Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection volume 6 – 1970-1972: The Death of Captain Stacy


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gil Kane, John Romita, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302929084 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Amazing Spider-Man was first seen in the middle of 1962, so expect more wallcrawling reviews over the coming months, and if any of us make it to the end I’m sure we’ll all be well-versed in Arachnid Lore with our book shelves (physical or digital) positively groaning with sublimely re-readable tales and tomes…

As an added bonus, this collection also represents the debut of a current Marvel Movie-verse monster masterwork. Oooh, scary…

The Amazing Spider-Man was always a comic that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead of – its fan-base. In this superbly scintillating compilation of chronologically corrected webspinning wonderment (in ponderous paperback or ephemeral eBook formats), the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero barely survives another rocky period of transformation as the second great era of Amazing Arachnid artists moved inevitably to a close. Although the elder John Romita would remain closely connected to the Wallcrawler’s adventures for some time yet, these tales would number amongst his last sustained run as lead illustrator.

After a rather nervous nativity The Amazing Spider-Man soon became a certified sensation with kids of all ages. Before too long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera would become 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.

Smart-but-alienated Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider during a school trip. Discovering strange superhuman abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the kid did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Making a costume to hide his identity in case he made a fool of himself, Parker became a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night, he didn’t lift a finger to stop him. That self-serving arrogance cost him dearly, as when he returned home, he learned his guardian uncle Ben Parker had been murdered.

Crazed and vengeful, Peter hunted the assailant who’d made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, discovering to his horror that it was the self-same felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility had resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and the traumatised boy swore to forevermore use his powers to help others…

Since that night, the wondrous wallcrawler tirelessly battled miscreants, misanthropes, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them…

Stan Lee’s scripts were in tune with the times – as understood by most kids’ parents at least – and the heavy dose of soap opera kept older readers glued to the series even if the bombastic battle sequences didn’t.

This sixth full-colour collection of chronologically congregated and curated early Amazing Arachnoid Epics sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero foreshadowing a major change in the tone and timbre of comics even while continuing the long climb to global stardom…

Re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #86-104 (originally released between July 1970 and January 1972) these spider-sagas began the next stage in the hero’s evolution as Lee first surrendered the scripting privileges: here to his ordained understudy Roy Thomas. Lee would reclaim the role briefly but as with The Fantastic Four and Thor, it was time for new voices…

The drama begins with drastic transformation for a conflicted Cold War leftover as Lee’s ‘Beware… the Black Widow!’ gave John Romita (senior) and Jim Mooney leave to redesign and relaunch the Soviet super-spy. Looking for a fresh start, the sometime-Avenger stole the show in an enjoyable if highly formulaic misunderstanding/clash-of-heroes yarn with an ailing Spider-Man never really endangered. The entire episode was actually a promotion for the Widow’s own soon-to-debut solo series…

‘Unmasked at Last!’ found Parker convinced that his powers were fading forever and suffering from a raging fever. Delirious, Parker exposes his secret identity to all the guests at his girlfriend’s party but on recovering – from flu – acts to save his other life, using the kind of logic and subterfuge that only works in comics and sitcoms. Asking ex-villain Hobie (The Prowler) Brown for help, Parker subsequently convinces everybody that it was only a flu-induced aberration…

Spider-Man at this time became a permanent, unmissable part of youngsters’ lives and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow. Blending cultural authenticity with spectacular art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness that most of the readership daily experienced, resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive emotionally-intense instalments, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

The wonderment resumes in ‘The Arms of Doctor Octopus!’ with the many-tentacled terror escaping jail and capturing a jetliner full of Chinese diplomats. It all ends with explosive suddenness and apparent suicide after the wallcrawler intervenes, yet is promptly followed a month later by ‘Doc Ock Lives!’ This heralded a new era of visual dynamism as Gil Kane began a sporadic but memorable run as penciller, with Romita reverting to chief inker. Here Octopus rampages through town, causing carnage until Spider-Man again confronts him. The battle takes a lethal turn in ‘And Death Shall Come!’ wherein Parker’s attempts to stop him leads to the death of a beloved cast member…

With that tragic demise of a cast regular, the webslinger became a wanted fugitive. Already fanatical publisher J. Jonah Jameson began backing “Law and Order” election hopeful Sam Bullitt in a campaign ‘To Smash the Spider!’, unaware of the politician’s disreputable past and ultra-right-wing agenda, but the secret is exposed (by Bugle sub-editor Joe Robertson) in #92’s ‘When Iceman Attacks’…

The ambitious demagogue convinced the youngest X-Man that Spider-Man had kidnapped Parker’s paramour Gwen Stacy but the Wondrous Wallcrawler’s explosive battle against the mutant exposed the corrupt and explicitly racist Bullit in an all-out action extravaganza featuring some of the best fight-art of the decade by two of the industry’s greatest names.
Romita resumed pencilling with issue #93, which saw the return of an almost forgotten frenemy in ‘The Lady and… The Prowler!’. Hobie Brown was a reformed super-burglar but when he saw that the Amazing Arachnid was wanted, he too was all too ready to believe the media hype…

Amazing Spider-Man #94 (Lee, Romita & Sal Buscema) offered a fresh glimpse of the hero’s fabled origin as part of a dynamic dust-up with The Beetle ‘On Wings of Death!’, after which Peter headed for London to woo his estranged girlfriend Gwen, who had fled the manic violence of America after her father’s death.

Typically, ‘Trap for a Terrorist’ finds the city under threat from a gang of bombers, which apparently only Spider-Man can handle. Gwen returned home, never knowing Parker had come after her, and had to stay out of sight once the wallcrawler was seen in Westminster.

Everything was forgotten in the next issue when deeply disturbed and partially amnesiac industrialist Norman Osborn abruptly remembered he once had another more macabre persona. Restored and enraged he once again attacked Peter in #96’s ‘…And Now, the Goblin!’ by Lee, Kane & Romita.

Stan Lee had long wanted to address the contemporary drugs situation in Marvel’s stories but was forbidden by Comics Code Authority strictures. When the Nixon administration, in the form of the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, approached him to tackle the issue, Lee devised the 3-part Green Goblin tale. When it was inevitably refused Code approval, the writer-editor went ahead and published it anyway…

Although the return of the madman who knew all Spider-Man’s secrets was the big fan-draw, the real meat of the tale was how Osborn’s son Harry – a perfectly average rich white kid and Peter Parker’s best friend – is drawn into a web of addiction, abuse and toxic overdose. Frank Giacoia began inking Kane with the second instalment, ‘In the Grip of the Goblin!’ as the elder Osborn runs riot, almost killing the webslinger and preparing for his final deadly assault, even as his son lies dying. The saga spectacularly concludes with ‘The Goblin’s Last Gasp!’ as, in the clinch, the villain’s deeply-buried paternal love proves his undoing and Parker’s salvation…

Amazing Spider-Man #99 portrays ‘A Day in the Life of…’: an all-action, social drama-tinged palate-cleanser with Peter and Gwen finally getting their love-life back on track, only marginally diverted by a prison breakout easily quelled by the Arachnid Avenger, whilst highlighting the growing scandal of prison conditions.

Celebrating a major anniversary, and heralding a dramatic change to the entire comics industry, an astonishing tales begins with ‘The Spider or the Man?’ (Lee, Kane & Giacoia) as, determined to retire and marry, Peter attempts to destroy his powers with an untested self-concocted serum. The result is a hallucinogenic trip wherein action ace Kane draws an all-out battle between Spidey and an army of old enemies, culminating in a waking nightmare when Parker regains consciousness and discovers he’s grown four additional arms…

With #101 Roy Thomas stepped in as scripter for ‘A Monster Called… Morbius!’, wherein the eight-limbed hero desperately seeks some way to reverse his condition. Fortuitously, he stumbles across a murderous costumed horror who drinks human blood. Making matters even worse is old foe The Lizard who suddenly turns up, determined to kill them both…

Amongst the many things banned by the Comics Code in 1954 were horror staples vampires and werewolves, but changing tastes and rising comics production costs of the early 1970s saw superhero titles dropping like flies in a blizzard. With interest in suspense and the supernatural growing, all comics publishers were pushing to re-establish horror comics again, and the covert introduction of a “Living Vampire” in superhero staple Spider-Man led to another challenge to the CCA; the eventually revision of the horror section of the Code and a resurgent rise of supernatural heroes and titles.

For one month Marvel also experimented with double-sized comicbooks (DC’s switch to 52-page issues lasted almost a year – August 1971-June 1972 cover-dates) and Amazing Spider-Man #102 featured an immense, 3-chapter blockbuster beginning with ‘Vampire at Large!’, wherein the octo-webspinner and anthropoid reptile join forces to hunt a science-spawned bloodsucker after discovering a factor in the vampire’s saliva could cure both part-time monsters’ respective conditions…

‘The Way it Began’ briefly diverges from the main narrative to present the tragic secret origin of Nobel Prize winning biologist Michael Morbius, and how be turned himself into a haunted night-horror, before kThe Curse and the Cure!’ brings the tale to a blistering conclusion and restores the status quo and requisite appendage-count.

Designed as another extra-length epic, ‘Walk the Savage Land!’ began in now conventionally paginated #103, but was sliced in half and finished as #104’s ‘The Beauty and the Brute’.

When The Daily Bugle suffers a financial crisis, bellicose publisher Jameson takes Parker and his extremely photogenic girlfriend Gwen on a monster-hunt to the Lost World under the Antarctic. The intention is to encounter dinosaurs and cavemen but the stunt goes awry, dragging in noble savage Ka-Zar, perfidious villain Kraven the Hunter and a terrifying giant alien baby dubbed Gog in a fabulous pastiche and homage to Willis O’Brien’s King Kong, delivered with love and pride from Thomas, Kane & Giacoia.

Although this romp ends the narrative on a rousing high, there still more to see, beginning with the Romita Sr. covers from all-reprint Amazing Spider-Man Annual’s #7-8; contemporary house-ads and scads of un-inked Kane art pages. That’s supplemented by a bridging story-page by Kane & Mike Esposito from Marvel Tales #83; and a selection of covers from numerous other reprints of these stories: illustrated by Jim Calafiore, Glen Orbik, Steve Lightle, Nghia Lam & Jason Rodriguez, Al Rio & Thomas Velazquez, Romita Sr. Bruce Timm, Mike Wieringo, Tim Townsend, Sean Chen & Eric Cannon, but the true treat for comics historians are various versions of Kane’s original cover for #97 and the turning point of the drugs story. A far stronger and more explicit view of Harry’s addiction, both the colour rough and amended full cover art were rejected by the CCA.

Spider-Man became a permanent unmissable part of many teenagers’ lives at this time and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow. Blending cultural authenticity with glorious narrative art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness most of the readership experienced daily, resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive soap-opera slices, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

This book is Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. Come see why.
© 2021 MARVEL

Klaws of the Panther


By Jonathan Mayberry, Shawn Moll, Gianluca Gugliotta, Walden Wong & Pepe Larraz (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5118-0 (TPB/Digital editions)

Debuting in Fantastic Four #52 (cover-dated July 1966) and hailed as the first black super hero character 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 boldly attacked the FF as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

Time passed and 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 enabled him to turn his country into a technological wonderland. The tribal wealth had been guarded throughout history by a cat-like champion deriving physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb which ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s warrior Panther Cult.

In modern times the Vibranium mound made the country a target for increasing subversion and incursion and after an all-out attack by the forces of 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 this cataclysmic clash T’Challa’s flighty, spoiled brat half-sister Shuri took on the mantle of the Black Panther and became the clan and country’s new champion whilst her predecessor struggled with the disaster he had deliberately caused…

This slim, unassuming but extremely engaging Costumed Drama collects pertinent portions of the portmanteau Age of Heroes #4 and the guest-star packed Klaws of the Panther 4-part fortnightly miniseries from 2010-2011 – following a very different princess from the filmic one you probably know – as she progress through the Marvel Universe, striving to outlive her wastrel reputation, serve her country and the world whilst – crucially – defeating the growing homicidal rage that increasingly burns within her…

The story starts with ‘Honor’ by Jonathan Mayberry, Shawn Moll & Walden Wong, wherein the latest Panther Champion brutally repels an invasion by soldiers of Advanced Idea Mechanics: simply the latest opportunist agency attempting to take over the decimated country of Wakanda.

With her brother and (X-Man and occasional goddess) Queen Storm absent, Shuri is also de facto ruler of the nation, but faces dissent from her own people, as embarrassing reports and photos of her days as a billionaire good-time girl are continually surfacing to stir popular antipathy to her and the Panther clan.

When opportunist G’Tuga of the outlawed White Gorilla sect challenges for the role of national champion, Shuri treats the ritual combat as a welcome relief from insurmountable, intangible problems; but has badly misjudged her opponent and the sentiment of the people…

The main event by Mayberry, Gianluca Gugliotta & Pepe Larraz opens with ‘Savage Tales’ as Shuri is lured to fantastic dinosaur preserve the Savage Land, hoping to purchase a supply of a metal-eating Vibranium isotope, but instead uncovers a deadly plot by AIM and sentient sound-wave Klaw.

The incredible fauna of the lost world has been enslaved by the Master of Sound – who years previously murdered Shuri and T’Challa’s father in an earlier attempt to seize ultimate power – and the villain has captured the region’s protector Ka-Zar whilst seeking to secure all Savage Land Vibranium for his nefarious schemes.

Klaw, however, only thought he had fully compensated for the interference of Shuri and Ka-Zar’s formidable spouse Shanna the She-Devil…

Driven by lust for vengeance, Shuri almost allows Klaw to destroy the entire Savage Land and only the timely intervention of mutant sister-in-law Storm prevents nuclear armageddon in ‘Sound and Fury’, after which the impulsive Panther seeks out Wolverine on the outlaw island Madripoor, looking for help with her out-of-control anger management issues. Once again, AIM attacks, attempting to steal the rogue state’s priceless stockpile of Savage Land Vibranium, but instead walks into a buzzsaw of angry retribution…

Shuri is about to extract information from a surviving AIM agent in time-honoured Wakandan manner when Klaw appears, hinting at a world-shattering plan called “The Scream” which will use mysterious device M.U.S.I.C. to totally remake the Earth…

After another furious fight, the new Panther gains the upper hand by using SLV dust, but squanders her hard-won advantage to save Wolverine from certain death…

Knowing the entire planet is at stake, Shuri accepts the necessity for major-league assistance in ‘Music of the Spheres’ but unfortunately the only one home at Avengers Tower is the relatively low-calibre Spider-Man. Reluctantly she takes the wisecracking half-wit on another raid on AIM and finally catches a break when one of Klaw’s AIM minions reveals the tragic secret of the horrific M.U.S.I.C device…

All this time, Black Panther has had a hidden ally in the form of tech specialist Flea, who has been providing intel from an orbiting spaceship. Now the full truth is revealed and the heroes find Klaw’s plans centre on an attack from space. The maniac intends to destroy humanity from an invulnerable station thousands of miles above the planet and nothing can broach the base’s incredible defences. Happily, Spider-Man and ex-Captain America Steve Rogers know the world’s greatest infiltration expert and soon ‘Enter the Black Widow’ finds Earth’s last hopes depending on an all-or-nothing assault by the icily calm Panther and the world’s deadliest spy.

Cue tragic sacrifice, deadly combat, spectacular denouement, reaffirmed dedication and a new start for the ferociously inspired and determined Black Panther…

Slight yet gloriously readable, this compelling thriller boasts an impressive cover gallery by Jae Lee, Michael Del Mundo and Stephanie Hans, plus an information-packed text feature on Shuri’s life-history, career and abilities to bring the completist reader up to full speed.

If you don’t despise reboots and re-treads on unswerving principle and are prepared to give something new(ish) a go, there’s tons of fun to be had in this infectious, fast-paced Fights ‘n’ Tights farrago, so go set your sights and hunt this down…
© 2010, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Bill Mantlo, Chris Claremont, Sal Buscema, John Byrne, Keith Giffen & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2931-2 (HB)

The concept of team-ups – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with new or less well-selling company characters – has been with us since the earliest days of comics, but making the brief encounter/temporary alliance a key selling point really took hold with DC’s The Brave and the Bold before being taken up by their biggest competitor.

Marvel Team-Up was the second regular Spider-Man title, launching at the end of 1971. It went from strength to strength, proving the time had finally come for expansion and offering a regular venue for uncomplicated action romps to supplement the House of Ideas’ complex sub-plot fare in regular books. However, even in the infinite Marvel Multiverse, certain stars shine more brightly than others and some characters turn up in team-ups more often than others…

In recent years, carefully curated themed collections from the back-catalogue have served to initiate new readers intrigued by Marvel’s Movie and TV endeavours, but there’s no real substitute for seeing Marvel’s continuity unfolding in chronological and this compelling hardback/eBook compilation gathers the contents of Marvel Team-Up #53-64; MTU Annual #1 and includes a pertinent debut from Marvel Premiere #31; collectively covering August 1976 to December 1977.

Following Chris Claremont’s Introduction offering fond remembrances of the times and key writer Bill Mantlo, open with an epic length adventure from Marvel Team-Up Annual #1 by Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito (from a plot by Mantlo, Claremont & Bonnie Wilford).

‘The Lords of Light and Darkness!’ sees Spider-Man and the then-newly minted and revived X-Men, Banshee, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Phoenix and Cyclops helping Charles Xavier combat a pantheon of scientists mutated by atomic accident and elevated to minor godhood.

Like most deities, the puissant ones believed they knew what was best for humanity…

Mantlo then teamed with John Byrne & Frank Giacoia to bring closure to a tale begun – and left hanging – in August 1976’s Marvel Premiere #31, which can be found at the back of this book.

Marvel Team-Up #53 detailed a ‘Nightmare in New Mexico!’ as The Hulk meets troubled and AWOL gene-splicing experiment Woodgod as the tragic construct flees from corrupt Army Colonel Del Tremens. By the time the wallcrawler drops in, the fugitive outcasts have joined forces leaving him a  ‘Spider in the Middle!’ (inked by Esposito).

As Tremens seeks to suppress the calamitous crisis – and his own indiscretions – by killing everyone, the final scene sees the webspinner trapped in a rocket and blasted into space…

Marvel Team-Up #55 revealed a ‘Spider, Spider on the Moon!’ (Mantlo, Byrne & Dave Hunt) with returned cosmic Avenger Adam Warlock intercepting the ship before assisting the Arachnid and mysterious alien The Gardener against The Stranger: all seeking possession of the Golden Gladiator’s life-sustaining Soul Gem…

Back on Earth but still a trouble-magnet, in #56 Spider-Man assists Daredevil against ‘Double Danger at the Daily Bugle!’ (Mantlo, Sal B & Hunt) when Electro and Blizzard take the entire Newsroom hostage, after which Claremont assumed full scripting duties, laying the groundwork for a complex extended thriller embroiling the still-naïve hero in a deadly espionage plot.

With artists Sal Buscema & Dave Hunt, Claremont began redefining the Widow’s ways in Marvel Team-Up #57 (May 1977). ‘When Slays the Silver Samurai!’ sees Spidey saved from lethal ambush by the Black Widow, implausibly holding up a collapsing building, and reluctantly taking possession of a strange statuette that he soon forgets all about. That’s an oversight he’ll later regret…

In #58, the webspinner aids Ghost Rider against The Trapster in ‘Panic on Pier One!’ (Pablo Marcos inks) before he can investigate further.  Another distraction comes when MTU #59 declares ‘Some Say Spidey Will Die by Fire… Some Say by Ice!’ (Claremont, Byrne & Hunt) when veteran Avenger Yellowjacket is apparently murdered by rampaging mystery maniac Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man. The Amazing Arachnid is hard-pressed to stop the traumatised Waspexacting bloody vengeance in concluding episode ‘A Matter of Love… and Death!’ in MTU #60…

The secret of the clay artefact is revealed in #61 as Human Torch Johnny Storm joins his creepy-crawly frenemy in battle against the Super-Skrull and learns ‘Not All Thy Powers Can Save Thee!’, with the furious clash calamitously escalating to include Ms. Marvel Carol Danvers with the next issue’s ‘All This and the QE2’…

Despite the very best efforts of Claremont & Byrne, their Kung Fu fantasy Iron Fist never quite achieved the kind of sales traction that rewarded their collaboration on the X-Men. The living weapon lost his circulation battle with issue #15 of his own title. Although ending in spectacular fashion, the cancellation was clearly unplanned, as two major subplots went unresolved: private detective Misty Knight had disappeared on an undercover assignment to investigate European gang-boss John Bushmaster and K’un Lun kid Danny Rand was suffering repeated attacks on his chi by the enigmatic and murderous Steel Serpent…

Frustrated fans didn’t have to wait long for a resolution. Marvel Team-Up was becoming the creative team’s personal clearing house for unresolved plot-lines. Issues #63 & 64 exposed the secret of the sinister K’un Lun pariah on the ‘Night of the Dragon’ before Rand and Spidey – with the assistance of Daughters of the Dragon Misty Knight and Colleen Wing– finally ended his threat in blistering martial arts manner with ‘If Death Be My Destiny!’

This epic tome is packed with rarely-seen extras, beginning with the contents of the Marvel Comics Memory Album Calendar 1977, released in late 1976 and preceded here by a ‘Special F.O.O.M. Preview!’ from the fabled fan-mag’s #16 (December 1976) issue. The Calendar pages follow, written by Roy Thomas and limned by Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr., Joe Sinnott, Ed Hannigan, Frank Giacoia, Gil Kane, John Buscema, Ron Wilson, Gene Colan, Jack Abel, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, George Pérez, Tom Palmer, P. Craig Russell and John Verpoorten.

As an added treat, the debut/origin of “The Man-Brute Called Woodgod” (Marvel Premiere #31, August 1976) comes next as Mantlo, Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson explore the merits, ethics and repercussions of manufacturing life and meddling with nature. ‘Birthday!’ finds a modern-day faun rampaging through the ruins of a murdered town, searching for meaning and answers from the savage military men and technicians whose only solution to oversight and potential censure is murder and cover-ups…

The sinister science project saga is supplemented by F.O.O.M. #13’s interview ‘Woodgod Wanderings’ plus a gallery of Byrne original art pages.

These tales are of variable quality but all have an honest drive to entertain and please, whilst artistically the work – particularly action-man-on-fire Byrne – is superb, and most fans will find little to complain about. Although not perhaps a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s lots of fun on hand and young readers – or Marvel Cinematic supporters – will have a blast, so why not consider this tome for your “Must-Have” library? © 2021 MARVEL

The Amazing Spider-Man: The Complete Alien Costume Saga – Book 1


By Tom DeFalco, Al Milgrom, David Michelinie, Louise Simonson, Cary Burkett & Tony Isabella with Roger Stern, Jim Owsley & Bob DeNatale, Ron Frenz, Greg LaRocque, Rick Leonardi & Paul Neary with David Mazzuchelli & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8867-4 (TPB)

Spider-Man exchanged his heavily-copyrighted and thoroughly trademarked costume whilst on another planet during the first Marvel Secret Wars. It was replaced with a magnificently stylish black & white number for the duration of the 12 issue maxi-series in his own titles (except the all-reprint Marvel Tales) which over the course of the year revealed the true horrifying nature of the extraterrestrial ensemble…

Collecting Amazing Spider-Man #252-258; Marvel Team-Up #141-145 and MTU Annual #7 and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #90-95 and covering May-November 1984, this rather rare paperback or instantly accessible digital tome seeks to chronologically cover all the bases in regard to the black bodysuit’s every appearance and thus opens with relevant clips from clips from Secret Wars #8, 9 and 12…

Continuity-wise, the extended epic opens at the conclusion of the Secret Saga with Spider-Man and Curt Connors – occasionally lethally maniacal monster the Lizard – explosively returning to Earth after a week when the world’s greatest heroes and villains had simply vanished.

To clear up any potential confusion: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars debuted in May 1984 and ran for 12 monthly issues until April 1985. In it, a selection of metahumans good and bad were shanghaied by a godlike being dubbed The Beyonder: compelled to interminably battle each other. Every other Marvel comic  of that month chronologically occurred in the apparent aftermath of that struggle with most of the returned heroes and villains refusing to divulge what had happened on Battleworld …a cheap but extremely effective ploy which kept fans glued to the Limited Series in the months that followed.

This compendium catapults us into action with ‘Homecoming!’ by Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz & Brett Breeding as spectators in Central Park see a mysterious black garbed stranger explode out of an alien artefact … only the first of many costumed characters to escape the Beyonder’s world.

Spider-Man takes the shell-shocked Connors back to his family and then begins to explore his new uniform: a thought-controlled, self-activating, metamorphic ball with chameleon capabilities, able to construct webbing out of its own mass.

The smart-cloth is astonishing, but weary Peter Parker has family to see and a city to reacquaint himself with. The hero promises himself he’ll further research the incredible material at a later date…

Not included here, Marvel Team-Up #140 posed a morally trying dilemma as a city-wide blackout provoked riots and looting. Spider-Man was on scene when a pawnshop owner was shot dead and the next day, lawyer Matt Murdock was appointed to defend a teenager indicted for the murder. Parker was there too, and knows the kid is innocent. As Spider-Man investigates, Daredevil’s old flame Natasha Romanoff volunteers to fact-find for the overworked attorney. When investigations overlapped a street gang was confirmed to be behind the incident, but the new murder suspect triggered a deadly car chase and hostage situation before being apprehended. Frustratingly – although responsible for much of the tragedy on that night – he quickly proves to also be innocent of the pawnbroker’s death…

This yarn happened at the beginning of Secret Wars and it’s a much-altered Spider-Man who joins Daredevil and the Black Widow in obtaining ‘Blind Justice’ in #141 (by DeFalco, Jim Owsley AKA Priest, Greg LaRoque & Mike Esposito) as the heroes uncover New York mob connections, a trail to Kingpin Wilson Fisk, the real killer and the true nature of the kid they’ve been defending…

In Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #90, Al Milgrom & Jim Mooney’s ‘Where, oh Where Has My Spider-Man Gone…?’ sees occasionally reformed adventurer and thief the Black Cat scouring the city and encountering many foes and friends before finally finding her transformed man, after which the wonderful Rick Leonardi & Bill Anderson illustrate DeFalco’s powerful crime thriller ‘By Myself Betrayed!’

Here a prominent football player, sucked into gambling and match-fixing, drags the Web-spinner into conflict with new gang-lord The Rose. As his new uniform increasingly, obsessively amazes Peter with its rather disturbing autonomy (it comes to him unbidden and regularly envelops him while he sleeps), the hero uncomprehendingly alienates his beloved Aunt May when he drops out of college…

Milgrom & Mooney’s ‘If it Wasn’t for Bad Luck…’ in PPSS #91 sees the Black Cat keeping secrets from her frankly now-creepy paramour even as mutant menace the Blob goes on a grief-fuelled rampage before Amazing Spider-Man #254 questions ‘With Great Power…’ (DeFalco, Leonardi & Joe Rubinstein) as the ebon wallcrawler battles terrorist mercenary Jack O’Lantern for possession of a hi-tech battle-van designed and built by the terrifying Hobgoblin. Peter should have been reconciling with May, and suffers another heartbreaking personal setback…

PPSS #92 (Milgrom & Mooney) bombastically introduces the Kingpin’s latest diabolical fixer in ‘And the answer is…’, with the Cat desperate to keep Spider-Man in the dark about her deal with Wilson Fisk, whilst Marvel Team-Up #142 and 143 take the wallcrawler very far from home in a cosmic mini epic by David Michelinie, LaRoque & Esposito.

‘Foiled!’ sees living light source Monica Rambeau (the second Marvel Captain Marvel) trapped in energy form following a high-tech heist and dependent on Spidey and Titan Starfox to save the day and secure a trans-dimensional remedy in ‘Shifts and Planes’…

In Amazing Spider-Man #255, DeFalco, Frenz & Rubinstein introduce charismatic septuagenarian cat-burglar Black Fox(whose outfit coincidentally resembled Spidey’s new kit) who is a hapless pawn and target of the ruthless but cash-strapped Red Ghost and his Super-Apes in ‘Even a Ghost Can Fear the Night!’ Compelled to rob until caught by Spider-Man, the Fox orchestrated a spectacular battle between the hero and the Ghost before getting away with all the loot…

Marvel Team-Up Annual #7 (by Louise Simonson, Paul Neary & Sam De La Rosa) saw Spider and Cat meet Alpha Flight as a certain Elder of the Universe goes after aliens to complete a set and falls for ‘The Collected Spider-Man’.

The issue also revealed ‘No Place to Run’ for a loving ordinary couple forever unsettled by witnessing the world of Superheroes and villains by Bob DeNatale, David Mazzuchelli & Brett Breeding…

Milgrom & Mooney crafted ‘A Hot Time in the Old Morgue Tonight!’ for Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man#93 as The Answer stalks the Black Cat to unearth Spider-Man’s secrets, only to see love being poisoned and Spidey’s suit start to malfunction…

Subsequently kidnapping the Cat is only part of his masterplan – as is letting the wallcrawler win her back…

Cary Burkett, LaRoque & Esposito pit the webslinger and Moon Knight against Chinese ganglord White Dragon in ‘My Sword I Lay Down!’ as a prelude to Milgrom & Mooney bringing Cloak and Dagger into the game with PPSS #94’s ‘How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down at the Morgue After They’ve Seen N.Y.C.?’ as the Kingpin resurrects his former rival Silvermane and the mindless cyborg goes wild. The tale ends but does not conclude here with #95 and ‘The Dagger at the End of the Tunnel’ as the Kingpin’s grand scheme is exposed and one hero falls…

Closing the team tussles, MTU #145 (September 1984, by Tony Isabella,  LaRocque & Esposito) delivers ‘Hometown Boy’: from the period when Tony Stark first succumbed to alcoholism. He lost everything, and friend/bodyguard Jim Rhodes took on the role and duties of the Golden Avenger. As Stark tried to make good with a new start-up company, this engaging yarn sees the substitute hero still finding his ferrous feet whilst battling oft-failed assassin Blacklash (formerly Whiplash) at a Cleveland trade fair, as much hindered as helped by visiting hero Spider-Man wearing his enigmatic black duds…

Having granted readers a period of adjustment, the saga hits its stride in Amazing Spider-Man #256 as ‘Introducing… Puma!’ finds an increasingly weary and listless Spider-Man attacked by a Native American super-mercenary hired by the Rose. The Arachnid’s gang-busting crusade beside Black Cat was making life too hot and unprofitable for the ambitious mobster…

That calamitous clash carries over into ‘Beware the Claws of Puma!’ furiously escalating until The Kingpin steps in to stop it, forcing the Rose to ally himself with the murderous Hobgoblin. The issue ends with an exhausted Parker confronted with a stunning revelation from former lover Mary Jane Watson…

The shock prompts Peter into seeking out ‘The Sinister Secret of Spider-Man’s New Costume!’ Plagued by nightmares, perpetually tired and increasingly debilitated, the webslinger visits the Fantastic Four and is disgusted and horrified to learn that his suit is alive: a parasite slowly attaching itself to him body and soul…

Meanwhile, Hobgoblin and the Rose’s uneasy alliance has resulted in bloody, undeclared war on the Kingpin…

With Reed Richards’ help the creature is removed from Spider-Man and imprisoned, but the story is still unfinished and there’s so much more to come.

To Be Continued…

Also on show here are Leonardi designs from Mike Zeck’s design for the black costume from Marvel Age #12; text pieces by Bob Sodaro & Mark Lerer from #14; covers by Ron Lim, Larry Mahlstedt, Keith Williams, Milgrom, Terry Austin, from Marvel Tales #266-272 (reprinting the Amazing Spider-Man stories) and two previous collection covers by Ron Frenz, Rubinstein and John Romita Sr.

Rounding out this initial collection is a foreword by Jim Salicrup from the 1988 collection; seven original art pages by Frenz & Breeding, LaRocque, Rubinstein & Esposito, and front and back covers from Essential Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man volume 4 by Milgrom, tom chu and Tom Smith.

This run of tales marvellously rejuvenated the Amazing Arachnid: kicking off a period of gripping and imaginative stories that culminated with the creation of arch antihero/villain Venom and today’s whole symbiote super-subculture.  If you’re a fan of superhero comics these are tales you just don’t want to miss, specially in Spder-Man’s anniversary year!
© 2019 MARVEL

Marvel Two-in-One Masterworks volume 1


By Steve Gerber, Len Wein, Mike Friedrich, Chris Claremont, Jim Starlin, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, Bob Brown & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6633-7 (HB)

Imagination isn’t everything. As Marvel slowly grew to a position of dominance in the wake of losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators, they did so less by risky experimentation and more by expanding and exploiting proven concepts and properties.

The only real exception to this was their en masse creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing, or battling – and usually both – with less well-selling company characters, was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of this new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch. In those long-lost days, editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline, they may well have been right.

After the runaway success of Spider-Man’s collaborations in Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas reinforced the trend with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic member – beginning with two test runs in Marvel Feature before graduating to its own somewhat over-elaborate title.

This compelling compendium – available in hardback and digital formats – gathers the contents of Marvel Feature #11-12 and Marvel Two-In-One #1-10, covering September 1973 – July 1975, and opens with a Roy Thomas Introduction explaining how it was Stan’s idea…

Then the much told tales take centre stage with a perennial favourite pairing and the Thing once more clashing with The Incredible Hulk in ‘Cry: Monster! by Len Wein, Jim Starlin & Joe Sinnott (from MF #11).

Here, Kurrgo, Master of Planet X and the lethal Leader manipulate both blockbusting brutes into duking it out – ostensibly to settle a wager – but with the mighty minded, misshapen masterminds each concealing hidden agendas…

That ever-inconclusive yet cataclysmic clash leaves Ben stranded in the Nevada desert where Mike Friedrich, Starlin & Sinnott promptly drop him in the middle of the ongoing war against mad Titan Thanos with Iron Man helping Ben crush monstrous alien invaders in ’The Bite of the Blood Brothers!’ (Marvel Feature #12, November 1973): another spectacular and painfully pretty all-action punch-up.

Still stuck in the desert when the dust settles, Ben laboriously treks to a minor outpost of civilisation just in time to be diverted to Florida for the grand opening of his own title. Cover-dated January 1974, Marvel Two-In-One #1 sees Steve Gerber, Gil Kane & Sinnott magnificently detail the ‘Vengeance of the Molecule Man!’, with Ben learning some horrifying home truths about what constitutes being a monster after battling with and beside ghastly, grotesque anti-hero Man-Thing.

With the second issue Gerber cannily trades a superfluous supporting character from his Man-Thing series to add some much-needed depth to the team-up title. ‘Manhunters from the Stars!’ pits Ben, old enemy Namor, the Sub-Mariner (another series Gerber was currently writing) and the Aquatic Avenger’s feisty and single-minded cousin Namoritaagainst each other as well as aliens hunting the emotionally and intellectually retarded superboy Wundarr. Another dynamically, intoxicating tale illustrated by Kane & Sinnott, this case also leaves the Thing as de facto guardian of the titanic teenaged tot…

Sal Buscema signed on as penciller with #3 as the Rocky Ranger joins the Man Without Fear ‘Inside Black Spectre!’: a crossover instalment of the extended epic then playing out in Daredevil #108-112 (in case you’re wondering, this action-packed fight-fest occurs between the second and third chapters) after which ‘Doomsday 3014!’ (Gerber, Buscema & Frank Giacoia) finds Ben and Captain America visiting the 31st century to save Earth from enslavement by the reptilian Brotherhood of Badoon, leaving Wundarr with Namorita for the foreseeable future…

The furious future-shocker concludes in MTIO #5 as the original Guardians of the Galaxy (not the movie group) climb aboard the Freedom Rocket to help our time-lost heroes liberate New York before returning home. The overthrow of the aliens was completed by another set of ancient heroes in Defenders #26-29 (which is also the subject of a different review)…

Marvel Two-In-One #6 began a complex crossover tale with the aforementioned Defenders as Dr. Strange and the Thing witness a cosmic event which begins with a subway busker’s harmonica and leads inexorably to a ‘Death-Song of Destiny!’ (Gerber, George Tuska & Mike Esposito) before Asgardian outcasts Enchantress and the Executioner attempt to seize control of unfolding events in #7’s ‘Name That Doom!’ (pencilled by Sal Buscema).

As they are thwarted by Grimm and the valiant Valkyrie, there’s enough of an ending here for casual readers, but fans and completists will want to hunt down Defenders #20 or Defenders Masterworks link please volume 3 for the full story…

Back here, however, MTIO #8 teams Grimm and supernatural sensation Ghost Rider in a quirkily compelling Yuletide yarn. ‘Silent Night… Deadly Night!’ – by Gerber, Buscema & Esposito – finds the audacious Miracle Man trying to take control of a very special birth in a stable…

Gerber moved on after plotting Thor team-up ‘When a God goes Mad!’ for Chris Claremont to script and Herb Trimpe & Joe Giella to finish: a rushed and meagre effort with the Puppet Master and Radion the Atomic Man making a foredoomed power play, before issue #10 concludes this initial compendium.

Crafted by Claremont, the still much-missed Bob Brown & Klaus Janson, it is a slice of inspired espionage action-intrigue with Ben and the Black Widow battling suicidal terrorist Agamemnon who plans to detonate the planet’s biggest nuke in blistering thriller ‘Is This the Way the World Ends?’.

These stories from Marvel’s Middle Period are of variable quality but nonetheless represent an honest attempt to entertain and exhibit a dedicated drive to please. Whilst artistically the work varies from adequate to utterly superb, most fans of the frantic Fights ‘n’ Tights genre would find little to complain about.

Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s still buckets of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so why not to add this colossal comics chronicle to your straining superhero bookshelves?
© 2020 MARVEL

Black Widow Epic Collection volume 2: The Coldest War 1981-1998


By Ralph Macchio, Gerry Conway, D.G. Chichester, Jim Starlin, Cefn Ridout, Mindy Newell, Scott Lobdell, Paul Gulacy, George Pérez, George Freeman, Larry Stroman, Joe Chiodo, Charlie Adlard, Bob Layton, Butch Guice, John Stanisci, Sergio Cariello, Randy Green & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2126-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: All-Out Action Adventure to Rival Any Cinema Classic… 8/10

Natasha Romanoff (sometimes Natalia Romanova) is a Soviet Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s earliest female stars, using a nomme de guerre first coined for a golden age supernatural superstar. Today’s Black Widow started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days, targeting Tony Stark and battling Iron Man in her debut (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., setting up as a freelance do-gooder and joining (occasionally leading) The Champions and 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 disclosed 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…

Traditionally a minor fan favourite, the Widow only really hit the big time after Marvel’s cinematic franchise was established, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts, her print escapades have always offered a cool, sinister frisson of delight.

This expansive trade paperback and digital compilation gathers the contents of Bizarre Adventures #25, Marvel Fanfare #10-13; Solo Avengers #7; Black Widow: The Coldest War; Punisher/Black Widow: Spinning Doomsday’s Web; Daredevil/Black Widow: Abattoir; Marvel Comics Presents #135; Daredevil Annual #10; Fury/Black Widow:Death Duty and Journey into Mystery #517-519, cumulatively covering March 1981 to April 1998.

Preceded by prose  recaps ‘The Black Widow and Daredevil’ and ‘We are The Champions’, the action opens with an iconic appearance from 1981, first seen in monochrome mature-reader magazine Bizarre Adventures #25, featuring short tales starring female heroes.

Here Ralph Macchio scripted a far more devious spy yarn of double and triple cross with agents betraying each other while trying to ascertain who might be working for “the other side”…

‘I Got the Yo-Yo… You Got the String’ sees the Widow despatched by S.H.I.E.L.D. to assassinate her former tutor Irma Klausvichnova in an African political hot spot. However, as the mission proceeds, Natasha learns that she can’t trust anybody and everything she knows is either a lie or a test with fatal consequences…

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

Next up is a saga seen in Marvel Fanfare #10-13 (August 1983-March 1984), wherein Macchio and George Pérez – with inkers Brett Breeding, Jack Abel, Joe Sinnott, Al Milgrom & John Beatty – depict the spy in extreme peril as ‘Widow’finds her tapped again by S.H.I.E.L.D. to extract an abducted asset – her beloved mentor Ivan Petrovich.

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

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

A short from Solo Avengers #7 (June 1988) by Bob Layton & Jackson “Butch” Guice) sees the Widow brave unimaginable peril to return to her old dancing teacher ‘The Token’ she no longer feels worthy of before intriguing superhero spy Original Graphic Novel The Coldest War unfolds.

Set in the last days of the US/Soviet face-off – with what looks to be an epilogue added to address the collapse of the Soviet State – the tale was clearly meant as a contemporary thriller (probably for fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents) before events overtook the time-consuming process of printing a comic.

The afterword – set after the fall of the Berlin Wall – doesn’t jar too much and must have lent an air of imminent urgency to the mix at the time.

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

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

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

It’s followed by 1992’s OGN Punisher/Black Widow: Spinning Doomsday’s Web by D.G. Chichester, Larry Stroman & Mark Farmer. Action-packed and plot-lite, it sees Frank Castle clash with the super-agent as she tracks rogue killer Peter Malum: an atomic scientist with a taste for slaughter and an insatiable thirst to test the deadliest weapon he’s ever built…

Presumably her spicy spy cachet wasn’t deemed enough to garner a regular series but warranted plenty of guest shots. In 1993, Jim Starlin & Joe Chiodo reunited her with an old lover for OGN Daredevil/Black Widow: Abattoir as a duo of depraved psionic predators inflict the tortures of the damned upon the Widow until the Man Without Fear saves her… and she subsequently rescues him…

Released in Late August 1993, ‘Legacy’ by Mindy Newell, John Stanisci & Sergio Cariello, was one quarter of Marvel Comics Presents #135 and sees Natasha touch base with her roots in New York’s Russian enclave only to find prejudice, murder and hidden KGB agents, before 1994’s Daredevil Annual #10 ‘Dead End’ offers a kind of sequel by Newell, Cariello & Rich Rankin as Natasha retrieves a lost bio-agent and is unexpectedly forced into reviewing her own defection to find a supposedly long-deceased old enemy…

Presumably crafted under the aegis of the much-missed Marvel UK sub-division, 1995 OGN Fury/Black Widow: Death Duty is by Cefn Ridout & Charlie Adlard and is a bit of a misnomer.

Don’t be fooled by the title and brace yourself for a disappointment if you’re a huge fan of the World War II Howling Commando and irascible erstwhile leader of the planet’s most advanced espionage agency. Although he gets top billing, Nick Fury is largely absent from the post-Cold War proceedings in this pacy thriller that is in actuality the spiritual conclusion to the saga of the mysterious Night Raven.

The enigmatic wanderer was a masked vigilante who fought crime in New York and Chicago s between World Wars I and II. In later years, he was locked in a bloody, pitiless vendetta with immortal villainess Yi Yang, Queen of the Dragon Tong.

Here, when a S.H.I.E.L.D. asset is murdered inside Moscow’s US embassy soon after the fall of the Soviet system, expatriate Russian super-agent/Avenger Natasha Romanoff is dispatched to unravel the secrets the new rulers don’t want revealed.

What she discovers is the incredible fate of the fearsome urban legend now known as Black Bird as he slaughters his way through bureaucrats and Russian Mafia alike in his single-minded mission to destroy the woman who kept him from a peaceful grave.

Superbly illustrated and tightly scripted, this is nonetheless an uncomfortable blending of genres, with a strange pace to it: as if a propose serial was savagely trimmed and pruned with no thought to narrative cohesion.

Closing the file this time around is a 3-part exploit by Scott Lobdell, Randy Green & Rick Ketcham from Journey into Mystery #517-519 (February to April 1998). ‘The Fire Next Time… parts 1-3’ offers a convoluted hunt for a Far Right terror group’s hidden leader whose scheme to simultaneously murder every S.H.I.E.L.D. agent on Earth revolves around a hidden traitor. But as the plot unfolds, it’s clear to the beleaguered Widow that absolutely nobody is who or what they seem…

Supplemented by Gulacy’s stunning 1982 Black Widow Portfolio (six monochrome plates and the cover image); info pages from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and pin-ups and posters by Al Milgrom, Kevin Nowlan, Terry Austin, June Brigman & Jim Lee and Joe Chiodo, this monumental collection also contains original art pages from Chiodo, Stroman & Farmer and covers by Yancy LaBat, Mark Morales, Pérez & Layton from previous collections of Black Widow: Web of Intrigue combining to create a suspenseful dossier of devious delights no fan should miss.
© 2020 MARVEL.

Black Widow: Marvel Team-Up


By Chris Claremont, Tom DeFalco, Marv Wolfman, Roger McKenzie, Bill Mantlo, Priest, Fabian Nicieza, Robert Campanella, Dan Slott, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema, Will Meugniot, Ron Frenz & Greg LaRocque, Rob Liefeld, Larry Alexander & Dwayne Turner & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-3029- (TPB)

The concept of team-ups – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with new or less well-selling company characters – has been with us since the earliest days of comics, but making the temporary alliance a key selling point really took hold with DC’s The Brave and the Bold before being taken up by their biggest competitor.

Marvel Team-Up was the second regular Spider-Man title, launching at the end of 1971. It went from strength to strength, heralding expansion and spawning a second collaborative vehicle in Marvel Two-In-One (with the Fantastic Four’s strong man The Thing), both offering regular venues for uncomplicated action romps in addition to the House of Ideas’ complex sub-plot fare.

However, even in the infinite Marvel Multiverse, certain stars shine more brightly than others and some characters turn up in team-ups more often than others…

In recent years, carefully curated themed collections from the back-catalogue have served to initiate new readers intrigued by Marvel’s Movie and TV endeavours, and this engaging trade paperback/eBook compilation gathers a selection of potent pairings starring superspy The Black Widow, taken from MTIO #10; Marvel Team-Up #57, 82-85, 98, 140-141 and short tales from fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents #53, 70 and 93: collectively spanning July 1975 – January 1992.

Natasha Romanoff (sometimes Natalia Romanova) is a Soviet Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s major female stars. She started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during the early “Commie-busting” days, targeting Tony Stark and battling Iron Man in her debut (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 superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – before finally enlisting as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., setting up as a freelance do-gooder and joining/occasionally leading the Avengers.

Throughout her career she was always 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 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…

Traditionally a minor fan favourite, the Widow only really hit the big time after the Marvel Movie franchise was established, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her print escapades have always offered a cool, sinister frisson of delight.

The multi-player mayhem opens with Marvel Two-In-One #10 by Chris Claremont, Bob Brown & Klaus Janson: a slice of inspired espionage action-intrigue with Ben Grimm joining the Widow’s war against suicidal terrorist Agamemnon who plans to detonate the planet’s biggest nuke at the bottom of the ocean in a blockbuster 007-styled thriller ‘Is This the Way the World Ends?’.

With artists Sal Buscema & Dave Hunt, Claremont continues defining the Widow’s ways in Marvel Team-Up #57 (May 1977) starting a complex extended thriller embroiling Spider-Man in a devious and deadly espionage plot which begins ‘When Slays the Silver Samurai!’ After being saved from a lethal ambush by Natasha and implausibly holding up a collapsing building, Spidey takes reluctant possession of a strange statuette but soon forgets all about it

The scheme comes to fruition in MTU #82 (June 1979) when Claremont, Sal B & Steve Leialoha craft a 4-part, multi-operative conclusion starting with Spider-Man saving Natasha from street thugs. In ‘No Way to Treat a Lady’ the lethal superspy has escaped capture and torture by retreating into a timid, ineffectual cover personality, and the Arachnid must keep “Nancy Rushman” alive until he learns how and why. The job gets even harder after S.H.E.I.L.D.’s Strike Forcecome mercilessly gunning for her…

The first (white) Nick Fury joins the fray in ‘Slaughter on 10th Avenue!’ capturing Nancy before discovering – when Spidey steals her back – that his entire organisation has been taken over by hidden mastermind Viper and her super hench-thugs Silver Samurai and Boomerang…

‘Catch a Falling Hero’ (MTU #84) reveals the purpose of that long-forgotten statuette, as Viper targets Washington DC and President Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile Spider-Man and the slowly recovering Nancy infiltrate the compromised flying fortress Helicarrier and Fury calls in British operative Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu for a distracting frontal assault, culminating in all-out war above the Capitol and the closest of close shave conclusions for all concerned in ‘The Woman Who Never Was!’

A far simpler motive reunited the widow and the webspinner when separate cases overlapped in MTU #98 (October 1980, in an untitled tale by Marv Wolfman, Roger McKenzie, Will Meugniot & Bruce Patterson). Here dockside gunrunners and ambitious mobsters draw the heroes into a clash with The Owl, after which we jump to April 1983 and MTU #140 for the first part of a morally trying dilemma posed by Bill Mantlo, Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz & Mike Esposito with ‘Where Were You …When the Lights Went Out?’

A city-wide blackout provokes riots and looting and Spider-Man is on scene when a skeevy pawnshop owner is shot dead. The next day, lawyer Matt Murdock is appointed to defend gangbanger teen Juan Santiago who is indicted for the murder. Press photographer Peter Parker is also in attendance, and both know the kid is not guilty. As Spider-Man resolves to investigate further, Daredevil’s old flame Natasha Romanoff volunteers to fact-find for the overworked attorney. When investigations overlap a street gang are exposed as behind the incident, but the new murder suspect triggers a deadly car chase and hostage situation before being apprehended.

Frustratingly, although responsible for much of the tragedy on that night, he quickly proves to also be innocent of the pawnbrokers’ death…

This yarn takes place at the beginning of Marvel’s Secret Wars event and pauses for Spidey to go to The Beyonder’s Battleworld; fight lots and come back with his all-black Symbiote uniform, so it’s a much-altered Spider-Man who joins Daredevil and the Widow in obtaining ‘Blind Justice’ in #141 (DeFalco, Jim Owsley AKA Priest, Greg LaRoque & Esposito) as the heroes uncover mob connections and a trail to Kingpin Wilson Fisk, the real killer and the true nature of the kid they’ve been defending…

The team-ups conclude with a selection from twice monthly rotating anthology Marvel Comics Presents, starting with ‘Heads I Win, Tails You Lose’: a jurisdictional clash between Natasha and mercenary antihero Silver Sable from #53 (July 1990) by Fabian Nicieza, Rob Liefeld & Bob Wiacek, and continuing with ‘One into Three Won’t Go!’ (#70, February 1991 by Robert Campanella, Larry Alexander, Jack Abel & Al Milgrom) as the Widow and fellow former Champion Darkstar battle the hyper-irradiated Red Guardian when her master The Presence orders her to capture them for his harem.

Their valiant resistance inspires Tania Belinskaya to overthrow her own mental shackles and transform into new hero Starlight before this collection closes with an early outing for superstar scripter Dan Slott & artist Dwayne Turner who end the ultra-espionage alliances with a ‘Split Seconds’ reunion for the Widow and Daredevil from MCP #93, battling Hydra goons and deactivating deadly booby traps in a midtown building.

The book’s bonus section offers original art from Meugniot & Patterson; Frenz & Esposito and cover-art by Ed Hannigan & Klaus Janson, plus data pages of Black Widow and her weapons and gear from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and a painted cover by Al Milgrom.

These stories may vary in quality, but all stem from an honest drive to entertain and most fans will find little to complain about. Although primarily a tome for casual or new readers – who will have a blast – there’s also a ton of nostalgic delights and patented Marvel mayhem to be had by veteran viewers, and surely that’s reason enough to add this titanic tome to your secret stash of great reads…
© 2020 MARVEL

Captain America – Two Americas


By Ed Brubaker, Luke Ross, Butch Guice, Rick Magyar, Dean White & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4510-3 (HB) 978-0-7851-4511-0 (TPB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, the Star-Spangled Avenger debuted in his own title in an era of anthology publishing. Cover-dated March 1941, Captain America Comics #1 was a shattering success. The Sentinel of Liberty was the absolute and undisputed star of Timely (now Marvel) Comics’ “Big Three” (the other two being the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner). He was also in the first rank to fade as the war changed tastes and the Golden Age closed.

When the Korean War and Communist aggression dominated America’s collective psyche in the 1950s, he was briefly revived – with the Torch and Sub-Mariner – but sank once more into obscurity until a resurgent Timely/Atlas reinvented itself as Marvel Comics. Resurrected again in Avengers #4 (March 1964) with the Vietnam conflict just starting to pervade the minds of the American public, this time he stuck around…

Whilst perpetually agonising over the death of teen sidekick (James Buchanan Barnes AKA Bucky) in the final days of the war, living war story Steve Rogers first stole the show in the Avengers, promptly graduated to his own series and, ultimately, returned to solo stardom.

He waxed and waned through the most turbulent period of social change in US history, but always struggled to find an ideological niche and stable footing in the modern world.

In 2006-2007 – as another morally suspect war raged in the real world – he became an anti-government rebel for Marvel event Civil War: subsequently arrested and assassinated on the steps of a Federal Courthouse.

Over the course of 3 epic volumes, he was replaced by the presumed-dead sidekick. In actuality, Bucky had been captured by the Soviets in 1945 and systematically transformed into their own super-agent/assassin The Winter Soldier.

Once rescued from his unwanted enslavement, artificially young and semi-cyborg Barnes reluctantly stepped into his mentor’s big crimson boots…

Set squarely in the immediate aftermath of the original Star-Spangled Avenger’s return from the dead (see various Captain America Reborn collections), this politically-charged compilation – written by Ed Brubaker – collects one-shot Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield? and issues #602-605 of the monthly Captain America comic book. Available in hardback, trade paperback and digitally, it explores extremism with potent passion and cynical skill…

A rabble-rousing tale of ideology and patriotism begins with ‘Who Will Wield the Shield?’ (art by Luke Ross & Butch Guice), as the liberated Winter Soldier ponders his future in the wake of the “real” Captain America’s recent return to life and considers returning the role and unique Star-emblazoned disc to its rightful owner…

Meanwhile Steve Rogers, fresh from a timeless suspension where he perpetually relived his life over and again, battles debilitating, haunting memories by prowling snow-bound streets where he encounters his replacement and immortal super-spy Black Widow in combat with the ferociously brutal Mr. Hyde.

Content to observe his old partner at first, Rogers soon joins the fray. As the dust settles, the comrades-in-arms reach an understanding: Bucky Barnes will stay as the one-&-only Sentinel of Liberty as the President of the USA has a far more strategic role in mind for his mentor Steve…

That one is the meat of a different tome. Here we jump directly to the eponymous ‘Two Americas’ (Brubaker, Ross, Guice & Rick Magyar), focussing on a deranged duplicate super-soldier who briefly played Captain America in the 1950s, whilst the original languished in icy hibernation in the arctic.

William Burnside was a student from Boise, Idaho, obsessed with the war hero. The lad had ferreted out the hero’s true name, rediscovered most of the super-soldier serum which had created the Star-Spangled Avenger and even had his name and features changed to perfectly mimic the Missing-In-Action Rogers.

Volunteering his services to the FBI, at that time conducting a nationwide war on spies, subversives and (potential) commies, Burnside and impressionable youngster Jack Monroe briefly became the new Captain America and Bucky: crushing poorly-perceived threats to the Land of the Free.

Sadly, it quickly became apparent that their definition of such included not only criminals but also non-whites, independent women and anybody who disagreed with the government…

Some months later the reactionary patriot was forcibly “retired” as the super-soldier serum he and Monroe used turned them into super-strong, raving, racist paranoids.

Years later, when the fascistic facsimiles escaped suspended animation in Federal prison, they attacked the revived real deal, only to be defeated by Cap, his new partner Sam Wilson (AKA the Falcon) and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter. Monroe was eventually cured, but Burnside’s psychosis was too deeply rooted and he returned often to confront the man he felt had betrayed the real America…

Used most recently as a pawn of the Red Skull, malign psychologist Dr. Faustus and genetic wizard Arnim Zola in a plot to plant a Nazi stooge in the Oval Office, the dark Captain America escaped, fleeing to the nation’s heartland and planning…

When police in Idaho raid a den of reactionary separatist fanatics the Watchdogs, they are butchered by the delusional Burnside who has aligned himself with them in a crazed bid to take back the nation for right-thinking ordinary people like himself. Alerted by Nick Fury, Barnes and the Falcon head for the economically-depressed Midwest where crumbling economy and lack of prospects has driven hard-pressed, hardworking folk into the open arms of the seditionists.

Intending to infiltrate the movement now led by the faux Captain America, things go sideways after Burnside recognises Barnes from his college researches…

Intent on starting a second American Revolution, the crazed patriot ambushes the newest Cap and the Falcon and, whilst planning to set off the biggest bomb in history against the Hoover Dam, demands Barnes returns to his first and proper heroic identity: becoming Bucky to Burnside’s one-and-only Cap…

Determined to convince the equally time-lost Winter Soldier that modern America must be destroyed and the Good Old Days restored, Burnside is still savvy enough to use the hostage Falcon to achieve his ends, but far too prejudiced to accept that a mere black man and flunky sidekick could be competent enough to foil his schemes…

Imprisoned on a train packed with explosives, Wilson busts free, trashing his Watchdog jailers and – with the aid of a simple working Joe (yes, a true “ordinary American”) – diverts the runaway bomb. Burnside and his fanatics then invade Hoover Dam with an even more devastating device, ready to send a message that will spell the end of the failed country and signal the return of the madman’s cherished if illusory idealised America…

However, when Bucky learns the Falcon is safe, he lashes out with ruthless efficiency…

This thoroughly readable thriller is a fascinating examination of idealism and the mutability of patriotism: a sharp, scary saga that avoids the usual trap of overly-depending on a working knowledge of Marvel continuity by providing in situ what little back-story new readers might need. It thunders along to its climactic conclusion, providing thrills, spills and chills in full measure for all fans of Fights ‘n’ Tights action and – sadly – offers insights into nationalism that are more pertinent now than they ever have been…
© 2009, 2010, 2012 Marvel Characters Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Black Widow Epic Collection volume 1: Beware the Black Widow 1964-1971


By Stan Lee, Don Rico & Don Heck, Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Mimi Gold, Gerry Conway, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, John Romita, Gene Colan, Bill Everett & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2126-2 (TPB)

After a truly interminable time of waiting, the Black Widow movie is scheduled for general release on July 9th, so lets all take a look at her comic path from wicked wanton to war-weary world-saver courtesy of a carefully curated Epic Collection, gathering the majority of her earliest appearances.

Natasha Romanoff (sometimes Natalia Romanova) is a Soviet Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s earliest female stars. The Black Widow started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days, targeting Tony Stark and battling Iron Man in her debut (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., setting up as a freelance do-gooder and joining/occasionally leading 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…

Traditionally a minor fan favourite, the Widow only really hit the big time after Marvel Movie franchise was established, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her print escapades have always offered a cool, sinister frisson of delight.

This expansive trade paperback and digital compilation gathers the contents of Tales of Suspense #52-53, 57, 60, 64; Avengers #29-30, 36-37, 43-44; Amazing Spider-Man #86; Amazing Adventures #1-8 and Daredevil #81, plus pertinent excerpts from Avengers #16, 32-33, 38-39, 41-42, 45-47, 57, 63-63 & 76, cumulatively spanning April 1964 to November 1971.

The action opens as a sexy Soviet operative Natasha and her hulking sidekick Boris (yes, I know: simpler times) is despatched to destroy recent defector Anton Vanko and his American protectors Tony Stark and Iron Man. ‘The Crimson Dynamo Strikes Again!’ (drawn by Don Heck and scripted, like the next issue, by “N. Kurok” – actually veteran creator Don Rico) sees the hero quickly dispose of the armoured Russian heavy while underestimating the far greater threat of the Soviet Femme Fatale.

With Tales of Suspense #53, she was a headliner. In ‘The Black Widow Strikes Again!’ she steals Stark’s anti-gravity ray yet ultimately fails in her sabotage mission, fleeing Russian retribution until resurfacing in ToS #57.

The Black Widow returned to beguile disgruntled budding superhero ‘Hawkeye, The Marksman!’ (Stan Lee & Heck) into attacking the Golden Avenger in #57, with no appreciable effect.

Tales of Suspense #60 featured an extended plotline with Stark’s “disappearance” leading to Iron Man being ‘Suspected of Murder!’. Capitalizing on the chaos, lovestruck Hawkeye and the Widow struck again, but another failure led to her being recaptured and re-educated by enemy agents…

Abruptly transformed from fur-clad seductress into a gadget-laden costumed villain, she returned in #64’s ‘Hawkeye and the New Black Widow Strike Again!’ (Lee, Heck & Chic Stone). Her failure led to big changes as pages from Avengers #16 reveal her punishment and Hawkeye’s reformation and induction into the superteam.

Jump forward more than a year and Avengers #29 as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch prepare to retire: returning to Europe to reinvigorate their fading powers even as ‘This Power Unleashed!’ brings back Hawkeye’s lost love: a brainwashed nemesis resolved to destroy the team.

Recruiting old foes Power Man and the Swordsman as cannon-fodder, she is foiled by her own incompletely submerged feelings for Hawkeye, after which ‘Frenzy in a Far-Off Land!’ sees dispirited colossus Henry Pym embroiled in a futuristic civil war amongst a lost south American civilisation while a temporary détente between Hawkeye and the Widow seems set to fail…

Extracts from Avengers #32-33 (with Heck providing raw, gritty inks over his own pencils in ‘The Sign of the Serpent!’ and concluding chapter ‘To Smash a Serpent!’) sees her own recovery begin as Natasha independently infiltrates a racist secret society before joining the Avengers to destroy the hatemongering snakes…

Her international credentials are exploited when long-missing Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver return, heralding an alien invasion of the Balkans in ‘The Ultroids Attack!’ and ‘To Conquer a Colossus!’ (Avengers #36-37). Newly cured, programming-free and reformed, she is the crucial factor in repelling an extraterrestrial invasion: a sinister, merciless Black Widow whose willingness to apply lethal force ultimately saves the day and the Earth……

Extracts from Avengers #38, 39, 41 and 42 detail how she then forsakes her new heroic reputation to go undercover for SHIELD, infiltrating a Communist Chinese super-weapon project as a supposed Soviet agent. In #43’s complete tale ‘Color him… the Red Guardian!’ (Roy Thomas, John Buscema & George Roussos) her origins and reasons for the title “widow” are revealed before – reacting to a world-threatening superweapon – the Avengers storm in for the fight of their lives as the saga climaxes in ‘The Valiant Also Die!’ (inked by Vince Colletta), a blistering all-out clash to save humanity from mental conquest…

The fractured relationship between Hawkeye and the Widow plays out in snippets from Avengers #45-47, #63 and 64 as her growing ties to SHIELD lead to an heartbreaking split with the Avenging Archer in #76 and the prospect of a new beginning for the Russian misfit…

It comes in Amazing Spider-Man #86 as ‘Beware… the Black Widow!’ affords John Romita & Jim Mooney a chance to redesign, redefine and relaunch the super-spy in an enjoyable if formulaic Lee-scripted misunderstanding/clash-of-heroes yarn with an ailing webspinner never really endangered. The entire episode was actually a promotion for the Widow’s own soon-to-debut solo series…

The Black Widow’s first solo series, appeared in “split-book” Amazing Adventures #1-8: mini-epics paying dues the superspy’s contemporary influences… Modesty Blaise and Emma Peel (that lass from the other Avengers…)

It all begins with ‘Then Came…The Black Widow’ (Amazing Adventures #1, August 1970 by Gary Friedrich, John Buscema & John Verpoorten) wherein Natasha comes out of self-imposed retirement to be a socially-aware crusader: defending low-income citizens from thugs and loan sharks. One act of charity leads her to help activists ‘The Young Warriors!’ as their attempts to build a centre for underprivileged kids in Spanish Harlem are countered by crooked, drug-dealing property speculators…

Gene Colan & Bill Everett assume art duties from #3’s ‘The Widow and the Militants!’, with her actions and communist past drawing hostile media attention, more criminal attacks and ultimately precipitating an inner-city siege, before the ‘Deadlock’ (scripted by Mimi Gold) comes to a shocking end…

Roy Thomas steps in for a bleakly potent Christmas yarn as ‘…And to All a Good Night’ sees Natasha and faithful retainer/father figure Ivan meet and fail a desperate young man, only to be dragged into a horrific scheme by deranged cult leader the Astrologer who plans to hold the city’s hospitals to ransom in ‘Blood Will Tell!’ (art by Heck & Sal Buscema).

Convinced she is cursed to do more harm than good, the tragic adventurer nevertheless inflicts ‘The Sting of the Widow!’(Gerry Conway, Heck & Everett) on her ruthless prey and his kid warriors, after which the series wraps up in rushed manner with a haphazard duel against Russian-hating super-patriot Watchlord in the Thomas-scripted ‘How Shall I Kill Thee? Let Me Count the Ways!’

The formative tales conclude here with ‘And Death is a Woman Called Widow’ (Daredevil #81, by Conway, Colan & Jack Abel), which sees infamous defector Natasha Romanoff burst onto the scene to save the Man Without Fear from ubiquitous manipulator Mr. Kline and deadly predator The Owl: exposing the mastermind behind most of DD and the Widow’s recent woes and tribulations…

Rounding out the comics experience here are bonus pages including a stunning pin-up of the bodacious Black Widow by Bill Everett; house ads and a huge gallery of original art pages by John Buscema, Verpoorten, Heck, Colan and Everett – including restored artworks edited for overly-salacious content that revealed a little too much of the sexy spy, and toned down for eventual publication…

These beautifully limned yarns might still occasionally jar with their earnest stridency and dated attitudes, but the narrative energy and sheer exuberant excitement of the adventures are compelling delights no action fan will care to miss …
© 2020 MARVEL.

White Tiger: A Hero’s Compulsion


By Tamora Pierce, Timothy Liebe, Phil Briones, Alvaro Rio & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2273-9 (TPB)

I’ll try to be brief but bear with me because this might be a little complex for anyone not hardened by 55 years of constant exposure to raw comic-books…

After the mid-1970’s Kung Fu craze subsided Marvel was left with a couple of impressive themed properties (Master of Kung Fu and Iron Fist) and a few that needed some traditional superhero “topping up”. The Sons of the Tiger debuted in monochrome magazine Deadly Hands of Kung Fu: a multi-racial martial arts team who – augmented by three mystic amulets – fought the usual mystic ninja/secret empire types until internal dissent and an obvious lack of creative imagination split them up.

The amulets – a Tiger’s Head and two paws carved from magical jade – passed on to young Hector Ayala who donned all three to become a super-martial artist calling himself the White Tiger. After an inauspicious, short and excessively violent career including team-ups with both Spider-Man and Daredevil, the “first Puerto Rican Superhero” all but vanished until (in a Man Without Fear storyline I’ll get around to reviewing one day) he lost his life…

In the meantime, a new White Tiger had appeared in the 1997 revival of Heroes for Hire: an actual tiger evolved into a humanoid by renegade geneticist the High Evolutionary. In 2003 Kaspar Kole, a black, Jewish cop briefly replaced the Black Panther, becoming the third White Tiger shortly thereafter…

Which finally brings us here as this volume collects the first 6-issue miniseries to feature Angela Del Toro, niece of the first White Tiger; one time cop, de-frocked FBI agent and eventual recipient of the amulets that empowered and doomed her uncle Hector.

Normally I’d steer clear of reviewing a graphic novel like this because by all rights it should be all but impenetrable to non-fans, but novelist Tamora Pierce and co-scripter Timothy Liebe have made the necessary and mandatory recaps and references to other books (particularly the extended Daredevil storyline that dealt with the death of Angela’s uncle and her becoming a costumed vigilante in his memory) relatively painless: a seemingly seamless part of the overall narrative thrust of this tale and one that perfectly suits the action-packed, highly realistic artwork of Phil Briones, Alvaro Rio, Ronaldo Adriano Silva & Don Hillsman.

Angela Del Toro was a high-ranking Federal Agent, but now she’s jobless and bewildered, terrified of becoming just another masked crazy on the streets and skyways of New York City. Luckily, she still has a few friends – both in the legal and extra-legal law enforcement community – and soon links up with a private security firm while sorting out her new double life.

That mostly means coming to terms with being a costumed superhero, stopping a covert cabal of asset-stripping terrorists from turning the USA into a highly profitable war-zone and getting final closure if not revenge on Yakuza prince Orii Sano, the man who killed her partner…

White Tiger: A Hero’s Compulsion is a canny blend of family drama, cop procedural and gritty superhero thriller, with an engaging lead character, believable stakes, just enough laughs and truly sinister baddies who should appeal to the widest of audiences. Fun-filled and frantic with loads of guest-stars, including Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Black Widow, and such scurrilous dirtbags as the Cobra, the Lizard, Deadpool and the assembled underworld of three continents, this is a read for devotees and dilettantes alike.

Whether cleaning up the mean streets and saving the entire world or just busting heads in her new day job, White Tiger has everything necessary to stay the course, but even if she somehow doesn’t, there will always be this thoroughly fascinating trade paperback and digital book to mark her territory, if not her passing…
© 2006, 2007, 2015 MARVEL. All rights reserved.