Amazing Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This series electrified Spider-Man fans when it first appeared and it has lost none of its power today. This is a must-have item for any fan of the Amazing Arachnid or the superhero medium.
© 1989, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle


By David Michelinie, John Romita Jr., Bob Layton & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3095-6(HB)                 978-0-7851-2043-8(TPB)

Tony Stark is a millionaire inventor who moonlights as a superhero: wearing a suit of armour stuffed with his own ingenious creations. The supreme technologist hates to lose and constantly upgrades his gear, making Iron Man is one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. However, at the time of these tales (reprinting Iron Man #120-128 spanning March to November 1979), the unrelenting pressure of running a multi-national corporation and saving the world daily has started to show itself in the subtle increase in Tony Stark’s partying – and drinking.

This light, breezy compilation contains some of the best mainstream super-hero sagas of the 1980s but is also regarded as one of the most remarkable, transformative and powerfully redemptive tales of the period (crafted by David Michelinie, John Romita Jr., Carmine Infantino and Bob Layton), as an epic battle of Good against Evil became seditiously relevant to the readership through its full-on confrontation of a modern social evil.

Following an already stellar run of stories, ‘The Old Man and the Sea Prince!’ (by Michelinie, Romita Jr. & Layton) found the Armoured Avenger battling amphibian superman and sometime ally the Sub-Mariner before uniting against officious military martinets intent on dislodging aged hermit Hiram Cross from the strategically useful island he lived on.

And unsuspected in the background, financial predator Justin Hammer continued his preparations to destroy Iron Man and break Stark’s financial empire…

His first strike was to override the amazing armour in the middle of an underwater duel in ‘A Ruse by Any Other Name…’ but even with that handicap, Stark and his allies Bethany Cabe and Jim Rhode managed to expose unscrupulous conglomerate Roxxon as the cause of all Hiram’s woes… not that it did them any good…

Infantino then pencils a refitted recap of Iron Man’s origins in ‘Journey’ before Hammer steps up his campaign in #123’s ‘Casino Fatale!’ (Michelinie, Romita Jr. & Layton) as a small army of hired villains attack the hero in Atlantic City just when the Iron Man suit is at its most gremlin-afflicted…

The assault escalates in ‘Pieces of Hate!’ (“Layton & Friends” sharing inking duties) but even after scoring an incredible, improbable victory Stark is left reeling when Hammer plays his ace. Taking full control of Iron Man’s armour, the evil plutocrat makes Stark the unwilling accomplice and murder weapon in a monstrous crime, pushing the hero over the edge and into a spiral of despair…

After his super-sophisticated suit “malfunctions” again, killing a foreign ambassador at a major diplomatic function the disgraced and grieving Stark surrenders the armour to the authorities. However, undaunted and finally aware of what’s been going on, he enlists new Ant-Man Scott Lang to his small band of allies and goes undercover to find his hidden enemy in #125’s ‘The Monaco Prelude’.

Nonetheless, the villain seems triumphant when ‘The Hammer Strikes!’, abducting the heroes and gloatingly revealing his dastardly scheme. However, the smirking monster has grievously underestimated his rival’s capabilities and the power of Iron Man in the spectacular final clash ‘…A Man’s Home is His Battlefield!’

Tragically, when the dust settles and the bad guys are all disposed of, Stark has time to obsess over the lives lost and turns to the booze that has increasingly been his only solace in the past months…

The fall and rise of a hero is a classic plot, and it’s seldom been better used in the graphic narrative medium and never bettered in the super-hero field than in ‘Demon in a Bottle’ as the traumatised hero plumbs the depths of grief and guilt, buries himself in pity, and alienates all his friends and allies before an unlikely intervention forces him to take a long, hard look at his life and actions…

Available in hardback, trade paperback and as an eBook, Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle is a complex and very mature tale for kids of all ages, and an unforgettable instance of Triumph and Tragedy perfectly told. If you have let this tale pass you by, you are the poorer for it and should amend that situation as soon as possible.
© 1984, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 15


By Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Archie Goodwin, Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6631-3

After a shaky start in 1962 The Amazing Spider-Man quickly rebounded, rapidly proving a sensation with kids of all ages and rivalling the creative powerhouse of Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four. Soon the quirky, charming, action-packed comicbook soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old costumed-crimebusters of previous publications.

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

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

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

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

The Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead of – its fan-base, and this 15th exceptionally enthralling full-colour compendium of chronological web-spinning adventures confirms that notion as the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero survives one of the most macabre and Byzantine vengeance plots ever conceived. Further backing up the thought is author Gerry Conway’s farewell Introduction – ‘All Things Must Pass’ – which candidly revealed why after killing Peter’s one true love the editors and especially publisher moved heaven and earth to bring her back…

With the material in this sturdy Hardcover compilation (and latterly eBook) Stan Lee’s hand-picked successor Conway moved on after reaching a creative plateau giving way to fresh authorial guide Len Wein. However, scripts continued to blend contemporary issues (which of course often feel quite outdated from here in the 21st century) with soap opera subplots to keep older readers glued to the series as the outrageous adventure and bombastic battle sequences beguiled the youngsters.

Thematically, there’s further decline in the use of traditional crimes and gangsters, as super-science, outlandish villains and monsters took centre stage, but the most sensational advance was an insidious scheme which would reshape the nature of the web-spinner’s adventures for decades to come…

For all that, the wallcrawler was still indisputably mainstream comics’ voice of youth; defining being a teenager for young readers of the 1970s, tackling incredible hardships, fantastic foes and the most pedestrian and debilitating of frustrations.

High School nerd Peter Parker had grown up and gone to college. Because of his guilt-fuelled double-life he struggled there too, developed a stress ulcer but found true love with policeman’s daughter Gwen Stacy

This volume – spanning April 1975 to April 1976 – re-presents Amazing Spider-Man #143-155, Annual #10 and opens with Amazing Spider-Man #143 ‘…And the Wind Cries: Cyclone!’ (Conway Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt).

Peter Parker is in Paris to deliver a ransom and save kidnapped publisher J. Jonah Jameson but soon calls in his arachnid alter ego to deal with a hyper-fast French super-villain. The story is fairly run-of-the-mill but the real kicker comes from an overly-fond farewell expressed by “casual chum” Mary Jane Watson: a kiss that finally shifts traumatised, depressed Peter’s thoughts from his beloved, recently murdered Gwen

The creative team capitalised on the situation when Pete returns to New York and his – rather extraordinary – daily travails as #144 launched ‘The Delusion Conspiracy’, whilst #145 focuses on a baffled girl’s confusion and terror at everyone’s reactions when she comes home and the entire world screams ‘Gwen Stacy is Alive …and, Well…?!’

With Gwen somehow resurrected and Peter on the edge of a breakdown, Aunt May is hospitalised just in time for another old foe to strike again in ‘Scorpion… Where is Thy Sting?’, but the real kick in the tale is irrefutable scientific and medical reports proving the increasingly bewildered Miss Stacy is not an impostor but the genuine article…

In Spider-Man #147 Peter finds some answers as further tests prove Gwen is actually a true human clone (remember, this was new and cutting-edge stuff in 1975) but all too soon he’s distracted by another foe bad-guy with a grudge and hungry to prove ‘The Tarantula is a Very Deadly Beast’ (illustrated by Andru, Esposito & Hunt).

It’s all part of a convoluted and utterly Byzantine revenge scheme conceived by a malign old enemy. When the hero is ambushed by a mesmerised Gwen at the behest of the archfiend, ‘Jackal, Jackal, Who’s Got the Jackal?’ (art by Andru, Mike Esposito & Hunt) at last discloses some shocking truths about one of Peter’s most trusted friends before the Delusion Conspiracy explosively concludes with #149’s ‘Even if I Live, I Die!’ (Andru & Esposito).

Learning that he and Gwen had been covertly cloned by their biology teacher Miles Warren, the Amazing Arachnid has to defeat his alchemical double in a grim, no-holds-barred identity-duel, with neither sure who’s the real McCoy. The battle eventually results in the copy’s death… maybe…, perhaps… probably…

That moment of doubt over who actually fell informs anniversary issue Amazing Spider-Man #150, as Archie Goodwin, Gil Kane, Esposito & Giacoia take the hero down memory lane and up against a brigade of old antagonists to decide whether ‘Spider-Man… or Spider-Clone?’ survived that final fight, before debuting regular scripter Len Wein joins Andru & John Romita Sr. to launch a new era of adventure…

After disposing of his duplicate’s corpse in an incineration plant, Spider-Man finds time to let Peter reconnect with his long-neglected friends. However, a jolly party is soon disrupted as blackouts triggered by a super-menace lead the wallcrawler down into the sewers for a ‘Skirmish Beneath the Streets!’, resulting in our hero almost drowning and nearly being ‘Shattered by the Shocker!’(Esposito & Giacoia inks) in a conclusive and decisive return engagement…

A moving change-of-pace tale then finds a blackmailed former football star giving his all to save a child in ‘The Longest Hundred Yards!’ (Andru & Esposito) but it is left to Spider-Man to make the computer-crook culprits pay, after which #154 reveals ‘The Sandman Always Strikes Twice!’ (art by Sal Buscema & Esposito) – albeit with little lasting effect – until devious murder-mystery ‘Whodunnit!’ (Buscema & Esposito again) cunningly links three seemingly unconnected cases in a masterful “Big Reveal”…

This copious compendium then concludes with some contemporary house ads, an editorial explanation of the original “Clone Saga” and biographies. Despite some qualifications this is a superb selection starring an increasingly relevant teen icon and symbol. Spider-Man was and still is a crucial part of many youngsters’ existences: living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the good taste allow.

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

This action-packed collection comprises one of the most momentous periods in Spider-Man’s astounding life and is one every Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatic should see…
© 1975, 1976, 2011, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Defenders Masterworks volume 1


By Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema, Ross Andru & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3044-4 (HC)

Last of the big star conglomerate super-groups, the Defenders would eventually count amongst its membership almost every hero – and a few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No surprise there then, as initially they were composed of the company’s bad-boy antiheroes: misunderstood, outcast and often actually dangerous to know.

For Marvel, the outsider super-group must have seemed a conceptual inevitability – once they’d finally published it. Apart from Spider-Man and Daredevil all their superstars regularly teamed up in various mob-handed assemblages and, in the wake of the Defenders’ success, even more super-teams comprising pre-existing characters were rapidly mustered. These included the Champions, Invaders, New Warriors and so on – but none of them had any really Very Big Guns…

For kids – of any and all ages – there is a positively 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…

Although the genesis of the team may have derived from their status as publicly distrusted but well-selling “villains”, originator Roy Thomas shares his own recollections and deeper ruminations in an informative Introduction which namechecks a pivotal continued experimental crossover which didn’t make the cut in this sterling and sturdy hardcover (and eBook) compendium.

I only mention it as the sinister antagonists of those tales play a crucial role in the later stories that do appear here; namely Sub-Mariner #34-35, Marvel Feature #1-3 and Defenders #1-6, spanning February 1971 through June 1973…

So, for fuller enjoyment, you might want to track down Dr. Strange #183(November 1969), Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970) and Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970) – Essential Defenders volume 1 has those plus all these and much more, but only in stark monochrome reproduction – which collectively detailed how ancient necromantic threat the Undying Ones returned to bedevil Earth…

An elder race of demons hungry to reconquer humanity, they clashed with Stephen Strange, but as his series unexpectedly ended with that issue the story went nowhere until the Sub-Mariner #22 brought the Prince of Atlantis into the mix. A sterling tale of sacrifice in which the Master of the Mystic Arts seemingly died holding the gates of Hell shut with the Undying Ones pent behind them then concluded on an upbeat note in Incredible Hulk #126, after a New England cult dispatched helpless Bruce Banner to the nether realms in an attempt to undo Strange’s heroic gesture.

Luckily cultist Barbara Norris had last-minute second thoughts and her own sacrifice freed the mystic, seemingly ending the threat of the Undying Ones forever. At the end of that issue Strange retired, forsaking magic, although he was back before too long as the fates – and fickle reading tastes – called him back to duty.

The Defenders’ story officially begins here with Sub-Mariner #34-35 of his own title (February and March 1971). The Prince of Atlantis had become an early advocate of the ecology movement, and here he took the next step in their evolution by fractiously recruiting Hulk and the Silver Surfer to help him destroy an American Nuclear Weather-Control station.

In ‘Titans Three’ and the concluding ‘Confrontation’ (by Thomas, Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney) the always-misunderstood trio battled a despotic dictator’s forces, the US Army, UN defence forces and the mighty Avengers to prevent the malfunctioning station from accidentally vaporising half the planet…

With that debacle smoothed over life resumed its usual frenetic pace for the Hulk and Namor until giant-sized try-out comic Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971) presented ‘The Day of the Defenders!’ wherein a mysteriously returned Dr. Strange recruited the Avenging Son and the Jade Giant to help him stop the deathbed doom of crazed super-mind Yandroth.

Determined to not go gently into the dark, the Scientist Supreme had built an Omegatron weapon programmed to obliterate the Earth as soon as Yandroth’s heart stopped beating and only the brute strength of the misunderstood misanthropes could possibly stop it…

Naturally the fiend hadn’t told the whole truth but the day was saved – or at least postponed – in a canny classic from Thomas, Ross Andru & Bill Everett.

Clearly and immediately destined for great things, the astounding antiheroes returned in Marvel Feature #2 (March 1972) with Sal Buscema replacing Everett as inker for late Halloween treat ‘Nightmare on Bald Mountain!’

By capturing arch-foe Dr. Strange, extra-dimensional dark lord Dormammu sought to invade our realm through a portal in Vermont, only to be savagely beaten back by the mage’s surly sometime comrades, whilst in #3 (June 1972) Thomas, Andru & Everett reunited to revive an old Lee/Kirby “furry underpants” monster in ‘A Titan Walks Among Us!’

Xemnu the Titan was an alien super-telepath seeking to repopulate his desolate homeworld by stealing America’s children until thrashed by the Defenders, but older fans recognised him as the cover-hogging star of Journey into Mystery #62 (November 1960) where he acted as a road-test for a later Marvel star in a short tale entitled ‘I Was a Slave of the Living Hulk!’

An assured hit, The Defenders exploded swiftly into their own title (cover-dated August 1972), to begin a bold and offbeat run of reluctant adventures scripted by super-team wunderkind Steve Englehart. As a group of eclectic associates occasionally called together to save the world (albeit on a miraculously monotonous monthly basis) they were billed as a “non-team” – whatever that is – but it didn’t affect the quality of their super-heroic shenanigans.

With Sal Buscema as regular penciller an epic adventure ensued with ‘I Slay by the Stars!’ (inked by Giacoia) as sorcerer Necrodamus attempted to sacrifice Namor and free those pesky Undying Ones; a mission that promptly led to conflict with an old ally in ‘The Secret of the Silver Surfer!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) before concluding in the Jim Mooney-inked ‘Four Against the Gods!’

Here the Defenders took the war to the dimensional dungeon of the Undying Ones and rescued the long-imprisoned and now utterly insane Barbara Norris.

Clearly a fan of large casts and extended epics, Englehart added a fighting female to the non-team with ‘The New Defender!’ (inked by new regular Frank McLaughlin) as Asgardians exiles Enchantress and Executioner embroiled the antiheroes in their long-running and lethal love-spat. The fallout included bringing the Black Knight briefly into the mix and turning Barbara into the latest incarnation of Feminist Fury (these were far less enlightened days) The Valkyrie.

Defenders #5 began a long-running plot thread that would have major repercussions for the Marvel Universe. The denouement of the previous tale had left the Black Knight an ensorcelled, immobile stone statue, and, as Strange and Co. searched for a cure, the long defused Omegatron suddenly resumed its countdown to global annihilation in ‘World Without End?’

This initial collection then concludes with the increasingly isolationist Silver Surfer momentarily “rejoining” in #6 to share ‘The Dreams of Death!’ as new lightweight magic menace Cyrus Black attacked, and was as rapidly repulsed…

After a spiffy team pin-up by Sal Buscema, a revelatory Afterword by Steve Englehart segues into a brief bonus feature including unpublished cover art, contemporary house ads and creator biographies.

For a brief while The Defenders would be one of the best and weirdest superhero comics in the business, but to get there you really need to observe this unruly, uncomfortable selection of misfit heroes in their salad days here. At least the fact that their widespread and far-reaching origins are still so eminently entertaining should be both a relief and delight.

Go on, Enjoy, Pilgrim… the best is yet to come…
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 2009, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man 2099 volume 1


By Peter David, Rick Leonardi, Kelly Jones, Al Williamson and various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8478-2

Hey look! Another Spider-Man movie…

Comics phenomenon and teen-angst icon Peter Parker evolved from humbled beginnings into a globally recognised character with a life of his own. As such, the Amazing Arachnid has been subject to a myriad of permutations and spin-offs. This snazzy trade paperback – also available in assorted digital editions – is one of most intriguing takes on the whole idea of wallcrawling wonders ever conceived and has in recent times, following the company’s continuity reboot, even been assimilated into the mainstream Marvel Universe…

In the early 1990’s – a time when Marvel’s product quality was at an all-time low – following a purported last-minute dispute between the company and prodigal son John Byrne (who had re-invented himself by re-inventing Superman), the House of Ideas launched a whole separate continuity strand with all new heroes (and franchise extensions), set more than a century into the future.

This world was corporate and dystopian, the scenarios were fantastical and the initial character-pool was predictable if not actually uninspired. A lot of the early material was – by any critical yardstick – sub-par. But then again there was also Spider-Man 2099.

Some analogue of the webspinner is always going to happen in any Marvel imprint (remember Peter Porker, Spider-Ham?), and in those insane days of speculator-led markets (where greedy kids and adults dreamed of cornering the market in “Hot Issues” and becoming instant susquillionaires) early episodes were always going to be big sellers.

What nobody expected was just how good those stories were to actually read…

Now the first ten issues are available in a fantastic and entertaining full colour collection.

In 2099, world governments are openly in the capacious pockets of sprawling multi-national corporations which permeate every aspect of society. All superheroes have been gone for decades, although their legends still comfort the underclass living at the fringes – and below the feet – of the favoured ones who can survive in a society based on unchecked, rampant free-market capitalism.

Miguel O’Hara is a brilliant young geneticist fast-tracked and swiftly rising through the ranks of Alchemax. He enjoys the seductive privileges afforded to him for his work in creating super-soldiers for the company. He loves solving problems.

…And now, despite the constant interference of the salary-men and corporate drudges he’s forced to work with, Miguel’s on the verge of a major breakthrough: a technique to alter genetic make-up and combine it with DNA from other organisms…

But after a demonstration goes grotesquely awry the arrogant scientist makes a big mistake when he tells his boss that he’s going to quit. Unwilling to lose such a valuable asset, CEO Tyler Stone poisons O’Hara with the most addictive drug in existence – one only available from Alchemax – to keep him loyal and in his place.

Desperate, furious and still convinced he knows best, the young scientist tries to use his genetic modifier to reset his tainted physiology and purge the addiction from his cells. Sadly, one of the lab assistants he used to bully sees a chance for some payback and sabotages the attempt, adding spider DNA to the matrix…

Fast-paced and riotously tongue-in-cheek scripts from Peter David kept the series readable but the biggest asset to Spider-Man 2099 and the greatest factor in its initial success was undoubtedly the fluid design mastery and captivating dynamic, panoramic pencilling of Rick Leonardi, wedded to the legendary Al Williamson’s fine ink lines. The art just jumps off the pages at you.

After the eponymous origin issue, #2’s ‘Nothing Ventured…’ – introducing cyborg bounty hunter Venture – and concluding chapter ‘Nothing Gained’, which sees Miguel soundly defeat Alchemax’s go-to hired-gun, the early editorial policy downplaying “super-villains” results in yet another hi-tech Corporate raider attacking the new Amazing Arachnid.

In ‘The Specialist’ and ‘Blood Oath’ (issues #4 and 5) Stone, his cronies and his business rivals go to extraordinary – but not so much extra-legal – lengths to uncover the secrets of the first costumed adventurer since the mythic “Age of Heroes” ended…

In issue #6 the hero’s Pyrrhic victory leaves him wounded in the dank shanty-zone far beneath the giant skyscrapers of the productive citizenry. Spider-Man has to survive ‘Downtown’, encountering an unsuspected underclass of discarded humanity, but soon falls foul of its top predator (and first super-villain) Vulture in #7’s ‘Wing and a Prayer’ and concluding chapter ‘Flight of Fancy’.

Kelley Jones & Mark McKenna substituted for Leonardi and Williamson in #9’s ‘Home Again, Home Again’ as our reluctant rebel and increasingly acclaimed antihero finds himself the latest Idée Fixe of celebrity imitators – or are they actually John the Baptists for a brand-new religion?

All through the stories a strong family cast including younger brother Gabe, girlfriend Dana, Miguel’s astonishingly over-close Latina mother and his just-plain-crazy personal computer Lyla provide drama and scintillating laughs in complex and enthralling sub-plots, but in the last tale of this collection ‘Mother’s Day’ they all take centre-stage as we get a peek into the childhood that made Miguel O’Hara the man he is.

His reaffirmation of purpose at the end of the tale closes this superb sidelined gem on a merry high and promises great things to come…

Marvel’s output seldom achieved this kind of quality after the mid-1980s, especially in a character and setting that didn’t demand prior knowledge of an entire continuity. To share sheer enthusiastic enjoyment and old-fashioned Marvel Magic you simply need to step into this particular future…
© 1992, 1993, 2009, 2014 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Epic Collection volume 2: The Master Plan of Doctor Doom


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0435-7

Fantastic Four #1 (bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, 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.

This full-colour compendium – also available as a digital download – collects Fantastic Four #19-32 plus the first two giant-sized Annuals issues of progressive landmarks (spanning July 1963 to October 1963) and tellingly reveals how Stan & Jack cannily built on that early energy to consolidate the FF as the leading title and most innovative series of the era.

As seen in the ground-breaking premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother 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, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak.

Here the wonderment resumes with the contents of the first summer Annual: a spectacular 37-page epic battle as, finally reunited with their wandering prince, the warriors of Atlantis invade New York City and the rest of the world in ‘The Sub-Mariner versus the Human Race!’ by Lee, Kirby and inker Dick Ayers.

A monumental tale by the standards of the time, the saga saw the FF repel the undersea invasion through valiant struggle and brilliant strategy as well as providing a secret history of the secretive race Homo Mermanus. Nothing was really settled except a return to the original status quo, but the thrills were intense and unforgettable…

Also included are rousing pin-ups and fact file features ‘A Gallery of the Fantastic Four’s Most Famous Foes!’, ‘Questions and Answers about the Fantastic Four’, a diagrammatic trip ‘Inside the Baxter Building’ and a charming short tale ‘The Fabulous Fantastic Four meet Spider-Man!’.

This is an extended re-interpretation of the first meeting between the two most popular Marvel brands from the premiere issue of the wallcrawler’s own comic. Pencilled this time by Kirby, the dramatic duel benefitted from Steve Ditko’s inking which created a truly novel look.

Cover-dated October 1963, Fantastic Four #19 introduced another of the company’s top-ranking super-villains as the quarrelsome quartet travelled back to ancient Egypt and ‘Prisoners of the Pharaoh!’ This time travel tale has been revisited by so many writers that it is considered one of the key stories in Marvel history introducing a future-Earth tyrant who would evolve into overarching menace Kang the Conqueror.

Another universe-threatening foe was introduced and defeated by brains not brawn in

FF#20 as ‘The Mysterious Molecule Man!’ menaced New York before being soundly outsmarted, whilst the next issue guest-starred Nick Fury: lead character in Marvel’s only war comic.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos was another solid hit, but eventually the brusque and brutal star would metamorphose into the company’s answer to James Bond. Here, however, he’s a simple CIA agent seeking the team’s aid against a sinister demagogue called ‘The Hate-Monger’ in a cracking yarn with a strong message, inked by comics veteran George Roussos, under the protective nom-de-plume George Bell.

By this juncture the team were firmly established and creators Lee & Kirby were well on the way to toppling DC/National Comics from their decades-held top spot through an engaging blend of brash, folksy and consciously contemporaneous sagas, mixing high concept, low comedy, trenchant melodrama and breathtaking action.

Unseen since the premiere issue, #22 finally saw ‘The Return of the Mole Man!’; another full-on monster-mashing fight-fest, chiefly notable for the debut of the Invisible Girl’s newly developed powers of projecting force fields and “invisible energy” – which would eventually make her one of the mightiest characters in the company’s pantheon.

Fantastic Four #23 heralded ‘The Master Plan of Doctor Doom!’, which introduced his frankly mediocre minions the Terrible Trio of Bull Brogin, Handsome Harry and Yogi Dakor, although the uncanny menace of “the Solar Wave” was enough to raise the hackles on my 5-year-old neck…

(Do I need to qualify that with: all of me was five but only my neck had properly developed hackles back then?)

Issue #24’s ‘The Infant Terrible!’ was a sterling yarn of inadvertent extra-galactic menace and misplaced innocence, followed by a two-part epic that truly defined the inherent difference between Lee and Kirby’s work and everybody else’s at that time.

Fantastic Four #25 and 26 featured a cataclysmic clash that had young heads spinning in 1964 and led directly to the Emerald Behemoth finally regaining a strip of his own. In ‘The Hulk Vs The Thing’ and ‘The Avengers Take Over!’, a fast-paced, all-out Battle Royale resulted when the disgruntled man-monster came to New York in search of side-kick Rick Jones, and only an injury-wracked FF stood in the way of his destructive rampage.

A definitive moment in the character development of The Thing, the action was ramped up when a rather stiff-necked and officious Avengers team horn in claiming jurisdictional rights on “Bob” Banner (this tale is plagued with pesky continuity errors which would haunt Stan Lee for decades) and his Jaded alter ego. Notwithstanding the bloopers, this is one of Marvel’s key moments and still a visceral, vital read.

The creators had hit on a winning formula by including their other stars in guest-shots – especially as readers could never anticipate if they would fight with or beside the home team. ‘The Search for Sub-Mariner!’ again found the undersea anti-hero in amorous mood, and when he abducted Sue Storm the boys called in Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts to aid them. Issue #28 is a superb team-up tale too, most notable (for me and many other older fans) for the man who replaced George Roussos.

‘We Have to Fight the X-Men!’ finds the disparate teams battling due to the machinations of Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker, but the inclusion of Chic Stone – Kirby’s most simpatico and expressive inker – elevates the art to indescribable levels of quality.

‘It Started on Yancy Street!’ (FF#29) starts low-key and a little silly in the slum where Ben Grimm grew up, but with the reappearance of the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes the action quickly goes Cosmic and results in a blockbusting battle on the Moon, with the following issue introducing evil alchemist ‘The Dreaded Diablo!’ who almost breaks up the team while casually conquering the world from his spooky Transylvanian castle.

Next up is Fantastic Four Annual #2 from 1964; boldly leading with ‘The Fantastic Origin of Doctor Doom!’, tragically detailing how brilliant gypsy boy Victor Von Doom remakes himself into the most deadly villain in creation.

Following a fresh batch of rogues starring in ‘A Gallery of the Fantastic Four’s Most Famous Foes!’ and pin-ups of Johnny, Sue, Ben, Alicia Masters and Reed, the past informs the present as the ultimate villain believes he has achieved ‘The Final Victory of Dr. Doom!’, but has in fact suffered his most ignominious defeat…

The monthly wonderment resumes with #31’s ‘The Mad Menace of the Macabre Mole Man!’ which precariously balances a loopy plan by the subterranean satrap to steal entire streets of New York City with a portentous sub-plot featuring a mysterious man from Sue’s past, as well as renewing the quartet’s somewhat fractious relationship with the Mighty Avengers…

The secret of that mystery man is revealed in the last tale in this titanic tome. ‘Death of a Hero!’ is a powerful tale of tragedy and regret that spans two galaxies, starring the uniquely villainous Invincible Man who is not at all what he seems…

Adding unique value to the proceedings, this epic encounter closes with a house ad for the first FF Annual plus the unused first cover version, many original art pages by Kirby inked by Ayers, Roussos and Stone, an unused pencilled Kirby cover for FF #20 and a quartet of re-mastered Masterworks collection covers drawn by Jack and painted by Dean White.

This is a truly magnificent book to read highlighting the tales that built a comics empire. The verve, imagination and sheer enthusiasm shines through and the wonder is there for you to share. If you’ve never thrilled to these spectacular sagas then this book of marvels is your best and most economical key to another world and time.
© 1963, 1964, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jack Kirby’s Captain America: Bicentennial Battles


By Jack Kirby with Herb Trimpe, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Romita Sr., Bob Smith, Frank Giacoia, John Verpoorten & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1726-1)

These days Captain America is as much a global symbol of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave as Uncle Sam or Apple Pie ever were so I’m enjoying a lazy and rather obvious way to celebrate Independence Day by recommending this bombastic blockbuster featuring material first seen in 1976 as the nation commemorated its first 200 years.

The immortal Sentinel of Liberty was dreamed up by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby at a time of increasing national tension in an era of fervent patriotic fervour: Captain America was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss.

He quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased: fading during post-war reconstruction to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Republic’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

He quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually however he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

After nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s successes, Jack Kirby had become increasingly burdened by Marvel’s growing success and unwillingness to let him experiment, so he had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamically inspiring pantheon.

Eventually he accepted that editors made the same promises everywhere, and that even he could never win against any short-sighted publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce and constant interfering g micro-managing.

Kirby exploded back into the Marvel Universe in 1976 with a promise of free rein, concocting a stunning wave of iconic creations (2001: A Space Odyssey, Machine Man, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur). Simultaneously he was handed control of two of his previous co-creations – firmly established superhero characters Black Panther and Captain America – to do with as he wished…

His return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial as his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity as Jack went explosively his own way.

Whilst his new works quickly found many friends, his tenure on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base. Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on any strip as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of the Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty…

This titanic trade paperback/eBook collection reprints Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles and Captain America #201-205 (September 1976 – January1977) with Kirby as writer, artist and editor, exploring his own notions of the American Dream as seen through the lens of the nation’s premiere comicbook patriotic symbol in the year of the nation’s 200th anniversary…

Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles was originally released as part of the nationwide celebration of the USA’s two hundredth year in Marvel’s tabloid-sized Treasury Format (80+ pages of 338 x 258mm dimensions) and took the Star-Spangled Avenger on an incredible excursion through the key eras and areas of American history.

A vast, expansive, panoramic and iconic celebration of the memory and the myth of the nation, this almost abstracted and heavily symbolic 84-page extravaganza perfectly survives the surrender of colour and reduction to standard comic dimensions, following Captain America when cosmic savant (and retrofitted Elder of the Universe The Contemplator) Mister Buda propelled the querulous hero into successively significant segments of history.

Enduring a blistering pace of constant change, Captain America encounters lost partner Bucky during WWII, meets Benjamin Franklin in Revolutionary Philadelphia and revisits the mobster-ridden depression era of Steve Roger’s childhood as ‘The Lost Super-Hero!’.

In ‘My Fellow Americans’ Cap confronts Geronimo during the Indian Wars and suffers the horrors of a mine cave-in, before ‘Stop Here for Glory!’ finds him surviving a dogfight with a German WWI fighter ace, battling bare-knuckle boxer John L. Sullivan, resisting slavers with abolitionist John Brown, and observing both the detonation of the first Atom Bomb and the Great Chicago Fire…

‘The Face of the Future!’ even sees him slipping into the space colonies of America’s inevitable tomorrows before segueing into pure emotional fantasy by experiencing the glory days of Hollywood, the simple joys of rural homesteading and the harshest modern ghetto, before drawing strength from the nation’s hopeful children…

Inked by such luminaries as Barry Windsor-Smith, John Romita Sr. and Herb Trimpe, the book-length bonanza is peppered with a glorious selection of pulsating pin-ups.

After thus exotically absorbing the worth of a nation, the Star-Spangled Avenger reunites with his partner for Captain America and the Falcon #201, set in the aftermath of their struggle to stop a deranged aristocrat rolling back the American Revolution…

The pace then shifts to malevolent moodiness and uncanny mystery with the introduction of ‘The Night People!’: a street-full of mutants and maniacs who periodically phase into and out of New York City, creating terror and chaos with every sunset. When Falcon Sam Wilson and girlfriend Leila are abducted by the eerie encroachers, they are quickly converted to their crazed cause by exposure to the ‘Mad, Mad Dimension!’ the vile visitors inhabit during daylight hours. This leaves Captain America and folksy new colleague Texas Jack Muldoon hopelessly outgunned when their last-ditch rescue attempt results in them all battling an invasion of brutally berserk beasts in ‘Alamo II!’

On bludgeoning, bombastic top-form, the Star-Spangled Avenger saves the day once more, but no sooner are the erstwhile inhabitants of Zero Street safely ensconced on Earth than ‘The Unburied One!’ has the indefatigable champions battling against a corpse who won’t play dead. The concluding chapter and last tale in this thrilling tome reveal the cadaver has become home to an energy-being from the far future as ‘Agron Walks the Earth!’ Thankfully, not even its pulsating power and rage can long baulk the indomitable spirit and ability of America’s Ultimate Fighting Man…

The King’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read and this stuff is as good as anything Jack crafted over his decades of creative brilliance.

Fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing Fights ‘n’ Tights masterpieces no fan should ignore and, above all else, fabulously fun tales of a true American Dream…
© 1976, 1977, 2005, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers Volume 2


By Roger Stern, Jim Shooter, Chris Claremont, David Michelinie, Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema, George Pérez, David Wenzel, John Byrne, Jerry Bingham, Mike Vosburg, Bob McLeod, John Byrne, Ron Wilson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6755-6

With more Marvel Cinematic movies doing bonanza summer business around the world, here’s a timely trade paperback collection designed to supplement cinematic exposure and cater to any film fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience. If you want you can look at this on screen, too, through its digital edition…

There are two distinct and separate iterations of the Guardians of the Galaxy. The films concentrate on the second, but there are inescapable connections between them and the stellar stalwarts here so pay close attention here…

The original comicbook team were freedom fighters united to defeat an invasion by reptilian Badoon aggressors. They comprised Charlie-27 – a heavy-gravity miner and militia-man from Jupiter – and crystalline scientist Martinex from Pluto. Both are examples of radical human genetic engineering: subspecies carefully designed to populate and colonise Sol system’s outer planets but now possibly the last of their kinds. They were joined in the struggle by 1000-year-old Earthman Major Vance Astro and Alpha Centauri aborigine Yondu. Astro had been humanity’s first intersolar astronaut; solo flying in cold sleep to Centauri at a plodding fraction of the speed of light. When he got there ten centuries later, humanity was waiting for him, having cracked trans-luminal speeds a mere two centuries after he took off…

A legion of 20th century heroes eventually helped banish the Badoon and save 31st century humanity, but peace was unsettling for the Guardians so they flew off in search of fresh adventure. Along the way they had picked up last Mercurian Nikki and an enigmatic space-god calling him/herself Starhawk

This treasury of torrid tales gathers landmark moments from Thor Annual #6, Avengers #167-168; 170-177 & 180, Miss Marvel #23, Marvel Team-Up #86 and Marvel Two-In-One #61-63 and 69, cumulatively spanning December 1977 to November 1980 and featuring a radically different set-up than that of the silver screen stars, but grand comicbook sci fi fare all the same…

The time-busting mayhem commences with ‘Thunder in the 31st Century!’ (from Thor Annual #6, December 1977 by Roger Stern, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson) in which the mighty Thunderer is accidentally summoned to the Guardians’ time period by a cyborg maniac named Korvac. The legendary hero joins them in bombastically battling a team of super-powered aliens to thwart the cyborg’s scheme to become master of the universe before returning to his own place and time…

An extended tour of duty with the Avengers then began courtesy of Jim Shooter, George Pérez & Pablo Marcos: an episodic, sprawling tale of time-travel and universal conquest which began in Avengers #167-168 (April and May 1978) and, after a brief pause, resumed for #170 through 177…

In previous issues a difference of opinion between Captain America and Iron Man over leadership styles had begun to polarise the team and tensions started to show in ‘Tomorrow Dies Today!’

In the Gods-&-Monsters filled Marvel Universe there are entrenched and jealous Hierarchies of Power, so when a new player mysteriously materialises in the 20th century the very Fabric of Reality is threatened…

It all kicks off when the Guardians of the Galaxy materialise in Earth orbit, hotly pursuing cyborg despot Korvac through time…

Inadvertently setting off planetary incursion alarms, their moon-sized ship Drydock is swiftly penetrated by an Avengers squad, where, after the customary introductory squabble, the future men force wearily explain the purpose of their mission…

Since Captain America had fought beside them to liberate their home era from Badoon rule and Thor had faced fugitive Korvac before, so peace soon breaks out, but even with the full resources of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes the time travellers are unable to locate their quarry…

Meanwhile on Earth a mysterious being named Michael is lurking in the background. At a fashion show staged by the Wasp he compels a psychic communion with model Carina Walters and they both vanish…

Avengers #168 reveals how ‘First Blood’ is drawn, stirring up more trouble as Federal liaison and hidebound martinet Henry Peter Gyrich begins making life bureaucratically hot for the maverick team. In Colorado, meanwhile, Hawkeye gets a shock as his travelling partner Two-Gun Kid vanishes before his eyes whilst in suburban Forest Hills, Starhawk – in his female iteration of Aleta – approaches a quiet residence…

Michael/Korvac’s scheme consists of subtly altering events as he gathers strength in secret preparation for a sneak attack on the era’s Cosmic Hierarchies. His entire plan revolves around not being noticed until he is too powerful to stop. When Starhawk confronts the future fugitive Michael kills the intruder and instantly resurrects him, but without the ability to perceive his assailant or any of his works…

After a two-issue break due to deadline problems Shooter, Pérez & Marcos pick up the drama in #170 with ‘…Though Hell Should Bar the Way!’

As Sentinel of Liberty and Golden Avenger finally settle their differences, in Inhuman city Attilan former Avenger Quicksilver suddenly disappears even as dormant mechanoid Jocasta (created by maniac AI Ultron to be his bride) goes on a rampage and escapes into New York City.

In stealthy pursuit and hoping her trail will lead to Ultron, the team stride into a fiendish trap ‘…Where Angels Fear to Tread’ but nevertheless triumph thanks to the hex powers of the Scarlet Witch, the assistance of pushy, no-nonsense new hero Ms. Marvel and Jocasta’s own rebellion against the metal monster who made her.

However, at their moment of triumph the Avengers are stunned to witness Cap and Jocasta winking out of existence…

The problems pile on in #172 as watchdog-come-gadfly Gyrich is roughly manhandled and captured by out-of-the-loop returnee Hawkeye and responds by rescinding the team’s Federal clearances.

Thus handicapped, the heroes are unable to warn other inactive members of the rapidly increasing disappearances as a squad of heavy-hitters rush off to tackle marauding Atlantean maverick Tyrak the Treacherous who is bloodily instigating a ‘Holocaust in New York Harbor!’ (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson)…

Answers to the growing mystery are finally forthcoming in ‘Threshold of Oblivion!’ – plotted by Shooter, with David Michelinie scripting for Sal Buscema & D(iverse) Hands to illustrate.

As the vanishings escalate, the remaining Avengers (Thor, Wasp, Hawkeye and Iron Man), with the assistance of Vance Astro, track down their hidden foe and beam into a cloaked starship to liberate the ‘Captives of the Collector!’ (by Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Dave Wenzel & Marcos)…

After a staggering struggle, the heroes triumph and their old arch-nemesis reveals a shocking truth: he is in fact an Elder of the Universe who foresaw cosmic doom millennia previously and sought to preserve special artefacts and creatures – such as the Avengers – from the slowly approaching apocalypse…

As he reveals that long-anticipated Armageddon is imminent and that he has sent his own daughter Carina to infiltrate The Enemy’s stronghold, the cosmic Noah is instantly obliterated in a devastating blast of energy. The damage however is done, and the entrenched Hierarchies of Creation may well be alerted…

Issue #175 starts the final countdown as ‘The End… and Beginning!’ (Shooter, Michelinie, Wenzel & Marcos) has the amassed ranks of Avengers and Guardians following the clues to Michael even as the new god shares the incredible secret of his apotheosis with Carina. ‘The Destiny Hunt!’ and ‘The Hope… and the Slaughter!’ (Shooter, Wenzel, Marcos & Ricardo Villamonte) then depict the entire army of champions destroyed and resurrected as Michael easily overpowers all opposition but falters at the crucial moment for lack of one fundamental failing…

Despite being somewhat let down by the artwork when the magnificent George Perez gave way to less enthusiastic hands such as Sal Buscema, David Wenzel and Tom Morgan, and cursed by the inability to keep a regular inker (Pablo Marcos, Klaus Janson Ricardo Villamonte and Tom Morgan all pitched in), the sheer scope of the epic plot nevertheless carries this story through to its cataclysmic and fulfilling conclusion. Even Shooter’s reluctant replacement by scripters Dave Michelinie and Bill Mantlo (as his editorial career advanced) couldn’t derail this juggernaut of adventure.

If you want to see what makes Superhero fiction work, and can keep track of nearly two dozen flamboyant characters, this is a fine example of how to make such an unwieldy proposition easily accessible to the new and returning reader.

A few months later Avengers#181 introduced new regular creative team Michelinie & John Byrne – augmented by inker Gene Day – as ‘On the Matter of Heroes!’ sees Agent Gyrich lay down the law and winnow the army of heroes down to a manageable and federally-acceptable seven.

With the Guardians of the Galaxy heading back to the future, Iron Man, Vision, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Beast and Wasp have to placate Hawkeye after he is rejected in favour of new member The Falcon – parachuted in to conform to government quotas on affirmative action…

However, before the Guardians finally depart they interact with a few more 20th century centurions beginning with Ms. Marvel in ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ (#23, April 1979 by Chris Claremont, Mike Vosburg & Bruce D. Patterson). When alien conqueror The Faceless One takes over Drydock, crusader-in-crisis Carol Danvers teams up with Vance Astro to expel the invader even though her career as Ms. Marvel is on its last legs…

In Marvel Team-Up #86 (October 1989), undercover Guardians Starhawk, Nikki and Martinex meet Spider-Man to prevent an unscrupulous reporter exposing the mission of the future heroes and publishing the ‘Story of the Year’ (Claremont & Bob McLeod)

Slightly out of chronology – but that’s time travel all over, right? – the remainder of this collection is given over to team-ups with old Guardians ally Ben Grimm, the Fantastic Four’s titanic Thing.

An extended interstellar epic opens in Marvel Two-In-One #61 with ‘The Coming of Her!’ (by Mark Gruenwald, Jerry Bingham & Gene Day) as time-travelling space god Starhawk becomes involved in the birth of a female counterpart to man-made man-god Adam Warlock.

The distaff genetic paragon awakes fully empowered and instantly starts searching for her predecessor, dragging Ben’s girlfriend Alicia Masters and mind goddess Moondragon (a future member of the 21st century Guardians of the Galaxy) across the solar system, arriving where issue #62 observes ‘The Taking of Counter-Earth!’

Hot on their heels Thing and Starhawk catch Her just as the runaway women encounter a severely wounded High Evolutionary and discover the facsimile Earth built by that self-made god has been stolen…

United in mystery, the strange grouping trail the planet out of the galaxy and expose the incredible perpetrators, but Her’s desperate quest to secure her predestined, purpose-grown mate ultimately ends in tragedy as she learns ‘Suffer Not a Warlock to Live!’

Then, from Marvel Two-In-One #69 (November 1980, by Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Ron Wilson & Day), ‘Homecoming!’ finds Ben clashing with the still time-displaced Guardians of the Galaxy whilst striving to prevent the end of everything after millennial man Vance Astro endangers all of reality by trying to stop his younger self ever going into space…

This spectacular selection of spectacular star-roving is a non-stop feast of tense suspense, surreal fun, swingeing satire and blockbuster action: another well-tailored, on-target tool to turn curious movie-goers into fans of the comic incarnation and another solid sampling to entice newcomers and charm even the most jaded interstellar Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatic…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 13


By Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, John Romita & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785150367 (HB)

In these days of an infinitude of fan-sites, publicity cycles and gleeful spoiler-mongers, it takes a lot to keep a shock-ending from the readership, but back in 1973 comics consumers had only word-of-mouth and the story itself. Thus, the lead story in this particular compilation totally staggered everybody when it was released, and within mere months of that, the on-fire creators would also introduce an antihero to shake up the entire comics industry…

Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead – of its fan-base, and this staggering 13th full-colour compilation of chronologically congregated Arachnoid Adventures sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero endure a second and life-altering failure: one that forever altered the tone and timbre of his existence even while continuing the steady climb to becoming a global household name…

After a rather nervous nativity, the wallcrawler became a certified sensation with kids of all ages. Before too long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

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

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

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

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

Re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #121-131 – originally released between June 1973 and April 1974 – the culmination of a decade of suspense and intrigue began on ‘The Night Gwen Stacy Died’ (by Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, John Romita & Tony Mortellaro), the initial instalment of a two-part tale which gobsmacked fans as Peter’s greatest efforts proved insufficient to save his intended from the insane rage of a resurgent Green Goblin.

Ultimate nemesis Norman Osborn had recovered the lost memory of his evil alter ego after his son Harry fell back into drug abuse and, once restored to his malign potency, kidnapped Spider-Man’s girlfriend to force a final confrontation…

The tragic episode leads inexorably to ‘The Goblin’s Last Stand!’ one issue later and a grim and gritty new direction…

With Spider-Man accused of murdering Osborn and erroneously implicated in Gwen’s death, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson takes advantage of a new kind of metahuman champion in #123; engaging emergent Hero for Hire Luke Cage to bring the webspinner to justice in‘…Just a Man Called Cage!’

However, the clash only proves that the antagonists’ lives are more tragically similar than different and Marvel’s pre-eminent African American adventurer recuses from the case in a most distinctive manner…

As previously stated elsewhere, at this time horror was on the rise and the trend permeated all aspects of Marvel continuity. In #124, Jameson’s astronaut son John was revealed to have picked up a strange gem during a clandestine moonwalk which later transformed him into a lupine beast bearing ‘The Mark of the Man-Wolf!’

Deranged and deadly, the hairy horror stalks his own fiancée Kristine Saunders as well as his scandal-obsessed father, with a still-traumatised fighting-mad Spider-Man reacting in a far more brutal manner than ever before…

The conclusion marked the introduction of the next star penciller to the strip as Ross Andru joined Conway and Romita to delineate the end of the Man-Wolf saga in ‘Wolfhunt!’, offering a particularly grisly cure for the astrally-altered astronaut…

In #126 a new subplot bloomed as a marketing firm hired the astounded and unbelieving arachnid to build a “Spider-Mobile” (thanks in cold, hard fact to a budding toy-merchandising deal Marvel was currently negotiating) whilst an old and extremely inept enemy returned when ‘The Kangaroo Bounces Back!’ (illustrated by Andru and inked by Jim Mooney).

Short of cash and desperate, Spidey ropes in best frenemy Johnny (Human Torch) Storm to help assemble the anticipated automobile, but is totally unprepared for his Australian attacker since the Kangaroo has had a rapid and ultimately unwelcome power upgrade from a rogue and extremely deranged doctor named Jonas Harrow

And in the apartment Peter shares with Harry Osborn, the son of the Green Goblin finally succumbs to the mental illness that has been sucking him down since the death of dear old Dad…

Peter’s great friend and good time girl Mary Jane Watson comes under the spotlight in #127 as ‘The Dark Wings of Death!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt) finds her targeted by a strangely familiar monster who believes she witnessed his last kill. The mystery concludes in ‘The Vulture Hangs High!’ wherein an incredible truth about the avian atrocity is revealed…

Portents of future trouble manifest as Parker’s biology tutor Professor Miles Warren warns that the scholarship student’s grades are slipping and his position is far from secure…

Conway, Andru, Giacoia & Hunt then crafted a true landmark in comics history in Amazing Spider-Man #129 with ‘The Punisher Strikes Twice!’ which introduced not only the renegade gunslinger but also nefarious manic mastermind The Jackal.

Although one of the industry’s biggest hits from the late 1980s onwards, compulsive vengeance-taker Frank Castle was always an unlikely and uncomfortable star for comicbooks. His methods are always excessively violent and usually permanent. It’s intriguing to note that unlike most heroes who debuted as villains (Black Widow or Wolverine come to mind) the Punisher actually became more immoral, anti-social and murderous, not less: the buying public simply shifted its communal perspective; The Punisher never toned down or cleaned up his act…

He was created by Conway, Romita Sr. and Andru; an understandably toned down and muted response to popular prose anti-heroes like Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan: the Executioner: the cutting edge of a bloody tide of fictive Viet Nam vets who all turned their training and talents to wiping out organised crime in the early 1970s.

In this short, sharp shocker the man with the skull logo was duped by his manipulative partner into hunting Spider-Man. Still a suspect in the death of Norman Osborn, the hero was easy to frame for the murder of the Punisher’s personal gunmaker…

A long-running mystery over Aunt May’s connection to Doctor Otto Octavius is at last addressed in #130 as ‘Betrayed!’ finds up-&-coming ganglord Hammerhead prodded and provoked by the Jackal just as arch-rival Doctor Octopus resurfaces.

Distracted by the now-completed Spider-Mobile, the webslinger is slow to react until he finally discovers why his Aunt May Parker is so important to the villain, but by then she’s in the process of becoming Mrs. Otto Octavius…

Spiderman is just about to bust up the wedding in ‘My Uncle… My Enemy?’ when Hammerhead beats him to it. As the three-way battle escalates the truth comes out. May has inexplicably inherited a desolate Canadian island which just happens to be teeming with uranium deposits and its own Fast Breeder Atomic Reactor which both Ock and Hammerhead want to secure as the means to becoming an independent nuclear power…

When the rivals furiously clash it is all Peter can do to get May out before the entire place becomes an atomic inferno…

Supplemented by a series of Annual and compilation covers, House ads, original design sketches, and unpublished and lost pages of Kane and Romita artwork, this book also includes a fascinating Introduction ‘Turning Point’ – by original author Gerry Conway – describing the thinking behind the groundbreaking storyline, offering context and revealing who was originally slated to bite the bullet.

This action-packed collection comprises one of the most momentous periods in Spider-Man’s astounding life and is one every Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatic should see…
© 1973, 1974, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America and the Falcon: Madbomb


By Jack Kirby with Frank Giacoia, D. Bruce Berry & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1557-1

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss.

He quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased: fading during post-war reconstruction to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Land of the Free’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

He quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually however he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, after nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s successes, Jack Kirby had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamically inspiring pantheon. Eventually he accepted that even he could never win against any publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce whilst enduring micro-managing editorial interference.

Seeing which way the winds were blowing, Kirby exploded back into the Marvel Universe in 1976 with a promise of free rein, concocting a stunning wave of iconic creations (2001: a Space Odyssey, Machine Man, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur). Simultaneously he was handed control of two of his previous co-creations – firmly established characters the Black Panther and Captain America – to do with as he wished…

His return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial as his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity as Jack went explosively his own way.

Whilst those new works quickly found many friends, his tenure on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on Cap and the Panther as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of the Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty…

This sterling collection reprints Captain America #193-200 (January-August 1976) and when Kirby came aboard as writer, artist and editor, he had big plans for the nation’s premiere comicbook patriotic symbol in the year of the nation’s 200th anniversary…

Some of them materialised in Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles (a companion volume to this trade paperback/eBook collection I’ll get around to in the fullness of time) but the regular title was reserved for the really Big Show…

After finally accepting the worth of a nation Captain America and the Falcon #193 concentrated on saving it with the opening salvo in an epic storyline leading up the immortal super-soldier’s own 200th issue. Gone now was all the soul-searching and breastbeating about what the country was or symbolised: America was in peril and its sentinel was ready to roar into action…

Inked by fellow veteran Frank Giacoia ‘The Madbomb’ opened by revealing a ‘Screamer in the Brain!’ as a miniscule new weapon is triggered by unknown terrorists, reducing an entire city block to rubble by driving the populace into a mass psychotic frenzy. Experiencing the madness at close hand Cap and the Falcon are swiftly seconded by the US government to ferret out the culprits and find a full-scale device hidden somewhere in the vast melting pot of America…

‘The Trojan Horde’ introduces plutocratic mastermind William Taurey who intends to correct history, unmake the American Revolution and restore an aristocracy. Using inestimable wealth, a cabal of similarly disgruntled millionaire elitists, an army of mercenaries, slaves cruelly transformed into genetic freaks and other cutting edge super-science atrocities, the maniac intends to forever eradicate the Republic.

Moreover, when he was finally ascended to what he considered his rightful place in charge, the first thing Taurey intends is to hunt down the last descendent of Colonial hero Steven Rogers, who rebel who had killed Taurey’s Monarchist ancestor and allowed Washington to win the War of Independence…

Little did he suspect the subject of his wrath had already infiltrated his secret army…

In ‘It’s 1984!’ (inked by D. Bruce Berry), Cap and Falcon get a first-hand look at the kind of world Taurey advocates, battling their way through monsters, mercenaries and a mob fuelled by modern mind-control and pacified by Bread and Circuses, before ultra-spoiled elitist Cheer Chadwick takes the undercover heroes under her bored, privileged and patronising wing…

Sadly, even she can’t keep her new pets from being sucked into the bloody, brutal Circus section of the New Society and American loyalists are forced to fight for their lives in ultra-modern gladiatorial mode in the ‘Kill-Derby’ even as the US army raids the secret base in ‘The Rocks are Burning!’ (with Giacoia inks).

Soon, Cap and Falcon realise it has all been for nought since the colossal full-sized Mad-Bomb is still active but hidden somewhere else in their vast Home of the Brave…

The offbeat ‘Captain America’s Love Story’ then takes a decidedly different and desperate track as the Bastion of Freedom must romance a sick woman to get to her father – the inventor of the deadly mind-shatter device – after which ‘The Man Who Sold the United States’ accelerates to full speed for all-out action as the hard-pressed heroes race a countdown to national disaster with the Bomb finally triggering by ‘Dawn’s Early Light!’ in a spectacular showdown climax which surpasses every expectation.

This supremely thrilling collection also has room for a selection of Kirby cover roughs and un-inked pencils that will delight art fans and aficionados. The King’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read and this stuff is amongst the most bombastic and captivating material he ever produced.

A fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing Fights ‘n’ Tights Masterpieces no fan should ignore and – above all else – a furiously fabulously fun fable of a true American Dream…
© 1975, 1976, 2004, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.