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 @

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.

New Avengers: Secret Invasion volume 1

By Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, David Mack, Jim Cheung, Billy Tan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2947-9

The Skrulls are shape-shifting aliens who’ve bedevilled Earth since Fantastic Four #2, and they have long been a pernicious cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. After decades of use and misuse the insidious invaders were made the stars of a colossal braided mega-crossover event beginning in April 2008 and running through all the company’s titles until Christmas.

The premise of Secret Invasion is simple: the would-be alien conquerors have only just survived a devastating catastrophe which destroyed much of their empire; subsequently leading to a mass religious conversion. They are now utterly resolved and dedicated to make Earth their new homeworld. To this end they have gradually replaced a number of key Earth denizens – most notably superheroes and other metahumans. When the plot is discovered no defender of the Earth truly knows who is on their side…

Moreover the Skrulls have also unravelled the secrets of Earth magic and genetic superpowers, creating amped-up counterparts to Earth’s mightiest. They are now primed and able to destroy the world’s heroic champions in head to head confrontations.

Rather than give to much away let me just say that if you like this sort of thing you’ll love it, and a detailed familiarity is not completely vital to your understanding. However, for a complete experience, you will need to see the other 22 “Secret Invasion” volumes that accompany this on, although you could get by with only the key collection Secret Invasion – which contains all eight issues of the core miniseries, a one-shot spin-off “Who Do You Trust?” plus an illustrated textbook “Skrulls” which claims to provide a listing and biography for every shape-shifter yet encountered in the Marvel Universe (but if they left any who could tell?).

Collecting issues #38-42 of New Avengers, the saga contained in the book under review here is only the first part of the team’s response to the Invasion, focussing on individual character pieces to propel the narrative rather than vast battles. There is a second Avengers volume, so naturally this one ends on another thrice-accursed cliffhanger…

Scripted throughout by Brian Michael Bendis, the first chapter is illustrated by Michael Gaydos and deals with the aftermath of the superhero Civil War, as Luke Cage and his wife Jessica find themselves on different sides as she leaves a team of outlaw Avengers for the stability of the State-sanctioned alternative, whilst the second chapter (art by David Mack) sees that illegal team – Wolverine, Ronin, Iron Fist, Spider-Man and martial artist Maya – encounter the alien first strike when they narrowly escape death from a multi-powered doppelganger of Daredevil.

The scene then switches to the recent past and the devastated Skrull homeworld, detailing the rise of the new religious faction and the opening days of the Invasion (stunningly pictured by Jim Cheung & John Dell) before segueing to the Savage Land (illustrated by Billy Tan) and a confrontation between Earth’s costumed defenders and a Skrull ship full of what appears to be old friends – some of whom have been or dead for years. Are they escaped humans – or another batch of the new undetectable super-Skrulls?

That particular confrontation resolves itself in the aforementioned Secret Invasion – that’s why I said it was key – but this chronicle closes with another informative reminiscence drawn by Cheung & Dell as the new Skrull Queen recalls how she took lead strategic role in the campaign by replacing Spider-Woman in the Government-Approved Avengers.

As the book closes she readies her team for action, preparing to betray and destroy them all…

You will also definitely benefit by checking out the collections Secret Invasion: the Infiltration, Secret War (2004), Avengers Disassembled, and Annihilation volumes 1-3, as well as the rather pivotal New Avengers: Illuminati graphic novel.

Despite that copious homework list I’ve provided this book is still is solid action-adventure read, with plenty of human drama to balance the paranoia and power-plays. Reading it might be confusing and will be expensive, but for dedicated Marvelites and keen followers of Fights ‘n’ Tights action it is pure guilty pleasure.

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

Wolverine: Evolution

By Jeph Loeb, Simone Bianchi & Andrea Silvestri (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2256-5-2

Debuting as an foe for the Incredible Hulk in a tantalising teaser-glimpse at the end of issue #180 (October 1974) before indulging in a full-on scrap with the Jade Giant in the next issue, the semi-feral Canadian mutant with fearsome claws and killer attitude rode – or perhaps caused – the meteoric rise of the AllNew, All Different X-Men before gaining his own series, super-star status and silver screen immortality; a tragic, brutal, misunderstood hero cloaked in mysteries and contradictions.

Logan’s come a long way since then; barely surviving chronic over-exposure in the process and now finds himself a solid star of the Marvel firmament. However that status is not without its own peculiar pitfalls, as such A-List players find themselves afflicted with a particularly tedious modern curse: Pernicious Recurrent Re-Origining…

A separate condition from actually retconning (where characters and continuity are dialed back to a specific point and the character is redesigned, PRR-O consists of infilling perceived cracks or gaps in the canonical history to reveal previously concealed or forgotten information.

Certainly some of these tales are utterly wonderful: Miller’s introduction of Elektra in the 1980s totally revolutionised and revitalised Daredevil and Batman probably started the whole process in 1956’s Detective Comics #235 when Bruce Wayne discovered he had seen father in a Bat-costume whilst still a toddler, but personally I cannot think of anything more pointless than constantly revising a character’s backstory rather than crafting new adventures or developments. I’m obviously in a minority on that score…

Wolverine has had a whole bunch of secret origins and revelatory disclosures in his extended, conveniently brainwashed and amnesiac life but this tome (which originally appeared as Wolverine volume 3, issues #50-55, November 2007-March 2008), at least tacks this latest round of really, honestly, for-gosh-sakes-I-mean-it true surprises to a fast-paced and engrossing recap and (purportedly) final clash between the miniscule mutant and his manic homicidal analogue Victor Creed: Sabretooth.

Scripted by Jeph Loeb and beautifully illustrated by the stunningly talented Simone Bianchi the story begins at fully gory pelt and just races on regardless…

The two fast-healing Mutant furies have clashed over and again and here Wolverine decides to end his enemy once and for all. However, his determination is somewhat distracted by recurring hallucinations and sense-memories of primeval pasts and a strangely familiar race of werewolf-like creatures that he feels a haunting kinship with…

Logan drags Sabretooth from the protective custody of his former X-Men associates in ‘First Blood’ and as new, lost memories constantly assault him, spectacularly battles Creed across half the globe, past clashes blending with current blows and fantastic images of primordial race wars in ‘Deja Vu’.

In ‘Blood on the Wind’ the murderous mutants, unable to permanently harm each other, nevertheless persist in their bloody vendetta until they reach the Black Panther’s hidden African kingdom, where old X-comrade Storm now resides as queen of Wakanda…

A temporary truce in ‘Insomnia’ only results in Sabretooth killing yet more innocents but reveals a possible solution to Wolverine’s delusions, as well as a name for the hidden foe he has sensed at the back of it all. An immortal monster named Romulus…

Moreover, there would seem to be conclusive evidence that rather than mutated humans many “homo superior” might well belong to a completely discrete, ancient species…

With a band of bestial clawed heroes (Sasquatch, Wolfsbane, Thornn and Feral) in tow, Wolverine once more tracks Creed as suppressed memories come thick and fast. In ‘Wake the Dead’ Logan recalls a Second World War exploit with Captain America excised from his consciousness by “Romulus” before Sabretooth attacks again, killing one of his hairy heroic companions…

In the inconclusively chaotic conclusion ‘Quod Sum Eris’ one blood-feud ends and another begins as Wolverine, unsure of anything, prepares to face his hidden foe. Some time somewhere, someday…

These tales are great as vicarious, gratuitous eye-candy, but to simultaneously unwrite a major portion of character history without offering context or conclusion is just inviting new and returning readers to buy different graphic novels with their rapidly diminishing mad-money.

Let’s see any healing factor fix that…

© 2003 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Dreamwalker – A Marvel Graphic Novel

By Bill Mumy, Miguel Ferrer & Gray Morrow (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-87135-550-7

Once upon a time Marvel led the publishing pack in the development of high quality original graphic novels: mixing creator-owned properties, licensed assets like Conan, special Marvel Universe tales and even new series launches in extravagantly expanded packages (a standard page size of 285 x 220mm rather than the now customary 258 x 168mm) that felt and looked like far more than an average comicbook no matter how good, bad or incomprehensible (a polite way of saying outside the average Marvel Zombie’s comfort zone) the contents might be.

By 1990 Marvel’s ambitious line of all-new epics had begun to falter and some less-than-stellar tales were squeaking into the line-up. Moreover, the company was increasingly resorting to in-continuity stories with established – and company copyrighted – characters rather than creator-owned properties and original concepts and hastily turned out movie tie-ins became a regular feature. The line began to have the appearance of an over-sized, over-priced clearing house for leftover stories.

Not that that necessarily meant poor product, and for many stories the luxuriant page dimensions, paper and colouring were truly effective enhancements as this intriguing pastiche of pulp hero Mystery-Men thriller proves. Owing – and enjoyably repaying – a huge debt to the likes of The Shadow, Green Hornet and The Spider, Dreamwalker is the convoluted introductory story of burned out CIA fixer and go-to-guy Joshua McGann, who after 16 distinguished, conscience-free years of service quits the Agency and goes rogue.

After nearly two years he returns home just as his father and step-mother are murdered by a mob-boss. Investigating further he discovers that his dad – a silent movie star – was once an actual masked crime fighter named The Dreamwalker who cleaned the streets of criminal scum in between takes. Swearing vengeance Joshua revives his sire’s masked identity to catch the killers but quickly finds himself the target of every assassin in the business.

Not only has he made the gangster’s “must-kill” list but his old CIA boss wants him back or wants him dead…

This choppy, fast-paced yarn reads like the pilot for a TV series (and perhaps it was; writers Mumy and Ferrer were well-established in Tinseltown long before they began writing funny-books) whilst the brilliant Gray Morrow used his uncanny ability to capture likenesses to pepper the lush painted artwork with the faces of many famous actors including Mel Ferrer, Buster Keaton, Ed Asner, Dean Martin, James Stewart and others: a true dream cast. The capable underplayed letters are provided by Rick Parker.

Cloaked, masked avengers are a mainstay of both comics and the screen and this yarn, as McGann achieves his bloody goals and begins a new career, is a delightfully readable romp that I for one would happily have followed whether in four-colour pages or on TV. As it is, however, all we’ve got is this sharp-shooting, vigorously vicarious lost gem and that in itself will have to suffice. Uncomplicated, old-fashioned fun, and you just can’t beat that…
™ & © 1989 Bill Mumy, Miguel Ferrer and Gray Morrow. All Rights Reserved.

Essential Nova volume 1

By Marv Wolfman, John and Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2093-9

By 1975 the first wave of fans-turned-writers were well ensconced at all the major American comic-book companies. Two fanzine graduates, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman had achieved stellar successes early on, and then risen to the ranks of writer/editors at Marvel, a company in trouble both creatively and in terms of sales. After a meteoric rise and a virtual root and branch overhaul of the industry in the 1960s the House of Ideas – and every other comics publisher except Archie – were suffering from a mass desertion of fans who had simply found other uses for their mad-money.

Whereas Charlton and Gold Key dwindled and eventually died and DC vigorously explored new genres to bolster their flagging sales, Marvel chose to exploit their record with superheroes and foster new titles within a universe it was increasingly impossible to buy only a portion of…

The Man Called Nova was in fact a boy named Richard Rider, a working class nebbish in the tradition of Peter Parker – except he was good at sports and bad at learning – who attended Harry S. Truman High School, where his strict dad was the principal. His mom worked as a police dispatcher and he had a younger brother, Robert, who was a bit of a genius. Other superficial differences to the Spider-Man canon included girlfriend Ginger and best friends Bernie and Caps, but he did have his own school bully, Mike Burley…

An earlier version, “Black Nova” had apparently appeared in the Wolfman/Wein fan mag Super Adventures in 1966, but with a few revisions and an artistic make-over by the legendary John Romita (Senior) the Human Rocket was launched into the Marvel Universe in his own title, beginning in September 1976, ably supported by the illustration A-Team of John Buscema and Joe Sinnott.

‘Nova’, which borrowed as heavily from Green Lantern as well as Spider-Man’s origin, was structured like a classic four-chapter Lee/Kirby early Fantastic Four tale, and rapidly introduced its large cast before quickly zipping to the life-changing moment in Rider’s life when an star-ship with a dying alien aboard transfers to the lad all the mighty powers of an extraterrestrial peacekeeper and warrior.

Centurion Rhomann Dey had tracked a deadly marauder to Earth. Zorr had already destroyed the idyllic world of Xandar, but the severely wounded vengeance seeking Nova Prime was too near death and could not avenge the genocide. Trusting to fate, Dey beamed his powers and abilities towards the planet below where Richard Rider was struck by the energy bolt and plunged into a coma. On awakening Rich realised he had gained awesome powers and the responsibilities of the last Nova Centurion.

The tale is standard origin fare, beautifully rendered by Buscema and Sinnott, but the story really begins with #2’s ‘The First Night of… The Condor!’ as Wolfman, playing to his own strengths, introduced an extended storyline featuring a host of new villains whilst concentrating on filling out the lives of the supporting cast. There was still plenty of action as the neophyte hero learned to use his new powers (one thing the energy transfer didn’t provide was an instruction manual) but battles against winged criminal mastermind Condor and his enigmatic, reluctant pawn Powerhouse plus #3’s brutal super-thug (‘…The Deadly Diamondhead is Ready to Strike!’ illustrated by new art-team Sal Buscema & Tom Palmer) were clearly not as important as laying plot-threads for a big event to come.

Nova #4 saw the first of many guest-star appearances (and the first of three covers by the inimitable Jack Kirby). ‘Nova Against the Mighty Thor’ introduced The Corruptor, a bestial being who turned the Thunder God into a raging berserker whom only the new kid on the block could stop, whilst ‘Evil is the Earth-Shaker!’ pitted the lad against subterranean despot Tyranus and his latest engine of destruction, although a slick sub-plot concerning the Human Rocket’s attempt to become a comic book star still delivers some tongue-in-cheek chuckles to this day…

Issue #6 saw those long-laid plans begin to mature as Condor, Diamondhead and Powerhouse returned to capture Nova, whilst their hidden foe was revealed in ‘And So… The Sphinx!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia), another world-class, immortal super-villain patiently waiting his turn to conquer the world. Meanwhile young Caps had been abducted by another new bad-guy who would eventually make big waves for the Human Rocket.

‘War in Space!’ found Nova a brainwashed ally of his former foes in an invasion of Rhomann Dey’s still orbiting star-ship – an invaluable weapon in the encroaching war with the Sphinx, only to be marooned in deep space once his mind cleared. On narrowly escaping he found himself outmatched by Caps’ kidnapper in ‘When Megaman Comes Calling… Don’t Answer!’ – a tumultuous, time-bending epic that concluded in #9’s ‘Fear in the Funhouse!’

Nova #10 began the final (yeah, right) battle in ‘Four Against the Sphinx!’ with Condor, Diamondhead and Powerhouse in all-out battle against the immortal mage with the hapless Human Rocket caught in the crossfire, whilst ‘Nova No More’ had the hero’s memories removed to take him out of the game; a tactic that only partially worked since he was back for the next issue’s classy crossover with the Spectacular Spider-Man.

‘Who is the Man Called Photon?’ by Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Giacoia, teamed the young heroes in a fair-play murder mystery when Rich Rider’s uncle was killed by a costumed thief. However there were ploys within ploys occurring and after the mandatory hero head-butting the kids joined forces and the mystery was resolved in Amazing Spider-Man #171’s ‘Photon is Another Name For…?’ courtesy of Wein, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.

Joe Sinnott returned in Nova #13, as another lengthy tale began with the introduction of new hero Crime-Buster in ‘Watch Out World, the Sandman is Back!’, wherein the once formidable villain took a beating and fell under the influence of a far more sinister menace. Meanwhile Rich’s dad was going through some bad times and had fallen into the clutches of a dangerous organisation…

The story continued in the Dick Giordano inked ‘Massacre at Truman High!’ as Sandman attacked Nova’s school and the mystery mastermind was revealed for in-the-know older fans before the guest-star stuffed action-riot ‘The Fury Before the Storm!’ saw Carmine Infantino take over the pencilling and Tom Palmer return to the brushstrokes.

When a bunch of established heroes attack the newbie all at once it’s even money they’re fakes, but Nick Fury of super-spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. was real enough and deputised the fledgling fighter for #16’s ‘Death is the Yellow Claw!’ and #17’s spectacular confrontation ‘Tidal Wave!’ As the kid came good and saved the city of New York from a soggy demise the long awaited conclusion occurred in ‘The Final Showdown!’, inked, as was ‘Beginnings’ a short side-bar story dealing with the fate of the elder Rider, by the agglomeration of last-minute-deadline busters dubbed “the Tribe.”

A new foe debuted in #19: ‘Blackout Means Business and his Business is Murder!’ opened the final large story-arc of the series as a ebon-energy wielding maniac attacked Nova, but before that epic completely engaged, the Human Rocket guest-starred with the Thing in Marvel Two-in-One Annual #3 (1978) in a simple yet entertaining tussle with god-like cosmic marauders entitled ‘When Strike the Monitors!’ an interlude crafted by Wolfman, Sal Buscema, Giacoia & Dave Hunt.

Hunt stayed on as inker for Nova #20 as the steadily improving young hero went after the cabal that had nearly destroyed his dad in ‘At Last… The Inner Circle!’ leading to a breakthrough in comics conventions as the Human Rocket revealed his alter ego to his family in ‘Is the World Ready for the Shocking Secret of Nova?’ (with art by John Buscema, Bob McLeod & Joe Rubinstein), whilst a long-forgotten crusader and some familiar villains resurfaced in ‘The Coming of the Comet!’ (#22, Infantino & Steve Leialoha) and long-hidden cyborg mastermind Dr. Sun (an old Dracula foe, of all things) revealed himself in ‘From the Dregs of Defeat!’ executing his scheme to seize control of the lost Nova Prime star-ship and its super-computers.

A huge epic was impressively unfolding but the Human Rocket’s days were numbered. Penultimate issue #24 (inked by Esposito) introduced ‘The New Champions!’ as Dr. Sun battled the Sphinx for the star-ship, with Crime-Buster, the Comet, Powerhouse and Diamondhead dragged along on a one-way voyage to the ruins of Xandar, lost home of the Nova Centurions.

This volume ends with #25, a hastily restructured yarn as the cancellation axe hit the series before it could properly conclude. ‘Invasion of the Body Changers!’ by Wolfman, Infantino & Klaus Janson saw the unhappy crew lost in space and attacked by shape-shifting alien Skrulls, all somehow implicated in the destruction of Xandar, but the answers to the multitude of questions raised were to be eventually resolved in a couple of issues of the Fantastic Four and latterly Rom: Spaceknight: episodes not included here, thus rendering this collection aggravatingly incomplete.

There’s a lot of good, solid entertainment and beautiful superhero art in this book, and Nova has proved his intrinsic value by returning again and again, but by leaving this edition on such a frustrating open end, the editors have reduced what could have been a fine fights ‘n’ tights collection into nothing more than a historical oddity. Stories need conclusions and mine is that we readers deserve so much better than this.

© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.