Deadpool Epic Comics volume 1: The Circle Chase 1991-1994


By Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza, Glenn Herdling, Gregory Wright, Tom Brevoort, Mike Kanterovich, Mark Waid, Dan Slott, Pat Olliffe, Mark Pacella, Greg Capullo, Mike Gustovich, Joe Madureira, Isaac Cordova, Jerry DeCaire, Bill Wylie, Ian Churchill, Sandu Florea, Terry Shoemaker, Al Milgrom, Scot Eaton, Ariane Lenshoek, Tony DeZuñiga, Lee Weeks, Don Hudson, Ken Lashley & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-302-3205-3 (TPB/Digital edition)

With a long, LONG awaited cinematic combo clash finally headed our way this summer and in the year of a certain Canadian Canucklehead’s 50th Anniversary, expect a few cashing-in style commendations and reviews in our immediate future. Here’s a handy starter package to set the ball rolling…

Bloodthirsty killers and stylish mercenaries have long made for popular protagonists and this guy is probably one of the most popular. Deadpool is Wade Wilson: a survivor of sundry experiments that left him a scarred, grotesque bundle of scabs and physical unpleasantries – albeit functionally immortal, invulnerable and capable of regenerating from literally any wound.

Moreover, after his initial outings on the fringes of the X-Universe, his modern incarnation makes him either one of the few beings able to perceive the true nature of reality… or a total gibbering loon.

Chronologically collecting and curating cameos, guest shots and his early outrages from New Mutants #98, X-Force #2, 11 & 15, Deadpool: The Circle Chase #1-4, and Secret Defenders #15-17, as well as pertinent excerpted material from X-Force #4, 5 10, 14, 19-24; X-Force Annual #1, Nomad #4; Avengers #366 & Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #23 & 30, (spanning February 1991 to November 1994), this tome is merely the first in a series cataloguing his ever more outlandish escapades.

After Gail Simone’s joyous Foreword ‘He was always Deadpool’ justifies and confirms his fame, escalating antics and off-kilter appeal, his actual debut in New Mutants #98’s ‘The Beginning of the End, part one’ opens proceedings. The “merc with a mouth” was created as a villain du jour by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza, as that title wound down in advance of a major reboot/rebrand. He seemed a one-trick throwaway in a convoluted saga of mutant mayhem with little else to recommend it. An employee of enigmatic evildoer Mr. Tolliver, Deadpool was despatched to kill to kill future-warrior Cable and his teen acolytes… but spectacularly failed. The kids were soon after rebranded and relaunched as X-Force though, so he had a few encores and more tries…

With appropriate covers and text to precis events between excerpt moments, we learn Deadpool first popped back in September 1991’s X-Force #2’s ‘The Blood Hunters’ where he clashed with another product of Canada’s clandestine super-agent project (which had turned a mutant spy into feral, adamantium-augmented warrior Wolverine as well as unleashing so many other second-string cyborg super-doers). Gritty do-gooder Garrison Kane was dubbed Weapon X (first of many!) and the tale also included aging spymaster GW Bridge

Still just a derivative costumed killer for hire popping up in bit part roles, the merc continued pushing Tolliver’s agenda and met Spider-Man until as seen here via snippets from X-Force Annual #1 (1991) before stumbling through Nicieza-scripted crossover Dead Man’s Hand. Illustrated by Pat Olliffe & Mark McKenna, ‘Neon Knights’ (Nomad #4, August 1992) finds Deadpool just one of a bunch of super-killers-for-hire convened by a group of lesser crime bosses seeking to fill a void created by the fall of The Kingpin. His mission is to remove troublemaking fellow hitman Bushwacker, but former super sidekick Jack “Bucky” Monroe has some objections…

Excerpts from X-Force #10 (May 1992) presage #11’s extended fight between Deadpool, the teen team, Cable and mutant luck-shaper Domino in ‘Friendly Reminders’ (Nicieza, Liefeld, Mark Pacella & Dan Panosian) before a clip from X-Force #14 (September 1992 limned by Terry Shoemaker & Al Milgrom) reveals a shocking truth about Domino and Deadpool’s relationship with her, prior to X-Force #15’s ‘To the Pain’ (October 1992 with art by Greg Capullo) wrapping up a long-running war between Cable’s kids, Tolliver and The Externals

Excerpts from X-Force #19-23 – as first seen in 1993 – find the manic merc hunting Domino and/or Vanessa and sparking a mutant mega clash before Wade Wilson guests in Avengers #366 (September 1993 by Glenn Herdling, Mike Gustovich & Ariane Lenshoek). A tie-in to Deadpool’s first solo miniseries, ‘Swordplay³’ sees the merc and a group of meta-scavengers embroiled in battle with each other and new hero Blood Wraith with The Black Knight helpless to control the chaos…

That first taste of solo stardom came with 4-issue miniseries The Circle Chase: cover-dated August-November 1993 by Nicieza, Joe Madureira & Mark Farmer. A fast-paced but cluttered thriller, it sees Wilson doggedly pursuing an ultimate weapon: one of a large crowd of mutants and variously-enhanced ne’er-do-wells seeking the fabled legacy of arms dealer/fugitive from the future Mr. Tolliver. Among other (un)worthies bound for the boodle in ‘Ducks in a Row’, ‘Rabbit Season, Duck Season’, ‘…And Quacks Like a Duck…’ and ‘Duck Soup’ are mutant misfits Black Tom and The Juggernaut; the then-latest iteration of Weapon X; shape-shifter Copycat and a host of fashionably disposable cyborg loons with quirky media-buzzy names like Commcast and Slayback. If you can swallow any understandable nausea associated with the dreadful trappings of this low point in Marvel’s tempestuous history, there is a sharp and entertaining little thriller underneath…

A follow-up tale in Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #23 (April 1994, Gregory Wright, Isaac Cordova & Hon Hudson) pits Wilson against Daredevil and notional heroes-for-hire Paladin and Silver Sable before uniting to thwart fascist usurpers The Genesis Coalition, prior to a relatively heroic stance in Doctor Strange team-up title Secret Defenders.

Beginning in #15’s ‘Strange Changes Part the First: Strangers and Other Lovers’ (May 1994 by Tom Brevoort, Mike Kanterovich, Jerry Decaire & Tony DeZuñiga) the Sorcerer Supreme sends Doctor Druid, Shadowoman, Luke Cage and Deadpool to stop ancient life-sucking sorceress Malachi – a task fraught with peril that takes #16’s ‘Strange Changes Part the Second: Resurrection Tango’ (pencilled by Bill Wylie and debuting zombie hero Cadaver), and #17’s ‘Strange Changes Part the Third: On Borrowed Time’

A moment from Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #30 (November 1994, by Wright, Scot Eaton & Jim Amash) depicting Wade’s reaction to his rival’s fall from grace segues into the second 4-part Deadpool miniseries (August – November 1994) which revolves around auld acquaintances Black Tom and Juggernaut. Collaboratively contrived by writer Mark Waid, pencillers Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks and Ken Lashley with inkers Jason Minor, Bob McLeod, Bub LaRosa, Tom Wegryzn, Philip Moy & W.C. Carani, ‘If Looks Could Kill!’, ‘Luck of the Irish’, ‘Deadpool, Sandwich’ and ‘Mano a Mano’ delivers a hyperkinetic race against time heavy on explosive action.

The previous miniseries revealed Irish archvillain Black Tom Cassidy was slowly turning into a tree (as you do). Desperate to save his meat-based life, the bad guy and best bud Cain “The Juggernaut” Marko manipulate Wade Wilson: exploiting the merc’s unconventional relationship with Siryn (a sonic mutant, Tom’s niece and X-Force member). Believing Deadpool’s regenerating factor holds a cure, the villains stir up a bucket-load of carnage at a time when Wade is at his lowest ebb. Packed with mutant guest stars, this is a shallow but immensely readable piece of eye-candy that reset Deadpool’s path and paved the way for a tonal change that would make the Merc with a Mouth a global superstar…

All Epic Collections offer bonus material bonanzas and here that comprises images from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Master Edition, many cover reproductions (Deadpool Classic volume 1 by Liefeld & John Kalisz, Deadpool Classic Companion by Michael Bair & Matt Milla, Deadpool: Sins of the Past and The Circle Chase TPBs by Madureira, Farmer & Harry Canelario), pin-ups by Rob Haynes & John Lowe from X-Force Annual #2 and Annual #3 by Lashley & Matt “Batt” Banning, plus Sam Kieth’s Marvel Year-in-Review ’93 cover. That magazine’s parody ad by Dan Slott, Manny Galen, Scott Koblish & Wright, follows with Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti & Mark McNabb’s foldout cover to Wizard #22 and Liefeld’s “Marvel ‘92” variant cover for Deadpool #3 (2015).

Featuring a far darker villain evolving into an antihero in a frenetic blend of light-hearted, surreal, full-on fighting frolics these stories only hint at what is to come but remain truly compulsive reading for dyed-in-the-wool superhero fans who might be feeling just a little jaded with four-colour overload…
© 2021 MARVEL.

Marvel Masterworks Daredevil volume 15


By Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Michael Fleischer, David Micheline, Ralph Macchio, Josef Rubinstein, Steve Ditko, Paul Gulacy & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2927-5 (HB/Digital edition)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. A second-string hero for much of his early career, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due mostly to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. DD fought gangsters, super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wisecracking his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody, quasi-religious metaphor he became.

After a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page, Murdock took up with Russian emigre Natasha Romanoff, infamous and notorious ex-spy Black Widow but their similarities and incompatibilities led to her leaving as Matt took up with flighty trouble-magnet heiress Heather Glenn

Spanning July 1979 to July 1981 this monumental Masterworks tome compiles Daredevil #159-172 and material from Bizarre Adventures #25 (March 1981), consolidating and completing a Hero’s Transformation begun by Jim Shooter with a bold, apparently carefree Scarlet Swashbuckler devolving into a driven, terrifying figure. Daredevil became here an urban defender and compulsive avenger: a tortured demon dipped in blood. The character makeover was carried on initially by Roger McKenzie in the previous volume and continues with Frank Miller collaborating until he fully takes control: crafting audaciously shocking, groundbreakingly compelling dark delights, and making Daredevil one of comics’ most momentous, unmissable, “must-read” series.

Preceded by an appreciative commentary and Introduction from latterday scripter Charles Soule, the revitalisation resumes with ‘Marked for Murder!’ (McKenzie, Miller & Klaus Janson) wherein infallible assassin-master Eric Slaughter comes out of retirement for a very special hit on the hero of Hell’s Kitchen. Meanwhile elsewhere, veteran Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich works a nagging hunch: slowly piecing together dusty news snippets that indicate a certain sight-impaired attorney might be far more than he seems…

The spectacular showdown between the Crimson Crimebuster and Slaughter’s hit-man army inevitably compels his covert client to eventually do his own dirty work: brutally ambushing and abducts DD’s former flame Natasha Romanoff, The Black Widow

After a single-page info-feature on ‘Daredevil’s Billy Club!’ the saga continues in DD #160 with our hero having no choice but to place himself ‘In the Hands of Bullseye!’ – a stratagem culminating in a devastating duel and shocking defeat for the villain in #161’s ‘To Dare the Devil!’

The next issue offered a fill-in tale from Michael Fleisher & Steve Ditko wherein another radiation accident impairs the hero’s abilities and induces amnesia just as a figure from his father’s pugilistic past resurfaces. Becoming a boxer for crooked promoter Mr. Hyle, Murdock unknowingly relives his murdered dad’s last days in ‘Requiem for a Pug!’ … until his memories return and justice is served…

Stunning David v Goliath action belatedly comes in #163 as the merely mortal Man Without Fear battles The Incredible Hulk in ‘Blind Alley’ (McKenzie & Miller, inked by Josef Rubenstein & Janson) wherein Murdock’s innate compassion for hounded Bruce Banner accidentally endangers Manhattan and triggers a desperate, bone breaking, ultimately doomed attempt to save his beloved city…

In #164 McKenzie, Miller & Janson deliver an evocative ‘Exposé’, retelling the origin saga as meticulous, dogged Urich confronts the hospitalised hero with inescapable conclusions from his diligent research and a turning point is reached…

The landmark tale is followed by accompanied by Miller’s unused cover for Ditko’s fill-in, preceding a mean-&-moody modern makeover for a moribund and over-exposed Spider-Man villain. DD #165 finds the Scarlet Swashbuckler in the ‘Arms of the Octopus’ after Murdock’s millionaire girlfriend Heather is kidnapped by Dr. Otto Octavius. Her company can – and do – rebuild his mechanical tentacles with Adamantium, but “Doc Ock” stupidly underestimates both his hostage and the Man Without Fear…

The long-running plot thread of Foggy Nelson’s oft-delayed wedding finally culminates with some much-needed comedy in #166’s ‘Till Death Do Us Part!’, with true tragedy coming as old enemy The Gladiator has a breakdown and kidnaps his parole officer. With visions of Roman arenas driving him, tormented killer Melvin Potter only needs to see Daredevil to go completely over the top…

David Michelinie wrote #167 for Miller & Janson, as a cruelly wronged employee of tech company the Cord Conglomerate steals super-armour to become ‘…The Mauler!’ and exact personal justice. Constantly drawn into the conflict, DD finds his sense of justice and respect for the law at odds when another unavoidable tragedy results…

The tale is backed up by an info feature revealing the ‘Dark Secrets’ of DD’s everyday life and segues neatly into the story that changed everything.

In Daredevil #168 Miller took over the writing and with Janson’s art contributions increasing in each issue rewired the history of Matt Murdock to open an era of noir-tinged, pulp-fuelled Eisner-inspired innovation. It begins when Daredevil encounters a new bounty hunter in town and reveals a lost college-days first love. Back then diplomat’s daughter Elektra Natchios shared his secret until her father was kidnapped and murdered before her eyes, partly due to Matt’s hasty actions. She left him and vanished, apparently becoming a ninja assassin, but is now tearing up the town hunting for Eric Slaughter. Matt cannot help but get involved…

When Daredevil last defeated Bullseye, the killer was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and in #169, escapes from hospital to enact another murder spree. He is deep in a delusional state where everyone he sees are horn-headed scarlet-clad ‘Devils’. A frenetic chase and brutal battle results in countless civilian casualties and great anxiety as Daredevil has a chance to let the manic die… but doesn’t.

Yet another landmark resurrection of a tired villain begins in DD #170 as Miller & Janson decree ‘The Kingpin Must Die’. The former crimelord of New York faded into serene retirement in Japan by impassioned request of his wife Vanessa, until this triptych of terror sees him return more powerful than ever. It begins when the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen hears rumours the syndicate that replaced Wilson Fisk are trying to kill him. Apparently he has offered all his old records to the Feds…

When Vanessa hires Nelson & Murdock to broker the deal, all hell breaks loose, assassins attack and Mrs Fisk goes missing. Further complicating matters, having survived brain surgery Bullseye offers his services to the syndicate, mercenary killer Elektra senses a business opportunity and a murderously resolute Kingpin sneaks back into the country resolved to save Vanessa at any cost…

The title at last returned to monthly schedule with #171 as the city erupted into sporadic violence with civilians caught in the crossfire. DD dons a disguise and goes undercover but is soon ‘In the Kingpin’s Clutches’ and sent to a watery grave prior to Fisk gambling and losing everything…

The sags ends in all-out ‘Gangwar!’ as, with Vanessa lost and presumed dead, Wilson Fisk destroys the Syndicate and takes back control of New York’s underworld with Daredevil scoring a small toxic victory by apprehending the Kingpin’s assassin, all the while aware that every death since Bullseye’s operation has been because Murdock was not strong enough to let the monster die…

And deep in the bowels of the city, an amnesiac woman wanders, a future trigger for much death and destruction to come…

To Be Continued…

With the Marvel Universe about to change in incomprehensible ways, this tome pauses here but still finds room to focus on a solo outing for a cast regular. In Bizarre Adventures #25 (with cover and ‘Lethal Ladies’ frontispiece included), Ralph Macchio scripted an espionage tale for an older reader-base. The devious spy yarn of double and triple cross saw agents betraying each other while trying to ascertain who might be working for “the other side”.

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

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

The bonus gallery section opens with pertinent pages from Marvel Comics 20th Anniversary Calendar (1981) – June’s entry by Miller & Janson and their Spider-Man vs DD plate from Marvel Team-Up Portfolio One. Next come original art pages and covers, a House ad for Elektra’s debut plus the original art, cover artwork  and finished product for Marvel Super-Heroes Megazine #2 plus covers of #3, 4 & 6 (by Michael Golden, Lee Weeks, Scott McDaniel and others), and Miller’s cover and frontispiece for Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller volume 1 as well as his introduction from that collection.

As the decade closed, these gritty tales set the scene for truly mature forthcoming dramas, promising the true potential of Daredevil was finally in reach. Their narrative energy and exuberant excitement are dashing delights no action fan will care to miss.

…And the next volume heads full on into darker shadows, the grimmest of territory and the breaking of many more boundaries…
© 2021 MARVEL.

Luke Cage Omnibus (Hero For Hire)


By Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Billy Graham, Bill Mantlo, George Pérez, Marv Wolfman, Ed Hannigan, Roger Slifer, Chris Claremont, George Tuska, Ron Wilson, Lee Elias, Rich Buckler, Arvell Jones, Sal Buscema, Frank Robbins, Marie Severin, Bob Brown & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-4496-4 (HB/Digital edition)

In 1968 the consciousness-raising sporting demonstration of “Black Power” at the Olympic Games galvanised and politicised a generation of youngsters. By this time most comics companies had already made tentative efforts to address what were national socio-political iniquities, but issues of race and ethnicity took a long time to filter through to impressionable young minds avidly absorbing knowledge and attitudes via four-colour pages that couldn’t even approximate the skin tones of African Americans.

As with television, breakthroughs were small, incremental and too often reduced to a cold-war of daringly liberal “firsts”. Excluding a few characters in jungle comic books of the 1940s and 1950, Marvel clearly led the field with a black soldier in Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos team – the historically impossible Gabe Jones who debuted in #1, May 1963, and by my reckoning the first recurring African American in comic books. So unlikely a character was ol’ Gabe that he was as a matter of course re-coloured Caucasian at the printers who clearly didn’t realise his ethnicity, but knew he couldn’t be un-white. Jones was followed by actual negro superheroes Black Panther in Fantastic Four#52 (July 1966), and The Falcon in Captain America #117 (September 1969).

America’s first black hero to helm his own title had come (and gone largely unnoticed) in a little remembered or regarded title from Dell Comics. Created by artist Tony Tallarico and scripter D.J. Arneson and debuting in December 1965, Lobo was a gunslinger in the old wild west, battling injustice just like any cowboy hero would. Arguably a greater breakthrough was Marvel’s  Joe Robertson, City Editor of The Daily Bugle; an erudite, brave and proudly ordinary mortal distinguished by his sterling character, not costume or skin tone. He first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man # 51 (August 1967), proving in every panel that the world wouldn’t end if black folk and white folk occupied the same spaces…

This big change had grown slowly out of raised social awareness during a terrible time in American history but things today don’t seem all that different, except the bile and growing taste for violence is turned towards European accents, or health workers and shop staff as well as brown skins…

As the 1960s turned, more positive and inclusive incidences of ethnic characters appeared in the US, with DC finally getting an African America hero in John Stewart (Green Lantern #87, December 1971/January 1972) – although his designation as a replacement Emerald Peacekeeper might be construed as more conciliatory and insulting than revolutionary. DC’s first hero with his own title was Black Lightning, who didn’t debut until April 1977, although Jack Kirby had introduced Vykin in Forever People #1 and The Black Racer in New Gods #3 (March and July 1971) and Shilo Norman as Scott Free’s apprentice (and eventual successor) in Mister Miracle #15 (August 1973).

As usual, it took a bold man and changing economics to really promote change. With declining comics sales intersecting a time of rising Black Consciousness, cash – if not cashing in – was probably the trigger for “the Next Step”. Contemporary “Blaxsploitation” cinema and novels had invigorated commercial interests throughout America, and in that atmosphere of outlandish dialogue, daft outfits and barely concealed – but certainly justified – outrage, an angry black man with a shady past and apparently dubious morals must have felt like a sure-fire hit to Marvel’s bosses. Luke Cage, Hero for Hire launched in the summer of 1972. A year later, The Black Panther finally got his own series in Jungle Action #5 and Blade: Vampire Hunter debuted in Tomb of Dracula #10.

This stunning compendium collects Hero for Hire #1-16, Luke Cage Power Man #17-48 and Annual #1: a landmark breakthrough series cumulatively spanning June 1972 to October 1977 and begins with Lucas, a hard-case inmate at brutal Seagate Prison. Like all convicts, he says he was framed and his uncompromising attitude makes mortal enemies of savage, racist guards Rackham and Quirt, and doesn’t endear him to the rest of the prison population such as genuinely bad guys Shades and Comanche either…

‘Out of Hell… A Hero!’ was written by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by George Tuska & Billy Graham (with initial input from Roy Thomas and John Romita) and sees a new warden arrive promising to change the hell-hole into a properly administered correctional facility. Having heard the desperate con’s tale of woe, prison doctor Noah Burstein convinces Lucas to participate in a radical experiment in exchange for a parole hearing…

Lucas had grown up in Harlem, a tough kid who managed to stay honest even when his best friend Willis Stryker had not. They remained close even though walking different paths – until a woman came between them. To be rid of his romantic rival, Stryker planted drugs and had Lucas shipped off to jail. While he was there his girl Reva – who had never given up on him – was killed when she got in way of bullets meant for up-and-coming gangster Stryker…

With nothing to lose, Lucas undergoes Burstein’s process – experimental cell-regeneration – but Rackham sabotages the process, hoping to kill the con before he can expose their illegal treatment of convicts. The equipment goes haywire and something incredible occurs. Lucas – panicked and now somehow super-strong – punches his way out of the lab and through prison walls, only to face a hail of gunfire. His body plunges over a cliff and is never found.

Months later, a vagrant prowls the streets of New York City and stumbles into a robbery. Almost casually he downs the felon, accepts a reward from the grateful victim and has a bright idea. Strong, bullet-proof, street-wise and honest, Lucas will hide in plain sight while planning his revenge on Stryker. Since his only skill is fighting, he becomes a private paladin – a Hero for Hire

Making allowances for the colourful, often ludicrous dialogue necessitated by the Comics Code’s sanitising of “street-talking Jive”, this is probably the grittiest origin tale of the classic Marvel years, with the tense action continuing in ‘Vengeance is Mine!’ as the man calling himself Luke Cage stalks his target. Stryker has risen quickly, now controlling a vast portion of the drug trade as the deadly Diamondback, and Cage has a big surprise in store when beautiful physician Claire Temple comes to his aid after a calamitous struggle. Thinking him fatally shot, her surprise is dwarfed by his own when Cage meets her boss. Seeking to expiate his sins, Noah Burstein runs a rehab clinic on the sordid streets of Times Square, but his efforts have drawn the attention of Diamondback, who doesn’t like someone trying to fix his paying customers…

Burstein apparently does not recognise Cage, so even though faced with eventual exposure and return to prison, the Hero for Hire offers to help the hard-pressed medics. Setting up an office above a movie house on 42nd Street, Cage meets a young man who will be his greatest friend – D.W. Griffith: nerd, film freak and plucky white sidekick. However, before Cage can settle in, Diamondback strikes and the age-old game of blood and honour plays out the way it always does…

HFH #3 introduces Cage’s first returning villain in ‘Mark of the Mace!’ as Burstein – for his own undisclosed reasons – keeps Cage’s secret, whilst disgraced soldier Gideon Mace launches a terror attack on Manhattan. With his dying breath, one of the mad Colonel’s troops hires Cage to stop the attack, which he does in explosive fashion. Inker Billy Graham graduated to full art chores for ‘Cry Fear… Cry Phantom!’ in #4, wherein a deranged, deformed maniac carries out random assaults in Times Square. Or is there perhaps another motive behind the vicious attacks?

Steve Englehart took over as scripter and Tuska returned to pencil ‘Don’t Mess with Black Mariah!’ in the next issue: a tale of organised scavengers which also introduced unscrupulous reporter Phil Fox: an unsavoury sneak with greedy pockets and a nose for scandal. In ‘Knights and White Satin’ (Englehart, Gerry Conway, Graham & Paul Reinman) the swanky, ultra-rich Forsythe sisters hire Cage to bodyguard their dying father from a would-be murderer too impatient to wait the week it will take for the old man to die from a terminal illness.

This more-or less straight mystery yarn (if you discount a madman and killer robots) is followed by ‘Jingle Bombs’ – a strikingly different Christmas tale from Englehart, Tuska & Graham, before Cage properly enters the Marvel Universe in ‘Crescendo!’ Here he is hired by Doctor Doom to retrieve rogue androids that have absconded from Latveria. They are hiding as black men among the shifting masses of Harlem and the Iron Dictator needs someone who knows that unfamiliar environment. Naturally, Cage accomplishes his mission, only to have Doom stiff him for the fee. Big mistake…

‘Where Angels Fear to Tread!’ (#9) finds the enraged Hero for Hire borrowing a vehicle from the Fantastic Four to play Repo Man in Doom’s own castle, just in time to get caught in the middle of a grudge match between the tyrant and alien invader the Faceless One. It’s then back to street-level basics in ‘The Lucky… and the Dead!’ as Cage takes on a gambling syndicate led by schizophrenic Señor Suerte, who doubles his fortunes as murderous Señor Muerte (that’s Mr. Luck and Mr. Death to you): a 2-part thriller with rigged games and deathtraps climaxing in ‘Where There’s Life…!’ as Phil Fox finally uncovers Cage’s secret…

HFH #12 featured the first of many clashes with alchemical villain ‘Chemistro!’, after which Graham handled full art duties with ‘The Claws of Lionfang’ – a killer using big cats to destroy his enemies prior to Cage tackling hyperthyroid lawyer Big Ben Donovan in ‘Retribution!’ as the tangled threads of the fugitive’s murky past slowly become a noose around his neck. ‘Retribution: Part II!’ sees Graham and Tony Isabella sharing the writer’s role as many disparate elements converge to expose Cage. The crisis builds as Quirt kidnaps Luke’s girlfriend, and Seagate escapees Comanche and Shades stalking him whilst New York cops hunt him. The last thing the Hero for Hire needs is a new super-foe, but that’s just what he gets in #16’s ‘Shake Hands with Stiletto!’ (Isabella, Graham & Frank McLaughlin): a dramatic finale that literally brings the house down and clears up most of the old business.

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire was probably Marvel’s edgiest series, but after a few years tense action and peripheral interactions with the greater Marvel Universe led to a minor rethink and the title was altered, if not the basic premise. The private detective motif proved a brilliant stratagem in generating stories for a character perceived as a reluctant champion at best and outright antihero by nature. His job allowed Cage to maintain an outsider’s edginess but also meant adventure literally walked through his shabby door every issue. However, following the calamitous clash with his oldest enemies, most old business was settled and a partial re-branding of America’s premier black crusader began in issue #17. The mercenary aspect was downplayed (at least on covers) as Len Wein, Tuska & Graham gave Luke Cage, Power Man a fresh start during tumultuous team-up ‘Rich Man: Iron Man… Power Man: Thief!’

Here the still “For Hire” hero is commissioned to test Tony Stark’s security… by stealing his latest invention. Sadly, neither Stark nor his alter ego Iron Man know anything about it and the result is another classic hero-on-hero duel. Vince Colletta signed on as inker with #18’s ‘Havoc on the High Iron!’, and Cage battles high-tech killer Steeplejack whilst the next two issues offered the wanted man a tantalising chance to clear his name. ‘Call Him… Cottonmouth!’ debuted a crime lord with inside information of the frame-up perpetrated by Willis Stryker. Tragically, hope of a new clean life is snatched away despite Cage’s explosive efforts in the Isabella scripted conclusion ‘How Like a Serpent’s Tooth…’

Isabella, Wein, Ron Wilson & Colletta crafted ‘The Killer With My Name!’ as Cage is ambushed by Avengers villain Power Man, who understandably wants his nom de guerre back. He changes his mind upon waking up from the resultant bombastic battle that ensues, after which psychotic archfoe Stiletto returns beside his equally high-tech balmy brother Discus in ‘The Broadway Mayhem of 1974’ (Isabella, Wilson & Colletta), subsequently revealing a startling connection to Cage’s origins.

All this constant carnage and non-stop tension sent sometime-romantic interest Claire Temple scurrying for points distant, and in LCPM #23, Cage and D.W. go looking for her, promptly fetching up in a fascistic planned community run by old foe deranged military terrorist Mace in ‘Welcome to Security City’ (inked by Dave Hunt). This fed directly into a 2-part premier for another African American superhero as Cage and D.W. track Claire to the Ringmaster’s Circus of Crime in #24’s ‘Among Us Walks… a Black Goliath! (Isabella, Tuska & Hunt)…

Bill Foster was a highly educated black supporting character: a biochemist who worked with Henry Pym (scientist-superhero known as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath and Yellowjacket over decades of costumed capers). Foster first appeared in Avengers #32 (September 1966), before fading from view when Pym eventually regained his size-changing abilities. Carrying on his own size-shifting research, Foster was now trapped as a giant, unable to attain normal size, and Cage discovered he was also Claire’s former husband. When he became stuck at 15 feet tall, she had rushed back to Bill’s colossal side to help find a cure.

When Luke turned up, passions boiled over, resulting in another classic heroes-clash moment until the mesmeric Ringmaster hypnotised all combatants, intent on using their strength to feather his own three-ring nest. ‘Crime and Circuses’ (Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Wilson & Fred Kida) saw the good guys helpless until Claire came to the rescue, before making her choice and returning to New York with Luke. Foster soon thereafter won his own short-run series, becoming Marvel’s fourth African American costumed hero under the heavy-handed and rather obvious sobriquet Black Goliath

Timely spoofing of a popular ‘70’s TV show inspired ‘The Night Shocker! (Englehart, Tuska & Colletta) as Cage stalks an apparent vampire attacking 42nd Street patrons, after which a touching human drama finds Cage forced to subdue a tragically simple-minded but super-powered wrestler in ‘Just a Guy Named “X”!’ (by Mantlo, George Pérez & Al McWilliams, and paying tribute to Steve Ditko’s classic yarn from Amazing Spider-Man #38).

A new level of sophistication, social commentary and bizarre villainy began in issue 28 as Don McGregor started his run of macabre crime sagas, opening when Cage meets ‘The Man Who Killed Jiminy Cricket!’ (illustrated by Tuska & Colletta).

Hired by a chemical company to stop industrial espionage, Luke fails to prevent the murder of his prime suspect and is somehow defeated by deadly weirdo Cockroach Hamilton (and his beloved shotgun “Josh”). Left for dead in one of the most outré cliffhanger situations ever seen, Cage took two issues to escape as the next issue featured a “deadline-doom” fill-in tale. Courtesy of Mantlo, Tuska & Colletta, Luke Cage, Power Man #29 revealed that ‘No One Laughs at Mr. Fish!’ (although the temptation is overwhelming) as Cage fights a fin-faced mutated mobster robbing shipping trucks for organised crime analogue The Maggia, after which the story already in progress resumes in #30 with ‘Look What They’ve Done to Our Lives, Ma!’ (by McGregor, Rich Buckler, Arvell Jones & Keith Pollard).

Escaping from a deadly deathtrap, Cage hunts down Hamilton, and confronts his erudite, sardonic, steel-fanged boss Piranha Jones just after they succeed in stealing a leaking canister of deadly nerve gas. The dread drama concludes in ‘Over the Years They Murdered the Stars!’ (Sal Buscema & the legion of deadline-busting Crusty Bunkers) as Cage saves his city at the risk of his life before serving just deserts to the eerie evildoers…

Having successfully rebranded himself, the urban privateer made ends meet whilst seeking a way to stay under police radar and clear his name. The new level of sophisticated, social commentary and bizarre villainy when McGregor took over writing led to Cage saving the entire city in true superhero style as #32 opens with the (unlicensed) PI in the leafy suburbs, hired to protect a black family from literally incendiary racist super-villain Wildfire in ‘The Fire This Time!’ (illustrated by Frank Robbins & Colletta). This self-appointed champion of moral outrage is determined to keep his affluent, decent neighbourhood white, and even Power Man is ultimately unable to prevent a ghastly atrocity from being perpetrated…

Back in the comfort zone of Times Square again, Cage is in the way when a costumed manic comes looking for Noah Burnstein, and painfully learns ‘Sticks and Stone Will Break Your Bones, But Spears Can Kill You!’ As shady reporters, sleazy lawyers and police detective Quentin Chase all circle, looking to uncover the Hero for Hire’s secret past in ‘Death, Taxes and Springtime Vendettas!’ (Frank Springer inks), Cage’s attention is distracted from Burstein’s stalker by deranged wrestler dubbed The Mangler, which leads to a savage showdown and near-fatal outcome in ‘Of Memories, Both Vicious and Haunting!’ (plotted by Marv Wolfman, dialogued by McGregor and illustrated by Marie Severin, Joe Giella & Frank Giacoia). Here at last, the reasons for the campaign of terror against the doctor are finally, shockingly exposed…

Power Man Annual #1 (1976) follows with ‘Earthshock!’ – by Chris Claremont, Lee Elias & Hunt – taking Cage to Japan as bodyguard to wealthy Samantha Sheridan. She’s being targeted by munitions magnate and tectonics-warping maniac Moses Magnum, intent on tapping Earth’s magma core, even though the very planet is at risk of destruction. Thankfully, not even his army of mercenaries is enough to stop Cage in full rage…

Next comes the cover for Power Man #36 (cover-dated October 1976) and another casualty of the “Dreaded Deadline Doom”, reprinting #12: the debut of the villain who follows in #37’s all-new ‘Chemistro is Back! Deadlier Than Ever!’ by Wolfman, Wilson & A Bradford. Here the apparently grudge-bearing recreant attacks Cage at the behest of a new mystery mastermind who clarifies his position in follow-up ‘…Big Brother Wants You… Dead!’ (Wolfman, Mantlo, Bob Brown & Jim Mooney). His minions Cheshire Cat and Checkpoint Charlie shadow the increasingly frustrated investigator, before repeated inconclusive and inexplicable clashes with Chemistro lead to a bombastic ‘Battle with the Baron!’ (inked by Klaus Janson) – a rival mastermind hoping to corner the market on crime in NYC. The convoluted clash concludes in ‘Rush Hour to Limbo!’ (Wolfman, Elias & Giacoia) as one final deathtrap for Cage turns into an explosive last hurrah for Big Brother and his crew…

Inked by Tom Palmer, #41 debuts a new vigilante in ‘Thunderbolt and Goldbug!’ as a super-swift masked hero makes a name for himself cleaning up low-level scum. Simultaneously, Cage is hired by a courier company to protect a bullion shipment, but when the truck is bombed and the guards die, dazed and furious Cage can’t tell villain from vigilante and takes on the wrong guy…

Answers if not conclusions are forthcoming in ‘Gold! Gold! Who’s Got the Gold?’ (with Alex Niño on inks) as Luke learns who his real friends and foes are, only to be suckered into a lethal trap barely escaped in #43’s ‘The Death of Luke Cage!’ In the aftermath, with legal authorities closing in on his fake life, Cage flees town and sheds his Power Man persona. However, even in the teeming masses of Chicago he can’t escape his past as an old enemy mistakenly assumes he’s been tracked down by the hero he hates most in all the world. Wolfman plots and Ed Hannigan scripts for Elias & Palmer as ‘Murder is the Man Called Mace!’ sees Luke dragged into the dishonoured soldier’s scheme to seize control of America and – despite his best and most violent efforts – beaten and strapped to a cobalt bomb on ‘The Day Chicago Died!’ (Wolfman & Elias). Sadly, after breaking free of the device, it’s lost in the sewers, prompting a frantic ‘Chicago Trackdown!’ before another savage showdown with Mace and his military madmen culminate in a chilling ‘Countdown to Catastrophe!’ (scripted by Roger Slifer) as a fame-hungry sniper starts shooting citizens whilst the authorities are preoccupied searching for the missing nuke…

With atomic armageddon averted at the last moment, this collection – and Cage’s old life – end on a well-conceived final charge. With issue #48, Cage’s comics title would be shared with mystic martial artist Danny Rand in the superbly enticing odd couple feature Power Man and Iron Fist, but before that there’s still a ‘Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight!’ courtesy of Claremont, Tuska & Bob Smith as Chicago is attacked by brain-sucking electrical parasite Zzzax! Thankfully, our steel-skinned stalwart is more than a match for the mind-stealing megawatt monstrosity…

With all covers – by Romita, Graham, Gil Kane, Wilson, Rich Buckler, Dave Cockrum, Marie Severin, Ernie Chan, Jim Starlin, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, Klaus Janson, Dan Adkins, Tom Palmer, Joe Sinnott & Pablo Marcos – ; retrieved Introductions ‘An Optimistic Time’ by Englehart, ‘Always Forward’ by Isabella and ‘Luke Cage and the Big Bad City’ by McGregor and – from #3 onwards – letters pages ‘Comments to Cage’, the street level drama is augmented by a treasure trove of extra features. Adding value are the cover of reprint one-shot Giant-Size Power Man from 1975; Marvel Bulletins page promo from May 1972; House ads; original art pages and covers by Romita, Graham, Kane, Brown, pre-corrected production photostats, and Cockrum & Romita’s Cage entry from the 1975 Mighty Marvel Calendar (March, in case you were wondering) as well as the same by Sal Buscema from the Mighty Marvel Bicentennial Calendar (1976) and Wilson & Sinnott’s June 1977 Marvel Comics Memory Album Calendar before ending with the cover art for this collection by Phil Noto.

Arguably a little dated now (us in the know prefer the term “retro”), these tales were crucial in breaking down many social barriers across the complacent, intolerant, WASP-flavoured US comics landscape, and their power – if not their initial impact – remains undiminished to this day. These are tales well worth your time and attention.
© 2022 MARVEL.

Marvels (25th Anniversary Edition)


By Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross, with Steve Darnall, Mark Braun, Richard Starkings, John Roshell & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4286-7 (TPB) 978-0-7851-1388-1(HC/Digital edition)

Every so often in mainstream comics something comes along that irrevocably alters the landscape of our art-form, if not the business itself. After each such event the medium is never quite the same again. One such work was 4-issue Prestige Format Limited Series Marvels by jobbing scripter Kurt Busiek and just-breaking illustrator Alex Ross. This year that landmark game-changing graphic collection turns 30…

I’m usually quite reticent in suggesting people read stuff I know damn well they’ve almost certainly already seen, but apparently every day is somebody’s first, and as years pile up and more stuff gets made, even certified bona fide “unmissables” get shuffled into touch and forgotten…

This tale is all about history and human perspective, following the working life of photo-journalist Phil Sheldon, whose career paralleled the double dawning of the heroic era; when science, magic, courage and overwhelming super-nature give birth to an Age of Marvels…

The saga opens with Alex Ross’ brief, preliminary retelling of the origin of the Golden Age Human Torch as first seen in Marvels #0 (co-written by Steve Darnall and produced in classicist pic-&-text block format) before the story proper opens in ‘A Time of Marvels’. In 1939 a gaggle of ambitious young newspapermen discuss the “War in Europe”. Brash up-and-comer J. Jonah Jameson is trying to dissuade his shutterbug pal Phil from heading overseas, claiming there’s plenty of news to snap in New York…

Unconvinced, Sheldon heads to his next assignment: a press conference with scientific crackpot Professor Phineas T. Horton. The photographer’s head is filled with thoughts of journalistic fame and glory on distant battlefields and he almost misses the moment Horton unveils his artificial man: a creature that bursts into flame like a Human Torch

From that moment on Sheldon’s life is transformed forever. His love-hate fascination with the fantastic miracles which rapidly, unceasingly follow in the inflammatory inhumanoid’s fiery wake is used to trace the rise of superhumanity and monstrous menace which comprises the entire canon of what we know as the Marvel Universe….

Soon the android is accepted as a true hero, frequently battling aquatic invader Sub-Mariner like elemental gods in the skies above the city whilst seemingly-human vigilante supermen like The Angel constantly ignore the law and daily diminish Phil’s confidence and self-worth. It’s as if by their well-meaning actions these creatures are showing that mere men are obsolete and insignificant…

Feelings of ineffectuality and inadequacy having crushed the camera jockey’s spirit, Phil turns down a War Correspondent assignment and descends into a funk. He even splits up with fiancée Doris Jaquet. After all, what kind of man brings children into a world with such inhuman horrors in it? Nevertheless, Sheldon cannot stop following the exploits of the singular human phenomena he’s collectively dubbed “Marvels”…

Everything changes with the arrival of patriotic icon Captain America. With the Land of Liberty in World War II at long last, many once-terrifying titans have become the nation’s allies and secret weapons, turning their awesome power against the Axis foe and winning the fickle approval of a grateful public. However, some were always less dutiful than others. When tempestuous Sub-Mariner again battles the Torch, Prince Namor of Atlantis petulantly unleashes a tidal wave against Manhattan. Phil is critically injured snapping the event…

Even after losing an eye, Phil’s newfound belief in Marvels never wavers and he rededicates himself to his job and Doris; going to Europe where his pictures of America’s superhuman Invaders crushing the Nazi threat become part of the fabric of history…

The second chapter jumps to the 1960s where Sheldon, wife Doris and daughters Jenny and Beth are – like most New Yorkers – at the epicentre of another outbreak of metahumanity… a second Age of Marvels…

Two new bands of costumed champions operate openly: A Fantastic Four-some comprising famous scientist Reed Richards and test pilot Ben Grimm plus Sue and Johnny Storm. Another anonymous team who hide their identities call themselves The Avengers. There are also numerous independent mystery men streaking across the skies and hogging headlines, which Jonah Jameson – now owner/publisher of the newspaper he once wrote for – is none too happy about. After all, he has never trusted masks and is violently opposed to this new crop of masked mystery-men. Phil is still an in-demand freelancer, but has a novel idea, signing a deal for a book of his photos just as the first flush of popular fancy wanes and increasing anxiety about humanoid mutants begins to choke and terrify the man in the street…

When the mysterious X-Men are spotted, Sheldon is caught up in a spontaneous anti-mutant race riot: appalled to find himself throwing bricks with the rest of a deranged mob. He’s even close enough to hear their leader dismissively claim “They’re not worth it”…

Shocked and dazed, Sheldon goes home to his nice, normal family, but the incident won’t leave him, even as he throws himself into work and his book. He worries that his daughters seem to idolise Marvels. “Normal” people seem bizarrely conflicted, dazzled and besotted by the celebrity status of the likes of Reed Richards and Sue Storm as they prepare for their upcoming wedding, yet prowl the streets in vigilante packs lest some ghastly “Homo Superior” abomination show its disgusting face…

Events come to a head when Phil finds his own children harbouring a mutant in the cellar. During WWII, Phil photographed the liberation of Auschwitz, and looking into the huge deformed orbs of “Maggie” he sees what he saw in the faces of those pitiful survivors. His innate humanity wins out and Phil lets her stay, but can’t help dreading what friends and neighbours might do if they find such a creature mere yards from their own precious families…

Hysteria keeps growing and the showbiz glitz of the Richards/Storm wedding is almost immediately overshadowed by the catastrophic launch of anthropologist Bolivar Trask’s Sentinels. At first the mutant-hunting robots behave like humanity’s boon but when they override their programming and attempt to take over Earth, it is despised and dreaded mutants who save mankind.

Naturally, the man in the street knows nothing of this and all Phil sees is more panicked mobs rioting and destroying their own homes. In fear for his family, he rushes back to Doris and the girls, only to find Maggie has vanished: the unlovely little child had realised how much her presence had endangered her benefactors. They never see her again…

The third chapter focuses on the global trauma of ‘Judgement Day’ as the shine truly starts coming off the apple. Even though crises come thick and fast and are as quickly dealt with, vapid, venal humanity becomes jaded with the ever-expanding metahuman community and once-revered heroes are plagued by scandal after scandal. Exhausted, disappointed and dejected, Phil shelves his book project, but fate takes a hand when the skies catch fire and an incredible shiny alien on a skyborne surfboard announces the end of life on Earth…

Planet-devouring Galactus seems unstoppable and the valiant, rapidly-responding Fantastic Four are humiliatingly defeated. Phil, along with the rest of Earth, embraces the end and wearily walks home to be with his loved ones, repeatedly encountering humanity at its best and nauseating, petty, defeated worst. However, with the last-minute assistance of the Silver Surfer – who betrays his puissant master and suffers an horrific fate – Richards saves the world, but within days is accused of faking the entire episode. Disgusted with his fellow men, Sheldon explodes in moral revulsion…

Phil’s photobook is finally released in concluding instalment ‘The Day She Died’. Now an avowed and passionate proponent of masked heroes, humanity’s hair-trigger ambivalence and institutionalised rushes to judgement constantly aggravate Phil even as he meets the public and signs countless copies of “Marvels”.

The average American’s ungrateful, ungracious attitudes rankle particularly since the mighty Avengers are currently lost in another galaxy defending Earth from collateral destruction in a war between rival galactic empires – the Kree and the Skrulls – but the most constant bugbear is old associate Jameson’s obsessive pillorying of Spider-Man. Phil particularly despises a grovelling, ethically-deprived young freelance photographer named Peter Parker who constantly curries favour with the Daily Bugle’s boss by selling pictures deliberately making the wallcrawler look bad…

Phil’s book brings a measure of success, and when the aging photographer hires young Marcia Hardesty as a PA/assistant whilst he works on a follow-up, he finds a passionate kindred spirit. Still, everywhere Sheldon looks costumed champions are being harried, harassed and hunted by hypocritical citizens and corrupt demagogues, although even he has to admit some of the newer heroes are hard to like…

Ex-Russian spy Black Widow is being tried for murder, protesting students are wounded by a Stark Industries super-armoured thug and in Times Square a guy with a shady past is touting himself as a Hero for Hire. When respected Police Captain George Stacy is killed during a battle between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus, Jameson is frantic to pin the death on the webspinner, but hero-worshipping Phil digs deeper. Interviewing many witnesses – including the murderously malign, multi-limed loon himself – Phil consequently strikes up a friendship with Stacy’s daughter Gwen, a truly sublime young lady who is inexplicably dating that unscrupulous weasel Parker…

One evening, hoping for another innocuous chat with the vivacious lass, Phil sees her abduction by the Green Goblin and, desperately giving chase, watches as his vaunted hero Spider-Man utterly fails to save her from death. Her murder doesn’t even rate a headline; that’s saved for industrialist Norman Osborn who is found mysteriously slain that same night…

Gutted, worn out and somehow betrayed, Sheldon chucks it all in, but seeing Marcia still has the fire in her belly and wonder in her eyes, leaves her his camera and his mission…

Although this titanic tale traces the arc of Marvel continuity, the sensitive and evocative journey of Phil Sheldon is crafted in such a way that no knowledge of the mythology is necessary to follow the plot; and would indeed be a hindrance to sharing the feelings of an ordinary man in extraordinary times.

One of Marvel’s – and indeed the genre’s – greatest tales (but you probably already know that and if you don’t what are you waiting for?), I count at least four separate versions available currently and suggest if you have any money left you opt for the 25th Anniversary edition that comes heavily annotated with numerous articles and extras. These include aforementioned prequel ‘Marvels Book Zero’, and the ‘Marvels Epilogue’ short story. The bonus section comprises a 39-page, panel-by-panel comparison of original 1960s Marvel material with the reinterpretations of #0-4 compiled by Jess Harrold: followed by ‘Marvels: The Proposals’ as Ross & Busiek pitched their big idea: four shots to get it just right, aided by an abundance of glorious ‘character studies’ incorporating a vast cast, and supplemented by text articles on the finished product from November 1993’s Marvel Age #130.

Busiek’s full scripts for #1-4 and a wealth of ‘layouts, pencils & Original Art’ (11 pages) follow, before diving deeper in with a 6-page peek ‘Inside Alex Ross’ Marvels Epilogue Sketchbook’. More commentary follows with recovered Introductions, Busiek’s in-story prose pieces ‘Marvels: The Articles’; 8 pages of Ross’ contribution via ‘Marvels: The Artistic Process’, and Harrold’s popular press features courtesy of ‘The Story of Marvels’, ‘Modern-Day Marvels’, ‘Understanding Marvels by Scott McCloud’, ‘McLaurin’s Mark on Marvels’.

Next comes a ‘Mahvels Parody’ by Darnall, Busiek, Ross & artist Mark Braun, accompanied by ‘Posters, Art & Homage Covers’, Ross’ ‘Marvels Collected-Edition Cover Gallery’, and material seen in previous collections, including an ‘Annotated Cover Gallery’; a selection of ‘Marvels 25th Anniversary Variants’, ‘Marvels 25th Anniversary Tributes Variants’ and ‘Marvels Epilogue Variants’: with 5- full page contributions from Paolo Rivera, Michael Cho, Gabriele Dell’Otto, Stephanie Hans, Daniel Acuña, Mark Brooks, David Mack, Julian Totino Tedesco, Mico Suayan & Brian Reber, Inhyuk Lee, Carlos Pacheco, Leinil Francis Yu & Sunny Cho, Adi Granov, Alan Davis, Mark farmer & Matt Hollingsworth, Nick Bradshaw, Gerlad Parel, Greg Smallwood, Marcos Martin, Tomm Coker, Yasmine Putri, Clayton Crain, Phil Noto, Simone Bianchi, Dave Johnson, Ron Lim & Dean White, Remsy Atassi, Dave Cockrum & Edgar Delgado, Fred Hembeck & Felipe Sobreiro, Skottie Young and more.

The epic history lesson ends with a list of ‘Marvels Sources’, citing where each re-envisioned scene first appeared in comics continuity before closing with Stan Lee’s Marvels TPB (1994) Introduction, full Acknowledgements and a final Afterword from Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross.

A truly groundbreaking achievement, Marvels – in whatever form you see it – is a comics tale you must not miss.
© 2020 MARVEL.

Avengers versus X-Men Compendium


By Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel, Adam Kubert, Frank Cho & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-518-5 (B/Digital edition)

Despite all of us being sick as dogs, can we let this anniversary year end without revisiting Marvel’s one big idea in perfect execution? Enjoy this prime example of what made Marvel great – heroes pummelling other heroes…

The mainstream comics industry is now irretrievably wedded to blockbuster continuity-sharing mega-crossover events: rashly doling them out like epi-pens to Snickers addicts with peanut allergies, but at least these days, however, if we have to endure a constant cosmic Sturm and extra-dimensional Drang, the publishers take great pains to ensure that the resulting comics chaos is suitably engrossing and always superbly illustrated…

Marvel’s big thing was always extended clashes between mega-franchises such as The Avengers and X-Men, and this one began in Avengers: X Sanction when time-lost mutant Cable attempted to pre-emptively murder a select roster of the World’s Greatest Heroes to prevent an even greater cosmic tragedy.

Hope Spalding-Summers was the first mutant born on Earth after the temporarily insane Avenger Scarlet Witch used her reality-warping powers to eradicate almost all mutants in existence. Considered a mutant messiah, Hope was raised in the future before inevitably finding her way back to the present where she was adopted by X-Men supremo Scott Summers AKA Cyclops. Innumerable signs and portents had indicated that Hope was a reincarnated receptacle for the devastating cosmic entity dubbed The Phoenix

This mammoth collection gathers the core 12-issue fortnightly miniseries (April – October 2012) which saw humanity and Homo Superior go to war to possess this celestial chosen one, and also includes prequel Avengers vs. X-Men #0 which laid the plot groundwork for the whole blockbusting Brouhaha.

Necessarily preceded by a double-page scorecard of the 78(!) major players, the story begins with a pair of Prologues (by Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron & Frank Cho) as now-sane and desperately repentant Scarlet Witch Wanda Maximoff tries to make amends and restore her links with the Avengers she betrayed and attacked. However, even after defeating an attack by manic mutate MODOK, and a personal invitation from Ms. Marvel to come back, the penitent mutant is sent packing by her ex-husband The Vision and other male heroes she manipulated.

Meanwhile in Utopia – the West Coast island fortress housing the last 200 mutants on Earth – an increasingly driven Cyclops is administering brutally tough love to adopted daughter Hope. She is determined to defy her apparently inescapable destiny as eventual host for the omnipotent Phoenix force on some far future day by regularly moonlighting as a superhero. Sadly, she’s well out of her depth when she tackles the sinister Serpent Society and daddy humiliatingly comes to her rescue.

… And in the depths of space a ghastly firebird of life and death comes ever closer to Earth…

In the first chapter (by Bendis, John Romita Jr. & Scott Hanna) the catastrophically powerful force of destruction and rebirth nears our world and the perfect mortal host it hungers for and needs to guide it, frantically preceded by desperate harbinger of doom Nova, who almost dies delivering a warning of its proximity and intent. Soon, The Avengers and the US government are laying plans, whilst in Utopia Scott Summers pushes Hope harder than ever. If The Phoenix cannot be avoided, perhaps he can make his daughter strong enough to resist being overwhelmed by its promise of infinite power…

At The Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, ex X-Man and current Avenger Wolverine is approached by Captain America and regretfully leaves his position as teacher to once again battle a force that cannot be imagined…

With even his fellow mutants questioning his tactics and brutal pushing of Hope, Cyclops meets Captain America for a parley. On behalf of the world, the Sentinel of Liberty wants to take Hope into protective custody but the mutants’ leader – distrustful of human bigotry and past duplicity – reacts violently to the far-from-diplomatic overtures…

Jason Aaron scripts the second instalment as frayed tempers lead to all-out battle on the shores of Utopia, with past personal grudges fuelling a brutal conflict. As the metahuman war rages, Wolverine and Spider-Man surreptitiously go after hidden Hope, but – even far off in deep space – The Phoenix force has infected her and she blasts them…

Meanwhile in the extra-solar void Thor, Vision, War Machine and a select team of Secret Avengers confront the mindlessly onrushing energy construct…

Scripted by Ed Brubaker, Chapter 3 begins with the recovering Wolverine and Wallcrawler considering how to catch missing hyper-powerful Hope with both Avengers and recently departed X-Men chasing her. When the feral mutant clashes over tactics with Captain America, the resulting fight further divides Avenger forces. In episode 4 (authored by Jonathan Hickman) as the easily defeated space defenders limp back to Earth, Hope and Wolverine meet at the bottom of the world and devise their own plans for her future…

All over Earth heroes are hunting the reluctant chosen one, and clashes between mutants and superhumans are steadily intensifying in ferocity, but the fugitive pair evade all pursuit by stealing a rocket and heading to the ancient “Blue Area of the Moon” where revered mutant Jean Grey first died to save the universe from The Phoenix.

When the former Marvel Girl was originally possessed by the fiery force she became a hero of infinite puissance and a cataclysmic champion of Life, before the power corrupted her and she devolved into Dark Phoenix: a rapacious wanton god of planet-killing appetites…

In a valiant act of contrition, Jean permitted the X-Men to kill her before her rapacious need completely consumed her in the oxygen-rich ancient city on the lunar surface (of course that’s just the tip of an outrageously long and overly-complicated iceberg not germane or necessary to us here: just search-engine the tale afterwards, OK?… or just buy one of many collections of The Dark Pheonix Saga).

When Hope finally reaches the spot of her predecessor’s sacrifice she finds that she’s been betrayed and that the Avengers are waiting – and so are mutants Cyclops, Emma Frost, Colossus, Magik and Namor the Sub-Mariner. With battle set to begin again, the battered body of Thor crashes into the lunar dust and the sky is lit by the blazing arrival of the Phoenix avatar…

Matt Fraction scripts the 5th chapter as the appalling firebird attempts to possess Hope, who realises she has completely overestimated her ability to handle the ultimate force, even as Avengers and X-Men again come to blistering blows.

Some distance away super-scientists Tony Stark and Henry Pym deploy a last-ditch anti-Phoenix invention but it doesn’t work as planned, and when the furious light finally dies down, infernal energy has possessed not Hope but the five elder mutants who turn their blazing eyes towards Earth and begin to plan how best to remake it…

Olivier Coipel & Mark Morales begin a stint as illustrators with the 6th – Hickman scripted – instalment as, 10 days after, old comrades Magneto and Charles Xavier meet to discuss the paradise Earth has become – especially for mutants. Violence, disease, hunger and want are gone but Cyclops, Emma, Sub-Mariner, Magic and Colossus are distant, aloof saviours at best and the power they share incessantly demands to be used more and more and more…

Myriad dimensions away in the mystical city of K’un Lun, kung fu overlord Lei Kung is warned an ancient disaster is repeating itself on Earth and dispatches the city’s greatest hero Iron Fist to avert overwhelming disaster, even as fearful humanity is advised their old bad ways will no longer be allowed to despoil the world. Naturally the decree of a draconian “Pax Utopia” does not sit well with humanity, and soon the Avengers are again at war with the last few hundreds of mutantkind. This time, however, the advantage is overwhelmingly with the underdogs and their five godlike leaders…

A desperate raid to snatch Hope from Utopia goes catastrophically wrong until the long-reviled Scarlet Witch intervenes and rescues the Avengers and Hope. Astounded to realise Wanda’s probability-altering gifts can harm them, the “Phoenix Five” declare all-out, total war on the human heroes…

In the 7th, Fraction-scripted, chapter Avengers are hunted all over the planet and the individual personalities of the possessed X-Men start clashing with each other. As Iron Fist, Lei Kung and Stark seek a marriage of spiritual and technological disciplines, Sub-Mariner defies the Phoenix consensus to attack the African nation of Wakanda…

Adam Kubert & John Dell handle the art from issue #8 with Bendis’ script revealing how an army of Avengers and the power of Wanda and Xavier turn the tide of battle… but not before a nation dies. Moreover, with Namor beaten, his portion of Phoenix-power passes on to the remaining four, inspiring greedy notions of sole control amongst the possessed…

In #9 (by Aaron, Kubert & Dell) as the hunt for heroes continues on Earth, in K’un Lun Hope is being trained in martial arts discipline by the city’s immortal master, and schooled in sheer guts and humanity by Spider-Man. When Thor is captured, the Avengers stage an all-out assault and by a miracle defeat both Magik and Colossus. Tragically, that only makes Scott Summers stronger still and he comes looking for his wayward daughter…

Brubaker writes the 10th chapter as Cyclops invades K’un Lun with horrific consequences whilst on Earth Emma Frost succumbs to the worst aspects of her nature: enslaving friends and foes with her half of the infinite Phoenix force. Simultaneously, Captain America and Xavier lay plans for one last “Hail Mary” assault…

And in the mystic city, Hope finally comes into her power – blasting Cyclops out of that other reality and back to the moon where the tragedy began…

Bendis, Coipel & Morales craft the penultimate instalment as Phoenix’s rapacious destructive hunger causes Cyclops to battle Frost, even as the unifying figure of Xavier unites X-Men and Avengers against the true threat, as with issue #12 (Aaron, Kubert & Dell) Cyclops finally descends into the same hell as his beloved, long-lost Jean by becoming a seemingly unstoppable, insatiable Dark Phoenix with only the assembled heroes and the poor, resigned Hope prepared to stop him from consuming the Earth…

The series generated a host of variant covers (I lost count at 87) by Cho, Jason Keith, Jim Cheung, Laura Martin, Stephanie Hans, Romita Jr., Ryan Stegman, Carlo Barberi, Olivier Coipel, Morales, Skott Young, Arthur Adams, Nick Bradshaw, Carlo Pagulayan, Sara Pichelli, J. Scott Campbell, Jerome Opeña, Mark Bagley, Dale Keown, Esad Ribic, Adam Kubert, Alan Davis, Humberto Ramos, Leinil Francis Yu, Adi Granov and Billy Tan which will undoubtedly delight and astound the artistically adroit amongst you…

Fast, furious and utterly absorbing – if short on plot – this ideal summer blockbuster (don’t you wish movie lawyers moved as fast as comics folk and this was screen ready by now?) remains an extreme Fights ‘n’ Tights funnybook extravaganza that delivers a mighty punch without any real necessity to study beforehand: a comics-continuity both veterans and film-fed fanboys alike can relish.
© 2012 Marvel.

Marvel Adventures Avengers volume 9: The Times They Are A‘Changin’


By Paul Tobin, Matteo Lolli, Ig Guara, Casey Jones, Christian Vecchia & Sandro Ribeiro (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3832-7 (PB/Digital edition)

Time for another anniversary shout-out, so let’s celebrate the fact that The Avengers #1 (cover-dated September 1963 but on sale from July 2nd) was sold out on newsstands all over America by today’s date…

In 2003, the House of Ideas created a Marvel Age line updating classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko before merging it with remnants of its failed manga-based Tsunami imprint, which was also intended for a junior demographic.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, becoming Marvel Adventures with core titles Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man carrying all-original yarns. Additional titles included Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes, Power Pack, Hulk and The Avengers, which ran until 2010 when they were cancelled and replaced by new volumes of Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man.

This particularly light-hearted digest-sized collection re-presents issues #32-35 of Marvel Adventures Avengers (from 2009), offering stand-alone yarns to delight fans with a sense of humour and iota of wit…

What You Need To Know: this incarnation of the World’s Mightiest Superheroes operates an “open-door” policy where almost every metahuman marvel might turn up for duty. However – presumably because of their TV cartoon popularity – the Wondrous Wallcrawler and Jade Juggernaut are on scene in almost every episode…

Written throughout by Paul Tobin (No Romance in Hell, Plants vs Zombies), an avalanche of fast-paced fun begins with ‘The Big Payoff’ illustrated by Matteo Lolli & Christian Vecchia, wherein the team gets a most unpleasant visit from Special Agent Clark Harvey of the Internal Revenue Service.

This weaselling civil servant is ostensibly there to collect individual Avengers’ taxes, but it’s all a ploy to blackmail the team into forcing a bunch of defaulting villains into paying up…

Smart and deviously hilarious, the clashes between Giant-Girl, Spider-Man and Luke Cage against Whirlwind, the web-spinner and erudite philosophical monster/political activist Oog or Man-Bull versus Iron Man are entertainment enough, but Iron Man and Giant-Girl overmatched against the Absorbing Man and the childlike Hulk convincing assassin Bullseye to do his patriotic duty are utterly priceless…

When jungle king Ka-Zar visits from the Antarctic lost world, all he can think about is learning how to use a car. Sadly Wolverine, Storm, Giant-Girl, Hulk and Spidey all feel safer battling an invasion of super-saurians unleashed by Stegron the Dinosaur Man than sitting in the same vehicle as the Lord of the Savage Land in ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, with art by Ig Guara & Sandro Ribeiro…

When ancient Egyptian magicians turn time into an out-of-control merry-go-round, ‘Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos!’ (Lolli & Vecchia) are caught up in the assorted eras of chaos, with Ant-Man, Giant-Girl, Tigra, Storm, the wallcrawler and Hulk frantically fighting just to keep up…

Rendered by Casey Jones, this titanic tiny tome concludes on a romantic note in ‘Lovers Leaper’ when all the female Avengers head off for a vacation break. They foolishly thought Captain America, Cage, Spider-Man, Hawkeye and Wolverine could handle things for a while, but boys will be slobs and soon the HQ is a ghastly mess of “man-cave” madness…

Moreover, since Hawkeye now needs a date for the Annual Archer Awards, he tries an on-line dating service, and uploads not just his but all his buddies’ information onto the site…

With seemingly every eligible lady – super-powered and not – in New York City subscribing to the Lovers Leap site, our unsuspecting heroes are soon being bombarded by an army of annoyed women who think they’ve been stood up by the utterly oblivious Avengers.

… And when they try to get the owner to remove their details, the heroes discover French former bad-guy Batroc the Leaper is in charge and unwilling to do them any favours…

Smart and fun on many levels, bright, breezy and bursting with light-hearted action and loads of solid laughs, this book offers a fabulous alternative to regular Marvel Universe angst and agony. Even with the violence toned down and “cartooned-up” these stories are superbly thrilling and beautifully depicted: a perfect introduction for kids and adults alike to the vast realm of adventure we all love…

These collected stories present an intriguing and perhaps more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born generations away from those far-distant 1960s originating events.
© 2010, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Masterworks volume 16


By Denny O’Neil, Roger McKenzie, Peter B. Gillis, Ralph Macchio, Luke McDonnell, Carmine Infantino, Paul Smith, Steve Ditko, Marie Severin, Mike Vosburg, Jerry Bingham, Michael Golden & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-4920-4- (HB/Digital edition)

One of Marvel’s biggest global successes thanks to the film franchise, Iron Man celebrated his 60th anniversary in March 2023, so let’s again acknowledge that landmark and all who wear the suits offering more of the same…

Tony Stark is a super-rich supergenius inventor who moonlights as a superhero: wearing a formidable, ever-evolving suit of armour stuffed with his own ingenious creations. The supreme technologist hates to lose and constantly upgrades his gear, making Iron Man one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe. However, in Iron Man #120-128 (March to November 1979), the unrelenting pressure of running a multinational corporation and saving the world on a daily basis resulted in the weary warrior succumbing to the constant temptations of his (originally sham) sybaritic lifestyle. Thus, he helplessly slipped into a glittering world drenched with excessive partying and drinking.

That dereliction was compounded by his armour being usurped by rival Justin Hammer: used to murder an innocent. The ensuing psychological crisis forced Stark to confront the hard fact that he was an alcoholic …and probably an adrenaline junkie too. Landmark story ‘Demon in a Bottle’ saw the traumatised hero plumb the depths of grief and guilt, bury himself in pity, and alienate all his friends and allies before an unlikely intervention forced him to take a long, hard look at his life and actions…

A more cautious, level-headed and wiser man, Stark resumed his high-pressure lives, but he could not let up and the craving never went away. Then in 1982 author/editor Denny O’Neil made him do it again, with the result that Marvel gained another black superhero at long last…

It was the dawn of a period of legacy heroes inheriting mantles, established roles and combat identities from white, mostly male champions, and was certainly a move in the right direction…

This grand and gleaming chronological compendium navigates that transitional period, re-presenting Iron Man #158-170 and material from Iron Man Annual #5 and Marvel Fanfare #4: episodically spanning cover-dates May 1982-May 1983. It’s accompanied by an Introduction from Luke McDonnell at the front and house ads and Direct Sale promo poster by him at the end, as the title experienced many creative personnel shuffles before settling on a stalwart team to tackle the biggest of changes. Also on show are covers by Bob Layton, Smith, Jim Starlin, Ed Hannigan & Al Milgrom, Jerry Bingham & Brett Breeding, McDonnell, Brent Anderson & Steve Mitchell.

Opening with Iron Man #158, O’Neil, Carmine Infantino, Dan Green & Al Milgrom breeze through the motions as a deranged junior genius attacks modern technology from his literal man-cave by tapping the latent psychic power of his ‘Moms’ after which Roger McKenzie, rising art star Paul Smith & inking collective “Diverse Hands” step in to relate what occurs ‘When Strikes Diablo’. Here the Fantastic Four’s alchemical nemesis infiltrates Stark International to steal the techno-wizard’s resources and obsolete suits, only to unleash a mystic menace beyond all control…

With pressure mounting and threats everywhere, the craving for booze painfully manifests in ‘A Cry of Beasts’ – by O’Neil, Steve Ditko, Marie Severin & Green – as Stark’s party-persona collides with hot, willing babes… until an attack on his factory by the sinister Serpent Squad reminds him of his priorities.

Preceding Iron Man Annual #5 – and by O’Neil, McDonnell, Mike Esposito & Steve Mitchell – a brief encounter with new hero Moon Knight sees Stark at odds with rival rich man Steven Grant (one of four people comprising the edgy crusader) in ‘If the Moonman Should Fail!’

Frenemies at first sight, the Golden Avenger and Fist of Khonshu swallow their rich-boy differences to save mutual friends held hostage by Advanced Idea Mechanics, after which the extra-length Annual extravaganza sees Iron Man in Wakanda where The Black Panther must defeat mysteriously resurrected nemesis and determined usurper Eric Killmonger

Crafted by Peter B. Gillis, Ralph Macchio, Jerry & Bingham & Green, the action-packed ‘War and Remembrance!’ exposes an old foe methodically manoeuvring Stark and Iron Man into an inescapable trap, which closes tighter in Iron Man #162 as O’Neil, Mike Vosburg & Mitchell expose ‘The Menace Within!’ when a trusted employee sabotages S.I.…

There seems to be more than one campaign to crush Stark, and – as O’Neil, McDonnell & Mitchell become the regular creative team – ‘Knight’s Errand!’ opens an extended gambit with another hidden plotter turning ruthless capitalism, corporate raiding, advanced weaponry and an obsession with chess into a war for control of the company.

Up first is fast-flying tech terror The Knight who makes short work of Tony’s bodyguard, pilot, friend and confidante James Rhodes, but the real threat comes from a new acquaintance and future companion, covertly hollowing out Stark at close hand. Rising in the rankings after defeating the hovering horseman, Iron Man barely survives ‘Deadly Blessing’ of The Bishop after his security team digs up leads to the plot in Scotland…

In IM #165, the trail leads to Jamie, Laird of Glen Travail and another deadly duel of devices, where the true purpose is to destabilise Stark by abducting Rhodey in an effort to coerce his capitulation. The resultant ‘Endgame’ seemingly goes Stark’s way, but the battle is fought on many levels by a distanced player secretly commanding the Laird: one with a cruel emotional counterpunch long-prepared to destroy the hero from within…

On ‘One of Those Days…’ old foe The Melter attacks Stark’s New York facility whilst Rhodey still recuperates in Scotland. As Stark yet again faces enforced inactivity in the land of sublime alcoholic beverages, he abruptly abandons his friend to jet home to stop the supervillain. He also learns his brilliant security chief Vic Martinelli has uncovered the identity of one of the hidden players attacking the company: chess grandmaster turned armaments entrepreneur Obadiah Stane

As Rhodey goes missing again, the newcomer wants all Stark’s creations and, in the most hostile of takeovers, uses every trick in the book – from honey traps to guided missiles and abduction to intoxication – to seize the advantage. ‘The Empty Shell’ sees that nefarious plan bear evil fruit as Stark finally cracks under interminable pressure and one last betrayal, leading to a crushing fall “off the wagon” and into the gutter in ‘The Iron Scream’.

Permanently drunk and deprived of all judgement, Stark dons his armour to clash with Machine Man, even as far away, Rhodey makes his own life-threatening break for freedom and home…

As chaos ensues at Stark’s plant, a major player debuts in the form of junior employee and minor boffin Morley Erwin: on hand for Stark’s reunion with Rhodey and an aghast witness to one of the smartest men alive crawling into a bottle and trying to drown away his pain…

That process begins in #169 as ‘Blackout!’ sees Stark simply give up when confronted by volcanic B-list villain Magma, and sleep through the moment Jim Rhodes steps up – and into – the role and armour of Iron Man

The new era properly begins in #170’s ‘And Who Shall Clothe Himself in Iron?’ (cover-dated May 1983) as the former military airman promotes Erwin to tech support adviser to help him pilot the most complex weapon he’s ever used to defeat Magma and save a far from grateful Tony Stark…

The Beginning…

Rounding off the wonderment is a short tale by Michael Golden as originally seen in Marvel Fanfare #4 (September 1982) wherein Stark battles his dreams, inner demons and incalculable pride…

As comics companies sought to course correct old attitudes and adapt their wares to a far wider and more diverse readership than they had previously acknowledged, some rash rushed decisions were made that did not suit all the fans. Thankfully, that never stopped the editors and publishers from trying and the wonderful results are here and everywhere in comics because of it. Go read and enjoy and see how it all began to change.
© 2023 MARVEL.

Night Nurse


By Jean Thomas, Linda Fite & Win Mortimer; Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev, & various (MARVEL)
No ISBN: Digital-only edition

During the costumed hero boom of the 1960s, Marvel experimented with a solo title shot for Inhuman anti-hero/political refugee Madame Medusa (Marvel Super-Heroes #15, July 1968) and a solo series for established supporting character The Black Widow (Amazing Adventures # 1-8, August 1970 – September 1971). Both were sexy, reformed supervillains, not wholesome girl-next-door heroines like long-domesticated costumed chicks The Invisible Girl, Marvel Girl and The Wasp… and neither lasted solo for long.

The other two actual action women – rather than simple romantic-complication fodder – of that early Marvel era were The Scarlet Witch (mutant/ex-villain/occasional Avenger) and superspy Sharon Carter/Agent 13 of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Just for the sake of completeness: post-World War II, Timely/Atlas Comics embraced and published fiercely independent, capable female operators like Miss America, Namora, Golden Girl, Sun Girl, Blonde Phantom, Venus and more. None survived the insidious social domestication movement that drove American women out of the workplace and back into kitchens and bedrooms: a period that (coincidentally?) generated a growing fascination with captivating jungle women living wild and free in primal freedom – in space as well as on Earth – and a huge explosion in straight romance comics where decent white girls competed for the best husband…

When the costumed crazies craze began to subside in the 1970s, newly-promoted Publisher Stan Lee and his editor-in-chief Roy Thomas looked into creating a girl-friendly boutique of proper “heroines” for the changing tastes of the nation. Written by women, they sought to address and satisfy a wider market than simple boy-fuelled superheroics ever could.

The early 1970s was an era of turbulent social change, with established notions, traditions and laws being constantly challenged. Banner headlines and TV news everywhere confirmed that women’s rights were now being fought for – and thus consequently fiercely resisted – just as vigorously as the Civil Rights movement that had polarised and incensed Americans a handful of years previously…

Marvel’s opening shots in this mini-liberation war were in established genres and both cover-dated November 1972. Claws of the Cat – by Linda Fite, Marie Severin & Wally Wood – added a female superhero to the pantheon, whilst Night Nurse combined contemporary daytime television medical dramas with Marvel’s long-established romance/“career girl” tradition. New post-Feminism jungle goddess Shanna the She-Devil – by Carole Seuling & George Tuska – debuted in December 1972.

Despite impressive creative teams, none of these fascinating and trailblazing experiments lasted beyond a fifth issue, but the characters have all since then become fully established in the greater continuity…

That certainly applies to today’s pioneer. Collecting Night Nurse #1-4 and a stunning reinvention from Marvel Knights Daredevil (volume 2) #80 – also numbered #460 as a result of renumbering nonsense you really don’t need to care about. This digital-only compilation gathers the entire melodrama-drenched saga of a tough and determined young woman looking to make a difference. The print equivalent is the 2015 Night Nurse one-shot: cover-dated July and published to capitalise on the traction her appearance in the mainstream MU generated.

With covers by Winslow Mortimer, John Romita Sr., Frank Giacoia & Joe Sinnott, and adapting the character and concepts first seen in Linda Carter: Student Nurse (#1-9, spanning cover-dates September 1961-January 1963), Night Nurse saw writer Jean Thomas and illustrator Mortimer reintroduce our star as her-long-deferred graduation day approached: peeking behind the curtain of professionalism to reveal ‘The Making of a Nurse!’

Carter and her roomies – ghetto child Georgia Jenkins and disgraced, disinherited rich kid Christine Palmer – have all been learning-by-working at vast and prestigious Metro General: enduring a relentless regimen of complex hands-on training adapting them to the constant high pressure demands of their proposed careers. Particularly difficult was the suffering they were daily exposed to, and how each student coped with it…

Things start to get truly complicated when Linda falls for wealthy good-looking patient Marshall Michaels. His whirlwind courtship leads to a marriage proposal and wedding plans… until he reveals that no wife of his will ever prioritise a job over running his home…

Georgia, meanwhile, finds her ghetto roots still dragging her down when – in the midst of a city-wide power-outage – her brother Ben and his activist friend Rocky try to blow up Metro’s back-up generator. When she and Linda discover them the result is tragedy…

In the second issue, a ‘Night of Tears… Night of Truth!’ sees Carter save a VIP life during a hit-and-run incident, only to endure an acclaimed and ultra-rich surgeon parachuted in to conspicuously fix the patient and reap temporary glory.

Arrogant Dr. Sutton subsequently offers well-bred rebel Palmer a job as his permanent assistant: a position that comes with amorous assumptions and intent. However, the snobbish surgeon underestimates her resolve and loathing of the unspoken code dictating that the wealthy should stick together and he can’t understand why Christine calls the cops when she finds out his side hustle business, how he uses his prescription privileges and one other secret he’s been keeping from all his powerful friends and associates…

Linda, meanwhile, is getting far too friendly with hunky doctor Jack Tryon

Events escalate in ‘Murder Stalks Ward 8!’ when Carter is the only witness to a gangland killing that leads back to major mobster Victor Sloan: a crime kingpin connected to Georgia’s wayward brother Ben. When Sloan is admitted to Metro, nurse Jenkins finds her dedication and resolve severely tested, especially after rival crooks invade the hospital looking for payback and Jack and Linda have to play detective and bodyguard…

There’s an abrupt change of pace in final issue #4 and a touch of gothic romance in the air as Thomas and co-writer Linda Fite focus on Christine. Rocked by scandal, Dr. Sutton’s betrayal and repeated rejection by her elitist father, nurse Palmer seeks a different career path and answers an ad for a live-in nurse/physiotherapist in Boston.

Illustrated by Mortimer, ‘The Secret of Sea-Cliff Manor!’ revels in all the trappings of gothic mystique typifying that period, as Christine meets and manages moody, magnificently angry paraplegic Derek Porter, his sweet Aunt Edna, and spooky old manservant Harold: dispensing care and comfort whilst being dragged deep into a manic murder plot…

The series terminated there, although the nurses popped up occasionally in various titles over the years. Then in Marvel Knights Daredevil volume 2 #58 (May 2004) Linda Carter returned without warning and in an extremely specific role: running a sort-of secret underground clinic in NYC as the enigmatic “Night Nurse”. The facility catered exclusively to metahumans – mostly the heroic or vigilante ones – who needed fixing and couldn’t trust the regular hospital system…

Inexplicably, that yarn is not included here. Instead we have Marvel Knights Daredevil volume 2, #80 (February 2006): fifth chapter 5 of ‘The Murdock Papers’ wherein Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev and colourist Dave Stewart detail how Matt Murdock is almost fatally shot after his secret identity is made public.

On the run, his occasional ally and paramour Elektra drags his failing form to the clinic where it transpires Murdock is a frequent flyer. As the mysterious medic seeks to stabilise him, heroes like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Black Widow rush to his side. It’s a smart move since Kingpin Wilson Fisk, an army of irate Feds and ninja cult The Hand have all zeroed in on the dying man, all determined to complete their unfinished business with Daredevil

From this revival and revision, Night Nurse evolved into a crucial component of both the print and cinematic Marvel Universes, playing a role in the Civil War and Secret Invasion storylines; working with The Young Avengers, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Iron Man and all the above-mentioned street level champions…

A tribute to Marvel’s ceaseless commitment to reinvention, reappraisal and rebirth, Night Nurse is an intriguing example of how the role of women has evolved in comic books and will delight both incurably addicted fans and those casual dabblers looking for different flavours of Marvel medicine.
© 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Invincible Iron Man Epic Collection volume 10: The Enemy Within 1982-1983


By Denny O’Neil, Roger McKenzie, Peter B. Gillis, Ralph Macchio, Carmine Infantino, Steve Ditko, Paul Smith, Luke McDonnell, Jerry Bingham, Mike Vosburg, Marie Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8787-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

Tony Stark is a super-rich supergenius inventor who moonlights as a superhero: wearing a formidable, ever-evolving suit of armour stuffed with his own ingenious creations. The supreme technologist hates to lose and constantly upgrades his gear, making Iron Man one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe.

However, in Iron Man #120-128 (March to November 1979), the unrelenting pressure of running a multinational corporation and saving the world on a daily basis resulted in the weary warrior succumbing to the constant temptations of his (originally sham) sybaritic lifestyle. Thus, he helplessly slipped into a glittering world drenched with excessive partying and drinking.

That dereliction was compounded by his armour being usurped by rival Justin Hammer: used to murder an innocent. The ensuing psychological crisis forced Stark to confront the hard fact that he was an alcoholic …and probably an adrenaline junkie too.

That crux landmark story ‘Demon in a Bottle’ saw the traumatised hero plumb the depths of grief and guilt, bury himself in pity, and alienate all his friends and allies before an unlikely intervention forced him to take a long, hard look at his life and actions…

A more cautious, level-headed and wiser man, Stark resumed his high-pressure lives, but he could not let up and the craving never went away. Then in 1982 author/editor Denny O’Neil made him do it again, with the result that Marvel gained another black superhero at long last…

It was the start of a period of legacy heroes inheriting the mantles, established roles and combat identities from white and mostly male champions, and was certainly a move in the right direction…

This grand and gleaming chronological compendium navigates that transitional period, re-presenting Iron Man #158-177 and Iron Man Annual #5: episodically spanning cover-dates May 1982 through December 1983, as the title experienced an uncomfortable number of creative personnel shuffles before settling on a steady team to tackle the biggest of changes…

It starts with Iron Man #158 as O’Neil, Carmine Infantino, Dan Green & Al Milgrom breeze through the motions as a deranged junior genius attacks modern technology from his literal man-cave by tapping the latent psychic power of his ‘Moms’

Roger McKenzie, rising art star Paul Smith & inking collective “Diverse Hands” stepped in to relate what occurs ‘When Strikes Diablo’, as the Fantastic Four’s alchemical nemesis infiltrates Stark International to steal the techno-wizard’s resources and obsolete suits, only to unleash a mystic menace beyond all control…

With pressure mounting and threats everywhere, the craving for booze painfully manifests in ‘A Cry of Beasts’ – by O’Neil, Steve Ditko, Marie Severin & Green – as Stark’s party-persona collides with hot, willing babes …until an attack on his factory by the sinister Serpent Squad reminds him of his priorities.

Preceding Iron Man Annual #5, and by O’Neil, Luke McDonnell, Mike Esposito & Steve Mitchell, a brief encounter with newcomer hero Moon Knight sees Stark at odds with rival rich man Steven Grant (one of four people comprising the edgy new crusader) in ‘If the Moonman Should Fail!’

Frenemies at first sight, the Golden Avenger and Fist of Khonshu swallow their differences to save mutual friends held hostage by Advanced Idea Mechanics, after which the extra-length Annual extravaganza sees Iron Man in Wakanda where The Black Panther must defeat mysteriously resurrected nemesis and determined usurper Eric Killmonger

Crafted by Peter B. Gillis, Ralph Macchio, Jerry & Bingham & Green, the action-packed ‘War and Remembrance!’ reveals an old foe methodically manoeuvring Stark and Iron Man into an inescapable trap, which closes tighter in Iron Man #162 as O’Neil, Mike Vosburg & Mitchell expose ‘The Menace Within!’ as a trusted employee sabotages S.I.…

There seems to be more than one campaign to crush Stark, and – as O’Neil, McDonnell & Mitchell become the regular creative team – ‘Knight’s Errand!’ opens an extended gambit with another hidden plotter turning ruthless capitalism, corporate raiding, advanced weaponry and an obsession with chess into a war for control of the company.

Up first is fast-flying tech terror The Knight who makes short work of Tony’s bodyguard, pilot, friend and confidante James Rhodey, but the real threat comes from a new acquaintance and future companion, covertly hollowing out Stark at close hand. Rising in the rankings after defeating the hovering horseman, Iron Man barely survives the ‘Deadly Blessing’ of The Bishop after his security team digs up leads to the plot in Scotland…

In IM #165, the trail leads to Jamie, Laird of Glen Travail and another deadly duel of devices, but the true purpose is to destabilise Stark by abducting Rhodey in an effort to coerce his capitulation. The resultant ‘Endgame’ seemingly goes Stark’s way, but the battle is fought on many levels by a distanced player secretly commanding the Laird: one with a cruel emotional counterpunch long-prepared to destroy the hero from within…

After a brief interlude offering original art pages from issues #161, 163 & 165, the stories resume and tensions mount on ‘One of Those Days…’ as old foe The Melter attacks Stark’s New York facility. Rhodey is recuperating in Scotland and Stark yet again faces enforced inactivity in the land of sublime alcoholic beverages, so he abruptly abandons his friend and jets home to stop the supervillain. He also learns his brilliant head of security Vic Martinelli has uncovered the identity of one of the hidden players attacking the company: chess grandmaster turned armaments entrepreneur Obadiah Stane

With Rhodey missing again in Scotland, the newcomer wants all Stark’s creations and in the most hostile of takeovers, has used every trick in the book – from honey traps to guided missiles and abduction to intoxication – to seize the advantage…

‘The Empty Shell’ sees that nefarious planning bear evil fruit as Stark finally cracks under interminable pressure and one last betrayal, leading to a crushing fall “off the wagon” and into the gutter in ‘The Iron Scream’.

Permanently drunk and deprived of all judgement, Stark dons his armour to clash with Machine Man, even as far away, Rhodey makes his own life-threatening break for freedom and home…

As chaos ensues at the Stark plant, a major player debuts in the form of junior employee and minor boffin Morley Erwin, who’s on hand for Stark’s reunion with Rhodey and an aghast witness to one of the smartest men alive willingly crawling into a bottle and trying to drown away his pain…

That process begins in #169 as ‘Blackout!’ sees Stark simply give up when confronted by volcanic B-list villain Magma, and sleep through the moment Jim Rhodes steps up – and into – the role and armour of Iron Man

The new era properly begins in #170’s ‘And Who Shall Clothe Himself in Iron?’ (cover-dated May 1983) as the former military airman promotes Erwin to the role of tech support adviser to help him pilot the most complex weapon he’s ever used to defeat Magma and save a far from grateful Tony Stark…

In the aftermath, the inventor just walks away: letting a new hero flounder even as, in the shadows, Stane gradually completes his takeover. Alone, isolated and under resourced, Rhodey and Erwin stumble into a heist in ‘Ball and Chain’, after seeking to arbitrate a domestic hostage situation triggered by Asgardian-powered supervillain Thunderball not knowing when no means no…

They are then duty-bound to intervene when Stark – completely off the rails – is arrested. However, his drunken debacle is only the start of their woes, as one the souse’s most murderous enemies tries to exact ‘Firebrand’s Revenge!’ and an entire hotel goes up in flames.

Thankfully Captain America is on hand to give the new guy in the suit a helping hand, but the distraction is just what Stane needs to seal his deal…

Homeless, broke and close to death on the streets, Stark is then accidentally saved by his conqueror, who lays the seeds of his own eventual downfall by dragging the lush to a grand takeover ceremony. Also attending is the new Iron Man who gets a lead to the woman who tempted and crushed Stark: an operative of freelance espionage ring The Sisters of Ishtar. This time both Stane and Rhodey learn that ‘Judas is a Woman’

During this period every effort to turn Stark around fails: shot down by his self-sabotage. Now however, his friends must pause their personal interventions as the national and international repercussions of Stane’s triumph grows. Refusing to let a ruthless war profiteer benefit from Iron Man tech, Rhodey and Morley take drastic steps: stealing all the old kit and prototypes from Stane International. They are blithely unaware Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. share those opinions and are making their own clandestine arrangements in ‘Armor Chase’ (inked by Sam de LaRosa)…

A three-way clash escalates in O’Neil, McDonnell, & Mitchell’s Iron Man #175 as all ‘This Treasure of Red and Gold…’ ends up dumped deep in the ocean: purportedly beyond human reach. Nobody seemed to think that maybe water breathers like bellicose Atlantean renegade Warlord Krang might be in the market for a weapons upgrade dropped right in his lap…

Still operating under what can only be described as trial-by-fire period, Rhodey dives right in, triumphs again and even makes a new friend…

Stark’s own deep descent is marginally arrested after befriending an elderly “un-homed” guy on the streets in ‘Turf’, even as far away Iron Man meets the Sisters of Ishtar again and has his first encounter with something not of this Earth…

This tome pauses for now with a transitional tale loaded with portents of bad times to come. After meeting Erwin’s even smarter sister Clytemnestra, Rhodey looks – after a chat with Heroes for Hire Luke Cage & Iron Fist – into forming a rather unique start-up company in ‘Have Armor Will Travel’. The idea only truly gels after he’s hired to bodyguard an officious unflappable official in South America and encounters – and survives – deadly armoured mercenary Flying Tiger. However, in all the furore, our hero barely notices that he’s having headaches almost constantly these days…

To Be Continued…

With covers by Bob Layton, Smith, Jim Starlin, Ed Hannigan & Al Milgrom, Bingham & Brett Breeding, McDonnell, Brent Anderson & Mitchell, the bonus section includes ‘Original art and covers’, the cover for The Many Armors of Iron Man collection by McDonnell, Mitchell, & Frank D’Armata and contemporary House ad from Marvel Age #12.

As comics companies sought to course correct old attitudes and adapt their wares to a far wider and more diverse readership than they had previously acknowledged, some rash rushed decisions were made that did not suit all the fans. Thankfully, that never stopped the editors and publishers from trying and the wonderful results are here and everywhere in comics because of it. Go read and enjoy and see how it all began to change.
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Carnage Epic Collection: Born in Blood 1991-1994


By David Michelinie, Tom DeFalco, Terry Kavanagh, J.M. DeMatteis, Mark Bagley, Ron Lim, Alex Saviuk, Tom Lyle, Sal Buscema, Steven Butler & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-4662-3 (TPB/Digital edition)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Massive Marvel Mayhem… 7/10

After a shaky start in 1962 The Amazing Spider-Man soon became a popular sensation with kids of all ages, rivalling the creative powerhouse that was Lee & Kirby’s Fantastic Four. Soon the quirky, charming, action-packed comicbook soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old costumed-crimebusters of previous publications.

You all know the story: Peter Parker was a smart but alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering he had developed astonishing arachnid abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the kid did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

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

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

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

In the anything-goes, desperate hurly-burly of the late 1980s and 1990s, fad-fever and spin-off madness obsessed the superhero genre in America as comics publishers hungrily exploited every trick to bolster flagging sales. In the mad melee Spider-Man spawned an intractable enemy called Venom: a disgraced and deranged reporter named Eddie Brock who bonded with Parker’s black costume (an semi-sentient alien parasite called the Symbiote) and become a savage, shape-changing dark-side version of the amazing arachnid.

Eventually the spidery adversaries reached a brooding détente and Venom became a “Lethal Protector”, dispensing a highly individualistic brand of justice everywhere but New York City.

However, the danger had not completely passed. When the Symbiote went into breeding mode it created a junior version of itself that merged with a deranged psycho-killer named Cletus Kasady (in Amazing Spider-Man #344, March 1991). The relevant pages by David Michelinie, Erik Larsen, Mark Bagley & Randy Emberlin open this collection…

Totally amoral, murderously twisted and addicted to both pain and excitement, Kasady became the terrifying metamorphic Carnage – a kill-crazy monster who carved a bloody swathe through the Big Apple before Spider-Man and Venom united to stop him.

Collecting a franchise-wide crossover which originally appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #331-363, 378-380, Web of Spider-Man #101-103 Spectacular Spider-Man #201-203, Spider-Man #35-37, and with material from Amazing Spider-Man #344-345, 359-360, Spider-Man Unlimited #1-2 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #28 (spanning February 1991 to August 1993), this mammoth and extremely controversial summer event featured the inevitable return of the terrifying travesty and his bloodcurdling assault on everything Parker held dear: family, responsibility, love and the heartfelt faith that killing was never justifiable…

It all begins with pertinent extracts from Amazing Spider-Man #344 &345 (March & April 1991) and 359-360 (February – March 1992) as Michelinie, Chris Marrinan & Keith Williams detail Carnage’s escape and first kills before the beast’s proper debut in Amazing Spider-Man #361-363 as Michelinie, Bagley & Emberlin unleash the shapeshifting slaughterer on New York in ‘Savage Genesis!’, ‘Savage Alliance!’ and ‘Savage Grace!’, necessitating Spidey and the Human Torch breaking Venom out of his well-deserved incarceration to help stop a murder spree beyond imagining…

All that is mere aperitif to a monstrous main course of fast, furious and ferocious chaos that kicks off in‘Carnage Rising!’ by Tom DeFalco, Ron Lim & Jim Sanders III from Spider-Man Unlimited #1.

When a seemingly powerless Cletus Kasady is moved from ultra-high security penitentiary The Vault to an experimental lab at Ravencroft Asylum, ambitious psychiatrist Dr. Pournella believes she can cure the monster’s underlying psychosis. Those opinions die with her and the rest of the staff and security officers when the long-dormant Carnage entity manifests and breaks free…

Across town, tormented by guilt and shame, newlyweds Peter Parker and Mary Jane (nee Watson) are attending the funeral of their friend Harry Osborn – who had gone mad and perished battling Spider-Man as the second Green Goblin. As the downcast hero wallows in soul-searching and wonders at the point of his life, in Ravencroft a nihilistic scourge of insane bloodlust rampages through the facility until he is stopped in his tracks by another inmate.

Shriek is a creature after Carnage’s own heart: a survivor of appalling childhood abuse who found she possessed incredible powers to make all her vile drives and dreams come true…

Instantly attracted to each other, the pair join forces as a twisted “couple”, resolved to kill as often and as many as they can…

Escaping into New York they soon encounter and battle a mystical, nigh-mindless Spider-Man Doppelganger – which has been stalking the Webslinger since the end of the Infinity War crossover event – and adopt it. Together, the ultimate embodiment of a dysfunctional family set out to teach the city the pointlessness of life and the imminent inevitability of remorseless death…

Peter meanwhile has quarrelled with Mary Jane, but after making up, he hears of the bloodbath at Ravencroft and dutifully rushes off to recapture Carnage. Utterly unprepared for the trio of terror, he is savagely beaten: barely escaping with his life…

The tale continues in ‘Dark Light: Maximum Carnage  Part 2’ (Web of Spider-Man #101, by Terry Kavanagh, Alex Saviuk & Don Hudson) wherein the incapacitated Arachnid is accosted by street thugs hungry for vengeance and only saved by the appearance of homeless vigilantes Cloak and Dagger.

These nomadic teens are juvenile runaways who fell into the clutches of drug-pushing gangsters. Amongst a group of abducted kids they were used as guinea pigs for new designer drugs, but though all other test subjects died horribly, Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen were mutated by the chemical cocktail into something more – and less – than human.

Isolated, alone, and vengeful they swore to help other lost kids by fighting drug dealers and all who preyed on the weak in the blackest corners of New York City.

Cloak is connected to a dimension of darkness: able to teleport, become intangible, amplifying and feeding on the wickedness in his targets. His unceasing hunger for negative emotions must be regularly – if only temporarily – sated by super-acrobat Dagger’s dazzling radiance. Her power too has advantages and hazards. The light can cleanse the gnawing dependency afflicting addicts, but constantly, agonizingly, builds up within her when not released. Thus Cloak’s incessant hunger can be assuaged by her light-knives and his apparently insatiable darkness.

Whilst tending to Spider-Man – whose injuries include cripplingly painful broken ribs – Cloak & Dagger are ambushed by the Carnage clan and the consequent catastrophic clash razes the church they are sheltering in.

Shriek especially revels in chaos. She has battled Cloak before and loathes him, taking sublime joy in tormenting him. Her greatest triumph comes when she uses her sonic powers to disintegrate his beloved Dagger before his horrified eyes…

Succeeding chapters open with ‘Demons on Broadway’ (Amazing Spider-Man #378, by Michelinie, Bagley & Randy Emberlin) ramp up the tension as Venom returns to New York, determined to exterminate the appalling threat he inadvertently created. Severely wounded, Spider-Man seeks to console Cloak who is crazed with grief and fury. Elsewhere Carnage, Shriek and Doppelganger are simultaneously gloating, planning further bloodshed and fighting each other…

When Cloak disappears in a blink of black torment the barely conscious Wallcrawler resumes his search for the trio of horrors and instead stumbles upon another old foe – Demogoblin.

Originally a science-powered super-crook, the mercenary killer was cursed: mystically transformed into a supernatural scourge dedicated to cleansing Earth of sin. To his diseased mind that means slaughtering humans because they are all sinners…

As the messianic devil thrashes the utterly exhausted and overstretched Spider-Man in Central Park, Venom tracks down Kasady but is similarly crushed by Doppelganger, Shriek and his sadistically exultant “offspring”…

Brock barely escapes with his life and crawls to Peter and Mary Jane’s apartment in Spider-Man #35, driving Mrs. Parker crazy with fear and resentment. It seems as if the entire city is on the edge and ready to explode in rage, negativity and violence…

As Spider-Man resigns himself to working again with his murderous worst nightmare, Demogoblin joins Carnage’s fiendish family. The good guys recruit Peter’s ex-girlfriend The Black Cat to even the odds in ‘Team Venom’ (Michelinie, Tom Lyle & Scott Hanna), but by the time they find their constantly bickering homicidal foes, Cloak has already impetuously attacked them and lies close to death…

As another blockbusting battle ends in defeat for the heroes, the Amazing Arachnid finds himself berated and deserted by his own allies. Taken to task for his foolish unwillingness to use lethal force, Peter questions his ingrained reluctance to go ‘Over the Line!’ (Spectacular Spider-Man #201, by J.M. DeMatteis & Sal Buscema) even as Carnage adopts another psychotic menace into his growing killer kin. Cadaverous mutated clone Carrion shares their ambitions and eagerly joins in their avowed mission to kill every human in New York.

The blood-soaked brood are aided in their task by the very citizens they imperil, as an inexplicable wave of fear and hatred grips the populace, sparking savage rioting and a tide of death. The inflamed innocents even attempt to lynch Spider-Man when he comes to their aid…

As Parker faces an overwhelming crisis of conscience in ‘Sinking Fast’ (Kavanagh, Saviuk & Hudson from Web of Spider-Man #102), Venom’s vengeance squad recruits another old Spider-Man foe in the ghastly shape of Michael Morbius – a science-spawned Living Vampire with an unquenchable appetite for human blood. After years of death and torment, the helpless victim had recently begun to seek a form of redemption by only slaking his thirst on the truly wicked…

With her husband insanely risking his life beside allies as bad as the villains, Mary Jane attempts to ease her own rage by going clubbing, just as Carnage’s “carnival of chaos” tears into the fashionable nightspot eager to display their warped philosophy of senseless death.

She is only saved by the appearance of Team Venom, with Spider-Man arriving far too late to help. After helping to drive off the macabre marauders a heartbroken Parker is forced to accept the antihero’s methods: rejoining the squad in time to confront ‘The Gathering Storm’ (Amazing Spider-Man #379, Michelinie, Bagley & Emberlin).

As the notional white hats again spectacularly and pointlessly clash with the cotillion of crazies – resulting in the collateral deaths of the NYPD’s Extreme Emergency Team – a new player enters the conflict.

Deathlok was pacifist scientist Michael Collins until his consciousness was imprisoned within a cyborg body built to be the ultimate battlefield weapon. Rebelling against the corporate monsters who doomed him to “life” as a mechanical zombie, Collins turned the war body into a macabre force for justice, so when he detected strange energies at work in town he immediately entered the fray – and is trashed by Clan Carnage, just as Spider-Man and Cloak recruit idealistic mutant Firestar to their side…

Fighting chaos and terror with logic, the webspinner reasons that since all Symbiote spawn are chronically susceptible to excessive heat (as well as high energy sonic assault) a champion capable of emitting microwaves could turn the tide in humanity’s favour…

As the heroes lay their plans, ‘Hate is In The Air’ (Spider-Man #36; Kavanagh, Lyle & Hanna) exposes Kasady’s horrific childhood and events that shaped the unrepentant kill-crazed fiend. Meanwhile, martial arts hero Iron Fist steps in to rescue the broken Deathlok before the Venom gang again engages Carnage’s crew. They almost succeed, but for the rallying efforts of the increasingly rebellious and independent Shriek…

A secret is revealed in ‘The Turning Point!’ (Spectacular Spider-Man #202, DeMatteis & Buscema) as a crazed mob attacks the battling metahumans, and Shriek discloses her powers enable her to broadcast her own madness to the entire city, driving everyone into paroxysms of despair and fury. With Spider-Man actively urging Firestar to kill Carnage, the heroes’ ethical collapse seems assured…

From the depths of his soul Peter’s moral core finally breaks through the madness and he stops the equally conflicted microwave mutant from committing the ultimate sin, just as inspirational legend Captain America arrives to take charge…

With both Avengers and Fantastic Four otherwise occupied, the Sentinel of Liberty has rushed back to save ‘Sin City’ (Kavanagh, Saviuk & Hudson, Web of Spider-Man #103) from Armageddon: instantly rallying the hard-pressed heroes and their more ambivalent allies.

Sadly, his presence causes a schism and as mysterious vigilante Nightwatch joins the dark defenders in still more reactive, pointless violence, ‘Soldiers of Hope’ (Amazing Spider-Man #380, Michelinie, Bagley & Emberlin) sees Parker at last use his brains rather than brawn. With Cap’s resources, the philosophical discipline of Iron Fist and technical skills of Deathlok, a weapon is devised to disable and even cure the frenzied killers running wild in the streets…

An even greater turnabout occurs in ‘The Light!’ (DeMatteis, Lyle, Hanna & Al Milgrom; Spider-Man #37) as, at the height of the most savage battle yet, all factions are stunned by the luminescent resurrection of Dagger, who spearheads a triumphant ‘War of the Heart!’ (Spectacular Spider-Man #203, DeMatteis & Buscema) that crushes the clan and kills Carnage…

Of course it’s never that easy and the cunning maniac is only shamming, as exhausted and traumatised Spider-Man and Venom discover when the blood-red maniac ambushes them in one last all-or-nothing attack in ‘The Hatred, the Horror, & the Hero!’ by DeFalco, Bagley, Lim, Sanders III & Sam de la Rosa (Spider-Man Unlimited #2). It almost works, but in the end, battered, bruised bloodied but ultimately uncompromised, the heroes are triumphant and the horrors are caged again…

By way of epilogue Amazing Spider-Man Annual #28 (1994) picks over ‘The Mortal Past’ (Michelinie, Steven Butler & Bud LaRosa) as Kasady escapes whilst being transported to the Vault and Spider-Man goes after him. More appalling secrets of the killer’s childhood are exposed and buckets of blood are spilled as the maniac takes refuge with his only friend… until the wallcrawler spoils that too and earns Carnage’s undying hatred all over again…

Also included are an unused cover and a bound-in poster and the 1993 Carnage TPB by Bagley & Emberlin; facts, pranks and illustrations from Marvel-Year-in-Review: Bring on the Bad Guys; the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Master Edition; A wraparound cover by Bart Sears from Wizard Magazine, and Micheline’s Introduction from another TPB, DeMatteis’ Afterword, plus covers of successive editions by Ron Lim, Emberlin, deleted and edited scenes. There is trading card art by Steve Lightle & Paul Mounts, the cover – by Lyle – and articles from Marvel Age #123 (April 1993), a wealth or original art pages by Bagley Emberlin & Lyle and variant and 2nd print covers.

If you love the extended hyperbolic, continual conflict which is at the core of all Costumed Dramas, this non-stop battle bonanza is a grand way to spoil yourself. Logic and pacing are subsumed into one long, escalating struggle, and a working knowledge of the players is largely unnecessary to the raw, brutal clash of wills, ideologies and super-powers. One fair warning however: although handled with a degree of reserve and taste, this yarn has an appalling body count and scenes of torture that might upset younger fans of the Amazing Arachnid.
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