Elektra Lives Again


By Frank Miller & Lynn Varley (Marvel/Epic Comics)
ISBN (hardback):0-87135-738-0 ISBN13 (softcover): 978-0-7851-0890-0

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer who fights crime and injustice as Daredevil: a costumed acrobat and martial artist whose other senses are so hyper-sensitive he can track a bullet leaving a gun, hear pulse-rates across a street and identify felons by their scent. In college he loved and lost a girl named Elektra Natchios, whose father was murdered before her eyes. She left Matt and became a ninja assassin. Years later they briefly reunited before she was murdered by Bullseye, one of Daredevil’s greatest foes.

Ninja masters The Hand brought Elektra back from death before Murdock granted her final redemption and peace. He was left not knowing if she was actually dead or alive.

Now plagued by nightmares in which her murdered victims are pursuing her, sightless Murdock is being driven mad by visions of her. In the waking world, The Hand are back too and plan to kill Bullseye and reanimate him as their Prime Assassin. Elektra is definitely alive now and intends to stop them…

This cold, lyrical tale of love and horror is a powerful example of Frank Miller’s ability to tell a raw, stripped-down iconic story. Although an uncomfortable fit for the continuity conscious, its bleak and desolate scenario, the balletic grace of the action sequences – all superbly finished with the icy palette of Lynn Varley’s painted colours – and the sheer depth of characterisation makes this one of the most compelling Daredevil stories ever told, although not one to read if unfamiliar with Elektra’s back-story.

Best to track down those stories – collected as Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller: Volume II, or in Daredevil Masterworks and Epic Collection editions – first then …

I’m looking at the superb hardback released in 1990, but the most recent release was as part of the ultra-rare, digitally unavailable Elektra by Frank Miller & Bill Sienkiewicz Omnibus from 2016: one of number of revived editions spanning 2002 to 2008. It will be worth your efforts as this multi-award-winning saga is a remarkably impressive and contemplative psychological thriller of obsession and loss and one of the high points in Daredevil’s 60-year history.
© 1990 Epic Comics. © 2002 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Essential Punisher volume 1


By Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Len Wein, Mike W. Barr, Marv Wolfman, Dennis O’Neil, Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller, Bill Mantlo, Stephen Grant, Jo Duffy, Ross Andru, Tony DeZuniga, Frank Springer, Keith Pollard, Al Milgrom, Greg LaRocque, Mike Zeck, Mike Vosburg & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-8571-2375-0 (TPB)

Debuting in 1974 and despite being one of the industry’s biggest hits from the mid-1980s onwards, the obsessed vengeance-taker known as The Punisher was always an unlikely and uncomfortable star for comic books. His methods were excessively violent and usually permanent. It’s intriguing to note that unlike most heroes who debuted as villains (Black Widow or Wolverine come to mind) the Punisher actually became more ruthless, immoral, anti-social and murderous, not less. The Punisher never toned down or cleaned up his act – the buying public simply shifted its communal perspective.

He was created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru: a (necessarily) toned down, muted response to increasingly popular prose anti-heroes like Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan: the Executioner and a bloody tide of fictive Viet Nam vets returned from South East Asia who all turned their training and talents to wiping out organised crime in the early 1970s. The story goes that Marvel’s bosses were reluctant to give The Punisher a starring vehicle in the mainstream colour comic-book line, feeling the character’s very nature made him a bad guy, not a good one. Other than the two magazine stories and the miniseries which closes this volume, Frank Castle was not supposed to be the star or even particularly admirable to the impressionable readership.

Therefore these early appearances could disappoint die-hard fans even though they are the formative tales of his success. Perhaps it’s best to remember and accept that when not actually the villain in the tales he was at best a controversial guest and worrisome co-star…

Boy, how times do change.

He was first seen as a villain/patsy in Amazing Spider-Man #129 (cover-dated February 1974 but actually on sale from 30th October 1973 – so even in terms of his anniversary, Castle apparently “jumped the gun” (I’m so weak!). He repeatedly returned thereafter until getting his shot at the big time – just not in newsstand publications but in Marvel’s monochrome, mature magazine line. This initial Essential compilation gathers all those tentative stabs and guest-shots from February 1974 through to the breakthrough 1986 miniseries which really got the ball rolling. These include Amazing Spider-Man #129, 134-135, 162-163, 174-175, 201-202; Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15; Giant-Size Spider-Man #4; Marvel Preview #2; Marvel Super-Action #1; Captain America #241; Daredevil #182-184; Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #81-83 and The Punisher #1-5, but many die-hard modern fans may be disappointed in the relative lack of brutality, carnage and even face time contained herein. Just keep in mind that for the greater part of these early appearances the skull-shirted slayer was at best a visitor and usually the villain du jour…

The first case in this mammoth monochrome war journal comes from ASM #129, introducing not only the renegade gunslinger but also nefarious manic mastermind The Jackal in ‘The Punisher Strikes Twice!’ Scripted by Conway, and illustrated by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt, it reveals how a mystery lone gunman is duped by manipulative Professor Miles Warren into hunting the wallcrawler who was wrongly implicated in the deaths of police captain George Stacy and his daughter Gwen and currently a suspect in the death of Norman Osborn. Here he is subsequently set up by The Jackal for the murder of the Punisher’s gunmaker before clearing the air and going their own ways…

The much-misunderstood champions of the oppressed crossed paths again in Amazing Spider-Man #134-135 when a South American bandit – intended to be his oppressive regime’s Captain America – attempts to pillage a Manhattan tour boat in ‘Danger is a Man Named… Tarantula!’ Once again unwilling allies, Spidey and the Punisher’s trails cross when the duo dutifully dismantle the villain’s schemes during a ‘Shoot-Out in Central Park!’

The Punisher played a more central role in Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 (April 1975) when the webslinger forces himself into one of the sinister shootist’s cases in ‘To Sow the Seeds of Death’s Day!’ when ruthless arms dealer Moses Magnum began testing a deadly chemical weapon on randomly kidnapped victims. Tracking down the vile monster in ‘Attack of the War Machine!’, the reluctant allies found themselves infiltrating his ‘Death-Camp at the Edge of the World!’ before seeing summary justice dispensed more by fate than intent…

John Romita Senior’s original concept pencil sketch of The Punisher from 1973 is followed by the vigilante’s first solo role – in black-&-white magazine Marvel Preview #2 (August 1975) – wherein Conway & Tony DeZuñiga pronounced a ‘Death Sentence’ on some of Castle’s old army buddies. They had been tricked into becoming assassins by a millionaire madman who wanted to take over America, as the gritty yarn at last revealed the tragic reasons for The Punisher’s unending mission of vengeance.

Highly decorated Marine Castle saw his wife and children gunned down in Central Park after the carefree picnickers stumbled into a mob hit. When the killers turned on the helpless witnesses, only Castle survived. Recovering in hospital, the bereft warrior dedicated his life to eradicating criminals everywhere. Following a stunning Punisher and Dominic Fortune pin-up by Howard Chaykin, Archie Goodwin, DeZuñiga & Rico Rival’s ‘Accounts Settled… Accounts Due!’ – from Marvel Super Action #1 (January 1976) – draws another matured-themed plot to a close as Castle finally tracks down the gunsels who carried out the shooting and the Dons who ordered it, only to find his bloody vengeance hasn’t eased his heart or dulled his thirst for personal justice…

Castle was reduced to a bit-player in Amazing Spider-Man #162-163 (October & November 1976 by Len Wein Andru & Mike Esposito), as the newly relaunched X-Men were sales-boosted via a guest-clash with the webspinner in ‘…And the Nightcrawler Came Prowling, Prowling’. Here Spider-Man jumps to wrong conclusion when a sniper shoots a reveller at Coney Island and by the time Nightcrawler has explained himself (in the tried-&-true Marvel manner of fighting the star to a standstill) old skull-shirt has turned up to take them both on. Soon however, mutual foe Jigsaw is exposed as the true assassin in concluding episode ‘Let the Punisher Fit the Crime!’

Inked by DeZuñiga & Jim Mooney, November 1977’s ASM #174 declared ‘The Hitman’s Back in Town!’ with Castle hunting a costumed assassin hired to rub out J. Jonah Jameson, but experiencing unusual reticence since the killer is an old army pal who had saved his life in Vietnam. Nevertheless the tale ends in fatality at the ‘Big Apple Battleground!’ in #175.

Captain America #241 (January 1980, by Mike W. Barr, Frank Springer & Pablo Marcos) was a fill in benefitting from the Frank Miller effect – he drew the cover – as ‘Fear Grows in Brooklyn’ depicted the Sentinel of Liberty getting in the way of Castle’s latest mission and refusing to allow The Punisher to go free. Cap wasn’t on hand stop him escaping police custody and Amazing Spider-Man #201-202 (February & March 1980) by Marv Wolfman, Keith Pollard & Mooney. ‘Man-Hunt!’ and ‘One For Those Long Gone!’ reveal how Castle almost uncovers Peter Parker‘s big secret whilst relentlessly stalking a mob boss responsible for the death of a kid who had saved Castle’s life…

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 (1981 by Dennis O’Neil, Miller & Klaus Janson) is putatively the genesis of the antihero in his proper form. ‘Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?’ sees maniac fugitive Castle back in the Big Apple and lethally embroiled in a deadly scheme by Doctor Octopus to poison five million New Yorkers. Soon both Parker and his colourful alter-ego are trapped dead-centre of a terrifying battle of ruthless wills in a tense and clever suspense thriller, highlighting and recapturing the moody mastery of Steve Ditko’s heyday.

The Miller connection continued in three landmark issues of Daredevil (#182-184, May-July 1982) which ideally embody everything that made The Punisher a momentous, unmissable, “must-read” character…

It is presaged by an untitled excerpt by Miller & Janson from ‘She’s Alive’ – wherein Castle is extracted from prison by a government spook to stop a shipment of drugs the authorities can’t touch. Meanwhile a shattered Matt Murdock is failing to cope with the murder of his first love Elektra. Of course, once Castle has stopped the drugs and killed the gangsters, The Punisher refuses to go back to jail…

The story proper begins in ‘Child’s Play’ – with Roger McKenzie lending a scripting hand – and deals with school kids using drugs. It was originally begun by McKenzie & Miller but shelved for a year, before being reworked into a stunningly powerful, unsettling tale once Miller & Janson assumed full creative chores on Daredevil. When Murdock visits a high school he is a helpless witness to a little girl high on “Angel Dust” going berserk, attacking staff and pupils before throwing herself out of a third floor window The appalled hero vows to find the dealers and encounters her bereaved and distraught younger brother Billy, determined to exact his own vengeance, and later coldly calculating Castle who has the same idea and far more experience…

The hunt leads inexorably to a certain street pusher and DD, Billy and The Punisher all find their target at the same time. After a spectacular battle a thoroughly beaten Daredevil has Billy, a bullet-ridden corpse and a smoking gun…

The kid is innocent – and so, this time at least, is Castle – and after Murdock proves it in court, the investigation resumes with the focus falling on drug boss Hogman. When DD’s super-hearing confirms the gangster’s claims of innocence, Murdock successfully defends the vile dealer, only to have the exonerated slimeball gloatingly admit to having committed the murder after all! Horrified, shocked, betrayed and resolved to enforce justice, DD finds a connection to a highly-placed member of the school faculty deeply involved with the drug lord in concluding chapter ‘Good Guys Wear Red’, but it’s far too late: Castle and Billy have both decided to end the matter Hogman’s way…

Scripted by Bill Mantlo and illustrated by Al Milgrom & Mooney, Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #81-83 (August-October 1983) opens with ‘Stalkers in the Shadows’ as an increasingly crazed Punisher goes after misdemeanour malefactors with the same murderous zeal previously reserved for killers and worse. Spider-Man meanwhile, has his hands full with teen vigilantes Cloak and Dagger who have graduated from tackling street drug pushers to go after Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin of crime.

‘Crime & Punishment!’ sees Castle applying lethal force indiscriminately all over town, culminating in his own crazed attack on Fisk… who beats him to a pulp. Illustrated by Greg LaRoque & Mooney the saga ends with ‘Delusions’ as The Punisher goes on trial and is found to have been dosed with psychosis-inducing drugs…

In 1984 Marvel gave way to the inevitable and commissioned a Punisher miniseries, although writer Steven Grant and penciller Mike Zeck apparently had an uphill struggle convincing editors to let the grim, gun-crazed maniac loose in the shiny world where little kids might fixate on a dangerous role model – and their parents might get all over-protective, litigious and (skull) shirty. A year later the creators finally got the green-light and a 5-issue miniseries – running from January to May – turned the industry on its head. There was indeed plenty of controversy to go around, especially as the tale featured a “hero” who had lots of illicit sex and killed his enemies in cold blood. Also causing problems for censorious eyes were the suicide of one of the major characters and the murder of innocent children. Doesn’t it make you proud to realise how far we’ve since come?

The company mitigated the potential fall-out with the most lacklustre PR campaign in history, but not telling anybody about The Punisher (AKA Circle of Blood) didn’t stop the series becoming a runaway, barnstorming success. The rest is history. Two years later as the graphic novel market was becoming established and with Frank Castle one of the biggest draws in comics (sorry, I’m such a child sometimes), that contentious series was released as a complete book and it remains one of the very best of all his many exploits.

Here, rendered even more stark and uncompromising in gritty moody monochrome, the action begins in ‘Circle of Blood’ as Castle is locked in Ryker’s Island prison where every inmate is queuing up to kill him. Within hours he has turned the tables and terrified the General Population, but knows both old foe Jigsaw and the last of the great mob “Godfathers” have special plans for him…

When a mass breakout frees all the cons, Castle brutally steps in. For this the warden allows his escape and offers him membership in The Trust: an organisation of “right-minded, law-abiding citizens” who approve of his crusade. Castle also learns he’s being stalked by Tony Massera, a good man who thought he had escaped the influences of his crime-family…

Tony must kill Castle to avenge his father – one of Punisher’s many gory successes – but only after the streets have been swept clean of scum like his own relations. ‘Back to the War’ finds Punisher on the streets again, hunting scum, armed and supplied by the Trust… but still not a part of their organisation. After an abortive attempt to blow up The Kingpin, Castle is saved by the enigmatic Angel, and begins a loveless liaison with her. With everybody mistakenly believing the master of New York’s underworld dead, bloody gang-war erupts with greedy sub-bosses all trying to claim the top spot, but by the events of ‘Slaughterday’, Castle realises too many innocents are getting caught in the crossfires.

He also discovers in ‘Final Solution’ that the Trust have their own national agenda as hit men and brainwashed criminals dressed in his costume swarm the streets, executing mobsters and fanning the flames. All the Trust’s plans for this “Punishment Squad” and the country are uncovered in blockbusting conclusion ‘Final Solution Part 2’, when all the pieces fall into place and the surviving players reveal their true allegiances. In a classy final chapter mysteriously completed by the highly underrated Jo Duffy& Mike Vosburg, from Grant’s original plot, The Punisher takes charge in his inimitable manner, leaving God and the cops to sort out the paperwork. We can only speculate as to why the originators fell away at the last hurdle, but I’m pretty sure those same reluctant editors played some part in it all…

This economical Essential edition comes with a plethora of pin-ups, concluding with comprehensive information pages culled from the Marvel Universe Handbook.

These superb, morally ambiguous if not actually ethically challenging dramas never cease to thrill and amaze, and have been reprinted a number of times. Whichever version suits your inclinations and wallet, if you love action, cherish costumed comics adventure and crave the occasional dose of gratuitous personal justice, this one should be at the top of your “Most Wanted” list.
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mighty Marvel Masterworks Daredevil volume 2: Alone Against the Underworld


By Stan Lee, Denny O’Neil, John Romita, Gene Colan, with Jack Kirby, Frank Giacoia, Mike Esposito, Dick Ayers, Bill Everett & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-3440-8 (PB/Digital edition)

It’s another year of significant anniversaries so let’s say many happy returns for the swinging sixtieth of the rather tastelessly characterised “Sightless Swashbuckler” and latter-day meanly moody Man Without Fear Daredevil

As the remnants of Atlas Comics grew in popularity in the early 1960s it slowly replaced its broad variety of genre titles with more and more superheroes. The recovering powerhouse that would be Marvel was still hampered by a crippling distribution deal that limited the company to 16 titles (curtailing their output until 1968), so each new untried book would have to be certain of success.

Moreover, as costumed characters were selling, each new similarly-themed title would limit the breadth of the monster, western, war, humour or girls’ comics that had been the outfit’s recent bread and butter. It was putting a lot of eggs in one basket, and superheroes had failed twice before for Stan Lee. It all worked out in the end though…

Back then, Matt Murdock was a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, enabling him to perform astonishing acrobatic feats and fight like a demon. A formidable fighter for justice in both identities and a living lie-detector, he was very much a second-string hero for most of his early years.

Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who illustrated the strip. He battled thugs, gangsters, a plethora of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat. His civilian life consisted of assorted legal conundra and manfully standing back while quenching his own feelings as his portly best friend and partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson vainly romanced their secretary Karen Page, With Lee and a rotating line-up of artists plugging on, concocting some extremely engaging tales until the latest Marvel Sensation could find his feet.

That transition forms the meat of this potent compilation: part of a series of Mighty Marvel Masterworks available as kid-friendly digest paperbacks and eBooks. It traces the move from morose masked avenger to wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler, gathering Daredevil #12-21 (January 1965-October 1966) into one boldly boisterous package of thrills and spills.

The previous year had seen Golden Age giant Wally Wood leave his own unmistakable mark on the series but with his departure Lee turned to an old pal who had left during the harshest days of the Atlas implosion. He was to eventually become Marvel’s top – and most loyal – superstar…

‘Sightless, in a Savage Land!’ was laid out by Jack Kirby and illustrated by John Romita. The latter had worked for Timely/Atlas in the 1950s before moving to relatively steady work on National/DC’s romance comics, as well as freelance advertising. He returned to take DD on an epic quest, guest-starring Tarzan-tribute act Ka-Zar, ranging from the dinosaur-haunted Savage Land via an extended battle with high-tech pirates led by The Plunderer to Jolly Olde England-land (in #13’s ‘The Secret of Ka-Zar’s Origin!’) and ultimately to a US Early Warning Base (#14, ‘If This be Justice…!’, and with what I’m sure is some un-credited assistance from George Tuska).

With this multi-part, globe-girdling epic, Daredevil began to confirm his persona as a wisecracking one-man war on evil: a front that would carry him all the way to the grim ‘n’ gritty Frank Miller days, far, far in the future. Romita’s graceful, flamboyant style and expressiveness imparted new energy into the character (especially since Frank Ray né Giacoia had been inking the series since #14).

DD #15’s ‘…And Men Shall Call Him… Ox!’ showed the artist’s facility for explosive superhero action as the dim strongman last seen in #6 resurfaced, albeit in a new and sinister fashion as the lummox is made the subject of a macabre brain-swapping experiment…

When a certain webslinger guest-starred in #16, little did anyone suspect how soon Romita would be leaving…

‘Enter… Spider-Man!’ introduces criminal mastermind Masked Marauder who has big plans; the first of which is to get DD and the wallcrawler to kill each other. With follow-up ‘None are so Blind…’, a convoluted a sub-plot began which would lead to some of the highest and lowest moments of the early Daredevil series, beginning after the wondrous wallcrawler accuses Foggy of being the Man Without Fear! Although the webspinner quickly realizes his mistake, others present don’t…

Issue #18’s ‘There Shall Come a Gladiator!’ introduces the manic armoured villain and archetypal super-thug in a tale two-thirds scripted by legend-in-waiting Denny O’Neil. Here Foggy seeks to sway Karen by bolstering the ridiculous idea that he is Daredevil… and almost perishes as a result of his deception.

DD #19 then sees the Masked Marauder ally with Gladiator in action-packed big fight tale ‘Alone… Against the Underworld!’: a fitting farewell for Romita who was moving over to Amazing Spider-Man after Steve Ditko’s abrupt, controversial and utterly unexpected departure.

Originally tipped for a fill-in issue, Gene Colan came aboard as penciller with #20’s ‘The Verdict is: Death!’ and inked by Mike Esposito (as Mickey DeMeo). Colan’s superbly humanistic drawing and facility with expressions was a little jarring at first – since he drew Daredevil in a passable Romita imitation and everything else in his own style – but he soon settled in and this two-part revenge thriller featuring The Owl (concluding with the Giacoia, Dick Ayers & Bill Everett inked ‘The Trap is Sprung!’) is a fine beginning to his long, fabulously impressive run on the series, incorporating the Man Without Fear’s battle against his ferocious arch-foe, an army of thugs, deadly flying robots and even an exploding volcano to keep the readers on their toes…

Augmented by a pulse-pounding house ad, this classy compendium is a nostalgic delight for one and all: a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success combining smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. If you’ve not read these tales before I strongly urge you to rectify that error as soon as superhumanly possible.
© 2023 MARVEL.

The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus volume 1


By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko with Jack Kirby, Art Simek, Sam Rosen, Jon D’Agostino, John Duffy, Ray Holloway & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-4563-3 (HB/Digital edition)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Utter Entertainment Perfection… 10/10

The Amazing Spider-Man celebrated his 60th anniversary in 2022. However, I’m one of those radicals who feel that 1963 was when he was really born, so let’s close this year with one last acknowledgement of that…

Marvel is often termed “the House that Jack Built” and King Kirby’s contributions are undeniable and inescapable in the creation of a new kind of comic book storytelling. However, there was another unique visionary toiling at Atlas-Comics-as-was: one whose creativity and philosophy seemed diametrically opposed to the bludgeoning power, vast imaginative scope and clean, gleaming futurism that resulted from Kirby’s ever-expanding search for the external and infinite.

Steve Ditko was quiet and unassuming, diffident to the point of invisibility, but his work was both subtle and striking: innovative and meticulously polished. Always questing for affirming detail, he ever explored the man within. He saw heroism and humour and ultimate evil all contained within the frail but noble confines of humanity. His drawing could be oddly disquieting… and, when he wanted, decidedly creepy.

Crafting extremely well-received monster and mystery tales for and with Stan Lee, Ditko had been rewarded with his own title. Amazing Adventures/Amazing Adult Fantasy featured a subtler brand of yarn than Rampaging Aliens and Furry Underpants Monsters: an ilk which, though individually entertaining, had been slowly losing traction in the world of comics ever since National/DC had successfully reintroduced costumed heroes.

Lee & Kirby had responded with The Fantastic Four and so-ahead-of-its-time Incredible Hulk, but there was no indication of the renaissance ahead when officially just-cancelled Amazing Fantasy featured a brand new and rather eerie adventure character…

This compelling compilation re-presents the rise of the wallcrawler as originally seen in Amazing Fantasy #15, The Amazing Spider-Man #1-38, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 & 2 plus material from Strange Tales Annual #2 and Fantastic Four Annual #2 collectively spanning cover-dates August 1962-July 1966). It is lettered throughout by unsung superstars Sam Rosen, Art Simek, Jon D’Agostino, John Duffy and Ray Holloway and sadly an anonymous band of colourists. As well as a monolithic assortment of nostalgic treats at the back, this mammoth tome is dotted throughout with recycled Introductions from Stan Lee, taken from the first four Marvel Masterworks editions devoted to the webspinner and includes editorial announcements and the ‘Spider’s Web’ newsletter pages for each original issue to enhance that wayback machine experience…

The wonderment came and concluded in 11 captivating pages: ‘Spider-Man!’ tells the parable of smart but alienated Peter Parker, a kid bitten by a radioactive spider on a high school science trip. Discovering he has developed arachnid abilities – which he augments with his own natural engineering genius – he does what any lonely, geeky nerd would do when given such a gift – he tries to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Creating a costume to hide his identity in case he makes a fool of himself, Parker becomes a minor celebrity – and a vain, self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief flees past, he doesn’t lift a finger to stop him, only to find when he returns home that his Uncle Ben has been murdered.

Crazy for vengeance, Parker stalks the assailant who made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, only to find that it is the felon he couldn’t be bothered with. Since his irresponsibility led to the death of the man who raised him, the boy swears to always use his powers to help others…

It wasn’t a new story, but the setting was one familiar to every kid reading it and the artwork was downright spooky. This wasn’t the gleaming high-tech world of moon-rockets, giant monsters and flying cars – this stuff could happen to anybody…

Amazing Fantasy #15 came out the same month as Tales to Astonish #35 (cover-dated September 1962) – the first to feature the Astonishing Ant-Man in costumed capers, but it was also the last issue of Ditko’s Amazing playground. With this volume you’ll find the ‘Fan Page – Important Announcement from the Editor!’ that completely misled fans as to what would happen next…

The tragic last-ditch tale struck a chord with readers and by Christmas a new comic book superstar was ready to launch in his own title, and Ditko eager to show what he could do with his first returning character since the demise of Charlton action hero Captain Atom.

Holding on to the “Amazing” prefix memories, bi-monthly Amazing Spider-Man #1 arrived with a March 1963 cover-date and two complete stories. It also prominently featured the Fantastic Four and took the readership by storm. The opening tale, again simply entitled ‘Spider-Man!’, recapitulated the origin whilst adding a brilliant twist to the conventional mix.

Now the wall-crawling hero was feared and reviled by the general public thanks in no small part to newspaper magnate J. Jonah Jameson who pilloried the adventurer from spite and for profit. With time-honoured comic book irony, Spider-Man then had to save Jameson’s astronaut son John from a faulty space capsule in extremely low orbit…

Second yarn ‘Vs the Chameleon!’ finds the cash-strapped kid trying to force his way onto the roster – and payroll – of the FF whilst elsewhere a spy perfectly impersonates the webspinner to steal military secrets: a stunning example of the high-strung, antagonistic crossovers and cameos that so startled jaded kids of the early 1960s. Heroes just didn’t act like that and they certainly didn’t speak directly to the fans as in ‘A Personal Message from Spider-Man’ that’s reprinted here…

With his second issue, our new champion began a meteoric rise in quality and innovative storytelling. ‘Duel to the Death with the Vulture!’ catches Parker chasing a flying thief as much for profit as justice. Desperate to help his aunt make ends meet, Spider-Man starts taking photos of his cases to sell to Jameson’s Daily Bugle, making his personal gadfly his sole means of support.

Matching his deft comedy and moody soap-operatic melodrama, Ditko’s action sequences were imaginative and magnificently visceral, with odd angle shots and quirky, mis-balanced poses adding a vertiginous sense of unease to fight scenes. But crime wasn’t the only threat to the world and Spider-Man was just as (un)comfortable battling “aliens” in ‘The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer!’

Amazing Spider-Man #3 introduced possibly the apprentice hero’s greatest enemy in ‘Versus Doctor Octopus’: a full-length saga wherein a dedicated scientist survives an atomic accident only to discover his self-designed mechanical “waldoes”/tentacles have permanently grafted to his body. Power-mad, Otto Octavius initially thrashes Spider-Man, sending the lad into a depression until an impromptu pep-talk from Human Torch Johnny Storm galvanises the arachnid to one of his greatest victories. Also included is a stunning ‘Special Surprise Bonus Spider-Man Pin-up Page!’…

‘Nothing Can Stop… The Sandman!’ was another instant classic wherein a common thug gains the power to transform to sand (in another pesky nuclear snafu), invades Parker’s school, and must be stopped at all costs, after which1963’s Strange Tales Annual #2 featured ‘The Human Torch on the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!’

This terrific romp from Lee & Kirby with Ditko inking details how the wallcrawler is framed by international art thief The Fox, instigating an early “Marvel Misunderstanding Clash” and is followed by short story ‘The Fabulous Fantastic Four meet Spider-Man!’: re-examining in an extended re-interpretation that first meeting from the premiere issue of the wallcrawler’s own comic and taken from Fantastic Four Annual #1.

With Ditko on pencils and inks again, Amazing Spider-Man #5 saw the webspinner ‘Marked for Destruction by Dr. Doom!’ – not so much winning as surviving his battle against the deadliest man on Earth. Presumably he didn’t mind too much, as this marked the transition from bi-monthly to monthly status for the series. In this tale Parker’s nemesis, jock bully Flash Thompson, first displays depths beyond the usual in contemporary comicbooks, beginning one of the best love/hate buddy relationships in popular literature…

Eventual mentor Dr. Curtis Connors debuts in #6 when Spidey comes ‘Face-to-face With… The Lizard!’ as the wallcrawler fights far from the concrete canyon comfort zone of New York – specifically in the murky Florida Everglades. Parker was back in the Big Apple in #7 to breathtakingly tackle ‘The Return of the Vulture’ in a full-length action extravaganza.

Fun and youthful hi-jinks were a signature feature of the series, as was Parker’s budding romance with “older woman” Betty Brant, Jameson’s secretary/PA at the Bugle. Youthful exuberance was the underlying drive in #8’s lead tale ‘The Living Brain!’ wherein an ambulatory robot calculator is tasked with exposing Spider-Man’s secret identity before running amok at beleaguered Midtown High, just as Parker is finally beating the stuffings out of bully Flash Thompson.

This 17-page triumph was accompanied by ‘Spiderman Tackles the Torch!’: a 6-page vignette drawn by Kirby and inked by Ditko, wherein a boisterous wallcrawler gate-crashes a beach party thrown by the flaming hero’s girlfriend – with suitably explosive consequences…

Amazing Spider-Man #9 is a qualitative step-up in dramatic terms, as Aunt May is revealed to be chronically ill and adding to Parker’s financial woes. Action is supplied by ‘The Man Called Electro!’ – an accidental super-criminal with grand aspirations.

Spider-Man was always a loner, never far from the streets and small-scale-crime, and with this tale – wherein he also quells a prison riot single handed – Ditko’s preference for tales of gangersterism starts to proliferate: a predilection confirmed in #10’s ‘The Enforcers!’ (AKA Fancy Dan, Montana and The Ox). This is a classy mystery with a masked mastermind known as The Big Man, using a position of trust to organise all New York mobs into one unbeatable army against decency.

Longer plot-strands are also introduced as Betty mysteriously vanishes, although most fans remember this one for the spectacularly climactic 7-page fight scene in an underworld chop-shop that has still never been beaten for action-choreography.

The wonderment intensifies (after a Lee Introduction) with a magical 2-part yarn. ‘Turning Point’ and ‘Unmasked by Dr. Octopus!’ sees the lethally deranged and deformed scientist return and the disclosure of a long-hidden secret which had haunted Parker’s girlfriend Betty Brant for years.

The dark, tragedy-filled tale of extortion and excoriating tension stretches from Philadelphia to the Bronx Zoo and cannily tempers trenchant melodrama with spectacular fight scenes in unusual and exotic locations, before culminating in a truly staggering super-powered duel as only Ditko could orchestrate it.

A new super-foe premiered in Amazing Spider-Man #13 with ‘The Menace of Mysterio!’ as publisher J. Jonah Jameson hires a seemingly eldritch bounty-hunter to capture Spider-Man before eventually letting slip his own dark criminal agenda, whilst #14 offers an absolute milestone in the series as a hidden criminal mastermind manipulates a Hollywood studio into making a movie about the wall-crawler. Even with guest-star opposition The Enforcers and Incredible Hulk, ‘The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin’ is most notable for introducing Spider-Man’s most perfidious and flamboyant enemy.

Jungle superman and thrill-junkie (and modern movie star!) ‘Kraven the Hunter!’ makes Spidey his intended prey at the behest of embittered former-foe the Chameleon in #15, and promptly pops up again in the first Amazing Spider-Man Annual (1964) that follows.

A timeless landmark and still magnificently thrilling battle, tale, the ‘Sinister Six’ begins after a band of villains comprising Electro, Kraven, Mysterio, Sandman, Vulture and Dr Octopus abduct May Parker and Betty, forcing Spider-Man to confront them without his powers – lost in a guilt-fuelled panic attack.

A staggeringly compelling Fights ‘n’ Tights saga, this influential tale featured cameos (or, more honestly, product placement segments) by every other extant hero of the budding Marvel universe.

Also included in the colossal comic compendium were special feature pages on ‘The Secrets of Spider-Man!’ and comedic short ‘How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Created Spider-Man’ plus a gallery of pin-up pages featuring ‘Spider-Man’s Most Famous Foes!’ – (the Burglar, Chameleon, Vulture, Terrible Tinkerer, Dr. Octopus, Sandman, Doctor Doom, The Lizard, Living Brain, Electro, The Enforcers, Mysterio, Green Goblin and Kraven the Hunter) – as well as pin-ups of Betty and Jonah, Parker’s classmates and house, and even heroic guest stars…

Amazing Spider-Man #16 extended that circle of friends and foes as the webslinger battles The Ringmaster and Circus of Evil, meeting a fellow loner hero in a dazzling ‘Duel with Daredevil’. This delightful diversion segued into an ambitious 3-part saga, beginning in Amazing Spider-Man #17 wherein our rapidly-maturing hero touches emotional bottom before rising to triumphant victory over all manner of enemies in ‘The Return of the Green Goblin!’, as the wallcrawler endures renewed print assaults in the Daily Bugle from its rabid publisher just as his enigmatic veridian archvillain opened a sustained war of nerves and attrition, using The Enforcers, Sandman and an army of thugs to publicly humiliate the hero. To exacerbate matters, Aunt May’s health took a drastic downward turn…

Resuming with ‘The End of Spider-Man!’ and explosively concluding in triumphal big finish ‘Spidey Strikes Back!’ – featuring a turbulent team-up with friendly rival the Human Torch – this extended tale proved fans were ready for every kind of narrative experiment (single issue or two stories per issue were still the norm in 1964) and Stan & Steve were more than happy to try anything.

With ‘The Coming of the Scorpion!’, Jameson let his obsessive hatred for the cocky kid crusader get the better of him: hiring scientist Farley Stillwell to endow a private detective with insectoid-based superpowers. Sadly, the process drove mercenary Mac Gargan mad before he could capture Spidey, leaving the webspinner with yet another lethally dangerous meta-menace to deal with…

That issue closed with pin-up of ‘Peter Parker and Ol’ Webhead’ before #21 highlights a hilarious love triangle in ‘Where Flies the Beetle’ as the Torch’s girlfriend uses Peter Parker to make the flaming hero jealous. Unfortunately, the Beetle – a villain with high-tech insect-themed armour – is simultaneously stalking Doris Evans as bait for a trap. As ever, Spider-Man was simply in the wrong place at the right time, resulting in a spectacular fight-fest.

This issue also offers a stunning and much reprinted Ditko Marvel Masterwork Pin-up of ‘Spider-Man’ before ASM #22 preeeeeeeesents… ‘The Clown, and his Masters of Menace!’: affording a return engagement for the Circus of Crime with splendidly outré action and a lot of hearty laughs provided by increasingly irreplaceable supporting stars Aunt May, Betty Brant and Jameson, before #23 delivers a superb thriller blending the mundane mobster and thugs that Ditko loved to depict with the more outlandish threat of a supervillain attempting to take over all the city’s gangs.

‘The Goblin and the Gangsters’ is both moody and explosive, the supervillain’s plot foiled by a cunning competitor and the driven hero’s ceaseless energy, and this tale is complemented by a Ditko Marvel Masterwork Pin-up of ‘Spidey’ that amazingly features all the supporting cast and every extant villain in his rogue’s gallery…

Another recurring plot strand debuted in #24, as a dark brooding tale had the troubled boy question his own sanity in ‘Spider-Man Goes Mad!’. The sinister stunner sees a clearly delusional wallcrawler seeking psychiatric help, but there’s more to the matter than simple insanity, as an insidious old foe unexpectedly returns, employing psychological warfare…

Amazing Spider-Man #25 once more sees our obsessed publisher take matters into his own hands. ‘Captured by J. Jonah Jameson!’ introduces Professor Smythe – whose dynasty of robotic Spider-Slayers would bedevil the webslinger for years to come – hired to remove Spider-Man for good.

Issues #26 & 27 comprise a captivating 2-part mystery and deadly duel between Green Goblin and an enigmatic new criminal. ‘The Man in the Crime-Master’s Mask!’ and ‘Bring Back my Goblin to Me!’ together form a perfect arachnid epic, with soap-opera melodrama and screwball comedy leavening tense crimebusting thrills and all-out action.

ASM #28’s ‘The Menace of the Molten Man!’ is a tale of science gone bad and remains remarkable today not only for spectacular action sequences – and possibly the most striking Spider-Man cover ever produced – but also as the story in which Peter Parker graduates from High School.

Ditko was on peak form and fast enough to handle two monthly strips. At this time he was also blowing away audiences with another oddly tangential superhero. Two extremely disparate crusaders met in ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange!’: lead story in the second super-sized Spider-Man Annual (released in October 1965 and filled out with vintage Spidey classics). The entrancing fable unforgettably introduced the Amazing Arachnid to arcane other realities as he teamed up with the Master of the Mystic Arts to battle power-crazed mage Xandu in a phantasmagorical, dimension-hopping masterpiece involving ensorcelled zombie thugs and the stolen Wand of Watoomb. After this, it was clear that Spider-Man could work in any milieu and nothing could hold him back…

Also from that immensely impressive landmark are more Ditko pin-ups via ‘A Gallery of Spider-Man’s Most Famous Foes’ – highlighting such nefarious ne’er-do-wells as The Circus of Crime, The Scorpion, The Beetle, Jonah’s Robot and The Crime-Master.

Back in the ever-more popular monthly mag, ASM #29 warned ‘Never Step on a Scorpion!’ as the lab-made larcenous lunatic returned, seeking vengeance on not just the webspinner but also Jameson for turning a disreputable private eye into a super-powered monster…

Issue #30’s off-beat crime-caper then cannily sowed seeds for future masterpieces as ‘The Claws of the Cat!’ depicted a city-wide hunt for an extremely capable burglar (way more exciting than it sounds, trust me!), plus the introduction of an organised gang of thieves working for mysterious new menace The Master Planner.

Sadly, by this time of their greatest comics successes, Lee & Ditko were increasingly unable to work together on their greatest creations. Ditko’s off-beat plots and quirky art had reached an accommodation with the slickly potent superhero house-style Kirby had developed (at least as much as such a unique talent ever could). The illustration featured a marked reduction of signature line-feathering and moody backgrounds, plus a lessening of concentration on totemic villains, but – although still very much a Ditko baby – Amazing Spider-Man‘s sleek pictorial gloss warred with Lee’s scripts. These were comfortably in tune with the times if not his collaborator.

Lee’s assessment of the audience was probably the correct one, and disagreements with the artist over editorial direction were still confined to the office and not the pages themselves. However, an indication of growing tensions could be seen once Ditko began being credited as plotter of the stories…

After a period where old-fashioned crime and gangsterism predominated, science fiction themes and costumed crazies returned full force. As the world went gaga for masked mystery-men, the creators experimented with longer storylines and protracted subplots. When Ditko abruptly left, the company feared a drastic loss in quality and sales but it didn’t happen. John Romita (senior) considered himself a mere “safe pair of hands” keeping the momentum going until a better artist could be found, but instead blossomed into a major talent in his own right, and the wallcrawler continued his unstoppable rise at an accelerated pace.

Change was in the air everywhere. Included amongst the milestones for the ever-anxious Peter Parker collected here are graduating High School, starting college, meeting true love Gwen Stacy and tragic friend/foe Harry Osborn, plus the introduction of nemesis Norman Osborn. Old friends Flash Thompson and Betty Brant subsequently begin to drift out of his life…

‘If This Be My Destiny…!’ in #31 details a spate of high-tech robberies by the Master Planner culminating in a spectacular confrontation with Spider-Man. Also on show is that aforementioned college debut, first sight of Harry and Gwen, with Aunt May on the edge of death due to an innocent blood transfusion from her mildly radioactive darling Peter…

This led to indisputably Ditko’s finest and most iconic moments on the series – and perhaps of his entire career. ‘Man on a Rampage!’ shows Parker pushed to the edge of desperation as the Planner’s men make off with serums that might save May, resulting in an utterly driven, berserk wallcrawler ripping the town apart whilst trying to find them.

Trapped in an underwater fortress, pinned under tons of machinery, the hero faces his greatest failure as the clock ticks down the seconds of May’s life…

This in turn generates the most memorable visual sequence in Spidey history as the opening of ‘The Final Chapter!’ luxuriates in 5 full, glorious pages to depict the ultimate triumph of will over circumstance. Freeing himself from tons of fallen debris, Spider-Man gives his absolute all to deliver the medicine May needs, and is rewarded with a rare happy ending…

Russian exile Kraven returns in ‘The Thrill of the Hunt!’, seeking payback for past humiliations by impersonating the webspinner, after which #35 confirms that ‘The Molten Man Regrets…!’: a plot-light, inimitably action-packed combat classic wherein the gleaming golden bandit foolishly resumes his career of pinching other people’s valuables…

Amazing Spider-Man #36 offers a deliciously off-beat, quasi-comedic turn in ‘When Falls the Meteor!’, with deranged, would-be scientist Norton G. Fester calling himself The Looter to steal extraterrestrial museum exhibits…

In retrospect these brief, fight-oriented tales, coming after such an intricate, passionate epic as the Master Planner saga should have indicated something was amiss. However fans had no idea that ‘Once Upon a Time, There was a Robot…!’ – featuring a beleaguered Norman Osborn targeted by his disgraced ex-partner Mendel Strom, and some eccentrically bizarre murder-machines in #37 and the tragic tale of ‘Just a Guy Named Joe! – wherein a hapless sad-sack stumblebum boxer gains super-strength and a bad-temper – would be Ditko’s last arachnid adventures.

And thus an era ended…

As added enticements – and alone worth the price of this collection of much-reprinted material – is a big gallery of extras beginning with ‘…Does Whatever a Spider Can: A Lee/Ditko Amazing Spider-Man Lexicon’ and a selection of essays by Arlen Schumer, Jon B Cooke and Blake Bell including Lee’s ‘The World’s Best-Selling Swinger’. Also on view is the entire debut tale from AF #15, in original art form, taken from the Library of Congress where it now resides, fully curated and commented upon by historian and scholar Blake Bell. Also on view are unused Ditko covers, sketches, layouts and early monochrome pin-ups (33 pages in total), unretouched cover art for AS #11 & 35, and a barrage of pulse-pounding house ads, “Bullpen Bulletin” pages plus a photo-feature on the Marvel Bullpen circa 1964.

The treats go on with rare Ditko T-shirt designs, posters and ad art, plus a range of Marvel Masterworks covers with Kirby and Ditko’s original images enhanced by painters Dean White and Paul Mounts. Also included are a cover gallery for 1960s reprint vehicle Marvel Tales (#1-28 by Ditko and latterly Marie Severin) as well as Mighty Marvel Masterworks collection covers by Michael Cho and Alex Ross’ Omnibus cover art. Although other artists have inked his narratives, Ditko handled all the art on Spider-Man and these lost gems demonstrate his fluid mastery and just how much of the mesmerising magic came from his pens and brushes…

Full of energy, verve, pathos and laughs, gloriously short of post-modern angst and breast-beating, these fun classics – also available in numerous formats including eBook editions – are quintessential comic book magic constituting the very foundation of everything Marvel became. This classy compendium is an unmissable opportunity for readers of all ages to celebrate the magic and myths of the modern heroic ideal: something no serous fan can be without, and an ideal gift for any curious newcomer or nostalgic aficionado.

Happy Unbirthday Spidey and many, many more please…
© 2022 MARVEL.

Daredevil Epic Collection volume 6: Watch Out For Bullseye (1974-1976)


By Steve Gerber, Tony Isabella, Marv Wolfman, Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Bob Brown, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Sal Buscema & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-4867-2 (TPB/Digital edition)

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

DD battled thugs, gangsters, an eclectic mix of established and new super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion. He quipped and wise-cracked his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody quasi-religious metaphor he became under modern authorial regimes.

In these tales from an era when relevancy, social awareness and political polarisation was shifting gradually back to science fiction and fantasy, the Man Without Fear was also growing: becoming in many ways the judicial conscience of a generation turning its back on old values…

Covering March 1974 – April 1976 this compilation chronologically curates Daredevil #108-132, plus a crossover into Marvel Two-in-One #3 wherein twin storylines converged and concluded. This tome sees cultural gadfly Steve Gerber taking the odd couple into strange territory before later scribes reset things on a more traditional Marvel trajectory…

After spending years in a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page, Murdock took up with former client/exotic émigré and notorious celebrity dubbed The Black Widow. Natasha Romanoff/Natalia Romanova is a Soviet-era Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s earliest and most successful female stars.

She started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days, targeting Iron Man in her debut exploit (Tales of Suspense #52, April 1964) before subsequently being redesigned as a torrid tights-&-tech supervillain. Eventually, she defected to the USA, falling for an assortment of Yankee superheroes before enlisting as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., freelance do-gooder and occasional Avenger.

Throughout her career she has always been considered ultra-efficient, coldly competent, deadly dangerous and yet somehow cursed to bring doom and disaster to her paramours. As her backstory evolved, it was revealed that Natasha had undergone experimental processes which enhanced her physical capabilities and lengthened her lifespan, as well as assorted psychological procedures which had messed up her mind and memories…

Following a period of cosmic intensity which saw them battling aliens and monsters in San Francisco as part of the first war against Thanos, a new direction began in #108 after DD rebukes the Widow for using increasingly excessive force on the thugs they stalked. In ‘Cry… Beetle’ (by Gerber, Bob Brown & Paul Gulacy) their heated arguments are forcibly curtailed when Matt’s oldest friend – and current New York DA Franklin “Foggy” Nelson – is shot and she refuses to rush back to the East Coast beside Murdock. If she had, the Widow might have helped against the mechanised marauder and mystery troops from a new terrorist organisation…

In #109, Matt meets Foggy’s radical student sister Candace and learns of a plot by the mysterious criminal gang Black Spectre seek to steal government printing plates but – rapidly en route to stop the raid – the Scarlet Swashbuckler is intercepted by a larcenous third party whose brutal interference allows the sinister plotters to abscond with the money-making plates. Even the cops can’t slow the bludgeoning rematch against the Beetle in ‘Dying for Dollar$!’ (Brown & Heck), but as the exo-skeletoned thugs break away in Manhattan, in San Francisco Natasha is attacked by vicious albino mutant Nekra, Priestess of Darkness, who tries to forcibly recruit her into Black Spectre.

After tracking down and defeating the Beetle, DD meets Africa-based hero Shanna the She-Devil, unaware the fiery American ex-pat is seeking bloody vengeance against the same enemies who have attacked Foggy, Natasha and the US economy…

The next chapter came in Marvel Two-in-One #3 (May 1974, by Gerber, Sal Buscema & Joe Sinnott), providing a peek ‘Inside Black Spectre!’ as destabilising attacks on prosperity and culture foment riot in the streets of the beleaguered nation. Following separate clue trails, The Thing joins the Man without Fear to invade the cabal’s aerial HQ, but are improbably overcome soon after discovering the Black Widow has defected to the rebels…

Daredevil #110 sees the return of Gene Colan – inked by Frank Chiaramonte – as the perfidious plot develops in ‘Birthright!’, revealing Black Spectre to be an exclusively female-staffed organisation, led by pheromone-emitting male mutant Mandrill. One of the first “Children of the Atom”, the ape-like creature had suffered appalling abuse and rejection until finding equally ostracised Nekra. Once they met and realised their combined power, they swore to make America pay…

Brown & Jim Mooney render ‘Sword of the Samurai!’ in #111, with DD and Shanna attacked by a formidable Japanese warrior, even as the She-Devil discloses her tragic reasons for hunting Nekra and Mandrill. When she too is taken by Black Spectre – who want to dissect her to discover how she can resist Mandrill’s influence – DD is attacked again by the outrageously powerful sword-wielding Silver Samurai

Triumphing over impossible odds, DD infiltrates the cabal’s flying fortress in #112 to spectacularly conclude the insurrection in ‘Death of a Nation?’ (Colan & Frank Giacoia), which finds the mutant duo seemingly achieving their ultimate goal by desecrating the White House and temporarily taking (symbolic) control of America.

… But only until Shanna, freshly-liberated Natasha and the fighting mad Man Without Fear marshal their utmost resources…

Even with his epic over, Gerber kept popping away at contemporary socio-political issues, as with #113’s ‘When Strikes the Gladiator!’ (Brown & Vince Colletta), opening with the Widow calling it a day, continues with Candace arrested for treason, teases with her then being kidnapped by one of DD’s most bloodthirsty foes and climaxes with the creation of a major new villain and an attack by one of Marvel’s most controversial monster heroes…

Ted Sallis was a government scientist hired to recreate the Super-Soldier serum that created Captain America. Due to corporate interference and what we today call “mission creep”, the project metamorphosed into a fall-back plan to turn humans into beings able to thrive in the most polluted, toxic environment…

When Sallis was subsequently captured by spies and consumed his serum to stop them from stealing it, he was transformed into a horrific mindless Man-Thing and vanished into the swamps of Florida…

Idealistic journalism student Candace had uncovered illicit links between Big Business, her own university and the Military’s misuse of public funds in regard to the Sallis Project, but when she attempted to blow the whistle, the government decided to shut her up. More worryingly, sinister scientific mastermind Death-Stalker imagined far more profitable uses for a solution that made unkillable monsters…

Trailing Candy’s abductors to Citrusville, Florida, Daredevil is ambushed by Gladiator and his macabre employer, but saved after a furious fracas by the mysterious muck-monster in #114’s ironically entitled ‘A Quiet Night in the Swamp!’ (Brown & Colletta). Death-Stalker unfortunately escapes to New York, trying to kill Foggy and restart the clandestine Sallis Project. Though DD foils the maniac in #115’s ‘Death Stalks the City!’, the staggering duel ends inconclusively and the potential mass-murderer’s body cannot be found…

Colan & Colletta reunited for ‘Two Flew Over the Owl’s Nest!’ as Daredevil jets back to San Francisco to reconcile with Natasha, only to blunder into the latest criminal enterprise of one of his oldest enemies. This time however, The Owl isn’t waiting to be found, launching an all-out attack on the unsuspecting and barely reconciled heroic couple.

Chris Claremont scripted the conclusion over Gerber’s plot, with Brown & Colletta back on the art as Natasha and Shanna desperately hunt for the missing Man without Fear, before the avian arch-criminal can add him to a pile of purloined personalities trapped in his diabolical computerised ‘Mind Tap!’

With Gerber moving on to other projects, a little messy creative shuffling results in #118’s ‘Circus Spelled Sideways is Death!’ (Gerry Conway, Don Heck & Colletta). Here Daredevil leaves Natasha, resettles in New York and promptly battles the infamous but always-inept Circus of Crime and their latest star turn – bat-controlling masked nut Blackwing, after which Tony Isabella takes the authorial reins with a clever piece of sentimental back-writing. Rendered by Brown & Heck, ‘They’re Tearing Down Fogwell’s Gym!’ sees Murdock negotiating a plea deal for Candace, whilst the man who trained his boxer father Battling Jack Murdock comes by with a little problem. It seems a crazy crooked doctor is offering impossible muscle and density boosting treatments that turns bantamweight pugilists into unstoppable rock-hard heavyweight brutes…

Crafted by Isabella, Brown & Colletta, Daredevil #120 began an extended saga focussing on the re-emergence of the world’s most powerful secret society. … And a Hydra New Year!’ sees Black Widow hit New York for one last attempt to make the rocky relationship work, only to find herself – with Matt and Foggy – knee-deep in Hydra troops at a Christmas party.

The resurgent terrorist tribe has learned America’s greatest security agency needs to recruit a legal expert as one of their Board of Directors and – determined to prevent the accession of ‘Foggy Nelson, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D’ at all costs – have dispatched the formidable wild man El Jaguar and an army of masked thugs to stop him before he can start. Thankfully, Nick Fury and his crack commandos arrive in time to drive off the attackers but the rumour is true and Foggy is now a marked man…

The revived organisation has scoured the ranks of the criminal classes (and Marvel’s back catalogue) for its return and B-Listers like Dreadnought, Commander Kraken, Man-Killer, Mentallo, The Fixer, Blackwing and many other not-so golden oldies who happily toil for the enigmatic new Supreme Hydra as he strives to take out increasingly harried Foggy. Eventually, they succeed in capturing the portly District Attorney and the Widow goes off the deep end in #122’s ‘Hydra-and-Seek’, turning New York into a war-zone as she hunts for clues, culminating in a brutal showdown and ‘Holocaust in the Halls of Hydra!’

The times, mood and scripter were changing however, and the next two issues turn to darker, more gothic dramas, beginning with #124 and the advent of a vigilante killer patterned on an old pulp fiction hero.

Written by Len Wein & Marv Wolfman and illustrated by Colan (with Klaus Janson inking) ‘In the Coils of the Copperhead!’ courts controversial gritty realism then remaking Batman over at DC Comics as the Widow finally really and truly walks, leaving the frustrated hero to bury himself in the mystery of a murdering madman savagely overreacting to petty crime and leaving a trail of bodies behind him…

Foggy meanwhile is up for re-election and losing on all counts to too-good-to-be true Blake Tower. Sadly, Matt can’t offer any help or support as he seeks the secret of the vigilante. The resultant clash doesn’t go the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s way either, and he starts #125 with the terrifying realisation that ‘Vengeance is the Copperhead!’ (by Wolfman, Brown & Janson) before achieving a last-minute, skin-of-the-teeth hollow victory…

As writer and editor, Wolfman began a long-term revision as ‘Flight of the Torpedo’ (Brown & Janson) introduces insurance agent/gone-to-seed football hero Brock Jones who – in classic Hitchcockian manner – stumbles into a plot to control the world and inherits a rocket-powered super-suit coveted by enemy agents. Unfortunately, DD has just been almost killed by the rocket suit’s previous owner and, blithely unaware, seeks to renew the brutal grudge fight…

The battle escalates in #127 as ‘You Killed That Man Torpedo… and Now You’re Going to Pay!’ sees inevitable misunderstanding escalate with both weary warriors losing all perspective. Only when they almost kill a family of innocent bystanders are they shamed into a ceasefire…

Guilt-ridden and remorseful, Murdock swears off swashbuckling in #128, until uncanny events dictate and demand the return of the Man Without Fear. ‘Death Stalks the Stairway to the Stars!’ introduces a mysterious figure literally walking into intergalactic space and features the return of teleporting psychopath Death-Stalker in pursuit of ancient objects of power. However, the real inducements to intrigue are Matt’s pushy, flighty girlfriend Heather Glenn and the increasing efficacy of attack ads targeting Foggy. Not only do they slanderously belittle the incumbent DA, but – 40 years before our own problems with “Fake News” – increasingly challenge consensus reality with absurd and scurrilous statements about all authority figures…

The media maelstrom intensifies even as Murdock scours the city for his latest client in ‘Man-Bull in a China Town!’ with “leaked” films “proving” both John F. and Robert Kennedy are still alive. Rampaging monster Man-Bull escapes court during his lawyer’s summing up and stalks the city, aided and abetted by one of DD’s oldest enemies, but ultimately cannot escape a dreadful fate…

Urban voodoo and a slickly murderous conman infest #130 as ‘Look Out, DD… Here Comes the Death-Man!’ finds the prestigious blind lawyer opening a storefront legal services operation for the disadvantaged, even as the misinformation campaign peaks. Meanwhile, brutal Brother Zed demands a human sacrifice and a terrified mother finds her only hope is a human devil in red…

Closing this spectacular compilation is the 2-part debut of a villain who would become one of the most popular psycho-killers in the business. ‘Watch Out for Bullseye… He Never Misses!’ sees wealthy men very publicly targeted for extortion by a mystery murderer who can turn any object – from paper plane to garbage can – into a deadly weapon. Hunted by the Man Without Fear, the lethal loon turns the table on DD in ‘Bullseye Rules Supreme!’, until a final fateful battle settles the case and begins a lifelong obsession for both men…

Supplementing the furious fun are contemporaneous features from Marvel’s F.O.O.M. magazine #13 (March 1976) spotlighting the Scarlet Swashbuckler. Following a stunning cover by Colan, numerous articles explore the character – such as ‘(but first a word from our sponsors’, ‘Through the eyes of a Beholder’ (by Naomi Basner & Chris Claremont, featuring Colan pencil art and gorgeous model sheets crafted by Wally Wood when he took over the strip) and Basner’s ‘The Women in Daredevil’s Life’.

‘Buscema’s Bullpen’ offers art from the illustrator’s then students – and yes, some of them went on to far greater things! – after which Claremont interviews Stan Lee & Wolfman in ‘A Talk with the Men Behind the Man Without Fear’. A Daredevil Checklist segues into Gil Kane’s cover sketch for Giant-Size Daredevil #1; a repro of the published image and images from the 1975 Mighty Marvel Calendar.

Both issues #120 and 121 were supplemented by text pages outlining the convoluted history of Hydra and they’re reprinted here too to keep us all in the arcane espionage loop, before a selection of original art pages by Brown and Janson and house ads remind just how good this hero can look…

As the social upheaval of the 1970s receded, these fabulous fantasy tales strongly indicated the true potential of Daredevil was in reach. Their narrative energy and exuberant excitement are dashing delights no action fan will care to miss. These beautifully illustrated yarns may still occasionally jar with their earnest stridency and dated attitudes, but the narrative energy and sheer exuberance of such classic adventures are graphic joys no action fan will care to miss. And the next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…
© 2023 MARVEL.

Mighty Marvel Masterworks: Namor, the Sub-Mariner volume 1: The Quest Begins


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Wallace Wood & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-4885-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

If you’re currently sitting on or near a beach that isn’t actually storm-wracked or on fire, you might be feeling in the mood for a little salty sea-borne fun about now. The stories re-presented here are timeless and have been gathered many times before but today we’re enjoying another example of The Mighty Marvel Masterworks line: designed with economy in mind and newcomers as target audience. These books are far cheaper, on lower quality paper and smaller – like a paperback novel. Your eyesight might be failing and your hands too big and shaky, but at 152 x 227mm, they’re perfect for kids. If you opt for digital editions, that’s no issue at all.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner is the offspring of a water-breathing Atlantean princess and an American polar explorer: a hybrid being of immense strength; highly resistant to physical harm; able to fly and exist above and below the waves. Created by young, talented Bill Everett, Namor technically predates Marvel/Atlas/Timely Comics.

He first caught the public’s attention as part of the fire vs. water headlining team in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939 and soon to become Marvel Mystery Comics). He shared honours and top billing with The Human Torch, but had originally been seen (albeit in a truncated monochrome version) in Motion Picture Funnies: a promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

Quickly becoming one of the company’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (cover-dated Spring 1941) and was one of their last super-characters to go at the end of the first heroic age.

In 1954, when Atlas (as the company then was) briefly revived its costumed character “Big Three” (the Torch and Captain America being the other two), Everett returned for a run of superb fantasy tales, but even so the time wasn’t right and the title sunk again.

When Stan Lee & Jack Kirby started reinventing comic-books in 1961 with the Fantastic Four, they revived the all-but-forgotten awesome amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac, and decidedly more regal, if not grandiose, antihero. The returnee despised humanity; embittered at the loss of his sub-sea kingdom (seemingly destroyed by American atomic testing) whilst simultaneously besotted with the FF’s Sue Storm.

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for a few years, squabbling with other assorted heroes such as the Hulk, Avengers and X-Men, before securing his own series as one half of Tales to Astonish. Marvel’s “split-books” had been devised as a way to promote their burgeoning stable of stars whilst labouring under a highly restrictive distribution deal limiting the number of titles they could release per month. In 1968 the company ended this commitment and expanded exponentially.

This first celebratory volume collects one of those 1960’s guest shots – Daredevil #7 – and the first Subby’s solo stories from Tales to Astonish #70-80, spanning April 1965 to June 1966, and opening without preamble with a fateful encounter with his least powerful antagonist. Previously, Fantastic Four #4 had reintroduced the all-powerful amphibian Prince of Atlantis as an amnesiac relic who recovered his memory thanks to some rather brusque treatment by teen delinquent and AWOL Human Torch Johnny Storm. Rapidly returning to his sub-sea homeland he found it lain waste by atomic testing. A monarch without subjects, he swore vengeance on humanity and attacked New York City with a gigantic monster. In short order thereafter he met and battled Doctor Doom, The Hulk, Puppet Master, The Avengers, Magneto, the X-Men, and Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts

As previously stated, prior to Tales to Astonish, Namor appeared in numerous titles as guest villain du jour. One last guest shot with Namor acting as a misunderstood bad-guy was Daredevil #7 (April 1965): a tale qualifying as a perfect comic book and a true landmark – to my mind one of the Top Ten Marvel Tales of all time.

Here, Lee and creative legend Wally Wood concocted a timeless masterpiece with ‘In Mortal Combat with… Sub-Mariner!’ as Namor of Atlantis – recently reunited with the survivors of his decimated race – returns to the surface world to sue mankind for their crimes against his people. To expedite his claim, the Prince engages the services of Matt Murdock‘s law firm; little suspecting the blind lawyer is also the acrobatic Man without Fear.

Whilst impatiently awaiting a hearing at the UN, Namor is informed by his lover Lady Dorma that his warlord Krang has usurped the throne in his absence. The tempestuous monarch cannot languish in a cell when the kingdom is threatened, so he fights his way to freedom through the streets of New York, smashing National Guard battalions and the dauntless Daredevil with supreme ease.

The hopelessly one-sided battle with one of the strongest beings on the planet shows the dauntless courage of DD and the innate nobility of a “villain” far more complex than most of the industry’s usual fare at the time.

Augmented by a rejected Wood cover repurposed as ‘A Marvel Masterwork pin-up: Namor and D.D.’, this yarn is merely a cunning prelude…

A few months later Tales to Astonish #70 heralded ‘The Start of the Quest!’ as Lee, Gene Colan (in the pseudonymous guise of Adam Austin) & Vince Colletta set the Sub-Mariner to storming an Atlantis under martial law. The effort is for naught and the returning hero is rejected by his own people. Callously imprisoned, the troubled Prince is freed by the oft-neglected and ignored Lady Dorma…

As the pompous hero begins a mystical quest to find the lost Trident of King Neptune – which only the rightful ruler of Atlantis can hold – he is unaware that treacherous Krang allowed him to escape, the better to destroy him with no witnesses. The serialised search carries Namor through a procession of fantastic adventures and pits him against spectacular sub-sea horrors: a giant octopus in ‘Escape… to Nowhere’: a colossal seaweed man in ‘A Prince There Was’ and a demented wizard and energy-sapping diamonds in ‘By Force of Arms!’

As the end approaches in ‘When Fails the Quest!’, revolution grips Atlantis, and Namor seemingly sacrifices his kingdom to save Dorma from troglodytic demons the Faceless Ones.

Issue #75’s ‘The End of the Quest’ finds the Prince battling his way back into Atlantis with a gravely-injured Dorma, before the saga calamitously concludes in ‘Uneasy Hangs the Head…!’ as the status quo is restored and Namor finally regains his stolen throne.

Back in charge, the Prince once more turns his thoughts to peace with the surface world and resolves ‘To Walk Amongst Men!’, but his mission is derailed on encountering a deep-sea drilling platform and finds himself fighting the US military and retired Avengers Henry Pym and Janet Van Dyne. The fracas is abruptly curtailed in #78’s ‘The Prince and the Puppet’ as an old adversary once again seizes control of the amphibian’s fragile mind…

Inked by the brilliant Bill Everett, ‘When Rises the Behemoth’ sees Namor struggling against Puppet Master’s psychic control and confronting the US Army in the streets of New York, before returning to clash with a cataclysmic doomsday monster in Atlantis. Dick Ayers stepped in to ink tense conclusion ‘To the Death!’, wherein Warlord Krang returns, blackmailing Dorma into betraying her beloved Prince and fleeing away with him…

To Be Continued…

Supplemented with House ads, a full cover gallery and pages of Colan original art this assemblage of tales featuring Marvel’s first antihero are timeless treasures to delight comics lovers of every age and vintage.
© 2022 MARVEL.

Marvel Visionaries: John Romita, Sr.


By John Romita Sr., with Stan Lee, Roger Stern & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1806-4 (TPB/Digital edition)

We lost one of last giants of the industry this week when John Romita died on Monday. He was 93 and his work is inextricably woven into the Marvel canon: permeating and supporting the entire company’s output from top to tail and from the Sixties to right now… and even before the beginning of the House of Ideas actually began. 

One of the industry’s most polished stylists and a true cornerstone of the Marvel Comics phenomenon, the elder John Romita began his comics career in the late 1940s (ghosting for other artists) before striking out under his own colours. eventually illustrating horror and other anthology tales for Stan Lee at Timely/Atlas.

John Victor Romita was born and bred in Brooklyn, entering the world on January 24th 1930. From Brooklyn Junior High School he moved to the famed Manhattan School of Industrial Art, graduating in 1947. After spending six months creating a medical exhibit for Manhattan General Hospital he moved into comics, in 1949, with work for Famous Funnies. A “day job” working with Forbes Lithograph was abandoned when a friend found him inking and ghosting assignments, until he was drafted in 1951. Showing his portfolio to a US army art director, after boot camp at Fort Dix New Jersey, Romita was promoted to corporal, stationed on Governors Island in New York Bay doing recruitment posters and allowed to live off-base… in Brooklyn. During that period he started doing the rounds and struck up a freelancing acquaintance with Stan Lee at Atlas Comics…

He illustrated horror, science fiction, war stories, westerns, Waku, Prince of the Bantu (in Jungle Tales), a fine run of cowboy adventures starring The Western Kid and 1954’s abortive revival of Captain America, and more, before an industry implosion derailed his – and many other – budding careers. Romita eventually found himself trapped in DC’s romance comics division – a job he hated – before making the reluctant jump again to the resurgent House of Ideas in 1965. As well as steering the career of the wallcrawler and so many other Marvel stars, his greatest influence was felt when he became Art Director in 197. He had a definitive hand in creating or shaping many key characters, such as Mary Jane Watson, Peggy Carter, The Kingpin, The Punisher, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Satana ad infinitum.

This celebratory volume from 2019 re-presents Amazing Spider-Man #39, 40, 42, 50, 108, 109, 365; Captain America & The Falcon #138; Daredevil #16-17; Fantastic Four #105-106; Untold Tales Of Spider-Man #-1; Vampire Tales #2; and material from Strange Tales #4; Menace #6, #11; Young Men #24, 26; Western Kid 12; Tales To Astonish #77; Tales Of Suspense #77 spanning cover-dates December 1951 to July 1997. It opens with a loving Introduction from John Romita Jr., sharing the golden days and anecdotal insights on the “family business”. Not only the second son but also his mother Virginia Romita were key Marvel employees: she was the highly efficient and utterly adored company Traffic Manager for decades.

A chronological cavalcade of wonders begins with official first Marvel masterwork ‘It!’. Possibly scripted by Lee and taken from Strange Tales #4 (December 1951), we share a moment of sheer terror as an alien presence tales over the newest member of a typical suburban family…

Next is verifiable Lee & Romita shocker ‘Flying Saucer!’ (Menace #6, August 1953) and a sneaky invasion attack preceding the first Romita superhero saga as seen in Young Men #24, December 1953.

In the mid-1950s Atlas tried to revive their Timely-era “Big Three” (and super-hero comics in general) on the back of a putative Sub-Mariner television series intended to cash in on the success of The Adventures of Superman show. This led to some impressively creative comics, but no appreciable results or rival in costumed dramas.

Eschewing here the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner segments – and with additional art from Mort Lawrence – ‘Captain America: Back From the Dead’ features a communist Red Skull attacking the UN, with school teacher Steve Rogers and top student Bucky coming out of retirement to tackle the crisis. The Star-Spangled Avenger gets another bite of the cherry in ‘Captain America Turns Traitor(Young Men Comics #26, March 1954) with guest shots for Subby and the Torch as the Sentinel of Liberty apparently goes from True Blue to a deadly shade of Red…

Latterly reimagined as one of the modern Agents of Atlas, ‘I, the Robot!’ began as a deadly threat to humanity in Menace #11, and is followed here by a yarn from Romita’s first residency as the wandering hero Tex Dawson and his dauntless dog Lightning and super steed Whirlwind survive sudden stampedes and tackle vile horse butchering killers in a tale from his own eponymous title (Western Kid #12, October 1956)…

Atlas collapsed soon after, due to market conditions when a disastrous distribution decision resulted in their output being reduced to 16 titles per month, distributed by arch rival National Comics/DC. Under those harsh conditions the Marvel revolution started small but soon snowballed, drawing Romita back from ad work and drawing romances for DC.

Romita’s return began with inking and a few short pencilling jobs for the little powerhouse publisher’s split books. Tales To Astonish #77 revealed ‘Bruce Banner is the Hulk!’ (March 1966, written by Lee, laid out by Jack Kirby and finished by the returning prodigal) with the gamma goliath trapped in the future and battling the Asgardian Executioner, whilst in his home era, Rick Jones is pressured into revealing his awful secret…

The Captain America story for May 1966’s Tales of Suspense # 77 added inker Frank Giacoia/Frank Ray to the creative mix for ‘If a Hostage Should Die!’: recounting a moment from the hero’s wartime exploits with a woman he loved and lost. These days we know her as Captain Peggy Carter

After a brief stint in his preferred role as inker, Romita took over illustrating Daredevil with #12, following a stunning run by Wally Wood & Bob Powell. Initially Kirby provided page layouts to help Romita assimilate the style and pacing of Marvel tales, but soon “Jazzy Johnny” was in full control of his pages. He drew DD until #19, by which time he had been handed the assignment of a lifetime… The Amazing Spider-Man!

A backdoor pilot for that jump came in Daredevil #16-17 (May and June 1996) with ‘Enter… Spider-Man’ wherein criminal mastermind Masked Marauder manipulates the amazing arachnid into attacking the Man Without Fear. The schemer had big plans, the first of which was having DD and the wallcrawler kill each other, but after Spidey almost exposes Matt Murdock’s secret in ‘None are so Blind!’ they mend fences and go after the real foe…

By 1966 Stan Lee and Steve Ditko could no longer work together on their greatest creation. After increasingly fraught months Ditko resigned, leaving Marvel’s second best-selling title without an illustrator. Nervous new guy Romita was handed the ball and told to run. ‘How Green Was My Goblin!’ and ‘Spidey Saves the Day!’ – “Featuring the End of the Green Goblin!” – as it so dubiously proclaimed) was the climactic battle fans had been clamouring for since the viridian villain’s debut. It didn’t disappoint – and still doesn’t today.

Reprinted from issues #39 and 40 (August & September 1966 and inked by old DC colleague Mike Esposito as “Mickey Demeo”), this remains one of the best Spider-Man yarns ever, and heralded a run of classic sagas from the Lee/Romita team that actually saw sales rise, even after the departure of the seemingly irreplaceable Ditko. If you need further convincing, it sees the villain learn Peter Parker’s identity, capture and torture our hero and share his own origins before falling in the first of many final clashes…

Amazing Spider-Man #42 heralded ‘The Birth of a Super-Hero!, with John Jameson (Jonah’s astronaut son) mutated by space-spores and going on a Manhattan rampage. It’s a solid, entertaining yarn that is only really remembered for the last panel of the final page.

Mary Jane Watson had been a running gag in the series for years: a prospective blind-date arranged by Aunt May who Peter had avoided – and Ditko skilfully never depicted – for the duration of time that our hero had been involved with Betty Brant, Liz Allen, and latterly Gwen Stacy.

Now, in that last frame the gobsmacked young man finally realises that for years he’s been ducking the “hottest chick in New York”! I’m sure we all know how MJ has built her place in the Marvel Universe…

Issue #50 (July 1967) featured the debut of one of Marvel’s greatest villains in the first chapter of a 3-part yarn that saw the first stirrings of romance between Parker and Gwen, the death of a cast regular, and re-established the webslinger’s war on cheap thugs and common criminals. Here it all begins with a crisis of conscience that compels him to quit in ‘Spider-Man No More!

Romita was clearly considered a safe pair of hands and “go-to-guy” by Stan Lee. When Jack Kirby left to create his incredible Fourth World for DC, Romita was handed the company’s other flagship title – in the middle of an on-going storyline. Here we focus on Fantastic Four #105-106 (December 1970 and January 1971 and both inked with angular, brittle brilliance by John Verpoorten). and ‘The Monster’s Secret’.

Scripted by Lee, they comprise a low-key yet extremely effective suspense thriller played against a resuming subplot of Johnny Storm’s failing romance. When his Inhuman girlfriend Crystal is taken ill – preparatory to writing her out of the series – Reed Richards’ diligent examination reveals a potential method of curing the misshapen Thing of his rocky curse.

Tragically, as Ben Grimm is prepped for the radical process in ‘The Monster in the Streets!’ a mysterious energy-beast begins tearing up Manhattan. By the time ‘The Monster’s Secret!is exposed, the team strongman is almost dead and Crystal is gone… seemingly forever.

Romita briefly and regularly returned to the Star-Spangled Avenger in the 1970s and June 1971’s Captain America & The Falcon #138 reveals how ‘It Happens in Harlem!’ sporting a full art job by Romita, Lee’s tale sees new hero The Falcon foolishly try to prove himself by capturing the outlaw Spider-Man, only to be himself kidnapped by gang lord Stoneface. Cue a spectacular three-way team up and just desserts all round…

The Amazing Spider-Man was never far from Romita’s drawing board and in #108 the secret of high school bully Flash Thompson – freshly returned from the ongoing war in Indochina – finally unfolds ‘Vengeance from Vietnam!’ With Romita inking his own pencils, it details how our troubled war hero was connected to an American war atrocity that left a peaceful village devastated and a benign wise man comatose and near-dead. The events consequently set a vengeful cult upon the saddened soldier’s guilt-ridden heels, which all the Arachnid’s best efforts could not deflect or deter.

The campaign of terror is only concluded in #109 as ‘Enter: Dr. Strange!sees the Master of the Mystic Arts divine the truth and set things right… but only after an extraordinary amount of unnecessary violence…

Marvel was expanding and experimenting as always and a horror boom saw them move into mature reader monochrome magazines. In Vampire Tales #2 (October 1973), Roy Thomas scripted a short vignette of a woman apparently imperilled who turned out to be anything but. Delivered in moody line and wash, Devil’s Daughter Satana began her predations via Romita before joining the Macabre Marvel Universe. Her debut is supplanted by a house ad…

Commemorating the hero’s 30th anniversary, Amazing Spider-Man 365 (August 1992) carried a bunch of extras including sentimental reverie ‘I Remember Gwen’ (Tom DeFalco, Lee & Romita) before we close with a wild ride from Roger Stern, inked by Al Milgrom.

‘There’s a Man Who Leads a Life of Danger’ comes from July 1997’s Untold Tales Of Spider-Man #minus 1: an adventure of Peter Parker’s parents and part of the Flashback publishing event. It pits the married secret agents against deadly Baroness Adelicia von Krupp and guest-stars a pre-Weapon-X Logan/Wolverine in a delightful spy-romp.

Added extras here include Romita’s unused splash page from Young Men Comics #24, character designs for Robbie Robertson, Mary Jane, Captain Stacy and his daughter Gwen, John Jameson, The Prowler, Wolverine and The Punisher; Fan sketches and doodles; an Amazing Spider-Man poster (painted); the covers of Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1 & 2 (ditto) plus original proposal art for the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip. There are also covers for F.O.O.M. #18, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (1987), New Avengers #8 and Mighty Marvel Heroes & Villains (with Alex Ross) and a vintage self-portrait.

This is absolutely one of the most cohesive and satisfactory career compilations available and one no fan should miss.
© 2019 MARVEL.

For a slightly different selection, I’d advise also tracking down Marvel Masters: The art of John Romita Sr (ISBN: 978-1-84653-403-4), although that’s not available in digital formats.

Sub-Mariner Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, George Tuska, Marie Severin, Ross Andru & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9184-1 (HB/Digital edition)

In his most primal incarnation (other origins are available but may differ due to timeslips, circumstance and screen dimensions) Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner is the proud, noble and generally bellicose offspring of the union of a water-breathing Atlantean princess and an American polar explorer.

That doomed romance resulted in a hybrid being of immense strength and extreme resistance to physical harm, able to fly and thrive above and below the waves. Over the years, a wealth of creators have played with the fishy tale and today’s Namor is frequently hailed as Marvel’s First Mutant. What remains unchallenged is that he was created by young, talented Bill Everett, for non-starter cinema premium Motion Picture Weekly Funnies: #1 (October 1939) so – technically – Namor predates Marvel, Atlas and Timely Comics.

The Marine Miracleman first caught the public’s avid attention as part of an elementally appealing fire vs. water headlining team-up in the October 1939 Marvel Comics #1 (which renamed itself Marvel Mystery Comics from #2 onwards. The amphibian antihero shared honours and top billing with The Human Torch, having debuted (albeit in a truncated, monochrome version) in the aforementioned promotional booklet which had been designed to be handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

The late-starter antihero rapidly emerged as one of the industry’s biggest draws, and won his own title at the end of 1940 (cover-dated Spring 1941). His appeal was baffling but solid and he was one of the last super-characters to vanish at the end of the first heroic age.

In 1954, when Atlas (as the company then was) briefly revived its “Big Three” line-up – the Torch and Captain America being the other two – Everett returned for an extended run of superbly dark, mordantly moody and creepily contemporary fantasy fables. Even so, his input wasn’t sufficient to keep the title afloat and eventually Sub-Mariner sank again.

In 1961, as Stan Lee & Jack Kirby were reinventing superheroes with the Fantastic Four, they revived the awesome, all-but-forgotten aquanaut as a troubled, semi-amnesiac antihero. Decidedly more bombastic, regal and grandiose, this returnee despised humanity: embittered and broken by the loss of his sub-sea kingdom which had been (seemingly) destroyed by American atomic testing. His rightful revenge became infinitely complicated after he became utterly besotted with the FF’s Susan Storm.

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for some years, squabbling with other star turns such as The Hulk, Avengers, X-Men and Daredevil before securing his own series as one half of Tales to Astonish. From there he graduated in 1968 to his own solo title.

This sixth subsea selection trawls The Sub-Mariner #39-49, and includes a crossover confrontation from Daredevil #77. The subsea sagas cumulatively span cover-dates July 1971 to May 1972 and are preceded by heartfelt appreciation and more creative secret-sharing from incoming scripter Gerry Conway in his Introduction ‘See the Sea’ before the (now) dry land dramas recommence…

Previously, Namor had endured months of escalating horror as old enemies like Prince Byrrah, Warlord Krang, Attuma and Dr. Dorcas continuously assaulted his sunken kingdom. They were soundly defeated, and, in the throes of triumph, the Prince announced his marriage to lifelong companion Lady Dorma. He was then betrayed by his most trusted ally whilst sinister shapeshifter Llyra murdered his bride and sought to replace her…

Heartsick, angry and despondent, Namor abdicated the throne: choosing to henceforth pursue the human half of his hybrid heritage as a surface dweller…

The tragedy instantly intensifies in Sub-Mariner #39 as seasoned scripter Roy Thomas bows out with ‘…And Here I’ll Stand!’ Illustrated by Ross Andru & Jim Mooney, it sees the former royal arrive in New York City and move onto abandoned, desolate Prison Island.

However, the intrusion is taken for invasion by the curmudgeonly human authorities who mobilise the military to drive him out. A tense stand-off soon escalates and a typically bombastic response all round reduces Sub-Mariner’s sanctuary to shards and rubble.

In the aftermath, human friends Diane Arliss and Walt Newell (who operates parttime as undersea Avenger Stingray) bring the twice-exiled Prince staggering news…

Meanwhile in Manhattan – and depicted in Daredevil #77 – Conway, Gene Colan & Tom Palmer embroil Namor in a 3-way clash after a strange vehicle materialises in Central Park. Irresistibly summoned by telepathic force, Namor arrives just in time for the Sightless Swashbuckler to jump to a wrong conclusion and attack… Then a late-arriving third hero butts in…

Guest stars abound in ‘…And So Enters the Amazing Spider-Man!’ and when the uncanny alien artefact explodes, a mysterious woman ominously invites DD, the webspinner and Namor to participate in a fantastic battle in a far-flung, dimensionally-adrift lost world. Exhausted by the traditional misunderstanding and subsequent fight, Daredevil begs off and goes home, leaving the wallcrawler to join now-nomadic Namor on a fantastic voyage and bizarre adventure that concludes in the Atlantean’s own comic…

Sub-Mariner #40 sees Conway, Colan & Sam Grainger detail how Spider-Man and Namor are compelled ‘…Under the Name of Ritual…’ to save The People of the Black Sea from murderous usurper Turalla. The telepathic subspecies has undisclosed links to Atlantis and a claim on Namor’s honour: demanding he fight on their behalf since their true king has been missing for decades…

In distant Boston, angry and reclusive elder Stephan Tuval is somehow aware of what’s transpiring and – just when arachnid and amphibian are about to fall in the brutal duel – strikes with all the terrifying power of his mind…

Returned to Manhattan, the weary heroes part, and Sub-Mariner #41 finds Namor following up the revelations shared by Diane and Walt. Illustrated by George Tuska & Grainger, ‘Whom the Sky Would Destroy!’ sees the sea lord struck down over rural New York by mutants artificially created by deranged scientist Aunt Serr.

Her son Rock is terrifying, but the real threat is meek, gentle, deceptive Lucile and before long Namor has fallen to the demonic clan. Seen as raw material, the former prince barely escapes destruction in #42’s ‘…And a House Whose Name…is Death!’ as Conway, Tuska & Mooney briskly build to larger epic featuring Tuval…

If you’re a completist, this issue also offers a brief Mr. Kline interlude, as Conway continued an early experiment in close-linked crossover continuity. Issue #42 contributes to a convoluted storyline involving the mystery mastermind from the future, twisting human lives and events. For the full story you should also track down contemporaneous Daredevil and Iron Man issues: you won’t be any the wiser, but at least you’ll have a complete set…

For one month, Marvel experimented with double-sized comic books (whereas DC’s switch to 52-page issues lasted almost a year: August 1971 to June 1972 cover-dates). November’s Sub-Mariner #43 held an immense, 3-chapter blockbuster beginning with ‘Mindquake!’ as Namor reaches Boston. He has come in search of his father Leonard McKenzie, whom he believed had been killed by Atlanteans in the 1920s. Instead he finds Tuval, driven mad by his re-emerging psychic abilities and now a danger to all.

Crafted throughout by Conway, Colan & Mike Esposito, the tale of the aged tele-potent reveals how he has built a cult around himself ‘…And the Power of the Mind!’, before his increasingly belligerent acts trigger ‘The Changeling War!’ and cause his own downfall…

Cruelly unaware how close he is to his father, Sub-Mariner is then distracted by the return of Llyra and new consort Tiger Shark in #44’s ‘Namor Betrayed!’ With art by the magnificent Marie Severin & Mooney, the story reviews the antihero’s love-hate relationship with Human Torch Johnny Storm, just in time for the shapeshifter to orchestrate a heated clash with the teen hero.

The blistering battle concludes in #45 with McKenzie’s abduction, and ‘…And Fire Stalks the Skies!’ sees Namor surrender himself to save his sire…

Conway, Colan & Esposito then pile on the trauma in #46 as ‘And Always Men Will Cry: Even the Noble Die!’ sees the son’s quest end in death and disaster, despite the best – if badly mismanaged – interventions of the Torch and Stingray.

Doubly orphaned and traumatised, Namor loses his memory again, and is easily gulled by ultimate manipulator Victor Von Doom in #47’s ‘Doomsmasque!’: duly deployed as cannon fodder in the Demon Doctor’s duel with M.O.D.O.K. and AIM to control a reality-warping Cosmic Cube.

The war is dirty and many-sided, with a frontal assault in #48’s ‘Twilight of the Hunted!’ leaving Namor to a pyrrhic triumph in concluding chapter ‘The Dream Stone!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) before retrenching in confusion to ponder his obscured future…

To Be Continued…

Sunken treasures salvaged here include Everett’s cover to all-reprint Sub-Mariner Annual #2 (January 1972, reprising the underwater portions of Tales to Astonish #74-76); a covers gallery by Sal Buscema, Everett ,Tuska, Gil Kane & Giacoia; original art from Andru & Mooney, Sal B, Severin, Kane, Giacoia & Esposito plus a copious Biographies section.

Many early Marvel Comics are more exuberant than qualitative, but this volume, especially from an art-lover’s point of view, is a wonderful exception: historical treasures with narrative bite that fans will delight in forever. Moreover, as the Prince of Atlantis is now a bona fide big screen sensation, now might be the time to get wise and impress your friends with a sunken treasure…
© 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Annihilation Classic


By Todd Dezago, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Marv Wolfman, Mark Gruenwald, Bill Mantlo, Doug Moench, Scott Edelman, Roy Thomas, Pat Broderick, Fred Hembeck, Derec Aucoin, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Paul Ryan, Mike Mignola, Tom Sutton, Mike Zeck, Gil Kane & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3410-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

With the third Guardians of the Galaxy movie set to open on May 5th, here’s a brief reminder of what comics did to inspire the phenomenon: still a grand example of cosmic hero wonderment…

Annihilation was another of those company-wide publishing events that “Changed the Marvel Universe Forever” (and don’t they all?). which ran for most of 2006, involving most of the House of Ideas’ outer space outposts and cosmic characters. Among the stalwarts in play were Silver Surfer, Galactus, Firelord, Moondragon, Quasar, Star-Lord, Thanos, Super-Skrull, Gamora, Ronan the Accuser, Nova, Drax the Destroyer, The Watchers and a host of alien civilisations such as the Kree, Skrulls, Xandarians, Shi’ar, et al, all falling before an invasion of rapacious Negative Zone bugs and beasties unleashed by the insectoid horror Annihilus.

If you’re new to the Marvel universe and that bewildering list of daunting data didn’t leave you screaming in frustration, then please read on…

As is usual in these public herd-thinnings, a number of good guys and bad died and had their trademark assumed by newer, glitzier models whilst some moribund careers got a successful and overdue shot in the arm…

The event spawned a number of specials, miniseries and new titles (subsequently collected as three volumes plus this Annihilation Classic compilation reprinting key and origin appearances of some major players) and led to follow-up event Annihilation: Conquest. Of particular interest to fun-loving screen-watchers might be early appearances of Galaxy Guardians Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Starlord and Adam Warlock

This sharp selection comprises of and contains pertinent material from Bug #1, (March 1997), Tales to Astonish #13, (December 1960), Nova #1, (September 1976), Quasar #1 (October 1989), Rocket Raccoon #1-4 (May-August 1995) ,Marvel Spotlight #6 (May 1980), Logan’s Run #6 (June 1977) and Marvel Premiere #1 (April 1972) and opens with the frenetic and light-hearted solo outing for Galactic Warrior Bug (originally a cheeky stalwart from the 1970’s toy-license phenomenon Micronauts)…

In ‘Apples and Oranges’ by Tod Dezago, Derec Aucoin, Rich Farber & Ralph Cabrera, the insectivorid from the Microverse accidentally clashes with all-consuming cosmic menace Annihilus and gets stuck in a time/space warp.

Bounced around the history of the Marvel Universe, the warring weirdoes reveal their unheralded contributions to the origin stories of a number of the company’s greatest stars before Bug finally triumphs…

With accompanying pinup by Pat Broderick and hilarious game pages by Fred Hembeck including ‘Bug’s Brain-Tik-lers’, ‘The Help Bug Right the Time/Space Continuum Board Game’, ‘What’s Wrong with This Picture?’ and ‘Bug’s Catch-All Activity Page’, this is a splendidly engaging and irreverent treat, followed by an absolute classic of the gloriously whacky “Kirby Kritter” genre as a humble biologist saved earth from a rapacious walking tree in ‘I Challenged Groot! The Monster from Planet X!’ (Tales to Astonish #13 by Stan Lee/Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers).

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

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

‘Nova’ – borrowing heavily from DC’s Silver Age Green Lantern franchise as well as Spider-Man’s origin – is structured like a classic 4-chapter Lee/Kirby early Fantastic Four fable, and rapidly introduced its large cast before quickly zipping to the life-changing moment in Rider’s life when a star-ship with a dying alien aboard transferred to the lad all the mighty powers of an extraterrestrial peacekeeper and warrior.

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

Wendell Vaughn debuted in 1977 as S.H.I.E.L.D. super-agent Marvel Boy (Captain America #217), graduating and rebranding as Quasar during a stint as security chief of Project Pegasus during the early 1980s. He finally got an origin with his own title Quasar #1 (cover-dated October 1989).

He learned ‘The Price of Power!’ courtesy of Mark Gruenwald, Paul Ryan & Danny Bulanadi in a rousing romp wherein he washes out of agent training for lack of a killer instinct. Whilst acting in a security detail, Wendell dons alien quantum wrist-bands to stop them being stolen by AIM, even though they had vaporised every S.H.I.E.L.D. operative who had test-piloted them.

As well as not dying, he gained incredible quantum light powers and began a brief but glorious career as an Avenger and Protector of the Universe…

Rocket Raccoon was a minor character who appeared in brief backup sci fi serial ‘The Sword in the Star’ (specifically in Marvel Preview #7 in 1976). He won a larger role in Incredible Hulk #271 (May 1982), and like Wolverine years before, refused to go away quietly.

Reprinted here in its entirety is the 4-issue Rocket Raccoon miniseries (May to August 1985, as crafted by Bill Mantlo, Mike Mignola, Al Gordon & Al Milgrom): a bizarre, baroque sci-fi fantasy blending the edgy charm of Pogo with the biting social satire of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, all whilst ostensibly describing a battle between Good and Evil in a sector of space completely crazy even by comicbook standards.

Rocket was one of many talking animals populating the impenetrable, inescapable Keystone Quadrant; a Ranger in charge of keeping the peace as robots and anamorphic beasties went about their holy, ordained task of caring for the distinctly odd and carefree humans known as The Loonies on their idyllic, sybaritic planet Halfworld.

However when a brutal shooting war between voracious apex toymakers Judson Jakes and Lord Dyvyne led to Rocket’s girlfriend Lylla Otter being kidnapped, the planet went wild, or more accurately… Animal Crackers’

In rescuing her, Rocket and his faithful deputy Wal Rus had to contend with a murderous army of mechanised Killer Clowns, face an horrific, all-consuming bio-weapon at ‘The Masque of the Red Breath’ and even team up with arch-foe and disreputable mercenary bunny Blackjack O’Hare before uncovering the horrendous truth behind the mad society he so tirelessly defended in ‘The Book of Revelations!’

The final chapter then shook everything up as ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ saw the end of The Loonies, allowing Rocket and his surviving companions to escape the confines of the eternally segregated Keystone Quadrant into the greater universe beyond…

Starlord (without the hyphen) premiered in 1976, headlining monochrome mature-reader magazine Marvel Preview # 4. He appeared thrice more – in #11, 14 and 15 – during the height of a Star Wars inspired Science Fiction boom.

Years previously, the warrior prince of an interstellar empire was shot down over Colorado and had a fling with solitary Earther Meredith Quill. Despite a desire to remain in idyllic isolation, duty called her starman back to battle and he left, leaving behind an unborn son and a unique weapon. A decade later, the troubled boy saw his mother assassinated by alien lizard men.

Peter Jason Quill vengefully slew the creatures with Meredith’s shotgun, before his home was explosively destroyed by a flying saucer.

The newly-minted orphan awoke in hospital, his only possession a “toy” ray-gun his mother had hidden from him his entire life. Years later his destiny found him, as the half-breed scion was elevated by the divinity dubbed the “Master of the Sun”, becoming StarLord. Rejecting both Earth and his missing father, Peter chose freedom, the pursuit of justice and the expanse of the cosmos…

Here, from Marvel Spotlight volume 2 #6, Doug Moench & Tom Sutton revisit and clarify that origin as the pacifistic Quill and his sentient starship return to Sol and discover the truth about his nativity and ascension as well as the true nature of The Master of the Sun…

Logan’s Run was a short-lived licensed property tie-in, and #6 incongruously featured a 5-page short starring mad Titan Thanos in battle against his precision-crafted nemesis Drax the Destroyer: a typically inconclusive, explosively violent out-world clash over ‘The Final Flower’ crafted by Scott Edelman & Mike Zeck.

This star-studded compilation then concludes with an allegorical masterpiece by Roy Thomas, Gil Kane & Dan Adkins from Marvel Premiere #1. During a time of tremendous social upheaval Thomas transubstantiated an old Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four throwaway foe into a potent political and religious metaphor. Debuting as a dreaded mystery menace, the character dubbed Him was re-imagined as a contemporary interpretation of the Christ myth and placed on a world far more like our own than the Earth of Marvel’s superhero-stuffed universe.

‘And Men Shall Call Him… Warlock!’ adroitly recapitulates the artificial man’s origins as a lab experiment concocted by rogue geneticists eager to create a superman they could control for conquest. After facing the FF, Him subsequently escaped to the stars and later initiated a naive clash with Thor over the rights to a mate before returning to his all-encompassing cocoon to evolve a little bit more.

Now that stellar shell is picked up by the moon-sized ship of self-created god The High Evolutionary who is obsessed with a bold new experiment. Our hand-made hero observes as the savant creates a duplicate Earth on the far side of the sun, fast-forwarding through billions of years of evolution in mere hours. The man-god’s intent is to create a civilisation without aggression or rancour, but the Evolutionary collapses from exhaustion just as proto-hominid becomes Homo Sapien and his greatest mistake takes instant advantage of his exhaustion to meddle with fate…

Years previously Man-Beast had been hyper-evolved from a wolf and instantly became his creator’s nemesis. Now he and his equally-debased minions invade the ship and interfere with the experiment: reintroducing evil to the perfect creatures below and, in fact, making them just like us. At incredible speed Earth’s history re-ran with the creature in the cocoon afforded a ring-side seat to humanity’s fall from grace…

When the High Evolutionary awakes to fight Man-Beast’s army, Him explodes from his shell to help rout the demons, who flee to despoiled Counter-Earth. With calm restored, the science-god prepares to sterilise his ruined experiment: a world now indistinguishable from our own. No superheroes; disease and poverty rampant; injustice in ascendance and moments away from nuclear Armageddon… but the cosmic newborn begs him not to.

He claims the evil tide can be turned and pleads for the Evolutionary to stay his hand. The grieving, despondent creator agreed… but only until the rechristened Adam Warlock should admit that humanity is beyond redemption…

This ends a magnificent compendium of genuine magical Marvel moments: an eclectic but hugely entertaining procession of thrills, spectacle and laughs no comic fan or interested neophyte could possibly resist. And when you’ve read all this, you’ll be properly primed for some wide screen wonders too…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Night Nurse


By Jean Thomas, Linda Fite & Win Mortimer; Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev, & various (MARVEL)
No ISBN: Digital-only edition

During the costumed hero boom of the 1960s, Marvel experimented with a solo title shot for Inhuman anti-hero/political refugee Madame Medusa (Marvel Super-Heroes #15, July 1968) and a solo series for established supporting character The Black Widow (Amazing Adventures # 1-8, August 1970 – September 1971). Both were sexy, reformed supervillains, not wholesome girl-next-door heroines like long-domesticated costumed chicks The Invisible Girl, Marvel Girl and The Wasp… and neither lasted solo for long.

The other two actual action women – rather than simple romantic-complication fodder – of that early Marvel era were The Scarlet Witch (mutant/ex-villain/occasional Avenger) and superspy Sharon Carter/Agent 13 of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Just for the sake of completeness: post-World War II, Timely/Atlas Comics embraced and published fiercely independent, capable female operators like Miss America, Namora, Golden Girl, Sun Girl, Blonde Phantom, Venus and more. None survived the insidious social domestication movement that drove American women out of the workplace and back into kitchens and bedrooms: a period that (coincidentally?) generated a growing fascination with captivating jungle women living wild and free in primal freedom – in space as well as on Earth – and a huge explosion in straight romance comics where decent white girls competed for the best husband…

When the costumed crazies craze began to subside in the 1970s, newly-promoted Publisher Stan Lee and his editor-in-chief Roy Thomas looked into creating a girl-friendly boutique of proper “heroines” for the changing tastes of the nation. Written by women, they sought to address and satisfy a wider market than simple boy-fuelled superheroics ever could.

The early 1970s was an era of turbulent social change, with established notions, traditions and laws being constantly challenged. Banner headlines and TV news everywhere confirmed that women’s rights were now being fought for – and thus consequently fiercely resisted – just as vigorously as the Civil Rights movement that had polarised and incensed Americans a handful of years previously…

Marvel’s opening shots in this mini-liberation war were in established genres and both cover-dated November 1972. Claws of the Cat – by Linda Fite, Marie Severin & Wally Wood – added a female superhero to the pantheon, whilst Night Nurse combined contemporary daytime television medical dramas with Marvel’s long-established romance/“career girl” tradition. New post-Feminism jungle goddess Shanna the She-Devil – by Carole Seuling & George Tuska – debuted in December 1972.

Despite impressive creative teams, none of these fascinating and trailblazing experiments lasted beyond a fifth issue, but the characters have all since then become fully established in the greater continuity…

That certainly applies to today’s pioneer. Collecting Night Nurse #1-4 and a stunning reinvention from Marvel Knights Daredevil (volume 2) #80 – also numbered #460 as a result of renumbering nonsense you really don’t need to care about. This digital-only compilation gathers the entire melodrama-drenched saga of a tough and determined young woman looking to make a difference. The print equivalent is the 2015 Night Nurse one-shot: cover-dated July and published to capitalise on the traction her appearance in the mainstream MU generated.

With covers by Winslow Mortimer, John Romita Sr., Frank Giacoia & Joe Sinnott, and adapting the character and concepts first seen in Linda Carter: Student Nurse (#1-9, spanning cover-dates September 1961-January 1963), Night Nurse saw writer Jean Thomas and illustrator Mortimer reintroduce our star as her-long-deferred graduation day approached: peeking behind the curtain of professionalism to reveal ‘The Making of a Nurse!’

Carter and her roomies – ghetto child Georgia Jenkins and disgraced, disinherited rich kid Christine Palmer – have all been learning-by-working at vast and prestigious Metro General: enduring a relentless regimen of complex hands-on training adapting them to the constant high pressure demands of their proposed careers. Particularly difficult was the suffering they were daily exposed to, and how each student coped with it…

Things start to get truly complicated when Linda falls for wealthy good-looking patient Marshall Michaels. His whirlwind courtship leads to a marriage proposal and wedding plans… until he reveals that no wife of his will ever prioritise a job over running his home…

Georgia, meanwhile, finds her ghetto roots still dragging her down when – in the midst of a city-wide power-outage – her brother Ben and his activist friend Rocky try to blow up Metro’s back-up generator. When she and Linda discover them the result is tragedy…

In the second issue, a ‘Night of Tears… Night of Truth!’ sees Carter save a VIP life during a hit-and-run incident, only to endure an acclaimed and ultra-rich surgeon parachuted in to conspicuously fix the patient and reap temporary glory.

Arrogant Dr. Sutton subsequently offers well-bred rebel Palmer a job as his permanent assistant: a position that comes with amorous assumptions and intent. However, the snobbish surgeon underestimates her resolve and loathing of the unspoken code dictating that the wealthy should stick together and he can’t understand why Christine calls the cops when she finds out his side hustle business, how he uses his prescription privileges and one other secret he’s been keeping from all his powerful friends and associates…

Linda, meanwhile, is getting far too friendly with hunky doctor Jack Tryon

Events escalate in ‘Murder Stalks Ward 8!’ when Carter is the only witness to a gangland killing that leads back to major mobster Victor Sloan: a crime kingpin connected to Georgia’s wayward brother Ben. When Sloan is admitted to Metro, nurse Jenkins finds her dedication and resolve severely tested, especially after rival crooks invade the hospital looking for payback and Jack and Linda have to play detective and bodyguard…

There’s an abrupt change of pace in final issue #4 and a touch of gothic romance in the air as Thomas and co-writer Linda Fite focus on Christine. Rocked by scandal, Dr. Sutton’s betrayal and repeated rejection by her elitist father, nurse Palmer seeks a different career path and answers an ad for a live-in nurse/physiotherapist in Boston.

Illustrated by Mortimer, ‘The Secret of Sea-Cliff Manor!’ revels in all the trappings of gothic mystique typifying that period, as Christine meets and manages moody, magnificently angry paraplegic Derek Porter, his sweet Aunt Edna, and spooky old manservant Harold: dispensing care and comfort whilst being dragged deep into a manic murder plot…

The series terminated there, although the nurses popped up occasionally in various titles over the years. Then in Marvel Knights Daredevil volume 2 #58 (May 2004) Linda Carter returned without warning and in an extremely specific role: running a sort-of secret underground clinic in NYC as the enigmatic “Night Nurse”. The facility catered exclusively to metahumans – mostly the heroic or vigilante ones – who needed fixing and couldn’t trust the regular hospital system…

Inexplicably, that yarn is not included here. Instead we have Marvel Knights Daredevil volume 2, #80 (February 2006): fifth chapter 5 of ‘The Murdock Papers’ wherein Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev and colourist Dave Stewart detail how Matt Murdock is almost fatally shot after his secret identity is made public.

On the run, his occasional ally and paramour Elektra drags his failing form to the clinic where it transpires Murdock is a frequent flyer. As the mysterious medic seeks to stabilise him, heroes like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Black Widow rush to his side. It’s a smart move since Kingpin Wilson Fisk, an army of irate Feds and ninja cult The Hand have all zeroed in on the dying man, all determined to complete their unfinished business with Daredevil

From this revival and revision, Night Nurse evolved into a crucial component of both the print and cinematic Marvel Universes, playing a role in the Civil War and Secret Invasion storylines; working with The Young Avengers, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Iron Man and all the above-mentioned street level champions…

A tribute to Marvel’s ceaseless commitment to reinvention, reappraisal and rebirth, Night Nurse is an intriguing example of how the role of women has evolved in comic books and will delight both incurably addicted fans and those casual dabblers looking for different flavours of Marvel medicine.
© 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.