark was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous millionaire industrialist/inventor and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his metal alter-ego, the tumultuous tone of the times soon resigned his suave, fat-cat image to the dustbin of history and, with ecological disasters and social catastrophe from the abuse of industry and technology the new mantras of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting some tricky questions from the increasingly socially conscious readership.

All of a sudden maybe that money and fancy gadgetry weren’t quite so fun or cool anymore…?

With an Iron Clad promise of stunning action and compelling intrigue this iconic hardback (and digital) chronological compendium covers Iron Man #14-25, spanning June 1969 – May 1970, and opens with an educational and fascinating Introduction from dynamic draughtsman George Tuska, detailing the stellar career and achievements of the veteran yet rising star artist…

Writer Archie Goodwin and illustrious illustrators Tuska & Johnny Craig continued a sterling run of solidly science-flavoured action epics as IM #14 revealed that ‘The Night Phantom Walks!’ with the scripter craftily paying tribute to Craig’s past history drawing EC’s landmark horror comics. Here the latter artist pencilled and inked the tale of a zombie-like monster prowling a Caribbean island and destroying Stark Industry installations. As well as being a terse, moody thriller, this story marks the first indications of a different attitude as the menace’s ecologically inspired reign of terror includes some pretty fair arguments about the downsides of “Progress” and rapacious globalisation…

With Craig again inking, Tuska returned with #15 and ‘Said the Unicorn to the Ghost…!’ as the demented former superspy allies himself with Fantastic Four foe the Red Ghost in a desperate bid to find a cure for his drastically shortened his life-span.

Attempting to kidnap Tony Stark, the Ghost betrays the Unicorn and retrenches to an African Cosmic Ray research facility in concluding instalment ‘Of Beasts and Men!’, where it takes a fraught alliance of hero and villain to thwart the phantom mastermind’s ill-conceived plans…

A suspenseful extended epic began in Iron Man #17 when an advanced android designed to protect Stark’s secret identity achieves sinister sentience and sneakily replaces him.

‘The Beginning of the End!’ also introduces the enigmatic Madame Masque and her malevolent master Midas, who plans to take control of America’s greatest technology company…

Dispossessed and on the run Stark is abducted and aligns with Masque and Midas to reclaim his identity, only to suffer a fatal heart-attack in ‘Even Heroes Die!’ (guest-starring the Avengers) before a ground-breaking transplant – still practically science fiction in those distant days – gives him renewed hope in ‘What Price Life?’

When the ruthlessly opportunistic Midas instantly strikes again, the mysterious Madame Masque switches sides and all hell breaks loose…

The X-Men’s dimensionally displaced alien nemesis attacks the restored and recuperating hero in ‘Who Serves Lucifer?’ (inked by Joe Gaudioso – AKA Mike Esposito) before being rudely returned to his personal dungeon dimension after which African-American boxer Eddie March becomes the new Iron Man in #21’s ‘The Replacement!’ as Stark – free from the heart-stimulating chest-plate which had preserved his life for years – is briefly tempted by a life without strife. Unfortunately, and unknown to all, Eddie has a little health problem of his own…

When Soviet-sponsored armoured archenemy Titanium Man resurfaces, it’s in conjunction – if not union – with another old Cold War warrior in the form of a newly-upgraded Crimson Dynamo in #22’s chilling classic confrontation ‘From this Conflict… Death!’

With a loved one murdered, a vengeance-crazed Iron Man then goes ballistic in innovative action-thriller ‘The Man Who Killed Tony Stark!!’ before ultimately finding solace in the open arms of Madame Masque as Johnny Craig returns to fully illustrate superb mythological monster-mash ‘My Son… The Minotaur!’ and stays on as Archie Goodwin pins Iron Man’s new Green colours to the comic’s mast in #25’s stunning eco-parable ‘This Doomed Land… This Dying Sea!

Teamed with and battling against antihero Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Armoured Avenger is forced to destroy one of his own hyper-polluting facilities, consequently overruling and abandoning his company’s previous position and business model…

Tragically, his attempts to convince other industry leaders to do likewise meets with the kind of reaction that tragically then (and again now) typifies America’s response to the real-world situation…

The galvanised wonderment concludes with a sublime selection of Tuska original art pages and covers to wrap up this collection with the Golden Gladiator being politically repositioned at a time when Marvel solidly set itself up at the vanguard of a rapidly changing America increasingly at war with itself.

These are epic exploits, still charged with all the urgency and potency of a time of crisis and a nation in tumult, so what better time than now to finally tune in, switch on or return to the Power of Iron Man?
© 1969, 1970, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection Volume 3 1967-1968: The Masters of Evil

By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, John Buscema, Don Heck, Werner Roth, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0410-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Bombast and Astounding Action… 9/10

One of the most momentous events in comics history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate array of individual heroes banded together to combat an apparently out of control Incredible Hulk. The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the intervening decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in the Marvel multiverse has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket can pay off big-time. Even when all Marvel Royalty such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, the founding stars always regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which meant most issues included somebody’s fave-rave. After instigators Stan Lee & Jack Kirby moved on, the team prospered under the guidance of Roy Thomas who grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic…

This compilation – available in trade paperback and eBook iterations – collects Avengers #41-56, the first two Avengers Annuals, a crossover from X-Men #45 and pertinent vignettes from Not Brand Echh #5 and 8, collectively covering June 1967 to September 1967.

The first adventure is a historical and creative landmark as ‘Let Sleeping Dragons Lie!’ (inked by George Roussos) sees John Buscema assume the pencilling in an epic melange of monsters, insidious espionage and sheer villainy, as mad alchemist Diablo and enslaved artificial life-form Dragon Man attacks the team – Goliath, the Wasp, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and newly-recruited exile Olympian deity Hercules

The extended plotline continues in ‘The Plan… and the Power!’, as, with Diablo defeated, the team – now including Captain America – turn to rescuing reformed former soviet spy Black Widow from the Communist Chinese in #43’s ‘Color him… the Red Guardian!’

Having uncovered a world-threatening superweapon, the Avengers fight the battle of their lives as the saga climaxes in ‘The Valiant Also Die!’ (inked by Vince Colletta), a blistering all-out clash to save humanity from mental conquest.

Buscema had replaced Don Heck so the regular illustrator could concentrate on the debut Avengers Annual: a “49-page free-for-all” entitled ‘The Monstrous Master Plan of the Mandarin!’. Scripted by Thomas and inked by Roussos, this prodigious tribute to the golden Age Justice Society of America and All-Winners Squad saw Captain America, Goliath, Hawkeye, Hercules, Iron Man. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Thor and the Wasp compelled to battle against the Enchantress Executioner, Living Laser, Power Man, Swordsman and the bio-mechanical behemoth Ultimo across many continents to save humanity from the oriental outlaw overlord’s boldest scheme of subjugation. It’s everything a fan could want from a superhero tale: sheer escapism, perfectly handled.

Also included are the ‘Bombastic Bullpen Biography Dept.’ page, pin-ups of Hercules, Wasp, Scarlet Witch and Black Widow, Avenger Mansion cutaway diagram ‘More Than Meets the Eye!’ and a fabulous tableau contrasting the original and new Avengers line-ups.

The regular monthly storytelling resumes with Avengers #45 – a ‘Blitzkrieg in Central Park’ by Thomas, Heck & Colletta – wherein the triumphant team are ambushed by the power-stealing Super-Adaptoid, after which a treacherous murder attempt by an old foe nearly finishes Goliath and the Wasp.

‘The Agony and the Anthill!’ (with art by Buscema & Colletta) is a taut, human-scaled drama, which began a long period of superb collaborations that would change the face of team-up comics.

Thomas was quickly establishing himself as a major creative force in comics and his tense, bellicose yarns were propelling John Buscema to the forefront of fan-favourite artists. To supplement his already large team the writer began interweaving appearances by the founding stars: regularly showing up: giving the impression of a small army of costumed crusaders lurking in the wings at all times…

‘Magneto Walks the Earth!’ (Avengers #47, December 1967 and inked by George Tuska) finds the malign master of magnetism returned from enforced exile in space to put his old band back together. That means recruiting mutant Avengers Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch… whether they’re willing or otherwise…

Tuska takes on full art-chores for the second chapter ‘The Black Knight Lives Again!’, which introduces a brand-new Marvel Superhero, whilst furthering a sub-plot featuring Hercules’ return to an abandoned and devastated Olympus before #49 (pencilled and inked by Buscema) concludes the Mutant trilogy with ‘Mine is the Power!’

This clears the decks for the tempestuous 50th issue tussle as the team rejoins Hercules in restoring fallen Olympus by defeating the mythological menace of Typhon in ‘To Tame a Titan!’

In the aftermath the team is reduced to Hawkeye, the Wasp and a recently de-powered Goliath, and soon the Avengers find themselves ‘In the Clutches of the Collector!’ (#51 and illustrated by Buscema & Tuska), but the handy intervention of Iron Man and Thor swiftly sees the Master of Many Sizes regain his abilities. This is just in time to welcome new member Black Panther in the Vince Colletta inked ‘Death Calls for the Arch-Heroes’: a fast-paced murder mystery which also see the advent of obsessive super-psycho the Grim Reaper.

Next follows a slightly disconcerting cross-over and conclusion to an extended X-Men clash with Magneto (from issues #43-45 of their own title) which dovetails neatly into a grand Avengers/X-Men face-off.

In X-Men #43, arch-nemesis Magneto attacked the outcast teen heroes with reluctant confederates Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and the Toad, trapping them in his hidden island fortress. The next issue saw the Angel inexplicably escape and – after encountering a revived Golden Age Timely Comics hero – headed for America for Avenger reinforcements.

Those episodes aren’t included here but X-Men #45’s ‘When Mutants Clash!’ (Gary Friedrich, Don Heck, Werner Roth & John Tartaglione) sees Cyclops also break free, only to encounter and defeat the highly-conflicted Quicksilver…

The fight latterly concluded in Avengers #53 as ‘In Battle Joined’ (Thomas, Buscema & Tuska) details Magneto’s defeat by and apparent death after his scheme to trick mutants and superheroes into killing each other backfires.

Issue #54 kicked off a mini-renaissance in quality and creativity with ‘…And Deliver Us from the Masters of Evil!’, which brought back the new Black Knight – accidentally recruited to a revived team of scurrilous super-villains – and finally gave Avengers butler Edwin Jarvis a character and starring role.

This was merely a prelude to the second instalment which debuted the oppressively Oedipal threat of robotic tyrant Ultron-5 in ‘Mayhem Over Manhattan!’ (inked by the superbly slick George Klein).

Captain America’s introduction to the 1960s got a spectacular and thought-provoking reworking in Avengers #56 as ‘Death Be Not Proud!’ accidentally stranded him and his comrades in WWII on the fateful night when Bucky died. This adroitly segued into 1968’s Avengers Annual #2 (illustrated by Heck, Roth & Colletta).

‘…And Time, the Rushing River…’ reveals how Cap, Black Panther, Goliath, Wasp and Hawkeye return from the tragedy-drenched past to a divergent present where they must battle the original founding Avengers team of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Giant-Man and the Wasp to correct a reality manipulated by one of their deadliest foes in the new guise of the Scarlet Centurion.

Also included from that monumental release are a stunning Buscema pin-up of the entire team and fourth-wall shattering spoof ‘Avenjerks Assemble!’ by Thomas, Buscema & Frank Giacoia, revealing where the writer gets his ideas from…

The comedy hits keep coming as humour mag Not Brand Echh #5 offers the sterling saga of ‘The Revengers vs Charlie America’ by Thomas, Gene Colan & Tartaglione, reprising how – if not why – the heroes saved the Star-Spangled Simpleton of Liberty from icy entombment. The same creative culprits are responsible for ‘This Fan… This Forbush!’ from NBE #8 as the frankly feeble Forbush-Man joins the team to demolish time-bending baddie Dang the Conqueror

Adding even more lustre and appeal to this tome are pages of original Buscema pencils, inked art and covers, a model sheet he produced in 1967 to get familiar with Cap and the team, plus unedited production photostats of pre-corrected covers. There’s even a Steve Ditko cover from Marvel Triple Action #47 (which reprinted Avengers #54) as well as Buscema’s cover from Avengers Annual #1; modified by painter Richard Isanove and used to front Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers volume 5.

Unceasingly enticing and always evergreen, these timeless sagas defined and cemented the Marvel experience and are a joy no fans of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction should deny themselves or their kids.
© 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ms. Marvel Masterworks volume 2

By Chris Claremont, Simon Furman, Jim Shooter, George Pérez, Bob Layton, David Michelinie, Jim Mooney, Carmine Infantino, Dave Cockrum, Mike Vosburg, Mike Gustovich, Michael Golden, David Ross & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9575-7

Until relatively recently American comics and especially Marvel had very little in the way of positive female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Although there was a woman starring in the very first comic of the Marvel Age, Invisible Girl Susan Storm took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right. They’ve come a long way since then…

Ms. Marvel launched in her own title, cover-dated January 1977. She was followed by the equally copyright-protecting Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977, and securing her own title 15 months later) and Savage She-Hulk (#1, February 1980). Then came the music-biz sponsored Dazzler who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before inevitably graduating to her own book.

Once upon a time Ms. Marvel was Carol Danvers, a United States Air Force security officer. She was first seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968): the second episode of the saga of Kree warrior Mar-Vell AKA Captain Marvel, who had been dispatched to Earth as a spy after the Fantastic Four repulsed the alien Kree twice in two months…

That series was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Gene Colan with the immensely competent Carol perpetually investigating Mar-Vell’s assumed and tenuous cover-identity of Walter Lawson for many months.

This was until Danvers was collateral damage in a devastating battle between the now-defecting alien and his nemesis Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel#18 (November 1969).

Caught in a climactic explosion of alien technology, she pretty much vanished from sight until revived as and in Ms. Marvel #1 (January 1977), heralding a new chapter for the company and the industry…

This second sturdy hardcover volume (or enthralling eBook if you prefer), collects Ms. Marvel volume 1#15-23, relevant portions of Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10-11, Avengers #197-200, Avengers Annual #10 and material from Marvel Fanfare #24, circuitously spanning March 1978 to October 1992, and leads off with an effusive Introduction from latter-day Danvers writer Kelly Sue DeConnick before the game-changing dramas commence…

Never having fully recovered from her near-death experience, Danvers had left the military and drifted into writing, slowly growing in confidence before relocating to New York City to work for publisher J. Jonah Jameson on his new project Woman Magazine.

During this time Carol learned that she had gained Kree-based abilities, psychic powers and partial amnesia: creating the role of Ms. Marvel without her own knowledge. Eventually her personality split was healed and she became a fully conscious and ferociously competent costumed champion…

With Chris Claremont scripting and Jim Mooney & Tony DeZuñiga providing the art, ‘The Shark is a Very Deadly Beast!’ opens this edition as the two-fisted titan clashes with undersea villain Tiger Shark. The action begins after Carol stumbles over him abducting the Sub-Mariner’s teenaged cousin Namorita. Despite a brief side trip to Avengers Mansion, only Ms. Marvel is on hand to provide succour in cataclysmic concluding ‘The Deep Deadly Silence!’ (inked by Frank Springer).

‘Shadow of the Gun!’ (Mooney & DeZuñiga) then enhances the X-Men connection by introducing shape-shifting mutant Mystique in a raid on S.H.I.E.L.D. to purloin a new super-weapon which then sees impressive service in #18’s ‘The St. Valentine’s Day/Avengers Massacre!’ (inked by Ricardo Villamonte): a blockbuster battle featuring the beginnings of a deadly plot originating at the heart of the distant Kree Imperium.

The scheme swiftly culminates in ‘Mirror, Mirror!’ (art by Carmine Infantino & Bob McLeod) as the Kree Supreme Intelligence attempts to reinvigorate his race’s stalled evolutionary path by kidnapping Earth/Kree hybrid Carol Danvers. However, with both her and Captain Marvel hitting hard against his emissary Ronan the Accuser, eventually the Supremor and his plotters take the hint and go home empty-handed…

Ms. Marvel #20 highlights a huge makeover as Danvers dumps her Mar-Vell-inspired uniform and finally finds her own look and identity in ‘The All-New Ms. Marvel’ courtesy of Claremont, Dave Cockrum & Bob Wiacek.

Here the utterly re-purposed hero tackles a hidden kingdom of predatory, intelligent, post-atomic dinosaurs infesting the American deserts, leading to a catastrophic clash with ‘The Devil in the Dark!’ (inked by Al Milgrom) in the following issue.

Now one of the most hands-on, bombastic battlers in the Marvel pantheon, Ms. M is more than ready for a return match with Death-Bird in ‘Second Chance!’ (art by Mikes Vosburg & Zeck) but thrown for a total loop in her personal life after being fired from Woman Magazine.

All these bold changes came too late as the series’ dwindling sales had earmarked it for cancellation. ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ (inked by Bruce D. Patterson) resolves a long-running plot thread involving the disappearance of old friend Salia Petrie in a tale guest-starring the time-travelling Guardians of the Galaxy, just in time for the end of the road.

The series stopped there but two more stories were in various stages of preparation. They eventually saw print in 1992 (the Summer and Fall issues of oversized anthology publication Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10-11). Here they are presented in an originally untitled yarn dubbed ‘Sabretooth Stalks the Subway’: a ferocious fight against the feral mutant maniac by Claremont & Vosburg, followed by ‘Cry, Vengeance!’ (Claremont, Simon Furman, Vosburg & Mike Gustovich) as Ms. Marvel, now a card-carrying Avenger, faces off against Mystique and her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

This tale incorporates an additional section explaining how Carol is later attacked by young mutant Rogue, permanently loses her powers and memory and is eventually reborn as the cosmic-powered adventurer Binary: which is all well and good but somewhat takes the punch out of the later tales in this collection…

Relegated to an ensemble role in the Avengers, Danvers’ life took a strange and disturbing turn in Avengers 197-199 (July to September 1980 and represented here by pertinent extracts from those issues).

Written by David Michelinie with art from Infantino & Brett Breeding and George Pérez & Dan Green, these snippets follow a strange and terrifyingly rapid transformation as Carol finds herself impossibly pregnant and bringing an unknown baby to term in a matter of days…

The mystery is solved in ‘The Child is Father To…?’ (Avengers #200, October 1980 by plotters, Jim Shooter, Pérez & Bob Layton, scripter Michelinie, illustrated by Pérez & Green). The baby is born and hyper-rapidly matures as time goes wild, with different eras overwriting the present. The unearthly child begins building a machine to stabilise the chaos but the heroes misunderstand his motives.

“Marcus” claims to be the son of time-master Immortus, trying to escape eternal isolation in other-dimensional Limbo by implanting his essence in a mortal tough enough to survive the energy required for the transfer.

Literally reborn on Earth, his attempts to complete the process are foiled by the World’s Most Confused Heroes and he is drawn back to his timeless realm. Carol, declaring her love for Marcus, unexpectedly goes with him…

Ms. Marvel only plays a peripheral role in ‘By Friends… Betrayed!’ (Avengers Annual #10 (1981, by Claremont, Michael Golden & Armando Gil), as powerless, amnesiac Carol is rescued from drowning by Spider-Woman, prior to Mystique launching an all-out attack on the World’s Mightiest Heroes whilst attempting to free the Brotherhood from custody.

In that attack Danvers’ mind and abilities are taken by power-leaching mutant Rogue, seemingly ending her adventuring life, and in the aftermath, the Avengers learn the horrific truth of her relationship with Marcus and their part in his doom…

One final sentimental moment comes with Claremont, David Ross & Wiacek’s ‘Elegy’ (Marvel Fanfare #24, January 1986) as Carol – now high-energy warrior Binary – returns to Earth to catch up with old friends and learns of the tragic death of Captain Mar-Vell…

Extras in this stellar compendium include a full cover gallery, a Ross alternative cover; ‘The RE-Making of Ms. Marvel’ promo article from F.O.O.M. #22, house ads for her 1978 makeover relaunch and biographies of all the creators involved.

Always entertaining, often groundbreaking and painfully patronising (occasionally at the same time), the early Ms. Marvel, against all odds, grew into the modern Marvel icon of capable womanhood we see today.

These stories are a valuable grounding of the contemporary champion but also still stand up on their own as intriguing examples of the inevitable fall of even the staunchest of male bastions – superhero stories…
© 1978, 1979, 1981, 1992, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection: Once an Avenger…

By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9582-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Matchless Marvel Mayhem and Melodrama… 8/10

One of the most momentous events in Marvel Comics history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate array of individual heroes banded together to combat an apparently out of control Incredible Hulk.

The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in their universe has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket can pay off big-time. Even when all Marvel all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows always the lesser lights of the team to shine more brightly.

Of course, the founding stars regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which meant that most issues included somebody’s fave-rave. The increasingly bold and impressive stories and artwork were no hindrance either.

After Lee moved on, the team was left in the capable hands of Roy Thomas who grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic…

This compilation – available in hardcover, paperback and eBook iterations – collects Avengers #21-40 from October 1965 to May 1967.

With this second collection the team – consisting of Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and his sister the Scarlet Witch – was already a firm fan-favourite with close attention to melodrama sub-plots, leavening the action through compelling soap-opera elements that kept readers riveted.

After debuting insidious infiltrator Swordsman in the previous volume, writer Stan Lee and illustrators Don Heck & Wally Wood – without pausing for creative breath – launched another soon -to-be big name villain in the form of Power Man. ‘The Bitter Dregs of Defeat!’ (Avengers #21) depicted his creation and the diabolical plan hatched with the evil Asgardian witch the Enchantress to discredit and replace the quarrelsome quartet. The scheme was only narrowly foiled in the concluding ‘The Road Back.’

An epic 2-part tale follows as the team is shanghaied into the far-future to battle against and eventually with Kang the Conqueror. ‘Once an Avenger…’ (Avengers #23, December 1965 and, incidentally, my vote for the best cover Jack Kirby ever drew) is inked by the wonderful John Romita (senior), pitting the heroes against an army of fearsome future men, with the yarn explosively and tragically ending in From the Ashes of Defeat!’ by Lee, Heck & inker Dick Ayers.

The still-learning team then face their greatest test yet after they are captured by the deadliest man alive in #25’s ‘Enter… Dr. Doom!’ and forced to fight their way out of the tyrant’s kingdom of Latveria.

Since change is ever the watchword for this series, the next two issues combined a threat to drown the world from subsea barbarian Attuma with the return of some old comrades. ‘The Voice of the Wasp!’ and ‘Four Against the Floodtide!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia as the pseudonymous Frank Ray) is a superlative action-romp but is merely a prelude to the main event – issue #28’s return of founding Avenger Giant-Man in a new guise as ‘Among us Walks a Goliath!’ This instant classic introduced the villainous and ultimately immortally alien Collector whilst extending the company’s pet theme of alienation by tragically trapping the size-changing hero at a freakish ten-foot height, seemingly forever…

As Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch bow out and return to Europe to reinvigorate their fading powers Avengers #29 features ‘This Power Unleashed!’ and brings back Hawkeye’s lost love Black Widow as a brainwashed Soviet agent attempting to destroy the team.

She recruits old foes Power Man and Swordsman as cannon-fodder but is foiled by her own incompletely submerged feeling for Hawkeye, after which ‘Frenzy in a Far-Off Land!’ sees dispirited colossus Henry Pym embroiled in a futuristic civil war amongst a lost south American civilisation. The conclusion threatened to end in global incineration in the ludicrously titled yet satisfyingly thrilling ‘Never Bug a Giant!’

The company’s crusading credentials are enhanced next as ‘The Sign of the Serpent!’ and concluding chapter ‘To Smash a Serpent!’ (Avengers#32-33, with Heck providing raw, gritty inks over his own pencils) craft a brave, socially-aware epic.

Here the heroes tackle a sinister band of organised racists in a thinly veiled allegory of the Civil Rights turmoil then gripping America. Marvel’s bold liberal stand even went so far as to introduce a new African-American character, Bill Foster, who would eventually become a superhero in his own right.

It was then back to crime-busting basics as Roy Thomas officially began his long association with the team in #34’s ‘The Living Laser!’, but second part ‘The Light that Failed!’ again assumes political overtones as the light bending super-villain allies himself with South American (and by implication, Marxist) rebels for a rollercoaster ride of thrills and spills.

The team’s international credentials are further exploited when long-missing Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver return, heralding an alien invasion of the Balkans in ‘The Ultroids Attack!’ and ‘To Conquer a Colossus!’ (Avengers #36-37). Along for the ride and a crucial factor in repelling an extraterrestrial invasion is newly cured and reformed Natasha Romanoff – the sinister, merciless Black Widow…

Thomas clearly had no problem juggling a larger roster of characters as he promptly added Olympian godling Hercules to the mix, first as a duped and drugged pawn of the Enchantress in #38’s ‘In our Midst… An Immortal’ (inked by George Roussos, nee Bell) and then as a member from the following issue onwards, when the Mad Thinker attacks during ‘The Torment… and the Triumph!’.

No prizes for guessing who was throwing the punches in #40’s ‘Suddenly… the Sub-Mariner!’ as the team battle the Lord of Atlantis for possession of a reality-warping Cosmic Cube; a riotous all-action romp to end a superb classic chronicle of furious Fights ‘n’ Tights fables.

Augmenting the narrative joys is an abundance of behind-the-scenes treasures such as original art reproductions, production-stage pencilled page photostats and a fascinating sequence of “tweaked” cover-corrections. Still more extras include Tee-shirt art-designs by Jack Kirby, Frank Giacoia & Wally Wood plus earlier Kirby and Gil Kane Avengers collection covers modified by painters Dean White & Richard Isanove.

Unceasingly enticing and always evergreen, these immortal epics are tales that defined the Marvel experience and a joy no fan should deny themselves or their kids.
© 1965, 1966, 1967, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Masterworks volume 2

By Stan Lee, Don Heck, Dick Ayers & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3202-8 (HC)                    978-0785137085 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Immortal masterpieces to savour forever… 9/10

Whenever Jack Kirby left a title he’d co-created it took a little while to settle into a new rhythm, and none more so than the collectivised costumed crusaders called the Avengers. Although writer Stan Lee and the fabulously utilitarian Don Heck were perfectly capable of producing cracking comics entertainments, they never had The King’s unceasing sense of panoramic scope and vast scale which constantly searched for bigger, bolder blasts of excitement. After Kirby, the tales starring Thor, Iron Man, Giant Man, The Wasp and scene-stealing newcomer Captain America concentrated on frail human beings in costumes, not wild modern gods bestriding and shaking the Earth…

Following another Stan Lee introduction, the wonderment herein contained (covering issues #11-20, December 1964 – September 1965 and available in Hard Cover, Trade Paperback and eBook editions) begins with ‘The Mighty Avengers Meet Spider-Man!’; a clever and classy cross-fertilising tale inked by Chic Stone and featuring the return of time-bending tyrant Kang the Conqueror. Here, he attempts to destroy the team by insinuating a robotic duplicate of the outcast hero within their serried ranks. It’s accompanied by a Marvel Master Work Pin-up of ‘Kang!’ and followed by a cracking end-of-the-world thriller with Fantastic Four guest-villains Mole Man and the Red Ghost.

This was another Marvel innovation, as – according to established funnybook rules – bad guys stuck to their own nemeses and didn’t clash outside their own backyards….

‘This Hostage Earth!’ (inked by Dick Ayers) is a welcome return to grand adventure with lesser lights Giant-Man and the Wasp taking rare lead roles, but is trumped by a rousing gangster thriller of a sort seldom seen outside the pages of Spider-Man or Daredevil, which introduced Marvel universe Mafia analogue The Maggia and another major menace in #13’s ‘The Castle of Count Nefaria!’

After failing in his scheme to frame the Avengers, Nefaria was crushed, but the caper ended on a tragic cliffhanger as Janet Van Dyne is left gunshot and dying, leading to a peak in melodramatic tension in #14 (scripted by Paul Laiken & Larry Lieber over Stan’s plot) as the traumatised team scour the globe for the only surgeon who can save her.

‘Even Avengers Can Die!’ – although of course she didn’t – resolves into an epic alien invader tale with overtones of This Island Earth with Kirby stepping in to lay out the saga for Heck & Stone to illustrate, which only whets the appetite for a classic climactic confrontation as the costumed champions finally deal with the Masters of Evil and Captain America finally avenges the death of his dead partner Bucky.

‘Now, by My Hand, Shall Die a Villain!’ in #15 (again laid-out by Kirby, pencilled by Heck but now inked by Mike Esposito) features the final, fatal confrontation between Captain America and Baron Zemo in the heart of the Amazon jungle, whilst the other Avengers and Zemo’s cohort of masked menaces clash once more on the streets of New York City…

The battle ends in concluding episode ‘The Old Order Changeth!’ (again visually broken down by Kirby before being finished by Ayers) which presaged a dramatic change in concept for the series; presumably because, as Lee increasingly wrote to the company’s unique strengths – tight continuity and strongly individualistic characterisation – he found juggling individual stars in their own titles as well as a combined team episode every month was just incompatible if not impossible.

As Cap and teen sidekick Rick Jones fight their way back to civilisation, the Avengers set-up changes completely with big name stars retiring only to be replaced by three erstwhile villains: Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

Eventually, led by perennial old soldier Captain America, this relatively powerless group with no outside titles to divide the attention (the Sentinel of Liberty did have a regular feature in Tales of Suspense but it was at that time recounting adventures set during the hero’s WWII career), evolved into another squabbling family of flawed, self-examining neurotics, enduring extended sub-plots and constant action as valiant underdogs; a formula readers of the time could not get enough of and which still works superbly well today…

Acting on advice from the departing Iron Man, the neophytes seek to recruit the Hulk to add raw power to the team, only to be sidetracked by the malevolent Mole Man in #17’s ‘Four Against the Minotaur!’ (Lee, Heck & Ayers), after which they then fall foul of a dastardly “commie” plot ‘When the Commissar Commands!’ – necessitating a quick trip to a thinly disguised Viet Nam analogue dubbed Sin-Cong and a battle against a bombastic android…

This brace of relatively run-of-the-mill tales is followed by an ever-improving run of mini-masterpieces starting with a 2-part gem providing an origin for Hawkeye and introducing a rogue-ish hero/villain to close this sturdy, full-colour compendium.

‘The Coming of the Swordsman!’ premiers a dissolute and disreputable swashbuckler – with just a hint of deeply-buried nobility – who attempts to force his way onto the highly respectable team. His rejection lead to him becoming an unwilling pawn of a far greater menace after being kidnapped by A-list world despot the Mandarin.

The conclusion comes in the superb ‘Vengeance is Ours!’ – inked by the one-&-only Wally Wood – wherein the constantly-bickering Avengers finally pull together as a supernaturally efficient, all-conquering super-team.

Augmented by original art, production-stage corrections photostats plus the usual round of Biographies, these immortal epics are tales that defined the Marvel experience and a joy no fan should deny themselves or their kids.
© 1963, 1964, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Masterworks volume 1

By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, Chic Stone & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0883-2 (HC)                    978-0 7851 3706 1 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Classics to Enjoy Forever … 10/10

After a period of meteoric expansion, in 1963 the burgeoning Marvel Universe was finally ready to emulate the successful DC concept that cemented the legitimacy of the Silver Age of American comics.

The concept of putting a bunch of all-star eggs in one basket which had made the Justice League of America such a winner had inspired the moribund Atlas outfit – primarily Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko – into inventing “super-characters” of their own. The result in 1961 was the Fantastic Four.

Nearly 18 months later the fledgling House of Ideas had a viable stable of leading men (but only sidekick women) so Lee & Kirby assembled a handful of them and moulded them into a force for justice and soaring sales…

Seldom has it ever been done with such style and sheer exuberance. Cover dated September 1963, The Avengers #1 launched as part of an expansion package which also included Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos and The X-Men

Marvel’s Masterwork’s collections – available in hardcover, paperback and digital formats – are only one of many series faithfully compiling those groundbreaking tales and this premier volume gathers #1-10 of The Avengers spanning March 1963 to November 1964: a sequence no lover of superhero stories can do without…

Following an introduction from Stan the Man himself, the suspenseful action kicks off with ‘The Coming of the Avengers’: one of the cannier origin tales in comics. Instead of starting at a zero point and acting as if the reader knew nothing, Stan & Jack (plus inker Dick Ayers) assumed readers had at least a passing familiarity with Marvel’s other titles and wasted very little time or energy on introductions.

In Asgard, Loki is imprisoned on a dank isle, hungry for vengeance on his half-brother Thor. Observing Earth, the god of evil espies the monstrous, misunderstood Hulk and mystically engineers a situation wherein the man-brute seemingly goes on a rampage, simply to trick the Thunder God into battling the monster.

When the Hulk’s sidekick Rick Jones radios the Fantastic Four for assistance, devious Loki diverts the transmission and smugly awaits the blossoming of his mischief. Sadly, Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp also pick up the redirected SOS….

As the heroes converge in the American Southwest to search for the Jade Giant, they soon realize that something is oddly amiss…

This terse, epic, compelling and wide-ranging yarn (New York, New Mexico, Detroit and Asgard in 22 pages) is Lee & Kirby at their bombastic best and one of the greatest stories of the Silver Age (it’s certainly high in my own top ten Marvel Tales) and is followed by ‘The Space Phantom’ (Lee, Kirby & Paul Reinman), wherein an alien shape-stealer almost destroys the team from within.

With latent animosities exposed by the malignant masquerader, the tale ends with the volatile Hulk quitting the team in disgust, only to return in #3 as an outright villain in partnership with ‘Sub-Mariner!’

This globe-trotting romp delivers high-energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history as the assorted titans clashed in abandoned World War II tunnels beneath the Rock of Gibraltar.

Inked by George Roussos Avengers #4 was an epic landmark as Marvel’s greatest Golden Age sensation was revived for another increasingly war-torn era. ‘Captain America joins the Avengers!’ has everything that made the company’s early tales so fresh and vital. The majesty of a legendary warrior returned in our time of greatest need: stark tragedy in the loss of his boon companion Bucky, aliens, gangsters, Sub-Mariner and even subtle social commentary and – naturally – vast amounts of staggering Kirby Action.

Reinman returned to ink ‘The Invasion of the Lava Men!’: another staggering adventure romp as the team battle superhuman subterraneans and a world-threatening mutating mountain with the unwilling assistance of the Hulk…

However, even that pales before the supreme shift in quality that was Avengers #6.

Chic Stone – arguably Kirby’s best Marvel inker of the period – joined the creative team just as a classic arch-foe debuts. ‘The Masters of Evil!’ reveals how Nazi super-scientist Baron Zemo is forced by his own arrogance and paranoia out of the South American jungles he’s been skulking in since the Third Reich fell, after learning his hated nemesis Captain America has returned from the dead.

To this end, the ruthless war-criminal recruits a gang of super-villains to attack New York City and destroy the Avengers. The unforgettable clash between valiant heroes and the vile murdering mercenaries Radioactive Man, Black Knight and the Melter is an unsurpassed example of prime Marvel magic to this day.

Issue #7 followed up with two more malevolent recruits for the Masters of Evil as Asgardian outcasts Enchantress and the Executioner ally with Zemo just as Iron Man is suspended from the team due to misconduct occurring in his own series (this was the dawning of the close-continuity era where events in one series were referenced and even built upon in others)…

It may have been ‘Their Darkest Hour!’ but Avengers #8 held the greatest triumph and tragedy as Jack Kirby (inked with fitting circularity by Dick Ayers) relinquished his drawing role with the superb and entrancing invasion-from-time thriller which introduced ‘Kang the Conqueror!’

The Avengers evolved into an entirely different series when the subtle humanity of Don Heck’s work replaced the larger-than-life bombastic bravura of Kirby. The series had rapidly advanced to monthly circulation and even The King could not draw the massive number of pages his expanding workload demanded.

Heck was a gifted and trusted artist with a formidable record for meeting deadlines and, progressing under his pencil, sub-plots and character interplay finally got as much space as action and spectacle.

His first outing was the memorable tragedy ‘The Coming of the Wonder Man!’ (inked by Ayers) wherein the Masters of Evil plant superhuman Trojan Horse Simon Williams within the ranks of the Avengers, only to have the conflicted infiltrator find deathbed redemption amongst the heroes…

This glorious collection concludes with the introduction of malignant master of time Immortus who briefly combines with Zemo’s devilish cohort to engineer a fatal division in the ranks when ‘The Avengers Break Up!’

Accompanied by a Marvel Masterwork Pin-Up of ‘The One and Only Cap’ the bonus features in this titanic tome include September 1963 house ads for the imminently debuting Avengers, a previous Kirby Masterworks cover colourised by painter Dean White, original cover art for Avenger #4 and Alex Ross’s recreation of it for the 1999 Overstreet Guide to Comics plus the usual round of Creator Biographies.

These immortal epics are tales that defined the Marvel experience and a joy no fan should deny themselves or their kids.
© 1963, 1964, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Masterworks Ms. Marvel volume

By Gerry Conway, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8811-7

Until relatively recently American comics and especially Marvel had very little in the way of positive female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Although there was a woman starring in the very first comic of the Marvel Age, the Invisible Girl took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right.

The company’s very first starring heroine was Black Fury, a leather-clad, whip-wielding crimebuster lifted from a newspaper strip created by Tarpe Mills in April 1941. She was repackaged as a resized reprint for Timely’s funnybooks and renamed Miss Fury for a four-year run between 1942 and 1946 – although the tabloid incarnation survived until 1952.

Fury was actually predated by the Silver Scorpion who debuted in Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941), but she was relegated to a minor position in the book’s line-up and endured a very short shelf-life.

Miss America first appeared in the anthology Marvel Mystery Comics#49 (November1943), created by Otto Binder and artist Al Gabriele. After a few appearances, she won her own title in early 1944. Miss America Comics lasted but the costumed cutie didn’t, as with the second issue (November1944) the format changed, becoming a combination of teen comedy, fashion feature and domestic tips magazine. Feisty take-charge super-heroics were steadily squeezed out and the publication is most famous now for introducing virginal evergreen teen ideal Patsy Walker.

A few other woman warriors appeared immediately after the War, many as spin-offs and sidekicks of established male stars such as female Sub-Mariner Namora (debuting in Marvel Mystery Comics #82, May 1947 and graduating to her own three issue series in 1948). She was followed by the Human Torch’s secretary Mary Mitchell who, as Sun Girl, starred in her own 3-issue 1948 series before becoming a wandering sidekick and guest star in Sub-Mariner and Captain America Comics.

Masked detective Blonde Phantom was created by Stan Lee and Syd Shores for All Select Comics #11 (Fall 1946) and sort-of goddess Venus debuted in her own title in August 1948, becoming the gender’s biggest Timely/Atlas/Marvel success until the advent of the Jungle Girl fad in the mid-1950s.

This was mostly by dint of the superb stories and art from the great Bill Everett and by ruthlessly changing genres from crime to romance to horror every five minutes…

Jann of the Jungle (by Don Rico & Jay Scott Pike) was just part of an anthology line-up in Jungle Tales #1 (September 1954), but she took over the title with the eighth issue (November 1955).

Jann of the Jungle continued until issue June 1957 (#17) and spawned a host of in-company imitators such as Leopard Girl, Lorna the Jungle Queen and so on…

During the costumed hero boom of the 1960s Marvel experimented with a title shot for Madame Medusa in Marvel Super-Heroes (#15, July 1968) and a solo series for the Black Widow in Amazing Adventures # 1-8 (August 1970-September 1971). Both were sexy, reformed villainesses, not wholesome girl-next-door heroines… and neither lasted alone for long.

When the costumed crazies craze began to subside in the 1970s, Stan Lee and Roy Thomas looked into creating a girl-friendly boutique of heroines written by women. Opening shots in this mini-liberation war were Claws of the Cat by Linda Fite, Marie Severin & Wally Wood and Night Nurse by Jean Thomas and Win Mortimer (both #1’s cover-dated November 1972).

A new jungle goddess Shanna the She-Devil #1 – by Carole Seuling & George Tuska – debuted in December 1972; but despite impressive creative teams none of these fascinating experiments lasted beyond a fifth issue.

Red Sonja, She-Devil with a Sword, caught every one’s attention in Conan the Barbarian #23 (February 1973) and eventually won her own series whilst The Cat mutated into Tigra, the Were-Woman in Giant-Size Creatures #1 (July 1974) but the general editorial position was that books starring chicks didn’t sell.

The company kept trying and eventually found the right mix at the right time with Ms. Marvel who launched in her own title cover-dated January 1977. She was followed by the equally copyright-protecting Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977, and securing her own title 15 months later) and Savage She-Hulk (#1, February 1980). She was supplemented by the music-biz sponsored Dazzler who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before inevitably graduating to her own book.

Ms. Marvel was actually Carol Danvers, a United States Air Force security officer first seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968): the second episode of the saga of Kree warrior Mar-Vell, who had been dispatched to Earth as a spy after the Fantastic Four repulsed the aliens Kree twice in two months…

That series was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Gene Colan with the immensely competent Carol perpetually investigating Mar-Vell’s assumed and tenuous cover-identity of Walter Lawson for months.

This was until Danvers was caught up in a devastating battle between the now-defecting alien and his nemesis Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel #18 (November 1969).

Caught in a climactic explosion of alien technology, she pretty much vanished from sight until Gerry Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott revived her for ‘This Woman, This Warrior!’ (Ms. Marvel#1, January 1977) as a new chapter began for the company and the industry…

This sturdy hardcover volume (or enthralling eBook if you prefer), collecting Ms. Marvel #1-14, opens with a handy reminiscence from primary scribe Gerry Conway in ‘Welcome to the Greenhouse’ before the game-changing dramas commence…

The irrepressible and partially amnesiac Danvers has relocated to New York to become editor of “Woman”: a new magazine for modern misses published by Daily Bugle owner J. Jonah Jameson.

Never having fully recovered from her near-death experience, Danvers had left the military and drifted into writing, slowly growing in confidence until the irascible publisher had made her an offer she couldn’t refuse…

At the same time as Carol was getting her feet under a desk, a mysterious new masked heroine begins appearing and as rapidly vanishing, such as when she pitches up to battle the sinister Scorpion as he perpetrates a brutal bank raid.

The villain narrowly escapes to rendezvous with Professor Kerwin Korwin of AIM (a high-tech secret society claiming to be Advanced Idea Mechanics). The skeevy savant has promised to increase the Scorpion’s powers and allow him to take long-delayed revenge on Jameson – whom the demented thug blames for his freakish condition…

Danvers has been having premonitions and blackouts since her involvement in the final clash between Mar-Vell and Yon-Rogg and has no idea she is transforming into Ms. Marvel. Her latest vision-flash occurs too late to save Jameson from abduction but her “Seventh Sense” does allow her to track the villain before her unwitting new boss is injured, whilst her incredible physical powers and knowledge of Kree combat techniques enable her to easily trounce the maniac.

Ms. Marvel #2 announces an ‘Enigma of Fear!’ and features a return engagement for the Scorpion as Korwin and AIM make Ms. Marvel their latest science project. Whilst the Professor turns himself into an armoured assassin codenamed Destructor, Carol’s therapist Mike Barnett achieves an analytical breakthrough with his patient and discovers she is a masked metahuman even before she does. Although again felling the Scorpion, Ms. Marvel is ambushed by the Destructor, but awakes in #3 (written by Chris Claremont) to turn the tables in ‘The Lady’s Not For Killing!’

Travelling to Cape Canaveral to interview old friend Salia Petrie for a women-astronauts feature, Danvers is soon battling an old Silver Surfer foe on the edge of space, where all her occluded memories return just in time for a final confrontation with the Destructor. In the midst of the devastating bout she nearly dies after painfully realising ‘Death is the Doomsday Man!’ (with Jim Mooney taking over pencils for Sinnott to embellish).

The Vision guest-stars in #5 as Ms. Marvel crosses a ‘Bridge of No Return’. After Dr. Barnett reveals he knows her secret, Carol is forced to fight the Android Avenger when AIM tricks the artificial hero into protecting a massive, mobile “dirty” bomb, after which ‘…And Grotesk Shall Slay Thee!’ pits her against a subterranean menace determined to eradicate the human race, culminating in a waking ‘Nightmare!’ when she is captured by AIM’s deadly leader Modok and all her secrets are exposed to his malign scientific scrutiny.

Grotesk strikes again in #8 as ‘The Last Sunset…?’ almost dawns for the entire planet, whilst ‘Call Me Death-Bird!’ (illustrated by Keith Pollard, Sinnott & Sam Grainger) introduces a mysterious, murderous avian alien who would figure heavily in many a future X-Men and Avengers saga, but who spends her early days allied to the unrelenting forces of AIM as they attacked once more in ‘Cry Murder… Cry Modok!’ (with art by Sal Buscema & Tom Palmer).

Frank Giacoia inks #11’s ‘Day of the Dark Angel!’ wherein supernal supernatural menaces Hecate, the Witch-Queen and the Elementals attack the Cape, tragically preventing Carol from rescuing Salia Petrie and her space shuttle crew from an incredible inter-dimensional disaster…

The astonishing action continues in ‘The Warrior… and the Witch-Queen!’ (Sinnott inks) before ‘Homecoming!’ (Mooney & Sinnott) explore Carol’s blue-collar origins in Boston as she crushes a coupler of marauding aliens before the all-out action and tense suspense concludes as ‘Fear Stalks Floor 40’ (illustrated by Carmine Infantino & Steve Leialoha) with the battered and weary warrior confronting her construction worker, anti-feminist dad even as she is saving his business from the sinister sabotage of the Steeplejack….

This comprehensive chronicle also includes ‘Ms. Prints’ – Conway’s editorial on the hero’s origins from Ms. Marvel #1, original character sketches by John Romita Senior, a house ad, unused cover sketches by John Buscema and Marie Severin plus pages of original art by Sal B, Giacoia & Sinnott and Infantino & Leialoha.

Always entertaining, often groundbreaking and painfully patronising (occasionally at the same time), the early Ms. Marvel, against all odds, grew into the modern Marvel icon of capable womanhood we see today in both comics and on screen. These adventures are a valuable grounding of the contemporary champion but also still stand on their own as intriguing examples of the inevitable fall of even the staunchest of male bastions – superhero sagas…
© 1977, 1978, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers Volume 2

By Roger Stern, Jim Shooter, Chris Claremont, David Michelinie, Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema, George Pérez, David Wenzel, John Byrne, Jerry Bingham, Mike Vosburg, Bob McLeod, John Byrne, Ron Wilson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6755-6

With more Marvel Cinematic movies doing bonanza summer business around the world, here’s a timely trade paperback collection designed to supplement cinematic exposure and cater to any film fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience. If you want you can look at this on screen, too, through its digital edition…

There are two distinct and separate iterations of the Guardians of the Galaxy. The films concentrate on the second, but there are inescapable connections between them and the stellar stalwarts here so pay close attention here…

The original comicbook team were freedom fighters united to defeat an invasion by reptilian Badoon aggressors. They comprised Charlie-27 – a heavy-gravity miner and militia-man from Jupiter – and crystalline scientist Martinex from Pluto. Both are examples of radical human genetic engineering: subspecies carefully designed to populate and colonise Sol system’s outer planets but now possibly the last of their kinds. They were joined in the struggle by 1000-year-old Earthman Major Vance Astro and Alpha Centauri aborigine Yondu. Astro had been humanity’s first intersolar astronaut; solo flying in cold sleep to Centauri at a plodding fraction of the speed of light. When he got there ten centuries later, humanity was waiting for him, having cracked trans-luminal speeds a mere two centuries after he took off…

A legion of 20th century heroes eventually helped banish the Badoon and save 31st century humanity, but peace was unsettling for the Guardians so they flew off in search of fresh adventure. Along the way they had picked up last Mercurian Nikki and an enigmatic space-god calling him/herself Starhawk

This treasury of torrid tales gathers landmark moments from Thor Annual #6, Avengers #167-168; 170-177 & 180, Miss Marvel #23, Marvel Team-Up #86 and Marvel Two-In-One #61-63 and 69, cumulatively spanning December 1977 to November 1980 and featuring a radically different set-up than that of the silver screen stars, but grand comicbook sci fi fare all the same…

The time-busting mayhem commences with ‘Thunder in the 31st Century!’ (from Thor Annual #6, December 1977 by Roger Stern, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson) in which the mighty Thunderer is accidentally summoned to the Guardians’ time period by a cyborg maniac named Korvac. The legendary hero joins them in bombastically battling a team of super-powered aliens to thwart the cyborg’s scheme to become master of the universe before returning to his own place and time…

An extended tour of duty with the Avengers then began courtesy of Jim Shooter, George Pérez & Pablo Marcos: an episodic, sprawling tale of time-travel and universal conquest which began in Avengers #167-168 (April and May 1978) and, after a brief pause, resumed for #170 through 177…

In previous issues a difference of opinion between Captain America and Iron Man over leadership styles had begun to polarise the team and tensions started to show in ‘Tomorrow Dies Today!’

In the Gods-&-Monsters filled Marvel Universe there are entrenched and jealous Hierarchies of Power, so when a new player mysteriously materialises in the 20th century the very Fabric of Reality is threatened…

It all kicks off when the Guardians of the Galaxy materialise in Earth orbit, hotly pursuing cyborg despot Korvac through time…

Inadvertently setting off planetary incursion alarms, their moon-sized ship Drydock is swiftly penetrated by an Avengers squad, where, after the customary introductory squabble, the future men force wearily explain the purpose of their mission…

Since Captain America had fought beside them to liberate their home era from Badoon rule and Thor had faced fugitive Korvac before, so peace soon breaks out, but even with the full resources of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes the time travellers are unable to locate their quarry…

Meanwhile on Earth a mysterious being named Michael is lurking in the background. At a fashion show staged by the Wasp he compels a psychic communion with model Carina Walters and they both vanish…

Avengers #168 reveals how ‘First Blood’ is drawn, stirring up more trouble as Federal liaison and hidebound martinet Henry Peter Gyrich begins making life bureaucratically hot for the maverick team. In Colorado, meanwhile, Hawkeye gets a shock as his travelling partner Two-Gun Kid vanishes before his eyes whilst in suburban Forest Hills, Starhawk – in his female iteration of Aleta – approaches a quiet residence…

Michael/Korvac’s scheme consists of subtly altering events as he gathers strength in secret preparation for a sneak attack on the era’s Cosmic Hierarchies. His entire plan revolves around not being noticed until he is too powerful to stop. When Starhawk confronts the future fugitive Michael kills the intruder and instantly resurrects him, but without the ability to perceive his assailant or any of his works…

After a two-issue break due to deadline problems Shooter, Pérez & Marcos pick up the drama in #170 with ‘…Though Hell Should Bar the Way!’

As Sentinel of Liberty and Golden Avenger finally settle their differences, in Inhuman city Attilan former Avenger Quicksilver suddenly disappears even as dormant mechanoid Jocasta (created by maniac AI Ultron to be his bride) goes on a rampage and escapes into New York City.

In stealthy pursuit and hoping her trail will lead to Ultron, the team stride into a fiendish trap ‘…Where Angels Fear to Tread’ but nevertheless triumph thanks to the hex powers of the Scarlet Witch, the assistance of pushy, no-nonsense new hero Ms. Marvel and Jocasta’s own rebellion against the metal monster who made her.

However, at their moment of triumph the Avengers are stunned to witness Cap and Jocasta winking out of existence…

The problems pile on in #172 as watchdog-come-gadfly Gyrich is roughly manhandled and captured by out-of-the-loop returnee Hawkeye and responds by rescinding the team’s Federal clearances.

Thus handicapped, the heroes are unable to warn other inactive members of the rapidly increasing disappearances as a squad of heavy-hitters rush off to tackle marauding Atlantean maverick Tyrak the Treacherous who is bloodily instigating a ‘Holocaust in New York Harbor!’ (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson)…

Answers to the growing mystery are finally forthcoming in ‘Threshold of Oblivion!’ – plotted by Shooter, with David Michelinie scripting for Sal Buscema & D(iverse) Hands to illustrate.

As the vanishings escalate, the remaining Avengers (Thor, Wasp, Hawkeye and Iron Man), with the assistance of Vance Astro, track down their hidden foe and beam into a cloaked starship to liberate the ‘Captives of the Collector!’ (by Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Dave Wenzel & Marcos)…

After a staggering struggle, the heroes triumph and their old arch-nemesis reveals a shocking truth: he is in fact an Elder of the Universe who foresaw cosmic doom millennia previously and sought to preserve special artefacts and creatures – such as the Avengers – from the slowly approaching apocalypse…

As he reveals that long-anticipated Armageddon is imminent and that he has sent his own daughter Carina to infiltrate The Enemy’s stronghold, the cosmic Noah is instantly obliterated in a devastating blast of energy. The damage however is done, and the entrenched Hierarchies of Creation may well be alerted…

Issue #175 starts the final countdown as ‘The End… and Beginning!’ (Shooter, Michelinie, Wenzel & Marcos) has the amassed ranks of Avengers and Guardians following the clues to Michael even as the new god shares the incredible secret of his apotheosis with Carina. ‘The Destiny Hunt!’ and ‘The Hope… and the Slaughter!’ (Shooter, Wenzel, Marcos & Ricardo Villamonte) then depict the entire army of champions destroyed and resurrected as Michael easily overpowers all opposition but falters at the crucial moment for lack of one fundamental failing…

Despite being somewhat let down by the artwork when the magnificent George Perez gave way to less enthusiastic hands such as Sal Buscema, David Wenzel and Tom Morgan, and cursed by the inability to keep a regular inker (Pablo Marcos, Klaus Janson Ricardo Villamonte and Tom Morgan all pitched in), the sheer scope of the epic plot nevertheless carries this story through to its cataclysmic and fulfilling conclusion. Even Shooter’s reluctant replacement by scripters Dave Michelinie and Bill Mantlo (as his editorial career advanced) couldn’t derail this juggernaut of adventure.

If you want to see what makes Superhero fiction work, and can keep track of nearly two dozen flamboyant characters, this is a fine example of how to make such an unwieldy proposition easily accessible to the new and returning reader.

A few months later Avengers#181 introduced new regular creative team Michelinie & John Byrne – augmented by inker Gene Day – as ‘On the Matter of Heroes!’ sees Agent Gyrich lay down the law and winnow the army of heroes down to a manageable and federally-acceptable seven.

With the Guardians of the Galaxy heading back to the future, Iron Man, Vision, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Beast and Wasp have to placate Hawkeye after he is rejected in favour of new member The Falcon – parachuted in to conform to government quotas on affirmative action…

However, before the Guardians finally depart they interact with a few more 20th century centurions beginning with Ms. Marvel in ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ (#23, April 1979 by Chris Claremont, Mike Vosburg & Bruce D. Patterson). When alien conqueror The Faceless One takes over Drydock, crusader-in-crisis Carol Danvers teams up with Vance Astro to expel the invader even though her career as Ms. Marvel is on its last legs…

In Marvel Team-Up #86 (October 1989), undercover Guardians Starhawk, Nikki and Martinex meet Spider-Man to prevent an unscrupulous reporter exposing the mission of the future heroes and publishing the ‘Story of the Year’ (Claremont & Bob McLeod)

Slightly out of chronology – but that’s time travel all over, right? – the remainder of this collection is given over to team-ups with old Guardians ally Ben Grimm, the Fantastic Four’s titanic Thing.

An extended interstellar epic opens in Marvel Two-In-One #61 with ‘The Coming of Her!’ (by Mark Gruenwald, Jerry Bingham & Gene Day) as time-travelling space god Starhawk becomes involved in the birth of a female counterpart to man-made man-god Adam Warlock.

The distaff genetic paragon awakes fully empowered and instantly starts searching for her predecessor, dragging Ben’s girlfriend Alicia Masters and mind goddess Moondragon (a future member of the 21st century Guardians of the Galaxy) across the solar system, arriving where issue #62 observes ‘The Taking of Counter-Earth!’

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

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

Then, from Marvel Two-In-One #69 (November 1980, by Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Ron Wilson & Day), ‘Homecoming!’ finds Ben clashing with the still time-displaced Guardians of the Galaxy whilst striving to prevent the end of everything after millennial man Vance Astro endangers all of reality by trying to stop his younger self ever going into space…

This spectacular selection of spectacular star-roving is a non-stop feast of tense suspense, surreal fun, swingeing satire and blockbuster action: another well-tailored, on-target tool to turn curious movie-goers into fans of the comic incarnation and another solid sampling to entice newcomers and charm even the most jaded interstellar Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatic…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Epic Collection: Man or Monster?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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