Black Panther: Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Jack Kirby, Ed Hannigan, Jim Shooter, Chris Claremont, Jerry Bingham, John Byrne & various (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0020-5 (HB)

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 his debut.

The Black Panthers rule over a fantastic African paradise which isolated itself from the rest of the world millennia ago. Blessed with unimaginable resources – both natural and not so much – the nation of Wakanda developed uninterrupted into the most technologically advanced human nation on Earth, utterly unmolested by rapacious European imperialism.

The country has also never been conquered and the primary reason is an unbroken line of divinely-sponsored warrior kings who safeguard united tribes. The other is a certain miraculous super-mineral found nowhere else on Earth…

In contemporary times that chieftain is T’Challa: an unbeatable, super-smart, feline-empowered strategic genius who divides his time between ruling at home and serving abroad in superhero teams such as The Avengers, Fantastic Force, The Illuminati and The Ultimates beside costumed champions such as Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Captain Marvel, Thor and Captain America

This stunning hardback collection – also available in eBook and digital formats – gathers the stories from Black Panther volume 1 #1-15 (January 1977 to May 1979) which initially disappointed a legion of fans who were expecting a conclusion or continuance to the long-lauded Don MacGregor epic ‘The Panther Versus The Klan’.

That convoluted yarn had been abruptly cancelled the previous year, but happily this tome also includes the contents of Marvel Premiere #51-53 (December 1979-April 1980) which eventually provided an ending to the Klan clash and an acceptable in-universe explanation as to why wise and noble T’Challa abruptly dropped his hunt for answers and abandoned his adored beloved Monica Lynne

There’s even a little extra bonus yarn originally seen in Marvel Team-Up #100…

Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel in the mid 1970’s was much hyped at the time but swiftly proved to be controversial. His new creations (The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, 2001, Machine Man) found friends rapidly, but his tenure on established earlier creations Captain America and Black Panther divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on titles as another “Day One”. His commitment was to wholesome eye-popping adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment. Combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill that makes for a captivating read, but will never satisfy those readers fully committed to the minutia of the Marvel Universe.

Beginning with Black Panther #1, what they got was a rollercoaster ride of classic Kirby concept-overload as the Hereditary King of a high-tech Lost Kingdom gallantly pursued fabulous time machines, fought future men and secret samurai clans, thwarted the plots of super-rich artefact stealers and foiled schemes to nuke his hidden homeland, usurp his rule and even consume his faithful subjects…

Further discussion of that comicbook culture shock can be found in the Introduction by Christopher Priest – who took everything that had gone before and made the Panther his own after reviving the character in 1999 as part of the company’s mature-oriented Marvel Knights imprint…

However, this feline funfest is mostly about frantic action and begins at full pelt with a re-introductory romp that spotlights diminutive treasure hunter Abner Little. This devious gentleman entices T’Challa into a search for ‘King Solomon’s Frog!’ after introducing himself as a friend and colleague of the Panther’s grandfather Azzari the Wise

Soon the mismatched pair are in hot pursuit of an artefact that sows death and destruction in its wake. The ancient brass amphibian has the ability to open time-portals, bringing lethal threats from other eras, but its real capacity for catastrophe comes from Little’s rival Collectors, who bring astounding ordnance and unsurpassed riches into play in their own efforts to possess the mystic time-machine.

Most ruthless and relentless is Queen Zanda of Narobia, who expertly ambushes the questers with a highly-skilled mercenary taskforce before accidentally triggering the frog into shanghaiing a hyper-evolved walking WMD from his own far-distant era…

Reluctantly uniting to sedate ‘The Six-Million Year Man’, T’Challa, Little and Zanda then race to uncover King Solomon’s tomb where a twin of the Brass Frog rests. This particular item possesses the most welcome function of returning objects and creatures to their point of origin…

Their ‘Race Against Time’ is exacerbated as the groggy future-man revives just as the searchers locate the tomb, unleashing psionic hell and awakening King Solomon’s formidable funereal guardian Ogar. Thankfully, teamwork saves the day and the newly-found other frog restores order, if not sanity…

Tragically for the tomb-raiders, the time to determine if they are ‘Friends or Foes’ swiftly passes because the calamitous clashes have destabilised the long-lost treasury trove. With mighty explosions wracking the site, it is all T’Challa can do to drag his artefact-lusting companions to safety before Armageddon occurs…

Unfortunately for the Panther, he has proved his worth and – with Wakanda still a nuclear target – ultimate ineffectuality. When the assembled Collectors – Zanda, Count Zorba, Colonel Pigman and withered coffin-dodger Silas Mourner – see the warrior king in battle they determine he must win for them the ultimate prize…

The ‘Quest for the Sacred Water-Skin!!’ begins as T’Challa and equally-reluctant Abner Little set off to find a fabled hidden land where a sect of Samurai warriors have dwelt for centuries, sustained by honour, their martial arts and a literal fountain of youth.

Overcoming monsters and warriors, T’Challa establishes a bond of honour with the last proponents of Bushido, but sadly his venal companion upsets the applecart by secretly stealing ‘A Cup of Youth’

Meanwhile in Wakanda, internal trouble flares when the Panther’s half-brother General Jakarra makes a power-grab, bolstered by a sacrilegious utilisation of raw vibranium…

Black Panther #7 sees the hero and his scurrilous sidekick escape the Samurai city even as ‘Drums!’ sound across Wakanda and the incredible secret origin of the Panther Cult and Vibranium Mound are revealed.

When the awesome sky metal first crashed to Earth in primordial times it transformed many men into monsters. Thankfully mighty chief Bashenga – taking the black cat as his totem – created a force to destroy the creatures and police the metal: preventing alien infection from spreading and forever after shielding his people through a line of dedicated defenders.

As the latest king heads for a final confrontation with the Collectors, T’Challa has no way of knowing his regent N’Gassi has been captured or that Jakarra has gained deadly power through exposure to the gene-warping force of raw Vibranium…

Having battled his way free, T’Challa heads for home. His people, however, are already suffering the increasingly crazed depredations of a Jakarra no longer even remotely human.

Further delayed by a mercy mission – plucking dying men from the sea – the king bemoans his absence whilst half a world away, N’Gassi takes a desperate gamble and “requests” that the sedentary royal cousins – Ishanta, Joshua Itobo, Khanata and Zuni – step up and lead the fight against Jakarra. But are they Panthers or Pussycats?’

Surprising everybody with a show of solidarity and unconventional tactics, the ‘Black Musketeers’ manage to contain the monstrous usurper until T’Challa returns, but his arrival coincides with the loss of Jakarra’s last vestige of humanity. Now a shambling beast resolved that ‘This World Shall Die!’ in an Earth-shattering detonation, the horrific abomination is barely defeated inside the Mound by a true Black Panther who does not escape the mineral’s mutagenic properties…

Issue #11 finds T’Challa recovering from his struggle against Jakarra and plagued by eerie recurring dreams of future battles. As citizens begin vanishing all over Wakanda – including Prince Khanata – the medical team reaches the conclusion that the king has developed some form of Extra-Sensory Perception.

This new gift – or perhaps curse? – leads the Panther to the abductors’ HQ where phantasmal madman ‘Kiber the Cruel’ is converting stolen humans to energy and consuming them…

Following ‘The Kiber Clue’, T’Challa strives mightily to save his kinsman and subjects, but arrives too late for anything but vengeance…

As Jim Shooter, Ed Hannigan, Jerry Bingham & Gene Day take over from the abruptly departed Kirby, the saga swiftly wraps up with the true nature of Kiber grotesquely exposed and the Panther’s judgement delivered in #13’s ‘What is… and What Should Never Be’

With Hannigan scripting, the Black Panther resoundingly re-entered the mainstream Marvel universe in ‘The Beasts in the Jungle!’ (#14 March 1979); opening Wakanda’s first Embassy in New York City, applying to the United Nations and rejoining his former allies in the Avengers.

Soon smothered in red tape and diplomatic hurdles, T’Challa welcomes working with his superhero guests but is quickly embroiled in a deadly scheme by old enemy Klaw, the Master of Sound, and blithely unaware that other relationships are about to be renewed…

After the resurgent villain battles the World’s Mightiest Heroes to a standstill, T’Challa manages to inflict the ‘Revenge of The Black Panther!’ in the final issue (May 1979), yet leaves everything on a cliffhanging note as Monic Lynne breaks into the Wakandan Embassy…

After years in limbo, Don McGregor’s Klan storyline was revisited and concluded when try-out title Marvel Premiere declared “The Return of the Black Panther” with issue #51 (December 1979).

Opening minutes after Black Panther #15 ended, ‘The Killing of Windeagle!’ sees T’Challa arriving back at the Embassy only to be attacked by an unknown flying warrior who claims to be an old foe. After subduing the assailant, the King experiences even more turmoil as Monica Lynne and Georgia journalist Kevin Trublood accost him. Although his staff all seem familiar with the woman, T’Challa has no memory of her…

Granting an audience with the couple, the Panther hears how Monica’s sister Angela was murdered, and how the death seemed to involve both the Ku Klux Klan and rival offshoot the Dragon’s Circle. As he listens, T’Challa hears that for a time he was one of those murder investigators, but his mind is clouded and he recalls none of it…

Suddenly Windeagle attacks again but as the Panther fights back his opponent is assassinated by a sniper…

Working with the police, T’Challa uncovers the sordid history of a petty gangster who somehow became a flying fury and establishes links to yet another organisation: The Spiritual Light Society. At every turn events seem to be pushing him towards one inescapable conclusion: Monica’s ridiculous story is true and someone has tampered with his mind and memory…

When they are ambushed again by armed thugs – later identified as Klansmen – their spirited resistance is supplemented by more sniper fire and the Panther’s ‘Journey Through the Past!’ impels him to invade a Klan gathering. This conclave is subsequently violently disrupted by a costumed maniac dubbed the Soul Strangler

Despite not remembering, the Panther believes he has deduced the nature of the civil war between the KKK and Dragon’s circle, and more importantly, who killed Angela. With resignation and trepidation, T’Challa, Kevin and Monica head for a showdown in the Deep South…

Inked by Alan Gordon, Marvel Premiere #53 (April 1980) delivered ‘The Ending, In Anger!’ as T’Challa visits Monica’s family home and the dam in his memory finally shatters. Acting with clarity at last, the Black Panther tracks down the villains who captured and brainwashed him during his previous visit, exposes a tawdry truth behind all the death and intimidation and brings a kind of closure to all the innocents touched by the tragedy…

With the major story-arcs at last concluded it was back to relative obscurity and bit-parts for the Panther, with the exception of a short tale that would have huge repercussions on the hero’s life in the future.

‘Cry… Vengeance!’ by Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Bob McLeod first appeared in Marvel Team-Up #100 (December 1980) and saw African X-Man Storm targeted by assassins. Easily defeating her attackers, she learned they were hired by Boer hardman Andreas de Ruyter

This sent her mind winging back to her trek across Africa as teenager: an arduous trek made easier after she linked up with a young boy on his own rite of passage ritual. His name was T’Challa and she learned that he was a prince only after South African mercenaries led by de Ruyter tried to kidnap the boy for political advantage.

After driving the thugs off, the youngsters spent a brief but idyllic time together before their paths diverged and duty pulled them apart.

After decades apart, with the villain back seeking vengeance, Ororo reunited with the boy the world now knew as the Black Panther to end the maniac’s threat forever…

This collection is also augmented by Kirby Editorial pages, house ads, a potted history of the Black Panther from #14, the Rich Buckler & McLeod cover to the never-released BP #16 and unused Bingham pencil pages.

An explosive rocket ride of thrills, spills, chills and too-long delayed gratification, these long-lost classics confirm the Black Panther as one of the most complex and versatile characters in comics and simply scream “Read me! Read me!” So you should and you must…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2001, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Luke Cage, Power Man Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Len Wein, Tony Isabella, Don McGregor, Bill Mantlo, Georges Pérez, Steve Englehart, George Tuska, Ron Wilson, Rich Buckler, Arvell Jones, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0343-5

As is so often the case, it takes a few a bold creative types and radically changing economics to really promote lasting change. In America, with declining comics sales at a time of enhanced social awareness and rising Black Consciousness, cash – if not cashing in – was probably the trigger for “the Next Step” in the evolution of superheroes.

In the opening years of the 1970s, contemporary “Blacksploitation” cinema and novels had fired up commercial interests throughout the USA and in that atmosphere of outlandish dialogue, daft outfits and barely concealed – but completely justified – outrage, an angry black man with a shady past and apparently dubious morals debuted as Luke Cage, Hero for Hire in the summer of 1972.

A year later the Black Panther finally got his own series in Jungle Action #5 and Blade: Vampire Hunter debuted in Tomb of Dracula #10.

Cage’s origin was typically bombastic: Lucas, a hard-case inmate at brutal Seagate Prison always claimed to have been framed and his inflexible, uncompromising attitude made mortal enemies of the racist guards Rackham and Quirt whilst not exactly endearing him to the rest of the prison population – such as out-&-out bad-guys Shades and Comanche

The premiere issue was written by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by George Tuska & Billy Graham (with some initial assistance from Roy Thomas and John Romita) detailing how a new warden promised to reform the hell-hole into a proper, legal penal institution.

New prison doctor Noah Burstein then convinced Lucas to participate in a radical experiment in exchange for a parole hearing, having heard the desperate con’s tale of woe…

Lucas had grown up in Harlem, a tough kid who’d managed to stay honest even when his best friend Willis Stryker had not. They remained friends even though they walked different paths – at least until a woman came between them. To get rid of his romantic rival, Stryker planted drugs and had Lucas shipped off to jail.

While he was there his girl Reva – who had never given up on him- was killed when she got in the way of bullets meant for Stryker…

With nothing left to lose Lucas underwent Burstein’s process – an experiment in cell-regeneration – but Rackham sabotaged it, hoping to kill the con before he could expose the guard’s illegal treatment of convicts. It all went haywire and something incredible happened. Lucas, now incredibly strong and pain-resistant, punched his way out of the lab and the through the prison walls, only to be killed in hail of gunfire. His body plunged over a cliff and was never recovered…

Months later, a vagrant prowling the streets of New York City stumbled into a robbery. Almost casually downing the felon, he accepted a cash reward from the grateful victim, prompting a bright idea…

Super-strong, bullet-proof, street-wise and honest, Lucas would hide in plain sight while planning his revenge on Stryker. Since his only skill was fighting, he became a private paladin – A Hero For Hire

This second sturdy hardback (or eBook) volume collects #17-31 of Cage’s adventures – Luke Cage, Power Man – spanning February 1974-May 1976 of the breakthrough series and begins with fond and informative Introduction ‘Always Forward’ from series scripter Tony Isabella.

Whilst making allowances for the colourful, often ludicrous dialogue necessitated by the Comics Code’s sanitising of “street-talking Jive” this was probably the edgiest series of Marvel’s early years, but even so, after a few years the tense action and peripheral interactions with the greater Marvel Universe led to a minor rethink and the title was altered, if not the basic premise…

The private detective motif proved a brilliant stratagem in generating stories for a character perceived as a reluctant champion at best and outright anti-hero by nature. It allowed Cage to maintain an outsider’s edginess but also meant that adventure literally walked through his shabby door every issue.

Cage had set up an office over a movie house on 42nd Street and met a young man who would become his greatest friend: D.W. Griffith – nerd, film freak and plucky white sidekick. Noah Burstein resurfaced, running a rehab clinic on the dirty, deadly streets around Times Square, aided by a beautiful woman Dr. Claire Temple. Soon she too was an integral part of Luke’s new life…

Following a calamitous clash with many of his oldest enemies, most old business was settled and a partial re-branding of America’s premier black crusader began in issue #17. The mercenary aspect was downplayed (at least on covers) as Luke Cage, Power Man – by Len Wein, George Tuska & Billy Graham – got another new start during a tumultuous team-up in ‘Rich Man: Iron Man… Power Man: Thief!’

Here the still “For Hire” hero is commissioned to test Tony Stark’s security by stealing his latest invention. Sadly, neither Stark nor his alter ego Iron Man know anything about it and the result is another classic hero-on-hero duel

Vince Colletta joined the team as inker for #18’s ‘Havoc on the High Iron!’ as Cage takes on a murderous high-tech Steeplejack before the next two issues offered the still-wanted fugitive hero a tantalising chance to clear his name.

‘Call Him… Cottonmouth!’ introduced a crimelord with inside information of the frame-up perpetrated by Willis Stryker in issue #1. Tragically, that hope of a new clean life is snatched away after all Cage’s explosive, two-fisted efforts in the Isabella scripted follow-up ‘How Like a Serpent’s Tooth…’

Isabella, Wein, Ron Wilson & Colletta collaborated on ‘The Killer with My Name!’ which sees Cage attacked by old Avengers villain Power Man who understandably wanted his nom de guerre back, but who changed his mind after waking up from the resultant bombastic battle that ensued…

Psychotic archenemy Stiletto returned with his equally high-tech balmy brother Discus in ‘The Broadway Mayhem of 1974’ (Isabella, Wilson & Colletta), subsequently revealing a startling connection to Cage’s origins…

All this constant carnage and non-stop tension had sent sometime romantic interest Claire Temple scurrying for points distant, and finally in LCPM #23 Cage and D.W. went looking for her, promptly fetching up in a fascistic planned-community run by old foe and deranged military terrorist Gideon Mace.

‘Welcome to Security City’ (inked by Dave Hunt) fed directly into a two-part premier for another African American superhero as Cage and D.W. tracked Claire to the Ringmaster’s Circus of Crime in #24’s ‘Among Us Walks… a Black Goliath! (Isabella, Tuska & Hunt)…

Bill Foster was a highly educated black supporting character; a biochemist working with Henry Pym (the scientist-superhero known as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath and/or Yellowjacket over the decades of his costumed career). Foster first appeared in Avengers #32 (September 1966), before fading from view when Pym eventually regained his size-changing abilities…

Carrying on his own researches in size-shifting, Foster was now trapped as a giant, unable to shrink to normal size, and Cage discovered he was also Claire’s former husband. When the experiments trapped him at fifteen feet tall, she had rushed back to Bill’s colossal side to help find a cure.

After Luke turned up, passions were stoked, resulting in another classic heroes-clash moment until the mesmeric Ringmaster hypnotised all the combatants, intent on using their strength to feather his own three-ring nest. ‘Crime and Circuses’ (by Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Wilson & Fred Kida) saw the heroes helpless until Claire came to the rescue, before making her choice and returning to New York with Luke.

Foster soon thereafter gravitated to his own short-run series, becoming Marvel’s fourth African American costumed hero under the heavy-handed and rather obvious sobriquet Black Goliath

The timely spoofing of a popular ‘70’s TV show provided the theme for ‘Night Shocker!’ (by Steve Englehart, Tuska & Colletta) when Cage stalked an apparent vampire attacking 42nd Street patrons, after which a touching human drama finds Cage forced to subdue a tragically simple-minded but super-powered wrestler in ‘Just a Guy Named “X”!’ (by Mantlo, George Pérez & Al McWilliams, all paying tribute to the Steve Ditko classic from Amazing Spider-Man #38).

A new level of sophistication, social commentary and bizarre villainy began in issue 28 after Don McGregor came aboard to craft a run of macabre crime sagas, opening when Cage meets The Man Who Killed Jiminy Cricket! (illustrated by George Tuska & Vince Colletta).

Hired by a chemical company to stop industrial espionage, Luke fails to prevent the murder of his prime suspect and is somehow defeated by deadly weirdo Cockroach Hamilton (and his beloved shotgun “Josh”) Left for dead in one of the most outré cliffhanger situations ever seen, Cage took two issues to escape as the next issue featured a “deadline-doom” busting fill-in tale…

Produced by Mantlo, Tuska & Colletta Luke Cage, Power Man #29 claimed No One Laughs at Mr. Fish (although the temptation is rather overwhelming) as Cage fights a fin-faced mutated mobster robbing shipping trucks for organised crime analogue The Maggia after which the story already in progress resumes in issue #30 with Look What They’ve Done to Our Lives, Ma! (by McGregor, Rich Buckler, Arvell Jones & Keith Pollard).

Escaping at last from a deadly deathtrap, Cage hunts down Hamilton, and confronts his erudite, sardonic, steel-fanged boss Piranha Jones just after they succeed in stealing a leaking canister of deadly nerve gas…

The dread drama then concludes in Over the Years They Murdered the Stars!’ (Sal Buscema & the legion of deadline busting Crusty Bunkers) as Cage saves his city at the risk of his life before serving just deserts to the eerie evildoers…

Adding extra value to this sterling selection are the cover of reprint one-shot Giant-Size Power Man from 1976; a House ad from 1974 and Dave Cockrum & John Romita’s Cage entry from the 1975 Mighty Marvel Calendar (March, in case you were wondering). Also on view are original cover art by Gil Kane & Mike Esposito (#20 and #24).

Arguably a little dated now (me, Genndy Tartakovsky and others in the know prefer the term “retro”), these tales were nonetheless instrumental in breaking down one more barrier in the complacent, intolerant, WASP-flavoured American comics landscape and their power if not their initial impact remains undiminished to this day. These are tales well worth your time and money.
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur volume 1: BFF


By Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder, Natacha Bustos, Tamra Bonvillain & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0005-2

The Marvel Universe is absolutely stuffed with astounding young geniuses but Lunella Lafayette is probably the most memorable you’ll ever meet. Very young, very gifted and black, she lives with her parents on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and attends Public School 20 Anna Silver on Essex Street.

Thanks to her obsessive interest in astronomy and alien races the other kids mockingly call her “Moon Girl” whilst the brilliant, bored 4th grader’s teachers universally despair because she already knows so much more than they do…

It’s a hassle, but Lunella has bigger problems. Time is running out and all her numerous applications to specialist schools such as the Fantastic Four’s Future Foundation have gone unanswered.

Lunella has deduced that she carries dormant Inhuman genes, and the constantly moving mutagenic Terrigen Cloud recently released into Earth’s atmosphere (See the Infinity and Inhumanity events) could transform her into a monster at any windswept moment…

Thanks to her researches, Lunella is an expert in advanced and extraterrestrial technology and her quest for a cure or Terrigen deterrence procedure finds her perpetually sneaking out after bedtime to hunt down gadgets and detritus left behind after the frequent superhero clashes around town…

That impetus reaches its hope-filled climax when her handmade detectors locate a discarded Kree Omni-Wave Projector in opening chapter ‘Repeat After Me’

At some unspecified time in Earth’s prehistory, various emergent species of hominids eked out a perilous existence beside the last of the great lizards and other primordial giants. Here a wide-eyed innocent of the timid but clever Small Folk saved a baby tyrannosaur from ruthless humanoid hunters dubbed the Killer Folk.

They had already slaughtered its mother and siblings with cunning snares and were torturing the little lizard with blazing firebrands which turn its scorched hide a livid, blazing red when Moon Boy intervened…

Under the roaring light of a blazing volcano boy and beast bonded; becoming inseparable companions. It soon became apparent the scarlet saurian was no ordinary reptile. Blessed with uncanny intelligence and unmatchable ferocity, Devil became an equal partner in a relationship never before seen in the world.

That did not, however, prevent the duo becoming targets for ruthless Killer Folk leader Thorn-Teeth who slaughters and sacrifice beasts and Small Folk to the mystic “Nightstone”. A more advanced observer might remark on how much it resembles a Kree Omni-Wave Projector…

When Moon-Boy steals the dread talisman he is savagely beaten near to death even as – in a gym class on Essex Street – Coach Hrbek confiscates and accidentally activates a fancy doodad Lunella’s been playing with instead of paying attention.

Lights flash, time shreds and universes collide. A hole opens in space and a pack of bizarre monkey men shamble into modern New York. Arriving too late in the antediluvian valley, Devil Dinosaur thunders straight through the portal, intent on avenging his dying comrade…

Arriving in an impossibly confusing new world, Devil reacts in panic but, after causing chaos and carnage, the bombastic beast sniffs little Lunella and snatches her up…

A mad chase ensues in ‘Old Dogs and New Tricks’ as the confused Devil rampages through Manhattan with the outraged Lunella unable to escape or control the ferocious thunder lizard. Meanwhile, the Killer Folk begin quickly adapting to their new environment. Hiding out and observing everything occurring in the Yancy Street Subway Station, they soon prove the old adage about primitive not meaning stupid, and within days have grasped the fundamentals of English and concepts such as money, clothes, street gangs and protection rackets…

Thorn-Teeth also remembers that when they arrived, one of the hairless Small Folk was holding his Nightstone…

In ‘Out of the Frying Pan…’ Moon Girl is having little luck ditching the overly-attentive, attention-drawing Titian T-Rex. Tragically, when she finally does the Killer Folk instantly abduct her and the Omni-Wave…

Their triumph is short-lived as the lizard’s superior sense of smell summons Devil to the rescue, but in the resulting melee the precious device is lost. Growing grudgingly fond of the colossal critter, Lunella then hides Devil in her super-secret lab underneath PS 20, but when a spot of student arson sets the school ablaze, her hideaway is exposed as Devil bursts up through the ground to rescue kids trapped on an upper floor…

The fracas also unfortunately attracts the kind of super hero response Lunella has been dreading. ‘Hulk + Devil Dinosaur = “Nuff Said”’ sees smug, teenaged Gamma-powered Avenger Amadeus Cho butt in with his bulging muscles and inability to listen to reason…

Poor Devil is no match for the Totally Awesome Hulk, forcing Moon Girl to intervene with a few of her own inventions even as, across town, the Killer Folk – proudly carrying the Nightstone – despatch the last obstacle to their supremacy in the Yancy Street criminal underworld…

The Battle of PS 20 reaches its inevitable conclusion and Cho confiscates Devil Dinosaur, leaving Lunella thoroughly grounded and (apparently) behaving like a normal little girl in ‘Know How’. Of course, it’s all a trick and as soon as everybody is lulled into complacency Moon Girl kits herself out with more devious gadgets and busts Devil out from the Top Secret Wing of the Natural History Museum.

She’s on a tight deadline now: her weather-monitoring gear confirms that the Terrigen Cloud is rolling back towards New York…

The spectacular jailbreak results in a ‘Eureka!’ moment, coinciding with the Killer Folk consolidating their grip on the streets and using the Omni-Wave to capture Moon Girl. It also results in Lunella’s mum discovering who broke a dinosaur out of jail and furiously heading to the school for a reckoning with her wayward child…

The final conflict sees out little warrior finally victorious over the Killer Folk, but too late. As Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur roar in triumph on the rooftops, Lunella realises she is trapped outside as the Terrigen cloud descends. Her time and opportunity to create a cure has come and gone…

To Be Continued…

Collecting Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1-6 from January to June 2016, this compelling and immensely entertaining romp is crafted by writers Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder, with art from Natacha Bustos, colours by Tamra Bonvillain and letters from Travis Lanham. With a cover and variants gallery by Trevor Von Eeden, Pascal Campton, Paul Pope, Jeffrey Veregge and Pia Guerra, this addictively engaging trade paperback (also available in eBook formats) affords non-stop fun: a wonderful all-ages Marvel saga that is fresh, thrilling, moving and hilariously funny.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur: BFF is just the kind of tale to lure youngsters into the comics habit and is the perfect tool to seduce jaded older fans back into the fold.
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Epic Collection: volume 2 1966-1968: Mike Murdock Must Die!


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1004-4

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and 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, robots and a plethora of super-villains (and – as seen in this collection – even the occasional monster or alien invasion), quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.

Covering November 1966 – June 1968 and re-presenting Daredevil #21-41, crossover issue Fantastic Four #73, Daredevil Annual #1 – plus a bonus comedy caper from Not Brand Echh #4 – this second compilation (in both trade paperback and eBook formats) sees a marked improvement in overall story quality as scripter Stan Lee begins utilising longer soap operatic plot-threads to string together the unique fight scenes of Colan, who gradually shook off the remnants of his predecessor’s art style.

In a very short time John Romita had made the Sightless Swashbuckler his own before graduating to Spider-Man, so when Colan took over on DD, he initially kept the clipped, solid, nigh-chunky lines for rendering the Man Without Fear, but increasingly drew everything else in his loose, fluid, near-tonal manner. With these tales, his warring styles coalesced and the result was literally poetry in non-stop motion…

Without preamble the action opens with ‘The Tri-Man Lives’ (Lee, Colan, Frank Giacoia & Dick Ayers), containing Gangland themes and malignant machinations whilst sharing focus with super-menaces The Gladiator and Masked Marauder, whose eponymous killer android proves less of a threat than expected…

The villains had sought control of international organised crime syndicate the Maggia but their master plan to murder the Man Without Fear to prove their worthiness to lead goes badly awry after the kidnapped hero refuses to simply lie down and die…

Concluding in #23 with ‘DD Goes Wild!’ the ending sees our hero trapped in Europe, but soon making his way to England and a violent reunion with Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar who has become prime suspect in #24’s chilling puzzle ‘The Mystery of the Midnight Stalker!’

This tale contains my vote for the Most Obnoxious Misrepresentation of Britain in Comicbooks Award as a policeman – sorry, “Bobby” – warns, “STAY BACK, PLEASE! THE MILITIA WILL BE ARRIVING IN JIG TIME!”

After clearing the jungle hero’s name, Matt Murdock heads back to America in time to enjoy the less-than-stellar debut of a certified second-rate super-villain as ‘Enter: The Leap-Frog!’ introduces a thief dressed like a frog with springs on his flippered feet (yes, really…).

However, the big event of the issue is meeting Matt’s hip and groovy twin brother Mike

By the time ‘Stilt-Man Strikes Again’ (DD #26, March 1967) Colan was totally in command of his vision and a leaner, moodier hero was emerging. The major push of the next few issues was to turn the hopeless romantic triangle of Matt, best friend and Law-firm partner Foggy Nelson and their secretary Karen Page into a whacky quadrangle by introducing fictitious twin Mike Murdock, who would be “exposed” as Daredevil to divert suspicion from the blind attorney who actually battled all those weird villains…

Confused, much…?

Still skulking in the background, arch-villain Masked Marauder was slowly closing in on DD’s alter ego. He gets a lot closer in ‘Mike Murdock Must Die!’ (with Giacoia inks) after Stilt-Man teams with the Marauder and the ever-fractious Spider-Man once again clashes with old frenemy Daredevil before the villains meet their apparent ends.

The Sightless Swashbuckler “enjoys” his first encounter with extraterrestrials in #28’s moody one-trick-pony ‘Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Planet!’ – an Ayers-inked thriller wherein invading aliens’ blindness-inducing rays prove inexplicably ineffective against the Crimson Crime-crusher.

John Tartaglione inked the next tale, a solid, action-packed gangster-thriller entitled ‘Unmasked!’ whilst issue #30 opened a protracted and impressive clash with former Thor foes the Cobra and Mister Hyde. The bombastic first bout comes complete with an Asgardian cameo in ‘…If There Should Be a Thunder God!’

Attempting to catch the rampant super-criminals, DD masquerades as the Asgardian Avenger only to encounter the real McCoy. Sadly, the mortal hero is ambushed by the villains once the Thunderer departs and, as a result of the battle that follows loses his compensating hyper-senses. Thus, he must perpetrate a ‘Blind Man’s Bluff!’ which almost fools Cobra and Hyde…

Naturally, it all goes wrong before it all comes right and against all odds Murdock regains his abilities just in time ‘…To Fight the Impossible Fight!’

Ramping up the devilish derring-do is the first Daredevil Annual: a visually impressive if rather lacklustre rogues’ gallery riot from Lee, Colan & Tartaglione, detailing five old foes ganging up on Daredevil as ‘Electro and the Emissaries of Evil!’

The Scarlet Swashbuckler quickly puts a pretty definitive smack-down on the electric evildoer and his acrimonious allies the Matador, Gladiator, Stilt-Man and Leapfrog…

Of more interest are the ‘Inside Daredevil’ pages, explaining his powers, providing the ‘Blueprint for an All-Purpose Billy Club’ and recapping the Matt/Mike Murdock “Faked News” situation, plus offering stunning pin-ups of Karen, Foggy, Ka-Zar, DD and a host of old foes such as Gladiator, Leap Frog, The Owl and Masked Marauder.

Rounding out the experience is comedy short ‘At the Stroke of Midnight!: An Actual Unrehearsed Story Conference with (and by) Stan and Gene!’

In the monthly comicbook, ‘Behold the Beetle’ sees the entire cast – Foggy, Karen and Murdock in the guise of his own (fictitious) twin brother – heading to Canada for World’s Fair Expo ’67 and encountering another borrowed costumed crazy in search of easy glory and untold riches…

With Daredevil crushed and captive, the prospects look bleak north of the border, but Hornhead soon outsmarts and outfights his techno-savvy foe in stunning sequel ‘To Squash the Beetle!’

Once safely returned to the Big Apple, DD’s undeserved reputation as a mere costumed acrobat induces another fearsome felon to attack in ‘Daredevil Dies First!’ The sightless wonder is targeted by old Fantastic Four foe The Trapster, who considers his quarry a mere stepping-stone in an overly-complex plan to destroy the World’s premier super-team.

Murdock manages to turn the tables in #36’s ‘The Name of the Game is Mayhem!’ (inked by Giacoia): a clash that leaves the blind hero triumphant but weakened: easy prey for another FF arch-foe. Tartaglione was back to ink the startling ‘Don’t Look Now, But It’s… Doctor Doom!’

Helpless before the Iron Dictator, DD is trapped in ‘The Living Prison!’ (Giacoia inks) as Doom swaps bodies with the sightless crusader to facilitate his own sneak attack on the FF: a devilish ploy culminating in a stupendous Lee, Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott crafted clash in Fantastic Four #73. The crossover conclusion sees the Human Torch, Thing and Mr. Fantastic battling Daredevil, Thor and Spider-Man in ‘The Flames of Battle…’

As always when involved in mind-swap cases, it’s perhaps most prudent to advise your friends when you defeat the bad guy and regain your original body…

The Man Without Fear finally found some of his own bad guys to bash in Daredevil #39 when old enemies the Ani-Men resurface with a new name and a different boss. Inked by George Tuska ‘The Exterminator and the Super-Powered Unholy Three’ reintroduces Bird-Man, Ape-Man and Cat-Man, now in the pay of a criminal genius working with time-based weapons, but the real meat of the tale is Foggy Nelson’s campaign to become New York City District Attorney.

That potential glittering prize is threatened, however, after the portly advocate unexpectedly revives his romantic relationship with ex-convict Deborah Harris, but at least now Matt Murdock’s only rival for Karen’s affections is “twin brother” Mike…

That story continued in #40 with DD banished to a timeless other-realm prison before leading to a spectacular cliffhanger in ‘The Fallen Hero!’ (inked by Tartaglione) before ending the only way it could with ‘The Death of Mike Murdock!’ as Matt takes advantage of his final catastrophic battle with the Exterminator to end the clumsy secret identity charade.

He still doesn’t come clean though, preferring to keep Daredevil’s secrets and let his friends grieve needlessly…

To Be Continued…

Rounding out the thrills and chills is a slice of exuberant slapstick schtick from Not Brand Echh #4 (November 1967) wherein Lee, Colan & Tartaglione again lampoon the romantic rollercoaster of Hoggy Nelson, Splat Murdock and secretary Miss Rage. Unable to win the comely lass Murdock decides on suicide by crook and as Scaredevil (the Man Who’s Scared of Fear) sets out to get ‘Defeated by the Evil Electrico!’

Other extras include original art pages and covers by Colan and the unused (presumed lost forever) original cover to DD #35, plus a Richard Isanove paint-augmented Colan cover originally seen as Daredevil Masterworks cover volume 3.

Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period The Man Without Fear blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Black Panther Marvel Masterworks, volume 1


By Don McGregor, Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Keith Pollard, Klaus Janson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4198-3 (HB)

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 his debut.

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, catapulting to instant fame and glory in Fantastic Four #52 (cover-dated July 1966).

As created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee, T’Challa, son of T’Chaka, is an African monarch whose clandestine domain 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 the mighty Avengers.

For much of its history Wakanda has been an isolated, utopian kingdom 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.

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”, in the summer of 1973 the Black Panther finally won his own solo 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…

Gathering the groundbreaking stories from Jungle Action volume 2 #6-24 (spanning September 1973 to November 1976 and available in hardback and digital formats), the saga opens with an erudite and informative Introduction by Don McGregor.

‘Panther’s Chronicles’ discusses the author’s work practises, close relationship with his artistic collaborators, and the cultural context and milieu surrounding the creation of the series at a time when segregation and civil rights were still a hot button topic in America…

Now with the Panther’s own big-budget big-screen blockbuster imminently expected, the long-lauded, brilliantly effective and fantastically poetic work of Don McGregor and his collaborators can be enjoyed as the groundbreaking narrative landmark it is, free of the torturous months-long wait between cliff-hanging chapters…

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 abruptly changed tack, reprinting the Black Panther-starring contents of 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 African homeland and stumbling upon the torture of an elderly farmer. Despite his best efforts the victim dies in his arms, swearing he never lost faith in king or country…

Learning the attack is the work of a mysterious, brutal rebel leader named 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 many-layered war: one he might not win…

Cover-dated January 1974, Jungle Action #8 introduced another super-powered rebel as – whilst the Black Panther renews his powers through ancient ritual – ‘Malice by Crimson Moonlight’ sees a spear-wielding wonder woman invade 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 him 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 religious aspect of the mighty carnivores and become ‘The God Killer’

Following a Venomm pin-up, JA #14 reveals that ‘There Are Serpents Lurking in Paradise’ (inked by Pablo Marcos) as T’Challa again clashes with Sombre and encounters 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 Wakandan chieftain…

The endgame rapidly approached in #15 as ‘Thorns in the Flesh, Thorns in the Mind’ (inked by Dan Green) finds T’Challa tracking his nemesis only to be overcome by Killmonger’s archer assassin Salamander K’Ruel and left to be dismembered by a ravenous Pterosaur 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 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 ‘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 opened McGregor’s most audacious and ultimately frustrating project, as T’Challa accompanies Monica back to America. The Panther versus the Klan shifted focus from war stories to detective fiction, replacing fabulously exotic Africa for America’s poverty-wracked, troubled Deep South and a head-on collision with centuries of entrenched and endemic racism.

Illustrated by Graham & McLeod, ‘Blood and Sacrifices!’ sees Monica reunite with her family after her sister is murdered. All too soon T’Challa is 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 gifts to escape becoming ‘A Cross Burning Darkly Blackening the Night!’ Later, as he slowly recovers in hospital, the 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, a passionate reminiscence and appraisal follows in an ‘Afterword by Dwayne McDuffie’, as well as John Romita’s cover for Jungle Action #5; original cover art, pages and sketches by Buckler & Janson and Kane; pencils and layouts by Graham and Buckler as well as Steve Gerber’s ‘Jungle Re-Actions’ feature from JA #7, plus the un-inked Buckler story pages that would have been #25.

Also included are 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.

A truly bold masterpiece 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.

The Incredible Hulk Epic Collection volume 2: The Hulk Must Die


By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, John Romita, Bill Everett, Gil Kane, Bob Powell, John Buscema, Mike Esposito, Jerry Grandenetti, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0445-6

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors can cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the gamma-irradiated gargantuan finally found his size 700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, The Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour until a new home was found for him and this trade paperback (and eBook) volume covers his years as co-star of Tales to Astonish; specifically issues #60-96, spanning October 1964 to October 1967, and even includes a silly spoof yarn from Not Brand Echh #3.

Way back then, the trigger for the Hulk’s second chance was a reprinting of his origin in the giant collection Marvel Tales Annual #1 (the beginning of the company’s inspired policy of keeping early tales in circulation and which did so much to make fervent fans out of casual latecomers). Thanks to reader response, Ol’ Greenskin was awarded a back-up strip in a failing title…

Giant-Man was the star turn in Tales to Astonish, but by mid-1964 the strip was visibly floundering. In issue #59 the Master of Many Sizes was used to introduce his forthcoming co-star in a colossal punch-up, setting the scene for the next issue wherein the Green Goliath’s own feature began.

‘The Incredible Hulk’ (TtA #60) opens with Banner still working for General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, despite the military martinet’s deep disgust and distrust of the puny milksop who had won his daughter’s heart. Aloof and standoffish, Bruce keeps secret his astounding condition: an affliction which subjects him to uncontrollable transformations into a rampaging, if well-intentioned, engine of destruction.

The 10-page instalments were uncharacteristically set in the Arizona/New Mexico deserts, not New York, and espionage and military themes were the narrative backdrop of these adventures.

Lee scripted, Ditko drew and comics veteran George Roussos – as “George Bell” – provided the ink art. The first episode details how an anonymous spy steals an unstoppable suit of robotic armour built by the radiation-obsessed Banner, and concludes with a shattering battle in the next instalment as the Hulk is ‘Captured at Last!’

Cliffhanger endings such as the exhausted Gamma Giant’s imprisonment by Ross’s military units at the end of the yarn would be instrumental in keeping readers onboard and enthralled. Next chapter ‘Enter… the Chameleon!’ has plenty of action and suspense as the spy infiltrates Ross’ command, but the real punch is the final panel, hinting at the mastermind behind all the spying and skulduggery. The enigmatic Leader would become the Hulk’s ultimate and antithetical nemesis…

The minor Spider-Man villain works well as a returning foe; his disguise abilities an obvious threat in a series based on a weapons scientist working for the US military during the Cold War. Even the Leader himself has dubious connections to the sinister Soviets – when he isn’t trying to conquer the world for himself.

Preceded by a titanic Jack Kirby Marvel Masterwork Pin-up of the Green Goliath, ‘A Titan Rides the Train!’ (Astonish #63, January 1965) provides an origin for the super-intellectual menace whilst setting up a fresh subplot wherein new cast addition Major Glen Talbot begins to suspect Banner of being a traitor. The action comes when the Leader tries to steal Banner’s new anti-H-bomb device from a moving freight locomotive….

‘The Horde of Humanoids!’ features the return of guilt-stricken former sidekick Rick Jones who uses his Avengers connections to obtain a pardon for the incarcerated Banner just by letting the American President in on the secret of the Hulk! Ah, simpler times!

Free again, Banner joins Talbot on a remote island to test his hotly sought-after atomic device only to be attacked by the Leader’s artificial warriors – providing a fine example of Ditko’s unique manner of staging a super-tussle.

The chaotic clash continues into the next issue when Ayers assumes the inking and Banner is taken prisoner by those darn Commies. ‘On the Rampage against the Reds!’ sees the Hulk go ballistic behind the Iron Curtain: a satisfyingly gratuitous crusade that spans three issues with #66 – ‘The Power of Doctor Banner’, inked by Vince Colletta and ‘Where Strides the Behemoth’ in #67, (inked by Frank Giacoia), cumulatively exhibiting the brute’s shattering might.

His Commie-Busting fury finally expended, the Hulk reverts to human form and is captured by Mongolian bandits who see a chance to make lots of ransom money…

Jack Kirby returned as illustrator – supplemented by Mike (“Mickey Demeo”) Esposito – in Tales to Astonish #68. ‘Back from the Dead!’ sees plucky Glen Talbot extricate the tragic scientist only to lose him again on the way back to America. Even so, Banner falls again into military custody and is ordered to activate his Atomic Absorbatron for one last test.

Yet again the process is interrupted by the Leader’s attacking Humanoids, but this time the Veridian Villain succeeds and the Hulk is ‘Trapped in the Lair of the Leader!’ …but only until the US Army bursts in…

Issue #70 saw Giant-Man benched and replaced by the Sub-Mariner, making Tales to Astonish a title dedicated to aggressive, savage anti-heroes. Increasingly the Hulk stories reflected this shift, and ‘To Live Again!’ sees the furious Leader launch a 500-foot tall Humanoid against the local US missile base, with the Jade Giant caught in the middle.

Kirby reduced his input to layouts and Esposito handles the lion’s share of the art with #71’s ‘Like a Beast at Bay’: a minor turning point with the Hulk actually joining forces with the Leader whilst ‘Within the Monster Dwells a Man!’ then has Major Talbot getting ever-closer to uncovering Banner’s dark secret.

‘Another World, Another Foe!’ (with the legendary Bob Powell pencilling over Kirby’s layouts) details how the Leader dispatches Hulk to The Watcher’s homeworld to steal an ultimate weapon, just as an “unbeatable” intergalactic rival arrives. ‘The Wisdom of the Watcher’ descends to all-out, brutal action with a shocking climax, and is followed by TtA#75’s conclusion: an abrupt return to Earth and to basics as the rampaging Hulk falls victims to one of Banner’s most bizarre atomic devices…

‘Not all my Power Can Save Me!’ sees the man-monster helplessly hurled into a devastated dystopian future, and in ‘I, ‘Against a World!’ (with pencils by Gil Kane moonlighting as “Scott Edward”), the devastation is compounded by a doom-drenched duel with time-lost Asgardian immortal The Executioner.

A true milestone occurred in Tales to Astonish #77 when the tragic physicist’s dread secret is finally exposed. Magnificently illustrated by John Romita (the elder, and still over Kirby layouts), ‘Bruce Banner is the Hulk!’ concludes the time-travel tale and reveals the tragic horror of the scientist’s condition to the military and the general public.

It didn’t make him any less hunted or haunted, but at least now the soldiery were in an emotional tizzy whilst trying to obliterate him.

With #78, Bill Everett began a short but vividly evocative run as penciler (Kirby remaining on layouts throughout). To his very swift and last regrets, megalomaniacal scientist Dr. Zaxon tries to steal the Gamma Monsters’s bio-energy in ‘The Hulk Must Die!’ Before his body is even cold, follow-up ‘The Titan and the Torment!’ propels the fugitive gargantuan into a bombastic battle against recently Earth-exiled Olympian man-god Hercules.

Losing a desperate war with fellow subterranean despot Mole Man, not-so-immortal Tyrannus resurfaced in ‘They Dwell in the Depths!’ Seeing the Hulk as a weapon of last resort, he abducts the man-brute to Subterranea, but still loses his last battle and when Hulk returns topside he shambles into a plot by the insidious Secret Empire in #81’s ‘The Stage is Set!’

The convoluted mini-epic spread into a number of other Marvel series, especially Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Sub-Mariner. Here, however, the monster is targeted by the Empire’s hired gun Boomerang as they strive to steal the military’s new Orion missile…

As the epic unfolds ‘The Battle Cry of the Boomerang’, ‘Less then Monster, More than Man!’, and ‘Rampage in the City!’ wove strings of sub-plot into a gripping whole which indicated to the evolving reader just how close-knit the Marvel Universe was.

Obviously such tight coordination between series caused a few problems as art for the final episode is credited to “almost the whole blamed Bullpen” (which to my jaded eyes is mostly Jerry Grandenetti). During that climax the Hulk is marauding through the streets of New York City in what I can’t help but feel is a padded, unplanned conclusion…

Everything’s back on track with #85 however, as John Buscema and John Tartaglione step in to illustrate ‘The Missile and the Monster!’ as yet another spy diverts the experimental Orion rocket onto the city. The obvious discomfort the realism-heavy Buscema experienced with the Hulk’s appearance has mostly faded by second chapter ‘The Birth of… the Hulk-Killer!’, although the return of veteran inker Mike Esposito to the strip also helps.

As General Ross releases a weapon designed by the Leader to capture the Grim Green Giant, the old soldier has no inkling what his rash act will lead to, nor that Boomerang is lurking behind the scenes to make things even hotter for the Hulk…

Issue #87’s concluding part ‘The Humanoid and the Hero!’ depicts Ross’ regret as the Hulk-Killer expands his remit to include everybody in his path and Gil Kane returns for #88 as ‘Boomerang and the Brute’ shows both the assassin and the Hulk’s savage power.

Tales to Astonish #89 once more sees the Hulk become an unwilling weapon as a nigh-omnipotent alien subverts and sets him to purging humanity from the Earth.

‘…Then, There Shall Come a Stranger!’, ‘The Abomination!’ and ‘Whosoever Harms the Hulk…!’ comprise a taut and evocative thriller-trilogy which also includes the origin of the malevolent Hulk counterpart who would play such a large part in later tales of the ill-fated Bruce Banner.

A new narrative tone comes with ‘Turning Point!’ (TtA #92, June 1967) by the superb and criminally underrated Marie Severin and inker Frank Giacoia, depicting the Jade Giant hunted through a terrified New York City as a prelude to a cataclysmic guest-battle in the next issue. Back then, the Hulk didn’t really team-up with visiting stars, he just got mad and smashed them. Such was certainly the case when he became ‘He Who Strikes the Silver Surfer!’; ironically battling with and driving off a fellow outcast who held the power to cure him of his atomic affliction.

Herb Trimpe, associated with the character for nearly a decade, began his tenure as Marie Severin’s inker with #94’s ‘To the Beckoning Stars!’: the initial instalment of a terrific 3-part shocker which found the Hulk transported to the interstellar retreat of the High Evolutionary to battle against recidivist beast-men on ‘A World He Never Made!’ before escaping a feral bloodbath in #96’s ‘What Have I Created?’.

Returned to Earth by the now god-like Evolutionary, the Hulk was gearing up to the next being change in his life.

To Be Continued…

Adding even more lustre and appeal to this tome are a bevy of intriguing extras, starting with a not-so-serious alternative back-story in ‘The Origin of Brucie Banter… and Friend’, by Gary Friedrich & Severin from spoof mag Not Brand Echh #3 (October 1967).

That outing of the “Inedible Bulk” then segues into rare pencil art from Ditko, original pages by Kirby & Everett, Buscema & Tartaglione, Kane and Severin & Trimpe; T-shirt and sweatshirt designs by Kirby, Sol Brodsky & Joe Sinnott from 1965 and 1966 plus house ads and Kirby’s cover from Tales to Astonish #77 modified by painter Richard Isanove and used to front Marvel Masterworks: The Hulk volume 2.

This titanic tome of Hulk heroics is occasionally hit-and-miss, with visceral thrillers and plain dumb nonsense running together, but the enthusiasm and sheer quality of the awesome artistic endeavours should go a long way to mitigating most of the downside. These tales are key to the later, more cohesive adventures, and even at their worst the work of Kirby, Ditko, Everett, Kane, Buscema, Severin and the rest in full-on, butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” mode is a thrill to delight the destructive eight-year-old in everyone. Hulk Smash(ing)!
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 7


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott, with Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5062-6 (PB)                     : 978-0-7851-1585-4 (HB)

The FF was the indisputable central title and most consistently groundbreaking series of Marvel’s ever-unfolding web of cosmic creation: a forge for new concepts and characters at a time when Jack Kirby was in his conceptual prime and continually unleashing his vast imagination on plot after spectacular plot as Stan Lee scripted some of the most passionate superhero sagas that Marvel – or any publisher, for that matter – has ever seen.

Both were on an unstoppable roll, at the height of their creative powers, and full of the confidence that only success brings, with The King particularly eager to see how far the genre and the medium could be pushed.

This full-colour compendium – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – re-presents Fantastic Four #61-71 and includes the fifth giant-sized Annual: issues of progressive and increasingly impressive landmarks spanning April 1967 through February 1968 with Stan & Jack cannily leading from the front as an ever-expanding and cohesive shared universe grew around the fruits of their labours.

As seen in the landmark premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm – with Sue’s tag-along teenaged brother Johnny – survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and the kid could turn into living flame, but poor, tragic Ben horrifically devolved into a shambling, rocky freak…

Following a vivid reminiscence from star inker Joe Sinnott in his Introduction, the magic resumes with Fantastic Four #61.

Even though the team had just defeated a cosmically-empowered Doctor Doom and returned to the Silver Surfer his purloined life-energies there was never a dull moment: no sooner had the heroes relaxed than a new and improved foe attacked once more in ‘Where Stalks the Sandman?’.

This began another explosive multi-part tale wherein Johnny and his imprisoned beloved Crystal were reunited even as Reed is defeated in battle and lost to the anti-matter hell of the Negative Zone’s sub-space corridor…

It was Crystal to the rescue in ‘…And One Shall Save Him!’ as guest-star Triton (of the newly liberated Inhuman Royal Family) plucked the doomed genius from the jaws of disaster and inadvertently introduced another unique enemy who followed Reed back from the anti-matter dimension and straight into partnership with the still-seething Sandman. The resulting battle against ‘Blastaar, the Living Bomb-Burst!’ (FF #63, June 1967) wrecked half the city before some modicum of security was restored…

Looking for a little peace and quiet the exhausted team then tackled ‘The Sentry Sinister’: a frenetic south seas adventure romp pitting the vacationing heroes against a super-scientific robot buried for millennia by an ancient star-faring race.

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

Although regarded as a long-dead race, the Kree themselves resurface in the very next issue as the team is targeted by an alien emissary of vengeance ‘…From Beyond this Planet Earth!’ The formidable Ronan the Accuser has come looking to see what could possibly have destroyed an invincible Sentry and finds out to his great regret but whilst the fight ensues Bens’s blind girlfriend Alicia is abducted by a super scientific stranger…

The mystery of her disappearance is revealed in #66 in ‘What Lurks Behind the Beehive?’ as the outraged team trail the seemingly helpless artisan to a man-made technological wonderland where a band of rogue geniuses have genetically engineered the next phase in evolution, only to lose control of it even before it can be properly born…

‘When Opens the Cocoon!’ exposes the secret of the creature known as Him and only Alicia’s gentle nature is able to placate the nigh-omnipotent creature (who would eventually evolve into tragic cosmic voyager Adam Warlock), after which the tight continuity pauses to allow the Inhumans (a time-lost race of paranormal beings long secluded from mortal men) and old FF ally the Black Panther to share the stage in that year’s Fantastic Four Annual wherein the sinister invader Psycho-Man attempts to ‘Divide… and Conquer!’ the Earth.

Frank Giacoia inked this yarn, with the emotion-bending micro-marauder holding both the King of Wakanda and the Royal Family of hidden Attilan at bay until the FF can pitch in, delayed as they were by the news that the Sue Richards is pregnant… and soon to confined in the most appallingly sexist manner until the birth…

The Annual also includes another comedy insight into the creation of Marvel Epics as Stan, Jack and Frank ask ‘This is a Plot?’ and – after the now customary Kirby pin-ups (Inhumans Black Bolt, Gorgon, Medusa, Karnak, Triton, Crystal and Maximus, a colossal group shot of Galactus, the Silver Surfer and others plus a double-page spread of the quirky quartet) – a rapidly rising star-in-the-making got his first solo appearance in ‘The Peerless Power of the Silver Surfer’: a pithy fable of cruel ingratitude reintroducing and upgrading the threat-level of the Mad Thinker’s lethal Artificial Intelligence murder-machine Quasimodo

In FF #68 (inked as ever by the remarkable Joe Sinnott), the Thinker resurfaces to enact his latest scheme, ‘His Mission: Destroy the Fantastic Four!’ beginning with the cogitating criminal replacing a famous doctor to subvert a potential cure for The Thing’s rocky condition.

Phase two involves a mind-warping scheme to turn the rocky stalwart against his comrades, progressing in ‘By Ben Betrayed!’ as the newly malevolent Grimm tries to mercilessly murder his comrades only to be driven temporarily away.

Desperately searching for their brainwashed friend, the FF quickly capture the Thinker and free Ben’s shackled mind in ‘When Fall the Mighty!’, but the victory leaves the heroes unconscious with only Sue conscious to tackle the villain’s last-ditch killer android in ‘…And So It Ends…’

Art lovers can also enjoy a boundless hidden bounty at the end of this volume as the titanic tome wraps up with a selection of Kirby pencil pages, including alternative covers to FF #64 and #71, plus a gallery of Sinnott-inked covers and pages from #61, 63, 65 and 66.

Epic, revolutionary and unutterably astounding, these are the stories which made Marvel the unassailable leaders in fantasy entertainment and remain the most unmissable superhero comics ever crafted.
© 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Sub-Mariner volume 1


By Bill Everett, Paul Gustavson, Alan Mandel & others (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1617-2 (HC)                    978-0-7851-5789-2 (PB)

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner is the hybrid offspring of an undersea Atlantean princess and an American polar explorer; a being of immense strength, highly resistant to physical harm, able to fly and thrive above and below the waves. Created by young 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, before becoming Marvel Mystery Comics with the second issue). His elementally apposite co-star was the Human Torch, but Namor had originally been seen – albeit in a truncated version – in the monochrome freebie Motion Picture Funnies: a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier that year.

Quickly becoming one of Timely’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 had become known) briefly revived its “Big Three” (the Torch and Captain America being the other two), Everett returned for an extended run of superb fantasy tales, but the time wasn’t right and the title sunk again. Once more Subby was the last revived character to be cancelled, as rumours of a possible TV series deal kept the book afloat…

When Stan Lee & Jack Kirby began reinventing the superhero genre in 1961 with the Fantastic Four, they quickly revived the forgotten amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac, yet decidedly more regal and grandiose anti-hero, understandably embittered at the loss of his sub-sea kingdom (seemingly destroyed by American atomic testing).

He also became a dangerous bad-boy romantic interest: besotted with the FF’s golden-haired Sue Storm

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for few years, squabbling with assorted heroes such as Daredevil, the Avengers and X-Men, before securing his own series as part of “split-book” Tales to Astonish with fellow antisocial antihero the Incredible Hulk and went on to become a cornerstone of the modern Marvel Universe.

Following his dynamic relaunch/debut in the anthological Marvel Comics #1, the Sub-Mariner solo title began in Spring 1941, and the first four issues are gathered here (available as a sturdy hardcover, titanic trade paperback of electrifying eBook) with a reminiscence-packed, fact-filled Introduction from comics scribe and historian Roy Thomas to provide all the context and backstory any finny fun-fan would ever need, and also incorporates all the rousing in-situ ads seen in the original releases.

Sub-Mariner Comics #1 featured two complete strip-stories starring the conflicted overlord of Atlantis plus a chilling yarn featuring costumed detective and adventurer The Angel: the first of a long run of macabre thrillers…

In first tale ‘Deep-Sea Blitzkrieg’, Namor goes to war against the perfidious Nazis after a fleet of German U-Boats depth-charges the underwater city of Atlantis. The Avenging Prince immediately retaliates in a bombastic show of super-power that perfectly displays the unmatched graphic virtuosity of his creator Bill Everett.

The second story (by Everett and unknown assistants) concerns a deadly disease afflicting his aquatic subjects, necessitating the Sub-Mariner’s return to New York to obtain – by any means necessary – a supply of Radium. The dual Hero/Villain nature of the character was always a major factor in Namor’s popularity, so even a shared enemy couldn’t keep him on the good side of the American authorities for long…

For most of these stories Everett and other lead artists used a string of assistants culled from the comicbook “Shop” outfits. With no accurate records, best guesses for uncredited contributors include Charles Nicholas (née Wojtkoski), Witmer Williams, Ben Thompson, Sam Gilman, George Mandel, Mike Roy, Al Fagaly & Jimmy Thompson.

These deluxe collections also include those mandatory text features comics were compelled to run to maintain their postal status (an arcane system that allowed them to procure large postal discounts as “second class mail”) so you can also enjoy prose fable ‘Namor… His Boyhood’ by Roy Gill before moving on to Paul Gustavson’s caped and costumed detective in the 20-page gothic chiller ‘The Angel and the House of Horror’.

Although dressed like a superhero, this dashing do-gooder was actually a blend (knock-off would be perhaps a bit unkind) of Leslie Charteris’s The Saint and The Lone Wolf (Louis Vance’s urbane two-fisted hero who was the subject of 8 books and 24 B-movies between 1917 and 1949).

One marked difference was the quality of the Angel’s enemies: his foes tended towards the arcane, the ghoulish and the just plain demented…

The globe-trotting paladin also seemed able to cast a giant shadow in the shape of an angel. Not the greatest aid to cleaning up the scum of the Earth but he seemed to manage…

Sub-Mariner Comics #2 (Summer 1941) starts off with another (untitled) Nazi-busting tale – even though America was officially neutral until December 8th of that year – as Namor foils a scheme to spring thousands of German POW’s from internment in Canada.

Everett’s hand is still in evidence but by this time an increasing number of those aforementioned assistants were slowly diluting his work as he struggled to produce a monthly strip in Marvel Mystery and his other commitments.

‘Steaming Statistics of Fire and Water’ – illustrated by Harry Sahle – offers a package of fun facts before the second adventure finds Namor in a Pennsylvania town hunting fifth-columnists and spies who have fomented a strike amongst the miners producing coal for ships fuel. Cartoonist Lewis Glanzman provided a ‘Bum Jokes’ gag-page and young Stan Lee wrote a text feature entitled ‘The Story behind the Cover: Namor “Blitzes” a Nazi Sub’ before The Angel (illustrated by Alan Mandel) quashes a sinister plot in New England to free ‘The Slaves of the Python’.

The Fall 1941 issue then opens with ‘The Mystery of the Disappearing Island’: a strikingly topical two-part tale that mixes Winston Churchill, the thorny question of Irish neutrality and a submerged city of druids invaded by Nazis as a staging post for future bomber raids on Britain.

This exotic fight-heavy romp, tinged with immediacy by political issues, was an extra-long one (40 pages) followed by a mediocre and uncredited prose tale ‘Dispatch from Africa’ before culminating with a rather incestuous murder mystery wherein the Angel hunts for a killer when ‘Death Draws a Comic Strip!’

Sub-Mariner Comics #4 begins with ‘Murders by Ghost Light’ and Namor investigating a haunted hospital hiding all manner of non-Hippocratic shenanigans. The spooky themes continue when he then encounters a giant madman-made monster in ‘The Horror That Walked.’

‘Fresh Meat for a Raider’ is a prose naval adventure written by a promising young writer named Mickey Spillane, whilst ‘Pop’s Whoppers’ (by Art Gates) is a jolly comedy feature starring an inveterate tall-tale teller, followed by another sinister horror puzzler for the Angel: ‘Death’s Merry-Go-Round!’.

The vintage voyages then conclude with a lost gem from the legendary Basil Wolverton who wraps things up with a comically surreal Dr. Dimwit page.

Before we leave, however, a selection of Sub-Mariner Comics house ads and photo features of a contemporary comics newsstand and Everett himself further enhance the period experience…

Many early Marvel Comics are more exuberant than qualitative, but this volume, even if largely devoid of premiere league talent, is a wonderful exception. Offering high-octane, outrageously jingoistic tub-thumping and staggering action: a splendid, historically unvarnished read as well as forgotten treasure Fights ‘n’ Tights fans will find irresistible.
©1941, 2005, 2012, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Johnny Craig & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4129-7

Having finally overtaken the aging colossus of National/DC, upstart Marvel Comics sometimes seemed to be at a loss for what to do next. The answer is obvious to us: more of the same… but back then the rules were being constantly rewritten, the country was changing and conflict was everywhere. Perhaps what was needed was more experimentation…

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions, the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison employing Yankee ingenuity, invention and wealth to safeguard and better the World seemed inevitable.

Combined with the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and business could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil, and the concept behind the Invincible Iron Man seems an infallibly successful proposition.

Of course where once Tony Stark was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous millionaire industrialist/inventor and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his metal alter-ego, the tumultuous tone of the times soon resigned his suave, fat-cat image to the dustbin of history and, with ecological disasters and social catastrophe from the abuse of industry and technology the new mantras of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting some tricky questions from the increasingly socially conscious readership.

All of a sudden maybe that money and fancy gadgetry weren’t quite so fun or cool anymore…?

With an Iron Clad promise of stunning action and compelling intrigue this iconic hardback (and digital) chronological compendium covers Iron Man #14-25, spanning June 1969 – May 1970, and opens with an educational and fascinating Introduction from dynamic draughtsman George Tuska, detailing the stellar career and achievements of the veteran yet rising star artist…

Writer Archie Goodwin and illustrious illustrators Tuska & Johnny Craig continued a sterling run of solidly science-flavoured action epics as IM #14 revealed that ‘The Night Phantom Walks!’ with the scripter craftily paying tribute to Craig’s past history drawing EC’s landmark horror comics. Here the latter artist pencilled and inked the tale of a zombie-like monster prowling a Caribbean island and destroying Stark Industry installations. As well as being a terse, moody thriller, this story marks the first indications of a different attitude as the menace’s ecologically inspired reign of terror includes some pretty fair arguments about the downsides of “Progress” and rapacious globalisation…

With Craig again inking, Tuska returned with #15 and ‘Said the Unicorn to the Ghost…!’ as the demented former superspy allies himself with Fantastic Four foe the Red Ghost in a desperate bid to find a cure for his drastically shortened his life-span.

Attempting to kidnap Tony Stark, the Ghost betrays the Unicorn and retrenches to an African Cosmic Ray research facility in concluding instalment ‘Of Beasts and Men!’, where it takes a fraught alliance of hero and villain to thwart the phantom mastermind’s ill-conceived plans…

A suspenseful extended epic began in Iron Man #17 when an advanced android designed to protect Stark’s secret identity achieves sinister sentience and sneakily replaces him.

‘The Beginning of the End!’ also introduces the enigmatic Madame Masque and her malevolent master Midas, who plans to take control of America’s greatest technology company…

Dispossessed and on the run Stark is abducted and aligns with Masque and Midas to reclaim his identity, only to suffer a fatal heart-attack in ‘Even Heroes Die!’ (guest-starring the Avengers) before a ground-breaking transplant – still practically science fiction in those distant days – gives him renewed hope in ‘What Price Life?’

When the ruthlessly opportunistic Midas instantly strikes again, the mysterious Madame Masque switches sides and all hell breaks loose…

The X-Men’s dimensionally displaced alien nemesis attacks the restored and recuperating hero in ‘Who Serves Lucifer?’ (inked by Joe Gaudioso – AKA Mike Esposito) before being rudely returned to his personal dungeon dimension after which African-American boxer Eddie March becomes the new Iron Man in #21’s ‘The Replacement!’ as Stark – free from the heart-stimulating chest-plate which had preserved his life for years – is briefly tempted by a life without strife. Unfortunately, and unknown to all, Eddie has a little health problem of his own…

When Soviet-sponsored armoured archenemy Titanium Man resurfaces, it’s in conjunction – if not union – with another old Cold War warrior in the form of a newly-upgraded Crimson Dynamo in #22’s chilling classic confrontation ‘From this Conflict… Death!’

With a loved one murdered, a vengeance-crazed Iron Man then goes ballistic in innovative action-thriller ‘The Man Who Killed Tony Stark!!’ before ultimately finding solace in the open arms of Madame Masque as Johnny Craig returns to fully illustrate superb mythological monster-mash ‘My Son… The Minotaur!’ and stays on as Archie Goodwin pins Iron Man’s new Green colours to the comic’s mast in #25’s stunning eco-parable ‘This Doomed Land… This Dying Sea!

Teamed with and battling against antihero Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Armoured Avenger is forced to destroy one of his own hyper-polluting facilities, consequently overruling and abandoning his company’s previous position and business model…

Tragically, his attempts to convince other industry leaders to do likewise meets with the kind of reaction that tragically then (and again now) typifies America’s response to the real-world situation…

The galvanised wonderment concludes with a sublime selection of Tuska original art pages and covers to wrap up this collection with the Golden Gladiator being politically repositioned at a time when Marvel solidly set itself up at the vanguard of a rapidly changing America increasingly at war with itself.

These are epic exploits, still charged with all the urgency and potency of a time of crisis and a nation in tumult, so what better time than now to finally tune in, switch on or return to the Power of Iron Man?
© 1969, 1970, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1266-2 (HB)                    978-0-7851-5060-2 (TPB)

The monolith of Marvel truly began with the adventures of a small super-team who were as much squabbling family as coolly capable costumed champions. Everything the company produces now comes due to the quirky quartet and the groundbreaking, inspired efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby…

This full-colour hardcover or trade paperback compendium – also available in digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #51-60 plus the new material from Fantastic Four Annual #4: issues of progressive landmarks spanning June 1966 to March 1967 with Stan & Jack topping themselves with every successive issue, consolidating an impossibly addictive shared universe with the FF as the central title and most innovative outpost in that web of cosmic creation.

What You Should Already Know: maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm – with Sue’s teenaged tag-along little brother – miraculously survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project forcefields, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. The they agreed to use their abilities to benefit mankind and thus was born The Fantastic Four.

Following an Introduction from Lee the wonderment resumes here with what many fans consider the greatest single FF story ever. Illustrated by Kirby and inked by Joe Sinnott, ‘This Man… This Monster!’ finds the Thing’s grotesque body usurped by a vengeful and petty-minded scientist with a grudge against Reed Richards. The anonymous boffin subsequently discovers the true measure of his unsuspecting intellectual rival and pays a fateful price for his envy…

Another innovation and unforgettable character debuted in the next issue. ‘The Black Panther!’ was 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 and 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. He was also the first black superhero in American comics (Fantastic Four #52, cover-dated July 1966).

After battling the team to a standstill, King T’Challa revealed his tragic origin in ‘The Way it Began..!’, which also introduces sonic super-villain Klaw. Johnny and his college roommate Wyatt Wingfoot embark on a quest to rescue the Torch’s Inhuman lover Crystal (trapped with her people behind an impenetrable energy barrier in the Himalayas). Their journey is interrupted when they discover the lost tomb of Prester John in #54’s ‘Whosoever Finds the Evil Eye…!’ and almost perish…

After aiding the quartet against world-devourer Galactus, the Silver Surfer was imprisoned on Earth. The brooding, perpetually moralising ex-herald had become a fan-favourite, and his regular appearances were always a guarantee of something special.

When Strikes the Silver Surfer!’ features him in uncomprehending, brutal battle with the Thing, whose insecurities about his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters explode into searing jealousy, when the gleaming demigod comes calling after which business as unusual resumed when ‘Klaw the Murderous Master of Sound!’ ambushed the team in their own home in issue #56.

Throughout all the stories since their imprisonment a running sub-plot with the Inhumans had been slowly building, with Johnny and Wyatt stuck on the other side of the Great Barrier: wandering the wilds and seeking a method of liberating the Hidden City. Their quest led directly into the landmark tale ‘The Torch that Was!’: lead feature in the fourth FF Annual (November 1966) in which The Mad Thinker recovers and resurrects the original Human Torch (actually the World’s first android and a major star of Timely/Marvel’s Golden Age) to destroy the flaming teenager…

The blistering battle briefly reunites the entire team and leads into an epic clash with their greatest foe. Fantastic Four #57-60 displayed Lee & Kirby at their very best; with incredible tension, drama and action on a number of fronts as the most dangerous man on Earth steals the Silver Surfer’s cosmic power, even as the Inhumans finally win their freedom and we discovered the tragic secret of mighty mute Black Bolt in all its awesome fury.

It all begins with a jailbreak by the Sandman in #57’s ‘Enter… Dr. Doom!’, escalates in ‘The Dismal Dregs of Defeat!’ as Doom tests his limitless stolen power; builds to a crescendo in ‘Doomsday’ with the heroes’ utter defeat and humiliation before culminating in brains and valour saving the day – and all humanity – in truly magnificent manner with ‘The Peril and the Power!’

This breathtaking epic concludes an incredible run of classic yarns in this volume, but there is still room to include some fascinating freebies in the form of pages of the initial designs for Coal Tiger (who evolved into the Black Panther) and Kirby & Sinnott’s unused cover for FF #52 featuring him.

These are the stories that cemented Marvel’s reputation and enabled the company to overtake all its competitors. They’re also still some of the best stories ever produced and as exciting and captivating now as they ever were. This is a must-have book for all fans of graphic narrative.
© 1966, 1967, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.