Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2072-8

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists and a plethora of super-villains (and – as seen in this collection – even the occasional monster or alien invasion), quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.

Covering October1967-June 1968 and re-presenting Daredevil #33-41 and crossover issue Fantastic Four #73, this fourth compilation (in both hardback and eBook formats) sees a continuing gain in story quality as scripter Stan Lee blended soap operatic plot-threads with a string of guest supervillains to string together the unique fight scenes of the increasingly bold and artistically audacious Gene Colan…

Following another typically frothy Introduction from Stan Lee the action opens with ‘Behold the Beetle’ (Daredevil #33, and inked by John Tartaglione) and sees the entire cast – legal partner Foggy Nelson, secretary Karen Page and Murdock in the guise of his own (fictitious) twin brother Mike – heading to Canada for World’s Fair Expo ’67 and encountering another borrowed costumed crazy in search of easy glory and untold riches…

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

Safely back in the Big Apple, DD’s undeserved reputation as a mere costumed acrobat induces another fearsome felon to attack in ‘Daredevil Dies First!’ The sightless wonder is targeted by old Fantastic Four foe The Trapster, who considers the Scarlet Swashbuckler a mere stepping-stone in his overly-complex plan to destroy the World’s premier super-team. Typically, Murdock manages to turn the tables in #36’s ‘The Name of the Game is Mayhem!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia): a clash that leave the blind hero triumphant but weakened and easy prey for another FF arch-foe. Tartaglione then returned to ink the startling ‘Don’t Look Now, But It’s… Doctor Doom!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

Rounding out the experience are number of bonus pages including the unused (presumed lost forever) original cover to DD #35, plus a gallery of original art pages and covers by Colan. Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1967, 1968, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 5 1975-1978: Second Genesis


By Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Bill Mantlo, Bonnie Wilford, Dave Cockrum, Bob Brown, Tony DeZuñiga, John Byrne, Sal Buscema & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0390-9

In the autumn of 1963 The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier.

The teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo Superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After nearly eight years of eccentrically spectacular adventures the mutant misfits virtually disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just like in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes once more dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although their title returned at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the ongoing Marvel universe, whilst the bludgeoning Beast was opportunistically transformed into a scary monster to cash in on the horror boom.

Then, with sales of the spooky stuff subsequently waning in 1975, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas green-lighted a bold one-shot as part of the company’s line of Giant-Size specials and history was made…

This fabulous mass-market collection (in trade paperback and eBook editions) is perfect for newbies and neophytes, celebrating the revival and unstoppable march to market dominance through the exuberant and pivotal early stories: specifically, Giant Size X-Men #1, issues #94-110 of the definitely “All-New, All-Different” X-Men, as well as guest appearances in Iron Fist #14-15, Marvel Team Up #53, 69-70 and Marvel Team Up Annual #1, collectively and cumulatively spanning May 1975 to June 1978.

Tracing the reinvigorated merry mutants from young, fresh and delightfully under-exposed innovations to the beginnings of their unstoppable ascendancy to ultimate comicbook icons, in their own title and through an increasingly broad clutch of guest shots, the epic voyage begins without pause or preamble, in a classic mystery monster mash from Giant Size X-Men #1.

Len Wein & Dave Cockrum (the latter a red-hot property following his stint reviving DC’s equally eclectic fan-fave super-team The Legion of Super-Heroes) detailed in ‘Second Genesis!’ how the original squad – all but new Avengers recruit The Beast – had been lost in action…

With no other choice Xavier is forced to scour Earth and the entire Marvel Universe for replacements…

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire is added a one-shot Hulk adversary dubbed the Wolverine, but the bulk of time and attention is lavished upon original creations Kurt Wagner, a demonic-seeming German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler; African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe – AKA Storm, Russian farm-boy Peter Rasputin who turns into a living steel Colossus and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who is cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The second chapter of the epic introductory adventure ‘…And Then There Was One!’ reintroduces battered, depleted but unbowed team-leader Cyclops who swiftly drills the newcomers into a semblance of readiness before leading them into primordial danger against the monolithic threat of ‘Krakoa… the Island That Walks Like a Man!’

Overcoming the phenomenal terror of a rampaging rapacious mutant eco-system and rescuing the “real” team should have led to a quarterly Giant-Size sequel, but so great was the fan response that the follow-up adventure was swiftly reworked into a 2-part tale for the rapidly reconfigured comicbook which became a bimonthly home to the new team.

X-Men #94 (August 1975) began ‘The Doomsmith Scenario!’ – plotted by Editor Wein, scripted by Chris Claremont and with Bob McLeod inking man-on-fire Cockrum – in a canny Armageddon-shocker with a newly pared-down strike-squad deprived of Sunfire and the still-recuperating Marvel Girl, Angel, Iceman, Havok and Lorna Dane. The neophytes are called in by the Beast to stop criminal terrorist Count Nefaria starting an atomic war.

The insidious mastermind has conquered America’s Norad citadel with a gang of artificial superhumans and accidentally escalated a nuclear blackmail scheme into an inescapable countdown to holocaust, leaving the untrained, unprepared mutants to storm in to save the world in epic conclusion ‘Warhunt!’ (inked by Sam Grainger).

One of the new team doesn’t make it back…

X-Men #96 saw Claremont take charge of the writing (albeit with some plotting input from Bill Mantlo) for ‘Night of the Demon!’ Guilt-wracked Cyclops blames himself for the loss of his team-mate, and in his explosive rage accidentally unleashes a demonic antediluvian horror from Earth’s primordial prehistory for the heroes-in-training to thrash.

The infernal Nagarai would return over and again to bedevil mankind, but the biggest innovation in this issue is the introduction of gun-toting biologist/housekeeper Moira MacTaggert and the first inklings of the return of implacable old adversaries…

A long-running, cosmically-widescreen storyline began in #97 with ‘My Brother, My Enemy!’ as Xavier – tormented by visions of interstellar war – tries to take a vacation, just as Havok and Lorna (finally settling on superhero nom de guerre Polaris) attack: apparently willing servants of a mysterious madman using Cyclops’ old undercover alter ego Eric the Red.

The devastating conflict then segues into a spectacular 3-part yarn, as pitiless robotic killers return under the hate-filled auspices of mutantophobic Steven Lang and his mysterious backers in Project Armageddon. The action opens with #98’s ‘Merry Christmas, X-Men…the Sentinels Have Returned!’

With coordinated attacks capturing semi-retired Marvel Girl plus Wolverine, Banshee and Xavier, Cyclops and the remaining heroes co-opt a space shuttle and storm Lang’s orbital HQ to rescue them in ‘Deathstar Rising!’ (inked by Frank Chiaramonte): another phenomenal all-action episode.

The saga concludes on an agonising cliffhanger with the 100th issue anniversary tale. ‘Greater Love Hath no X-Man…’ (with Cockrum inking his own pencils) sees the new X-Men apparently battle the original team before overturning Lang’s monstrous schemes forever. However, their catastrophic clash destroys the only means of escape and, as a gigantic solar flare threatens to eradicate the satellite-station, their only chance of survival means certain death for another X-Man.

As #101 unfolded, scripter Claremont & artist Cockrum were on the on the verge of utterly overturning the accepted status quo of women in comics forever…

Led by field-leader Cyclops, the team now consisted of old acquaintance and former foe SeanBansheeCassidy, Wolverine, and new creations Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus and part-timer Jean Grey still labouring under the nom-de guerre Marvel Girl… but not for much longer…

‘Like a Phoenix from the Ashes’ (Chiaramonte inks) sees a space-shuttle cataclysmically crash into Jamaica Bay. The X-Men had safely travelled in a specially-shielded chamber but Marvel Girl had manually piloted the vehicle, unprotected through a lethal radiation storm…

As the mutants escape the slowly sinking craft, a fantastic explosion propels the impossibly alive Jean into the air, clad in a strange gold and green uniform and screaming that she is “Fire and Life Incarnate… Phoenix!”

Immediately collapsing, the critically injured girl is rushed to hospital and a grim wait begins.

Unable to explain her survival and too preoccupied to spare time for teaching, Xavier packs Banshee, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Storm and Colossus off to the Irish mutant’s home in County Mayo for a vacation, blissfully unaware that Cassidy Keep has been compromised and is now a deadly trap for his new students…

Within the ancestral pile, Sean’s mutant cousin Black Tom has usurped control of the manor and its incredible secrets before – at Eric the Red’s behest – contriving an inescapable ambush, assisted by an old X-Men enemy.

‘Who Will Stop the Juggernaut?’ (Grainger inks) sees the inexperienced heroes in over their heads and fighting for their lives, but still finds room to reveal the origins of Storm and provide an explanation for her crippling claustrophobia, before ‘The Fall of the Tower’ explosively ends the tale with mutant heroes and the Keep’s Leprechaun colony (no, really!) uniting to expel the murderous usurpers.

Although still bi-monthly at the time, the series kicked into confident top gear with ‘The Gentleman’s Name is Magneto’ as the weary warriors then divert to Scotland to check on Moira MacTaggert’s island lab: a secret facility containing myriad mutant menaces the X-Men have previously defeated.

It’s a very bad move since the ever-active Eric has restored the dormant master of magnetism to full power. The mutant terrorist had been turned into a baby – a strangely commonplace fate for villains in those faraway days – but he was all grown up again now and indulging in one last temper tantrum…

Freshly arrived from America, Moira and Cyclops are only just in time to lead a desperate, humiliating retreat from the triumphant Master of Magnetism. Scott doesn’t care: he realises the entire affair has been a feint to draw the heroes away from Xavier and Jean…

He needn’t have worried. Although in ‘Phoenix Unleashed’ (inks by Bob Layton) Eric orchestrates an attack by Firelord – a cosmic flamethrower and former herald of Galactus much like the Silver Surfer – Jean is now fully evolved into a being of unimaginable power who readily holds the fiery marauder at bay…

In the interim a long-standing mystery is solved as the visions which have haunted and tormented Xavier are revealed as a psychic connection with a runaway princess from a distant alien empire.

Lilandra of the Shi’ar had rebelled against her imperial brother and, whilst fleeing, had somehow telepathically locked onto her trans-galactic soul-mate Charles Xavier. As she made her circuitous way to Earth, embedded Shi’ar spy Shakari had assumed the role of Eric the Red and attempted to remove Lilandra’s potential champion before she arrived…

During the blistering battle which follows the X-Men’s dramatic arrival, Shakari snatches up Lilandra and drags her through a stargate to their home galaxy, and with the entire universe imperilled, Xavier urges his team to follow. All Jean has to do is re-open a wormhole to the other side of creation…

A minor digression follows as overstretched artist Cockrum gains a breather via a fill-in “untold” tale of the new team featuring an attack by psychic clones of the original X-men. ‘Dark Shroud of the Past’ is a competent pause by Mantlo, Bob Brown & Tom Sutton, set inside a framing sequence from Cockrum.

The regular story resumes in a wry tribute to Star Trek as ‘Where No X-Man Has Gone Before!’ (Claremont, Cockrum & Dan Green) finds the heroes stranded in another galaxy where they meet and are beaten by the Shi’ar Imperial Guard (an in-joke version of DC’s Legion of Super Heroes in the inimitable Cockrum manner), until bold interstellar rebel freebooters the Starjammers bombastically arrive to turn the tables once again whilst uncovering a mad scheme to unmake the fabric of space-time.

Lilandra’s brother Emperor D’Ken is a deranged maniac who wants to activate a cosmic artefact known alternatively as the M’Kraan Crystal and “the End of All that Is” in his quest for ultimate power. He’s also spent time on Earth in the past and played a major role in the life of one of the X-Men…

This tale (from issue #107) was Cockrum’s last for years. He would eventually return to replace the man who replaced him. John Byrne not only illustrated but also began co-plotting the X-tales and, as the team roster expanded, the series rose to even greater heights. It would culminate in the landmark Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character and the departure of the team’s heart and soul. The epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the epochal working relationship of Claremont and Byrne.

Within months of publication they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with the mutants whilst Byrne moved on to establish his own reputation as a writer on series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionised Fantastic Four

Here though, the X-Men and Starjammers battle the Crystal’s astoundingly deadly automated guardians, as this final chapter depicts the newly puissant Phoenix literally saving Reality in a mind-blowing display of power and skill.

Trapped inside a staggering other-realm, and appalled and enthralled by the intoxicating, addictive nature of her own might, Phoenix rewove the fabric of Reality and for an encore brought the heroes home again.

The conclusion of this ambitious extended saga was drawn by Byrne and inked by Terry Austin and their visual virtuosity was to become an industry bench-mark as the X-Men grew in popularity and complexity.

However, even though the bravura high-octane thrills of ‘Armageddon Now’ seem an unrepeatable high-point, Claremont & Byrne had only started. The best was still to come, but it precluded ending their other ongoing collaboration: a mystic martial arts thriller…

From Iron Fist #14, ‘Snowfire’ inked by Dan Green – finds masked marvel Danny Rand and his combat colleague Colleen Wing running for their lives in arctic conditions after a vacation retreat to a palatial Canadian Rockies estate is ruined by a criminal raid.

Leading the plundering gang is deadly mercenary Sabretooth. Despite being rendered temporarily blind, the K’un Lun Kid ultimately defeats the mutant marauder, but his fiercely feral foe would return again and again to bedevil both Danny and the X-Men…

With Claremont & Byrne increasingly absorbed by their stellar collaboration on the revived and resurgent adventures of Marvel’s mutant horde, Iron Fist #15 (September 1977) was their last martial arts mash-up for a while. The series ended in spectacular fashion as, through a comedy of errors, Danny stumbles into a morass of misunderstanding and ends up battling the recently returned galaxy rovers Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Banshee, Storm and Phoenix in ‘Enter, the X-Men’.

In X-Men #109’s ‘Home Are the Heroes!’ (Claremont, Byrne & Austin) Wolverine finally begins to develop a back-story and some depth of character whilst technological wonder Weapon Alpha attacks the recuperating team in an attempt to force the enigmatic Logan to rejoin the Canadian Secret Service.

Renamed Vindicator Alpha would later return leading Alpha Flight – a Canadian government sponsored super-team which would eventually graduate to their own eccentric high-profile series.

Somewhat out of chronological sequence, this is followed here by an extra-length exploit from Marvel Team Up Annual #1 (1976 and by Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito, from a plot by Mantlo, Claremont & Bonnie Wilford).

‘The Lords of Light and Darkness!’ features Spider-Man and newly minted X-Men Storm, Banshee, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Phoenix and Cyclops assisting Charles Xavier in combatting a pantheon of scientists mutated by atomic accident and elevated to the ranks of gods.

Like most deities, these puissant ones believe they know what is best for humanity and don’t like being disabused of the notion…

Mantlo then teamed with Byrne & Frank Giacoia to bring closure to a tale begun – and left hanging – in Marvel Premiere #31.

Set minutes after the Annual, Marvel Team Up #53 (January 1977) reveals a ‘Nightmare in New Mexico!’ as Spider-Man says goodbye to the X-Men and hello to The Hulk and troubled gene-splicing experiment Woodgod after the tragic bio-construct flees from corrupt Army Colonel Del Tremens. As Tremens tried to suppress the calamitous crisis and his own indiscretions by killing everybody, the final scene sees the webspinner trapped in a rocket and blasted into space…

The tale by Mantlo, Byrne & Frank Giacoia has very little to do with the X-Men, other than a rather gratuitous overlap and ends here without resolution, but still looks pretty damn good after all these years…

In X-Men #110 (April 1978) Claremont, and illustrators Tony DeZuñiga & Cockrum then detail ‘The “X”-Sanction!’: a rather limp and hasty fill-in as cyborg mercenary Warhawk infiltrates the Xavier mansion in search of “intel” for a mysterious, unspecified master… before getting his shiny silver head handed to him…

This initial compendium of uncanny X-episodes wraps up with the contents of Marvel Team Up #69 and 70 (May & June 1978) as in ‘Night of the Living God!’ (Claremont, Byrne & by Ricardo Villamonte) Spider-Man clashes with Egyptian-themed thieves and is drawn into the perpetual duel between cosmic-powered X-Man Havoc and his nemesis the Living Monolith.

When the battle turns against the heroes it requires the might of Thor to stop the ravening astral menace in the concluding chapter ‘Whom Gods Destroy!’ (inked by Tony DeZuñiga)…

Following the cover of 1975’s all-reprint Giant-Size X-Men #2, this volume concludes with a glorious and revelatory selection of extras including John Romita’s original design sketches for Wolverine; Byrne’s first X-Man work (a puzzle from Marvel Fanzine F.O.O.M. #7) and design material from Cockrum’s DC Comics proposal The Outsiders (the Legion of Super-Heroes spin-off he retooled to create Nightcrawler, Storm, Phoenix and the other New X-Men). There are even unused Cockrum pencil pages, initial sketches for the Starjammers, costume upgrades for Angel, the cover art for X-themed The Comic Reader #145, and model sheets for Nightcrawler, Storm, Phoenix and Colossus.

Further treasures are Gil Kane’s cover sketch and original art for Giant-Size X-Men #1, original Cockrum pages from GSXM #1 and F.O.O.M. #10 (the all-X-Men issue), articles from the fanzine – Mutation of the Species, X-Men! X-Men!. Read All About ‘Em! – a pin-up by Don Maitz, X-Men X-posé and spoof strip ‘EggsMen’; unused pages by Bob Brown and previous collection covers by Kane and Cockrum given a painted make-over by Dean White.

Entertaining, groundbreaking and incredibly intoxicating, these adventures are an invaluable and crucial grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can be allowed to ignore.
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mighty Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 9


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Neal Adams, Bill Everett, Vince Colletta, John Verpoorten, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4220-1

The Mighty Thor was the title in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with the Cosmic Unknown was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s career-defining string of power-packed signature pantheons all stemmed from a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This bombastic full-colour hardback tome – also available in eFormats – re-presents Kirby’s final Asgardian exploits and the initial efforts of his successors. Taken from Thor #173-183 the sagas collectively cover February to December 1970, as universe-builder Jack abandoned the worlds he’d cultivated with Stan Lee for DC Comics and a cosmos uniquely his own…

Once upon a time lonely, lamed American doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, Blake found a gnarled old walking stick, which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder!

Without any hesitation or preamble, the reborn godling was soon defending the weak and smiting the wicked. As months swiftly passed, rapacious extra-terrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs gradually gave way to a vast panoply of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces. Eventually the magnificent warrior’s ever-expanding world of Asgard was a regular feature and mesmerising milieu for the hero’s earlier adventures, heralding a fresh era of cosmic fantasy to run almost tangentially to the company’s signature superhero sagas.

The astounding action begins here – after a fascinating and revelatory Behind the Scenes Introduction from Will Murray – with the earthbound fury of ‘Ulik Unleashed!’ (inked by Bill Everett) as the ferocious super-troll is sent to Earth by Loki only to be hypnotised into aiding old adversaries The Circus of Crime in the robbery of the century…

Single-issue adventures continue with an epic clash between Thor and a tormented young genius whose strength-stealing robot runs amok in ‘The Carnage of the Crypto-Man!’ before the last great epic of the Kirby-era hits its stride, but that’s a saga for another time and place…

Behind a Marie Severin cover ‘The Fall of Asgard!’ sees valiant Asgardian Balder and his Warriors Three allies Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg escape the clutches of lovestruck sorceress Karnilla only to confront the assemble hordes of giants and trolls marching on the Home of the Gods.

With All-Father Odin incapacitated by his annual Great Sleep, Loki has perfidiously seized the throne forcing war-goddess Sif to call Thor back home for perhaps the Last Battle…

Inked by Vince Colletta, ‘Inferno!’ reveals the folly of the usurper as terrifying Fire-demon Surtur breaks free of his Odinian captivity to begin his pre-ordained task of burning down the universe.

With everything appearing ‘To End in Flames!’ Loki flees to Earth, having first hidden Odin’s sleeping form in the life-inimical Sea of Eternal Night. As Thor leads a heroic and Horatian last stand, Balder penetrates the Dimension of Death to rescue the All-Father just as Surtur fires up for his fulminating final foray…

Thor #178 (July 1970) is a landmark: the first issue created without Jack Kirby. Clearly a try-out or fill-in yarn, ‘Death is a Stranger’ – by Lee, John Buscema & Colletta – depicts the Thunderer snatched away from Asgard by the nefarious Abomination to an epic battle with the alien Stranger – an extra-galactic powerhouse who collects unique beings for scientific study…

The interrupted epic resumed in #179 (inked by John Verpoorten) with ‘No More the Thunder God!’ as Thor, Sif and Balder are dispatched to Earth to arrest the fugitive Loki. This issue was Kirby’s last: he left the entire vast unfolding new mythology on a monumental cliffhanger just as the Thunder God is ambushed by his wicked step-brother. Using arcane magic, the Lord of Evil switches bodies with his noble sibling and gains safety and the power of the Storm whilst Thor is doomed to endure whatever punishment Odin decrees…

More than any other Marvel strip Thor was the feature where Kirby’s creative brilliance matched his questing exploration of an Infinite Imaginative Cosmos: dreaming, extrapolating and honing a dazzling new kind of storytelling graphics with soul-searching, mind-boggling concepts of Man’s place in the universe.

Although what followed contained the trappings and even spirit of that incredible marriage, the heart, soul and soaring, unfettered wonderment just were not there any longer: nor would they be until 1983 when Walt Simonson assumed creative control with #337 (see Mighty Thor: the Ballad of Beta Ray Bill).

Here, however, ‘When Gods Go Mad!’ introduced the radically different style of Neal Adams to the mix, inked by the comfortably familiar Joe Sinnott, as the true Thunder God was sent to Hell and the tender mercies of Mephisto, whilst on Earth Loki uses his brother’s body to terrorise the UN Assembly and declare himself Master of the World…

In #181’s ‘One God Must Fall’ Sif leads the Warriors Three on a rescue mission to the Infernal Realm whilst Balder struggles to combat the power of Thor combined with the magic and malice of Loki until Mephisto is thwarted. Then a cataclysmic battle of brothers on Earth soon sets the world to rights…

The new Post-Kirby era truly began with Thor #182 as John Buscema assumed the artistic reins and began his own epic run as illustrator with ‘The Prisoner… The Power… and… Dr. Doom!’ as the Thunderer is entangled in Earthly politics. When a young girl entreats him to rescue her father from the deadly Iron Monarch, the noble scion cannot refuse, especially as the missing parent is an expert on missile technology and is capable of making Doom the master of ICBM warfare…

The decidedly down-to-Earth and mismatched melodrama concludes with Don Blake ‘Trapped in Doomsland!’ until Thor can retrieve his mislaid mallet, but even after his deadly mission of mercy is accomplished, tragedy is his only reward…

Closing out this key transitional volume is the cover of the Kirby tour de force Tales of Asgard #1 and his unused cover for Thor #175 (inked by John Verpoorten) plus a Buscema house ad for the aforementioned clash with Dr. Doom.

The Kirby Thor is a high-point in graphic fantasy and all the more impressive for its sheer timeless readability, but the end was truly a new beginning and a testament to the sheer pulling power of the mightiest son of Asgard. These tales are a Fantasy fan’s delight and an absolute must for all devotees of the medium.
© 1970, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor Epic Collection: The Wrath of Odin


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Vince Colletta & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0379-4

The Mighty Thor was the title in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with Cosmic Phenomena and Man’s place and role in the universe was honed and refined through his most dazzling graphics and captivating concepts.

The King’s career-defining string of power-packed signature pantheons all stemmed from a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by fledgling Marvel Comics to add an iconic Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

However, whereas the rapidly proliferating Marvel Universe grew ever more interconnected as it matured with assorted superheroes literally tripping over each other as they contiguously and continually saved the world from their New York City bases, the mythic heritage of Thor and the soaring imagination of Kirby increasingly pulled the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning new landscapes.

Admittedly, the Son of Odin would pop back to Earth for an adventure or two, but it is clear that – for Kirby – Earth was just a nice place to visit whilst the stars and beyond were the right and proper domain of the Asgardians and their foes…

Crafted entirely by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Vince Colletta, this bombastic full-colour paperback tome – also available in eFormats – sees those fascinations culminating in a consciousness-expanding run of Asgardian exploits (spanning Thor #131-153 and covering August 1966 to June 1967) which changes forever the scope and power of comics storytelling…

For those who came in late: Once upon a time lonely, lamed American doctor Donald Blake vacationed in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, Blake found a gnarled old walking stick, which when struck against the ground turned him into the Norse God of Thunder!

Within moments he was defending the weak and smiting the wicked. As months swiftly passed, rapacious extraterrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs gradually gave way to a vast panoply of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces.

Soon, the magnificent warrior’s ever-expanding world of Asgard was a regular feature and mesmerising milieu for the hero’s earlier adventures, heralding a fresh era of cosmic fantasy to run beside the company’s signature superhero sagas.

Thus, every issue also carried a spectacular back-up series that grew to be a solid fan-favourite. Tales of Asgard – Home of the Mighty Norse Gods gave Kirby space to indulge his fascination with legends by providing initially complete vignettes and ultimately lengthy serialised epics – in every sense of the word.

Initially adapted myths, these little yarns grew into sagas unique to the Marvel universe where Kirby built his own cosmos and mythology, underpinning the company’s entire continuity.

This titanic tome commences with the Thunderer and Olympian rival Hercules returning triumphant from war in the underworld. Thor then secures a pledge from his terrifyingly inconsistent father Odin that he may wed his mortal love Jane Foster.

Hurtling back to Earth however, Thor finds his beloved long gone and her erstwhile roommate Tana Nile exposed as a superpowered Rigellian Colonizer who has just taken possession of Earth. ‘They Strike from Space!’ was merely prologue for a fantastic voyage to the depths of space and a unique universal threat…

At the end of the previous volume Tales of Asgard saw a band of assembled Asgardians face the horde of all-conquering Harokin as another multi-chaptered classic began, with young Thor impersonating the dynamic reiver. Here, the saga resumes with the hero exposed even as colossal companion Volstagg steals the enemy’s apocalyptic wizard-weapon ‘The Warlock’s Eye!’

Issue #132 sees the Thunderer explosively laying down the law on ‘Rigel: Where Gods May Fear to Tread!’ and single-handedly liberating Earth. At the back of the comic ‘The Dark Horse of Death!’ arrives in the Tales of Asgard segment, looking for its next doomed rider…

The following issue is a certified Kirby Classic, as ‘Behold… the Living Planet!’ introducing the malevolent Ego, a sentient world and master of a living Bio-verse: a stunning visual tour de force that tiled one High Concept after another upon Thor, his new artificial pal Recorder and the reeling readership, whilst Harokin’s tale ended in one last ride to ‘Valhalla!’

The threat of invasion over, Thor returns to Earth to search for Jane, and after diligent efforts finds her with ‘The People Breeders!’ – a hidden Balkan enclave wherein pioneering geneticist The High Evolutionary was instantly evolving animals into men. His latest experiment had created a lupine future-nightmare – ‘The Maddening Menace of the Super-Beast!’ so it’s just as well the Thunder God was on hand.

Back in Asgard and an undefinable time agone, ‘When Speaks the Dragon!’ and ‘The Fiery Breath of Fafnir!’ pitted Thor and his Warriors Three comrades Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg against a staggering reptilian monstrosity: a threat finally quashed in #136’s ‘There Shall Come a Miracle!’

The lead story in that issue is a turning point in the history of the Storm Lord. ‘To Become an Immortal!’ finds Odin transforming Jane Foster into an Asgardian goddess and relocating her to Asgard, but her frail human mind cannot cope with the wonders and perils of the Realm Eternal and she is mercifully restored to mortality and all but written out of the series.

Luckily for the despondent Thunder God the beauteous warrior-maiden Sif was on hand…

With this story Thor’s closest link to Earth was neatly severed: from now on his adventures on Midgard are as a tourist or beneficent guest, not a resident. Asgard and infinity were now his true home, a situation quickly proved by the bombastic clash ‘If Asgard Falls…’

Set in the Gleaming City during the annual Tourney of Heroes (and originally published in The Mighty Thor Annual #2, 1966) this a martial spectacular of outlandish armours and exotic weaponry that turns decidedly serious when the deadly Destroyer is unleashed amidst the wildly warring warriors…

Although Thor had lost his human paramour, he rediscovered his childhood sweetheart, now all grown up and a fierce warrior maid to boot. A good thing too, since ‘The Thunder God and the Troll!’ (#137) introduces the bestial menace of super-troll Ulik and features open warfare begin between the Asgardians and their implacable monstrous foes.

During the spectacular carnage and combat Sif is captured and the Thunderer rushes to Earth to rescue her, whilst legions of monstrous subterranean troglodytes attacked the very heart of the kingdom…

The Tales of Asgard feature was gradually wrapping up, but still offered Kirby a place to stretch his creative muscles. ‘The Tragedy of Hogun!’ offers revelations concerning the gripping history of the dour warrior in an Arabian Nights pastiche which also introduces sinister sorcerer Mogul of the Mystic Mountain.

In ‘The Flames of Battle!’ Thor is reunited with Sif but deprived of his magical mallet Mjolnir, courtesy of exotic technology the trolls have mysteriously developed. Do the malign invaders have a potent new ally or a terrifyingly powerful slave?

Trapped on Earth, the hammerless Thor has no means of returning to the realm beyond the Rainbow Bridge whilst in Asgard, the war goes badly and the heroic gods are close to final defeat…

For the Tales of Asgard segments, ‘The Quest for the Mystic Mountain!’ finds Hogun and his comrades edging closer to victory and vengeance, culminating in a truly stunning Kirby spectacle in Thor #139 as the wandering warriors discover ‘The Secret of the Mystic Mountain!’ In the lead story of that issue, ‘To Die Like a God!’ wraps up the Troll War in eye-popping style as Thor and Sif invade the bowels of the Earth to save the day for humanity and Asgardians alike…

With #140 the extended epics are replaced by a short run of compete, single episode tales heavy on action, starting with ‘The Growing Man!’ as Thor heads back to Earth and discovers New York under attack by a synthetic warrior who grows larger and stronger with every blow struck against him.

Time-travelling marauder Kang the Conqueror is behind the Brobdingnagian brute, whilst in back-up ‘The Battle Begins!’, Hogun and Co are menaced by a terrifying genie…

In #141 Thor confronts ‘The Wrath of Replicus’, a bombastic, bludgeoning epic involving gangsters, aliens and super-robots, counter-pointed by stunning fantasy as the wandering Asgardian warriors meet ‘Alibar and the Forty Demons!’

‘The Scourge of the Super Skrull!’ then pits Thunderer against an alien with all the powers of the Fantastic Four, even as in Asgard a new menace is investigated by Sif and indomitable warrior Balder the Brave. The back-up tale finds Kirby’s seamless melange of myth and legend leap into overdrive as ‘We, Who are About to Die…!’ depicts young Thor and the Warriors Three facing all the mystic menaces of Mogul.

Thor #143 returned to extended epics with ‘…And, Soon Shall Come: the Enchanters!’ (inked by the magnificent Bill Everett) as Sif and Balder meet a deadly trio of wizards plotting to overthrow All-Father Odin, only to fall prey to their power. Escaping to Earth they link up with Thor, but they have been followed…

Everett also inked the Tales of Asgard instalment ‘To the Death!’ as comic relief Volstagg takes centre-stage to seduce Mogul’s sinister sister…

Colletta returned with ‘This Battleground Earth!’, wherein two Enchanters attack the warriors on Midgard whilst the third duelled directly with Odin in the home of the gods. At the back, Mogul declared ‘The Beginning of the End!’

At the height of the battle in the previous issue Odin had withdrawn all the powers of his Asgardian followers, leaving Sif, Balder and Thor ‘Abandoned on Earth!’ Victorious, the All-Father then wanted his subjects home, but his wayward son again opts to stay with mortals, driving Odin into a fury. Stripped of his magical abilities, alone, hungry and in need of a job, the once-god becomes embroiled with the Circus of Crime: hypnotised into committing an audacious theft…

The Tales of Asgard feature wrapped up in spectacular fashion with ‘The End!’, to be replaced in the next issue with The Inhumans – but as that’s a subject of a separate volume, the remainder of this chronicle is all-Norse action, beginning in #146 with ‘…If the Thunder Be Gone!’

Deprived of all power except his natural super-strength, Thor is helpless against the nefarious Ringmaster’s mesmerism and steals a life-sized, solid gold bull at the villain’s command. When the police interrupt the raid, the hero awakes to find himself an outlaw and a moving target. Things get worse when he was arrested in ‘The Wrath of Odin!’: left a sitting duck for the vengeance of his malign brother Loki. However, the god of Evil’s scheme is thwarted when Sif and Balder rush to Thor’s rescue, provoking Odin to de-power and banish them all in ‘Let There be… Chaos!’

Even as all this high-powered frenzy is occurring, a brutal burglar is terrorising Manhattan. The Wrecker was Public Enemy #1 and when he breaks into the house where Loki is hiding the cheap thug achieves his greatest coup – intercepting a magic spell from the formidable Norn Queen intended to restore the mischief maker’s evil energies. Now charged with Asgardian forces the Wrecker goes on a rampage with only the weakened Thor to challenge him…

Issue #149 entered new territory with ‘When Falls a Hero!’ as, after a catastrophic clash the Wrecker kills Thor. ‘Even in Death…’ has the departed Thunder God facing Hela, Goddess of Death, as Balder and Sif hunt the Norn Queen and Loki. Hoping to save her beloved, Sif enters into a devil’s bargain, surrendering her soul to animate unstoppable war-machine the Destroyer, unaware that the Thunderer had already convinced Death to release him…

In ‘…To Rise Again!’ the Destroyer, fresh from crushing the Wrecker, turns on the resurrected Thor since Sif is unable to communicate with or overrule the death machine’s pre-programmed hunger to kill. The situation is further muddled when Odin arbitrarily restores Thor’s godly might, prompting the Destroyer to go into lethal overdrive…

Meanwhile in the wilds of Asgard, Ulik the Troll attacks Karnilla, Queen of the Norns and Balder offers to be her champion if Sif is freed from the Destroyer…

An astounding turning point is reached in ‘The Dilemma of Dr. Blake!’ as Thor unites with his lost companions against Ulik, only to lose his newly re-energised hammer to Loki, who flees to Earth with it.

In hot pursuit, the heroes follow and Sif is gravely wounded in ‘…But Dr. Blake Can Die!’ wherein Thor reverts to his mortal guise to surgically operate on the dying goddess – an opportunity for further attack Loki cannot resist, but which our hero’s courage and ingenuity manage to frustrate…

To Be Continued…

Filling out this mythic missal are hidden gems of Kirby art: original pages from the stories in this volume, unused and modified cover designs and pencils, plus excerpts from the Marvel Bullpen Bulletin editorial feature and a classic cover modified by painter Richard Isdanove…

These transitional Thor tales show the development not only of one of Marvel’s fundamental continuity concepts but more importantly the creative evolution of the greatest imagination in comics. Set your common sense on pause and simply wallow in the glorious imagery and power of these classic adventures for the true secret of what makes graphic narrative a unique experience.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers Volume 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thor Epic Collection: To Wake the Mangog


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby with Vince Colletta, George Klein, Bill Everett, John Romita Sr. & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9173-5

The Mighty Thor was the title in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s career-defining string of power-packed signature pantheons all stemmed from a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This bombastic full-colour tome – also available in eFormats – offers more Asgardian exploits from Thor #154-174, collectively covering July 1968 to March 1970 as the Universe Jack built slowly began to succumb to the weight and stricture of Marvel’s abiding continuity whilst the King sought ever more challenging innovation and spectacle…

Once upon a time lonely, lamed American doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, Blake found a gnarled old walking stick, which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder!

Without any hesitation or preamble the reborn godling was soon defending the weak and smiting the wicked. As months swiftly passed, rapacious extra-terrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs gradually gave way to a vast panoply of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces. Eventually the magnificent warrior’s ever-expanding world of Asgard was a regular feature and mesmerising milieu for the hero’s earlier adventures, heralding a fresh era of cosmic fantasy to run almost tangentially to the company’s signature superhero sagas.

The action begins here after another calamitous clash with evil stepbrother Loki as vanquished troll warrior Ulik accidentally releases an ancient unstoppable beast in ‘…To Wake the Mangog!’

A creature imprisoned by Odin in his ancient prime, the monster – embodying the power and last remains of a billion, billion predatory warriors – emerges furious at his incarceration and brutally rampages towards the heart of Asgard to trigger Ragnarok in ‘Now Ends the Universe!’ laying waste to everything in its path. All the Golden Realm’s martial resources are unable to slow its deadly progress in ‘The Hammer and the Holocaust!’ but the valiant delaying tactics, depicted in unimaginably powerful battles scenes from Kirby – a genius on fire – resulted in a last-minute save in #157’s ‘Behind Him… Ragnarok!’

Although short on plot development, the astounding battle to save Asgard is a masterful expression of the artist’s hunger for bigger stories and might well have underpinned his later Fourth World series at DC…

Here and then however the peculiarities of the Don Blake/Thor relationship were examined and finally clarified; beginning with ‘The Way it Was!’ – a framing sequence by regular creative team Stan Lee, Kirby & Vince Colletta- that book-ended a reprint of that very first Thor story from JiM #83, ‘The Stone Men of Saturn’ (inked by Joe Sinnott).

This neatly segued into ‘The Answer at Last!’ which took the immortal hero back to his long-distant youth and revealed Blake to be no more than a Odinian construct designed to teach the Thunder God humility and compassion by living amongst mortals as one of them…

With his true nature re-established, Thor then answered a call from the Colonisers of Rigel, plunging into the depths of space to face a cosmic menace. ‘And Now… Galactus!’ reintroduced old companion The Recorder whilst pitting the Devourer of Worlds against living planet Ego, a clash concluded with the Thunderer’s heavy-handed aid in ‘Shall a God Prevail?’

The cosmic wonderment then escalated in ‘Galactus is Born!’ as Asgardian magic finally reveals a tantalising fragment of the terrifying space god’s origins…

For #163 and 164 Thor was summarily returned to Earth to battle an invasion from a ghastly dystopian future. ‘Where Demons Dwell!’ finds his beloved Lady Sif investigating a bizarre energy vortex until captured by mutate monsters controlled by rogue Greek god Pluto. The Asgardians decimate the horrors from tomorrow ‘Lest Mankind Fall!’ and as valiant comrade Balder joins them in cataclysmic combat a mysterious cocoon hatches a man-made god…

‘Him!’ (Thor #165) and its conclusion ‘A God Berserk!’ sees the creature created by evil scientists to conquer mankind (and who would eventually evolve into the tragic cosmic saviour Adam Warlock) wake amidst the turmoil of the battle and, seeing Sif, decide it is time he took a mate…

Trailing the naive artificial superman across space and assorted dimensions with the outraged Thor, Balder witnesses his gentle comrade’s descent into brutal “warrior-madness”, resulting in a savage beating of Him. By the time the Thunderer regains his equilibrium, he is a shaken, penitent and guilt-ridden hero eager to pay penance for his unaccustomed savagery…

In ‘This World Renounced!’ (featuring a cover by John Romita: the first ever not drawn by Kirby) almighty Odin punishes his son for succumbing to Warrior Madness by exiling him to deep space, where he must atone by locating the enigmatic world-devourer Galactus. Just before departure, however, the Prince of Asgard clears up some outstanding old business, including another confrontation with his stepbrother Loki, Prince of Evil…

The superb George Klein came aboard as inker for ‘Galactus Found!’ with Balder and the Warriors ThreeFandral, Hogun and Volstagg – babysitting Earth whilst Thor roams the heavens on his lonely mission. As a new threat emerged in Red China, in the deep unknown Galactus came to Thor to disclose ‘The Awesome Answer!’ to his origins: a dose of pure Kirby Kosmology of truly staggering proportions…

Meanwhile back home the terrifying Thermal Man was making things too hot for both his Chinese creators and the Lands of the Free…

In Thor #170 ‘The Thunder God and the Thermal Man’ (with comics legend Bill Everett assuming the chores of inker) the starlost hero returns to Earth with mission accomplished, and discovers New York besieged by a walking atomic nightmare. Tumbling straight into cataclysmic combat beside his Asgardian comrades against the unstoppable mechanoid menace, Thor is suddenly deprived of his allies at the height of the struggle with Balder, Hogun, Fandral and Volstagg arcanely abducted to Asgard by Loki and the Norn Queen. Nevertheless, the turbulent Thunder God triumphed…

Alone on Earth Thor faced a series of single-issue situations: confronting ‘The Wrath of The Wrecker!’ to crush the Norn-empowered bandit before foiling the body-swapping plot of billionaire Kronin Krask in ‘The Immortal and the Mind-Slave!’ and the earthbound fury of ‘Ulik Unleashed!’ (with old adversaries The Circus of Crime thrown in for good measure).

This epic compilation then concludes with a strength-stealing robot running amok in ‘The Carnage of the Crypto-Man!’ before the last great epic of the Kirby-era began, but that’s a saga for another time and place…

More than any other Marvel strip Thor was the feature where Jack Kirby’s creative brilliance matched his questing exploration of an Infinite Imaginative Cosmos: dreaming, extrapolating and honing a dazzling new kind of storytelling graphics with soul-searching, mind-boggling concepts of Man’s place in the universe.

The Kirby Thor is a high-point in graphic fantasy and all the more impressive for its sheer timeless readability. These tales are an absolute must for all fans of the medium.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor Epic Collection: When Titans Clash


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Chic Stone, Frank Giacoia, Vince Colletta & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9446-0

The Mighty Thor was the title in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s career-defining string of power-packed signature pantheons all stemmed from a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This bombastic full-colour tome – also available in eFormats – offers more pioneering Asgardian exploits from JiM #110-125 and the cunningly and appropriately retitled Thor #126-130: collectively covering November 1964 to July 1966, and includes a satirically silly snippet from Not Brand Ecch #3 (October 1967) in a blur of innovation and seat-of-the-pants myth-revising and universe-building…

Once upon a time lonely, lamed American doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, Blake found a gnarled old walking stick, which when struck against the ground turned him into the Norse God of Thunder!

Within moments he was defending the weak and smiting the wicked. As months swiftly passed, rapacious extraterrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs gradually gave way to a vast panoply of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces.

By issue #110, the magnificent warrior’s ever-expanding world of Asgard was a regular feature and mesmerising milieu for the hero’s earlier adventures, heralding a fresh era of cosmic fantasy to run beside the company’s signature superhero sagas.

Every issue also carried a spectacular back-up series that grew to be a solid fan-favourite. Tales of Asgard – Home of the Mighty Norse Gods gave Kirby space to indulge his fascination with legends and allowed both complete vignettes and longer epics – in every sense of the word.

Initially adapted myths, these little yarns grew into sagas unique to the Marvel universe where Kirby built his own cosmos and mythology, underpinning the company’s entire continuity.

The action opens here with ‘Every Hand Against Him’ (Stan Lee, Kirby & Chic Stone) as Asgardian evildoer Loki and earthly miscreants Cobra and Mr. Hyde kidnap and wound nigh unto death Thor’s merely mortal beloved Jane Foster, even as Odin once again overreacts to Thor’s affections for the human girl.

Following a stunning Kirby & Stone Pin-up Thor Pin-up, and balancing that tension-drenched clash of Good and Evil, is a crafty vignette starring the Young Thor describing ‘The Defeat of Odin!’ with an old and silly plot sweetened by breathtaking battle scenes.

The concluding clash with Hyde and his serpentine ally redefines ‘The Power of the Thunder God’ and features a major role for Balder the Brave, further integrating “historical” and contemporary Asgards in a spellbinding epic of triumph and near-tragedy, after which a Loki Pin-up precedes a short fable co-opting a Greek myth (Antaeus if you’re asking) as ‘The Secret of Sigurd’ by Lee, Kirby and inker Vince Colletta …

Journey into Mystery #112 gave the readers what they had been clamouring for with ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’: a glorious gift to all those fans who perpetually ask “who’s stronger…?”

Possibly Kirby & Stone’s finest artistic moment, it details a private duel between the two super-humans that apparently appeared off-camera during a free-for-all between The Avengers, Sub-Mariner and the eponymous Green Goliath. The raw power of that tale is balanced by an eagerly anticipated origin in ‘The Coming of Loki’ (Colletta inks): a retelling of how Odin came to adopt the baby son of Laufey, the Giant King.

In #113 ‘A World Gone Mad!’ by Lee, Kirby & Stone, the Thunderer, after saving the Shining Realm from invasion, once more defies his father Odin to romantically pursue the mortal nurse Jane – a task made rather hazardous by the return of the petrifying villain Grey Gargoyle.

A long-running plot strand – almost interminably so – was the soap-opera tangle caused by Don Blake’s love for his nurse – a passion his alter ego shared. Sadly, the Overlord of Asgard refused to allow his son to love a mortal, which acrimonious triangle provided many attempts to humanise and de-power Thor, already a hero few villains could cope with.

The mythic moment then exposed ‘The Boyhood of Loki!’ (inked by Colletta), a pensive, brooding foretaste of the villain to be.

JiM #114 began a two-part tale introducing a new villain of the sort Kirby excelled at: a vicious thug who suddenly lucked into overwhelming power. ‘The Stronger I Am, The Sooner I Die!’ finds Loki imbuing hardened felon Crusher Creel with the power to duplicate the strength and attributes of anything he touches, but before he is treated to ‘The Vengeance of the Thunder God’ (inked by Frank Giacoia as the pseudonymous Frankie Ray) we’re graced with another Asgardian parable – ‘The Golden Apples’. Issue #115’s back-up mini-myth was ‘A Viper in our Midst!’ with young Loki clandestinely cementing relations with the sinister Storm Giants – sworn enemies of the Gods….

A longer Thor saga began in #116, as Colletta settled in as regular inker for both lead and support feature. ‘The Trial of the Gods’ revealed more aspects of fabled Asgard as Thor and Loki undertake a brutal ritualised Trial by Combat, with the god of mischief cheating at every step, after which ‘Into the Blaze of Battle!’ finds Balder protecting Jane Foster even as her godly paramour travels to war-torn Vietnam seeking proof of his step-brother’s infamy.

These yarns are supplemented by stellar novellas ‘The Challenge!’ and ‘The Sword in the Scabbard!’ in which Asgardian cabin-fever develops into a quest to expose a threat to the mystic Odinsword, the unsheathing of which could destroy the universe…

Journey into Mystery #118’s ‘To Kill a Thunder God!’ ramps up the otherworldly drama as Loki, attempting to cover his tracks, unleashes an ancient Asgardian WMD – the Destroyer. When it damages the mystic hammer of Thor and nearly kills our hero in ‘The Day of the Destroyer!’, the God of Mischief is forced to save his step-brother or bear the brunt of Odin’s anger.

Meanwhile in Tales of Asgard the Quest further unfolds with verity-testing talisman ‘The Crimson Hand!’ and ‘Gather, Warriors!’ with a band of hand-picked “Argonauts” joining Thor’s flying longship in a bold but misguided attempt to forestall Ragnarok…

With Destroyer defeated and Loki temporarily thwarted, Thor returns to America ‘With My Hammer in Hand…!’ only to clash once more with the awesome Absorbing Man. However, before that bombastic battle there’s not only the next instalment of the Asgardian Argonauts who boldly ‘Set Sail!’ but also the admittedly superb digression of the lead story from Journey into Mystery Annual #1, wherein in undisclosed ages past the God of Thunder fell into the realm of the Greek Gods for landmark heroic hullabaloo ‘When Titans Clash! Thor vs. Hercules!’

This incredible all-action episode is augmented here by a beautiful double-page pin-up of downtown Asgard – a true example of Kirby magic.

The Thunderer’s attack of the Absorbing Man resumes in ‘The Power! The Passion! The Pride!’ seemingly set to see the end of Thor: a cliffhanger somewhat assuaged by ‘Maelstrom!’ wherein the Argonauts epically encounter an uncanny storm…

In JiM #122’s ‘Where Mortals Fear to Tread!’ the triumphant Crusher Creel is abducted by Loki to attack Asgard and Odin himself: an astounding clash leading to a cataclysmic conclusion ‘While a Universe Trembles!’

Meanwhile ‘The Grim Specter of Mutiny!’ invoked by seditious Loki is quashed in time for valiant Balder to save the Argonauts from ‘The Jaws of the Dragon!’ in the ever-escalating Ragnarok Quest.

With the contemporary threat to Asgard ended and Creel banished, Thor returns to Earth to defeat the Demon, a witchdoctor empowered by a magical Asgardian Norn Stone left behind after the Thunder God’s Vietnamese venture. Whilst the Storm Lord was away Hercules was dispatched to Earth on a reconnaissance mission for Zeus. ‘The Grandeur and the Glory!’ opened another extended story-arc and action extravaganza, which bounced the Thunderer from bruising battle to brutal defeat to ascendant triumph.

Issue #125 ‘When Meet the Immortals!’ was the last Journey into Mystery: with the following month’s ‘Whom the Gods Would Destroy!’ the comic was re-titled The Mighty Thor and the drama amped up unabated, culminating with ‘The Hammer and the Holocaust!’

In short order Thor crushed the Demon, seemingly lost beloved Jane to Hercules, was deprived of his powers and subsequently thrashed by the Grecian Prince of Power, yet still managed to save Asgard from unscrupulous traitor Seidring the Merciless who had usurped Odin’s mystic might…

Meanwhile in the Tales of Asgard instalments the Questers homed in on the cause of all their woes. ‘Closer Comes the Swarm’ pitted them against the flying trolls of Thryheim, whilst ‘The Queen Commands’ saw Loki captured until Thor answered ‘The Summons!’, promptly returning the Argonauts to Asgard to be shown ‘The Meaning of Ragnarok!’

In all honestly these mini-eddas were, although still magnificent in visual excitement, becoming rather rambling in plot, so the narrative reset was neither unexpected nor unwelcome…

Instead of ending, the grandiose saga actually grew in scope with Thor #128 as ‘The Power of Pluto!’ introduced another major foe. The Greek God of the Underworld had tricked Hercules into replacing him in his dread, dead domain, just as the recuperated Thunder God was looking for a rematch, whilst in Tales of Asgard Kirby pulled out all the creative stops to depict the ‘Aftermath!’ of Ragnarok: for many fans the first indication of what was to come in the King’s landmark Fourth World tales half a decade later…

‘The Verdict of Zeus!’ condemns Hercules to the Underworld unless he can find a proxy to fight for him, whilst at the back of the comic the assembled Asgardians faced ‘The Hordes of Harokin’ as another multi-chaptered classic begins, but for once the cosmic scope of the lead feature eclipses the little odysseys as ‘Thunder in the Netherworld!’ reveals Thor and Hercules carving a swathe of destruction through an unbelievably alien landscape – the beginning of a gradual side-lining of Earthly matters and mere crime-fighting.

Thor and Kirby were increasingly expending their efforts in greater realms than ours…

‘The Fateful Change!’ then reveals how the younger Thunder God trades places with the Genghis Khan-like Harokin… leaving the drama on a tense cliff hanger until the next collected volume…

However there’s one last reading treat in store as Marvel’s superhero spoof title Not Brand Echh #3 provides a barbed and pitiless pastiche of the Asgardian (Jazzgardian, in fact!) life in ‘The Origin of Sore, Son of Shmodin!’ by Lee, Kirby & Giacoia, as well as a glimpse at a 1965 T-Shirt design by Kirby and Dick Ayers, a selection of original art pages from the stories in this volume and a gallery of classic covers modified by painter Dean White…

These transitional Thor tales show the development not only of one of Marvel’s fundamental continuity concepts but more importantly the creative evolution of the greatest imagination in comics. Set your common sense on pause and simply wallow in the glorious imagery and power of these classic adventures for the true secret of what makes graphic narrative a unique experience.
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor, God of Thunder volume 4: The Last Days of Midgard


By Jason Aaron, Esad Ribic, Agustin Alessio, Simon Bisley, R.M. Guera, Ive Svorcina & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8991-6

Created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, The Mighty Thor began his stellar career delivering an unceasing procession of spectacular fantasy-flavoured adventures which encompassed everything from crushing crime capers and smashing sinister super-villains to crushing mythical monsters saving entire universes from cosmic doom.

As the decades passed he survived numerous reboots and re-imaginings to keep the wonders of fabled Asgard appealing to an increasingly more sophisticated – and therefore jaded – readership. An already exceedingly broad range of scenarios spawned even greater visual variety after the Thunderer’s introduction to the pantheon of cinematic Marvels and his ongoing triumphs as a bona fide movie sensation.

A relatively recent publishing iteration of Marvel’s most tempestuous hero began by simultaneously focusing on the Storm Lord in the past, present and future. Thor, God of Thunder ended with #25 with this compilation gathering #19.NOW through to that momentous anniversary climax (cover-dates April to October 2014) bringing that conceit to its natural, if staggeringly apocalyptic, conclusion.

Crafted primarily by Jason Aaron & Esad Ribic, this chronicle visits two vastly separated eras as the Lord of Storms tackles two ultimate enemies of Earth in two distinctly different times.

‘The Last Days of Midgard’ opens with an appraisal of how, across the universe, many worlds are inexplicably expiring even as, on Earth, Thor is renewing his ineffable bond with the blue planet he loves so much.

Having recently made the acquaintance of junior S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Rosalind Solomon and been more than a little impressed, he is thus on hand when she begins her job in the agency’s new Environmental Hazard Division and uncovers a high-tech underwater Japanese whaling fleet hunting inside a UN undersea preserve.

As her solo assault fails Solomon is surprised – and a tad annoyed – to be rescued by the almighty storm god who soon routs and destroys the poachers. Meanwhile in Alaska, the new CEO of super-corporation Roxxon is unveiling his latest moneymaking scheme…

Unctuous yet menacing wunderkind Dario Agger is proudly publicising his new project to bring clean – albeit exorbitantly expensive – mined ice for drinking water from Jupiter’s moon Europa. Of course, he neglects to mention his company’s covert countervailing activities: secretly polluting water tables, melting Earth’s icecaps and befouling the atmosphere to maximise the profit potential of Roxxon’s newest line….

Under his new business model Roxxon intends to ecologically destabilise the planet so that they can monetise their brand of high-tech stopgap solutions…

Agger’s first foray goes embarrassingly awry when Thor hijacks his press launch; hand-delivering an entire mountain of clean ice and promising all Earth might ever need…

Furiously brushing aside Agent Solomon’s thinly veiled threat that S.H.I.E.L.D. is onto him, the self-proclaimed god of money vows vengeance and brings in his lawyers and lobbyists. Superheroes and even S.H.I.E.L.D. enforce laws, but corporations own the politicians who make and – where necessary – rewrite them…

In the far distant future the universe is winding down and All-father Thor is a weary, maimed but still stubborn god. The end of time has almost no deities left in it, save the aged, one-eyed, one-armed Last King of Asgard, with only his (recently liberated from slavery yet ferociously independent) granddaughters Atli, Ellisiv and Frigg for company.

He spends his days sitting on and mourning the burned-out, nigh-dead Earth he loves so much, but Thor’s ancient passions for the planet are stoked back to blazing fury when world-devourer Galactus arrives, determined to consume at last the only celestial morsel ever to frustrate his unending hunger…

‘All Worlds Must Die’ opens in that aforementioned far distant future as All-Father Thor banishes his tempestuous granddaughters back to Asgard whilst he prepares to die at long last defending his barren charge. Back in the Now his younger self has returned to the town of Broxton, Oklahoma; a place he sometimes calls home.

After a previous Ragnarok brought the extra-dimensional realm of Asgard to destruction and scattered the souls of the gods, a mysterious voice summoned the deceased Thor back to life – on Earth – in a crack of shattering thunder. Revived for an unspecified purpose the solitary godling swiftly set about retrieving the souls of his fellow Aesir, all scattered and hidden inside human hosts, and set up Asgard-on-Earth a few paltry feet above the ground of Oklahoma…

Following many battles and conflicts the mystic floating city – now dubbed Asgardia – was officially declared an Embassy of the Gods by the US government, and life for the rural humans below settled down to a pattern of strangely heightened, intense friendly cooperation with their amazing neighbours…

Outraged at what Solomon has told him of Roxxon and contemptuous as ever of mortal laws, Thor then causes the destruction of all the corporation’s flying pollution factories, provoking Agger to move the hero up his agenda and retaliate…

In his corporate lair the billionaire revels in the power of money and science whilst murderously “inspiring” his ineffectual think-tank to find solutions to his god problem. The gorily bloodletting brainstorming session soon arrives at a perfect response, but also inadvertently reveals a stunning secret about the cruel plutocrat…

With Agger setting his plans into motion in the present, at the end of time the last King of Asgard refuses to surrender his beloved Earth to Galactus and, as the battle ferociously escalates, readies himself to die gloriously with his wounded world…

‘God, Inc.’ sees the apparent defeat of the elder god, whilst in his past the unstoppable power of money and influence as applied by Roxxon has moved clerical mountains and brought misery to the younger Thunderer.

The corporation has moved into Broxton with a spurious scheme to bring jobs, prosperity and progress to the isolated farming town. Of course the first step is buying up all the land they can and splitting up the community. That is quickly followed by establishing a second wave of atmosphere-poisoning flying factories over their bewildered heads…

Correctly assessing what Thor’s furiously impatient response will be, smug Agger is waiting with a legion of lawyers and writs waiting to serve the god with injunctions, cease-&-desist orders and damages suits. After the CEO refuses the Asgardian’s offer to buy back Broxton with the unlimited wealth of the Eternal Realm, only Rosalind’s frantic pleading stops the enraged Thunderer from blowing his top and getting himself arrested and even deported from Earth…

In a distant Tomorrow Galactus has defeated the ancient Thunder Lord and thrown his battered body into space, whilst in the Now Agger initiates the next phase in his blueprint for vengeance, summoning monstrous troll Ulik and his troglodytic legions to literally undermine Broxton and Asgardia and slay Thor when he inevitably intervenes…

‘For Thor So Loved the World’ finds the world-devourer preparing to render the defenceless future Earth to rubble when the incomparable and ever defiant Atli, Ellisiv and Frigg return, bearing an arsenal of god-killing weapons, whilst in present day Oklahoma Thor resorts to guile and patience – two things he is legendarily short of – whilst Rosalind leads the fight back against Roxxon.

Things soon go wrong though when she is targeted by hungry trolls…

As defeated King Thor rallies at the end of the universe and storms towards the place where the most ultimate of weapons is cached, in the present Thor confronts Agger and is astonished to see him transform into a bloodthirsty beast-monster easily the match of a mere god…

‘Blood of the Earth’ features even more spectacularly climactic cataclysmic combat on two time-fronts with ravening monsters equally served their just deserts, topped off with a brace of twist endings each serving to set the scene for forthcoming dramas, but the graphic drama does not end there.

Thor, God of Thunder #24 featured ‘The Last Days of Midgard Epilogue: Adieu, Midgard, Adieu’ (illustrated by Agustin Alessio & colourist Ive Svorcina with Ribic), offering a rather downbeat conclusion to the bombastic epic as – beaten but undeterred – Dario Agger pleads possession by uncanny forces and puts all Roxxon’s resources behind a campaign to remove the terrifying, alien, immigrant Asgardians from American – if not Earth’s – holy soil…

Amidst an aura of almost constant super-powered strife, it’s ludicrously easy to sway public opinion and All-Mother Freyja decides its time for the repaired and fully restored city of wonders to leave for another, more welcoming place in the unending cosmos. But before they go, Thor has one last invaluable gift for all the friends in Broxton he feels he has failed…

Closing this collection and that era of the never-ending chronicles of Thor comes issue #25, disseminating ‘Tales of Thunder’ written as always by Aaron who takes the opportunity to delve into the secret histories of many of the lesser characters whilst laying the foundations for Thor’s Next Big Evolution.

This would happen as a result of the Original Sin Crossover Event which ended with a completely different Thunderer holding the Hammer of Thor…

Cloaked in a framing sequence where All-Father Thor’s granddaughters are forced to study excerpts from history the lessons begin with ‘The 13th Son of a 13th Son’ (limned by R.M. Guera and coloured by Giulia Brusco) which luxuriously details the sordid development of an elf sold into slavery by his mother. Rising from that cruel and demeaning state due to his ruthlessness and affinity for sorcery, the goddesses’ research shows how and why Dark Elf Malekith the Accursed became leader of the Wild Hunt and enemy of all that lives…

Next Simon Bisley spectacularly illuminates a tale of Thor’s Boyhood when he rode with the Vikings of Midgard against invading Frost Giant’s in a war of ‘Blood and Ice’. Despite emerging triumphant, the young prince of Asgard made an error of judgement which would cost him dear in centuries to come…

The school session ends soon after the last war maidens of Asgard consult a forbidden tome and learn of a woman who held mighty Mjolnir after the son of Odin was found to be ‘Unworthy’ (art by Ribic & Svorcina) which tantalisingly leads into another book for another time…

This blistering book of battles, trickery, triumphs and tragedies affords furious thrills and fabulous Fights ‘n’ Tights furore no fan of mythic cosmic adventure could possibly resist, so why not surrender to an irresistible force of full-on fun?
© 2012, 2015 Marvel Characters. All rights reserved.

Thor Epic Collection: The God of Thunder


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein, Joe Sinnott, Al Hartley, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8835-3

Even more than the Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor was the arena in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s string of power-packed signature pantheons began in a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by the fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This gloriously economical full-colour tome – also available in eFormats – re-presents those pioneering Asgardian exploits from JiM #83-109, spanning summer 1962 to October 1964 in a blur of innovation and seat-of-the-pants myth-revising and universe-building…

Cover-dated August 1962, Journey into Mystery #83 saw a bold costumed warrior jostling aside the regular fare of monsters, aliens and sinister scientists in a brash, vivid explosion of verve and vigour.

The initial exploit followed crippled American doctor Donald Blake who takes a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Fleeing, he is trapped in a cave where he finds an old, gnarled walking stick. When in his frustration he smashes the stick into a huge boulder obstructing his escape, his puny frame is transformed into the Norse God of Thunder, the Mighty Thor!

Plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Lieber and illustrated by Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott (at this juncture a full illustrator, Sinnott would become Kirby’s primary inker for most of his Marvel career), ‘The Stone Men of Saturn’ is pure early Marvel, bombastic, fast-paced, gloriously illogical and captivatingly action-packed. The hugely under-appreciated Art Simek was the letterer and logo designer.

It was clear that they whey were making it up as they went along – not in itself a bad thing – and that infectious enthusiasm shows in the next adventure…

‘The Mighty Thor Vs. the Executioner’ is a “commie-busting” tale of its time with a thinly disguised Fidel Castro wasting his formidable armies in battle against our hero. Dr. Blake’s nurse Jane Foster is introduced; a bland cipher adored from afar by the Norse superman’s timid alter-ego. The creative team settled as Dick Ayers replaced Sinnott, and with #85’s ‘Trapped by Loki, God of Mischief!’ the final element fell into place with the “return” of a suitably awesome arch-foe; in this case the hero’s half-brother. This evil magician and compulsive trickster escaped divine incarceration and his first thought was to bedevil Thor by causing terror and chaos on the world of mortals he was so devoted to.

Here a new and greater universe was first revealed with the tantalising hints and glimpses of the celestial otherworld and more Nordic gods…

Issue #86 introduced another recurring villain. Zarrko, bristling at the sedentary ease of 23rd century life, travelled to 1962 to steal an experimental “C-Bomb”, forcing the Thunderer into a stirring hunt through time and inevitable clash with super-technology ‘On the Trail of the Tomorrow Man!’ On his return Blake became a target of Soviet abductors. Those sneaky spies even managed to make Thor a ‘Prisoner of the Reds!’ before eventually emerging unscathed and triumphant…

‘The Vengeance of Loki’ saw the god of Mischief’s return in #88 as the malevolent miscreant uncovered Thor’s secret identity and naturally menaced Jane Foster whilst ‘The Thunder God and the Thug’ was adventure on a much more human scale wherein a gang boss runs riot over the city and roughshod over a good woman’s heart, giving the Asgardian a chance to demonstrate a more sophisticated and sympathetic side by crushing him and freeing her from Thug Thatcher’s influence.

Issue #90 was an unsettling surprise as the grandeur of Kirby & Ayers was replaced by the charming yet angst-free art of Al Hartley, who illustrated Lee & Lieber’s stock alien-invasion yarn ‘Trapped by the Carbon-Copy Man!’ A month later the Storm Lord tackles ‘Sandu, Master of the Supernatural!’, with Sinnott handling all the art, in a thriller starring a carnival mentalist who – augmented by Loki’s magic – comes catastrophically close to killing our hero…

Sinnott drew JiM #92’s ‘The Day Loki Stole Thor’s Magic Hammer’ (scripted by Robert Bernstein over Lee’s plot) which moves the action fully to the mythical realm of Asgard for the first time as Thor sought to recover his stolen weapon after Loki ensorcelled the magnificent mallet. Kirby & Ayers momentarily returned for Cold War/Atom Age thriller ‘The Mysterious Radio-Active Man!’ – again plotted by Bernstein – as Mao Tse Tung unleashes an atomic assassin in retaliation for Thor thwarting China’s invasion of India. Such “Red-baiting” was common in early Marvel titles, but their inherent jingoistic silliness can’t mar the eerie beauty of the artwork. With this tale the rangy, raw-boned Thunder God completed his slow metamorphosis into the husky, burly blonde bruiser who dominated any panel he was drawn in.

Sinnott illustrated the next three somewhat pedestrian adventures. ‘Thor and Loki Attack the Human Race!’, ‘The Demon Duplicator’ and ‘The Magic of Mad Merlin!’, but these mediocre tales of magic-induced amnesia, science-fuelled evil doppelgangers and an ancient mutant menace were the last of an old style of comics. Stan Lee took over full scripting with Journey into Mystery #97 and a torrent of action wedded to soap opera melodrama resulted in a fresh style for a developing readership.

‘The Lava Man’ in #97 was again drawn by Kirby, with the subtly textured inking of Don Heck adding depth to the tale of an invader summoned from the subterranean realms to menace humanity at the behest of Loki. More significantly a long running rift between Thor and his stern father Odin was established after the Lord of Asgard refused to allow his son to love the mortal Jane.

This acrimonious triangle was a perennial sub-plot fuelling many attempts to humanise Thor, because already he was a hero too powerful for most villains to cope with. Most importantly this issue was notable for the launch of a spectacular back-up series. ‘Tales of Asgard – Home of the mighty Norse Gods’ gave Kirby a vehicle to indulge his fascination with legends. Initially adapting classic tales but eventually with all-new material particular to the Marvel pantheon, he built his own cosmos and mythology, which underpinned the company’s entire continuity. This first saga, scripted by Lee and inked by George Bell (AKA old Golden Age collaborator George Roussos), outlined the origin of the world and the creation of the World Tree Yggdrasil.

‘Challenged by the Human Cobra’ introduced the serpentine villain (bitten by a radioactive Cobra, would you believe?) in a tale by Lee & Heck, whilst Kirby – with them in attendance – offered ‘Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants!’ a short, potent fantasy romp which laid the groundwork for decades of cosmic wonderment of years to come.

The same format held for issues #99 and #100 with the main story (the first two-part adventure in the run) introducing the brutal ‘Mysterious Mister Hyde’ – and concluding a month later with ‘The Master Plan of Mr. Hyde!’ The modern yarn dealt with a contemporary chemist who could transform into a super-strong villain at will and who framed Thor for his crimes whilst in primordial prehistory Kirby detailed Odin’s war with ‘Surtur the Fire Demon’ and latterly (with Vince Colletta inking) crafted an exploit of the All-Father’s so different sons in ‘The Storm Giants – a tale of the Boyhood of Thor’. As always, Lee scripted these increasingly influential comicbook histories…

JiM #101 saw Kirby finally assume control of the pencilling on both strips. ‘The Return of Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man’ sees Odin halve Thor’s powers for wilful disobedience just as the futuristic felon abducts the Thunder God to help him conquer the 23rd century. Anther two-parter (the first half inked by Roussos), it was balanced by another exuberant tale of the boy Thor. ‘The Invasion of Asgard’ sees the valiant lad fight a heroic rearguard action that introduced a host of future villainous mainstays such as Rime Giants and Geirrodur the Troll.

‘Slave of Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man’ is a tour de force epic conclusion most notable for the introduction of Chic Stone as inker. To many of us oldsters, his clean, full brush lines make him The King’s best embellisher ever.

This triumphant futuristic thriller is counterbalanced by brooding short ‘Death Comes to Thor!’ as the teen hero faces his greatest challenge yet. Two females who would play huge roles in his life were introduced in this brief 5-pager; the young goddess Sif and Hela, Queen of the Dead.

On a creative roll, Lee, Kirby & Stone next introduced ‘The Enchantress and the Executioner’: ruthless renegade Asgardians determined to respectively seduce or destroy the warrior prince in the front of JiM #103 whilst the rear revealed ‘Thor’s Mission to Mirmir’ disclosing how the gods created humanity. That led one month later to a revolutionary saga when ‘Giants Walk the Earth’.

For the first time Kirby’s imagination was given full play after Loki tricks Odin into visiting Earth, only to release ancient elemental enemies Surtur and Skagg, the Storm Giant from Asgardian bondage.

This cosmic clash saw noble gods battling demonic evil in a new Heroic Age, and the greater role of the Norse supporting cast – especially noble warrior Balder – was reinforced by a new Tales of Asgard strand focussing on individual Gods and Heroes. ‘Heimdall: Guardian of the Mystic Rainbow Bridge’ was first, with Heck inking.

Issues #105-106 saw the teaming of two old foes in ‘The Cobra and Mr, Hyde’ and ‘The Thunder God Strikes Back’; another continued story packed with tension and spectacular action, proving Thor was swiftly growing beyond the constraints of traditional single issue adventures. The respective back-ups ‘When Heimdall Failed!’ (Lee, Kirby & Roussos) and ‘Balder the Brave’ (Lee, Kirby & Colletta) further fleshed out the back-story of an Asgardian pantheon deviating more and more from those classical Eddas and Sagas kids had to plough through in schools.

Journey into Mystery #107 premiered a petrifying villain in ‘When the Grey Gargoyle Strikes’, a rare yarn highlighting the fortitude of Dr. Blake rather than the power of the Thunder God, who was increasingly reducing his own alter-ego to an inconsequentiality. Closing the issue, the Norn Queen debuted in a quirky reinterpretation of the classic myth ‘Balder Must Die!’ illustrated by Kirby & Colletta.

After months of manipulation the God of Evil once again took direct action in ‘At the Mercy of Loki, Prince of Evil!’ With Jane a helpless victim of Asgardian magic, the willing assistance of new Marvel star Doctor Strange made this a captivating team-up to read, whilst ‘Trapped by the Trolls’ (Colletta inks) showed the power and promise of tales set solely on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge after Thor liberates Asgardians from Subterranean bondage.

Bringing down the curtain on this increasingly cosmic carnival, Journey into Mystery #109 was another superb adventure masquerading as a plug for recent addition to the Marvel roster.

‘When Magneto Strikes!’ pits Thor against the X-Men’s greatest foe in a cataclysmic clash of fundamental powers, but you couldn’t really call it a team-up since the heroic mutants are never actually seen. The tantalising hints and cropped glimpses are fascinating teasers now, but the kid I then was felt annoyed not to have seen these new heroes… oh… wait… maybe that was the point?

The Young Thor feature ‘Banished from Asgard’ is an uncharacteristically lacklustre effort to end on as Odin and Thor enact a devious plan to trap a traitor in Asgard’s ranks but the vignette hinted at much greater thrills to follow…

These early tales of the God of Thunder show the development not only of one of Marvel’s core narrative concepts but, more importantly, the creative evolution of perhaps the greatest imagination in comics. Set your common sense on pause and simply wallow in the glorious imagery and power of these classic adventures for the true secret of what makes comicbook superheroes such a unique experience.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Adventures Avengers: Thor and Captain America


By Paul Tobin, Scott Gray, Todd Dezago, Ronan Cliquet, Ron Lim, Lou Kang & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5584-3

Since its earliest days Marvel has always courted young comicbook consumers. In 2003 the company instituted the Marvel Age imprint to update and reframe classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others for a fresh-faced 21st century readership.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming Marvel Adventures. The tone was very much that of the company’s burgeoning TV cartoon franchises, in execution if not name. Titles bearing the Marvel Adventures brand included Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Super Heroes, The Avengers and Hulk. These iterations ran until 2010 when they were cancelled and replaced by new volumes of Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man.

Almost all of those yarns have been collected in digest-sized compilations such as this one which gathers a selection of fantastic feats starring the God of Thunder or Sentinel of Liberty and their friends, comprising four all-ages tales from the second volume of Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #13-16 (spanning June-September 2011).

The action opens with a mythological masterpiece by Paul Tobin, Ronan Cliquet & Amilton Santos wherein plucky novice hero Nova is invited by Avenging comrades Thor and Valkyrie to accompany them on an annual errand for Odin the All-Father.

In the distant past when Asgardians warred with Trolls, a godling messenger named Glane failed in his mission and was banished to the ghastly Fields of the Fallen to pay penance by continually battling the Golden Realm’s vilest enemies.

Periodically Thor has been sent to add new tasks to the sinning failure’s heavy burden, and this year as the Thunderer and Valkyrie ready themselves for the trip, they invite the starstruck Nova to tag along.

However, as the trio battle their way through horrific monsters and overwhelming odds, Nova finds himself increasingly uncomfortable with the sentence meted out to Glane and even begins to doubt the motives of his immortal mentors. All that changes once he meets and battles beside the convicted penitent…

Originating in MASH #14, ‘Out of Time!’ is by Todd Dezago, Ron Lim & Scott Koblish (inspired by Gerry Conway & Ross Andru’s tale from the original Marvel Team-Up #7) and sees the Lord of Storm intercepting Spider-Man after the wall-crawler is blasted high into the sky whilst battling raving maniac the Looter.

That happy coincidence occurs just a bizarre force freezes time around them. When the heroes discover that only they have escaped a devastating weapon deployed by Trollish tyrant Kryllk the Conqueror to paralyze and overwhelm both Asgard and the mortal plane, they must divide their strength to simultaneously smash the conqueror in both Manhattan and Asgard if they are to set time running free again…

Captain America takes the spotlight in #15 as ‘Back in Time’ (Tobin, Cliquet & Santos) finds the Star-Spangled Avenger battling Neanderthals with ray-guns in a National Forest after tracking down rogue geneticists who have stolen a huge amount of plutonium.

A mere mile away, Peter Parker’s girlfriend Sophia Sanduval is getting back to nature and chilling with her furry, scaly and feathered friends. As Chat, the mutant teen’s power to communicate with animals makes her a crucial component of the mystery-solving Blonde Phantom Detective Agency, but even she has never seen anything like the wave of extinct creatures which appear after Cap begins battling the tooled-up cavemen.

Soon she has been briefed on the deadly experiments of rogue technologist Jerrick Brogg – whose ambition is to build an army out of revived extinct creatures – and swears to help Cap put the maniac away and save all the beasts he has recreated from short painful lives of terror and brutal exploitation…

Wrapping up the action comes ‘Stars, Stripes and Spiders!’ by Dezago, Lou Kang & Pat Davidson (based on Len Wein & Gil Kane’s tale from Marvel Team-Up #13).

When a certain wall-crawling high-school student and occasional masked hero stumbles into Captain America tackling an AIM cadre stealing super-soldier serum, the nervous lad learns a few things about the hero game from the legendary guy who wrote the book. Sadly, not making that lesson any easier is petrifying super-villain Grey Gargoyle, whose deadly touch almost ends Spidey’s homework worries – and continued existence – forever…

Never the success the company hoped, the Marvel Adventures project was superseded in 2012 by specific comics tied to those Disney XD television shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”, but these collected stories are still an intriguing, amazingly entertaining and superbly accessible means of introducing characters and concepts to kids born sometimes three generations or more away from the originating events.

Fast, furious, funny and enthralling, these riotous mini-epics are extremely enjoyable yarns, although parents should note that some of the themes and certainly the level of violence might not be what everybody considers “All-Ages Super Hero Action”…
© 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.