Marvel Team Up Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Jim Mooney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4210-2 (HB)

Inspiration isn’t everything. In fact, as Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in the wake of 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 the assembly line creation of horror and horror-hero 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 rules.

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with 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 long-lost days editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since superheroes were actually in a decline they may well have been right.

Marvel Team-Up was the second regular Spider-Man title (abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the magazine market in 1968 but had died after two issues). MTU launched at the end of 1971 and went from strength to strength, proving the time had finally come for expansion and a concentration on uncomplicated action over sub-plots…

This engaging hardback and/or eBook compilation gathers the first 11 issues – covering March 1972 to July 1973 – and opens with scripter Gerry Conway’s engaging recollections in ‘Behold: An Introduction’ before the comicbook magic commences with the webspinner and his flighty flaming frenemy reluctantly spending the holidays together…

Marvel Team-Up #1was crafted by Roy Thomas, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito as a mutual old enemy reared his gritty head in the charming ‘Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas!’. A light-heated romp full of Christmas cheer, rambunctious action and seasonal sentiment, the story set the tone for all epics to follow.

Merry Marvelite Maximii can award themselves a point for remembering which martial arts and TV heroine debuted in this issue but the folk with lives can simply take my word that it was Iron Fist’s sometime squeeze Misty Knight

Gerry Conway assumed the writer’s role and Jim Mooney the inker’s for ‘And Spidey Makes Four!’ in the succeeding issue as our heroes then take on and trounce the Frightful Four and Negative Zone bogeyman Annihilus before seemingly without pause going after Morbius the Living Vampire in #3’s ‘The Power to Purge!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia).

The new horror-star was still acting the villain in MTU #4 as the Torch was replaced by most of Marvel’s sole mutant team (The Beast having gone all hairy – and solo) in ‘And Then… the X-Men!’

This bold and enthralling thriller was illustrated by the magnificent Gil Kane at the top of his form and inked by Steve Mitchell. Kane became a semi-regular penciller, and his dynamic style and extreme anatomy lifted many rather pedestrian tales such as #5’s ‘A Passion of the Mind!’ (Conway script & Esposito inks), pitting Spidey and The Vision against manipulative mesmeric Puppet Master and robotic assassin the Monstroid.

The villain carried over to the next issue and was joined by the Mad Thinker ‘…As Those Who Will Not See!’ pitted the wallcrawler and the Thing against the cerebral scoundrels in a cataclysmic battle no Fights ‘n’ Tights fan could be unmoved by…

‘A Hitch in Time!’ in #7 was produced by Conway, Andru and Mooney: guest-starring Thor as otherworldly Trolls freeze Earth’s time-line as a prerequisite step to conquering Asgard, after which MTU #8 provides a perfect example of the team-up comic’s other function – to promote and popularise new characters.

‘Man-Killer Moves at Midnight!’ was most fans’ first exposure to The Cat (later retooled as Tigra the Were-Woman) in a painfully worthy if ham-fisted attempt to address feminist issues from Conway and Jim Mooney. The hard-pressed heroes joined forces her to stop a male-hunting murderer paying back abusive men. These days we’d probably be rooting for her…

Iron Man then collaborated in the opening foray of 3-part tale ‘The Tomorrow War!’ (Conway, Andru & Frank Bolle) as he and Spidey are kidnapped by Zarkko the Tomorrow Man to battle Kang the Conqueror. The Torch returned to help deal with the intermediate threat of ‘Time Bomb!’ (with art by Mooney & Giacoia) before the entire race of Black Bolt’s Inhumans pile in to help Spidey stop history unravelling in culminatory clash ‘The Doomsday Gambit!’ – this last chapter scripted by Len Wein over Conway’s plot for Mooney & Esposito to illustrate.

This initial gathering also includes two splendid samples of Kane original art – a cover and interior page.

These stories are of variable quality but nonetheless all show an honest drive to entertain and please whilst artistically the work is superb, and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about. Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers, there’s lots of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so surely that’s reason enough to add this titanic tome to your library…
© 1972, 1973, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man: Marvel Team-Up by Claremont & Byrne


By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Ralph Macchio, Dave Hunt & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5866-0

The concept of team-up books – an established A-lister joining or battling (usually 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 days 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 pricey – magazine market in 1968 but folded after two issues) and it immediately began bucking the downward trend for costumed crusaders.

Encompassing July 1977 to November 1978 and re-presenting Marvel Team-Up #59-70 and 75, this highly selective and utterly engaging volume gathers the (almost) complete oeuvre and cathartic collaborations of late 70’s wonder kids Chris Claremont and John Byrne: at that time setting the comics world on fire with their Iron Fist and new X-Men tales. Why “almost”? Because the book sadly omits a lovely Red Sonja pairing presumably unavailable as the “She-Devil with a Sword” is now licensed to another publisher…

The tense suspense and cataclysmic action commence with #59 which declared ‘Some Say Spidey Will Die by Fire… Some Say by Ice!’ by (Claremont, Byrne & inker Dave Hunt) as veteran Avenger Yellowjacket is apparently murdered by rampaging mystery maniac Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man and the Amazing Arachnid is hard-pressed to stop the traumatised Wasp exacting bloody vengeance in concluding episode ‘A Matter of Love… and Death!’ in MTU #60

Claremont had actually begun scripting the title with issue #57 as a succession of espionage-flavoured heroes and villains battled for possession of a mysterious clay statuette.

The secret of the artefact is now revealed in #61 as the Human Torch Johnny Storm joins his creepy-crawly frenemy in battle against the Super-Skrull and learns ‘Not All Thy Powers Can Save Thee!’, before the furious clash calamitously escalates to include Ms. Marvel with the next issue’s ‘All This and the QE2’

Despite the very best efforts of Claremont & Byrne, their Kung Fu fantasy Iron Fist never quite achieved the kind of sales traction of their collaboration on the X-Men, and thus 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 K’un Lun kid Danny Rand was still suffering repeated attacks on his chi by the enigmatic and murderous 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 #63 and 64 exposed the secret of the sinister K’un Lun pariah on the ‘Night of the Dragon’ before Rand and Spidey – with the assistance of Daughters of the Dragon Misty Knight and Colleen Wing – finally ended the threat in blistering martial arts manner with ‘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 Marvel Team-Up #65 ‘Introducing Captain Britain’ by originating scripter Claremont and British-born, Canada-bred Byrne.

The story depicted 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 wherein the abducted antagonists systematically dismantled the maniac’s ‘Murderworld’.

The mystery of a long-vanished feline were-woman warrior was then resolved in ‘Tigra, Tigra, Burning Bright!’ as the webslinger is targeted by Kraven the Hunter, using the Feral Fury as his enslaved attack beast until Spider-Man breaks her conditioning, after which Claremont, Byrne & Bob Wiacek explore ‘The Measure of a Man!’ in #68 as the Arachnid philanthropically returns the captive Man-Thing to his Florida swamp habitat. No good deed ever goes unpunished and soon he encounters horrific demon D’Spayre torturing benevolent enchanters Dakimh and Jennifer Kale. It takes every ounce of courage both man and monster possess to defeat the sadistic dark lord…

A clash with Egyptian-themed thieves next draws 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 requires the thunderous 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 then downshifted to short filler tales 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 Hero for Hire Luke Cage are caught up in a robbery and hostage crisis which soon turns into a major conflagration…

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…
© 1977, 1978, 2011, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man: The Graphic Novels


By Susan K. Putney, Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Charles Vess, Berni Wrightson, Alex Saviuk, Ross Andru & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6065-6

When Marvel began its line of Original Graphic Novels in 1980, the books were based on European Albums: large, square-bound paperback volumes offering 80 to 100 pages of new material on high-quality paper. The project – which began with Jim Starlin’s The Death of Captain Marvel – produced some classy results that the company has seldom come close to repeating since. Both original concepts and established characters were represented in that initial run and many of the stories still stand out today as huge successes: debuting many new series, celebrating licensed properties and devising special stories featuring the company’s proprietary superstars.

Marvel icon the Amazing Spider-Man graced a bunch of extraordinary sagas which were reprinted in 2012 and now form the contents of this splendid oversized (190 x 286 mm) hardback and eBook edition.

The web-wrapped wonderment begins with Hookey – originally released as Marvel Graphic Novel #22 in August 1986. This charming fantasy fable written by Susan K. Putney and painted by comic-book legend Berni Wrightson with the colouring assistance of Michelle Wrightson took the wallcrawler on a journey unlike any other he had previously experienced…

Marandi Sjörokker is not the carefree little girl she appears to be. For a start she’s been twelve for over two hundred years, and after introducing herself by calling Spider-Man “Petey”, she goes on to reveals how she knew him when he was a toddler and she delivered newspapers to his Uncle Ben…

And so begins a wild and beguiling other-dimensional romp, full of action and spectacle, as the webslinger takes a break from his grim and grimy reality to help the permanently adolescent sorceress battle against the demonic and unstoppable TordenKakerlakk (which I’m reliably informed is Norwegian for Thunder Cockroach).

Moreover, this witty, whimsical coming-of-age tale is beautifully and imaginatively illustrated by a master craftsman. A wonderful change-of-pace tale that perfectly displays the versatility of everybody’s favourite wall-crawler – and one that once read will never be forgotten…

Marvel Graphic Novel #46 was first released in May 1989, soon after Peter Parker married Mary Jane Watson and comes courtesy of Gerry Conway, Alex Saviuk & Andy Mushynsky. By referencing the stories crafted by a host of creators since the Amazing Arachnid’s debut, the tale (with Doctor Octopus as menace du jour) sheds new light on how the newlyweds grew up and grew together against terrible odds to live their now-united but always Parallel Lives

Charles Vess’ Spirits of the Earth is one of the prettiest graphic novels ever produced, not to say one of the most entertaining Spider-Man adventures ever told and was first released as premium hardcover Marvel Graphic Novel #63 in August 1990.

Here Mary Jane and Peter Parker are astounded and delighted to discover that an unknown relative has left the bride a castle deep in the Scottish Highlands. Setting off for a second honeymoon they soon become embroiled in ancient magic and high-tech abominations courtesy of the Celtic branch of the perfidious Mutants and Millionaires cabal The Hellfire Club

Ghoulies, ghosties and villainous super-criminals combine with some of the best artwork you’ve ever seen for a truly wonderful adventure that desperately needs to be on your bookshelf. Also included here is a delightful pictorial travelogue by Vess entitled ‘A Scottish Journey’

Wrapping up the vintage adventure is Fear Itself by Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, which was in February 1992 stand-alone OGN Marvel Graphic Novel #72.

This taut thriller is a good, old-fashioned, nostalgic Spidey yarn for readers who yearn for simpler times long past. Unlike many all-new works, it’s also quite tightly bound to Marvel continuity (perhaps it was intended as an annual but got “promoted” to a more expansive and therefore expensive format?), so if you need a lot of footnotes to read Spider-Man you might want to think carefully before plunging in.

The plot concerns the return of old Captain America villain Baron Zemo – radically transformed here by Hitler’s deranged geneticist Arnim Zola. The revived, resurrected and radically revised Zemo steals a new, weaponized drug from the US government developed at the company owned by Peter Parker’s friend Harry Osborn.

This chemical contagion drives victims mad with fear and – in alliance with Nazi-hunting mercenary Silver Sable – our hero travels post haste to Bavaria for a series of life-or death showdowns in a terrific ticking-timebomb-thriller.

Although there are some plot holes you could drive a Kampfpanzer through (that’s a big Nazi tank, you know) the dialogue by two of the wall-crawler’s greatest scribes is still effective and engaging, but the real joy is the last hurrah of the fabulous and criminally undervalued art team of Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, who had been crafting great comics in innumerable genres since the early 1950s, and were Spider-Man’s artists for a huge part of the Seventies.

Thrills. Spills. Chills. Ancient Hills and indomitable wills: this confection of Spidery classics is something no Fights ‘n’ Tights fans should miss. Go on. You know you want to…
© 1986, 1989, 1990, 1992, 2012, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2072-8

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists and a plethora of super-villains (and – as seen in this collection – even the occasional monster or alien invasion), quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.

Covering October1967-June 1968 and re-presenting Daredevil #33-41 and crossover issue Fantastic Four #73, this fourth compilation (in both hardback and eBook formats) sees a continuing gain in story quality as scripter Stan Lee blended soap operatic plot-threads with a string of guest supervillains to string together the unique fight scenes of the increasingly bold and artistically audacious Gene Colan…

Following another typically frothy Introduction from Stan Lee the action opens with ‘Behold the Beetle’ (Daredevil #33, and inked by John Tartaglione) and sees the entire cast – legal partner Foggy Nelson, secretary Karen Page and Murdock in the guise of his own (fictitious) twin brother Mike – heading to Canada for World’s Fair Expo ’67 and encountering another borrowed costumed crazy in search of easy glory and untold riches…

With Daredevil crushed and captive the prospects look bleak north of the border, but Ol’ Hornhead soon outsmarts and outfights his techno-savvy foe in the stunning sequel ‘To Squash the Beetle!’

Safely back in the Big Apple, DD’s undeserved reputation as a mere costumed acrobat induces another fearsome felon to attack in ‘Daredevil Dies First!’ The sightless wonder is targeted by old Fantastic Four foe The Trapster, who considers the Scarlet Swashbuckler a mere stepping-stone in his overly-complex plan to destroy the World’s premier super-team. Typically, Murdock manages to turn the tables in #36’s ‘The Name of the Game is Mayhem!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia): a clash that leave the blind hero triumphant but weakened and easy prey for another FF arch-foe. Tartaglione then returned to ink the startling ‘Don’t Look Now, But It’s… Doctor Doom!’

Helpless before the Iron Dictator, DD is trapped in ‘The Living Prison!’(Giacoia inks) as Doom swaps bodies with the sightless crusader to facilitate his own sneak attack on the FF, which culminates in a stupendous Lee, Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott crafted Battle Royale in Fantastic Four #73’s crossover conclusion with the Human Torch, Thing and Mr. Fantastic battling Daredevil, Thor and Spider-Man in ‘The Flames of Battle…’.

As always when involved in mind- swap cases, it’s always prudent to advise your friends when you defeat the bad guy and regain your original body…

The Man Without Fear finally found some of his own bad guys to bash in Daredevil #39 when old enemies the Ani-Men return with a new name and a new boss. Inked by George Tuska ‘The Exterminator and the Super-Powered Unholy Three’ reintroduces Bird-Man, Ape-Man and Cat-Man, now in the pay of a criminal genius working with time-based weapons, but the real meat of the tale is Foggy’s campaign to become New York City’s District Attorney.

That potential glittering prize is threatened, however, after the portly advocate unexpectedly revives his romantic relationship with ex-convict Deborah Harris, but at least now Matt Murdock’s only rival for Karen’s affections is his imaginary twin-brother Mike…

That story proceeded in #40 with DD banished to a timeless other-realm world but still led to a spectacular clash in ‘The Fallen Hero!’ (inked by Tartaglione) before concluding the only way it could with ‘The Death of Mike Murdock!’ as Matt takes advantage of his final catastrophic battle with the Exterminator to end the clumsy secret identity charade.

He doesn’t come clean though, preferring to keep Daredevil’s secrets and let his friends grieve needlessly…

To Be Continued…

Rounding out the experience are number of bonus pages including the unused (presumed lost forever) original cover to DD #35, plus a gallery of original art pages and covers by Colan. Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1967, 1968, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 5 1975-1978: Second Genesis


By Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Bill Mantlo, Bonnie Wilford, Dave Cockrum, Bob Brown, Tony DeZuñiga, John Byrne, Sal Buscema & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0390-9

In the autumn of 1963 The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier.

The teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo Superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After nearly eight years of eccentrically spectacular adventures the mutant misfits virtually disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just like in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes once more dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although their title returned at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the ongoing Marvel universe, whilst the bludgeoning Beast was opportunistically transformed into a scary monster to cash in on the horror boom.

Then, with sales of the spooky stuff subsequently waning in 1975, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas green-lighted a bold one-shot as part of the company’s line of Giant-Size specials and history was made…

This fabulous mass-market collection (in trade paperback and eBook editions) is perfect for newbies and neophytes, celebrating the revival and unstoppable march to market dominance through the exuberant and pivotal early stories: specifically, Giant Size X-Men #1, issues #94-110 of the definitely “All-New, All-Different” X-Men, as well as guest appearances in Iron Fist #14-15, Marvel Team Up #53, 69-70 and Marvel Team Up Annual #1, collectively and cumulatively spanning May 1975 to June 1978.

Tracing the reinvigorated merry mutants from young, fresh and delightfully under-exposed innovations to the beginnings of their unstoppable ascendancy to ultimate comicbook icons, in their own title and through an increasingly broad clutch of guest shots, the epic voyage begins without pause or preamble, in a classic mystery monster mash from Giant Size X-Men #1.

Len Wein & Dave Cockrum (the latter a red-hot property following his stint reviving DC’s equally eclectic fan-fave super-team The Legion of Super-Heroes) detailed in ‘Second Genesis!’ how the original squad – all but new Avengers recruit The Beast – had been lost in action…

With no other choice Xavier is forced to scour Earth and the entire Marvel Universe for replacements…

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire is added a one-shot Hulk adversary dubbed the Wolverine, but the bulk of time and attention is lavished upon original creations Kurt Wagner, a demonic-seeming German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler; African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe – AKA Storm, Russian farm-boy Peter Rasputin who turns into a living steel Colossus and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who is cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The second chapter of the epic introductory adventure ‘…And Then There Was One!’ reintroduces battered, depleted but unbowed team-leader Cyclops who swiftly drills the newcomers into a semblance of readiness before leading them into primordial danger against the monolithic threat of ‘Krakoa… the Island That Walks Like a Man!’

Overcoming the phenomenal terror of a rampaging rapacious mutant eco-system and rescuing the “real” team should have led to a quarterly Giant-Size sequel, but so great was the fan response that the follow-up adventure was swiftly reworked into a 2-part tale for the rapidly reconfigured comicbook which became a bimonthly home to the new team.

X-Men #94 (August 1975) began ‘The Doomsmith Scenario!’ – plotted by Editor Wein, scripted by Chris Claremont and with Bob McLeod inking man-on-fire Cockrum – in a canny Armageddon-shocker with a newly pared-down strike-squad deprived of Sunfire and the still-recuperating Marvel Girl, Angel, Iceman, Havok and Lorna Dane. The neophytes are called in by the Beast to stop criminal terrorist Count Nefaria starting an atomic war.

The insidious mastermind has conquered America’s Norad citadel with a gang of artificial superhumans and accidentally escalated a nuclear blackmail scheme into an inescapable countdown to holocaust, leaving the untrained, unprepared mutants to storm in to save the world in epic conclusion ‘Warhunt!’ (inked by Sam Grainger).

One of the new team doesn’t make it back…

X-Men #96 saw Claremont take charge of the writing (albeit with some plotting input from Bill Mantlo) for ‘Night of the Demon!’ Guilt-wracked Cyclops blames himself for the loss of his team-mate, and in his explosive rage accidentally unleashes a demonic antediluvian horror from Earth’s primordial prehistory for the heroes-in-training to thrash.

The infernal Nagarai would return over and again to bedevil mankind, but the biggest innovation in this issue is the introduction of gun-toting biologist/housekeeper Moira MacTaggert and the first inklings of the return of implacable old adversaries…

A long-running, cosmically-widescreen storyline began in #97 with ‘My Brother, My Enemy!’ as Xavier – tormented by visions of interstellar war – tries to take a vacation, just as Havok and Lorna (finally settling on superhero nom de guerre Polaris) attack: apparently willing servants of a mysterious madman using Cyclops’ old undercover alter ego Eric the Red.

The devastating conflict then segues into a spectacular 3-part yarn, as pitiless robotic killers return under the hate-filled auspices of mutantophobic Steven Lang and his mysterious backers in Project Armageddon. The action opens with #98’s ‘Merry Christmas, X-Men…the Sentinels Have Returned!’

With coordinated attacks capturing semi-retired Marvel Girl plus Wolverine, Banshee and Xavier, Cyclops and the remaining heroes co-opt a space shuttle and storm Lang’s orbital HQ to rescue them in ‘Deathstar Rising!’ (inked by Frank Chiaramonte): another phenomenal all-action episode.

The saga concludes on an agonising cliffhanger with the 100th issue anniversary tale. ‘Greater Love Hath no X-Man…’ (with Cockrum inking his own pencils) sees the new X-Men apparently battle the original team before overturning Lang’s monstrous schemes forever. However, their catastrophic clash destroys the only means of escape and, as a gigantic solar flare threatens to eradicate the satellite-station, their only chance of survival means certain death for another X-Man.

As #101 unfolded, scripter Claremont & artist Cockrum were on the on the verge of utterly overturning the accepted status quo of women in comics forever…

Led by field-leader Cyclops, the team now consisted of old acquaintance and former foe SeanBansheeCassidy, Wolverine, and new creations Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus and part-timer Jean Grey still labouring under the nom-de guerre Marvel Girl… but not for much longer…

‘Like a Phoenix from the Ashes’ (Chiaramonte inks) sees a space-shuttle cataclysmically crash into Jamaica Bay. The X-Men had safely travelled in a specially-shielded chamber but Marvel Girl had manually piloted the vehicle, unprotected through a lethal radiation storm…

As the mutants escape the slowly sinking craft, a fantastic explosion propels the impossibly alive Jean into the air, clad in a strange gold and green uniform and screaming that she is “Fire and Life Incarnate… Phoenix!”

Immediately collapsing, the critically injured girl is rushed to hospital and a grim wait begins.

Unable to explain her survival and too preoccupied to spare time for teaching, Xavier packs Banshee, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Storm and Colossus off to the Irish mutant’s home in County Mayo for a vacation, blissfully unaware that Cassidy Keep has been compromised and is now a deadly trap for his new students…

Within the ancestral pile, Sean’s mutant cousin Black Tom has usurped control of the manor and its incredible secrets before – at Eric the Red’s behest – contriving an inescapable ambush, assisted by an old X-Men enemy.

‘Who Will Stop the Juggernaut?’ (Grainger inks) sees the inexperienced heroes in over their heads and fighting for their lives, but still finds room to reveal the origins of Storm and provide an explanation for her crippling claustrophobia, before ‘The Fall of the Tower’ explosively ends the tale with mutant heroes and the Keep’s Leprechaun colony (no, really!) uniting to expel the murderous usurpers.

Although still bi-monthly at the time, the series kicked into confident top gear with ‘The Gentleman’s Name is Magneto’ as the weary warriors then divert to Scotland to check on Moira MacTaggert’s island lab: a secret facility containing myriad mutant menaces the X-Men have previously defeated.

It’s a very bad move since the ever-active Eric has restored the dormant master of magnetism to full power. The mutant terrorist had been turned into a baby – a strangely commonplace fate for villains in those faraway days – but he was all grown up again now and indulging in one last temper tantrum…

Freshly arrived from America, Moira and Cyclops are only just in time to lead a desperate, humiliating retreat from the triumphant Master of Magnetism. Scott doesn’t care: he realises the entire affair has been a feint to draw the heroes away from Xavier and Jean…

He needn’t have worried. Although in ‘Phoenix Unleashed’ (inks by Bob Layton) Eric orchestrates an attack by Firelord – a cosmic flamethrower and former herald of Galactus much like the Silver Surfer – Jean is now fully evolved into a being of unimaginable power who readily holds the fiery marauder at bay…

In the interim a long-standing mystery is solved as the visions which have haunted and tormented Xavier are revealed as a psychic connection with a runaway princess from a distant alien empire.

Lilandra of the Shi’ar had rebelled against her imperial brother and, whilst fleeing, had somehow telepathically locked onto her trans-galactic soul-mate Charles Xavier. As she made her circuitous way to Earth, embedded Shi’ar spy Shakari had assumed the role of Eric the Red and attempted to remove Lilandra’s potential champion before she arrived…

During the blistering battle which follows the X-Men’s dramatic arrival, Shakari snatches up Lilandra and drags her through a stargate to their home galaxy, and with the entire universe imperilled, Xavier urges his team to follow. All Jean has to do is re-open a wormhole to the other side of creation…

A minor digression follows as overstretched artist Cockrum gains a breather via a fill-in “untold” tale of the new team featuring an attack by psychic clones of the original X-men. ‘Dark Shroud of the Past’ is a competent pause by Mantlo, Bob Brown & Tom Sutton, set inside a framing sequence from Cockrum.

The regular story resumes in a wry tribute to Star Trek as ‘Where No X-Man Has Gone Before!’ (Claremont, Cockrum & Dan Green) finds the heroes stranded in another galaxy where they meet and are beaten by the Shi’ar Imperial Guard (an in-joke version of DC’s Legion of Super Heroes in the inimitable Cockrum manner), until bold interstellar rebel freebooters the Starjammers bombastically arrive to turn the tables once again whilst uncovering a mad scheme to unmake the fabric of space-time.

Lilandra’s brother Emperor D’Ken is a deranged maniac who wants to activate a cosmic artefact known alternatively as the M’Kraan Crystal and “the End of All that Is” in his quest for ultimate power. He’s also spent time on Earth in the past and played a major role in the life of one of the X-Men…

This tale (from issue #107) was Cockrum’s last for years. He would eventually return to replace the man who replaced him. John Byrne not only illustrated but also began co-plotting the X-tales and, as the team roster expanded, the series rose to even greater heights. It would culminate in the landmark Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character and the departure of the team’s heart and soul. The epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the epochal working relationship of Claremont and Byrne.

Within months of publication they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with the mutants whilst Byrne moved on to establish his own reputation as a writer on series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionised Fantastic Four

Here though, the X-Men and Starjammers battle the Crystal’s astoundingly deadly automated guardians, as this final chapter depicts the newly puissant Phoenix literally saving Reality in a mind-blowing display of power and skill.

Trapped inside a staggering other-realm, and appalled and enthralled by the intoxicating, addictive nature of her own might, Phoenix rewove the fabric of Reality and for an encore brought the heroes home again.

The conclusion of this ambitious extended saga was drawn by Byrne and inked by Terry Austin and their visual virtuosity was to become an industry bench-mark as the X-Men grew in popularity and complexity.

However, even though the bravura high-octane thrills of ‘Armageddon Now’ seem an unrepeatable high-point, Claremont & Byrne had only started. The best was still to come, but it precluded ending their other ongoing collaboration: a mystic martial arts thriller…

From Iron Fist #14, ‘Snowfire’ inked by Dan Green – finds masked marvel Danny Rand and his combat colleague Colleen Wing running for their lives in arctic conditions after a vacation retreat to a palatial Canadian Rockies estate is ruined by a criminal raid.

Leading the plundering gang is deadly mercenary Sabretooth. Despite being rendered temporarily blind, the K’un Lun Kid ultimately defeats the mutant marauder, but his fiercely feral foe would return again and again to bedevil both Danny and the X-Men…

With Claremont & Byrne increasingly absorbed by their stellar collaboration on the revived and resurgent adventures of Marvel’s mutant horde, Iron Fist #15 (September 1977) was their last martial arts mash-up for a while. The series ended in spectacular fashion as, through a comedy of errors, Danny stumbles into a morass of misunderstanding and ends up battling the recently returned galaxy rovers Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Banshee, Storm and Phoenix in ‘Enter, the X-Men’.

In X-Men #109’s ‘Home Are the Heroes!’ (Claremont, Byrne & Austin) Wolverine finally begins to develop a back-story and some depth of character whilst technological wonder Weapon Alpha attacks the recuperating team in an attempt to force the enigmatic Logan to rejoin the Canadian Secret Service.

Renamed Vindicator Alpha would later return leading Alpha Flight – a Canadian government sponsored super-team which would eventually graduate to their own eccentric high-profile series.

Somewhat out of chronological sequence, this is followed here by an extra-length exploit from Marvel Team Up Annual #1 (1976 and by Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito, from a plot by Mantlo, Claremont & Bonnie Wilford).

‘The Lords of Light and Darkness!’ features Spider-Man and newly minted X-Men Storm, Banshee, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Phoenix and Cyclops assisting Charles Xavier in combatting a pantheon of scientists mutated by atomic accident and elevated to the ranks of gods.

Like most deities, these puissant ones believe they know what is best for humanity and don’t like being disabused of the notion…

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

Set minutes after the Annual, Marvel Team Up #53 (January 1977) reveals a ‘Nightmare in New Mexico!’ as Spider-Man says goodbye to the X-Men and hello to The Hulk and troubled gene-splicing experiment Woodgod after the tragic bio-construct flees from corrupt Army Colonel Del Tremens. As Tremens tried to suppress the calamitous crisis and his own indiscretions by killing everybody, the final scene sees the webspinner trapped in a rocket and blasted into space…

The tale by Mantlo, Byrne & Frank Giacoia has very little to do with the X-Men, other than a rather gratuitous overlap and ends here without resolution, but still looks pretty damn good after all these years…

In X-Men #110 (April 1978) Claremont, and illustrators Tony DeZuñiga & Cockrum then detail ‘The “X”-Sanction!’: a rather limp and hasty fill-in as cyborg mercenary Warhawk infiltrates the Xavier mansion in search of “intel” for a mysterious, unspecified master… before getting his shiny silver head handed to him…

This initial compendium of uncanny X-episodes wraps up with the contents of Marvel Team Up #69 and 70 (May & June 1978) as in ‘Night of the Living God!’ (Claremont, Byrne & by Ricardo Villamonte) Spider-Man clashes with Egyptian-themed thieves and is drawn into the perpetual duel between cosmic-powered X-Man Havoc and his nemesis the Living Monolith.

When the battle turns against the heroes it requires the might of Thor to stop the ravening astral menace in the concluding chapter ‘Whom Gods Destroy!’ (inked by Tony DeZuñiga)…

Following the cover of 1975’s all-reprint Giant-Size X-Men #2, this volume concludes with a glorious and revelatory selection of extras including John Romita’s original design sketches for Wolverine; Byrne’s first X-Man work (a puzzle from Marvel Fanzine F.O.O.M. #7) and design material from Cockrum’s DC Comics proposal The Outsiders (the Legion of Super-Heroes spin-off he retooled to create Nightcrawler, Storm, Phoenix and the other New X-Men). There are even unused Cockrum pencil pages, initial sketches for the Starjammers, costume upgrades for Angel, the cover art for X-themed The Comic Reader #145, and model sheets for Nightcrawler, Storm, Phoenix and Colossus.

Further treasures are Gil Kane’s cover sketch and original art for Giant-Size X-Men #1, original Cockrum pages from GSXM #1 and F.O.O.M. #10 (the all-X-Men issue), articles from the fanzine – Mutation of the Species, X-Men! X-Men!. Read All About ‘Em! – a pin-up by Don Maitz, X-Men X-posé and spoof strip ‘EggsMen’; unused pages by Bob Brown and previous collection covers by Kane and Cockrum given a painted make-over by Dean White.

Entertaining, groundbreaking and incredibly intoxicating, these adventures are an invaluable and crucial grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can be allowed to ignore.
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection: The Goblin’s Last Stand


By Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, John Romita, Gil Kane, Jim Starlin, Paul Reinman, Frank Giacoia, Tony Mortellaro & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-3029-0407-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sheer Blockbuster Entertainment… 9/10

Outcast, geeky high school kid Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and, after attempting to cash-in on the astonishing abilities he’d developed, suffered an irreconcilable personal tragedy. Due to the teenager’s arrogant neglect, his beloved guardian Uncle Ben was murdered and the traumatised boy determined henceforward to always use his powers to help those in dire need.

For years the brilliant young hero suffered privation and travail in his domestic situation, whilst his heroic alter ego endured public condemnation and mistrust as he valiantly battled all manner of threat and foe…

The isolated High School nerd had grown up and gone to college but despite having more friends now, due to his guilt-fuelled double-life he struggled there too. His one glimmer of hope and joy came from finding true love with policeman’s daughter Gwen Stacy

Spanning February 1972 to August 1973, this fulsome, tragedy-tinged full-colour Epic Collection kicks off with the middle chapter of an enthralling 3-part saga depicting our rapidly-maturing hero facing a city seemingly gone mad…

Capitalising on an era rife with social unrest and political protest, Stan Lee, Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia set the ball rolling with ‘The Spider Slayer!’ as the New York City police install spy cameras on every rooftop and discredited technologist Spencer Smythe resurfaces with a far more formidable anti-Spider-Man robot for obsessed Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson to set against the wallcrawler.

The story also features the release of Harry Osborn from drug rehab and former school bully and gadfly Flash Thompson returning from Vietnam, but the big shock is discovering the once-benign Smythe has gone totally bonkers…

Also responsible for and secretly controlling the police spy-eyes, Smythe observes Spidey without his mask and in ‘Squash! Goes the Spider!’ (triumphantly pencilled by the returning John Romita Sr.) the potty professor betrays old employer Jameson, allies with criminal gangs and attempts to plunder the entire city. When the Amazing Arachnid attempts to block the banditry, he finds himself facing the ultimate Spider-Slayer before valiantly battling his way to victory in ‘Spidey Smashes Thru!’

The secret of Flash Thompson starts to unfold in issue #108’s ‘Vengeance from Vietnam!’ (with Romita inking his own pencils) as our troubled war hero reveals an American war atrocity. The event left a peaceful in-country village devastated and a benign wise man comatose and near-dead, consequently setting a vengeful cult upon the saddened soldier’s guilt-ridden heels, which all Spider-Man’s best efforts could not deflect or deter.

The campaign of terror culminates in #109 as ‘Enter: Dr. Strange!’ sees America’s Master of the Mystic Arts divine the truth and set things aright, but only after an extraordinary amount of unnecessary violence for all involved …

Amazing Spider-Man #110 featured ‘The Birth of… the Gibbon!’ (by Lee & Romita) which finds a despondent and world-weary wallcrawler battling another shunned and lonely outcast. Orphaned drifter Martin Blank possesses an anthropoid frame which makes him an outcast and brings out the cruel worst in humanity. When he reaches out in friendship and admiration to Spidey he is rebuffed again and savagely retaliates…

By the time of these tales Stan Lee was easing out of writing and here replaces himself with 19-year-old science fiction author Gerry Conway. The scripts – aided in no small part by the plotting input and mentoring of resident illustrator John Romita – achieved a greater contemporary tone more closely in tune with the times. Combined with the emphatic use of soap opera subplots to keep older readers glued to the series even when bombastic battle sequences didn’t, the series grew to ever greater heights of popularity.

Moreover, as a true sign of the times a hint of cynical surrealism also began creeping in…

The Gibbon returned a month later when psychopathic stalker Kraven the Hunter brainwashes the hapless outcast ‘To Stalk a Spider!’. Gerry Conway’s tenure then takes hold as #112 follows up with another periodic crisis of faith for Peter Parker quits adventuring or in the parlance of the period, ‘Spidey Cops Out!’

The harassed, exhausted hero is ready to chuck it all in until another nightmarish adversary resurfaces as part of a growing gang war…

‘They Call the Doctor… Octopus!’ (Conway & Romita with art assistance from Tony Mortellaro and Jim Starlin) sees the city plunged into chaos when the multi-limbed madman squares off against mysterious gang-boss Hammerhead with a rededicated but fearfully overmatched Spider-Man caught in the middle…

The next chapter in a brutal and comparatively long-running duel for control of New York’s underworld plays out in ‘Gang War, Schmang War! What I Want to Know is … Who the Heck is Hammerhead?’ by Conway, Romita Sr., Mortellaro & Jim Starlin, with our angst-ridden arachnid trapped between the duelling mobs of 1930s movie gangster pastiche Hammerhead and sworn nemesis Otto Octavius; each seeking to top the other’s callous, staggering ruthlessness.

In the melee Spidey is captured by the bizarre boastful braggart and learns how an ordinary amnesiac gunsel was rebuilt into an unstoppable cyborg by a rogue scientist named Jonas Harrow.

Seconds from death, Spider-Man risks everything on a wild escape bid after overhearing that Ock will be meeting up with an old lady. The agonised wallcrawler fears that his beloved, befuddled, missing-for-months Aunt May is once more sheltering the many-armed menace…

Dashing into the Westchester countryside, Spider-Man breaks in to Octavius’ HQ only to be brained with a vase by the terrified May Parker. Moments behind him are Hammerhead’s goons and, all too soon, ‘The Last Battle!’ is savagely underway…

As the mobsters decimate each other, Spider-Man barely escapes being shot by his closest relative and is more than happy to disappear when the police show up to arrest (almost) everybody…

In the aftermath the Widow Parker astounds everybody by revealing that she will be staying in Octopus’ mansion until he is released…

Amazing Spider-Man #116 began an extended political thriller with charismatic reformer Richard Raleigh opens a savvy campaign to become Mayor, only to be opposed and hunted by a brutish monster and hidden mastermind in ‘Suddenly… the Smasher!’

Older fans will recognise much of the story and art since it was a recycled Lee, Romita & Jim Mooney monochrome saga from 1968’s Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine (retrofitted with additional art by Romita & Mortellaro and bridging scenes scripted by Conway).

The tale is also neatly reconfigured to encompass new subplots regarding May’s absence and Jameson’s involvement and obsession with squeaky clean Law-&-Order demagogue Raleigh…

The drama deepens with ‘The Deadly Designs of the Disruptor!’ as the monster’s masked master intensifies efforts to destroy the would-be Mayor – with only Spider-Man seemingly able to deter the maniac – until the affair finally culminates in a ‘Countdown to Chaos!’ wherein the true architect of the campaign of terror is exposed and destroyed…

Peter’s problems exponentially increased in #119 as a mysterious telegram for Aunt May calls him away to Canada to meet a lawyer named Rimbaud. Before he leaves, however, Peter’s best friend’s father has a disturbing episode.

Norman Osborn had been secretly terrorising New York and plaguing Peter as the maniacal Green Goblin until cured by hallucinogen-induced amnesia. Now as Parker readies himself for a trip to Montreal, Osborn seems to be recovering long obscured memories…

With no other option, our harried hero heads north, arriving in time to be caught in a city-wide panic as another verdant former sparring partner hits town. ‘The Gentleman’s Name is… Hulk!’ (an all-Conway & Romita collaboration) saw the wallcrawler utterly overmatched but still striving to stop the rampaging green juggernaut, spectacularly culminating in ‘The Fight and the Fury!’ (illustrated by Gil Kane with Paul Reinman and inked by Romita & Mortellaro).

With the immediate threat averted, Peter at last rendezvous with Rimbaud only to witness the secretive legal eagle murdered before he can share whatever he knows about May Parker…

Returning home, Parker endures the culmination of a decade of suspense and intrigue on ‘The Night Gwen Stacy Died’ (Conway, Kane, Romita & Mortellaro): the initial instalment of a 2-part tale which gobsmacked fans as the hero’s greatest efforts proved insufficient to save his intended from the insane rage of the resurgent Goblin.

The ultimate nemesis had recovered the lost memory of his evil alter ego after his son Harry fell back into drug abuse. Once restored to his malign potency, the maniac kidnapped Spider-Man’s girlfriend to force a final confrontation…

The tragic episode leads inexorably to ‘The Goblin’s Last Stand!’ one issue later and a grim and gritty new direction…

With Spider-Man accused of murdering Osborn and erroneously implicated in Gwen’s death, Jameson takes advantage of a new kind of metahuman champion in #123; engaging emergent Hero for Hire Luke Cage to bring the webspinner to justice in‘…Just a Man Called Cage!’

However, the clash only proves that the antagonists’ lives are more tragically similar than different and Marvel’s pre-eminent African American adventurer recuses from the case in a most distinctive manner…

To Be Continued…

As if added enticements were even necessary, this splendid collection also features House Ads, the Romita cover to all-reprint Amazing Spider-Man Annual #9 and rare material by Jim Steranko and others only previously seen in the third – all Spider-Man issue – of exclusive company fan-club newsletter F.O.O.M. (Friends of Ol’ Marvel). As well as covers and pin-ups there’s also ‘Bullpen Bios’, puzzles, ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Spider-Man (but were afraid to ask)’, a checklist of appearances and spoof strip ‘The Amusing Spider-Guy’ by Roy Thomas, Len Brown Kane & Wally Wood.

The candid treats don’t end there though. Also on view is original art by Lee & Romita taken from a Spider-Man strip created for Time Magazine with the wallcrawler assessing the chances of assorted Presidential candidates including Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey plus production art, original covers, Kane page layouts and pencils.

The biggest treat is some reproduction pages of Kane’s pencils for Amazing Spider-Man #123. The issue was infamously lost by the Post Office in 1973, compelling Romita to ink and embellish the entire story from preliminary photocopies…

Also included are a range of previous collections covers by John Van Fleet, J.G. Jones and Kane images enhanced by painter Richard Isanove.

Fast-paced, fabulously far-fetched and full of innovative thrills, these tales are quintessential comics magic which constitute the very foundation of everything Marvel is. This sturdy compendium (or ephemeral eBook edition) is an unmissable opportunity for readers of all ages to celebrate the magic and myths of the modern heroic ideal in delightfully decadent luxury and would make an ideal gift.
© 1972, 1973, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection: Great Responsibility


By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9581-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because With Great Goodness Comes Great Presents… 10/10

Outcast, geeky high school kid Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and, after attempting to cash-in on the astonishing abilities he’d developed, suffered an irreconcilable personal tragedy. Due to the teenager’s arrogant neglect, his beloved guardian Uncle Ben was murdered and the traumatised boy determined henceforward to always use his powers to help those in dire need.

For years the brilliant young hero suffered privation and travail in his domestic situation, whilst his heroic alter ego endured public condemnation and mistrust as he valiantly battled all manner of threat and foe…

Spanning November 1964 to July 1966, this second full-colour Epic Collection devoted to the astounding early years as described by plotter and illustrator Steve Ditko and scripter/Editor Stan Lee reprints Amazing Spider-Man #18-38 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2, and kicks off with the middle chapter of an ambitious 3-part saga (which began in Amazing Spider-Man #17); depicting a rapidly-maturing hero touching emotional bottom before rising to triumphant victory over all manner of enemies.

In the previous volume the wallcrawler endured renewed print assaults from the Daily Bugle and its rabid publisher J. Jonah Jameson just as enigmatic archfoe Green Goblin began a war of nerves and attrition, using the Enforcers, Sandman and an army of thugs to publicly humiliate the Amazing Arachnid. To exacerbate matters Peter’s beloved Aunt May’s health took a drastic downward turn…

Resuming with ‘The End of Spider-Man!’ and explosively concluding in the triumphal ‘Spidey Strikes Back!’ – featuring a turbulent team-up with friendly rival Johnny Storm, the Human Torch – this extended tale proved the fans were ready for every kind of narrative experiment (single issue or even two stories per issue were still the norm in 1964) and Stan & Steve were more than happy to try anything.

With ‘The Coming of the Scorpion!’ Jameson let his obsessive hatred for the cocky kid crusader get the better of him; hiring scientist Farley Stillwell to endow a private detective with insectoid-based superpowers. Unfortunately, the process drove mercenary Mac Gargan completely mad before he could capture Spidey, leaving the webspinner with yet another lethally dangerous meta-nutcase to deal with…

‘Where Flies the Beetle’ features a hilarious love triangle as the Torch’s girlfriend used Peter Parker to make the flaming hero jealous. Unfortunately, the Beetle – a villain with high-tech insect-themed armour – was simultaneously stalking her to use as bait for a trap. As ever, Spider-Man was simply in the wrong place at the right time, resulting in a spectacular fight-fest…

‘The Clown, and his Masters of Menace’ offered a return engagement for the Circus of Crime with splendidly outré action and a lot of hearty laughs provided by increasingly irreplaceable supporting stars Aunt May, Betty Brant and J. Jonah Jameson whilst #23 presented a superb thriller blending the mundane mobster and thugs that Ditko loved to depict with the more outlandish threat of a supervillain attempting to take over all the city’s gangs.

‘The Goblin and the Gangsters’ is both moody and explosive, a perfect contrast to ‘Spider-Man Goes Mad!’ in #24. This psychological stunner finds a clearly delusional hero seeking psychiatric help, but there is more to the matter than simple insanity, as an insidious old foe made an unexpected return…

Issue #25 once again sees the Bugle’s obsessed publisher take matters into his own hands. ‘Captured by J. Jonah Jameson!’ introduces Professor Smythe – whose dynasty of robotic Spider-Slayers would bedevil the wallcrawler for years to come – hired by the bellicose newsman to remove Spider-Man for good.

Issues #26 and 27 comprised a captivating 2-part mystery exposing a deadly duel between the Green Goblin and an enigmatic new masked criminal. ‘The Man in the Crime-Master’s Mask!’ and ‘Bring Back my Goblin to Me!’ together form a perfect arachnid epic, with soap-opera melodrama and screwball comedy leavening tense crime-busting thrills and all-out action.

‘The Menace of the Molten Man!’ from #28 is a tale of science gone bad and remains remarkable today not only for the spectacular action sequences – and possibly the most striking Spider-Man cover ever produced – but also as the story in which Peter Parker finally graduates from High School.

Ditko was on peak form and fast enough to handle two monthly strips. At this time he was also blowing away audiences with another oddly tangential superhero. Those disparate crusaders met in ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange!’: lead story in the second super-sized Spider-Man Annual (October of that year and filled out with vintage Spidey classics).

The entrancing fable unforgettably introduced the Amazing Arachnid to arcane other realities as he teamed up with the Master of the Mystic Arts to battle power-crazed mage Xandu in a phantasmagorical, dimension-hopping masterpiece involving ensorcelled zombie thugs and the stolen Wand of Watoomb. After this, it was clear that Spider-Man could work in any milieu and nothing could hold him back…

Also included here from that immensely impressive landmark are more Ditko pin-ups in ‘A Gallery of Spider-Man’s Most Famous Foes’ – highlighting such nefarious ne’er-do-wells as The Scorpion, Circus of Crime and the Beetle.

Back in the ever-more popular monthly mag ASM #29 warned ‘Never Step on a Scorpion!’ as the lab-made larcenous lunatic returned, craving vengeance against not just the webspinner but also Jameson for turning a disreputable private eye into a super-powered monster…

Issue #30’s off-beat crime-caper then cannily sowed the seeds for future masterpieces as ‘The Claws of the Cat!’ features a city-wide hunt for an extremely capable burglar (way more exciting than it sounds, trust me!), plus the introduction of an organised mob of thieves working for mysterious new menace the Master Planner.

Sadly by this time of their greatest comics successes, Lee and Ditko were increasingly unable to work together on their greatest creations.

Ditko’s off-beat plots and quirky art had reached an accommodation with the slickly potent superhero house-style Jack Kirby had developed (at least as much as such a unique talent ever could). The illustration featured a marked reduction of signature line-feathering and moody backgrounds plus a lessening of concentration on totemic villains, but, although still very much a Ditko baby, Amazing Spider-Man’s sleek pictorial gloss warred with Lee’s scripts. These were comfortably in tune with the times if not his collaborator. Lee’s assessment of the audience was probably the correct one, and disagreements with the artist over the strip’s editorial direction were still confined to the office and not the pages themselves. However, an indication of growing tensions could be seen once Ditko began being credited as plotter of the stories…

After a period where old-fashioned crime and gangsterism predominated, science fiction themes and costumed crazies started to return full force. As the world went gaga for masked mystery-men, the creators experimented with longer storylines and protracted subplots…

When Ditko abruptly left, the company feared a drastic loss in quality and sales but it didn’t happen. John Romita (senior) considered himself a mere “safe pair of hands” keeping the momentum going until a better artist could be found, but instead blossomed into a major talent in his own right, and the wallcrawler continued his unstoppable rise at an accelerated pace…

Change was in the air everywhere. Included amongst the milestones for the ever-anxious Peter Parker collected here are graduating High School, starting college, meeting true love Gwen Stacy and tragic friend/enemy Harry Osborn plus the introduction of arch nemesis Norman Osborn. Old friends Flash Thompson and Betty Brant subsequently begin to drift out of his life…

‘If This Be My Destiny…!’ from issue #31 details a spate of high-tech robberies by the Master Planner culminating in a spectacular confrontation with Spider-Man. Also on show is that aforementioned college debut, first sight of Harry and Gwen and Aunt May on the edge of death due to an innocent blood transfusion from her mildly radioactive darling Peter…

This led to indisputably Ditko’s finest and most iconic moments on the series – and perhaps of his entire career. ‘Man on a Rampage!’ shows Parker pushed to the edge of desperation as the Planner’s men make off with the serums that might save her, resulting in an utterly driven, berserk wallcrawler ripping the town apart whilst trying to find them.

Trapped in an underwater fortress, pinned under tons of machinery, the hero faces his greatest failure as the clock ticks down the seconds of May’s life…

This in turn results the most memorable visual sequence in Spidey history as the opening of ‘The Final Chapter!’ luxuriates in five full, glorious pages to depict the ultimate triumph of will over circumstance. Freeing himself from tons of fallen debris, Spider-Man gives his absolute all to deliver the medicine May needs, and is rewarded with a rare happy ending…

Russian exile Kraven the Hunter then returns in ‘The Thrill of the Hunt!’ seeking vengeance for past humiliations by impersonating the webspinner, after which #35 confirms that ‘The Molten Man Regrets…!’: a plot-light yet inimitably action-packed combat classic wherein the gleaming golden bandit foolishly resumes his career of pinching other people’s valuables…

Amazing Spider-Man #36 features a deliciously off-beat, quasi-comedic turn in ‘When Falls the Meteor!’ as deranged, would-be scientist Norton G. Fester starts stealing extraterrestrial museum exhibits whilst calling himself the Looter

In retrospect these brief, fight-oriented tales, coming after such an intricate, passionate epic as the Master Planner sage should have indicated that something was amiss. However fans had no idea that ‘Once Upon a Time, There was a Robot…!’ – featuring a beleaguered Norman Osborn targeted by his disgraced ex-partner Mendel Strom and some eccentrically bizarre murder-machines in #37 and the tragic tale of ‘Just a Guy Named Joe!’ – wherein a hapless sad-sack stumblebum boxer gains super-strength and a bad-temper – were to be Steve Ditko’s last arachnid adventures…

As added enticements – and alone worth the price of this collection of much-reprinted material – is a big gallery of extras including reproductions of 20 ultra-rare Steve Ditko Spider-Man pencil pages plus an unused cover…

Although other artists have inked his narratives, Ditko handled all the art on Spider-Man and these lost gems demonstrate his fluid mastery and just how much of the mesmerising magic came from his pens and brushes…

Also included are rare Ditko T-shirt designs, posters and ad art, plus a range of Marvel Masterworks covers with Kirby and Ditko’s original images enhanced by painter Dean White.

Full of energy, verve, pathos and laughs, gloriously short of post-modern angst and breast-beating, these fun classics – available in numerous formats including eBook editions – are quintessential comicbook magic which constitute the very foundation of everything Marvel became. This classy compendium is an unmissable opportunity for readers of all ages to celebrate the magic and myths of the modern heroic ideal…
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 16


By Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Archie Goodwin, Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8801-8

Peter Parker was a smart yet alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering 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 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 he has tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them.

By the time of the tales in this 16th superbly scintillating full-colour hardcover compendium (and eBook) of web-spinning adventures the wondrous wallcrawler was a global figure and prime contender for the title of the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero. Spanning May 1976 to May 1977 and chronologically re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #156-168 and Annual #10, the dramas are preceded by an appreciative appraisal from J.M. DeMatteis in his Introduction before the action resumes.

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

In the past, a protracted struggle for control of New York between Dr Octopus and cyborg gangster Hammerhead escalated into a full-on and small-scale nuclear near-armageddon, 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…

However, #157 exposed ‘The Ghost Who Haunted Octopus!’ as the debased, long-limbed loon turns again to Aunt May for his salvation.

With Peter in attendance, the many-handed menace seeks to escape a brutal ghost stalking 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 Gil Kane, Esposito & Frank Giacoia as ‘Step into my Parlor…’ depicts obsessed Spider-hater J. Jonah Jameson hiring outcast, exceedingly fringe-science biologist Harlan Stilwell to create yet another tailor-made nemesis to eradicate the webslinger.

Elsewhere meanwhile, 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!’

Back in the monthly periodical the opening shot in an extended epic was fired as a criminal inventor – and one of the web-spinner’s oldest enemies – recovers Spidey’s long ditched and satisfactorily drowned vehicle, before tricking it out to hunt down its original owner in #160’s ‘My Killer the Car!’ (Wein, Andru & Esposito)…

Having narrowly escaped doom and debacle in equal measure the wallcrawler met a new friend and clashed with an old one, but rising star Frank Castle was reduced to a bit-player in Amazing Spider-Man #162-163 (October and November 1976, by the regular creatives), as the newly-reconstituted X-Men were sales-boosted via a guest-clash in ‘…And the Nightcrawler Came Prowling, Prowling’, wherein the Amazing Arachnid jumps to a very wrong conclusion after a sniper shoots a reveller at Coney Island.

By the time moody mutant Nightcrawler has explained himself – in the tried-&-true Marvel manner of fighting the webspinner to a standstill – old skull-shirt has turned up to take them both on before mutual foe Jigsaw is exposed as the real assassin in concluding episode ‘Let the Punisher Fit the Crime!’

The mystery villain behind many of Spider-Man’s recent woes is exposed in ‘All the Kingpin’s Men!’ as a succession of audacious tech-robberies leads the wallcrawler into another confrontation with the deadly crime lord. This time however, the Machiavellian mobster is playing for personal stakes. His son has been on the verge of death for months and his remedy is to electronically transfer the hero’s life force into the ailing patient. Discarded after the process, Peter Parker’s impending ‘Deadline!’ is extended by old friend Curt Connors until Spider-Man can explosively set things right…

That helping hand comes at a cost in ASM #165 as Dinosaur Man ‘Stegron Stalks the City!’, attempting to revivify the fossilised skeletons of Saurians in the city’s museums. To expedite his actions Steggy blackmails Connors and accidentally unleashes the biologist’s alter ego The Lizard, prompting a ‘War of the Reptile-Men!’ in #166…

Jameson then tries again to destroy his personal Bête Noir by hiring glamourous technologist Dr. Marla Manning to construct an upgraded mechanoid hunter, leaving our hero ‘…Stalked by the Spider-Slayer!’ in #167.

Spider-Man barely notices though, as a new menace is attracting his attention: an eerie ephemeral bandit called Will o’ the Wisp, clearly stealing for a monster with a hidden agenda and no mercy…

The never-ending battle temporarily pauses with the last story in this compilation as the hero, the Spider-Slayer and the deadly pawn all clash in the middle of Manhattan where tragedy is presaged by ‘Murder on the Wind!’

Added extras this go-round include original cover art by John Romita and art pages by Andru and Esposito to complete another 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.
© 1976, 1977, 2016 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spidey volume 1: First Day


By Robbie Thompson, Nick Bradshaw, André Lima Araújo & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9675-4

Since its earliest days the company now known as Marvel has always courted the youngest comicbook consumers. Whether through animated tie-ins and licensed properties such as Terrytoons Comics, Mighty Mouse, Duckula, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Disney licenses and a myriad of others, or original characters such as Tessie the Typist, Millie the Model, Homer the Happy Ghost and Calvin, the House of Ideas has always understood the necessity of cultivating the next generation of readers.

These days, however, kids’ interest titles are on the wane and, with the Marvel Universe’s 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 the 1980s Marvel published an entire line of kiddie titles through its Star Comics line and in 2003 the company created a Marvel Age line which updated and retold classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and mixed it in with the remnants of its manga-inspired Tsunami imprint: again all intended for a younger readership.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming the Marvel Adventures line, with titles reflecting the most popular characters and whatever was on TV screens at the time.

In 2012 these were superseded by specific comicbook titles tied to Disney XD TV shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”.

Today’s featured item – Spidey: First Day – is a horse of a different colour: similar but different…

Rather than simply crafting a wallcrawler for younger sensibilities, this iteration – presumably sparked by the teenaged, light-adventure version seen in the Spider-Man: Homecoming movie – innovates and modernizes by looking back and succeeds in recapturing a sense of the madcap gaiety that counterbalanced the action and pathos of the earliest Lee/Ditko stories. This series is all about thrills and fun…

Scripted throughout by Robbie Thompson and re-presenting Spidey #1-6 (originally released from February to July 2016), the non-stop, youngster-appropriate mayhem commences with a fresh introduction to ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, illustrated by Nick Bradshaw and colourists Jim Campbell & Rachelle Rosenberg

Firmly set in The Now, our hero is still (or rather once again) a callow schoolboy, fighting crime and making enemies between classes. He’s also a crimefighting sensation of the internet and social media when he puts on his blue-&-red duds. As ever news magnate J. Jonah Jameson is there to vilify the webslinger at every opportunity…

Sadly, thanks to the kid’s double life, Peter Parker’s grades – except for science and maths – are tanking now, and the secret superhero is forced to accept Popular Girl Gwen Stacy as a much-needed history tutor.

Not only is she the hottest girl in school but she also decks Flash Thompson with one punch after the jocks starts bullying “Puny” Parker again…

Things really kick off later, on a field trip to techno-industrial wonderland Oscorp, when a madman calling himself Doctor Octopus busts in and the neophyte Spider-Man is compelled to intervene and drive the maniac away.

That’s when uber-creepy Norman Osborn introduces himself to Peter, predicting big things for Peter…

The really smart trick in this series is that battles with other supervillains such as Kraven the Hunter and Mysterio are backdrop: referenced simply as having occurred in other moments, allowing Peter Parker’s life and character room to develop, with only new battles dictating how certain villainous players have evolved from standard Spider-Man mythology…

A month later Peter is still coming to terms with his double life when ‘Enter the Sandman’ finds him battling a grittily shapeshifting bank robber, after which New York is overrun by tiny reptiles as old ally Dr. Curt Connors is once again tragically transformed into the ravenous ravening Lizard

In Spidey #4 André Lima Araújo assumes the art duties with ‘Doomsday Off!’ as Peter stumbles into an art robbery. He might even have stopped the thief… if the bad guy hadn’t been Doctor Doom! Tracking down the ultimate villain does no good and Spidey is once again soundly thrashed, but after the Amazing Arachnid gets a pep talk from a little kid, he tries again and achieves a partial victory…

‘Dead End’ (with Java Tartaglia joining the colouring squad) sees the first inconclusive confrontation with a major nut job called the Green Goblin after which the ebullient effervescent escapades conclude with a first team-up in ‘Making the Grade’, as the mysterious Spider-Man intervenes when flying felon The Vulture burgles Stark Industries.

The Invincible Iron Man shows up but naturally gets the wrong idea – as does SHIELD agent Phil Coulson – before the situation is straightened out. One crisis over and feeling cocky, the very junior hero – smitten with Gwen Stacy – even asks the Armoured Avenger for dating tips but that doesn’t go so well…

Featuring a covers and variants gallery by Bradshaw, Lima Araújo, Skottie Young, Humbert Ramos & Edgar Delgado, Oliver Coipel, Julian Totino Tedesco and Gyimah Gariba, this a sublimely refreshing reinterpretation of an evergreen heroic icon offering an intriguing and certainly more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born two and three generations or more away from those far-distant 1960s originating events. These Spidey super-stories are outrageously enjoyable yarns, and well worth seeking out.
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt


By J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck, Bob McLeod & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2330-9 (HC)                    978-0-7851-3450-3 (TPB)

A character with the longevity and sheer number of separate venues to shine in as Spider-Man throws up a lot of dross over the decades, but is also infinitely evergreen when thoughtfully handled by top flight creators. Sometimes the writers and artists involved don’t even realise at the time that their crafting something memorable and timelessly special…

Kraven’s Last Hunt (originally collected as Spiderman: Fearful Symmetry) is just such a saga and is thankfully handily available in a variety of formats from spiffy hardback to cheap‘n’cheerful trade paperback – and now even as a digital edition for all true sons and daughters of the 21st century…

Heck, there’s even a picture-free novelisation by Neil Kleid out there, but perhaps that’s a step too far for most comics addicts…

The eerie psycho-drama originally ran in the October and November 1987 issues of Web of, Amazing, and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man; following darkly obsessed and suicidal Russian émigré Kraven the Hunter as years of rivalry and constant defeats are turned around, leading the aging monster inexorably to his greatest triumph and ultimate downfall.

In the process the sinister stalker conquers, inters and Oedipally replaces his arch-nemesis, before inevitably succumbing to his own tragic just deserts.

After years of pointless struggle, Kraven here is back-written into an intrinsically noble but twisted relic of a bygone era, whose compulsion to defeat Spider-Man spirals into a demented desire to consume and then become him. The Hunter’s initial success only serves to highlight the fundamental differences between him and his prey, such as how each man deals with the savagely cannibalistic rat/man hybrid Vermin who brutally rampages through the rain-soaked and terrified city in a compelling and efficient sub-plot, or with those ordinary people who impinge upon the lives of protagonist and antagonist equally.

After years of generally C-List villainy, Kraven’s latest plan initial succeeds in ‘Coffin’ (Web of Spider-Man #31) after the Hunter ritualistically devours his foe’s totems before ambushing the webspinner…

In ‘Crawling’ (Amazing Spider-Man #31), sewer-dwelling psychopath Vermin begins brutally marauding through a sodden city, drawing delusional “Spider the Hunter” – now wearing his foe’s pelt (for which read Spider-Man costume) – into conflict. Kraven is attempting to take his beaten enemy’s place even as newlywed Mary Jane Watson-Parker starts really worrying over the current whereabouts of her husband…

When she sees Spider-Man savagely thrashing a pack of street thugs, she knows the man standing before her isn’t Peter…

‘Descent’ (Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #131) sees Kraven capture Vermin and finally acknowledge that his own victory is not what he wanted, before seemingly dead and buried Peter Parker literally resurfaces in ‘Resurrection’ (WoS #31) to battle his own shattering psychological demons. Final scores are settled in ‘Thunder’ (ASM #32), before all the horror comes to a shocking halt in PPSS #132’s epic confrontation ‘Ascending’

Despite its heavy psychological underpinnings, Fearful Symmetry/Kraven’s Last Hunt is a gripping helter-skelter thrill ride, simultaneously moody and fast-paced. Writer J.M. DeMatteis curtails his tendency to overwrite, stifles his leanings toward snappy one-liners or maudlin sentimentality and lets terror and trauma rule, giving art team Mike Zeck & Bob McLeod plenty of opportunities to impress with traditional yet spectacular comic art set-pieces.

This series electrified Spider-Man fans when it first appeared and it has lost none of its power today. This is a must-have item for any fan of the Amazing Arachnid or the superhero medium.
© 1989, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.