Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 12


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 10


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Harlan Ellison, Chris Claremont, Stan Lee, Steve Gerber, Rich Buckler, Don Heck, John Buscema, George Tuska, Jim Starlin, Dave Cockrum, Sam Kweskin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5038-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Pure Blockbuster Entertainment… 8/10

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 even though at this particular time, creators were passing through at an even faster rate than the masked marvels…

Graced with a scene-setting Preface from outgoing scripter Roy Thomas and context-creating Introduction from new kid Steve Englehart, this sturdy hardcover and eBook compilation gathers the astounding contents of Avengers #89-100 (collectively spanning July 1972 – May 1973) and includes a cross-over moment from Daredevil and the Black Widow #99.

Now scripter extraordinaire Thomas was about to hand over the reins to an even more imaginative and groundbreaking author who took the team to dizzying new imaginative and dramatic heights, but before that he and debuting penciller Rich Buckler – doing his best Neal Adams impersonation – shone on a Harlan Ellison tale inked by Dan Adkins.

‘Five Dooms to Save Tomorrow!’ was based on an Ellison novella from 1964 and found the Avengers battling Leonard Tippit, an ordinary man granted incredible power so that he could murder five innocent human beings. To be fair though, those innocuous targets’ continued existence threatened Earth’s entire future…

Determined to stop him whatever the ultimate consequences, the Avengers eschewed the murky moral quandary and were tested to their utmost, before the crisis was averted…

The heroes were on firmer, more familiar ground in #102 when the Grim Reaper returned, offering to place the Vision’s consciousness in a human body in return for the android’s allegiance in ‘What to Do Till the Sentinels Come!’ (Thomas, Buckler & Joe Sinnott). Meanwhile, the mutant-hunting robots kidnapped the Scarlet Witch and started another scheme to eradicate the threat of Homo Superior forever…

A budding romance between the Witch and the Vision revealed tensions and bigotries in the most unexpected places as the cataclysmic tale continued with ‘The Sentinels are Alive and Well!’ as the team search the globe for the monstrous mechanical marauders before being captured themselves whilst invading their Australian Outback hive.

The tale concludes ‘With a Bang… and a Whimper!’ as the assembled heroes thwart the robots’ project to sterilise humanity – but only at the cost of two heroes’ lives…

The grieving Scarlet Witch takes centre stage in #105 as ‘In the Beginning was… the World Within!’ (by new scripter Steve Englehart and veteran artists John Buscema & Jim Mooney) as the team travel to South America and encounter cavemen mutants from the lost world known as the Savage Land, after which the Avengers discover ‘A Traitor Stalks Among Us!’ (illustrated by Buckler, George Tuska & Dave Cockrum) with the revelation that perennial sidekick Rick Jones has become atomically bonded to alien hero Captain Marvel: a revelation that triggers a painful flashback in memory-blocked Captain America, and just as an old foe turns the team against itself.

Avengers #107 reveals ‘The Master Plan of the Space Phantom!’ (with art by Jim Starlin, Tuska & Cockrum) and his complex and sinister alliance with the Grim Reaper even as the love-sick Vision finally accepts the Faustian offer of a human body.

Unfortunately, the corpus on offer is the Star-Spangled Avenger’s…

‘Check… and Mate!’ – illustrated by veteran Avenger artist Don Heck and inkers Cockrum & Sinnott – wraps up the intriguing saga in spectacular fashion as an army of Avengers thrash Phantom, Reaper and assorted hordes of Hydra hoods. However, the true climax is the Vision and Witch’s final acknowledgement of their love for each other.

The announcement provokes a storm of trouble…

In #109 Hawkeye, who’s always carried a torch for the beautiful Wanda, quits the team in a dudgeon and ‘The Measure of a Man!’ (Heck & Frank McLaughlin) find the heartsick archer duped by billionaire businessman Champion and almost responsible for causing the complete destruction of California before wising up and saving the day…

Next the depleted team of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision and Black Panther investigate the disappearance of mutant heroes the X-Men and are thoroughly beaten by an old enemy with a new power.

‘… And Now Magneto!’ (Englehart, Heck, Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito) ends with half the team brainwashed captives of the master villain with the remaining crusaders desperately searching for new allies. We then pop over to San Francisco and a crossover from Daredevil and the Black Widow #99 (May 1973, by Steve Gerber, Sam Kweskin & Syd Shores). ‘The Mark of Hawkeye!’ sees Natasha Romanoff’s old boyfriend fetch up on the Widow’s doorstep, determined to reclaim her. The caveman stunt culminates in the Archer’s sound and well-deserved thrashing, and when the last Avengers arrive, asking him to return and assist, he refuses. DD and the Widow don’t, though…

The saga resumes and concludes in Avengers #111 as, ‘With Two Beside Them!’ (Englehart, Heck & Esposito) the returned heroes and West Coast vigilantes successfully rescue the X-Men and Avengers enslaved by the malevolent Magneto. With the action over, Daredevil returns to California but the Black Widow elects to stay with the World’s Mightiest Heroes…

This titanic tome also offers extra treats: namely an unused page of Buckler’s beautiful pencil art and his Sinnott-inked cover for Avengers #104.

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 and Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new peak of cosmic adventure…
© 1972, 1973, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, Sal Buscema, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3331-5 (HB)

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 sturdy hardcover and eBook compilation gathers the astounding contents of Avengers issues #89-100 collectively spanning June 1971 – June 1972: a riot of 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 ever since and it was followed by another astounding epic proving that more and better was to come…

Following Thomas’s lengthy discourse on how it all happened in his Introduction, the drama begins relatively quietly as marooned Kree warrior Captain Marvel is finally freed from virtual imprisonment in a ghastly antimatter universe.

Mar-Vell was originally sent as a spy to Earth but he quickly went native and became a protector of humanity. After an intergalactic mission to save his former masters he was flying back to Earth when he was 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 would be 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…’ (art by Sal Buscema & Sam Grainger) sees the bonded brothers finally separated 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 cavemen in concluding chapter ‘Judgment Day’ (drawn and inked by Sal B)…

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 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!’ sees riots in American streets and a political demagogue capitalising on the crisis. Subpoenaed by the authorities, castigated by friends and public, the current team – The Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver – is ordered to disband by founding fathers Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

Or are they…?

The plot thickens as Neal Adams & Tom Palmer assume the chores with 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 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 their 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!’ exposes 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 the 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!’ 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…

Even after saving the world, life goes on and seemingly gets more dangerous every day. ‘Let Slip the Dogs of War’ (Avengers #98, by Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith & Sal Buscema) sees harried heroes Captain America, Iron Man, Vision, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Thor debating the loss of their comrade Goliath, missing in action since he explosively stopped an alien warship from nuking Earth…

As the Thunderer heads for Asgard and its magic scrying mirrors, the fruitless debate is curtailed as war-mongering demagogue Mr. Tallon incites riot in the streets of New York. The gathered crowds attack the Avengers when they tried to quell the unrest and it is soon evident that the war-hawk has supernatural assistance.

…And in the dimensional void the Thunder God discovers all access to the Immortal Realms has been cut off…

By the time Thor returns to Earth his comrades are bewitched too. Joining with the seemingly immune Vision in a last-ditch, hopeless battle, the Storm Lord fights his best friends until the tide is turned by a perfectly aimed arrow, heralding the return of Goliath to his original Hawkeye identity…

Moreover, he has with him another Avenger: an amnesiac Hercules, Prince of Power, whose only certain knowledge is that Earth and Asgard are doomed…

Inked by Tom Sutton ‘…They First Make Mad!’ expands the epic as the Avengers call on all their resources to cure Hercules and decipher his cryptic warning whilst the World’s leaders seem determined to catapult the planet into atomic Armageddon.

As Hawkeye explains his miraculous escape from death in space and how he found Hercules the call goes out, summoning every hero who has ever been an Avenger. Suddenly two Grecian Titans materialise to trounce the team, dragging the terrified Prince of Power back to Olympus…

The epic ends in the staggeringly beautiful anniversary 100th issue ‘Whatever Gods There Be!’ (inked by Smith, Joe Sinnott & Syd Shores) as thirteen Avengers – including even the scurrilous Swordsman and blockbusting Hulk – indomitably invade the home of the Hellenic Gods to discover old enemy Enchantress and war god Ares are behind the entire malignant plot…

This titanic tome is packed with extra treats, including the cover of all-reprint Avengers Annual #5 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. Also on show is Neal Adams’ take on the creation of the tale in ‘Three Cows Shot me Down’, supplemented by his cover for the 2000 and 2008 trade paperbacks. Upping the ante are original art pages and a selection of his un-inked pencil pages to delight every fan of fabulous Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy action…

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…
© 1971, 1972, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Avengers versus Thanos


By Jim Starlin, Mike Friedrich, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Scott Edelman, Don Heck, Bob Brown, John Buscema, Mike Zeck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6850-8

With another Marvel Cinematic Universe film scoring big around the world, here’s a timely trade paperback and eBook edition to augment the celluloid exposure and cater to movie fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience that fills in all the gaps.

After Marvel mainstays Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby left the company, the burgeoning publisher brought in a raft of young newcomers to fill the void. One of the most successful of these was Jim Starlin who especially rose to the occasion by masterminding a vast and sprawling cosmic epic using a constantly failing property various stalwarts of the House of Ideas could not make a hit…

Captain Marvel was an alien on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree empire who fought for Earth and was atomically bonded to professional sidekick Rick Jones by a pair of wristbands allowing them to share the same space in our universe. When one was here, the other was trapped in the antimatter dimension designated the Negative Zone.

After meandering around the Marvel Universe for a while, continually one step ahead of cancellation (the series had folded many times, but always quickly returned – primarily to secure the all-important trademark name), Mar-Vell was handed to Starlin – and the young craftsman was left alone to get on with it.

With many of his fellow neophytes he began laying seeds (particularly in Iron Man, Sub-Mariner and Daredevil) for a saga that would in many ways become as well-regarded as the Jack Kirby Fourth World Trilogy that inspired it.

However, the Thanos War, despite many superficial similarities, would soon develop into a uniquely modern experience. And what it lacked in grandeur it made up for with sheer energy and enthusiasm…

Spanning February 1973-September 1974, this grandiose compendium (available in Trade Paperback and eBook editions) gathers and chronologically collates Iron Man #55, Captain Marvel #25-33, Marvel Feature #12, Daredevil #105-107, Avengers #125, Warlock #9-11 and 15, Avengers Annual #7, Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 and concludes with a pertinent back-up from Logan’s Run #6 (June 1977: re-presenting Starlin’s entire early development of and engagement with one of comicbooks’ most popular villains.

The artistic iconoclasm began in Iron Man #55 (February 1973) where Mike Friedrich scripted Starlin’s opening gambit in a cosmic epic that would change the nature of Marvel itself.

Inked by Mike Esposito, ‘Beware… Beware… Beware the … Blood Brothers!’ introduces formidable and obsessive Drax the Destroyer; an immensely powerful humanoid trapped under the Nevada desert and in dire need of rescue by even more potent extraterrestrial invader Thanos

That comes when the Armoured Avenger blazes in, answering a mysterious SOS, but only after brutally dealing with the secret invader’s bombastic and brutal underlings…

All this is merely a prelude to the main story which starts unfolding a month later in Captain Marvel #25, courtesy of Friedrich, Starlin, & Chic Stone, wherein Thanos unleashes ‘A Taste of Madness!’, changing exiled Mar-Vell’s fortunes forever…

When Mar-Vell is ambushed by a pack of extraterrestrial assassins, he is forced to admit that his powers have been in decline for some time. Unaware that an unseen foe is counting on that, Rick manifests from the Negative Zone to check in with sagacious scientific maverick Dr. Savannah, only to find himself accused by the savant’s daughter (and Rick’s beloved) Lou-Ann of her father’s murder…

Hauled off to jail, Rick brings in Mar-Vell who is suddenly confronted by a veritable legion of old foes before deducing who in fact his true enemies are…

Issue #26 then sees Rick freed from police custody to confront Lou-Ann over her seeming ‘Betrayal!’ (Starlin, Friedrich & Dave Cockrum). Before long, though, he and Mar-Vell realise they are the targets of psychological warfare: the girl is being mind-controlled whilst Super Skrull and his hidden “Masterlord” are manipulating them and others in search of a lost secret…

When a subsequent scheme to have Mar-Vell murder The Thing spectacularly fails, Thanos takes personal charge. The Titan is hungry for conquest and needs Rick because his subconscious conceals the location of an irresistible ultimate weapon.

Rick awakens to find himself ‘Trapped on Titan!’ (Pablo Marcos inks) not realising the villain has already extracted the location of a reality-altering Cosmic Cube from him. Rescued by Thanos’ hyper-powered father Mentor and noble brother Eros, the horrified human lad sees first-hand the extent of the genocide the death-loving monster has inflicted upon his own birthworld. Appalled and angry, Rick summons Captain Marvel to wreak vengeance…

Meanwhile on Earth, still-enslaved Lou-Ann has gone to warn the Mighty Avengers and summarily collapsed. By the time Mar-Vell arrives in #28 she lies near death. ‘When Titans Collide!’ (inks by Dan Green) reveals another plank of Thanos’ plan.

As the heroes are picked off by psychic parasite The Controller, the Kree Captain is assaulted by bizarre visions of an incredibly ancient being. Fatally distracted, he becomes the malevolent mind-leech’s latest conquest…

Al Milgrom inks ‘Metamorphosis!’ as Mar-Vell’s connection to Rick is severed before the Kree exile is transported to an otherworldly locale where a grotesque eight billion-year-old being named Eon reveals the origins of universal life whilst overseeing the abductee’s forced evolution into an ultimate warrior: a universal champion gifted with the subtly irresistible power of Cosmic Awareness

Subsequently returned to Earth and reconnected to his frantic atomic counterpart, the newly-appointed “Protector of the Universe” confronts The Controller, thrashing the monumentally powerful brain-parasite in a devastating display of skill countering exo-skeletal super-strength in #30’s ‘…To Be Free from Control!’

Iron Man, meanwhile, has recovered from a previous Controller assault and headed for Marvel Feature #12 to join Ben Grimm in ending a desert incursion by Thanos’ forces before enduring ‘The Bite of the Blood Brothers!’ (Friedrich, Starlin, & Joe Sinnott), after which the story develops through the unseeing eyes of San Francisco-based swashbuckler Daredevil.

In DD #105, Matt Murdock has realised his new boss Kerwin Broderick has been sabotaging the attorney’s cases, and even hired warped mercenary Sergei Kravinoff AKA Kraven the Hunter to crush Daredevil’s investigative interference. When Kraven abducts his lover The Black Widow, the hero tries to save her but is thrown to his death over a cliff…

Natasha brutally avenge her man’s murder, but Murdock is far from dead, having being teleported from the jaws of doom by a ‘Menace from the Moons of Saturn!’ (scripted by Steve Gerber with art by Don Heck & Don Perlin).

In a short sequence pencilled by Starlin, the earthborn Priestess of Titan reveals how she had been dispatched to Earth to counter the schemes of death-worshipping proto-god Thanos.

Here the formerly enigmatic and emotionless super scientist Madame MacEvil shares her origins and foreshadows her future role in the cosmic catastrophe to come.

When Thanos killed her family, the infant Heather Douglas was adopted by Mentor, taken to Titan and reared by psionic martial artists of the Shao-Lom Monastery. Years later when Thanos attacked Titan and destroyed the monks she swore revenge and took a new name… Moondragon.

She also inadvertently discloses how she had innocently allied with a respected man of power and authority, providing him with a variety of augmented agents such as Dark Messiah, Ramrod and Angar …in fact all the menaces who have recently dogged the Man Without Fear…

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

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

Inked by Green & Milgrom, Captain Marvel #31 announces ‘The Beginning of the End!’ as the Avengers – in a gathering of last resort – are joined by psionic priestess Moondragon and Drax: revealed as one more of Thanos’ victims but one recalled from death by supernal forces to hunt and destroy the deranged Titan…

Thanos is then revealed as a lover of the personification of Death: determined to gift her Earth as a betrothal present. To that end he uses the Cosmic Cube to turn himself into ‘Thanos the Insane God!’ (Green inks) who, with a casual thought, imprisons all opposition to his reign.

The story then slips into Avengers #125, as Thanos unleashes ‘The Power of Babel!’ (Steve Englehart, John Buscema & Cockrum) with his vast alien armada bombarding Earth. In combating it, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are trapped out of phase with their home-world and, on defeating the star raiders, can only watch helplessly as ghosts in another dimension…

All seems lost but the Titan’s insane arrogance leaves the cosmically aware Mar-Vell with one slim chance to undo every change. Brilliantly outmanoeuvring the omnipotent ogre, the Kree Captain defeats and apparently destroys ‘The God Himself!’ in cosmically climatic Captain Marvel #33 (inked by Klaus Janson).

With the menace removed life returned to hectic normality, but the threat of Thanos had not ended.

While the war unfolded on Earth, Avatar of Life Adam Warlock had been making his way across the cosmos. The man-made man-god origins were as a lab experiment concocted by rogue geneticists eager to create a superman they could control for conquest. After facing the Fantastic Four, “Him” subsequently escaped to the stars before returning to his all-encompassing cocoon to evolve a little more.

That stellar shell was picked up by the moon-sized ship of self-created deity the High Evolutionary who was wrapped up in a bold new experiment. The naive wanderer observed as the Evolutionary created a duplicate Earth on the far side of the sun, running through billions of years of evolution in mere hours.

The intent was to create a civilisation without aggression or rancour, but the Evolutionary collapsed from exhaustion just as proto-hominid became Homo Sapien and his greatest mistake took instant advantage of the fact…

Years previously Man-Beast had been hyper-evolved from a wolf and instantly became his creator’s nemesis. Now he and his equally debased minions invaded the ship and interfered with the experiment: reintroducing evil to the perfect creatures below and, in fact, making them just like us. At incredible speed Earth’s history re-ran with the creature in the cocoon afforded a ring-side seat to humanity’s fall from grace…

When the High Evolutionary awoke and fought Man-Beast’s army, Him broke out of his shell and helped rout the demons, who fled to the despoiled Counter-Earth. With calm restored, the science-god sought to sterilise his ruined experiment: a world now indistinguishable from our own. No superheroes; disease and poverty rampant; injustice in ascendance and moments away from nuclear Armageddon… but Him begged him not to.

Claiming the evil tide could be turned, he begged the Evolutionary to stay his hand. The grieving, despondent creator agreed… but only until the rechristened Adam Warlock should admit that humanity was beyond redemption…

After failing in that endeavour Warlock travelled to the furthest reaches of creation only to discover a cruel and rapacious Universal Church of Truth slaughtering billions and learned with horror that the faith was based on a living god: his own evil future self The Magus.

Resolved to destroy the vile aberration he partnered with a troll named Pip and an assassin named Gamora, unaware that she actually worked for a hidden masterlord with a devilish agenda of his own…

Taken from Warlock #9-11 (October 1975-February 1976) the culmination of that struggle began with ‘The Infinity Effect’ (Starlin & Steve Leialoha) as the triumphant Magus easily countered every desperate ploy of Warlock to avoid an imminent metamorphosis into his malignant future self. All hope seems lost until Gamora’s master finally intercedes…

‘How Strange My Destiny!’ finds the unflappable Magus respond by setting 25,000 super-powered religious fanatics on the Warlock and Thanos as a way of keeping them occupied until the inevitable transformation occurs. ‘Enter the Redemption Principle!’ finds Magus at last rattled and personally intervening…

Issue #12’s sees an ‘Escape into the Inner Prison!’ as Warlock discovers that his ally is the Avatar of Death, just as the Magus has usurped his own position as Avatar of Life. With no other option he chooses to circumvent an intolerable fate with ‘The Strange Death of Adam Warlock!’

After months more purposeless adventuring for Adam, infinitely patient Thanos at last shares his ultimate plans with devoted disciple Gamora. With Starlin handling all the creative chores, ‘Just a Series of Events!’ in Warlock #15 follows the artificial angel as he meanders towards his ultimate end and reveals that the all-powerful Soul Gem he wears on his brow is more his parasitic master than faithful servant…

That leads directly into a brace of 1977 Annuals which promised to resolve the Thanos/Warlock conflict forever. ‘The Final Threat’ (Starlin & Joe Rubinstein), from Avengers Annual #7, saw Captain Marvel and Moondragon return to Earth with vague anticipations of an impending cosmic catastrophe.

Their premonitions are confirmed when galactic wanderer Adam Warlock arrives with news that death-obsessed Thanos has amassed an alien armada and built a Soul-Gem powered cannon to snuff out the stars like candles…

Broaching interstellar space to stop the scheme, the united heroes forestall the stellar invasion and prevent the Dark Titan from destroying the Sun – but only at the cost of Warlock’s life…

Then ‘Death Watch!’ (Starlin & Rubinstein, Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2) finds Peter Parker plagued by prophetic nightmares, disclosing how Thanos had snatched victory from defeat and now holds the Avengers captive whilst he again prepares to extinguish Sol.

With nowhere else to turn, the anguished, disbelieving Spider-Man heads for the Baxter Building, hoping to borrow a spacecraft, and unaware that The Thing also had a history with the terrifying Titan.

Although utterly overmatched, the mismatched substitute-champions of Life subsequently upset Thanos’ plans enough so that the Avengers and the Universe’s true agent of retribution are able to end the Titan’s threat forever… or at least until next time…

That ought to be the end of this first cycle of cosmic conflagration but there’s still one more treat on offer here.

Logan’s Run was a short-lived licensed property tie-in and #6 incongruously featured a 5-page filler short starring Thanos in battle against his precision-crafted nemesis Drax the Destroyer: a typically inconclusive out-world clash over ‘The Final Flower’ by Scott Edelman & Mike Zeck.

A timeless classic of the company and the genre, made topical by the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe extravaganza, this is a tale no full-blooded print or screen-based Fights ‘n’ Tights fan can be without.
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 2013, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Epic Collection Volume 7: The Avengers/Defenders War


By Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Jim Starlin, Gerry Conway, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema, John Buscema, Rich Buckler & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1000-6

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

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

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket can pay off big-time. Even when all Marvel Royalty such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, the founding stars always regularly feature due to a rotating, open door policy ensuring most issues include somebody’s fave-rave.

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

This stunning seventh trade paperback compilation – also available in eBook iterations – assembles Avengers #115-128 and Giant Size Avengers #1, plus crucial crossover episodes from Defenders #8-1, Captain Marvel #33 and Fantastic Four # 150; collectively covering September 1973 to October 1974 and celebrating an era of cosmic catastrophe and cataclysmically captivating creative cross-pollination…

For kids – of any and all ages – there is a simply primal fascination with brute strength and feeling dangerous, which surely goes some way towards explaining the perennial interest in angry tough guys who break stuff as best exemplified by Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner and the Incredible Hulk.

When you add the mystery and magic of Doctor Strange the recipe for thrills, spills and chills becomes simply irresistible…

Last of the big star-name conglomerate super-groups, the Defenders would eventually number amongst its membership almost every hero – and some few villains – in the Marvel Universe.

No surprise there then since the initial line was composed of the company’s major league bad-boys: misunderstood, outcast and often actually dangerous to know. For Marvel in the 1970s, the outsider super-group must have seemed a conceptual inevitability – once they’d finally published it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This bombastic tome commences with Avengers #115 as lead story ‘Below Us the Battle!’ (illustrated by Bob Brown & Mike Esposito sees the critically- understaffed Avengers travel to England and the castle of the Black Knight, only to find mystic resistance, a troglodytic race of scavengers and their old comrade long missing…

The issue also contained a little prologue, ‘Alliance Most Foul!’, which revealed other-dimensional Dark Lord Dormammu and Asgardian god of Evil Loki united to secure an ultimate weapon which would give them ultimate victory against all their foes.

This despotic duo would deceive the Defenders into securing the six component parts by “revealing” that the reconstructed Evil Eye could de-petrify and restore the Black Knight – a plan that began with a similar prologue at the end of Defenders #8…

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

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

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

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

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

With the overwhelming cosmic threat over the victorious Defenders attempt to use the Eye to cure their petrified comrade, only to discover that his spirit has found a new home in the 12th century.

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

The drama resumes with a delightfully traditional spooky Halloween tale as the Avengers, warned by clairvoyant vision from martial arts enigma Mantis, head to Rutland, Vermont for the ‘Night of the Collector’ (#119, illustrated by Brown & Don Heck); encountering old friends, a dastardly and determined foe, blistering action and staggering suspense…

In ‘Death-Stars of the Zodiac!’ (Avengers#120, by Englehart, Brown & Heck), terrorist astrological adversaries and super-criminal cartel Zodiac attack again with a manic plan to eradicate everyone in Manhattan born under the sign of Gemini.

Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman and Mantis are seemingly helpless to stop them but the blockbusting battle in #121’s ‘Houses Divided Cannot Stand!’ (illustrated by John Buscema & Heck,) and even the added assistance of Captain America and the Black Panther is of little advantage…

With Mantis injured the team begin to question her mysterious past, only to be lured to their seeming doom and ‘Trapped in Outer Space!’ (Brown & Mike Esposito) before at last turning the tables on their fearsome foes after the criminal Libra reveals a shocking secret…

Avengers #123, ( Brown & Heck) begins a vast and ambitious saga with ‘Vengeance in Viet Nam – or – An Origin For Mantis!’ as Libra’s claim to be Mantis’ father (a story vigorously and violently denied by the Martial Arts Mistress) sends the team to Indo-China in a big hurry.

The former mercenary declared that he left the baby Mantis with pacifistic Priests of Pama after running afoul of a local crime-lord, but the bewildered warrior-woman has no memory of such events, nor of being schooled in combat techniques by the Priests. Meanwhile, the gravely wounded Swordsman has also rushed to Saigon to confront his sadistic ex-boss Monsieur Khruul and save the Priests from being murdered by the gangster’s thugs… but is again too late. It is the same old story of his pathetic, wasted life…

Issue #124 has the team stumbling upon a scene of slaughter as dead clerics and criminals lead to a monstrous planet-rending alien horror freshly awakened in ‘Beware the Star-Stalker!’ (limned by John Buscema & Dave Cockrum)…

Mantis is forced to accept that her own memories are not real after Avengers #125, which unleashed ‘The Power of Babel!’ after a vast alien armada attacks and, in combating it, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are trapped out of phase with their home-world.

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

Included in this compendium is climactic last chapter of that epic, plotted and illustrated by Jim Starlin, scripted by Englehart and inked by Klaus Janson. ‘The God Himself!’ (from Captain Marvel #33) sees mad Titan Thanos finally fall in combat to the valiant Kree warrior: a stunning piece of comics storytelling which stands up remarkably well here despite being seen without benefit of the preceding ten chapters…

It’s back to Avengers business as Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler & Dan Adkins return to the fold to delve and reboot some superhero history with ‘Nuklo… The Invader that Time Forgot!’ for the first quarterly edition of Giant-Size Avengers.

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

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

Back in regular continuity, Avengers #126 offers ‘All the Sights and Sounds of Death!’ (Englehart, Brown & Cockrum) as villains Klaw and Solarr invade Avengers Mansion in a devious attempt to achieve vengeance for past indignities, after which in #127 Sal Buscema & Joe Staton sign on as regular art team with ‘Bride and Doom!’ as the team voyage to the hidden Himalayan homeland of The Inhumans to attend the marriage of the aforementioned Quicksilver to elemental enchantress Crystal. Sadly, the happy event craftily coincides with an uprising of the genetic slave-race known as Alpha Primitives. Once again robotic giant Omega has incited the revolt, but this time it is controlled by an old Avengers enemy who reveals himself in the concluding chapter of the crossover…

The story wraps up in Fantastic Four #150 with ‘Ultron-7: He’ll Rule the World!’ by Gerry Conway, Buckler & Joe Sinnott, in which a devastating battle between FF, Inhumans and Avengers is ended by a veritable Deus ex Machina moment, after which, at long last ‘The Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver’ ends events on a happy note.

But not for long as a final tale from Avengers #128’ sees the FF’s nanny Agatha Harkness get a new job tutoring Wanda Frank in actual sorcery to augment her mutant power. In Bewitched, Bothered, and Dead!’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Staton), the new student unwittingly allows dark mage Necrodamus access to the Mansion and the souls of the occupants, even as increasingly troubled Mantis makes a play for the Scarlet Witch’s synthezoid boyfriend The Vision; heedless of the hurt and harm she will bring to her current lover The Swordsman…

Extra enticements include Roy Thomas’ ‘Avengers Re-Assemble’ article from Giant-Size Avengers #1, art and features starring assorted Avengers from company fanzine F.O.O.M. (#3, 5, 6, 7, by John and Sal Buscema, John Byrne & Duffy Vohland, Marie Severin, Dave Cockrum, John Romita); comedy skit ‘Those Wedding Bells are Bustin’ Up that Avengin’ Gang of Mine’ by Tony Isabella & Paty Cockrum; House ads, covers from previous collections by Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino & Ang Tsang and Romita & Richard Isanove and an original art gallery of sketches, pages and covers by Brown, Romita, Starlin, Ron Wilson, John and Sal Buscema, Buckler and Byrne.

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

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right and also a pivotal step transforming the little company into today’s multinational corporate colossus. Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new acme of cosmic adventure…
© 1973, 1974, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.
Avengers Epic Collection Volume 7: The Avengers/Defenders War is scheduled for release on April 24th and is available digitally or for pre-order now.

Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection


By Jim Starlin, Mike Friedrich, Steve Gerber, Steve Englehart & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-30290-017-5

As much as I’d love to claim that Marvel’s fortunes are solely built on the works of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, I’m just not able to. Whereas I can safely avow that without them the modern monolith would not exist, it is also necessary to acknowledge the vital role played by a second generation of creators of the early 1970s. Marvel’s eager welcome to fresh, new, often untried talent paid huge dividends in creativity and – most importantly at a time of industry contraction – resulted in new sales and the retention of a readership that was growing away from traditional comics fare. Best of all, these newcomers spoke with a narrative voice far closer to that of its rebellious audience…

One of the most successful of these newcomers was Jim Starlin. As well as the topical and groundbreaking Master of Kung Fu – co-created with his equally gifted confederates Steve Englehart & Al Milgrom – Starlin’s earliest success was the epic of cosmic odyssey compiled here.

Captain Marvel was an alien on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree who fought for Earth and was atomically bonded to professional sidekick Rick Jones by a pair of wristbands allowing them to share the same space in our universe. When one was here, the other was trapped in the antimatter dimension designated the Negative Zone.

After meandering around the Marvel Universe for a while, continually one step ahead of cancellation (the series had folded many times, but always quickly returned – primarily to secure the all-important Trademark name), Mar-Vell was handed to Starlin – and the young artist was left alone to get on with it.

With many of his fellow neophytes he began laying seeds (particularly in Iron Man, Daredevil and Sub-Mariner) for a saga that would in many ways become as well-regarded as the Jack Kirby Fourth World Trilogy that inspired it.

However, the Thanos War, despite many superficial similarities, would soon develop into a uniquely modern experience. And what it lacked in grandeur it made up for with sheer energy and enthusiasm…

This epic compendium (available in Trade Paperback and eBook editions) gathers and collates Iron Man #55, Captain Marvel #25-34, Marvel Feature #12 and pertinent extracts from Daredevil #105 – spanning February 1973-September 1974 – and concludes with the landmark Marvel Graphic Novel #1 from 1982, re-presenting Starlin’s entire input into the legend of the Kree Protector of the Universe and one of the company’s most popular and oft-reprinted sagas.

The artistic iconoclasm began in Iron Man #55 (February 1973) where Mike Friedrich scripted Starlin’s opening gambit in a cosmic epic that would change the nature of Marvel itself.

Inked by Mike Esposito, ‘Beware… Beware… Beware the … Blood Brothers!’ introduces formidable and obsessive Drax the Destroyer; an immensely powerful alien trapped under the Nevada desert and in dire need of rescue by even more potent extraterrestrial invader Thanos

That comes when the Armoured Avenger blazes in, answering a mysterious SOS, but only after brutally dealing with the secret invader’s deadly underlings…

All this is merely a prelude to the main story which begins unfolding a month later in Captain Marvel #25, courtesy of Friedrich, Starlin, & Chic Stone as Thanos unleashes ‘A Taste of Madness!’ and exiled Mar-Vell’s fortunes change forever…

When Mar-Vell is ambushed by a pack of extraterrestrials, he is forced to admit that his powers have been in decline for some time. Unaware that an unseen foe is counting on that, Rick manifests (from the Negative Zone) and checks in with sagacious scientific maverick Dr. Savannah, only to find himself accused by the savant’s daughter (and Rick’s beloved) Lou-Ann of her father’s murder…

Hauled off to jail, Rick brings in Mar-Vell who is suddenly confronted by a veritable legion of old foes before deducing who in fact his true enemies are…

Issue #26 then sees Rick freed from police custody to confront Lou-Ann over her seeming ‘Betrayal!’ (Starlin, Friedrich & Dave Cockrum). Soon, however, he and Mar-Vell realise they are the targets of psychological warfare: the girl is being mind-controlled whilst Super Skrull and his hidden “Masterlord” are manipulating them and others in search of a lost secret…

When a subsequent scheme to have Mar-Vell kill The Thing spectacularly fails, Thanos takes personal charge. The Titan is hungry for conquest and needs Rick because his subconscious conceals the location of an irresistible ultimate weapon.

Rick awakens to find himself ‘Trapped on Titan!’ (Pablo Marcos inks) but does not realise the villain has already extracted the location of a reality-altering Cosmic Cube from him. Rescued by Thanos’ hyper-powered father Mentor and noble brother Eros, the horrified lad sees first-hand the extent of genocide the death-loving monster has inflicted upon his own birthworld before summoning Captain Marvel to wreak vengeance…

Meanwhile on Earth, still-enslaved Lou-Ann has gone to warn the Mighty Avengers and summarily collapsed. By the time Mar-Vell arrives in #28 she lies near death. ‘When Titans Collide!’ (inks by Dan Green) reveals another plank of Thanos’ plan. As the heroes are picked off by psychic parasite The Controller, the Kree Captain is assaulted by bizarre visions of an incredible ancient being. Fatally distracted, he becomes the malevolent mind-leech’s latest victim…

Al Milgrom inks ‘Metamorphosis!’ as Mar-Vell’s connection to Rick is severed before he is transported to an otherworldly locale where a grotesque eight billion-year-old being named Eon reveals the origins of universal life whilst overseeing the Kree abductee’s forced evolution into an ultimate warrior: a universal champion gifted with the subtly irresistible power of Cosmic Awareness

Iron Man meanwhile has recovered from a previous Controller assault and headed for Marvel Feature #12 to join Ben Grimm in ending a desert incursion by Thanos’ forces before enduring ‘The Bite of the Blood Brothers!’ (Friedrich, Starlin, & Joe Sinnott), after which the story develops through an extract first seen in Daredevil #105.

Here enigmatic and emotionless super scientist Madame MacEvil tells her origins and foreshadows her future role in the cosmic catastrophe to come. When Thanos killed her family, the infant Heather Douglas was adopted by Mentor, taken to Titan and reared by psionic martial artists of the Shao-Lom Monastery. Years later when Thanos attacked Titan and destroyed the monks she swore revenge and took a new name… Moondragon

Subsequently returned to Earth and reconnected to his frantic atomic counterpart, the newly-appointed “Protector of the Universe” confronts The Controller, thrashing the monumentally powerful brain-parasite in a devastating display of skill countering exo-skeletal super-strength in #30’s ‘…To Be Free from Control!’ after which #31 celebrates ‘The Beginning of the End!’ (inked by Green & Milgrom) as the Avengers – in a gathering of last resort – are joined by psionic priestess Moondragon and Drax: revealed as one more of Thanos’ victims but one recalled from death by supernal forces to destroy the deranged Titan…

The Titan is then revealed as a lover of the personification of Death: determined to give her Earth as a betrothal present. To that end he uses the Cosmic Cube to turn himself into ‘Thanos the Insane God!’ (Green inks) who, with a thought, imprisons all opposition to his reign. However, his insane arrogance leaves the cosmically aware Mar-Vell with a slim chance to undo every change; brilliantly outmanoeuvring, defeating and apparently destroying ‘The God Himself!’ in the cosmically climatic Captain Marvel #33 (inked by Klaus Janson)…

With the universe saved and a modicum of sanity and security restored, Starlin’s run ended on a relatively weak and inconclusive note in #34 as ‘Blown Away!’ – inked by Jack Abel and dialogued by Englehart – explored the day after doomsday…

As Rick Jones tries to revive his on-again, off-again musical career, a new secret organisation called the Lunatic Legion sends Nitro, the Exploding Man to acquire a canister of deadly gas from an Air Force base where old pal Carol Danvers is head of Security…

Although the Protector of the Universe defeats his earth-shattering enemy, Mar-Vell soon succumbs to the deadly nerve agent released in the battle. The exposure actually kills him but he will not realise that for years to come…

In 1982, The Death of Captain Marvel was the first Marvel Graphic Novel and the one that truly demonstrated how mainstream superhero material could breach the wider world of general publishing.

Written and illustrated by Starlin with lettering by James Novak and colours from Steve Oliff, this tale concluded the career of the mighty Kree Champion in a neatly symmetrical and textually conclusive manner – although the tale’s success led to some pretty crass commercialisations in its wake…

As previously stated, Mar-Vell was a honoured soldier of the alien Kree empire dispatched to Earth as a spy, who subsequently went native: becoming first a hero and then the cosmically “aware” protector of the universe, destined since universal life began to be its stalwart cosmic champion in its darkest hour.

In concert with the Avengers and other heroes he defeated death-worshipping Thanos, just as that villain transformed into God, after which the good Captain went on to become a universal force for good.

That insipid last bit pretty much sums up Mar-Vell’s later career: without Thanos the adventures again became uninspired and eventually just fizzled out. He lost his own comicbook, had a brief shot at revival in try-out title Marvel Spotlight and then just faded away…

Re-enter Starlin, who had long been linked to narrative themes of death. He offered a rather novel idea – kill Mar-Vell off and actually leave him dead. What no fan realised at the time was that Starlin was also processing emotional issues thrown up by the passing of his own father and the story he crafted echoed his own emotional turmoil.

In 1982 killing such a high-profile hero was a bold idea, especially considering how long and hard the company had fought to obtain the rights to the name (and sure enough there’s been somebody with that name in print ever since) but Starlin wasn’t just proposing a gratuitous stunt. The story developed into a different kind of drama: one uniquely at odds with contemporary fare and thinking.

Following the Thanos Saga, Mar-Vell defeated second-rater Nitro but was exposed to experimental nerve gas during the fight. Now years later he discovers that, just as he has found love and contentment, the effects of that gas have inexorably caused cancer in his system. Moreover, it has metastasized into something utterly incurable…

Going through the Kree version of the classic Kubler-Ross Cycle: grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, the Space-Born hero can only watch as all his friends and comrades try and fail to find a cure, before death comes for him…

This is a thoughtful, intriguing examination of the process of dying observed by a being who never expected to die in bed, and argues forcefully that even in a universe where miracles occur by the hour sometimes death might not be unwelcome…

Today, in a world where the right to life is increasingly being challenged and contested by special interest groups, this story is still a strident, forceful reminder that sometimes the personal right to dignity and freedom from distress is as important as any and all other Human Rights.

No big Deus ex Machina, not many fights and no happy ending: but still one of the most compelling stories the House of Ideas ever published.

Augmenting the sidereal saga, a number of now-mandatory bonus bits include Starlin’s exploded-view map-&-blueprint of Thanos’ homeworld Titan; original cover art from Captain Marvel #29 plus original art and a 3-page framing sequence for the reprint issue #36.

Other extras follow: the all-cosmic hero cover to fan-magazine F.O.O.M. #19; the all-new covers, back covers and bridging pages for prestige reprint miniseries The Life of Captain Marvel (as well as the humorous introductory ‘Editori-Al’ strips cartooned by Al Milgrom) and much, much more.

A timeless classic of the company and the genre, this is a tale no full-blooded Fights ‘n’ Tights fan can be without.
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1982, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain Marvel: Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Gary Friedrich, Archie Goodwin, Gil Kane, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, Frank Springer, Tom Sutton, John Buscema, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2430-6 (HB)

After more than a decade as an also-ran and occasional up-and-comer, by 1968 Marvel Comics was in the ascendant. Their sales were rapidly catching up with industry leaders National/DC Comics and Gold Key, and the House of Ideas had finally secured a new distribution deal allowing them to expand their list of titles exponentially.

Once the stars of “twin-books” Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales all won their own titles, the new concepts just kept coming.

One dead-cert idea was a hero named for the company – and one with some popular cachet and nostalgic pedigree as well. After the DC/Fawcett court case of the 1940s-1950s, the name Captain Marvel had disappeared from the newsstands.

In 1967, during a superhero boom/camp craze generated by the Batman TV show, publisher MLF secured rights to the name and produced a number of giant-sized comics featuring an intelligent robot who (which?) could divide his body into segments and shoot lasers from his eyes.

Quirkily charming and devised by the legendary Carl (Human Torch) Burgos, the feature nevertheless did not attract a large following. On its demise, the name was quickly snapped up by the ever-expanding Marvel Comics Group.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a brand-new title: it had been the giant-sized reprint vehicle Fantasy Masterpieces, combining reprint monster and mystery tales with Golden Age Timely Comics mystery men classics, but with #12 it added an experimental section for characters without homes such as Medusa, Ka-Zar, Black Knight and Doctor Doom.

The title also debuted new concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy, Phantom Eagle and, to start the ball rolling, a troubled alien spy sent to Earth from the Kree Galaxy. He held a Captain’s rank and his name was Mar-Vell.

All that and even more candid, behind-the-scenes historical revelations are contained in series-author Roy Thomas’ effusive Introduction before this cosmically conceived tome – available in hardcover and digital editions – kicks off. On offer are the contents of Captain Marvel #10-21 collectively spanning cover-dates February 1969 to August 1970 plus a little comedy treat from Not Brand Echh # 9 (August 1968)…

Following the destruction of a long-dormant, mechanoid Kree Sentry and the subsequent defeat by the Fantastic Four of Ronan the Accuser – mighty high official of those long-lost extraterrestrials – the millennia-old empire was once again interested in Earth.

They despatched a surveillance mission to learn everything about us but unfortunately for them, the agent they chose was a man of conscience. However, his commanding officer Colonel Yon-Rogg was merciless taskmaster and secretly a ruthless rival for the love of the ship’s medical officer Una.

No sooner did the good captain make a tentative planet-fall than he clashed with the US army from the local missile base (often hinted at as being Cape Kennedy). Soon though he began fighting for the humans and was mistaken by many – including Security officer Carol Danvers – for a crusading costumed superhero…

To further his mission, Mar-Vell also assumed the identity of deceased military consultant Dr. Walter Lawson: but was quickly discovering that the dearly departed scientist concealed a chequered and probably nefarious past which created a whole raft of new problems for the undercover alien infiltrator…

The war of nerves with Yon-Rogg had intensified to the point that the colonel was openly planning murder and the romantic bond to Una was fractured when Carol Danvers began making her own overtures to the heroic Marvel.

Thus, when Ronan orders Mar-Vell to make allies of Lawson’s super-scientific criminal syndicate – at the cost of Carol’s life – the hero ignores his orders and pays the penalty as he is arrested by his own crew and faces a firing squad in #10’s ‘Die Traitor!’ (scripted by Arnold Drake and illustrated by Don Heck & Vince Colletta).

He is only saved by an ambush perpetrated by the survivors of an Aakon ship Yon-Rogg had previously targeted in #11’s ‘Rebirth!’ (illustrated by new penciller Dick Ayers). In the aftermath, however, the Kree colonel traps his despised rival on a missile hurtling into infinity and assumes his problems are over.

During the battle author Drake took the opportunity to kill off – as nobly as possible – the insipid Medic Una, giving staunch Mar-Vell justifiable reason to openly rebel against his entire race and be reborn under the tutelage of a cosmic entity known only as Zo! who saved the trapped hero from death in the void…

Moribund for months, this new beginning with the honourable, dutiful soldier remade as a vengeful vigilante was a real shot in the arm, but it was still quite clear that Captain Marvel the comic was struggling to find an audience. ‘The Moment of… the Man-Slayer!’ (Drake, Ayers and the great Syd Shores) sees the newly super-powered hero gifted with a whole new power set by Zo! and return to Earth.

He is hunting Yon-Rogg but soon distracted by a marauding synthetic assassin at The Cape, in a taut spy-thriller with The Black Widow in deadly guest-star mode.

‘Traitors or Heroes?’ concludes the Man-Slayer storyline with Gary Friedrich, Frank Springer & Vince Colletta as creative team, with the Captain finally confronting Yon-Rogg. The villain escapes by threatening Carol…

In #14’s ‘When a Galaxy Beckons…’ the Captain clashes with an entranced Puppet Master-controlled Iron Man as part of an early experiment in multi-part cross-overs (Sub-Mariner #14 and Avengers #64 being the other parts of the triptych) before leaving Earth… forever, he believes…

The going gets all cosmic in #15 (magnificently illustrated by Tom Sutton & Dan Adkins in a boldly experimental manner) as ‘That Zo Might Live… A Galaxy Must Die!’ sees Mar-Vell return to his home world on a mission of total destruction that wraps up the first career of Captain Marvel in spectacular style.

Beguiled and grateful, the hero revisits his homeworld determined to obliterate it for his almighty sponsor only to uncover an incredible conspiracy before the awesome truth is exposed in #16’s ‘Behind the Mask of Zo!’ by Archie Goodwin, Heck & Shores.

This yarn is the first great “everything you know is wrong” story in Marvel history and captivatingly makes sense of all the previous issues, supplying a grand resolution and providing a solid context for the total revamp of the character to come. That’s how good a writer Archie Goodwin was. And if you read Roy Thomas’s aforementioned Introduction, a clandestine creative secret is finally revealed…

Captain Marvel #16 is a magical issue and I’m being deliberately vague in case you have yet to read it, but I will tell you the ending. After saving the entire Kree Empire Mar-Vell is flying back to Earth in his new red-&-blue costume, when he is suddenly sucked into the anti-matter hell of the Negative Zone

It’s probably best to think of everything previously discussed as prelude, since Captain Marvel as we know him really begins with #17 as Thomas, Gil Kane & Dan Adkins totally retool and upgrade the character.

‘And a Child Shall Lead You!’ sees the imperilled Kree warrior inextricably bonded to voice-of-a-generation and professional side-kick Rick Jones who – just like Billy Batson (the boy who turned into the original Fawcett hero by shouting “Shazam!”) – switched places with a mighty adult hero when danger loomed.

As thrilling, and as revolutionary as the idea of a comic written from the viewpoint of teenager was, the real magic comes from the phenomenally kinetic artwork of Kane – whose mesmeric staging of the perfect human form in motion rewrote the book on superhero illustration with this series.

Issue #18 at last categorically ended the Yon-Rogg saga and started Carol Danvers on her own super-hero career as the Mar-Vell swore ‘Vengeance is Mine!’ – with a last minute pinch-hit pencilling from John Buscema for the concluding nine pages – before the next issue moved firmly into the “Relevancy Era” (where realism and themes of social injustice replaced aliens and super-villains as comics fodder) with a crazed sociologist and too-benevolent landlord revealed as ‘The Mad Master of the Murder Maze!’.

And that’s when the series was cancelled.

As happened so often during that tempestuous period, cutting edge, landmark, classic comic-books just didn’t sell. Silver Surfer, Green Lantern/Green Arrow and a host of other series we today consider high points of the form were axed because they couldn’t find enough of the right audience, but Captain Mar-Vell refused to die. Six months later issue #20 was released, and the quality was still improving with every page.

‘The Hunter and the Holocaust’ has Rick attempt to free his trapped body-and-soulmate by consulting old mentor Bruce Banner. But en route, a tornado destroys a town and Mar-Vell first renders assistance and then fights off resource-looters the Rat Pack. With the next issue Cap and Rick’s mentor finally meet, in ‘Here Comes the Hulk!’ but that’s just a garnish on this tale of student unrest and manipulative intolerance. The book was cancelled again after that… only to return some more!

Although those tales are saved for another time, there are still a few goodies to enjoy. First of these is a spoof strip from Marvel’s own parody comic Not Brand Echh # 9. ‘Captain Marvin: Where Stomps the Scent-ry! or Out of the Holocaust… Hoo-Boy!!’ is by Thomas, Gene Colan & Frank Giacoia : funny or painful depending on your attitude, but also included are some pencilled pages and sketches that are the answer to every wannabe artist’s dreams.

These include a Marie Severin cover rough for #10, Kane’s layout for #17, page 19 and three pin-ups by Kane & Adkins. Glorious!

This is not Marvel’s best character, and much of the material collected here is rather poor. However, the good stuff is some of the very best the company has produced in its entire history. If you want to see how good superhero comics can be you’ll just have to take the rough with the smooth… and who knows? Maybe you’ll learn to lower your standard a bit and enjoy yourself despite it all…

I often do…
© 1968, 1969, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ms. Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Chris Claremont, Simon Furman, Jim Shooter, George Pérez, Bob Layton, David Michelinie, Jim Mooney, Carmine Infantino, Dave Cockrum, Mike Vosburg, Mike Gustovich, Michael Golden, David Ross & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9575-7

Until relatively recently American comics and especially Marvel had very little in the way of positive female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Although there was a woman starring in the very first comic of the Marvel Age, Invisible Girl Susan Storm took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right. They’ve come a long way since then…

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

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

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

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

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

This second sturdy hardcover volume (or enthralling eBook if you prefer), collects Ms. Marvel volume 1#15-23, relevant portions of Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10-11, Avengers #197-200, Avengers Annual #10 and material from Marvel Fanfare #24, circuitously spanning March 1978 to October 1992, and leads off with an effusive Introduction from latter-day Danvers writer Kelly Sue DeConnick before the game-changing dramas commence…

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

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

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

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

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

Ms. Marvel #20 highlights a huge makeover as Danvers dumps her Mar-Vell-inspired uniform and finally finds her own look and identity in ‘The All-New Ms. Marvel’ courtesy of Claremont, Dave Cockrum & Bob Wiacek.

Here the utterly re-purposed hero tackles a hidden kingdom of predatory, intelligent, post-atomic dinosaurs infesting the American deserts, leading to a catastrophic clash with ‘The Devil in the Dark!’ (inked by Al Milgrom) in the following issue.

Now one of the most hands-on, bombastic battlers in the Marvel pantheon, Ms. M is more than ready for a return match with Death-Bird in ‘Second Chance!’ (art by Mikes Vosburg & Zeck) but thrown for a total loop in her personal life after being fired from Woman Magazine.

All these bold changes came too late as the series’ dwindling sales had earmarked it for cancellation. ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ (inked by Bruce D. Patterson) resolves a long-running plot thread involving the disappearance of old friend Salia Petrie in a tale guest-starring the time-travelling Guardians of the Galaxy, just in time for the end of the road.

The series stopped there but two more stories were in various stages of preparation. They eventually saw print in 1992 (the Summer and Fall issues of oversized anthology publication Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10-11). Here they are presented in an originally untitled yarn dubbed ‘Sabretooth Stalks the Subway’: a ferocious fight against the feral mutant maniac by Claremont & Vosburg, followed by ‘Cry, Vengeance!’ (Claremont, Simon Furman, Vosburg & Mike Gustovich) as Ms. Marvel, now a card-carrying Avenger, faces off against Mystique and her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

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

Relegated to an ensemble role in the Avengers, Danvers’ life took a strange and disturbing turn in Avengers 197-199 (July to September 1980 and represented here by pertinent extracts from those issues).

Written by David Michelinie with art from Infantino & Brett Breeding and George Pérez & Dan Green, these snippets follow a strange and terrifyingly rapid transformation as Carol finds herself impossibly pregnant and bringing an unknown baby to term in a matter of days…

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

“Marcus” claims to be the son of time-master Immortus, trying to escape eternal isolation in other-dimensional Limbo by implanting his essence in a mortal tough enough to survive the energy required for the transfer.

Literally reborn on Earth, his attempts to complete the process are foiled by the World’s Most Confused Heroes and he is drawn back to his timeless realm. Carol, declaring her love for Marcus, unexpectedly goes with him…

Ms. Marvel only plays a peripheral role in ‘By Friends… Betrayed!’ (Avengers Annual #10 (1981, by Claremont, Michael Golden & Armando Gil), as powerless, amnesiac Carol is rescued from drowning by Spider-Woman, prior to Mystique launching an all-out attack on the World’s Mightiest Heroes whilst attempting to free the Brotherhood from custody.

In that attack Danvers’ mind and abilities are taken by power-leaching mutant Rogue, seemingly ending her adventuring life, and in the aftermath, the Avengers learn the horrific truth of her relationship with Marcus and their part in his doom…

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

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

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

These stories are a valuable grounding of the contemporary champion but also still stand up on their own as intriguing examples of the inevitable fall of even the staunchest of male bastions – superhero stories…
© 1978, 1979, 1981, 1992, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain Marvel: Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Gene Colan, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6756-3

After years as an also-ran and up-and-comer, by 1968 Marvel Comics was in the ascendant. Their sales were catching up with industry leaders National/DC Comics and Gold Key, and they finally secured a new distribution deal that would allow them to expand their list of titles exponentially. Once the stars of “twin-books” Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales all got their own titles the House of Ideas just kept on creating.

One dead-cert idea was a hero named after the company – and one with some popular cachet and nostalgic pedigree as well. After the DC/Fawcett court case of the 1940s-1950s, the name Captain Marvel disappeared from the newsstands.

In 1967, during a superhero boom/camp craze generated by the Batman TV show, publisher MLF secured rights to the name and produced a number of giant-sized comics featuring an intelligent robot who (which?) could divide his body into segments and shoot lasers from his eyes.

Quirky and charming and devised by the legendary Carl (Human Torch) Burgos, the feature nevertheless could not attract a large following. On its demise, the name was quickly snapped up by the expanding Marvel Comics Group.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a brand-new title: it had been the giant-sized reprint comicbook Fantasy Masterpieces, combining monster and mystery tales with Golden Age Timely Comics classics, but with the twelfth issue it added an all-new experimental section for characters without homes such as Medusa, Ka-Zar, Black Knight and Doctor Doom, and debuted new concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy, Phantom Eagle and, to start the ball rolling, an troubled alien spy sent to Earth from the Kree Galaxy. He held a Captain’s rank and his name was Mar-Vell.

Most of that is covered in series-author Roy Thomas’ Introduction before this cosmically conceived tome – available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions – kicks off. On offer are the origin adventure from Marvel Super-Heroes #12-13 and the contents of Captain Marvel #1-9 collectively spanning cover-dates December 1967 to January 1969…

Crafted by Stan Lee, Gene Colan & Frank Giacoia, the initial MS-H 15 page-instalment ‘The Coming of Captain Marvel’ devolved directly from Fantastic Four #64-65 wherein the quartet defeated a super-advanced Sentry robot from a mythical alien race, only to be attacked by a high official of those long-lost extraterrestrials in the very next issue!

After defeating Ronan the Accuser, the FF heard no more from the far from extinct Kree, but the millennia-old empire was once again interested in Earth. Dispatching a surveillance mission, the Kree wanted to know everything about us. Unfortunately, the agent they chose was a man of conscience; whilst his commanding officer Colonel Yon-Rogg was a ruthless rival for the love of the ship’s medical officer Una.

No sooner has the good captain made a tentative planet-fall and clashed with the US army from the local missile base (often hinted at as being Cape Kennedy) than the first instalment ends. Stan and Gene had set the ball rolling but it was left to Roy Thomas to establish the basic ground-rules in the next episode.

Colan remained, this time with Paul Reinman inking. ‘Where Stalks the Sentry!’ sees the alien spy improving his weaponry before an attempt by Yon-Rogg to kill him destroys a light aircraft carrying scientist Walter Lawson to that military base.

Assuming Lawson’s identity, Mar-Vell infiltrates “The Cape” but arouses the suspicions of security Chief Carol Danvers. He is horrified to discover that the Earthlings are storing the Sentry (defeated by the FF) on base. Yon-Rogg, sensing an opportunity, activates the deadly mechanoid. As it goes on a rampage only Mar-Vell stands in its path…

That’s a lot of material for twenty pages but Thomas and Colan were on a roll. With Vince Colletta inking, the third chapter was not in Marvel Super-Heroes but in the premiere issue of the Captain’s own title released for May 1968

‘Out of the Holocaust… A Hero!’ is an all-out action thriller, which still made space to establish twin sub-plots of “Lawson’s” credibility and Mar-Vell’s inner doubts. The faithful Kree soldier is rapidly losing faith in his own race and falling under the spell of the Earthlings…

The Captain’s first foray against a super-villain is revealed in the next two issues as we find that the Kree and the shapeshifting Skrulls are intergalactic rivals, and the latter want to know why there’s an enemy soldier stationed on Earth.

Sending their own top agent in ‘From the Void of Space Comes the Super Skrull!’, the resultant battle almost levels the entire state before bombastically concluding with the Kree on top ‘From the Ashes of Defeat!’

Issue #4 saw the secret invader clashing with fellow anti-hero Sub-Mariner in ‘The Alien and the Amphibian!’ as Mar-Vell’s superiors make increasingly ruthless demands of their reluctant agent.

Captain Marvel #5 saw Arnold Drake & Don Heck assume the creative chores (with John Tartaglione on inks) in cold-war monster-mash clash ‘The Mark of the Metazoid’, wherein a mutated Soviet dissident is forced by his militaristic masters to kidnap Walter Lawson (that’s narrative symmetry, that is).

Issue #6 then finds the Captain ‘In the Path of Solam!’; battling a marauding sun-creature before being forced to prove his loyalty by unleashing a Kree bio-weapon on an Earth community in ‘Die, Town, Die!’ However, all is not as it seems since Quasimodo, the Living Computer is also involved…

The romantic triangle sub-plot was wearing pretty thin by this time, as was the increasingly obvious division of Mar-Vell’s loyalties, so a new examination of Dr Lawson, whose identity the Kree man purloined, begins in #8’s ‘And Fear Shall Follow!’.

Wrapping up this first volume is another alien war story as Yon-Rogg is injured by rival space imperialists the Aakon. In the battle Mar-Vell’s heroism buys him a break from suspicion but all too soon he’s embroiled with a secret criminal gang and a robot assassin apparently built by the deceased Lawson, and trouble escalates when the surviving Aakon stumble into the mess in ‘Between Hammer and Anvil!’

Fascinating extras added in here include a full cover gallery, creator biographies, the December 1967 Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page announcing the coming of Captain Marvel, plus sublime pencil-art pages by Colan: the full 16 un-inked pages from Marvel Super-Heroes #13 for art-lovers to drool over. Glorious!
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.