Marvel Adventures: Thor – Bringers of the Storm


By Tony Bedard, Jeff Parker, Louise Simonson, Shannon Gallant, CAFU, Rodney Buchemi, Jon Buran & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5197-5

Since its earliest days the company we know as Marvel always courted the youngest comicbook consumers. Whether animated tie-ins such as Terrytoons Comics, Mighty Mouse, Super Rabbit Comics, Duckula, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Disney licenses and a myriad of others, or original creations such as Millie the Model, Homer the Happy Ghost, Li’l Kids and Calvin, or in the 1980s Star Comics – an entire imprint for originated or licensed comics targeting peewee punters – the House of Ideas has always understood the necessity of cultivating the next generation of readers.

These days, however, general kids’ interest titles are all but dead and, with Marvel’s proprietary characters all over screens large and small, the company usually prefers to create child-friendly versions of its own proprietary pantheon, making that eventual hoped-for transition to more mature comics as painless as possible.

In 2003 the company instituted the Marvel Age line which updated and retold classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko, mixing it in with the remnants of the manga-based Tsunami imprint, all intended for a younger readership.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming Marvel Adventures with the core titles transformed into Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man and reconstituted classics supplanting original stories. The tone was very much that of the company’s burgeoning TV cartoon franchises, in delivery if not name.

Additional Marvel Adventures series included Super Heroes, The Avengers and Hulk. These iterations ran until 2010 when they were cancelled and replaced by new volumes of Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man.

This digest-sized collection re-presents some the yarns associated with – if not starring – the ever-popular Prince of Asgard, culled from Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes (volume 1) #7 & 11 and Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #5 & 15 – gathered to accommodate the Thunderer’s transition to the live-action silver screen in 2011.

If you’re of a slavish disposition continuity-wise, these epic illustrated Eddas all occur on Marvel’s Earth-20051 and begin with ‘The Trickster and the Wrecker’ – by Tony Bedard, Shannon Gallant & John Stanisci from Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #5 (November 2006) – with the Thunder God notably absent as a new team of Earth’s Mightiest tackle the insidious threat of someone who claims to be Norse god Loki for the very first time.

Although Captain America, Storm, Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-Man, Giant-Girl and Wolverine initially drive off the magical mischief-maker, they are subsequently unable to stop the trickster investing a crowbar-wielding petty thug with the blockbusting might of an unstoppable juggernaut…

Next up are Jeff Parker, CAFU & Terry Pallot who introduce us to Thor in ‘Bringers of the Storm’ (Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #15, October 2006) wherein the team follow mystic ravens Hugin and Munin to Asgard to battle Malekith the Dark Elf and an army of Frost Giants to save the ensorcelled gods from petrification and slavery…

As written by Louise Simonson, the final brace of tales are both starring vehicles for the Storm Lord emphasising humour as much as action.

‘Lip Service’ (Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes #7, March 2009 and illustrated by Rodney Buchemi) sees Thor in his mortal identity of Dr. Don Blake taking his beloved nurse Jane Foster and precocious kid to a herpetology show at the zoo. As if a clash with the cunning Cobra was not peril enough, the doughty hero is unaware that crafty Loki has hexed Jane’s lips in anticipation of the thunder god stealing a kiss that will change his life – and appearance – forever…

The mythical madness then bombastically ends in ‘Fire and Ice’ (Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes #11, July 2009, with art from Jon Buran & Jeremy Freeman) as the trickster inveigles a young Frost giant to attack Thor on Earth before further stacking the deck with a crazed fire demon. The mischief-maker foolishly assumed that Giants are creatures without honour or morals and is foiled when the little colossus proves that even bad guys have lines they won’t cross…

Never the success the company hoped, the Marvel Adventures project was superseded in 2012 by specific comics tied to those Disney XD television shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”, but these collected stories are still an intriguing, amazingly entertaining and more culturally accessible means of introducing characters and concepts to kids born sometimes three generations or more away from the originating events.

Fast-paced, enthralling and impressive, these riotous super stories are extremely enjoyable yarns, although parents should note that some of the themes and certainly the violence might not be what everybody considers “All-Ages Super Hero Action” and might perhaps better suit older kids…
© 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Siege: Mighty Avengers


By Dan Slott, Koi Pham, Neil Edwards & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4800-5

One of the most momentous events in Marvel Comics history occurred in 1963 when a disparate array of individual heroes banded together to stop the 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 continually changed, and now almost every character in their universe has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

More recently, Norman Osborn (the original Green Goblin) had, through various machinations, replaced Tony “Iron Man” Stark as America’s Security Czar: the “top cop” in sole charge of a beleaguered nation’s defence and freedom, especially in regard to ultra-technological threats and all metahuman influences…

On Stark’s watch a Superhuman Registration Act resulted in a divisive Civil War amongst the costumed community with tragic repercussions, but the nation and the world were no safer and the planet was almost lost to an insidious Secret Invasion by shapeshifting alien Skrulls.

After executing the Skrull leader on live TV, Osborn’s popularity skyrocketed, and when Stark was inevitably fired the former villain got his job. Slowly at first, Osborn began to exert overt control over America, instigating an oppressive “Dark Reign” which saw the World’s Mightiest Heroes driven underground.

To cement his position, he replaced the Avengers with his own hand-picked coterie of criminals and impostors. As well as heavy-handedly commanding all the covert and military resources of the USA, Norman now had his own suit of confiscated Iron Man armour and as Iron Patriot led his team of ersatz champions. On paper at least, the country should have been beyond any possibility of threat or harm…

Eventually however the madman’s reach exceeded his grasp and Founding Avenger Henry Pym reclaimed the hallowed Avengers name; forming his own squad of champions to restore both the team’s reputation and his own.

In the past the periodically unstable Dr. Pym had operated as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath and Yellowjacket whilst fighting crime, disaster and injustice, but since the Skrulls killed his ex-wife Janet Van Dyne (she was actually only mutated and lost in another dimension: it’s comics and nobody dies forever) he’s been calling himself The Wasp in her honour…

Aided by the mystic machinations of Wanda Maximoff, the once-reviled Scarlet Witch, Pym reluctantly gathered a disparate group of veterans and neophytes under his banner. Former Young Avengers Stature and a juvenile Vision joined Quicksilver, Hercules, child prodigy Amadeus Cho, U.S. Agent and faithful butler Edwin Jarvis in a reorganised, revitalised gang soon augmented by robotic siren Jocasta. The steel seductress had been forcibly encoded with the lost Janet’s brain patterns and memories…

The things modern superhero comicbooks do best are Spectacle and Cosmic Retribution: the cathartic comeuppance of someone who truly deserves it.

This collection reprints the Mighty Avengers chapters of the epic, demi-Wagnerian Siege saga (#32-35, February to June 2010): selected portions of a vast publishing event which re-set and restored the traditional “Stan & Jack” Marvel Universe after a time of appalling political darkness.

These tales wrapped up the eccentric history of the ever-changing team and offered a welcome hint of a new dawn in the otherwise bleak and angsty world of Marvel’s costumed cohorts…

Osborn has been playing a deadly double game from the start. The Cabal is a loose and treacherous association of super-villains and outcasts comprising Norman, Asgardian Mischief God Loki, sorcerous gang-boss The Hood, mutant telepath Emma Frost, Taskmaster, Sub-Mariner and Doctor Doom.

Cracks began to show – both in the criminal conspiracy and Osborn himself – and some of the confederates started fast-tracking their own schemes, forcing Iron Patriot to promise to conquer Asgard for Loki. Doom then seceded from the group, prompting a disastrous battle between the hidden Masters of Evil…

At this time Asgard was displaced from its other-dimensional home and floating scant metres above the soil of Oklahoma. Using his position as Chief of Homeland Security Osborn manufactures an “Asgardian incident” and launches an all-out invasion on the Gleaming City, overruling the new American President to do so.

He finally overreached himself and led an unsanctioned assault on Earthly Asgardia (see Siege, Siege: New Avengers and Siege: Dark Avengers) when an army of outlawed heroes united to stop him…

Written throughout by Dan Slott and primarily illustrated by Koi Pham, this strand of the cataclysmic confrontation opens with ‘Mighty/Dark: The Real Deal’ (inked by Craig Yeung) as troubled Quicksilver writhes in guilt and frustration. He is with the squad only because his sister Wanda is a member, but so far she has managed to avoid every overture of the super-swift mutant as he hunts for her in their transdimensional Infinite Mansion

He misses her again as she pops in to warn of a crisis on Earth and pops out again before he can corner her. Of course, nobody has informed peevish Pietro that Pym believes the Witch to be an impostor…

Arriving on Earth, the team happily ruins one of Osborn’s interminable press conferences. Iron Patriot is trying to put a positive spin on the fact that his Avenger team has failed to stop the Absorbing Man rampaging through radical energy research station Project Pegasus.

Scoring points is soon forgotten, however, as the berserk fugitive explodes out of the complex, having just acquired the reality-reshaping properties of a Cosmic Cube…

‘Deus Ex Machinations’ sees the rival Avengers outfits agreeing to a most necessary truce and team-up to combat cosmic thug Crusher Creel, but even as the reality ripping fight ensues, Osborn is heading for the Cosmic Cube – and control of absolutely everything – with Pym determined to thwart him…

In the end brains win over infinite brawn and Pym even manages to psych out Osborn, forcing the demented demagogue into a surly, face-saving retreat. The day gets better and better after Pym returns to the Infinite Mansion. His patient research has finally uncovered who has been masquerading as the Scarlet Witch, but the Scientist Supreme has completely missed the fact that his 10,000 mass-produced Jocastas have been compromised by his most implacable enemy…

Armageddon approaches in ‘Pre-Siege Mentality’ (illustrated by Neil Edwards, Andrew Currie & Andrew Hennessy) as Loki tricks his brother Thor into attacking Pym’s Mighty Avengers. After a catastrophic conflict the unpredictable savant then destroys his own team by offering Loki a place on it and can’t understand why everybody else quits in disgust…

Pham & Yeung return to limn the last two issues beginning with ‘Salvation: Heir Apparent’ as agents of the Global Reaction Agency for Mysterious Paranormal Activity pop in to revoke Pym’s authority and end their relationship with the Avengers. Pym is already distracted by the malfunctions in his Jocasta units and when news of Osborn’s manufactured Asgard incident breaks he’s completely off-guard and unprepared for a resurgent Ultron to attack him with a legion of enslaved and comprised Jocastas as his murderous brides…

With the metal marauders in complete control of the Infinite Mansion and eagerly hunting him, Pym takes his last faithful Jocasta and G.R.A.M.P.A. agents Ace and One-Eyed Jacquie into the trans-dimensional Underspace around the lost citadel and reveals his greatest secret…

‘Salvation: WWJVDD (What Would Janet Van Dyne Do?)’ discloses the fate of his former wife and only love: mutated into an ever-expanding living explosion of Pym-particles he has been secretly attempting to restore. It’s too much for the Jocasta-with-Janet’s-mind. Slighted and furious, she attacks the callous Scientist Supreme even as in Oklahoma, Pym’s Mighty Avengers answer the call to arms against Osborn… and are cut down like chaff…

Ultron meanwhile believes he has finally beaten his despised creator, but Pym has one last card to play and one final trick to pull off…

And with Ultron temporarily forestalled, Pym rejoins the founding Avengers for the last battle against Osborn… which occurs in the aforementioned Siege, Siege: New Avengers and Siege: Dark Avengers

Fun, furious and fast-paced, this is a compelling but incredibly frustrating chronicle which deserves to be more than just a stepping stone to a greater epic. There’s no real ending, just a charge into danger, and that’s not really fair to the reader.

Nevertheless this is still a beautiful and powerful Fights ‘n’ Tights thriller full of fabulous incidents of character, suspense and adventure, all magnificently rendered by incredibly talented creators – as further proved by Pham’s cover gallery and unfinished original art pages included as extras – but the inescapable truth here is that this book is only half the story (at the very least) and will be all but incomprehensible to new and casual readers.

Caveat so very Emptor, my friends…
© 2009, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mighty Avengers volume 3: Secret Invasion Book 2


By Brian Michael Bendis, Koi Pham, Stefano Caselli, Carlo Pagulayan, Lee Weeks, Jim Cheung, Danny Miki, Allen Martinez, Andy Lanning, Jeffrey Huet & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3650-7

The Skrulls are shape-shifting aliens who’ve bedevilled Earth ever since Fantastic Four #2 to become a pernicious cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. After years of humiliation and constant defeat, the metamorphic malcontents finally hit on a winning plan and to this end gradually and methodically replaced a number of key Earth denizens – most notably metahumans and their friends.

When the plot of the Secret Invasion (a colossal braided crossover which ran throughout all Marvel’s titles from Spring to Christmas in 2008) was first uncovered it led to a confrontation between Earth’s champions and a Skrull starship full of what appeared to be old comrades; many of whom had been accounted dead for years.

Were they truly escaped humans or yet another army of newly undetectable Super-Skrulls?

With no defender of the Earth knowing who to trust the planet almost fell to a determined massed onslaught…

Most worrisome is the fact that the cosmic charlatans have recently unravelled the secrets of Terran magic and genetic superpowers, creating amped-up equivalents of Earth’s mightiest. They are now primed and capable of defeating the world’s champions in face-to-face confrontations.

This fear-fomenting fourth volume – scripted as ever by Brian Michael Bendis – reprints Mighty Avengers #16-20 (September 2008-February 2009), offering more insights into the slow progress of the invidious infiltration.

The slow-burning saga really began when New Avenger Spider-Woman seemingly switched sides to bring Stark the corpse of a Skrull impersonating ninja assassin Elektra.

The Arachnid Amazon’s own team – outlawed by Stark’s diktat and fighting crime as illegal resisters of the government’s Super-Human Registration Act – believed they could handle the prospect and (rightly) feared Stark and his squad might also be compromised with alien shapeshifters. Jessica Drew – a triple agent simultaneously working for SHIELD, Hydra and Nick Fury as well as the rebel Avengers – felt however, that only by going to America’s Security Director could the situation be successfully handled…

Stark kept the creepy cadaver undercover and invited Drew to join his team in hopes that her presence might cause any Skrulls in his squad to betray themselves. However, no sooner had Stark officially welcomed Jessica into the squad over their very strident protests than it all kicked off …

Now Khoi Pham & Danny Miki illustrate the revelatory, cataclysmic clash which led to the human Elektra’s apparent demise and how her killer took over the criminal ninja cult The Hand. They follow up an issue later as a battalion of SHIELD agent-shaped Skrulls hunt one of their own. In the wilds of rural America the quarry fights manically to escape since his psychological deep-conditioning – used to protect the infiltrators from telepathic discovery – overwhelms the totally entrenched invader, making him believe he is the Avenger he mimics…

Next up Stefano Caselli limns another sidebar as Nick Fury assembles his Secret Warriors Hellfire, Phobos, Stonewall, Yo Yo, the Druid and Quake, putting them through torturous final training before despatching them to kidnap/save SHIELD’s head honcho Maria Hill just as the Secret Invasion goes terrifyingly public…

‘Back from the Dead?’ (Pham, Miki & Allen Martinez) then trains our attention on Thunderbolts HQ (a prison where super-criminals can join a covert government penal battalion to mitigate or reduce their jail sentences) as Kree captive Noh-Varr reacts with shock at the news that fallen legend and universal saviour Captain Mar-Vell has returned from the dead, just in time to be ambushed by a flight of murderous Super-Skrulls…

The displace neophyte and ancestral enemy of the scurrilous shapeshifters is naturally suspicious and doesn’t know how to react…

‘Epilogue’ by Carlo Pagulayan, Lee Weeks, Jim Cheung & Jeffrey Huet brings the in-filling episodes to an end in the aftermath of Earth’s bitter, hard-won victory as one emotionally-shattered, memory-taunted Founding Avenger prepares to bury the boon companion who saved the world and paid the ultimate price.

It would be hard enough even if he wasn’t trying to absorb the cacophony of terrible events which occurred in the relatively brief time he was a Skrull prisoner…

Rather than give too much away, let me just say that if you like this sort of thing you’ll love these yarns and a detailed familiarity is not crucial to your understanding. However, for a complete experience, you will want to see the other 22 “Secret Invasion” volumes that accompany this one, although at a pinch you could get by with only the key collection Secret Invasion. It contains the 8-issue core miniseries, one-shot spin-off “Who Do You Trust?” and illustrated textbook “Skrulls”, which claims to provide a listing and biography for every shape-shifter yet encountered in the Marvel Universe (but if they left any out, who could tell?).

With another tranche of superb pastiche covers by Aleksi Briclot & Marko Djurdjevic, this rollercoaster ride not only wraps up one crossover event but leads directly into the next one; a Dark Reign which is a tale for another time and place…

This is another splendid Costumes Drama which will delight insatiable Fights ‘n’ Tights thrill-chasers everywhere.
© 2008, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mighty Avengers volume 3: Secret Invasion Book 1


By Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev, Koi Pham, John Romita Sr., Danny Miki, Klaus Janson, Tom Palmer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3010-9

Following the divisive and brutal superhero Civil War, Tony Stark (a staunch advocate of the draconian, nigh-totalitarian Super-Human Registration Act) formed a squad of Government-sanctioned heroes. His SHIELD-backed Mighty Avengers were designed to take care of business whilst he worked on his “Fifty States Initiative”, the objective of which was to eventually field teams of federally trained and licensed superheroes in every State of the Union.

Firstly, though, he had to restore public confidence, especially as the unregistered, rogue New Avengers continued to defy his orders to surrender to government authority: saving lives and crushing evil without his permission. Things never seemed to go Stark’s way however, and a series of catastrophic crises led inexorably to Earth succumbing to alien infiltration and conquest.

This seditious third volume is written throughout by Brian Michael Bendis and gathers Mighty Avengers #12-15 (June-August 2008), re-presenting some of the opening sallies in the major event dubbed Secret Invasion wherein the torturously unfolding plan by the shapeshifting Skrulls finally turns into a red-hot shooting war.

Since Fantastic Four #2 (January 1961), the Skrulls have been a pernicious cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. After decades of frustrating failure, the insidious intergalactic infiltrators were finally made the stars of a colossal braided crossover which ran from Spring to Christmas 2008 throughout all the company’s titles.

The premise? The aliens’ former all-encompassing empire had been crippled and scourged by a devastating catastrophe which destroyed much of their star-spanning power. Consequently the survivors underwent a mass fundamentalist-religious conversion: utterly resolved and dedicated to make Earth their new homeworld – just as their ancient scriptures foretold…

To this end they imperceptibly replaced a number of Earth denizens – mostly superheroes, villains and/or their close associates. When the plot was finally exposed 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 legions of amped-up equivalents to the world’s mightiest heroes and villains. During this period they hid amongst us, primed and waiting to destroy mankind’s champions in head-to-head confrontations.

Not all Skrulls were fanatics however. Earth also harboured a few carefully hidden dissidents opposed to the new regime and non-fanatics simply unwilling to get properly involved…

The mysteries start to unravel in the ‘The Awakening’ from #12-13 (illustrated by Alex Maleev) where a fugitive and closeted Nick Fury – on the run for manipulating an Avengers squad into attacking the sovereign state of Latveria – discovers his current squeeze is actually a shapeshifting alien. Taking the appropriate steps, he sneaks back into SHIELD to warn his replacement Maria Hill that she can trust no-one…

Always playing a deeply convoluted game, he then contacts Spider-Woman – his mole in the Avengers, SHIELD and Hydra – to warn her of Skrull infiltration before activating his own plan B, gathering his long-cached cadre of super-powered non-entities and agents never on anybody’s radar. Then he sets all the pieces tumbling into turbulent motion…

The untitled issue #15 – illustrated by Khoi Pham & Danny Miki – returns focus to Stark’s Mighty Avengers team (field leader Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, Wonder Man, the Wasp, Sentry and Grecian war god Ares), all blithely going about their heroic business unaware that trusted major-domo Edwin Jarvis has been replaced by a high-ranking Skrull.

When the revelation day at last arrives the treacherous insider instigates a chilling plan to take incomprehensibly powerful superman Sentry out of action by attacking his mind and those he loves most…

The campaign of terror concludes with a chilling flashback illustrated by John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson & Tom Palmer, revealing how a dedicated proponent of the Super-Human Registration Act, a key component of Iron Man’s Fifty States Initiative and Founding Avenger was long ago replaced by a Skrull. What that augurs for humanity, only the coming weeks and months can tell…

To Be Continued…

With covers by Marko Djurdjevic and Bendis’ full script for issue #12 this slim tome offers another slick and stylish slice of breathtaking all-action entertainment which adds depth and weight to the impressive and appealing Secret Invasion main event but also reads perfectly well on its own merits.

Here is another Fights ‘n’ Tights “must-read” for insatiable thrill-chasers everywhere.
© 2008, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers: Hawkeye – Earth’s Mightiest Marksman


By Chuck Dixon, Nelson Yomtov, Tom DeFalco, Scott Kolins, Jerry DeCaire, Jeff Johnson, Dave Ross, Mark Bagley & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5939-1

Clint Barton is probably the world’s greatest archer: swift, unerringly accurate and augmented by a fantastic selection of multi-purpose high-tech arrows. Following an early brush with the law and as a reluctant Iron Man villain, he reformed to join the Mighty Avengers where he served with honour, yet always felt overshadowed by his more glamorous, super-powered comrades.

Long a mainstay of Marvel continuity and probably the company’s most popular B-list hero, the Battling Bowman has risen to greater prominence in recent years, boosted no doubt by his filmic incarnation in the Thor and Avengers movies.

This brash and bombastic hardcover collection assembles some of his lesser known solo appearances: the second Hawkeye Limited Series (January-April 1994), a brief serial vignette from anthological Marvel Comics Presents #159 -161 (July-August 1994) and one-shot Hawkeye – Earth’s Mightiest Marksman (from October 1998).

The wild happenings begin with a miniseries released after the cancellation of Avengers: West Coast – an offshoot team the Abrasive Archer led until his wife Mockingbird was killed. In his absence, the squad was forcibly disbanded by the East Coast parent division…

Crafted by Chuck Dixon, Scott Kolins & Tim Dzon, ‘Shafted’ opens in the freezing Canadian Rockies where the justifiably disgruntled and grieving bowman has retreated to lick his emotional wounds. Reducing his life to a primal daily battle against hunger and the elements, Hawkeye is dragged out of his depressive funk when he stumbles across a hidden scientific complex run by the malevolent Secret Empire and rescues a strangely vulpine yet intelligent victim from their ghastly bio-labs…

Guarding the facility are old enemies/merciless mercenaries Trick Shot and Javelynn, but they aren’t enough to stop Clint wrecking the base and fleeing with the severely wounded little werewolf. Sadly, his heroic incursion didn’t take out the base commander: one of the most ruthless and wicked terrorists on Earth…

Dubbing his dying companion Rover, Hawkeye carries his new hirsute pal to snowbound hamlet Dunroman and convinces harassed Doctor Avery to operate. The beast has amazing recuperative powers and a day later the frantic mute creature has convinced the archer to invade the fortress a second time.

They are too late: the ‘Masters of the Game’ have shut down their genetic experiments and cleaned up by exterminating the cages full of similar creatures which must have been Rover’s family…

As the horrified hero and the heartbroken man-beast rip their way out of the charnel factory, Hawkeye sees smoke on the horizon and realises the Secret Empire’s drive for secrecy has led to the eradication of Dunroman…

Vowing unholy vengeance, the archer then contacts old comrade War Machine from the defunct West Coast squad. The former military specialist offers the services of his personal armourer to upgrade Hawkeye’s bag of tricks and, once renegade engineer Mack Mendelson outfits the outraged archer with a new costume, transport and heavier arrowhead-ordnance, both bowman and human tanks clear a path into the heart of the Empire’s island HQ in ‘Run of the Arrow’.

However, despite wiping out the fortress, Hawkeye’s ultimate targets elude him and, following a Colin MacNeil pin-up, the savage saga concludes in ‘Rage’ as the archer and Rover track down the monstrous mastermind in time to stop her unleashing a brutal pack of the wolf-beasts’ totally weaponised descendents onto the mercenary market as unstoppable “Biological Combat Units”…

There is one last blockbusting battle before the bloody dust settles which turns on a knife edge and an unexpected betrayal…

A sort-of sequel to the miniseries appeared in the middle of 1994 as Hawkeye starred in a three chapter epilogue by Nelson Yomtov & Jerry DeCaire originally seen in Marvel Comics Presents #159 though 161. It begins with the insubordinate U.S.Agent trying tough love and a ‘Rocky Reunion’ to drag the morose marksman back to civilisation and into the ranks of newly constituted Crisis Management team Force Works.

Now haunting the backwoods of Tennessee, the archer is ferociously resistant to the notion and, with both masked mavericks displaying lethal levels of testosterone and ‘Bellies Full of Fire’, the argument quickly descends into all-out war which encompasses even more savage beasts before the stupid spat inconclusively concludes in ‘The Hungry Wolf’

By the time Hawkeye – Earth’s Mightiest Marksman was released in 1998 the Avengers – Hawkeye included – had all been apparently obliterated by mutant menace Onslaught, spent a year outsourced to Image Comics as part of the Heroes Reborn sub-universe and then been dramatically reintroduced to mainstream Marvel in Heroes Reborn: The Return.

The impetus of the reunification and the sheer quality of the restarted titles (The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor) ignited a mini-renaissance in quality – especially in the monumentally hero-heavy Avengers volume 3 – and as Hawkeye battled again beside his former comrades Clint Barton assumed a mentor’s position; giving the newest costumed neophytes admitted to the prestigious team the benefit of his vast experience…

It was in this role, teaching ex New Warriors Firestar and Justice, that scripter Tom DeFalco devised a triptych of interconnected tales to test Hawkeye that began – after a handy prose-and-picture recap feature – when the Astounding Archer agreed to help computer programmer Augusta Seer retrieve a stolen virus of catastrophic potential.

Sadly the mission was a set-up and led into a trap where Hawkeye was ‘Battered by Batroc!’ (art by Jeff Johnson & Kolins) and his henchmen Zaran and Machete

Having trashed the terrible trio and set out after the fictive Dr. Seer, the bowman is then ‘Assaulted by Oddball!’ (Dave Ross & Tom Wegrzyn) – despite the best efforts of Justice and Firestar, in attendance for the educational experience – before the true villain is exposed and ultimately overcome in ‘Trounced by Taskmaster!’ (by Mark Bagley & Al Milgrom), with a final-act appearance by stalwarts of both the Avengers and New Warriors to cap and contribute to the furious all-out action.

This is a compendium of short, sharp, uncomplicated action thrillers that will test no one’s deductive abilities but will certainly set pulses racing: a straightforward big bag of Fights ‘n’ Tights romps to delight the hearts of ten-year-olds of all ages.
© 1994, 1998, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Secret Invasion: Captain Marvel


By Brian Reed, Paul Jenkins, Lee Weeks, Tom Raney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2422-1

The Skrulls are shape-shifting aliens who’ve bedevilled Earth since Fantastic Four #2, and they have long been a pernicious cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. After decades of use, abuse and misuse the insidious invaders finally proved their villainous worth as the sinister stars of a colossal braided mega-crossover event beginning in April 2008 and running through all titles until Christmas.

The premise of Secret Invasion is simple: the would-be alien conquerors, having barely survived a devastating disaster which destroyed much of their empire, subsequently undergo a mass, fundamentalist religious conversion. The upshot is that the majority of the survivors believe now Earth is their new Promised Land and ultimate holy homeworld.

They are now utterly resolved and dedicated to take the planet at all costs.

To this end they have ever-so-gradually replaced a number of key Earth denizens – most notably superheroes and other metahumans. When their plot is at last uncovered no defender of the Earth truly knows who is on their side…

Moreover the cosmic charlatans have also unravelled the secrets of Earth magic and genetic superpowers, creating amped-up equivalents to Earth’s mightiest. They are now primed and able to destroy the world’s heroic defenders in face-to-face confrontations.

Rather than give too much away, let me just say that if you like this sort of thing you’ll love it and a detailed familiarity is not crucial to your understanding.

However, for a more complete experience, you will want to see the other 22 “Secret Invasion” volumes that accompany this one, although at a pinch you could get by with only the key collection Secret Invasion – which contains the 8-issue core miniseries, one-shot spin-off “Who Do You Trust?” and illustrated textbook “Skrulls” which claims to provide a listing and biography for every shape-shifter yet encountered in the Marvel Universe (but if they left any out, who could tell?).

Back in 1968 Captain Mar-Vell was a dutiful soldier of the alien Kree empire dispatched to Earth as a spy. However due to interaction with humans – especially American Security Agent Carol Danvers – he subsequently went native, becoming first a hero and then the cosmically “aware” protector of the universe, destined since life began to be its champion in its darkest hour.

In concert with the Avengers and other heroes he defeated death-worshipping Thanos, just as the mad Titan transformed into God, after which the good Captain went on to become a universal force for good.

In the early 1980s, due to the long-lasting effects of a skirmish with super-maniac Nitro, Mar-Vell died of cancer.

That event was one of the major tragedies of Marvel continuity and the company has had a fair few stabs since at reviving the beloved warrior, as well as passing his name around a legion of legacy heroes – as much to keep fans happy as to retain the all-important copyright…

Gathering relevant sections of Civil War: The Return (March 2007) and subsequent 5-issue miniseries Captain Marvel from January-Jun 2008) this slim, sleek tome again addresses that need to restore the original and begins with a short tale set during the Civil War between Earth’s heroes.

Scripted by Paul Jenkins and illustrated by Tom Raney & Scott Hanna, ‘Captains Courageous: the Return of Captain Marvel’ finds the dead warrior inexplicably back and in command of America’s Negative Zone-situated prison for metahuman malefactors. However, as the penitentiary suffers a massive assault by the ravenous creatures that infest the anti-matter universe, flashbacks reveal that the troubled Kree has only been in situ for days.

Prior to that he had been calmly meditating in the Neg Zone before being irresistibly sucked into a time-warp and washing up in his own future. An astute sort, he quickly deduced from shocked friends in the Avengers and Fantastic Four that he had returned after his own death, and meekly acquiesced when they all suggested he stay out of sight by taking charge of the fortress quickly filling up with resistors of the Government’s new Super-Human Registration Act…

The saga skips neatly to after the Civil War for Brian Reed & Lee Weeks’ 5-chapter epic (inked by Stefan Gaudiano, Jesse Delperdang, Rob Campanella, Butch Guice & Klaus Janson), which commences with ‘I Am Here’ as American Security Chief and Director of SHIELD Tony Stark assigns Agent Heather Sante to keep tabs on the Kree Warrior.

Since returning to Earth Mar-Vell has spent most of his time quietly brooding – especially about Alexander the Great, who also died at 33 years old – and has become obsessed with a certain painting in the Louvre.

However, after a brief clash with European super-criminal Cyclone calls him back into action, word of Captain Marvel’s resurrection spreads. The biggest repercussion is upon fringe whacko cult “The Brotherhood of Hala” who are suddenly galvanised into massive expansion and propelled towards the realms of a genuine religion…

World-weary journalist Nathan Jefferson has been on the trail of the strange sect for years: ever since heiress Julia Starr renamed herself Mother Starr and turned all her financial assets to promoting the gospel of Mar-Vell.

The hero himself seems unaware of the cult but his desire for anonymous reflection is frustrated when a colossal robot almost slaughters the Avengers and he is forced to spectacularly save the day…

‘Reconstruction’ opens with Mar-Vell a reluctant global sensation and apparently only Nathan Jefferson worried that the public is treating a masked man like the Messiah Reborn.

Mar-Vell, as befits a potential Saviour, is taking constant stock of himself and is deeply worried that he has gaps in his memories. Most disturbingly he has somehow lost his greatest ability: the “Cosmic Awareness” which puts him in touch with the entire universe.

He still cannot stop staring at that painting either…

Stark is also concerned. Mar-Vell is still a wanted outlaw to the Kree and all attempts at contacting the Empire are being blocked. With no other option he asks Carol Danvers – now known as Avengers team-leader Ms Marvel – to have a heart-to-heart with her old friend and almost-lover…

Typically their intimate conversation is cut short when supposedly-dead Cobalt Man inexplicably attacks…

Later whilst Nathan attempts to infiltrate the ascendant Church of Hala and is caught by some extremely unpleasant acolytes, Iron Man personally tries to interrogate Mar-Vell but is interrupted by a team of attacking Kree commandos…

The marauders are far from what they appear and ‘Deep Background’ reveals the first hints of a deadly cosmic conspiracy with the time-lost Captain Marvel as its target. The not-Kree intruders are soon subdued and as Stark begins the laborious task of getting useful intel out of the survivors, across the country Nathan is now a convert to the Church of Hala.

The organisation has spread like wildfire around the globe and is now one of the most powerful charities and most effective providers of war and famine relief on Earth…

Agent Sante has also infiltrated the new church and discovered something terrifying lurking at its heart. She is in fear of her life even as the transplanted Mar-Vell is made painfully aware that his oldest foes are somehow involved.

Troubled and turbulent, the prospective Kree messiah begins to see Skrulls everywhere and demands that Carol prove herself human…

When a prisoner challenges everything the foredoomed warrior believes, the result in ‘Alien Hated’ is hardly what the duplicitous, mind-muddling shapeshifter expected. Mar-Vell goes on a brutal rampage, abandoning his superhero friends before flying off to meet with pious Mother Starr and involving himself in her relief efforts in Sudan.

Unfortunately when militant rebels attack the Mission all his pent-up frustration comes out in another murderous display of Kree military training, before he apparently accepts his destiny as saviour and publicly demands Earth end all war…

In climactic finale ‘Orthodox’, with the international crisis now threatening to become a global catastrophe, Stark orders Ms Marvel to deal with the tormented Kree warrior but the duel in Negative Zone goes badly wrong and Mar-Vell emerges even stronger with his memories restored. With knowledge that a Secret Invasion by the Skrulls is already underway the time-traveller joins with Agent Sante and begins a clandestine war against the hidden infiltrators that will eventually change Earth forever…

To Be Continued Elsewhere…

Thoughtful, suspenseful and wickedly clever, this Byzantine prologue to the Main Event is a powerful examination of the nature and motivations of heroes: a quirky, moving, and winningly low-key epic which is supplemented here with a striking cover and variants gallery by Ed McGuiness, Dexter Vines and Terry and Rachel Dodson.

Oddly although part of a massive story-event this quirky yarn actually has legs of its own and stands up quite well when read in isolation but although impressive and entertaining, this great Fights ‘n’ Tights will truly benefit from you checking out the collections Secret Invasion: the Infiltration, Avengers Disassembled, as well as the rather pivotal New Avengers: Illuminati graphic novel.
© 2007, 2008, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ant-Man: Second Chance Man


By Nick Spencer, Ramon Rosanas & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9387-6

Scott Lang was an electronics engineer who turned, more out of boredom than necessity, to crime. Caught and imprisoned he diligently served his time and on release the ex-convict joined Stark Industries as a determinedly reformed character. Everything was fine until his daughter Cassie developed a heart condition which wiped out his savings and compelled Scott to look to old solutions to save her.

He was desperate to find the wherewithal to hire experimental cardiac surgeon Dr. Erica Sondheim and began casing likely money-spinning prospects, but in the meantime she was abducted by merciless industrialist Darren Cross who was currently using all the resources of his mega-corporation Cross Technological Enterprises to keep himself alive…

Now even more frantic for cash just to broach the impenetrable CTE complex, Lang went back to Plan A and burgled the lab of retired superhero Henry Pym, where he discovered the scientist/superhero’s old Ant-Man gear and size-changing gases. In a moment of madness Lang decided not to sell the stolen tech but instead used the outfit to break in to Cross’ citadel and rescue Sondheim…

That plan wasn’t so great either as the dying billionaire, in a desperate attempt to stay alive, had been harvesting the hearts of homeless people to power an experimental device which subsequently mutated him into a monstrous brute. Scott eventually triumphed; unaware until the very last that Pym (in his guise as Avenger Yellowjacket) had allowed him to swipe the suit and was backstopping him every inch of the way. With Cassie saved, Pym then invited Lang to carry on as the new Ant-Man…

After long and creditable stints with the Avengers and Fantastic Four – during which time he died and returned (even giving Doctor Doom the most comprehensive defeat of his entire evil life) – Lang eventually found himself just another victim of the economic downturn and went looking for a job with a former employer…

Scripted by Nick Spencer and illustrated by Ramon Rosanas (with colours from Jordan Boyd) Second-Chance Man collects the 5-issue Ant-Man volume 2 from March to July 2015 and opens with the down-on-his-luck Lang joining a cattle call of super-types auditioning to be Tony Stark’s new security chief…

The application process was a set-up but against all odds Lang persevered, proved Stark wrong and ultimately succeeded. He had to: his ex-wife had shown up whilst he was dead and won custody of Cassie…

Just when his life seemed to be going right for once, the former Mrs. Peggy Lang played her meanest trump card. Without warning she moved back to the family’s old home in Miami, removing Cassie from Scott’s superhero idiocies and fatherly influence. Without missing a beat Scott chucked his plush new Stark job and followed…

The second chapter finds our little hero targeted by failed super-villain the Grizzly, who has tracked him to Florida seeking revenge. Unfortunately, the Ant-Man he has a beef with is the third one (Eric O’Grady) and it takes all Scott’s fast-talking and ingenuity to escape getting squished.

When tempers cool Grizzly is truly apologetic and Scott simply takes it in stride. He has bigger problems, such as trying to set up a small business as a security consultant. Banks don’t like lending to ex-cons – especially ones who have been declared legally dead – and he still has the worst luck in the world…

At one bank a stunt he pulls to prove his hacking abilities results in a WWII robot stored in its vault running amok. Still, when Lang finds out where the bank got its own start-up funds from, he “leverages” them into extending him that business loan…

Flushed with success and revelling in Cassie’s approval, he then proves his sound business acumen by hiring Grizzly to be the muscle for Ant-Man Security Solutions, tragically unaware that the closest thing he has to an arch-enemy is already targeting him for destruction…

Erica Sondheim meanwhile has moved on since her clash with CTE and is less than ecstatic when the company again kidnaps her. Although Darren Cross is long dead, his deeply disturbed son Augustine is determined to resolve his daddy issues by resurrecting the old man. Now that he has the cardiac surgeon he only requires one more thing: the one-of-a-kind heart she fitted for young Cassie Lang.

…And the first Scott learns of it is after the deadly Taskmaster attacks him for old times’ sake…

By the time Ant-Man can act it’s too late. Cassie has been spirited away by billionaire Augustine’s super-villain uncle Crossfire and prepped for surgery. At his wits end, Lang listens to Grizzly’s half-baked suggestion and hires another villain – the biology-hating living data-store dubbed Machinesmith – to get him inside Cross’ Miami factory. When the blistering three-pronged attack finally gets the unlikely rescuers inside, the damage has been done: the blockbusting Darren Cross is back from the dead and hungry for revenge.

Sadly for the resurrected rogue, everybody has overestimated Erica Sondheim’s ingenuity and the lengths a frustrated, pissed-off desperate Ant-Man will go to when his kid is threatened…

Fast, furious, action-packed and astonishingly funny when it isn’t moving or scary, Second-Chance Man is a delicious confection perfectly designed to relaunch Marvel’s latest movie sensation and this slim full-colour compilation comes with a covers and variant gallery by Mark Brooks, Jason Pearson, Skottie Young, Phil Noto & Cliff Chiang.
© 2005 2008 Marvel. All rights reserved.

Marvel Platinum: the Definitive Ant-Man


By Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Roy Thomas, David Michelinie, Kurt Busiek, Robert Kirkman, Tim Seeley, Nick Spencer, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, John Byrne, Jerry Bingham, Ivan Reis, Phil Hester, Ramon Rosanas & various (Marvel/Panini UK)

ISBN: 978-1-84653-658-8

With another Marvel filmic franchise setting records around the world, here’s a timely tie-in trade paperback collection designed to perfectly augment the cinematic exposure and cater to movie fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience.

Part of the always-enticing Marvel Platinum/Definitive Edition series, this treasury of tales reprints intriguing landmarks and key moments from Tales to Astonish #27, 35, Avengers #59-60, Marvel Premiere #47-48, Marvel Team-Up #103, Avengers Annual 2001, #1, Irredeemable Ant-Man #1-2, Ant-Man and Wasp #1-3 and Ant-Man #1, convolutedly spanning January 1962 to March 2015, and hopefully answering any questions the silver screen saga might throw up whilst providing an immense amount of spectacularly bombastic fighting fun.

One thing to recall at all times however is that there are numerous distinct and separate iterations of the tiny terror and whilst the film concentrates on the first and second there are a few more here to tantalise and tempt you, so pay close attention…

Moreover, in addition to the sparkling Brady Webb Foreword, this compendium contains text features detailing the secret history and statistics of three of those Ant Men: Hank Pym, Scott Lang and the infamous Eric O’Grady, plus Mike Conroy’s scholarly trawl through comicbook history in ‘The True Origin of the Ant-Man’.

The unlikeliest of heroic titans debuted in Tales to Astonish #27, released at the end of 1961, one month after Fantastic Four #1 hit the newsstands: a 7-page short which introduced maverick scientist Dr Henry Pym, who discovered a shrinking potion and became ‘The Man in the Anthill!’

Overwhelmed and imperilled by his startling discovering, the lonely researcher found wonder and even a kind of companionship amongst the lowliest creatures on Earth… and under it…

This engaging piece of fluff, which owed much to classic Sci Fi movie The Incredible Shrinking Man was plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by Larry Lieber and stunningly illustrated by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers: intended as nothing more than another here-today, gone-tomorrow filler in one of the company’s madly engaging pre-superhero “monster-mags”.

However the character struck a chord with someone since, as the DC Comics-inspired superhero boom flourished and Lee sprung the Hulk, Thor and Spider-Man on the unsuspecting kids of America, Pym was economically retooled as a fully-fledged costumed do-gooder for TtA #35 (September 1962).

The anthology title began featuring a new costumed champion as ‘The Return of the Ant-Man’ by Lee, Lieber, Kirby & Ayers found Soviet agents (this was at the height of Marvel’s ‘Commie-Buster’ period when every other villain was a Red somebody or other and rampaging socialism was a cultural bête noir) capturing Pym and holding him prisoner in his own laboratory.

Forced to use his long-abandoned shrinking gases and the cybernetic devices he’d built to communicate with ants, the scientist soundly trounced the spies and resolved to use his new-found powers for the good of Mankind.

Pym’s costumed exploits – shared with girlfriend Janet Van Dyne after his brilliance gave her powers as the Wasp from #44 onwards and expanded once he became Giant Man in #49 – ran until issue #69 (July 1965) whereupon he was impudently and unceremoniously ousted in favour of the Sub-Mariner. Thereafter he gradually migrated to the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, changing his battle-nomenclature to Goliath.

That changed again in Avengers volume 1, #59 and 60 (December 1968 and January 1969) where, thanks to increasing mental instability and overwork, his team-mates were astounded to discover ‘The Name is Yellowjacket!’

Scripted by Roy Thomas and illustrated by John Buscema & George Klein, the tale saw Goliath and the Wasp finally marry under the most dubious of circumstances after heroic Dr. Pym was seemingly murdered and replaced by a new insect-themed hero with an edgy ruthlessly brutal character and far fewer morals…

Packed with heroic guest-stars and the deadly Circus of Evil in attendance, the nuptial tale concluded in ‘…Till Death Do Us Part!’ (inked by Mike Esposito moonlighting as Mickey DeMeo) with some semblance of sanity and normality at last restored.

Next up here is the introduction of reformed thief Scott Lang who debuted in Marvel Premiere #47 (April 1979, David Michelinie, John Byrne & Bob Layton) with ‘To Steal an Ant-Man!’ revealing how a former electronics engineer had turned to crime, more out of boredom than necessity, and after being caught and serving his time joined Stark Industries as a determinedly reformed character… until his daughter Cassie developed a heart condition which wiped out his savings forcing Scott to revert to old ways to save her.

He was desperate to find the wherewithal to hire experimental surgeon Dr. Erica Sondheim and began casing likely prospects, but unfortunately she had been abducted by merciless industrialist Darren Cross who was currently using all the resources of his mega-corporation Cross Technological Enterprises to keep himself alive…

Needing cash now just to broach the CTE complex, Lang went back to Plan A and burgled the lab of retired superhero Henry Pym, where he discovered old Ant-Man gear and size-changing gases. In a moment of madness Lang decided not to sell the stolen tech but instead used the outfit to break in to Cross’ citadel and rescue Sondheim…

That plan wasn’t so great either as the dying billionaire, in a desperate attempt to stay alive, had been harvesting the hearts of homeless people to power an experimental device which had mutated him into a monstrous brute. After learning with horror ‘The Price of a Heart!’ (June 1979), Scott eventually triumphed; unaware until the very last that Pym had allowed him to take the suit and was backstopping him every inch of the way. With Cassie saved Yellowjacket then invited Lang to continue as the new Ant-Man…

After guest shots in The Avengers and Iron Man (not included here) Lang resurfaced for a spectacular clash against villainous lifestyle coach Taskmaster in Marvel Team-Up #103 (March 1983). Crafted by Michelinie, Jerry Bingham & Esposito ‘The Assassin Academy’ saw the diminutive neophyte hero save Spider-Man from becoming an object lesson for the graduating class at a deadly school for henchmen, after which we jump to the Avengers Annual (September) 2001, where Kurt Busiek, Ivan Reis & Scott Hanna cleared up a long-running case of doppelganger confusion…

Ever since the Avengers reunited following the end of the Onslaught publishing event Pym had been acting strangely: switching between Giant-Man and Yellowjacket personas and suffering bizarre mood-swings. Now it was revealed that his powers had caused the separation and manifestation of two discrete and antagonistic entities and it took the intervention of an insidious enemy and ‘The Third Man’ to put things right…

Clearly a character-concept with a lot of cachet and potential but no direction, the size-shifting stalwart underwent a radical revision in Irredeemable Ant-Man #1-2 (from December 2005 and January 2006) as the art team of Phil Hester & Ande Parks joined innovative scripter by Robert Kirkman in a sharp, snappy and gloriously irreverent reinterpretation.

When veteran Doctor Pym designed a new super suit, tricked up with loads of gadgets and capable of shrinking the wearer to ant-size, he did it under the auspices of super-spy organisation SHIELD. However, he didn’t expect it to be accidentally stolen by the security men guarding it – but then again nobody imagined such a prestigious, efficient organisation could employ such worthless, shiftless, useless slackers as trainee agents Eric O’Grady and Chris McCarthy.

When, after a series of improbable mishaps McCarthy put on the suit and was trapped and lost at ant size aboard the Helicarrier, Eric was too scared to admit it was a foul-up and not enemy action.

Later when a genuine crisis occurs, a horrific tragedy leaves the shrinking suit in O’Grady’s so-very unworthy hands and he resolves to try and make amends. Sadly Eric is an inveterate rat-bag and finds the temptation to use his new-found gift to spy on the women’s showers, cash in, score with chicks he rescues and generally act like a selfish ass too great to resist….

When Janet Van Dyne fell during the Skrulls’ Secret Invasion her estranged husband rededicated himself to heroic endeavour and took her codename as his own, leading his own cadre of Mighty Avengers as Earth’s Scientist Supreme. From that period comes the 3-part Limited Series Ant-Man and Wasp #1 (January-March 2011) wherein Tim Seeley & Hector Olazaba team the po-faced über-technologist with well-intentioned, weak-willed costumed Frat-Boy Eric O’Grady in a guest-star stuffed, trans-dimensional battle against AIM supremo Monica Rappacini and a rogue sleepwalker from the dream-drenched Mindscape to save a stolen virtual construct of the afterlife…

Wrapping up the eenie-weenie excitement comes Ant-Man #1 from March 2015 which reboots back-from-the-dead Scott Lang as a down on his luck, impoverished hero seeking to rebuild his life as a security officer for Stark Industries. This is a smart, engaging tale by Nick Spencer & Ramon Rosanas was released as a 5-part miniseries but as only the first chapter is included here I’m saying nothing more since I’m going to review the complete story in its own compilation in a few days time…

With covers by Kirby, Ayers, John Buscema, Bob Layton, Dave Cockrum & Bob McLeod, Bingham, Ian Churchill & Norm Rapmund, Hester, Salvador Espin and Mark Brooks, this quirky slice of up-scaled and down-sized derring-do is a non-stop feast of tense suspense, whacky fun 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 the newcomers and charm even the most jaded slice ‘n’ dice fanatic.

© 1962, 1968, 1969, 1979, 1981, 2001, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2015 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. British edition published by Panini UK.

Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Ultimate Collection


By Joe Casey, Scott Kolins, Will Rosado, Tom Palmer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5937-7

One of the most momentous events in Marvel Comics history occurred in 1963 when a disparate array of individual heroes banded together to stop the 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 continually changed until now almost every character in their universe has at some time numbered amongst the team’s colourful ranks…

During Marvel’s rebirth in the early 1960’s Stan Lee & Jack Kirby took their lead from a small but growing band of costumed characters debuting or being revived and reimagined at the Distinguished Competition. Julie Schwartz’ retooling of DC Comics’ Golden Age mystery-men had paid big dividends for the industry leader as the decade turned, and Managing Editor Lee’s boss (uncle and publisher Martin Goodman) insisted that his company should get in on the act too.

Although National/DC had achieved incredible success with revised and updated versions of the company’s old stable, the natural gambit of trying the same revivification process on characters that had dominated Timely/Atlas in those halcyon days didn’t go quite so well.

The Justice League of America-inspired Fantastic Four featured a new Human Torch but his subsequent solo series began to founder almost as soon as Kirby stopped drawing it. Sub-Mariner was back too, but as a villain, as yet incapable of carrying his own title…

So a procession of new costumed heroes began, with Lee, Kirby and Steve Ditko churning out numerous inventive and inspired “super-characters”.

Not all caught on: The Hulk folded after six issues and even Spider-Man would have failed if writer/editor Lee hadn’t really, really pushed his uncle Martin…

Even so, after nearly 18 months during which the fledgling House of Ideas had churned out a small stable of leading men (but only a sidekick woman), Lee & Kirby finally had enough players to stock an “all-star” ensemble – the format which had made the JLA a commercial winner – and thus assembled a handful of them into a force for justice and even higher sales…

Cover-dated September 1963, The Avengers #1 launched as part of an expansion programme which also included Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos and The X-Men and, despite a few rocky patches, the series grew into one of the company’s perennial top sellers.

Those early Avengers yarns became a cornerstone of the company’s crucially interlinked continuity and as decades passed they were frequently revisited and re-examined. In 2005 however Joe Casey and artist Scott Kolins (with colourists Morry Hollowell & Will Quintana) took the occasional exercises in creativity a little further, offering an 8-issue modernising miniseries which added devious back-writing to the original stories – with a spot of post-modern in-filling – which exposed secrets and revealed how the team actually came to hold its prominent and predominant position in the Marvel Universe…

Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #1-8 ran fortnightly from January to April 2005 and was successful enough to warrant a second season – Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes II #1-8 which repeated the trick from January to May 2007, and both epics are re-presented here in a splendid, no-nonsense softcover compilation.

The drama begins (chronologically set between Avengers #1 and 2 ) as industrialist Tony Stark reviews media coverage of the coalition of mystery men currently residing in his family’s townhouse and ponders how best to keep such diverse and headstrong personalities as Ant Man, The Wasp, Thor and the Hulk together.

Across town in a seedy dive, a young troublemaker and pool-shark named Clint Barton can’t understand why folks are so nervous about the masked freaks…

Two weeks later the team has fallen apart and the Avengers are actually hunting their gamma-fuelled former colleague. In the course of events they unexpectedly recover a legendary form from a coffin of ice…

The gradually assimilation of partially amnesiac WWII legend Captain America into a terrifying new time is not without problems and the iconic and grimly experienced warrior is keenly aware of the seething tensions that beset the team he has joined.

Iron Man is still fervently pursuing an exalted Federal status for the Avengers but the army are baulking: clearly set on putting the wilfully independent powerhouses under military jurisdiction.

After a ferocious clash with Lava Men from the earth’s deep interior the word finally comes. The powers that be have created an all-encompassing “Avengers Priority Security Status” – but only for as long as the fickle public’s new darling and National Treasure Captain America stays with the team…

Self-made scientific genius Hank Pym created the roles of Ant Man and the Wasp – AKA girlfriend Janet Van Dyne – but his inherent mental instability has caused him to push further and harder ever since he joined the ranks of a squad that includes a patriotic legend, an infallible metal juggernaut and a god.

Now as Giant Man he is letting his feelings of inadequacy drive a wedge between him and his lover even as the Army ups the pressure to take over the team, and reborn Steve Rogers increasingly sinks into survivor’s guilt over the comrades he failed to save in the war.

His torment kicks into overdrive when Nazi war criminal and arch foe Baron Zemo comes out of hiding to attack the Avenger with his Masters of Evil

When an invader out of time strikes, the Avengers finally and very publicly prove their worth to the government, and with Kang the Conqueror sent packing the team at last secure their favoured-but-fully-independent security clearance. Meanwhile in the streets a wanted vigilante dubbed Hawkeye saves Avengers butler Edwin Jarvis and they strike up a most irregular friendship…

The cases come thick and fast but the internal tensions never seem to dissipate. In far distant Balkan Transia fugitive mutants Wanda and Pietro desperately search for a place where they can feel safe whilst in America Cap is becoming increasingly obsessed with tracking down Zemo.

After a battle with Count Nefaria leaves the Wasp near death from a gunshot wound, Giant Man also edges closer to a complete breakdown. As a surgeon battles to save her life, Pym swears that he’s going to quit and take her away from all the madness but before that can happen Zemo returns to abduct the Sentinel of Liberty’s teenaged friend Rick Jones

The team acrimoniously divides with Cap trailing the monomaniac to Bolivia whilst the rest of the Avengers remain for a final battle against the Masters of Evil. Below stairs Jarvis and Clint are concocting a scheme of their own…

As the death-duel in Bolivia concludes, in Germany two restless young mutants orchestrate their return to America and – with a little collusion from Jarvis – Hawkeye “auditions” for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes…

As Cap and Rick wearily make their way back to civilisation, Iron Man deals with the Government fallout when they hear the news that their Red, White and Blue poster boy is missing. Soon news leaks out that the rest of the original team have decided to quit and Stark has lined up a wanted vigilante and two outlaw mutants to replace them…

The initial secret history lesson concludes with the astounded Captain America’s re-emergence and reluctant succession to leadership of a team of obnoxious and arrogant young felons he is expected to mould into true heroes…

The rest is history…

The second bite of the cherry (by Casey, Will Rosado, Tom Palmer & Quintana) focuses on a time when the Avengers were in resurgent form. The Founders had all returned at a time when Pym (now calling himself Goliath), Wasp and Hawkeye had been joined by enigmatic African monarch Black Panther and the action commences immediately following the expanded team’s attack by an android called The Vision – whom they promptly signed up (Avengers #58 if you’re keeping count)…

The density-shifting “synthezoid” was created by robotic nemesis Ultron (a murderous AI created by Pym whilst suffering one of his many psychotic breaks) before switching allegiances, and the first issue opens as the highly-suspect new Avenger is impounded by SHIELD for investigation and clearance. The ostensible reason is that another autonomous murder mechanism – the Super-Adaptoid – has escaped from custody and humanity can’t be too careful…

In the Philippines, the real cause of all the anti technology tension and overweening suspicion are busy. Science terrorists Advanced Idea Mechanics have secretly stolen the Adaptoid and begun seeing how they can improve an already ultimate killing machine…

At a hidden SHIELD base interrogator Jasper Sitwell has met his match in The Vision but still perseveres in trying to dig out dirt on the android and its “master” Ultron.

The Panther meanwhile has foregone his status as a VIP dignitary to teach at an inner city school under the alias of Luke Charles. What he finds there is a true education…

Hawkeye too is under pressure as his lover Black Widow reveals she’s going back into the spy-game. With Pym close to apoplexy at the government’s quasi-legal rendition of the Vision, nobody is in a particularly good mood when SHIELD supremo Nick Fury demands the team head to the Philippines to investigate AIM’s latest enterprise.

With Fury’s carrot-&-stick pep talk ringing in their ears the heroes – rejoined by the just released Vision – jet off, unaware that in Manhattan an assassination plot against King T’Challa/Mr. Charles has brought one of Panther’s greatest enemies to America…

The heroes are challenged over the Pacific skies by a massed-produced army of Super-Adaptoids and are soon engaged in the fight of their lives…

Overwhelmed, the party is in danger of being swamped and Goliath valiantly turns himself into as colossal human rampart to stem the tide and save the endangered island population whilst his comrades are despatched to take out the AIM superbase…

Left all alone Pym fights in a maddened frenzy and becomes increasingly obsessed with how human the things he is incessantly slaughtering seem to be. By the time the triumphant team get Goliath home he is a deeply traumatised shell of a man…

Luke Charles returns to school in time to get deeply embroiled in a bullying case that will inevitably end in gunplay and tragedy. And then the apparently recuperating Hank Pym goes missing…

Soon after a new and excessively brutal hero named Yellowjacket is making news even as Agent Sitwell again targets the Vision for further debriefing after Pym’s “massacre” of mechanical lifeforms on AIM Island. This time he has brought in SHIELD’s top psychologist Agent Carver to try and get under the newcomer’s artificial skin…

The spies are in heated argument with Hawkeye when Yellowjacket breaks in, claiming to have murdered the Man of Many Sizes and demanding to take Goliath’s place on the team…

Nobody is fooled. Everyone has recognised the abrasive stranger as Pym gone far off the deep end, but Carver prevents them from saying anything. She advises that he is clearly inches from being utterly incurable and devises a treatment to cure him which basically comprises “play along and don’t do anything to upset the crazy man”…

That even includes allowing Yellowjacket to kidnap the Wasp and agreeing to let him marry his hostage…

The wedding is held at Avengers Mansion and includes a Who’s Who of heroes along for the ride, but the scheme spirals out of control when the Circus of Crime (not privy to the details of the service) use the gathering as the perfect opportunity to kill all America’s costumed champions in one go…

That deadly dilemma is apparently enough to shock Pym back to his right senses but in the aftermath a number of SHIELD agents are brutally slaughtered as Wakandan assassin Death Tiger gets ever closer to fulfilling his own mission of murder…

And to cap off all the chaos the still at large Super-Adaptoid also attacks, determined to expunge the race-traitor Vision who has perpetrated the ultimate betrayal by siding with inferior humanity and denying the innate superiority and inevitable ascension of mechanical and artificial lifeforms…

Politically savvy, wryly cynical and compellingly action-packed, this extremely impressive Fights ‘n’ Tights chronicle is a superb addition to the annals of the Avengers and would serve as perfect comics vehicle for those movie blockbuster fans in search of a print-fix for their costumed crusader cravings…
© 2005, 2007, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

New Avengers: Secret Invasion Book 2


By Brian Michael Bendis, Billy Tan, Jim Cheung, Michael Gaydos & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2949-3

The Skrulls are shape-shifting aliens who’ve bedevilled Earth since Fantastic Four #2, and they have long been a pernicious cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. After decades of use, abuse and misuse the insidious invaders were made the sinister stars of a colossal braided mega-crossover event beginning in April 2008 and running through all titles until Christmas.

The premise of Secret Invasion is simple: the would-be alien conquerors have only just survived a devastating catastrophe which destroyed much of their empire; subsequently leading to a mass religious conversion. They are now utterly resolved and dedicated to make Earth their new holy homeworld.

To this end they have gradually replaced a number of key Earth denizens – most notably superheroes and other metahumans. When their plot is discovered no defender of the Earth truly knows who is on their side…

Moreover the cosmic charlatans have also unravelled the secrets of Earth magic and genetic superpowers, creating amped-up counterparts to Earth’s mightiest. They are now primed and able to destroy the world’s heroic champions in face to face confrontations.

Rather than give too much away, let me just say that if you like this sort of thing you’ll love it, and a detailed familiarity is not crucial to your understanding. However, for a complete experience, you will want to see the other 22 “Secret Invasion” volumes that accompany this one, although at a pinch you could get by with only the key collection Secret Invasion – which contains the 8-issue core miniseries, one-shot spin-off “Who Do You Trust?” and illustrated textbook “Skrulls” which claims to provide a listing and biography for every shape-shifter yet encountered in the Marvel Universe (but if they left any out, who could tell?).

The New Avengers segment of the saga concludes in the book, collecting issues #43-47 (September 2008 to January 2009) and offering more supplementary and sidebar insights to the main event as the Invasion progresses, focussing again on individual character pieces to propel the narrative rather than vast battles.

Scripted throughout by Brian Michael Bendis, the first tale (illustrated by Billy Tan & Danny Miki) returns to the moment which turned a cold war of suspicion and attrition into a hot shooting match after a spaceship full of what appeared to be Earth heroes crashed into the dinosaur preserve known as the Savage Land.

These returnees all claimed to be the originals, taken at various times and upon landing accused those who had been on Earth prior to their crash of being alien impostors. The most shocking example was Captain America, whom everybody saw assassinated weeks previously on prime time TV…

Whilst the Star Spangled Avenger is exposed as a Skrull a flashback reveals how potent the new Skrull strategy is, not only copying the body and powers but programming the infiltrator with false memories so that it actually believes itself to be the human hero it mimics…

These unwitting Trojan Horses have been mixed in with genuine shanghaied Terrans and eventually allowed to escape back to Earth…

With art by Tan & Matt Banning, the next sneak peek harks back to the time when Earth’s “Illuminati” – Reed Richards, Tony (Iron Man) Stark, Black Bolt, Stephen Strange, Charles Xavier and Namor, the Sub-Mariner – confronted and were consequently captured by the Skrulls.

Although the heroes eventually escaped they left behind far too many genetic secrets, and this shocking history lesson proceeds to reveal how neophyte scientist Dro’ge Fenu Edu used the mind and personality of Richards to forge the final link in the aliens’ infallible invasion plan…

Jim Cheung, Matt Dell & Jay Leisten illustrated the next chapter which intersected with publishing event House of M as deep-cover agent and invasion commander Queen Veranke found herself caught up in the reality-warping spell of the Scarlet Witch.

As that deeply troubled woman remade the world in a crazed attempt to create a mutant paradise, Veranke was forced to see things that would sharpen her resolve to eradicate humanity once the previous reality was (mostly) restored…

Tan & Banning were back for #46 as mystic gangster The Hood and his syndicate of super-criminals rescue murderous menace Madame Masque from SHIELD agents, only to discover that the high-tech lawmen are shapeshifting aliens…

As the villains struggle to decide what their role will be in the coming struggle, The Hood at last learns where his own incredible abilities come from…

The catalogue of changeling tales concludes with a Tan, Michael Gaydos & Banning art collaboration as new parents Luke Cage and Jessica Jones review how they first met when the former “Hero for Hire” commissioned actual private detective Jones to track down his estranged father.

Some heartbreaks lead to new loves but as the woman known as “Alias” gradually moved into Cage’s life, neither knew that one day it would all lead to a Skrull impersonating the Avengers’ butler, stealing their baby…

Quirky, moving, and winningly low-key, the stories gathered here are supplemented with a cover gallery from by Aleksi Briclot and a selection of landmark original covers his homages are based on, including Avengers Annual #2 by John Buscema, New Avengers: Illuminati #1 by Cheung, House of M #1 by Esad Ribic, Bring on the Bad Guys by John Romita Sr. and West Coast Avengers #1 by Bob Hall.

Although impressive and entertaining, this great Fights ‘n’ Tights tome doesn’t really stand alone, but you will also certainly benefit from checking out the collections Secret Invasion: the Infiltration, Avengers Disassembled, and Annihilation volumes 1-3, as well as the rather pivotal New Avengers: Illuminati graphic novel.

Despite the copious homework list I’ve provided, this book is still a solid action-adventure read, with plenty of human drama to balance the paranoia and power-plays: a pure guilty pleasure.
© 2008, 2009, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.