Groo: Friends and Foes volume 1


By Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai & Tom Luth (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-814-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A welcome wave of nostalgic nonsense and comic craziness… 8/10

Groo is the smelliest, ugliest, stupidest, unluckiest mercenary in the world – but he’s also the best swordsman in creation and far too stupid to be harmed. He is always hungry and wanders because most places he pauses in burn down, wash away or crash into rubble soon after his arrival.

He loves to fight and entire nations and navies reel at the mention of his name. Of course they do the same when they stand downwind of him too…

Produced in a unique traditional fashion by storyteller Sergio Aragonés, wordsmith Mark Evanier, colourist Tom Luth – with assistance from Michael Atiyeh – and letterer Stan Sakai (yeah, that Usagi Yojimbo guy), the Itinerant Imbecile’s adventures form one of the longest running comicbook humour series in America and there seems to be no chance of stopping his creators as long as we keep buying these incredible, hilarious sagas…

Both in comic narrative and the infinitely tougher field of gag-cartooning, Aragonés has produced vast volumes of incomparable work. His darkly skewed sensibilities and instinctive grasp of the cosmically absurd, wedded to his anarchically meticulous drawing style and frankly terrifying professional discipline, have made his pantomimic doodles vibrant proof of the maxims that laughter is universal and one picture is worth a thousand words.

In 1981, after years working for Mad Magazine whilst also producing gags for DC’s horror titles (plus the occasional full strip), he joined with Mark Evanier (who writes lots of stuff and Writes it Good), Sergio crafted a madcap 4-page parody of Sword-&-Sorcery yarns as a contribution to Eclipse Comics’ Creators Rights benefit comic Destroyer Duck.

Following a second outing in Mike Grell’s Starslayer (#5), Pacific Comics launched Groo the Wanderer in his own title. After 8 issues (December 1982-April 1984) the troubled company folded but the unsinkable barbarian (that’s a joke you’ll understand later) resurfaced in the Groo Special one-shot from Eclipse (October 1984), before finding a home at Epic Comics: Archie Goodwin’s creator-owned corner of the Marvel Universe.

Aragonés had first devised his witless warrior in the 1970s but no publisher would take on the property unless he surrendered all rights – an almost universal situation in the comics industry until the advent of the Direct Sales market transferred power from companies and distributors to creators and consumers.

With ownership issues settled to his maker’s satisfaction, Groo bedded in for an uproarious 120 issue run at Epic – resulting in loads of graphic novel compilations – until the imprint died, after which the witless wonder moved on to Image and Dark Horse Comics. They haven’t sunk yet…

In fact, the latter (gluttons for punishment) have even let the bumbling bladesman loose with new 12-issue miniseries Groo: Friends and Foes; each issue revisiting one of the silly saga’s regular cast who had inconceivably escaped being slaughtered by the star. This tawdry tome is but the first of four trade paperback collections and this first compilation collects issues #1-4, finding the perpetually puzzled peripatetic poltroon meeting again merchant mariner Captain Ahax, who has good reason to dread the consequences…

That sinking thing? Among his other lack of abilities Groo cannot travel by ship. He’s not sea-sick or anything, it’s just that his mere physical presence on a nautical apparatus of any sort causes it to founder and plunge into the fearsome fathoms below. Knowing that fact and unable to get rid of the affable oaf, Ahax surrenders to fate and opts to replace the crew with drunks, sell his ship and even his clients’ cargoes. Then he over-insures the vessel, confident that at least this time when she goes down he’ll actually profit from it.

But this time his ship comes in, despite Groo constantly waving sharp objects about, an attack by pirates and Ahax’s own increasingly desperate efforts to scuttle his livelihood. Perhaps it’s the calming influence of the sweet little girl who befriends the woeful warrior’s adoring dog Rufferto? She’s a fellow passenger all alone, searching for her long-lost father…

As disaster finally strikes – far too late for Ahax – the smelliest, ugliest, stupidest mercenary in the world shambles off and soon encounters a band of gypsies who seem familiar. They ought to: they’re led by his calculating grandmother Granny Groo. How fondly the weary wanderer remembers the way she used to beat him and his sister Grooella before selling him. Of course, being the kind of kid he was, Granny had to sell him many times before it finally stuck…

Now that he’s become the most terrifying person on Earth, however, she decides on a different plan to get rid of him before he brings calamity upon them all: raffling him off to greedy villagers who think they might profit from “controlling” the most dangerous man alive…

Baffled Rufferto gamely sticks with his master and soon discovers that the little girl from the ship has joined the gypsies too…

When that brief debacle ends as all Groo gigs do, the dog and his hero head further inland and soon encounter a magic-blighted region controlled by old enemies and devilish witches Arba and Dakarba.

The female fiends have good reason to fear the innocently intruding idiot and decide to get their retaliation in first by conjuring up the scariest thing they can think of to destroy him. Sadly, a marauding 50-foot Groo – even backed up by a hundred normal-sized facsimiles – are no match for the sheer force of destructive stupidity the real McCoy can muster and the witches inevitably fail, leaving their noodle-nosed nemesis to saunter off accompanied by a little girl he thinks he might have met before…

Groo’s initial outings end after a frantic reunion with Legendary Hero and shameless fraud Arcadio whom our pack of peregrinators stumble across as he tries to train a brace of dragons. The crafty champion plans on using them to gull villagers into hiring him, but when good-natured Groo offers his help, the plan – and the villagers – soon go up in smoke…

Closing this inaugural volume is a quartet of wordless strips starring Rufferto and a captivating cover-gallery by Aragonés adding to the wonderfully wonky misshapen madness and grand display of confusions, contusions, conflagrations, conflicts, pratfalls, pitfalls, punch-lines and punch-ups…

These are true masterpiece of mirth comedy addicts will love and the great strength of the series is that new readers can start practically anywhere – and still be none the wiser…
© 2015 Sergio Aragonés. Groo, all related characters and the distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks of Sergio Aragonés. All rights reserved.

Greenberg the Vampire – a Marvel Graphic Novel


By J.M. DeMatteis & Mark Badger (Marvel)
ISBN: 0871350904                 ISBN-13: 978-0-8713-5090-9

During the 1980s and following the organic development of a Direct Sales Market, the American comics industry was transformed by a magical proliferation of new titles and companies.

With publishers now able to firm-sale straight to specialist retail outlets rather than overprint and accept returned copies from non-specialised shops, the comics biz was able to support less generic titles whilst creators were able to experiment without losing their shirts and even to own the concepts and characters they invented.

In response Marvel developed a line of creator-owned properties and concentrated a lot of resources into the development of high quality original graphic novels: mixing said creator-owned properties, licensed assets such as Conan the Barbarian and new proprietary Marvel Universe tales launched in extravagant over-sized packages (286 x 210mm rather than the now standard 258 x 168mm, in imitation of the European format albums of the times) which always felt and looked like far more than an average comicbook no matter how good, bad or offbeat the contents might have been.

Even the regular comicbook line upped its game, searching for material which would appeal to a broader customer-base than the provably false traditional marketing concept of an “average” teenaged boy…

From 1986 comes a quirky Marvel Graphic Novel line (#20 if you’re counting) which mixes horror fantasy with the unique comedy of New York’s Jewish community, cannily crafted by Thinking-Man’s funnybook scribe J.M. DeMatteis and lavishly painted by the inimitable Mark Badger.

Oscar Greenberg is a famous writer of horror novels and something of a recluse. He is also, since a night of diligent research went slightly awry, a vampire.

Attending a Satanist’s meeting in search of useful material, he picked up a beautiful, eager and very willing lady who later, in a fit of overly-amatory passion, gave him the wrong sort of bite and ended his life. They’ve been together ever since…

Don’t get Oscar started on Bram Stoker. For every fact the “expert” got right about vampires he got three wrong. For a start, although they all need a certain amount of blood to survive, the undead much prefer animal to human and only the deranged go around deliberately biting people – and then only until the aberrant’s night-living kin can catch and stop them.

Vamps are highly shy, deeply spiritual, intellectual folk who don’t want to be bothered or be a nuisance: it’s the only way they can face themselves in the mirror in the evening. Yes, they do reflect and you can photograph them: something Oscar has been ducking paparazzi to avoid for over a decade…

The modern-day literary hermit is in a stable, loving relationship with Denise Keaton, the bitey lady who accidentally “turned” him and most of his loving family know about his condition – all except poor frail, often confused Mama, whom he’s sure couldn’t stand the shock of learning her beloved boy had predeceased her, even if he still comes calling every chance he gets…

Oscar even hired his obnoxious wannabe-journalist nephew Morrie as his assistant, but the lad hasn’t got that much to do since Uncle Oscar is not having a good time lately. As the city reels and writhes under the escalating terror of a bloody serial killer dubbed the “New York Ripper” the master of gory fictive horror is suffering the cruellest, most long-lived bout of writer’s block ever recorded…

The frustration is killing him, so after another explosive, typewriter-trashing bout of petulance, he takes a welcome break by attending a full-family feast at Mama’s (vampires eat and drink – even garlic – the blood-drinking is strictly for medicinal purposes).

However, en route in a heavily screened limousine, Oscar spots a streetwalker who sends his mind racing back to the day of his Bar Mitzvah…

On that day in 1954 as he rehearsed for the life-changing ceremony to come, a beautiful woman appeared and made him a man in a much more pleasant and supremely physical manner, before vanishing with a promise that they would meet again…

Back in the now the dinner is going well, and doting, oblivious Mama is in her element until she has some sort of fit, screaming at a darkened window and swearing that “she” can’t have “him”. Before passing out Henrietta Greenberg’s final whispered word is “Lilith”…

Later, as young Morrie waits in a bar for his latest flame Arlene, she becomes the latest gory incident in the Ripper’s campaign. The crushed and despondent youth is utterly unaware how the killing is connected to his own close-knit family…

Oscar meanwhile has been pushed to the edge of insanity by his inability to create and in desperation accepts a longstanding offer to write the screenplay for one of his old stories. The entire family visits the set of “The Blood of Mrs. Morris” where unctuous producer Thad Turkel introduces his captivating ingénue discovery Evie Adams and assures them all of astounding future success…

Oscar is instantly beguiled by the waif and his fall from grace is confirmed. His temperament changes: he’s angry all the time, avoids Denise and all he can think about is the starlet. He doesn’t even notice when Morrie goes crazy and Mama recognises that her grandson’s been possessed by a Dybbuk

She may be senile sometimes, but Mama Greenberg knows things and has never been a fool. Instantly shelving a decade of maternal disapproval she aligns with “Shiksa” Denise and takes Oscar’s true love into her confidence, revealing how when her baby-boy was just a baby she managed, through love and prayer and ancient rites, to drive off an ancient evil known as Lilith as she tried to steal the child.

The profane First Woman and Mother of All Monsters laughed as she left, promising to possess him one day. Clearly that moment has arrived…

Elsewhere Oscar is fully under the spell of the sorceress who has earmarked him to provide the creative spark she needs to make the world her own, beguiling him body and soul. However as Lilith discards such old worn out toys as the Ripper and concentrates on dominating her glamoured writer, humanity’s last hope is marshalling her own forces…

With her son’s soul on the line, Henrietta Greenberg has dropped all pretence and gathered Denise, her faith and her family about her. Not even the eternal forces of rage, greed and lust will keep a son from his mother…

Poignant, moving, funny and exceptionally entertaining, Greenberg the Vampire is at once a superb light-horror parable and sardonic but sincere paean of praise to the unshakable power of Family expressed through the happily inexhaustible well of literature known as “Jewish Voices”.

As such it compellingly taps into the Jewish-American experience most famously represented by authors as varied as Philip Roth, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow, Joseph Heller or Michael Chabon and comedians/entertainers like Woody Allen, Billy Crystal, Mel Brooks and even Lenny Bruce.

Most enticing, though, is that it easily rests within the small but constantly growing sub-genre of graphic novels like The Golem’s Mighty Swing, The Big Kahn, Hereville, Maus and most clearly the epic and astounding canon of semi-autobiographical tales such as A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories, The Dreamer and Will Eisner’s New York the Big City.

An enchanting tale of timeless relevance to all people who love happy endings.
© 1986 Marvel Comics Group. All Rights Reserved.

Essential Daredevil volume 5


By Steve Gerber, Tony Isabella, Bob Brown, Don Heck, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2762-3

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for much of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. He fought gangsters, a variety of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wisecracking his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody, quasi-religious metaphor he’s been seen as in latter years.

After spending years in a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page Murdock took up with former client and Russian émigré Natasha Romanoff, the infamous and notorious spy dubbed The Black Widow.

She was railroaded and framed for murder and prosecuted by Matt’s best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson before the blind legal eagle cleared her. Subsequently leaving New York with her for the wild wacky and West Coast, Matt joined the prestigious San Francisco law firm of Broderick & Sloan but adventure, disaster and intrigue seemed capable of finding the Sightless Swashbuckler anywhere…

This fifth Essential collection re-presents Daredevil #102-125, covering August 1973 to September 1975, and also includes Marvel Two-in-One #3 wherein twin storylines converged, and the action opens with DD searching for recently escaped psychedelic assassin Angar the Screamer.

However Hornhead’s diligent quest instead brought him into conflict with a merciless and similarly displaced old foe when ‘Stilt-Man Stalks the City’ (by Chris Claremont, Syd Shores & Frank Giacoia). The skyscraping scoundrel had first kidnapped the daughter of an inventor in order to extort enhanced weaponry out of the traumatised tinkerer but wasn’t expecting interference from his oldest adversary or his new utterly ruthless paramour….

No sooner had DD and the Widow ended the miscreant’s rampage than #103 saw a team-up with Spider-Man as a merciless cyborg attacked the odd couple whilst they posed for roving photojournalist Peter Parker in ‘…Then Came Ramrod!’ by Steve Gerber, Don Heck & Sal Trapani.

The barely-human brute was after files in Murdock’s safe and hinted of a hidden master, but ultimately his blockbusting strength was of little real use against the far faster veteran heroes…

Even whilst the distracted Murdock was realising that his own boss was sabotaging the attorney’s cases, the mystery manipulator was hiring warped mercenary Sergei Kravinoff to make Daredevil ‘Prey of the Hunter!’ Matt’s priorities changed when Kraven abducted Natasha, and even after the hero had rescued her, explosively returned to defeat them both, throwing the hero to his death over a cliff…

Daredevil #105 saw Natasha brutally avenge her man’s murder, but Murdock was far from dead, having being teleported from the jaws of doom by a ‘Menace from the Moons of Saturn!’ (inked by Don Perlin). In a short sequence pencilled by Jim Starlin, the earthborn Priestess of Titan Moondragon was introduced, and revealed how she had been dispatched to Earth to counter the schemes of death-worshipping proto-god Thanos. She also inadvertently disclosed how she had allied with a respected man of power and authority, providing him with a variety of augmented agents such as Dark Messiah, Ramrod and Angar…

Gerber, Heck & Trapani then brought the expansive extended epic closer to culmination as the manipulator was unmasked in ‘Life Be Not Proud!’ but not before the wily plotter had redeployed all his past minions,  shot his misguided ally Moondragon, usurped a Titanian ultimate weapon and unleashed a life-leeching horror dubbed Terrex upon the world.

With all Earth endangered, DD, the Widow and guest-star Captain Marvel were forced to pull out all the stops to defeat the threat, and only then after a last-minute defection by the worst of their enemies and a desperate ‘Blind Man’s Life!’ courtesy of Gerber, Bob Brown & Sal Buscema.

A new direction began in #108 when DD noticed Natasha using increasingly excessive force on the thugs they stalked. Their heated arguments were forcibly curtailed when Matt’s oldest friend – and current New York DA Foggy Nelson – was shot and she refused to rush to his side with Murdock…

Back in the Big Apple, Matt meets Foggy’s radical student sister Candace and learns of a plot by a mysterious organisation called Black Spectre to steal government printing plates. En route to stop the raid the Scarlet Swashbuckler is intercepted by a larcenous third party whose brutal interference allows the sinister plotters to abscond with the money making plates in ‘Cry… Beetle!’ illustrated by Brown & Paul Gulacy.

Even the arrival of the cops can’t slow the bludgeoning battle against the Beetle in ‘Dying for Dollar$!’ (Brown & Heck), but even as the exo-skeletoned skell breaks away in NYC, in San Francisco Natasha is attacked by a terrifying albino mutant called Nekra Priestess of Darkness, who wants to recruit her into Black Spectre.

After tracking down and defeating the Beetle, Daredevil meets Africa-based adventuress Shanna the She-Devil, unaware that the fiery American ex-pat is back seeking bloody vengeance against the same enemies who have attacked Foggy, Natasha and the entire US economy…

The next chapter appeared in Marvel Two-in-One #3 (May 1974, by Gerber, Sal Buscema & Joe Sinnott) and offered a peek ‘Inside Black Spectre!’ as destabilising attacks on US prosperity and culture fomented riot in the streets of the beleaguered nation.

Following separate clue trails the Thing linked up with the Man Without Fear to invade the cabal’s flying HQ but they were impossibly overcome soon after discovering that the Black Widow had defected to the rebels…

Issue #110 saw the return of Gene Colan – inked by Frank Chiaramonte – as the plot further developed in ‘Birthright!’ revealing that Black Spectre was an exclusively female and minorities staffed organisation, led by a pheromone-fuelled male mutant called Mandrill.

One of the first “Children of the Atom”, the ape-like creature had suffered appalling abuse and rejection until he found the equally ostracised Nekra, but once they met and realised their combined power, they swore to make America pay…

‘Sword of the Samurai!’ (Brown & Jim Mooney) in Daredevil #111 opened with DD and Shanna attacked by a monstrous Japanese warrior even as the She-Devil at last disclosed her own tragic reasons for hunting Nekra and Mandrill. When she too is taken by Black Spectre – who want to dissect her to discover how she can resist Mandrill’s influence – DD is again attacked by the outrageously powerful Silver Samurai…

Triumphing over impossible odds DD then infiltrates the flying fortress in #112 before the spectacular conclusion ‘Death of a Nation?’ (with art by Colan & Giacoia) finds the mutant duo seemingly achieving their ultimate goal by desecrating the White House and temporarily taking symbolic control of America.

…But only until Shanna, the freshly-liberated Natasha and the fighting mad Man without Fear marshal their utmost resources…

Even with the epic over Gerber still kept popping away at contemporary issues as with #113 ‘When Strikes the Gladiator!’ – illustrated by Brown & Vince Colletta – which began with the Black Widow calling it a day, continued with Candace Nelson being arrested by for treason, teased with the girl being kidnapped by one of DD’s most bloodthirsty foes and culminated with the creation of a new major villain and an attack by Marvel’s most controversial monster heroes…

Ted Sallis was a government scientist hired to recreate the Super-Soldier serum that turned a puny volunteer into Captain America. Due to corporate interference and what we today call “mission creep”, the project metamorphosed into a fall-back plan to turn humans into monstrous beings that could thrive in the most polluted of toxic environments.

When Sallis was subsequently captured by spies and consumed his serum to stop them from stealing it, he was transformed into a horrific mindless Man-Thing and lost in the swamps of Florida…

Candace, an idealistic journalism student, had later uncovered illicit links between Big Business, her own university and the Military’s misuse of public funds in regard to the Sallis Project but when she attempted to blow the whistle the government decided to shut her up. More worryingly, scientific mastermind Death-Stalker could think of far more profitable uses for a solution that made unkillable monsters…

Trailing Candy’s abductors to Citrusville, Florida, Daredevil was ambushed by Gladiator and his macabre senior partner, but saved after a furious fracas by the mysterious Man-Thing in #114’s ironically entitled ‘A Quiet Night in the Swamp!’ (Brown & Colletta). The mastermind managed to escape however and returned to New York where he tried to kill Foggy and track down the clandestine, still operating continuation of the Sallis Project. Even though DD arrived in time to foil the maniac in #115’s ‘Death Stalks the City!’ the staggering duel ended inconclusively and the potential mass-murderer’s body could not be found.

Colan & Colletta reunited for ‘Two Flew Over the Owl’s Nest!’ as Daredevil returned to San Francisco in search of reconciliation with Natasha only to blunder into the latest criminal enterprise of one of his oldest enemies.

This time however The Owl isn’t waiting to be found and launches an all-out attack on the unsuspecting DD and the Widow.

Claremont scripted the conclusion over Gerber’s plot, with Brown & Colletta back on the art as Natasha and Shanna desperately hunt for the missing Man without Fear before the avian arch-criminal can add him to the pile of purloined personalities trapped in the diabolical ‘Mind Tap!’

With Gerber moving on, a little messy creative shuffling resulted in ‘Circus Spelled Sideways is Death!’ (#118 by Gerry Conway, Heck & Colletta) as Daredevil left Natasha, resettled in New York and promptly battled the infamous Circus of Crime and their latest star turn – a bat-controlling masked nut called Blackwing – after which Tony Isabella took the authorial reins with a clever piece of sentimental back-writing in ‘They’re Tearing Down Fogwell’s Gym!’ rendered by Brown & Heck.

As Murdock negotiates a plea deal for Candace, the man who trained his boxer father comes by with a little problem. It seems a crazy crooked doctor is offering an impossible muscle and density boosting treatment that can turn ordinary pugilists into unstoppable monsters…

Daredevil #120 then began an extended story-arc which focussed on the re-emergence of the world’s most powerful secret society.

‘…And a Hydra New Year!’ (Isabella, Brown & Colletta) saw the Black Widow hit New York for one last attempt to make the relationship work only to find herself – with Matt and Foggy – knee-deep in Hydra soldiers at a Christmas party.

The resurgent terrorist tribe has learned that America’s greatest security agency needs to recruit a legal expert as one of their Board of Directors and, determined to prevent the accession of ‘Foggy Nelson, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D’ at all costs, have dispatched the formidable El Jaguar and an army of thugs to stop him before he can start.

Thankfully Nick Fury and his crack commandos arrive in time to drive off the attackers but the rumour is true and Foggy is now a marked man…

Both issues #120 and 121 were supplemented by text pages outlining the convoluted history of Hydra and they’re reprinted here too to keep us all in the arcane espionage loop…

The new organisation has scoured the ranks of the criminal classes – and Marvel’s back catalogue – for its return and the likes of Dreadnought, Commander Kraken, Man-Killer, Mentallo, The Fixer, Blackwing and many other golden oldies happily toil for the enigmatic new Supreme Hydra as he continually strives to take out the increasingly harried Foggy. Eventually they succeed in capturing the portly DA and Natasha goes off the deep end in #122’s ‘Hydra-and-Seek’, turning New York into an active war-zone as she hunts for clues, culminating in a brutal showdown and ‘Holocaust in the Halls of Hydra!’

The times and mood were changing however and the last two issues comprise a turn to darker, more gothic dramas beginning with #124 and the advent of a vigilante killer patterned on an old pulp fiction hero.

‘In the Coils of the Copperhead!’ by Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Colan & Klaus Janson courted the controversial gritty realism then remaking Batman over at DC Comics as the Widow finally really and truly walked out on DD, leaving the frustrated hero to bury himself in the mystery of a murdering madman overreacting to petty crime and leaving a trail of bodies behind him…

Foggy meanwhile was up for re-election and losing on all counts to the too-good-to-be true Blake Tower but Matt couldn’t offer any help as he had tracked down the secret of the vigilante. The resultant clash didn’t go the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s way, however, and he started issue #125 with the terrifying realisation that ‘Vengeance is the Copperhead!’ (Wolfman, Brown & Janson) before achieving a last-minute skin-of-the-teeth hollow victory…

The marvellous monochrome tome also includes unseen preliminary covers to issues #104, 107 & 115 by Gil Kane and Jim Starlin plus Marvel Universe Handbook pages giving the low-down on the Man without Fear, technical specs on his handy Billy-Club and the convoluted official intelligence on the Black Widow.

As the social upheaval of the 1960sand early 1970s receded, the impressively earnest material was gradually being replaced by fabulous fantasy tales which strongly suggested the true potential of Daredevil was in reach. These beautifully illustrated yarns may still occasionally jar with their heartfelt stridency, naivety and often-outdated attitudes but the narrative energy and sheer exuberant excitement of these classic adventures are delights no action fan will care to miss.

…And the next volume heads even further into dark shadows and the grimmest of territory…
© 1973, 1974, 1974, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Power Pack and Cloak & Dagger: Shelter from the Storm – a Marvel Graphic Novel


By Bill Mantlo, Sal Velluto, Mark Farmer & Julie Michel (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-87135-601-5

During the 1980s American comicbooks experienced a magical proliferation of new titles and companies following the creation of the Direct Sales Market. With publishers now able to firm-sell straight to retail outlets rather than overprint and accept returned copies from non-specialised shops, the industry was able to support less generic titles and creators were able to experiment without losing their shirts.

In response Marvel developed its own line of creator-owned properties and concentrated a lot of resources into the development of high quality original graphic novels: mixing said creator-owned properties, licensed assets and new series launches in oversized and key Marvel Universe tales (such as this one) in extravagant over-sized packages (a standard 285mm x 220mm rather than the now customary 258 x 168mm) which always felt and looked like far more than an average comicbook no matter how good, bad or offbeat the contents might have been.

Cloak and Dagger were created by Bill Mantlo and Ed Hannigan (first appearing in Spectacular Spider-Man #64 March 1982); two juvenile runaways who fell into the clutches of drug-pushing gangsters. As part of a group of other abducted kids they were used as guinea pigs for new designer drugs but when all the others died horribly Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen were mutated by the chemical cocktail into something more – and less – than human.

Isolated, alone, and vengeful they determined to help other lost kids and hunt drug dealers and all who preyed on the weak in the blackest corners of New York City, popping up all over the Marvel Universe and periodically winning and losing a number of short-lived series all their own.

Cloak is connected to a dimension of darkness; able to teleport, become intangible, and terrifyingly amplify and feed on the wickedness in people. His unceasing hunger for these negative emotions must be regularly if only temporarily sated by super-acrobat Dagger’s dazzling radiance. Her power too has advantages and hazards. The power can cleanse the gnawing dependency afflicting addicts, but constantly, agonizingly, builds up within her when not released. Thus Cloak’s incessant hunger can be assuaged by her light-knives and his apparently insatiable darkness provides a vital method of bleeding off the luminescent pressure within Dagger.

One of the most explored themes of their extended epic was the true nature of their abilities: were they monsters, mutants, transformed humans or were even greater spiritual forces at play in their origins and operations?

Power Pack, created by Louise Simonson & June Brigman in 1984, were four pre-teen siblings given a rare chance to shine in a world dominated by adults after a race of alien marauders kidnapped their parents. Alex, Julie, Jack and Katie Power were befriended by the patriarch of a rival extraterrestrial species who gave his life to save the galaxy and bequeathed his incredible abilities and sentient “Smart-ship” Friday to the valiant children who aided him in his final struggle.

The distraught and horrified kids inherited his fantastic abilities (one each) and, with the guidance and assistance of Friday, the super-powered kids decided to fight for truth and justice – after doing their homework and whenever possible before bed-time!

In Shelter from the Storm writer Bill Mantlo and art-team Sal Velluto, Mark Farmer and Julie Michel explore the nature and reasoning of runaway teens when Marjorie Rifkin discovers that her obsessively protective parents have sabotaged all her college applications, determined that she should marry and stay in their sheltered little town of Russet Corners. Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks Juan Cordova again defends his mother and younger brother and sister from his drunken, abusive father before fleeing the house in fear of his life.

Although worlds apart, Marjorie and Juan are united in their desire to get way and as the strangers meet on a bus to New York, desperate friendship blossoms…

Meanwhile in Manhattan a news report about the Safe Refuge Shelter for runaways blends with a bedtime story of Hansel and Gretel and little Katie Power succumbs to nightmares of abandonment and loss…

When Marjorie and Juan hit the Port Authority Bus Terminal they are immediately targeted by pimps and chicken-hawks but rescued by Cloak and Dagger. In the brutal struggle the luminescent Tandy Bowen receives a savage blow to the head and wanders off, dazed and confused, unnoticed by her rampaging partner Ty Johnson…

Carrying Dagger, Juan and Marjorie make their way to Safe Refuge whilst the enraged Cloak’s ravening hunger and grim fury gives way to despair. With few allies to call on, the Demon of Darkness enlists the aid of Power Pack to help him find his symbiotic soul-mate…

Wise beyond her years, Julie suggests shelters such as Safe Refuge, but even as they make their way there – without their parent’s knowledge – Dagger, Marjorie and Juan have stumbled onto more problems.

In the City’s harsh social climate, Safe Refuge is facing closure. It can only stay open if enough runaways use it, but so many are defecting to new and upcoming residence The Shelter Society that it might die for lack of funds and occupants. Moreover, many of the residents are simply disappearing…

By the time Cloak and Power Pack arrive, Dagger, Marjorie and Juan have been kidnapped and forcibly dragged to the new home, rapidly discovering its horrifying secret: The Shelter Society is nothing more than a gigantic honey-trap run by a ghastly mutated travesty called Cadaver who feeds on the life energy of humans. Naturally his favoured repast is those dregs that society refuses to acknowledge and won’t miss if they vanish without fuss forever…

Even before Power Pack and the increasingly desperate Cloak arrive to save the day, former helpless victims Juan and Marjorie have taken their first steps towards true independence by escaping and striking back at Cadaver and his legion of drained, zombie mind slaves…

Produced in conjunction with and offering solid advice and contact information for homeless kids from the Nineline National Runaways Hotline service, this worthy tale never strays far from the point that to be effective, a message has to be entertaining too, and the dark drama has all the necessary action, adventure, thrills and spills to keep readers glued to this great-looking graphic page turner.
© 1989 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills – Marvel Graphic Novel #5


By Chris Claremont & Brent Eric Anderson (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-93976-620-8   1994 edition 0-939766-20-5   2011: 978-0785157267

Following hard on the heels of their X-line expansion with The New Mutants, Marvel capitalised on the buzz by releasing a hard-hitting graphic novel which emphasised and cemented the aspects of alienation and bigotry which underpinned relations between Homo Sapiens and Superior with a stunningly effective modern parable starring the Uncanny X-Men in a landmark tale worthy of the company’s hot new format as a Marvel Graphic Novel.

At that time Marvel led the field of high-quality original graphic novels: offering big event tales set in the tight continuity of the Marvel Universe, as well as series launches, creator-owned properties, movie adaptations and licensed assets in lavishly expansive packages based on the well-established European Album format.

With bigger, almost square pages (285x220mm rather than the customary 258x168mm) which felt and looked instantly superior to the gaudily standard flimsy comicbook pamphlets, the line did much to improve the overall poor, shoddy and especially cheap image of comics, paving the way for today’s ubiquitous market where anything pictorial between two covers can be so designated, irrespective of how good, bad or incomprehensible the contents might be.

After the immensely successful in-House epic The Death of Captain Marvel, licensed properties Elric: the Dreaming City and Dreadstar set the seal on Marvel’s dedication to experimentation. The New Mutants then proved the growing power of the burgeoning Comicbook Direct Sales Market when the introductory graphic novel (only available in those still-scarce and widely scattered emporia) led directly into a nationally distributed new monthly series. Some fans had to jump through incredible hoops to pick up that all-important initial adventure…

God Loves, Man Kills repeated the furore for rabid X-Fans as the grim cautionary tale unfolded only for those fans near a comic store or prepared to buy through the mail…

The story itself is one of the most disturbingly true to life in the entire canon and opens with the murder of two children. The “Purifiers” responsible then proudly display the bodies in the playground where they died with the placard “muties” around their necks.

When mutant terrorist Magneto finds the bodies the stage is set for one of the X-Men’s darkest cases…

Fundamentalist preacher Reverend William Stryker is the demagogue of the hour: his evangelical crusade against unholy, ungodly mutants has made him rich and powerful whilst his sinister secret death-squads have enabled him to undertake the latest stage of his mission in the full, controversial glare of the public eye. He even has powerful friends and allies within the Government…

Stryker’s divinely-inspired mission is to incite a race-war and eradicate the entire sub-species of Homo Superior, using not only his television ministries to whip up public fear and hatred, but with a private army of merciless mutant-hating racist killers.

The next phase involves taking out the X-Men and begins when Professor Xavier, Cyclops and Storm are ambushed after participating in a TV debate.

When news of their deaths reaches the test of the team, Colossus, Wolverine and Nightcrawler track down the assailants and discover that their friends are only captives of Stryker’s Purifiers, just as old enemy Magneto appears, proposing a temporary truce…

Meanwhile Colossus’s sister Illyana and Kitty Pryde have stumbled upon the captives’ fate and been attacked too. Kitty escapes and goes on the run with murderous Purifiers hot on her trail…

Stryker has been busy: whilst happily torturing his captives he has devised a way to use Xavier’s telepathic abilities to destroy mutants and all those with latent mutant genes at one genocidal stroke.

As the hate-peddler’s plans enter the final stage Magneto and the remaining X-Men prepare for their most important battle, but the showdown on live TV from Madison Square Gardens offers many surprises and reversals of fortune as Stryker, in his paranoid hubris, overestimates the power of blind prejudice and the underestimates the basic humanity of the common man …

This tale is perhaps the most plainspoken and shocking example of mutants as metaphors for racial abuse in society and the stark message herein, savagely delivered by author Chris Claremont and artist Brent Anderson at the very top of their game, made explicit the power of bigotry and the ghastly repercussions of allowing it to bloom uncontested…

A slightly re-proportioned and reformatted edition was released in 1994, reduced in size to approximate standard comicbook size and the tale has also been reprinted, in similarly reduced circumstances in 2006 and 2011.

Moving, scary and immensely influential, God Loves, Man Kills is the comicbook X-Men at their most effective and movie-going readers will recognise much of the tale as it formed the basis for the X-Men film sequel X2.
© 1982, 1994, 2006, 2011 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil in Love and War – a Marvel Graphic Novel


By Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-87135-172-2

It’s been a while since Marvel published an all-original graphic novel as opposed to a collection, but not too long ago they were the market leader in the field with an entire range of “big stories” told on larger than normal pages (277x208mm rather than the now customary 258 x 168mm) featuring not only proprietary characters but also licensed assets like Conan, media adaptations like Willow and even original creator-owned properties such as Alien Legion.

This spectacular and controversial tale of triumph and tragedy from 1986 is a defining moment in the ongoing battle between the driven Man Without Fear and his ultimate antithesis Wilson Fisk – the sinister and grotesque master manipulator dubbed the Kingpin – wherein scripter Frank Miller and illustrator Bill Sienkiewicz (and subtly effective letterer Jim Novak) took a long, hard look at the costs of the struggle in a stark examination of obsession…

The Kingpin is the criminal overlord with New York City in his pocket, wielding the power of life and death over all its denizens. For such a man helplessness is a toxic emotion but all his power and influence cannot cure his beloved wife Vanessa, left broken and catatonic after one of Fisk’s regular confrontation’s with the city’s superheroic guardians…

Dr. Paul Mondat is the world’s greatest expert on such conditions so Fisk orders psychopathic killer Victor to abduct the French physician’s blind wife Cheryl, thus compelling the doctor to cure Vanessa or else. To ensure his total compliance and utmost passionate dedication Fisk leaves Cheryl in the deranged kidnapper’s tender care…

Spending all his time babysitting the unsullied and angelically helpless waif, Victor begins to fixate on his captive…

Daredevil, meanwhile, is punching all the usual suspects in his attempts to get to the Kingpin and save Cheryl, but Victor is far, far off the grid as well as his meds…

Coercing low-level thug Turk into being his snitch and pawn the Sightless Swashbuckler at last rescues Cheryl and then determines to use her as another game piece in his campaign but soon he too is falling under the spell of the impossibly beguiling young woman…

Victor, deprived of his angel of light, goes completely off the rails just as a new factor skews the picture when Mondat succeeds in bringing Vanessa out of her trance…

As the doctor grows ever closer to the recovering Vanessa, ruthless mob overlord Fisk is increasingly distracted and beginning to succumb to jealousy. Events rise to a fearsome crescendo when Daredevil finally tears himself away from Cheryl to invade the Kingpin’s skyscraper citadel. The hero is completely unaware that the utterly unhinged Victor has tracked him down and is only waiting for the masked man to leave so that he can be alone again with his divine Cheryl…

Meanwhile the Kingpin has realised his own great mistake: Mondat has bound Vanessa to him and disappeared, taking with him the only thing Wilson… an eye for an eye, a wife for a wife…

Brutal, scary and enticingly different, this is a truly breathtaking psychological drama beautifully draped in Sienkiewicz’s evocative expressionist painting style: a uniquely effective piece of comics storytelling which is a magnificent, challenging and deeply satisfying.

Although best read in the original oversized Marvel Graphic Novel edition keen and thrifty fans can also see the tale included in the 2003 standard-proportioned compendium Daredevil/Elektra: Love and War.

And they really should…
© 1986 Marvel Comics Group. All rights reserved.

The New Mutants – Marvel Graphic Novel #4


By Chris Claremont & Bob McLeod (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-93976-620-8   1994 edition 0-939766-20-5

Midway through an extended X-Men storyline wherein the maligned mutants were lost in space and Professor X was infected with a telepathic parasite which urged him to gather similarly super-powered, potential hosts for parasitic aliens The Brood, Marvel launched a spin-off X-series which returned thematically to the core concept of heroes-in-training.

This fresh yet retro venture was dubbed The New Mutants and to fully capitalise on the landmark undertaking the junior class debuted in the company’s hot new format as a Marvel Graphic Novel.

At that time Marvel led the field of high-quality original graphic novels: offering big event tales set in the tight continuity of the Marvel Universe, series launches, creator-owned properties, movie adaptations and licensed assets in lavishly expansive packages based on the well-established European Album format with bigger, almost square pages (285x220mm rather than the customary 258x168mm) which felt and looked instantly superior to the gaudily standard flimsy comicbook pamphlets – irrespective of how good, bad or incomprehensible the contents proved to be.

After the immensely successful in-House epic ‘The Death of Captain Marvel’, two licensed properties ‘Elric: the Dreaming City’ and ‘Dreadstar’ set the seal on Marvel’s dedication to experimentation. The New Mutants then proved the growing power of the burgeoning Comicbook Direct Sales Market as this introductory graphic novel (only available in those still-few emporia) led directly into a nationally distributed new monthly series. Some fans had to jump through incredible hoops to pick up that all-important initial adventure…

Entitled ‘Renewal’ the school days saga finds sometime X-Men doctor Moira MacTaggert in the Scottish Highlands saving lupine metamorph schoolgirl Rahne Sinclair from a lynch mob led by a pious religious demagogue. The action then switches to Brazil where millionaire’s son and sporting golden boy Roberto DaCosta transforms into an eerie ebony monster in the middle of a soccer match. With the massed spectators appalled and terrified, only Bobby’s girlfriend Juliana Sandoval rushes to his aid…

In Kentucky, 16 year old Sam Guthrie trudges toward the coalmine. With his father recently dead, the boy now has to forget dreams of higher education and provide for his brothers and sisters. However when a cave-in buries him and his crew Sam unexpectedly blasts his way out in an explosive burst of power…

Meanwhile in the Medicine Bow Mountains of Colorado, reclusive Cheyenne maiden Danielle Moonstar is appalled to hear that her beloved grandfather is about send her to live with a white man named Xavier. Old Black Eagle fears her uncanny psychic abilities will overwhelm her and menace everybody around her…

None of these widely scattered waifs is aware that a manic mutant-hater has made them targets of his obsessive hatred. Dani is the first to suffer as her grandfather is murdered by armoured warriors…

Meanwhile in Westchester, Charles Xavier is examining Rahne and another young mutant. Xi’an Coy Manh is a Vietnamese refugee whose ability to possess people led her into conflict with her crime-lord uncle and the Amazing Spider-Man under the soubriquet Karma. When news of Black Eagle’s death arrives, Xavier rushes to Colorado with the two girls in tow, arriving in time to help Moonstar drive off more armoured assassins.

Discerning that Hellfire Club villain Donald Pierce is behind the murders and attempted abduction, the group then travels to Rio de Janeiro but arrives too late to save Roberto and Juliana from being kidnapped by Pierce’s agents…

Juliana dies saving DaCosta during a botched rescue mission and the grieving boy swears to have his full measure of vengeance…

Pierce has not been idle: he has already deceived and recruited gullible, desperate Sam Guthrie and sent the superhuman Cannonball to capture Xavier, leaving only the mutant kids, codenamed Wolfsbane, Mirage, Sunspot and Karma, to save him and thwart Pierce’s mad schemes. In this they are helped in no small part by the conflicted but rapidly reconsidering Guthrie…

Beautifully illustrated by Bob McLeod this fast-paced rollercoaster of drama and action was the first step in the inexorable expansion of the X-Universe franchise and still reads amazingly well – especially for new fans – even after that Homo Superior bubble has long burst…

A slightly re-proportioned and reformatted edition was released in 1994, reduced in size to approximate standard comicbook proportions and the tales has also been reprinted, albeit in proportionally much-reduced standard format as the first chapter of New Mutants Classic Volume 1 TPB (from 2006) which also includes the comicbooks New Mutants #1-7 and Uncanny X-Men #167 within its 240 pages.
© 1982, 1994 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Inhumans – A Marvel Graphic Novel


By Anne Nocenti, Brett Blevins & Al Williamson (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-87135-435-7

Conceived as another fantastic lost civilisation and debuting in 1965 (Fantastic Four #44-48) during Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s most fertile and productive creative period, The Inhumans are a race of incredibly disparate (generally) humanoid beings genetically altered by aliens in Earth’s pre-history, consequently becoming technologically advanced far ahead of emergent Homo Sapiens.

Subsequently they isolated themselves from the world and the barbarous dawn-age humans, first on an island and latterly in a hidden valley in the Himalayas in a fabulous city named Attilan. After untold centuries in hiding, increasing global pollution levels began to attack their elevated biological systems and the Inhumans relocated their entire city-civilisation to the Moon. This bold act exposed them to military scrutiny and they became known at last to the ordinary citizens of Earth.

The Attilan mark of citizenship is immersion in the mutative Terrigen Mists which further enhance and transform individuals into radically unique and generally super-powered beings. The Inhumans are necessarily obsessed with genetic structure and heritage, worshipping the ruling Royal Family as the rationalist equivalent of mortal gods.

In this controversial tale from 1988, scripter Anne Nocenti and artists Brett Blevins & Al Williamson (with letters from Jim Novak & Gaspar Saladino and colours by Mike Higgins) took a hard look at the underbelly of the concept in a stark examination of personal rights vs. civic responsibility…

With such an unstable potential breeding pool, the right to have children has been taken away from individuals and delegated to a Genetic Council. If, on occasion their mandates break hearts or even lead the desperate and lovelorn to commit suicide, that’s sad but just a price the race must pay…

After witnessing one such tragic demise on the day of the annual pronouncement of who may and may not sire offspring, bellicose, passionate and deeply conservative Gorgon has much to ponder upon. Even his own cousin Karnak sympathises with the growing public movement to abolish the Council and let citizens choose their own breeding partners, and the princes have, as usual, come to blows over their always opposing views…

It all becomes agonisingly personal when their cousin Medusa, wife and voice of the mighty but voluntarily mute King Blackbolt (whose softest syllable could shatter a mountain) announces she is already pregnant and the Council summarily decree the unsanctioned and potentially ultra-destructive fetus must be destroyed…

Horrified when her shocked but resigned family agrees to the horrifying Eugenics dictat, Medusa flees Attilan with the unsuspected aid of deranged psychopathic genius (and brother-in-law) Maximus. She hides on Earth, preferring to risk death by pollution rather than the arbitrary murder of unborn child.

Amongst the Inhumans the rebellious act divides both royal and commoner families and looks certain to foment civil war. Blithely unaware, on Earth Medusa and faithful companion Minxi are sequestered in a deserted garbage dump on the outskirts of Las Vegas where her soon-to-be-born baby begins to increasingly make its presence – and power – felt…

In Attilan, Blackbolt is crushed and paralysed by the weight of duty and his own indecision whilst Maximus schemes to win Medusa for himself. At last united but still bickering, the Royal Family, Gorgon, Karnak, Triton and Medusa’s sister Crystal travel to Earth to stand by the defiant mother-to-be. The elemental Crystal uses her ability to collect and banish all the toxins in the air to produce a thirty-mile wide “clean-zone” for Medusa, but as her time nears, strange, unnatural phenomena begin to occur throughout the region…

At last Blackbolt comes to a shattering decision and Maximus makes his final sinister move, Medusa goes into labour and the tortured, twisted environment comes to ghastly unnatural life just as and the full extent of the newborn’s abilities are revealed…

Even after all the horror, death and disaster, there is one last shock and betrayal when the Inhumans return to the Moon under a dubious amnesty…

Evocative, challenging and powerfully unsettling, this dark and impressive yarn goes far beyond the normal parameters of cosmic Fights ‘n’ Tights shenanigans; forcing readers to think as well as feel.

Marvel don’t generally publish original material graphic novel anymore but once they were market leader in the field with a range of “big stories” told on larger pages emulating the long-established European Album (285 x 220mm rather than the standard 258 x 168mm of today’s books) featuring not only proprietary characters in out-of-the-ordinary adventures but also licensed assets like Conan, creator-owned properties like Alien Legion and new character debuts.

This extended experiment with big-ticket storytelling in the 1980s and 1990s produced many exciting results that the company has never come close to repeating since. Most of the stories still stand out today – or would if they were still in print. The Inhumans is a beautiful, extremely uncompromising and occasionally explicit tale delivering action, tension and soul-searching drama and is something no unabashed older fan of superhero sagas should miss….
© 1988 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Aladdin Effect – Marvel Graphic Novel #16


By James Shooter, David Michelinie, Greg LaRoque & Vince Colletta (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-87135-081-7

Marvel don’t generally publish original material graphic novel anymore but once they were market leader in the field with a range of “big stories” told on larger pages emulating the long-established European Album (285 x 220mm rather than the standard 258 x 168mm of today’s books) featuring not only proprietary characters in out-of-the-ordinary adventures but also licensed assets like Conan, creator-owned properties like Alien Legion and new character debuts.

This extended experiment with big-ticket storytelling in the 1980s and 1990s produced many exciting results that the company has never come close to repeating since. Most of the stories still stand out today – or would if they were still in print.

Released in 1985, The Aladdin Effect was an attempt to capitalise on the company’s growing stable of female characters and – I’m guessing – target the notoriously scarce and fickle maturing female readership with something more exclusively to their tastes and aspirations. This conventional but highly enjoyable Fights ‘n’ Tights thriller was conceived and concocted by Editor Jim Shooter, scripted by David Michelinie and illustrated by Greg LaRoque & Vince Colletta.

Joe Ember is a good man, loving husband and father: sheriff of the isolated community of Venture Ridge, Wyoming but someone looking the end of the world in the face…

Two months ago the little town lost all hope and has been sliding into decadence, anarchy and ruin. Sixty days ago, without explanation the rural community was surrounded by an invisible, impenetrable forcefield and trapped like bugs under glass.

Cut off from the world, with food and power dwindling, the people have begun to go mad…

Little Holly-Ann isn’t worried: the little girl knows her daddy will keep everyone safe even if so many old friends and neighbours are acting strange and scary. The little girl is a dreamer and fan of New York’s superheroes. She especially adores the women like Storm, She-Hulk, Tigra and the Wasp and wishes that she could be like them…

When Joe, crumbling under pressure, destroys her scrapbook Holly-Ann goes to sleep extremely upset and really, really wishes…

Next morning an amnesiac stranger is seen on the streets: a striking black woman with white hair and blue eyes. When the mob attacks her the stranger easily cows them all and Holly-Ann knows it is the mutant X-Man Storm.

At last an answer begins to form when a mysterious being called Timekeeper reveals himself and demands that the incomprehensible power-source hiding in the city reveals itself – or the city will be destroyed within 24 hours…

When Storm tries and fails to shatter the forcefield, the She-Hulk appears, also with muddled memories but just as determined to help little Holly-Ann. Soon after both the Wasp and Tigra are discovered and the sinister secret technologists of AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics) are discovered as the true cause of all the town’s problems.

When She-Hulk tackles them she is almost beaten to death by the army of super scientific soldiers…

With only hours remaining before the deadline, the battered community and diminished super-women prepare for the overwhelming onslaught to come…

Terrified and outmatched Joe Ember is ready to surrender all hope but his valiant daughter shows him another way and, regaining his sense of purpose, he galvanises the ordinary folk and leads them in a last ditch battle for their town, their lives and their souls…

A stirring mix of childhood fantasy and mature B-movie thriller, all wrapped up in Marvel madness and with loving overtones of the Magnificent Seven, this extremely uncompromising and occasionally explicit tale delivers action, tension and soul-searching drama for both the faithful readership and even the newest kid on the block looking for a different kind of story….
© 1985 Marvel Comics Group/Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.