Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers volume 1


By Arnold Drake, Steve Gerber, Gene Colan, Sal Buscema, Don Heck, Al Milgrom, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6687-0

With more Marvel Cinematic movies doing bonanza summer business around the world, here’s a timely trade paperback collection designed to perfectly augment cinematic exposure and cater to film fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience. If you want you can look at this on screen, too, through its digital edition…

This treasury of torrid tales gathers landmarks and key moments from Marvel Super Heroes #18, Marvel Two-In-One #4-5, Giant-Size Defenders #5, Defenders #26-29 and the time-busting team’s first solo series as it originally appeared in Marvel Presents #3-12, all monumentally spanning January 1969 to August 1977: a radically different set-up than that of the silver screen stars, but grand comicbook sci fi fare all the same…

One thing to recall at all times though is that there are two distinct and separate iterations of the team. The films concentrate on the second, but there are inescapable connections between them so pay close attention here…

Although heralded since its genesis in the early 1960s with making superheroes more realistic, The House of Ideas also always maintained a close connection with outlandish and outrageous cosmic calamity (as best exemplified in their pre-superhero “monsters-in-furry-underpants” days), and this pantheon of much-travelled space stalwarts maintain that delightful “Anything Goes” attitude in all of their many and varied iterations.

This titanic tome’s blistering battle-fest begins with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Earth Shall Overcome!’: first seen in combination new-concept try-out/Golden Age reprint vehicle Marvel Super Heroes #18 (cover-dated January 1969).

The terse, grittily engaging episode introduces a disparate band of freedom fighters united to save Earth from occupation and humanity from extinction at the scaly hands of the sinister, reptilian Brotherhood of Badoon.

It all starts when Jovian militia-man Charlie-27 returns home from a six-month tour of scout duty to find his entire colony subjugated by invading aliens. Fighting free, he jumps into a randomly programmed teleporter and emerges on Pluto, just in time to scotch the escape of crystalline scientist Martinex.

Both are examples of radical human genetic engineering: subspecies carefully designed to populate and colonise Sol system’s outer planets but now possibly the last of their kinds. After helping the mineral man complete his mission of sabotage – blowing up potentially useful material before the Badoon can get their hands on it – the odd couple set the teleporter for Earth and jump…

Unfortunately, the invaders have already taken the homeworld…

The Supreme Badoon Elite are there, busily mocking the oldest Earthman alive. Major Vance Astro had been humanity’s first intersolar astronaut; solo flying in cold sleep to Alpha Centauri at a plodding fraction of the speed of light.

When he got there 1000 years later, humanity was waiting for him, having cracked trans-luminal speeds a mere two centuries after he took off. Now he and Centauri aborigine Yondu are a comedy exhibit for the cruel reptilian conquerors actively eradicating both of their races…

The smug invaders are utterly overwhelmed when Astro breaks free, utilising psionic powers he developed in hibernation, before Yondu butchers them with the sound-controlled energy arrows he carries.

In their pell-mell flight, the pair stumble across incoming Martinex and Charlie-27 and a new legend of valiant resistance was born…

The eccentric team, as originally envisioned by Arnold Drake, Gene Colan & Mike Esposito in 1968, were presented to an audience undergoing immense social change, with dissent in the air, riot in the streets and with the Vietnam War on their TV screens every night.

Perhaps the jingoistic militaristic overtones were off-putting or maybe the tenor of the times were against the Guardians, since costumed hero titles were entering a temporary downturn, but whatever the reason the feature was a rare “Miss” for Early Marvel and the futuristic freedom fighters were not seen again for years.

They floated in limbo until 1974 when Steve Gerber incorporated them into some of his assigned titles (Marvel Two-In-One and The Defenders), wherein assorted 20th century champions travelled a millennium into the future to ensure humanity’s survival…

From MTIO #4, ‘Doomsday 3014!’ (Gerber, Sal Buscema & Frank Giacoia) finds Ben Grimm and Captain America catapulted into the 31st century to save Earth from enslavement by the reptilian Badoon, concluding an issue later as the Guardians of the Galaxy climb aboard the Freedom Rocket to help the time-lost heroes liberate occupied New York before returning home.

The fabulous Future Force repaid that visit in Giant Sized Defenders #5: a diverse-hands production with the story ‘Eelar Moves in Mysterious Ways’ credited to Gerber, Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer, Len Wein, Chris Claremont & Scott Edelman.

Dependable Don Heck & Mike Esposito drew the surprisingly satisfying cohesive results: how the Defenders met with future heroes Guardians of the Galaxy in a time-twisting disaster yarn where their very presence seemed to cause nature to run wild, which only set up the next continued epic arc for the monthly comicbook…

‘Savage Time’ (Defenders #26 August, by Gerber, Buscema & Colletta) saw Hulk, Doctor Strange, Nighthawk and Valkyrie accompany the Guardians back to 3015AD in a bold bid to liberate the last survivors of mankind from the all-conquering and genocidal Badoon: a mission which continued with ‘Three Worlds to Conquer!’, then became infinitely more complicated when ‘My Mother, The Badoon!’ revealed the sex-based divisions that so compellingly motivated the marauding lizard-men, before triumphantly climaxing in the rousingly impassioned ‘Let My Planet Go!’ Along the way they had picked up – or been unwillingly allied with – an enigmatic stellar powerhouse dubbed Starhawk: a glib and unfriendly type who called himself “one who knows” and infuriatingly usually did, even if he never shared any useful intel…

Rejuvenated by exposure the squad rededicated themselves to liberating star-scattered Mankind and having adventures, eventually winning a short-lived series in Marvel Presents (#3-12, February 1976-August 1977) before cancellation left them roaming the Marvel Universe as perennial guest-stars in such cosmically-tinged titles as Thor and the Avengers.

That run began with ‘Just Another Planet Story!’ by Gerber, Al Milgrom & Pablo Marcos with the Badoon removed from a triumphantly exultant Earth and the now purposeless Guardians realising that peace and freedom were not for them…

Unable to adapt to civilian life the team reassembled, stole their old starship The Captain America and rocketed off into the void…

Those episodes were augmented by text features ‘Readers Space’ episodically delineating the future history of Marvel Universe Mankind – using various company sci fi series as mile markers, way stations and signposts – and firmly establishing a timeline which would endure for decades.

Gerber & Milgrom descended ‘Into the Maw of Madness!’ in Marvel Presents #4 as the noble nomads picked up Nikki, a feisty teenage Mercurian survivor of the Badoon invasion, and detected the first inklings that something vast, alien and inimical was coming from “out there” to consume our galaxy…

They also met cosmic enigma Starhawk’s better half Aleta, a glamorous woman and mother of his three children, who just happened to be sharing his body…

When the intrepid star-farers and their ship are swallowed by the systems-wide monster Karanada they find a universe inside the undead beast and end up stranded on the ‘Planet of the Absurd’ (Gerber, Milgrom & Howard Chaykin) allowing the author to indulge his taste for political and social satire as our heroes seek to escape a society of vast species variety somehow mimicking 20th century Earth…

Escape achieved the fantastic fantasy escalates into high gear when the crash into the heart of the invading force and on a galaxy-sized planet in humanoid form. ‘The Topographical Man’ (Gerber, Milgrom & Terry Austin) holds all the answers they seek in a bizarre sidereal nunnery where Nikki is asked to make a supreme sacrifice that changes Vance’s life forever in ways he never imagined as they spiritually unite to ‘Embrace the Void!’ in a metaphysical rollercoaster (inked by Bob Wiacek) which finally ends the menace of the soul-sucking galactic devourer.

At this time deadlines were a critical problem and Marvel Presents #8 adapted a story from Silver Surfer #2 (1968) as the team picked up an old Badoon data-log and learned ‘Once Upon a Time… the Silver Surfer!’ saved Earth from alien predators in two-layered yarn correctly attributed to Gerber, Milgrom, Wiacek, Stan Lee, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott…

Back on track for MP #9, Gerber & Milgrom revealed that ‘Breaking Up is Death to Do!’ as the Guardians’ ship is ambushed by the predatory Reivers of Arcturus, leading into the long-awaited and shocking origins of Starhawk and Aleta and setting the assembled heroes on a doomed quest to save the bonded couple’s children from brainwashing, mutation and murder by their own grandfather in ‘Death-Bird Rising!’ and the concluding ‘At War with Arcturus!’ (both inked by Wiacek).

The series abruptly concluded just as new scripter Roger Stern signed on with ‘The Shipyard of Deep Space!’ as the bruised and battered team escape Arcturus and stumble onto a lost Earth vessel missing ever since the beginning of the Badoon invasion. Drydock is a mobile space station the size of a small moon, designed to maintain and repair Terran starships. However, what initially seems to be a moving reunion with lost comrades and actual survivors of the many genegineered human sub-species eradicated by the reptilian ravagers is quickly found to be just one more deadly snare for the Guardians of the Galaxy to overcome or escape…

This spectacular slice of riotous star-roving is a non-stop feast of tense suspense, surreal fun, swingeing satire and blockbuster action: another well-tailored, on-target tool to turn curious movie-goers into fans of the comic incarnation and another solid sampling to entice newcomers and charm even the most jaded interstellar Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatic.
© 1968, 1974, 1976, 1977, 2014 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis: volume 1


By Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5712-0                  978-0-7851-5713-7(TPB)

When the Ultimate Comics Spider-Man died, writer Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel promised that a new hero would arise from the ashes…

Marvel’s Ultimates imprint began in 2000 with a new post-modern take on major characters and concepts to bring them into line with the tastes of 21st century readers – apparently a wholly different market from those baby-boomers and their descendants content to stick with the precepts sprung from founding talents Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee… or simply those unable or unwilling to deal with decades of continuity baggage (seven if you include the Golden Age/Timely Comics tales retroactively co-opted into the mix which saturated the originals).

Eventually even this darkly nihilistic new universe became as continuity-constricted as its ancestor and in 2008 the cleansing event “Ultimatum” culminated in a reign of terror which excised dozens of super-humans and millions of lesser mortals in a devastating tsunami which inundated Manhattan courtesy of mutant menace Magneto.

In the aftermath Peter Parker and his fellow meta-human survivors struggled to restore order to a dangerous new world. Spider-Man finally gained a measure of acceptance and was hailed a hero when he valiantly and very publicly met his end during a catastrophic super-villain confrontation…

This collection – published before the mega-crossover events Time Runs Out and Secret Wars which resulted in the merger of the Ultimate and mainstream Marvel Universe – re-presents the introductory teaser from Ultimate Comics Fallout #4 (August 2011) and follow-up Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: Who is Miles Morales? #1-5) with a new and even younger Arachnid Avenger and describes how, just like his predecessor, a troubled boy learned the painful price of misusing the unique gifts fate had bestowed…

The epic opens with a skinny kid having the poor taste to parade around town in a cheap imitation costume of fallen hero Spider-Man encountering and somehow defeating vicious super-villain The Kangaroo. Then the revelations begin by spinning back to the relatively recent past where manic industrialist Norman Osborn repeats the genetic experiment which first gave Peter Parker his powers (see Ultimate Spider-Man volume 1: Power and Responsibility) via the bite of an artificially-mutated spider.

Unfortunately, the deranged mastermind didn’t expect a burglar to waltz in and accidentally carry off the latest test animal as part of his haul…

When grade-schooler Miles Morales gets into prestigious and life-changing Brooklyn Visions Academy Boarding School by the most callous of chances, the brilliant African American/Latino lad quickly and cynically realises life is pretty much a crap-shoot… and unfair to boot. Feeling guilty about his unjust success and sorry for the 697 other poor kids who don’t get his chance, he sneaks off to visit his uncle Aaron.

The visit has to be secret since his uncle is a “bad influence”: a career criminal dubbed The Prowler. Whilst there, a great big spider with a number on its back bites Miles and he begins to feel very odd…

For starters he starts fading from sight…

Suddenly super-fast and strong, able to leap huge distances and fade from view, Miles rushes over to see geeky pal Ganke, a brilliant nerd already attending Brooklyn Visions. Applying “scientific” testing, the boy also discovers Miles can deliver shocking, destructive charges through his hands. When Miles goes home Ganke continues online research and deduces a connection to Spider-Man; strenuously pushing his friend towards becoming a costumed crusader.

However, after Miles assists during a tenement fire, saving a mother and baby, shock sets in and he resolves never to use his powers again…

Time passes: Miles and Ganke are roommates at the Academy for almost a year when news of a major metahuman clash rocks the city. Troubled Miles heads out and is an accidental bystander at the scene of Spider-Man’s death.

Seeing a brave man perish so valiantly, Miles is again consumed by guilt: if he had used his own powers when they first manifested he might have been able to help; to save a true hero…

As part of the crowd attending Parker’s memorial Miles and Ganke talk to another mourner, a girl who actually knew Parker. Gwen Stacy offers quiet insights to the grieving child and a phrase which alters the course of his life forever: “with great power comes great responsibility…”

Clad in a Halloween Spidey costume borrowed from Ganke, Miles takes to the night streets for the first time and stops Kangaroo from committing murder…

His third night out the exhilarated 13-year old encounters the terrifying and furiously indignant Spider-Woman who thrashes and arrests him, before dragging him to Government agency S.H.I.E.L.D, where Hawkeye, Iron Man and master manipulator Nick Fury coldly assess him.

However, before they can reach a decision on Miles’ fate, murderous malcontent Electro breaks free of the Triskelion’s medical custody ward and goes on a rampage.

Despite easily defeating the seasoned heroes the voltage villain is completely unprepared for a new Spider-Man: especially as the boy has a range of extra powers including camouflage capabilities and an irresistible “venom-strike” sting…

As Miles considers the full implications of his victory, Fury imparts a staggeringly simple homily: “With great power…”

Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli crafted a stirring new chapter both engaging and intriguing and this stirring debut volume (available in Hardcover, Trade Paperback and digital editions) also contains a gallery of alternate covers by Marko Djurdjevic and Pichelli.

Tense, breathtaking, action-packed, evocative and full of the light-hearted, self-aware humour which blessed the original Lee/Ditko tales, this is a controversial but worthy way to continue and advance the legend Fights ‘n’ Tights addicts will admire and adore…
A British Edition ™ & © 2012, 2016 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

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.

Secret Invasion: Black Panther


By Jason Aaron, Jefte Palo & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3397-1

The Skrulls are pernicious and persistent shape-shifting aliens who’ve bedevilled Earth ever since Fantastic Four #2 to become a cosmic cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. After years of humiliation and constant defeat, in the early years of the 21st century the metamorphic malcontents finally hit on a winning plan and to this end gradually and methodically abducted and replaced a number of crucial Earth citizens – most notably metahumans and their friends…

When the plot of the Secret Invasion (a colossal braided crossover which ran throughout all Marvel’s titles from Spring to Christmas in 2008) was first uncovered, it led to a confrontation between Earth’s champions and a Skrull starship full of what appeared to be old comrades; many of whom had been accounted dead for years.

Were they truly escaped humans or yet another army of newly undetectable Super-Skrulls?

With no defender of the Earth knowing who to trust, the planet almost fell to a determined massed onslaught…

Most worrisome was the fact that the cosmic charlatans had recently unravelled the secrets of Terran magic and superpowers genetics: thereby creating amped-up equivalents of Earth’s mightiest for their own armies. Now primed and capable of defeating the world’s champions in face-to-face confrontations the smug Skrulls moved into a second stage after certain human heroes caught on…

Scripted by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Jefte Palo, this slim and insidiously engaging paperback (and eBook) reprints the last three issues of Black Panther volume 4 (#39-41 (September-November 2008), offering more insights into the slow progress of the invidious infiltration and a harsh look at the fabled lost kingdom of Wakanda: homeland of the mysterious Black Panther…

T’Challa the Black Panther rules over a fantastic African paradise which isolated itself from the rest of the world millennia ago. Blessed with unimaginable resources – both natural and not so much – the nation developed uninterrupted and unmolested into the most technologically advanced human nation on Earth. The country has also, never been conquered…

The three-part saga ‘See Wakanda and Die…’ opens as veteran Skrull Commander K’vvv’r confidently approaches the border in his three mighty space dreadnoughts, ready to mop up the human primitives defeated and demoralised by his shapeshifting Fifth Column.

He is astounded when he sees his soldiers – or at least their heads – stuck on spears: the time-honoured Wakandan response to invasion…

Angered and ignoring the warning, K’vvv’r’s forces are, within minutes, battling a host of deadly mechanical weapons and cyber-war tactics which reduce his super-scientific fleet to three dead rocks crashed on the plains before the capital city. It’s not all one way however: the deadly digital duel also derives Wakanda of electrical power. Soon the two inimical forces are reduced to facing each other with hand-weapons…

And that’s where it gets really nasty. The Skrulls have decades of military experience utilising their innate metamorphic abilities, bolstered by a new sub-breed of genetically engineered super-powered commandoes. They are confident they will massacre the part-time militia and terrified citizenry of the human enclave…

The Wakandans have their King T’Challa, his recent bride and former X-Man Storm, and faith in their god. Of course, their god is Bast, the Panther Spirit: interventionist sponsor of an indomitable warrior-cult with its origins stretching back beyond the beginning of Ancient Egypt, and currently imbuing the entire populace with all the strength and ferocity of a wild beast defending its home and family…

With covers by Jason Pearson, Secret Invasion: Black Panther is dark, moody, packed with cunning twists and turns and ferociously violent in delivery. This is a superbly smart and gritty Fights ‘n’ Tights take on the old Alien Incursion plot that stands alone for readers only now discovering the Panther but also offers insight and increased nuance for more informed fans. Be warned though, this is a war story and really not suitable for the young or squeamish…
© 2008, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 11


By Stan Lee, Gil Kane, John Romita & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3507-4 (HB)

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

This electrifying eleventh full-colour collection of chronologically congregated early adventures of the Amazing Arachnoid sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero foreshadowing a major change in the tone and timbre of comics even while continuing the long climb to becoming a global household name…

After a rather nervous nativity The Amazing Spider-Man soon became a certified 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 #100-109 – originally released between September 1971 and June 1972 – the astonishing tales begins with ‘The Spider or the Man?’ (by Stan Lee, Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia): a long-anticipated anniversary issue which proved to be a game-changing shocker as, determined to retire and marry, Peter attempts to destroy his powers with an untested self-concocted serum…

The result is a hallucinogenic trip wherein action ace Kane got to draw an all-out battle between Spidey and an army of old enemies, culminating in a waking nightmare when Parker regains consciousness and discovers he’s grown four additional arms…

With #101 Roy Thomas stepped in as scripter for ‘A Monster Called… Morbius!’, as the eight-limbed hero desperately seeks some way to reverse his condition. Fortuitously, he stumbles across a murderous costumed horror who drinks human blood. Making matters even worse is old foe The Lizard who turns up, determined to kill them both…

Amongst the many things banned by the Comics Code in 1954 were horror staples vampires and werewolves, but the changing comics tastes and rising costs of the early 1970s were seeing superhero titles dropping like flies in a blizzard.

With interest in suspense and the supernatural growing, all comics publishers were pushing to re-establish scary comics again, and the covert introduction of a “Living Vampire” in superhero staple Spider-Man led to another challenge to the CCA, the eventually revision of the horror section of the Code and a resurgent rise of supernatural heroes and titles.

For one month Marvel also experimented with double-sized comicbooks (DC’s switch to 52-page issues lasted almost a year – August 1971-June 1972 cover-dates) and Amazing Spider-Man #102 featured an immense, three-chapter blockbuster beginning with ‘Vampire at Large!’ wherein the octo-webspinner and anthropoid reptile join forces to hunt the a science-spawned bloodsucker after discovering a factor in the vampire’s saliva could cure both part-time monsters’ respective conditions.

‘The Way it Began’ briefly diverges from the main narrative to present the tragic secret origin of Nobel Prize winning biologist Michael Morbius and how be turned himself into a haunted night-horror before ‘The Curse and the Cure!’ brings the tale to a blistering conclusion and restores the status quo and requisite appendage-count.

Designed as another extra-length epic, ‘Walk the Savage Land!’ began in the now conventionally paginated #103 but was sliced in half and finished as #104 ‘The Beauty and the Brute’ in #104.

When the Daily Bugle suffers a financial crisis, bellicose publisher J. Jonah Jameson takes Peter Parker and his girlfriend Gwen Stacy on a monster-hunt to the Lost World under the Antarctic, to encounter not only dinosaurs and cavemen but also noble savage Ka-Zar, perfidious villain Kraven the Hunter and terrifying giant alien baby Gog in a fabulous pastiche and homage to Willis O’Brien’s King Kong delivered with love and pride from Thomas, Kane & Giacoia.

Capitalising on an era rife with social unrest and political protest, Stan Lee returned in #105 with ‘The Spider Slayer!’ as the New York City police install spy cameras on every rooftop and discredited technologist Spencer Smythe resurfaces with an even more formidable anti-Spider-Man robot for Jameson to set against the Wall-crawler.

The story also features the release of Harry Osborn from drug rehab and former school bully and gadfly Flash Thompson returning from Vietnam, but the big shock is discovering the once beneficent Smythe has gone totally bonkers…

Responsible for the police spy-eyes too, Smythe observes Spidey without his mask and in ‘Squash! Goes the Spider!’ (triumphantly pencilled by the returning John Romita Sr.) the Professor sells out old employer Jameson, allies with criminal gangs and attempts to plunder the entire city. When the Amazing Arachnid attempts to block the banditry, he finds himself facing the ultimate Spider-Slayer before valiantly battling his way to victory in ‘Spidey Smashes Thru!’

The secret of Flash Thompson starts to unfold in issue #108’s ‘Vengeance from Vietnam!’ (with Romita inking his own pencils) as our troubled war hero reveals an American war atrocity. The event left a peaceful in-country village devastated and a benign wise man comatose and near-dead, consequently setting a vengeful cult upon the saddened soldier’s guilt-ridden heels, which all Spider-Man’s best efforts could not deflect or deter.

The campaign of terror was only concluded in #109 when ‘Enter: Dr. Strange!’ sees America’s Master of the Mystic Arts divine the truth and set things aright, but only after an extraordinary amount of unnecessary violence…

Blending cultural authenticity with captivating 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 instalments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining. This is Spider-Man at his very best and also shows the way in which the hero began to finally outgrow his (co)creator.
© 1971, 1972, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire


By Steve Englehart, Mike Friedrich, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0422-7

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss. He faded away during the post-war reconstruction and briefly reappeared after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel, ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed.

Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the turbulent, culturally divisive 1960s. Perhaps it’s just coincidence but at the time the USA were just getting heavily involved in a conflict in Southeast Asia…

This sterling collection reprints issues #169-186 (January-August 1974) of his monthly comicbook and shows the once convinced and confirmed Sentinel of Liberty as the troubled man: unhappy and uncomfortable as a symbol of a divided nation, but looking to make the best of things and carve himself a new place in the Land of the Free. Real world events were about to put paid to that American dream…

In response to a subtle vengeance ploy by advertising exec and part-time supervillain Viper, one of the Star-Spangled Avenger’s most durable enemies sort-of resurfaced in the tense opening gambit of a certified Conspiracy thriller as ‘…When a Legend Dies!’ (written by Steve Englehart and Mike Friedrich with art by Sal Buscema & Frank McLaughlin).

Those long-laid plans began to finally bear bitter fruit as anti-Captain America TV spots made people doubt the honesty and sanity of the nation’s greatest hero. As Sam Wilson – AKA The Falcon – and his “Black Power” activist girlfriend Leila Taylor left for the super-scientific African nation of Wakanda in search of increased powers and enhanced effectiveness, Cap battled third-rate villain the Tumbler who very publicly ambushed the hero for no discernible reason.

In the heat of battle the Sentinel of Liberty seemed to go too far and the thug died…

‘J’Accuse!’ (with Englehart solo-scripting and Vince Colletta inking) saw Cap beaten and arrested by too-good-to-be-true neophyte crusader Moonstone, whilst in Africa Leila is kidnapped by former Harlem hoodlum Stone-Face: far from home and hungry for some familiar foxy friendship…

The enigma expanded in #171 as ‘Bust-Out!’ found Cap forcibly sprung from jail by a mysterious pack of “supporters” even as Black Panther and the newly-flying Falcon crushed Stone-Face preparatory to a quick dash back to America and a reunion with Cap.

‘Believe it or Not: The Banshee!’ began with Cap and the Falcon reuniting to be beaten by Moonstone. Narrowly escaping detention by his obscurely occluded masters, the hard-luck heroes follow a lead to Nashville, encounter the fugitive mutant Master of Sound, and stumble into a secret pogrom against Homo Superior citizens.

For long months mutants had been disappearing unnoticed, but now the last remaining X-Men – Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Professor Charles Xavier – had tracked them down only to realise that Captain America’s problems also stemmed from ‘The Sins of the Secret Empire!’ whose ultimate goal was the conquest of the USA.

Eluding capture by S.H.I.E.L.D., Steve and Sam infiltrate the clandestine Empire, only to be exposed and confined in ‘It’s Always Darkest!’ before turning the tables and saving the day in #175’s ‘…Before the Dawn!’ wherein a horrific grand plan is revealed, all mutants liberated and the true culprits captured.

In a shocking final scene, the ultimate instigator is unmasked and shockingly dispatched deep within the sacrosanct White House itself…

At this time, America was a nation reeling from a loss of idealism caused by the daily-televised horror of the Vietnam War, the ever-unfolding Watergate scandal and the partial exposure of President Nixon’s many crimes and misdemeanours.

The painful waking-up to smell some pretty rancid coffee and stomaching the nauseating public revelation that politicians are generally unpleasant – and even possibly ruthless, wicked exploiters – kicked the props out of most Americans who had an incomprehensibly rosy view of their leaders, so a conspiracy that reached into the halls and backrooms of government was extremely controversial yet oddly attractive in those distant, simpler days…

In the days that follow shocked, stunned Steve Rogers searches his soul and realises he cannot be the symbol of such a country. Despite arguments and advice from his Avenging allies he decides that ‘Captain America Must Die!’

Unable to convince him otherwise Sam Wilson carries on alone…

And on that staggering cliffhanger note this controversial collection concludes…

Despite the odd cringeworthy moment (if you’ve already lived through the dialogue of this era of “blaxsploitation” and painfully-growing ethnic awareness once, you’ll know what I mean, Ma-aan) this saga of matchless courage and indomitable heroism is a fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing fights ‘n’ tights yarn no comics fan will care to miss, and joking aside, the cultural significance of this story was crucial in informing the political consciences of the youngest members of the post-Watergate generation…

Above all else though, Secret Empire is a fabulously fun tale of a true American Dreamer, still painfully relevant for a new generation who may not be aware of the power and perils of electioneering and the people who beg us to trust them…
© 1974, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ant-Man/Giant Man Epic Collection: The Man in the Ant-Hill


By Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Ernie Hart, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Dick Ayers & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9850-5

Marvel Comics initially built its fervent fan base through strong and contemporarily relevant stories and striking art, but most importantly by creating a shared continuity that closely followed the characters through not just their own titles but also through the many guest appearances in other comics.

Such an interweaving meant that even today completists and fans seek out extraneous stories to get a fuller picture of their favourite’s adventures.

In such an environment, series such as these Epic Collections are an economical and valuable commodity which approaches the status of a public service for collectors especially when you can now purchase and peruse them electronically from the comfort of your own couch, or the lesser luxury of your parents’ basement…

If you’re of a particularly picky nature – and what true comic fan isn’t? – you could consider the Astonishing Ant-Man to be one of the earliest heroes of the Marvel Age of Comics. He first appeared in Tales to Astonish #27 (cover-dated January 1962), in one of the splendidly addictive men-vs-monsters anthology titles that dominated in those heady days of Science Fiction Double-Feature B-Movies.

This episodic, eclectic and entomologically edifying compendium gathers pertinent portions of Tales to Astonish #27 and a major proportion of the succeeding series (which ran from #35-69: September 1962 to July 1965). terminating here with #59 from September 1964.

The itty-bitty sagas reveal the scintillating solo outings of a brilliant but troubled scientist who became an unlikely, uncomfortable and even mentally unstable superhero and begins with what was just supposed to be another throwaway filler thriller…

A 7-page short introduced Dr Henry Pym, a maverick scientist who discovered a shrinking potion and became ‘The Man in the Anthill!’ discovering peril, wonder and even a kind of companionship amongst the lowliest creatures on Earth and under it…

This engaging piece of fluff, which owed more than a little to the classic movie The Incredible Shrinking Man, was plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by Larry Lieber and stunningly illustrated by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers.

Obviously, the character struck a chord with someone since, as the DC Comics-inspired superhero boom flourished, Pym was rapidly retooled as a full-fledged costumed do-gooder, debuting again in issue #35 (September 1962) in ‘The Return of the Ant-Man’ (Lee, Lieber, Kirby & Ayers). The plot concerned a raid by Soviet agents (this was during the height of Marvel’s ‘Commie-Buster’ period when every other villain was a Red somebody or other and rampaging socialism was a cultural bête noir) wherein Pym was captured and held prisoner in his own laboratory.

Forced to use the abandoned shrinking gases and cybernetic devices he’d built to communicate with ants, Dr. Pym soundly trounced the spies and determined to use his powers for the good of Mankind.

The same creative team produced the next four adventures beginning with ‘The Challenge of Comrade X!’ (TTA #36) as an infallible Soviet super-spy was dispatched to destroy the Diminutive Daredevil, after which Ant-Man was temporarily ‘Trapped by the Protector!’ – a cunning jewel-thief and extortionist who ultimately proved no match for the Tiny Titan.

‘Betrayed by the Ants!’ featured the debut of intellectual arch-foe Egghead, a maverick and mercenary research scientist who attempted to usurp the hero’s control of insects whilst ‘The Vengeance of the Scarlet Beetle!’ saw a return to scary monster stories as a radioactively mutated, super-intelligent bug sought to eradicate humanity with only Hank Pym capable of stopping him…

Sol Brodsky replaced Ayers as inker for ‘The Day that Ant-Man Failed!’(TTA #40), with a deadly Hijacker robbing trucks and pushing the shrinking inventor to new heights of ingenuity, after which Kirby too moved on: his lavishly experimental perspectival flamboyance replaced by the comforting realism and enticing human scale of Don Heck who limned a classy alien invasion yarn in ‘Prisoner of the Slave World!’ and depicted a mesmerising menace who could control people with ‘The Voice of Doom’ (in TTA #42).

The following issue H. E. Huntley (AKA veteran writer/artist Ernie Hart) replaced Lieber as scripter with ‘Versus the Mad Master of Time’; a run-of-the-mill mad – or, rather, disgruntled and misguided – scientist yarn. The next issue (#44) saw Kirby return to pencil a significant change to the series….

‘The Creature from Kosmos’ (inked by Heck) introduced The Wasp – Pym’s bon vivant crime-fighting partner Janet Van Dyne – in a double-length tale featuring a murderous alien marauder who killed her father. There was even a secret origin of Ant-Man:  a rare and uncharacteristic display of depth revealing that Pym was a widower. When his Hungarian wife Maria was murdered by Communist agents, it irrevocably changed the young scientist from a sedentary scholar into a driven man of action….

Ant-Man used his discoveries to endow Janet with the power to shrink and fly and she became his crime-fighting partner. Together they overcome ‘The Terrible Traps of Egghead’ (Lee, Huntley & Heck) before travelling to Greece and thwarting another alien invasion ‘When Cyclops Walks the Earth!’

Back in the USA, the Diminutive Duo battled mystic trumpeter Trago in ‘Music to Scream By’ and then defeat an avaricious weapons designer who builds himself a unique battle suit to become super-thief ‘The Porcupine!’: all serving as placeholding before the next big change came with Tales to Astonish #49’s ‘The Birth of Giant-Man!’.

Lee scripted and Kirby returned to pencil the epic story of how Pym learned to enlarge as well as reduce his size, just in time to tackle the threat of trans-dimensional kidnapper The Eraser. In the next issue Steve Ditko inked The King in ‘The Human Top’, the first chapter of a two-part tale which showed our hero struggling to adapt to his new strength and abilities.

The blistering concluding episode ‘Showdown with the Human Top!’ was inked by Ayers who would draw the bulk of the succeeding stories until the series’ demise. Also with this issue (TTA #51) back-up feature The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale began; blending sci-fi mystery vignettes narrated by the heroine, fact-features and solo adventures. The first is chilling space thriller ‘Somewhere Waits a Wobbow!’ crafted by Lee, Lieber & George Roussos in his Marvel identity of George Bell.

The super-hero adventures settled into a rather predictable pattern from then on: individually effective enough but rather samey and uninspired when read in quick succession.

First up is a straight super-villain clash as ‘The Black Knight Strikes!’ (Lee & Ayers from TTA #52, supplemented by the Wasp’s homily ‘Not What They Seem!’ whilst #53 led with another spectacular battle-bout ‘Trapped by the Porcupine!’ and finished with Wasp yarn ‘When Wakes the Colossus!’ by Lee, Lieber & Heck before #54 found Heck briefly reinstated to illustrate the Crusading Couple’s catastrophic trip to South of the Border Santo Rico and finding ‘No Place to Hide!’: trapped and powerless in a South American banana republic run by brutal commie agent El Toro. This was neatly counter-balanced by the Wasp’s sci fi saga ‘Conquest!’ by Lee, Lieber & Brodsky.

An implacable old foe defeated himself in ‘On the Trail of the Human Top!’ when the psychotic killer stole Giant-Man’s size changing pills in #55, following which Lee, Lieber & Bell produced the Wasp’s tale of ‘The Gypsy’s Secret!’

A criminal stage conjuror was far more trouble than you’d suspect in ‘The Coming of The Magician!’; even successfully abducting the Wasp before his defeat, which she celebrated by regaling us all with the tall tale ‘Beware the Bog Beast!’ (Lee, Lieber & Paul Reinman) after which TTA #57 featured a big guest-star as the size-changing sweethearts set out ‘On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!’ courtesy of Lee, Ayers & Reinman, with the sinister Egghead waiting in the wings and pulling strings, before the Wasp actually enjoyed a complete solo adventure with ‘A Voice in the Dark!’ by Lee, Lieber & Chic Stone.

These were not only signs of the increasing interconnectivity that Lee was developing but also indicated that the strip was losing impetus. In a market increasingly flooded with superheroes, the adventures of Giant Man were not selling as well as they used to or should…

Captain America cameo-ed in #58’s epic Africa-based battle with a giant alien in ‘The Coming of Colossus!’, supplemented by the Wasp’s lone hand played against her old enemy in The Magician and the Maiden!’

The last tale in this collection and beginning of the end for Giant-Man came in Tales to Astonish #59 and ‘Enter: the Hulk!’ with the Avengers inadvertently prompting the Master of Many Sizes to hunt down the Green Goliath. Although the Human Top engineered that blockbusting battle, Lee was the real mastermind as, with the next issue, The Hulk began to co-star in his own series and on the covers whilst Giant-Man’s adventures shrank back to a dozen or so pages. Ten issues later Hank and Jan would retire making way for amphibian antihero Namor, the Sub-Mariner

(Gi)-Ant-Man and the Wasp did not die, but instead joined the vast cast of characters which Marvel kept in relatively constant play through team books, via guest shots and in occasional re-launches and mini-series.

Despite variable quality and treatment, the eclectic, eccentric and always fun exploits of Marvel’s premier “odd couple” remain an intriguing and engaging reminder that the House of Ideas didn’t always get it right, but generally gave their all to entertaining their fans.

By turns superb, stupid, exciting and appalling, this Epic encounter epitomises the best and worst of Early Marvel (with the delightful far outweighing the duff). It certainly won’t appeal to everybody, but if you’re a Fights ‘n’ Tights fan with a forgiving nature or a movie-goer looking for extra input the good stuff here will charm, amaze and enthral you whilst the rest could just be considered as a garish garnish to provide added flavour…
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 2015 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.

Incredible Hulk Epic Collection: Man or Monster?


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9600-6

Chronologically collecting the Jade Juggernaut’s earliest appearances, this titanic tome (available as a hefty paperback and relatively weightless digital edition) gathers Incredible Hulk #1-6, Fantastic Four #2 and 25-26, Avengers #1-3 and 5, Amazing Spider-Man #14, Tales to Astonish #59 and a memorable clash with Thor from Journey into Mystery #112: cumulatively spanning early 1962 to the end of 1964.

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

The Hulk smashed right into his own bi-monthly comic and, after some classic romps by Young Marvel’s finest creators, crashed right out again. After six issues the series was cancelled and Lee retrenched, making the Gruff Green Giant a perennial guest-star in other Marvel titles until such time as they could restart the drama in their new “Split-Book” format in Tales to Astonish where Ant/Giant-Man was rapidly proving to be a character who had outlived his time.

Cover-dated May 1962, the Incredible Hulk #1 sees puny atomic scientist Bruce Banner, sequestered on a secret military base in the desert, perpetually bullied by the bombastic commander General “Thunderbolt” Ross as the clock counts down to the World’s first Gamma Bomb test.

Besotted by Ross’s daughter Betty, Banner endures the General’s constant jibes as the timer ticks on and tension increases.

At the final moment Banner sees a teenager lollygagging at Ground Zero and frantically rushes to the site to drag the boy away. Unknown to everyone, the assistant he’s entrusted to delay the countdown has an agenda of his own…

Rick Jones is a wayward but good-hearted kid. After initial resistance he lets himself be pushed into a safety trench, but just as Banner prepares to join him The Bomb detonates…

Somehow surviving the blast, Banner and the boy are secured by soldiers, but that evening as the sun sets the scientist undergoes a monstrous transformation. He grows larger; his skin turns a stony grey…

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

Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby with inking by Paul Reinman, ‘The Coming of the Hulk’ barrels along as the man-monster and Jones are kidnapped by Banner’s Soviet counterpart the Gargoyle for a rousing round of espionage and Commie-busting. In the second issue the plot concerns invading aliens, and the Banner/Jones relationship settles into a traumatic nightly ordeal as the good doctor transforms and is locked into an escape-proof cell whilst the boy stands watch helplessly. Neither ever considers telling the government of their predicament…

‘The Terror of the Toad Men’ is formulaic but viscerally and visually captivating as Steve Ditko inks Kirby; imparting a genuinely eerie sense of unease to the artwork. Incidentally, this is the story where the Hulk inexplicably changed to his more accustomed Green persona…

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

The third issue presented a departure in format as long, chaptered epics gave way to complete short stories. Dick Ayers inked Kirby in the transitional ‘Banished to Outer Space’ which radically altered the relationship of Jones and the monster, with the story thus far reprised in 3-page vignette ‘The Origin of the Hulk’ after which Marvel mainstay of villainy the Circus of Crime debuts in ‘The Ringmaster’. The Hulk goes on an urban rampage in #4’s first tale ‘The Monster and the Machine’ before aliens and Commies combine in the second escapade ‘The Gladiator from Outer Space!’

The Incredible Hulk #5 is a joyous classic of Kirby action, introducing immortal Tyrannus and his underworld empire in ‘The Beauty and the Beast!’ whilst those pesky Commies came in for another drubbing when the Jolly Green freedom-fighter prevents the invasion of Lhasa in ‘The Hordes of General Fang!’

Lee grasped early on the commercial impact of cross-pollination and – presumably aware of disappointing sales – inserted the Jade Juggernaut into his top selling title next.

Fantastic Four #12 (March 1963) featured an early crossover as the team were asked to help the US army capture ‘The Incredible Hulk’: a tale from Lee, Kirby & Ayers packed with intrigue, action and bitter irony as  series of spectacularly destructive sabotage incidents puts the heroes on the trail of a monster when they should have been looking at spies…

Despite the sheer verve and bravura of these simplistic classics – some of the greatest, most rewarding comics nonsense ever produced – the Hulk series was not doing well, and Kirby moved on to more appreciated arenas. Steve Ditko handled all the art chores for #6: another full-length epic and an extremely engaging one.

‘The Incredible Hulk Vs the Metal Master’ has astounding action, sly and subtle sub-plots and a thinking man’s resolution, but nonetheless the title died with the issue, also dated March.

Another comic debuted that month and offered a life line to the floundering Emerald Outcast.  ‘The Coming of the Avengers’ is one of the cannier origin tales in comics. Instead of starting at a zero point and acting as if the reader knew nothing, creators Lee, Kirby & Ayers assumed that interested parties had at least a passing familiarity with Marvel’s other titles, and wasted very little time or energy on introductions in the premiere issue.

In Asgard Loki, god of evil, is imprisoned on a dank islet but still craves vengeance on his step-brother mighty Thor. Observing Earth the villain finds the monstrous Hulk and engineers a situation wherein the man-brute goes on a rampage, hoping to trick the Thunder God into battling the bludgeoning brute. When sidekick Rick Jones radios the Fantastic Four for assistance, Loki diverts the transmission so they cannot hear it and expects his mischief to quickly blossom. However. other heroes pick up the SOS – namely Iron Man, Ant Man and the Wasp.

As the costumed champions on the desert converge to search for the Hulk, they realize something’s amiss…

This terse and compelling yarn is Lee & Kirby at their bombastic best, and one of the greatest stories of the Silver Age (it’s certainly high in my own top ten Marvel Tales of all time!) and is promptly followed by ‘the Space Phantom’ (Lee, Kirby & Reinman), another unforgettable epic, in which an alien shape-stealer almost destroys the group from within.

Ever-changing, the tale ends with the volatile Hulk quitting the team only to return in #3 as a villain in partnership with ‘Sub-Mariner!’ This globe-trotting romp delivered high energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history.

Three months later Fantastic Four #25 featured a cataclysmic clash that had young heads spinning in 1964 and pretty much ever since. Inked by George Roussos, ‘The Hulk Vs The Thing’ and concluding tale ‘The Avengers Take Over!’ in FF #26 offered a fast-paced, all-out Battle Royale as the disgruntled man-monster comes to New York in search of sidekick Rick with only an injury-wracked FF in the way of his destructive rampage.

A definitive moment in the character development of the Thing, the action amplifies when a rather stiff-necked and officious Avengers team horns in claiming jurisdictional rights on “Bob” Banner (this tale is plagued with pesky continuity errors which would haunt Lee for decades) and his Jaded Alter Ego.

Notwithstanding the bloopers, this is one of Marvel’s key moments and still a visceral, vital read.

Over in Avengers #5, ‘The Invasion of the Lava Men!’ (Lee, Kirby & Reinman) revealed another incredible romp as Earth’s Mightiest battled superhuman subterraneans and a lethally radioactive mutating mountain with the unwilling assistance of the Hulk… his last appearance there for many months…

The next cameo came in Amazing Spider-Man #14 (July 1964): an absolute milestone as a hidden criminal mastermind debuted by manipulating a Hollywood studio into making a movie about the wall-crawler. Even with guest-star opponents such as the Enforcers the Incredible Hulk steals all the limelight in ‘The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin’ (by Lee & Ditko) which is only otherwise notable for introducing Spider-Man’s most perfidious and flamboyant enemy (sarcasm alert!).

The second chapter of the man-monster’s career was about to take off and Tales to Astonish #59 (September) offered a bombastic prologue as ‘Enter: The Hulk!’ (Lee, Ayers & Reinman) sees the Avengers inadvertently inspiring Giant-Man to hunt down the Green Goliath.

Although the Human Top devilishly engineered that blockbusting battle, Lee was the real mastermind, as with the next issue The Hulk began starring in his own series and on the covers whilst Giant-Man’s adventures shrank back to a dozen or so pages.

This wonderfully economical compendium of wonders closes with the lead story from Journey into Mystery #112 (January 1965). ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’ is a glorious gift to all those fans who perpetually ask “Who’s stronger…?” Possibly Kirby and Chic Stone’s finest artistic moment, it details a private duel between the two super-humans that occurred during that free-for-all between Earth’s Mightiest, Sub-Mariner and Ol’ Greenskin in Avengers #3. The raw power of that tale is a perfect exemplar of what makes the Hulk work and would an ideal place to close proceedings but fans and art lovers can enjoy further treats in the form of assorted House Ads, original artwork by Kirby and Ditko, a gallery of classic Kirby covers modified by painter Dean White (originally seen on assorted Marvel Masterworks editions), plus reproduced Essentials collection and Omnibus covers by Bruce Timm and Alex Ross…

Hulk Smash! He always was and with material like this he always will be.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 2016 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.