Incredible Hulk: Hulk Vs. The Marvel Universe


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roger McKenzie, Bill Mantlo, Peter David, Howard Mackie, Marie Severin, Frank Miller, Sal Buscema, Todd McFarlane, John Romita Jr., Jorge Lucas & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3129-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Incredible Hulk #1 hit newsstands and magazine spinners on March 1st 1962. The comic book was cover-dated May. He was technically (excluding once-&-future Ant-Man Henry Pym) the second superhero star of the dawning Marvel Age. A few more debuted that year – so Happy Anniversary all – before the true Annus Mirabilis Atomicus (stop sniggering: it hopefully means Year of Atomic Miracles) that was 1963…

This 2008 collection was unleashed on readers due to the World War Hulk event. Reprinted here are Fantastic Four #25-26, Journey into Mystery #112, Tales to Astonish #92-93, Daredevil #163, Incredible Hulk #300 & 340, Peter Parker: Spider-Man #14 and Hulk Vs. Fin Fang Foom cumulatively spanning cover-dates April 1964 to February 2008.

With the Big Green Galoot and his chartreuse cousin both making new screen appearances this year, it seems sensible to take another look at the original Marvel antihero’s irascible interactions with his fellow power-packed pals. First, though…

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

After an initially troubled few years the irradiated idol finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and misunderstood miscreant of the moment, until a new home was found for him in “split-book” Tales to Astonish: sharing space with fellow maligned misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner, who proved an ideal thematic companion from his induction in #70.

This book is for every fan (isn’t that all of us?) that asked eternal question “who would win if…?” and we open without preamble on an early landmark as Fantastic Four #25 (April 1964) sees a cataclysmic clash that had young heads spinning then and ever since.

The Hulk’s own title had folded after six issues, and he joined debuting solo star assemblage The Avengers, before explosively quitting in #2: joining Namor’s assault on them in #3. That globe-trotting romp delivered high energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history but you’ll need to go elsewhere to see it.

Here and now, it’s 3 months later and Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos use FF #25 to establish an evergreen tradition – the first of many instances of ‘The Hulk Vs The Thing’.

Accompanied by FF #26’s concluding episode ‘The Avengers Take Over!’, the is an all-out Battle Royale as the disgruntled man-monster searches Manhattan for former sidekick Rick Jones, with only an injury-wracked Fantastic Four to curtail his destructive rampage.

A definitive moment in the character development of The Thing, the action ramps up when a rather stiff-necked and officious Avengers team horns in, claiming jurisdictional rights on “Bob” Banner – this tale is plagued with pesky continuity errors that haunted Lee for decades – and his Jaded alter ego. Notwithstanding bloopers, this is one of Marvel’s key moments and still a visceral, vital read.

The second chapter of the Hulk’s career began in Tales to Astonish #59 (September 1964) as his became co-star to fading property Giant-Man – soon to be replaced by Marvel’s Man from Atlantis – whilst the Green Goliath’s guest star career continued unabated. Next up is a perfect example of that pulling power: the lead story in Journey into Mystery #112 (January 1965) where ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’

The Hulk and Mighty Thor share their 60th anniversary and whether in print, in animations or in blockbuster movies, that eternal question has been asked but never answered to anyone’s satisfaction whenever applied to the modern iteration of the age-old mythic war between gods and monsters. This tale is the first of many return engagements: a glorious gift to every fight fan and arguably Kirby & Chic Stone’s finest artistic moment, detailing a private duel between the two super-humans that occurred during that free-for-all between Earth’s Mightiest, Sub-Mariner and Ol’ Greenskin back in Avengers #3. The raw power of that tale is a perfect exemplar of what makes the Hulk work as a returning foe and yardstick of heroism and determination of those unlucky enough to battle him.

Technical aside: I’m reviewing the digital release and here that blistering bout is followed by JIM #112’s Tales of Asgard back-up ‘The Coming of Loki!’ by Lee, Kirby & Vince Colletta. I suspect you won’t find it in the physical copies of this book…

In Tales to Astonish #92 (June 1967) Lee, superb Marie Severin & Frank Giacoia promised a ‘Turning Point!’, depicting Banner hunted through a terrified New York City as prelude to his alter ego clashing with an incredible opponent in the next issue. Back then, Hulk didn’t really team-up with visiting stars, he just got mad and smashed them. Such was certainly the case as he became ‘He Who Strikes the Silver Surfer’: ironically driving off a fellow outcast who held the power to cure him of his atomic affliction.

There’s a big leap to March 1979 next as Daredevil #163 sees Matt Murdock offer the fugitive Banner sanctuary before the tormented scientist again loses his eternal struggle to suppress the monster inside. Inevitably, the forgone conclusion is the Man without Fear outclassed and punching up before getting creamed to save New York from the Hulk in ‘Blind Alley’ by Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller & Josef Rubinstein, after which we hurtle to Incredible Hulk #300 (cover-dated October 1984) and the end of an epic run by scripter Bill Mantlo and illustrator Sal Buscema. The Hulk had gone from monster outcast to global hero and Banner’s intellect had overridden the brute’s simplistic nature, but now, thanks to the insidious acts of dream demon Nightmare, banner was gone leaving only a murderous, mindless engine of gamma fuelled destruction to ravage New York City.

Inked by Gerry Talaoc, extended epic ‘Days of Rage!’ saw the unstoppable monster easily defeat every superhero in town before being exiled to another universe…

Of course, he came back and was mostly restored, but radical change remained a constant. October 1984’s Incredible Hulk #340 was highpoint in a game-changing run by Peter David and sensation-in-waiting Todd McFarlane. The Hulk was notionally de-powered and returned to the grey-skinned cunning brute of his first appearances just in time for a savage rematch with Wolverine in ‘Vicious Circle’. That inconclusive bout segues here to another battle with another shared-birthday boy.

The wondrous crawler was wracked with agonising ‘Denial’ (Peter Parker: Spider-Man #14, February 2000, by in Howard Mackie, John Romita Jr. & Scott Hanna) in a mismatched clash that occurred with Peter Parker reeling in shock and grief, believing his wife Mary Jane and baby daughter had died in a plane crash. All he had left was great responsibility and something to hit…

We end on a raucously rowdy light-heartedly cathartic note with a modern take on the classic monster battles motif. One-shot Hulk vs Fin Fang Foom #1 (February 2008) was by Peter David, Jorge Lucas & Robert Campanella, revealing an “untold tale” of the early Kirby-era with the gamma goliath headed to the far north in time to see a dragon decanted from the ice.

Parody pastiche ‘The Fin from Outer Space’ is a furious flurry of fisticuffs and fantastic force unleashed with the sole intent of making pulses pound…

With covers from Kirby – with Roussos and Stone, Marie Severin & Giacoia, Miller & Rubinstein, Bret Blevins, McFarlane & Bob Wiacek, Romita Jr. and Jim Cheung, John Dell & Justin Ponsor, this is a straightforward, no-nonsense, all-battle bill of fare no Fights ‘n’ Tights fan could have the strength to resist. Grab it if you can!
© 2020 MARVEL.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 13 


By Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter, Chris Claremont, Bob Brown, John Buscema, John Byrne, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Frank Robbins, Al Milgrom & various (MARVEL) 
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1634-3 (HB/Digital edition) 

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. A second-string hero for much of his early career, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due mostly to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. DD fought gangsters, super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wisecracking his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody, quasi-religious metaphor he became.  

After a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page, Murdock took up with Russian émigré Natasha Romanoff, infamous and notorious ex-spy Black Widow. She was framed for murder and prosecuted by Matt’s best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson before the blind lawman cleared her. Leaving New York with her for the West Coast, Matt joined a prestigious San Francisco law firm but adventure, disaster and intrigue sought out the Sightless Sentinel and ultimately drew him back to the festering Big Apple… 

Spanning May 1976 to May 1977, the 13th compilation re-presents Daredevil #133-143, Annual #4, a crossover from Ghost Rider #19-20, and a spin-off from Marvel Premiere #39-40, cover-dated December 1977 and January 1978.  

We kick off with an Introduction from Marv Wolfman, recalling the strange days of his tenure as writer/editor before arguably the best proof possible of that opinion follows… 

Marvel was always keenly aware that any real-world attention was beneficial. Daredevil #133 begins laying groundwork for an unfolding epic about fake news and disinformation in public office (and remember this set just after Watergate and long before Trumpism!) before digressing with a fanciful fluff piece co-starring real-world stage trickster and headline-seeker Uri Geller. Concocted by Wolfman, Bob Brown & Jim Mooney, ‘Introducing: Mind-Wave and his Fearsome Think Tank!’ is a happily forgettable yarn about a maniac in a super-tank attacking Manhattan. Thankfully, Mind-Wave’s arch enemy (Geller, claiming to have psychic powers granted him by aliens) is there to aid the Scarlet Swashbuckler… 

More sinister secrets of the perception-shaping masterplan of The Jester are revealed in #134’s ‘There’s Trouble In New York City…’ as disgruntled former football star/insurance salesman Brock Jones returns. Previously, he had stumbled into a plot to control Earth and took possession of a rocket-powered super-suit coveted by enemy agents. DD had almost been killed by the suit’s original owner, leading to the usual superhero misunderstanding and a savage clash. Now, as TV news showed Daredevil killing cops and with the shapeshifting Chameleon robbing at will, Brock again dons the suit to help the common man as The Torpedo, innocently adding to the chaos and confusion before the Chameleon is caught … 

The Jester’s grand scheme is revealed in ‘What Is Happening?’ The Manic Mountebank has exploited a computer pioneer to create a wave of stories making the public mistrust the authorities by manipulating the media. (I’m not commenting, I’m not commenting…) 

Seeing newspaper reports, photos and even news tapes of John and Robert Kennedy alive, superheroes killing cops and “proof” that Viet Nam never happened, but secret wars in Chile and Saudi Arabia did, much of the public readily accepts the villain was framed, resulting in DD being arrested and subsequently handed over to an army of thugs and gangsters. 

John Buscema assumed pencilling with #136 as the Jester’s endgame is exposed. When President Gerald Ford announces that New York City’ s police and all its superheroes have gone insane, citizens are urged to defend themselves at all costs. The entire scheme has been devised to leave the city open to plunder by the Jester’s hastily-united army of mobsters… 

Unable to keep away, DD takes action but is quickly captured and subjected to ‘A Hanging for a Hero!’ As a lynch mob of panicked citizens and enraged criminals almost execute the Man without Fear he flamboyantly escapes but is forced back into action for concluding episode 137 ‘The Murder Maze Strikes Twice!’ as “President Ford’s” broadcasts demand citizens take up arms and “take back Wall Street” from the thugs that now control it… 

Deducing the Jester’s location, DD storms in, dismantles all the villain’s traps – and minions – and restores order and justice, only to discover personal crises boiling over… 

Throughout the media reality war, Daredevil has been seeking to prove the innocence of Heather Glenn’s father. Matt Murdock’s current girlfriend knows her dad isn’t a ruthless, murdering slumlord but that someone must have framed him. All evidence says otherwise. 

Now, as Matt and Foggy return to the case, word comes (for readers, as two excerpted pages from Ghost Rider #19 – August 1976 by Tony Isabella, Frank Robbins & Vince Colletta) depicting Karen Page being kidnapped by friend and ally Stuntman… 

It leads directly into Daredevil #138 where Wolfman, John Byrne & Mooney ask ‘Where is Karen Page?’ as the Man Without Fear drops everything for his one true love: heading for Los Angeles where Page is a Hollywood star with a complex convoluted life. However her relationship with hell-tainted Johnny Blaze is not why she was targeted, but rather from her father’s inventions and career as super-maniac Death’s Head …and the impostor now using the name to further his own insane plans… 

The saga concludes in Ghost Rider #20 (Wolfman, Byrne & Don Perlin) as ‘Two Against Death!’ exposes who is truly pulling all the strings with Satan-spawn and Scarlet Swashbuckler pairing to save Karen. Meanwhile in Manhattan, Foggy continues investigating Glenn Industries and is shot… 

The plot thread expands in Daredevil Annual #4’s ‘The Name of the Game is Death!’ Plotted by Wolfman, scripted by Chris Claremont, drawn by George Tuska and inked by Frank Chiaramonte, it finds The Black Panther aiding an industrialist whose son is abducted. 

Thanks to friendship with King T’Challa and judicious use of Vibranium, Robert Mallory has built the world’s first Tidal Power Station. Someone thinks holding his son will win them the plans but hasn’t counted on T’Challa paying his friend a visit at this inopportune moment… 

Daredevil, meanwhile, fights for his life, having stumbled into a furiously rampaging Sub-Mariner. Prince Namor has returned to the vile surface world because of a man named Mallory and a power station that while providing cheap clean energy for mankind will overheat the seas and divert the tides…  

Concluding chapter ‘And Who Shall Save the Panther?’ begins with the Great Cat prowling Manhattan, having tracked the crime to ambitious mobster Ruffio Costa. Sadly, he is unable to defeat the gangsters alone and eventually DD steps in to deliver a ransom, accidentally brining Sub-Mariner along for the ride… 

When the superbeings converge and clash, Costa is caught in the carnage and a lab explosion transforms him into something far worse that gradual climate crisis and the factions must all temporarily unite to defeat the threat of Mind-Master…  

The editorial story behind Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Mooney’s ‘A Night in the Life’ (Daredevil #139) is a true insight to comics at their best, but for readers it’s simply a chance to enjoy enhanced drama, suspense and action as the search for a missing haemophiliac boy overlaps a police manhunt for a mad bomber demanding the return of his drug-addicted wife. Wolfman was unsurpassed at interleaving soap opera melodrama with costumed cavorting, and the fraught tone carried over to in #140 as Bill Mantlo, Sal B & Klaus Janson detailed ‘Death Times Two!’ when a runaway bus dumped Daredevil into a hunt for accidentally united old enemies The Gladiator and The Beetle who then aimed a runaway train at Grand Central Station and attempted to settle old scores with the hero amidst the dead and dying… 

An even bigger change in tone began in #141. ‘Target: Death!’ was plotted by Wolfman, and scripted by Jim Shooter, with pencils divided between Gil Kane and Bob Brown, and Jim Mooney inking. It is very much a forerunner of what Roger McKenzie and Frank Miller would conceive of in months to come, opening with another murder attempt on Foggy and fresh insights into the abduction of his fiancée Debbie. More secrets of Glenn Industries are teased out, a killer dies and DD’s ultimate arch-nemesis returns for another killing spree before abruptly changing his mind and tying defeated Daredevil to a giant arrow and firing him at the New Jersey Palisades… 

Pulling out all the stops for his final forays, Wolfman – with Brown & Mooney – resurrected more classic villains for #142. Escaping one doom, DD meets new hero Nova, even as Mr. Hyde and The Cobra reunite, targeting the Scarlet Swashbuckler as he passes the rooftop rainforest garden of a young millionaire – ‘The Concrete Jungle’…  

This transitional selection concludes for now with ‘“Hyde and Go Seek” Sayeth the Cobra!’ (Wolfman, Brown & Keith Pollard) wherein the villains leave our hero to the carnivores populating the skyscraper Eden while they plunder the penthouse below. The goal is not wealth but ancient books and formulas to enhances their powers, but as ever, they grievously underestimate the boldness and ingenuity of the Man Without Fear… 

Also included in my dynamic digital edition is the two-issue try-out tale starring hero/villain The Torpedo who first accidentally battled DD in Daredevil #126-127. After the brief reprise recounted above he was given his big shot at fame Marvel Premiere #39-40 (from December 1977-January 1978) before ultimately dying in Rom: Spaceknight and being replaced by a teenaged female.  

‘Ride a Wild Rocket!’ and ‘…Battle with the Big Man!’ was a rushed-seeming collaboration of Wolfman, Mantlo, Brown, Al Milgrom, Josef Rubinstein, Bob Wiacek and Alan Weiss showing Brock hunting the rocketeer gang who originally owned his turbo-suit, but all his efforts to reclaim the acclaim of his quarterbacking days seem pointless. Harassed at home and bored at work, his American Dream is dying.  

After almost triggering a nuclear meltdown he is considered a menace, even though he saved the state from atomic catastrophe, and a critical change comes after the hidden mastermind behind all his woes and superhero aspirations decides enough is enough.  

As seen Captain America, Machine Man, and The Incredible Hulk, long-time villain Senator Eugene “Kligger” Stivak is a leader of criminal capitalists The Corporation and decides he will take care of Brock personally, but he has seriously underestimated the over-the-hill hero’s stubbornness and desperate need to regain his self-esteem… 

Supplementing all the amazing comics adventures, the extras sections include Wolfman’s editorial from #133 detailing the circumstances of Geller/Marvel’s publicity stunt, followed by original art pages all inked by Jim Mooney, a cover and splash page from John Buscema plus a splash each for Byrne and Brown, and an extensive biography section.  

As the social upheaval of the 1970s receded, these fabulous fantasy tales strongly indicated that the true potential of Daredevil was finally in reach. Their narrative energy and exuberant excitement are dashing delights no action fan will care to miss. 

…And the next volume heads into darker shadows, the grimmest of territory and the breaking of many boundaries… 
© 2019 MARVEL  

Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Bill Mantlo, Chris Claremont, Sal Buscema, John Byrne, Keith Giffen & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2931-2 (HB)

The concept of team-ups – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with new or less well-selling company characters – has been with us since the earliest days of comics, but making the brief encounter/temporary alliance a key selling point really took hold with DC’s The Brave and the Bold before being taken up by their biggest competitor.

Marvel Team-Up was the second regular Spider-Man title, launching at the end of 1971. It went from strength to strength, proving the time had finally come for expansion and offering a regular venue for uncomplicated action romps to supplement the House of Ideas’ complex sub-plot fare in regular books. However, even in the infinite Marvel Multiverse, certain stars shine more brightly than others and some characters turn up in team-ups more often than others…

In recent years, carefully curated themed collections from the back-catalogue have served to initiate new readers intrigued by Marvel’s Movie and TV endeavours, but there’s no real substitute for seeing Marvel’s continuity unfolding in chronological and this compelling hardback/eBook compilation gathers the contents of Marvel Team-Up #53-64; MTU Annual #1 and includes a pertinent debut from Marvel Premiere #31; collectively covering August 1976 to December 1977.

Following Chris Claremont’s Introduction offering fond remembrances of the times and key writer Bill Mantlo, open with an epic length adventure from Marvel Team-Up Annual #1 by Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito (from a plot by Mantlo, Claremont & Bonnie Wilford).

‘The Lords of Light and Darkness!’ sees Spider-Man and the then-newly minted and revived X-Men, Banshee, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Phoenix and Cyclops helping Charles Xavier combat a pantheon of scientists mutated by atomic accident and elevated to minor godhood.

Like most deities, the puissant ones believed they knew what was best for humanity…

Mantlo then teamed with John Byrne & Frank Giacoia to bring closure to a tale begun – and left hanging – in August 1976’s Marvel Premiere #31, which can be found at the back of this book.

Marvel Team-Up #53 detailed a ‘Nightmare in New Mexico!’ as The Hulk meets troubled and AWOL gene-splicing experiment Woodgod as the tragic construct flees from corrupt Army Colonel Del Tremens. By the time the wallcrawler drops in, the fugitive outcasts have joined forces leaving him a  ‘Spider in the Middle!’ (inked by Esposito).

As Tremens seeks to suppress the calamitous crisis – and his own indiscretions – by killing everyone, the final scene sees the webspinner trapped in a rocket and blasted into space…

Marvel Team-Up #55 revealed a ‘Spider, Spider on the Moon!’ (Mantlo, Byrne & Dave Hunt) with returned cosmic Avenger Adam Warlock intercepting the ship before assisting the Arachnid and mysterious alien The Gardener against The Stranger: all seeking possession of the Golden Gladiator’s life-sustaining Soul Gem…

Back on Earth but still a trouble-magnet, in #56 Spider-Man assists Daredevil against ‘Double Danger at the Daily Bugle!’ (Mantlo, Sal B & Hunt) when Electro and Blizzard take the entire Newsroom hostage, after which Claremont assumed full scripting duties, laying the groundwork for a complex extended thriller embroiling the still-naïve hero in a deadly espionage plot.

With artists Sal Buscema & Dave Hunt, Claremont began redefining the Widow’s ways in Marvel Team-Up #57 (May 1977). ‘When Slays the Silver Samurai!’ sees Spidey saved from lethal ambush by the Black Widow, implausibly holding up a collapsing building, and reluctantly taking possession of a strange statuette that he soon forgets all about. That’s an oversight he’ll later regret…

In #58, the webspinner aids Ghost Rider against The Trapster in ‘Panic on Pier One!’ (Pablo Marcos inks) before he can investigate further.  Another distraction comes when MTU #59 declares ‘Some Say Spidey Will Die by Fire… Some Say by Ice!’ (Claremont, Byrne & Hunt) when veteran Avenger Yellowjacket is apparently murdered by rampaging mystery maniac Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man. The Amazing Arachnid is hard-pressed to stop the traumatised Waspexacting bloody vengeance in concluding episode ‘A Matter of Love… and Death!’ in MTU #60…

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

Despite the very best efforts of Claremont & Byrne, their Kung Fu fantasy Iron Fist never quite achieved the kind of sales traction that rewarded their collaboration on the X-Men. The living weapon lost his circulation battle with issue #15 of his own title. Although ending in spectacular fashion, the cancellation was clearly unplanned, as two major subplots went unresolved: private detective Misty Knight had disappeared on an undercover assignment to investigate European gang-boss John Bushmaster and K’un Lun kid Danny Rand was suffering repeated attacks on his chi by the enigmatic and murderous Steel Serpent…

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

This epic tome is packed with rarely-seen extras, beginning with the contents of the Marvel Comics Memory Album Calendar 1977, released in late 1976 and preceded here by a ‘Special F.O.O.M. Preview!’ from the fabled fan-mag’s #16 (December 1976) issue. The Calendar pages follow, written by Roy Thomas and limned by Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr., Joe Sinnott, Ed Hannigan, Frank Giacoia, Gil Kane, John Buscema, Ron Wilson, Gene Colan, Jack Abel, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, George Pérez, Tom Palmer, P. Craig Russell and John Verpoorten.

As an added treat, the debut/origin of “The Man-Brute Called Woodgod” (Marvel Premiere #31, August 1976) comes next as Mantlo, Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson explore the merits, ethics and repercussions of manufacturing life and meddling with nature. ‘Birthday!’ finds a modern-day faun rampaging through the ruins of a murdered town, searching for meaning and answers from the savage military men and technicians whose only solution to oversight and potential censure is murder and cover-ups…

The sinister science project saga is supplemented by F.O.O.M. #13’s interview ‘Woodgod Wanderings’ plus a gallery of Byrne original art pages.

These tales are of variable quality but all have an honest drive to entertain and please, whilst artistically the work – particularly action-man-on-fire Byrne – is superb, and most fans will find little to complain about. Although not perhaps a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s lots of fun on hand and young readers – or Marvel Cinematic supporters – will have a blast, so why not consider this tome for your “Must-Have” library? © 2021 MARVEL

The Amazing Spider-Man: The Complete Alien Costume Saga – Book 1


By Tom DeFalco, Al Milgrom, David Michelinie, Louise Simonson, Cary Burkett & Tony Isabella with Roger Stern, Jim Owsley & Bob DeNatale, Ron Frenz, Greg LaRocque, Rick Leonardi & Paul Neary with David Mazzuchelli & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8867-4 (TPB)

Spider-Man exchanged his heavily-copyrighted and thoroughly trademarked costume whilst on another planet during the first Marvel Secret Wars. It was replaced with a magnificently stylish black & white number for the duration of the 12 issue maxi-series in his own titles (except the all-reprint Marvel Tales) which over the course of the year revealed the true horrifying nature of the extraterrestrial ensemble…

Collecting Amazing Spider-Man #252-258; Marvel Team-Up #141-145 and MTU Annual #7 and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #90-95 and covering May-November 1984, this rather rare paperback or instantly accessible digital tome seeks to chronologically cover all the bases in regard to the black bodysuit’s every appearance and thus opens with relevant clips from clips from Secret Wars #8, 9 and 12…

Continuity-wise, the extended epic opens at the conclusion of the Secret Saga with Spider-Man and Curt Connors – occasionally lethally maniacal monster the Lizard – explosively returning to Earth after a week when the world’s greatest heroes and villains had simply vanished.

To clear up any potential confusion: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars debuted in May 1984 and ran for 12 monthly issues until April 1985. In it, a selection of metahumans good and bad were shanghaied by a godlike being dubbed The Beyonder: compelled to interminably battle each other. Every other Marvel comic  of that month chronologically occurred in the apparent aftermath of that struggle with most of the returned heroes and villains refusing to divulge what had happened on Battleworld …a cheap but extremely effective ploy which kept fans glued to the Limited Series in the months that followed.

This compendium catapults us into action with ‘Homecoming!’ by Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz & Brett Breeding as spectators in Central Park see a mysterious black garbed stranger explode out of an alien artefact … only the first of many costumed characters to escape the Beyonder’s world.

Spider-Man takes the shell-shocked Connors back to his family and then begins to explore his new uniform: a thought-controlled, self-activating, metamorphic ball with chameleon capabilities, able to construct webbing out of its own mass.

The smart-cloth is astonishing, but weary Peter Parker has family to see and a city to reacquaint himself with. The hero promises himself he’ll further research the incredible material at a later date…

Not included here, Marvel Team-Up #140 posed a morally trying dilemma as a city-wide blackout provoked riots and looting. Spider-Man was on scene when a pawnshop owner was shot dead and the next day, lawyer Matt Murdock was appointed to defend a teenager indicted for the murder. Parker was there too, and knows the kid is innocent. As Spider-Man investigates, Daredevil’s old flame Natasha Romanoff volunteers to fact-find for the overworked attorney. When investigations overlapped a street gang was confirmed to be behind the incident, but the new murder suspect triggered a deadly car chase and hostage situation before being apprehended. Frustratingly – although responsible for much of the tragedy on that night – he quickly proves to also be innocent of the pawnbroker’s death…

This yarn happened at the beginning of Secret Wars and it’s a much-altered Spider-Man who joins Daredevil and the Black Widow in obtaining ‘Blind Justice’ in #141 (by DeFalco, Jim Owsley AKA Priest, Greg LaRoque & Mike Esposito) as the heroes uncover New York mob connections, a trail to Kingpin Wilson Fisk, the real killer and the true nature of the kid they’ve been defending…

In Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #90, Al Milgrom & Jim Mooney’s ‘Where, oh Where Has My Spider-Man Gone…?’ sees occasionally reformed adventurer and thief the Black Cat scouring the city and encountering many foes and friends before finally finding her transformed man, after which the wonderful Rick Leonardi & Bill Anderson illustrate DeFalco’s powerful crime thriller ‘By Myself Betrayed!’

Here a prominent football player, sucked into gambling and match-fixing, drags the Web-spinner into conflict with new gang-lord The Rose. As his new uniform increasingly, obsessively amazes Peter with its rather disturbing autonomy (it comes to him unbidden and regularly envelops him while he sleeps), the hero uncomprehendingly alienates his beloved Aunt May when he drops out of college…

Milgrom & Mooney’s ‘If it Wasn’t for Bad Luck…’ in PPSS #91 sees the Black Cat keeping secrets from her frankly now-creepy paramour even as mutant menace the Blob goes on a grief-fuelled rampage before Amazing Spider-Man #254 questions ‘With Great Power…’ (DeFalco, Leonardi & Joe Rubinstein) as the ebon wallcrawler battles terrorist mercenary Jack O’Lantern for possession of a hi-tech battle-van designed and built by the terrifying Hobgoblin. Peter should have been reconciling with May, and suffers another heartbreaking personal setback…

PPSS #92 (Milgrom & Mooney) bombastically introduces the Kingpin’s latest diabolical fixer in ‘And the answer is…’, with the Cat desperate to keep Spider-Man in the dark about her deal with Wilson Fisk, whilst Marvel Team-Up #142 and 143 take the wallcrawler very far from home in a cosmic mini epic by David Michelinie, LaRoque & Esposito.

‘Foiled!’ sees living light source Monica Rambeau (the second Marvel Captain Marvel) trapped in energy form following a high-tech heist and dependent on Spidey and Titan Starfox to save the day and secure a trans-dimensional remedy in ‘Shifts and Planes’…

In Amazing Spider-Man #255, DeFalco, Frenz & Rubinstein introduce charismatic septuagenarian cat-burglar Black Fox(whose outfit coincidentally resembled Spidey’s new kit) who is a hapless pawn and target of the ruthless but cash-strapped Red Ghost and his Super-Apes in ‘Even a Ghost Can Fear the Night!’ Compelled to rob until caught by Spider-Man, the Fox orchestrated a spectacular battle between the hero and the Ghost before getting away with all the loot…

Marvel Team-Up Annual #7 (by Louise Simonson, Paul Neary & Sam De La Rosa) saw Spider and Cat meet Alpha Flight as a certain Elder of the Universe goes after aliens to complete a set and falls for ‘The Collected Spider-Man’.

The issue also revealed ‘No Place to Run’ for a loving ordinary couple forever unsettled by witnessing the world of Superheroes and villains by Bob DeNatale, David Mazzuchelli & Brett Breeding…

Milgrom & Mooney crafted ‘A Hot Time in the Old Morgue Tonight!’ for Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man#93 as The Answer stalks the Black Cat to unearth Spider-Man’s secrets, only to see love being poisoned and Spidey’s suit start to malfunction…

Subsequently kidnapping the Cat is only part of his masterplan – as is letting the wallcrawler win her back…

Cary Burkett, LaRoque & Esposito pit the webslinger and Moon Knight against Chinese ganglord White Dragon in ‘My Sword I Lay Down!’ as a prelude to Milgrom & Mooney bringing Cloak and Dagger into the game with PPSS #94’s ‘How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down at the Morgue After They’ve Seen N.Y.C.?’ as the Kingpin resurrects his former rival Silvermane and the mindless cyborg goes wild. The tale ends but does not conclude here with #95 and ‘The Dagger at the End of the Tunnel’ as the Kingpin’s grand scheme is exposed and one hero falls…

Closing the team tussles, MTU #145 (September 1984, by Tony Isabella,  LaRocque & Esposito) delivers ‘Hometown Boy’: from the period when Tony Stark first succumbed to alcoholism. He lost everything, and friend/bodyguard Jim Rhodes took on the role and duties of the Golden Avenger. As Stark tried to make good with a new start-up company, this engaging yarn sees the substitute hero still finding his ferrous feet whilst battling oft-failed assassin Blacklash (formerly Whiplash) at a Cleveland trade fair, as much hindered as helped by visiting hero Spider-Man wearing his enigmatic black duds…

Having granted readers a period of adjustment, the saga hits its stride in Amazing Spider-Man #256 as ‘Introducing… Puma!’ finds an increasingly weary and listless Spider-Man attacked by a Native American super-mercenary hired by the Rose. The Arachnid’s gang-busting crusade beside Black Cat was making life too hot and unprofitable for the ambitious mobster…

That calamitous clash carries over into ‘Beware the Claws of Puma!’ furiously escalating until The Kingpin steps in to stop it, forcing the Rose to ally himself with the murderous Hobgoblin. The issue ends with an exhausted Parker confronted with a stunning revelation from former lover Mary Jane Watson…

The shock prompts Peter into seeking out ‘The Sinister Secret of Spider-Man’s New Costume!’ Plagued by nightmares, perpetually tired and increasingly debilitated, the webslinger visits the Fantastic Four and is disgusted and horrified to learn that his suit is alive: a parasite slowly attaching itself to him body and soul…

Meanwhile, Hobgoblin and the Rose’s uneasy alliance has resulted in bloody, undeclared war on the Kingpin…

With Reed Richards’ help the creature is removed from Spider-Man and imprisoned, but the story is still unfinished and there’s so much more to come.

To Be Continued…

Also on show here are Leonardi designs from Mike Zeck’s design for the black costume from Marvel Age #12; text pieces by Bob Sodaro & Mark Lerer from #14; covers by Ron Lim, Larry Mahlstedt, Keith Williams, Milgrom, Terry Austin, from Marvel Tales #266-272 (reprinting the Amazing Spider-Man stories) and two previous collection covers by Ron Frenz, Rubinstein and John Romita Sr.

Rounding out this initial collection is a foreword by Jim Salicrup from the 1988 collection; seven original art pages by Frenz & Breeding, LaRocque, Rubinstein & Esposito, and front and back covers from Essential Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man volume 4 by Milgrom, tom chu and Tom Smith.

This run of tales marvellously rejuvenated the Amazing Arachnid: kicking off a period of gripping and imaginative stories that culminated with the creation of arch antihero/villain Venom and today’s whole symbiote super-subculture.  If you’re a fan of superhero comics these are tales you just don’t want to miss, specially in Spder-Man’s anniversary year!
© 2019 MARVEL

Marvel Two-in-One Masterworks volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decades: Marvel in the ‘60s – Spider-Man Meets the Marvel Universe


By Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Roy Thomas, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, John Romita Sr, Gene Colan, Werner Roth & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1660-2 (TPB)

The Amazing Spider-Man was first seen in the middle of 1962, so expect plenty of wallcrawling reviews over the next twelve months, and if any of us make it to the end I’m sure we’ll all be well-versed in Arachnid Lore with our book shelves (physical or digital) positively groaning with sublimely re-readable tales and tomes…

For Marvel, it’s always been all about the team-ups…

In the company’s 80th Anniversary year of 2019, they published plenty of reprint material in archival formats designed to highlight specific triumphs of the House of Ideas. One of the mot interesting was the Decades project: collecting material from each era seen through a themed lens. For the 1960s – with so very much astounding innovation to be proud of – the editors opted to re-present critical confrontations of the company’s signature star with the other breakthrough characters that formed the bedrock of the Marvel Universe. After all, it’s always been all about the team-ups…

Within this trade paperback/digital delight – in full or in extract – are bombastic battles and eccentric encounters between the wondrous wallcrawler and the other growing stars of the ever-expanding firmament, culled from Amazing Spider-Man #1, 8, 14, 16; Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2; Fantastic Four #73; Fantastic Four Annual #1; Strange Tales Annual #2; Tales to Astonish #57; The Avengers #11; The Avengers Annual #3; Daredevil #16, 17, 27 and The X-Men #35 spanning March 1963 to 1968. The curated cruise begins with a context-setting Introduction from Jess Harrold, before we see a skinny kid in a costume meet his heroes for the first time…

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

Steve Ditko was quiet and unassuming, voluntarily diffident to the point of invisibility, but his work was both subtle and striking: simultaneously innovative and meticulously polished. Always questing for the ideal, he 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 comics ever since DC had successfully reintroduced costumed heroes.

Lee & Kirby had responded with Fantastic Four and the 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…

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

The debut of Spider-Man and his pathetic, loser, young alter ego Peter Parker was a landmark moment. The hard luck hero effortlessly made the jump to his own title. Holding on to the “Amazing” prefix to jog reader’s memories, the bi-monthly Amazing Spider-Man #1 arrived with a March 1963 cover-date and two complete stories. It also prominently featured the aforementioned FF and took the readership by storm. Excerpted here are the 5 pages wherein the cash-strapped youngster breaks into the Baxter Building determined to get himself hired by the team and ends battling his idols…

That’s followed by a back-up story from 1963’s Fantastic Four Annual #1 which expanded the incident into a proper yarn. ‘The Fabulous Fantastic Four Meet Spider-Man’ sees Kirby redraw the moment with Ditko inking and it is superb, smartly segueing into the lead feature from the same year’s Strange Tales Annual #2. This terrific romp from Lee, Kirby & Ditko depicts an early Marvel Misapprehension as the wallcrawler is framed by international art thief and disguise-master The Fox, and hot-headed Johnny Storm determines to bring the aggravating arachnid to justice. Guess how that works out…

Cover-dated January 1964, Amazing Spider-Man #8 led with a battle against the computer dubbed the Living Brain, but you’ll need to look elsewhere for that. An extra vignette in that issue provided another Lee/Kirby/Ditko delight. ‘Spiderman Tackles the Torch!’ is a 6-page comedy romp wherein a boisterous and envious wall-crawler gate-crashes a beach party thrown by the flaming hero’s girlfriend… with suitably explosive consequences.

Marvel’s growing band of stars were pooping up everywhere in others titles by this time, and the next snippet – 5 pages culled from Amazing Spider-Man #14 (July 1964) – sees the webspinner’s battle against the Green Goblin and Enforcers interrupted by the Incredible Hulk who delivers an unforgettable lesson in staying in your own weight class. That same month, Tales to Astonish #57 saw Giant-Man and the Wasp ‘On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!’ – courtesy of Lee, Dick Ayers & Paul Reinman – with sinister mastermind Egghead pulling strings to make the complete strangers into mortal enemies…

September 1964 found Amazing Spider-Man #16 extending the wallcrawler’s circle of friends and foes whilst battling the Ringmaster and his Circus of Evil and encountering freshly minted fellow loner hero in a dazzling and delightful‘Duel with Daredevil’ (Lee & Ditko), after which The Avengers #11 (by Lee, Don Heck & Chic Stone) details how ‘The Mighty Avengers Meet Spider-Man!’ This is a clever and classy cross-fertilising tale featuring time-bending tyrant Kang the Conqueror who attempts to destroy the team by insinuating within their serried ranks a robotic duplicate of the outcast hero.

Next up is arguably Ditko’s greatest artistic triumph of this era: the lead tale from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 (October of that year and filled out with vintage Spidey classics).

Ditko was on peak form: fast enough to handle two monthly strips, and at this time also blowing away audiences with another ill-fitting, oddly tangential superhero. The disparate crusaders met in ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange!’: an entrancing fable unforgettably introducing the Amazing Arachnid to arcane realities and metaphysical mysteries as he joins 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 that nothing could hold him back…

Now sporting his signature all-red outfit, the Man Without Fear re-encountered Spider-Man in Daredevil #16-17 (May & June 1966 and crafted by Lee, John Romita the elder and inker Frank Giacoia) as ‘Enter… Spider-Man!’ introduces diabolical criminal mastermind Masked Marauder who has big plans; the first of which is to get DD and the wallcrawler to kill each other…

With chapter ‘None are so Blind…’ opens a convoluted a sub-plot which would lead to some of the highest and lowest moments of the early Daredevil series – such as Spidey accusing Law-firm partner Foggy Nelson of being the Scarlet Swashbuckler and Matt Murdock inventing a twin brother Mike – but the art is superb and the action is nonstop, so there’s not much to complain about…

Next comes Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 3 and ‘…To Become an Avenger!’ with the World’s Mightiest Heroes offering the webspinner membership if he can capture and bring them the Hulk. As usual, all is not as it seems but the action-drenched epic, courtesy of Lee, Romita (on layouts), Don Heck, & Mike Esposito is the kind of guest-heavy, power-punching package that made these summer specials such a prize…

Jumping to April 1967, Daredevil #27 (Lee, Gene Colan & Giacoia) closes a chapter as a leaner, moodier Man Without Fear manifested. Earlier episodes saw the hopeless romantic triangle of Murdock, best friend Foggy and their secretary Karen Page become a whacky quadrangle by introducing fictitious twin Mike Murdock. Now he would be “exposed” as Daredevil to divert suspicion from the blind attorney who actually battled all those weird villains…

Well that happened, and – still skulking in the background – arch-villain Masked Marauder slowly honed in on DD’s actual alter ego. He got closest in ‘Mike Murdock Must Die!’ after Stilt-Man teams with the Marauder before Spider-Man abrasively helped out in a brief cameo to take down the long-legged loon…

Cover-dated August 1967, The X-Men #35 finally found Marvel’s top teens in the same story. At that time the mutant heroes were hunting secret cabal Factor Three who had used robot arachnoids to kidnap Professor X.

When ally Banshee is captured mid-sentence during a crucial communication with the team in ‘Along Came A Spider…’(by Roy Thomas, Werner Roth & Dan Adkins) everybody’s favourite wallcrawler is mistaken for a foe. After the desperate, distraught mutants find the hero amidst robot wreckage, he is forced to battle for his life against the increasingly unstable teens…

Ending this chronological collaboration excursion is Fantastic Four #73 (April 1968) which carried an instant-classic crossover that overlapped an ongoing Thor storyline and conclusion to a long-running Daredevil story wherein the sightless crusader is ousted from his own body by Doctor Doom. After warning the FF of imminent attack, the Swashbuckler subsequently defeats Doom on his own, but neglects to tell the heroes of his victory…

Thus, outmatched and unable to convince them any other way, DD enlists currently the de-powered Thunder God and ever-eager webspinner in to solve the problem Marvel style – with a pointless, spectacular and utterly riveting punch-up – in ‘The Flames of Battle…’

These timeless team-ups of Marvel’s original loner comprise a superb catalogue of splendid triumphs to be enjoyed over and over again. How can you not?
© 2019, MARVEL

Black Widow Epic Collection volume 2: The Coldest War 1981-1998


By Ralph Macchio, Gerry Conway, D.G. Chichester, Jim Starlin, Cefn Ridout, Mindy Newell, Scott Lobdell, Paul Gulacy, George Pérez, George Freeman, Larry Stroman, Joe Chiodo, Charlie Adlard, Bob Layton, Butch Guice, John Stanisci, Sergio Cariello, Randy Green & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2126-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: All-Out Action Adventure to Rival Any Cinema Classic… 8/10

Natasha Romanoff (sometimes Natalia Romanova) is a Soviet Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s earliest female stars, using a nomme de guerre first coined for a golden age supernatural superstar. Today’s Black Widow started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days, targeting Tony Stark and battling Iron Man in her debut (Tales of Suspense #52, April, 1964).

She was subsequently redesigned as a torrid tights-&-tech super-villain before defecting to the USA, falling for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – before finally enlisting as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., setting up as a freelance do-gooder and joining (occasionally leading) The Champions and The Avengers.

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 disclosed 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…

Traditionally a minor fan favourite, the Widow only really hit the big time after Marvel’s cinematic franchise was established, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts, her print escapades have always offered a cool, sinister frisson of delight.

This expansive trade paperback and digital compilation gathers the contents of Bizarre Adventures #25, Marvel Fanfare #10-13; Solo Avengers #7; Black Widow: The Coldest War; Punisher/Black Widow: Spinning Doomsday’s Web; Daredevil/Black Widow: Abattoir; Marvel Comics Presents #135; Daredevil Annual #10; Fury/Black Widow:Death Duty and Journey into Mystery #517-519, cumulatively covering March 1981 to April 1998.

Preceded by prose  recaps ‘The Black Widow and Daredevil’ and ‘We are The Champions’, the action opens with an iconic appearance from 1981, first seen in monochrome mature-reader magazine Bizarre Adventures #25, featuring short tales starring female heroes.

Here Ralph Macchio scripted a far more devious spy yarn of double and triple cross with agents betraying each other while trying to ascertain who might be working for “the other side”…

‘I Got the Yo-Yo… You Got the String’ sees the Widow despatched by S.H.I.E.L.D. to assassinate her former tutor Irma Klausvichnova in an African political hot spot. However, as the mission proceeds, Natasha learns that she can’t trust anybody and everything she knows is either a lie or a test with fatal consequences…

The chilling, twist-ridden tale is elevated to excellence by the powerful tonal art of Paul Gulacy who fills the piece with sly tributes to numerous movie spies and the actors – such as Michael Caine and Humphry Bogart – who first made the genre so compelling.

Next up is a saga seen in Marvel Fanfare #10-13 (August 1983-March 1984), wherein Macchio and George Pérez – with inkers Brett Breeding, Jack Abel, Joe Sinnott, Al Milgrom & John Beatty – depict the spy in extreme peril as ‘Widow’finds her tapped again by S.H.I.E.L.D. to extract an abducted asset – her beloved mentor Ivan Petrovich.

As she tracks and trashes assorted killers and crazies, we get a potted rundown of her complex origins before she arrives ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’: infiltrating a top-secret science project and facing the assembled killer elite of a mystery mastermind with a grudge…

As mercenary assassins close in, ‘The Web Tightens!’ until a last-minute rescue by agent Jimmy Woo and frenzied clash with mad killer Snapdragon at last leads to revelation and full disclosure after ‘The Widow… Alone!’ faces a foe long believed dead and spectacularly triumphs…

A short from Solo Avengers #7 (June 1988) by Bob Layton & Jackson “Butch” Guice) sees the Widow brave unimaginable peril to return to her old dancing teacher ‘The Token’ she no longer feels worthy of before intriguing superhero spy Original Graphic Novel The Coldest War unfolds.

Set in the last days of the US/Soviet face-off – with what looks to be an epilogue added to address the collapse of the Soviet State – the tale was clearly meant as a contemporary thriller (probably for fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents) before events overtook the time-consuming process of printing a comic.

The afterword – set after the fall of the Berlin Wall – doesn’t jar too much and must have lent an air of imminent urgency to the mix at the time.

Gerry Conway provides a typically complex, double-dealing tale set in the dog-days of Mikhail Gorbachev’s “Perestroika” (“openness”) government, where ambitious KGB upstarts undertake a plan to subvert Natasha  and return her to Soviet control. Their leverage and bait is husband Alexei Shostokoff – whom she has believed dead for years. Naturally, nothing is as it seems, nobody can be trusted and only the last spy standing can be called the winner…

Low key and high-tech go hand in hand in this sort of tale, and although there’s much reference to earlier Marvel classics, it can be easily enjoyed by the casual reader or movie convert.

And what art! George Freeman is a supreme stylist, whose drawing work – although infrequent – is always top rate. Starting out on Captain Canuck, he has excelled on Jack of Hearts, Green Lantern, Avengers, Batman Annual #11 (with Alan Moore), Wasteland, Elric, Nexus and The X-Files (for which he won an Eisner Award). Here, inked by Ernie Colon, Mark Farmer, Mike Harris, Val Mayerik & Joe Rubinstein, with colours from Lovern Kindzierski, he renders a subtle and sophisticated blend of costumed chic and espionage glamour to make this tale a “must-have” item all by itself.

It’s followed by 1992’s OGN Punisher/Black Widow: Spinning Doomsday’s Web by D.G. Chichester, Larry Stroman & Mark Farmer. Action-packed and plot-lite, it sees Frank Castle clash with the super-agent as she tracks rogue killer Peter Malum: an atomic scientist with a taste for slaughter and an insatiable thirst to test the deadliest weapon he’s ever built…

Presumably her spicy spy cachet wasn’t deemed enough to garner a regular series but warranted plenty of guest shots. In 1993, Jim Starlin & Joe Chiodo reunited her with an old lover for OGN Daredevil/Black Widow: Abattoir as a duo of depraved psionic predators inflict the tortures of the damned upon the Widow until the Man Without Fear saves her… and she subsequently rescues him…

Released in Late August 1993, ‘Legacy’ by Mindy Newell, John Stanisci & Sergio Cariello, was one quarter of Marvel Comics Presents #135 and sees Natasha touch base with her roots in New York’s Russian enclave only to find prejudice, murder and hidden KGB agents, before 1994’s Daredevil Annual #10 ‘Dead End’ offers a kind of sequel by Newell, Cariello & Rich Rankin as Natasha retrieves a lost bio-agent and is unexpectedly forced into reviewing her own defection to find a supposedly long-deceased old enemy…

Presumably crafted under the aegis of the much-missed Marvel UK sub-division, 1995 OGN Fury/Black Widow: Death Duty is by Cefn Ridout & Charlie Adlard and is a bit of a misnomer.

Don’t be fooled by the title and brace yourself for a disappointment if you’re a huge fan of the World War II Howling Commando and irascible erstwhile leader of the planet’s most advanced espionage agency. Although he gets top billing, Nick Fury is largely absent from the post-Cold War proceedings in this pacy thriller that is in actuality the spiritual conclusion to the saga of the mysterious Night Raven.

The enigmatic wanderer was a masked vigilante who fought crime in New York and Chicago s between World Wars I and II. In later years, he was locked in a bloody, pitiless vendetta with immortal villainess Yi Yang, Queen of the Dragon Tong.

Here, when a S.H.I.E.L.D. asset is murdered inside Moscow’s US embassy soon after the fall of the Soviet system, expatriate Russian super-agent/Avenger Natasha Romanoff is dispatched to unravel the secrets the new rulers don’t want revealed.

What she discovers is the incredible fate of the fearsome urban legend now known as Black Bird as he slaughters his way through bureaucrats and Russian Mafia alike in his single-minded mission to destroy the woman who kept him from a peaceful grave.

Superbly illustrated and tightly scripted, this is nonetheless an uncomfortable blending of genres, with a strange pace to it: as if a propose serial was savagely trimmed and pruned with no thought to narrative cohesion.

Closing the file this time around is a 3-part exploit by Scott Lobdell, Randy Green & Rick Ketcham from Journey into Mystery #517-519 (February to April 1998). ‘The Fire Next Time… parts 1-3’ offers a convoluted hunt for a Far Right terror group’s hidden leader whose scheme to simultaneously murder every S.H.I.E.L.D. agent on Earth revolves around a hidden traitor. But as the plot unfolds, it’s clear to the beleaguered Widow that absolutely nobody is who or what they seem…

Supplemented by Gulacy’s stunning 1982 Black Widow Portfolio (six monochrome plates and the cover image); info pages from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and pin-ups and posters by Al Milgrom, Kevin Nowlan, Terry Austin, June Brigman & Jim Lee and Joe Chiodo, this monumental collection also contains original art pages from Chiodo, Stroman & Farmer and covers by Yancy LaBat, Mark Morales, Pérez & Layton from previous collections of Black Widow: Web of Intrigue combining to create a suspenseful dossier of devious delights no fan should miss.
© 2020 MARVEL.

Black Widow: Marvel Team-Up


By Chris Claremont, Tom DeFalco, Marv Wolfman, Roger McKenzie, Bill Mantlo, Priest, Fabian Nicieza, Robert Campanella, Dan Slott, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema, Will Meugniot, Ron Frenz & Greg LaRocque, Rob Liefeld, Larry Alexander & Dwayne Turner & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-3029- (TPB)

The concept of team-ups – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with new or less well-selling company characters – has been with us since the earliest days of comics, but making the temporary alliance a key selling point really took hold with DC’s The Brave and the Bold before being taken up by their biggest competitor.

Marvel Team-Up was the second regular Spider-Man title, launching at the end of 1971. It went from strength to strength, heralding expansion and spawning a second collaborative vehicle in Marvel Two-In-One (with the Fantastic Four’s strong man The Thing), both offering regular venues for uncomplicated action romps in addition to the House of Ideas’ complex sub-plot fare.

However, even in the infinite Marvel Multiverse, certain stars shine more brightly than others and some characters turn up in team-ups more often than others…

In recent years, carefully curated themed collections from the back-catalogue have served to initiate new readers intrigued by Marvel’s Movie and TV endeavours, and this engaging trade paperback/eBook compilation gathers a selection of potent pairings starring superspy The Black Widow, taken from MTIO #10; Marvel Team-Up #57, 82-85, 98, 140-141 and short tales from fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents #53, 70 and 93: collectively spanning July 1975 – January 1992.

Natasha Romanoff (sometimes Natalia Romanova) is a Soviet Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s major female stars. She started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during the early “Commie-busting” days, targeting Tony Stark and battling Iron Man in her debut (Tales of Suspense #52, April, 1964).

She was subsequently redesigned as a torrid tights-&-tech super-villain before defecting to the USA, falling for an assortment of superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – before finally enlisting as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., setting up as a freelance do-gooder and joining/occasionally leading the Avengers.

Throughout her career she was always 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 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…

Traditionally a minor fan favourite, the Widow only really hit the big time after the Marvel Movie franchise was established, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her print escapades have always offered a cool, sinister frisson of delight.

The multi-player mayhem opens with Marvel Two-In-One #10 by Chris Claremont, Bob Brown & Klaus Janson: a slice of inspired espionage action-intrigue with Ben Grimm joining the Widow’s war against suicidal terrorist Agamemnon who plans to detonate the planet’s biggest nuke at the bottom of the ocean in a blockbuster 007-styled thriller ‘Is This the Way the World Ends?’.

With artists Sal Buscema & Dave Hunt, Claremont continues defining the Widow’s ways in Marvel Team-Up #57 (May 1977) starting a complex extended thriller embroiling Spider-Man in a devious and deadly espionage plot which begins ‘When Slays the Silver Samurai!’ After being saved from a lethal ambush by Natasha and implausibly holding up a collapsing building, Spidey takes reluctant possession of a strange statuette but soon forgets all about it

The scheme comes to fruition in MTU #82 (June 1979) when Claremont, Sal B & Steve Leialoha craft a 4-part, multi-operative conclusion starting with Spider-Man saving Natasha from street thugs. In ‘No Way to Treat a Lady’ the lethal superspy has escaped capture and torture by retreating into a timid, ineffectual cover personality, and the Arachnid must keep “Nancy Rushman” alive until he learns how and why. The job gets even harder after S.H.E.I.L.D.’s Strike Forcecome mercilessly gunning for her…

The first (white) Nick Fury joins the fray in ‘Slaughter on 10th Avenue!’ capturing Nancy before discovering – when Spidey steals her back – that his entire organisation has been taken over by hidden mastermind Viper and her super hench-thugs Silver Samurai and Boomerang…

‘Catch a Falling Hero’ (MTU #84) reveals the purpose of that long-forgotten statuette, as Viper targets Washington DC and President Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile Spider-Man and the slowly recovering Nancy infiltrate the compromised flying fortress Helicarrier and Fury calls in British operative Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu for a distracting frontal assault, culminating in all-out war above the Capitol and the closest of close shave conclusions for all concerned in ‘The Woman Who Never Was!’

A far simpler motive reunited the widow and the webspinner when separate cases overlapped in MTU #98 (October 1980, in an untitled tale by Marv Wolfman, Roger McKenzie, Will Meugniot & Bruce Patterson). Here dockside gunrunners and ambitious mobsters draw the heroes into a clash with The Owl, after which we jump to April 1983 and MTU #140 for the first part of a morally trying dilemma posed by Bill Mantlo, Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz & Mike Esposito with ‘Where Were You …When the Lights Went Out?’

A city-wide blackout provokes riots and looting and Spider-Man is on scene when a skeevy pawnshop owner is shot dead. The next day, lawyer Matt Murdock is appointed to defend gangbanger teen Juan Santiago who is indicted for the murder. Press photographer Peter Parker is also in attendance, and both know the kid is not guilty. As Spider-Man resolves to investigate further, Daredevil’s old flame Natasha Romanoff volunteers to fact-find for the overworked attorney. When investigations overlap a street gang are exposed as behind the incident, but the new murder suspect triggers a deadly car chase and hostage situation before being apprehended.

Frustratingly, although responsible for much of the tragedy on that night, he quickly proves to also be innocent of the pawnbrokers’ death…

This yarn takes place at the beginning of Marvel’s Secret Wars event and pauses for Spidey to go to The Beyonder’s Battleworld; fight lots and come back with his all-black Symbiote uniform, so it’s a much-altered Spider-Man who joins Daredevil and the Widow in obtaining ‘Blind Justice’ in #141 (DeFalco, Jim Owsley AKA Priest, Greg LaRoque & Esposito) as the heroes uncover mob connections and a trail to Kingpin Wilson Fisk, the real killer and the true nature of the kid they’ve been defending…

The team-ups conclude with a selection from twice monthly rotating anthology Marvel Comics Presents, starting with ‘Heads I Win, Tails You Lose’: a jurisdictional clash between Natasha and mercenary antihero Silver Sable from #53 (July 1990) by Fabian Nicieza, Rob Liefeld & Bob Wiacek, and continuing with ‘One into Three Won’t Go!’ (#70, February 1991 by Robert Campanella, Larry Alexander, Jack Abel & Al Milgrom) as the Widow and fellow former Champion Darkstar battle the hyper-irradiated Red Guardian when her master The Presence orders her to capture them for his harem.

Their valiant resistance inspires Tania Belinskaya to overthrow her own mental shackles and transform into new hero Starlight before this collection closes with an early outing for superstar scripter Dan Slott & artist Dwayne Turner who end the ultra-espionage alliances with a ‘Split Seconds’ reunion for the Widow and Daredevil from MCP #93, battling Hydra goons and deactivating deadly booby traps in a midtown building.

The book’s bonus section offers original art from Meugniot & Patterson; Frenz & Esposito and cover-art by Ed Hannigan & Klaus Janson, plus data pages of Black Widow and her weapons and gear from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and a painted cover by Al Milgrom.

These stories may vary in quality, but all stem from an honest drive to entertain and most fans will find little to complain about. Although primarily a tome for casual or new readers – who will have a blast – there’s also a ton of nostalgic delights and patented Marvel mayhem to be had by veteran viewers, and surely that’s reason enough to add this titanic tome to your secret stash of great reads…
© 2020 MARVEL

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The announcement provokes a storm of trouble…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Widow Epic Collection volume 1: Beware the Black Widow 1964-1971


By Stan Lee, Don Rico & Don Heck, Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Mimi Gold, Gerry Conway, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, John Romita, Gene Colan, Bill Everett & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2126-2 (TPB)

After a truly interminable time of waiting, the Black Widow movie is scheduled for general release on July 9th, so lets all take a look at her comic path from wicked wanton to war-weary world-saver courtesy of a carefully curated Epic Collection, gathering the majority of her earliest appearances.

Natasha Romanoff (sometimes Natalia Romanova) is a Soviet Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s earliest female stars. The Black Widow started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days, targeting Tony Stark and battling Iron Man in her debut (Tales of Suspense #52, April, 1964).

She was subsequently redesigned as a torrid tights-&-tech super-villain before defecting to the USA, falling for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – before finally enlisting as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., setting up as a freelance do-gooder and joining/occasionally leading the Avengers.

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…

Traditionally a minor fan favourite, the Widow only really hit the big time after Marvel Movie franchise was established, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her print escapades have always offered a cool, sinister frisson of delight.

This expansive trade paperback and digital compilation gathers the contents of Tales of Suspense #52-53, 57, 60, 64; Avengers #29-30, 36-37, 43-44; Amazing Spider-Man #86; Amazing Adventures #1-8 and Daredevil #81, plus pertinent excerpts from Avengers #16, 32-33, 38-39, 41-42, 45-47, 57, 63-63 & 76, cumulatively spanning April 1964 to November 1971.

The action opens as a sexy Soviet operative Natasha and her hulking sidekick Boris (yes, I know: simpler times) is despatched to destroy recent defector Anton Vanko and his American protectors Tony Stark and Iron Man. ‘The Crimson Dynamo Strikes Again!’ (drawn by Don Heck and scripted, like the next issue, by “N. Kurok” – actually veteran creator Don Rico) sees the hero quickly dispose of the armoured Russian heavy while underestimating the far greater threat of the Soviet Femme Fatale.

With Tales of Suspense #53, she was a headliner. In ‘The Black Widow Strikes Again!’ she steals Stark’s anti-gravity ray yet ultimately fails in her sabotage mission, fleeing Russian retribution until resurfacing in ToS #57.

The Black Widow returned to beguile disgruntled budding superhero ‘Hawkeye, The Marksman!’ (Stan Lee & Heck) into attacking the Golden Avenger in #57, with no appreciable effect.

Tales of Suspense #60 featured an extended plotline with Stark’s “disappearance” leading to Iron Man being ‘Suspected of Murder!’. Capitalizing on the chaos, lovestruck Hawkeye and the Widow struck again, but another failure led to her being recaptured and re-educated by enemy agents…

Abruptly transformed from fur-clad seductress into a gadget-laden costumed villain, she returned in #64’s ‘Hawkeye and the New Black Widow Strike Again!’ (Lee, Heck & Chic Stone). Her failure led to big changes as pages from Avengers #16 reveal her punishment and Hawkeye’s reformation and induction into the superteam.

Jump forward more than a year and Avengers #29 as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch prepare to retire: returning to Europe to reinvigorate their fading powers even as ‘This Power Unleashed!’ brings back Hawkeye’s lost love: a brainwashed nemesis resolved to destroy the team.

Recruiting old foes Power Man and the Swordsman as cannon-fodder, she is foiled by her own incompletely submerged feelings for Hawkeye, after which ‘Frenzy in a Far-Off Land!’ sees dispirited colossus Henry Pym embroiled in a futuristic civil war amongst a lost south American civilisation while a temporary détente between Hawkeye and the Widow seems set to fail…

Extracts from Avengers #32-33 (with Heck providing raw, gritty inks over his own pencils in ‘The Sign of the Serpent!’ and concluding chapter ‘To Smash a Serpent!’) sees her own recovery begin as Natasha independently infiltrates a racist secret society before joining the Avengers to destroy the hatemongering snakes…

Her international credentials are exploited when long-missing Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver return, heralding an alien invasion of the Balkans in ‘The Ultroids Attack!’ and ‘To Conquer a Colossus!’ (Avengers #36-37). Newly cured, programming-free and reformed, she is the crucial factor in repelling an extraterrestrial invasion: a sinister, merciless Black Widow whose willingness to apply lethal force ultimately saves the day and the Earth……

Extracts from Avengers #38, 39, 41 and 42 detail how she then forsakes her new heroic reputation to go undercover for SHIELD, infiltrating a Communist Chinese super-weapon project as a supposed Soviet agent. In #43’s complete tale ‘Color him… the Red Guardian!’ (Roy Thomas, John Buscema & George Roussos) her origins and reasons for the title “widow” are revealed before – reacting to a world-threatening superweapon – the Avengers storm in for the fight of their lives as the saga climaxes in ‘The Valiant Also Die!’ (inked by Vince Colletta), a blistering all-out clash to save humanity from mental conquest…

The fractured relationship between Hawkeye and the Widow plays out in snippets from Avengers #45-47, #63 and 64 as her growing ties to SHIELD lead to an heartbreaking split with the Avenging Archer in #76 and the prospect of a new beginning for the Russian misfit…

It comes in Amazing Spider-Man #86 as ‘Beware… the Black Widow!’ affords John Romita & Jim Mooney a chance to redesign, redefine and relaunch the super-spy in an enjoyable if formulaic Lee-scripted misunderstanding/clash-of-heroes yarn with an ailing webspinner never really endangered. The entire episode was actually a promotion for the Widow’s own soon-to-debut solo series…

The Black Widow’s first solo series, appeared in “split-book” Amazing Adventures #1-8: mini-epics paying dues the superspy’s contemporary influences… Modesty Blaise and Emma Peel (that lass from the other Avengers…)

It all begins with ‘Then Came…The Black Widow’ (Amazing Adventures #1, August 1970 by Gary Friedrich, John Buscema & John Verpoorten) wherein Natasha comes out of self-imposed retirement to be a socially-aware crusader: defending low-income citizens from thugs and loan sharks. One act of charity leads her to help activists ‘The Young Warriors!’ as their attempts to build a centre for underprivileged kids in Spanish Harlem are countered by crooked, drug-dealing property speculators…

Gene Colan & Bill Everett assume art duties from #3’s ‘The Widow and the Militants!’, with her actions and communist past drawing hostile media attention, more criminal attacks and ultimately precipitating an inner-city siege, before the ‘Deadlock’ (scripted by Mimi Gold) comes to a shocking end…

Roy Thomas steps in for a bleakly potent Christmas yarn as ‘…And to All a Good Night’ sees Natasha and faithful retainer/father figure Ivan meet and fail a desperate young man, only to be dragged into a horrific scheme by deranged cult leader the Astrologer who plans to hold the city’s hospitals to ransom in ‘Blood Will Tell!’ (art by Heck & Sal Buscema).

Convinced she is cursed to do more harm than good, the tragic adventurer nevertheless inflicts ‘The Sting of the Widow!’(Gerry Conway, Heck & Everett) on her ruthless prey and his kid warriors, after which the series wraps up in rushed manner with a haphazard duel against Russian-hating super-patriot Watchlord in the Thomas-scripted ‘How Shall I Kill Thee? Let Me Count the Ways!’

The formative tales conclude here with ‘And Death is a Woman Called Widow’ (Daredevil #81, by Conway, Colan & Jack Abel), which sees infamous defector Natasha Romanoff burst onto the scene to save the Man Without Fear from ubiquitous manipulator Mr. Kline and deadly predator The Owl: exposing the mastermind behind most of DD and the Widow’s recent woes and tribulations…

Rounding out the comics experience here are bonus pages including a stunning pin-up of the bodacious Black Widow by Bill Everett; house ads and a huge gallery of original art pages by John Buscema, Verpoorten, Heck, Colan and Everett – including restored artworks edited for overly-salacious content that revealed a little too much of the sexy spy, and toned down for eventual publication…

These beautifully limned yarns might still occasionally jar with their earnest stridency and dated attitudes, but the narrative energy and sheer exuberant excitement of the adventures are compelling delights no action fan will care to miss …
© 2020 MARVEL.