Iron Man Epic Collection: The Golden Avenger


By Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein, Al Hartley, Don Heck, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8863-6

There are a number of ways to interpret the creation and early years of Tony Stark, glamorous millionaire industrialist and inventor – not to mention his armoured alter-ego, Iron Man.

Created in the immediate aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions, the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard and better the World, seemed inevitable. Combine the then-all-pervasive belief that technology could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil and the proposition almost becomes a certainty.

Of course, it might simply be that us kids thought it both great fun and very, very cool…

This fabulous full-colour compendium of the Steel Shod Sentinel’s early days reprints all his adventures, feature pages and pin-ups from Tales of Suspense #39 (cover-dated March 1963) through #72 (December 1965); revisiting the dawn of Marvel’s renaissance.

This period would see them start to challenge DC Comics position of dominance, but not quite become the darlings of the student counter-culture. In these tales, Tony Stark is still very much the gung-ho patriotic armaments manufacturer, and not the enlightened capitalist liberal dissenter he would become.

ToS #39, with a script by Larry Lieber (over brother Stan Lee’s plot) and art by the criminally unappreciated Don Heck reveals how and why ‘Iron Man is Born’, with electronics genius Stark field-testing his latest inventions in Viet Nam when he is wounded by a landmine.

Captured by Viet Cong commander Wong-Chu, Stark is told that if he creates weapons for the Reds he will be operated on to remove the metal shrapnel in his chest that will kill him within seven days.

Knowing that Commies can’t be trusted, Stark and aged Professor Yinsen – another captive scientist – build a mobile iron lung to keep his heart beating. They also equip this suit of armour with all the weapons that their ingenuity can secretly build whilst being observed by their captors. Naturally they succeed and defeat Wong-Chu, but not without tragic sacrifice.

From the next issue, Iron Man’s superhero career is taken as a given, and he has already achieved fame for largely off-camera exploits. Lee continues to plot but Robert Bernstein replaces Lieber as scripter for issues #40-46 and Jack Kirby shares the pencilling chores with Heck. ‘Iron Man versus Gargantus’ follows the young Marvel pattern by pitting the hero against aliens – albeit via their robotic giant caveman intermediary, in a delightfully rollicking romp pencilled by Kirby and inked by Heck.

‘The Stronghold of Doctor Strange’ (art by Kirby & Dick Ayers) features a gloriously spectacular confrontation with a wizard of Science (not Lee/Ditko’s later Mystic Master), and Heck returns to full art for the espionage and impostors thriller ‘Trapped by the Red Barbarian’.

Kirby and Heck team again for the science-fantasy adventure ‘Kala, Queen of the Netherworld!’, but Heck goes it alone when Iron Man time-travels to ancient Egypt to rescue the fabled and fabulous Cleopatra from ‘The Mad Pharaoh!’. New regular cast members – bodyguard “Happy Hogan” and secretary Virginia “Pepper” Potts – proper and the first true super-villain then arrive as the Steel Sentinel has to withstand ‘The Icy Fingers of Jack Frost!’ before facing (and converting to Democracy) his Soviet counterpart ‘The Crimson Dynamo’.

Tales of Suspense #47 presaged big changes. Stan Lee wrote ‘Iron Man Battles the Melter!’, and Heck inked over the unique pencils of Steve Ditko, but the big event came with the next issue’s ‘The Mysterious Mr. Doll!’ as Lee, Ditko & Ayers scrapped the old cool-but-clunky golden boiler-plate suit for a sleek, gleaming, form-fitting, red-and-gold upgrade that would – with minor variations – become the symbol and trademark of the character for decades.

Paul Reinman inked Ditko on Lee’s crossover/sales pitch for the new X-Men comic when ‘Iron Man Meets the Angel!’, but the series only really takes hold with Tales of Suspense #50.

Don Heck became regular penciller and occasional inker and Lee concocted the Armoured Avenger’s first major menace and perpetual nemesis with ‘The Hands of the Mandarin’; a modern Fu Manchu derivative who terrifies the Red Chinese so much that they manipulate him into attacking America, with the hope that one threat will fatally wound the other. The Mandarin would become Iron Man’s greatest foe.

Our hero made short work of criminal contortionist ‘The Sinister Scarecrow’, and the Red spy who appropriated that leftover Russian armour-suit and declared ‘The Crimson Dynamo Strikes Again!’ (scripted, as was the next issue, by the enigmatic “N. Kurok”). The issue also premiered a far more dangerous threat in the slinky shape of Soviet Femme Fatale the Black Widow.

With ToS#53, she was a headliner as ‘The Black Widow Strikes Again!’: stealing Stark’s new anti-gravity ray but ultimately failing in her sabotage mission after which ‘The Mandarin’s Revenge!’ began a two-part tale of kidnap and coercion that concluded with #55’s ‘No One Escapes the Mandarin!’

‘The Uncanny Unicorn!’ promptly attacked after actually Iron Man did, only to fare no better in the end. The power-horn peril was preceded in his attempt to destroy the Armoured Avenger by a cascade of short of Lee/Heck illustrated fact features beginning with ‘All About Iron Man’, continuing with ‘More Info About Iron Man!’ and concluding with a ‘Pepper Potts Pin-up Page’.

Black Widow resurfaced to beguile budding superhero ‘Hawkeye, The Marksman!’ into attacking the Golden Avenger in #57, before another landmark occurred with the next issue. Until now Iron Man had monopolised Tales of Suspense, but ‘In Mortal Combat with Captain America’ (inked by Ayers) depicted an all-out battle between the two heroes resulting from a clever impersonation by evil impressionist The Chameleon. It was a primer for the next issue when Cap would begin his own solo adventures, splitting the monthly comic into an anthology featuring Marvel’s top two patriotic paladins.

Iron Man’s initial half-length outing in #59 was against the technological terror ‘The Black Knight!’, and as a result Stark was rendered unable to remove his own armour without triggering a heart attack: a situation that hadn’t occurred since the initial injury. Up until this time he had led a relatively normal life by simply wearing the life-sustaining breast-plate under his clothes. The introduction of soap-opera sub-plots were a necessity of the shorter page counts, as were continued stories, but this seeming disadvantage worked to improve both the writing and the sales.

With Stark’s “disappearance,” Iron Man was ‘Suspected of Murder!’, a tale that featured the return of Hawkeye and Black Widow (abruptly transformed from fur-clad seductress into a gadget-laden costumed villain), and led directly into ‘The Death of Tony Stark!’ and ‘The Origin of the Mandarin!’. After that extended epic, a change of pace occurred as short complete exploits returned.

The first was #63’s industrial sabotage thriller ‘Somewhere Lurks the Phantom!’, followed by the somewhat self-explanatory ‘Hawkeye and the New Black Widow Strike Again!’ (inked by Chic Stone), after which ‘When Titans Clash!’ saw a burglar steal the new armour forcing Stark to defeat his greatest invention with his old suit (inked by new regular Mike Esposito under the pseudonym Mickey DeMeo).

Sub-sea villain Attuma is the threat du jour in ‘If I Fail a World is Lost’ and crime-lord Count Nefaria uses dreams as a weapon in ‘Where Walk the Villains!’, returning in the next issue to attack Stark with hallucinations in ‘If a Man be Mad!’, a rather weak tale that introduces Stark’s ne’er-do-well cousin Morgan, (written by Al Hartley with Heck and Esposito in top form as always).

Issues #69-71 form another continued saga, and one of the best of this early period. ‘If I Must Die, Let It Be with Honor!’ (inked by Vince Colletta) sees Iron Man forced to duel a new Russian opponent called the Titanium Man in a globally-televised contest that both super-powers see as a vital propaganda coup. The governments are naturally quite oblivious of the cost to the participants and their friends…

 ‘Fight On! For a World is Watching!’ (DeMeo inks) amplifies the intrigue and tension as the Soviets, caught cheating, pile on the pressure to at least kill the American champion if they can’t score a publicity win, and final chapter ‘What Price Victory?’ is a rousing, emotional conclusion of triumph and tragedy made magnificent by the super-glossy inking of troubled artistic genius Wally Wood.

That would have been the ideal place to end the volume but there’s one more episode included here: ToS #72 by Lee, Heck & Demeo deals with the aftermath of victory as, whilst the fickle public fête Iron Man, his best friend lies dying, and a spiteful ex-lover hires the Mad Thinker to destroy Stark and his company forever. ‘Hoorah for the Conquering Hero!’ closes the book on a pensive down-note, but the quality of this compendium package is undeniable. From broad comedy and simple action to dark cynicism and relentless battle, Marvel Comics grew up with this deeply contemporary series.

Iron Man developed amidst the growing political awareness of the Viet Nam Generation who were the comic’s maturing readership. Wedded as it was to the American Industrial-Military Complex, with a hero – originally the government’s wide-eyed golden boy – gradually becoming attuned to his country’s growing divisions, it was, as much as Spider-Man, a bellwether of the times. That it remains such a thrilling uncomplicated romp of classic super-hero fun is a lasting tribute to the talents of all those superb creators that worked it.
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor Epic Collection: To Wake the Mangog


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby with Vince Colletta, George Klein, Bill Everett, John Romita Sr. & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9173-5

The Mighty Thor was the title in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s career-defining string of power-packed signature pantheons all stemmed from a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This bombastic full-colour tome – also available in eFormats – offers more Asgardian exploits from Thor #154-174, collectively covering July 1968 to March 1970 as the Universe Jack built slowly began to succumb to the weight and stricture of Marvel’s abiding continuity whilst the King sought ever more challenging innovation and spectacle…

Once upon a time lonely, lamed American doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, Blake found a gnarled old walking stick, which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder!

Without any hesitation or preamble the reborn godling was soon defending the weak and smiting the wicked. As months swiftly passed, rapacious extra-terrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs gradually gave way to a vast panoply of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces. Eventually the magnificent warrior’s ever-expanding world of Asgard was a regular feature and mesmerising milieu for the hero’s earlier adventures, heralding a fresh era of cosmic fantasy to run almost tangentially to the company’s signature superhero sagas.

The action begins here after another calamitous clash with evil stepbrother Loki as vanquished troll warrior Ulik accidentally releases an ancient unstoppable beast in ‘…To Wake the Mangog!’

A creature imprisoned by Odin in his ancient prime, the monster – embodying the power and last remains of a billion, billion predatory warriors – emerges furious at his incarceration and brutally rampages towards the heart of Asgard to trigger Ragnarok in ‘Now Ends the Universe!’ laying waste to everything in its path. All the Golden Realm’s martial resources are unable to slow its deadly progress in ‘The Hammer and the Holocaust!’ but the valiant delaying tactics, depicted in unimaginably powerful battles scenes from Kirby – a genius on fire – resulted in a last-minute save in #157’s ‘Behind Him… Ragnarok!’

Although short on plot development, the astounding battle to save Asgard is a masterful expression of the artist’s hunger for bigger stories and might well have underpinned his later Fourth World series at DC…

Here and then however the peculiarities of the Don Blake/Thor relationship were examined and finally clarified; beginning with ‘The Way it Was!’ – a framing sequence by regular creative team Stan Lee, Kirby & Vince Colletta- that book-ended a reprint of that very first Thor story from JiM #83, ‘The Stone Men of Saturn’ (inked by Joe Sinnott).

This neatly segued into ‘The Answer at Last!’ which took the immortal hero back to his long-distant youth and revealed Blake to be no more than a Odinian construct designed to teach the Thunder God humility and compassion by living amongst mortals as one of them…

With his true nature re-established, Thor then answered a call from the Colonisers of Rigel, plunging into the depths of space to face a cosmic menace. ‘And Now… Galactus!’ reintroduced old companion The Recorder whilst pitting the Devourer of Worlds against living planet Ego, a clash concluded with the Thunderer’s heavy-handed aid in ‘Shall a God Prevail?’

The cosmic wonderment then escalated in ‘Galactus is Born!’ as Asgardian magic finally reveals a tantalising fragment of the terrifying space god’s origins…

For #163 and 164 Thor was summarily returned to Earth to battle an invasion from a ghastly dystopian future. ‘Where Demons Dwell!’ finds his beloved Lady Sif investigating a bizarre energy vortex until captured by mutate monsters controlled by rogue Greek god Pluto. The Asgardians decimate the horrors from tomorrow ‘Lest Mankind Fall!’ and as valiant comrade Balder joins them in cataclysmic combat a mysterious cocoon hatches a man-made god…

‘Him!’ (Thor #165) and its conclusion ‘A God Berserk!’ sees the creature created by evil scientists to conquer mankind (and who would eventually evolve into the tragic cosmic saviour Adam Warlock) wake amidst the turmoil of the battle and, seeing Sif, decide it is time he took a mate…

Trailing the naive artificial superman across space and assorted dimensions with the outraged Thor, Balder witnesses his gentle comrade’s descent into brutal “warrior-madness”, resulting in a savage beating of Him. By the time the Thunderer regains his equilibrium, he is a shaken, penitent and guilt-ridden hero eager to pay penance for his unaccustomed savagery…

In ‘This World Renounced!’ (featuring a cover by John Romita: the first ever not drawn by Kirby) almighty Odin punishes his son for succumbing to Warrior Madness by exiling him to deep space, where he must atone by locating the enigmatic world-devourer Galactus. Just before departure, however, the Prince of Asgard clears up some outstanding old business, including another confrontation with his stepbrother Loki, Prince of Evil…

The superb George Klein came aboard as inker for ‘Galactus Found!’ with Balder and the Warriors ThreeFandral, Hogun and Volstagg – babysitting Earth whilst Thor roams the heavens on his lonely mission. As a new threat emerged in Red China, in the deep unknown Galactus came to Thor to disclose ‘The Awesome Answer!’ to his origins: a dose of pure Kirby Kosmology of truly staggering proportions…

Meanwhile back home the terrifying Thermal Man was making things too hot for both his Chinese creators and the Lands of the Free…

In Thor #170 ‘The Thunder God and the Thermal Man’ (with comics legend Bill Everett assuming the chores of inker) the starlost hero returns to Earth with mission accomplished, and discovers New York besieged by a walking atomic nightmare. Tumbling straight into cataclysmic combat beside his Asgardian comrades against the unstoppable mechanoid menace, Thor is suddenly deprived of his allies at the height of the struggle with Balder, Hogun, Fandral and Volstagg arcanely abducted to Asgard by Loki and the Norn Queen. Nevertheless, the turbulent Thunder God triumphed…

Alone on Earth Thor faced a series of single-issue situations: confronting ‘The Wrath of The Wrecker!’ to crush the Norn-empowered bandit before foiling the body-swapping plot of billionaire Kronin Krask in ‘The Immortal and the Mind-Slave!’ and the earthbound fury of ‘Ulik Unleashed!’ (with old adversaries The Circus of Crime thrown in for good measure).

This epic compilation then concludes with a strength-stealing robot running amok in ‘The Carnage of the Crypto-Man!’ before the last great epic of the Kirby-era began, but that’s a saga for another time and place…

More than any other Marvel strip Thor was the feature where Jack Kirby’s creative brilliance matched his questing exploration of an Infinite Imaginative Cosmos: dreaming, extrapolating and honing a dazzling new kind of storytelling graphics with soul-searching, mind-boggling concepts of Man’s place in the universe.

The Kirby Thor is a high-point in graphic fantasy and all the more impressive for its sheer timeless readability. These tales are an absolute must for all fans of the medium.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 2016 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.

Immortal Iron Fist volume 3: Book of the Iron Fist


By Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Travel Foreman, David Aja, Gil Kane, Larry Hama & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2536-5

To save you looking up old graphic novel reviews (but please don’t let me stop you if you feel so inclined) Iron Fist was an early entry from Marvel during the 1970s Kung Fu boom, although the character also owed a hefty debt to Bill Everett’s Golden Age super-hero Amazing Man who graced various Centaur Comics publications between 1939 and 1945.

The tribute was paid by Roy Thomas & Gil Kane although a veritable host of successors (writers and artists included Len Wein, Doug Moench, Tony Isabella, Larry Hama, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Pat Broderick and Al McWilliams) followed them in what was a relatively short run on the adventures of the “Living Weapon”.

Little Danny Rand travelled with his parents and uncle to the Himalayas, searching for the “lost city of K’un Lun” which only appears once every ten years. The boy’s father Wendell was murdered by the uncle and Danny’s mother sacrificed herself to save her child. Alone in the wilderness, the city found him and he spent the next decade mastering all forms of martial arts.

As soon he was able, he returned to the outer world intent on vengeance and armed with a mystic punch gained by killing the city’s guardian dragon Shou-Lao the Undying. When Iron Fist eventually achieved his goal the lad was at a loose end and – by default – a billionaire, as his murderous uncle had turned the family business into a multi-national megalith.

The series ran in Marvel Premier (#15-25; May 1974 to October 1975), before Chris Claremont & John Byrne steadied the ship and produced a superb run of issues in his own title (Iron Fist #1-15, November 1975 – September 1977). After cancellation, the character drifted until inspirationally paired with street tough hero Luke Cage.

Power Man & Iron Fist ran from #51 until the book ended in 1986 (#125). The K’un Lun Kid has died, come back and cropped up all over the Marvel universe as guest star, co-star, team-player and even in a few of his own series.

Revived and somewhat re-imagined as The Immortal Iron Fist in 2007, a new series revealed that there has been a steady progression of warriors (66) bearing the title for centuries – if not millennia – and in The Last Iron Fist Story Danny discovered that his predecessor Orson Randall went rogue, refusing to die for the Holy City, roaming the Earth ever since. He was also a partner and mentor to Danny’s dad…

This third compilation concentrates on some other Iron Fists by gathering issues #7 and 15-16 of the monthly comicbook, sidebar one-shot Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death (2008) as well as that introductory tale from Marvel Premier #15-16, released in 2008 as Immortal Iron Fist: The Origin of Danny Rand.

The reinvigorated series’ title stems from the hitherto unknown fact that there are in fact seven mystical martial arts-venerating cities in this universe and every 88 years their celestial orbits coincide to permit a grand combat tournament. Each city has a champion as puissant and dedicated as Iron Fist and they must fight with the climax deciding which hidden metropolis will intersect the Earth plane for the next nearly-nine decades …

The peeks at times past begin with ‘The Story of the Iron Fist Wu Ao-Shi: The Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay’, written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction with art from Travel Foreman, Leandro Fernandez, Khari Evans, Derek Fridolfs and Francisco Paronzini, wherein a feisty little girl starving on the streets of K’un Lun is singled out by mighty Lei Kung the Thunderer to be trained as the first female Iron Fist.

After achieving this impossible goal, audacious Wu Ao-Shi finds that duty and even true love are insufficient to satisfy her. Exiling herself to Earth, she lives a short but triumphant existence as mercenary, warrior hero and leader of pirates. She dies before her thirty-third birthday…

That lyrical oriental fable neatly segues into the saga of another Iron Fist tied to Earth. ‘The Story of the Iron Fist Bei Bang-Wen (1827-1860)’ – by Fraction, Evans & Victor Olazaba – finds K’un Lun’s greatest battle strategist exiled to Earth and losing the Chi-reinforced power of Shou-Lau whilst battling the British Army during the Boxer Rebellion.

Imprisoned, Bei befriends fellow mystic hero and freedom fighter Vivatma Visvajit whose personal connection to the Prana power of Brahma also vanished whilst fighting England’s Imperialism. Together they escape and recover their mystic gifts whilst battling demonic forces. Bei dies in his early thirties, free and proud…

Issue #16 then returns to the current Iron Fist as Danny Rand gives back to the community in New York City. ‘Happy Birthday Danny’ (Fraction, David Aja & Matt Hollingsworth) finds the young billionaire teaching and feeding poor kids at his Thunder Dojo whilst patiently attempting to divest himself of the immeasurable tainted wealth his family has ruthlessly accrued over the years.

The “day in the life” tale sees sleepless Danny reconnect with financier/mentor Jeryn Hogarth and fellow crusaders Luke Cage and Misty Knight and continue his studies of the recently-acquired Book of the Iron Fist with the other Immortal Weapons before enduring a brief break enforced by friends who want him to celebrate his thirty-third birthday…

Next-up is a rip-roaring pulp-style adventure as prodigal Iron Fist Orson Randall, his allies the Confederates of the Curious and side-kick Wendell Rand reunite in the face of relentless pursuit by Immortal Weapon John Aman, Prince of Orphans.

Orson is the only Iron Fist to live beyond 33 years and spent precarious decades on Earth fighting injustice, but his time is coming to an end. Aman believes he is justly acting on behalf of the Seven Cities in hunting a traitor but as the extended pursuit evolves comes to realise that something corrupt lies at the heart of his mission: a secret the august rulers have been keeping from their subjects…

Scripted by Fraction with individual chapters illustrated by Nick Dragotta, Mike and Laura Allred, Russ Heath, Lewis LaRosa, Stefano Gaudiano, Hollingsworth and Mitch Breitweiser, Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death is a rousing decades-spanning romp tracking the aging Iron Fist and the kid who will one day father Danny Rand as they encounter bandits, evil cowgirls and another maniac claiming to be the last Frankenstein, with the Prince of Orphans dogging their steps all the way…

Closing this volume is the contents of Immortal Iron Fist: The Origin of Danny Rand, a modified reprint of ‘The Fury of Iron Fist!’ by Thomas, Kane and inker Dick Giordano and its sequel from Marvel Premier #15 and 16 wherein a young masked warrior defeats the cream of a legendary combat elite in a fabled other-dimensional city before returning to Earth.

Ten years previously, little Daniel Rand had watched as his father and mother died at the hands of Harold Meachum whilst the party risked Himalayan snows to find the legendary city of K’un Lun.

Little Danny had travelled with his wealthy parents and their business partner in search of the fabled city – which only appeared on Earth for one day every ten years. Wendell had some unsuspected connection to the fabled Shangri La but was killed before they found it, and Danny’s mother sacrificed herself to save the child from wolves and her murderous pursuer.

As he wandered alone in the wilderness, the city found Danny. The boy spent the next decade training: mastering all forms of martial arts in the militaristic, oriental, feudal paradise and enduring arcane ordeals, living only for the day he would return to Earth and avenge his parents…

After conquering all comers and refusing immortality, Iron Fist returned to Earth a Living Weapon able to turn his force of will into a devastating super-punch…

Reaching Manhattan, #16‘Heart of the Dragon!’ (Len Wein, Larry Hama & Giordano) found Iron Fist reliving the years of toil which had culminated in a trial by combat with a mystic dragon: earning the power to concentrate his fist “like unto a thing of Iron” and other unspecified abilities. The epic clash permanently branded his chest with the seared silhouette of the fearsome wyrm.

His recollections are shattered when martial arts bounty hunter Scythe attacks, revealing that Meachum knew the boy was back and had put a price on his head…

Danny had sacrificed not only immortality for vengeance but also prestige and privilege. As he left K’un Lun, supreme ruler of the city Yü Ti, the August Personage in Jade, had revealed that murdered Wendell Rand had been his brother…

Bracketed by a new framing sequence by Fraction and Kano the classic yarn serves to set the scene for further revelations to come…

Swift and compellingly exotic, this mesmerising tome offers twin highpoints of Marvel’s long history of Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy and should certainly prove a timely read as Iron Fist makes his live action small screen debut…
© 2007, 2008, 2013 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.

Thor Epic Collection: When Titans Clash


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Chic Stone, Frank Giacoia, Vince Colletta & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9446-0

The Mighty Thor was the title in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s career-defining string of power-packed signature pantheons all stemmed from a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This bombastic full-colour tome – also available in eFormats – offers more pioneering Asgardian exploits from JiM #110-125 and the cunningly and appropriately retitled Thor #126-130: collectively covering November 1964 to July 1966, and includes a satirically silly snippet from Not Brand Ecch #3 (October 1967) in a blur of innovation and seat-of-the-pants myth-revising and universe-building…

Once upon a time lonely, lamed American doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, Blake found a gnarled old walking stick, which when struck against the ground turned him into the Norse God of Thunder!

Within moments he was defending the weak and smiting the wicked. As months swiftly passed, rapacious extraterrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs gradually gave way to a vast panoply of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces.

By issue #110, the magnificent warrior’s ever-expanding world of Asgard was a regular feature and mesmerising milieu for the hero’s earlier adventures, heralding a fresh era of cosmic fantasy to run beside the company’s signature superhero sagas.

Every issue also carried a spectacular back-up series that grew to be a solid fan-favourite. Tales of Asgard – Home of the Mighty Norse Gods gave Kirby space to indulge his fascination with legends and allowed both complete vignettes and longer epics – in every sense of the word.

Initially adapted myths, these little yarns grew into sagas unique to the Marvel universe where Kirby built his own cosmos and mythology, underpinning the company’s entire continuity.

The action opens here with ‘Every Hand Against Him’ (Stan Lee, Kirby & Chic Stone) as Asgardian evildoer Loki and earthly miscreants Cobra and Mr. Hyde kidnap and wound nigh unto death Thor’s merely mortal beloved Jane Foster, even as Odin once again overreacts to Thor’s affections for the human girl.

Following a stunning Kirby & Stone Pin-up Thor Pin-up, and balancing that tension-drenched clash of Good and Evil, is a crafty vignette starring the Young Thor describing ‘The Defeat of Odin!’ with an old and silly plot sweetened by breathtaking battle scenes.

The concluding clash with Hyde and his serpentine ally redefines ‘The Power of the Thunder God’ and features a major role for Balder the Brave, further integrating “historical” and contemporary Asgards in a spellbinding epic of triumph and near-tragedy, after which a Loki Pin-up precedes a short fable co-opting a Greek myth (Antaeus if you’re asking) as ‘The Secret of Sigurd’ by Lee, Kirby and inker Vince Colletta …

Journey into Mystery #112 gave the readers what they had been clamouring for with ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’: a glorious gift to all those fans who perpetually ask “who’s stronger…?”

Possibly Kirby & Stone’s finest artistic moment, it details a private duel between the two super-humans that apparently appeared off-camera during a free-for-all between The Avengers, Sub-Mariner and the eponymous Green Goliath. The raw power of that tale is balanced by an eagerly anticipated origin in ‘The Coming of Loki’ (Colletta inks): a retelling of how Odin came to adopt the baby son of Laufey, the Giant King.

In #113 ‘A World Gone Mad!’ by Lee, Kirby & Stone, the Thunderer, after saving the Shining Realm from invasion, once more defies his father Odin to romantically pursue the mortal nurse Jane – a task made rather hazardous by the return of the petrifying villain Grey Gargoyle.

A long-running plot strand – almost interminably so – was the soap-opera tangle caused by Don Blake’s love for his nurse – a passion his alter ego shared. Sadly, the Overlord of Asgard refused to allow his son to love a mortal, which acrimonious triangle provided many attempts to humanise and de-power Thor, already a hero few villains could cope with.

The mythic moment then exposed ‘The Boyhood of Loki!’ (inked by Colletta), a pensive, brooding foretaste of the villain to be.

JiM #114 began a two-part tale introducing a new villain of the sort Kirby excelled at: a vicious thug who suddenly lucked into overwhelming power. ‘The Stronger I Am, The Sooner I Die!’ finds Loki imbuing hardened felon Crusher Creel with the power to duplicate the strength and attributes of anything he touches, but before he is treated to ‘The Vengeance of the Thunder God’ (inked by Frank Giacoia as the pseudonymous Frankie Ray) we’re graced with another Asgardian parable – ‘The Golden Apples’. Issue #115’s back-up mini-myth was ‘A Viper in our Midst!’ with young Loki clandestinely cementing relations with the sinister Storm Giants – sworn enemies of the Gods….

A longer Thor saga began in #116, as Colletta settled in as regular inker for both lead and support feature. ‘The Trial of the Gods’ revealed more aspects of fabled Asgard as Thor and Loki undertake a brutal ritualised Trial by Combat, with the god of mischief cheating at every step, after which ‘Into the Blaze of Battle!’ finds Balder protecting Jane Foster even as her godly paramour travels to war-torn Vietnam seeking proof of his step-brother’s infamy.

These yarns are supplemented by stellar novellas ‘The Challenge!’ and ‘The Sword in the Scabbard!’ in which Asgardian cabin-fever develops into a quest to expose a threat to the mystic Odinsword, the unsheathing of which could destroy the universe…

Journey into Mystery #118’s ‘To Kill a Thunder God!’ ramps up the otherworldly drama as Loki, attempting to cover his tracks, unleashes an ancient Asgardian WMD – the Destroyer. When it damages the mystic hammer of Thor and nearly kills our hero in ‘The Day of the Destroyer!’, the God of Mischief is forced to save his step-brother or bear the brunt of Odin’s anger.

Meanwhile in Tales of Asgard the Quest further unfolds with verity-testing talisman ‘The Crimson Hand!’ and ‘Gather, Warriors!’ with a band of hand-picked “Argonauts” joining Thor’s flying longship in a bold but misguided attempt to forestall Ragnarok…

With Destroyer defeated and Loki temporarily thwarted, Thor returns to America ‘With My Hammer in Hand…!’ only to clash once more with the awesome Absorbing Man. However, before that bombastic battle there’s not only the next instalment of the Asgardian Argonauts who boldly ‘Set Sail!’ but also the admittedly superb digression of the lead story from Journey into Mystery Annual #1, wherein in undisclosed ages past the God of Thunder fell into the realm of the Greek Gods for landmark heroic hullabaloo ‘When Titans Clash! Thor vs. Hercules!’

This incredible all-action episode is augmented here by a beautiful double-page pin-up of downtown Asgard – a true example of Kirby magic.

The Thunderer’s attack of the Absorbing Man resumes in ‘The Power! The Passion! The Pride!’ seemingly set to see the end of Thor: a cliffhanger somewhat assuaged by ‘Maelstrom!’ wherein the Argonauts epically encounter an uncanny storm…

In JiM #122’s ‘Where Mortals Fear to Tread!’ the triumphant Crusher Creel is abducted by Loki to attack Asgard and Odin himself: an astounding clash leading to a cataclysmic conclusion ‘While a Universe Trembles!’

Meanwhile ‘The Grim Specter of Mutiny!’ invoked by seditious Loki is quashed in time for valiant Balder to save the Argonauts from ‘The Jaws of the Dragon!’ in the ever-escalating Ragnarok Quest.

With the contemporary threat to Asgard ended and Creel banished, Thor returns to Earth to defeat the Demon, a witchdoctor empowered by a magical Asgardian Norn Stone left behind after the Thunder God’s Vietnamese venture. Whilst the Storm Lord was away Hercules was dispatched to Earth on a reconnaissance mission for Zeus. ‘The Grandeur and the Glory!’ opened another extended story-arc and action extravaganza, which bounced the Thunderer from bruising battle to brutal defeat to ascendant triumph.

Issue #125 ‘When Meet the Immortals!’ was the last Journey into Mystery: with the following month’s ‘Whom the Gods Would Destroy!’ the comic was re-titled The Mighty Thor and the drama amped up unabated, culminating with ‘The Hammer and the Holocaust!’

In short order Thor crushed the Demon, seemingly lost beloved Jane to Hercules, was deprived of his powers and subsequently thrashed by the Grecian Prince of Power, yet still managed to save Asgard from unscrupulous traitor Seidring the Merciless who had usurped Odin’s mystic might…

Meanwhile in the Tales of Asgard instalments the Questers homed in on the cause of all their woes. ‘Closer Comes the Swarm’ pitted them against the flying trolls of Thryheim, whilst ‘The Queen Commands’ saw Loki captured until Thor answered ‘The Summons!’, promptly returning the Argonauts to Asgard to be shown ‘The Meaning of Ragnarok!’

In all honestly these mini-eddas were, although still magnificent in visual excitement, becoming rather rambling in plot, so the narrative reset was neither unexpected nor unwelcome…

Instead of ending, the grandiose saga actually grew in scope with Thor #128 as ‘The Power of Pluto!’ introduced another major foe. The Greek God of the Underworld had tricked Hercules into replacing him in his dread, dead domain, just as the recuperated Thunder God was looking for a rematch, whilst in Tales of Asgard Kirby pulled out all the creative stops to depict the ‘Aftermath!’ of Ragnarok: for many fans the first indication of what was to come in the King’s landmark Fourth World tales half a decade later…

‘The Verdict of Zeus!’ condemns Hercules to the Underworld unless he can find a proxy to fight for him, whilst at the back of the comic the assembled Asgardians faced ‘The Hordes of Harokin’ as another multi-chaptered classic begins, but for once the cosmic scope of the lead feature eclipses the little odysseys as ‘Thunder in the Netherworld!’ reveals Thor and Hercules carving a swathe of destruction through an unbelievably alien landscape – the beginning of a gradual side-lining of Earthly matters and mere crime-fighting.

Thor and Kirby were increasingly expending their efforts in greater realms than ours…

‘The Fateful Change!’ then reveals how the younger Thunder God trades places with the Genghis Khan-like Harokin… leaving the drama on a tense cliff hanger until the next collected volume…

However there’s one last reading treat in store as Marvel’s superhero spoof title Not Brand Echh #3 provides a barbed and pitiless pastiche of the Asgardian (Jazzgardian, in fact!) life in ‘The Origin of Sore, Son of Shmodin!’ by Lee, Kirby & Giacoia, as well as a glimpse at a 1965 T-Shirt design by Kirby and Dick Ayers, a selection of original art pages from the stories in this volume and a gallery of classic covers modified by painter Dean White…

These transitional Thor tales show the development not only of one of Marvel’s fundamental continuity concepts but more importantly the creative evolution of the greatest imagination in comics. Set your common sense on pause and simply wallow in the glorious imagery and power of these classic adventures for the true secret of what makes graphic narrative a unique experience.
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

S.H.I.E.L.D volume 1: Perfect Bullets


By Mark Waid, Carlo Pacheco, Humberto Ramos, Alan Davis, Chris Sprouse, Mike Choi, Chris Renaud & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9362-3

Just as the 1960s espionage fad was taking off, inspired by the James Bond films and TV shows like Danger Man, war hero Nick Fury “re-debuted” in Fantastic Four #21 as a spy.

That was December 1963 – between issues #4 and 5 of his own blistering battle mag – and the perpetually grizzled warrior was re-imagined as a cunning CIA Colonel lurking at the periphery of big adventures, craftily manipulating the First Family of Marvel superheroes into taking on a racist demagogue with a world-shattering secret…

Fury was already the star of the little company’s only war comic: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, an improbable and decidedly over-the-top, wild WWII-set series similar in tone to later movies such as The Magnificent Seven, Wild Bunch and The Dirty Dozen.

When spy stories went global in the wake of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the veteran’s elder iteration was given a second series (from Strange Tales #135, August 1965), set in the then-present. Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions and sinister schemes of World Conquest by hidden, subversive all-encompassing enemy organisation Hydra – all gift-wrapped with captivating Kirby-designed super-science gadgets and explosive high energy. It was set firmly in the heart of the slowly burgeoning Marvel Universe…

Once iconic imagineer Jim Steranko took charge, layering in a sleek, ultra-sophisticated edge of trend-setting drama, the series became one of the best and most visually innovative strips in America, if not the world.

When the writer/artist left and the spy-fad faded, the whole concept simply withdrew into the background architecture of the Marvel Universe, occasionally resurfacing in new series but growing increasingly uncomfortable to read as the role of spooks “on our side” became ever more debased in a world where covert agencies were continually exposed as manipulative, out-of-control tools of subversion and oppression.

In 1989 a six issue prestige format miniseries reinvigorated the concept. As a company targeting the youth-oriented markets, Marvel had experienced problems with their in-house clandestine organisation. In almost all of their other titles, US agents and “the Feds” were usually the bad guys. Author Bob Harras used this theme as well as the oddly quirky self-referential fact that nobody aged in comic continuity to play games with the readers…

Fury had discovered that everybody in his organisation had been “turned” and was now an actual threat to freedom and democracy. With his core beliefs and principles about leading “the Good Guys” betrayed and destroyed, he went on the run, hunted by the world’s most powerful covert agency with all the resources he’d devised and utilised now turned against him.

As part of the resolution SHIELD was reinvented for the 1990s: a leaner, cleaner, organisation, nominally acting under UN mandate, and proactive throughout the Marvel Universe. The taste of betrayal and seeds of doubt and mistrust never went away though…

Following numerous global crises – including a superhero Civil War – Fury was replaced as SHIELD director. His successor Tony Stark proved to be a huge mistake and after an alien invasion by Skrulls, the organisation was mothballed: replaced by the manically dynamic Norman Osborn and his fanatically loyal H.A.M.M.E.R. project. As America’s top Fed, he was specifically tasked with curbing the unchecked power and threat of the burgeoning metahuman community.

Osborn’s ascent was an even bigger error. As America’s Director of National Security the former Green Goblin and not-really-recovering psychopath instituted a draconian “Dark Reign” of oppressive, aggressive policies which turned the nation into a paranoid tinderbox.

This spectacularly poor choice was, however, also directing a cabal of the world’s greatest criminals and conquerors intent on divvying up the planet between them. The repercussions of Osborn’s rise and fall were felt throughout and featured in many series and collections throughout the entire fictive continuity. His brief rule also drastically shook up the entrenched secret powers of the planet and his ultimate defeat destabilised many previously unassailable empires…

Fury, a man driven by duty, fuelled by suspicion and powered by a serum which kept him vital far beyond his years, didn’t go away. He just went deep undercover and continued doing what he’d always done: saving the world, one battle at a time. Even after Osborn was gone, Fury stayed buried, preferring to fight battles his way and with assets and resources he’d personally acquired and built…

Since the concept became an integral part of Marvel’s cinematic and TV universe, the comics division has laboured to find a way to rationalise their two wildly dissimilar iterations of SHIELD. In 2015 scripter Mark Waid and a rotating squad of illustrators finally settled on a way to square that circle…

S.H.I.E.L.D. – now standing for the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division – is still a major player in defending humanity from the unimaginable, but movie icon Phil Coulson, his core TV team of Melinda May, Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons, plus hybrid versions of print-turned-screen stars such as Bobbi (Mockingbird) Morse have been deftly hived off into their own niche of comicbook continuity with Coulson in charge of an official sub-agency where – supplemented by SHIELD resources – his own geekishly vast and deep knowledge of metahuman trivia and contacts with the entire super-heroic community combine to tackle unnatural crises on a case-by-case basis…

The result – written by the master planner Mark Waid and illustrated by a rotating roster of star artists – is a fresh and supremely appetising blend of spies, sinister secret villains and super folk that is a joy to behold…

Collecting issues #1-6 of the breakthrough series (technically S.H.I.E.L.D. volume 3, spanning February to July 2015, if you’re keeping count) this volume commences with the eponymous ‘Perfect Bullets’ (illustrated by Carlos Pacheco, Mariano Taibo & Jason Paz, with Dono Sanchez Almara providing the colours) as SHIELD Special Ops Supreme Commander Coulson is forced to rally his barely wet-behind-the-ears unit to tackle a middle-eastern terrorist who has somehow latched onto a magic sword allowing him to summon all the monsters of mythology to batter the Earth.

As all the planet’s heroes wage a losing war against the invasion of gargantuan terrors, Coulson’s team rapidly identify the true owner of the blade and deploy the two ideal superheroes able to counter its threat…

Sadly, however, when the sword is restored to its rightful wielder, a hidden extra-dimensional presence is unleashed, forcing Coulson to improvise a final solution…

Then, adding funny to the fast and furious, a brace of comedic shorts follows. Crafted by Joe Quesada and starring boy-genius Fitz and his digital avatar H.E.N.R.Y., these strips were originally concocted to amuse the cast and crew of the TV show…

The all-comics action resumes with ‘The Animator’ (art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazabo & Edgar Delgado) as Xenobiology specialist Simmons is sent undercover to a High School in Jersey City to crack a smuggling ring. Of course, being a SHIELD Special Ops mission, the contraband being sought is not drugs of guns or something equally mundane, but rather weapons and tech stolen from super-villains.

Things instantly go bad when a Wizard power-glove stashed in a locker spontaneously activates, causing a riot. Thankfully fresh new Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan is a student at the beleaguered institution and steps up, impressing Coulson in the process…

Sadly it’s not the only crisis on campus as bio-plasm from genetic meddler Arnim Zola infects the cafeteria food, turning hungry kids into ravenous monsters…

With that catastrophe stomach-churningly averted, Fitz and H.E.N.R.Y. make another mirthful appearance before Alan Davis, Mark Farmer and colourist Matthew Wilson make the pictures for ‘Home Invasion’ as Coulson, Spider-Man and mystic parolee Mr. Rasputin break into the bewitched citadel of Doctor Strange to battle mystic mercenaries hired to raid the storehouse of magical wonders.

The thieves think they had it covered but their meddling unleashes forces that imperil the entire Earth. Moreover, in the aftermath Coulson sees something which sets him thinking that one hand might be behind the many threats his team has recently tackled…

After another delightful Fitz and H.E.N.R.Y. escapade, Chris Sprouse, Carl Story & Almara illustrate a deeply disturbing tale as Invisible Woman Susan Richards is seconded to the Special Ops unit to save a reluctant Hydra informant from a radioactive prison five miles underground. Sadly as ‘Fuel’ unfolds she discovers the truly vicious duplicity of her opponents and endures cruel whims of fate as the Mole Man attacks everybody and Coulson is forced to intervene before atomic Armageddon ensues…

The fifth instalment starts drawing disparate plot points together as the world’s mystics and supernatural champions are systematically gunned down by an assassin firing purpose-built ‘Magic Bullets’ (with art by Mike Choi and colourist Rachelle Rosenberg)…

With his resources reduced to the Scarlet Witch and professional sceptics Fitz and Simmons, Coulson uncovers a connection to Asgard and a mystery magical mastermind, only to have his team supernaturally suborned as the hidden manipulator makes his long-anticipated move…

This immensely entertaining epic concludes as Earth is afflicted with an arcane plague transforming humanity into mindless monsters compelling Coulson to assemble a squad of intellect-deficient atrocities – zombie Simon Garth, the Living Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster and Man-Thing – into an all-new unit of Howling Commandos to invade the ‘Dark Dimensions’ (illustrated by Paul Renaud & Romulo Farjado, Jr.) and stop the contagion and its creator at the source.

And because he’s the sneaky bastard he is, Coulson also takes along a secret weapon: the last villain anyone might expect to save the universe…

Fast-paced, action-packed, imaginative, thrilling, funny and superbly illuminated throughout, Perfect Bullets offers fantastic enjoyment for any Fights ‘n’ Tights fan with a smattering of Marvel history in their heads, but will particularly reward any TV aficionado willing to peek into the convoluted comicbook universe the SHIELD show sprang from.
© 2015 Marvel Characters. All rights reserved.

Thor, God of Thunder volume 4: The Last Days of Midgard


By Jason Aaron, Esad Ribic, Agustin Alessio, Simon Bisley, R.M. Guera, Ive Svorcina & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8991-6

Created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, The Mighty Thor began his stellar career delivering an unceasing procession of spectacular fantasy-flavoured adventures which encompassed everything from crushing crime capers and smashing sinister super-villains to crushing mythical monsters saving entire universes from cosmic doom.

As the decades passed he survived numerous reboots and re-imaginings to keep the wonders of fabled Asgard appealing to an increasingly more sophisticated – and therefore jaded – readership. An already exceedingly broad range of scenarios spawned even greater visual variety after the Thunderer’s introduction to the pantheon of cinematic Marvels and his ongoing triumphs as a bona fide movie sensation.

A relatively recent publishing iteration of Marvel’s most tempestuous hero began by simultaneously focusing on the Storm Lord in the past, present and future. Thor, God of Thunder ended with #25 with this compilation gathering #19.NOW through to that momentous anniversary climax (cover-dates April to October 2014) bringing that conceit to its natural, if staggeringly apocalyptic, conclusion.

Crafted primarily by Jason Aaron & Esad Ribic, this chronicle visits two vastly separated eras as the Lord of Storms tackles two ultimate enemies of Earth in two distinctly different times.

‘The Last Days of Midgard’ opens with an appraisal of how, across the universe, many worlds are inexplicably expiring even as, on Earth, Thor is renewing his ineffable bond with the blue planet he loves so much.

Having recently made the acquaintance of junior S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Rosalind Solomon and been more than a little impressed, he is thus on hand when she begins her job in the agency’s new Environmental Hazard Division and uncovers a high-tech underwater Japanese whaling fleet hunting inside a UN undersea preserve.

As her solo assault fails Solomon is surprised – and a tad annoyed – to be rescued by the almighty storm god who soon routs and destroys the poachers. Meanwhile in Alaska, the new CEO of super-corporation Roxxon is unveiling his latest moneymaking scheme…

Unctuous yet menacing wunderkind Dario Agger is proudly publicising his new project to bring clean – albeit exorbitantly expensive – mined ice for drinking water from Jupiter’s moon Europa. Of course, he neglects to mention his company’s covert countervailing activities: secretly polluting water tables, melting Earth’s icecaps and befouling the atmosphere to maximise the profit potential of Roxxon’s newest line….

Under his new business model Roxxon intends to ecologically destabilise the planet so that they can monetise their brand of high-tech stopgap solutions…

Agger’s first foray goes embarrassingly awry when Thor hijacks his press launch; hand-delivering an entire mountain of clean ice and promising all Earth might ever need…

Furiously brushing aside Agent Solomon’s thinly veiled threat that S.H.I.E.L.D. is onto him, the self-proclaimed god of money vows vengeance and brings in his lawyers and lobbyists. Superheroes and even S.H.I.E.L.D. enforce laws, but corporations own the politicians who make and – where necessary – rewrite them…

In the far distant future the universe is winding down and All-father Thor is a weary, maimed but still stubborn god. The end of time has almost no deities left in it, save the aged, one-eyed, one-armed Last King of Asgard, with only his (recently liberated from slavery yet ferociously independent) granddaughters Atli, Ellisiv and Frigg for company.

He spends his days sitting on and mourning the burned-out, nigh-dead Earth he loves so much, but Thor’s ancient passions for the planet are stoked back to blazing fury when world-devourer Galactus arrives, determined to consume at last the only celestial morsel ever to frustrate his unending hunger…

‘All Worlds Must Die’ opens in that aforementioned far distant future as All-Father Thor banishes his tempestuous granddaughters back to Asgard whilst he prepares to die at long last defending his barren charge. Back in the Now his younger self has returned to the town of Broxton, Oklahoma; a place he sometimes calls home.

After a previous Ragnarok brought the extra-dimensional realm of Asgard to destruction and scattered the souls of the gods, a mysterious voice summoned the deceased Thor back to life – on Earth – in a crack of shattering thunder. Revived for an unspecified purpose the solitary godling swiftly set about retrieving the souls of his fellow Aesir, all scattered and hidden inside human hosts, and set up Asgard-on-Earth a few paltry feet above the ground of Oklahoma…

Following many battles and conflicts the mystic floating city – now dubbed Asgardia – was officially declared an Embassy of the Gods by the US government, and life for the rural humans below settled down to a pattern of strangely heightened, intense friendly cooperation with their amazing neighbours…

Outraged at what Solomon has told him of Roxxon and contemptuous as ever of mortal laws, Thor then causes the destruction of all the corporation’s flying pollution factories, provoking Agger to move the hero up his agenda and retaliate…

In his corporate lair the billionaire revels in the power of money and science whilst murderously “inspiring” his ineffectual think-tank to find solutions to his god problem. The gorily bloodletting brainstorming session soon arrives at a perfect response, but also inadvertently reveals a stunning secret about the cruel plutocrat…

With Agger setting his plans into motion in the present, at the end of time the last King of Asgard refuses to surrender his beloved Earth to Galactus and, as the battle ferociously escalates, readies himself to die gloriously with his wounded world…

‘God, Inc.’ sees the apparent defeat of the elder god, whilst in his past the unstoppable power of money and influence as applied by Roxxon has moved clerical mountains and brought misery to the younger Thunderer.

The corporation has moved into Broxton with a spurious scheme to bring jobs, prosperity and progress to the isolated farming town. Of course the first step is buying up all the land they can and splitting up the community. That is quickly followed by establishing a second wave of atmosphere-poisoning flying factories over their bewildered heads…

Correctly assessing what Thor’s furiously impatient response will be, smug Agger is waiting with a legion of lawyers and writs waiting to serve the god with injunctions, cease-&-desist orders and damages suits. After the CEO refuses the Asgardian’s offer to buy back Broxton with the unlimited wealth of the Eternal Realm, only Rosalind’s frantic pleading stops the enraged Thunderer from blowing his top and getting himself arrested and even deported from Earth…

In a distant Tomorrow Galactus has defeated the ancient Thunder Lord and thrown his battered body into space, whilst in the Now Agger initiates the next phase in his blueprint for vengeance, summoning monstrous troll Ulik and his troglodytic legions to literally undermine Broxton and Asgardia and slay Thor when he inevitably intervenes…

‘For Thor So Loved the World’ finds the world-devourer preparing to render the defenceless future Earth to rubble when the incomparable and ever defiant Atli, Ellisiv and Frigg return, bearing an arsenal of god-killing weapons, whilst in present day Oklahoma Thor resorts to guile and patience – two things he is legendarily short of – whilst Rosalind leads the fight back against Roxxon.

Things soon go wrong though when she is targeted by hungry trolls…

As defeated King Thor rallies at the end of the universe and storms towards the place where the most ultimate of weapons is cached, in the present Thor confronts Agger and is astonished to see him transform into a bloodthirsty beast-monster easily the match of a mere god…

‘Blood of the Earth’ features even more spectacularly climactic cataclysmic combat on two time-fronts with ravening monsters equally served their just deserts, topped off with a brace of twist endings each serving to set the scene for forthcoming dramas, but the graphic drama does not end there.

Thor, God of Thunder #24 featured ‘The Last Days of Midgard Epilogue: Adieu, Midgard, Adieu’ (illustrated by Agustin Alessio & colourist Ive Svorcina with Ribic), offering a rather downbeat conclusion to the bombastic epic as – beaten but undeterred – Dario Agger pleads possession by uncanny forces and puts all Roxxon’s resources behind a campaign to remove the terrifying, alien, immigrant Asgardians from American – if not Earth’s – holy soil…

Amidst an aura of almost constant super-powered strife, it’s ludicrously easy to sway public opinion and All-Mother Freyja decides its time for the repaired and fully restored city of wonders to leave for another, more welcoming place in the unending cosmos. But before they go, Thor has one last invaluable gift for all the friends in Broxton he feels he has failed…

Closing this collection and that era of the never-ending chronicles of Thor comes issue #25, disseminating ‘Tales of Thunder’ written as always by Aaron who takes the opportunity to delve into the secret histories of many of the lesser characters whilst laying the foundations for Thor’s Next Big Evolution.

This would happen as a result of the Original Sin Crossover Event which ended with a completely different Thunderer holding the Hammer of Thor…

Cloaked in a framing sequence where All-Father Thor’s granddaughters are forced to study excerpts from history the lessons begin with ‘The 13th Son of a 13th Son’ (limned by R.M. Guera and coloured by Giulia Brusco) which luxuriously details the sordid development of an elf sold into slavery by his mother. Rising from that cruel and demeaning state due to his ruthlessness and affinity for sorcery, the goddesses’ research shows how and why Dark Elf Malekith the Accursed became leader of the Wild Hunt and enemy of all that lives…

Next Simon Bisley spectacularly illuminates a tale of Thor’s Boyhood when he rode with the Vikings of Midgard against invading Frost Giant’s in a war of ‘Blood and Ice’. Despite emerging triumphant, the young prince of Asgard made an error of judgement which would cost him dear in centuries to come…

The school session ends soon after the last war maidens of Asgard consult a forbidden tome and learn of a woman who held mighty Mjolnir after the son of Odin was found to be ‘Unworthy’ (art by Ribic & Svorcina) which tantalisingly leads into another book for another time…

This blistering book of battles, trickery, triumphs and tragedies affords furious thrills and fabulous Fights ‘n’ Tights furore no fan of mythic cosmic adventure could possibly resist, so why not surrender to an irresistible force of full-on fun?
© 2012, 2015 Marvel Characters. All rights reserved.

Thor Epic Collection: The God of Thunder


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein, Joe Sinnott, Al Hartley, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8835-3

Even more than the Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor was the arena in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s string of power-packed signature pantheons began in a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by the fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This gloriously economical full-colour tome – also available in eFormats – re-presents those pioneering Asgardian exploits from JiM #83-109, spanning summer 1962 to October 1964 in a blur of innovation and seat-of-the-pants myth-revising and universe-building…

Cover-dated August 1962, Journey into Mystery #83 saw a bold costumed warrior jostling aside the regular fare of monsters, aliens and sinister scientists in a brash, vivid explosion of verve and vigour.

The initial exploit followed crippled American doctor Donald Blake who takes a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Fleeing, he is trapped in a cave where he finds an old, gnarled walking stick. When in his frustration he smashes the stick into a huge boulder obstructing his escape, his puny frame is transformed into the Norse God of Thunder, the Mighty Thor!

Plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Lieber and illustrated by Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott (at this juncture a full illustrator, Sinnott would become Kirby’s primary inker for most of his Marvel career), ‘The Stone Men of Saturn’ is pure early Marvel, bombastic, fast-paced, gloriously illogical and captivatingly action-packed. The hugely under-appreciated Art Simek was the letterer and logo designer.

It was clear that they whey were making it up as they went along – not in itself a bad thing – and that infectious enthusiasm shows in the next adventure…

‘The Mighty Thor Vs. the Executioner’ is a “commie-busting” tale of its time with a thinly disguised Fidel Castro wasting his formidable armies in battle against our hero. Dr. Blake’s nurse Jane Foster is introduced; a bland cipher adored from afar by the Norse superman’s timid alter-ego. The creative team settled as Dick Ayers replaced Sinnott, and with #85’s ‘Trapped by Loki, God of Mischief!’ the final element fell into place with the “return” of a suitably awesome arch-foe; in this case the hero’s half-brother. This evil magician and compulsive trickster escaped divine incarceration and his first thought was to bedevil Thor by causing terror and chaos on the world of mortals he was so devoted to.

Here a new and greater universe was first revealed with the tantalising hints and glimpses of the celestial otherworld and more Nordic gods…

Issue #86 introduced another recurring villain. Zarrko, bristling at the sedentary ease of 23rd century life, travelled to 1962 to steal an experimental “C-Bomb”, forcing the Thunderer into a stirring hunt through time and inevitable clash with super-technology ‘On the Trail of the Tomorrow Man!’ On his return Blake became a target of Soviet abductors. Those sneaky spies even managed to make Thor a ‘Prisoner of the Reds!’ before eventually emerging unscathed and triumphant…

‘The Vengeance of Loki’ saw the god of Mischief’s return in #88 as the malevolent miscreant uncovered Thor’s secret identity and naturally menaced Jane Foster whilst ‘The Thunder God and the Thug’ was adventure on a much more human scale wherein a gang boss runs riot over the city and roughshod over a good woman’s heart, giving the Asgardian a chance to demonstrate a more sophisticated and sympathetic side by crushing him and freeing her from Thug Thatcher’s influence.

Issue #90 was an unsettling surprise as the grandeur of Kirby & Ayers was replaced by the charming yet angst-free art of Al Hartley, who illustrated Lee & Lieber’s stock alien-invasion yarn ‘Trapped by the Carbon-Copy Man!’ A month later the Storm Lord tackles ‘Sandu, Master of the Supernatural!’, with Sinnott handling all the art, in a thriller starring a carnival mentalist who – augmented by Loki’s magic – comes catastrophically close to killing our hero…

Sinnott drew JiM #92’s ‘The Day Loki Stole Thor’s Magic Hammer’ (scripted by Robert Bernstein over Lee’s plot) which moves the action fully to the mythical realm of Asgard for the first time as Thor sought to recover his stolen weapon after Loki ensorcelled the magnificent mallet. Kirby & Ayers momentarily returned for Cold War/Atom Age thriller ‘The Mysterious Radio-Active Man!’ – again plotted by Bernstein – as Mao Tse Tung unleashes an atomic assassin in retaliation for Thor thwarting China’s invasion of India. Such “Red-baiting” was common in early Marvel titles, but their inherent jingoistic silliness can’t mar the eerie beauty of the artwork. With this tale the rangy, raw-boned Thunder God completed his slow metamorphosis into the husky, burly blonde bruiser who dominated any panel he was drawn in.

Sinnott illustrated the next three somewhat pedestrian adventures. ‘Thor and Loki Attack the Human Race!’, ‘The Demon Duplicator’ and ‘The Magic of Mad Merlin!’, but these mediocre tales of magic-induced amnesia, science-fuelled evil doppelgangers and an ancient mutant menace were the last of an old style of comics. Stan Lee took over full scripting with Journey into Mystery #97 and a torrent of action wedded to soap opera melodrama resulted in a fresh style for a developing readership.

‘The Lava Man’ in #97 was again drawn by Kirby, with the subtly textured inking of Don Heck adding depth to the tale of an invader summoned from the subterranean realms to menace humanity at the behest of Loki. More significantly a long running rift between Thor and his stern father Odin was established after the Lord of Asgard refused to allow his son to love the mortal Jane.

This acrimonious triangle was a perennial sub-plot fuelling many attempts to humanise Thor, because already he was a hero too powerful for most villains to cope with. Most importantly this issue was notable for the launch of a spectacular back-up series. ‘Tales of Asgard – Home of the mighty Norse Gods’ gave Kirby a vehicle to indulge his fascination with legends. Initially adapting classic tales but eventually with all-new material particular to the Marvel pantheon, he built his own cosmos and mythology, which underpinned the company’s entire continuity. This first saga, scripted by Lee and inked by George Bell (AKA old Golden Age collaborator George Roussos), outlined the origin of the world and the creation of the World Tree Yggdrasil.

‘Challenged by the Human Cobra’ introduced the serpentine villain (bitten by a radioactive Cobra, would you believe?) in a tale by Lee & Heck, whilst Kirby – with them in attendance – offered ‘Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants!’ a short, potent fantasy romp which laid the groundwork for decades of cosmic wonderment of years to come.

The same format held for issues #99 and #100 with the main story (the first two-part adventure in the run) introducing the brutal ‘Mysterious Mister Hyde’ – and concluding a month later with ‘The Master Plan of Mr. Hyde!’ The modern yarn dealt with a contemporary chemist who could transform into a super-strong villain at will and who framed Thor for his crimes whilst in primordial prehistory Kirby detailed Odin’s war with ‘Surtur the Fire Demon’ and latterly (with Vince Colletta inking) crafted an exploit of the All-Father’s so different sons in ‘The Storm Giants – a tale of the Boyhood of Thor’. As always, Lee scripted these increasingly influential comicbook histories…

JiM #101 saw Kirby finally assume control of the pencilling on both strips. ‘The Return of Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man’ sees Odin halve Thor’s powers for wilful disobedience just as the futuristic felon abducts the Thunder God to help him conquer the 23rd century. Anther two-parter (the first half inked by Roussos), it was balanced by another exuberant tale of the boy Thor. ‘The Invasion of Asgard’ sees the valiant lad fight a heroic rearguard action that introduced a host of future villainous mainstays such as Rime Giants and Geirrodur the Troll.

‘Slave of Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man’ is a tour de force epic conclusion most notable for the introduction of Chic Stone as inker. To many of us oldsters, his clean, full brush lines make him The King’s best embellisher ever.

This triumphant futuristic thriller is counterbalanced by brooding short ‘Death Comes to Thor!’ as the teen hero faces his greatest challenge yet. Two females who would play huge roles in his life were introduced in this brief 5-pager; the young goddess Sif and Hela, Queen of the Dead.

On a creative roll, Lee, Kirby & Stone next introduced ‘The Enchantress and the Executioner’: ruthless renegade Asgardians determined to respectively seduce or destroy the warrior prince in the front of JiM #103 whilst the rear revealed ‘Thor’s Mission to Mirmir’ disclosing how the gods created humanity. That led one month later to a revolutionary saga when ‘Giants Walk the Earth’.

For the first time Kirby’s imagination was given full play after Loki tricks Odin into visiting Earth, only to release ancient elemental enemies Surtur and Skagg, the Storm Giant from Asgardian bondage.

This cosmic clash saw noble gods battling demonic evil in a new Heroic Age, and the greater role of the Norse supporting cast – especially noble warrior Balder – was reinforced by a new Tales of Asgard strand focussing on individual Gods and Heroes. ‘Heimdall: Guardian of the Mystic Rainbow Bridge’ was first, with Heck inking.

Issues #105-106 saw the teaming of two old foes in ‘The Cobra and Mr, Hyde’ and ‘The Thunder God Strikes Back’; another continued story packed with tension and spectacular action, proving Thor was swiftly growing beyond the constraints of traditional single issue adventures. The respective back-ups ‘When Heimdall Failed!’ (Lee, Kirby & Roussos) and ‘Balder the Brave’ (Lee, Kirby & Colletta) further fleshed out the back-story of an Asgardian pantheon deviating more and more from those classical Eddas and Sagas kids had to plough through in schools.

Journey into Mystery #107 premiered a petrifying villain in ‘When the Grey Gargoyle Strikes’, a rare yarn highlighting the fortitude of Dr. Blake rather than the power of the Thunder God, who was increasingly reducing his own alter-ego to an inconsequentiality. Closing the issue, the Norn Queen debuted in a quirky reinterpretation of the classic myth ‘Balder Must Die!’ illustrated by Kirby & Colletta.

After months of manipulation the God of Evil once again took direct action in ‘At the Mercy of Loki, Prince of Evil!’ With Jane a helpless victim of Asgardian magic, the willing assistance of new Marvel star Doctor Strange made this a captivating team-up to read, whilst ‘Trapped by the Trolls’ (Colletta inks) showed the power and promise of tales set solely on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge after Thor liberates Asgardians from Subterranean bondage.

Bringing down the curtain on this increasingly cosmic carnival, Journey into Mystery #109 was another superb adventure masquerading as a plug for recent addition to the Marvel roster.

‘When Magneto Strikes!’ pits Thor against the X-Men’s greatest foe in a cataclysmic clash of fundamental powers, but you couldn’t really call it a team-up since the heroic mutants are never actually seen. The tantalising hints and cropped glimpses are fascinating teasers now, but the kid I then was felt annoyed not to have seen these new heroes… oh… wait… maybe that was the point?

The Young Thor feature ‘Banished from Asgard’ is an uncharacteristically lacklustre effort to end on as Odin and Thor enact a devious plan to trap a traitor in Asgard’s ranks but the vignette hinted at much greater thrills to follow…

These early tales of the God of Thunder show the development not only of one of Marvel’s core narrative concepts but, more importantly, the creative evolution of perhaps the greatest imagination in comics. Set your common sense on pause and simply wallow in the glorious imagery and power of these classic adventures for the true secret of what makes comicbook superheroes such a unique experience.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Bob Powell & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785145639

As the remnants of Atlas Comics grew in popularity in the early 1960s it gradually supplanted its broad variety of genre titles with more and more super-heroes. The recovering powerhouse that was to become Marvel was still hampered by a crippling distribution deal that limited the company to 16 titles (which would curtail their output until 1968), so each new untried book would have to fill the revenue-generating slot (however small) of an existing title.

Moreover as the costumed characters were selling, each new similarly-themed title would limit the breadth of the monster, western, war, humour or girls’ comics that had been the outfit’s recent bread and butter. It was putting a lot of eggs in one basket, and superheroes had failed twice before for Marvel.

So in retrospect the visual variety of the first few issues of Daredevil, the Man Without Fear seemed a risky venture indeed. Yes, the artists were all seasoned, talented veterans, but not to the young kids who were the audience. Most importantly, they just weren’t Kirby or Ditko, and new features need consistency and continuity…

Still, Lee and his rotating line-up of artists plugged on, concocting some extremely engaging tales until the latest Marvel Sensation found his feet, and the fascinating transition of moody masked avenger to wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler can be enjoyed in this collection gathering the first 11 issues (spanning April 1964 to December 1965) into one effervescent package of thrills and spills which begins with ‘The Origin of Daredevil’

This much-retold tale recounts how young Matthew Murdock grew up in the slums, raised by his father Battling Jack Murdock, a second-rate prize-fighter. Determined that the boy will be something, the father extracts a solemn promise from his son that he will never fight. Mocked by other kids who sarcastically dub him “Daredevil”, Matt abides by his vow, but secretly trains his body to physical perfection.

One day he saves a blind man from being hit by a speeding truck, only to be struck in the face by its radioactive cargo. His sight is burned away forever but his other senses are super-humanly enhanced and he gains a sixth, “radar-sense”. He tells no-one, not even his dad.

The senior Murdock is in dire straits. As his career declined he signed with The Fixer, knowing full well what the corrupt promoter expected from his fighters. Yet Jack’s star started to shine again and his downward spiral reversed itself. Unaware that he was being set up, Murdock got a shot at the Big Time, but when ordered to take a dive he refused. Winning was the proudest moment of his life. When his bullet-riddled corpse was found, the cops had suspicions but no proof…

Heartbroken Matt graduated college with a law degree and set up in business with his room-mate FranklinFoggyNelson. They hired a lovely young secretary named Karen Page and, with his life on track, young Matt now had time to solve his father’s murder… His promise stopped him from fighting but what if he became “somebody else”?

Scripted by Lee and moodily illustrated by the legendary Bill Everett (with assistance from Ditko) this is a rather nonsensical yet visually engaging yarn that just goes through the motions, barely hinting at the magic yet to come.

Plot-wise the second issue fares little better as Joe Orlando & Vince Colletta take over the art: ‘The Evil Menace of Electro!’ guest-stars the Fantastic Four and features a second-hand Spider-Man villain.

The FF call in lawyer Matt Murdock just as the electrical outlaw tries to break into their building and before long Daredevil deals with Electro by the numbers. Issue #3 finally offers the sightless crusader a super-foe of his own when he meets and trounces ‘The Owl, Ominous Overlord of Crime!’

Daredevil #4 was a turning point, and just in time. ‘Killgrave, the Unbelievable Purple Man!’ finally gave some character to the big, blind stiff as he strove to overcome a villain who could exert total control over anyone who saw him. Although Orlando & Colletta’s uncomfortable, over-busy art remained for one last episode Lee finally seemed to get a handle on the hero; just in time for a magician-in-waiting to elevate the series to spectacular heights.

With #5 Wally Wood assumed the art chores where his lush, lavish work brought power, grace and beauty to the series. At last this costumed acrobat seemed to spring and dance across the rooftops and pages. Wood’s contribution to the plotting didn’t hurt either. He actually got a cover plug on his first issue.

In ‘The Mysterious Masked Matador!’ a cool, no-nonsense hero who looked commanding and could handle anything started fighting hard and fast. The series began advancing the moribund romantic sub-plot (Foggy adores Karen, who only has eyes for Matt, who loves her, but won’t let her waste her life on a blind man) and actually started making sense and progress. Most importantly, the action scenes were intoxicating…

Although a bullfighter who used his skills for crime is frankly daft, the drawing makes it utterly convincing, and the following issue’s ‘Trapped by the Fellowship of Fear!’ is a minor classic as the Man Without Fear had to defeat not only the super-powered Ox and Eel (yet more recycled villains) but his own threat-specific foe Mr. Fear who could instil terror and panic in victims, courtesy of his deadly fear-gas gun.

Daredevil #7 is a true landmark: to my mind one of the Top Ten Marvel Tales of all Time. Lee & Wood concocted a true masterpiece with ‘In Mortal Combat with… Sub-Mariner!’

Prince Namor of Atlantis travels to the surface world to have his day in court and sue all Mankind, but discovers too late that his warlord, Krang, has usurped the throne in his absence. The fiery monarch cannot sit languishing in a cell when the kingdom is threatened, so he fights his way to freedom and the sea.

This story shows Murdock the lawyer to be a brilliant orator, whilst the hopelessly one-sided battle with one of the strongest beings on the planet shows the dauntless courage of DD and nobility of the Sub-Mariner whilst most notably, with no fanfare at all, Wood replaced the original yellow-&-black costume with the iconic and beautiful all-red outfit we know today. As one pithy commentator stated “the original costume looked as if it had been designed by a blind man”.

Another all-new villain debuted in #8’s gripping industrial espionage thriller ‘The Stiltman Cometh!’ pitting the acrobat against a villain who towered above the skyscrapers after which Golden Age Great Bob Powell came aboard as penciller to Wood’s layouts and inks with #9’s ‘That He May See!’

Relentlessly badgered by Karen, Matt finally agrees to see an eye-specialist who might be able to cure his blindness, only to become embroiled in a plot to conquer the World by a Ruritanian maniac with a knights-in-armour fixation…

Wood was clearly chafing after a year on the book. The series’ first continued story ‘While the City Sleeps!’ was also scripted by him: a political thriller which first saw Foggy run for District Attorney of New York even as mysterious mastermind known as The Organizer and his animal-powered gang, Bird-Man, Frog-Man, Cat-Man and Ape-Man terrorised the city.

With Powell now on full pencils and Wood just inking, Lee was left to write the concluding ‘A Time to Unmask!’ as Daredevil pulled out all the stops to confound a devious power-grab scheme which saw the villains defeated, but only at great personal cost to Nelson & Murdock…

With a brace of glorious pin-ups by Wood, this sleek compendium offers a few bumpy false starts before blossoming into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration.

If you’ve not read these tales before I strongly urge you to rectify that error as soon as superhumanly possible.
© 1964, 1965, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.