The Massive: Ninth Wave


By Brian Wood, Garry Brown, Jordie Bellaire, Jared K. Fletcher & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-009-0

Between April 2012 and 2014, prolific scripter, artist and games designer Brian Wood (X-Men, Aliens, Conan, DMZ, Demo, Northlanders, Channel Zero) crafted a chilling and potent post-disaster tale of failed activist sea captain Callum Israel: a man driven to ply the seas of an ecologically broken Earth, searching for lost sister ship The Massive.

Full of missing comrades, the other vessel had vanished during the final collapse, perhaps taking with it the reasons why the world had suddenly tipped too far and toppled into environmental, political, financial and social Armageddon.

Israel had been leader of the Marine Conservation Direct Action Force and helmed the converted eco- trawler Kapital. Before the end of all days, his days had been spent with a band of equally dedicated and extremely capable non-violent volunteers, all working on the very edge of ecological terrorism: foiling and confounding polluters, climate change deniers, world leaders and money maniacs.

That had been backstory during the ongoing odyssey, whereas this new trade paperback volume (re-presenting the 6-issue miniseries The Massive: Ninth Wave) collects in a mass-market edition 2015’s prequel series that followed the series’ culmination. Here Israel and his band of beaten survivors still go about their unlawful pursuits in their hopeful heyday: racing around a still viable Earth to confront and frustrate the greedy bastards pushing our planet over the edge through corrupt actions, callous neglect and sheer indifference…

Following Wood’s ruminatory Introduction, a compelling string of self-contained, stand-alone tales relentlessly unfold in a perfect storyboard for TV’s next big, sensationally hard-hitting drama series (no, I’m not saying it is happening, just that it should…), rendered by returning team of illustrator Garry Brown, colourist Jordie Bellaire and letterer Jared K. Fletcher.

The suspenseful action opens with the infamous and preeminent global environmental rescue group seemingly in a stalling pattern. As Callum Israel and his deputies debate ultra-billionaire industrialist Bors Bergen at sea and beyond all international scrutiny, Ninth Wave operatives Rimona, Max, Lars and Purge covertly land in Germany and get to work beneath the most opulent and prestige-packed housing enclave of Berlin.

Bors thinks his money buys unlimited influence and insulates him from the repercussions of his shady deals, but the Ninth Wave see further targets where the money man sees resolute allies. The eco-warriors’ point and their ‘Manifesto’ is potently proved with one simple act of innovative plumbing that reduces the callous Croesus to the global media’s latest scandalous, shamed pariah du jour…

Callum’s non-violent principles are then tested to the limit when he joins maverick Park Ranger Amanda Gray of Canada’s Ministry of Forests to thwart far more bloodthirsty eco-terrorists determined to sabotage and eager to kill loggers during a forest clearcut operation in ‘Para’.

A two-pronged assault defines the next tale as Israel fights in court to prevent the destruction by commercial exploitation of a precarious island habitat and its iconic wildlife. In the meantime, his go-team resort to far more traditional tactics and ‘Occupy’ the embattled Arctic atoll. Then the ruthless money guys send in security teams, Blackhawk copters and napalm… just as the Ninth Wave veterans expected…

‘Hunted’ hones in on the total absence of enforceable law at sea beyond national borders as an outlaw vessel responsible for crimes ranging from illegal fishing to human trafficking seizes and holds hostage the Ninth Wave volunteers attempting to stop them. With all authorities refusing assistance, Callum’s people are forced to prove that “non-violent” doesn’t mean “helpless” or “toothless”…

After saving and relocating a boatload of war refugees, Callum and his people face the full might of the US government in ‘Blacksite’ when the superpower subsequently accuses the eco-warriors of harbouring and covertly transporting fugitive terrorists…

The powerful blend of activism, agitprop, realpolitik and dark drama concludes with a refreshingly personal social apotheosis as the team target a rich American who’s paid a fortune to shoot a certain lion in an African Preserve. ‘Oasis’ shows that in conservation there are no small or acceptable wrongs and weapons exist far crueller and more effective than guns…

With covers by J. P. Leon, this slim, seductive and deliciously uplifting book is a sublime beacon of hope and promise as we all watch the world get ever more unpalatable and potentially uninhabitable… And the Doom Clock continues to inexorably count down…
The Massive™ © 2015, 2016, 2017 Brian Wood. All rights reserved.

Black Panther Adventures


By Jeff Parker, Marc Sumerak, Christopher Yost, Elliot Kalan, Roy Thomas, Manuel Garcia, Ig Guara, Scott Wegener, Christopher Jones, Chris Giarusso, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1034-1

Since its earliest days Marvel has always courted and accommodated young comicbook consumers through various titles and imprints. In 2003 the company instituted the Marvel Age line 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 of all the tales 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 and The Avengers and ran until 2010 when they were uniformly cancelled and replaced by new volumes of Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man.

Most of those yarns have since been collected in digest-sized compilations such as this timely paperback (or eBook), which gathers a quartet of all-ages Black Panther tales and includes a brace of early1960s episodes from his first stint in the Avengers.

Acclaimed as the first black superhero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since he first debuted as a character in Fantastic Four.

In his 1966 debut, the cat king attacked Marvel’s First Family as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father, before eventually teaming up with them to defeat the malign master of sound Klaw.

This eclectic compilation – comprising Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #10, Marvel Adventures The Avengers #22, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #1, Marvel Universe Avengers Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #8 (November 2012), plus Silver Age epics from Avengers #52 and 62 – begins by broadly reimagining that initial encounter in ‘Law of the Jungle’ by Jeff Parker, Manuel Garcia & Scott Koblish from Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #10 (May 2006) wherein the FF are suckered into buying smuggled Vibranium.

The miracle mineral is Wakanda’s only export and the illegal sale quickly brings the duped heroes into savage conflict with a mysterious cat-garbed super-warrior. Tracking the Black Panther back to his super-scientific jungle kingdom, the FF eventually convince the king of their innocence and good intentions before teaming up to tackle the true villains…

Two years later Marvel Adventures The Avengers #22 (May 2008) revealed the ‘Wakanda Wild Side’ (by Marc Sumerak, Ig Guara &Jay Leisten) as a sighting of murderous mutant Sabretooth in Africa draws Wolverine, Storm, Captain America, Spider-Man, Giant-Girl and the Hulk into an uncharted kingdom. They shouldn’t have bothered: Wakanda’s Panther chieftain was more than equal to the task of taking down the savage invader…

Following a page of comedic Marvel Mini Classics by Chris Giarusso, a short vignette from Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #1 (November 2010) as Christopher Yost & Scott Wegener reveal how rival heroes T’Challa and Hawkeye work out their ‘Trust’ issues whilst battling crazed villain Whiplash.

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.

Another short yarn – this time from Marvel Universe Avengers Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #8 (November 2012) – unites the Panther with fellow Avenger the Hulk.

Crafted by Elliott Kalan, Christopher Jones & Pond Scum, ‘Mayhem of the Madbomb!’ sees the Green Goliath and Cat King bombastically battle Hydra to prevent the triggering of an insanity-inducing WMD cached in the Empire State Building…

Wrapping up the action is a brace of classic adventures from Roy Thomas & John Buscema.

On Captain America’s recommendation Black Panther joined the Avengers in #52’s ‘Death Calls for the Arch-Heroes’ (May 1968 and inked by Vince Colletta): a fast-paced murder mystery which also saw the advent of obsessive super-psycho the Grim Reaper who attempted to frame the freshly-arrived in America T’Challa for the murder of Goliath, the Wasp and Hawkeye.

Then The Monarch and the Man-Ape!’ (Avengers #62, March 1969, by Thomas, Buscema & George Klein) offered Marvel fans the first real view of hidden Wakanda – and a brutal exploration of T’Challa’s history and rivals – as his trusted regent tried to usurp his kingdom and the state religion after declaring himself to be M’Baku the Man-Ape

Augmented with a complete cover gallery by Carlo Pagulayan & Chris Sotomayor, Leonard Kirk & Val Staples, Scott Wegener & Jean-François Beaulieu, Khoi Pham & Edgar Delgado and John Buscema, this fast-paced, ferociously enthralling compilation of riotous mini-epics is extremely enjoyable and engaging, 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”…
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The True Death of Billy the Kid


By Rick Geary (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-134-5

Rick Geary is a unique talent in the comic industry not simply because of his style of drawing but especially because of his method of telling tales.

For decades he toiled as an Underground cartoonist and freelance illustrator of strange tales and wry oddments, published in locales as varied as Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated, Twisted Tales, Bop, National Lampoon, Vanguard, Bizarre Sex, Fear and Laughter, Gates of Eden, RAW and High Times.

For these illustrious venues he honed a unique ability to create sublimely understated stories by stringing together seemingly unconnected streams of narrative to compose tales moving, often melancholy and always beguiling.

Discovering his natural oeuvre with works including biographies of J. Edgar Hoover or Trotsky and his multi-volumed Treasury of Victorian Murder series, Geary has grown into a grand master and towering presence in both comics and True Crime literature.

His graphic reconstructions of some of the most infamous murders ever committed since policing began combine a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and meticulously detailed pictorial extrapolation. These are filtered through a fascination with and understanding of the lethal propensities of humanity as his forensic eye scours police blotters, newspaper archives and history books to compile irresistibly enthralling documentaries.

In 2008 he turned to the last century for an ongoing Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, focusing on scandals which seared the headlines during the “Gilded Age” of suburban middleclass America. He has not, however, forsaken his delight in fiction nor his gift for graphic biography.

Delivered in stark monochrome in either luxurious collectors’ hardback or accessible eBook editions, his latest fact-finding expedition (originally released in 2014 as an extremely limited run private publication) diligently sifts fact from mythology to detail the demise of perhaps the most legend-laden outlaw in modern history.

The author is a unique talent not simply because of his manner of drawing but because of the subject matter and methodology in the telling of his tales. Geary always presents facts, theories and even contemporary minutiae with absorbing pictorial precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, re-examining each case with a force and power Oliver Stone would envy.

“Being an Authentic Narrative of the Final Days in his Brief And Turbulent Life”, The True Death of Billy the Kid brings the last days of the killer alternatively known as Henry McCarty, Henry Antrim, William H. “Billy” Bonney or “The Kid” vividly into focus, beginning with ‘Chapter One: The Prisoner’ wherein the subject of our scrutiny languishes in cells of the Lincoln County Courthouse of the New Mexico Territory in April 1881.

Destined for the noose on May 13th, the prisoner provides reveries to encapsulate his sorry, short and blood-soaked life to date. Billy’s actions always seemed justified to him – and many others, both friends, comrades-in-arms and supporters – but nonetheless, his doom is assured.

With that thought ever foremost, The Kid determine not to die easy…

Much of the outlaw’s fame stems from the ‘His Greatest Escape’; broken down with mesmerising meticulousness in the Second Chapter and still a remarkable and spectacular feat of sheer bravado to this day, after which ‘Chapter Three: On the Dodge’ depicts his flight across vast tracts of wilderness before arriving in the rural enclave of Fort Sumner: a settlement well-known to Billy and one where he has many admirers…

In the meantime, veteran career lawman Pat Garrett reads reports and ponders before setting out to the one place he suspects his quarry will eventually hole up…

Events move inexorably in ‘Chapter Four: Death at Fort Sumner’ as Garrett and his handpicked deputies traverse the Pecos, arriving clandestinely in the peaceful hamlet on July 14th to begin surveillance before the last confrontation…

As ever supported by clear, informative maps, portraits of all major players and a copious index of sources consulted, this is a beguiling display of seductive storytelling, erudite argument and audacious drawing which makes for an unforgettable read.

Geary’s superb storytelling is a perfect exemplar of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simple fantasy entertainment. His murder masterclasses should be mandatory reading for every mystery addict and crime collector, and part of every school syllabus.
© 2014 Rick Geary.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Legends – The 30th Anniversary Edition


By John Ostrander, Len Wein, John Byrne, Karl Kesel & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6316-4

With the success of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvel’s Secret Wars in the middle of the 1980s, comicbook publishers had grand dreams of regular and spectacular sales boosts, but a section of the cantankerous buying public muttered about gimmicks to make them spend more and voiced concerns about keeping the quality high.

At DC fan-interest was still fresh and keen as so many of their major properties – and indeed the entire continuity – was open for radical change, innovation and renewal. So, how best to follow the previous year’s cosmic catastrophe? Why not a much smaller and more personal Great Disaster, spotlighting those strangers wearing familiar costumes and a bunch of beginnings rather than the deaths and endings of Crisis?

Possibly the best and certainly the most cohesive of the numerous company-wide braided mega-series, Legends was a 6-issue miniseries cover-dated November 1986 through April 1987. Like its predecessor the major narrative thread spread out into other DC series, but unlike Crisis on Infinite Earths each tie-in was consecutively numbered and every pertinent cover was suitably badged. If you got ’em all you couldn’t help but read them in the right order!

The event crossed into 22 other comics and miniseries and premiered three new series, Justice League, Flash and the superb Suicide Squad. It even led to another new treatment for Billy Batson in a follow-up Shazam! miniseries whilst offering a tantalising sneak peek at the newly re-minted Wonder Woman

The drama opens in ‘Once Upon a Time…!’ as Evil New God Darkseid of Apokolips decides to attack humanity’s spirit by destroying the very concept of heroism and individuality. To this end he sends hyper-charismatic thrall Glorious Godfrey to America to lead a common man’s crusade against extraordinary heroes, whilst initiating individual plans intended to demoralize and destroy key champions of Earth. His first scalp is naïve, youthful Captain Marvel, who is deceived into believing his powers have accidentally killed an enemy after explosively confronting monstrous menace Macro-Man

As Darkseid’s flaming minion Brimstone ravages the nation – despite the best efforts of Firestorm, time-displaced Legionnaire Cosmic Boy and Justice League Detroit – the US government activates its own covert and illegal solution to the crisis.

Conceived and devised by civil servant Amanda Waller, a new Task Force X is brought into being: comprising volunteers such as Colonel Rick Flag and martial artist Bronze Tiger riding roughshod over convicted super-criminals all offered a pardon in return for secret services rendered…

As Godfrey’s influence spreads across America, inciting riots that hospitalise Boy Wonder Robin and drive Batman, Blue Beetle and Green Lantern Guy Gardner into hiding, ‘Breach of Faith!’ sees President Ronald Reagan respond to the rampant civil unrest by outlawing costumed crime-busters…

With heroes searching their consciences, unsure whether to comply or rebel, world-wide chaos ensues and Darkseid amps up the pressure. Sentient mountain of super-heated plasma Brimstone attempts to reduce national monument Mount Rushmore into molten slag only to be destroyed by America’s latest dirty secret in ‘Send for… the Suicide Squad!’

Meanwhile heartbroken Billy Batson – the juvenile alter ego of Captain Marvel – meets hero-worshipping Lisa. When her family take him in, he gains valuable insight and perspective on the ongoing calamity…

Things go from bad to worse in ‘Cry Havoc…!’ as the embargo emboldens numerous super-villains to go wild. This prompts many costumed heroes to ignore the Presidential Edict and go after them. As the Phantom Stranger faces Darkseid on Apokolips, immortal mystic Doctor Fate begins gathering select champions for the approaching final confrontation he foresees even as on Earth Godfrey makes a power grab using human-fuelled Apokoliptian Warhounds in ‘Let Slip the Dogs of War!’

All the disparate strands weave together in ‘Finale!’ as Fate’s new Justice League – aided by an enigmatic new hero calling herself Wonder Woman – stand fast against the destructive forces of anarchy: coming together to prevent the conquest of Mankind and erasure of its most vital beliefs…

The enthralling tale re-presented here can comfortably be read without the assorted spin-offs, crossovers and tie-ins, and it still feels like a magnificent mission statement for that new DC Universe: gritty, witty, cohesive and contemporary.

John Ostrander was new to DC, lured from Chicago’s First Comics with editor Mike Gold where their work on Starslayer, Munden’s Bar and especially Grimjack had made those independent minnows some of the most readable series of the decade.

Paired with veteran scripter Len Wein, whose familiarity with the DC stable ensured the scripts would have the right company flavour, they concocted a bold and controversial tale for super-star Superman re-creator John Byrne to draw and the immensely talented Karl Kesel to ink.

This 30th Anniversary edition (available in Trade paperback and eBook editions) comes with an informative Afterword from Mike Gold and full cover-gallery – including the original trade paperback collection cover – but regrettably neglects to retain the cover reproductions of each out-rider instalment of the greater story, as seen in the first edition. Should you feel like tracking down those missing components you’ll need to play comics detective on fan sites…

Who knows, maybe for the 40th Anniversary, DC will release a humongous, all-inclusive Absolute Omnibus Edition? Until then, why not simply kick back and enjoy an awesome slice of fabulous Fights ‘n’ Tights fun and fury?
© 1986, 1987, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Inhumans: Beware the Inhumans


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Gary Friedrich, Gerry Conway, Arnold Drake, Neal Adams, Gene Colan, Marie Severin, John Romita, Mike Sekowsky, Tom Sutton & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1081-5

Debuting in 1965 and conceived as yet another incredible lost civilisation during Stan Lee & Jack Kirby’s most fertile and productive creative period, The Inhumans are a race of incredibly disparate (mostly) humanoid beings genetically altered in Earth’s pre-history. They consequently evolve into a technologically-advanced civilisation far ahead of and apart from emergent Homo Sapiens.

They isolated themselves from the world and barbarous dawn-age humans, first on an island and latterly in a hidden valley in the Himalayas, residing in a fabulous city named Attilan.

The mark of Inhuman citizenship is immersion in mutative Terrigen Mists which further enhance and transform individuals into radically unique and most often super-powered beings. The Inhumans are necessarily obsessed with genetic structure and heritage, worshipping the ruling Royal Family as the rationalist equivalent of mortal gods.

Thanks to the recent TV series, a lot of previously forgotten material is being recycled in new archival editions so it’s worth taking a look at how the eternal outsiders gradually joined the Marvel Universe. This trade paperback compilation – also available as a digital edition – scrupulously and chronologically compiles teasing early appearances (in whole or in part) from Marvel Super-Heroes #15, Incredible Hulk Annual #1, Fantastic Four #81-83, 95, 99 and 105, Amazing Adventures #1-10, Avengers #95, and some moments of spoofing light-relief from Not Brand Echh #12, cumulatively spanning July 1968 to January 1972.

The Royal Family of Attilan are hereditary aristocracy of the hidden race of paranormal beings. They comprise king Black Bolt, his paramour and eventual wife Medusa, aquatic Triton, bellicose Gorgon and subtle martial arts master Karnak, leading and representing a veritable horde of weirdly wonderful characters. Black Bolt, one of the most powerful beings on Earth, possesses phenomenal abilities but is afflicted with an uncontrollable vocal condition that makes his softest whisper a planet-shattering sonic explosion. Thus, he must never utter a sound…

In 1967 a proposed Inhumans solo series was canned before completion, with the initial episode retooled and published in the company’s try-out vehicle Marvel Super-Heroes. Written by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by Gene Colan & Vince Colletta, ‘Let the Silence Shatter!’ appeared in #15 (July 1968), revealing how the villainous Sandman and Trapster are enticed into reforming the Frightful Four after the Wizard promises Medusa a means to control Black Bolt’s deadly sonic affliction in return for her criminal services. As usual, the double-dealing mastermind betrays his unwilling accomplice but again underestimates her abilities and intellect, resulting in another humiliating defeat…

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

In 51 titanic pages ‘A Refuge Divided!’ saw the tragic lonely Jade Juggernaut stumble upon the hidden Great Refuge of genetic outsiders. The Inhumans – recovering from a recent failed coup by new creations Falcona, Leonus, Aireo, Timberius, Stallior, Nebulo and their secret backer (the king’s brother Maximus the Mad) – are distracted by the Hulk’s arrival and suspicion, and short tempers result in chaos. The band of super-rebels start the fight but it’s the immensely powerful Black Bolt who eventually battles the green giant to a standstill…

This is the vicarious thrill taken to its ultimate, and still one of the very best non-Lee-Kirby tales of that period.

Medusa’s little sister Crystal – and her giant teleporting dog Lockjaw – were the most consistently seen stars at the time. As the girlfriend of Human Torch Johnny Storm, she was a regular in Fantastic Four and took a greater role once Susan Richards fell pregnant.

In issue #81, with Sue a new mother, faithful Crystal elects herself the first new official member of the FF and promptly shows her mettle by pulverizing the incorrigible glutton-for-punishment Wizard in the all-action romp ‘Enter… the Exquisite Elemental!’ (by Lee, Kirby & Joe Sinnott).

In the next two issues as Susan is side-lined to tend her newborn son, Crystal’s turbulent past and fractious family connections reassert themselves as manic cousin Maximus again attempts to conquer mortal humanity. ‘The Mark of… the Madman!’ sees the quirky quartet invade hidden Inhuman enclave Attilan to aid the imprisoned Royal Family and overcome an entire race of hypnotically subjugated super-beings before uniting to trounce the insane despot in the concluding ‘Shall Man Survive?’

Excerpted pages from FF #95 then reveal how, in the middle of a frantic battle against a super-assassin, Crystal is astoundingly abducted by her own family before the answer is revealed in #99. All this time heartsick Johnny has been getting crazier and more despondent. He finally snaps, invading the Inhumans hidden home with the intention of reunite with his lost love at all costs. Of course, everything escalates when ‘The Torch Goes Wild!’ and his rapidly following comrades find themselves in the battle of their lives…

Two months later, bi-monthly “split-book” Amazing Adventures launched with an August 1970 cover-date and The Inhumans sharing the pages with a new Black Widow solo series. The big news however was that Jack Kirby was both writing and illustrating ‘The Inhumans!’

Inked by Chic Stone, the first episode saw the Great Refuge targeted by atomic missiles apparently fired by the Inhumans’ greatest allies, prompting a retaliatory attack on the Baxter Building and pitting ‘Friend Against Friend!’ However, even as the battle raged Black Bolt was taking covert action against the suspected true culprits…

Issue #3 sees our uncanny outcasts as ‘Pawns of the Mandarin’ when the devilish plotter dupes the Royal Family into uncovering a long-buried mega-powerful ancient artefact. He is, however, ultimately unable to cope with their power and teamwork in the concluding chapter ‘With These Rings I Thee Kill!’

Intercepting the flow but chronologically crucial, the first half of Fantastic Four #105 (December 1970) follows. Crafted by Stan Lee, John Romita & John Verpoorten, ‘The Monster in the Streets!’ reveals that Crystal is being slowly poisoned by the constantly increasing pollutants in Earth’s air and must leave Johnny for the hermetically pure atmosphere of Attilan…

Back in Amazing Adventures #5 (March 1971), a radical change of tone and mood materialised as the currently on-fire creative team of Roy Thomas & Neal Adams took over the strip following Kirby’s shocking defection from Marvel to DC Comics.

Inked by Tom Palmer, ‘His Brother’s Keeper’ sees Maximus finally employ a long-dormant power – mind-control – to erase Black Bolt’s memory and seize control of the Great Refuge.

The real problem, however, is that at the moment the Mad One strikes, Black Bolt is in San Francisco on a secret mission. When the mind-wave strikes, the silent stranger forgets everything and as a little boy offers assistance, ‘Hell on Earth!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) begins as a simple mumbled whisper shatters the entire docks and all the vessels moored there…

As Triton, Gorgon, Karnak and Medusa flee the now utterly entranced and enslaved Refuge in search of Black Bolt, ‘An Evening’s Wait for Death!’ finds little Joey and the still-bewildered Bolt captured by a radical black activist determined to use the Inhuman’s shattering power to raze the city’s foul ghettoes.

A tense confrontation with police in the streets draws storm god Thor into the conflict during ‘An Hour for Thunder!’, but when the blood and dust settles it appears Black Bolt is dead…

Gerry Conway, Mike Sekowsky & Bill Everett assumed the storytelling duties with #9 as The Inhumans took over the entire book. Finally reaching America after an epic odyssey, the Royal Cousins’ search for their king is interrupted when they are targeted by a cult of mutants.

‘…And the Madness of Magneto!’ shows amnesiac Black Bolt in the clutches of the Master of Magnetism who needs the usurped king’s abilities to help him steal a new artificial element. All too soon though, ‘In His Hands… the World!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) proves that with his memory restored nothing and no one can long make the mightiest Inhuman a slave…

The series abruptly terminated there. Amazing Adventures #11 featured a new treatment of graduate X-Man Hank McCoy who rode the trend for monster heroes by accidentally transforming himself into a furry Beast. The Inhumans simply dropped out of sight until Thomas & Adams wove their dangling plot threads into the monumental epic unfolding from June 1971 to March 1972 in The Avengers #89-97.

At that time Thomas’ bold experiment was rightly considered the most ambitious saga in Marvel’s brief history: an astounding saga of tremendous scope which dumped Earth into a cosmic war the likes of which comics fans had never before seen. The Kree/Skrull War set the template for all multi-part crossovers and publishing events ever since…

It began when, in the distant Kree Empire, the ruling Supreme Intelligence is overthrown by his chief enforcer Ronan the Accuser. The rebellion results in humanity learning aliens hide among them, and public opinion turns against superheroes for concealing the threat of repeated alien incursions…

A powerful allegory of the Anti-Communist Witch-hunts of the 1950s, the epic sees riots in American streets and a political demagogue capitalising on the crisis. Subpoenaed by the authorities, castigated by friends and public, the Avengers are ordered to disband.

Unfortunately omitted here, issue #94 entangles the Inhumans in the mix, disclosing that their advanced science and powers are the result of Kree genetic meddling in the depths of prehistory. With intergalactic war beginning, Black Bolt missing and his madly malign brother Maximus in charge, the Kree now come calling in their ancient markers…

Wrapping up the graphic thrills for this volume, ‘Something Inhuman This Way Comes…!’ (from Avengers #95, January 1972) coalesces many disparate story strands as aquatic adventurer Triton aids the Avengers against government-piloted Mandroids before beseeching the beleaguered heroes to help find his missing monarch and rescue his Inhuman brethren from the press-ganging Kree…

Just so you can sleep tonight, after bombastically so doing, the Avengers head into space to liberate their kidnapped comrades and save Earth from becoming collateral damage in the impending cosmos-shaking clash between Kree and Skrulls (a much-collected tale you’d be crazy to miss…).

Appended with a Barry Windsor Smith Medusa pin-up from Marvel Collectors’ Item Classics #21, original art by Colan and Adams, a rejected Severin cover and House Ads for the Inhumans’ debut, the cosmic drama is latterly leavened with some snappy comedy vignettes.

Originating in Not Brand Echh #12 (February 1969) ‘Unhumans to Get Own Comic Book’ – by Arnold Drake, Thomas & Sutton – and ‘My Search for True Love’ by Drake & Sutton detail and depict how other artists might render the series – with contenders including faux icons bOb (Gnatman & Rotten) Krane, Chester (Dig Tracing) Ghoul and Charles (Good Ol’ Charlie…) Schlitz, and follow lovelorn Medoozy as she dumps her taciturn man and searches for fulfilment amongst popular musical and movie stars of the era…

These stories cemented the outsiders’ place in the ever-expanding Marvel universe and helped the company to overtake all its competitors. Although making little lasting impact at the time they are still potent and innovative: as exciting and captivating now as they ever were. This is a must-have book for all fans of graphic narrative and followers of Marvel’s next cinematic star vehicle.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets


By Hergé (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40521-477-3 (HB)                    978-1-40526-651-2 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Hergé completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Charles Dickens with the Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died while working, so final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination – and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he seems to have fallen under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist (himself a dedicated boy scout) produced his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine and by 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette (written by the staff sports reporter) when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues? And also, perhaps highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning on January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme, eventually running until May 8th 1930.

The boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

Arriving in Russia, the dog and his boy are constantly subjected to a series of attacks and tricks in a vain scheme by the Soviets to prevent the truth of their failed economic progress, specious popular feeling and wicked global aspirations being revealed to the Free World.

In a manic, breathless progression of fights, chases, slapstick accidents and futile attempts to bribe and corrupt him – or worse –  a hint of Tintin as a capable, decent and resourceful hero can be seen to gel on every progressive page as he thwarts the plots of the Bolsheviks and Moscow’s ubiquitous Secret Police…

Week by week, page by page, Tintin “gets away clean” in all manner of fast and flashy machines – all lovingly rendered in a stylised, meta-realistic manner not yet used for the human characters. This is a clear forerunner of Hergé’s Ligne Claire drawing style which develops rapidly as the plucky lad makes his way back across Europe to a rapturous welcome in Belgium, and with every kilometre covered, the personalities of the characters move beyond action-ciphers towards the more fully realised universal boy-hero we all know today.

The strip itself is very much a work-in-progress, primitive both in narrative and artistic execution. But amidst the simplified line, hairsbreadth chases and grossly simplistic anti-communistic polemic there is something… an intriguing hint of things to come.

Rendered in sleek monochrome, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was one of the last adventures to be published in English and is still available in both hardback and paperback editions.

Although possibly still a little controversial (and not ideal for the stated target market of eight years old and up), this is a highly readable, joyously thrilling, exuberant and deeply informative romp for any fan of the comic strip medium.

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets: artwork © 1999 Editions Casterman, Paris& Tournai.
Text ©1999, 2007Casterman/Moulinsart. All Rights Reserved.

The Moon Looked Down and Laughed – a Holy Cross graphic novel


By Malachy Coney & Paul J. Holden (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-263-1

The Irish have always rightly prided themselves on their innate ability to tell a tale and comics especially have long-benefited from that blessed boon. One writer especially gifted and yet inexplicably still not world famous is Malachy Coney, who first started turning heads in Fleetway’s socially informed Crisis anthology in 1989 when he was invited by Pat Mills to co-write a sequence of the controversial serial Third World War set in Ireland.

Coney was raised in the Ardoyne area of Belfast during the time of “The Troubles” and much of his work deals with the politics of the era and issues of gender and gay rights.

In 1993 he scripted the miniseries Holy Cross for Fantagraphics: three separate tales all linked by history, geography and incidental characters Jimmy and Davy – a local gay couple. The yarns were illustrated respectively by Davy Francis, Chris Hogg and P. J. Holden. That lost delight happily led to the lovely book under discussion on this most Gaelic of days.

Coney, who is also a cartoonist and publisher, latterly wrote a number of Gay-themed superhero tales (Major Power and Spunky, The Dandy Lion, The Simply Incredible Hunk), socially aware material such as The Good Father and Catholic Lad; worked with Garth Ennis on Top Cow’s The Darkness and Steven Grant on Vampirella.

Active in the arts in Northern Ireland, he co-wrote animated short film Second Helpings and has contributed to DNASwamp, Small Axe and Fortnight, whilst producing material for the internet and self-publishing his own Good Craic Comics.

Paul Jason Holden is also from Belfast and, as well as working closely with Coney on the Holy Cross stories, The Dandy Lion and The Simply Incredible Hunk, has illustrated Mike Carey’s ‘Suicide Kings’ and worked for Warhammer Monthly, 2000AD, Judge Dredd Megazine, Image Comics, Garth Ennis’ Battlefields and Strip Magazine. He is also active in developing web- and app-based comics…

Rendered in stark and seductive monochrome, The Moon Looked Down and Laughed is again set in the Holy Cross district of Belfast and narrated by hopeful writer Tommy Doherty, a decent and sentimental young man just starting to learn the way of the world.

Tommy’s always got time to listen to his old dad’s stories about the bad days just past, especially the one when he was a young man doing odd jobs for a mean, rich old sod named Burke.

That privileged, demented sour swine used to work him like a slave every day and then set the dog on him if he stayed on his land one second after quitting-time. Sometimes Burke even deliberately kept him late just to watch him run…

That all changed on the fateful day Pa Doherty’s watch stopped and the vicious landowner gloatingly gawped as the manic canine brought him down…

Of course, that was the day sheer terror made the worm turn and a scared lad learned another use for the hated shovel in his calloused hands…

From that event, the Da learned a hard but necessary lesson: there are mad dogs everywhere and usually the shovel is the best way of dealing with them…

With thoughts of wildlife documentaries, carnivores and prey in his head, Tommy heads for the pub and a drink with his outrageous pals Jimmy and Davy. However he obliquely encounters the district’s apex predator when Francie O’Neill’s gang of thugs and troublemakers harass him for hanging out with “faggots”…

It had only been weeks since the surly pack of jackals had beaten up Jimmy and Davy in one more gay-bashing incident. O’Neill had been a bully since they were all at school but always managed to come off like some roguish golden boy. Nobody could understand why the loveliest girl in school had married him, especially Tommy, for whom Annie would always be “the one”, ever since that incident when they played “spin-the-bottle” as nippers…

Now she was shackled to a possessive, brutal thug, permanently pregnant and with all the life leaching slowly out of her.

Staggering away at closing time, Tommy and the boys spot Francie stalking the streets, looking for a fight to start. Not for the first time, the writer ponders the worth of pens against swords and why people like that are allowed to get away with so much…

Pa Doherty’s pride and joy is his allotment garden and on the way to it next day, father and son see an ambulance rushing away. It seems poor fat Big Junior has had a breakdown and harmed himself. The lad hasn’t been the same since his ma died and surely the constant bullying and sadistic harassment by certain people has pushed him over the edge…

As they watch Annie O’Neill and her two oldest pass by, Pa invites them to spend time in his garden. The kids have the best day of their life just playing and, with a bit of peace at last, Annie idly chats about the old days with Tommy…

The next day the author-in-waiting answers a desperate call: the father is in a bad way. It seems someone has destroyed his precious, beloved garden; razed it to rubble and ruins…

Consoling the heartbroken, despondent elder, Tommy sees Francie’s unmistakable signature in the despicable act. Soon after, locating the psychotic lout terrorising his own wife and children, the frustrated scribe realises he has found his own mad dog…

Disposing of the body on the nearby railway tracks, the shell-shocked and traumatised scribe is utterly unaware that Jimmy and Davy have been witnesses to the whole thing…

And that’s just the start of Tommy Doherty’s road from boy to man in this superbly told tale, blending wry humour and bucolic Celtic charm with shatteringly personal conflicts that test the miraculous bonds of childhood loyalty and friendship, revealing not only the horrific acts good men can be pushed to, but also how deeds shape character and how little the universe cares…

Long overdue for re-issue – preferably in a bumper edition collecting the three-issue Holy Cross miniseries and the fabled unpublished fourth issue as well – this is a sublimely beguiling and memorably incisive story of human life at its most vibrant and compelling…
© 1997 Malachy Coney & Paul J. Holden. This edition © 1997 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection


By Jim Starlin, Mike Friedrich, Steve Gerber, Steve Englehart & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-30290-017-5

As much as I’d love to claim that Marvel’s fortunes are solely built on the works of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, I’m just not able to. Whereas I can safely avow that without them the modern monolith would not exist, it is also necessary to acknowledge the vital role played by a second generation of creators of the early 1970s. Marvel’s eager welcome to fresh, new, often untried talent paid huge dividends in creativity and – most importantly at a time of industry contraction – resulted in new sales and the retention of a readership that was growing away from traditional comics fare. Best of all, these newcomers spoke with a narrative voice far closer to that of its rebellious audience…

One of the most successful of these newcomers was Jim Starlin. As well as the topical and groundbreaking Master of Kung Fu – co-created with his equally gifted confederates Steve Englehart & Al Milgrom – Starlin’s earliest success was the epic of cosmic odyssey compiled here.

Captain Marvel was an alien on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree who fought for Earth and was atomically bonded to professional sidekick Rick Jones by a pair of wristbands allowing them to share the same space in our universe. When one was here, the other was trapped in the antimatter dimension designated the Negative Zone.

After meandering around the Marvel Universe for a while, continually one step ahead of cancellation (the series had folded many times, but always quickly returned – primarily to secure the all-important Trademark name), Mar-Vell was handed to Starlin – and the young artist was left alone to get on with it.

With many of his fellow neophytes he began laying seeds (particularly in Iron Man, Daredevil and Sub-Mariner) for a saga that would in many ways become as well-regarded as the Jack Kirby Fourth World Trilogy that inspired it.

However, the Thanos War, despite many superficial similarities, would soon develop into a uniquely modern experience. And what it lacked in grandeur it made up for with sheer energy and enthusiasm…

This epic compendium (available in Trade Paperback and eBook editions) gathers and collates Iron Man #55, Captain Marvel #25-34, Marvel Feature #12 and pertinent extracts from Daredevil #105 – spanning February 1973-September 1974 – and concludes with the landmark Marvel Graphic Novel #1 from 1982, re-presenting Starlin’s entire input into the legend of the Kree Protector of the Universe and one of the company’s most popular and oft-reprinted sagas.

The artistic iconoclasm began in Iron Man #55 (February 1973) where Mike Friedrich scripted Starlin’s opening gambit in a cosmic epic that would change the nature of Marvel itself.

Inked by Mike Esposito, ‘Beware… Beware… Beware the … Blood Brothers!’ introduces formidable and obsessive Drax the Destroyer; an immensely powerful alien trapped under the Nevada desert and in dire need of rescue by even more potent extraterrestrial invader Thanos

That comes when the Armoured Avenger blazes in, answering a mysterious SOS, but only after brutally dealing with the secret invader’s deadly underlings…

All this is merely a prelude to the main story which begins unfolding a month later in Captain Marvel #25, courtesy of Friedrich, Starlin, & Chic Stone as Thanos unleashes ‘A Taste of Madness!’ and exiled Mar-Vell’s fortunes change forever…

When Mar-Vell is ambushed by a pack of extraterrestrials, he is forced to admit that his powers have been in decline for some time. Unaware that an unseen foe is counting on that, Rick manifests (from the Negative Zone) and checks in with sagacious scientific maverick Dr. Savannah, only to find himself accused by the savant’s daughter (and Rick’s beloved) Lou-Ann of her father’s murder…

Hauled off to jail, Rick brings in Mar-Vell who is suddenly confronted by a veritable legion of old foes before deducing who in fact his true enemies are…

Issue #26 then sees Rick freed from police custody to confront Lou-Ann over her seeming ‘Betrayal!’ (Starlin, Friedrich & Dave Cockrum). Soon, however, he and Mar-Vell realise they are the targets of psychological warfare: the girl is being mind-controlled whilst Super Skrull and his hidden “Masterlord” are manipulating them and others in search of a lost secret…

When a subsequent scheme to have Mar-Vell kill The Thing spectacularly fails, Thanos takes personal charge. The Titan is hungry for conquest and needs Rick because his subconscious conceals the location of an irresistible ultimate weapon.

Rick awakens to find himself ‘Trapped on Titan!’ (Pablo Marcos inks) but does not realise the villain has already extracted the location of a reality-altering Cosmic Cube from him. Rescued by Thanos’ hyper-powered father Mentor and noble brother Eros, the horrified lad sees first-hand the extent of genocide the death-loving monster has inflicted upon his own birthworld before summoning Captain Marvel to wreak vengeance…

Meanwhile on Earth, still-enslaved Lou-Ann has gone to warn the Mighty Avengers and summarily collapsed. By the time Mar-Vell arrives in #28 she lies near death. ‘When Titans Collide!’ (inks by Dan Green) reveals another plank of Thanos’ plan. As the heroes are picked off by psychic parasite The Controller, the Kree Captain is assaulted by bizarre visions of an incredible ancient being. Fatally distracted, he becomes the malevolent mind-leech’s latest victim…

Al Milgrom inks ‘Metamorphosis!’ as Mar-Vell’s connection to Rick is severed before he is transported to an otherworldly locale where a grotesque eight billion-year-old being named Eon reveals the origins of universal life whilst overseeing the Kree abductee’s forced evolution into an ultimate warrior: a universal champion gifted with the subtly irresistible power of Cosmic Awareness

Iron Man meanwhile has recovered from a previous Controller assault and headed for Marvel Feature #12 to join Ben Grimm in ending a desert incursion by Thanos’ forces before enduring ‘The Bite of the Blood Brothers!’ (Friedrich, Starlin, & Joe Sinnott), after which the story develops through an extract first seen in Daredevil #105.

Here enigmatic and emotionless super scientist Madame MacEvil tells her origins and foreshadows her future role in the cosmic catastrophe to come. When Thanos killed her family, the infant Heather Douglas was adopted by Mentor, taken to Titan and reared by psionic martial artists of the Shao-Lom Monastery. Years later when Thanos attacked Titan and destroyed the monks she swore revenge and took a new name… Moondragon

Subsequently returned to Earth and reconnected to his frantic atomic counterpart, the newly-appointed “Protector of the Universe” confronts The Controller, thrashing the monumentally powerful brain-parasite in a devastating display of skill countering exo-skeletal super-strength in #30’s ‘…To Be Free from Control!’ after which #31 celebrates ‘The Beginning of the End!’ (inked by Green & Milgrom) as the Avengers – in a gathering of last resort – are joined by psionic priestess Moondragon and Drax: revealed as one more of Thanos’ victims but one recalled from death by supernal forces to destroy the deranged Titan…

The Titan is then revealed as a lover of the personification of Death: determined to give her Earth as a betrothal present. To that end he uses the Cosmic Cube to turn himself into ‘Thanos the Insane God!’ (Green inks) who, with a thought, imprisons all opposition to his reign. However, his insane arrogance leaves the cosmically aware Mar-Vell with a slim chance to undo every change; brilliantly outmanoeuvring, defeating and apparently destroying ‘The God Himself!’ in the cosmically climatic Captain Marvel #33 (inked by Klaus Janson)…

With the universe saved and a modicum of sanity and security restored, Starlin’s run ended on a relatively weak and inconclusive note in #34 as ‘Blown Away!’ – inked by Jack Abel and dialogued by Englehart – explored the day after doomsday…

As Rick Jones tries to revive his on-again, off-again musical career, a new secret organisation called the Lunatic Legion sends Nitro, the Exploding Man to acquire a canister of deadly gas from an Air Force base where old pal Carol Danvers is head of Security…

Although the Protector of the Universe defeats his earth-shattering enemy, Mar-Vell soon succumbs to the deadly nerve agent released in the battle. The exposure actually kills him but he will not realise that for years to come…

In 1982, The Death of Captain Marvel was the first Marvel Graphic Novel and the one that truly demonstrated how mainstream superhero material could breach the wider world of general publishing.

Written and illustrated by Starlin with lettering by James Novak and colours from Steve Oliff, this tale concluded the career of the mighty Kree Champion in a neatly symmetrical and textually conclusive manner – although the tale’s success led to some pretty crass commercialisations in its wake…

As previously stated, Mar-Vell was a honoured soldier of the alien Kree empire dispatched to Earth as a spy, who subsequently went native: becoming first a hero and then the cosmically “aware” protector of the universe, destined since universal life began to be its stalwart cosmic champion in its darkest hour.

In concert with the Avengers and other heroes he defeated death-worshipping Thanos, just as that villain transformed into God, after which the good Captain went on to become a universal force for good.

That insipid last bit pretty much sums up Mar-Vell’s later career: without Thanos the adventures again became uninspired and eventually just fizzled out. He lost his own comicbook, had a brief shot at revival in try-out title Marvel Spotlight and then just faded away…

Re-enter Starlin, who had long been linked to narrative themes of death. He offered a rather novel idea – kill Mar-Vell off and actually leave him dead. What no fan realised at the time was that Starlin was also processing emotional issues thrown up by the passing of his own father and the story he crafted echoed his own emotional turmoil.

In 1982 killing such a high-profile hero was a bold idea, especially considering how long and hard the company had fought to obtain the rights to the name (and sure enough there’s been somebody with that name in print ever since) but Starlin wasn’t just proposing a gratuitous stunt. The story developed into a different kind of drama: one uniquely at odds with contemporary fare and thinking.

Following the Thanos Saga, Mar-Vell defeated second-rater Nitro but was exposed to experimental nerve gas during the fight. Now years later he discovers that, just as he has found love and contentment, the effects of that gas have inexorably caused cancer in his system. Moreover, it has metastasized into something utterly incurable…

Going through the Kree version of the classic Kubler-Ross Cycle: grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, the Space-Born hero can only watch as all his friends and comrades try and fail to find a cure, before death comes for him…

This is a thoughtful, intriguing examination of the process of dying observed by a being who never expected to die in bed, and argues forcefully that even in a universe where miracles occur by the hour sometimes death might not be unwelcome…

Today, in a world where the right to life is increasingly being challenged and contested by special interest groups, this story is still a strident, forceful reminder that sometimes the personal right to dignity and freedom from distress is as important as any and all other Human Rights.

No big Deus ex Machina, not many fights and no happy ending: but still one of the most compelling stories the House of Ideas ever published.

Augmenting the sidereal saga, a number of now-mandatory bonus bits include Starlin’s exploded-view map-&-blueprint of Thanos’ homeworld Titan; original cover art from Captain Marvel #29 plus original art and a 3-page framing sequence for the reprint issue #36.

Other extras follow: the all-cosmic hero cover to fan-magazine F.O.O.M. #19; the all-new covers, back covers and bridging pages for prestige reprint miniseries The Life of Captain Marvel (as well as the humorous introductory ‘Editori-Al’ strips cartooned by Al Milgrom) and much, much more.

A timeless classic of the company and the genre, this is a tale no full-blooded Fights ‘n’ Tights fan can be without.
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1982, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Golden Age Marvel Comics Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Carl Burgos, Bill Everett, Paul Gustavson, Ben Thompson & others (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1609-7 (HB)                    978-0-7851-5052-7 (TPB)

Die-hard fans craving a look at previously inaccessible vintage comics material have never had it so good. When I was young (not quite twenty minutes after the Golden Age actually ended), superhero and other genre stories from the dawn of the industry were all but impossible to find and a comprehensive scheme of reprinting old stuff a very low priority for even big publishers like DC and Marvel

These days a vast percentage of 1930, 1940s and 1950s comics output from many still-existing and bygone outfits is readily readable: either in expensive print compilations or more accessible digital editions.

DC led the way in the early 1990s, but soon after a great deal of Marvel Comics’ Timely and Atlas material joined the collective pool, and the notion that old stuff is not to modern tastes was finally disproved. For years accepted wisdom had decreed that most Golden Age stories were too dated and quite often painfully strident – maybe even offensive to 21st century eyes and sensibilities.

Nevertheless, many like me would rather have the raw historical form rather than any bowdlerised or censored reworking and even in their most jingoistic and populist excesses there are usually individual nuggets of gold amidst the shocking or – horror of horrors – badly crafted yarns from the art form’s sensationalistic antediluvian antecedents.

Marvel took quite some time before producing expensive deluxe volumes featuring their earliest comic adventures and this collection of the first four issues of the anthology title which started it all for Timely/Marvel/Red Circle/Atlas (before eventually and inevitably settling on Marvel Comics), despite re-presenting some of the most revered adventures of the Golden Age, clearly shows why.

Perhaps I’m being overly harsh and hyper-critical: I have to admit that there’s a lot of stuff here that I spent much of my early life lusting after. I am however a total comics nut with broad tastes and mutable standards. There are shameful horrors and truly pitiful examples of the medium lurking in my dusty comics boxes. I am not a new, casual or particularly discriminating punter.

Hi – my name is Win and I’m addicted to old comics…

After a rather shaky start and inauspicious in 1936, the fledgling comicbook industry was saved by the invention of Superman. His iconic innovation created a new popular genre and paved the way for explosive expansion.

By 1939 the new kids on the block were in a frantic flurry of creative frenzy with every publisher trying to make and own the Next Big Thing. Martin Goodman’s pulp fiction outfit leapt into the turbulent marketplace and scored big with their initial offering Marvel Comics: released late in the year before inexplicably switching to the marginally less euphonious Marvel Mystery Comics with the second issue.

During those early days, novel ideas, raw ambition and sheer exuberance could take you far and, as most alternative means of entertainment escapism for kids were severely limited, it just wasn’t that hard to make a go of it as a comicbook publisher. Combine that with a creative work-force which kept being drafted, and it’s clear to see why low and declining standards of story and art didn’t greatly affect month-to-month sales during the years of World War II.

However, once hostilities ceased a cascade-decline in super-hero strips began almost as soon as GI boots hit US soil again. Those innocent kids had seen a lot and wanted something more than brashness, naivety and breakneck pace from their funnybooks now…

Both the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner quickly won favour with the burgeoning, fickle readership, but the remaining characters were soon acknowledged to be B-listers and thus subject to immediate replacement once a better idea presented itself. Still, two out of seven was pretty good: Action and Detective Comics only had the one super-star apiece at the outset…

Another holdover from the pre-comics, pulp fiction phase of the company was a predilection to treat instalments as serial chapters; always promising more and better if you’d just come back next month…

Before the year was out Timely’s “Big Two” would clash; frequently and repeatedly battling like elemental gods in the skies above Manhattan…

Goodman apparently favoured Ka-Zar and The Angel: both characters that devolved from his own stable of pulp genre stars. Sadly, neither the generic jungle adventures of the company’s premiere Tarzan knockoff or the thud-and-blunder crimebusting rogue’s potboilers – which owed so much to Leslie Charteris’ iconic dark knight the Saint – just didn’t appeal to kids as much as the spectacular graphic histrionics of the anarchic Fire and Water anti-heroes…

An editorial policy of rapid expansion was quickly adopted: release a new book filled with whatever the art and script monkeys of the comics “shop” (freelance creative types who packaged material on spec for publishing houses: Martin Goodman bought all his product from Lloyd Jacquet’s Funnies Inc.) dreamed up, keep the popular hits and disregard everything else.

Timely Comics, or Red Circle as the company occasionally called itself, enjoyed a huge turnover of characters who only made one or two appearances before vanishing, never to be seen again until variously modern revivals or recreations produced new improved versions of characters such as Angel, Ka-Zar or Electro.

This volume – available in hardback, softcover and eBook editions – kicks into high gear following a knowledgeable and informative scene-setting introduction by Golden Age Guru Roy Thomas.

The landmark Marvel Comics #1 sported a cover by pulp illustrator Frank R. Paul, and after spot gag page ‘Now I’ll Tell One’ (by “Ed Wood” – AKA Fred Schwab) introduces to the gasping populace Carl Burgos’ landmark conception of ‘The Human Torch’

The Fiery Fury led off a parade of wonderment, bursting into life as a malfunctioning humanoid devised by Professor Phineas Horton. Igniting into an uncontrollable blazing fireball whenever exposed to air, the artificial innocent was consigned to entombment in concrete but escaped to accidentally imperil the metropolis until it/he fell into the hands of a gangster named Sardo.

When the crook’s attempts to use the gullible android as a terror weapon dramatically backfire, the hapless newborn is left a misunderstood fugitive, like a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster. Even his creator only sees the humanoid as a means of making filthy money…

Crafted by Paul Gustavson, the opening episode of ‘The Angel’ owed a criminally large debt to the 1938 Louis Hayward film The Saint in New York. Although dressed like a superhero, the globe-trotting do-gooder offered a blending of Charteris’s iconic well-intentioned scoundrel and The Lone Wolf (Louis Vance’s urbane two-fisted hero who was the subject of 8 books and 24 B-movies between 1917 and 1949).

However, the four-colour paladin’s foes soon tended towards only the spooky, the ghoulish and the just plain demented….

He also seemed able to cast giant shadows in the shape of an angel. Not the greatest aid to cleaning up the scum of the Earth, but he seemed to manage in this initial enterprise where he is tasked with cleaning up New York’s gang problems before suffering the deadly depredations of the crime syndicate dubbed ‘the Six Big Men’

Bill Everett’s ‘The Sub-Mariner’ was actually an expanded reprint of a beautiful black-&-white strip from Motion Picture Funnies. Prince Namor was the scion of an aquatic race living under the South Pole. These advanced mer-folk had been decimated by American mineral exploration a generation previously, and the Sub-Mariner’s mother Fen had been dispatched to spy upon the invaders. She had gotten too close, falling pregnant by one of the interlopers, and twenty years later her hybrid son was an amphibious mutant superman determined to exact revenge on the air-breathers – which he promptly began by attacking New York City…

Cowboy Jim Gardley was framed by ruthless cattle-baron Cal Brunder and found the only way to secure a measure of justice was to become ‘The Masked Raider’: dispensing six-gun law. Al Anders’ Lone Ranger riff was competent but uninspired, lasting until the 12th issue of Marvel Mystery.

Offering a complete adventure, ‘Jungle Terror’ by Tomm Dixon (aka Art Panajian) follows gentlemen explorers Ken Masters and Tim Roberts (visually patterned on Caniff’s Pat Ryan and Terry Lee) battling savages in the Amazon to find cursed diamonds, after which a brief prose vignette – a staple of early comics – recounted Ray Gill’s racing car drama of ‘Burning Rubber’ before the aforementioned ‘Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great’ saw Ben Thompson adroitly and serially adapt Bob Byrd’s pulp novel King of Fang and Claw to strip form.

In the first chapter, South African diamond miner John Rand and his wife crash their plane into the Belgian Congo where their son David grows up amidst jungle splendour to become brother to King of Lions Zar.

An idyllic life is only marred years later when murderous explorer Paul De Kraft kills old John, leaving young David to seek vengeance…

Behind a Charles J. Mazoujian Angel cover, the abruptly re-titled Marvel Mystery Comics #2 (December 1939) again offered ‘The Human Torch’ by Burgos, wherein the fiery fugitive has attained a degree of sophistication and control before stumbling onto a murderous racing car racket. Here gangster Blackie Ross ensures his drivers always win by strafing all other contestants from an airplane, until the big-hearted, outraged Torch steps in…

Gustavson then despatched ‘The Angel’ to Hong Kong to prevent museum researcher Jane Framan falling victim to a curse when the perils of the Lost Temple of Alano prove to be caused by greedy men, not magical spirits.

‘The Sub-Mariner’ himself is the threat in Everett’s second chapter, as the Marine Marvel goes berserk in a city powerhouse before showing his true colours by chivalrously saving a pretty girl caught in the ensuing conflagration.

Anders’ ‘Masked Raider’ then breaks up an entire lost town of outlaws, after which the debuting ‘American Ace’ (by Paul Lauretta and clearly based on Roy Crane’s soldier of fortune Wash Tubbs) finds Yankee aviator Perry Wade flying straight into danger when the woman who caused the Great War returns to start WWII by attacking innocent European nations with her hidden armies…

‘The Angel’ stars in an implausible, jingoistic prose yarn (by David C. Cooke illustrated by Mazoujian), single-handedly downing a strafing ‘Death-Bird Squadron’ before Thompson introduced fresh horrors – including a marauding, malicious ape named Chaka to plague young David in more ‘Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great’.

The issue closes with more gag pages: ‘All in Fun’ by Ed Wood and ‘Looney Laffs’ from Thompson.

Cover-dated January 1940 and sporting an Angel cover by Alex Schomburg, Marvel Mystery Comics #3) saw ‘The Human Torch’ slowly evolving into what we’d recognise as a superhero series as he battles a ruthless entrepreneur trying to secure the formula for a super-explosive that he can sell to Martian invaders, whilst ‘The Angel’ confronts a bloodthirsty death-cult sacrificing young women, even as ‘The Sub-Mariner’ takes a huge leap in dramatic quality after policewoman Betty Dean entices, entraps and successfully reasons with the intractably belligerent sub-sea invader.

With global war looming ever closer, opinions and themes were constantly shifting and Everett reacted brilliantly by turning Namor into a protector of all civilians at sea: spectacularly preying on any war-like nation sinking innocent shipping.

Naturally, even before America officially joined the fray, that meant primarily Nazis got their subs and destroyers demolished at the antihero’s sinewy hands…

When gold and oil are discovered under ranch land, ‘The Masked Raider’ steps in to stop greedy killers from driving off the settlers in a timeless tale of western justice, but current events overtook the ‘American Ace’, who faded out after this tale of Blitzkrieg bombings in a picturesque Ruritanian nation.

Even Cooke & Everett’s text thriller ‘Siegfried Suicide’ was naming and shaming the Axis directly in a yarn where a lone Yank saves some French soldiers from German atrocity, before neutrality resumes as, under African skies, the ‘Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great’ sees the boy hero rescue his animal friends from a well-meaning zoo hunter in a tale revealing hints of a Jungle Book style congress of animals…

The final inclusion in this volume – Marvel Mystery Comics #4, February 1940 – opens with a Schomburg cover depicting Sub-Mariner smashing a Nazi U-Boat before another inflammatory Burgos ‘Human Torch’ epic has the android create a secret identity as Jim Hammond and return to New York to clash with a criminal genius terrorising the city using warriors cloaked in deadly, sub-zero ‘Green Flame’

‘The Angel’ too is back in the Big Apple, grappling with a small-time hood who manipulates a monstrous hyper-thyroid case named ‘Butch the Giant’. Impervious to pain and able to punch through brick walls his slavish meal ticket is eventually overcome, after which ‘The Sub-Mariner Goes to War’ when the passionate Prince returns to his Polar people to rally them and their advanced technology into a taskforce to enforce his Pax Namor upon the surface world’s assorted war mongers…

Even by its own low standards ‘The Masked Raider’ tale of claim-jumping is far from exemplary, but prose crime puzzler ‘Warning Enough’ (by Cooke & Harry Ramsey) is a genuinely enthralling change of pace tale.

Rendered by Steve Dahlman, ‘Electro, the Marvel of the Age’ introduces brilliant Professor Philo Zog who constructs an all-purpose wonder robot and forms an international secret society of undercover operatives who seek out uncanny crimes and great injustices for the automaton to fix. The first case involves retrieving a kidnapped child actress…

Another debut is ‘Ferret, Mystery Detective’ by Stockbridge Winslow (Bob Davis) & Irwin Hasen, following the eponymous crime-writer and his faithful assistants as they solve the case of a corpse dropped on the authors doorstep…

Proceedings then culminate with the increasingly impressive ‘Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great’ as the despised De Kraft returns to face the beginning (but not the end: that’s frustratingly left to the next issue and volume) of the jungle lord’s just vengeance…

Despite all the problems I’ve whinged about, I’m constantly delighted with this substantial chronicle, warts and all, but I can fully understand why anyone other than a life-long comics or Marvel fan might baulk at the steep price-tag in these days of grim austerity, with a wealth of better quality and more highly regarded comics collections available.

Nevertheless, value is one thing and worth another, and the sheer vibrantly ingenious rollercoaster rush and vitality of these tales, even more than any historical merit, is just so intoxicating that if you like this sort of thing you’ll love this sort of thing.

If anything could convince the undecided to take a look, later editions of this tome also include numerous tantalising house ads of the period and a full colour cover gallery of Marvel Mystery Comics’ pulp predecessors: Marvel Science Stories, Marvel Tales, Marvel Stories, Ka-Zar, The Anger Detective, Uncanny Tales, Mystery Tales, Dynamic Science Stories and Star Detective Magazine by illustrators Norman Saunders, Frank R. Paul, H. W. Wesso and John W. Scott.

Upping the ante, further bonuses comprise the second print cover of Marvel Comics #1, a sample of Norman Saunders’ original painted art; Everett Sub-Mariner pages and unused cover roughs; a Mazoujian Angel pencilled cover reworked into the never-printed Zephyr Comics Ashcan cover and a Burgos watercolour sketch offering a partial redesign of the Human Torch.

Although probably not to the tastes of modern fans, for devotees of super-heroes, aficionados of historical works and true Marvel Zombies there’s still lots to offer here.

As always, in the end, it’s up to you…
© 1939, 1940, 2004, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.