Ms. Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Chris Claremont, Simon Furman, Jim Shooter, George Pérez, Bob Layton, David Michelinie, Jim Mooney, Carmine Infantino, Dave Cockrum, Mike Vosburg, Mike Gustovich, Michael Golden, David Ross & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9575-7

Until relatively recently American comics and especially Marvel had very little in the way of positive female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Although there was a woman starring in the very first comic of the Marvel Age, Invisible Girl Susan Storm took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right. They’ve come a long way since then…

Ms. Marvel launched in her own title, cover-dated January 1977. She was followed by the equally copyright-protecting Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977, and securing her own title 15 months later) and Savage She-Hulk (#1, February 1980). Then came the music-biz sponsored Dazzler who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before inevitably graduating to her own book.

Once upon a time Ms. Marvel was Carol Danvers, a United States Air Force security officer. She was first seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968): the second episode of the saga of Kree warrior Mar-Vell AKA Captain Marvel, who had been dispatched to Earth as a spy after the Fantastic Four repulsed the alien Kree twice in two months…

That series was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Gene Colan with the immensely competent Carol perpetually investigating Mar-Vell’s assumed and tenuous cover-identity of Walter Lawson for many months.

This was until Danvers was collateral damage in a devastating battle between the now-defecting alien and his nemesis Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel#18 (November 1969).

Caught in a climactic explosion of alien technology, she pretty much vanished from sight until revived as and in Ms. Marvel #1 (January 1977), heralding a new chapter for the company and the industry…

This second sturdy hardcover volume (or enthralling eBook if you prefer), collects Ms. Marvel volume 1#15-23, relevant portions of Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10-11, Avengers #197-200, Avengers Annual #10 and material from Marvel Fanfare #24, circuitously spanning March 1978 to October 1992, and leads off with an effusive Introduction from latter-day Danvers writer Kelly Sue DeConnick before the game-changing dramas commence…

Never having fully recovered from her near-death experience, Danvers had left the military and drifted into writing, slowly growing in confidence before relocating to New York City to work for publisher J. Jonah Jameson on his new project Woman Magazine.

During this time Carol learned that she had gained Kree-based abilities, psychic powers and partial amnesia: creating the role of Ms. Marvel without her own knowledge. Eventually her personality split was healed and she became a fully conscious and ferociously competent costumed champion…

With Chris Claremont scripting and Jim Mooney & Tony DeZuñiga providing the art, ‘The Shark is a Very Deadly Beast!’ opens this edition as the two-fisted titan clashes with undersea villain Tiger Shark. The action begins after Carol stumbles over him abducting the Sub-Mariner’s teenaged cousin Namorita. Despite a brief side trip to Avengers Mansion, only Ms. Marvel is on hand to provide succour in cataclysmic concluding ‘The Deep Deadly Silence!’ (inked by Frank Springer).

‘Shadow of the Gun!’ (Mooney & DeZuñiga) then enhances the X-Men connection by introducing shape-shifting mutant Mystique in a raid on S.H.I.E.L.D. to purloin a new super-weapon which then sees impressive service in #18’s ‘The St. Valentine’s Day/Avengers Massacre!’ (inked by Ricardo Villamonte): a blockbuster battle featuring the beginnings of a deadly plot originating at the heart of the distant Kree Imperium.

The scheme swiftly culminates in ‘Mirror, Mirror!’ (art by Carmine Infantino & Bob McLeod) as the Kree Supreme Intelligence attempts to reinvigorate his race’s stalled evolutionary path by kidnapping Earth/Kree hybrid Carol Danvers. However, with both her and Captain Marvel hitting hard against his emissary Ronan the Accuser, eventually the Supremor and his plotters take the hint and go home empty-handed…

Ms. Marvel #20 highlights a huge makeover as Danvers dumps her Mar-Vell-inspired uniform and finally finds her own look and identity in ‘The All-New Ms. Marvel’ courtesy of Claremont, Dave Cockrum & Bob Wiacek.

Here the utterly re-purposed hero tackles a hidden kingdom of predatory, intelligent, post-atomic dinosaurs infesting the American deserts, leading to a catastrophic clash with ‘The Devil in the Dark!’ (inked by Al Milgrom) in the following issue.

Now one of the most hands-on, bombastic battlers in the Marvel pantheon, Ms. M is more than ready for a return match with Death-Bird in ‘Second Chance!’ (art by Mikes Vosburg & Zeck) but thrown for a total loop in her personal life after being fired from Woman Magazine.

All these bold changes came too late as the series’ dwindling sales had earmarked it for cancellation. ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ (inked by Bruce D. Patterson) resolves a long-running plot thread involving the disappearance of old friend Salia Petrie in a tale guest-starring the time-travelling Guardians of the Galaxy, just in time for the end of the road.

The series stopped there but two more stories were in various stages of preparation. They eventually saw print in 1992 (the Summer and Fall issues of oversized anthology publication Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10-11). Here they are presented in an originally untitled yarn dubbed ‘Sabretooth Stalks the Subway’: a ferocious fight against the feral mutant maniac by Claremont & Vosburg, followed by ‘Cry, Vengeance!’ (Claremont, Simon Furman, Vosburg & Mike Gustovich) as Ms. Marvel, now a card-carrying Avenger, faces off against Mystique and her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

This tale incorporates an additional section explaining how Carol is later attacked by young mutant Rogue, permanently loses her powers and memory and is eventually reborn as the cosmic-powered adventurer Binary: which is all well and good but somewhat takes the punch out of the later tales in this collection…

Relegated to an ensemble role in the Avengers, Danvers’ life took a strange and disturbing turn in Avengers 197-199 (July to September 1980 and represented here by pertinent extracts from those issues).

Written by David Michelinie with art from Infantino & Brett Breeding and George Pérez & Dan Green, these snippets follow a strange and terrifyingly rapid transformation as Carol finds herself impossibly pregnant and bringing an unknown baby to term in a matter of days…

The mystery is solved in ‘The Child is Father To…?’ (Avengers #200, October 1980 by plotters, Jim Shooter, Pérez & Bob Layton, scripter Michelinie, illustrated by Pérez & Green). The baby is born and hyper-rapidly matures as time goes wild, with different eras overwriting the present. The unearthly child begins building a machine to stabilise the chaos but the heroes misunderstand his motives.

“Marcus” claims to be the son of time-master Immortus, trying to escape eternal isolation in other-dimensional Limbo by implanting his essence in a mortal tough enough to survive the energy required for the transfer.

Literally reborn on Earth, his attempts to complete the process are foiled by the World’s Most Confused Heroes and he is drawn back to his timeless realm. Carol, declaring her love for Marcus, unexpectedly goes with him…

Ms. Marvel only plays a peripheral role in ‘By Friends… Betrayed!’ (Avengers Annual #10 (1981, by Claremont, Michael Golden & Armando Gil), as powerless, amnesiac Carol is rescued from drowning by Spider-Woman, prior to Mystique launching an all-out attack on the World’s Mightiest Heroes whilst attempting to free the Brotherhood from custody.

In that attack Danvers’ mind and abilities are taken by power-leaching mutant Rogue, seemingly ending her adventuring life, and in the aftermath, the Avengers learn the horrific truth of her relationship with Marcus and their part in his doom…

One final sentimental moment comes with Claremont, David Ross & Wiacek’s ‘Elegy’ (Marvel Fanfare #24, January 1986) as Carol – now high-energy warrior Binary – returns to Earth to catch up with old friends and learns of the tragic death of Captain Mar-Vell…

Extras in this stellar compendium include a full cover gallery, a Ross alternative cover; ‘The RE-Making of Ms. Marvel’ promo article from F.O.O.M. #22, house ads for her 1978 makeover relaunch and biographies of all the creators involved.

Always entertaining, often groundbreaking and painfully patronising (occasionally at the same time), the early Ms. Marvel, against all odds, grew into the modern Marvel icon of capable womanhood we see today.

These stories are a valuable grounding of the contemporary champion but also still stand up on their own as intriguing examples of the inevitable fall of even the staunchest of male bastions – superhero stories…
© 1978, 1979, 1981, 1992, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Masterworks Ms. Marvel volume


By Gerry Conway, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8811-7

Until relatively recently American comics and especially Marvel had very little in the way of positive female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Although there was a woman starring in the very first comic of the Marvel Age, the Invisible Girl took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right.

The company’s very first starring heroine was Black Fury, a leather-clad, whip-wielding crimebuster lifted from a newspaper strip created by Tarpe Mills in April 1941. She was repackaged as a resized reprint for Timely’s funnybooks and renamed Miss Fury for a four-year run between 1942 and 1946 – although the tabloid incarnation survived until 1952.

Fury was actually predated by the Silver Scorpion who debuted in Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941), but she was relegated to a minor position in the book’s line-up and endured a very short shelf-life.

Miss America first appeared in the anthology Marvel Mystery Comics#49 (November1943), created by Otto Binder and artist Al Gabriele. After a few appearances, she won her own title in early 1944. Miss America Comics lasted but the costumed cutie didn’t, as with the second issue (November1944) the format changed, becoming a combination of teen comedy, fashion feature and domestic tips magazine. Feisty take-charge super-heroics were steadily squeezed out and the publication is most famous now for introducing virginal evergreen teen ideal Patsy Walker.

A few other woman warriors appeared immediately after the War, many as spin-offs and sidekicks of established male stars such as female Sub-Mariner Namora (debuting in Marvel Mystery Comics #82, May 1947 and graduating to her own three issue series in 1948). She was followed by the Human Torch’s secretary Mary Mitchell who, as Sun Girl, starred in her own 3-issue 1948 series before becoming a wandering sidekick and guest star in Sub-Mariner and Captain America Comics.

Masked detective Blonde Phantom was created by Stan Lee and Syd Shores for All Select Comics #11 (Fall 1946) and sort-of goddess Venus debuted in her own title in August 1948, becoming the gender’s biggest Timely/Atlas/Marvel success until the advent of the Jungle Girl fad in the mid-1950s.

This was mostly by dint of the superb stories and art from the great Bill Everett and by ruthlessly changing genres from crime to romance to horror every five minutes…

Jann of the Jungle (by Don Rico & Jay Scott Pike) was just part of an anthology line-up in Jungle Tales #1 (September 1954), but she took over the title with the eighth issue (November 1955).

Jann of the Jungle continued until issue June 1957 (#17) and spawned a host of in-company imitators such as Leopard Girl, Lorna the Jungle Queen and so on…

During the costumed hero boom of the 1960s Marvel experimented with a title shot for Madame Medusa in Marvel Super-Heroes (#15, July 1968) and a solo series for the Black Widow in Amazing Adventures # 1-8 (August 1970-September 1971). Both were sexy, reformed villainesses, not wholesome girl-next-door heroines… and neither lasted alone for long.

When the costumed crazies craze began to subside in the 1970s, Stan Lee and Roy Thomas looked into creating a girl-friendly boutique of heroines written by women. Opening shots in this mini-liberation war were Claws of the Cat by Linda Fite, Marie Severin & Wally Wood and Night Nurse by Jean Thomas and Win Mortimer (both #1’s cover-dated November 1972).

A new jungle goddess Shanna the She-Devil #1 – by Carole Seuling & George Tuska – debuted in December 1972; but despite impressive creative teams none of these fascinating experiments lasted beyond a fifth issue.

Red Sonja, She-Devil with a Sword, caught every one’s attention in Conan the Barbarian #23 (February 1973) and eventually won her own series whilst The Cat mutated into Tigra, the Were-Woman in Giant-Size Creatures #1 (July 1974) but the general editorial position was that books starring chicks didn’t sell.

The company kept trying and eventually found the right mix at the right time with Ms. Marvel who launched in her own title cover-dated January 1977. She was followed by the equally copyright-protecting Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977, and securing her own title 15 months later) and Savage She-Hulk (#1, February 1980). She was supplemented by the music-biz sponsored Dazzler who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before inevitably graduating to her own book.

Ms. Marvel was actually Carol Danvers, a United States Air Force security officer first seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968): the second episode of the saga of Kree warrior Mar-Vell, who had been dispatched to Earth as a spy after the Fantastic Four repulsed the aliens Kree twice in two months…

That series was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Gene Colan with the immensely competent Carol perpetually investigating Mar-Vell’s assumed and tenuous cover-identity of Walter Lawson for months.

This was until Danvers was caught up in a devastating battle between the now-defecting alien and his nemesis Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel #18 (November 1969).

Caught in a climactic explosion of alien technology, she pretty much vanished from sight until Gerry Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott revived her for ‘This Woman, This Warrior!’ (Ms. Marvel#1, January 1977) as a new chapter began for the company and the industry…

This sturdy hardcover volume (or enthralling eBook if you prefer), collecting Ms. Marvel #1-14, opens with a handy reminiscence from primary scribe Gerry Conway in ‘Welcome to the Greenhouse’ before the game-changing dramas commence…

The irrepressible and partially amnesiac Danvers has relocated to New York to become editor of “Woman”: a new magazine for modern misses published by Daily Bugle owner J. Jonah Jameson.

Never having fully recovered from her near-death experience, Danvers had left the military and drifted into writing, slowly growing in confidence until the irascible publisher had made her an offer she couldn’t refuse…

At the same time as Carol was getting her feet under a desk, a mysterious new masked heroine begins appearing and as rapidly vanishing, such as when she pitches up to battle the sinister Scorpion as he perpetrates a brutal bank raid.

The villain narrowly escapes to rendezvous with Professor Kerwin Korwin of AIM (a high-tech secret society claiming to be Advanced Idea Mechanics). The skeevy savant has promised to increase the Scorpion’s powers and allow him to take long-delayed revenge on Jameson – whom the demented thug blames for his freakish condition…

Danvers has been having premonitions and blackouts since her involvement in the final clash between Mar-Vell and Yon-Rogg and has no idea she is transforming into Ms. Marvel. Her latest vision-flash occurs too late to save Jameson from abduction but her “Seventh Sense” does allow her to track the villain before her unwitting new boss is injured, whilst her incredible physical powers and knowledge of Kree combat techniques enable her to easily trounce the maniac.

Ms. Marvel #2 announces an ‘Enigma of Fear!’ and features a return engagement for the Scorpion as Korwin and AIM make Ms. Marvel their latest science project. Whilst the Professor turns himself into an armoured assassin codenamed Destructor, Carol’s therapist Mike Barnett achieves an analytical breakthrough with his patient and discovers she is a masked metahuman even before she does. Although again felling the Scorpion, Ms. Marvel is ambushed by the Destructor, but awakes in #3 (written by Chris Claremont) to turn the tables in ‘The Lady’s Not For Killing!’

Travelling to Cape Canaveral to interview old friend Salia Petrie for a women-astronauts feature, Danvers is soon battling an old Silver Surfer foe on the edge of space, where all her occluded memories return just in time for a final confrontation with the Destructor. In the midst of the devastating bout she nearly dies after painfully realising ‘Death is the Doomsday Man!’ (with Jim Mooney taking over pencils for Sinnott to embellish).

The Vision guest-stars in #5 as Ms. Marvel crosses a ‘Bridge of No Return’. After Dr. Barnett reveals he knows her secret, Carol is forced to fight the Android Avenger when AIM tricks the artificial hero into protecting a massive, mobile “dirty” bomb, after which ‘…And Grotesk Shall Slay Thee!’ pits her against a subterranean menace determined to eradicate the human race, culminating in a waking ‘Nightmare!’ when she is captured by AIM’s deadly leader Modok and all her secrets are exposed to his malign scientific scrutiny.

Grotesk strikes again in #8 as ‘The Last Sunset…?’ almost dawns for the entire planet, whilst ‘Call Me Death-Bird!’ (illustrated by Keith Pollard, Sinnott & Sam Grainger) introduces a mysterious, murderous avian alien who would figure heavily in many a future X-Men and Avengers saga, but who spends her early days allied to the unrelenting forces of AIM as they attacked once more in ‘Cry Murder… Cry Modok!’ (with art by Sal Buscema & Tom Palmer).

Frank Giacoia inks #11’s ‘Day of the Dark Angel!’ wherein supernal supernatural menaces Hecate, the Witch-Queen and the Elementals attack the Cape, tragically preventing Carol from rescuing Salia Petrie and her space shuttle crew from an incredible inter-dimensional disaster…

The astonishing action continues in ‘The Warrior… and the Witch-Queen!’ (Sinnott inks) before ‘Homecoming!’ (Mooney & Sinnott) explore Carol’s blue-collar origins in Boston as she crushes a coupler of marauding aliens before the all-out action and tense suspense concludes as ‘Fear Stalks Floor 40’ (illustrated by Carmine Infantino & Steve Leialoha) with the battered and weary warrior confronting her construction worker, anti-feminist dad even as she is saving his business from the sinister sabotage of the Steeplejack….

This comprehensive chronicle also includes ‘Ms. Prints’ – Conway’s editorial on the hero’s origins from Ms. Marvel #1, original character sketches by John Romita Senior, a house ad, unused cover sketches by John Buscema and Marie Severin plus pages of original art by Sal B, Giacoia & Sinnott and Infantino & Leialoha.

Always entertaining, often groundbreaking and painfully patronising (occasionally at the same time), the early Ms. Marvel, against all odds, grew into the modern Marvel icon of capable womanhood we see today in both comics and on screen. These adventures are a valuable grounding of the contemporary champion but also still stand on their own as intriguing examples of the inevitable fall of even the staunchest of male bastions – superhero sagas…
© 1977, 1978, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Hulk volume 6


By Len Wein, Roger Stern, David Anthony Kraft, Gerry Conway, Chris Claremont, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, George Tuska, Keith Pollard, Jim Starlin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-7851-4540-0

Bruce Banner was a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, stress and other factors cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury. He was one of Marvel’s earliest innovations and first failure but after an initially troubled few years finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of the company’s premiere antiheroes and most popular features.

During the 1960s, artist Herb Trimpe had made the character his own; the Jack Kirby-based “house” art-style he initially employed quickly evolving into often startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by an unmatched facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance and vehicles – and, crucially, who could possibly deny the sheer cathartic reader-release rush of those spectacular “Hulk Smash!” moments…

However, by the time of the tales in chronologically complete monochrome mammoth (re-presenting Incredible Hulk #201-225 and Incredible Hulk King Size Annual #6, July 1976-July 1978) the artistic reins had passed to another illustrator who would become inextricably associated with the Jade Juggernaut whilst writer Len Wein continued to insert fresh ideas and characters, redefining the man-monster for the modern age…

The blockbusting battle-action starts with ‘The Sword and the Sorcerer!’ (illustrated by regular art-team Sal Buscema & Joe Staton) wherein the Hulk found himself in a perilously primitive world.

He had been miniaturised and inserted into the brain of Major Glen Talbot by former pursuers Dr. Leonard Samson and General Thaddeus Ross to restore the mind of Banner’s comatose rival for Betty Ross-Talbot’s affections. The radical psycho-surgery was not without complications, however, and at the moment of his greatest triumph and sacrifice the Man-Monster began uncontrollably shrinking beyond the ability of Samson’s team to reach him…

He stabilised on a sub-atomic world long enough to liberate a primitive people from the domination of a brutal despot (and demon-possessed pawn) Kronak the Barbarian before starting to diminish once more. His last stop was the promised land of his beloved and long-lost alien queen Jarella

Sadly ‘Havoc at the Heart of the Atom’ revealed how his last visit had rendered the world tectonically unstable and shattered the civilisation which once had the power to blend Banner’s mind with the Hulk’s body. Moreover the once-gentle population had turned on the queen they held responsible…

Reunited with his beloved, the simplistic brute swore to fix the problem and was soon embroiled with the antediluvian horror who first hijacked him to the Microverse and who still craved bloody revenge…

Once again evil was defeated as the ‘Assault on Psyklop!’ led to another crushing defeat for the vile insectoid and a guardedly happy ending for the man-brute as a rescue attempt from Earth brought the Hulk home, carrying the astounded Jarella with him…

Herb Trimpe returned in #204 to pencil a tale of time-bending might-have-beens as brilliant theoretician Kerwin Kronus offered to eradicate Banner’s problems by turning back time and undoing the accident which created the Hulk. Sadly, the experiment succeeded all too well: briefly forming an alternate timeline where original sidekick Rick Jones died and the time-master became an even greater menace to reality. Banner/Hulk made a heartbreaking sacrifice to close that ‘Vicious Circle’

The evergreen artist – aided by inkers Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito – remained to illustrate David Anthony Kraft’s ‘Beware the Beehive!’ from Incredible Hulk King Size Annual #6, wherein a band of mad scientists attempted to recreate their greatest success and failure.

Morlak, Hamilton, Shinsky and Zota were a rogue science collective known as the Enclave and from their hidden “Beehive” had spawned puissant artificial man Him (latterly Adam Warlock). Here and now, three of them reunite for another go at building a god they can control, but when they abduct Dr. Stephen Strange to replace their missing fourth, the magician summons the Jade Juggernaut to save him from the experiment’s inevitable consequences: a marauding, compassionless super-slave dubbed Paragon whose first tasks are to eradicate Strange and subdue mankind.

Happily, after a border-shattering, army-crunching global rampage, that’s when the Hulk kicks the wall in and goes to work…

‘Do Not Forsake Me!’ in Hulk #205 saw Wein, Buscema & Staton back to depict the most tragic moment in the Green Goliath’s tortured life as Jarella sacrifices herself to save a child from rampaging robbery robot Crypto-Man, leaving the bereft Hulk ‘A Man-Brute Berserk!’

His grief-stricken trail of destruction leads from Gamma Base, New Mexico all the way to New York City where even his friends and allies are unable to calm the green gargantuan, leading to a brutal battle ‘Alone Against the Defenders!’ who finally realise compassion is the only method that will work against their traumatised foe…

Hulk #208 finds ‘A Monster in Our Midst!’ as Bruce finally rejects ending his pain-wracked existence and begins a new and hopefully stress-free life where his alter ego will never be seen again. That resolve only lasts as long as it takes the maniacal Crusher Creel – freed as a consequence of the Jade Juggernaut’s most recent rampage – to accept a commission from a triumvirate of hooded schemers who want the Hulk dead…

However, even though ‘The Absorbing Man is Out for Blood!’ the super-thug is no match for Hulk’s unfettered fury, but his well-deserved defeat results in Banner collapsing unconscious in alley where he is eventually found by a mystic do-gooder in search of an ally…

With #210, Ernie Chan became new regular inker as ‘And Call the Doctor… Druid!’ sees both Banner and the Hulk crucial to a plan to stop immortal mutant Maha Yogi, his vast mercenary army and alien bodyguard Mongu before they complete their preparations for world domination…

Although the battles of ‘The Monster and the Mystic!’ are a close-run thing, virtue is eventually victorious, but that makes little difference to the Hulk’s once-companion Jim Wilson as he hitch-hikes across America, utterly unaware that he is the target of a vicious criminal conspiracy…

The plots hatch once Jim reaches New York where his hidden tormentors decide that he must be ‘Crushed by… the Constrictor!’ but neither they nor their ruthless high-tech hitman expected the Hulk to intervene…

With a friend and confidante who knows all his secrets, you’d expect Banner’s life to get a little easier, but the authorities will never stop hunting the Hulk, who initially realises ‘You Just Don’t Quarrel with the Quintronic Man!’ (inked by Tom Palmer) before bouncing back to trash the formidable five-man mecha suit.

As Chan returns this battle leads to a frenzied clash with a new hyper-powered hero determined to make his name by defeating America’s most terrifying monster in ‘The Jack of Hearts is Wild!’

Macabre old enemy the Bi-Beast is resurrected in #215; still hungry to eradicate humanity in ‘Home is Where the Hurt Is’ and close to succeeding after seizing control of SHIELD’s Helicarrier. Only desperate action by General Ross can save the day and the old soldier uses the carrier’s tech to shanghai Banner, letting nature take its course and hoping that the right monster wins the inevitable earthshaking battle before a ‘Countdown to Catastrophe!’ leaves the planet a smoking ruin…

A moodily poignant change of pace graces #217 as ‘The Circus of Lost Souls!’ sees the shell-shocked Hulk lost somewhere in Europe, defending a band of carnival freaks from the crooked depredations of the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime: a solid demarcation as Wein moves away from scripting in favour of simple co-plotting, allowing Roger Stern to find his own big green feet to guide the Green Goliath’s future…

It all begins with ‘The Rhino Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore’ (#218 by Wein, Stern, George Tuska, Keith Pollard & Chan) as super-strong psychologist Doc Samson takes centre stage battling the ruthless Rhino whilst in #219 Banner learns ‘No Man is an Island!’ (Wein, Stern, Buscema & Chan) after hiring on as a deck hand on a freighter, only to have it sunk from under him by submarine-based pirate Cap’n Barracuda.

Washed ashore on a desert atoll, Hulk is befriended by a deluded individual who believes himself to be Robinson Crusoe, but as events unfold an even stranger truth is revealed. After Barracuda captures the madman, it is to pluck the secret of making monsters from his broken mind but the cruel corsair has completely underestimated the ferocious loyalty and compassion of the Hulk, who unleashes devastating catastrophic ‘Fury at 5000 Fathoms!’

With Stern in complete authorial control, Sal Buscema is joined by Alfredo Alcala for #221’s ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home’ as the still all-at-sea Banner is rescued from drowning by marine explorer Walt Newell who ferries his exhausted passenger back to New York where he is recognised as Bruce Banner. Realising he has unleashed the Hulk on a major population centre, Newell exposes his own secret identity as sub-sea superhero Stingray and pursues his former guest. The battle is painfully one-sided and Stingray is near death when Jim Wilson intervenes, saving the marine crusader’s life but only at the cost of Hulk’s trust…

Wein returned for one last hurrah in #222, aided and abetted by Jim Starlin & Alcala for a creepy horror yarn as the Green Goliath tears through another unfortunate army unit before being gassed into unconsciousness. Banner awakens in the care of two children living in a cave, but they’re not surprised by the fugitive’s transformations: not since the radioactive stuff changed their little brother.

Of course now people have started disappearing and although they haven’t grasped the truth of it yet, Bruce instantly grasps what is involved in ‘Feeding Billy’ and what his intended role is…

Now firmly established, Stern began an ambitious storyline in Incredible Hulk #223 as ‘The Curing of Dr. Banner!’ (illustrated by Sal Buscema & Josef Rubinstein) saw the monster’s human half spontaneously purged of the gamma radiation that triggered the changes.

Heading for Gamma Base to verify his findings, Bruce discovers the entire facility has been taken over: mind-controlled by his ultimate archenemy…

As the crowing villain makes everyone ‘Follow the Leader!’, Doc Samson and General Ross escape and beg Banner to again sacrifice his humanity for the sake of mankind. Only the Hulk has ever defeated the Leader and their only hope is to recall and harness the beast’s unstoppable fury. Tragically, the halfway measures fail at the final moment and the villain has cause to ask ‘Is There Hulk after Death?’

With Banner seemingly deceased, his compatriots tried to jump start his system with another overwhelming dose of gamma rays and soon have cause to regret the resurrection of the original Gamma Goliath…

To Be Continued…

This catastrophically cathartic tome also includes pages taken from the Marvel Universe Handbook giving the lowdown on Jarella and the Constrictor plus an alternative cover to Hulk #206.

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, earnestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these exciting episodes, so why not Go Green – even if it’s only in monochrome and in your own delirious head?

1976, 1977, 1978, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential X-Men volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accompanied by a magical pinup of portraits by Cockrum, the saga concludes on an agonising cliffhanger with the 100th issue anniversary tale. ‘Greater Love Hath no X-Man…’ (with Cockrum inking his own pencils) sees the new X-Men apparently battle the original team before overturning Lang’s monstrous schemes forever.

However, their catastrophic clash had destroyed the only means of escape and, as a colossal solar flare threatened to eradicate the satellite-station, the only chance of survival meant certain death for another X-Man.

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

The team consisted of old acquaintance and former foe Sean “Banshee” Cassidy, Wolverine, and new creations Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus, led by field-leader Cyclops and part-timer Jean Grey – still labouring under the nom-de guerre Marvel Girl… but not for much longer…

‘Like a Phoenix from the Ashes’ (inked by Frank Chiaramonte) saw a space-shuttle spectacularly crash into Jamaica Bay. The X-Men had safely travelled in a specially-shielded chamber but Marvel Girl had to needed manually pilot the vehicle, unprotected through a lethal radiation storm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the interim a long-standing mystery is solved as the visions which had haunted Xavier are revealed as a psychic connection with a runaway princess from a distant alien empire. Lilandra of the Shi’ar had rebelled against her imperial brother and whilst fleeing had somehow telepathically locked onto her trans-galactic soul-mate Xavier.

As she made her circuitous way to Earth, embedded Shi’ar spy Shakari had assumed the role of Eric the Red and attempted to remove Lilandra’s potential champion before she arrived…

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

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

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

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

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

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

There and then though, the X-Men and Starjammers battled the Crystal’s astoundingly deadly automated guardians, as this final chapter saw the newly puissant Phoenix literally save Reality in a mind-blowing display of power and skill.

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

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

However, even though the bravura high-octane thrills of “Armageddon Now” seemed an unrepeatable high-point, Claremont & Byrne had only started. The best was still to come…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Marvel Two-in-One volume 4


By Tom DeFalco, David Michelinie, David Anthony Kraft, Jan Strnad, John Byrne, Doug Moench, Ron Wilson, Alan Kupperberg & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6284-7

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing with or battling and frequently doing both – with less well-selling company characters was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the same deal DC had long prospered from with Batman in The Brave and the Bold.

After the runaway success of Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up, the company repeated the experiment with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic and popular member – beginning with a brace of test runs in Marvel Feature #11-12 before graduating him to his own guest-friendly title. This fourth and final economical, eclectic monochrome compendium gathers together the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #78-98 and 100 (the omitted #99 being a pairing with Space Knight Rom, no longer an active Marvel licensed property) plus Annuals #6 and 7, covering August 1981 to June 1983; a period which saw the clearly weary series and concept dwindle and die to make room for straight solo vehicle for the Thing.

The innate problem with team-up tales is always a lack of continuity – something Marvel always prided itself upon – and which writer/editor Marv Wolfman had sought to address during his tenure through the simple expedient of having stories link-up via evolving, overarching plots which took Ben from place to place and from guest to guest.

That policy remained in play until the end, and here sees the lovably lumpy lummox head to Hollywood to head-off a little copyright infringement in ‘Monster Man!’ by Tom DeFalco, David Michelinie, Ron Wilson & Chic Stone. The sleazy producer to blame is actually alien Xemnu the Titan and Big Ben needs the help of budding actor Wonder Man to foil a subliminal mind-control scheme…

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #6 by Doug Moench, Wilson & Gene Day then introduces ‘An Eagle from America!’ as old pal Wyatt Wingfoot calls the Thing in to help in a battle between brothers involving Indian Tribal Land rights which had grown into open warfare and attempted murder.

The clash resulted in one sibling becoming new superhero ‘The American Eagle’, hunting his brother and a pack of greedy white killers to the Savage Land, consequently recruiting jungle lord Ka-Zar before ‘Never Break the Chain’ sees Ben catch up to them and join in a cataclysmic final clash against old enemy Klaw, Master of Sound in ‘…The Dinosaur Graveyard’

Marvel Two-In-One #79 reveals how cosmic entity ‘Shanga, the Star-Dancer!’ (DeFalco, Wilson & Stone) visits Earth and makes a lifelong commitment to decrepit WWII superhero Blue Diamond whilst in #80 ‘Call Him… Monster!’ sees Ben risk doom and damnation to prevent Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze from crossing the line with a pair of cheap punks…

Extended subplots return in ‘No Home for Heroes!’ as Bill (Giant-Man) Foster enters the final stages of his lingering death from radiation exposure. Ben, meanwhile, has been captured by deranged science experiment MODOK and subjected to a new bio-weapon, only to be rescued by old sparring partner Sub-Mariner. Before long ‘The Fatal Effects of Virus X!’ lay him low and he begins to mutate into an even more hideous gargoyle…

Helping him hunt for MODOK and a cure are Captain America and Giant-Man. Their success leads to super-genius Reed Richards taking over Bill’s treatment, resulting in the Thing heading north in #83 to ‘Where Stalks the Sasquatch!’

The most monstrous member of Alpha Flight is actually radiation researcher Dr. Walter Langkowski, but his impromptu medical consultation obliquely leads to the release of malign Indian spirit Ranark the Ravager and a Battle Royale which quickly escalates to include the entire team in ‘Cry for Beloved Canada!’

‘The Final Fate of Giant-Man!’ came in Marvel Two-In-One #85 as Spider-Woman teamed with the Thing to tackle Foster’s arch-nemesis Atom-Smasher, after which ‘Time Runs Like Sand!’ offered an astoundingly low key landmark as Ben and the sinister Sandman had a few bevies in a bar and turned the felon’s life around…

Also included was a short, sharp comedy vignette wherein Ben and godson Franklin have to deal with a bored Impossible Man and his equally obnoxious kids in ‘Farewell, My Lummox!’

The FF call in Ant-Man Scott Lang when Ben is kidnapped in #87, helping the rocky rogue defeat a duplicitous queen in the ‘Menace of the Microworld!’ after which David Anthony Kraft and Alan Kupperberg join Chic Stone in detailing a ‘Disaster at Diablo Reactor!’ with Ben and the Savage She-Hulk countering the nefarious Negator’s plans to turn Los Angeles into a cloud of radioactive vapour…

They then pit the Thing and Human Torch against deranged demagogues seeking to stamp out extremes of beauty, ugliness, weakness and strength in ‘The Last Word!’ before Jan Strnad, Kupperberg & Jim Mooney pit Spider-Man and Ben against time-bending chaos in ‘Eyes of the Sorcerer’. A new extended epic begins as DeFalco, Wilson & Jon D’Agostino reveal what lurks in ‘In the Shadow of the Sphinx!’

When mystic master Doctor Strange asks the thing to investigate a vision of Egypt, the bold battler falls into the clutches of immortal wizard The Sphinx who wants to recover his power-providing Ka-stone. On the voyage home Ben encounters robotic Avenger Jocasta, but not in time to stop her helplessly reviving Ultron in ‘This Evil Returning…!’ by DeFalco, Wilson & A. Sorted inkers…

When handmade hero Machine Man and his human assistants insert themselves into the crisis, they unexpectedly score a narrow win but not before ‘And One Shall Die…!’ (DeFalco, Wilson & D. Hands)…

Kraft, Wilson & Ricardo Villamonte then place a sympathetic and over-protective Ben in the path of Power Man & Iron Fist as they reluctantly hunt down a sad-sack fugitive the Thing has befriended in ‘The Power Trap!’ after which Kupperberg & Jon D’Agostino illustrate Kraft’s supernatural saga ‘The Power to Live… the Power to Die!’, wherein the Living Mummy helps Ben free his beloved Alicia from the glamours of an Egyptian sorcerer.

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #7 is a multi-starred battle bonanza with an Elder of the Universe visiting Earth determined to defeat the world’s greatest fighter in a boxing match. ‘And They Shall Call him… Champion!’ by DeFalco, Wilson and inkers Bob Camp, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, Dan Green & Chic Stone sees Ben improbably remain after Thor, the Hulk, Sasquatch, Wonder Man, Doc Samson, Sub-Mariner and Colossus all fall, not because of superior strength but simply because he won’t lie down when beaten…

Following immediately on, MTIO #96 depicts Ben hospitalised and gradually recuperating in ‘Visiting Hours!’ (Esposito inks). Every villain in town thinks it’s the perfect moment for payback and reputation-building but singly or collectively never considered that Ben’s superhero friends might object…

In ‘Yesterdaze!’ (Michelinie, Wilson & D’Agostino), a lucrative offer from Hollywood lands Ben in a battle with dinosaurs that are definitely not special effects. Thankfully Iron Man is around to help minimise the carnage after which ‘Vid Wars!’ (Michelinie, Wilson & Giacoia) finds Mr Grimm and little Franklin transported to an alien realm where they are trapped in a planet-sized (nigh copyright-infringing) competition against vast, voracious Pac-Man like monsters…

As previously mentioned the penultimate team-up with Rom is not included here, so the series – and this collection – ends with a return to probably Marvel Two-In-One’s greatest triumph.

Anniversary issue #50 took a powerful and poignant look at the Thing’s formative months as a monster outcast and posited a few might-have-beens. Following another failure by Mr Fantastic to cure his rocky condition, Ben stole the chemicals and travelled into his own past, determined to use the remedy on his younger, less mutated self, but his bitter, brooding, brittle earlier incarnation was not prepared to listen to another monster and inevitably catastrophic combat ensued…

For #100, John Byrne, Wilson, Giacoia & Kevin Dzuban revisited the yarn as Ben returned to that timeline in ‘Aftermath!’ What he found was Earth in ruins. Because he had cured his alternate the world was later devastated when Galactus came to consume the planet. Here and now the last survivors of humanity are struggling for their lives against the minions of the fanatical Red Skull. Tormented by guilt, the Thing joins freedom fighter Ben Grimm in liberating the last of humanity from its greatest monster…

Although the company’s glory-days were undoubtedly the era of Lee, Kirby & Ditko leading through to the Adams, Buscema(s), Englehart, Gerber, Steranko and Windsor-Smith “Second Wave”, a lot of superb material came out the middle years when Marvel was transforming from inspirational small-business to corporate heavyweight.

This is not said to demean or denigrate the many fine creators who worked on the tide of titles published after that heady opening period, but only to indicate that after that time a certain revolutionary spontaneity was markedly absent from the line.

It should also be remembered that this was not deliberate. Every creator does the best job he/she can: posterity and critical response is the only arbiter of what is classic and what is simply one more comicbook. Certainly high sales don’t necessarily define a masterpiece – unless you’re a publisher…

This closing compendium is packed with simple, straightforward Fights ‘n’ Tights meet, greet and defeat episodes: entertaining and exciting with no hint of pretension and no real need to swot up on superfluous backstory.

Even if artistically the work varies from only adequate to truly top-notch, most fans of Costumed Dramas will find little to complain about and there’s plenty of fun to be found for young and old readers. So why not lower your critical guard and have an honest blast of pure warts-and-all comics craziness? You’ll almost certainly grow to like it…
© 1981, 1982, 1983, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Amazing Spider-Man volume 7


By Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Len Wein, Ross Andru, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1879-4

After a shaky start in 1962 The Amazing Spider-Man quickly rebounded, soon proving a sensation with kids of all ages and rivalling the creative powerhouse that was Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four. Soon the quirky, charming, action-packed comicbook soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old costumed-crimebusters of previous publications.

You all know the story: Peter Parker was a smart but alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering he had developed astonishing arachnid abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the kid did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Making a costume to hide his identity in case he made a fool of himself, Parker became a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night he didn’t lift a finger to stop him, only to find when he returned home that his guardian uncle Ben Parker had been murdered.

Crazed with a need for vengeance, Peter hunted the assailant who had made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, finding, to his horror, that it was the selfsame felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility had resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and the traumatised boy swore to forevermore use his powers to help others…

Since that night the Wondrous Wallcrawler has tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them.

The Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead of – its fan-base and this seventh exceedingly enthralling monochrome compilation of chronological web-spinning adventures sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero through one of the most traumatic periods of his career.

By the time of these tales Lee’s hand-picked successor Gerry Conway was giving way to fresher authorial hands. Nevertheless, scripts continued to blend contemporary issues (which of course often feel quite outdated from here in the 21st century, Man!) with soap opera subplots to keep older readers as glued to the series as the outrageous adventure and bombastic battle sequences beguiled the youngsters.

Thematically, there’s further decline in the use of traditional crimes and gangsters, overwhelmed by outlandish villains, monsters and capers, but the most sensational advance was a super-science plot which would reshape the nature of the web-spinner’s adventures for decades to come…

Nevertheless the Wallcrawler was still indisputably mainstream comics’ voice of youth; defining being a teenager for young readers of the 1970s, tackling incredible hardships, fantastic foes and the most pedestrian and debilitating of frustrations.

High School nerd Peter Parker had grown up and gone to college. Because of his guilt-fuelled double-life he struggled there too, developed a stress ulcer but found true love with policeman’s daughter Gwen Stacy

This volume, spanning November 1974 to September 1976, collects Amazing Spider-Man #138-160, Annual #10 and incorporates team-up tales from Giant-Size Spider-Man #4-5. Eagle-eyed completists might notice the third Giant-Size issue has been omitted: that’s because there the Wallcrawler met Doc Savage and Marvel no longer hold the license to publish the magnificent Man of Bronze…

With no particular fanfare the action opens with Conway still very much in charge as ‘Madness Means… the Mindworm!’ – illustrated by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt – finds Parker relocating downmarket to Queens in time to encounter a macabre psychic parasite feeding of the denizens of the district. Then issue #139 introduces a bludgeoning brute with a grudge against J. Jonah Jameson on the ‘Day of the Grizzly!’ When Spidey intervenes he is beaten and handed over to the costumed crazy’s silent partner the Jackal who melodramatically reveals he knows the hero’s true identity. Even though Peter escapes his diabolical trap in ‘…And One will Fall!’ the maniac flees and remains at large…

A long-running comedy thread ends as the ridiculous Spider-Mobile ends up in the river, but the Wallcrawler barely has time to care as an apparently dead enemy returns in #141’s ‘The Man’s Name Appears to be… Mysterio!’

Despite the psychological assaults escalating and Pete continually questioning his own sanity, the mystery is solved in ‘Dead Man’s Bluff!’ before Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 (April 1975 and inked by Mike Esposito) which sees an eagerly-anticipated reappearance of Marvel’s most controversial antihero in an expanded role.

‘To Sow the Seed of Death’s Day’ finds the Webslinger forced into one of the Punisher’s cases when ruthless arms dealer Moses Magnum perfects a lethal chemical-weapon and begins testing it on randomly kidnapped victims.

Tracking down the monster in ‘Attack of the War Machine!’, the unlikely comrades infiltrate his ‘Death-Camp at the Edge of the World!’ before summary justice is dispensed… as much by fate as the heroes’ actions…

The Lone Gunman was created by Conway, John Romita Sr. and Andru; an understandably muted response to popular prose anti-heroes like Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan: the Executioner: the cutting edge of a bloody tide of fictive Viet Nam vets who all turned their training and talents to wiping out organised crime in the early 1970s.

Although one of the industry’s biggest hits from the late 1980s onwards, the compulsive vengeance-taker was an unlikely and uncomfortable star for comicbooks. His methods were always excessively violent and usually permanent. It’s intriguing to note that unlike most heroes who debuted as villains (Black Widow or Wolverine come readily to mind) Punisher actually became more immoral, anti-social and murderous, not less: the buying public simply shifted its communal perspective; he never toned down or cleaned up his act…

That same month in Amazing Spider-Man 143 ‘…And the Wind Cries: Cyclone!’ saw Peter in Paris to deliver a ransom for the kidnapped Jameson and battling a hyper-fast French super-villain. The story was average but the real kicker was the overly-fond farewell casual chum Mary Jane Watson expressed: a kiss that finally shifted traumatised, depressed Peter’s thoughts from his beloved and recently murdered Gwen

Conway, Andru, Giacoia & Hunt capitalised on the situation when Pete returned as #144 launched ‘The Delusion Conspiracy’ and #145 exposed a baffled girl’s confusion and terror at everyone’s reactions when she comes home and the entire world screams ‘Gwen Stacy is Alive …and, Well…?!’

With Gwen somehow resurrected and Peter on the edge of a breakdown, Aunt May was hospitalised just in time for another old foe to strike again in ‘Scorpion… Where is Thy Sting?’, but the real kick in the tale was irrefutable scientific reports which proved the increasingly bewildered Miss Stacy was not an impostor…

Giant-Size Spider-Man #5 (July 1975, inked by Esposito again) offers a strange yet welcome break from the mental tension as ‘Beware the Path of the Monster!’ sees Parker despatched to Florida to photograph the macabre Man-Thing only to discover the lethal Lizard is also loose and hunting ‘The Lurker in the Swamp!’ It takes all the web-spinner’s power and the efforts of a broken man in sore need of redemption to set things right in the climactic conclusion ‘Bring Back my Man-Thing to Me!’

Back in the Big Apple for #147, Peter finds some answers as further tests prove Gwen is a clone – remember, this was new and cutting-edge stuff in 1975 – but all too soon he’s distracted by another foe bad-guy with a grudge and hungry to prove ‘The Tarantula is a Very Deadly Beast’ (Andru, Esposito & Hunt).

It’s all part of a convoluted revenge scheme and the hero is ambushed by a mesmerised Gwen at the behest of an archfiend as ‘Jackal, Jackal, Who’s Got the Jackal?’ at last shares some shocking truths about one of Peter’s most trusted friends before the Delusion Conspiracy explosively concludes with #149’s ‘Even if I Live, I Die!’ (Andru & Esposito).

Learning he and Gwen had been cloned by their biology teacher Miles Warren, the Amazing Arachnid has to defeat his alchemical double in a grim, no-holds-barred identity-duel, with neither sure who’s the real McCoy. The battles eventually results in the copy’s death… maybe…

That moment of doubt over who actually fell informs anniversary issue Amazing Spider-Man #150, as Archie Goodwin, Gil Kane, Esposito & Giacoia take the hero down memory lane and up against a brigade of old antagonists to decide whether ‘Spider-Man… or Spider-Clone?’ survived that final fight, before new regular scripter Len Wein joins Andru & John Romita Sr. to launch a new era of adventure…

After disposing of his duplicate’s corpse in an incineration plant, Spider-Man finds time to let Peter Parker reconnect with his long-neglected friends. However a jolly party is soon disrupted as blackouts triggered by a super-menace lead the Wallcrawler into the sewers for a ‘Skirmish Beneath the Streets!’, resulting in our hero almost drowning and nearly being ‘Shattered by the Shocker!’ (Andru, Esposito & Giacoia) in the conclusive return engagement…

A moving change-of-pace tale sees a blackmailed former football star give his all to save a child in ‘The Longest Hundred Yards!’ (Andru & Esposito) but it is left to Spider-Man to make the computer-crook culprits pay, after which #154 reveals ‘The Sandman Always Strikes Twice!’ (art by Sal Buscema & Esposito) – but with little lasting effect – until murder-mystery ‘Whodunnit!’ cunningly links three seemingly unconnected cases in a masterful “Big Reveal”…

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

Much of the previous Essential Spider-Man volume was taken up with a protracted struggle for control of New York with Spidey and elderly May Parker caught in the middle. The devilish duel concluded with a nuclear explosion and the seeming end of two major antagonists but #157 exposed ‘The Ghost Who Haunted Octopus!’ when the debased long-limbed loon turned to Aunt May for his salvation.

With Peter in attendance, the many-handed menace seeks to escape a brutal ghost but their combined actions actually liberate a pitiless killer from inter-dimensional limbo in ‘Hammerhead is Out!’, leading to a savage three-way showdown with Spidey ‘Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm with Doctor Octopus’ to save the horrified Widow Parker…

A new insectoid arch-foe debuted in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10, courtesy of plotter Wein, scripter Bill Mantlo and artists Kane, Esposito & Giacoia as ‘Step into my Parlor…’ depicts obsessed Spider-hater Jameson hiring unscrupulous biologist Harlan Stilwell to create a tailor-made nemesis to eradicate the Wallcrawler.

Elsewhere that detested hero is breaking up a vicious hostage situation manufactured by psychotic Rick Deacon, but when the killer escapes and breaks into a certain lab he is rapidly transformed into a winged wonder-man hungry for payback on the web-spinner in ‘…Said the Spider to the Fly!’

This copious compendium then concludes with the opening shot in an extended epic as a criminal inventor who is one of the web-spinner’s oldest enemies recovers Spidey’s ditched vehicle and tricks it out to hunt down its original owner if #160’s ‘My Killer the Car!’ (Wein, Andru & Esposito)…

Despite some qualifications this is still a superb selection starring an increasingly relevant teen icon and symbol. Spider-Man at this time became a crucial part of many youngsters’ existence and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow.

Blending cultural veracity with glorious art whilst making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness most of the readership experienced daily resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive prime time melodrama moments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

The tales in this again proved Spider-Man was bigger than any creator and was well on the way to becoming as real as Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan.
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2011 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Captain America volume 6


By Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber, Don Glut, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5091-6

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of ferocious patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic and exceedingly bombastic response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss.

He quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased: fading during post-war reconstruction to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Land of the Free’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

He quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually however he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, after nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s successes, Jack Kirby had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamics pantheon before accepting that even he could never win against any publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce whilst enduring micro-managing editorial interference.

Seeing which way the winds blew, Kirby exploded back into the Marvel Universe in 1976 with a promise of free rein, concocting a stunning wave of iconic creations (2001: a Space Odyssey, Machine Man, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur). At the same time he was handed control of two of his previous co-creations – firmly established characters Captain America and Black Panther – to do with as he wished.

His return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial as his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity and went explosively his own way. Whilst his new works quickly found many friends, his tenures on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on Cap and the Panther as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of Captain America

This sixth Essential monochrome collection features the last contentious stories by “The King”, before Kirby quit writing, drawing and editing the Sentinel of Liberty; abruptly returning the patriotic paragon fully to Marvel’s restrictively overarching interlinked continuity.

Gathered within are Captain America #206-229 (cover-dated February 1977 to February 1978) and Captain America Annual #4 plus a bonus crossover tale from Incredible Hulk #232.

At the end of the previous volume the Fighting American had saved the nation from a conclave of aristocratic oligarchs attempting to undo two hundred years of freedom and progress with their “Madbomb”, visited another dimension and liberated its human abductee-inhabitants and spectacularly turned back an invader from the far future.

The non-stop nightmares resume here with Captain America and the Falcon #206 as ‘Face to Face with the Swine!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) sees the Star-Spangled Sensation mistakenly renditioned to deepest Central America and toppling the private kingdom and hunting ground of psychotic sadist Comandante Hector Santiago, unchallenged monarch of the prison of Rio del Muerte

Never one to go anywhere meekly, Cap escapes and begins engineering the brute’s downfall in ‘The Tiger and the Swine!!’ but soon finds the jungles conceal genuine monsters. When they exact primal justice on the tormentors, Cap’s escape with the Swine’s cousin Donna Maria down ‘The River of Death!’ is interrupted by the advent of another astounding “Kirby Kreation”… ‘Arnim Zola… the Bio-Fanatic!!’

The former Nazi geneticist was absolute master of radical biology, dragging Cap and Donna Maria to his living castle and inflicting upon them a horde of diabolical homunculi at the behest of a mysterious sponsor even as the Avenger’s partner Falcon was closing in on his long-missing pal.

Indomitable against every kind of shapeshifting horror, Captain America battles on, enduring a terrible ‘Showdown Day!’ (with Mike W. Royer taking over the inking) whilst back home his girlfriend Sharon Carter uses her resources as SHIELD’s Agent 13 to trace wealthy Cyrus Fenton and expose ‘Nazi “X”!’ as the Sentinel of Liberty’s greatest nemesis…

With his time on the title counting down, Kirby ramped up the tension in #212 as ‘The Face of a Hero! Yours!!’ finds Zola preparing to surgically give the Red Skull Cap’s form, resulting in a cataclysmic clash which leaves the hero bloodied and blind, but ultimately victorious…

With the hero recuperating in hospital, Dan Green steps in to ink #213 as ultimate assassin ‘The Night Flyer!’ targets the ailing Captain America at the behest of unfettered capitalist villain Kligger from the insidious Corporation, but inadvertently triggers the return of the victim’s vision in blockbusting – if abrupt – conclusion ‘The Power’ (Royer inks)…

Reading slightly out of sequence here, Captain America Annual #4 ‘The Great Mutant Massacre!’ ends the Kirby contribution to the career of the Star-Spangled Avenger: a feature- length super-shocker which again eschewed convoluted back-story and the cultural soul-searching which typified the character before and after Kirby’s tenure.

It saw America’s Ultimate Fighting Man strive against humanity’s nemesis Magneto and his latest mutant recruits Burner, Smasher, Lifter, Shocker, Slither and Peeper. This riot of rampaging action and end-of-the-world wonderment pitted the Sentinel of Liberty against a Homo Superior hit-squad aiming to take possession of a super-powered being whose origins were far stranger than anybody could conceive…

When Kirby moved on it left a desperate gap in the schedules. Captain America #215 saw Roy Thomas, George Tuska & Pablo Marcos remix the hero’s origin story for the latest generation with ‘The Way it Really Was!’: reiterating also the history of the heroes who also wore the red, white & blue uniform whilst Steve Rogers was entombed in ice and ending with our hero desperately wondering who the man beneath the mask might be…

For all that, #216 was mostly a reprint. With a framing sequence by Thomas, Dave Cockrum & Giacoia ‘The Human Torch meets…Captain America!’ was written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Kirby & Dick Ayers, rerunning November 1963’s Strange Tales #114. It featured the return of the third of Timely Comics’ Golden Age Big Three – or at least an impersonation of him by the insidious Acrobat – in a bombastic battle romp.

Here’s a quote from the last panel…

“You guessed it! This story was really a test! To see if you too would like Captain America to Return! As usual, your letters will give us the answer!” I wonder how that turned out?

‘The Search for Steve Rogers!’ by Thomas, Don Glut, John Buscema & Marcos began in #217 and with SHIELD’s record division, but the Falcon was soon distracted by a surprising job offer as Nick Fury, busy with the hunt for the Corporation, asked Cap’s partner to train the agency’s newest project: the SHIELD Super-Agents

These neophyte wonders consisted of Texas Twister, Blue Streak, Vamp and a rather mature Marvel Boy, but the team was already flawed and deeply compromised…

Issue #218 saw Cap targeted by a Corporation agent and fed data which turned his legendarily-fragmented memory to his thawing from the ice. Heading north to retrace his original journey, Cap spent ‘One Day in Newfoundland!’ (Glut, Sal Buscema & John Tartaglione) and uncovered a secret army, an old foe and a colossal robotic facsimile of himself…

In #219 ‘The Adventures of Captain America’ (Glut, Sal B & Joe Sinnott) reveals how, during WWII, the hero and junior partner Bucky were ordered to investigate skulduggery on the set of a movie serial about them and exposed special effects wizard Lyle Dekker as a highly-placed Nazi spy.

Now in modern-day Newfoundland that warped genius has built a clandestine organisation with an incredible purpose; revealed in ‘The Ameridroid Lives!’ (inked by Tartaglione & Mike Esposito) as the captive crusader is mind-probed and dredges up shocking submerged memories.

When he and Bucky were chasing a swiftly launched secret weapon at the end of the war, the boy died and Steve Rogers fell into the North Atlantic and was frozen in a block of ice until found and thawed by the Avengers. At least, he always thought that’s how it happened.

Now as the probe does its devilish work, Captain America remembers that he was in fact picked up by Dekker after the spy was punished by the Red Skull and exiled for his failures. Deciding to work only for his own interests, Dekker then attempted to transfer Cap’s power to himself and it was only in escaping the original Newfoundland base that Rogers crashed into the sea and froze…

Now decades later, the vile scheme is finally accomplished: Cap’s energies are replicated in a fifteen foot tall super-android with the aging Dekker’s consciousness permanently embedded in its metal and plastic brain.

…And only then does the fanatic realise he’s made himself into a monster at once unique, solitary and utterly apart from humanity…

The deadline problems still hadn’t eased and this episode is chopped in half with the remainder of the issue giving Falcon a short solo outing as ‘…On a Wing and a Prayer!’ by Scott Edelman, Bob Budiansky & Al Gordon finds the Pinioned Paladin hunting a mad archer who has kidnapped his avian ally Redwing…

The remainder of the Ameridroid saga appears in Captain America #221 as Steve Gerber and David Kraft co-script ‘Cul-De-Sac!’, wherein the marauding mechanoid is finally foiled by reason not force of arms whilst ‘The Coming of Captain Avenger!’ (Edelman, Steve Leialoha & Gordon) provides another space-filling vignette with former sidekick Rick Jones being given a tantalising glimpse of his most cherished dreams…

Issue #222 sees Gerber fully in the writer’s seat as ‘Monumental Menace!’ (by Sal B, Tartaglione & Esposito) as “The Search for Steve Rogers” storyline moves to Washington DC.

As our hero examines army records at the Pentagon, the Corporation’s attempts to destroy him become more pronounced and bizarre. After escaping an animated, homicidal Volkswagen Steven Grant Rogers learns at last that he was once the son of a diplomat and lost a brother at Pearl Harbor (all these revelations were later rather ingeniously retconned out so don’t worry about spoilers). Soon however events spiral and Liberty’s Sentinel is attacked by the Lincoln Memorial, sacrilegiously brought to lethal life…

The madness continues as the hulking, monstrous horror responsible screams ‘Call Me Animus’ before unleashing a succession of blistering assaults which result in hundreds of collateral casualties before being finally repulsed…

The epic is again interrupted as Peter Gillis, Mike Zeck, Esposito & Tartaglione contrive a thrilling mystery with a battered Cap awakening in a river with partial amnesia and a new face. Forced to find out what happened to him, the sinister trail leads to guest-villains Senor Suerte and Tarantula in ‘Saturday Night Furor!’

The Search Saga resumes in #225 as ‘Devastation!’ (Gerber, Sal Buscema, Esposito & Tartaglione) as Fury gives Captain America access to incarcerated mind-master Mason Harding (inventor of the “Madbomb”,as seen in Essential Captain America volume 5) who uses his embargoed technology to unseal the Avenger’s closed memories at long last…

Sadly the cathartic shock has terrifying repercussions: although Rogers regains many memories, the mind machines somehow denature the Super-Soldier serum in his blood and he is forced to ask ‘Am I Still Captain America?’ when his perfect warrior’s frame reverts to the frail, sickly mess it used to be.

New scripter Roger McKenzie begins his superb run of tales – with Sal B, Esposito & Tartaglione still illustrating – as SHIELD puts all its resources into restoring the One Man Army but is suddenly brought low by an invasion of body-snatching Red Skulls.

Back in fighting trim, the incursion is repelled by the resurgent Patriotic Paragon in ‘This Deadly Gauntlet!’ but the aftermath sees the too-often compromised Peacekeeping agency mothball many of its facilities. During the closure and destruction of the Manhattan branch, Cap is ambushed by the Constrictor in #228’s ‘A Serpent Lurks Below’ and subsequently gets his first real lead on the Corporation…

The trail leads back to Falcon and the Super Agents, and with ‘Traitors All About Me!’ the Cap exposes the rotten apples working for Kligger – and another enemy force – leading to a spectacular ‘Assault on Alcatraz!’ (McKenzie, Roger Stern, Sal Buscema & Don Perlin) to rescue hostage friends and end the Corporation’s depredations in Captain America #230…

While this solely unfolding epic was entertaining readers here, fans of the Hulk were reading of equally shady shenanigans in his title (and Kirby’s Machine Man) where the Corporation’s West Coast Chief Curtiss Jackson was ruthlessly enacting his own perfidious plans. This volume concludes as parallel plotlines converge into a bombastic action-extravaganza as the crossover conclusion from Incredible Hulk #232. ‘The Battle Below’ by Stern, David Michelinie, Sal Buscema & Esposito…

The King’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read and this stuff is as good as any of his post Fourth World stuff. However, it does make the collection a bit of a double-edged treat. Engaging and impressive as the last two thirds of this volume is, the stories are worlds away in style, form and content from the perfect imaginative maelstrom of Kirby at his creative peak.

Not better but very, very different.

You can hate one and love the other, but perhaps it’s better to try to appreciate each era on its own merits…

Fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing fights ‘n’ tights masterpieces no fan should ignore and above all else, fabulously fun tales of a true American Dream…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Captain Marvel volume 2


By Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Mike Friedrich, Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart, Chris Claremont, Wayne Boring, Al Milgrom, Alfredo Alcala & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4536-3

In 1968, upstart Marvel was in the ascendant. Their sales were rapidly overtaking industry leaders National/DC and Gold Key Comics and, having secured a new distributor which would allow them to expand their list of titles exponentially, the company was about to undertake a creative expansion of unparalleled proportions.

Once each individual star of “twin-books” Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales was awarded their own title the House of Ideas just kept on going. In progress was a publishing plan which sought to take conceptual possession of the word “Marvel” through both reprint series like Marvel Tales, Marvel Collectors Items Classics and Marvel Super-Heroes. Eventually showcase titles such as Marvel Premiere, Marvel Spotlight and Marvel Feature also proudly trumpeted the name so another dead-cert idea was to publish an actual hero named for the company – and preferably one with some ready-made cachet and pedigree as well.

After the infamous DC/Fawcett copyright court case of the 1940s-1950s, the prestigious designation Captain Marvel disappeared from newsstands. In 1967, during the “Camp” craze superhero boom generated by the Batman TV series, publisher MLF secured rights to the name and produced a number of giant-sized comics featuring an intelligent robot who (which?) could divide his body into segments and shoot lasers from his eyes.

Quirky, charming and devised by the legendary Carl Burgos (creator of the Golden Age Human Torch), the series nevertheless failed to attract a large following in that flamboyantly flooded marketplace and on its demise the name was quickly snapped up by Marvel Comics Group.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a brand new title: it had been reconfigured from double-sized reprint title Fantasy Masterpieces, which comprised vintage monster-mystery tales and Golden Age Timely Comics classics, but with the twelfth issue it added a showcase section for characters without homes such as Medusa, Ka-Zar, Black Knight and Doctor Doom, plus new concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy and Phantom Eagle to try out in all-new stories.

To start the ball rolling, it featured an alien spy sent to Earth from the Kree Galaxy. He held a Captain’s rank and his name was Mar-Vell.

After two appearances Captain Marvel catapulted straight into his own title and began a rather hit-and-miss career, battling spies, aliens, costumed cut-ups such as Sub-Mariner, Mad Thinker and Iron Man but most especially elements of his own rapaciously colonialist race – such as imperial investigative powerhouse Ronan the Accuser – all the while slowly switching allegiances from the militaristic Kree to the noble, freedom-loving denizens of Earth.

Disguised as NASA scientist Walter Lawson he infiltrated a US airbase and grew closer to security chief Carol Danvers, gradually going native even as he was constantly scrutinised by his ominously orbiting commanding officer Colonel Yon-Rogg – Mar-Vell’s ruthless rival for the love of the teeming starship’s medical officer Una

The impossible situation came to a head when Mar-Vell gave his life to save the empire from overthrow from within and colossal hive-mind Supreme Intelligence inextricably bonded the expiring warrior with voice-of-a-generation and professional side-kick Rick Jones who, just like Billy Batson (the naïve lad who turned into the original Fawcett Captain Marvel by shouting “Shazam!”), switched places with a mighty adult hero whenever danger loomed.

By striking a pair of ancient, wrist worn “Nega-bands” together they could temporarily trade atoms: one active in our universe whilst the other floated, a ghostly untouchable, ineffectual voyeur to events glimpsed from the ghastly anti-matter Negative Zone.

The Captain was an alien lost on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree who fought for humanity three hours at a time, atomically chained to Rick by mysterious wristbands which enabled them to share the same space in our universe, but whenever one was active here the other was trapped in a terrifying isolated antimatter hell…

The book was cancelled soon after that… only to return some more! A series which would not die, Captain Marvel returned again in the summer of 1972 for another shot at stardom and intellectual property rights security.

This second stellar monochrome Essential compilation (spanning September 1972 to September 1976 whilst gathering Captain Marvel #21-35, 37-46, plus key crossover appearances from Iron Man #55 and Marvel Feature #12) finds him at his best and worst as mediocre tales by veteran creators were brushed aside and the hero was transfigured overnight by the talents of a very talented newcomer, making the directionless Kree Warrior briefly the most popular and acclaimed title in Marvel’s firmament.

It all began rather inauspiciously in Captain Marvel #22 where scripter Gerry Conway with artists Wayne Boring & Frank Giacoia reintroduced the cosmic crusader in ‘To Live Again!’ Bonded to Rick by the uncanny Nega-bands, Mar-Vell had languished in the Negative Zone for a seeming eternity as Jones tried to carve out a rock star career and relationship with new love Lou-Ann, but eventually his own body betrayed him and the Kree Captain was expelled back into our reality…

Luckily Lou-Ann’s uncle Benjamin Savannah is a radical scientist on hand to help Rick’s transition, but as the returned Marvel unsteadily flies off, across town another boffin is rapidly mutating from atomic victim to nuclear threat and #23 (by Marv Wolfman, Boring & Frank McLaughlin) sees the Kree Warrior calamitously clash with the rampaging Megaton resulting in ‘Death at the End of the World!’.

Wolfman, Boring & Ernie Chan then deal ‘Death in High Places!’ as Rick is targeted by lethal Madame Synn and felonious cyborg Dr. Mynde who need Mar-Vell to help them plunder the Pentagon…

After seemingly running in place, perpetually one step ahead of cancellation (folding many times, but always quickly resurrected – presumably to secure that all important Trademark name), the Captain was handed to a newcomer named Jim Starlin who was left alone to get on with it.

With many of his fellow neophytes he began laying seeds (particularly in Iron Man and Daredevil) for a saga that would in many ways become as well regarded as the epochal Fourth World Trilogy by Jack Kirby which it emulated.

However the “Thanos War”, despite superficial similarities, soon developed into a uniquely modern experience. And what it lacked in grandeur it made up for with sheer energy and enthusiasm.

The first inkling came in Iron Man #55 (February 1973) where Mike Friedrich scripted Starlin’s opening gambit in a cosmic epic that would change the nature of Marvel itself. ‘Beware The… Blood Brothers!’ (inked by Mike Esposito) introduced haunted humanoid powerhouse Drax the Destroyer, trapped by extraterrestrial invader Thanos under the Nevada desert and in dire need of rescue. That came when the Armoured Avenger blazed in, answering a mysterious SOS…

As much as I’d love to claim Marvel’s fortunes are solely built on the works of Kirby and Steve Ditko, I’m just not able to. Whereas I do know that without them the modern monolith would not exist, it is also necessary to acknowledge the vital role played by a second generation creators who enlisted in the early 1970s. Marvel’s invitation to fresh, new, often untried talent paid huge dividends in creativity and – most importantly at a time of industry contraction – new sales.

Arguably the most successful of the newcomers was Starlin. As well as the landmark Master of Kung Fu, which he worked on with equally gifted confederates Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom, his earliest and most fondly regarded success was the ambitiously epic cosmic adventure which unfolded here.

A month later in Captain Marvel #25, Friedrich, Starlin, & Chic Stone unleashed ‘A Taste of Madness!’ and the alien outcast’s fortunes changed forever.

When Mar-Vell is ambushed by a pack of extraterrestrials he is forced to admit that his powers are in decline. Unaware that an unseen foe is counting on that, Rick manifests and checks in with Dr. Savannah only to find himself accused by his beloved Lou-Ann of the savant’s murder.

Hauled off to jail Rick brings in Mar-Vell who is confronted by a veritable legion of old foes before deducing who in fact his true enemies are…

Issue #26 sees Rick free of police custody and confronting Lou-Ann over her seeming ‘Betrayal!’ (Starlin, Friedrich & Dave Cockrum). Soon, however, he and Mar-Vell realise they are the targets of psychological warfare: the girl is being mind-controlled whilst Super Skrull and his hidden “Masterlord” are manipulating them and others in search of a lost secret…

When a subsequent scheme to have Mar-Vell kill The Thing spectacularly fails, Thanos takes personal charge. The Titan is hungry for conquest and wants Rick because his subconscious conceals the location of an irresistible ultimate weapon.

Rick awakes to find himself ‘Trapped on Titan!’ (Pablo Marcos inks) but does not realise the villain has already extracted the location of a reality-altering Cosmic Cube from him. Rescued by Thanos’ father Mentor and brother Eros, the horrified lad sees firsthand the extent of genocide the death-loving monster has inflicted upon his own birthworld and summons Captain Marvel to wreak vengeance…

Meanwhile on Earth, still-enslaved Lou-Ann has gone to warn the Mighty Avengers and summarily collapsed. By the time Mar-Vell arrives in #28 she lies near death. ‘When Titans Collide!’ (inks by Dan Green) reveals another plank of Thanos’ plan. As the heroes are picked off by psychic parasite The Controller, Mar-Vell is assaulted by bizarre visions of an incredible ancient being. Fatally distracted, he becomes the massive mind-leech’s final victim…

Al Milgrom inks ‘Metamorphosis!’ as the Kree captain’s connection to Rick is severed and he is transported to an otherworldly locale where an eight billion year old being named Eon reveals the origins of life whilst overseeing the abductee’s forced evolution into the ultimate warrior: a universal champion gifted with the subtly irresistible power of Cosmic Awareness…

Returned to Earth and reconnected to his frantic atomic counterpart, the newly-appointed “Protector of the Universe” goes after The Controller, thrashing the monumentally powerful parasite in a devastating display of skill countering super-strength in #30’s ‘…To Be Free from Control!’

Iron Man meanwhile has also recovered and headed for Marvel Feature #12 to join the Thing in ending a desert incursion by Thanos’ forces before enduring ‘The Bite of the Blood Brothers!’ (Friedrich, Starlin, & Joe Sinnott), after which the story continues in Captain Marvel #31 with ‘The Beginning of the End!’ (inked by Green & Milgrom) wherein the Avengers – in a gathering of last resort – are joined by psionic priestess Moondragon and Drax – one of the Titan’s many victims and resurrected by supernal forces to destroy Thanos…

The Titan has been revealed as a lover of the personification of Death who wants to give her Earth as a betrothal present. To that end he uses the Cosmic Cube to turn himself into ‘Thanos the Insane God!’ (Green) and with a thought captures all opposition to his reign. However his insane arrogance leaves the cosmically aware Mar-Vell with a chance to undo every change; brilliantly outmanoeuvring and defeating ‘The God Himself!’ (inks by Klaus Janson)…

With the universe saved and restored, Starlin’s run ended on a relatively weak note in CM #34 as ‘Blown Away!’ – inked by Jack Abel and dialogued by Englehart – explored the day after doomsday.

As Rick tries to revive his on-again, off-again musical career, secret organisation the Lunatic Legion despatches Nitro, the Exploding Man to acquire a canister of nerve gas from an Air Force base where Carol Danvers is head of Security…

Although the Protector of the Universe defeats Nitro, he succumbs to the deadly toxin. From this exposure he would eventually contract the cancer that killed him, as depicted in Marvel’s first Graphic Novel, The Death of Captain Marvel… but that’s a tale for a different review…

Issue #35 finds Mar-Vell all but lifeless in ‘Deadly Genesis’ (Englehart, Friedrich & Alfredo Alcala), while simultaneously showing Rick languishing in the Negative Zone and attacked by Annihilus until a barely-remembered three-hour time-limit automatically switches his body with the comatose Kree hero.

Later, as Rick’s manager Mordecai Boggs drives him to a gig, Rick’s consciousness slips into the N-Zone and animates Mar-Vell’s unresponsive body to escape Annihilus, and discerns this new power is merely one tactic in a cunning plan devised by the duplicitous Supreme Intelligence…

Meanwhile on Earth, Rick’s vacated body has been taken to hospital where old friends Ant-Man and the Wasp are fortuitously visiting when the Living Laser attacks. The villain has been artificially augmented by his new masters, but it’s not enough to stop the former Avengers or prevent Rick reclaiming his body and using the Nega-bands to restore his bonded soul mate to their particular brand of normality…

At this time deadline difficulties caught up with the Captain and #36 was reduced to running a reprint of his origin from Marvel Super-Heroes #12. This Essential edition only includes the foreboding 3-page bookend ‘Watching and Waiting’ by Englehart, Starlin, Alan Weiss & friends before the saga properly relaunches in #37 with ‘Lift-Off!’ by Englehart, Milgrom & Janson.

Although Mar-Vell quickly discerns that the Lunatic Legion’s attacks stem from the Moon, Rick insists on playing a gig before they set off. After bidding farewell to Mordecai and his sometimes stage partner Dandy, they wisely prepare for their trip to the satellite by outfitting the boy with an advanced spacesuit before Mar-Vell blasts off.

He only makes it as far as the outer atmosphere before being attacked by another Lunatic agent. The cyborg Nimrod is no match for Kree firepower however and in the Neg-Zone the implacable Annihilus endures a painful defeat when he again assaults Rick and discovers the sheer power packed into his EVA gear…

Crisis averted, the bored, naive kid swallows the “vitamin” Dandy slipped him before departure and is transported on a trip unlike any he has ever experienced. Tragically, as Mar-Vell reaches the air-filled lost city in the “Blue Area of the Moon” he too begins to experience bizarre hallucinations and is utterly unable to defend himself when the all-powerful Watcher ambushes him…

The austere, aloof cosmic voyeur Uatu the Watcher is part of an ancient, impossibly powerful race of immortal beings who observe all that occurs throughout the vast multiverse but never act on any of it. Non-interference is their fanatical doctrine but Uatu has continually bent – if not broken – the adamantine rule ever since he debuted in Fantastic Four #13…

Now somehow, the Legion have co-opted the legendarily neutral astral witness. Once Uatu defeats Mar-Vell, he despondently dumps his victim with the Lunatic Legion who are exposed as rebel Kree plotting to overthrow the Supremor. Fundamentalists of the original blue race which assimilated the millions of other species, these colonially aggressive and racially purist Blue Kree plan to execute their captive who seemingly has ‘…No Way Out!’ but are unprepared for the closer psychic link which the hallucinations have forged between Earth kid and Kree captain…

With the insurgents defeated, Mar-Vell and Rick follow the repentant Uatu as he returns to his own distant world in #39 to voluntarily undergo ‘The Trial of the Watcher’

In the aftermath of that bizarre proceeding Rick and Mar-Vell are finally liberated from their comic bond. With both now co-existing in the positive-matter universe and able to return and leave the Negative Zone at will, their troubles seem over. They couldn’t be more wrong…

CM #40 shifts focus as ‘Rocky Mountain ‘Bye!’ (inked by Al McWilliams) reveals how the space-farers return to an Earth which has no real use for them. As Mar-Vell battles a deadly beast possessing the body of his first love Medic Una, Rick finds his music career and even his beliefs are considered irrelevant and of no value. Equally heart-sore and dispirited, the former cellmates reunite and decide to travel to the stars together…

The first stop is Hala, capital of the Kree Empire as #41 reveals ‘Havoc on Homeworld!’ (Englehart, Milgrom, Bernie Wrightson, P. Craig Russell, Bob McLeod & Terry Austin) with the populace swept up in a race war against “Pinks” (human flesh-toned Kree mulattos like Mar-Vell).

Determined to warn the Supremor of the conflict and the schemes of the Lunatic Legion, the heroes are appalled to learn the strife has been actively instigated by the colossal mind-collective…

From his earliest moments in military service Mar-Vell has been groomed by the Supremor to be its ultimate foe, As the amalgamation of minds seeks to jump-start the development of the evolutionarily-stalled Kree it desperately needs an enemy to contend against and grow strong…

Distracting his baffled, betrayed opponents with Ronan the Accuser, the Supreme Intelligence places one Nega-band on Rick and another on Mar-Vell and casually banishes them to the farthest reaches of the empire…

Issue #42 sees them deposited in an insane pastiche of Earth’s wild west mining towns and quickly embroiled in interstellar claim-jumping and a ‘Shoot-Out at the O.K. Space Station!’ (inks by Giacoia & Esposito). As the Kree with a star on his chest lays down the law and has a showdown with the cosmically-charged Stranger, close by Drax the Destroyer is ravaging worlds and planetoids, slowly going insane for lack of purpose even as Rick goes his own way and is almost fatally distracted by a beautiful girl nobody else can see…

Drax was created to kill Thanos but since the Titan’s defeat the devastating construct has wandered the universe and slowly gone crazy. CM #43 shows how – unaware that Thanos still lives – the purposeless nemesis takes the opportunity to assuage his frustrations by attacking the hero who stole his glory in ‘Destroy! Destroy!’ (Englehart & Milgrom).

The epic bout ends in #44 as ‘Death Throws!’ sees the pointless conflict escalate until Rick’s imaginary friend intervenes and opens the Destroyer’s eyes…

With sanity restored Mar-Vell then voyages to a Kree colony world ravaged by cyborgs and Null-Trons and discovers the Supremor has been subtly acting to merge him and Rick into one puissant being to further his evolutionary agenda in ‘The Bi-Centennial!’ Forewarned, and with a small band of the most unlikely allies, the cosmic conflict then wraps up in blockbusting fashion as Rick and Mar-Vell unite by not combining to defeat the Supremor in a battle ‘Only One Can Win!’ (Chris Claremont, Milgrom & Austin)…

This bombastic battle book of cosmic conflict and stellar spectacle also includes a wealth of bonus pages beginning with a comprehensive cutaway ‘Map of Titan’ from Captain Marvel #27, three pages of new artwork from 1980s reprint series The Life of Captain Marvel Special Edition’, and a copious cover gallery and pinups by Starlin from that series.

Captain Marvel has never claimed to be the company’s most popular or successful character and some of the material collected here is frankly rather poor. However, the good stuff is amongst the very best that the company has produced in its entire history.

If you want to see how good superhero comics can be you’ll just have to take the rough with the smooth and who knows… you might see something that makes it all worthwhile…
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Marvel Two-In-One volume 3


By Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Tom DeFalco, John Byrne, George Pérez, Jerry Bingham, Ron Wilson, Alan Kupperberg & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3069-7

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing with or battling and frequently doing both – with less well-selling company characters was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the same deal DC had long prospered from with Batman in Brave and the Bold.

After the runaway success of Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas repeated the experiment with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic and popular member – beginning with a brace of test runs in Marvel Feature #11-12, before graduating him to his own guest-friendly title. This third economical, eclectic monochrome compendium gathers together the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #53-77 plus Marvel T-I-O Annuals #4 and 5, covering May 1979 to July 1981; a period which saw the best and worst the series could offer.

The innate problem with team-up tales was always a lack of continuity – something Marvel always prided itself upon – and which writer/editor Marv Wolfman had sought to address during his tenure through the simple expedient of having stories link-up through evolving, overarching plots which took Ben from place to place and from guest to guest.

Arguably the very best of these opens this volume; a big scale, and supremely convoluted saga known as “The Project Pegasus Saga”…

Although the company’s glory-days were undoubtedly the era of Lee, Kirby & Ditko leading through to the Adams, Buscema(s), Englehart, Gerber, Steranko and Windsor-Smith “Second Wave”, a lot of superb material came out the middle years when Marvel was transforming from inspirational small-business to corporate heavyweight.

This is not said to demean or denigrate the many fine creators who worked on the tide of titles published after that heady opening period, but only to indicate that after that time a certain revolutionary spontaneity was markedly absent from the line.

It should also be remembered that this was not deliberate. Every creator does the best job he/she can: posterity and critical response is the only arbiter of what is classic and what is simply one more comicbook. Certainly high sales don’t necessarily define a masterpiece – unless you’re a publisher…

Nevertheless every so often everybody involved in a particular tale seems to catch fire at the same time and magic occurs. A great case in point is the self-contained mini-saga which partnered the Thing with a succession of Marvel’s quirkiest B-listers and newcomers…

Project Pegasus had debuted in Marvel T-I-O #42 and 43: a federal research station tasked with investigating new and alternative energy sources and a sensible place to dump super-powered baddies when they’ve been trounced. Ten issues later writers Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio flexed their creative muscles with a 6-issue epic that found Ben back at Pegasus just as a sinister scheme by a mysterious mastermind to eradicate the facility went into full effect.

Scripted by Gruenwald & Macchio, it all begins as ‘The Inner War!’ (illustrated by John Byrne & Joe Sinnott) sees Ben visiting his educationally and emotionally challenged ward Wundarr who had been left at the secret base after exposure to a reality-warping Cosmic Cube.

Ben meets light-powered security chief Quasar – who debuted here – only to stumble into a treacherous plot to sabotage the facility which continues in ‘Blood and Bionics’ as a reprogrammed Deathlok cyborg stalks the base until the Thing and Quasar crush it.

Elsewhere, Ben’s old sparring partner Thundra is recruited by a team of super-powered women wrestlers (I know what you’re thinking but trust me, it works) with a secret and nefarious sideline…

One of the resident scientists at Pegasus is Bill Foster – who had a brief costumed career as Black Goliath – and he resumes adventuring with a new/old name just in time to help tackle freshly-liberated atomic monster Nuklo in ‘Giants in the Earth’. Sadly the traitor who let the infantile walking inferno out is still undiscovered and in the darkest part of the Project something strange is whispering to the comatose Wundarr…

George Pérez & Gene Day take over as illustrators from #56 as Thundra and her new friends invade in ‘The Deadlier of the Species!’ but even their blistering assault is merely a feint for the real threat and soon a final countdown to disaster is in effect…

Doomsday begins ‘When Walks Wundarr!’ and, in his mesmerised wake, a horde of energy-projecting villains incarcerated in the research facility break free…

With chaos everywhere the traitor triggers an extra-dimensional catastrophe, intent on destroying Pegasus ‘To the Nth Power!’, but as a living singularity tries to suck the entire institution into infinity, the end of everything is countered by the ascension of a new kind of hero as The Aquarian debuts to save the day…

Released as one of Marvel’s earliest trade paperback collections, the high-tension bombastic action of The Project Pegasus Saga rattles along without the appearance of any major stars – a daring move for a team-up title but one which greatly enhanced the power and depth of The Thing.

Moreover, by concentrating on rebooting moribund characters such as Deathlok and Giant-Man whilst launching fresh faces Quasar and The Aquarian instead of looking for ill-fitting, big-name sales-boosters, the story truly proves the old adage about there being no bad characters…

Another sound decision was the use of Byrne & Sinnott for the first half and Pérez & the late, great Gene Day to finish off the tale. Both pencillers were in their early ascendancy here and the artistic energy just jumps off the pages.

Deadlines wait for no one however and the pulse-pounding epic is immediately followed here by Marvel Two-In-One Annual #4 which offered an old-fashioned, world-busting blockbuster as ‘A Mission of Gravity!’ (plotted by Allyn Brodsky, scripted by David Michelinie and illustrated by Jim Craig, Bob Budiansky & Bruce Patterson) brought the Thing and Inhuman monarch Black Bolt together to stop unstable maniac Graviton turning into a black hole and taking the world with him…

Wolfman, Macchio, Chic Stone & Al Gordon then explored ‘Trial and Error!’ in monthly issue #59 as Ben and the Human Torch played matchmaker for a dopey dreamer, after which Marvel Two-in-One #60 featured Ben and impish ET Impossible Man in hilarious combat with three of Marvel’s earliest bad-guys.

Happiness is a Warm Alien’ – by Gruenwald, Macchio, Pérez & Day – offers a delightful change-of-pace which applies much-needed perspective and lots of laughs as the madcap invader from beyond gets bored and creates a perfect mate…

A stellar epic started in #61 with ‘The Coming of Her!’ (Gruenwald, Jerry Bingham & Day) as time-travelling space god Starhawk became embroiled in the birth of a female counterpart to artificial superman Adam Warlock.

The distaff genetic paragon awoke fully empowered and instantly began searching for her predecessor, dragging Ben’s girlfriend Alicia and mind goddess Moondragon across the solar system, arriving where issue #62 observed ‘The Taking of Counter-Earth!’

Hot on their heels Thing and Starhawk catch Her just as the women encounter a severely wounded High Evolutionary and discover the world built by that self-made god has been stolen…

United in mystery the strange grouping follow the planet’s trail out of the galaxy and uncover the incredible perpetrators but Her’s desperate quest to secure her predestined, purpose-grown mate ends in tragedy as she learns ‘Suffer Not a Warlock to Live!’

Clearly on a roll and dedicated to exploiting Marvel Two-in-One’s unofficial role as a clean-up vehicle for settling unresolved plotlines from cancelled series, Gruenwald & Macchio then dived into ‘The Serpent Crown Affair’ in #64.

‘From the Depths’ (illustrated by Pérez & Day) saw sub-sea superhero Stingray approach Reed Richards in search of a cure for humans who had been mutated into water-breathers by Sub-Mariner villain Doctor Hydro – a plotline begun in 1973 and left unresolved since the demise of the Atlantean prince’s own title.

Richards’ enquiries soon found the transformation had been caused by the Inhumans’ Terrigen Mist but when he had Ben ferry the mermen’s leader Dr. Croft and Stingray to a meeting, the trip was cut short by a crisis on an off-shore oil-rig, thanks to an ambush by a coalition of snake-themed villains.

The ‘Serpents from the Sea’ (art by Bingham & Day) were attempting to salvage dread mystic artefact the Serpent Crown, but luckily the Inhumans had sent out their seagoing champion Triton to meet the Thing…

Thundra meanwhile had been seeking the men responsible for tricking her into attacking Pegasus but fell under the spell of sinister superman Hyperion – a pawn of corrupt oil conglomerate Roxxon, whose CEO Hugh Jones possessed or had been possessed by the heinous helm…

With the situation escalating Ben had no choice but to call in an expert and before long The Scarlet Witch joins the battle, her previous experience with the relic enabling the heroes to thwart the multi-dimensional threat of ‘A Congress of Crowns!’ (Pérez & Day) and a devastating incursion by diabolical serpent god Set

With Armageddon averted Ben diverted to Pegasus to drop off the emasculated crown in #67 and found Bill Foster had been diagnosed with terminal radiation sickness due to his battle with Nuklo. Thundra meanwhile, seduced by promises of being returned to her own reality, wised up in time to abscond from Roxxon in ‘Passport to Oblivion!’ (Gruenwald, Macchio, Ron Wilson, Day & friends), but hadn’t calculated on being hunted by Hyperion. Although outmatched her frantic struggle did attract the attentions of the Thing and Quasar…

Marvel T-I-O #68 shifted gears as Ben met former X-Man The Angel as they stumbled into – and smashed out of – a mechanical murder-world in ‘Discos and Dungeons!’ (Wilson & Day) after which ‘Homecoming!’ found Ben contending with the time-lost Guardians of the Galaxy whilst striving to prevent the end of everything as millennial man Vance Astro risked all of reality to stop his younger self ever going into space…

Issue #70 offered a mystery guest team-up for ‘A Moving Experience’ (Gruenwald, Macchio, Mike Nasser & Day) as Ben was again pranked by old frenemy’s The Yancy Street Gang and ambushed by real old foes when he helped his girlfriend move into new digs, after which the so-long frustrated Hydromen finally get ‘The Cure!’ (Wilson & Day) when Ben and Reed travel to the Inhuman city of Attilan.

Sadly a cure for the effects of Terrigen is a perfect anti-Inhuman weapon and when the process is stolen by a trio of freaks the trail leads to a brutal clash with a deadly Inhuman renegade wielding ‘The Might of Maelstrom’ (Gruenwald, Macchio, Wilson & Stone). The pariah is intent on eradicating every other member of his hidden race and just won’t stop until he’s done…

Marvel Two-In-One #73 by Macchio, Wilson & Stone then ties up loose ends from the Pegasus epic as Ben and Quasar pursue Roxxon to another Earth where the rapacious plunderers have enslaved a primitive population and begun sending their pillaged oil back here via a ‘Pipeline Through Infinity’ (#74), whilst Gruenwald, Frank Springer & Stone celebrate the festive season with ‘A Christmas Peril!’ as Ben and the Puppet Master are drawn into the Yuletide celebrations of brain-damaged, childlike, immensely powerful Modred the Mystic

Alan Kupperberg & Pablo Marcos then detail another tumultuous clash between Hulk and Thing from Marvel Two-In-One Annual #5. ‘Skirmish with Death’ sees the titanic duo team with extraterrestrial explorer The Stranger to stop death god Pluto destroying the universe and cosmic epics remain in vogue in anniversary issue #75 where Ben and the Avengers are drawn into the Negative Zone to stop a hyper-powered Super-Adaptoid, only to find themselves inevitably ‘By Blastaar Betrayed!’ (Tom DeFalco, Alan Kupperberg & Stone)…

Thereafter hitting mundane reality with a bump, #76 exposes ‘The Big Top Bandits’ (DeFalco, Michelinie, Bingham & Stone) as Iceman and the Thing make short work of the Circus of Evil before this paladin-packed tome concludes with a double dose of action in #77 as Thing and Man-Thing nearly unite in a rescue mission where ‘Only the Swamp Survives!’ (DeFalco, Wilson & Stone), which also features a poignant, bizarre cameo from Sergeant Nick Fury and the Howling Commandoes

There’s even one last treat: a revelatory cutaway diagram of Project Pegasus to make sense of all the carnage that you’ve just enjoyed…

Fiercely tied to the minutia of Marvel continuity, these stories from Marvel’s Middle Period are certainly of variable quality, but whereas some might feel rushed and ill-considered they are balanced by some superb adventure romps and a genuine modern comics classic; still as captivating today as it always was.

Even if artistically the work varies from only adequate to truly top-notch, most fans of Costumed Dramas will find little to complain about and there’s plenty of fun to be found for young and old readers. So why not lower your critical guard and have an honest blast of pure warts-and-all comics craziness? You’ll almost certainly grow to like it…
© 1979, 1980, 1981, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Thor volume 6


By Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Bill Mantlo, Len Wein, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6329-9

Whilst the ever-expanding Marvel Universe had grown ever-more interconnected as it matured through its first decade, with characters literally tripping over each other in New York City, the Asgardian heritage of Thor and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had most often drawn the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning, unique landscapes and scenarios.

However by the time of this sixth Essential monochrome compendium, the King had been gone – and was in fact readying himself to return to the House of (mostly his) Ideas – for five years and only echoes of his groundbreaking presence remained. John Buscema had visually made the Thunder God his own whilst a succession of scripters struggled to recapture the epic scope of Kirby’s vision and Stan Lee’s off-kilter but comfortingly compelling faux-Shakespearean verbiage…

When these monthly episodes (from Thor #221-247, March 1974 to May 1976) saw print, the Thunder God and his cosmic companions had become a quarrelsome, self-doubting band of fantasy spacemen generally roving the outer limits of the Marvel Universe, only occasionally touching base with Earth and Asgard, but that editorial policy began to change here as more and more adventures began – and ended – in the troubled lands of Midgard…

With scripter Gerry Conway firmly in the driving seat and legendary illustrator John Buscema (aided by inker Mike Esposito) delivering the art, the mythic mayhem opens with ‘Hercules Enraged!’ as the Thor brutally invades Olympus, in search of the Grecian Prince of Power. Asgardian maiden Krista has been abducted and All-Father Odin has seen a vision of her enchained in Hades with the Thunderer’s trusted ally gloating over her beside vile netherlord Pluto

By the time lordly Zeus has stopped the shattering clash that follows, half of the celestial city is in ruins, but in that breathing space he proves Hercules is innocent of the atrocious act and the abashed comrades turn their attentions to the true culprit…

Inked by Joe Sinnott, Thor #222 finds the earnest comrades in search of Hercules’ insidious impersonator and taking advice from a scary sorceress even as war-god Ares receives an eldritch summons to meet his co-conspirator ‘Before the Gates of Hell!’

Sadly he is intercepted by the heroes before he gets there and receives the sound thrashing he deserves, prior to the enraged companions storming their way into the netherworld itself.

At the moment of their triumph however Pluto snatches up his hostage and vanishes. His trail leads to Earth where one final confrontation results in ‘Hellfire Across the World!’ (Esposito inks) and leaves kidnapped Krista near death…

Issue #224 finds Thor resuming his alter ego of surgeon Don Blake to operate on the Asgardian even as elsewhere in Manhattan a rash scientist accidentally reactivates Odin’s unstoppable battle construct and discovers ‘No One Can Stop… the Destroyer!’

With Krista saved Thor joins the sorely pressed Hercules and although outmatched by the Asgardian killing machine they devise a way to stop its human power source – only to then face ‘The Coming of Firelord!’ (inked by Sinnott).

The tempestuous, short-tempered herald of planet-consuming Galactus has been sent to fetch Thor and will brook no refusals…

Issue #226 finds the voracious space god on Earth, beseeching the Thunder God’s aid in ‘The Battle Beyond!’ (Esposito) against living planet Ego, who has seemingly gone mad and now poses a threat to the entire universe…

“Homaging” Jack Kirby, penciller Rich Buckler joined Conway and Sinnott in #227 as the Thunder God and Hercules – with Firelord in tow – go ‘In Search of… Ego!’ Penetrating deep within the raving planet and defeating incredible biological horrors, the trio reach his malfunctioning brain and relive the incredible origin of the “bioverse” in ‘Ego: Beginning and End!’ before contriving an earth-shaking solution to the wild world’s rampages…

In a final act of unlikely diplomacy the Thunderer then finds a replacement herald and secures Firelord’s freedom from Galactus…

Safely back on Earth a new kind of terror manifests in Thor #229 as ‘Where Darkness Dwells, Dwell I!’ (Conway, Buckler & Chic Stone) sees Hercules uncover an uncanny string of suicides amongst the mortals of Manhattan. After consulting the Storm Lord and his recently returned lover Sif, the Prince of Power is ambushed by a shadowy figure and himself succumbs to dark despondency…

Plucked from psychological catatonia by Iron Man and the recuperating Krista, severely shaken Hercules recovers enough to lead Thor under the city to jointly confront and conquer a horrific lord of fear in #230’s ‘The Sky Above… the Pits Below!’ (Buckler & Sinnott).

Of greater moment is the revelation in Asgard that almighty Odin has gone missing…

John Buscema returned in #231, inked by Dick Giordano to limn ‘A Spectre from the Past!’ wherein Thor learns that his former love Jane Foster is dying. Whilst doting Sif fruitlessly returns to Asgard seeking a cure, the grieving Thunderer is momentarily distracted when Hercules is attacked by anthropoidal throwback and disembodied spirit Armak the First Man who possesses the body of an unwary séance attendee and runs amok in the streets.

Since gaining his liberty Firelord had been aimlessly travelling the globe. Lured by Asgardian magic he becomes wicked Loki’s vassal in ‘Lo, the Raging Battle!’

Heartsick Thor meanwhile will not leave Jane’s hospital bedside, prompting Sif and Hercules to travel to the end of the universe to retrieve the mystic Runestaff of Kamo Tharnn. No sooner do they depart than the ensorcelled Firelord attacks and whilst incensed, impatient Thor knocks sense back into him, his evil half-brother leads an Asgardian army in a sneak attack on America…

With ‘Midgard Aflame’ (Buscema & Stone) Thor leads the human resistance and learns for the first time that his father is missing. Odin’s faithful vizier reveals that the All-Father has divested himself of his memory and chosen to reside somewhere on Earth as a hapless mortal…

With the humans preparing to unleash their atomic arsenal against the Asgardians, the invasion suddenly ends with a savage duel between Thor and Loki in ‘O, Bitter Victory!’ (Buscema & Sinnott) after which the Thunderer returns to Jane’s side, unaware that he is being stalked by a merciless old enemy. At the same time Sif and Hercules have clashed with he ‘Who Lurks Beyond the Labyrinth!’ and secured a remedy for Thor’s mortal beloved…

Thor #236 opens as the Storm God revels in furious combat with the Absorbing Man. Unknown to the blockbusting battlers, at that very moment Sif is expressing her own love for her wayward prince by using the Runestaff to fix Jane in ‘One Life to Give!’

…And somewhere in California an imposing old man called Orrin ponders his strangely selective amnesia and wonders how he can possibly possess such incredible strength…

With battle concluded Thor hastens back to Jane and finds her completely cured. His joy is short-lived however as he realises that Sif is gone, seemingly forever…

Issue #237 finds reunited lovers Don Blake and Jane Foster cautiously getting reacquainted and pondering Sif’s incredible sacrifice when a horde of Asgardian Trolls led by ‘Ulik Unchained’ calamitously attack New York. Before long they have made off with the recently restored Jane under cover of the blockbusting melee that ensues…

Gerry Conway concludes his run with Thor #238 as the Thunder God capitulates to his hostage-taking foe and is taken below the worlds of Earth and Asgard on the ‘Night of the Troll!’

Ulik wants to overthrow his king Gierrodur and is confident his hold over mighty Thor will accomplish the act for him, but he is utterly unprepared for the new martial spirit which possesses his formerly frail mortal hostage Jane…

…And in California old man Orrin decides to use his power to help the poor, quickly arousing the ire of the local authorities…

Writer/Editor Roy Thomas and artist Sal Buscema join Sinnott in Thor #239 as the Thunder God brutally ends his association with the trolls even as in California Orrin’s rabble-rousing civil unrest is cut short when a colossal pyramid containing Egyptian gods erupts from the ground in ‘Time-Quake!’

Thor knows nothing on the latest upheaval. He has taken off for distant Asgard, uncovering a mysterious force draining his people of their power and vitality. Warned by duplicitous seer Mimir the anguished godling rushes back to Earth and clashes with the puissant Horus ‘When the Gods Make War!’ (Thomas, Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson). The depleted Egyptian pantheon have desperate need of an All-Father and have conditioned Odin/Orrin to believe that he is their long-lost patron Atum-Re

Jane is already waiting in California when Thor arrives and she is present when the elder deity devastatingly assaults his astounded son. Happily her cool head prevails and soon the warring deities are talking. An uneasy alliance forms and the truth comes out. Horus, Isis and Osiris are in a final battle with vile Death God Seth and need the power of a supreme over-god to assure a victory for the forces of Life…

The cosmic conflict concludes in #241 as ‘The Death-Ship Sails the Stars!’ (Mantlo, John Buscema & Sinnott) with the ghastly Seth and his demonic servants repulsed and Jane again playing a major role: even shaking Odin out of his mind-wiped state…

A semblance of creative stability resumed with #242 as writer Len Wein joined John Buscema & Sinnott, beginning their tenure with epic time travel tale ‘When the Servitor Commands!’ The colossal all-conquering construct had scooped up Thor, Jane and visiting Asgardians Fandral the Dashing, Voluminous Volstagg and Hogun the Grim at the behest of malevolent chrononaut and old enemy Zarrko

The Tomorrow Man is claiming to be on the side of the angels this time: looking for heroes to help stop a trio of entropic entities travelling back from the end of time and destroying all life as they go. Although suspicious, the assemble crusaders agree to help stop ‘Turmoil in the Time Stream!’ caused by the diabolical Time-Twisters

Constant clashes with vagrant monsters and warriors plucked from their own eras barely slows the heroes but neither do they hinder the widdershins progress of the Armageddon entities in ‘This is the Way the World Ends!’ However by the time the voyagers discover ‘The Temple at the End of Time!’ which spawned the Time-Twisters and end the crisis before it began, Zarrko has already reverted to type and tried to betray them… much to his own regret…

This bombastic battle book then concludes with a 2-part rematch between Thunder God and Flaming Fury as #246 reveals ‘The Fury of Firelord!’, following the unworldly alien’s meeting with a lovely witch working for Latin American rebel and would-be tin pot dictator El Lobo.

However, whilst Thor heads south to stop a civil war in Asgard, his boon companion Balder comes to a staggering conclusion: Odin may be back in body but his spirit is still ailing. In fact the All-Father might well be completely insane…

When Thor also succumbs to sinister gypsy enchantments and ‘The Flame and the Hammer!’ unite to crush the feeble democracy of Costa Verde, once again vibrant valiant Jane is there save the day…

To Be Continued…

The tales gathered here may lack the sheer punch and verve of the early years but fans of ferocious Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy will find this tome still stuffed with intrigue and action, magnificently rendered by artists who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, were every inch his equal in craft and dedication, making this a definite and decidedly economical must-read for all fans of the character and the genre.

©1974, 1975, 1976, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.