Avenging Spider-Man: My Friends Can Beat Up Your Friends


By Zeb Wells, Joe Madureira, Greg Land, Leinil Francis Yu, Jay Leisten & Gerardo Alanguilan (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-509-3

Since Spider-Man first joined the Avengers he has spent a lot of time questioning his worth and fittingness and that nervous insecurity informs this delightful compendium of brief sidebar stories starring the wall-crawler and individual members of the World’s Mightiest Heroes in team-up action.

Collecting the first five issues of team-up title The Avenging Spider-Man, which began at the end of 2011 – presumably to capitalise on the then-impending Avengers film release – this engaging and upbeat compendium is as big on laughs as mayhem, as you’d expect with award-winning Robot Chicken scripter Zeb Wells at the keyboard…

The madcap mayhem begins with a three-part collaboration illustrated by Joe Madureira and co-starring military monolith Red Hulk wherein the subterranean Moloids once ruled over by the Mole Man attack during the New York Marathon and kidnap Mayor J. Jonah Jameson.

The only heroes available are the criminally mismatched and constantly bickering web-spinner and Crimson Colossus, who follow, by the most inconvenient and embarrassing method possible, the raiders back into the very bowels of the Earth…

There they discover that an even nastier race of deep Earth dwellers, the Molans, led by a brutal barbarian named Ra’ktar, have invaded the Mole Man’s lands and now are intent on taking the surface too. The only thing stopping them so far is a ceremonial single-combat duel between the monstrous Molan and the surface world “king” Mayor Jameson…

Understandably Red Hulk steps in as JJJ’s champion, with the Wall-crawler revelling in his own inadequacies and insecurities again, but when Ra’ktar kills the Scarlet Steamroller (don’t worry kids, it’s only a flesh wound: a really, really deep, incredibly debilitating flesh wound) Spider-Man has to suck it in and step up, once more defeating impossible odds and saving the day in his own inimitable, embarrassing and hilarious way…

Next up is a stand alone story pairing the web-spinner with the coolly capable and obnoxiously arrogant Hawkeye (limned by Greg Land & Jay Leisten) which superbly illustrates Spider-Man’s warmth, humanity and abiding empathy as the fractious allies foil an attempt by the sinister Serpent Society to unleash poison gas in the heart of the city, but without doubt the undisputed prize here is a magical buddy-bonding yarn featuring Captain America which charismatically concludes this compendium.

The wonderment begins when some recently rediscovered pre-WWII comics strips by ambitious and aspiring kid-cartoonist Steve Rogers leads to a mutual acknowledgement of both Cap and Spidey’s inner nerd… and just in case you’ve no soul, there’s also plenty of spectacular costumed conflict as the Avengers track down and polish off the remaining scaly scallywags of the Serpent Society in a cracking yarn illustrated by Leinil Francis Yu & Gerardo Alanguilan…

By turns outrageous, poignant, sentimental, suspenseful and always intoxicatingly action-packed, this is a welcome return to the good old fun-stuffed thriller frolics Spider-Man was born for…

™ & © 2012 Marvel and subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A, Italy. All Rights Reserved. A British edition published by Panini UK, Ltd.

Fear Itself


By Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Scott Eaton, Stuart Immonen & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-494-2

Recently at Marvel, colossal braided mega-crossover events have been somewhat downplayed in favour of smaller mini-epics (the last biggie was Secret Invasion in 2008, I think), but following the release of the Captain America and Thor movies – not to mention the upcoming Avengers celluloid blockbuster – the time obviously seemed right to once more plunge their entire Universe into cataclysmic chaos and rebirth.

Collecting the one-shot Fear Itself Prologue: the Book of the Skull (March 2011) and the subsequent seven-issue core miniseries (which branched out into 30-odd other regular titles, miniseries and specials) this certainly spectacular puff-piece effectively presents a world-changing blockbuster via the comic equivalent of edited highlights whilst tempting readers to find the detail in the numerous spin-off books.

Quite simply: you can happily have old-fashioned funny-book fun and thrills just reading the basic story here and, should you want more, that’s available too

‘Book of the Skull’ by Ed Brubaker, Scott Eaton & Mark Morales follows Sin, daughter of the Fascist monster as she and Baron Zemo uncover a mystic weapon summoned to Earth during World War II, but rendered temporarily harmless in 1942 by The Invaders Captain America, Bucky and Sub-Mariner.

Only it wasn’t so much harmless as waiting for someone with the right blend of madness, need, hunger and sheer evil to wield it…

‘Fear Itself’ by Matt Fraction, Stuart Immonen & Wade von Grawbadger then opens with ‘The Serpent’ as global civil unrest and disobedience escalates into rioting as Sin picks up the mystic hammer which has been waiting for her, and transforms her into Skadi, herald of a dark and deadly menace from out of antediluvian Asgardian history…

The Home of the Gods has fallen to Earth in Oklahoma and, as Iron Man and the Avengers rally there to rebuild the Shining City, Odin appears and forcibly abducts the entire populace, even Thor, whom he has to batter into unconsciousness first.

Meanwhile Skadi has freed ancient fear-feeding god the Serpent from his prison on the sea-floor…

Soon seven other hammers turn the world’s most powerful denizens into harbingers of terror and mass destruction in ‘The Worthy’…

The Juggernaut, Hulk, Absorbing Man, Titania, Attuma, Grey Gargoyle and Thing are devastating the planet, generating global fear to feed the freed Asgardian outcast and in ‘The Hammer that Fell on Yancy Street’ the Avengers suffer their first tragic fatality, whilst in the nether-space which once housed the Citadel of the Gods the imprisoned Thor joins a secret rebellion against the clearly deranged Odin.

The All-Father plans to starve the fear-feeding Serpent of his food-source by scouring Earth of all life…

With ‘Worlds on Fire’ and the carnage and bloodletting ever-increasing, Thor escapes to Earth determined to aid his human allies and thwart his father’s insane scheme, just as retired hero Steve Rogers once again takes up the mantle of America’s Greatest Hero, and Iron Man forms an unlikely alliance to craft magical weaponry to combat the chaos before ‘Brawl’ finds the hammer-wielding Worthy uniting to crush human resistance, with the death-toll and slaughter escalating to extinction-event levels in ‘Blood-Tied & Doomed’ before Iron Man returns to turn the tide and save what remains of the day and humanity in the cataclysmic finale ‘Thor’s Day’ as the true history of the Gods is revealed and all Earths heroes, human, mortal or other, unite for one tragic last hurrah…

And make no mistake, this time even some of the A-list stars don’t make it…

Not that that means anything in comics, but it does make for an impressive – and breathtaking, beautifully illustrated – read, whilst the four portentous Epilogues (by a host of guest-creators) hint at more horror and heartbreak to come…

Owing far more to the aforementioned recent rash of movies and the general timbre of the times than the rugged mythologies created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, this is nevertheless a pretty effective cosmic punch-up which resets the playing field for the next few years and should make very friendly future reading for new and returning fans tantalised by the company’s Hollywood iterations.

With a splendid gallery of variant covers from Joe Quesada, Steve McNiven, Pablo Manuel Rivera, Guiseppe Camuncoli, Terry Dodson, Billy Tan, Humberto Ramos, Ed McGuinness, Mike McKone, this plot-light and action-overloaded epic should delight newer or less continuity-locked readers of Costumed Dramas and adventurous art lovers everywhere…

™ & © 2012 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. Italy. A British Edition by Panini UK Ltd.

Essential Hulk volume 4


By Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart, Herb Trimpe, John Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-7851-2193-5

By the close of the 1960s the Incredible Hulk had settled into a comfortable niche and satisfyingly effective formula as the tragic Bruce Banner sought cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains.

Herb Trimpe made the character his own, the “house” Jack Kirby-based art-style quickly evolving into often startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by an unmatched facility for drawing technology and especially honking great ordnance and vehicles – all of which looks especially great in the crisp black and white of these magically affordable Essentials volumes. And of course no one can deny the cathartic reader-release of a great big “Hulk Smash!” moment…

This chronologically complete monochrome treat contains issues #143-170, spanning September 1971 – December 1973, and opens with an inevitable but long-delayed clash as the Jade Juggernaut battled Doctor Doom in the Roy Thomas, Dick Ayers & John Severin epics wherein the hunted Bruce Banner found ‘Sanctuary!’ in the New York Latverian Embassy. The deal was a bad one as the Iron Dictator proceeded to enslave the Gamma scientist for his bomb-making knowledge in an attempt to make his awesome alter ego into an unstoppable war machine…

The scheme went awry in ‘The Monster and the Madman!’ (Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Ayers & Severin) as the brainwashed Banner broke free of his conditioning thanks to Doom’s conflicted consort Valeria just in time for the Hulk to deliver a salutary lesson in mayhem throughout the dictator’s domain.

Incredible Hulk #145 found the monster invading a film-set in Egypt and accidentally awakening a prehistoric alien war-weapon in ‘Godspawn’, by Thomas, Len Wein, Herb Trimpe & Severin, whilst in America the military, in the form of Thunderbolt Ross, opened a dedicated anti-Hulk base named “Project Greenskin” after which Gerry Conway scripted Thomas’ plot for ‘And the Measure of a Man is… Death!’ wherein the Hulk faced sandstorms, bitter memories and the Israeli army in the deserts of Northern Egypt whilst in America the Hulkbuster base was already being infiltrated by android facsimiles constructed by the Jade Giant’s greatest foe.

As the Hulk headed instinctively homeward the infiltration threatened the US President himself and led to a catastrophic clash between Old Greenskin and The Leader as well as ‘The End of Doc Samson!’. That issue (#147) also included a moving and powerful vignette ‘Heaven is a Very Small Place!’ wherein Thomas, Trimpe & Severin took the tormented titan to the very edge of paradise before horrifying reality once more reasserted itself…

Archie Goodwin debuted as scripter – with a little plotting assistance from a very junior Chris Claremont – in ‘But Tomorrow… the Sun Shall Die!’ as the monster’s lost love Jarella travelled to Earth and a longed for reunion just as Banner was apparently cured of his curse by radical solar-energy experimentation. Unfortunately, the princess from the micro-verse accidentally brought with her a super-assassin determined to end her life at all costs and somehow triggered the sun into going nova…

Forced to become the monster once again to save his beloved, the Hulk was captured by Ross’s forces only to escape when an ancient threat returned to Earth in #149, hungry for radiation to survive in ‘… And Who Shall Claim This Earth His Own? The Inheritor!’

After dispatching that threat the Gamma Goliath wandered into the wilderness where he encountered on-sabbatical X-Man Alec Summers who had banished himself – with girlfriend Lorna Dane – to the deserts of New Mexico, terrified of his uncontrollable cosmic power in ‘Cry Hulk, Cry Havok!’ (#150 April 1972).

When Lorna encountered a menacing biker gang and an Emerald Giant violently protective of his privacy, Summers finally proved himself against the rampaging but easily distracted titan…

‘When Monsters Meet!’ pitted the Hulk against a radioactive horror resulting from a disastrous cancer-cure derived from Banner’s blood after which Friedrich, Ayers & Frank Giacoia asked ‘But Who Will Judge the Hulk?’ as the helpless Bruce Banner was sent to trial for the destruction wrought by his emerald alter ego: a guest-star studded two-parter which concluded in #153 ‘My World, My Jury!’ with additional art from Trimpe & Severin.

After explosively escaping the kangaroo court, the fugitive fury discovered ‘Hell is a Very Small Hulk!’ (Goodwin, Trimpe & Severin) when he swallowed a defective shrinking formula, created by the Astonishing Ant-Man, in a forlorn attempt to rejoin Jarella in her subatomic world. Snatched up by the face-shifting Chameleon and the assembled hordes of Hydra, the diminished brute still managed to quash their treasonous schemes – at the apparent cost of his life.

In actuality, the Hulk was shrinking in sporadic bursts, propelled into a succession of micro-worlds, including an impossible “Earth” where Nazis had won WWII in ‘Destination: Nightmare!’ before a cosmic entity named Shaper of Worlds tempted the Green Gargantuan with an empty paradise, before another shrinking spasm happily deposited him on Jarella’s world in time for ‘Holocaust at the Heart of the Atom!’ (inked by Sal Trapani) to pit him against his worst nightmare – himself – before again losing his true love to the vicissitudes of cruel fate,

Returned to Earth and normal size the Jade Goliath battled a brace of old enemies in ‘Name My Vengeance: Rhino!’ before being dispatched to the far side of the Sun and a clash on Counter-Earth with the messianic Adam Warlock in ‘Frenzy on a Far-Away World’, courtesy of Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber, Trimpe & Trapani. Meanwhile on our planet, heartbroken Betty Ross, believing her one true love was forever gone, married the over-attentive, ever present Major Glenn Talbot…

Steve Englehart took over the scripting chores with #159 and ‘Two Years Before the Abomination!’ as Banner and the Rhino returned to our embattled globe only to again be attacked by General Ross’ Hulkbuster forces; determined to kill Banner and safeguard America – and preserve his unsuspecting daughter’s new marriage…

However, the resulting conflagration awoke a comatose Gamma monster even more deadly than the Hulk…

‘Nightmare in Niagara!’ saw the misunderstood man-brute instinctively drawn to the honeymooning couple only to encounter amphibian outcast Tiger Shark in another blockbusting battle issue, after which his Northerly rampage took the Green Goliath to Canada and ‘Beyond the Border Lurks Death!’ wherein the Hulk became a reluctant ally of the recently hyper-mutated Hank McCoy – better known as the Bludgeoning Beast – in a battle against the Mimic, an old X-foe whose ability to absorb the attributes of others had gone tragically, catastrophically haywire and threatened to consume the entire Earth.

Still under Northern Lights, the Hulk encountered a terrifying horror called the Wendigo in ‘Spawn of the Flesh-Eater!’ but the maniacal man-eater harboured a tragically shattering secret which made it as much victim as villain…

Pushing ever Pole-ward the Hulk reached the top of world but could not elude Ross’ relentless pursuit. After a cataclysmic arctic clash both man-monster and his stalker fell into the clutches of Soviet prodigy the Gremlin (mutant offspring of the Hulk’s very first foe the Gargoyle: see Essential Hulk volume 1 for details) in ‘Trackdown’ and although the Gamma Giant broke free easily the American General became a highly embarrassing political prisoner…

Shambling into Polar seas the Hulk encountered a fantastic sub-sea colony of human aquatic nomads in #164’s ‘The Phantom from 5,000 Fathoms!’ and became a slave of egomaniacal Captain Omen who had created his own mobile submarine nation and roamed the ocean beds at will.

The draconian martinet had no idea how his dissatisfied clan hungered for freedom, fresh air and sunlight and would disastrously rebel to follow ‘The Green-Skinned God!’ to their doom…

Incredible Hulk #166 finally saw the Green Goliath return to New York just in time to encounter Battling Bowman Hawkeye and a brain-eating electrical monster dubbed Zzzax in ‘The Destroyer From the Dynamo!’ whilst in the sub-plot section, a bold bid to rescue Thunderbolt Ross from the Commies succeeded, but seemingly cost the life of his new son-in-law…

Jack Abel took over the inking duties in #167 with ‘To Destroy the Monster!’ as grieving widow Betty Ross-Talbot suffered a nervous breakdown and was targeted by intellectual murder mutant Modok and his agents of Advanced Idea Mechanics who needed an infallible weapon to break the Hulk.

Just as black ghetto kid Jim Wilson reconnected with the Emerald Behemoth the Hulk easily destroyed Modok’s giant Robot body but failed to prevent Betty’s abduction, but she retuned in the next issue as a Gamma-spawned avian horror programmed to destroy her former lover in ‘The Hate of the Harpy!’

Issue #169 saw the temporarily triumphant Harpy and her verdant victim trapped aboard an ancient floating fortress in the sky in ‘Calamity in the Clouds!’ and battling together against a monstrous Bi-Beast until Modok attacked and destroyed the last vestige of the sky-citadel, propelling the now human Banner and Betty onto a lost tropical island inhabited by incredible alien creatures in the Englehart, Chris Claremont, Trimpe & Abel ‘Death from on High!’ which cataclysmically concludes this fourth fabulous Essential Hulk extravaganza in tried and true bombastic style.

Before it all ends though, there’s one last treat in the form of an unused alternative cover to Hulk #166…

The Incredible Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, cartoons, TV shows, games, toys and action figures are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these yarns so why not Go Green – even if its only in monochrome and your own delirious head?
© 1971, 1972, 1973, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Hulk volume 4: Hulk Vs. X-Force


By Jeph Loeb, Ian Churchill, Whilce Portacio & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4053-5

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result stress and other factors caused him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury. As both occasional hero and mindless monster he rampaged across the Marvel Universe for decades, finally finding his size 700 feet and a format that worked, swiftly becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features.

An incredibly popular character both in comics and more global media beyond, 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 rampaging across the Marvel landscape has proliferated to inconceivable proportions. The days of Bruce Banner getting angry and going Green are long gone, so anybody taking their cues from the TV or movie incarnations will be wise to assume a level of unavoidable confusion. There are now numerous assorted Hulks, She-Hulks, Abominations and all kinds of ancillary atomic berserkers roaming the planet, so be prepared to experience a little confusion if you’re coming to this particular character told. Nevertheless these always epic stories are generally worth the effort so persist if you can.

Even if you are familiar with Hulk history ancient and modern, you might be forgiven for foundering on the odd point of narrative, so this book, collecting a more-or-less self-contained episode of gamma-generated chaos and calamity (originally published in the latter part of 2009 as ‘Code Red’ in Hulk #14-18) provides a cathartic dose of destructive diversion with a minimum of head-hurting continuity conundrums.

What you need to know: a new, intelligent, ruthless and awesomely efficient Red Hulk has been operating in America, clearly not Banner but nevertheless quite to able to hold his own against such powerhouses as The Abomination and even Thor. His origins and intentions are unknown and he guards his human identity with terrifying ferocity…

This is all part of an overlong, ongoing plot by the world’s wickedest brain trust to conquer everything (as would be later seen in the epic Fall of the Hulks) but here the action is immediate and starts in ‘Eyewitness’ (by Loeb, Ian Churchill & Mark Farmer) when mutant bounty hunter Domino accidentally sees the Red Hulk transform and flees for her life, knowing the Crimson Colossus will stop at nothing to protect his secret…

The Bloody Behemoth, who has unspecified shady links to Gamma-endowed metahuman psychiatrist Doctor Leonard Samson and professional Hulk-hunter General “Thunderbolt” Ross, gives chase, but soon loses the luck-warping mutant and so recruits a team of ruthless trackers comprising Deadpool, the Punisher, Crimson Dynamo, Thundra and Elektra with orders to silence her at all costs…

However Domino has friends of her own and in ‘Collision’ seeks help from Wolverine’s ultra-covert mutant wet-works squad which includes X-23, Archangel and Warpath: a lethal X-Force prepared to do whatever’s necessary to protect one of their own…

After a blockbusting battle the mutants seem to be gaining the upper hand until a new wild card emerges… a brutal Red She-Hulk who changes the game and demands the death of erstwhile ally Elektra in return…

‘She’ reveals plots within ploys inside schemes as the Scarlet Juggernaut betrays both sides for her hidden masters, culminating with all-out carnage in the concluding episode ‘Man in the Mirror’ as a few apparent coincidences are revealed as part of a engrossing master-plan…

With his complicity exposed Doc Samson takes centre-stage for the epilogue ‘Delilah’ (illustrated by Whilce Portacio & Danny Miki): a fascinating psycho-drama revealing the origins, motivations and hidden edges to the shrink all the heroes once trusted with their darkest, deepest secrets…

This bracing, bombastic battlebook also includes a 17 page cover gallery by Churchill, Farmer, Peter Steigerwald, Ed McGuiness, Dexter Vines, Chris Sotomayor, Dave Stewart and Jason Keith plus sketchbook/interview features with Churchill and Portacio with lots of pencil art and comedy strip bonus features ‘Hulk Gym’, ‘Hulk Movie’, ‘Hulk Date’, ‘Hulk Tonsils’ and ‘Hulk Dentist’ by Audrey Loeb, Carlos Silva & Dario Brizuela.

Whenever staggering, monumental Fights ‘n’ Tights turmoil is your fancy, the Hulk is always going to be at the top of every thrill-seekers hit list…

© 2009, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel Masterworks (volume 8): The Incredible Hulk #1-6


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-87135-594- 9   second edition: 978-0785111856

Coming out of a monster comics mini-boom and well aware of the fact that everybody loves a terrifying titan, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby didn’t look too far afield or take massive risks when they were looking to capitalise on the burgeoning success of their radical new comic Fantastic Four.

The Incredible Hulk was Marvel’s second superhero title, although technically Henry Pym debuted earlier in a one-off yarn in Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962), but he didn’t become costumed hero Ant-Man until the autumn, by which time Ol’ Greenskin was not-so-firmly established.

The Hulk crashed right into his own comicbook and after some supremely exciting exploits by Young Marvel’s finest creators, crashed right out again. After six bi-monthly issues the series was cancelled and Lee retrenched, making the character a perennial guest-star in other Marvel titles (Fantastic Four #12, Amazing Spider-Man #14, The Avengers from #1- first as a member then a recurring foe) until they found a way to rekindle the drama in their new “Split-Book” format.

Cover-dated May 1962 The Incredible Hulk #1 introduced physically unprepossessing atomic scientist Bruce Banner, sequestered on a secret military base in the desert, perpetually bullied by bombastic commander General “Thunderbolt” Ross as the hours and minutes slipped away before the World’s first Gamma Bomb test.

Besotted by Ross’s daughter Betty, Banner endured the General’s constant jibes as the clock ticked on and tension increased even while his abrasive assistant Igor constantly cajoled him for keeping the details of the G-Bomb secret.

During the final countdown Banner saw a teenager drive into Ground Zero and frantically dashed to the site to drag the boy away. Unknown to him the Igor, who has been ordered to delay the countdown, has an agenda of his own…

Rick Jones was a wayward but good-hearted kid. After initial resistance he lets himself be dragged into a safety trench, but just as Banner was about to join him The Bomb detonated…

Miraculously surviving the blast Banner and the boy were secured by soldiers, but that evening as the sun set the scientist underwent a monstrous transformation. He grew larger; his skin turned a stony grey…

In six simple pages that’s how it all started and no matter what any number of TV or movie reworkings, comicbook retcons and psycho-babble re-evaluations would have you believe it’s still the best and most primal take on the origin. A good man, an unobtainable girl, a foolish kid, an unknown enemy and the horrible power of destructive science unchecked when the sun set and darkness fell…

Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby with inking by Paul Reinman, ‘The Coming of the Hulk’ barrels along as the man-monster and Jones are kidnapped by Banner’s Soviet counterpart the Gargoyle for a rousing round of espionage and Commie-busting before simple humanity saved the day and returned the heroes to their own, less than friendly shores.

In the second issue the plot concerned invading aliens – a staple of Early Marvel Tales – and the Banner/Jones relationship settled into a traumatic nightly ordeal as the scientist metamorphosed and was summarily locked into an escape-proof cell whilst the boy stood watch helplessly. Neither considered for a moment telling the government of their predicament…

‘The Terror of the Toad Men’ was formulaic but viscerally and visually captivating as Steve Ditko inked Kirby, imparting a genuinely eerie sense of sinister unease to the artwork as grotesque invaders conquered Earth only to be repelled at the last moment by Banner – not the Jade Juggernaut. Incidentally, this is the story where the Hulk inexplicably developed his more accustomed Green tan.

Although back-written years later as a continuing mutation, the plain truth is that grey tones caused all manner of problems for the production colourists so it was arbitrarily changed to the simple and more traditional colour of creatures.

The third issue presented a departure in format as the full-length, chaptered epics gave way to complete short stories. Dick Ayers inked Kirby in the transitional ‘Banished to Outer Space’ which radically altered the relationship of Jones and the monster after the rampaging Hulk was rocketed into orbit where radiation created a mental link between boy and beast. Moreover the Hulk was now able to emerge even in daylight from there on…

The story thus far was reprised in a three-page vignette ‘The Origin of the Hulk’ and that Marvel mainstay of malice the Circus of Crime debuted in ‘The Ringmaster’ – a riotous romp of brute strength and inspired larceny.

After a double-image cover which presaged those aforementioned split-books, the Hulk went on an urban rampage in #4’s first tale ‘The Monster and the Machine’ and Rick began using a colossal cyclotron to forcibly change the beast back into Banner whilst aliens and Commies combined in unlikely fashion with the second adventure ‘The Gladiator from Outer Space!’

The Incredible Hulk #5 was a joyous classic of primal Kirby action; introducing the immortal despot Tyrannus and his subterranean empire in ‘The Beauty and the Beast!’ whilst those pesky commies came in for another drubbing when our Jolly Green freedom-fighter travelled to the East to counter the invasion of Lhasa by ‘The Hordes of General Fang!’

Despite the sheer verve and bravura of these stripped-down, simplistic classics – some of the purest most exhilarating and rewarding comics nonsense ever produced – the series was not selling and Kirby was moved on to more appreciated arenas. Steve Ditko handled the art chores for #6, which returned to a full-length epic – and an extremely engaging one. ‘The Incredible Hulk Vs the Metal Master’ involved an invasion by an alien who could mentally manipulate minerals, alloys and processed metal and almost made Earth his own. Combining superb action, sly and subtle sub-plots, tragedy, mystery and a sublime thinking man’s resolution, it was nonetheless the final issue.

After shambling around the nascent Marvel universe for a year or so, usually as a misunderstood villain-cum-monster, the Emerald Behemoth got another shot at the big time and eventually found a home in Tales To Astonish where Ant-Man/Giant-Man was rapidly proving to be a character who had outlived his time.

The rest is history…

These immortal epics are available in numerous formats (including softcover editions of the luxurious deluxe hardback under review here), but for a selection that will survive the continual re-readings of the serious, incurable fan there’s nothing to beat the substantial full-colour feel of these Marvellous Masterwork editions.
© 1962, 1963, 1989, 2003 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Incredible Hulk: Return of the Monster


By Bruce Jones, John Romita Jr. & Tom Palmer (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0943-3

Bruce Banner was a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result he would unexpectedly transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury when distressed or surprised. As both occasional hero and mindless monster he rampaged across the Marvel Universe for years, finally finding his size 700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most resilient features.

An incredibly popular character both in comics and more global media beyond, he has often undergone radical changes in scope and direction to keep his stories fresh and his exploits explosively compelling…

One of the most impressive runs of recent vintage was by noted thriller and horror writer Bruce Jones (see especially his impressive Hitchcock pastiche Somerset Holmes) who injected some long-neglected suspense and pure menace back into the saga. This slim volume (re-presenting issues #34-39 of The Incredible Hulk comicbook from 2001) combines his moody, humanistic writing with the ponderously powerful pencilling of John Romita Jr. and the slickly realistic inking of Tom Palmer to stunning effect.

Always running from the authorities and himself, Banner has finally lost all hope in the aftermath of one of the Hulk’s bouts of mindless destruction which devastated Chicago and resulted in the death of a little boy, Ricky Myers. This book opens with ‘The Morning After’ as a cold and emotionally dead Banner hides in a sleazy hotel where he encounters Jerome, a kid so smart that he knows joining a gang is the only thing that can keep someone with his kind of brains alive.

The desperate lad gets a glimpse at another option after he tries to burglarize the skinny, repressed white guy down the hall and when Jerome gets in over his head it is Banner not the Hulk who is the solution…

Incognito, restlessly wandering but with a mysterious ally keeping him one step ahead of his myriad pursuers Banner is slowly reconnecting with the humanity he has avoided ever since the monster was first created. In the wordless, deeply moving ‘Silent Running’ the fugitive narrowly escapes capture at a diner due to the inadvertent assistance of an autistic child, whilst ‘The Gang’s All Here!’ introduces a mismatched pair of assassins hired by the secret organisation actually behind the current manhunt for Banner and the Hulk.

Both the lethal killer Slater and his rival/partner Sandra Verdugo have been co-opted by a cabal of Men in Black with an unspecified interest in ramping up anti-Hulk hysteria and they definitely want Banner. They also appear to have the literal power of life and death over their unwilling agents…

With Banner’s old friend Doc Samson lured into the pursuit the cabal makes its move in ‘You Must Remember This…’ but when the gamma-fuelled psychologist is distracted by a small child’s experience of school bullying the Hulk-hunters converge and generate a colossal amount of collateral damage at the ‘Last Chance Café’, before events get totally out of hand and terrifyingly weird in the concluding ‘Tag… You’re Dead!’

Using the theme of troubled childhoods and imagery based on the classic Frankenstein films that were such an integral part of the Jade Giant’s conceptual genesis, these tales focus on Banner and judiciously limit the use of his emerald alter ego to the point where the monster almost becomes a ghost. Ever-present but never seen (the monster is only on 21 of the 144 pages of this collection and that includes covers, dream-sequences, flashbacks and spot illustrations) like a catastrophic Rebecca haunting a Midwestern Manderley, the Hulk is a oppressive force of calculated salvation and last resort rather than mere reader-friendly graphic destruction and gratuitous gratification.

Like all great monsters he lurks in the shadows, waiting for his moment…

One of the most beguiling and impressive Hulk yarns of all, this book is the first of three self-contained volumes which utterly reinvigorated the character and completely refocused the series for the 21st century. If you’re new to the series or looking for an excuse to jump back on, this is the book for you…
© 2001, 2002 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Fall of the Hulks volume 2


By various (Marvel/Panini Publishing UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-463-8

In recent years the number of Gamma-mutated monsters rampaging across the Marvel landscape has proliferated to inconceivable proportions. There are assorted Hulks, She-Hulks, Abominations and all kinds of ancillary atomic berserkers roaming the planet so it’s no more than prudent to thin the herd.

The days of Bruce Banner getting angry and going Green are long gone too, so anybody taking their cues from the TV or movie incarnations will be wise to assume a level of unavoidable confusion. Nevertheless this epic story is worth the effort so persist if you can.

Even if you are familiar with Hulk history ancient and modern, you might still founder on the odd point of narrative as this book continues the spectacular saga of the myriad rainbow-coloured gamma-morphs cluttering up the Marvel Universe becoming a brawny army of conquest for the world’s wickedest brain trust. This interim volume collects most – but by no means all – of the issues involved in a major storyline which ran through the various Hulk-related comics during the first half of 2010.

Depending on many lost crannies of lore and broad continuity this book (collecting Incredible Hulk #607-608, Hulk #21, Savage She-Hulks #1 and Red Hulk #2-4) resumes the tale of The Intel, a gang of super-smart bad-guys – the Leader, Egghead, Red Ghost, the Wizard, Mad Thinker and Dr. Doom – who stole the Lost Library of Alexandria, repository of all arcane knowledge, to further their schemes of domination.

Coming together during the early days of the Marvel Universe the cabal also purloined a cosmic-powered Hulk robot designed by Galactus which furthered their long-term plans which included creating a legion of Hulk-like servants, capturing the eight most brilliant men on the planet and of course ruling the world.

Contemporarily if not consequently there are eight Variant Hulks and analogues, but Bruce Banner is not one of them. The mysterious and all-conquering Red Hulk has stolen Banner’s gamma power, leaving nothing but a determined mortal – albeit a brilliant, determined and incredibly driven one. Banner has never been more dangerous…

The origin of the Red Hulk was partially revealed after The Intel replaced Egghead with the biological computer Modok. Events moved swiftly after Dr. Doom betrayed the cabal. Banner joined Red Hulk to stop his assorted foes as the Intel began to capture their intellectual opposite numbers.

Natural enemies, Banner and Red Hulk have become uneasy allies until the Intel are defeated, always pursuing their own agendas and watching each other for the first sign of betrayal. The Intel meanwhile have taken Reed Richards, Dr. Doom, Henry (the Beast) McCoy and T’Challa, the Black Panther and as this volume opens are moving to capture their next target – Henry Pym, size-changing superhero and Earth’s Scientist Supreme in ‘Man With a Plan’.

Chaos builds globally as the assorted Gamma gladiators: Skaar – Son of Hulk, Lyra (Hulk and Thundra’s daughter from an alternate future), Doc Samson, A-Bomb (venerable sidekick Rick Jones transformed into an atomic Abomination), Red She-Hulk and the Red Hulk all clash in interminable, inconclusive battles. Earth’s many costumed champions gather to save the day and Banner gathers his own select team of ruthless Avengers to take the battle to the Intel’s heart…

Doc Samson has been working with the evil geniuses for years and his recent indoctrination of Red She-Hulk has drawn attention from mutant warriors Elektra and Domino. More revelations about Lyra’s origins come to light in ‘The Deal’ whilst Red Hulk’s plan to destroy the cabal comes undone as the superhero assault is thwarted and the rescuers become more super-soldiers for the Intel.

In ‘Mindgame’ Banner’s schemes are no more successful: his team’s raid gathers lots of intelligence but once more The Intel’s forces ultimately overcome all opposition. The only problem they face is the increasing instability of their grotesque pawns – such as the ‘Big, Red, and Deadly!’ She-Hulk.

‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The A-Bomb’ uncovers more of Samson’s perfidy as Rick Jones realises he has been programmed as a sleeper agent to kill Banner, whilst Lyra clashes with her time-lost mother Thundra and Red She-Hulk in ‘The Savage Sex’ before the book ends on an anticipatory cliffhanger with ‘Best Case Scenario’ as, with the Intel in control of the planet Red Hulk and Banner prepare to bring it all crashing down…

Taken on its own this middle volume sounds utterly incomprehensible: a thin strand of coherent narrative picking its way through a bewildering assortment of block-busting punch-ups and arcane references, but I would advise readers to re-read the previous volume and trust to the writing of Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak, Jeff Parker and Harrison Wilcox, whom I’m sure will produce clarity and closure in the next collection….

Moreover if you’re e a fan of spectacular art the monumental illustrations by Paul Pelletier, Ed McGuinness, Carlos Rodriguez, Fernando Blanco, Ryan Stegman, Salvador Espin with Zach Howard, Vincente Cifuentes, Mark Palmer, Jason Paz, Danny Miki, Tom Palmer and Crimelab Studios are cumulatively breathtaking in scope and power. As always the book includes a gallery of the many cover variants that graced the original comicbook releases

Still flawed, but still not fatally; there’s an ominous gathering impetus that rockets the action (oh, so much action) along here despite all the problems and I’m confident that the conclusion will iron out all my current frowns. However it’s probably sound advice to re-re-read the previous volume before tackling this one and best to study both before the next one comes out…
™& © 2010 Marvel Entertainment LLC and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved. A British edition published by Panini.

Fall of the Hulks volume 1


By Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak, Jeff Parker, John Romita Jr., Paul Pelletier & others (Marvel/Panini Publishing UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-462-1
In recent years the number of Gamma-powered gargantua rampaging across the Marvel landscape has proliferated to inconceivable proportions. There are assorted Hulks, She-Hulks, Abominations and all kinds of ancillary mutations roaming the planet so it’s no more than prudent to occasionally thin the herd.

The days of Bruce Banner getting angry and going Green are long gone too, so anybody taking their cues from the various TV and movie incarnations of the Jade Giant will be more than grateful for the fifteen pages of Marvel Handbook text pages and an additional four pages of contextual catch-up data for filling in some background, but even so the story begun in this book depends overwhelmingly on a working knowledge of what’s gone before.

Even if you are familiar with the Hulk’s history, ancient and modern, you might still founder on the odd point of narrative as this book collects most – but by no means all – of the opening sallies in the major storyline which ran through the various Hulk-related comics during the first half of 2010.

Delving back and deep into many dark corners of in-house continuity this book (collecting Fall of the Hulks: Alpha, Fall of the Hulks: Gamma, Incredible Hulk #606, Hulk #19-20 and Red Hulk #1) opens in the early days of the Marvel Universe as a cabal of the planet’s smartest bad-guys – the Leader, Egghead, Red Ghost, the Wizard, Mad Thinker and Dr. Doom – begin recovering the scattered remnants of the Lost Library of Alexandria, repository of all arcane knowledge.

‘Meeting of the Minds’ outlines the plan and successes of “the Intelligencia” as they raid the Eternals’ hidden home for secrets, stealing as well a cosmic-powered Hulk robot, before going on to raid Project Pegasus (see The Thing in the Project Pegasus Saga), the hidden African kingdom of Wakanda and even sunken Atlantis among other landmarks.

Contemporarily, even though there are eight Variant Hulks and analogues, Banner is not one of them. The mysterious and all-conquering Red Hulk, who has trashed all the heroes of the Marvel Universe, has absorbed Banner’s gamma power, leaving nothing but a determined mortal – albeit a brilliant and determined one. Consequently Banner has never been more dangerous…

The origin of the Red Hulk is revealed after “the Intel” replaced Egghead with the biological computer Modok. Events move swiftly (mainly because many have been left out), but briefly, Dr. Doom betrays the rest of the cabal, Banner teams up with the Red Hulk to stop his assorted foes and the Intel move on to their greatest scheme: to capture and control the eight greatest minds on Earth.

With Red Hulk and Banner pursuing their own at-odds agendas and watching each other for the first sign of betrayal, the Intel snatches Reed Richards, Dr. Doom, Henry (the Beast) McCoy and T’Challa, the Black Panther, preparing to enter the end-game of their years-long campaign.

Meanwhile the assorted Gamma gladiators; Skaar – Son of Hulk, Jennifer Walters and Lyra (two different She-Hulks), Doc Samson, A-Bomb (venerable sidekick Rick Jones transformed into an atomic Abomination), an enigmatic Red She-Hulk and the ubiquitous Red Hulk all jockey for position and advantage in the tumultuous clash to come…

Of course this tome ends on a climactic cliffhanger, but even though it sounds utterly incomprehensible a thin strand of coherent narrative carries through this spectacularly cathartic, bombastic action epic, thanks to the inclusively referential writing of Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak and Jeff Parker.

Moreover if you’re more a fan of art than artifice the monumental illustrations by Paul Pelletier, Ed McGuinness, Carlos Rodriguez, Ryan Stegman, Vincente Cifuentes, Mark Palmer, Danny Miki, Tom Palmer and especially John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson are cumulatively breathtaking in scope and power. As always the book includes a gallery of the many cover variants that graced the original comicbook releases

Flawed, but not fatally, there’s a heady impetus that carries this tale along despite all the problems and perhaps the concluding volume will assuage even those quibbles. Best then to read the sequel before deciding whether or not this is another “Hulk Smash”…

™& © 2010 Marvel Entertainment LLC and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved. A British edition published by Panini.

The Incredible Hulk


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko & various (Lancer US/Four Square UK)
“ISBNs” 72-124 (Lancer) and 1808 (Four Square)

This is one solely for chronic nostalgics, consumed collectors and historical nit-pickers, and is all about memories and the purity of the line – and possibly nasty, mean profiteering publishers…

One thing you could never accuse entrepreneurial maestro Stan Lee of was reticence, especially in promoting his burgeoning line of superstars. In the 1960s most adults, including the people who worked in the field, considered comic-books a ghetto. Some disguised their identities whilst others were “just there until they caught a break.” Stan, Jack and Steve had another idea – change the perception.

Whilst Kirby and Ditko pursued his imagination waiting for the quality of the work to be noticed, Stan pursued every opportunity to break down the ghetto walls; college lecture tours, animated shows (of frankly dubious quality at the start, but always improving), foreign franchising and of course getting their product onto “real” bookshelves in real book shops.

There had been a revolution in popular fiction during the 1950s with a huge expansion of cheap paperback books: companies developed extensive genre niche-markets, such as war, western, romance, science-fiction and fantasy. Hungry for product for their cheap ubiquitous lines, many old novels and short stories collections were republished, introducing a new generation to such authors as Robert E. Howard, Otis Adelbert Kline, H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth and many others.

The paperback itself was not new: pioneered by German company Albatross Books in 1931 – not too long before the birth of the comic book itself – their abortive efforts were picked up and successfully adapted by publisher Allen Lane in England. In 1935 they launched Penguin Books, which in one go combined conspicuous, memorable design, genre-coding, brand awareness and product collectability in ten distinctive reprinted titles. The revolution had begun…

They were cheap, throwaway books – one could even buy them at Woolworth’s of all places, my dear! – and after some  initial resistance the market grew hugely. The hoi-polloi could now afford to read anything they pleased. In America Robert de Graf linked up with Simon & Shuster in 1939 to create the remarkably similar Pocket Books line.

The war slowed everything down by rationing paper, but also increased the acceptance of these easily portable diversions, and by the end of the affair a number of powerful reprint publishers were dominating the cheap end of the US market: Ace, Avon, Bantam, Dell – and yes, most of those companies dabbled in comic-books too…

That market changed forever in 1950 when comics and magazine publisher Fawcett established Gold Medal Books and began publishing original works in softcover.

They were so successful that they severely wounded the entire magazine market and actually killed “the Pulps”.

The hunger for escapist fiction was insatiable. Bantam Books had specialised in superhero fiction since 1964 when they began reprinting the earliest pulp adventures of Doc Savage, and they seemed the ideal partner when Marvel on the back of the “Batmania” craze, began a short-lived attempt to “novelise” their comic book stable with The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker and Captain America in the Great Gold Steal.

Far more successful were various publisher’s repackaging of their actual comics stories in cheap and cheerful softcovers: Archie produced the memorable High Camp Superheroes, Tower collected the adventures of their big two Dynamo and No-Man, DC (then National Periodical Publications) released a number of Batman books and an impressive compendium of Superman stories and Marvel, punching far above their weight, unleashed a storm of paperbacks featuring a huge number of their new stars, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Thor and of course the Incredible Hulk.

Now during the heady, turbulent Sixties pulp heroics seemingly returned: imaginative “Thud and Blunder” fantasy tales that were the epitome of “cool”, and Marvel’s canny pursuit of foreign markets instantly paid big dividends.

Their characters, creators and stories were very familiar to British readers, appearing both in Odhams’ weekly comics Wham!, Pow!, Smash!, Fantastic and Terrific, but also – since 1959 – in the black and white monthly anthologies published by Alan Class

So when Lancer began releasing Marvel’s Mightiest early adventures in potent and portable little collections it was simple to negotiate British editions for those editions.

A word about artwork here: modern comics are almost universally full-coloured in Britain and America, but for over a century black and white was the only real choice for most mass market publishers – additional (colour) plates being just too expensive for shoe-string operations to indulge in. Even the colour of 1960s comics was cheap and primitive, and solid black line, expertly applied by master artists, was the very life-force of sequential narrative.

These days computer enhanced art can hide a multitude of weaknesses – if not actual pictorial sins – but back then companies lived or died on the draughting skills of their artists: so even in basic black and white – and the printing of paperbacks was as basic as the accountants and bean-counters could get it – the Kirby’s and Ditko’s and Wally Wood’s of the industry exploded out of those little pages and electrified the readership. I can’t see that happening with many modern artists deprived of their slick paper and 16 million colour palettes…

One word of warning to potential readers and collectors of these books: the US and UK editions can vary significantly – which is why I’ve selected the Incredible Hulk for this review. The American Lancer edition with the Kirby cover, published in 1966, represents in truncated, resized form two stories from The Incredible Hulk #3 (September 1962)‘Banished to Outer Space’ which radically altered the relationship the monster and his teen sidekick Rick Jones, and the first appearance of the Circus of Crime in ‘The Ringmaster’, by Lee Kirby and Dick Ayers, and then jumps via a brief bridging sequence from The Incredible Hulk #6 (March 1963) to the Steve Ditko run from Tales to Astonish.

These are ‘The Incredible Hulk’ (Tales to Astonish #60, October 1964) by Lee, Steve Ditko and comics veteran George Roussos – under the pseudonym George Bell – which found Bruce Banner still working for General “Thunderbolt” Ross, and still afflicted with uncontrollable transformations into a rampaging, if well-intentioned, engine of destruction. The episodes were set in the Arizona/New Mexico deserts, with Cold War espionage and military themes as the narrative backdrop…

This is followed by ‘Captured at Last’ the concluding part of a battle with a spy in an indestructible battle suit, and then the Hulk’s greatest foe is introduced in ‘Enter… the Chameleon’ (not him but his boss and taken from TtA #62): stuffed with action and suspense but the real stinger is the final panel that hints at the mastermind behind all the spying and skulduggery – the enigmatic Leader – who would become the Hulk’s ultimate and antithetical nemesis.

Thus far this book and the UK Four Square paperback released in 1967 are all but identical – covers excluded of course – and apart from a Kirby pin-up page and ads for the Thor, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four companion volumes, that’s where Britain’s Hulk stops dead, whereas the Lancer volume has another full episode to go.

‘A Titan Rides the Train!’ provides an origin for the super-intellectual Leader as well as setting up a plotline where new cast member Major Glen Talbot begins to suspect Banner of being a traitor. Both editions end on frustrating cliffhangers but at least you get one more astonishing tale in the Lancer book.

Nowadays all these adventures are readily available (in colour in the Marvel Masterworks: Incredible Hulk 1962-1964 or as dynamic monochrome treasures in Essential Hulk) but for we surviving baby-boomers the sheer thrill of experiencing these books again is a buzz you can’t beat. Moreover there’s still something vaguely subversive about seeing comics in proper book form, as opposed to the widely available, larger and more socially acceptable graphic novels. Strip art might finally be winning the war for mainstream public recognition, but we’ve all lost some indefinable unifying camaraderie of outsider-hood along the way…

These paperbacks and all the others are still there to be found by those who want to own the artifact as well as the material: I suspect that whether you revere the message or the medium that carries it pretty much defines who you are and how you view comics and the world.

Wanna try and guess where I stand, True Believer…?
© 1966 and 1967 the Marvel Comics Group. All Rights Reserved.

Wolverine Battles the Incredible Hulk


By Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Jack Abel & various (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 0-87135-612-0

A little while ago I reviewed Marvel Platinum: the Definitive Wolverine (ISBN: 978-1-84653-409-6), and I rather went off on one about incomplete stories. In a spirit of placatory fairness I feel I should mention this lovely little compilation from 1989 which reproduced the full first adventure of the manic mutant with the unbreakable bones.

It all starts with ‘And the Wind Howls… Wendigo!’ (from Incredible Hulk #180, October 1974) wherein the Jade Giant bounces across the Canadian Border to encounter a witch attempting to cure her lover of a bestial curse which has transformed him into a rampaging cannibalistic monster. Unfortunately that cure meant the Hulk had to become the Wendigo in his stead…

It was while the big Green and Giant White monsters were fighting that Wolverine first appeared – in the very last panel – and that’s what leads into the savage fist, fang and claw fest that follows. ‘And Now… the Wolverine!’ (from Incredible Hulk #181 November 1974) by Len Wein, Herb Trimpe & Jack Abel, captivatingly concluded the tragic saga of both Canadian monsters, and there’s even room for the obligatory behind-the-scenes featurette. But that’s not all…

Also included is a rarely seen and wonderfully light-hearted meeting between the off-duty mutant Logan and the fun-loving godling Hercules which originally appeared in Marvel Treasury Edition #26. ‘At the Sign of the Lion’ is by Mary Jo Duffy, Ken Landgraf and a young George Perez, and shows exactly why most pubs and bars reserve the right to refuse admission…

This is a cracking little read, and shows why sometimes a little forethought is better than a big budget…
© 1986, 1989 Marvel Entertainment Group. All Rights Reserved.