X-Men Masterworks volume 6


By Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neil, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, Werner Roth, Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, Tom Palmer, Sam Grainger, Vince Colletta & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2056-8(HB)                                  978-0-7851-8837-7(PB)

X-Men was never Marvel’s top seller but did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek prettiness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of the college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience. As the decade progressed the kids got edgier and more angst-ridden – as did the world around them and their readers – and the sense of pent-up aggression, isolation and alienation grew.

The core team still consisted of tragic leader Scott Summers/Cyclops, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast although they were now without Professor Charles Xavier, the wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the gradually emerging race of mutant Homo Superior.

Jean Grey/Marvel Girl had recently taken up much of the professor’s role and the team was also occasionally supplemented by magnetic minx Polaris, although she was usually referred to as Lorna Dane

However, by the time of this final collection (re-presenting X-Men #54-66 from March 1969 to March 1970) of the turbulent teens’ original series, despite some of the most impressive and influential stories and art of the decade, the writing was definitely on the wall for Marvel’s misunderstood mutants…

The mayhem begins with ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive… Cyclops!’ by Arnold Drake, Don Heck & Vince Colletta, which introduces Scott’s kid brother Alex just in time for the lad to be kidnapped by Egyptian acolytes of emergent Homo Superior The Living Pharaoh. It appears the boy has a hidden power the Pharaoh covets, which necessitates framing the X-Men’s leader…

At that time the back of the X-Men comic was running “untold origins” of the team, and ‘The Million Dollar Angel’ (Drake & Werner Roth) began unfolding the background of Warren Worthington III, a precocious rich boy rushed off to prep school where he grew wings and concealed them by making himself the most despised and lonely person on campus…

Roy Thomas returned as scripter for #55’s ‘The Living Pharaoh!’ – illustrated by Don Heck, Roth & Colletta – as the full team follow the Summers brothers to the Valley of the Kings and soundly thrash the faux potentate’s minions, only to have the new mutant’s unsuspected power go wild.

Meanwhile, in ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread!’ (Thomas, Roth & Sam Grainger) little Warren has left school and plans a superhero career until an atomic accident brings him into contact with a couple of kids code-named Cyclops and Iceman…

Nobody knew it at the time – and sales certainly didn’t reflect it – but with X-Men #56 superhero comics changed forever. Neal Adams had stunned the comics-buying public with his horror anthology work and revolutionary art on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman, but here, with writer Thomas in iconoclastic form, they began to expand the horizons of graphic narrative with a succession of boldly innovative, tensely paranoid dramas that pitted mutants against an increasingly hostile world.

Deliberately pitched at an older audience, a run of gripping, addictively beautiful epics captivated and enchanted a small band of amazed readers – and were completely ignored by the greater mass of the buying public. Without these tales, the modern X-phenomenon could not have existed, but they couldn’t save the series from cancellation. The cruellest phrase in comics is “ahead of its time…”

‘What is… the Power?’ (Thomas, Adams & inker extraordinaire Tom Palmer) reveals an uncanny connection between the Pharaoh and Alex and, as the Egyptian mastermind transformed into a colossal Living Monolith, the terrified boy’s mutant energies are unleashed with catastrophic results…

At the back, a chemically unbalanced Angel becomes ‘The Flying A-Bomb!’ but happily is defused in time to become the newest X-Man.

Issue #57 brought back the team’s most relentless adversaries in ‘The Sentinels Live!’ as a public witch-hunt prompts the mutant-hunting robots to pursue X-Men across the globe. Amongst the first victims are magnetic Lorna Dane and Alex but the sinister Sentinels have their unblinking optics set on all mutants…

That issue also saw a rundown on Marvel Girl’s abilities in the last back-up feature ‘The Female of the Species!’.

From the next issue on, Thomas and Adams would have an entire issue to play with…

‘Mission: Murder!’ ramps up the tension as the toll of fallen mutants increases, with Iceman, the Pharaoh, Angel and Mesmero all falling to the murderous mechanoids, but when their human controller discovers an unsuspected secret the automatons strike out on their own…

With all other mutants in the Marvel universe captured, Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Beast are reduced to a suicidal frontal assault in ‘Do or Die, Baby!’; pulling off a spectacular victory, but only at the cost of Alex, now calling himself Havok

Badly injured, Alex is brought to an old colleague of Professor Xavier’s named Karl Lykos – a discreet physician hiding a dark secret. ‘In the Shadow of Sauron!’ reveals that as a child the not-so-good doctor had been bitten by Pterodactyls from the Antarctic Savage Land and become an energy vampire.

Now with a powerful mutant to feed on, his addiction fully manifests and a sated Lykos transforms into a winged saurian with hypnotic powers, determined to gorge himself on the other X-Men.

After a shattering struggle in ‘Monsters Also Weep!’ Lykos is defeated and instinctively flees South to the Savage Land to die. Drained of his power, he reverts to human form and when the X-Men track him down the tormented leech chooses suicide rather than become Sauron once more.

Searching for his body, Angel is also attacked by Pteranodons and crashes to the bottom of a vast crevasse, precipitating the mutants into another primordial encounter with wild man Ka-Zar as ‘Strangers …in a Savage Land!’

Marooned once more in a lost world, Angel is healed by the enigmatic Creator: a wounded genius protecting the Savage Land’s mutant population with his own team of X-Men counterparts.

As his team-mates search for him, the Winged Wonder switches allegiance, unaware that his benefactor is actually the X-Men’s oldest enemy…

‘War in the World Below!’ sees the villain’s plans revealed and finally thwarted by the heroes and Ka-Zar, leaving the returning team to tackle a controversial Japanese extremist in ‘The Coming of Sunfire!’ (#64, with veteran stalwart Don Heck doing an impressive fill-in job for Adams) whilst the next issue resurrects the long-dead Professor Xavier – only to nearly kill him again in the Denny O’Neil scripted alien-invasion yarn ‘Before I’d Be Slave…’: an astounding epic that ended Adams’ artistic tenure in grand style.

All the staffing changes were hints of a bigger shake-up. With X-Men #66 (March 1970), the series was cancelled, despite all the frantic and radical innovations crafted by a succession of supremely talented creators.

‘The Mutants and the Monster’, by Thomas, Sal Buscema & Grainger, sent the team hunting for Bruce Banner in an attempt to save Professor X from a coma induced by his psychic battle against the aliens. Unfortunately, when you hunt Banner what you usually end up with is an irate Incredible Hulk

Although gone, the mutants were far from forgotten. The standard policy at that time to revive characters that had fallen was to pile on the guest-shots and reprints. X-Men #67 (December 1970) saw them return, re-presenting early classics.

The Beast fared better than his buddies: riding a wave of monster titles, he was reinvented in a solo series as a response to the world horror boom which shifted general comicbook fare from bright shiny costumed heroes to dark and sinister monsters.

Blue, furry and misunderstood, he soldiered on in various venues until the X-Men stormed back in 1975, but that’s all meat for different collections…

Although a little scrappy in places, these disparate stories are wonderful comics sagas that were too radical for the readership of the times but have since been acknowledged as groundbreaking mini-masterpieces which reshaped the way we tell stories to this day: making this comprehensive collection an unquestionable treasure no fan should be without.
© 1969, 1970, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Masterworks volume 5


By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Arnold Drake, Jerry Siegel, Don Heck, Werner Roth, Jim Steranko, Barry Windsor-Smith & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1787-2(HC)                   :978-0-7851-5909-4(PB)

X-Men was never one of young Marvel’s top titles but it did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek attractiveness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

The team still consisted of tragic Scott Summers/Cyclops, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast whose perpetual training with Professor Charles Xavier was seemingly ended when the wheelchair-bound telepath seemingly perished. Now his lifelong crusade to broker peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent race of mutant Homo Superior was left to his heartbroken ex-students…

This meander down mutant memory lane reprints X-Men #43-53, a crossover from Avengers #53 and pertinent extracts from Ka-Zar #2-3 and Marvel Tales #31; collectively covering April 1968 to April 1971.

Issue #43 began the reinvention of the mutant team with ‘The Torch is Passed!’ (Roy Thomas, Tuska & Tartaglione) as arch-nemesis Magneto returned with reluctant confederates Toad, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch to ensnare the bereaved heroes in his hidden island fortress.

This epic action event was supported by an educational back-up tale entitled ‘Call Him… Cyclops’ (by Thomas, Roth & John Verpoorten) which revealed the secrets of the mutant’s awesome eye-blasts, after which the next issue saw the Angel inexplicably escape and encounter a revived Golden Age Timely Comics hero whilst flying back to America for reinforcements.

Stirring yarn ‘Red Raven, Red Raven…’ (Thomas and Gary Friedrich, with Don Heck layouts, Roth pencils and inks from John Tartaglione) was accompanied by the opening of the next X-Men Origins chapter-play as ‘The Iceman Cometh!’, courtesy of Friedrich, Tuska & Verpoorten.

X-Men #45 led with ‘When Mutants Clash!’ as Cyclops also escaped, only to encounter the highly-conflicted Quicksilver; a battle latterly concluded in Avengers #53 as ‘In Battle Joined’ (Thomas, John Buscema and Tuska) which depicted Magneto’s defeat and apparent death. Meanwhile, back in the back of #45, Iceman’s story of small town intolerance continued in ‘And the Mob Cried… Vengeance!’

‘The End of the X-Men!’ occurred in issue #46, with the reading of Charles Xavier’s will. FBI Agent Duncan – unseen since the earliest days of the series – reappeared and ordered the team to split up in order to more efficiently monitor different regions of the country for mutant activity.

That shocking pronouncement came just as the unstoppable Juggernaut returned from extradimensional exile, and took great umbrage at being unable to kill his recently deceased step-brother Charles Xavier.  Iceman’s origin then concluded with ‘…And Then There were Two!’ as the cold kid escaped the raving mob trying to lynch him by joining the X-school…

Friedrich was joined by Arnold Drake to script Beast and Iceman’s adventure ‘The Warlock Wears Three Faces!’ as ancient mutant Merlin once more re-branded himself – this time as psychedelic guru Maha Yogi – but again found his brain insufficient against the X-Men’s brawn. Topping off the action, Drake, Roth & Verpoorten explained the cool kid’s powers in gag-stuffed info feature ‘I, the Iceman.’.

As full scripter, Drake penned the Cyclops and Marvel Girl tale for #48. ‘Beware Computo, Commander of the Robot Hive’ is a pacy thriller involving a robotic revolution with a surprise guest villain lurking in the shadows, whilst ‘Yours Truly. the Beast’ wrong-footed everybody by outlining his powers before actually revealing his origin epic.

X-Men#49 offered a tantalising taste of things to come with a startling and stylish Jim Steranko cover, behind which Drake, Heck, Roth & Tartaglione revealed ‘Who Dares Defy… the Demi-Men?’

Nominally an Angel story, this convoluted thriller hastily reunited the team to confront the assembled mutant hordes of Mesmero and Iceman’s new girlfriend Lorna Dane… the daughter of Magneto…

This shocker was supplemented by the natal advent of Henry McCoy in ‘A Beast is Born’ by Drake, Roth & Verpoorten.

Drake, Steranko & Tartaglione reached incredible heights with the magnificently baroque ‘City of Mutants’ in #50; a visual tour de force that remains as spectacular now it was in 1968, but which was actually surpassed by Magneto’s inevitable return for ‘The Devil had a Daughter’ in #51.

The saga then rather rapidly wrapped up in ‘Twilight of the Mutants!’ with the team infiltrating the malign Mutant City to recue Lorna and bring down the evil overlord once and for all…

Don’t misunderstand me, however: This isn’t a bad story, but after two issues of Steranko in his creative prime, nobody could satisfactorily end this tale, and I pity Heck, Roth & Tartaglione for having to try.

The Beast origin chapters in those issues were ‘This Boy, This Bombshell’, ‘The Lure of the Beast-Nappers!’ and ‘The Crimes of the Conquistador!’, as the simian son of a gun is abducted by a would-be world conqueror in need of super-powered servants. That epic of child exploitation and the isolation of being different ended in #53’s ‘Welcome to the Club, Beast!’ but the issue’s main claim to notoriety was the lead feature which was drawn by another young superstar in the making.

Hard to believe now, but in the 1960s X-Men was a series in perpetual sales crises, and a lot of great talent was thrown at it back then. ‘The Rage of Blastaar!’ was illustrated by a young Barry Smith – still in his Kirby clone/appreciation phase – and his engagingly unique interpretations in this off-beat battle-blockbuster from Arnold Drake, inked by the enigmatic Michael Dee (I’m assuming its Mike Esposito), is memorable but regrettably brisk.

Completing the contemporary mutant exploits is a three-part solo saga starring the Angel which endured a peculiarly nomadic publication schedule.

In 1970 Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar starred in three giant sized reprint specials gathering his earlier appearances. These vintage yarns were bolstered by all new short sections – presumably try-out or inventory material. Issues #2 and 3 delved into the private life of the pinioned paladin with Jerry Siegel scripting ‘From the Sky… Winged Wrath!’ as Warren Worthington III visits his parents and sometime girlfriend Candy Southern just as a macabre criminal genius murders the mutant hero’s father…

Illustrated throughout by Tuska & Dick Ayers, the saga of unvarnished vengeance continues with the winged wonder ‘In the Den of the Dazzler!’ (a mad scientist bloke, not the later mutant disco diva) before concluding in suitably ironic fashion in Marvel Tales #30 as the villain attempts ‘To Cage an Angel!’ and pays a heavy price…

These tales perfectly display Marvel’s evolution from quirky action tales to the more fraught, breast-beating, complex melodramas which inexorably led to the monolithic X-brand of today. Well drawn, highly readable stories are never unwelcome or out of favour though, and it should be remembered that everything here informs so very much of today’s mutant mythology. These are stories for the dedicated fan and newest convert, and never better packaged than in this economical tome. Everyone should own this book.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Masterworks volume 4


By Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, Dan Adkins, Ross Andru, Don Heck, John Tartaglione, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1607-3 (HC)                    :978-0-7851-5072-5 (PB)

X-Men was never one of young Marvel’s top titles but it did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek attractiveness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

The core team still consisted of tragic Scott Summers/Cyclops, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast in perpetual training with Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound (and temporarily deceased) telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent race of mutant Homo Superior.

By the time of this turbulent compilation (re-presenting X-Men #32-42 and spanning May 1967 to March 1968) attitudes and events from the wider world were starting to inflict an era of uncertainty on the Merry Mutants and beginning to infuse every issue with an aura of nervous tension. During those heady days, Marvel Comics had a vast following among older teens and college kids, and youthful scribe Roy Thomas spoke and wrote as they did. Coupled with his easy delight in expansive character casts this initially made X-Men a very welcoming read for we adolescent baby-boomers but with societal unrest everywhere those greater issues were beginning to be reflected in the comics…

A somewhat watered down version of the counter-culture had been slowly creeping into these tales of teenaged triumph and tragedy, mostly for comedic balance, but they were – along with Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man – some of the earliest indications of the changing face of America.

Illustrated by Werner Roth with John Tartaglione inking, ‘Beware the Juggernaut, My Son!’ augmented that aura of oppression and dire days ahead as Professor X is abducted by clandestine agency Factor Three and the X-Men are forced to stand alone against an unstoppable mystic monster.

The blistering battle against the Juggernaut was interrupted by a helpful guest-shot from Doctor Strange (and his mentor the Ancient One) leading to a life-saving trip ‘Into the Crimson Cosmos!’ Armed with knowledge of the nature of their enemy the mutants were able to vanquish the unstoppable Cain Marko, but when the dust settled the kids were left with almost no resources to rescue their abducted leader…

Dan Adkins – in full Wally Wood appreciation mode – memorably illustrated #34’s ‘War… In a World of Darkness!’ as the desperate team’s search for Xavier took them into the middle of a subterranean civil war between Tyrannus and the Mole Man, and he also inked Werner Roth on ‘Along Came A Spider…’

When absent ally Banshee was captured mid-sentence during a crucial communication with the X-Men, everybody’s favourite wall-crawler was mistaken for a Factor Three flunky. When the desperate and distraught mutants found him the webslinger was forced to battle for his life against the increasingly unstable teens.

‘Mekano Lives’ (with art from Ross Andru & George Roussos, nee Bell) found the team of cash-strapped kids delayed in their attempts to follow a lead to Europe by a troubled rich kid with a stolen exo-skeleton super-suit but his defeat gave them the wherewithal needed to resume their search…

Don Heck stepped in as inker over Andru’s pencils with #37 as ‘We, the Jury…’ saw the mutants finally find Factor Three – allied to a host of their oldest and most venal mutant foes – and primed to trigger an atomic war between the Americans and Soviet Union. Heck then assumed the penciller’s role for ‘The Sinister Shadow of… Doomsday!’ (inked by Roussos), before concluding the tense Armageddon saga with good and evil mutants temporarily united against a common foe in ‘The Fateful Finale!’ (embellished by Vince Colletta).

Werner Roth had not departed the mutant melee: with issue #38 a classy back-up feature had commenced, and his slick illustration was perfect for the fascinating Origins of the X-Men series. Inked by John Verpoorten ‘A Man Called… X’ began unveiling the hidden history of Cyclops, also revealing how Xavier began his cozy relationship with human FBI agent Fred Duncan

The second instalment ‘Lonely are the Hunted!’ displayed humanity in mob-mode as terrified citizens rioted and stalked the newly “outed” mutant Scott Summers: scenes reminiscent of contemporary race-riots that would fuel the racial outcast metaphor of the later Chris Claremont team.

Back at the front of the comicbook, Thomas, Heck and George Tuska ushered in a new era for the team with #40’s ‘The Mask of the Monster!’ as – now clad in individual costumes rather than superhero school uniforms – the young warriors tackled what seemed to be Frankenstein’s unholy creation whilst in the second feature Scott Summers met ‘The First Evil Mutant!’

‘Now Strikes… the Sub-Human!’ and the sequel ‘If I Should Die…’ introduced the tragic Grotesk, whose only dream was to destroy the entire planet, and who instituted the greatest and most stunning change yet.

I’m spoiling nothing now but when this story first ran, the shock couldn’t be described when the last page showed the heroic, world-saving death of Charles Xavier. I’m convinced that at the time this was an honest plot development – removing an “old” figurehead and living deus ex machina from a “young” series – and I’m just as certain that his subsequent “return” a few years later was an inadvisable reaction to dwindling sales…

From the rear of those climactic issues ‘The Living Diamond!’ and ‘The End… or the Beginning?’ (this last inked by neophyte Herb Trimpe) signalled the beginning of The Xavier School for Gifted Children as solitary recluse Professor X took the fugitive Scott under his wing and began his Project: X-Men…

These tales perfectly display Marvel’s evolution from quirky action tales to the more fraught, breast-beating, convoluted melodramas that inexorably led to the monolithic X-brand of today. Well drawn, highly readable stories are never unwelcome or out of favour though, and it should be remembered that everything here informs so very much of today’s mutant mythology. These are stories for the dedicated fan and newest convert, and never better packaged than in this wide range (hardback, softcover and eEditions) of releases. Every comics fan should own this book, so do…
© 1967, 1968, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Masterworks X-Men volume 3


By Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, Jack Sparling, Dick Ayer, John Tartaglione & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1269-3(HC)                      :978-0-7851-5070-1(PB)

X-Men was never one of young Marvel’s top titles but it did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek attractiveness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

The core team still consisted of tragic Scott Summers/Cyclops, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast in perpetual training with Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound (and temporarily deceased) telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent race of mutant Homo Superior.

Stan Lee had relinquished the writing reins to Roy Thomas in #20, and by the time of this nostalgic compilation (re-presenting The X-Men #22-31, spanning July 1966 to April 1967) he was getting better with every issue. During those heady days Marvel Comics had a vast and growing following among older teens and college kids, and the youthful Thomas spoke and wrote as they did. Coupled with his easy delight in expansive character casts this made X-Men a very welcoming read for we adolescent baby-boomers…

Illustrated primarily by Roth with Dick Ayers inking, the action opens with a crafty 2-parter resurrecting veteran Avengers villain Count Nefaria who employed illusion casting technology and a band of other heroes’ second-string foes (Unicorn, Porcupine, Plantman, Scarecrow and the Eel, if you’re wondering) to hold Washington DC hostage and frame the X-Men for the entire scheme.

‘Divided… We Fall!’ and ‘To Save a City!’ comprise a fast-paced, old-fashioned goodies vs. baddies epic with a decided sting in the tail.

The tale concludes with Marvel Girl being yanked off the team as her parents insist she furthers her education by leaving the Xavier School to attend New York’s Metro University…

Her departure segues neatly into a beloved plot standard – Evil Scientist Grows Giant Bugs – when she enrols and meets an embittered recently-fired professor, leading her erstwhile comrades to confront ‘The Plague of… the Locust!’

Perhaps X-Men #24 isn’t the most memorable tale in the canon but it still reads well and has the added drama of Marvel Girl’s departure for college crystallizing the romantic rivalry for her affections between Cyclops and Angel and provided another deft sop to the audience as it enabled many future epics to include Campus life in the action-packed, fun-filled mix…

Jean Grey still managed to turn up in every issue and ‘The Power and the Pendant’ (X-Men #25, October 1966) found the boys tracking new menace, El Tigre. This South American hunter was visiting New York to steal the second half of a Mayan amulet which would grant him god-like powers.

Having soundly thrashed the mutant heroes, newly-ascended Kukulcán returns to Amazonian San Rico to recreate the fallen pre-Columbian empire with the heroes in hot pursuit. The result is a cataclysmic showdown in ‘Holocaust!’ which leaves Angel fighting for his life and deputy leader Cyclops crushed by guilt…

Issue #27 saw the return of some old foes in ‘Re-enter: The Mimic!’ even as the mesmerising Puppet Master pitted power-duplicating Calvin Rankin against a team riven by dissention and ill-feeling, whilst in ‘The Wail of the Banshee!’ Rankin joined the X-Men in a tale which introduced the sonic-powered mutant (eventually to become a valued team-mate and team-leader) as a deadly threat in the opening instalment of an ambitious extended epic which featured the global menace of the sinister mutant-abducting organisation Factor Three.

John Tartaglione signed on as regular inker with the bright and breezy thriller ‘When Titans Clash!’ as the power-duplicating Super-Adaptoid almost turned the team into robotic slaves before ending the Mimic’s crimebusting career, after which Jack Sparling & Tartaglione illustrated ‘The Warlock Wakes’.

Here old Thor foe Merlin received a stylish upgrade to malevolent mutant menace as he attempted to turn the planet into his mind-controlled playground before, in the concluding tale of this collection (illustrated by Roth & Tartaglione), Marvel Girl and the boys tackle a deranged Iron Man wannabe who was also an accidental atomic time bomb in ‘We Must Destroy… the Cobalt Man!’

These quirky tales are a million miles removed from the angst-ridden, breast-beating, cripplingly convoluted X-brand of today’s Marvel, and in many ways are all the better for it. Well drawn, highly accessible and superbly entertaining stories are never unwelcome or out of favour though, and it should be remembered that everything here informs so very much of the mutant monolith. These are stories for the dedicated fan and newest convert.
© 1966, 1967, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Fist Epic Collection: The Fury of Iron Fist – volume 1 1994-1997


By Roy Thomas, Chris Claremont, Doug Moench, Tony Isabella, Gil Kane, Larry Hama, John Byrne & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9164-3

Comicbooks have always operated within the larger bounds of popular trends and fashions – just look at what got published whenever westerns or science fiction dominated on TV – so when the ancient philosophy and health-&-fitness discipline of Kung Fu made its unstoppable mark on domestic entertainment it wasn’t long before the Chop Sockey kicks and punches found their way en masse onto the four-colour pages of America’s periodicals.

As part of the first Martial Arts bonanza, Marvel converted a forthcoming license to use venerable fictional villain Fu Manchu into a series about his son. The series launched in Special Marvel Edition #15, December 1973 as The Hands of Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu and by April 1974 (#17) it became his exclusively.

A month later the House of Ideas launched a second oriental-tinged hero in Iron Fist; a character combining the Eastern combat philosophy with high fantasy, magic powers and a proper superhero mask and costume…

The character also owed a hefty debt to Bill Everett’s pioneering golden Age super-hero Amazing Man who graced various Centaur Comics publications between 1939 and 1942. The tribute was paid by Roy Thomas & Gil Kane who adopted and translated the fictive John Aman’s Tibetan origins into something that gibed better with the 1970’s twin zeitgeists of Supernatural Fantasy and Martial Arts Mayhem…

This collection gathers the far-ranging appearances of the Living Weapon from Marvel Premier #15-25, Iron Fist #1-15 and Marvel Team-Up #63-64 (spanning May 1974 to December 1977), which saw the high-kicking wonder uncover his past and rediscover his heritage and humanity before inevitably settling into the inescapable role of costumed crusader as half of superhero and detective bromance Power Man and Iron Fist.

The saga began on a spectacular high in Marvel Premier #15 with ‘The Fury of Iron Fist!’ by Thomas, Kane and inker Dick Giordano as a young masked warrior defeats the cream of a legendary combat elite in a fabled other-dimensional city before returning to Earth.

Ten years previously little Daniel Rand had watched as his father and mother died at the hands of Harold Meachum whilst the party risked Himalayan snows to find the legendary city of K’un Lun.

Little Danny had travelled with his wealthy parents and business partner Meachum in search of the fabled city – which only appeared on Earth for one day every ten years. Wendell Rand had some unsuspected connection to the fabled Shangri La but was killed before they found it, and Danny’s mother had sacrificed herself to save the child from wolves and her murderous pursuer.

As he wandered alone in the wilderness, the city found Danny. The boy spent the next decade training: mastering all forms of martial arts in the militaristic, oriental, feudal paradise and enduring arcane ordeals, living only for the day he would return to Earth and avenge his parents…

After conquering all comers and refusing immortality, Iron Fist returned to Earth a Living Weapon able to turn his force of will into a devastating super-punch…

From the outset the feature was plagued by an inability to keep a stable creative team, although, to be fair, story quality never suffered, only plot and direction. Reaching New York City in #16, ‘Heart of the Dragon!’ by Len Wein, Larry Hama & Giordano found Iron Fist reliving the years of toil which had culminated in a trial by combat with mystic dragon Shou-Lao the Undying, winning him the power to concentrate his fist “like unto a thing of Iron” and other unspecified abilities. The epic clash permanently branded his chest with the seared silhouette of the fearsome wyrm.

His recollections are shattered when martial arts bounty hunter Scythe attacks, revealing that Meachum knew the boy was back and had put a price on his head…

Danny had not only sacrificed immortality for vengeance but also prestige and privilege. As he left K’un Lun, supreme ruler of the city Yü Ti, the August Personage in Jade, had revealed that murdered Wendell Rand had been his brother…

Marvel Premier #17 saw Doug Moench take over scripting as Iron Fist stormed Meachum’s skyscraper headquarters; a ‘Citadel on the Edge of Vengeance’ converted into a colossal 30-storey death trap, leading to a duel with a cybernetically-augmented giant dubbed Triple-Iron and a climactic confrontation with his parents’ killer in #18’s ‘Lair of Shattered Vengeance!’

The years had not been kind to Meachum. He’d lost his legs to frostbite returning from the high peaks, and, hearing from Sherpas that a boy had been taken into K’un Lun, the murderer had spent the intervening decade awaiting in dread his victims’ avenger…

Filled with loathing, frustration and pity, Iron Fist turns away from his intended retribution, but Meachum dies anyway, slain by a mysterious Ninja as the deranged multi-millionaire attempts to shoot Danny in the back…

In #19 Joy Meachum and her ruthless uncle Ward – convinced Iron Fist had killed the crippled Harold – steps up the hunt for Iron Fist via legal and illegal means, whilst the shell-shocked Living Weapon aimlessly wanders the strange streets of Manhattan. Adopted by the enigmatic Colleen Wing Danny meets her father, an aging professor of Oriental Studies who has fallen foul of a ‘Death Cult!’

In his travels the aged savant had acquired ancient text The Book of Many Things, which, amongst other things, held the secret of K’un Lun’s destruction. The deadly disciples of Kara-Kai are determined to possess it. After thwarting another murder attempt Iron Fist tries to make peace with Joy, but instead walks into an ambush with the bloodthirsty ninja again intervening and slaughtering the ambushers…

A period of often painful inconsistency began as Tony Isabella, Arvell Jones & Dan Green took over with #20. The Kara-Kai cultists renew their attacks on the Wings whilst Ward Meachum hires a veritable army of killers to destroy the Living Weapon in ‘Batroc and other Assassins’ – with the identity of the ninja apparently revealed here as the elderly scholar…

Marvel Premier #21 introduced the ‘Daughters of the Death Goddess’ (inked by Vince Colletta) as the Wings are abducted by the cultists and bionic ex-cop Misty Knight debuts, first as foe but soon as an ally. When Danny tracks down the cult he discovers some shocking truths – as does the ninja, who had been imprisoned within the ancient book by the August Personage in Jade in ages past and recently possessed Professor Wing in search of escape and vengeance…

All was revealed and the hero exonerated in #22’s ‘Death is a Ninja’ (inked by “A. Bradford”) with the ninja disclosing how, as disciple to sublime wizard Master Khan, he had attempted to conquer K’un Lun and been imprisoned within the crumbling tome for his pains.

Over the years he had discovered a temporary escape and subsequently manipulated the Wing and Iron Fist to secure his permanent release and the doom of his jailers. Now exposed, he faces the Living Weapon in a final cataclysmic clash…

A measure of stability began with #23 as Chris Claremont, Pat Broderick & Bob McLeod took the series in a new direction. With his life’s work over and nearly nine years until he could go “home”, Danny was now a man without purpose… until whilst strolling with Colleen he stumbles into a spree shooting in ‘The Name is… Warhawk.’

When the cyborg-assassin has a Vietnam flashback and begins heedlessly sniping in Central Park, the Pride of K’un Lun instantly responds to the threat… and thus began his career as a hero…

In ‘Summerkill’ (inked by Colletta) the itinerant exile battles alien robot the Monstroid and opens a long and complicated association with Princess Azir of Halwan, with the mysterious Master Khan resurfacing, apparently intent on killing her and seizing her country…

Marvel Premier #25 was the last of the hero’s run and the start of his short but sweet Golden Age as John Byrne became regular penciller for ‘Morning of the Mindstorm!’ (inked by Al McWilliams). Whilst Colleen is driven to unconsciousness and abducted – and her father driven to the edge of insanity – by mind-bending terrorist Angar the Screamer, Danny, made of far sterner stuff, overcomes the psychic assaults and tracks the attackers to Stark Industries and into his own series…

Iron Fist #1 (November 1975) featured ‘A Duel of Iron!’ as he is tricked into battling Iron Man, even as Colleen escapes and runs into Danny’s future nemesis Steel Serpent before being recaptured and renditioned to Halwan…

After a spectacular, inconclusive and ultimately pointless battle, Danny and Misty Knight also head for Halwan in ‘Valley of the Damned!’ (#2, inked by Frank Chiaramonte) with our hero recalling a painful episode from his youth wherein his best friends Conal and Miranda chose certain death beyond the walls of regimented K’un Lun rather than remain in the lost city where they could not love each other…

As Master Khan begins to break Colleen, Danny and Misty stopover in England where a nuclear horror named The Ravager slaughters innocents by blowing up London Airport and the Post Office Tower (we rebuilt it as the BT Tower, so don’t panic), compelling Iron Fist to punch way above his weight in ‘The City’s Not For Burning!’

Inevitably it ends in ‘Holocaust!’ as Ravager is unmasked as old villain Radion the Atomic Man. He fatally irradiates Danny until the wounded warrior fortuitously discovers the cleansing and curative power of the Iron Fist and storms to his greatest triumph yet…

With Misty recuperating, Danny gets involved with a guilt-ridden IRA bomber named Alan Cavenaugh before tackling another of Khan’s assassins in ‘When Slays the Scimitar!’ after which Iron Fist and Misty finally infiltrate Halwan in #6, courtesy of crusading lawyer Jeryn Hogarth who also promises to secure Danny’s inheritance and interests from the Rand-Meachum Corporation.

The Pride of K’un Lun doesn’t much care since the successfully brainwashed Colleen had been unleashed by Khan, determined to kill her rescuers in ‘Death Match!’

None of the earthly participants are aware that, from a hidden dimension, Yü Ti is observing the proceedings with cold calculation…

By using his mystic Iron Fist to psychically link with Colleen, Danny breaks Khan’s conditioning and at last the malignant mage personally enters the fray in #7’s ‘Iron Fist Must Die!’: a blistering battle which breaches the dimensions and exposes the August Personage in Jade’s involvement in Wendell Rand’s death.

Given the choice between abandoning his friends on Earth or returning to K’un Lun for answers and justice, the Living Weapon made a true hero’s choice…

With Iron Fist #8 Danny returns to New York and attempts to pick up the pieces of a life interrupted for more than a decade. Unaware that Steel Serpent now works for Joy Meachum, Danny joins the company until merciless mob boss Chaka and his Chinatown gangs attack the business ‘Like Tigers in the Night!’ (inked by Dan Adkins), and Iron Fist is fatally poisoned.

Sportingly offered an antidote if he survives a gauntlet of Chaka’s warriors, Danny triumphs in his own manner when ‘The Dragon Dies at Dawn!’ (Chiaramonte inks) but when a hidden killer bludgeons Chaka, Danny is once again a fugitive from the cops and dubbed the ‘Kung Fu Killer!’ (Adkins) until he, Colleen and Misty expose the entire plot as a fabrication of the gangster.

In #11 ‘A Fine Day’s Dawn!’ the Living Weapon squares off against the Asgardian-empowered Wrecking Crew and, with Misty a hostage, is compelled to fight Captain America in #12’s ‘Assault on Avengers’ Mansion!’ until the Pride of K’un Lun and the Sentinel of Liberty unite and turn the tables on the grotesque god-powered gangsters…

In the intervening time Cavenaugh arrives in New York, but has not escaped the reach of his former Republican comrades. They hire hitman Boomerang to kill the defector and ‘Target: Iron Fist!’ with little success, whereas the villain introduced in issue #14 comes a lot closer: even eventually eclipsing Iron Fist in popularity…

‘Snowfire’ – inked by Dan Green – finds Danny and Colleen running for their lives in arctic conditions when a retreat at Hogarth’s palatial Canadian Rockies estate is invaded by deadly mercenary Sabre-tooth. It just wasn’t their week as, only days before, a mystery assailant had ambushed Iron Fist and impossibly drained off a significant portion of the lad’s Shou-Lao fuelled life-force…

Despite being rendered temporarily blind, the K’un Lun Kid ultimately defeats Sabre-tooth, but the fiercely feral mutant would return again and again…

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 battling Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Banshee, Storm and Phoenix in ‘Enter, the X-Men’.

The cancellation was clearly not planned however as two major subplots went unresolved: Misty had disappeared on an undercover assignment to investigate European gang-boss John Bushmaster and Danny again had his chi siphoned off by Steel Serpent…

Fans didn’t have to wait long: Claremont & Byrne had already begun a stint on Marvel Team-Up and turned the Spider-Man vehicle into their own personal clearing house for unresolved plot-lines.

MTU #63-64 (November & December 1977 and inked by Dave Hunt) revealed the secret of K’un Lun exile Davos in ‘Night of the Dragon’ as Steel Serpent sucked the power of the Iron Fist from Danny, leaving him near death. Risking all she had gained, Misty broke cover and rushed to his aid…

With the Wall-crawler and Colleen (the girls using the team name “Daughters of the Dragon”) to bolster him, Iron Fist defeated Davos and reclaimed his heritage in ‘If Death be my Destiny…’ before shuffling off into a quiet retirement and anonymity.

…But not for long – and certainly the subject of further mammoth full-colour paperback Epic Collections to come…

Although suffering a few grim patches, the greater bulk of the Iron Fist saga ranks amongst the most exciting and enjoyable Costumed Dramas of Marvel’s second generation. If you want a good, clean fight comic this is probably one of your better bets, especially if you’re a fan of original artwork as this titanic tome closes with a fabulous selection, shot from Byrne’s inked pages and original pencil character sketches…
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential X-Men volume 1


By Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Bill Mantlo, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Bob Brown, Tony DeZuniga & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2376-7

In 1963 The X-Men #1 introduced ScottCyclopsSummers, BobbyIcemanDrake, WarrenAngelWorthington, JeanMarvel GirlGrey and HankThe BeastMcCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier.

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

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

Then, with sales of the spooky stuff 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 groundbreaking monochrome monolith of mutant mayhem first appeared in 1996, offering an economical, phonebook (remember those?) sized mass-market collection for newbies and neophytes catch-up to the sun-bright excitement of those exuberant and pivotal early stories.

Collecting Giant Size X-Men #1 and issues #94-119 of the definitely “All-New, All-Different” X-Men (spanning May 1975 to March 1978), this titanic tome traces the reinvigorated merry mutants from young, fresh and delightfully under-exposed innovations to the beginnings of their unstoppable ascendancy to ultimate comicbook icons…

Without pause or preamble, the epic voyage begins with a classic mystery monster mash from Giant Size X-Men #1. In ‘Second Genesis!’ Len Wein & Dave Cockrum (the artist hot from his stint reviving DC’s equally eclectic fan-fave super-team The Legion of Super-Heroes) detailed how the original squad – sans new Avengers recruit The Beast – had been lost in action, leaving Xavier to scour Earth and the entire Marvel Universe for replacements.

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

The second chapter of the epic introductory adventure ‘…And Then There Was One!’ reintroduced battered, depleted but unbowed team-leader Cyclops who swiftly drilled 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 another quarterly Giant-Size issue, but so great was the groundswell of support that the follow-up adventure was swiftly reworked into a two-part tale for the rapidly reconfigured comicbook which became a bimonthly home to the new team.

Those epic beginnings are supplanted by a trio of vignettes explaining how the heroes’ formidable abilities function, beginning with ‘Call Him… Cyclops’ from X-Men #43, revealing the secrets of his awesome eye-blasts in pithy quickie by Thomas, Werner Roth and John Verpoorten whilst Stan Lee, Arnold Drake, Roth & Verpoorten performed similar duties with ‘I, the Iceman!’ from #47.

Finally, from X-Men #57 comes a chattily entrancing rundown describing Marvel Girl’s psionic abilities in ‘The Female of the Species!’ from Thomas, Roth & Verpoorten.

X-Men #94 (August 1975) offered ‘The Doomsmith Scenario!’ – plotted by Editor Wein, scripted by Chris Claremont and with Bob McLeod inking man-on-fire Dave Cockrum – in a canny Armageddon-shocker as the newly pared-down strike-squad (minus Sunfire and still-recuperating Marvel Girl, Angel, Iceman, Havok and Lorna Dane) were despatched by the Beast – calling in a favour from Avenger’s HQ – to stop criminal terrorist Count Nefaria starting an atomic war.

The insidious mastermind had invaded 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 didn’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 blamed himself for the loss of his team-mate, and in his explosive rage accidentally unleashed a demonic antediluvian horror from earth’s dimmest 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 was the introduction of gun-toting biologist/housekeeper Moira MacTaggert and the first inklings of the return of implacable old adversaries…

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

The devastating conflict segued into a spectacular, 3-part saga as pitiless robotic killers returned under the hate-filled auspices of mutantophobic Steven Lang and his mysterious backers of Project Armageddon. The action began 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 had to co-opt a space shuttle and storm Lang’s orbital HQ to rescue them in ‘Deathstar Rising!’ (inks by Frank Chiaramonte): another phenomenal all-action episode.

Accompanied by a magical pinup of portraits by Cockrum, 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 had destroyed the only means of escape and, as a colossal solar flare threatened to eradicate the satellite-station, the only chance of survival meant 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…

The team consisted of old acquaintance and former foe Sean “Banshee” Cassidy, Wolverine, and new creations Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus, led by field-leader Cyclops 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’ (inked by Frank Chiaramonte) saw a space-shuttle spectacularly crash into Jamaica Bay. The X-Men had safely travelled in a specially-shielded chamber but Marvel Girl had to needed manually pilot the vehicle, unprotected through a lethal radiation storm.

As the mutants fled 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’ cataclysmically concludes the tale with mutant heroes and the Keep’s Leprechaun colony (no, really!) uniting to expel the murderous usurpers.

Although 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 many 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 common fate for villains in those faraway days – but 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 orchestrated 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 had haunted 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 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 fill-in “untold” tale of the new team featuring an attack by psychic clones of the original X-men in ‘Dark Shroud of the Past’ (by Bill Mantlo, Bob Brown & Tom Sutton, 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 defeated by the Shi’ar Imperial Guard (an in-joke version of the Legion of Super Heroes), until bold interstellar rebel/freebooters the Starjammers bombastically arrive to turn the tables again and uncover 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 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…

There and then though, the X-Men and Starjammers battled the Crystal’s astoundingly deadly automated guardians, as this final chapter saw the newly puissant Phoenix literally save 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” seemed an unrepeatable high-point, Claremont & Byrne had only started. The best was still to come…

In ‘Home Are the Heroes!’ Wolverine finally began to develop a back-history and some depth of character as technological wonder Weapon Alpha attacked the recuperating team in an attempt to force the enigmatic Logan to rejoin the Canadian Secret Service. Renamed Vindicator Alpha would later return with Alpha Flight – a Canadian super-team which would eventually graduate to their own eccentric high-profile series.

Next follows a rather limp and hasty fill-in as ‘The “X”-Sanction’ (illustrated by Tony DeZuniga & Cockrum), sees cyborg mercenary Warhawk infiltrating the mansion in search of “intel” for a mysterious, unspecified master before getting his shiny silver head handed to him…

After a magical pinup of the extended team by Arthur Adams (the cover of Classic X-Men #1 from 1986) the saga got back on track with ‘Mindgames’ (Claremont, Byrne & Austin) as Beast visits a circus in search of the new team which has been missing for weeks.

His presence disrupts a devilish scheme by Mesmero to subjugate the mutant heroes through false memories and implanted personalities but the reawakened team’s vengeance is forestalled when their greatest enemy ambushes them…

In X-Men #112 they fight and fail leaving ‘Magneto Triumphant!’ and his enemies helplessly imprisoned miles beneath Antarctica in the follow-up ‘Showdown!’ However, by the time the Homo Superior tyrant returns after terrorising the humans of Australia, the X-Men have broken free and are waiting for him…

In the apocalyptic battle which follows the base is utterly destroyed and Magneto grievously wounded. With boiling lava flooding everywhere, only Beast and Phoenix manage to reach the surface and in horror realise they are the only survivors…

They could not be more wrong. Unable to go up, the remaining mutants tunnelled downwards and ‘Desolation!’ turned to joy as they emerged into the antediluvian wilderness dubbed the Savage Land.

Linking up with old ally Ka-Zar, the team slowly recover in a dinosaur-filled paradise but the idyll is shattered when former foe Karl Lykos succumbs to an old addiction and absorbs their mutant energies to become lethal leather-winged predator Sauron

His ‘Visions of Death!’ are readily dispelled by the assembled heroes, but he’s just the first course in a campaign of terror after barbarian queen Zaladane revives proto-god Garokk as the figurehead of her army of conquest…

When their meddling disrupts the tropical climate of the sub-polar region, Ka-Zar and the X-Men invade their noxious citadel ‘To Save the Savage Land’ but the battle demands the best and worst from the young warriors before the job is done…

With the distasteful task completed, the mutants opt to try a perilous sea-passage back to the outside world…

X-Men #117 begins with their rescue by an Antarctic exploration vessel and slow torturous voyage to Japan, before lapsing into an untold tale of Charles Xavier before he lost the use of his legs. ‘Psi War!’ is full of clever in-filling insights as it details how the dispirited, restless young telepath fetched up in Cairo and met his first “Evil Mutant”…

Amahl Farouk used his psionic abilities to rule the city’s underworld: a depraved, debauched monster who thought he was beyond justice. The enraged, disgusted Xavier defeated the beast and in doing so found his life’s purpose…

This initial volume concludes with a revelatory two-part epic as the X-Men – still believed dead by Xavier, Jean and the wider world – arrive in Agarashima just as the port is being devastated by a vast firestorm. ‘The Submergence of Japan!’ (inked by Ricardo Villamonte) saw tectonic terrorist Moses Magnum undertake a most audacious blackmail scheme, countered by the valiant mutants who had briefly reunited with old – and still belligerently surly – comrade Sunfire.

Perhaps he was just surprised to discover Wolverine had unsuspected connections to Japan and had turned the head of local highborn maid Lady Mariko. A bigger surprise awaited the American specialist the government had consulted. Misty Knight was Jean Grey’s roommate in Manhattan and grieved with her at the X-Men’s deaths. Now she has to tell Cyclops his girl has moved on and Professor X has abandoned Earth for the Shi’ar Empire…

Of course all of that might be moot if they can’t stop Magnum and his Mandroid army sinking Japan into the Pacific, but after a catastrophic conflict inside a volcano there’s a seasonal reunion in store for all in the Austin inked ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…’

The immortal epics compiled here are available in numerous formats (including colour softcover editions and luxurious and enticing hardbacks) but there’s just something both immediate and emphatic about seeing them in stark, potent monochrome…

Entertaining, groundbreaking and incredibly intoxicating, these adventures are an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can be allowed to ignore.
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1996 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc/Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

War of Kings: The Road to War of Kings


By Christopher Yost, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Andy Schmidt, Michael Hoskin, Dustin Weaver, Paul Pelletier, Bong Dazo, Frazer Irving & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3967-6

As every comics fan knows, the world is not enough. Eventually all horizons expand and your favourite character goes cosmic. Marvel Comics have long been capitalising on dramas from beyond the unknown and in 2006 constructed a monumental crossover epic which not only featured the usual stellar stalwarts but was also expansive enough to encompass a host of more Earthbound stars.

Annihilation spawned a cascade of sidereal sequels and in 2008 many of Marvel’s major players became deeply involved in one of the most expansive as War of Kings redefined the role of mutants, Inhumans and three perpetually warring stellar empires.

As usual the tale spread through a number of titles, miniseries and specials over many months, enveloping such disparate do-gooders as the Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, Skaar – Son of Hulk, Darkhawk and more.

This slim compilation collects pivotal opening sallies X-Men: Kingbreaker #1-4, Secret Invasion: War of Kings, War of Kings Saga and pertinent extracts from X-Men: Divided We Stand #2, spanning July 2008 to May 2009.

Crafted by writers Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning and illustrators Paul Pelletier, Bong Dazo, Rick Magyar & Joe Pimentel, Secret Invasion: War of Kings finds a fleet of shapeshifting Skrulls desperately fleeing Earth after their all-out incursion was repulsed.

As part of the scheme the invaders had imprisoned and tortured Inhuman ruler Black Bolt for months, and when his family freed him the silent monarch’s fury knew no bounds…

Conceived as another fantastic lost civilisation and debuting in 1965’s Fantastic Four #44-48 during Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s most fertile and productive creative period, The Inhumans are a race of (generally) humanoid beings genetically altered 25,000 years ago, after Imperial Kree explorers landed on Earth and tampered with the biology of a tribe of primitives, just as they had on hundreds of other worlds.

Consequently the guinea pigs became technologically advanced far ahead of emergent Homo Sapiens and isolated themselves from the world and barbarous dawn-age humanity in a fabulous city named Attilan: first on an island and latterly in a hidden valley in the Himalayas.

Long ago Randac, one of the rulers of the intellectual super-race, took DNA manipulation to its ultimate end, devising the Terrigen Mist process, which mutated citizens into infinitely unique individuals of astounding power. The measure originally met with much opposition and hordes of Attilans quit the city forever, setting up their own isolated enclaves and increasingly interbreeding with their less evolved cousins…

After millennia in hiding, growing global pollution levels began to attack the Inhumans’ elevated biological systems and they relocated their entire city-civilisation to the Moon. This bold act exposed them to military scrutiny and they became known at last to Earth’s teeming masses.

Run along quasi-mystic lines by a priesthood, the Attilan mark of citizenship is gained through immersion in the Terrigen Mists which enhance and transform individuals into radically unique and generally super-powered beings. The subspecies is obsessed with genetic structure and heritage, worshipping their ruling Royal Family as the rationalist equivalent of mortal gods.

Now, following the Skrulls’ shameful debasement of Black Bolt, the citizens are ready to fully embrace their millennial destiny as living weapons and carve a place for themselves in the greater universe.

The shapeshifters are only the first to fall and by the time he has done, Blackbolt has taken the Kree Empire by the throat and made himself its lord…

‘The Hole’ originally saw print in X-Men: Divided We Stand #2, wherein Andy Schmidt and Frazer Irving detailed the ordeal of former X-Men Alex Summers – AKA Havok – and his one-time lover Polaris following their participation in a coup intended to remove the head of the Shi’ar Empire.

That vile potentate was crazed mutant Vulcan (revealed as Alex’s half brother Gabriel Summers) who had risen from the rank of slave to seize power in a blood-drenched, if politically astute, campaign of terror. After failing to destroy his insane sibling, Havok was imprisoned under an ocean on a remote world and systematically tortured by the triumphant Vulcan.

It didn’t matter: Alex bided his time and waited…

Opportunity knocked at last in 4-part miniseries X-Men: Kingbreaker (by Christopher Yost, Dustin Weaver, Paco Diaz, Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba & Vicente Cifuentes) which forms the majority of this introductory tome.

After consolidating his position Vulcan, with his Shi’ar queen-consort Deathbird, begin a studied attack on the intergalactic status quo, greedily snatching up new worlds in a devastating war of expansion. With the dominant states of the universe reluctantly ranging against him ,Vulcan is caught off-guard when a coalition of Earth mutants join freebooting space-pirates The Starjammers in a rescue mission to free Alex, Polaris and their own captured comrades…

Stretched and already unstable, the upstart Emperor responds by freeing the five greatest menaces in Shi’ar custody as a penal battalion and is utterly astonished when the devilish malcontents increasingly run amok, killing civilians and even destroying entire worlds…

When the dust finally settles his greatest foes are free and many of his dutiful allies and subjects are thinking of switching sides…

Truly deranged but undeterred Vulcan continues his rush to conquest, turning his attention to The Kree, where newly enthroned Supremor Black Bolt is ready and waiting…

To Be Continued in various War of Kings collections…

Although the sequential narratives end here this catalogue of cosmic calamity carries one last prize as the incipient interstellar insurrection is scrupulously diarised and knitted together from its scattered beginnings through extracts and snippets from a vast number of assorted comics issues collated by Michael Hoskin.

How it all began and where it will lead is diligently tracked via the sterling strip efforts of writers Carlos Pacheco, Rafael Marin, David Hine, Paul Jenkins, Sean McKeever, Andy Schmidt, Joe Pokaski, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Greg Pak, Abnett, Lanning & Yost with the appropriate and stunning visual accompaniments by Ladrönn, Jorge Pereira Lucas, Irving, Jae Lee, Matthew Clark, Roy Allan Martinez, Tom Raney, Jim Cheung, Alex, Maleev, Trevor Hairsine, Billy Tan, Adi Granov, John Romita Jr., Weaver, Wellington Alves & Pelletier to form a mosaic of data vital to further progress whether you’re a Marvel die-hard or callow comic neophyte.

Sprawling, epic and remarkably engaging, if you’re into cosmic conflagration this is a splendid starting point for a grand adventure…
© 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Legacy: Aftermath


By Mike Carey, Paul Davidson, Harvey Tolibao, Jorge Molina, Rafa Sandoval, Sandu Florea, Craig Yeung & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5636-9

Since its creation in 1963 and triumphant revival in 1975, Marvel’s Mutant franchise has grown into an almighty engine for telling all manner of stories and tackling a host of social issues, so it’s nice to see one that falls back on the basics and simply addresses the prime directive of superhero comics: beat the bad guys, mash the monsters and save the day. Of course with the X-Men nothing is ever that straightforward…

Written throughout by Mike Carey, this particular collection gathers X-Men Legacy #242-244 and 248-249 (released between November 2010 and May 2011), neatly bridging one of those incessantly periodic crossover events to relate small tales of everyday strangeness…

At this point in time, the evolutionary offshoot dubbed Homo Sapiens Superior is at its lowest ebb. As seen in the House of M and Decimation storylines, Scarlet Witch Wanda Maximoff – ravaged by madness and her own reality-warping power – had reduced the world’s multi-million plus mutant population to a couple of hundred individuals with three simple words… “No More Mutants”…

In the wake of this horrific reduction in numbers, Earth’s remaining Children of the Atom relocated to an island off San Francisco, only to be mercilessly targeted by super-Sentinel Bastion who attacked both their enclave of Utopia and the human city surrounding it in response to the birth of the first new mutant, Hope Summers

It all begins here with the two-part ‘Fables of the Reconstruction’ (illustrated by Paul Davidson) as young psionic Hellion is undergoing therapy. He’s reacting badly to the robotic hands he’s been beta-testing ever since Bastion took his real ones.

They work fine but the young man is barely suppressing a lot of unexpressed anger over his maiming…

With regular remedies not working, leader of the X-nation Cyclops includes him in the squads of mutants assisting in the reconstruction of San Francisco but events spiral hopelessly out of control when the last vestiges of Bastion’s programming turns cyborg ally Karima Shapandar into a marauding Omega Sentinel hell-bent on destroying them all.

With all her friends fighting at less than their best, desperately trying to save the decent human within, only deeply-traumatised Hellion seems capable of acting decisively. But why did he go so far and how did he get so powerful…?

Following those shocking events, ‘None So Blind’ then focuses on telepathic precognitive RuthBlindfoldAldine who is the only one to notice that something is abducting mutants right off Utopia Island. She’s used to being ignored, however, so sets off to find the threat on her own.

Good thing Rogue and mutant machine-smith Madison Jeffries decided to check up on her wacky theory of a transdimensional trapdoor spider…

Chronologically the events of the apocalyptic ‘Age of X’ follow – neatly fitting into their own trade paperback which I’ll get to one day – before the day-to-day dramas resume here with all the psychically-scarred mutant warriors re-evaluating their lives following a week in an alternate world that was the best and worst of all possible worlds…

Back in our reality but all deeply dosed in PTSD, the heroes are all trying to come to grips with revelations of their own dark inner demons in the first part of ‘Aftermath’ (with art by Jorge Molina, Craig Yeung & Pat Davidson) when mutant elder statesman Magneto shares with Rogue a story of his childhood in Nazi concentration camps…

The ferocious self-assessments they and others such as former thief Gambit and reformed villain Frenzy undergo in the concluding chapter – illustrated by Rafa Sandoval – will forever change the way the X-nation is perceived by humanity…

With covers by Leinil Francis Yu, Joy Ang, Mico Suayan and Marte Gracia plus information pages on Blindfold, Hellion and the Omega Sentinel this slim, stirring, compelling Fights ‘n’ Tights tome is a superb example of how, even in comicbooks, might makes right.
© 2010, 2011, 2012 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential X-Men volume 2


By Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Terry Austin, Brent Anderson & Joe Rubenstein (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0298-4

In 1963 TheX-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, 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. After years of eccentric and spectacular adventures the mutant misfits disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during a downturn in costumed hero comics whilst supernatural mysteries once more gripped the world’s entertainment fields.

Although the title was revived at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe and the Beast was refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories until Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique with a brand new team in Giant Size X-Men #1 in 1975.

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire was added one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine, and all-original creations Kurt Wagner, a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler, African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin, who transformed at will into a living steel Colossus and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The revision was an instantaneous and unstoppable hit, with Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont taking over the writing from the second story onwards. The X-Men reclaimed their own comicbook with #94 and it quickly became the company’s most popular – and high quality – title.

Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster shifted and changed the series rose to even greater heights, culminating in the landmark “Dark Phoenix” storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character.

In the aftermath team leader Cyclops left but 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

After Apache warrior Thunderbird became the team’s first fatality, the survivors slowly bonded, becoming an awesome fighting unit under the brusque and draconian supervision of Cyclops and this second superlative monochrome Essential collection re-presents the groundbreaking tales from (Uncanny) X-Men #120-144, covering April 1979 to April 1981.

The action begins here with the introduction of a foreign super-squad in ‘Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!’, as the enigmatic mutant, accompanied by Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Banshee and Nightcrawler, return from a bombastic battle in Japan but are covertly herded into Canadian airspace so that the Ottawa government can confiscate their property.

Forced down by a magical tempest the heroes are soon on the run in Calgary, ambushed by the aforementioned Alpha Flight – specifically battle-armoured Vindicator, super-strong Sasquatch, magician Shaman, shapeshifting Snowbird and mutant speedster twins Northstar and Aurora – all ordered to repossess former special operative “The Wolverine”…

After a brutal but inconclusive clash at the airport the X-Men fade into the city but only after Wolverine and Nightcrawler are captured…

The retaliation results in a ‘Shoot-Out at the Stampede!’ with the mutants confronting their pursuers as Shaman’s eldritch blizzard spirals out of control, threatening to destroy the entire province. Even after Storm fixes the problem, the Canadians are adamant and to end hostilities Wolverine surrenders himself in return for his comrades’ safe passage.

Of course he never promised to stay captured…

With Byrne producing light breakdowns, inker Terry Austin stepped up to produce full art finishes for issue #122’s ‘Cry for the Children!’ as the heroes finally return to the Xavier School to find their home boarded up and deserted.

Months previously, following a catastrophic battle against Magneto of which Beast and Phoenix believed themselves the only survivors, heartbroken Professor X had grieved for his fallen pupils and left Earth to be with his fiancée Empress Lilandra of the Shi’ar.

As the prodigals slowly settle in at the Professor’s mansion again, they try to resume their previous routines but psychological stress testing shows Russian Colossus is having second thoughts about deserting his family and country…

Reborn as the cosmic-powered Phoenix, Jean Grey went globetrotting to bury her woes and is currently in Scotland, unaware that she has been targeted by one of the team’s oldest enemies for a cruel assault. In New York, Storm has at last taken the time to trace her roots, visiting the old home of her American dad, only to find it now a junkie squat filled with doped and feral kids who viciously attack her…

Stabbed and bleeding she lashes out and only the sudden arrival of hero for hire Luke Cage and his friend Misty Knight (coincidentally Jean’s Manhattan room-mate) prevents a tragedy. None of them are remotely aware that they have been targeted by the world’s most outrageous hit-man…

With Byrne back in full pencil mode X-Men #123 includes a cameo from Spider-Man as jolly psycho-killer Arcade proceeds to pick off the oblivious mutants and run them through his fatal funfair Murder World in ‘Listen… Stop Me if You’ve Heard It… But This One Will Kill You!’, subjecting the abductees to perils mechanical and psychological.

The former prove understandably ineffectual but family guilt and cunning conditioning soon transform the homesick Russian into a vengeful mind-slave dubbed The Proletarian, determined to smash his former comrades in the concluding ‘He Only Laughs When I Hurt!’ Happily his inner child and the assorted heroes’ gifts and training prove too much for the maniacal killer clown…

Jean re-enters the picture when her stay with biologist Moira MacTaggert leads to the release of a long secret family shame in ‘There’s Something Awful on Muir Island!’ Throughout her long holiday Phoenix has been gradually turned and psychically seduced by a psionic predator. Groomed for a life of refined cruelty and debauchery by a man calling himself Jason Wyngarde, the intention is to create a callous “Black Queen” for the mysterious organisation known as the Hellfire Club…

At the other end of the galaxy Charles Xavier reviews records of how Phoenix once reconstructed the fragmenting universe and is gripped with terror at the thought of all that power in the hands of one frail human personality, whilst in his former home The Beast checks a tripped alarm and discovers his long-mourned friends are all alive.

The first thought is to tell Jean the incredible news, but no sooner is a transatlantic call connected than a scream echoes out and the line goes dead…

Issue #126 resumes frantic hours later as the X-Men approach Muir Island in their supersonic jet. With all contact lost and no telepath aboard, Cyclops assumes the worst and the team infiltrate in battle formation only to find a withered corpse and badly shaken comrades Lorna Dane, Havok, Madrox, Moira and Jean slowly recovering from a psionic assault.

In ‘How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth…!’ Dr. MacTaggert bitterly reveals the attacker is a psychic bodysnatcher imprisoned on Muir for years. He’s also her son…

Rapidly burning out one of Madrox’s duplicate bodies, the monster has already reached the mainland, but as the mutants disperse to hunt him down Jean is hampered by a torrent of seductive mirages projected by the smugly confidant Wyngarde, allowing the predatory Proteus to ambush the X-Men and try to possess Wolverine.

It is his first mistake. Metal has an inimical effect on the formless horror and the feral fury’s Adamantium skeleton forces him to flee his victim in screaming agony. It is then the creature unleashes his most terrifying power: warping reality to drive Wolverine and Nightcrawler to the brink of madness. Only the late-arriving Storm prevents their immediate demise but soon she too is at the edge of destruction…

‘The Quality of Hatred!’ finds the badly shaken team undergoing desperate “tough-love” remedies from Cyclops to regain their combat readiness whilst Moira tries to make up for her dangerous sentimentality by putting a bullet into her deadly offspring.

Frustrated by the idealistic Cyclops but having divined the path Proteus is taking, she then heads for Edinburgh and an unpleasant reunion with her former husband: brute, bully, Member of Parliament and father of most merciless monster the world has yet produced…

As Jean finally shrugs off her distractions and telepathically homes in on Proteus, the team swing into action a little too late: the sinister son has possessed his scurrilous sire and created an unstoppable synthesis of world-warping abomination…

With Edinburgh and perhaps the entire world roiling and rebelling as science goes mad, X-Men #128 sees the valiant champions strike back and spectacularly triumph in ‘The Action of the Tiger!’ after which ‘God Spare the Child…’ sees another happy reunion as the heroes (all but the now retired Banshee) find Charles Xavier awaiting them when they reach Westchester.

Jean is increasingly slipping into visions of a former life as a spoiled, cruel child of privilege, contrasting sharply with her renewed love for Scott, but the home atmosphere is troubled by another discordant factor. Xavier is intent on resuming the training of the team, haughtily oblivious that this group are grizzled, seasoned veterans of combat, rather than the callow teenagers he first tutored.

Elsewhere a cabal of mutants and millionaires plot. Black King Sebastian Shaw, White Queen Emma Frost and the rest of the Hellfire Club hierarchy know Wyngarde is an ambitious and presumptuous upstart but the possibility of subverting the Phoenix to their world-dominating agenda is irresistible…

When two new mutants manifest Xavier splits the team to contact both, taking Storm, Wolverine and Colossus to Chicago to meet the parents of naive thirteen year old Kitty Pryde who has just realised that along with all the other problems of puberty she can now fall through floors and walk through walls…

However no sooner does Professor Xavier offer to admit her to his select and prestigious private school than they are all attacked by war-suited mercenaries and shipped by Emma Frost to the Hellfire Club. Only Kitty escapes, but instead of running she stows away on the transport; terrified but intent on saving the day…

The other mutant neophyte debuts in X-Men #130 as Cyclops, Phoenix and Nightcrawler head to Manhattan’s club district to track down a disco singer dubbed ‘Dazzler’ unaware that they too have been targeted for capture. However little Kitty’s attempts to free the captives at the Hellfire base forces the villains to tip their hand early and with the assistance of Dazzler Alison Blair – a musical mutant who converts sound to devastating light effects – the second mercenary capture team is defeated…

In #131 Kitty is frantically fleeing but her ‘Run for Your Life!’ leads straight into the arms of the remaining X-Men. Soon the plucky lass – after an understandable period of terror, confusion and kvetching – is leading an incursion into the lair of the White Queen and freeing Wolverine, Colossus and Xavier whilst Frost faces off for a psionic showdown with a Phoenix far less kind and caring than ever before…

The saga expands in #132 as ‘And Hellfire is their Name!’ brings the Angel back into the fold. The Hellfire Club is in actuality a centuries-old association of the world’s most powerful and wealthy individuals and Warren Worthington’s family have been members in good standing for generations. What better way of infiltrating the organisation than with someone on the inside?

As Wolverine and Nightcrawler scurry through sewers beneath the society’s palatial New York headquarters, Warren inveigles the rest through the grand front doors into the year’s swankiest soiree whilst he and the Professor await events.

It’s a bold move but a pointless one. Although the rank and file are simply spoiled rich folk, there is an Inner Circle led by Shaw which comprises some of Earth’s most dangerous men and women… and they have been waiting and watching for the mutants-in-mufti’s countermove…

As soon as the heroes are inside, Wyngarde strikes, pushing Jean until she succumbs to the fictitious persona he has woven to awaken her darkest desires. With her overwhelming power added to the Inner Circle’s might, former friends quickly fall before the attack of super-strong Shaw and cyborg human Donald Pierce. Even Wolverine is beaten, smashed through the floors to his doom by mass-manipulating mutant Harry Leland

As the Inner Circle gloat, Cyclops – connected to Jean by their psionic rapport – sees the world through his lover’s corrupted, beguiled eyes and despairs. However, when Wyngarde, revealed as mutant illusion caster Mastermind, apparently stabs Cyclops the effect on “his” Black Queen is far from anticipated…

Far below their feet, a body stirs. Battered but unbowed ‘Wolverine: Alone!’ begins to work his ruthless, relentless way through the Club’s murderous minions. His explosive entrance in #134’s ‘Too Late, the Heroes!’ gives the heroes a chance to break free and strike back, soundly thrashing the Hellfire blackguards. Sadly for Mastermind, not all his tampering has been expunged and when Jean catches him Jason Wyngarde’s fate is ghastly beyond imagining…

As the mutants make their escape the situation escalates to crisis level as the mind-manipulation unleashes all Jean’s most selfish, self-serving desires and she shatteringly transforms into ‘Dark Phoenix’

Manifested as a god without qualm or conscience, Jean attacks her comrades before vanishing into space. Soon she reaches a distant system and, cognizant that she is feeling depleted, consumes the star, indifferent to the entire civilisation that dies upon the planet circling it…

Passing the D’Bari system is a massive ship of the Shi’ar star fleet. Rushing to aid the already extinct world they are merely a postprandial palate cleanser for the voracious Phoenix…

X-Men #136 opens with the horrified Empress Lilandra mobilising her entire military machine and heading for Earth, determined to end the threat of the ‘Child of Light and Darkness!’ On that beleaguered world Cyclops has called in the Beast to build a psychic scrambler to disrupt Jean’s immeasurable psionic might but when she cataclysmically reappears to trounce the team, the device burns out in seconds.

Sporadically Jean’s gentler persona appears, begging her friends to kill her before she loses control, but Dark Phoenix is close to destroying the world before, in a cataclysmic mental duel, Xavier shuts down her powers and establishes psychic circuit breakers to prevent her ever going rogue again…

With Jean left as little more than human, the heroes shudder in the aftermath of Earth’s latest close call when suddenly in a flash of light they all vanish…

The epic tale concludes in X-Men #137 as the outraged and terrified Shi’ar arrive in orbit to settle ‘The Fate of the Phoenix!’ With observers from the Kree and Skrull empires in attendance, Lilandra has come to exact justice and prevent the Phoenix from ever rising again. She is not prepared to accept her fiancé’s word that the threat is already ended…

Summary execution is only avoided when Xavier invokes an ancient rite compelling Lilandra to accept a form of trial-by-combat. Relocating to the Blue Area of the Moon (with its pocket of breathable atmosphere) the mutants engage in all-out war with brigade of cosmic champions The Shi’ar Imperial Guard (an in-joke version of DC’s Legion of Super Heroes), but despite their greatest efforts are pushed to the brink of defeat.

With collapse imminent and her friends doomed, Jean’s psychic shackles slip and the Phoenix breaks free again. Horrified at what will inevitably happen, Jean commits suicide to save the universe…

Days later on Earth the X-Men mourn her passing in #138’s ‘Elegy’ as Cyclops recalls his life with the valiant woman he loved so deeply – and we get a comprehensive recap of the mutant team’s career to date. Heartbroken, the quintessential X-Man resigns just as Kitty Pryde moves in…

A new day dawns in issue #139 ‘…Something Wicked This Way Comes!’ as the Angel rejoins the squad in time to see Nightcrawler join Wolverine in heading north for a reconciliation with the Canadian’s previous team, Alpha Flight. The visit turns into a hunt for the carnivorous magical monster Wendigo, culminating in a brutal battle and a rare clean win in #140’s ‘Rage!’

X-Men #141 saw the start of an evocative and extended subplot which would dictate years of tales to come. ‘Days of Future Past’ depicted an imminently approaching dystopian apocalypse wherein almost all mutants, paranormals and superheroes have been eradicated by Federally-controlled Sentinel robots.

The mechanoids rule over a shattered world on the edge of utter annihilation. New York is a charnel pit with most surviving superhumans kept in concentration camps and only a precious few free to fight a losing war of resistance.

Middle-aged Kitty Pryde is the lynchpin of a desperate plan to unmake history. With the aid of telepath named Rachel (eventually to escape that time-line and become the new Phoenix) Pryde swaps consciousness with her younger self in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the pivotal event which created the bleak, black tomorrow where all her remaining friends and comrades are being pitilessly exterminated one by resolute one…

‘Mind Out of Time’ sees the mature Pryde in our era, inhabiting her juvenile body and leading her disbelieving team-mates on a frantic mission to foil the assassination of US senator David Kelly on prime-time TV by a sinister new iteration of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – super-powered terrorists determined to make a very public example of the human politician attacking the cause of Mutant Rights…

Fast-paced, action-packed, spectacularly multi-layered, bitterly tragic and tensely inconclusive – as all such time-travel tales should be – this cunning, compact yarn is indubitably one of the best individual tales of the Claremont/Byrne era and set the mood, tone and agenda for the next two decades of mutant mayhem…

With history restored and tragedy averted things slowed down at the X-Mansion as John Byrne left for pastures new. His swan song in #143 was a bombastic romp which found lonely, homesick Kitty home alone at Christmas… except for a lone N’garai ‘Demon’ determined to eat her…

Her solo trial decimated the X-Men citadel and proved once and for all that she had what it takes…

The story portion of this classic compendium concludes with ‘Even in Death…’ from X-Men #144, scripted by Claremont and illustrated by Brent Anderson & Joseph Rubenstein wherein heartbroken Scott fetches up in coastal village Shark Bay and joins the crew of Aleytys Forester’s fishing boat.

Trouble is never far from the man called Cyclops however and when she introduces him to her dad the hero must draw upon all his inner reserves – and uncomprehending help of the macabre Man-Thing – to repel the crushing soul-consuming assaults of pernicious petty devil D’spayre

Accompanied by fact-filled entries on Professor X, Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Beast and Angel, all taken from the Marvel Universe Handbook, this comprehensive monochrome includes some of the greatest stories Marvel ever published; entertaining, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating. These adventures are an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 1979, 1980, 1981, 1997, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Legacy: Salvage


By Mike Carey, Scott Eaton, Phil Briones & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3876-1

Since its creation in 1963 and triumphant revival in 1975, Marvel’s Mutant franchise has always strongly featured powerful, conflicted and often controversial characters with the balance never resting solely on the side of light. One of the least explored and underused – except perhaps as the last-reel, deus-ex-machina, nuke-the-fridge problem solver – was the man who started it all: Professor Charles Xavier.

This particular collection gathers X-Men Legacy #219-225 (cover-dated February to August 2009); written by Mike Carey, it smartly redresses that imbalance as the usually sedentary mind-master becomes a fully participant mutant warrior determined to put right a number of sins and omissions plaguing his conscience and repay some too long outstanding debts…

At this point in time, the evolutionary offshoot dubbed Homo Sapiens Superior is at its lowest ebb. As seen in the House of M and Decimation storylines, Scarlet Witch Wanda Maximoff – ravaged by madness and her own reality-warping power – has reduced the world’s multi-million plus mutant population to a couple of hundred individuals with three simple words…

The quest begins with ‘Jagannátha’ (illustrated by Scott Eaton, Phil Briones & Cam Smith) as Xavier is summoned by his murderous half-brother Cain Marko to settle a lifetime of grudges. The bullying wastrel was transformed by evil magic in decades past into the brutally unstoppable Juggernaut and wants to finally end the savant’s perpetual efforts to save and cure him.

Taking a bar and all its patrons hostage Cain thinks he’s got the upper hand, but when confronting the mightiest telepathic mind on Earth it’s never wise to trust what your brain and senses are telling you…

At last accepting that all he can do is contain his savage sibling, Xavier moves on to the student he feels he has most failed in the 4-part epic psycho-drama ‘Salvage’ with art by Eaton, Andrew Hennessy & Lee Bermejo.

When former Evil Mutant Rogue originally joined his school she was desperate to find a way to turn her power off and still the voices inside her. Anna-Marie could steal abilities with a touch but overlong contact stole the donor’s mind and personality, cramming them screaming inside her head until Rogue couldn’t hear her own thoughts.

After conflicted years of world-saving service she disappeared: exiling herself from the X-Men in search of peace. Now just as Xavier resolves to finally fix her, a brace of extra-terrestrial terrors simultaneously hone in on the missing mutant…

In New Orleans the savant asks former X-Man Gambit to join him in his mission. Remy Lebeau had spent frustrating years loving a woman he could never touch and knows her better than anyone, but Xavier doesn’t want him for his insights: where he’s going the mind-master might need a capable bodyguard…

In desolate Maynards Plains, Western Australia, Rogue is hotly debating her life with adopted mother Mystique. It’s not a conversation she can avoid: the murderous mutant is the most strident and forceful personality still stuck inside her head…

The argument is postponed when a lone social historian wanders into the ghost town Anna-Marie has made her home. The woman is going to be trouble – but not as much as the crew of the Boneyard Dog, a Shi’ar salvage vessel which has just picked up a most appetising and potentially profitable tech signature…

As Xavier and Gambit approach the town – once a hidden base and scene of a colossal battle between the X-Men and an army of cyborgs – the alien scrap dealers land and trigger a horrific metamorphosis in the annoying anthropologist…

Revealed as a sentient but crippled AI born of the amalgamation of Shi’ar hard-light holographic technology and Xavier’s Danger Room programming software, the stranger fixates on Anna-Marie whilst transforming the entire region into nested scenes from her troubled past: everything from Sentinel assaults to attacks by past foes such as The Marauders, Magneto and Mystique and even the boy she killed when her powers first manifested.

Caught in the reality storm, the Shi’ar raiders unite with Gambit and Xavier as Rogue physically confronts past demons in the centre of a horrific mind-maze, but even as they gradually battle their way through to the victims at the heart of the chaos, the mutant heroes are painfully unaware that their alien allies are only in it for profit and are preparing to betray them…

Events take an even stranger shape when Xavier admits that he knew his hologram training suite had evolved into a free-thinking being. When it happened years ago he had, in a moment of weakness and fear, shackled, lobotomised and psychically enslaved the unique technological newborn.

With the Shi’ar about to kill them all to strip-mine and cannibalise her consciousness, Charles removes his hastily-applied psi-chains and Danger becomes a fully autonomous, remarkably forgiving but momentarily ticked-off creature. Deep within her, Rogue has been reliving her own crisis-moments and has reached an accommodation with her selves and her sins. Achieving a balance previously denied her, Rogue is ready and more than willing to take out her pent-up hostility on the unscrupulous scrap merchants… as is the now irrevocably autonomous Danger…

With two more stains removed from his escutcheon, Xavier finally seeks to end a thorny problem which is more a threat to his race than his soul.

Charismatic mutant terrorist Magneto was responsible for many crimes and tragedies but the undoubted worst was inspiring a fanatical squad of zealots known as the Acolytes.

Led by almighty Exodus, JoannaFrenzyCargill, Carmella Unuscione, Amelia Voght, Omega Sentinel Karima Shapandar, HeatherTempoTucker and shapeshifter Random are some of the most powerful beings on Earth and a constant threat to humanity and Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence.

They are utterly unprepared for their greatest enemy to walk alone into their citadel, intent on ending the animosity forever. Exodus is even less ready for how the telepathic scholar and humanitarian achieves this major miracle in ‘The Retreat’ (Eaton & Briones)…

With covers by Mike McKone & John Rauch, Lee Bermejo, Morry Hollowell and Daniel Acuña and variants by Marko Djurdjevic, Frank Miller/Hollowell and Adriana Melo, this slim, stirring, compelling Fights ‘n’ Tights chronicle also is a superb example of how, even in comicbooks, brain always trumps brawn .

© 2008, 2009 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.