Knights of Pendragon: Once and Future


By Dan Abnett, John Tomlinson, Gary Erskine & Andy Lanning (Marvel/Panini Publishing UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-431-7

The world was a rapidly changing place in 1990 and fledgling offshoot Marvel UK was critically rising high thanks to the immensely impressive original Captain Britain material being created by Alan Moore and Alan Davis. On a roll, the company attempted to expand its line with an associated title, once more combining Arthurian fantasy with tried and true Marvel superheroic action. Or so everybody thought…

The Knights of Pendragon prominently featured Captain Britain on the covers but the epic tale that unfolded over the next few months was far more a supernatural horror story in the manner of prophetic TV show “Doomwatch” than a traditional Fights ‘n’ Tights slugfest – even by the often outré British standards.

Steeped in ecological hot-button topics and starring, initially at least, a podgy, over-the-hill welsh copper who had begun life as a authoritarian gadfly before becoming a solid, stolid comrade to Brian Braddock (Cap’s aristocratic Alter Ego), Knights of Pendragon followed Chief Inspector Dai Thomas as he seemingly went off the deep end, plagued by horrific premonitions of grisly massacres that all seemed linked to environmental crimes perpetrated by globe-girdling conglomerate the Omni Corporation. However as the months unfolded a pattern slowly unfolded that indicated something far older and more dangerous than money was flexing long dormant fangs and sinews…

This book gathers issues #1-9, July 1990-March 1991, of the first volume (a second far more traditional series followed in 1993) and sees the saga begin with ‘Brands and Ashes’ as Thomas is summoned by Captain Britain to a meeting of the clandestine agency the Weird Happenings Organisation. It appears the retired cop’s dream of 87 hungry patrons mysteriously suffocating in a spacious, airy well-ventilated burger-bar has come hideously true. Meanwhile Omni Corp exec Grace has sent her dashing leg-breaker Dolph to “reason” with the minister in charge of W.H.O….

As Thomas is briefed on an increasingly large and violent tide of bizarre eco-mysteries, down in Kent something horrible is occurring on an Omni farm using new and lethally dangerous pesticides. Rogue TV journalist Kate McClellan is circling too. She smells a big story and is ruthlessly open-minded. She wants and will publish the truth no matter how strange and impossible it might appear…

Thomas is getting worse. His visions now include blackouts and fugue episodes in which he sees himself as the medieval hero of the ancient epic “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” battling ogres, villains and monsters.

‘Skin and Bone’ finds him following a lead to Africa where ivory poachers are using helicopters and assault rifles to slaughter elephants in vast numbers. McClellan is there before him and has already discovered a link to smuggled diamonds and Omni but before Thomas can make an arrest the supernal force he is slowly coming to believe in exacts its own bloody justice, whilst ‘Oil and Water’ sees cop and reporter in Florida, investigating another bizarre Omni-related atrocity – smuggling endangered species – when an ambush goes wrong. Any doubt of supernatural involvement is abandoned when they are rescued from certain death by a creature that cannot possibly exist…

Thomas is gradually changing: evolving into a younger, fitter version of himself and the premonitions and dreams of Gawain are occurring more frequently. In ‘Blood and Feathers’, Grace decides to end the old copper’s interference with an elite squad of high tech mercenaries led by Dolph. After smashing another animal smuggling ring – with his bare hands – Thomas and McClellan are attacked in broad daylight. He overcomes the super-commandoes with ease, but the machinations of Grace have made him a liability to W.H.O. and Captain Britain is ordered to bring him in at all costs…

‘Hope and Glory’ reveals Kate is having visions of her own. As Thomas makes his way across Costa Rica hunting the thing that’s hunting Omni’s assorted enterprises, she is arrested by W.H.O. agents. Dai is close to the answers he’s been seeking as he enters an apocalyptic area of jungle deforestation, convinced he is Gawain reborn. The spirit of the planet has given man one final chance to live with, not against, the eco-system, but the forces of progress and destruction are subtle and have turned his greatest friend against him…

After a stupendous battle Thomas is beaten to death by Captain Britain, and in the concluding ‘Once and Future’ Gawain takes full control of his broken body, casually revealing the guilt-wracked superhero to be Lancelot whilst Kate houses the spirit of Guinevere. Attacked by demonic monsters the trio trek through the devastated rain-forest, making a pilgrimage to the home of the embattled animating force called the Green Knight, saving the Green Chapel, mystical heart of the world, from dark forces that have worked through Omni and other modern enterprises which value profit over the planet…

Its mission accomplished, Gawain’s essence leaves Dai’s body, resurrecting and healing him, but there has been no victory, only a truce. The Green Knight will no longer attack human greed and folly directly, but the latest Knights of Pendragon are expected to work in its stead. The second story-arc sees new men of goodwill chosen as hosts for the immortal heroic essences and a redefinition of the vague dark forces they must combat.

In ‘Revelations’ author Ben Gallagher is drawn to a remote Scottish island to bear witness to a brutal slaughter of dolphins, whilst in London a serial killer hunts successful businesswomen and in her technological ivory tower, Omni exec Grace is possessed by the Green Knight’s opposite number, a vile entity calling itself The Bane.

During the Great War the British Empire was championed by a pioneering band of costumed heroes. Union Jack was mere mortal who used brains, brawn and good British ordnance to battle the Hun in two world wars before being succeeded by his son. The third incarnation was Joey Chapman, a true working class hero who here finds himself the next recipient of the spirit of Lancelot.

Kate has a troubled son squirreled away at a remote boarding school. When Cam McClellan goes missing after being possessed by the Merlin analogue known as Herne the Hunter, the situation forces elderly history teacher Peter Hunter to reveal his darkest secret. ‘The Only Child’ describes how in the Great War the schoolmaster was masked mystic superman Albion, but with his surrendered Pendragon force now inhabiting a disturbed child he fears he must reassume the role he gratefully relinquished decades ago.

Captain Britain and Union Jack join the search for Cam but spend more time battling each other than actually helping, leaving the London serial killer free to attack his next target – the world-famous TV journalist Kate McClellan. However, even though the madman is old acquaintance he has not reckoned on her new status as a full-blown Pendragon.

Events take a truly dark turn when Grace arrives at the school to abduct the confused and immensely powerful Cam, intending to corrupt him as once she damned Arthur’s son Mordred…

Gallagher’s sensitively creative yet indomitable nature makes him a perfect host for the returned Sir Percival and in the untitled closing tale he sees the powers arrayed against the returned Knights in full flow, as an innocent dies and entire families of dolphins are sacrificed to the horrific greed and paranoia of humanity and the awful hunger of the Bane

The epic has been building across the nine issues of the series collected here, written with chilling passion by Dan Abnett and John Tomlinson and illustrated with stunning power by then fresh-faced new boy Gary Erskine, suitably inked by near-veteran Any Lanning.

With intriguing and revelatory reminiscences from the writers and original series editor Steve White describing the initial resistance and eventually outright hostility from upper management to the title plus a cover gallery by such leading lights as Alan Davis, Simon Bisley, John Bolton and others, this engrossing and still controversial epic revives a pivotal moment in British mainstream comics and still enthrals two decades later.

Ending on a pensive set of cliffhangers, this absorbing thriller is but half-done, with another utterly fabulous and morally challenging volume still to see. I can’t wait…

© 1990, 1991, 2010 Marvel Entertainment LLC and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved. A British edition published by Panini.

Ultimate Avengers 2: Crime and Punishment


By Mark Millar, Lenil Francis Yu & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-465-2

Marvel Ultimates began in 2000 as a reconfiguration of key characters and concepts to bring them into line with the tastes of modern readers – perceived as a potentially separate buying public from the baby-boomers and their descendents, who were content to stick with the various efforts that had sprung from the fantastic originating talents of Kirby, Ditko and Lee – and one unable or unwilling to deal with the decades of continuity baggage that had accumulated around the originals.

Eventually this darkly nihilistic new universe became as continuity-constricted as its predecessor and in 2008 the cleansing event “Ultimatum” culminated in a reign of terror which apparently (this is still comics, after all) killed three dozen odd heroes and villains plus millions of lesser mortals. Although a good seller (in contemporary terms, at least) the saga was largely trashed by the fans who bought it, and the ongoing new “Ultimatum Comics” line quietly back-pedalled on its declared intentions…

The key and era-ending event was a colossal tsunami that drowned the superhero-heavy island of Manhattan and this second post-tidal wave collection (assembling issues #7-12 of Ultimate Avengers 2) finds the survivors fully adapted to their dried-out world and back in business.

Before the Deluge Nick Fury ran an American Black Ops team of superhumans called the Avengers, but he was eventually toppled from his position for sundry rule-bending antics – and being caught doing them. Now he’s back, running another black ops team doing stuff real heroes wouldn’t dream of…

His far from happy band of brothers consists of Hawkeye – the man who never misses, James Rhodes: a fanatical soldier wearing devastating War Machine battle armour; Gregory Stark, Iron Man’s smarter, utterly immoral older brother, Nerd Hulk, a cloned gamma-monster with all the original’s power but implanted with Banner’s brain and milksop character and ruthless super-spy Black Widow. You can never have enough super-stooges though, and Fury is actively recruiting…

First on his wish-list is the Punisher, a vengeance-crazed vigilante carving his way through the underworld of three continents. It’s hard to imagine an even colder stone-killer than the standard Marvel Universe Frank Castle but creators Mark Millar, Lenil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan & Laura Martin just about manage. However, his campaign of retribution is promptly stopped cold by Captain America.

Imprisoned by Federal authorities, the Punisher never makes it to prison, and soon after a new masked hero with loads of guns and a big skull on his chest reluctantly joins Fury’s death-squad…

The other newbie is super-gangsta Tyrone Cash, whose recruitment causes a lot more collateral damage. Before being blackmailed onto the team the violence-addicted, invulnerable superhuman had another life: a college professor who researched how to maximise human physical potential. One day he just vanished, leaving a pile of rubble and some very instructive data that his student Bruce Banner developed to its ultimate end… much to the world’s eternal regret.

Though not as strong as the Hulk, Cash is homicidally violent and aggressive, and enjoys breaking stuff and hurting people. Only the greatest threat imaginable could force Fury to keep such a dangerous tool around…

And that happens to be a flaming-skulled mutant biker called Ghost Rider who is relentlessly hunting and killing the Vice President’s oldest buddies and has now set his eyeless sights on the Veep himself… Carving a swathe of fiery destruction that leads to the White House itself, the Ghost Rider is utterly unstoppable. No mutant has ever been as powerful. If the press-ganged team didn’t know better, it would seem that the blazing biker is a real ghost… but there’s no such thing, right?

Trenchant, sardonic and incredibly violent, the traditional super-science scenario takes a big, bold step into the realm of satanic, supernatural horror and, as always, the grim-and-gritty heroes are almost indistinguishable from the genuine bad-guys in this stunningly engrossing, anti-heroic epic. No shining knights here, but plenty of dark ones…

Given some distance and far removed from market hype and the frantic, relentless immediacy of the sales arena there’s a far better chance to honestly assess these tales on merit alone, and given such an opportunity you’d be daft not to take a long hard look at this spectacular, beautifully cynical thriller: another breathtaking, sinisterly effective yarn that could only be told outside the Marvel Universe, but it’s also one that should solidly resonate with older fans who love the darkest side of superheroes and especially those casual readers who know the company’s movies better than the comic-books.

™& © 2010 Marvel Entertainment LLC and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved. A British edition published by Panini.

Fall of the Hulks volume 2


By various (Marvel/Panini Publishing UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-463-8

In recent years the number of Gamma-mutated monsters rampaging across the Marvel landscape has proliferated to inconceivable proportions. There are assorted Hulks, She-Hulks, Abominations and all kinds of ancillary atomic berserkers roaming the planet so it’s no more than prudent to thin the herd.

The days of Bruce Banner getting angry and going Green are long gone too, so anybody taking their cues from the TV or movie incarnations will be wise to assume a level of unavoidable confusion. Nevertheless this epic story is worth the effort so persist if you can.

Even if you are familiar with Hulk history ancient and modern, you might still founder on the odd point of narrative as this book continues the spectacular saga of the myriad rainbow-coloured gamma-morphs cluttering up the Marvel Universe becoming a brawny army of conquest for the world’s wickedest brain trust. This interim volume collects most – but by no means all – of the issues involved in a major storyline which ran through the various Hulk-related comics during the first half of 2010.

Depending on many lost crannies of lore and broad continuity this book (collecting Incredible Hulk #607-608, Hulk #21, Savage She-Hulks #1 and Red Hulk #2-4) resumes the tale of The Intel, a gang of super-smart bad-guys – the Leader, Egghead, Red Ghost, the Wizard, Mad Thinker and Dr. Doom – who stole the Lost Library of Alexandria, repository of all arcane knowledge, to further their schemes of domination.

Coming together during the early days of the Marvel Universe the cabal also purloined a cosmic-powered Hulk robot designed by Galactus which furthered their long-term plans which included creating a legion of Hulk-like servants, capturing the eight most brilliant men on the planet and of course ruling the world.

Contemporarily if not consequently there are eight Variant Hulks and analogues, but Bruce Banner is not one of them. The mysterious and all-conquering Red Hulk has stolen Banner’s gamma power, leaving nothing but a determined mortal – albeit a brilliant, determined and incredibly driven one. Banner has never been more dangerous…

The origin of the Red Hulk was partially revealed after The Intel replaced Egghead with the biological computer Modok. Events moved swiftly after Dr. Doom betrayed the cabal. Banner joined Red Hulk to stop his assorted foes as the Intel began to capture their intellectual opposite numbers.

Natural enemies, Banner and Red Hulk have become uneasy allies until the Intel are defeated, always pursuing their own agendas and watching each other for the first sign of betrayal. The Intel meanwhile have taken Reed Richards, Dr. Doom, Henry (the Beast) McCoy and T’Challa, the Black Panther and as this volume opens are moving to capture their next target – Henry Pym, size-changing superhero and Earth’s Scientist Supreme in ‘Man With a Plan’.

Chaos builds globally as the assorted Gamma gladiators: Skaar – Son of Hulk, Lyra (Hulk and Thundra’s daughter from an alternate future), Doc Samson, A-Bomb (venerable sidekick Rick Jones transformed into an atomic Abomination), Red She-Hulk and the Red Hulk all clash in interminable, inconclusive battles. Earth’s many costumed champions gather to save the day and Banner gathers his own select team of ruthless Avengers to take the battle to the Intel’s heart…

Doc Samson has been working with the evil geniuses for years and his recent indoctrination of Red She-Hulk has drawn attention from mutant warriors Elektra and Domino. More revelations about Lyra’s origins come to light in ‘The Deal’ whilst Red Hulk’s plan to destroy the cabal comes undone as the superhero assault is thwarted and the rescuers become more super-soldiers for the Intel.

In ‘Mindgame’ Banner’s schemes are no more successful: his team’s raid gathers lots of intelligence but once more The Intel’s forces ultimately overcome all opposition. The only problem they face is the increasing instability of their grotesque pawns – such as the ‘Big, Red, and Deadly!’ She-Hulk.

‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The A-Bomb’ uncovers more of Samson’s perfidy as Rick Jones realises he has been programmed as a sleeper agent to kill Banner, whilst Lyra clashes with her time-lost mother Thundra and Red She-Hulk in ‘The Savage Sex’ before the book ends on an anticipatory cliffhanger with ‘Best Case Scenario’ as, with the Intel in control of the planet Red Hulk and Banner prepare to bring it all crashing down…

Taken on its own this middle volume sounds utterly incomprehensible: a thin strand of coherent narrative picking its way through a bewildering assortment of block-busting punch-ups and arcane references, but I would advise readers to re-read the previous volume and trust to the writing of Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak, Jeff Parker and Harrison Wilcox, whom I’m sure will produce clarity and closure in the next collection….

Moreover if you’re e a fan of spectacular art the monumental illustrations by Paul Pelletier, Ed McGuinness, Carlos Rodriguez, Fernando Blanco, Ryan Stegman, Salvador Espin with Zach Howard, Vincente Cifuentes, Mark Palmer, Jason Paz, Danny Miki, Tom Palmer and Crimelab Studios are cumulatively breathtaking in scope and power. As always the book includes a gallery of the many cover variants that graced the original comicbook releases

Still flawed, but still not fatally; there’s an ominous gathering impetus that rockets the action (oh, so much action) along here despite all the problems and I’m confident that the conclusion will iron out all my current frowns. However it’s probably sound advice to re-re-read the previous volume before tackling this one and best to study both before the next one comes out…
™& © 2010 Marvel Entertainment LLC and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved. A British edition published by Panini.

Essential Luke Cage: Power Man volume 1


By Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart, George Tuska, Billy Graham & others (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1685-1

As a sickly pale kid growing up in a hugely white area of the Home Counties in the 1960s and 1970s, I got almost all my early experience of black people from television and films (for which I’m most profoundly sorry ) – and, of course, comics – for which I’m not.

Blithely unaware of the struggle for equality in my formative years, the incredible consciousness-raising explosion of Black Power after the 1968 Olympic Games rather politicised me, and even though some comics companies had by this time made tentative efforts to address what were national and socio-political iniquities, issues of race and ethnicity took a long time to filter through to the still-impressionable young minds avidly absorbing knowledge and attitudes via four colour pages that couldn’t even approximate the skin tones of African-Americans.

As with television, breakthroughs were small, incremental and too often reduced to a cold-war of daringly liberal “firsts.” Excluding a few characters in Jungle comic-books of the 1940s and 1950, Marvel clearly led the field with a black member of Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos team (the historically impossible Gabe Jones who debuted in #1, May 1963, and was accidentally re-coloured Caucasian at the printers, who clearly didn’t realise his ethnicity), as well as the first negro superheroes Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966), and the Falcon in Captain America #117 (September 1969).

The honour of America’s first Black hero to star in his own title came in a little remembered or regarded title from Dell Comics. Lobo was a gunslinger/vigilante in the old west who sought out injustice just like any cowboy hero would, first appearing in December 1965, created by artist Tony Tallarico and scripter D.J. Arneson.

Arguably a greater breakthrough was Joe Robertson, City Editor of the Daily Bugle, an erudite, brave and magnificently ordinary mortal distinguished by his sterling character, not a costume or skin tone and who first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man # 51 (August 1967), proving in every panel that the world wouldn’t end if black folk and white folk worked and ate together…

This big change slowly grew out of raised social awareness during a terrible time in American history – although Britain had nothing to be smug about either. Race riots had started early in the Sixties here and left simmering scars that only comedians and openly racist politicians dared to talk about. Shows such “Till Death Us Do Part” and “Love Thy Neighbour” made subtly telling headway but still raise a shudder when I see clips today…

Slowly more positive ethnic characters were let in, with DC finally getting a Black hero in John Stewart (Green Lantern #87 December 1971/January 1972), although his designation as replacement Green Lantern might be construed as more conciliatory and insulting than revolutionary. The first DC hero with his own title was Black Lightning, who didn’t debut until April 1977, although Jack Kirby had introduced Shilo Norman as Scott Free’s apprentice (and eventual successor) in Mister Miracle ##15 (August (1973).

As usual it took a bold man and changing economics to really promote change, and with declining comics sales at a time of rising Black Consciousness cash – if not cashing in -was probably the trigger for “the Next Step.” Contemporary “Blacksploitation” cinema and novels had fired up commercial interests throughout America and in that atmosphere of outlandish dialogue, daft outfits and barely concealed – if justified – outrage an angry black man with a shady past and apparently dubious morals debuted as Luke Cage, Hero for Hire in the summer of 1972. A year later the Black Panther finally got his own series in Jungle Action #5 and Blade: Vampire Hunter debuted in Tomb of Dracula #10.

This volume collects the first 27 issues of the breakthrough series and begins with Lucas, a hard-case inmate at brutal Seagate Prison. Like all convicts he claimed to have been framed and his uncompromising attitude made mortal enemies of the savage, racist guards Rackham and Quirt whilst not exactly endearing him to the rest of the prison population such as out and out bad-guys Shades and Comanche either…

‘Out of Hell… A Hero!’ was written by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by George Tuska & Billy Graham (with some initial assistance from Roy Thomas and John Romita senior) and saw a new warden arrive promising to change the hell-hole into a proper, legal penal institution. Prison Doctor Noah Burstein then convinced Lucas to participate in a radical experiment in exchange for a parole hearing, having heard the desperate con’s tale of woe…

Lucas had grown up in Harlem, a tough kid who had managed to stay honest even when his best friend Willis Stryker had not. They remained friends even though they walked different paths – at least until a woman came between them. To get rid of his romantic rival Stryker planted drugs and had Lucas shipped off to jail. While he was there his girl Reva, who had never given up on him, was killed when she got in way of bullets meant for Stryker…

With nothing to lose Lucas undergoes Burstein’s process – an experiment in cell-regeneration – but Rackham sabotages it, hoping to kill the con before he can expose the guard’s illegal treatment of convicts. The equipment goes haywire and something incredible occurs. Lucas, super-strong punches his way out of the lab and the through the prison walls, only to be killed in hail of gunfire. His body plunges over a cliff and is never recovered…

Months later a vagrant prowls the streets of New York City and stumbles into a robbery. Almost casually he downs the felon and accepts a reward from the grateful victim. He also has a bright idea. Super-strong, bullet-proof, street-wise and honest, Lucas would hide in plain sight while planning his revenge on Stryker. Since his only skill was fighting, he became a private paladin – A Hero For Hire…

Making allowances for the colourful, often ludicrous dialogue necessitated by the Comics Code’s sanitising of “street-talking Jive” this is probably the grittiest origin tale of the classic Marvel years, and the tense action continued in ‘Vengeance is Mine!’ as the man now calling himself Luke Cage stalked his target. Stryker had risen quickly in the drugs world, controlling a vast portion of the illicit trade as the deadly Diamondback, and the solitary Cage had a big surprise in store when beautiful Doctor Claire Temple came to his aid after a calamitous struggle.

Thinking him fatally shot her surprise was dwarfed by his own when Cage met her boss. Trying to expiate his sins Noah Burstein had opened a rehab clinic on the deadly streets around Times Square, but his efforts had drawn the attention of Diamondback who didn’t like someone trying to cure his paying customers…

Burstein apparently did not recognise him, and even though faced with eventual exposure and return to prison Cage offered to help the doctors. Setting up an office above a movie house on 42nd Street he met a lad who would become his greatest friend: DW Griffith – nerd, film freak and plucky white sidekick. But before Cage could settle in Diamondback struck and the age-old game of blood and honour played out the way it always does…

Issue #3 introduced Cage’s first returning villain in ‘Mark of the Mace!’ as Burstein, for his own undisclosed reasons decided to keep Cage’s secret, and disgraced soldier Gideon Mace launched a terror attack on Manhattan. With his dying breath one of the mad Colonel’s troops hired Cage to stop the attack, which he did in explosive fashion.

Billy Graham pencilled and inked ‘Cry Fear… Cry Phantom!’ in #4 as a deranged and deformed maniac carried out random assaults in Times Square. Or was there perhaps another motive behind the crazed attacks? Steve Englehart took over as scripter and Tuska returned to pencil ‘Don’t Mess with Black Mariah!’ the sordid tale of organised scavengers which introduced unscrupulous reporter Phil Fox, an unsavoury sneak with greedy pockets and a nose for scandal.

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

Such was the case of ‘Knights and White Satin’ (by Englehart, Gerry Conway, Graham and Paul Reinman) as the swanky, ultra-rich Forsythe sisters hired him to bodyguard their dying father from a would-be murder too impatient to wait the week it would take for the old man to die from a terminal illness. This more-or less straight mystery yarn (not counting the madman and killer-robots) was followed by ‘Jingle Bombs’, a strikingly different Christmas tale by from Englehart Tuska & Graham, before Cage properly entered the Marvel Universe in ‘Crescendo!’ when he was hired by Doctor Doom to retrieve rogue androids that had absconded from Latveria, subsequently hiding as black men among the shifting masses of Harlem.

Naturally Cage accomplished his mission, only to find Doom had stiffed him for the fee. Big mistake…

Issue #9 ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread!’ saw the enraged Hero for Hire borrow a vehicle from the Fantastic Four and play Repo Man in Doom’s own castle just in time to get caught in the middle of a grudge match between the Iron Dictator and an alien invader called the Faceless One.

It was back to street-level basics in ‘The Lucky… and the Dead!’ as Cage took on a gambling syndicate led by the schizophrenic Señor Suerte who doubled his luck as the murderous Señor Muerte (that’s Mr. Luck and Mr. Death to you), a two-part thriller complete with rigged games and death traps that climaxed in the startling ‘Where There’s Life…!’ as the relentless Phil Fox’s finally uncovered Cage’s secret…

Issue #12 saw the first of many battles against alchemical villain ‘Chemistro!’, whilst Graham assumed full art duties with ‘The Claws of Lionfang’ a killer who used big cats to destroy his enemies, and Cage tackled a hyperthyroid lawyer in ‘Retribution!’ as the tangled threads of his murky past slowly became a noose around his neck…

‘Retribution: Part II!’ saw Graham and new kid Tony Isabella share the writer’s role as those many disparate elements converged to expose Cage, and with Quirt kidnapping his girlfriend, fellow Seagate escapees Comanche and Shades stalking him and the New York cops hunting him, the last thing the Hero For Hire needed was a new super-foe, but that’s just what he got in #16’s ‘Shake Hands With Stiletto!’ by Isabella, Graham and inker Frank McLaughlin.

That dramatic finale cleared up a lot of old business and led to a partial re-branding of the nation’s premier black crusader. From #17 onwards the mercenary aspect was downplayed (at least on the covers) as the comic became Luke Cage, Power Man and Len Wein, Tuska and Graham concocted another tumultuous team-up in ‘Rich Man: Iron Man… Power Man: Thief!’ as the still “For Hire” hero was commissioned to test Tony Stark’s security by stealing his latest invention. Unfortunately neither Stark nor Iron Man knew anything about it…

Vince Colletta joined the team as inker for #18’s ‘Havoc on the High Iron!’ as Cage battled a murderous high-tech Steeplejack and the next two issues offered Cage a tantalising chance to clear his name as ‘Call Him… Cottonmouth!’ introduced a crime-lord with inside information of the frame-up perpetrated by Willis Stryker in issue #1. Tragically the hope was snatched away in the Isabella scripted follow-up ‘How Like a Serpent’s Tooth…’

‘The Killer With My Name!’ (Isabella, Wein, Ron Wilson & Colletta) found Cage attacked by old Avengers villain Power Man who wanted his name back, but who changed his mind after waking up from the resultant bombastic battle, whilst Stiletto returned with his brother Discus in ‘The Broadway Mayhem of 1974’ (Isabella, Wilson & Colletta) to reveal a startling connection to Cage’s origins.

All this carnage had sent sometime romantic interest Claire Temple scurrying for points distant, and with #23 Cage and D.W. went looking for her, promptly fetching up in a fascistic planned-community run by old foe Mace. ‘Welcome to Security City’ (inked by Dave Hunt) led directly into a two-part premier for another African-American superhero as Cage and D.W. traced Claire to the Ringmaster’s Circus of Crime in #24’s ‘Among Us Walks… a Black Goliath!’ by Isabella, Tuska & Hunt.

Bill Foster was another educated black supporting character, a biochemist who worked with Henry Pym (the scientist-superhero known as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath and Yellowjacket over the decades of his costumed career) when he was trapped as a giant, unable to shrink to normal size. Foster first appeared in Avengers #32 (September 1966, or see Essential Avengers volume 2), before fading from view when Pym regained his size-changing ability.

Here it was revealed that Foster was Claire’s ex-husband, and when his own size experiments trapped him at fifteen feet tall, she had rushed back to his colossal side to help him find a cure. When Cage arrived passions were stoked, resulting in a classic heroes-clash moment until the mesmeric Ringmaster hypnotised the combatants, intent on using their strength to feather his own three-ring nest.

‘Crime and Circuses’ (by Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Wilson and Fred Kida) saw the heroes helpless until Claire came to the rescue before making her choice and returning to New York with Luke. Foster soon gravitated to his own short-run series, becoming Marvel’s fourth African American costumed hero under the heavy-handed and rather obvious sobriquet Black Goliath.

A spoof of popular ‘70’s TV show provided the theme for ‘Night Shocker!’ (Englehart, Tuska & Colletta) as Cage hunted an apparent vampire, and this first black and white volume concludes with a touching human drama as Cage was forced to subdue a tragically simple-minded but super-powered wrestler in ‘Just a Guy Named “X”!’ (by Mantlo, George Pérez and Al McWilliams, all paying tribute to the Ditko classic from Amazing Spider-Man #38).

Perhaps a little dated now, these tales were nonetheless instrumental in breaking down one more barrier in the intolerant, WASP-flavoured American comics landscape and their power if not their initial impact remains undiminished to this day. These are tales well worth your time and money.

© 1972, 1973, 1984, 1975, 2005 Marvel Characters, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Lifelike


By Dara Naraghi & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-122-9

We do it for fame, we do it for fortune (or at least to pay bills), we do it for fun and the very best of us make comics because we absolutely have to. Every story we hear, every event we see provokes the reaction “how would I break that down into panels? How many on the page?” All data – from shopping lists to bad TV – is taken in, screened through an internal grid and then we worry about how we’ll draw the damn thing one day…

All creative people are a little bit chained to their art-form, and Dara Naraghi apparently more so than most. As well as his own celebrated BigCityBlues comic he keeps busy adapting licensed properties such as Robert Patterson’s Witch & Wizard novels, Terminator: Salvation, It! The Terror From Beyond Space and Ghostbusters into comics form, writing for DC, Image and IDW and running his own publishing house Ferret Press. He also scripts (and occasionally draws) utterly wonderful tales covering every aspect of the human experience from wild fantasy to chilling slice-of-life in a splendid series of webcomic features.

Wonderfully expansive in narrative scope and illustrated by an astounding gathering of talented graphic artisans, an exemplary bunch of these brief delights has been compiled into a fabulous hardcover compilation. All the stories in this anthology come from that webcomic site and are written (and lettered) by Naraghi, complete with commentary and context on the illustrators interpreting each piece.

The wonderment begins with ‘The Long Journey’ illustrated by Irapuan Luiz, which follows the dramatic escape of a disillusioned Iranian soldier determined to leave the Iran-Iraq War behind him forever. Naraghi is Iranian (born in Tehran in 1971) and no doubt his own journey to the west would make pretty interesting reading, although probably without the telling sting in the tale embedded here…

‘Imaginarians’ winningly crafted by award winning artist Tom Williams, takes a barbed look at how the media deals with artists on the promo circuit whilst equally lauded Marvin Mann’s atmospheric ‘Double Cross at the Double Down’ proves that even if crime doesn’t pay, stories about it definitely do.

‘Art/Life’ rendered by Neil Errar is a feel-good fable about a comics creator we all concur with, Jerry Lange’s moody, misty paint-and-Paintbox (showing my digital age there) treatment examines the exquisite pain of unconditional love lost with ‘Remembrance’ whilst Stephen Spenser Ledford opts for monochrome ink washes to recount a particularly trenchant tale of crime and ‘Punishment.’

Sex and booze and rock ‘n’ roll form the basis of the cheeky dating vignette ‘Intermission’, illustrated by Andy Bennett, whilst Jerry Lange’s watercolour expertise displays a different arena for the relationship dance in ‘Crush’ and ‘Comeback’ by Tim McClurg describes a the meteoric fall from stardom for a has-been actor.

Marvin Mann displays his artistic versatility in ‘Smoke Break’, a heartwarming look at modern life and ‘The Routine’ by Steve Black touchingly reminds us that even small victories count in our work-a-day world, whereas the stunning drawing of Adrian Barbu’s gritty thriller ‘Rooftop Philosophy’ adds acres of edge to a dark tale of criminal Darwinism. Tom Williams astounds again with ‘Skin Deep’ a charming semi-autobiographical shaggy-dog story and pictorial programme ends on a heartwarming high note with ‘Repair’ as Shom Bhuiya treats us to a view of the common man at his very best…

The 14 tales collected in Lifelike demonstrate the sheer breadth that material comics could and should be covering rather than the narrow band of easily defined genres usually seen. This book opens up all of human experience and imagination to the cartoonist’s particular skills and insights. Now it’s up to the rest of us to respond and react…

Created and © 2007 Dara Naraghi. All artwork © 2007 by its respective artist. © 2007 Idea and Design Workshop. All Rights Reserved.

Read Dara’s free webcomic, Lifelike under the Stan Lee’s Sunday Comics banner @ Komikwerks.com.

New Avengers: The Reunion


By Jim McCann, David López & Alvaro López (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3855-6

The Marvel publishing event Secret Invasion revoked a number of hasty decisions made by writers and editors in the day-to-day, hand-to-mouth hurly-burly of periodical publication, among them a couple of “deaths”. The Skrulls, shape-shifting aliens, had been infiltrating all corners of the Marvel Universe for years, even abducting and replacing certain heroes. Thus when Bobbi Morse-Barton, Mockingbird, ex-super-spy, West Coast Avenger and wife of Hawkeye was killed, it wasn’t her…

Freed and returned to Earth Mockingbird is having trouble readjusting. The world is a far darker place, and terrorists have overtaken super-villains as the greatest threat, Hawkeye is now the enigmatic warrior Ronin – and wants to pick up where they left off. When Bobbi “died” the couple were going through a divorce, but he has since convinced himself that that was the Skrull impostor playing mind-games…

This is a rare thing for a Marvel graphic novel; a love story/Romcom with genuine sentiment and quite a few laughs riding shotgun on the traditional moody adventure the company generally specialises in. Collecting pertinent portions of Dark Reign: New Nation and the miniseries New Avengers: The Reunion #1-4, the saga opens with ‘Supicion’ as Clint Barton violently forces himself back into Mockingbird’s life and realises that his one-and-only is still carrying a secret trauma from her time as a Skrull prisoner. She wants nothing to do with him and has her own cure for what’s ailing her…

‘The Lady Vanishes’ finds the persistent Ace Archer making a pest of himself until she lets him join her new endeavour. Not prepared to rejoin the Avengers Mockingbird has returned to her old profession and working with a group of other returned Skrull captives has created her own spy network. The World has gone to hell in a hand-basket and if the superheroes can’t fix it her World Counterterrorism Agency will – by whatever means necessary.

Against her better judgement Bobbi allows her once-hubby to come along on a mission and ‘Double Indemnity’ finds them matching wits with the terrifying Monica Rappaccini, new leader of evil think-tank Advanced Idea Mechanics and the world’s most ruthlessly ambitious poisons specialist…

How the odd couple reconnect, save the world and come to terms with the horrors Bobbi experienced on Skrullworld makes for a rollicking, complications-free action-romp that is bright, breezy and just the tonic for romantic fans of modern lovers.

Saving civilisation, punching each other out and gradually redefining the term “True Love” this snappy little package is everything Mr. & Mrs. Smith should have been and writer Jim McCann and artists David López & Alvaro López have my fervent support for a sequel any time they’re in the mood…

© 2009, 2010 Marvel Publishing, Inc, a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man: Died in Your Arms Tonight


By Stan Lee, Mark Waid, Marc Guggenheim, Joe Quesada, John Romita Jr. & others (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4485-4

When the Spider-Man continuity was drastically and controversially altered at the end of the “One More Day” publishing event a refreshed, now single-and-never-been-married Peter Parker was parachuted into a new life, so if this is your first Web-spinning yarn in a while or if you’re drawing your cues from the movies prepare yourself for a little confusion. That being said this collection of Web-spun wonderment is more accessible than most: a vast celebratory collection commemorating then 600th issue of the landmark comic-book and stuffed with vignettes, mini-masterpieces and clever nostalgia-steeped moments.

Gathering the contents of Amazing Spider-Man #600-601, material from Amazing Spider-Man Family #7 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #36, the merry Marvel Magic leads off with the comedic ‘Identity Crisis’ by Stan Lee & Marcos Martin, a whimsical look back and shaggy psychiatrist story, Whilst Mark Waid, Colleen Doran & Jose Villarrubia’s ‘My Brother’s Son’ is a glorious sentimental glimpse into Ben Parker’s life with the child Peter that will bring a tear to every fan’s eye. Written by Marc Guggenheim and illustrated by Mitch & Elizabeth Breitweiser offers a glimpse into the heart of Aunt May on the eve of her marriage to J. Jonah Jameson’s father.

From Amazing Spider-Man Family #7 comes ‘Just an Old Sweet Story’ by Roger Stern, Val Semeiks & Mike Getty, revealing how May Reilly and Ben Parker met and married, whilst Amazing Spider-Man Annual #36 provides Guggenheim, Pat Olliffe & Andy Lanning’s ‘Peter Parker Must Die’ as the impending Bride and Groom’s families meet for the rehearsal dinner in Boston.

This romp introduces a whole new sub-cast into the Wall-Crawling mix with the rambunctious Reilly Clan and also debuts a new villain intent on Peter’s demise. Or is the Raptor actually after somebody else? Also on offer are two more enchanting mood-pieces; ‘A Night at the Museum’ by Zeb Wells, Derec Donovan & Antonio Fabela, reminiscing about one of the most embarrassing moments in Spidey history and Bob Gale & Mario Alberti’s lovely ‘If I Was Spider-Man’ as the hero overhears kids answering the age-old question with startling honesty and profundity…

The latter half of this book is taken up with the stunning lead feature and its sequel. ‘Last Legs’ by Dan Slott, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson is set during the wedding of Aunt May and Pa Jameson and recounts the last assault by Dr. Octopus, dying from years of being smacked around by the good guys and determined to make the City of New York remember his passing. Moreover as he almost married May Parker himself once, Ock’s not averse to playing gooseberry there if he can…

Packed with guest-stars like Daredevil, the Avengers and Fantastic Four, all of Manhattan is held hostage to the madman’s final rampage until Spider-Man and the Torch save the day and still get to the church on time. But at the reception there’s still one more shock for Peter Parker…

Issue #601 presents a trio of tales set The Day After, beginning with Waid and Alberti’s ‘Red-Headed Stranger: No Place Like Home’ as the repercussions of Peter’s drunken response to the sudden return of Mary Jane Watson (missing for months) leaves him homeless and clueless whilst ‘The Very Best Version of Myself’ by Brian Michael Bendis & Joe Quesada shows the true heroic power of the wall-crawler and the concluding ‘Violent Visions’ (Joe Kelly, Max Fiumara & Chris Chuckry launches the next big thing as a war against Spider-themed characters begins with the “death” of precognitive bit-player Madame Web…

Stuffed with a gallery of covers and alternate art-pieces by such luminaries as John Romita Jr., Joe Quesada, Joe Suitor, Olivier Coipel, Alex Ross, J. Scott Campbell and John Romita Sr. this treasury of delights proves the modern Wall-Crawler still has a broad reach and major appeal for fans old and new. This is the perfect place to rejoin or jump on if the Webbed Wonder crawled off your radar in recent years…

© 2009 Marvel Publishing, Inc, a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Fall of the Hulks volume 1


By Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak, Jeff Parker, John Romita Jr., Paul Pelletier & others (Marvel/Panini Publishing UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-462-1
In recent years the number of Gamma-powered gargantua rampaging across the Marvel landscape has proliferated to inconceivable proportions. There are assorted Hulks, She-Hulks, Abominations and all kinds of ancillary mutations roaming the planet so it’s no more than prudent to occasionally thin the herd.

The days of Bruce Banner getting angry and going Green are long gone too, so anybody taking their cues from the various TV and movie incarnations of the Jade Giant will be more than grateful for the fifteen pages of Marvel Handbook text pages and an additional four pages of contextual catch-up data for filling in some background, but even so the story begun in this book depends overwhelmingly on a working knowledge of what’s gone before.

Even if you are familiar with the Hulk’s history, ancient and modern, you might still founder on the odd point of narrative as this book collects most – but by no means all – of the opening sallies in the major storyline which ran through the various Hulk-related comics during the first half of 2010.

Delving back and deep into many dark corners of in-house continuity this book (collecting Fall of the Hulks: Alpha, Fall of the Hulks: Gamma, Incredible Hulk #606, Hulk #19-20 and Red Hulk #1) opens in the early days of the Marvel Universe as a cabal of the planet’s smartest bad-guys – the Leader, Egghead, Red Ghost, the Wizard, Mad Thinker and Dr. Doom – begin recovering the scattered remnants of the Lost Library of Alexandria, repository of all arcane knowledge.

‘Meeting of the Minds’ outlines the plan and successes of “the Intelligencia” as they raid the Eternals’ hidden home for secrets, stealing as well a cosmic-powered Hulk robot, before going on to raid Project Pegasus (see The Thing in the Project Pegasus Saga), the hidden African kingdom of Wakanda and even sunken Atlantis among other landmarks.

Contemporarily, even though there are eight Variant Hulks and analogues, Banner is not one of them. The mysterious and all-conquering Red Hulk, who has trashed all the heroes of the Marvel Universe, has absorbed Banner’s gamma power, leaving nothing but a determined mortal – albeit a brilliant and determined one. Consequently Banner has never been more dangerous…

The origin of the Red Hulk is revealed after “the Intel” replaced Egghead with the biological computer Modok. Events move swiftly (mainly because many have been left out), but briefly, Dr. Doom betrays the rest of the cabal, Banner teams up with the Red Hulk to stop his assorted foes and the Intel move on to their greatest scheme: to capture and control the eight greatest minds on Earth.

With Red Hulk and Banner pursuing their own at-odds agendas and watching each other for the first sign of betrayal, the Intel snatches Reed Richards, Dr. Doom, Henry (the Beast) McCoy and T’Challa, the Black Panther, preparing to enter the end-game of their years-long campaign.

Meanwhile the assorted Gamma gladiators; Skaar – Son of Hulk, Jennifer Walters and Lyra (two different She-Hulks), Doc Samson, A-Bomb (venerable sidekick Rick Jones transformed into an atomic Abomination), an enigmatic Red She-Hulk and the ubiquitous Red Hulk all jockey for position and advantage in the tumultuous clash to come…

Of course this tome ends on a climactic cliffhanger, but even though it sounds utterly incomprehensible a thin strand of coherent narrative carries through this spectacularly cathartic, bombastic action epic, thanks to the inclusively referential writing of Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak and Jeff Parker.

Moreover if you’re more a fan of art than artifice the monumental illustrations by Paul Pelletier, Ed McGuinness, Carlos Rodriguez, Ryan Stegman, Vincente Cifuentes, Mark Palmer, Danny Miki, Tom Palmer and especially John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson are cumulatively breathtaking in scope and power. As always the book includes a gallery of the many cover variants that graced the original comicbook releases

Flawed, but not fatally, there’s a heady impetus that carries this tale along despite all the problems and perhaps the concluding volume will assuage even those quibbles. Best then to read the sequel before deciding whether or not this is another “Hulk Smash”…

™& © 2010 Marvel Entertainment LLC and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved. A British edition published by Panini.

Iron Man: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.


By Daniel & Charles Knauf, Roberto de la Torre, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & others (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2299-9

The arch-technocrat and supreme survivor Tony Stark has had many roles in the Marvel Universe since his debut in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963): inventor, armaments manufacturer, liberal capitalist, eco-pioneer, politician and of course superhero. In this brief and rather padded package he takes on a new position as leader of the world’s most scientifically advanced spy agency, the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate.

Collecting issues #15-18 of the third volume of the Iron Man comic-book and set after the dramatic Civil War which divided the super-hero community, it finds Stark placed in charge of the very public covert agency and having a hard time being a commander as opposed to an active combatant. Meanwhile a deadly hodge-podge of previously low-grade terrorist organisations with no philosophy or agenda in common have suddenly all become major threats. Someone is providing the whackos with intel, training and major ordnance…

Battling his own conscience, die-hards from the previous S.H.I.E.L.D. administration unhappy with his “management style”, public opinion and self-serving politicians, Stark is also coming to terms with a bio-technology upgrade that has infested his own body and is forced to wonder whether he if is even a “man” at all any more …

When an anti-terrorist strike-mission to Mongolia leads to a devastating super-weapon attack on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying base, Stark’s last-ditch save comes at incredible personal cost. Moreover the beleaguered director is completely unaware that the whole episode has been nothing but a feint to occupy him whilst his deadliest foe returns…

Gritty, clever and hard-hitting this tale is entertaining but agonisingly incomplete and inconclusive. Even with an extensive interview with the scripters and 13 pages of Marvel Handbook text pages the story depends far too much on knowing what’s gone before, and the space devoted to two additional reprint stories could have been better used to apprise new readers. Either that or simply add the lead adventure here to the previous or next Iron Man collection.

Those aforementioned “golden oldies” are strong enough to be included elsewhere and only tangentially relevant to this saga anyway. ‘Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Man for the Job!’ is from Strange Tales #135 (August 1965) in which Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers first introduced the spy organisation as well as its nemesis Hydra, but is the first chapter in a far longer epic as is ‘Dread Night of the Dreadnought!’ from Iron Man volume 1, #129 (December 1979): the rather rushed conclusion to another long story-arc in which S.H.I.E.L.D. attempted to buy Stark International out from under its owner in the name of National Security.

Plotted by half the Marvel Bullpen, inked by the other half, scripted by David Michelinie and rough pencilled by the indefatigably trustworthy Sal Buscema the tenuous link to the spy theme is overtaken by a bombastic battle between Armoured Avenger and Hydra robot.

Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is written by father-and-son team Daniel & Charles Knauf and strikingly illustrated by Roberto de la Torre, Jonathan Sibal, Karl Kesel & Cam Smith. It deserves much better than to be wedged into such a poorly conceived and grossly exploitative package as this. Caveat ever so Emptor

© 1965, 1979, 2007 Marvel Publishing, Inc, a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Wolverine: Flies to a Spider


By various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3569-2

Ever since his glory days in the AllNew, All Different X-Men, the mutant berserker known variously as Wolverine, Logan and more recently James Howlett has been a fan-favourite who appealed to the suppressed, put-upon, catharsis-craving comic fan by perpetually promising to cut-loose and give bad-guys the kind of final punishment we all know they deserve.

Always skirting the line between and blurring the definitions of indomitable hero and maniac murderer, Wolverine soldiered on, a tragic, brutal, misunderstood hero cloaked in mysteries and contradictions until society changed and, like ethically-challenged colleague the Punisher, final sanction and quick dispatch became acceptable and even preferred options for costumed crusaders.

Debuting as a one-off opponent for the Incredible Hulk (in a tantalising cameo at the end of issue #180 in1974) the semi-feral Canadian mutant with fearsome claws and killer instincts spectacularly showed his mettle in a full-on scrap with the Jade Giant in the next issue, and has never looked back since.  Short and feisty he has always promised an explosion of visceral, vicarious ultra-violence and grim, gritty justice at every moment, and in this collection the public finally gets what the public wants.

This collection (which originally appeared as a number of one-shots and specials in 2008-2009) shows the dark and vengeful side of his nature as hunter, judge, jury and particularly as executioner.

First blood comes from Wolverine Holiday Special: ‘Swallowed the Spider’, written by Gregg Hurwitz, with art from Jerome Opeña & John Lucas has a short, mysterious stranger deal out summary justice to a murderous biker gang and the mob bosses who sponsored them one quiet New Year’s Eve, to avenge a little girl who died during one of their rampages. Swapping chilly bike for a cool automobile the hairy hero then tracks down and disposes of a rather specialised serial killer in ‘Switchback’ by Joseph Clark & Das Pastoras.

‘The Anniversary’ (William Harms & Jefte Pal) shows Wolverine’s softer side as he attempts to commemorate the death of his betrothed beloved Mariko, before crazed terrorists and their far from fundamentalist backer soon have back at his savage best, saving a airliner from fiery destruction. Mariko’s death is also the subject of the poignant vignette ‘Ghosts’, a ninja-filled reaffirmation of purpose from writer Jonathan Maberry and artist Tomm Coker,.

The painterly Das Pastoras returns to illustrate Victor Gischler’s ‘Revolver’ an action-packed, sardonic duel with a gambling demon and the book concludes with the darkly superb ‘Chop Shop’, a neat and nasty tale with hot babes, the worst kind of human scum and a brilliant new use of Wolverine’s celebrated healing factor.

Mean, sexy and utterly engaging this is the kind of hero the world too often needs, doing things the comics code would never have allowed. Not for the squeamish but a definite “must-have” for the discerning mayhem maven.

© 2008, 2009 Marvel Publishing, Inc, a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.