Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 17


By Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Archie Goodwin, Scott Edelman, Marv Wolfman, Ross Andru, Don Perlin, John Romita Jr., Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9186-5 (HB)

Peter Parker was a smart yet alienated kid when he was bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Developing astonishing arachnid abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the boy 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, the cocky teen didn’t lift a finger to stop him. When Parker returned home he learned that his beloved 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 he has tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them.

By the time of the tales in this 17th superbly scintillating full-colour hardcover compendium (and eBook) of web-spinning adventures the wondrous wallcrawler was a global figure and prime contender for the title of the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero. Spanning May 1976 to May 1977 and chronologically re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man#169-180 and Annual #11, plus a crossover story that began in Nova #12 (spanning cover-dates June 1977 to May 1978). The dramas are preceded by an appreciative appraisal from Len Wein in his Introduction before the action resumes with ‘Confrontation’ (by scripter Wein and illustrators Ross Andru & Mike Esposito), wherein obsessive personal gadfly J. Jonah Jameson accosts Peter Parker with photographic proof that confirms the lad is the hated wallcrawler. The evidence has been supplied by a mystery villain but even as our hero seemingly talks his way out of trouble, a new foe emerges in the corpulent form of evil psychologist Doctor Faustus who targets Spider-Man with drugs and illusions to prove ‘Madness is All in the Mind!’ (co-inked by Frank Giacoia)…

Next follows that aforementioned crossover…

The Man Called Nova was in fact a boy named Richard Rider. The new kid was a working-class teen nebbish in the tradition of Peter Parker – except he was good at sports and bad at learning – who attended Harry S. Truman High School, where his strict dad was the principal.

His mom worked as a police dispatcher and he had a younger brother, Robert, who was a bit of a genius.

Rider’s life changed forever when a colossal star-ship with a dying alien aboard bequeathed to the lad all the mighty powers of an extraterrestrial peacekeeper and warrior. Centurion Rhomann Dey had been tracking a deadly marauder to Earth. Zorr had already destroyed the warrior’s idyllic homeworld Xandar, but the severely wounded, vengeance-seeking Nova Prime was too near death and could not avenge the genocide.

Trusting to fate, Dey beamed his powers and abilities towards the planet below where Rich is struck by an energy bolt and plunged into a coma. On awakening, the boy realises he has gained awesome powers… and all the responsibilities of the last Nova Centurion…

Nova #12 (August 1977, by Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Giacoia) asks ‘Who is the Man Called Photon?’ by teaming the neophyte hero with the far-more experienced webslinger in a fair-play murder mystery, brimming with unsavoury characters and likely killers after Rich’s uncle Dr. Ralph Rider is killed by a costumed thief…

However, there are ploys within ploys occurring and, after the mandatory hero head-butting session, the kids join forces and the mystery is dramatically resolved in Amazing Spider-Man #171’s ‘Photon is Another Name For…?’ courtesy of Wein, Andru & Esposito.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #11 follows as ‘Spawn of the Spider’ (by Archie Goodwin & Bill Mantlo, Don Perlin & Jim Mooney) pits the wallcrawler against a deranged and disgruntled movie special effects man who creates a trio of bio-augmented arachnoid monsters to destroy the wallcrawler…

Brief back up ‘Chaos at the Coffee Bean!’ was written by Scott Edelman and inked by Al Milgrom and details how Peter and Mary Jane Watson are caught up in a hostage situation at their college bistro. It’s probably most noteworthy as the pencilling debut of future superstar creator John Romita Jr.

ASM #172 features ‘The Fiends from the Fire! (Wein, Andru & Giacoia) as Spidey trashes idiotic skateboarding super-thief Rocket Racer only to stumble into true opposition when old enemy Molten Man attacks, desperately seeking a way to stop himself evolving into a blazing post-human funeral pyre…

Mooney inked concluding chapter ‘If You Can’t Stand the Heat…!’ as a cure for the blazing villain proves ultimately ineffectual and personally tragic for Parker’s oldest friends, after which #174 declares ‘The Hitman’s Back in Town!’ (inks by Tony DeZuñiga & Mooney). This sees still relatively unknown vigilante FrankThe PunisherCastle hunting a costumed assassin hired to remove Jameson, but experiencing an unusual reticence since the killer is an old army pal who had saved his life in Vietnam.

Despite Spider-Man being outfought and out-thought in every clash, the tale resolves with the hero somehow triumphant, even though everything ends with a fatality in the Mooney-embellished conclusion ‘Big Apple Battleground!’ in #175.

The remainder of this volume is taken up with an extended epic that sees the return of Spider-Man’s most manic opponent. Illustrated by Andru & DeZuñiga, ‘He Who Laughs Last…!’ features the return of the Green Goblin, who targets Parker’s friends and family…

When the original villain – Norman Osborn – died, his son Harry lost his grip on sanity and became a new version, equally determined to destroy Spider-Man. On his defeat, Harry began therapy under the care of psychiatrist Bart Hamilton and seemed to be making a full recovery. Now both patient and doctor are missing…

The assaults on Parker’s inner circle increase in ‘Goblin in the Middle’ (Esposito inks) with the emerald psychopath expanding operations to challenge crime-boss Silvermane for control of New York’s rackets whilst in ‘Green Grows the Goblin!’ (inked by Mooney) and ‘The Goblin’s Always Greener!’ (Esposito) a devious plot and shocking twist lead to a near-death experience for Aunt May before an astonishing three-way Battle Royale ends the crisis in ‘Who Was That Goblin I Saw You With?’

Added extras this time around include Gil Kane & Giacoia’s front-&-back covers for Marvel Treasury Edition #14 (The Sensational Spider-Man), and its frontispiece by Andru; House ads for Spider-family titles and 1977 Annuals, plus the usual biography pages to complete another superb and crucial selection starring this timeless teen icon and superhero symbol.
© 1976, 1977, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 13


By Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, John Romita & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785150367 (HB)

In these days of an infinitude of fan-sites, publicity cycles and gleeful spoiler-mongers, it takes a lot to keep a shock-ending from the readership, but back in 1973 comics consumers had only word-of-mouth and the story itself. Thus, the lead story in this particular compilation totally staggered everybody when it was released, and within mere months of that, the on-fire creators would also introduce an antihero to shake up the entire comics industry…

Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead – of its fan-base, and this staggering 13th full-colour compilation of chronologically congregated Arachnoid Adventures sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero endure a second and life-altering failure: one that forever altered the tone and timbre of his existence even while continuing the steady climb to becoming a global household name…

After a rather nervous nativity, the wallcrawler became a certified sensation with kids of all ages. Before too long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera would become the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

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

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

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

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

Re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #121-131 – originally released between June 1973 and April 1974 – the culmination of a decade of suspense and intrigue began on ‘The Night Gwen Stacy Died’ (by Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, John Romita & Tony Mortellaro), the initial instalment of a two-part tale which gobsmacked fans as Peter’s greatest efforts proved insufficient to save his intended from the insane rage of a resurgent Green Goblin.

Ultimate nemesis Norman Osborn had recovered the lost memory of his evil alter ego after his son Harry fell back into drug abuse and, once restored to his malign potency, kidnapped Spider-Man’s girlfriend to force a final confrontation…

The tragic episode leads inexorably to ‘The Goblin’s Last Stand!’ one issue later and a grim and gritty new direction…

With Spider-Man accused of murdering Osborn and erroneously implicated in Gwen’s death, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson takes advantage of a new kind of metahuman champion in #123; engaging emergent Hero for Hire Luke Cage to bring the webspinner to justice in‘…Just a Man Called Cage!’

However, the clash only proves that the antagonists’ lives are more tragically similar than different and Marvel’s pre-eminent African American adventurer recuses from the case in a most distinctive manner…

As previously stated elsewhere, at this time horror was on the rise and the trend permeated all aspects of Marvel continuity. In #124, Jameson’s astronaut son John was revealed to have picked up a strange gem during a clandestine moonwalk which later transformed him into a lupine beast bearing ‘The Mark of the Man-Wolf!’

Deranged and deadly, the hairy horror stalks his own fiancée Kristine Saunders as well as his scandal-obsessed father, with a still-traumatised fighting-mad Spider-Man reacting in a far more brutal manner than ever before…

The conclusion marked the introduction of the next star penciller to the strip as Ross Andru joined Conway and Romita to delineate the end of the Man-Wolf saga in ‘Wolfhunt!’, offering a particularly grisly cure for the astrally-altered astronaut…

In #126 a new subplot bloomed as a marketing firm hired the astounded and unbelieving arachnid to build a “Spider-Mobile” (thanks in cold, hard fact to a budding toy-merchandising deal Marvel was currently negotiating) whilst an old and extremely inept enemy returned when ‘The Kangaroo Bounces Back!’ (illustrated by Andru and inked by Jim Mooney).

Short of cash and desperate, Spidey ropes in best frenemy Johnny (Human Torch) Storm to help assemble the anticipated automobile, but is totally unprepared for his Australian attacker since the Kangaroo has had a rapid and ultimately unwelcome power upgrade from a rogue and extremely deranged doctor named Jonas Harrow

And in the apartment Peter shares with Harry Osborn, the son of the Green Goblin finally succumbs to the mental illness that has been sucking him down since the death of dear old Dad…

Peter’s great friend and good time girl Mary Jane Watson comes under the spotlight in #127 as ‘The Dark Wings of Death!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt) finds her targeted by a strangely familiar monster who believes she witnessed his last kill. The mystery concludes in ‘The Vulture Hangs High!’ wherein an incredible truth about the avian atrocity is revealed…

Portents of future trouble manifest as Parker’s biology tutor Professor Miles Warren warns that the scholarship student’s grades are slipping and his position is far from secure…

Conway, Andru, Giacoia & Hunt then crafted a true landmark in comics history in Amazing Spider-Man #129 with ‘The Punisher Strikes Twice!’ which introduced not only the renegade gunslinger but also nefarious manic mastermind The Jackal.

Although one of the industry’s biggest hits from the late 1980s onwards, compulsive vengeance-taker Frank Castle was always an unlikely and uncomfortable star for comicbooks. His methods are always excessively violent and usually permanent. It’s intriguing to note that unlike most heroes who debuted as villains (Black Widow or Wolverine come to mind) the Punisher actually became more immoral, anti-social and murderous, not less: the buying public simply shifted its communal perspective; The Punisher never toned down or cleaned up his act…

He was created by Conway, Romita Sr. and Andru; an understandably toned down and muted response to popular prose anti-heroes like Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan: the Executioner: the cutting edge of a bloody tide of fictive Viet Nam vets who all turned their training and talents to wiping out organised crime in the early 1970s.

In this short, sharp shocker the man with the skull logo was duped by his manipulative partner into hunting Spider-Man. Still a suspect in the death of Norman Osborn, the hero was easy to frame for the murder of the Punisher’s personal gunmaker…

A long-running mystery over Aunt May’s connection to Doctor Otto Octavius is at last addressed in #130 as ‘Betrayed!’ finds up-&-coming ganglord Hammerhead prodded and provoked by the Jackal just as arch-rival Doctor Octopus resurfaces.

Distracted by the now-completed Spider-Mobile, the webslinger is slow to react until he finally discovers why his Aunt May Parker is so important to the villain, but by then she’s in the process of becoming Mrs. Otto Octavius…

Spiderman is just about to bust up the wedding in ‘My Uncle… My Enemy?’ when Hammerhead beats him to it. As the three-way battle escalates the truth comes out. May has inexplicably inherited a desolate Canadian island which just happens to be teeming with uranium deposits and its own Fast Breeder Atomic Reactor which both Ock and Hammerhead want to secure as the means to becoming an independent nuclear power…

When the rivals furiously clash it is all Peter can do to get May out before the entire place becomes an atomic inferno…

Supplemented by a series of Annual and compilation covers, House ads, original design sketches, and unpublished and lost pages of Kane and Romita artwork, this book also includes a fascinating Introduction ‘Turning Point’ – by original author Gerry Conway – describing the thinking behind the groundbreaking storyline, offering context and revealing who was originally slated to bite the bullet.

This action-packed collection comprises one of the most momentous periods in Spider-Man’s astounding life and is one every Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatic should see…
© 1973, 1974, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Original Sin


By Jason Aaron, Mike Deodato Jr., Frank Martin & many and various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-632-8

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

Once upon a time massive crossover events starring an entire company’s pantheon of superstars were rare and eagerly anticipated occurrences. These days, however, it seems costumed champions and aggregated universe-savers stagger from one catastrophic crisis to the next with barely time to wipe their boots or iron their capes.

Still, it’s hard to complain when the results are as gripping and controversial as Original Sin

Spanning April to August 2014, this chunky volume collects miniseries Original Sin #0-8 and the 5-issue follow-up anthology Original Sins, taking a good, hard look at the dark underbelly of the Marvel Universe, removing a number of major characters and laying the groundwork for more shocking revelations in the months to come…

The main event is written by Jason Aaron, with Mike Deodato Jr. illustrating and Frank Martin providing the colours, but before that all unfolds issue #0 cunningly provides invaluable background with artists Jim Cheung, Paco Medina, David Meikis, Mark Morales, Guillermo Ortego, Juan Vlasco and Justin Ponsor setting all the plates spinning in ‘Who is the Watcher?

Sam Alexander is still just a kid but he’s also the newest Nova of the alien peacekeeping force pledged to policing the universe. He’s inherited the role from his dad, a drunken deadbeat the boy had always believed to be a delusional fantasist.

Now the boy spends his days on the moon, trying to befriend the austere and aloof cosmic voyeur Uatu the Watcher, an impossibly powerful, immortal being who views all that occurs throughout the vast multiverse but never acts on any of it…

As a tenuous relationship develops Sam learns the tragic origin of the Watcher race’s sacred vow of non-interference and gleans another secret: his long-vanished father is not dead…

The shocks come thick and fast in this thriller which is more murder mystery than celestial Armageddon scenario so I’m attempting to reveal enough to tempt without giving anything away…

In ‘No One is Watching’, a quiet dinner for Wolverine, Captain America, Black Widow and super spy Nick Fury (the original WWII one, not the son who’s currently appearing in all those movies) is interrupted by an ominous phone call. Thor is on the Moon and has found The Watcher murdered…

Rapidly relocating to Luna the heroes see that the all-powerful celestial has not only been shot in the head but cruelly mutilated. His huge, all-seeing eyes are missing. Moreover his fantastic citadel has been demolished and the incredible storehouse of artefacts and weaponry from across the universe pillaged.

Grizzled veteran Fury points out that the limited number of people who even knew about the cosmic observer, let alone possessed the power to harm him, means the suspect pool must necessarily include not only villains but heroes too…

Meanwhile in the great Necropolis of Wakanda, the Black Panther is being updated by a shadowy figure calling itself The Unseen. The nebulous source also emphasises that in the days to come, with the kind of technologies the killer now possesses, nobody can be trusted, urging former King T’Challa to lead a distinctly offbeat team in a clandestine parallel investigation of the cosmic assassination…

Soon mystic master Dr. Strange, current Ant-Man – and former criminal – Scott Lang, Winter Soldier “Bucky” Barnes, telepathic X-Man Emma Frost, “deadliest woman in the galaxy” Gamora, former CIA spook and mercenary Moon Knight and wanted mass-murderer FrankThe PunisherCastle are following up leads somehow not available to Fury and the Avengers, even as on Earth The Thing battles a monster which might be connected to the crime…

The creature is a Mindless One from Dormammu’s Dark Dimension but this particular destructive horror now has a personality and even telepathic powers. It also wants to die and even with Spider-Man’s aid Ben Grimm is unable to stop it committing suicide using the Ultimate Nullifier which used to belong to Uatu…

By the time Fury and the Avengers arrive all that’s left is a scene of devastation, and the retired super spy officially takes over the investigation of what is now clearly a much bigger and growing problem…

Splitting up, the secret searchers travel to vastly differing locations in ‘Bomb Full of Secrets’ with the Panther, Frost and Ant-Man heading to the under-Earth kingdoms and uncovering a vast graveyard of monsters, whilst Castle and Strange voyage to a mystic realm where a magical leviathan has been killed by a incredibly large bore gamma bullet…

On Earth Fury has captured another rampaging No-Longer-Mindless One and is on the trail of the unlikely culprits who have brought the eldritch berserkers to Earth. Dr. Midas, his daughter Exterminatrix and The Orb were never A-List villains – or even contenders – but with one of Uatu’s eyes in their possession not only do they have access to everything the Watcher ever saw but the actual organ also mutates and transforms anything in its proximity into immensely powerful things never meant to be…

When a full team of Avengers raid the bad guys’ New York lair, a cataclysmic struggle ensues which ends as the Orb unleashes all the stored knowledge within the eye. In an instant, heroes, villains and innocent bystanders alike are engulfed in a wave of uncomfortable answers as every hidden detail of trillions of lives seen by Uatu for millions of years is randomly released and psychically downloaded like a ‘Bomb Full of Secrets’ into the mindscape of the world…

In the aftermath ‘Trust No One, Not Even Yourself’ sees the city reeling with the shock of uncounted disclosures – from stolen snacks to secret affairs to murders all coming to light – whilst at the centre of the Earth Ant-Man has finished recovering hundreds of gamma-bullets from the unending field of monster corpses.

In deep space Gamora, Winter Soldier and Moon Knight have followed their trail to a dead world. It takes a subtle shift of perspective and a sneaking suspicion to confirm that they are standing on a colossal, once-living planet-sized organism riddled with gamma-bullets…

The frustrated spacefarers chafe at the lead which has resulted in a dead end, but everything changes as Winter Soldier suddenly teleports out, blowing their ship up as he leaves. The Unseen’s covert investigators now have their first solid suspect…

On Earth Fury is pondering upon who might have Uatu’s other eye when Winter Soldier beams in and kills him…

‘Secret Warriors’ then focuses on growing divisions as Punisher and Dr. Strange steal Fury’s body whilst Barnes, holding the eye taken from his most recent victim, heads to the Watcher’s shattered lunar home before beaming into a hidden satellite.

His infiltration of the stellar fortress coincides with the arrival of his understandably aggrieved former associates and another brawl breaks out. The carnage is only curtailed when The Unseen appears…

It is a trusted ally who has been playing them all from the start…

The betrayer then recounts ‘The Secret History of Colonel Nicholas J. Fury’, disclosing how half a century ago a man named Woody McCord died battling an alien invasion, one of hundreds the hidden hero had stopped without the world even suspecting.

With the covert assistance of millionaire industrialist Howard Stark and his shadowy cabal, the replacement had become a “Man in the Wall”, spending all his days killing monsters, repelling demons and despatching extraterrestrial threats to mankind.

But with his death another – still relatively clean and idealistic – soul had to step in and continue doing all the unavoidable dirty jobs proper superheroes would baulk at.

This was achieved with no one the wiser whilst keeping up appearances in the “day job” as a shiny, bright public champion…

With clearly nothing as it seems, ‘Open Your Eye’ reveals how Dr. Midas, the Orb and Exterminatrix attacked Uatu, taking his eye. In the now The Watcher-mutated Orb demands the traitor tell the rest of the truth.

The second Man in the Wall is now dying too and convened the Panther’s investigation team to ferret out a suitable replacement ready to defend Earth with absolute resolution, deadly gamma bullets and no remorse…

As the failing warrior explains the true circumstances of Uatu’s death in ‘Nick Fury Vs. the World’ the possessor of the Watcher’s other – until now missing – eye is shockingly exposed and the fighting resumes. With Midas making one final push for ultimate power, the mess gets even messier as the Avengers, having pursued their own lines of enquiry, bust in and a frantic free-for-all begins…

With all the secrets laid bare and an event of cosmic importance clearly occurring a group of other Watchers materialise – and does nothing – as the Man in the Wall clashes with Earth’s champions; citing morality and expediency until Midas’ final gambit interrupts everything and already-transformed Orb steals the other eye, triggering a devastating detonation. When the dust settles a transmogrified Orb is loose to roam the Earth, a third Man in the Wall takes up the gamma-gun and waits for the next invasion and a newly transformed figure haunts the Moon as ‘The One Who Watches’

The miniseries generated 44 tie-in issues scattered through 14 other titles, but this compilation skips right to the end, to spotlighting a number of quirky vignettes from Original Sins #1-5, focusing on the fallout from the wave of secrets which were released to blanket the world after The Orb triggered Uatu’s eye.

Eschewing strict chronology for comprehension the exposures begin with all five chapters of Young Avengers serial ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ (by Ryan North, Ramon Villalobos & Jordan Gibson) which sees Hulkling, Marvel Boy and Prodigy attempt a different way of dealing with demon-possessed felon The Hood.

The skeevy rat wants to extract all the knowledge forcibly inserted into the heads of an entire building full of recreational drug-takers who were all high when the “Secrets Bomb” went off… not for himself, of course, but because the data is basting the minds of the already brain-fried kids and killing them.

Happily complying with such a selfless request, the Young Avengers seem to have forgotten one basic fact: demon-possessed felons have secret agendas and often lie…

Following swiftly on, ‘Terminus’ (Nathan Edmondson, Mike Perkins & Andy Troy) finds S.H.I.EL.D. agent Seth Horn pressing commuter Henry Hayes on his other identity as cyborg assassin Deathlok.

The psychic fact-insertions might have pushed incontrovertible truths into people’s heads but it did nothing to augment common sense or self-preservation…

That is also apparent in ‘Black Legacy’ (Frank Tieri, Raffaele Ienco & Brad Anderson) as writer Rebecca Stevens stalks Dane Whitman and challenges him with the bleak history of the curse of the Ebony Blade – a fearsome plight the traumatised Black Knight is already agonisingly aware of…

‘Whispers of War’ (Charles Soule, Ryan Brown & Edgar Delgado) finds newly Terrigen-enhanced (see Inhumanity) Lineage suddenly party to the true story of King Black Bolt’s greatest mistake and thus apprised of a fresh and now unavoidable conflict with the star-spanning Kree in the offing, whilst ‘Checkmate’ (James Robinson, Alex Maleev & Chris Peter) proves to ambitious businessman Gil Carmichael that insider information isn’t everything when the exposed secrets are Dr. Doom’s…

Nick Fury then callously reveals to lifelong comrade Dum Dum Dugan ‘How the World Works’ (Al Ewing. Butch Guice, Scott Hanna & Matthew Wilson) after which the funnier side of secrets comes to the fore in ‘Lockjaw: Buried Memory’ (Stuart Moore, Rick Geary & Ive Svorcina), Howard the Duck learns his place in ‘Before Your Eyes’ (Ty Templeton & Paul Mounts) and a Daily Bugle archivist uncovers the wrong review of Spider-Man’s early showbiz career in ‘Bury the Lead’ (Dan Slott, Mark Bagley, Joe Rubinstein & Mounts).

The glimpses into minds’ eyes ends with ‘Catharsis’ (David Abadta, Pablo Dura & Erica Henderson) as an anonymous Inuit flashes back to a distant moment in the arctic with a star spangled ice-cube before the whole shebang concludes with an outrageous and hilarious sequence of false memories starring Marvel’s biggest stars in ‘The No-Sin Situation’ by Chip Zdarsky…

With 43 covers-&-variants by Cheung, Ponsor, Julian Totino Tedesco, Mark Brooks, Paulo Manuel Rivera, Skottie Young, Art Adams, Zdarsky, Steve McNiven, Agustin Alessio, Gabriele Dell’Otto, Stephanie Hans, Guice, Marco Checchetto, Paul Renaud, Mike McKone & Jeun-Siik Ahn, this is a stunning and sensational saga that will delight any Fights ‘n’ Tights fan with a passing knowledge of Marvel history and comes fully loaded with digital extras accessible via the AR icon sections (Marvel Augmented Reality App) which give access to story bonuses if you download the free code from marvel.com onto your smartphone or Android-enabled tablet.

™ & © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Daredevil and the Punisher: Child’s Play


By Frank Miller & Klaus Janson (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-087135-351-1

Here’s another slim, sleek and sublimely enticing lost treasure from the early days of graphic novel compilations that will undoubtedly enthral fans of hard-bitten, high-calibre Fights ‘n’ Tights fracas.

Released in 1988, this full-colour 64-page compendium collected three unforgettable issues of Daredevil (#182-184 from May-July 1982) which perfectly encapsulated everything that made the first Frank Miller run such a momentous, unmissable, “must-read” series…

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. He fought gangsters, a variety of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion. He quipped and wise-cracked his way through life and life-threatening combat, but under the auspices of Jim Shooter, Roger McKenzie and finally Miller himself, the character transformed into a dark, moody avenger and grim, quasi-religious metaphor of justice and retribution…

Frank Castle saw his family gunned down in Central Park after witnessing a mob hit and thereafter dedicated his life to eradicating criminals everywhere. His methods are violent and permanent. It’s intriguing to note that unlike most heroes who debuted as villains (Wolverine comes to mind) the Punisher actually became more immoral, anti-social and murderous, not less: the buying public shifted its communal perspective – Castle never toned down or cleaned up his act nor did his moral compass ever deviate…

The story goes that Marvel were reluctant to give The Punisher a starring vehicle in their standard colour comic-book line, feeling the character’s very nature made him a bad guy and not a good one.

Debuting as a deluded villain in Amazing Spider-Man #129 (February 1974), Castle was created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. & Ross Andru, in response to popular prose anti-heroes such as Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan: the Executioner and at of other returning Viet Nam vets who all turned their training and talents to wiping out organised crime.

Maybe that genre’s due for a revival as sandy GI boots hit US soil in the months to come…?

The crazed crime-crusher had previously starred in Marvel Preview #2 (1975) and Marvel Super Action #1 (1976) but as these were both black-and-white magazines aimed at a far more mature audience: however in the early 1980s a number of high profile guest-shots: Captain America #241, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 (covered recently in Sensational Spider-Man) and the extended epic here, convinced the Powers-That-Be to finally risk a miniseries on the maniac vigilante (see The Punisher by Steven Grant & Mike Zeck. You all know where that led…

In this collection, a reeling Matt Murdock is trying to cope with the murder of his first love Elektra when ‘Child’s Play’ sees Castle clandestinely removed from prison by a government spook to stop a shipment of drugs the authorities can’t touch.

Once he’s killed the gangsters, however, The Punisher refuses to go back to jail…

This story, concerning school kids using drugs, was begun by McKenzie & Miller but shelved for a year, before being reworked into a stunningly powerful and unsettling tale once Miller and Klaus Janson assumed the full creative chores on the title. When Matt Murdock visits a High School he is a helpless witness as a little girl goes berserk, attacking staff and pupils before throwing herself out of a third floor window.

She was high on Angel Dust and as the appalled hero vows to track down the dealers he encounters her bereaved and distraught younger brother Billy, determined to exact his own vengeance and later the coldly calculating Castle who has the same idea and far more experience…

The hunt leads inexorably to a certain street pusher and DD, Billy and the Punisher all find their target at the same time. After a spectacular battle the thoroughly beaten Daredevil has only a bullet-ridden corpse and Billy with a smoking gun…

The kid is innocent – and so, this time at least, is Castle – and after Murdock proves it in court, the investigation resumes with the focus falling on the pusher’s boss Hogman. When DD’s super-hearing confirms the gangster’s claims of innocence his alter-ego Murdock then successfully defends the vile dealer, only to have the exonerated slime-ball gloatingly admit to having committed the murder after all…

Horrified, shocked, betrayed and determined to enforce justice, DD finds a connection to a highly-placed member of the school faculty deeply involved with Hogman in the concluding ‘Good Guys Wear Red’ but far too late: Castle and Billy have both decided the end the matter Hogman’s way…

Tough, disturbing, beautiful and chillingly plausible, this epic encounter redefined both sides of the heroic coin for a decade to come and remains one  of the most impressive stories in both character’s canons.

With creator biographies and commentaries from Ralph Macchio, Mike Baron and Anne Nocenti this oft re-printed tale (in 2000 it was repackaged and released with a new cover as The Punisher vs. Daredevil) marks a genuine highpoint in the serried careers of both horrifically human heroes and is well worth tracking down.
© 1988 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sensational Spider-Man


By Dennis O’Neil, Frank Millar, Klaus Janson, Tom Palmer, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-87135-514-0

Here’s a masterfully moody little lost snippet of full-on Marvel Madness from the early days of graphic novel compilations that might amuse and will certainly delight all-out aficionados and neophyte Spidey fans alike.

Released in 1989, but still readily available and affordable, this full-colour 80 page compendium collects two supremely impressive Amazing Spider-Man Annuals (#s 14 and 15) by veteran scripter Dennis O’Neil and then rising star Frank Miller, yet still finds room for a classy classic from the Astounding Arachnid’s earliest days (Amazing Spider-Man #8) by Marvel’s triumvirate of top creators.

Inexplicably the action starts with Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 (1981) with Klaus Janson inking ‘Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?’ wherein maniac vigilante Frank Castle (five years before the Steven Grant/Mike Zeck miniseries catapulted him to anti-heroic superstardom in The Punisher) returns to the Big Apple and becomes embroiled in a deadly scheme by Doctor Octopus to poison five million New Yorkers.

It’s not long before both Peter Parker and his colourful alter-ego are caught in the middle of a terrifying battle of ruthless wills in this tense and clever suspense thriller, which perfectly recaptures the moody mastery of Steve Ditko’s heydays.

Next up is the previous year’s summer offering: a frantic magical mystery masterpiece wherein Doctor Doom and extra-dimensional dark god Dread Dormammu attempt to unmake Reality by invoking the Arcane Armageddon of The Bend Sinister.

‘Vishanti’, inked by Tom Palmer, sees an unsuspecting dupe capture Doctor Strange for the malevolent masterminds and nearly unleash cosmic hell with only the Amazing Spider-Man left to literally save the world; a fascinating magic and mayhem romp that once more deeply references and reverences the glory days of Ditko, particularly ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange!’, the legendary team-up of web-spinner and wizard from Spidey’s second annual.

As if that brace of brilliant yarns was not enough high-quality comic excitement, this slim tome also includes ‘Spiderman Tackles the Torch!’, a masterful, light-hearted 6-page vignette written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Ditko wherein a younger, boisterous and far more carefree wall-crawler gate-crashed a beach party thrown by the flaming hero’s girlfriend, leading to a clash with the entire Fantastic Four with explosive and thoroughly entrancing consequences.

The most enduring and effective component of Spider-Man’s success was always the soap opera continuity element, but this rare collection of stand-alone stories perfectly demonstrates the character’s other star properties: sharp humour, heroic ingenuity, incredible action and beguiling empathy with the readership.

Sensational Spider-Man is one of the best individual collections of the hero ever assembled and makes a perfect primer for anyone looking to discover the magic for the first time.
© 1988 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Shadowland


By Andy Diggle, Billy Tan, Matt Banning & Victor Olazaba (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-473-7

It’s not often that perennial publishers’ favourite tool the braided mega-crossover throws up a segment that can be read truly independently of its multifarious spin-offs but Marvel seem to have accomplished that in the core miniseries which forms the backbone of the 2010 event Shadowland; a dark, moody and deliciously down-to-earth thriller headlining the companies less-cosmic, street-level heroes and villains…

Written by the always excellent Andy Diggle and illustrated by Billy Tan, with inking contribution from Matt Banning & Victor Olazaba and covers by John Cassaday, the five issue miniseries collected here originally ran from September 2010 to the beginning of 2011 and the repercussions of that tale are still ongoing.

After psychotic mass-murderer Bullseye killed 107 people by blowing up a building in the Hell’s Kitchen slum of New York City, guilt-wracked urban avenger Daredevil embraced a new tactic in his war on Evil and took control of The Hand, an 800 year old ninja cult which had previously battled against a number of heroes including Wolverine, the Avengers, X-Men and DD himself.

Erecting a colossal medieval castle on the site of the demolished edifice DD tasked his now-loyal warriors with keeping the streets safe at all costs. The area quickly became a no-go zone, shunned by the police and abandoned by criminals. The scumbags that didn’t leave soon disappeared…

At first Daredevil’s old friends make excuses for him but it soon becomes apparent that something is not right about the Man Without Fear, especially after the hero kills Bullseye in pitched battle…

Meanwhile in the background, Wilson Fisk, one-time Kingpin of New York, knows more than he’s telling and is subtly shaping events to his own ends. When New York inexplicably explodes in panic, unrest and rioting a heartsick band of Daredevil’s friends realise they must end his reign of remorseless “Justice” whatever the cost…

Guest-starring practically everybody but with feature roles for Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, White Tiger, Moon Knight, Colleen Wing & Misty Knight, the Punisher, Shang Chi – Master of Kung Fu, Ghost Rider, Wolverine and Elektra this is a non-stop rocket-ride of action and suspense, seamlessly blending black magic with urban vigilante tropes and tactics as the warriors of virtue battle unimaginable perils and the sinister machinations of more than one hidden mastermind to save their city and, if possible, the soul of Matt Murdock, Man Without Pity…

There is of course far more to the saga than appears here – and if you want the full story you’ll need to see Daredevil #508-512, Thunderbolts #148-149; Shadowland miniseries Blood on the Streets, Power Man, Moon Knight and Daughters of the Shadow plus the dedicated one-shots Shadowland: Spider-Man, Shadowland: Elektra, Shadowland: Bullseye and Shadowland: Ghost Rider. Conversely, you could await the full epic in graphic novel collections…

However should this striking tome be the only portion you want to read you won’t spend any time wondering what the heck is going on between pages and panels and you will experience the heady satisfaction of a great yarn well-told and beautifully executed.

™ & © 2010, 2011 Marvel Entertainment LCC and its subsidiaries. All rights reserved. A British edition released by Panini UK Ltd.

Amazing Spider-Man: Crime and Punisher


By Marc Guggenheim, Joe Kelly, Barry Kitson, Chris Bachalo & various (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5417-6

Although a little disingenuous and rather disjointed for my tastes Crime and Punisher is a splendid slice of spidery superhero shenanigans that proves the modern Wall-Crawler still has a broad reach and plot-themes to suit many moods and occasions.

First off ignore the term “Crime” as the very best part of this collection (comprising Amazing Spider-Man #474-577, and portions of Spider-Man: Brand New Day -Extra!! #1) is a poignant and moving human interest tale with oldest friend Flash Thompson reaching a huge and shocking turning point in his life after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq.

Written by Marc Guggenheim, illustrated by Barry Kitson & Mark Farmer, this low-key tale of inspiration and ordinary heroism is a genuinely moving tribute to soldiers and one of the best Spidey tales of the last twenty years, but it is light-years away from the dark and frenetic retooling of the strictly B-List villain that follows.

‘Death of a Wise Guy’ by Joe Kelly, Chris Bachalo & Tim Townsend (from Spider-Man: Brand New Day -Extra!! #1) tells the secret history of the screen-gangster obsessed young Mafioso who became the brain-damaged cyborg Hammerhead and how his painful rehabilitation and rebuilding under the aegis of new criminal mastermind Mister Negative elevates a clownish super-thug to the top of the villain heap…

When the Spider-Man continuity was drastically and controversially altered at the end of the “One More Day” publishing event a refreshed, now single-and-never-been-married Peter Parker was parachuted into a new life, so if this is your first Web-spinning yarn in a while or if you’re drawing your cues from the movies be prepared to be a little confused.

Therefore this tale from the follow-up “Brand New Day” event sees Parker, a photographer for independent newspaper Front Line stumbling on Negative and Hammerhead’s scheme to consolidate the street gangs into a vast army of boy-soldiers, in ‘Family Ties’ (Amazing Spider-Man #475-6, with additional inks from Jaime Mendoza & Al Vey), a brooding, brutally epic clash wherein Parker puts his life on the line to save Gangsta kids from the Cyborg’s join-or-die recruitment campaign. Kelly’s signature wild comedy perfectly counterpoints the savage battles and highlights the quantum leap in malice the new Hammerhead is capable of…

The book ends with Punisher reluctantly and spectacularly reuniting with Spider-Man to stop their mutual old foe Moses Magnum, a ruthless arms-merchant who has found a way to weaponise Gamma radiation: giving any buyer a serum that producers berserker incredible Hulks to order…

‘Old Hunting Buddies’ (Amazing Spider-Man #477) parts 1 and 2 are written by Zeb Wells, drawn by Paolo Rivera and coloured by Javier Rodriguez & Dean White, with Kelly Kitson & Farmer’s ‘A Bookie Minute Mystery’ bisecting the saga. This last is a cheery little interlude that touches base with J. Jonah Jameson, recovering from heart-surgery and already making plans for his inevitable return…

Fast-paced, bold and extremely engrossing the quality of the individual tales is undeniable, but like an old time Vaudeville Show there’s a marked lack of cohesion, a start instead of a beginning and a close but no ending. Pretty even if lacking in context, it would be a shame if these stories were missed or passed over, so any Fights ‘n’ Tights fan should really give this book a look if they haven’t already…

© 2008, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.