X-Men Epic Collection volume 8: I, Magneto (1981-1982)


By Chris Claremont, Jo Duffy, Bob Layton, Dace Cockrum, Michael Golden, Brent Anderson, Paul Smith, Jim Sherman, Bob McLeod, John Buscema, George Pérez & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2952-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

In 1963, The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington III and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: unique students of Professor Charles Xavier. Their teacher was 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; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After eight years of eccentrically amazing adventures, the mutant misfits almost disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just as in the 1940s, mystery men faded away whilst traditional genres – especially supernatural yarns – dominated entertainment fields. The title returned at year’s end as a reprint vehicle, and the missing mutants became perennial guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel Universe. The Beast was suitably refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories…

Everything changed again in 1975 when Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique via a brand-new team in Giant Size X-Men #1. Old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire joined one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine and original creations Kurt Wagner (a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler), African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe – AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin (who transformed into a living steel Colossus) and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The revision was an instant hit, with Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont assuming the writer’s role from the second story onwards. The Uncanny X-Men reclaimed their comic book with #94, which soon became the company’s most popular – and highest quality – title.

After Thunderbird became the team’s first fatality, the survivors slowly bonded, becoming an unparalleled fighting unit under the brusquely draconian supervision of Cyclops. Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster changed, the series scaled even greater heights, culminating in the landmark Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved, imaginative and powerful character.

In the aftermath, team leader Cyclops left but the epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the groundbreaking working relationship of Claremont & Byrne. Within months they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with mutants whilst Byrne went on to establish his own reputation as a writer with series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionary reimagining of The Fantastic Four

This comprehensive compilation is an ideal jumping-on point, perfect for newbies, neophytes and old lags nervous over re-reading these splendid yarns on fragile, extremely valuable newsprint paper. It celebrates a changing of the guard as the mutants consolidated their unstoppable march to market dominance through high-quality storytelling Seen here are issues #144-153 of the (latterly re-renamed “Uncanny”) X-Men; X-Men Annual #5, Avengers Annual #10 and material from Bizarre Adventures #27 and Marvel Fanfare #1-4, spanning April 1981-September 1982.

Scripted by Claremont and illustrated by Brent Anderson & Joseph Rubenstein the drama resumes with X-Men #144 as ‘Even in Death…’ finds heartbroken wanderer Scott Summers (who quit after the death of Jean Grey) fetching up in coastal village Shark Bay before joining the crew of a fishing boat.

Trouble is never far from Cyclops, however, and when captain Aletys Forester introduces him to her dad, Scott must draw upon all his inner reserves – and instinctive assistance of macabre swamp guardian Man-Thing – to repel crushing, soul-consuming psychic assaults from pernicious demon D’spayre, who has made the region his personal torture garden…

Cockrum returned to the team he co-created in #145, joining Claremont & Rubinstein in an extended clash of cultures as ‘Kidnapped!’ sees the X-Men targeted by Doctor Doom, thanks to the machinations of deranged assassin Arcade.

With Storm, Colossus, Angel, Wolverine and Nightcrawler invading the Diabolical Dictator’s castle, a substitute-squad consisting of Iceman, Polaris, Banshee and Havoc are despatched to the killer-for-hire’s mechanised ‘Murderworld!’ to rescue family and friends of the heroes, all previously kidnapped by Arcade. In the interim, Doom has defeated the invading X-Men of his castle, but his cruel act of entrapping claustrophobe Ororo has backfired, triggering a ‘Rogue Storm!’ that could erase the USA from the globe…

Issue #148 opens with Scott and Aletys shipwrecked on a recently reemergent island holding the remnants of a lost civilisation, but the main event is a trip to Manhattan for 13-year-old X-Man Kitty Pryde, accompanied by Storm, Spider-Woman Jessica Drew and Dazzler Alison Blair. That’s lucky, since nomadic mutant empath Caliban calamitously attempts to abduct the child in ‘Cry, Mutant!’ by Claremont, Cockrum & Rubinstein…

A major menace resurfaces in #149 to threaten the shipwrecked couple, but the active X-Men are too busy to notice, dealing with resurrected demi-god Garokk and an erupting volcano in ‘And the Dead Shall Bury the Living!’ before all the varied plots converge in #150 (October 1981). Before that, though, there’s a crucial diversion that will affect and reshape the X-Men for years to come.

Crafted by Claremont, Michael Golden & Armando Gil, ‘By Friends… Betrayed!’  comes from Avengers Annual #10: seemingly closing the superhero career of Carol Danvers AKA Ms. Marvel. Powerless and stripped of her memories, Danvers is rescued from drowning by Spider-Woman, even as mutant shapeshifter Mystique launches an attack on the World’s Mightiest Superheroes to free her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from jail.

It’s revealed that Danvers’ mind and abilities have been permanently stolen by a power-leaching teenager dubbed Rogue and in the aftermath of the assembled heroes defeating Mystique, the Avengers learn a horrific truth: how they had inadvertently surrendered their comrade Carol into the grip of a manipulative villain acting as the perfect husband…

Returning to the X-Men, the anniversary issue delivers extended epic ‘I, Magneto’ seeing the merciless, malevolent master of magnetism threaten all humanity. with Xavier’s team helpless to stop him… until a critical moment triggers an emotional crisis and awakening of the tortured villain’s long-suppressed humanity…

Claremont, Anderson & Bob McLeod then craft riotous intergalactic wonderment in X-Men Annual #5’s ‘Ou, La La…Badoon!’ When the Fantastic Four help an alien fugitive stranded in Manhattan they are in turn targeted by unsavoury, invisible lizard-men. Only Susan Richards escapes, fighting her way to Westchester to enlist the aid of the X-Men: combat veterans well acquainted with battling aliens.

The rescue mission starts with a stopover in the extradimensional realm of Arkon the Magnificent where the Badoon have already triumphed and where, amid much mayhem, the liberators overthrow the invaders and provide salvation for three worlds…

Chronologically adrift but sacrificed to a cohesive reading order, the contents of Marvel Fanfare #1-4 follow. Published between March and September 1982, the astounding saga was an elite yarn designed to launch a prestige format showcase of Marvel characters and talent. The new title featured slick paper stock, superior printing (all standard today) and a rolling brief to promote innovation and bold new directions.

Under Al Milgrom’s editorial guidance, numerous notable tales from exceptional creators were published, but cynical me – and not just me – soon noticed that many of those creators were ones who had problems with periodical publishing and couldn’t make fixed deadlines…

These day’s that’s nothing to shout over: comics come out when they do and editors have no real power to decree otherwise, but in the 1980s it was big deal, because printers booked a project for a pre-specified date, and charged punitive fees if publishers didn’t get product in on time. That’s why inventory tales were created: fill-ins that sat in a drawer until a writer blew it or an artist had his work eaten by the dog. Sometimes the US Mail simply lost completed stuff in transit…

Scripted by Claremont, and also including Milgrom’s humorous ‘Editor-Al’ intro pages, Savage Land was collected in 1987 and again in 2002: uniting Spider-Man, Ka-Zar and a grab bag of X-Men in a spectacular return to that primordial paradise: an antediluvian repository beneath the South Pole where fantastic civilisations and dinosaurs fretfully co-exist.

Illustrated and coloured by Golden, it begins with a ‘Fast Descent into Hell!’ when distraught Tanya Anderssen tries to find her missing lover, last seen in that lost world. Disturbingly, the missing man is Karl Lykos, a troubled soul addicted to feeding on mutants and likely to become ghastly humanoid pteranosaur Sauron. Tanya’s only hope of saving him was via Warren Worthington III – publicly infamous as former/occasional X-Man The Angel.

The billionaire’s reluctant expedition to the Savage Land ultimately includes an embedded news team from the Daily Bugle, including photographer/trouble magnet Peter Parker, who quickly stumbles across a band of native evil mutants planning to conquer the outer world by creating mutant hybrids from human victims – like Spider-Man

Second chapter ‘To Sacrifice my Soul…’ has Spidey and local hero Ka-Zar, the Jungle Lord, join forces to crush the mutation plot, inadvertently unleashing Sauron on the sub-polar world.

Golden’s stylish easy grace gave way to the slick, accomplished method of Dave Cockrum, & Bob McLeod for ‘Into the Land of Death…’ as X-Men Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Storm join Angel to thwart the diabolical dinosaur man and his malign mutant allies, before legend-in-training Paul Smith – assisted by inker Terry Austin – stepped in to finish the epic in grand style and climactic action in ‘Lost Souls!’

We then pop back to November 1981 for X-Men #151 wherein Jim Sherman, McLeod & Rubinstein welcome back Cyclops and wave Kitty goodbye in ‘X-Men Minus One!’

Due to the manipulations of White Queen Emma Frost, the teenager’s parents withdraw their daughter from Xavier’s school to enrol her in the Massachusetts Academy which covertly operates as the Hellfire Club’s training camp for young recruits. However, the sinister scheme is even deeper than the X-Men fear, as telepath Frost switches bodies with Storm to further her plan to eradicate the mutant heroes.

What nobody seems to realise is that although Frost has gained Ororo’s weather powers, her victim now has her appearance, loyal henchmen and psionic powers. Despite the deployment of terrifying robotic Sentinels, the plot spectacularly fails in closing instalment ‘The Hellfire Gambit’, illustrated by McLeod & Rubinstein…

Cockrum was back for #153, adding layers of whimsy to the usual angst and melodrama as ‘Kitty’s Fairy Tale’ sees the X-Mansion under reconstruction and the teen back where she belongs. As repairs continue, she tells bedtime stories to Colossus’ baby sister Illyana: using her teammates as inspiration, she spins a beguiling yarn of fantastic space pirates…

The action closes with the contents of monochrome “mature-reader” magazine Bizarre Adventures #27 (July 1981) sharing untold tales under the umbrella heading of ‘Secret Lives of the X-Men’

Preceded by editorial ‘Listen, I Knew the X-Men When…’ and ‘X-Men Data Log’ pages by illustrated by Cockrum, these are offbeat solo tales of our idiosyncratic stars, opening with Phoenix in ‘The Brides of Attuma’ by Claremont, John Buscema & Klaus Janson. Here the dear departed mutant’s sister Sara Grey recalls a past moment when they were abducted by an undersea barbarian and even then Jean proved to be more than any mortal could handle…

That’s followed by Iceman vignette ‘Winter Carnival’ by Mary Jo Duffy, Pérez & Alfredo Alcala, wherein Bobby Drake is embroiled in a college heist with potentially catastrophic consequences, before ‘Show me the way to go home…’ (Bob Layton, Duffy, Cockrum & Ricardo Villamonte) pits Nightcrawler against villainous teleporter the Vanisher in a light-hearted trans-dimensional romp involving warrior women, threats to the very nature of reality and gratuitous (male) nudity…

Extras include original art pages by Cockrum, Rubinstein, Anderson & McLeod; Cockrum’s cover to fanzine The X-Men Chronicles; Byrne & Austin’s cover for the X-men parody issue of Crazy (#82, January 1982) and John Buscema’s 1987 Savage Land collection.

For many fans these tales comprise a definitive high point for the X-Men. Rightly ranking amongst the greatest stories Marvel ever published, they remain supremely satisfying, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating: an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 2021 MARVEL.

Ms. Marvel volume 1: No Normal


By G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, VC’s Joe Caramagna & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9021-9 (TPB/Digital edition)

In a comic book title, the soubriquet “Marvel” carries a lot of baggage and clout, and has been attached to a wide number of vastly differing characters over many decades. In 2014, it was inherited by comics’ first mainstream first rank Muslim superhero, albeit employing the third iteration of pre-existing designation Ms. Marvel.

Career soldier, former spy and occasional journalist Carol Danvers – who rivals Henry Pym in number of secret identities, having been Binary, Warbird, Ms. Marvel again and ultimately Captain Marvel – originated the role when her Kree-based abilities first manifested. She experienced a turbulent superhero career and was lost in space when Sharon Ventura became the second, unrelated Ms. Marvel. She gained her powers from the villainous Power Broker, and after briefly joining the Fantastic Four, was mutated by cosmic ray exposure into a She-Thing

Debuting in a sly cameo in Captain Marvel (volume 7 #14, September 2013) and bolstered by a subsequent teaser in #17, Kamala Khan was the third to use the codename. She properly launched in full fight mode in a tantalising short episode (All-New MarvelNow! Point One #1) chronologically set just after her origin and opening exploit.

That aforementioned origin saga unfolded in #1-5 of Ms. Marvel (volume 3), and forms the majority of this first collection of light-hearted all-ages adventure originally published between cover-dates April-August 2014.

Collaboratively conceived by editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, the character was realised by writer and journalist G. Willow Wilson, (Mystic: The Tenth Apprentice, Cairo, Air, The Butterfly Mosque, Alif the Unseen) and illustrator Alphonse Alphona (Uncanny X-Force, Captain Britain and MI13, Runaways) with additional design input from Jamie McKelvie (Suburban Glamour, Long Hot Summer, Young Avengers, The Wicked + the Divine, Phonogram, Rue Britannia), who jointly recast the classic origin and setting of Spider-Man for a new age. The entire epic was coloured by Ian Herring and lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna.

Kamala Khan is a teenager living in Jersey City. Just across the Hudson river lies Manhattan, and the superhero geek frequently enjoys a distant ringside seat to the constant wonders that occur there.

As a Pakistani American growing up Muslim she has her share of daily dramas at Coles Academic High School and elsewhere, but life is generally pretty good. She has good friends like Bruno and Kiki (Nakia), petty annoyances like golden girl Zoe Zimmer and jock Josh or even her loving family. They don’t really understand her obsession with computers, social media and especially with making superhero fan fiction – especially as Kamala is getting older now and needs to start thinking seriously about her future…

Miss Khan’s stolid suppressed status quo abruptly changes in ‘Meta Morphosis’ on the night she breaks a parental embargo and sneaks out to attend a party. Any potential enjoyment is marred by guilt, apprehension and Zoe and Josh, but the real shock comes on the way home when the city is enveloped in a strange fog that causes Kamala to collapse.

During earlier mega-crossover blockbuster Infinity, mad Titan Thanos invaded Earth and clashed with the Inhumans and battled their King Black Bolt to a standstill. As a last resort the embattled sovereign crashed sky-floating city Attilan onto New York and into the Hudson, releasing the Hidden People’s mutagenic Terrigen Mist into the atmosphere.

As it traversed the globe, the gas cloud triggered mutation in millions, proving that Human and Inhuman were not different species and that dormant Inhuman genes reposed everywhere, unsuspected by humankind. All those susceptible to the contaminant either died or metamorphosed into new beings via body-altering cocoons…

Attilan’s crash happened mere hours before and now Kamala is unconscious on a Jersey City street, wracked by bizarre hallucinations of the Avengers and particularly her absolute favourite hero Carol Danvers…

On awakening, she has to smash her way out of a strange shell. When the mists and dust clear Khan is astounded to see she is no longer a “little brown girl” but big, blonde, busty and white. In fact, she looks exactly like the original Ms. Marvel…

In ‘All Mankind’ while experimenting – and puking – Kamala realises she is constantly shapeshifting and body-morphing, but her shock and terror recede after seeing Zoe in danger. Without thinking, Kamala responds to save the Mean Girl, albeit in a manner everybody thinks pretty gross…

Fed up with adventure, Kamala heads home, and is relieved to somehow revert to normal while climbing in her bedroom window. Sadly, ultra-conservative older brother Aamir and her parents are waiting…

‘Side Entrance’ sees Zoe milking her celebrity moment as the media descend on Jersey and Kamala frantically researches her powers – with disastrous results. Desperate to find some way to control them she is spiralling until Bruno comes to her rescue by being held up at his afterschool job. Once again leaping into action as “Carol Danvers”, Kamala learns it’s not that easy a career, after being shot and reverting to her natural form in ‘Past Curfew’

With a certified genius like Bruno on board, Kamala finally understands what she can do and devises her own costume and alter ego, just as the city is targeted by a genuine – but so weird – supervillain, leading the new Ms. Marvel into the wilds to hunt down an exploitative mastermind running troubled teens as his soldiers.

Brimming with confidence, the neophyte hero is unprepared for the deadly mechanical monsters of The Inventor, a brutal showdown with that invisible crook’s gang or the even worse trial of keeping secrets from her increasingly concerned and bewildered family in closing chapter ‘Urban Legend’

The initial story arc won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story – the first of many glittering critical acknowledgements – and is followed here by that aforementioned teaser tale from All-New MarvelNow! Point One #1.

Crafted by Wilson, Aphona, Herring & Caramagna, ‘Garden State of Mind’ finds the hero diverted by a marauding trash monster-bot and late for a major family social gathering…

And thus began a meteoric rise for the new hero. Kamala Khan would steal hearts and minds, become a shining example and become a major player in monumental publishing events such as Last Days, Secret Wars, Secret Empire, Civil War II, Generations and Outlawed, whilst joining or leading teams like the All-New All-Different  Avengers, Champions, and Secret Warriors and inheriting the lead role in a revived Marvel Team-Up title.

Her role as positive role model cannot be overstated – how many female or Muslim superheroes can you think of, or have ever had their own American TV series?

That success is completely due to the comics stories which perfectly marry action and drama to powerfully engaging view of home life, stuffed to the brim with humour and happy moments, rather than the relentless bleakness of so many superhero sagas.

Colour plays a powerful part in telling these tales, subtly supplementing the ostensibly cartoonish art of Adrian Alphona into suitably tense dramatic fare without ever losing the vivacity and charm of the comedic undertones, so especial kudos to Ian Herring for his impressive and sensitive efforts here…

Similar congratulations to letterer Joe Caramagna for handling a rather dialogue-heavy script (absolutely necessary to capture the brilliant interplay and byplay of the teens and parental generation packing G. Willow Wilson’s extremely engaging and beguiling script).

Wrapping up this volume is a covers & variant gallery by Sara Pichelli & Justin Ponsor, McKelvie & Matthew Wilson, Salvador Larocca & Laura Martin, Arthur Adams & Peter Steigerwald, Jorge Molina, Annie Wu and a fascinating look at Alphona’s ‘Sketchbook’ of character designs and ‘inks to color process’.

Still fresh, funny, thrill-drenched and utterly absorbing, the saga of this Ms. Marvel is something you need to see over and over again.
© 2017 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America: Man Out of Time


By Mark Waid, Jorge Molina, Karl Kesel & Scott Hanna (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5128-9 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1-84653-487-4 (UK TPB)

One of the pivotal moments in Marvel Comics history occurred when the Mighty Avengers recovered a tattered body floating in a block of ice (#4, March 1964) and resurrected World War II hero Captain America. This act followed the return of the Sub-Mariner in Fantastic Four #4 and completed a bridge back to the years of Timely and Atlas Comics. With it, newly-minted Marvel Comics Group confirmed and consolidated a solid, concrete, potential-packed history: evoking an enticing sense of mythic continuance for the fledgling company and instantly granting it the same cachet and enduring grandeur of market leader National/DC.

In 2010, after years of conflicting continuity (and with a movie coming) Marvel tasked fan-favourite writer Mark Waid with updating those pivotal events and early future-shocked days for the contemporary world. Of course, that modern milieu was the year 2000, not 1964…

This captivating re-interpretation and updating collects 5 issue miniseries Captain America: Man Out of Time (November 2010-April 2011) and opens in the dying days of the war as Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes are officially removed from the European frontline. Their destination is England and an appointment with doom-laden destiny…

After the world goes fiery red and then black, the Sentinel of Liberty is stunned to awaken in tomorrow’s world before reacting automatically and uncompromisingly to meeting this World’s Mightiest Heroes…
Waid, perfectly complimented by artists Jorge Molina, Karl Kesel & Scott Hanna, wisely leaves the classic adventures largely unchanged, to concentrate on the missing, contemplative moments and personal crises confronting the uncomprehending Steve Rogers, which means readers completely unaware of the character’s comic book history and exploits could experience some confusion in places. However, the narrative, although superficially disjointed, is clear-cut enough to counter this and those interested in the fuller picture can easily fill in the gaps by perusing one of so many available reprint collections to cover the entire period featured here…

In chapter 2, the reeling hero meets former Hulk sidekick Rick Jones (an absurdly close double for the departed Bucky), gets a rapid reality check on his new home and finally accepts that there’s no way home for this Old Soldier.

Except, that’s not strictly true…
Among the many technological miracles his new allies introduce him to the embryonic science of time-travel, and even while battling threats like the Lava Men and Masters of Evil, the unhappy warrior only thinks of returning to his proper place and saving his best friend…

The old adage “be careful what you wish for” never proves more true than when time-reiver Kang the Conqueror attacks: utterly overwhelming the 21st century heroes and casually dispatching Captain America back to 1945. However, the Sentinel of Liberty’s sense of duty, threat to his new allies and the unpalatable things he had forgotten about “the Good Old Days” prompt Cap into brilliantly escaping his honeyed time-trap and returning to the place and moment where he is most needed to once again save the day…

Resolute and resolved to tackle his Brave New World, Captain America is now ready to carve out a whole new legend…
I’m generally less than sanguine about updates and reboots of classic comics material, but I will admit that such things are a necessary evil as years go by, so when the deed is done with sensitivity and imagination (not to mention dynamic, bravura flamboyance) I can only applaud and commend the effort.

Balancing the reinterpretation is the classic inspiration as the book ends with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos’ reprinted epic ‘Captain America joins… The Avengers!’ cover-dated March 1964, and proving magic can be retooled but never replaced…

Thrilling, superbly entertaining, compelling and genuinely moving, Captain America: Man out of Time is a wonderful confection to delight and enthral old aficionados, impress new readers and should serve to make many fresh fans for the immortal Star-Spangled Avenger.
© 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk: Hulk Vs. The Marvel Universe


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roger McKenzie, Bill Mantlo, Peter David, Howard Mackie, Marie Severin, Frank Miller, Sal Buscema, Todd McFarlane, John Romita Jr., Jorge Lucas & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3129-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Incredible Hulk #1 hit newsstands and magazine spinners on March 1st 1962. The comic book was cover-dated May. He was technically (excluding once-&-future Ant-Man Henry Pym) the second superhero star of the dawning Marvel Age. A few more debuted that year – so Happy Anniversary all – before the true Annus Mirabilis Atomicus (stop sniggering: it hopefully means Year of Atomic Miracles) that was 1963…

This 2008 collection was unleashed on readers due to the World War Hulk event. Reprinted here are Fantastic Four #25-26, Journey into Mystery #112, Tales to Astonish #92-93, Daredevil #163, Incredible Hulk #300 & 340, Peter Parker: Spider-Man #14 and Hulk Vs. Fin Fang Foom cumulatively spanning cover-dates April 1964 to February 2008.

With the Big Green Galoot and his chartreuse cousin both making new screen appearances this year, it seems sensible to take another look at the original Marvel antihero’s irascible interactions with his fellow power-packed pals. First, though…

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

After an initially troubled few years the irradiated idol 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, Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and misunderstood miscreant of the moment, until a new home was found for him in “split-book” Tales to Astonish: sharing space with fellow maligned misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner, who proved an ideal thematic companion from his induction in #70.

This book is for every fan (isn’t that all of us?) that asked eternal question “who would win if…?” and we open without preamble on an early landmark as Fantastic Four #25 (April 1964) sees a cataclysmic clash that had young heads spinning then and ever since.

The Hulk’s own title had folded after six issues, and he joined debuting solo star assemblage The Avengers, before explosively quitting in #2: joining Namor’s assault on them in #3. That globe-trotting romp delivered high energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history but you’ll need to go elsewhere to see it.

Here and now, it’s 3 months later and Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos use FF #25 to establish an evergreen tradition – the first of many instances of ‘The Hulk Vs The Thing’.

Accompanied by FF #26’s concluding episode ‘The Avengers Take Over!’, the is an all-out Battle Royale as the disgruntled man-monster searches Manhattan for former sidekick Rick Jones, with only an injury-wracked Fantastic Four to curtail his destructive rampage.

A definitive moment in the character development of The Thing, the action ramps up when a rather stiff-necked and officious Avengers team horns in, claiming jurisdictional rights on “Bob” Banner – this tale is plagued with pesky continuity errors that haunted Lee for decades – and his Jaded alter ego. Notwithstanding bloopers, this is one of Marvel’s key moments and still a visceral, vital read.

The second chapter of the Hulk’s career began in Tales to Astonish #59 (September 1964) as his became co-star to fading property Giant-Man – soon to be replaced by Marvel’s Man from Atlantis – whilst the Green Goliath’s guest star career continued unabated. Next up is a perfect example of that pulling power: the lead story in Journey into Mystery #112 (January 1965) where ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’

The Hulk and Mighty Thor share their 60th anniversary and whether in print, in animations or in blockbuster movies, that eternal question has been asked but never answered to anyone’s satisfaction whenever applied to the modern iteration of the age-old mythic war between gods and monsters. This tale is the first of many return engagements: a glorious gift to every fight fan and arguably Kirby & Chic Stone’s finest artistic moment, detailing a private duel between the two super-humans that occurred during that free-for-all between Earth’s Mightiest, Sub-Mariner and Ol’ Greenskin back in Avengers #3. The raw power of that tale is a perfect exemplar of what makes the Hulk work as a returning foe and yardstick of heroism and determination of those unlucky enough to battle him.

Technical aside: I’m reviewing the digital release and here that blistering bout is followed by JIM #112’s Tales of Asgard back-up ‘The Coming of Loki!’ by Lee, Kirby & Vince Colletta. I suspect you won’t find it in the physical copies of this book…

In Tales to Astonish #92 (June 1967) Lee, superb Marie Severin & Frank Giacoia promised a ‘Turning Point!’, depicting Banner hunted through a terrified New York City as prelude to his alter ego clashing with an incredible opponent in the next issue. Back then, Hulk didn’t really team-up with visiting stars, he just got mad and smashed them. Such was certainly the case as he became ‘He Who Strikes the Silver Surfer’: ironically driving off a fellow outcast who held the power to cure him of his atomic affliction.

There’s a big leap to March 1979 next as Daredevil #163 sees Matt Murdock offer the fugitive Banner sanctuary before the tormented scientist again loses his eternal struggle to suppress the monster inside. Inevitably, the forgone conclusion is the Man without Fear outclassed and punching up before getting creamed to save New York from the Hulk in ‘Blind Alley’ by Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller & Josef Rubinstein, after which we hurtle to Incredible Hulk #300 (cover-dated October 1984) and the end of an epic run by scripter Bill Mantlo and illustrator Sal Buscema. The Hulk had gone from monster outcast to global hero and Banner’s intellect had overridden the brute’s simplistic nature, but now, thanks to the insidious acts of dream demon Nightmare, banner was gone leaving only a murderous, mindless engine of gamma fuelled destruction to ravage New York City.

Inked by Gerry Talaoc, extended epic ‘Days of Rage!’ saw the unstoppable monster easily defeat every superhero in town before being exiled to another universe…

Of course, he came back and was mostly restored, but radical change remained a constant. October 1984’s Incredible Hulk #340 was highpoint in a game-changing run by Peter David and sensation-in-waiting Todd McFarlane. The Hulk was notionally de-powered and returned to the grey-skinned cunning brute of his first appearances just in time for a savage rematch with Wolverine in ‘Vicious Circle’. That inconclusive bout segues here to another battle with another shared-birthday boy.

The wondrous crawler was wracked with agonising ‘Denial’ (Peter Parker: Spider-Man #14, February 2000, by in Howard Mackie, John Romita Jr. & Scott Hanna) in a mismatched clash that occurred with Peter Parker reeling in shock and grief, believing his wife Mary Jane and baby daughter had died in a plane crash. All he had left was great responsibility and something to hit…

We end on a raucously rowdy light-heartedly cathartic note with a modern take on the classic monster battles motif. One-shot Hulk vs Fin Fang Foom #1 (February 2008) was by Peter David, Jorge Lucas & Robert Campanella, revealing an “untold tale” of the early Kirby-era with the gamma goliath headed to the far north in time to see a dragon decanted from the ice.

Parody pastiche ‘The Fin from Outer Space’ is a furious flurry of fisticuffs and fantastic force unleashed with the sole intent of making pulses pound…

With covers from Kirby – with Roussos and Stone, Marie Severin & Giacoia, Miller & Rubinstein, Bret Blevins, McFarlane & Bob Wiacek, Romita Jr. and Jim Cheung, John Dell & Justin Ponsor, this is a straightforward, no-nonsense, all-battle bill of fare no Fights ‘n’ Tights fan could have the strength to resist. Grab it if you can!
© 2020 MARVEL.

Doctor Strange Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Dan Adkins, Tom Palmer, John Buscema, George Klein & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851- (HB/Digital Edition)

When the budding House of Ideas introduced a warrior wizard to their burgeoning pantheon in the summer of 1963, it was a bold and curious move. Anthologically, bizarre adventures and menacing aliens were still incredibly popular, but most dramatic mentions of magic or the supernatural (especially vampires, werewolves and their equally eldritch ilk) were harshly proscribed by a censorship panel which dictated almost all aspects of story content.

Almost a decade after a public witchhunt led to Senate hearings on the malign influences of words and pictures in sequence, comic books were ferociously monitored and adjudicated by the draconian Comics Code Authority. Even though some of the small company’s strongest sellers were still mystery and monster mags, their underlying themes and premises were almost universally mad science and alien wonders, not necromantic or thaumaturgic horrors.

Companies like ACG, Charlton and DC – and the remnants of Atlas/pre-Marvel – got around the edicts against thaumaturgical thrills and chills by making all reference to magic benign or even humorous… the same tone adopted by massively popular TV series Bewitched a year after Doctor Strange debuted.

That eldritch embargo probably explains writer/editor Stan Lee’s low key introduction of Steve Ditko’s mystic adventurer: an exotic, twilight troubleshooter inhabiting the shadowy outer fringes of society.

Capitalising on of the runaway success of The Fantastic Four, Lee had quickly spun off the youngest, most colourful member of the team into his own series, hoping to recapture the glory of the 1940s when The Human Torch was one of the company’s untouchable “Big Three” superstars. Within a year of FF #1, long-lived anthology title Strange Tales became home for the blazing boy-hero (from #101, cover-dated October 1962), launching Johnny Storm on a creatively productive but commercially unsuccessful solo career.

Soon after, in Tales of Suspense #41 (May 196), latest sensation Iron Man battled a crazed scientific wizard dubbed Doctor Strange, and with the name successfully and legally in copyrightable print (a long-established Lee technique: Thorr, The Thing, Magneto, The Hulk and others had been disposable Atlas “furry underpants monsters” long before they became in-continuity Marvel characters), preparations began for a truly different kind of hero.

The company had already devised a quasi-mystic troubleshooter for an short run in Amazing Adventures (volume 1 #1-4 & #6 spanning June-November 1961).

The precursor was balding, trench-coated savant Doctor Droom – later retooled as Doctor Druid when his exploits were reprinted in the 1970s. He was a psychiatrist, sage and paranormal investigator tackling everything from alien invaders to Atlanteans (albeit not the ones Sub-Mariner ruled). He was subsequently retro-written into Marvel continuity as an alternative candidate for Stephen Strange’s ultimate role as Sorcerer Supreme…

After a shaky start, the Master of the Mystic Arts became an unmissable icon of the cool counter-culture kids who saw, in Ditko’s increasingly psychedelic art, echoes and overtones of their own trippy explorations of other worlds. It might not have been the authors’ intention but certainly helped keep the mage at the forefront of Lee’s efforts to break comics out of the “kids-stuff” ghetto…

After the originator abruptly left the company at the height of his fame and success in early 1967, the feature went through a string of creators before Marvel’s 1968 expansion allowed a measure of creative stability as the mystic master won his own monthly solo title in neat moment of sleight of hand by assuming the numbering of Strange Tales. Thus, this enchanting full colour compilation gathers Doctor Strange #169-179 plus a crossover from Avengers #61, spanning cover-dates June 1968 to April 1969. It also sagely includes every issue’s stunning cover – a gallery of wonders from Dan Adkins, Gene Colan, John Buscema and Barry (not yet Windsor) Smith.

Previously, Dr. Stephen Strange had entered and escaped the terrifying dimension of imagination; defeated Scientist Supreme Yandroth; learned the origin of the his mentor The Ancient One and lost his extradimensional lover Clea to the outer infinities. Now a new era dawned for the mystic master just as Big Things were happening at Marvel…

In 1968, after more than a decade under a restrictive and limiting retail contract, The House of Ideas secured a new distributor and explosively expanded with a tidal wave of titles. Twin-featured “Split-Books” such as Strange Tales were divided: replaced by full-length solo series for the cohabiting stars. For the Master of the Mystic Arts, that meant a bit of rapid resetting…

Following an Introduction from sole scripter Roy Thomas, sorcerous super-shenanigans resume with a reworking of the Mage’s origins.

Extrapolating and building upon the Ditko masterpiece from Strange Tales #115, ‘The Coming of Dr. Strange’ by Thomas & Dan Adkins details how he was once America’s greatest surgeon. A brilliant man, yet greedy, vain and arrogant, he cared nothing for the sick except as a means to wealth and glory. When a self-inflicted, drunken car-crash ended his career, Strange hit the skids.

Fallen as low as man ever could, the debased doctor overheard a barroom tale leading him on a delirious odyssey – or, perhaps more accurately, pilgrimage – to Tibet, where a frail, aged mage changed his life forever. Eventual enlightenment through daily redemption transformed Stephen the derelict into a solitary, dedicated watchdog at the fringes of humanity, challenging every hidden danger of the dark on behalf of a world better off not knowing what dangers lurk in the shadows.

The saga also featured his first clash with the Ancient One’s other pupil Mordo revealing how Strange thwarted a seditious scheme, earning the Baron’s undying envious enmity…

The expanded exploration of the transformation from elitist, dissolute surgeon into penitent scholar and dutiful mystic guardian of humanity neatly segues into another clash with a lethally persistent foe as ‘To Dream… Perchance to Die!’ (#170) finds the Ancient One trapped in a coma thanks to the malevolent lord of dreams. To wake his master, Strange impetuously enters the astral realms and defeats Nightmare on his own terms and turf after which #171 introduces someone who will become a key creator in the mystic’s career.

Pencilled by eventual inker supreme Tom Palmer, with Adkins supplying finishes, ‘In the Shadow of… Death!’ sees Strange lured away from Earth by news of long-lost Clea. To facilitate a rescue mission, the sorcerer unthinkingly calls on English associate and sometimes arcane ally Victoria Bentley, unaware or uncaring of her romantic feelings for him.

Their trek through the outer deeps of The Realm Unknown is fraught with deadly traps and peril, but does locate missing Clea… after Bentley is captured and Strange ambushed by his most powerful and hate-filled foe…

A magical creative team formed for Doctor Strange #171 as Gene Colan signed on for an astoundingly experimental run with Palmer handling inks. Humanity is endangered by ‘…I, Dormammu!’ as the Dark God reveals he has orchestrated many recent attacks designed to weary and de-power Earth’s magical champion. The gloating fiend shares how his apparent destruction battling conceptual being Eternity in fact resulted in transdimensional exile and the subjugation of a demonic race dubbed Dykkors: now his eager and willing foot-soldiers ready to ravage the realms of Mankind. The Dark Despot has even suborned his hated sister and former foe Umar the Unspeakable to his scheme…

As always, Dormammu has underestimated the valour and ingenuity of Stephen Strange. ‘…While a World Awaits!’ the monstrous conqueror leads a demonic army through the Doorway of Dimensions, leaving the human mage time to liberate Clea and Victoria, and engage the fearsome forces in a mystic delaying tactic that once again allows Dormammu to defeat himself…

As former associate Dr. Benton seeks to convince Strange to abandon his crazy charlatanry for a life of respectable medical consultancy, #174 sees the Master of the Mystic Arts helping magical Clea adapt to mundane life on Earth. However, ‘The Power and the Pendulum’ finds him accompanying secretly despondent Victoria home to England, before being diverted to a foreboding castle where weirdly flamboyant Lord Nekron has laid a devilish trap.

The crazed noble has made a bargain with hellborn Supreme Satannish, offering his soul for fame and immortality. Instead, the Lord of Lies devised a counter-offer, calling for the substitution of another mystic at the end of one year. With time running out and Strange fitted up for the switch, doom seemed inevitable, but Earth’s champion had one timely trick left to play…

The late sixties were an incredibly creative period and comics greatly benefitted from the atmosphere of experimentation. Colan used page layouts in wildly imaginative ways that stunned many readers of the time, but that same expanded vision has often been cited as the reason for the title’s poor sales. I suspect the feature’s early cancellation was as much the result of increasingly sophisticated and scary stories from Thomas, who early on tapped into the growing global fascination for supernatural horror, and urban conspiracy such as seen in #175’s ‘Unto Us… the Sons of Satannish!’ – coincidentally, the last issue to carry his original title logo.

Just like Ira Levin’s 1967 book and hit 1968 movie Rosemary’s Baby, Strange’s next case involved devil-worship in safely mundane Manhattan, working in secret to achieve diabolical aims. Deprived access to the film’s simmering sexuality and mature themes, Thomas, Colan & Palmer stuck to comic book strengths as Clea’s immigrant experience abruptly encompasses ostracization, isolation, suspicious reactions and even assault by ordinary New Yorkers. This leads her into the hands of hidden cult The Sons of Satannish, whose charismatic leader Asmodeus deals with the devil, and attempts to gain ultimate power by eradicating Strange and replacing him in #176’s ‘O Grave Where is Thy Victory?’, with a new, eerie and  abbreviated masthead.

Those aforementioned sales problems were not going away and #177’s concluding chapter ‘The Cult and the Curse’ addressed the issue in a tried and true manner. Exiled from his own existence and persona, Strange rescued Clea but could only strike back and reclaim his life by magically reinventing himself and devising a brand new look. The mask and tights of a traditional superhero were apparently the only way to outmanoeuvre Asmodeus, but sadly, not in time to stop him activating a deathbed curse to destroy the world…

The super-suited and booted modern mage needed information to proceed, and Dr. Strange #178 finds him seeking to question the other Satannish worshippers Asmodeus had callously banished. Once again hoping to exploit poor Victoria Bentley, Strange recognises her new neighbour Dane Whitman as part-time Avenger The Black Knight and his plea for aid results in an assault on  the dimension of decay-god Tiborro ‘…With One Beside Him!’

The saga finally concluded in Avengers #61 with ‘Some Say the World Will End in Fire… Some Say in Ice!’ by Thomas, John Buscema & George Klein. After Asmodeus’ recued minions reveal that the satanic cult’s failsafe spell unleashed Norse demons Surtur and Ymir to destroy the planet, Strange and Black Knight recruited The Vision, Black Panther and Hawkeye to help them save the world on two fronts…

Although the comics spellbinding ends here, also on offer is the cover of Dr. Strange #179: a Barry Smith treat from 1969 that fronted an emergency reprint of Lee & Ditko’s ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange’ from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2. It joins a House ad for the 1968 relaunch, a half dozen original art pages by Adkins, Colan & Palmer plus the cover art to #174 and 175.

The Wizard of Greenwich Village has always been an acquired taste for mainstream superhero fans, but the pioneering graphic bravura of these tales and the ones to come in the next volume left an indelible mark on the Marvel Universe and readily fall into the sublime category of works done “ahead of their time”. Many of us prefer to believe that Doctor Strange has always been the coolest of outsiders and most accessible fringe star of the Marvel firmament. This glorious grimoire is a miraculous means for old fans to enjoy his world once more and the perfect introduction for recent acolytes or converts created by the movie iteration.
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 16


By Len Wein, Roger Stern, John Buscema, Walter Simonson, Tony DeZuñiga, Sal Buscema & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0358-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Once upon a time, disabled physician Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway, only to stumble into an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, he found an ancient walking stick which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder! Within moments, he was defending the weak and smiting the wicked.

Months swiftly passed, with the Lord of Storms tackling rapacious extraterrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs, but these soon gave way to a vast kaleidoscope of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces, usually tackled with an ever-changing cast of stalwart immortal warriors at his side…

Whilst the ever-expanding Marvel Universe had grown ever-more interconnected as it matured through its first decade, with characters literally tripping over each other in New York City, the Asgardian heritage of Thor and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had most often drawn the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning, unique landscapes and scenarios.

However, by the time of this power-packed compendium, the King was long gone and in fact enacting his Second Coming – technically third, but definitely Second Return to the House of (mostly his) Ideas – and only echoes of his groundbreaking presence remained. John Buscema had visually made the Thunder God his own over the interceding years, whilst a succession of scripters had struggled with varying success to recapture the epic scope of Kirby’s vision and Stan Lee’s off-kilter but comfortingly compelling faux-Shakespearean verbiage…

Spanning January-December 1977, this power-packed compilation re-presents The Mighty Thor #255-266 and Annual #6, and leads with ‘Over the Rainbow Bridge’: an engaging Introduction intriguingly illustrated  from involved illustrator and eventual redeemer of the Thor franchise – Walter Simonson.

The action opens behind the Kirby cover for Thor #255, as Len Wein & Tony DeZuñiga launch a new epic interstellar adventure in ‘Lo, the Quest Begins!’ Previously, embattled Asgard survived invasion only to learn their divine Liege Lord Odin had gone missing. Now, having exhausted every avenue of location available, Thor is compelled to search the galaxies, prompted by vague hints from all-knowing spirit Mimir of a distant destination – the Doomsday Star…

Boarding spacefaring dragonship Starjammer, Thor, Lady Sif, and Warriors Three Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg set (solar) sail, leaving a beleaguered Eternal Realm under the stewardship of Balder the Brave and his dark inamorata Karnilla the Norn Queen. However, before they even leave local space, the seekers encounter – and battle – malign aliens marooned ever since they initially fought the Storm Lord in his debut adventure…

A classic case of Marvel Misunderstanding occurs in #256 as the voyagers encounter an ancient and colossal colony ship populated by the last survivors of a civilisation that died from over-exploiting their environment. As the Asgardians are joined by Rigellian Recorder Memorax, the slowly-fading Levianons reveal how their poverty and resource-blighted existence has been further threatened by an invasive beast who takes the elderly like a ‘Lurker in the Dark!’ (Wein, John Buscema & DeZuñiga).

When the hideous Sporr also abducts recently wounded Sif, enraged Thor leads a savage counter-assault that sparks incomprehensible tragedy in concluding chapter ‘Death, Thou Shalt Die!’

Another mineral-based miscreant resurfaces in #258. ‘If the Stars be Made of Stone!’ sees the Starjammer attacked by space pirates inexplicably led by human super-villain – and early Thor foe – the Grey Gargoyle. The job is not one he wants, but as the unwilling captain conspires with the beaten-&-enslaved Asgardians for a chance to see again the Green Hills of Earth, their plot is exposed by fanatical second-in command Fee-Lon.

The brutal usurper is a truly ferocious brigand, but ultimately fights in vain to end the gods’ ‘Escape into Oblivion!’

Meanwhile in Asgard, Balder and Karnilla have been resisting an invasion helmed by arch-traitors Enchantress and Executioner. As Walter Simonson signs on beside Wein & DeZuñiga from #260, that subplot expands and intensifies even as ‘The Vicious and the Valiant’ sees the interstellar questors finally locate the Doomsday Star and falter before ‘The Wall Around the World!’ (inked by Ernie Chan).

The terrifying global construct is comprised of the power-drained husks of dead gods, but determinedly pushing on, the seekers discover Odin has been captured and slowly diminished by the energy-leeching Soul-Survivors whose civilisation subsists on stolen divine power. As they valiantly strive to save their sovereign, the Asgardians learn to their cost that ‘Even an Immortal Can Die!’ (#262, illustrated by Simonson & DeZuñiga).

Thankfully, ‘Holocaust and Homecoming!’ proves Odin is both wily and mighty as the heroes’ ferocious clash and inevitable victory results in a weary and wounded pantheon returning to Asgard to find it taken over by Loki and his cohort of treacherous allies.

With Odin in a coma – and ultimately abducted again – a covert civil war erupts between the returned champions and the city Loki has subverted. ‘Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me!’ sees a sinister scheme exposed, but not before Loki unleashes ultimate weapon The Destroyer against his step-brother in #265’s ‘When Falls the God of Thunder…!’ (inked by Joe Sinnott). As before, it’s not long before Loki loses control of his ultimate sanction…

Once again, everything hinges on the power and determination of Thor and his valiant resistance to chaos. In #266’s ‘…So Falls the Realm Eternal!’, Wein, Simonson & DeZuñiga show the Thunderer at his indomitable best, keeping Loki at bay and off kilter until the Warriors Three rescue and revive an extremely unhappy All-Father…

This saga presaged a change of focus that we’ll cover in the next volume but before then the epic entertainment concludes with ‘Thunder in the 31st Century!’ by Roger Stern, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson from Thor Annual #6 (December 1977).

A riot of time-busting mayhem, it commences with Mighty Thor plucked from contemporary Manhattan: accidentally summoned to the time period of the original/future (time travel tenses suck!) Guardians of the Galaxy by a cyborg maniac named Korvac.

The legendary god-warrior briefly joins Vance Astro, Charlie 27, Yondu, Nikki, Martinex and Starhawk to bombastically battle super-powered aliens and thwart the sinister cyborg’s scheme to become master of the universe. At the conclusion, Thor returns to his own place and time, unaware how Korvac will reshape the destiny of reality itself in coming months…

To Be Continued…

Augmenting this volume is a blockbusting original art gallery, offering 21 pages of sketches, layouts, pencils and fully inked covers, splash and story-pages by Kirby & John Verpoorten, Buscema, DeZuñiga, Simonson, Joe Sinnott &Ernie Chan: a true treat for every art lover.

The tales gathered here may lack the sheer punch and verve of the early years but fans of ferocious Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy will find this tome still stuffed with intrigue and action, magnificently rendered by artists who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, were every inch his equal in craft and dedication. In Thor’s anniversary year, this a definite and decidedly engaging must-read for all fans of the character and the genre.
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Epic Collection volume 6: Crisis on Counter-Earth 1972-1974


By Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Tony Isabella, Herb Trimpe & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1302929169 (TPB/Digital)

The Incredible Hulk #1 hit newsstands and magazine spinners on March 1st 1962. The comic book was cover-dated May, so happy sort-of birthday Big Guy!

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

After an initially troubled few years the irradiated idol 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, Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain of the moment, until a new home was found for him in “split-book” Tales to Astonish: sharing space with fellow misunderstood misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner, who proved an ideal thematic companion from his induction in #70.

As the 1970s tumultuously unfolded, the Jade Juggernaut settled into a comfortable – if excessively, spectacularly destructive – niche. A globe-trotting, monster-mashing plot formula saw Banner hiding and seeking cures for his gamma-curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and his daughter – the afflicted scientist’s unobtainable inamorata – Betty, with a non-stop procession of guest-star heroes and villains providing the battles du jour.

Herb Trimpe made the Hulk his own, displaying a gift for explosive action and unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great military ordnance and vehicles. Beginning with Roy Thomas, a string of skilful scripters effectively played the Jekyll & Hyde card for maximum angst  and ironic impact as the monster became a pillar of Marvel’s pantheon.

This compelling compendium re-presents The Incredible Hulk #157-178, encompassing cover-dates April 1971 to November 1972-August 1974 and opens without delaying preamble as the Hulk – having just returned to Earth and normal size after a heartbreaking sojourn in a sub-atomic realm – promptly and potently battles a brace of old enemies in ‘Name My Vengeance: Rhino!’ (written by Archie Goodwin, with Trimpe inked by Sal Trapani). That clash is only resolved after gamma genius The Leader despatches Hulk and Rhino to the far side of the Sun. Here orbits a bizarre parallel world…

During the early 1970s, throwaway Fantastic Four character Him was transubstantiated into a modern interpretation of the Christ myth and placed on a world far more like our own than the Earth of Marvel’s universe. That troubled globe was codified as Counter-Earth and upon it messianic Adam Warlock battled a Satan-analogue known as Man-Beast.

Here and now, Hulk battles both the golden saviour and his evil antithesis in ‘Frenzy on a Far-Away World’, courtesy of Thomas, Steve Gerber, Trimpe & Trapani. Meanwhile on “true Earth”, heartbroken Betty – believing her lover forever gone – marries over-attentive, ever-present military martinet Major Glenn Talbot…

Steve Englehart assumed scripting duties with #159 as ‘Two Years Before the Abomination!’ sees Banner and the Rhino explosively returned to our embattled globe, only to be again attacked by General Ross’ Hulkbuster forces. The grizzled soldier is more determined than ever to kill Banner – to safeguard America and preserve his unsuspecting daughter’s new marriage. However, the resulting conflagration accidentally awakens a comatose gamma monster even deadlier than the Hulk…

‘Nightmare in Niagara!’ finds the misunderstood man-brute instinctively drawn to the honeymooning couple, only to encounter amphibian outcast Tiger Shark and another blockbusting battle issue, after which his northerly rampage takes the Green Goliath into Canada. ‘Beyond the Border Lurks Death!’ has the Hulk a reluctant ally of recently hyper-mutated Hank McCoy – best known as the bludgeoning Beast – in battle against the Mimic. This veteran X-foe possesses the ability to absorb the attributes of others, but the gift has become a curse, going tragically, catastrophically haywire and threatening to consume the entire planet…

Still under Northern Lights, Hulk encounters carnivorous, cannibalistic horror the Wendigo in ‘Spawn of the Flesh-Eater!’, but the maniacal man-eater harbours a shattering secret which makes it as much victim as villain…

Pushing ever Pole-ward, Hulk reaches the top of the world but cannot elude Ross’ relentless pursuit. After a cataclysmic arctic clash, ‘Trackdown’ sees man-monster and his stalker fall into the super-scientific clutches of Soviet prodigy the Gremlin (mutant offspring of the Hulk’s very first foe the Gargoyle). Although the Gamma Giant breaks free with ease, the General is left behind to become a highly embarrassing political prisoner…

Shambling into Polar seas, Hulk is captured by a fantastic sub-sea colony of aquatic human nomads in #164’s ‘The Phantom from 5,000 Fathoms!’ Decades previously, egomaniacal Captain Omen had created his own mobile submarine nation, roaming the ocean beds at will, and foolishly thought the Jade Goliath could be his latest freakish beast of burden. Sadly, the draconian dictator has no idea how his dissatisfied clan hungers for freedom, fresh air and sunlight. They disastrously rebel, following ‘The Green-Skinned God!’ to their doom…

Incredible Hulk #166 finally finds “Ol’ Greenskin” back in the USA, hitting New York just in time to clash with Battling Bowman Hawkeye and brain-eating electrical monster Zzzax in ‘The Destroyer from the Dynamo!’ Meanwhile in the sub-plot section, a bold bid to rescue General Ross from the godless Commies succeeds, but seemingly costs the life of his new son-in-law…

Jack Abel took over inking duties in #167 with ‘To Destroy the Monster!’ as grieving widow Betty Ross-Talbot suffers a nervous breakdown and is targeted by intellectual murder-mutate M.O.D.O.K. and his minions of Advanced Idea Mechanics who need an infallible weapon to break the Hulk.

As ghetto kid Jim Wilson fortuitously reconnects with the Emerald Behemoth, Banner’s bestial alter ego effortlessly destroys M.O.D.O.K.’s giant robot body but fails to prevent Betty’s abduction, and next issue’s ‘The Hate of the Harpy!’ reveals her as gamma-mutated avian horror programmed to destroy her former lover…

Issue #169 finds the temporarily triumphant Harpy and her verdant victim trapped aboard an ancient floating fortress in the sky, enduring ‘Calamity in the Clouds!’ before battling together against monstrous android Bi-Beast. When M.O.D.O.K. attacks, intent on possessing its alien tech, the response eradicates the last vestige of the sky-citadel, propelling a now-human Banner and Betty onto a lost tropical island inhabited by incredible alien creatures…

Englehart, Chris Claremont, Trimpe & Abel’s monster-romp ‘Death from on High!’ features an army of alien castaways in all-out terrain trashing aggressive action who fall to someone even tougher, after which subplots and human drama recommence with excessive bombast but no appreciable fanfare as ‘Revenge!’ (by Gerry Conway – from an Englehart plot) finds the Green Goliath a stowaway on a plane back to military Mecca Hulkbuster Base.

The jet carries Project: Greenskin’s new commanding officer. Spit-&-polish Colonel John D. Armbruster has taken over from the recently rescued but now politically sidelined Thunderbolt Ross….

The camp is eerily deserted and the reason becomes clear as bludgeoning brutes The Abomination and The Rhino attack the new arrivals. Subduing the entire garrison, they try to detonate the base’s gamma-bomb self-destruct device but are utterly unprepared for the Hulk’s irascible intervention…

Roy Thomas plotted Tony Isabella’s script for #172 wherein the Hulk – captured by the ungrateful soldiers he saved – is hurled into another dimension, allowing a mystic menace to inadvertently escape. ‘And Canst Thou Slay… The Juggernaut?’ (with a telling cameo by The X-Men) proves even a magically augmented menace can’t resist our favourite monster’s might.  Thomas then scripts all-Trimpe delight ‘Anybody Out There Remember… The Cobalt Man?’, as another old X-adversary – Ralph Roberts – picks up the Jade Giant at sea before sailing his research vessel right into a nuclear test explosion…

Dying of radiation exposure, the deranged technologist is determined to demonstrate atomic bombs are bad to a callous, uncaring world… by detonating one over Sydney in ‘Doomsday… Down Under’ (Conway, Thomas, Trimpe & Abel). A second clash with the azure-armoured Cobalt Man results in a blistering battle in the stratosphere, a cataclysmic explosion and Hulk crashing to earth far, far away as a ‘Man-Brute in the Hidden Land!’ (#175, by Thomas, Trimpe & Abel)…

Here – after the usual collateral carnage – a typically short-tempered encounter with the Uncanny Inhumans and devastating duel with silent super-monarch Black Bolt ends with the gamma gladiator stuck in a rocket-ship hurtling to the far side of the sun for a date with allegory, if not destiny…

Hulk had briefly visited once before and now crashes there again to complete a long lain fallow allegorical epic. It begins with ‘Crisis on Counter-Earth!’ by Conway, Trimpe & Abel. Since Hulk’s departure, Man-Beast and his animalistic minions (all spawned by godlike genetic meddler The High Evolutionary) had become America’s President and Cabinet. Moving decisively, they finally captured Warlock and led humanity to the brink of extinction, leaving the would-be messiah’s disciples in utter confusion.

With the nation in foment, the Hulk’s shattering return gives the messiah’s faithful flock opportunity to save their saviour in ‘Peril of the Plural Planet!’ but the foray badly misfires and Warlock is captured. Publicly crucified at the behest of the people, humanity’s last hope perishes…

Meanwhile on true Earth, Ross and Armbruster discover trusted comrade Glenn Talbot has escaped from a top security Soviet prison and is making his triumphant way back to the USA…

Scripted by Conway & Isabella, the quasi-religious experience concludes with ‘Triumph on Terra-Two’ as the dead prophet resurrects whilst Hulk wages his last battle against Man-Beast, just in time to deliver a cosmic coup de grace before ascending from Counter-Earth to the beckoning stars…

To Be Continued…

This superbly cathartic tome also offers some seminal extras, beginning with a Hulk-themed crossword puzzle from in-house fan vehicle F.O.O.M. (Friends of Ol’ Marvel; February 1973). The second issue – September – was an all-Hulk affair and from it comes a stunning cover and editorial illustrated by Jim Steranko, a ‘Hunt the Hulk’ game and ‘Many Faces of the Hulk’: a collage of previous artists (Kirby, Ditko, Dick Ayers, Trimpe, Marie & John Severin, Kane, Steranko, Bob Powell, Mike Esposito/Demeo, John Romita Sr., Bill Everett, John & Sal Buscema), plus a history by Martin Greim, a checklist of appearances to date and strip spoof ‘Hunk’ by Thomas, Len Brown, Gil Kane & Wally Wood.

Also on view are 8 original art pages by Trimpe and assorted inkers from the stories contained herein.

The Incredible Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, cartoons, TV shows, games, toys and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious and cathartic experience of Might literally making Right, you can’t do better than these yarns.
© MARVEL 2021

Ant-Man/Giant-Man Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Roy Thomas, Mike Friedrich, Tony Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Chris Claremont, David Micheline, Herb Trimpe, P. Craig Russell, George Tuska, John Byrne, Ross Andru, Jim Starlin, Ron Wilson, Rich Buckler, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1079-2 (HB/Digital edition)

Marvel Comics built its fervent fan base through strong and contemporarily relevant stories and striking art, but most importantly by creating a shared continuity that closely followed the characters through not just their own titles but also through many guest appearances in other comics. Such an interweaving meant that even today completists and fans seek out extraneous stories to get a fuller picture of their favourite’s adventures.

In such an environment, series such as these Marvel Masterworks are a priceless resource approaching the status of a public service for collectors, especially when you can now purchase and peruse them electronically from the comfort of your own couch, or the lesser luxury of your parents’ basement, garage or attic…

If you’re of a particularly picky nature – and what comic book superhero fan isn’t? – you could consider the Astonishing Ant-Man to be the second star of the Marvel Age of Comics. The unlikeliest of titans first appeared in Tales to Astonish #27 (cover-dated January 1962, so on sale during the last months of 1961), in one of those splendidly addictive men-vs-monsters anthology titles that dominated in the heady days of Science Fiction Double-Feature B-Movies.

It was intended as nothing more than another here-today, gone-tomorrow filler in one of the company’s madly engaging pre-superhero “monster-mags”. However, the character struck a chord with someone since, and as the DC Comics-inspired superhero boom flourished, and Lee sprung The Hulk, Thor and Spider-Man on the unsuspecting kids of America, Pym was economically retooled as a fully-fledged costumed do-gooder for TtA #35 (September 1962).

You can read about his extremely eccentric career elsewhere, but suffice it to say Pym was never settled in his persona: changing name and modus operandi many times before junking his Ant-Man identity for the reasonably more stable and more imposing identity of Yellowjacket…

This episodic, eclectic and entomologically edifying compendium gathers the last full series of the original Ant-Man, plus the legacy of science adventurer Hank Pym as his size-shifting discoveries were employed by other champions. Contained herein are pertinent portions of Invincible Iron Man #44; Marvel Feature #4-10; Power Man #24-25; Black Goliath #1-5, The Champions #11-13 and Marvel Premiere #47-48, convolutedly spanning January 1972 to June 1979.

There are three heroes on offer here and each comes with an Introduction by his key scripter: Mick Friedrich’s ‘Downsizing Hank Pym’; ‘Professor Bill’s Big Adventure’ by Tony Isabella and David Micheline’s ‘New Kid on the Block’, all sharing insights and reminiscences to delight every true ant-ficionado (yes. I said that, and I’m not sorry!)

The ball starts rolling with a brief back-up vignette from Invincible Iron Man #44 as Roy Thomas, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito light-heartedly deliver ‘Armageddon on Avenue ‘A’’ as Ant-Man Pym clashes again with the sinister Scarlet Beetle. The evil arthropod stills seeks to eradicate mankind, but is too busy battling Pym to notice his new secret citadel catching alight as part of a seedy insurance scam. Bah! Human scum!

Marvel Feature #4 then begins a new series with ‘The Incredible Shrinking Doom!’ (by Friedrich & Herb Trimpe) as a hero history recap segues into ‘The Beginning’ with Peter Parker interviewing Dr Pym before they team up to rescue a kidnapped boy. The son of Curt Conners (The Lizard) has been snatched to force the surrender of a valuable formula. However, while cleaning up M’Sieu Tête’s thugs, Pym is injected with a bacterial enzyme that traps him at the size of an insect and even Spider-Man cannot help him…

The saga proceeds in #5’s ‘Fear’s the Way He Dies!’ as arch enemy Egghead returns even as Ant-Man loses all the precious technology that bolsters his powers. Deprived of his insect-controlling cybernetic helmet, Pym is helpless until the maniac’s niece Trixie Starr makes him new duds. It’s not quite enough to defeat the villain, but at least the shattering explosion of his mobile HQ seems to drive the killer away…

Pym’s wife Janet resurfaces in Marvel Feature #6’s ‘Hellstorm!’ (inked by Mike Trimpe) as the beleaguered hero – thanks to trusty pet hound Orkie the dog – finally reaches his own home only to be attacked by another old foe… Whirlwind. In the aftermath the house is totally destroyed and Mr & Mrs Pym are officially declared dead…

P. Craig Russell, Dan Adkins & Mark Kersey illustrate ‘Paranoia is the Para-Man!’ in #7 as a new android enemy captures Hank and Jan. escape and the mechanoid’s defeat mutates the Wasp into a true insectoid predator for #8’s deadline wracked ‘Prelude to Disaster!’ Russell, Jim Starlin & Jimmy Janes’ framing sequence here originally supported a Lee, Kirby & Don Heck origin flashback but you can just consult the first volume in this series if you’re feeling a little completist…

Here and now, however, Marvel Feature #9 ‘…The Killer is My Wife!’ – limned by Russell & Frank Bolle – finally finds Hank battling his mutated killer wife as Pym’s lab partner Bill Foster and Iron Man investigate their “deaths.” Tragically, not so far from them, the tiny terror is overwhelmed and temporarily cured by her husband, just in time for both to fall victim to new nutcase Doctor Nemesis, before the saga and the series are hastily wrapped up in concluding chapter ‘Ant-Man No More!’ by Friedrich, Russell & Frank Chiaramonte.

Ant-Man faded from view, eventually replaced by Yellowjacket again, and one among many in the Avengers.

Time passed and a new writer decided it was time to try the size-shifting concept again. It began as so often with a try-out taster in an already established title…

While hiding in plain sight as a Hero for Hire in Times Square, escaped convict Luke Cage fell in love with doctor Claire Temple. When she abruptly vanished, Cage and buddy D.W. Griffiths scoured America looking for her. The trek fed directly into a 2-part premier for another African American superhero with the trail leading to the Ringmaster’s Circus of Crime in Power Man #24 (January 1975) where ‘Among Us Walks… a Black Goliath!’ by Tony Isabella, George Tuska & Dave Hunt.

One of the earliest returning black characters in Marvel’s comics, the above-mentioned Bill Foster was a highly educated biochemist working for Tony Stark and with Henry Pym. Foster first appeared in Avengers #32 (September 1966), working to find a cure when – as Goliath – Pym was trapped at a 10-foot height. Foster faded from view when Pym eventually regained his size-changing abilities…

Having continued his own experiments in size-shifting, Foster was now trapped as a freakish colossus, unable to shrink to human proportions. Cage painfully learned he was also Claire’s former husband and when he became trapped at 15 feet, she had rushed back to Bill’s substantial side to help find a cure.

After Luke turns up, passions are stoked, resulting in another classic heroes-clash moment until the mesmeric Ringmaster hypnotises all combatants, intent on using their strength to feather his own three-ring nest. ‘Crime and Circuses’ (Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Ron Wilson & Fred Kida) sees the heroes helpless until Claire comes to the rescue, before making her choice and returning to New York with Luke. Foster soon gravitated to his own short-run series, becoming Marvel’s fourth African American costumed hero under a heavy-handed and rather uninspired sobriquet…

Cover-dated February 1976, and courtesy of Isabella, Tuska & Vince Colletta, Black Goliath #1 reintroduced a far more together hero. Foster was now in complete control of his powers and led an exotic, eccentric Stark International Think Tank in Los Angeles. Sadly, his arrival coincided with a spate of high tech burglaries that revealed how out-of-depth ‘Black Goliath!’ was when the gang boss was exposed as living nuclear nightmare Atom-Smasher, who doled out ‘White Fire, Atomic Death!’ in #2 as scripter Chris Claremont joined Tuska & Colletta.

Barely surviving the first assault, Foster brought in his team of maverick geniuses for the second and decisive round, blissfully unaware the thermonuclear thug was working for a hidden mastermind…

‘Dance to the Murder!’ in #3 offers partial explanations as mystery man Vulcan leads multiple attacks on the Think Tank in an effort to liberate an enigmatic alien artefact. The result is chaos and catastrophe, exacerbated in #4 when ‘Enter Stilt-Man …Exit Black Goliath!’ – with art from Rich Buckler & Don Heck – finds the hero distracted by a supervillain hungry to upgrade his powers and status, and the mystery box swiped from the rubble by a looter…

The series came to an abrupt halt with #5 (November 1976), with Keith Pollard illustrating a tale of ‘Survival!’ as Foster and two bystanders are exiled on a lethal alien planet. Meanwhile on Earth, the Box is beginning to awaken…

The storyline was completed in LA based team title The Champions where #11 (February 1977) opened proceedings with ‘The Shadow from the Stars’ by Mantlo, John Byrne & Bob Layton. Returned without explanation, Foster was building tech for the team (Black Widow, Angel, Iceman, Hercules, Ghost Rider and Dark Star) as a side bar to the main event wherein Hawkeye and Two Gun Kid call for help to repel an alien incursion by vintage villain and sentient shadow Warlord Kaa…

Back to the plot for #12, ‘Did Someone say… the Stranger?’ sees Black Goliath ambushed by Stilt-Man as the long-contested Box begins to activate. When universal Elder The Stranger comes to reclaim his planet-destroying Null-Life Bomb, he deems it too late once the device warps reality and dumps the Champions in the realm of former Thor foe Kamo Tharnn, leaving Foster on Earth to prevent ‘The Doom That Went on Forever!’

Foster again faded from sight until revived for 1980s classic the Project Pegasus Saga, where he reclaimed the name Giant-Man, but this collection concludes with arguably the most successful size-shifting centurion: solo superhero, Avenger, entrepreneur, comedy turn and screen superstar Scott Lang… a true legacy hero made good.

Comics creators are six parts meddler and five parts chronic nostalgia buff and eventually somebody convinced somebody else that the concept and property of Ant-Man could be viable again, so we end here with the introduction of reformed thief Lang who debuted in Marvel Premiere #47 (cover-dated April 1979).

Those first somebodies were David Michelinie, John Byrne & Bob Layton who produced ‘To Steal an Ant-Man!’, revealing how a former electronics engineer had turned to crime – more out of boredom than necessity – and, after being caught and serving his time, joined Stark International as a resolutely reformed character. However, when his daughter Cassie developed a heart condition that wiped out his savings, Scott reverted to old ways to save her…

Desperate to find the wherewithal to hire experimental surgeon Dr. Erica Sondheim, he begins casing likely prospects, but is shattered when Sondheim is abducted by psychotic industrialist Darren Cross. The magnate is already using all the resources – legal and otherwise – of his mega-corporation Cross Technological Enterprises to keep himself alive…

Needing cash just to broach the CTE complex, Lang goes back to Plan A, burgling the lab of retired superhero Henry Pym and discovers mothballed Ant-Man gear and size-changing gases. In a moment of madness, Lang decides not to sell the stolen tech but instead use it to break into Cross’ citadel and rescue Sondheim…

That plan doesn’t go so great either, as Lang discovers the dying billionaire – in a desperate attempt to stay alive – has been harvesting the hearts of homeless people to power an experimental device which has mutated him into a monstrous brute…

After learning with horror ‘The Price of a Heart!’ (June 1979), Lang eventually triumphs; unaware until the very last that Pym had allowed him to take the suit and was backstopping him every inch of the way. With Cassie saved, Yellowjacket then invites Lang to continue as the new Ant-Man…

And so it begins again…

Completing this triptych treat are extras including original art pages by Trimpe; pencil art and the unused ending to Marvel Feature #10 by Russell (compared in situ with what actually got published as the series was rapidly concluded); two unused covers to Marvel Premiere #48 (by Layton), biographies of all concerned and peppered throughout with rousing covers by Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, Joe Sinnott, Trimpe, Starlin, John Romita & Sal Buscema, Russell & Adkins, Rich Buckler, Jack Kirby, Al Milgrom, Layton, Dave Cockrum and Bob McLeod.

These itty-bitty sagas range from lost gems to true classics and will delight Marvel Movie buffs as well as the redoubtable ranks of dedicated comic book readers all cheerfully celebrating Pym’s 60 years of service and inspiration.
© 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ant-Man/Giant-Man Epic Collection volume 1 1962-1964: The Man in the Ant-Hill


Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Ernie Hart, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, Sol Brodsky, Steve Ditko, Paul Reinman, Chic Stone, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9850-5 (TPB/Digital edition) 

Dates and debuts are big deals to comics fans, and this year is a major one for Marvel Anniversaries, if not always first appearances. Here’s a classic case-in-point… 

If you’re of a particularly picky nature – and what true fan isn’t? – you could consider The Astonishing Ant-Man to be the second superhero of the Marvel Age. He first popped up in Tales to Astonish #27 (cover-dated January 1962 but on sale from the end of September 1961), in one of the splendidly addictive men-vs-monsters anthology titles that dominated in those heady days of Science Fiction Double-Feature B-Movies. 

This eclectic episodic, entomologically edifying and endearing compendium gathers pertinent portions of Tales to Astonish #27 and a majority of the succeeding series (which ran from #35-69: September 1962 to July 1965). Sadly the little dramas herein terminate with #59 (September 1964). 

These itty-bitty sagas reveal scintillating solo outings of a brilliant but troubled scientist who became an unlikely, uncomfortable and ultimately mentally unstable champion, and begin with what was just supposed to be another throwaway filler thriller… 

A cover-featured 7-page short introduced Dr Henry Pym, a maverick scientist who discovers a shrinking potion and became ‘The Man in the Anthill!’, discovering peril, wonder and even a kind of companionship amongst the lowliest creatures on Earth and under it… 

Plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Lieber and stunningly illustrated by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, the engaging piece of fluff owed more than a little to classic B-movie The Incredible Shrinking Man… 

Obviously, Pym struck a chord with someone since, as the DC Comics-inspired superhero boom flourished, he was rapidly retooled as a full-fledged costumed do-gooder, debuting again mid-year (#35, cover-date September 1962) in ‘The Return of the Ant-Man’ by Lee, Lieber, Kirby & Ayers. The plot concerned a raid by Soviet agents (this was during the height of Marvel’s ‘Commie-Buster’ period when every other villain was a Red somebody or other and rampaging socialism was a cultural bête noir) with Pym imprisoned in his own lab. 

Forced to return to the abandoned shrinking gases and cybernetic devices he’d built to communicate with ants, Dr. Pym soundly trounced the spies and resolved to use his gifts for the good of Mankind. 

The same creative team produced the next four adventures, starting with ‘The Challenge of Comrade X!’ (TTA #36) as an infallible Soviet superspy was dispatched to destroy the Tiny Terror, after which Ant-Man was temporarily ‘Trapped by the Protector!’ – a cunning jewel-thief and extortionist who ultimately proved no match for the little wonder. 

‘Betrayed by the Ants!’ featured the debut of intellectual archfoe Egghead: a maverick and mercenary research scientist who attempted to usurp the hero’s control of insects whilst ‘The Vengeance of the Scarlet Beetle!’ saw a return to scary monster stories as a radioactively mutated, super-smart bug sought to eradicate humanity, with only Pym able to stop him… 

Sol Brodsky replaced Ayers as inker on ‘The Day that Ant-Man Failed!’ (TTA #40), with a deadly Hijacker robbing trucks and pushing the inventor to new heights of ingenuity, after which Kirby too moved on: his lavishly experimental perspectival flamboyance replaced by the comforting realism and enticing human scale of Don Heck who limned a classy alien invasion yarn in ‘Prisoner of the Slave World!’ before depicting a mesmerising menace who could control people with ‘The Voice of Doom’ (TTA #42). 

The following issue H. E. Huntley (AKA veteran writer/artist Ernie Hart) replaced Lieber as scripter with ‘Versus the Mad Master of Time’: a run-of-the-mill mad – or rather disgruntled and misguided – scientist yarn. The next issue (#44) saw Kirby return to pencil a significant change to the series…. 

‘The Creature from Kosmos’ (inked by Heck) introduced The Wasp – Pym’s bon vivant crime-fighting partner Janet Van Dyne – in a double-length tale featuring a murderous alien marauder who killed her father. There was even a fresh secret origin for Ant-Man: a rare and uncharacteristic display of depth revealing Pym was a widower. When his Hungarian wife Maria was murdered by Communist agents, it irrevocably changed a young scientist from a sedentary scholar into a driven man of action…. 

Ant-Man used his discoveries to endow Janet with the power to shrink and fly and she became his crime-fighting partner. Together they overcome ‘The Terrible Traps of Egghead’ (Lee, Huntley & Heck) before travelling to Greece to thwart another alien invasion ‘When Cyclops Walks the Earth!’ 

Back in the USA, the Diminutive Duo battle mystic trumpeter Trago in ‘Music to Scream By’ and defeat an avaricious weapons designer who builds himself a unique warsuit to become super-thief ‘The Porcupine!’: all serving as placeholders before the next big change came with Tales to Astonish #49’s ‘The Birth of Giant-Man!’. 

Lee scripted and Kirby pencilled how Pym learned to enlarge as well as reduce his size, just in time to tackle trans-dimensional kidnapper The Eraser. In the next issue Steve Ditko inked The King in ‘The Human Top’: first chapter of a continued tale which showed our hero struggling to adapt to his new strength and abilities. 

Concluding episode ‘Showdown with the Human Top!’ was inked by Ayers who would draw the bulk of the succeeding stories until the series’ demise. Also with this issue (TTA #51) back-up feature The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale began; blending sci-fi vignettes narrated by the heroine, fact-features and solo adventures. The first is space thriller ‘Somewhere Waits a Wobbow!’ by Lee, Lieber & George Roussos in Marvel mode as “George Bell”. 

The super-hero adventures settled into a predictable pattern from then on: individually effective enough but uninspired when read in quick succession. First up is a straight super-villain clash as ‘The Black Knight Strikes!’ (Lee & Ayers: TTA #52), supplemented by Wasp’s homily ‘Not What They Seem!’. Issue #53 led with another spectacular battle-bout ‘Trapped by the Porcupine!’ and finished with Wasp yarn ‘When Wakes the Colossus!’ (Lee, Lieber & Heck) before #54 found Heck briefly reinstated to illustrate the Crusading Couple’s catastrophic trip to South of the Border Santo Rico but finding ‘No Place to Hide!’ The taut tale of being trapped and powerless in a banana republic run by brutal commie agent El Toro was neatly counterbalanced by Wasp’s sci fi saga ‘Conquest!’ (Lee, Lieber & Brodsky). 

An implacable former foe defeated himself in ‘On the Trail of the Human Top!’ when the psychotic killer stole Giant-Man’s size changing pills in #55, following which Lee, Lieber & Bell produced Wasp’s tale of ‘The Gypsy’s Secret!’ 

A criminal stage conjuror was far more trouble than you’d suspect in ‘The Coming of The Magician!’: even successfully abducting the Wasp before his defeat, which she celebrated by regaling readers with tall tale ‘Beware the Bog Beast!’ (Lee, Lieber & Paul Reinman) after which #57 featured a major guest-star as the size-changing sweethearts set out ‘On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!’ courtesy of Lee, Ayers & Reinman, with Egghead waiting in the wings and pulling strings, before the Wasp actually enjoyed a complete solo adventure with ‘A Voice in the Dark!’ by Lee, Lieber & Chic Stone. 

These were not only signs of the increasing interconnectivity Lee was developing but also indicated the strip was losing impetus. In a market rapidly drowning in superheroes, Giant Man was not selling as well as he used to or should… 

Captain America cameo-ed in #58’s epic Africa-based battle with a giant alien in ‘The Coming of Colossus!’, supplemented by Wasp’s lone hand played against an old foe in ‘The Magician and the Maiden!’ 

The last tale in this collection and beginning of the end for Giant-Man came in Tales to Astonish #59 and ‘Enter: the Hulk!’ with the Avengers inadvertently prompting the Master of Many Sizes to hunt down the Green Goliath. Although Human Top orchestrated a blockbusting battle, Lee was the real mastermind since, with the next issue, The Hulk would co-star in his own series and on the covers whilst Giant-Man’s adventures shrank back to a dozen or so pages. Ten issues later Hank and Jan would retire, making way for amphibian antihero Namor, the Sub-Mariner… 

(Gi)-Ant-Man and the Wasp did not die, but instead joined a vast cast of characters Marvel kept in relatively constant play through team books, via guest shots and in occasional re-launches and mini-series. 

Despite variable quality and treatment, the eclectic, eccentric and always fun exploits of Marvel’s premier “odd couple” remain an intriguing and engaging reminder that the House of Ideas didn’t always get it right, but generally gave their all to entertaining their fans. 

Marvel Comics initially built its fervent fan base through strong and contemporarily relevant stories and striking art, but most importantly by creating a shared continuity that closely followed the characters through not just their own titles but also through the many guest appearances in other comics. Such an interweaving meant that even today completists and fans seek out extraneous stories to get a fuller picture of their favourite’s adventures. 

In such an environment, series like these Epic Collections are an economical and valuable commodity approaching the status of a public service for collectors.  

By turns superb, stupid, exciting and appalling, this Epic encounter epitomises the best and worst of Early Marvel (with the delightful far outweighing the duff). It certainly won’t appeal to everybody, but if you’re a Fights ‘n’ Tights fan with a forgiving nature or a movie-goer looking for extra input, the good stuff here will charm, amaze and enthral you whilst the rest could just be considered as a garish garnish providing added flavour…
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved. 

Thor vs. Hulk


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart,Bill Mantlo, Peter David, Erik Larsen, Jeph Loeb, Jeff Parker, Peter B. Gillis, Jim Shooter, Sal Buscema, M.C. Wyman, Angel Medina, Jorge Lucas, Ed McGuinness, Gabriel Hardman & Ron Wilson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8515-4 (TPB/Digital edition)

It bears repeating: on an inescapable primal level, comic books are all about one question; “who’s strongest/who would win if…?

The Incredible Hulk and Mighty Thor share their 60th anniversary this year, and whether in print, in animations or in blockbuster movies, that eternal question has been asked but never answered to anyone’s satisfaction whenever applied to the modern iteration of the age-old mythic war between gods and monsters.

Packed with potent past clashes from the very start, this titanic tome opens with an erudite Introduction from former editor Ralph Macchio (no, the other one) outlining the concussive delights that follow. Contained herein are bouts and sagas first seen in Avengers #3; Journey into Mystery #112; Sub-Mariner #35; Defenders #10; Incredible Hulk #255, 440; Thor #385, 489; Incredible Hulk Annual 2001; Hulk (2008) #5-6, 26; and What If? #45, spanning cover-dates January 1964 – December 2010, but there’s no time for nonsense or niceties as the action opens at full throttle with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Paul Reinman revealing how in Avengers #3 ‘The Avengers Meet… Sub-Mariner!’

The previous issue saw latent animosities between Iron Man, Giant-Man, Wasp, and Thor lead to the aggressively volatile Hulk quitting the team in disgust. He returned as an outright villain in partnership with the vengeful prince of devastated Atlantis in a globe-trotting romp delivering high-energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history as the assorted titans clashed in abandoned World War II tunnels beneath the Rock of Gibraltar. Naturally, there was no clear winner when Thunderer and Gamma Goliath briefly battled…

The true birth of this particular grudge match came via a potent flashback in Journey into Mystery #112 (January 1965) which gave the readers what they had been clamouring for with ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’: a glorious gift to all those fans who perpetually asking the question “who’s stronger…?”

Possibly Kirby & Chic Stone’s finest artistic moment, it detailed a private duel between the two super-humans appearing off-camera during the free-for-all between The Avengers, Sub-Mariner and the Jade Juggernaut.

Jumping to a new decade, we see the solitary green gargantuan reconsidering his position on teamwork as a 2-part tale heralded the formation of a new supergroup. The Defenders’ story officially begins with Sub-Mariner #34-35 (February & March 1971: with only the latter included here).

The Prince of Atlantis was an early advocate of the ecology movement, and here (rather fractiously) recruited Hulk and The Silver Surfer to help him destroy an American nuclear weather-control station. Concluding in ‘Confrontation’ (by Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney) the misunderstood trio battled a despotic dictator’s forces, the US Army, UN defence forces and the mighty Avengers to prevent the malfunctioning station from accidentally vaporising half the planet, offering the emerald berserker another shot at that long-haired upstart who claimed to be the strongest one there is…

When the Defenders formed, their clandestine nature and line up (avowed antisocial menaces Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Valkyrie and enigmatic Doctor Strange) allowed mystic villains Loki and Dormammu to foment a war between the non-team and The Avengers that became a classic crossover event when that was a rare thing…

It lead to ‘Breakthrough! in Defenders #10 (November 1973) as Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema & Frank Bolle lavished many pages on epic standoff ‘The Incredible Hulk Vs. Thor’ before the inevitable joining together of warring camps in ‘United We Stand!’ That’s a great story you will need to seek out elsewhere as here we’re all about the bash… no trouble…

Courtesy of Bill Mantlo & Sal B, Incredible Hulk #255 (January 1980) detailed Thunder Under the East River!’ as reasons for the inescapable rumble become harder to manufacture. Here, the monster’s meanderings in New York and innate simmering belligerence are sufficient to spark off another blockbusting brouhaha while Thor #385 (November 1987) saw Jim Shooter provide a plot for Stan Lee to script, while Erik Larsen & Vince Colletta handled all the bellicose pictorial breakages in another city-set smash-up in ‘Be Thou God or Monster!’

After Image Comics’ debut compelled the Big Two (that would be DC and Marvel) to chase their deconstructivist, edgy style in the mid-1990s, radically reimagined Hulk and Thor bouts took on added grit and grimness. The changes were first seen in Thor #489’s ‘Hel and High Water’ (August 1995 by Thomas, M. C. Wyman & Mike DeCarlo) as a Hulk with Banner’s intellect rescued the Thunderer from beyond Death’s grasp, yet still ended up trading blows, whilst Incredible Hulk #440 (April 1996) featured Peter David, Angel Medina & Robin Riggs’ ‘The Big Bang’ as Thor strove against evil Future Hulk The Maestro with the world at stake and the lethal Leader pulling the strings…

Harking back to glory days, Incredible Hulk Annual 2001 (by Larsen, Jorge Lucas, Al Milgrom, Al Vey & Greg Adams) pastiched and homaged classic Kirby Kaos in ‘The Hammer Strikes’ as Thor drags the Jade Juggernaut across time and space in an extended clash but finds nowhere where their struggle will not create carnage and catastrophe…

Years passed and it transpired that green was not the only gamma wavelength to bear bitter fruit…

Cover-dated October & November 2008 and crafted by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness, Mark Farmer & Dexter Vines, Hulk (volume 2) #5-6 detailed a no-holds barred battle between Thunder God and a ruthless Red Hulk (AKA General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross) in ‘Rolling Thunder’ before concluding with ‘Blood Red’ with the original Green Goliath and Avengers stepping in stop the carnage. Hulk #26 (December 2010, by Jeff Parker & Gabriel Hardman) then provides a notional rematch as prelude to cosmic shenanigans in ‘Scorched Earth Part II’…

Wrapping up the furious fisticuffs is an out of chronology tale from What If? #45 (June 1984) by Peter B. Gillis, Ron Wilson, Ian Akin & Brian Garvey, wherein Banner’s worst nightmare came true in ‘What If the Hulk Went Berserk?!’ Set in the early months after the Gamma bomb mutated the scientist, it thrillingly details the alternate Earth deaths of most of the budding Marvel Universe before Thor even arrives…

Adding to the beefy brilliance is a range of Classic Battles’ as depicted by Frenz & Milgrom (from Incredible Hulk #393), Arthur Adams & Laura Martin (Avengers Classic #3), Kirby, Reinman & Paul Mounts (Avengers Epic Collection #1) and John Romita Sr. & Richard Isanove (Avengers/Defenders War TPB), and cover sketches for (Red) Hulk #6 by Ed McGuinness.

Vivid, vibrant and valiantly irresistibly vicarious, these fabulous forays are primal yet perfect examples of superhero stories’ Prime Directive and deliver all the pictorial punch and panache any Fights ‘n’ Tights fiend could hope for.
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved