The Avengers versus Thanos


By Jim Starlin, Mike Friedrich, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Scott Edelman, Don Heck, Bob Brown, John Buscema, Mike Zeck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6850-8

With another Marvel Cinematic Universe film scoring big around the world, here’s a timely trade paperback and eBook edition to augment the celluloid exposure and cater to movie fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience that fills in all the gaps.

After Marvel mainstays Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby left the company, the burgeoning publisher brought in a raft of young newcomers to fill the void. One of the most successful of these was Jim Starlin who especially rose to the occasion by masterminding a vast and sprawling cosmic epic using a constantly failing property various stalwarts of the House of Ideas could not make a hit…

Captain Marvel was an alien on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree empire who fought for Earth and was atomically bonded to professional sidekick Rick Jones by a pair of wristbands allowing them to share the same space in our universe. When one was here, the other was trapped in the antimatter dimension designated the Negative Zone.

After meandering around the Marvel Universe for a while, continually one step ahead of cancellation (the series had folded many times, but always quickly returned – primarily to secure the all-important trademark name), Mar-Vell was handed to Starlin – and the young craftsman was left alone to get on with it.

With many of his fellow neophytes he began laying seeds (particularly in Iron Man, Sub-Mariner and Daredevil) for a saga that would in many ways become as well-regarded as the Jack Kirby Fourth World Trilogy that inspired it.

However, the Thanos War, despite many superficial similarities, would soon develop into a uniquely modern experience. And what it lacked in grandeur it made up for with sheer energy and enthusiasm…

Spanning February 1973-September 1974, this grandiose compendium (available in Trade Paperback and eBook editions) gathers and chronologically collates Iron Man #55, Captain Marvel #25-33, Marvel Feature #12, Daredevil #105-107, Avengers #125, Warlock #9-11 and 15, Avengers Annual #7, Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 and concludes with a pertinent back-up from Logan’s Run #6 (June 1977: re-presenting Starlin’s entire early development of and engagement with one of comicbooks’ most popular villains.

The artistic iconoclasm began in Iron Man #55 (February 1973) where Mike Friedrich scripted Starlin’s opening gambit in a cosmic epic that would change the nature of Marvel itself.

Inked by Mike Esposito, ‘Beware… Beware… Beware the … Blood Brothers!’ introduces formidable and obsessive Drax the Destroyer; an immensely powerful humanoid trapped under the Nevada desert and in dire need of rescue by even more potent extraterrestrial invader Thanos

That comes when the Armoured Avenger blazes in, answering a mysterious SOS, but only after brutally dealing with the secret invader’s bombastic and brutal underlings…

All this is merely a prelude to the main story which starts unfolding a month later in Captain Marvel #25, courtesy of Friedrich, Starlin, & Chic Stone, wherein Thanos unleashes ‘A Taste of Madness!’, changing exiled Mar-Vell’s fortunes forever…

When Mar-Vell is ambushed by a pack of extraterrestrial assassins, he is forced to admit that his powers have been in decline for some time. Unaware that an unseen foe is counting on that, Rick manifests from the Negative Zone to check in with sagacious scientific maverick Dr. Savannah, only to find himself accused by the savant’s daughter (and Rick’s beloved) Lou-Ann of her father’s murder…

Hauled off to jail, Rick brings in Mar-Vell who is suddenly confronted by a veritable legion of old foes before deducing who in fact his true enemies are…

Issue #26 then sees Rick freed from police custody to confront Lou-Ann over her seeming ‘Betrayal!’ (Starlin, Friedrich & Dave Cockrum). Before long, though, he and Mar-Vell realise they are the targets of psychological warfare: the girl is being mind-controlled whilst Super Skrull and his hidden “Masterlord” are manipulating them and others in search of a lost secret…

When a subsequent scheme to have Mar-Vell murder The Thing spectacularly fails, Thanos takes personal charge. The Titan is hungry for conquest and needs Rick because his subconscious conceals the location of an irresistible ultimate weapon.

Rick awakens to find himself ‘Trapped on Titan!’ (Pablo Marcos inks) not realising the villain has already extracted the location of a reality-altering Cosmic Cube from him. Rescued by Thanos’ hyper-powered father Mentor and noble brother Eros, the horrified human lad sees first-hand the extent of the genocide the death-loving monster has inflicted upon his own birthworld. Appalled and angry, Rick summons Captain Marvel to wreak vengeance…

Meanwhile on Earth, still-enslaved Lou-Ann has gone to warn the Mighty Avengers and summarily collapsed. By the time Mar-Vell arrives in #28 she lies near death. ‘When Titans Collide!’ (inks by Dan Green) reveals another plank of Thanos’ plan.

As the heroes are picked off by psychic parasite The Controller, the Kree Captain is assaulted by bizarre visions of an incredibly ancient being. Fatally distracted, he becomes the malevolent mind-leech’s latest conquest…

Al Milgrom inks ‘Metamorphosis!’ as Mar-Vell’s connection to Rick is severed before the Kree exile is transported to an otherworldly locale where a grotesque eight billion-year-old being named Eon reveals the origins of universal life whilst overseeing the abductee’s forced evolution into an ultimate warrior: a universal champion gifted with the subtly irresistible power of Cosmic Awareness

Subsequently returned to Earth and reconnected to his frantic atomic counterpart, the newly-appointed “Protector of the Universe” confronts The Controller, thrashing the monumentally powerful brain-parasite in a devastating display of skill countering exo-skeletal super-strength in #30’s ‘…To Be Free from Control!’

Iron Man, meanwhile, has recovered from a previous Controller assault and headed for Marvel Feature #12 to join Ben Grimm in ending a desert incursion by Thanos’ forces before enduring ‘The Bite of the Blood Brothers!’ (Friedrich, Starlin, & Joe Sinnott), after which the story develops through the unseeing eyes of San Francisco-based swashbuckler Daredevil.

In DD #105, Matt Murdock has realised his new boss Kerwin Broderick has been sabotaging the attorney’s cases, and even hired warped mercenary Sergei Kravinoff AKA Kraven the Hunter to crush Daredevil’s investigative interference. When Kraven abducts his lover The Black Widow, the hero tries to save her but is thrown to his death over a cliff…

Natasha brutally avenge her man’s murder, but Murdock is far from dead, having being teleported from the jaws of doom by a ‘Menace from the Moons of Saturn!’ (scripted by Steve Gerber with art by Don Heck & Don Perlin).

In a short sequence pencilled by Starlin, the earthborn Priestess of Titan reveals how she had been dispatched to Earth to counter the schemes of death-worshipping proto-god Thanos.

Here the formerly enigmatic and emotionless super scientist Madame MacEvil shares her origins and foreshadows her future role in the cosmic catastrophe to come.

When Thanos killed her family, the infant Heather Douglas was adopted by Mentor, taken to Titan and reared by psionic martial artists of the Shao-Lom Monastery. Years later when Thanos attacked Titan and destroyed the monks she swore revenge and took a new name… Moondragon.

She also inadvertently discloses how she had innocently allied with a respected man of power and authority, providing him with a variety of augmented agents such as Dark Messiah, Ramrod and Angar …in fact all the menaces who have recently dogged the Man Without Fear…

Gerber, Heck & Trapani then brought the expansive sidebar saga closer to culmination as the manipulator is unmasked in ‘Life Be Not Proud!’ but not before the wily plotter redeploys all his past minions, shoots his misguided ally Moondragon, usurps a Titanian ultimate weapon and unleashes a life-leeching horror dubbed Terrex upon the world.

With all Earth endangered, DD, the Widow and guest-star Captain Marvel are forced to pull out all the stops to defeat the threat, and only then after a last-minute defection by the worst of their enemies and a desperate ‘Blind Man’s Life!’ courtesy of Gerber, Bob Brown & Sal Buscema.

Inked by Green & Milgrom, Captain Marvel #31 announces ‘The Beginning of the End!’ as the Avengers – in a gathering of last resort – are joined by psionic priestess Moondragon and Drax: revealed as one more of Thanos’ victims but one recalled from death by supernal forces to hunt and destroy the deranged Titan…

Thanos is then revealed as a lover of the personification of Death: determined to gift her Earth as a betrothal present. To that end he uses the Cosmic Cube to turn himself into ‘Thanos the Insane God!’ (Green inks) who, with a casual thought, imprisons all opposition to his reign.

The story then slips into Avengers #125, as Thanos unleashes ‘The Power of Babel!’ (Steve Englehart, John Buscema & Cockrum) with his vast alien armada bombarding Earth. In combating it, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are trapped out of phase with their home-world and, on defeating the star raiders, can only watch helplessly as ghosts in another dimension…

All seems lost but the Titan’s insane arrogance leaves the cosmically aware Mar-Vell with one slim chance to undo every change. Brilliantly outmanoeuvring the omnipotent ogre, the Kree Captain defeats and apparently destroys ‘The God Himself!’ in cosmically climatic Captain Marvel #33 (inked by Klaus Janson).

With the menace removed life returned to hectic normality, but the threat of Thanos had not ended.

While the war unfolded on Earth, Avatar of Life Adam Warlock had been making his way across the cosmos. The man-made man-god origins were as a lab experiment concocted by rogue geneticists eager to create a superman they could control for conquest. After facing the Fantastic Four, “Him” subsequently escaped to the stars before returning to his all-encompassing cocoon to evolve a little more.

That stellar shell was picked up by the moon-sized ship of self-created deity the High Evolutionary who was wrapped up in a bold new experiment. The naive wanderer observed as the Evolutionary created a duplicate Earth on the far side of the sun, running through billions of years of evolution in mere hours.

The intent was to create a civilisation without aggression or rancour, but the Evolutionary collapsed from exhaustion just as proto-hominid became Homo Sapien and his greatest mistake took instant advantage of the fact…

Years previously Man-Beast had been hyper-evolved from a wolf and instantly became his creator’s nemesis. Now he and his equally debased minions invaded the ship and interfered with the experiment: reintroducing evil to the perfect creatures below and, in fact, making them just like us. At incredible speed Earth’s history re-ran with the creature in the cocoon afforded a ring-side seat to humanity’s fall from grace…

When the High Evolutionary awoke and fought Man-Beast’s army, Him broke out of his shell and helped rout the demons, who fled to the despoiled Counter-Earth. With calm restored, the science-god sought to sterilise his ruined experiment: a world now indistinguishable from our own. No superheroes; disease and poverty rampant; injustice in ascendance and moments away from nuclear Armageddon… but Him begged him not to.

Claiming the evil tide could be turned, he begged the Evolutionary to stay his hand. The grieving, despondent creator agreed… but only until the rechristened Adam Warlock should admit that humanity was beyond redemption…

After failing in that endeavour Warlock travelled to the furthest reaches of creation only to discover a cruel and rapacious Universal Church of Truth slaughtering billions and learned with horror that the faith was based on a living god: his own evil future self The Magus.

Resolved to destroy the vile aberration he partnered with a troll named Pip and an assassin named Gamora, unaware that she actually worked for a hidden masterlord with a devilish agenda of his own…

Taken from Warlock #9-11 (October 1975-February 1976) the culmination of that struggle began with ‘The Infinity Effect’ (Starlin & Steve Leialoha) as the triumphant Magus easily countered every desperate ploy of Warlock to avoid an imminent metamorphosis into his malignant future self. All hope seems lost until Gamora’s master finally intercedes…

‘How Strange My Destiny!’ finds the unflappable Magus respond by setting 25,000 super-powered religious fanatics on the Warlock and Thanos as a way of keeping them occupied until the inevitable transformation occurs. ‘Enter the Redemption Principle!’ finds Magus at last rattled and personally intervening…

Issue #12’s sees an ‘Escape into the Inner Prison!’ as Warlock discovers that his ally is the Avatar of Death, just as the Magus has usurped his own position as Avatar of Life. With no other option he chooses to circumvent an intolerable fate with ‘The Strange Death of Adam Warlock!’

After months more purposeless adventuring for Adam, infinitely patient Thanos at last shares his ultimate plans with devoted disciple Gamora. With Starlin handling all the creative chores, ‘Just a Series of Events!’ in Warlock #15 follows the artificial angel as he meanders towards his ultimate end and reveals that the all-powerful Soul Gem he wears on his brow is more his parasitic master than faithful servant…

That leads directly into a brace of 1977 Annuals which promised to resolve the Thanos/Warlock conflict forever. ‘The Final Threat’ (Starlin & Joe Rubinstein), from Avengers Annual #7, saw Captain Marvel and Moondragon return to Earth with vague anticipations of an impending cosmic catastrophe.

Their premonitions are confirmed when galactic wanderer Adam Warlock arrives with news that death-obsessed Thanos has amassed an alien armada and built a Soul-Gem powered cannon to snuff out the stars like candles…

Broaching interstellar space to stop the scheme, the united heroes forestall the stellar invasion and prevent the Dark Titan from destroying the Sun – but only at the cost of Warlock’s life…

Then ‘Death Watch!’ (Starlin & Rubinstein, Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2) finds Peter Parker plagued by prophetic nightmares, disclosing how Thanos had snatched victory from defeat and now holds the Avengers captive whilst he again prepares to extinguish Sol.

With nowhere else to turn, the anguished, disbelieving Spider-Man heads for the Baxter Building, hoping to borrow a spacecraft, and unaware that The Thing also had a history with the terrifying Titan.

Although utterly overmatched, the mismatched substitute-champions of Life subsequently upset Thanos’ plans enough so that the Avengers and the Universe’s true agent of retribution are able to end the Titan’s threat forever… or at least until next time…

That ought to be the end of this first cycle of cosmic conflagration but there’s still one more treat on offer here.

Logan’s Run was a short-lived licensed property tie-in and #6 incongruously featured a 5-page filler short starring Thanos in battle against his precision-crafted nemesis Drax the Destroyer: a typically inconclusive out-world clash over ‘The Final Flower’ by Scott Edelman & Mike Zeck.

A timeless classic of the company and the genre, made topical by the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe extravaganza, this is a tale no full-blooded print or screen-based Fights ‘n’ Tights fan can be without.
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 2013, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel’s Avengers – Infinity War Prelude


By Will Corona Pilgrim, Tigh Walker, Jorge Fornés, Chris O’Halloran, with Jonathan Hickman, Jim Starlin, Jim Cheung, Ron Lim & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0943-7

With another eagerly anticipated Marvel Cinematic Universe film premiering around the world, here’s a timely trade paperback and eBook edition to augment the celluloid exposure and cater to movie fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience.

Comprising selected reprints and new digital material designed to supplement the movie release, these Prelude editions have become a traditional part of the dissemination and build-up and this compilation contains Marvel’s Avengers Infinity War Prelude #1-2 plus material starring the ultimate arch-villain Thanos taken from Infinity #1 and Thanos Annual #1.

This original 2-part miniseries sets the scene for the film blockbuster: written by Will Corona Pilgrim and based on the Captain America: Civil War screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. It was realised by illustrator Tigh Walker, colourist Chris O’Halloran and letterer Travis Lanham and reveals how the knowledge that Captain America’s old ally Bucky (AKA Winter Soldier) assassinated Tony Stark’s parents splits the Avengers into two warring teams…

After a ferocious battle, Cap’s allies – Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man and Hawkeye – are broken out of prison by the renegade Sentinel of Liberty and take refuge in Wakanda where the advanced technologies of the Black Panther deprogram Bucky even as in America an isolated Stark reconfigures his armour in advance of an overwhelming threat heading to Earth from the depths of space…

The second chapter – with Jorge Fornés as artist – features new movie maven Dr. Strange, coming to terms with his role in a terrifying universe of appalling unknown forces and deadly dangers.

As advisor Wong regales the wizard with tales and histories of the Infinity Stones and how they have shaped events (as seen in many previous MCU films), Thor and Loki return to Earth to consult the mage in the matter of the sudden disappearance of Asgardian All-Father Odin

In space, the Guardians of the Galaxy are also gauging a growing threat as cosmic overlord Thanos turns his avaricious eyes upon Earth…

Of course, all these plot threads get knotted together in the movie…

The supplemental classic appearances then open with the first chapter of mega publishing event Infinity #1 (August 2013), scripted by Jonathan Hickman.

In the aftermath of the blockbuster Avengers versus X-Men war, the company-wide reboot MarvelNOW! reformed the entire overarching continuity: a drastic reshuffle and rethink of characters, concepts and brands with an eye to winning new readers and feeding the company’s burgeoning movie blockbuster machine…

Moreover, numerous story strands were slowly building and combining to kick off the Next Big Thing with the cosmically revamped Avengers titles forming the spine of an encroaching mega-epic.

The intergalactic Hammer of Doom finally fell as a two-pronged, all-out attack which saw an impossibly ancient threat materialise to wipe out life in the cosmos, whilst Earth itself was targeted by an old enemy with a long memory and monstrous agenda…

What Came Before: In recent Avengers episodes an impossibly ancient trio of galactic “Gardeners” – robotic Aleph, seductive Abyss and passionate Ex Nihilo – attempted to remake Earth into something special. To that end they bombarded the world with “Origin bombs”, seeding locations with bizarre, exotic and uncompromising new life-forms.

When the Avengers went after them, the invaders claimed to have been tasked by The Builders – first species in creation – and their Mother of the Universe to test and, whenever necessary, eradicate, recreate and replace life on all worlds.

Although the World’s Mightiest Heroes defeated the intruders and set about mitigating the effects of the O-bombs on Earth, it seemed increasingly futile as global threats seemingly multiplied without surcease. Evidence also indicated that the very structure and celestial mechanics of the multiverse were catastrophically unravelling.

And then rumours began of an incredible alien armada heading directly for Earth…

It all starts here with the miniseries’ first issue as ‘Infinity’ (illustrated by Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, John Livesay & David Meikis) focuses on Saturnian moon Titan where death-driven despot Thanos dispatches his diabolical Outrider to demand ‘The Tribute’ from another newly enslaved world in his growing interstellar empire. Some of the Dark Lord’s most effective agents are already on Earth, stalking the planet’s greatest champions and ‘Constructing Apocalypse’

Sixty thousand light-years away, an even bigger threat is mopping up the puissant Space Knights of Galador. Various varieties of Builders – of the same ancient order that spawned Aleph, Abyss and Ex Nihilo – have razed the planet whilst unearthly new Avenger Captain Universe (whom the Gardeners call “Mother”) can only look on with despair as her wayward children destroy another world tainted by contact with Earth…

‘Orbital’ finds Captain America and Hawkeye cleaning out a nest of Skrulls in Palermo, but these invaders are far from the arrogant, treacherous warriors they’re accustomed to. The shapeshifters are scared, cowering refugees, fleeing and hiding from something incomprehensibly bad…

‘What was Hidden, Now Uncovered’ then focuses on the Inhumans’ floating city Attilan, currently parked above Manhattan, where Outrider prepares to extract secrets from the brain of slumbering monarch Black Bolt.

Even as the supremely powerful Inhuman foils the ghastly intrusion, the Avengers have regrouped following Captain Universe’s return with warnings of an oncoming impossibly vast Builder Armada. It merely confirms what Earth’s deep space monitoring array already shows: The fleet is bearing directly on Earth and any race or empire in the way is summarily destroyed as the invaders move ever closer.

The once unbeatable Kree are only the latest to fall…

When a distress call arrives from the rulers of the Galactic Council representing Kree, Skrulls, Badoon, Spartax, Brood and Shi’ar, the Avengers are soon ‘Outbound’, resolved to stop the fleet long before it reaches Earth.

Severely wounded, Outrider returns to Titan to inform Thanos that the thing he seeks most in the universe has been hidden on Earth by Black Bolt, prompting an invasion by the Titan’s own fleet long before the Builders can arrive. Moreover, almost all the planet’s infernal metahuman champions have left for Kree space…

If that whetted your appetite, you’ll need to see the two volume Infinity collection…

Here, however, we move on to Thanos Annual #1 (July 2014) as a defeated, comatose Mad Titan recalls an early turning point in his life. Written by Jim Starlin, pencilled by Ron Lim and inked by Andy Smith, ‘Damnation and Redemption’ begins after his first defeat by Captain Marvel and the Avengers, when he used a Cosmic Cube to become God before being stripped of everything through his own arrogance.

At this low ebb he is tempted by arch demon Mephisto but saved by his own future self, using the Infinity Gauntlet’s Time Gem to correct an almost irrevocable error…

Shown his potential future, the Titanian plotter thinks he is on the rise but has not counted on the interference of true cosmic gods such as the Living Tribunal…

This selection also includes a cover and variants gallery by Adam Kubert, Dale Keown & Ive Svorcina, Skottie Young, Marko Djurdjević, Lim & Smith and Starlin & Al Milgrom.

From such disparate seeds movie gold can grow, but never forget that the originating material is pretty damned good too and will deliver a tempting tray of treats that should have most curious fans scurrying for back-issue boxes, bookshop shelves or online emporia…
© 2013, 2014, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection Volume 7: The Avengers/Defenders War


By Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Jim Starlin, Gerry Conway, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema, John Buscema, Rich Buckler & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1000-6

One of the most momentous events in comics history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate gang of heroic individuals 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 feature due to a rotating, open door policy ensuring most issues include 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. He then handed over the scripting to a young writer who carried the team to even greater heights…

This stunning seventh trade paperback compilation – also available in eBook iterations – assembles Avengers #115-128 and Giant Size Avengers #1, plus crucial crossover episodes from Defenders #8-1, Captain Marvel #33 and Fantastic Four # 150; collectively covering September 1973 to October 1974 and celebrating an era of cosmic catastrophe and cataclysmically captivating creative cross-pollination…

For kids – of any and all ages – there is a simply primal fascination with brute strength and feeling dangerous, which surely goes some way towards explaining the perennial interest in angry tough guys who break stuff as best exemplified by Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner and the Incredible Hulk.

When you add the mystery and magic of Doctor Strange the recipe for thrills, spills and chills becomes simply irresistible…

Last of the big star-name conglomerate super-groups, the Defenders would eventually number amongst its membership almost every hero – and some few villains – in the Marvel Universe.

No surprise there then since the initial line was composed of the company’s major league bad-boys: misunderstood, outcast and often actually dangerous to know. For Marvel in the 1970s, the outsider super-group must have seemed a conceptual inevitability – once they’d finally published it.

Apart from Spider-Man and Daredevil, all their heroes regularly teamed up in various mob-handed assemblages, and in the wake of the Defenders’ success even more super-teams featuring pre-existing characters would be packaged: The Champions, Invaders, New Warriors, Inhumans, Guardians of the Galaxy and so on… but never again with so many Very Big Guns…

The genesis of the team in fact derived from their status as publicly distrusted “villains”, and they never achieved the “in-continuity” fame or acceptance of other teams, but that simply seemed to leave the creators open to taking a few chances and playing the occasional narrative wild card.

In 1973 wunderkind scripter Steve Englehart was writing both Avengers and Defenders (as well as Doctor Strange, the Hulk and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire) and, yearning for the days of DC’s summer blockbuster annual events, decided to attempt his own massive multi-player epic.

Bravely given the editorial go-ahead at a time when deadline crunches regularly interrupted ongoing storylines, the author and his regular pencillers Sal Buscema and Bob Brown laid their plans…

Threads had been planted as early as Defenders #4 with Englehart carefully putting players in place for a hugely ambitious cross-over experiment: one that would turn the comics industry on its head.

After earthly madwoman Barbara Norris was cursed by amoral Asgardian Amora the Enchantress, the human was transformed into an incarnation of old Avengers enemy Valkyrie. The denouement of the tale also left part-time Avenger and Defender the Black Knight an ensorcelled, immobile stone statue. As Strange and Co. searched for a cure, aided by the Silver Surfer and tempestuous Hawkeye (another ex-Assembler looking to forge a solo career), they all fell into a subtle scheme orchestrated by two of the greatest forces of evil in all creation….

This bombastic tome commences with Avengers #115 as lead story ‘Below Us the Battle!’ (illustrated by Bob Brown & Mike Esposito sees the critically- understaffed Avengers travel to England and the castle of the Black Knight, only to find mystic resistance, a troglodytic race of scavengers and their old comrade long missing…

The issue also contained a little prologue, ‘Alliance Most Foul!’, which revealed other-dimensional Dark Lord Dormammu and Asgardian god of Evil Loki united to secure an ultimate weapon which would give them ultimate victory against all their foes.

This despotic duo would deceive the Defenders into securing the six component parts by “revealing” that the reconstructed Evil Eye could de-petrify and restore the Black Knight – a plan that began with a similar prologue at the end of Defenders #8…

‘Deception’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Esposito) was the first chapter in ‘The Avengers/Defenders Clash’ disclosing that a mystic SOS message from the spirit of the Black Knight is intercepted by the twin gods of evil, leading directly to ‘Betrayal!’ in Avengers #116, wherein the heroes, hunting for their missing comrade, “discover” that their oldest enemies Hulk and Sub-Mariner may have turned the Black Knight to stone…

This and third chapter ‘Silver Surfer Vs. the Vision and the Scarlet Witch’ see the rival teams split up: one to gather the scattered sections of the Eye and the other to stop them at all costs…

Defenders #9 (with Sal Buscema & Frank McLaughlin art) begins with tense recap ‘Divide …and Conquer’ before ‘The Invincible Iron Man Vs. Hawkeye the Archer’ and ‘Dr. Strange Vs. the Black Panther and Mantis’ sheds more suspicion and doubt on the vile villains’ subtle master-plan…

In Avengers #117, ‘Holocaust’, ‘Swordsman Vs. the Valkyrie’ and crucial turning point ‘Captain America Vs. Sub-Mariner’ (all by Brown & Esposito) lead to the penultimate duel in Defenders #10 (Sal Buscema & Frank Bolle) in ‘Breakthrough! The Incredible Hulk Vs. Thor’ and the inevitable joining together of the warring camps in ‘United We Stand!’. Tragically, understanding comes too late as Dormammu seizes the reconstructed Evil Eye and uses its power to merge his monstrous realm with Earth.

Avengers #118 delivers the cathartic climactic conclusion in ‘To the Death’ (Brown, Esposito & Frank Giacoia) wherein all the heroes of the Marvel Universe resist the demonic invasion on hideously mutated home soil whilst the Avengers and Defenders plunge deep into the Dark Dimension itself to end forever the threat of the evil gods (well, for the moment, at least…).

With the overwhelming cosmic threat over the victorious Defenders attempt to use the Eye to cure their petrified comrade, only to discover that his spirit has found a new home in the 12th century.

In #11’s ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight’ (Sal B with Bolle inks), the group battle black magic during the Crusades, fail to retrieve the Knight and acrimoniously go their separate ways – as did overworked departing scripter Englehart, who dropped the “non-team” to concentrate on “The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes”…

The drama resumes with a delightfully traditional spooky Halloween tale as the Avengers, warned by clairvoyant vision from martial arts enigma Mantis, head to Rutland, Vermont for the ‘Night of the Collector’ (#119, illustrated by Brown & Don Heck); encountering old friends, a dastardly and determined foe, blistering action and staggering suspense…

In ‘Death-Stars of the Zodiac!’ (Avengers#120, by Englehart, Brown & Heck), terrorist astrological adversaries and super-criminal cartel Zodiac attack again with a manic plan to eradicate everyone in Manhattan born under the sign of Gemini.

Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman and Mantis are seemingly helpless to stop them but the blockbusting battle in #121’s ‘Houses Divided Cannot Stand!’ (illustrated by John Buscema & Heck,) and even the added assistance of Captain America and the Black Panther is of little advantage…

With Mantis injured the team begin to question her mysterious past, only to be lured to their seeming doom and ‘Trapped in Outer Space!’ (Brown & Mike Esposito) before at last turning the tables on their fearsome foes after the criminal Libra reveals a shocking secret…

Avengers #123, ( Brown & Heck) begins a vast and ambitious saga with ‘Vengeance in Viet Nam – or – An Origin For Mantis!’ as Libra’s claim to be Mantis’ father (a story vigorously and violently denied by the Martial Arts Mistress) sends the team to Indo-China in a big hurry.

The former mercenary declared that he left the baby Mantis with pacifistic Priests of Pama after running afoul of a local crime-lord, but the bewildered warrior-woman has no memory of such events, nor of being schooled in combat techniques by the Priests. Meanwhile, the gravely wounded Swordsman has also rushed to Saigon to confront his sadistic ex-boss Monsieur Khruul and save the Priests from being murdered by the gangster’s thugs… but is again too late. It is the same old story of his pathetic, wasted life…

Issue #124 has the team stumbling upon a scene of slaughter as dead clerics and criminals lead to a monstrous planet-rending alien horror freshly awakened in ‘Beware the Star-Stalker!’ (limned by John Buscema & Dave Cockrum)…

Mantis is forced to accept that her own memories are not real after Avengers #125, which unleashed ‘The Power of Babel!’ after a vast alien armada attacks and, in combating it, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are trapped out of phase with their home-world.

This blockbuster battle bonanza was a crossover, and the penultimate episode of the spectacular Thanos War Saga that had featured in Captain Marvel, Marvel Feature and Iron Man.

Included in this compendium is climactic last chapter of that epic, plotted and illustrated by Jim Starlin, scripted by Englehart and inked by Klaus Janson. ‘The God Himself!’ (from Captain Marvel #33) sees mad Titan Thanos finally fall in combat to the valiant Kree warrior: a stunning piece of comics storytelling which stands up remarkably well here despite being seen without benefit of the preceding ten chapters…

It’s back to Avengers business as Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler & Dan Adkins return to the fold to delve and reboot some superhero history with ‘Nuklo… The Invader that Time Forgot!’ for the first quarterly edition of Giant-Size Avengers.

The stirring saga reintroduced 1940 Marvel sensation Bob Frank AKA The Whizzer in a taut and tragic tale of desperation as the aged speedster begs the heroes’ help in rescuing his son: a radioactive mutant locked in stasis by the US Government since the early 1950s. Unfortunately, within the recently unearthed chrono-capsule, the lad has grown into a terrifying atomic horror…

Moreover, while in the throes of a stress-induced heart attack the Whizzer lets slip that he is the also the father of mutant Avengers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver

Back in regular continuity, Avengers #126 offers ‘All the Sights and Sounds of Death!’ (Englehart, Brown & Cockrum) as villains Klaw and Solarr invade Avengers Mansion in a devious attempt to achieve vengeance for past indignities, after which in #127 Sal Buscema & Joe Staton sign on as regular art team with ‘Bride and Doom!’ as the team voyage to the hidden Himalayan homeland of The Inhumans to attend the marriage of the aforementioned Quicksilver to elemental enchantress Crystal. Sadly, the happy event craftily coincides with an uprising of the genetic slave-race known as Alpha Primitives. Once again robotic giant Omega has incited the revolt, but this time it is controlled by an old Avengers enemy who reveals himself in the concluding chapter of the crossover…

The story wraps up in Fantastic Four #150 with ‘Ultron-7: He’ll Rule the World!’ by Gerry Conway, Buckler & Joe Sinnott, in which a devastating battle between FF, Inhumans and Avengers is ended by a veritable Deus ex Machina moment, after which, at long last ‘The Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver’ ends events on a happy note.

But not for long as a final tale from Avengers #128’ sees the FF’s nanny Agatha Harkness get a new job tutoring Wanda Frank in actual sorcery to augment her mutant power. In Bewitched, Bothered, and Dead!’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Staton), the new student unwittingly allows dark mage Necrodamus access to the Mansion and the souls of the occupants, even as increasingly troubled Mantis makes a play for the Scarlet Witch’s synthezoid boyfriend The Vision; heedless of the hurt and harm she will bring to her current lover The Swordsman…

Extra enticements include Roy Thomas’ ‘Avengers Re-Assemble’ article from Giant-Size Avengers #1, art and features starring assorted Avengers from company fanzine F.O.O.M. (#3, 5, 6, 7, by John and Sal Buscema, John Byrne & Duffy Vohland, Marie Severin, Dave Cockrum, John Romita); comedy skit ‘Those Wedding Bells are Bustin’ Up that Avengin’ Gang of Mine’ by Tony Isabella & Paty Cockrum; House ads, covers from previous collections by Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino & Ang Tsang and Romita & Richard Isanove and an original art gallery of sketches, pages and covers by Brown, Romita, Starlin, Ron Wilson, John and Sal Buscema, Buckler and Byrne.

Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers, brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creation of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko: spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to.

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right and also a pivotal step transforming the little company into today’s multinational corporate colossus. Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new acme of cosmic adventure…
© 1973, 1974, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.
Avengers Epic Collection Volume 7: The Avengers/Defenders War is scheduled for release on April 24th and is available digitally or for pre-order now.

Black Panther Adventures


By Jeff Parker, Marc Sumerak, Christopher Yost, Elliot Kalan, Roy Thomas, Manuel Garcia, Ig Guara, Scott Wegener, Christopher Jones, Chris Giarusso, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1034-1

Since its earliest days Marvel has always courted and accommodated young comicbook consumers through various titles and imprints. In 2003 the company instituted the Marvel Age line to update and reframe classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others for a fresh-faced 21st century readership.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming Marvel Adventures. The tone of all the tales was very much that of the company’s burgeoning TV cartoon franchises, in execution if not name. Titles bearing the Marvel Adventures brand included Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and The Avengers and ran until 2010 when they were uniformly cancelled and replaced by new volumes of Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man.

Most of those yarns have since been collected in digest-sized compilations such as this timely paperback (or eBook), which gathers a quartet of all-ages Black Panther tales and includes a brace of early1960s episodes from his first stint in the Avengers.

Acclaimed as the first black superhero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since he first debuted as a character in Fantastic Four.

In his 1966 debut, the cat king attacked Marvel’s First Family as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father, before eventually teaming up with them to defeat the malign master of sound Klaw.

This eclectic compilation – comprising Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #10, Marvel Adventures The Avengers #22, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #1, Marvel Universe Avengers Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #8 (November 2012), plus Silver Age epics from Avengers #52 and 62 – begins by broadly reimagining that initial encounter in ‘Law of the Jungle’ by Jeff Parker, Manuel Garcia & Scott Koblish from Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #10 (May 2006) wherein the FF are suckered into buying smuggled Vibranium.

The miracle mineral is Wakanda’s only export and the illegal sale quickly brings the duped heroes into savage conflict with a mysterious cat-garbed super-warrior. Tracking the Black Panther back to his super-scientific jungle kingdom, the FF eventually convince the king of their innocence and good intentions before teaming up to tackle the true villains…

Two years later Marvel Adventures The Avengers #22 (May 2008) revealed the ‘Wakanda Wild Side’ (by Marc Sumerak, Ig Guara &Jay Leisten) as a sighting of murderous mutant Sabretooth in Africa draws Wolverine, Storm, Captain America, Spider-Man, Giant-Girl and the Hulk into an uncharted kingdom. They shouldn’t have bothered: Wakanda’s Panther chieftain was more than equal to the task of taking down the savage invader…

Following a page of comedic Marvel Mini Classics by Chris Giarusso, a short vignette from Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #1 (November 2010) as Christopher Yost & Scott Wegener reveal how rival heroes T’Challa and Hawkeye work out their ‘Trust’ issues whilst battling crazed villain Whiplash.

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 superbly accessible means of introducing characters and concepts to kids born sometimes three generations or more away from the originating events.

Another short yarn – this time from Marvel Universe Avengers Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #8 (November 2012) – unites the Panther with fellow Avenger the Hulk.

Crafted by Elliott Kalan, Christopher Jones & Pond Scum, ‘Mayhem of the Madbomb!’ sees the Green Goliath and Cat King bombastically battle Hydra to prevent the triggering of an insanity-inducing WMD cached in the Empire State Building…

Wrapping up the action is a brace of classic adventures from Roy Thomas & John Buscema.

On Captain America’s recommendation Black Panther joined the Avengers in #52’s ‘Death Calls for the Arch-Heroes’ (May 1968 and inked by Vince Colletta): a fast-paced murder mystery which also saw the advent of obsessive super-psycho the Grim Reaper who attempted to frame the freshly-arrived in America T’Challa for the murder of Goliath, the Wasp and Hawkeye.

Then The Monarch and the Man-Ape!’ (Avengers #62, March 1969, by Thomas, Buscema & George Klein) offered Marvel fans the first real view of hidden Wakanda – and a brutal exploration of T’Challa’s history and rivals – as his trusted regent tried to usurp his kingdom and the state religion after declaring himself to be M’Baku the Man-Ape

Augmented with a complete cover gallery by Carlo Pagulayan & Chris Sotomayor, Leonard Kirk & Val Staples, Scott Wegener & Jean-François Beaulieu, Khoi Pham & Edgar Delgado and John Buscema, this fast-paced, ferociously enthralling compilation of riotous mini-epics is extremely enjoyable and engaging, although parents should note that some of the themes and certainly the level of violence might not be what everybody considers “All-Ages Super Hero Action”…
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Inhumans: Beware the Inhumans


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Gary Friedrich, Gerry Conway, Arnold Drake, Neal Adams, Gene Colan, Marie Severin, John Romita, Mike Sekowsky, Tom Sutton & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1081-5

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

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

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

Thanks to the recent TV series, a lot of previously forgotten material is being recycled in new archival editions so it’s worth taking a look at how the eternal outsiders gradually joined the Marvel Universe. This trade paperback compilation – also available as a digital edition – scrupulously and chronologically compiles teasing early appearances (in whole or in part) from Marvel Super-Heroes #15, Incredible Hulk Annual #1, Fantastic Four #81-83, 95, 99 and 105, Amazing Adventures #1-10, Avengers #95, and some moments of spoofing light-relief from Not Brand Echh #12, cumulatively spanning July 1968 to January 1972.

The Royal Family of Attilan are hereditary aristocracy of the hidden race of paranormal beings. They comprise king Black Bolt, his paramour and eventual wife Medusa, aquatic Triton, bellicose Gorgon and subtle martial arts master Karnak, leading and representing a veritable horde of weirdly wonderful characters. Black Bolt, one of the most powerful beings on Earth, possesses phenomenal abilities but is afflicted with an uncontrollable vocal condition that makes his softest whisper a planet-shattering sonic explosion. Thus, he must never utter a sound…

In 1967 a proposed Inhumans solo series was canned before completion, with the initial episode retooled and published in the company’s try-out vehicle Marvel Super-Heroes. Written by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by Gene Colan & Vince Colletta, ‘Let the Silence Shatter!’ appeared in #15 (July 1968), revealing how the villainous Sandman and Trapster are enticed into reforming the Frightful Four after the Wizard promises Medusa a means to control Black Bolt’s deadly sonic affliction in return for her criminal services. As usual, the double-dealing mastermind betrays his unwilling accomplice but again underestimates her abilities and intellect, resulting in another humiliating defeat…

Cover-dated October, The Incredible Hulk Annual #1 was one of the best comics of 1968. Behind an iconic Steranko cover, Gary Friedrich, Marie Severin & Syd Shores (with lots of last-minute inking assistance) delivered a passionate, tense and melodramatic parable of alienation that nevertheless was one of the most action-stuffed fight fests ever seen.

In 51 titanic pages ‘A Refuge Divided!’ saw the tragic lonely Jade Juggernaut stumble upon the hidden Great Refuge of genetic outsiders. The Inhumans – recovering from a recent failed coup by new creations Falcona, Leonus, Aireo, Timberius, Stallior, Nebulo and their secret backer (the king’s brother Maximus the Mad) – are distracted by the Hulk’s arrival and suspicion, and short tempers result in chaos. The band of super-rebels start the fight but it’s the immensely powerful Black Bolt who eventually battles the green giant to a standstill…

This is the vicarious thrill taken to its ultimate, and still one of the very best non-Lee-Kirby tales of that period.

Medusa’s little sister Crystal – and her giant teleporting dog Lockjaw – were the most consistently seen stars at the time. As the girlfriend of Human Torch Johnny Storm, she was a regular in Fantastic Four and took a greater role once Susan Richards fell pregnant.

In issue #81, with Sue a new mother, faithful Crystal elects herself the first new official member of the FF and promptly shows her mettle by pulverizing the incorrigible glutton-for-punishment Wizard in the all-action romp ‘Enter… the Exquisite Elemental!’ (by Lee, Kirby & Joe Sinnott).

In the next two issues as Susan is side-lined to tend her newborn son, Crystal’s turbulent past and fractious family connections reassert themselves as manic cousin Maximus again attempts to conquer mortal humanity. ‘The Mark of… the Madman!’ sees the quirky quartet invade hidden Inhuman enclave Attilan to aid the imprisoned Royal Family and overcome an entire race of hypnotically subjugated super-beings before uniting to trounce the insane despot in the concluding ‘Shall Man Survive?’

Excerpted pages from FF #95 then reveal how, in the middle of a frantic battle against a super-assassin, Crystal is astoundingly abducted by her own family before the answer is revealed in #99. All this time heartsick Johnny has been getting crazier and more despondent. He finally snaps, invading the Inhumans hidden home with the intention of reunite with his lost love at all costs. Of course, everything escalates when ‘The Torch Goes Wild!’ and his rapidly following comrades find themselves in the battle of their lives…

Two months later, bi-monthly “split-book” Amazing Adventures launched with an August 1970 cover-date and The Inhumans sharing the pages with a new Black Widow solo series. The big news however was that Jack Kirby was both writing and illustrating ‘The Inhumans!’

Inked by Chic Stone, the first episode saw the Great Refuge targeted by atomic missiles apparently fired by the Inhumans’ greatest allies, prompting a retaliatory attack on the Baxter Building and pitting ‘Friend Against Friend!’ However, even as the battle raged Black Bolt was taking covert action against the suspected true culprits…

Issue #3 sees our uncanny outcasts as ‘Pawns of the Mandarin’ when the devilish plotter dupes the Royal Family into uncovering a long-buried mega-powerful ancient artefact. He is, however, ultimately unable to cope with their power and teamwork in the concluding chapter ‘With These Rings I Thee Kill!’

Intercepting the flow but chronologically crucial, the first half of Fantastic Four #105 (December 1970) follows. Crafted by Stan Lee, John Romita & John Verpoorten, ‘The Monster in the Streets!’ reveals that Crystal is being slowly poisoned by the constantly increasing pollutants in Earth’s air and must leave Johnny for the hermetically pure atmosphere of Attilan…

Back in Amazing Adventures #5 (March 1971), a radical change of tone and mood materialised as the currently on-fire creative team of Roy Thomas & Neal Adams took over the strip following Kirby’s shocking defection from Marvel to DC Comics.

Inked by Tom Palmer, ‘His Brother’s Keeper’ sees Maximus finally employ a long-dormant power – mind-control – to erase Black Bolt’s memory and seize control of the Great Refuge.

The real problem, however, is that at the moment the Mad One strikes, Black Bolt is in San Francisco on a secret mission. When the mind-wave strikes, the silent stranger forgets everything and as a little boy offers assistance, ‘Hell on Earth!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) begins as a simple mumbled whisper shatters the entire docks and all the vessels moored there…

As Triton, Gorgon, Karnak and Medusa flee the now utterly entranced and enslaved Refuge in search of Black Bolt, ‘An Evening’s Wait for Death!’ finds little Joey and the still-bewildered Bolt captured by a radical black activist determined to use the Inhuman’s shattering power to raze the city’s foul ghettoes.

A tense confrontation with police in the streets draws storm god Thor into the conflict during ‘An Hour for Thunder!’, but when the blood and dust settles it appears Black Bolt is dead…

Gerry Conway, Mike Sekowsky & Bill Everett assumed the storytelling duties with #9 as The Inhumans took over the entire book. Finally reaching America after an epic odyssey, the Royal Cousins’ search for their king is interrupted when they are targeted by a cult of mutants.

‘…And the Madness of Magneto!’ shows amnesiac Black Bolt in the clutches of the Master of Magnetism who needs the usurped king’s abilities to help him steal a new artificial element. All too soon though, ‘In His Hands… the World!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) proves that with his memory restored nothing and no one can long make the mightiest Inhuman a slave…

The series abruptly terminated there. Amazing Adventures #11 featured a new treatment of graduate X-Man Hank McCoy who rode the trend for monster heroes by accidentally transforming himself into a furry Beast. The Inhumans simply dropped out of sight until Thomas & Adams wove their dangling plot threads into the monumental epic unfolding from June 1971 to March 1972 in The Avengers #89-97.

At that time Thomas’ bold experiment was rightly considered the most ambitious saga in Marvel’s brief history: an astounding saga of tremendous scope which dumped Earth into a cosmic war the likes of which comics fans had never before seen. The Kree/Skrull War set the template for all multi-part crossovers and publishing events ever since…

It began when, in the distant Kree Empire, the ruling Supreme Intelligence is overthrown by his chief enforcer Ronan the Accuser. The rebellion results in humanity learning aliens hide among them, and public opinion turns against superheroes for concealing the threat of repeated alien incursions…

A powerful allegory of the Anti-Communist Witch-hunts of the 1950s, the epic sees riots in American streets and a political demagogue capitalising on the crisis. Subpoenaed by the authorities, castigated by friends and public, the Avengers are ordered to disband.

Unfortunately omitted here, issue #94 entangles the Inhumans in the mix, disclosing that their advanced science and powers are the result of Kree genetic meddling in the depths of prehistory. With intergalactic war beginning, Black Bolt missing and his madly malign brother Maximus in charge, the Kree now come calling in their ancient markers…

Wrapping up the graphic thrills for this volume, ‘Something Inhuman This Way Comes…!’ (from Avengers #95, January 1972) coalesces many disparate story strands as aquatic adventurer Triton aids the Avengers against government-piloted Mandroids before beseeching the beleaguered heroes to help find his missing monarch and rescue his Inhuman brethren from the press-ganging Kree…

Just so you can sleep tonight, after bombastically so doing, the Avengers head into space to liberate their kidnapped comrades and save Earth from becoming collateral damage in the impending cosmos-shaking clash between Kree and Skrulls (a much-collected tale you’d be crazy to miss…).

Appended with a Barry Windsor Smith Medusa pin-up from Marvel Collectors’ Item Classics #21, original art by Colan and Adams, a rejected Severin cover and House Ads for the Inhumans’ debut, the cosmic drama is latterly leavened with some snappy comedy vignettes.

Originating in Not Brand Echh #12 (February 1969) ‘Unhumans to Get Own Comic Book’ – by Arnold Drake, Thomas & Sutton – and ‘My Search for True Love’ by Drake & Sutton detail and depict how other artists might render the series – with contenders including faux icons bOb (Gnatman & Rotten) Krane, Chester (Dig Tracing) Ghoul and Charles (Good Ol’ Charlie…) Schlitz, and follow lovelorn Medoozy as she dumps her taciturn man and searches for fulfilment amongst popular musical and movie stars of the era…

These stories cemented the outsiders’ place in the ever-expanding Marvel universe and helped the company to overtake all its competitors. Although making little lasting impact at the time they are still potent and innovative: as exciting and captivating now as they ever were. This is a must-have book for all fans of graphic narrative and followers of Marvel’s next cinematic star vehicle.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection


By Jim Starlin, Mike Friedrich, Steve Gerber, Steve Englehart & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-30290-017-5

As much as I’d love to claim that Marvel’s fortunes are solely built on the works of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, I’m just not able to. Whereas I can safely avow that without them the modern monolith would not exist, it is also necessary to acknowledge the vital role played by a second generation of creators of the early 1970s. Marvel’s eager welcome to fresh, new, often untried talent paid huge dividends in creativity and – most importantly at a time of industry contraction – resulted in new sales and the retention of a readership that was growing away from traditional comics fare. Best of all, these newcomers spoke with a narrative voice far closer to that of its rebellious audience…

One of the most successful of these newcomers was Jim Starlin. As well as the topical and groundbreaking Master of Kung Fu – co-created with his equally gifted confederates Steve Englehart & Al Milgrom – Starlin’s earliest success was the epic of cosmic odyssey compiled here.

Captain Marvel was an alien on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree who fought for Earth and was atomically bonded to professional sidekick Rick Jones by a pair of wristbands allowing them to share the same space in our universe. When one was here, the other was trapped in the antimatter dimension designated the Negative Zone.

After meandering around the Marvel Universe for a while, continually one step ahead of cancellation (the series had folded many times, but always quickly returned – primarily to secure the all-important Trademark name), Mar-Vell was handed to Starlin – and the young artist was left alone to get on with it.

With many of his fellow neophytes he began laying seeds (particularly in Iron Man, Daredevil and Sub-Mariner) for a saga that would in many ways become as well-regarded as the Jack Kirby Fourth World Trilogy that inspired it.

However, the Thanos War, despite many superficial similarities, would soon develop into a uniquely modern experience. And what it lacked in grandeur it made up for with sheer energy and enthusiasm…

This epic compendium (available in Trade Paperback and eBook editions) gathers and collates Iron Man #55, Captain Marvel #25-34, Marvel Feature #12 and pertinent extracts from Daredevil #105 – spanning February 1973-September 1974 – and concludes with the landmark Marvel Graphic Novel #1 from 1982, re-presenting Starlin’s entire input into the legend of the Kree Protector of the Universe and one of the company’s most popular and oft-reprinted sagas.

The artistic iconoclasm began in Iron Man #55 (February 1973) where Mike Friedrich scripted Starlin’s opening gambit in a cosmic epic that would change the nature of Marvel itself.

Inked by Mike Esposito, ‘Beware… Beware… Beware the … Blood Brothers!’ introduces formidable and obsessive Drax the Destroyer; an immensely powerful alien trapped under the Nevada desert and in dire need of rescue by even more potent extraterrestrial invader Thanos

That comes when the Armoured Avenger blazes in, answering a mysterious SOS, but only after brutally dealing with the secret invader’s deadly underlings…

All this is merely a prelude to the main story which begins unfolding a month later in Captain Marvel #25, courtesy of Friedrich, Starlin, & Chic Stone as Thanos unleashes ‘A Taste of Madness!’ and exiled Mar-Vell’s fortunes change forever…

When Mar-Vell is ambushed by a pack of extraterrestrials, he is forced to admit that his powers have been in decline for some time. Unaware that an unseen foe is counting on that, Rick manifests (from the Negative Zone) and checks in with sagacious scientific maverick Dr. Savannah, only to find himself accused by the savant’s daughter (and Rick’s beloved) Lou-Ann of her father’s murder…

Hauled off to jail, Rick brings in Mar-Vell who is suddenly confronted by a veritable legion of old foes before deducing who in fact his true enemies are…

Issue #26 then sees Rick freed from police custody to confront Lou-Ann over her seeming ‘Betrayal!’ (Starlin, Friedrich & Dave Cockrum). Soon, however, he and Mar-Vell realise they are the targets of psychological warfare: the girl is being mind-controlled whilst Super Skrull and his hidden “Masterlord” are manipulating them and others in search of a lost secret…

When a subsequent scheme to have Mar-Vell kill The Thing spectacularly fails, Thanos takes personal charge. The Titan is hungry for conquest and needs Rick because his subconscious conceals the location of an irresistible ultimate weapon.

Rick awakens to find himself ‘Trapped on Titan!’ (Pablo Marcos inks) but does not realise the villain has already extracted the location of a reality-altering Cosmic Cube from him. Rescued by Thanos’ hyper-powered father Mentor and noble brother Eros, the horrified lad sees first-hand the extent of genocide the death-loving monster has inflicted upon his own birthworld before summoning Captain Marvel to wreak vengeance…

Meanwhile on Earth, still-enslaved Lou-Ann has gone to warn the Mighty Avengers and summarily collapsed. By the time Mar-Vell arrives in #28 she lies near death. ‘When Titans Collide!’ (inks by Dan Green) reveals another plank of Thanos’ plan. As the heroes are picked off by psychic parasite The Controller, the Kree Captain is assaulted by bizarre visions of an incredible ancient being. Fatally distracted, he becomes the malevolent mind-leech’s latest victim…

Al Milgrom inks ‘Metamorphosis!’ as Mar-Vell’s connection to Rick is severed before he is transported to an otherworldly locale where a grotesque eight billion-year-old being named Eon reveals the origins of universal life whilst overseeing the Kree abductee’s forced evolution into an ultimate warrior: a universal champion gifted with the subtly irresistible power of Cosmic Awareness

Iron Man meanwhile has recovered from a previous Controller assault and headed for Marvel Feature #12 to join Ben Grimm in ending a desert incursion by Thanos’ forces before enduring ‘The Bite of the Blood Brothers!’ (Friedrich, Starlin, & Joe Sinnott), after which the story develops through an extract first seen in Daredevil #105.

Here enigmatic and emotionless super scientist Madame MacEvil tells her origins and foreshadows her future role in the cosmic catastrophe to come. When Thanos killed her family, the infant Heather Douglas was adopted by Mentor, taken to Titan and reared by psionic martial artists of the Shao-Lom Monastery. Years later when Thanos attacked Titan and destroyed the monks she swore revenge and took a new name… Moondragon

Subsequently returned to Earth and reconnected to his frantic atomic counterpart, the newly-appointed “Protector of the Universe” confronts The Controller, thrashing the monumentally powerful brain-parasite in a devastating display of skill countering exo-skeletal super-strength in #30’s ‘…To Be Free from Control!’ after which #31 celebrates ‘The Beginning of the End!’ (inked by Green & Milgrom) as the Avengers – in a gathering of last resort – are joined by psionic priestess Moondragon and Drax: revealed as one more of Thanos’ victims but one recalled from death by supernal forces to destroy the deranged Titan…

The Titan is then revealed as a lover of the personification of Death: determined to give her Earth as a betrothal present. To that end he uses the Cosmic Cube to turn himself into ‘Thanos the Insane God!’ (Green inks) who, with a thought, imprisons all opposition to his reign. However, his insane arrogance leaves the cosmically aware Mar-Vell with a slim chance to undo every change; brilliantly outmanoeuvring, defeating and apparently destroying ‘The God Himself!’ in the cosmically climatic Captain Marvel #33 (inked by Klaus Janson)…

With the universe saved and a modicum of sanity and security restored, Starlin’s run ended on a relatively weak and inconclusive note in #34 as ‘Blown Away!’ – inked by Jack Abel and dialogued by Englehart – explored the day after doomsday…

As Rick Jones tries to revive his on-again, off-again musical career, a new secret organisation called the Lunatic Legion sends Nitro, the Exploding Man to acquire a canister of deadly gas from an Air Force base where old pal Carol Danvers is head of Security…

Although the Protector of the Universe defeats his earth-shattering enemy, Mar-Vell soon succumbs to the deadly nerve agent released in the battle. The exposure actually kills him but he will not realise that for years to come…

In 1982, The Death of Captain Marvel was the first Marvel Graphic Novel and the one that truly demonstrated how mainstream superhero material could breach the wider world of general publishing.

Written and illustrated by Starlin with lettering by James Novak and colours from Steve Oliff, this tale concluded the career of the mighty Kree Champion in a neatly symmetrical and textually conclusive manner – although the tale’s success led to some pretty crass commercialisations in its wake…

As previously stated, Mar-Vell was a honoured soldier of the alien Kree empire dispatched to Earth as a spy, who subsequently went native: becoming first a hero and then the cosmically “aware” protector of the universe, destined since universal life began to be its stalwart cosmic champion in its darkest hour.

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

That insipid last bit pretty much sums up Mar-Vell’s later career: without Thanos the adventures again became uninspired and eventually just fizzled out. He lost his own comicbook, had a brief shot at revival in try-out title Marvel Spotlight and then just faded away…

Re-enter Starlin, who had long been linked to narrative themes of death. He offered a rather novel idea – kill Mar-Vell off and actually leave him dead. What no fan realised at the time was that Starlin was also processing emotional issues thrown up by the passing of his own father and the story he crafted echoed his own emotional turmoil.

In 1982 killing such a high-profile hero was a bold idea, especially considering how long and hard the company had fought to obtain the rights to the name (and sure enough there’s been somebody with that name in print ever since) but Starlin wasn’t just proposing a gratuitous stunt. The story developed into a different kind of drama: one uniquely at odds with contemporary fare and thinking.

Following the Thanos Saga, Mar-Vell defeated second-rater Nitro but was exposed to experimental nerve gas during the fight. Now years later he discovers that, just as he has found love and contentment, the effects of that gas have inexorably caused cancer in his system. Moreover, it has metastasized into something utterly incurable…

Going through the Kree version of the classic Kubler-Ross Cycle: grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, the Space-Born hero can only watch as all his friends and comrades try and fail to find a cure, before death comes for him…

This is a thoughtful, intriguing examination of the process of dying observed by a being who never expected to die in bed, and argues forcefully that even in a universe where miracles occur by the hour sometimes death might not be unwelcome…

Today, in a world where the right to life is increasingly being challenged and contested by special interest groups, this story is still a strident, forceful reminder that sometimes the personal right to dignity and freedom from distress is as important as any and all other Human Rights.

No big Deus ex Machina, not many fights and no happy ending: but still one of the most compelling stories the House of Ideas ever published.

Augmenting the sidereal saga, a number of now-mandatory bonus bits include Starlin’s exploded-view map-&-blueprint of Thanos’ homeworld Titan; original cover art from Captain Marvel #29 plus original art and a 3-page framing sequence for the reprint issue #36.

Other extras follow: the all-cosmic hero cover to fan-magazine F.O.O.M. #19; the all-new covers, back covers and bridging pages for prestige reprint miniseries The Life of Captain Marvel (as well as the humorous introductory ‘Editori-Al’ strips cartooned by Al Milgrom) and much, much more.

A timeless classic of the company and the genre, this is a tale no full-blooded Fights ‘n’ Tights fan can be without.
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1982, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection Volume 4: Behold… The Vision


By Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, Sal Buscema, Gene Colan, Frank Giacoia, Howard Purcell & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9165-0

One of the most momentous events in comics history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate gang of heroic individual 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 feature due to a rotating, open door policy ensuring most issues include 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 fourth trade paperback compilation – also available in eBook iterations – collects Avengers #57-79, plus a solo saga starring a soon to be recruited addition from Marvel Super-Heroes #17 collectively covering October 1968 to August 1970.

This all-action extravaganza opens with the introduction of a new character with John Buscema and George Klein illustrating the 2-part introduction of possibly the most intriguing of all the team’s roster.

‘Behold… the Vision!’ and the concluding ‘Even an Android Can Cry’ retrofitted an old Joe Simon & Jack Kirby hero from the Golden Age (an extra-dimensional mystery-man) into a high-tech, eerie, amnesiac artificial man with complete control of his mass and density: playing him as the ultimate outsider, lost and utterly alone in a world that could never, never understand him.

After attacking the team but inexplicably stopping short of killing the human heroes, the then-nameless “Vision” led the Avengers into astounding adventure as the enigma of his creation unfolded.

It was revealed that he/it had been built by the relentless, remorseless robotic Ultron-5 to destroy the Avengers and especially his own creator Henry Pym. Furthermore, the mechanical mastermind had used the brain pattern of deceased hero and fallen Avenger Wonder Man as a cerebral template. Perhaps that was a mistake since the synthetic man apparently overruled his programming to help defeat his maniac maker…

Avengers #59 and 60, ‘The Name is Yellowjacket’ and ‘…Till Death do us Part!’ (the latter inked by Mike Esposito moonlighting as Mickey DeMeo) saw Goliath and the Wasp finally wed after the heroic Dr. Pym is seemingly replaced by a new insect-themed hero, with a horde of heroic guest-stars and the murderous Circus of Evil in attendance, followed here in swift succession by another of Marvel’s increasingly popular and commonplace crossovers.

‘Some Say the World Will End in Fire… Some Say in Ice!’ concluded a storyline from Doctor Strange #178 wherein a satanic cult unleashed Norse demons Surtur and Ymir to destroy the planet, with occasional ally the Black Knight adding his recently acquired mystic prowess to the defence of the realm.

He hung around for ‘The Monarch and the Man-Ape!’ in Avengers #63; a brief and interlude in hidden nation Wakanda and a brutal exploration of African Avenger Black Panther’s history and rivals – most notably a usurping super-strong trusted regent declaring himself M’Baku the Man-Ape

The next issue began a 3-part tale illustrated by Gene Colan & Klein whose lavish humanism was intriguingly at odds with the team’s usual art style. ‘And in this Corner… Goliath!’, ‘Like a Death Ray from the Sky!’ and ‘Mightier than the Sword?’ (the final chapter inked by Sam Grainger) was part of a broader tale; another early crossover experiment intersecting with both Sub-Mariner and Captain Marvel issues #14, wherein a coterie of cerebral second-string villains combined to conquer the world by stealth…

Within the Avengers portion of proceedings, Hawkeye revealed his civilian identity to be circus performer Clint Barton and recounted his origins before forsaking his bow and trick-arrows to become a size-changing hero and subsequently adopting the now-vacant name Goliath. Along the way the team scotched a terror satellite scheme cooked up by Egghead and enforced by the sinister Swordsman

Another triple-chapter story-arc followed; giving new kid Barry (Winsor) Smith a chance to show just how good he was going to become.

Inked by the legendary Syd Shores, ‘Betrayal!’ (#66) reveals how the development of new super metal Adamantium triggers a long-dormant back-up program in the Vision who is slavishly compelled to reconstruct his destroyed creator…

As ‘We Stand at… Armageddon!’ (Smith & Klein opens), adamantium-reinforced Ultron-6 is moments away from world domination and the nuking of New York when a now truly independent Vision violently intercedes before dramatic conclusion ‘…And We Battle for the Earth’ (illustrated by young Sal Buscema & Sam Grainger) sees the team – augmented by Thor and Iron Man – prove that the only answer to an unstoppable force is an unparalleled mind…

In Avengers #69 ‘Let the Game Begin’ (Thomas, Sal Buscema & Grainger) finds the team – Captain America, Yellowjacket, Wasp, Goliath, Vision and Thor – called to the hospital bedside of ailing Tony Stark just in time to prevent his abduction by the grotesque and gargantuan Growing Man. After battling boldly against the unbeatable homunculus, the team are summarily and collectively snatched into the future by old enemy Kang the Conqueror who co-opts the team to act as pieces in a cosmic chess-game with an omnipotent alien called the Grandmaster.

If the Avengers fail – Earth would be eradicated from the cosmos…

Issues #70 and 71 began a fertile period for writer Thomas as he introduced two new teams who would, in the fullness of time, star in their own stellar series: Squadron Supreme and The Invaders.

‘When Strikes the Squadron Sinister!’ sees the Avengers returned to their own time to battle a team of deadly villains (mischievously based on DC’s Justice League of America) before ‘Endgame!’ – guest-starring the Black Knight – finds the Vision, Black Panther and Yellowjacket dispatched to 1941 to clash with the WWII incarnations of the Sub-Mariner, Human Torch and Captain America…

After foiling Kang’s ambitions and surviving his betrayal the team victoriously return to the present where Avengers # 72 offered a guest-appearance from Captain Marvel and Rick Jones.

Did You Hear the One About Scorpio?’ also debuts malignantly menacing super-mob Zodiac, after which ‘The Sting of the Serpent’ (illustrated by Frank Giacoia & Grainger) pits the Panther against seditious hate-mongers determined to set New York ablaze, leading to a spectacular and shocking clash between Avengers and the Sons of the Serpent in ‘Pursue the Panther!’; the first in a string of glorious issues illustrated by the artistic dream team of John Buscema & Tom Palmer.

Long-missing mutant Avengers Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch resurfaced in #75, desperate to warn of and stave off extra-dimensional invasion and nuclear Armageddon by Conan prototype Arkon the Magnificent in ‘The Warlord and the Witch!’ before the staggering threat is finally extinguished in ‘The Blaze of Battle… the Flames of Love!’

As the tone of the times shifted and other titles entered a period of human-scaled storytelling dubbed “Relevancy”, a far more mundane and insidious menace manifested as billionaire financier Cornelius Van Lunt manoeuvres to bankrupt Avengers sponsor Tony Stark, compelling the team to become the mystery magnate’s ‘Heroes for Hire!’

With the end of the book fast approaching here, Sal Buscema popped in to pencil ‘The Man-Ape Always Strikes Twice!’ as the team are targeted by a coterie of vengeful villains competing to join a new league of evil, spectacularly culminating in a grand clash with the aforementioned anthropoid, Swordsman, Power Man, Living Laser and the Grim Reaper in ‘Lo! The Lethal Legion!’, which concluding chapter also heralded the artistic return of Big Brother John….

Chronologically adrift but adding plenty of bonus thrills, the comics adventures end for now with ‘The Black Knight Reborn!’ by Thomas, Howard Purcell & Dan Adkins from try-out title Marvel Super-Heroes #17 (November 1968). Here American part-time superhero Dane Whitman inherits an English castle and discovers through ghostly intervention that he is the last descendent of King Arthur’s trusty comrade Percy of Scandia – history’s first Black Knight and Merlin’s last resort against all forces of evil.

Gifted with a mystic ebony blade that can cut through anything, Dane readies himself to fight the good fight in modern times. He soon becomes painfully aware that the malign ghostly spirit of vile Modred is also abroad and empowering dupes such as French derelict Le Sabre with magical weapons to end his crusade before it can even begin…

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.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Black Panther: Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Jack Kirby, Ed Hannigan, Jim Shooter, Chris Claremont, Jerry Bingham, John Byrne & various (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0020-5 (HB)

Acclaimed as the first black superhero in American comics – and one of the first to carry his own series – the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since his debut.

The Black Panthers rule over a fantastic African paradise which isolated itself from the rest of the world millennia ago. Blessed with unimaginable resources – both natural and not so much – the nation of Wakanda developed uninterrupted into the most technologically advanced human nation on Earth, utterly unmolested by rapacious European imperialism.

The country has also never been conquered and the primary reason is an unbroken line of divinely-sponsored warrior kings who safeguard united tribes. The other is a certain miraculous super-mineral found nowhere else on Earth…

In contemporary times that chieftain is T’Challa: an unbeatable, super-smart, feline-empowered strategic genius who divides his time between ruling at home and serving abroad in superhero teams such as The Avengers, Fantastic Force, The Illuminati and The Ultimates beside costumed champions such as Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Captain Marvel, Thor and Captain America

This stunning hardback collection – also available in eBook and digital formats – gathers the stories from Black Panther volume 1 #1-15 (January 1977 to May 1979) which initially disappointed a legion of fans who were expecting a conclusion or continuance to the long-lauded Don MacGregor epic ‘The Panther Versus The Klan’.

That convoluted yarn had been abruptly cancelled the previous year, but happily this tome also includes the contents of Marvel Premiere #51-53 (December 1979-April 1980) which eventually provided an ending to the Klan clash and an acceptable in-universe explanation as to why wise and noble T’Challa abruptly dropped his hunt for answers and abandoned his adored beloved Monica Lynne

There’s even a little extra bonus yarn originally seen in Marvel Team-Up #100…

Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel in the mid 1970’s was much hyped at the time but swiftly proved to be controversial. His new creations (The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, 2001, Machine Man) found friends rapidly, but his tenure on established earlier creations Captain America and Black Panther divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on titles as another “Day One”. His commitment was to wholesome eye-popping adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment. Combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill that makes for a captivating read, but will never satisfy those readers fully committed to the minutia of the Marvel Universe.

Beginning with Black Panther #1, what they got was a rollercoaster ride of classic Kirby concept-overload as the Hereditary King of a high-tech Lost Kingdom gallantly pursued fabulous time machines, fought future men and secret samurai clans, thwarted the plots of super-rich artefact stealers and foiled schemes to nuke his hidden homeland, usurp his rule and even consume his faithful subjects…

Further discussion of that comicbook culture shock can be found in the Introduction by Christopher Priest – who took everything that had gone before and made the Panther his own after reviving the character in 1999 as part of the company’s mature-oriented Marvel Knights imprint…

However, this feline funfest is mostly about frantic action and begins at full pelt with a re-introductory romp that spotlights diminutive treasure hunter Abner Little. This devious gentleman entices T’Challa into a search for ‘King Solomon’s Frog!’ after introducing himself as a friend and colleague of the Panther’s grandfather Azzari the Wise

Soon the mismatched pair are in hot pursuit of an artefact that sows death and destruction in its wake. The ancient brass amphibian has the ability to open time-portals, bringing lethal threats from other eras, but its real capacity for catastrophe comes from Little’s rival Collectors, who bring astounding ordnance and unsurpassed riches into play in their own efforts to possess the mystic time-machine.

Most ruthless and relentless is Queen Zanda of Narobia, who expertly ambushes the questers with a highly-skilled mercenary taskforce before accidentally triggering the frog into shanghaiing a hyper-evolved walking WMD from his own far-distant era…

Reluctantly uniting to sedate ‘The Six-Million Year Man’, T’Challa, Little and Zanda then race to uncover King Solomon’s tomb where a twin of the Brass Frog rests. This particular item possesses the most welcome function of returning objects and creatures to their point of origin…

Their ‘Race Against Time’ is exacerbated as the groggy future-man revives just as the searchers locate the tomb, unleashing psionic hell and awakening King Solomon’s formidable funereal guardian Ogar. Thankfully, teamwork saves the day and the newly-found other frog restores order, if not sanity…

Tragically for the tomb-raiders, the time to determine if they are ‘Friends or Foes’ swiftly passes because the calamitous clashes have destabilised the long-lost treasury trove. With mighty explosions wracking the site, it is all T’Challa can do to drag his artefact-lusting companions to safety before Armageddon occurs…

Unfortunately for the Panther, he has proved his worth and – with Wakanda still a nuclear target – ultimate ineffectuality. When the assembled Collectors – Zanda, Count Zorba, Colonel Pigman and withered coffin-dodger Silas Mourner – see the warrior king in battle they determine he must win for them the ultimate prize…

The ‘Quest for the Sacred Water-Skin!!’ begins as T’Challa and equally-reluctant Abner Little set off to find a fabled hidden land where a sect of Samurai warriors have dwelt for centuries, sustained by honour, their martial arts and a literal fountain of youth.

Overcoming monsters and warriors, T’Challa establishes a bond of honour with the last proponents of Bushido, but sadly his venal companion upsets the applecart by secretly stealing ‘A Cup of Youth’

Meanwhile in Wakanda, internal trouble flares when the Panther’s half-brother General Jakarra makes a power-grab, bolstered by a sacrilegious utilisation of raw vibranium…

Black Panther #7 sees the hero and his scurrilous sidekick escape the Samurai city even as ‘Drums!’ sound across Wakanda and the incredible secret origin of the Panther Cult and Vibranium Mound are revealed.

When the awesome sky metal first crashed to Earth in primordial times it transformed many men into monsters. Thankfully mighty chief Bashenga – taking the black cat as his totem – created a force to destroy the creatures and police the metal: preventing alien infection from spreading and forever after shielding his people through a line of dedicated defenders.

As the latest king heads for a final confrontation with the Collectors, T’Challa has no way of knowing his regent N’Gassi has been captured or that Jakarra has gained deadly power through exposure to the gene-warping force of raw Vibranium…

Having battled his way free, T’Challa heads for home. His people, however, are already suffering the increasingly crazed depredations of a Jakarra no longer even remotely human.

Further delayed by a mercy mission – plucking dying men from the sea – the king bemoans his absence whilst half a world away, N’Gassi takes a desperate gamble and “requests” that the sedentary royal cousins – Ishanta, Joshua Itobo, Khanata and Zuni – step up and lead the fight against Jakarra. But are they Panthers or Pussycats?’

Surprising everybody with a show of solidarity and unconventional tactics, the ‘Black Musketeers’ manage to contain the monstrous usurper until T’Challa returns, but his arrival coincides with the loss of Jakarra’s last vestige of humanity. Now a shambling beast resolved that ‘This World Shall Die!’ in an Earth-shattering detonation, the horrific abomination is barely defeated inside the Mound by a true Black Panther who does not escape the mineral’s mutagenic properties…

Issue #11 finds T’Challa recovering from his struggle against Jakarra and plagued by eerie recurring dreams of future battles. As citizens begin vanishing all over Wakanda – including Prince Khanata – the medical team reaches the conclusion that the king has developed some form of Extra-Sensory Perception.

This new gift – or perhaps curse? – leads the Panther to the abductors’ HQ where phantasmal madman ‘Kiber the Cruel’ is converting stolen humans to energy and consuming them…

Following ‘The Kiber Clue’, T’Challa strives mightily to save his kinsman and subjects, but arrives too late for anything but vengeance…

As Jim Shooter, Ed Hannigan, Jerry Bingham & Gene Day take over from the abruptly departed Kirby, the saga swiftly wraps up with the true nature of Kiber grotesquely exposed and the Panther’s judgement delivered in #13’s ‘What is… and What Should Never Be’

With Hannigan scripting, the Black Panther resoundingly re-entered the mainstream Marvel universe in ‘The Beasts in the Jungle!’ (#14 March 1979); opening Wakanda’s first Embassy in New York City, applying to the United Nations and rejoining his former allies in the Avengers.

Soon smothered in red tape and diplomatic hurdles, T’Challa welcomes working with his superhero guests but is quickly embroiled in a deadly scheme by old enemy Klaw, the Master of Sound, and blithely unaware that other relationships are about to be renewed…

After the resurgent villain battles the World’s Mightiest Heroes to a standstill, T’Challa manages to inflict the ‘Revenge of The Black Panther!’ in the final issue (May 1979), yet leaves everything on a cliffhanging note as Monic Lynne breaks into the Wakandan Embassy…

After years in limbo, Don McGregor’s Klan storyline was revisited and concluded when try-out title Marvel Premiere declared “The Return of the Black Panther” with issue #51 (December 1979).

Opening minutes after Black Panther #15 ended, ‘The Killing of Windeagle!’ sees T’Challa arriving back at the Embassy only to be attacked by an unknown flying warrior who claims to be an old foe. After subduing the assailant, the King experiences even more turmoil as Monica Lynne and Georgia journalist Kevin Trublood accost him. Although his staff all seem familiar with the woman, T’Challa has no memory of her…

Granting an audience with the couple, the Panther hears how Monica’s sister Angela was murdered, and how the death seemed to involve both the Ku Klux Klan and rival offshoot the Dragon’s Circle. As he listens, T’Challa hears that for a time he was one of those murder investigators, but his mind is clouded and he recalls none of it…

Suddenly Windeagle attacks again but as the Panther fights back his opponent is assassinated by a sniper…

Working with the police, T’Challa uncovers the sordid history of a petty gangster who somehow became a flying fury and establishes links to yet another organisation: The Spiritual Light Society. At every turn events seem to be pushing him towards one inescapable conclusion: Monica’s ridiculous story is true and someone has tampered with his mind and memory…

When they are ambushed again by armed thugs – later identified as Klansmen – their spirited resistance is supplemented by more sniper fire and the Panther’s ‘Journey Through the Past!’ impels him to invade a Klan gathering. This conclave is subsequently violently disrupted by a costumed maniac dubbed the Soul Strangler

Despite not remembering, the Panther believes he has deduced the nature of the civil war between the KKK and Dragon’s circle, and more importantly, who killed Angela. With resignation and trepidation, T’Challa, Kevin and Monica head for a showdown in the Deep South…

Inked by Alan Gordon, Marvel Premiere #53 (April 1980) delivered ‘The Ending, In Anger!’ as T’Challa visits Monica’s family home and the dam in his memory finally shatters. Acting with clarity at last, the Black Panther tracks down the villains who captured and brainwashed him during his previous visit, exposes a tawdry truth behind all the death and intimidation and brings a kind of closure to all the innocents touched by the tragedy…

With the major story-arcs at last concluded it was back to relative obscurity and bit-parts for the Panther, with the exception of a short tale that would have huge repercussions on the hero’s life in the future.

‘Cry… Vengeance!’ by Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Bob McLeod first appeared in Marvel Team-Up #100 (December 1980) and saw African X-Man Storm targeted by assassins. Easily defeating her attackers, she learned they were hired by Boer hardman Andreas de Ruyter

This sent her mind winging back to her trek across Africa as teenager: an arduous trek made easier after she linked up with a young boy on his own rite of passage ritual. His name was T’Challa and she learned that he was a prince only after South African mercenaries led by de Ruyter tried to kidnap the boy for political advantage.

After driving the thugs off, the youngsters spent a brief but idyllic time together before their paths diverged and duty pulled them apart.

After decades apart, with the villain back seeking vengeance, Ororo reunited with the boy the world now knew as the Black Panther to end the maniac’s threat forever…

This collection is also augmented by Kirby Editorial pages, house ads, a potted history of the Black Panther from #14, the Rich Buckler & McLeod cover to the never-released BP #16 and unused Bingham pencil pages.

An explosive rocket ride of thrills, spills, chills and too-long delayed gratification, these long-lost classics confirm the Black Panther as one of the most complex and versatile characters in comics and simply scream “Read me! Read me!” So you should and you must…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2001, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

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.
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