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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 17


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or are they…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple, no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before too long he had reason to regret his demands…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 16

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

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

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

Re-presenting Avengers #150-163, Avengers Annual #6 and Super-Villain Team-Up #9 (spanning August 1976 to September 1977), these stories again see the team in transition. That was a much a result of creative upheaval as narrative exigency – as explained in Gerry Conway’s Introduction When Chaos was King – detailing a time of editorial turbulence at Marvel. Times were changing for the company which would soon become a plaything for relentless corporate forces…

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

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

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

In #152 ‘Nightmare in New Orleans!’ kicks the simmering saga into high gear as the team start hunting for Wonder Man’s grave robber/re-animator, in a tale by Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott which soon finds the team facing voodoo lord Black Talon in New Orleans…

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

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

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

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

At this time, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had recently signed a non-aggression pact with the Dictator of Latveria, with Doom subsequently blackmailing the Sub-Mariner into serving as his unwilling ally. One American vigilante observed no such legal or diplomatic niceties. The Shroud thought he had freed the Atlantean from his vow by “killing” Doom, but the villain had survived the assault: rescued and secretly imprisoned by Sub-Mariner’s cousin Namorita and alien girlfriend Tamara under the misguided apprehension that they could force the Metal-shod Monarch into helping Atlantis and their lost Prince.

Simple, no?

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

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

A change of pace begins in #157 as kA Ghost of Stone!’ (Conway, Don Heck & Marcos) addresses a long-unresolved mystery. As seen in the Avengers/Defenders war, the Black Knight’s body had been petrified whilst his soul was trapped in the 12th century, but now a strange force reanimates the statue and sets it upon the weary heroes, after which ‘When Avengers Clash!!’ (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Marcos) sees the revived, restored, compos mentis and now fully-recovered Wonder Man clash with an impossibly jealous Vision over the Scarlet Witch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.