Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, Bill Everett, Archie Goodwin, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe, Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2682-9 (HB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result of continual 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 morose man-monster shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour until a new home was found for him.

Covering May to December 1968, this sturdy hardback (and eBook) collection re-presents issues #103-110 of his second solo-starring series and also includes the first Incredible Hulk Annual from autumn of that year.

Following a rather incredulous and self-deprecating Introduction from artist Herb Trimpe the never-ending saga resumes. Trimpe, associated with the character for nearly a decade, began his tenure as Marie Severin’s inker in Tales to Astonish #94 and would eventually take over pencilling the Jade Juggernaut, but before that epic handover rising star Gary Friedrich scripts, Marie pencils and veteran artist Frank Giacoia inks the all-action advent of a tragic alien antagonist in #103’s ‘And Now… the Space Parasite!’: a former hero who seemingly perished after attempting to consume the Green Goliath’s abundant life energies.

‘Ring Around the Rhino!’ in #104 is another paean to the Hulk’s destructive potential and visceral appeal as the gamma-fuelled enemy agent is tasked by his cruel masters with abducting Bruce Banner before a longer plot-strand, tinged with pathos and irony, began in Incredible Hulk #105, courtesy of surprise scripters Roy Thomas and Bill Everett, ably illumined by Severin and inker George Tuska.

‘This Monster Unleashed!’ sees the Missing Link – a radioactive and violently mutating victim of Soviet aggression – dumped in New York, and easily capable of burning our dull-witted hero into glowing ashes.

The second part, ‘Above the Earth… A Titan Rages!’ – by Thomas and Archie Goodwin – was pencilled by the neophyte Trimpe over Severin’s breakdowns, with Tuska inking. Sadly, the result is rather a muddle nearly as great as the story itself since the action abruptly switches from New York to Russia after the battling behemoths are suddenly abducted by Yuri Breslov, the Soviet counterpart to Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who promptly loses them over a rural and isolated farm collective.

The story neatly segues into a much more polished yarn with #107’s ‘Ten Rings Hath… the Mandarin’ (by Friedrich & Trimpe with wonderfully rugged inking from the great Syd Shores) as the oriental despot tries to enslave the emerald engine of destruction…

The extended epic concludes with savage success as Stan Lee returns to script and Trimpe – inked by the legendary John Severin (yep, Marie’s big brother) – pulls all the strands together in the action-packed finale ‘Monster Triumphant!’, guest-starring Nick Fury, Yuri Breslov and even Chairman Mao Tse Tung!

Cover-dated October, The Incredible Hulk Annual #1 was one of the best comics of 1968. Behind an iconic Jim Steranko cover, Friedrich, Marie Severin & Shores (with lots of last-minute inking assistance) delivered a passionate, tense and melodramatic parable of alienation that nevertheless was one of the most action-stuffed fight-fests ever depicted.

In 51 titanic pages ‘A Refuge Divided!’ sees the forlorn and perpetually lonely Jade Juggernaut stumble upon the hidden Great Refuge of genetic outsiders. The Inhumans – recovering from a recent failed coup by new players Falcona, Leonus, Aireo, Timberius, Stallior, Nebulo and their secret backer (the king’s brother Maximus the Mad) – are distracted by the Hulk’s arrival.

All too soon, suspicion and short tempers result in carnage and chaos. The band of super-rebels start the fight but it’s the immensely powerful Black Bolt who eventually battles the infuriated Hulk to a standstill…

This is the vicarious thrill taken to its ultimate, still one of the very best non-Lee-Kirby tales of that period, and the issue also provides a pictorial extra with a Marvel Masterwork Pin-up featuring 11 different versions and a challenge to identify the artists…

Back at the monthly venue, Incredible Hulk #109 takes up from the end of the Mandarin saga with the Hulk rampaging through Red China, but still without a settled creative team in place. ‘The Monster and the Man-Beast!’ was written by Stan Lee, laid out by Giacoia, pencilled by Trimpe and inked by John Severin, as the Hulk trashes the Chinese Army and accidentally interferes with a Red super-missile…

The upshot is that the man-monster is hurtled into space and blasted into the Antarctic paradise known as the Savage Land. This preserve of dinosaurs and cavemen is a visually perfect home for the Hulk and the addition of Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar, and a primitive death-cult worshipping an alien device designed to destroy the world, ramps up the tension nicely.

The tale and this edition wrap up with the attack of ‘Umbu the Unliving!’ (Lee, Trimpe & John Severin) as yet another extraterrestrial device left to facilitate Earth’s demise goes into overkill mode. Thankfully Banner and his green alter-ego dispatch it with Ka-Zar’s assistance, albeit at the cost of Banner’s life.

As they said at the time “To Be Hulkinued!”…

Adding even more deal appeal to this book is a stunning selection of comedy sketches and cartoons devised by the infamously puckish Marie Severin to cheer up her fellow Bullpen pals as well as Hulk original art pages and covers by her, brother John, Trimpe, Giacoia, and Steranko – plus her unused cover for that iconic Annual.

This titanic tome of Hulk heroics offers visceral thrillers and chaotic clashes overflowing with dynamism, enthusiasm and sheer quality: tales crucial to later, more cohesive adventures. Even at their most hurried, these epics offer an abundance of full-on, butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” catharsis to delight the destructive eight-year-old in all of us.
© 1968, 2007, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Spider-Man: The Graphic Novels


By Susan K. Putney, Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Charles Vess, Berni Wrightson, Alex Saviuk, Ross Andru & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6065-6

When Marvel began its line of Original Graphic Novels in 1980, the books were based on European Albums: large, square-bound paperback volumes offering 80 to 100 pages of new material on high-quality paper. The project – which began with Jim Starlin’s The Death of Captain Marvel – produced some classy results that the company has seldom come close to repeating since. Both original concepts and established characters were represented in that initial run and many of the stories still stand out today as huge successes: debuting many new series, celebrating licensed properties and devising special stories featuring the company’s proprietary superstars.

Marvel icon the Amazing Spider-Man graced a bunch of extraordinary sagas which were reprinted in 2012 and now form the contents of this splendid oversized (190 x 286 mm) hardback and eBook edition.

The web-wrapped wonderment begins with Hookey – originally released as Marvel Graphic Novel #22 in August 1986. This charming fantasy fable written by Susan K. Putney and painted by comic-book legend Berni Wrightson with the colouring assistance of Michelle Wrightson took the wallcrawler on a journey unlike any other he had previously experienced…

Marandi Sjörokker is not the carefree little girl she appears to be. For a start she’s been twelve for over two hundred years, and after introducing herself by calling Spider-Man “Petey”, she goes on to reveals how she knew him when he was a toddler and she delivered newspapers to his Uncle Ben…

And so begins a wild and beguiling other-dimensional romp, full of action and spectacle, as the webslinger takes a break from his grim and grimy reality to help the permanently adolescent sorceress battle against the demonic and unstoppable TordenKakerlakk (which I’m reliably informed is Norwegian for Thunder Cockroach).

Moreover, this witty, whimsical coming-of-age tale is beautifully and imaginatively illustrated by a master craftsman. A wonderful change-of-pace tale that perfectly displays the versatility of everybody’s favourite wall-crawler – and one that once read will never be forgotten…

Marvel Graphic Novel #46 was first released in May 1989, soon after Peter Parker married Mary Jane Watson and comes courtesy of Gerry Conway, Alex Saviuk & Andy Mushynsky. By referencing the stories crafted by a host of creators since the Amazing Arachnid’s debut, the tale (with Doctor Octopus as menace du jour) sheds new light on how the newlyweds grew up and grew together against terrible odds to live their now-united but always Parallel Lives

Charles Vess’ Spirits of the Earth is one of the prettiest graphic novels ever produced, not to say one of the most entertaining Spider-Man adventures ever told and was first released as premium hardcover Marvel Graphic Novel #63 in August 1990.

Here Mary Jane and Peter Parker are astounded and delighted to discover that an unknown relative has left the bride a castle deep in the Scottish Highlands. Setting off for a second honeymoon they soon become embroiled in ancient magic and high-tech abominations courtesy of the Celtic branch of the perfidious Mutants and Millionaires cabal The Hellfire Club

Ghoulies, ghosties and villainous super-criminals combine with some of the best artwork you’ve ever seen for a truly wonderful adventure that desperately needs to be on your bookshelf. Also included here is a delightful pictorial travelogue by Vess entitled ‘A Scottish Journey’

Wrapping up the vintage adventure is Fear Itself by Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, which was in February 1992 stand-alone OGN Marvel Graphic Novel #72.

This taut thriller is a good, old-fashioned, nostalgic Spidey yarn for readers who yearn for simpler times long past. Unlike many all-new works, it’s also quite tightly bound to Marvel continuity (perhaps it was intended as an annual but got “promoted” to a more expansive and therefore expensive format?), so if you need a lot of footnotes to read Spider-Man you might want to think carefully before plunging in.

The plot concerns the return of old Captain America villain Baron Zemo – radically transformed here by Hitler’s deranged geneticist Arnim Zola. The revived, resurrected and radically revised Zemo steals a new, weaponized drug from the US government developed at the company owned by Peter Parker’s friend Harry Osborn.

This chemical contagion drives victims mad with fear and – in alliance with Nazi-hunting mercenary Silver Sable – our hero travels post haste to Bavaria for a series of life-or death showdowns in a terrific ticking-timebomb-thriller.

Although there are some plot holes you could drive a Kampfpanzer through (that’s a big Nazi tank, you know) the dialogue by two of the wall-crawler’s greatest scribes is still effective and engaging, but the real joy is the last hurrah of the fabulous and criminally undervalued art team of Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, who had been crafting great comics in innumerable genres since the early 1950s, and were Spider-Man’s artists for a huge part of the Seventies.

Thrills. Spills. Chills. Ancient Hills and indomitable wills: this confection of Spidery classics is something no Fights ‘n’ Tights fans should miss. Go on. You know you want to…
© 1986, 1989, 1990, 1992, 2012, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2678-2 (HB)

Marvel’s rise to dominance of the US comicbook industry really took hold in 1968 when most of their characters finally got their own titles. Prior to that – and due to a highly restrictive distribution deal – the company had been tied to a limit of 16 publications per month. To circumvent this drawback, Marvel developed “split-books” with two features per title, such as Tales of Suspense where Iron Man originally solo-starred before being joined by patriotic cohort Captain America in issue #59 (cover-dated November 1964).

Marvel’s fortunes prospered – thanks in large part to Stan Lee’s gift for promotion, but primarily because of superbly engaging stories such as the ones collected in this enticing hardback and/or eBook edition.

With the new distributor came a demand for more product, and the stars of the split books were all awarded their own titles. When the division came, the Armoured Avenger started afresh with a “Collector’s Item First Issue” (but only after a shared one-shot with the Sub-Mariner that squared divergent schedules) with Cap retaining the numbering of the original title; thereby premiering in number #100.

Herein find contained in chronological order the remaining tales of the transitional period, reprinting Tales of Suspense #84-99, plus the pertinent portion of place-holding one-shot Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner #1 and at long last Iron Man #1, cumulatively covering December 1966 to May 1968.

Tony Stark is the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous ultra-rich industrialist and inventor – and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his secret alter-ego, Iron Man.

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, using Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard and better the World, seemed inevitable. Combine 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 Golden Avenger seems an infallibly successful proposition. Of course, it helps that all that money and gadgetry is great fun and very, very cool…

Following a critique by critic and historian Arlen Schumer in his Introduction, this stunning all-Gene Colan illustrated volume begins with ToS #84 and picks up soap opera fashion with Stark submitting to months of governmental pressure and testifying to a Congressional Committee hungry for the secrets of his greatest creation.

However. at the critical moment, the inventor keels over…

Stark’s controversial reputation is finally restored as the public at last learns that his life is only preserved by a metallic chest-plate which keeps his maimed heart beating in ‘The Other Iron Man!’ (scripted by Lee and inked by Frank Giacoia). Somehow, nobody at all connects that hunk of steel to the identical one his Avenging “bodyguard” wears…

With the hero stuck in a hospital bed, best friend Happy Hogan foolishly dons the suit to preserve that precious secret only to be abducted by the insidious Mandarin in another extended assault that begins with ‘Into the Jaws of Death’.

Propelled by guilt and fuelled by fear the still-ailing Stark breaks into his own Congressionally-closed factory and creates new, more powerful armour before flying to his rescue in ‘Death Duel for the Life of Happy Hogan!’

The epic encounter successfully concluded, the Americans return home just in time for #87 and #88 to host the merciless Mole Man who attacks from below, prompting a ‘Crisis… at the Earth’s Core!’

The villain has no idea who hostage Stark really is, believing the inventor and his assistant Pepper Potts ‘Beyond all Rescue!’ but is soon proved very wrong, after which another old B-List bad-guy takes his shot in ‘The Monstrous Menace of the Mysterious Melter!’

Its tense, terse sequel ‘The Golden Ghost!’ fabulously features a glorious reprise of Iron Man’s original battle suit and a wonderfully twisty conclusion.

‘The Uncanny Challenge of the Crusher!’ offers an all-action tale – possibly marred for modern audiences by a painful Commie-bustin’ sub-plot featuring a thinly disguised Fidel Castro – and the impressions of the on-going “Police Action” in Indo-China are also a little gung-ho (if completely understandable) when Iron Man goes hunting for a Red Menace called Half-Face ‘Within the Vastness of Viet Nam!’

The urgent insertion results in another clash with incorrigible old foe Titanium Man in ‘The Golden Gladiator and… the Giant!’ before our hero at last snatches victory from the mechanical jaws of defeat in ‘The Tragedy and the Triumph!’ (this last inked by Dan Adkins).

Giacoia returns and a new cast member debuts in #95 as eager-beaver adult boy scout S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell is assigned as security advisor to America’s most prominent weapons maker, just as veteran Thor villain Grey Gargoyle attacks in ‘If a Man be Stone!’ The mismatched and overpowered maniac is then summarily defeated in ‘The Deadly Victory!’

Tales of Suspense #97 began an extended story-arc that would carry the series to the launch of the solo series and beyond, in which criminal cartel the Maggia schemes to move in on Stark’s company.

Their campaign opens with the hero’s capture, as ‘The Coming of… Whiplash!’ depicts the Golden Avenger cut to steely ribbons, drawn out in ‘The Warrior and the Whip!’ and – as the magnificent Archie Goodwin assumed the scripting reins and EC legend Johnny Craig came aboard as inker – finds Iron Man trapped on a sinking submarine ‘At the Mercy of the Maggia’ just as the venerable Tales of Suspense ends with its 99th issue…

Of course, it was just changing its name to Captain America, whilst Tales to Astonish seamlessly shifted into The Incredible Hulk, but – due to a scheduling snafu – neither of the split-book co-stars had a home that month (April 1968).

This situation led to the one-and-only Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner #1 to carry concluding episode ‘The Torrent Without… The Tumult Within!’, wherein sinister super-scientists of A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics, acronym-fans) snatch the Armoured Avenger from the Maggia’s swiftly sinking submarine, intent on stealing the hero’s technical secrets.

Invincible Iron Man #1 finally appeared with a May 1968 cover-date, triumphantly ending the extended sub-sea-saga as our hero stands ‘Alone against A.I.M.!’: a thrilling roller-coaster ride supplemented by ‘The Origin of Iron Man’ offering a revitalised re-telling to conclude Colan’s long and impressive tenure on the character.

Supplementing and counterpointing the ongoing graphic dramas herein are a stunning selection of original art pages and covers by Colan from the stories in this volume and even a brace of Don Heck pages from the previous Marvel Masterworks edition…

Despite some rough narrative patches this is a fantastic period in the Golden Gladiator’s career: one immaculately envisioned by Gene Colan and perfectly encapsulating the vast changes Marvel and America went through at the time. These unmissable tales of a true comics icon are some of the best and most memorable efforts of a simply transformative era and no Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatic can afford to be without them.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection Volume 7: The Avengers/Defenders War


By Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Jim Starlin, Gerry Conway, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema, John Buscema, Rich Buckler & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1000-6

One of the most momentous events in comics history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate gang of heroic individuals banded together to combat an apparently out of control Incredible Hulk.

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

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket can pay off big-time. Even when all Marvel Royalty such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, the founding stars always regularly feature due to a rotating, open door policy ensuring most issues include somebody’s fave-rave.

After instigators Stan Lee & Jack Kirby moved on, the team prospered under the guidance of Roy Thomas who grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic. He then handed over the scripting to a young writer who carried the team to even greater heights…

This stunning seventh trade paperback compilation – also available in eBook iterations – assembles Avengers #115-128 and Giant Size Avengers #1, plus crucial crossover episodes from Defenders #8-1, Captain Marvel #33 and Fantastic Four # 150; collectively covering September 1973 to October 1974 and celebrating an era of cosmic catastrophe and cataclysmically captivating creative cross-pollination…

For kids – of any and all ages – there is a simply primal fascination with brute strength and feeling dangerous, which surely goes some way towards explaining the perennial interest in angry tough guys who break stuff as best exemplified by Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner and the Incredible Hulk.

When you add the mystery and magic of Doctor Strange the recipe for thrills, spills and chills becomes simply irresistible…

Last of the big star-name conglomerate super-groups, the Defenders would eventually number amongst its membership almost every hero – and some few villains – in the Marvel Universe.

No surprise there then since the initial line was composed of the company’s major league bad-boys: misunderstood, outcast and often actually dangerous to know. For Marvel in the 1970s, the outsider super-group must have seemed a conceptual inevitability – once they’d finally published it.

Apart from Spider-Man and Daredevil, all their heroes regularly teamed up in various mob-handed assemblages, and in the wake of the Defenders’ success even more super-teams featuring pre-existing characters would be packaged: The Champions, Invaders, New Warriors, Inhumans, Guardians of the Galaxy and so on… but never again with so many Very Big Guns…

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

In 1973 wunderkind scripter Steve Englehart was writing both Avengers and Defenders (as well as Doctor Strange, the Hulk and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire) and, yearning for the days of DC’s summer blockbuster annual events, decided to attempt his own massive multi-player epic.

Bravely given the editorial go-ahead at a time when deadline crunches regularly interrupted ongoing storylines, the author and his regular pencillers Sal Buscema and Bob Brown laid their plans…

Threads had been planted as early as Defenders #4 with Englehart carefully putting players in place for a hugely ambitious cross-over experiment: one that would turn the comics industry on its head.

After earthly madwoman Barbara Norris was cursed by amoral Asgardian Amora the Enchantress, the human was transformed into an incarnation of old Avengers enemy Valkyrie. The denouement of the tale also left part-time Avenger and Defender the Black Knight an ensorcelled, immobile stone statue. As Strange and Co. searched for a cure, aided by the Silver Surfer and tempestuous Hawkeye (another ex-Assembler looking to forge a solo career), they all fell into a subtle scheme orchestrated by two of the greatest forces of evil in all creation….

This bombastic tome commences with Avengers #115 as lead story ‘Below Us the Battle!’ (illustrated by Bob Brown & Mike Esposito sees the critically- understaffed Avengers travel to England and the castle of the Black Knight, only to find mystic resistance, a troglodytic race of scavengers and their old comrade long missing…

The issue also contained a little prologue, ‘Alliance Most Foul!’, which revealed other-dimensional Dark Lord Dormammu and Asgardian god of Evil Loki united to secure an ultimate weapon which would give them ultimate victory against all their foes.

This despotic duo would deceive the Defenders into securing the six component parts by “revealing” that the reconstructed Evil Eye could de-petrify and restore the Black Knight – a plan that began with a similar prologue at the end of Defenders #8…

‘Deception’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Esposito) was the first chapter in ‘The Avengers/Defenders Clash’ disclosing that a mystic SOS message from the spirit of the Black Knight is intercepted by the twin gods of evil, leading directly to ‘Betrayal!’ in Avengers #116, wherein the heroes, hunting for their missing comrade, “discover” that their oldest enemies Hulk and Sub-Mariner may have turned the Black Knight to stone…

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

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

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

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

With the overwhelming cosmic threat over the victorious Defenders attempt to use the Eye to cure their petrified comrade, only to discover that his spirit has found a new home in the 12th century.

In #11’s ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight’ (Sal B with Bolle inks), the group battle black magic during the Crusades, fail to retrieve the Knight and acrimoniously go their separate ways – as did overworked departing scripter Englehart, who dropped the “non-team” to concentrate on “The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes”…

The drama resumes with a delightfully traditional spooky Halloween tale as the Avengers, warned by clairvoyant vision from martial arts enigma Mantis, head to Rutland, Vermont for the ‘Night of the Collector’ (#119, illustrated by Brown & Don Heck); encountering old friends, a dastardly and determined foe, blistering action and staggering suspense…

In ‘Death-Stars of the Zodiac!’ (Avengers#120, by Englehart, Brown & Heck), terrorist astrological adversaries and super-criminal cartel Zodiac attack again with a manic plan to eradicate everyone in Manhattan born under the sign of Gemini.

Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman and Mantis are seemingly helpless to stop them but the blockbusting battle in #121’s ‘Houses Divided Cannot Stand!’ (illustrated by John Buscema & Heck,) and even the added assistance of Captain America and the Black Panther is of little advantage…

With Mantis injured the team begin to question her mysterious past, only to be lured to their seeming doom and ‘Trapped in Outer Space!’ (Brown & Mike Esposito) before at last turning the tables on their fearsome foes after the criminal Libra reveals a shocking secret…

Avengers #123, ( Brown & Heck) begins a vast and ambitious saga with ‘Vengeance in Viet Nam – or – An Origin For Mantis!’ as Libra’s claim to be Mantis’ father (a story vigorously and violently denied by the Martial Arts Mistress) sends the team to Indo-China in a big hurry.

The former mercenary declared that he left the baby Mantis with pacifistic Priests of Pama after running afoul of a local crime-lord, but the bewildered warrior-woman has no memory of such events, nor of being schooled in combat techniques by the Priests. Meanwhile, the gravely wounded Swordsman has also rushed to Saigon to confront his sadistic ex-boss Monsieur Khruul and save the Priests from being murdered by the gangster’s thugs… but is again too late. It is the same old story of his pathetic, wasted life…

Issue #124 has the team stumbling upon a scene of slaughter as dead clerics and criminals lead to a monstrous planet-rending alien horror freshly awakened in ‘Beware the Star-Stalker!’ (limned by John Buscema & Dave Cockrum)…

Mantis is forced to accept that her own memories are not real after Avengers #125, which unleashed ‘The Power of Babel!’ after a vast alien armada attacks and, in combating it, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are trapped out of phase with their home-world.

This blockbuster battle bonanza was a crossover, and the penultimate episode of the spectacular Thanos War Saga that had featured in Captain Marvel, Marvel Feature and Iron Man.

Included in this compendium is climactic last chapter of that epic, plotted and illustrated by Jim Starlin, scripted by Englehart and inked by Klaus Janson. ‘The God Himself!’ (from Captain Marvel #33) sees mad Titan Thanos finally fall in combat to the valiant Kree warrior: a stunning piece of comics storytelling which stands up remarkably well here despite being seen without benefit of the preceding ten chapters…

It’s back to Avengers business as Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler & Dan Adkins return to the fold to delve and reboot some superhero history with ‘Nuklo… The Invader that Time Forgot!’ for the first quarterly edition of Giant-Size Avengers.

The stirring saga reintroduced 1940 Marvel sensation Bob Frank AKA The Whizzer in a taut and tragic tale of desperation as the aged speedster begs the heroes’ help in rescuing his son: a radioactive mutant locked in stasis by the US Government since the early 1950s. Unfortunately, within the recently unearthed chrono-capsule, the lad has grown into a terrifying atomic horror…

Moreover, while in the throes of a stress-induced heart attack the Whizzer lets slip that he is the also the father of mutant Avengers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver

Back in regular continuity, Avengers #126 offers ‘All the Sights and Sounds of Death!’ (Englehart, Brown & Cockrum) as villains Klaw and Solarr invade Avengers Mansion in a devious attempt to achieve vengeance for past indignities, after which in #127 Sal Buscema & Joe Staton sign on as regular art team with ‘Bride and Doom!’ as the team voyage to the hidden Himalayan homeland of The Inhumans to attend the marriage of the aforementioned Quicksilver to elemental enchantress Crystal. Sadly, the happy event craftily coincides with an uprising of the genetic slave-race known as Alpha Primitives. Once again robotic giant Omega has incited the revolt, but this time it is controlled by an old Avengers enemy who reveals himself in the concluding chapter of the crossover…

The story wraps up in Fantastic Four #150 with ‘Ultron-7: He’ll Rule the World!’ by Gerry Conway, Buckler & Joe Sinnott, in which a devastating battle between FF, Inhumans and Avengers is ended by a veritable Deus ex Machina moment, after which, at long last ‘The Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver’ ends events on a happy note.

But not for long as a final tale from Avengers #128’ sees the FF’s nanny Agatha Harkness get a new job tutoring Wanda Frank in actual sorcery to augment her mutant power. In Bewitched, Bothered, and Dead!’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Staton), the new student unwittingly allows dark mage Necrodamus access to the Mansion and the souls of the occupants, even as increasingly troubled Mantis makes a play for the Scarlet Witch’s synthezoid boyfriend The Vision; heedless of the hurt and harm she will bring to her current lover The Swordsman…

Extra enticements include Roy Thomas’ ‘Avengers Re-Assemble’ article from Giant-Size Avengers #1, art and features starring assorted Avengers from company fanzine F.O.O.M. (#3, 5, 6, 7, by John and Sal Buscema, John Byrne & Duffy Vohland, Marie Severin, Dave Cockrum, John Romita); comedy skit ‘Those Wedding Bells are Bustin’ Up that Avengin’ Gang of Mine’ by Tony Isabella & Paty Cockrum; House ads, covers from previous collections by Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino & Ang Tsang and Romita & Richard Isanove and an original art gallery of sketches, pages and covers by Brown, Romita, Starlin, Ron Wilson, John and Sal Buscema, Buckler and Byrne.

Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers, brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creation of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko: spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to.

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right and also a pivotal step transforming the little company into today’s multinational corporate colossus. Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new acme of cosmic adventure…
© 1973, 1974, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.
Avengers Epic Collection Volume 7: The Avengers/Defenders War is scheduled for release on April 24th and is available digitally or for pre-order now.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnott, Frank Giacoia, John Romita, Ron Frenz, John Verpoorten & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2061-2 (HB)                    : 978-0-7851-8839-1 (TPB)

Cautiously bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, Fantastic Four #1 (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule) was crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it and the raw storytelling caught a wave of change starting to build in America. It and succeeding issues changed comicbooks forever.

In eight short years FF meteorically grew into the indisputable core-title and most consistently groundbreaking series of Marvel’s ever-unfolding web of cosmic creation: bombarding readers with a ceaseless salvo of new concepts and characters at a time when Kirby was in his conceptual prime and continually unfettering his vast imagination on plot after spectacular plot. Clearly inspired, Stan Lee scripted some of the most memorable superhero sagas Marvel – or any publisher, for that matter – had or 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…

However, with this tenth Masterworks collection of tales from “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” the dream-team of Kirby and Stan Lee was shockingly sundered and a reeling Marvel entered a new epoch of uncertain futures and bold new directions – which is rather ironic since it was the company’s reticence to give the artist creative freedom which led to Kirby’s jumping ship to National/DC in the first place…

This epic and extras-packed tome covers the final days of the King’s reign on Marvel’s flagship title and encompasses the shaky start of a new era, covering Fantastic Four #94-104 (January to November 1970), plus diverse bonus treats including Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure – a rejected, recovered, recycled tale to delight all aficionados and only finally released in April 2008.

Four Those Who Came in Late: As seen in that unforgettable 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 another frothy, backward-looking Lee Introduction, the magic resumes with Joe Sinnott inking Fantastic Four #94, launching a string of single-issue stories via the doom-laden debut of eldritch babysitter/governess Agatha Harkness in ‘The Return of the Frightful Four!’ The recalcitrant rogues make a major mistake believing they could catch the FF off-guard by attacking when the heroes are interviewing a new nanny for the latest addition to the Fantastic Family…

At a time when superhero sales were in a slump and magical mystery themes resurgently returned, this rollercoaster ride of action, battle and suspense is most significant for finally giving Sue and Reed’s baby a name – Franklin Benjamin Richards – after literally years of shilly-shallying…

The Monocle was a technological super-assassin determined to trigger global nuclear Armageddon in #95’s ‘Tomorrow… World War Three!’ – in the middle of which Johnny’s Inhuman girlfriend Crystal is astoundingly abducted by her own family – before ‘The Mad Thinker and his Androids of Death!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) once again ambush the team and yet more prove no match for the fab foursome…

A tense and moody episode further cashing in on the growing trend for creepy creatures and supernatural shenanigans manifests as ‘The Monster from the Lost Lagoon!’ in #97, offering a decidedly different take on the horror-movies it gloriously homaged as the First Family try to combine a quick tropical vacation with a little rumour-busting sea-beastie hunt…

Both Sinnott and the robotic Sentry Sinister return in #98’s turbulently-topical ‘Mystery on the Moon!’ as the global fervour over the first lunar landing in 1969 (conveniently forgetting, of course, the FF’s own numerous visits to our satellite beginning with issue #13) results in a cracking yarn wherein the team savagely stymie the intergalactic Kree Empire from sabotaging mankind’s first steps into space.

In FF #99 heartsick Johnny Storm at last snaps, invading the hidden home of the Inhumans. His intent is to reunite with his lost love at all costs, but of course tempers fray, everything escalates and ‘The Torch Goes Wild!’

With a restored Crystal happily in tow, the 100th anniversary adventure features a daft, extremely rushed but nonetheless spectacular all-out battle against robotic replicas of their greatest enemies in ‘The Long Journey Home!’

With the anniversary cataclysmically concluded, issue #101 provides a far more intriguing imbroglio when dastardly criminal combine the Maggia buy the team’s skyscraper HQ in a cunning, quasi-legal ploy to appropriate Reed Richards’ scientific secrets, resulting in total ‘Bedlam in the Baxter Building!’

Fantastic Four #102 sported the first cover not drawn by The King as John Romita (senior) prepared to jump into the artistic hot-seat following Kirby’s abrupt move to the home of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

After an incomprehensibly vast catalogue of creativity an unthinkable Changing of the Guard occurred when the increasingly discontented King of Comics jumped ship from the House of (mostly His) Ideas for arch-rival National/DC where he crafted his Fourth World Magnum Opus as well as a host of other game-changing comicbook classics…

An era ended at Marvel when the King abdicated his seemingly divinely-ordained position. Left to pacify and win back the stunned fans were Lee and a couple of budding talents named Romita and Buscema…

Kirby was not quite gone, however, as he and Sinnott opened an impressive extended epic wherein the mutant menace Magneto uses guile and subterfuge to turn ‘The Strength of the Sub-Mariner’ and his undersea armies against the FF and entire surface world…

Romita and inker John Verpoorten took over the story in mid-flow, depicting an embattled America ‘At War with Atlantis!’ before malign Magneto inevitably turns on Namor, inspiring the Prince to ally with the Fantastic Four to prevent the mutant’s dream of ‘Our World… Enslaved!’

That was more or less the end. Romita drew a couple more issues and eventually John Buscema took up the challenge, although a later issue baffled us fans by inexplicably pairing the new artist with a somehow returned Kirby…

Fantastic Four #108 contained ‘The Monstrous Mystery of the Nega-Man!’, “reintroducing” a character never before seen by recycling portions of a near-complete but rejected Kirby tale modified with new sequences illustrated by Buscema and Romita. In the published story (not included in this volume) the mysterious Janus had tapped into the anti-matter power of the Negative Zone once and now “returned” to steal more by crashing through the portal in Reed’s lab. Unfortunately, this attracts the attention of extinction-event predator Annihilus, who had long sought entry into our life-rich universe…

The origins of that yarn are convoluted and circuitous but are eruditely explained by archivist John Morrow in his article ‘Fantastic Four #108: Kirby’s Way’, supplemented by (almost) the entire original story reproduced from photostats of Kirby’s pencils and published pages from #108.

In 2007 those fragments and Kirby’s story notes were used by Lee, Joe Sinnott and Ron Frenz to reconstruct the tales as the King drafted it. The result was ‘Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure’ which offered a glorious slice of times past as the team (circa 1970) tackled a seemingly schizophrenic super-villain in ‘The Menace of the Mega-Men!’

It doesn’t really fit anywhere into continuity but it is a superbly nostalgic rush for devotees of the classics…

Rounding out the Kirby Kommemorations are a selection of testimonials, recollections and retrospective reminiscences from past collaborators, including ‘Inspiration by Dick Ayers’; ‘On, and On! by Joe Sinnott’ and ‘The Fall of ‘61’ by Roy Thomas, complete with contemporary photos, before former Kirby assistant and associate Mark Evanier discusses ‘The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine’ and Greg Theakston offers one final assessment in ‘The Changing of the Guard’ closes down the show.

Did I say closes? Not quite; as this tome still finds room for a selection of unused covers, production art, house ads, creator biographies and a complete index of the dream team’s achievements in ‘The First One Hundred (And Two) Days: A Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four Lexicon’.

These are the stories which confirmed Jack Kirby as the absolute master of superhero storytelling and gave Marvel the impetus to overtake the decades-dominant DC. They’re also some of the very best comics ever produced and as thrilling and compulsive now as they ever were. This is a book no addict of graphic narratives can be without.
© 1970, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dennis O’Neil, Roy Thomas, John Severin, Joe Sinnott, Don Heck, Howard Purcell, Ogden Whitney, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, Jim Steranko & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2686-7 (HB)

Veteran war-hero and superspy Nick Fury debuted in Fantastic Four #21 (cover-dated December 1963): a grizzled, world-weary and cunning CIA Colonel at the periphery of the really big adventures in a fast-changing world.

What was odd about that? Well, the gruff, crudely capable combat everyman was already the star of the minor publisher’s only war comic, set twenty years earlier in (depending on whether you were American or European…) the beginning or middle of World War II.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos was an improbable, decidedly over-the-top and raucous combat comics series, similar in tone to later movies such as The Wild Bunch or The Dirty Dozen and had launched in May of that year.

Nevertheless, Fury’s latter-day self soon emerged as a big-name star once espionage yarns went global in the wake of popular TV sensations like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the elder iteration was given a second series beginning in Strange Tales #135 (cover-dated August 1965).

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Conquest by a subversive, all-encompassing, hidden enemy organisation. The unfolding saga came with captivating Kirby-designed super-science gadgetry and – eventually – iconic and game-changing imagineering from Jim Steranko, whose visually groundbreaking graphic narratives took the comics art form to a whole new level…

For those few brief years with Steranko in charge, the S.H.I.E.L.D. series was one of the best strips in America – if not the world – but when the writer/artist left just as the global spy-fad was fading, the whole concept faded into the background architecture of the Marvel Universe…

This astounding full-colour compendium (available in hardcover and digital editions) deals with the outrageous, groundbreaking, but still notionally wedded-to-mundane-reality iteration which set the scene.

Here Jack Kirby’s genius for graphic wizardry and gift for dramatic staging mixed with Stan Lee’s manic melodrama to create a tough and tense series which the new writers and veteran artists that followed turned into a non-stop riot of action and suspense, with Steranko’s late arrival only hinting at the magic to come…

These epic early days of spycraft encompass Strange Tales #135-153 and Tales of Suspense #78, collectively covering August 1965 to February 1967 and guaranteeing timeless thrills for lovers of adventure and intrigue.

Following a little history lesson from Kirby scholar John Morrow in his Introduction, the main event starts with ST #135 as the Human Torch solo feature is summarily replaced by Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. – which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division

In the rocket-paced first episode, Fury is asked to volunteer for the most dangerous job in the world: leading a new counter-intelligence agency dedicated to stopping secretive subversive super-science organisation Hydra. With assassins dogging his every move, the Take-Charge Guy with the Can-Do Attitude quickly proves he is ‘The Man for the Job!’ in a potent twelve-page thriller from Lee, Kirby & Dick Ayers.

Even an artist and plotter of Kirby’s calibre couldn’t handle another strip at that busiest of times, so from the next issue “The King” cut back to laying out episodes, allowing a variety of superb draughtsmen to flesh out the adventures. Even so, there’s probably a stunning invention or cool concept on almost every page that follows…

‘Find Fury or Die!’ brought veteran draughtsman John Severin back to the company; pencilling and inking Kirby’s blueprints as the new Director becomes the target of incessant assassination attempts and we are introduced to masked maniac the Supreme Hydra

The tension ramps up for the next instalment as a number of contenders are introduced – any of whom might be the obscured overlord of evil – even as S.H.I.E.L.D. strives mightily but fails to stop Hydra launching its deadly Betatron Bomb in ‘The Prize is… Earth!’

Despite the restrictions of the Comics Code, these early S.H.I.E.L.D. stories were stark and grim and frequently carried a heavy body count. Four valiant agents died in quick succession in #137 and the next issue underscored the point in ‘Sometimes the Good Guys Lose!’ with further revelations of Hydra’s inner workings.

Fury and fellow Howling Commando war heroes Dum-Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones meanwhile played catch-up after Hydra assassins invade S.H.I.E.L.D.: almost eliminating Fury and munitions genius Tony Stark – the only man capable of destroying the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over the world. Although Nick saves the inventor, he is captured in the process…

Tortured by Hydra in #139’s ‘The Brave Die Hard!’ (with Joe Sinnott replacing Severin as finisher), Fury finds an unlikely ally in Laura Brown: Supreme Hydra’s daughter and a young woman bitterly opposed to her father’s megalomaniacal madness.

Even with only half a comicbook per month to tell a tale, creators didn’t hang around in those halcyon days and #140 promised ‘The End of Hydra!’ (by Don Heck & Sinnott over Kirby) as a S.H.I.E.L.D. squad invades the enemy’s inner sanctum to rescue the already-free-and-making-mayhem Fury. In the meantime, Stark travels into space to remove the Betratron Bomb with his robotic Braino-Saur system. The end result leaves Hydra temporarily headless…

Strange Tales #141 has Kirby return to full pencils (inked by Frank Giacoia pseudonymously moonlighting as Frank Ray) for the mop-up before ‘Operation: Brain Blast!’ introduces Mentallo – a renegade from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ESP division – who joins with technological savant the Fixer to attack the organisation as the first step in an ambitious scheme to rule the world.

The momentous raid begins in ‘Who Strikes at… S.H.I.E.L.D.?’ (illustrated by Kirby with Mike Demeo – AKA Esposito) with the deadly rogues hitting hard and fast: seizing and mind-controlling Fury before strapping him to a mini-H-bomb. With Howard Purcell & Esposito embellishing Kirby’s layouts, Dugan and the boys come blasting in ‘To Free a Brain Slave’ in #143…

A new and deadly threat emerges in #144 as ‘The Day of the Druid!’ as a mystic charlatan targets Fury and his agents with murderous flying techno-ovoids. Happily, new S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit Jasper Sitwell is on hand to augment the triumphant fightback in ‘Lo! The Eggs Shall Hatch!’ (finished by Heck & Esposito).

As Marvel continuity grew evermore interlinked, ‘Them!’ details a Captain America team-up for Fury in the first of the Star-Spangled Avenger’s many adventures as a (more-or-less) Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Taken from Tales of Suspense #78 (June 1966): scripted by Lee with Kirby full pencils and Giacoia inks, the story depicts the WWII wonders battling an artificial assassin with incredible chemical capabilities, after which Nick seeks the creature’s mysterious makers in Strange Tales #146, ‘When the Unliving Strike!’ (Kirby, Heck & Esposito).

Proclaiming themselves a technological Special Interests group, Advanced Idea Mechanics courts S.H.I.E.L.D.’s governmental and military masters, promising potent and incredible new weapons if only they sacked that barbaric slob Fury, but the surly supremo is getting close to exposing A.I.M.’s connection to “Them” and an old enemy thought long gone…

A concerted whispering campaign and “briefing-against” seemingly sees Fury ousted in ‘The Enemy Within!’ and put on trial in ‘Death Before Dishonor!’ (scripted by Kirby with Heck & Esposito finishing his layouts), but it’s all part of a cunning counter-plan which delivers a shattering conclusion and ‘The End of A.I.M.!’ in #149 (scripted by Denny O’Neil, with art by Kirby & Ogden Whitney).

Then, revealed by Lee, Kirby, John Buscema & Giacoia, a malign and devilishly subtle plan is finally exposed in Strange Tales #150 as Fury’s team puts together clues from all the year’s past clashes to come to one terrifying conclusion: ‘Hydra Lives!’

The shocking secret also hints at great events to come as newcomer Steranko assumes the finisher’s role over Lee & Kirby for ‘Overkill!’ with Fury targeted by the new Supreme Hydra who devises a cunning scheme to infiltrate America’s top security agency and use his enemy as the means of triggering global Armageddon…

Although the Good Guys seemingly thwart that scheme, ‘The Power of S.H.I.E.L.D.!’ is actually helpless to discern the villain’s real intent as this initial dossier of doom ends on a cliffhanger after ‘The Hiding Place!’ (ST #153 and scripted by Roy Thomas) closes with the arch villain comfortably ensconced in Fury’s inner circle and ready to destroy the organisation from within…

To Be Continued…

Although the S.H.I.E.L.D. saga stops here, there’s an added bonus still to enjoy: the aforementioned FF #21. This revealed Fury as a wily CIA agent seeking the team’s aid against a sinister demagogue called ‘The Hate-Monger’ (Lee & Kirby, inked by comics veteran George Roussos, under the protective nom-de-plume George Bell) just as the 1960s espionage vogue was taking off, inspired by James Bond films and TV shows like Danger Man.

Here Fury craftily manipulates Marvel’s First Family into invading a sovereign nation reeling in the throes of revolution in a yarn crackling with tension and action…

Fast, furious and fantastically entertaining, these high-octane vintage yarns are a superb snapshot of early Marvel Comics at their creative peak and should be part of every fanboy’s shelf of beloved favourites.

Don’t Yield! Back S.H.I.E.L.D.!
© 1965, 1966, 1967, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sub-Mariner Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Wally Wood, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby, Bill Everett, Jerry Grandenetti & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0875-7(HB)                      978-0-7851-5068-8 (TPB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

This first celebratory volume – available as a hardback, trade paperback and eBook – collects Tales to Astonish #70-87, Daredevil #7 and a crossover chapter from Tales of Suspense #80, spanning April 1965-January 1967 and opens with the now traditional Stan Lee Introduction.

Prior to the Tales to Astonish serial the Sub-Mariner had appeared in numerous established titles as guest villain du jour. One last guest shot with Namor acting as a misunderstood bad-guy was Daredevil #7 (April 1965) which kicks off proceedings here in spectacular style.

The tale is a perfect comicbook and a true landmark: to my mind one of the Top Ten Marvel Tales of all Time. Lee and creative legend Wally Wood concocted a timeless masterpiece with ‘In Mortal Combat with… Sub-Mariner!’ as Prince Namor of Atlantis – recently reunited with the survivors of his decimated race – returns to the surface world to sue mankind for their crimes against his people.

To expedite his claim, the Prince engages the services of Matt Murdock’s law firm; little suspecting the blind lawyer is also the acrobatic Man without Fear.

Whilst impatiently awaiting a hearing at the UN, Namor is informed by his lover Lady Dorma that his warlord, Krang, has usurped the throne in his absence. The tempestuous monarch cannot languish in a cell when the kingdom is threatened, so he fights his way to freedom through the streets of New York, smashing battalions of National Guard and the dauntless Daredevil with supreme ease.

The hopelessly one-sided battle with one of the strongest beings on the planet shows the dauntless courage of DD and the innate nobility of a “villain” far more complex than most of the industry’s usual fare at the time.

Augmented by a rejected Wood cover repurposed as ‘A Marvel Masterwork pin-up: Namor and D.D.’ this yarn is the perfect prequel and a few months later Tales to Astonish #70 heralded ‘The Start of the Quest!’ as Lee, Gene Colan (in the pseudonymous guise of Adam Austin) & Vince Colletta set the Sub-Mariner to storming an Atlantis under martial law. The effort is for naught and the returning hero is rejected by his own people. Callously imprisoned, the troubled Prince is freed by the oft-neglected and ignored Lady Dorma…

As the pompous hero begins a mystical quest to find the lost Trident of King Neptune – which only the rightful ruler of Atlantis can hold – he is unaware that the treacherous Krang allowed him to escape, the better to destroy him with no witnesses…

The serialised search carries Namor through a procession of fantastic adventures and pits him against a spectacular array of sub-sea horrors: a giant octopus in ‘Escape… to Nowhere’; a colossal seaweed man in ‘A Prince There Was’ and a demented wizard and energy-sapping diamonds in ‘By Force of Arms!’

However, as the end approaches in ‘When Fails the Quest!’, revolution breaks out in Atlantis, and Namor seemingly sacrifices his kingdom to save Dorma from troglodytic demons the Faceless Ones.

In issue #75 ‘The End of the Quest’ finds the Prince battling his way back into Atlantis with a gravely-injured Dorma, before the saga concludes in ‘Uneasy Hangs the Head…!’ as the status quo is restored and Namor finally regains his stolen throne. Back in charge, the Prince once more turns his thoughts to peace with the surface world and resolves ‘To Walk Amongst Men!’, but his mission is derailed when he encounters a deep-sea drilling platform and promptly finds himself battling the US military and retired Avengers Henry Pym and Janet Van Dyne.

That fracas was abruptly curtailed in #78’s ‘The Prince and the Puppet’ as an old adversary once again seizes control of the amphibian’s fragile mind…

Inked by the brilliant Bill Everett, ‘When Rises the Behemoth’ has Namor struggling against the Puppet Master’s psychic control and confronting the US Army in the streets of New York, before returning to clash with a cataclysmic doomsday monster in Atlantis. Dick Ayers stepped in to ink the tense conclusion in #80’s ‘To the Death!’, wherein Warlord Krang returns, blackmailing Dorma into betraying her beloved Prince…

Heartbroken and furious, Namor follows them to New York in ‘When a Monarch Goes Mad!’ (TTA#81): a violent melodrama that crossed over into the Iron Man feature in sister title Tales of Suspense #80.

‘When Fall the Mighty!’ (Lee, Colan & Jack Abel, using the pen-name Gary Michaels) offered a spectacular combat classic which only gets more incredible as it continues into Tales to Astonish #82.

Colan was a spectacular illustrator, but no one could ever match Jack Kirby for bombastic battle scenes, and when the former contracted flu after delivering two pages The King stepped in to produce some of the finest action-art of his entire Marvel career, fully displaying ‘The Power of Iron Man’, with neophyte scribe Roy Thomas supplying the fractious dialogue…

Kirby stayed on for #83’s ‘The Sub-Mariner Strikes!’ wherein the enraged prince finally catches Krang and Dorma, only to once again lose his memory and become the pawn of would-be world-conqueror Number 1 of the Secret Empire in ‘Like a Beast at Bay!’ (Colan & Ayers).

The embattled monarch regains his senses just in time to terrorise a New York already reeling from the Incredible Hulk’s mindless depredations in ‘…And One Shall Die!’ (inked again by Everett) before ‘The Wrath of Warlord Krang!’ (Lee, Jerry Grandenetti & Everett) results in the metropolis being inundated by an artificial tsunami.

Naturally blamed for the catastrophe, Namor faces a ‘Moment of Truth’ as he finally deals with Krang and reconciles with Dorma: a conclusion made doubly delightful as Wild Bill Everett at last took full artistic charge of his greatest creation…

Supplemented with House ads, a full cover gallery and creator biographies, this assemblage of tales feature some of Marvel’s very best artists at their visual peak, and although a few of the stories no longer bear a critical scrutiny, the verve and enthusiasm still shine through.

Perhaps more vicarious thrill than fan’s delight, many early Marvel Comics are more exuberant than qualitative, but this volume, especially from an art-lover’s point of view, is a wonderful exception: a historical treasure that fans will find irresistible.
© 1965, 1966, 1967, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Black Panther: The Deadliest of the Species


By Reginald Hudlin, Ken Lashley, Paul Neary & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3342-1

Regarded as the first black hero 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 July 1966 when he attacked the Fantastic Four as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

T’Challa, son of T’Chaka, is an African monarch whose secluded kingdom is the only source of a miraculous alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth is founded. Those mineral riches – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in lost antiquity – enabled him to turn his country into a technological wonderland.

Moreover, the tribal resources and the people have been eternally safeguarded by a cat-like human champion deriving incredible physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb simultaneously ensuring the generational dominance of the nation’s Panther Cult.

In recent years that continuity mythology was retooled to reveal that the “Vibranium” mound had actually made the country a secret Superpower for centuries but now only increasingly turns Wakanda into a target for subversion and incursion.

This slim, unassuming but extremely engaging Costumed Drama outing – available in trade paperback and eBook editions – collects the first six issues of Black Panther volume 5 (April to September 2009) and was originally part of Marvel’s company-wide “Dark Reign” publishing event.

‘The Deadliest of the Species’ begins as T’Challa’s new bride (and queen) Ororo nervously embarks on a goodwill tour. As a mutant – and far worse, an American – who has married the king, she is keenly aware of her tenuous position and potential for disrupting the ancient social order.

All thoughts of winning over the people are soon forgotten when her husband’s jet – which left only hours ago on a diplomatic mission – screams in and catastrophically crashes in the heart of the city despite all the weather goddess’ efforts to slow it down…

Unknown to all, five hours previously the Black Panther had secretly met with regal rival Namor the Sub-Mariner to hear an invitational offer from a Cabal of world-conquerors led by former Green Goblin-turned government operative Norman Osborn. Now the adored sovereign is near death.

His formidable Dora Milaje bodyguards are gone and, after being dragged from the wreckage burned and broken, T’Challa agonisingly reveals it was an ambush before lapsing into a coma…

As Queen Mother Ramonda and sister Shuri rush to the hospital, the ruling council are frantic; terrified that the assassination attempt is prelude to invasion. Wakanda has always been ready for such assaults, but that was with a healthy Black Panther. Right now, they are spiritually all but defenceless…

Even though the king is not quite dead, the Ministers advocate activating the protocols to create a new Panther warrior… but the question is who will succeed?

Hours ago, after Namor departed, a far less friendly potentate accosted T’Challa as he left the conference. Dr. Doom is also a member of the Cabal and took the Panther’s refusal to join the club very, very badly…

Back in the now, desperate meetings and Ororo’s refusal to undertake the mystic rituals result in Princess Shuri being reluctantly assigned – over the strenuous protests of her own mother – the role of Black Panther Apparent. As T’Challa’s older sister it’s a role she was destined for, but one her brother seized decades ago.

At that time, she was away being schooled in the West when an invasion by American adventurer Ulysses Klaw claimed her father’s life. With cruel circumstance demanding nothing less, the boy took the initiative, the role and the responsibility of defending his nation…

Thus, after years as an irrelevant spare, the flighty jet-setter is being asked to take up a destiny she now neither wants nor feels capable of fulfilling. She is especially afraid of the part of the ceremony where she faces the Panther God and is judged…

T’Challa cannot reveal how the battle with Doom ended in brutal defeat and certain death, or how his valiant Dora Milaje gave their lives to get his maimed body back in the jet and home via auto-pilot. He is unable to even stay alive and, as the world’s most up-to-date doctors slowly abandon hope, Ramonda convinces Queen Ororo to try something terrible and very ancient instead…

Despite a pervasive cloak of secrecy bad new travels fast. Across the continent adherents of the Panther Cult’s theological antithesis revel in Wakanda’s misfortune. Smug, gleeful worshippers of rival cults prepare arcane rituals to finally destroy their enemies and – in a place far removed from the world – T’Challa awakes to meet his dead bodyguards once more…

In an isolated hut Queen and Queen Mother are bickering with sinister shaman Zawavari. The wizard claims to be able to bring T’Challa back but gleefully warns that the price will be high…

Thanks to her years of constant training, Shuri is having no problem with the physical rigours of the Panther Protocols and foolishly grows in confidence. Far away, Wakanda’s enemies succeed in summoning terrible Morlun, Devourer of Totems, but are wholly unprepared for the voracious horror to consume them before turning his attention to more distant theological fodder…

And in Limbo, a succession of dead friends and family subtly and seductively attempt to convince T’Challa that his time is past and that he must lay down his regal burdens…

As Morlun ponderously makes his way to Wakanda, stopping only to destroy other petty pantheons such as the master of the Man-Ape sect, Death continues her campaign to convince T’Challa to surrender to the inevitable whilst Shuri faces her final test…

It does not end well. The puissant Panther God looks right through her and declares her pitifully unworthy to wear his mantle or defend the Wakandan worshippers. Despondent Shuri is ignominiously despatched back to the physical world just as her new sister-in-law arrives in Limbo, sent by Zawavari to retrieve her husband from Death’s clutches.

Ororo doesn’t want to tell her husband that this is their last meeting. The price of his safe passage back is her becoming his replacement…

In the world of the living, Morlun has reached Wakanda’s borders, drawn inexorably to T’Challa’s (currently vacant) physical form. The beast is utterly invulnerable to everything in the nation’s super-scientific arsenal and leaves a mountain of corpses behind him.

With Armageddon manifesting all about them, the Royal Family and Ruling Council are out of options until sly Zawavari points out an odd inconsistency: the price for failing to become Wakanda’s living totem has always been instant death, but Shuri, although rejected, still breathes…

Realising both she and her country have one last chance, the newest Black Panther goes out to battle the totem-eater whilst in the Country of the Dead T’Challa and Ororo resolve to ignore the devil’s bargain and fight their way back to life.

And as the two hopeless battles proceed, Ramonda and Zawavari engage in a last-ditch ploy which will win both wars by bring all the combatants together…

Fast-paced, compelling and gloriously readable, this splendid blend of horror story, action epic, political thriller and coming-of-age tale also offers an impressive cover-&-variants gallery by J. Scott Campbell, Edgar Delgado, Michael Djurdjevic, Ken Lashley and Mitch Breitweiser.

If you don’t despise reboots and re-treads on unswerving principle and are instead prepared to give something new(ish) a go, there’s lots to enjoy in this fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights farrago, so why not set your sights and hunt this down?
© 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Epic Collection: volume 3 – 1968-1970: Brother, Take My Hand


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Barry Windsor-Smith & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0425-8

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 and wunderkind scripter Roy Thomas added an edge of darkness to the swashbuckling derring-do…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists, robots and a plethora of super-villains, quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.

Covering July 1968 to April 1970 this third tumultuous collection (in both trade paperback and eBook formats) sees a radical shift in treatment and content after in Stan Lee surrendered the scripter’s role to Thomas and an aura of barely contained escalating madness begins permeating the now staid soap opera narrative beats, peerlessly pictured by the masterful Colan, and a promising British fill-in artist named Barry Smith….

Having killed off his fictitious twin brother Mike Murdock, Matt briefly considered hanging up his scarlet long-johns but eventually retained his secret other-life by revealing to his closest friends that Mike was only one of a number of Men without Fear in the first part of a prolonged battle with a new nemesis as ‘Nobody Laughs at The Jester!’ (by Lee, Colan and inker Dan Adkins).

The Malevolent Mountebank only wanted to be more successful as a criminal than he had been as a bit-playing actor, but his motivation changed when crooked mayoral candidate Richard Raleigh hired him to spoil incorruptible Foggy Nelson’s campaign for the D.A. post.

The role grew, precipitating a protracted saga which kicked off with a temporarily befuddled DD ‘In Combat with Captain America!’ (inked by Vince Colletta) before Hornhead is framed for killing the Jester’s alter ego Jonathan Powers in #44’s ‘I, Murderer!’

Soundly defeated in combat by the Jester, our hero experiences ‘The Dismal Dregs of Defeat!’ and becomes a wanted fugitive. Following a frenetic police manhunt, he is finally arrested before snatching victory in thoroughly enthralling conclusion ‘The Final Jest!’ as inker extraordinary George Klein began a long and impressive association with the series.

With the Vietnam War raging, a story involving the conflict was inevitable but #47’s ‘Brother, Take My Hand!’ was so much more than a quick cash-in or even well-meaning examination of contemporary controversy as Marvel found another strong and admirable African American character (one of far too few in those blinkered times) to add to their growing stable.

Newly-blinded veteran Willie Lincoln turns to Matt Murdock and Daredevil for help on his return home. A disgraced cop framed by gang-boss Biggie Benson before joining the army, Lincoln is now back in America and determined to clear his name at all costs.

This gripping, life-affirming crime thriller not only triumphs in Daredevil’s natural milieu of moody urban menace but also sets up a long-running plot that would ultimately change the Man without Fear forever.

The return of Stilt-Man posed little more than a distraction in ‘Farewell to Foggy’ as Matt’s oldest friend wins the race for District Attorney but acrimoniously turns his back on Murdock, seemingly forever….

Stan Lee’s final script on the sightless crusader, ‘Daredevil Drops Out’ (#49), was illustrated by Colan & Klein, depicting Murdock as the target of a robotic assassin built by Mad-Scientist-for-Hire Starr Saxon. This tense, action-packed thriller grew into something very special with second chapter ‘If in Battle I Fall…!’ as neophyte penciller Barry Smith stepped in, ably augmented by veteran inker Johnny Craig.

Lee then left comics-scripting Boy Wonder Roy Thomas to finish up for him in ‘Run, Murdock, Run!’ (Daredevil #51, April 1969 with art by Smith & Klein): a wickedly engaging, frantically escalating psychedelic thriller which sees Saxon uncover the hero’s greatest secret after the Man Without Fear succumbs to toxins in his bloodstream and goes berserk.

The saga climaxes in stunning style on ‘The Night of the Panther!’ (Smith & Craig) as African Avenger Black Panther joins the hunt for an out-of-control Daredevil before subsequently helping contain, if not defeat, the dastardly Saxon.

The radically unsettling ending blew away all the conventions of traditional Fights ‘n’ Tights melodrama and still shocks me today…

Colan & Klein returned for #53’s ‘As it Was in the Beginning…’ wherein Thomas reprised, revised and expanded Lee & Bill Everett’s origin script from Daredevil #1, allowing the troubled hero to reach a bold decision, executed in #54 as ‘Call him Fear!’ featured the “death” of Matt Murdock and the triumphant return of long-vanished villain Mr. Fear.

‘Cry Coward!’ (beginning a superb inking run by legendary illustrator Syd Shores) reveals DD’s desperate reason for faking his demise (again!) and enacts the end of one of the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s greatest enemies.

‘…And Death Came Riding!’ then opens a tense 2-parter which forever changes Murdock’s relationship with the perennially loved-from-afar Karen Page whilst introducing a stunningly sinister new menace in Death’s-Head. By the end of ‘In the Midst of Life…!’ Matt and Karen are enjoying the most progressive and mature relationship in mainstream comics…

‘Spin-Out on Fifth Avenue!’ starts re-establishing some civilian stability as resurrected (again!) Matt Murdock becomes a special prosecutor for New York District Attorney Foggy Nelson and promptly goes after a mysterious new gang-boss dubbed Crime-Wave. As the fresh plot-threads take hold, new threats emerge, such as amped-up biker and reluctant assassin-for-hire Stunt-Master and #59’s far nastier hired gun who boasts ‘The Torpedo Will Get You if you Don’t Watch Out!’

‘Showdown at Sea!’ closes the career of the insidious and treacherous Crime-Wave, simultaneously signalling a return to single-issue action-based stories, starting with ‘Trapped… by the Trio of Doom!’ and spotlighting featuring a spectacular struggle against Cobra, Mr. Hyde and The Jester.

DD #62 features the nefarious Batman analogue from the Squadron Sinister who attempts to destroy the hero’s reputation in ‘Quoth the Nighthawk “Nevermore”!’ after which Horn-Head stunningly stops deadly psychopath Melvin Potter from busting out of jail in ‘The Girl… or the Gladiator’… but only at the cost of his constantly conflicted love-life…

To Be Continued…

Adding extra value to the proceeding are unused Colan cover pencils for #43, cover art for #44 and a delicious selection of original art pages concluding and complimenting a bonanza of bombastic battles tales that are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic in the grand Marvel Manner that no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Gary Friedrich, Marie Severin, Bill Everett, John Buscema, Gil Kane, Jerry Grandenetti & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6762-4 (TPB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast. As a result of continual 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 morose man-monster shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour until a new home was found for him.

Spanning June 1966 to April 1968, this trade paperback (and eBook) volume covers his years as co-star of Tales to Astonish – specifically issues #80-101 – and includes the first issue of his well-deserved new solo vehicle Incredible Hulk #102.

Following an Introduction by Stan Lee the saga resumes with TtA #80 as the Jade Juggernaut is dragged into an under-earth civil war after not-so-immortal old enemy Tyrannus resurfaces in ‘They Dwell in the Depths!’

Seeing the rampaging Hulk as a weapon of last resort in a bitter war against the Mole Man, the toppled tyrant abducts the emerald brute to Subterranea, but still loses his last bombastic battle. When Hulk returns topside, he promptly 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 (who was at that time sharing Tales to Astonish with Ol’ Greenskin).

Here, however, the Hulk 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!’ weave potent strands of sub-plot into a gripping mosaic which indicated to the evolving reader just how close-knit the Marvel Universe was becoming.

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 climactic clash the Hulk marauds 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 & John Tartaglione step in to illustrate ‘The Missile and the Monster!’ with yet another seditious spy diverting the experimental Orion rocket directly onto the city. The obvious stylistic 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 to the strip of veteran inker Mike Esposito also helps.

As obsessed Hulk-hunter and fiery US General “Thunderbolt” Ross foolishly deploys a weapon designed by gamma genius 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 episode ‘The Humanoid and the Hero!’ depicts Ross’ regret as the Hulk-Killer abruptly expands his remit to include everybody in his path and Gil Kane takes up the green pencil for #88 as ‘Boomerang and the Brute’ shows both the assassin and the Hulk’s savage power uniformly unleashed…

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 & inker Frank Giacoia), depicting the Gamma Giant hunted through a terrified, locked-down 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 Severin’s inker with #94’s ‘To the Beckoning Stars!’: the initial instalment of a terrific 3-part shocker which saw the Hulk transported to the interstellar retreat of the High Evolutionary to futilely 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.

Returned to Earth, the Green Goliath fell into a high-tech plot to overthrow America in ‘The Legions of: the Living Lightning!’, but the subversives’ beguilement of the monstrous outcast and conquest of a US military base in ‘The Puppet and the Power’ soon faltered and failed ‘When the Monster Wakes!’: his last inked by John Tartaglione.

Tales to Astonish was an anthological “split-book”, with two star-features sharing billing: a strategy caused by Marvel’s having entered into a highly restrictive distribution deal to save the company during a publishing crisis at the end of the 1950s.

At the time when the Marvel Age Revolution took fandom by storm, the company was confined to a release schedule of 16 titles each month, necessitating some doubling-up as characters became popular enough to carry their own strip. Fellow misunderstood misanthrope the Sub-Mariner had proved an ideal thematic companion since issue #70, and to celebrate the centenary of the title, issue #100 featured a breathtaking “who’s strongest?” clash between the blockbusting anti-heroes as the Puppet Master decreed ‘Let There be Battle!’ and Lee, Severin & Dan Adkins made it so.

The next issue was the last. With number #102 the comic would be redesignated The Incredible Hulk and the character’s success was assured. Before that, however, Lee, Severin & Giacoia set the scene with ‘Where Walk the Immortals!’ as Loki, Norse god of Evil transported the monster to Asgard in an effort to distract all-father Odin’s attention from his other schemes.

The premiere issue (#102) of The Incredible Hulk launched with an April, 1968 cover-date.

‘…This World Not His Own!’ included a rehashed origin for the Hulk and completed and concluded the Asgardian adventure with a troll invasion of Asgard with arch-villains Enchantress and the Executioner leading the charge. The issue was written by rising star Gary Friedrich, drawn by Severin and inked by veteran artist George Tuska. It was only the start of a big, bold and brutally enthralling things to come…

To Be Continued…

Adding even more lustre and appeal to this tome is a selection of original art covers by Everett, Kane and Severin…

This titanic tome of Hulk heroics offers visceral thrillers and chaotic clashes overflowing with dynamism, enthusiasm and sheer quality: tales crucial to later, more cohesive adventures, and even at their most hurried, the efforts of Kirby, 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)!
© 1966, 1967, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.