Shuri: Wakanda Forever


By Nnedi Okorafor, Vita Ayala, Leonardo Romero, Paul Davidson, Rachael Stott, Jordie Bellaire, Tríona Farrell, Carlos Lopez, VC’s Joe Sabino & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2369-3 (TPB)

Lauded 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 the 1960s when he first attacked the FF (in Fantastic Four #52; cover-dated July 1966) as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

T’Challa, son of T’Chaka was revealed as an African monarch whose hidden kingdom was the only source of a vibration-absorbing alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth was founded. Those mineral riches – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in lost antiquity – had turned his country into a technological wonderland.

The tribal wealth had long been guarded by a hereditary feline champion deriving physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb that ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s warrior Panther Cult.

In recent years, Vibranium made the country a target for increasing subversion and incursion. After one all-out attack by Doctor Doom – culminating in the Iron Dictator seizing control of Wakanda – T’Challa was forced to render all Vibranium on Earth inert, defeating the invader but leaving his own homeland broken and economically shattered.

During that cataclysmic clash T’Challa’s flighty, spoiled brat half-sister Shuri took on the mantle of Black Panther, becoming clan and country’s new champion whilst her predecessor struggled with the disaster he had deliberately caused and recuperated from near-fatal injuries.

Despite initially being rejected by the divine Panther Spirit, Shuri proved a dedicated and ingenious protector, serving with honour until she perished defending the nation from alien invader Thanos. When T’Challa resumed his position as warrior-king, one of his earliest tasks was resurrecting his sister. She had passed into the Djalia (Wakanda’s spiritual Plane of Memories) where she absorbed the entire history of the nation from ascended Elders. On her return to physicality, she gained mighty new powers as the Ascended Future…

Since then – thanks to the equally formidable magic of a bravura role in a blockbuster movie – a slightly reimagined Shuri starred in her own series, blending established comics mythology with the fresh characterisation of a spunky, savvy, youthful super-scientist.

Initially written by multi award-winning fantasy author Nnedimma Nkemdili “Nnedi” Okorafor (Binti, Who Fears Death, Broken Places & Outer Spaces, Black Panther: Long Live the King) and illustrated by Leonardo Romero (Hawkeye, Captain America, Doctor Strange), this collection – gathering #1-10 of Shuri (spanning December 2018-September 2019 and available as a trade paperback or digitally) – finds Wakanda in turmoil.

In the aftermath of the nation’s first (official) manned space mission, King T’Challa is ‘Gone’, leaving Shuri to initially revel in the sheer joy and freedom of technological creation. However, the pressures of her family position always bedevil her. If it’s not frequent overtures from a mystery hacker she’s befriended and dubbed Muti or the constant chidings of the Ancestral Spirits who connect her to the Djalia, it’s her unwelcome invitation to join a secret society of women who have covertly steered and safeguarded Wakanda for generations…

The Sisters of the Elephant’s Trunk have a cherished goal: despite the nation recently becoming a constitutional monarchy, they want Shuri to step up in T’Challa’s absence and be the country’s spiritual leader … a new Black Panther…

Her answer in ‘The Baobab Tree’ pleases no one, but she has no time for second thoughts as sister-in-law Storm comes to her with news that T’Challa is now lost in space. The crisis is further compounded after Queen Mother Ramonda also vanishes. When Shuri resorts to spiritual means of locating her missing family, the ritual accidentally catapults her astral personality across the universe and into the vegetable body of a Guardian of the Galaxy…

Trapped but never helpless, Shuri’s brains save the alien heroes from dire peril and a deadly energy, memory and sound-eating bug in ‘Groot Boom’, but her return to Earth brings more trouble as the energy-insectoid follows to cause chaos in ‘Timbuktu’ – thanks in large part to the machinations of opportunist supervillain Moses Magnum. More concerning is the fact that many of her Ascended powers have gone

With catastrophe all around and the planet in deadly peril, Shuri calls in a favour and Iron Man responds to assist in preventing ‘The End of the Earth’, but ultimately Shuri knows that the call of the Panther cult must be answered no matter what she wants…

The crisis deepens in ‘A Friend in Need’ parts 1 and 2 (illustrated by Paul Davidson & Tríona Farrell) as the reluctant new Black Panther traces a living black hole generator to Brooklyn, USA and shares a perilous romp with second Spider-Man Miles Morales and modern Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan, redeeming genius kid Augustin Torres from a dangerous association with major mag guy Graviton

Events spiral to a spectacular conclusion as Vita Ayala (Livewire, New Mutants) takes over scripting for #8-10 with Rachael Stott & Carlos Lopez tackling the picture-making. In ‘24/7 Vibranium’, that pesky bug resurfaces to imperil Earth prompting a fact-find visit to the Djalia, a fraught confrontation at Wakanda’s Vibranium mines in ‘Godhead’ and an unexpected resolution in ‘Living Memory’ that answers most of Shuri’s questions, restores her powers and sets her up for the next great adventure…

Balancing the fantastic fun and affirmative inspiration, this delightfully angst-free action romp also offers an Afterwordfrom Okorafor; Variant cover gallery by Skottie Young, Jamal Campbell, Carlos Pacheco, Travis Charest, John Tyler Christopher, Afua Richardson (plus movie photo-cover) and Romero design pages.

Wakanda Forever is a fast-moving, funny and supremely inventive delight: a splendidly fresh take on female superheroes that is compulsive reading for any fan of tight continuity, breathtaking action and smart characterisation as well as everyone who fell in love with the super-smart young woman who stole every scene in the Black Panther movie. What are you waiting for?
© 2020 MARVEL.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or are they…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Panther: Panther’s Quest


By Don McGregor, Gene Colan, Tom Palmer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302908034 (TPB)

The loss of Chadwick Boseman is a terrible blow to fans of film and every supporter of the rights and inherent dignity of all humanity. Whatever the reason, it seems that black people are just not allowed to have living role models. Our condolences and best wishes go out to his family and all who knew or were affected by him.

The pettiest part of that tragedy is that his iconic role as T’Challa of Wakanda is also ended. Having read about the kind of man he was, I’m shamelessly taking the opportunity to review the Black Panther story I suspect he would most have liked to realise on film…

Lauded 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 the 1960s when he first attacked the FF (in Fantastic Four#52; cover-dated July 1966) as part of an extended and elaborate plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

T’Challa, son of T’Chaka was revealed as an African monarch whose hidden kingdom was the only source of a vibration-absorbing alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth was founded. Those mineral riches – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in primeval antiquity – had powered his country’s transformation into a technological wonderland.

That tribal wealth had long been guarded by a hereditary feline-garbed champion deriving physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb that ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s warrior Panther Cult.

Lyrical intellectual Don McGregor had already immortalised T’Challa in a stunning 1970s periodical run which produced the revered Panther’s Rage saga and the controversial Panther vs the Klan storyline. After years away from the mainstream, creating groundbreaking graphic novels such as Sabre: Slow Fade of an Endangered Species and Detectives Inc., series such as Ragamuffins and Nathaniel Dusk, he was lured back to his roots to spin a shocking tale of contemporary intolerance and the end-days of Apartheid…

He was joined by a semi-regular collaborator whose credentials in crafting human-scaled tales of adventure, horror and empathetic emotional drama were second to none. He was also one the industry’s earliest exponents of strong black characters…

Eugene Jules “Gene” Colan (September 1st 1926 – June 23rd 2011) was one of comics’s greatest talents: a quietly professional artist who valued accuracy and authenticity in his work, whether it was science fiction, horror, war, satirical humour of the vast number of superheroes he brought to life.

A devotee of classic adventure strips, Colan studied at the Art Students League of New York, before beginning his own illustration career in 1944 (on Wings Comics) before military service in the Philippines. The war had just ended and Colan had spare time to draw for local paper The Manilla Times.

By 1946 he was a civilian again, and working for Stan Lee’s Atlas outfit on crime and supernatural stories. He illustrated the last Golden Age Captain America (Captain America’s Weird Tales #75; February 1950), an all-horror issue that had no superhero material at all. It was like a sign…

As the industry radically transformed, he began freelancing at DC/National Comics as well as remaining a mainstay of Atlas. His assignments increasingly focused on the new genres of War Stories and Romance.

As Superhero stories returned, he moved exclusively to Marvel (except for a range of monochrome horror stories done for Archie Goodwin at Warren Magazines), where his dynamic realism offered a powerful alternative to the graphic styles of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita and Don Heck.

Colan became renowned for his work on Daredevil (where he created blind black detective Willie Lincoln), Captain America, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Avengers, Sub-Mariner and Howard the Duck. During this period he co-created the Guardians of the Galaxy, two Captain Marvels (Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers), drew all of Tomb of Dracula – thereby introducing Blade the Vampire Slayer to the world – and was responsible for another black comic book icon and the nation’s first African American costumed hero, The Falcon.

In the 1980s he moved to DC, working on Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Spectre, co-creating Night Force, Silverblade, Jemm, Son of Saturn and period private eye Nathanial Dusk before expanding into independent comics at the forefront of innovation that marked the rise of the Direct Sales Market.

His later career was blighted by health issues, but he continued drawing whenever he could, for many companies. On one of his periodic returns to Marvel he reunited with McGregor for this astounding tale which was originally serialised in in 25 chapters in fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents # 13-37 (February to December1989). Here, the entire affair is preceded by ‘To Follow the track of The Great Cat with renewed wonder on his Panther’s Quest (From “Panther’s Rage” to “Panther’s Prey”)’ a typically effulgent and informative Introduction from author McGregor…

One of the most thought-provoking mainstreaming comics tales ever released, Panther’s Quest added pressure to the ever-growing Anti-Apartheid movement in comics and western media, by examining not only the condition of racial inequality but also turning a damning eye on sexual oppression. Whether in his numerous solo series or as part of super-teams such as the Avengers, Fantastic Four or the Ultimates, Black Panther has always been one of Marvel’s most politically strident and socially-crusading characters. This is a book I’m certain Chadwick Boseman would have admired and supported…

Inked in its entirety by perfect partner Tom Palmer, it begins on a dark night as the Panther infiltrates neighbouring totalitarian South Africa where a white minority still oppresses the millions of blacks who live there. T’Challa has heard ‘A Rumour of Life’ and has come seeking his stepmother Ramonda. His father’s second wife had raised the bereaved boy when T’Challa’s birth mother died, but one day when he was only three, she vanished and no one would speak of her.

Now, he’s invaded the most dangerous land on Earth – for his kind – in search of answers from unscrupulous information peddler Patrick Slade

‘Forgotten Corpses’ sees that clandestine meeting savagely interrupted by white paramilitaries who seek to kill them – but without alerting the police or security services…

McGregor has always a fascination with the real effects and consequences of violence, and this tale contains some pretty shocking moments that will make many readers wince. Suffice it to say I’m staying vague throughout this review, but will say that vicious brute Elmer Gore graphically tortures the Panther with barbed wire in ‘Lost Blood in Copper Dust’, leading to the maimed hero staggering into the arms of ‘The Man Who Loved Sunrise’.

Oppressed miner and narrative everyman Zanti Chikane is a black miner and second class citizen crushed by his intolerable life, but he still overcomes his understandable caution to offer assistance to torn, bleeding T’Challa. That leads to his own brush with death as white killers employ what they consider ‘Reasonable Force’ against the suspects, before being trounced by the still fighting cat-man…

The scene changes with ‘Naked Exposures’ as government Magistrate of Communications Anton Pretorius orders his battered and furious minions to capture an invading masked terrorist dubbed Black Panther. This invader is a threat to national security but the mercenaries need no other reasons to kill the treacherous “kaffir”. Just to be sure, though, Pretorius also uses his position to send out a nationwide TV alert…

‘Battered Artifacts’ finds T’Challa tracking Slade to an impoverished township, unaware that he’s under surveillance and about to step into the other side of the deadly politics that wracked South Africa at this time.

‘Hatred under Tears’ sees the mercenaries attack, uncaring of the small children they are endangering. As the Great Cat stops to aid a tear-gassed toddler, ‘Justifiable Action’ sees him shot for his efforts and arrested in ‘Personal Risk’ before breaking free and escaping…

‘The Official Version’ gives T’Challa a lesson in realpolitik from Slade’s wife even as the State intensifies its hunt for him, with Security Minister Doeke Riebeek officially branding the entire emergency a communist plot…

In the township ‘Voices Heard, Voices Ignored’ sees Zanti pondering the terrifying dangers to his family before returning to aid the Panther whilst ‘A Right to Kill’ shows Riebeek beginning to suspect Pretorius might have ulterior motives for his actions. Meanwhile, the enraged township men are moving against a suspected traitor determined ‘Somebody’s Going to Pay’. They’re carrying petrol and tyres needed for the appalling punishment they call “necklacing”. Do not google it or buy this book if you have a weak stomach…

When the Panther acts to save a life, he is horribly burned but events escalate to total tragedy as ‘Last Night I Wept for Freedom’ shows how the boy he helped returns the favour and pays the ultimate price, despite his own superhuman efforts and the initially-reluctant intervention of a white doctor in ‘Lost Promises’

Traumatised and repentant, T’Challa returns to Slade whose ‘Dark Maneuvers’ lead them into a trap laid by Pretorius’ mercenaries in ‘So Many Nameless Enemies’. The battle is brief but results in a crucial clue in the true quest, as the trader reveals how, years ago, he learned of a black woman held in glittering bondage for decades at the home of a high-ranking government official…

‘Chances’ see Riebeek and his forces closing in as T’Challa follows his fresh clue to Johannesburg to confront one of the mercs in ‘The Great Cat in the City of Gold’. Now focused on finding Pretorius, the Panther and Zanti attempt to save his precious stealth-ship from being captured by Riebeek in ‘Losing Control’… but at a terrible cost…

After ‘Saying Goodbye’, the Panther’s quest moves into its endgame as T’Challa assaults Pretorius’ luxurious citadel, circumventing deadly ‘Barriers’, and crushing human and canine ‘Opponents’ (still more grimly authentic action in need of a strong stomach advisory…), to ultimately rescue Ramonda from the luxurious cell she has inhabited ever since Pretorius abducted her years ago.

The tyrannical hypocrite’s obsessive, abusive passion for her was also his downfall: a secret capable of destroying him in a nation and government that decreed interracial mixing immoral and illegal…

Ultimately, it’s Ramonda who decrees his fate whilst enjoying a ‘Dawn Reunion’ with her long-lost child…

Available in trade paperback and digital editions and augmented by a full cover gallery and pinups from Marvel Fanfare#47 (by Bill Reinhold & Linda Lessman) and #45(Steve Rude & Steve Oliff) this is the most important Black Panther tale you’ll ever read. So do.
© 2018 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Spidey volume 2: After-School Special


By Robbie Thompson, André Lima Araújo, Nathan Stockman & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9676-1 (TPB)

Since its earliest days the publishing company now known as media monolith Marvel always courted the youngest of comicbook consumers. Whether through animated tie-ins and licensed properties such as Terrytoons Comics, Mighty Mouse, Duckula, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Disney licenses and a myriad of others, or original characters such as Millie the Model, Homer the Happy Ghost and Calvin, the House of Ideas always understood the necessity of cultivating the next generation of readers.

These days, however, kids’ interest titles are a tricky balancing act and, with the Marvel Universe’s characters all over screens large and small, the company usually prefers to create child-friendly versions of its own proprietary pantheon in their own playground, making that eventual hoped-for transition to more mature comics and other venues as painless as possible.

In the 1980s-1990s Marvel published an entire line of kiddie titles through its Star Comics line and, in 2003, the company created a Marvel Age line to update and retell classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko, mixing it in with the remnants of its manga-inspired Tsunami imprint: again, all intended for a younger readership.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming the Marvel Adventures line, with titles reflecting the most popular characters and whatever was on TV screens at the time. In 2012 these were superseded by specific comicbook titles tied to Disney XD TV shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”.

Today’s featured item – Spidey: After-School Special – is a horse of a different colour: similar but different…

Rather than simply crafting a wallcrawler for younger sensibilities, this iteration – presumably sparked by the teenaged, light-adventure version seen in the Spider-Man: Homecoming movie – innovates and modernizes by once again looking back and superbly succeeds in recapturing a sense of the madcap gaiety that counterbalanced the action and pathos of the earliest Lee/Ditko stories. This series is all about thrills and fun…

Scripted throughout by Robbie Thompson and re-presenting Spidey#7-12 (originally released from August 2016 to January 2017), the non-stop, youngster-appropriate mayhem recommences with a cracking catch-up origin-page illustrated by Nick Bradshaw and colourist Jim Campbell.

Firmly set in The Now, our hero is still and once again a callow schoolboy, fighting crime and making enemies between High School classes. In his off-hours he’s also a crimefighting sensation of the internet and social media whenever he puts on his blue-&-red duds. As ever, news magnate J. Jonah Jameson is there to vilify the webslinger at every opportunity…

Sadly, thanks to the kid’s double life, Peter Parker’s grades – except for science and maths – are tanking now, and the secret superhero is forced to accept Popular Girl Gwen Stacy as a much-needed history tutor. Not only is she the hottest girl in school, but she also decks Flash Thompson with one punch after the jocks starts bullying “Puny” Parker again…

That tricky triangle develops in captivating manner over the next half dozen arachnid escapades, starting with an untitled team-up co-starring African monarch T’Challa the Black Panther and illustrated by André Lima Araújo. Here, the tutoring of classmates is counterbalanced by a spectacular teaching moment as the schoolboy hero stumbles into a subterranean smuggling operation masterminded by the diabolical and unhuman Klaw, Master of Sound…

Peter Parker’s dream “maybe date” with Gwen takes an even-more terrifying turn in ‘Blackout!’ (art by Nathan Stockman) as voltaic villain Electro assaults the city in a deadly but foredoomed attempt to kill Spider-Man. His spectacular trouncing is only slightly mitigated when he is sprung from custody by a band of fellow murderous Arachnophobes…

Peter’s desperate schemes to earn enough cash for Aunt May’s birthday present lead to confrontations with occasional-employer Jameson and all-out war with psycho-stalker Kraven the Hunter in ‘To Catch a Spider’ after which the wallcrawler’s media-created ‘Bad Reputation’ is temporarily redeemed after a dynamic team-up with Captain America against AIM and their lethal leader M.O.D.O.K.

The year-long story arcs detailing the tricky triangle of Gwen, Flash and Peter and the gradual coalition of a new Sinister Six coalesce in ‘Missing Out’ as the kids take their dreaded exams and Spidey attempts to join in a mass battle against Galactus, only to stopped at every stage by a far more important and immediate crisis – such as an unrelenting attack by brainwashed villain Scorpion – before the drama magnificently concludes in the boy hero’s best day ever. Unless, of course, Doctor Octopus, Mysterio, Sandman, Kraven, Electro and the Vulture succeed with their plan in ‘Spidey No More!’

Supplemented with a wealth of behind-the-scenes artwork and illustration secrets from Lima Araújo and Stockman, this is a sublime slice of fun and action, referencing the intoxicating days of Stan Lee & Steve Ditko whilst offering an enthrallingly refreshing reinterpretation of an evergreen heroic icon. Here is an intriguing and more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born two and three generations or more away from those far-distant 1960s originating events. These Spidey super-stories are outrageously enjoyable yarns, and well worth seeking out.
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Barry Windsor-Smith & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3042-0 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining – radioactively enhanced – senses hyper-compensate, make him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who illustrated the series. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul and wunderkind scripter Roy Thomas added an edge of darkness to the swashbuckling derring-do…

Covering July 1968 to June 1969, this tumultuous collection (in both hefty hardback and ephemeral eBook formats) reprints Daredevil #42-53 (plus a surprise comedy bonus), capturing the significant moments and radical shifts in treatment and content as Lee surrendered the scripter’s role to Thomas. Following a fascinating Introduction from Gene Colan, an aura of barely-contained, ever-escalating madness increasingly permeates the soap opera narrative beats, peerlessly pictured by his own astounding illustration – as well as a powerful interlude by a promising British fill-in artist named Barry Smith….

Having killed off his fictitious alter ego twin brother Mike Murdock, Matt briefly considered hanging up his scarlet long-johns but eventually retained his secret other-life by “revealing” to his girlfriend Karen Page and closest friend Franklin “Foggy” Nelson that Mike was only one of a number of Men without Fear in the first part of a prolonged battle with a new nemesis…

‘Nobody Laughs at The Jester!’ (by Lee, Colan and inker Dan Adkins) shows how that Malevolent Mountebank only wants to be more successful as a criminal than he had been as a bit-playing actor, but his motivation changes when crooked mayoral candidate Richard Raleigh hires him to spoil incorruptible Foggys campaign for the position of District Attorney.

The role grew and the mission crept, precipitating a protracted saga which kicks off with a temporarily befuddled DD ‘In Combat with Captain America!’ (inked by Vince Colletta), before Hornhead is framed for killing the Jester’s alter ego Jonathan Powers in #44’s ‘I, Murderer!’

Soundly defeated in combat by the Jester, our hero experiences ‘The Dismal Dregs of Defeat!’ and becomes a wanted fugitive. Following a frenetic police manhunt, DD is finally arrested before snatching victory in the thoroughly enthralling conclusion ‘The Final Jest!’

With this episode, inker extraordinary George Klein began his long and impressive association with the series.

With the Vietnam War raging, a story involving the conflict was inevitable but – thanks in great part to Colan’s personal input – #47’s ‘Brother, Take My Hand!’ was so much more than a quick cash-in or even well-meaning examination of contemporary controversy. Here, Marvel found another strong and admirable African American character (one of far too few in those blinkered times) to add to their growing stable…

Newly-blinded veteran Willie Lincoln turns to Matt Murdock and Daredevil for help on his return home. A disgraced cop framed by gang-boss Biggie Benson before joining the army, Lincoln is now back in America and determined to clear his name at all costs. This gripping, life-affirming crime thriller not only triumphs in Daredevil’s natural milieu of moody urban menace but also sets up a long-running plot that would ultimately change the Man without Fear forever…

The return of Stilt-Man poses little more than a distraction in ‘Farewell to Foggy’, as Matt’s oldest friend wins the race for DA but acrimoniously turns his back on Murdock, seemingly forever….

Lee’s final script on the sightless crusader, ‘Daredevil Drops Out’ (#49), was illustrated by Colan & Klein, depicting Murdock as the target of a robotic assassin built by Mad-Scientist-for-Hire Starr Saxon. This tense, action-packed thriller grew into something very special with second chapter ‘If in Battle I Fall…!’ as neophyte penciller Barry Smith stepped in, ably augmented by veteran inker Johnny Craig. Colan had been shifted to the role of artist on prestigious title The Avengers, but he would soon return…

Lee then left comics-scripting protégé Roy Thomas to finish up for him in ‘Run, Murdock, Run!’ (Daredevil #51, April 1969 with art by Smith & Klein): a wickedly engaging, frantically escalating psychedelic thriller which sees Saxon uncover the hero’s greatest secret after the Man Without Fear succumbs to toxins in his bloodstream and goes berserk.

The saga climaxes in stunning style on ‘The Night of the Panther!’ (Smith & Craig) as African Avenger Black Panther joins the hunt for an out-of-control Daredevil before subsequently helping thwart, if not defeat, the dastardly Saxon.

The radically unsettling ending blew away all the conventions of traditional Fights ‘n’ Tights melodrama and still shocks me today…

Colan & Klein reunited for #53’s ‘As it Was in the Beginning…’ wherein Thomas reprised, revised and expanded Lee & Bill Everett’s origin script from Daredevil #1, allowing the troubled hero to reach a bold decision, which would be executed in #54 – or the next volume to us…

Adding extra value to the proceedings and ending on a comedic note, this enticing tome includes a pertinent parody by Lee & Colan from Marvel’s spoof title Not Brand Echh (#4, November 1967) as Splat Murdock – AKA Scaredevil – endures moments of hilarious existential angst and an identity crisis whilst being ‘Defeated by the Evil Electrico!’, concluding and complimenting a bonanza of bombastic battles tales that are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic in the grand Marvel Manner: comic epics no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1968, 1969, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Shuri volume 1: The Search for Black Panther


By Nnedi Okorafor, Leonardo Romero, Jordie Bellaire, VC’s Joe Sabino & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1523-0 (TPB)

Lauded 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 the 1960s when he first attacked the FF (Fantastic Four #52; cover-dated July 1966) as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

T’Challa, son of T’Chaka was revealed as an African monarch whose hidden kingdom was the only source of a vibration-absorbing alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth was founded. Those mineral riches – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in lost antiquity – had turned his country into a technological wonderland.

The tribal wealth had long been guarded by a hereditary feline champion deriving physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb that ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s warrior Panther Cult.

In recent years, Vibranium made the country a target for increasing subversion and incursion. After one all-out attack by Doctor Doom – culminating in the Iron Dictator seizing control of Wakanda – T’Challa was forced to render all Vibranium on Earth inert, defeating the invader but leaving his own homeland broken and economically shattered.

During that cataclysmic clash T’Challa’s flighty, spoiled brat half-sister Shuri took on the mantle of Black Panther, becoming the clan and country’s new champion whilst her predecessor struggled with the disaster he had deliberately caused and recuperated from near-fatal injuries.

Despite initially being rejected by the divine Panther Spirit, Shuri proved a dedicated and ingenious protector, serving with honour until she perished defending the nation from alien invader Thanos. When T’Challa resumed his position as warrior-king, one of his earliest tasks was resurrecting his sister. She had passed into the Djalia (Wakanda’s spiritual Plane of Memories) where she absorbed the entire history of the nation from ascended Elders. On her return to physicality, she gained mighty new powers as the Ascended Future…

Now – thanks to the equally formidable magic of a bravura role in a blockbuster movie – a slightly reimagined Shuri stars in her own series, blending established comics mythology with the fresh characterisation of a spunky, savvy youthful super-scientist.

Written by multi award-winning fantasy author Nnedimma Nkemdili “Nnedi” Okorafor (Binti, Who Fears Death, Lagoon, Broken Places & Outer Spaces, Black Panther: Long Live the King, Venomverse War Stories) and illustrated by Leonardo Romero (Hawkeye, Captain America, Doctor Strange), this first collection – gathering #1-5 of Shuri (spanning December 2018-April 2019 and available as a trade paperback or digitally) – finds Wakanda in turmoil.

In the aftermath of the nation’s first (official) manned space mission, King T’Challa is ‘Gone’, leaving Shuri to initially revel in the sheer joy and freedom of technological creation. However, the pressures of her family position always bedevil her. If it’s not frequent overtures from a mystery hacker she’s befriended and dubbed Muti or the constant chidings of the Ancestral Spirits who connect her to the Djalia, it’s her unwelcome invitation to join a secret society of women who have covertly steered and safeguarded Wakanda for generations…

The Sisters of the Elephant’s Trunk have a cherished goal: despite the nation recently becoming a constitutional monarchy, they want Shuri to step up in T’Challa’s absence and be the country’s spiritual leader … a new Black Panther…

Her answer in ‘The Baobab Tree’ pleases no one, but she has no time for second thoughts as sister-in-law Storm comes to her with news that T’Challa is now lost in space. The crisis is further compounded after Queen Mother Ramonda also vanishes. When Shuri resorts to spiritual means of locating her missing family, the ritual accidentally catapults her astral personality across the universe and into the vegetable body of a Guardian of the Galaxy…

Trapped but never helpless, Shuri’s brains save the alien heroes from dire peril and a deadly energy-eating bug in ,Groot Boom’, but her return to Earth brings more trouble as the energy-insectoid follows to cause chaos in ‘Timbuktu’ – thanks in large part to the machinations of opportunist supervillain Moses Magnum

With catastrophe all around and the planet in deadly peril, Shuri calls in a favour and Iron Man responds to assist in preventing ‘The End of the Earth’ but ultimately Shuri knows that the call of the Panther cult must be answered no matter what she wants…

To Be Continued…

Featuring a superb variant covers gallery by Skottie Young, Carlos Pacheco, Rafael Fonteriz & Rachel Martin, Jamal Campbell, Travis Charest, John Tyler Christopher, Afua Richardson plus a Movie photo cover and character designs by Romero, this is a fast-moving, funny and supremely inventive romp: a splendidly fresh take on female superheroics that is compulsive reading for any fan of tight continuity, breathtaking action and smart characterisation as well as everyone who fell in love with the super-smart young woman who stole every scene in the Black Panther movie. What are you waiting for?
© 2019 MARVEL. All rights reserved.

X-Men: Worlds Apart


By Christopher Yost, Diogenes Neves & Ed Tadeo; Priest, Sal Velluto & Bob Almond; Chris Claremont & John Byrne, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4030-6 (HB) 978-0-7851-3533-3 (TPB)

In 1963 The X-Men #1 introduced Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Marvel Girl and the Beast: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants – Homo Superior.

After years of eccentric and spectacular adventures the mutant misfits disappeared at the beginning of 1970 as mystery and all things supernatural once more gripped the world’s entertainment fields and triggered a sustained downturn in costumed hero comics.

Although their title was revived at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe and the Beast was transformed into a monster to cash in on the horror boom, until Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas green-lighted a bold one-shot in 1975 as part of the company’s line of Giant-Sized specials.

Giant Size X-Men #1 detailed how the classic team had been lost in action, leaving Xavier to scour the Earth for a replacement team. Recruiting old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire and throwaway Hulk villain Wolverine, most of the savant’s time and attention was invested in newcomers. These comprised Kurt Wagner, a demonic German teleporter who would be codenamed Nightcrawler, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin, who could transform into a living steel Colossus, embittered, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird and a young woman who was regarded as an African weather goddess.

Ororo Munroe AKA Storm was actually the lost daughter of Kenyan royalty and an American journalist. On joining Xavier’s team, she spent years fighting the world’s most deadly threats as part – and eventually leader – of the outlaw, unloved, distrusted mutant hero horde, before eventually leaving her second home to marry a boy she had met whilst trekking across the Dark Continent decades previously.

In Fantastic Four #52 (August 1966) an incredible individual calling himself the Black Panther tested himself against the Cosmic Quartet and disclosed in the following issue how, as a child, he had lost his father to a ruthless scientist’s mercenary army when they invaded his hidden African homeland Wakanda.

Young Prince T’Challa had single-handedly avenged the murder of his father T’Chaka and driven off the raiders, inheriting the role of king and spiritual leader of his people. Eventually, he became a member of the Mighty Avengersand introduced his country to the world, with technologically-advanced Wakanda swiftly advancing to the forefront of nations by trading its scientific secrets and greatest natural resource – incredible alien mineral Vibranium.

Whilst a boy wandering the plains of Africa, he had encountered a beautiful young girl with incredible powers trekking from Egypt to West Africa. Years later he found her again as one the X-Men. Slowly rediscovering old feelings, the pair married and Storm became the First Lady of Wakanda…

This compilation collects 4-issue miniseries X-Men: Worlds Apart from 2008-2009, Black Panther volume 3, #26 (January 2001) and material from Marvel Team-Up #100 (December 1980), and follows the African Queen through her darkest hours even as it affords a little space to examine key moments in her tempestuous relationship with the earthly agent of the very-real, very paws-on Panther God.

The romance commences with the eponymous ‘Worlds Apart’ crafted by Christopher Yost, Diogenes Neves, Ed Tadeo & Raul Treviño, with the action opening in New York’s sewers where Storm and some-time comrade Cyclops seek to convince hidden Morlock refugees to join the West Coast mutant enclave and safe-haven known as Utopia. When she is suddenly called back to Africa, Ororo’s erstwhile friend contentiously questions her loyalties…

Even as august and elevated co-ruler of a fabulous kingdom, Ororo iq adi T’Challa is still painfully aware of humanity’s – and more specifically her own subjects’ – bigotry regarding the genetic offshoot politely dubbed Homo Superior. When one of her protégés – young Wakandan mutant Nezhno Abidemi – is accused of murder she rushes to defend him.

…But the evidence is overwhelming, incontrovertible and damning…

Nevertheless, she knows something is amiss and when she arbitrarily frees him, the entire country turns against her. Even her adoring husband wants her blood…

The cause soon smugly reveals himself as Amahl Farouk: a sinister, soul-corrupting telepath she and Charles Xavier killed years ago, when she was merely an orphan child-thief in Cairo. Sadly, the dying monster evolved into a malign body-stealing psychic force; an untouchable Shadow King feeding on hatred and polluting everything it touches…

Biding its time, Shadow King insinuated itself into Wakanda, stoking ill-feeling throughout. Now wearing her beloved T’Challa, it plans on extracting a much-postponed final vengeance…

As the poisonous presence gloats, Ororo realises it is not just her at risk: the Shadow King has simultaneously taken Cyclops in America and is using her fellow X-Man as a weapon to kill the only earthly threat to Farouk’s power – supreme telepath Emma Frost, who is also Scott Summers’ lover…

With an entire nation and the precious body of her beloved mercilessly hunting her and Nezhno, the wondrous weather-warrior must first direct her powers half a world away to stop Cyclops whatever the cost, before somehow destroying a foe no power on Earth can touch.

Happily, the Spiritual co-ruler of Wakanda has her own direct line to the country’s cat god – or is that goddess?

Short, sharp, spectacularly action-packed and wickedly satisfying – especially the climactic battles with the assembled X-Men and friendly rival Cyclops – this bombastic Fights ‘n’ Tights adventure is rather bafflingly complemented with ‘Echoes’ from Black Panther #26. Created by Priest, Sal Velluto & Bob Almond, it’s the opening part of a longer epic entitled ‘Stürm und Drang – a Story of Love and War’. Here T’Challa’s childhood friendship with Ororo is slowly and painfully re-cultivated during an incursion into Wakanda by alien-hunting US Federal Agents, and a barely-civil embassy from the secret race known as Deviants, all seeking possession of an unearthly parent and child. The untenable situation eventually forces a drastic reaction from the sympathetic African heroes…

As an orphaned part of an ongoing storyline, this interlude, although smart and pretty, is pretty baffling and aggravating too, ending as it does on an unsatisfying cliffhanger, and unless you already know the greater tale, is far more annoying than elucidating…

Still at least you can track down the entire tale in numerous Black Panther collections…

This intriguing safari into the unknown concludes with the far more pleasing – and done-in-one – story of Ororo and T’Challa’s first meeting as kids in the wilds of Africa. It first appeared as a back-up in Marvel Team-Up #100 in 1980, cleverly revealing how the kids enjoyed an idyllic time on the veldt (reminiscent of Henry De Vere Stacpoole’s 1908 novel The Blue Lagoon) until a South African commando team tried to kidnap the Wakandan prince as a bargaining chip.

Now, as adults in America they are hunted by the vicious Afrikaner Andreas de Ruyter who has returned, attempting to assassinate Ororo before seeking to exact final revenge upon the Black Panther. Cue long-delayed lover’s reunion and team-raid on an automated House of Horrors…

Clearly designed as an outreach project to draw in audience demographics perceived to be short-changed by mainstream Marvel, Storm and the Black Panther have proved to be a winning combination in terms of story if not sales, and Worlds Apart is the kind of tale that will please fans of the genre and followers of the film franchises.
© 1980, 2001, 2008, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Epic Collection volume 4 1970-1972: A Woman Called Widow


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Alan Weiss, Barry Windsor-Smith, Bill Everett & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2034-0 (TPB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him capable of astonishing acrobatic feats, a 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 roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, an eclectic mix of established and new 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 became under modern authorial regimes…

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 turning its back on old values…

Covering May 1970 -April 1972, this trade paperback and digital compilation chronologically re-presents Daredevil #64-86 plus a crossover with Iron Man #35-36 and sees the once-staid and so-very Establishment Murdock move with the shifting cultural mores as scripter Roy Thomas hands over the reins to newcomer Gerry Conway in an increasingly determined move to make the Man Without Fear cutting edge and relevant… …

The action opens here with Horn-Head prowling the rooftops of Los Angeles. He’s there to find the love-of-his-life, who quit New York when the pressure of sharing DD’s secrets proved too much…

After trailing the star-struck Karen Page to Hollywood, DD gets to take out his bad mood on a handy hood in ‘Suddenly… The Stunt-Master!’ (Thomas, Gene Colan & Syd Shores) before eventually helping his old enemy (a petty criminal biker) get a TV show of his own…

Murdock remains in LA to oversee Karen’s first acting gig – a pastiche of then-hot spooky TV phenomenon Dark Shadows – and prevents her becoming part of a murder spree in ‘The Killing of Brother Brimstone’: a classy whodunit which cataclysmically climaxes one month later in ‘…And One Cried Murder!’

Still stuck on the West Coast, DD tackles another grudge-bearing villain as ‘Stilt-Man Stalks the Soundstage’ (Gary Friedrich, Thomas, Colan & Shores) with now-respectably reformed Stunt-Master ably assisting our hero. Matt eventually leaves Karen to the vicissitudes of Tinseltown, landing back in the Big Apple just in time to become embroiled in a plot blending radical politics and the shady world of Boxing – ‘The Phoenix and the Fighter!’

The Black Panther returns seeking a favour in ‘A Life on the Line’ as kid gangs and the birth of the “Black Power” movement leap from news headlines to comic pages. The same consideration of youth in protest also inspired the seditious menace of ‘The Tribune’ (written by Friedrich) as youthful ideologues, cynical demagogues and political bombers tear a terrified and outraged city apart.

The unrest peaks in Daredevil #71 as Thomas contributes his swansong script and concludes the right-wing manufactured anarchy in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee…!’

New find Gerry Conway assumed the scripting with #72, easing himself in with an interdimensional fantasy frolic wherein the Scarlet Swashbuckler encounters a strange rash of crimes and a mirror-dwelling mystery man named Tagak in ‘Lo! The Lord of the Leopards!’ before plunging readers into an ambitious cosmic crossover yarn which begins in Iron Man #35.

Here the Armoured Avenger, seductive, morally-ambivalent free agent Madame Masque and S.H.I.E.L.D. supremo Nick Fury all seek‘Revenge!’ (illustrated by Don Heck & Mike Esposito) for various vile acts, and specifically the near-fatal wounding of valiant young American agent Jasper Sitwell at the hand of the mercenary Spymaster.

Their efforts – and those of their assembled enemies – are somehow fuelling an alien artefact called the Zodiac Key and, when its creators suck Daredevil into the mix to battle Spymaster and a bunch of super-villains affiliated to the cosmic device, everybody is ultimately shanghaied to another universe for more pointless fighting in ‘Behold… the Brotherhood!’(Daredevil #73, illustrated by Colan & Shores with plot input from Allyn Brodsky) before the epic concludes with extreme briskness in Iron Man #36.

So brisk, in fact, that only the first 8 pages of ‘Among Us Stalks the Ramrod!’ (Conway, Heck & Esposito) are reprinted here, leaving this potent brew of action and suspense to wrap up with Daredevil #74: an impressive and mercifully complete conundrum with DD trapped ‘In the Country of the Blind!’ (art by Colan & Shores) and calling on a group of sight-impaired volunteers to help him thwart a criminal plot to cripple New York…

The social upheaval of the period produced a lot of impressively earnest material that only hinted at the true potential of Daredevil. These beautifully illustrated yarns may occasionally jar with their heartfelt stridency but the honesty and desire to be a part of a solution rather than blithely carry on as if nothing was happening affords them a potency that no historian, let alone comics fan, can dare to ignore.

The Sightless Swashbuckler makes a politically-charged appearance in Daredevil #75 (April 1971) in a drama of devious intrigue and kidnapping that begins as Murdock travels to the banana republic of Delvadia where ‘Now Rides the Ghost of El Condor!’ (Conway, Colan & Shores) offers a canny yarn of revolutionary fervour, self-serving greed and the power of modern mythology.

The saga concludes in ‘The Deathmarch of El Condor!’ – wherein inker Tom Palmer (perhaps Colan’s most effective inker) starts his long association with the penciller.

Guest stars abound in ‘…And So Enters the Amazing Spider-Man!’ when an uncanny artefact appears in Central Park, inviting DD, the webspinner and the Sub-Mariner to participate in a fantastic battle in a far-flung, lost world. The adventure concludes in the Atlantean’s own comic (#40) but as our hero didn’t join the quest, that sequel isn’t included in this tome.

Issue #78 returns to more traditional territory as ‘The Horns of the Bull!’ traces the downfall of petty thug Bull Taurusafter enigmatic mastermind Mr. Kline has him transformed into a savage beast and sets him upon the Scarlet Swashbuckler…

Friedrich scripted cataclysmic conclusion ‘Murder Cries the Man-Bull!’, but plotter Conway was back the following month to spectacularly reintroduce a vintage villain ‘In the Eyes… of the Owl!’: presaging a major format change for the series…

From issue #81’s ‘And Death is a Woman Called Widow’ (inked by Jack Abel), Soviet defector Natasha Romanoff bursts onto the scene as the ubiquitous Mr. Kline is finally unmasked and revealed to be behind most of DD’s recent woes and tribulations…

Sometimes called Natalia Romanova, she is a Soviet-era Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s earliest and most successful female stars. She started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days, battling Iron Man in her debut exploit (Tales of Suspense #52, April, 1964).

She was subsequently redesigned as a torrid tights-&-tech super-villain before defecting to the USA, falling for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – before finally enlisting as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., freelance do-gooder and occasional leader of The Avengers.

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

Following a stunning pin-up of the bodacious Black Widow by Bill Everett, the conspiracy crisis continues with ‘Now Send… the Scorpion’, as Kline – AKA the Assassin – sets a manic artificial arachnid against DD and the Widow, even as his Machiavellian master attempts to suborn Murdock’s greatest friend Foggy Nelson.

At the end of that issue the Scorpion is apparently dead and ‘The Widow Accused!’ by Nelson of the villain’s murder. A sham trial intended to railroad and pillory the Russian émigré ensues in #83, (rendered by Alan Weiss, Barry Smith & Everett), with the Assassin subsequently dispatching brutish Mr. Hyde to ensure his victory.

Against all odds, however, Murdock exonerates Natasha of the charges, prompting the hidden mastermind to take direct action in ‘Night of the Assassin!’ (Colan & Syd Shores). After attacking DD and the Widow in Switzerland – whence the jetsetting former spy had fled to nurse her wounded pride – Kline at last meets final defeat in a stunning and baroque climax to the extended saga.

In the aftermath of that cataclysmic clash, the odd couple are stranded in Switzerland before #85 sees them tentatively beginning a romantic alliance and returning to America on a ‘Night Flight!’ courtesy of Conway, Colan & Shores.

Typically, the plane is hijacked by the bloodthirsty Gladiator, after which another long-forgotten foe resurfaces – for the last time – in ‘Once Upon a Time… the Ox!’ (with stunning Tom Palmer inks) culminating in the broken romantic triangle of Matt, Karen Page and Natasha compelling a life changing relocation for our players from the Big Apple to San Francisco…

The next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…

Rounding out the comics experience are bonus pages including the covers to all-reprint Daredevil Annual #2 and 3, a selection of house ads, unused cover pencils by Colan and his contribution to the 1970 Marvel Artist Self-Portrait project.

Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart, contemporarily astute stories, truly human and fallible characters and always magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.

© 2019 MARVEL.

 

Black Panther: The Bride


By Reginald Hudlin, Scot Eaton, Klaus Janson, Dean White & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2107-7 (TPB)

If you’re still looking for a St. Valentines’ Day gift for your one and only (or one of many: I don’t judge even if I do reserve the right to scorn…), you won’t find much help here. At least you better not…

I do, however, have an intriguing, romantically-themed suggestion you can read for inspiration or, latterly, consolation…

Regarded as the first black hero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since July 1966 when he first attacked the Fantastic Four as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

T’Challa, son of T’Chaka, is an African monarch whose secluded kingdom is the only source of a miraculous alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth is founded. Those mineral riches – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in lost antiquity – enabled him to turn his country into a technological wonderland.

Moreover, the tribal resources and the people have been eternally safeguarded by a cat-like human champion deriving incredible physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb simultaneously ensuring the generational dominance of the nation’s Panther Cult.

In recent years that continuity-mythology was retooled to reveal that the “Vibranium” mound had actually made the country a secret Superpower for centuries, but now increasingly makes Wakanda a target for subversion and incursion.

This slim, unassuming but extremely engaging Costumed Drama – available in trade paperback and eBook editions – collects Black Panther volume 4 #14-18 (May – September 2006). Set during the first Superhero Civil War, it tackles a thorny, perennial political issue with earthy wit and wisdom as the Great King of Wakanda confronts the most contentious issue of his reign thus far…

Previously: the dutiful son of Queen Mother Ramonda at last accedes to her increasingly strident demands that the nation needs an heir, and goes looking for a suitable queen. That turned into a full-blown fiasco but the needs of State remain, so the drama here begins as 4-chapter quest ‘Bride of the Panther’ sees the Panther eschew new flames and set off to woo and win back the first girl he ever loved…

With streetwise Power Man Luke Cage as his smirking wingman, T’Challa recalls his early days and a certain something…

Ororo Munroe AKA Storm is actually a lost daughter of a Kenyan princess and an American journalist. She grew up an orphan in Cairo following their deaths in a war. After joining Charles Xavier’s X-Men, she spends years fighting the world’s most deadly threats as part – and often leader – of the unloved, distrusted mutant hero horde.

As puberty triggered her mutant powers long ago, the wily thief left Egypt, walking across Africa, drawn by a yearning she could not explain. Eventually she settled with nomadic tribes, using her weather powers to ease their burdens. They called her “Goddess”. However, before she reached that part of her life, Ororo encountered a determined boy also trekking across the Dark Continent…

Young Prince T’Challa had single-handedly avenged the murder of his father T’Chaka and driven off the resource raiders of deranged scientist Ulysses Klaw, but before he could inherit the role of king and spiritual leader of his people there were certain trials and rituals to undertake.

Whilst wandering the plains of Africa in a walkabout manhood trial, he met a beautiful young girl with incredible powers trekking from Egypt to West Africa. Together they found love and survived a deadly attack by South African mercenaries. Ultimately, his sense of duty tore them apart. Years later, T’Challa found her again before once more rejecting her for the needs of Wakanda.

Now as she visits Africa, he has to make her forgive him, because no other woman can be his First Lady of Wakanda…

As Ororo makes him really earn her love, elsewhere malign forces gather. The possibility of a union between mutants and Wakandans is seen by many as a dangerous alliance. An Iraqi dictator creates his own super-powered Arabian Knight to attack them, Hydra attempts to abduct relatives Ororo doesn’t even know she has and even the Kenyan government are taking steps to maintain a status quo the gradually reunited couple couldn’t care less about…

Once Storm finally accepts the marriage offer, the insanity escalates. The Wakandans all adore their new queen-in-waiting and aren’t shy in letting her know it: the world’s fashion and media goes crazy at the prospect of a super Royal Wedding and become ultra-intrusive, and T’Challa’s old enemy Princess Zanda starts impersonating Ororo in the world’s most expensive boutiques, determined that only she shall have the Panther…

Ororo might be – grudgingly – okay with T’Challa’s old flames (the ladies in question, not so much), but tensions still abound. His formidable Dora Milaje bodyguards are imperiously withholding final judgement, SHIELD wants to take over security for the bride and groom and Cage is obnoxiously determined to organise the greatest Bachelor Party of all time…

The King only agrees after Invisible Woman Susan Richards pre-empts his stag debacle with a Bachelorette do unlike any other…

Eventually, the day arrives and a host of heroes and villains, politicos, family and journalists descend on Wakanda for the Wedding of the Century in ‘Here Comes a Storm’. It’s everything you’d expect from a ceremony packed with drunk and angry powered types, and a sinister psychic parasite hidden amongst the entourage and determined to possess the groom and rule the kingdom. Ororo is more concerned with last-minute detail. Wakanda’s god is the Panther Spirit: a live predator deity prone to eating anyone considered unworthy of joining the Royal family…

This deliciously light and frothy Fights ‘n’ Tights romp is perfectly balanced between suspense, comedy and brutal action (as all good weddings are) and also offers Jim McCann’s text feature ‘Diving the Design’ describing the creation of the wedding dress by Shawn Dudley.

What more could any True Romantic need?
© 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Epic Collection volume 4 1966-1967: The Mystery of the Black Panther


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby with Marie Severin, Joe Sinnott, Frank Giacoia and various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1556-8 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic and Groundbreaking… 10/10

Concocted by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, with inks by George Klein & Christopher Rule, Fantastic Four #1 (bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961) was crude, rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement unlike anything young fans had ever seen before.

Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it and the raw storytelling caught a wave of change starting to build in America. It and succeeding issues changed comicbooks forever.

This full-colour compendium – also available as a digital download – collects issues #52-67 and Annuals #4-5, plus material from Not Brand Echh #1 & 5 (spanning July 1966 to December 1967): an astounding progression of landmark tales as Stan & Jack cannily built on that early energy to consolidate the FF as the leading title and most innovative series of the era.

As seen in the ground-breaking premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancée Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame whilst tragic Ben shockingly devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. After the initial revulsion and trauma pass, they solemnly agree to use their abilities to benefit mankind and thus was born The Fantastic Four.

The FF became the indisputable central title and most consistently groundbreaking series of Marvel’s ever-unfolding web of cosmic creation: a forge for new concepts and characters at a time when Kirby was in his conceptual prime and continually unleashing his vast imagination on plot after spectacular plot whilst Lee scripted some of the most passionate superhero sagas that Marvel – or any publisher, for that matter – has ever seen.

Both were on an unstoppable roll, at the height of their creative powers, and full of the confidence that only success brings, with The King particularly eager to see how far the genre and the medium could be pushed…

Without preamble the wonderment commences with an actual social revolution as a new unforgettable character debuted. ‘The Black Panther!’ (Fantastic Four #52, cover-dated July 1966) was an enigmatic African monarch whose secretive kingdom was the only source of a vibration-absorbing alien metal. These mineral riches had enabled him to turn his country into a technological wonderland. Bold and confident, he lured the quartet into his savage super-scientific kingdom 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.

After battling the team to a standstill, King T’Challa reveals his tragic origin in ‘The Way it Began..!’, which also introduces sonic super-villain Klaw. In the aftermath Johnny and his tag-along college roommate Wyatt Wingfoot embark on a quest to rescue the Torch’s Inhuman lover Crystal (imprisoned with her people behind an impenetrable energy barrier in the Himalayas). Their journey is interrupted when they discover the lost tomb of Prester John in #54’s‘Whosoever Finds the Evil Eye…!’ and almost perish in devastating, misguided combat…

After aiding the FF against world-devouring Galactus, the Silver Surfer was imprisoned on Earth by the vengeful space-god. The brooding, perpetually moralising ex-herald had quickly become a fan-favourite, and his regular appearances were always a guarantee of something special.

When Strikes the Silver Surfer!’ sees him in uncomprehending, brutal battle with the Thing, whose insecurities over his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters explode into searing jealousy when the gleaming skyglider comes calling, after which business as unusual resumes when ‘Klaw, the Murderous Master of Sound!’ ambushes the team in their own home in #56.

Throughout all the stories since their imprisonment, a running sub-plot with the Inhumans had been slowly building, with Johnny and Wyatt stuck on the other side of the Great Barrier: wandering the wilds and seeking a method of liberating the Hidden City.

Their quest led directly into the spectacular battle yarn ‘The Torch that Was!’: lead feature in the fourth FF Annual (November 1966) in which The Mad Thinker recovers and resurrects the original Human Torch (in actuality the world’s first android and a major star of Timely/Marvel’s Golden Age) to destroy the flaming teenager…

The blistering battle briefly reunites the entire team and leads into an epic clash with their greatest foe.

Fantastic Four #57-60 is Lee & Kirby at their very best; with unbearable tension, incredible drama and breathtaking action on a number of fronts as the most dangerous man on Earth steals the Silver Surfer’s cosmic power, even as the Inhumans finally win their freedom and we discovered the tragic secret of mighty mute Black Bolt in all its awesome fury.

It all begins with a jailbreak by the Sandman in #57’s ‘Enter… Dr. Doom!’, escalates in ‘The Dismal Dregs of Defeat!’ as Doom tests his limitless stolen power; builds to a crescendo in ‘Doomsday’ with the heroes’ utter defeat and humiliation before culminating in brains and valour saving the day – and all humanity – in truly magnificent manner in ‘The Peril and the Power!’

Even though the team had just defeated cosmically-empowered Doom and returned to the Silver Surfer his purloined life-energies, there was never a dull moment: no sooner had the heroes relaxed than a new and improved foe attacked once more in Fantastic Four #61’s ‘Where Stalks the Sandman?’.

This began another explosive multi-part tale wherein Johnny and imprisoned beloved Crystal are reunited, even as Reed is beaten in battle and lost to the anti-matter hell of the Negative Zone’s sub-space corridor…

It’s Crystal to the rescue in ‘…And One Shall Save Him!’ as amphibious guest-star Triton (of the newly liberated Inhuman Royal Family) plucks the doomed genius from the jaws of disaster and inadvertently introduces another unique enemy. This diabolical monster follows Reed back from the anti-matter universe and straight into partnership with the still-seething Sandman. The resulting battle against ‘Blastaar, the Living Bomb-Burst!’ (FF #63, June 1967) wrecks half the city before some modicum of security is restored…

Looking for a little peace and quiet, the exhausted team then tackle ‘The Sentry Sinister’: a frenetic south seas adventure romp pitting the vacationing heroes against a super-scientific automaton buried for millennia by an ancient star-faring race.

This tropical treat expanded the burgeoning interlocking landscape to an infinite degree by introducing the ancient, imperial and alien Kree who would grow into one of the fundamental pillars supporting the vast continuity of the Marvel Universe.

Although regarded on Earth as a long-dead race, the Kree themselves resurface in the very next issue as the team is targeted by an alien emissary of vengeance ‘…From Beyond this Planet Earth!’

Pitiless Ronan the Accuser has come looking to see what could possibly have destroyed an invincible Sentry – and finds out to his great regret – but whilst the fight ensues Alicia is abducted by a super scientific stranger…

The mystery of her disappearance is revealed in #66 in ‘What Lurks Behind the Beehive?’ as the outraged FF trail the seemingly helpless artisan to a man-made technological wonderland. Here a band of rogue geniuses have genetically engineered the next phase in evolution only to lose control of it even before it can be properly born…

‘When Opens the Cocoon!’ exposes the secret of the creature known as Him and only Alicia’s gentle nature is able to placate the nigh-omnipotent creature (who would eventually evolve into doom-ridden cosmic voyager Adam Warlock), after which the tight continuity pauses to allow the Inhumans (time-lost race of paranormal beings long secluded from mortal men) and Black Panther to share the stage in 1967’s Fantastic Four Annual wherein sinister invader Psycho-Manattempts to ‘Divide… and Conquer!’ the Earth.

Frank Giacoia inked this tale, with the emotion-bending micro-marauder holding both the King of Wakanda and the Royal Family of Attilan at bay until the FF can pitch in, delayed as they were by the news that the Sue Richards is pregnant… and soon to be confined in the most appallingly sexist manner until the birth…

The Annual also includes another comedy insight into the creation of Marvel Epics as Stan, Jack & Frank ask ‘This is a Plot?’ and – after the now customary Kirby pin-ups (Inhumans Black Bolt, Gorgon, Medusa, Karnak, Triton, Crystal and Maximus, a colossal group shot of Galactus, Silver Surfer and others, plus a double-page spread of the quirky quartet) – a rapidly rising star-in-the-making gets his first solo appearance.

‘The Peerless Power of the Silver Surfer’ is a pithily potent fable of ambition and ingratitude reintroducing and upgrading the threat-level of the Mad Thinker’s lethal Artificial Intelligence murder-machine Quasimodo

Ending on a comedic note, this enticing tome includes a brace of pertinent parodies from Marvel’s spoof title Not Brand Echh, opening with (#1 August 1967) Lee, Kirby & Giacoia’s reassessment of Doom’s theft of the Power Cosmic in ‘The Silver Burper!’) and ending in a blistering boisterous bout between ‘The Ever-Loving Thung vs The Inedible Bulk!’(courtesy of Lee, Marie Severin & Giacoia).

Art lovers and history buffs can also enjoy a boundless hidden bounty at the end of this volume as we close with fascinating freebies in the form of the initial designs for Coal Tiger (who evolved into the Black Panther), Kirby & Sinnott’s unused first cover for FF #52 as well as a dozen Kirby/Sinnott original art pages.

Also on show is a pencil rough for FF #64, an alternative cover to #65 plus a previous collection cover drawn by Kirby and painted by Dean White.

Epic, revolutionary and unutterably unmissable, these are the stories which made Marvel the unassailable leaders in fantasy entertainment and which remain some of the most important superhero comics ever crafted. The verve, conceptual scope and sheer enthusiasm shines through on every page and the wonder is there for you to share. If you’ve never thrilled to these spectacular sagas then this book of marvels is the perfect key to another – far brighter – world and time.
6© 1966, 1967, 2019 MARVEL. All rights reserved.