Namor, the Sub-Mariner Epic Collection volume 1 1962-1966: Enter the Sub-Mariner


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Gene Colan, Dick Ayers, Wallace Wood & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2836-0 (TPB)

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

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

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

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

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

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for a few years, squabbling with other assorted heroes such as the Hulk, Avengers and X-Men, before securing his own series as one half of Tales to Astonish.

Marvel’s “split-books” had been devised as a way to promote their burgeoning stable of stars whilst labouring under a highly restrictive distribution deal limiting the number of titles they could release per month. In 1968 the company ended this commitment and expanded exponentially.

This first celebratory volume – available in trade paperback and eBook formats collects all those early 1960’s guest shots in one tumultuous tome. Here you’ll find Fantastic Four # 4, 6, 9, 14, 27, 33 and Annual #1; Strange Tales #107 & 125; Avengers #3-4; X-Men #6, Daredevil #7 and the first arc of his own series from Tales to Astonish #70-76. These span May 1962 – February 1966 and open without preamble on that fateful first encounter in this cataclysmic clutch of curated classics…

Crafted by Lee Kirby & Sol Brodsky, Fantastic Four #4 proudly shouted ‘The Coming of the Sub-Mariner’, reintroducing (or introducing) the all-powerful amphibian Prince of Atlantis. The star of Timely’s Golden Age had been lost since 1955 – almost a lifetime for the kids believed to be the prime consumer of comics.

A victim of amnesia, the relic recovers his memory thanks to some rather brusque treatment by teen delinquent and AWOL Human Torch Johnny Storm. Namor rapidly returns to his sub-sea home only to find it destroyed by atomic testing. A monarch without subjects, he swears vengeance on humanity and attacks New York City with a gigantic monster. After its demise amidst a mass of collateral destruction, Sub-Mariner espies and falls for the Invisible Girl: a fascination that will fuel many a monumental battle…

This saga is when the Fantastic Four series truly kicked into high-gear and Reed Richards was the star of the pin-up section reprinted here…

FF #5 debuted the diabolical Doctor Doom who returned in the next issue after duping and teaming up with a reluctant Sub-Mariner to attack the quarrelsome quartet heroes as ‘The Deadly Duo!’ – inked by new regular embellisher Dick Ayers.

Issue #9 declared ‘The End of the Fantastic Four’ as Sub-Mariner Prince Namor returns to exploit another brilliant innovation in comic storytelling. When had a super-genius superhero ever messed up so much that the team had to declare bankruptcy? When had costumed crimefighters ever had money troubles at all? The eerily prescient solution was to “sell out” and make a blockbuster movie – giving Kirby a rare chance to demonstrate his talent for caricature…

Of course, Sub-Mariner’s film project is simply a ruse to divide and conquer and everything is settled with bombastic action and typically off-kilter romantic twist…

The saga is topped off with a Fantastic Four Feature Page explaining ‘How the Human Torch Flies!’

By this time kid-friendly teen Johnny Storm had been awarded a solo-starring lead series in former mystery anthology Strange Tales. Scripted by Larry Lieber and limned by Ayers, #107 featured a splendidly mindless punch-up with the ‘Sub-Mariner’ – a tale powerfully reminiscent of the spectacular and immensely popular Golden Age battles of their publishing forebears.

It’s back to Fantastic Four next as #14 (Lee, Kirby & Ayers) features the return of ‘The Sub-Mariner and the Merciless Puppet Master!’: with one vengeful fiend the unwitting mind-slave of the other, after which 1963’s Fantastic Four Annual #1 offers a spectacular 37-page epic battle as, finally reunited with their wandering prince, the warriors of Atlantis invade New York City and the rest of the world in ‘The Sub-Mariner versus the Human Race!’ by Lee, Kirby & Ayers.

A monumental tale by the standards of the time, the saga saw the FF repel the undersea invasion through valiant struggle and brilliant strategy, and includes the secret history of the secretive race Homo Mermanus. Nothing is really settled except a return to the original status quo, but the thrills are intense and unforgettable…

Also included is a rousing pin-up of Namor from ‘A Gallery of the Fantastic Four’s Most Famous Foes!’.

By now Marvel had many more superheroes and Namor met some in Avengers #3. In the previous issue, the volatile Hulk quit the nascent team in disgust, only to return here as an outright villain in partnership with ‘Sub-Mariner!’ (by Lee, Kirby & Paul Reinman). This globe-trotting romp delivers high-energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history as the assorted titans clash in abandoned World War II tunnels beneath the Rock of Gibraltar.

Inked by George Roussos, Avengers #4 was a groundbreaking landmark as Marvel’s greatest Golden Age sensation returned in another increasingly war-torn era. ‘Captain America joins the Avengers!’ has everything that made the early tales so fresh and vital. The majesty of a legendary warrior returned in our time of greatest need: stark tragedy in the loss of his boon companion Bucky, aliens, gangsters, the menacing majesty of Sub-Mariner and even subtle social commentary capped by vast amounts of staggering Kirby Action.

The creators had hit on a winning formula by including other stars in guest-shots – especially as readers could never anticipate if they would fight with or beside the home team. FF #27 again finds the undersea anti-hero in amorous mood, but after abducting Sue, he finds the boys have called in called in Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts to aid them in ‘The Search for Sub-Mariner!’

Delivered by Lee & Kirby, X-Men #6 features ‘Sub-Mariner Joins the Evil Mutants!’: a self-explanatory tale of gripping intensity elevated to magical levels of artistic quality as superbly slick inker Chic Stone adds crisp clarity to proceeding when potential mutant Namor is duped into joining malevolent Magneto and his sinister brotherhood. The issue also incorporates a stunning ‘Special Pin-up page’ starring “Cyclops”.

Impetus was building and support growing for renewed sub-sea skirmishes starring Namor, and Strange Tales #125 (October 1964) presented another bombastic battle between the old adversaries as the Torch and Thing picked a fight with the sea lord in ‘The Sub-Mariner Must Be Stopped!’ courtesy of Lee, Ayers & Reinman.

The princely PR campaign then blossomed into unlikely alliance as FF #33 saw the team ‘Side-by-Side with Sub-Mariner!’ (Lee, Kirby & Stone): bringing the aquatic antihero one step closer to his own series as they lend surreptitious aid to the embattled undersea monarch against deadly barbarian Attuma and supplemented by a glorious Kirby & Stone ‘Prince Namor Pin-up’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the pompous hero begins a mystical quest to find the lost Trident of King Neptune – which only the rightful ruler of Atlantis can hold – he is unaware that treacherous Krang allowed him to escape, the better to destroy him with no witnesses…

The serialised search carries Namor through a procession of fantastic adventures and pits him against a spectacular array of sub-sea horrors: a giant octopus in ‘Escape… to Nowhere’; a colossal seaweed man in ‘A Prince There Was’ and a demented wizard and energy-sapping diamonds in ‘By Force of Arms!’

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

In issue #75 ‘The End of the Quest’ finds the Prince battling his way back into Atlantis with a gravely-injured Dorma, before the saga calamitously concludes in ‘Uneasy Hangs the Head…!’ with the status quo restored, Namor again on the stolen throne and further danger and drama to come…

Supplemented with House ads, a full cover gallery, unseen, unused and original artwork pages and more, this assemblage of tales feature some of Marvel’s very best artists at their visual peak, with creative verve and enthusiasm shining through.

Perhaps more vicarious thrill than fan’s delight, many early Marvel Comics are more exuberant than qualitative, but this volume, especially from an art-lover’s point of view, is a wonderful exception: a historical treasure that fans will find irresistible.
© 2021 MARVEL.

White Tiger: A Hero’s Compulsion


By Tamora Pierce, Timothy Liebe, Phil Briones, Alvaro Rio & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2273-9 (TPB)

I’ll try to be brief but bear with me because this might be a little complex for anyone not hardened by 55 years of constant exposure to raw comic-books…

After the mid-1970’s Kung Fu craze subsided Marvel was left with a couple of impressive themed properties (Master of Kung Fu and Iron Fist) and a few that needed some traditional superhero “topping up”. The Sons of the Tiger debuted in monochrome magazine Deadly Hands of Kung Fu: a multi-racial martial arts team who – augmented by three mystic amulets – fought the usual mystic ninja/secret empire types until internal dissent and an obvious lack of creative imagination split them up.

The amulets – a Tiger’s Head and two paws carved from magical jade – passed on to young Hector Ayala who donned all three to become a super-martial artist calling himself the White Tiger. After an inauspicious, short and excessively violent career including team-ups with both Spider-Man and Daredevil, the “first Puerto Rican Superhero” all but vanished until (in a Man Without Fear storyline I’ll get around to reviewing one day) he lost his life…

In the meantime, a new White Tiger had appeared in the 1997 revival of Heroes for Hire: an actual tiger evolved into a humanoid by renegade geneticist the High Evolutionary. In 2003 Kaspar Kole, a black, Jewish cop briefly replaced the Black Panther, becoming the third White Tiger shortly thereafter…

Which finally brings us here as this volume collects the first 6-issue miniseries to feature Angela Del Toro, niece of the first White Tiger; one time cop, de-frocked FBI agent and eventual recipient of the amulets that empowered and doomed her uncle Hector.

Normally I’d steer clear of reviewing a graphic novel like this because by all rights it should be all but impenetrable to non-fans, but novelist Tamora Pierce and co-scripter Timothy Liebe have made the necessary and mandatory recaps and references to other books (particularly the extended Daredevil storyline that dealt with the death of Angela’s uncle and her becoming a costumed vigilante in his memory) relatively painless: a seemingly seamless part of the overall narrative thrust of this tale and one that perfectly suits the action-packed, highly realistic artwork of Phil Briones, Alvaro Rio, Ronaldo Adriano Silva & Don Hillsman.

Angela Del Toro was a high-ranking Federal Agent, but now she’s jobless and bewildered, terrified of becoming just another masked crazy on the streets and skyways of New York City. Luckily, she still has a few friends – both in the legal and extra-legal law enforcement community – and soon links up with a private security firm while sorting out her new double life.

That mostly means coming to terms with being a costumed superhero, stopping a covert cabal of asset-stripping terrorists from turning the USA into a highly profitable war-zone and getting final closure if not revenge on Yakuza prince Orii Sano, the man who killed her partner…

White Tiger: A Hero’s Compulsion is a canny blend of family drama, cop procedural and gritty superhero thriller, with an engaging lead character, believable stakes, just enough laughs and truly sinister baddies who should appeal to the widest of audiences. Fun-filled and frantic with loads of guest-stars, including Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Black Widow, and such scurrilous dirtbags as the Cobra, the Lizard, Deadpool and the assembled underworld of three continents, this is a read for devotees and dilettantes alike.

Whether cleaning up the mean streets and saving the entire world or just busting heads in her new day job, White Tiger has everything necessary to stay the course, but even if she somehow doesn’t, there will always be this thoroughly fascinating trade paperback and digital book to mark her territory, if not her passing…
© 2006, 2007, 2015 MARVEL. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Epic Collection volume 4 1970-1972: The Fury of the Firebrand


By Archie Goodwin, Gerry Conway, Allyn Brodsky, Mimi Gold, Robert Kanigher, Gary Friedrich, Johnny Craig, Don Heck, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2207-8 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Glittering Bauble of Shiny Nostalgic Marvel Madness… 8/10

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions (just like now), the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard and better the World, seemed inevitable. Combined with the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and business could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil, the concept behind the Invincible Iron Man seems an infallibly successful proposition.

Of course, where once Tony Stark was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism: a glamorous millionaire industrialist/inventor and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his metal alter-ego, the tumultuous tone of changing times soon resigned his suave, playboy image to the dustbin of history and, with ecological disasters and social catastrophe from the abuse of industry and technology the new mantras of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting some tricky questions from the increasingly socially conscious readership.

All of a sudden maybe that money and fancy gadgetry weren’t quite so fun or cool anymore…?

This sterling hardback – and eBook – compilation covers the period May 1970 through May 1972, re-presenting Iron Man #25-46 and incorporating a tumultuous team-up with the Man Without Fear from Daredevil #73 which held a key portion of a rather complex comics crossover.

Imminently departing scripter Archie Goodwin pins Iron Man’s new Green colours to the comic’s mast in #25’s stunning eco-parable ‘This Doomed Land… This Dying Sea!’, ably assisted by EC legend Johnny Craig, whose slick understated mastery adds a sheen of terrifying authenticity to proceedings. Here, the Armoured Avenger clashes and ultimately teams with veteran antihero Namor the Sub-Mariner, before being compelled to destroy one of his own hyper-polluting facilities, consequently overruling and abandoning his company’s previous position and business model…

Tragically, his attempts to convince other industry leaders to do likewise meets with the kind of reaction that tragically then (and again now) typifies America’s response to the real-world situation…

Original Iron Man artist Don Heck returned for the fantasy-fuelled romp ‘Duel in a Dark Dimension!’ (scripted by Goodwin and inked by Craig) with guest villain The Collector kidnapping Stark’s right-hand man Happy Hogan in a convoluted scheme to secure an extradimensional super-sword…

America’s mounting racial tensions took centre-stage in ‘The Fury of the Firebrand!’, introducing an inflammatory radical with a secret and highly personal hate-filled agenda aimed squarely at Stark and the fat cats he represented. The incendiary fiend was also a human napalm grenade…

Goodwin bowed out with #28’s riotous return match ‘The Controller Lives!’, wherein the mind parasite attacks Stark and SHIELD agent Jasper Sitwell through an old girlfriend, after which Mimi Gold scripted an old-fashioned commie-buster yarn, drawn by Heck and inked by Chic Stone in #29, with Iron Man liberating a tropical paradise from its enslaving socialist overlords in ‘Save the People… Save the Country!’.

Impressive new kid on the block Allyn Brodsky took over as scripter with #30’s ‘The Menace of the Monster-Master!’: a rousing rampage full of Maoist menace with a giant lizard ravaging Japan until the Golden Avenger steps in, taking charge and exposing a cunning plot…

Far more intriguing is ‘Anything… For the Cause!’ wherein back-to-nature hippie protesters and outraged teen radicals are manipulated by an unscrupulous local businessman. This social drama also adds cool young Irish science nerd Kevin O’Brian to the regular cast.

IM #32’s ‘Beware… The Mechanoid!’ (illustrated by George Tuska & “Joe Gaudioso”) then relates a salutary tale of a benign alien explorer making the tragic mistake of exploring America whilst disguised as a black man…

Heck & Gaudioso (actually moonlighting Mike Esposito) handled the art for ‘Their Mission: Destroy Stark Industries!!’as corporate raider Spymaster unleashes his Mission: Impossible-inspired team The Espionage Elite to deprive America of both the inventor and his company. This fast-paced thriller concluded in bombastic finale ‘Crisis… and Calamity!!’with the near-death of a cast regular, signalling the advent of a darker, more driven Armoured Avenger…

Something of a comics wunderkind at this time, Gerry Conway assumed the writer’s reins in Iron Man #35 as the traumatised hero understandably seeks ‘Revenge!’ on Spymaster before being distracted by an ongoing battle between Daredevil, Nick Fury, Madame Masque and the global criminal network Zodiac – all contesting ownership of an extra-dimensional wish-granting super-weapon.

That battle spills over into Daredevil #73 and a mass abduction into another dimension in ‘Behold… the Brotherhood!’(by Conway, Gene Colan & Syd Shores) before messily and inconclusively concluding halfway through Iron Man #36 (Heck & Esposito). The remainder of the issue and battle for the Zodiac Key is necessarily shelved as the Steely Centurion is waylaid by terra-forming aliens in ‘…Among Men Stalks the Ramrod!’

Incapacitated and with his recently transplanted new heart critically damaged, Stark reveals his secret to Kevin O’Brian ‘In This Hour of Earthdoom!’ (Jim Mooney inks) before rapidly retrenching, recuperating and ultimately repelling the invaders. The fantastic fantasy drama pauses here for a hard-boiled and pleasantly low-key diversion in the form of an engaging gangster caper from Conway, Tuska & Esposito wherein Iron Man is forced to respond quite assertively ‘When Calls Jonah…!’

Conway resumes the mad science tales – with Herb Trimpe illustrating – in ‘A Twist of Memory… a Turn of Mind!’, wherein insidious oriental mastermind White Dragon (Yes, I know, but social relevance clearly advanced at its own piecemeal rate and racial profiling was less obvious than poisoned air and rivers…) deviously turns Stark into a brainwashed pawn, thereby inadvertently enslaving the Golden Avenger too.

Devoted assistant Kevin O’Brian comes to the rescue, but is led down a path to inevitable doom when he assists his mind-locked employer in a torturous ‘Night Walk!’ (by Tuska & Jim Mooney) to save his sanity and defeat the sinister foe.

Simultaneously, Marianne Rodgers, a woman they both love, begins a slow glide into madness as her telepathic powers gradually grow beyond her control and start eating at her mind…

Issue #41 continued a convoluted storyline dealing with mystery mastermind Mr. Kline. (For the full story you should also track down contemporaneous Daredevil and Sub-Mariner issues: you won’t be any the wiser but at least you’ll have a full set…)

Next, ‘The Claws of the Slasher!’ sees squabbling saboteurs target Washington DC during a Senate investigation into Stark Industries; accidentally triggering a psychic transformation in Marianne, who temporarily morphs into a mind-warping harpy in ‘When Demons Wail!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia). The clash culminates in a blockbusting, extra-long battle against psionic godling Mikas in ‘Doomprayer!’ (with Mooney inks). During that cataclysmic conflict O’Brian dons his own super-armour to join the fray as The Guardsman; causing his own mental state to rapidly deteriorate and making his eventual showdown with Stark utterly unavoidable…

Plotted by Conway, scripted by DC A-Lister Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Tuska & Vince Colletta, Iron Man #44 finds Stark near death after his last battle. In ‘Weep for a Lost Nightmare!’, he is watched over by Kevin and Marianne as Kline dispatches a robotic copy of old adversary The Night Phantom to finish the ailing hero off. The tale was truncated midway and completed in the next issue – presumably due to deadline problems.

Gary Friedrich scripted concluding chapter ‘Beneath the Armour Beats a Heart!’ in #45, after which Stark faces a revolt by his own Board of Directors who convince the jealousy-consumed O’Brian to stand with them.

When student protestors invade the factory, greed-crazed capitalist and reactionary revolt instigator Simon Gilbertconvinces O’Brian to don his Guardsman suit and teach the kids a lesson, leading to a horrific escalation in ‘Menace at Large!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) wherein Iron Man intervenes to save lives and causes the fully-amok O’Brian’s death…

To Be Continued…

The galvanised wonderment also includes the covers of Iron Man Annuals #1 and 2, a selection of house ads and a gallery of original art covers and interior pages by Marie Severin & Sam Grainger, Sal Buscema, Tuska and Frank Giacoia, to wrap up this collection with the Golden Gladiator carefully politically repositioned at a time when Marvel solidly set itself up at the vanguard of a rapidly changing America increasingly at war with itself.

With this volume Marvel further entrenched itself in the camp of the young and the restless, experiencing first hand, and every day, the social upheaval America was undergoing. This rebellious teen sensibility and enhanced political conscience permeated the company’s publications as their core audience evolved from Flower Power innocents into a generation of acutely aware activists. Future tales would increasingly bring reformed capitalist Stark into many unexpected and outrageous situations…

But that’s the meat of another review, as this engrossing graphic collection is done. From our distant vantage point the polemical energy and impact might be dissipated, but the sheer quality of the comics and the cool thrill of the eternal aspiration of man in perfect partnership with magic metal remains. These superhero sagas are amongst the most underrated but impressive tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold hard cash…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Roy Thomas, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5020-6 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining – radioactively enhanced – senses hyper-compensate, make him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who illustrated the series. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul and wunderkind scripter Roy Thomas added an edge of tangible darkness to the sightless swashbuckling…

Covering July 1969 to April 1969, this chillingly compelling collection (in both sturdy hardback and eBook formats) reprints Daredevil #54-63, cementing the hero’s reputation on the fringes of the burgeoning Marvel Universe. This epochal tome also boasts a heartfelt testimonial to the mastery of a true genius of illustration in Clifford Meth’s Introduction ‘Gene Colan: Artist Without Fear’

Following an inconclusive clash with deranged scientist Starr Saxon and a reaffirmation of purpose via a review of his origins, Daredevil’s next escapades assume an aura of ever-escalating madness as #54’s ‘Call him Fear!’ (by Thomas, Colan & George Klein) featured the “death” of Matt Murdock and the gloating return of long-vanished villain Mr. Fear

A superb inking run by legendary illustrator Syd Shores begins with ‘Cry Coward!’, revealing DD’s desperate reason for faking his demise (again!) before enacting the apparent end of one of the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s greatest enemies…

‘…And Death Came Riding!’ then opens a tense 2-parter which forever changes Murdock’s relationship with perennially loved-from-afar Karen Page even as it introduces a stunningly sinister new menace in Death’s-Head. By the end of concluding chapter ‘In the Midst of Life…!’ Matt and Karen are enjoying the most progressive and mature relationship in mainstream comics of the period…

‘Spin-Out on Fifth Avenue!’ begins to re-establish some civilian stability as resurrected (yes! again!) Matt Murdock becomes a special prosecutor for New York District Attorney Foggy Nelson and promptly goes after a mysterious new gang-boss dubbed Crime-Wave. As the fresh plot-threads take hold, new threats emerge, such as amped-up biker and reluctant assassin-for-hire Stunt-Master and #59’s far nastier hired gun who boasts ‘The Torpedo Will Get You if you Don’t Watch Out!’: both primarily self-contained thrillers hard and heavy on breathtaking action…

‘Showdown at Sea!’ closes the career of insidious, treacherous Crime-Wave, simultaneously signalling a return to single-issue action-based stories, starting with ‘Trapped… by the Trio of Doom!’ and spotlighting a spectacular struggle against Cobra, Mr. Hyde and The Jester.

DD #62 features nefarious Batman analogue (created for Avengers adversaries Squadron Sinister) who attempts to destroy the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s reputation in ‘Quoth the Nighthawk “Nevermore”!’, after which Horn-Head stunningly stops deadly psychopath Melvin Potter from busting out of jail in ‘The Girl… or the Gladiator’… but only at the cost of his increasingly unstable love-life…

These potent tales are a masterclass in Fights ‘n’ Tights dynamism: a succession of highly entertaining, short, sharp shockers no superhero fan could possibly resist, ably augmented here by a brief gallery of Colan original art pages. What more could you possibly need to make your day perfect?
© 1969, 1970, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Barry Windsor-Smith & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3042-0 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining – radioactively enhanced – senses hyper-compensate, make him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who illustrated the series. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul and wunderkind scripter Roy Thomas added an edge of darkness to the swashbuckling derring-do…

Covering July 1968 to June 1969, this tumultuous collection (in both hefty hardback and ephemeral eBook formats) reprints Daredevil #42-53 (plus a surprise comedy bonus), capturing the significant moments and radical shifts in treatment and content as Lee surrendered the scripter’s role to Thomas. Following a fascinating Introduction from Gene Colan, an aura of barely-contained, ever-escalating madness increasingly permeates the soap opera narrative beats, peerlessly pictured by his own astounding illustration – as well as a powerful interlude by a promising British fill-in artist named Barry Smith….

Having killed off his fictitious alter ego twin brother Mike Murdock, Matt briefly considered hanging up his scarlet long-johns but eventually retained his secret other-life by “revealing” to his girlfriend Karen Page and closest friend Franklin “Foggy” Nelson that Mike was only one of a number of Men without Fear in the first part of a prolonged battle with a new nemesis…

‘Nobody Laughs at The Jester!’ (by Lee, Colan and inker Dan Adkins) shows how that Malevolent Mountebank only wants to be more successful as a criminal than he had been as a bit-playing actor, but his motivation changes when crooked mayoral candidate Richard Raleigh hires him to spoil incorruptible Foggys campaign for the position of District Attorney.

The role grew and the mission crept, precipitating a protracted saga which kicks off with a temporarily befuddled DD ‘In Combat with Captain America!’ (inked by Vince Colletta), before Hornhead is framed for killing the Jester’s alter ego Jonathan Powers in #44’s ‘I, Murderer!’

Soundly defeated in combat by the Jester, our hero experiences ‘The Dismal Dregs of Defeat!’ and becomes a wanted fugitive. Following a frenetic police manhunt, DD is finally arrested before snatching victory in the thoroughly enthralling conclusion ‘The Final Jest!’

With this episode, inker extraordinary George Klein began his long and impressive association with the series.

With the Vietnam War raging, a story involving the conflict was inevitable but – thanks in great part to Colan’s personal input – #47’s ‘Brother, Take My Hand!’ was so much more than a quick cash-in or even well-meaning examination of contemporary controversy. Here, Marvel found another strong and admirable African American character (one of far too few in those blinkered times) to add to their growing stable…

Newly-blinded veteran Willie Lincoln turns to Matt Murdock and Daredevil for help on his return home. A disgraced cop framed by gang-boss Biggie Benson before joining the army, Lincoln is now back in America and determined to clear his name at all costs. This gripping, life-affirming crime thriller not only triumphs in Daredevil’s natural milieu of moody urban menace but also sets up a long-running plot that would ultimately change the Man without Fear forever…

The return of Stilt-Man poses little more than a distraction in ‘Farewell to Foggy’, as Matt’s oldest friend wins the race for DA but acrimoniously turns his back on Murdock, seemingly forever….

Lee’s final script on the sightless crusader, ‘Daredevil Drops Out’ (#49), was illustrated by Colan & Klein, depicting Murdock as the target of a robotic assassin built by Mad-Scientist-for-Hire Starr Saxon. This tense, action-packed thriller grew into something very special with second chapter ‘If in Battle I Fall…!’ as neophyte penciller Barry Smith stepped in, ably augmented by veteran inker Johnny Craig. Colan had been shifted to the role of artist on prestigious title The Avengers, but he would soon return…

Lee then left comics-scripting protégé Roy Thomas to finish up for him in ‘Run, Murdock, Run!’ (Daredevil #51, April 1969 with art by Smith & Klein): a wickedly engaging, frantically escalating psychedelic thriller which sees Saxon uncover the hero’s greatest secret after the Man Without Fear succumbs to toxins in his bloodstream and goes berserk.

The saga climaxes in stunning style on ‘The Night of the Panther!’ (Smith & Craig) as African Avenger Black Panther joins the hunt for an out-of-control Daredevil before subsequently helping thwart, if not defeat, the dastardly Saxon.

The radically unsettling ending blew away all the conventions of traditional Fights ‘n’ Tights melodrama and still shocks me today…

Colan & Klein reunited for #53’s ‘As it Was in the Beginning…’ wherein Thomas reprised, revised and expanded Lee & Bill Everett’s origin script from Daredevil #1, allowing the troubled hero to reach a bold decision, which would be executed in #54 – or the next volume to us…

Adding extra value to the proceedings and ending on a comedic note, this enticing tome includes a pertinent parody by Lee & Colan from Marvel’s spoof title Not Brand Echh (#4, November 1967) as Splat Murdock – AKA Scaredevil – endures moments of hilarious existential angst and an identity crisis whilst being ‘Defeated by the Evil Electrico!’, concluding and complimenting a bonanza of bombastic battles tales that are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic in the grand Marvel Manner: comic epics no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1968, 1969, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 12


By Tony Isabella, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Bob Brown, Gene Colan, Klaus Janson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0968-0 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for much of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in very large part to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. He fought gangsters, a variety of 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 in later years.

After a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page, Murdock took up with Russian émigré Natasha Romanoff, the infamous and notorious spy dubbed Black Widow. She was railroaded and 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 wild wacky and West Coast, Matt joined a prestigious San Francisco law firm but adventure, disaster and intrigue sought out the Sightless Swashbuckler and ultimately drew him back to the festering Big Apple…

This 12th hardback and eBook collection re-presents Daredevil #120-132, spanning April 1975 through April 1976, and opens with a brace of Introductions from successive scripters Tony Isabella – ‘Man Without Fear Meets Writer with a Plan and How the Latter Went Somewhat Awry’ – and Marv Wolfman who reminisces over ‘Searching for a Hero’…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The battle escalates in #127 as ‘You Killed that man Torpedo… and Now You’re Going to Pay!’ sees the inevitable misunderstanding escalate with both weary warriors losing all perspective and almost killing a family of innocent bystanders until shamed into a ceasefire..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…And the next volume heads into darker shadows and the grimmest of territory…
© 1975, 1976, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Epic Collection volume 4 1970-1972: A Woman Called Widow


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Alan Weiss, Barry Windsor-Smith, Bill Everett & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2034-0 (TPB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him capable of astonishing acrobatic feats, a formidable fighter and a living lie-detector.

Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

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

In these tales from the pivotal era of relevancy, social awareness and increasing political polarisation, the Man Without Fear was also growing into the judicial conscience of a generation turning its back on old values…

Covering May 1970 -April 1972, this trade paperback and digital compilation chronologically re-presents Daredevil #64-86 plus a crossover with Iron Man #35-36 and sees the once-staid and so-very Establishment Murdock move with the shifting cultural mores as scripter Roy Thomas hands over the reins to newcomer Gerry Conway in an increasingly determined move to make the Man Without Fear cutting edge and relevant… …

The action opens here with Horn-Head prowling the rooftops of Los Angeles. He’s there to find the love-of-his-life, who quit New York when the pressure of sharing DD’s secrets proved too much…

After trailing the star-struck Karen Page to Hollywood, DD gets to take out his bad mood on a handy hood in ‘Suddenly… The Stunt-Master!’ (Thomas, Gene Colan & Syd Shores) before eventually helping his old enemy (a petty criminal biker) get a TV show of his own…

Murdock remains in LA to oversee Karen’s first acting gig – a pastiche of then-hot spooky TV phenomenon Dark Shadows – and prevents her becoming part of a murder spree in ‘The Killing of Brother Brimstone’: a classy whodunit which cataclysmically climaxes one month later in ‘…And One Cried Murder!’

Still stuck on the West Coast, DD tackles another grudge-bearing villain as ‘Stilt-Man Stalks the Soundstage’ (Gary Friedrich, Thomas, Colan & Shores) with now-respectably reformed Stunt-Master ably assisting our hero. Matt eventually leaves Karen to the vicissitudes of Tinseltown, landing back in the Big Apple just in time to become embroiled in a plot blending radical politics and the shady world of Boxing – ‘The Phoenix and the Fighter!’

The Black Panther returns seeking a favour in ‘A Life on the Line’ as kid gangs and the birth of the “Black Power” movement leap from news headlines to comic pages. The same consideration of youth in protest also inspired the seditious menace of ‘The Tribune’ (written by Friedrich) as youthful ideologues, cynical demagogues and political bombers tear a terrified and outraged city apart.

The unrest peaks in Daredevil #71 as Thomas contributes his swansong script and concludes the right-wing manufactured anarchy in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee…!’

New find Gerry Conway assumed the scripting with #72, easing himself in with an interdimensional fantasy frolic wherein the Scarlet Swashbuckler encounters a strange rash of crimes and a mirror-dwelling mystery man named Tagak in ‘Lo! The Lord of the Leopards!’ before plunging readers into an ambitious cosmic crossover yarn which begins in Iron Man #35.

Here the Armoured Avenger, seductive, morally-ambivalent free agent Madame Masque and S.H.I.E.L.D. supremo Nick Fury all seek‘Revenge!’ (illustrated by Don Heck & Mike Esposito) for various vile acts, and specifically the near-fatal wounding of valiant young American agent Jasper Sitwell at the hand of the mercenary Spymaster.

Their efforts – and those of their assembled enemies – are somehow fuelling an alien artefact called the Zodiac Key and, when its creators suck Daredevil into the mix to battle Spymaster and a bunch of super-villains affiliated to the cosmic device, everybody is ultimately shanghaied to another universe for more pointless fighting in ‘Behold… the Brotherhood!’(Daredevil #73, illustrated by Colan & Shores with plot input from Allyn Brodsky) before the epic concludes with extreme briskness in Iron Man #36.

So brisk, in fact, that only the first 8 pages of ‘Among Us Stalks the Ramrod!’ (Conway, Heck & Esposito) are reprinted here, leaving this potent brew of action and suspense to wrap up with Daredevil #74: an impressive and mercifully complete conundrum with DD trapped ‘In the Country of the Blind!’ (art by Colan & Shores) and calling on a group of sight-impaired volunteers to help him thwart a criminal plot to cripple New York…

The social upheaval of the period produced a lot of impressively earnest material that only hinted at the true potential of Daredevil. These beautifully illustrated yarns may occasionally jar with their heartfelt stridency but the honesty and desire to be a part of a solution rather than blithely carry on as if nothing was happening affords them a potency that no historian, let alone comics fan, can dare to ignore.

The Sightless Swashbuckler makes a politically-charged appearance in Daredevil #75 (April 1971) in a drama of devious intrigue and kidnapping that begins as Murdock travels to the banana republic of Delvadia where ‘Now Rides the Ghost of El Condor!’ (Conway, Colan & Shores) offers a canny yarn of revolutionary fervour, self-serving greed and the power of modern mythology.

The saga concludes in ‘The Deathmarch of El Condor!’ – wherein inker Tom Palmer (perhaps Colan’s most effective inker) starts his long association with the penciller.

Guest stars abound in ‘…And So Enters the Amazing Spider-Man!’ when an uncanny artefact appears in Central Park, inviting DD, the webspinner and the Sub-Mariner to participate in a fantastic battle in a far-flung, lost world. The adventure concludes in the Atlantean’s own comic (#40) but as our hero didn’t join the quest, that sequel isn’t included in this tome.

Issue #78 returns to more traditional territory as ‘The Horns of the Bull!’ traces the downfall of petty thug Bull Taurusafter enigmatic mastermind Mr. Kline has him transformed into a savage beast and sets him upon the Scarlet Swashbuckler…

Friedrich scripted cataclysmic conclusion ‘Murder Cries the Man-Bull!’, but plotter Conway was back the following month to spectacularly reintroduce a vintage villain ‘In the Eyes… of the Owl!’: presaging a major format change for the series…

From issue #81’s ‘And Death is a Woman Called Widow’ (inked by Jack Abel), Soviet defector Natasha Romanoff bursts onto the scene as the ubiquitous Mr. Kline is finally unmasked and revealed to be behind most of DD’s recent woes and tribulations…

Sometimes called Natalia Romanova, she is a Soviet-era Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s earliest and most successful female stars. She started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days, battling Iron Man in her debut exploit (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., freelance do-gooder and occasional leader of 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…

Following a stunning pin-up of the bodacious Black Widow by Bill Everett, the conspiracy crisis continues with ‘Now Send… the Scorpion’, as Kline – AKA the Assassin – sets a manic artificial arachnid against DD and the Widow, even as his Machiavellian master attempts to suborn Murdock’s greatest friend Foggy Nelson.

At the end of that issue the Scorpion is apparently dead and ‘The Widow Accused!’ by Nelson of the villain’s murder. A sham trial intended to railroad and pillory the Russian émigré ensues in #83, (rendered by Alan Weiss, Barry Smith & Everett), with the Assassin subsequently dispatching brutish Mr. Hyde to ensure his victory.

Against all odds, however, Murdock exonerates Natasha of the charges, prompting the hidden mastermind to take direct action in ‘Night of the Assassin!’ (Colan & Syd Shores). After attacking DD and the Widow in Switzerland – whence the jetsetting former spy had fled to nurse her wounded pride – Kline at last meets final defeat in a stunning and baroque climax to the extended saga.

In the aftermath of that cataclysmic clash, the odd couple are stranded in Switzerland before #85 sees them tentatively beginning a romantic alliance and returning to America on a ‘Night Flight!’ courtesy of Conway, Colan & Shores.

Typically, the plane is hijacked by the bloodthirsty Gladiator, after which another long-forgotten foe resurfaces – for the last time – in ‘Once Upon a Time… the Ox!’ (with stunning Tom Palmer inks) culminating in the broken romantic triangle of Matt, Karen Page and Natasha compelling a life changing relocation for our players from the Big Apple to San Francisco…

The next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…

Rounding out the comics experience are bonus pages including the covers to all-reprint Daredevil Annual #2 and 3, a selection of house ads, unused cover pencils by Colan and his contribution to the 1970 Marvel Artist Self-Portrait project.

Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart, contemporarily astute stories, truly human and fallible characters and always magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.

© 2019 MARVEL.

 

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, Tony Isabella, Bob Brown, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0346-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Unbeatable Fights ‘n’ Tights Fun… 8/10

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for much of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in very large part to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. He fought gangsters, a variety of 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’s been seen as in latter years.

After spending years in a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page Murdock took up with Russian émigré and occasional client Natasha Romanoff, the infamous and notorious spy dubbed The Black Widow.

She was railroaded and framed for murder and prosecuted by Matt’s best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson before the legal eagle cleared her. Subsequently leaving New York with her for the wild wacky and West Coast, Matt joined prestigious San Francisco law firm Broderick & Sloan but adventure, disaster and intrigue sought out the Sightless Swashbuckler anywhere…

This eleventh hardback and eBook collection re-presents Daredevil #108-119, spanning March 1974 through March 1975, as well as Marvel Two-in-One #3, wherein twin storylines converged, and offers a heartfelt reminiscence eulogising unique authorial voice and much-missed scripter Steve Gerber in an effusive Introduction by sometime collaborator Mary Skrenes.

Following a period of cosmic intensity which saw the heroes battling aliens and monsters as part of the first war against Thanos, a new direction began in #108 after Daredevil rebukes the Widow for using increasingly excessive force on the thugs they stalked.

In ‘Cry… Beetle’ (by Gerber, Bob Brown & Paul Gulacy) their heated arguments are forcibly curtailed when Matt’s oldest friend – and current New York DA Foggy Nelson – is shot and she refuses to rush to his side with Murdock…

Back in the Big Apple for #109, Matt meets Foggy’s radical student sister Candace and learns of a plot by a mysterious criminal organisation. Black Spectre seek to steal government printing plates but rapidly en route to stop the raid, the Scarlet Swashbuckler is intercepted by a larcenous third party whose brutal interference allows the sinister plotters to abscond with the money-making plates…

Even the arrival of the cops can’t slow the bludgeoning battle against the Beetle in ‘Dying for Dollar$!’ (Brown & Heck), but as the exo-skeletoned thugs breaks away in Manhattan, back in San Francisco Natasha is attacked by a terrifying albino mutant called Nekra, Priestess of Darkness, who tries to forcibly recruit her into Black Spectre.

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

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

Daredevil #110 sees the return of Gene Colan – inked by Frank Chiaramonte – as the perfidious plot further develops in ‘Birthright!’, revealing Black Spectre is an exclusively female-staffed organisation, led by a pheromone-fuelled male mutant called Mandrill.

One of the first “Children of the Atom”, the ape-like creature had suffered appalling abuse and rejection until finding the equally ostracised Nekra. Once they met and realised their combined power, they swore to make America pay…

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

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

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

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

Ted Sallis was a government scientist hired to recreate the Super-Soldier serum that turned a puny, 4-F volunteer into Captain America. Due to corporate interference and what we today call “mission creep”, the project metamorphosed into a fall-back plan to turn humans into monstrous beings able to thrive in the most polluted of toxic environments…

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

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

Trailing Candy’s abductors to Citrusville, Florida, Daredevil is ambushed by Gladiator and his macabre senior partner, but saved after a furious fracas by the mysterious muck-monster in #114’s ironically entitled ‘A Quiet Night in the Swamp!’ (Brown & Colletta). Deathstalker unfortunately escapes, returning to New York where he tries to kill Foggy and restart the clandestine Sallis Project.

Even though DD foils the maniac in #115’s ‘Death Stalks the City!’, the staggering duel ends inconclusively and the potential mass-murderer’s body cannot be found…

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

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

With Gerber moving on to other projects, a little messy creative shuffling results in ‘Circus Spelled Sideways is Death!’ (#118 by Gerry Conway, Don Heck & Colletta). Here Daredevil leaves Natasha, resettles in New York and promptly battles the infamous but always-inept Circus of Crime and their latest star turn – a bat-controlling masked nut called Blackwing, after which Tony Isabella takes the authorial reins and end this outing with a clever piece of sentimental back-writing in ‘They’re Tearing Down Fogwell’s Gym!’ – rendered by Brown & Heck.

As Murdock negotiates a plea deal for Candace, the man who trained his boxer father Battling Jack Murdock comes by with a little problem. It seems a crazy crooked doctor is offering an impossible muscle and density boosting treatment that turns bantamweight pugilists into unstoppable rock-hard giant monsters…

Addling lustre to the proceedings, this tome also includes contemporary house ads and a wealth of original art page by Brown, Gulacy, Heck, Colan, Chiaramonte, Colletta & Mooney, plus pre-production-amended cover art.

As the social upheaval of the 1960s and early 1970s receded, the impressively earnest but often strident material was gradually replaced by fabulous fantasy tales strongly suggesting the true potential of Daredevil was in reach. These classic adventures are dramatic delights no action fan can afford to miss.
© 1974, 1975, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 8


By Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Mimi Gold, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Alan Weiss, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8841-4 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him capable of astonishing acrobatic feats, a formidable fighter and a living lie-detector.

Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

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

In these tales from the pivotal era of relevancy, social awareness and increasing political polarisation the Man Without Fear was also growing into the judicial conscience of a generation turning its back on old values…

Covering August 1970 to February 1972, this hardcover and digital compilation chronologically re-presents Daredevil #75-84 and includes the entire run of the Black Widow’s first solo series, which appeared in “split-book” Amazing Adventures #1-8. Those mini-epics kick off the Marvel Magic following scripter Gerry Conway’s introduction ‘Strange Days’ which shares memories of this transitional period whilst paying dues the superspy’s contemporary influences… Modesty Blaise and Emma Peel.

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 and most successful female stars.

The Black Widow started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days, battling Iron Man in her debut exploit (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., freelance do-gooder and occasional leader of 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…

Despite always being a fan-favourite, the Widow only truly hit the big time after the dawn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her printed-page escapades have always offered a cool yet sinister frisson of dark delight.

The first of those was ‘Then Came…’ (Amazing Adventures #1, August 1970 by Gary Friedrich, John Buscema & John Verpoorten) as the agent comes out of retirement to become a socially-aware crusader, defending lower-income citizens from thugs and loan sharks. That act of charity leads her to help activists ‘The Young Warriors!’ as their attempts to build a centre for underprivileged kid in Spanish Harlem are countered by crooked, drug-dealing property speculators…

Gene Colan & Bill Everett take over the art with ‘The Widow and the Militants!’ as her actions and communist past draw hostile media attention, more criminal attacks and ultimately precipitate an inner-city siege, before the ‘Deadlock’ (scripted by Mimi Gold) comes to shocking end…

Roy Thomas steps in for a bleak and powerful 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 derange youth cult leader the Astrologer who plans to hold the city’s hospitals to ransom in ‘Blood Will Tell!’ (illustrated by Don Heck & Sal Buscema).

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

The Man without Fear finally makes an appearance with his own politically-charged tale from Daredevil #75 (April 1971): a period when the company was making increasingly determined moves to make the hero cutting-edge and relevant…

A drama of political intrigue and kidnapping begins as Murdock travels to the banana republic of Delvadia where ‘Now Rides the Ghost of El Condor!’ (Conway and the incomparable art team of Gene Colan & Syd Shores) offers a canny yarn of revolutionary fervour, self-serving greed and the power of modern mythology which concludes in ‘The Deathmarch of El Condor!’ – wherein inker Tom Palmer (perhaps Colan’s most effective inker) starts his long association with the penciller.

Guest stars abound in ‘…And So Enters the Amazing Spider-Man!’ when an uncanny artefact appears in Central Park, inviting DD, the webspinner and the Sub-Mariner to participate in a fantastic battle in a far-flung, lost world. The adventure concluded in the Atlantean’s own comic (#40) but as Daredevil didn’t join the quest, that sequel isn’t included in this tome.

Issue #78 returned to more traditional territory as ‘The Horns of the Bull!’ traces the downfall of petty thug Bull Taurus after enigmatic mastermind Mr. Kline transforms him into a savage beast and sets him upon the Scarlet Swashbuckler…

Friedrich scripted cataclysmic conclusion ‘Murder Cries the Man-Bull!’, but plotter Conway was back the following month to spectacularly reintroduce a vintage villain ‘In the Eyes… of the Owl!’: presaging a major format change for the series…

From issue #81’s ‘And Death is a Woman Called Widow’ (inked by Jack Abel), Soviet defector Natasha Romanoff burst onto the scene as the ubiquitous Mr. Kline is finally unmasked and revealed to be behind most of DD’s recent woes and tribulations…

Following a stunning pin-up of the bodacious Black Widow by Bill Everett, the conspiracy crisis continues with ‘Now Send… the Scorpion’, as Kline – AKA the Assassin – sets the manic artificial arachnid against DD and the Widow even as his Machiavellian master attempts to suborn Murdock’s greatest friend Foggy Nelson.

At the end of that issue the Scorpion was apparently dead and ‘The Widow Accused!’ by Nelson of the villain’s murder. A sham trial intended to railroad and pillory the Russian émigré ensues in #83, (rendered by Alan Weiss, Barry Smith & Everett), with the Assassin subsequently dispatching brutish Mr. Hyde to ensure his victory.

Against all odds, however, Murdock exonerates Natasha of the charges, prompting the hidden mastermind to take direct action in ‘Night of the Assassin!’ (Colan & Syd Shores). After attacking DD and the Widow in Switzerland – whence the jetsetting former spy had fled to nurse her wounded pride – Kline at last meets final defeat in a stunning and baroque climax to the extended saga.

Rounding out the comics experience here are bonus pages including the cover to all-reprint Daredevil Annual #3, a selection of house ads and a brief gallery of (pre-edited) Everett original art pages, revealing a little too much of the sexy spy, and which were toned down for eventual publication…

As the social upheaval of this period receded, the impressively earnest material was replaced by fabulous fantasy tales which strongly suggested the true potential of Daredevil was in reach. These beautifully limned yarns may still occasionally jar with their earnest stridency and perhaps dated attitudes, but the narrative energy and sheer exuberant excitement of the adventures are compelling delights no action fan will care to miss. And the next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…

Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s unbeatable formula for success: smart, contemporarily astute stories, truly human and fallible characters and always magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Steve Englehart, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Sam Kweskin, Rich Buckler, Jim Starlin, Bob Brown & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9917-5 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and a living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. He fought gangsters, a variety of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion. He quipped and wise-cracked his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody, quasi-religious metaphor he latterly became.

After spending years in a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page, Murdock took up with former client and Russian émigré Natasha Romanoff, the infamous and notorious spy dubbed The Black Widow.

She was railroaded and framed for murder and prosecuted by Matt’s best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson before the blind legal eagle cleared her. Subsequently leaving New York with her for the wild wacky and West Coast, Matt joined prestigious law firm Broderick & Sloan but adventure, disaster and intrigue seemed capable of finding the Sightless Swashbuckler anywhere…

In these tales from the pivotal era of relevancy, social awareness and increasing political polarisation, the Man Without Fear was also growing into the judicial conscience of a generation…

This dynamic collection (available in sturdy hardback and handy digital formats) re-presents Daredevil #97-107, covering March 1973-January 1974 and also includes Avengers #111, wherein twin storylines converged and concluded.

The Marvel Magic recommences following an overview from commentator, biographer and documentarian Jon B. Cooke whose Introduction ‘Look Back in Angar’ adds crucial context to the rapid turnover of creative staff at this juncture.

With DD and the Widow firmly ensconced in San Francisco, Steve Gerber took over scripting with DD #97 (from Conway’s plots and illustrated by Gene Colan & inker Ernie Chan/Chua) for ‘He Who Saves’ as a street acrobat suffers a calamitous accident and is subsequently mutated by sinister hidden forces into proto-godling the Dark Messiah.

The already unstoppable Agent of Change is joined by three equally awesome Disciples of Doom in #98’s on the streets in ‘Let There be… Death!’, but even though physically overmatched, the heroic couple’s psychological warfare proves fatally effective in ending the crisis, if not ferreting out the real villains…

Daredevil and the Black Widow #99 featured ‘The Mark of Hawkeye!’ by now-autonomous Gerber, with Sam Kweskin & Syd Shores providing the pictures, which finds Natasha Romanoff’s old boyfriend turning up determined to reclaim her…

The caveman tactics lead to the Archer’s sound and well-deserved thrashing and result in a quick jump into Avengers #111. Crafted by Steve Englehart, Don Heck & Mike Esposito, ‘With Two Beside Them!’ sees the West Coast vigilantes join a ragtag and much-depleted team of heroes to rescue a number of X-Men and Avengers enslaved by the malevolent Magneto.

Dumped by Natasha and returning alone to the City by the Bay and for his anniversary issue, Daredevil agonisingly relives his origins and danger-drenched life in ‘Mind Storm!’ (Gerber, Colan & John Tartaglione) just as a savage and embittered psionic terrorist launched a series of mind-mangling assaults on the populace, culminating one month later in a shattering showdown between the blind hero and Angar the Screamer as well as a shaky reconciliation with the Widow in ‘Vengeance in the Sky with Diamonds!’, illustrated by Rich Buckler & Frank Giacoia.

Scripted by Chris Claremont, and limned by Syd Shores & Frank Giacoia ‘Stilt-Man Stalks the City’ finds Hornhead hunting psychedelic assassin Angar, which accidentally brings him into conflict with a merciless and similarly displaced old foe. The skyscraping scoundrel has kidnapped the daughter of an inventor in order to extort enhanced weaponry out of the traumatised tinkerer but isn’t expecting interference from his oldest adversary or his utterly ruthless Russian paramour….

No sooner have DD and the Widow ended the miscreant’s rampage than #103 sees a team-up with Spider-Man as a merciless cyborg attacks the odd couple while they pose for roving photojournalist Peter Parker in ‘…Then Came Ramrod!’ by new regular team Gerber, Heck & Sal Trapani.

The barely-human brute is after files in Murdock’s safe and hints of a hidden master, but ultimately his blockbusting strength is of little use against the far faster veteran heroes…

Even as the distracted Murdock realises that his own boss is sabotaging the attorney’s cases, the mystery manipulator is hiring warped mercenary Sergei Kravinoff to make Daredevil ‘Prey of the Hunter!’

Matt’s priorities change when Kraven abducts Natasha, and even after the hero rescues her, the Hunter explosively returns to defeat them both, throwing the swashbuckler to his death…

Daredevil #105 sees the Widow brutally avenging her man’s murder, but Murdock is far from dead, having being teleported from the jaws of doom by a ‘Menace from the Moons of Saturn!’ (inked by Don Perlin)…

In a short sequence pencilled by Jim Starlin, earthborn Priestess of Titan Moondragon is introduced, revealing how she has been dispatched to Earth to counter the schemes of death-worshipping proto-god Thanos. She also inadvertently discloses how she has allied with a respected man of power and authority, providing him with a variety of augmented agents such as Dark Messiah, Ramrod and Angar…

Gerber, Heck & Trapani bring the expansive extended epic closer to culmination as the manipulator is unmasked in ‘Life Be Not Proud!’… but not before the wily plotter redeploys all his past minions, shoots his misguided ally Moondragon, usurps a Titanian ultimate weapon and unleashes a life-leeching horror dubbed Terrex upon the world.

With all Earth endangered, DD, the Widow and guest-star Captain Marvel are forced to pull out all the stops to defeat the threat, and only then after a last-minute defection by the worst of their enemies and a desperate ‘Blind Man’s Bluff!’ courtesy of Gerber, Bob Brown & Sal Buscema.

This supremely enticing volume also offers extra treats: the promotional cover for #100, and John Romita & Michael Esposito’s original art for the cover of issues #105. As the social upheaval of this period receded, the impressively earnest material was replaced by fabulous fantasy tales which strongly suggested the true potential of Daredevil was in reach. These beautifully illustrated yarns may still occasionally jar with their heartfelt stridency and sometimes dated attitudes, but the narrative energy and sheer exuberant excitement of such classic adventures are graphic joys no action fan will care to miss. And the next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…
© 1973, 1974, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.