Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine


By Jason Aaron, Adam Kubert & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785140801 (TPB)

Remember when comic stories were fun, thrilling and, best of all, joyously uncomplicated? Here’s one of those…

Eschewing mind-boggling continuity-links and crossover overload, writer Jason Aaron and artist Adam Kubert – with the impressive support of inkers Mark Morales, Dexter Vines & Mark Roslan (as well as colourist Justin Ponsor and letterer Rob Steen) – simply set out to craft a well-told, action-packed and even poignant time-travel fun-fest that does everything right… and superbly succeeded. The result was 6-issue miniseries Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine.

Without giving away too much delicious detail (trust me you’ll be grateful once you read the full epic adventure) 65-million years ago, as a giant asteroid hurtles towards Earth and an impact which will wipe out the dinosaurs and at least two emergent species of proto-hominid, a warring couple of marooned superheroes from the 21st century sadly make peace with their fate if not each other…

Lost in time for months through the most ridiculous of circumstances, Wolverine and Peter Parker are ready to die. The feral mutant has become leader of the smart but diminutive Small People, leading them to salvation from the predations of their giant evolutionary rivals the Kill People and all other threats, whilst the erstwhile Spider-Man has isolated himself from all contact, terrified of rewriting the future even if he is no longer part of it.

Moreover, Parker’s dreams are haunted by a woman he doesn’t know, but who has become the only thing he cares for…

At a most precipitous moment, the pair are snatched from their time zone and returned to what appears to be an utterly devastated present. The Small People have survived humanity’s fall and are new rulers of a shattered society, but are currently at risk of losing their own shot as overlords of Earth. A fresh Armageddon from leftover human technology, a time-travelling z-list villain and a terrifying sentient planet with the ghost consciousness of Doctor Doom appears to be about to end civilisation one more time…

After Wolverine saves the day and is brought back from beyond death by Parker, they are separated in time and dumped at significant and harrowing moments of each other’s early life; but all the while sinister forces wielded by a hidden cosmic mastermind are manipulating not just the heroes but time itself…

After literally saving the world and perhaps the universe, the heroes are still hunted and continually assaulted by Temporal Gangstas The Czar and Big Murder, until Spider-Man and Wolverine finally strike back and seemingly triumph, only to be stranded in the American West for years…

At least this time Peter is happily united with the mysterious girl of his dreams.

However, the epic is far from finished and heartbreak is just around the chronal corner…

Fast-paced, spectacular, incredibly ingenious and uproariously witty, this tale – available in trade paperback and digital editions – is a sparkling timeless gem and the perfect antidote for over-angsty costumed drama overload.
© 2012 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man: Fever


By Brendan McCarthy & Steve Cook, with Stan Lee & Steve Ditko (Marvel)
ISBN: 987-0-7851-4125-9 (TPB)

Peter Parker was a smart, alienated kid when he was bitten by a radioactive spider during a school trip. Developing astonishing abilities – augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the boy did what any lonely, unappreciated, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: try to cash in for girls, fame and money…

Hiding behind a home-made costume (in case he fails and makes a fool of himself), Parker becomes a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief flees past him one night, the cocky teen doesn’t lift a finger to stop him. When the boy returns home that night, he learns that his beloved guardian uncle Ben Parker has been murdered.

Crazed with a need for vengeance, Peter hunts the assailant who made his devoted Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, and discovers, to his horror, that it is the self-same felon he neglected to stop. The traumatised boy is fixated on the fact that his irresponsibility resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and swears to forevermore use his powers to help others…

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

It wasn’t too long after his spectacular launch that Stan Lee & Steve Ditko’s astonishing Spider-Man proved himself a contemporary hero who fitted every possible milieu and scenario; equally at home against cheap hoods, world-busting super-menaces or the oddest of alien incursions, and this superbly outré modern masterpiece – available in trade paperback and digital formats – celebrates that astounding versatility by reprising one of the most brilliantly bizarre team-ups from the early Marvel Age.

The legendary classic first meeting of Mystic Master and Wondrous Wallcrawler occurred in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 and it’s rightly included at the end of this beguiling tome featuring über-imaginatively narrative art trendsetter Brendan McCarthy’s tribute to Ditko’s dazzling graphic magic.

London-born McCarthy came to prominence in comics on 2000AD before branching out into international comics stardom whilst pursuing parallel careers in film, television and design. His most notable works range from Strange Days and Paradax to Judge Dredd, The Zaucer of Zilk, Zenith, Skin, Rogan Gosh, Dream Gang and innumerable stunning covers. His moving media credits include The Storyteller, Highlander, Lost in Space, Reboot, Mad Max 4: Fury Road and so much more.

Collected here is a digitally-psychedelic, intoxicatingly appealing 3-issue miniseries from 2010 and produced for the mature-audience Marvel Knights sub-imprint. Written and illustrated by McCarthy with lettering and additional colouring from old comrade Steve Cook, it begins with the web-spinner battling frequent flyer archfoe The Vulture even as Sorcerer Supreme Stephen Strange explores a few Outer Realms and inadvertently activates an ancient trap set in an old grimoire – the Lost Journal of Albion Crowley

The “webwaze” energy escapes into the very architecture and infrastructure of New York City, finding its way to the cornered Vulture: possessing the bad old bird before passing through him, permeating and infecting the Friendly Neighbourhooded one…

When Strange further examines the cursed chronicle, he discovers the sorry tale of Crowley and his unlucky acolyte Victor Neumenon, whose long ago trans-dimensional forays led them into fateful contact with cosmically peripheral spider-demons dubbed Arachnix, lurking in the darkest corners and crannies of Creation.

Both were subjected to unimaginable atrocity at the many hands of the hairy horrors, but only Crowley returned to recount his experiences, and spin their adventures his way…

Meanwhile, ensorcelled Spider-Man, reeling in delirious torment, has instinctively crawled into the bathroom of Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum where his now-tainted soul is suddenly snatched away by arcane Arachnix-Hunter Daddy Longlegs, who drags the essence of the hero to its hideous homelands to be devoured by the ghastly King Korazon

Arriving too late to assist, the Master of the Mystic Arts gives chase through increasingly impossible planes of existence, following the ethereal webwaze paths in his frenzied attempts to save his old friend from utter horror and eternal damnation…

Along the way the wizard meets keenly helpful void-dwellers Fetch Doggy Fetch and Pugly, even as Peter Parker’s enmeshed spirit faces consumption by the Eight-Legged Tribe. Somehow, however, the hero’s dual nature confounds the beasts. They cannot determine if he is Spider – and therefore kin – or Man, and thus the most appealing meal ever presented to any Arachnix…

To decide his prey’s future fate Korazon despatches the befuddled soul-shell through the Insect Gate to catch the fabled feast known as the Sorror-Fly from the home dimension of all arthropods. If the arbitrary man-spider can snare the elusive treat he is their brother, but if he returns empty-handed, he’s just lunch…

Whilst the englamoured hero hunts in the insect realm, Strange rescues fellow Earth-born traveller Ms. Ningirril, long-trapped during her own dimensional Walkabout. In gratitude, the Antipodean wanderer provides the mage with useful intelligence, sound advice and a safer, swifter means of navigating his search for Spider-Man…

In a fantastic City of Termites our befuddled hero has succeeded in his task and is dragging the woeful Sorror-Fly back to the Arachnix: further succumbing with each passing moment to the inexorable, bestial allure of his Spider side, even as his garrulous meal relates the dread history of the insect dimension and a prophecy of telling magnitude.

When the Sorcerer Supreme and his allies fortuitously arrive, the Fly transforms back to a form he has not held for over a century, presaging the redemption and cure of the fallen Wall-crawler and a spectacular end to an infinitude of eight-legged terrors…

Bold, ambitious and visually compelling and off the wall, this superb magical mystery tour is perfectly augmented here by that aforementioned first meeting…

In 1965 Steve Ditko was blowing away audiences with another oddly tangential, daringly different superhero. Amazing Spider-Man King Size Annual #2 revealed ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange!’: introducing the webslinger to other realities after he accidentally interrupts an attack by wannabe wizard Xandu upon the Master of the Mystic Arts.

The villain had stolen the puissant Wand of Watoomb from Strange to achieve ultimate power, and when that pesky, interfering Spider-Man butts in, the power-crazed dilettante exiles him to an alien dimension – but not before the hero’s webbing snatches the arcane artefact from Xandu’s hand and takes it with him…

Cue an involuntary incredible journey to phantasmagorical, mind-bending worlds pursued by unstoppable zombie slaves and a desperately determined Doctor Strange in a dimension-hopping masterpiece of mystery and imagination…

Moody, creepy and staggeringly engrossing, this eerie eldritch escapade also includes the author/artist’s ‘Notes on the Design and Story Ideas for Spider-Man: Fever’ – a selection of commentary, roughs and sketches offering a fascinating glimpse of into the creative process of a truly unique talent, as well as a selection of Ditko pinups detailing the M.O.’s of The Circus of Crime, The Scorpion, The Beetle, Jonah’s Robot and the Crime-Master

Here’s another superb and crucial selection starring the timeless teen icon, superhero symbol and big screen superstar fans just cannot afford to do without
© 1965 and 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man Newspaper Strips volume 1: January 3rd 1977-January 28th 1979


By Stan Lee & John Romita, with Frank Giacoia (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8561-1 (TPB)

By 1977 Stan Lee had all but surrendered his role as editor and guiding light of Marvel Comics for that of a roving PR machine to hype-up the company he had turned into a powerhouse. In that year two events occurred which catapulted Marvel’s standout and signature character into the popular culture mainstream. One was the long-anticipated release of the Amazing Spider-Man live action TV show – a mixed blessing and pyrrhic victory at best – whilst the other, and one much more in keeping with his humble origins, was the launch of a syndicated newspaper strip.

Both mass-audience outreach projects brought the character to a wider audience, but the later offered at least a promise of editorial control – a vital factor in keeping the wondrous wallcrawler’s identity and integrity intact. But even this closely-aligned creative medium dictated some tailoring of the Merry Marvel Madness before the hero was a suitable fit with the grown-up world of the “Funny Pages”.

Which is a longwinded way of saying that completists, long-time fans and lovers of great artwork will enjoy this collection of periodical strips, as will any admirer of the stunning talents of the senior John Romita (latterly inked by the great Frank Giacoia); but the stories, tame, bowdlerised and rather mediocre, struggle without the support network of a Marvel Universe, and might feel a tad toned down and simplistic for readers not familiar with the wider cast or long history.

The strip was first posited and peddled around the papers in 1970 (Lee & Romita’s initial proposal and two weeks of trial continuities are included at the back of this book) but The Amazing Spider-Man only began on January 3rd 1977. It ran as a property of the Register and Tribune Syndicate until 1985, briefly switched to Cowles Media Company before becoming part of the King Features Syndicate in 1986. The strip went on hiatus following Lee’s death with the final new strip appearing on March 23rd 2019. Lee was still credited as writer even though Roy Thomas has been the ghost writer since 2000.

Romita illustrated the strip for the first four years, after which Stan’s brother Larry Lieber (in two separate stints), Fred Kida, Dan Barry and Alex Saviuk – all aided by a legion of artistic stand-ins – provided the visuals.

This initial collection – available in both landscape paperback and in digital formats – is a modified rerelease of a hardback tome from 2008, offering extra editorial and commentary as it re-presents the first two years of the strip, with traditional single tier monochrome dailies supplemented by full-colour, full page Sunday strips.

If the reader is steeped in the established folklore of the comicbook Spider-Man, the serials here – solidly emphasising Peter Parker’s personal relationships in the grand manner of strip soap opera drama – introducing Dr. Doom and Dr. Octopus are merely heavy-handed, light on action but intrinsically familiar riffs on what has gone before. However, for the presumed millions of neophyte readers the yarns might have been a tad confusing: presented as if all participants are already fully-established, with no development or real explanation of backstory.

After the full-on Marvel villains are successively trounced, serpentine new baddie The Rattler stalks the city, followed in turn by the more appropriate and understandable (for strips at least) gangster The Kingpin who combines seditious politics with gun-toting thuggery.

Only then do the creators finally get around to a retelling of the origin, albeit one now based on that aforementioned TV show rather than the classic Lee/Ditko masterpiece. It’s safe to say that in those early years the TV series informed the strip much (too much) more than the monthly comicbooks…

A revised Kraven the Hunter debuted next, presenting an opportunity to remove glamourous good-time girl Mary Jane Watson from the strip in favour of a string of temporary girl-friends, more in line with the TV iteration. This also signalled a reining-in of super-menaces in favour of less-fantastic and far-fetched opponents such as a middle-Eastern terrorist.

The launch of a Spider-Man movie (surely the most improbable of events!) then takes photojournalist Peter Parker to Hollywood and into a clash with a new version of deranged special-effects genius Mysterio, before Dr. Doom returns, attempting to derange our hero with robot pigeons and duplicates of Peter Parker’s associates….

This is followed by an exceptional and emotionally-stirring run of episodes as three street thugs terrorise senior citizen Aunt May for her social security money, after which Spider-Man must foil a crazed fashion-model who has discovered his identity and is blackmailing him… These human-scale threats are a far more fitting use of the hero in this more realistic milieu – which pauses here with a protection racket romp set in the (feel free to shudder) discotheque owned by young entrepreneurs Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn, courtesy of newly-returned corpulent crimelord Kingpin…

To Be Continued…

Adding to the time capsule of arachnid entertainment is that aforementioned proposal by Lee & Romita; archival interviews with both creators conducted by John Rhett Thomas and Alex Lear plus a gallery of six Sunday title panels (used to summarise events and set the tone for reader who only read the sabbath colour strips), as well as a classic Romita pin-up page starring the artist and his greatest co-creations…

Sadly, the stunning art can’t fully counteract the goofy stories that predominate in this oddball collection, nor has time been gentle with much of the dialogue, but there is nonetheless a certain guilty pleasure to be derived from this volume, if you don’t take your comics too seriously and are open to alternative existences….
© 1977, 1978, 2019 Marvel. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 17


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

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

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

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

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

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

Next follows that aforementioned crossover…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spider-Man Vs. The Vulture


By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, Roger Stern, Louise Simonson, J. M. DeMatteis, Peter David, John Romita, Don Heck, John Romita Jr., Greg LaRocque, Sal Buscema, Scot Eaton & various (Marvel)

ISBN: 978-1-3029-0706-8 (TPB)

Heroes are only truly defined by their enemies and superheroes doubly so, with the added proviso that costumed crusaders generally have a rogue’s gallery of fantastic foes rather than just one arch-nemesis. Even so, there’s always one particular enemy who wears that mantle: Moriarty for Sherlock Holmes; Blofeld for James Bond; Luthor for Superman.

Spider-Man has always had two top contenders… but the Vulture isn’t one of them. (*If you can’t guess who, check out the end of the review, puzzle-fans!).

Devised to cash in on the movie Spider-Man: Coming Home, this nifty trade paperback (and eBook) compilation gathers many of the now-cinematic sky bandit’s key clashes with the Wondrous Wallcrawler, tracing his rather rocky development whilst offering an uncomplicated, no-frills thrill-ride of frantic spills and chills, equally appetising to film-inspired new meat and grizzled old veterans of the Fights ‘n’ Tights arena.

Enhanced by an informative Introduction by former Spidey-Editor Ralph Macchio, this titanic tome explores the criminal career of elderly Adrian Toomes: a brilliant scientist twisted by tragedy and persecution into becoming a ruthless predator scavenging on the society which constantly betrayed him and made him unjustly suffer as a shunned outcast.

Amazing Spider-Man #1 (not included in this comprehensive paperback and digital compilation) had a March 1963 cover-date and two complete stories. The opening tale recapitulated the origin whilst adding a brilliant twist to the conventional mix…

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 saved Jameson’s astronaut son John from a faulty space capsule…

The second tale found the cash-strapped kid trying to force his way onto the roster – and payroll – of the Fantastic Four whilst elsewhere a spy perfectly impersonated the web-spinner to steal military secrets, in a stunning example of the high-strung, antagonistic crossovers and cameos that so startled the jaded kids of the early 1960s.

With the second issue our new champion began a meteoric rise in quality and innovative storytelling. He also faced his first genuine super-powered, costumed crazy…

Opening the action here is ‘Duel to the Death with the Vulture!’ which revealed how a bizarre flying thief was plundering Manhattan at will, with no police effort effective against him.

Desperate to help his aunt make ends meet, Spider-Man began to take photos of his cases to sell to Jameson’s Daily Bugle, transforming his personal gadfly into his sole means of support.

Along with comedy and 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. In the end, however, it was Peter Parker’s brains not the webslinger’s power that brought the Vulture down…

Amazing Spider-Man #7 (December 1963) boasted ‘The Return of the Vulture!’ as the creepy Bird of Ill-Omen became the webslinger’s first bad guy to come back for more. This time the cataclysmic final clash took place inside the Daily Bugle building and remains one Spidey’s best staged fights…

Amazing Spider-Man #48 had introduced Blackie Drago: a ruthless thug who shared a prison cell with the Vulture. After Drago orchestrated a near-fatal-accident for his cellmate, the cunning convict inveigled the ailing super-villain into revealing his technological secrets, enabling Drago to escape and take over the role: a younger, faster, tougher foe who nevertheless failed in every attempt to kill Spider-Man.

In Amazing Spider-Man #63 (August 1968, by Lee, John Romita, Don Heck & Mike Esposito) revealed the old buzzard had not died as Toomes vengefully stalked his successor in ‘Wings in the Night!’ The duel extended into the next issue with both Drago and the wallcrawler reduced to ‘The Vulture’s Prey’ until Spider-Man barely drove the aged maniac away…

A generation later, Amazing Spider-Man #224 (January 1982 by Roger Stern, John Romita Jr. & Pablo Marcos provided a fresh take on the bird bandit in ‘Let Fly These Aged Wings!’ as the now decrepit villain slumped into his imminent death-decline until inadvertently given a new perspective by Aunt May’s latest beau Nathan Lubensky.

By attempting to boost the confidence of a fellow octogenarian, Nathan instead unleashed Toomes’ dormant inner killer and revived the Vulture’s predatory career… at least until Spidey showed up…

Amazing Spider-Man #240 (May 1983, by Stern, Romita Jr. & Bob Layton) then details how the carrion crook wised up and moved out of NYC, until the business partner who first cheated him out of all his inventions resurfaced. On ‘Wings of Vengeance!’ Toomes soared back into action, even defeating Spider-Man in his righteous fury before the tale concluded with #241’s ‘In the Beginning…’ by Stern, Romita Jr. & Frank Giacoia.

Behind a stunning John Byrne cover, Web of Spider-Man #3 (June 1985 by Louise Simonson, Greg LaRoque & Jim Mooney) ‘Iron Bars Do Not a Prison Make… …Or Vulture is as Vulture Does!’ relates the fate of a gang of thugs who appropriate Toomes’ flying tech to plunder the city as Vulturions. Even the webslinger is unable to stop the old buzzard’s quest for vengeance…

‘Funeral Arrangements’ is a story arc from The Spectacular Spider-Man #186-188 (March-May 1992 by J. M. DeMatteis & Sal Buscema), with the Vulture on a rampage and pitilessly settling old scores. Believing his life to be imminently ending, in ‘Settling Scores’ Toomes murders old allies and contacts before targeting May Parker and J. Jonah Jameson, leading Spider-Man to ‘Desperate Measures’ and a devasting showdown in ‘Final Judgement’

Set during the first superhero Civil War, 3-parter ‘Taking Wing’ is by Peter David, Scot Eaton & John Dell and comes from Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #14-16 (January-March 2007). Peter Parker and his loved ones are on the run, since Spider-Man’s secret identity has been revealed on live TV. To stay safe, Peter has assumed the role of his former clone Ben Reilly

Unwillingly allied with Wolverine and the Punisher, Spider-Man is learning to be a true outlaw when the government offer the Vulture a shady deal: capture the wallcrawler and earn a pardon…

The scheme instantly goes south when Toomes turns Parker’s old girlfriend Debra Whitman into live bait to draw out his prey and ensnares Betty Brant and Flash Thompson too…

The final battle pushes the wallcrawler to the edge of sanity, almost costing him his life, honour and integrity…

The Vulture has always been one of the most visually arresting of foes and a gallery of covers is supplemented at the close by a wealth of stunning images. Starting with Ditko’s data-file pin-up from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, successive covers include Annual #7 (December 1970, by Romita Sr.), Spider-Man Classics #3 (June 1993 by Tom Lyle) and #8 (November 1993 Bret Blevins) plus illustrations by Blevins, Ron Frenz & Josef Rubinstein from Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition 1985.

Also on show are original art pages by Ditko, Romita Sr./Heck/Esposito, Romita Jr. & Layton and Sal Buscema, as well as cover reproductions from Essential Spider-Man vol. 11 by Romita Jr. & Layton, a textless version of this book’s cover by Sal Buscema and those from Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #14-16 by Eaton.

Epic and engaging, this grab-bag of aerial assaults ant titanic tussles is pure comicbook catharsis: fast, furious fun and thrill-a-minute-melodrama no Fights ‘n’ Tights fan could resist.
© 2010, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

* Green Goblin Norman Osborn and Doctor Otto Octavius share the dishonours of being Spider-Man’s most dastardly nemeses. If you had trouble with that, you need to read more mainstream comics, Fanboy…

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection volume 3 1966-1967: Spider-Man No More


By Stan Lee, John Romita, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Marie Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1023-5 (TPB)

Outcast, geeky high school kid Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and, after attempting to cash-in on the astonishing abilities he’d developed, suffered an irreconcilable personal tragedy. Due to the teenager’s arrogant neglect, his beloved guardian Uncle Ben was murdered and the traumatised boy determined henceforward to always use his powers to help those in dire need.

For years the brilliant young hero suffered privation and travail in his domestic situation, whilst his heroic alter ego endured public condemnation and mistrust as he valiantly battled all manner of threat and foe…

Spanning August 1966 to September 1967, this fulsome, titanic, full-colour Epic Collection (available as massive paperback or ephemeral eBook) gathers the gems from Amazing Spider-Man #39-52 plus Annuals #3-4 and a deliciously daft snippet from spoof mag Not Brand Echh #2, heralding the start of a brand new era for the Astonishing Arachnid with Peter and his ever-expanding cast of cohorts well on the way to being household names as well as the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia.

By 1966 Stan Lee and Steve Ditko could no longer work together on their greatest creation. After increasingly fraught months the artist simply resigned, leaving Spider-Man without an illustrator.

In the coincidental meantime John Romita had been lured away from DC’s romance line and given odd assignments before assuming the artistic reins of Daredevil, the Man Without Fear. Before long, he was co-piloting the company’s biggest property and expected to run with it.

After a period where old-fashioned crime and gangsterism predominated, science fiction themes and costumed crazies began to predominate as the world went gaga for superheroes and creators experimented with longer storylines and protracted subplots…

When Ditko abruptly left, the company feared a drastic loss in quality and sales but it didn’t happen. John Romita (senior) considered himself a mere “safe pair of hands” keeping the momentum going until a better artist could be found but instead blossomed into a major talent in his own right. The wallcrawler continued his unstoppable rise at an accelerated pace…

When Amazing Spider-Man #39 appeared with the first of a 2-part adventure declaiming the ultimate victory of the hero’s greatest foe, no reader knew what had happened – and no one told them…

‘How Green Was My Goblin!’ and ‘Spidey Saves the Day! (“Featuring the End of the Green Goblin!”)’ calamitously changed everything whilst describing how the arch-foes learned each other’s true identities before the Goblin “perished” in a climactic showdown. It would have been memorable even if the tale didn’t feature the debut of a new artist & a whole new manner of story-telling…

The issues were a turning point in many ways, and – inked by old DC colleague Mike Esposito (under the pseudonym Mickey Demeo) – they still stand as one of the greatest Spider-Man yarns of all time, heralding a run of classic tales from the Lee/Romita team that saw sales rise and rise, even without the seemingly irreplaceable Ditko.

With #41 and ‘The Horns of the Rhino!’, Romita began inking his own pencils and although the debuting super-strong criminal spy proved a mere diversion, his intended target, J. Jonah Jameson’s astronaut son, was a far harder proposition in the next issue.

Amazing Spider-Man #42 heralded ‘The Birth of a Super-Hero!’, wherein John Jameson is mutated by space-spores and goes on a Manhattan rampage: a solid, entertaining yarn that is only really remembered for the last panel of the final page.

Mary Jane Watson had been a running gag in the series for years: a prospective blind-date arranged by Aunt May who Peter had avoided – and Ditko skilfully not depicted – for the duration of time that our hero had been involved with Betty Brant, Liz Allen, and latterly Gwen Stacy.

Now, in that last frame the gobsmacked young man finally realises that for two years he’s been ducking the hottest chick in New York!

‘Rhino on the Rampage!’ gave the villain one more crack at Jameson and Spidey, but the emphasis was solidly on foreshadowing future foes and building Pete and MJ’s relationship. Next comes Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 3 and ‘…To Become an Avenger!’ as the World’s Mightiest Heroes offer the webspinner membership if he can capture the Hulk. As usual, all is not as it seems but the action-drenched epic, courtesy of Lee, Romita (on layouts), Don Heck, & Esposito is the kind of guest-heavy power-punching package that made these summer specials a child’s delight.

The monthly Marvel merriment resumes with the return of a tragedy-drenched old foe as Lee & Romita reintroduce biologist Curt Conners in #44’s ‘Where Crawls the Lizard!’ The deadly reptilian marauder threatens Humanity itself and it takes all of the wallcrawler’s resourcefulness to stop him in the concluding ‘Spidey Smashes Out!’

Issue #46 introduced an all-new menace in the form of seismic super-thief ‘The Sinister Shocker!’ whilst ‘In the Hands of the Hunter!’ brought back a fighting-mad Kraven the Hunter to menace the family of Parker’s pal Harry Osborn. Apparently, the obsessive big-game hunter had entered into a contract with Harry’s father (Green Goblin, until a psychotic break turned him into a traumatised amnesiac). Now, though, the hunter wants paying off…

Luckily, Spider-Man is on hand to dissuade him, but it’s interesting to note that at this time the student life and soap-opera sub-plots became increasingly important to the mix, with glamour girls Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy (both superbly delineated by the masterful Romita) as well as former bully Flash Thompson and the Osborns getting as much – or more – “page-time” as Aunt May or the Daily Bugle staff, who had previously monopolised the non-costumed portions of the ongoing saga.

Amazing Spider-Man #48 launched Blackie Drago; a ruthless thug who shared a prison cell with one of the wall-crawler’s oldest foes. At death’s door, the ailing and elderly super-villain reveals his technological secrets, enabling Drago to escape and master ‘The Wings of the Vulture!’

Younger, faster, tougher, the new Vulture defeats Spider-Man and in #49’s ‘From the Depths of Defeat!’ battles Kraven until a reinvigorated arachnid can step in to thrash them both.

Issue #50 featured the debut of one of Marvel’s greatest villains in the first of a 3-part yarn that saw the beginnings of romance between Parker and Gwen. It also contained the death of a cast regular, re-established Spidey’s war on cheap thugs and common criminals (a key component of the hero’s appeal was that no criminal was too small for him to bother with) and saw a crisis of conscience force him to quit in ‘Spider-Man No More!’.

Life being what it is, Peter’s sense of responsibility forces his return before he is trapped ‘In the Clutches of… the Kingpin!’ until he ultimately and tragically triumphs in ‘To Die a Hero!’ This gang-busting triptych saw Romita relinquish the inking of his art to Esposito.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4 follows as Lee – with his brother Larry Lieber & Esposito handling the art chores – crafts an epic battle-saga wherein Spidey and the Human Torch are tricked into appearing in a movie.

Sadly ‘The Web and the Flame!’ is just a deviously diabolical scheme to kill them, devilishly orchestrated by old enemies The Wizard and Mysterio, but the titanic teens are up to the task of trashing their attackers…

From the same issue – and all courtesy of Lieber – come pictorial fact-features ‘The Coffee Bean Barn!’ – face-checking the then-current Spider-Man regulars – while sartorial secrets exposed in ‘What the Well-Dressed Spider-Man Will Wear’ and superpowers are scrutinised in ‘Spidey’s Greatest Talent’.

Also included are big pin-ups of our hero testing his strength against Marvel’s mightiest good guys, a double-page spread ‘Say Hello to Spidey’s Favorite Foes!’ plus another 2-page treat as we enjoy ‘A Visit to Peter’s Pad!’

With the action over there’s still time for a hearty ha ha as Not Brand Echh #2 shares an outrageous comedy caper from Lee, Marie Severin & Frank Giacoia starring the Aging Spidey-Man! Here ‘Peter Pooper vs. Gnatman and Rotten’ reveals how rival comics icons duke it out for the hearts and minds of fandom in a wry jab at the madness of the era’s Batmania craze.

Also on view are gems of original art – including unused pages – and Romita’s first sketch of Mary Jane, plus a painted cover repro from Romita & Dean White.

After a shaky start The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages. Before long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera was 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.

This book is Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. You really should read it.
© 1966, 1967, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Nova Classic volume 1


By Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Ross Andru, Carmine Infantino Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6028-1 (TPB)

By 1975 the first wave of fans-turned-writers were well ensconced at all the major American comic-book companies. Two fanzine graduates, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, had achieved stellar successes early on, and then risen to the ranks of writer/editors at Marvel, a company in trouble both creatively and in terms of sales.

After a meteoric rise and a virtual root-&-branch overhaul of the industry in the 1960s, the House of Ideas – and every other comics publisher except Archie – were suffering from a mass desertion of fans who had simply found other uses for their mad-money.

Whereas Charlton and Gold Key dwindled and eventually died and DC vigorously explored new genres to bolster their flagging sales, Marvel chose to exploit their record with superheroes: fostering new titles within a universe it was increasingly impossible to buy only a portion of…

As seen in this no-nonsense compilation collecting the first dozen issues plus a crossover with Amazing Spider-Man #171 (September 1976-August 1977), The Man Called Nova was in fact a boy named Richard Rider. The new kid was a working-class teen nebbish in the tradition of Peter Parker – except he was good at sports and bad at learning – who attended Harry S. Truman High School, where his strict dad was the principal.

His mom worked as a police dispatcher and he had a younger brother, Robert, who was a bit of a genius. Other superficial differences to the Spider-Man canon included girlfriend Ginger and best friends Bernie and Caps, but he did have his own school bully, Mike Burley

An earlier version, “Black Nova” had apparently appeared in the Wolfman/Wein fan mag Super Adventures in 1966, but with a few revisions and an artistic make-over by the legendary John Romita (Senior), the “Human Rocket” was launched into the Marvel Universe in his own title, beginning in September 1976, ably supported by the illustration A-Team of John Buscema & Joe Sinnott.

‘Nova’ – which borrowed as heavily from Green Lantern as the wallcrawler’s origin – was structured like a classic four-chapter Lee/Kirby early Fantastic Four tale, and rapidly introduced its large cast before quickly zipping to the life-changing moment in Rider’s life when a colossal star-ship with a dying alien aboard transfers to the lad all the mighty powers of an extraterrestrial peacekeeper and warrior.

Centurion Rhomann Dey was tracking a deadly marauder to Earth. Zorr had already destroyed the warior’s idyllic homeworld Xandar, but the severely wounded, vengeance-seeking Nova Prime was too near death and could not avenge the genocide.

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

The tale is standard origin fare beautifully rendered by Buscema & Sinnott, but the story really begins – after text feature Nova Newsline! – with #2’s ‘The First Night of… The Condor!’ as Wolfman, playing to his own strengths, introduces an extended storyline featuring a host of new villains whilst concentrating on filling out the lives of the supporting cast.

There’s still plenty of action as the neophyte hero learns to use his new powers (one thing the energy transfer didn’t provide was an instruction manual) but battles against winged criminal mastermind Condor and his enigmatic, reluctant pawn Powerhouse only lead the green hero into a trap…

Nova #3 debuts another brutal super-thug in ‘…The Deadly Diamondhead is Ready to Strike!’ (illustrated by new art-team Sal Buscema & Tom Palmer), but the battles are clearly not as important as laying plot-threads for a big event to come. The next issue

features the first of many guest-star appearances – and the first of three covers by the inimitable Jack Kirby.

‘Nova Against the Mighty Thor’ introduces The Corruptor: a bestial being who transforms the Thunder God – with one magic touch – into a raging berserker whom only the new kid on the block can stop, before ‘Evil is the Earth-Shaker!’ pits the lad against subterranean despot Tyrannus and his latest engine of destruction, although a slick sub-plot concerning the Human Rocket’s attempt to become a comicbook star still delivers some tongue-in-cheek chuckles to this day…

Issue #6 saw those long-laid evil mastermind plans begin to mature as Condor, Diamondhead and Powerhouse return to capture Nova, whilst their hidden foe is revealed in the Frank Giacoia inked ‘And So… The Sphinx!’

The Egyptian-themed bad guy is another world-class, immortal impatiently awaiting his turn to conquer the world…

Meanwhile, young Caps has been abducted by another new nasty who would eventually make big waves for the Human Rocket….

‘War in Space!’ sees Nova a brainwashed ally of his former foes in an invasion of Rhomann Dey’s still orbiting star-ship. The awesome craft will be an invaluable weapon in the encroaching war with the Sphinx, but the boarding raid results in Nova being marooned in deep space once his mind clears.

On narrowly escaping, Rider finds himself initially outmatched and outfought by Caps’ kidnapper in ‘When Megaman Comes Calling… Don’t Answer!’: a tumultuous, time-bending epic that concludes in #9’s ‘Fear in the Funhouse!’

Nova #10 began the final (yeah, right) battle in ‘Four Against the Sphinx!’ with Condor, Diamondhead and Powerhouse in all-out battle against the immortal mage whilst the hapless Human Rocket is caught in the crossfire, after which ‘Nova No More’ focuses on the hero’s short-term memories being removed to take him out of the game. The tactic only partially works since he’s back for the next issue’s classy crossover with the Spectacular Spider-Man.

Closing out this collection ‘Who is the Man Called Photon?’ is by Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Giacoia: teaming the neophyte hero with the much more experienced webslinger in a fair-play murder mystery, after Rich Rider’s uncle is killed by a costumed thief.

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

Enthusiastic and action packed, this tome offers lots of competent, solid entertainment and beautiful superhero art and Nova has proved his intrinsic value by returning again and again. If simple, uncomplicated Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction is what you want, look no further.
© 1976, 1977, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Team Up Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Sal Buscema, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5933-9 (HB)

Inspiration isn’t everything. In fact, 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 – 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 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), launching in March 1972, and becoming a resounding hit.

This second sturdy compilation (in hardback or digital formats) gathers material from MTU #12-22 plus a crossover with Daredevil (and the Black Widow) #103 spanning August 1973 to June 1974 and opens with a fond, if self-proclaimed foggy, recollection from then Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas in his cheery Introduction before we plunge into the many-starred dramas…

Len Wein scripted a Gerry Conway plot for ‘Wolf at Bay!’ from MTU #12 as the Wall-Crawler meets the Werewolf By Night Jack Russell and malevolent mage Moondark in foggy San Francisco, as deftly delineated by Ross Andru & Don Perlin, after which we divert to the Man without Fear and the Black Widow’s own title. Here they share the left coast limelight as Daredevil #103 sees them joining with the still California-bound wallcrawler. A merciless cyborg attacks the odd couple while they pose for roving photojournalist Peter Parker in ‘…Then Came Ramrod!’ – by Steve Gerber, Don Heck & Sal Trapani – and the only response can be battle…

Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia illustrated ‘The Granite Sky!’ wherein Wein pits Spider-Man and Captain America against Hydra and the Grey Gargoyle in a simple clash of ideologies after which ‘Mayhem is… the Men-Fish!’ (inked by Wayne Howard – and, yes bad grammar, but great action-art!) matches the webslinger with the savage Sub-Mariner against vile villains Tiger Shark and Doctor Dorcas as well as an army (navy?) of mutant sea-beasts.

Wein, Andru & Perlin created The Orb to bedevil Spidey and the Ghost Rider in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee!’ in #15 after which Kane & Jim Mooney illustrated ‘Beware the Basilisk my Son!’: a gripping romp featuring (the original Kree) Captain Marvel, which concludes in ‘Chaos at the Earth’s Core!’ (inked by “everybody”!), as Mister Fantastic joins the fracas to stop the Mole Man from inadvertently blowing up the world.

Human Torch Johnny Storm teams with the Hulk in MTU #18 to stop antimatter malcontent Blastaar in ‘Where Bursts the Bomb!’ (inked by Giacoia & Esposito), but Spidey blazes back a month later with Ka-Zar in situ to witness ‘The Coming of… Stegron, the Dinosaur Man!’ (Wein, Kane & Giacoia) whose plans to flatten New York by releasing ‘Dinosaurs on Broadway!’ is foiled with the Black Panther’s help – as well as the artistic skills of Sal Buscema, Giacoia & Esposito.

Dave Hunt replaced Esposito and aide Giacoia inking ‘The Spider and the Sorcerer!’ in #21 as Spidey and Doctor Strange once more battle Xandu, a wily wizard first seen in Spider-Man Annual #2, before ‘The Messiah Machine!’ brings the story glories to a conclusion by depicting Hawkeye and the Amazing Arachnid frustrating deranged computer Quasimodo’s ambitious if absurd mechanoid invasion.

Adding extra lustre before we close, there’s a brace of original art pages from Andru & Perlin and Kane and Mooney to drool over, too…

These stories are of variable quality but nonetheless all have an honest drive to entertain and please, whilst artistically the work – particularly action-man-on-fire Gil Kane – is superb, and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about. Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s lots 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…
© 1973, 1974, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ant-Man: Scott Lang


By David Michelinie, Bob Layton, Tom DeFalco, John Byrne, Jerry Bingham, George Pérez, Luke McDonnell, Ron Wilson, Greg LaRocque & various (Marvel)
No ISBN

With another Marvel filmic franchise follow-up hitting screens around the world, here’s a timely tie-in trade paperback (or eBook) collection designed to perfectly augment the cinematic exposure and cater to movie fans wanting to follow up with a comics experience.

This treasury of tales reprints all the early adventures of legacy hero Scott Lang, taken from Marvel Premiere #47-48, Iron Man #133-135 and 151, Avengers #195-196 & 223, Marvel Team-Up #103 and Marvel Two-in-One #87, convolutedly spanning April 1979 to March 1983.

The unlikeliest of valiant titans originally appeared in Tales to Astonish #27, released at the end of 1961, one month after Fantastic Four #1 hit the newsstands: a 7-page short which introduced maverick scientist Dr Henry Pym, who discovered a shrinking potion and became ‘The Man in the Anthill!’

Overwhelmed and imperilled by his startling discovering, the lonely researcher found wonder and even a kind of companionship amongst the lowliest creatures on Earth… and under it…

It was intended as nothing more than another here-today, gone-tomorrow filler in one of the company’s madly engaging pre-superhero “monster-mags”. However, the character struck a chord with someone since, as the DC Comics-inspired superhero boom flourished and Lee sprung the Hulk, Thor and Spider-Man on the unsuspecting kids of America, Pym was economically retooled as a fully-fledged costumed do-gooder for TtA #35 (September 1962).

You can read about his extremely eccentric career elsewhere, but suffice it to say Pym was never settled in his persona and changed name and modus operandi many times before junking his Ant-Man identity for the reasonably more stable and far more imposing identity of Yellowjacket

Comics creators are six parts meddler and five parts nostalgia buff and eventually somebody convinced somebody else that the concept and property of Ant-Man could be viable again…

Thus we begin here with the introduction of reformed thief Scott Lang who debuted in Marvel Premiere #47 (April 1979). Those first somebodies were David Michelinie, John Byrne & Bob Layton who produced ‘To Steal an Ant-Man!’, revealing how a former electronics engineer had turned to crime – more out of boredom than necessity – and after being caught and serving his time joined Stark Industries as a determinedly reformed character…

But then his daughter Cassie developed a heart condition which wiped out his savings, forcing Scott to revert to old ways to save her…

Desperate to find the wherewithal to hire experimental surgeon Dr. Erica Sondheim, he begins casing likely prospects, but is shattered when she is abducted by psychotic industrialist Darren Cross who is currently using all the resources – legal or otherwise – of his mega-corporation Cross Technological Enterprises to keep himself alive…

Needing cash now just to broach the CTE complex, Lang goes back to Plan A and burgles the lab of retired superhero Henry Pym and discovers mothballed Ant-Man gear and size-changing gases. In a moment of madness Lang decides not to sell the stolen tech but instead use the outfit to break in to Cross’ citadel and rescue Sondheim…

That plan doesn’t go so great either as the dying billionaire, in a desperate attempt to stay alive, had been harvesting the hearts of homeless people to power an experimental device which had mutated him into a monstrous brute…

After learning with horror ‘The Price of a Heart!’ (June 1979), Scott eventually triumphs; unaware until the very last that Pym had allowed him to take the suit and was backstopping him every inch of the way. With Cassie saved, Yellowjacket then invites Lang to continue as the new Ant-Man…

Crafted by Michelinie, Jerry Bingham & Bob Layton, Iron Man #133-135 (February – April 1980) then delivers the Small Wonder’s first proper exploit in ‘Hulk is Where the Heart Is! after his boss Tony Stark is confronted with a rampaging gamma goliath attacking the Long Island factory.

Having successfully calmed the creature back into his human Bruce Banner state, Stark calls in his newest whiz kid employee Scott Lang to help craft a micro-device to keep the tortured scientist in passive mode permanently.

Of course, that works out well…

With Hulk’s persona trapped in Banner’s body, the Stark team race to fix the foul-up before the patient fatally strokes out or worse in ‘The Man Who Would be Hulk’ but their success only leaves them with a really ticked-off Emerald Titan who resumes smashing everything in sight.

Forced to amp his armour to overload, Iron Man manages to knock out the Hulk, only to collapse, trapped and dying inside his own metal suit…

With his boss and friend in dire need, Scott then suits up and shrinks down to open the high-tech shroud and save ‘The Hero Within!’… if the suit’s internal defences don’t get him first…

In Iron Man #151 (October 1981, by Michelinie, Luke McDonnell & Layton) Ant-Man again takes centre-stage for ‘G.A.R.D.’s Gauntlet’ as the repercussions of yet another attack on Stark’s factory triggers a catastrophic systems failure, trapping Lang in an extremely hostile lab environment with the mechanized defence systems treating him as an intruder. Cue shrinking gas, many six-legged pals and total chaos…

Ant-Man got his first dose of team action in Avengers #195 (May 1980) in ‘Assault on a Mind Cage!’ (Michelinie, George Pérez, Jack Abel & Dan Green) when Hank Pym asks him to help infiltrate a suspicious asylum believed to be holding the Wasp hostage. What the miniature marvels uncover is illegal cloning for spare parts and a madman using the facilities to train henchmen for major villains and mob bosses…

The climactic clash resulting from ‘The Terrible Toll of the Taskmaster’ (#196 June 1980, by Michelinie, Pérez & Abel) wrecks the joint but leaves Lang one step closer to redemption and stardom…

Thanks to Michelinie, Greg LaRocque, Brett Breeding & Crew, Lang again faced Taskmaster in ‘Of Robin Hoods and Roustabouts’ (Avengers #223, September 1982) when he and Cassie attended a circus and stumbled into Hawkeye trying to extricate an old friend from the maniac’s clutches and influence.

It started becoming a regular event when Taskmaster resurfaced in Marvel Team-Up #103 (March 1983). Crafted by Michelinie, Jerry Bingham & Mike Esposito ‘The Assassin Academy’ sees the diminutive neophyte hero saving Spider-Man from becoming an object lesson for the graduating class at another deadly school for henchmen: a spectacular and memorable clash against the villainous lifestyle coach…

The last tale comes from Marvel Two-In-One #87 (May 1982) and begins when the Fantastic Four call in Ant-Man after The Thing is abducted by sub-atomic beings. The resultant rescue mission sees Scott help the rocky rogue defeat a duplicitous queen, high-tech barbarians and awesome aliens in the ‘Menace of the Microworld!’ by Tom DeFalco. Ron Wilson & Chic Stone…

The pint-sized, power-packed delights then conclude with a fulsome cover gallery, a fact-filled entry from the Marvel Universe Handbook, original art pages by Byrne, Layton, Bingham and McDonnell as well as a few surprise extras…

Hopefully answering any questions the silver screen sagas might throw up, whilst providing an immense amount of spectacularly bombastic fighting fun, this quirky slice of up-scaled and down-sized derring-do is a non-stop feast of tense suspense, whacky fun and blockbuster action: another well-tailored, on-target tool to turn curious movie-goers into fans of the comic incarnation and one more solid sampling to entice the newcomers and charm even the most jaded slice ‘n’ dice fanatic.
© 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 2015 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Team Up Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Jim Mooney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4210-2 (HB)

Inspiration isn’t everything. In fact, as Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in the wake of 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 assembly line creation of horror and horror-hero 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 (usually both) with less well-selling company characters – was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of this new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch.

In those long-lost days editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since superheroes were actually in a decline they may well have been right.

Marvel Team-Up was the second regular Spider-Man title (abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the magazine market in 1968 but had died after two issues). MTU launched at the end of 1971 and went from strength to strength, proving the time had finally come for expansion and a concentration on uncomplicated action over sub-plots…

This engaging hardback and/or eBook compilation gathers the first 11 issues – covering March 1972 to July 1973 – and opens with scripter Gerry Conway’s engaging recollections in ‘Behold: An Introduction’ before the comicbook magic commences with the webspinner and his flighty flaming frenemy reluctantly spending the holidays together…

Marvel Team-Up #1was crafted by Roy Thomas, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito as a mutual old enemy reared his gritty head in the charming ‘Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas!’. A light-heated romp full of Christmas cheer, rambunctious action and seasonal sentiment, the story set the tone for all epics to follow.

Merry Marvelite Maximii can award themselves a point for remembering which martial arts and TV heroine debuted in this issue but the folk with lives can simply take my word that it was Iron Fist’s sometime squeeze Misty Knight

Gerry Conway assumed the writer’s role and Jim Mooney the inker’s for ‘And Spidey Makes Four!’ in the succeeding issue as our heroes then take on and trounce the Frightful Four and Negative Zone bogeyman Annihilus before seemingly without pause going after Morbius the Living Vampire in #3’s ‘The Power to Purge!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia).

The new horror-star was still acting the villain in MTU #4 as the Torch was replaced by most of Marvel’s sole mutant team (The Beast having gone all hairy – and solo) in ‘And Then… the X-Men!’

This bold and enthralling thriller was illustrated by the magnificent Gil Kane at the top of his form and inked by Steve Mitchell. Kane became a semi-regular penciller, and his dynamic style and extreme anatomy lifted many rather pedestrian tales such as #5’s ‘A Passion of the Mind!’ (Conway script & Esposito inks), pitting Spidey and The Vision against manipulative mesmeric Puppet Master and robotic assassin the Monstroid.

The villain carried over to the next issue and was joined by the Mad Thinker ‘…As Those Who Will Not See!’ pitted the wallcrawler and the Thing against the cerebral scoundrels in a cataclysmic battle no Fights ‘n’ Tights fan could be unmoved by…

‘A Hitch in Time!’ in #7 was produced by Conway, Andru and Mooney: guest-starring Thor as otherworldly Trolls freeze Earth’s time-line as a prerequisite step to conquering Asgard, after which MTU #8 provides a perfect example of the team-up comic’s other function – to promote and popularise new characters.

‘Man-Killer Moves at Midnight!’ was most fans’ first exposure to The Cat (later retooled as Tigra the Were-Woman) in a painfully worthy if ham-fisted attempt to address feminist issues from Conway and Jim Mooney. The hard-pressed heroes joined forces her to stop a male-hunting murderer paying back abusive men. These days we’d probably be rooting for her…

Iron Man then collaborated in the opening foray of 3-part tale ‘The Tomorrow War!’ (Conway, Andru & Frank Bolle) as he and Spidey are kidnapped by Zarkko the Tomorrow Man to battle Kang the Conqueror. The Torch returned to help deal with the intermediate threat of ‘Time Bomb!’ (with art by Mooney & Giacoia) before the entire race of Black Bolt’s Inhumans pile in to help Spidey stop history unravelling in culminatory clash ‘The Doomsday Gambit!’ – this last chapter scripted by Len Wein over Conway’s plot for Mooney & Esposito to illustrate.

This initial gathering also includes two splendid samples of Kane original art – a cover and interior page.

These stories are of variable quality but nonetheless all show an honest drive to entertain and please whilst artistically the work is superb, and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about. Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers, there’s lots of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so surely that’s reason enough to add this titanic tome to your library…
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