Amazing Spider-Man Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Stan Lee, John Romita, Larry Lieber, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1362-2 (HB)                    978-1-3023-7876-9 (HB)

After a shaky start The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages, rivalling the creative powerhouse that was Fantastic Four. Before too long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

You know the story: Peter Parker was a smart-but-alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering he’d developed astonishing arachnid abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the kid did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Making a costume to hide his identity in case he made a fool of himself, Parker became a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night he didn’t lift a finger to stop him, only to find when he returned home that his guardian uncle Ben Parker had been murdered.

Crazed with a need for vengeance, Peter hunted the assailant who’d made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, discovering, to his horror, that it was the self-same felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility had resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and the traumatised boy swore to forevermore use his powers to help others…

Since that night, the Wondrous Wallcrawler has tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them…

The rise and rise of the Amazing Arachnid increased pace as the Swinging Sixties unfolded and, by the time of the tales in this sixth sterling celebration (re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #51-61 and Annual #4, originally released between August 1967 and June 1968), Peter and his ever-expanding cast of cohorts were on the way to being household names as well as the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia.

Issue #50 had introduced one of Marvel’s greatest villains in the first of a 3-part yarn that saw the blooming of romance between Parker and college classmate Gwen Stacy and re-established Spidey’s war on cheap thugs and common criminals (a key component of the hero’s appeal was that no criminal was too small for him to bother with).

The saga also saw a crisis of conscience force him to quit before resolving to take up his heroic burden once more.

This volume opens with the second chapter as the wallcrawler is trapped ‘In the Clutches of… the Kingpin!’ (by Lee & Romita), battling an army of thugs to save hostages Fred Foswell and J. Jonah Jameson but ultimately losing a fateful fight with the big boss before tragically triumphing in concluding clash ‘To Die a Hero!’

This gang-busting triptych saw Romita relinquish the inking of his art to Mike Esposito (moonlighting from DC as Mickey DeMeo).

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4 follows as Lee – with his brother Larry Lieber & Esposito handling the art chores – crafts an epic battle-saga wherein Spidey and the Human Torch are tricked into appearing in a movie. Sadly ‘The Web and the Flame!’ is just a deviously diabolical scheme to kill them orchestrated by old enemies The Wizard and Mysterio, but the titanic teens are up to the task of trashing their attackers…

From the same issue – and all courtesy of Lieber – come pictorial fact-features ‘The Coffee Bean Barn!’ face-checking the then-current Spider-Man regulars, sartorial secrets exposed in ‘What the Well-Dressed Spider-Man Will Wear’ before superpowers are scrutinised in ‘Spidey’s Greatest Talent’.

Also included are big pin-ups of our hero testing his strength against Marvel’s mightiest good guys, a double-page spread ‘Say Hello to Spidey’s Favorite Foes!’ plus another 2-page treat as we enjoy ‘A Visit to Peter’s Pad!’

A new multi-part saga began in #53 with ‘Enter: Dr. Octopus’ as the many-tentacled madman tries to steal a devastating new piece of technology. After being soundly routed the madman goes into hiding as a lodger at Aunt May’s house in ‘The Tentacles and the Trap!’, before regrouping and finally succeeding in ‘Doc Ock Wins!’

He even convinces a mind-wiped webslinger to join him before the astonishing conclusion in ‘Disaster!’ as, even bereft of memory, the Amazing Arachnid turns on his sinister subjugator and saves the day…

Shell-shocked and amnesiac, Spider-Man is lost in New York in #57 (with lay-outs by Romita, and pencils from the reassuring reliable Don Heck) until he clashes with Marvel’s own Tarzan clone in ‘The Coming of Ka-Zar!’ whilst in the follow-up ‘To Kill a Spider-Man!’ vengeance-crazed roboticist Professor Smythe convinces Jonah Jameson to finance another murderous mechanical Spider-Slayer

With Heck still in the artist’s chair, Amazing Spider-Man #59 sees the hero regain his memory and turn his attention to a wave of street-crime in ‘The Brand of the Brainwasher!’ as a new mob-mastermind begins taking control of the city by mind-controlling city leaders and prominent cops – including Gwen’s dad.

The drama continues as the schemer is revealed to be one of Spidey’s old foes in ‘O, Bitter Victory!’ The revelation creates big problems for Peter and Gwen before concluding part ‘What a Tangled Web We Weave…!’ sees our hero save the day but still stagger away more victim than victor…

Spider-Man became a permanent and unmissable part of many teenagers’ lives at this time and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow.

Blending cultural authenticity with stunning narrative art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness that most of the readership experienced daily resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive soap-opera instalments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

This book is Stan Lee’s Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. You should be here too…
© 1967, 1968, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Adventures Avengers: Thor and Captain America


By Paul Tobin, Scott Gray, Todd Dezago, Ronan Cliquet, Ron Lim, Lou Kang & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5584-3

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

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

Almost all of those yarns have been collected in digest-sized compilations such as this one which gathers a selection of fantastic feats starring the God of Thunder or Sentinel of Liberty and their friends, comprising four all-ages tales from the second volume of Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #13-16 (spanning June-September 2011).

The action opens with a mythological masterpiece by Paul Tobin, Ronan Cliquet & Amilton Santos wherein plucky novice hero Nova is invited by Avenging comrades Thor and Valkyrie to accompany them on an annual errand for Odin the All-Father.

In the distant past when Asgardians warred with Trolls, a godling messenger named Glane failed in his mission and was banished to the ghastly Fields of the Fallen to pay penance by continually battling the Golden Realm’s vilest enemies.

Periodically Thor has been sent to add new tasks to the sinning failure’s heavy burden, and this year as the Thunderer and Valkyrie ready themselves for the trip, they invite the starstruck Nova to tag along.

However, as the trio battle their way through horrific monsters and overwhelming odds, Nova finds himself increasingly uncomfortable with the sentence meted out to Glane and even begins to doubt the motives of his immortal mentors. All that changes once he meets and battles beside the convicted penitent…

Originating in MASH #14, ‘Out of Time!’ is by Todd Dezago, Ron Lim & Scott Koblish (inspired by Gerry Conway & Ross Andru’s tale from the original Marvel Team-Up #7) and sees the Lord of Storm intercepting Spider-Man after the wall-crawler is blasted high into the sky whilst battling raving maniac the Looter.

That happy coincidence occurs just a bizarre force freezes time around them. When the heroes discover that only they have escaped a devastating weapon deployed by Trollish tyrant Kryllk the Conqueror to paralyze and overwhelm both Asgard and the mortal plane, they must divide their strength to simultaneously smash the conqueror in both Manhattan and Asgard if they are to set time running free again…

Captain America takes the spotlight in #15 as ‘Back in Time’ (Tobin, Cliquet & Santos) finds the Star-Spangled Avenger battling Neanderthals with ray-guns in a National Forest after tracking down rogue geneticists who have stolen a huge amount of plutonium.

A mere mile away, Peter Parker’s girlfriend Sophia Sanduval is getting back to nature and chilling with her furry, scaly and feathered friends. As Chat, the mutant teen’s power to communicate with animals makes her a crucial component of the mystery-solving Blonde Phantom Detective Agency, but even she has never seen anything like the wave of extinct creatures which appear after Cap begins battling the tooled-up cavemen.

Soon she has been briefed on the deadly experiments of rogue technologist Jerrick Brogg – whose ambition is to build an army out of revived extinct creatures – and swears to help Cap put the maniac away and save all the beasts he has recreated from short painful lives of terror and brutal exploitation…

Wrapping up the action comes ‘Stars, Stripes and Spiders!’ by Dezago, Lou Kang & Pat Davidson (based on Len Wein & Gil Kane’s tale from Marvel Team-Up #13).

When a certain wall-crawling high-school student and occasional masked hero stumbles into Captain America tackling an AIM cadre stealing super-soldier serum, the nervous lad learns a few things about the hero game from the legendary guy who wrote the book. Sadly, not making that lesson any easier is petrifying super-villain Grey Gargoyle, whose deadly touch almost ends Spidey’s homework worries – and continued existence – forever…

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

Fast, furious, funny and enthralling, these riotous mini-epics are extremely enjoyable yarns, although parents should note that some of the themes and certainly the level of violence might not be what everybody considers “All-Ages Super Hero Action”…
© 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Adventures Spider-Man Volume 4: Friendly Neighborhood


By Paul Tobin, Roberto Di Salvo, Matteo Lolli, Terry Pallot & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5257-6

Since its earliest days Marvel has always courted the youngest comicbook audiences. Whether through animated movie or TV tie-ins such as Terrytoons Comics, Mighty Mouse, Super Rabbit Comics, Duckula, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Disney licenses and a myriad of others, or original creations such as Tessie the Typist, Millie the Model, Homer the Happy Ghost, Li’l Kids or even Calvin, the House of Ideas has always understood the necessity of cultivating the next generation of readers.

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

The process began in 2003 when the company created a Marvel Age line which updated and retold classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, merging it with the remnants of its failed manga-based Tsunami imprint, which was also intended for a junior demographic.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming Marvel Adventures with the core titles transformed into Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man. The reconstituted classics were then replaced by all-original yarns.

Additional titles included Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes, The Avengers and Hulk, running until 2010 when they were cancelled and replaced by new volumes of Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man which carried on the established continuities.

This digest-sized collection collects issues #13-16 of that second iteration and sees Paul Tobin firmly in the driving seat, deftly blending action with humour and even inserting a little low level soap opera romance as 16-year old Peter Parker continues his first steps as reluctant yet driven superhero Spider-Man. Even after all the time he has prowled the streets and skyscrapers of New York, fighting crime and injustice, he’s still just a kid learning the ropes and pretty much in over his head all the time…

Illustrated by Roberto Di Salvo, the drama begins with our hero and his Aunt May vacationing in Britain. Whilst the senior Parker checks out antiques shops and farmers’ markets in Devon, her poor nephew has found a spot of bother on Dartmoor, beside British “Scooby Gang” T.U.F.F. (Teenage Ultimate Forteans Forever).

Following reports of monster sightings on the moors, Spidey and Co. unite with jungle lord Ka-Zar and his smilodon ally Zabu to crush a ring of exotic pet smugglers selling dinosaurs stolen from the Savage Land in ‘Raptor of the Baskervilles’.

A tricky task at the best of times, their valiant endeavour almost ends in disaster when the thieves bring in mutant maniac Sabretooth to kill the pesky, interfering kids…

Back in the Big Apple, the Web-spinner then teams up with Police Captain George Stacy to stop a run of armoured car heists perpetrated by Mysterio. ‘The Illusionist’ (Matteo Lolli & Pallot) had liberally dosed the heroes with hallucinogenic gases but was unaware of Spider-Man’s secret weapon: Peter Parker’s mutant girlfriend Sophia Sanduval who can communicate with animals and works as a part-time operative of the Blonde Phantom Detective Agency. “Chat” has got a lot of unusual animal resources at her disposal and is more than willing to lend some assistance…

The critter-whisperer is of even greater use when Doctor Doom seizes control of the UN whilst she and Peter are attending on a school trip. With delegates held hostage and a deadly bomb hidden on the premises, Chat and her bestial buddies play a key role saving the day in ‘Council of Doom’ (Di Salvo art) whilst all Spidey has to do is keep the Iron Dictator and his deadly army of robot doubles distracted. Well, that and not die…

Wrapping up the narrative action is ‘Magically Suspicious’ (Lolli & Pallot) as insane enchanter Baron Mordo seeks to open the gates of hell and let the Elder Eldritch Ones loose on Earth.

To facilitate their return he has pre-emptively unleashed a horde of demonic wraiths to take out the world’s superheroes, leaving only Spider-Man, Chat and Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Stephen Strange free to lead the extremely messy resistance…

These Spidey super stories (accompanied by a cover gallery from Barry Kitson, Patrick Scherberger, Edgar Delgado, Ale Garza & Chris Sotomayor and a big bundle of pin-ups by the likes of John Romita Senior, Terry & Rachel Dodson, Salvador Larroca and more) are all exceptionally enjoyable escapades, but parents should note that some of the themes and certainly the violence might not be what everybody considers “All-Ages Super Hero Action” and would perhaps sit better with older kids…

Fast-paced and impressive, brightly and breezily leavening light-hearted action with loads of sly laughs, this book shows the alternative web-spinner at his wall-crawling best with the violence toned down and “cartooned-up” whilst the stories take great pains to keep the growing youth-oriented sub-plots pot-boiling on but as clear as possible.

Never the success the company hoped, the Marvel Adventures project was superseded in 2012 by specific comics tied to Disney XD television shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”, but these collected stories are still an amazing and arguably more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born two or three generations away from those far-distant 1960s originating events.
© 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Adventures Avengers: Captain America


By Scott Gray, Roger Langridge, Todd Dezago, Roger Stern, Craig Rousseau, Matteo Lolli, Lou Kang, John Byrne & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4562-3

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

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

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

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, evolving into Marvel Adventures with core titles transformed into Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man. The tone was very much that of the company’s burgeoning TV cartoon franchises, in delivery if not name. Additional Marvel Adventures series included Super Heroes, The Avengers and Hulk. These iterations ran until 2010 when they were cancelled and replaced by new volumes of Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man.

Those tales have all been collected in welcoming digest-sized compilations such as this one which gathers a selection of yarns starring the Sentinel of Liberty. This particular patriotic play-list comprises three all-ages tales – taken from Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #8 and 12, plus an early outing from Marvel Age Spider-Man Team-Up #2 and rounded out with a mainstream continuity yarn from Captain America volume 1 #255 from March 1981.

The Sentinel of Liberty was created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby at the end of 1940 and launched straight into his own Timely Comics’ (Marvel’s earliest iteration) title. Captain America Comics #1 was cover-dated March 1941 and was a monster smash-hit. Cap was the absolute and undisputed star of Timely’s “Big Three” – the other two being the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner. He was also one of very the first to fall from popularity at the end of the Golden Age.

When the Korean War and Communist aggression dominated the American psyche in the early 1950s Cap was briefly revived – as were his two fellow superstars – in 1953 before sinking once more into obscurity until a resurgent Marvel Comics once more needed them. When the Stars-&-Stripes Centurion finally reappeared he finally found a devoted following who stuck with him through thick and thin.

Soon after taking over the Avengers, he won his own series and, eventually, title. Cap waxed and waned through the most turbulent period of social change in American history but always struggled to find an ideological place and stable footing in the modern world, plagued by the trauma of his greatest failure: the death of his boy partner Bucky

If you’re of a slavish disposition continuity-wise, the first three Star-Spangled sagas all occur on Marvel’s Earth-20051 whilst the last is situated in the regulation Earth-616.

It opens with an updated origin – in keeping with the later filmic iteration – as ‘The Legend Reborn’ (by Scott Gray & Craig Rousseau as seen in MASH #8, April 2009) sees World War II’s greatest hero decanted from an arctic iceberg by agents of SHIELD.

Future-shocked and mistrusting, Steve Rogers breaks out of protective custody and explores the 21st century beside teen-rebel and street-performer Rick Jones, until secret society Hydra try to “recruit” him and Cap is finally forced to pick a side…

The introductory epic is augmented by an enticing war-time tale. ‘Spy for the Cameras!’ (Roger Langridge & Rousseau) finds Cap and annoyingly plucky reporter Rosalind Hepburn exposing an undercover plot in Hollywoodland…

Issue #12 (August 2009) saw Cap and Rick return in ‘Web of Deceit’ by Gray & Matteo Lolli. Here the time-lost hero is transported into Hydra’s digital domain to face unimaginable and lethally implausible peril, until Rick’s buddies in the Online Brigade log in to save the day…

This is followed by another deliciously wry WWII romp from Langridge & Rousseau, with news-hen Rosalind, Cap and Bucky battling a prototype mutant cyborg in ‘If This Be P.R.O.D.O.K.!’

‘Stars, Stripes and Spiders!’ is by Todd Dezago, Lou Kang & Pat Davidson (originally debuting in Marvel Age Spider-Man Team-Up #2, December 2004 and inspired by Len Wein and Gil Kane’s tale from the original Marvel Team-Up #13).

When a certain wall-crawling high-school student and part-time hero stumbles into Captain America tackling an AIM cadre stealing a super-soldier serum, the nervous lad learns a few things about the hero game from the guy who wrote the book. Not making that lesson any easier is petrifying super-villain the Grey Gargoyle

Closing out this fast-paced primer of patriotic action is a classic retelling of Cap’s early career by Roger Stern & John Byrne. The story was the finale in a superb run by the duo: a mini-renaissance of well-conceived and perfectly executed yarns epitomising all the fervour and pizzazz of Captain America in his glory days. ‘The Living Legend’ is a moody, rocket-paced origin saga which was the definitive version of the hero’s nativity for decades…

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

Beguiling, enthralling and impressive, these riotous super stories are extremely enjoyable yarns, although parents should note that some of the themes and certainly the violence might not be what everybody considers “All-Ages Super Hero Action” and might perhaps better suit older kids…

© 1981, 2000, 2009, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Amazing Spider-Man volume 7


By Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Len Wein, Ross Andru, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1879-4

After a shaky start in 1962 The Amazing Spider-Man quickly rebounded, soon proving a sensation with kids of all ages and rivalling the creative powerhouse that was Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four. Soon the quirky, charming, action-packed comicbook soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old costumed-crimebusters of previous publications.

You all know the story: Peter Parker was a smart but alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering he had developed astonishing arachnid abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the kid did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Making a costume to hide his identity in case he made a fool of himself, Parker became a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night he didn’t lift a finger to stop him, only to find when he returned home that his guardian uncle Ben Parker had been murdered.

Crazed with a need for vengeance, Peter hunted the assailant who had made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, finding, to his horror, that it was the selfsame felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility had resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and the traumatised boy swore to forevermore use his powers to help others…

Since that night the Wondrous Wallcrawler has tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them.

The Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead of – its fan-base and this seventh exceedingly enthralling monochrome compilation of chronological web-spinning adventures sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero through one of the most traumatic periods of his career.

By the time of these tales Lee’s hand-picked successor Gerry Conway was giving way to fresher authorial hands. Nevertheless, scripts continued to blend contemporary issues (which of course often feel quite outdated from here in the 21st century, Man!) with soap opera subplots to keep older readers as glued to the series as the outrageous adventure and bombastic battle sequences beguiled the youngsters.

Thematically, there’s further decline in the use of traditional crimes and gangsters, overwhelmed by outlandish villains, monsters and capers, but the most sensational advance was a super-science plot which would reshape the nature of the web-spinner’s adventures for decades to come…

Nevertheless the Wallcrawler was still indisputably mainstream comics’ voice of youth; defining being a teenager for young readers of the 1970s, tackling incredible hardships, fantastic foes and the most pedestrian and debilitating of frustrations.

High School nerd Peter Parker had grown up and gone to college. Because of his guilt-fuelled double-life he struggled there too, developed a stress ulcer but found true love with policeman’s daughter Gwen Stacy

This volume, spanning November 1974 to September 1976, collects Amazing Spider-Man #138-160, Annual #10 and incorporates team-up tales from Giant-Size Spider-Man #4-5. Eagle-eyed completists might notice the third Giant-Size issue has been omitted: that’s because there the Wallcrawler met Doc Savage and Marvel no longer hold the license to publish the magnificent Man of Bronze…

With no particular fanfare the action opens with Conway still very much in charge as ‘Madness Means… the Mindworm!’ – illustrated by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt – finds Parker relocating downmarket to Queens in time to encounter a macabre psychic parasite feeding of the denizens of the district. Then issue #139 introduces a bludgeoning brute with a grudge against J. Jonah Jameson on the ‘Day of the Grizzly!’ When Spidey intervenes he is beaten and handed over to the costumed crazy’s silent partner the Jackal who melodramatically reveals he knows the hero’s true identity. Even though Peter escapes his diabolical trap in ‘…And One will Fall!’ the maniac flees and remains at large…

A long-running comedy thread ends as the ridiculous Spider-Mobile ends up in the river, but the Wallcrawler barely has time to care as an apparently dead enemy returns in #141’s ‘The Man’s Name Appears to be… Mysterio!’

Despite the psychological assaults escalating and Pete continually questioning his own sanity, the mystery is solved in ‘Dead Man’s Bluff!’ before Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 (April 1975 and inked by Mike Esposito) which sees an eagerly-anticipated reappearance of Marvel’s most controversial antihero in an expanded role.

‘To Sow the Seed of Death’s Day’ finds the Webslinger forced into one of the Punisher’s cases when ruthless arms dealer Moses Magnum perfects a lethal chemical-weapon and begins testing it on randomly kidnapped victims.

Tracking down the monster in ‘Attack of the War Machine!’, the unlikely comrades infiltrate his ‘Death-Camp at the Edge of the World!’ before summary justice is dispensed… as much by fate as the heroes’ actions…

The Lone Gunman was created by Conway, John Romita Sr. and Andru; an understandably muted response to popular prose anti-heroes like Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan: the Executioner: the cutting edge of a bloody tide of fictive Viet Nam vets who all turned their training and talents to wiping out organised crime in the early 1970s.

Although one of the industry’s biggest hits from the late 1980s onwards, the compulsive vengeance-taker was an unlikely and uncomfortable star for comicbooks. His methods were always excessively violent and usually permanent. It’s intriguing to note that unlike most heroes who debuted as villains (Black Widow or Wolverine come readily to mind) Punisher actually became more immoral, anti-social and murderous, not less: the buying public simply shifted its communal perspective; he never toned down or cleaned up his act…

That same month in Amazing Spider-Man 143 ‘…And the Wind Cries: Cyclone!’ saw Peter in Paris to deliver a ransom for the kidnapped Jameson and battling a hyper-fast French super-villain. The story was average but the real kicker was the overly-fond farewell casual chum Mary Jane Watson expressed: a kiss that finally shifted traumatised, depressed Peter’s thoughts from his beloved and recently murdered Gwen

Conway, Andru, Giacoia & Hunt capitalised on the situation when Pete returned as #144 launched ‘The Delusion Conspiracy’ and #145 exposed a baffled girl’s confusion and terror at everyone’s reactions when she comes home and the entire world screams ‘Gwen Stacy is Alive …and, Well…?!’

With Gwen somehow resurrected and Peter on the edge of a breakdown, Aunt May was hospitalised just in time for another old foe to strike again in ‘Scorpion… Where is Thy Sting?’, but the real kick in the tale was irrefutable scientific reports which proved the increasingly bewildered Miss Stacy was not an impostor…

Giant-Size Spider-Man #5 (July 1975, inked by Esposito again) offers a strange yet welcome break from the mental tension as ‘Beware the Path of the Monster!’ sees Parker despatched to Florida to photograph the macabre Man-Thing only to discover the lethal Lizard is also loose and hunting ‘The Lurker in the Swamp!’ It takes all the web-spinner’s power and the efforts of a broken man in sore need of redemption to set things right in the climactic conclusion ‘Bring Back my Man-Thing to Me!’

Back in the Big Apple for #147, Peter finds some answers as further tests prove Gwen is a clone – remember, this was new and cutting-edge stuff in 1975 – but all too soon he’s distracted by another foe bad-guy with a grudge and hungry to prove ‘The Tarantula is a Very Deadly Beast’ (Andru, Esposito & Hunt).

It’s all part of a convoluted revenge scheme and the hero is ambushed by a mesmerised Gwen at the behest of an archfiend as ‘Jackal, Jackal, Who’s Got the Jackal?’ at last shares some shocking truths about one of Peter’s most trusted friends before the Delusion Conspiracy explosively concludes with #149’s ‘Even if I Live, I Die!’ (Andru & Esposito).

Learning he and Gwen had been cloned by their biology teacher Miles Warren, the Amazing Arachnid has to defeat his alchemical double in a grim, no-holds-barred identity-duel, with neither sure who’s the real McCoy. The battles eventually results in the copy’s death… maybe…

That moment of doubt over who actually fell informs anniversary issue Amazing Spider-Man #150, as Archie Goodwin, Gil Kane, Esposito & Giacoia take the hero down memory lane and up against a brigade of old antagonists to decide whether ‘Spider-Man… or Spider-Clone?’ survived that final fight, before new regular scripter Len Wein joins Andru & John Romita Sr. to launch a new era of adventure…

After disposing of his duplicate’s corpse in an incineration plant, Spider-Man finds time to let Peter Parker reconnect with his long-neglected friends. However a jolly party is soon disrupted as blackouts triggered by a super-menace lead the Wallcrawler into the sewers for a ‘Skirmish Beneath the Streets!’, resulting in our hero almost drowning and nearly being ‘Shattered by the Shocker!’ (Andru, Esposito & Giacoia) in the conclusive return engagement…

A moving change-of-pace tale sees a blackmailed former football star give his all to save a child in ‘The Longest Hundred Yards!’ (Andru & Esposito) but it is left to Spider-Man to make the computer-crook culprits pay, after which #154 reveals ‘The Sandman Always Strikes Twice!’ (art by Sal Buscema & Esposito) – but with little lasting effect – until murder-mystery ‘Whodunnit!’ cunningly links three seemingly unconnected cases in a masterful “Big Reveal”…

A long-running romance-thread resulted in the oft-delayed wedding of Pete’s old flame Betty Brant to reporter Ned Leeds, but the nuptials are interrupted by a new costumed crook in ‘On a Clear Day, You Can See… the Mirage’ (Andru & Esposito), even as a sinister hobo who had been haunting the last few yarns came fully into the spotlight…

Much of the previous Essential Spider-Man volume was taken up with a protracted struggle for control of New York with Spidey and elderly May Parker caught in the middle. The devilish duel concluded with a nuclear explosion and the seeming end of two major antagonists but #157 exposed ‘The Ghost Who Haunted Octopus!’ when the debased long-limbed loon turned to Aunt May for his salvation.

With Peter in attendance, the many-handed menace seeks to escape a brutal ghost but their combined actions actually liberate a pitiless killer from inter-dimensional limbo in ‘Hammerhead is Out!’, leading to a savage three-way showdown with Spidey ‘Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm with Doctor Octopus’ to save the horrified Widow Parker…

A new insectoid arch-foe debuted in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10, courtesy of plotter Wein, scripter Bill Mantlo and artists Kane, Esposito & Giacoia as ‘Step into my Parlor…’ depicts obsessed Spider-hater Jameson hiring unscrupulous biologist Harlan Stilwell to create a tailor-made nemesis to eradicate the Wallcrawler.

Elsewhere that detested hero is breaking up a vicious hostage situation manufactured by psychotic Rick Deacon, but when the killer escapes and breaks into a certain lab he is rapidly transformed into a winged wonder-man hungry for payback on the web-spinner in ‘…Said the Spider to the Fly!’

This copious compendium then concludes with the opening shot in an extended epic as a criminal inventor who is one of the web-spinner’s oldest enemies recovers Spidey’s ditched vehicle and tricks it out to hunt down its original owner if #160’s ‘My Killer the Car!’ (Wein, Andru & Esposito)…

Despite some qualifications this is still a superb selection starring an increasingly relevant teen icon and symbol. Spider-Man at this time became a crucial part of many youngsters’ existence and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow.

Blending cultural veracity with glorious art whilst making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness most of the readership experienced daily resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive prime time melodrama moments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

The tales in this again proved Spider-Man was bigger than any creator and was well on the way to becoming as real as Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan.
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2011 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mighty Avengers volume 3: Secret Invasion Book 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

To this end they imperceptibly replaced a number of Earth denizens – mostly superheroes, villains and/or their close associates. When the plot was finally exposed no defender of the Earth truly knew who was on their side…

Moreover, the Skrulls had also unravelled the secrets of Earth magic and humanity’s unique genetics, creating legions of amped-up equivalents to the world’s mightiest heroes and villains. During this period they hid amongst us, primed and waiting to destroy mankind’s champions in head-to-head confrontations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

Essential Marvel Team-Up volume 3


By Gerry Conway, Bill Mantlo, Chris Claremont, Bill Kunkel, Gary Friedrich, Sal Buscema, John Byrne, Dave Wenzel, Kerry Gammill & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3068-0

The concept of team-up books – an established A-lister joining or battling (frequently both) less well-selling company co-stars – was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of a new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch. In those halcyon simpler times editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure and since super-heroes were actually in a decline at that time, they may well have been right.

Nevertheless when it launched in March 1972, Marvel Team-Up was the second official Spider-Man title (an abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the more respectable – and expensive – magazine market in 1968 but folded after two issues) and it immediately began bucking the downward trend for costumed crusaders.

Encompassing December 1976 to November 1978, this third mammoth monochrome Essential edition gathers the most consistently excellent period of the cathartic collaborations from Marvel Team-Up #52-73, 75 and includes the first Annual.

The thrills, spills and chills commence with ‘Danger: Demon on a Rampage!’: a rather rushed pairing of Spidey and Captain America from Gerry Conway, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito which saw the heroes unite to take down Gallic mercenary Batroc and an enraged monster that had slipped out of an adjacent dimension.

This is followed by an epic length adventure from Marvel Team-Up Annual #1 by Bill Mantlo, Buscema & Esposito (from a plot by Mantlo, Chris Claremont & Bonnie Wilford). ‘The Lords of Light and Darkness!’ featured Spider-Man and the then-newly minted and revived X-Men, Banshee, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Phoenix and Cyclops helping Charles Xavier combat a pantheon of scientists mutated in an atomic accident and elevated to the ranks of gods.

Like most deities, the puissant ones believed they knew what was best for humanity…

Mantlo then teamed with John Byrne & Frank Giacoia to bring closure to a tale begun – and left hanging – in Marvel Premiere #31.

MTU #53 revealed a ‘Nightmare in New Mexico!’ as The Hulk met troubled and AWOL gene-splicing experiment Woodgod whilst the tragic construct fled from corrupt Army Colonel Del Tremens. By the time the Wallcrawler dropped in, the monstrous fugitives had joined forces leaving him a ‘Spider in the Middle!’ (with Esposito inks).

As Tremens tried to suppress the calamitous crisis and his own indiscretions by killing everybody, the final scene saw the Web-spinner trapped in a rocket and blasted into space…

Marvel Team-Up #55 found our ‘Spider, Spider on the Moon!’ (Mantlo, Byrne & Dave Hunt) as cosmic Avenger Adam Warlock intercepted the ship and joined the Web-spinner and mysterious alien The Gardner in battling the Stranger for possession of the Golden Gladiator’s life-sustaining Soul Gem…

Back on Earth but still a trouble-magnet, in #56 Spider-Man – assisted by Daredevil -faced ‘Double Danger at the Daily Bugle!’ (Mantlo, Sal B & Hunt) after Electro and Blizzard took the entire Newsroom hostage, after which Claremont came aboard as full scripter, starting a complex extended thriller embroiling the Wallcrawler in a deadly espionage plot which began ‘When Slays the Silver Samurai!’ (art by Sal Buscema & Hunt).

After being saved from a lethal ambush by the Black Widow, Spidey takes possession of a strange statuette but is diverted aiding Ghost Rider against The Trapster in ‘Panic on Pier One!’ (Pablo Marcos inks) before he can investigate further. Another distraction comes when MTU #59 declares ‘Some Say Spidey Will Die by Fire… Some Say by Ice!’ (Claremont, Byrne & Hunt) as veteran Avenger Yellowjacket is apparently murdered by rampaging maniac Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man and the Amazing Arachnid is hard-pressed to stop the traumatised Wasp exacting bloody vengeance in ‘A Matter of Love… and Death!’

The secret of the statuette is revealed in #61 as the Human Torch joins his arachnid frenemy in battle against Super-Skrull and learns ‘Not All Thy Powers Can Save Thee!’, before the furious clash escalates to include Ms Marvel in ‘All This and the QE2’

Despite the very best efforts of Claremont & Byrne their Kung Fu fantasy Iron Fist never achieved the kind of traction of their collaboration on the X-Men, and the living weapon lost his circulation battle with issue #15 of his own title. The series ended in spectacular fashion, but the cancellation was clearly unplanned, as two major subplots went unresolved: private detective Misty Knight had disappeared on an undercover assignment to investigate European gang-boss John Bushmaster and Danny was suffering repeated attacks on his chi by the mysterious Steel Serpent

Frustrated fans didn’t have to wait long for a resolution though: Marvel Team-Up was becoming the creative team’s personal clearing house for unresolved plot-lines. Issues MTU #63 and 64 (November & December 1977) exposed the secret of the sinister K’un Lun exile on the ‘Night of the Dragon’ before Rand and Spidey – with the assistance of Daughters of the Dragon Misty Knight and Colleen Wing – ended the threat in blistering martial arts manner in ‘If Death Be My Destiny!’

After a short and sweet flurry of original adventures in his own UK title, Captain Britain eventually succumbed to the English version of funnybook limbo – his title subsumed by a more successful one with CB reduced to reprints. Soon after, he pyrrhically debuted across the water in ‘Introducing Captain Britain’ by originating scripter Claremont in Marvel Team-Up #65, illustrated by Byrne & Hunt.

The story portrayed Brian Braddock on student transfer to Manhattan as the unsuspecting house-guest of Peter Parker. Before long the heroes had met, fought and then teamed-up to defeat the flamboyant hit-man games-obsessed Arcade with the transatlantic tale concluding in #66 as the abducted antagonists systematically dismantled the maniac’s ‘Murderworld’.

The mystery of a long-vanished feline were-woman warrior was resolved in ‘Tigra, Tigra, Burning Bright!’ as the Webslinger was targeted by Kraven the Hunter, using the Feral Fury as his enslaved attack beast until Spider-Man broke her conditioning, after which Claremont, Byrne & Bob Wiacek explored ‘The Measure of a Man!’ in #68 as the Arachnid philanthropically returned the captive Man-Thing to his swamp habitat and encountered horrific demon D’Spayre torturing benevolent enchanters Dakimh and Jennifer Kale. It took every ounce of courage from both man and monster to defeat the dark lord…

A clash with Egyptian-themed thieves drew Spidey into the years-long duel between cosmic powered X-Man Havoc and his nemesis the Living Monolith in ‘Night of the Living God!’ (inked by Ricardo Villamonte), but when the battle turns against them it needs the might of Thor to stop the ravening astral menace in ‘Whom Gods Destroy!’ by Claremont, Byrne & Tony DeZuñiga…

This epic clash signalled an end to the good times as MTU downshifted to short filler tales which began with #71 and ‘Deathgarden’ by Bill Kunkel, Dave Wenzel & Dan Green as Spider-Man and the Falcon rushed to secure an antidote from the perfidious Plantman for a poison killing Captain America whilst ‘Crack of the Whip!’ (Mantlo & Jim Mooney) found the Web-spinner and Iron Man battling Maggia stooges Whiplash and The Wraith, and in #73 Daredevil helped still ‘A Fluttering of Wings Most Foul!’ (Gary Friedrich, Kerry Gammill & Don Perlin) when the Owl set a trap for his most despised foes…

Due to contractual difficulties, Marvel Team-Up #74 – which featured a bizarre and hilarious pairing with TV’s Not-Ready-For-Primer-Time Players and Saturday Night Live™ – has been omitted, but this collection of top-rate comics entertainment still end on a stellar high as Claremont, Ralph Macchio, Byrne & Al Gordon unite in tribute to the New York Fire Department with #75’s ‘The Smoke of That Great Burning!’ wherein Spider-Man and Luke Cage are caught up in a robbery and hostage crisis which soon turns into a major conflagration…

This epic tome is padded out with an art-lover’s dream: a run of Marvel Tales covers (#193-199, 201-207, 235-236, 255, 262, 263) by the likes of Dave Cockrum, Todd McFarlane, Sam Kieth and others, plus the cover of Giant-Size Spider-Man #1, and it also includes info pages from the Marvel Universe Handbook on Black Widow, Captain Britain, Havok, Living Monolith, Silver Samurai and The Stranger.

These stories here are of variable quality – ranging from the barely acceptable to utterly superb – but all have an honest drive to entertain and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about.

Although not really a book for the casual or more maturely-oriented enthusiast, there’s tons of great Fights ‘n’ Tights action here and younger readers will have a blast, so why not consider this tome for your “Must-Have” library…
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Marvel Team-Up volume 2


By Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Bill Mantlo, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, Ron Wilson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2173-3

Inspiration isn’t everything. In fact as Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in the wake of the losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators, they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties.

The only real exception to this was an en bloc creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority mandates.

The concept of team-up books – an established star joining or battling (frequently both) less well-selling company characters – was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of this new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch.

In those halcyon simpler times editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline they may well have been right.

Nevertheless Marvel Team-Up was the second official Spider-Man title (an abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the more respectable – and expensive – magazine market in 1968 but folded after two issues) when it launched in March 1972, and immediately began bucking the downward trend for costumed crusaders.

Spanning September 1974 to November 1976, this second Essentially mammoth monochrome compilation gathers the turbulent collaborations from Marvel Team-Up #25-51 plus a crossover tale from Marvel Two-In-One # 17 and opens with ‘Three into Two Won’t Go!’ (by Len Wein, Jim Mooney & Frank Giacoia) as Daredevil joins the Wondrous Wallcrawler in thrashing inept costumed kidnappers Cat-Man, Bird-Man and Ape-Man, after which MTU #26 finds the Torch and Thor battling to save the world from Lava Men in ‘The Fire This Time…’ by Wein, Mooney, Giacoia & Dave Hunt.

At this time, in a desperate effort to build some internal continuity into the perforce brutally brief encounters, the scripter introduced a shadowy trio of sinister observers with an undisclosed agenda who would monitor superhero episodes and eventually be revealed as providers of outrageous technologies for many of the one-shot villains who came and went so quickly…

They weren’t involved when the Chameleon framed Spider-Man (again) and tricked the Hulk into freeing a man from the New York Men’s Detention Center for the most unexpected reason of all in #27’s ‘A Friend in Need!’ (Wein, Mooney & Giacoia), but did have a hand in ‘The City Stealers!’ (#28 by new regular creative team Gerry Conway, Mooney & Vince Colletta) when strange mechanoids swiped the island of Manhattan, forcing Spidey and Hercules (mostly Hercules) to drag it back to its original position…

Marvel Team-Up #29 displays a far less amicable pairing as flaming kid Johnny Storm and patronising know-it-all Iron Man butt heads whilst tracking a seeming super-saboteur in ‘Beware the Coming of Infinitus! or How Can You Stop the Reincarnated Man?’

Spider-Man and The Falcon then find that ‘All That Glitters is not Gold!’ in #30 whilst tracking a mind-control drug back to its crazy concoctor Midas, the Golden Man before Mooney bowed out in MTU #31 as the Webspinner and Iron Fist experience time unravelling whilst battling reverse-aging Drom, the Backwards Man ‘For a Few Fists More!’

Conway and Colletta welcomed Sal Buscema aboard as penciller in #32 for a fiery collaboration between the Human Torch and Son of Satan who inflicted ‘All the Fires in Hell…!’ on a demon which had possessed Johnny’s pal Wyatt Wingfoot and assorted fellow members of his Native American Keewazi tribe.

The search for continuity continued in #33 when Spider-Man and Nighthawk acrimoniously tackle raving mega-nutcase Norton Fester – who had forgotten he had super strength – in ‘Anybody Here Know a Guy Named Meteor Man?’

Whilst Nighthawk was happy to drop the case at the earliest opportunity, his Defenders comrade Valkyrie was ready to step in and help Spidey finish off the looney Looter, but they both missed the real threat: mutant demagogue Jeremiah, Prophet of the Lord, who had acquired Fester’s home to house his mind-controlled cult of human psychic batteries in ‘Beware the Death Crusade!’

The latter maniac’s predations were ended in Marvel Team-Up #35 when the Torch and Doctor Strange saved Valkyrie from becoming a sacrifice in the zealot’s deranged ‘Blood Church!’ whilst in #36 Spider-Man was kidnapped and shipped off to Switzerland by assuredly insane Baron Ludwig Von Shtupf, who proclaimed himself The Monster Maker

‘Once Upon a Time, in a Castle…’ the bonkers biologist wanted to pick-&-mix creature traits and had already secured The Frankenstein Monster to practise on, but after the Webslinger busts them both out and they stumble upon sexy SHIELD Agent Klemmer their rapid counterattack goes badly wrong after Von Shtupf unleashes his other captive – the furiously feral Man-Wolf – and only big Frankie can prevent a wave of ‘Snow Death!’

As new creative team Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito take over, the Amazing Arachnid is back in the USA for issue #38, meeting The Beast and barely surviving the ‘Night of the Griffin’ when the former X-Man’s constantly-evolving manmade monster foe goes on a ruthless murder spree…

Another extended epic begins when Spider-Man and the Torch are simultaneously targeted by supposedly deceased archenemies Crime-Master and The Big Man in #39’s ‘Any Number Can Slay!’ The masked mobsters are fighting for control of the city and each has recruited their own specialist meta-thugs – Sandman and The Enforcers respectively – but the shady double-dealers are all utterly unprepared for the intervention of mystic martial arts mavens The Sons of the Tiger in #40’s ‘Murder’s Better the Second Time Around!’

Mantlo and Buscema then undertook a truly impressive and ambitious epic with a time-&-space spanning multi-parter which saw the Amazing Arachnid visiting the past and a number of alternate tomorrows beginning with ‘A Witch in Time!’ in Marvel Team-Up #41.

The opening instalment saw mutant Avenger Scarlet Witch abducted by infamous witch-hunter Cotton Mather who used Doctor Doom’s time machine to drag her back to Salem in 1692. Her plight was observed by Spider-Man who naturally followed but he failed to save her and was himself accused of infernal sorcery in that rabid Massachusetts town…

Whilst Mather fanned hysterical flames of paranoia, the Avenger’s synthezoid husband time-travelled to her side in #42’s ‘Visions of Hate!’, only to fall before the witch-finder’s mysterious power too. As the innocents of Salem prepare themselves for death, the heroes make their escape but fall to Mather’s hitherto unseen benefactor The Dark Rider.

Just as the master manipulator reveals himself however the stakes change again when a severely affronted Doctor Doom appears angrily demanding to know who’s been playing with his toys in #43’s ‘A Past Gone Mad!’

The frantic battle against an immortal chronal predator seems predestined to fail until the time-tides are unexpectedly turned in MTU #44 with the last-minute arrival of mind-goddess Moondragon but in the aftermath Spider-Man tragically discovers that history is well-nigh impossible to alter in ‘Death in the Year Before Yesterday!’

The Arachnid is the last to return to the 20th century but his departure in issue #45 results in deadly diversions and ‘Future-Shock!’ as he lands in devastated (alternate future) New York City 2019 where Warrior of the Worlds Killraven helps him survive numerous attacks by mutants and Martians in terrifying tripods before sending him back on his way home..

Unfortunately before he gets there the Wallcrawler experiences another shocking stopover in ‘Am I Now or Have I Ever Been?’, with cyborg warrior Deathlok saving him from a mutant hive-mind in a Manhattan shattered by war a mere fifteen years after his own lost and longed-for era…

A scared, sad and sobered Spider-Man finally makes it home in Marvel Two-In-One #17 just in time for a crossover with The Thing. That blockbuster opens with ‘This City… Afire!’ by Mantlo, Sal B & Esposito where, after battling beside Ka-Zar in the Savage Land, big Ben Grimm is ignominiously returned to the Big Apple by mutated madman Basilisk who has created an erupting volcano in the Hudson River…

Already reeling, Spidey swings into action for the cataclysmic conclusion in Marvel Team-Up #47 where Mantlo, Ron Wilson & Dan Adkins render the spectacular clash of heroes who boldly proclaim ‘I Have to Fight the Basilisk!’

MTU #48 begins another suspenseful extended saga when ‘Enter: the Wraith!’ (Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Esposito) introduces Police Captain Jean DeWolff as Spidey and Iron Man struggle to stop a mad bomber using model planes to destroy city landmarks and Stark International properties. As the heroes fruitlessly pursue leads, the enigmatic Wraith turns his attention upon them and proves to be not only connected to Jean but some kind of psionic metahuman…

With Iron Man again the guest-star, issue #49 reveals that ‘Madness is All in the Mind!’ as the masked maniac resumes his irresistible psychic assaults and explosive attacks on New York and the tragic story of Jean’s Police Commissioner dad and murdered cop brother comes out.

However the connection between them and the unstoppable villain are only exposed after the Webslinger recruits Master of Mystic Arts Doctor Strange to apply his unique gifts to the problem in #50’s ‘The Mystery of the Wraith!’

The saga and this character-packed compilation conclude with Marvel Team-Up #51 and ‘The Trial of the Wraith!’ by a most unusual panel of judges whose hidden abilities are not enough to prevent one last crack of the whip by the unrepentant renegade…

These stories and illustration of these tales are of variable quality – frankly ranging from just plain daft to utterly gripping – but all have an honest drive to entertain and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about.

Although not really a book for the casual or more maturely-oriented enthusiast there’s lots of fun on hand and younger readers will have a blast, so there’s no real reason not to add this tome to your library…
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man by Brian Bendis volume 4


By Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli, David Marquez, Justin Ponsor & various (Marvel) ISBN: 978-0-7851-6503-3

When the Ultimate Spider-Man died, writer Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel promised that a new hero would arise from the ashes…

Marvel’s Ultimates imprint began in 2000 with a post-modern take on major characters and concepts to bring them into line with the tastes of 21st century readers – apparently a wholly different demographic from us baby-boomers and our descendents content to stick with the precepts sprung from founding talents Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee… or perhaps just those unable or unwilling to deal with five decades (seven if you include Golden Age Timely tales retroactively co-opted into the mix) of continuity baggage which saturated the originals.

Of course the darkly nihilistic new universe soon became as continuity-constricted as its ancestor and in 2008 cleansing exercise “Ultimatum” culminated in a reign of terror which killed dozens of super-humans and millions of mere mortals in a devastating tsunami that inundated Manhattan courtesy of mutant menace Magneto.

In the months that followed, plucky Peter Parker and his fellow meta-human survivors struggled to restore order to a dangerous new world, but just as Spider-Man finally gained a measure of acceptance and was hailed a hero by the masses, he took a bullet for Captain America and very publicly met his end during a catastrophic super-villain showdown …

In the aftermath, child prodigy Miles Morales gained suspiciously similar powers (super-strong and fast and able to walk up walls, plus invisibility and a crippling “venom-charge”) and started out on the same deadly learning curve: coping with astounding new physical abilities, painfully discovering the daily costs of living a life of lies and realising how a crippling sense of responsibility is the most seductive method of self-harm and worst of all of possible gifts.

He was helped and hindered in equal amounts by his uncle Aaron: a career super-criminal dubbed The Prowler. Things started to go spiral out of control the night Aaron Davis died in battle with the new arachnid hero in town, but now – months later – the repercussions of the televised event have finally caught up with the boy who would be Spider-Man…

Written throughout by Bendis, this luxurious hardcover collection (re-presenting Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #16.1 and #19-25, from December 2012 to June 2013) finds the juvenile wall-crawler recovering in the aftermath of a second War Between the States.

That internecine conflict almost destroyed the Republic but has left the traumatised public in no mood to tolerate mysteries or put up with unexplained and potentially dangerous characters and vigilantes.

The action opens with jump-on tale ‘Point One’ (illustrated by David Marquez

from Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #16.1) wherein unscrupulous reporter Betty Brant uses her considerable investigative skills to establish a link between The Prowler, the second Spider-Man, the genetic experiments of Norman Osborn and a guy named Morales.

As she digs deeper and follows the brief career of the new hero, Betty not only uncovers the remains of the genegineered spider which transformed Miles, but also learns far more than she should have from disgraced Oscorp biochemist Dr. Conrad Marcus, as well as engendering the unwelcome interest of scientific monolith Roxxon Industries and a brutal, relentless monstrosity…

The main event is 4-part epic ‘Venom War’ (art by Sara Pichelli) which opens in the days following the civil war. Child prodigy Miles and best-bud/superhero trainer Ganke are back at Brooklyn Visions Academy Boarding School. Miles spends only weekends at home, and now he and his confidante are eagerly attempting to master Peter Parker’s web-fluid formula and wrist-shooters which the inexperienced hero has recently inherited.

As a mysterious monster raids and wrecks Roxxon’s HQ, in Manhattan homicide cop and ex-SHIELD agent Mariah Hill is investigating the bloody murder of a journalist. Her interviews at the Daily Bugle all lead her to the Davis/Morales home in Brooklyn.

Marcus’ dad Jefferson Davis has become an involuntary and extremely camera-shy celebrity because of his stand against the secessionist organisation Hydra. When a film crew bursts into the family home he understandably goes ballistic and kicks them to the kerb, but his fury is futile in the face of the towering, metamorphic horror known as Venom, which chooses that moment to attack the person it accuses of being Spider-Man…

The next chapter opens seconds later as the beast lunges, and in the family home Miles suits up and springs into battle…

The clash is savage and terrifying. As the TV parasites carry on filming, Jefferson joins the severely overmatched Spider-Man only to be smashed and broken like a bug…

The Arachnid kid goes crazy but his best efforts – and the fusillade of shots from the just- arrived cops – are useless. Only after the shattered lad employs his devastating venom blasts does he succeed in driving off the amorphous atrocity…

The shocking struggle has been broadcast all over the world. Elsewhere in Brooklyn two girls cherished by the original web-spinner immediately drop what they’re doing and rush to the scene of the battle…

Many months previously, as part of the crowd of grateful strangers attending Peter Parker’s memorial, Miles and Ganke had talked to another mourner, a girl who was intimate with the murdered hero. Gwen Stacy offered quiet insights to the boy child who had just acquired his powers and then altered the course of his life forever by sharing a simple mantra: “with great power comes great responsibility”…

Now she and Mary Jane Watson arrive at the crime scene ready to share their experience in keeping secrets just as attending detective Mariah Hill reaches the conclusion that the shell-shocked boy crying on the stairs is Spider-Man…

His mother Rio Morales is in the ambulance taking Jefferson to hospital and Miles is in no state to fend off questions from an experienced SHIELD interrogator or even speak to his equally traumatised buddy Ganke, but Gwen and Mary Jane certainly are and quickly shut down the situation and terminate the interview.

As they explain all the ghastly secrets of the Venom monster and its connection to the Parker family, speculation leads the youngsters to the idea that maybe the genetic quirk which made Peter Spider-Man might be repeated in the Morales family…

Deep below their feet the shapeshifting symbiote is reconstituting. Soon it breaks out of the sewers to again consume human hosts. The consciousness in charge of the marauding terror hasn’t given up its search for Spider-Man and is all too quickly bursting into the hospital where Rio is waiting for word on her husband…

The shocking conclusion begins with news of the assault reaching Miles. Hill, convinced she is right, gives Miles crucial advice for the battle she knows his coming. By the time Spider-Man reaches the medical centre Venom is carving a bloody swathe through the patients and doctors and the consequent clash is terrifying to behold.

With bodies falling everywhere Miles eventually finds a grotesque and dreadful way to stop the beast and expose the villain within, but in the aftermath realises that the awful cost has been another person he loves…

As the ruthless boss of Roxxon now makes Spider-Man his only priority, in Brooklyn Miles wakes from a deep sleep and realises his life has changed forever. At last he understands the horror and tragedy which underpins the legend of Spider-Man. This time though, the response to a death in the family is not guilty defiance and an urge to make things right, but a crushing, total surrender…

To Be Continued…

With covers by Sara Pichelli, this is a tense, breathtaking action-packed, thriller full of the humour and drama which blessed the original Lee/Ditko tales: a controversial but worthy way to continue and advance the legend that Fights ‘n’ Tights addicts will admire and adore… © 2012, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man Noir book 2: Eyes Without a Face


By David Hine & Carmine Di Giandomenico, with June Chung (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4450-2

When fictional heroes and villains become really popular – to the point where fans celebrate their births and deaths and dress up like them at the slightest opportunity or provocation – eventually a tendency develops to explore other potential character facets that the regular, cash-cow continuity might normally prohibit.

DC invented a whole company sub-strand of “Imaginary Stories” and Marvel asked “What If…?”, sharing glimpses of alternate realities. Even television series got into the act with shows like Star Trek, Roswell and Stargate SG-1 offering coolly jarring, different takes on their established stars and scenarios.

The nasty little gem of alternate continuity on view today stems from Marvel’s intriguing experiment of 2009 wherein many of their biggest stars were reconfigured and set back in time: populating a universe drenched in the tone, lore and ephemera of pulp fiction and Film Noir. This iconic 1930s milieu was a grim and grimy land where shiny gleaming super-powered heroes were replaced by stark, paranoid, deeply flawed and self-serving individuals just trying to get by as best they could…

Spider-Man Noir: Eyes Without a Face is a sequel to an initial “origin” yarn and benefits from not having to explain or differentiate the so-similar seeming stars from the bastions of the regular continuity.

It ran as a 4-issue miniseries from February to May 2010, offering a glimpse into a moody world with no heroes, only varying shades of villainy. Nevertheless it still provides a satisfying slice of suspenseful entertainment for Fights ‘n’ Tights fans in search of something genuinely edgier than their regular fare. After all, the big draw for the jaded is that these folks might actually die and stay that way…

What You Need to Know: living in Depression-era New York City, the nephew of liberal activists Ben and May Parker was bitten by a strange tropical spider, developing rather strange attributes. The hot-headed radical used those newfound abilities and the files of reporter/extortionist Ben Urich to bring down the corrupt Mayor and his audacious criminal partner Norman Osborn AKA The Goblin.

Sadly the clearing-out of the town’s most powerful individuals only allowed a whole new echelon of murderous scum to come to the fore.

Now a junior photojournalist for the crusading Daily Bugle, Peter Parker moonlights as the trench-coated, wall crawling mystery man dubbed the Spider-Man, striving to keep the streets clean and give the little guys a break in an uncaring world of callous giants…

It all begins ‘Around Midnight’ in September 1933. The Spider-Man has prowled the dark streets for eight months but despite his best efforts crime is still rampant. Local Bureau of Investigation Chief Agent Jean De Wolfe is running out of informants as new underworld supremo Crime Master exerts growing control over the mobs, aided by his taciturn enforcer “The Sandman”.

When the Arachnid Avenger discovers a theatre full of slaughtered crooks he heads straight for his paramour and occasional ally Felicia Hardy, hopeful that she’s overheard something at her Black Cat Nightclub – a speakeasy regarded as neutral territory by crooks and cops alike.

She is less than forthcoming… at least with information…

Heading home to the Bowery Welfare Center in the grey morning light, Peter meets old friend and fellow agitator Robbie Robertson. The hothead is sounding off about new President Franklin Roosevelt and questioning how his proposed New Deal reforms will affect the situation of black people in America…

The brilliant and passionate young man works for the city’s segregated newspaper The Negro World and knows how things really work. Furthermore, Robbie shares with his old marching comrade suspicions that the government have something covert going on with prominent biologist Dr. Otto Octavius on Ellis Island. Being “a coloured”, Robbie has been refused an interview. Perhaps Peter could use his Bugle credentials to facilitate the matter?

Three days later the journalists are being greeted – albeit with exceeding different degrees of warmth – by the researcher’s assistant Curtis Connors before being ushered into a lab where wheelchair-bound and severely handicapped Octavius is finishing up appallingly sadistic experiments on a number of primates…

As they return to Manhattan, Robertson declares that something even worse is going on and resolves to go back for a look without the scientist’s Aryan-seeming minders tagging along. He doesn’t share his suspicions that the doctor’s passion for mind-control surgeries might be connected to a rash of disappearances of black citizens from Harlem…

‘Night Music’ follows escalating gang conflict as Crime Master tightens his stranglehold on the mobs and the Spider-Man spectacularly raids Harlem nightspot Seventh Heaven to discover what manager Fat Larry claims is just a faked-up dungeon room for clients with “exotic tastes”. It smells like the real thing to Peter…

Later, as Parker gloats over his first scoop for the Bugle, Robbie’s dad comes knocking. His proud, brilliant, too-inquisitive boy has gone missing…

Introducing his prospective daughter-in-law Gloria, the elder Robertson explains Robbie had been looking into reports of missing blacks and a possible white supremacy movement in New York. He was especially concerned about inroads into the government and possible links to Nazi Germany…

Having been roundly abused by the police when they tried to report him missing, the desperate family have come to Peter hoping he might have an idea.

He has only one and immediately rushes out to a nightclub in Harlem.

Elsewhere in town Octavius’ supplier of raw material and suitable test subjects is being carpeted by his clandestine backer Josef Ansell. Crime Master has no interest in the theories of the American Nazi party but revels in the power of his new position. He is not happy to hear his boss screaming over his performance and failure to deal with the Spider-Man.

Later, in the devil’s doctor’s fortress of obscene science, Octavius and Josef debate theories of racial purity and controlling the sub-human races through the creepily dispassionate butcher’s radical new surgical discovery. Today we call it lobotomising…

Berlin favours simply eradicating the lower orders but Octavius is convinced his scheme is better. Surely it’s more economically sensible to simply remove the capacity for rebellion and employ the sub-humans as tractable, ever-obedient slaves?

Considering the argument won he turns his attention back to Robbie, trussed up but awake on an operating table…

The Spider-Man, meanwhile, has reached Seventh Heaven to check out that dungeon again only to walk into a trap. Leading the overconfident army of thugs are Crime Master and his hulking Sandman, a brute seemingly oblivious to pain or injury…

Acting on a tip, De Wolfe and his team break in just in time to save the ambushed arachnoid from being beaten to death. As ‘Blues in the Night’ further unfolds, the battered vigilante shares his knowledge of the Negro disappearances and profound belief that Otto Octavius is behind them.

Still reeling, Peter then goes to Felicia for comfort and medical assistance but she can’t minister to him for long. She has a very important client coming who doesn’t like to share. However when she inadvertently questions her mystery high-roller about the Harlem abductions she tips her hand and the Crime Master sadistically makes her regret nosing into his business…

With his shielding veils of respectability and political secrecy tearing all around him, Josef frantically prepares to up stakes and relocate to somewhere more isolated and less troublesome like Tuskegee, Alabama, but the vengeful Arachnid is already deep within the Ellis Island facility and has seen what’s been done to Robbie…

The horrific pot of bubbling hatreds boil over in ‘Endless Night’ as obsessed Octavius rails against his backers whilst Crime Master and his goons ignore his protestations and get rid of the “livestock” and evidence of the doctor’s “scientific breakthroughs”.

By the time the Spider-Man joins the fight the supremacist thug and theoretician have almost killed each other but that doesn’t prevent the outraged avenger exacting his own measure of vengeance…

If he had known what Crime Master had left of Felicia, The Spider-Man might not have gone so easy on the monsters…

Bleak, gutsy, galvanising and trenchantly effective, this excellent period thriller by scripter David Hine & illustrator Carmine Di Giandomenico offers a stunningly suspenseful serving of dark drama and gripping action which would work equally well even if you had never heard of Marvel’s wondrous wallcrawler.

This pocketbook sized collection also includes a covers gallery by Di Giandomenico with variants by Dennis Calero as well as original art pages of variant options, inked art shot prior to the digital colouring stage and an extended script excerpt by Hine & Fabrice Sapolsky from issue #1, illustrated with character design sketches by Di Giandomenico.
© 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.