Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 1



By Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3702-3 (TPB)                   978-0-7851-1192-4 (TMB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Mutant Masterpieces for all Blockbuster Comics Addicts… 9/10

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

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

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

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

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

This fabulous compendium collection (available in luxurious hardcover, trade paperback and eBook editions) is perfect for newbies, neophytes and even old lags nervous about reading such splendid yarns on fragile but extremely valuable paper. It celebrates the revival and unstoppable march to market dominance through the exuberant and pivotal early stories: specifically, Giant Size X-Men #1, and issues #94-100 of the definitely “All-New, All-Different” X-Men (collectively and cumulatively spanning May 1975 to August 1976).

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

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

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

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

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

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

X-Men #94 (August 1975) began ‘The Doomsmith Scenario!’ – plotted by Editor Wein, scripted by Chris Claremont and with Bob McLeod inking man-on-fire Cockrum – in a canny Armageddon-thriller with a newly pared-down strike-squad deprived of Sunfire and the still-recuperating Marvel Girl, Angel, Iceman, Havok and Lorna Dane.

The neophytes are called in by the Beast to stop criminal terrorist Count Nefaria starting an atomic war. The insidious mastermind has conquered America’s Norad citadel with a gang of artificial superhumans and accidentally escalated a nuclear blackmail scheme into an inescapable countdown to holocaust. Thus, the untrained, unprepared mutants are the only hope to storm in to save the world in epic conclusion ‘Warhunt!’ (inked by Sam Grainger).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

With even greater excitement and innovation to follow in succeeding issues, these superb comics classics revolutionised a moribund genre and led directly to today’s ubiquitous popular cultural landscape where superheroes are as common as cops, cowboys, monsters or rom-com Romeos. They even made it into movies without looking ridiculous…

The immortal epics compiled here are available in numerous formats but for a selection that will survive the continual re-readings of the serious, incurable fan there’s nothing to beat the sturdy and substantial full-colour feel of these Marvellous Masterwork editions.
© 1975, 1976, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 2 1966-1968: Lonely are the Hunted


By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Werner Roth, Don Heck, George Tuska, Ross Andru, Jack Sparling, Dan Adkins, Tom Sutton, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9583-2

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

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

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

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

Even in their heyday the mutants were never a top seller and this volume reveals an increasing tendency for radical rethinks and attention-grabbing stunts that would soon be common currency throughout comics…

X-Men always enjoyed a small, devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek cosy 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.

By the time of this turbulent compilation (collecting in trade paperback and digital formats X-Men #24-45 and Avengers #53, plus spoof skits from Not Brand Echh #4 and 8 from September 1966 to June 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 the heady 1960s, 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. However, 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 Roth with Dick Ayers inking, the action opens with the recently departed Marvel Girl (yanked out of the Xavier School – and consequently off the team – and packed off to college by her parents) visiting her old chums to regale them with tales of life at 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: providing another deft sop to the audience as it enabled many future epics to include Campus life in the action-packed, fun-filled mix…

Somehow Jean still managed to turn up in every issue even as ‘The Power and the Pendant’ (#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 and reborn as Kukulcán, the malign meta returns to Amazonian San Rico to recreate a 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 pits power-duplicating Calvin Rankin against a team riven by dissention and ill-feeling, whilst in ‘The Wail of the Banshee!’ Rankin joins the X-Men in a tale introducing the sonic-powered mutant (eventually to become a valued team-mate and team-leader) as a deadly threat. This was the opening salvo of an ambitious extended epic featuring the global menace of sinister, mutant-abducting organisation Factor Three.

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

Here old Thor foe Merlin enjoys a stylish upgrade to malevolent mutant menace whilst attempting to turn the planet into his mind-controlled playground, after which Marvel Girl and the boys reunite to tackle a deranged Iron Man wannabe who is also an accidental atomic time bomb in ‘We Must Destroy… the Cobalt Man!’ (by Roth & Tartaglione).

‘Beware the Juggernaut, My Son!’ then augments an aura of oppression and dire days ahead as Professor X is abducted by Factor Three and the X-Men are forced to stand alone against an unstoppable mystic monster…

The blistering battle against Juggernaut is 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 crucial knowledge regarding the nature of their enemy, the mutants are able to vanquish the unstoppable Cain Marko, but when the dust settles the kids are 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 takes them into the middle of a subterranean civil war between immortal Tyrannus and the Mole Man, before he inked Roth on follow-up ‘Along Came A Spider…’

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

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

Don Heck stepped in as inker over Andru’s pencils with #37 as ‘We, the Jury…’ finds the mutants finally facing Factor Three – now in alliance with a host of their oldest and most venal mutant foes – and primed to trigger an atomic war between the Americans and Soviet Union.

Heck assumed the penciller’s role for ‘The Sinister Shadow of… Doomsday!’ (inked by Roussos), before the tense Armageddon saga concludes 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 and compelling 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 cosy relationship with human FBI agent Fred Duncan

The second instalment, ‘Lonely are the Hunted!’ displayed humanity in full-on mob-mode as terrified citizens riot and stalk 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 & George Tuska ushered in a new era for the team with #40’s ‘The Mask of the Monster!’ as – now clad in new, individualistic costumes rather than superhero school uniforms – the young warriors tackle what seems to be Victor Frankenstein’s unholy creation, whilst in the second feature Scott Summers meets ‘The First Evil Mutant!’

‘Now Strikes… the Sub-Human!’ and sequel ‘If I Should Die…’ introduce tragic survivor Grotesk, whose only dream is to destroy the entire planet, and who institutes the greatest and most stunning change yet to the constantly evolving series.

I’m spoiling nothing now, but when this story first ran, the shock couldn’t be described as 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 creation of The Xavier School for Gifted Children as solitary recluse Professor X takes fugitive Scott under his wing and begins his Project: X-Men…

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

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

Rousing read ‘Red Raven, Red Raven…’ (Thomas and Gary Friedrich, with Don Heck layouts, Roth pencils & inks from 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 escapes, only to encounter the highly-conflicted Quicksilver; a battle latterly concluded in Avengers #53 as ‘In Battle Joined’ (Thomas, John Buscema and Tuska). This depicts Magneto’s defeat and apparent death. Meanwhile, back in the back of #45, Iceman’s story of small town intolerance continues – but does not here conclude – in ‘And the Mob Cried… Vengeance!’

Although the drama hits pause the comics do not as 1960’s superhero satire vehicle Not Brand Echh numbers #4 and 8 provide a brace of spoof sagas beginning with ‘If Magneat-o Should Clobber Us…’ (Thomas & Tom Sutton) whilst Friedrich & Sutton describe all-out mutant war in ‘Beware the Forbush-Man, My Son!’

This volume concludes with a glorious and revelatory selection of extras a batch of unused covers: Roth’s submissions for X-Men #25 and 33, Gil Kane’s banned (by the Comics Code Authority) take on #33’s and Tuska’s for issue #38.

After a brace of original art pages by Heck, a succession of pre-“tweaked” (modified by the Marvel Bullpen design team) covers follow – #40 & 42 – as well as three extra pages for X-Men #45, created for the story’s reprint run in Marvel Triple Action.

Closing down the mutant mayhem are a Kirby T-Shirt design plus previous Masterworks covers courtesy of The King, Roth, Tuska and painter Dean White.

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 unmissable stories for the dedicated fan and newest convert. Every comics fan should own this book, so do…
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Black Panther: Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Jack Kirby, Ed Hannigan, Jim Shooter, Chris Claremont, Jerry Bingham, John Byrne & various (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0020-5 (HB)

Acclaimed as the first black superhero in American comics – and one of the first to carry his own series – the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since his debut.

The Black Panthers rule over a fantastic African paradise which isolated itself from the rest of the world millennia ago. Blessed with unimaginable resources – both natural and not so much – the nation of Wakanda developed uninterrupted into the most technologically advanced human nation on Earth, utterly unmolested by rapacious European imperialism.

The country has also never been conquered and the primary reason is an unbroken line of divinely-sponsored warrior kings who safeguard united tribes. The other is a certain miraculous super-mineral found nowhere else on Earth…

In contemporary times that chieftain is T’Challa: an unbeatable, super-smart, feline-empowered strategic genius who divides his time between ruling at home and serving abroad in superhero teams such as The Avengers, Fantastic Force, The Illuminati and The Ultimates beside costumed champions such as Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Captain Marvel, Thor and Captain America

This stunning hardback collection – also available in eBook and digital formats – gathers the stories from Black Panther volume 1 #1-15 (January 1977 to May 1979) which initially disappointed a legion of fans who were expecting a conclusion or continuance to the long-lauded Don MacGregor epic ‘The Panther Versus The Klan’.

That convoluted yarn had been abruptly cancelled the previous year, but happily this tome also includes the contents of Marvel Premiere #51-53 (December 1979-April 1980) which eventually provided an ending to the Klan clash and an acceptable in-universe explanation as to why wise and noble T’Challa abruptly dropped his hunt for answers and abandoned his adored beloved Monica Lynne

There’s even a little extra bonus yarn originally seen in Marvel Team-Up #100…

Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel in the mid 1970’s was much hyped at the time but swiftly proved to be controversial. His new creations (The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, 2001, Machine Man) found friends rapidly, but his tenure on established earlier creations Captain America and Black Panther divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on titles as another “Day One”. His commitment was to wholesome eye-popping adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment. Combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill that makes for a captivating read, but will never satisfy those readers fully committed to the minutia of the Marvel Universe.

Beginning with Black Panther #1, what they got was a rollercoaster ride of classic Kirby concept-overload as the Hereditary King of a high-tech Lost Kingdom gallantly pursued fabulous time machines, fought future men and secret samurai clans, thwarted the plots of super-rich artefact stealers and foiled schemes to nuke his hidden homeland, usurp his rule and even consume his faithful subjects…

Further discussion of that comicbook culture shock can be found in the Introduction by Christopher Priest – who took everything that had gone before and made the Panther his own after reviving the character in 1999 as part of the company’s mature-oriented Marvel Knights imprint…

However, this feline funfest is mostly about frantic action and begins at full pelt with a re-introductory romp that spotlights diminutive treasure hunter Abner Little. This devious gentleman entices T’Challa into a search for ‘King Solomon’s Frog!’ after introducing himself as a friend and colleague of the Panther’s grandfather Azzari the Wise

Soon the mismatched pair are in hot pursuit of an artefact that sows death and destruction in its wake. The ancient brass amphibian has the ability to open time-portals, bringing lethal threats from other eras, but its real capacity for catastrophe comes from Little’s rival Collectors, who bring astounding ordnance and unsurpassed riches into play in their own efforts to possess the mystic time-machine.

Most ruthless and relentless is Queen Zanda of Narobia, who expertly ambushes the questers with a highly-skilled mercenary taskforce before accidentally triggering the frog into shanghaiing a hyper-evolved walking WMD from his own far-distant era…

Reluctantly uniting to sedate ‘The Six-Million Year Man’, T’Challa, Little and Zanda then race to uncover King Solomon’s tomb where a twin of the Brass Frog rests. This particular item possesses the most welcome function of returning objects and creatures to their point of origin…

Their ‘Race Against Time’ is exacerbated as the groggy future-man revives just as the searchers locate the tomb, unleashing psionic hell and awakening King Solomon’s formidable funereal guardian Ogar. Thankfully, teamwork saves the day and the newly-found other frog restores order, if not sanity…

Tragically for the tomb-raiders, the time to determine if they are ‘Friends or Foes’ swiftly passes because the calamitous clashes have destabilised the long-lost treasury trove. With mighty explosions wracking the site, it is all T’Challa can do to drag his artefact-lusting companions to safety before Armageddon occurs…

Unfortunately for the Panther, he has proved his worth and – with Wakanda still a nuclear target – ultimate ineffectuality. When the assembled Collectors – Zanda, Count Zorba, Colonel Pigman and withered coffin-dodger Silas Mourner – see the warrior king in battle they determine he must win for them the ultimate prize…

The ‘Quest for the Sacred Water-Skin!!’ begins as T’Challa and equally-reluctant Abner Little set off to find a fabled hidden land where a sect of Samurai warriors have dwelt for centuries, sustained by honour, their martial arts and a literal fountain of youth.

Overcoming monsters and warriors, T’Challa establishes a bond of honour with the last proponents of Bushido, but sadly his venal companion upsets the applecart by secretly stealing ‘A Cup of Youth’

Meanwhile in Wakanda, internal trouble flares when the Panther’s half-brother General Jakarra makes a power-grab, bolstered by a sacrilegious utilisation of raw vibranium…

Black Panther #7 sees the hero and his scurrilous sidekick escape the Samurai city even as ‘Drums!’ sound across Wakanda and the incredible secret origin of the Panther Cult and Vibranium Mound are revealed.

When the awesome sky metal first crashed to Earth in primordial times it transformed many men into monsters. Thankfully mighty chief Bashenga – taking the black cat as his totem – created a force to destroy the creatures and police the metal: preventing alien infection from spreading and forever after shielding his people through a line of dedicated defenders.

As the latest king heads for a final confrontation with the Collectors, T’Challa has no way of knowing his regent N’Gassi has been captured or that Jakarra has gained deadly power through exposure to the gene-warping force of raw Vibranium…

Having battled his way free, T’Challa heads for home. His people, however, are already suffering the increasingly crazed depredations of a Jakarra no longer even remotely human.

Further delayed by a mercy mission – plucking dying men from the sea – the king bemoans his absence whilst half a world away, N’Gassi takes a desperate gamble and “requests” that the sedentary royal cousins – Ishanta, Joshua Itobo, Khanata and Zuni – step up and lead the fight against Jakarra. But are they Panthers or Pussycats?’

Surprising everybody with a show of solidarity and unconventional tactics, the ‘Black Musketeers’ manage to contain the monstrous usurper until T’Challa returns, but his arrival coincides with the loss of Jakarra’s last vestige of humanity. Now a shambling beast resolved that ‘This World Shall Die!’ in an Earth-shattering detonation, the horrific abomination is barely defeated inside the Mound by a true Black Panther who does not escape the mineral’s mutagenic properties…

Issue #11 finds T’Challa recovering from his struggle against Jakarra and plagued by eerie recurring dreams of future battles. As citizens begin vanishing all over Wakanda – including Prince Khanata – the medical team reaches the conclusion that the king has developed some form of Extra-Sensory Perception.

This new gift – or perhaps curse? – leads the Panther to the abductors’ HQ where phantasmal madman ‘Kiber the Cruel’ is converting stolen humans to energy and consuming them…

Following ‘The Kiber Clue’, T’Challa strives mightily to save his kinsman and subjects, but arrives too late for anything but vengeance…

As Jim Shooter, Ed Hannigan, Jerry Bingham & Gene Day take over from the abruptly departed Kirby, the saga swiftly wraps up with the true nature of Kiber grotesquely exposed and the Panther’s judgement delivered in #13’s ‘What is… and What Should Never Be’

With Hannigan scripting, the Black Panther resoundingly re-entered the mainstream Marvel universe in ‘The Beasts in the Jungle!’ (#14 March 1979); opening Wakanda’s first Embassy in New York City, applying to the United Nations and rejoining his former allies in the Avengers.

Soon smothered in red tape and diplomatic hurdles, T’Challa welcomes working with his superhero guests but is quickly embroiled in a deadly scheme by old enemy Klaw, the Master of Sound, and blithely unaware that other relationships are about to be renewed…

After the resurgent villain battles the World’s Mightiest Heroes to a standstill, T’Challa manages to inflict the ‘Revenge of The Black Panther!’ in the final issue (May 1979), yet leaves everything on a cliffhanging note as Monic Lynne breaks into the Wakandan Embassy…

After years in limbo, Don McGregor’s Klan storyline was revisited and concluded when try-out title Marvel Premiere declared “The Return of the Black Panther” with issue #51 (December 1979).

Opening minutes after Black Panther #15 ended, ‘The Killing of Windeagle!’ sees T’Challa arriving back at the Embassy only to be attacked by an unknown flying warrior who claims to be an old foe. After subduing the assailant, the King experiences even more turmoil as Monica Lynne and Georgia journalist Kevin Trublood accost him. Although his staff all seem familiar with the woman, T’Challa has no memory of her…

Granting an audience with the couple, the Panther hears how Monica’s sister Angela was murdered, and how the death seemed to involve both the Ku Klux Klan and rival offshoot the Dragon’s Circle. As he listens, T’Challa hears that for a time he was one of those murder investigators, but his mind is clouded and he recalls none of it…

Suddenly Windeagle attacks again but as the Panther fights back his opponent is assassinated by a sniper…

Working with the police, T’Challa uncovers the sordid history of a petty gangster who somehow became a flying fury and establishes links to yet another organisation: The Spiritual Light Society. At every turn events seem to be pushing him towards one inescapable conclusion: Monica’s ridiculous story is true and someone has tampered with his mind and memory…

When they are ambushed again by armed thugs – later identified as Klansmen – their spirited resistance is supplemented by more sniper fire and the Panther’s ‘Journey Through the Past!’ impels him to invade a Klan gathering. This conclave is subsequently violently disrupted by a costumed maniac dubbed the Soul Strangler

Despite not remembering, the Panther believes he has deduced the nature of the civil war between the KKK and Dragon’s circle, and more importantly, who killed Angela. With resignation and trepidation, T’Challa, Kevin and Monica head for a showdown in the Deep South…

Inked by Alan Gordon, Marvel Premiere #53 (April 1980) delivered ‘The Ending, In Anger!’ as T’Challa visits Monica’s family home and the dam in his memory finally shatters. Acting with clarity at last, the Black Panther tracks down the villains who captured and brainwashed him during his previous visit, exposes a tawdry truth behind all the death and intimidation and brings a kind of closure to all the innocents touched by the tragedy…

With the major story-arcs at last concluded it was back to relative obscurity and bit-parts for the Panther, with the exception of a short tale that would have huge repercussions on the hero’s life in the future.

‘Cry… Vengeance!’ by Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Bob McLeod first appeared in Marvel Team-Up #100 (December 1980) and saw African X-Man Storm targeted by assassins. Easily defeating her attackers, she learned they were hired by Boer hardman Andreas de Ruyter

This sent her mind winging back to her trek across Africa as teenager: an arduous trek made easier after she linked up with a young boy on his own rite of passage ritual. His name was T’Challa and she learned that he was a prince only after South African mercenaries led by de Ruyter tried to kidnap the boy for political advantage.

After driving the thugs off, the youngsters spent a brief but idyllic time together before their paths diverged and duty pulled them apart.

After decades apart, with the villain back seeking vengeance, Ororo reunited with the boy the world now knew as the Black Panther to end the maniac’s threat forever…

This collection is also augmented by Kirby Editorial pages, house ads, a potted history of the Black Panther from #14, the Rich Buckler & McLeod cover to the never-released BP #16 and unused Bingham pencil pages.

An explosive rocket ride of thrills, spills, chills and too-long delayed gratification, these long-lost classics confirm the Black Panther as one of the most complex and versatile characters in comics and simply scream “Read me! Read me!” So you should and you must…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2001, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.
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