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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iron Man Epic Collection volume 6: The War of the Super Villains 1974 – 1976


By Mike Friedrich, Barry Alfonso, Tom Orzechowski, Bill Mantlo, Len Wein, Archie Goodwin, Roger Slifer, Jim Shooter, Steve Gerber, Gerry Conway, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Chic Stone, Tuska, Sal Buscema, Marie Severin & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1302948801 (TPB/Digital edition)

Arch-technocrat and supreme survivor Tony Stark has changed his profile many times since his debut in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963) when, whilst a VIP visitor in Vietnam observing the efficacy of the munitions he had designed, the inventor was critically wounded and captured by sinister, savage Communists.

Put to work building weapons with the dubious promise of medical assistance on completion, Stark instead created the first of many technologically augmented suits to keep himself alive and deliver him from his oppressors. From there it was a simple – transistor-powered – jump to full time superheroics as a modern Knight in Shining Armour…

First conceived in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis at a time when Western economies were booming and “Commie-bashing” was an American national obsession, the emergence of a new and shining young Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity, wealth and invention to safeguard the Land of the Free and better the World, seemed an obvious development. Combining the then-sacrosanct faith that technology and business in unison could solve any problem, with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil, Stark –The Invincible Iron Man – seemed an infallibly successful proposition.

Of course, whilst he was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism – a glamorous millionaire industrialist/scientist and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his alter-ego – the turbulent tone of the 1970s soon relegated his suave, “can-do” image to the dustbin of history. With ecological disaster and social catastrophe from the myriad abuses of big business the new zeitgeists of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting a few tricky questions from the increasingly politically savvy readership.

As glamour, money and fancy gadgetry lost its chic and grew evermore tarnished, questing voices of a new generation of writers began posing uncomfortable questions in the pages of a series that was once the bastion of militarised America

This chronological compendium concludes that transitional period: reprinting Iron Man #68-91 and Annual #3 (June 1974 – October 1976) and opens without fanfare on an ambitious action epic. IM #68-71 comprised the opening sortie in a multi-part epic which saw mystic menace The Black Lama foment a covert clash amongst the world’s greatest villains, with ultimate power, inner peace and a magical Golden Globe as the promised prizes.

Written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by George Tuska & Mike Esposito, it begins in Vietnam on the ‘Night of the Rising Sun!’ where The Mandarin struggles to free his consciousness – currently locked within the dying body of Russian super-villain The Unicorn. This is probably the ideal moment to remind potential new readers that these stories were crafted in far less accepting times with racial and gender stereotypes used as narrative shorthand and occasionally so on the nose that they could make a caveman chuck up. If you can’t look past that historically accurate accounting it might be best to seek your fun elsewhere…

Stark’s ardently pacifist love interest Roxie Gilbert had dragged the inventor to the recently “liberated” People’s Republic in search of (part-time Iron Man) Eddie March’s lost brother. Marty March was a POW missing since the last days of the war. Before long, however, the Americans are separated after Japanese ultra-nationalist, ambulatory atomic inferno and occasional X-Man Sunfire is tricked into attacking the intrusive Yankee Imperialists…

The assault abruptly ends once Mandarin shanghaies the Solar Samurai and uses his mutant energies to power a mind-transfer back into his own body. Reinstated to his original form, the Chinese Conqueror-in-waiting commences his own campaign of combat in earnest, eager to regain his castle from rival oriental overlord The Yellow Claw.

First though, he must crush Iron Man – who has tracked him down and freed Sunfire in ‘Confrontation!’ That bombastic battle ends when the Golden Avenger is rendered unconscious and thrown into space…

‘Who Shall Stop… Ultimo?’ finds the revived giant robot-monster targeting Mandarin’s castle (claimed by the Claw in a previous battle) as the sinister Celestial duels the ancient enemy to the death, with both Iron Man and Sunfire arriving too late and forced to mop up the sole survivor of the contest in ‘Battle: Tooth and Yellow Claw! (Confrontation Part 3)’. After all that Eastern Armageddon, a change of pace is called for, so Stark takes in the San Diego Comicon in #72’s ‘Convention of Fear!’ (by Friedrich, Tuska & Vince Colletta, from a plot by Barry Alfonso), only to find himself ambushed by fellow incognito attendees Whiplash, Man-Bull and The Melter – who are made an offer they should have refused by the ubiquitous and iniquitous Black Lama…

Next issue the Super-Villain War kicks into high gear with ‘Turnabout: A Most Foul Play!’ (illustrated by Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard & Jim Mooney and derived from a premise by letterer Tom Orzechowski). After secret-sharing confidantes Pepper Potts-Hogan and her husband Happy settle a long-festering squabble with Tony at Stark International’s Manila plant, Iron Man returns to Vietnam and dives into a deadly clash with Crimson Dynamo in a hidden, high-tech jungle city subsequently razed to the ground by their explosive combat.

Inked by Dick Ayers, Iron Man #74’s ‘The M.O.D.O.K. Machine!’ brings Black Lama’s contest to the fore as The Mad Thinker electronically overrides the Avenger’s armour, setting helpless passenger Stark upon the malevolent, mutated master of Advanced Idea Mechanics…

Without autonomy, the Golden Gladiator is easily overwhelmed and ‘Slave to the Power Imperious!’ (Chic Stone inks) sees the hero dragged back to The Thinker’s lair and laid low by a strange psychic hallucination, even as M.O.D.O.K. finishes his cognitive co-combatant and apparently turns the still-enslaved steel-shod hero on his next opponent: Yellow Claw.

As this is happening, elsewhere radical terrorist Firebrand is somehow sharing Stark’s Black Lama-inspired “psycho-feedback” episodes…

The tale wraps on a twisty cliffhanger as the Claw destroys M.O.D.O.K.  and his clockwork puppet Avenger, only to discover that the Thinker is not only still alive but still holds the real Iron Man captive. That’s quite unfortunate as issue #76 blew its deadline and instead reprinted Iron Man #9 (represented here by its cover) before Friedrich, Jones & Stone’s ‘I Cry: Revenge!’ finds the fighting-mad hero breaking free of the Thinker’s control, just as Black Lama teleports the Claw in to finish his final felonious opponent…

Still extremely ticked off, the Armoured Avenger takes on all comers before being ambushed by late-arriving Firebrand who has been psionically drawn into the melee. As Shellhead goes down, the Lama declares non-contestant Firebrand ultimate victor, gratuitously explaining how he has voyaged from an alternate universe before duping the unstable and uncaring flaming rabble-rouser into re-crossing the dimensional void with him. Although a certifiable loon and cold-blooded killer, Firebrand is Roxie Gilbert’s brother and groggily reviving Iron Man feels honour-bound to follow him through the rapidly closing portal to elsewhere…

Deadline problems persisted however, and the next two issues are both fill-in tales, beginning with #78’s ‘Long Time Gone’ Crafted by Bill Mantlo, Tuska & Vince Colletta it harks back to the Avenger’s early days and a mission during the Vietnam war which first brought home the cost in blood and misery Stark’s munitions building had caused. IM #79 then shares a ‘Midnite on Murder Mountain!’ (Friedrich, Tuska & Colletta) wherein our hero emphatically ends scientific abominations wrought by deranged geneticist/mind-swapper Professor Kurakill…

At last, Iron Man #80 sees Friedrich, Stone & Colletta return to the ongoing inter-dimensional operations as Mission into Madness!’ follows the multiversal voyagers to a very different America where warring kingdoms and principalities jostle for prestige, position and power. Here the Lama is revealed as King Jerald of Grand Rapid: a ruler under threat from outside invaders and insidious usurpers within. He’d come to Earth looking for powerful allies but had not realised travel to other realms drives non-indigenous residents completely crazy…

With the mind-warp effect already destabilising Iron Man and Firebrand, it’s fortunate treacherous Baroness Rockler makes her move to kill the returned Jerald immediately, and the Earthlings are quickly embroiled in a cataclysmic ‘War of the Mind-Dragons!’ before turning on each other and fleeing the devastated kingdom for the less psychologically hazardous environs of their homeworld…

With an extended epic spanning the world and alternate dimensions completed, long-term writer Mike Friedrich moved on, and Iron Man #82 began a new era and tone as Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Marie Severin & Jack Abel revamped the armour just in time for the Red Ghost and his super simians to kidnap super genius Stark in ‘Plunder of the Apes!’ Debuting in that tale was NYPD detective Michael O’Brien, who holds Stark responsible and accountable for the tragic death of his brother Kevin. The deceased researcher had been Stark’s confidante until his mind snapped. He had died running amok wearing a prototype suit of Guardsman armour. Here and now, Mike smells a corporate cover-up…

Inked by Marie Severin, IM #83 exhibits ‘The Rage of the Red Ghost!’ as the rogue Russian forces Stark to cure his gradual dispersal into unconnected atoms, only to realise, following a bombastic battle, that the inventor has outwitted him once again, after which Wein, Roger Slifer, Trimpe & John Tartaglione detail how the infamous never fully tested Enervator ray again turns grievously injured Happy Hogan into a mindless monster. This time, the medical miracle machine saturates him with so much Cobalt radiation that he becomes a ticking inhuman nuke on the ‘Night of the Walking Bomb!’

The tense tick-tock to doom is narrowly and spectacularly halted in ‘…And the Freak Shall Inherit the Earth!’ (Slifer, Wein, Trimpe & Severin) after which Mantlo, Tuska & Vince Colletta revive and revamp one of the Golden Avenger’s oldest and least-remembered rogues when disgraced thermal technologist Gregor Shapanka sheds his loser status as Jack Frost to attack Stark International in a deadly new guise.

In # 86 we learn ‘The Gentleman’s Name is Blizzard!’ but despite his improved image, the sub-zero zealot can’t quite close ‘The Icy Hand of Death!’ in the next instalment, leading to mid-year spectacular Iron Man Annual #3 (June 1976) which unveils ‘More or Less… the Return of the Molecule Man!’ courtesy of Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema & Abel.

When Tony Stark looks into redeveloping some soggy Florida real estate, a little girl finds a strange wand and is possessed and transformed by the consciousness of one of the most powerful creatures in existence. Although Iron Man is helpless to combat the reality-warping attacks of the combination petulant girl/narcissistic maniac, luckily for the universe, the shambling elemental shocker dubbed Man-Thing had no mind to mess with or conscience to trouble…

Iron Man #88 signalled the too-brief reunion of veteran scribe Archie Goodwin with Tuska as ‘Fear Wears Two Faces!’ finds the Armoured Avenger battling escaped aliens The Blood Brothers after the vicious space thugs are psychically summoned to a mystery rendezvous by another old enemy of Iron Man. Inked by Colletta, the tale concludes in ‘Brute Fury!’ as Daredevil deals himself in to the cataclysmic clash and just barely tips the scales before the hidden manipulator is exposed in #90 ‘When Calls the Controller!’ (Jim Shooter, Tuska & Abel). The life-force thief seeks to escape months of entombment by enslaving and feeding off hapless down-&-outs, but his rapid defeat is only a prelude to greater catastrophe as Gerry Conway scripts and Bob Layton inks #91’s ‘Breakout!’ as the fiend tries too hard, too fast and again fades into helpless captivity…

Closing the covers on this stellar compilation are Gil Kane’s stellar front to all-reprint Giant-Size Iron Man #1 (1975 and including the original artwork prior to edits), House ads and an 8-page gallery of original art covers and pages by Kane, Jones, Esposito, Ed Hannigan, Frank Giacoia, Jim Starlin, Sal Buscema & Pollard.

From our distant vantage point the polemical energy and impact might be dissipated, but the sheer quality of the comics and cool thrill of the eternal aspiration of man in partnership with magic metal remains. These Fights ‘n’ Tights classics are amongst the most underrated tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold cash…
© 2023 MARVEL.

Wolverine by Claremont & Miller Deluxe Edition & Wolverine by Claremont & Miller


By Chris Claremont & Frank Miller, with Joe Rubenstein, Paul Smith, Bob Wiacek & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8383-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Wolverine is all things to most people and in his long life has worn many hats: Comrade, Ally, Avenger, Teacher, Protector, Punisher. He first saw print in a tantalising teaser-glimpse at the end of The Incredible Hulk #180 (cover-dated October 1974 – So Happy 50th, Eyy?). That devolved into a full-on scrap with the Green Goliath – and accursed cannibal critter Wendigo – in the next issue. Canada’s super-agent was just one more throwaway foe for Marvel’s mightiest monster-star and subsequently vanished until All-New, All Different X-Men launched.

The semi-feral mutant with fearsome claws and killer attitude rode – or perhaps fuelled – the meteoric rise of those rebooted outcast heroes. He inevitably won a miniseries try-out and his own series: two in fact, in fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents and an eponymous monthly book (of which more later and elsewhere).

In guest shots across the MU – plus cartoons and movies – he carved out a unique slice of superstar status and hasn’t looked back since. Over those years many untold tales of the aged agent (eventually revealed to have been born in the 19th century) explored his erased exploits in ever-increasing intensity and detail. Gradually, many secret origins and revelatory disclosures regarding his extended, self-obscured life slowly seeped out. Afflicted with periodic bouts of amnesia, mind-wiped ad nauseum by sinister foes or well-meaning associates, the lost boy clocked up a lot of adventurous living – but didn’t remember much of it. This permanently unploughed field conveniently resulted in a crop of dramatically mysterious, undisclosed back-histories. Over the course of his X-Men outings, many clues to his early years manifested such as an inexplicable familiarity with Japanese culture and history. This was first revealed after The X-Men save the eastern nation from diabolical maniac Moses Magnum and resulted in an on-going but distanced romantic dalliance with a Japanese princess…

Most fans and amateur historians accept the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson Daredevil stories that introduced Elektra and stormed fan consciousness for fuelling the comic world’s obsession with ninjas and the Japanese underworld in the 1980’s & 1990’s. These themes dominated the funnybook landscape of the era – and spawned the seemingly unstoppable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon – but a lot of that initial traction actually came from one of Marvel’s earliest miniseries and subsequent graphic novel collections…

Wolverine by Claremont & Miller is an oft-republished landmark originally comprising just Wolverine #1-4 (cover-dated September – December 1982), but with most later editions also including the conclusion/sequel from Uncanny X-Men #172-173 as released in August and September 1983.

Big on experimental layouts, dramatic imagery and grittily iconic combat scenes revealing artist Miller’s growing fascination with Koike & Kojima’s seinen manga epic Lone Wolf and Cub, the tale is a simple fable of unrequited love and consequences of aspiring above one’s station in life…

Inked by Joe Rubinstein and lettered by Tom Orzechowski, ‘I’m Wolverine’ reveals that Mariko – the princess Logan dares to love and who loves him in return – is daughter of Shingen Harada, lord of Clan Yashida. Missing for years, the long-lost patriarch has returned but is not the honourable father figure Mariko dreams of. Austere, autocratic, ambitious and deeply bigoted, he is also supreme overlord of Japan’s most powerful Yakuza organisation…

Unaware of all this, the hero travels to Japan to win his lady only to find the dutiful daughter has allowed herself to be married off to a crime boss. Descended from an unbroken line including the Imperial family, Mariko is semi-divine, whilst Logan is a base, uncultured gaijin – and arguably not even human. Nevertheless, he makes his move…

When Wolverine invades the Yashida citadel he finds his beloved compliantly abused by both father and new husband, but his righteous response is forestalled by Mariko before he is captured by Shingen’s forces and tricked into a duel rigged to make him appear a wild, cheating, honourless beast…

Utterly outsmarted, shamed and despondent, he is cast aside and goes on a monumental bender ‘Debts and Obligations’, accompanied by mercenary assassin Yukio who literally drags him out of the gutter. She is wild and ferocious but her obvious attraction to the mutant does not get in way of her latest commission, one that further embroils Wolverine in war between crime lords and constant clashes with ninja cult The Hand

Shingen’s complex campaign to prove Logan is nothing but a trained beast with ridiculous pretensions is simply a sidebar to his scheme to become Lord of everything and he uses The Hand and Yukio to kill his rivals and drive a monumental wedge between Logan and Mariko. The mutant’s carefully orchestrated fall from grace is only halted by the killing of his old Japanese Secret Service associate Asano Kimura: another casualty of the clandestine figure seizing control of the underworld. His ‘Loss’ is the catalyst Logan needs to clear his head and soul before finally going after the debased aristocrat at the root of his troubles. Thus – through a far fairer rematch – Logan reclaims his ‘Honor’ as well as his true love’s heart and respect…

Modern editions then follow-up with a sleekly impressive turn from Claremont and illustrators Paul Smith & Bob Wiacek originally seen in Uncanny X-Men #172-173. ‘Scarlet in Glory’ sees Logan still in Japan, preparing for his impending wedding to Mariko. When his teammates jet in for the nuptials they are all poisoned, leaving Logan and new member Rogue – whom he deeply distrusts – to seek an antidote. Meanwhile, staid maternal Storm is transformed from placid nature goddess to grim-&-gritty bad-ass punk wild child by mercenary maniac and obsessive Logan-lover Yukio, even as the last X-Men race a ticking toxic clock to a literal deadline…

The pressure results in sheer carnage as Logan goes berserk. With the desperate-to-please probationer Rogue trailing his bloody wake Wolverine carves a shocking path to Yakuza mercenary Silver Samurai (current challenger to Mariko’s rule of Clan Yashida) and mass-murdering mastermind Viper in ‘To Have and Have Not’

Although the bold champions are eventually triumphant, the victory comes at great cost. Logan returns to America alone and unwed after Mariko inexplicably calls off the nuptials…
© 2010, 2014, 2023 MARVEL.

Wolverine: Weapon X Gallery Edition


By Barry Windsor-Smith, with Chris Claremont, Frank Tieri, Avalon’s Raymund Lee, Jim Novak, Tom Orzechowski & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-3395-1 (HB/Digital edition) TPB

Wolverine is all things to most people and in his long life has worn many hats: Comrade, Ally, Avenger, Teacher, Protector, Punisher. He first saw print in a tantalising teaser-glimpse at the end of The Incredible Hulk #180 (cover-dated October 1974 and Happy 50th, Eyy?): prior to indulging in a full-on scrap with the Green Goliath – and accursed cannibal critter The Wendigo – in the next issue. The Canadian super-agent was just one more throwaway foe for one of Marvel’s mightiest stars, and vanished until All-New, All Different X-Men launched.

The semi-feral Canadian mutant with fearsome claws and killer attitude rode – or perhaps fuelled – the meteoric rise of those rebooted outcast heroes. He inevitably won a miniseries try-out and his own series: two in fact, in fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents and an eponymous monthly book (of which more later and elsewhere).

In guest shots across the MU plus cartoons and movies he carved out a unique slice of super-star status and screen immortality. He hasn’t looked back since, and over those years many untold tales of the aged agent (eventually revealed to have been born in the 19th century) explored his erased exploits in ever-increasing intensity and detail. Over decades, his many secret origins and a stream of revelatory disclosures regarding his extended, self-obscured life slowly seeped out. Cursed with recurring periodic bouts of amnesia, mind-wiped ad nauseum by sinister or even well-meaning friends and foes, the Chaotic Canucklehead packed a lot of adventurous living into decades of existence – but mostly didn’t remember much of it. This permanently unploughed field conveniently resulted in a crop of dramatically mysterious, undisclosed back-histories, the absolute best of which is re-presented here.

Spanning March to September of 1991 in 8-page instalments, Marvel Comics Presents # 72-84 hosted a much-demanded semi-origin for the mystery mutant, revealing how he was internally enrobed with wonder-metal adamantium. The tale delivered a ‘Prologue’, 12 highly visual revelatory chapters and a concluding ‘Interlude & Escape’. In 1993, when the tale was collected into a graphic novel, Larry Hama wrote a prose ‘Epilogue’ to dot all the “I”s and cross all the “T”s, and that’s included here, plus thematic continuations to the saga that shook the Marvel firmament. Those include an excerpt from Wolverine #166 and the contents of the Smith co-crafted X-Men #205.

A visual tour de force with truly visceral imagery – almost medical torture porn – the story of how a burned-out spy walks into a bar and eventually regains his senses sometime later, changed beyond all recognition, is told in overlapping, interwoven flashbacks within flashbacks.

The abduction, who did to what to “Logan” under the illicit auspices of “Experiment X” – and why – is all here to experience in gorge-rising detail, but the easy answers you want won’t be easy to see. The monstrous tale of forced transmutation, fight for survival and autonomy and the dichotomy of what separates Man from Animal reveals facts yet leaves truths to later stories. What you have here is how a victim of atrocity overcomes his tormentors and lives free by not dying… and it is truly spectacular.

Written, illustrated, coloured and lettered by Barry Windsor-Smith, Weapon X is short and pretty to look upon, a masterpiece of visual storytelling that must be seen to be believed. It’s also a superb shock-horror tribute to Frankenstein, exposing the true nature of the tortured soul underneath the imposed layers unknown enemies have smothered Logan in for so very long and the first step towards his ultimate emancipation.

Following the Hama conclusion, an extract from Wolverine #166 (September 2001) sees Windsor-Smith return to his opus in a flashback sequence scripted by Frank Tieri: focusing on one of the nameless army grunts (and rare survivor) who faced the berserk escaping Experiment X. Accompanied by Windsor-Smith’s cover for #167 and mirrored by his cover for Uncanny X-Men # 205 (May 1986), they precede his collaboration with Chris Claremont on ‘Wounded Wolf’; another boldly visual triumph as Wolverine faces vengeance-crazed, adamantium augmented cyborg Lady Deathstrike in a compelling fable of obsession guest-starring little Katie Power from pre-teen titans Power Pack.

Although there are many versions of this collection available, this Gallery Edition is a dream for fans of Windsor-Smith art, closing with 17 pages of original art and a selection of X-related covers, images and pin-ups by the author. These are culled from the back of Wolverine #4, Marvel Comics Presents # 72-84, and assorted X-collections including Weapon X Hardcover (1993), Weapon X Trade Paperback (2001), Wolverine: Weapon X Marvel Premiere Classic Hardcover,  X-Men: Lifedeath Marvel Premiere Classic Hardcover, There are also house ads, promo posters, and variant covers for Uncanny X-Men #395, New X-Men #115,and Deadpool #57-60.

Short, fierce, relentless and unmissable.
© 2022 MARVEL.

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection volumes 9: Spider-Man or Spider-Clone? 1975-1977


By Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Archie Goodwin, Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, Dave Hunt, John Romita & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-4874-0 (TPB/Digital edition)

Amazing Spider-Man was a comic book that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead of – its fan-base. This epic compendium of chronological webspinning wonderment sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero facing even greater and evermore complex challenges as he slowly recovers from the trauma of losing his true love and greatest enemy in the same horrific debacle. Here you will see all that slow recovery comes unstuck.

Once co-creator Stan Lee replaced himself with young Gerry Conway, the scripts acquired a far more contemporary tone (but feeling quite outdated from here in the 21st century): purportedly more in tune with the times whilst the emphatic use of soap opera subplots kept older readers glued to the series even when bombastic battle sequences didn’t. Moreover, as a sign of those times, a hint of cynical surrealism also began creeping in…

For newcomers – or those just visiting thanks to Spider-Man movies: super smart-yet-ultra-alienated orphan Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider during a school outing. 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 vainglorious one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night he didn’t lift a finger to stop him, only to find when he returned home that his guardian uncle Ben Parker had been murdered.

Crazed and vengeful, Peter hunted the assailant who’d made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known. He discovered to his horror it was the self-same felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility 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 wallcrawler tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them.

The high school nerd grew up and went to college. Because of his guilt-fuelled double-life he struggles there too but found abiding love with cop’s daughter Gwen Stacy… until she was murdered by the Green Goblin. Now Parker must pick up the pieces of his life…

This compelling compilation reprints Amazing Spider-Man #143-164 and Annual #10: collectively covering cover-dates April 1975 to January 1977, and confirming an era of astounding introspective drama and captivating creativity wedded to growing science fictional thinking. Stan Lee’s hand-picked successor Gerry Conway moved on after reaching a creative plateau, giving way to fresh authorial guide Len Wein.  Thematically, tales moved away from sordid street crime as outlandish villains and monsters took centre stage, but the most sensational advance was an insidious scheme which would reshape the nature of the web-spinner’s adventures to this day.

For all that, the wallcrawler was still indisputably mainstream comics’ voice of youth, defining being a teen for young readers of the 1970s, tackling incredible hardships, fantastic foes and the most pedestrian and debilitating of frustrations. Now its later and still-grieving Parker is trying to move on as we open with Amazing Spider-Man #143 (by Conway, Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt) in ‘…And the Wind Cries: Cyclone!’ Peter is in Paris to deliver a ransom and save kidnapped publisher J. Jonah Jameson but resorts to his arachnid alter ego to deal with a hyper-fast French supervillain. The run-of-the-mill tale’s real kicker comes from an overly-fond farewell expressed by “casual chum” Mary Jane Watson: a kiss that finally shifts traumatised Peter’s thoughts from his recently murdered beloved.

The creative team capitalised on the situation after Spider-Man saves Jonah and clobbers the kidnappers before Pete returns to New York and his usual daily travails as #144 launches a shocking new worry. ‘The Delusion Conspiracy’ (ASM #145) builds the tension and focuses on a baffled girl’s confusion and terror at everyone’s reactions when she comes home and the entire world screams ‘Gwen Stacy is Alive… and, Well…?!’

With Gwen somehow resurrected and Peter on the edge of a mental breakdown, Aunt May is hospitalised just in time for another old foe to strike again in ‘Scorpion… Where is Thy Sting?’, but the real kick in the tale is irrefutable scientific and medical reports proving the increasingly bewildered Miss Stacy is not an impostor but the genuine article…

In Spider-Man #147 Peter finds some answers as further tests prove Gwen is actually a true human clone (remember, this was new, cutting-edge stuff in 1975) but all too soon he’s distracted by another bad-guy with a grudge and hungry to prove ‘The Tarantula is a Very Deadly Beast’ (inked by Mike Esposito & Dave Hunt). It’s all part of a convoluted, utterly byzantine revenge scheme conceived by a malign enemy. When the hero is ambushed by a mesmerised Gwen at the behest of the archfiend, ‘Jackal, Jackal, Who’s Got the Jackal?’ at last discloses shocking truths about one of Peter’s most trusted friends prior to the Delusion Conspiracy explosively concluding in #149’s ‘Even if I Live, I Die!’ (Andru & Esposito art).

Learning he and Gwen had been covertly cloned by their biology teacher Miles Warren, the Amazing Arachnid must defeat his alchemical double in a grim, no-holds-barred identity-duel, with neither sure who’s the real McCoy. The battle eventually results in the copy’s death. Maybe. Perhaps. Probably…

The moment of unshakeable doubt over who actually fell informs anniversary issue Amazing Spider-Man #150, with Archie Goodwin, Gil Kane, Esposito & Giacoia taking the hero down memory lane and up against a brigade of old antagonists to decide whether ‘Spider-Man… or Spider-Clone?’ survived that furious final fight, before debuting regular scripter Len Wein joins Andru & John Romita Sr. to launch a new era of adventure…

After disposing of his duplicate’s corpse in an incineration plant, Spider-Man finds time to let Peter reconnect with his long-neglected friends. However, a jolly party is soon disrupted as blackouts triggered by a super-menace lead the wallcrawler into the sewers for a ‘Skirmish Beneath the Streets!’ It results in his almost drowning and nearly being ‘Shattered by the Shocker!’ (Esposito & Giacoia inks) in a conclusive and decisive return engagement before a moving change-of-pace tale sees a blackmailed former football star giving his all to save a child in ‘The Longest Hundred Yards!’ (Andru & Esposito).

However, it’s left to Spider-Man to make the true computer-crook culprits pay, after which #154 reveals ‘The Sandman Always Strikes Twice!’ (with art by Sal Buscema & Esposito) – albeit with little lasting effect – until devious murder-mystery ‘Whodunnit!’ (Buscema & Esposito) cunningly links three seemingly unconnected cases in a masterful “Big Reveal”…

A long-running romance-thread culminates in the oft-delayed wedding of Pete’s old flame Betty Brant to reporter Ned Leeds, but the nuptials are sadly interrupted by a new costumed crook in ‘On a Clear Day, You Can See… the Mirage!’ (Wein, Andru & Esposito), even as a sinister hobo who was haunting the last few yarns strode fully into the spotlight…

In the past, a protracted struggle for control of New York between Dr Octopus and cyborg gangster Hammerhead escalated into a full-on gang war and small-scale nuclear near-disaster, with Spidey and his aunt caught in the middle. The devilish duel concluded with an atomic explosion and the seeming end of two major antagonists. However, #157 exposed ‘The Ghost Who Haunted Octopus!’ as the long-limbed loon turns again to May Parker for salvation.

With Peter in attendance, the many-handed menace seeks to escape a brutal ghostly stalker tormenting him, but their unified actions actually liberate a pitiless killer from inter-dimensional limbo in ‘Hammerhead is Out!’, leading to a savage three-way showdown with Spidey ‘Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm with Doctor Octopus!’ to save the horrified Widow Parker.

Courtesy of plotter Wein, scripter Bill Mantlo and Kane, Esposito & Giacoia, a new insectoid archfoe debuted in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10, where ‘Step Into My Parlor…’ depicts obsessed Spider-hater J. Jonah Jameson hiring outcast, exceedingly fringe-science biologist Harlan Stilwell  to create yet another tailor-made nemesis to destroy the webslinger.

Meanwhile, the detested hero is ending a vicious hostage situation manufactured by psychotic Rick Deacon, but when the killer escapes and breaks into a certain lab he’s transformed into a winged wonder hungry for payback on the webspinner in ‘…Said the Spider to the Fly!’

In the monthly mag Wein, Andru & Esposito fired the opening shot of an extended epic as a criminal inventor – and one of the wallcrawler’s oldest enemies – recovers Spidey’s long-ditched, satisfactorily drowned “Spider-Mobile”, tricking it out to hunt down its original owner in #160’s ‘My Killer the Car!’

Having narrowly escaped doom and debacle in equal measure Spidey met a new friend and clashed with an old one, although rising star Frank Castle was reduced to a bit-player in Amazing Spider-Man #161-162 (October & November 1976), as the All-Newly-Reformed X-Men were sales-boosted via a guest-clash in ‘…And the Nightcrawler Came Prowling, Prowling’, wherein the Amazing Arachnid jumps to a completely wrong conclusion after a sniper shoots a reveller at Coney Island. By the time moody mutant Nightcrawler explains himself – in tried-&-true Marvel manner by fighting the webspinner to a standstill – old skull-shirt has turned up to take them both on before mutual foe Jigsaw is exposed as the real assassin in concluding episode ‘Let the Punisher Fit the Crime!’

The mystery villain behind much of Spider-Man’s recent woes is at last exposed in ‘All the Kingpin’s Men!’ as a string of audacious tech-robberies lead the hero to another confrontation with the deadly crime lord. This time, however, the Machiavellian mobster is playing for personal stakes. His son has been on the verge of death for months and his remedy is to electronically transfer the Spider-Man’s life force into the ailing patient. Discarded after the process, Peter Parker’s impending ‘Deadline!’ is extended by old friend Curt Connors until they can explosively set things right…

To Be Continued…

As always the narrative delights are supplemented by added extras which this go-round include contemporary house ads, Romita & Joe Sinnott’s cover/back cover, frontispiece, contents page and double-page cast pin-up from 1975 tabloid edition Marvel Special Edition #1: The Spectacular Spider-Man, and the Andru- & Esposito-rendered entry for The Mighty Marvel Bicentennial Calendar 1976 (June) and Ronn Sutton’s cover for George Olshevsky’s 1982 The Marvel Comics Index: The Amazing Spider-Man and the 1985 Frontispiece by John Allison. Also on view are Andru’s prankish private joke pencils for the big reveal in ASM #144, editorial ‘Of Jackals and Juxtaposition’ from The Spider’s Web column in #153, and original art pages by Punisher design sketch by Romita and original art pages by Kane, Romita Andru & Esposito.

Blending cultural veracity with superb art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and imputed powerlessness most of the readership experienced daily resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, especially when delivered in addictive soap-styled instalments, but none of that would be relevant if Spider-Man’s stories weren’t so utterly entertaining. This action-packed collection relives many momentous and crucial periods in the wallcrawler’s astounding life and is one all Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatics must see…
© 2023 MARVEL.

Deathlok: The Living Nightmare of Michael Collins


By Dwayne McDuffie, Gregory Wright, Jackson Guice, Denys Cowan, Scott Williams, Rick Magyar, Kyle Baker, Mike DeCarlo & Friends, Paul Mounts, Brad Vancata, Richard Starkings, Joe Rosen & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5988-9 (HB/Digital edition)

As created by Rich Buckler and originally scripted by Doug Moench in 1974, Deathlok the Demolisher was an honourable soldier condemned to an horrific fate in a dystopian alternate future. It’s his 50th anniversary this year and we’ll get around to the time-tossed travails of Manning another day. This book is not about him.

As you’d expect of a character who was designed as a bio-mechanised weapon, Deathlok is a complex concept with a lot of backstory and many later models. Most of that and those also belong in different reviews. Here we’re concentrating on the most successful iteration of the cyborg: a black man enduring living hell, subjugation and slavery to merciless masters who fights for his dignity and liberty with everything he has left to him…

Bookshelf format limited series Deathlok #1-4 was first released July through October 1990, and its success prompted a cheaper newsprint reprint run – as Deathlok Special #1-4 – less than a year later. Tragic champion Michael Collins sprang from this epic tale of deception and malfeasance into his own monthly series: 34 issues and 2 Annuals spanning July 1991 to April 1994, plus guest shots (across Marvel’s US and UK branches) in the nineties.

It begins in an 8-page prequel story from Marvel Comics Presents #62 (cover dated November 1990 but on sale in late summer) wherein Dwayne McDuffie, Gregory Wright & Jackson “Butch” Guice took Deathlok on a ‘Test Run’. The vignette saw soldier Colonel John Kelly – or at least his brain and assorted organic leftovers attached to a biomechanical body of intriguingly unknown origins – ruthlessly despatch a dozen mercenaries who had no idea what they were really facing; until a computer glitch ends the exercise and almost project leader Harlan Ryker.

Kelly would later be eventually resurrected as cyborg antihero Siege but the failed test left the Cybertek Systems Inc. team (cybernetics division of Marvel’s corporate villain organization Roxxon) in need of a new brain donor…

The story of this Deathlok really begins with the first solo issue as Dwayne McDuffie, (co-writer and colourist) Gregory Wright, Jackson Guice, Scott Williams & hard-pressed, overworked letterer Richard Starkings introduce readers to ‘The Brains of the Outfit’. Cybertek is dirty. It uses subterfuge to achieve its ends. When programmer, engineer, pacifist and devoted family man Michael Collins discovers his innovations are going into advanced weapons systems and not medical equipment he rebels and quits, inadvertently making himself the next candidate for the organic wetware of Deathlok. The enigmatic war frame requires a human brain to operate, but it doesn’t have to be alive…

Mere days after a tragic “accident”, good friend Harlan Ryker tries to comfort widow Tracy Collins and Michael’s son Nick, even as a new Deathlok is unleashed in Amazon rainforest republic Estrella. Here, future Roxxon profits require a change of environment, a new dam and an end to eco-guerilla resistance. However, once again the onboard systems malfunction mid fire-fight and the presumed expired personality of Michael Collins takes control of the body whilst striking a détente with the murderously efficient semi-sentient programmed systems.

In charge and very angry, Collins wants Ryker, Cybertek and Roxxon to pay, but cannot abandoned his principles. His first action is to institute a “no-kill” command in the super-soldier body he shares with a computer he must negotiate every action with. This does not hamper his combat efficiency in the slightest…

It proves a perfectly workable arrangement as Deathlok when he returns to the New Jersey Cybertek facility and violently confronts the “friends” who betrayed him. Ryker and his team desperately launch their other project – a cybernetically-controlled all-terrain super-tank piloted by ruthless paraplegic co-worker and barely suppressed psychopath Ben Jacobs. After wrecking the project, Deathlok flees but finds no solace. Now the embodiment of everything he loathes, he doesn’t even know if he’s truly still alive.

An attempt to reach out to Tracy and Nick results in disaster and only anonymous contact with his boy via a computer game stays him from self-termination. Lost and alone, he decides to use his situation to help others…

Second issue ‘Jesus Saves’ sees Deathlok operating as vigilante in New York’s Coney Island, defending the dregs of society – generally from themselves. After stopping a mugging he is befriended by the elderly victim Jesus who offers “Mike” shelter. Elsewhere, the event at Cybertek has reached the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (the white one), but Ryker is more concerned by pressure his Roxxon superiors are exerting on him. In response to a deadly deadline, he commissions a mercenary “fixer” called Wajler – AKA Mainframe – to eradicate Deathlok whilst Ryker unctuously probes Tracy and Nick for possible intel and warns them that a rogue robot might be stalking them. Nick is not fooled…

Wracked by human memories and doubts, Deathlok uses the ability to access computer files and enter a communal cyber-scape to look for ways to stop Ryker, but his reaching out endangers his few remaining friends. It also makes him a target and Mainframe’s mech-enhanced team zero in on Coney Island and explosively attack, uncaring of the innocent crowds enjoying themselves there. The resultant chaos makes headlines everywhere and as S.H.I.E.L.D. steps in Deathlok decides it’s time to go back to Estrella and fix what he inadvertently started as a slave of Cybertek…

Artists Denys Cowan & Rick Magyar joined McDuffie & Wright, in #3 as ‘Dam if He Don’t’ sees the cyborg hero subject to intense S.H.I.E.L.D. scrutiny even as Collins joins the remaining eco-guerillas in wrecking Roxxon’s scheme to build a super dam and make the entire region easier to mine. Even after convincing the resistors he’s on their side – this time – there’s still an army of soldiers and regiment of giant robot ants controlled by revenge hungry Ben Jacobs to deal with.

The unstoppable Deathlok’s crusade is greatly assisted by a late-in-the-day alliance with Nick Fury, setting up a final face-off with Ryker, but the malign master manipulator has one last card to play and offers to reinsert Collins’ brain in the body he removed it from and has been judiciously keeping alive “just in case”…

The clash of wills and Collins brief ethical “wobble” culminates in catastrophic combat that draws in naive Japanese ultra-nationalist/part-time X-Man Sunfire, his cunningly controlling sensei Yoritomo and a secret army of ninjas on ‘Ryker’s Island’ (McDuffie & Wright, Cowan, Kyle Baker, Mike DeCarlo & Friends). Despite at first being pacified by Harlan’s promises of restoring him alive to his family, Deathlok recovers his moral compass in time for S.H.I.E.L.D. to assist him in averting a nuclear armageddon Ryker thought he could profit from, but in the confusion everyone loses sight of Michal Collins’ bottled body…

The least Fury can do is lie to Tracy and Nick for him: telling them the pacifist is on a secret mission for S.H.I.E.L.D. as Deathlok hides, facing an uncertain future as a hero in waiting…

With covers by Joe Jusko, Bill Sienkiewicz, Kent Williams, Cowan & Tom Smith, plus frontispiece/inside cover art by Guice, an historical essay on ‘Deathlok’ by Peter Sanderson and covers for reprint series Deathlok Special #1-4 (Guice & Cowan), the origin of Marvel’s most conflicted champion is a challenging but rewarding romp for older readers.
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Black Panther: The Saga of Shuri and T’Challa


By Reginald Hudlin, Jonathan Mayberry, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Aaron Covington, John Romita Jr., Ken Lashley, Gianlucca Gugliotti, Pepe Larraz, Brian Stelfreeze, Chris Sprouse, Mario Del Pennino, Klaus Janson, Paul Neary, Karl Story, Walden Wong, Goran Sudžuka, Roberto Poggi & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1302946005 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Black Panther rules over a fantastic African paradise which isolated itself from the rest of the world millennia ago. Blessed with unimaginable resources – both natural and not so much – the nation of Wakanda developed unhindered by European imperialism into the most technologically advanced human nation on Earth. It has never been conquered, with the main reason being an unbroken line of divinely-sponsored warrior kings who safeguard the nation. The other is a certain miraculous super-mineral found nowhere else on Earth…

In contemporary times that chieftain is (usually) T’Challa: an unbeatable, feline-empowered, strategic genius dividing his time between ruling at home and serving abroad in superhero teams such as The Avengers and The Ultimates beside costumed champions like Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Thor, Captain Marvel and Captain America

Acclaimed as the first black superhero 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 first appeared in the summer of 1966. As originally created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee T’Challa, son of T’Chaka, was an African monarch whose secretive kingdom is the only source of vibration-absorbing wonder mineral Vibranium. The miraculous alien metal – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in lost antiquity – is the basis of Wakanda’s immense wealth, allowing that isolationist nation to become one of the wealthiest and most secretive on Earth. These riches enabled young king T’Challa to radically remake his country, even after he left Africa to fight as an Avenger.

For much of its history Wakanda was a phantom, utopian wonderland with tribal resources and people safeguarded and led since time immemorial by a warrior-king deriving cat-like physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb. This has ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s Panther Cult and Royal Family. The obsessively secured “Vibranium mound” guaranteed the nation’s status as a clandestine superpower for centuries, but recent times increasingly saw Wakanda a target of incursion, subversion and invasion as the world grew ever smaller. However, as crises arose, T’Challa was confident his system of Regents and his own kin could handle the load of governance.

This selective trawl highlights his interactions with his half-sister Shuri re-presenting Black Panther (volume 4/2005) #2, Black Panther (volume 5/2009) #1-6, Klaws of The Panther #1-4 (2010), Black Panther (volume 6/2016) #1 & 9, #8 & 10, 11, and Black Panther: Long Live the King (2018) #3-4: spanning cover-dates May 2005 to March 2018.

The reprise begins with ‘Who is The Black Panther: Part Two’ by Reginald Hudlin, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson & Dean White as seen in Black Panther #2 (volume 4, May 2005) which reworked the classic origin and set-up for a new century. What began with Fantastic Four #52-53 (July & August 1966), as T’Challa launched himself on the world stage by ambushing the FF in his savage super-scientific kingdom as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father, was acknowledged but refined. Now lone mad scientist Ulysses Klaw was remodelled as a murderous agent of an international cabal, America’s NSA was acting against Wakanda, and the ritual of clan members duelling for the right to be Black Panther was reimagined to introduce an unsuspected younger sister for the King. In the war that inevitably erupted (and for which you’ll need to read a different collection – I suggest Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?) headstrong Princess Shuri endured a hellish trail by combat all her own…

Increasingly, over decades of publishing, Vibranium made Wakanda a target for subversion and incursion. Volume 5 #1-6 (cover-dated April – September 2009) Black Panther: The Deadliest of the Species – by Hudlin, Ken Lashley & Paul Neary – confirmed changing global Realpolitik as T’Challa and his new bride Ororo embark on a goodwill tour. As a mutant – and far worse, an American – married to the king, the X-Men leader is keenly aware of her tenuous position and potential for disrupting an ancient social order. All thoughts of winning over the people are forgotten when her husband’s jet – gone for only hours on a diplomatic mission – catastrophically crashes in the heart of the city despite all the weather goddess’ efforts to slow it down…

Five hours previously the Black Panther had secretly met with regal rival Namor the Sub-Mariner to hear an invitational offer from a Cabal of world-conquerors led by former Green Goblin-turned government operative Norman Osborn. Now the adored sovereign is near death. His formidable Dora Milaje bodyguards are gone and, after being dragged from the wreckage burned and broken, T’Challa agonisingly reveals how he was ambushed before lapsing into a coma. As Queen Mother Ramonda and Shuri rush to the hospital, the ruling council are frantic: terrified the assassination attempt is prelude to invasion. Wakanda is always ready for such assaults, but that was with a healthy Black Panther. Right now, they are spiritually defenceless. Even though the king is not quite dead, his Ministers advocate activating protocols to create a new Panther warrior – but the question is who will succeed?

Hours ago, after Namor departed, a far less friendly potentate accosted T’Challa as he left the conference. Dr. Doom is also a member of the Cabal and took the Panther’s refusal to join the club very, very badly. Back in the now-desperate meetings and Ororo’s refusal to undertake the mystic rituals result in Shuri being reluctantly assigned – over her own mother’s strenuous protests – the role of Black Panther Apparent. As T’Challa’s sister it’s a role she was destined for, but one her brother seized decades ago. At that time, she was being schooled in the West when Ulysses Klaw claimed her father’s life. With cruel circumstance demanding nothing less, the boy took the initiative, the role and responsibility of defending the nation.

Thus, after years as an irrelevant spare, the flighty jet-setter is asked to take up a destiny she now neither wants nor feels capable of fulfilling. She is especially afraid of the part of the ceremony where she faces the Panther God and is judged…

T’Challa cannot reveal how the battle with Doom ended in brutal defeat and imminent death, or how his valiant Dora Milaje gave their lives to get his maimed body in the jet and home via auto-pilot. He is unable to even stay alive and, when the world’s greatest doctors abandon hope, Ramonda convinces Queen Ororo to try something terrible and very ancient instead…

Despite pervasive secrecy bad news travels fast. Across the continent adherents of the Panther Cult’s theological antitheses revel in Wakanda’s misfortune. Smug, gleeful worshippers of rival cults prepare arcane rituals to finally destroy their enemies and – in a place far removed from the world -T’Challa awakes to meet his dead bodyguards once more…

In an isolated hut Queen and Queen Mother bicker with sinister shaman Zawavari. The wizard claims to be able to bring T’Challa back but gleefully warns the price will be high. Thanks to years of constant training, Shuri has no problem with the physical rigours of the Panther Protocols and foolishly grows in confidence. Far away, Wakanda’s enemies succeed in summoning terrible Morlun, Devourer of Totems – wholly unprepared for the voracious horror to consume them before turning his attention to more distant theological fodder. In Limbo, a succession of dead friends and family subtly, seductively seek to convince T’Challa his time is past and that he must lay down his regal burdens…

As Morlun ponderously makes his way to Wakanda – stopping only to destroy other petty pantheons such as the master of the Man-Ape sect – Death continues her campaign to con T’Challa into surrendering to the inevitable and Shuri faces her final test.

It does not end well. The Panther God looks through her, declaring Shuri pitifully unworthy to wear the mantle or defend Wakandan worshippers. Despondent, she is ignominiously despatched back to the physical world just as her sister-in-law lands in Limbo, sent by Zawavari to retrieve her husband from Death’s clutches. Ororo doesn’t want to tell T’Challa it is their last meeting. The price of his safe passage back is her becoming his replacement…

In the world of the living, Morlun is at Wakanda’s borders, drawn inexorably to T’Challa’s (currently vacant) physical form. The beast is utterly invulnerable to everything in the nation’s arsenal and leaves a mountain of corpses behind him. With armageddon manifesting all about them, the Royal Family and Ruling Council are out of options until Zawavari points out an odd inconsistency. The price for failing to become Wakanda’s living totem has always been instant death, but Shuri, although rejected, still breathes…

Realising both she and her country have one last chance, the latest Black Panther goes out to battle the totem-eater whilst in the Country of the Dead T’Challa and Ororo resolve to ignore the devil’s bargain and fight their way back to life. And as both hopeless battles proceed, Ramonda and Zawavari engage in a last-ditch ploy which will win each war by bringing all combatants together…

After one all-out attack culminating in Doctor Doom seizing control, recuperating T’Challa was forced to render all Vibranium on Earth inert, defeating the invader but leaving Wakanda broken and economically shattered. During the cataclysmic clash, once-flighty, Shuri fully took on the role of Black Panther: clan and country’s champion whilst her predecessor recovered from post-fatal injuries and struggled with the disaster he had deliberately caused.

Packed with guest-stars, Klaws of the Panther was a 2010-2011 4-part fortnightly miniseries that traced her progress through the Marvel Universe: striving to outlive a wastrel reputation, serve her country and the world whilst – crucially – defeating a growing homicidal rage increasingly burning inside her. Written by Jonathan Mayberry, with art by Shawn Moll & Walden Wong, the story starts with ‘Honor’ as the Panther Champion brutally repels an invasion by soldiers of Advanced Idea Mechanics: simply the latest opportunist agency attempting to take over diminished Wakanda.

With her brother and 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 continually surface 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…

That last bit was a prelude from Age of Heroes #4 and the Klaws of the Panther graphic novel. I’ve included it for context as it inexplicably is omitted here. This book opens with the main event by Mayberry, Gianluca Gugliotta & Pepe Larraz already underway with ‘Savage Tales’ as Shuri is lured to fantastic dinosaur preserve the Savage Land, in hope of purchasing a supply of anti-metal (a Vibranium isotope) but instead uncovering 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 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 Savage Land with only the timely intervention of sister-in-law Storm preventing nuclear armageddon in ‘Sound and Fury’, after which the Panther seeks out Wolverine in outlaw haven Madripoor, looking for help with her anger management issues. Once again, AIM attacks, attempting to steal the rogue state’s stockpile of Savage Land Vibranium, but instead walks into a buzzsaw of angry retribution…

Shuri is extracting 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 mystery device M.U.S.I.C. to utterly remake Earth…

Following another furious fight, the Panther gains the upper hand by using SLV dust, but squanders her hard-won advantage to save Wolverine from certain death. Knowing the planet is at stake, Shuri accepts the necessity for major-league assistance in ‘Music of the Spheres’ but sadly the only hero in Avengers Tower is relatively low-calibre Spider-Man. Reluctantly she takes the wisecracking half-wit on another raid on AIM, at last catching 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: providing intel from an orbiting spaceship. Now the full truth is revealed as 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 Captain America Steve Rogers know the world’s greatest infiltration expert and ‘Enter the Black Widow’ sees Earth’s fate turning 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…

Despite initially being rejected by the Panther Spirit, Shuri proved a dedicated and ingenious protector, updating, innovating and serving with honour until she perished defending Wakanda from Thanos in crossover events Infinity and Time Runs Out. When T’Challa inevitably resumed his position as warrior-king, one of his earliest and most urgent tasks was resurrecting his sister: task made a little easier as he had gained the power to talk to his deceased predecessors as Wakanda’s King of the Dead.

He learned Shuri had passed into the Djalia (the people’s communal Spiritual Plane of Memories) and absorbed the entire history of the nation from ascended Elders. On her return to physicality, she gained mighty new powers as the Ascended Future

Since then – thanks to the equally formidable magic of a bravura role in a blockbuster movie – a slightly reimagined Shuri starred in her own series, blending established comics mythology with the fresh characterisation of a spunky, savvy, youthful super-scientist. The start of that transition came with Black Panther volume 6. Here Wakanda’s status and its vibranium tech were fully restored in time for further immense changes instigated by correspondent turned author Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) and designer/illustrator Brian Stelfreeze (Batman: Shadow of the Bat, Day Men).Again reading complete collections for the full story will pay off best, but salient moments first seen in Black Panther (volume 6) #1 & 8-11 here reveal the next stage in the evolving sibling relationship. As ever, Vibranium has ensured the nation’s secret superpower status but makes Wakanda target for subversion and incursion. Addressing real world political unrest in Africa’s oldest surviving kingdom and Earth’s most advanced (human) nation, Coates & Stelfreeze see T’Challa reclaim the throne ceded to his sister before global catastrophe, economic collapse and consecutive invasions wrought havoc amongst the Wakandans.

As he strives to reassure his aggrieved subjects at the Great Mound, a moment of indiscipline from his guards sparks disaster. As T’Challa faces striking miners, a gesture is misinterpreted and his security team fires into the crowd. Only the Black Panther’s senses detect the presence of another influence shaping emotions and triggering an escalating clash that explosively erupts. Meanwhile, in Burnin Zana: The Golden City of Wakanda another crisis brews. A member of his elite Dora Milaje acts beyond her station; punishing a local chieftain’s abusive treatment of wives and daughters with uncompromising finality. Now, for taking the law into her own hands, Aneka must die…

Near the Nigandan Border, super-powered rebels take stock. “The People” are fomenting violent change in Wakanda using ancient sorcery, unsuspected connections to the palace and the fervent dream of a new nation. Aneka’s resolve to face her fate bravely is challenged and swiftly withers when comrade-in-arms and lover Ayo explosively breaks her out of jail. Wearing stolen Wakandan cybernetic war-armour, the women head into the wilds, seeking nothing but freedom but all too soon are diverted by the plight of abused women they continually encounter.

As the furious fugitives punish the awful ravages of malevolent bandits, rogue chiefs and typical husbands, emancipated women flock to their bloody banner. Wakanda’s growing civil war finds itself faced with a third passionate, deadly faction ready to die for their cause…

And in a place supposedly far removed from the cares of the world, recently deceased Queen Shuri is challenged by a mysterious stranger in The Djalia. Shuri is not destined for peace or rest but has a task to finish if the spirits of her ancestors are to be believed…

Tragically, as the opposing forces and ideologies converge in a very earthly hiding hole, the extremely rich white man funding much of the chaos gloats and further refines his grand scheme and T’Challa acts at last to resurrect his sister…

Jumping to #8 and following the defeat of the plotters – thanks to aid from Luke Cage, Misty Knight,  teleporting mutant Manifold and estranged wife/former queen Storm – the King completes his interrupted task, recalling Shuri back from ancestral heaven in time to jointly end the rebellions, crush the threat of The People and usher in a new era of democracy and constitutional monarchy. Of course, as deliciously delineated by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Walden Wong, Goran Sudžuka, Roberto Poggi & Laura Martin, that struggle for the heart soul and consensual governance of the reunited tribes of Wakanda is spectacular and costly…

Ending the mystery history tour is the last half of 2018 miniseries Black Panther: Long Live the King (2018), with #3-4  – ‘Keep Your Friend Close parts 1 & 2’ – spanning cover-dates May 2005 to March 2018. A revised peek at T’Challa’s formative years by Aaron Covington, illustrator Mario Del Pennino, and colourist Chris O’Halloran, it sees the siblings united and the nation endangered by old friends, rogue robots and the White Gorilla cult…

With covers by Esad Ribi?, J. Scott Campbell & Edgar Delgado, Mike Del Mundo, Brian Stelfreeze & Laura Martin, Khary Randolf & Emilio Lopez, plus variants by Ken Lashley, Paul Neary & Paul Mounts, Mitch Breitweiser, Stephanie Hans, Alex Ross, Olivier Coipel and Ryan Sook, this is a large but slight, immensely readable introduction to a rich, vast and complex world: a full-on rollercoaster ride no fan of Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy can afford to be without.
© 2016 MARVEL. All rights reserved.

Essential Punisher volume 1


By Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Len Wein, Mike W. Barr, Marv Wolfman, Dennis O’Neil, Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller, Bill Mantlo, Stephen Grant, Jo Duffy, Ross Andru, Tony DeZuniga, Frank Springer, Keith Pollard, Al Milgrom, Greg LaRocque, Mike Zeck, Mike Vosburg & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-8571-2375-0 (TPB)

Debuting in 1974 and despite being one of the industry’s biggest hits from the mid-1980s onwards, the obsessed vengeance-taker known as The Punisher was always an unlikely and uncomfortable star for comic books. His methods were excessively violent and usually permanent. It’s intriguing to note that unlike most heroes who debuted as villains (Black Widow or Wolverine come to mind) the Punisher actually became more ruthless, immoral, anti-social and murderous, not less. The Punisher never toned down or cleaned up his act – the buying public simply shifted its communal perspective.

He was created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru: a (necessarily) toned down, muted response to increasingly popular prose anti-heroes like Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan: the Executioner and a bloody tide of fictive Viet Nam vets returned from South East Asia who all turned their training and talents to wiping out organised crime in the early 1970s. The story goes that Marvel’s bosses were reluctant to give The Punisher a starring vehicle in the mainstream colour comic-book line, feeling the character’s very nature made him a bad guy, not a good one. Other than the two magazine stories and the miniseries which closes this volume, Frank Castle was not supposed to be the star or even particularly admirable to the impressionable readership.

Therefore these early appearances could disappoint die-hard fans even though they are the formative tales of his success. Perhaps it’s best to remember and accept that when not actually the villain in the tales he was at best a controversial guest and worrisome co-star…

Boy, how times do change.

He was first seen as a villain/patsy in Amazing Spider-Man #129 (cover-dated February 1974 but actually on sale from 30th October 1973 – so even in terms of his anniversary, Castle apparently “jumped the gun” (I’m so weak!). He repeatedly returned thereafter until getting his shot at the big time – just not in newsstand publications but in Marvel’s monochrome, mature magazine line. This initial Essential compilation gathers all those tentative stabs and guest-shots from February 1974 through to the breakthrough 1986 miniseries which really got the ball rolling. These include Amazing Spider-Man #129, 134-135, 162-163, 174-175, 201-202; Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15; Giant-Size Spider-Man #4; Marvel Preview #2; Marvel Super-Action #1; Captain America #241; Daredevil #182-184; Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #81-83 and The Punisher #1-5, but many die-hard modern fans may be disappointed in the relative lack of brutality, carnage and even face time contained herein. Just keep in mind that for the greater part of these early appearances the skull-shirted slayer was at best a visitor and usually the villain du jour…

The first case in this mammoth monochrome war journal comes from ASM #129, introducing not only the renegade gunslinger but also nefarious manic mastermind The Jackal in ‘The Punisher Strikes Twice!’ Scripted by Conway, and illustrated by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt, it reveals how a mystery lone gunman is duped by manipulative Professor Miles Warren into hunting the wallcrawler who was wrongly implicated in the deaths of police captain George Stacy and his daughter Gwen and currently a suspect in the death of Norman Osborn. Here he is subsequently set up by The Jackal for the murder of the Punisher’s gunmaker before clearing the air and going their own ways…

The much-misunderstood champions of the oppressed crossed paths again in Amazing Spider-Man #134-135 when a South American bandit – intended to be his oppressive regime’s Captain America – attempts to pillage a Manhattan tour boat in ‘Danger is a Man Named… Tarantula!’ Once again unwilling allies, Spidey and the Punisher’s trails cross when the duo dutifully dismantle the villain’s schemes during a ‘Shoot-Out in Central Park!’

The Punisher played a more central role in Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 (April 1975) when the webslinger forces himself into one of the sinister shootist’s cases in ‘To Sow the Seeds of Death’s Day!’ when ruthless arms dealer Moses Magnum began testing a deadly chemical weapon on randomly kidnapped victims. Tracking down the vile monster in ‘Attack of the War Machine!’, the reluctant allies found themselves infiltrating his ‘Death-Camp at the Edge of the World!’ before seeing summary justice dispensed more by fate than intent…

John Romita Senior’s original concept pencil sketch of The Punisher from 1973 is followed by the vigilante’s first solo role – in black-&-white magazine Marvel Preview #2 (August 1975) – wherein Conway & Tony DeZuñiga pronounced a ‘Death Sentence’ on some of Castle’s old army buddies. They had been tricked into becoming assassins by a millionaire madman who wanted to take over America, as the gritty yarn at last revealed the tragic reasons for The Punisher’s unending mission of vengeance.

Highly decorated Marine Castle saw his wife and children gunned down in Central Park after the carefree picnickers stumbled into a mob hit. When the killers turned on the helpless witnesses, only Castle survived. Recovering in hospital, the bereft warrior dedicated his life to eradicating criminals everywhere. Following a stunning Punisher and Dominic Fortune pin-up by Howard Chaykin, Archie Goodwin, DeZuñiga & Rico Rival’s ‘Accounts Settled… Accounts Due!’ – from Marvel Super Action #1 (January 1976) – draws another matured-themed plot to a close as Castle finally tracks down the gunsels who carried out the shooting and the Dons who ordered it, only to find his bloody vengeance hasn’t eased his heart or dulled his thirst for personal justice…

Castle was reduced to a bit-player in Amazing Spider-Man #162-163 (October & November 1976 by Len Wein Andru & Mike Esposito), as the newly relaunched X-Men were sales-boosted via a guest-clash with the webspinner in ‘…And the Nightcrawler Came Prowling, Prowling’. Here Spider-Man jumps to wrong conclusion when a sniper shoots a reveller at Coney Island and by the time Nightcrawler has explained himself (in the tried-&-true Marvel manner of fighting the star to a standstill) old skull-shirt has turned up to take them both on. Soon however, mutual foe Jigsaw is exposed as the true assassin in concluding episode ‘Let the Punisher Fit the Crime!’

Inked by DeZuñiga & Jim Mooney, November 1977’s ASM #174 declared ‘The Hitman’s Back in Town!’ with Castle hunting a costumed assassin hired to rub out J. Jonah Jameson, but experiencing unusual reticence since the killer is an old army pal who had saved his life in Vietnam. Nevertheless the tale ends in fatality at the ‘Big Apple Battleground!’ in #175.

Captain America #241 (January 1980, by Mike W. Barr, Frank Springer & Pablo Marcos) was a fill in benefitting from the Frank Miller effect – he drew the cover – as ‘Fear Grows in Brooklyn’ depicted the Sentinel of Liberty getting in the way of Castle’s latest mission and refusing to allow The Punisher to go free. Cap wasn’t on hand stop him escaping police custody and Amazing Spider-Man #201-202 (February & March 1980) by Marv Wolfman, Keith Pollard & Mooney. ‘Man-Hunt!’ and ‘One For Those Long Gone!’ reveal how Castle almost uncovers Peter Parker‘s big secret whilst relentlessly stalking a mob boss responsible for the death of a kid who had saved Castle’s life…

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 (1981 by Dennis O’Neil, Miller & Klaus Janson) is putatively the genesis of the antihero in his proper form. ‘Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?’ sees maniac fugitive Castle back in the Big Apple and lethally embroiled in a deadly scheme by Doctor Octopus to poison five million New Yorkers. Soon both Parker and his colourful alter-ego are trapped dead-centre of a terrifying battle of ruthless wills in a tense and clever suspense thriller, highlighting and recapturing the moody mastery of Steve Ditko’s heyday.

The Miller connection continued in three landmark issues of Daredevil (#182-184, May-July 1982) which ideally embody everything that made The Punisher a momentous, unmissable, “must-read” character…

It is presaged by an untitled excerpt by Miller & Janson from ‘She’s Alive’ – wherein Castle is extracted from prison by a government spook to stop a shipment of drugs the authorities can’t touch. Meanwhile a shattered Matt Murdock is failing to cope with the murder of his first love Elektra. Of course, once Castle has stopped the drugs and killed the gangsters, The Punisher refuses to go back to jail…

The story proper begins in ‘Child’s Play’ – with Roger McKenzie lending a scripting hand – and deals with school kids using drugs. It was originally begun by McKenzie & Miller but shelved for a year, before being reworked into a stunningly powerful, unsettling tale once Miller & Janson assumed full creative chores on Daredevil. When Murdock visits a high school he is a helpless witness to a little girl high on “Angel Dust” going berserk, attacking staff and pupils before throwing herself out of a third floor window The appalled hero vows to find the dealers and encounters her bereaved and distraught younger brother Billy, determined to exact his own vengeance, and later coldly calculating Castle who has the same idea and far more experience…

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

The kid is innocent – and so, this time at least, is Castle – and after Murdock proves it in court, the investigation resumes with the focus falling on drug boss Hogman. When DD’s super-hearing confirms the gangster’s claims of innocence, Murdock successfully defends the vile dealer, only to have the exonerated slimeball gloatingly admit to having committed the murder after all! Horrified, shocked, betrayed and resolved to enforce justice, DD finds a connection to a highly-placed member of the school faculty deeply involved with the drug lord in concluding chapter ‘Good Guys Wear Red’, but it’s far too late: Castle and Billy have both decided to end the matter Hogman’s way…

Scripted by Bill Mantlo and illustrated by Al Milgrom & Mooney, Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #81-83 (August-October 1983) opens with ‘Stalkers in the Shadows’ as an increasingly crazed Punisher goes after misdemeanour malefactors with the same murderous zeal previously reserved for killers and worse. Spider-Man meanwhile, has his hands full with teen vigilantes Cloak and Dagger who have graduated from tackling street drug pushers to go after Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin of crime.

‘Crime & Punishment!’ sees Castle applying lethal force indiscriminately all over town, culminating in his own crazed attack on Fisk… who beats him to a pulp. Illustrated by Greg LaRoque & Mooney the saga ends with ‘Delusions’ as The Punisher goes on trial and is found to have been dosed with psychosis-inducing drugs…

In 1984 Marvel gave way to the inevitable and commissioned a Punisher miniseries, although writer Steven Grant and penciller Mike Zeck apparently had an uphill struggle convincing editors to let the grim, gun-crazed maniac loose in the shiny world where little kids might fixate on a dangerous role model – and their parents might get all over-protective, litigious and (skull) shirty. A year later the creators finally got the green-light and a 5-issue miniseries – running from January to May – turned the industry on its head. There was indeed plenty of controversy to go around, especially as the tale featured a “hero” who had lots of illicit sex and killed his enemies in cold blood. Also causing problems for censorious eyes were the suicide of one of the major characters and the murder of innocent children. Doesn’t it make you proud to realise how far we’ve since come?

The company mitigated the potential fall-out with the most lacklustre PR campaign in history, but not telling anybody about The Punisher (AKA Circle of Blood) didn’t stop the series becoming a runaway, barnstorming success. The rest is history. Two years later as the graphic novel market was becoming established and with Frank Castle one of the biggest draws in comics (sorry, I’m such a child sometimes), that contentious series was released as a complete book and it remains one of the very best of all his many exploits.

Here, rendered even more stark and uncompromising in gritty moody monochrome, the action begins in ‘Circle of Blood’ as Castle is locked in Ryker’s Island prison where every inmate is queuing up to kill him. Within hours he has turned the tables and terrified the General Population, but knows both old foe Jigsaw and the last of the great mob “Godfathers” have special plans for him…

When a mass breakout frees all the cons, Castle brutally steps in. For this the warden allows his escape and offers him membership in The Trust: an organisation of “right-minded, law-abiding citizens” who approve of his crusade. Castle also learns he’s being stalked by Tony Massera, a good man who thought he had escaped the influences of his crime-family…

Tony must kill Castle to avenge his father – one of Punisher’s many gory successes – but only after the streets have been swept clean of scum like his own relations. ‘Back to the War’ finds Punisher on the streets again, hunting scum, armed and supplied by the Trust… but still not a part of their organisation. After an abortive attempt to blow up The Kingpin, Castle is saved by the enigmatic Angel, and begins a loveless liaison with her. With everybody mistakenly believing the master of New York’s underworld dead, bloody gang-war erupts with greedy sub-bosses all trying to claim the top spot, but by the events of ‘Slaughterday’, Castle realises too many innocents are getting caught in the crossfires.

He also discovers in ‘Final Solution’ that the Trust have their own national agenda as hit men and brainwashed criminals dressed in his costume swarm the streets, executing mobsters and fanning the flames. All the Trust’s plans for this “Punishment Squad” and the country are uncovered in blockbusting conclusion ‘Final Solution Part 2’, when all the pieces fall into place and the surviving players reveal their true allegiances. In a classy final chapter mysteriously completed by the highly underrated Jo Duffy& Mike Vosburg, from Grant’s original plot, The Punisher takes charge in his inimitable manner, leaving God and the cops to sort out the paperwork. We can only speculate as to why the originators fell away at the last hurdle, but I’m pretty sure those same reluctant editors played some part in it all…

This economical Essential edition comes with a plethora of pin-ups, concluding with comprehensive information pages culled from the Marvel Universe Handbook.

These superb, morally ambiguous if not actually ethically challenging dramas never cease to thrill and amaze, and have been reprinted a number of times. Whichever version suits your inclinations and wallet, if you love action, cherish costumed comics adventure and crave the occasional dose of gratuitous personal justice, this one should be at the top of your “Most Wanted” list.
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Epic Collection volume 9: The Crusader Syndrome – 1974-1976


By Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Tony Isabella, Steve Englehart, Marv Wolfman, Chris Claremont, Rich Buckler, John Buscema, George Pérez, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, Joe Sinnott, Jim Mooney, Joe Staton, Frank Giacoia, Mike Esposito, Chic Stone, Vince Colletta with Stan Lee, Dick Ayers, Paul Reinman & various (MARVEL)
ISBN 978-1-3029-4875-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

Monolithic modern Marvel truly began with the adventures of a small super-team who were as much squabbling family as coolly capable costumed champions. Everything the company is now stems from the quirky quartet and the groundbreaking, inspired efforts of Stan Lee & Jack Kirby…

Cautiously bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, Fantastic Four #1 – by Stan, Jack, George Klein & Christopher Rule – was raw and crude even by the ailing company’s standards: but it seethed with rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on its dynamic storytelling and caught a wave of change starting to build in America. It and succeeding issues changed comics forever. As seen in the premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancée Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s bratty teenaged brother Johnny survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

All four permanently mutated: Richards’ body became elastic, Sue became (even more) invisible, Johnny Storm burst into living flame and tragic Ben shockingly devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. After the initial revulsion and trauma passed, they solemnly agreed to use their abilities to benefit mankind. Thus was born The Fantastic Four.

Throughout the 1960s it was indisputably the key title and most consistently groundbreaking series of Marvel’s ever-unfolding web of cosmic creation: a forge for new concepts and characters. Kirby was approaching his creative peak: continually unleashing his vast imagination on plot after spectacular plot, whilst Lee scripted some of the most passionate superhero sagas ever seen. Both were on an unstoppable roll, at the height of their powers and full of the confidence only success brings, with The King particularly eager to see how far the genre and the medium could be pushed… which is rather ironic since it was the company’s reticence to give the artist creative freedom which led to Kirby’s moving to National/DC in the 1970s.

Without Kirby’s soaring imagination the rollercoaster of mind-bending High Concepts gave way to more traditional tales of characters in conflict, with soap-opera leanings and super-villain-dominated Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas. This stripped-down, compelling compilation gathers Fantastic Four #147-167, Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2-4 and Avengers #127: collectively covering June 1974 to February 1976 and heralding a change of pace and partial return of The King – even if only on covers…

Fantastic Four #147 offers action-tinged melodrama with Gerry Conway, Rich Buckler & Joe Sinnott in how ‘The Sub-Mariner Strikes!’ as long-sidelined and neglected Susan Richards starts divorce proceedings against Reed whilst seemingly taking comfort in the arms of long-time admirer/stalker Prince Namor of Atlantis. When Reed, Johnny, Ben and Inhuman substitute teammate Medusa try to “rescue” her, the Atlantean ruler thrashes them before Sue sends them packing…

To add insult to injury, the dejected men return home to find the Baxter Building once more invaded by the Frightful Four and are forced to fight a ‘War on the Thirty-Sixth Floor!’ Sadly The Sandman, Wizard and Trapster have no idea their newest ally Thundra is secretly smitten with the Thing. FF #149 resolves the scandalous Sub-Mariner storyline as the undersea emperor invades New York in ‘To Love, Honour, and Destroy!’ Happily, his awesome attack is merely a cunning plan to trick Sue into reconciling with her husband. It almost works…

Courtesy of Conway, John Buscema & Chic Stone, Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2 reveals a time-twisting ‘Cataclysm!’, wherein cosmic voyeur The Watcher warns of a hapless innocent who has inadvertently altered history, thanks to Dr. Doom’s confiscated time platform. Once again the supposedly non-interventionist extraterrestrial expects the FF to fix a universal dilemma…

With more than one temporal hot-spot, Reed and Johnny head for Colonial America to rescue the Father of the Nation in ‘George Washington Almost Slept Here!’, whilst Ben and Medusa crash into the “Roaring Twenties” and save the time-lost wanderer from being rubbed out by racketeers in ‘The Great Grimmsby’. Thinking their mission accomplished, the heroes are astounded to then find themselves trapped in timeless Limbo, battling monstrous giant Tempus before escaping to their restored origin point in ‘Time Enough for Death!’

For months lovelorn Johnny had fretted and fumed that his first true love Crystal was to marry super-swift mutant Quicksilver. That plot-thread finally closed in a 2-part crossover tale opening in Avengers #127 (September 1974). Crafted by Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema & Joe Staton, ‘Bride and Doom!’ sees the Assemblers travel to Attilan (hidden homeland of the Inhumans) for the wedding of aforementioned speedster Pietro to elemental enchantress/Royal Princess, only to meet an uprising of the genetic slave-race designated Alpha Primitives. Once again, sinister robotic colossus Omega has incited revolt, but this time it isn’t insane usurper Maximus behind the seditious skulduggery but an old Avengers enemy who reveals himself in the concluding chapter from in Fantastic Four #150.

‘Ultron-7: He’ll Rule the World!’ (Conway, Buckler & Sinnott) finds both teams joining Black Bolt’s Inhumans against the malign A.I., but only saved by a veritable Deus ex Machina after which, at long last, ‘The Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver’ finally closes events on a happy note – for everybody but the Torch, that is…

The dramatic tensions resume with Giant-Size Fantastic Four #3 as plotter Gerry Conway, scripter Marv Wolfman and illustrators Rich Buckler & Joe Sinnott deliver an epic tale of global import. The extra-special quarterly Giant-Size range was devoted to offering blockbuster thrills, and herein reveal ‘Where Lurks Death… Ride the Four Horsemen!’ as cosmic aliens arrive, intent on scourging the Earth.

Forewarned after the team stumble across the first horror in ‘…There Shall Come Pestilence’, our harried heroes split up with Inhuman stand-in Medusa and Johnny striving against international madness in ‘…And War Shall Take the Land!’ whilst Reed and Ben fight to foil the personification of Famine in ‘…And the Children Shall Hunger!’, before all reunite to wrap up the final foe in ‘…All in the Valley of Death!’

In FF #151 Conway, Buckler & Sinnott begin revealing the truth about the mysterious “Femizon” stalking the Thing. ‘Thundra and Lightning!’ introduces male-dominated alternate Future Earth Machus and its brutal despot Mahkizmo, the Nuclear Man, who explosively invades the Baxter Building in search of a mate to dominate and another world to conquer…

Inked by Jim Mooney, #152 exposes ‘A World of Madness Made!’ with the team captive in the testosterone-saturated side-dimension whilst Medusa seemingly flees, whilst actually seeking reinforcements from the diametrically-opposed Femizon future/alternity, resulting in two universes crashing together in the concluding ‘Worlds in Collision!’ by Tony Isabella, Buckler & Sinnott.

Rapidly reworked by Len Wein, Fantastic Four #154 featured ‘The Man in the Mystery Mask!’: a partial reprint from Strange Tales #127 in which Stan Lee, Dick Ayers & Paul Reinman pitted Ben and Johnny against ‘The Mystery Villain!’. Here, however, Bob Brown, Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito’s revisions depict how Reed’s early lesson in leadership has been hijacked by another old friend with explosive and annoying results…

Meanwhile over in Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4, Wein, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Chic Stone & Sinnott unite to introduce ‘Madrox the Multiple Man’: a young mutant who grew up on an isolated farm unaware of the incredible power he possessed. When his parents pass away, the kid is inexplicably drawn to New York City, where the hi-tech suit he wears to contain his condition malfunctions. Soon the boy devolves into a mobile fission device that can endlessly, lethally replicate himself. Thankfully the FF are aided by mutant Moses Charles Xavier who dutifully takes young Jamie under his wing…

A minor classic from Wein, Buckler & Sinnott follows s seen in Fantastic Four #155-157 when the long dormant Silver Surfer resurfaces in ‘Battle Royal!’ – apparently a murderous thrall of Doctor Doom. The Iron Dictator commands the Stellar Skyrider because he holds the alien’s lover Shalla Bal –-even cruelly threatening to take her in marriage. However, as seen in ‘Middle Game!’ (with Roy Thomas joining as co-writer and Editor) the Surfer cannot kill and merely delivers the defeated FF as prisoners to the Devil Doctor’s citadel. Naturally, there are schemes within schemes unfolding and Doom is playing a waiting game whilst covertly siphoning the Surfer’s “Power Cosmic” to fuel a deadly Doomsman mechanoid…

With Thomas in full authorial control ‘And Now… the Endgame Cometh!’ sees the heroes fight back to conquer the Lethal Latverian, blithely unaware the entire charade has been a crafty confection of malignly manipulative demon-lord Mephisto

The furore is followed by another nostalgia-tinged 2-part epic beginning with FF #158’s ‘Invasion from the 5th (Count it, 5th!) Dimension’ by Thomas, Buckler & Sinnott. When one of the Torch’s earliest solo scourges returns to occupy the homeland of the Inhumans, extra-dimensional dictator Xemu opens his campaign of vengeance by dispatching Quicksilver to lure his sister-in-law Medusa back to Attilan. The intention is to force defiant King Black Bolt to utilise his doomsday sonic power on the invaders’ behalf, for which the conqueror needs the silent king’s true love as a bargaining chip. However, when the FF accompany her into the blatant trap, they bring a hidden ally who turns the tables on Xemu, unleashing ‘Havoc in the Hidden Land!’, coincidentally and at last reuniting the First Family of comic book fiction…

More pan-dimensional panic ensues when a multiversal conflict is cunningly concocted by a hidden mastermind orchestrating Armageddon for a trio of dimensionally-adjacent planets for ‘In One World… and Out the Other!’ Devised by Thomas, John Buscema & Stone, the initial chapter sees shapeshifting Reed Richards sell his patents to a vast corporation, even as in the streets his counterpart from another universe is kidnapped by barbarian warlord Arkon the Magnificent. That abduction is investigated by a very Grimm Thing who has uncomfortable suspicions about what’s occurring…

With Buckler & Sinnott doing the depicting ‘All the World Wars at Once!’ expands the saga as Johnny Storm visits the recently liberated 5th Dimensional Earth to discover it under assault by androids from yet another slightly different one. As the Thing teams up with his other-earth counterpart to quell a dinosaur invasion, “our” world is assaulted by an army from the 5th dimension led by the Torch. With each realm believing itself provoked by trans-terrestrial aggressors, the divided team only knows one thing: each invading force is using weaponry invented by Richards…

The crises peaks in ‘The Shape of Things to Come!’ as the mastermind is exposed and the scheme to annihilate three worlds come close to fruition, necessitating a voyage to a cosmic nexus point and a devastating battle with yet another twisted alternate-reality hero to save existence in a spectacular and poignant ‘Finale  #163.

A new direction began with #164 (part 1 of a reconditioned yarn originally intended for Giant-Size Fantastic Four), courtesy of Thomas and then-neophyte illustrator George Pérez, backed up by Sinnott. ‘The Crusader Syndrome!’ sees the team battling a veteran superhero gone bad since his last outing as Atlas-Era champion Marvel Boy. Now as The Crusader he wages savage war on financial institutions whose self-serving inaction doomed his adopted Uranian race in the 1950s. However, his madness and savagery are no match for the FF and #165’s ‘The Light of Other Worlds!’ details his apparent demise. It also sparks many successful additions to Marvel Continuity, such as new hero Quasar, the 1950s Avengers and Agents of Atlas whilst introducing Galactus’ herald-in-waiting Frankie Raye as Johnny’s new girlfriend…

This formidable high-tension Fights ‘n’ Tights tome terminates in a titanic tussle as Vince Colletta inks #166 as ‘If It’s Tuesday, This Must be the Hulk!’ as the team hunts the Gamma Goliath with a potential cure for Bruce Banner. Sadly, aggressive and insulting military treatment of their target enrages fellow-monster Ben Grimm who unites with The Hulk to menace St. Louis, Missouri as ‘Titans Two!’ (with Sinnott back on inks). Following a mighty struggle with his old friends and constantly bathed in Hulk’s Gamma radiation, Ben is permanently reduced to human form and contemplates a whole new life…

To Be Continued…

With covers by Buckler, Gil Kane, John Romita, Ron Wilson, Kirby, Sinnott and more this power-packed package also includes the covers to all-reprint Giant-Sized Fantastic Four #5 & 6 and the original unused cover for GSFF #5 (which contents became FF #158-159); house ads and the new material from The Fabulous Fantastic Four Marvel Treasury Edition #2 (December 1975). This bombastic oversized tabloid edition featured a bevy of classic yarns and is represented here by front-&-back cover art from John Romita, a Marie Severin frontispiece and Stan Lee Introduction, contents page and double-page pin-up of the team and supporting cast by John Buscema & Giacoia.

Also on view are extracts from F.O.O.M. #8-10 (comedic exploits of Doctor Foom by Charley Parker), pertinent pages by Buckler & Sinnott from The Mighty Marvel Calendar 1975, cover plus splash page by Dave Cockrum & Sinnott from November 1977’s Marvel Super Action #4 which reprinted Marvel Boy stories from the early 1950s and a gallery of original art pages and a colour guide.

Although Kirby had taken the unmatched imagination and questing sense of wonder with him on his departure, the sheer range of beloved characters and concepts he had created with Lee carried the series for years afterwards. So once writers who shared their sensibilities were crafting the stories a mini-renaissance began. Although the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” didn’t quite return to the stratospheric heights of yore, this period offers fans a tantalising taste of the glory days. These honest and extremely capable efforts will still thrill and enthral the generous and forgiving casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 2023 MARVEL.

Marvels (25th Anniversary Edition)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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