Marvel’s Avengers – Infinity War Prelude


By Will Corona Pilgrim, Tigh Walker, Jorge Fornés, Chris O’Halloran, with Jonathan Hickman, Jim Starlin, Jim Cheung, Ron Lim & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0943-7

With another eagerly anticipated Marvel Cinematic Universe film premiering around the world, here’s a timely trade paperback and eBook edition to augment the celluloid exposure and cater to movie fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience.

Comprising selected reprints and new digital material designed to supplement the movie release, these Prelude editions have become a traditional part of the dissemination and build-up and this compilation contains Marvel’s Avengers Infinity War Prelude #1-2 plus material starring the ultimate arch-villain Thanos taken from Infinity #1 and Thanos Annual #1.

This original 2-part miniseries sets the scene for the film blockbuster: written by Will Corona Pilgrim and based on the Captain America: Civil War screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. It was realised by illustrator Tigh Walker, colourist Chris O’Halloran and letterer Travis Lanham and reveals how the knowledge that Captain America’s old ally Bucky (AKA Winter Soldier) assassinated Tony Stark’s parents splits the Avengers into two warring teams…

After a ferocious battle, Cap’s allies – Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man and Hawkeye – are broken out of prison by the renegade Sentinel of Liberty and take refuge in Wakanda where the advanced technologies of the Black Panther deprogram Bucky even as in America an isolated Stark reconfigures his armour in advance of an overwhelming threat heading to Earth from the depths of space…

The second chapter – with Jorge Fornés as artist – features new movie maven Dr. Strange, coming to terms with his role in a terrifying universe of appalling unknown forces and deadly dangers.

As advisor Wong regales the wizard with tales and histories of the Infinity Stones and how they have shaped events (as seen in many previous MCU films), Thor and Loki return to Earth to consult the mage in the matter of the sudden disappearance of Asgardian All-Father Odin

In space, the Guardians of the Galaxy are also gauging a growing threat as cosmic overlord Thanos turns his avaricious eyes upon Earth…

Of course, all these plot threads get knotted together in the movie…

The supplemental classic appearances then open with the first chapter of mega publishing event Infinity #1 (August 2013), scripted by Jonathan Hickman.

In the aftermath of the blockbuster Avengers versus X-Men war, the company-wide reboot MarvelNOW! reformed the entire overarching continuity: a drastic reshuffle and rethink of characters, concepts and brands with an eye to winning new readers and feeding the company’s burgeoning movie blockbuster machine…

Moreover, numerous story strands were slowly building and combining to kick off the Next Big Thing with the cosmically revamped Avengers titles forming the spine of an encroaching mega-epic.

The intergalactic Hammer of Doom finally fell as a two-pronged, all-out attack which saw an impossibly ancient threat materialise to wipe out life in the cosmos, whilst Earth itself was targeted by an old enemy with a long memory and monstrous agenda…

What Came Before: In recent Avengers episodes an impossibly ancient trio of galactic “Gardeners” – robotic Aleph, seductive Abyss and passionate Ex Nihilo – attempted to remake Earth into something special. To that end they bombarded the world with “Origin bombs”, seeding locations with bizarre, exotic and uncompromising new life-forms.

When the Avengers went after them, the invaders claimed to have been tasked by The Builders – first species in creation – and their Mother of the Universe to test and, whenever necessary, eradicate, recreate and replace life on all worlds.

Although the World’s Mightiest Heroes defeated the intruders and set about mitigating the effects of the O-bombs on Earth, it seemed increasingly futile as global threats seemingly multiplied without surcease. Evidence also indicated that the very structure and celestial mechanics of the multiverse were catastrophically unravelling.

And then rumours began of an incredible alien armada heading directly for Earth…

It all starts here with the miniseries’ first issue as ‘Infinity’ (illustrated by Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, John Livesay & David Meikis) focuses on Saturnian moon Titan where death-driven despot Thanos dispatches his diabolical Outrider to demand ‘The Tribute’ from another newly enslaved world in his growing interstellar empire. Some of the Dark Lord’s most effective agents are already on Earth, stalking the planet’s greatest champions and ‘Constructing Apocalypse’

Sixty thousand light-years away, an even bigger threat is mopping up the puissant Space Knights of Galador. Various varieties of Builders – of the same ancient order that spawned Aleph, Abyss and Ex Nihilo – have razed the planet whilst unearthly new Avenger Captain Universe (whom the Gardeners call “Mother”) can only look on with despair as her wayward children destroy another world tainted by contact with Earth…

‘Orbital’ finds Captain America and Hawkeye cleaning out a nest of Skrulls in Palermo, but these invaders are far from the arrogant, treacherous warriors they’re accustomed to. The shapeshifters are scared, cowering refugees, fleeing and hiding from something incomprehensibly bad…

‘What was Hidden, Now Uncovered’ then focuses on the Inhumans’ floating city Attilan, currently parked above Manhattan, where Outrider prepares to extract secrets from the brain of slumbering monarch Black Bolt.

Even as the supremely powerful Inhuman foils the ghastly intrusion, the Avengers have regrouped following Captain Universe’s return with warnings of an oncoming impossibly vast Builder Armada. It merely confirms what Earth’s deep space monitoring array already shows: The fleet is bearing directly on Earth and any race or empire in the way is summarily destroyed as the invaders move ever closer.

The once unbeatable Kree are only the latest to fall…

When a distress call arrives from the rulers of the Galactic Council representing Kree, Skrulls, Badoon, Spartax, Brood and Shi’ar, the Avengers are soon ‘Outbound’, resolved to stop the fleet long before it reaches Earth.

Severely wounded, Outrider returns to Titan to inform Thanos that the thing he seeks most in the universe has been hidden on Earth by Black Bolt, prompting an invasion by the Titan’s own fleet long before the Builders can arrive. Moreover, almost all the planet’s infernal metahuman champions have left for Kree space…

If that whetted your appetite, you’ll need to see the two volume Infinity collection…

Here, however, we move on to Thanos Annual #1 (July 2014) as a defeated, comatose Mad Titan recalls an early turning point in his life. Written by Jim Starlin, pencilled by Ron Lim and inked by Andy Smith, ‘Damnation and Redemption’ begins after his first defeat by Captain Marvel and the Avengers, when he used a Cosmic Cube to become God before being stripped of everything through his own arrogance.

At this low ebb he is tempted by arch demon Mephisto but saved by his own future self, using the Infinity Gauntlet’s Time Gem to correct an almost irrevocable error…

Shown his potential future, the Titanian plotter thinks he is on the rise but has not counted on the interference of true cosmic gods such as the Living Tribunal…

This selection also includes a cover and variants gallery by Adam Kubert, Dale Keown & Ive Svorcina, Skottie Young, Marko Djurdjević, Lim & Smith and Starlin & Al Milgrom.

From such disparate seeds movie gold can grow, but never forget that the originating material is pretty damned good too and will deliver a tempting tray of treats that should have most curious fans scurrying for back-issue boxes, bookshop shelves or online emporia…
© 2013, 2014, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Footrot Flats book 7


By Murray Ball (Orin Books)
ISSN: 0156-6172

Once upon a time, Britain ran an Empire, and now we’ve found a more equitable station as just one of 53(ish) independent nations in a Commonwealth. This last fortnight we’ve celebrated that with our own sporting Games, then capped that by having Britain (notional head of the Commonwealth) insult every other member of the vast panoply of nations and cultures that we’ve befriended/exploited.

Some of those nations have always been handy with comebacks, rejoinders and cartoon salvos of their own, and whilst this particular item may not have the political venom of the creator’s earlier works, it more than makes up for it by being the absolute best comedy strip the Commonwealth has ever produced (and yes, I’m even including our very own The Perishers).

New Zealand’s greatest natural wonder and National Treasure is in fact a comic strip. Footrot Flats is one of the funniest ever created, designed as a practical antidote to idealistic pastoral fantasy and bucolic self-deception and concocted in 1975 by cartoonist and comics artist Murray Ball after returning to his New Zealand homeland from an extended work tour of the UK and other, lesser, climes.

The fantastical farm feature ran for a quarter of a century, appearing in newspapers on four continents until 1994 when Ball retired it, citing reasons as varied as the death of his own dog and the state of New Zealand politics. Such a success naturally spawned a multitude of merchandising material such as strip compendia, calendars and special editions released regularly from 1978 onwards.

Once Ball officially ceased the daily feature he began periodically releasing books of all-new material until 2000, with a net yield of 27 collections of the daily strip, 8 volumes of Sunday pages dubbed “Weekenders”, 5 pocket books and ancillary publications such as “school kits” aimed at younger fans and their harried parents.

There was a stage musical, a theme park and in 1986 a truly superb feature-length animated film. The Dog’s Tail Tale became New Zealand’s top-grossing film (and remained so until Peter Jackson started associating with Hobbits) – track it down on video or petition the BBC to show it again – it’s been decades, for Pete’s sake…

The well-travelled, extremely gifted and deeply dedicated Mr. Ball had originally moved to England in the early 1960s, becoming a cartoonist for Punch (producing Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero and All the King’s Comrades) as well as drawing numerous strips for DC Thompson and Fleetway and even concocting a regular political satire strip in Labour Weekly.

After marrying he returned to the Old Country and resettled in 1974 – but not to retire…

Ball was busier than ever once he’d bought a small-holding on the North Island to farm in his “spare time”, which inevitably led to the strip under review.

Taking the adage “write what you know” to startling, heartbreaking and occasionally stomach-turning heights, the peripatetic pencil-pusher broke most of the laws of relativity to make time for these captivatingly insane episodes concerning the highs and lows – and most frequently “absurds” – of the rural entrepreneur as experienced by the earthily metaphoric Wallace Footrot Cadwallader: a bloke never too-far removed from mud, mayhem, ferocity and frustration…

Wal is a big, bluff farmer. He likes his grub; loves his sport – Rugby, Football (the Anzac sort, not the kiddie version Yanks call Soccer) Cricket, Golf(ish) and even hang-gliding; each in its proper season and at no other, since he just wants the easiest time a farmer’s life can offer…

Wal owns a small sheep farm (the eponymous Footrot Flats) honestly described as “400 acres of swamp between Ureweras and the Sea”.

With his chief – and only – hand Cooch Windgrass (a latter-day Francis of Assisi), and a verbose and avuncular sheepdog, Wal enjoys being his own boss – as much as the farm cat, goats, chickens, livestock and his auntie will let him…

Other persons of perennial interest include Wal’s fierce and prickly little niece Janice – known to all as Pongo – the aforementioned Aunt Dolly (AKA the sternly staunch and starched Dolores Monrovia Godwit Footrot), smart-ass local lad Rangi Wiremu Waka Jones, Dolly’s pompous and pampered Corgi Prince Charles and Pew, a sadistic, inventive, obsessed and vengeful magpie who bears an unremitting grudge against Wal…

When not living in terror of the monumental moggy dubbed “Horse”, teasing the corpulent Corgi or panic-attacking himself in imagined competition with noble hunting hound Major, the Dog narrates and hosts the strip.

A cool, imaginative and overly sentimental know-all and blowhard, Dog is utterly devoted to his, for want of a better term, Master – unless there’s food about, or Jess the sheepdog bitch is in heat again. However, the biggest and most terrifying scene-stealer was that fulsome feline Horse; a monstrous and imperturbable tomcat who lords it over every living thing in the district …

One of the powerful and persistent clichés of life is that to make people laugh one truly needs to experience tragedy and, having only recently lost my own four-footed studio-mate and constant companion of 15 years, I can certainly empathise with the artist’s obvious manly distress as this otherwise magnificently hilarious collection is movingly dedicated to the uniquely charming real-world inspiration for the battered and bewhiskered juggernaut… which only makes the comedy capers contained within even more bittersweet and effective, beginning with the poem to his departed companion and the bluff, brisk photo tribute which opens proceedings…

Once again the funny businesses comes courtesy of the loquacious canine softie, taking time out from eking out his daily crusts (and oysters and biscuits and cake and lamb’s tails and scraps and chips and…) and alternately getting on with or annoying the sheep, cows, bull, goat, hogs, ducks, bugs, cats, horses and geese, as well as sucking up to the resolutely hostile wildlife and the decidedly odd humans his owner knows or is related to.

Dog – his given name is an embarrassing, closely and violently guarded secret – loves Wal but always tries to thwart him if the big bloke is trying to do unnecessarily necessary farm chores such as chopping down trees, burning out patches of scrub, culling livestock, or trying to mate with the pooch’s main rival Darlene “Cheeky” Hobson, hairdresser-in-residence of the nearest town. As is also the case with the adoring comradeship of proper blokes, Dog is never happier than when embarrassing his mate in front of others, which explains the pages extracted from Wal’s old albums, showing the man to be in various humiliating baby shots and schoolboy scrapes…

Following on is the epic adventure ‘The Invasion of the Murphy Dogs’ – barbaric hounds from a neighbouring farm only afraid of one thing…

This extra-large (262x166mm) landscape monochrome seventh volume again comes from Australian Publisher Orin Books and continues the policy of dividing the strips into approximately seasonal sequences, and after a few more all-original cartoons again opens with ‘Spring’ – the busiest season of the farmer’s year (apart from the other three) – concentrating on Pew’s first attempts at avian home-making, Dog’s libido, horny farmers and hussy-hairdressers, loopy lambs, wild pigs, killer eels and cricket, as well as an extended sequence in which Wal and the Dog become involved in the local school’s curriculum and cuisine…

Once the long hot ‘Summer’ settles in, bringing fun with chicken-shearing, busy bees, a plague of carnivorous Wekas, thistles, Horse’s softer side(!) and his war with Pongo and Aunt Dolly, Hare infestations, river-rafting, Irish Murphy’s Pigs (far worse than his dogs), Cheeky’s picnic charm-offensive and the growing closeness of Rangi and Pongo…

‘Autumn’ brings piglets, scrub-burning, the revenge of dispossessed magpies, amorous bovines, fun with artificial insemination, fence-lining and back country cattle, honey-harvesting, darts and rugby, a confused ram who’d rather pursue Dolly than associate with eager ewes and Horse’s crucial role in the war against the magpies…

As ‘Winter’ again closes in, offering floods, the mixed messy joy of lambing season, mud, mad goats, whitebait fishing and footy, Wal unwisely agrees to take a class of schoolkids and their puritanical, prudish and priggish teacher on an eye-opening nature-lesson around Footrot Flats. Touched by the painful experience, the bluff cove then volunteers to coach the school’s sports and, after much humiliation, spends the rest of the book discovering how hard – and, for observers, funny – farming in a plaster cast can be…

As you’d expect, the comedy content is utterly, absolutely top-rate and the extended role played throughout by the surly star Horse all the more poignant…

Ball – who died in 2017 – was one of those truly gifted individuals who can actually imbue a few lines on paper with the power of Shakespeare’s tragedy and the manic hilarity of jester geniuses such as Tommy Cooper or the Marx Brothers. When combined with his sharp, incisive yet warmly human writing the result was, is, and remains sheer, irresistible magic.

In the early 1990s Titan Books published British editions of the first three volumes and German, Japanese, Chinese and American translations also exist, as well as the marvellous Australian compendia reviewed here – as ever the internet is your friend (although prices for individual volumes can range from £4 to $3,000, so if ever there was an argument for a comprehensive archival re-release, sheer profit would seem to be it)…

Dry, surreal and wonderfully self-deprecating, Footrot Flats always successfully wedded together sarcasm, satire, slapstick and strikingly apt surrealism in a perfect union of pathos and down to earth (and up to your eyebrows) fun that was and still is utterly addicting, exciting and just plain wonderful.

Plant the seeds for a lifetime of laughs by harvesting this or indeed any volume and you’ll soon see a bumper crop of fun irrespective of the weather or market forces…
© 1981-1982 Murray Ball. All Rights Reserved.

Spider-Man: Marvel Team-Up by Claremont & Byrne


By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Ralph Macchio, Dave Hunt & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5866-0

The concept of team-up books – an established A-lister joining or battling (usually both) less well-selling company co-stars – was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of a new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch.

In those halcyon, simpler days editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure and since super-heroes were actually in a decline at that time, they may well have been right.

Nevertheless, when it launched in March 1972, Marvel Team-Up was the second official Spider-Man title (an abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the more respectable – and pricey – magazine market in 1968 but folded after two issues) and it immediately began bucking the downward trend for costumed crusaders.

Encompassing July 1977 to November 1978 and re-presenting Marvel Team-Up #59-70 and 75, this highly selective and utterly engaging volume gathers the (almost) complete oeuvre and cathartic collaborations of late 70’s wonder kids Chris Claremont and John Byrne: at that time setting the comics world on fire with their Iron Fist and new X-Men tales. Why “almost”? Because the book sadly omits a lovely Red Sonja pairing presumably unavailable as the “She-Devil with a Sword” is now licensed to another publisher…

The tense suspense and cataclysmic action commence with #59 which declared ‘Some Say Spidey Will Die by Fire… Some Say by Ice!’ by (Claremont, Byrne & inker Dave Hunt) as veteran Avenger Yellowjacket is apparently murdered by rampaging mystery maniac Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man and the Amazing Arachnid is hard-pressed to stop the traumatised Wasp exacting bloody vengeance in concluding episode ‘A Matter of Love… and Death!’ in MTU #60

Claremont had actually begun scripting the title with issue #57 as a succession of espionage-flavoured heroes and villains battled for possession of a mysterious clay statuette.

The secret of the artefact is now revealed in #61 as the Human Torch Johnny Storm joins his creepy-crawly frenemy in battle against the Super-Skrull and learns ‘Not All Thy Powers Can Save Thee!’, before the furious clash calamitously escalates to include Ms. Marvel with the next issue’s ‘All This and the QE2’

Despite the very best efforts of Claremont & Byrne, their Kung Fu fantasy Iron Fist never quite achieved the kind of sales traction of their collaboration on the X-Men, and thus the living weapon lost his circulation battle with issue #15 of his own title.

The series ended in spectacular fashion, but the cancellation was clearly unplanned, as two major subplots went unresolved: private detective Misty Knight had disappeared on an undercover assignment to investigate European gang-boss John Bushmaster and K’un Lun kid Danny Rand was still suffering repeated attacks on his chi by the enigmatic and murderous Steel Serpent

Frustrated fans didn’t have to wait long for a resolution though: Marvel Team-Up was becoming the creative team’s personal clearing house for unresolved plot-lines. Issues #63 and 64 exposed the secret of the sinister K’un Lun pariah on the ‘Night of the Dragon’ before Rand and Spidey – with the assistance of Daughters of the Dragon Misty Knight and Colleen Wing – finally ended the threat in blistering martial arts manner with ‘If Death Be My Destiny!’

After a short and sweet flurry of original adventures in his own UK title, Captain Britain eventually succumbed to the English version of funnybook limbo – his title subsumed by a more successful one with CB reduced to reprints. Soon after, he pyrrhically debuted across the water in Marvel Team-Up #65 ‘Introducing Captain Britain’ by originating scripter Claremont and British-born, Canada-bred Byrne.

The story depicted Brian Braddock on student transfer to Manhattan as the unsuspecting house-guest of Peter Parker. Before long the heroes had met, fought and then teamed-up to defeat the flamboyant hit-man games-obsessed Arcade with the transatlantic tale concluding in #66 wherein the abducted antagonists systematically dismantled the maniac’s ‘Murderworld’.

The mystery of a long-vanished feline were-woman warrior was then resolved in ‘Tigra, Tigra, Burning Bright!’ as the webslinger is targeted by Kraven the Hunter, using the Feral Fury as his enslaved attack beast until Spider-Man breaks her conditioning, after which Claremont, Byrne & Bob Wiacek explore ‘The Measure of a Man!’ in #68 as the Arachnid philanthropically returns the captive Man-Thing to his Florida swamp habitat. No good deed ever goes unpunished and soon he encounters horrific demon D’Spayre torturing benevolent enchanters Dakimh and Jennifer Kale. It takes every ounce of courage both man and monster possess to defeat the sadistic dark lord…

A clash with Egyptian-themed thieves next draws Spidey into the years-long duel between cosmic powered X-Man Havoc and his nemesis the Living Monolith in ‘Night of the Living God!’ (inked by Ricardo Villamonte), but when the battle turns against them it requires the thunderous might of Thor to stop the ravening astral menace in ‘Whom Gods Destroy!’ by Claremont, Byrne & Tony DeZuñiga…

This epic clash signalled an end to the good times as MTU then downshifted to short filler tales but this collection of top-rate comics entertainment still end on a stellar high as Claremont, Ralph Macchio, Byrne & Al Gordon unite in tribute to the New York Fire Department with #75’s ‘The Smoke of That Great Burning!’ wherein Spider-Man and Hero for Hire Luke Cage are caught up in a robbery and hostage crisis which soon turns into a major conflagration…

There’s tons of great Fights ‘n’ Tights action here and younger readers will have a blast, so why not consider this tome for your “Must-Have” library…
© 1977, 1978, 2011, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Superman vs The Flash


By Jim Shooter, E. Nelson Bridwell, Dennis O’Neil, Marty Pasko, Dan Jurgens, Geoff Johns, Curt Swan, Ross Andru, Dick Dillin, José Luis García-López, Rick Burchett & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0456-3

The comicbook experience is littered with eternal questions that can never really be satisfactorily answered. The most common and most passionately asked always begin “who would win if…” or “who’s strongest/smartest/fastest…”

Teenaged scripting wunderkind Jim Shooter knew that very well when he pitched and subsequently scripted a Superman story in 1967 that created a sub-genre of comic-plots and led inevitably and delightfully to the graphic compilation under review here.

DC Editors in the 1960s generally avoided such questions as who’s best for fear of upsetting some portion of their tenuous and supposed-transitory fan-base, but as the superhero boom slowed and the upstart Marvel Comics began to make genuine inroads into their market, the notion of a definitive race between the almighty Man of Steel and the Fastest Man Alive became an increasingly enticing and sales-worthy proposition.

This sporty trade paperback chronicle collects Superman #199, Flash #175, World’s Finest Comics #198-199, DC Comics Presents #1-2, Adventures of Superman #463 and DC First: Flash/Superman: spanning August 1967 through July 2002.

Long overdue for re-release and translation to digital formats, it gathers together that initial contest and numerous rematches between the heroic speed-demons, but if you’re seeking a definitive answer you won’t find it here. These are splendid costumed entertainments; adventures designed to catch your breath and quicken your pulse. It not about the winning: it’s all about the taking part…

‘Superman’s Race with the Flash’ (Superman #199, August 1967) gets the ball rolling in a stirring saga by Shooter, Curt Swan & George Klein, wherein the two speedy champions are asked to compete in an exhibition contest by the United Nations, thereby raising money to fight World Hunger.

Naturally they agree, but the clever global handicap, circling the planet three times, is secretly and insidiously subverted by rival criminal combines attempting to stage the greatest gambling coup in history…

Of course, justice and charity triumph in the end, but the stakes are catastrophically raised in the inevitable rematch from Flash #175 (December 1967).

‘Race to the End of the Universe!’ sees the friendly rivals speeding across the cosmos after ruthless alien gamblers threaten to eradicate Central City and Metropolis unless the pair settle who was fastest.

Scripter E. Nelson Bridwell added an ingenious sting in the tale, whilst Ross Andru & Mike Esposito delivered a sterling illustration job in this yarn, but once more the actual winning was deliberately fudged…

When World’s Finest Comics became briefly a team-up vehicle for Superman the first guest-star was the Flash who again found himself in speedy if contrived competition.

‘Race to Save the Universe!’ and its conclusion ‘Race to Save Time’ (WFC #198-199, November and December 1970, by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella) once more upped the stakes as the high-speed heroes are conscripted by the Guardians of the Universe to circumnavigate the entire cosmos at their greatest velocities to undo the rampage of the mysterious Anachronids: faster-than-light creatures whose pell-mell course throughout the galaxies is actually unwinding time itself.

Little did anybody suspect that Superman’s oldest enemies are behind the scheme…

Chase to the End of Time!’ and ‘Race to the End of Time!’ opened the new team-up series DC Comics Presents (#1-2, July-August and September-October 1978) as Marty Pasko and the utterly superb José Luis García-López & Dan Adkins rather reprised that World’s Finest tale with a brace of eternally-warring alien races tricking Superman and Flash into speeding through the time-stream to prevent Earth’s history from being corrupted and destroyed.

As if that wasn’t dangerous enough, nobody could predict the deadly intervention of the Scarlet Speedster’s most dangerous foe, Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash

After the Crisis on Infinite Earths mega-event, DC heroes got a sound refitting, and the frankly colossal power levels of the heroic community were suitably downscaled to more believable levels. Some stalwarts even died, and so, when ‘Speed Kills!’ appeared in Adventures of Superman #463 (February 1990 by writer/artist Dan Jurgens and inker Art Thibert), the issue was touted as the first race between the fastest men on Earth.

There was a new kid in the Flash’s uniform: former sidekick Wally West had graduated to the role after his mentor Barry Allen perished saving the universes in that aforementioned epic…

The story itself is a delightfully whacky romp wherein 5th dimensional gadfly Mr. Mxyzptlk coerces the pair into running a race everybody knew was fixed from the get-go…

This collection concludes with a spectacular saga unerringly aimed at older fans. ‘Speeding Bullets’ (from one-shot DC First: Flash/Superman July 2002) is by Geoff Johns, Rick Burchett & Prentis Rollins, and features futuristic villain Abra Kadabra who challenges the Man of Steel and 1940s Flash Jay Garrick to catch the current Vizier of Velocity – currently running amok at hyper-speed and rapid-aging with every step he takes. If they can’t catch him then the Fastest Man Alive won’t be for long…

With the inclusion to this book of some of the very best covers the company has ever produced – courtesy of Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson, Mike Esposito, Curt Swan, Neal Adams, García-López, Jurgens & Brett Breeding and Kevin Nowlan – readers casual or deeply devoted alike are guaranteed a joyous thrill-ride from some of the most entertaining stand-alone stories in DC history.

On your marks… get set… Get!
© 1970, 1972, 1973, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, Bill Everett, Archie Goodwin, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe, Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2682-9 (HB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result of continual ongoing mutation, stress and other factors can cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years, the gamma-irradiated gargantuan finally found his size 700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, the morose man-monster shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour until a new home was found for him.

Covering May to December 1968, this sturdy hardback (and eBook) collection re-presents issues #103-110 of his second solo-starring series and also includes the first Incredible Hulk Annual from autumn of that year.

Following a rather incredulous and self-deprecating Introduction from artist Herb Trimpe the never-ending saga resumes. Trimpe, associated with the character for nearly a decade, began his tenure as Marie Severin’s inker in Tales to Astonish #94 and would eventually take over pencilling the Jade Juggernaut, but before that epic handover rising star Gary Friedrich scripts, Marie pencils and veteran artist Frank Giacoia inks the all-action advent of a tragic alien antagonist in #103’s ‘And Now… the Space Parasite!’: a former hero who seemingly perished after attempting to consume the Green Goliath’s abundant life energies.

‘Ring Around the Rhino!’ in #104 is another paean to the Hulk’s destructive potential and visceral appeal as the gamma-fuelled enemy agent is tasked by his cruel masters with abducting Bruce Banner before a longer plot-strand, tinged with pathos and irony, began in Incredible Hulk #105, courtesy of surprise scripters Roy Thomas and Bill Everett, ably illumined by Severin and inker George Tuska.

‘This Monster Unleashed!’ sees the Missing Link – a radioactive and violently mutating victim of Soviet aggression – dumped in New York, and easily capable of burning our dull-witted hero into glowing ashes.

The second part, ‘Above the Earth… A Titan Rages!’ – by Thomas and Archie Goodwin – was pencilled by the neophyte Trimpe over Severin’s breakdowns, with Tuska inking. Sadly, the result is rather a muddle nearly as great as the story itself since the action abruptly switches from New York to Russia after the battling behemoths are suddenly abducted by Yuri Breslov, the Soviet counterpart to Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who promptly loses them over a rural and isolated farm collective.

The story neatly segues into a much more polished yarn with #107’s ‘Ten Rings Hath… the Mandarin’ (by Friedrich & Trimpe with wonderfully rugged inking from the great Syd Shores) as the oriental despot tries to enslave the emerald engine of destruction…

The extended epic concludes with savage success as Stan Lee returns to script and Trimpe – inked by the legendary John Severin (yep, Marie’s big brother) – pulls all the strands together in the action-packed finale ‘Monster Triumphant!’, guest-starring Nick Fury, Yuri Breslov and even Chairman Mao Tse Tung!

Cover-dated October, The Incredible Hulk Annual #1 was one of the best comics of 1968. Behind an iconic Jim Steranko cover, Friedrich, Marie Severin & 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 depicted.

In 51 titanic pages ‘A Refuge Divided!’ sees the forlorn and perpetually lonely Jade Juggernaut stumble upon the hidden Great Refuge of genetic outsiders. The Inhumans – recovering from a recent failed coup by new players Falcona, Leonus, Aireo, Timberius, Stallior, Nebulo and their secret backer (the king’s brother Maximus the Mad) – are distracted by the Hulk’s arrival.

All too soon, suspicion and short tempers result in carnage and chaos. The band of super-rebels start the fight but it’s the immensely powerful Black Bolt who eventually battles the infuriated Hulk to a standstill…

This is the vicarious thrill taken to its ultimate, still one of the very best non-Lee-Kirby tales of that period, and the issue also provides a pictorial extra with a Marvel Masterwork Pin-up featuring 11 different versions and a challenge to identify the artists…

Back at the monthly venue, Incredible Hulk #109 takes up from the end of the Mandarin saga with the Hulk rampaging through Red China, but still without a settled creative team in place. ‘The Monster and the Man-Beast!’ was written by Stan Lee, laid out by Giacoia, pencilled by Trimpe and inked by John Severin, as the Hulk trashes the Chinese Army and accidentally interferes with a Red super-missile…

The upshot is that the man-monster is hurtled into space and blasted into the Antarctic paradise known as the Savage Land. This preserve of dinosaurs and cavemen is a visually perfect home for the Hulk and the addition of Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar, and a primitive death-cult worshipping an alien device designed to destroy the world, ramps up the tension nicely.

The tale and this edition wrap up with the attack of ‘Umbu the Unliving!’ (Lee, Trimpe & John Severin) as yet another extraterrestrial device left to facilitate Earth’s demise goes into overkill mode. Thankfully Banner and his green alter-ego dispatch it with Ka-Zar’s assistance, albeit at the cost of Banner’s life.

As they said at the time “To Be Hulkinued!”…

Adding even more deal appeal to this book is a stunning selection of comedy sketches and cartoons devised by the infamously puckish Marie Severin to cheer up her fellow Bullpen pals as well as Hulk original art pages and covers by her, brother John, Trimpe, Giacoia, and Steranko – plus her unused cover for that iconic Annual.

This titanic tome of Hulk heroics offers visceral thrillers and chaotic clashes overflowing with dynamism, enthusiasm and sheer quality: tales crucial to later, more cohesive adventures. Even at their most hurried, these epics offer an abundance of full-on, butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” catharsis to delight the destructive eight-year-old in all of us.
© 1968, 2007, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 14: The Dashing White Cowboy


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W. Nolan & Simone Kunzig (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-66-3

Rangy, good-natured Lucky Luke is a doughty cowboy able to “draw faster than his own shadow”, amiably roaming the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic know-it-all wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. He constantly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk…

His unceasing exploits over 70 years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating in excess of 83 individual albums, sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far…

That renown has generated the usual mountain of spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

First seen in the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, Lucky was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”), before ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny, who became regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying, legendary, heights starting with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began serialisation in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus numerous spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke has previous in this country too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled British readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy weekly Giggle, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In all these venues – as well as many attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix – Luke laconically puffed a trademark cigarette which hung insouciantly and almost permanently from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, thereby garnering for himself an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…), and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re at 69 translated books and still going strong.

As Le Cavalier Blanc The Dashing White Cowboy was Morris & Goscinny’s 33rd collaboration, originally serialised in 1974 (and the hero’s 43rd album release a year later): a brash and engaging comedy of errors with the laconic freelance lawman encountering cunning bandits with a seemingly unbeatable modus operandi…

In the desolate wilds between frontier towns Luke and Jolly Jumper cross trails with a small but determined travelling troupe. The merry band consists of actor/impresario Whittaker Baltimore and his repertory company of the range: ingenue/leading lady Gladys Whimple, character (villain) player Barnaby Float and props man, set shifter and applause-starter Francis Lusty.

An affably welcoming bunch, they gift the wanderer with a complimentary ticket for their next performance in the nearby town of Nothing Gulch

Following a sardonic and satirical aside describing the nature of theatrical entertainment at this time and place, the story resumes with that much-anticipated melodrama “The Dashing White Cowboy” before the rowdy a not-particularly-au-fait Nothing Gulch crowd hungry for a break from everyday monotony.

Also eagerly lapping up the raucous entertainment are Luke and good friend Hank Wallace, but the boisterous audience participation turns ugly after a horrified cry of “The bank’s been robbed!” starts a riot…

Despite Lucky’s best efforts, the crime goes unsolved and soon after the motley crew up stakes for the next town. Coincidentally Miner’s Pass is Luke’s next port of call, too. At least it is now…

When the same performance is identically disrupted, the coincidence is too much to swallow… and then Luke – present at both crimes – is accused of robbery!

Barely escaping being lynched, our hero sets off after the Whittaker Company, Catching up to them in Indian Flats, he joins the cast, but when another bold theft occurs, he is once again the prime suspect…

By the time he gets out of jail, the trail has gone cold. Can it be that he has at last met his match?

Of course not, and, following a fortuitous break, the vengeance of the affronted justice-rider finally falls upon the deserving party… or is that parties?

Wry and devious, The Dashing White Cowboy is a fast-paced slapstick romp with plenty of action, vaudevillian chicanery, dirty double-dealing and barrel-loads of hilarious buffoonery. Superbly crafted by comics masters, this performance affords another enticing glimpse into a unique genre for today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1975 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Spider-Man: The Graphic Novels


By Susan K. Putney, Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Charles Vess, Berni Wrightson, Alex Saviuk, Ross Andru & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6065-6

When Marvel began its line of Original Graphic Novels in 1980, the books were based on European Albums: large, square-bound paperback volumes offering 80 to 100 pages of new material on high-quality paper. The project – which began with Jim Starlin’s The Death of Captain Marvel – produced some classy results that the company has seldom come close to repeating since. Both original concepts and established characters were represented in that initial run and many of the stories still stand out today as huge successes: debuting many new series, celebrating licensed properties and devising special stories featuring the company’s proprietary superstars.

Marvel icon the Amazing Spider-Man graced a bunch of extraordinary sagas which were reprinted in 2012 and now form the contents of this splendid oversized (190 x 286 mm) hardback and eBook edition.

The web-wrapped wonderment begins with Hookey – originally released as Marvel Graphic Novel #22 in August 1986. This charming fantasy fable written by Susan K. Putney and painted by comic-book legend Berni Wrightson with the colouring assistance of Michelle Wrightson took the wallcrawler on a journey unlike any other he had previously experienced…

Marandi Sjörokker is not the carefree little girl she appears to be. For a start she’s been twelve for over two hundred years, and after introducing herself by calling Spider-Man “Petey”, she goes on to reveals how she knew him when he was a toddler and she delivered newspapers to his Uncle Ben…

And so begins a wild and beguiling other-dimensional romp, full of action and spectacle, as the webslinger takes a break from his grim and grimy reality to help the permanently adolescent sorceress battle against the demonic and unstoppable TordenKakerlakk (which I’m reliably informed is Norwegian for Thunder Cockroach).

Moreover, this witty, whimsical coming-of-age tale is beautifully and imaginatively illustrated by a master craftsman. A wonderful change-of-pace tale that perfectly displays the versatility of everybody’s favourite wall-crawler – and one that once read will never be forgotten…

Marvel Graphic Novel #46 was first released in May 1989, soon after Peter Parker married Mary Jane Watson and comes courtesy of Gerry Conway, Alex Saviuk & Andy Mushynsky. By referencing the stories crafted by a host of creators since the Amazing Arachnid’s debut, the tale (with Doctor Octopus as menace du jour) sheds new light on how the newlyweds grew up and grew together against terrible odds to live their now-united but always Parallel Lives

Charles Vess’ Spirits of the Earth is one of the prettiest graphic novels ever produced, not to say one of the most entertaining Spider-Man adventures ever told and was first released as premium hardcover Marvel Graphic Novel #63 in August 1990.

Here Mary Jane and Peter Parker are astounded and delighted to discover that an unknown relative has left the bride a castle deep in the Scottish Highlands. Setting off for a second honeymoon they soon become embroiled in ancient magic and high-tech abominations courtesy of the Celtic branch of the perfidious Mutants and Millionaires cabal The Hellfire Club

Ghoulies, ghosties and villainous super-criminals combine with some of the best artwork you’ve ever seen for a truly wonderful adventure that desperately needs to be on your bookshelf. Also included here is a delightful pictorial travelogue by Vess entitled ‘A Scottish Journey’

Wrapping up the vintage adventure is Fear Itself by Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, which was in February 1992 stand-alone OGN Marvel Graphic Novel #72.

This taut thriller is a good, old-fashioned, nostalgic Spidey yarn for readers who yearn for simpler times long past. Unlike many all-new works, it’s also quite tightly bound to Marvel continuity (perhaps it was intended as an annual but got “promoted” to a more expansive and therefore expensive format?), so if you need a lot of footnotes to read Spider-Man you might want to think carefully before plunging in.

The plot concerns the return of old Captain America villain Baron Zemo – radically transformed here by Hitler’s deranged geneticist Arnim Zola. The revived, resurrected and radically revised Zemo steals a new, weaponized drug from the US government developed at the company owned by Peter Parker’s friend Harry Osborn.

This chemical contagion drives victims mad with fear and – in alliance with Nazi-hunting mercenary Silver Sable – our hero travels post haste to Bavaria for a series of life-or death showdowns in a terrific ticking-timebomb-thriller.

Although there are some plot holes you could drive a Kampfpanzer through (that’s a big Nazi tank, you know) the dialogue by two of the wall-crawler’s greatest scribes is still effective and engaging, but the real joy is the last hurrah of the fabulous and criminally undervalued art team of Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, who had been crafting great comics in innumerable genres since the early 1950s, and were Spider-Man’s artists for a huge part of the Seventies.

Thrills. Spills. Chills. Ancient Hills and indomitable wills: this confection of Spidery classics is something no Fights ‘n’ Tights fans should miss. Go on. You know you want to…
© 1986, 1989, 1990, 1992, 2012, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved

Legion of Super-Heroes: Archive Edition volume 1


By Otto Binder, Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, John Forte, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-020-8

Once upon a time, in the far future, a band of super-powered kids from dozens of alien civilisations took inspiration from the legend of the greatest champion of all time and formed a club of heroes. One day those Children of Tomorrow came back in time and invited that legend to join them…

And thus began the vast and epic saga of the Legion of Super-Heroes, as first envisioned by writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino in early 1958, just as the revived comicbook genre of superheroes was gathering an inexorable head of steam. Since that time the popularity of the Legion has perpetually waxed and waned, with their complex continuity continually tweaked and rebooted, retconned and overwritten again and again to comply with editorial diktat and popular whim.

We Silver Age Legion fans are indubitably the most persistent, passionate, finicky and snitty of all – and editors crossed us at their peril – so when DC announced that it would be gathering all the titanic team’s appearances in a chronological series of deluxe hardcover Archive Editions we were overjoyed (actually most of us thought it was about time and long overdue…) and eager.

Sadly, even in this anniversary year those stories are no longer all in print, but at least old editions like this one from 1997 can still be found if you look hard enough. You’d think in the advanced world of the 21st century a popular series about the future would be available digitally, but you’d be wrong…

Spanning 1958-1963, this glorious full-colour compendium assembles the numerous and far-ranging preliminary appearances of these valiant Tomorrow People and their inevitable progress towards and attainment of their own feature; specifically, all pertinent material from Adventure Comics #247, 267, 282, 290, 293, and 300-305; Action Comics #267, 276, 287 and 289; Superboy #86, 89, 98 and Superman #147.

Also included are an introduction by editor, publisher and devotee Mike Gold, creator biographies and a Curt Swan cover gallery (all inked by either Stan Kaye or George Klein) featuring all the burgeoning band of brothers’ pole positions from those comics.

The multi-hued mob of universe-savers first manifested in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) in a Superboy tale wherein three mysterious kids – Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy – invited the bemused Boy of Steel to visit the 30th century and join their team of metahuman champions: all originally inspired by his historic career.

Created by Otto Binder & Al Plastino, the throwaway concept inflamed public imagination and after a slew of further appearances throughout Superman Family titles, the LSH eventually took over Superboy’s lead spot in Adventure for their own far-flung, quirky escapades, with the Caped Kid Kryptonian reduced to simply a face in the in-crowd…

Here, however, the excitement was still gradually building when the kids returned more than 18 months later in Adventure #267 (December 1959) for Jerry Siegel & George Papp to play with.

In ‘Prisoner of the Super-Heroes!’ the teen wonders reappear to attack and incarcerate the Boy of Steel because of a misunderstood ancient historical record…

The following summer Supergirl met the Legion in Action Comics #267 (August 1960, by Siegel & Jim Mooney) as Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy secretly voyage to modern day America to similarly invite the Maid of Might to join, in a repetition of their offer to Superboy 15 years previously (in nit-picking fact, they claimed to be the children of the original team – a fact glossed over and forgotten these days: don’t time-travel stories make your head hurt…?).

Due to a dubious technicality, young and eager Kara Zor-El fails her initiation at the hands of ‘The Three Super-Heroes’ and was regretfully required to reapply later – but at least we got to meet a few more Legionnaires, including Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid and Colossal Boy

With the editors still cautiously testing the waters, it was January 1961 and Superboy #86 before the ‘The Army of Living Kryptonite Men!’ (by Siegel & Papp) turn the LSH into a last-minute Deus ex Machina to save the Smallville Sentinel from juvenile delinquent Lex Luthor’s most insidious assault.

Two months later in Adventure #282, Binder & Papp introduce Star Boy as a romantic rival for the Last Son of Krypton in ‘Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes!’

Action #276 (May 1961) then debuted ‘Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends’ (Siegel & Mooney, which finally sees her crack the plasti-glass ceiling and successfully enlist, sponsored by Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl and Triplicate Girl.

We also meet for the first time Bouncing Boy, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy and potential bad-boy love-interest Brainiac 5 (well at least his distant ancestor Brainiac was a very bad boy…)

Next comes pivotal two-part tale ‘Superboy’s Big Brother’ (by Robert Bernstein & Papp from Superboy #89; June 1961) in which an amnesiac, super-powered space traveller crashes in Smallville, speaking Kryptonese and carrying star-maps written by the Boy of Steel’s long-dead father…

Jubilant, baffled and suspicious in equal amounts Superboy eventually, tragically discovers ‘The Secret of Mon-El’ by accidentally exposing the stranger to a lingering, inexorable death, before desperately providing critical life-support by depositing the dying alien in the Phantom Zone until a cure can be found…

With an August 1961 cover-date, Superman #147 unleashed ‘The Legion of Super-Villains’ (by Siegel, Curt Swan & Sheldon Moldoff): a stand-out thriller featuring Lex Luthor and the adult adversary Legion coming far too close to destroying the Action Ace until the temporal cavalry arrive…

Adventure #290 (November 1961, Bernstein & Papp) seemingly gave Sun Boy a starring role in ‘The Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero!’ – a clever tale of redemption and second chances, followed in #293 (February 1962) by a gripping thriller from Siegel, Swan & George Klein: ‘The Legion of Super-Traitors!’

Here the future heroes are turned evil, prompting Saturn Girl to recruit a Legion of Super-Pets including Krypto, Streaky the Super Cat, Beppo, the monkey from Krypton and Comet the magical Super-horse to save the world – and yes, I typed all that with a (reasonably) straight face…

Siegel & Mooney’s ‘Supergirl’s Greatest Challenge!’ (Action #287, April 1962) has her visit the Legion (quibblers be warned: it is mistakenly described as the 21st century in this story) to save future Earth from invasion. She also meets a telepathic descendent of her cat Streaky. His perhaps ill-considered name was Whizzy

Action #289 featured ‘Superman’s Super-Courtship!’ wherein the Girl of Steel scours the universe for an ideal mate for her cousin. One highly likely candidate is the adult Saturn Woman, but her husband Lightning Man objects…

Perhaps charming at the time, but modern sensibilities might quail at the conclusion that Superman’s perfect match is a total doppelganger of Supergirl herself, albeit thankfully a few years older…

By the release of Superboy #98 (July 1962), the decision had been made. The buying public wanted more Legion stories and once ‘The Boy with Ultra-Powers’ by Siegel, Swan & Klein introduced a mysterious lad with greater powers than the Boy of Steel, the focus shifted to Adventure Comics #300 (cover dated September 1962) wherein the futuristic super-squad finally begin their own series; even occasionally stealing the odd cover-spot from the still top-featured Superboy.

Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes opened its stellar run with Siegel, John Forte & Plastino’s ‘The Face Behind the Lead Mask!’; a fast-paced premier pitting Superboy and the 30th century champions against an impossibly unbeatable foe. All looks bleak until Mon-El – long-trapped in the Phantom Zone – briefly escapes a millennium of confinement to save the day…

In those halcyon days humour was as important as action, imagination and drama, so many early escapades were light-hearted and overtly moralistic. Issue #301 offered hope to fat kids everywhere with ‘The Secret Origin of Bouncing Boy!’ – by regular creative team Siegel & Forte – wherein the process of open auditions is instigated (providing devoted fans with loads of truly bizarre and memorable applicants over the years) whilst allowing the rebounding human rotunda to give a salutary pep talk and inspirational recount of heroism persevering over adversity.

Adventure #302 highlighted ‘Sun Boy’s Lost Power!’ as the golden boy is forced to resign until fortune and boldness restore his abilities after which ‘The Fantastic Spy!’ in #303 provides a tense tale of espionage and possible betrayal by new member Matter-Eater Lad.

The happy readership was stunned by the events of #304 when Saturn Girl engineered ‘The Stolen Super-Powers!’ to make herself a one-woman Legion. Of course, it was for the best possible reasons, but still didn’t prevent the shocking murder of Lightning Lad…

With comfortable complacency utterly destroyed, #305 further shook everything up with ‘The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire!’ – who turned out to be the long-suffering Mon-El, finally cured of terminal lead poisoning and freed from his Phantom Zone prison.

The Legion is undoubtedly one of the most beloved and bewildering creations in American comicbook history and largely responsible for the growth of the groundswell movement that became Comics Fandom. Moreover, these sparkling, simplistic and astoundingly addictive stories, as much as the innovations of Julie Schwartz’s Justice League, fired up the interest and imaginations of a generation of young readers and built the industry we all know today.

Naive, silly, joyous, stirring and utterly compelling yarns are precious and fun beyond any ability to explain, and if you love comics and haven’t read this stuff, you are the poorer for it and need to enrich your future life as soon as possible…
© 1958-1964, 1991, 1997 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend


By Winsor McCay (Dover)
ISBN-13: 978-0-48621-347-7

Born in Spring Lake, Michigan, on 26th September, 1869 (or perhaps 1871- records differ) Winsor McCay was a brilliant and hugely successful cartoonist and animator who worked on strips and political cartoons from 1903 until his untimely death in 1934.

The first of these was Jungle Imps (1903), for The Enquirer, after which the dashing dauber moved to New York and created Dull Care, Poor Jake, The Man from Montclair, The Faithful Employee, Mr. Bosh, A Pilgrim’s Progress, Midsummer Daydreams and It’s Nice to be Married for New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett between1903 and 1911.

He also originated Little Sammy Sneeze for the Herald in 1904 and Hungry Henrietta in 1905 before abandoning both for two much more important features.

On October 15th 1905 the most important children’s strip in the world debuted in the Sunday HeraldLittle Nemo in Slumberland.

Even before that momentous moment the tireless McCay had conjured up a version for adult readers of The Evening Telegram, entitled Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend. The editor, wishing to distance the feature from other strips, required McCay to use a pen-name, and he complied, signing the strips “Silas”, reputedly after a local garbage cart driver.

Where Nemo was a beautifully clean and surreal fantasy of childish imagination, Fiend was aimed at grown-ups and displayed a creepy, subdued tension that resonated with the fears and worries of its audience. Black, cruel and often outright sick humour pervades the series combining monstrous destruction and expressionist trauma. Even the root cause of the otherworldly nightmares was salutary. Each self-contained episode, every disturbing sequence of unsettling or terrifying, incredibly realistic images was the result of overindulgence; usually in late night toasted cheese treats!

Every anxiety from surreal terror to social embarrassment became grist for the fantasist’s mill and the startling perspectives, bizarre transformations and uncanny scenes – always immaculately rendered – made Fiend a hugely successful and well-regarded strip in its day.

In 1906 the American film pioneer Edwin S. Porter created a landmark 7-minute live action special-effects movie entitled The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend and the Edison company created a cylinder recording with the same name the following year – played by the Edison Military Band.

McCay himself produced four animated films in 1916-17: Dream of a Rarebit Fiend; Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Pet, Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Flying House and Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: Bug Vaudeville.

Despite his other later successes McCay also returned to the feature sporadically over the years: between 1923 to 1925 he revived the strip under the title Rarebit Reveries and attributed the strip to his son who signed the panels Robert Winsor McCay, Jr.

This slim sleek monochrome book is an almost exact reproduction of Rarebit Fiend, a vintage collection of the first year’s strips originally released by the Frederick A. Stokes Company in 1905. The very last strip has been excluded from this edition however, due to its content being regarded as potentially offensive and at odds with modern views on race and ethnicity.

Although working more than a century ago Winsor McCay still affects every aspect of graphic narrative produced ever since. If you can’t locate or afford Ulrich Merkl’s superb complete edition, reprinting everything from 1905-1914, this lovely package – still readily and economically available from internet retailers and packaged as an oversized paperback album or eBook – is a superb introduction to the darker side of an absolute master of our art form.
© 1973 by Dover Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2678-2 (HB)

Marvel’s rise to dominance of the US comicbook industry really took hold in 1968 when most of their characters finally got their own titles. Prior to that – and due to a highly restrictive distribution deal – the company had been tied to a limit of 16 publications per month. To circumvent this drawback, Marvel developed “split-books” with two features per title, such as Tales of Suspense where Iron Man originally solo-starred before being joined by patriotic cohort Captain America in issue #59 (cover-dated November 1964).

Marvel’s fortunes prospered – thanks in large part to Stan Lee’s gift for promotion, but primarily because of superbly engaging stories such as the ones collected in this enticing hardback and/or eBook edition.

With the new distributor came a demand for more product, and the stars of the split books were all awarded their own titles. When the division came, the Armoured Avenger started afresh with a “Collector’s Item First Issue” (but only after a shared one-shot with the Sub-Mariner that squared divergent schedules) with Cap retaining the numbering of the original title; thereby premiering in number #100.

Herein find contained in chronological order the remaining tales of the transitional period, reprinting Tales of Suspense #84-99, plus the pertinent portion of place-holding one-shot Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner #1 and at long last Iron Man #1, cumulatively covering December 1966 to May 1968.

Tony Stark is the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous ultra-rich industrialist and inventor – and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his secret alter-ego, Iron Man.

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions, the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard and better the World, seemed inevitable. Combine the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and business could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil and the concept behind the Golden Avenger seems an infallibly successful proposition. Of course, it helps that all that money and gadgetry is great fun and very, very cool…

Following a critique by critic and historian Arlen Schumer in his Introduction, this stunning all-Gene Colan illustrated volume begins with ToS #84 and picks up soap opera fashion with Stark submitting to months of governmental pressure and testifying to a Congressional Committee hungry for the secrets of his greatest creation.

However. at the critical moment, the inventor keels over…

Stark’s controversial reputation is finally restored as the public at last learns that his life is only preserved by a metallic chest-plate which keeps his maimed heart beating in ‘The Other Iron Man!’ (scripted by Lee and inked by Frank Giacoia). Somehow, nobody at all connects that hunk of steel to the identical one his Avenging “bodyguard” wears…

With the hero stuck in a hospital bed, best friend Happy Hogan foolishly dons the suit to preserve that precious secret only to be abducted by the insidious Mandarin in another extended assault that begins with ‘Into the Jaws of Death’.

Propelled by guilt and fuelled by fear the still-ailing Stark breaks into his own Congressionally-closed factory and creates new, more powerful armour before flying to his rescue in ‘Death Duel for the Life of Happy Hogan!’

The epic encounter successfully concluded, the Americans return home just in time for #87 and #88 to host the merciless Mole Man who attacks from below, prompting a ‘Crisis… at the Earth’s Core!’

The villain has no idea who hostage Stark really is, believing the inventor and his assistant Pepper Potts ‘Beyond all Rescue!’ but is soon proved very wrong, after which another old B-List bad-guy takes his shot in ‘The Monstrous Menace of the Mysterious Melter!’

Its tense, terse sequel ‘The Golden Ghost!’ fabulously features a glorious reprise of Iron Man’s original battle suit and a wonderfully twisty conclusion.

‘The Uncanny Challenge of the Crusher!’ offers an all-action tale – possibly marred for modern audiences by a painful Commie-bustin’ sub-plot featuring a thinly disguised Fidel Castro – and the impressions of the on-going “Police Action” in Indo-China are also a little gung-ho (if completely understandable) when Iron Man goes hunting for a Red Menace called Half-Face ‘Within the Vastness of Viet Nam!’

The urgent insertion results in another clash with incorrigible old foe Titanium Man in ‘The Golden Gladiator and… the Giant!’ before our hero at last snatches victory from the mechanical jaws of defeat in ‘The Tragedy and the Triumph!’ (this last inked by Dan Adkins).

Giacoia returns and a new cast member debuts in #95 as eager-beaver adult boy scout S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell is assigned as security advisor to America’s most prominent weapons maker, just as veteran Thor villain Grey Gargoyle attacks in ‘If a Man be Stone!’ The mismatched and overpowered maniac is then summarily defeated in ‘The Deadly Victory!’

Tales of Suspense #97 began an extended story-arc that would carry the series to the launch of the solo series and beyond, in which criminal cartel the Maggia schemes to move in on Stark’s company.

Their campaign opens with the hero’s capture, as ‘The Coming of… Whiplash!’ depicts the Golden Avenger cut to steely ribbons, drawn out in ‘The Warrior and the Whip!’ and – as the magnificent Archie Goodwin assumed the scripting reins and EC legend Johnny Craig came aboard as inker – finds Iron Man trapped on a sinking submarine ‘At the Mercy of the Maggia’ just as the venerable Tales of Suspense ends with its 99th issue…

Of course, it was just changing its name to Captain America, whilst Tales to Astonish seamlessly shifted into The Incredible Hulk, but – due to a scheduling snafu – neither of the split-book co-stars had a home that month (April 1968).

This situation led to the one-and-only Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner #1 to carry concluding episode ‘The Torrent Without… The Tumult Within!’, wherein sinister super-scientists of A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics, acronym-fans) snatch the Armoured Avenger from the Maggia’s swiftly sinking submarine, intent on stealing the hero’s technical secrets.

Invincible Iron Man #1 finally appeared with a May 1968 cover-date, triumphantly ending the extended sub-sea-saga as our hero stands ‘Alone against A.I.M.!’: a thrilling roller-coaster ride supplemented by ‘The Origin of Iron Man’ offering a revitalised re-telling to conclude Colan’s long and impressive tenure on the character.

Supplementing and counterpointing the ongoing graphic dramas herein are a stunning selection of original art pages and covers by Colan from the stories in this volume and even a brace of Don Heck pages from the previous Marvel Masterworks edition…

Despite some rough narrative patches this is a fantastic period in the Golden Gladiator’s career: one immaculately envisioned by Gene Colan and perfectly encapsulating the vast changes Marvel and America went through at the time. These unmissable tales of a true comics icon are some of the best and most memorable efforts of a simply transformative era and no Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatic can afford to be without them.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.