Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 12


By Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, John Romita, Gil Kane & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4214-0 (HB)

Amazing Spider-Man was always a series that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead – of its fan-base. As the depressing weight of the Sordid Seventies continued, that feeling seemed to intensify with every issue…

By the time of these tales Stan Lee was easing out of writing and here replaces himself with 19-year-old science fiction author Gerry Conway. The scripts – aided in no small part by the plotting input and mentoring of resident illustrator John Romita – achieved a more contemporary tone (but, naturally feeling quite dated from here in the 21st century, Dude!): purportedly closely in tune with the times. Combined with the emphatic use of soap opera subplots which kept older readers glued to the series even when bombastic battle sequences didn’t, Amazing Spider-Man grew to ever greater heights of popularity.

Moreover, as a sign of the times a hint of cynical surrealism also began creeping in…

Thematically, there’s a decline in the use of old-fashioned gangsterism and a growing dependence on outlandish villains. The balance of costumed super-antagonists with thugs, hoods and mob-bosses, was gradually eroding and soon a global resurgence of interest in supernatural stories would result in more monsters and uncanny happenings…

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

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

Re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #110-120 (originally released between July 1972 and May 1973) the astonishing tales in this titanic twelfth Masterworks tome begin with ‘The Birth of… the Gibbon!’ (by Lee & Romita) which finds a despondent and world-weary wallcrawler battling another shunned and lonely outcast. Orphaned drifter Martin Blank possessed an anthropoid frame which made him an outcast and brought out the cruel worst in humanity. When he reaches out in friendship and admiration to Spidey he is rebuffed again and savagely lashes out…

The Gibbon retuned a month later when psychopathic stalker Kraven the Hunter brainwashed the hapless outcast ‘To Stalk a Spider!’ in a tale which saw the beginning of Gerry Conway’s tenure on the title, after which #112 follows up with another periodic crisis of faith for Peter Parker as ‘Spidey Cops Out!’

The harassed and exhausted hero is ready to chuck it all in until another nightmarish old adversary resurfaces as part of a burgeoning gang war…

They Call the Doctor… Octopus!’ (Conway & Romita with art assistance from Tony Mortellaro and Jim Starlin) sees the city plunged into chaos when the multi-limbed madman squares off against mysterious gang-boss Hammerhead with a rededicated but fearfully overmatched Spider-Man caught in the middle…

The next chapter in a brutal and comparatively long-running duel for control of New York’s underworld played out in ‘Gang War, Schmang War! What I Want to Know is … Who the Heck is Hammerhead?’ by Conway, John Romita Sr., Mortellaro & Jim Starlin, with our angst-ridden arachnid trapped between the battling mobs of 1930s movie gangster pastiche Hammerhead and sworn nemesis Dr. Octopus; each seeking to top the other’s callous, staggering ruthlessness.

In the melee Spidey is captured by the bizarre newcomer and learns from the boastful braggart how an ordinary amnesiac gunsel was rebuilt into an unstoppable cyborg by a rogue scientist named Jonas Harrow.

Seconds from death, Spider-Man is driven to risk everything on a wild escape bid after he overhears that Ock will be meeting up with an old lady. The agonised wallcrawler fears that his beloved, befuddled, missing-for-months Aunt May is once more sheltering the many-armed menace…

Dashing into the Westchester countryside, he breaks in to Octavius’ HQ only to be brained with a vase by the terrified May Parker. Moments behind him are Hammerhead’s goons and, all too soon, ‘The Last Battle!’ is underway…

As the mobsters decimate each other, Spider-Man barely escapes being shot by his closest relative and is more than happy to disappear when the police show up to arrest (almost) everybody.

In the aftermath, however, the Widow Parker astounds everybody by revealing that she will be staying in Octopus’ mansion until he is released…

Amazing Spider-Man #116 began an extended political thriller as charismatic reformer Richard Raleigh opens a savvy campaign to become Mayor, only to be opposed and hunted by a brutish monster and hidden mastermind in Suddenly… the Smasher!’

Older fans will recognise much of the story and art since it was a recycled Lee, Romita & Jim Mooney monochrome saga from 1968’s Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine (augmented with additional art by Romita & Mortellaro and bridging scenes scripted by Conway): all neatly reconfigured to encompass new subplots regarding May’s absence and publisher J. Jonah Jameson’s involvement and obsession with Law-&-Order demagogue Raleigh…

The drama deepens with ‘The Deadly Designs of the Disruptor!’ as the monster’s masked master intensifies efforts to destroy the would-be Mayor – with only Spider-Man seemingly able to deter the maniac – before the affair finally culminates in a ‘Countdown to Chaos!’ wherein the true architect of the campaign of terror is exposed and destroyed…

Peter’s problems exponentially increased in #119 as a mysterious telegram for Aunt May calls him away to Canada to meet a lawyer named Rimbaud. Before he leaves, however, Peter’s best friend’s father has a disturbing episode.

Norman Osborn had been the maniacal Green Goblin until cured by hallucinogen-induced amnesia. Now as Parker readies himself for a trip to Montreal, Osborn seems to be recovering those obscured memories…

With no other option, our harried hero heads north, arriving in time to be caught in a city-wide panic as another verdant former sparring partner hits town. ‘The Gentleman’s Name is… Hulk’ (an all-Conway & Romita collaboration) saw the wallcrawler utterly overmatched but still striving to stop the rampaging green juggernaut, spectacularly culminating in ‘The Fight and the Fury!’ (illustrated by Gil Kane with Paul Reinman and inked by Romita & Mortellaro).

With the immediate threat averted, Peter at last rendezvous with Rimbaud only to see the secretive legal eagle murdered before he can share whatever he knows about May Parker…

To Be Continued…

Fast-paced, fabulously far-fetched and full of innovative thrills, these tales 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
© 1972, 1973, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 10


By Stan Lee, John Romita, Gil Kane, Jim Mooney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2932-5 (HB)

Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead – of its fan-base. As the Swinging Sixties segued into the Sordid Seventies, that feeling seemed to intensify with every issue…

This breathtaking tenth titanic full-colour tome of chronologically compiling the early adventures of the Arachnoid Amazement sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero achieve truly national prominence as the real world intersected with the niche realm of comics…

After a shaky start The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages. Before too long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

Smart-but-alienated Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider during a school trip. Discovering strange superhuman 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 and vengeful, Peter hunted the assailant who’d made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, discovering, to his horror, that it was the self-same 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 tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them…

Re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #88-99 – originally released between September 1970 and August 1971 – the spider-sagas revel in the fact that Peter and his ever-expanding cast of comrades were practically household names and the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia throughout America and the world. Stan Lee’s scripts tapped into the always-evolving zeitgeists of the times and the deft use of soap opera plots kept older readers glued to the series even if the bombastic battle sequences didn’t. And here a sharp reminder came – that in those days at least – funnybooks were not immune to tragedy…

The wonderment starts to unfold in ‘The Arms of Doctor Octopus!’ (Lee, John Romita & Jim Mooney) with the many-tentacled terror escaping jail and capturing a jetliner full of Chinese diplomats. It all ends with explosive suddenness and apparent suicide after the wallcrawler intervenes but is promptly followed by ‘Doc Ock Lives!’ which heralded a new era of visual dynamism as Gil began a sporadic but memorable run as penciller whilst Romita reverted to inker. The octopus rampages through town causing carnage until Spider-Man again confronts him. The battle took a lethal turn in ‘And Death Shall Come!’ wherein Peter Parker’s attempts to stop him led to the death of a beloved cast member…

With that tragic demise of a cast regular, the webslinger became a wanted fugitive and already fanatical publisher J. Jonah Jameson began backing “Law and Order” election hopeful Sam Bullitt in a campaign ‘To Smash the Spider!’, utterly unaware of the politician’s disreputable past and ultra-right-wing agenda, but the secret came out in #92 ‘When Iceman Attacks’

The ambitious demagogue convinced the youngest X-Man that Spider-Man had kidnapped Parker’s paramour Gwen Stacy but the Wondrous Wallcrawler’s explosive battle against the mutant exposed the corrupt and explicitly racist Bullit in an all-out action extravaganza featuring some of the best fight-art of the decade by two of the industry’s greatest names.

Romita resumed pencilling with issue #93, which saw the return of an almost forgotten frenemy in ‘The Lady and… The Prowler!’. Hobie Brown was a super-burglar gone straight, but when he saw that the Amazing Arachnid was wanted, he too was all too ready to believe the media hype…

Amazing Spider-Man #94 (Lee, Romita & Sal Buscema) offered a fresh glimpse of the hero’s fabled origin as part of a dynamic dust-up with The Beetle ‘On Wings of Death!’, after which Peter headed for London to woo his estranged girlfriend Gwen, who had fled the manic violence of America.

Sadly, ‘Trap for a Terrorist’ found the city under threat from a gang of bombers, which apparently only Spider-Man could handle, so she returned home, never knowing Parker had come after her.

Everything was forgotten in the next issue when deeply disturbed and partially amnesiac industrialist Norman Osborn abruptly remembered he once had another more macabre persona before once more attacking Peter in #96’s ‘…And Now, the Goblin!’ by Lee, Kane & Romita.

Lee had long wanted to address the contemporary drugs situation in his stories but was forbidden by Comics Code Authority strictures. When the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare approached him to tackle the issue, Lee crafted the 3-part Green Goblin tale. When it was refused Code approval, the writer-editor went ahead and published it anyway…

Although the return of the madman who knew all Spider-Man’s secrets was the big fan-draw, the real meat of the tale was how Osborn’s son Harry – a perfectly normal rich white kid and Peter Parker’s best friend – could be drawn into a web of addiction, abuse and toxic overdose…

Frank Giacoia began inking Kane with the second instalment, ‘In the Grip of the Goblin!’ as the elder Osborn ran riot, almost killing the webslinger and preparing for his final deadly assault even as his son lay dying, before the saga spectacularly concluded with ‘The Goblin’s Last Gasp!’ as, in the clinch, the villain’s deeply-buried paternal love proved his undoing and Parker’s salvation…

This collection closes with a placeholder yarn designed to set up major events for the anniversary 100th issue.

Amazing Spider-Man #99 portrays ‘A Day in the Life of…’: an all-action, social drama-tinged palate-cleanser with Peter and Gwen finally getting their love-life back on track, only marginally diverted by a prison breakout easily quelled by the Arachnid Avenger, whilst highlighting the growing scandal of prison conditions.

The best was yet to come…
© 1970, 1971, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 9


By Stan Lee, John Romita, John Buscema, Jim Mooney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2462-7

Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead of – its fan-base.

This nail-biting ninth full-colour compilation of chronological Arachnoid Amazement sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero navigate another rocky period of transformation and tribulation on the road to becoming the world’s most popular comics character.

After a shaky start The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages. Before too long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

Smart-but-alienated Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider during a school trip. Discovering strange superhuman 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 and vengeful, Peter hunted the assailant who’d made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, discovering, to his horror, that it was the self-same 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 rise and rise of the Amazing Arachnid increased pace as the Swinging Sixties drew to a close and, by the time of the tales collected herein (re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #78-87, originally released between November 1969 and August 1970), Peter and his ever-expanding cast of comrades were practically household names and the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia throughout America and the world.

Stan Lee’s scripts tapped into the always-evolving zeitgeists of the times and the deft use of soap opera plots kept older readers glued to the series even if the bombastic battle sequences didn’t.

One of those American “time-ghosts” was crime and gangsterism and dependence on flamboyant costumed super-foes as antagonists was finely balanced with the usual suspect-pool of thugs, hoods and mob-bosses, but these were not the individual gangs of the Ditko days.

Now Organised Crime and was a huge cultural touchstone with comics cashing in on modern movies, novels and headlines…

Illustrated by John Buscema, Amazing Spider-Man#78 opens this volume with ‘The Night of the Prowler!’ featuring John Romita Junior’s first ever creator-credit for “suggesting” dissatisfied young black man Hobie Brown who briefly turned his frustrations and innate inventive genius to costumed criminal purposes until set straight by Spider-Man in the concluding ‘To Prowl No More!’

With #80 a policy of single-issue adventures was instituted: short, snappy stand-alone thrillers delivering maximum thrills and instant satisfaction. First off was a return for the wallcrawler’s very first super-foe as ‘On the Trail of the Chameleon!’ found the criminal charlatan indulging in a spree of robberies after which an action-packed if somewhat ridiculous punch-up resulted from ‘The Coming of The Kangaroo!’, including a clear contender for daftest origin of all time…

Romita senior then returned as penciller for ‘And Then Came Electro!’ with the voltaic villain attempting to slaughter Spidey live on national TV.

There were big revelations about the Kingpin in the 3-part saga that featured in issues #83-85 with the introduction of ‘The Schemer’ (Lee, Romita sr. & Mike “DeMeo” Esposito): a mysterious but extremely well-heeled criminal outsider determined to destroy the power of the sumo-like crime-lord and usurp his position in the underworld.

‘The Kingpin Strikes Back!’ (Romita sr., Buscema & Mooney) and ‘The Secret of the Schemer!’ changed the Marvel Universe radically, not just by disclosing some of the family history of one of the company’s greatest villains, but also by sending Peter Parker’s eternal gadfly Flash Thompson back to a dubious fate in Vietnam.

It wasn’t the kid’s first tour but now the war was becoming unpopular at home and the bombastic jingoism of earlier issues was being replaced by more contemplative concern as evoked by authorial mouthpiece Stan Lee…

‘Beware… the Black Widow!’ then gave Romita and Mooney a chance to redesign and relaunch the Soviet super-spy and sometime-Avenger in an enjoyable if highly formulaic misunderstanding/clash-of-heroes yarn with an ailing Spider-Man never really endangered. The entire episode was actually a promotion for the Widow’s own soon-to-debut solo series…

The dramas conclude for now with ‘Unmasked at Last!’ which found Parker, convinced that his powers were fading forever and suffering from a raging fever, exposing his secret identity to all the guests at his girlfriend’s party…

Using the kind of logic and subterfuge that only works in comics and sitcoms, Parker and Hobie Brown convinced everybody that it was only a flu-induced aberration…

This is another fabulous celebration of an important teen icon and symbol. Spider-Man at this time became a permanent, unmissable part of many youngsters’ lives and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow. Blending cultural authenticity with spectacular art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness that most of the readership experienced daily, resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive emotionally-intense instalments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining. This book is Stan Lee’s Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak.
© 1969, 1970, 2014 Marvel Character, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 8


By Stan Lee, John Romita, John Buscema, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, Bill Everett & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2074-2) (HB)                   978-0-7851-8807-0 (TPB)

This eighth astounding full-colour compilation of webspinning wonderment again follows the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero through deadly dangers and romantic rollercoasters as the second great era of Amazing Arachnid artists moved inevitably to a close. Although the elder John Romita would remain closely connected to Spider-Man’s adventures for some time yet, these tales would be amongst his last long run as lead illustrator on the series.

After a shaky start – suffering cancellation before his first issue – The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages. Before long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera became the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

Peter Parker was a smart-but-alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering 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 and vengeful, Peter hunted the assailant who’d made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, discovering, to his horror, that it was the self-same 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 rise and rise of the Amazing Arachnid accelerated as the Swinging Sixties drew to a close and, by the time of the tales collected herein (Amazing Spider-Man#68-77 originally released between January-October 1969, plus an obscure thriller from Marvel Super-Heroes #14), Peter and his ever-expanding cast of comrades were on the way to being household names as well as the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia.

Stan Lee’s scripts were completely in tune with the times – as observed by most kids’ parents at least – and the increasing use of soap opera plots kept older readers glued to the series even if the bombastic battle sequences didn’t.

Thematically, gangsterism dominated (probably due to the contemporary buzz caused by Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather) and an increasing use of mystery plots balanced a dependence on costumed super-foes as antagonists: all finely balanced with the usual suspect-pool of thugs, hoods and mob-bosses, but these were not the individual gangs of the Ditko days.

Now Organised Crime and Mafia analogue The Maggia were the big criminal-cultural touchstone as comics caught up with modern movies and headlines.

Issue #68 (by Lee, Romita & Jim Mooney) started a lengthy saga featuring the pursuit of an ancient stone tablet by various nefarious forces, beginning with The Kingpin who exploited a topical moment of student dissent to foment a ‘Crisis on the Campus!’

When a seemingly inevitable riot erupted, the Big Bad tried to swipe the artefact, leaving a few teenagers we’re all too familiar with looking very guilty…

Meanwhile Peter Parker, already struggling with debt, a perpetually at-Death’s-Door Aunt May, relationship grief with girlfriend Gwen Stacy and no time to study, was accused of not being involved enough by his fellow students…

During this period scripter Lee increasingly tapped into the student unrest of the times in various Marvel titles and ‘Mission: Crush the Kingpin!’ further tightened the screws as the student unrest exploded into violence whilst the corpulent crime czar incriminated Spider-Man in the tablet’s theft.

Hounded and harried in ‘Spider-Man Wanted!’ the web warrior nevertheless managed to defeat the Kingpin only to (briefly) believe himself a killer after he attacked personal gadfly J. Jonah Jameson in a fit of rage; causing an apparent heart attack in the obsessive, hero-hating publisher.

At his lowest ebb, and now stuck with the tablet, Parker is attacked by sometime-Avenger Quicksilver in ‘The Speedster and the Spider!’ (#71), before John Buscema signs on as layout-man in ‘Rocked by the Shocker!’

No sooner does Spider-Man leave the stone tablet with Gwen’s dad – former Police Chief Stacy – than the vibrating villain attacks, pinching the petrified artefact and precipitating a frantic underworld civil war. The Maggia dispatch brutal over-sized enforcer Man-Mountain Marko to retrieve it at all costs in ‘The Web Closes!’ (Lee, Buscema, Romita & Mooney) as upstart lawyer Caesar Cicero makes his long-anticipated move to depose aged Don of Dons Silvermane

However, the frail, elderly crime-lord knows the true secret – if not the methodology – of the tablet. To that end, he abducts biologist Curt Connors and his family to reconstruct the formula hidden on the stone and bring him ultimate victory.

Unfortunately, nobody but Spider-Man knows Connors is also the lethal Lizard and that the slightest stress might unleash the reptilian monster within to once more threaten all humanity. ‘If this be Bedlam!’ (Romita & Mooney) leads directly into ‘Death Without Warning!’ as the decrypted power of the tablet causes a cataclysmic battle that seemingly destroys one warring faction forever, decimating the mobs, but also freeing a far more deadly threat…

Amazing Spider-Man #76 sees John Buscema become full penciller with ‘The Lizard Lives!’ whilst concluding chapter ‘In the Blaze of Battle!’ witnesses the webspinner trying to defeat, cure and keep the tragic secret of his friend Connors, all whilst preventing guest-starring Human Torch Johnny Storm exterminating the marauding rogue reptile forever…

Closing this comics compendium is a one-off yarn from Marvel Super-Heroes #14 (May 1968). ‘The Reprehensible Riddle of the… The Sorcerer!’ actually debuted a year previously in the try-out title and reads to me like an inventory tale rushed out to fill a deadline gap or printed just before its “use-by” date expired. Nonetheless, as crafted by Lee, Ross Andru & Bill Everett, it offers a different spin on the wallcrawler as an enigmatic psychic targets Spider-Man, using psionic strikes and voodoo tricks to draw the hero to New Orleans and a death duel with a synthetic, science-tinged homunculus…

Spider-Man became a permanent unmissable part of many teenagers’ lives at this time and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow. Blending cultural authenticity with glorious narrative art, and 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 soap-opera slices, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

This book is Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. Why not see why…?
© 1968, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 7


By Stan Lee, John Romita, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Jim Mooney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1637-0 (HB)                    978-0-7851-5935-3 (TPB)

Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead – of its fan-base.

This seventh superbly scintillating full-colour compilation of chronological webspinning wonderment sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero through another rocky period of transformation as the second great era of Amazing Arachnid artists moved inevitably to a close. Although the elder John Romita would remain closely connected to the Wall-Crawler’s adventures for a little time yet, these tales would be amongst his last long run as lead illustrator on the series.

After a shaky start The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages. Before too long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

You know the story: Peter Parker was a smart-but-alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering he’d 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 and vengeful, Peter hunted the assailant who’d made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, discovering, to his horror, that it was the self-same 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 tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them…

The rise and rise of the Amazing Arachnid increased pace as the Swinging Sixties drew to a close and, by the time of the tales collected herein (re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #62-67, Annual #5 and oversized mainstream magazine experiment Spectacular Spider-Man #1-2, all originally released between July and December 1968), Peter and his ever-expanding cast of comrades were on the way to being household names as well as the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia.

Stan Lee’s scripts were completely in tune with the times – as seen by most kids’ parents at least – and the increasing use of soap opera plots kept older readers glued to the series even if the bombastic battle sequences didn’t.

Thematically, there’s still a large percentage of old-fashioned crime and gangsterism and an increasing use of mystery plots. Dependence on costumed super-foes as antagonists was finely balanced with the usual suspect-pool of thugs, hoods and mob-bosses, but these were not the individual gangs of the Ditko days. Now Organised Crime and Mafia analogue The Maggia were the big criminal-cultural touchstone as comics caught up with modern movies and headlines.

First however from July 1968 comes Spectacular Spider-Man #1 by Lee, John Romita & Jim Mooney: an extended political thriller with charismatic reformer Richard Raleigh ferociously campaigning to become Mayor thus targeted and hunted by a brutish monster seemingly determined to keep the old political machine in place at all costs…

Rendered in moody wash tones, the drama soon disclosed a sinister plotter behind the campaign of terror… but his identity was the last one Spidey expected to expose…

Also included in the magazine and here was a retelling of the hallowed origin tale – ‘In the Beginning…’ by Lee, with Larry Lieber pencils and inks-&-tones added by the great Bill Everett.

Back in the four-colour world Amazing Spider-Man #62 demanded ‘Make Way for …Medusa!’: Lee, Romita, Don Heck & Mike Esposito/DeMeo supplied a fresh change-of-pace yarn as the wallcrawler stumbles into combat with the formidable Inhuman due to the machinations of a Madison Avenue ad man, after which ‘Wings in the Night!’ in #63 saw the original elderly Vulture return to crush his usurper Blackie Drago, and then take on Spidey for dessert.

The awesome aerial angst concluded with ‘The Vultures Prey’ which led to another art-change (with the sumptuous heavy line-work of Jim Mooney briefly replacing the workmanlike Heck & Esposito) in #65 as Spider-Man was arrested and had to engineer ‘The Impossible Escape!’ from a Manhattan prison, foiling a mass jailbreak along the way.

A psychotic special-effects mastermind returns seeking loot and vengeance in #66’s ‘The Madness of Mysterio!’ (Romita, Heck & DeMeo) as the master of FX illusion engineered his most outlandish stunt, whilst in the background the amnesiac Norman Osborn slowly began to regain his memory.

Although the wallcrawler is subjected to a hugely bizarre form of mind-bending it nevertheless results in an all-out action-packed brawl (rendered by Romita & Mooney) entitled ‘To Squash a Spider!’. Perhaps more interestingly, this yarn introduced Randy Robertson, college student son of the Daily Bugle’s city editor and one of the first young black regular roles in Silver Age comics. Lee and his staff were increasingly making a stand on Civil Rights issues at this time of unrest and Marvel would blaze a trail for African American characters in their titles. There would also be a growth of student and college issues during a period when American campuses were coming under intense media scrutiny…

The Amazing Arachnid’s magazine experiment then concludes with The Spectacular Spider-Man #2 (November 1968). To offset disappointing sales, Marvel had switched to a smaller size and added colour, but it was to be the last attempt to secure older-reader shelf-space until the early 1970s. At least the story was top-rate…

Following monochrome recap ‘The Spider-Man Saga’ Lee, Romita & Mooney dealt with months of foreshadowing by finally revealing how Norman Osborn shook off his selective amnesia and returned to full-on super-villainy in ‘The Goblin Lives!’

Steeped in his former madness and remembering Peter Parker was Spider-Man, Osborn plays cat and mouse with his foe, threatening all the hero’s loved ones until a climactic battle utilising hallucinogenic weapons again erases the Goblin personality… for the moment…

This volume closes with Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5 by Lee and his brother Larry Lieber (with inking from Esposito – still in his clandestine “Mickey DeMeo” guise) and clears up a huge mystery in the webspinner’s life by revealing the secret behind the deaths of ‘The Parents of Peter Parker!’.

Played as an exotic spy-thriller the tale took Spider-Man to the Algerian Casbah and a confrontation with the Red Skull. Nit-pickers and continuity-mavens will no doubt be relieved to hear that the villain was in fact retconned later and designated as the second Soviet master-villain who featured in the Captain America revival of 1953-1954, and not the Nazi original that Lee and Co had clearly forgotten was in “suspended animation” throughout that decade when writing this otherwise perfect action romp and heartstring-tugging melodrama…

That annual also provided a nifty Daily Bugle cast pin-up, a speculative sports feature displaying the advantages of Spider powers, a NYC street-map of the various locations where the Spidey saga unfolded plus a spoof section displaying how the Wallcrawler would look if published by Disney/Gold Key, DC or Archie Comics, or drawn by Al “Li’l Abner” Capp, Chester “Dick Tracy” Gould and Charles “Peanuts” Schulz.

It all wraps up with ‘Here We Go A-Plotting!’: a comedic glimpse at work in the Marvel Bullpen, uncredited but unmistakably drawn by the marvellous Marie Severin…

Blending cultural authenticity with stunning narrative art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness that most of the readership experienced daily, resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive soap-opera instalments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

This book is Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. Wish you were here?
© 1968, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Stan Lee, John Romita, Larry Lieber, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1362-2 (HB)                    978-1-3023-7876-9 (HB)

After a shaky start The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages, rivalling the creative powerhouse that was Fantastic Four. Before too long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

You know the story: Peter Parker was a smart-but-alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering he’d 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’d made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, discovering, to his horror, that it was the self-same 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 rise and rise of the Amazing Arachnid increased pace as the Swinging Sixties unfolded and, by the time of the tales in this sixth sterling celebration (re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #51-61 and Annual #4, originally released between August 1967 and June 1968), Peter and his ever-expanding cast of cohorts were on the way to being household names as well as the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia.

Issue #50 had introduced one of Marvel’s greatest villains in the first of a 3-part yarn that saw the blooming of romance between Parker and college classmate Gwen Stacy and re-established Spidey’s war on cheap thugs and common criminals (a key component of the hero’s appeal was that no criminal was too small for him to bother with).

The saga also saw a crisis of conscience force him to quit before resolving to take up his heroic burden once more.

This volume opens with the second chapter as the wallcrawler is trapped ‘In the Clutches of… the Kingpin!’ (by Lee & Romita), battling an army of thugs to save hostages Fred Foswell and J. Jonah Jameson but ultimately losing a fateful fight with the big boss before tragically triumphing in concluding clash ‘To Die a Hero!’

This gang-busting triptych saw Romita relinquish the inking of his art to Mike Esposito (moonlighting from DC as Mickey DeMeo).

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4 follows as Lee – with his brother Larry Lieber & Esposito handling the art chores – crafts an epic battle-saga wherein Spidey and the Human Torch are tricked into appearing in a movie. Sadly ‘The Web and the Flame!’ is just a deviously diabolical scheme to kill them orchestrated by old enemies The Wizard and Mysterio, but the titanic teens are up to the task of trashing their attackers…

From the same issue – and all courtesy of Lieber – come pictorial fact-features ‘The Coffee Bean Barn!’ face-checking the then-current Spider-Man regulars, sartorial secrets exposed in ‘What the Well-Dressed Spider-Man Will Wear’ before superpowers are scrutinised in ‘Spidey’s Greatest Talent’.

Also included are big pin-ups of our hero testing his strength against Marvel’s mightiest good guys, a double-page spread ‘Say Hello to Spidey’s Favorite Foes!’ plus another 2-page treat as we enjoy ‘A Visit to Peter’s Pad!’

A new multi-part saga began in #53 with ‘Enter: Dr. Octopus’ as the many-tentacled madman tries to steal a devastating new piece of technology. After being soundly routed the madman goes into hiding as a lodger at Aunt May’s house in ‘The Tentacles and the Trap!’, before regrouping and finally succeeding in ‘Doc Ock Wins!’

He even convinces a mind-wiped webslinger to join him before the astonishing conclusion in ‘Disaster!’ as, even bereft of memory, the Amazing Arachnid turns on his sinister subjugator and saves the day…

Shell-shocked and amnesiac, Spider-Man is lost in New York in #57 (with lay-outs by Romita, and pencils from the reassuring reliable Don Heck) until he clashes with Marvel’s own Tarzan clone in ‘The Coming of Ka-Zar!’ whilst in the follow-up ‘To Kill a Spider-Man!’ vengeance-crazed roboticist Professor Smythe convinces Jonah Jameson to finance another murderous mechanical Spider-Slayer

With Heck still in the artist’s chair, Amazing Spider-Man #59 sees the hero regain his memory and turn his attention to a wave of street-crime in ‘The Brand of the Brainwasher!’ as a new mob-mastermind begins taking control of the city by mind-controlling city leaders and prominent cops – including Gwen’s dad.

The drama continues as the schemer is revealed to be one of Spidey’s old foes in ‘O, Bitter Victory!’ The revelation creates big problems for Peter and Gwen before concluding part ‘What a Tangled Web We Weave…!’ sees our hero save the day but still stagger away more victim than victor…

Spider-Man became a permanent and unmissable part of many teenagers’ lives at this time and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow.

Blending cultural authenticity with stunning narrative art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness that most of the readership experienced daily resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive soap-opera instalments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

This book is Stan Lee’s Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. You should be here too…
© 1967, 1968, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Masterworks volume 6


By Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neil, Arnold Drake, Don Heck, Werner Roth, Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, Tom Palmer, Sam Grainger, Vince Colletta & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2056-8(HB)                                  978-0-7851-8837-7(PB)

X-Men was never Marvel’s top seller but did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek prettiness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of the college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience. As the decade progressed the kids got edgier and more angst-ridden – as did the world around them and their readers – and the sense of pent-up aggression, isolation and alienation grew.

The core team still consisted of tragic leader Scott Summers/Cyclops, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast although they were now without Professor Charles Xavier, the wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the gradually emerging race of mutant Homo Superior.

Jean Grey/Marvel Girl had recently taken up much of the professor’s role and the team was also occasionally supplemented by magnetic minx Polaris, although she was usually referred to as Lorna Dane

However, by the time of this final collection (re-presenting X-Men #54-66 from March 1969 to March 1970) of the turbulent teens’ original series, despite some of the most impressive and influential stories and art of the decade, the writing was definitely on the wall for Marvel’s misunderstood mutants…

The mayhem begins with ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive… Cyclops!’ by Arnold Drake, Don Heck & Vince Colletta, which introduces Scott’s kid brother Alex just in time for the lad to be kidnapped by Egyptian acolytes of emergent Homo Superior The Living Pharaoh. It appears the boy has a hidden power the Pharaoh covets, which necessitates framing the X-Men’s leader…

At that time the back of the X-Men comic was running “untold origins” of the team, and ‘The Million Dollar Angel’ (Drake & Werner Roth) began unfolding the background of Warren Worthington III, a precocious rich boy rushed off to prep school where he grew wings and concealed them by making himself the most despised and lonely person on campus…

Roy Thomas returned as scripter for #55’s ‘The Living Pharaoh!’ – illustrated by Don Heck, Roth & Colletta – as the full team follow the Summers brothers to the Valley of the Kings and soundly thrash the faux potentate’s minions, only to have the new mutant’s unsuspected power go wild.

Meanwhile, in ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread!’ (Thomas, Roth & Sam Grainger) little Warren has left school and plans a superhero career until an atomic accident brings him into contact with a couple of kids code-named Cyclops and Iceman…

Nobody knew it at the time – and sales certainly didn’t reflect it – but with X-Men #56 superhero comics changed forever. Neal Adams had stunned the comics-buying public with his horror anthology work and revolutionary art on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman, but here, with writer Thomas in iconoclastic form, they began to expand the horizons of graphic narrative with a succession of boldly innovative, tensely paranoid dramas that pitted mutants against an increasingly hostile world.

Deliberately pitched at an older audience, a run of gripping, addictively beautiful epics captivated and enchanted a small band of amazed readers – and were completely ignored by the greater mass of the buying public. Without these tales, the modern X-phenomenon could not have existed, but they couldn’t save the series from cancellation. The cruellest phrase in comics is “ahead of its time…”

‘What is… the Power?’ (Thomas, Adams & inker extraordinaire Tom Palmer) reveals an uncanny connection between the Pharaoh and Alex and, as the Egyptian mastermind transformed into a colossal Living Monolith, the terrified boy’s mutant energies are unleashed with catastrophic results…

At the back, a chemically unbalanced Angel becomes ‘The Flying A-Bomb!’ but happily is defused in time to become the newest X-Man.

Issue #57 brought back the team’s most relentless adversaries in ‘The Sentinels Live!’ as a public witch-hunt prompts the mutant-hunting robots to pursue X-Men across the globe. Amongst the first victims are magnetic Lorna Dane and Alex but the sinister Sentinels have their unblinking optics set on all mutants…

That issue also saw a rundown on Marvel Girl’s abilities in the last back-up feature ‘The Female of the Species!’.

From the next issue on, Thomas and Adams would have an entire issue to play with…

‘Mission: Murder!’ ramps up the tension as the toll of fallen mutants increases, with Iceman, the Pharaoh, Angel and Mesmero all falling to the murderous mechanoids, but when their human controller discovers an unsuspected secret the automatons strike out on their own…

With all other mutants in the Marvel universe captured, Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Beast are reduced to a suicidal frontal assault in ‘Do or Die, Baby!’; pulling off a spectacular victory, but only at the cost of Alex, now calling himself Havok

Badly injured, Alex is brought to an old colleague of Professor Xavier’s named Karl Lykos – a discreet physician hiding a dark secret. ‘In the Shadow of Sauron!’ reveals that as a child the not-so-good doctor had been bitten by Pterodactyls from the Antarctic Savage Land and become an energy vampire.

Now with a powerful mutant to feed on, his addiction fully manifests and a sated Lykos transforms into a winged saurian with hypnotic powers, determined to gorge himself on the other X-Men.

After a shattering struggle in ‘Monsters Also Weep!’ Lykos is defeated and instinctively flees South to the Savage Land to die. Drained of his power, he reverts to human form and when the X-Men track him down the tormented leech chooses suicide rather than become Sauron once more.

Searching for his body, Angel is also attacked by Pteranodons and crashes to the bottom of a vast crevasse, precipitating the mutants into another primordial encounter with wild man Ka-Zar as ‘Strangers …in a Savage Land!’

Marooned once more in a lost world, Angel is healed by the enigmatic Creator: a wounded genius protecting the Savage Land’s mutant population with his own team of X-Men counterparts.

As his team-mates search for him, the Winged Wonder switches allegiance, unaware that his benefactor is actually the X-Men’s oldest enemy…

‘War in the World Below!’ sees the villain’s plans revealed and finally thwarted by the heroes and Ka-Zar, leaving the returning team to tackle a controversial Japanese extremist in ‘The Coming of Sunfire!’ (#64, with veteran stalwart Don Heck doing an impressive fill-in job for Adams) whilst the next issue resurrects the long-dead Professor Xavier – only to nearly kill him again in the Denny O’Neil scripted alien-invasion yarn ‘Before I’d Be Slave…’: an astounding epic that ended Adams’ artistic tenure in grand style.

All the staffing changes were hints of a bigger shake-up. With X-Men #66 (March 1970), the series was cancelled, despite all the frantic and radical innovations crafted by a succession of supremely talented creators.

‘The Mutants and the Monster’, by Thomas, Sal Buscema & Grainger, sent the team hunting for Bruce Banner in an attempt to save Professor X from a coma induced by his psychic battle against the aliens. Unfortunately, when you hunt Banner what you usually end up with is an irate Incredible Hulk

Although gone, the mutants were far from forgotten. The standard policy at that time to revive characters that had fallen was to pile on the guest-shots and reprints. X-Men #67 (December 1970) saw them return, re-presenting early classics.

The Beast fared better than his buddies: riding a wave of monster titles, he was reinvented in a solo series as a response to the world horror boom which shifted general comicbook fare from bright shiny costumed heroes to dark and sinister monsters.

Blue, furry and misunderstood, he soldiered on in various venues until the X-Men stormed back in 1975, but that’s all meat for different collections…

Although a little scrappy in places, these disparate stories are wonderful comics sagas that were too radical for the readership of the times but have since been acknowledged as groundbreaking mini-masterpieces which reshaped the way we tell stories to this day: making this comprehensive collection an unquestionable treasure no fan should be without.
© 1969, 1970, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Masterworks volume 5


By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Arnold Drake, Jerry Siegel, Don Heck, Werner Roth, Jim Steranko, Barry Windsor-Smith & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1787-2(HC)                   :978-0-7851-5909-4(PB)

X-Men was never one of young Marvel’s top titles but it did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek attractiveness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

The team still consisted of tragic Scott Summers/Cyclops, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast whose perpetual training with Professor Charles Xavier was seemingly ended when the wheelchair-bound telepath seemingly perished. Now his lifelong crusade to broker peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent race of mutant Homo Superior was left to his heartbroken ex-students…

This meander down mutant memory lane reprints X-Men #43-53, a crossover from Avengers #53 and pertinent extracts from Ka-Zar #2-3 and Marvel Tales #31; collectively covering April 1968 to April 1971.

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

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

Stirring yarn ‘Red Raven, Red Raven…’ (Thomas and Gary Friedrich, with Don Heck layouts, Roth pencils and inks from John Tartaglione) was accompanied by the opening of the next X-Men Origins chapter-play as ‘The Iceman Cometh!’, courtesy of Friedrich, Tuska & Verpoorten.

X-Men #45 led with ‘When Mutants Clash!’ as Cyclops also escaped, only to encounter the highly-conflicted Quicksilver; a battle latterly concluded in Avengers #53 as ‘In Battle Joined’ (Thomas, John Buscema and Tuska) which depicted Magneto’s defeat and apparent death. Meanwhile, back in the back of #45, Iceman’s story of small town intolerance continued in ‘And the Mob Cried… Vengeance!’

‘The End of the X-Men!’ occurred in issue #46, with the reading of Charles Xavier’s will. FBI Agent Duncan – unseen since the earliest days of the series – reappeared and ordered the team to split up in order to more efficiently monitor different regions of the country for mutant activity.

That shocking pronouncement came just as the unstoppable Juggernaut returned from extradimensional exile, and took great umbrage at being unable to kill his recently deceased step-brother Charles Xavier.  Iceman’s origin then concluded with ‘…And Then There were Two!’ as the cold kid escaped the raving mob trying to lynch him by joining the X-school…

Friedrich was joined by Arnold Drake to script Beast and Iceman’s adventure ‘The Warlock Wears Three Faces!’ as ancient mutant Merlin once more re-branded himself – this time as psychedelic guru Maha Yogi – but again found his brain insufficient against the X-Men’s brawn. Topping off the action, Drake, Roth & Verpoorten explained the cool kid’s powers in gag-stuffed info feature ‘I, the Iceman.’.

As full scripter, Drake penned the Cyclops and Marvel Girl tale for #48. ‘Beware Computo, Commander of the Robot Hive’ is a pacy thriller involving a robotic revolution with a surprise guest villain lurking in the shadows, whilst ‘Yours Truly. the Beast’ wrong-footed everybody by outlining his powers before actually revealing his origin epic.

X-Men#49 offered a tantalising taste of things to come with a startling and stylish Jim Steranko cover, behind which Drake, Heck, Roth & Tartaglione revealed ‘Who Dares Defy… the Demi-Men?’

Nominally an Angel story, this convoluted thriller hastily reunited the team to confront the assembled mutant hordes of Mesmero and Iceman’s new girlfriend Lorna Dane… the daughter of Magneto…

This shocker was supplemented by the natal advent of Henry McCoy in ‘A Beast is Born’ by Drake, Roth & Verpoorten.

Drake, Steranko & Tartaglione reached incredible heights with the magnificently baroque ‘City of Mutants’ in #50; a visual tour de force that remains as spectacular now it was in 1968, but which was actually surpassed by Magneto’s inevitable return for ‘The Devil had a Daughter’ in #51.

The saga then rather rapidly wrapped up in ‘Twilight of the Mutants!’ with the team infiltrating the malign Mutant City to recue Lorna and bring down the evil overlord once and for all…

Don’t misunderstand me, however: This isn’t a bad story, but after two issues of Steranko in his creative prime, nobody could satisfactorily end this tale, and I pity Heck, Roth & Tartaglione for having to try.

The Beast origin chapters in those issues were ‘This Boy, This Bombshell’, ‘The Lure of the Beast-Nappers!’ and ‘The Crimes of the Conquistador!’, as the simian son of a gun is abducted by a would-be world conqueror in need of super-powered servants. That epic of child exploitation and the isolation of being different ended in #53’s ‘Welcome to the Club, Beast!’ but the issue’s main claim to notoriety was the lead feature which was drawn by another young superstar in the making.

Hard to believe now, but in the 1960s X-Men was a series in perpetual sales crises, and a lot of great talent was thrown at it back then. ‘The Rage of Blastaar!’ was illustrated by a young Barry Smith – still in his Kirby clone/appreciation phase – and his engagingly unique interpretations in this off-beat battle-blockbuster from Arnold Drake, inked by the enigmatic Michael Dee (I’m assuming its Mike Esposito), is memorable but regrettably brisk.

Completing the contemporary mutant exploits is a three-part solo saga starring the Angel which endured a peculiarly nomadic publication schedule.

In 1970 Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar starred in three giant sized reprint specials gathering his earlier appearances. These vintage yarns were bolstered by all new short sections – presumably try-out or inventory material. Issues #2 and 3 delved into the private life of the pinioned paladin with Jerry Siegel scripting ‘From the Sky… Winged Wrath!’ as Warren Worthington III visits his parents and sometime girlfriend Candy Southern just as a macabre criminal genius murders the mutant hero’s father…

Illustrated throughout by Tuska & Dick Ayers, the saga of unvarnished vengeance continues with the winged wonder ‘In the Den of the Dazzler!’ (a mad scientist bloke, not the later mutant disco diva) before concluding in suitably ironic fashion in Marvel Tales #30 as the villain attempts ‘To Cage an Angel!’ and pays a heavy price…

These tales perfectly display Marvel’s evolution from quirky action tales to the more fraught, breast-beating, complex melodramas which inexorably led to the monolithic X-brand of today. Well drawn, highly readable stories are never unwelcome or out of favour though, and it should be remembered that everything here informs so very much of today’s mutant mythology. These are stories for the dedicated fan and newest convert, and never better packaged than in this economical tome. Everyone should own this book.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Masterworks volume 4


By Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, Dan Adkins, Ross Andru, Don Heck, John Tartaglione, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1607-3 (HC)                    :978-0-7851-5072-5 (PB)

X-Men was never one of young Marvel’s top titles but it did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek attractiveness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

The core team still consisted of tragic Scott Summers/Cyclops, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast in perpetual training with Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound (and temporarily deceased) telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent race of mutant Homo Superior.

By the time of this turbulent compilation (re-presenting X-Men #32-42 and spanning May 1967 to March 1968) attitudes and events from the wider world were starting to inflict an era of uncertainty on the Merry Mutants and beginning to infuse every issue with an aura of nervous tension. During those heady days, Marvel Comics had a vast following among older teens and college kids, and youthful scribe Roy Thomas spoke and wrote as they did. Coupled with his easy delight in expansive character casts this initially made X-Men a very welcoming read for we adolescent baby-boomers but with societal unrest everywhere those greater issues were beginning to be reflected in the comics…

A somewhat watered down version of the counter-culture had been slowly creeping into these tales of teenaged triumph and tragedy, mostly for comedic balance, but they were – along with Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man – some of the earliest indications of the changing face of America.

Illustrated by Werner Roth with John Tartaglione inking, ‘Beware the Juggernaut, My Son!’ augmented that aura of oppression and dire days ahead as Professor X is abducted by clandestine agency Factor Three and the X-Men are forced to stand alone against an unstoppable mystic monster.

The blistering battle against the Juggernaut was interrupted by a helpful guest-shot from Doctor Strange (and his mentor the Ancient One) leading to a life-saving trip ‘Into the Crimson Cosmos!’ Armed with knowledge of the nature of their enemy the mutants were able to vanquish the unstoppable Cain Marko, but when the dust settled the kids were left with almost no resources to rescue their abducted leader…

Dan Adkins – in full Wally Wood appreciation mode – memorably illustrated #34’s ‘War… In a World of Darkness!’ as the desperate team’s search for Xavier took them into the middle of a subterranean civil war between Tyrannus and the Mole Man, and he also inked Werner Roth on ‘Along Came A Spider…’

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

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

Don Heck stepped in as inker over Andru’s pencils with #37 as ‘We, the Jury…’ saw the mutants finally find Factor Three – allied to a host of their oldest and most venal mutant foes – and primed to trigger an atomic war between the Americans and Soviet Union. Heck then assumed the penciller’s role for ‘The Sinister Shadow of… Doomsday!’ (inked by Roussos), before concluding the tense Armageddon saga with good and evil mutants temporarily united against a common foe in ‘The Fateful Finale!’ (embellished by Vince Colletta).

Werner Roth had not departed the mutant melee: with issue #38 a classy back-up feature had commenced, and his slick illustration was perfect for the fascinating Origins of the X-Men series. Inked by John Verpoorten ‘A Man Called… X’ began unveiling the hidden history of Cyclops, also revealing how Xavier began his cozy relationship with human FBI agent Fred Duncan

The second instalment ‘Lonely are the Hunted!’ displayed humanity in mob-mode as terrified citizens rioted and stalked the newly “outed” mutant Scott Summers: scenes reminiscent of contemporary race-riots that would fuel the racial outcast metaphor of the later Chris Claremont team.

Back at the front of the comicbook, Thomas, Heck and George Tuska ushered in a new era for the team with #40’s ‘The Mask of the Monster!’ as – now clad in individual costumes rather than superhero school uniforms – the young warriors tackled what seemed to be Frankenstein’s unholy creation whilst in the second feature Scott Summers met ‘The First Evil Mutant!’

‘Now Strikes… the Sub-Human!’ and the sequel ‘If I Should Die…’ introduced the tragic Grotesk, whose only dream was to destroy the entire planet, and who instituted the greatest and most stunning change yet.

I’m spoiling nothing now but when this story first ran, the shock couldn’t be described when the last page showed the heroic, world-saving death of Charles Xavier. I’m convinced that at the time this was an honest plot development – removing an “old” figurehead and living deus ex machina from a “young” series – and I’m just as certain that his subsequent “return” a few years later was an inadvisable reaction to dwindling sales…

From the rear of those climactic issues ‘The Living Diamond!’ and ‘The End… or the Beginning?’ (this last inked by neophyte Herb Trimpe) signalled the beginning of The Xavier School for Gifted Children as solitary recluse Professor X took the fugitive Scott under his wing and began his Project: X-Men…

These tales perfectly display Marvel’s evolution from quirky action tales to the more fraught, breast-beating, convoluted melodramas that inexorably led to the monolithic X-brand of today. Well drawn, highly readable stories are never unwelcome or out of favour though, and it should be remembered that everything here informs so very much of today’s mutant mythology. These are stories for the dedicated fan and newest convert, and never better packaged than in this wide range (hardback, softcover and eEditions) of releases. Every comics fan should own this book, so do…
© 1967, 1968, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Masterworks X-Men volume 3


By Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, Jack Sparling, Dick Ayer, John Tartaglione & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1269-3(HC)                      :978-0-7851-5070-1(PB)

X-Men was never one of young Marvel’s top titles but it did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek attractiveness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

The core team still consisted of tragic Scott Summers/Cyclops, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast in perpetual training with Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound (and temporarily deceased) telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent race of mutant Homo Superior.

Stan Lee had relinquished the writing reins to Roy Thomas in #20, and by the time of this nostalgic compilation (re-presenting The X-Men #22-31, spanning July 1966 to April 1967) he was getting better with every issue. During those heady days Marvel Comics had a vast and growing following among older teens and college kids, and the youthful Thomas spoke and wrote as they did. Coupled with his easy delight in expansive character casts this made X-Men a very welcoming read for we adolescent baby-boomers…

Illustrated primarily by Roth with Dick Ayers inking, the action opens with a crafty 2-parter resurrecting veteran Avengers villain Count Nefaria who employed illusion casting technology and a band of other heroes’ second-string foes (Unicorn, Porcupine, Plantman, Scarecrow and the Eel, if you’re wondering) to hold Washington DC hostage and frame the X-Men for the entire scheme.

‘Divided… We Fall!’ and ‘To Save a City!’ comprise a fast-paced, old-fashioned goodies vs. baddies epic with a decided sting in the tail.

The tale concludes with Marvel Girl being yanked off the team as her parents insist she furthers her education by leaving the Xavier School to attend New York’s Metro University…

Her departure segues neatly into a beloved plot standard – Evil Scientist Grows Giant Bugs – when she enrols and meets an embittered recently-fired professor, leading her erstwhile comrades to confront ‘The Plague of… the Locust!’

Perhaps X-Men #24 isn’t the most memorable tale in the canon but it still reads well and has the added drama of Marvel Girl’s departure for college crystallizing the romantic rivalry for her affections between Cyclops and Angel and provided another deft sop to the audience as it enabled many future epics to include Campus life in the action-packed, fun-filled mix…

Jean Grey still managed to turn up in every issue and ‘The Power and the Pendant’ (X-Men #25, October 1966) found the boys tracking new menace, El Tigre. This South American hunter was visiting New York to steal the second half of a Mayan amulet which would grant him god-like powers.

Having soundly thrashed the mutant heroes, newly-ascended Kukulcán returns to Amazonian San Rico to recreate the fallen pre-Columbian empire with the heroes in hot pursuit. The result is a cataclysmic showdown in ‘Holocaust!’ which leaves Angel fighting for his life and deputy leader Cyclops crushed by guilt…

Issue #27 saw the return of some old foes in ‘Re-enter: The Mimic!’ even as the mesmerising Puppet Master pitted power-duplicating Calvin Rankin against a team riven by dissention and ill-feeling, whilst in ‘The Wail of the Banshee!’ Rankin joined the X-Men in a tale which introduced the sonic-powered mutant (eventually to become a valued team-mate and team-leader) as a deadly threat in the opening instalment of an ambitious extended epic which featured the global menace of the sinister mutant-abducting organisation Factor Three.

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

Here old Thor foe Merlin received a stylish upgrade to malevolent mutant menace as he attempted to turn the planet into his mind-controlled playground before, in the concluding tale of this collection (illustrated by Roth & Tartaglione), Marvel Girl and the boys tackle a deranged Iron Man wannabe who was also an accidental atomic time bomb in ‘We Must Destroy… the Cobalt Man!’

These quirky tales are a million miles removed from the angst-ridden, breast-beating, cripplingly convoluted X-brand of today’s Marvel, and in many ways are all the better for it. Well drawn, highly accessible and superbly entertaining stories are never unwelcome or out of favour though, and it should be remembered that everything here informs so very much of the mutant monolith. These are stories for the dedicated fan and newest convert.
© 1966, 1967, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.