Savage Hulk: The Man Within


By Alan Davis, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Mark Farmer, Sam Grainger & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-630-4

In 1969, after six years of quirky, deliciously off-kilter adventures, The X-Men comicbook folded. It was a relatively early casualty of the latest periodic, repetitive changing-of-reading-tastes, which saw the buying public once again shun superhero stories in favour of genres like war, westerns and, most especially, supernatural horror yarns…

Of course after the fantasy fad receded again the team emerged resurgent and unstoppable in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1 and have since become an unshakable fixture of contemporary comics and cinema culture. Nevertheless when they first folded, a goodly number of us strange funnybook fans couldn’t believe the loss of such outré and irreplaceable characters.

Despite their reappearance in recycled reprints a certain magic had gone from the world back then and this most modern confection by Alan Davis seeks to redress that loss, albeit 45 human years later…

That final 1960s X-Men exploit was a weird “sort-of” team-up and, as it pivotally informs the all-original 4-part tale by Davis, inker Mark Farmer and colourist Matt Hollingsworth which comprises the majority of this scintillating compilation chronicle, the editors at Marvel have thoughtfully included it – in all its raw glory – at the back of the book.

I’m reviewing it first because that’d just the way I am…

‘The Mutants and the Monster!’ by Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema & Sam Grainger (X-Men volume 1#66, cover-dated March 1970), was actually the epilogue to an epic clash between the mutants and voracious alien invaders.

The campaign had shockingly brought back long-believed dead Professor Charles Xavier, who then nearly killed himself for real by uniting every mind on Earth in a psychic thrust of unparallelled force to repel the already repellent Z’Nox.

The tragic aftermath was seen here: a debilitating coma caused by the exertion left the telepath near death, able only to convey a feeble psionic message which sent the team hunting for Bruce Banner in Nevada.

Apparently, the two cerebral heavyweights had previously and secretly collaborated on a gamma-powered device which might now be able to save and restore the fallen Xavier…

However the harried young heroes, in their hasty attempt to save their mentor, forgot one crucial fact: when you hunt Banner what you usually end up with is an immensely irate Incredible Hulk

The resulting destructive debacle wrecked a lot of landscape but throughout the extended brouhaha, the Hulk seemed to be subconsciously leading the titanic teens to his hidden desert lab where the prototype Gamma Stimulator was stashed.

Despite colossal carnage and inevitable US Army interference the gadget was recovered and the Professor saved…

Flipping now to the front of the book, the main event reveals a previously undisclosed follow-up encounter published as Savage Hulk #1-4 (August to November 2014) ‘The Man within’ and opens with TV coverage of the Nevada battle being carefully scrutinised by Gamma-spawned evil super-genius The Leader. The sinister savant soon gleans a connection between the mutant warriors and their previously unsuspected boss Charles Xavier…

The Hulk meanwhile is fending of another furious attack by the military even as back in Westchester County the recuperating Xavier examines the life-saving device and realises Banner had completed it to cure himself of his emerald alter ego. The mutant mentor soon discovers why it didn’t work on the tragic titanic transformer. It needed a telepathic trigger…

Convinced he can return the favour and finally cure Banner, guilty, grateful Professor X accompanies Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Havok and magnetic warrior Lorna Dane back to Nevada and Banner’s clandestine laboratory. They are all blithely unaware that The Leader has already staked the place out…

The frenzied fugitive at the heart of the matter meanwhile has been found by a well-meaning elderly couple whose offer of assistance leads to unbridled terror as the timid down-and-out suddenly shapeshifts into a mountain of angry green muscle…

Nearby the X-Men have been ambushed by the murderous, monstrous Abomination, who is also hunting for the Hulk and their titanic tussle soon intrudes on the Jade Giant’s agonised antics…

The three-way war immediately escalates after the army closes in, all guns blazing, but the merely human military are swiftly driven back by the mutants, leaving the Hulk to totally trash his gamma-powered nemesis single handed.

In the quiet aftermath, Marvel Girl uses her own still-developing telepathy to quell the victorious Hulk’s rage and re-manifest the deeply traumatised Bruce. Soon the physicist is conferring with Xavier and preparing to be rid of his ominous other for all time, but as their salvation device is set in motion none are aware that deadly threat is nearby, awaiting the perfect moment to strike…

Shock follows shock as the procedure goes awry with the hulk’s gamma-energy migrating to Marvel Girl, creating a bellicose green giantess reeling with incomprehensible psionic power.

…And that’s when The Leader makes his move at the head of an army of mechanoids and a legion of the Hulk’s old foes…

Only Xavier is aware that things are not entirely what they seem and is capable of combating the true source of the fantastic threat, aided by the Hulk’s most incredible gamma-fuelled transformation yet…

Also included in this splendid and explosively entertaining epistle are the original covers by Davis, Farmer, Val Staples, Matt Hollingsworth & Brad Andersen plus Marie Severin & Grainger’s 1969 classic image, and a selection of variants from John Cassaday, Alex Ross, Ryan Stegman, Jim Starlin and Dale Keown.

Cleverly conceived, beautifully illustrated, riotously action-packed and stunningly suspenseful, this tale of triumph and tragedy is pure vintage Marvel Mastery, ably augmented by the original inspirational yarn from the end of a unique era and offering readers young and old a magnificent chance to re-experience the glory days of the House of Ideas.

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

Hulk: Banner D.O.A.


By Mark Waid, Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessy & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-619-9

Once upon a time, Robert Bruce Banner was merely a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma-bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, any undue stress could cause him to transform into a gigantic green monster of unimaginable strength and fury.

As both occasional hero and bombastic brute he rampaged across the landscape for decades, becoming one of comics’ most popular characters and most enduring multi-media titans.

Over the years he has undergone numerous radical changes in scope, character and format to keep his stories fresh and his exploits explosively compelling, whilst the number of gamma-galvanised grotesqueries crashing about the Marvel Universe has proliferated to inconceivable proportions.

The days of Bruce going green with anger at the drop of a hat are long gone, so anybody taking their cues from TV or movie incarnations would be wise to anticipate a smidgen of unavoidable confusion…

In a world of numerous Hulks, She-Hulks, Abominations and every kind of ancillary colour-swatched atomic berserker, the MarvelNOW! event saw the Jade Giant reinvented in a stripped-down, back-to-basics but startlingly original manner which energised new and old fans alike.

The big change occurred after S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill was “persuaded” to provide perennial fugitive Banner with resources and funding in order to sanitise his devastated scientific reputation. In return Hill could call on the Hulk as a living weapon of last resort…

One of the smartest men on Earth, Banner had lost years of success, progress and peer renown whilst trying to cure himself of the Hulk. Concerned about his legacy, the fugitive genius had at last decided to make his future headlines as a scientist, not a shattering force of nature – for as long as he could possible manage – rather than fruitlessly seek to cure his affliction. Additionally, in return for S.H.I.E.L.D. science labs and trained assistants, the beleaguered boffin would give the spy agency first use of his discoveries and inventions…

Despite the occasional catastrophic aberration now and then, the arrangement proved a success and both Banner and his emerald other became valued assets of the global peacekeeping force and key components of the latest assemblage of Mighty Avengers. However, after facing an escalating string of string of crises – the latest of which involved sinister scientific maverick Ted Goodrich and his reactivated rogue think-tank The Enclave – Banner was assassinated…

This volume (collecting Hulk #1-4, published from June-August 2014) picks up the tale as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents forcibly second brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Aaron Carpenter for a top secret medical emergency.

The opening of 4-part saga ‘Who Shot the Hulk’ finds the medical wizard cautiously operating on old college associate Banner; marvelling at the precision needed to shoot someone in the brain twice and not kill them whilst simultaneously terrified that his slightest misstep could unleash the monster within…

As Carpenter works other teams finishing harvesting gamma-infused flesh, blood and other biological samples but he only begins to suspect something is awry when the shadow-enshrouded lead operative instructs him to implant a device which will allow the Hulk to be controlled like a weapon.

…And then the mystery-man admits that they are not S.H.I.E.L.D. agents at all…

Thankfully the decision to connect the device is taken out of Carpenter’s hands when one of his surgical team allows Banner to awaken and the furious Hulk manifests…

As chaos ensues the impostors attempt to kill everybody but the Gamma Goliath is unstoppable. In the resulting carnage the medics all escape but the villains vanish…

Two weeks later genuine S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives Maria Hill and Phil Coulson track down a “John Doe” in a rural hospital and are apprised of the long-missing Bruce Banner’s condition. One of the three smartest men on Earth is physically fine but irrevocably brain damaged…

The story picks up as Hill and Coulson pursue a fruitless task in trying to determine who shot, abducted and tried to weaponise the Hulk. The list is too long to contemplate but, even as they ponder, the mystery-man is using Banner’s bio-samples to resurrect the one old foe S.H.I.E.L.D. have confidently crossed off their list…

Meanwhile in Hightown, Colorado Reverend and Ms. Bassey are caring for their severely impaired grandson Bobby. They are particularly careful to never let him become overly frustrated or angry. Later, however, when a pack of bullies target the simpleton things get exceedingly strange as the thugs are suddenly surrounded by heavily armed agents and the truth comes out…

No sooner is Banner’s covert protective custody exposed than another crisis erupts and Hill is forced to actually brutalise the child-like man and rouse the Hulk within. The reason becomes clear when definitely deceased gamma monster The Abomination smashes into the town like a missile. Their enigmatic evil enemy has resurrected the creature using Banner’s DNA, unleashing a radioactive zombie programmed to hunt and destroy its debilitated nemesis…

As the enraged jade juggernauts wade into each other and subsequently raze the town, Hill realises it’s only a feint when masked soldiers phase through the walls in a sneak attack…

In the third episode Hill, despite easily defeating the ghost warriors, loses control of the overall situation when The Avengers, alerted by the escalating catastrophe in Colorado, storm in to rescue their long-missing comrade. Amidst a blockbusting battle Banner appears, with very little sign of ever having been lobotomised by bullets.

His recovered intellect doesn’t stay long and he quickly destabilises into confusion, fear and worse. As the Avengers struggle to stop the gamma-zombie, Hill realises Hulk’s gamma-charged rapid-healing abilities are restoring Banner’s brain but not his mind and warns Bruce that if he fully transforms his personality might be erased forever.

With the Avengers utterly unable to slow Abomination’s attack, Banner has only one choice to make…

The final chapter opens with a flashback to the moment Banner first convinced Hill to let him join S.H.I.E.L.D. It involved blackmail and the placing of incriminating time-sensitive files with ferociously independent lawyer Matt Murdock – AKA Daredevil – to ensure that if anything happened to the fugitive physicist everybody would suffer…

Back in the now, with hell unleashed in Hightown, the Hulk finds an unbeatable advantage and destroys the undead Abomination, seemingly dooming Banner forever. When the dust settles the Avengers claim the debilitated victor and Iron Man swears to save his childhood intellectual rival. Some time later, through use of the most dangerous and proscribed bio-technology available, he seemingly succeeds…

As Hill reaches an unhappy accommodation with Daredevil, in Tony Stark’s futuropolis Troy one troubling question remains unanswered. Although apparently restored to rational brilliance, there is still a troubling doubt about the rapidly recovering patient. What cost has the biologically potent remedy had on the traumatised mind and battered soul within? Can Banner possibly be the same man he was before?

To Be Continued…

Sporting a stack of AR icons (Marvel’s Augmented Reality App featuring printed portals to online story bonuses and extras for everyone who downloaded the free software from marvel.com onto a smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet) and a Baker’s Dozen of covers-&-variants by Jerome Opeña, Dean White, Bagley, Jason Keith, Michael Del Mundo, Chris Samnee, Gerald Parel, Mike Grell & Skottie Young, this razor-sharp, tension-soaked, blisteringly action-packed and astonishingly compelling read offers a fantastic new beginning for one of Marvel’s oldest and greatest star turns.

This fresh and exciting epic brilliantly mixes astounding adventure with clever characterisation and an addictive excess of furious Fights ‘n’ Tights spectacle into a tale no comics fan could possibly resist.
™ & © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Indestructible Hulk volume 4: Humanity Bomb


By Mark Waid, Mahmud Asrar, Clayton Mann & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-620-5

Once upon a time, Bruce Banner was merely a military scientist accidentally caught in a Gamma-bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, any undue stress could cause him to transform into a gigantic green monster of unimaginable strength and fury.

As both occasional hero and bombastic brute he rampaged across the landscape for decades, becoming one of comics’ most popular characters and most enduring multi-media titans.

Over the years he has undergone numerous radical changes in scope, character and format to keep his stories fresh and his exploits explosively compelling whilst the number of Gamma-galvanised grotesqueries crashing about the Marvel Universe has proliferated to inconceivable proportions.

The days of Bruce going green with anger at the drop of a hat are long gone, so anybody taking their cues from TV or movie incarnations would be wise to anticipate a smidgen of unavoidable confusion…

In a world of numerous Hulks, She-Hulks, Abominations and every kind of ancillary colour-swatched atomic berserker, the MarvelNOW! event saw the Jade Giant reinvented in a stripped-down, back-to-basics but startlingly original manner which energised new and old fans alike.

The big change in his fortunes occurred after S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill was persuaded to provide perennial fugitive Banner with resources and funding in order to sanitise his devastated scientific reputation. In return Hill could call on the Hulk as a living weapon of last resort…

One of the smartest men on Earth, Banner had lost years of success, progress and peer renown whilst trying to cure himself of the Hulk. Concerned about his legacy, the fugitive genius had at last decided to make his future headlines as a scientist, not a shattering force of nature – for as long as he could possible manage – rather than fruitlessly seek to cure his affliction. Additionally, in return for S.H.I.E.L.D. science labs and trained assistants, the beleaguered boffin would give the spy agency first use of his discoveries and inventions…

This volume details the final days of this cataclysmic chapter in the ever-eventful life of Dr. Banner and his angry green alter ego (collecting Indestructible Hulk #16, 17.INH, 18.INH, 19.INH, 20 and Indestructible Hulk Annual #1, spanning January-March 2014) with scripter Mark Waid going out on a unforgettable high.

These days comics are all about the next Big Publishing Event and this latest Hulk collection capitalises on the tide of Inhumanity to bring this particular iteration to a spectacular climax …

During earlier mega-blockbuster Infinity, mad Titan Thanos invaded Earth and battled the Inhumans’ ruler Black Bolt to a standstill. As a last resort the embattled king released the Hidden People’s mutagenic Terrigen Mist into the atmosphere where it triggered mutation in millions, proving that human and Inhuman were not necessarily different races…

After being marooned in mystical ice-hell Jotunheim and then having to outwit Zarrko the Tomorrow Man and repair the fracturing time-stream, Banner and his team are way behind the greenly envious genius’ schedule to prove himself smarter than Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Hank Pym and all the other assorted big-brains who have outshone and pitied him over the years of his affliction…

Thus in ‘Humanity Bomb: Prelude’ (by Waid & Mahmud Asrar)Banner is prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to get back on track. After blackmailing the Military-Industrial complex for “black bag” funds, the inventor goes on a spree of tinkering only to be beaten to the patent office post over and over again by his oblivious intellectual rivals.

With his temper fraying, only calm, cool assistant Randall Jessup seems able to keep him from “Hulking Out”, so it’s with some relief that Banner hears of a rushed – and highly suspect – S.H.I.E.L.D. mission to an ancient Meso-American pyramid in Mexico where he can exorcise some pent-up frustration…

They only want Renewable Energy expert Jessup on-site, but Banner is not a man to take “no” for an answer anymore – which is lucky considering the original purpose of the monolith and the things waiting inside…

Indestructible Hulk Annual #1 then offers a look into Banner’s – and Tony Stark’s – boyhood via a ‘Journey into Science’ (Jeff Parker & Asrar) as Dr. Derenik Zadian – the charismatic but mercenary scientific genius who taught and then advised the two prodigies to go into weapons research – returns as a threat to the entire world. Iron Man and the Hulk must reluctantly invade the monster-stuffed island their renegade mentor is now literally part-and-parcel of…

‘Humanity Bomb’ (by Waid, Clay Mann, Seth Mann, Miguel Sepulveda, Jheremy Raapack, Tom Grummett, Joe Bennett, Karl Kesel, Ruy José, Andrew Hennessy & Scott Hanna) then opens as Stark and Pym meddle with Banner’s proposed solution for the still-propagating clouds of airborne Terrigen Mist…

Already under relentless, self-induced pressure to succeed, the unwelcome intervention stresses Banner, but not as much as the S.H.I.E.L.D. edict that his entire research team are to be held in “lock-down” since one of them has tested positive for the genes that react to Terrigen exposure…

Thus, when Iron Man, Giant-Man and The Beast arrive, insultingly demanding to check his work before proceeding, Banner goes ballistic. To be fair though, his quick fix is a bomb and everybody is painfully aware of how well his last radical radioactive explosive device turned out…

When the physicist goes green and crazy the assembled Avengers are unable to stop him stealing the bomb and escaping into the unsuspecting world…

The resulting chase and cataclysmic clash causes the bomb to detonate over Tulsa, Oklahoma with horrific and astounding results. In the aftermath the now pacified physicist’s solution is deconstructed and the reason for its failure to end the spread of “Terrigenesis” determined.

Banner is blithely unaware that his team have broken out of custody and flown after him. They are unaware that the cure hasn’t worked – until one of them suddenly turns into a monster that feeds on rage…

Inevitably the fresh new travesty of nature clashes spectacularly with the Hulk but, even after a seeming solution reverses the Terrigen transformation, the danger is not over. Elsewhere, maverick scientist Ted Goodrich has rebuilt and reactivated the rogue think tank dubbed The Enclave (which numbered growing the first artificial godling Him/Adam Warlock amongst its numerous wonders and breakthroughs) and has targeted Banner’s recently reverted aide…

That bombastic battle apparently goes the Good Guys’ way but after reporting back to Maria Hill one more shock and another impossible tragedy awaits the understandably at-the-end-of-his tether Bruce Banner…

Sporting a stack of AR icons (Marvel’s Augmented Reality App featuring printed portals to online story bonuses and extras for everyone who downloaded the free software from marvel.com onto a smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet) and a stunning cover gallery by Asrar & Dave McCaig, this sharp, action-packed and astonishingly compelling read offers a fun-filled, fury-fuelled shocking end to the epic which brilliantly mixes incredible adventure with clever characterisation and an addictive excess of furious Fights ‘n’ Tights action that no comics fan could possibly resist.

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

Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars: 30th Anniversary Edition


By Jim Shooter, Mike Zeck, Bob Layton, John Beatty & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-589-5

Has it been thirty years? Cripes!: stir the Horlicks and break out the Zimmer frames…

The “maxi-series” which started the seemingly insatiable modern passion for vast, braided mega-crossover publishing events originally came about because of an impending action figures licensing deal with toy manufacturing monolith Mattel.

Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, a great advocate of tales accessible to new, younger readers as well as the dedicated fan-base, apparently concocted the rather simplistic but amazingly engaging saga starring the House of Ideas’ top characters as a result of urgings from a potential major licensor. He then built his tale around a torrent of unsolicited, inspirational mail from readers, all begging for one huge dust-up between all the heroes and villains…

The 12-issue Limited Series launched with a May 1984 cover-date and closed (April 1985) with a double-sized blockbusting battle that left many characters changed forever – or as least as “Forever” as comics get…

The premise of the secret saga was that an all-powerful force calling itself The Beyonder abducted an army of Earth heroes and villains – and the most dreaded destroyer in the universe – in its quest to understand the emotion of desire…

The enigmatic, almighty entity dumped them all on a colossal purpose-built Battleworld created from and populated with fragments of other planets as a vast arena in which to prove which was better – self-gratification or sacrifice…

In his introductory reminiscence ‘The War to End All Wars’, Shooter recounts the concatenation of circumstances which led to the creation of the series, after which an tantalising page clipped from the Daily Bugle outlines the mounting mystery of a seemingly unconnected legion of missing heroes before the furious Fights ‘n’ Tights epic opens…

As crafted by Shooter, Mike Zeck & John Beatty, ‘The War Begins’ found the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four, Magneto, the Hulk and utterly out-of-his-depth Spider-Man all teleported into the deep unknown to see a galaxy destroyed and a world constructed before their astounded eyes. This was achieved purely so that a cosmic force could determine which of two philosophies was correct.

Arrayed against them were Doctor Doom, Molecule Man, Ultron, Dr. Octopus, the Lizard, the Enchantress, Absorbing Man, Kang the Conqueror, the Wrecking Crew and Galactus, all of whom had no problem with a disembodied voice telling them “slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours”…

Whilst the villains instantly turn on each other, the Devourer of Worlds doesn’t care for the offer and attacks the disembodied force, only to be smashed casually and unceremoniously onto the brand new world below. The heroes too touch ground but dissent starts to split them into suspicious factions. The mere presence of mutant supremacist Magneto on their “team” divides the champions along human and mutant lines…

Elsewhere Doctor Doom tries to explain the underlying threat to his fellow villains in the huge super-scientific citadel they have commandeered, but the rogues refuse to listen.

Exasperated, the Monarch of Latveria decides to swallow his pride and consult with despised rival Mr. Fantastic but is blasted out of the skies by his greedy, treacherous companions before he finds the heroes’ camp. The bushwhackers then rashly go on to attack the gathered Good Guys… and The War begins…

‘Prisoners of War!’ sees the first of many pitched battles, but as the cataclysmic conflict proceeds, elsewhere Doom, having survived the sneak attack, is on site to see Galactus revive and ominously repair to a mountain top to begin his own unique response…

Leaving the cosmic glutton to his own devices, the Iron Tyrant returns to the fortress of evil; dubbing it Doombase as he reprograms the dormant AI Ultron to be his slave.

He is waiting when the thoroughly trounced malefactors limp home, having lost the Lizard, Enchantress, Kang and Thunderball, Bulldozer and Piledriver of the Wrecking Crew to the heroes.

The triumphant yet troubled victors have occupied their own city-sized futuristic castle-complex where, after imprisoning their captives, they soon return to bickering with each other. The suspicions of some human heroes quickly drives Magneto away – taking the Wasp as a hostage – but even as the remaining mutants begin to feel the weight of prejudice, bigger problems manifest.

As the rocky Thing unexpectedly reverts to merely mortal Ben Grimm, on his distant mountain top Galactus is preparing to consume Battleworld…

The suspense builds in ‘Tempest Without, Crisis Within!’

As the master of magnetism discusses a truce with the Wasp, in the hero citadel Spider-Man misconstrues an overheard conversation and accidentally sparks a schism between human and mutants.

Whilst the webslinger and Hulk remain with Reed Richards, The Thing, Human Torch, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man (unknown to all Jim Rhodes not Tony Stark), Hawkeye, Captain Marvel and She-Hulk, the much-aggrieved X-Men Storm, Cyclops, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Wolverine and diminutive space-dragon Lockheed follow increasingly doctrinaire Charles Xavier’s demands to separate from the assemblage and join Magneto…

Doom meanwhile has used his fortress’ alien technology to turn two mysteriously-arrived earth girls into super-powered allies. When his remaining forces attack the heroes at dawn, the power of Volcana and Titania tips the balance against the defenders, deprived as they are of the might of the now-missing mutants…

Thor too is gone. Having journeyed with the captive Enchantress to a pocket dimension – hoping to persuade her to switch sides – he returns too late to stop the felons freeing their comrades and crippling the Torch and Captain Marvel…

Bob Layton stepped in to pencil the next two chapters, beginning with ‘Situation: Hopeless!’ wherein the resurgent rogues move to end the war by having Molecule Man drop an entire mountain range on the already-reeling heroes. Trapped under 50 billion tons of rock – only barely held up by the Atlas-like Hulk – the heroes are rallied to hold on by Captain America whilst Reed and Iron Man devise a technological solution to their dilemma.

Outside, Thor’s unexpected return almost overwhelms the exultant evildoers, but he too is eventually destroyed…

As the dust settles, Doom kills the newly liberated Kang (for shooting him down as he flew to confer with Richards), blithely unaware that Thor has survived and escaped to rescue his buried comrades…

In another quadrant, as the X-Men arrive at Magneto’s bastion – giving the Wasp a chance to escape – the recently disinterred heroes find an alien village in the shadow of Galactus’ peak where a comely healer named Zsaji uses her empathic abilities to heal the battered, wounded warriors from Earth…

However even as Ben unpredictably becomes the Thing again, Galactus makes his next move…

Above the skies of Battleworld, the Devourer’s solar system sized starship materialises, signalling ‘The Battle of Four Armies!’ At Doombase meek, socially inept Molecule Man Owen Reece is starting to blossom under the romantic attentions of Marsha Rosenberg AKA Volcana and, after being teased and bullied by the Wrecking Crew, smashes them all and flies off to be alone with her.

Whilst Magneto and Xavier attempt to communicate with the disdainfully oblivious Galactus, the X-Men speed to assist the human heroes against an outlaw assault on Zsaji’s village. In the melee Colossus is gravely injured and only saved by the healer’s intervention.

For him it is true love at first sight…

Oblivious to the conflict Doom, meanwhile, has again accomplished the impossible and invaded Galactus’ ship…

Zeck returned for ‘A Little Death…’ in which the Wasp, frantically making her way back to her friends, encounters and befriends the savage, confused Lizard.

Thousand of miles above her, Doom’s explorations have led him to find and restore sonic scourge Klaw. The malign, sentient sound wave had been trapped in the system-ship for months but although reconstituted in a solid-vibrational body construct, the Master of Sound is completely crazy….

Xavier’s confrontational leadership style is causing contention amongst his students and Colossus is having his heart broken every time he sees Zsaji fawn and simper over the shallow, lustful – human – Torch…

As Captain America and the big brains strategise ways to stop Galactus, Cyclops, Wolverine and Rogue unexpectedly rout a pack of bad guys on a mission for Doom which leaves the nigh-omnipotent Molecule bleeding out. Elsewhere, however, the fates are less kind when the Wasp, still cosying up to the Lizard, is ambushed and murdered by the Wrecking Crew.

The primordial predator is unable to save her, but his vengeance is terrible to behold…

And back at the Healer’s village a new player is about to enter the fray…

‘Berserker!’ introduces a new Spider-Woman and reveals where Titania and Volcana came from. Whilst assembling his war world The Beyonder appropriated segments of many other planets, including an entire suburb of Denver, Colorado from Earth…

Before the enigmatic arachnid can explain further the Wreckers blaze in to dump the Wasp’s corpse and gloat, but the Star Spangled Avenger refuses to let his enraged comrades pursue the killers. He needs everyone to stay ready for the moment when Galactus starts to eat the planet and the billions of kidnapped innocents unhappily inhabiting it…

As the villains retreat with the wounded Molecule Man they are ambushed by the rest of the X-Men and Magneto, resulting in another savage yet inconclusive battle, whilst high above them all Doom continues to plunder Galactus’ home. When the World Eater finally notices him, the Master of Latveria is casually expelled and sent crashing like a bug to the planet below …

Back at Doombase She-Hulk, filled with righteous rage and ignoring Cap’s orders, attacks the amassed murderers alone. After a ferocious fight she eventually succumbs to their greater force and ruthless brutality…

So when Xavier informs the heroes that his mutants will stand guard over Galactus, the Sentinel of Liberty at last lets his enraged comrades loose to take on the killers and live up to the name “Avengers”…

She-Hulk is near death when ‘Invasion!’ (inked by Beatty & Jack Abel) opens, as the champions of justice thrash their enemies with great enthusiasm, especially the enigmatic new Spider-Woman. In the course of the spectacular melee, Spider-Man single-handedly beats the impossibly strong Titania and his costume is destroyed.

As they imprison the crushed criminals, Captain America finds Doom, slumped in defeat and despair. Whilst the triumphant heroes use matter-shaping machines to repair their clothing and uniforms, the Wall-crawler accidentally uses a different device and receives a new all-black costume similar to Spider-Woman’s…

His, however, can change shape, colour and design, is thought-activated and somehow produces an inexhaustible supply of webbing. In the days to come on Earth he will learn to deeply regret his error…

Back in the village Zsaji has pulled out all the stops and resurrected the seemingly dead Wasp, but any joy the victors might feel is instantly erased as Professor X broadcasts a desperate telepathic alarm: Galactus is at last beginning to consume the planet…

As the X-Men begin their ‘Assault on Galactus!’ the human heroes rush back to assist them, but Reed Richards – the greatest intellect on Earth – suddenly has a flash of insight and vanishes as the Devourer teleports him to a private conference.

At that moment Doom rouses himself from his despondent funk, having conceived a grand plan of his own to conquer both Galactus and The Beyonder, erasing forever the humiliation of his ignominious defeat…

Due in part to his discussion with Reed, the Cosmic Carnivore abandons Battleworld and instead absorbs his own system-ship…

In the confusion Doom makes his move, using a hastily constructed device to absorb all the omnipotent instigator’s power and deal out ‘Death to the Beyonder!’

Despite being all but incinerated in the struggle, the Iron Tyrant uses the stolen energies to rebuild himself and declare the Secret War over with Doom the sole victor…

In ‘…And Dust to Dust!’, having successfully stolen the Beyonder’s power, he exults in the joys of becoming omnipotent. However the troubled new god finds it hard to hang on to lust for conquest, or even personal ambition after achieving all-consuming divinity, and his benign acts and vapid indolence betray a certain lack of drive and ambition…

With heroes and villains nervously awaiting the new supreme one’s next move, events take a subtly disturbing turn as a strange energy wisp begins to possess a succession of heroes as it makes its way ever closer to the Doom Deity…

The other do-gooders remain deep in conference, debating their response to the self-proclaimed saviour of the universe. At the moment they finally decide to oppose him they are all vaporised by a bolt of energy…

Of course it doesn’t end there as the resurgent Beyonder battles through heroic and villainous proxies to reclaim his purloined power and put everything to rights – sort of – in the blockbusting finale ‘…Nothing to Fear!’

Although perhaps a little dated and rather straightforward – although peppered with plenty of convoluted and clever plot twists – this bombastic box of delights still reads exceedingly well (especially for younger readers) and this commemorative edition also includes a couple of added extras.

‘The Toys’ features many of the action figures, packaging and ads for all us kids to salivate over and the whole show concludes with scholarly overview ‘The Birth and Legacy of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars’ which rounds off the cosmic nostalgia-fest by discussing the secret origins of mega-crossovers from crucial prototype Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions to a few of the more memorable descendants such as Civil War, Age of Ultron and Infinity

Fast-paced, pretty-looking and impressively action-packed, Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars was – and still is – sheer comicbook magic that no true aficionado of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction can do without.

™ & © 1984, 1985, and 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

The Arms of the Octopus


By Mike Costa, Chris Cosentino, Kris Anka, Jake Wyatt, Michael Dialynas & Dalibor Talajić (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-577-2

Here’s a welcome return to those (relatively) uncomplicated Good Old Days, when you could pick up a comic or book without Ph.D. level preparation and just read for the sheer fun of it.

Collecting the linked serial from 2013’s All-New X-Men Special #1, Indestructible Hulk Special and Superior Spider-Man Team-Up Special (and incongruously including the Wolverine: In the Flesh One-Shot), The Arms of the Octopus offers just such a jolly “Blast from the Past” in a gripping tale of time-banditry, courtesy of writer Mike Costa.

Illustrated by Kris Anka All-New X-Men Special #1starts the ball rolling with ‘Elegy in the Classroom’ as time-displaced mutant teenagers Hank (the Beast) Pym, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Scott (Cyclops) Summers and Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey spend their first vacation day on a trip to Manhattan and get a full-on face-full of 21st century future shock.

Escaping the bleeping sound and blinding visual fury of the telecommunications era, the kids head for Central Park where young Hank is smitten by a poetry-reading college girl. After catching a mugger, the Beast expects her to run screaming, but she’s actually so intrigued at meeting a mutant she invites him back to see her lab.

Hank knows it well: before he and the teen X-Men were brought into their own future he studied there under Gamma-medicine radiation research pioneer David Jude. Decades later the genius is still in residence, but now his field of endeavour is Temporal Displacement…

Dr. Jude is remarkably sanguine about meeting his young-looking old student, but before any questions can be asked the lab is brutally attacked by Doctor Octopus, also oddly youthful and emitting huge amounts of Gamma rays.

As the rest of the X-Men join the bombastic battle the clash inevitably draws the attention of the Superior Spider-Man…

The Wallcrawler is astounded and furious. What the kids – or anybody else for that matter – don’t realise is that for months now the mind of Otto Octavius has inhabited the Amazing Arachnid’s frame and to see his earlier self running wild in 2013 drives the cerebral bodysnatcher into a state of unthinking outrage…

After fractiously cooperating with the mutant kids, Spider-Man defeats Doc Ock and drags him back to Jude’s time-lab, where examination of the Gamma-drenched mystery maniac leads to only one conclusion: some form of time travel…

The X-kids are living proof of concept and with some reluctance the arrogant Arachnid admits that he needs to consult with an expert…

‘For a Friend Whose Work has Come to Triumph’ (illustrated by Jake Wyatt in (Indestructible Hulk Special #1) picks up the tale as S.H.I.EL.D. Specialist Bruce Banner is helicoptered in and, after getting over his astonishment at meeting genuine time travellers, gets stuck into unravelling the enigma of the radioactive rogue.

Before too long however another distraction hits the campus: a blockbusting assault by old Hulk foe the Abomination. The Gamma-irradiated gargoyle is one of Banner’s oldest enemies, and he’s been dead for years…

As the physicist gets green and mean to tackle the threat, the theory of a temporal anomaly caused by the displaced X-teens seems confirmed. Thus the mutants take Spider-Man and Dr. Jude back to their school to check out the time machine which brought them back to the future just as the Hulk makes a shocking discovery defeating his rampaging opponent.

…And in the copter speeding to Westchester, Jude realises he’s been rumbled and makes his move…

The chronal conundrum concludes in ‘With Mercy for the Greedy’ (Superior Spider-Man Team-Up Special #1, with art by Michael Dialynas) as the Machiavellian scientist (Jude, not Ock-in-Spidey for a change) uses previously concealed gamma radiation powers to blow up the transport before heading after the coveted time machine, leaving the assorted heroes in lethal freefall…

Following a suitably spectacular cooperative save, the X-kids and Spider-Man set off on the villain’s trail whilst Banner and Pym frantically work on a method of containing the real radioactive menace. Eventually everything ends up in a ferocious fight before a measure of order is restored and grudging respect is meted out all round…

Blending sinister suspense with riotous action and devilishly clever scenes of outright hilarity, this is a marvellously accessible romp no fan of clear-cut Costumed Dramas should miss and is followed by a rather strange – and unconnected – outing for the world’s favourite mutant.

Illustrated by Dalibor Talajić, Wolverine: In the Flesh is written by – and implausibly co-stars – celebrity chef Chris Cosentino; detailing the hunt for cannibal killer the Bay Area Butcher.

The satanic serial killer’s reign of terror can only be ended after the Canadian mutant recruits his old culinary chum to offer insights into the haute cuisine methodology of cutting meat and invaluably intimate knowledge of San Francisco’s Food Truck culture.

Little do either know that their prey is fed up “serving Man” and needs just one little ingredient for his pièce de résistance: a suitably trussed, tied and marinated mutant…

Light, quirky and mordantly piquant, this one won’t be to everyone’s taste…

With covers by Alexander Lozano and Tim Seeley, The Arms of the Octopus offers casual readers and faithful fans alike a smart break from cosmic epics and should certainly whet the appetite for all the monumental Marvel madness heading our way in the months to come.
™ & © 2013 and 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Indestructible Hulk volume 3: S.M.A.S.H. Time


By Mark Waid, Matteo Scalera, Kim Jacinto & Mahmud Asrar (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-574-1

Once upon a time, Bruce Banner was merely a military scientist accidentally caught in a Gamma-bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, undue stress could cause him to transform into a gigantic green monster of unimaginable strength and fury. As both occasional hero and blockbusting brute he rampaged across the landscape for decades, becoming one of comics’ most popular characters and most enduring multi-media titans.

He has, inescapably, then undergone numerous radical changes in scope, character and format to keep his stories fresh and his exploits explosively compelling…

In recent years the number of Gamma-galvanised grotesqueries crashing about the Marvel Universe has proliferated to inconceivable proportions. The days of Bruce going green with anger at the drop of a hat are long gone, so anybody taking their cues from TV or movie incarnations would be wise to anticipate a smidgen of unavoidable confusion…

By the time of the game-changing Avengers versus X-Men mega-crossover relaunch, there were numerous Hulks, She-Hulks, Abominations and all kinds of ancillary rainbow-hued atomic berserkers roaming around, and in the aftermath of that house-cleaning exercise, the MarvelNOW! event saw the Jade Giant return in a stripped-down, back-to-basics version which energised new and old fans alike.

Modern comics are all about the next Big Event and throughout 2013 numerous Marvel titles experienced a few temporal troubles. This latest Hulk collection also tenuously ties in to those ongoing time travel travails, which all ostensibly arose from the after-effects of dramatic disruptions in the (Marvel) universes’ conjoined time-streams. The root cause was The Avengers unmaking of the Age of Ultron, but don’t fret as the stories here stand well enough on their own…

The big change in the Hulk’s fortunes occurred after S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill was persuaded to provide perennial fugitive Banner with resources and funding in order to sanitise his scientific reputation. In return Hill could call on the Hulk as a living weapon of last resort…

One of the smartest men on Earth, Banner had lost years of success, progress and peer renown whilst trying to cure himself of the Hulk. Concerned about his legacy, the fugitive genius had at last decided to make future headlines as a scientist, not a devastating force of nature.

For the foreseeable future and as long as possible he would manage – rather than seek cures for – his affliction. Additionally, in return for S.H.I.E.L.D. science labs and trained assistants – generally in the isolated facility of Nuclear Springs, Nevada (AKA “Bannerville”) – the bombastic boffin would also give the agency first use of many of his discoveries and inventions…

This guest-star packed third volume details the next cataclysmic chapter in the ever-eventful life of Dr. Banner and his mean green alter ego (collecting Indestructible Hulk #11-15, cover-dated September 2013 to January 2014) with scripter Mark Waid letting the emerald engine of destruction loose on a multiplicity of Marvel’s genre-adventures roots…

Banner and his team are just getting back to business (after a agonising sojourn in Jotunheim, realm of Asgardian Frost Giants) when the irascible genius is summoned to an ultra-secret division of S.H.I.E.L.D. to apply his unique gifts to a cataclysmic situation. Even before seeing the Temporal Irregularity Management and Eradication site Banner knows something big is up: the Hulk’s last mission had included a surprise attack by a brand spanking new 75-year-old American bomber packed with ancient skeletons in flight suits…

The 5-part ‘Agent of T.I.M.E.’ (illustrated by Matteo Scalera, Kim Jacinto & Mahmud Asrar) continues as Banner meets the secret project’s prize prisoner. Zarrko the Tomorrow Man, has been an inmate of the facility for two decades – even though for that entire period he has been continually battling Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man on the outside in a variety of centuries.

He explains the impossible paradox by describing – as he has continually for over twenty years – how, thanks to constant meddling, the Timestream is broken and all of reality is in imminent danger of shattering.

Thanks to recent events the S.H.I.E.L.D. higher-ups are at last prepared to believe him…

Stuck in his cell, helplessly emitting time-warping radiations, Zarrko again repeats his warnings: even with the armour and screening technologies he has provided, mere mortals cannot survive in the roaring chronal currents. Only the Hulk can be sent to key time points to fix the escalating chaos.

It’s pretty urgent he goes soon, too, since Chronarchists from beyond now are targeting weak spots in time, intent on overwriting the past to cement their own futures…

Banner is dead set against the idea until Zarrko reminds him that people and places are dropping out of reality every moment: people like Betty Ross, Banner’s ex-wife and now the riotous Red She-Hulk.

In the crowded lab only he and the Tomorrow Man remember her… and even Bruce is having trouble recalling her name…

The Chronarchists are also the reason the Hulk’s intellect is so mutable: his Gamma-charged existence is a threat to their victory so they have been tampering with his personal history…

Resigned to his task Banner acquiesces, allowing Zarrko and the T.I.M.E. technologists to set him up for the trip. Since he’ll need to stay “Hulked” for the duration Banner’s personality is duplicated in a free-floating, self-powered Recording Observation Bot, which effectively means the scientist and savage who have always despised each other will be working as a team…

The first stop is Arizona in 1873 where the Big Green Galoot and his floating metal sidekick/brain join Western legends Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid in battling dinosaurs and the Chronarchist Tok Baltusar who has enslaved a town and tried to turn the local silver mine into his personal factory for producing time-warping nano-alloys…

The bizarre aggregation of heroes eventually overcomes the temporal infiltrator but the Hulk is explosively propelled back to the sixth century and another heroic crisis: the too-early fall of Camelot

Expelled from his citadel by Chronarchist Valdar Ahd (employing a legion of warriors from all ages), King Arthur even welcomes the assistance of a gross green ogre and its talking, flying box as he, Merlin and the puissant Black Knight lead the surviving paladins of the Table Round in a battle to restore honour and save the right and proper future…

After spectacularly and destructively dealing with the chronal iconoclast, R.O.B./Banner and the ferociously fluctuating Hulk are rather at a loss to track down the final temporal tamperer.

Following a host of false trails only leads into a procession of clashes with old foes such as the Abomination, Sandman and Fin Fang Foom, all cunningly placed in time-ambushes throughout a rapidly and constantly revising history to delay interference in a hidden mastermind’s true scheme…

Each subtle distraction further diminishes Hulk and the recording of Banner before, as time is literally about to run out, the answer occurs to the rapidly failing brainbox in a box…

At an atomic test site R.O.B. can barely remember, a scientist named Banner argues with his assistant Igor, his girlfriend Betty and her father – military martinet General Thunderbolt Ross – about the imminent detonation of the world’s first Gamma-bomb. Then when a kid drives onto Ground Zero, the Banner dashes out to save him, only to be caught in the blast…

This time though, a monolithic green giant pushes him aside and takes the full hit of raging radiation…

The rapidly failing Banner/R.O.B. has deduced their quarry’s when-&-whereabouts seconds too late, blinking in to the event just in time for the Hulk to be bombarded with a second dose of mutative energy – exactly as his time-bending opponents had intended…

With all his programs failing, the robot rapidly downloads his remaining memories into his pre-radiated organic self, leaving a horrified, physically powerless but utterly up-to-speed Bruce Banner to face the enraged atrocious monstrosity of a “Hulk-Squared”…

Or not.

Finally freed of the curse of the Hulk before he ever carried it, Banner is tempted to let the new status quo stand… until he realises that the last Chronarchist’s tampering has also deleted his beloved Betty from the timeline…

The heartbroken savant has only one chance to put things right: defeat the last time-bender Khotto and the now-obvious Machiavellian mastermind behind the entire audacious history-warping scheme – no matter the cost…

And when the dust of centuries finally settles, Banner’s world is back the way it should be, although the weary savant cannot help but feel that something, somewhere, somehow has changed in a way he cannot yet fathom…

Packed with the now-standard AR icons (Marvel’s Augmented Reality App: printed portals giving access to story bonuses and extras for everyone who downloaded the free software from marvel.com onto a smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet whatsit) and a stunning cover-&-variants gallery by Mukesh Singh, Michael Del Mundo & Leonel Castellani, this is a smart, comfortingly convoluted and amazingly compelling read: a fun-filled, fury-fuelled saga which brilliantly mixes incredible adventure with clever characterisation and an addictive excess of furious Fights ‘n’ Tights action that no comics fan could possibly resist.
™ & © 2013 and 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Marvel Adventures Avengers volume 9: The Times They Are A’Changin’


By Paul Tobin, Matteo Lolli, Ig Guara, Casey Jones, Christian Vecchia & Sandro Ribeiro (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3832-7

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

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

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

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming Marvel Adventures with the core titles transformed into Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man and the reconstituted classics replaced by all-original yarns. Additional titles included Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes, Power Pack, Hulk and The Avengers, which ran until 2010 when they were cancelled and replaced by new volumes of Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man.

This particularly light-hearted digest-sized collection re-presents issues #32-35 of Marvel Adventures Avengers (from 2009) and offers a succession of stand-alone yarns that will delight fans with a sense of humour and iota of wit…

What You Need To Know: this incarnation of the World’s Mightiest Superheroes operates an “open-door” policy where almost every metahuman marvel might turn up for duty. However – presumably because of their TV cartoon popularity – the Wondrous Wallcrawler and Jade Juggernaut are on scene in almost every episode…

Written throughout by Paul Tobin, the fast-paced fun begins with ‘The Big Payoff’ illustrated by Matteo Lolli & Christian Vecchia, wherein the team gets a most unpleasant visit from Special Agent Clark Harvey of the Internal Revenue Service.

This weaselling civil servant is ostensibly there to collect the individual Avengers’ taxes, but it’s all a ploy to blackmail the team into forcing a bunch of defaulting villains into paying up…

Smart and deviously hilarious, the clashes between Giant-Girl, Spider-Man and Luke Cage against Whirlwind, the Web-spinner and erudite philosophical monster/political activist Oog or Man-Bull versus Iron Man are entertainment enough, but Iron Man and Giant-Girl overmatched against the Absorbing Man and the childlike Hulk convincing assassin Bullsesye to do his patriotic duty are literally priceless…

When jungle king Ka-Zar visits from the Antarctic lost world all he can think about is learning how to use a car. Sadly Wolverine, Storm, Giant-Girl, Hulk and Spidey all feel safer battling an invasion of super-Saurians unleashed by Stegron the Dinosaur Man than sitting in the same vehicle as the Lord of the Savage Land in ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’ (art by Ig Guara & Sandro Ribeiro)…

When ancient Egyptian magicians turn time into an out of control merry-go-round, ‘Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos!’ (Lolli & Vecchia) are caught up in the assorted eras of chaos, with Ant-Man, Giant-Girl, Tigra, Storm, the Wallcrawler and Hulk frantically fighting just to keep up…

This titanic tiny tome then concludes on a romantic note in ‘Lovers Leaper’, rendered by Casey Jones, when all the female Avengers head off for a vacation break. They foolishly thought Captain America, Cage, Spider-Man, Hawkeye and Wolverine could handle things for awhile, but boys will be slobs and soon the HQ is a ghastly mess of “man-cave” madness…

Moreover, since Hawkeye now needs a date for the Annual Archer Awards, he tries an on-line dating service and manages to upload not just his but all his buddies’ information onto the site…

With seemingly every eligible lady – super-powered and not – in New York City subscribing to the Lovers Leap site, the unsuspecting heroes are soon being bombarded by an army of annoyed women who think they’ve been stood up by the utterly oblivious Avengers.

…And when they try to get the owner to remove their details, the heroes discover former French bad-guy Batroc the Leaper is in charge and unwilling to do them any favours…

Smart and fun on a number of levels, bright and breezy with lots of light-hearted action and many solid laughs, this book really offers a fabulous alternative to the regular Marvel Universe angst and agony.

Even with the violence toned down and “cartooned-up” the stories are superbly thrilling and beautifully depicted: a perfect introduction for kids and adults alike to the vast realm of adventure we all love…

In 2012 the Marvel Adventures line was superseded by specific comicbook titles tied to Disney XD TV shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”, but these collected stories are still an intriguing and perhaps more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born often two generations or more away from those far-distant 1960s originating events.
© 2010, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Indestructible Hulk volume 2: Gods and Monster


By Mark Waid, Walt Simonson, Matteo Scalera & Bob Wiacek (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-562-8

Once upon a time, Bruce Banner was merely a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, undue stress could cause him to transform into a gigantic green monster of unimaginable strength and fury. As both occasional hero and blockbusting brute he rampaged across the landscape for decades, becoming one of Marvel’s most popular characters and earliest multi-media titan.

Thus, he has often undergone radical changes in scope and format to keep his stories fresh and his exploits explosively compelling…

In recent years the number of Gamma-mutated monsters thundering through the Marvel Universe has proliferated to inconceivable proportions. The days of Bruce getting green with anger at the drop of a hat are long gone, so anybody taking their cues from TV or movie incarnations would be wise to anticipate a smidgen of unavoidable confusion.

By the time of the game-changing Avengers versus X-Men mega-crossover relaunch there were numerous Hulks, She-Hulks, Abominations and all kinds of ancillary rainbow-coloured atomic berserkers roaming around, but now with that house-cleaning exercise concluded, the subsequent MarvelNOW! event saw the Jade Giant in a stripped-down, back-to-basics version which should find favour with new and old fans alike.

But it’s definitely not your old Hulk anymore…

This stunning guest-star packed second volume details the next cataclysmic chapter in the ever-eventful life of Banner and his raging Emerald Animus (collecting Indestructible Hulk #6-10, cover-dated June-September 2013) wherein scripter Mark Waid pushes the boundaries even further whilst providing a breathtaking procession of astounding action and compelling drama…

The big transformation began when S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill was convinced to provide Banner with resources and funding to sanitise his scientific reputation in return for her utilising the Hulk as a living weapon of last resort in the agency’s armoury…

One of the smartest men on Earth, Banner had lost years of success, progress and peer renown whilst trying to destroy the Hulk. Concerned about his legacy, the fugitive genius had decided to make future headlines as a scientist, not a devastating force of nature.

For the foreseeable future and as long as possible he would manage, rather than seek cures for, his affliction. Moreover, in return for a S.H.I.E.L.D. lab and trained assistants, Banner would also give the agency first use of many of his discoveries and inventions…

Fast-paced and furious, ‘Gods and Monster’ – illustrated by Walt Simonson with Bob Wiacek – opens at the- isolated facility of Nuclear Springs, Nevada (AKA “Bannerville”) where Bruce and his team use a sliver of mystic metal Uru to open a portal to Jotunheim.

Banner theorises that the icy realm contains the most efficient superconductor in creation and, leaving climatologist Melinda Leucenstern to monitor the gateway, leads the rest of his people – biologist Patricia Wolman, renewable energies researcher Randall Jessup and molecular engineer Daman Veteri – into the frozen wastes in search of new breakthroughs… and to teach one of his staff a much-needed life-lesson.

The Uru sliver came from Thor’s hammer Mjolnir and, soon after finding the sought after Eiderdürm liquid metal, the away party are greeted by the Asgardian Thunder God himself, come to warn them that the inimical indigenous Frost Giants don’t like trespassers.

He also mentions that he has not seen Midgardians in ages and doesn’t recognise Banner…

As the frozen monsters attack, Banner “Hulks out” and joins the Thunderer in routing the horrors. However, during the protracted battle, one of the Jotuns discovers the portal and attempts to cross into the Earth plane.

Thanks to Melinda’s quick thinking and Hill’s honking big gun, it fails, but the team are now trapped on the other side…

When Banner resumes control of himself, he realises the portal has not only spanned dimensions but also dropped them in the past, something the S.H.I.E.L.D. boffins are also keenly aware of as they try fruitlessly to repair the device…

Stranded in Jotunheim, the voyagers finish their mining and ponder a way home, unaware that the Frost Giants, hungry to invade the warm mortal lands, have magically substituted one of their own for a mortal trespasser…

When Hill and a squad of agents finally reopen the gateway the monsters attack en masse and only the shattering power of Thor and the Hulk can prevent utter disaster…

Matteo Scalera then illustrates ‘Blind Rage’ – a superbly dark, high-tension thriller which reveals how Banner has a Plan B in effect should S.H.I.E.L.D. welch on their deal…

One of the few people the Hulk – as opposed to his intellectual alter ego – trusts is lawyer Matt Murdock, the sightless sentinel Daredevil, and the attorney holds papers that will reveal the pact to the so-judgemental public if Hill oversteps herself.

Thus, when a mission to stop an illicit shipment of super-weapons takes Banner to Manhattan, he takes the opportunity to link up with the Man without Fear whilst the brutal mop-up is ongoing…

Unfortunately one of the Euro-trash Agence Byzantine mercenaries escapes with an ultrasound bazooka capable of flooring the Hulk, forcing the mismatched allies to track it down before it reaches its intended purchaser – one of the vilest villains in history…

Bombastic, hilarious, revelatory and vicariously rewarding, the Red and Green crusade through the bowels of the Big Apple is sublimely entertaining and even offers a brooding portent of a rift between Banner and his “boss” in the days to come…

Sharp, refreshingly straightforward and gloriously addictive, this latest stage in the conflict-packed life of the world’s most iconic split personality offers incredible adventure, smart characterisation and intoxicating excess for fans of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction, and includes a stunning cover-and-variants gallery by Simonson, Paolo Rivera, Dale Keown & Stephane Roux plus the now-customary AR icons (Marvel’s Augmented Reality App: printed portals giving access to story bonuses and extras for everyone who downloaded the free software from marvel.com onto a smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet doohickey).
™ & © 2013 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Savage Wolverine: Kill Island


By Frank Cho, coloured by Jason Keith (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-539-0

It must be summer now, since here’s a popular entertainment featuring mutants and dinosaurs all garnished with heavy helpings of aliens, explosions and hot chicks in skimpy fur bikinis…

Following all the desperate and life-altering debacles of recent years, the emergent race dubbed Homo Sapiens Superior has, after the epochal events of Avengers versus X-Men, won something of a fresh start and clean slate.

The company initiative MarvelNOW! having reshaped the entire continuity, the various factors of X-champions are generally starting life anew and this collection, gathering issues #1-5 of Savage Wolverine (spanning March-July 2013), proffers a deliciously rare and oddly appetising aspect of the feral fury.

One word seldom applied to the exploits of the Clawful Canadian is “Fun” but that’s exactly what this sharp, explosive mystery adventure offers as 21st century heroic everyman Wolverine literally falls into an exotic, frantic, deadly dangerous and darkly hilarious romp in the antediluvian wonder world known as the Savage Land.

It all began eight months ago as jungle queen Shanna, the She-Devil led a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists and cartographers on a research trip to the most desolate and unmapped section of the vast Antarctic subterranean dinosaur preserve.

The voyage ended in disaster as their aircraft was disabled by a technological damping field enveloping an enigmatic island in an inland sea. The vehicle plunged to Earth and no more was heard from the explorers…

Now, following an explosion of light that turns night to day, Wolverine groggily regains consciousness and his super-senses inform him that somehow he has been transported to the Savage Land – split seconds before a velociraptor tries to make him supper.

After dispatching the hungry beast the amazed mutant spots a native war-party carrying a wounded S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and leaps to the rescue.

Slaughtering the primitives, he learns from the dying Mike McSwiggin where the ship went down and, locating the wreckage, also finds Shanna who mistakes him for an attacking native and almost kills him…

The She-Devil tells a grim tale of slow attrition that saw her entire team, deprived of their electronic arsenal, fall one by one as they repeatedly tried to escape the monsters and savages. Mike had reasoned that the damping device was hidden within a fantastic monster-shaped mountain at the centre of the isle and built a bomb to destroy it. Now the only survivor Shanna convinces Wolverine they must carry out Mike’s plan if they have any hope of returning to civilisation…

And then a flight of pteranodons attack, coordinated as if they had human intellects…

At the caveman camp, another flash of light has resulted in the unexplained arrival of abrasive teenaged super-genius Amadeus Cho.

With his advanced personal tech and universal translator he soon has the ape-men believing that he is a god and, despite being rather distracted by some of the more nubile offerings (teenage boy, right?), quickly ascertains the true history of the Island…

Wolverine has meanwhile been rescued by Shanna, and the pair – squabbling like an old married couple – set to battling their way through a horde of natives and beasts, intent on climbing the monster-faced mountain and destroying the tech-disruption gadget.

Amadeus has found something interesting in his discussions with the village head-man. The chief speaker has an elixir which can instantaneously heal wounds and perhaps even revive the dead. The story the chief tells is incredible and terrifying…

Uncounted eons past a star crashed to earth. When the dust settled it was revealed to be a colossal giant battling a horrific alien beast. Subduing the monstrous “Dark Walker” the giant (deduced by Cho to be one of the multiverse-spanning space gods known as “Celestials”) then imprisoned the thing inside a mountain with a Great Machine to keep it dormant.

To protect the device the Celestial, with a wave of its hand, casually evolved the primitive hominids who observed the spectacle into humans to forever guard the prison and prevent tampering. He even granted them uncanny powers, which was lucky as periodically humans from elsewhere would materialise, baffled but always intent on making trouble…

The latest such interloper is having second thoughts, but when a war party tentatively offers a truce, Shanna accidentally spooks them and the result is yet another appalling bloodbath that results in her death…

Pushed off a cliff, Wolverine of course survives but determines to destroy the machine whatever it takes, unaware that Cho has convince the chief to use his life-elixir to resurrect the She-Devil. When she revives she is no longer the same person…

The fluid connects the reawakened to the island and imparts immense power and greater intelligence, as the morose mutant finds when he is attacked by the mountain’s last defenders – a pack of super gorillas…

Cho, meanwhile, has uncovered another impossible mystery, one somehow connected to a monster thought tragically unique, but has no time to ponder upon it as Shanna – now onside – reveals that Wolverine has a bomb and will be more determined than ever to blow up the machine. With the terrifying realisation that it is the only thing containing a creature even Celestials could not kill, the assembled heroes and jungle guardians rush to the mountain just in time to meet the latest outsider teleported in… the rampaging, incredible Hulk

And in the resulting chaotic melee the ancient alien sleeper awakes…

Blisteringly bombastic, lavishly beautiful and staggeringly visceral, this blockbuster book is enthralling and utterly compelling, with portents and warning of even greater epics to come, but nevertheless reserves plenty of room for humour and even baldly slapstick comedy – another perfect jumping-on point for new and retired fans alike…

Kill Island also includes a beautiful cover-and-variants gallery by Cho, Joe Quesada, J. Scott Campbell, Gabrielle Dell’ Otto, Skott Young, Milo Manara, Leinil Francis Yu, Adi Granov & David Johnson, and comes with the now-standard added extras provided by of AR icon sections (Marvel Augmented Reality App) which give access to story bonuses once you download the code – for free – from marvel.com onto your smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet.
™ & © 2013 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Heroes for Hire: World War Hulk


By Zeb Wells, Fred Van Lente, Clay Mann, Alvin Lee, Leonard Kirk, Alé Garcia, James Cordeiro, Terry Pallot & John Bosco (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-7851-2800-7

After a TV reality show starring actual superheroes went hideously wrong and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of children in Stamford, Connecticut, popular opinion turned massively against masked crusaders. The US government mandated a scheme to licence, train and regulate all metahumans but the plan split the superhero community, and an indignant, terrified general populace quivered as a significant faction of their former defenders refused to surrender to the bureaucratic vicissitudes of the Super-Human Registration Act.

The Avengers and Fantastic Four fragmented and, as the conflict escalated, it became clear to all involved that the increasingly bitter fighting was for souls as much as lives.

Both sides battled for love of Country and Constitution and both sides knew they were right.

At the heart of the savage clash of ideologies, bionic detective Misty Knight and her ninja partner Colleen Wing assembled a squad of warriors to do some real good during the worst of times…

Knight and Wing – the Daughters of the Dragon – were former associates of Power Man & Iron Fist, and revived their old firm Heroes for Hire to apprehend metas who refused to comply with the SHRA.

However the new squad – ex-thief Black Cat, Kung Fu Master Shang-Chi, insect avatar Humbug, sadistic martial arts polymath Tarantula and super-mercenary Paladin – soon found themselves at odds with the tricky path they were following as their promised role (only apprehending villains) began to suffer increasing “mission creep”…

Moreover as they tracked their sanctioned targets, they lost a comrade (Atlantean powerhouse Orka), credibility and the trust of all sides in the Civil War…

This collection, gathering issues #11-15 and primarily scripted by Zeb Wells, brings down the curtain on the second Heroes for Hire series (spanning August to December 2007) and saw the team founder and die amidst internal strife and the end of the world …

This particular Armageddon was the result of The Incredible Hulk returning to Earth after months away on another planet.

He had been peremptorily exiled to a brutal, barbaric world by Reed Richards, Dr. Strange and Tony Stark but found lasting love and family there. However, when the savage paradise was destroyed by Earthly technology, the Grim Green Giant returned to his homeworld at the head of an alien coalition of survivors dubbed The Warbound, determined to exact vengeance in kind…

The frantic call to arms begins in ‘Infestation’ (illustrated by Clay Mann & Terry Pallot) as the H4H team land in New York after a mission in the antediluvian Savage Land and walk into a city under martial law.

The job had been to capture a missing link Homo Habilis specimen (dubbed Moon Boy) for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s science division, but during the expedition, unknown to the others, insect avatar Humbug was taken by colossal bugs long-vanished from the rest of the world, leaving his friends to believe him dead and eaten.

He was subsequently found, but somehow changed: no longer the whiny clown they knew. Powerful, confident and slightly frightening, he informed them that they had to rush home to fight a threat to the entire planet. His friends had no idea what Earth’s ancient insect masters of had transformed their laughable companion into…

Brought up to speed by S.H.I.E.L.D., the heroes join the mobilisation to resist Hulk and the Warbound, ignoring the bizarre warnings of Humbug that the true threat was “the warrior-beetle and his queen”…

Seeing no profit, Paladin leaves even as the frantic insect master, wracked by inexpressible contacts with the invader-bugs, rushes off into the locked-down city. Following, Shang-Chi and the others discover their deranged comrade stalking bizarrely cute insect scavengers. As they try to befriend one of the “Hivelings”, Humbug casually dismembers it and showers them with its “blood”…

These tales were accompanied by a sidebar serial, ‘Killer Instincts’ (by Fred Van Lente, John Bosco & Pallot), wherein the absconding Paladin discovers S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new super-agent Scorpion raiding the NYPD’s confiscated super-weapon and evidence warehouse and gets into a fight he can’t win…

‘Subjugation’ (Wells, Mann & Pallot) finds the team and Moon Boy – fully-cloaked from the scout aliens’ chemical senses by bug ichor – infiltrating the Warbound flagship until the ultra-advanced King Miek penetrates the subterfuge.

Humbug chooses to slip away rather than warn his companions, leaving them all to be captured as he confronts the true threat to Earth. Tragically when he faces the sinister Brood Queen her presence is too much and the man-bug becomes her helpless thrall…

Meanwhile, back at ‘Killer Instincts’ (Van Lente, Bosco & Pallot), the struggle between Paladin and Scorpion escalates as both combatants begin employing all the stashed gimmicks impounded there…

‘Incarceration’ reveals how the situation goes from bad to worse as Humbug turns on his former comrades, allowing them to be tortured. However, whereas the Brood Queen sees his connection to Earth’s insect overlords as a means of subverting the entire planet – and making it her new global nest – Miek only sees a rival…

When the King demands to know which one of the infiltrators killed his Hiveling, Humbug blames Tarantula. Shocked and appalled, but refusing to snitch on Humbug, Colleen claims she did it and both women are dragged off to be tortured to death…

‘Killer Instincts’ concludes with the apparent death of Paladin, but the whole fight has been orchestrated as a test, with Scorpion utterly unaware who has been pulling her psychotic strings…

‘Procreation’ (Wells, Alvin Lee, Mann & Pallot) then finds Misty, Shang, Black Cat and Moon Boy casually discarded in Central Park as their framed companions are made the hosts and food for a new generation of horrific bugs…

As the Brood Queen prepares to do likewise to all of New York, Paladin steals a S.H.I.E.L.D. super-tank, links up with the remaining members of Heroes For Hire and leads a last charge into the proto-nest under MadisonSquareGarden…

The final confrontation comes in ‘Extermination’ (with art by Lee, Leonard Kirk, Alé Garcia, James Cordeiro & Pallot) as the heroes brutally clash with Humbug and discover how little humanity remains in his ghastly mutated form.

Defeated and discarded by their former sidekick, the Heroes regroup to rescue Colleen and Tarantula.

As Humbug agonisingly transforms into his ultimate form, the surprise secret weapon of the Insect Lords ends the threat of the Brood Queen, and one member of H4H takes uncharacteristic measures to end both Humbug’s dishonourable career and a beloved comrade’s eternal suffering.

Tragically, even in the aftermath of it all, there’s one final betrayal for the broken heroes to endure…

Dark, destructive and decidedly downbeat, this turbulent tome closed the books on the Commerce-fuelled Champions with a distinct tinge of unfinished business and led to a third iteration in 2010…

Before this lot shut up shop, however, there’s still space to mention that this collection includes a cover gallery by Clayton Henry, Takeshi Miyazawa, Sana Takeda & Francis Tsai, and again strongly recommend this splendidly gritty, witty, funny, fast-paced and spectacularly action-packed series which will surely delight all older fans of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction.
© 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.