Marvel Two-in-One Marvel Masterworks volume 2

By Bill Mantlo, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Roger Slifer, Marv Wolfman, Scott Edelman, Tony Isabella, Ron Wilson, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, Herb Trimpe, Arvell Jones, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0352-7 (HB)

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

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

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

After the runaway success of Spider-Man’s collaborations in Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas reinforced the trend with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic member – beginning with two test runs in Marvel Feature before graduating to its own somewhat over-elaborate title Marvel Two-In-One. After a stunning experimental first ten issues, the title settled into a comfortable and entertaining format designed to draw in casual browsers as well as dedicated fans by featuring characters from far and wide across the MU…

This second compelling compendium – available in sturdy hardback and instantly-accessible digital formats – gathers the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #11-20, Annual #1, Marvel Team-Up #47 and Fantastic Four Annual #11, cumulatively covering the period September 1975 to October 1976, and kicks off with a fond remembrance by occasional scripter Roy Thomas in his Introduction before the action recommences…

During this period, this team-up title became a kind of clearing house for cancelled series and uncompleted storylines. Supernatural series The Golem had run ran in Strange Tales #174, 176 & 177 (June-December 1974) before being summarily replaced mid-story by Adam Warlock, and MTIO #11 provided plotter Thomas, scripter Bill Mantlo and artists Brown & Jack Abel the opportunity to offer some spectacular closure when ‘The Thing Goes South!’

This resulted in stony bloke and animated statue – after the traditional misapprehensions and mistaken brawl between good guys – finally combining forces to crush the insidious plot of demonic wizard Kaballa

Ron Wilson began his lengthy association with the series and the Thing in #12 as Iron Man and Ben tackle out of control, mystically-empowered ancient Crusader Prester John in ‘The Stalker in the Sands!’: a blistering desert storm written by Mantlo with inks from Vince Colletta, after which Luke Cage, Power Man pops in to help stop a giant monster in ‘I Created Braggadoom!, the Mountain that Walked like a Man!’ – an unabashed homage to Marvel’s anthological blockbuster beasties, scripted by Roger Slifer & Len Wein – after which Mantlo, Trimpe & John Tartaglione deliver a spooky encounter with spectres and demons in #14’s ‘Ghost Town!’ This moody mystical mission of mercy is shared with exorcist Daimon Hellstrom, The Son of Satan and leaves Ben rattled for months to come…

Mantlo, Arvell Jones & Dick Giordano brought on ‘The Return of the Living Eraser!’: a dimension-hopping invasion yarn introducing Ben to Morbius, the Living Vampire, before a canny crossover epic begins with the Thing and Ka-Zar plunging ‘Into the Savage Land!’ to dally with dinosaurs and defeat resource plunderers.

The action then switches to New York as Spider-Man joins the party in MTIO #17 to combat ‘This City… Afire!’ (Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Esposito) after mutated madman Basilisk transports an active volcano from Antarctica to the Hudson River, with the cataclysmic conclusion (from Marvel Team-Up #47) following, wherein Mantlo, Wilson & Dan Adkins have our heroes finish off the furore and save the day in fine style with ‘I Have to Fight the Basilisk!’

Another short-changed supernatural serial is laid to rest in MTIO #18. ‘Dark, Dark Demon-Night!’ – Mantlo, Scott Edelman, Wilson, Jim Mooney & Adkins – sees enigmatic mystical watchdog The Scarecrow escape from its painted prison to foil a demonic invasion with the reluctant assistance of the Thing, after which Tigra the Were-Woman slinks into Ben’s life to vamp a favour and crush a sinister scheme by a rogue cat creature in ‘Claws of the Cougar!’ by Mantlo, Sal Buscema, & Don Heck.

That yarn segued directly into Fantastic Four Annual #11 which featured portentous time-travel saga ‘And Now Then… the Invaders!’ by Thomas, John Buscema & Sam Grainger, wherein Marvel’s First Family dash back to 1942 to retrieve a cylinder of miracle-metal Vibranium. It had somehow fallen into Nazi hands and had begun to unwrite history as a consequence…

On arrival, the team are embroiled in conflict with WWII super-team the Invaders, comprising early incarnations of Captain America, Sub-Mariner and the original, android Human Torch. The time-busting task goes well once the heroes finally unite to assault a Nazi castle where the Vibranium is held, but after the quartet return to their own repaired era, only Ben realises the mission isn’t completed yet…

The action continues in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1 as, with the present unravelling around him, Ben blasts back to 1942 in ‘Their Name is Legion!’ (Thomas, Sal Buscema, Grainger, Tartaglione & George Roussos), to link up with Home Front Heroes The Liberty Legion (collectively The Patriot, Thin Man, Red Raven, Jack Frost, Blue Diamond, Miss America and the Whizzer) in thwarting Nazi raiders Skyshark and Master Man, Japanese agent Slicer and Atlantean traitor U-Man’s invasion of America. The battle proved so big it spilled over and concluded in Marvel Two-In-One #20 (October 1976) in a shattering ‘Showdown at Sea!’: pitting the heroes against diabolical Nazi scientist Brain Drain, courtesy this time of Thomas, Sal B & Grainger.

That yarn ends the narrative thrills and chills for now, but there’s still room for a brief gallery of original art by Sal Buscema and Jack Kirby to delight and astound.

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

Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s still buckets of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so why not to add this colossal comics chronicle to your straining superhero bookshelves?
© 1975, 1976, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spidey volume 2: After-School Special


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers Epic Collection volume 1 1963-1965: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Larry Ivie, Don Heck, Dick Ayers & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8864-3(TPB)

After a period of meteoric expansion, in 1963 the burgeoning Marvel Universe was finally ready to emulate the successful DC concept that had cemented the legitimacy of the Silver Age of American comics.

The concept of putting a bunch of all-star eggs in one basket which had made the Justice League of America such a winner also inspired the moribund Atlas outfit – primarily Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko – into inventing “super-characters” of their own. The result – in 1961 – was the Fantastic Four.

Nearly 18 months later, the fledgling House of Ideas had generated a small but viable stable of costumed leading men (but only sidekick women) so Lee & Kirby assembled a handful of them and moulded them into a force for justice and soaring sales…

Seldom has it ever been done with such style and sheer exuberance. Cover dated September 1963, The Avengers #1 launched as part of an expansion package which also included Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos and The X-Men

Marvel’s Epic Collections – available in trade paperback and digital formats – are only one of many archival series faithfully compiling those groundbreaking tales and this premier volume gathers #1-20 of The Avengers (spanning March 1963 to September 1965) is a sequence no lover of superhero stories can do without…

The suspenseful action kicks off with ‘The Coming of the Avengers!’: Instead of starting at a neutral beginning Stan & Jack (plus inker Dick Ayers) presumed buyers had a passing familiarity with Marvel’s other heroes and so wasted very little time or space on introductions.

In Asgard, immortal trickster Loki is imprisoned on a dank isle, hungry for vengeance on his noble half-brother Thor. Whilst malevolently observing Earth, the god of evil espies the monstrous, misunderstood Hulk and mystically engineers a situation wherein the man-brute seemingly goes on a rampage, simply to trick the Thunder God into battling the monster.

When the Hulk’s teen sidekick Rick Jones radios the FF for assistance, devious Loki scrambles and diverts the transmission and smugly awaits the blossoming of his mischief. Sadly for the schemer, Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp also pick up the redirected SOS. As the heroes all converge in the American Southwest to search for the Jade Giant, they realise that something is oddly amiss…

This terse, epic, compelling and wide-ranging yarn (New York, New Mexico, Detroit and Asgard in 22 pages) is Lee & Kirby at their bombastic best, and remains one of the greatest stories of the Silver Age (it’s certainly high in my own top ten Marvel Tales) and is followed by ‘The Space Phantom’ (Lee, Kirby & Paul Reinman), wherein an alien shape-stealer almost destroys the team from within.

With latent animosities exposed by the malignant masquerader, the tale ends with the volatile Hulk quitting the team in disgust, only to return in #3 as an outright villain in partnership with ‘Sub-Mariner!’ This globe-trotting romp delivers high-energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history as the assorted titans clash in abandoned World War II tunnels beneath the Rock of Gibraltar.

Inked by George Roussos, Avengers #4 was a groundbreaking landmark as Marvel’s greatest Golden Age sensation returns for another increasingly war-torn era. ‘Captain America joins the Avengers!’ has everything that made the company’s early tales so fresh and vital. The majesty of a legendary warrior returned in our time of greatest need: stark tragedy in the loss of his boon companion Bucky, aliens, gangsters, Sub-Mariner and even subtle social commentary and – naturally – vast amounts of staggering Kirby Action. It even begins with a cunning infomercial as Iron Man unsuccessfully requests the assistance of the company’s other fresh young stars, giving readers a taste of the other mighty Marvels on offer to them…

Reinman returned to ink ‘The Invasion of the Lava Men!’: another staggering adventure romp as the team battle incendiary subterraneans and a world-threatening mutating mountain… with the unwilling assistance of the ever-incredible Hulk…

However, even that pales before the supreme shift in artistic quality that is Avengers #6.

Chic Stone – arguably Kirby’s best Marvel inker of the period – joined the creative team just as a classic arch-foe debuts. ‘The Masters of Evil!’ reveals how Nazi super-scientist Baron Zemo is forced by his own arrogance and paranoia to emerge from the South American jungles he’s been skulking in since the Third Reich fell, after learning his despised nemesis Captain America has returned from the dead.

To this end, the ruthless war-criminal recruits a gang of previously established super-villains to attack New York City and destroy the Avengers. The unforgettable clash between valiant heroes and the vile murdering mercenaries Radioactive Man, Black Knight and the Melter is an unsurpassed example of prime Marvel magic to this day.

Issue #7 followed up with two more malevolent recruits for the Masters of Evil as Asgardian outcasts Enchantress and the Executioner ally with Zemo, just as Iron Man is suspended from the team due to misconduct occurring in his own series. This was the dawning of the close-continuity era where events in one series were regularly referenced and even built upon in others. The practise would quickly become a rod for the creators’ own backs and lead to a radical rethink…

It may have been ‘Their Darkest Hour!’, but #8 delivered the team’s greatest triumph and tragedy as Jack Kirby (inked with fitting circularity by Dick Ayers) relinquished his drawing role with the superbly entrancing invasion-from-time thriller which introduced ‘Kang the Conqueror!’ Riffing on the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, the tale sees an impossible powerful foe defeated by the cunning of ordinary teenagers and the indomitable spirit of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes…

Whenever Jack Kirby left a title he’d co-created, it took a little while to settle into a new rhythm, and none more so than with these collectivised costumed crusaders. Although Lee and the fabulously utilitarian Don Heck were perfectly capable of producing cracking comics entertainments, they never had The King’s unceasing sense of panoramic scope and scale which constantly sought bigger, bolder blasts of excitement.

The Avengers evolved into an entirely different series when the subtle humanity of Heck’s vision replaced Kirby’s larger-than-life bombastic bravura. The series had rapidly advanced to monthly circulation and even The King could not draw the massive number of pages his expanding workload demanded. Heck was a gifted and trusted artist with a formidable record for meeting deadlines and, progressing under his pencil, sub-plots and character interplay finally got as much space as action and spectacle. After Kirby, the stories increasingly focused on scene-stealing newcomer Captain America: concentrating on frail human beings in costumes, rather than wild modern gods and technological titans bestriding and shaking the Earth…

Inked by Ayers, Heck’s first outing was memorable tragedy ‘The Coming of the Wonder Man!’ wherein the Masters of Evil plant superhuman Trojan Horse Simon Williams within the heroes’ ranks, only to have the conflicted infiltrator find deathbed redemption by saving them from the deadly deathtrap he creates…

Another Marvel mainstay debuts with the introduction of (seemingly) malignant master of time Immortus, who briefly combines with Zemo’s devilish cohort to engineer a fatal division in the ranks by removing Cap from the field in ‘The Avengers Break Up!’ A sign of the Star-Spangled Sentinel’s increasing popularity, the issue is augmented by a Marvel Masterwork Pin-Up of ‘The One and Only Cap’ courtesy of Kirby & Ayers…

An eagerly-anticipated meeting delighted fans when #11 declared ‘The Mighty Avengers Meet Spider-Man!’: a clever and classy cross-fertilising tale inked by Chic Stone. It features the return of the time-bending tyrant conqueror as he attempts to destroy the team by insinuating a robotic duplicate of the outcast arachnid within their serried ranks. It’s accompanied by Heck’s Marvel Master Work Pin-up of ‘Kang!’ and is followed by a cracking end-of-the-world thriller with guest-villains Mole Man and the Red Ghost doing their best avoid another clash with the Fantastic Four.

This was another Marvel innovation, as – according to established funnybook rules – bad guys stuck to their own nemeses and didn’t clash outside their own backyards….

‘This Hostage Earth!’ (inked by Ayers) is a welcome return to grand adventure with lesser lights Giant-Man and the Wasp taking rare lead roles, but is trumped by a rousing gangster thriller of a sort seldom seen outside the pages of Spider-Man or Daredevil, premiering Marvel universe Mafia analogue the Maggia and another major menace in #13’s ‘The Castle of Count Nefaria!’

After crushingly failing in his scheme to frame the Avengers, Nefaria’s caper ends on a tragic cliffhanger as Janet Van Dyne is left gunshot and dying, leading to a peak in melodramatic tension in #14 – scripted by Paul Laiken/Larry Ivie & Larry Lieber over Stan’s plot – as the traumatised team scour the globe for the only surgeon who can save her.

‘Even Avengers Can Die!’ – although of course she doesn’t – resolves into an epic alien invader tale with overtones of This Island Earth with Kirby stepping in to lay out the saga for Heck & Stone to illustrate. This only whets the appetite for the classic climactic confrontation that follows as the costumed champions finally deal with the Masters of Evil and Captain America finally avenges the death of his dead partner.

‘Now, by My Hand, Shall Die a Villain!’ in #15 – laid-out by Kirby, pencilled by Heck and inked by Mike Esposito – features the final, fatal confrontation between Cap and Zemo in the heart of the Amazon, whilst the other Avengers and the war-criminal’s cohort of masked menaces clash once more on the streets of New York City…

The battle ends with ‘The Old Order Changeth!’ (broken down by Kirby before being finished by Ayers) presaging a dramatic change in concept for the series; presumably because, as Lee increasingly wrote to the company’s unique strengths – tight continuity and strongly individualistic characterisation – he found juggling individual stars in their own titles as well as a combined team episode every month was just incompatible if not impossible…

As Cap and substitute sidekick Rick Jones fight their way back to civilisation, the Avengers institute changes. The big-name stars retire and are replaced by three erstwhile villains: Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

Eventually, led by perennial old soldier Captain America, this relatively powerless group with no outside titles to divide the attention (the Sentinel of Liberty did have a regular feature in Tales of Suspense but at that time it featured adventures set during WWII), evolved into another squabbling family of flawed, self-examining neurotics, enduring extended sub-plots and constant action as valiant underdogs; a formula readers of the time could not get enough of and which still works today…

Acting on advice from the departing Iron Man, the neophytes seek to recruit the Hulk to add raw power to the team, only to be sidetracked by the Mole Man in #17’s kFour Against the Minotaur!’ (Lee, Heck & Ayers), after which they then fall foul of a dastardly “commie” plot ‘When the Commissar Commands!’ – necessitating a quick trip to thinly-disguised Viet Nam analogue Sin-Cong to unwittingly battle a bombastic android…

This brace of relatively run-of-the-mill tales is followed by an ever-improving run of mini-masterpieces: the first of which wraps up this initial Epic endeavour with a 2-part gem providing an origin for Hawkeye and introducing a rogue-ish hero/villain.

‘The Coming of the Swordsman!’ introduces a dissolute and disreputable swashbuckler – with just a hint of deeply-buried flawed nobility – who attempts to force his way onto the highly respectable team. His rejection leads to him becoming an unwilling pawn of a far greater menace after being kidnapped by A-list would-be world despot the Mandarin.

The conclusion comes in the superb ‘Vengeance is Ours!’ – sublimely inked by the one-&-only Wally Wood – wherein the constantly-bickering Avengers finally pull together as a supernaturally efficient, all-conquering super-team…

The bonus features in this titanic tome include September 1963 house ads for the imminently debuting Avengers, augmented by production-stage correction photostats and original art by Kirby, Ayers, Heck and Wood.
These immortal tales defined the early Marvel experience and are still a joy no fan should deny themselves or their kids.
© 2019 MARVEL.

Avenging Spider-Man volume 1: My Friends Can Beat Up Your Friends


By Zeb Wells, Joe Madureira, Greg Land, Leinil Francis Yu & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5779-3 (TPB)

Have you got a little time for some readily available, joyously escapist nonsense? Yes? Try this…

Since Spider-Man first – and after many, many tries – joined the Avengers he has spent a lot of time questioning his worthiness. That nervous insecurity informs this delightful compendium of brief sidebar stories starring the wallcrawler and individual members of the World’s Mightiest Heroes in team-up action.

Collecting in paperback or digital form, the first five issues of team-up title The Avenging Spider-Man, (January-May 2012) – presumably to capitalise on the then-impending first Avengers film release – this engaging and upbeat compendium is as big on laughs as mayhem, as you’d hope and expect with award-winning Robot Chicken scripter Zeb Wells at the keyboard…

The madcap mayhem begins with a 3-part collaboration illustrated by Joe Madureira and colourist Ferran Daniel, co-starring military monolith Red Hulk wherein the subterranean Moloids once ruled over by the Mole Man attack during the New York Marathon and kidnap Mayor J. Jonah Jameson.

The only heroes available are the criminally mismatched and constantly bickering webspinner and Crimson Colossus, who follow, by the most inconvenient and embarrassing methods possible, the raiders back into the very bowels of the Earth…

There they discover that an even nastier race of deep Earth dwellers – the Molans, led by a brutal barbarian named Ra’ktar – have invaded the Mole Man’s domain and now are determined on taking the surface regions too. The only thing stopping them so far is a ceremonial single-combat duel between the monstrous Molan and the surface world “king”. In lieu of one of those, it will have to be Hizzoner Mayor Jameson…

Understandably, Red Hulk steps in as JJJ’s champion, with the wallcrawler revelling in his own inadequacies and insecurities again. However, when Ra’ktar kills the Scarlet Steamroller (don’t worry kids, it’s only a flesh wound: a really, really deep, incredibly debilitating flesh wound) Spider-Man has to suck it in and step up, once more overcoming impossible odds and saving the day in his own inimitable, embarrassing and hilarious way…

What follows is a stand-alone, done-in-one story pairing Spidey with the coolly capable and obnoxiously arrogant Hawkeye (limned by Greg Land & Jay Leisten with hues from Wil Quintana) which superbly illustrates Spider-Man’s warmth, humanity and abiding empathy as the fractious frenemies foil an attempt by the sinister Serpent Society to unleash poison gas in the heart of the city… Without doubt, the undisputed prize here is a magical buddy-bonding yarn featuring Captain America which charismatically concludes this compendium.

The wonderment begins when recently rediscovered pre-WWII comics strips by ambitious and aspiring kid-cartoonist Steve Rogers lead to a mutual acknowledgement of both Cap and Spidey’s inner nerd… and just in case you’ve no soul, there’s also plenty of spectacular costumed conflict as the Avengers track down and polish off the remaining scaly scallywags of the Serpent Society in a cracking yarn illustrated by Leinil Francis Yu, Gerardo Alanguilan & Sunny Gho…

By turns outrageous, poignant, sentimental, suspenseful and always intoxicatingly action-packed, this is a welcome portion of the grand old, fun-stuffed thriller frolics Spider-Man was made for…
© 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

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


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

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him capable of astonishing acrobatic feats, a formidable fighter and a living lie-detector.

Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, an eclectic mix of established and new super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion. He quipped and wise-cracked his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody quasi-religious metaphor he became under modern authorial regimes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…

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

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

© 2019 MARVEL.

 

Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 4

By Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane & various (Marvel)
ISBN:  978-1-3029-1520-9 (HB)

In the 1970s, Marvel grew to dominate the comic book market despite losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators. They did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties. The only real exception to this was an en masse creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

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

Nevertheless, Marvel Team-Up was the second full Spider-Man title (abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the magazine market in 1968 but had died after two issues). It launched in March 1972, and was a resounding hit.

This fourth fabulous compilation (in hardback or digital formats) gathers material from MTU #31-40 plus the contents of team-up styled Giant-Size Spider-Man #4-5, spanning March to December 1975, and opens with an informative recollection from former Editor Ralph Macchio in his Introduction before we plunge into the many-starred dramas…

Another attraction of those early comics combos was an earnest desire to get things “done in one”, with tales that concentrated on plot and resolution with the guest du jour. Here on the crest of a martial arts boom in film and TV, the action explosively commences with MTU #31 as the webspinner and kung fu star Iron Fist experience time unravelling whilst battling reverse-aging Drom, the Backwards Man in ‘For a Few Fists More!’ by Gerry Conway Jim Mooney & Vince Colletta.

This is followed by Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 (April 1975, by Conway, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) which sees an eagerly-anticipated reappearance of Marvel’s most controversial antihero in an expanded role. The Giant-Size titles were quarterly double-length publications added to the schedule of Marvel’s top tier heroes, and the wallcrawler’s were used to highlight outré and potentially controversial pairings such as Dracula and Doc Savage. Here, ‘To Sow the Seed of Death’s Day’ finds the webslinger uncomfortably allied with the Punisher when ruthless arms dealer Moses Magnum perfects a diabolical chemical weapon and begins testing it on randomly kidnapped victims.

Tracking down the monster in ‘Attack of the War Machine!’, the unlikely comrades infiltrate his ‘Death-Camp at the Edge of the World!’ before summary justice is dispensed… as much by fate as the heroes’ actions…

That same month back in MTU, Conway & Colletta welcomed Sal Buscema aboard as penciller in #32 for a fiery collaboration between Human Torch Johnny Storm and Son of Satan Damian Hellstrom, who inflicts ‘All the Fires in Hell…!’ on a demon possessing Johnny’s pal Wyatt Wingfoot and assorted fellow members of his Native American Keewazi tribe.

The craving for conventional continuity commences in #33 when Spider-Man and Nighthawk acrimoniously tackle raving mega-nutcase Norton Fester – who had forgotten he had super strength – in ‘Anybody Here Know a Guy Named Meteor Man?’

Whilst Nighthawk is happy to drop the case at his earliest opportunity, Defenders comrade Valkyrie is ready to step in and help Spidey finish off the looney Looter, but they both miss the real threat: mutant demagogue Jeremiah, Prophet of the Lord, who has acquired Fester’s home to house his mind-controlled cult of human psychic batteries in ‘Beware the Death Crusade!’

The religious maniac’s predations only end in Marvel Team-Up #35 when the Torch and Doctor Strange save Valkyrie from becoming a sacrifice in the zealot’s deranged ‘Blood Church!’

Giant-Size Spider-Man #5 (July 1975, by Conway, Andru & Esposito) offers a strange yet welcome break from conventionality as ‘Beware the Path of the Monster!’ sees Peter Parker despatched to Florida to photograph the macabre Man-Thing, only to discover the lethal Lizard is also loose and hunting ‘The Lurker in the Swamp!’

It takes all the web-spinner’s power and the efforts of a broken man in sore need of redemption to set things right in climactic conclusion ‘Bring Back my Man-Thing to Me!’

In Marvel Team-Up #36 Spider-Man is kidnapped and shipped off to Switzerland by assuredly insane Baron Ludwig Von Shtupf, who proclaims himself The Monster Maker in ‘Once Upon a Time, in a Castle…’

The bonkers biologist wants to pick-&-mix creature traits and has already secured The Frankenstein Monster to practise on, but after the webslinger busts them both out and they stumble upon sexy SHIELD Agent Klemmer, their rapid counterattack goes badly wrong. Von Shtupf unleashes his other captive – the furiously feral Man-Wolf – and only big Frankie can prevent a wave of ‘Snow Death!’ in #37.

As writer Bill Mantlo and inker Esposito join Sal Buscema, the Amazing Arachnid is back in the USA for MTU #38, meeting again The Beast and barely surviving the ‘Night of the Griffin’ when the former X-Man’s constantly-evolving manmade monster foe goes on a ruthless murder spree…

Ending this shared glory session, another extended epic begins when Spider-Man and the Torch are simultaneously targeted by supposedly deceased archenemies Crime-Master and The Big Man in #39’s ‘Any Number Can Slay!’ The masked mobsters are fighting for control of the city and each has recruited their own specialist meta-thugs – Sandman and The Enforcers respectively – but the shady double-dealers are all utterly unprepared for the intervention of mystic kung fu collective The Sons of the Tiger in #40’s concluding ‘Murder’s Better the Second Time Around!’

Capping off this collection is the cover to all-reprint Giant-Size Spider-Man #6 (December 1975 and starring Spidey and the Torch in tale from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4) plus a selection from the ‘Mighty Marvel Calendar for 1975’, featuring new art by John Romita, Barry Windsor-Smith, Rick Buckler, John Buscema, Mike Ploog, Gil Kane & Sal Buscema, wedded to classic clip art from Marvel’s mightiest artists, topped off with house ads and Romita’s front and back cover art for tabloid-sized Marvel Treasury Edition #8 AKA Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag.

Although not really a book for the casual or more maturely-oriented enthusiast, there’s lots of fun on hand and younger readers will have a blast, so why not make this tome part of to your comics library?
© 1974, 1975, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 4 1970-1975: It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn


By Steve Englehart, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Mike Friedrich, Tony Isabella, Chris Claremont, Sal Buscema, Tom Sutton, Herb Trimpe, Gil Kane, Don Heck, John Buscema, Bob Brown, Jim Starlin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302916039 (TPB)

X-Men was never one of young Marvel’s top titles but it did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek prettiness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of the college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

The core team consisted of tragic Scott Summers/Cyclops, telepath and mind-reader Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast in training with Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound (and temporarily deceased) telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the gradually emerging race of mutant Homo Superior. In latter days they had been joined by magnetic Polaris and cosmic ray fuelled Havoc…although they were usually referred to as Lorna Dane and Alex Summers.

However, by the time of this massive full-colour paperback and digital tome (collecting the covers from reprint issues X-Men #67-93 plus Annual #1-2, Amazing Adventures #11-17, Amazing Spider-Man #92, Incredible Hulk #150, 161, 172, 180-182, Marvel Team-Up #4, 23, Avengers #110-111, Captain America #172-175, Defenders #15-16 and Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4: spanning December 1970 through June 1975 and chronologically re-presenting every mutant appearance of the era) the outcasts had been reduced to reliving past glories and riding the guest star circuit. A one-shot entitled Giant-Sized X-Men #1 would soon change all that forever…

After nearly eight years of eccentrically spectacular adventures the mutant misfits virtually disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just as in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes once more dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although gone, the mutants were far from forgotten. The standard policy at that time to revive characters that had fallen was to pile on guest-shots and reprints. X-Men #67 (December 1970) saw them return in double-sized issues, re-presenting early classics beginning with the Juggernaut tale from #12-13. Although returned as a cheap but shelf-monopolising reprint vehicle, the missing Children of the Atom were reduced to bit-players throughout the ongoing Marvel universe, whilst the bludgeoning Beast was opportunistically transformed into a scary monster to cash in on the horror boom and ultimately a comedy foil in the Avengers.

Then, with sales of the spooky stuff subsequently waning in 1975, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas green-lighted a bold one-shot as part of the company’s line of Giant-Size specials and history was made…

A brace of covers – X-Men Annual #1 by Jack Kirby & Chic Stone and X-Men #67 by Marie Severin & Joe Sinnott – lead us to John Romita’s cover for Amazing Spider-Man #92 (January 1971) and a tale by Stan Lee, Gil Kane & Romita depicting ‘When Iceman Attacks’.

This actually concludes the Amazing Arachnid’s battle against corrupt political boss Sam Bullit, as the ambitious demagogue convinces the youngest X-Man that Spider-Man is a kidnapper. Despite being a closing chapter, this all-out action extravaganza efficiently recaps itself and is perfectly comprehensible to readers.

The covers to X-Men #68-74 (by Kirby, Dick Ayers, Sal Buscema, Werner Roth, Bill Everett & Kane) and King Size Annual #2 (Kane & Romita) further celebrate the individual and collective Merry Mutants comeback tour before the next story opens.

Alec Summers had left the X-Men, terrified of his uncontrollable cosmic power, to isolate himself in the deserts of New Mexico. When Lorna Dane goes looking for him in ‘Cry Hulk, Cry Havok!’ (Incredible Hulk #150 April 1972, Archie Goodwin, Herb Trimpe & John Severin) she encounters a menacing biker gang and an Emerald Giant violently protective of his privacy. Mercifully Havok proves a match for the rampaging titan…

The previous month Marvel had launched a reinvented X-Man in a solo series as a response to the world horror boom which shifted general comic book fare from bright shiny costumed heroes to dark and sinister monsters.

Premiering in Amazing Adventures #11 (March 1972), written by Gerry Conway and illustrated by the incredibly effective team of Tom Sutton & Syd Shores, ‘The Beast!’ reveals how brilliant Hank McCoy leaves Xavier’s school and takes a research position at the conglomerate Brand Corporation.

Using private sector resources to research the causes of genetic mutation, McCoy becomes embroiled in industrial skulduggery and – to hide his identity – uses his discoveries to “upgrade” his animalistic abilities – temporarily turning himself into a fearsome anthropoid creature with startling new abilities. At least it was supposed to be temporary…

Bracketed by Kane & Frank Giacoia’s covers for X-Men #75-76, Steve Englehart assumes the writing reins in AmazingAdventures #12 (May), and monster maestro Mike Ploog takes the inker’s chair for ‘Iron Man: D.O.A.’ as McCoy, trapped in a monstrous new shape, took extreme measures to appear human as he desperately strove to find a cure for his condition. Unfortunately, Brand is riddled with bad characters and when Tony Stark visits, it’s inevitable that the Beast and Iron Man clash…

Incomprehensibly that battle led to Iron Man’s death; or so McCoy thought. In fact, the monster has been mesmerized by villainous Mastermind in a scheme to force the outcast to join the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. ‘Evil is All in Your Mind!’(Englehart, Sutton & Giacoia) also reintroduces two characters from the wildest fringes of Early Marvel continuity who will both play major roles in months and years to come. Patsy Walker was an ideal girl-next-door whose wholesome teen-comedy exploits had delighted readers for decades since her debut in Miss America #2 (Nov. 1944).

She starred in seven separate comic series until 1967. Here she joins the cast of the Beast as the tag-along wife of her boyhood sweetheart Buzz Baxter who had grown from an appealing goof to a rather daunting military martinet and Pentagon liaison. As McCoy is throwing off the defeated mesmerist’s psychic influence, Captain Baxter lays plans to capture the maligned mutate…

George Tuska & Vince Colletta’s cover for X-Men #77 precedes the next full story, proving the other X-Men were not forgotten. New Horror-Hero rising star Morbius, the Living Vampire was making things tough for Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #4 (September 1972) as the Human Torch temporarily bows out to be replaced by the mutant team. ‘And Then… the X-Men!’ is a terse, tense thriller written by Conway, inked by Steve Mitchell and illustrated by the magnificent Gil Kane at the top of his form detailing how the outsiders hunt the sanguine predator in search of a cure for as the ailing arachnoid…

Bloodsuckers literal and metaphorical are also the order of the day in Amazing Adventures #14. ‘The Vampire Machine’ (inked by Jim Mooney) sees Iron Man return as computerized killer and incipient AI assassin Quasimodo attacks Brand Corp. in an attempt to steal radical technology to build himself a body…

Kane & Giacoia’s cover for X-Men #78 precedes AA #15’s ‘Murder in Mid-Air!’ (rendered by Sutton, Giacoia & John Tartaglione) finding a gravely wounded Beast making an unexpected ally and confidante, before old comrade the Angel comes calling, encountering a hideous artificially mutated monster dubbed the Griffin en route. This tale reintroduced another old friend of Hank McCoy’s and should segue into another X-crossover (Incredible Hulk #161, March 1973), but not before the cover of X-Men #79 and 80 intermingle with AA #16 – wherein our hirsute hero battles an old foe in the Halloween thriller ‘…And the Juggernaut Will Get You… If You Don’t Watch Out!’ by Englehart, Bob Brown & Frank McLaughlin, with a horde of classic caricatures from cartoon legend Marie Severin.

It was the last time McCoy would be seen in a full tale until the bombastic Beast joined the Avengers. Amazing Adventures #17 featured a 2-page framing sequence by Englehart, Jim Starlin & Mike Esposito (included here) which bracketed an abridged reprint of the Beast origin back-ups from X-Men #49-53 (which are not).

At last that Hulk hiatus ends as ‘Beyond the Border Lurks Death!’ (Englehart, Trimpe & Sal Trapani) sees the Green Goliath and Bouncing Blue Beast as reluctant allies in a battle against old X-foe the Mimic, whose ability to absorb the attributes of others has gone tragically, catastrophically haywire…

X-Men #81’s cover leads to another titanic team-up – from Avengers #110-111 (April and May 1973) – as Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision and Black Panther investigate the disappearance of the mutant heroes and are thoroughly beaten by their oldest enemy sporting a new power.

‘… And Now Magneto!’ (Englehart, Don Heck, Giacoia & Esposito) ends with half the team brainwashed captives of the master villain with the remaining crusaders desperately searching for new allies.

Not included here is their journey to San Francisco to recruit Daredevil and the Black Widow so the saga resumes and concludes in Avengers #111 as, ‘With Two Beside Them!’ (Englehart, Heck & Esposito) the returned heroes and West Coast vigilantes successfully rescue the X-Men and Avengers enslaved by the malign Magneto…

With X-Men #82 (June), the covers generally reverted to recoloured and modified versions of the original releases: rendered by Dan Adkins, Ross Andru, Heck, Tuska & Giacoia, bringing us to February 1974 and Incredible Hulk #172.

A Roy Thomas plot and Tony Isabella script sees the Gamma Giant captured by US soldiers and hurled into another dimension, allowing the unstoppable mystic menace to inadvertently escape. ‘And Canst Thou Slay… The Juggernaut?’reveals that even his magically augmented might cannot resist our favourite antihero and features a telling, conclusive cameo by Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Professor X, after which the Tuska cover for X-Men #87 precedes a crucial episode in the lives of the mutant adventurers.

Englehart was at this time making history with an allegorical saga in Captain America and the Falcon mirroring the national scandal of President Nixon and Watergate. The Patriotic Paragon found himself framed for murder and smeared by a media disinformation campaign and forced to go on the run to clear himself.

Brought to you by Englehart, Sal Buscema & Vince Colletta, it begins in Captain America #172 as ‘Believe it or Not: The Banshee!’ finds Cap and the Falcon tracing a lead to Nashville, clashing with the eponymous fugitive mutant and stumbling into a clandestine pogrom on American soil…

For months mutants have been disappearing unnoticed, but now the last remaining – Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Charles Xavier – have tracked them down, only to discover that Captain America’s problems also stem from ‘The Sins of the Secret Empire!’ whose ultimate goal is the conquest of the USA…

Eluding capture by S.H.I.E.L.D., Steve and Sam infiltrate the evil Empire, only to be exposed and confined in ‘It’s Always Darkest!’ before abruptly turning the tables and saving the day in #175’s ‘…Before the Dawn!’ (interrupted only by the cover for X-Men #88) wherein the vile grand plan is revealed, the mutants liberated and the culprits captured. In a shocking final scene, the ultimate instigator is unmasked and horrifically dispatched within the White House itself…

Marvel Team-Up #23 (July 1974, by Len Wein, Kane & Esposito) offers a case of mistaken identity – and powers – before Human Torch Johnny Storm and Iceman fractiously unite to stop Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man on ‘The Night of the Frozen Inferno!’ after which Ed Hannigan & Giacoia’s cover for X-Men #89 carries us to Defenders #15 (September), which initiates a 2-part duel with Magneto who first institutes a ‘Panic Beneath the Earth!’ – courtesy of Wein, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson – leading telepath Charles Xavier to enlist the outcast heroes’ (Dr. Strange,Nighthawk, Valkyrie and Hulk) aid. The concluding clash involves the insidious Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and ‘Alpha, the Ultimate Mutant’ (inked by Esposito) as well as the apparent end of a true master of evil…

The same cover-month that X-Men #90 (by John Buscema) was released, a pivotal X-character made a rather inauspicious debut.

Incredible Hulk #180 (October 1974 by Wein, Trimpe & Jack Abel) declares ‘And the Wind Howls… Wendigo!’ as the Green Giant gallivants across the Canadian Border and encounters a witch attempting to cure her brother of a curse which has transformed him into a rampaging cannibalistic monster. Unfortunately, that cure means Hulk must become a Wendigoin his stead…

It is while the Great Green and Weird White monsters are fighting that mutant megastar Wolverine first appears – in the very last panel – leading to the savage fist, fang and claw fest that follows.

‘And Now… The Wolverine!’ captivatingly concludes the saga as the Maple nation’s top-secret super-agent is unleashed upon both the Emerald Goliath and man-eating Wendigo in an action-stuffed romp teeming with triumph, tragedy and lots of slashing and hitting. The rest is history…

The aftermath spilled over into #182’s ‘Between Hammer and Anvil!’ with Trimpe taking sole charge of the art chores for the two pages included here as Wolverine is called off by his Canadian spymasters…

John Buscema & Tuska’s cover for X-Men #91 then leads to the last story in this colossal compendium as in Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4 Wein, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Chic Stone & Joe Sinnott unite to introduce ‘Madrox the Multiple Man’: a young mutant who grew up on an isolated farm unaware of the incredible power he possesses.

When his parents pass away, the kid is inexplicably drawn to New York City, but the mysterious hi-tech suit he wears to contain his condition soon malfunctions and the boy devolves into a ambulatory fission device who can endlessly, lethally replicate himself…

Thankfully the FF are aided by mutant Moses Charles Xavier who dutifully takes young Jamie under his wing…

Concluding with the covers to X-Men #92 and 93 (by Ron Wilson & Giacoia and John B & Tuska), house ads and the wraparound October 1986 cover to one-shot The Incredible Hulk and Wolverine #1 – by John Byrne & Abel – this massive meander into Marvel mutant minutiae is a little scrappy and none too cohesive but is packed to the brim with wonderful comics sagas and groundbreaking mini-masterpieces which reshaped the way we tell stories to this day. This comprehensive collection is an unquestionable treasure no fan should be without.
© 2019 MARVEL.

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection volume 1: Great Power 1962-1964


By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, with Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8834-6 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless and Essential Comics Perfection… 10/10

Marvel is often termed “the House that Jack Built” and King Kirby’s contributions are undeniable and inescapable in the creation of a new kind of comic book storytelling, but there was another unique visionary toiling at Atlas-Comics-as-was: one whose creativity and even philosophy seemed diametrically opposed to the bludgeoning power, vast imaginative scope and clean, broad lines of Kirby’s ever-expanding search for the external and infinite.

Steve Ditko was quiet and unassuming, voluntarily diffident to the point of invisibility, but his work was both subtle and striking: innovative and meticulously polished. Always questing for detail, he ever explored the man within. He found heroism – and humour and ultimate evil – all contained within the frail but noble confines of human scope and consciousness. His drawing could be oddly disquieting… and, when he wanted, decidedly creepy.

Crafting extremely well-received monster and mystery tales for and with Stan Lee, Ditko had been rewarded with his own title. Amazing Adventures/Amazing Adult Fantasy featured a subtler brand of yarn than Rampaging Aliens and Furry Underpants Monsters and the ilk which, though individually entertaining, had been slowly losing traction in the world of comics ever since National/DC had successfully reintroduced costumed heroes.

Lee & Kirby had responded with Fantastic Four and the ahead-of-its-time Incredible Hulk but there was no indication of the renaissance to come when the cover of officially just-cancelled Amazing Fantasy featured a brand new and rather eerie adventure character.

This compelling and economical full-colour trade paperback and digital compilation re-presents the early run of Amazing Spider-Man #1-17, plus Annual #1 and that auspicious tale from Amazing Fantasy #15 (spanning August 1962 through October 1964): allowing newcomers and veteran readers to relive some of the greatest moments in sequential narrative.

The wonderment came and concluded in 11 captivating pages: ‘Spider-Man!’ tells the parable of Peter Parker, a smart but alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider on a high school science trip. Discovering he has developed arachnid abilities – which he augments with his own natural engineering genius – he does what any lonely, geeky nerd would do when given such a gift… he tries to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Creating a costume to hide his identity in case he makes a fool of himself, Parker becomes a minor celebrity – and a vain, self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief flees past, he doesn’t lift a finger to stop him, only to find when he returns home that his Uncle Ben has been murdered.

Crazy for vengeance, Parker stalks the assailant who made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, only to find that it is the felon he couldn’t be bothered with. Since his social irresponsibility led to the death of the man who raised him, the boy swears to always use his powers to help others…

It wasn’t a new story, but the setting was one familiar to every kid reading it and the artwork was downright spooky. This wasn’t the gleaming high-tech world of moon-rockets, giant monsters and flying cars – this stuff could happen to anybody…

Amazing Fantasy #15 came out the same month as Tales to Astonish #35 (cover-dated September 1962) – the first to feature the Astonishing Ant-Man in costumed capers, but it was the last issue of Ditko’s Amazing playground. In this volume you’ll find the ‘Fan Page – Important Announcement from the Editor!’ that completely misled fans as to what would happen next…

However, the tragic last-ditch tale struck a chord with the reading public and by Christmas a new comicbook superstar was ready to launch in his own title, with Ditko eager to show what he could do with his first returning character since the demise of Charlton action hero Captain Atom

Holding on to the “Amazing” prefix to jog reader’s memories, the bi-monthly Amazing Spider-Man #1 arrived with a March 1963 cover-date and two complete stories. It also prominently featured the Fantastic Four and took the readership by storm. The opening tale, again simply entitled ‘Spider-Man!’, recapitulated the origin whilst adding a brilliant twist to the conventional mix…

By now the wall-crawling hero was feared and reviled by the general public thanks in no small part to J. Jonah Jameson, a newspaper magnate who pilloried the adventurer from spite and for profit. With time-honoured comicbook irony, Spider-Man then had to save Jameson’s astronaut son John from a faulty space capsule in extremely low orbit…

The second yarn ‘Vs the Chameleon!’ finds the cash-strapped kid trying to force his way onto the roster – and payroll – of the FF whilst elsewhere a spy perfectly impersonates the web-spinner to steal military secrets. This is a stunning example of the high-strung, antagonistic crossovers and cameos that so startled the jaded kids of the early 1960s. Heroes just didn’t act like that and they certainly didn’t speak directly to the fans as in ‘A Personal Message from Spider-Man’ that’s reprinted here…

With his second issue, our new champion began a meteoric rise in quality and innovative storytelling. ‘Duel to the Death with the Vulture!’ catches Parker chasing a flying thief as much for profit as justice. Desperate to help his aunt make ends meet, Spider-Man starts to taking photos of his cases to sell to Jameson’s Daily Bugle, making his personal gadfly his sole means of support.

Matching his deft comedy and moody soap-operatic melodrama, Ditko’s action sequences were imaginative and magnificently visceral, with odd angle shots and quirky, mis-balanced poses adding a vertiginous sense of unease to fight scenes. But crime wasn’t the only threat to the world and Spider-Man was just as (un)comfortable battling “aliens” in ‘The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer!’

Amazing Spider-Man #3 introduced possibly the apprentice hero’s greatest enemy in ‘Versus Doctor Octopus’; a full-length saga wherein a dedicated scientist survives an atomic accident only to discover his self-designed mechanical tentacles have permanently grafted to his body. Power-mad, Otto Octavius initially thrashes Spider-Man, sending the lad into a depression until an impromptu pep-talk from Human Torch Johnny Storm galvanises Spider-Man to one of his greatest victories. Also included here is a stunning ‘Special Surprise Bonus Spider-Man Pin-up Page!’…

‘Nothing Can Stop… the Sandman!’ was another instant classic wherein a common thug who gains the power to transform to sand (another pesky nuclear snafu) invades Parker’s school, and must be stopped at all costs, whilst issue #5 finds the webspinner ‘Marked for Destruction by Dr. Doom!’ – not so much winning as surviving his battle against the deadliest man on Earth.

Presumably he didn’t mind too much, as this marked the transition from bi-monthly to monthly status for the series. In this tale Parker’s social nemesis, jock bully Flash Thompson, first displays depths beyond the usual in contemporary comicbooks, beginning one of the best love/hate buddy relationships in popular literature…

Sometime mentor Dr. Curtis Connors debuts in #6 when Spidey comes ‘Face-to-face with… The Lizard!’ Ttttas the wallcrawler fights far from the concrete canyons and comfort zone of New York – specifically in the murky Florida Everglades. Parker was back in the Big Apple in #7 to breathtakingly tackle ‘The Return of the Vulture’ in a full-length masterpiece.

Fun and youthful hi-jinks were a signature feature of the series, as was Parker’s budding romance with “older woman” Betty Brant, Jameson’s secretary/PA at the Daily Bugle. Youthful exuberance was the underlying drive in #8′s lead tale ‘The Living Brain!’ wherein an ambulatory robot calculator threatens to expose Spider-Man’s secret identity before running amok at beleaguered Midtown High, just as Parker is finally beating the stuffings out of school bully Flash Thompson.

This 17-page triumph was accompanied by ‘Spiderman Tackles the Torch!’: a 6-page vignette drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Ditko, wherein a boisterous wall-crawler gate-crashes a beach party thrown by the flaming hero’s girlfriend… with suitably explosive consequences.

Amazing Spider-Man #9 is a qualitative step-up in dramatic terms, as Aunt May is revealed to be chronically ill – adding to Parker’s financial woes – with the action supplied by ‘The Man Called Electro!’ – an accidental super-criminal with grand aspirations.

Spider-Man was always a loner, never far from the streets and small-scale-crime, and with this tale – wherein he also quells a prison riot single handed – Ditko’s preference for tales of gangersterism starts to show through; a predilection confirmed in #10′s ‘The Enforcers!’ This is a classy mystery with a masked mastermind known as the Big Man using a position of trust at the Bugle to organise all New York mobs into one unbeatable army against decency.

Longer plot-strands are also introduced as Betty mysteriously vanishes, although most fans remember this one for the spectacularly climactic 7-page fight scene in an underworld chop-shop that has still never been beaten for action-choreography.

The wonderment intensifies with a magical 2-part yarn. ‘Turning Point’ and ‘Unmasked by Dr. Octopus!’ sees the return of the lethally deranged and deformed scientist and the disclosure of a long-hidden secret which had haunted Parker’s girlfriend Betty Brant for years.

The dark, tragedy-filled tale of extortion and excoriating tension stretches from Philadelphia to the Bronx Zoo and cannily tempers the trenchant melodrama with spectacular fight scenes in unusual and exotic locations, before culminating in a truly staggering super-powered duel as only the masterful Ditko could orchestrate it.

A new super-foe premiered in Amazing Spider-Man #13 with ‘The Menace of Mysterio!’ as a seemingly eldritch bounty-hunter hired by publisher J. Jonah Jameson to capture Spider-Man eventually reveals his own dark criminal agenda, whilst #14 is an absolute milestone in the series as a hidden criminal mastermind manipulates a Hollywood studio into making a movie about the wall-crawler.

Even with guest-star opponents the Enforcers and Incredible Hulk, ‘The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin’ is most notable for introducing Spider-Man’s most perfidious and flamboyant enemy.

Jungle superman and thrill-junkie ‘Kraven the Hunter!’ makes Spider-Man his intended prey at the behest of embittered Spidey-foe the Chameleon in #15, and promptly reappears in the first Amazing Spider-Man Annual that follows.

A timeless landmark and still magnificently thrilling battle, tale, the ‘Sinister Six’ begins after a team of villains comprising Electro, Kraven, Mysterio, Sandman, Vulture and Doctor Octopus abduct Aunt May and Betty, and Spider-Man is forced to confront them without his Spider-powers – lost in a guilt-fuelled panic attack. A staggeringly enthralling Fights ‘n’ Tights saga, this influential tale also featured cameos (or, more honestly, product placement segments) by every other extant hero of the budding Marvel universe.

Also included from the colossal comic book are special feature pages on ‘The Secrets of Spider-Man!’ and the comedic short ‘How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Created Spider-Man’ and a gallery of pin-up pages featuring ‘Spider-Man’s Most Famous Foes!’ – (the Burglar, Chameleon, Vulture, Terrible Tinkerer, Dr. Octopus, Sandman, Doctor Doom, The Lizard, Living Brain, Electro, The Enforcers, Mysterio, Green Goblin and Kraven the Hunter) – plus pin-ups of Betty and Jonah, Parker’s classmates and house and heroic guest stars…

Amazing Spider-Man #16 extended that circle of friends and foes as the webslinger battles the Ringmaster and his Circus of Evil and meets a fellow loner hero in a dazzling and delightful ‘Duel with Daredevil’.

An ambitious 3-part saga began in Amazing Spider-Man #17 wherein the rapidly-maturing hero touches emotional bottom before rising to triumphant victory over all manner of enemies. Sadly, ‘The Return of the Green Goblin!’ only opens that encounter here and you’ll need the next Epic Collection to conclude the saga…

Offering some consolation however is the entire debut tale from AF #15, in original art form, taken from the Library of Congress where it now resides and fully curated and commented upon by historian and scholar Blake Bell. Also on view are unused Ditko covers and early monochrome pin-ups, unretouched cover art for AS #11 and a barrage of pulse-pounding house ads, plus a photo-feature on the Marvel Bullpen circa 1964.

These immortal epics are something no serous fan can be without, and will make the ideal gift for any curious newcomer.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 2019 MARVEL. All rights reserved.

Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 3

By Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, Gil Kane & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0970-3 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Classic Comics Collaborations… 8/10

In the 1970s, as Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in the wake of the losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators, they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties. The only real exception to this was the en masse creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

The concept of team-up books was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of this new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch. In those long-lost days, editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline at that time – they may well have been right.
Nevertheless, Marvel Team-Up was the second full Spider-Man title (abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the magazine market in 1968 but had died after two issues). It launched in March 1972, and became a resounding hit.

This third titanic compilation (in hardback or digital formats) gathers material from MTU #23-30 plus the team-up styled Giant-Size Spider-Man #1-3: spanning July 1974 to February 1975 and opens with a fond, informative recollection from then Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas in his cheery Introduction before we plunge into the many-starred dramas…

Following a try-out in Giant-Size Super Heroes that pitted the wallcrawler against Living Vampire Morbius and the manic Man-Wolf, a quarterly double-length Spider-Man team vehicle was added to Marvel’s schedule.

Giant-Size Spider-Man #1 was cover-dated July 1974 and saw the web-spinner in frantic search of an experimental flu vaccine, improbably carried on an ocean liner in ‘Ship of Fiends!’ The quest brought him into clashing contact with newly-revived vampire lord Dracula and a scheming Maggia Capo at ‘The Masque of the Black Death!’, all courtesy of Gerry Conway, Ross Andru & Don Heck…

Here that bizarre battle is accompanied by its original editorial text feature ‘An Illuminating Introduction to Giant Size Spider-Man’ before we move on to the monthly MTU wherein The Torch and Iceman fractiously unite to stop Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man on ‘The Night of the Frozen Inferno!’ (by Len Wein, Gil Kane & Mike Esposito).

Still embracing supernatural themes and trends, the webslinger discovers ‘Moondog is another Name for Murder!’ in a defiantly quirky yarn illustrated by Jim Mooney & Sal Trapani which brings the decidedly offbeat Brother Voodoo to the Big Apple to quash a Manhattan murder cult…

Wein, Mooney & Frank Giacoia then determine that ‘Three into Two Won’t Go!’ as Daredevil joins Spider-Man in thrashing inept costumed kidnappers Cat-Man, Bird-Man and Ape-Man, after which Giant-Size Spider-Man #2 sees the amazing arachnid drawn into battle with Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu as sinister immortal Fu Manchu frames Spider-Man in ‘Masterstroke!’ The duped heroes clear the air in ‘Cross… and Double-Cross!’ before uniting to foil the cunning Celestial’s scheme to mindwipe America from the ‘Pinnacle of Doom!’ and MTU #26 finds the Torch and Thor battling to save the world from Lava Men in The Fire This Time…’ by Wein, Mooney, Giacoia & Dave Hunt.

At this time, in a desperate effort to build some internal continuity into the perforce brutally brief encounters, the scripters introduced a shadowy trio of sinister observers with an undisclosed agenda who would monitor superhero episodes and eventually be revealed as providers of outrageous technologies for many of the one-shot villains who came and went so quickly and ignominiously…

They weren’t involved when the Chameleon frames Spider-Man (again) and tricks the Hulk into freeing a man – for the most unexpected reason of all – from the New York Men’s Detention Center in #27’s ‘A Friend in Need!’ (Wein, Mooney & Giacoia). They did, however, have a hand in ‘The City Stealers!’ (#28 by new regular creative team Gerry Conway, Mooney & Vince Colletta) when strange mechanoids swipe the island of Manhattan, necessitating Spidey and Hercules (mostly Hercules) having to drag it back to its original position…

After that minor miracle Spider-Man experiences an odd, time-displaced disaster as Giant-Size Spider-Man #3 explores ‘The Yesterday Connection!’ wherein lovely alien Desinna seeks the aid of Spidey in 1974 and – in ‘The Secret Out of Time’ – the hands-on help of legendary 1930s adventurer Doc Savage.

Across a gulf of four decades the heroes individually discover something is not right in ‘Other People in Other Times!’, and with the escape of a savage rampaging monster, two eras seem doomed to destruction. At least until until wiser, more suspicious heads and powers prevail in ‘Tomorrow is Too Late’ and ensure that ‘The Future is Now!’

Marvel Team-Up #29 displays a far less constrained – or even amicable – pairing as flaming kid Johnny Storm and patronising know-it-all Iron Man butt heads whilst tracking a seeming super-saboteur in ‘Beware the Coming of Infinitus! or How Can You Stop the Reincarnated Man?’

Spider-Man and The Falcon then find that ‘All That Glitters is not Gold!’ in #30 whilst tracking a mind-control drug back to its crazy concoctor Midas, the Golden Man, closing the comics capers for another volume. Adding extra lustre there’s still visual treats aplenty in the form of contemporaneous house ads, covers and frontispieces from seasonal tabloid treasury Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag (with art from John Buscema and John Romita) and a triptych of original art pages and covers Gil Kane, Esposito & Giacoia.

These stories are of variable quality but nonetheless all exhibit an honest drive to entertain and please. Artistically the work is superb, and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about so, although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers, there’s bunches of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so there’s no real reason not to add this tome to your library…
© 1974, 1975, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection volume 4 1967-1968: The Goblin Lives


By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Arnold Drake, John Romita, Don Heck, Jim Mooney, Ross Andru, Larry Lieber, Marie Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1780-7 (TPB)

Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead – of its fan-base. In this superbly scintillating compilation of chronological webspinning wonderment, the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero survives another rocky period of transformation as the second great era of Amazing Arachnid artists moved inevitably to a close. Although the elder John Romita would remain closely connected to the Wall-Crawler’s adventures for a little time yet, these tales would be amongst his last sustained run as lead illustrator on the series.

After a shaky start, The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular 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.

You know the story: Peter Parker was a smart-but-alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Discovering he’d 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 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…

The rise and rise of the Amazing Arachnid increased pace as the Swinging Sixties drew to a close. By the time of the tales collected in this fulsome, full-colour Epic Collection (available in ponderous paperback or ephemeral eBook formats and re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #53-67, spurious spoofs from parody mag Not Brand Echh #6 and 11, plus an obscure thriller from Marvel Super-Heroes#14, and cumulatively spanning October 1967 to December 1968 and the usual basket of editorial extras), Peter and his ever-expanding cast of comrades were on the way to being household names as well as the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia.

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

Thematically, there’s still a large percentage of old-fashioned crime and gangsterism and an increasing use of mystery plots. Dependence on costumed super-foes as antagonists was finely balanced with the usual suspect-pool of thugs, hoods and mob-bosses, but these were not the individual gangs of the Ditko days.

Now Organised Crime and Mafia analogue The Maggia were the big criminal-cultural touchstone as comics caught up with modern movies and headlines.

A multi-part saga began in #53 with ‘Enter: Dr. Octopus’, wherein the many-tentacled madman tries to steal a devastating new piece of technology. After being soundly routed, Otto Octavius goes into hiding as a lodger at Aunt May’s house in ‘The Tentacles and the Trap!’, before regrouping and finally triumphing in ‘Doc Ock Wins!’

The madman even convinces a mind-wiped webslinger to join him before the astonishing conclusion in ‘Disaster!’ as, despite being bereft of memory, the wallcrawler turns on his sinister subjugator and saves the day…

Shell-shocked and amnesiac, Spider-Man is lost in New York in #57 (with lay-outs by Romita and pencils from the reassuringly reliable Don Heck) until he clashes with Marvel’s own Tarzan analogue in ‘The Coming of Ka-Zar!’, whilst in the follow-up ‘To Kill a Spider-Man!’, vengeance-crazed roboticist Professor Smythe again convinces J. Jonah Jameson to finance another murderous mechanical Spider-Slayer and hunt down his personal bête noir…

With Heck still in the artist’s chair, Amazing Spider-Man #59 sees the hero finally regain his memory and turn his attention to a wave of street-crime in ‘The Brand of the Brainwasher!’ Here a new mob-mastermind starts taking control of the city by mind-controlling city leaders and prominent cops – including Police Captain George Stacy, the father of Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen…

The tension builds as the schemer is revealed to be one of Spidey’s old foes in ‘O, Bitter Victory!’ This revelation creates even bigger problems for Peter and Gwen before concluding chapter ‘What a Tangled Web We Weave…!’ sees our hero save the day but still stagger away more victim than victor …

Amazing Spider-Man #62 declaimed ‘Make Way for …Medusa!’ as Lee, Romita, Heck & Mike Esposito supplied a fresh change-of-pace yarn with the webspinner stumbling into combat with the formidable Inhuman due to the machinations of a Madison Avenue ad man.

Spider-Man’s popularity led to Marvel attempting to expand his reach to older readers via the magazine market.

July 1968 saw the launch of Spectacular Spider-Man #1 by Lee, John Romita & Jim Mooney: a lengthy political thriller with charismatic reformer Richard Raleigh ferociously campaigning to become Mayor. The run results in his being targeted and hunted by a brutish monster seemingly determined to keep the old political machine in place at all costs…

Rendered in moody wash tones, the drama soon discloses a sinister plotter behind the campaign of terror… but his identity was the last one Spidey expected to expose…

Also included was a retelling of the hallowed origin tale ‘In the Beginning…’ by Lee, with Larry Lieber pencils and inks-&-tones added by the great Bill Everett.

Back in the four-colour world, Amazing Spider-Man #63 saw the original elderly Vulture return to crush his youthful usurper Blackie Drago in ‘Wings in the Night!’ before taking on Spidey for dessert.

The awesome aerial assaults concluded with carnage on the city’s highest buildings in ‘The Vultures Prey’ leading to another art-change (with the sumptuous heavy line-work of Jim Mooney briefly replacing the workmanlike Heck & Esposito) in #65 as a wounded Spider-Man is arrested and has to engineer ‘The Impossible Escape!’ from a Manhattan prison, incidentally foiling a mass jailbreak along the way.

A psychotic special-effects mastermind returns seeking loot and vengeance in #66’s ‘The Madness of Mysterio!’ (Romita, Heck & DeMeo) as the master of FX illusions engineers his most outlandish stunt, whilst in the background amnesiac Norman Osborn slowly regains his memory.

Although the wallcrawler is subjected to a bizarre form of mind-bending it nevertheless results in an all-out action-packed brawl (rendered by Romita & Mooney) entitled ‘To Squash a Spider!’. Perhaps more interestingly, this yarn introduces Randy Robertson, college student son of the Daily Bugle’s city editor and one of the first young black regular roles in Silver Age comics.

Lee and his staff were increasingly making a stand on Civil Rights issues at this time of unrest and Marvel would blaze a trail for African American and other minority characters in their titles. There would also be a growth of student and college issues during a period when American campuses were coming under intense media scrutiny…

The magazine experiment then concludes with The Spectacular Spider-Man #2 (November 1968). To offset disappointing sales, Marvel had abruptly switched to a smaller size and added colour, but it was to be the last attempt to secure older-reader shelf-space until the early 1970s. At least the story was – and remains – top-rate…

Following monochrome recap ‘The Spider-Man Saga’ Lee, Romita & Mooney deal with months of foreshadowing by finally revealing how Norman Osborn shakes off his selective amnesia and returns to full-on super-villainy in ‘The Goblin Lives!’

Steeped in his former madness and remembering Peter Parker is Spider-Man, Osborn plays cat and mouse with his foe, threatening all the hero’s loved ones until a climactic battle utilising hallucinogenic weapons again erases the Goblin personality… for the moment…

Closing the drama division of this colossal comics compendium is a one-off yarn from Marvel Super-Heroes #14 (May 1968).

‘The Reprehensible Riddle of the… The Sorcerer!’ reads to me like an inventory tale rushed out to fill a deadline gap or printed just before its “use-by” date expired. Nonetheless, as crafted by Lee, Ross Andru & Bill Everett, it offers an enticingly different spin on the wallcrawler with an enigmatic psychic targeting Spider-Man using psionic strikes and voodoo tricks to draw the hero to New Orleans and a death duel with a synthetic, science-tinged homunculus…

Always fond of a giggle himself, the hero was a regular star of comedy vehicle Not Brand Echh. All romance issue #6 (February 1968) featured Gary Friedrich & Marie Severin’s ‘With This Ring, I Thee Web!’ as the young man pursues his destined true love only to suffer a tragic loss, whilst December’s #11 provided a trenchant fable decrying success and merchandising in Arnold Drake, Severin & John Tartaglione’s ‘Fame is a Cross-Eyed Blind Date with B-a-a-a-d Breath!’

Also on show are a wealth of art treats including original art and production photostats; unused pencil pages by Romita and Lieber; sketches and painted magazine covers by Harry Rosenbaum and Romita; house ads; character sketches and notes, and reproductions of earlier collection covers by Romita & Dean White.

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

This book is Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. Why not see why…?
© 1968, 2019 Marvel. All rights reserved.