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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Until relatively recently American comics and especially Marvel had very little in the way of positive female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Although there was a woman starring in the very first comic of the Marvel Age, the Invisible Girl took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right – or even just be called “woman”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The company kept on plugging and eventually found the right mix at the right time with Ms. Marvel who launched in her own title cover-dated January 1977. She was followed by the equally copyright-protecting Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977, and securing her own title 15 months later) and Savage She-Hulk (#1, February 1980). She was supplemented by the music-biz sponsored Dazzler who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before inevitably graduating to her own book.

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

In that series the immensely competent Carol seemed stalled, perpetually investigating Mar-Vell’s assumed and tenuous cover-identity of Walter Lawson for months. This was until Danvers was caught up in a devastating battle between the now-defecting alien and his nemesis Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel #18 (November 1969).

Caught in a climactic explosion of alien technology, she pretty much vanished from sight until Gerry Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott revived her for ‘This Woman, This Warrior!’ (Ms. Marvel #1, January 1977) as a new chapter began for the company and the industry…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always entertaining, frequently groundbreaking and painfully patronising (occasionally at the same time), the early Ms. Marvel, against all odds, grew into the modern Marvel icon of capable womanhood we see today in both comics and on screen as Captain Marvel. These adventures are a valuable grounding of the contemporary champion but also still stand on their own as intriguing examples of the inevitable fall of even the staunchest of male bastions – superhero sagas…
© 1977, 1978, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 14


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 13


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

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

X-Men Epic Collection volume 3 1968-1970: The Sentinels Live


By Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Gary Friedrich, Dennis O’Neil, Linda Fite, Jerry Siegel, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Werner Roth, Don Heck, George Tuska, Barry Windsor-Smith, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1275-8 (TPB)

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

The core team still consisted of tragic Scott Summers/Cyclops, telepath and mind-reader Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast in training with Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound (and temporarily deceased) telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the gradually emerging race of mutant Homo Superior.

However, by the time of this massive full-colour paperback and digital tome (collecting issues #46-66 from July 1968 to February 1970) of the turbulent teens’ original series, plus material from Ka-Zar volume 1 #2-3 and Marvel Tales #31, despite some of the most impressive and influential stories and art of the decade, the writing was definitely on the wall for Marvel’s misunderstood mutants…

Following the supposed death of their mentor and founder the team was in for even greater heartache when ‘The End of the X-Men!’ (by Gary Friedrich, Werner Roth, Don Heck & John Tartaglione) was declared in issue #46, with the reading of Charles Xavier’s will.

Former government liaison FBI Agent Duncan reappeared and ordered the team to split-up: monitoring different parts of the country for mutant activity just as the unstoppable Juggernaut turned up once more…

The series was at that time offering ‘The Origins of the Uncanny X-Men’ in the back of each issue and Iceman’s past concludes here with ‘…And Then There were Two!’ (Friedrich, George Tuska & Tartaglione) as Cyclops rescues the kid from a human mob and recruits him to Xavier’s school…

Friedrich was joined by Arnold Drake to script Beast and Iceman’s adventure ‘The Warlock Wears Three Faces!’ wherein the ancient mutant once called Merlin once more re-branded himself: this time as the psychedelic guru Maha Yogi, whilst Drake, Roth & John Verpoorten explained the cool kid’s powers in the info feature ‘I, the Iceman.’

Drake penned the Cyclops and Marvel Girl tale ‘Beware Computo, Commander of the Robot Hive’; a fast-paced thriller with a surprise guest villain, whilst ‘Yours Truly the Beast’ wrong-footed everybody by explaining his powers before actually telling his origin epic.

X-Men #49 gave a tantalising taste of things to come with a startling and stylish Jim Steranko cover, behind which Drake, Heck, Roth & Tartaglione revealed ‘Who Dares Defy… the Demi-Men?’: nominally an Angel story, but one which reunited the team to confront the assembled mutant hordes of Mesmero and Iceman’s new girlfriend – the daughter of Magneto! This shocker was supplemented by Drake Roth & Verpoorten’s natal chapter ‘A Beast is Born.’

Drake, Steranko & Tartaglione reached astounding heights with the magnificent ‘City of Mutants’ in #50: a visual tour de force that remains as spectacular now it did in 1968, but which was actually surpassed by Magneto’s return as ‘The Devil had a Daughter’ in #51 before the saga concluded in a disappointing ‘Twilight of the Mutants!’

Don’t misunderstand me, however: This isn’t a bad story, but after two issues of Steranko in his creative prime, nobody could satisfactorily end this tale, and I pity Heck & Roth for having to try.

The pertinent Beast origin chapters in those issues were ‘This Boy, This Bombshell’; ‘The Lure of the Beast-Nappers!’ and ‘The Crimes of the Conquistador!’ and that particular epic of child exploitation and the isolation of being different ended in #53’s ‘Welcome to the Club, Beast!’ but that last issue’s main claim to fame was a lead feature drawn by another superstar in the making.

Hard to believe now, but in the 1960s, X-Men was a series in perpetual sales crises, and a lot of great talent was thrown at it back then. ‘The Rage of Blastaar!’ was illustrated by a young Barry Smith – still in his Kirby appreciation phase – and his unique interpretation of this off-beat battle-blockbuster from Drake, inked by the enigmatic Michael Dee, is memorable but regrettably brisk.

More mutant mayhem commences with ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive… Cyclops!’ (X-Men#54 by Drake, Heck & Vince Colletta), which introduces Scott’s kid brother Alex just in time for the lad to be kidnapped by Egyptian acolytes of The Living Pharaoh. It appears the boy has a hidden power the Pharaoh covets, necessitating framing the X-Men’s leader for murder…

At the back, ‘The Million Dollar Angel’ (Drake & Roth) began the tale of Warren Worthington III, precocious rich boy rushed off to prep school. When he grew wings, he hid them by making himself the most despised and lonely person on campus…

Roy Thomas returned as scripter for #55’s ‘The Living Pharaoh!’ (Heck, Roth & Colletta) which saw the full team follow the Summers brothers to the Valley of the Kings and soundly thrash the faux king’s minions, only to have the new mutant’s unsuspected power go wild. Meanwhile, in ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread!’ (Thomas, Roth & Sam Grainger) little Warren has left school and plans a superhero career until an atomic accident brings him into contact with a couple of kids code-named Cyclops and Iceman…

Nobody knew it at the time – and sales certainly didn’t reflect it – but with X-Men #56 superhero comics changed forever. Neal Adams had already stunned the comics buying public with his horror anthology work and revolutionary adventure art on Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow but here, with writer Thomas in iconoclastic form, they began expanding the horizons of graphic narrative with a succession of boldly innovative, tensely paranoid dramas pitting mutants against an increasingly hostile world.

Pitched at an older audience, the run of gripping, addictively beautiful epics captivated and enchanted a small band of amazed readers – and were completely ignored by the greater mass of the buying public. Without these tales the modern X-phenomenon could not have existed, but they couldn’t save the series from cancellation. The cruellest phrase in comics is “ahead of its time…”

Courtesy of Thomas, Adams & inker extraordinaire Tom Palmer, ‘What is… the Power?’ reveals the uncanny connection between Pharaoh and Alex Summers, and as the Egyptian mastermind transforms into a colossal Living Monolith, the terrified boy’s mutant energies are unleashed with catastrophic results. At the back, an unbalanced Angel had become ‘The Flying A-Bomb!’ but luckily is defused in time to become the newest X-Man…

Issue #57 revives the team’s most relentless adversaries in ‘The Sentinels Live!’, as a public witch-hunt prompts the mutant-hunting robots to capture X-Men across the globe. Amongst the first victims are magnetic Lorna Dane and Alex Summers, but the sinister cybernoids have their unblinking eyes set on all mutants…

That issue also offers a rundown on Marvel Girl’s abilities in the final back-up feature ‘The Female of the Species!’. From the next issue, Thomas & Adams would have all the pages to play with…

‘Mission: Murder!’ ramps up the tension as the toll of fallen mutants increases, with Iceman, the Pharaoh, Angel and Mesmero all falling to the murderous mechanoids, but when their human controller discovers an unsuspected secret the automatons strike out on their own…

With all other mutants in the Marvel universe captured, Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Beast are reduced to a suicidal frontal assault in ‘Do or Die, Baby!’: pulling off a spectacular victory, but only at great cost to Alex Summers, now known as Havok

Badly injured, Alex is brought to an old colleague of Professor Xavier’s named Karl Lykos – a discreet physician hiding a dark secret. ‘In the Shadow of Sauron!’ reveals that the not-so-good doctor had been bitten by Pterodactyls from the Antarctic Savage Land and become an energy vampire. Now, with a powerful mutant to feed on, his addiction fully manifests as Lykos transforms into a winged saurian with hypnotic powers, determined to sate himself on the other X-Men.

After a shattering struggle in ‘Monsters Also Weep!’ Lykos is defeated, instinctively flying South to the Savage Land. Drained of his power, he reverts to human form and when the X-Men track him down, the tormented leech chooses suicide rather than become Sauron once more…

Searching for his body, Angel is also attacked by Pteranodons and crashes to the bottom of a vast crevasse, precipitating the mutants into another primordial encounter with wild man Ka-Zar as ‘Strangers …in a Savage Land!’

Marooned once more in a lost world, Angel is healed by the enigmatic Creator: a wounded genius protecting the Savage Land’s mutant population with his own team of X-Men counterparts.

As his team-mates search for him, the Winged Wonder switches allegiance, unaware that his benefactor is actually the X-Men’s ultimate enemy…

‘War in the World Below!’ sees the villain’s plans revealed and finally thwarted by the heroes and Ka-Zar, leaving the returning team to tackle a controversial Japanese extremist in ‘The Coming of Sunfire!’ (#64, with stalwart Don Heck doing an impressive fill-in job for Adams) before the next issue revives the long-dead Professor Xavier – only to nearly kill him again in the Denny O’Neil scripted alien invasion yarn ‘Before I’d Be Slave…’: an astounding epic that ended Neal Adams’ artistic tenure in grand style.

The rapid staffing changes were hints of a bigger shake-up and with X-Men #66 (March 1970), despite all the frantic and radical innovations crafted by a succession of supremely talented creators, the series was at last cancelled. ‘The Mutants and the Monster’ by Thomas, Sal Buscema & Sam Grainger, is a potent swansong though, as the team hunt for Bruce Banner in an attempt to save Professor X from a coma induced by his psychic battle against the aliens.

Unfortunately, when you hunt Banner what you usually end up with is an irate Incredible Hulk

Although gone, the mutants were far from forgotten. The standard policy at that time to revive characters that had fallen was to pile on the guest-shots and reprints. X-Men #67 (December 1970) saw them return, re-presenting early classics and in that same month a 3-chapter miniseries began in the pages of Ka-Zar #2. Crafted by Jerry Siegel, Tuska & Dick Ayers, ‘From the Sky… Winged Wrath!’ focused on the Angel and his plutocratic home life, as his father is murdered by a super-scientific foe. Hungry for justice the enraged winged mutant quickly falls ‘…In the Den of the Dazzler!’ (Ka-Zar #3 March 1971), before gaining his revenge in concluding episode ‘To Cage an Angel!’ (from Marvel Tales #30, April 1971).

A hoard of graphic goodies packs out the bonus section here. As well as unused original Roth and Adams art, there is a gallery of original Heck, Steranko and Adams pages; 20 pages of colour Adams’ guides; covers and additional story pages by Mike Zeck & Palmer from 1980s Classic X-Men reprints plus cover art for Adams’ X-Men Visionaries volume, and previous collection covers painted and modified by Richard Isanove…

Although a little scrappy and none too cohesive, these disparate stories are wonderful comics sagas that were too radical for the readership of the times but have since been acknowledged as groundbreaking mini-masterpieces that reshaped the way we tell stories to this day.

These tales perfectly display Marvel’s evolution from quirky action romps to more fraught, breast-beating, convoluted melodramas that inexorably led to the monolithic X-brand of today. Well drawn, highly readable stories are never unwelcome or out of favour, and it should be remembered that everything here informs so very much of today’s mutant mythology. Everyone should own this book.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 2019 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Black Panther Epic Collection volume 2 1977-1988: Revenge of the Black Panther


By Jack Kirby, Ed Hannigan, Peter B. Gillis, Jim Shooter, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Jerry Bingham, Denys Cowan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1542-1 (TPB)

Acclaimed as the first black superhero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since he first appeared in Fantastic Four. In fact, back then the cat king actually attacked Marvel’s First Family as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father. He was also the first black superhero in American comics, debuting in summer 1966.

As created and realised by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee, T’Challa, son of T’Chaka, is an African monarch whose secretive kingdom is the only source of vibration-absorbing wonder mineral Vibranium. The miraculous alien metal – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in lost antiquity – is the basis of the country’s immense wealth, enabling Wakanda to become one of the wealthiest and most secretive nations on Earth. These riches allowed the young king to radically remake his country, creating a technological wonderland even after he left Africa to fight as one of America’s mighty Avengers.

For much of its history Wakanda has been an isolated, utopian technological wonderland with the tribal resources and people safeguarded and ruled since time immemorial by a human warrior-king deriving cat-like physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb. This has ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s Panther Cult and Royal Family.

Wakanda has never been conquered by outsiders. The primary reason is an unbroken line of divinely-sponsored warrior kings who safeguard the united, unified tribes. Another is that miraculous super-mineral found nowhere else on Earth. The top-secret “Vibranium mound” had guaranteed the country’s status as a clandestine superpower for centuries but in modern times has increasingly made Wakanda a target for subversion, incursion and even invasion as the world grew ever smaller…

In contemporary times the chieftain is T’Challa: an unbeatable, super-smart, feline-empowered strategic genius who divides his time between ruling at home and serving abroad in superhero teams such as The Avengers, Fantastic Force, The Illuminati and The Ultimates, beside the world’s mightiest costumed champions.

This trusty trade paperback (and eBook) gathers the entire blockbusting, mind-bending reinvention by Jack Kirby and others from Black Panther volume 1 # 1-15 (January 1977-May 1979), the continuation in Marvel Premiere #51-53 (cover-dated December 1979 to April 1980), material from Marvel Team-up #100 (December 1980) and a groundbreaking, 4-issue miniseries spanning July to October 1988.

Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel in the mid 1970’s was much hyped at the time but swiftly proved to be controversial. His new creations (2001, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man) found friends rapidly, but his tenure on established earlier creations Captain America and Black Panther divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on titles as a “Day One”. His commitment was to wholesome, eye-popping adventure, breakneck action and breathless, mind-boggling wonderment. Combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, it all makes for a captivating read, but will never satisfy those readers fully committed to the minutiae of the Marvel Universe.

Beginning here with Black Panther #1, what they got was a rollercoaster ride of classic Kirby concept-overload as the Hereditary King of a miraculous Lost Kingdom gallantly pursues fabulous time machines, fights future men and secret samurai clans, thwarts the plots of super-rich artefact stealers and foils schemes to nuke his hidden homeland, usurp his rule and even consume his faithful subjects…

This feline funfest is about frantic action and begins at full pelt with a re-introductory romp spotlighting diminutive treasure hunter Abner Little. This devious gentleman entices T’Challa into a search for ‘King Solomon’s Frog!’ after introducing himself as a friend and colleague of the Panther’s grandfather Azzari the Wise

Soon, the mismatched pair are in hot pursuit of a historical wonder machine that sows death and destruction in its wake. The ancient brass amphibian has the ability to open time-portals, bringing lethal threats from other eras, but its real capacity for catastrophe comes from Little’s rival Collectors, who bring astounding ordnance and unsurpassed riches into play in their own efforts to possess the mystic time-machine.

Most ruthless and relentless is Queen Zanda of Narobia, who expertly ambushes the questers with a highly-skilled mercenary taskforce before accidentally triggering the frog into shanghaiing a hyper-evolved walking WMD from his own far-flung future era. She also assures T’Challa’s continued assistance by targeting Wakanda with atomic missiles…

Reluctantly uniting to sedate ‘The Six-Million Year Man’, T’Challa, Little and Zanda then race to uncover King Solomon’s tomb where a twin of the Brass Frog rests. This particular item possesses the most welcome function of returning objects and creatures to their point of origin…

Their ‘Race Against Time’ is exacerbated when the groggy tomorrow-man revives just as the searchers locate the tomb. He angrily unleashes psionic hell and awakens King Solomon’s formidable funereal guardian Ogar. Thankfully, reluctant teamwork saves them and the newly-found second frog restores order, if not sanity…

Tragically for the tomb-raiders, the time to determine if they are ‘Friends or Foes’ swiftly passes, since the calamitous clashes have destabilised the long-lost treasury trove. With mighty explosions wracking the site, it is all T’Challa can do to drag his artefact-lusting companions to safety before Armageddon occurs…

Unfortunately for the Panther, he has proved his worth and – with Wakanda still a nuclear target – ultimate ineffectuality. When the assembled Collectors – Zanda, Count Zorba, Colonel Pigman and withered coffin-dodger Silas Mourner – see the warrior king in battle, they determine he must win for them the ultimate prize…

The ‘Quest for the Sacred Water-Skin!!’ begins as T’Challa and equally reluctant Abner Little set off to find a fabled hidden land where a sect of Samurai warriors have dwelt for centuries; sustained by honour, their martial arts and a literal fountain of youth.

Overcoming monsters and warriors, T’Challa establishes a bond of honour with the last proponents of Bushido, but sadly his venal companion upsets the applecart by secretly stealing A Cup of Youth’

Meanwhile in Wakanda, internal trouble flares when the Panther’s half-brother General Jakarra makes a power-grab, bolstered by a sacrilegious utilisation of unrefined vibranium…

Black Panther #7 sees the hero and his scurrilous sidekick escape the Samurai city even as ‘Drums!’ sound across Wakanda and the incredible secret origin of Panther Cult and Vibranium Mound are simultaneously revealed.

When the awesome sky metal first crashed to Earth in primordial times, it transformed many men into monsters. Thankfully mighty chief Bashenga – taking the black cat as his totem – created a force to destroy the creatures and police the metal: preventing alien infection from spreading and forever after shielding his people through a line of dedicated defenders.

As his latest successor heads for a final confrontation with the Collectors, King T’Challa has no way of knowing his devoted regent N’Gassi has been captured or that Jakarra has gained deadly power through exposure to the gene-warping force of raw Vibranium…

Having battled his way free, T’Challa heads for home. His people, however, are already suffering the increasingly crazed depredations of a Jakarra no longer even remotely human.

Further delayed by a mercy mission – plucking dying men from the sea – the king bemoans his absence whilst half a world away, N’Gassi takes a desperate gamble and “requests” that the sedentary royal cousins – Ishanta, Joshua Itobo, Khanata and Zuni – step up to lead the fight against Jakarra. But are they ‘Panthers or Pussycats?’

Surprising everybody with a show of solidarity and unconventional tactics, the ‘Black Musketeers’ manage to contain the monstrous usurper until T’Challa returns, but his arrival coincides with the loss of Jakarra’s last vestige of humanity. Now a shambling beast resolvs that ‘This World Shall Die!’ in an Earth-shattering detonation. The horrific abomination is barely defeated inside the Mound by a true Black Panther who does not escape the mineral’s mutagenic properties…

Issue #11 finds T’Challa recovering from his struggle against Jakarra and plagued by eerie recurring dreams of future battles. As citizens begin vanishing all over Wakanda – including Prince Khanata – the medical team reaches the conclusion that the king has developed some form of Extra-Sensory Perception.

This new gift – or perhaps curse? – promptly leads the Panther to the abductors’ HQ where phantasmal madman ‘Kiber the Cruel’ is converting abducted humans to energy and consuming them…

Following ‘The Kiber Clue’, T’Challa strives mightily to save his kinsman and subjects, but arrives too late for anything but vengeance…

As Jim Shooter, Ed Hannigan, Jerry Bingham & Gene Day take over from the abruptly departed Kirby, the saga swiftly wraps up with the true nature of Kiber grotesquely exposed and the Panther’s judgement delivered in #13’s ‘What is… and What Should Never Be’

With Hannigan scripting, the Black Panther rapidly re-entered the mainstream Marvel universe in ‘The Beasts in the Jungle!’ (#14 March 1979): opening Wakanda’s first Embassy in New York City, applying to the United Nations and rejoining his former allies in the Avengers.

All too soon smothered in red tape and diplomatic hurdles, T’Challa welcomes working with his superhero guests but is quickly embroiled in a deadly scheme by old enemy Klaw, the Master of Sound, and blithely unaware that other relationships are about to be renewed…

After the resurgent villain battles the World’s Mightiest Heroes to a standstill, T’Challa manages to inflict the ‘Revenge of The Black Panther!’ in the final issue (May 1979), yet leaves everything on a cliffhanging note as former lover and consort Monica Lynne breaks into the Wakandan Embassy…

When Kirby took over the character, Black Panther had just ended a highly-acclaimed run in Jungle Action. Following the epic ‘Panther’s Rage’ saga, scripter Don McGregor began an even more groundbreaking saga in ‘The Panther Versus the Klan’.

That convoluted yarn had been abruptly cancelled before conclusion the previous year, but the contents of Marvel Premiere#51-53 provided an ending to the Klan clash as well as an acceptable in-universe explanation as to why wise and noble T’Challa abruptly dropped his hunt for answers and abandoned his adored beloved Monica

Opening minutes after Black Panther #15 finished, ‘The Killing of Windeagle!’ sees T’Challa arriving back at his new American Embassy, only to be attacked by an unknown flying warrior who claims to be an old foe.

After subduing the assailant, the King experiences even more turmoil as Lynne and Georgia journalist Kevin Trublood accost him. Although his staff all seem familiar with the woman, T’Challa has no memory of either of them…

Granting an audience with the couple, the Panther hears how Monica’s sister Angela was murdered, and how the death seemed to involve both the Ku Klux Klan and rival offshoot the Dragon’s Circle. As he listens, T’Challa hears that for a time he was the prime investigator of the murder, but his mind is clouded and he recalls none of it. Suddenly Windeagle attacks again, but as the Panther fights back his opponent is assassinated by a sniper…

Working with the police, T’Challa uncovers the sordid history of a petty gangster who somehow became a flying fury and establishes links to yet another organisation: The Spiritual Light Society. At every turn, events seem to be pushing him towards one inescapable conclusion: Monica’s ridiculous, unbelievable story is true and someone has tampered with his mind and memory…

When they are ambushed again by armed thugs – later identified as Klansmen – their spirited resistance is supplemented by more sniper fire and the Panther’s ‘Journey Through the Past!’ impels him to invade a Klan gathering. This conclave is subsequently violently disrupted by a costumed maniac called Soul Strangler

Despite not remembering, the Panther believes he’s deduced the nature of the contemporary civil war between KKK and Dragon’s circle, and more importantly, who killed Angela. With resignation and trepidation, T’Challa, Kevin and Monica head for a showdown in the Deep South…

Inked by Alan Gordon, Marvel Premiere #53 delivered ‘The Ending, In Anger!’ as T’Challa visits Monica’s family home and the dam in his memory finally shatters. Acting with clarity at last, the Black Panther tracks down the villains who captured and brainwashed him during his previous visit, exposes a tawdry truth behind all the death and intimidation and brings a kind of closure to all the innocents touched by the tragedy…

With the major story-arcs at last concluded it was back to relative obscurity and bit-parts for the Panther, with the exception of a short tale that would have huge repercussions on the hero’s life in the future.

‘Cry… Vengeance!’, by Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Bob McLeod, first appeared in Marvel Team-Up #100 and saw African X-Man Storm targeted by assassins. Easily defeating her attackers, she learns they were hired by Boer hardman Andreas de Ruyter

This sends her mind winging back to her childhood journey across Africa as teenager: an arduous trek made easier after she linked up with a young boy on his own rite of passage ritual. His name was T’Challa and she learned that he was a prince only after South African mercenaries led by de Ruyter tried to kidnap the boy for political advantage.

After driving the thugs off, the youngsters spent a brief but idyllic time together before their paths diverged and duty pulled them apart.

Decades later, the villain is back and seeking vengeance, so Ororo reunites with the boy the world now calls Black Panther to end the maniac’s threat forever…

As the 1980s closed, the Panther made a dynamic comeback in 1988, courtesy of writer Peter B. Gillis and illustrators Denys Cowan & Sam DeLarosa…

The Black Panthers rule over a fantastic African paradise which isolated itself from the rest of the world millennia ago. Blessed with unimaginable resources – both natural and not so much – the nation of Wakanda developed uninterrupted into the most technologically advanced human nation on Earth, utterly unmolested by rapacious European imperialism. That did not mean that geographical neighbours were allies, however…

In ‘Cry, the Accursed Country!’ technologically-advanced white nationalist country Azania has subjugated and tormented its own black majority population for centuries whilst plotting the downfall of Wakanda. As global condemnation of the apartheid regime mounts, T’Challa learns that the Panther God has withdrawn his blessing and instead consecrated and empowered an imprisoned priest in Azania as a new Black Panther. When this savage avatar begins inflicting bloody retribution on the ruling class, the Azanians blame Wakanda…

Deprived of his feline gifts and herding war-hungry dissidents in his own nation, T’Challa faces a crisis of confidence – and faith – in ‘For Duty, For Honor, For Country!’ which is no help when Azania targets Wakanda with its own team of super-agents: The Supremacists

Soon T’Challa’s people face international condemnation and nuclear Armageddon after ‘The Moorbecx Communique!’ adds layers of espionage to the escalating crisis, compelling the outcast king to risk his principles and challenge his god to regain his birthright in ‘A Cat Can Look at a King…’

Most tragically, the Panther must defeat his dark mirror image and knows that win or lose, nothing will ever be the same again…

This collection is also augmented by Kirby-era Editorial pages, house ads, a potted history of the Black Panther from #14, the Rich Buckler & McLeod cover to the never-released BP #16 and unused Bingham pencil pages. Also on show, are info pages and maps of Wakanda from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, featuring T’Challa, Klaw, Klaw’s Blaster, Vibranium, and Kiber the Cruel.

There are also text features from Marvel Age #20 and #63; covering the much-delayed Gillis/Cowan revival, plus a pinup by Bill Reinhold, and Kirby/Ernie Chan and Al Milgrom/Klaus Janson original art pages as well as unused Bingham pencils to feast your eyes upon…

An explosive rocket ride of thrills, spills, chills and too-long delayed gratification, these long-lost classics confirm the Black Panther as one of the most complex and versatile characters in comics and simply scream “Read me! Read me!” So you should and you must…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1988, 2019 Marvel. All rights reserved.

Invincible Iron Man Epic Collection volume 3 1968-1970: The Man Who Killed Tony Stark


By Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Johnny Craig & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1630-5 (TPB)

Marvel’s rise to dominance of the American comicbook industry really took hold in 1968 when most of their characters finally got their own titles. Prior to that – and due to a highly restrictive distribution deal – the company was contractually tied to a limit of 16 publications per month.

To circumvent this drawback, Marvel developed “split-books” with two solo features per publication, such as Tales of Suspense wherein Iron Man was joined by Captain America with #59 (cover-dated November 1964).

When the division came, the armoured Avenger started afresh with a “Collectors’ Item First Issue” – after a shared one-shot with the Sub-Mariner that rationalised divergent schedules – with Cap retaining the numbering of the original title: thus his “premiering” in number #100, while the Steel-Shod Avenger got a first issue at last….

Tony Stark is the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous millionaire-industrialist and inventor. He is also a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the ultra high-tech armour of his alter-ego, Iron Man.

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions (just like now), the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard and better the World, seemed inevitable.

Combine the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and commerce could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil and the concept behind the Golden Avenger seems an infallibly successful proposition. Of course, it helps that all that money and gadgetry is great fun and very, very cool…

With an Iron Clad promise of stunning adventure and suspenseful drama, this iconic trade paperback (and digital) chronological compendium covers Iron Man #2-24, spanning June 1968 – April 1970, and features a creative dream sequence as master scripter Archie Goodwin worked with EC legend Johnny Craig and Golden Age veteran George Tuska.

A bold new era began with Invincible Iron Man #2. Long-established illustrator Gene Colan had moved on and, with ‘The Day of the Demolisher!’, the slick understated mastery of Craig adds a sheen of terrifying authenticity to proceedings. His first job was a cracker, since Goodwin introduces Janice Cord as a new romantic interest for the playboy inventor. The problem thwarting true love is a monolithic killer robot built by her deranged father and the start of a running plot-thread examining the effects of the munitions business and the nature of those inventors who work for it…

Goodwin & Craig then bring back Stark’s old bodyguard Happy Hogan to help rebuild the now-obsolete Iron Man armour before consequently devolving him back into a monstrous super-strong menace in ‘My Friend, My Foe… the Freak!’ for #3; surpassing themselves one issue later by retooling a long-forgotten Soviet super-villain into a major threat in ‘Unconquered is the Unicorn!’

This particular ultra-enhanced maniac is dying from his own powers and believes Tony would be able – if not initially willing – to fix him…

With Iron Man #5, another venerated veteran from the industry’s dawn joined the creative team. George Tuska – who had worked on huge hits such as the original (Fawcett) Captain Marvel and Crime Does Not Pay, plus newspaper strips such as The Spirit and Buck Rogers – would illustrate the majority of Iron Man’s adventures over the decade and become synonymous with the Armoured Avenger…

With Craig adding his solid dependable inks, ‘Frenzy in a Far-Flung Future!’ is an intriguing time-paradox tale wherein Stark is kidnapped by the last survivors of humanity. They are determined to kill him before he can build the super-computer that eradicated mankind. Did somebody say “Terminator”…?

A super-dense (by which I mean strong and heavy) Cuban Commie threat then returned – but not for long – in ‘Vengeance… Cries the Crusher!’

Next, a sinister scheme started way back in Tales of Suspense #97 finally bears brutal – and for preppie S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell (assigned as Stark’s security advisor) – painful fruit in 2-part thriller ‘The Maggia Strikes!’ and ‘A Duel Must End!’, as old Daredevil foe the Gladiator leads a savage attack on Stark’s factory, friends and would-be new love…

The saga also reveals the tragic history of mystery woman Whitney Frost and lays the seeds of her evolution into one of Iron Man’s most implacable foes…

A daring 3-part saga follows as ultimate oriental arch-fiend The Mandarin resurfaces with a cunning plan and the certain conviction that Stark and Iron Man are the same person… Beginning with an apparent Incredible Hulk guest-shot in #9’s ‘…There Lives a Green Goliath!’ and proceeding through the revelatory and explosive Nick Fury team-up ‘Once More… The Mandarin!’, the epic climaxes in spectacular “saves-the-day” fashion as our hero is ‘Unmasked!’

This epic from Goodwin, Tuska & Craig offers astounding thrills and potent drama with plenty of devious twists, just as the first inklings of the social upheaval America was experiencing began to seep into Marvel’s publications.

As the core audience started to grow into the Flower Power generation, future tales would take arch-capitalist weapon-smith Stark in many unexpected and often peculiar directions. All of a sudden maybe that money and fancy gadgetry weren’t quite so fun or cool anymore…?

The sterling run of science-flavoured dramas resumes with the introduction of a new sinister super-foe in #12 as ‘The Coming of the Controller’ sees a twisted genius using the stolen life-energy of enslaved citizens to power a cybernetic exo-skeleton.

Along the way, he and his brother embezzle the fortune of Stark’s girlfriend Janice Cord to pay for it all. Of course, Iron Man is ready and able to overcome the scheming maniac, tensely culminating in cataclysmic clash ‘Captives of the Controller!’, wherein the mind-bending terror attempts to extend his mesmeric, parasitic sway over the entire populace of New York City…

IM#14 revealed that ‘The Night Phantom Walks!’, with Goodwin craftily paying tribute to Craig’s past history drawing EC’s landmark horror comics. Here the artist pencilled and inked the story of a zombie-monster prowling a Caribbean island and destroying Stark Industry installations. As well as being a terse, moody thriller, this story marks the first indications of a different attitude, as the menace’s ecologically-inspired reign of terror includes some pretty fair arguments about the downsides of “Progress” and rapacious globalisation…

With Craig again inking, Tuska returned with #15 and ‘Said the Unicorn to the Ghost…!’ The demented former superspy allies himself with Fantastic Four foe Red Ghost in a desperate last-ditch bid to find a remedy for his drastically shortened life-span.

Attempting to kidnap Stark, the Ghost betrays the Unicorn and retrenches to an African Cosmic Ray research facility in concluding instalment ‘Of Beasts and Men!’, where it takes a fraught alliance of hero and villain to thwart the phantom mastermind’s ill-conceived plans…

A suspenseful extended epic kicked off in Iron Man #17 when an advanced android designed to protect Stark’s secret identity achieves sinister sentience and sneakily replaces him.

‘The Beginning of the End!’ also introduces enigmatic Madame Masque and her malevolent master Midas, who plans to take control of America’s greatest technology company…

Dispossessed and on the run, Stark is abducted and reluctantly aligns with Masque and Midas to reclaim his identity, only to suffer a fatal heart attack in ‘Even Heroes Die!’ (guest-starring the Avengers), before a ground-breaking transplant – still practically science fiction in those distant days – gives him renewed hope in ‘What Price Life?’

When the ruthlessly opportunistic Midas instantly strikes again, the mysterious Madame Masque switches sides and all hell breaks loose…

The X-Men’s dimensionally displaced alien nemesis attacks the restored and recuperating hero in ‘Who Serves Lucifer?’ (inked by Joe Gaudioso – AKA moonlighting Mike Esposito) before being rudely returned to his personal dungeon dimension, after which African-American boxer Eddie March briefly becomes a new Iron Man in #21’s ‘The Replacement!’ Stark – free from the heart-stimulating chest-plate which had preserved his life for years – is understandably tempted into a life without strife, but unfortunately, and unknown to all, Eddie has a little health problem of his own…

When Soviet-sponsored armoured archenemy Titanium Man resurfaces, it’s in conjunction – if not union – with another former Cold War warrior in the form of a newly-upgraded Crimson Dynamo in #22’s chilling classic confrontation ‘From this Conflict… Death!’

With a loved one murdered, vengeance-crazed Iron Man goes ballistic in innovative action-thriller ‘The Man Who Killed Tony Stark!!’ before ultimately finding solace in the open arms of Madame Masque.

Ending this compilation in classic style, Johnny Craig returns to fully illustrate a superb mythological monster-mash in ‘My Son… The Minotaur!’

The galvanised wonderment is supplemented with a sublime selection of Tuska and Craig original art pages and covers to wrap up this collection with the Golden Gladiator being politically repositioned at a time when Marvel solidly set itself up at the vanguard of a rapidly changing America increasingly at war with itself – so, no change there then…

This is a fantastic period in the Golden Gladiator’s career and one that perfectly encapsulates the changes Marvel and America went through: seen through some of the best and most memorable efforts of a simply stellar band of creators.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 2019 Marvel. All rights reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 12


By Steve Englehart, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5879-0 (HB)

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

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

The everchanging roster proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket can pay off big-time. Even when all Marvel Royalty such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, there’s no detriment: it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, the founding stars are never away for too long due to a rotating, open door policy ensuring most issues include somebody’s fave-rave.

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

This stunning hardcover compilation – also available in eBook iterations – assembles Avengers #112-119, plus crucial crossover episodes from Defenders #8-11: collectively covering June 1973 to January 1974 and celebrating the beginning of an era of cosmic catastrophe and cataclysmically captivating creative cross-pollination…

This bombastic tome commences with Avengers #112 in ‘The Lion God Lives!’ (illustrated by Don Heck & Frank Bolle) wherein a rival African deity returns to destroy the human avatar of the Panther God. As the Black Panther and his valiant comrades tackle that threat, in the wings an erstwhile ally and enemy and his exotic paramour made their own plans for the team…)

Unreasoning prejudice informed #113’s ‘Your Young Men Shall Slay Visions!’ (Bob Brown & Bolle) as a horde of fundamentalist bigots – offended by the “unnatural” love between Wanda, the mutant Scarlet Witch and the Vision – turn themselves into human bombs to destroy the sinful, unholy couple. Soon after, ‘Night of the Swordsman’ in #114 (Brown & Esposito) formally introduces the reformed swashbuckler and his enigmatic psychic martial artist paramour Mantis to the team… just in time to thwart the Lion God’s latest scheme.

In 1973 wunderkind scripter Steve Englehart (who provides a context-enhancing Introduction in this collected volume) was writing both Avengers and Defenders (as well as Doctor Strange, the Hulk and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire) and, yearning for the days of DC’s summer blockbuster annual events, decided to attempt his own massive multi-player epic.

Bravely given the editorial go-ahead at a time when deadline crunches regularly interrupted ongoing storylines, the author and his regular pencillers Sal Buscema and Bob Brown laid their plans…

Threads had been planted as early as Defenders #4 with Englehart carefully putting players in place for a hugely ambitious cross-over experiment: one that would turn the comics industry on its head.

For kids – of any and all ages – there is a simply primal fascination with brute strength and feeling dangerous, which surely goes some way towards explaining the perennial interest in angry tough guys who break stuff and as best exemplified by Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner and the Incredible Hulk. When you add the mystery and magic of Doctor Strange the recipe for thrills, spills and chills becomes simply irresistible…

Last of the big star-name conglomerate super-groups, the Defenders would eventually number amongst its membership almost every hero – and some few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No surprise there then since the initial line was composed of the company’s major league bad-boys: misunderstood, outcast and often actually dangerous to know. For Marvel in the 1970s, the outsider super-group must have seemed a conceptual inevitability – once they’d finally published it.

Apart from Spider-Man and Daredevil, all their heroes regularly teamed up in various mob-handed assemblages, and in the wake of the Defenders’ success even more super-teams featuring pre-existing characters would be packaged: The Champions, Invaders, New Warriors, Inhumans, Guardians of the Galaxy and so on… but never again with so many Very Big Guns…

The genesis of the team in fact derived from their status as publicly distrusted “villains”, and they never achieved the “in-continuity” fame or acceptance of other teams, but that simply seemed to leave the creators open to taking a few chances and playing the occasional narrative wild card.

After earthly madwoman Barbara Norris was cursed by amoral Asgardian Amora the Enchantress, the human was transformed into an incarnation of old Avengers enemy Valkyrie. The denouement of the tale also left part-time Avenger and Defender the Black Knight an ensorcelled, immobile stone statue. As Strange and Co. searched for a cure, aided by the Silver Surfer and tempestuous Hawkeye (another ex-Assembler looking to forge a solo career), they all fell into a subtle scheme orchestrated by two of the greatest forces of evil in all creation….

The classic confrontation finally commenced in Avengers #115 with lead story ‘Below Us the Battle!’ (Brown & Esposito) wherein the still-understaffed heroes travel to England and the castle of the Black Knight, only to encounter mystic resistance, a troglodytic race of scavengers and a comrade long missing…

The issue also contained a brief prologue at the end. ‘Alliance Most Foul!’ reveals other-dimensional Dark Lord Dormammu and Asgardian god of Evil Loki allying to secure an ultimate weapon which will give them ultimate victory against all their foes. This despotic duo plan a false flag operation to deceive the Defenders into securing the six component parts: surreptitiously “revealing” that the reconstructed Evil Eye can de-petrify and restore the Black Knight – a plan that opens with a similar prologue at the end of Defenders #8…

‘Deception’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Esposito) is the first chapter in ‘The Avengers/Defenders Clash’, disclosing how a mystic SOS from the spirit of the Black Knight is intercepted by the twin gods of evil, leading directly to ‘Betrayal!’ in Avengers #116, wherein the World’s Mightiest Heroes, hunting for their missing comrade, “discover” their oldest enemies Hulk and Sub-Mariner may have turned Black Knight to stone…

This and third chapter ‘Silver Surfer Vs. the Vision and the Scarlet Witch’ see the rival teams split up: one to gather the scattered sections of the Eye and the other to stop them at all costs…

Defenders #9 (with Sal Buscema & Frank McLaughlin art) begins with tense recap ‘Divide …and Conquer’ before ‘The Invincible Iron Man Vs. Hawkeye the Archer’ and ‘Dr. Strange Vs. the Black Panther and Mantis’ sheds more suspicion and doubt on the vile villains’ subtle master-plan…

In Avengers #117, ‘Holocaust’, ‘Swordsman Vs. the Valkyrie’ and crucial turning point ‘Captain America Vs. Sub-Mariner’ (all illustrated by Brown & Esposito) lead to the penultimate duel in Defenders #10 (Sal Buscema & Bolle) in ‘Breakthrough! The Incredible Hulk Vs. Thor’ and the inevitable joining together of the warring camps in ‘United We Stand!’. Tragically, understanding comes too late as Dormammu seizes the reconstructed Evil Eye and uses its power to merge his entire dimensional realm with Earth’s.

Avengers #118 delivers the cathartic, climactic conclusion in ‘To the Death’ (Brown, Esposito & Frank Giacoia) wherein all the heroes of the Marvel Universe resist demonic invasion on hideously mutated home soil whilst Avengers and Defenders plunge deep into the Dark Dimension itself to end forever the threat of the evil gods (well, for the moment, at least…).

With the overwhelming cosmic threat quelled, the victorious Defenders attempt to use the Eye to cure their petrified comrade, only to discover that his spirit has found a new home in the time of the Crusades.

In #11’s ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight’ (Sal B & Bolle), the group battle 12th century black magic, fail to retrieve the Knight and acrimoniously go their separate ways – as did overworked scripter Englehart, who dropped the “non-team” to concentrate on “The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes”…

Those never-ending struggles resume and the adventuring pauses after a delightfully traditional spooky Halloween tale as the Avengers – warned by clairvoyant vision from enigmatic Mantis – head once more to Rutland, Vermont for the ‘Night of the Collector’ (#119, by Brown & Heck): encountering old friends, a dastardly and determined foe, blistering action, staggering suspense and blistering battle…

As if extra enticements be needed, also included in this compendium are pages and pin-ups from company fanzine F.O.O.M. (#5, 6, 7: Mantis by John Byrne & Duffy Vohland, Jarvis by Marie Severin and a bombastic team shot by John and Sal Buscema), plus house ads for Avengers #116, previous collection covers from Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino & Ang Tsang, John Romita & Richard Isanove and original art pages by Brown & Esposito and #119’s Romita cover.

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

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right and also a pivotal step transforming the little company into today’s multinational corporate colossus. Best of all, Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new acme of cosmic adventure…
© 1973, 1974, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Steve Englehart, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Sam Kweskin, Rich Buckler, Jim Starlin, Bob Brown & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9917-5 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and a living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. He fought gangsters, a variety of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion. He quipped and wise-cracked his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody, quasi-religious metaphor he latterly became.

After spending years in a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page, Murdock took up with former client and Russian émigré Natasha Romanoff, the infamous and notorious spy dubbed The Black Widow.

She was railroaded and framed for murder and prosecuted by Matt’s best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson before the blind legal eagle cleared her. Subsequently leaving New York with her for the wild wacky and West Coast, Matt joined prestigious law firm Broderick & Sloan but adventure, disaster and intrigue seemed capable of finding the Sightless Swashbuckler anywhere…

In these tales from the pivotal era of relevancy, social awareness and increasing political polarisation, the Man Without Fear was also growing into the judicial conscience of a generation…

This dynamic collection (available in sturdy hardback and handy digital formats) re-presents Daredevil #97-107, covering March 1973-January 1974 and also includes Avengers #111, wherein twin storylines converged and concluded.

The Marvel Magic recommences following an overview from commentator, biographer and documentarian Jon B. Cooke whose Introduction ‘Look Back in Angar’ adds crucial context to the rapid turnover of creative staff at this juncture.

With DD and the Widow firmly ensconced in San Francisco, Steve Gerber took over scripting with DD #97 (from Conway’s plots and illustrated by Gene Colan & inker Ernie Chan/Chua) for ‘He Who Saves’ as a street acrobat suffers a calamitous accident and is subsequently mutated by sinister hidden forces into proto-godling the Dark Messiah.

The already unstoppable Agent of Change is joined by three equally awesome Disciples of Doom in #98’s on the streets in ‘Let There be… Death!’, but even though physically overmatched, the heroic couple’s psychological warfare proves fatally effective in ending the crisis, if not ferreting out the real villains…

Daredevil and the Black Widow #99 featured ‘The Mark of Hawkeye!’ by now-autonomous Gerber, with Sam Kweskin & Syd Shores providing the pictures, which finds Natasha Romanoff’s old boyfriend turning up determined to reclaim her…

The caveman tactics lead to the Archer’s sound and well-deserved thrashing and result in a quick jump into Avengers #111. Crafted by Steve Englehart, Don Heck & Mike Esposito, ‘With Two Beside Them!’ sees the West Coast vigilantes join a ragtag and much-depleted team of heroes to rescue a number of X-Men and Avengers enslaved by the malevolent Magneto.

Dumped by Natasha and returning alone to the City by the Bay and for his anniversary issue, Daredevil agonisingly relives his origins and danger-drenched life in ‘Mind Storm!’ (Gerber, Colan & John Tartaglione) just as a savage and embittered psionic terrorist launched a series of mind-mangling assaults on the populace, culminating one month later in a shattering showdown between the blind hero and Angar the Screamer as well as a shaky reconciliation with the Widow in ‘Vengeance in the Sky with Diamonds!’, illustrated by Rich Buckler & Frank Giacoia.

Scripted by Chris Claremont, and limned by Syd Shores & Frank Giacoia ‘Stilt-Man Stalks the City’ finds Hornhead hunting psychedelic assassin Angar, which accidentally brings him into conflict with a merciless and similarly displaced old foe. The skyscraping scoundrel has kidnapped the daughter of an inventor in order to extort enhanced weaponry out of the traumatised tinkerer but isn’t expecting interference from his oldest adversary or his utterly ruthless Russian paramour….

No sooner have DD and the Widow ended the miscreant’s rampage than #103 sees a team-up with Spider-Man as a merciless cyborg attacks the odd couple while they pose for roving photojournalist Peter Parker in ‘…Then Came Ramrod!’ by new regular team Gerber, Heck & Sal Trapani.

The barely-human brute is after files in Murdock’s safe and hints of a hidden master, but ultimately his blockbusting strength is of little use against the far faster veteran heroes…

Even as the distracted Murdock realises that his own boss is sabotaging the attorney’s cases, the mystery manipulator is hiring warped mercenary Sergei Kravinoff to make Daredevil ‘Prey of the Hunter!’

Matt’s priorities change when Kraven abducts Natasha, and even after the hero rescues her, the Hunter explosively returns to defeat them both, throwing the swashbuckler to his death…

Daredevil #105 sees the Widow brutally avenging her man’s murder, but Murdock is far from dead, having being teleported from the jaws of doom by a ‘Menace from the Moons of Saturn!’ (inked by Don Perlin)…

In a short sequence pencilled by Jim Starlin, earthborn Priestess of Titan Moondragon is introduced, revealing how she has been dispatched to Earth to counter the schemes of death-worshipping proto-god Thanos. She also inadvertently discloses how she has allied with a respected man of power and authority, providing him with a variety of augmented agents such as Dark Messiah, Ramrod and Angar…

Gerber, Heck & Trapani bring the expansive extended epic closer to culmination as the manipulator is unmasked in ‘Life Be Not Proud!’… but not before the wily plotter redeploys all his past minions, shoots his misguided ally Moondragon, usurps a Titanian ultimate weapon and unleashes a life-leeching horror dubbed Terrex upon the world.

With all Earth endangered, DD, the Widow and guest-star Captain Marvel are forced to pull out all the stops to defeat the threat, and only then after a last-minute defection by the worst of their enemies and a desperate ‘Blind Man’s Bluff!’ courtesy of Gerber, Bob Brown & Sal Buscema.

This supremely enticing volume also offers extra treats: the promotional cover for #100, and John Romita & Michael Esposito’s original art for the cover of issues #105. As the social upheaval of this period receded, the impressively earnest material was replaced by fabulous fantasy tales which strongly suggested the true potential of Daredevil was in reach. These beautifully illustrated yarns may still occasionally jar with their heartfelt stridency and sometimes dated attitudes, but the narrative energy and sheer exuberant excitement of such classic adventures are graphic joys no action fan will care to miss. And the next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…
© 1973, 1974, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection volume 3 1966-1967: Spider-Man No More


By Stan Lee, John Romita, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Marie Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1023-5 (TPB)

Outcast, geeky high school kid Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and, after attempting to cash-in on the astonishing abilities he’d developed, suffered an irreconcilable personal tragedy. Due to the teenager’s arrogant neglect, his beloved guardian Uncle Ben was murdered and the traumatised boy determined henceforward to always use his powers to help those in dire need.

For years the brilliant young hero suffered privation and travail in his domestic situation, whilst his heroic alter ego endured public condemnation and mistrust as he valiantly battled all manner of threat and foe…

Spanning August 1966 to September 1967, this fulsome, titanic, full-colour Epic Collection (available as massive paperback or ephemeral eBook) gathers the gems from Amazing Spider-Man #39-52 plus Annuals #3-4 and a deliciously daft snippet from spoof mag Not Brand Echh #2, heralding the start of a brand new era for the Astonishing Arachnid with Peter and his ever-expanding cast of cohorts well on the way to being household names as well as the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia.

By 1966 Stan Lee and Steve Ditko could no longer work together on their greatest creation. After increasingly fraught months the artist simply resigned, leaving Spider-Man without an illustrator.

In the coincidental meantime John Romita had been lured away from DC’s romance line and given odd assignments before assuming the artistic reins of Daredevil, the Man Without Fear. Before long, he was co-piloting the company’s biggest property and expected to run with it.

After a period where old-fashioned crime and gangsterism predominated, science fiction themes and costumed crazies began to predominate as the world went gaga for superheroes and creators experimented with longer storylines and protracted subplots…

When Ditko abruptly left, the company feared a drastic loss in quality and sales but it didn’t happen. John Romita (senior) considered himself a mere “safe pair of hands” keeping the momentum going until a better artist could be found but instead blossomed into a major talent in his own right. The wallcrawler continued his unstoppable rise at an accelerated pace…

When Amazing Spider-Man #39 appeared with the first of a 2-part adventure declaiming the ultimate victory of the hero’s greatest foe, no reader knew what had happened – and no one told them…

‘How Green Was My Goblin!’ and ‘Spidey Saves the Day! (“Featuring the End of the Green Goblin!”)’ calamitously changed everything whilst describing how the arch-foes learned each other’s true identities before the Goblin “perished” in a climactic showdown. It would have been memorable even if the tale didn’t feature the debut of a new artist & a whole new manner of story-telling…

The issues were a turning point in many ways, and – inked by old DC colleague Mike Esposito (under the pseudonym Mickey Demeo) – they still stand as one of the greatest Spider-Man yarns of all time, heralding a run of classic tales from the Lee/Romita team that saw sales rise and rise, even without the seemingly irreplaceable Ditko.

With #41 and ‘The Horns of the Rhino!’, Romita began inking his own pencils and although the debuting super-strong criminal spy proved a mere diversion, his intended target, J. Jonah Jameson’s astronaut son, was a far harder proposition in the next issue.

Amazing Spider-Man #42 heralded ‘The Birth of a Super-Hero!’, wherein John Jameson is mutated by space-spores and goes on a Manhattan rampage: a solid, entertaining yarn that is only really remembered for the last panel of the final page.

Mary Jane Watson had been a running gag in the series for years: a prospective blind-date arranged by Aunt May who Peter had avoided – and Ditko skilfully not depicted – for the duration of time that our hero had been involved with Betty Brant, Liz Allen, and latterly Gwen Stacy.

Now, in that last frame the gobsmacked young man finally realises that for two years he’s been ducking the hottest chick in New York!

‘Rhino on the Rampage!’ gave the villain one more crack at Jameson and Spidey, but the emphasis was solidly on foreshadowing future foes and building Pete and MJ’s relationship. Next comes Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 3 and ‘…To Become an Avenger!’ as the World’s Mightiest Heroes offer the webspinner membership if he can capture the Hulk. As usual, all is not as it seems but the action-drenched epic, courtesy of Lee, Romita (on layouts), Don Heck, & Esposito is the kind of guest-heavy power-punching package that made these summer specials a child’s delight.

The monthly Marvel merriment resumes with the return of a tragedy-drenched old foe as Lee & Romita reintroduce biologist Curt Conners in #44’s ‘Where Crawls the Lizard!’ The deadly reptilian marauder threatens Humanity itself and it takes all of the wallcrawler’s resourcefulness to stop him in the concluding ‘Spidey Smashes Out!’

Issue #46 introduced an all-new menace in the form of seismic super-thief ‘The Sinister Shocker!’ whilst ‘In the Hands of the Hunter!’ brought back a fighting-mad Kraven the Hunter to menace the family of Parker’s pal Harry Osborn. Apparently, the obsessive big-game hunter had entered into a contract with Harry’s father (Green Goblin, until a psychotic break turned him into a traumatised amnesiac). Now, though, the hunter wants paying off…

Luckily, Spider-Man is on hand to dissuade him, but it’s interesting to note that at this time the student life and soap-opera sub-plots became increasingly important to the mix, with glamour girls Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy (both superbly delineated by the masterful Romita) as well as former bully Flash Thompson and the Osborns getting as much – or more – “page-time” as Aunt May or the Daily Bugle staff, who had previously monopolised the non-costumed portions of the ongoing saga.

Amazing Spider-Man #48 launched Blackie Drago; a ruthless thug who shared a prison cell with one of the wall-crawler’s oldest foes. At death’s door, the ailing and elderly super-villain reveals his technological secrets, enabling Drago to escape and master ‘The Wings of the Vulture!’

Younger, faster, tougher, the new Vulture defeats Spider-Man and in #49’s ‘From the Depths of Defeat!’ battles Kraven until a reinvigorated arachnid can step in to thrash them both.

Issue #50 featured the debut of one of Marvel’s greatest villains in the first of a 3-part yarn that saw the beginnings of romance between Parker and Gwen. It also contained the death of a cast regular, re-established Spidey’s war on cheap thugs and common criminals (a key component of the hero’s appeal was that no criminal was too small for him to bother with) and saw a crisis of conscience force him to quit in ‘Spider-Man No More!’.

Life being what it is, Peter’s sense of responsibility forces his return before he is trapped ‘In the Clutches of… the Kingpin!’ until he ultimately and tragically triumphs in ‘To Die a Hero!’ This gang-busting triptych saw Romita relinquish the inking of his art to Esposito.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4 follows as Lee – with his brother Larry Lieber & Esposito handling the art chores – crafts an epic battle-saga wherein Spidey and the Human Torch are tricked into appearing in a movie.

Sadly ‘The Web and the Flame!’ is just a deviously diabolical scheme to kill them, devilishly orchestrated by old enemies The Wizard and Mysterio, but the titanic teens are up to the task of trashing their attackers…

From the same issue – and all courtesy of Lieber – come pictorial fact-features ‘The Coffee Bean Barn!’ – face-checking the then-current Spider-Man regulars – while sartorial secrets exposed in ‘What the Well-Dressed Spider-Man Will Wear’ and superpowers are scrutinised in ‘Spidey’s Greatest Talent’.

Also included are big pin-ups of our hero testing his strength against Marvel’s mightiest good guys, a double-page spread ‘Say Hello to Spidey’s Favorite Foes!’ plus another 2-page treat as we enjoy ‘A Visit to Peter’s Pad!’

With the action over there’s still time for a hearty ha ha as Not Brand Echh #2 shares an outrageous comedy caper from Lee, Marie Severin & Frank Giacoia starring the Aging Spidey-Man! Here ‘Peter Pooper vs. Gnatman and Rotten’ reveals how rival comics icons duke it out for the hearts and minds of fandom in a wry jab at the madness of the era’s Batmania craze.

Also on view are gems of original art – including unused pages – and Romita’s first sketch of Mary Jane, plus a painted cover repro from Romita & Dean White.

After a shaky start The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages. Before long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera was the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

This book is Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. You really should read it.
© 1966, 1967, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.