Marvel Two-in-One Masterworks volume 1


By Steve Gerber, Len Wein, Mike Friedrich, Chris Claremont, Jim Starlin, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, Bob Brown & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6633-7 (HB)

Imagination isn’t everything. As Marvel slowly grew to a position of dominance in the wake of losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators, they did so less by risky experimentation and more by expanding and exploiting proven concepts and properties.

The only real exception to this was their en masse creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing, or battling – and usually both – with less well-selling company characters, was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of this new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch. In those long-lost days, editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline, they may well have been right.

After the runaway success of Spider-Man’s collaborations in Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas reinforced the trend with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic member – beginning with two test runs in Marvel Feature before graduating to its own somewhat over-elaborate title.

This compelling compendium – available in hardback and digital formats – gathers the contents of Marvel Feature #11-12 and Marvel Two-In-One #1-10, covering September 1973 – July 1975, and opens with a Roy Thomas Introduction explaining how it was Stan’s idea…

Then the much told tales take centre stage with a perennial favourite pairing and the Thing once more clashing with The Incredible Hulk in ‘Cry: Monster! by Len Wein, Jim Starlin & Joe Sinnott (from MF #11).

Here, Kurrgo, Master of Planet X and the lethal Leader manipulate both blockbusting brutes into duking it out – ostensibly to settle a wager – but with the mighty minded, misshapen masterminds each concealing hidden agendas…

That ever-inconclusive yet cataclysmic clash leaves Ben stranded in the Nevada desert where Mike Friedrich, Starlin & Sinnott promptly drop him in the middle of the ongoing war against mad Titan Thanos with Iron Man helping Ben crush monstrous alien invaders in ’The Bite of the Blood Brothers!’ (Marvel Feature #12, November 1973): another spectacular and painfully pretty all-action punch-up.

Still stuck in the desert when the dust settles, Ben laboriously treks to a minor outpost of civilisation just in time to be diverted to Florida for the grand opening of his own title. Cover-dated January 1974, Marvel Two-In-One #1 sees Steve Gerber, Gil Kane & Sinnott magnificently detail the ‘Vengeance of the Molecule Man!’, with Ben learning some horrifying home truths about what constitutes being a monster after battling with and beside ghastly, grotesque anti-hero Man-Thing.

With the second issue Gerber cannily trades a superfluous supporting character from his Man-Thing series to add some much-needed depth to the team-up title. ‘Manhunters from the Stars!’ pits Ben, old enemy Namor, the Sub-Mariner (another series Gerber was currently writing) and the Aquatic Avenger’s feisty and single-minded cousin Namoritaagainst each other as well as aliens hunting the emotionally and intellectually retarded superboy Wundarr. Another dynamically, intoxicating tale illustrated by Kane & Sinnott, this case also leaves the Thing as de facto guardian of the titanic teenaged tot…

Sal Buscema signed on as penciller with #3 as the Rocky Ranger joins the Man Without Fear ‘Inside Black Spectre!’: a crossover instalment of the extended epic then playing out in Daredevil #108-112 (in case you’re wondering, this action-packed fight-fest occurs between the second and third chapters) after which ‘Doomsday 3014!’ (Gerber, Buscema & Frank Giacoia) finds Ben and Captain America visiting the 31st century to save Earth from enslavement by the reptilian Brotherhood of Badoon, leaving Wundarr with Namorita for the foreseeable future…

The furious future-shocker concludes in MTIO #5 as the original Guardians of the Galaxy (not the movie group) climb aboard the Freedom Rocket to help our time-lost heroes liberate New York before returning home. The overthrow of the aliens was completed by another set of ancient heroes in Defenders #26-29 (which is also the subject of a different review)…

Marvel Two-In-One #6 began a complex crossover tale with the aforementioned Defenders as Dr. Strange and the Thing witness a cosmic event which begins with a subway busker’s harmonica and leads inexorably to a ‘Death-Song of Destiny!’ (Gerber, George Tuska & Mike Esposito) before Asgardian outcasts Enchantress and the Executioner attempt to seize control of unfolding events in #7’s ‘Name That Doom!’ (pencilled by Sal Buscema).

As they are thwarted by Grimm and the valiant Valkyrie, there’s enough of an ending here for casual readers, but fans and completists will want to hunt down Defenders #20 or Defenders Masterworks link please volume 3 for the full story…

Back here, however, MTIO #8 teams Grimm and supernatural sensation Ghost Rider in a quirkily compelling Yuletide yarn. ‘Silent Night… Deadly Night!’ – by Gerber, Buscema & Esposito – finds the audacious Miracle Man trying to take control of a very special birth in a stable…

Gerber moved on after plotting Thor team-up ‘When a God goes Mad!’ for Chris Claremont to script and Herb Trimpe & Joe Giella to finish: a rushed and meagre effort with the Puppet Master and Radion the Atomic Man making a foredoomed power play, before issue #10 concludes this initial compendium.

Crafted by Claremont, the still much-missed Bob Brown & Klaus Janson, it is a slice of inspired espionage action-intrigue with Ben and the Black Widow battling suicidal terrorist Agamemnon who plans to detonate the planet’s biggest nuke in blistering thriller ‘Is This the Way the World Ends?’.

These stories from Marvel’s Middle Period are of variable quality but nonetheless represent an honest attempt to entertain and exhibit a dedicated drive to please. Whilst artistically the work varies from adequate to utterly superb, most fans of the frantic Fights ‘n’ Tights genre would find little to complain about.

Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s still buckets of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so why not to add this colossal comics chronicle to your straining superhero bookshelves?
© 2020 MARVEL

Captain America and the Falcon: The Swine


By Jack Kirby, with Frank Giacoia, Mike Royer, Dan Green, John Verpoorten, John Tartaglione & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2078-0 (TPB)

These days Captain America is as much a global symbol of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave as Uncle Sam or Apple Pie ever were. Add to that this year is his 80th anniversary and you have all the excuses you need to revisit some classics comics…

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss. However, the concept quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased. Fading away during post-war reconstruction only to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed.

Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Land of the Free’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

He quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties, but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually, however, he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, after nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s successes, Jack Kirby had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamically inspiring pantheon. Eventually he accepted that even he could never win against any publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce whilst enduring micro-managing editorial interference.

Well aware of which way the winds were blowing and bolstered by a signed promise of editorial free rein, Kirby exploded back into the Marvel Universe in 1976 with another stunning wave of iconic creations. These included Machine Man, The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur plus media adaptations 2001: A Space Odyssey, and – so nearly – seminal TV paranoia-fest The Prisoner. The King’s return was capped by a regular gig crafting a veritable blizzard of bombastic covers for almost every title in the company, bestowing the Kirby magic on old stalwarts like Thor, Iron Man and the FF, and fresh stars like Skull the Slayer and Nova.

Crucially, Kirby was also granted absolute control of two of his most iconic co-creations: firmly established characters Black Panther and Captain America – to do with as he wished…

His return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial since his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity: Jack always went his own bombastic way. Whilst those new works quickly found many friends, his tenure on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on Cap and the Panther as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of the Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty…

This collection – available in trade paperback and relatively carbon neutral digital formats – reprints Captain America and the Falcon #206-214 plus the third and fourth Captain America Annuals, cumulatively spanning January 1976 to October 1977.

Previously, the original Fighting American had saved the nation from a conclave of aristocratic oligarchs attempting to undo two hundred years of freedom and progress with a debilitating “Madbomb”, before rescuing a lost tribe of lunatics trapped in extra-dimensional space and repelling an invasion by a manic refugee from the future. Now it was time for a radical change of pace and emotional impact…

Inked by Frank Giacoia, Kirby sets a tone of malevolent moodiness and uncanny mystery as the freedom-loving warrior comes ‘Face to Face with the Swine!’ which sees the Star-Spangled Sensation illegally renditioned by secret police to deepest Central America. Here he endures torture and terror to topple the private kingdom and cruel personal playground of psychotic sadist Comandante Hector Santiago, unchallenged monarch of the prison of Rio del Muerte

Never one to go anywhere meekly, Cap soon escapes and engineers the tormentor’s downfall in ‘The Tiger and the Swine!!’, but soon finds the surrounding jungles conceal actual monsters. When they exact primal justice on the petty tyrant and his gang of willing bullies, Cap’s escape with the Swine’s cousin Donna Maria down ‘The River of Death!’ is soon interrupted by the advent of another astounding Kirby Kreation… ‘Arnim Zola… the Bio-Fanatic!!’

The former Nazi geneticist is absolute master of radical biological manipulation: abducting Cap and Donna Maria to his living castle. Even as the Falcon is closing in on his long-missing pal, Zola inflicts upon them a horde of diabolical homunculi: all done at the behest of a mysterious sponsor…

Indomitable against every kind of shapeshifting horror, Captain America battles on, enduring a terrible ‘Showdown Day!’ (Mike W. Royer inking) whilst back home, Rogers’ beloved Sharon Carter uses her resources as SHIELD Agent 13 to investigate wealthy Cyrus Fenton: subsequently exposing ‘Nazi “X”!’ as Zola’s patron and the Sentinel of Liberty’s greatest nemesis…

With his tenure on the title inexorably counting down, Kirby ramped up the tension for #212 as ‘The Face of a Hero! Yours!!’ sees Zola preparing to surgically insert the personality of the Red Skull into Cap’s form, triggering a cataclysmic clash leaving our hero bloodied and blind, but ultimately victorious…

With Cap recuperating in a US hospital, Dan Green steps in to ink #213 as ultimate assassin ‘The Night Flyer!’ targets the impaired warrior on the orders of unfettered capitalist despot Kligger (agent of the ubiquitous, insidious Corporation). With Royer inking, the shocking clash inadvertently restores the far-from-helpless victim’s vision in time for spectacular – if abrupt – conclusion in #214’s ‘The Power’

Filling out this King-Sized Kompilation are a brace of out-of-continuity yarns originally gracing the Annuals for 1976 and 1977, with the Star-Spangled Avenger revelling in the business basics of super-heroism.

With inks from Giacoia and John Verpoorten, Captain America Annual #3 offers a feature-length science fiction shocker eschewing convoluted back-story and cultural soul searching by simply pitting the valiant old soldier against a cosmic vampire: ‘The Thing from the Black Hole Star!’. This is a rollercoaster riot of rampaging action and end-of-the-world wonderment featuring a fallible but fiercely determined fighting man free of doubt determined to defend humanity at all costs…

Captain America Annual #4 (inked by Verpoorten ana John Tartaglione) then brings the fury and furore to a close with‘The Great Mutant Massacre!’: a feature-length super-shocker pitting America’s Super Soldier against humanity’s nemesis Magneto and his utilitarian recruits Burner, Smasher, Lifter, Shocker, Slither and Peeper: a Homo Superior hit-squad aiming to take possession of a potential mutant being whose origins are far stranger than anybody could conceive…

This tome concludes with biographical secrets and career background courtesy of fact-packed prose essay Marvel Spotlight: Jack Kirby – Official Handbook and Matt Adler’s historical appreciation of the early days of Marvel in Simon, Kirby and Captain America.

King Kirby’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read. These late adventures are cruelly overlooked romps as good as anything Jack crafted over his decades of creative brilliance: fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing Fights ‘n’ Tights masterpieces no fan should ignore and, above all else, fabulously fun tales of a true American Dream…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 18


By David Michelinie, Roger Slifer, Steve Gerber, Tom DeFalco, Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter, Scott Edelman, Mark Evanier, John Byrne, George Pérez, Carmine Infantino, Jim Mooney, Don Newton, Michael Netzer, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0960-4 (HB)

The Avengers have always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when all Marvel’s classic all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy, which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either. With the team now global icons, let’s look again at the stories which form the foundation of that pre-eminence.

Re-presenting Avengers #178-188, Avengers Annual #8-9, plus Marvel Premier #49 and material from Marvel Tales #100 (cumulatively spanning December 1978 to October 1979), these stories again see the team in transition.

Jim Shooter, having galvanised and steadied the company’s notional flagship, moved on, leaving David Michelinie to impress his own ideas and personality upon the team, but such transitions are always tricky and a few water-treading fill-ins were necessary before progress resumed. For behind the scenes details you can read Michelinie’s fascinating Introduction before diving in to the fabulous action and drama…

After the death and resurrection of the heroes in the previous volume, Korvac’s defeat leads seamlessly into Avengers Annual #8, getting back to business with a monolithic Fights ‘n’ Tights melee in ‘Spectrums of Deceit!’, courtesy of Roger Slifer, George Pérez, Pablo Marcos & Ricardo Villamonte. It sees the sentient power-prism of archvillain Doctor Spectrum systematically possessing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The upshot is another blockbusting battle against the Squadron Sinister and ethically ambivalent Femizon Thundra and another guest shot for mighty Ms. Marvel

A subtle change of pace and tone came in Avengers #178. ‘The Martyr Perplex!’ – by Steve Gerber, Carmine Infantino & Rudy Nebres – sees mutant Hank McCoy/The Beast targeted by master brainwasher The Manipulator in a tense psycho-thriller teeming with shady crooks and government spooks, after which Tom DeFalco, Jim Mooney, Al Gordon & Mike Esposito deliver a 2-part yarn introducing tragic mutant Bloodhawk and an ambitious human hitman in ‘Slowly Slays the Stinger!’

Whilst Stinger cautiously executes his commission, another cohort of champions accompany Bloodhawk to his desolate island home of Maura for a ‘Berserkers’ Holiday’, just in time to battle an animated and agitated stone idol. When they return victorious, Stinger is waiting and the assemblage loses its newest ally forever…

Finally getting back on track, Avengers #181 introduces new regular creative team David Michelinie & John Byrne – augmented by inker Gene Day – as ‘On the Matter of Heroes!’ sees intrusive and obsessive Government Agent Henry Peter Gyrich lay down the law and winnow the army of heroes down to a federally acceptable seven.

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

Almost immediately, Gyrich’s methodically calculated plans are in tatters as an elderly Romani sorcerer attacks. He claims mutants Wanda and Pietro Frank as his long-lost children and traps their souls inside little wooden dolls, and the resultant clash in #182’s ‘Honor Thy Father’ (inked by Klaus Janson) creates even more questions, as overwhelming evidence seems to confirm Django Maximoff’s story. The upshot sees the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver leave with him on a quest for answers…

Michelinie, Byrne, Janson & D(iverse). Hands provide a breathtaking all-action extravaganza in #183-184 as ‘The Redoubtable Return of Crusher Creel!’ finds Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel cleared by Gyrich to replace the Witch…

Elsewhere in the Big Apple, the formidable Absorbing Man has decided to leave the country and quit being thrashed by heroes. Unfortunately, his departure plans include kidnapping a young woman “for company”, leading to a cataclysmic showdown with the heroes and Hawkeye (still determined to win back his place on the team) and resulting in carnage, chaos and a ‘Death on the Hudson!’

Historical continuity addicts Mark Gruenwald & Steven Grant plot #185’s ‘The Yesterday Quest!’ for Michelinie, Byrne & Dan Green to execute as, in America, new robotic ally Jocasta strives to entice the Vision even as his wife and brother-in-law arrive in Balkan Transia. In the shadow of mystic Mount Wundagore Wanda is beguiled by Modred the Mystic, leaving Quicksilver to perish if not for the ministrations of talking humanoid cow Bova.

The wetnurse once employed by the High Evolutionary doesn’t mind, after all she was his mother’s midwife years ago…

‘Nights of Wundagore!’ then unpicks years of mystery with secrets of the mutants’ origins; how she passed them off as the stillborn children of American superhero Bob Frank and offers big hints as to their true father. Wanda meanwhile has lost a magic duel with Modred and is possessed by ancient demon Chthon. Pietro barely survives his clash with her/it, and calls for help, but thanks to more pointless bureaucracy from Gyrich, its hours before the Avengers – missing Iron Man but including Wonder Man – arrive to face the world rending

‘Call of the Mountain Thing!’ Although they ultimately triumph, not every participant makes it out alive…

The way home is just as momentous as #188’s ‘Elementary, Dear Avengers’ (by Bill Mantlo, Byrne, Green & Frank Springer) begins with a side trip to Inhuman City Attilan and news that Quicksilver is about to become a dad, and ends with the team causing an international incident by diverting over Russian airspace. Thankfully, the incident overlaps with a secret Soviet science experiment going badly wrong, compelling the heroes to tackle sentient elements with a taste for death and destruction

Avengers Annual #9 then introduces a lethal secret from the past as Mantlo, Don Newton, Jack Abel & Joe Rubinstein reveal a deadly robotic sleeper locked beneath Avengers Mansion. ‘…Today the Avengers Die!’ reprises Iron Man’s battle against deadly vintage mechanoid Arsenal and reveals that the Howard Stark-built weapon was cached in his old townhouse. Now ‘Something Deadly Lurks Below!’ proves that they should have let sleeping bots lie…

Rounding out the chronologically completist action is a snippet from Marvel Tales #100 (February 1979) and a solo yarn from Marvel Premier #49 (August 1979). The first finds time-displaced Two-Gun Kid and Hawkeye battle Killgrave the Controller in ‘Killers of a Purple Rage!’ by Scott Edelman, Michael Netzer & Terry Austin, after which Mark Evanier, Sal Buscema & Dave Simons craft a try-out mission for The Falcon who faces the sinister ‘Sound of the Silencer’: finding profit not patriotism motivates his string of assassination attempts

Available in hardback and digital iterations, and supplemented by original art from Pérez, Dave Cockrum, Byrne, Gene Day & Green; previous collection covers by Steve Epting & Tom Palmer and letters columns debating the new origins for Pietro and Wanda, this archival tome and this type of heroic adventure might not be to every reader’s taste but these – and the epic yarns that followed – set the tone for decades to come and informed all those movies everybody loves.
© 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 12


By Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber, Don Glut, Roger McKenzie, Scott Edelman, David Anthony Kraft, Peter B. Gillis, Roger Stern, David Michelinie, Sal Buscema, George Tuska, Dave Cockrum, John Buscema, Bob Budiansky, Steve Leialoha, Mike Zeck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2210-8 (HB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of ferocious patriotic fervour and carefully-manipulated idealism, Captain America was a dynamic and exceedingly bombastic response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss.

He quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased: fading during post-war reconstruction to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Land of the Free’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

The old-world hero quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties, but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually however he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, after nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s triumphs, Jack Kirby had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamics pantheon before accepting that even he could never win against any publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce whilst enduring micro-managing editorial interference.

His eventual return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial as his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity and went explosively his own way. Whilst his new works quickly found many friends, his tenures on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base. Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on Cap and the Panther as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of Captain America, and you can judge his endeavours in other collections.

This collection – available in hardback and digital editions – features a return to house continuity: abruptly returning the patriotic paragon fully to Marvel’s restrictively overarching, interlinked continuity. Gathered within are Captain America #215-230 (cover-dated November 1977 to February 1979), plus a bonus crossover tale from Incredible Hulk #232, preceded by an informative Introduction by Don Glut, one of many who sought to fill the King’s boots in the months following his departure.

When Kirby moved on it left a desperate gap in the schedules. Captain America #215 saw Roy Thomas, George Tuska & Pablo Marcos respond by revisiting the hallowed origin story for the latest generation with ‘The Way it Really Was!’: reiterating simultaneously the history of the heroes who had inherited the red, white & blue uniform whilst Steve Rogerswas entombed in ice and ending with our hero desperately wondering who the man beneath his mask might truly be…

For all that, #216 was a deadline-filling reprint of November 1963’s Strange Tales #114, represented here by Gil Kane’s cover and a framing sequence from Thomas, Dave Cockrum & Frank Giacoia.

Thomas, Glut, John Buscema & Marcos actually began ‘The Search for Steve Rogers!’ in #217, with S.H.I.EL.D.’s record division, where the Falcon is distracted by a surprising job offer. Nick Fury, busy with the hunt for capitalist cabal The Corporation, asks Cap’s partner to supervise the agency’s newest project: the SHIELD Super-Agents

These wonders-in-training consist of Texas Twister, Blue Streak, The Vamp and a rather mature-seeming Marvel Boy, but the squad are already deeply flawed and fatally compromised…

Issue #218 sees Cap targeted by a Corporation agent: fed data which bends his legendarily-fragmented memory back to his thawing from the ice. Heading north to retrace his original journey, Cap spends ‘One Day in Newfoundland!’ (Glut, Sal Buscema & John Tartaglione), uncovering a secret army, an unremembered old foe and a colossal robotic facsimile of himself…

In #219, ‘The Adventures of Captain America’ (Glut, Sal B & Joe Sinnott) reveals how, during WWII, Cap and junior partner Bucky were ordered to investigate skulduggery on the set of a movie serial about them and exposed special effects wizard Lyle Dekker as a highly-placed Nazi spy.

Now in modern-day Newfoundland, that warped genius has built a clandestine organisation with one incredible purpose: revealed in ‘The Ameridroid Lives!’ (inked by Tartaglione & Mike Esposito) as the captive crusader is mind-probed and dredges up shocking submerged memories.

In 1945, when he and Bucky were chasing a swiftly-launched secret weapon, the boy (apparently) died and Rogers fell into the North Atlantic: frozen in a block of ice until found and thawed by the Avengers. At least, he always thought that’s how it happened…

Now as the probe does its devilish work, Captain America finds that he was in fact picked up by Dekker after the spy was punished by the Red Skull and exiled for his failures. Deciding to work only for his own interests, Dekker then attempted to transfer Cap’s power to himself and it was only in escaping the original Newfoundland base that Rogers crashed into the sea and froze…

In the Now, the vile scheme is finally accomplished: Cap’s energies are replicated in a 15-foot-tall super-android with aging Dekker’s consciousness permanently embedded in its metal and plastic brain.

…And only then does the fanatic realise he’s made himself into a monster at once unique, solitary and utterly apart from humanity…

The deadline problems still hadn’t eased and this episode is chopped in half with the remainder of the issue affording Falcon a short solo outing as ‘…On a Wing and a Prayer!’ by Scott Edelman, Bob Budiansky & Al Gordon finds the Pinioned Paladin hunting a mad archer who has kidnapped his avian ally Redwing

The remainder of the Ameridroid saga appears in #221 as Steve Gerber and David Kraft co-script ‘Cul-De-Sac!’, wherein the marauding mechanoid is finally foiled – by reason not force of arms – whilst ‘The Coming of Captain Avenger!’(Edelman, Steve Leialoha & Gordon) provides another space-filling vignette with former sidekick Rick Jones given a tantalising glimpse of his most cherished dreams…

Captain America #222 sees Gerber fully in the writer’s seat as ‘Monumental Menace!’ (Sal B, Tartaglione & Esposito) relocates “The Search for Steve Rogers” storyline to Washington DC. As our hero examines army records at the Pentagon, the Corporation’s attempts to destroy him become more pronounced and bizarre. After escaping an animated, homicidal Volkswagen, Steven Grant Rogers learns at last that he was born the son of a diplomat and lost a brother at Pearl Harbor (all these revelations were later rather ingeniously retconned out so don’t worry about spoilers).

However, contemporary events spiral and Liberty’s Sentinel is attacked by the Lincoln Memorial, sacrilegiously brought to lethal life…

The madness continues as the hulking, monstrous horror responsible screams ‘Call Me Animus’ before unleashing a succession of blistering assaults resulting in hundreds of collateral casualties before being finally repulsed…

The epic is again interrupted as Peter Gillis, Mike Zeck, Esposito & Tartaglione contrive a thrilling mystery with a battered, partially amnesiac Cap awakening in a river with a new face. Investigating what happened, the sinister trail leads Cap to guest-villains Senor Suerte and Tarantula in ‘Saturday Night Furor!’

The Search for Identity saga resumes in #225 with ‘Devastation!’ (Gerber, Sal Buscema, Esposito & Tartaglione) as Fury gives Captain America access to incarcerated mind-master Mason Harding (inventor of the “Madbomb”, as seen in previous collections), who uses his embargoed technology to unlock the Avenger’s closed memories at long last…

Sadly, the cathartic shock has terrifying repercussions. Although Rogers regains many memories, the machines somehow denature the Super-Soldier serum in his blood and he is forced to ask ‘Am I Still Captain America?’ when his perfect warrior’s frame reverts to the frail, sickly mess it used to be.

New scripter Roger McKenzie begins his superb run of tales – with Sal B, Esposito & Tartaglione still illustrating – as SHIELD puts all its resources into restoring the One-Man Army before being suddenly brought low by an invasion of body-snatching Red Skulls.

Back in fighting trim, the incursion is rapidly repelled by the resurgent Patriotic Paragon in ‘This Deadly Gauntlet!’ but the aftermath sees the too-often compromised Peacekeeping agency mothball many of its facilities. During the closure and destruction of the Manhattan branch, Cap is ambushed by The Constrictor in #228’s ‘A Serpent Lurks Below’, but subsequently provides the first real lead on the Corporation…

The trail leads back to Falcon and the Super Agents, and with ‘Traitors All About Me!’, Cap exposes the rotten apples working for elusive boss Kligger – and another enemy force – leading to an ‘Assault on Alcatraz!’ (McKenzie, Roger Stern, Sal B & Don Perlin) to rescue hostage friends and end the Corporation’s depredations in Captain America #230…

While this slowly-unfolding epic was entertaining readers here, fans of The Hulk were reading of equally shady shenanigans in his title (and Kirby’s Machine Man) where the Corporation’s West Coast Chief Curtiss Jackson was ruthlessly enacting his own perfidious plans. This volume concludes in a crossover conclusion from Incredible Hulk #232 as parallel plotlines converge into bombastic action-extravaganza ‘The Battle Below’ by Stern, David Michelinie, Buscema & Esposito…

Also displaying house ads, original art pages, covers and sketches, these are thoughtful yet fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing fights ‘n’ tights masterpieces no fan should ignore and above all else, more fabulously fun tales of a true American Dream in his anniversary year…
© 2011 MARVEL

Captain America – Two Americas


By Ed Brubaker, Luke Ross, Butch Guice, Rick Magyar, Dean White & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4510-3 (HB) 978-0-7851-4511-0 (TPB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, the Star-Spangled Avenger debuted in his own title in an era of anthology publishing. Cover-dated March 1941, Captain America Comics #1 was a shattering success. The Sentinel of Liberty was the absolute and undisputed star of Timely (now Marvel) Comics’ “Big Three” (the other two being the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner). He was also in the first rank to fade as the war changed tastes and the Golden Age closed.

When the Korean War and Communist aggression dominated America’s collective psyche in the 1950s, he was briefly revived – with the Torch and Sub-Mariner – but sank once more into obscurity until a resurgent Timely/Atlas reinvented itself as Marvel Comics. Resurrected again in Avengers #4 (March 1964) with the Vietnam conflict just starting to pervade the minds of the American public, this time he stuck around…

Whilst perpetually agonising over the death of teen sidekick (James Buchanan Barnes AKA Bucky) in the final days of the war, living war story Steve Rogers first stole the show in the Avengers, promptly graduated to his own series and, ultimately, returned to solo stardom.

He waxed and waned through the most turbulent period of social change in US history, but always struggled to find an ideological niche and stable footing in the modern world.

In 2006-2007 – as another morally suspect war raged in the real world – he became an anti-government rebel for Marvel event Civil War: subsequently arrested and assassinated on the steps of a Federal Courthouse.

Over the course of 3 epic volumes, he was replaced by the presumed-dead sidekick. In actuality, Bucky had been captured by the Soviets in 1945 and systematically transformed into their own super-agent/assassin The Winter Soldier.

Once rescued from his unwanted enslavement, artificially young and semi-cyborg Barnes reluctantly stepped into his mentor’s big crimson boots…

Set squarely in the immediate aftermath of the original Star-Spangled Avenger’s return from the dead (see various Captain America Reborn collections), this politically-charged compilation – written by Ed Brubaker – collects one-shot Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield? and issues #602-605 of the monthly Captain America comic book. Available in hardback, trade paperback and digitally, it explores extremism with potent passion and cynical skill…

A rabble-rousing tale of ideology and patriotism begins with ‘Who Will Wield the Shield?’ (art by Luke Ross & Butch Guice), as the liberated Winter Soldier ponders his future in the wake of the “real” Captain America’s recent return to life and considers returning the role and unique Star-emblazoned disc to its rightful owner…

Meanwhile Steve Rogers, fresh from a timeless suspension where he perpetually relived his life over and again, battles debilitating, haunting memories by prowling snow-bound streets where he encounters his replacement and immortal super-spy Black Widow in combat with the ferociously brutal Mr. Hyde.

Content to observe his old partner at first, Rogers soon joins the fray. As the dust settles, the comrades-in-arms reach an understanding: Bucky Barnes will stay as the one-&-only Sentinel of Liberty as the President of the USA has a far more strategic role in mind for his mentor Steve…

That one is the meat of a different tome. Here we jump directly to the eponymous ‘Two Americas’ (Brubaker, Ross, Guice & Rick Magyar), focussing on a deranged duplicate super-soldier who briefly played Captain America in the 1950s, whilst the original languished in icy hibernation in the arctic.

William Burnside was a student from Boise, Idaho, obsessed with the war hero. The lad had ferreted out the hero’s true name, rediscovered most of the super-soldier serum which had created the Star-Spangled Avenger and even had his name and features changed to perfectly mimic the Missing-In-Action Rogers.

Volunteering his services to the FBI, at that time conducting a nationwide war on spies, subversives and (potential) commies, Burnside and impressionable youngster Jack Monroe briefly became the new Captain America and Bucky: crushing poorly-perceived threats to the Land of the Free.

Sadly, it quickly became apparent that their definition of such included not only criminals but also non-whites, independent women and anybody who disagreed with the government…

Some months later the reactionary patriot was forcibly “retired” as the super-soldier serum he and Monroe used turned them into super-strong, raving, racist paranoids.

Years later, when the fascistic facsimiles escaped suspended animation in Federal prison, they attacked the revived real deal, only to be defeated by Cap, his new partner Sam Wilson (AKA the Falcon) and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter. Monroe was eventually cured, but Burnside’s psychosis was too deeply rooted and he returned often to confront the man he felt had betrayed the real America…

Used most recently as a pawn of the Red Skull, malign psychologist Dr. Faustus and genetic wizard Arnim Zola in a plot to plant a Nazi stooge in the Oval Office, the dark Captain America escaped, fleeing to the nation’s heartland and planning…

When police in Idaho raid a den of reactionary separatist fanatics the Watchdogs, they are butchered by the delusional Burnside who has aligned himself with them in a crazed bid to take back the nation for right-thinking ordinary people like himself. Alerted by Nick Fury, Barnes and the Falcon head for the economically-depressed Midwest where crumbling economy and lack of prospects has driven hard-pressed, hardworking folk into the open arms of the seditionists.

Intending to infiltrate the movement now led by the faux Captain America, things go sideways after Burnside recognises Barnes from his college researches…

Intent on starting a second American Revolution, the crazed patriot ambushes the newest Cap and the Falcon and, whilst planning to set off the biggest bomb in history against the Hoover Dam, demands Barnes returns to his first and proper heroic identity: becoming Bucky to Burnside’s one-and-only Cap…

Determined to convince the equally time-lost Winter Soldier that modern America must be destroyed and the Good Old Days restored, Burnside is still savvy enough to use the hostage Falcon to achieve his ends, but far too prejudiced to accept that a mere black man and flunky sidekick could be competent enough to foil his schemes…

Imprisoned on a train packed with explosives, Wilson busts free, trashing his Watchdog jailers and – with the aid of a simple working Joe (yes, a true “ordinary American”) – diverts the runaway bomb. Burnside and his fanatics then invade Hoover Dam with an even more devastating device, ready to send a message that will spell the end of the failed country and signal the return of the madman’s cherished if illusory idealised America…

However, when Bucky learns the Falcon is safe, he lashes out with ruthless efficiency…

This thoroughly readable thriller is a fascinating examination of idealism and the mutability of patriotism: a sharp, scary saga that avoids the usual trap of overly-depending on a working knowledge of Marvel continuity by providing in situ what little back-story new readers might need. It thunders along to its climactic conclusion, providing thrills, spills and chills in full measure for all fans of Fights ‘n’ Tights action and – sadly – offers insights into nationalism that are more pertinent now than they ever have been…
© 2009, 2010, 2012 Marvel Characters Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection volume 6: A Traitor Stalks Among Us 1972-1973


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Barry Windsor-Smith, Rick Buckler, John Buscema, Don Heck, George Tuska, Jim Starlin, Bob Brown, Sam Kweskin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2911-4 (TPB)

One of the most momentous events in comics (and now, film) history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate gang of heroic individuals banded together to combat an apparently out of control Incredible Hulk.

The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the intervening decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in the Marvel multiverse has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

After instigators Stan Lee & Jack Kirby moved on, the team prospered under the guidance of Roy Thomas who grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic. He then handed over the scripting to a young writer who carried the team to even greater heights…

This stunning trade paperback compilation – also available in eBook iterations – assembles Avengers #98-114, plus a crucial crossover episode from Daredevil #99: collectively covering April 1972 to August 1973, confirming an era of cosmic catastrophe and cataclysmically captivating creative cross-pollination…

Even after saving the world, life goes on and seemingly gets more dangerous every day. Having ended war between the star-spanning Kree and Skrulls, ‘Let Slip the Dogs of War’ (#98, by Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith & Sal Buscema) sees harried heroes Captain America, Iron Man, the Vision, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Thor debating the loss of their comrade Goliath, missing in action since he explosively stopped a Skull warship from nuking Earth…

As the Thunderer heads for Asgard and its magic scrying mirrors, the fruitless debate is curtailed as war-mongering demagogue Mr. Tallon incites riot in the streets of New York. The gathered crowds attack the Avengers when they tried to quell the unrest and it is soon evident that the war-hawk has supernatural assistance.

…And in the dimensional void the Thunder God discovers all access to the Immortal Realms has been cut off…

By the time he returns to Earth his comrades are bewitched too. Joining with the seemingly immune Vision in a last-ditch, hopeless battle, the Storm Lord fights his greatest allies until the tide is turned by a perfectly-aimed arrow, heralding the return of Goliath to his original identity… Hawkeye.

Moreover, he has with him another Avenger: an amnesiac Hercules, Prince of Power, whose only certain knowledge is that Earth and Asgard are jointly doomed…

Inked by Tom Sutton, ‘…They First Make Mad!’ expands the epic as the Avengers call on all their resources to cure Hercules and decipher his cryptic warning whilst Earth’s leaders seem determined to catapult the planet into atomic Armageddon.

As Hawkeye explains his miraculous escape from death in space and how he found Hercules, the desperate call to assemble goes out, summoning every hero who has ever been an Avenger. Suddenly, two Grecian Titans materialise to trounce the team, dragging the terrified Prince of Power back to Olympus…

The saga ends in the staggeringly beautiful anniversary 100th issue ‘Whatever Gods There Be!’ (inked by Smith, Joe Sinnott & Syd Shores) as thirteen Avengers – including even the scurrilous Swordsman and blockbusting Hulk – invade the home of the Hellenic Gods to discover old enemy Enchantress and war god Ares are behind the entire malignant plot…

It’s always tricky starting fresh after an epic conclusion but Thomas and debuting penciller Rich Buckler – doing his best Neal Adams impersonation – had a secret weapon in mind: a Harlan Ellison tale inked by veteran brushman Dan Adkins.

‘Five Dooms to Save Tomorrow!’ was based on the novella from 1964 and sees the Avengers battling Leonard Tippit, an ordinary man granted god-like power so that he could murder five innocent human beings. To be fair though, those innocuous targets’ continued existence threatened Earth’s entire future…

Determined to stop him whatever the ultimate consequences, the Avengers eschew murky moral quandaries and are tested to their utmost, before the crisis is averted…

They are on firmer, more familiar ground in #102 when the Grim Reaper returns, offering to place the Vision’s consciousness in a human body in return for the android’s allegiance in ‘What to Do till the Sentinels Come!’ (Thomas, Buckler & Joe Sinnott). Meanwhile, the mutant-hunting robots kidnap the Scarlet Witch and start another scheme to eradicate the threat of Homo Superior forever…

A budding romance between the Witch and the Vision exposes tensions and bigotries in most unexpected places as the cataclysmic tale continues with ‘The Sentinels are Alive and Well!’ as the team search the globe for the monstrous mechanical marauders before being captured themselves whilst invading their Australian Outback hive.

The tale concludes ‘With a Bang… and a Whimper!’ as the assemblers thwart a project to sterilise humanity – but only at the cost of two heroes’ lives…

The grieving Scarlet Witch takes centre stage in #105 as ‘In the Beginning was… the World Within!’ pairs neophyte scripter Steve Englehart with veteran artists John Buscema & Jim Mooney. The team travel to South America and encounter cavemen mutants from the antediluvian Savage Land, after which the Avengers discover ‘A Traitor Stalks Among Us!’ (art by Buckler, George Tuska & Dave Cockrum) with the revelation that perennial sidekick Rick Jones has become atomically bonded to alien hero Captain Marvel: a revelation that triggers a painful flashback in memory-blocked Captain America, just as an old foe turns the team against itself.

Limned by Jim Starlin, Tuska & Cockrum, Avengers #107 reveals ‘The Master Plan of the Space Phantom!’ and his complex and sinister alliance with the Grim Reaper even as the love-sick Vision finally accepts the Faustian offer of a human body.

Unfortunately, the corpus on offer is the Star-Spangled Avenger’s…

‘Check… and Mate!’ – illustrated by veteran Avenger artist Don Heck and inkers Cockrum & Sinnott – wraps up the intriguing saga in spectacular fashion as an army of Avengers thrash Phantom, Reaper and assorted hordes of Hydra hoods. However, the true climax is the Vision and Witch’s final acknowledgement of their love for each other.

The announcement provokes a storm of trouble…

In #109 Hawkeye – who’s always carried a torch for Wanda – quits the team in a dudgeon and ‘The Measure of a Man!’ (Heck & Frank McLaughlin) finds the heartsick archer duped by billionaire businessman Champion and nearly responsible for causing the complete destruction of California before wising up to save the day…

Next the depleted team of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision and Black Panther investigate the disappearance of mutant heroes the X-Men and are thoroughly beaten by an old enemy with a new power.

‘… And Now Magneto!’ (Englehart, Heck, Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito) ends with half the team brainwashed captives of the villain with the remaining crusaders desperately seeking new allies. We then pop over to San Francisco and a crossover from Daredevil and the Black Widow #99 (May 1973, by Steve Gerber, Sam Kweskin & Syd Shores).

‘The Mark of Hawkeye!’ sees Natasha Romanoff’s old boyfriend fetch up on the Widow’s doorstep, determined to “reclaim” her. The caveman stunt culminates in the Archer’s sound and well-deserved thrashing, and when the last Avengers arrive, asking him to return and assist, he refuses. DD and the Widow don’t, though…

The saga resumes and concludes in Avengers #111 as, ‘With Two Beside Them!’ (Englehart, Heck & Esposito) the returned heroes and West Coast vigilantes successfully rescue X-Men and Avengers enslaved by malevolent Magneto. With the action over, Daredevil returns to California, but the Black Widow elects to stay with the World’s Mightiest Heroes…

Escalating cosmic themes and colossal clashes commence here with Avengers #112 and ‘The Lion God Lives!’ (Don Heck & Frank Bolle art) wherein a rival African deity manifests to destroy the human avatar of the Panther God. As T’Challa and his valiant comrades tackle that threat, in the wings an erstwhile ally/enemy and his exotic paramour make their own plans for the team…

Unreasoning prejudice informs #113’s ‘Your Young Men Shall Slay Visions!’ (art by Bob Brown & Bolle) wherein a horde of fundamentalist bigots – offended by the “unnatural” love between Wanda, the mutant and artificial being the Vision – turn themselves into human bombs to destroy the sinful, unholy couple. Soon after, ‘Night of the Swordsman’ (Brown & Esposito) formally introduces the reformed swashbuckler and his enigmatic psychic martial artist paramour Mantis to the team… just in time to thwart the Lion God’s latest scheme…

Rewarded with probationary status and the benefit of the doubt, they are in place for a forthcoming clash that will rock the universes…

As if extra enticements are even necessary, also included in this compendium are the stunning front and back covers crafted by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger & Marie Javins for Essential Avengers #1-3, and original art covers, pages and unused pencils by Windsor, Smith, Buckler, John Buscema, Starlin, Heck, Cockrum and Brown.

Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers; brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creations of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko while spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to.

These terrific tales are ideal examples of superheroes done exactly right: pivotal points as the underdog company evolved into a corporate entertainment colossus. These are some of the best superhero stories you’ll ever read and Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new peak of cosmic adventure…
© 2021 MARVEL.

Golden Age Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Joe Simon & Jack Kirby with & various (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1619-2 (HB) 978-0785157939 (TPB)

Arguably the biggest anniversary in this year of comics milestones is this guy. Whatever your real-world politics, this is a fictive icon without peer – unless you count Wonder Woman, Archie Andrews or the others as your favourite. Maybe we should just celebrate them all like Catholics and Saints…

Golden Age Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 1- available in hardback, trade paperback and as an eBook – reprints the first four issues of original title Captain America Comics (cover-dated March to June 1941) and are a landmark combination of passion, enthusiasm and creative quality seldom seen at Marvel’s brash predecessor Timely Comics, who generally settled for any two out of three…

However, for true fans the groundbreaking and exceptional patriotic material generated by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby is not really the lure here… the real gold nuggets for us old sods are those rare back-up features from the star duo and their small team of talented youngsters. Reed Crandall, Syd Shores, Alex Schomburg and the rest worked on main course and filler features such as Hurricane, the God of Speed and Tuk, Caveboy: strips barely remembered, yet still brimming with the creative fires of legends in waiting.

Devised at the end of 1940 and boldly launched in his own monthly title with none of the publisher’s customary cautious shilly-shallying, Captain America Comics #1 was cover-dated March 1941 and was an instant monster, blockbuster smash-hit. The bombastic Sentinel of Liberty was instantly the absolute and undisputed star of Timely’s “Big Three” – the other two being the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner (as seen in Marvel Mystery Comics) – and one of the first to fall from popularity at the end of the Golden Age.

In comparison to their contemporaries at Quality, Fawcett, National/All American and Dell, or Will Eisner’s The Spirit newspaper strips, the standard of most Timely periodicals was woefully lacklustre in both story and – most tellingly – art. That they survived and prospered is a Marvel mystery, but a clue might lie in the sheer exuberant venom of their racial stereotypes and heady fervour of jingoism at a time when America was involved in the greatest war in world history. I suspect given the current tone of the times politically, such sentiments might be less controversial now than they have been for quite a while…

Nevertheless, the first ten Captain America Comics are the most exceptional comics in the fledgling company’s history, and I can’t help but wonder what might have been had National (née DC) been wise enough to hire Simon & Kirby before they were famous, instead of after that pivotal first year?

Of course, we’ll never know and although they did jump to the majors after a year, Simon & Kirby’s visual dynamism became the aspirational and approved house-style for superhero comics at the company they left and their banner-bedecked creation became the flagship icon for them and the industry.

Following a revelatory look back from Golden Age maven and comics scribe supreme Roy Thomas, this initial volume opens with ‘Case No. 1: Meet Captain America’ by Simon & Kirby (with additional inks by Al Liederman) wherein we see how scrawny, enfeebled young patriot Steven Rogers, continually rejected by the US Army, is recruited by the Secret Service.

Desperate to counter a wave of Nazi-sympathizing espionage and sabotage, this passionate young man is invited to become part of a clandestine experimental effort create physically perfect super-soldiers. However, when a vile Nazi agent infiltrates the project and murders its key scientist, Rogers became the only successful graduate and America’s not-so-secret weapon.

Sent undercover as a simple private, Rogers soon encounters Bucky Barnes: a headstrong, orphaned Army Brat who becomes his sidekick and costumed confidante. All of that is perfectly packaged into mere seven-and-a-half pages, with untitled ‘Case No. 2’ taking just as long to resoundingly defeat Nazi showbiz psychics Sando and Omar as they spread anxiety and fear amongst the gullible Americans.

‘Captain America and the Soldier’s Soup’ is a rather mediocre and unattributed prose tale promptly followed by splendidly sinister 16-page epic ‘Captain America and the Chess-board of Death’, with our heroes thrashing more macabre murdering Nazi malcontents before facing the groundbreaking introduction of the nation’s greatest foe.

Solving ‘The Riddle of the Red Skull’ proves to be a thrill-packed, horror-drenched master-class in comics excitement…

The first of the B-features follows as Hurricane (“Son of Thor” and last survivor of the Greek Gods – don’t blame me, that’s what it says) sets his super-fast sights on ‘Murder Inc.’ in a rip-roaring but clearly rushed battle against fellow-immortal Pluto (so not quite the last god either; nor exclusively Norse or Greek…) who is once again using mortals to foment pain, terror and death…

Hurricane was a rapid reworking and sequel to Kirby’s ‘Mercury in the 20th Century’ from Red Raven Comics #1 (August 1940) whereas ‘Tuk, Caveboy: Stories from the Dark Ages’ is all-original excitement starring a teenaged boy in 50,000 BC raised by a beast-man. The wild child is resolved to regain the throne of his antediluvian kingdom Attilan from the usurpers who stole it…

This is an imaginative barbarian spectacular owing much to Tarzan and The Land that Time Forgot, but certainly delivers the thrills we might want…

Historians believe Kirby pencilled this entire issue and although no records remain, inkers as diverse as Liederman, Crandall, Bernie Klein, Al Avison, Al Gabrielle, Syd Shores and others may have been involved in this and subsequent issues…

Captain America Comics #2 screamed onto the newsstands a month later, boldly opening with monster mash-up ‘The Ageless Orientals Who Wouldn’t Die’: blending equal amounts of horror and jingoism into a terrifying thriller with a ruthless American capitalist exposed as the true source of a rampage against the nation’s banks…

‘Trapped in the Nazi Stronghold’ sees Cap and Bucky in drag and in Europe to rescue a pro-British financier kidnapped by the Nazis, whilst ‘Captain America and the Wax Statue that Struck Death’ returned to movie-thriller themes in the tale of a macabre murderer with delusions of world domination.

The Patriotic Partners deal with saboteurs in prose piece ‘Short Circuit’ before Tuk tackles monsters and mad priests in ‘The Valley of the Mist’ (by either the King and a very heavy inker or an unnamed artist doing a passable Kirby impression) whilst Hurricane – now “Master of Speed” – swiftly and spectacularly expunges ‘The Devil and the Green Plague’ deep in the fetid heart of the Amazon jungles.

CAC #3 led with 17-page epic ‘The Return of the Red Skull’ with the scarlet scoundrel booting Adolf Hitler off the cover-spot he’d hogged in #1 and #2 as Kirby opened up his layouts to enhance the mesmerising graphic action with a veritable production line of creators (including Ed Herron, Martin A, Burnstein, Howard Ferguson, William Clayton King, and possibly George Roussos, Bob Oksner, Max Elkan and Jerry Robinson) joining the creative team.

Despite eye-shattering scale and spectacle united with non-stop action and eerie mood as key components of the Sentinel of Liberty’s exploits, horror elements dominated ‘The Hunchback of Hollywood and the Movie Murder’ wherein a patriotic film is plagued by sinister and disturbing “accidents”…

Stan Lee debuts with text tale ‘Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge’ before Simon & Kirby – and friends – recount ‘The Queer Case of the Murdering Butterfly and the Ancient Mummies’ in a riotous blending of eerie Egyptian antiquities and myths with a thoroughly modern costumed psychopath.

Tuk (drawn by either Mark Schneider – or perhaps Marcia Snyder) reaches ‘Atlantis and the False King’, after which Kirby contributes a true tale in ‘Amazing Spy Adventures’ whilst Hurricane confronts ‘Satan and the Subway Disasters’with devastating and final effect…

The final issue in this fabulous curated chronicle opens with ‘Captain America and the Unholy Legion’ as the star-spangled brothers-in-arms crush a murderous conspiracy of beggars terrorising the city, before taking on ‘Ivan the Terrible’ in a time-bending vignette and thereafter solving ‘The Case of the Fake Money Fiends’.

Their all-action exploits culminate in magnificent fashion when our heroes then expose the horrendous secret of ‘Horror Hospital’

Lee-scripted text tale ‘Captain America and the Bomb Sight Thieves’ leads to young Tuk triumphing over ‘The Ogre of the Cave-Dwellers’ before Hurricane brings down a final curtain on ‘The Pirate and the Missing Ships’.

An added and very welcome bonus for fans is the inclusion of all the absolutely beguiling house-ads for other titles and upcoming Cap books; contents pages; Sentinels of Liberty club bulletins; assorted pin-ups; merchandise and memorabilia and Joe Simon’s Afterword ‘My Bulletin Board’

Despite in many ways having a much shallower vintage well to draw from, this particular tome from the House of Ideas is a book that will always stands amongst the very best that the Golden Age of Comics can offer and should be on every fan’s “never-miss” bookshelf.
© 2018 MARVEL. All rights reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 17


By Jim Shooter, Jim Starlin, Roger Stern, Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, David Michelinie, Bill Mantlo, Mark Gruenwald, Sal Buscema, Dave Wenzel, Tom Morgan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302903411 (HB)

The Avengers have always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when all Marvel’s classic all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy, which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either. With the team now global icons, let’s look again at the stories which form the foundation of that pre-eminence.

Re-presenting Avengers #164-177, Avengers Annual #7 plus the concluding half of the legendary crossover epic from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (cumulatively spanning October 1977 to November 1978), these stories again see the team in transition and against the biggest threats ever imagined.

During this period Jim Shooter, having galvanised and steadied the company’s notional flagship, moved on, leaving David Michelinie to impress his own ideas and personality upon the team, even as Cosmic Doomsmith Jim Starlin recruited the team to inscribe an epic ending to his seminal interpretation of tragic antihero Adam Warlock

Opening this titanic tome is an informative Foreword from scripter Roger Stern, followed by a stunning 3-part saga by Shooter, John Byrne & Pablo Marcos which reinvented one of the team’s oldest adversaries.

It begins in #164 as, after months of speculation and experimentation, the resurrected Wonder Man is finally revealed to have evolved into a creature of pure ionic energy. Elsewhere, aging Maggia Don Count Nefaria recruits Whirlwind, Power Man (the original mercenary who had undergone the same transformative experiment as Wonder Man) and Living Laser to amass plunder for him. This tactic is mere subterfuge…

After the thieves trash a squad of Avengers, Nefaria uses his flunkies’ bodies as templates and power source to turn himself into a literal Superman before attacking the already-battered heroes in ‘To Fall by Treachery!’

The tension builds in #165 as ‘Hammer of Vengeance’ sees the out-powered team fall, only to be saved by elderly speedster The Whizzer who points out that, for all his incredible strength, Nefaria too is an old man with death inevitably dogging his heels…

Panicked and galvanised, the Overman goes berserk, carving a swathe of destruction through the city whilst seeking a confrontation with Thunder God Thor and the secret of his immortality. Before too long he had reason to regret his demands. The surprise arrival of the Thunderer in ‘Day of the Godslayer!’ ends the madman’s dreams but also highlights growing tensions within the victorious team…

This superb thriller is followed by ‘The Final Threat’ (Jim Starlin & Joe Rubinstein) from Avengers Annual #7, wherein Kree warrior Captain Marvel and Titanian mind-goddess Moondragon return to Earth with vague anticipations of an impending cosmic catastrophe.

Their premonitions are confirmed when galactic wanderer Adam Warlock arrives with news that death-obsessed Thanos has amassed an alien armada and built a Soul-gem powered weapon to snuff out the stars like candles…

Broaching interstellar space to stop the scheme, the united heroes forestall the stellar invasion and prevent the Dark Titan from destroying the Sun, but only at the cost of Warlock’s life…

Then ‘Death Watch!’ (Starlin & Rubinstein from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2) finds Peter Parker plagued by prophetic nightmares, disclosing how Thanos had snatched victory from defeat and now holds the Avengers captive whilst again preparing to extinguish Sol.

With nowhere else to turn, the anguished, disbelieving Spider-Man heads for the Baxter Building, hoping to borrow a spacecraft, unaware that The Thing also has history with the terrifying Titan.

Although utterly overmatched, the mismatched champions of Life subsequently upset Thanos’ plans enough so that the Avengers and the Universe’s true agent of retribution can end the Titan’s threat forever… or at least until next time…

Back in the monthly, an epic of equal import was about to unfold. Shooter’s connection to the series, although episodic, was long-lived and produced some of that period’s greatest tales, none more so than the stellar – if deadline-doomed – saga which occurred over succeeding months: a sprawling tale of time-travel and universal conquest which began in Avengers #167-168 and, after a brief pause, resumed for #170 through #177.

In previous issues a difference of opinion between Captain America and Iron Man over leadership styles had begun to polarise the team. Cracks appeared and tensions started to show in #167 with ‘Tomorrow Dies Today!’ (Shooter, George Pérez & Marcos).

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

It kicks off when star-spanning 31st century superheroes the Guardians of the Galaxy materialise in Earth orbit, hotly pursuing cyborg despot Korvac. Inadvertently setting off planetary incursion alarms, their minor-moon sized ship is swiftly penetrated by an Avengers squad, and – after the customary introductory squabble – the future men (Charlie-27, Yondu, Martinex, Nikki, Vance Astro and enigmatic space God Starhawk) explain the purpose of their mission…

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

Meanwhile on Earth, a mysterious being named Michael lurks in the background. At a fashion show staged by the Wasp, he achieves a psychic communion with model Carina Walters before they both vanish…

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

Michael/Korvac’s plan consists of subtly altering events as he gathers strength in secret preparation for a sneak attack on those aforementioned Cosmic Hierarchies. His entire plan revolves around not being noticed. When Starhawk confronts him, the villain kills the stellar intruder and instantly resurrects him minus the ability to perceive Michael or any of his works…

The drama screeches to a halt in #169, which declares ‘If We Should Fail… The World Dies Tonight!’ The out of context potboiler – by Marv Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Dave Hunt – sees Cap, Iron Man and the Black Panther scour the planet in search of doomsday bombs wired to the failing heart of a dying man, after which the major mayhem resumes in #170 with ‘…Though Hell Should Bar the Way!’ by Shooter, Pérez & Marcos.

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

In stealthy pursuit and hoping her trail will lead to Ultron himself, the team stride into a trap ‘…Where Angels Fear to Tread’ but nevertheless triumph thanks to the hex powers of the Scarlet Witch, the assistance of pushy, no-nonsense new hero Ms. Marvel and Jocasta’s own rebellion against the metal monster who made her. However, at their moment of triumph the Avengers are stunned to see Cap and Jocasta wink out of existence…

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

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

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

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

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

As he reveals that predicted end-time is here and that he has sent his own daughter Carina to infiltrate the Enemy’s stronghold, the cosmic curator is obliterated in a devastating blast of energy. The damage however is done and the entrenched hierarchies of creation may well be alerted…

Issue #175 began the final countdown as ‘The End… and Beginning!’ (Shooter, Michelinie, Wenzel & Marcos) sees the amassed and liberated ranks of Avengers and Guardians follow the clues to Michael, just as the new god shares the incredible secret of his apotheosis with Carina, before ‘The Destiny Hunt!’ and ‘The Hope… and the Slaughter!’ (Shooter, Wenzel, Marcos & Ricardo Villamonte) depicts the entire army of champions destroyed and resurrected as Michael easily overpowers all opposition but falters for lack of one fundamental failing…

Spread through a series of lesser adventures, the overarching epic ponderously and ominously unfolds before finally exploding into a devastating and tragic Battle Royale that is the epitome of superhero comics. This is pure escapist fantasy at its finest.

Despite being somewhat diminished by the artwork when the magnificent Pérez gave way to less inspired hands and cursed by the inability to keep a regular inker (Pablo Marcos, Klaus Janson Ricardo Villamonte and Tom Morgan all pitched in), the sheer scope of the epic plot nevertheless carries this story through to its cataclysmic and fulfilling conclusion.

Even Shooter’s reluctant replacement by scripters Dave Michelinie and Bill Mantlo (as his editorial career advanced) couldn’t derail this juggernaut of adventure.

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

Available in hardback and digital iterations, and supplemented by original cover art by Pérez and Dave Cockrum, contemporary House Ads, editorial material and covers from previous compilations plus an epilogue strip by Mark Gruenwald & Tom Morgan, this archival tome and this type of heroic adventure might not be to every reader’s taste but these – and the truly epic yarns that followed – set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and informed all those movies everybody loves. This tale can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the quietly isolated and no less dangerous 21st century…

No lovers of Costumed Dramas can afford to ignore this superbly bombastic book, and fans who think themselves above superhero stories might also be pleasantly surprised…
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection volume 9 1976-1977: The Final Threat


By Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, Jim Starlin, Scott Edelman, Bill Mantlo, Stan Lee, George Pérez, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, John Byrne, Herb Trimpe, Sal Trapani, Don Heck, George Tuska, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8790-5 (TPB)

The Avengers have always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when all Marvel’s classic all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy, which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either. With the team now global icons, let’s look again at the stories which form the foundation of that pre-eminence.

Re-presenting Avengers #150-166, Avengers Annual #6 & 7, and Super-Villain Team-Up #9 (cumulatively spanning August 1976 to November 1977), these stories again see the team in transition. That was a much a result of creative upheaval as narrative exigency. Times were changing for the company which would soon become a plaything of relentless corporate forces…

In the simple world of goodies and baddies, however, #150 saw an official changing of the guard in ‘Avengers Assemble’ by Steve Englehart, George Pérez, John Tartaglione & Duffy Vohland. The anniversary epic was supplemented part-way through by half of ‘The Old Order Changeth!’ (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers and reprinted from Avengers #16) as it settled the membership drive question begun way back in #137. The tale made way for new scripter Conway in #151 whose ‘At Last: The Decision’ (with additional scripting by Jim Shooter & Englehart as well as art from Pérez & Tartaglione) set the group off on streamlined, less cosmic adventures.

No sooner had the long-delayed announcement been made to the panting public, though, than a mysterious crate disgorges the long-dead body of Wonder Man… who shockingly shambles to his feet and accuses the stunned android Vision of stealing his mind…

Long ago, Simon Williams had been turned into a human powerhouse by arch-villain Baron Zemo and used as a Trojan horse to infiltrate the team. He eventually turned on his vile creator, sacrificing his life to redeem and atone for his deeds. After he was buried, Williams’ brain patterns were used to provide an operating system for The Vision, inadvertently creating a unique human personality for the cold thing of plastic, wires and metal…

In #152, ‘Nightmare in New Orleans!’ kicks the simmering suspenseful saga into high gear as the team start hunting for Wonder Man’s grave robber/re-animator. The trail – as crafted by Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott – soon leads the team to New Orleans and into a face-off with voodoo lord Black Talon

‘Home is the Hero!’ reintroduces 1940 Marvel sensation Bob Frank (AKA former Invader The Whizzer). In a tragic tale of desperation, the aged speedster seeks the heroes’ help but is cut short when he is seemingly possessed and attacks the team…

Avengers Annual #6 (illustrated by Pérez, Mike Esposito, Tartaglione & Vohland) reveals why and answers all the meandering mysteries, wrapping up the storyline with ‘No Final Victory’ as a conspiracy involving the serpent-helmed Living Laser, Whizzer’s government-abducted mutant son Nuklo and rogue US Army General Pollock almost succeeds in conquering California, if not America – at least until the resurgent Avengers lay down the law…

Also included in the annual – and here – is Scott Edelman & Herb Trimpe’s ‘Night Vision’: a brief but stirring solo story of the Android Avenger battling super swift psychopath Whirlwind.

In Avengers #154, Conway, Pérez & Pablo Marcos begin a blockbuster battle bonanza which was in part a crossover with Super-Villain Team-Up. That series followed the uneasy coalition of Dr. Doom and Namor the Sub-Mariner, and this initial chapter ‘When Strikes Attuma?’ finds the Vision captured by subsea barbarian Attuma even as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are ambushed and defeated by the warlord’s augmented Atlantean thrall Tyrak the Treacherous. The scheme is simple enough: use the enslaved surface champions as cannon fodder in an assault against Namor…

At this time, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had signed a non-aggression pact with the Dictator of Latveria, which resulted in Doom subsequently blackmailing the Sub-Mariner into serving as his unwilling ally. However, one American vigilante observed no such legal or diplomatic niceties…

The Shroud believed he had freed the Atlantean from his vow by assassinating Doom, but the villain had survived the assault: rescued and secretly imprisoned by Sub-Mariner’s cousin Namorita and his alien girlfriend Tamara under the misguided apprehension that they could force the Metal-shod Monarch into helping Atlantis and their lost Prince.

Simple, no?

Here, SVT-U #9 expands on the epic encounter with the heroes now ‘Pawns of Attuma’ (scripted by Bill Mantlo, with art by Jim Shooter & Sal Trapani). As the Avengers are unleashed upon the Atlanteans, they discover Doom is now in charge and easily able to thwart their half-hearted assault. In Avengers #155 (Conway, Pérez & Marcos), the beaten heroes are abjectly enslaved, leaving only confused, despondent and battle-crazed Namor ‘To Stand Alone!’ Before long, though, he is joined by lone stragglers the Beast, Whizzer and Wonder Man to hunt down the triumphant barbarian sea lord.

The epic conclusion comes in ‘The Private War of Doctor Doom!’ (Avengers #156, by Shooter, illustrated by Sal Buscema & Marcos) wherein the liberated and furious heroes join forces to crush Attuma whilst simultaneously preventing Doom from turning the situation to his own world-conquering advantage…

A change of pace begins in #157 as ‘A Ghost of Stone!’ (Conway, Don Heck & Marcos) addresses a long-unresolved mystery. As seen in the Avengers/Defenders War, the Black Knight’s body had been petrified whilst his soul was trapped in the 12th century, but now a strange force reanimates the statue and sets it upon the weary heroes…

Shooter, Sal Buscema & Marcos then contrive ‘When Avengers Clash!!’ as the revived, restored, compos mentis and now fully-recovered Wonder Man ferociously duels with an impossibly jealous Vision over the Scarlet Witch.

That Wanda loves the android Avenger is seemingly forgotten as his “borrowed” brain patterns fixate on the logical assumption that eventually his flesh-and-blood wife will gravitate to a “normal” man with his own personality rather than stay married to a mere mobile mechanism…

Domestic tantrums are quickly laid aside when the entire team – plus late arrivals Black Panther and Thor – battle research scientist Frank Hall following a lab-accident which grants him complete control over the forces of gravity…

Apparently unstoppable, Graviton almost destroys New York City in #159 as the ‘Siege by Stealth and Storm!’ (Shooter, Sal B & Marcos) results in savage combat and the unbeatable villain ultimately defeating himself…

Avengers #160 spotlights Eric Williams, the deranged Grim Reaper. With portentous hints of a hidden backer and his dead brother seemingly returned, he conducts ‘…The Trial!’ (Shooter, Pérez & Marcos) to see whether Wonder Man or the Vision is the “true” Simon Williams. He doesn’t like the answer he gets…

The next issue extends the mystery backer sub-plot as ‘Beware the Ant-Man’ finds the team attacked by a frenzied Henry Pym, whose mind has somehow regressed to mere days after the Avengers first formed. The unbalanced, hyper-aggressive hero has allied with the homicidal robot he no longer remembers creating and is unwittingly helping it build ‘The Bride of Ultron!’ (#162): pitifully oblivious that for the almost completed Jocasta to “live” his own wife Janet must die…

At the close, the Avengers believe they have finally destroyed the murderous mechanoid, but yet again they are wrong…

Shooter, George Tuska & Marcos’ stand-alone tale ‘The Demi-God Must Die!’, reveals how mythological maniac Typhonreturns to capture the team. Despite forcing Iron Man to attack Hercules to save his imperilled Avenging comrades – and even after lots of spectacular smashing – the scheme naturally fails and the World’s Mightiest are triumphant again…

John Byrne & Pablo Marcos then joined Shooter to spectacularly reinvent one of the team’s oldest adversaries, in a 3-part classic beginning in #164 wherein, after months of speculation and experimentation, the Wonder Man was finally diagnosed as having evolved into a creature of pure ionic energy. Meanwhile elsewhere, aging Maggia Don Count Nefariarecruits Whirlwind, Power Man (the original mercenary who had undergone the same transformative experiment as Wonder Man) and Living Laser to apparently amass plunder for him, but the tactic was mere subterfuge.

After the thieves trash a squad of Avengers, Nefaria uses his flunkies’ bodies as template and power source to turn himself into a literal Superman and attack the already battered heroes in ‘To Fall by Treachery!’

The tension builds in #165 as ‘Hammer of Vengeance’ sees the lethally out-powered team fall, only to be saved by elderly speedster The Whizzer who points out that, for all his incredible might, Nefaria is an old man with death inevitably dogging his heels.

Panicked and galvanised, the Overman goes berserk, carving a swathe of destruction through Manhattan whilst seeking a confrontation with Thunder God Thor and the secret of his immortality.

Before too long he had reason to regret his demands…

The surprise arrival of the Storm Lord in ‘Day of the Godslayer!’ ends the madman’s dreams but also highlights growing tensions within the victorious team…

This superb thriller is followed by a annual extravaganza (two, in fact) that became a certified classic. Devised by Jim Starlin (with the inking assistance of Joe Rubinstein) ‘The Final Threat’, from Avengers Annual #7, sees Kree warrior Captain Marvel and psionic adept Moondragon revisit Earth due to vague anticipations of an impending cosmic catastrophe.

Their premonitions are confirmed when galactic wanderer Adam Warlock arrives with news that death-obsessed Thanos had amassed an alien armada and built a weapon powered by soul-gems to snuff out the stars like candles…

Broaching interstellar space to stop the scheme, the united heroes forestall the stellar invasion and prevent the Dark Titan from destroying the Sun – but only at the cost of Warlock’s life…

This classic collection of costumed clashes closes with ‘Death Watch!’ (from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2) which finds Peter Parker plagued by prophetic nightmares, disclosing how Thanos snatched victory from defeat and now holds the Avengers captive whilst he again prepares to extinguish Sol.

With nowhere else to turn, anguished, disbelieving Spider-Man heads for the Baxter Building, hoping to borrow a spacecraft, unaware that The Thing also has history with the terrifying Titan.

Although utterly overwhelmed and outclassed, the mismatched champions of Life subsequently upset Thanos’ plans enough so that the Avengers and the Universe’s true agent of retribution are able to end the Titan’s threat forever… or at least until next time…

Supplementing the cosmic action, this collection also offers contemporary house ads, and original art samples from Pérez and John Buscema, making this archival tome a prime example of the truly epic yarns prevalent at this period which set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and influenced the movie franchise we all know and love today.

Most importantly though, these are superb comics to boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the quietly isolated and far more unpredictable dangerous 21st century…
© 2019 MARVEL.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Jack Kirby, with Frank Giacoia, John Verpoorten, Mike Royer, Dan Green, John Tartaglione & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1702-9 (HB)

These days Captain America is as much a global symbol of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave as Uncle Sam or Apple Pie ever were. Thus, I’m enjoying a lazy and rather obvious way to celebrate Independence Day (for them and perhaps us if we’re successfully incorporated as the nation’s 51st State soon…) by recommending this bellicose blockbuster featuring material first seen in 1976 as the nation commenced its third century of existence…

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, he was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss, but quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased. Fading away during post-war reconstruction only to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed.

Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Land of the Free’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

He quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties, but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually, however, he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, after nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s successes, Jack Kirby had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamically inspiring pantheon. Eventually he accepted that even he could never win against any publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce whilst enduring micro-managing editorial interference.

Seeing which way the winds were blowing, Kirby exploded back into the Marvel Universe in 1976 with a signed promise of free rein, to concoct another stunning wave of iconic creations – 2001: a Space Odyssey, Machine Man, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur (plus – so nearly – seminal TV paranoia-fest The Prisoner), as well as drafting a wealth of bombastic covers for almost every title in the company.

He was also granted control of two of his previous co-creations – firmly established characters Black Panther and Captain America – to do with as he wished…

His return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial since his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity: Jack always went his own bombastic way. Whilst those new works quickly found many friends, his tenure on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on Cap and the Panther as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of the Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty…

This sterling collection – available in sturdy hardback and reassuring tree-friendly digital formats – reprints Captain America and the Falcon #201-214 and the fourth Captain America Annual, cumulatively spanning September 1976-October 1977. It also offers an Introduction by Mark Waid revealing how, when Kirby came aboard as writer, artist and editor, his biggest battle was against unnamed editorial staff who sought to sabotage his efforts…

At the end of the previous volume the original Fighting American had saved the nation from a conclave of aristocratic oligarchs attempting to undo two hundred years of freedom and progress with their “Madbomb”. After saving the nation, the Star-Spangled Avenger reunites with his partner for issue #201, set in the aftermath of their struggle…

Inked by Frank Giacoia, the tone shifts to malevolent moodiness and uncanny mystery with the introduction of ‘The Night People!’: a street-full of maladjusted maniacs who periodically phase into and out of New York City, creating terror and chaos with every sunset. When Falcon Sam Wilson and girlfriend Leila are abducted by the eerie encroachers, they are quickly converted to their crazed cause by exposure to the ‘Mad, Mad Dimension!’ the vile visitors inhabit during daylight hours. This leaves Cap and folksy new millionaire colleague Texas Jack Muldoon hopelessly outgunned when their last-ditch rescue attempt results in them all battling an invasion of brutally berserk other-dimensional beasts in ‘Alamo II!’

On bludgeoning, battle-hardened top-form, the Star-Spangled Avenger saves the day once more, but no sooner are the erstwhile inhabitants of Zero Street safely re-ensconced on Earth than ‘The Unburied One!’ finds the indefatigable champions battling against a corpse who won’t play dead. The concluding chapter reveals the cadaver has become home to an energy-being from the far future as (inked by John Verpoorten) ‘Agron Walks the Earth!’ Thankfully, not even its pulsating power and rage can long baulk the indomitable spirit and ability of America’s Ultimate Fighting Man…

The non-stop nightmares resume in #206 as ‘Face to Face with the Swine!’ (Giacoia inks) sees the Star-Spangled Sensation illegally renditioned by secret police to deepest Central America. Here he subsequently topples the private kingdom and personal torture ground of psychotic sadist Comandante Hector Santiago, unchallenged monarch of the prison of Rio del Muerte

Never one to go anywhere meekly, Cap escapes and begins engineering the brute’s downfall in ‘The Tiger and the Swine!!’ but soon finds the jungles conceal actual monsters. When they exact primal justice on the tormentors, Cap’s escape with the Swine’s cousin Donna Maria down ‘The River of Death!’ is interrupted by the advent of another astounding “Kirby Kreation” …‘Arnim Zola… the Bio-Fanatic!!’

The former Nazi geneticist is absolute master of radical biology, abducting Cap and Donna Maria to his living castle and inflicting upon them a horde of diabolical homunculi at the behest of a mysterious sponsor, even as the Falcon is closing in on his long-missing pal.

Indomitable against every kind of shapeshifting horror, Captain America battles on, enduring a terrible ‘Showdown Day!’(with Mike W. Royer taking over the inking), whilst back home Steve Rogers’ girlfriend Sharon Carter uses her resources as SHIELD’s Agent 13 to trace wealthy Cyrus Fenton and expose ‘Nazi “X”!’ as Zola’s sponsor and the Sentinel of Liberty’s greatest nemesis…

With his time on the title counting down, Kirby ramped up the tension in #212 as ‘The Face of a Hero! Yours!!’ finds Zola preparing to surgically insert the Red Skull into Cap’s form, triggering a cataclysmic clash which leaves the hero bloodied and blind, but ultimately victorious…

With the hero recuperating in a US hospital, Dan Green steps in to ink #213 as ultimate assassin ‘The Night Flyer!’ targets the ailing Cap at the behest of unfettered capitalist villain Kligger (from the insidious Corporation), inadvertently restoring his victim’s vision in time for spectacular – if abrupt – conclusion ‘The Power’ (Royer inks)…

Reading slightly out of sequence here, Captain America Annual #4 wraps up the Kirby contributions to the career of the Star-Spangled Avenger with ‘The Great Mutant Massacre!’: a feature- length super-shocker which again eschews convoluted back-story and the cultural soul-searching which typified the character before and after Kirby’s tenure.

It sees America’s Super Soldier strive against humanity’s nemesis Magneto and his latest mutant recruits Burner,Smasher, Lifter, Shocker, Slither and Peeper. This riot of rampaging action and end-of-the-world wonderment pits the Sentinel of Liberty against a Homo Superior hit-squad aiming to take possession of a super-powered being whose origins are far stranger than anybody could conceive…

This tome then concludes with a wonderful gallery of original art pages and covers for fans to drool over…

The King’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read and this stuff is as good as anything Jack crafted over his decades of creative brilliance.

Fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing Fights ‘n’ Tights masterpieces no fan should ignore and, above all else, fabulously fun tales of a true American Dream…
© 2019 MARVEL