Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3331-5 (HB)

One of the most momentous events in Marvel Comics history occurred in 1963 when a disparate array of individual heroes banded together to stop the Incredible Hulk.

The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in their universe has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket paid off big-time; even when all Marvel’s all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man were absent, it merely allowed the lesser lights of the team to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars regularly featured due to a rotating, open door policy which meant that most issues included one of any reader’s favourites. The increasingly bold and impressively ambitious stories and artwork were no hindrance either.

This sturdy hardcover and eBook compilation gathers the astounding contents of Avengers issues #89-100 collectively spanning June 1971 – June 1972: a riot of cosmic calamity which confirmed scripter Roy Thomas as a major creative force in comics whilst simultaneously demonstrating the potential the “debased” medium could aspire to.

At the time Thomas’ bold experiment was rightly considered the most ambitious saga in Marvel’s brief history: astounding sagas of tremendous scope which dumped Earth into a cosmic war the likes of which comics fans had never before seen. The Kree/Skrull War set the template for all multi-part crossovers and publishing events ever since and it was followed by another astounding epic proving that more and better was to come…

Following Thomas’s lengthy discourse on how it all happened in his Introduction, the drama begins relatively quietly as marooned Kree warrior Captain Marvel is finally freed from virtual imprisonment in a ghastly antimatter universe.

Mar-Vell was originally sent as a spy to Earth but he quickly went native and became a protector of humanity. After an intergalactic mission to save his former masters he was flying back to Earth when he was suddenly sucked into the anti-matter hell of the Negative Zone

The trapped warrior found a loophole through long-dormant Kree artefacts and Nega-bands. Inextricably bonding to professional human side-kick Rick Jones, he could switch places whenever danger loomed, but would be drawn back into the dread domain after three hours.

Following interminable, agonising months when Rick refused to trade atoms with his alien alter ego, ‘The Only Good Alien…’ (art by Sal Buscema & Sam Grainger) sees the bonded brothers finally separated just as, in the distant Kree Empire, the ruling Supreme Intelligence is overthrown by his enforcer Ronan the Accuser

On Earth, the rebellion results in the activation of a long-dormant robotic Kree Sentry which attacks Mar-Vell and the Avengers before enacting a deep-programmed protocol to devolve humanity to the level of cavemen in concluding chapter ‘Judgment Day’ (drawn and inked by Sal B)…

Even with Ronan taking personal charge of a compromised polar base, the scheme to eradicate humanity is narrowly defeated in ‘Take One Giant Step… Backward!’, but the cat is let out of the bag about the panic-inspiring notion that extraterrestrials lurk among us. Moreover, public opinion turns against the heroes for concealing the threat of repeated alien incursions…

In a powerful allegory of the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the 1950s, the epic expands in issue #92 (Sal B & George Roussos) as ‘All Things Must End!’ sees riots in American streets and a political demagogue capitalising on the crisis. Subpoenaed by the authorities, castigated by friends and public, the current team – The Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver – is ordered to disband by founding fathers Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

Or are they…?

The plot thickens as Neal Adams & Tom Palmer assume the chores with double-sized Avengers #93 and ‘This Beachhead Earth’. Here the Vision is nigh-fatally attacked and those same founding fathers evince no knowledge of having benched the regular team.

With original Ant-Man Henry Pym undertaking ‘A Journey to the Center of the Android!’ to save the Vision’s artificial life, the Avengers become aware of not one, but two hostile alien presences on Earth: bellicose Kree and sinister, seditious shape-shifting Skrulls. The revelation triggers a ‘War of the Weirds!’ on our fragile globe.

Acting too late, the human heroes are unable to prevent mutant siblings Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as well as their protector Mar-Vell from being abducted by the Super-Skrull

With more stunning Adams art, ‘More than Inhuman!’ in issue #94 entangles the long-hidden race of advanced beings called Inhumans in the mix, disclosing that their advanced science and super-powers are the result of genetic meddling by the Kree in the depths of prehistory. Now, with Inhuman king Black Bolt missing and his mad, malign brother Maximus in charge, the Kree are calling in their ancient markers…

Second chapter ‘1971: A Space Odyssey’ (pencilled by John Buscema) focuses on Mar-Vell as he is increasingly pressured to reveal military secrets to his shape-shifting captors. The Skrulls are ready to launch a final devastating all-out attack on their eons-old rivals, even as on Earth ‘Behold the Mandroids!’ exposes the American authorities attempting to arrest all costumed heroes…

In Avengers #95 ‘Something Inhuman This Way Comes…!’ coalesces the disparate story strands as aquatic Inhuman Triton helps defeat the US government robotic Mandroids before beseeching the beleaguered heroes to find his missing monarch and rescue his people from the pressganging Kree.

After so doing, and with a solid victory under their belts at last, the Avengers head into space to liberate their kidnapped comrades and save Earth from becoming collateral damage in the impending cosmos-shaking clash between Kree and Skrulls…

‘The Andromeda Swarm!’ (with additional inking from Adams and Al Weiss) is perhaps the Avengers’ finest hour, as a small, brave band of valiant heroes hold off an immense armada of star-ships, losing one of their own in the conflict. Meanwhile the Supreme Intelligence is revealed to have been pursuing its own clandestine agenda all along, after having bewildered sidekick Rick Jones abducted to further its terrifyingly ambitious plans….

The astounding final episode ‘Godhood’s End!’ brings the uncanny epic to a climactic close with a literal Deus ex Machina as the Supremor’s master-plan is finally revealed. However, the war is actually ended by the most unlikely of saviours and an avalanche of costumed heroes: an action overload extravaganza which has never been surpassed in the annals of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction…

Even after saving the world, life goes on and seemingly gets more dangerous every day. ‘Let Slip the Dogs of War’ (Avengers #98, by Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith & Sal Buscema) sees harried heroes Captain America, Iron Man, Vision, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Thor debating the loss of their comrade Goliath, missing in action since he explosively stopped an alien warship from nuking Earth…

As the Thunderer heads for Asgard and its magic scrying mirrors, the fruitless debate is curtailed as war-mongering demagogue Mr. Tallon incites riot in the streets of New York. The gathered crowds attack the Avengers when they tried to quell the unrest and it is soon evident that the war-hawk has supernatural assistance.

…And in the dimensional void the Thunder God discovers all access to the Immortal Realms has been cut off…

By the time Thor returns to Earth his comrades are bewitched too. Joining with the seemingly immune Vision in a last-ditch, hopeless battle, the Storm Lord fights his best friends until the tide is turned by a perfectly aimed arrow, heralding the return of Goliath to his original Hawkeye identity…

Moreover, he has with him another Avenger: an amnesiac Hercules, Prince of Power, whose only certain knowledge is that Earth and Asgard are doomed…

Inked by Tom Sutton ‘…They First Make Mad!’ expands the epic as the Avengers call on all their resources to cure Hercules and decipher his cryptic warning whilst the World’s leaders seem determined to catapult the planet into atomic Armageddon.

As Hawkeye explains his miraculous escape from death in space and how he found Hercules the call goes out, summoning every hero who has ever been an Avenger. Suddenly two Grecian Titans materialise to trounce the team, dragging the terrified Prince of Power back to Olympus…

The epic ends in the staggeringly beautiful anniversary 100th issue ‘Whatever Gods There Be!’ (inked by Smith, Joe Sinnott & Syd Shores) as thirteen Avengers – including even the scurrilous Swordsman and blockbusting Hulk – indomitably invade the home of the Hellenic Gods to discover old enemy Enchantress and war god Ares are behind the entire malignant plot…

This titanic tome is packed with extra treats, including the cover of all-reprint Avengers Annual #5 plus the covers and new bridging material created by Alan Zelenetz, Walt Simonson & Palmer for the 1983 Kree-Skrull War starring the Avengers reprint miniseries. Also on show is Neal Adams’ take on the creation of the tale in ‘Three Cows Shot me Down’, supplemented by his cover for the 2000 and 2008 trade paperbacks. Upping the ante are original art pages and a selection of his un-inked pencil pages to delight every fan of fabulous Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy action…

Roy Thomas and his artistic collaborators were always at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of creators: brilliantly building on and consolidating Lee, Kirby and Ditko’s initial burst of comics creativity whilst spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder- machine of places and events that so many others could add to.

These terrific tales are ideal examples of superheroes done exactly right and also act as pivotal points as the underdog company evolved into a corporate entertainment colossus. There are also some of the best superhero stories you’ll ever read…
© 1971, 1972, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3491-6 (HB)

As the 1960s drew to a socially-divisive close, the Incredible Hulk was settling into a comfortable niche and enjoyable formula as tragic nuclear scientist Bruce Banner wandered America and the world, seeking cures for his self-inflicted gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains.

Writer Stan Lee was gradually distancing himself from the creative chair as he became Marvel’s publisher, and neophyte artist Herb Trimpe was increasingly making the character his own with the “standard-received” Jack Kirby-originated house art-style quickly evolving into startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by an unmatched facility for drawing technology… especially honking great ordnance and vehicles.

And of course, as comics readers increasingly turned to monsters and supernatural themes, no one could deny the cathartic reader-release of a mighty big “Hulk Smash” moment…

This chronologically accurate hardback and eBook compendium contains Incredible Hulk #111-121, spanning January-November 1969 and opens after a charmingly self-deprecating Introduction from Trimpe.

Then it’s on to the bombastic action, as a shocking cliffhanger from the previous volume is resolved…

Umbu the Unliving was yet another extraterrestrial device left to facilitate Earth’s demise, but Banner and his green alter-ego had destroyed it with the assistance of Savage Land jungle lord Ka-Zar, albeit at the cost of Banner’s life. Now its makers come looking for the saboteurs at the behest of their tyrannical cosmic overlord, Galaxy Master in ‘Shanghaied in Space!’ (by Lee, Trimpe & Dan Adkins), using their arcane technologies to reanimate Banner’s corpse so they have a scapegoat to hand to their demonic boss…

Transported to the heart of the evil empire, ‘The Brute Battles On!’, eventually destroying the inimical energy being and sparking a revolution before being rocketed back to Earth by a grateful alien princess…

Issue #113 finds the recently returned Hulk brutally battling an upgraded Sandman in ‘Where Fall the Shifting Sands!’, before the sinister silicon villain pops right back a month later beside the Mandarin in #114’s ‘At Last I Will Have My Revenge!’; two fast-paced power-packed yarns to whet jaded (sorry, puns are my kryptonite!) appetites for the extended return of the Jade Giant’s greatest foe.

‘The Leader Lives!’ opens with the man-monster a prisoner of the US Army, when the long-believed-dead gamma genius – as smart as the Hulk is strong – taking control of the base for his own nefarious purposes.

The Eve of… Annihilation!’ reveals the Leader’s atomic Armageddon plans for our pitiful planet even as the indomitable Hulk escapes a seemingly perfect prison with the aid of the always-unpredictable Betty Ross before the saga explosively concludes in countdown-clock thriller ‘World’s End?’, notable not just for its cataclysmic dramatic conclusion, but also for Trimpe taking over the inking of his own pencils.

Incredible Hulk #118 (August 1969) depicts a duplicitous courtier at the Sub-Mariner’s sunken citadel orchestrating ‘A Clash of Titans’ (as related by Stan Lee and Trimpe) after which the green Goliath stumbles into a South American secretly country conquered by and ‘At the Mercy of… Maximus the Mad’: a two-part tale that concludes with the Roy Thomas scripted ‘On the Side of… the Evil Inhumans!’

This all-out action extravaganza sees the Hulk also fighting the Costa Salvador army, the ubiquitous moustachioed rebels, General Ross’ specialist US army forces and even a giant hypnotic robot before giving way to a moodier menace as Ol’ Greenskin returns to North America…

Wrapping up this tome is a soggy interlude in Florida where the man-monster learns ‘Within the Swamp, There Stirs… a Glob!’

Designed as tribute in equal parts to Theodore Sturgeon’s “It” and the Hillman Comics Character The Heap – who slopped his way through the back of Airboy Comics in the early 1950s – this muck-encrusted monstrosity predates both DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s own Man-Thing in a tale of woeful tragedy and unrequited love when the remains of a long-dead escaped convict are accidentally irradiated and take on a shambling semblance of life.

Surely it’s just bad luck that Betty and the Hulk are in its misanthropic path?

Adding even more lustre and appeal to this tome are the cover to Incredible Hulk Annual #2 and Marie Severin’s colour-guide to #119’s cover.

This titanic tome of Hulk heroics offers visceral thrillers and chaotic clashes overflowing with dynamism, enthusiasm and sheer quality: full-on, butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” yarns to enthral and delight the destructive eight-year-old in everyone. Just remember to read, not do…
© 1969, 2007, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Black Panther Epic Collection volume 1 1966-1976: Panther’s Rage


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Don McGregor, Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Keith Pollard, Klaus Janson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0190-5 (TPB)

Acclaimed as the first black superhero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since he first appeared in Fantastic Four.

In fact, the cat king actually attacked Marvel’s First Family as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father. He was also the first black superhero in American comics, debuting in summer 1966.

As created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee, T’Challa, son of T’Chaka, is an African monarch whose secretive kingdom is the only source of vibration-absorbing wonder mineral Vibranium. The miraculous alien metal – supposedly derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in lost antiquity – is the basis of the country’s immense wealth, enabling Wakanda to become one of the wealthiest and most secretive nations on Earth. These riches also allowed the young king to radically remake his country, creating a technological wonderland even after he left Africa to fight as one of America’s mighty Avengers.

For much of its history Wakanda has been an isolated, utopian technological wonderland with the tribal resources and people safeguarded and led since time immemorial by a human warrior-king deriving cat-like physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb. This has ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s Panther Cult and Royal Family…

The top-secret “Vibranium mound” had guaranteed the country’s status as a clandestine superpower for centuries but in modern times has increasingly made Wakanda a target for subversion, incursion and even invasion as the world grew ever smaller.

This trusty trade paperback (and eBook) gathers the dynamic debut from Fantastic Four #52-53 (cover-dated July and August 1966) and the groundbreaking solo stories from Jungle Action volume 2 #6-24, spanning September 1973-November 1976.

Before that though, the innovative and unforgettable character debuted in ‘The Black Panther!’: an enigmatic African monarch whose secretive kingdom was the only source of a vibration-absorbing alien metal. These mineral riches had enabled him to turn his country into a technological wonderland before he lured the FF into his savage super-scientific kingdom as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

After battling the team to a standstill, King T’Challa revealed his tragic origin in ‘The Way it Began..!’, detailing how his father was murdered by marauding sonic science researcher Ulysses Klaw. As the monarch details how he took vengeance and liberated his people, word comes of incredible solidified-sound monsters attacking the region. Klaw has returned at last…

The cataclysmic clash that follows set the scene for the African Warrior-Chieftain to guest star with a number of Marvel superstars before breaking out into the wider world, but it would years before he finally won his own solo series…

After wandering around the Marvel Universe, enjoying team-ups and saving the world on a semi-regular basis as one the “Earth’s Mightiest Superheroes”, the summer of 1973 saw the Black Panther finally become a solo star in his own series.

Scripter Don McGregor opted to return the King to his people for an ambitious epic of love, death, vengeance and civil war: inventing from whole cloth and Kirby’s throwaway notion of a futuristic jungle the most unique African nation ever seen…

Jungle Action launched with an October 1972 cover-date, a cheap reprint vehicle for old Atlas-era Tarzan and Sheena knock-offs like Tharn, Jann and Lorna (…of the Jungle). The fifth issue (not included here) abruptly changed tack, reprinting the Black Panther-starring saga from Avengers #62 as prelude to the start of T’Challa’s own all new adventures, which open here with # 6 and the eponymous ‘Panther’s Rage’ illustrated by Rich Buckler & Klaus Janson.

The story opens with the Panther back in his contradictory African homeland, stumbling upon the torture of an elderly farmer. Despite T’Challa’s best efforts the victim dies in his arms, swearing he never lost faith in king or country…

Learning the attack is the work of brutal rebel leader Erik Killmonger, T’Challa sets all the resources of his inner court circle to finding the monster. With reports of further atrocities mounting, he leaves his American lover Monica Lynne to hunt the perpetrators and soon confronts his potential usurper at the potently symbolic Warrior Falls roaring above the life-sustaining River of Grace and Wisdom.

The barbarous-seeming giant is not cowed by the Panther’s power or prowess and easily wins the no-holds barred battle that follows…

The initial episode is supplemented by detailed maps of Wakanda (the first fans had ever seen) before JA #7 mobilises ‘Death Regiments Beneath Wakanda’. Barely surviving his fight with Killmonger, T’Challa is nursed back to health by Monica at the Palace even as hideously disfigured American Horatio displays his skill with snakes and poisons to his friend N’Jadaka.

Known to their recruits as Venomm and Erik Killmonger, these rebel leaders plot their next attack which results in the reptilian insurgent ambushing T’Challa when the king investigates an illegal mine. This shocking atrocity is being used to siphon off raw Vibranium to pay for Killmonger’s increasingly violent and widespread attacks on the outlying population centres…

Although triumphant this time, T’Challa realises this is a many-layered war: one he might not win…

Whilst the Black Panther renews his powers through ancient ritual, Jungle Action #8 introduces another super-powered rebel with ‘Malice by Crimson Moonlight’ revealing a spear-wielding wonder woman invading the Royal Palace.

Advisor Taku is interrogating Venomm – and gradually making inroads into turning the bitter outcast – when Malice attacks. Only the power of the Panther saves the servitor and prevents the brutal jailbreak from succeeding…

After more maps of the hidden country and detailed plans of ‘Central Wakanda’s Palace Royale’ the saga resumes in #9 with ‘But Now the Spears Are Broken’ (illustrated by Gil Kane & Janson) as T’Challa goes in-country to learn the effects of the power struggle on ordinary Wakandans.

After saving little boy Kantu from a rhino, the king is made painfully aware that the common people view his foreign woman Monica with as much suspicion as the constantly-raiding insurgents. That feeling even penetrates to the heart of the palace. When advisor Zatama is murdered, Monica is arrested for the crime…

T’Challa is not there to protest or defend her; he has returned to Kantu’s village to investigate strange disappearances, discovering a seeming mass-rising of zombies led by a skeletal maniac called Baron Macabre. Once more the Great Cat is forced to ignominiously retreat…

Supreme stylist Billy Graham takes over the pencilling with #10 as the Black Panther returns to the zombie nest, exposing a cunning charade beneath the deserted village as well as a super-scientific base run by a malignant, mind-warping mutant in ‘King Cadaver is Dead and Living in Wakanda!’

Accompanying the dark drama here are examples of ‘Black Panther Artistry’ – specifically, Kirby’s first designs for the hero back when he was going by the provisional title of ‘The Coal Tiger’ and Buckler and Janson’s first depiction of ‘Erik Killmonger’

Due to an extremely unfavourable publishing schedule, Panther’s Rage unfolded with agonising slowness, but the lengthy wait between episodes allowed McGregor the latitude to pick and choose key events, with readers accepting that some stuff was actually occurring between issues.

In #11 (September 1974), the civil war had proceeded unchecked and ‘Once You Slay the Dragon!’ sees the Panther and his forces launching a long-awaited counterattack on Killmonger’s base in N’Jadaka Village. The battle is vicious and brief, introducing yet another powered lieutenant in the shape of pitiless high-tech armourer Lord Karnaj

And on the home front, T’Challa finally clears Monica and captures Zatama’s killer…

With Killmonger temporarily pushed back, the Panther goes on the offensive, using the rebel’s most inconsequential converts – Tayete and Kazibe – as guides to follow his ultimate enemy to his most secret strongholds. Heading into the mountains and the fabled Land of Chilling Mists, the Panther discovers mutagenic temple the Resurrection Altar.

Used by Killmonger to create his grotesque super-warriors, it is presided over by scientifically-spawned vampire Sombre. When T’Challa confronts them, he is again overpowered by Erik and left for the wolves to devour in ‘Blood Stains on Virgin Snow!’

Craig Russell inked the next chapter as, enduring incomprehensible hardships in sub-arctic conditions, T’Challa perseveres to follow Killmonger into the temperate swamps of Serpent Valley in #13.

However, this is only after facing a pack of Wakanda’s white apes. To survive, the Panther must blasphemously ignore the sacred (to many of his subjects) religious aspect of the mighty carnivores and become ‘The God Killer’

Following a Venomm pin-up, JA #14 then reveals that ‘There Are Serpents Lurking in Paradise’ (inked by Pablo Marcos) as T’Challa clashes once more with Sombre before encountering an affable forest sprite guarding Serpent Valley.

Pixie-like Mokadi asks difficult moral questions as T’Challa rushes towards his next battle with Killmonger, making him too late to stop the rebel capturing a legion of the valley’s awesome dinosaurs. The usurper even has time to leave one behind as a lethal parting gift for the embattled and exhausted Wakandan chieftain…

The endgame rapidly approaches in #15 as ‘Thorns in the Flesh, Thorns in the Mind’ (inked by Dan Green) finds T’Challa still tracking his nemesis only to be overcome by Killmonger’s archer assassin Salamander K’Ruel. Beaten and left to be dismembered by a ravenous Pterosaur, T’Challa incredibly overcomes every challenge before – against all odds – staggering back to Monica for another bout of recuperation…

Graham inked his own pencils for the beginning of the end in #16 as T’Challa and Monica’s time of idyllic passion culminates in catastrophe when ‘And All Our Past Decades Have Seen Revolutions!’ reveals the origins of Killmonger and sees the vast cast all converge for one final battle…

That comes in #17 as an army of war-trained dinosaurs invades Central Wakanda only to be finally crushed by the Panther’s forces and superior technology. The affair concludes as it began at Warrior Falls, but ‘Of Shadows and Rages’ also holds a shocking twist as the great game of kings is ultimately decided by a player no one considered of any relevance…

With its nuanced emotional interplay, extended scope and fiercely independent supporting cast, Panther’s Rage was a milestone in dramatic comics storytelling but it harboured one last punch in a gripping 18 ‘Epilogue!’ (Jungle Action #18, November 1975).

Bob McLeod inked McGregor & Graham’s forceful look at the repercussions of conflict as T’Challa and maimed security chief Wakabi are targeted by feral woman Madame Slay: Killmonger’s ardent and unsuspected lover who believes her loss can only be assuaged by having her pack of loyal leopards eviscerate the victorious Wakandans…

Cover-dated January 1976, Jungle Action #19 premiered McGregor’s most audacious and ultimately frustrating project, with T’Challa accompanying Monica back to America. The Panther versus the Klan shifted focus from war stories to crime fiction, replacing fabulously exotic Africa for America’s poverty-wracked, troubled, still segregated-in-all-but-name Deep South for a head-on collision with centuries of entrenched and endemic racism.

Illustrated by Graham & McLeod, ‘Blood and Sacrifices!’ sees Monica back with her family after her sister is murdered. All too soon T’Challa is ferociously battling a gang of purple-hooded killers who appear to have set up in opposition to the ancient white-hooded Ku Klux Klan.

Moreover, both sects seem determined to conceal the truth of Angela Lynne’s death…

A break comes when bumbling, well-meaning reporter Kevin Trublood stumbles into an attack on the newcomers by the strangely multi-racial Klan sect calling itself the Dragon Circle

With neither townsfolk nor lawmen offering any welcome, T’Challa faces unbridled hostility and suspicion at every turn. He is even attacked by cops and a mob of citizens when he thwarts a knife attack on Monica. Although Sheriff Roderick Tate makes all the right noises and seems helpful, in ‘They Told Me a Myth I Wanted to Believe’, the Panther opts to pursue his own investigation before being overwhelmed by an army of white-robed Klansmen who tie him to a burning cross and leave him to die…

As Monica and Kevin puzzle out the convoluted web of mysteries, the Panther exerts all his uncanny talents to escape becoming ‘A Cross Burning Darkly Blackening the Night!’ Later, as he slowly recovers in hospital, Monica’s family, Kevin and Tate review the few verifiable facts of Angela’s demise before patriarch Lloyd Lynne urges T’Challa to stop looking. He only has one daughter left after all…

Nevertheless, when the Panther and Trublood invade and disrupt a Klan rally, Lloyd is right there with them…

With Rick Buckler joining Graham on pencils and Jim Mooney alternating with McCleod on inks, Jungle Action #22 takes a bizarre turn as ‘Death Riders on the Horizon’ explores a Lynne family legend dating back to the formative days of the Klan in 1867 when old Caleb was targeted by the vile southern knights and their seemingly supernatural sponsor the Soul Strangler. As Monica listens to the ghastly, appallingly unjust tale, her mind fills in how T’Challa would have acted in such a hopeless situation…

Issue #23 (September 1976) was a deadline missed and a rapidly-sourced reprint from Daredevil #69 – represented here only by the pertinent cover and a Buckler pin-up – before this tantalising tale is unhappily cut short in final published instalment ‘Wind Eagle in Flight’ (by McGregor, Buckler & Keith Pollard).

The multi-layered, many-stranded plot suddenly expands as the Black Panther is almost killed by a mysterious new player who flies into the ever more bewildering clash between cops, Klan, Dragon Circle and Lynne family but, before the mystery could move any further, Jungle Action was cancelled…

A wholly different kind of Black Panther and utterly unrelated adventures would reappear two months later, under the auspices of returning creative colossus Jack Kirby. It would be years before the enigma of Angela’s death and the hero’s war against the Klan would be resolved…

So that’s what to look forward to in the next volume…

Here, however, bonus extras include Kirby & Sinnott’s unused original art cover for FF#52, John Romita’s cover for Jungle Action #5; McGregor’s correspondence with then-fan Ralph Macchio and the author’s original working notes, plot synopses and candid contemporary photos of the close-knit creative team.

Also on show: original cover art, pages and sketches by Buckler & Janson and Kane; pencils and layouts by Graham & Buckler plus a Steve Gerber ‘Jungle Re-Actions’ text feature from Jungle Action #7. Capping off the freebie joys are the un-inked Buckler story pages that would have been #25.

A truly groundbreaking classic of comics narrative, Don McGregor’s Black Panther is stark, vibrant proof that the superhero genre works best when ambitious and passionate creators are given their head and let loose to get on with it. Now, supported by a major movie, perhaps readers will finally see how the Fights ‘n’ Tights game should be played…

© 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 2016 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 7


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Allyn Brodsky, Gene Colan, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6644-3 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him capable of astonishing acrobatic feats, a formidable fighter and a living lie-detector.

Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists and a plethora of super-villains (and – as seen in this collection – even the occasional alien incursion), quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody quasi-religious metaphor he’s been seen as in latter years.

Covering May 1970 to March 1971 and re-presenting Daredevil #64-74 plus and crossover material from Iron Man #35 and 36, this seventh swashbuckling compilation (available in both hardback and eBook formats) sees the once staid and so-very Establishment Murdock move with the shifting cultural mores as scripter Roy Thomas hands over the reins to newcomer Gerry Conway in an increasingly determined move to make the Man Without Fear cutting edge and relevant… …

Following Thomas’ revelatory and reminiscing Introduction the action opens here with Horn-Head prowling the rooftops of Los Angeles. He’s there to his find love-of-his-life, who quit New York after the pressure of sharing DD’s secrets proved too much…

After trailing the star-struck Karen Page to Hollywood he gets to take out his bad mood on a handy hood in ‘Suddenly… The Stunt-Master!’ (Thomas, Colan & Syd Shores) but eventually helps his old enemy in getting a TV show of his own…

Murdock remained in LA to oversee Karen’s first acting gig – a pastiche of then-hot spooky Television phenomenon Dark Shadows – and prevented her becoming part of a murder spree in ‘The Killing of Brother Brimstone’, a classy whodunit which cataclysmically climaxed one month later in ‘…And One Cried Murder!’

Still stuck on the West Coast, DD tackles another grudge-bearing villain as ‘Stilt-Man Stalks the Soundstage’ (Gary Friedrich, Thomas, Colan & Shores) with the now-reformed and respectable Stunt-Master ably assisting our hero. Matt finally leaves Karen to the vicissitudes of Tinseltown, landing back in the Big Apple just in time to become embroiled in a plot blending radical politics and the shady world of Boxing – ‘The Phoenix and the Fighter!’

The Black Panther returns seeking a favour in ‘A Life on the Line’ as kid gangs and the birth of the “Black Power” movement leapt from news headlines to comicbook pages. The same consideration of youth in protest also inspired the seditious menace of ‘The Tribune’ (written by Friedrich) as youthful ideologues, cynical demagogues and political bombers tear a terrified and outraged city apart.

The unrest peaked in Daredevil #71 as Roy Thomas contributed his swansong script by concluding the right-wing manufactured anarchy in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee…!’

New find Gerry Conway took over the scripting with the next issue, easing himself in with an interdimensional fantasy frolic wherein the Scarlet Swashbuckler encounters a strange rash of crimes and a mirror-dwelling mystery man named Tagak in ‘Lo! The Lord of the Leopards!’ before plunging readers into an ambitious cosmic crossover yarn which started in Iron Man #35.

Here the Armoured Avenger, seductive morally ambivalent free agent Madame Masque and S.H.I.E.L.D. supremo Nick Fury all sought ‘Revenge!’ (illustrated by Don Heck & Mike Esposito) for various vile acts and specifically the near-fatal wounding of valiant young American agent Jasper Sitwell at the hand of the mercenary Spymaster.

Their efforts – and those of their assembled enemies – were somehow fuelling an alien artefact called the Zodiac Key and, when its creators sucked Daredevil into the mix to battle Spymaster and a bunch of super-villains affiliated to the cosmic device, everybody is ultimately shanghaied to another universe for more pointless fighting in ‘Behold… the Brotherhood!’ (Daredevil #73, illustrated by Colan & Shores with plot input from Allyn Brodsky) before the epic concludes with extreme briskness in Iron Man #36.

So brisk, in fact, that only the first 8 pages of ‘Among Us Stalks the Ramrod!’ (Conway, Heck & Esposito) are reprinted here, leaving this potent brew of action and suspense to wrap up with Daredevil #74: an impressive and mercifully complete conundrum with DD trapped ‘In the Country of the Blind!’ (Colan & Shores) and calling on a group of sight-impaired volunteers to help him thwart a criminal plot to cripple New York…

The social upheaval of the period produced a lot of impressively earnest material that only hinted at the true potential of Daredevil. These beautifully illustrated yarns may occasionally jar with their heartfelt stridency but the honesty and desire to be a part of a solution rather than blithely carry on as if nothing was happening affords them a potency that no historian, let alone comics fan, can dare to ignore.

And the next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…

Rounding out the comics experience are bonus pages including the cover to all-reprint Daredevil Annual #2, and a selection of house ads.

Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart, contemporarily astute stories, truly human and fallible characters and always magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1970, 1971, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5046-6 (HB)

With the constantly expanding Marvel Universe growing ever more interconnected as it matured, characters literally tripped over each other in New York City and its environs, but such was not the case with Thor.

The Asgardian milieu and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had long drawn the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning new landscapes. When the unthinkable happened and the increasingly discontented King of Comics jumped ship from the House of (His) Ideas for arch-rival DC in 1970 an era ended.

Left to soldier on, Stan Lee called in artist John Buscema to carry a seemingly unbearable burden…

In case you came in late: disabled doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to stumble into an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, he found an ancient 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.

Months swiftly passed with the Lord of Storms tackling rapacious extraterrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs, but these soon gave way to a vast kaleidoscope of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces.

This bombastic transitional compendium (available in hardcover and digital formats) reprints Mighty Thor #184-194, spanning January – December 1971 with the puissant Thunder God going both forward and back between mortal and godly realms.

The new era had actually begun with John Buscema delineating a rash clash between the Thunder God and Dr. Doom, but the real start came as this volume begins following the inevitable Introduction from Lee.

Here, then, Lee, Buscema and inker Joe Sinnott crafted their own ambitious cosmic saga, opening with #184 and exploring ‘The World Beyond!’ wherein a sinister and implacable force is discovered devouring the outer galaxies, with the subsequent psychic reverberations impacting and unravelling life on Earth and in Asgard.

With all creation imperilled, Odin departs to combat the enigmatic threat alone…

Sam Grainger inked ‘In the Grip of Infinity!’ as universal calamity intensifies and the All-Father falls to the enigmatic, seemingly all-consuming invader before ‘Worlds at War!’ exposes a hidden architect behind the ultimate Armageddon.

That revelation leads to a desperate last-ditch ploy uniting the forces of Good and Evil together in ‘The World is Lost!’ before one final clash – inked by Jim Mooney – answers all the questions and culminates in ‘The End of Infinity!’

Although vast in scope and drenched in powerful moments highlighting the human side of the gods in extremis, this tale suffers from an excess of repetitive padding and a rather erratic pace.

Without pause, though, we plunge on as Thor #189 sees sepulchral goddess Hela come calling, demanding Thor feel ‘The Icy Touch of Death!’ to pay for all the souls she didn’t get in the recent sidereal showdown…

After a big chase around planet Earth she is finally dissuaded in ‘…And So, To Die!’, but the distraction has meanwhile allowed Thor’s wicked brother Loki to seize the Throne of Asgard and unleash ‘A Time of Evil!’

This typically tyrannical behaviour results in the deranged despot using Odin’s stolen power to manifest an unstoppable artificial hunter/killer dubbed Durok the Demolisher.

Unleashing his merciless engine of destruction on Earth, Loki gloats at the ‘Conflagration!’ (inked by Grainger) he has instigated…

Completing the retiring of the Old Guard, Gerry Conway came aboard as writer for double-length tale ‘What Power Unleashed?’ (#193, with Sal Buscema augmenting and inking brother John) to conclude the epic tale.

Prevented by vows from taking up arms against Loki’s puppet, Balder the Brave and Thor’s True Beloved Sif cunningly enlist the Silver Surfer to aid the embattled Thunderer as Asgard totters on the brink of total destruction. Free to act against the real enemy, Thor then retaliates with staggering power and ‘This Fatal Fury!’: stealing the usurper’s attention until wily All-Father Odin finally resumes his rightful place.

To be continued…

The Kirby Thor will always be a high-point in graphic fantasy, all the more impressive for the sheer imagination and timeless readability of the tales. With his departure the series foundered for the longest time before finding a new identity, yet even so the stories in this volume are still packed with intrigue and action and magnificently rendered by an illustrator who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, was every inch his equal in craft and dedication. This book (which also includes the covers to Thor Annuals #3 and 4, pertinent house ads and a brace of Buscema original art pages) is an absolute must for all fans of the medium.
© 1971, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Super-Villains Unite: The Complete Super-Villain Team-Up


By Roy Thomas, Larry Lieber, Tony Isabella, Jim Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Peter Gillis, John Buscema, George Tuska, Bill Everett, George Evans, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, Keith Giffen, George Pérez, Bob Hall, Carmine Infantino, Arvell Jones & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9406-4

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner was the second super-star of the Timely Age of Comics – but only because he followed the cover-featured Human Torch in the running order of Marvel Mystery Comics #1 in 1939. He has had, however, the most impressive longevity of the company’s “Big Three”: Torch, Subby and Captain America…

The Marine Marvel was revived in 1962 in Fantastic Four#4; once again an anti-hero/noble villain, prominent in the company’s pantheon ever since.

The following FF issue introduced the first great villain of the Silver Age in the form of technologically armoured dark knight Doctor Doom, who shares star-billing in this eclectic yet excellent trade paperback and eBook compilation of dastardly double-dealings encompassing Giant-Sized Super-Villain Team-Up #1-2, Super-Villain Team-Up #1-14, 16-17, as well as pertinent crossover appearances from Avengers #154-156 and Champions #16 and spanning March 1975 – May 1980.

Incidentally, Fantastic Four #6 featured the first Super-Villain Team-Up of the Marvel Age as Doom and Namor joined forces as ‘The Deadly Duo’: an epic regrettably omitted from this collection.

The Master of Latveria inevitably betrayed and tried to kill the Prince of Atlantis in that tale: an event which colours the relationship of the characters to this day…

So popular was the metal-shod maniac that during Marvel’s first big expansion, he helmed his own solo-series in Astonishing Tales #1-10. That feature vanished with no warning and Doom returned to his status as premier antagonist in the Fantastic Four and elsewhere until Giant-Sized Super-Villain Team-Up #1 was released (cover-dated March 1975); once more bathing the Deadly Despot in a starring spotlight.

In the intervening years the Sub-Mariner had also lost his own series, despite some very radical and attention-grabbing stunts. A nerve-gas dumping accident perpetrated by surface dwellers had catastrophically altered his hybrid body, forcing him to wear a hydrating-suit to breathe. The same toxin had plunged the entire nation of Atlantis into a perpetual coma…

For this new venture, Prince Namor – alone and pushed to the brink of desperation – rescues Doom from a deadly plunge to Earth after the Iron Dictator’s latest defeat (at the hands of the FF and Silver Surfer) in an impressive and effective framing sequence bracketing two classic reprint tales.

‘Encounter at Land’s End!’ (by Roy Thomas, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott) finds Doom plucked from the sea and the edge of death by a Sub-Mariner in dire need of scientific wizardry to cure his somnolent race. As such, he is prepared to offer an alliance against all mankind to get it…

Painfully aware of their unhappy past history, the outlaws recall a previous encounter (from Sub-Mariner #20 by Thomas, Buscema & Johnny Craig). ‘In the Darkness Dwells Doom!’ recounts how a fugitive Atlantean monarch was offered sanctuary in New York’s Latverian embassy before inevitably being blackmailed and betrayed (again) by the Devil Doctor…

Back in the present, initially reluctant Doom reconsiders the partnership deal after recalling a past battle against the diabolical Diablo…

‘This Man… This Demon!’ (Larry Lieber, Thomas, Frank Giacoia & Vince Colletta) was a solo try-out from Marvel Super-Heroes #20 in 1969, which restated the Doctor’s origins and revealed his tragic, doomed relationship with a gypsy girl named Valeria. That relationship was than exploited by demon alchemist Diablo who claimed he need an ally but instead wanted a new slave. Doom dealt with the charlatan in typically effective style…

The regal debate descends into another cataclysmic clash of egos and raw destructive power with both parties more bitterly opposed than ever, but the follow-up ‘To Bestride the World!’ (Thomas, Mike Sekowsky & Sam Grainger) in the all-original Giant-Sized Super-Villain Team-Up #2 (June 1975), sees Doom compelled to change his mind after his own android army rebels when the tyrant’s long-lost Doomsman (in its new guise of Andro) returns and co-opted them for a war against all organic life.

As a result of blistering battle and extensive carnage-wreaking, Namor and Doom triumph together and part as uneasy allies, only to regroup in the pages of Super-Villain Team-Up #1 (August 1975) in a chaotic ongoing series that began with ‘Slayers from the Sea!’ by Tony Isabella, George Tuska, Bill Everett & Fred Kida.

Doom actually contemplates treating an ally as an equal in the opening chapter ‘An Alliance Asunder?’, whilst in the second part ‘Frenzy on a Floating Fortress’ (illustrated by George Evans & Frank Springer) Namor is ambushed by old foes Attuma, Dr. Dorcas and Tiger Shark

This compels Doom to rush to his rescue in #2 as ‘In the Midst of Life…!’ (with art from Sal Buscema & Kida), the Sub-Mariner’s truest friend is murdered by his assembled enemies, leading to a brutal climax in ‘If Vengeance Fails!’ by Jim Shooter, Evans & Jack Abel.

Super-Villain Team-Up was an intriguing concept cursed with a revolving-door creative team crisis: nobody seemed able to stay with the series for more than a couple of issues. Somehow, the standards remained high but with no long-term planning the plots and characterisation jumped all over the place.

Bill Mantlo, Herb Trimpe & Jim Mooney produced ‘A Time of Titans!’ in #4 as Doom and Sub-Mariner battle each other and encountered a prototype Deathlok the Demolisher before splitting up yet again, after which Steve Englehart stepped in for ‘…And Be a Villain!’ (illustrated by Trimpe & Don Perlin).

Here the Lord of Latveria artificially exacerbates Namor’s breathing affliction and threatens to annihilate dormant Atlantis. Despite all the efforts of the Fantastic Four, Sub-Mariner is forced to swear fealty to Doom or see his people and himself perish forever…

This tumultuous issue also introduced mystic Batman knock-off the Shroud whose avowed mission was to free the world from the curse of Doom at any and all costs…

Jack Abel inked ‘Prisoner!’ in #6 as the FF invade Latveria to rescue the oath-bound Sub-Mariner, only to be sent packing by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who has just signed a non-aggression pact with Doom.

Another American observed no such legal or diplomatic niceties in ‘Who is… The Shroud?’ (Pablo Marcos inks) and, after revealing his origins to Namor, the Master of Darkness frees him from his vow by executing Dr. Doom.

As Shroud and Namor flee for the border chaos breaks out in Latveria, but in actuality Doom was not dead. Rescued and imprisoned by Namor’s cousin Namorita and girlfriend Tamara in ‘Escape!’ (illustrated by Keith Giffen & Owen McCarron) he bides his time, exploiting their misguided apprehension that they can make the Metal-shod Monarch help Atlantis and their Prince.

The international crisis escalates as it segued into an ongoing Avengers storyline, beginning ‘When Strikes Attuma?’ (Avengers #154 by Conway, George Perez & Marcos) as the Sub-sea slayer enslaves the World’s Mightiest Heroes and commands them to kill Namor…

The saga continued in Super-Villain Team-Up #9 (scripted by Mantlo, drawn by Jim Shooter & Sal Trapani) as the ‘Pawns of Attuma!’ attack, only to discover Doom in charge and easily able to thwart their half-hearted assault.

In Avengers #155 the beaten heroes are helpless captives, leaving only the confused, battle-crazed Namor and a substitute team comprising The Beast and aging WWII speedster The Whizzer to hunt down the barbarian sea lord, before the epic conclusion ‘The Private War of Doctor Doom!’ (#156, written by Shooter, drawn by Sal Buscema & Marcos) wherein the liberated and resurgent heroes unite to crush Attuma and prevent Doom from turning the situation to his own world-conquering advantage…

Meanwhile, behind the scenes in Latveria, Shroud has installed former ruler Prince Rudolfo as a faux Doctor Doom, but things go wrong very quickly in Super-Villain Team-Up #10 (Mantlo, Bob Hall & Perlin) when Captain America investigates ‘The Sign of the Skull!’

In the Latverian Embassy, the genuine despot learns from the Star-Spangled Avenger that Nazi overlord The Red Skull has once more invaded Doom’s homeland, even as the Sub-Mariner discovers greedy surface-men pillaging his comatose city of Atlantis.

As Doom and Captain America carve their way through Latveria’s formidable defences, the Skull proceeds in establishing his Fourth Reich, easily defeating the Shroud in ‘My Ally, My Enemy’ but when Namor rages in, tracking the ravagers of Atlantis to Doom’s castle, the tables are finally turned and the Iron Dictator swears to finally cure the Atlanteans in return for the Sub-Mariner’s aid against the Nazi invaders.

Firstly though, the Skull plans to enslave the Earth with a hypno-ray and must be crushed in ‘Death Duel!’, with the Iron Doctor pursuing the Fascist mastermind to his hidden moonbase, casually sacrificing the Shroud in the process…

Finally fulfilling his oath, Doom resurrects the comatose Atlanteans in SVTU #13, but only after a blistering sub-sea battle with amphibian arch-nemesis Krang and a Brobdingnagian sea beast in ‘When Walks the Warlord!’ (by Mantlo, Giffen & Perlin).

With Atlantis and Namor restored, a new era begins and ends with Super-Villain Team-Up #14 (October 1977).

‘A World for the Winning!’, by Mantlo, Hall, Perlin & Duffy Vohland, opens with mutant villain Magneto tricked into a duel with Doom who was at that moment de facto master of the world since he had seeded the planet’s atmosphere with a mind-control gas.

Ever the sportsman, the Lord of Latveria releases Magneto from his control, allowing him to liberate one other thrall and challenging them both to save the world from his ultimate dominance…

It was the troubled title’s last issue and the story concluded in Champions #16 (November 1977) as the Master of Magnetism and the Beast spectacularly overcome all odds and save the day in ‘A World Lost!’ (Mantlo, Hall & Mike Esposito).

A year later Super-Villain Team-Up #15 appeared from nowhere (dated November 1978 and presumably released to safeguard the copyright) with a reprint of the Red Skull story from Astonishing Tales #4-5. You’ll need to look elsewhere to see that yarn.

‘Shall I Call Thee Master?’ by Peter Gillis, Carmine Infantino & Bruce Patterson, was released a year after that (#16, May 1979, with one final issue 12 months after that) wherein the Red Skull, Hatemonger and radical geneticist Arnim Zola while away the days in a human atrocity lab conducting experiments on a camp full of human slaves.

This is a dark exploration of monstrous inhumanity where torture and degradation are simply a way of passing the time until the leftover Fascists can build a new Cosmic Cube and reshape all reality to their twisted whims…

In this instance they are thwarted by merely mortal secret agents in the long delayed but savagely effective conclusion ‘Dark Victory!’ (Gillis, Arvell Jones & Patterson), after which the concept and title were shelved for decades.

This eccentric and thoroughly fan-only compendium includes a full cover gallery by Ron Wilson, Gil Kane, Ed Hannigan, Rich Buckler, Jim Starlin, Marie Severin, Jack Kirby, Dave Cockrum, Giffen, John Byrne, Hall, Al Milgrom & Keith Pollard plus Roy Thomas’ editorial text feature ‘The Road to Land’s End’.

For all its flaws Super-Villain Team-Up was a bold experiment and a genuinely enjoyable dalliance with the different during the 1970s – as long as the reader had a solid knowledge of the company’s complex continuity. I truly wish more people would sample the delights of this offbeat saga, but I doubt any new reader could cope with the terrifying torrent of unexplained backstory.

Still, I’d be delighted if you prove me wrong…
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Team Up Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Jim Mooney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4210-2 (HB)

Inspiration isn’t everything. In fact, as Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in the wake of losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators, they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties.

The only real exception to this was the assembly line creation of horror and horror-hero titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with less well-selling company characters – was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of this new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch.

In those long-lost days editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since superheroes were actually in a decline they may well have been right.

Marvel Team-Up was the second regular Spider-Man title (abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the magazine market in 1968 but had died after two issues). MTU launched at the end of 1971 and went from strength to strength, proving the time had finally come for expansion and a concentration on uncomplicated action over sub-plots…

This engaging hardback and/or eBook compilation gathers the first 11 issues – covering March 1972 to July 1973 – and opens with scripter Gerry Conway’s engaging recollections in ‘Behold: An Introduction’ before the comicbook magic commences with the webspinner and his flighty flaming frenemy reluctantly spending the holidays together…

Marvel Team-Up #1was crafted by Roy Thomas, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito as a mutual old enemy reared his gritty head in the charming ‘Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas!’. A light-heated romp full of Christmas cheer, rambunctious action and seasonal sentiment, the story set the tone for all epics to follow.

Merry Marvelite Maximii can award themselves a point for remembering which martial arts and TV heroine debuted in this issue but the folk with lives can simply take my word that it was Iron Fist’s sometime squeeze Misty Knight

Gerry Conway assumed the writer’s role and Jim Mooney the inker’s for ‘And Spidey Makes Four!’ in the succeeding issue as our heroes then take on and trounce the Frightful Four and Negative Zone bogeyman Annihilus before seemingly without pause going after Morbius the Living Vampire in #3’s ‘The Power to Purge!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia).

The new horror-star was still acting the villain in MTU #4 as the Torch was replaced by most of Marvel’s sole mutant team (The Beast having gone all hairy – and solo) in ‘And Then… the X-Men!’

This bold and enthralling thriller was illustrated by the magnificent Gil Kane at the top of his form and inked by Steve Mitchell. Kane became a semi-regular penciller, and his dynamic style and extreme anatomy lifted many rather pedestrian tales such as #5’s ‘A Passion of the Mind!’ (Conway script & Esposito inks), pitting Spidey and The Vision against manipulative mesmeric Puppet Master and robotic assassin the Monstroid.

The villain carried over to the next issue and was joined by the Mad Thinker ‘…As Those Who Will Not See!’ pitted the wallcrawler and the Thing against the cerebral scoundrels in a cataclysmic battle no Fights ‘n’ Tights fan could be unmoved by…

‘A Hitch in Time!’ in #7 was produced by Conway, Andru and Mooney: guest-starring Thor as otherworldly Trolls freeze Earth’s time-line as a prerequisite step to conquering Asgard, after which MTU #8 provides a perfect example of the team-up comic’s other function – to promote and popularise new characters.

‘Man-Killer Moves at Midnight!’ was most fans’ first exposure to The Cat (later retooled as Tigra the Were-Woman) in a painfully worthy if ham-fisted attempt to address feminist issues from Conway and Jim Mooney. The hard-pressed heroes joined forces her to stop a male-hunting murderer paying back abusive men. These days we’d probably be rooting for her…

Iron Man then collaborated in the opening foray of 3-part tale ‘The Tomorrow War!’ (Conway, Andru & Frank Bolle) as he and Spidey are kidnapped by Zarkko the Tomorrow Man to battle Kang the Conqueror. The Torch returned to help deal with the intermediate threat of ‘Time Bomb!’ (with art by Mooney & Giacoia) before the entire race of Black Bolt’s Inhumans pile in to help Spidey stop history unravelling in culminatory clash ‘The Doomsday Gambit!’ – this last chapter scripted by Len Wein over Conway’s plot for Mooney & Esposito to illustrate.

This initial gathering also includes two splendid samples of Kane original art – a cover and interior page.

These stories are of variable quality but nonetheless all show an honest drive to entertain and please whilst artistically the work is superb, and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about. Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers, there’s lots of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so surely that’s reason enough to add this titanic tome to your library…
© 1972, 1973, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 9


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia, Herb Trimpe, Sam Grainger & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3501-2

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket paid off big-time; even when all Marvel’s all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man were absent, it merely allowed the lesser lights of the team to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars regularly featured due to a rotating, open door policy which meant that most issues included somebody’s fave-rave. The increasingly bold and impressively ambitious stories and artwork were no hindrance either.

This sturdy hardcover and eBook compilation gathers the astounding contents of Avengers issues #80-88 and a cosmic crossover from Incredible Hulk #140 spanning September 1970-June 1971): evocative, socially-informed tales which confirmed Roy Thomas as a major creative force in comics whilst simultaneously consolidating John Buscema’s status as the foremost artist of Marvel’s second generation.

Following another candid reminiscence from Thomas – unravelling the behind-the-scenes secrets of the Dawning Marvel Age in his Introduction – this epochal tome opens with the debut of the company’s first Native American costumed hero in ‘The Coming of Red Wolf!’ (Thomas, John B & Tom Palmer) as the Avengers are drawn into a highly personal and decidedly brutal clash between ruthless entrepreneur Cornelius Van Lunt and a tribe of Indians he is defrauding and persecuting.

The dramatic dilemma (heralding the team’s entry into the era of “Relevant”, socially conscious tales) divides the team and concludes with Vision, Scarlet Witch and Goliath aiding Red Wolf in concluding episode ‘When Dies A Legend!’, whilst the remaining team pursues super crime combine Zodiac and the Black Panther pursues what he believes is a personal quest beside Daredevil. (This last tale occurred in DD #69 but is not included here. You’ll need to see the equivalent Daredevil Masterworks volume [#9, I think] for that).

Sadly, the malevolent mega-mob move first and take the entire island of Manhattan ‘Hostage!’, leaving only the solitary sightless vigilante Daredevil free to save the day, after which Militant Feminism raises its disconcertingly strident head as the Wasp, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Madame Medusa are seduced into joining a new team called the Lady Liberators (yes, I know how that sounds now but the all-male creative team meant well…).

However, the Valkyrie who declares ‘Come on in… the Revolution’s Fine!’ had her own dark secret and sinister agenda that has nothing to do with justice or equality…

Avengers #84 featured part-time paladin Black Knight who had become addicted to the bloodthirsty hunger of his Ebony Blade, resulting in an otherworldly confrontation with alternate-Earth barbarian king Arkon and his latest paramour the Enchantress in ‘The Sword and the Sorceress!’ The resulting acrimonious clash subsequently left half the team lost in a parallel existence…

In ‘The World is Not for Burning!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia), Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s efforts to return home leave them stranded on an Earth where the Squadron Supreme are the World’s Greatest heroes and a solar Armageddon is only hours away…

Illustrated by Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney, ‘Brain-Child to the Dark Tower Came…!’ sees the extremely reluctant trans-Earth allies unite to save a very different world after which, back home, the Black Panther reprises his bombastic origin before taking leave of his comrades to assume the throne of his hidden African nation in ‘Look Homeward, Avenger’ (Giacoia & Sal B).

Novelist Harlan Ellison was a very vocal comics fan in the 1970s and occasionally collaborated on Marvel tales. Avengers #88 began a radical adaptation of one his best short stories, heralding ‘The Summons of Psyklop’ (Ellison, Thomas, Sal Buscema & Mooney) wherein an experiment to cure the Hulk of his destructive nature leads to the Jade Juggernaut’s abduction by a preternatural entity.

The saga concluded in Incredible Hulk #140 (Ellison, Thomas, Herb Trimpe & Sam Grainger) as ‘The Brute… That Shouted Love… at the Heart of the Atom!’ finds the man-monster experiencing truelove and idyllic peace in a sub-molecular paradise, only to lose it all when the demonic Psyklop tracks him down…

Following a reproduction of the cover of the all-reprint Avengers Annual #4, the romantic tragedy is somewhat leavened by a bonus yarn from Marvel’s spoof publication Not Brand Echh #5 (December 1967). Here Thomas, Gene Colan & John Tartaglione recount the sterling saga of ‘The Revengers vs Charlie America’, reinterpreting how – if not why – the heroes saved the Star-Spangled Simpleton of Liberty from icy entombment. Wrapping up the memorable magic is a brace of contemporary house ads and full biographies of all creative folk involved…

Thomas and John Buscema (and Sal too, actually) gloriously led Marvel’s second generation of creators in building on and consolidating Lee, Kirby and Ditko’s initial burst of comics creativity: spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder- machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to.

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superheroes done exactly right and a pivotal step of the little company into the corporate colossus. They are also utterly fabulous stories you’ll never tire of reading
© 1970, 1971, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Avengers versus Thanos


By Jim Starlin, Mike Friedrich, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Scott Edelman, Don Heck, Bob Brown, John Buscema, Mike Zeck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6850-8

With another Marvel Cinematic Universe film scoring big around the world, here’s a timely trade paperback and eBook edition to augment the celluloid exposure and cater to movie fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience that fills in all the gaps.

After Marvel mainstays Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby left the company, the burgeoning publisher brought in a raft of young newcomers to fill the void. One of the most successful of these was Jim Starlin who especially rose to the occasion by masterminding a vast and sprawling cosmic epic using a constantly failing property various stalwarts of the House of Ideas could not make a hit…

Captain Marvel was an alien on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree empire who fought for Earth and was atomically bonded to professional sidekick Rick Jones by a pair of wristbands allowing them to share the same space in our universe. When one was here, the other was trapped in the antimatter dimension designated the Negative Zone.

After meandering around the Marvel Universe for a while, continually one step ahead of cancellation (the series had folded many times, but always quickly returned – primarily to secure the all-important trademark name), Mar-Vell was handed to Starlin – and the young craftsman was left alone to get on with it.

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

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

Spanning February 1973-September 1974, this grandiose compendium (available in Trade Paperback and eBook editions) gathers and chronologically collates Iron Man #55, Captain Marvel #25-33, Marvel Feature #12, Daredevil #105-107, Avengers #125, Warlock #9-11 and 15, Avengers Annual #7, Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 and concludes with a pertinent back-up from Logan’s Run #6 (June 1977: re-presenting Starlin’s entire early development of and engagement with one of comicbooks’ most popular villains.

The artistic iconoclasm began in Iron Man #55 (February 1973) where Mike Friedrich scripted Starlin’s opening gambit in a cosmic epic that would change the nature of Marvel itself.

Inked by Mike Esposito, ‘Beware… Beware… Beware the … Blood Brothers!’ introduces formidable and obsessive Drax the Destroyer; an immensely powerful humanoid trapped under the Nevada desert and in dire need of rescue by even more potent extraterrestrial invader Thanos

That comes when the Armoured Avenger blazes in, answering a mysterious SOS, but only after brutally dealing with the secret invader’s bombastic and brutal underlings…

All this is merely a prelude to the main story which starts unfolding a month later in Captain Marvel #25, courtesy of Friedrich, Starlin, & Chic Stone, wherein Thanos unleashes ‘A Taste of Madness!’, changing exiled Mar-Vell’s fortunes forever…

When Mar-Vell is ambushed by a pack of extraterrestrial assassins, he is forced to admit that his powers have been in decline for some time. Unaware that an unseen foe is counting on that, Rick manifests from the Negative Zone to check in with sagacious scientific maverick Dr. Savannah, only to find himself accused by the savant’s daughter (and Rick’s beloved) Lou-Ann of her father’s murder…

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile on Earth, still-enslaved Lou-Ann has gone to warn the Mighty Avengers and summarily collapsed. By the time Mar-Vell arrives in #28 she lies near death. ‘When Titans Collide!’ (inks by Dan Green) reveals another plank of Thanos’ plan.

As the heroes are picked off by psychic parasite The Controller, the Kree Captain is assaulted by bizarre visions of an incredibly ancient being. Fatally distracted, he becomes the malevolent mind-leech’s latest conquest…

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

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

Iron Man, meanwhile, has recovered from a previous Controller assault and headed for Marvel Feature #12 to join Ben Grimm in ending a desert incursion by Thanos’ forces before enduring ‘The Bite of the Blood Brothers!’ (Friedrich, Starlin, & Joe Sinnott), after which the story develops through the unseeing eyes of San Francisco-based swashbuckler Daredevil.

In DD #105, Matt Murdock has realised his new boss Kerwin Broderick has been sabotaging the attorney’s cases, and even hired warped mercenary Sergei Kravinoff AKA Kraven the Hunter to crush Daredevil’s investigative interference. When Kraven abducts his lover The Black Widow, the hero tries to save her but is thrown to his death over a cliff…

Natasha brutally avenge her man’s murder, but Murdock is far from dead, having being teleported from the jaws of doom by a ‘Menace from the Moons of Saturn!’ (scripted by Steve Gerber with art by Don Heck & Don Perlin).

In a short sequence pencilled by Starlin, the earthborn Priestess of Titan reveals how she had been dispatched to Earth to counter the schemes of death-worshipping proto-god Thanos.

Here the formerly enigmatic and emotionless super scientist Madame MacEvil shares her origins and foreshadows her future role in the cosmic catastrophe to come.

When Thanos killed her family, the infant Heather Douglas was adopted by Mentor, taken to Titan and reared by psionic martial artists of the Shao-Lom Monastery. Years later when Thanos attacked Titan and destroyed the monks she swore revenge and took a new name… Moondragon.

She also inadvertently discloses how she had innocently allied with a respected man of power and authority, providing him with a variety of augmented agents such as Dark Messiah, Ramrod and Angar …in fact all the menaces who have recently dogged the Man Without Fear…

Gerber, Heck & Trapani then brought the expansive sidebar saga closer to culmination as the manipulator is unmasked in ‘Life Be Not Proud!’ but not before the wily plotter redeploys all his past minions, shoots his misguided ally Moondragon, usurps a Titanian ultimate weapon and unleashes a life-leeching horror dubbed Terrex upon the world.

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

Inked by Green & Milgrom, Captain Marvel #31 announces ‘The Beginning of the End!’ as the Avengers – in a gathering of last resort – are joined by psionic priestess Moondragon and Drax: revealed as one more of Thanos’ victims but one recalled from death by supernal forces to hunt and destroy the deranged Titan…

Thanos is then revealed as a lover of the personification of Death: determined to gift her Earth as a betrothal present. To that end he uses the Cosmic Cube to turn himself into ‘Thanos the Insane God!’ (Green inks) who, with a casual thought, imprisons all opposition to his reign.

The story then slips into Avengers #125, as Thanos unleashes ‘The Power of Babel!’ (Steve Englehart, John Buscema & Cockrum) with his vast alien armada bombarding Earth. In combating it, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are trapped out of phase with their home-world and, on defeating the star raiders, can only watch helplessly as ghosts in another dimension…

All seems lost but the Titan’s insane arrogance leaves the cosmically aware Mar-Vell with one slim chance to undo every change. Brilliantly outmanoeuvring the omnipotent ogre, the Kree Captain defeats and apparently destroys ‘The God Himself!’ in cosmically climatic Captain Marvel #33 (inked by Klaus Janson).

With the menace removed life returned to hectic normality, but the threat of Thanos had not ended.

While the war unfolded on Earth, Avatar of Life Adam Warlock had been making his way across the cosmos. The man-made man-god origins were as a lab experiment concocted by rogue geneticists eager to create a superman they could control for conquest. After facing the Fantastic Four, “Him” subsequently escaped to the stars before returning to his all-encompassing cocoon to evolve a little more.

That stellar shell was picked up by the moon-sized ship of self-created deity the High Evolutionary who was wrapped up in a bold new experiment. The naive wanderer observed as the Evolutionary created a duplicate Earth on the far side of the sun, running through billions of years of evolution in mere hours.

The intent was to create a civilisation without aggression or rancour, but the Evolutionary collapsed from exhaustion just as proto-hominid became Homo Sapien and his greatest mistake took instant advantage of the fact…

Years previously Man-Beast had been hyper-evolved from a wolf and instantly became his creator’s nemesis. Now he and his equally debased minions invaded the ship and interfered with the experiment: reintroducing evil to the perfect creatures below and, in fact, making them just like us. At incredible speed Earth’s history re-ran with the creature in the cocoon afforded a ring-side seat to humanity’s fall from grace…

When the High Evolutionary awoke and fought Man-Beast’s army, Him broke out of his shell and helped rout the demons, who fled to the despoiled Counter-Earth. With calm restored, the science-god sought to sterilise his ruined experiment: a world now indistinguishable from our own. No superheroes; disease and poverty rampant; injustice in ascendance and moments away from nuclear Armageddon… but Him begged him not to.

Claiming the evil tide could be turned, he begged the Evolutionary to stay his hand. The grieving, despondent creator agreed… but only until the rechristened Adam Warlock should admit that humanity was beyond redemption…

After failing in that endeavour Warlock travelled to the furthest reaches of creation only to discover a cruel and rapacious Universal Church of Truth slaughtering billions and learned with horror that the faith was based on a living god: his own evil future self The Magus.

Resolved to destroy the vile aberration he partnered with a troll named Pip and an assassin named Gamora, unaware that she actually worked for a hidden masterlord with a devilish agenda of his own…

Taken from Warlock #9-11 (October 1975-February 1976) the culmination of that struggle began with ‘The Infinity Effect’ (Starlin & Steve Leialoha) as the triumphant Magus easily countered every desperate ploy of Warlock to avoid an imminent metamorphosis into his malignant future self. All hope seems lost until Gamora’s master finally intercedes…

‘How Strange My Destiny!’ finds the unflappable Magus respond by setting 25,000 super-powered religious fanatics on the Warlock and Thanos as a way of keeping them occupied until the inevitable transformation occurs. ‘Enter the Redemption Principle!’ finds Magus at last rattled and personally intervening…

Issue #12’s sees an ‘Escape into the Inner Prison!’ as Warlock discovers that his ally is the Avatar of Death, just as the Magus has usurped his own position as Avatar of Life. With no other option he chooses to circumvent an intolerable fate with ‘The Strange Death of Adam Warlock!’

After months more purposeless adventuring for Adam, infinitely patient Thanos at last shares his ultimate plans with devoted disciple Gamora. With Starlin handling all the creative chores, ‘Just a Series of Events!’ in Warlock #15 follows the artificial angel as he meanders towards his ultimate end and reveals that the all-powerful Soul Gem he wears on his brow is more his parasitic master than faithful servant…

That leads directly into a brace of 1977 Annuals which promised to resolve the Thanos/Warlock conflict forever. ‘The Final Threat’ (Starlin & Joe Rubinstein), from Avengers Annual #7, saw Captain Marvel and Moondragon return to Earth with vague anticipations of an impending cosmic catastrophe.

Their premonitions are confirmed when galactic wanderer Adam Warlock arrives with news that death-obsessed Thanos has amassed an alien armada and built a Soul-Gem powered cannon to snuff out the stars like candles…

Broaching interstellar space to stop the scheme, the united heroes forestall the stellar invasion and prevent the Dark Titan from destroying the Sun – but only at the cost of Warlock’s life…

Then ‘Death Watch!’ (Starlin & Rubinstein, Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2) finds Peter Parker plagued by prophetic nightmares, disclosing how Thanos had snatched victory from defeat and now holds the Avengers captive whilst he again prepares to extinguish Sol.

With nowhere else to turn, the anguished, disbelieving Spider-Man heads for the Baxter Building, hoping to borrow a spacecraft, and unaware that The Thing also had a history with the terrifying Titan.

Although utterly overmatched, the mismatched substitute-champions of Life subsequently upset Thanos’ plans enough so that the Avengers and the Universe’s true agent of retribution are able to end the Titan’s threat forever… or at least until next time…

That ought to be the end of this first cycle of cosmic conflagration but there’s still one more treat on offer here.

Logan’s Run was a short-lived licensed property tie-in and #6 incongruously featured a 5-page filler short starring Thanos in battle against his precision-crafted nemesis Drax the Destroyer: a typically inconclusive out-world clash over ‘The Final Flower’ by Scott Edelman & Mike Zeck.

A timeless classic of the company and the genre, made topical by the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe extravaganza, this is a tale no full-blooded print or screen-based Fights ‘n’ Tights fan can be without.
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 2013, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sub-Mariner Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Raymond Marais, Archie Goodwin, Bill Everett, Dan Adkins, Werner Roth, Marie Severin, Gene Colan, John Buscema, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2688-1 (HB)

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner is the offspring of a water-breathing Atlantean princess and an American polar explorer; a hybrid being of immense strength, highly resistant to physical harm, able to fly and exist above and below the waves. Created by young, talented Bill Everett, Namor technically predates Marvel/Atlas/Timely Comics.

He first caught the public’s attention as part of the fire vs. water headlining team in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939 and soon to become Marvel Mystery Comics) sharing honours and top billing with The Human Torch, but he had originally been seen (albeit in a truncated black and white version) in Motion Picture Funnies: a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

Quickly becoming one of the company’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (cover-dated Spring 1941) and was one of the last super-characters to go at the end of the first heroic age. In 1954, when Atlas (as the company then was) briefly revived its “Big Three” (the Torch and Captain America being the other two) costumed characters, Everett returned for an extended run of superb fantasy tales, but even so the time wasn’t right and the title sunk again.

When Stan Lee & Jack Kirby started reinventing comic-books in 1961 with the Fantastic Four, they revived the all-but forgotten awesome amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac, and decidedly more regal and grandiose anti-hero. The returnee despised humanity; embittered at the loss of his sub-sea kingdom (seemingly destroyed by American atomic testing) whilst simultaneously besotted with the FF’s Sue Storm.

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for a few years, squabbling with other assorted heroes such as the Hulk, Avengers and X-Men, before securing his own series as one half of Tales to Astonish.

This second subsea selection – available in hardback and eBook editions – collects Tales to Astonish #88-101, Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner #1 and The Sub-Mariner #1, circuitously spanning February 1967 to May 1968; opening with a florid and enthusiastic Introduction from sometime-scribe and passionate life-long fan Roy Thomas before the undersea action resumes.

Crafted by Stan Lee & Bill Everett, the Tales to Astonish #88 Sub-Mariner saga saw sub-sea barbarian Attuma attack once more, employing a lost extraterrestrial super-robot when ‘A Stranger Strikes from Space!’. The tale concluded in ‘The Prince and the Power!’ as the Marine Marvel turned the tables on his enemies through brains not brawn, after which Namor’s greatest rival returned in ‘To Be Beaten by Byrrah!’

Here the Prince’s ruthless cousin (last seen in the short-lived 1950s revival of Sub-Mariner Comics) employed gutter politics and subliminal hypnosis to oust the true ruler, only to receive his comeuppance in ‘Outside the Gates Waits Death!’: this latter seeing the inking debut of arch-stylist Dan Adkins.

Illustrating in a style that owed everything to Wally Wood, Adkins took over the pencilling in #92’s ‘It Walks Like a Man!’ This tale of atomic pollution and American naval intransigence is a terse foretaste of Sub-Mariner’s later role as eco-warrior, and the concluding part features Roy Thomas’ first script for the aquatic antihero in ‘The Monarch and the Monster!’ as Namor battles a nuclear golem and aggrieved US submarine commander to curtail imminent war…

Nevertheless, Namor was still dragged into a surface tyrant’s armed conflict in ‘Helpless, at the Hands of Dragorr!’ (Thomas & Everett), and incoming scripter Raymond Marais joined Thomas, Everett & Colletta on ‘The Power of the Plunderer!’ Here the piratical old Daredevil villain attacks an American civilian experimental undersea city.

Marais solo-scripted second chapter ‘Somewhere Stands Skull Island!’ as outraged Namor trails the Plunderer to the antediluvian Savage Land only to be captured and seemingly enslaved.

TtA #97’s ‘The Sovereign and the Savages’ came courtesy of Thomas and unsung art star Werner Roth – who had actually taken over the art halfway through the previous episode. Inked by Adkins, the Plunderer’s assault on Atlantis is finally foiled in ‘…To Destroy the Realm Eternal!’ but the vile events precipitated a similar attack on Namor’s homeland by a US atomic submarine in ‘When Falls the Holocaust!’ (by Archie Goodwin & Dan Adkins) in #99.

Marvel’s “split-books” had been devised as a way to promote their burgeoning stable of stars whilst labouring under a highly restrictive distribution deal which limited the number of titles they could release each month. In 1968 the company escaped this onerous commitment and thereby expanded exponentially.

In the months leading up to that virtual relaunch a number of bold experiments occurred: the most impressive of which was the first actual meeting of the monstrous stars of Marvel’s antihero title since they had won their own series.

Tales to Astonish #100, by Lee, Marie Severin & Adkins had Namor’s plan to recruit the Hulk as an ally go spectacularly awry after the Puppet Master fomented a near-disaster that almost levelled Miami in ‘Let There Be Battle!’, a tale that took 22 pages to unfold.

The final issue of Astonish then introduced a villain who would alter forever the history and perception of the Sub-Mariner. ‘…And Evil Shall Beckon!’ by Goodwin, Gene Colan & Adkins saw the aquatic antihero plagued by visions of a bestial foe who threatened his throne and people, drawing Namor to a confrontation in the Polar regions where the first Atlantis had been built…

For reasons never disclosed (and I shall charitably keep my assumptions private) the Golden Avenger and Prince of Atlantis both had to wait a month before getting their own first issues, necessitating one last split-book. Iron Man and Sub-Mariner #1 (April 1968) carried the middle parts of two epics that each concluded in memorable debut issues, but the amphibian’s contribution ‘Call Him Destiny …or Call Him Death!’ – by Thomas, Colan & Frank Giacoia – did no more than whet the appetite by revealing half an origin before apparently killing the lead character.

Sub-Mariner #1 (May1968, by Thomas, John Buscema & Giacoia) more than made up for the confusion as Namor’s true origin and the reason for his bouts of amnesia were explained by malign super-telepath Destiny, as ‘Years of Glory… Day of Doom!’ recapped Sub-Mariner’s gloriously chequered past whilst setting up another epic quest that would prove amongst this venerable character’s very best. That, however, is the subject of another volume.

Before the end, though, there are bonus benefits in the form of pages of original art and covers by Colan and Everett.

These tales feature some of Marvel’s very best artists at their visual peak, and although a few of the stories no longer bear a critical scrutiny, the verve and enthusiasm still shine through. Many early Marvel Comics are more exuberant than qualitative, but this volume, especially from an art-lover’s point of view, is a wonderful exception: a historical treasure that fans will find delightful.
© 1967, 1968, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.