The Fang


By K.I. Zachopoulos & Christos Martinis (Markosia)
ISBN: 978-1-909276-10-9 (TPB)

These doom-laden days and tempestuous nights just naturally lend themselves to spooky stories and here’s one of the most impressive of the last decade, published in paperback and digitally by international publisher Markosia; courtesy of creative fear-meister Kostas Zachopoulos (Mon Alix, Mr. Universe, Misery City, The Cloud) and illustrated by gifted Christos Martinis.

Executed in stark and lavish painted colours reminiscent of Jon J. Muth, The Fang offers a fascinating possible postscript to the end of Bram Stoker’s epochal novel Dracula, wherein the weary but triumphant survivors of the battle against ultimate evil realise that their job is far from over…

The doom-drenched drama begins in ‘The Story of Dracula’ aboard a battered sailing ship carrying gunpowder to America. The vessel is fatally cursed with a monstrous stowaway systematically slaughtering crewmen as she shudders through storm-wracked seas towards ‘A New World?’

Back in England, Abraham Van Helsing, Quincey Morris and Jonathan Harker grudgingly accept that their battle against Dracula is not done. Now the long cold trail of the monster leads to New York.

However, by the time they reach the glittering “city of tomorrow” the ancient beast is firmly entrenched and feeding off a naive people, too smug and forward-looking to acknowledge the possibility of demons from ancient European history. They’re all far too busy enjoying the tawdry delights of passing fancies such as the enigmatic Man-Devil in the travelling Freak Show, or the commercial war between those rival peddlers of electric light Tesla and Edison

As the vampire hunters arrive, the newspapers are full of lurid tales concerning “the New York Ripper”, but as the determined trio stalk their supernal foe, the eagerly anticipating Nosferatu is keenly watching them…

The end, when it inevitably comes, in ‘Old Enemies are Forever’ is fierce, ferocious and catastrophically brutal… but is it truly final?

Blending moody lyricism with shocking bloodletting and brooding tension, this stark and striking short shocker offers all the chills lovers of classic horror demand and the striking imagery comics fans crave…
The Fang ™ & © 2013 Kostas Zachopoulos, Christos Martinis and Markosia Enterprises, Ltd. All rights reserved.

X-Men: Asgardian Wars


By Chris Claremont, Paul Smith, Bob Wiacek, Arthur Adams, Terry Austin, Alan Gordon & Mike Mignola (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4148-8 (HB) 978-0-7851-8872-8 (TPB)

In 1963, X-Men #1 introduced Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Marvel Girl and the Beast: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo Superior. After years of eccentric and spectacular adventures, the mutant misfits disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during a sustained downturn in costumed hero comics whilst fantasy and supernatural themes once more gripped the world’s entertainment fields.

Although the title was revived at the end of the year as a reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe and the Beast was made over into a monster until in 1975 Len Wein, Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique with a stunning new iteration in Giant Size X-Men #1.

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire was added a one-shot Hulk villain dubbed Wolverine, and all-original creations Kurt Wagner, a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler, African weather “goddess” Ororo MonroeAKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin, who transformed at will into a living steel Colossus, and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The revision was an unstoppable hit and soon grew to become the company’s most popular and high-quality title. In time Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and, as the team roster shifted and changed, the series rose to even greater heights, culminating in the landmark “Dark Phoenix” storyline which saw the death of (arguably) the series’ most beloved and groundbreaking character.

In the aftermath, team leader Cyclops left and a naive teenaged girl named Kitty Pryde signed up just as Cockrum returned for another spectacular sequence of outrageous adventures.

The franchise inexorably expanded with an ever-changing cast and in 1985 a new slant was added as author Claremont began to forge links between Marvel’s extemporised Norse mythology and the modern mutant mythos through the two series he then scripted.

First released in 1990 as Marvel was tentatively coming to grips with the growing trend for “trade paperback” collections, this full-colour compendium (available as a deluxe hardcover, trusty trade paperback and digital delight) collects the 1985 two-issue Limited Series X-Men and Alpha Flight, plus The New Mutants Special Edition and X-Men Annual #9 which, taken together, comprise a vast saga of staggering beauty and epic grandeur…

Two-part tale ‘The Gift’ – illustrated by Paul Smith & Bob Wiacek, saw the retired Scott Summers and his new girlfriend Madelyne Prior ferrying a gaggle of environmental scientists over Alaska in a joint American/Canadian survey mission, only to fall foul of uncanny weather and supernatural intervention…

When the X-Men receive a vision of Scott’s crashed and burning body they head North and attack Canadian team Alpha Flight under the misapprehension that the state super-squad caused the disaster. Once the confusion has been cleared up and a tenuous truce declared, the united champions realise that mystic avatar Snowbird is dying: a result of some strange force emanating from the Arctic Circle…

In another time and place, Asgardian god Loki petitions a conclave of enigmatic uber-deities “They Who Sit Above in Shadow” for a boon, but their price is high and almost beyond his understanding…

When the assembled teams reach the crash site, they find not a tangle of wreckage and bodies but a pantheon of new gods dwelling in an earthly paradise, and amongst them Scott and Madelyne, also transformed into perfect beings. These recreated paragons are preparing to abolish illness, want and need throughout the world by raising all humanity to their level and most of the disbelieving heroes are delighted at the prospect of peace on Earth at last.

However, Kitty Pryde, Talisman and Rachel Summers (the Phoenix from an alternate future) are deeply suspicious and their investigations uncover the hidden cost of this global transfiguration. Once they convince Wolverine, Loki’s scheme begins to unravel like cobwebs in a storm. Soon all that is left is anger, recrimination and savage, earth-shaking battle…

Once the God of Mischief’s plan was spoiled, the malignant Prince of Asgard plots dark and subtle revenge which begins with ‘Home is Where the Heart is’ (Claremont, Arthur Adams & Terry Austin from The New Mutants Special Edition)when he recruits the Enchantress to abduct the junior X-Men-in-training whilst he turns his attentions to the adult team’s field commander Storm.

Sunspot, Magik, Magma, Mirage, Cannonball, Wolfsbane, Karma, Warlock and Doug Ramsey are dragged to the sorceress’ dungeon in Asgard, but manage to escape through a teleport ring. Unfortunately, the process isn’t perfect and the kids are scattered throughout the Eternal Realm; falling to individual perils and influences, ranging from enslavement to adoption, true love to redemption and rededication…

Most telling of all, Mirage AKA Danielle Moonstar rescues a flying horse and becomes forever a Valkyrie, shunned by the living as one of the “Choosers of the Slain”…

With such power at her command Mirage soon gathers her scattered mutant comrades for revenge on the Enchantress before the dramatic conclusion in ‘There’s No Place Like Home’ (X-Men Annual #9, by Claremont, Adams, Alan Gordon & Mike Mignola)…

Loki, who has elevated the ensorcelled Storm to the position of Asgardian Goddess of Thunder, is simultaneously assaulted by a dimension-hopping rescue unit consisting of Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Colossus and future Phoenix as well as the thoroughly “in-country” New Mutants for a spectacular and cosmic clash which, although setting the worlds to rights, ominously promises that worse was yet to come…

This expansive crossover epic proved that, although increasingly known for character driven tales, the X-Franchise could pull out all the stops and embrace its inner blockbuster when necessary, and opened up a whole sub-universe of action and adventure which fuelled more than a decade of expansion. More than that, though, this is still one of the most entertaining mutant masterpieces of that distant decade or now.

Embellishing even this glittering prize, is a gallery of previous reprint covers and a total treasure trove of original pencil art too…

Compelling, enchanting, moving and oh, so very pretty, The Asgardian War is a book no Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy fan can afford to miss.
© 1985, 1988, 1990 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore! – DC Comics Classic Library


By Dennis O’Neil, Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2085-3 (HB)

While looking through old collections in my morbid response to the death of Denny O’Neil, I happened up on this book again. It’s the epitome of a comics classic and still a true joy to read. Why is it and so many other brilliant tomes like out of print and frustratingly unavailable in digital editions? I won’t stop asking, but rather than wait, why don’t you track this down now and give yourself a grand pre-Christmas treat?

Superman is the comic book crusader who started the whole genre and, in the decades since his debut in 1938, has probably undertaken every kind of adventure imaginable. With this in mind it’s tempting and very rewarding to gather up whole swathes of his inventory and periodically re-present them in specific themed collections, such as this hardback commemoration of one his greatest extended adventures. It was originally released just as comics fandom was becoming a powerful – if headless – lobbying force reshaping the industry to its own specialised desires.

When Julie Schwartz took over the editorial responsibilities of the Man of Steel in 1970, he was expected to shake things up with nothing less than spectacular results. To that end, he incorporated many key characters and events that were developing as part of fellow iconoclast Jack Kirby’s freshly unfolding “Fourth World”.

That bold experiment was a breathtaking tour de force of cosmic wonderment which introduced a staggering new universe to fans; instantly and permanently changing the way DC Comics were perceived and how the entire medium could be received.

Schwartz was simultaneously breathing fresh life into the powerful but moribund Superman franchise and his creative changes were just appearing in 1971. The new direction was also the vanguard and trigger for a wealth of controversial and socially-challenging material unheard of since the feature’s earliest days: a wave of tales described as “relevant”…

Here the era and those changes are described and contextualised – after ‘A Word from the Publisher’ – in Paul Levitz’s Introduction, after which the first radical shift in Superman’s vast mythology begins to unfold.

With iconic covers by Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson this titanic tome collects Superman #233-238 and #240-242, originally running from January to September 1971.

Almost all the groundbreaking extended epic was crafted by scripter Denny O’Neil, veteran illustrator Curt Swan and inker Murphy Anderson – although stand-in Dick Giordano inked #240. The willing and very public abandonment of super-villains, Kryptonian scenarios and otherworldly paraphernalia instantly revitalised the Man of Tomorrow, attracted new readers and began a period of superb human-scaled stories which made him a “must-buy” character all over again.

The innovations began in ‘Superman Breaks Loose’ (Superman #233) when a government experiment to harness the energy of Kryptonite goes explosively wrong. Closely monitoring the test, the Action Ace is blasted across the desert surrounding the isolated lab but somehow survives the supposedly fatal radiation-bath. In the aftermath reports start to filter in from all over Earth: every piece of the deadly green mineral has been transformed to common iron…

As he goes about his protective, preventative patrols, the liberated hero experiences an emotional high at the prospect of all the good he can do now. He isn’t even phased when the Daily Planet’s new owner Morgan Edge (a key Kirby character) shakes up his civilian life: summarily ejecting Clark Kent from the print game and overnight remaking him into a roving TV journalist…

Meanwhile in the deep desert, the site of his recent crashlanding offers a moment of deep foreboding when Superman’s irradiated imprint in the sand shockingly grows solid and shambles away in ghastly parody of life…

The resurgent suspense resumes in #234’s ‘How to Tame a Wild Volcano!’, as an out-of-control plantation owner refuses to let his indentured native workforce flee an imminent eruption. Handicapped by misused international laws, the Man of Tomorrow can only fume helplessly as the UN rushes towards a diplomatic solution, but his anxiety is intensified when the sinister sand-thing inadvertently passes him and agonisingly drains him of his mighty powers.

Crashing to Earth in a turbulent squall, the de-powered hero is attacked by bossman Boysie Harker’s thugs and instantly responds to the foolish provocation, relying for a change on determination rather than overwhelming might to save the day…

The ‘Sinister Scream of the Devil’s Harp’ in #235 gave way to weirder ways (the industry was enjoying a periodic revival of interest in supernatural themes and stories) as mystery musician Ferlin Nyxly reveals the secret of his impressive and ever-growing aptitudes is an archaic artefact which steals gifts, talents and even Superman’s alien abilities.

The Man of Steel is initially unaware of the drain as he’s trying to communicate with his eerily silent dusty doppelganger, but once Nyxly graduates to a full-on raving super-menace self-dubbed Pan, the taciturn homunculus unexpectedly joins its living template in trouncing the power thief…

The next issue offered a science fictional morality play as cherubic aliens seek Superman’s assistance in defeating a band of devils and rescuing Clark Kent’s best friends from Hell. However, the ‘Planet of the Angels’ proves to be nothing of the kind, and the Caped Kryptonian has to pull out all the stops to save Earth from a very real Armageddon…

Superman #237 sees the Metropolis Marvel save an astronaut only to see him succumb to a madness-inducing mutative disease. After another destructive confrontation with the sand-thing further debilitates him, the harried hero is present when more mortals fall to the contagion and – believing himself the cause and an uncontrollable ‘Enemy of Earth’ – considers quarantining himself to space…

As he is deciding, Lois Lane stumbles into one more lethal situation and Superman’s instinctive intervention seemingly confirms his earlier diagnosis, but another clash with his always-close sandy simulacrum on the edge of space heralds an incredible truth. Pathetically debilitated, Superman nevertheless saves Lois and again meets the ever-more human creature. Now able to speak, it gives a chilling warning and the Man of Steel realises exactly what it is taking from him and what it might become…

A mere shadow of his former self, the Man of Tomorrow is unable to prevent a band of terrorists taking over a magma-tapping drilling rig and endangering the entire Earth in #238’s ‘Menace at 1000 Degrees’. With Lois one of a number of hostages and the madmen threatening to detonate a nuke in the pipeline, the Action Ace desperately begs his doppelganger to assist him, before its cold rejection forces the depleted hero to take the biggest gamble of his life…

Superman #239 was an all-reprint giant featuring the hero in his incalculably all-powerful days – and thus not included here – but the much-reduced Caped Kryptonian returned in #240 (Giordano inks) to confront his own lessened state and seek a solution in ‘To Save a Superman’. The trigger is his inability to extinguish a tenement fire and the wider world’s realisation that their unconquerable champion was now vulnerable and fallible…

Especially interested are his old enemies in the Anti-Superman Gang who immediately allocate all their resources to destroying their nemesis. After one particularly close call Clark is visited by an ancient Asian sage who somehow knows of his other identity and offers an unconventional solution…

From 1968 onwards superhero comics began to decline and publishers sought new ways to keep audience as tastes changed. Back then, the entire industry depended on newsstand sales, and if you weren’t popular, you died. Editor Jack Miller, innovating illustrator Mike Sekowsky and relatively new scripter Denny O’Neil stepped up with a radical proposal and made a little bit of funnybook history with the only female superhero then in the marketplace.

They revealed that the almighty mystical Amazons were forced to leave our dimension, and took with them all their magic – including Wonder Woman’s powers and all her weapons…

Reduced to mere humanity she opted to stay on Earth, assuming her own secret identity of Diana Prince, resolved to fighting injustice as a mortal. Tutored by blind Buddhist monk I Ching, she trained as a martial artist, and quickly became a formidable enemy of contemporary evil.

Now this same I Ching claims to be able to repair Superman’s difficulties and dwindling might, but evil eyes are watching. Arriving clandestinely, Superman allows the adept to remove all his Kryptonian powers as a precursor to restoring them, allowing the A-S Gang the perfect opportunity to strike. In the resultant melee, the all-too-human hero triumphs in the hardest fight of his life…

The saga continues with “Swan-derson” back on the art in #241 as Superman overcomes a momentary but nearly overwhelming temptation to surrender his oppressive burden and lead a normal life…

Admonished and resolved, he then submits to Ching’s resumed remedy ritual and finds his spirit soaring to where the sand-being lurks before explosively reclaiming the stolen powers. Leaving the gritty golem a shattered husk, the phantom brings the awesome energies back to their true owner and a triumphant hero returns to saving the world…

Over the next few days, however, it becomes clear that something has gone wrong. The Man of Tomorrow has become arrogant, erratic and unpredictable, acting rashly, overreacting and even making stupid mistakes.

In her boutique Diana Prince discusses the problem with Ching and the sagacious teacher soon deduces that during his time of mere mortality whilst fighting the gangsters, Superman received a punishing blow to the head. Clearly it has resulted in brain injury that did not heal when his powers returned…

When the hero refuses to listen to them, Diana and Ching have no choice but to track down the dying sand-thing and request its aid. The elderly savant recognises it as a formless creature from other-dimensional realm Quarrm and listens to the amazing story of its entrance into our world. He also suggests a way for it to regain some of what it recently lost…

Superman, meanwhile, has blithely gone about his deranged business until savagely attacked by the possessed and animated statue of a Chinese war-demon. Also able to steal his power, this second fugitive from Quarrm has no conscience and wears ‘The Shape of Fear!

The staggering saga concludes in ‘The Ultimate Battle’ as the Quarrmer briefly falls under the sway of a brace of brutal petty thugs who put the again de-powered Superman into hospital…

Rushed into emergency surgery, the Kryptonian fights for his life as the sand-thing confronts the war-demon in the streets, but events take an even more bizarre turn once the latter drives off its foe and turns towards the hospital to finish off the flesh-&-blood Superman.

Recovering consciousness – and a portion of his power – the Metropolis Marvel battles the beast to a standstill but needs the aid of his silicon stand-in to drive the thing back beyond the pale…

With the immediate threat ended, Man of Steel and Man of Sand face each other one last time, each determined to ensure his own existence no matter the cost…

The stunning conclusion was a brilliant stroke on the part of the creators, one which left Superman approximately half the man he used to be. Of course, all too soon he returned to his unassailable, god-like power levels but never quite regained the tension-free smug assurance of his 1950s-1960s self.

A fresh approach, snappy dialogue and more terrestrial, human-scaled concerns to shade the outrageous implausible fantasy elements, wedded to gripping plots and sublime artwork make Kryptonite Nevermore! one of the very best Superman sagas ever created.

Also included here is the iconic ‘House Ad’ by Swan & Vince Colletta which proclaimed the big change throughout the DC Universe, and a thoughtful ‘Afterword by Denny O’Neil’ wraps things up with some insights and reminiscences every lover of the medium will appreciate.
© 1971, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Doom Patrol: The Silver Age volume 2


By Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, Bruno Premiani, Bob Brown, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0098-4 (TPB)

1963 was the year when cautious comicbook publishers finally realised that superheroes were back in a big way and began reviving or creating a host of costumed characters to battle outrageous menaces and dastardly villains.

Thus it was that the powers-that-be at National Comics decided venerable anthology-mystery title My Greatest Adventure would dip its toe in the waters with a radical take on the fad. Still, famed for cautious publishing, they introduced a startling squad of champions with their thematic roots still firmly planted in the B-movie monster films of the era that informed the parent comic.

No traditional team of masked adventurers, this cast comprised a robot, a mummy and an occasional 50-foot woman, joining forces with and guided by a vivid, brusque, domineering, crippled mad scientist to fight injustice in a whole new way…

Covering June 1965 to November 1966, this stunning trade paperback – and eBook – compilation collects the Fabulous Freaks’ eccentric exploits from Doom Patrol #96-107, and includes a brace of team-ups: one from The Brave and the Bold #65 and an early crossover from Challengers of the Unknown #48.

The dramas were especially enhanced by the drawing skills of Italian cartoonist and classicist artist Giordano Bruno Premiani, whose highly detailed, subtly humanistic illustration made even the strangest situation dauntingly authentic and grittily believable. He was also the perfect vehicle to squeeze every nuance of comedy and pathos from the captivatingly involved and grimly light-hearted scripts by Arnold Drake who always proffered a tantalising believably world for the outcast heroes to strive in.

Premier tale ‘The Doom Patrol’ was co-scripted by Drake & Bob Haney, detailing how a mysterious wheelchair-bound scientist summoned three outcasts to his home through the promise of changing their miserable lives forever…

Competitive car racer Cliff Steele had died in a horrific pile up, but his undamaged brain had been transplanted into a fantastic mechanical body. Test pilot Larry Trainor had been trapped in an experimental stratospheric plane and become permanently radioactive, with the dubious benefit of gaining a semi-sentient energy avatar which could escape his body to perform incredible stunts for up to a minute at a time.

To pass safely amongst men Trainor had to constantly wrap himself in special radiation-proof bandages.

Ex-movie star Rita Farr had been exposed to mysterious swamp gases which gave her the terrifying, unpredictable and – at first – uncontrolled ability to shrink or grow to incredible sizes.

The outcasts were brought together by brilliant but enigmatic Renaissance Man the Chief, who sought to mould the solitary misfits into a force for good. He quickly proved his point when a mad bomber attempted to blow up the city docks. The surly savant directed the trio of strangers in defusing it and no sooner had the misfits realised their true worth than they were on their first mission…

…And they were off and running…

Now two years later Doom Patrol #96, opens on ‘The Day the World Went Mad!’, as frantic investigations reveal that a global wave of insanity is being caused by a deadly alliance of old foes The Brotherhood of Evil, alien tyrant Garguax and undying terrorist General Immortus. Cue last-ditch heroics …

In issue #97 that sinister syndicate attacks Earth by transforming innocent citizens into crystal, spectacularly resulting in ‘The War against the Mind Slaves’, heralding the return of super-rich wannabee and self-made superhero Mento, resulting in a stunning showdown free-for-all on the moon, after which #98 sees both ‘The Death of the Doom Patrol’ – a grievous over-exaggeration on behalf of transmutational foe Mr. 103 – who was actually compelled to save Caulder from radiation poisoning – and a Bob Brown-drawn solo-thriller ‘60 Sinister Seconds’ in which Negative Man has to find and make safe four atomic bombs in different countries within one minute…

Brown also handled both tales in Doom Patrol #99, starting with an old-fashioned battle against a deranged entomologist whose mechanical insects deliver ‘The Deadly Sting of the Bug Man’ before proceeding to the groundbreaking first appearance of shape-shifting juvenile delinquent ‘The Beast-Boy’. He burgles then saves the team with his incredible ability to become any animal he could imagine…

An extended storyline began with #100 and ‘The Fantastic Origin of Beast-Boy’ (illustrated by Premiani) wherein the obnoxious kid is revealed as orphan Gar Logan: a child being slowly swindled out of his inheritance by his ruthless guardian Nicholas Galtry.

The conniving accountant even leases his emerald-hued charge to scientist Dr. Weir for assorted experiments, but when the Patrol later tackle rampaging dinosaurs, the trail leads unerringly to Gar who at last explains his uncanny powers…

Whilst in Africa as a toddler, Logan contracted a rare disease. His scientist father then tried an experimental cure which left him the colour of cabbage but with the ability to change shape at will. Now it appears that Weir has used the lad’s altered biology to unlock the secrets of evolution… or has he?

Despite foiling the scheme, the team have no choice but to return the boy to his guardian. However, Rita is not prepared to leave the matter unresolved…

The anniversary issue also saw the start of an extended multi-part thriller exploring Cliff’s early days after his accident and subsequent resurrection, beginning with ‘Robotman… Wanted Dead or Alive’.

Following Caulder’s implantation of Cliff’s brain into the mechanical body, the shock drove the patient crazy and Steele went on a city-wide rampage…

Doom Patrol #101 is riotous romp ‘I, Kranus, Robot Emperor!’, wherein an apparently alien mechanoid has a far more terrestrial and terrifying origin, but the real meat of the issue comes from the events of the subtle war between Galtry and the Chief for possession of Beast Boy.

The tale ends on a pensive cliffhanger as the Patrol then dashed off to rescue fellow adventurers The Challengers of the Unknown – but before that the second instalment of the Robotman saga sees the occasionally rational, if paranoid, Cliff Steele hunted by the authorities and befriended by crippled, homeless derelicts in ‘The Lonely Giant’

Firmly established in the heroic pantheon, the Doom Patrol surprisingly teamed with fellow outsiders The Challengers of the Unknown at the end of 1965. The crossover began in the Challs’ title (specifically #48, cover-dated February/March 1966). Scripted by Drake and limned by Brown, ‘Twilight of the Challengers’ opened with the death-cheaters’ apparent corpses, and the DP desperately seeking who killed them…

Thanks to the Chief, our heroes recover and a furious coalition takes off after a cabal of bizarre super-villains. The drama explosively concluded in Doom Patrol #102, with ‘8 Against Eternity’ battling murderous shape-shifting maniac Multi-Man and his robotic allies to stop a horde of zombies from a lost world attacking humanity.

Another team-up follows as Haney, Dick Giordano & Sal Trapani craft ‘Alias Negative Man!’ for The Brave and the Bold #65 (May 1966), wherein Larry’s radio energy avatar is trapped by The Brotherhood of Evil and the Chief recruits The Flash to impersonate and replace him…

Doom Patrol #102 offered two tales, beginning with a tragedy that ensues when Professor Randolph Ormsby asks for the team’s aid in a space shot. When the doddery savant is transformed into a rampaging flaming monster dubbed ‘The Meteor Man’, it takes the entire team – as well as Beast Boy and Mento – to secure a happy outcome.

‘No Home for a Robot’, however, continues to reveal the Mechanical Marvel’s early days following Caulder’s implantation of Cliff’s brain into an artificial body. The shock had seemingly driven the patient crazy and Steele subsequently went on a city-wide rampage, continuously hunted and hounded by the police. Here the ferrous fugitive finds temporary respite with his brother Randy, but Cliff quickly realises trouble will trail him anywhere…

Issue #104 astounded everybody as Rita abruptly stops refusing the loathed Steve and becomes ‘The Bride of the Doom Patrol’. However, the guest star-stuffed wedding is almost spoiled when Garguax and the Brotherhood of Evil crash the party to murder the groom. So unhappy are Cliff and Larry with Rita’s “betrayal”, that they almost let them…

Even whilst indulging in her new bride status in issue #105, Rita can’t abandon the team, joining them to tackle old elemental enemy Mr. 103 during a ‘Honeymoon of Terror’, before back-up yarn ‘The Robot-Maker Must Die’ concludes the origin of Cliff Steele as the renegade attempts to kill the surgeon who had imprisoned him in a metal hell – which finally give Caulder a chance to fix the malfunction in Steele’s systems…

‘Blood Brothers’ in #106 introduces domestic disharmony as Rita steadfastly refuses to be a good trophy wife and resumes the hunt for Mr. 103 with the rest of the DP. Her separate lives continue to intersect, however, when Galtry hires the elemental assassin to wipe Gar and his freakish allies off the books.

The back-up section shifts focus onto ‘The Private World of Negative Man’: recapitulating Trainor’s doomed flight and the radioactive close encounter which turned him into a walking mummy. Tragically, even after being allowed to walk amongst men again, the gregarious pilot find himself utterly isolated and alone…

The Silver Age celebrations pause here with Doom Patrol #107 which begins an epic story-arc concerning ‘The War over Beast Boy’. Here Rita and Steve start legal proceedings to get Gar and his money away from Galtry, and the embezzler responds by opening a criminal campaign to beggar Dayton, inadvertently aligning himself with the Patrol’s greatest foes. Already distracted by the depredations of marauding automaton Ultimax, the hard-pressed heroes swiftly fall to the murderous mechanoid and Rita is dispatched to a barbaric sub-atomic universe…

The secret history of Negative Man continues and also ends on a cliffhanger with ‘The Race Against Dr. Death’. When fellow self-imposed outcast Dr. Drew tries to draw the pilot into a scheme to destroy the human species which had cruelly excluded them both, the ebony energy being demonstrates the incredible power it possesses to save the world from fiery doom.

To Be Continued…

Although as kids we all happily suspended disbelief and bought into the fanciful antics of the myriad masked heroes available, somehow the exploits of Doom Patrol – and their strangely synchronistic Marvel counterparts The X-Men (freaks and outcasts, wheelchair geniuses, both debuting in the summer of 1963) – always seemed just a bit more “real” than the usual cape-&-costume crowd.

With the edge of time and experience on my side it’s obvious just how incredibly mature and hardcore Drake, Haney & Premiani’s take on superheroes actually was. These superbly engaging, frantically fun and breathtakingly beautiful tales should rightfully rank amongst the finest Fights ‘n’ Tights tales ever told.
© 1965, 1966, 2020 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Question: Zen and Violence


By Dennis O’Neil, Denys Cowan & Rick Magyar (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1579-8 (TPB)

Denny O’Neil died on June 11th. It didn’t make the news or mostly anywhere. For comics readers of my vintage he was the voice of our generation, carrying us through some of the most turbulent times in world history and using his gifts to pass on a philosophy never before seen in comics. He utterly remade Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Superman. He created the relevancy movement, bringing social conscience back to comics for the first time since Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster were told to tone it down with the wife beaters and grasping mine owners…

He was a remarkably insightful and prolific writer and a nurturing, imaginative editor. Think of a hero or title: Denny probably made it better. We’ve been the poorer since his retirement, but now there’s no chance of one last hurrah…

One of DC’s best comics series of the 1980’s – and probably the closest to O’Neil’s personal beliefs – is criminally out of print in trade paperback format and still hasn’t made it to digital editions yet, but it’s something well worth tracking down.

The Question, as created by Steve Ditko, was Vic Sage: a driven, justice-obsessed journalist who sought out crime and corruption irrespective of the consequences. This Charlton “Action-Line Hero” was purchased by DC when the Connecticut outfit folded and was the template for the compulsive avenger Rorschach when Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons first drafted the miniseries that would become the groundbreaking Watchmen.

The contemporary rumour-mill had it that since the creators couldn’t be persuaded to produce a spin-off Rorschach comic, the company went with a reworking of the Ditko original…

An ordinary man pushed to the edge by his obsessions, Vic Sage used his fists and a mask that made him look utterly faceless to get answers (and justice) whenever normal journalistic methods failed. After a few minor appearances around the DC universe, Sage got a job in the town where he grew up.

Hub City is a hell-hole, the most corrupt and morally bankrupt municipality in America. Mayor Wesley Fermin is a degenerate, drunken sot and the real power is insane cleric and political advisor Reverend Jeremiah Hatch, whose hand-picked gang of “heavies” are supplemented by the world’s deadliest assassin, Lady Shiva.

Reuniting with Aristotle Rodor, the philosopher-scientist who first created his faceless mask and other gimmicks, Sage determines to clean up The Hub, but despite early victories against thugs and grafters, is easily defeated by Shiva, and left to the mercies of Hatch and his gang. A brutal beating by the gangsters breaks every bone in his body and – after shooting him in the head – the callous minions simply dump his body in the freezing waters of the river.

Obviously, he doesn’t die. Rescued by the inscrutable Shiva, but utterly crippled, Sage is sent into the wilderness to be healed and trained by O’Neil’s other legendary martial arts creation, Richard Dragon. A year passes…

It’s a new type of hero who returns to a Hub City which has sunk even lower into degradation. Sage’s old girlfriend is now the Mayor’s wife, Reverend Hatch has graduated from thugs to terrorist employees, and his madness has driven him to actually seek the destruction of Humanity. Will the new Question be sufficient answer to the problems of a society so utterly debased that the apocalypse seems like an improvement?

Combating Western dystopia with Eastern Thought and martial arts action is not a new concept, but the author’s spotlight on cultural problems rather than super-heroics make this series O’Neil’s most philosophical work, and Denys Cowan’s quirky, edgy art – inked with jagged precision by Rick Magyar – imbues this darkly adult, powerfully sophisticated thriller with a maturity that is simply breathtaking.

This is a story about dysfunction: Social, societal, political, emotional, familial and even methodological. The normal masked avenger tactics don’t work in a “real”-er world, and some solutions require better Questions…
© 1986, 1987, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 6


By Bill Finger, Don Cameron, Jack Schiff, Mort Weisinger, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Samachson, Joseph Greene, Edmond Hamilton, Bob Kane, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9416-8 (TPB)

Debuting a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) confirmed DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the parameters of the metahuman with their Man of Steel, the physical mortal perfection and dashing derring-do of the strictly-human Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crime-busters were judged.

Batman: The Golden Age is a series of paperback feasts (there are also weightier, pricier, more capacious hardback Omnibus editions available, and digital iterations too) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Presented in original publishing release order, the tomes trace the character’s growth into the icon who would inspire so many and develop the resilience needed to survive the stifling cultural vicissitudes that coming decades would inflict upon him and his partner, Robin.

Re-presenting a glorious and astounding treasure-trove of cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #82-92, Batman #21-25 as well as contemporary companion tales from World’s Finest Comics #12-14, this book covers groundbreaking escapades from April/May 1943 to December 1943 to October 1944: with the Dynamic Duo continually developing and storming ahead of all competition even as the war and its themes began to fade away from the collective comics consciousness.

I’m certain it’s no coincidence that many of these Golden Age treasures are also some of the best and most reprinted tales in the Batman canon. These Golden Age greats are some of the finest tales in Batman’s decades-long canon, as lead writers Bill Finger and Don Cameron, supplemented by Joe Samachson, Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene and Mort Weisinger, pushed the boundaries of the adventure medium whilst graphic genius Dick Sprang slowly superseded and surpassed Bob Kane and Jack Burnley, making the feature uniquely his own and keeping the Peerless Pair at the forefront of a vast army of superhero successes. Moreover, with the end of WWII in sight, the escapades became upbeat and more wide-ranging…

These tales were crafted just as triumph was turning in the air and an odour of hopeful optimism was creeping into the escapist, crime-busting yarns – and especially the stunning covers – seen here in the work of Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Bob Kane Jack Burnley, Dick Sprang, Charles Paris and Stan Kaye…

War always stimulates creativity and advancement and these sublime adventures of Batman and Robin more than prove that axiom as the growing band of creators responsible for producing myriad adventures of the Dark Knight hit an artistic peak which only stellar stable-mate Superman and Fawcett’s Captain Marvel were able to equal or even approach.

We start here with Detective Comics #82 as Cameron, Kane & George Roussos explore the dark side of American Football through the rise and explosive downfall of the ‘Quarterback of Crime!’ after which premiere anthology World’s Finest Comics #12 reveals how ‘Alfred Gets His Man!’ (Finger & Sprang), as Batman’s faithful new retainer revives his own boyhood dreams of being a successful detective with hilarious and action-packed results…

Portly butler Alfred’s diet regime thereafter led the Gotham Guardians to a murderous mesmerising medic and criminal insurance scam in ‘Accidentally on Purpose!’, courtesy of Cameron, Kane & Roussos (Detective #83), after which Batman #21 caters an all-Sprang art extravaganza.

The drama opened with slick Schiff-scripted tale ‘The Streamlined Rustlers’, following the Gotham Gangbusters way out west to solve a devilish mystery and crush a gang of beef-stealing black market black hats, after which Cameron describes the antics of murderous big city mobster Chopper Gant who cons a military historian into planning his capers and briefly stymies Batman and Robin with his warlike ‘Blitzkrieg Bandits!’

Alvin Schwartz penned delightfully convoluted romp ‘His Lordship’s Double’ which sees newly dapper, slimline manservant Alfred asked to impersonate a purportedly crowd-shy aristocratic inventor… only to become the victim in a nasty scheme to secure the true toff’s latest invention…

It all culminates with ‘The Three Eccentrics’ by Joe Greene, which detailing the wily Penguin’s schemes to empty the coffers of a trio of Gotham’s wealthiest misfits…

Over in Detective Comics #84, Mort Weisinger & Sprang (with layouts by Ed Kressy)

pit the Partners in Peril against an incredible Underworld University churning out ‘Artists in Villainy’ before #85 – written by Bill Finger – glories in Sprang’s first brush with the Clown Prince of Crime. In one of the most madcap moments in the entire annals of adventure, Batman and his arch-foe almost unite to hunt for the daring desperado who stole the Harlequin of Hate’s shtick and glory as ‘The Joker’s Double’

World’s Finest Comics #13 featured ‘The Curse of Isis!’ (Finger & Jack Burnley, inked by brother Ray & Roussos): a maritime mystery of superstition, smugglers and sabotage after which Batman #22 offers another quicksilver quartet of classics beginning with ‘The Duped Domestics!’ by Schwartz, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson, wherein a select number of Gotham’s butlers are targeted by a sultry seductress looking for easy inroads to swanky houses. Despite being an old enemy of Batman’s, “Belinda” more than meets her match when Alfred becomes her next patsy…

When the little rich boy secretly takes a menial job, his generous guardian is rightly baffled but after ‘Dick Grayson, Telegraph Boy!’ (Finger, Burney & Robinson) exposes a criminal enterprise centred around Gotham Observatory, the method of his madness soon becomes clear.

A new solo series debuted as Mort Weisinger & Robinson launched ‘The Adventures of Alfred’ with ‘Conversational Clue!’, wherein Batman’s batman misapprehends an overheard word at the library and stumbles into a safecracking gang. The issue concludes with ‘The Cavalier Rides Again!’ (Finger, Burnley & Charles Paris) as the Dashing Desperado mystifyingly begins bagging cheap imitations rather than authentic booty in his ongoing campaign to best the Batman…

In Detective #86, Cameron & Sprang recount how a sleuthing contest between Bruce, Dick and Alfred leads to a spectacular battle against sinister smugglers in ‘Danger Strikes Three!’ and further dramas unfold in #87’s ‘The Man of a Thousand Umbrellas’ written by Joseph Greene.

The Penguin had a bizarre appeal and the Wicked Old Bird has his own cover banner whenever he resurfaced, as in this beguiling crime-spree highlighting his uncanny arsenal of weaponised parasols, brollies and bumbershoots…

The Harlequin of Hate led in Batman #23, with Finger, Sprang & Gene McDonald’s eccentric thriller ‘The Upside Down Crimes!’, wherein the Joker turns the town topsy-turvy in his latest series of looting larcenies after which smitten Dick’s bold endeavours save classmate and ‘Damsel in Distress!’ (Cameron & Sprang) Marjory Davenport and her dad from gangster kidnappers. Unfortunately for him, she soon has her head turned by flamboyant Robin and the Boy Wonder becomes his own rival…

Anonymously scripted but again rendered by Jerry Robinson, ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Borrowed Butler!’ finds the domestic detective loaned out by Bruce Wayne to a snooty neighbour and accidentally uncovering an insider’s scheme to burgle the place.

Wrapping up this issue is another fact-packed “Police Division Story” with Batman and Robin joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to stop a vicious ring of fur bandits who have decided to forego robbing big city stores. Instead, the ‘Pelt Plunderers!’ (by Joe Samachson & Sprang) head due north to steal directly from the trappers…

As World War II staggered to a close and Home Front tensions subsided, spies gradually gave way to more domestic threats and menaces. Detective #88 offered a nasty glimpse at true villainy when ‘The Merchants of Misery’ – by Greene – pits the Dynamic Duo against merciless and murderous loan sharks preying on poverty-stricken families, whilst ‘Laboratory Loot!’, by Don Cameron in #89, sees the return of flamboyant crime enthusiast The Cavalier, who is ignominiously forced to join temporarily forces with Batman to thwart petty gangsters stealing loot he’d earmarked as his own…

World’s Finest Comics #14 again highlighted maritime menace as ‘Salvage Scavengers!’ (Finger Robinson & Roussos) plundered Gotham Harbor before Batman #24 adds a smidgen of science fiction flair and a dash of sheer whimsy to the regular mix. ‘It Happened in Rome’ (Samachson & Sprang) introduces Professor Carter Nichols who devises a method of time-travel dependant on deep hypnosis. His first subjects are old friend Bruce Wayne and his ward, who both wing back metaphysically back centuries for a sightseeing trip and end up saving a charioteer from race-fixers as Batmanus and Robin

Bruce also plays a pivotal role in ‘Convict Cargo!’ (Cameron & Sprang), masquerading as an embezzler to expose a ring of thugs offering perfect getaways to Gotham’s white-collar criminals. Happily, when the villain vacations turn out to be one-way trips, Gotham’s Guardians are on hand to mop up the pirates responsible.

Cameron & Robinson then describe how ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Police Line-Up!’ leads the bewildered butler into trailing the wrong crook but still nabbing a mob of bad eggs before portly purveyors of peril Tweedledum and Tweedledee(soon to be major motion picture stars!) connive their way into the position of ‘The Mayors of Yonville!’

Their flagrant abuse of civic power dumps the Dynamic Duo into jail but still isn’t enough to keep their goldmine scam from coming to light once the heroes bust out…

Detective Comics #90 exposes ‘Crime Between the Acts!’ (Greene & Kane) as the Caped Crusaders followed a Mississippi Riverboat full of crooked carnival performers from one plundered town to another, before Edmond Hamilton scripts a terrifically twisty tale in ‘The Case of the Practical Joker’, wherein some crazy and wisely anonymous prankster starts pulling stunts and having fun at the Crime Clown’s expense.

Batman #25 opens with lauded classic ‘Knights of Knavery’ (Cameron, Burnley& Robinson) which sees arch rivals Penguin and Joker join forces to steal the world’s biggest emerald and outwit all opposition, before falling foul of their own mistrust and arrogance once the Dark Knight puts his own thinking cap on.

Schwartz then leads the artists on an exotic journey as ‘The Sheik of Gotham City!’ sees an Arabian refugee working as a cab driver in Gotham abruptly restored to sovereignty over his usurped desert kingdom after our heroes foil an assassination attempt, before ‘The Adventures of Alfred: The Mesmerised Manhunter!’ (Cameron & Robinson) finds the off-duty domestic a plaything of a stage magician whilst simultaneously foiling a box office heist…

The action and suspense wrap up in spectacular style as Finger, Burnley & Robinson detail a saga of sabotage and redemption when the Dynamic Duo join the rough-and-ready electrical engineers known as ‘The Kilowatt Cowboys!’

As if the job of bringing the nation’s newest hydroelectric dam on line is not dangerous enough and a plague of thefts by murderous copper thieves isn’t cutting into productivity, most of Batman’s time is spent stopping rival wire men Jack and Alec from killing each other…

Greene and Sprang bring this marvel of nostalgic adventure to a close with ‘Crime’s Manhunt’ in Detective #92, with a particularly nasty band of bandits resorting to bounty hunting and turning in all their friends and associates for hefty rewards. Once they run out of pals to betray, they simply organise jailbreaks to provide more crooks to catch: a measure the Dark Knight takes extreme umbrage with…

The history of the American comicbook industry in almost every major aspect stem from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of DC’s twin icons: Superman and Batman.

It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in chronological order in a variety of formats from relatively economical newsprint paperbacks to deluxe hardcover commemorative Archive editions – and digital formats too.

These are the stories that cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin, bringing welcome surcease to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to Buy This Book…
© 1943, 1944, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Outsiders by Judd Winick volume 1: The Darker Side of Justice


By Judd Winick, Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez, Tom Raney, ChrisCross, Alé Garcia, Carlo Barberi, Ivan Reis, & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8851-8 (TPB)

Once upon a time, superheroes sat around their assorted lairs or went about their civilian pursuits until the call of duty summoned them like firemen – or Thunderbirds – to deal with a breaking emergency. In the grim and gritty world after Crisis on Infinite Earths, the concept changed with a number of costumed adventurers evolving into pre-emptive strikers – as best exemplified by covert penal battalion and cinema darlings The Suicide Squad. Soon the philosophy had spread far and wide…

Following the break-up of Young Justice and the – of course, temporary – death of founding Teen Titan Donna Troy, a number of her grief-stricken comrades also changed from First Responders to dedicated – if morally contentious – hunters tracking down threats and menaces before they attacked… or indeed committed crimes at all…

This volume collects the initial storyline which introduced Judd Winick’s aggressive new take on edgy team-concept the Outsiders, compiling material from Teen Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day, Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003 and issues #1-7 of the compelling and much-missed monthly comicbook that sprang from the first two…

Winick, Alé Garcia and inkers Trevor Scott, Marlo Alquiza & Lary Stucker subdivided the tale into ‘Invocation’, ‘Commencement’ and ‘Graduation Day’ as a really sexy robot arrives from the future just as juvenile superhero team Young Justice are getting on each other’s nerves and breaking up.

Her confused actions inadvertently release a deadly android stored at S.T.A.R. Labs, which neither the child heroes nor the Teen Titans can stop. In a cataclysmic battle both Omen and Donna Troy are killed. These tragedies lead to the dissolution of Young Justice, the formation of the covert and pre-emptive Outsiders and the reformation of a new Titans group dedicated to better training the heroes of tomorrow.

Even though a frightfully contrived ploy to launch some new titles, this tale is still a punchy and effective thriller from writer Winick, penciller Alé Garcia & inkers Trevor Scott, Larry Stucker and Marlo Alquiza.

In the aftermath of the deadly debacle, the surviving champions reformed the Teen Titans as a group dedicated to better training the heroes of tomorrow. However, CIA trained ex-Green Arrow sidekick Arsenal felt that it was not enough and convinced the heartbroken Nightwing to help devise a covert and pre-emptive pack of professionals to take out perceived threats before innocent lives were endangered. Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003 contributed a brace of tales setting the scene, beginning with ‘A Day After…’ by Winick, Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Mark Campos which peeks into the private lives of all involved whilst ‘Who was Donna Troy’ – written and drawn by Phil Jimenez, with inks by Andy Lanning – is a short, moving eulogy for the character set at her funeral with friends and guest-stars discussing her life and career.

The series proper begins with the 3-parter ‘Roll Call’, illustrated by Tom Raney & Scott Hanna. ‘Opening Offers’introduces new characters Thunder (daughter of original Outsider Black Lightning) and enigmatic super girl Grace, established player Jade, recently resurrected and amnesiac Rex Mason AKA Metamorpho the Element Man and, in a not particularly welcome, wise or team-building move, the futuristic fem-bot who had started the whole mess.

With her memory-banks scrubbed clean and desperately keen to redeem herself, Indigo adds eagerness and innocence to an embittered, but highly motivated and very determined team…

Their first mission catches them off-guard after a cruise ship is hijacked and an army of talking gorillas invades New York under the command of super-ape Grodd. However, the devastating actions of ‘Lawyers, Guns and Monkeys’ is quickly revealed to be no more than a sinister diversion as the Joker uses the chaos to abduct new American President Lex Luthor, leaving the team with the unwelcome task of rescuing one of the people they would most like to take out in ‘Joke’s on You’

ChrisCross & Sean Parsons depict the Outsiders’ first true hunting party in ‘Brothers in Blood’: part 1 ‘Small Potatoes’ as, after a series of small-time busts (acting on information from a mysterious and secret source), the squad uncover a diabolical scheme by religious maniac Brother Blood to steal one million babies…

The cult leader activates hypnotised deep-cover agents in ‘Finders Sleepers’ and almost murders Arsenal, but even as the hero is undergoing life-saving surgery, the Outsiders – assisted by two vengeful generations of Green Arrow – rocket to Antarctica where Blood is attempting to free and recruit 1,600 metahuman villains incarcerated in maximum security super-prison the Slab.

As the battle rages and casualties mount, Nightwing is forced to choose between saving the infants or allowing Blood and an army of criminals to escape in concluding chapter ‘Pandora’s Box’

This first collection ends on a powerfully poignant and personal note as Metamorpho at last discovers the shocking reason for his lack of memories and faces ultimate dissolution in the superbly downbeat and disturbing ‘Oedipus Rex’ (by Raney & Hanna)…

Adding extra lustre and clarity, information pages on Thunder, Arsenal, Nightwing, Jade, Grace, Indigo & Metamorpho by Winick, Jason Pearson, Garcia. Raney & Mike McKone, reveal all you need to know about the secret strike force…

Fast-paced, action-packed, cynically sharp and edgily effective, Outsiders was one of the very best series pursuing the “take-‘em out first” concept and resulted in some of the very best Fights ‘n’ Tights action of the last ten years. Still punchy, evocative and highly effective, these thrillers will delight older fans of the genre.
© 2003, 2004, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo: volume 1 Sundays 1934-1937 (The Complete Flash Gordon Library)


By Alex Raymond & Don Moore with restorations by Peter Maresca (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-154-6 (HB)

By most lights, Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb but rather dated Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as response to revolutionary, inspirational, but clunky Buck Rogers (by Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins and which had also began on January 7th but in 1929), a new element was added to the realm of fantasy wonderment: Classical Lyricism.

Where Rogers had traditional adventures and high science concepts, this new feature reinterpreted Fairy Tales, Heroic Epics and Mythology. It did so by spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic flying craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for concise, elegant detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip all young artists swiped from.

When all-original comic books began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Most of the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (which also began in 1934 – and he’ll get his go another day).

Thankfully, there are a few collections knocking about, but I’m plumping here for 2012’s hardcover archive from British publisher and keeper of old traditions Titan Books, who boldly began a Complete Library of the stellar crusader’s exploits that year…

Augmenting the epic entertainment are a brace of photo and illustration-packed introductory essays, beginning with uber-artist and fan Alex Ross’ exploration of ‘The Flash Gordon Legacy’ and continuing with ‘Birth of a Legend’ by comics writer and historical publisher Doug Murray, detailing the world and fantasy milieu into which the dauntless hero was born…

The very first tale begins with a rogue planet about to smash into the Earth. As panic grips the planet, polo player Flash and fellow airline passenger Dale Arden narrowly escape disaster when a meteor fragment downs the plane they’re traveling on. They parachute out and land on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, who imprisons them on the rocket-ship he has built. His plan? To fly the ship directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it!

And that’s just in the first, 13-panel episode. ‘On the Planet Mongo’ ran every Sunday until April 15th 1934, when, according to this wonderful full-colour book, second adventure ‘Monsters of Mongo’ (22nd April – 18th November 1934) began, to be promptly followed by ‘Tournaments of Mongo’ (25th November 1934 to 24th February 1935).

To the readers back then, of course, there were no such artificial divisions. There was just one continuous, unmissable Sunday appointment with sheer wonderment. The machinations of the utterly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet; Flash’s battles and alliances with all the myriad exotic races subject to the Emperor’s will and the gradual victory over oppression captivated America, and the World, in tales that seemed a direct contrast to the increasingly darker reality in the days before World War II.

In short order the Earthlings become firm friends – and in the case of Flash and Dale, much more – as they encounter battle and frequently ally with beautiful, cruel Princess Aura, the Red Monkey Men, Lion Men, Shark Men, Dwarf Men, King Vultan and the winged Hawkmen.

The epic rebellion against seemingly unbeatable Ming opened with the awesome ‘Tournaments…’: a sequence wherein Raymond seemed to simply explode with confidence.

It was here that the true magic blossomed, with every episode more spectacular than the last. Without breaking step, Raymond moved on to next saga, as our hero entered ‘The Caverns of Mongo’ (March 3rd – 14th April 1935).

Veteran editor Don Moore was only 30 when he was convinced to “assist” Raymond with the writing, starting soon after the strip first gained popularity. Moore remained until 1953, long after Raymond departed. The artist joined the Marines in February 1944, and the last page he worked on was published on April 30th of that year. On his demobilisation, Raymond moved to fresh strip fields with Rip Kirby. Mercifully, that still leaves a decade’s worth of spectacular, majestic adventure for us to enjoy…

Without pausing for breath, the collaborators rapidly introduced a host of new races and places for their perfect hero to win over in the war against Ming’s timeless evil. On increasingly epic Sunday comics pages Flash and his entourage confronted the ‘Witch Queen of Mongo’ (April 21st – 13th October 1935), found themselves ‘At War with Ming’ (20thOctober 1935 – April 5th 1936) and discovered ‘The Undersea Kingdom of Mongo’ (12th April – October 11th 1936). The sheer beauty and drama of the globally syndicated serial captivated readers all over the world, resulting in not only some of the medium’s most glorious comic art, but also novels, three movie serials, a radio and later TV show, a monochrome daily strip (by Raymond’s former assistant Austin Briggs), comic books, merchandise and so much more.

The Ruritanian flavour of the series was enhanced continuously, as Raymond’s slick, sleek futurism endlessly accessed and refined the picture-perfect Romanticism of idyllic Kingdoms, populated by idealised heroes, stylised villains and women of staggering beauty.

In these episodes Azura, Witch Queen of Mongo wages a brutal and bloody war with Flash and his friends for control of the underworld, which eventually leads to all-out conflict with Ming the Merciless – a sequence of such memorable power that artists and movie-men would be swiping from it for decades to come. When the war ends our heroes are forced to flee, only to become refugees and captives of the seductive Queen Undina in her undersea Coral City…

The never-ending parade of hairsbreadth escapes, fights and/or chases continues as Flash, Dale and Zarkov crash into the huge jungle of Mongo. As this initial tome ends, the refugees enter ‘The Forest Kingdom of Mongo’ (October 18th 1936 to 31st January 1937), barely surviving its wild creatures before weathering the horrific tunnels of ‘The Tusk-Men of Mongo’ (February 7th to June 5th 1938). Here, struggling through desperate hardship and overcoming both monsters and the esoteric semi-humans they finally reach Arboria, the Tree kingdom of Prince Barin, Ming’s son-in-law. He is not what he seems…

And so the book ends, but not the adventure. Even stripped down to the bare plot-facts, the drama is captivating. Once you factor in the by-play, the jealousies and intrigues, all rendered with spectacular and lush visualisation by the master of classical realism, you can begin to grasp why this strip captured the world’s imagination and holds it still. To garnish all this enchantment, there’s even ‘The Alex Raymond Flash Gordon Checklist’ and biographies of both creators and this astounding tome’s key contributors

Along with Hal Foster (Prince Valiant) and Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon), Raymond’s work on Flash Gordon is considered pivotal to the development of American – if not world – comic art. These works overwhelmingly influenced everybody who followed until the emergence of manga and the advancement of computer technology. If you’ve only heard how good this strip is, you owe it to yourself to experience the magic up close and personal.

I never fail to be impressed by the quality of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon. Yes, the plots are formulaic but what commercial narrative medium is free of that? What is never dull or repetitive is the sheer artistry and bravura staging of the tales. Every episode is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, but the next episode still tops it. You are a fool to yourself if you don’t try this wonderful strip out, and all the more so in such inexpensive yet lavish volumes. It’s not too soon to start dropping hints for Christmas, you know…
Flash Gordon © 2012 King Features Syndicate Inc., & ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

Black Panther: Panther’s Quest


By Don McGregor, Gene Colan, Tom Palmer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302908034 (TPB)

The loss of Chadwick Boseman is a terrible blow to fans of film and every supporter of the rights and inherent dignity of all humanity. Whatever the reason, it seems that black people are just not allowed to have living role models. Our condolences and best wishes go out to his family and all who knew or were affected by him.

The pettiest part of that tragedy is that his iconic role as T’Challa of Wakanda is also ended. Having read about the kind of man he was, I’m shamelessly taking the opportunity to review the Black Panther story I suspect he would most have liked to realise on film…

Lauded as the first black superhero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since the 1960s when he first attacked the FF (in Fantastic Four#52; cover-dated July 1966) as part of an extended and elaborate plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

T’Challa, son of T’Chaka was revealed as an African monarch whose hidden kingdom was the only source of a vibration-absorbing alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth was founded. Those mineral riches – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in primeval antiquity – had powered his country’s transformation into a technological wonderland.

That tribal wealth had long been guarded by a hereditary feline-garbed champion deriving physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb that ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s warrior Panther Cult.

Lyrical intellectual Don McGregor had already immortalised T’Challa in a stunning 1970s periodical run which produced the revered Panther’s Rage saga and the controversial Panther vs the Klan storyline. After years away from the mainstream, creating groundbreaking graphic novels such as Sabre: Slow Fade of an Endangered Species and Detectives Inc., series such as Ragamuffins and Nathaniel Dusk, he was lured back to his roots to spin a shocking tale of contemporary intolerance and the end-days of Apartheid…

He was joined by a semi-regular collaborator whose credentials in crafting human-scaled tales of adventure, horror and empathetic emotional drama were second to none. He was also one the industry’s earliest exponents of strong black characters…

Eugene Jules “Gene” Colan (September 1st 1926 – June 23rd 2011) was one of comics’s greatest talents: a quietly professional artist who valued accuracy and authenticity in his work, whether it was science fiction, horror, war, satirical humour of the vast number of superheroes he brought to life.

A devotee of classic adventure strips, Colan studied at the Art Students League of New York, before beginning his own illustration career in 1944 (on Wings Comics) before military service in the Philippines. The war had just ended and Colan had spare time to draw for local paper The Manilla Times.

By 1946 he was a civilian again, and working for Stan Lee’s Atlas outfit on crime and supernatural stories. He illustrated the last Golden Age Captain America (Captain America’s Weird Tales #75; February 1950), an all-horror issue that had no superhero material at all. It was like a sign…

As the industry radically transformed, he began freelancing at DC/National Comics as well as remaining a mainstay of Atlas. His assignments increasingly focused on the new genres of War Stories and Romance.

As Superhero stories returned, he moved exclusively to Marvel (except for a range of monochrome horror stories done for Archie Goodwin at Warren Magazines), where his dynamic realism offered a powerful alternative to the graphic styles of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita and Don Heck.

Colan became renowned for his work on Daredevil (where he created blind black detective Willie Lincoln), Captain America, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Avengers, Sub-Mariner and Howard the Duck. During this period he co-created the Guardians of the Galaxy, two Captain Marvels (Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers), drew all of Tomb of Dracula – thereby introducing Blade the Vampire Slayer to the world – and was responsible for another black comic book icon and the nation’s first African American costumed hero, The Falcon.

In the 1980s he moved to DC, working on Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Spectre, co-creating Night Force, Silverblade, Jemm, Son of Saturn and period private eye Nathanial Dusk before expanding into independent comics at the forefront of innovation that marked the rise of the Direct Sales Market.

His later career was blighted by health issues, but he continued drawing whenever he could, for many companies. On one of his periodic returns to Marvel he reunited with McGregor for this astounding tale which was originally serialised in in 25 chapters in fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents # 13-37 (February to December1989). Here, the entire affair is preceded by ‘To Follow the track of The Great Cat with renewed wonder on his Panther’s Quest (From “Panther’s Rage” to “Panther’s Prey”)’ a typically effulgent and informative Introduction from author McGregor…

One of the most thought-provoking mainstreaming comics tales ever released, Panther’s Quest added pressure to the ever-growing Anti-Apartheid movement in comics and western media, by examining not only the condition of racial inequality but also turning a damning eye on sexual oppression. Whether in his numerous solo series or as part of super-teams such as the Avengers, Fantastic Four or the Ultimates, Black Panther has always been one of Marvel’s most politically strident and socially-crusading characters. This is a book I’m certain Chadwick Boseman would have admired and supported…

Inked in its entirety by perfect partner Tom Palmer, it begins on a dark night as the Panther infiltrates neighbouring totalitarian South Africa where a white minority still oppresses the millions of blacks who live there. T’Challa has heard ‘A Rumour of Life’ and has come seeking his stepmother Ramonda. His father’s second wife had raised the bereaved boy when T’Challa’s birth mother died, but one day when he was only three, she vanished and no one would speak of her.

Now, he’s invaded the most dangerous land on Earth – for his kind – in search of answers from unscrupulous information peddler Patrick Slade

‘Forgotten Corpses’ sees that clandestine meeting savagely interrupted by white paramilitaries who seek to kill them – but without alerting the police or security services…

McGregor has always a fascination with the real effects and consequences of violence, and this tale contains some pretty shocking moments that will make many readers wince. Suffice it to say I’m staying vague throughout this review, but will say that vicious brute Elmer Gore graphically tortures the Panther with barbed wire in ‘Lost Blood in Copper Dust’, leading to the maimed hero staggering into the arms of ‘The Man Who Loved Sunrise’.

Oppressed miner and narrative everyman Zanti Chikane is a black miner and second class citizen crushed by his intolerable life, but he still overcomes his understandable caution to offer assistance to torn, bleeding T’Challa. That leads to his own brush with death as white killers employ what they consider ‘Reasonable Force’ against the suspects, before being trounced by the still fighting cat-man…

The scene changes with ‘Naked Exposures’ as government Magistrate of Communications Anton Pretorius orders his battered and furious minions to capture an invading masked terrorist dubbed Black Panther. This invader is a threat to national security but the mercenaries need no other reasons to kill the treacherous “kaffir”. Just to be sure, though, Pretorius also uses his position to send out a nationwide TV alert…

‘Battered Artifacts’ finds T’Challa tracking Slade to an impoverished township, unaware that he’s under surveillance and about to step into the other side of the deadly politics that wracked South Africa at this time.

‘Hatred under Tears’ sees the mercenaries attack, uncaring of the small children they are endangering. As the Great Cat stops to aid a tear-gassed toddler, ‘Justifiable Action’ sees him shot for his efforts and arrested in ‘Personal Risk’ before breaking free and escaping…

‘The Official Version’ gives T’Challa a lesson in realpolitik from Slade’s wife even as the State intensifies its hunt for him, with Security Minister Doeke Riebeek officially branding the entire emergency a communist plot…

In the township ‘Voices Heard, Voices Ignored’ sees Zanti pondering the terrifying dangers to his family before returning to aid the Panther whilst ‘A Right to Kill’ shows Riebeek beginning to suspect Pretorius might have ulterior motives for his actions. Meanwhile, the enraged township men are moving against a suspected traitor determined ‘Somebody’s Going to Pay’. They’re carrying petrol and tyres needed for the appalling punishment they call “necklacing”. Do not google it or buy this book if you have a weak stomach…

When the Panther acts to save a life, he is horribly burned but events escalate to total tragedy as ‘Last Night I Wept for Freedom’ shows how the boy he helped returns the favour and pays the ultimate price, despite his own superhuman efforts and the initially-reluctant intervention of a white doctor in ‘Lost Promises’

Traumatised and repentant, T’Challa returns to Slade whose ‘Dark Maneuvers’ lead them into a trap laid by Pretorius’ mercenaries in ‘So Many Nameless Enemies’. The battle is brief but results in a crucial clue in the true quest, as the trader reveals how, years ago, he learned of a black woman held in glittering bondage for decades at the home of a high-ranking government official…

‘Chances’ see Riebeek and his forces closing in as T’Challa follows his fresh clue to Johannesburg to confront one of the mercs in ‘The Great Cat in the City of Gold’. Now focused on finding Pretorius, the Panther and Zanti attempt to save his precious stealth-ship from being captured by Riebeek in ‘Losing Control’… but at a terrible cost…

After ‘Saying Goodbye’, the Panther’s quest moves into its endgame as T’Challa assaults Pretorius’ luxurious citadel, circumventing deadly ‘Barriers’, and crushing human and canine ‘Opponents’ (still more grimly authentic action in need of a strong stomach advisory…), to ultimately rescue Ramonda from the luxurious cell she has inhabited ever since Pretorius abducted her years ago.

The tyrannical hypocrite’s obsessive, abusive passion for her was also his downfall: a secret capable of destroying him in a nation and government that decreed interracial mixing immoral and illegal…

Ultimately, it’s Ramonda who decrees his fate whilst enjoying a ‘Dawn Reunion’ with her long-lost child…

Available in trade paperback and digital editions and augmented by a full cover gallery and pinups from Marvel Fanfare#47 (by Bill Reinhold & Linda Lessman) and #45(Steve Rude & Steve Oliff) this is the most important Black Panther tale you’ll ever read. So do.
© 2018 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple, no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before too long he had reason to regret his demands…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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