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.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 1 1963-1966: Children of the Atom


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Werner Roth, Alex Toth & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8904-6 (TPB)

In 1963 things really took off for the budding Marvel Comics as Stan Lee & Jack Kirby expanded their diminutive line of action titles, putting a bunch of relatively new super-heroes (including hot-off-the-presses Iron Man) together as the Avengers; launching a decidedly different war comic in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos and creating a group of alienated heroic teenagers who gathered together to fight a rather specific, previously unperceived threat to humanity.

Those halcyon days are revisited in this splendid trade paperback and eBook compilation: gathering from September 1963 to August 1966, the contents of X-Men#1-23.

Issue #1 introduced Cyclops, Iceman, Angel and the Beast: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo Superior. The story opens as the students welcome their newest classmate, Jean Grey, aka Marvel Girl, a beautiful young woman with the ability to move objects with her mind.

No sooner has the Professor explained their mission than an actual Evil Mutant, Magneto, single-handedly takes over American missile base Cape Citadel. A seemingly unbeatable threat, the master of magnetism is nonetheless driven off – in under 15 minutes – by the young heroes on their first mission …

It doesn’t sound like much, but the gritty dynamic power of Kirby’s art, solidly inked by veteran Paul Reinman, imparted a raw energy to the tale which carried the bi-monthly book irresistibly forward. With issue #2, a Federal connection was established in the form of FBI Special Agent Fred Duncan, who requested the teen team’s assistance in capturing a mutant who threatened to steal US military secrets in ‘No One Can Stop the Vanisher!’.

These days, young heroes are ten-a-penny, but it should be noted that these kids were Marvel’s first juvenile super-doers since the end of the Golden Age, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that in this tale of a terrifying teleporter the outmatched youngsters needed a little adult supervision…

Issue #3’s ‘Beware of the Blob!’ displays a rare lapse of judgement as proselytising Professor X invites a sideshow freak into the team only to be rebuffed by the felonious mutant. Impervious to mortal harm, The Blob incites his carnival cronies to attack the hidden heroes before they can come after him, and once again it’s up to teacher to save the day…

With X-Men #4 (March 1964) a thematic sea-change occurs as Magneto returns at the head of ‘The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants!’ Intent on conquering a South American country and establishing a political powerbase, he ruthlessly dominates Mastermind, Toad, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who are very much his unwilling thralls in the bombastic struggle that follows. From then on, the callow champions-in-training are the hunted prey of many malevolent mutants.

‘Trapped: One X-Man!’ in issue #5 sees early results in that secret war as Angel is abducted to Magneto’s orbiting satellite base Asteroid M, and only a desperate battle at the edge of space eventually saves him…

‘Sub-Mariner Joins the Evil Mutants!’ is a self-explanatory tale of gripping intensity elevated to magical levels of artistic quality as superb Chic Stone replaced Reinman as inker for the rest of Kirby’s tenure. The issue also incorporates a stunning ‘Special Pin-up page’ starring “Cyclops”.

Genuine narrative progress is made in ‘The Return of the Blob!’ as their mentor leaves on a secret mission, but not before appointing Cyclops acting team leader. Comedy relief is provided as Lee & Kirby introduce Beast and Iceman to the Beatnik-inspired “youth scene” whilst the high action quotient is maintained courtesy of a troubled teaming of the Blob and Magneto’s malign brood…

Another and very different invulnerable mutant debuted in ‘Unus the Untouchable!’: a wrestler with an invisible force field who attempts to enlist in the Brotherhood by offering to bring them an X-Man. Also notable is the first real incident of “anti-mutant hysteria” after a mob attacks Beast: a theme that would become the cornerstone of the X-Men mythos and the delights include a ‘Special Pin-up page’ featuring ‘The Beast’.

X-Men #9 (January 1965) is the first true masterpiece of this celebrated title. ‘Enter, the Avengers!’ reunites the mutants with Professor X in the wilds of Balkan Europe, as deadly Lucifer seeks to destroy Earth with a super-bomb, subsequently manipulating the teens into an all-out battle with the awesome Avengers. This month’s extra treat is a ‘Marvel Masterwork Pin-up’ of ‘Marvel Girl’

This is still a perfect Marvel comic story today, as is its follow-up ‘The Coming of Ka-Zar!’: a wild excursion to Antarctica, featuring the discovery of the Antediluvian Savage Land and the modern incarnation of one of Marvel/Timely’s oldest heroes (Kazar the Great was a pulp Tarzan knock-off who translated to the comics page, originating in October/November 1939’s Marvel Comics #1).

Dinosaurs, lost cities, spectacular locations, mystery and all-out action: it doesn’t get better than this…

After spectacular starts on most of Marvel’s Superhero titles (as well as western and war revamps), Kirby’s increasing workload compelled him to cut back to simply laying out most of these lesser lights whilst Thor and Fantastic Four evolved into perfect playgrounds and full-time monthly preoccupations for his burgeoning imagination. The last series he surrendered was the still-bimonthly X-Men wherein an outcast tribe of mutants worked diligently and clandestinely to foster peace and integration between the unwary masses of humanity and the gradually-emergent “coming race” of Homo Superior.

The King’s departure in #11 was marked by a major turning point. ‘The Triumph of Magneto!’ sees our heroes and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants both seeking a fantastically powered being dubbed The Stranger. None are aware of his true identity, nature or purpose, but when the Master of Magnetism finds him first, it spells the end of his war with the X-Men…

With Magneto gone and the Brotherhood broken, Kirby relinquished pencilling to other hands, providing loose layouts and design only. Alex Toth & Vince Colletta proved an uncomfortable mix for #12′s tense drama ‘The Origin of Professor X!’ it opened a 2-part saga introducing Xavier’s half-brother Cain Marko and revealed that simplistic thug’s mystic transformation into an unstoppable human engine of destruction.

The story concludes with ‘Where Walks the Juggernaut’: a compelling, tension-drenched tale guest-starring the Human Torch, and most notable for the introduction of penciller Werner Roth (using the name Jay Gavin). He would be associated with the mutants for the next half decade. His inker for this first outing was the infallible Joe Sinnott.

Roth was an unsung veteran of the industry, working for the company in the 1950s on such star features as Apache Kid and the inexplicably durable Kid Colt, Outlaw, as well as Mandrake the Magician for King Features Comics and Man from U.N.C.L.E. for Gold Key. As with many pseudonymous creators of the period, it was his DC commitments (mostly romance stories) which forced him to disguise his moonlighting until Marvel grew big enough to offer him full-time work.

From issue #14 and inked by Colletta, ‘Among us Stalk the Sentinels!’ celebrated the team’s inevitable elevation to monthly publication with the first episode of a 3-chapter epic introducing anthropologist Bolivar Trask, whose solution to the threat of Mutant Domination was super-robots that would protect humanity at all costs. Sadly, their definition of “protect” varied wildly from their creator’s, but what can you expect when a social scientist dabbles in high-energy physics and engineering?

The X-Men took the battle to the Sentinels’ secret base but became ‘Prisoners of the Mysterious Master Mold!’ before wrapping up their ferrous foes with ‘The Supreme Sacrifice!’

Veteran Dick Ayers joined as inker from #15: his clean line blending perfectly with Roth’s clean, classicist pencils. They remained a team for years, adding vital continuity to this quirky but never top-selling series.

X-Men #17 dealt with the aftermath of the battle – the last time the US Army and government openly approved of the team’s efforts – and the sedate but brooding nature of ‘…And None Shall Survive!’ enabled the story to generate a genuine air of apprehension as Xavier Mansion is taken over by an old foe who picks them off one by one until only the youngest remains to battle alone in climactic conclusion ‘If Iceman Should Fail..!’

‘Lo! Now Shall Appear… The Mimic!’ in #19 was Lee’s last script: the pithy tale of a troubled teen possessing the ability to copy the skills, powers and abilities of anyone in close proximity. The writing reins were turned over to Roy Thomas in #20, who promptly jumped in guns blazing with ‘I, Lucifer…’: an alien invasion yarn starring Xavier’s arch-nemesis as well as Unus the Untouchable and the Blob. Most importantly, it revealed in passing how Professor X lost the use of his legs.

With canny concluding chapter ‘From Whence Comes Dominus?’, Thomas & Roth completely made the series their own, blending juvenile high spirits, classy superhero action and torrid soap opera with beautiful drawing and stirring adventure.

At this time Marvel Comics had a vast and growing following among older teens and college kids, and the youthful Thomas spoke and wrote as they did. Coupled with his easy delight in large casts, this would increasingly make X-Men a most welcoming read for any educated adolescent …like you or me…

As suggested already, X-Men was never one of young Marvel’s top titles but it found a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek attractiveness of Roth as the fierce tension of hunted, haunted juvenile outsider settled into a pastiche of college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

The action pauses here with a crafty 2-parter resurrecting veteran Avengers villain Count Nefaria who employs illusion-casting technology and a band of other heroes’ second-string foes (Unicorn, Porcupine, Plantman, Scarecrow and the Eel, if you’re wondering) to hold Washington DC hostage and frame the X-Men for the entire scheme.

‘Divided… We Fall!’ and ‘To Save a City!’ comprise a fast-paced, old-fashioned Goodies vs. Baddies battle with a decided sting in the tail. Moreover, the tale concludes with Marvel Girl yanked off the team as her parents insist she furthers her education by leaving the Xavier School to attend New York’s Metro University…

To Be Continued…

Supplemented by a copious gallery of original art pages – by Kirby, Reinman, Roth & Ayers – a wealth of evocative house ads and an unseen never used alternate cover by Kirby & Stone, these quirky tales are a million miles removed from the angst-ridden, breast-beating, cripplingly convoluted X-brand of today’s Marvel and, in many ways are all the better for it. Superbly rendered, highly readable adventures are never unwelcome or out of favour, and it should be remembered that everything here informs so very much of the mutant monolith. These are stories for dedicated fans and rawest converts. Everyone should have this book.
© 2019 MARVEL.

Avengers Epic Collection volume 1 1963-1965: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Larry Ivie, Don Heck, Dick Ayers & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8864-3(TPB)

After a period of meteoric expansion, in 1963 the burgeoning Marvel Universe was finally ready to emulate the successful DC concept that had cemented the legitimacy of the Silver Age of American comics.

The concept of putting a bunch of all-star eggs in one basket which had made the Justice League of America such a winner also inspired the moribund Atlas outfit – primarily Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko – into inventing “super-characters” of their own. The result – in 1961 – was the Fantastic Four.

Nearly 18 months later, the fledgling House of Ideas had generated a small but viable stable of costumed leading men (but only sidekick women) so Lee & Kirby assembled a handful of them and moulded them into a force for justice and soaring sales…

Seldom has it ever been done with such style and sheer exuberance. Cover dated September 1963, The Avengers #1 launched as part of an expansion package which also included Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos and The X-Men

Marvel’s Epic Collections – available in trade paperback and digital formats – are only one of many archival series faithfully compiling those groundbreaking tales and this premier volume gathers #1-20 of The Avengers (spanning March 1963 to September 1965) is a sequence no lover of superhero stories can do without…

The suspenseful action kicks off with ‘The Coming of the Avengers!’: Instead of starting at a neutral beginning Stan & Jack (plus inker Dick Ayers) presumed buyers had a passing familiarity with Marvel’s other heroes and so wasted very little time or space on introductions.

In Asgard, immortal trickster Loki is imprisoned on a dank isle, hungry for vengeance on his noble half-brother Thor. Whilst malevolently observing Earth, the god of evil espies the monstrous, misunderstood Hulk and mystically engineers a situation wherein the man-brute seemingly goes on a rampage, simply to trick the Thunder God into battling the monster.

When the Hulk’s teen sidekick Rick Jones radios the FF for assistance, devious Loki scrambles and diverts the transmission and smugly awaits the blossoming of his mischief. Sadly for the schemer, Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp also pick up the redirected SOS. As the heroes all converge in the American Southwest to search for the Jade Giant, they realise that something is oddly amiss…

This terse, epic, compelling and wide-ranging yarn (New York, New Mexico, Detroit and Asgard in 22 pages) is Lee & Kirby at their bombastic best, and remains one of the greatest stories of the Silver Age (it’s certainly high in my own top ten Marvel Tales) and is followed by ‘The Space Phantom’ (Lee, Kirby & Paul Reinman), wherein an alien shape-stealer almost destroys the team from within.

With latent animosities exposed by the malignant masquerader, the tale ends with the volatile Hulk quitting the team in disgust, only to return in #3 as an outright villain in partnership with ‘Sub-Mariner!’ 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 returns for another increasingly war-torn era. ‘Captain America joins the Avengers!’ has everything that made the company’s 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, Sub-Mariner and even subtle social commentary and – naturally – vast amounts of staggering Kirby Action. It even begins with a cunning infomercial as Iron Man unsuccessfully requests the assistance of the company’s other fresh young stars, giving readers a taste of the other mighty Marvels on offer to them…

Reinman returned to ink ‘The Invasion of the Lava Men!’: another staggering adventure romp as the team battle incendiary subterraneans and a world-threatening mutating mountain… with the unwilling assistance of the ever-incredible Hulk…

However, even that pales before the supreme shift in artistic quality that is Avengers #6.

Chic Stone – arguably Kirby’s best Marvel inker of the period – joined the creative team just as a classic arch-foe debuts. ‘The Masters of Evil!’ reveals how Nazi super-scientist Baron Zemo is forced by his own arrogance and paranoia to emerge from the South American jungles he’s been skulking in since the Third Reich fell, after learning his despised nemesis Captain America has returned from the dead.

To this end, the ruthless war-criminal recruits a gang of previously established super-villains to attack New York City and destroy the Avengers. The unforgettable clash between valiant heroes and the vile murdering mercenaries Radioactive Man, Black Knight and the Melter is an unsurpassed example of prime Marvel magic to this day.

Issue #7 followed up with two more malevolent recruits for the Masters of Evil as Asgardian outcasts Enchantress and the Executioner ally with Zemo, just as Iron Man is suspended from the team due to misconduct occurring in his own series. This was the dawning of the close-continuity era where events in one series were regularly referenced and even built upon in others. The practise would quickly become a rod for the creators’ own backs and lead to a radical rethink…

It may have been ‘Their Darkest Hour!’, but #8 delivered the team’s greatest triumph and tragedy as Jack Kirby (inked with fitting circularity by Dick Ayers) relinquished his drawing role with the superbly entrancing invasion-from-time thriller which introduced ‘Kang the Conqueror!’ Riffing on the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, the tale sees an impossible powerful foe defeated by the cunning of ordinary teenagers and the indomitable spirit of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes…

Whenever Jack Kirby left a title he’d co-created, it took a little while to settle into a new rhythm, and none more so than with these collectivised costumed crusaders. Although Lee and the fabulously utilitarian Don Heck were perfectly capable of producing cracking comics entertainments, they never had The King’s unceasing sense of panoramic scope and scale which constantly sought bigger, bolder blasts of excitement.

The Avengers evolved into an entirely different series when the subtle humanity of Heck’s vision replaced Kirby’s larger-than-life bombastic bravura. The series had rapidly advanced to monthly circulation and even The King could not draw the massive number of pages his expanding workload demanded. Heck was a gifted and trusted artist with a formidable record for meeting deadlines and, progressing under his pencil, sub-plots and character interplay finally got as much space as action and spectacle. After Kirby, the stories increasingly focused on scene-stealing newcomer Captain America: concentrating on frail human beings in costumes, rather than wild modern gods and technological titans bestriding and shaking the Earth…

Inked by Ayers, Heck’s first outing was memorable tragedy ‘The Coming of the Wonder Man!’ wherein the Masters of Evil plant superhuman Trojan Horse Simon Williams within the heroes’ ranks, only to have the conflicted infiltrator find deathbed redemption by saving them from the deadly deathtrap he creates…

Another Marvel mainstay debuts with the introduction of (seemingly) malignant master of time Immortus, who briefly combines with Zemo’s devilish cohort to engineer a fatal division in the ranks by removing Cap from the field in ‘The Avengers Break Up!’ A sign of the Star-Spangled Sentinel’s increasing popularity, the issue is augmented by a Marvel Masterwork Pin-Up of ‘The One and Only Cap’ courtesy of Kirby & Ayers…

An eagerly-anticipated meeting delighted fans when #11 declared ‘The Mighty Avengers Meet Spider-Man!’: a clever and classy cross-fertilising tale inked by Chic Stone. It features the return of the time-bending tyrant conqueror as he attempts to destroy the team by insinuating a robotic duplicate of the outcast arachnid within their serried ranks. It’s accompanied by Heck’s Marvel Master Work Pin-up of ‘Kang!’ and is followed by a cracking end-of-the-world thriller with guest-villains Mole Man and the Red Ghost doing their best avoid another clash with the Fantastic Four.

This was another Marvel innovation, as – according to established funnybook rules – bad guys stuck to their own nemeses and didn’t clash outside their own backyards….

‘This Hostage Earth!’ (inked by Ayers) is a welcome return to grand adventure with lesser lights Giant-Man and the Wasp taking rare lead roles, but is trumped by a rousing gangster thriller of a sort seldom seen outside the pages of Spider-Man or Daredevil, premiering Marvel universe Mafia analogue the Maggia and another major menace in #13’s ‘The Castle of Count Nefaria!’

After crushingly failing in his scheme to frame the Avengers, Nefaria’s caper ends on a tragic cliffhanger as Janet Van Dyne is left gunshot and dying, leading to a peak in melodramatic tension in #14 – scripted by Paul Laiken/Larry Ivie & Larry Lieber over Stan’s plot – as the traumatised team scour the globe for the only surgeon who can save her.

‘Even Avengers Can Die!’ – although of course she doesn’t – resolves into an epic alien invader tale with overtones of This Island Earth with Kirby stepping in to lay out the saga for Heck & Stone to illustrate. This only whets the appetite for the classic climactic confrontation that follows as the costumed champions finally deal with the Masters of Evil and Captain America finally avenges the death of his dead partner.

‘Now, by My Hand, Shall Die a Villain!’ in #15 – laid-out by Kirby, pencilled by Heck and inked by Mike Esposito – features the final, fatal confrontation between Cap and Zemo in the heart of the Amazon, whilst the other Avengers and the war-criminal’s cohort of masked menaces clash once more on the streets of New York City…

The battle ends with ‘The Old Order Changeth!’ (broken down by Kirby before being finished by Ayers) presaging a dramatic change in concept for the series; presumably because, as Lee increasingly wrote to the company’s unique strengths – tight continuity and strongly individualistic characterisation – he found juggling individual stars in their own titles as well as a combined team episode every month was just incompatible if not impossible…

As Cap and substitute sidekick Rick Jones fight their way back to civilisation, the Avengers institute changes. The big-name stars retire and are replaced by three erstwhile villains: Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

Eventually, led by perennial old soldier Captain America, this relatively powerless group with no outside titles to divide the attention (the Sentinel of Liberty did have a regular feature in Tales of Suspense but at that time it featured adventures set during WWII), evolved into another squabbling family of flawed, self-examining neurotics, enduring extended sub-plots and constant action as valiant underdogs; a formula readers of the time could not get enough of and which still works today…

Acting on advice from the departing Iron Man, the neophytes seek to recruit the Hulk to add raw power to the team, only to be sidetracked by the Mole Man in #17’s kFour Against the Minotaur!’ (Lee, Heck & Ayers), after which they then fall foul of a dastardly “commie” plot ‘When the Commissar Commands!’ – necessitating a quick trip to thinly-disguised Viet Nam analogue Sin-Cong to unwittingly battle a bombastic android…

This brace of relatively run-of-the-mill tales is followed by an ever-improving run of mini-masterpieces: the first of which wraps up this initial Epic endeavour with a 2-part gem providing an origin for Hawkeye and introducing a rogue-ish hero/villain.

‘The Coming of the Swordsman!’ introduces a dissolute and disreputable swashbuckler – with just a hint of deeply-buried flawed nobility – who attempts to force his way onto the highly respectable team. His rejection leads to him becoming an unwilling pawn of a far greater menace after being kidnapped by A-list would-be world despot the Mandarin.

The conclusion comes in the superb ‘Vengeance is Ours!’ – sublimely inked by the one-&-only Wally Wood – wherein the constantly-bickering Avengers finally pull together as a supernaturally efficient, all-conquering super-team…

The bonus features in this titanic tome include September 1963 house ads for the imminently debuting Avengers, augmented by production-stage correction photostats and original art by Kirby, Ayers, Heck and Wood.
These immortal tales defined the early Marvel experience and are still a joy no fan should deny themselves or their kids.
© 2019 MARVEL.

Black Widow: Web of Intrigue


By Ralph Macchio, George Pérez, Gerry Conway, Paul Gulacy, George Freeman & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-78514-474-8 (HB) 978-1-3029-0026-7 (TPB)

The Black Widow started life as a svelte and sultry honey-trap Soviet Russian agent during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days. As superhero fever mounted, Natasha Romanoff was subsequently redesigned as a supervillain, fell for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – and finally defected; becoming an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., freelance do-gooder leader of superteam The Champions and occasional commander in chief of The Avengers.

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

Always considered a minor fan favourite, the Widow only really hit the big time after appearing in the Iron Man and Captain America movies, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her print escapades have always offered a cool, sinister frisson of delight.

This particular caper compilation originally surfaced in 2010 but was revived for the post-Avengers movie crowd, compiling an extended adventure from Marvel Fanfare #10-13 (August 1983-March 1984), a landmark mission from Bizarre Adventures #25 (March 1981) and 1990’s Marvel Graphic Novel – The Coldest War.

Leading off the espionage entertainment is Ralph Macchio’s introduction ‘For Your Eyes Only’, extolling the virtues of the genre and reminiscing about his time as Natasha’s scribe scripter, and an Al Milgrom pin-up before the action and intrigue kick off with a convoluted yarn by Macchio and George Pérez, with inkers Brett Breeding, Jack Abel, Joe Sinnott, Milgrom & John Beatty as ‘Widow’ finds the superspy tapped by SHIELD to rescue an abducted asset – her beloved  mentor Ivan Petrovich.

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

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

That superheroic struggle is followed by an iconic appearance from 1981, seen in mature-reader monochrome magazine Bizarre Adventures #25 featuring short tales starring female heroes. Here Macchio scripted a far more devious spy yarn of double and triple cross with agents betraying each other while trying to ascertain who might be working for “the other side”…

‘I Got the Yo-Yo… You Got the String’ finds the Widow despatched by SHIELD to assassinate her former teacher Irma Klausvichnova in an African political hot spot, but as the mission proceeds, Natasha learns that she can’t trust anybody and everything she knows is either a lie or a test with fatal consequences…

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

The book concludes with intriguing superhero spy-romp The Coldest War.

Set in the last days of the US/Soviet face-off – with what looks to be an epilogue added to address the collapse of the Soviet State – the entire affair was clearly scripted as a contemporary thriller (probably for fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents) before events overtook the time-consuming process of printing a comic. The afterword – set after the fall of the Berlin Wall – doesn’t jar too much and must have lent an air of imminent urgency to the mix at the time.

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

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

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

Augmented with original art by Arthur Adams, previous collection cover by Yancy LaBat, Mark Morals, Steve Buccellato and Pérez, this epic Primer into the world of the Widow is a dark delight no fan should miss.
© 1990 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 15


By Steve Englehart, Tony Isabella, Scott Edelman, George Tuska, George Pérez, Don Heck, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9196-4 (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.

As explained in Steve Englehart’s Introduction – which also includes everything you need to know about the pre-superhero Patsy Walker – a new era was supposed to begin in Avengers #136 but a deadline was missed and instead ‘Iron Man: DOA’ by Englehart, Tom Sutton & Mike Ploog was reprinted from Amazing Adventures #12, wherein the newly-mutated and furry Hank McCoy AKA the Beast had attacked the Armoured Avenger whilst mind-controlled by evil mutants. You can find the story here.

But in this book – available in hardback and digital formats and collecting Avengers # 136-149 and spanning June 1975 through July 1976 – all you’ll enjoy is the spiffy cover by Gil Kane, Joe Sinnott & John Romita sr.

Although an excellent story in its own right, it rather gave the game away for the next issue after the painfully depleted team declared ‘We Do Seek Out New Avengers!!’ Illustrated by George Tuska & Vince Colletta, #137 depicted an eclectic mix of applicants – comprising Moondragon, Yellowjacket and the Wasp – and included an athletic, enigmatic guy bundled up in a raincoat…

No sooner had the introductions begun than a cosmic interloper attacks, hunting for the honeymooning Scarlet Witch and Vision, but at far from his expected level of puissance. Easily escaping imminent doom, our heroes smell a rat – but unfortunately not before the Wasp is gravely injured, resulting in a blazing battle with a ‘Stranger in a Strange Man!’ who proved to be far from what he claimed in the next issue…

After all the intergalactic hyper-cosmic extravaganzas and extended epic-ing, Avengers #139’s ‘Prescription: Violence!’and #140’s ‘A Journey to the Center of the Ant’ resort to mayhem on a comfortingly down-to-Earth scale as the malevolent Whirlwind tries to murder the bed-ridden Wasp even as her devoted defender Yellowjacket succumbs to a growing affliction which dooms him to exponentially expand to his death… but only until the refreshed, returned Vision and the bludgeoning Beast save the day in an extraordinary riff on classic Avengers history (you can see Avengers #93 for that, if you want)…

A new extended saga began in #141 which welcomed George Pérez & Vince Colletta as new art team. ‘The Phantom Empire!’ (scripted by Englehart,) heralded another complex, multi-layered epic combining superheroic Sturm und Drang with searing – for 1975, at least – political commentary. It all starts when Beast is ambushed by mercenaries from corporate behemoth Roxxon Oil.

He’s saved by ex-Avenger Captain America who had been investigating the company on a related case and, after comparing notes, realises something very big and very bad is going on…

Linking up with Thor, Iron Man, trainee Moondragon and the newly-returned newlyweds Vision and Scarlet Witch, the pair learn of another crisis after Hawkeye goes missing: probably captured by time-tyrant Kang the Conqueror

Just as the Assemblage are agreeing to split into teams, former child model Patsy Walker-Baxter (star of a bunch of Marvel’s girl’s market comics such as Patsy Walker and Patsy & Hedy) bursts in, threatening to expose Beast’s secret identity…

When he had first further mutated, Hank McCoy had attempted to mask his anthropoid form and Patsy helped him in return for his promise to make her a superhero. Now she resurfaces, prepared to blackmail him into honouring his pledge. She is dragged along as one squad (Cap, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch and Vision) join Beast in returning to his old lab at Brand/Roxxon… where they are ambushed by alternate-Earth heroes Squadron Supreme

Meanwhile, Moondragon and Thor co-opt sometime ally Immortus and follow Hawkeye back to 1873. Bushwhacked, they are soon battling Kang beside a coterie of cowboy legends (Kid Colt, Night Rider, Ringo Kid, Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid) in ‘Go West, Young Gods!’, even as the present-day team learn their perilous plight involves a threat to two different dimensions, because Roxxon have joined with the corporations which rule the Squadron Supreme’s America – thanks to the malignly mesmeric Serpent Crown of Set

Inked by Sam Grainger, Avengers #143 sees the Wild West showdown culminate with the apparent death of a deity in ‘Right Between the Eons!’

Elsewhen, the 20th century heroes are beginning their counterattack in the esoteric weaponry factory at Brand, and during all that running wild, liberate the technologically-advanced, ability-enhancing uniform of short-lived adventurer The Catin a storeroom. When Patsy dons it, the hero-groupie neophyte dubs herself Hellcat in ‘Claws!’ (Mike Esposito inks)…

Soon after, the Avengers are cornered by the Squadron and as battle recommences Roxxon president Hugh Jones plays his trump card and transports all the combatants to the other Earth…

The dreaded deadline doom hit just at this crucial juncture and issues #145-146 were taken up with a 2-part fill-in by Tony Isabella, Don Heck & John Tartaglione, with additional pencils by Keith Pollard for the concluding chapter.

‘The Taking of the Avengers!’ reveals how a criminal combine takes out a colossal contract on the World’s Mightiest Superheroes, but even though ‘The Assassin Never Fails!’, the killer is thwarted and Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Beast, Vision and Scarlet Witch – plus Wasp, Yellowjacket and the Falcon – are all safely returned to their various cases untroubled by the vagaries of continuity or chronology… which makes this rather impressive and thrilling yarn such an annoyance in this specific instance…

The trans-dimensional traumas resume in Avengers #147, describing a ‘Crisis on Other-Earth!’ courtesy of Englehart, Pérez & Colletta). With the corporate takeover of other-America revealed to have been facilitated by use of the mind-bending serpent crown, the Scarlet Witch takes possession of the sinister helm whilst her teammates try desperately to keep the overwhelming Squadron Supreme from regaining it.

On our Earth, Hawkeye brings Two-Gun Kid to the modern world but chooses to go walkabout rather than rejoin his comrades, even as Thor and Moondragon start searching for their missing colleagues…

‘20,000 Leagues Under Justice!’ (Grainger inks) features the final showdown and the Avengers’ victory over a wiser and repentant Squadron Supreme, and as the heroes return to their home dimension ‘The Gods and the Gang!’ reunites them with Moondragon and the Thunder God to clean up Brand/Roxxon. The Corporate cabal has one trick left to play however: a colossal, biologically augmented Atlantean dubbed Orka, the Human Killer Whale

The next issue would see a drastic changing of the guard, but this epic tome now concludes with splendid as-standard extras including the covers – by Jack Kirby & Frank Giacoia – and contents page of tabloid Marvel Treasury Edition #7, house ads and pages of original art by Tuska & Colletta.

This type of timeless heroic adventure 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 sleek, cool and permanently perilous 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…
© 1974, 1975 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ms. Marvel Epic collection volume 2 1978-1981: The Woman Who Fell to Earth


By Chris Claremont, Peter B. Gillis, David Michelinie, Jim Shooter, George Pérez, Bob Layton, Simon Furman, Jim Mooney, Mike Vosburg, Dave Cockrum, Michael Golden, Carmine Infantino, Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin,Jeff Aclin, Mike Gustovich, Dave Ross & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1802-6 (TPB)

For a very long time, American comics and especially Marvel had very little in the way of positive female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Although there was a woman starring in the very first comic of the Marvel Age, Invisible Girl Susan Storm took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right. It was more than 30 years before she became Invisible Woman

We’ve come a long way since then…

Ms. Marvel launched in her own title, cover-dated January 1977. She was followed by the similarly copyright-protecting Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977, and securing her own title 15 months later) and Savage She-Hulk (#1, February 1980). Then came the music-biz sponsored Dazzler who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before inevitably graduating to her own book.

Once upon a time Ms. Marvel was United States Air Force security officer Carol Danvers. She was first seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968): the second episode of the saga of Kree warrior Mar-Vell – AKA Captain Marvel – who had been dispatched to Earth as a spy after the Fantastic Four repulsed the alien Kree twice in two months…

That series was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Gene Colan with the immensely competent Carol perpetually investigating Mar-Vell’s assumed and tenuous cover-identity of Walter Lawson for many months.

This was until Danvers was collateral damage in a devastating battle between the now-defecting alien and his nemesis Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel #18 (November 1969).

Caught in a climactic explosion of alien technology, she pretty much vanished from sight until revived as and in Ms. Marvel #1 (January 1977), heralding a new chapter for the company and the industry…

This sturdy trade paperback volume (or enthralling eBook if you prefer), brings a close to the first career of Carol Danvers, via Ms. Marvel #1-23, and includes guest appearances from Marvel Team-Up #76-77, Marvel Two-in-One#51, Marvel Super-Heroes #10-11, material from Avengers #197-200, Avengers Annual #19 and Marvel Fanfare #24, cumulatively cover-dated from March 1978 to January 1986, and dives straight in to the ongoing mystery and drama…

Never having fully recovered from her near-death experience, Danvers had left the military and drifted into writing, slowly growing in confidence before relocating to New York City to work for publisher J. Jonah Jameson on his new project Woman Magazine.

During this time Carol learned that she had gained Kree-based abilities, psychic powers and partial amnesia: creating the role of Ms. Marvel without her own knowledge. Eventually her personality split was healed and she became a fully conscious and ferociously competent costumed champion…

With Chris Claremont scripting and Jim Mooney & Tony DeZuñiga providing the art, ‘The Shark is a Very Deadly Beast!’ opens this edition as the two-fisted titan clashes with undersea villain Tiger Shark. The action begins after Carol stumbles over him abducting the Sub-Mariner’s teenaged cousin Namorita. Despite a brief side trip to Avengers Mansion, only Ms. Marvel is on hand to provide succour in cataclysmic concluding ‘The Deep Deadly Silence!’ (inked by Frank Springer).

‘Shadow of the Gun!’ (Mooney & DeZuñiga) then enhances the X-Men connection by introducing shape-shifting mutant Mystique in a raid on S.H.I.E.L.D. to purloin a new super-weapon which then sees impressive service in #18’s ‘The St. Valentine’s Day/Avengers Massacre!’ (inked by Ricardo Villamonte): a blockbuster battle featuring the beginnings of a deadly plot originating at the heart of the distant Kree Imperium…

The scheme culminates in ‘Mirror, Mirror!’ (illustrated by Carmine Infantino & Bob McLeod) as the Kree Supreme Intelligence attempts to reinvigorate his race’s stalled evolutionary path by kidnapping Earth/Kree hybrid Carol Danvers. However, with both her and Kree warrior Captain Marvel hitting hard against his emissary Ronan the Accuser, eventually the Supremor and his plotters take the hint and go home empty-handed…

Ms. Marvel #20 highlights a huge and abrupt makeover as Danvers dumps her Mar-Vell-inspired uniform and finally finds her own look and identity in ‘The All-New Ms. Marvel’, courtesy of Claremont, Dave Cockrum & Bob Wiacek. Here our utterly re-purposed hero tackles a hidden kingdom of predatory, intelligent, post-atomic dinosaurs infesting the American deserts, leading to a catastrophic clash with ‘The Devil in the Dark!’ (inked by Al Milgrom) in the following issue.

Danvers was a key component in an extended adventure in in Marvel Team-Up #76-77 (December 1978 and January 1979). Crafted by Claremont, Howard Chaykin, Jeff Aclin & Juan Ortiz ‘If Not for Love…’  sees Doctor Strangeattacked by old enemy Silver Dagger: a grudge rematch that draws in Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man as well as deadly Marie Laveau. The “Witch-Queen of New Orleans” naturally has her own agenda which comes into play as ‘If I’m to Live… My Love Must Die!’, finds the non-magical comrades battling the deranged exorcist, whilst Strange struggles with his own demonically-altered paramour Clea

Now one of the most hands-on, bombastic battlers in the Marvel pantheon, Ms. M is more than ready for a return match with Death-Bird in her own comic book. Issue #22 offers a ‘Second Chance!’ (art by Mikes Vosburg & Zeck) but sees Danvers thrown for a total loop in her personal life after being fired from Woman Magazine. All these bold changes came too late as the series’ dwindling sales had earmarked it for cancellation.

Inked by Bruce D. Patterson, ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ resolves a long-running plot thread involving the disappearance of old friend Salia Petrie in a tale guest-starring the time-travelling Guardians of the Galaxy, just in time for the end of the road.

The series stopped there but two more stories were in various stages of preparation. They eventually saw print in 1992 (the Summer and Fall issues of oversized anthology publication Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10-11). Before them, though, comes a minor classic from Marvel Two-in-One #51.

Scripted by Peter B. Gillis, up-&-coming artist Frank Miller & Bob McLeod, ‘Full House… Dragons High!’ details how a weekly poker session at Avengers Mansion is interrupted by rogue US General Pollock, who again tries to conquer America with stolen technology. Happily, Benthe ThingGrimm and Nick Fury round up Ms. Marvel, Wonder Man and the Beast, who prove to be better combat comrades than poker opponents…

Complete with the cover of unreleased Ms. Marvel #24, Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10 presents originally untitled yarn ‘Sabretooth Stalks the Subway’: a ferocious fight against the feral mutant maniac by Claremont & Vosburg. It’s followed by ‘Cry, Vengeance!’ (Claremont, Simon Furman, Vosburg & Mike Gustovich) as Ms. Marvel, now a card-carrying Avenger, faces off against Mystique and her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

This tale incorporates an additional section explaining how Carol is later attacked by young mutant Rogue, permanently loses her powers and memory and is eventually reborn as the cosmic-powered adventurer Binary: which is all well and good but somewhat takes the punch out of the later tales in this collection…

Relegated to an ensemble role in the World’s Mightiest Heroes, Danvers’ life took a strange and disturbing turn in Avengers 197-199 (July to September 1980 and represented here by pertinent extracts from those issues). Written by David Michelinie with art from Infantino & Brett Breeding and George Pérez & Dan Green, the snippets follow a strange and terrifyingly rapid transformation as Carol finds herself impossibly pregnant and bringing an unknown baby to term in a matter of days…

The mystery is solved in ‘The Child is Father To…?’ (Avengers #200, October 1980 by plotters, Jim Shooter, Pérez & Bob Layton and scripter Michelinie, illustrated by Pérez & Green). The mystery baby is born and hyper-rapidly matures as time goes wild, with different eras overwriting the present. The unearthly boy begins building a machine to stabilise the chaos but the heroes misunderstand his motives.

“Marcus” claims to be the son of time-master Immortus, trying to escape eternal isolation in other-dimensional Limbo by implanting his essence in a mortal tough enough to survive the energy required for the transfer. Literally reborn on Earth, his attempts to complete the process are foiled by the World’s Most Confused Heroes and he is drawn back to his timeless realm. Carol, declaring her love for Marcus, unexpectedly goes with him…

Ms. Marvel only plays a peripheral role in ‘By Friends… Betrayed!’ (Avengers Annual #10 (1981, by Claremont, Michael Golden & Armando Gil), as powerless, amnesiac Carol is rescued from drowning by Spider-Woman, prior to Mystique launching an all-out attack on the Avengers whilst attempting to free her Brotherhood from custody. In the melee, Danvers’ mind and abilities were taken by power-leaching Rogue, seemingly ending her adventuring life, and in the aftermath, the Avengers learn the horrific truth of her relationship with Marcus and their part in his doom…

One final sentimental moment comes with Claremont, David Ross & Wiacek’s ‘Elegy’ (Marvel Fanfare #24, January 1986) as Carol – now stellar-energy warrior Binary – returns to Earth to catch up with old friends and learns of the tragic death of Captain Mar-Vell…

Extras in this stellar compendium include a full cover gallery, a Ross alternative cover; ‘The RE-Making of Ms. Marvel’promo article from F.O.O.M. #22, house ads for her 1978 makeover relaunch and original art.

Always entertaining, often groundbreaking and painfully patronising (occasionally at the same time), the early Ms. Marvel, against all odds, grew into the modern Marvel icon of affirmative womanhood we see today.

In both comics and on-screen, Carol Danvers is Marvel’s paramount female symbol. These adventures are a valuable grounding of the contemporary champion but also still stand on their own as intriguing examples of the inevitable fall of even the staunchest of male bastions – superhero sagas…
© 2019 MARVEL.

Captain America Epic Collection volume 4 1971-1973: Hero or Hoax?


By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, John Romita Sr., Sal Buscema, Gil Kane, Gray Morrow & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1003-7 (TPB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic, highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss. He faded away during the post-war reconstruction but briefly reappeared after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every brave American kid’s bed.

Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time for the turbulent, culturally divisive 1960s where the Star-Spangled Avenger was in danger of becoming an uncomfortable symbol of a troubled, divided society, split along age lines and with many of the hero’s fans apparently rooting for the wrong side. Now into that turbulent mix crept issues of racial and gender inequality…

This resoundingly resolute full-colour Epic Collection re-presents Captain America #139-#199 (spanning July 1971 to March 1973) with the Sentinel of Liberty adjusting to having a new full-time crimefighting partner in the form of Harlem-based social worker Sam Wilson AKA the Falcon

As the Falcon works to end a gangster’s dream of monetising New York’s racial unrest, the Good Captain is whisked away for a top-secret mission heralding the beginning of a lengthy and direction-changing saga…

For years Captain America had been the only expression of Steve Rogers’ life, but now goes undercover as a police officer to solve a series of disappearances, subsequently regaining a personal life which would have long-term repercussions…

With the Red, White and Blue subsumed by plain Rookie Blues in ‘The Badge and the Betrayal!’ (by Stan Lee & John Romita) Steve finds himself on a Manhattan beat as the latest raw recruit to be bawled out by veteran cop Sergeant Muldoon

As police officers continue to disappear in increasing numbers and Rogers is getting into more fights on the beat than in costume, Wilson is challenged by seductive black activist Leila Taylor and undergoes a far from voluntary and unwanted audition for S.H.I.E.L.D. …

Inked by George Roussos, issue #140 exposes the plot’s perpetrator as ‘In the Grip of Gargoyle!’ takes events in a frankly bizarre direction, with moody urban mystery inexplicably becoming super-spy fantasy as the nefarious Grey Gargoylesteals a mega-explosive from S.H.I.E.L.D. and turns the Falcon into his petrified minion.

With Joe Sinnott inking, Lee & Romita deliver ‘The Unholy Alliance!’ as the stony duo attack a secret base stockpiling ultimate explosive Element X, with Cap, recently-renewed love interest Sharon Carter and Nick Fury attempting to save the world and the Falcon from the Gargoyle…

Spectacular but painfully confusing until now, the epic is dumped on new writer Gary Friedrich to wrap up with ‘And in the End…’ (Captain America and the Falcon #142) wherein the resurgent heroes race a countdown clock of doom to save the day…

All this time Sam has been trying to get friendly with “Black Power” advocate Leila and, with the sci fi shenanigans over, a long-running subplot concerning racial tensions in Harlem boils over…

‘Power to the People’ and ‘Burn, Whitey, Burn!’ (both from giant-sized #143 with Romita inking his own pencils) sees the riots finally erupt with Cap and Falcon caught in the middle, before copping out in the final chapter by taking a painfully parochial and patronising stance and revealing that the seething unrest of the ghetto underclass has been instigated by a rabble-rousing fascist super-villain in ‘Red Skull in the Morning… Cap Take Warning!’

Nevertheless, Friedrich makes some telling and relevant points – and continues to do so in CA&F #144’s first story ‘Hydra Over All!’ (illustrated by Romita) with the creation of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s all-woman attack squad Femme Force One(stop squirming – at least they were trying to be egalitarian and inclusive…).

To facilitate their efficacy the women are assigned to train with the Sentinel of Liberty himself…

The issue also offers a solo back-up tale ‘The Falcon Fights Alone!’ (by Friedrich and drawn by the great Gray Morrow) wherein the street hero designs a new uniform and rededicates himself to tackling the real problems on his turf: drug-dealers, thieves, racketeers and thugs endangering the weakest, poorest members of society…

Captain America and the Falcon #145 expanded the Hydra storyline with ‘Skyjacked’ (stunningly limned by Gil Kane & Romita) as the hooded terrorists kidnap Cap’s students in mid-air…

Sal Buscema began his long tenure on the series with ‘Mission: Destroy the Femme Force!’ and ‘Holocaust in the Halls of Hydra!’ (#146 and inked by John Verpoorten) wherein devious dealings in the halls of power are uncovered before Falcon races to the rescue of the severely embattled and outgunned heroes, culminating in the unmasking of a hidden kingmaker in #147’s ‘And Behind the Hordes of Hydra…’: a staggering Battle Royale in Las Vegas with a hierarchy of old villains exposed, before the ultimate power behind the power reveals himself in Friedrich’s swansong ‘The Big Sleep!’

Now increasingly at odds with super-scientific government spy-agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division) and its Director Nick Fury, the troubled Patriotic hero returned to his secret identity as a New York beat cop as Gerry Conway assumed the writing chores for issues #149-152: an uncharacteristically uninspired run that begins with ‘All the Colors… of Evil!’ (illustrated by Sal B & Jim Mooney) wherein Gallic mercenary Batroc resurfaces, kidnapping ghetto kids for an unidentified client. This turns out to be the alien Stranger (or at least his parallel universe incarnation Jakar) who intervenes personally in ‘Mirror, Mirror…!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) but is still defeated far too easily.

‘Panic on Park Avenue’ (Buscema & Vince Colletta) then pits Cap against enfeebled villains Mr. Hyde and the Scorpionas Conway sought to retroactively include Captain America in his ambitious Mr. Kline Saga. Android copies of the super-creeps had attacked Daredevil and the Black Widow in their own comic book and here we discover what happened to the originals during that period.

Assuming S.H.I.E.L.D. is responsible for their woes, the thugs target Steve Rogers and his secret agent girlfriend Sharon Carter with disastrous results, climaxing in Frank Giacoia inked ‘Terror in the Night!’ featuring all-out battles and new plot-complications for officer Rogers and his hard-boiled boss Sgt. Muldoon…

Captain America and the Falcon #153 heralded a renaissance and magical return to form for the Sentinel of Liberty as writer Steve Englehart came aboard, hitting the ground running with a landmark epic rewriting of Marvel history and simultaneously captivating jaded die-hard fans…

The wonderment opens with ‘Captain America… Hero or Hoax?’ (inked by Mooney) as Falcon, Sharon and Cap endure an acrimonious confrontation with Fury and decide to take a break from S.H.I.E.L.D.

While Sam Wilson goes back to Harlem – splitting his time between social work, chasing Leila and stamping his mark on the local gangs in his costumed persona – Steve and Sharon book a holiday in the Bahamas. Shockingly, not long after, Falcon catches Captain America committing racist attacks in New York. Enraged, he tracks down the perpetrator but is easily beaten since his partner has somehow acquired super-strength and a resurrected Bucky Barnes

In ‘The Falcon Fights Alone!’ (Verpoorten inks) the maniac impostors claim to be “real” American heroes as they reveal what they want: a confrontation with the lily-livered, pinko wannabe who has replaced and disgraced them…

Even after torturing their captive they are frustrated in their plans until the faux Cap tricks the information out of the Avengers. Battered and bruised, Falcon heads to the Bahamian holiday refuge but is too late to prevent an ambush wherein Rogers learns ‘The Incredible Origin of the Other Captain America!’ (Frank McLaughlin inks and including repurposed excepts from the 1950s comics by John Romita): a brilliant piece of literary sleight-of-hand that ties up the Golden Age, 1950s revival and Silver Age iterations of the character in a clear, simple, devilishly clever manner, and leading to an unbelievably affecting fabulously gratifying conclusion in ‘Two into One Won’t Go!’

After meeting and defeating a shade of the nation’s ugly past, Rogers hopes for less troublesome times, but instead ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici: Viper!’ (plotted by Englehart, scripted by Steve Gerber, with Sal B & Verpoorten illustrating) begins an epic, engrossing storyline by introducing a despicable advertising executive-turned snaky super-villain ostensibly working for an enigmatic boss named the Cowled Commander.

It transpires that corrupt connections at the police precinct where Rogers serves have been stirred into murderous action by our hero’s presence, leading to good cops being framed, bombs in offices and the Viper taking out survivors with lethally experimental poisonous darts…

When Falcon follows news of Cap’s death he also succumbs to toxins until ‘The Crime Wave Breaks!’ (Englehart, Buscema & Verpoorten) sees last-second salvation, a ramping-up of criminal activity and Rogers’ abduction, leading to a ‘Turning Point!’ wherein super-scum-for-hire Porcupine, Scarecrow, Plantman and the Eel’s ill-conceived attack give the game away and expose a hidden criminal mastermind in the heroes’ midst…

Rounding out the riotous adventure, bonus extras include the cover to the all-reprint Captain America Annual #2, assorted house ads, rare Romita colour roughs for Captain America #139 and 144, plus a stirring short selection of original art pages and covers by Romita, Morrow, Kane and Buscema…

Any retrospective or historical re-reading is going to turn up a few cringe-worthy moments, but these tales of matchless courage and indomitable heroism are fast-paced, action-packed and illustrated by some of the greatest artists and storytellers American comics has ever produced.

As the nation turbulently changed Captain America was finally discovering his proper place in a new era and would once more become unmissable, controversial comicbook reading, as we shall see when I get around to reviewing the next volume…
© 1971, 1972, 1973, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 4 1970-1975: It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn


By Steve Englehart, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Mike Friedrich, Tony Isabella, Chris Claremont, Sal Buscema, Tom Sutton, Herb Trimpe, Gil Kane, Don Heck, John Buscema, Bob Brown, Jim Starlin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302916039 (TPB)

X-Men was never one of young Marvel’s top titles but it did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek prettiness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of the college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

The core team consisted of tragic Scott Summers/Cyclops, telepath and mind-reader Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast in training with Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound (and temporarily deceased) telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the gradually emerging race of mutant Homo Superior. In latter days they had been joined by magnetic Polaris and cosmic ray fuelled Havoc…although they were usually referred to as Lorna Dane and Alex Summers.

However, by the time of this massive full-colour paperback and digital tome (collecting the covers from reprint issues X-Men #67-93 plus Annual #1-2, Amazing Adventures #11-17, Amazing Spider-Man #92, Incredible Hulk #150, 161, 172, 180-182, Marvel Team-Up #4, 23, Avengers #110-111, Captain America #172-175, Defenders #15-16 and Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4: spanning December 1970 through June 1975 and chronologically re-presenting every mutant appearance of the era) the outcasts had been reduced to reliving past glories and riding the guest star circuit. A one-shot entitled Giant-Sized X-Men #1 would soon change all that forever…

After nearly eight years of eccentrically spectacular adventures the mutant misfits virtually disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just as in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes once more dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although gone, the mutants were far from forgotten. The standard policy at that time to revive characters that had fallen was to pile on guest-shots and reprints. X-Men #67 (December 1970) saw them return in double-sized issues, re-presenting early classics beginning with the Juggernaut tale from #12-13. Although returned as a cheap but shelf-monopolising reprint vehicle, the missing Children of the Atom were reduced to bit-players throughout the ongoing Marvel universe, whilst the bludgeoning Beast was opportunistically transformed into a scary monster to cash in on the horror boom and ultimately a comedy foil in the Avengers.

Then, with sales of the spooky stuff subsequently waning in 1975, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas green-lighted a bold one-shot as part of the company’s line of Giant-Size specials and history was made…

A brace of covers – X-Men Annual #1 by Jack Kirby & Chic Stone and X-Men #67 by Marie Severin & Joe Sinnott – lead us to John Romita’s cover for Amazing Spider-Man #92 (January 1971) and a tale by Stan Lee, Gil Kane & Romita depicting ‘When Iceman Attacks’.

This actually concludes the Amazing Arachnid’s battle against corrupt political boss Sam Bullit, as the ambitious demagogue convinces the youngest X-Man that Spider-Man is a kidnapper. Despite being a closing chapter, this all-out action extravaganza efficiently recaps itself and is perfectly comprehensible to readers.

The covers to X-Men #68-74 (by Kirby, Dick Ayers, Sal Buscema, Werner Roth, Bill Everett & Kane) and King Size Annual #2 (Kane & Romita) further celebrate the individual and collective Merry Mutants comeback tour before the next story opens.

Alec Summers had left the X-Men, terrified of his uncontrollable cosmic power, to isolate himself in the deserts of New Mexico. When Lorna Dane goes looking for him in ‘Cry Hulk, Cry Havok!’ (Incredible Hulk #150 April 1972, Archie Goodwin, Herb Trimpe & John Severin) she encounters a menacing biker gang and an Emerald Giant violently protective of his privacy. Mercifully Havok proves a match for the rampaging titan…

The previous month Marvel had launched a reinvented X-Man in a solo series as a response to the world horror boom which shifted general comic book fare from bright shiny costumed heroes to dark and sinister monsters.

Premiering in Amazing Adventures #11 (March 1972), written by Gerry Conway and illustrated by the incredibly effective team of Tom Sutton & Syd Shores, ‘The Beast!’ reveals how brilliant Hank McCoy leaves Xavier’s school and takes a research position at the conglomerate Brand Corporation.

Using private sector resources to research the causes of genetic mutation, McCoy becomes embroiled in industrial skulduggery and – to hide his identity – uses his discoveries to “upgrade” his animalistic abilities – temporarily turning himself into a fearsome anthropoid creature with startling new abilities. At least it was supposed to be temporary…

Bracketed by Kane & Frank Giacoia’s covers for X-Men #75-76, Steve Englehart assumes the writing reins in AmazingAdventures #12 (May), and monster maestro Mike Ploog takes the inker’s chair for ‘Iron Man: D.O.A.’ as McCoy, trapped in a monstrous new shape, took extreme measures to appear human as he desperately strove to find a cure for his condition. Unfortunately, Brand is riddled with bad characters and when Tony Stark visits, it’s inevitable that the Beast and Iron Man clash…

Incomprehensibly that battle led to Iron Man’s death; or so McCoy thought. In fact, the monster has been mesmerized by villainous Mastermind in a scheme to force the outcast to join the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. ‘Evil is All in Your Mind!’(Englehart, Sutton & Giacoia) also reintroduces two characters from the wildest fringes of Early Marvel continuity who will both play major roles in months and years to come. Patsy Walker was an ideal girl-next-door whose wholesome teen-comedy exploits had delighted readers for decades since her debut in Miss America #2 (Nov. 1944).

She starred in seven separate comic series until 1967. Here she joins the cast of the Beast as the tag-along wife of her boyhood sweetheart Buzz Baxter who had grown from an appealing goof to a rather daunting military martinet and Pentagon liaison. As McCoy is throwing off the defeated mesmerist’s psychic influence, Captain Baxter lays plans to capture the maligned mutate…

George Tuska & Vince Colletta’s cover for X-Men #77 precedes the next full story, proving the other X-Men were not forgotten. New Horror-Hero rising star Morbius, the Living Vampire was making things tough for Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #4 (September 1972) as the Human Torch temporarily bows out to be replaced by the mutant team. ‘And Then… the X-Men!’ is a terse, tense thriller written by Conway, inked by Steve Mitchell and illustrated by the magnificent Gil Kane at the top of his form detailing how the outsiders hunt the sanguine predator in search of a cure for as the ailing arachnoid…

Bloodsuckers literal and metaphorical are also the order of the day in Amazing Adventures #14. ‘The Vampire Machine’ (inked by Jim Mooney) sees Iron Man return as computerized killer and incipient AI assassin Quasimodo attacks Brand Corp. in an attempt to steal radical technology to build himself a body…

Kane & Giacoia’s cover for X-Men #78 precedes AA #15’s ‘Murder in Mid-Air!’ (rendered by Sutton, Giacoia & John Tartaglione) finding a gravely wounded Beast making an unexpected ally and confidante, before old comrade the Angel comes calling, encountering a hideous artificially mutated monster dubbed the Griffin en route. This tale reintroduced another old friend of Hank McCoy’s and should segue into another X-crossover (Incredible Hulk #161, March 1973), but not before the cover of X-Men #79 and 80 intermingle with AA #16 – wherein our hirsute hero battles an old foe in the Halloween thriller ‘…And the Juggernaut Will Get You… If You Don’t Watch Out!’ by Englehart, Bob Brown & Frank McLaughlin, with a horde of classic caricatures from cartoon legend Marie Severin.

It was the last time McCoy would be seen in a full tale until the bombastic Beast joined the Avengers. Amazing Adventures #17 featured a 2-page framing sequence by Englehart, Jim Starlin & Mike Esposito (included here) which bracketed an abridged reprint of the Beast origin back-ups from X-Men #49-53 (which are not).

At last that Hulk hiatus ends as ‘Beyond the Border Lurks Death!’ (Englehart, Trimpe & Sal Trapani) sees the Green Goliath and Bouncing Blue Beast as reluctant allies in a battle against old X-foe the Mimic, whose ability to absorb the attributes of others has gone tragically, catastrophically haywire…

X-Men #81’s cover leads to another titanic team-up – from Avengers #110-111 (April and May 1973) – as Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision and Black Panther investigate the disappearance of the mutant heroes and are thoroughly beaten by their oldest enemy sporting a new power.

‘… And Now Magneto!’ (Englehart, Don Heck, Giacoia & Esposito) ends with half the team brainwashed captives of the master villain with the remaining crusaders desperately searching for new allies.

Not included here is their journey to San Francisco to recruit Daredevil and the Black Widow so 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 the X-Men and Avengers enslaved by the malign Magneto…

With X-Men #82 (June), the covers generally reverted to recoloured and modified versions of the original releases: rendered by Dan Adkins, Ross Andru, Heck, Tuska & Giacoia, bringing us to February 1974 and Incredible Hulk #172.

A Roy Thomas plot and Tony Isabella script sees the Gamma Giant captured by US soldiers and hurled into another dimension, allowing the unstoppable mystic menace to inadvertently escape. ‘And Canst Thou Slay… The Juggernaut?’reveals that even his magically augmented might cannot resist our favourite antihero and features a telling, conclusive cameo by Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Professor X, after which the Tuska cover for X-Men #87 precedes a crucial episode in the lives of the mutant adventurers.

Englehart was at this time making history with an allegorical saga in Captain America and the Falcon mirroring the national scandal of President Nixon and Watergate. The Patriotic Paragon found himself framed for murder and smeared by a media disinformation campaign and forced to go on the run to clear himself.

Brought to you by Englehart, Sal Buscema & Vince Colletta, it begins in Captain America #172 as ‘Believe it or Not: The Banshee!’ finds Cap and the Falcon tracing a lead to Nashville, clashing with the eponymous fugitive mutant and stumbling into a clandestine pogrom on American soil…

For months mutants have been disappearing unnoticed, but now the last remaining – Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Charles Xavier – have tracked them down, only to discover that Captain America’s problems also stem from ‘The Sins of the Secret Empire!’ whose ultimate goal is the conquest of the USA…

Eluding capture by S.H.I.E.L.D., Steve and Sam infiltrate the evil Empire, only to be exposed and confined in ‘It’s Always Darkest!’ before abruptly turning the tables and saving the day in #175’s ‘…Before the Dawn!’ (interrupted only by the cover for X-Men #88) wherein the vile grand plan is revealed, the mutants liberated and the culprits captured. In a shocking final scene, the ultimate instigator is unmasked and horrifically dispatched within the White House itself…

Marvel Team-Up #23 (July 1974, by Len Wein, Kane & Esposito) offers a case of mistaken identity – and powers – before Human Torch Johnny Storm and Iceman fractiously unite to stop Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man on ‘The Night of the Frozen Inferno!’ after which Ed Hannigan & Giacoia’s cover for X-Men #89 carries us to Defenders #15 (September), which initiates a 2-part duel with Magneto who first institutes a ‘Panic Beneath the Earth!’ – courtesy of Wein, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson – leading telepath Charles Xavier to enlist the outcast heroes’ (Dr. Strange,Nighthawk, Valkyrie and Hulk) aid. The concluding clash involves the insidious Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and ‘Alpha, the Ultimate Mutant’ (inked by Esposito) as well as the apparent end of a true master of evil…

The same cover-month that X-Men #90 (by John Buscema) was released, a pivotal X-character made a rather inauspicious debut.

Incredible Hulk #180 (October 1974 by Wein, Trimpe & Jack Abel) declares ‘And the Wind Howls… Wendigo!’ as the Green Giant gallivants across the Canadian Border and encounters a witch attempting to cure her brother of a curse which has transformed him into a rampaging cannibalistic monster. Unfortunately, that cure means Hulk must become a Wendigoin his stead…

It is while the Great Green and Weird White monsters are fighting that mutant megastar Wolverine first appears – in the very last panel – leading to the savage fist, fang and claw fest that follows.

‘And Now… The Wolverine!’ captivatingly concludes the saga as the Maple nation’s top-secret super-agent is unleashed upon both the Emerald Goliath and man-eating Wendigo in an action-stuffed romp teeming with triumph, tragedy and lots of slashing and hitting. The rest is history…

The aftermath spilled over into #182’s ‘Between Hammer and Anvil!’ with Trimpe taking sole charge of the art chores for the two pages included here as Wolverine is called off by his Canadian spymasters…

John Buscema & Tuska’s cover for X-Men #91 then leads to the last story in this colossal compendium as in Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4 Wein, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Chic Stone & Joe Sinnott unite to introduce ‘Madrox the Multiple Man’: a young mutant who grew up on an isolated farm unaware of the incredible power he possesses.

When his parents pass away, the kid is inexplicably drawn to New York City, but the mysterious hi-tech suit he wears to contain his condition soon malfunctions and the boy devolves into a ambulatory fission device who can endlessly, lethally replicate himself…

Thankfully the FF are aided by mutant Moses Charles Xavier who dutifully takes young Jamie under his wing…

Concluding with the covers to X-Men #92 and 93 (by Ron Wilson & Giacoia and John B & Tuska), house ads and the wraparound October 1986 cover to one-shot The Incredible Hulk and Wolverine #1 – by John Byrne & Abel – this massive meander into Marvel mutant minutiae is a little scrappy and none too cohesive but is packed to the brim with wonderful comics sagas and groundbreaking mini-masterpieces which reshaped the way we tell stories to this day. This comprehensive collection is an unquestionable treasure no fan should be without.
© 2019 MARVEL.

The X-Men and the Avengers: Gamma Quest – a Marvel Omnibus


By Greg Cox (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1789093339 (PB) eISBN: 978-1789093346

After a few half-hearted and ultimately abortive attempts in the 1960s and a more strategic – but no less enduring – attempt at the close of the 1970’s, Marvel finally secured a regular presence on prose bookshelves in the 1990s with a select series of hardback novels. Since then, those fans who want to supply their own pictures to gripping MU exploits have enjoyed a successive string of text thrills in all formats…

In recent times, British publisher Titan Books have been repackaging and rereleasing many of those powerhouse prose publications. Latest on the list in their Novels of the Marvel Universe line is this hefty paperback representing a trilogy first released in 1999.

Written by adaptions and licensed properties specialist Greg Cox (all iterations of Star Trek; Buffy The Vampire Slayer; Batman: The Court of Owls; Daredevil; Iron Man, Fantastic Four; Underworld; Warehouse 13; The Librariansand many more) this Titanic tome bundles linked novels Gamma Quest: Lost and Found, Search and Rescue and Friend or Foe? into a vast, action-packed thrill ride.

Although newcomers and casual fans won’t notice, all three books comprising Gamma Quest are deeply embedded in the minutiae of Marvel’s comic book continuity, and relate how mutant sorceress Wanda Maximoff AKA the Scarlet Witch, power parasite Rogue and immortal berserker Wolverine are abducted by a deranged super-scientific megalomaniac and his secret ally, eager to master the genetic anomalies that fuel their incredible powers.

With such prominent members of the world-famous Avengers and outlaw heroes the X-Men, missing it’s not long before their comrades and allies are on the trail.

Tragically, thanks to deviously-planted false clues, both teams are soon erroneously hunting the Gamma-generated gargantuan know as the Incredible Hulk whilst battling each other…

The issue is further complicated when S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury is forced to admit that top secret, illegally-constructed mutant hunting Sentinels have been stolen from his helicarrier…

Starring Iron Man, Captain America, The Vision, The Beast, Cyclops, Storm, Iceman and a wealth of guest stars, this riotous page-turner offers tons of twists, stacks of suspense and an abundance of action as both squads first battle then unite to hunt their true enemies, visiting the most outlandish locations both on and off Earth before everything concludes in the kind of cataclysmic clash Marvel fans and movie buffs expect…

Strong, accurate characterisation, fast-paced, non-stop super-powered conflict and ever-ratchetting tension make this impossible to put down, but picture lovers might be disappointed that there’s no room for interior illustrations this time out…
© 2019 Marvel.

The X-Men and the Avengers: Gamma Quest – a Marvel Omnibus will be released on 21st January 2020 and is available for pre-order now.

Incredible Hulk Epic Collection volume 4 1969-1971: In the Hands of Hydra


By Roy Thomas, Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1558-2 (TPB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors can 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 where he shared space with fellow misunderstood misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner, who proved an ideal thematic companion from his induction in #70.

Writer Stan Lee was gradually distancing himself from the creative chair as he became Marvel’s publisher, as this ferocious fourth trade paperback (and eBook) volume covers Incredible Hulk #118-137 (spanning August 1969-March 1971) and also includes a crucial sidebar yarn from September 1968’s Marvel Super-Heroes #16 and opens with a fan-favourite clash that always enticed fight fans…

Incredible Hulk #118 (August 1969) depicts a duplicitous courtier at the Sub-Mariner’s sunken citadel orchestrating ‘A Clash of Titans’ (as related by Lee & Trimpe) after which the Green Goliath stumbles into a South American country secretly conquered by and ‘At the Mercy of… Maximus the Mad’: a 2-part tale that concludes with the Roy Thomas scripted ‘On the Side of… the Evil Inhumans!’

This all-out action extravaganza sees the Hulk also fighting the Costa Salvador army, the ubiquitous moustachioed rebels, General Ross’ specialist US army forces and even a giant hypnotic robot before giving way to a moodier menace as Ol’ Greenskin returns to North America, and in the South the man-monster learns ‘Within the Swamp, There Stirs… a Glob!’

Designed as tribute in equal parts to Theodore Sturgeon’s “It” and Hillman Comics character The Heap – who slopped his way through the back of Airboy Comics in the early 1950s – this muck-encrusted monstrosity predates both DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s own Man-Thing in a tale of woeful tragedy and unrequited love.

When the remains of a long-dead escaped convict are accidentally irradiated they take on a shambling semblance of life. Surely, it’s just bad luck that Betty and the Hulk are in its misanthropic path?

As the 1970s opened the Incredible Hulk had settled into a comfortable – if always spectacularly destructive – niche. The globe-trotting formula saw tragic Bruce 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.

Trimpe had made the character his own, displaying a penchant for explosive action and an unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance and vehicles. 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…

Now Incredible Hulk #122, hotly touts ‘The Hulk’s Last Fight!’ as the Fantastic Four advertise a cure for Banner’s condition, and the fraught physicist makes his way North from Florida, with the police and army hunting him every step of the way. His quest only falters at the very last moment thanks to a clerical error…

What should have been a quiet transition and resolution instead results in a shattering clash between the Hulk and FF, but eventually the beast is subdued and the cure attempted in concluding episode ‘No More the Monster!’

Sadly, even now that Banner has complete control of his inner demon, he learns that you don’t always get what you want – especially when evil gamma-super-genius the Leader involves himself in the plan.

Seemingly cured of the curse of the Hulk, Banner finally marries his troubled sweetheart Betty Ross, but ‘The Rhino Says No!’ and the subsequent set-to (rather heavily finished and inked by Sal Buscema) returns him to the tragic status quo of hunted, haunted antihero perpetually on the run…

Trimpe again took up the inker’s brush for the bludgeoning battle in #125 ‘And Now, the Absorbing Man!’ after which Doctor Stephen Strange guest-stars in trans-dimensional duel with the malign Undying Ones.

‘…Where Stalks the Night-Crawler!’ is a spooky, all-action tidying-up exercise closing a saga from the good Doctor’s own cancelled title – and one which inevitably led to the formation of outsider super-team The Defenders.

In ‘Mogol!’ (#127) the child-like, eternally-lonely Hulk is transported to the Mole Man’s subterranean realm where he thinks he’s finally found a friend, only to endure bitter disappointment once more. His subsequent subterranean loss-fuelled rampage threatens to destroy California when he starts ripping his way surface-ward via the San Andreas Fault. And the American authorities are compelled to call in the Big Guns.

‘And in this Corner… The Avengers!’ (#128) sees the assembled champions seeking a solution to the problem, but they can’t hold the Jade Juggernaut long, instead only leading him to more trouble when ‘Again, The Glob!’ attacks. The embattled Hulk has no idea old foe The Leader is behind the swampy assault…

Incredible Hulk #130 then sees Banner totally separate himself from the Hulk in ‘If I Kill You… I Die’, but the scientifically-implausible division has potentially disastrous consequences for Los Angeles, if not the world, and only Iron Man can help when ‘A Titan Stalks the Tenements!’

This powerful tale introduced black ghetto kid and occasional confidante Jim Wilson, made doubly memorable by the inking wizardry of legendary John Severin who signed on for a 3-issue stint that would eventually turn into a long-term commitment.

In #132, the Hulk is ‘In the Hands of Hydra!’ – although not for long and to their eternal regret. His casually explosive escape leaves him stranded in Mediterranean totalitarian state Morvania: an unwilling freedom fighter against despicable dictator Draxon on the ‘Day of Thunder… Night of Death!’

Sal Buscema returned as inker for the conclusion of the tale as ‘Among us Walks… the Golem!’ from Incredible Hulk#134 sees revolution liberate Morvania with the Green Giant as the most unlikely symbol of freedom ever…

One of the strangest Marvel team-ups ever occurred in ‘Descent into the Time-Storm!’ as Kang the Conqueror dispatches the Hulk to the dog-days of World War I to prevent the Avengers’ ancestors from being born, only to fall foul of the enigmatic masked aviator known as the Phantom Eagle.

Concluding this smashing show – and apparently as the result of a Gerry Conway suggestion – Moby Dick (among other cross-media classics) was then pilfered and adapted for ‘Klattu! The Behemoth from Beyond Space!’ and ‘The Stars, Mine Enemy!’ (this last inked by Mike Esposito) wherein a vengeance-crazed starship captain pursues the Brobdingnagian alien beast that had long-ago maimed him, consequently press-ganging the Hulk in the process and pitting him against old foe the Abomination.

Did I say it was all over? Not so, as the bonus section starts with Trimpe’s cover to all-reprint Hulk Annual #3 and follows up with the debut tale of ‘The Phantom Eagle’ by Friedrich & Trimpe as seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #16 (September 1968).

It’s March 1917 and barnstorming aviator Karl Kaufman chafes at his inability to enlist in the US Army Air Corps. America is not in the Great War yet, but everyone knows it’s coming, and Karl’s best friend cannot understand his pal’s reticence. Despite a crash-created infirmity, Rex Griffin signed up immediately but doesn’t realise that Karl can’t be an Allied air warrior until he has smuggled his German parents out of the Fatherland and beyond the reach of reprisals…

All too suddenly the war comes to Karl, as, while testing his new super-plane, he encounters a gigantic Fokker-carrying zeppelin over Long Island Sound, and realizes the Kaiser has launched a pre-emptive invasion of America…

Mobilising his meagre resources and masked as a Phantom Eagle, Karl takes to the skies, but his sortie, although successful, will cost him dearly…

Adding even more lustre and appeal to this tome are Marie Severin’s colour-guide to #119’s cover, original artwork by Trimpe, House ads and Trimpe’s Marvel Artist Self-Portrait.

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 do better than these yarns, so why not Go Green?
© 2019 MARVEL.