Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 18


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The announcement provokes a storm of trouble…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incredible Hulk Epic Collection volume 5: Who Will Judge the Hulk? 1971-1972


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Gary Friedrich, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Archie Goodwin, Herb Trimpe, Sam Grainger, Sal Buscema, Dick Ayers, John Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2206-1 (TPB)

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

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

As the 1970s opened the Incredible Hulk had settled into a comfortable – if excessively and spectacularly destructive – niche. The globe-trotting formula saw tragic, haunted Banner hiding and seeking cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains.

Herb Trimpe had made the character his own, displaying a penchant for explosive action and an unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance, vehicles and robots. Scripter Roy Thomas – unofficial custodian of Marvel’s burgeoning shared-universe continuity – played the afflicted Jekyll/Hyde card for maximum angst and ironic heartbreak even as he continually injected the Jade Juggernaut into the lives of other stalwarts of Marvel’s growing pantheon…

This chronologically-curated trade paperback and digital compendium re-presents issues #139-156 plus a crossover tale from Avengers #88, encompassing cover-dates April 1971 to October 1972, and opens without delaying preamble as the Hulk – returned to Earth after an epic outer space excursion – encounters an old enemy in ‘…Sincerely, the Sandman!’(Thomas, Trimpe & Sam Grainger) wherein the vicious villain turns Banner’s true love Betty Ross to brittle, fragile glass, after which #139’s ‘Many Foes Has the Hulk!’ looks in on archfoe The Leader’s latest attempt to kill his brutish nemesis: employing illusion and exhaustion, as seemingly hundreds of old villains attack the man-monster all at once…

A landmark crossover follows as Harlan Ellison, Thomas, Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney craft ‘The Summons of Psyklop!’for Avengers #88 (May 1971) wherein an insectoid servant of the Elder Gods abducts the Hulk to fuel their resurrection…

This leads directly into Incredible Hulk #140 and ‘The Brute that Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom’ (pencilled & inked by Grainger over Trimpe’s layouts). Trapped on a sub-atomic world, Banner’s intellect and the Hulk’s body are reconciled, and he becomes a barbarian hero to an appreciative populace, and lover of perfect princess Jarella, only to be snatched away by Psyklop at the moment of his greatest happiness.

The sudden return to full-sized savagery is the insectoid’s undoing and the Hulk resumes his ghastly existence… at least until #141 when an experimental psychologist provides a means to drain the Hulk’s gamma-energy and utilise it to restore crystalline, petrified Betty. He even uses the remaining gamma force to turn himself into a superhero in ‘His Name is … Samson!’ (with wonderful John Severin inking).

Next is a satirical poke at the “Radical Chic” movement through the return of “feminist” villain Valkyrie, with the Hulk made a media cause celebre by Manhattan’s effete elite in the wryly charming ‘They Shoot Hulks, Don’t They?’ Don’t fret, there’s plenty of monumental mayhem as well…

Picking up the pace comes an inevitable but long-delayed clash as the Green Goliath battles Doctor Doom in a 2-part epic begun by Thomas, Dick Ayers & Severin wherein fugitive Banner finds ‘Sanctuary!’ in New York City’s Latverian Embassy. The deal is a bad one, however, since the Iron Dictator enslaves the Gamma scientist for his bomb-making knowledge, in an attempt to make his awesome alter ego into an unstoppable war machine…

The scheme goes awry in ‘The Monster and the Madman!’ (scripted by Gary Friedrich over Thomas’ plot), as brainwashed Banner shucks his mind-warped conditioning – thanks to Doom’s conflicted consort Valeria – just in time for the Hulk to deliver a salutary lesson in mayhem throughout the dictator’s domain.

Incredible Hulk #145 is a double-length package finding the man-monster invading a film-set in Egypt and accidentally awakening a prehistoric alien war-weapon in ‘Godspawn’. Crafted by Thomas, Len Wein, Trimpe & Severin, it offers plenty of joyfully mindless Hulk Smash action and a portion of pathos, even as, back in the USA, the military – in the form of Ross and Major Glenn Talbot – open dedicated anti-Hulk base “Project Greenskin”…

Gerry Conway scripted Thomas’ plot for ‘And the Measure of a Man is… Death!’, wherein the Jade Juggernaut faces sandstorms, bitter memories and the Israeli army in the deserts of Northern Egypt, even as in America the Hulk-buster base has already been infiltrated by android facsimiles constructed by the Hulk’s greatest foe.

Drawn instinctively homeward, the Gamma Goliath reaches the base just as said infiltration threatens the US President himself, leading to a catastrophic clash between the brute and The Leader in ‘The End of Doc Samson!’. The issue (#147) also includes a moving and powerful vignette ‘Heaven is a Very Small Place!’ wherein Thomas, Trimpe & Severin take the tormented titan to the very edge of paradise before horrifying reality again reasserts itself…

Archie Goodwin debuted as scripter – with a little plotting assistance from a very junior Chris Claremont – in ‘But Tomorrow… the Sun Shall Die!’ as lost love Jarella voyages to Earth and a longed-for reunion, just as Banner is apparently cured of his curse by radical solar-energy experimentation. Sadly, the princess from the micro-verse accidentally brings with her a super-assassin determined to end her life at all costs and the double voyage somehow sparks the sun into going nova…

Forced to become the monster once again to save his beloved, the Hulk is captured by Ross’s forces only to escape when an ancient threat crashes back to Earth in #149, hungry for radiation to survive in ‘… And Who Shall Claim This Earth His Own? The Inheritor!’

After dispatching that creepy crawler, the Gamma Goliath wanders into the wilderness where he encounters on-sabbatical X-Man Alec Summers. He had banished himself – with girlfriend Lorna Dane visiting at just the wrong moment – to the deserts of New Mexico, terrified of his uncontrollable cosmic power in #150’s ‘Cry Hulk, Cry Havok!’ When Lorna clashes with a menacing biker gang and an Emerald Giant violently protective of his privacy, Summers finally proves himself against the rampaging but easily distracted titan…

‘When Monsters Meet!’ then pits the Hulk against a flesh-consuming radioactive horror resulting from a disastrous cancer cure derived from Banner’s blood, before Friedrich, Dick Ayers & Frank Giacoia ask ‘But Who Will Judge the Hulk?’, as helpless, freshly captured Banner is sent to trial for the destruction wrought by his emerald alter ego. The guest-star-studded 2-parter concludes in suitable calamity and chaos in #153’s ‘My World, My Jury!’, which includes additional art by Trimpe & Severin.

After explosively escaping the kangaroo court, the fugitive fury discovers ‘Hell is a Very Small Hulk!’ (Goodwin, Trimpe & Severin) when he swallows a defective shrinking formula. The serum was created and discarded by the Astonishing Ant-Man, but any risk is acceptable in Hulk’s forlorn attempts to rejoin Jarella in her subatomic world.

Snatched up by the face-shifting Chameleon and assembled hordes of Hydra, the diminished brute still manages to quash their treasonous schemes – at the apparent cost of his life.

In actuality, the Hulk is shrinking in sporadic bursts, propelled into a succession of micro-worlds, including an impossible “Earth” where Nazis seemingly won WWII. ‘Destination: Nightmare!’ reveals the incredible truth: meddling by a cosmic entity named Shaper of Worlds who tempts the Green Gargantuan with an empty paradise, before another shrinking spasm happily deposits Hulk on Jarella’s world in time for ‘Holocaust at the Heart of the Atom!’ (inked by Sal Trapani): pitting the monster against his worst nightmare – himself – before once again losing his true love to the vicissitudes of cruel fate and cosmic chance…

To Be Continued…

Wrapping up the smashing fun are the covers to reprint collections Incredible Hulk Annual #3 and 4; original artwork and covers by Trimpe & Grainger, Ayers & Severin, Trimpe & Severin and a fascinating glimpse into editorial thinking in creating a cover…

The Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, TV shows and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t beat these evergreen classics.
© MARVEL 2021

Avengers: Hawkeye


By Mark Gruenwald, Brett Breeding & Danny Bulanadi, with Stan Lee & Don Heck; Mike Friedrich, George Evans & Frank Springer, Steven Grant, John Byrne & Dan Greene, Jimmy Janes & Bruce Patterson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3723-8 (TPB)

Clint Barton is probably the world’s greatest archer: swift, ingenious, unerringly accurate and augmented by a fantastic selection of multi-purpose high-tech arrows. Other masked bow persons are available…

Following an early brush with the law and as a reluctant Iron Man villain beginning in 1964, he reformed to join the Mighty Avengers where he served with honour and distinction, despite always feeling overshadowed by his more glamorous, super-powered comrades.

Long a mainstay of Marvel continuity and probably Marvel’s most popular B-list hero, the Battling Bowman has risen to great prominence in recent years, boosted no doubt by his filmic incarnation.

This brash and bombastic collection – available in paperback and digital formats – re-presents breakthrough miniseries Hawkeye #1-4 and debut from Tales of Suspense #57 (September 1964) plus the first costumed appearance of occasional wife and frequent paramour Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse from Marvel Super Action #1 (January 1976) and a more-or-less solo outing for each from Avengers #189 (November 1979), and Marvel Team-Up #95 (July 1980) respectively.

Written and drawn by the hugely underrated and much-missed Mark Gruenwald, ably assisted by inkers Brett Breeding & Danny Bulanadi and running from September to December 1983, Hawkeye was one of Marvel’s earliest miniseries and remains one of the very best adventures of Marvel’s Ace Archer.

Much like the character himself, this project was seriously underestimated when first released: most industry pundits and the more voluble fans expected very little from a second-string hero drawn by a professional writer. Guess again, suckers!

In opening chapter ‘Listen to the Mockingbird’, he is moonlighting as security chief for electronics corporation Cross Technological Enterprises when he captures a renegade S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, who reveals that his bosses are all crooks, secretly involved in shady mind-control experiments.

After some initial doubt, Barton teams with a svelte and sexy super-agent in ‘Point Blank’ to foil the plot, gaining in the process a new costume and instant rogues’ gallery of archfoes such as Silence, Oddball and Bombshell in third chapter ‘Beating the Odds’.

As the constant hunt and struggle wears on, Barton succumbs to – but is not defeated by – a physical handicap and wins a wife (not necessarily the same thing) in explosive conclusion ‘Till Death us do Part…’ wherein the sinister mastermind behind it all is finally revealed and summarily dealt with.

In those faraway days both Gruenwald and Marvel Top Gun Jim Shooter maintained that a miniseries had to deal with significant events in a character’s life, and this bright and breezy, no-nonsense, compelling and immensely enjoyable yarn certainly kicked out the deadwood and re-launched Hawkeye’s career. In short order from here the bowman went on to create and lead his own team: The West Coast Avengers, gain his own regular series in Solo Avengers and Avengers Spotlight and his own series, consequently becoming one of the most vibrant and popular characters of the period and today as well as a modern-day action movie icon…

Hard on the heels of the epic comes ‘Hawkeye, the Marksman!’ (by Stan Lee & Don Heck from Tales of Suspense #57) wherein villainous spy the Black Widow resurfaces to beguile an ambitious and frustrated neophyte costumed vigilante hero into attacking her archenemy. Despite a clear power-imbalance, the former carnival archer comes awfully close to beating the Golden Avenger …

Augmented by a Howard Chaykin frontispiece from black-&-white magazine Marvel Super Action #1 (January 1976), former Ka-Zar romantic interest Dr. Barbera Morse is reinvented by Mike Friedrich, George Evans & Frank Springer ‘Red-Eyed Jack is Wild!’. Using unwieldy nomme de guerre Huntress, Morse devotes herself to cleaning up corruption inside S.H.I.E.L.D., no matter what the cost…

Avengers #189 then reveals how Hawkeye got his job at CTE as ‘Wings and Arrows!’ (by Steven Grant, John Byrne & Dan Green) pits the new security chief against alien avian interloper Deathbird, before Huntress becomes Mockingbird for MTU #95. Crafted by Grant, Jimmy Janes & Bruce Patterson ‘…And No Birds Sing!’ ends the long-extant S.H.I.E.L.D. corruption storyline as Morse and Spider-Man join forces to expose the true cancer at the heart of America’s top spy agency…

Packed with terrific tales of old-fashioned romance, skulduggery and derring-do, this book is a no-nonsense example of the straightforward action-adventure yarns that cemented Marvel’s reputation and success. But oh, the tension, the tension…
© 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

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.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 17


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers Epic Collection volume 5 1970-1972: This Beachhead Earth


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia, Herb Trimpe, Sam Grainger, Neal Adams & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2197-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Matchless Blockbuster Action… 9/10

One of the most momentous events in Marvel Comics history occurred in 1963 when a disparate array of individual heroes banded together to stop the Incredible Hulk.

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

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket paid off big-time; even when all Marvel’s all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man were absent, it merely allowed the lesser lights of the team to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars regularly featured due to a rotating, open door policy which meant that most issues included one of any reader’s favourites. The increasingly bold and impressively ambitious stories and artwork were no hindrance either.

This robust trade paperback and eBook compilation gathers the astounding contents of Avengers issues #77-97, plus a crossover classic from Incredible Hulk #140, collectively spanning June 1970 – March 1972: a riot of informed social commentary and astounding cosmic calamity which confirmed scripter Roy Thomas as a major creative force in comics whilst simultaneously demonstrating the potential the “debased” medium could aspire to.

At the time Thomas’ bold experiment was rightly considered the most ambitious saga in Marvel’s brief history: astounding sagas of tremendous scope which dumped Earth into a cosmic war the likes of which comics fans had never before seen.

The Kree/Skrull War” set the template for all multi-part crossovers and publishing events from that point onwards and was followed by more astounding epics proving that more and better was to come…

This epochal tome opens ss the tone of the times shifted and comics titles entered a period of human-scaled storytelling dubbed “Relevancy” and here – crafted by Thomas, John Buscema & Tom Palmer – a far more mundane and insidious menace manifests as billionaire financier Cornelius Van Lunt manoeuvres to bankrupt Avengers (currently Cap, Black Panther, Goliath, the Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver) sponsor Tony Stark, compelling the team to become the mystery magnate’s ‘Heroes for Hire!’

Sal Buscema then popped in to pencil ‘The Man-Ape Always Strikes Twice!’ as the embattled champions are targeted by a coterie of vengeful villains competing to join a new league of evil, spectacularly culminating in a grand clash with the aforementioned anthropoid, the Swordsman, Power Man, Living Laser and the Grim Reaper in ‘Lo! The Lethal Legion!’, which concluding chapter heralded the artistic return of Big Brother John….

Next is the debut of the company’s first Native American costumed hero in ‘The Coming of Red Wolf!’ (Thomas, John B & Palmer) wherein the Avengers are drawn into a highly personal and decidedly brutal clash between ruthless entrepreneur Cornelius Van Lunt and an Indian tribe he is defrauding and persecuting.

The dramatic dilemma divides the team and concludes with Vision, Scarlet Witch and Goliath aiding Red Wolf in concluding episode ‘When Dies A Legend!’, whilst the remaining team plus Iron Man and Thor pursue super crime combine Zodiac and the Black Panther pursues what he believes is a personal quest beside Daredevil. (This last tale occurred in DD #69 but is not included here.)

Crucially, the malevolent mega-mob move first, taking the island of Manhattan ‘Hostage!’, leaving only the solitary sightless vigilante Man Without Fear free to save the day, after which Militant Feminism raises its disconcertingly strident head as the Wasp, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Madame Medusa are seduced into joining a new team called the Lady Liberators (yes, I know how all that sounds now but the all-male creative team meant well…).

However, The Valkyrie who declares ‘Come on in… the Revolution’s Fine!’ has her own dark secret and sinister agenda which has nothing to do with justice or equality…

Avengers #84 features part-time paladin Black Knight who has become addicted to the bloodthirsty hunger of his Ebony Blade, resulting in an otherworldly confrontation with alternate-Earth barbarian king Arkon the Magnificent and his latest paramour the Enchantress in ‘The Sword and the Sorceress!’ The resulting acrimonious clash subsequently drops half the team in a parallel existence with no apparent way back…

In ‘The World is Not for Burning!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia), Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s efforts to return home leave them stranded on an Earth where the Squadron Supreme are the World’s Greatest Heroes and a solar Armageddon is only hours away…

Illustrated by Sal B & Jim Mooney, ‘Brain-Child to the Dark Tower Came…!’ sees the extremely reluctant trans-Earth allies unite to save a very different world while, back home, the Black Panther reprises his bombastic origin before taking leave of his comrades to assume the throne of his hidden African nation in ‘Look Homeward, Avenger’ (Giacoia & Sal B).

Novelist Harlan Ellison was a very vocal comics fan in the 1970s and occasionally collaborated on Marvel tales. Avengers #88 began a radical adaptation of one his best short stories, heralding ‘The Summons of Psyklop’ (Ellison & Thomas, Sal Buscema & Mooney) wherein an experiment to cure the Hulk of his destructive nature leads to the Jade Juggernaut’s abduction by a preternatural entity.

The saga concluded in Incredible Hulk #140 (Ellison & Thomas, Herb Trimpe & Sam Grainger) as ‘The Brute… That Shouted Love… at the Heart of the Atom!’ finds the man-monster experiencing true love and idyllic peace in a sub-molecular paradise, only to lose it all when the demonic Psyklop finally tracks him down…

A major turning point in Marvel history begins relatively quietly as marooned Kree warrior Captain Marvel is finally freed from imprisonment in a ghastly antimatter universe. Mar-Vell was originally sent as a spy to Earth but quickly went native to become a protector of humanity. After an intergalactic mission to save his former masters, he was flying back to Earth when suddenly sucked into the anti-matter hell of the Negative Zone

The trapped warrior found a loophole through long-dormant Kree artefacts and Nega-bands. Inextricably bonding to professional human side-kick Rick Jones, he could switch places whenever danger loomed, but was drawn back into the dread domain after three hours.

Following interminable, agonising months when Rick refused to trade atoms with his alien alter ego, ‘The Only Good Alien…’ (#89, with art by Sal B & Grainger) sees the bonded brothers finally separate just as, in the distant Kree Empire, the ruling Supreme Intelligence is overthrown by his enforcer Ronan the Accuser

On Earth, the rebellion results in the activation of a long-dormant robotic Kree Sentry which attacks Mar-Vell and the Avengers before enacting a deep-programmed protocol to devolve humanity to the level of Neanderthals in concluding chapter ‘Judgment Day’ (drawn and inked by “Our pal Sal”).

Even with Ronan taking personal charge of a compromised polar base, the scheme to eradicate humanity is narrowly defeated in ‘Take One Giant Step… Backward!’, but the cat is let out of the bag about the panic-inspiring notion that extraterrestrials lurk among us. Moreover, public opinion rapidly turns against the heroes for concealing the threat of repeated alien incursions…

In a powerful allegory of the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the 1950s, the epic expands in issue #92 (Sal B & George Roussos) as ‘All Things Must End!’ reveals riots in American streets and a political demagogue capitalising on the crisis. Subpoenaed by the authorities, castigated by friends and public, Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are ordered to disband by founding fathers Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

Or are they…?

The plot thickens as Neal Adams & Tom Palmer assume art chores for double-sized Avengers #93 and ‘This Beachhead Earth’. Here the Vision is nigh-fatally attacked and those same founding fathers evince no knowledge of having benched the regular team.

With original Ant-Man Henry Pym undertaking ‘A Journey to the Center of the Android!’ to save the Vision’s artificial life, the Avengers become aware of not one, but two, hostile alien presences on Earth: bellicose Kree and sinister, seditious shape-shifting Skrulls. The shocking revelation triggers a War of the Weirds!’ on our fragile globe.

Acting too late, the human heroes are unable to prevent mutant siblings Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as well as their protector Mar-Vell from being abducted by the Super-Skrull

With more stunning Adams art, ‘More than Inhuman!’ in issue #94 entangles the long-hidden race of advanced beings called Inhumans in the mix, disclosing that their advanced science and super-powers are the result of genetic meddling by the Kree in the depths of prehistory. Now, with Inhuman king Black Bolt missing and his mad, malign brother Maximus in charge, the Kree are calling in those ancient markers…

Second chapter ‘1971: A Space Odyssey’ (pencilled by John Buscema) focuses on Mar-Vell as he is increasingly pressured to reveal military secrets to his shape-shifting captors. The Skrulls are ready to launch a final devastating all-out attack on their eons-old rivals, even as on Earth ‘Behold the Mandroids!’ sees the American authorities attempting to arrest all costumed heroes…

In Avengers #95 ‘Something Inhuman This Way Comes…!’ coalesces the disparate story strands as aquatic Inhuman Triton helps defeat US government robotic Mandroids before beseeching the beleaguered heroes to find his missing monarch and rescue his people from the pressganging Kree.

After so doing, and with a solid victory under their belts at last, the Avengers head into space to liberate their kidnapped comrades and save Earth from becoming collateral damage in the impending cosmos-shaking clash between Kree and Skrulls…

‘The Andromeda Swarm!’ (with additional inking from Adams and Al Weiss) is perhaps the Avengers’ finest hour, as a small, brave band of valiant heroes hold off an immense armada of star-ships, losing one of their own in the conflict. Meanwhile the Supreme Intelligence is revealed to have been pursuing its own clandestine agenda all along, after having bewildered sidekick Rick Jones abducted to further its terrifyingly ambitious plans….

The astounding final episode ‘Godhood’s End!’ (John B & Palmer) brings the uncanny epic to a climactic close with a literal Deus ex Machina as the Supremor’s master-plan is finally revealed. However, the war is actually ended by the most unlikely of saviours and an avalanche of costumed heroes: an action overload extravaganza which has never been surpassed in the annals of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction…

This titanic tome is packed with extra treats, including the covers of all-reprint Avengers Annual #4 and a selection of House Ads, as well as a self-portrait of John Buscema and some of his creations. Also on view is a wealth of original art from him and Adams, plus the covers and new bridging material created by Alan Zelenetz, Walt Simonson & Palmer for the 1983 Kree-Skrull War starring the Avengers reprint miniseries and previous collection covers.

Roy Thomas and his artistic collaborators were always at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of creators: brilliantly building on and consolidating Lee, Kirby and Ditko’s initial burst of comics creativity whilst spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others could add to.

These terrific tales are ideal examples of superheroes done exactly right and also act as pivotal points as the underdog company evolved into a corporate entertainment colossus. There are also some of the best superhero stories you’ll ever read…
© 2020 MARVEL.

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.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 16

By Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, Scott Edelman, Bill Mantlo, Stan Lee, George Pérez, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, Sal Trapani, Don Heck, George Tuska, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9542-9 (HB)

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

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

Re-presenting Avengers #150-163, Avengers Annual #6 and Super-Villain Team-Up #9 (spanning August 1976 to September 1977), these stories again see the team in transition. That was a much a result of creative upheaval as narrative exigency – as explained in Gerry Conway’s Introduction When Chaos was King – detailing a time of editorial turbulence at Marvel. Times were changing for the company which would soon become a plaything for 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!’ (reprinted from Avengers #16 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers) as it settled the membership drive question begun way back in #137. It made way for new scripter Conway in #151 whose ‘At Last: The Decision’ (with additional scripting by Jim Shooter & Englehart and art from Pérez & Tartaglione) set the group off on new, less cosmic adventures.

No sooner had the long-delayed announcement been made, 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 monstrous creator, giving his life to redeem himself. 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 saga into high gear as the team start hunting for Wonder Man’s grave robber/re-animator, in a tale by Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott which soon finds the team facing voodoo lord Black Talon in New Orleans…

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

Avengers Annual #6 reveals why, and answers all the meandering mysteries, wrapping up the storyline with ‘No Final Victory’ (illustrated by Pérez, Mike Esposito, Tartaglione & Vohland), 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 by Scott Edelman & Herb Trimpe’s ‘Night Vision’: a 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 recently signed a non-aggression pact with the Dictator of Latveria, with Doom subsequently blackmailing the Sub-Mariner into serving as his unwilling ally. One American vigilante observed no such legal or diplomatic niceties. The Shroud thought he had freed the Atlantean from his vow by “killing” Doom, but the villain had survived the assault: rescued and secretly imprisoned by Sub-Mariner’s cousin Namorita and alien girlfriend Tamara under the misguided apprehension that they could force the Metal-shod Monarch into helping Atlantis and their lost Prince.

Simple, no?

SVT-U #9 expanded 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 kA 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, after which ‘When Avengers Clash!!’ (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Marcos) sees the revived, restored, compos mentis and now fully-recovered Wonder Man clash 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 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 in #159 as the ‘Siege by Stealth and Storm!’ (Shooter, Sal B & Marcos) results in a savage clash and the unbeatable villain 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… but doesn’t like the answer he gets…

The next issue extends the 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 crazed 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 has to die…

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

This classic collection of costumed clashes closes with Shooter, George Tuska & Marcos’ stand-alone tale ‘The Demi-God Must Die!’, wherein mythological maniac Typhon returns 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…

Available in hardback and digital iterations, and supplemented by contemporary House Ads and an original art gallery by Pérez and John Buscema, this archival tome and this type of heroic adventure might not be to every reader’s taste but these – and the truly epic yarns that followed – set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the quietly isolated and no less dangerous 21st century…

No lovers of Costumed Dramas can afford to ignore this superbly bombastic book, and fans who think themselves above superhero stories might also be pleasantly surprised…
© 1976, 1977 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.