Mighty Avengers volume 2: Venom Bomb


By Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley, Marko Djurdjevic, Danny Miki, Allen Martinez, Victor Olazaba & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2369-9

After a TV reality show starring superheroes The New Warriors went hideously wrong and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of ordinary folk in Stamford, Connecticut, popular opinion turned massively against masked crusaders.

The Federal Government rushed through a scheme to licence, train and regulate all metahumans but the plan split the superhero community and a terrified and indignant merely mortal populace quivered as a significant faction of their former defenders, led by the ultimate icon of liberty, Captain America, refused to surrender their autonomy and anonymity to the bureaucratic vicissitudes of the Superhuman Registration Act.

The Avengers and Fantastic Four, bedrock teams of the Marvel Universe, fragmented in scenes reminiscent of America’s War Between the States, with “brother pitted against brother” and as the conflict inexorably escalated it became clear to all involved that the increasingly bitter fighting was for souls as much as lives.

Both sides battled for love of Country, Constitution and personal Liberty and both sides knew they were right…

Following the divisive and brutal Civil War, Tony Stark (a staunch advocate of the SRA) formed a squad of registered, Government-sanctioned heroes. His S.H.I.E.L.D.-backed Mighty Avengers were designed to take care of business whilst he worked on his “Fifty States Initiative”, the objective of which was to eventually field teams of trained and licensed superheroes in every State of the Union.

Firstly, though, he had to restore public confidence, especially as the unregistered, rogue New Avengers continued to defy his orders to surrender to government authority: saving lives and crushing evil without his permission…

This second scintillating volume, gathering Mighty Avengers #7-11 (March-July 2008) is written throughout by Brian Michael Bendis and primarily illustrated by Mark Bagley, Danny Miki, Allen Martinez & Victor Olazaba, and begins with an opening shot in the then-forthcoming company event Secret Invasion.

‘Venom Bomb Part One’ finds New Avenger Spider-Woman switching sides to bring Stark the corpse of a Skrull who had replaced ninja assassin Elektra. Her own team thought they could handle the prospect – and feared Stark and/or his squad might also be alien infiltrators – but Jessica Drew, a triple agent simultaneously working for S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra and the rebel Avengers felt that only by going to the Nation’s security chief could the situation be successfully handled…

Stark keeps the corpse secret but invites Drew to join his team in hopes that her presence will cause any Skrulls in his Avengers to betray themselves. However, no sooner has Stark officially inducted the Arachnid Amazon to the squad (field leader Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, Wonder Man, the Wasp, Sentry and Grecian war god Ares), over their very strident protests, than a tiny ball of stellar debris crashes into New York City and unleashes an horrific, highly communicable plague…

The capsule contains a voracious iteration of the alien Symbiote Spider-Man inadvertently brought back from The Beyonder’s Battleworld and contact instantly transforms any organism into a voracious duplicate Venom.

Soon the city is a seething mass of rampaging, shapeshifting monsters – which is almost a relief for Stark as his constant scrutiny has detected no impostors. More worrying though is a desperate snatched conversation with Sentry’s wife Lindy, who begs the genius to find a way to de-power or kill her husband before his growing mental instability makes him a threat to the entire planet…

As the team deploys to the infection site the Wasp is pondering her last meeting with size-changing ex-husband Henry Pym (formerly Ant-Man, Giant Man, Goliath and Yellowjacket) when the erratic genius upgraded her powers. Unfortunately the ability to become a giant only makes her a bigger target and lethal liability when the rabid Venoms attack and infect her…

Thankfully Iron Man and the more or less than human Wonder Man, Ares, Sentry and Ms. Marvel are immune to the transformative terrors but then they encounter Hawkeye and Wolverine’s New Avengers already on scene, and see that the outlaw heroes have succumbed to the contagion, becoming “Venomised” versions of their former selves…

Using all his scientific resources, Stark synthesises a cure for the plague whilst his comrades hold the line, but in the aftermath the restored Hawkeye accuses him of being responsible for the murder of Captain America and the parlous state of the world.

Still reeling with guilt, Iron Man rockets into orbit to discover more weaponised venom bombs, and Ms. Marvel chooses not to arrest the SRA-resistors, allowing the New Avengers make their escape…

In space Iron Man examines the bomb’s point of origin and discovers the satellite was built by Doctor Doom. Enraged and determined to make a political point Stark then deploys his team to invade the sovereign state of Latveria

With additional art from Marko Djurdjevic ‘Doom’s Castle’ opens with the Iron Tyrant indulging his passions with volatile sorceress Morgana Le Fey in the distant past, but his dangerous dalliance is soon forgotten when he returns to his own citadel to discover that his Venom satellite has prematurely triggered and a battalion of angry Avengers are attempting to kick his portcullis in…

The earth-shattering battle which follows sees the dictator soundly beaten but, on the verge of defeat, his Time Platform is damaged and the temporal malfunction causes the Golden Avenger, Sentry and Doom to plunge helplessly into the past…

Presented as a visual pastiche of 1970’s Marvel Comics stories, ‘Time is on No One’s Side’ picks up the tale as Sentry discovers that his history is not as he remembers whilst watching his younger self battling dark mastermind The Void. Elsewhere in old New York, time-lost Tony Stark and Victor Von Doom resume their deadly duel until the panicking Sentry finds them and forces a truce…

Realising at last the incredible danger inherent in Sentry losing it, Doom leads his fellow chronal castaways to the era’s only known location of a time machine.

Unfortunately that’s Doom’s own device, confiscated by the Fantastic Four and cached in the Baxter Building and the bid to use it is interrupted by a fighting mad Thing named Ben Grimm

Eventually however the trio triumph and travel back to their own Now, but only Iron Man and Sentry actually arrive, just in time to be caught in a monumental explosion…

This cataclysmic clash concludes as, in the Dark Ages, Doom and Le Fey collude and the witch-queen teaches her amorous pupil how to construct an army of demons.

Thus reinforced Doom returns to the 21st century before Iron Man and Sentry and unleashes his horde of horrors on the rest of the Mighty Avengers. Crushed by the unholy horrors the team are soon trussed up as trophies of the devil doctor but nobody expected Spider-Woman to display an unprecedented power, disrupting Doom’s devices, freeing the team and demolishing his castle.

By the time Iron Man and Sentry pop back into reality it’s all over bar a colossal (and previously seen) detonation and the resounding defeat of the master of Latveria who subsequently becomes the most famous international terrorist ever arrested by S.H.I.E.L.D….

With covers by Bagley and Frank Cho and a selection of astounding inked cover samples by Cho, Danny Miki & John Dell, Venom Bomb offers another slick and stylish slice of breathtaking all-action entertainment which soundly sets the scene for the startling Secret Invasion main event which followed, but also reads astounding well on its own merits.

This is another Fights ‘n’ Tights “must-read” for insatiable thrill-chasers everywhere.
© 2007, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man: Iron Metropolitan


By Kieron Gillen, Joe Bennett, Agustin Padilla & Scott Hanna (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-595-6

Supreme survivor Tony Stark has changed his profile many times since his 1963 debut when, as a VIP visitor in Vietnam observing the efficacy of weaponry he had designed, the arch-technocrat wunderkind was critically wounded and captured by a Communist warlord.

Put to work with the spurious promise of medical assistance upon completion, Stark instead built a prototype Iron Man suit to keep his heart beating and deliver him from his oppressors. From there it was a small jump into a second career as a high-tech Knight in Shining Armour…

Ever since then the former armaments manufacturer has been a liberal capitalist, eco-warrior, space pioneer, civil servant, Statesman, and even spy-chief: Director of the world’s most scientifically advanced spy agency, the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate.

Of course, he was also a founder member of the world’s most prominent superhero assemblage, the Mighty Avengers, and affirmed Futurist; an impassioned advocate of inevitable progress by way of building better tomorrows…

For a popular character/concept weighed down with a fifty-year pedigree, radical reboots are a painful periodic necessity. To stay fresh and contemporary, Stark’s origin and Iron Man’s continuity have been radically revised every so often, but never so drastically as during this latest revamp – the latest collected chronicle of which re-presents Iron Man volume 5, #18-22 and Inhumanity event tie-in Iron Man #20.INH, from November 2013 to March 2014.

What Just Happened: following a few notable escapades in outer space the once-jaded Armoured Avenger uncovered a few surprises in his own past (for which see the two-volume Iron Man: The Secret Origin of Tony Stark)…

Rigellian Recorder 451 - one of millions of sentient automatons programmed to travel the universe acquiring knowledge – had developed a programming flaw and struck out on its own, slowly furthering its own secret agenda.

The renegade revealed to Tony that it had been watching over the Earthly inventor since before he was born, and had worked with his parents Howard and Maria to genetically alter their unborn child and make it a technological super-warrior capable of defending Earth from exponentially increasing alien attacks that were to come as the universe responded to the deadly potential of Mankind…

What 451 never knew was that Howard Stark was deeply suspicious and, after decoding the genetic alterations the Recorder had installed in the foetus, tampered with some of them…

451 claimed Tony had been designed to pilot an apocalyptic doomsday weapon left behind from the beginnings of creation when the Celestial Space Gods were at war with a rival force for control of everything. Stark’s inventiveness, aggression and fascination with armour technologies were merely programmed expressions of his ultimate purpose: to pilot world-shattering, five-mile high warsuit The Godkiller… and there was nothing he could do to escape his awful destiny…

After a spectacular struggle Stark defeated and destroyed the deranged robot Rigellian and returned to Earth where further enquiries into his family’s shady history uncovered an astonishing, life-altering discovery kept hidden for years by his brilliantly paranoid father: Tony had an older brother who was the actual subject of 451’s genetic manipulation.

Arno Stark was a bed-ridden technological genius who was forever trapped in an Iron Lung, locked away and raised in isolation at the Maria Stark Foundation Hospice, but now the brothers were gloriously reunited. There was only one small caveat to Tony’s unbounded joy. He was no blood relation to Arno, but apparently secretly adopted as a ploy to deceive 451…

Scripted by Kieron Gillen and illustrated primarily by Joe Bennett & Scott Hanna, the latest stage in the evolution of Iron Man is Iron Metropolitan which begins with an ominous glance thirty years into the future where Tony and Arno Stark proudly gloat over the completion of their super-cities and space elevator technology before their devoted AI H.E.L.E.N. rebels and sabotages everything, subsequently ripping Earth apart…

The prophecy is only a computer simulation and does not deter the present day Stark Brothers from initiating their first joint venture: saving humanity from self-inflicted extinction by building perfect cities for modern men and women to live in…

Meanwhile in London, ever-indignant radical journalist and social gadfly Abigail Burns is seduced by a sentient flaming Ring which deems her worthy to become a Mandarin

Before introducing best friend and corporate CEO Pepper Potts to his still mainly clandestine bro Arno, Tony announces his intention of turning the deserted – except for the criminal gangs which infest it – Mandarin City into a prototype modern metropolis.

The private island off the coast of mainland China has been ignored and avoided by the nations of the world since the villain’s death and will be the perfect site on which the Starks can make their vision live… but only after driving out the Triads and other vermin profiting from a legally tenuous citadel no world power is confidant enough to annexe…

Whilst on a roll, Tony then upgrades his personal AI system. He calls this new electronic Major Domo H.E.L.E.N.

Soon the contentious island is a whirlwind of construction and Pepper brings aboard canny publicist Marc Kumar, whose first press conference – blathering about creating better ways to live in the technological marvel dubbed Troy – goes south when his old lover Abigail turns up.

It gets really unpleasant after she swiftly graduates from barracking the arrogant “hypocritical capitalists” to blasting buildings as the inflammatory Red Peril, and the disaster is further derailed when another Mandarin Ring manifests an explosive statement of destructive intent…

As Tony suits up to tackle Red Peril, from the security of his hospital bed Arno takes remote control of their city’s mechanical police force; dispatching thousands of empty Armour suits as a Trojan Guard to save lives and property.

In the aftermath, Tony calls in former War Machine pilot James Rhodes (now all decked out as the Iron Patriot) to discuss the clear and present danger of The Mandarin’s Power Rings and their quest for new hosts. Rhodes supervises S.H.I.E.L.D. Weapons Vault Omega and is appalled to discover that the ten deadly adornments he’s guarding are only an illusion…

Agustin Padilla then illustrates the Inhumanity tie-in issue Iron Man #20.INH which describes how the most recalcitrant of those missing Rings scours the Earth for the perfect host, rejecting the likes of the Hulk, Venom and Red Skull in favour of somebody more pliable…

During the blockbusting Infinity event, Thanos invaded Earth and battled the Inhumans’ ruler Black Bolt to a standstill. As a last resort the embattled king released the Hidden People’s mutagenic Terrigen Mist into the outer world’s population where it created millions more super-mortals, proving that human and Inhuman were not different races…

When it all happened, thuggish waste of space Vic Kohl saw his despised family transformed whilst he remained pitifully normal and incorrectly deduced that he was not of their blood. Going on a self-loathing drunken bender he was targeted by the malicious Nightbringer Ring and simultaneously picked up by Iron Man’s latest Mandarin-hunting devices…

In the resultant clash Kohl’s dormant Inhuman genes and latent Terrigen exposure finally kicked in and the drunken whiner was remade into something dark, angry and uniquely different.

Escaping the Golden Avenger but subsequently rejected and abandoned by the Inhumans’ current leader Medusa, Vic accepted his Ring’s urgings and angrily declared himself The Exile

Back at the ongoing storyline, Tony occupies the Troy Geostationary Orbital Platform and ponders a murder campaign orchestrated by mystery Ring-wearer Lord Remaker. Although a work-in-progress, Troy now houses half a million people, 106 of whom have died in the terrorist’s hellish bomb-blasts.

When Red Peril returns to the skies over their city, the Starks are quick to react, but Abigail evades Iron Man and vanishes into the streets of Troy, seeking answers to questions nobody likes to hear. She also gets her Ring to explain what it wants, and the shocking details send her desperately seeking the other Ring-wearers active in the Iron Metropolis…

When she finds The Exile and a former gang boss using the Remaker Ring to take back the city Stark “stole” from him, Abigail unexpectedly allies herself with the capitalists she’s always despised rather than the murderous maniacs who think she’s on their side – but not before the monsters launch a monumental missile strike at Stark’s HQ…

Moments too late, Tony watches his dream burn, and believes Arno died with it. Thus he is ecstatic to discover that his bed-bound brother had secretly constructed his own monstrous life-support Armour, which overwhelmingly joins him and Red Peril in crushing Lord Remaker and Exile.

With the Trojan Guard they drive off the malcontents, but when Abigail impetuously chases Remaker she only glimpses his mutilated corpse and missing Ring before an unknown assailant attacks and takes hers… and her hands…

Saved by Iron Man, the still rebellious reporter angrily explains what the Rings’ agenda entails, before again lambasting Tony about his utopian arrogance. The diatribe hits home and he is forced into making a heartrending decision…

And in another place, a sinister eldritch figure exults as he examines his three blood-soaked Rings before laying his plans to secure the remaining seven…

To Be Continued…

Bold, suspenseful and riotously action-packed, this expansive repositioning of the Golden Avenger comes with a cover-&-variants gallery by Paul Rivoche and Hajime Sorayama plus a photo-cover featuring the TV sensations from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as the usual digital extras accessible via the AR icon sections (Marvel Augmented Reality App) which give access to story bonuses once you download the free code from marvel.com onto your smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet.
™ & © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Essential Iron Man volume 5


By Mike Friedrich, Bill Mantlo, Len Wein, Roger Slifer, Steve Gerber, P. Craig Russell, George Tuska, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Chic Stone, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6733-4

Arch-technocrat and supreme survivor Tony Stark has changed his profile many times since his debut in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963) when, whilst a VIP visitor in Vietnam observing the efficacy of the munitions he had designed, he was critically wounded and captured by sinister, savage Communists.

Put to work building weapons with the dubious promise of medical assistance on completion, Stark instead created the first Iron Man suit to keep himself alive and deliver him from his oppressors. From there it was a simple jump to full time superheroics as a modern Knight in Shining Armour…

Conceived in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis at a time when the economy was booming and “Commie-bashing” was America’s favourite national pastime, the emergence of a suave, gleaming new Edison, using Yankee ingenuity, wealth and invention to safeguard the Land of the Free and better the World, seemed an obvious development.

Combining the then-sacrosanct tenet that technology and business in unison could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble paladins battling evil, the Invincible Iron Man seemed an infallibly successful proposition.

Whilst Stark was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism – a celebrity millionaire industrialist/scientist and alternatively a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his secret alter-ego – the turbulent tone of the 1970s quickly relegated Iron Man’s rather unctuous, “can-do” image to the dustbin of history and, with ecological disaster and social catastrophe from the myriad abuses of big business forming the new zeitgeists of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting some tricky questions from the increasingly politically savvy readership.

With glamour, money and fancy gadgetry not quite so cool anymore the questing voices of a new generation of writers began posing uncomfortable questions in the pages of a series that was once the bastion of militarised America …

This sixth mammoth monochrome compilation covers another new start and change of direction for the Steely Centurion out of that transitional period, reprinting Iron Man #62-75, 77-87 and Annual #3 (September 1973 to June 1976): a period when the title experienced an unprecedented and often uncomfortable number of creative personnel changes even as the nation suffered radical and divisive schisms of ideology, an energy crisis and disco…

With Mike Friedrich scripting, the action opens in Detroit where Stark is inspecting one of his factories until former Maggia assassin ‘Whiplash Returns!’ (art by P. Craig Russell, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia & John Romita Sr.), raging for revenge and especially ticked off that his girlfriend has been made his boss, after which an extended epic began in #63 with ‘Enter: Dr. Spectrum’, illustrated by George Tuska & Esposito.

Here, as Tony Stark relentlessly – and fruitlessly – romantically pursues pacifist dissident Roxie Gilbert in Detroit, obnoxious Ugandan financier and diplomat Dr. Kinji Obatu visited the Long Island plant and was attacked by a gang of masked thugs.

The assault was repelled thanks to the timely assistance of stand-in Iron Man Eddie March, who was promptly offered a bodyguard job by the creepy ambassador and invited to accompany him to a meeting with Stark in “Motor City”.

No sooner did they arrive however than photonic fiend Dr. Spectrum ambushed the inventor, only to be driven off by the Armoured Avenger after a titanic and costly struggle. A far more serious problem emerged later when old friend Happy Hogan accused Tony of having an affair with his wife Pepper

Spectrum struck again in the next issue, with a similar lack of success, before Happy blew his top and took a swing at Stark, but that confrontation was curtailed when a gigantic monster kidnapped the just-arrived Obatu in ‘Rokk Cometh!’

When the beast targeted Roxie, the exhausted Iron Man intervened but was too drained to resist the relentless Spectrum…

Issue #65 revealed ‘The Cutting Edge of Death!’ when the Golden Avenger learned the true parasitical nature of Spectrum’s Power Prism as it transferred itself from the wilfully disobedient villain Obatu to the worn-out hero. Its glee was short lived though as the possessed Iron Man was challenged by recently arrived comrade the Mighty Thor, resulting in a blockbusting ‘Battle Royal!’ which only ended after the Thunderer crushed the crystal conqueror to discovered the dying man inside the armour was neither Tony Stark nor Obatu…

As a consequence of that climactic clash of myth and mechanism, IM #67 saw the impostor Iron Man temporarily mutated by Stark’s medical miracle machine the Cobalt Enervator into a rampaging monster in ‘Return of the Freak!’ but no sooner had the real Armoured Avenger and surgeon Don Blake (who we all know was Thor back then) stopped and saved the berserk victim than Stark was drawn into another conflict in South East Asia…

Iron Man #68-71 (June to November 1974) was the opening sortie in a multi-part epic which saw mystic menace The Black Lama foment a war amongst the world’s greatest villains with ultimate power, inner peace and a magical Golden Globe as the promised prizes.

Written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by Tuska & Mike Esposito, it began in Vietnam on the ‘Night of the Rising Sun!’ where the Mandarin struggled to free his consciousness, currently trapped within the dying body of Russian super-villain the Unicorn.

Roxie had dragged Stark to the recently “liberated” People’s Republic in search of Eddie March’s lost brother Marty, a POW missing since the last days of the war. Before long however the Americans were separated when Japanese ultra-nationalist, ambulatory atomic inferno and sometime X-Man Sunfire was tricked into attacking the intrusive Yankee Imperialists.

The attack abruptly ended after Mandarin shanghaied the Solar Samurai and used his mutant energies to power a mind-transfer back into his own body and, reinstated in his original form, the Chinese Conqueror began his own campaign of combat in earnest, eager to regain his castle from rival oriental overlord The Yellow Claw.

Firstly, though, he had to crush Iron Man who had tracked him down and freed Sunfire in ‘Confrontation!’ That bombastic battle ended when the Golden Avenger was rendered unconscious and thrown into space…

‘Who Shall Stop… Ultimo?’ then found the reactivated giant robot-monster attacking the Mandarin’s castle as the sinister Celestial duelled the Claw to the death, with both Iron Man and Sunfire arriving too late and forced to mop up the sole survivor of the contest in ‘Battle: Tooth and Yellow Claw! (Confrontation Part 3)’…

After all the Eastern Armageddon a change of pace was called for, so Stark took in the San Diego Comicon in #72’s ‘Convention of Fear!’ (by Friedrich, Tuska & Colletta from a plot by Barry Alfonso) only to find himself ambushed by fellow incognito attendees Whiplash, Man-Bull and The Melter who were made an offer they should have refused by the ubiquitous Black Lama…

Next issue the Super-Villain War kicked into high gear with ‘Turnabout: a Most Foul Play!’ (art by Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard & Jim Mooney and a premise by letterer Tom Orzechowski).

After Pepper, Happy and Tony buried the hatchet at Stark International’s Manila plant, Iron Man returned to Vietnam and a deadly clash with the Crimson Dynamo in a hidden high-tech jungle city which was subsequently razed to the ground by their explosive combat.

Iron Man #74’s ‘The MODOK Machine!’ (Jones, Pollard & Dick Ayers) brought the Black Lama’s contest to the fore as the Mad Thinker electronically overrode the Avenger’s armour and set helpless passenger Stark upon the malevolent master of AIM…

Without autonomy, the Golden Gladiator was easily overwhelmed and ‘Slave to the Power Imperious!’ (inked by Chic Stone) saw him dragged back to the Thinker’s lair and laid low by a strange psychic episode even as MODOK finished his foe and apparently turned the still-enslaved steel-shod hero on his next opponent… the Yellow Claw.

Whilst this was happening, elsewhere radical terrorist Firebrand was somehow sharing Stark’s Black Lama-inspired “psycho-feedback” episodes…

The tale ended on a twisty cliffhanger as the Claw destroyed MODOK and his clockwork puppet Avenger, only to discover that the Thinker was not only still alive but still held the real Iron Man captive.

That was quite unfortunate as the following issue – #76 – blew its deadline and had to reprint Iron Man #9 (represented here by just the cover) before Friedrich, Jones & Stone’s ‘I Cry: Revenge!’ saw the fighting mad hero break free of the Thinker’s control, just as Black Lama teleported the Claw in to finish his final felonious opponent.

Still extremely ticked off, the Armoured Avenger took on all comers but was ambushed by the late arriving Firebrand who had been psionically drawn into the melee.

As Iron Man went down, the Lama declared non-contestant Firebrand the ultimate victor, explaining he had come from an alternate universe before duping the unstable and uncaring rabble-rouser into re-crossing the dimensional void with him…

Although a certifiable maniac and cold-blooded killer, Firebrand was also Roxie Gilbert’s brother and the groggily awakening Iron Man felt honour-bound to follow him through the rapidly closing portal to elsewhere…

The deadline problems persisted, however, and the next two issues were both hasty fill-in tales, beginning with #78’s ‘Long Time Gone’ by Bill Mantlo, Tuska & Vince Colletta which harked back to the Avenger’s early days and a mission during the Vietnam war which first brought home the cost in blood and misery that Stark’s munitions building had caused, whilst ‘Midnite on Murder Mountain!’ (scripted by Friedrich) saw the hero emphatically end the scientific abominations wrought by deranged geneticist and determined mind-swapper Professor Kurakill

At last Iron Man #80 returned to the ongoing inter-dimensional saga as ‘Mission into Madness!’ by Friedrich, Chic Stone & Colletta, saw the multiversal voyagers arrive in a very different America where warring kingdoms and principalities jostled for prestige, position and power.

Here the Lama was revealed as King Jerald of Grand Rapids, a ruler under threat from outside invaders and insidious usurpers within. He’d come to Earth looking for powerful allies but had not realised that travel to other realms slowly drove non-indigenous residents completely crazy…

With the mind-warp effect already destabilising Iron Man and Firebrand, it was fortunate that treacherous Baroness Rockler made her move to kill the returned Jerald immediately, and the Earthlings were quickly embroiled in a cataclysmic ‘War of the Mind-Dragons!’ before turning on each other and fleeing the devastated kingdom for the less psychologically hazardous environs of their homeworld…

With the extended epic finally completed Mike Friedrich moved on, and Iron Man #82 welcomed a new era and tone as Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Marie Severin & Jack Abel revamped the armour just in time for the Red Ghost and his super simians to kidnap super genius Tony Stark in ‘Plunder of the Apes!’

Debuting in that issue was NYPD detective Michael O’Brien, who held Tony responsible and accountable for the tragic death of his brother Kevin. The researcher had been Stark’s confidante until his mind snapped and he died wearing a prototype suit of Guardsman armour, but Mike smelled a cover-up…

IM #83 revealed ‘The Rage of the Red Ghost!’ (inked by Marie Severin) as the deranged Russian forced Stark to cure his gradual dispersal into his component atoms only to realise, following a bombastic battle, that the inventor had outwitted him yet again, after which Wein, Roger Slifer, Trimpe & John Tartaglione detailed how the Enervator again turned the grievously injured Happy into a mindless monster, but this time flooded him with so much Cobalt radiation that he became a ticking inhuman nuke on the ‘Night of the Walking Bomb!’

The tense tick-tock to doom was narrowly and spectacularly stopped in ‘…And the Freak Shall Inherit the Earth!’ (Slifer w/Wein, Trimpe, Severin) after which Mantlo, Tuska & Colletta revived and revamped one of the Golden Avenger’s oldest and least remembered rogues when disgraced thermal technologist Gregor Shapanka dumped his loser status as Jack Frost and attacked Stark International in a deadly new guise in # 86’s ‘The Gentleman’s Name is Blizzard!’

Despite his improved image the sub-zero zealot couldn’t quite close ‘The Icy Hand of Death!’, leaving this cracking chronicle to conclude with Iron Man Annual #3 (June 1976) and ‘More or Less… the Return of the Molecule Man!’ by Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema & Abel.

Whilst Tony Stark looked into developing some soggy Florida real estate,  a little girl found a strange wand and was possessed and transformed by the consciousness of one of the most powerful creatures in existence…

Although Iron Man was helpless to combat the reality-warping attacks of the combination petulant girl/narcissistic maniac, luckily for the universe, the shambling elemental shocker dubbed Man-Thing had no mind to mess with or conscience to trouble…

Finally closing the cover on this stellar compilation is a short cover gallery from the all-reprint Iron Man Annual #1 and 2 and Giant-Size Iron Man #1.

With this volume Marvel completely entrenched itself in the camp of the young and the restless who experienced at first hand and every day the social upheaval America was undergoing.

Their rebellious teen sensibility and increased political conscience permeated the company’s publications as their core audience moved beyond Flower Power protests towards a generation of acutely aware activists. Future tales would increasingly bring reformed capitalist Stark into many unexpected and outrageous situations…

But that’s the meat of another review, as this engrossing graphic novel is done. From our distant vantage point the polemical energy and impact might be dissipated, but the sheer quality of the comics and the cool thrill of the eternal aspiration of man in perfect partnership with magic metal remains.

These Fights ‘n’ Tights classics are amongst the most underrated but impressive tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold hard cash…
© 1973, 1974, 1974, 1976, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

New Avengers volume 3: Secrets and Lies


By Brian Michael Bendis, David Finch, Rick Mays, Frank Cho, Danny Miki, Jason Martin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1706-3

In 2004, after decades as one of Marvel’s most successful series, “World’s Mightiest Heroes” were shut down in a highly publicised event known as Avengers Disassembled.

Of course it was only to reboot and replace the long-running and long in the tooth team with both The New and The Young Avengers mere months later.

The fresh iteration emerged six months later, culled from the ranks of Marvel’s A-Listers – possibly the most sales-savvy team of superheroes to carry the fabled Avengers ID card – with a few intriguing, underused characters mixed in to add spice, suspense and sub-plots.

Although wearing the trappings of the new, more in-your-face Marvel Universe, Secrets and Lies is at heart an all-action set-up for forthcoming events Civil War and Secret Invasion with scripter Brian Michael Bendis positioning his many players for the epic game-changing adventures ahead.

The contents herein are gathered from New Avengers issues #11-15 (November 2005 – March 2006) with additional material from Giant-Size Spider-Woman #1 (September 2005) and follow a rather strenuous bout of world-saving…

What Has Gone Before: following an orchestrated breakout of a lethal legion of super-villains from floating ultra-penitentiary The Raft, Captain America convinced metahuman first responders Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Iron Man and sidelined S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jessica (Spider-Woman) Drew to form a new superhero squad.

During the riot they had been ably assisted by Matt Murdock, (recently “outed” as Daredevil in the media) and a mystery prisoner named Bob Reynolds who nobody seemed to know anything about. Reynolds or Sentry – the most powerful being on Earth – had in fact volunteered to be incarcerated for killing his wife Lindy… but she was still alive…

Tentatively united, the Avengers – sans Bob – rocketed to the Savage Land (a sub-surface wonderland of cavemen, dinosaurs and stranger things, kept in splendid isolation as a UN Protectorate) to recapture mutant Karl Lykos, who fed on energy to become reptilian monster Sauron.

He had been the actual objective taken during the mass escape…

The impromptu mission was an unmitigated disaster with the disparate champions marooned, mauled by monsters and captured by mutant mega-genius Brainchild until their paths crossed with X-Man Wolverine on his mission to stop Sauron.

Uneasy allies, the heroes subsequently discovered that an apparently rogue faction of S.H.I.E.L.D. had enslaved indigenous peoples of the region, using them to mine the miracle element Vibranium and generally pillage the primordial paradise.

There were even scarier discoveries to come. The breakout had exposed the fact that many of the criminals on the S.H.I.E.L.D.-run Raft had been officially dead for years… Cap’s raw recruits had to face the prospect that the Free World’s greatest peacekeeping force might be partly – or even completely – corrupt. After all, they were demonstrably stockpiling super-weapons, stealing exotic elements and “disappearing” metahumans for what could not possibly be any good reason…

The team then solved the mystery of Sentry, revealing that Bob Reynolds was actually an incomprehensibly powerful superhero excised from history and the memories of fellow costumed champions such as Reed Richards by the psychic manipulations of mutant spellbinder Mastermind and an enigmatic schemer dubbed The Void

Realising that the brain-tweaking has left Reynolds dangerously unstable, the team called in nearly every superhero in America but they were not enough and only psychic surgery by White Queen Emma Frost allowed Bob to throw off the conditioning.

When the breakthrough finally came and the villains behind brainwashing Sentry and mindwiping the world were exposed, Sentry’s psionic backlash instantly transformed the Avengers’ monumental and far-distant New York skyscraper, creating an eerie ebony Watchtower above it in the blink of an eye…

Sentry was invited to join the New Avengers, blissfully unaware that it’s more to do with keeping an eye on him than the immense power he brings to the squad…

With this team determined to be more proactive, the 3-part ‘Ronin’ opens in full swing as a mighty masked ninja rampages through the underworld in Osaka, Japan. In flashback Captain America again fails to convince Matt Murdock to enlist, but the Man Without Fear has an intriguing suggestion for a potential replacement. The job is for a covert investigation of a possible merger between Hydra, The Hand and the Yakuza

The covert crusader penetrates to the heart of the criminal alliance and finds Silver Samurai (another Raft escapee, but one who was apparently renditioned to S.H.I.E.L.D. custody clandestinely and without Due Process) dickering with Madame Hydra about their possible coalition…

Unfortunately Ronin is followed and ambushed just as he reaches the Avengers – hiding in the plush penthouse of Stark Enterprises in Osaka – forcing the heroes to battle a tidal wave of fanatical ninja assassins…

As the battle rages Spider-Woman confronts Madame Hydra, revealing she is working for the terrorist cabal, but is soon forced to capture the queen of evil to preserve her own cover. When Silver Samurai at last enters the fray the fighting actually ceases as he quite reasonably points out that he is on sovereign foreign soil and was illegally abducted by S.H.I.E.L.D.

With no other choice and far more concerned about the mounting evidence of rogue elements in S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers return to the US with the captive Madame Hydra, but something goes amiss in their Quinjet and the lethal terrorist escapes.

Spider-Woman, who might have stopped her, instead saves Captain America from certain death, whilst mystery man Ronin joins the team full-time and reveals her incredible secret to her new comrades…

‘Choices’ (by Bendis, Rick Mays & Jason Martin from Giant-Size Spider-Woman #1) then details Jessica Drew’s fall from grace and explains the fortuitous return of her failing powers prior to the Breakout, whilst exploring the true allegiances of the double-agent who apparently acts as an Intel gatherer for both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra whilst actually reporting on both of them to a third faction…

New Avengers #14 pushes the tense suspense further with ‘Secrets and Lies’ (illustrated by Frank Cho) as Cap takes Jessica aside and demands to know what hold Hydra has over her. She breaks, telling him everything and reveals she’s working against both sides for maverick superspy Nick Fury who needs to know what’s happening within S.H.I.E.L.D. – an organisation he ran for years… before they ousted him…

With confirmation from Fury himself the team tentatively accept her, just in time for their latest crisis…

In ‘Public Relations’ Tony Stark officially launches possibly the least-popular roster in Avengers history – mutant Wolverine, media pariah Spider-Man, ex-convict Luke Cage and the mysterious all-powerful basket-case known as the Sentry.

At least Carol Danvers AKA Ms. Marvel, Binary, Warbird (and probably a bunch more code-names by the time you read this) are on hand to pitch in and offer some much-needed if temporary credibility…

Even so the press are less than enthusiastic. J. Jonah Jameson of the Daily Bugle has carried out a hate campaign against Spider-Man for years, and despite – or perhaps because of – Stark’s blithe platitudes and shameless bribe, has every intention of pillorying the new Avengers every chance he gets…

Couple all that with a positively hostile US Government and a new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director who’s ruthless when defied and possibly evil too, and To Be Continued… sounds positively agonising doesn’t it?

Dark, gritty, complex and spectacularly action-packed, with covers-&-variants by Finch & Miki, Cho, Andrea Di Vito & Laura Villari, this is another supremely enticing Fights ‘n’ Tights fiesta for the incorrigible fans, and one more ideal jumping-on point for readers familiar with the animation series and movie franchises of the World’s Greatest Superheroes.
© 2005, 2006, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2: Angela


By Brian Michael Bendis with Neil Gaiman, Sara Pichelli, Olivier Coipel, Valerio Schiti, Francesco Francavilla, Kevin Maguire & Mark Morales (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-570-3

Since its momentous rebirth in the early 1960s Marvel Comics was synonymous with making superheroes more realistic. However the little publisher always maintained a close connection with the fantastic space-opera and outrageous cosmic calamity that typified its pre-renaissance – as cherished by oldsters like me who grew up reading their “Hairy-underpants Monsters from Beyond” stuff.

With Space bigger than ever (a little cosmology humour there), one of the resurgent company’s earliest concepts has had a major revamp and now ranks as one of the most entertaining titles to come out of 2012’s MarvelNow! group-wide reboot.

There’s even a major blockbuster movie scheduled for release this August…

The Guardians of the Galaxy were created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan for try-out title Marvel Super-Heroes (#18, January 1969): a band of freedom fighters dedicated to liberating star-scattered Mankind from domination by the sinister, reptilian Brotherhood of Badoon.

A rare “miss” for the creatively on-fire publisher, they then vanished into limbo until 1974, when Steve Gerber incorporated them into Marvel Two-In-One, Giant Size Defenders and The Defenders, wherein assorted 20th century champions travelled a millennium into the future to ensure humanity’s liberation and survival.

This led to the Guardians’ own short-lived series in Marvel Presents (February 1976-August 1977) before premature cancellation again left them floating around the Marvel Universe as perennial guest-stars for such cosmically-tinged titles as Thor, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-in-One and The Avengers.

In 1990 they secured a relatively successful second series (#62 issues, annuals and spin-off miniseries) before cancellation struck again in July 1995.

This isn’t them; that Future was a Prelude…

In 2006 a monumental crossover epic involved most of Marvel’s 21st century space stars in an “Annihilation” Event, and led writing team Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning to reconfigure the Guardians concept for contemporary times and tastes.

Amongst the stalwarts initially in play were Silver Surfer, Galactus, Firelord, Quasar, Nova, Thanos, Star-Lord, Moondragon, Super-Skrull, Gamora, Ronan the Accuser, Drax the Destroyer and a host of previously established alien civilisations such as the Kree, Skrulls, Watchers, Xandarians, Shi’ar et al., all falling before a invasion of rapacious Negative Zone beasties unleashed by undying horror Annihilus.

The saga spawned specials, miniseries and new titles (subsequently collected in many volumes) and inevitably led to a follow-up event…

In Annihilation: Conquest, the cast expanded to tackle new threat, adding – and sometimes subtracting – such interstellar luminaries as Adam Warlock, the Inhumans, Kang the Conqueror, Blastaar, the Magus, Captain Universe, fallen Celestial Madonna Mantis, anamorphic adventurer Rocket Raccoon and gloriously whacky “Kirby Kritter” Groot, a walking killer tree and one-time “Monarch of Planet X”, amongst others…

I’ve covered part of that cataclysmic clash elsewhere and will get to the rest one day: suffice to say that by the end of the successive Annihilations and subsequent intergalactic War of Kings, a new, pan-species Guardian group had appointed itself to defend the recovering civilisations and prevent such calamities from ever happening again.

This isn’t them either… not so much…

A few years later and many more cosmic crises, the remnants of those many Sentinels of the Spaceways got the band back together, still determined to make the universe a safe place (for specifics you should consult Guardians of the Galaxy volume 1: Cosmic Avengers).

Thus this second compelling chronicle (collecting Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2 #4-10 from July 2013-January 2014) resumes the immensely absorbing interstellar interactions of a bunch of alien freaks and the human heroes who fight beside – when not actually with – them. Moreover, this time it all ties neatly into the overarching mainstream Marvel continuity…

Brian Michael Bendis continues the tale of Peter Jason Quill – half-breed Terran son of J’Son of Spartax: undisputed ruler of an interstellar empire but no friend of Earth – and his allies in pacifying an unruly and unforgiving universe as Drax, Rocket Racoon, Groot and Gamora (“Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy”) spend some downtime in a bar with their newest recruit, Tony Stark

Iron Man had been spending time exploring the universe and become embroiled in the self-appointed Guardians’ ongoing trouble with a compact of major cosmic powers and principalities. A coterie of these had formed a Council of Galactic Empires and unilaterally declared Earth “off limits”: quarantined from all extraterrestrial contact.

That high-minded declaration hadn’t stopped one of the Signatories – the scurrilous reptilian Brotherhood of Badoon – from launching a sneak attack on London and being soundly thrashed by Quill, Stark and Co…

After open-minded “Ladies Man” Stark scores an amatory epic fail with Gamora (a wry episode which delivers plenty of laughs for his new comrades who can’t let it lie for the rest of the book), the viridian virago storms out to cool off and is ambushed by an alien bounty hunter.

Despite her formidable prowess she is only saved by the arrival of the Guardians who have just finished trashing a bar and the squad of Spartax soldiers who walked in on their drunken carousing…

With no information on who else now wants them dead, the disparate legion of the lost head back into space and a fateful dalliance with destiny…

Still being crushingly snubbed by Gamora, Stark occupies himself learning new ways to repair his comparatively primitive armour under the guidance of the aggravatingly disparaging racoon whilst Quill takes a secret meeting in one of the universe’s many unsavoury, unwelcoming armpits.

Starlord’s consultation with former ally Mantis about a bizarre episode (wherein he seemed to experience an inexplicable and debilitating chronal mindquake) provides no answers and he is forced to go ask the last person in creation he ever wanted to see again…

Meanwhile, Stark and the remaining Guardians have spotted an unidentifiable lifeform approaching Earth and rush to incept her before she can do any damage…

They reason they can’t identify her is because she’s from another universe and time. Angela (created by Neil Gaiman for Spawn #9 in 1993 and, after much legal foofawraw, brought under Marvel’s auspices in Age of Ultron) is lost and baffled, approaching a world her people have always considered a fairytale or religious myth when the still disgruntled Gamora smashes her into the moon, grateful for an excuse to work off her pent-up hostilities…

The satellite’s oldest inhabitant – Uatu the Watcher – is reeling from the conflict. Not because of its savage intensity but because he knows what Angela is and how she simply cannot be present in this Reality…

Quill however is pumping the mad Titan Thanos for information on his own time troubles and realises he has just poked the biggest bear in existence. The Death-Lover declares that humanity’s perpetual tampering with the time-stream has broken the universe and brought our pathetic mud-ball to the attention of races and powers that won’t let Mankind muck up Reality any longer…

Rushing back to his birthworld, Star-Lord finds his team faring very badly against the mysterious Angela and pitches in. When she is finally, spectacularly subdued, Uatu appears and proffers dire warnings for all Reality…

With uncharacteristic diplomacy Quill then coaxes the enigmatic intruder into relating her story. Apparently she’s a Hunting Angel from a place called Heven, fallen through a gaping crack in Everything That Is…

Drawn to Earth – a place her race reveres but considers a beautiful fiction – she was ambushed by Gamora, who cannot believe Star-Lord’s next move: freeing Angela and, after personally conducting her on a tour of the world, letting her go free…

At this time almost all of Marvel’s titles had been building to a big Avengers-centric crossover event dubbed Infinity, and the next two issues (#8-9, stunningly illustrated by Francesco Francavilla) form the Guardians’ contribution to the epic, in which a double crisis afflicts our particular portion of space.

As Thanos invades Earth for his own dark personal motives, an ancient spread of races from far beyond attack those stellar empires still recovering from the Annihilation outrages and the War of Kings. It’s nothing personal: this invading alien Armada is tasked with eradicating every Earth in every dimension and the Kree, Skrulls, Badoon, Galadorians, Spartax, Shi’ar and all the rest are simply guilty of associating with humans…

With all the Avengers called into space to fight beside their former enemies, Earth is helpless when enemy E.T.’s overwhelm The Peak (the planet’s orbital defence citadel) and Abigail Brand – Director of  the Sentient World Observation & Response Department – sends a desperate distress call to Star-Lord.

His affirmative answer enrages Gamora, already bristling from the knowledge Quill has been fraternising with the despised Thanos and she quits…

With Iron Man also gone, Star-Lord, Groot and the Raccoon sneakily infiltrate the station (Drax doesn’t do unobtrusive) but quickly fall foul of the superior forces and only the sudden return of Angela saves the day. When Gamora and Drax then join the fray the Guardians are magnificently triumphant… but at a terrible cost…

This volume then closes with a far-lighter “Girls Night Out-rageous” (#10, illustrated by Kevin Maguire) as Gamora and Angela enjoy a blistering bonding session and action-comedy moment whilst visiting the Badoon homeworld Moord, freeing the reptilians’ vast contingent of enslaved races and accidentally uncovering an impossible connection between the scurvy raider race and Angela’s dimensionally displaced people…

Bright, breezy, bombastic and immensely enjoyable, the Guardians of the Galaxy offer fast and furious adventure and captivating thrills, spills and chills, and this volume also includes a beautiful gallery of two dozen covers-&-variants by Pichelli & Justin Ponsor, Adi Granov, J. Scott Campbell, Julian Totino Tedesco, Brandon Peterson, Francavilla, John Tyler Christopher, Maguire, Paul Renaud, Skottie Young, Mike Deodato Jr., Terry Dodson, Milo Manara, Paolo Manuel Rivera, Mark Brooks, Leonel Castellani and Adam Kubert plus a wealth of as-standard added extras provided by a multitude of AR icon sections (Marvel Augmented Reality App) offering story bonuses once you download the free code from marvel.com onto your smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet.

™ & © 2013 and 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Essential Avengers volume 7


By Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, George Pérez, Don Heck, Dave Cockrum, Rich Buckler, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4453-3

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when Marvel’s major players like Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it simply allows the team’s lesser lights and continuity players to shine more brightly.

Although the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy, the human-scale narrative drivers were the regulars without titles of their own and whose eventful lives played out only within these stories and no others.

This monumental seventh monochrome tome, collecting the ever-amazing Avengers’ extraordinary exploits from issues #140-163 of their monthly comicbook (spanning November 1975-September 1975), also includes material from Avengers Annual #6 plus a crossover appearance from Super-Villain Team-Up #9.

This era saw revered and multi-award winning scripter Steve Englehart surrender the writing reins to Gerry Conway during a period of painful recurring deadline problems – before neophyte wunderkind Jim Shooter came aboard to stabilise and reshape the cosmology and history of the Marvel Universe through the adventures of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes…

Opening this epochal tome is ‘The Phantom Empire!’ (Avengers #141, by Englehart, George Pérez & Vince Colletta), which began another complex, multi-layered epic combining superheroic Sturm und Drang with searing – for 1975, at least – political commentary.

It all began when new member The Beast was ambushed by mercenaries from corporate behemoth Roxxon Oil.

He was saved by ex-Avenger Captain America who had been investigating the company on a related case and, after comparing notes, realised something very big and very bad was going on…

Linking up with Thor, Iron Man, other trainee Moondragon and the newly returned newlyweds Vision and Scarlet Witch, the pair learned of another crisis building as Hawkeye had gone missing, probably captured by time tyrant Kang the Conqueror

Just as the Assemblage was agreeing to split into teams, former child model Patsy Walker-Baxter (star of a bunch of Marvel’s girl’s market comics such as Patsy Walker and Patsy & Hedy) burst in, threatening to expose Beast’s secret identity…

When he had first further mutated, Hank McCoy had attempted to mask his anthropoid form and Patsy had helped him in return for his promise to make her a superhero. Now she had resurfaced prepared to use blackmail to make him honour his vow. She got dragged along as one squad (Cap, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch and Vision) joined Beast’s as he returned to his old lab at Brand/Roxxon… where they were ambushed by alternate Earth heroes the Squadron Supreme

Moondragon and Thor meanwhile co-opted sometime ally Immortus and followed Hawkeye back to 1873 but were also bushwhacked, finding themselves battling Kang beside a coterie of cowboy legends including Kid Colt, Night Rider, Ringo Kid, Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid in ‘Go West, Young Gods!’ even as the present-day team learned that their perilous plight involved a threat to two different dimensions’ situations because Roxxon had joined with the corporations which had taken over the Squadron Supreme’s America – thanks to the malignly mesmeric Serpent Crown of Set

The Wild West showdown culminated in the apparent death of a deity in ‘Right Between the Eons!’ (Avengers #143, inked by Sam Grainger). Elsewhen, the 20th century heroes were beginning their counterattack in the esoteric weaponry factory at Brand, and during all that running wild the heroes found the technologically advanced, ability-enhancing uniform of short-lived adventurer The Cat in a storeroom.

When Patsy put it on the hero-groupie neophyte dubbed herself Hellcat in ‘Claws!’ (Mike Esposito inks)…

Soon after, the Avengers were cornered by the Squadron and as battle recommenced Roxxon president Hugh Jones played his trump card and transported all the combatants to the other Earth…

The dreaded deadline doom hit just at this crucial juncture and issues #145-146 were taken up with a 2-part fill-in by Tony Isabella, Don Heck & John Tartaglione with additional pencils by Keith Pollard for the concluding chapter.

‘The Taking of the Avengers!’ revealed how a criminal combine had taken out a colossal contract on the World’s Mightiest Superheroes but even though ‘The Assassin Never Fails!’ the killer was thwarted and Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Beast, Vision and Scarlet Witch – plus Wasp, Yellowjacket and the Falcon all safely returned to their various cases untroubled by the vagaries of continuity or chronology which makes this rather impressive yarn such a annoyance in this specific instance…

The trans-dimensional traumas finally resumed in Avengers #147 which described the ‘Crisis on Other-Earth!’ (Englehart, Pérez & Colletta). With the corporate takeover of the other America revealed to have been facilitated by use of the mind-bending mystical serpent crown, the Scarlet Witch took possession of the sinister helm and her team-mates tried desperately to keep the overwhelming Squadron Supreme from regaining it.

On our Earth Hawkeye brought Two-Gun Kid to the modern world but decided to go walkabout rather than rejoin his fellow Avengers even as Thor and Moondragon began searching for their missing colleagues…

It was back to business in #148 as ‘20,000 Leagues Under Justice!’ (Grainger) featured the final showdown and the Avengers’ victory over a wiser and repentant Squadron Supreme, and as the heroes returned to their home dimension ‘The Gods and the Gang!’ reunited them with Moondragon and the Thunder God to clean up Brand/Roxxon. The Corporate cabal still had one trick left to play however: a colossal and biologically augmented Atlantean dubbed Orka, the Human Killer Whale

Avengers #150 saw an official changing of the guard as ‘Avengers Assemble’ by Englehart, Pérez, Tartaglione & Duffy Vohland – supplemented part-way through by half of ‘The Old Order Changeth!’ (reprinted from #16 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers) – settled the membership question and made way for new scripter Gerry Conway in #151 whose ‘At Last: The Decision’ (with additional scripting by Jim Shooter & Englehart and art from Pérez & Tartaglione) set the group off on new, less cosmic adventures.

No sooner had the long-delayed announcement been made (this membership drive had begun in Avengers #137 after all) though, than a mysterious crate disgorged the long-dead body of Wonder Man which shockingly shambled to its feet and accused the stunned android Vision of stealing his mind…

Long ago Simon Williams had been turned into a human powerhouse by arch-villain Baron Zemo and used as a Trojan horse to infiltrate the team, but eventually gave his life to redeem himself. After he was buried his brain patterns were used to provide an operating system for The Vision, inadvertently creating a unique human personality for the cold thing of plastic wires and metal…

In #152 ‘Nightmare in New Orleans!’ kicked the simmering saga into high gear as the team began a search for the fallen Wonder Man’s grave robber/re-animator, in a tale by Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott which soon found the team facing voodoo lord Black Talon in New Orleans…

‘Home is the Hero!’ reintroduced 1940 Marvel sensation Bob Frank (AKA super fast superhero The Whizzer). In a tragic tale of desperation the aged speedster sought the heroes’ help before he was seemingly possessed and attacked the team.

Avengers Annual #6 answered all the mysteries and wrapped up the storyline with ‘No Final Victory’ (illustrated by Pérez, Esposito, Tartaglione & Vohland), as a conspiracy involving the Serpent-helmed Living Laser, Whizzer’s government-abducted son mutant son Nuklo and rogue US Army General Pollock almost succeeded in conquering California if not America – until the resurgent Avengers laid down the law…

Also included in the annual – and here – was ‘Night Vision’ by Scott Edelman & Herb Trimpe: a stirring solo story of the Android Avenger battling super swift psychopath Whirlwind.

In Avengers #154 ‘When Strikes Attuma?’ Conway, Pérez & Pablo Marcos began a blockbuster battle bonanza which was in part a crossover with Super-Villain Team-Up (this series followed the uneasy coalition of Dr. Doom and Namor the Sub-Mariner). The initial chapter found the Vision captured by subsea barbarian Attuma even as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were ambushed and defeated by the warlord’s augmented Atlantean thrall Tyrak the Treacherous.

The scheme was simple enough: use the enslaved surface champions as cannon fodder in an assault against Namor…

At this time US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had recently signed a non-aggression pact with the Dictator of Latveria with Doom subsequently blackmailing the Sub-Mariner into serving as his unwilling ally. One American vigilante observed no such legal or diplomatic niceties. The Shroud thought he had freed the Atlantean from his vow by “killing” Doom but the villain had survived the assault: rescued and secretly imprisoned by Sub-Mariner’s cousin Namorita and girlfriend Tamara under the misguided apprehension that they could force the Metal-shod Monarch into helping Atlantis and their lost Prince.

SVT-U #9 carried on the epic encounter with the heroes now ‘Pawns of Attuma’ (scripted by Bill Mantlo, drawn by Jim Shooter & Sal Trapani) as the Avengers were unleashed upon the Atlanteans, only to discover Doom now in charge and easily able to thwart their half-hearted assault.

In Avengers #155 the beaten heroes were helpless, leaving only confused, despondent and battle-crazed Namor ‘To Stand Alone!’ (Conway Perez & Marcos), joined by lone stragglers the Beast, Whizzer and Wonder Man to hunt down the triumphant barbarian sea lord.

The epic conclusion came in ‘The Private War of Doctor Doom!’ (Avengers#156, by Shooter, with art from Sal Buscema & Marcos) wherein the liberated and furious heroes joined forces to crush Attuma whilst simultaneously preventing Doom from turning the situation to his own world-conquering advantage…

In #157 ‘A Ghost of Stone!’ (Conway, Heck & Marcos) addressed a long-unresolved mystery of the Black Knight – his body had been petrified whilst his soul was trapped in the 12th century – as a strange force reanimated the statue and set it upon the weary heroes, after which ‘When Avengers Clash!!’ (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Marcos) saw the revived and now fully-recovered Wonder Man clash with an impossibly jealous Vision over the Scarlet Witch.

That Wanda loved the android Avenger was seemingly forgotten as his “borrowed” brain patterns fixated on the logical assumption that eventually his flesh-and-blood wife would gravitate to a normal man with his personality rather than stay married to a mere mobile mechanism…

Domestic tantrums were quickly laid aside when the entire team – plus late arrivals Black Panther and Thor) battled research scientist Frank Hall following an accident which gave him complete control over the forces of gravity…

Apparently unstoppable, Graviton almost destroyed New York in #159 as ‘Siege by Stealth and Storm!’ (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Marcos) resulted in a savage clash and the unbeatable villain defeating himself…

Avengers #160 featured Eric Williams, the deranged Grim Reaper. With portentous hints of a hidden backer and his dead brother seemingly returned, he conducted ‘…The Trial!’ (Shooter, Pérez & Marcos) to see whether Wonder Man or the Vision was the “true” Simon Williams… but didn’t like the answer he got…

The next issue extended the sub-plot as ‘Beware the Ant-Man’ found the team attacked by a frenzied Henry Pym, whose mind had regressed to mere days after the Avengers first formed. The crazed hero had allied with the homicidal robot he no longer remembered creating and was unwittingly helping it build ‘The Bride of Ultron!’ (#162), pitifully oblivious that for the almost completed Jocasta to live his own wife Janet had to die…

At the close the Avengers believed they had finally destroyed the murderous mechanoid, but they were wrong…

This classic collection of costumed clashes closes with Shooter, George Tuska & Marcos’ stand-alone tale ‘The Demi-God Must Die!’ wherein mythological maniac Typhon returns to capture the team. Despite forcing Iron Man to attack Hercules (to save his hostage Avenging comrades), and even after lots of spectacular smashing, the scheme naturally fails and the World’s Mightiest are triumphant again…

This type of heroic adventure might not be to every reader’s taste but these – and the truly epic yarns that followed – set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the so slick and cool 21st century…

No lovers of Costumed Dramas can afford to ignore this superbly bombastic book and fans who think themselves above superhero stories might also be pleasantly surprised…
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Iron Man: The Secret Origin of Tony Stark Part 2


By Kieron Gillen, Greg Land, Dale Eaglesham, Carlo Pagulayan, Jay Leisten & Scott Hanna (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-563-5

Supreme survivor Tony Stark has changed his profile many times since his 1963 debut in Tales of Suspense #39 when, as a VIP visitor in Vietnam observing the efficacy of weaponry he had designed, the arch-technocrat wunderkind was critically wounded and captured by a Communist warlord.

Put to work inventing for the Red Menace with the spurious promise of medical assistance upon completion, Stark instead built a prototype Iron Man suit to keep his heart beating and deliver him from his oppressors. From there it was a small jump into a second career as a high-tech Knight in Shining Armour…

Ever since then the former armaments manufacturer has been a liberal capitalist, eco-warrior, space pioneer, affirmed Futurist, civil servant, Statesman, and even spy-chief: Director of the world’s most scientifically advanced spy agency, the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate.

Of course, he was also a found member of the world’s most prominent superhero assemblage, the Mighty Avengers

For a popular character/concept weighed down with a fifty-year pedigree, radical reboots are a painful periodic necessity. To stay fresh and contemporary, Stark’s origin and Iron Man’s continuity have been radically revised every so often, but never so drastically as with the upgrade featured in this saga (originally seen as issues #12-17 of the post-MarvelNOW! relaunched Iron Man volume 5, September-August 2013) by scripter Kieron Gillen which concludes, with plenty of action and even a few twisty surprises, ‘The Secret Origin of Tony Stark’

It Happened Like This: desperate for a change in his too-hectic life, Iron Man opted to explore the cosmos and linked up with self-appointed universal police force the Guardians of the Galaxy. After driving off star pirates he availed himself of the luxurious hospitality of the effete, aristocratic and decadently beautiful Voldi Tear.

One of the most ancient races in the cosmos, the Voldi had long mastered the art of living graciously off the kindness of strangers with all their needs met by a sacred artefact – the Heart of the Voldi – which drew infinite power from numerous cosmic entities.

The party-animal Voldi had an open-door policy for most races and beings – even welcoming 30-foot tall robotic killers such as Freelance Peacekeeping Agent Death’s Head (never, ever call him a bounty hunter!) – but Stark suddenly found every hand against him when he was accused of Deicide.

Apparently the Voldi worshipped the Phoenix Force which Stark and his allies did indeed destroy the last time it attacked Earth (as seen in Avengers vs. X-Men)…

Stuck in a cell, Stark was rescued by a Rigellian Recorder – one of millions of sentient automatons programmed to travel the universe acquiring knowledge. Recorder 451 however, had developed a programming flaw and struck out on its own.

Surprisingly sympathetic to Stark’s plight, the mechanoid suggested a way out of the mandatory death sentence but used the distraction to steal the immensely powerful Heart.

The mechanoid had been furthering his own centuries-old secret agenda all along and deemed the subsequent cosmic cataclysm which eradicated the Voldi as a “necessary evil”.

However 451 hadn’t finished with Stark yet, saving him even as the benighted party-aliens expired in an apocalyptic attack from the cosmic Celestial they had exploited for eons.

Furious and disgusted, Stark swore vengeance on the murderous mechanoid and, after checking in with the Guardians of the Galaxy and exhausting all his own leads, hired Death’s Head (the greatest tracker in all time and space) to ferret out 451.

Their mission proved successful, but probably because the Freelance Peacekeeper was working for 451 all along. The Rigellian renegade then revealed how he had been watching over the Earthly inventor since before he was born, and indeed had worked with his parents Howard and Maria Stark to genetically alter their unborn child and make it a technological super-warrior capable of defending Earth from the exponentially increasing alien attacks that were to come as the universe responded to the deadly potential of Mankind…

451 had worked with the Starks in a complex scheme on Earth in the era before superheroes returned, battling infiltrating aliens beside such Marvel stalwarts as Lieutenant “Thunderbolt” Ross, special agents Jimmy Woo and “Dum Dum” Dugan and others.

Illustrated by Dale Eaglesham, Carlo Pagulayan, Scott Hanna & Jay Leisten, this titanic extraterrestrial tome opens with the third chapter of the revelatory epic and ‘The Best Offense’ finds the appalled inventor apparently helpless, in dire straits and lost in the uncharted depths of the universe, as he hears how his father and his stalwart crew cleaned up a pack of insidious Grey ETs secretly running Las Vegas. What neither Tony nor 451 knew however was that Howard Stark was deeply suspicious and, after decoding the genetic alterations the Recorder had installed in the foetus, tampered with some of them…

Here and now in deep space, 451 reveals how Tony has been designed to pilot an apocalyptic doomsday weapon left behind from the beginnings of creation when the Celestial Space Gods were in a deadly war with a rival force for control of everything…

Stark’s inventiveness, aggression and fascination with exo-skeletons were all expressions of his ultimate purpose: to pilot the world-shattering, five-mile high suit of combat armour dubbed The Godkiller… and there’s nothing he can do to escape his awful destiny…

With the Heart of the Voldi powering the immense doom weapon, 451 explains how Stark will defend Earth from all threats by eradicating whoever the Recorder tells him to, even as, on the world of Hope’s Pustule, Death’s Head discovers the provenance of his robotic former employer and just how large is the price on his shiny head. Unsurprisingly, he decides to look him up again…

Stark, after refusing to comply with 451, is struggling to regain control of his cyber-hacked Iron Man gear deep in the guts of the Godkiller when Death’s Head appears, but rather than an ally the Peace Keeper soon becomes another deadly foe as 451 takes control of him too…

Determined to bend Stark to his will, the Recorder also starts up the antediluvian super-suit. Although Stark was built to meld with it, 451 can exert enough control to make it destroy a planet and aims it at Hope’s Pustule…

Beaten, the human inventor surrenders and puts on the enslaving control helmet, only to have the ancient war-armour reject him…

The Recorder doesn’t believe Starks protestations, however, and after the Godkiller wipes out its objective in a single pass, 451 programs it with a new target… Earth.

With no other option, Stark dives headlong into final battle with the now clearly deranged robot Rigellian and once again saves the day and – almost too late – the Earth, in a spectacular showdown within the planet-smashing menace.

But even with humanity saved and the hero back in the bosom of his human friends there’s still a mystery to solved as ‘The Secret Origin of Tony Stark: Conclusion’ brilliantly ties all the plot strands and clues together as the Armoured Avenger delves into his family’s shady history and makes an astonishing, life-altering discovery kept hidden for years by his brilliantly paranoid father…

Blockbusting, rocket-paced and cleverly drawing together fringe continuity events to make a new cohesive whole, this frantically furious romp offers a brand new take on the Golden Avenger and this epochal volume also includes an Afterword from Gillen, a cover-and-variants gallery by Land, Paul Renaud & Leonel Castellani plus even more digital extras via the AR icon sections (Marvel Augmented Reality App) which give access to story bonuses once you download the code – for free – from marvel.com onto your smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet.
™ & © 2013 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers


By Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven & Sara Pichelli with Michael Avon Oeming, Ming Doyle, Michael Del Mundo & John Dell (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-542-0

Although heralded since its launch in the early 1960s with making superheroes more realistic, Marvel Comics has also maintained its close connection with outlandish and outrageous cosmic calamity (as embodied in their pre-superhero “monster-mag” days), and this latest iteration of space crusaders maintains that delightful “Anything Goes” attitude in an impressive new launch – part of the MarvelNow! group reboot – that lays the groundwork for the upcoming big budget movie next year.

The Guardians of the Galaxy were created by Arnold Drake in 1968 for try-out title Marvel Super-Heroes (#18, January 1969), a group of futuristic freedom fighters dedicated to liberating star-scattered Mankind from domination by the sinister, reptilian Brotherhood of Badoon.

Initially unsuccessful, they floated in limbo until 1974 when Steve Gerber incorporated them into Marvel Two-In-One #4-5 and Giant Size Defenders #5 and the monthly Defenders #26-29 (July through November 1975), wherein assorted 20th century champions travelled a millennium into the future to ensure humanity’s liberation and survival.

This in turn led to the Guardians’ own short-lived series in Marvel Presents #3-12 (February 1976-August 1977) before cancellation left them roaming the Marvel Universe as perennial guest-stars in such cosmically-tinged titles as Thor, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-in-One and The Avengers.

Eventually in June 1990 they secured a relatively successful series (#62 issues, annuals and spin-off miniseries until July 1995) before cancellation again claimed them.

This isn’t them; this is another bunch…

In 2006 a massive crossover involved most of Marvel’s 21st century space specialists in a spectacular “Annihilation” Event, leading writing team Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning to reconfigure the Guardians concept for modern times and tastes.

Among the stalwarts in play were Silver Surfer, Galactus, Firelord (and other previous heralds of the world-eater), Moondragon, Quasar, Star-Lord, Thanos, Super-Skrull, Tana Nile, Gamora, Ronan the Accuser, Nova, Drax the Destroyer, a Watcher and a host of alien civilisations such as the Kree, Skrulls, Xandarians, Shi’ar et al., all falling before a invasion of rapacious negative zone bugs and beasties unleashed by insectoid horror Annihilus.

The event spawned a number of specials, miniseries and new titles (subsequently collected in three volumes plus a Classics compilation that reprinted key appearances of a number of the saga’s major players), and inevitably led to a follow-up event…

In Annihilation: Conquest, the cast expanded to include Adam Warlock, the Inhumans, talking dog Cosmo, Kang the Conqueror, Vance Astro/Major Victory, Maelstrom, Jack Flag, Blastaar, the Magus, Galactic Warrior Bug (from the 1970’s phenomenon Micronauts), current Captain Universe (ditto), Shi’ar berserker Deathcry, failed Celestial Madonna Mantis, anamorphic adventurer Rocket Raccoon and gloriously whacky “Kirby Kritter” Groot, a walking killer tree and one-time “Monarch of Planet X”, amongst others…

I’ve covered part of that cataclysmic clash and will get to the rest one day: suffice to say that by the conclusion of the assorted Annihilations a new, pan-species Guardian group had appointed itself to defend civilisations and prevent any such wars from ever happening again.

This isn’t them either… exactly…

A few years later and many more cosmic crises – such as a devastating “War of Kings” – averted, the remnants of those many Sentinels of the Spaceways are getting the band back together, still determined to make the universe a safe place.

Thus this impressive and readily accessible volume (collecting Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1, Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers #1 & Guardians of the Galaxy #1-3 from February-June 2013) provides a handy jumping-on point, recapitulating the bare essentials before launching into a blistering and immensely absorbing interstellar romp which ties inextricably into mainstream Marvel continuity.

Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven, John Dell & Justin Ponsor set the ball rolling with the secret origin of Star-Lord, revealing how thirty years ago warrior Prince J’Son of the interstellar empire of Spartax was shot down over Colorado and had a brief fling with solitary Earther Meredith Quill. Despite his desire to remain in idyllic isolation, duty called J’Son back to the battle and he left, leaving behind an unsuspected son and a unique weapon…

A decade later, the troubled boy saw his mother assassinated by alien lizard men determined on eradicating the legacy of Spartax. Peter vengefully slew the Badoon with Meredith’s shotgun, before his home was explosively destroyed by a flying saucer.

The orphan awoke in hospital, his only possession a “toy” ray-gun his mother had hidden from him his entire life…

Years later his destiny found him, and the half-breed scion of Spartax became Star-Lord. Rejecting both Earth and his father – now king of his corner of creation – Peter Quill chose freedom, the pursuit of justice and the comradeship of disreputable aliens…

The origin story concludes with Peter welcoming avid listener and neophyte spacer Tony Stark into his loose-knit fellowship of Guardians…

More delving into formative events occured in the anthological Tomorrow’s Avengers #1 (by Bendis and individually illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming, Ming Doyle & Michael Del Mundo), revealing how Quill tracked down old friends and prospective members for his new team, detailing recent exploits of at-large and unfocused stalwarts Drax the Destroyer, the decidedly odd couple Rocket Racoon and Groot and, of course, Gamora, “Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy”…

The former bane of Thanos Drax is idling away the days in pointless fighting when Star-Lord comes calling, whilst Groot at least is still defending the weak from the wicked in a classy farmers-vs.-bandits fable.

The unique, blaster-toting Peril-loving Procyonidae (look it up) was mouthing off in a bar, drinking and fighting as usual when he found tantalising evidence that there was at least one other Rocket Raccoon at large in the universe, whilst gorgeous Gamora just never stopped. She was still slaughtering her adopted dad’s minions when Star-Lord made his offer…

The series proper – by Bendis, McNiven, Dell & Ponsor – opens with Peter Quill diplomatically ambushed in a seedy dive by his long-lost dad. J’Son rules Spartax but the rift between him and the Star-Lord is wide and deep and impassable.

Dear old Dad also has a message: he has entered into a compact with the other major powers and principalities of the universe to declare Earth off limits and quarantined from all extraterrestrial contact. He and they will act immediately to stop any alien individual or species from contaminating it.

Of course that especially means his own wayward son…

A little later, Iron Man is playing with his new space armour when a Badoon starship attacks Earth. Overmatched, Stark is unexpectedly reinforced by Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon and Groot who devastate the monolithic vessel – but not before fighter ships break atmosphere and bombard London.

With the Home Counties under attack despite The Council of Galactic Empires’ edicts – and apparently by one of the signatory civilisations – the Guardians go to work ending the Badoon, with Peter distracted in trying to divine his duplicitous father’s actual intent.

In the Negative Zone, J’Son is conferring virtually with his opposite numbers from the Kree, Shi’ar, Brood, Badoon and Asgard, with a new Annihilus presiding over the fractious meeting, and indeed dirty work and dirty tricks are afoot…

In blistering battles the Badoon are beaten, but no sooner do the Guardians pause for breath than a starfleet supposedly blockading Earth arrests them for breaking the embargo.

Imprisoned on Spartax, Quill and Co eventually bust out and publicly declare war on J’Son, sowing the seeds of a future rebellion – but even they are unaware that the devious and double-dealing king is also being played for a sucker…

Bright, breezy, bombastic and immensely enjoyable, the action-packed Cosmic Avengers also includes a beautiful gallery of 23 covers and variants – including a lovely movie-art landscape/wraparound – by McNiven, Dell & Ponsor, Doyle, Ed McGuiness, Joe Quesada, Adi Granov, Mark Brooks, Milo Manara, Terry Dodson, Mike Deodato Jr., Phil Jimenez, Mike Perkins, Paola Rivera and Joe Madureira, and of course the book comes with the standard added extras provided by many AR icon sections (Marvel Augmented Reality App) which give access to story bonuses once you download the free code from marvel.com onto your smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet.

™ & © 2013 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Iron Man 2: Public Identity


By Joe Casey, Justin Theroux, Barry Kitson, Ron Lim & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4858-6

With new Superhero and comics-based Summer Movie Blockbusters now an annual tradition there’s generally a wealth of supplementary reading released to coincide, cash in on and tantalise we die-hard print addicts.

Thus, through the safe lens of enough time passed and all hype deflated, here’s a slim tome designed as one of many combination tie-in and prequels to the second Iron Man film.

Public Identity was a 3-part miniseries from April and May 2010 starring the filmic iteration of the Marvel characters, scripted by Joe Casey and Justin Theroux with art from Barry Kitson, Ron Lim, Tom Palmer, Victor Olazaba, Stefano Gaudiano & Matthew Southworth, which added nuance and background to the tale of Tony Stark’s very visible battle against rival arch-technocrat Justin Hammer and a whip-wielding maniacal amalgam of comicbook veterans Crimson Dynamo and Whiplash

This compilation also includes a triptych of short back-up vignettes starring some of the supporting cast in solo adventures originally published as the one-shot Iron Man 2: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. plus a selection of text, art and photo-features culled from the promo magazine Iron Man 2 Spotlight.

At the conclusion of the first film Tony Stark had just revealed to the frantic media that he was the incredible Armoured Avenger and ‘No Reason’ takes up from there, before flashing back decades to when munitions magnate Howard Stark first moved into researching the astounding potential of ARC reactor technology with Soviet scientist Anton Vanko. ARC, you’ll recall, is the overwhelming power source which keeps son Tony alive and fuels his high-tech super-suit…

In the now the self-exposed son is revelling in the celebrity his admission has garnered, as old comrade James Rhodes and all his other close friends can only watch and worry. The government – and especially the Military – want the power of Iron Man under their explicit control and are applying increasing pressure to the hedonistic playboy to get their way…

Grudgingly, to prove he’s still in control, Tony accepts a military reconnaissance job to insurgent-plagued Al Kut, but naturally goes off mission when he sees lives being lost…

Woefully disdainful of stifling protocol or American Military objectives, Stark kicks butt and posts footage with the world’s media, uncaring of the toes he’s stepping on…

Meanwhile in the Land of the Free and the padded invoice, Justin Hammer is unveiling his latest multi-billion dollar death machine to General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, a career soldier who wants kill-power like Iron Man’s, but free of the insubordinate or free-thinking, conscience-plagued playboy adventurer…

In the past, Howard Stark is appalled to discover his friend Anton stealing ARC secrets, and dejected when the far-from contrite technologist is deported by Federal agents. Years pass and his boy Tony endures abuse and neglect from his troubled dad, leading to some fateful decisions…

Tony is still making poor choices in the present, blowing off business meetings to defuse traps and abandoned tech scattered throughout Afghanistan by the enigmatic Ten Rings organisation and even US forces. Rhodes, meanwhile, is with General Ross, deeply disturbed that the untested Hammer weapon is going straight into action with an unprepared live pilot on a dangerous covert and unsanctioned mission…

The op goes disastrously wrong. The Pentagon overrules the overtly hostile Ross and Rhodey begs Tony to intervene. Congolese Army units have shot down the Hammer craft and captured the American pilot, but the guerrillas are no match for Iron Man who pulls off a spectacular rescue without harming a single Congolese soldier in the undertaking…

However, when Stark delivers the wounded airman to Ross, the Thunderbolt is furious that a global symbol of American superiority refused to shoot back and prepares to take matters into his own hands…

And as the son of Anton Vanko completes his own Arc reactor and prepares to take vengeance on the Stark family, in the shadows Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. begin their own subtle moves to move in on Iron Man…

As the comicbook conclusion segues into the film, this book shifts into stealth mode with three Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. solo mini-thrillers all scripted by Casey, beginning with arch manipulator Fury in ‘Who Made Who’ (rendered by Tim Greene) which sees the Golden Avenger barnstorm into a S.H.I.E.L.D./Navy SEAL operation against the mysterious Ten Rings cabal, opening the bidding in a bizarre war of nerves between the controlling spymaster and the ferociously free-spirited hero who – for now – still owns Iron Man…

Then ‘Just off the Farm’ – with art from Felix Ruiz – shows Agent Coulson under fire but never pressure as he solves a minor personnel problem and field-tests his latest recruit, even as ‘Proximity’, illustrated by Matt Camp, details how lethal femme fatale Black Widow inserted herself into Stark’s company and positioned herself for her spectacular movie debut…

The text features lead with ‘Silver Screen Style’ wherein comics artist and movie production consultant Adi Granov reveals secrets of both print and screen iterations, complete with lashings of pictures including reinterpreted Classic Covers and pages of Extremis Armour Designs.

Chris Arrant then discusses ‘Iron Man vs. Whiplash’ with screenwriters Marc Guggenheim and Brannon Braga, and ‘#1 With a Bullet’ by Dugan Trodglen explores the role and history of superspy Black Widow.

Thereafter epic comics saga ‘Iron Man Disassembled’ is highlighted by scripter Matt Fraction and interviewer Jess Harold before ‘Iron Man: Lightning in a Bottle’ finds John Rhett Thomas debating the classic revival of the Steel-Shod Sentinel with 1980s creators David Michelinie and Bob Layton, before Arrant chats with Warren Ellis about his take on Iron Man in ‘Armor Wars 2.0’.

Presumably as a preamble to the then-upcoming team movie, this section concludes with a stirring stroll down memory lane as ‘The Armored Avenger’ pinpoints “Eight of Iron Man’s Definitive Moments” with the Mighty Avengers, as compiled by Dugan Trodglen.

Also including a cover gallery by Granov and Salvador Larroca, this terse, explosive action package is a fine, fun comics read which should also act as an enticing interface for converting metal movie mavens into dedicated followers of funnybook fiction.
© 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man: The Secret Origin of Tony Stark


By Kieron Gillen, Greg Land, Dale Eaglesham & Jay Leisten (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-550-5

Supreme survivor Tony Stark has changed his profile many times since his 1963 debut in Tales of Suspense #39 when, as a VIP visitor in Vietnam observing the efficacy of the munitions he had designed, the arch-technocrat was critically wounded and captured by a Communist warlord.

Put to work building weapons with the spurious promise of medical assistance upon completion, Stark instead created a prototype Iron Man suit to keep his heart beating and deliver him from his oppressors. From there it was a small jump into a second career as a high-tech Knight in Shining Armour…

Since then the inventor and armaments manufacturer has been a liberal capitalist, eco-warrior, space pioneer, affirmed Futurist, civil servant, Statesman, and even Director of the world’s most scientifically advanced spy agency, the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate. Of course, he was also a founder of the world’s most prominent superheroes, the Mighty Avengers

For a popular character/concept weighed down with a fifty-year pedigree, radical reboots are a painful but periodic necessity. To keep contemporary, Stark’s origin and Iron Man’s continuity have been drastically revised every so often, but never so radically as with the upgrade featured in this saga (originally seen as issues #8-12 of the MarvelNOW! relaunched Iron Man volume 5, April-August 2013) by scripter Kieron Gillen…

Illustrated by Greg Land & Jay Leisten the drama begins with a 3-part cosmic epic as ‘The God-Killer’ finds Stark in his new space armour routing star pirates for the effete, aristocratic and decadently beautiful Voldi Tear.

One of the most ancient races in the cosmos, the Voldi have mastered the art of living graciously – off the kindness of strangers – and have all their needs met by their sacred artefact the Heart of the Voldi, which cleanly draws infinite power from a myriad of cosmic entities.

Tempted by the delights of the open-to-all civilisation, Stark returns to their Citadel of Rapture, feeling great and looking forward to an intimate assignation with the glorious princess Veritina

Until that is he removes his helmet and she starts puking…

The party-animal Voldi have an open door policy for most races and beings – even welcoming 30-foot tall robotic killers such as Freelance Peacekeeping Agent Death’s Head (never, ever call him a bounty hunter!) – but Iron Man is clearly no longer welcome since a trio of Voldi “mechnohoplites” immediately begin shooting.

Easily overcoming the drones, Stark is appalled to then find himself accused of Deicide. Good guy at heart, he can only surrender to the mercies of the Supreme Justicar, convinced that a little straight talking can clear up whatever misunderstanding has occurred.

Unfortunately the Voldi worship the Phoenix Force – which Stark and his allies (see Avengers vs. X-Men) did indeed destroy the last time it attacked Earth…

Languishing in a cell, Stark is approached by a flying drinks tray, which transforms into a Rigellian Recorder – one of millions of sentient automatons programmed to travel the universe acquiring knowledge. Recorder 451 however developed a programming flaw and has struck out on its own.

Surprisingly sympathetic to Stark’s plight, the mechanoid suggests a way out of the mandatory death sentence imposed at the very brief trial when the Justicar revealed the secret of the Voldi: the energy harvested by the Voldi Heart is stolen and the consequences would be dire indeed if creatures such as Galactus, The Celestials or the Phoenix realised they had parasites tapping their infinite resources…

The Recorder’s solution is simple: invoke an ancient rite of Trial by Combat and stay alive until the Voldi get bored or 451 can retrieve Stark’s confiscated armour…

Since his opponents are broadly similar humanoids it all starts well enough, until the Justicar, unable to bear the humiliation of seeing the desperate warrior Earth-ape escaping the rule of law, changes the rules and hires titanic terminator Death’s Head to end the fiasco.

Unhappily for the Voldi, however, 451 has been furthering his own secret agenda all along and uses the distraction to steal the Heart and bring cosmic cataclysm down upon the ancient race of leeches.

However The Recorder hasn’t finished with Stark yet and dispatches the Iron Man suit to save the human even as the benighted Voldi all expire in an apocalyptic attack from the cosmic giants they had exploited for eons. Furious and disgusted, Stark swears vengeance on the murderous mechanoid whose last infuriating communication claims the genocide was a necessary evil…

Dale Eaglesham handles the art for the next revelatory triptych as the eponymous ‘Secret Origin of Tony Stark’ completely changes everything the inventive genius believed about himself.

After checking in with self-appointed universal police force Guardians of the Galaxy and exhausting all his own leads, Iron Man resorts to hiring Death’s Head – the greatest tracker in history – to ferret out 451. Their brief hunt proves successful, but it’s all a trap and Stark is easily captured by the Rigellian renegade who reveals how he has been watching over the Earthly inventor since before he was born…

I’m not going to spoil the shocks for you here but suffice to say that 451 was working with Tony’s parents Howard and Maria Stark in a complex scheme on Earth in the era before superheroes returned, battling aliens beside such Marvel stalwarts as Lieutenant “Thunderbolt” Ross, special agents Jimmy Woo and “Dum Dum” Dugan and others.

The robot’s Machiavellian long-range plan would alter forever the fate of the unborn Stark heir and eventually impact upon the entire universe…

Ranging from bleak and grim to spectacular and hilarious, this fun and furious rocket-pace romp genuinely offers a brand new take on the Golden Avenger and the volume also includes the regular extra goodies of a vast and expansive cover-and-variants gallery by Land, Steven McNiven, Terry Dodson, Mike Deodato Jr., and a brace of photo covers plus the now standard 21st century add-on of AR icon sections (Marvel Augmented Reality App) which give access to story bonuses once you download the code – for free – from marvel.com onto your smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet.
™ & © 2013 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.