Ms. Marvel Masterworks volume 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Marvel: Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Gene Colan, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6756-3

After years as an also-ran and up-and-comer, by 1968 Marvel Comics was in the ascendant. Their sales were catching up with industry leaders National/DC Comics and Gold Key, and they finally secured a new distribution deal that would allow them to expand their list of titles exponentially. Once the stars of “twin-books” Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales all got their own titles the House of Ideas just kept on creating.

One dead-cert idea was a hero named after the company – and one with some popular cachet and nostalgic pedigree as well. After the DC/Fawcett court case of the 1940s-1950s, the name Captain Marvel disappeared from the newsstands.

In 1967, during a superhero boom/camp craze generated by the Batman TV show, publisher MLF secured rights to the name and produced a number of giant-sized comics featuring an intelligent robot who (which?) could divide his body into segments and shoot lasers from his eyes.

Quirky and charming and devised by the legendary Carl (Human Torch) Burgos, the feature nevertheless could not attract a large following. On its demise, the name was quickly snapped up by the expanding Marvel Comics Group.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a brand-new title: it had been the giant-sized reprint comicbook Fantasy Masterpieces, combining monster and mystery tales with Golden Age Timely Comics classics, but with the twelfth issue it added an all-new experimental section for characters without homes such as Medusa, Ka-Zar, Black Knight and Doctor Doom, and debuted new concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy, Phantom Eagle and, to start the ball rolling, an troubled alien spy sent to Earth from the Kree Galaxy. He held a Captain’s rank and his name was Mar-Vell.

Most of that is covered in series-author Roy Thomas’ Introduction before this cosmically conceived tome – available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions – kicks off. On offer are the origin adventure from Marvel Super-Heroes #12-13 and the contents of Captain Marvel #1-9 collectively spanning cover-dates December 1967 to January 1969…

Crafted by Stan Lee, Gene Colan & Frank Giacoia, the initial MS-H 15 page-instalment ‘The Coming of Captain Marvel’ devolved directly from Fantastic Four #64-65 wherein the quartet defeated a super-advanced Sentry robot from a mythical alien race, only to be attacked by a high official of those long-lost extraterrestrials in the very next issue!

After defeating Ronan the Accuser, the FF heard no more from the far from extinct Kree, but the millennia-old empire was once again interested in Earth. Dispatching a surveillance mission, the Kree wanted to know everything about us. Unfortunately, the agent they chose was a man of conscience; whilst his commanding officer Colonel Yon-Rogg was a ruthless rival for the love of the ship’s medical officer Una.

No sooner has the good captain made a tentative planet-fall and clashed with the US army from the local missile base (often hinted at as being Cape Kennedy) than the first instalment ends. Stan and Gene had set the ball rolling but it was left to Roy Thomas to establish the basic ground-rules in the next episode.

Colan remained, this time with Paul Reinman inking. ‘Where Stalks the Sentry!’ sees the alien spy improving his weaponry before an attempt by Yon-Rogg to kill him destroys a light aircraft carrying scientist Walter Lawson to that military base.

Assuming Lawson’s identity, Mar-Vell infiltrates “The Cape” but arouses the suspicions of security Chief Carol Danvers. He is horrified to discover that the Earthlings are storing the Sentry (defeated by the FF) on base. Yon-Rogg, sensing an opportunity, activates the deadly mechanoid. As it goes on a rampage only Mar-Vell stands in its path…

That’s a lot of material for twenty pages but Thomas and Colan were on a roll. With Vince Colletta inking, the third chapter was not in Marvel Super-Heroes but in the premiere issue of the Captain’s own title released for May 1968

‘Out of the Holocaust… A Hero!’ is an all-out action thriller, which still made space to establish twin sub-plots of “Lawson’s” credibility and Mar-Vell’s inner doubts. The faithful Kree soldier is rapidly losing faith in his own race and falling under the spell of the Earthlings…

The Captain’s first foray against a super-villain is revealed in the next two issues as we find that the Kree and the shapeshifting Skrulls are intergalactic rivals, and the latter want to know why there’s an enemy soldier stationed on Earth.

Sending their own top agent in ‘From the Void of Space Comes the Super Skrull!’, the resultant battle almost levels the entire state before bombastically concluding with the Kree on top ‘From the Ashes of Defeat!’

Issue #4 saw the secret invader clashing with fellow anti-hero Sub-Mariner in ‘The Alien and the Amphibian!’ as Mar-Vell’s superiors make increasingly ruthless demands of their reluctant agent.

Captain Marvel #5 saw Arnold Drake & Don Heck assume the creative chores (with John Tartaglione on inks) in cold-war monster-mash clash ‘The Mark of the Metazoid’, wherein a mutated Soviet dissident is forced by his militaristic masters to kidnap Walter Lawson (that’s narrative symmetry, that is).

Issue #6 then finds the Captain ‘In the Path of Solam!’; battling a marauding sun-creature before being forced to prove his loyalty by unleashing a Kree bio-weapon on an Earth community in ‘Die, Town, Die!’ However, all is not as it seems since Quasimodo, the Living Computer is also involved…

The romantic triangle sub-plot was wearing pretty thin by this time, as was the increasingly obvious division of Mar-Vell’s loyalties, so a new examination of Dr Lawson, whose identity the Kree man purloined, begins in #8’s ‘And Fear Shall Follow!’.

Wrapping up this first volume is another alien war story as Yon-Rogg is injured by rival space imperialists the Aakon. In the battle Mar-Vell’s heroism buys him a break from suspicion but all too soon he’s embroiled with a secret criminal gang and a robot assassin apparently built by the deceased Lawson, and trouble escalates when the surviving Aakon stumble into the mess in ‘Between Hammer and Anvil!’

Fascinating extras added in here include a full cover gallery, creator biographies, the December 1967 Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page announcing the coming of Captain Marvel, plus sublime pencil-art pages by Colan: the full 16 un-inked pages from Marvel Super-Heroes #13 for art-lovers to drool over. Glorious!
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Masterworks Ms. Marvel volume


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers: The Kree/Skrull War


By Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Neal Adams, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785164791(HC)             978-0785132301(PB)

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

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

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

After Lee & Kirby moved on, the team was left in the capable hands of artists Don Heck and John Buscema whilst Roy Thomas 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 hard cover, paperback and eBook iterations – collects Avengers #89-97 from June 1971 to March 1972. At the 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 all began relatively quietly as marooned Kree warrior Captain Marvel was finally freed from virtual imprisonment in the Negative Zone.

Mar-Vell was originally sent as a spy to Earth but he quickly went native and became a protector of humanity. After an intergalactic mission he was flying back to Earth when he was suddenly sucked into the anti-matter hell of the Negative Zone…

The trapped warrior found a loophole through long-dormant Kree artefacts and Nega-bands. Inextricably bonding to professional side-kick Rick Jones, he would switch places whenever danger loomed, but would be drawn back into the antimatter domain after three hours.

Following interminable, agonising months when Rick refused to trade atoms with his alien alter ego, ‘The Only Good Alien…’ (art by Sal Buscema & Sam Grainger) sees the bonded brothers finally separated just as, in the distant Kree Empire, the ruling Supreme Intelligence is overthrown by his enforcer Ronan the Accuser

The rebellion results in the activation of a long-dormant robotic Kree Sentry which attacks Mar-Vell and the Avengers before enacting a deep-programmed protocol to devolve humanity to the level of cavemen in concluding chapter ‘Judgment Day’ (drawn and inked by Sal B)…

Even with Ronan taking personal charge the scheme to eradicate humanity is narrowly defeated in ‘Take One Giant Step… Backward!’, but the cat is let out of the bag about the panic-inspiring notion that extraterrestrials lurk among us.

Moreover, public opinion turns against the heroes for concealing the threat of repeated alien incursions…

In a powerful allegory of the Anti-Communist Witch-hunts of the 1950s, the epic expands in issue #92 (Sal B & George Roussos) as ‘All Things Must End!’ sees riots in American streets and a political demagogue begins to capitalise on the crisis. Subpoenaed by the authorities, castigated by friends and public, the current team is ordered to disband by founding fathers Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

Or are they…?

The plot thickens as Neal Adams & Tom Palmer assumed the chores with the double-sized Avengers #93 and ‘This Beachhead Earth’. Here the Vision is nigh-fatally attacked and those same founding fathers evinced no knowledge of having benched the regular team.

With original Ant-Man Henry Pym undertaking ‘A Journey to the Center of the Android!’ to save the Vision’s artificial life, the Avengers become aware of not one, but two alien hostile presences on Earth: bellicose Kree and sinister, seditious shape-shifting Skrulls, triggering a ‘War of the Weirds!’ on our fragile globe.

Acting too late the human heroes are unable to prevent Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Mar-Vell from being abducted by the Super-Skrull…

With more stunning Adams art, ‘More than Inhuman!’ in issue #94 entangles the long-hidden race of advanced beings called Inhumans in the mix, disclosing that their advanced science and super-powers were the result of genetic meddling by the Kree in the depths of prehistory. Now, with Inhuman king Black Bolt missing and his mad and malign brother Maximus in charge, the Kree are calling in their ancient markers…

Second chapter ‘1971: A Space Odyssey’ (pencilled by John Buscema) focuses on Mar-Vell as he is increasingly pressured to reveal military secrets to his shape-shifting captors. The Skrulls are ready to launch a final devastating all-out attack on their eons-old rivals, whilst on Earth ‘Behold the Mandroids!’ finds the American authorities attempting to arrest all costumed heroes…

In Avengers #95 ‘Something Inhuman This Way Comes…!’ coalesces the disparate story strands as aquatic Inhuman Triton helps defeat the Mandroids before beseeching the beleaguered heroes to find his missing monarch and rescue his people from the press-ganging Kree.

After so doing and with a solid victory under their belts at last, 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…

‘The Andromeda Swarm!’ (with additional inking from Adams and Al Weiss) is perhaps the Avengers’ finest hour, as a small, brave band hold off an immense armada of star-ships, losing one of their own in the conflict, whilst the Supreme Intelligence is revealed to have been pursuing its own clandestine agenda all along after having bewildered sidekick Rick Jones abducted to further its terrifyingly ambitious plans….

The astounding final episode ‘Godhood’s End!’ brings the uncanny epic (and this volume) to a perfect end with a literal Deus ex Machina as the Supremor’s master-plan is finally revealed but the war is ended by the most unlikely of saviours and an avalanche of costumed heroes: an action overload extravaganza which has never been surpassed in the annals of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction…

Roy Thomas and his artistic collaborators were always at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of creators: brilliantly building on and consolidating Lee, Kirby and Ditko’s initial burst of comics creativity whilst spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder- machine of places and events that so many others could add to.

This terrific tale is the ideal example of superheroes done exactly right and also a pivotal point as the little company evolved into a corporate entertainment colossus. It’s also still one of the best superhero stories you’ll ever read…
© 1971, 1972, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Captain Marvel volume 2


By Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Mike Friedrich, Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart, Chris Claremont, Wayne Boring, Al Milgrom, Alfredo Alcala & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4536-3

In 1968, upstart Marvel was in the ascendant. Their sales were rapidly overtaking industry leaders National/DC and Gold Key Comics and, having secured a new distributor which would allow them to expand their list of titles exponentially, the company was about to undertake a creative expansion of unparalleled proportions.

Once each individual star of “twin-books” Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales was awarded their own title the House of Ideas just kept on going. In progress was a publishing plan which sought to take conceptual possession of the word “Marvel” through both reprint series like Marvel Tales, Marvel Collectors Items Classics and Marvel Super-Heroes. Eventually showcase titles such as Marvel Premiere, Marvel Spotlight and Marvel Feature also proudly trumpeted the name so another dead-cert idea was to publish an actual hero named for the company – and preferably one with some ready-made cachet and pedigree as well.

After the infamous DC/Fawcett copyright court case of the 1940s-1950s, the prestigious designation Captain Marvel disappeared from newsstands. In 1967, during the “Camp” craze superhero boom generated by the Batman TV series, publisher MLF secured rights to the name and produced a number of giant-sized comics featuring an intelligent robot who (which?) could divide his body into segments and shoot lasers from his eyes.

Quirky, charming and devised by the legendary Carl Burgos (creator of the Golden Age Human Torch), the series nevertheless failed to attract a large following in that flamboyantly flooded marketplace and on its demise the name was quickly snapped up by Marvel Comics Group.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a brand new title: it had been reconfigured from double-sized reprint title Fantasy Masterpieces, which comprised vintage monster-mystery tales and Golden Age Timely Comics classics, but with the twelfth issue it added a showcase section for characters without homes such as Medusa, Ka-Zar, Black Knight and Doctor Doom, plus new concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy and Phantom Eagle to try out in all-new stories.

To start the ball rolling, it featured an alien spy sent to Earth from the Kree Galaxy. He held a Captain’s rank and his name was Mar-Vell.

After two appearances Captain Marvel catapulted straight into his own title and began a rather hit-and-miss career, battling spies, aliens, costumed cut-ups such as Sub-Mariner, Mad Thinker and Iron Man but most especially elements of his own rapaciously colonialist race – such as imperial investigative powerhouse Ronan the Accuser – all the while slowly switching allegiances from the militaristic Kree to the noble, freedom-loving denizens of Earth.

Disguised as NASA scientist Walter Lawson he infiltrated a US airbase and grew closer to security chief Carol Danvers, gradually going native even as he was constantly scrutinised by his ominously orbiting commanding officer Colonel Yon-Rogg – Mar-Vell’s ruthless rival for the love of the teeming starship’s medical officer Una

The impossible situation came to a head when Mar-Vell gave his life to save the empire from overthrow from within and colossal hive-mind Supreme Intelligence inextricably bonded the expiring warrior with voice-of-a-generation and professional side-kick Rick Jones who, just like Billy Batson (the naïve lad who turned into the original Fawcett Captain Marvel by shouting “Shazam!”), switched places with a mighty adult hero whenever danger loomed.

By striking a pair of ancient, wrist worn “Nega-bands” together they could temporarily trade atoms: one active in our universe whilst the other floated, a ghostly untouchable, ineffectual voyeur to events glimpsed from the ghastly anti-matter Negative Zone.

The Captain was an alien lost on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree who fought for humanity three hours at a time, atomically chained to Rick by mysterious wristbands which enabled them to share the same space in our universe, but whenever one was active here the other was trapped in a terrifying isolated antimatter hell…

The book was cancelled soon after that… only to return some more! A series which would not die, Captain Marvel returned again in the summer of 1972 for another shot at stardom and intellectual property rights security.

This second stellar monochrome Essential compilation (spanning September 1972 to September 1976 whilst gathering Captain Marvel #21-35, 37-46, plus key crossover appearances from Iron Man #55 and Marvel Feature #12) finds him at his best and worst as mediocre tales by veteran creators were brushed aside and the hero was transfigured overnight by the talents of a very talented newcomer, making the directionless Kree Warrior briefly the most popular and acclaimed title in Marvel’s firmament.

It all began rather inauspiciously in Captain Marvel #22 where scripter Gerry Conway with artists Wayne Boring & Frank Giacoia reintroduced the cosmic crusader in ‘To Live Again!’ Bonded to Rick by the uncanny Nega-bands, Mar-Vell had languished in the Negative Zone for a seeming eternity as Jones tried to carve out a rock star career and relationship with new love Lou-Ann, but eventually his own body betrayed him and the Kree Captain was expelled back into our reality…

Luckily Lou-Ann’s uncle Benjamin Savannah is a radical scientist on hand to help Rick’s transition, but as the returned Marvel unsteadily flies off, across town another boffin is rapidly mutating from atomic victim to nuclear threat and #23 (by Marv Wolfman, Boring & Frank McLaughlin) sees the Kree Warrior calamitously clash with the rampaging Megaton resulting in ‘Death at the End of the World!’.

Wolfman, Boring & Ernie Chan then deal ‘Death in High Places!’ as Rick is targeted by lethal Madame Synn and felonious cyborg Dr. Mynde who need Mar-Vell to help them plunder the Pentagon…

After seemingly running in place, perpetually one step ahead of cancellation (folding many times, but always quickly resurrected – presumably to secure that all important Trademark name), the Captain was handed to a newcomer named Jim Starlin who was left alone to get on with it.

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

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

The first inkling came 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. ‘Beware The… Blood Brothers!’ (inked by Mike Esposito) introduced haunted humanoid powerhouse Drax the Destroyer, trapped by extraterrestrial invader Thanos under the Nevada desert and in dire need of rescue. That came when the Armoured Avenger blazed in, answering a mysterious SOS…

As much as I’d love to claim Marvel’s fortunes are solely built on the works of Kirby and Steve Ditko, I’m just not able to. Whereas I do know that without them the modern monolith would not exist, it is also necessary to acknowledge the vital role played by a second generation creators who enlisted in the early 1970s. Marvel’s invitation to fresh, new, often untried talent paid huge dividends in creativity and – most importantly at a time of industry contraction – new sales.

Arguably the most successful of the newcomers was Starlin. As well as the landmark Master of Kung Fu, which he worked on with equally gifted confederates Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom, his earliest and most fondly regarded success was the ambitiously epic cosmic adventure which unfolded here.

A month later in Captain Marvel #25, Friedrich, Starlin, & Chic Stone unleashed ‘A Taste of Madness!’ and the alien outcast’s fortunes changed forever.

When Mar-Vell is ambushed by a pack of extraterrestrials he is forced to admit that his powers are in decline. Unaware that an unseen foe is counting on that, Rick manifests and checks in with Dr. Savannah only to find himself accused by his beloved Lou-Ann of the savant’s murder.

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

Issue #26 sees Rick free of police custody and confronting 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 wants Rick because his subconscious conceals the location of an irresistible ultimate weapon.

Rick awakes 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’ father Mentor and brother Eros, the horrified lad sees firsthand the extent of genocide the death-loving monster has inflicted upon his own birthworld and 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, Mar-Vell is assaulted by bizarre visions of an incredible ancient being. Fatally distracted, he becomes the massive mind-leech’s final victim…

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

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

Iron Man meanwhile has also recovered and headed for Marvel Feature #12 to join the Thing in ending a desert incursion by Thanos’ forces before enduring ‘The Bite of the Blood Brothers!’ (Friedrich, Starlin, & Joe Sinnott), after which the story continues in Captain Marvel #31 with ‘The Beginning of the End!’ (inked by Green & Milgrom) wherein the Avengers – in a gathering of last resort – are joined by psionic priestess Moondragon and Drax – one of the Titan’s many victims and resurrected by supernal forces to destroy Thanos…

The Titan has been revealed as a lover of the personification of Death who wants 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) and with a thought captures all opposition to his reign. However his insane arrogance leaves the cosmically aware Mar-Vell with a chance to undo every change; brilliantly outmanoeuvring and defeating ‘The God Himself!’ (inks by Klaus Janson)…

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

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

Although the Protector of the Universe defeats Nitro, he succumbs to the deadly toxin. From this exposure he would eventually contract the cancer that killed him, as depicted in Marvel’s first Graphic Novel, The Death of Captain Marvel… but that’s a tale for a different review…

Issue #35 finds Mar-Vell all but lifeless in ‘Deadly Genesis’ (Englehart, Friedrich & Alfredo Alcala), while simultaneously showing Rick languishing in the Negative Zone and attacked by Annihilus until a barely-remembered three-hour time-limit automatically switches his body with the comatose Kree hero.

Later, as Rick’s manager Mordecai Boggs drives him to a gig, Rick’s consciousness slips into the N-Zone and animates Mar-Vell’s unresponsive body to escape Annihilus, and discerns this new power is merely one tactic in a cunning plan devised by the duplicitous Supreme Intelligence…

Meanwhile on Earth, Rick’s vacated body has been taken to hospital where old friends Ant-Man and the Wasp are fortuitously visiting when the Living Laser attacks. The villain has been artificially augmented by his new masters, but it’s not enough to stop the former Avengers or prevent Rick reclaiming his body and using the Nega-bands to restore his bonded soul mate to their particular brand of normality…

At this time deadline difficulties caught up with the Captain and #36 was reduced to running a reprint of his origin from Marvel Super-Heroes #12. This Essential edition only includes the foreboding 3-page bookend ‘Watching and Waiting’ by Englehart, Starlin, Alan Weiss & friends before the saga properly relaunches in #37 with ‘Lift-Off!’ by Englehart, Milgrom & Janson.

Although Mar-Vell quickly discerns that the Lunatic Legion’s attacks stem from the Moon, Rick insists on playing a gig before they set off. After bidding farewell to Mordecai and his sometimes stage partner Dandy, they wisely prepare for their trip to the satellite by outfitting the boy with an advanced spacesuit before Mar-Vell blasts off.

He only makes it as far as the outer atmosphere before being attacked by another Lunatic agent. The cyborg Nimrod is no match for Kree firepower however and in the Neg-Zone the implacable Annihilus endures a painful defeat when he again assaults Rick and discovers the sheer power packed into his EVA gear…

Crisis averted, the bored, naive kid swallows the “vitamin” Dandy slipped him before departure and is transported on a trip unlike any he has ever experienced. Tragically, as Mar-Vell reaches the air-filled lost city in the “Blue Area of the Moon” he too begins to experience bizarre hallucinations and is utterly unable to defend himself when the all-powerful Watcher ambushes him…

The austere, aloof cosmic voyeur Uatu the Watcher is part of an ancient, impossibly powerful race of immortal beings who observe all that occurs throughout the vast multiverse but never act on any of it. Non-interference is their fanatical doctrine but Uatu has continually bent – if not broken – the adamantine rule ever since he debuted in Fantastic Four #13…

Now somehow, the Legion have co-opted the legendarily neutral astral witness. Once Uatu defeats Mar-Vell, he despondently dumps his victim with the Lunatic Legion who are exposed as rebel Kree plotting to overthrow the Supremor. Fundamentalists of the original blue race which assimilated the millions of other species, these colonially aggressive and racially purist Blue Kree plan to execute their captive who seemingly has ‘…No Way Out!’ but are unprepared for the closer psychic link which the hallucinations have forged between Earth kid and Kree captain…

With the insurgents defeated, Mar-Vell and Rick follow the repentant Uatu as he returns to his own distant world in #39 to voluntarily undergo ‘The Trial of the Watcher’

In the aftermath of that bizarre proceeding Rick and Mar-Vell are finally liberated from their comic bond. With both now co-existing in the positive-matter universe and able to return and leave the Negative Zone at will, their troubles seem over. They couldn’t be more wrong…

CM #40 shifts focus as ‘Rocky Mountain ‘Bye!’ (inked by Al McWilliams) reveals how the space-farers return to an Earth which has no real use for them. As Mar-Vell battles a deadly beast possessing the body of his first love Medic Una, Rick finds his music career and even his beliefs are considered irrelevant and of no value. Equally heart-sore and dispirited, the former cellmates reunite and decide to travel to the stars together…

The first stop is Hala, capital of the Kree Empire as #41 reveals ‘Havoc on Homeworld!’ (Englehart, Milgrom, Bernie Wrightson, P. Craig Russell, Bob McLeod & Terry Austin) with the populace swept up in a race war against “Pinks” (human flesh-toned Kree mulattos like Mar-Vell).

Determined to warn the Supremor of the conflict and the schemes of the Lunatic Legion, the heroes are appalled to learn the strife has been actively instigated by the colossal mind-collective…

From his earliest moments in military service Mar-Vell has been groomed by the Supremor to be its ultimate foe, As the amalgamation of minds seeks to jump-start the development of the evolutionarily-stalled Kree it desperately needs an enemy to contend against and grow strong…

Distracting his baffled, betrayed opponents with Ronan the Accuser, the Supreme Intelligence places one Nega-band on Rick and another on Mar-Vell and casually banishes them to the farthest reaches of the empire…

Issue #42 sees them deposited in an insane pastiche of Earth’s wild west mining towns and quickly embroiled in interstellar claim-jumping and a ‘Shoot-Out at the O.K. Space Station!’ (inks by Giacoia & Esposito). As the Kree with a star on his chest lays down the law and has a showdown with the cosmically-charged Stranger, close by Drax the Destroyer is ravaging worlds and planetoids, slowly going insane for lack of purpose even as Rick goes his own way and is almost fatally distracted by a beautiful girl nobody else can see…

Drax was created to kill Thanos but since the Titan’s defeat the devastating construct has wandered the universe and slowly gone crazy. CM #43 shows how – unaware that Thanos still lives – the purposeless nemesis takes the opportunity to assuage his frustrations by attacking the hero who stole his glory in ‘Destroy! Destroy!’ (Englehart & Milgrom).

The epic bout ends in #44 as ‘Death Throws!’ sees the pointless conflict escalate until Rick’s imaginary friend intervenes and opens the Destroyer’s eyes…

With sanity restored Mar-Vell then voyages to a Kree colony world ravaged by cyborgs and Null-Trons and discovers the Supremor has been subtly acting to merge him and Rick into one puissant being to further his evolutionary agenda in ‘The Bi-Centennial!’ Forewarned, and with a small band of the most unlikely allies, the cosmic conflict then wraps up in blockbusting fashion as Rick and Mar-Vell unite by not combining to defeat the Supremor in a battle ‘Only One Can Win!’ (Chris Claremont, Milgrom & Austin)…

This bombastic battle book of cosmic conflict and stellar spectacle also includes a wealth of bonus pages beginning with a comprehensive cutaway ‘Map of Titan’ from Captain Marvel #27, three pages of new artwork from 1980s reprint series The Life of Captain Marvel Special Edition’, and a copious cover gallery and pinups by Starlin from that series.

Captain Marvel has never claimed to be the company’s most popular or successful character and some of the material collected here is frankly rather poor. However, the good stuff is amongst the very best that the company has produced in its entire history.

If you want to see how good superhero comics can be you’ll just have to take the rough with the smooth and who knows… you might see something that makes it all worthwhile…
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Secret Invasion: Captain Marvel


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He still cannot stop staring at that painting either…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued Elsewhere…

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

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

Shazam! Archives volume 4


By William Woolfolk, C.C. Beck, Mac Raboy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0160-1

One of the most venerated and beloved characters of America’s Golden Age of comics, Captain Marvel was created in 1940 as part of a wave of opportunistic creativity which followed the stunning success of Superman in 1938.

Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett champion quickly moved squarely into the area of light entertainment and even straight comedy, whilst as the years passed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action, drama and suspense.

Homeless orphan and good kid Billy Batson was selected by an ancient wizard to be given the powers of six gods and heroes to battle injustice. He transforms from scrawny precocious kid to brawny (adult) hero Captain Marvel by speaking aloud the wizard’s acronymic name – invoking the powers of legendary patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.

Publishing house Fawcett had first gained prominence through an immensely well-received light entertainment magazine for WWI veterans named Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang, before branching out into books and general interest magazines. Their most successful publication – at least until the Good Captain hit his stride – was the ubiquitous boy’s building bible Mechanix Illustrated and, as the decade unfolded, the scientific and engineering discipline and can-do demeanour underpinning MI suffused and informed both the art and plots of the Marvel Family titles.

Captain Marvel was the brainchild of writer/editor Bill Parker and brilliant young illustrator Charles Clarence Beck who, with his assistant Pete Costanza, handled most of the art on the series throughout its stellar run. Before eventually evolving his own affable personality the full-grown hero was a serious, bluff and rather characterless powerhouse whilst junior alter ego Billy was the true star: a Horatio Alger archetype of impoverished, bold, self-reliant and resourceful youth overcoming impossible odds through gumption, grit and sheer determination…

After homeless orphan newsboy Billy was granted access to the power of legendary gods and heroes he won a job as a roaming radio reporter for Amalgamated Broadcasting and first defeated the demonic Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, setting a pattern that would captivate readers for the next 14 years…

At the height of his popularity Captain Marvel was published twice-monthly and outsold Superman, but as the Furious Forties closed tastes changed, sales slowed and Fawcett saw the way the wind was blowing. They finally settled an infamous, long-running copyright infringement suit begun by National Comics in 1940 and the Big Red Cheese vanished – as did so many superheroes – becoming little more than a fond memory for older fans…

Fawcett in full bloom, however, was a true publishing innovator and marketing powerhouse – and regarded as the inventor of many established comicbook sales tactics we all take for granted today. In this fourth magnificent deluxe full-colour hardback compendium we can see one of their best manoeuvres at play as the company responsible for creating crossover-events invented a truly unforgettable villain, set him simultaneously loose on a range of costumed champions and used his (temporary) defeat to introduce a new hero to their colourful pantheon.

Spanning the fraught yet productive period October 31st 1941 to May 13th 1942 and collecting in their entirety Captain Marvel Adventures #4-5, exploits from Master Comics #21-22, an adventure from fortnightly Whiz Comics #25 and another from anthology America’s Greatest Comics #2 – plus all the stunning covers by Beck and Raboy – this splendid compendium kicks off with an erudite and incisive Foreword by P.C. Hammerlinck (artist, editor, historian and former student of C.C. Beck) who reveals many secrets of the original comics’ production before the cartoon classic commences.

Although there was increasing talk of inevitable war amongst the American public at the time, most of these tales were created before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, making the role of Adolf Hitler as a recurring villain and the creation of Captain Nazi in those by-no-means certain days acts of prophetic calculation…

However, as the thinly-veiled saboteur and spy sagas which previously permeated the genre until official Hostilities were finally established gave way to certainty, the Axis became the overarching threat of many comicbook heroes and this tome re-presents some of the very best clashes between exactingly defined polar opposites.

Of more interest perhaps is that at this period the stories – many of them still sadly uncredited – largely portray Marvel as a grimly heroic figure not averse to slaughtering the truly irredeemable villain and losing no sleep over it…

In those formative years, as the World’s Mightiest Mortal catapulted to the first rank of superhero superstars, there was actually a scramble to fill pages and, just as CMA #1 had been farmed out to up-and-coming whiz-kids Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, these first two solo issues were rapidly compiled by anonymous scripters under the guiding hand of veteran Jack Binder (whose brother Otto would soon become the assorted Marvels’ definitive scripter), another rising star who drew the issues in a hurry, working from Beck and Parker’s style guides.

The first of those uncredited issues is Captain Marvel Adventures #4 (October 31st 1941) with possible authors including Parker, Rod Reed, Joe Millard, Manly Wade Wellman, Otto Binder and William Woolfolk, whilst the Jack Binder Studio consisted of the man himself plus neophyte artists and recent graduates from Pratt Institute including young Bob Butts and Bill Ward.

‘Sivana’s Revenge’ kicks things off with a return engagement for the Three Lieutenant Marvels (a trio of other kids named Billy Batson who somehow shared the magic of Shazam’s gift). Fat Billy, Tall Billy and Hill Billy were visiting their namesake when the Devil Doctor repeatedly attempted to murder the radio reporter before seemingly losing his life in the detonation of a trap consisting of one million tons of dynamite…

The next tale introduced Hitler as the German-accented “warlord” of an aggressor nation which used slave labour from conquered European countries to dig ‘The Tunnel of Invasion’ right into the heart of Florida. Upon discovering the plot Marvel helped complete the project… but only so that he could trap the entire Nazi army at the bottom of the Atlantic.

‘The Secret Submarine Base’ found Billy investigating a murder and wrecking a scheme by sinister Mr. Fog to hide ambushing U-Boats in South America before calling in his adult alter ego to smash the site. Thereafter he teamed up with crusading DA Shaw to destroy the criminal empire of mobster Giggy Golton and his band of merciless assassins ‘The Lawless Legion’

Captain Marvel Adventures #5 (December 12th) was communally illustrated by Beck’s “Fawcett Captain Marvel Art Staff” – which generally comprised Costanza, Marc Swayze, Pete Riss and Kurt Schaffenberger amongst others – opening with a stunning recap ‘Frontispiece’ before Sivana again rears his gleaming evil-stuffed head to perpetrate ‘Captain Marvel’s Double Trouble’ wherein a refugee princess is kidnapped by a boxer the wily genius has transformed through surgery. He’s still no match for the real deal though…

Nor is the volcano-making ‘King of the Crater’ who attempts to turn America into a bubbling ring of fire until Billy and the Captain spectacularly upset his engineering applecart, after which a reclamation project is saved from sabotage by a cunning mastermind and an aquatic monster when ‘Captain Marvel Solves the Swamp Mystery’

The issue ends with another bout of weird science as ‘Sivana’s Strange Chemical Potion’ transforms people into completely different… people!

When Billy is replaced by a new kid with no memory of the power of Shazam, it takes fate in the form of a bunch of kids playing Captain Marvel to release the hero and unleash justice…

Bulletman – ably assisted by his companion Bulletgirl – was undoubtedly Fawcett’s second – if lesser – leading light, with his own solo comicbook and the star spot in monthly Master Comics. However, that all changed with issue #21 (December 1941) and ‘The Coming of Captain Nazi’ by William Woolfolk & Mac Raboy. In the rousing tale Hitler and his staff despatch their newest weapon – a literal Übermensch – to spread terror and destruction in America and kill all its superheroes.

The murdering braggart gets right to work in New York City and soon Bulletman meets Captain Marvel as they both strive to stop the Fascist Fiend from wrecking the town and slaughtering innocents. The astounding battle – gracefully and immaculately rendered by Alex Raymond-inspired Raboy – only results in driving off the monster…

The saga picks up in Whiz Comics #25 (December 12th) with ‘The Origin of Captain Marvel Jr.’ (Woolfolk, Beck & Raboy) as the Nazi nemesis attempts to destroy a monumental hydroelectric dam before once again being foiled and fleeing…

When the monster tries to smash a new fighter plane prototype Captain Marvel stops him, but whilst pursuing the maniac is not quick enough to prevent him murdering an old man and brutally crushing a young boy.

Freddy Freeman seems destined to follow his grandfather into eternity, but remorseful Billy takes the dying lad to Shazam’s mystic citadel where the old wizard saves the boy’s life by giving him access to the power of the ancient gods and heroes. Now he will live – albeit with a permanently maimed leg – and whenever he pronounces the phrase “Captain Marvel” he will become a super-powered invulnerable version of himself…

With the stage set the lad then rockets over to Master Comics #22 (January 1942) to join Bulletman and Bulletgirl in stopping a string of Captain Nazi-sponsored assassinations in ‘Dr. Eternity’s Wax Death’ (by Woolfolk & Raboy), victoriously ending with a bold announcement that from the very next issue (not included here, curses!) the mighty boy will be starring in his own solo adventures…

The merits of the ongoing court-case notwithstanding, Fawcett undeniably took some of their publishing cues from the examples of Superman and Batman. Following on from a brace of Premium editions celebrating the New York World’s Fair, National Comics had released World’s Finest Comics; a huge, quarterly card-cover anthology featuring a host of their comicbook mainstays in new adventures, and early in 1941, Fawcett produced a 100-page bumper comic dedicated to their own dashing new hero and the other mystery-men in their stable: Spy Smasher, Bulletman, Minute Man and Mr. Scarlet & Pinky and more.

This startling slice of World War II Wonderment concludes with a Captain Marvel yarn from America’s Greatest Comics #2 (February 11th – May 13th 1942).

‘The Park Robberies’, anonymously scripted but illustrated by Beck, Berg and the Fawcett Captain Marvel Art Staff, features Billy’s battle to stop and redeem a gang of underage muggers headed for prison or worse, with Captain Marvel going undercover as an ordinary beat cop, but is most noteworthy today for introducing comedy sidekick – and by today’s standards, appalling minority stereotype – Steamboat Bill, who saved the day when real hardboiled thugs took over the scam…

After a rash of complaints, Steamboat was dropped and didn’t resurface when DC acquired the Fawcett properties and characters in 1973. The revived series brought the Captain and his genial crew to a new generation in a savvy experiment to see if his unique charm would work another sales miracle during one of comics’ periodic downturns.

Re-titled Shazam! – due to the incontestable power of lawyers and copyright convention – the revived heroic ideal enjoyed mixed success and a live action TV series in his own unique world before being subsumed into the company’s vast stable of characters…

Notwithstanding, Captain Marvel is a true milestone of American comic history and a brilliantly conceived superhero for all ages. These magical tales again show why “The Big Red Cheese” was such an icon of the industry and proves that such timeless, sublime comic masterpieces are an ideal introduction to the world of superhero fiction: tales that cannot help but appeal to readers of every age and temperament…

© 1941, 1942, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Shazam! Archives volume 3


By Bill Parker, Rod Reed, C.C. Beck, George Tuska, Pete Costanza, Mac Raboy & others (DC Comics)
ISBN: 01-56389-832-2

One of the most venerated and beloved characters of America’s Golden Age of comics, Captain Marvel was created in 1940 as part of a wave of opportunistic creativity which followed the stunning success of Superman in 1938.

Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett champion quickly moved squarely into the area of light entertainment and even straight comedy, whilst as the years passed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action, drama and suspense.

Homeless orphan and good kid Billy Batson was selected by an ancient wizard to be given the powers of six gods and heroes to battle injustice. He transforms from scrawny precocious kid to brawny (adult) hero Captain Marvel by speaking aloud the wizard’s acronymic name – invoking the powers of legendary patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.

Publishing house Fawcett had first gained prominence through an immensely well-received light entertainment magazine for WWI veterans named Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang, before branching out into books and general interest magazines. Their most successful publication – at least until the Good Captain hit his stride – was the ubiquitous boy’s building bible Mechanix Illustrated and, as the decade unfolded, the scientific and engineering discipline and can-do demeanour underpinning MI suffused and informed both the art and plots of the Marvel Family titles.

Captain Marvel was the brainchild of writer/editor Bill Parker and brilliant young illustrator Charles Clarence Beck who, with his assistant Pete Costanza, handled most of the art on the series throughout its stellar run. At first the full-grown hero was a serious, bluff and rather characterless powerhouse whilst junior alter ego Billy was the true star: a Horatio Alger archetype of impoverished, bold, self-reliant and resourceful youth overcoming impossible odds by pluck, grit and sheer determination…

After homeless orphan newsboy Billy was granted access to the power of legendary gods and heroes he won a job as a roaming radio reporter for Amalgamated Broadcasting and first defeated the demonic Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, setting a pattern that would captivate readers for the next 14 years…

At the height of his popularity Captain Marvel outsold Superman and was even published twice-monthly, but as the Furious Forties closed tastes changed, sales slowed and Fawcett saw the way the wind was blowing. They settled an infamous long-running copyright infringement case begun by National Comics in 1940 and the Big Red Cheese vanished – as did so many superheroes – becoming little more than a fond memory for older fans…

This third magnificent deluxe full-colour hardback compendium re-presents a strip from anthology compendium America’s Greatest Comics, the second and third issues of Captain Marvel Adventures, his exploits from the fortnightly Whiz Comics #21-24 and also happily includes a selection of stunning covers from the plethora of extra and reprint editions generated by the Good Captain’s overnight success.

Although there was increasing talk of inevitable war amongst the American public; all these tales – spanning March to November 1941 – were created long before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and consequently have their share of thinly-veiled saboteur and spy sagas which permeated the genre until official Hostilities were finally established. Of more interest perhaps is that at this period the stories – many of them still sadly uncredited – still largely portray Marvel as a grimly heroic figure not averse to slaughtering the truly irredeemable villain and losing no sleep over it…

Following a nostalgic and highly educational Foreword by movie producer, author, historian and fan Michael Uslan, the wonderment commences with the magnificent Mac Raboy cover to America’s Greatest Comics #1 and the C.C. Beck illustrated thriller ‘Ghost of the Deep’ which led off that issue.

The merits of the ongoing court-case notwithstanding, Fawcett undeniably took many of their publishing cues from the examples of Superman and Batman. Following on from a brace of Premium editions celebrating the New York World’s Fair, National Comics had released World’s Finest Comics; a huge, quarterly card-cover anthology featuring a host of their comicbook mainstays in new adventures, and early in 1941, Fawcett produced a 100-page bumper comic dedicated to their own dashing new hero and the other mystery-men in their stable: Spy Smasher, Bulletman, Minute Man and Mr. Scarlet & Pinky and others.

‘Ghost of the Deep’ was an extra-long saga and canny mystery wherein a hooded mastermind used purloined technology to wage a campaign of terror against American Naval interests on both coasts before Billy and the Captain scotched his plans in a tale very much the template for the character’s future…

Meanwhile in Captain Marvel Adventures #2 (Summer 1941) the hero was still undergoing some on-the-job cosmetic refinements. In those formative years as the World’s Mightiest Mortal catapulted to the first rank of superhero superstars, there was actually a scramble to fill pages and just as CMA #1 had been farmed out to up-and-coming whiz-kids Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, the next two issues were rapidly compiled by mostly anonymous scripters and another rising star who drew the issues in a hurry, working from Beck and Parker’s style guides.

Young George Tuska added a raw, lean humanist vivacity to the tales beginning with ‘World of the Microscope’ wherein Sivana returned and dosed Billy and erstwhile ally Queen Beautia with a shrinking solution and left them at the mercy of bacterial monsters until Captain Marvel turned the tiny tables on him, after which a deadly stampede of giant spider robots presaged an ‘Invasion from Mars’, until the Big Red Cheese taught our planetary neighbours a lasting lesson in getting along.

DC/National Periodical Publications had filed suit against Fawcett for copyright infringement as soon as Whiz Comics #2 hit the stands and the companies slugged it out in court until 1953 when, with the sales of superhero comics decimated by changing tastes, Captain Marvel’s publishers decided to capitulate.

As a result most merchandising outfits steered well clear of Fawcett, compelling the publisher to generate toys, games, premiums and promotions themselves. The only notable exception was the blockbusting Adventures of Captain Marvel Movie Serial from Republic Pictures. Consequentially Fawcett used their magazines comicbooks to promote the films and practically invented Product Placement to plug their in-house merchandise.

‘The Curse of the Scorpion’ was an uncredited text feature which recapped the first episode of the movie serial and urged readers to follow the saga at their local cinemas after which the strip thrills resumed with Tuska’s ‘The Pirate’s Treasure’ (written by Rod Reed) as Billy investigated the murder of an old sailor and was press-ganged onto a modern-day buccaneer’s boat. Before long the radio reporter and his mighty avatar were embroiled in a war between rival South Seas rogues and the issue rousingly concluded with the Reed & Tuska saga of ‘The Arson Fiend’, a murderous supernatural firebug who acted out the frustrations of his ineffectual fire-insurance salesman alter ego…

Captain Marvel Adventures #2 (Fall 1941) opened with ‘The Menace of Muscles McGinnis’ wherein the toughest gangster in town tried to take over Billy’s radio station and literally had the wickedness beaten out of him by the unbeatable Crimson Crime-crusher, after which he was again targeted by the World’s Maddest Scientist who wanted to conquer the USA with ‘Sivana’s Paralyzing Gas’

‘The Terror of the Goptas’ saw an ancient cult attack tall buildings and their architects, but although the devotees were acting to defend their cloud-living gods their new leader had far more mundane motives… The issue ended with another Sivana scheme as the Devil Doctor devised a synthetic zombie powered by the life-force of 1000 animals but little dreamed that ‘The Beast-Ruler’ might have his own agenda, such as uniting all of nature to eradicate humanity…

Whiz Comics #21 (September 5th 1941) featured ‘The Vengeful Four’ (illustrated by Beck) and saw Sivana gather three other villains to attack the hero in his youthful identity. What luck then that three other kids named Billy Batson were in town and that the magic of Shazam apparently extended to them…

Fat Billy, Tall Billy and Hill Billy took to trouncing thugs in a trice and, as the Three Lieutenant Marvels, would become frequent guest stars in years to come…

Written and illustrated by Beck, #22’s ‘The Temple of Itzalotahui’ was a turning point for the series. Tying into and deriving from the continuity of the movie serial, Billy gained an assistant in the form of Whitey Murphy, who was a co-star in the film iteration, but the real sea-change was the shift to light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek adventure as the lads travelled to Central America to search for a third cast member and found ancient Mayans and modern resource raiders…

Whiz #23 began a two-part thriller that again derived from product placement. ‘The Bal Masque’ found Billy and Whitey travelling to Washington DC to safeguard an Ambassador and his daughter at a grand soiree. The diplomats were unwitting couriers for a new defence code and when ruthless German agents struck Captain Marvel was drawn into a twisted web of cross and double-cross which culminated in a blistering sea battle in ‘The Secret of the Ring’ (24th November 28th 1941, by Beck & Costanza)…

With the code lost the Solomon-inspired Marvel swiftly devised a new cipher, and from that issue onwards, readers could decode secret messages in every story… as long as they were fully paid-up members of the new Captain Marvel Fan Club

This nostalgic delight concludes not only with pages of biographical details on all the creators but also a brace of covers from two unique reprint compilations rushed out to satisfy the voracious demands of the hero’s burgeoning readership. Captain Marvel Thrill Book sports a stunning piece of Beck brilliance whilst Xmas Comics #1 by Raboy is a slice of pure comicbook mythology every art lover dreams of possessing.

DC eventually acquired the Fawcett properties and characters and in 1973 revived the Captain for a new generation to see if his unique charm would work another sales miracle during one of comics’ periodic downturns.

Re-titled Shazam! due to the incontestable power of lawyers and copyright convention, the revived heroic ideal enjoyed mixed success before being subsumed into the company’s vast stable of characters…

Nevertheless Captain Marvel is a true icon of American comic history and a brilliantly conceived superhero for all ages. These magical tales again show why The Big Red Cheese was such an icon of the industry and proves that these timeless, sublime comic masterpieces are an ideal introduction to the world of superhero fiction: tales that will appeal to readers of any age and temperament…
© 1941, 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Shazam! Archives volume 2


By Bill Parker, C.C. Beck, Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, Pete Costanza, Charles Sultan & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 01-56389-521-8

One of the most venerated and beloved characters of America’s Golden Age of comics was created by Bill Parker and Charles Clarence Beck in 1940 as part of the wave of opportunistic creativity which followed the stunning success of Superman in 1938. Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett character quickly moved squarely into the area of light entertainment and even straight comedy, whilst as the years passed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action, drama and suspense.

Homeless orphan and good kid Billy Batson was selected by an ancient wizard to be given the powers of six gods and heroes to battle injustice. He transforms from scrawny precocious kid to brawny (adult) hero Captain Marvel by speaking aloud the wizard’s acronymic name – invoking the powers of legendary patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.

At the height of his popularity Captain Marvel outsold Superman and was even published twice a month, but as the Furious Forties closed tastes changed, sales slowed and Fawcett saw the way the wind was blowing. They settled an infamous long-running copyright infringement case begun by National Comics in 1940 and the Big Red Cheese disappeared – as did so many superheroes – becoming little more than a fond memory for older fans…

This second magnificent deluxe full-colour hardback compendium re-presents the lead strips and pertinent Spy Smasher episodes from the fortnightly Whiz Comics #15-20 where Fawcett conducted one of comics’ first character crossover sagas, as well as the premier issue of solo title Captain Marvel Adventures and the magnificent Special Edition Comics #1 which opens this spectacular box of delights after an enthralling introduction by cartoonist, author and historian R.C. Harvey.

Fawcett had a brilliant hit on their hands and in late 1940 released a 64-page bonus comic dedicated to their dashing hero with four all-new adventures by Parker & Beck.

It began with an untitled epic wherein Billy and his adult alter ego battled mystery powerhouse Slaughter Slade and his ghastly monsters – including a giant spider and a super-intelligent gorilla – when they tried to lay waste to the nation’s Capitol.

‘Captain Marvel and the Haunted House’ was an old-fashioned spooky chiller where a dead man’s curse proved to have a mortal and mercenary cause whilst ‘Captain Marvel and the Gamblers of Death’ pitted the hero against betting racketeers who preferred to kill athletes rather than pay out to winning punters.

The Special Edition ended with the epic ‘Captain Marvel and Sivana, the Weather Wizard’ wherein Billy returned to Venus and discovered the deranged genius had devised a method of creating natural disasters on Earth. Sivana’s scheme to get rich from millions of insurance claims naturally fell foul of the World’s Mightiest Mortal and Billy’s sheer ingenuity…

In the formative years as the feature catapulted to the first rank of superhero superstars, there was actually a scramble to fill pages so Captain Marvel Adventures #1 (1941) was farmed out to up-and-coming whiz-kids Joe Simon & Jack Kirby who produced the entire issue in a hurry from Beck and Parker’s guides.

First up was a visually impressive drama with the irrepressible Sivana creating ‘Z’; a hulking brute designed to be every inch the Captain’s equal. After a spectacular knock-down, drag-out, Kirby-co-ordinated dust-up it was apparent that he wasn’t…

‘Captain Marvel Out West’ found Billy in Rimrock City covering a rodeo for radio listeners before stumbling onto a rustling plot that only the big Red Galoot could quash and, after ‘Captain Marvel’s Puzzle Page’, the Big Guy headed into outer space to crush a gang of alien slavers who had invaded a peaceful Earth-like planet.

Following another perplexing ‘Billy Batson’s Game Page’ the Golden Age Dream-Team wrapped up their stint by crafting ‘Captain Marvel Battles the Vampire’, a manic thriller in the movie haunted vein that would so influence their Captain America stories a year later, as Billy is just too late to stop unwise scientist Doctor Deever’s attempt to reanimate the deadly blood-sucker Bram Thirla. Luckily all the powers of the undead were no match for the Good Captain…

This is followed by an ad for the blockbusting Captain Marvel Movie Serial, which might have inspired the next bold innovation (by a tragically unknown scripter or scripters, although I suspect Parker had a hand in the proceedings somewhere…)

From the middle of Whiz Comics #15 (March 2nd 1941) comes ‘Spy Smasher’ – illustrated by Pete Costanza – which saw the physical and mental marvel Alan Armstrong defeat the giant Grosso only to be brainwashed by his master: a Nazi agent called The Mask.

Soon the costumed hero had become America’s greatest foe, terrorising and sabotaging the country he loved, so two weeks later in Whiz #16 the Captain Marvel lead feature carried on the serial suspense in a dazzling duel (illustrated by Beck & Costanza) wherein Marvel’s brawn and Billy’s brains proved no match for the mesmerised former hero, who after murdering the Mask, released a prison full of convicts and used the brainwashing ray on the Captain…

Happily it didn’t work but in the Spy Smasher instalment (with art by Charles Sultan) Armstrong’s destructive campaign decimated America’s heavy industry and almost killed his girlfriend and sidekick Eve Corby until a certain crimson comet stepped in…

Issue #17 saw Armstrong try to kill Billy’s boss Sterling Morris and steal a deadly new poison gas despite Marvel’s best efforts before continuing into that issue’s Spy Smasher instalment where the tireless madman struck into the nation’s heartland; devastating crops and natural resources with an artificial cyclone.

The crossover continued until the splendid climax in #18 (June 13th 1941) as Armstrong met the Axis spymasters in America and declared war on them too. The hypnotised hero was determine to destroy all governments but finally met his match and was successfully cured in a blistering final fight with Marvel before the concluding Spy Smasher chapter saw them join forces to route the enemy espionage ring…

Whiz Comics #19 (July 11th 1941) then follows with business as unusual when ‘Captain Marvel and the Black Magician’ (possibly written by Otto Binder?) found Billy exposing supernatural charlatans and being targeted by an affronted but genuine backwoods witch-man after which this tome terminates with the rousing ‘Crusher of Crime’ from #20 (August 8th) wherein Sivana laid a deadly trap for Billy before making himself Marvel’s physical match.

Of course, there was much more going on than first appeared…

DC eventually acquired the Fawcett properties and characters and in 1973 revived the Captain for a new generation to see if his unique charm would work another sales miracle during one of comics’ periodic downturns.

Re-titled Shazam! due to the incontestable power of lawyers and copyright convention, the revived heroic ideal enjoyed mixed success before being subsumed into the company’s vast stable of characters…

Nevertheless Captain Marvel is a true icon of American comic history and a brilliantly conceived superhero for all ages. This second stellar collection further proves that these timeless and sublime comic masterpieces are an ideal introduction to the world of superhero fiction: tales that will appeal to readers of any age and temperament.
© 1940, 1941, 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Shazam! Archives volume 1


By Bill Parker, C. C. Beck & Pete Costanza (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-56389-053-4

One of the most venerated and beloved characters of America’s Golden Age of comics was created by Bill Parker and Charles Clarence Beck as part of the wave of opportunistic creativity which followed the stunning success of Superman in 1938. Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett character quickly moved squarely into the area of light entertainment and even straight comedy, whilst as the 1940s progressed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action, drama and suspense.

Homeless orphan and good kid Billy Batson was selected by an ancient wizard to be given the powers of six gods and heroes to battle injustice. He transforms from scrawny precocious kid to brawny (adult) hero Captain Marvel by speaking aloud the wizard’s name – an acronym for the six legendary patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury.

This magnificent full-colour, deluxe hardback compendium re-presents the first 15 adventures from Whiz Comics #2 to 15 (February 1940 to March 1941 – there was no #1, two issue #5’s and two editions in March but I’ll try to explain all that as we go along) to cash in on the sales phenomenon of Superman and his many imitators and descendents.

Publisher Fawcett had first gained prominence through an immensely well-received light entertainment magazine for WWI veterans named Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang, before branching out into books and general interest magazines. Their most successful publication – at least until the Good Captain hit his stride – was the ubiquitous boy’s building bible Mechanix Illustrated and, as the decade unfolded, the scientific and engineering discipline and can-do demeanour underpinning MI suffused and informed both the art and plots of the Marvel Family titles.

The series was the brainchild of writer/editor Bill Parker and brilliant young illustrator Charles Clarence Beck who, with his assistant Pete Costanza, handled all the art in this book, and in this quirky first volume the adult hero is a serious, bluff and rather characterless powerhouse his whilst his junior alter ego Billy is the true star: a Horatio Alger archetype of impoverished, bold, self-reliant and resourceful youth overcoming impossible odds by pluck, grit and sheer determination…

Author, journalist and fan Richard A. Lupoff covers in great detail the torturous beginnings of the feature in his Foreword before the magic proper starts with a rare and priceless glimpse at the hero’s nigh-cursed design stage and the book also contains biographical details on all the creators.

To establish copyright, publishers used to legally register truncated black and white facsimile editions called “Ash-can Editions” in advance of their launch issues. For Fawcett, the production of their first comicbook proved an aggravating process since this registration twice uncovered costly snags which forced the editors to redesign both character and publication.

Contained herein are cover reproductions of Flash Comics #1 starring Captain Thunder (obliviously scheduled for release mere days after DC’s own Flash title hit the stands), Thrill Comics #1 which repeated the accident just as Standard’s Thrilling Comics launched, and the uncoloured art for the first half of the story of Captain Thunder which would eventually be re-lettered and released as the lead in anthology title Whiz Comics #2 cover-dated February 1940.

Like many Golden Age series the stories collected here never had individual titles and DC’s compilers have cleverly elected to use the original comics’ strap-lines or cover blurbs to differentiate the tales…

‘Gangway for Captain Marvel!’, drawn in style reminiscent of early Hergé, saw homeless orphan newsboy Billy Batson lured into an abandoned subway tunnel to a meeting with the many millennia-old wizard Shazam. At the end of a long life fighting evil, the white-bearded figure grants the lad the powers and signature gifts of six gods and heroes; bidding him to continue the good fight.

In thirteen delightfully clean and simple pages Billy gets his powers, has his secret origin revealed (he’s heir to a fortune embezzled by his crooked uncle Ebenezer), wins a job as a roaming radio reporter for Amalgamated Broadcasting and defeats the demonic schemes of Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana who is holding the airwaves of America hostage, with the mighty, taciturn and not yet invulnerable Marvel only sparingly used to do the heavy lifting.

It is sheer comicbook poetry…

The March issue had no cover number but was listed as #3 in the indicia and featured ‘The Return of Sivana’ as the insane inventor unleashed a mercenary army equipped with his super-weapons upon the nation, attempting to become Emperor of America. His plan was thwarted by Billy acting as a war correspondent and the mighty muscles of Marvel…

The third (April) Whiz Comics had “Number 3” on the cover but #4 inside and proudly proclaimed ‘Make Way for Captain Marvel!’ before bolding leaping into full science fiction mode as Billy was shanghaied to Venus in Sivana’s mighty rocket-ship. The boy was forced to reveal his amazing secret to the demented inventor whilst battling incredible monsters and the giant frog-men dubbed “Glompers” but the magnificently guileless and gallant Marvel was seemingly helpless against the savant’s new ally Queen Beautia as the deadly duo prepared to invade Earth.

Only seemingly though…

‘Captain Marvel Crashes Through’ (4 on the cover, #5 inside) detailed how the bewitching Beautia, aided by Sivana’s technology, ran for President. However the sinister siren had a soft heart and when Billy was captured (and faced the first of a multitude of clever gadgets designed to stop him saying his magic word) she freed him, thus falling foul of the gangsters who were backing her. Luckily Captain Marvel was there to save the day…

An inexplicable crime-wave shook the country in ‘Captain Marvel Scores Again!’ (5 on the cover and #5 inside: the wild numbers game finally ending here) as a different sinister scientist used a ray to turn children into thieves and even young Billy was not immune, whilst in ‘Captain Marvel and the Circus of Death’ (July 1940) Sivana returned with fantastic Venusian dino-monsters which the Good Captain was hard-pressed to handle. Incidentally, this was the first issue where the Big Red Cheese was seen definitely flying as opposed to leaping – something Superman is not acknowledged as doing until late 1941…

In ‘Captain Marvel and the Squadron of Doom’ young Billy travelled to the North Pole for a radio story and discovered a secret organisation thawing out frozen cavemen to act as an army of conquest, after which he and his mature magical avatar foiled a murderous spiritualist causing mass-drownings to bolster his reputation and fortune in ‘Saved by Captain Marvel!’

Whiz #9’s ‘Captain Marvel on the Job!’ saw the man and boy foil a revolution, recover foreign crown jewels and defeat a madman with a shrinking ray after which Sivana and Beautia returned in ‘Captain Marvel Battles the Winged Death’ a blistering yarn involving espionage and America’s latest secret weapon. In this tale the Empress of Venus finally reformed and became a solid citizen…

‘Hurrah for Captain Marvel!’ found Batson investigating college hazing and corrupt sporting events whilst in #12 (January 1941) the World War loomed large as “Gnatzi” maritime outrages brought Billy to London where he uncovered the spy responsible for sinking refugee ships in ‘Captain Marvel Rides the Engine of Doom!’

‘Captain Marvel – World’s Most Powerful Man!’ featured Sivana’s latest atrocity as the madman disrupted hockey matches, blitzed banks and incapacitated the US army with a formula that turned men into babies. Even Billy wasn’t immune but at least Beautia was there to help him…

War looked increasingly inescapable and many heroes jumped the gun and started fighting before America officially entered the fray. ‘Captain Marvel Boomerangs the Torpedo!’ was a superb patriotic cover for Whiz #14 (March 1941) but the actual story involved Sivana’s capture and subsequent discovery of a thought process which allowed him to walk through walls and bars. Happily the World’s Mightiest Mortal possessed the Wisdom of Solomon and deduced a solution to the unstoppable menace…

This superb collection concludes after another stirring cover ‘With the British Plane Streaking to a Fiery Doom, Captain Marvel Dives to the Rescue!’ (issue #15 and also cover-dated March) and an unrelated adventure which revealed the incredible origin of Dr. Sivana, his astounding connection to Beautia, and also introduced her brother Magnificus – almost as mighty a fighter as Marvel – when Billy was kidnapped and trapped once again on Venus…

DC/National Periodical Publications had filed suit against Fawcett for copyright infringement as soon as Whiz Comics #2 was released and the companies slugged it out in court until 1953, when, with the sales of superhero comics decimated by changing tastes, Captain Marvel’s publishers decided to capitulate. The name lay unclaimed until 1967 when M.F. Enterprises released six issues of an unrelated android hero before folding after which Marvel Comics secured rights to the name in 1968.

DC eventually acquired the Fawcett properties and characters and in 1973 revived the Captain for a new generation to see if his unique charm would work another sales miracle during one of comics’ periodic downturns. Retitled Shazam! due to the incontestable power of lawyers and copyright convention, the revived heroic ideal enjoyed mixed success before being subsumed into the company’s vast stable of characters…

Nevertheless Captain Marvel is a true icon of American comic history and a brilliantly conceived superhero for all ages. This collection only scratches the surface of the canon of delights produced over the years and is an ideal introduction to the world of adventure comics: one that will appeal to readers of any age and temperament.
© 1940, 1941, 1992 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.