X-Men Epic Collection volume 8: I, Magneto (1981-1982)


By Chris Claremont, Jo Duffy, Bob Layton, Dace Cockrum, Michael Golden, Brent Anderson, Paul Smith, Jim Sherman, Bob McLeod, John Buscema, George Pérez & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2952-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

In 1963, The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington III and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: unique students of Professor Charles Xavier. Their teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After eight years of eccentrically amazing adventures, the mutant misfits almost disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just as in the 1940s, mystery men faded away whilst traditional genres – especially supernatural yarns – dominated entertainment fields. The title returned at year’s end as a reprint vehicle, and the missing mutants became perennial guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel Universe. The Beast was suitably refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories…

Everything changed again in 1975 when Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique via a brand-new team in Giant Size X-Men #1. Old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire joined one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine and original creations Kurt Wagner (a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler), African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe – AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin (who transformed into a living steel Colossus) and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The revision was an instant hit, with Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont assuming the writer’s role from the second story onwards. The Uncanny X-Men reclaimed their comic book with #94, which soon became the company’s most popular – and highest quality – title.

After Thunderbird became the team’s first fatality, the survivors slowly bonded, becoming an unparalleled fighting unit under the brusquely draconian supervision of Cyclops. Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster changed, the series scaled even greater heights, culminating in the landmark Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved, imaginative and powerful character.

In the aftermath, team leader Cyclops left but the epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the groundbreaking working relationship of Claremont & Byrne. Within months they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with mutants whilst Byrne went on to establish his own reputation as a writer with series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionary reimagining of The Fantastic Four

This comprehensive compilation is an ideal jumping-on point, perfect for newbies, neophytes and old lags nervous over re-reading these splendid yarns on fragile, extremely valuable newsprint paper. It celebrates a changing of the guard as the mutants consolidated their unstoppable march to market dominance through high-quality storytelling Seen here are issues #144-153 of the (latterly re-renamed “Uncanny”) X-Men; X-Men Annual #5, Avengers Annual #10 and material from Bizarre Adventures #27 and Marvel Fanfare #1-4, spanning April 1981-September 1982.

Scripted by Claremont and illustrated by Brent Anderson & Joseph Rubenstein the drama resumes with X-Men #144 as ‘Even in Death…’ finds heartbroken wanderer Scott Summers (who quit after the death of Jean Grey) fetching up in coastal village Shark Bay before joining the crew of a fishing boat.

Trouble is never far from Cyclops, however, and when captain Aletys Forester introduces him to her dad, Scott must draw upon all his inner reserves – and instinctive assistance of macabre swamp guardian Man-Thing – to repel crushing, soul-consuming psychic assaults from pernicious demon D’spayre, who has made the region his personal torture garden…

Cockrum returned to the team he co-created in #145, joining Claremont & Rubinstein in an extended clash of cultures as ‘Kidnapped!’ sees the X-Men targeted by Doctor Doom, thanks to the machinations of deranged assassin Arcade.

With Storm, Colossus, Angel, Wolverine and Nightcrawler invading the Diabolical Dictator’s castle, a substitute-squad consisting of Iceman, Polaris, Banshee and Havoc are despatched to the killer-for-hire’s mechanised ‘Murderworld!’ to rescue family and friends of the heroes, all previously kidnapped by Arcade. In the interim, Doom has defeated the invading X-Men of his castle, but his cruel act of entrapping claustrophobe Ororo has backfired, triggering a ‘Rogue Storm!’ that could erase the USA from the globe…

Issue #148 opens with Scott and Aletys shipwrecked on a recently reemergent island holding the remnants of a lost civilisation, but the main event is a trip to Manhattan for 13-year-old X-Man Kitty Pryde, accompanied by Storm, Spider-Woman Jessica Drew and Dazzler Alison Blair. That’s lucky, since nomadic mutant empath Caliban calamitously attempts to abduct the child in ‘Cry, Mutant!’ by Claremont, Cockrum & Rubinstein…

A major menace resurfaces in #149 to threaten the shipwrecked couple, but the active X-Men are too busy to notice, dealing with resurrected demi-god Garokk and an erupting volcano in ‘And the Dead Shall Bury the Living!’ before all the varied plots converge in #150 (October 1981). Before that, though, there’s a crucial diversion that will affect and reshape the X-Men for years to come.

Crafted by Claremont, Michael Golden & Armando Gil, ‘By Friends… Betrayed!’  comes from Avengers Annual #10: seemingly closing the superhero career of Carol Danvers AKA Ms. Marvel. Powerless and stripped of her memories, Danvers is rescued from drowning by Spider-Woman, even as mutant shapeshifter Mystique launches an attack on the World’s Mightiest Superheroes to free her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from jail.

It’s revealed that Danvers’ mind and abilities have been permanently stolen by a power-leaching teenager dubbed Rogue and in the aftermath of the assembled heroes defeating Mystique, the Avengers learn a horrific truth: how they had inadvertently surrendered their comrade Carol into the grip of a manipulative villain acting as the perfect husband…

Returning to the X-Men, the anniversary issue delivers extended epic ‘I, Magneto’ seeing the merciless, malevolent master of magnetism threaten all humanity. with Xavier’s team helpless to stop him… until a critical moment triggers an emotional crisis and awakening of the tortured villain’s long-suppressed humanity…

Claremont, Anderson & Bob McLeod then craft riotous intergalactic wonderment in X-Men Annual #5’s ‘Ou, La La…Badoon!’ When the Fantastic Four help an alien fugitive stranded in Manhattan they are in turn targeted by unsavoury, invisible lizard-men. Only Susan Richards escapes, fighting her way to Westchester to enlist the aid of the X-Men: combat veterans well acquainted with battling aliens.

The rescue mission starts with a stopover in the extradimensional realm of Arkon the Magnificent where the Badoon have already triumphed and where, amid much mayhem, the liberators overthrow the invaders and provide salvation for three worlds…

Chronologically adrift but sacrificed to a cohesive reading order, the contents of Marvel Fanfare #1-4 follow. Published between March and September 1982, the astounding saga was an elite yarn designed to launch a prestige format showcase of Marvel characters and talent. The new title featured slick paper stock, superior printing (all standard today) and a rolling brief to promote innovation and bold new directions.

Under Al Milgrom’s editorial guidance, numerous notable tales from exceptional creators were published, but cynical me – and not just me – soon noticed that many of those creators were ones who had problems with periodical publishing and couldn’t make fixed deadlines…

These day’s that’s nothing to shout over: comics come out when they do and editors have no real power to decree otherwise, but in the 1980s it was big deal, because printers booked a project for a pre-specified date, and charged punitive fees if publishers didn’t get product in on time. That’s why inventory tales were created: fill-ins that sat in a drawer until a writer blew it or an artist had his work eaten by the dog. Sometimes the US Mail simply lost completed stuff in transit…

Scripted by Claremont, and also including Milgrom’s humorous ‘Editor-Al’ intro pages, Savage Land was collected in 1987 and again in 2002: uniting Spider-Man, Ka-Zar and a grab bag of X-Men in a spectacular return to that primordial paradise: an antediluvian repository beneath the South Pole where fantastic civilisations and dinosaurs fretfully co-exist.

Illustrated and coloured by Golden, it begins with a ‘Fast Descent into Hell!’ when distraught Tanya Anderssen tries to find her missing lover, last seen in that lost world. Disturbingly, the missing man is Karl Lykos, a troubled soul addicted to feeding on mutants and likely to become ghastly humanoid pteranosaur Sauron. Tanya’s only hope of saving him was via Warren Worthington III – publicly infamous as former/occasional X-Man The Angel.

The billionaire’s reluctant expedition to the Savage Land ultimately includes an embedded news team from the Daily Bugle, including photographer/trouble magnet Peter Parker, who quickly stumbles across a band of native evil mutants planning to conquer the outer world by creating mutant hybrids from human victims – like Spider-Man

Second chapter ‘To Sacrifice my Soul…’ has Spidey and local hero Ka-Zar, the Jungle Lord, join forces to crush the mutation plot, inadvertently unleashing Sauron on the sub-polar world.

Golden’s stylish easy grace gave way to the slick, accomplished method of Dave Cockrum, & Bob McLeod for ‘Into the Land of Death…’ as X-Men Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Storm join Angel to thwart the diabolical dinosaur man and his malign mutant allies, before legend-in-training Paul Smith – assisted by inker Terry Austin – stepped in to finish the epic in grand style and climactic action in ‘Lost Souls!’

We then pop back to November 1981 for X-Men #151 wherein Jim Sherman, McLeod & Rubinstein welcome back Cyclops and wave Kitty goodbye in ‘X-Men Minus One!’

Due to the manipulations of White Queen Emma Frost, the teenager’s parents withdraw their daughter from Xavier’s school to enrol her in the Massachusetts Academy which covertly operates as the Hellfire Club’s training camp for young recruits. However, the sinister scheme is even deeper than the X-Men fear, as telepath Frost switches bodies with Storm to further her plan to eradicate the mutant heroes.

What nobody seems to realise is that although Frost has gained Ororo’s weather powers, her victim now has her appearance, loyal henchmen and psionic powers. Despite the deployment of terrifying robotic Sentinels, the plot spectacularly fails in closing instalment ‘The Hellfire Gambit’, illustrated by McLeod & Rubinstein…

Cockrum was back for #153, adding layers of whimsy to the usual angst and melodrama as ‘Kitty’s Fairy Tale’ sees the X-Mansion under reconstruction and the teen back where she belongs. As repairs continue, she tells bedtime stories to Colossus’ baby sister Illyana: using her teammates as inspiration, she spins a beguiling yarn of fantastic space pirates…

The action closes with the contents of monochrome “mature-reader” magazine Bizarre Adventures #27 (July 1981) sharing untold tales under the umbrella heading of ‘Secret Lives of the X-Men’

Preceded by editorial ‘Listen, I Knew the X-Men When…’ and ‘X-Men Data Log’ pages by illustrated by Cockrum, these are offbeat solo tales of our idiosyncratic stars, opening with Phoenix in ‘The Brides of Attuma’ by Claremont, John Buscema & Klaus Janson. Here the dear departed mutant’s sister Sara Grey recalls a past moment when they were abducted by an undersea barbarian and even then Jean proved to be more than any mortal could handle…

That’s followed by Iceman vignette ‘Winter Carnival’ by Mary Jo Duffy, Pérez & Alfredo Alcala, wherein Bobby Drake is embroiled in a college heist with potentially catastrophic consequences, before ‘Show me the way to go home…’ (Bob Layton, Duffy, Cockrum & Ricardo Villamonte) pits Nightcrawler against villainous teleporter the Vanisher in a light-hearted trans-dimensional romp involving warrior women, threats to the very nature of reality and gratuitous (male) nudity…

Extras include original art pages by Cockrum, Rubinstein, Anderson & McLeod; Cockrum’s cover to fanzine The X-Men Chronicles; Byrne & Austin’s cover for the X-men parody issue of Crazy (#82, January 1982) and John Buscema’s 1987 Savage Land collection.

For many fans these tales comprise a definitive high point for the X-Men. Rightly ranking amongst the greatest stories Marvel ever published, they remain supremely satisfying, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating: an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 2021 MARVEL.

Moon Knight Epic Collection volume 1: Bad Moon Rising (1975-1981)


By Doug Moench, David Anthony Kraft, Bill Mantlo, Steven Grant, Roger Slifer, John Warner, Don Perlin, Bill Sienkiewicz, Keith Giffen, Mike Zeck, Jim Mooney, Jim Craig, Gene Colan, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2092-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

Moon Knight is probably the most complex and convoluted hero(es) in comics. There’s also a lot of eminently readable strip evidence to support the contention that he’s a certifiable loon.

The mercurial champion first appeared during the 1970s horror boom: a mercenary Batman knockoff hired by corporate villains to capture a monster. Sparking reader attention, the mercenary spun off into a brace of solo trial issues in Marvel Spotlight and welter of guest shots before securing an exceedingly sophisticated back-up slot in the TV inspired Hulk Magazine before graduating to the first of many solo series.

His convoluted origin eventually revealed how multiple-personality-suffering CIA spook-turned-mercenary Marc Spector was murdered by his boss and apparently resurrected by an Egyptian god…

This first epic compilation re-presents Werewolf by Night #32-33; Marvel Spotlight #28-29; Defenders #47-50, Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #22-23; Marvel Two-In-One #52; material from Hulk Magazine #11-15, 17-18 & 20; Marvel Preview #21 and Moon Knight #1-4, spanning 1975 to 1981.

It all began in Werewolf by Night #32 (August 1975) and another stage in a long-running plot thread. Accursed lycanthrope Jack Russell and his sister Lyssa had been targets of criminal capitalists the Corporation for months. The plutocratic cabal believed that by terrorising the public, they could induce them to spend more…

Here Doug Moench & Don Perlin (with assistance from little Howie Perlin) introduced mercenary Marc Spector: a rough and ready modern warrior hired by plutocratic plunderers and equipped with a silver-armoured costume and weapons to capture Russell or his animal other as ‘…The Stalker Called Moon Knight’.

The bombastic battle and its ferocious sequel ‘Wolf-Beast vs. Moon Knight’ received an unprecedented response and rapidly propelled the lunar avenger to prominence as Marvel’s edgy answer to Batman: especially after the mercurial merc rejected his latest loathsome employers’ entreaties and let the wolf, as well as collateral hostages Lissa and Topaz, run free…

Within a year the spectral sentinel had returned for a two-part solo mission that fleshed out his characters (yes, plural!) and hinted at a hidden history behind the simple mercenary façade. Cover-dated June & August 1976, Marvel Spotlight #28-29 ‘The Crushing Conquer-Lord!’ and concluding chapter ‘The Deadly Gambit of Conquer-Lord!’ reveal the mercenary to be a well-established clandestine crimebuster with vast financial resources, a dedicated team of assistants including pilot “Frenchy” and secretary Marlene as well as wide-ranging network of street informants, a mansion/secret HQ, a ton of cool gadgets and at least four separate identities.

This latter aspect would inform Moon Knight’s entire career as various creators explored where playacting ended and Multiple Personality Disorder – if not outright supernatural possession – began…

Thanks to his brush with the werewolf, the masked vigilante had also gained a partial superpower. As the moon waxed and waned, his physical strength speed, stamina and resilience also doubled and diminished.

Here, billionaire Steven Grant, New York cabbie/information gatherer Jake Lockley, repentant gun-for-hire Marc Spector and the mysterious Moon Knight discovered he had been targeted by ruthless mastermind Mr. Quinn, who sought to eliminate a potential impediment in his plane to become a supervillain and rule Manhattan. The cunning criminal had placed a spy in Steven Grant’s inner circle and subsequent research revealed how Spector – a former CIA unarmed combat and weapons expert – had infiltrated the Corporation, gained powers, created alternate identities and, for unknown reasons, declared war on crime…

Sadly, despite this devious scheme and deploying plenty of his own wonder weapons and henchmen, the Conquer-Lord proves no match for the hidden hero in a gripping thriller by Moench & Perlin.

Following a quartet of previous collection covers by Gil Kane & Tom Smith, Perlin & Matt Milla, Bill Sienkiewicz & John Kalisz, and Sienkiewicz, Klaus Janson & Thomas Mason, the spectral sentinel’s next appearance was as a guest in a long running super-team saga.

Beginning with ‘Night Moves!’ in Defenders #47 (May 1977 and running through #50 and beyond), John Warner, David Anthony Kraft, Roger Slifer, Keith Giffen – in full Kirby mimic mode – with inkers Janson & Mike Royer disclose how putative loner Moon Knight is drawn into a war between a supervillain suffering a despondent mid-life crisis and the heroic “non-team” of Nighthawk, Valkyrie, Hellcat and The Hulk.

It begins in New Jersey, as the late-patrolling vigilante stumbles upon an abduction. When S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Nick Fury “arrests” Valkyrie’s former husband Jack Norriss in a most unorthodox manner, Moon Knight rescues Jack, taking him to Doctor Strange. Before long, MK’s somehow fighting Avenger Wonder Man, and thereafter catapulted into an aging Bad Guy’s existential crisis in #48’s ‘Who Remembers Scorpio? Part 1: Sinister Savior’

Certainly not Jack, now a captive audience to Fury’s supposedly dead brother, who bemoans his lot in life while waiting for his new Zodiac team to mature and leave the Life Model Decoy machine currently constructing them…

When the Knight finds them, he’s caught in a deadly death trap, as Nighthawk is captured and added to the whining villain’s unwilling audience. Moon Knight’s escape and dash for reinforcements coincides with Hulk’s latest ‘Rampage’ through Manhattan in #49, allowing MK to lead him back to the Zodiac base, with Hellcat and Valkyrie close behind them.

Everyone meets up just as the artificial Zodiac is prematurely born, with double-length Defenders #50 hosting massive, manic free-for-all ‘Who Remembers Scorpio? Part 3: Scorpio Must Die!’

The clash ends in tragedy and Moon Knight’s departure, but not before an extract from #51’s ‘A Round with the Ringer!’ reveals the shocking secret of Fury’s involvement and exactly how the Knight in White escaped that aforementioned death trap…

You’re not really a Marvel Superhero until you meet the wondrous webslinger, and that initial introduction came in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #22-23 (September & October 1978) as Bill Mantlo, Mike Zeck & Bruce D. Patterson detail an underworld plot to destroy the mysterious vigilante ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon Knight!’

When an informant is gunned down warning the Maggia have ferreted out one of his secret identities, Moon Knight learns the lethal legacy of Conquer-Lord’s files have made targets of his other assets, including diner owner Gena and homeless derelict Crawley. Lockley seeks to save them from assassination as Spider-Man is just passing, and the webslinger intervenes to save lives and keep his neighbourhood friendly…

After the traditional misunderstanding Meet-&-Beat-Up, Spidey and Moon Knight unite just in time to battle the Maggia’s top super-enforcer… French speedster Cyclone!

The saga concludes courtesy of artists Jim Mooney & Mike Esposito as the wallcrawler enviously scopes out MK HQ before joining a punitive counterstrike on the crime combine in ‘Guess Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb!’

Cover-dated June 1979, one last guest shot preceded MK’s transition to a solo series. In Marvel Two-In-One #52, Steven Grant – the real one Spector’s alter ego is teasingly based on – and artist Jim Craig & Pablo Marcos had the mysterious Moon Knight ally with The Thing to stop CIA Psy-Ops master Crossfire from brainwashing the city’s superheroes into killing each other…

Superhero credentials suitably established, Moon Knight began carving out his uniquely twisted corner of the Marvel Universe in a psychologically-themed vehicle aimed at an older, more general audience.

Originally released as newsprint monochrome magazine The Rampaging Hulk, the advent of the company’s “Marvelcolor” process and a hugely successful TV show starring the Green Goliath saw the periodical upgraded to slicker paper stock and obliquely continuity-adjacent storylines to address the needs of casual readers/television converts.

Supposedly a more sophisticated product, the book offered a home to Moon Knight, who moved in for a series of dark modern tales also outside standard superhero parameters. Before those begin here, Hulk Magazine #11 (October 1978) provides Bob Larkin’s wraparound painted cover, a house ad from #10 and a text introduction extolling the virtues of artistic debutante Bill Sienkiewicz from #13…

A new era dawned with ‘Graven Image of Death’ (#11, by Moench, Gene Colan & Tony DeZuñiga) as the hooded hunter stumbles into a murderous war between rival antiquities collectors Joel Luxor and Anton Varro: millionaires vying for possession of a statuette of Egyptian god Horus. As bodies stack up, Moon Knight despatches Grant’s assistant/paramour Marlene to question museum curator Fenton Crane and is barely in time to stop her joining the body count in #12’s ‘Embassy of Fear!’ (Moench, Keith Pollard, Frank Giacoia & Esposito).

On learning the entire affair is simply smoke and mirrors for a larger scheme, with the statue simply moneymaking collateral in an international terrorism plot, Moon Knight buys in as shady millionaire Grant to work undercover. He is unaware that another mastermind has obtained Conquer-Lord’s files and it’s all a trap.

Hulk Magazine #13 (February 1979) was Sienkiewicz’s moment. On ‘The Big Blackmail’ his sleek imitation of classic Neal Adams hyperrealism (and Batman swipe files) combined with Steve Oliff’s advanced colour techniques, were breathtaking as enigmatic Machiavelli Lupinar observed the hero’s friends and allies at dangerously close quarters. Orchestrating nuclear armageddon with Moon Knight as his unwitting dupe, legendary operative Marc Spector was his true target…

After wading through layers of murderous multinational intermediaries, Moon Knight finally confronts his bestial hidden enemy in #14’s ‘Countdown to Dark’ (Bob McLeod inks) in a furious fight to the death as a nuclear clock inexorably counts down…

A smart crossover follows after a gallery of Hulk covers – #12-15 by Joe Jusko, Earl Norem, Larkin & Peter Ledger before June 1980’s #15 hosted a single encounter told from two perspectives. Moench, Sienkiewicz & McLeod explored ‘An Eclipse, Waning’ with Grant indulging a neglected passion for astronomy by visiting an old pal in the countryside on the night of a total lunar occultation.

The event brings brutal burglars out of the woodwork and Moon Knight is required to stop them, but, bizarrely, at the height of the eclipse, during the moment of utter darkness, the Lunar Avenger encounters something huge, monstrous and unbeatable, barely escaping with his life.

Answers come in ‘An Eclipse Waxing’ as on that same night , fugitive Bruce Banner meets burglars breaking into an isolated house and helplessly transforms into the Hulk again. Just as total night falls, the monster briefly encounters an unseen foe of far greater capabilities…

Norem, Larkin and Jusko covers for #17, 18 and 20 precede some longed-awaited revelations of the White Knight’s troubled past, emerging when as regular Moon Knight feature resumed in #17. In a chilling, disturbing sequence inked by Klaus Janson, ‘Nights Born Ten Years Gone Part I-III’ finds Manhattan terrorised by a mad axeman stalking nightshift nurses.

Wearing pyjama bottoms and a clown mask, the “Hatchet-Man” has racked up nine kills before Moon Night’s street agents present evidence indicating a close historical connection to Spector. Always cautious, the Man of Many Parts is parsimonious in sharing knowledge and Marlene convinces him that she can safely act as bait…

The ploy goes appallingly wrong and she is severely injured by both the police and the axe-man, leading to the incensed lunar vigilante going wild amidst the ‘Shadows in the Heart of the City’ as the frustrated maniac spirals out of control

However, although the killer is stopped, the guilt-wracked hero tirelessly works a night of minor life-saving exploits and endures anxious terrors before Marlene is safe in ‘A Long Way to Dawn’

That euphoric fable appeared in Hulk Magazine #20 (April 1980) and was Moon Knight’s swan song there, but he resurfaced in a complex conspiracy mystery in monochrome magazine Marvel Preview (#21, Spring 1980).

Behind the Sienkiewicz, Larkin, Janson & Oliff cover here and preceded by the penciller’s B&W frontispiece ‘The Mind Thieves’ and concluding chapter ‘Vipers’ come from a later colourised reprint, but retain all the sinister paranoic confusion of the Moench, Sienkiewicz, Tom Palmer & Dan Greene original.

When a corpse is delivered to Grant’s mansion, it reactivates Spector’s CIA career and sets Moon Knight on the trail of unfinished business in a “Company” mind control lab supposedly decommissioned years previously…

Following a trail of dead men, dirty secrets, and programable super-killers, MK, Marlene and Frenchy escape barely death in Montreal and Paris while exposing a vicious vengeance plot behind the dirty tricks campaign. It almost costs them everything…

Appended by Ralph Macchio’s editorial ‘Full Phase’, the story closes one chapter in the character’s life and leads into the far mor complex and conflicted career of a man seeking atonement as the November cover-dated premier solo title exposes the secrets of ‘The Macabre Moon Knight!’

Here Moench, Sienkiewicz & Frank Springer reveal how world-weary, burned-out mercenary Spector was working for murderous marauder Raul Bushman but reclaimed his moral compass after his ruthless boss murdered archaeologist Peter Alraune for the contents of a recently excavated Sudanese tomb. The scientist’s daughter Marlene escaped, as did equally disgusted comrade Frenchy, but when Spector attempted to stop Bushman executing witnesses he was beaten and left to die in the desert.

Dying by degrees, Spector crawled for miles and died just as he enters the tomb of Pharoah Seti, where Marlene and her workers were hiding. Dumped at the feet of a statue of Khonshu – god of the Moon and Taker of Vengeance – he inexplicably revived. Clearly deranged, he draped the statue’s white mantle around himself, before going out into the night. By dawn, Bushman’s band are dead and the monster fled…

Skipping forward to now and hinting at a long eventful road to the life of a multi-identity superhero, the origin ends with a fateful showdown with the returned Bushman in his New York lair…

Barely pausing, #2 focuses on pitiful peeping pawn Crawley in a powerful human interest tale. The city reels under the bloody shadow of a butcher hunting bums and indigents. With corpses no one cares about mounting, Moon Knight soon learns ‘The Slasher’ is seeking one specific homeless man, and will not stop until he finds him…

Cover-dated January 1981, #3 sees Sienkiewicz ink himself as ‘Midnight Means Murder’ with the Knight of the Moon facing ruthless thief Anton Mogart/The Midnight Man, before the saga pauses with #4 and the Janson-inked action thriller ‘A Committee of 5’. Here, the Lunar Avenger is hunted by and hunts in return a quintet of specialist assassins. Happily, fortune augments ability and Khonshu’s chosen is more than a match for the killer elite…

Accompanied throughout by covers from Gil Kane, Al Milgrom, Klaus Janson, Perlin, Jack Kirby, Ed Hannigan, Joe Sinnott, Dave Cockrum, Joe Rubinstein, Keith Pollard, George Pérez, Sienkiewicz and others, the extras are supplemented by Sienkiewicz’s wrapround covers from Moon Knight Special Edition #1-3 and the 6-plate character portfolio contained therein, plus Jim Shooter’s introduction.

Also on show are contemporary house ads; printed trivia; previous collection covers; the painted cover to fanzine Amazing Heroes #6 and 11 pages of original art and covers by Milgrom, Cockrum, Rubinstein, Sienkiewicz, McLeod, Springer & Janson.

Moody, dark, thematically off-kilter and savagely entertaining this first volume sees a Batman knock-off evolve into a unique example of the line between hero and villain and sinner and saint all wrapped up in pure electric entertainment for testosterone junkies and
© 2019 MARVEL.

Spider-Man: Blue


By Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale with lettering by Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Wes Abbot and colours by Steve Buccellato & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0785134466 (HB/Digital edition)

The creative team of Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale have tackled many iconic characters in a number of landmark expansions/reworkings. In Spider-Man: Blue Loeb & Sale set their nostalgia-soaked sights on the beginnings of Peter Parker’s tragically brief romance with Gwen Stacy and ever-maturing relationship with eventual wife Mary Jane Watson. It encompasses that transitional period when Steve Ditko’s creepy, plucky outsider grew into a wholesome, straight-shooting, hard-luck hero as re-designed by John Romita Senior – who also provides the Introduction (first seen in the 2004 release) for this 2019 remastered collected edition. Also included are a full cover gallery by Sale and many of his preparatory sketches, plus a sketchbook section at the book’s end, featuring commentary from writer and artist revealing their process, in crafting ‘Cover Concepts’, ‘The Girls’, ‘French Posters’ (focussing on European editions) and a prodigious ‘Sketch Gallery’.

Part of a colour-themed project based on Marvel Super-hero beginnings, Spider-Man: Blue gathers the 6-issue miniseries from 2002: a slight but extremely readable tale reconstituted from and built upon pertinent snippets from Amazing Spider-Man #39-49 – plus a smidgeon of #63.

It opens on one gloomy February 14th, as happily married but momentarily melancholy Peter records a message to a former girlfriend he hasn’t really gotten over…

Successive tapes to murdered Gwen follow issue by issue, taking the form of a reminiscence of the days when he first emerged from his solitary shell. Parker recalls how he found – and lost – a few friends while inadvertently growing closer to MJ, all whilst pursuing a pure, innocent and unlikely love for a seemingly unattainable dream girl.

‘My Funny Valentine’ begins in modern days of muted blue, before memories of Parker’s first showdown with Green Goblin Norman Osborn erupt in vibrant full colour, with the epochal moments concluding as – whilst visiting the now amnesiac villain in hospital – “Gorgeous Gwen” first notices something special about staid, standoffish Peter…

‘Let’s Fall in Love’ sees that relationship grow whilst adding a major complication with the long-anticipated, oft-delayed first meeting with flirtatious Mary Jane, before ‘Anything Goes’ sees her “wild-child” vivacity steering our shy boy’s social life, making him almost popular with fellow students and even more intriguing to Gwen even as MJ (innocently?) aids and abets his secret life and career…

‘Autumn in New York’ follows Parker leaving Aunt May’s home to share an apartment with Harry Osborn (troubled son of the Goblin, and his eventual successor) with MJ inviting herself along as Harry’s official girlfriend, after which ‘If I Had You’ sees Parker’s youthful associates growing up a bit before concluding reverie ‘All of Me’ shows how a climactic clash with a lurking stalker on another St. Valentine’s night led to the birth of a love for the ages…

Along the way – and as formerly depicted in the Lee & Romita classics – Spider-Man fights a formidable array of super-foes, including The Rhino, Lizard, two separate Vultures and ultimately Kraven the Hunter (rather uncomfortably and implausibly re-imagined here as the kind of sinisterly patient, brooding mastermind that he simply could never have been). Loeb & Sale in-fill, expand and often radically rework those battles with the advantage of revelations culled from stories by others over the intervening decades.

Regrettably but crucially, the end result is clever and pretty but offers no real sense of tension, because even the newest readers already know the inevitable romantic outcomes whilst the attempt to weave a number of isolated super-baddie clashes into a vast master-plan over and above what Lee & Romita envisioned feels clumsy and ill-considered. Don’t take my word for it: the original tales are readily available for your perusal and delectation in numerous collections as assorted Marvel Masterworks and Epic Collections, should you feel the need to contrast and compare…

Loeb & Sale rightly enjoy a prodigious track record for retrofitting, rationalising and restating pivotal moments of comic book icons: especially distilling turning points of iconic characters and careers into material palatable to modern readers, but here it’s simply a waste of their time and talents. The originals are simply still better than the rehashing here. This is not one of their better efforts, and often comes perilously close to being maudlin far too often for comfort.

Although Sale’s art is always a joy to behold, and Loeb’s gift for dialogue is undiminished, Spider-Man: Blue falls short of their best. A solid, casual affair but, sadly, not a patch on the real thing …
© 2019 MARVEL.

Incredible Hulk: Hulk Vs. The Marvel Universe


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roger McKenzie, Bill Mantlo, Peter David, Howard Mackie, Marie Severin, Frank Miller, Sal Buscema, Todd McFarlane, John Romita Jr., Jorge Lucas & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3129-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Incredible Hulk #1 hit newsstands and magazine spinners on March 1st 1962. The comic book was cover-dated May. He was technically (excluding once-&-future Ant-Man Henry Pym) the second superhero star of the dawning Marvel Age. A few more debuted that year – so Happy Anniversary all – before the true Annus Mirabilis Atomicus (stop sniggering: it hopefully means Year of Atomic Miracles) that was 1963…

This 2008 collection was unleashed on readers due to the World War Hulk event. Reprinted here are Fantastic Four #25-26, Journey into Mystery #112, Tales to Astonish #92-93, Daredevil #163, Incredible Hulk #300 & 340, Peter Parker: Spider-Man #14 and Hulk Vs. Fin Fang Foom cumulatively spanning cover-dates April 1964 to February 2008.

With the Big Green Galoot and his chartreuse cousin both making new screen appearances this year, it seems sensible to take another look at the original Marvel antihero’s irascible interactions with his fellow power-packed pals. First, though…

Bruce Banner was a military scientist caught in a gamma bomb detonation of his own devising. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors caused him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the irradiated idol finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and misunderstood miscreant of the moment, until a new home was found for him in “split-book” Tales to Astonish: sharing space with fellow maligned misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner, who proved an ideal thematic companion from his induction in #70.

This book is for every fan (isn’t that all of us?) that asked eternal question “who would win if…?” and we open without preamble on an early landmark as Fantastic Four #25 (April 1964) sees a cataclysmic clash that had young heads spinning then and ever since.

The Hulk’s own title had folded after six issues, and he joined debuting solo star assemblage The Avengers, before explosively quitting in #2: joining Namor’s assault on them in #3. That globe-trotting romp delivered high energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history but you’ll need to go elsewhere to see it.

Here and now, it’s 3 months later and Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos use FF #25 to establish an evergreen tradition – the first of many instances of ‘The Hulk Vs The Thing’.

Accompanied by FF #26’s concluding episode ‘The Avengers Take Over!’, the is an all-out Battle Royale as the disgruntled man-monster searches Manhattan for former sidekick Rick Jones, with only an injury-wracked Fantastic Four to curtail his destructive rampage.

A definitive moment in the character development of The Thing, the action ramps up when a rather stiff-necked and officious Avengers team horns in, claiming jurisdictional rights on “Bob” Banner – this tale is plagued with pesky continuity errors that haunted Lee for decades – and his Jaded alter ego. Notwithstanding bloopers, this is one of Marvel’s key moments and still a visceral, vital read.

The second chapter of the Hulk’s career began in Tales to Astonish #59 (September 1964) as his became co-star to fading property Giant-Man – soon to be replaced by Marvel’s Man from Atlantis – whilst the Green Goliath’s guest star career continued unabated. Next up is a perfect example of that pulling power: the lead story in Journey into Mystery #112 (January 1965) where ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’

The Hulk and Mighty Thor share their 60th anniversary and whether in print, in animations or in blockbuster movies, that eternal question has been asked but never answered to anyone’s satisfaction whenever applied to the modern iteration of the age-old mythic war between gods and monsters. This tale is the first of many return engagements: a glorious gift to every fight fan and arguably Kirby & Chic Stone’s finest artistic moment, detailing a private duel between the two super-humans that occurred during that free-for-all between Earth’s Mightiest, Sub-Mariner and Ol’ Greenskin back in Avengers #3. The raw power of that tale is a perfect exemplar of what makes the Hulk work as a returning foe and yardstick of heroism and determination of those unlucky enough to battle him.

Technical aside: I’m reviewing the digital release and here that blistering bout is followed by JIM #112’s Tales of Asgard back-up ‘The Coming of Loki!’ by Lee, Kirby & Vince Colletta. I suspect you won’t find it in the physical copies of this book…

In Tales to Astonish #92 (June 1967) Lee, superb Marie Severin & Frank Giacoia promised a ‘Turning Point!’, depicting Banner hunted through a terrified New York City as prelude to his alter ego clashing with an incredible opponent in the next issue. Back then, Hulk didn’t really team-up with visiting stars, he just got mad and smashed them. Such was certainly the case as he became ‘He Who Strikes the Silver Surfer’: ironically driving off a fellow outcast who held the power to cure him of his atomic affliction.

There’s a big leap to March 1979 next as Daredevil #163 sees Matt Murdock offer the fugitive Banner sanctuary before the tormented scientist again loses his eternal struggle to suppress the monster inside. Inevitably, the forgone conclusion is the Man without Fear outclassed and punching up before getting creamed to save New York from the Hulk in ‘Blind Alley’ by Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller & Josef Rubinstein, after which we hurtle to Incredible Hulk #300 (cover-dated October 1984) and the end of an epic run by scripter Bill Mantlo and illustrator Sal Buscema. The Hulk had gone from monster outcast to global hero and Banner’s intellect had overridden the brute’s simplistic nature, but now, thanks to the insidious acts of dream demon Nightmare, banner was gone leaving only a murderous, mindless engine of gamma fuelled destruction to ravage New York City.

Inked by Gerry Talaoc, extended epic ‘Days of Rage!’ saw the unstoppable monster easily defeat every superhero in town before being exiled to another universe…

Of course, he came back and was mostly restored, but radical change remained a constant. October 1984’s Incredible Hulk #340 was highpoint in a game-changing run by Peter David and sensation-in-waiting Todd McFarlane. The Hulk was notionally de-powered and returned to the grey-skinned cunning brute of his first appearances just in time for a savage rematch with Wolverine in ‘Vicious Circle’. That inconclusive bout segues here to another battle with another shared-birthday boy.

The wondrous crawler was wracked with agonising ‘Denial’ (Peter Parker: Spider-Man #14, February 2000, by in Howard Mackie, John Romita Jr. & Scott Hanna) in a mismatched clash that occurred with Peter Parker reeling in shock and grief, believing his wife Mary Jane and baby daughter had died in a plane crash. All he had left was great responsibility and something to hit…

We end on a raucously rowdy light-heartedly cathartic note with a modern take on the classic monster battles motif. One-shot Hulk vs Fin Fang Foom #1 (February 2008) was by Peter David, Jorge Lucas & Robert Campanella, revealing an “untold tale” of the early Kirby-era with the gamma goliath headed to the far north in time to see a dragon decanted from the ice.

Parody pastiche ‘The Fin from Outer Space’ is a furious flurry of fisticuffs and fantastic force unleashed with the sole intent of making pulses pound…

With covers from Kirby – with Roussos and Stone, Marie Severin & Giacoia, Miller & Rubinstein, Bret Blevins, McFarlane & Bob Wiacek, Romita Jr. and Jim Cheung, John Dell & Justin Ponsor, this is a straightforward, no-nonsense, all-battle bill of fare no Fights ‘n’ Tights fan could have the strength to resist. Grab it if you can!
© 2020 MARVEL.

Captain Britain: Legacy of a Hero


By Chris Claremont, Steve Parkhouse, David Thorpe, Alan More, Jamie Delano, Herb Trimpe, John Byrne, John Stokes, Alan Davis, Fred Kida, Dave Hunt, Mark Farmer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0668-9 (TPB/Digital Edition)

Marvel UK set up shop in 1972, reprinting the House of Ideas’ earliest hits in our traditional weekly papers format, and swiftly carving out a substantial corner of the market. It wasn’t the first time American glitz and glamour turned staid heads here: the works of Lee, Kirby, Ditko, et al had appeared in British comics Smash!, Wham!, Pow!, The Eagle, Fantastic! and Terrific! since the early 1960s and, in the case of Alan Class Publications’ anthologies, since before they actually became Marvel Comics…

In 1976, Marvel UK augmented their recycled output with an all-new British superhero. The eponymous weekly offered original material, with the majority of the page count reprinting fan favourites Fantastic Four and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. One bold departure was full colour printing for the debutante champion to supplement standard monochrome reproduction in the titles remaining pages.

This compilation/primer gathers #1-2 of Captain Britain; US Marvel Team-Up #65-66 and select material from #1, 3-5 and 57-59 of the 1979 UK Hulk Comic/Hulk Weekly; Marvel Super-Heroes #377-384 & 386; The Daredevils #3-4, The Mighty World of Marvel #8-12 and Captain Britain volume 2 #14, collectively spanning October 1976 to May 1986, and also includes a fondly reminiscing Introduction from scripter Dave Thorpe.

Extras include cover roughs, concept and costume sketches by Herb Trimpe plus Alan Davis’ revamp designs and character studies for Slaymaster, The Fury and Crazy Gang. Sadly, not every pertinent cover is included, but those that are come from Larry Lieber & Frank Giacoia, George Pérez & Joe Sinnott, John Byrne, and Alan Davis.

Captain Britain’s earliest adventures read quite well in the hyper-tense 21st century. There is a matter-of-fact charm and simplicity to them that is sorely missing in these multi-part, multi-issue crossover days, and the necessity to keep reader-attention riveted and hungry for more in eight page instalments sweeps the willing consumer along.

Chris Claremont was given the original writing assignment – apparently due to his being born here – and Trimpe the pencilling chores because he was actually resident here for a while. Gary Friedrich eventually replaced Claremont, but the artist, inked by golden age legend Fred Kida (Airboy, The Heap, Black Knight) provided rip-roaring art for much of the initial run. Later artists included John Buscema, Larry Lieber, Ron Wilson and Bob Budiansky, before the feature folded. It was later revived by British creators Steve Parkhouse, John Stokes, Dave Thorpe, and ultimately, Alan Moore and Alan Davis…

Cover-dated Week-Ending October 13th 1976, Captain Britain #1 began his origin, told in ‘Captain Britain!’ and completed in #2 with ‘From the Holocaust… A Hero!’. Together, they reveal how physics student Brian Braddock was in just the wrong place when raiders attacked the Atomic research centre on Darkmoor. Fleeing imminent death, he stumbled onto a source of fantastic power and inescapable destiny. Chosen by the legendary Merlin himself, the teen Braddock was transformed into the symbolic paragon of our Island Nation, destined to battle incredible threats as its valiant and indomitable champion…

The weekly Captain Britain closed with #39 and in tried-&-true tradition was merged with a more successful title. Braddock’s exploits continued in Super Spider-Man & Captain Britain Weekly (#231-253). Except for covers, the book reverted to black-&-white and featured reprints for the last months. Before too long though, he resurfaced in America…

Crafted by Claremont and British-born, Canada-bred John Byrne, ‘Introducing Captain Britain’ in Marvel Team-Up #65, was the first half of a riotous romp. It depicted Brian Braddock on a student transfer to Manhattan and as the unsuspecting house-guest of Peter Parker. Before long the heroes had met, fought and then teamed-up to defeat flamboyant, games-obsessed hit-man Arcade. The transatlantic tale concluded in #66 as the abducted antagonists systematically dismantled the maniac’s ‘Murderworld’.

And then the Lion of Albion disappeared on both sides of the pond… until March 1979, when British weekly Hulk Comic debuted with an eclectic mix of Marvel reprints that veteran editor Dez Skinn felt better suited the British market.

There were also all-new strips featuring Marvel characters tailored – like the reprints – to appeal to UK kids. The Hulk was there because of his TV show, Nick Fury (by babe-in-arms Steve Dillon) – because we love spies here, and noir-tinged pulp/gangster thriller Night Raven came courtesy of David Lloyd, John Bolton & Steve Parkhouse.

…And then there was The Black Knight.

This feature appeared in issues #1, 3-30, 42-55 and 57-63 – the comic’s last issue. The paladin was a former member of the Avengers, but for this engrossing epic, costumed shenanigans gave way to classical fantasy set in modern Britain, but with Tolkienesque/Alan Garner overtones and Celtic roots interwoven into Arthurian myths.

Dispatched on a mission by Merlin (sometimes Merlyn here) to the wilds of Cornwall, the Knight and his winged horse Valinor are tasked with saving the Heart and Soul of England from Modred and a host of goblins and monsters. The selection here sees the quest spring into high gear with the reluctant/openly hostile aid of a broken, amnesiac Captain Britain.

Delivered in 3-page, monochrome episodes by writer Parkhouse & John Stokes (joined from #6 by penciller Paul Neary) this fantastical pot-boiler captured the imagination of the readership, became the longest running original material strip in the comic (even The Hulk lead feature reverted to reprints by #28) and often stole the cover spot from the lead feature.

It’s still a captivating read, beautifully realized, and the only real quibble I have is that the whole thing isn’t included here. If you’re wondering, the sword-and-sorcery action ends on a cliffhanger with our heroic Captain swearing fealty to a newly arisen King Arthur…

When the weekly ended in 1979, Captain Britain began a period of renewal plagued by peripatetic wanderings through numerous UK titles: starting with monthly reprint anthology Marvel Super Heroes #377-389 and continuing in The Daredevils #1-11. Eventually, he got another short-lived solo title…

Here we resume in colour (a fringe benefit of later reprint editions) with Captain Britain reimagined and redesigned by editor/plotter Neary and a new creative team, writer Dave Thorpe and artist Alan Davis. Their serial debuted in MSH #377 (September 1981).

Lost in the gaps between alternate worlds the hero and elf sidekick Jackdaw are drawn back to Earth, but upon arrival they discover it is a hideous parody of Britain, bleak, distressed, hopeless and depressed – a potent vision of the country that would exist after real-world tyrannical fanatic Margaret Thatcher had finished with it.

Thorpe’s desire was to inject some subversive social realism into the feature – and he encountered plenty of resistance – but the resultant analogies and allegories didn’t diminish the strip’s wildly escapist, potently dynamic, fabulously entertaining injection of fresh air. Coupled with Davis’ strikingly purist superhero art, the feature at last delivered a truly British-flavoured adventure. In short order the confused Captain met anarchic bandits The Crazy Gang, reality-warping mutant Mad Jim Jaspers, electorally-sanctioned British Nazis and a truly distressed population in ‘Outcasts’ (MSH #378).

The Good Captain then tackled animated rubbish monster ‘The Junkheap that Walked Like a Man’ (#379), and was introduced to the pan-Reality colossus The Dimensional Development Court and its sultry, ruthless operative Opal Luna Saturnyne, who intended to compulsorily evolve the whole dimension, beginning with ‘In Support of Darwin!’, ‘Re-Birth!’, ‘Against the Realm’ and ‘Faces of Britain!’ in #380-383).

‘Friends and Enemies’ is a pretty-looking but thoroughly de-clawed examination of sectarianism and racism, after which – now deeply involved in Saturnyne’s plan to force humanity to evolve – Captain Britain was trapped in a clash between the underclasses and the government in Thorpe’s final story ‘If the Push Should Fail…’

His departure heralded the beginning of Alan Moore’s landmark tenure on the character but most of that is also absent here. The feature migrated from Marvel Super-Heroes #389 to The Daredevils, beginning with #1. During that passage, Braddock and Jackdaw were destroyed and rebuilt with reality-warping Jim Jaspers crossing over to a new Earth, intent on destroying all superbeings. Also surviving a catastrophic dimensional collapse was an artificial killer which would evolve itself into an unstoppable Fury…

Here, however, The Daredevils #3 reveals how Brian Braddock’s sister Betsy reappeared in ‘Thicker than Water’. Alans Moore & Davis detail a purple-haired telepath hunted by an assassin taking out esper-agents recruited by British covert agency S.T.R.I.K.E – and yes she is the girl who became Psylocke in The X-Men.

The battle against the killer Slaymaster concluded in a spectacular in-joke clash among the shelves of the Denmark Street Forbidden Planet store – in 1982, arguably the country’s best fantasy/comic book store – so any old fans might want to try identifying the real staff members who “guest-star” – in ‘Killing Ground.’

There’s a whole book’s worth of material omitted before we return to Braddock’s Britain – interdimensional imbroglios; cosmic clashes; multidimensional mercenaries, metamorphic love interest Meggan’s debut, alternate universe superheroes; the multiversal Captain Britain Corps, shock, awe, intrigue, and the aforementioned assassin artifact’s relentless advance – but here we resume with the shattering conclusion of all those intersecting plot points…

Mighty World of Marvel #8 sets up a cataclysmic confrontation in ‘The Twisted World (Reprise)’ as the Fury continues its hunting, even though Jaspers has reshaped this world into his own twisted version of a totalitarian paradise. As Jaspers consolidates his psychotic hold on the nation, Captain Britain, Betsy, Omniversal fugitives Saturnyne and Captain UK – sole survivor of her murdered dimension – lead the last few rebels against the New Reality. The fugitives’ consensus choice is “fight or die”…

Meanwhile in the higher realms, Merlin and his daughter Roma move their human pieces in the great game to save existence. In ‘Among These Dark Satanic Mills’, Braddock struggles on despite telling losses, confronting Jaspers as the madman begins an ascent to literal godhood in ‘Anarchy in the UK’.

Even so, the cause seems hopeless until the Fury enters the fray on nobody’s side, but intent on taking out the greatest threat first. ‘Fool’s Mate’ is only the beginning of an unbelievably intense and imaginative battle with Jaspers across the multiverse, using the building blocks of reality as ammunition. The chaotic clash continues in ‘Endgame’ with shocks and surprises aplenty, leading to unexpected victory, the death of a major player in Mighty World of Marvel #12. Moore left after the next chapter – not included here – leaving artist Davis in charge of the strip. The great responsibility came with a new home…

Captain Britain volume 2 ran for 14 issues (January 1985 to February 1986) and is represented here by closing story ‘Should Auld Acquaintance…’ from the last issue. An all-Davis affair, it shows the hero and Meggan reunited after more incredible trials: a far from happy family experiencing one last hurrah by rescuing a mutant-powered “Warpy” from a exploitation at the hands of a Glasgow vigilante, in an expansive display of Happy Ever After…

Captain Britain took a long time and a very twisted road to becoming a key component of the Marvel Universe. Most of that material is astounding and groundbreaking and deserving of a far more comprehensive home than this book. Although a solid introduction to the character, Legacy of a Hero merely skims some cream from a powerful and rewarding comics confection that fed decades of stories and still underpins much of modern continuity. Consider it a teaser for old-timers and lure or newer readers and a promise of more to come. If that fails you can always hunt down the 5-volume complete Captain Britain library published by Marvel UK/Panini between 2007-2011. Trust me, you won’t be sorry
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Morbius: Preludes and Nightmares


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Mike Friedrich, Joe Keatinge, Dan Slott, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Paul Gulacy, Valentine DiLandro, Marco Checchetto & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2592-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

The transition of Marvel’s print canon to whatever passes for celluloid this century seems unstoppable and with their pioneering hero/villain Michael Morbius now a big screen presence, the company fast-tracked a few archival collections to anticipate/support the release. The most useful for casual readers is undoubtedly this slim, sleek tome: an introductory primer perfect for film fans hunting up a little comic book context. It re-presents Amazing Spider-Man #101-102 and 699.1; Marvel Team-Up #3-4; (Adventure into) Fear #20, and fact-packed excerpts from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #7, spanning October 1971 to February 2013, mixing the origin and earliest 1970s appearances with a relatively latter-day reappraisal.

A fuller archival treatment of his scattered career can be found in a brace of Epic Collections, and I’ll get around to them in the fullness of time.

It begins with The Amazing Spider-Man #101, the second chapter in an anniversary trilogy tale begun by Stan Lee, Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia which saw the wallcrawler accidentally mutate himself, gaining four extra arms…

Now Roy Thomas takes over with ‘A Monster Called… Morbius!’ as the 8-limbed hero desperately seeks a way to reverse his condition. Whilst hiding in Dr. Curt Connors’ Long Island home/lab, he stumbles across a murderous costumed horror who drinks human blood. The newcomer has just reached shore, from a ship that he left a charnel house…

Making matters even worse is Connors’ sudden arrival in the scaly savage form of The Lizard. Suddenly surprised and always enraged, the saurian attacks, set on killing all intruders…

Amongst the many things banned by the Comics Code Authority in 1954 were horror staples zombies, werewolves and vampires, but changing tastes and rising costs of the early 1970s were seeing superhero titles dropping like flies in a blizzard.

With interest in suspense and the supernatural growing globally, all comics publishers were pushing to re-establish scary comics again, and the covert introduction of a “Living Vampire” in superhero staple Spider-Man led to another challenge to the CCA, the eventually revision of the Code’s horror section and a resurgent rise of supernatural heroes and titles.

For one month Marvel also experimented with double-sized comicbooks (DC’s switch back to 52-page issues lasted almost a year – August 1971-June 1972 cover-dates). Thus, Amazing Spider-Man #102 featured an immense 3-chapter blockbuster brawl beginning with ‘Vampire at Large!’ wherein the octo-webspinner and anthropoid reptile joined forces to hunt a science-spawned bloodsucker after discovering a factor in the bitey brute’s saliva could cure both part-time monsters’ respective conditions.

‘The Way it Began’ abruptly diverges from the main narrative to present the tragic secret origin of Nobel Prize winning biologist Michael Morbius and how be turned himself into a haunted night-horror in hopes of curing a fatal blood disease, before ‘The Curse and the Cure!’ brought the tale to a blistering conclusion and restored the status quo and requisite appendage-count.

Gerry Conway assumed the writer’s role for the third appearance of the living (not dead; never ever dead but living), breathing humanoid predator who drank blood to live, as Marvel Team-Up # 3 (July 1972, illustrated by Rossa Andru & Giacoia) found Spidey and Human Torch Johnny Storm hunting the resurgent Morbius after he attacks student Jefferson Bolt and passes on his plague of thirst. The conflicted scientist still seeks a cure and tracks old colleague Hans Jorgenson to Peter Parker’s college, but his now-vampiric servant Bolt wants just what all true bloodsuckers want in ‘The Power to Purge!’…

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 another science-based workaround to publish comic book monsters who were anything but supernatural) in ‘And Then… the X-Men!’

This enthralling thriller was illustrated by magnificent Gil Kane at the top of his form and inked by Steve Mitchell with the webslinger and X-Men at odds while both hunting the missing Jorgenson. After the unavoidable butting of heads, the heroes united to overcome Morbius and left him for Professor Charles Xavier to contain or cure…

As superheroes continued to decline and horror bloomed, Morbius established himself in Marvel’s black-&-white magazine title Vampire Tales, but returned to four-colour publishing with (Adventure into) Fear #20 (cover-dated February 1973). The title had previously hosted the macabre Man-Thing, and his/its promotion to a solo title gave Morbius opportunity to spread his own wings.

Spawned by scripter Mike Friedrich and artist Paul Gulacy, Jack Abel & George Roussos, ‘Morbius the Living Vampire!’ revealed how he escaped the X-Men and fled to Los Angeles and lived (whenever possible) off victims who deserved his voracious bite. The initial tale also set up a bizarre relationship with Rabbi Krause and Reverend Daemon who sought to cure him, before one was exposed as a human devil, catapulting Morbius into intergalactic conflict that had shaped humanity over millennia. That saga also is fully detailed in the Epic Collections, but frustratingly not here…

Brushing past decades of history and character development, there’s a huge jump to the twenteens and a more nuanced revision of the origin to close this book’s story section, as The Amazing Spider-Man # 699.1 (February 2013, by Joe Keatinge, Dan Slott, Valentine DiLandro & Marco Checchetto) finds Morbius in supermax penitentiary The Raft, ruminating on his childhood in Greece, living with an imminently fatal but unpredictable blood condition, but still finding love, friendship and adventure.

Sadly, as we already know, his Nobel Prize winning research only led to the death of his greatest friend and colleague, the abandonment of his true love and an unlife sentence as a rampaging killer…

Rounding out the red reading, fact-filled picture-packed pages from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #7, offering dry history and statistics from those intervening years.

A compelling and beguiling bunch of beginnings well told and superbly illustrated, this treat is superficially entertaining but won’t satisfy those with a deep thirst for true knowledge…
© 2021 MARVEL

Ant-Man/Giant-Man Epic Collection volume 1 1962-1964: The Man in the Ant-Hill


Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Ernie Hart, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, Sol Brodsky, Steve Ditko, Paul Reinman, Chic Stone, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9850-5 (TPB/Digital edition) 

Dates and debuts are big deals to comics fans, and this year is a major one for Marvel Anniversaries, if not always first appearances. Here’s a classic case-in-point… 

If you’re of a particularly picky nature – and what true fan isn’t? – you could consider The Astonishing Ant-Man to be the second superhero of the Marvel Age. He first popped up in Tales to Astonish #27 (cover-dated January 1962 but on sale from the end of September 1961), in one of the splendidly addictive men-vs-monsters anthology titles that dominated in those heady days of Science Fiction Double-Feature B-Movies. 

This eclectic episodic, entomologically edifying and endearing compendium gathers pertinent portions of Tales to Astonish #27 and a majority of the succeeding series (which ran from #35-69: September 1962 to July 1965). Sadly the little dramas herein terminate with #59 (September 1964). 

These itty-bitty sagas reveal scintillating solo outings of a brilliant but troubled scientist who became an unlikely, uncomfortable and ultimately mentally unstable champion, and begin with what was just supposed to be another throwaway filler thriller… 

A cover-featured 7-page short introduced Dr Henry Pym, a maverick scientist who discovers a shrinking potion and became ‘The Man in the Anthill!’, discovering peril, wonder and even a kind of companionship amongst the lowliest creatures on Earth and under it… 

Plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Lieber and stunningly illustrated by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, the engaging piece of fluff owed more than a little to classic B-movie The Incredible Shrinking Man… 

Obviously, Pym struck a chord with someone since, as the DC Comics-inspired superhero boom flourished, he was rapidly retooled as a full-fledged costumed do-gooder, debuting again mid-year (#35, cover-date September 1962) in ‘The Return of the Ant-Man’ by Lee, Lieber, Kirby & Ayers. The plot concerned a raid by Soviet agents (this was during the height of Marvel’s ‘Commie-Buster’ period when every other villain was a Red somebody or other and rampaging socialism was a cultural bête noir) with Pym imprisoned in his own lab. 

Forced to return to the abandoned shrinking gases and cybernetic devices he’d built to communicate with ants, Dr. Pym soundly trounced the spies and resolved to use his gifts for the good of Mankind. 

The same creative team produced the next four adventures, starting with ‘The Challenge of Comrade X!’ (TTA #36) as an infallible Soviet superspy was dispatched to destroy the Tiny Terror, after which Ant-Man was temporarily ‘Trapped by the Protector!’ – a cunning jewel-thief and extortionist who ultimately proved no match for the little wonder. 

‘Betrayed by the Ants!’ featured the debut of intellectual archfoe Egghead: a maverick and mercenary research scientist who attempted to usurp the hero’s control of insects whilst ‘The Vengeance of the Scarlet Beetle!’ saw a return to scary monster stories as a radioactively mutated, super-smart bug sought to eradicate humanity, with only Pym able to stop him… 

Sol Brodsky replaced Ayers as inker on ‘The Day that Ant-Man Failed!’ (TTA #40), with a deadly Hijacker robbing trucks and pushing the inventor to new heights of ingenuity, after which Kirby too moved on: his lavishly experimental perspectival flamboyance replaced by the comforting realism and enticing human scale of Don Heck who limned a classy alien invasion yarn in ‘Prisoner of the Slave World!’ before depicting a mesmerising menace who could control people with ‘The Voice of Doom’ (TTA #42). 

The following issue H. E. Huntley (AKA veteran writer/artist Ernie Hart) replaced Lieber as scripter with ‘Versus the Mad Master of Time’: a run-of-the-mill mad – or rather disgruntled and misguided – scientist yarn. The next issue (#44) saw Kirby return to pencil a significant change to the series…. 

‘The Creature from Kosmos’ (inked by Heck) introduced The Wasp – Pym’s bon vivant crime-fighting partner Janet Van Dyne – in a double-length tale featuring a murderous alien marauder who killed her father. There was even a fresh secret origin for Ant-Man: a rare and uncharacteristic display of depth revealing Pym was a widower. When his Hungarian wife Maria was murdered by Communist agents, it irrevocably changed a young scientist from a sedentary scholar into a driven man of action…. 

Ant-Man used his discoveries to endow Janet with the power to shrink and fly and she became his crime-fighting partner. Together they overcome ‘The Terrible Traps of Egghead’ (Lee, Huntley & Heck) before travelling to Greece to thwart another alien invasion ‘When Cyclops Walks the Earth!’ 

Back in the USA, the Diminutive Duo battle mystic trumpeter Trago in ‘Music to Scream By’ and defeat an avaricious weapons designer who builds himself a unique warsuit to become super-thief ‘The Porcupine!’: all serving as placeholders before the next big change came with Tales to Astonish #49’s ‘The Birth of Giant-Man!’. 

Lee scripted and Kirby pencilled how Pym learned to enlarge as well as reduce his size, just in time to tackle trans-dimensional kidnapper The Eraser. In the next issue Steve Ditko inked The King in ‘The Human Top’: first chapter of a continued tale which showed our hero struggling to adapt to his new strength and abilities. 

Concluding episode ‘Showdown with the Human Top!’ was inked by Ayers who would draw the bulk of the succeeding stories until the series’ demise. Also with this issue (TTA #51) back-up feature The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale began; blending sci-fi vignettes narrated by the heroine, fact-features and solo adventures. The first is space thriller ‘Somewhere Waits a Wobbow!’ by Lee, Lieber & George Roussos in Marvel mode as “George Bell”. 

The super-hero adventures settled into a predictable pattern from then on: individually effective enough but uninspired when read in quick succession. First up is a straight super-villain clash as ‘The Black Knight Strikes!’ (Lee & Ayers: TTA #52), supplemented by Wasp’s homily ‘Not What They Seem!’. Issue #53 led with another spectacular battle-bout ‘Trapped by the Porcupine!’ and finished with Wasp yarn ‘When Wakes the Colossus!’ (Lee, Lieber & Heck) before #54 found Heck briefly reinstated to illustrate the Crusading Couple’s catastrophic trip to South of the Border Santo Rico but finding ‘No Place to Hide!’ The taut tale of being trapped and powerless in a banana republic run by brutal commie agent El Toro was neatly counterbalanced by Wasp’s sci fi saga ‘Conquest!’ (Lee, Lieber & Brodsky). 

An implacable former foe defeated himself in ‘On the Trail of the Human Top!’ when the psychotic killer stole Giant-Man’s size changing pills in #55, following which Lee, Lieber & Bell produced Wasp’s tale of ‘The Gypsy’s Secret!’ 

A criminal stage conjuror was far more trouble than you’d suspect in ‘The Coming of The Magician!’: even successfully abducting the Wasp before his defeat, which she celebrated by regaling readers with tall tale ‘Beware the Bog Beast!’ (Lee, Lieber & Paul Reinman) after which #57 featured a major guest-star as the size-changing sweethearts set out ‘On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!’ courtesy of Lee, Ayers & Reinman, with Egghead waiting in the wings and pulling strings, before the Wasp actually enjoyed a complete solo adventure with ‘A Voice in the Dark!’ by Lee, Lieber & Chic Stone. 

These were not only signs of the increasing interconnectivity Lee was developing but also indicated the strip was losing impetus. In a market rapidly drowning in superheroes, Giant Man was not selling as well as he used to or should… 

Captain America cameo-ed in #58’s epic Africa-based battle with a giant alien in ‘The Coming of Colossus!’, supplemented by Wasp’s lone hand played against an old foe in ‘The Magician and the Maiden!’ 

The last tale in this collection and beginning of the end for Giant-Man came in Tales to Astonish #59 and ‘Enter: the Hulk!’ with the Avengers inadvertently prompting the Master of Many Sizes to hunt down the Green Goliath. Although Human Top orchestrated a blockbusting battle, Lee was the real mastermind since, with the next issue, The Hulk would co-star in his own series and on the covers whilst Giant-Man’s adventures shrank back to a dozen or so pages. Ten issues later Hank and Jan would retire, making way for amphibian antihero Namor, the Sub-Mariner… 

(Gi)-Ant-Man and the Wasp did not die, but instead joined a vast cast of characters Marvel kept in relatively constant play through team books, via guest shots and in occasional re-launches and mini-series. 

Despite variable quality and treatment, the eclectic, eccentric and always fun exploits of Marvel’s premier “odd couple” remain an intriguing and engaging reminder that the House of Ideas didn’t always get it right, but generally gave their all to entertaining their fans. 

Marvel Comics initially built its fervent fan base through strong and contemporarily relevant stories and striking art, but most importantly by creating a shared continuity that closely followed the characters through not just their own titles but also through the many guest appearances in other comics. Such an interweaving meant that even today completists and fans seek out extraneous stories to get a fuller picture of their favourite’s adventures. 

In such an environment, series like these Epic Collections are an economical and valuable commodity approaching the status of a public service for collectors.  

By turns superb, stupid, exciting and appalling, this Epic encounter epitomises the best and worst of Early Marvel (with the delightful far outweighing the duff). It certainly won’t appeal to everybody, but if you’re a Fights ‘n’ Tights fan with a forgiving nature or a movie-goer looking for extra input, the good stuff here will charm, amaze and enthral you whilst the rest could just be considered as a garish garnish providing added flavour…
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved. 

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection volume 6 – 1970-1972: The Death of Captain Stacy


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gil Kane, John Romita, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302929084 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Amazing Spider-Man was first seen in the middle of 1962, so expect more wallcrawling reviews over the coming months, and if any of us make it to the end I’m sure we’ll all be well-versed in Arachnid Lore with our book shelves (physical or digital) positively groaning with sublimely re-readable tales and tomes…

As an added bonus, this collection also represents the debut of a current Marvel Movie-verse monster masterwork. Oooh, scary…

The Amazing Spider-Man was always a comic that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead of – its fan-base. In this superbly scintillating compilation of chronologically corrected webspinning wonderment (in ponderous paperback or ephemeral eBook formats), the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero barely 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 Wallcrawler’s adventures for some time yet, these tales would number amongst his last sustained run as lead illustrator.

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

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

Making a costume to hide his identity in case he made a fool of himself, Parker became a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night, he didn’t lift a finger to stop him. That self-serving arrogance cost him dearly, as when he returned home, he learned 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, misanthropes, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them…

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

This sixth full-colour collection of chronologically congregated and curated early Amazing Arachnoid Epics sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero foreshadowing a major change in the tone and timbre of comics even while continuing the long climb to global stardom…

Re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #86-104 (originally released between July 1970 and January 1972) these spider-sagas began the next stage in the hero’s evolution as Lee first surrendered the scripting privileges: here to his ordained understudy Roy Thomas. Lee would reclaim the role briefly but as with The Fantastic Four and Thor, it was time for new voices…

The drama begins with drastic transformation for a conflicted Cold War leftover as Lee’s ‘Beware… the Black Widow!’ gave John Romita (senior) and Jim Mooney leave to redesign and relaunch the Soviet super-spy. Looking for a fresh start, the sometime-Avenger stole the show in an enjoyable if highly formulaic misunderstanding/clash-of-heroes yarn with an ailing Spider-Man never really endangered. The entire episode was actually a promotion for the Widow’s own soon-to-debut solo series…

‘Unmasked at Last!’ found Parker convinced that his powers were fading forever and suffering from a raging fever. Delirious, Parker exposes his secret identity to all the guests at his girlfriend’s party but on recovering – from flu – acts to save his other life, using the kind of logic and subterfuge that only works in comics and sitcoms. Asking ex-villain Hobie (The Prowler) Brown for help, Parker subsequently convinces everybody that it was only a flu-induced aberration…

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

The wonderment resumes in ‘The Arms of Doctor Octopus!’ with the many-tentacled terror escaping jail and capturing a jetliner full of Chinese diplomats. It all ends with explosive suddenness and apparent suicide after the wallcrawler intervenes, yet is promptly followed a month later by ‘Doc Ock Lives!’ This heralded a new era of visual dynamism as Gil Kane began a sporadic but memorable run as penciller, with Romita reverting to chief inker. Here Octopus rampages through town, causing carnage until Spider-Man again confronts him. The battle takes a lethal turn in ‘And Death Shall Come!’ wherein Parker’s attempts to stop him leads to the death of a beloved cast member…

With that tragic demise of a cast regular, the webslinger became a wanted fugitive. Already fanatical publisher J. Jonah Jameson began backing “Law and Order” election hopeful Sam Bullitt in a campaign ‘To Smash the Spider!’, unaware of the politician’s disreputable past and ultra-right-wing agenda, but the secret is exposed (by Bugle sub-editor Joe Robertson) in #92’s ‘When Iceman Attacks’…

The ambitious demagogue convinced the youngest X-Man that Spider-Man had kidnapped Parker’s paramour Gwen Stacy but the Wondrous Wallcrawler’s explosive battle against the mutant exposed the corrupt and explicitly racist Bullit in an all-out action extravaganza featuring some of the best fight-art of the decade by two of the industry’s greatest names.
Romita resumed pencilling with issue #93, which saw the return of an almost forgotten frenemy in ‘The Lady and… The Prowler!’. Hobie Brown was a reformed super-burglar but when he saw that the Amazing Arachnid was wanted, he too was all too ready to believe the media hype…

Amazing Spider-Man #94 (Lee, Romita & Sal Buscema) offered a fresh glimpse of the hero’s fabled origin as part of a dynamic dust-up with The Beetle ‘On Wings of Death!’, after which Peter headed for London to woo his estranged girlfriend Gwen, who had fled the manic violence of America after her father’s death.

Typically, ‘Trap for a Terrorist’ finds the city under threat from a gang of bombers, which apparently only Spider-Man can handle. Gwen returned home, never knowing Parker had come after her, and had to stay out of sight once the wallcrawler was seen in Westminster.

Everything was forgotten in the next issue when deeply disturbed and partially amnesiac industrialist Norman Osborn abruptly remembered he once had another more macabre persona. Restored and enraged he once again attacked Peter in #96’s ‘…And Now, the Goblin!’ by Lee, Kane & Romita.

Stan Lee had long wanted to address the contemporary drugs situation in Marvel’s stories but was forbidden by Comics Code Authority strictures. When the Nixon administration, in the form of the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, approached him to tackle the issue, Lee devised the 3-part Green Goblin tale. When it was inevitably refused Code approval, the writer-editor went ahead and published it anyway…

Although the return of the madman who knew all Spider-Man’s secrets was the big fan-draw, the real meat of the tale was how Osborn’s son Harry – a perfectly average rich white kid and Peter Parker’s best friend – is drawn into a web of addiction, abuse and toxic overdose. Frank Giacoia began inking Kane with the second instalment, ‘In the Grip of the Goblin!’ as the elder Osborn runs riot, almost killing the webslinger and preparing for his final deadly assault, even as his son lies dying. The saga spectacularly concludes with ‘The Goblin’s Last Gasp!’ as, in the clinch, the villain’s deeply-buried paternal love proves his undoing and Parker’s salvation…

Amazing Spider-Man #99 portrays ‘A Day in the Life of…’: an all-action, social drama-tinged palate-cleanser with Peter and Gwen finally getting their love-life back on track, only marginally diverted by a prison breakout easily quelled by the Arachnid Avenger, whilst highlighting the growing scandal of prison conditions.

Celebrating a major anniversary, and heralding a dramatic change to the entire comics industry, an astonishing tales begins with ‘The Spider or the Man?’ (Lee, Kane & Giacoia) as, determined to retire and marry, Peter attempts to destroy his powers with an untested self-concocted serum. The result is a hallucinogenic trip wherein action ace Kane draws an all-out battle between Spidey and an army of old enemies, culminating in a waking nightmare when Parker regains consciousness and discovers he’s grown four additional arms…

With #101 Roy Thomas stepped in as scripter for ‘A Monster Called… Morbius!’, wherein the eight-limbed hero desperately seeks some way to reverse his condition. Fortuitously, he stumbles across a murderous costumed horror who drinks human blood. Making matters even worse is old foe The Lizard who suddenly turns up, determined to kill them both…

Amongst the many things banned by the Comics Code in 1954 were horror staples vampires and werewolves, but changing tastes and rising comics production costs of the early 1970s saw superhero titles dropping like flies in a blizzard. With interest in suspense and the supernatural growing, all comics publishers were pushing to re-establish horror comics again, and the covert introduction of a “Living Vampire” in superhero staple Spider-Man led to another challenge to the CCA; the eventually revision of the horror section of the Code and a resurgent rise of supernatural heroes and titles.

For one month Marvel also experimented with double-sized comicbooks (DC’s switch to 52-page issues lasted almost a year – August 1971-June 1972 cover-dates) and Amazing Spider-Man #102 featured an immense, 3-chapter blockbuster beginning with ‘Vampire at Large!’, wherein the octo-webspinner and anthropoid reptile join forces to hunt a science-spawned bloodsucker after discovering a factor in the vampire’s saliva could cure both part-time monsters’ respective conditions…

‘The Way it Began’ briefly diverges from the main narrative to present the tragic secret origin of Nobel Prize winning biologist Michael Morbius, and how be turned himself into a haunted night-horror, before kThe Curse and the Cure!’ brings the tale to a blistering conclusion and restores the status quo and requisite appendage-count.

Designed as another extra-length epic, ‘Walk the Savage Land!’ began in now conventionally paginated #103, but was sliced in half and finished as #104’s ‘The Beauty and the Brute’.

When The Daily Bugle suffers a financial crisis, bellicose publisher Jameson takes Parker and his extremely photogenic girlfriend Gwen on a monster-hunt to the Lost World under the Antarctic. The intention is to encounter dinosaurs and cavemen but the stunt goes awry, dragging in noble savage Ka-Zar, perfidious villain Kraven the Hunter and a terrifying giant alien baby dubbed Gog in a fabulous pastiche and homage to Willis O’Brien’s King Kong, delivered with love and pride from Thomas, Kane & Giacoia.

Although this romp ends the narrative on a rousing high, there still more to see, beginning with the Romita Sr. covers from all-reprint Amazing Spider-Man Annual’s #7-8; contemporary house-ads and scads of un-inked Kane art pages. That’s supplemented by a bridging story-page by Kane & Mike Esposito from Marvel Tales #83; and a selection of covers from numerous other reprints of these stories: illustrated by Jim Calafiore, Glen Orbik, Steve Lightle, Nghia Lam & Jason Rodriguez, Al Rio & Thomas Velazquez, Romita Sr. Bruce Timm, Mike Wieringo, Tim Townsend, Sean Chen & Eric Cannon, but the true treat for comics historians are various versions of Kane’s original cover for #97 and the turning point of the drugs story. A far stronger and more explicit view of Harry’s addiction, both the colour rough and amended full cover art were rejected by the CCA.

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. Come see why.
© 2021 MARVEL

Klaws of the Panther


By Jonathan Mayberry, Shawn Moll, Gianluca Gugliotta, Walden Wong & Pepe Larraz (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5118-0 (TPB/Digital editions)

Debuting in Fantastic Four #52 (cover-dated July 1966) and hailed as the first black super hero character in American comics – and one of the first to carry his own series – the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since he boldly attacked the FF as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

Time passed and T’Challa, son of T’Chaka was revealed as an African monarch whose hidden kingdom was the only source of a vibration-absorbing alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth was founded. Those mineral riches – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in lost antiquity – had enabled him to turn his country into a technological wonderland. The tribal wealth had been guarded throughout history by a cat-like champion deriving physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb which ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s warrior Panther Cult.

In modern times the Vibranium mound made the country a target for increasing subversion and incursion and after an all-out attack by the forces of Doctor Doom, culminating in the Iron Dictator seizing control of Wakanda, T’Challa was forced to render all Vibranium on Earth inert, defeating the invader but leaving his own homeland broken and economically shattered.

During this cataclysmic clash T’Challa’s flighty, spoiled brat half-sister Shuri took on the mantle of the Black Panther and became the clan and country’s new champion whilst her predecessor struggled with the disaster he had deliberately caused…

This slim, unassuming but extremely engaging Costumed Drama collects pertinent portions of the portmanteau Age of Heroes #4 and the guest-star packed Klaws of the Panther 4-part fortnightly miniseries from 2010-2011 – following a very different princess from the filmic one you probably know – as she progress through the Marvel Universe, striving to outlive her wastrel reputation, serve her country and the world whilst – crucially – defeating the growing homicidal rage that increasingly burns within her…

The story starts with ‘Honor’ by Jonathan Mayberry, Shawn Moll & Walden Wong, wherein the latest Panther Champion brutally repels an invasion by soldiers of Advanced Idea Mechanics: simply the latest opportunist agency attempting to take over the decimated country of Wakanda.

With her brother and (X-Man and occasional goddess) Queen Storm absent, Shuri is also de facto ruler of the nation, but faces dissent from her own people, as embarrassing reports and photos of her days as a billionaire good-time girl are continually surfacing to stir popular antipathy to her and the Panther clan.

When opportunist G’Tuga of the outlawed White Gorilla sect challenges for the role of national champion, Shuri treats the ritual combat as a welcome relief from insurmountable, intangible problems; but has badly misjudged her opponent and the sentiment of the people…

The main event by Mayberry, Gianluca Gugliotta & Pepe Larraz opens with ‘Savage Tales’ as Shuri is lured to fantastic dinosaur preserve the Savage Land, hoping to purchase a supply of a metal-eating Vibranium isotope, but instead uncovers a deadly plot by AIM and sentient sound-wave Klaw.

The incredible fauna of the lost world has been enslaved by the Master of Sound – who years previously murdered Shuri and T’Challa’s father in an earlier attempt to seize ultimate power – and the villain has captured the region’s protector Ka-Zar whilst seeking to secure all Savage Land Vibranium for his nefarious schemes.

Klaw, however, only thought he had fully compensated for the interference of Shuri and Ka-Zar’s formidable spouse Shanna the She-Devil…

Driven by lust for vengeance, Shuri almost allows Klaw to destroy the entire Savage Land and only the timely intervention of mutant sister-in-law Storm prevents nuclear armageddon in ‘Sound and Fury’, after which the impulsive Panther seeks out Wolverine on the outlaw island Madripoor, looking for help with her out-of-control anger management issues. Once again, AIM attacks, attempting to steal the rogue state’s priceless stockpile of Savage Land Vibranium, but instead walks into a buzzsaw of angry retribution…

Shuri is about to extract information from a surviving AIM agent in time-honoured Wakandan manner when Klaw appears, hinting at a world-shattering plan called “The Scream” which will use mysterious device M.U.S.I.C. to totally remake the Earth…

After another furious fight, the new Panther gains the upper hand by using SLV dust, but squanders her hard-won advantage to save Wolverine from certain death…

Knowing the entire planet is at stake, Shuri accepts the necessity for major-league assistance in ‘Music of the Spheres’ but unfortunately the only one home at Avengers Tower is the relatively low-calibre Spider-Man. Reluctantly she takes the wisecracking half-wit on another raid on AIM and finally catches a break when one of Klaw’s AIM minions reveals the tragic secret of the horrific M.U.S.I.C device…

All this time, Black Panther has had a hidden ally in the form of tech specialist Flea, who has been providing intel from an orbiting spaceship. Now the full truth is revealed and the heroes find Klaw’s plans centre on an attack from space. The maniac intends to destroy humanity from an invulnerable station thousands of miles above the planet and nothing can broach the base’s incredible defences. Happily, Spider-Man and ex-Captain America Steve Rogers know the world’s greatest infiltration expert and soon ‘Enter the Black Widow’ finds Earth’s last hopes depending on an all-or-nothing assault by the icily calm Panther and the world’s deadliest spy.

Cue tragic sacrifice, deadly combat, spectacular denouement, reaffirmed dedication and a new start for the ferociously inspired and determined Black Panther…

Slight yet gloriously readable, this compelling thriller boasts an impressive cover gallery by Jae Lee, Michael Del Mundo and Stephanie Hans, plus an information-packed text feature on Shuri’s life-history, career and abilities to bring the completist reader up to full speed.

If you don’t despise reboots and re-treads on unswerving principle and are prepared to give something new(ish) a go, there’s tons of fun to be had in this infectious, fast-paced Fights ‘n’ Tights farrago, so go set your sights and hunt this down…
© 2010, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Amazing Spider-Man: The Death of Gwen Stacy


By Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, John Romita Sr., Frank Giacoia, Tony Mortellaro & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1026-2 (TPB/Digital editions)

In fiction, the relationship of love and death is grimly inescapable and has produced some remarkable moments. If we’re thinking of the romance of the moment let’s not forget what happened to the actual St. Valentine…

In these days of an infinitude of fan-sites, publicity cycles and gleeful spoiler-mongers, it takes major effort to keep a shock-ending from the readership, but back in 1973 comics consumers had only word-of-mouth and the story itself. Thus, the eponymous stories in this compilation staggered everybody when they were first published…

The Amazing Spider-Man was always a comic book that matured with – or barely ahead – of its fan-base, and this curated collection of the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero features the tragic build-up and a life-altering failure: one that forever altered the tone and timbre of his existence even…

After a rather nervous nativity, the webslinger became a certified sensation with kids of all ages. Before 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.

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. 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…

The isolated High School nerd grew up and went to college but despite having more friends, due to his guilt-fuelled double-life he struggled there too. His one glimmer of hope and joy came from finding true love with policeman’s daughter Gwen Stacy…

Re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 and 121-131, this selection also includes prose essays ‘I Remember Gwen – An Introduction’ (by Ralph Macchio) and ‘An Afterword’ which segue into to a bittersweet ‘Epilogue’

Peter and his ever-expanding cast of comrades were practically household names and the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia throughout America and the world. Stan Lee’s scripts tapped into the always-evolving zeitgeists of the times and the deft use of soap opera plots kept older readers glued to the series even if the bombastic battle sequences didn’t. And here a sharp reminder came – that in those days at least – funnybooks were not immune to tragedy…

The drama commences as Gwen, still reeling from the recent loss of her father, reunites with Peter after time in London getting her head together. Amazing Spider-Man #96 (May 1971) saw deeply disturbed and partially amnesiac industrialist Norman Osborn abruptly remember he once had another menacingly macabre persona and subsequently launch an attack on Peter in ‘…And Now, the Goblin!’ by Lee, Gil Kane & John Romita.

The author/editor had long wanted to address the contemporary drugs situation in his stories but was forbidden by Comics Code Authority strictures. When the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare approached him to tackle the issue, Lee crafted this tale. When it was denied Code approval, he went ahead and published it anyway…

Although the return of the madman who knew all Spider-Man’s secrets was the big fan-draw, the real meat of the tale was how Osborn’s son Harry – a perfectly normal rich white college kid (and Peter’s best friend) – could be drawn into a web of addiction, abuse and overdose…

Frank Giacoia began inking Kane for the second instalment –‘In the Grip of the Goblin!’ – as the elder Osborn ran riot, nearly killing the webslinger and preparing for a final deadly assault, even as his son lay dying, before the saga spectacularly concluded with ‘The Goblin’s Last Gasp!’ In the clinch, the villain’s deeply-buried paternal love proved his undoing and Parker’s salvation…

That seemed to be the end of it. Life went on, Peter and Gwen reconciled and grew even closer and villains came and went. A couple of years later, everything changed as the culmination of a decade of suspense and simmering intrigue boiled over on ‘The Night Gwen Stacy Died’ (#121, June 1973).

Here Gerry Conway, Kane, Romita & Tony Mortellaro delivered the initial instalment of a 2-part tale which stunned fans as Peter’s greatest efforts proved utterly insufficient to save his intended from the insane rage of a resurgent Green Goblin. Ultimate nemesis Norman Osborn had recovered lost memories of his evil alter ego after Harry fell back into drug abuse. Restored to his malign potency the elder Osborn kidnapped Spider-Man’s girlfriend to force a final confrontation…

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

Rounding out this slim compilation is that promised bonus. Originally seen in Webspinners: Tales of Spider-Man #1 (January 1999), ‘The Kiss’ is a lovely in-filling reminiscence from John Marc DeMatteis & John Romita, Sr. as a lost love is fondly recalled…

Happily, most romances don’t end in quite such distraught manner but sadness is a big part of the deal. Still, nothing ventured, no one gained…
© 2021 MARVEL.