Black Widow: Web of Intrigue


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 15


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

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

Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This type of timeless heroic adventure set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the sleek, cool and permanently perilous 21st century…

No lovers of Costumed Dramas can afford to ignore this superbly bombastic book and fans who think themselves above superhero stories might also be pleasantly surprised…
© 1974, 1975 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

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


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

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

We’ve come a long way since then…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not included here is their journey to San Francisco to recruit Daredevil and the Black Widow so the saga resumes and concludes in Avengers #111 as, ‘With Two Beside Them!’ (Englehart, Heck & Esposito) the returned heroes and West Coast vigilantes successfully rescue the X-Men and Avengers enslaved by the malign Magneto…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, TV shows and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these yarns, so why not Go Green?
© 2019 MARVEL.

Ms. Marvel Epic Collection volume 1 1977-1978: This Woman, This Warrior


By Gerry Conway, Chris Claremont, John & Sal Buscema, Jim Mooney, John Byrne, Keith Pollard, Carmine Infantino, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1639-8 (TPB)

Until relatively recently 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, the Invisible Girl took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right – or even just be called “woman”.

The company’s very first starring heroine was Black Fury: a leather-clad, whip-wielding crimebuster lifted from a newspaper strip created by Tarpe Mills in April 1941. She was repackaged as a resized reprint for Timely’s funnybooks and renamed Miss Fury, enjoying a four-year run between 1942 and 1946 – although her tabloid incarnation survived until 1952.

Fury was actually predated by the Silver Scorpion, who debuted in Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941), but she was relegated to a minor position in the book’s line-up and endured a very short shelf-life.

Miss America first appeared in anthology Marvel Mystery Comics#49 (November1943), created by Otto Binder and artist Al Gabriele. After a few appearances, she won her own title in early 1944. Miss America Comics lasted but the costumed cutie didn’t, as with the second issue (November1944), the format changed, becoming a combination of teen comedy, fashion feature and domestic tips magazine. Feisty take-charge super-heroics were steadily squeezed out and the publication is most famous now for introducing virginal evergreen teen ideal Patsy Walker.

A few other woman warriors appeared immediately after the War, many as spin-offs and sidekicks of established male stars such as female Sub-Mariner Namora (debuting in Marvel Mystery Comics #82, May 1947 and graduating to her own three issue series in 1948). She was followed by the Human Torch’s secretary Mary Mitchell who, as Sun Girl, starred in her own 3-issue 1948 series before becoming a wandering sidekick and guest star in Sub-Mariner and Captain America Comics.

Draped in a ballgown and wearing high heels, masked detective Blonde Phantom was created by Stan Lee and Syd Shores for All Select Comics #11 (Fall 1946) whilst sort-of goddess Venus debuted in her own title in August 1948, becoming the gender’s biggest Timely-Atlas-Marvel success until the advent of the Jungle Girl fad in the mid-1950s.

This was mostly by dint of the superb stories and art from the great Bill Everett and by ruthlessly changing genres from crime to romance to horror every five minutes…

Jann of the Jungle (by Don Rico & Jay Scott Pike) was just part of an anthology line-up in Jungle Tales #1 (September 1954), but she took over the title with the 8th issue (November 1955).

Jann of the Jungle continued until issue June 1957 (#17), spawning a host of in-company imitators such as Leopard Girl, Lorna the Jungle Queen and so on…

During the costumed hero boom of the 1960s, Marvel experimented with a title shot for Madame Medusa in Marvel Super-Heroes (#15, July 1968) and a solo series for the Black Widow in Amazing Adventures # 1-8 (August 1970-September 1971). Both were sexy, reformed villainesses, not wholesome girl-next-door heroines… and neither lasted solo for long.

When the costumed crazies craze began to subside in the 1970s, Stan Lee & Roy Thomas looked into creating a girl-friendly boutique of heroines written by women. Opening shots in this mini-liberation war were Claws of the Cat by Linda Fite, Marie Severin & Wally Wood and Night Nurse by Jean Thomas & Win Mortimer (both #1’s cover-dated November 1972).

New jungle goddess Shanna the She-Devil #1 – by Carole Seuling & George Tuska – debuted in December 1972; but despite impressive creative teams none of these fascinating experiments lasted beyond a fifth issue.

Red Sonja, She-Devil with a Sword, caught every one’s attention in Conan the Barbarian #23 (February 1973) and eventually won her own series, whilst The Cat mutated into Tigra, the Were-Woman in Giant-Size Creatures #1 (July 1974) but the general editorial position was that books starring chicks didn’t sell.

The company kept on plugging and eventually found the right mix at the right time with Ms. Marvel who launched in her own title cover-dated January 1977. She was followed by the equally 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). She was supplemented by the music-biz sponsored Dazzler who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before inevitably graduating to her own book.

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

In that series the immensely competent Carol seemed stalled, perpetually investigating Mar-Vell’s assumed and tenuous cover-identity of Walter Lawson for months. This was until Danvers was caught up 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 Gerry Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott revived her for ‘This Woman, This Warrior!’ (Ms. Marvel #1, January 1977) as a new chapter began for the company and the industry…

This sturdy trade paperback volume (or enthralling eBook if you prefer), gathers Ms. Marvel #1-14, and guest appearances from Marvel Team-Up #61-62 and The Defenders #57, cumulatively covering cover-dates January 1977 – March 1978 and dives straight in to the ongoing mystery and drama…

The irrepressible and partially amnesiac Danvers has relocated to New York to become editor of “Woman”: a new magazine for modern misses published by Daily Bugle owner J. Jonah Jameson.

Never having fully recovered from her near-death experience, Danvers left the military and drifted into writing, slowly growing in confidence until the irascible publisher makes her an offer she can’t refuse…

At the same time as Carol is getting her feet under a desk, a mysterious new masked heroine begins appearing and as rapidly vanishing, such as when she pitches up to battle the sinister Scorpion as he perpetrates a brutal bank raid.

The villain narrowly escapes to rendezvous with Professor Kerwin Korwin of AIM (a high-tech secret society claiming to be Advanced Idea Mechanics). The skeevy savant has promised to increase the Scorpion’s powers and allow him to take long-delayed revenge on Jameson – whom the demented thug blames for his freakish condition…

Danvers has been having premonitions and blackouts since her involvement in the final clash between Mar-Vell and Yon-Rogg and has no idea she is transforming into Ms. Marvel. Her latest vision-flash occurs too late to save Jameson from abduction, but her “Seventh Sense” does allow her to track the villain before her unwitting new boss is injured, whilst her incredible physical powers and knowledge of Kree combat techniques enable her to easily trounce the maniac.

Ms. Marvel #2 announces an ‘Enigma of Fear!’ and features a return engagement for the Scorpion as Korwin and AIM make Ms. Marvel their latest science project. As the Professor turns himself into an armoured assassin codenamed Destructor, Carol’s therapist Mike Barnett achieves an analytical breakthrough with his patient and discovers she is a masked metahuman even before she does.

Although again felling the Scorpion, Ms. Marvel is ambushed by the Destructor, but awakes in #3 (written by Chris Claremont) to turn the tables in ‘The Lady’s Not for Killing!’

Travelling to Cape Canaveral to interview old friend Salia Petrie for a women-astronauts feature, Danvers is soon battling an old Silver Surfer foe on the edge of space, where all her occluded memories explosively return just in time for a final confrontation with Destructor. In the midst of the devastating bout she nearly dies after painfully realising ‘Death is the Doomsday Man!’ (with Jim Mooney taking over pencils for Sinnott to embellish).

The Vision guest-stars in #5 as Ms. Marvel crosses a ‘Bridge of No Return’. After Dr. Barnett reveals he knows her secret, Carol is forced to fight the Android Avenger after AIM tricks the artificial hero into protecting a massive, mobile “dirty” bomb…

‘…And Grotesk Shall Slay Thee!’ then pits her against a subterranean menace determined to eradicate the human race, culminating in a waking ‘Nightmare!’ when she is captured by AIM’s deadly leader Modok and all her secrets are exposed to his malign scientific scrutiny.

Grotesk strikes again in #8 as ‘The Last Sunset…?’ almost dawns for the entire planet, whilst ‘Call Me Death-Bird!’(illustrated by Keith Pollard, Sinnott & Sam Grainger) introduces a mysterious, murderous avian alien who will figure heavily in many a future X-Men and Avengers saga, but who spends her early days allied to the unrelenting forces of AIM as they attack once more in ‘Cry Murder… Cry Modok!’ (art by Sal Buscema & Tom Palmer).

In a push to achieve greater popularity, the neophyte then starred in two consecutive issues of Marvel Team-Up (#61-62, September and October 1977).

Claremont had actually begun scripting that title with issue #57 with a succession of espionage-flavoured heroes and villains battling for possession of a mysterious clay statuette. As illustrated by John Byrne & Dave Hunt, the secret of the artefact is revealed in #61 as Human Torch Johnny Storm joins his creepy-crawly frenemy Spider-Man in battle against the Super-Skrull and learns ‘Not All Thy Powers Can Save Thee!’, before the furious clash calamitously escalates to include Ms. Marvel with the next issue’s ‘All This and the QE2’

Here, the Kree-hybrid uses knowledge and power she didn’t know she had and comes away in possession of an ancient, alien power crystal…

Frank Giacoia inks Sal B Ms. Marvel #11’s ‘Day of the Dark Angel!’ wherein supernal supernatural menaces Hecate, the Witch-Queen and the Elementals attack the Cape, tragically preventing Carol from rescuing Salia and her space shuttle crew from an incredible inter-dimensional disaster…

The astonishing action continues in ‘The Warrior… and the Witch-Queen!’ (Sinnott inks) before ‘Homecoming!’ (Mooney & Sinnott) explores Carol’s blue-collar origins in Boston as she crushes a couple of marauding aliens before the all-out action and tense suspense concludes when ‘Fear Stalks Floor 40’ (illustrated by Carmine Infantino & Steve Leialoha) with the battered and weary warrior confronting her construction worker, anti-feminist dad even as she is saving his business from the sinister sabotage of the Steeplejack….

Wrapping up the show is another guest shot: ‘And Along Came… Ms. Marvel’ (by Claremont, George Tuska & Dave Cockrum, from The Defenders #57, March 1978). Here the “non-team” of outsiders and antiheroes is paid a visit after Carol’s prescient senses warn her of their imminent ambush by AIM. Cue cataclysmic combat…

This comprehensive chronicle also includes ‘Ms. Prints’ – Conway’s and David Anthony Kraft’s editorials on the hero’s origins from Ms. Marvel #1 & 2, original character sketches by John Romita Senior, a house ad, unused cover sketches by John Buscema and Marie Severin plus pages of original art by Sal B, Giacoia & Sinnott and Infantino & Leialoha.

Always entertaining, frequently groundbreaking and painfully patronising (occasionally at the same time), the early Ms. Marvel, against all odds, grew into the modern Marvel icon of capable womanhood we see today in both comics and on screen as Captain Marvel. 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…
© 1977, 1978, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 14


By Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Dave Cockrum, Joe Staton, George Tuska, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8805-6 (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.

This monumental tome (available in hardback and digital editions) collects the team’s world-saving and universe-preserving from issues #129-135 of their monthly comic book, plus Giant-Size Avengers #2-4 – spanning November 1974 through June 1975 – and sees scripter Steve Englehart explore the outer limits of Marvel history and cosmic geography as he begins an epic revelation of universal structure, the beginnings of Marvel time and the formative years of some of the most intriguing characters in comics…

Preceded by his reminiscent commentaries and secrets of his cognitive process in a fulsome Introduction, the drama opens with issue #129’s ‘Bid Tomorrow Goodbye!’ (illustrated by Sal Buscema & Joe Staton) as Kang the Conqueror appears, determined to possess the legendary female figure he calls the Celestial Madonna.

Apparently, this anonymous creature will birth the saviour of the universe, and since no records survive disclosing which of the three women in Avengers Mansion at that crucial moment (mutant sorcery student Scarlet Witc, martial artist Mantis and aged witch Agatha Harkness) she actually is, the time-reaver is resolved to abduct all three and forcibly make himself the inevitable father of the child…

This time, not even the assembled Avengers can stop him and, after crushing and enslaving them, Kang makes off with his hostages, leaving only the swiftly declining Swordsman free to contest him…

The tale continues into Giant-Size Avengers #2 with ‘A Blast from the Past!’ (rendered by Dave Cockrum) as reluctant returnee Hawkeye rushes to the team’s rescue, reuniting with old adversary/mentor Swordsman and enigmatic entity Rama-Tut – who eventually reveals himself as Kang’s reformed future self…

Against all odds, the merely mortal heroes manage to free the enslaved Avengers and rout the unrepentant Kang – but only at the cost of Swordsman’s life…

Avengers #130 poses ‘The Reality Problem!’ (Sal B & Staton) depicting the heartbroken and much-chastened Mantis joining the team in Vietnam to investigate her mysteriously clouded past, only to be drawn into pointless combat with Communist exiles and former Avenger foes Titanium Man, Radioactive Man and Crimson Dynamo thanks to the devious manipulations of petty sneak thief The Slasher

Brief but heated battle concluded, the origin trail then leads to ‘A Quiet Half-hour in Saigon!’ during which the American Adventurers are again attacked by Kang who traps them in Limbo and unleashes a macabre Legion of the Unliving – comprising enslaved dead heroes plucked from the corridors of time – against them…

With yet another chronal villain Immortus added to the mix, ‘Kang War II’ sees temporarily resurrected heroes and villains Wonder Man, 1940’s android Human Torch, the Monster of Frankenstein, martial arts assassin Midnight, the actually ghostly Flying Dutchman and Baron Zemo decimate the Avengers and the trauma and tragedy are further exacerbated as Mantis keeps seeing the spectre of her deceased lover…

This absorbing thriller by Englehart, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema & Staton segues inexorably into Giant-Size Avengers #3’s ‘…What Time Hath Put Asunder!’ Illustrated by Cockrum & Joe Giella, it shows Earth’s Mightiest Heroes pulling victory from the ashes of defeat and receiving a unique gift from one of the assembled Masters of Time…

Avengers #133 travels to ‘Yesterday and Beyond…’ (by Englehart, Sal B & Staton) as the shocked heroes accompany Mantis to the beginnings of recorded Galactic history and the unravelling of her true past, whilst Vision is separately dispatched to glimpse his own obscure and complex origins; a double quest which encompasses both the Kree and Skrull empires, the previously defeated Star-Stalker, the long-deceased Priests of Pama, Thanos and the telepathic Titan dubbed Moondragon, as well as a goodly portion of classic superhero history in ‘The Times That Bind!’ before #135 reveals that ‘The Torch is Passed!’ (limned by George Tuska & Frank Chiaramonte), before bringing all the disparate elements together in Giant-Size Avengers #4.

‘…Let All Men Bring Together’ (art by Don Heck & John Tartaglione) brought a satisfactory conclusion to the long-standing and pitfall-plagued romance between the Scarlet Witch and Vision and detailed another, far more cosmic union with a brace of weddings and the ultimate ascension of the Celestial Madonna – even though demonic extra-dimensional despot Dormammu attempts to spoil the celebrations…

Supplementing the circumstances above described, this collection also offers contemporary features from Marvel’s FOOM magazine #12 which spotlighted the romance and weddings with a vision cover by John Buscema & P. Craig Russell, back cover image by Paty (Cockrum) & Al Milgrom; an overview of the awesome android in ‘Visions’ and ‘Vision, This is Your Life!’ and David Anthony Kraft’s ‘The Scarlet Witch: Meditations on a Ms.’ – all including early art contributions from John Byrne, Paty, Dave Wenzel and an extended family pin-up.

Also on view are a Charley Parker spoof strip starring ‘The Visage’, extended interviews ‘Steve Englehart Speaks!: Journey to the center of a Vision’ and ‘Roy Thomas Speaks!: Journey to the center of a Vision’, plus the cover to all-reprint Giant-Size Avengers #5, house ads, original cover art by Dave Cockrum and interior pages by Sal Buscema & Staton and Tuska & Chiaramonte as well a gallery of covers from previous collections dedicated to the Celestial Madonna…

Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers, brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creation of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko: spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to. Between them they also showed how much more graphic narratives could become and these terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right.

Don’t trust my opinions; check out the wonderment for yourselves…
© 1974, 1975 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 13


By Steve Englehart, Jim Starlin, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Bob Brown, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Rich Buckler, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6629-0 (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.

This monolithic and monumental tome collects the ever-amazing Avengers’ exploits from issues #120-128 (between March and October 1974), plus Giant-Size Avengers #1 and crossover appearances in Captain Marvel #33 and Fantastic Four #150), and sees scripter Steve Englehart probe the outer limits of Marvel history…

Preceded by his reminiscent commentaries in a fulsome Introduction, this epochal tome opens with Avengers #120. ‘Death-Stars of the Zodiac!’ by Englehart, Bob Brown & Don Heck, sees terrorist astrological adversaries and super-criminal cartel Zodiac attack; instigating a manic plan to eradicate everyone in Manhattan born under the sign of Gemini, with Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman and Mantis seemingly helpless to stop them.

In the blistering battle of #121’s ‘Houses Divided Cannot Stand!’ (illustrated by John Buscema & Heck), even the added assistance of Captain America and Black Panther is of little advantage. After Mantis is injured, the team begin questioning her mysterious past, only to be lured to their seeming doom and ‘Trapped in Outer Space!’ (Brown & Mike Esposito) before at last turning the tables on their fearsome foes when Zodiac crime chief Libra discloses a shocking secret…

Rendered by Brown & Heck, Avengers #123 then begins a vast and ambitious saga with ‘Vengeance in Viet Nam – or – An Origin for Mantis!’ wherein Libra’s claim to be the Vietnamese warrior’s father (a story vigorously and violently denied by the Martial Arts Maestro) brings the team to Indo-China.

Former mercenary Libra states that he left baby Mantis with pacifistic Priests of Pama after running afoul of a local crime-lord, but she has no memory of such events, nor of being schooled in combat techniques by the hermit monks. Meanwhile, gravely wounded Swordsman has rushed to Saigon to confront his sadistic ex-boss Monsieur Khruul and save the Priests from being murdered by the gangster’s thugs… but is again too late. It’s the tragic story of his wasted life…

Issue #124 finds the team stumbling upon a scene of savage slaughter as clerics and criminals lay dead and a monstrous planet-rending alien horror awoke in ‘Beware the Star-Stalker!’ by J. Buscema & Dave Cockrum…

Mantis is forced to accept that her own memories are unreliable after Avengers #125, which unleashes ‘The Power of Babel!’ when a vast alien armada attacks the Earth and, while combating it, the planet’s Mightiest Heroes are trapped out of phase with their homeworld.

This blockbuster battle bonanza was a crossover, and the penultimate episode of the spectacular Thanos War Saga that had unfolded for a year in Captain Marvel, Marvel Feature, Daredevil and Iron Man.

Thoughtfully included in this compendium is the stunning conclusion ‘The God Himself!’ from Captain Marvel #33 (scripted by Englehart. plotted and illustrated by Jim Starlin & Klaus Janson) wherein mad Titan Thanos finally falls in combat to the valiant Kree warrior: a stunning piece of comics storytelling which stands up remarkably well here despite being seen without benefit of the preceding chapters…

In response to reader demand, a range of quarterly Giant-Size specials began at this time: augmenting the regular output of Marvel’s most popular titles. The first Giant-Size Avengers was crafted by Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler & Dan Adkins, who delved into superhero history with ‘Nuklo… the Invader that Time Forgot!’

The stirring saga reintroduced 1940 Marvel sensation the Whizzer – AKA Bob Frank – in a tragic tale of duty, desperation and loss as the aged speedster first attacks and then begs the heroes’ help in rescuing his son: a radioactive mutant locked in stasis since the early 1950s. Unfortunately, within the recently unearthed chrono-capsule the lad has grown into a terrifying atomic horror…

Moreover, while in the throes of a stress-induced heart-attack the Whizzer let slip that he was the also the father of mutant Avengers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver

Supplementing the rousing Kirby-inspired pastiche are editorial pages ‘Avengers Re-assemble!’, explaining the process of expansion…

It’s back to business in #126 as in ‘All the Sights and Sounds of Death!’ (Brown & Cockrum) creepy villains Klaw and Solarr assault Avengers Mansion in a devious attempt to achieve vengeance for past indignities, after which Sal Buscema & Joe Staton came aboard as regular art team with ‘Bride and Doom!’ wherein the team voyage to the hidden homeland of the Inhumans for the marriage of The Scarlet Witch’s brother Quicksilver to elemental enchantress Crystal, only to stumble into a uprising of the genetic slave-race known as Alpha Primitives.

Robotic colossus Omega again incited the revolt but this time it is shanghaied by an old Avengers enemy who reveals himself in the concluding chapter of the crossover…

Fantastic Four #150 then declaims ‘Ultron-7: He’ll Rule the World!’ (Gerry Conway, Buckler & Joe Sinnott, in which an escalating unwinnable clash between FF, Inhumans and Avengers is ended by a veritable Deus ex Machina after which, at long last ‘The Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver’ closes events on a happy note.

But not for long: in Avengers #128’s ‘Bewitched, Bothered, and Dead!’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Staton) the FF’s nanny Agatha Harkness begins tutoring Wanda Frank in the arts of sorcery to augment her mutant power, unwittingly allowing dark mage Necrodamus access to Avengers Mansion and their souls. In the meantime, the increasingly troubled Mantis makes a romantic play for the Scarlet Witch’s synthazoid boyfriend The Vision; heedless of the hurt and harm she might bring to her current lover The Swordsman…

To Be Continued…

Gilding this graphic lily – available in hardback and digital formats – fans can also enjoy a large and lovely gallery of cover sketches and original art plus house ads.

Steve Englehart was a crucial component of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers; brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creations of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko while spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to. These tales laid the groundwork for his most ambitious and absorbing masterpiece and the best is yet to come…

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right and also a pivotal step transforming the little company into today’s multinational corporate colossus. Best of all, Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new acme of cosmic adventure…
© 1974, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.