Captain Marvel: Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Gene Colan, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6756-3

After years as an also-ran and up-and-comer, by 1968 Marvel Comics was in the ascendant. Their sales were catching up with industry leaders National/DC Comics and Gold Key, and they finally secured a new distribution deal that would allow them to expand their list of titles exponentially. Once the stars of “twin-books” Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales all got their own titles the House of Ideas just kept on creating.

One dead-cert idea was a hero named after the company – and one with some popular cachet and nostalgic pedigree as well. After the DC/Fawcett court case of the 1940s-1950s, the name Captain Marvel disappeared from the newsstands.

In 1967, during a superhero boom/camp craze generated by the Batman TV show, publisher MLF secured rights to the name and produced a number of giant-sized comics featuring an intelligent robot who (which?) could divide his body into segments and shoot lasers from his eyes.

Quirky and charming and devised by the legendary Carl (Human Torch) Burgos, the feature nevertheless could not attract a large following. On its demise, the name was quickly snapped up by the expanding Marvel Comics Group.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a brand-new title: it had been the giant-sized reprint comicbook Fantasy Masterpieces, combining monster and mystery tales with Golden Age Timely Comics classics, but with the twelfth issue it added an all-new experimental section for characters without homes such as Medusa, Ka-Zar, Black Knight and Doctor Doom, and debuted new concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy, Phantom Eagle and, to start the ball rolling, an troubled alien spy sent to Earth from the Kree Galaxy. He held a Captain’s rank and his name was Mar-Vell.

Most of that is covered in series-author Roy Thomas’ Introduction before this cosmically conceived tome – available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions – kicks off. On offer are the origin adventure from Marvel Super-Heroes #12-13 and the contents of Captain Marvel #1-9 collectively spanning cover-dates December 1967 to January 1969…

Crafted by Stan Lee, Gene Colan & Frank Giacoia, the initial MS-H 15 page-instalment ‘The Coming of Captain Marvel’ devolved directly from Fantastic Four #64-65 wherein the quartet defeated a super-advanced Sentry robot from a mythical alien race, only to be attacked by a high official of those long-lost extraterrestrials in the very next issue!

After defeating Ronan the Accuser, the FF heard no more from the far from extinct Kree, but the millennia-old empire was once again interested in Earth. Dispatching a surveillance mission, the Kree wanted to know everything about us. Unfortunately, the agent they chose was a man of conscience; whilst his commanding officer Colonel Yon-Rogg was a ruthless rival for the love of the ship’s medical officer Una.

No sooner has the good captain made a tentative planet-fall and clashed with the US army from the local missile base (often hinted at as being Cape Kennedy) than the first instalment ends. Stan and Gene had set the ball rolling but it was left to Roy Thomas to establish the basic ground-rules in the next episode.

Colan remained, this time with Paul Reinman inking. ‘Where Stalks the Sentry!’ sees the alien spy improving his weaponry before an attempt by Yon-Rogg to kill him destroys a light aircraft carrying scientist Walter Lawson to that military base.

Assuming Lawson’s identity, Mar-Vell infiltrates “The Cape” but arouses the suspicions of security Chief Carol Danvers. He is horrified to discover that the Earthlings are storing the Sentry (defeated by the FF) on base. Yon-Rogg, sensing an opportunity, activates the deadly mechanoid. As it goes on a rampage only Mar-Vell stands in its path…

That’s a lot of material for twenty pages but Thomas and Colan were on a roll. With Vince Colletta inking, the third chapter was not in Marvel Super-Heroes but in the premiere issue of the Captain’s own title released for May 1968

‘Out of the Holocaust… A Hero!’ is an all-out action thriller, which still made space to establish twin sub-plots of “Lawson’s” credibility and Mar-Vell’s inner doubts. The faithful Kree soldier is rapidly losing faith in his own race and falling under the spell of the Earthlings…

The Captain’s first foray against a super-villain is revealed in the next two issues as we find that the Kree and the shapeshifting Skrulls are intergalactic rivals, and the latter want to know why there’s an enemy soldier stationed on Earth.

Sending their own top agent in ‘From the Void of Space Comes the Super Skrull!’, the resultant battle almost levels the entire state before bombastically concluding with the Kree on top ‘From the Ashes of Defeat!’

Issue #4 saw the secret invader clashing with fellow anti-hero Sub-Mariner in ‘The Alien and the Amphibian!’ as Mar-Vell’s superiors make increasingly ruthless demands of their reluctant agent.

Captain Marvel #5 saw Arnold Drake & Don Heck assume the creative chores (with John Tartaglione on inks) in cold-war monster-mash clash ‘The Mark of the Metazoid’, wherein a mutated Soviet dissident is forced by his militaristic masters to kidnap Walter Lawson (that’s narrative symmetry, that is).

Issue #6 then finds the Captain ‘In the Path of Solam!’; battling a marauding sun-creature before being forced to prove his loyalty by unleashing a Kree bio-weapon on an Earth community in ‘Die, Town, Die!’ However, all is not as it seems since Quasimodo, the Living Computer is also involved…

The romantic triangle sub-plot was wearing pretty thin by this time, as was the increasingly obvious division of Mar-Vell’s loyalties, so a new examination of Dr Lawson, whose identity the Kree man purloined, begins in #8’s ‘And Fear Shall Follow!’.

Wrapping up this first volume is another alien war story as Yon-Rogg is injured by rival space imperialists the Aakon. In the battle Mar-Vell’s heroism buys him a break from suspicion but all too soon he’s embroiled with a secret criminal gang and a robot assassin apparently built by the deceased Lawson, and trouble escalates when the surviving Aakon stumble into the mess in ‘Between Hammer and Anvil!’

Fascinating extras added in here include a full cover gallery, creator biographies, the December 1967 Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page announcing the coming of Captain Marvel, plus sublime pencil-art pages by Colan: the full 16 un-inked pages from Marvel Super-Heroes #13 for art-lovers to drool over. Glorious!
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Inhumans – By Right of Birth


By Ann Nocenti, Lou Mougin, Bret Blevins, Rich Howell, Al Williamson, Vince Colletta & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8504-8

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

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

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

This compilation from 2013 – available as a Trade Paperback and eBook – gathers an original graphic novel from 1988 and bolsters the package with comicbook 1-shot Inhumans: The Untold Story from 1990 that delves into a forgotten corner of their history…

Leading off is a controversial tale from 1988 by scripter Anne Nocenti, illustrated by Brett Blevins & Al Williamson with letters from Jim Novak & Gaspar Saladino and colours by Mike Higgins, which takes a hard look at the underbelly of the concept in a stark examination of personal rights vs. civic responsibility…

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

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

It all becomes agonisingly personal when cousin Medusa, wife and voice of the mighty but voluntarily mute King Black Bolt (whose softest syllable can shatter mountains) announces she is already pregnant and the Council summarily decree the unsanctioned and potentially ultra-destructive foetus must be destroyed…

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

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

In Attilan, Blackbolt is crushed and paralysed by the weight of duty and his own indecision whilst Maximus schemes to win Medusa for himself. At last united but still bickering, the Royal Family, Gorgon, Karnak, Triton and Medusa’s younger sister Crystal rush to Earth to stand beside the defiant mother-to-be.

Elementally all-powerful Crystal uses her abilities to collect and banish all the toxins in the air, generating a thirty-mile wide “clean-zone” for Medusa, but as her time nears, strange, unnatural phenomena begin to occur throughout the region…

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

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

After navigating that challenging ethical tightrope, more standard fare follows as Lou Mougin, Richard Howell & Vince Colletta reveal the uncanny outcast side of the monumental first meeting with the Fantastic Four.

The Inhumans: The Untold Saga reveals how, many years previously, Maximus sparked an uprising and ousted Black Bolt to assume the throne. ‘Remembrances of Revolutions Past’ follows proud Medusa as she escapes the incipient tyranny, only to crash in the outer world, unharmed but amnesiac…

Compelled by popular outcry to obey their mad cousin, the Royal Family obey ‘A Throne in Darkness’ until they can endure no more and flee too…

‘Of Inhuman Bondage’ finds them separated in the human world, where Gorgon carries a dark secret. On peril of his parents’ lives, he is searching for Medusa, because Maximus wants a bride to legitimise his claim to the crown…

The search takes years and ‘Medusa’s Odyssey’ includes her haunting Europe as a criminal until recruited by the Wizard to his evil enterprise The Frightful Four…

As seen elsewhere the family are reunited by the FF and defeat Maximus before ‘Reckoning!’ depicts their greatest tragedy, with the mad ex-monarch imprisoning the Inhumans behind an impenetrable energy barrier.

Although Maximus believes it his greatest cruellest victory the madman doesn’t realise he has locked himself in with the people he has victimised…

Adding depth to the delicacies on offer are ‘The Inhumans’ – an essay from in-house promotional magazine Marvel Age (#69, December 1988) – plus illustrated info-pages on Black Bolt, Crystal, Gorgon, Karnak, Lockjaw, Maximus, Medusa, Triton and the Inhumans as a race: all culled from Marvel Universe Handbook. Wrapping up the data-fest is a sequence spotlighting 27 other minor Inhumans, a well as pin-ups from Marvel Fanfare by Butch Guice, Colleen Doran, Charles Vess and a run of original covers…

The Inhumans – By Right of Birth is a bold. beautiful, extremely uncompromising and occasionally explicit tale delivering action, tension and soul-searching drama and is something no unabashed older fan of superhero sagas should miss….
© 1988, 1990, 2013, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 16


By Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Archie Goodwin, Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8801-8

Peter Parker was a smart yet alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering astonishing arachnid abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the kid did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Making a costume to hide his identity in case he made a fool of himself, Parker became a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night he didn’t lift a finger to stop him, only to find when he returned home that his guardian uncle Ben Parker had been murdered.

Crazed with a need for vengeance, Peter hunted the assailant who had made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, finding, to his horror, that it was the self-same felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility had resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and the traumatised boy swore to forevermore use his powers to help others…

Since that night he has tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them.

By the time of the tales in this 16th superbly scintillating full-colour hardcover compendium (and eBook) of web-spinning adventures the wondrous wallcrawler was a global figure and prime contender for the title of the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero. Spanning May 1976 to May 1977 and chronologically re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #156-168 and Annual #10, the dramas are preceded by an appreciative appraisal from J.M. DeMatteis in his Introduction before the action resumes.

A long-running romance-thread finally culminates here in the oft-delayed wedding of Pete’s old flame Betty Brant to reporter Ned Leeds, but the nuptials are sadly interrupted by a new costumed crook in ‘On a Clear Day, You Can See… the Mirage!’ (by scripter Len Wein and illustrators Ross Andru & Mike Esposito), even as a sinister hobo who had been haunting the last few yarns came fully into the spotlight…

In the past, a protracted struggle for control of New York between Dr Octopus and cyborg gangster Hammerhead escalated into a full-on and small-scale nuclear near-armageddon, with Spidey and elderly May Parker caught in the middle. The devilish duel concluded with a nuclear explosion and the seeming end of two major antagonists…

However, #157 exposed ‘The Ghost Who Haunted Octopus!’ as the debased, long-limbed loon turns again to Aunt May for his salvation.

With Peter in attendance, the many-handed menace seeks to escape a brutal ghost stalking but their combined actions actually liberate a pitiless killer from inter-dimensional limbo in ‘Hammerhead is Out!’, leading to a savage three-way showdown with Spidey ‘Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm with Doctor Octopus’ to save the horrified Widow Parker…

A new insectoid arch-foe debuted in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10, courtesy of plotter Wein, scripter Bill Mantlo and artists Gil Kane, Esposito & Frank Giacoia as ‘Step into my Parlor…’ depicts obsessed Spider-hater J. Jonah Jameson hiring outcast, exceedingly fringe-science biologist Harlan Stilwell to create yet another tailor-made nemesis to eradicate the webslinger.

Elsewhere meanwhile, that detested hero is breaking up a vicious hostage situation manufactured by psychotic Rick Deacon, but when the killer escapes and breaks into a certain lab he is rapidly transformed into a winged wonder-man hungry for payback on the web-spinner in ‘…Said the Spider to the Fly!’

Back in the monthly periodical the opening shot in an extended epic was fired as a criminal inventor – and one of the web-spinner’s oldest enemies – recovers Spidey’s long ditched and satisfactorily drowned vehicle, before tricking it out to hunt down its original owner in #160’s ‘My Killer the Car!’ (Wein, Andru & Esposito)…

Having narrowly escaped doom and debacle in equal measure the wallcrawler met a new friend and clashed with an old one, but rising star Frank Castle was reduced to a bit-player in Amazing Spider-Man #162-163 (October and November 1976, by the regular creatives), as the newly-reconstituted X-Men were sales-boosted via a guest-clash in ‘…And the Nightcrawler Came Prowling, Prowling’, wherein the Amazing Arachnid jumps to a very wrong conclusion after a sniper shoots a reveller at Coney Island.

By the time moody mutant Nightcrawler has explained himself – in the tried-&-true Marvel manner of fighting the webspinner to a standstill – old skull-shirt has turned up to take them both on before mutual foe Jigsaw is exposed as the real assassin in concluding episode ‘Let the Punisher Fit the Crime!’

The mystery villain behind many of Spider-Man’s recent woes is exposed in ‘All the Kingpin’s Men!’ as a succession of audacious tech-robberies leads the wallcrawler into another confrontation with the deadly crime lord. This time however, the Machiavellian mobster is playing for personal stakes. His son has been on the verge of death for months and his remedy is to electronically transfer the hero’s life force into the ailing patient. Discarded after the process, Peter Parker’s impending ‘Deadline!’ is extended by old friend Curt Connors until Spider-Man can explosively set things right…

That helping hand comes at a cost in ASM #165 as Dinosaur Man ‘Stegron Stalks the City!’, attempting to revivify the fossilised skeletons of Saurians in the city’s museums. To expedite his actions Steggy blackmails Connors and accidentally unleashes the biologist’s alter ego The Lizard, prompting a ‘War of the Reptile-Men!’ in #166…

Jameson then tries again to destroy his personal Bête Noir by hiring glamourous technologist Dr. Marla Manning to construct an upgraded mechanoid hunter, leaving our hero ‘…Stalked by the Spider-Slayer!’ in #167.

Spider-Man barely notices though, as a new menace is attracting his attention: an eerie ephemeral bandit called Will o’ the Wisp, clearly stealing for a monster with a hidden agenda and no mercy…

The never-ending battle temporarily pauses with the last story in this compilation as the hero, the Spider-Slayer and the deadly pawn all clash in the middle of Manhattan where tragedy is presaged by ‘Murder on the Wind!’

Added extras this go-round include original cover art by John Romita and art pages by Andru and Esposito to complete another superb selection starring an increasingly relevant teen icon and symbol. Spider-Man at this time became a crucial part of many youngsters’ existence and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow.

Blending cultural veracity with glorious art whilst making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness most of the readership experienced daily resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive prime time melodrama moments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.
© 1976, 1977, 2016 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Masterworks Ms. Marvel volume


By Gerry Conway, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8811-7

Until relatively recently American comics and especially Marvel had very little in the way of positive female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Although there was a woman starring in the very first comic of the Marvel Age, the Invisible Girl took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right.

The company’s very first starring heroine was Black Fury, a leather-clad, whip-wielding crimebuster lifted from a newspaper strip created by Tarpe Mills in April 1941. She was repackaged as a resized reprint for Timely’s funnybooks and renamed Miss Fury for a four-year run between 1942 and 1946 – although the tabloid incarnation survived until 1952.

Fury was actually predated by the Silver Scorpion who debuted in Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941), but she was relegated to a minor position in the book’s line-up and endured a very short shelf-life.

Miss America first appeared in the anthology Marvel Mystery Comics#49 (November1943), created by Otto Binder and artist Al Gabriele. After a few appearances, she won her own title in early 1944. Miss America Comics lasted but the costumed cutie didn’t, as with the second issue (November1944) the format changed, becoming a combination of teen comedy, fashion feature and domestic tips magazine. Feisty take-charge super-heroics were steadily squeezed out and the publication is most famous now for introducing virginal evergreen teen ideal Patsy Walker.

A few other woman warriors appeared immediately after the War, many as spin-offs and sidekicks of established male stars such as female Sub-Mariner Namora (debuting in Marvel Mystery Comics #82, May 1947 and graduating to her own three issue series in 1948). She was followed by the Human Torch’s secretary Mary Mitchell who, as Sun Girl, starred in her own 3-issue 1948 series before becoming a wandering sidekick and guest star in Sub-Mariner and Captain America Comics.

Masked detective Blonde Phantom was created by Stan Lee and Syd Shores for All Select Comics #11 (Fall 1946) and sort-of goddess Venus debuted in her own title in August 1948, becoming the gender’s biggest Timely/Atlas/Marvel success until the advent of the Jungle Girl fad in the mid-1950s.

This was mostly by dint of the superb stories and art from the great Bill Everett and by ruthlessly changing genres from crime to romance to horror every five minutes…

Jann of the Jungle (by Don Rico & Jay Scott Pike) was just part of an anthology line-up in Jungle Tales #1 (September 1954), but she took over the title with the eighth issue (November 1955).

Jann of the Jungle continued until issue June 1957 (#17) and spawned a host of in-company imitators such as Leopard Girl, Lorna the Jungle Queen and so on…

During the costumed hero boom of the 1960s Marvel experimented with a title shot for Madame Medusa in Marvel Super-Heroes (#15, July 1968) and a solo series for the Black Widow in Amazing Adventures # 1-8 (August 1970-September 1971). Both were sexy, reformed villainesses, not wholesome girl-next-door heroines… and neither lasted alone for long.

When the costumed crazies craze began to subside in the 1970s, Stan Lee and Roy Thomas looked into creating a girl-friendly boutique of heroines written by women. Opening shots in this mini-liberation war were Claws of the Cat by Linda Fite, Marie Severin & Wally Wood and Night Nurse by Jean Thomas and Win Mortimer (both #1’s cover-dated November 1972).

A new jungle goddess Shanna the She-Devil #1 – by Carole Seuling & George Tuska – debuted in December 1972; but despite impressive creative teams none of these fascinating experiments lasted beyond a fifth issue.

Red Sonja, She-Devil with a Sword, caught every one’s attention in Conan the Barbarian #23 (February 1973) and eventually won her own series whilst The Cat mutated into Tigra, the Were-Woman in Giant-Size Creatures #1 (July 1974) but the general editorial position was that books starring chicks didn’t sell.

The company kept trying and eventually found the right mix at the right time with Ms. Marvel who launched in her own title cover-dated January 1977. She was followed by the equally copyright-protecting Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977, and securing her own title 15 months later) and Savage She-Hulk (#1, February 1980). She was supplemented by the music-biz sponsored Dazzler who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before inevitably graduating to her own book.

Ms. Marvel was actually Carol Danvers, a United States Air Force security officer first seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968): the second episode of the saga of Kree warrior Mar-Vell, who had been dispatched to Earth as a spy after the Fantastic Four repulsed the aliens Kree twice in two months…

That series was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Gene Colan with the immensely competent Carol perpetually investigating Mar-Vell’s assumed and tenuous cover-identity of Walter Lawson for months.

This was until Danvers was caught up in a devastating battle between the now-defecting alien and his nemesis Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel #18 (November 1969).

Caught in a climactic explosion of alien technology, she pretty much vanished from sight until Gerry Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott revived her for ‘This Woman, This Warrior!’ (Ms. Marvel#1, January 1977) as a new chapter began for the company and the industry…

This sturdy hardcover volume (or enthralling eBook if you prefer), collecting Ms. Marvel #1-14, opens with a handy reminiscence from primary scribe Gerry Conway in ‘Welcome to the Greenhouse’ before the game-changing dramas commence…

The irrepressible and partially amnesiac Danvers has relocated to New York to become editor of “Woman”: a new magazine for modern misses published by Daily Bugle owner J. Jonah Jameson.

Never having fully recovered from her near-death experience, Danvers had left the military and drifted into writing, slowly growing in confidence until the irascible publisher had made her an offer she couldn’t refuse…

At the same time as Carol was getting her feet under a desk, a mysterious new masked heroine begins appearing and as rapidly vanishing, such as when she pitches up to battle the sinister Scorpion as he perpetrates a brutal bank raid.

The villain narrowly escapes to rendezvous with Professor Kerwin Korwin of AIM (a high-tech secret society claiming to be Advanced Idea Mechanics). The skeevy savant has promised to increase the Scorpion’s powers and allow him to take long-delayed revenge on Jameson – whom the demented thug blames for his freakish condition…

Danvers has been having premonitions and blackouts since her involvement in the final clash between Mar-Vell and Yon-Rogg and has no idea she is transforming into Ms. Marvel. Her latest vision-flash occurs too late to save Jameson from abduction but her “Seventh Sense” does allow her to track the villain before her unwitting new boss is injured, whilst her incredible physical powers and knowledge of Kree combat techniques enable her to easily trounce the maniac.

Ms. Marvel #2 announces an ‘Enigma of Fear!’ and features a return engagement for the Scorpion as Korwin and AIM make Ms. Marvel their latest science project. Whilst the Professor turns himself into an armoured assassin codenamed Destructor, Carol’s therapist Mike Barnett achieves an analytical breakthrough with his patient and discovers she is a masked metahuman even before she does. Although again felling the Scorpion, Ms. Marvel is ambushed by the Destructor, but awakes in #3 (written by Chris Claremont) to turn the tables in ‘The Lady’s Not For Killing!’

Travelling to Cape Canaveral to interview old friend Salia Petrie for a women-astronauts feature, Danvers is soon battling an old Silver Surfer foe on the edge of space, where all her occluded memories return just in time for a final confrontation with the Destructor. In the midst of the devastating bout she nearly dies after painfully realising ‘Death is the Doomsday Man!’ (with Jim Mooney taking over pencils for Sinnott to embellish).

The Vision guest-stars in #5 as Ms. Marvel crosses a ‘Bridge of No Return’. After Dr. Barnett reveals he knows her secret, Carol is forced to fight the Android Avenger when AIM tricks the artificial hero into protecting a massive, mobile “dirty” bomb, after which ‘…And Grotesk Shall Slay Thee!’ pits her against a subterranean menace determined to eradicate the human race, culminating in a waking ‘Nightmare!’ when she is captured by AIM’s deadly leader Modok and all her secrets are exposed to his malign scientific scrutiny.

Grotesk strikes again in #8 as ‘The Last Sunset…?’ almost dawns for the entire planet, whilst ‘Call Me Death-Bird!’ (illustrated by Keith Pollard, Sinnott & Sam Grainger) introduces a mysterious, murderous avian alien who would figure heavily in many a future X-Men and Avengers saga, but who spends her early days allied to the unrelenting forces of AIM as they attacked once more in ‘Cry Murder… Cry Modok!’ (with art by Sal Buscema & Tom Palmer).

Frank Giacoia inks #11’s ‘Day of the Dark Angel!’ wherein supernal supernatural menaces Hecate, the Witch-Queen and the Elementals attack the Cape, tragically preventing Carol from rescuing Salia Petrie and her space shuttle crew from an incredible inter-dimensional disaster…

The astonishing action continues in ‘The Warrior… and the Witch-Queen!’ (Sinnott inks) before ‘Homecoming!’ (Mooney & Sinnott) explore Carol’s blue-collar origins in Boston as she crushes a coupler of marauding aliens before the all-out action and tense suspense concludes as ‘Fear Stalks Floor 40’ (illustrated by Carmine Infantino & Steve Leialoha) with the battered and weary warrior confronting her construction worker, anti-feminist dad even as she is saving his business from the sinister sabotage of the Steeplejack….

This comprehensive chronicle also includes ‘Ms. Prints’ – Conway’s editorial on the hero’s origins from Ms. Marvel #1, original character sketches by John Romita Senior, a house ad, unused cover sketches by John Buscema and Marie Severin plus pages of original art by Sal B, Giacoia & Sinnott and Infantino & Leialoha.

Always entertaining, often groundbreaking and painfully patronising (occasionally at the same time), the early Ms. Marvel, against all odds, grew into the modern Marvel icon of capable womanhood we see today in both comics and on screen. These adventures are a valuable grounding of the contemporary champion but also still stand on their own as intriguing examples of the inevitable fall of even the staunchest of male bastions – superhero sagas…
© 1977, 1978, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Inhumans: The Origins of the Inhumans


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, with Chic Stone, Vince Colletta, Frank Giacoia, Joe Sinnott, Tom Sutton & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8497-3

Debuting in 1965 and conceived as yet another incredible lost civilisation during Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s most fertile and productive creative period, The Inhumans are a race of incredibly disparate (generally) humanoid beings genetically altered in Earth’s pre-history, and consequently evolving into a technologically-advanced civilisation far ahead of emergent Homo Sapiens.

They isolated themselves from the world and barbarous dawn-age humans, first on an island and latterly in a hidden valley in the Himalayas, residing in a fabulous city named Attilan.

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

With a new TV series in the offing it’s worth taking a look at how the voluntary mutants joined the Marvel universe and this trade paperback compilation – also available as a digital edition – scrupulously compiles teasing early appearances from Fantastic Four #36 and 38, the extended introductory saga from FF #41-47, 54 and 62-65, and a team-up tale from Fantastic Four Annual.

Also included are pertinent extracts from FF #48, 50, 52 and 56-61 plus the entire Tales of the Uncanny Inhumans back-up series from Thor #146-153 and a moment of spoofing light-relief from Not Brand Echh #6, cumulatively spanning March 1965 to May 1968.

The first inkling of something epic in the wind came from Fantastic Four #36 and the introduction of a new female super-villain as part of the hero-team’s theoretical nemeses ‘The Frightful Four!’

A sinister squad comprising evil genius The Wizard, shapeshifting Sandman and gadget fiend The Trapster (he was still Paste Pot-Pete here, but not for long) was supplemented by enigmatic outsider Madame Medusa, whose origins were to have a huge impact on the heroes in months to come.

The heroes ‘Defeated by the Frightful Four!’ in FF# 38: a momentous tale with a startling cliff-hanger that marked Chic Stone’s departure in landmark manner.

Vince Colletta assumed the inking chores for a bombastic run which perfectly displays the indomitable power and inescapable tragedy of the brutish Ben Grimm in a tense and traumatic trilogy in which the Frightful Four brainwash The Thing. turning him against his teammates. It starts in # 41 (August 1965) with ‘The Brutal Betrayal of Ben Grimm!’, continues in rip-roaring fashion with ‘To Save You, Why must I Kill You?’ and concluded in bombastic glory with #43’s ‘Lo! There Shall be an Ending!’

The next issue was a landmark in many ways. Firstly, it saw the arrival of Joe Sinnott as regular inker, a skilled brush-man with a deft line and a superb grasp of anatomy and facial expression, and moreover an artist prepared to match Kirby’s greatest efforts with his own.

Some inkers had problems with just how much detail the King would pencil in; Sinnott relished it and the effort showed. What had been merely wonderful now became incomparable…

‘The Gentleman’s Name is Gorgon!’ introduced a mysterious powerhouse with metal hooves instead of feet: a hunter implacably stalking Madame Medusa.

His rampage through New York embroils the Human Torch – and subsequently the whole team – in her frantic bid to escape, and that’s before monstrous android Dragon Man shows up to complicate matters. All this was merely a prelude: with the next episode readers were introduced to a hidden race of superbeings who had secretly shared the Earth with us for millennia.

‘Among us Hide… the Inhumans’ revealed that Medusa was part of the Royal Family of Attilan: rulers of a hidden race of paranormal beings. She had been on the run ever since a coup deposed the true king.

Black Bolt, Triton, Karnak and the rest would quickly become mainstays of the Marvel Universe, but their bewitching young cousin Crystal and her giant teleporting dog Lockjaw were the real stars here. For young Johnny Storm, it was love at first sight, and Crystal’s eventual fate would greatly change his character, giving him a hint of angst-ridden tragedy that resonated greatly with the generation of young readers who were growing up with the comic…

‘Those Who Would Destroy Us!’ and ‘Beware the Hidden Land!’ (FF #46 and 47) saw the heroes unite with the Royal Inhumans as Black Bolt battled to regain his throne from his brother Maximus the Mad, only to stumble into the usurper’s plan to wipe humanity from the Earth.

Ideas just seem to explode from Kirby at this time. Despite being halfway through one storyline, FF #48 trumpeted ‘The Coming of Galactus!’ with the first Inhumans saga swiftly wrapped up by page 7, and the entire race sealed by Maximus behind an impenetrable dome called the Negative Zone (later retitled the Negative Barrier to avoid confusion with the gateway to sub-space that Reed Richards worked on for years).

Those pages and further excerpts from #50 and 52 advancing the “Inhumans-in-a-bottle” plot are included here, but you’ll need to seek elsewhere for the Galactus saga…

I suspect this experimental – and vaguely uncomfortable – approach to narrative mechanics was calculated and deliberate, mirroring the way TV soap operas were increasingly delivering their interwoven storylines, and was introduced as a means to keep readers glued to the series.

They needn’t have bothered. The stories and concepts were enough…

The next full story followed the Torch and college pal Wyatt Wingfoot as they sought a way to sunder the barrier and reunite Johnny with Crystal. This led to the unearthing of the lost tomb of Prester John in #54’s ‘Whosoever Finds the Evil Eye…!’

This became a running sub-plot with the Inhumans increasingly striving to break out whilst, on the other side of the Great Barrier, Johnny and Wyatt wandered the wilds also seeking a method of liberating the Hidden City.

The next major development occurs in snippets from FF #55-61 as Black Bolt finally liberates his imprisoned people by utilising the immeasurable power of his devastating voice: an uncontrollable sonic shockwave which can destroy everything – including the impenetrable energy barrier and the city trapped within it…

Free to follow her heart, Crystal finds Johnny just as Mr. Fantastic is lost in the antimatter hell of the Negative Zone’s sub-space corridor.

‘…And One Shall Save Him!’ (FF #62, May 1967) spotlights aquatic Inhuman Triton who guides the FF’s leader back to Earth after trapped, inadvertently bringing back with them a terrifying brute who quickly teams up with earthly enemy the Sandman. The battle against ‘Blastaar, the Living Bomb-Burst!’ is fast and furious and mirrors the Royal Family’s explorations of the world beyond Attilan and subsequent explosive clash with agents of a totalitarian nation…

In ‘The Sentry Sinister’ – a frenetic romp pitting the team against a super-scientific robot buried for millennia by an ancient star-faring race – the first inkling of the Inhumans’ true origins can be found…

This tropical treat expands the burgeoning interlocking landscape to an infinite degree by introducing the imperial Kree who would grow into one of the fundamental pillars supporting the continuity of the Marvel Universe.

Although regarded as long-dead, the Kree themselves resurfaced in the very next issue as the team are attacked by an alien emissary ‘…From Beyond this Planet Earth!’

The formidable Ronan the Accuser turns up to investigate what could possibly have destroyed a Kree Sentry. Simultaneously, as Johnny and Crystal’s romance grows more serious, her sister and cousins meet the Black Panther to share the stage with the Fantastic Four in that year’s Annual (#5, and inked by Frank Giacoia), wherein sinister sub-microscopic invader Psycho-Man attempts to ‘Divide… and Conquer!’, pitting his emotion-bending alien technology against both the King of the Wakandas and the Royal Family of Attilan until the Fab Four can pitch in…

The Annual also included the now customary Kirby pin-ups: stunning shots of Inhumans Black Bolt, Gorgon, Medusa, Karnak, Triton, Crystal and Maximus plus a colossal group shot of Galactus the Silver Surfer and others – all included here at no extra cost…

That same month the hidden race won their first solo feature: a series of complete, 5-page vignettes detailing some of the tantalising backstory so effectively hinted at in previous appearances. ‘The Origin of… the Incomparable Inhumans’ – by Lee, Kirby & Sinnott from Thor 146 (November 1967) – ranges back to the dawn of civilisation where cavemen flee in fear from technologically advanced humans who live on an island named Attilan.

In that futuristic metropolis, wise King Randac finally makes a decision to test out his people’s latest discovery: genetically mutative Terrigen rays…

The saga expands a month later in ‘The Reason Why!’ as Earth’s duly-appointed Kree Sentry visits the island and reveals how his master in ages past experimented on an isolated tribe of primitive humanoids. Now observing their progress, the menacing mechanoid learns that the Kree lab rats have fully taken control of their genetic destiny and must now be considered Inhuman…

Skipping ahead 25,000 years, ‘…And Finally: Black Bolt!’ reveals how a baby’s first cries wreck the city and reveal the infant prince was an Inhuman unlike any other…

Raised in isolation, the prince’s 19th birthday then marks his release into the city and contact with the cousins he has only ever seen on video systems. Sadly, the occasion is co-opted by envious brother Maximus who tortures the royal heir to prove Bolt cannot be trusted to maintain ‘Silence or Death!’

Thor #150 (March 1968) saw the start of a continued tale as ‘Triton’ left the hidden city to explore the human world only to be captured by a film crew making an underwater monster movie. Allowing himself to brought back to America, the canny manphibian escapes when the ship docks and becomes an ‘Inhuman at Large!’

The story – and series – concluded with Triton on the run and acting as a fish out of water ‘While the City Shrieks!’ before returning to Attilan with a damning assessment of the human race…

Rounding off the thrills and chills is a snippet from Not Brand Echh #6 (the “Big, Batty Love and Hisses issue!” from February 1968) wherein ‘The Human Scorch Has to… Meet the Family!’: a snappy satire on romantic liaisons from Lee, Kirby & Tom Sutton, appended with creator biographies and House Ads for the Inhumans’ debut.

These are the stories that introduced another strand of outsiders to the maverick Marvel universe and cemented Kirby’s reputation as an innovator beyond compare. They also helped the company to overtake all its competitors and are still some of the best stories ever produced: as exciting and captivating now as they ever were. This is a must-have book for all fans of graphic narrative or potential fans of Marvel’s next cinematic star vehicle.
© 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man: Armor Wars


By David Michelinie, Mark D. Bright, Bob Layton, Barry Windsor Smith & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1250-8

For many years Anthony Stark was the modern Thomas Edison; a glamorous genius-inventor and (largely) self-made billionaire. However, for much of the time he secretly moonlights as a super-hero. Unknown to all but his closest friends and allies, Stark dons a self-created suit of futuristic armour packed with his ingeniously-crafted technological marvels, making him the master of any situation, the Invincible Iron Man.

The innovations he has created to build his armour are so ground-breaking that he has never dared patent them because they have the potential to cause great harm.

In this classic and often-reprinted saga (also available in a digital edition) we see that after years of valiant crusading and the overcoming of great personal hardships, Stark’s life comes crashing down around him when he discovers his secrets have been compromised…

Collaboratively crafted by David Michelinie, Mark D. Bright & Bob Layton and latterly known as The Armor Wars, the epic serial comprises Iron Man #225-232 – spanning December 1987 to July 1988 – and begins with ‘Stark Wars!’ as the inventor examines the battle-suit of defeated foe Force and realises that the murderous weaponry and defensive systems are based on his own top-secret technology…

Researching further he discovers that not only do many tech-enhanced villains use his discoveries but so do government and military units. Plagued with guilt at the untold blood spilled with his inventions, Stark resolves to make amends by reclaiming or destroying all incidences of his stolen secrets, bringing him into conflict with his country, his friends and his comrades in the Avengers. Unwilling to compromise, unable to accept the new status quo, Iron Man’s attempts to salve his conscience can only lead to tragedy and disaster…

Diligent investigation reveals the proprietary gimmicks and systems have leaked far and wide, augmenting the capabilities of numerous criminals, mercenaries and military specialists…

Killers all…

As well as locating the source of the initial leak, Stark and his trusted team must take back or destroy every iota of his stolen ordnance if the man is to sleep with a clear conscience ever again…

With the help of Ant-Man Scott Lang, a virus is uploaded to eat all digital records and instances of Stark-tech, but the job of negating actual armoured users is one only Iron Man can accomplish…

Nobody cares when the hero starts tackling villains such as Stilt-Man, The Maulers or Controller, but real trouble comes knocking when Stark mistakenly attacks federal agent and fellow Avenger Stingray in ‘Glitch’ and goes after SHIELD operatives in ‘The Last Mandroid’ and US military personnel in ‘Who Guards the Guardsmen?’ – a clash that causes a mass escape at super-prison The Vault and brings him into conflict with one of his oldest allies: Steve Rogers, the former Captain America

In ‘Red Snow’ Stark’s West Coast Avengers allies finally demand an explanation and the end of the war but are utterly ignored. Instead Iron Man invades Russia to confront Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man, resulting in an international incident and the first fatality of the campaign…

Shaken but obsessively undeterred, Iron Man soldiers on with everybody now against him until the unthinkable happens after the US Army bring in a new armoured titan dubbed Firepower.

The tech colossus constructed by Stark’s bitter rival Edwin Cord proves everything the military was hoping for, but as ‘The Day the Hero Died’ ends, the authorities quickly realise that with Iron Man gone nothing can stop Cord and Firepower from doing whatever they want…

Having barely escaped with his life Tony Stark strongly considered quietly retiring, but with the world again imperilled gets back to his drawing board to build something new and better and save the day once more in ‘Reborn Again’

However, even after his triumphant re-emergence, the psychological cost of his actions must be dealt with in the startling ‘Stark Wars: Epilogue – Intimate Enemies’ by Michelinie, Barry Windsor-Smith & Layton

This enthralling yarn is a compelling examination of honour, heroism and sacrifice exposing the dark side of vigilantism and cost of integrity, deeply embedded in Marvel continuity, with lots of guest-stars and plenty of action. A solid example of what super-hero comics are all about, this classic Fights ‘n’ Tights thriller is pure evergreen Marvel escapism.
© 1987, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Defenders Masterworks volume 2


By Steve Englehart, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, Jim Starlin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4216-4

The Defenders were the last of the big star-name conglomerate super-groups, and would eventually number amongst their membership almost every hero – and some few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No real surprise there, since the initial line-up was composed of the company’s major league bad-boys: misunderstood and mad, outcast and bad and so often actually dangerous to know.

The genesis of the team derived from their status as publicly distrusted “villains”, and they never achieved the “in-continuity” fame or acceptance of other teams, but that simply seemed to leave the creators open to taking a few more chances and playing the occasional narrative wild card.

This second sterling and sturdy hardcover (and eBook) masterworks collection assembles a veritable host of Fights ‘n’ Tights wonders from a large list of sources: Defenders #7-16, Giant Sized Defenders #1 and Avengers #115-118, encompassing cover-dates August 1973 to October 1974 and commences after author Steve Englehart shares recollections of his groundbreaking tenure in an informative Introduction, after which Defenders #7 jumps right in as Len Wein co-scripts with Englehart and Frank Bolle inks Sal Buscema in ‘War Below the Waves!’

Here tempestuous ex-Avenger Hawkeye temporarily climbs aboard the “non-team” bandwagon to help defeat the undersea threat of Attuma and soviet renegade the Red Ghost; a bombastic battle to usurp the Sub-Mariner of his titles and kingdom concluded a month later in ‘…If Atlantis Should Fall!’ with Englehart once more providing all the words and Frank McLaughlin inking…

Since Defenders #4 the forward-thinking scripter had been putting players in place for a hugely ambitious cross-over experiment: one that would turn the comics industry on its head, and next here comes a little prologue taken from the end of Avengers #115 which finally set the ball rolling.

Drawn by Bob Brown & Mike Esposito, ‘Alliance Most Foul!’ sees interdimensional despot the Dread Dormammu and Asgardian god of Evil Loki unite to search for an ultimate weapon to give them final victory against their foes. They resolve to trick the Defenders into securing the six component parts by “revealing” that the reconstructed Evil Eye could restore the petrified Black Knight.

That plan was initiated at the end of Defenders #8: a brief opening chapter in ‘The Avengers/Defenders Clash’ entitled ‘Deception!’ as a message from the spirit of the Black Knight is intercepted by the twin entities of evil, leading directly to ‘Betrayal!’ in Avengers #116 (by Englehart Brown & Esposito) wherein the World’s Mightiest Heroes – hunting for their missing comrade – “discover” their old enemies Hulk and Sub-Mariner may have turned the Black Knight to stone.

This and third chapter ‘Silver Surfer Vs. the Vision and the Scarlet Witch’ see the rival teams split up: one to gather the scattered sections of the Eye and the other to stop them at all costs…

Defenders #9 (with Buscema & McLaughlin art) begins with tense recap ‘Divide …and Conquer’ before ‘The Invincible Iron Man Vs. Hawkeye the Archer’ and ‘Dr. Strange Vs. the Black Panther and Mantis’ sheds more suspicion and doubt on the vile villains’ subtle master-plan…

Avengers #117 ‘Holocaust’, ‘Swordsman Vs. the Valkyrie’ and crucial turning point ‘Captain America Vs. Sub-Mariner’ (Brown & Esposito) lead to the penultimate clash in Defenders #10 (Buscema & Bolle) in ‘Breakthrough! The Incredible Hulk Vs. Thor’ and the inevitable joining together of the warring camps in ‘United We Stand!’, but tragically too late as Dormammu seizes the reconstructed Evil Eye and uses its power to merge his monstrous realm with Earth.

Avengers #118 delivers the cathartic climactic conclusion in ‘To the Death’ (Brown, Esposito & Giacoia) wherein all the heroes of the Marvel Universe resist the demonic invasion as Avengers and Defenders plunge deep into the Dark Dimension itself to end forever the threat of the evil gods (or for the moment, at least…).

With the overwhelming cosmic threat over the victorious Defenders attempt to use the Eye to cure their petrified comrade, only to discover that his spirit has found a new home in the 12th century. In #11’s ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight’ (Bolle inks), the group battle black magic during the Crusades, fail to retrieve the Knight and acrimoniously go their separate ways – as did overworked departing scripter Englehart…

With issue #12 Len Wein assumed the writer’s role, starting a run of slightly more traditional costumed capers as Sal Buscema & Jack Abel illustrated the return of the mind-bending Xemnu in ‘The Titan Strikes Back!’ against a pared-down cast consisting of Strange, Valkyrie and the Hulk.

A bona fide hit, the non-team were part of a big experiment in extra-value comics that began with opens with Giant Sized Defenders #1 (July1974): a stunning combination of highly readable reprints wrapped in a classy framing sequence by Tony Isabella, Jim Starlin & Al Milgrom. The vintage thrills commence with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers’ ‘Banished to Outer Space’ from The Incredible Hulk #3, followed by magnificent 1950s Bill Everett Sub-Mariner fantasy-feast ‘Bird of Prey!’

From there the focus switches to Dr. Strange and the Denny O’Neil/Steve Ditko mini-masterpiece ‘To Catch a Magician!’ (Strange Tales #145) before the concoction concludes with a blockbusting battle as the star trio, sorcerer’s apprentice Clea and the valiant Valkyrie dispatch a self-inflicted mystic menace.

After a splendid double-page pin-up by Sal Buscema the regular epics resume for a spectacular Saves-the-World struggle against the villainous Squadron Sinister that opens in ‘For Sale: One Planet… Slightly Used!’ (featuring an early inking job for Klaus Janson) and concludes in the Dan Green-embellished ‘And Who Shall Inherit the Earth?’ as Marvel’s Batman-analogue Nighthawk unites with the Defenders to defeat his murderous former team-mates and aquatic alien marauder Nebulon, the Celestial Man.

Defenders #15 initiates a two-part duel with manic mutant Magneto who first institutes a ‘Panic Beneath the Earth!’ – courtesy of Wein, Buscema & Janson – leading X-Men mentor Charles Xavier to enlist the outcast heroes’ aid. The concluding clash includes the insidious Brotherhood of Evil and ‘Alpha, the Ultimate Mutant’ (inked by Esposito) as well as the apparent end of true master of evil…

Also included here are behind-the-scenes treats including contemporary house ads, creator biographies and previous collection covers by Carlos Pacheco, John Romita and Richard Isanove.

For the longest time, The Defenders was the best and weirdest superhero comicbook in the business, and if you love superheroes but crave something just a little different these yarns are for you… and the best is still to come.
© 1973, 1974, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spidey volume 1: First Day


By Robbie Thompson, Nick Bradshaw, André Lima Araújo & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9675-4

Since its earliest days the company now known as Marvel has always courted the youngest comicbook consumers. Whether through animated tie-ins and licensed properties such as Terrytoons Comics, Mighty Mouse, Duckula, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Disney licenses and a myriad of others, or original characters such as Tessie the Typist, Millie the Model, Homer the Happy Ghost and Calvin, the House of Ideas has always understood the necessity of cultivating the next generation of readers.

These days, however, kids’ interest titles are on the wane and, with the Marvel Universe’s characters all over screens large and small, the company usually prefers to create child-friendly versions of its own proprietary pantheon, making that eventual hoped-for transition to more mature comics as painless as possible.

In the 1980s Marvel published an entire line of kiddie titles through its Star Comics line and in 2003 the company created a Marvel Age line which updated and retold classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and mixed it in with the remnants of its manga-inspired Tsunami imprint: again all intended for a younger readership.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming the Marvel Adventures line, with titles reflecting the most popular characters and whatever was on TV screens at the time.

In 2012 these were superseded by specific comicbook titles tied to Disney XD TV shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”.

Today’s featured item – Spidey: First Day – is a horse of a different colour: similar but different…

Rather than simply crafting a wallcrawler for younger sensibilities, this iteration – presumably sparked by the teenaged, light-adventure version seen in the Spider-Man: Homecoming movie – innovates and modernizes by looking back and succeeds in recapturing a sense of the madcap gaiety that counterbalanced the action and pathos of the earliest Lee/Ditko stories. This series is all about thrills and fun…

Scripted throughout by Robbie Thompson and re-presenting Spidey #1-6 (originally released from February to July 2016), the non-stop, youngster-appropriate mayhem commences with a fresh introduction to ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, illustrated by Nick Bradshaw and colourists Jim Campbell & Rachelle Rosenberg

Firmly set in The Now, our hero is still (or rather once again) a callow schoolboy, fighting crime and making enemies between classes. He’s also a crimefighting sensation of the internet and social media when he puts on his blue-&-red duds. As ever news magnate J. Jonah Jameson is there to vilify the webslinger at every opportunity…

Sadly, thanks to the kid’s double life, Peter Parker’s grades – except for science and maths – are tanking now, and the secret superhero is forced to accept Popular Girl Gwen Stacy as a much-needed history tutor.

Not only is she the hottest girl in school but she also decks Flash Thompson with one punch after the jocks starts bullying “Puny” Parker again…

Things really kick off later, on a field trip to techno-industrial wonderland Oscorp, when a madman calling himself Doctor Octopus busts in and the neophyte Spider-Man is compelled to intervene and drive the maniac away.

That’s when uber-creepy Norman Osborn introduces himself to Peter, predicting big things for Peter…

The really smart trick in this series is that battles with other supervillains such as Kraven the Hunter and Mysterio are backdrop: referenced simply as having occurred in other moments, allowing Peter Parker’s life and character room to develop, with only new battles dictating how certain villainous players have evolved from standard Spider-Man mythology…

A month later Peter is still coming to terms with his double life when ‘Enter the Sandman’ finds him battling a grittily shapeshifting bank robber, after which New York is overrun by tiny reptiles as old ally Dr. Curt Connors is once again tragically transformed into the ravenous ravening Lizard

In Spidey #4 André Lima Araújo assumes the art duties with ‘Doomsday Off!’ as Peter stumbles into an art robbery. He might even have stopped the thief… if the bad guy hadn’t been Doctor Doom! Tracking down the ultimate villain does no good and Spidey is once again soundly thrashed, but after the Amazing Arachnid gets a pep talk from a little kid, he tries again and achieves a partial victory…

‘Dead End’ (with Java Tartaglia joining the colouring squad) sees the first inconclusive confrontation with a major nut job called the Green Goblin after which the ebullient effervescent escapades conclude with a first team-up in ‘Making the Grade’, as the mysterious Spider-Man intervenes when flying felon The Vulture burgles Stark Industries.

The Invincible Iron Man shows up but naturally gets the wrong idea – as does SHIELD agent Phil Coulson – before the situation is straightened out. One crisis over and feeling cocky, the very junior hero – smitten with Gwen Stacy – even asks the Armoured Avenger for dating tips but that doesn’t go so well…

Featuring a covers and variants gallery by Bradshaw, Lima Araújo, Skottie Young, Humbert Ramos & Edgar Delgado, Oliver Coipel, Julian Totino Tedesco and Gyimah Gariba, this a sublimely refreshing reinterpretation of an evergreen heroic icon offering an intriguing and certainly more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born two and three generations or more away from those far-distant 1960s originating events. These Spidey super-stories are outrageously enjoyable yarns, and well worth seeking out.
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Epic Collection volume 3: Bucky Reborn


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, John Romita Sr., Joe Sinnott, Frank Giacoia, Wally Wood, Dick Ayers, Tom Palmer, Bill Everett & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0419-7

During the Marvel Renaissance of the early 1960’s Stan Lee & Jack Kirby tried the same tactic that had worked so tellingly for DC Comics, but with mixed results. After all, Julie Schwartz had scored incredible successes with his revised versions of National’s Golden Age greats, so it seemed natural to try and revive the characters that had dominated the Timely/Atlas stable in those halcyon days.

A new youthful Human Torch premiered as part of the revolutionary Fantastic Four, and in the fourth issue of that title the Sub-Mariner resurfaced after a twenty-year amnesiac hiatus (everyone concerned had apparently forgotten the first abortive attempt to revive an “Atlas” superhero line in the mid-1950s).

The Torch was promptly given his own solo feature in Strange Tales from issue #101 on and in #114 the flaming teen fought an acrobat pretending to be Captain America. With reader-reaction strong, the real deal returned in Avengers #4 and, after a captivating and centre-stage hogging run in that title, was granted his own series as half of the “split-book” Tales of Suspense with #59 (cover-dated November 1964). From there on, the only way was up…

This resoundingly resolute full-colour Epic Collection re-presents Captain America #120-#139 spanning December 1969 to June 1971 and opens after the Sentinel of Liberty thwarts the Red Skull’s greatest vengeance scheme: having just trained a future partner in the form of Sam Wilson AKA the Falcon

As 1970 dawned Marvel imposed a moratorium on continued stories for most of their titles, and Cap – having returned to his hectic twin lives as SHIELD Agent and mighty Avenger – here hops on the disaffected youth/teen revolt bandwagon for a series of slight but highly readable puff-pieces promising nothing but delivering much.

Kicking off is ‘Crack-up on Campus!’ by Stan Lee, Gene Colan & Joe Sinnott; an odd mélange of student radicalism and espionage that sees itinerant Steve Rogers become a Physical Education teacher to foil a scheme by the sinister Modok and his AIM cohorts.

A demented bio-chemist then rediscovers the Super Soldier serum that had originally created Captain America in ‘The Coming of the Man-Brute!’ Sadly, the demented boffin picks the wrong candidate to become his Blockbuster stooge…

Spider-Man’s old sparring partner mugs the wrong guy in #122’s ‘The Sting of the Scorpion!’ and falls before Cap’s bludgeoning fists before issue #123 taps into the seemingly eternal “battle of the sexes” zeitgeist with ‘Suprema, The Deadliest of the Species!’ turning her espionage-tinged attentions to the Star-Spangled Avenger…

AIM returns with their latest hi-tech human weapon in ‘Mission: Stop the Cyborg!’ before Captain America #125 dips into more sensational contemporary headline fare when the Sentinel of Liberty is ‘Captured… in Viet Nam!’… although the mystery villain du jour is anything but politically motivated…

Frank Giacoia returned to ink the Avenger’s long-anticipated reunion with his erstwhile associate and partner in #126’s ‘The Fate of… the Falcon!’: gleefully tapping into the blossoming “blaxsploitation” trend to recount an entertaining (although, sadly, not always intentionally) caper of gangsters and radicals in funky old Harlem that still has a kick to it. Just play the (original) theme from Shaft whilst reading it…

Still working off-the-books for super-scientific government spy-agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division) Cap demands ‘Who Calls Me Traitor?’ (#127, July 1970, by Lee, Colan & Wally Wood), which finds the veteran hero framed and manipulated by friend and foe alike in the search for a double agent in the ranks, after which the embittered Avenger drops out and decides to “discover America” – as so many kids were doing – on the back of a freewheeling motorcycle.

‘Mission: Stamp Out Satan’s Angels!’ (inked by Dick Ayers) finds the Red, White and Blue wanderer barely clear the city limits before encountering a nasty gang of bikers terrorising a small-town rock festival, before his oldest enemy resurfaces to exact ‘The Vengeance of… the Red Skull’ as a simple by-product of his plane to start a Middle East war…

Issue #130 finds Cap ‘Up Against the Wall!’ as old foe Batroc the Leaper leads the Porcupine and Whirlwind in a fully paid-for ambush by villain unknown just as the Sentinel of the establishment is attempting to defuse an imminent college riot. The mysterious contractor then resorts to a far subtler tactic: launching a psychological assault in ‘Bucky Reborn!’

With the mystery manipulator exposed, the tragic true story behind the resurrected sidekick comes out in ‘The Fearful Secret of Bucky Barnes!’– a powerful, complex drama involving ruthless science terrorists A.I.M., their murderous master Modok and even Doctor Doom

Back in New York, Advanced Idea Mechanics again feature prominently in #133 as Modok foments racial unrest by sending a killer cyborg to create ‘Madness in the Slums!’, allowing Cap to reunite with his protégé the Falcon – whose name even began appearing on the cover from the next issue.

Operating as full-fledged official partners, the dynamic duo battle ghetto gangsters in ‘They Call Him… Stone-Face!’ (Captain America and the Falcon #134, with Ayers inking), before the Avenger introduces his new main man to S.H.I.E.L.D. in the chilling ‘More Monster than Man!’ (inked by Tom Palmer). Here a love-struck scientist turns himself into an awesome anthropoid to steal riches, only to end up in ‘The World Below’ (with the legendary Bill Everett applying his brilliant inks to Colan’s moody pencils) as a collateral casualty of the Mole Man’s latest battle with Cap.

With the Falcon coming to the rescue, the Star-Spangled Avenger is back on the surface when his new partner vaingloriously opts ‘To Stalk the Spider-Man’ – a typical all-action Marvel misunderstanding that is forestalled just in time for Stone-Face to return in #138’s ‘It Happens in Harlem!’ as John Romita the elder resumed his illustrative association with Captain America for the beginning of a lengthy and direction-changing saga…

Which will have to wait for the next volume to continue…

Rounding out the riotous adventure, bonus extras include the cover to the all-reprint Captain America Annual #1, assorted house ads, a selection of Colan’s original art pages and covers, rejected covers and sketches by Marie Severin…

Any retrospective or historical re-reading is going to turn up a few cringe-worthy moments, but these tales of matchless courage and indomitable heroism are fast-paced, action-packed and illustrated by some of the greatest artists and storytellers American comics has ever produced.

As the nation changed Captain America was finally discovering his proper place in a new era and would once more become unmissable, controversial comicbook reading, as we shall see when I get around to reviewing the next volume…
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt


By J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck, Bob McLeod & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2330-9 (HC)                    978-0-7851-3450-3 (TPB)

A character with the longevity and sheer number of separate venues to shine in as Spider-Man throws up a lot of dross over the decades, but is also infinitely evergreen when thoughtfully handled by top flight creators. Sometimes the writers and artists involved don’t even realise at the time that their crafting something memorable and timelessly special…

Kraven’s Last Hunt (originally collected as Spiderman: Fearful Symmetry) is just such a saga and is thankfully handily available in a variety of formats from spiffy hardback to cheap‘n’cheerful trade paperback – and now even as a digital edition for all true sons and daughters of the 21st century…

Heck, there’s even a picture-free novelisation by Neil Kleid out there, but perhaps that’s a step too far for most comics addicts…

The eerie psycho-drama originally ran in the October and November 1987 issues of Web of, Amazing, and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man; following darkly obsessed and suicidal Russian émigré Kraven the Hunter as years of rivalry and constant defeats are turned around, leading the aging monster inexorably to his greatest triumph and ultimate downfall.

In the process the sinister stalker conquers, inters and Oedipally replaces his arch-nemesis, before inevitably succumbing to his own tragic just deserts.

After years of pointless struggle, Kraven here is back-written into an intrinsically noble but twisted relic of a bygone era, whose compulsion to defeat Spider-Man spirals into a demented desire to consume and then become him. The Hunter’s initial success only serves to highlight the fundamental differences between him and his prey, such as how each man deals with the savagely cannibalistic rat/man hybrid Vermin who brutally rampages through the rain-soaked and terrified city in a compelling and efficient sub-plot, or with those ordinary people who impinge upon the lives of protagonist and antagonist equally.

After years of generally C-List villainy, Kraven’s latest plan initial succeeds in ‘Coffin’ (Web of Spider-Man #31) after the Hunter ritualistically devours his foe’s totems before ambushing the webspinner…

In ‘Crawling’ (Amazing Spider-Man #31), sewer-dwelling psychopath Vermin begins brutally marauding through a sodden city, drawing delusional “Spider the Hunter” – now wearing his foe’s pelt (for which read Spider-Man costume) – into conflict. Kraven is attempting to take his beaten enemy’s place even as newlywed Mary Jane Watson-Parker starts really worrying over the current whereabouts of her husband…

When she sees Spider-Man savagely thrashing a pack of street thugs, she knows the man standing before her isn’t Peter…

‘Descent’ (Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #131) sees Kraven capture Vermin and finally acknowledge that his own victory is not what he wanted, before seemingly dead and buried Peter Parker literally resurfaces in ‘Resurrection’ (WoS #31) to battle his own shattering psychological demons. Final scores are settled in ‘Thunder’ (ASM #32), before all the horror comes to a shocking halt in PPSS #132’s epic confrontation ‘Ascending’

Despite its heavy psychological underpinnings, Fearful Symmetry/Kraven’s Last Hunt is a gripping helter-skelter thrill ride, simultaneously moody and fast-paced. Writer J.M. DeMatteis curtails his tendency to overwrite, stifles his leanings toward snappy one-liners or maudlin sentimentality and lets terror and trauma rule, giving art team Mike Zeck & Bob McLeod plenty of opportunities to impress with traditional yet spectacular comic art set-pieces.

This series electrified Spider-Man fans when it first appeared and it has lost none of its power today. This is a must-have item for any fan of the Amazing Arachnid or the superhero medium.
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