Fantastic Four Epic Collection volume 7: Battle of the Behemoths 1970-1972


By Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, John Romita, John Buscema, Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnott, John Verpoorten, Frank Giacoia, Jim Mooney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2913-8 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fantastic Fight Fuelled Fun… 8/10

It’s still 60 glorious years of the team who changed comics forever, so let’s revisit some more Mighty Marvel Magic…

Cautiously bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, Fantastic Four #1 (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, 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 groundbreaking premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancée Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s annoying teenaged brother survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

All permanently mutated: Richards’ body became elastic, Sue became (even more) invisible, Johnny Storm burst into living flame whilst 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 the FF was indisputably the core title and most consistently groundbreaking series of Marvel’s ever-unfolding web of cosmic creation: a forge for new concepts and characters. Kirby was in his creative prime: 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 jumping ship to National/DC in the first place…

And then, he was gone…

With this collection from “The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” a new style develops. Without Kirby’s restless 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 blockbuster bonanza compendium – also available in digital editions – gathers issues #105-125 (spanning December 1970-August 1972) and opens with The Monster in the Streets!’

Scripted by Lee and illustrated by John Romita & inker John Verpoorten, this is a low-key yet extremely effective suspense thriller played against a resuming subplot of Johnny’s failing romance. When his Inhuman girlfriend Crystal is taken ill – preparatory to writing her out of the series completely – Reed’s diligent examination reveals a potential method of curing the misshapen Thing of his rocky curse.

Tragically, as Ben is prepped for the radical process, a mysterious energy-beast starts tearing up the city. By the time ‘The Monster’s Secret!’ is exposed in #106, the team strongman is almost dead and Crystal is gone… seemingly forever.

Veteran inker Joe Sinnott returns in #107 for ‘And Now… the Thing!’ as John Buscema assumes the illustrator’s reins over Kirby’s other masterpiece (he had already been drawing Thor for four months – starting with #182).

Here and now the unfortunate man-monster gains the power to become human at will. It seems the best of all possible outcomes but something isn’t quite right…

However, before Reed can investigate an old foe pops up again. Sort of…

Fantastic Four #108 was something of a surprise to fans. ‘The Monstrous Mystery of the Nega-Man!’ “reintroduced” a character never seen before.

This was done by recycling large portions of a recently-rejected Kirby & Sinnott tale and adding new framing sequences illustrated by Buscema and Romita. The mysterious Janus had tapped into the antimatter power of the Negative Zoneonce before and “now” resurfaces to steal more by crashing through the portal in Reed’s lab. Unfortunately, this attracts the attention of extinction-event predator Annihilus, who had long sought entry into our life-rich universe…

Forced to follow the utterly mad scientist, Reed, Ben and Johnny once again face ‘Death in the Negative Zone!’ (Lee. Buscema& Sinnott) before FF #110 sees – thanks to a little arcane assistance from sorceress/babysitter Agatha Harkness – Reed escape doom in the anti-cosmos only to realise that “cured” Ben has become lethally sociopathic: a threat to all humanity in ‘One from Four Leaves Three!’

Able to switch between human and monster forms, ‘The Thing… Amok’ rampages through New York, with Mr. Fantastic and the Human Torch desperately trying to minimise the damage their deranged friend inflicts on the city even as increasingly marginalised Sue Richards is packed off to tend baby Franklin beside eldritch governess Harkness…

With all of New York apparently against them, the embattled heroes are on the ropes when the Incredible Hulk joins the fracas for #112’s Battle of the Behemoths!’.

As Sue finally and rebelliously returns, The Thing seems to have perished in the brutal battle that ensued when the monsters met, but once again Reed saves – and cures – his best friend just as another menace materialises…

‘The Power of… the Over-Mind!’ reveals another insidious cosmic menace, presaged and prophesised by an ominous warning from omniscient alien spectator The Watcher.

The psionic super-menace further incites civilian antipathy towards the FF in But Who Shall Stop the Over-Mind?’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) before manifesting and physically trouncing the team.

With #115,  Stan Lee surrendered scripting to Archie Goodwin, who promptly revealed ‘The Secret of the Eternals’ (not the earthly proto-gods and blockbuster movie icons created by Kirby, but an entirely different ancient alien race) in a visually stunning sequence limned by Buscema & Sinnott, culminating in Reed being taken over by the Over-Mind and turning on his erstwhile comrades…

The saga concludes with double-sized Fantastic Four #116’s ‘The Alien, the Ally, and… Armageddon!’ as the defeated, embattled heroes – unable to access any superhero assistance – recruit arch foe Doctor Doom to lead them in final battle against the seemingly unbeatable Over-Mind. They are nonetheless crushed and only saved at the crucial moment by a most unexpected saviour in ‘Now Falls the Final Hour!’

Having helped save the world – and with time on his hot little hands – the heartsick Human Torch heads for the Himalayas and a long-delayed rapprochement with lost girlfriend Crystal in FF #117.

Months previously she had been forced to abandon human civilisation because modern pollutants poisoned her system, but when blazing mad Johnny battles his way into her hidden homeland in ‘The Flame and the Quest!’, he is horrified to discover that she had never arrived back in the Great Refuge of Attilan

Flying back to New York, Johnny consults part-time nanny and career-sorceress Agatha Harkness who traces Crystal to the Central American dictatorship of Terra Verde. Arriving there exhausted and expectant, Johnny finds his love is the mesmerised slave of arcane alchemist Diabolo.

The mystic has convinced the populace – and Crystal herself – that she is a reborn goddess he needs to seize control in ‘Thunder in the Ruins!’ (inked by Jim Mooney). He would have succeeded too, if not for that flaming kid…

The issue included an intriguing vignette starring the Thing: ‘What Mad World?’ (Goodwin, Buscema & Mooney) finds the Tragic Titan afforded a glimpse of an alternate Earth where an even greater mishap occurred after the fateful spaceflight which created the team…

The Black Panther – cautiously renamed Black Leopard for contemporary political reasons – guest-starred in #119’s ‘Three Stood Together!’ as inker Sinnott returned and Roy Thomas scripted a damning, if shaded, indictment of South Africa’s apartheid regime.

When the heroic ruler of jungle wonderland Wakanda is interned in white-ruled state Rudyarda, Ben and Johnny fly in to bust him out and clash with old enemy Klaw who is attempting to steal a deadly new super-weapon…

Fantastic Four #120 heralded an extended and somewhat overlong epic by Stan Lee which began with ‘The Horror that Walks on Air!’ as a seemingly omnipotent invader claiming to be an angel scours and scourges Earth before declaring humanity doomed.

The tale vividly yet laboriously continues in ‘The Mysterious Mind-Blowing Secret of Gabriel!’ with the recently reunited, utterly overmatched quartet saved by the late-arriving Silver Surfer before facing off against world-devouring ‘Galactus Unleashed’. The end comes and humanity survives another day thanks to Reed who again outsmarts the cosmic god and prevents the consumption of ‘This World Enslaved!’

Although beautifully illustrated, the hackneyed saga was a series low-point, but Lee was back on solid dramatic ground with #124’s ‘The Return of the Monster’ and concluding episode ‘The Monster’s Secret!’, wherein the mystery menace Reed once dubbed ‘the Monster from the Lost Lagoon’ resurfaces to haunt a Manhattan hospital, steal drugs and kidnap Sue… but only for the best and most noble of reasons…

His depredations are soon halted and explained, concluding this tome on a rare quiet note but more calamity was still to come…

Did I say concluding? Not quite; as there’s still room for the Romita/Verpoorten cover to all-reprint Fantastic FourAnnual #8 plus the Kirby & Vince Colletta cover to 1971’s Annual #9; a stunning house ad; original art pages by Romita and Buscema, uncorrected cover proofs; the rare misprinted pink-&-green cover for FF #110 and 6 previous collection covers by Alan Davis & Steve Buccellato to delight and enthral…

Although sacrificing spectacle and wonder for simple continuous conflict, the Fantastic Four remained at the heart of the Marvel Universe for decades, offering furious Fights ‘n’ Tights thrills to delight and beguile. Why not check out how and why?
© 2021 MARVEL.

Fantastic Four by Johnathan Hickman – The Complete Collection volume 1


By Jonathan Hickman with Sean Chen, Lorenzo Ruggiero Adi Granov, Dale Eaglesham, Neil Edwards, Andrew Currie, Paul Neary, Scott Hanna & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1336-6 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: World’s Greatest Comic Conceptualists… 9/10

The Fantastic Four is generally considered the most pivotal series in modern comic book history, introducing both a new style of storytelling and a decidedly different manner of engaging the readers’ impassioned attentions.

More family than team, the roster has changed continuously over the years but always returning to the original configuration of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Thing and Human Torch, who together formed the vanguard of modern four-colour heroic history.

The quartet are also known as maverick genius Reed Richards, his wife Sue, their trusty college friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s obnoxious younger brother Johnny Storm; driven survivors of an independently-funded space-shot which went horribly wrong after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding.

When they crashed back to Earth, the foursome found that they had all been hideously mutated into outlandish freaks. Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and, eventually, project force-fields, Johnny could turn into living flame, and poor, tormented Ben was mutated into a horrifying brute who, unlike his comrades, could not return to a semblance of normality on command.

The series has always been more about big ideas than action/adventure, and that was never more true than in this compilation when the FF were steered by writer, artist designer and stellar modern imagineer Jonathan Hickman (Nightly News; Pax Romana; East of West; Infinity; House of X; Secret Wars).

This chronological compilation opens during the Dark Reign that followed a successful conquest of Earth, when the draconian Federal mandate known as the Superhuman Registration Act led to Civil War between costumed heroes. Tony Stark was hastily appointed the US government’s Security Czar – a “top cop” in sole charge of the beleaguered nation’s defence and freedom. As Director of high-tech enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D. he became the very last word in all matters involving metahumans and the USA’s vast costumed community…

Stark’s subsequent mismanagement of various crises led to the arrest and assassination of Captain America and an unimaginable escalation of global tension and destruction, culminating in the Secret Invasion by shape-shifting alien Skrulls. Discredited and ostracised, he was replaced by apparently rehabilitated, recovering schizophrenic Norman Osborn – the original Green Goblin – who assumed full control of the USA’s covert agencies and military resources, disbanded S.H.I.E.L.D. and placed the nation under the aegis of his own new organisation H.A.M.M.E.R.

The erstwhile villain had first begun his climb back to respectability after taking charge of the Thunderbolts Project: a penal program which offered a second chance to super-criminals who volunteered to undertake Federally-sanctioned missions…

Not content with legitimate political and personal power, Osborn also secretly conspired with a coalition of major malevolent masterminds to divvy up the world between them. The Cabal was a Star Chamber of super-villains working towards mutually self-serving goals, but such egomaniacal personalities could never play well together for long and cracks soon began to show, both in the criminal conspiracy and Osborn himself…

As another strand of his long-term plan, the Homeland Metahuman Security overlord fired Iron Man’s Mighty Avengers and created his own, more manageable team consisting of compliant turncoats, tractable replacements and outright impostors. Constantly courting public opinion, Osborn launched his Avengers whilst systematically building up a personally loyal high-tech paramilitary rapid-response force.

During this Dark Reign, the rapidly destabilising madman – through means fair and foul – officially worked to curb the unchecked power and threat of meta-humanity, whilst his clandestine cabal of dictators divvied up the planet between them. The repercussions of Osborn’s rise and fall were felt throughout and featured in many series and collections covering the entire Marvel Universe.

Reed Richards had been a major supporter of Stark and key proponent of the Superhuman Registration Act even though his actions tore his family apart; driving his wife Sue and brother-in-law Johnny Storm into the opposing camp of costumed resistors dubbed the Secret Avengers. His best friend Ben Grimm – unwilling to choose sides – left the country to become an exile in France…

This collection opens with 5-issue miniseries Dark Reign: Fantastic Four and portions of Dark Reign: The Cabal (spanning May to September 2009): exploring and explaining Mister Fantastic’s side of the argument, as well as the terrifying motivations which prompted his uncharacteristic behaviour even as the still-wounded family painfully try to reconcile in their old home The Baxter Building……

The drama begins with a prelude a week after the Skrull invasion as Earth’s greatest mind constructs a colossal interdimensional transit threshold. ‘The Bridge’ – illustrated by Sean Chen & Lorenzo Ruggiero – is a pathway to alternate Earths. Demoralised and confused, Richards wants to explore all the other Earths to see if the Civil War and subsequent tragedies which followed happened elsewhere and how a plurality of other Mr. Fantastics dealt with it.

He needs to know how to prevent such a catastrophe ever happening again, but only just convinces Sue, Ben and Johnny that he must go before the metaphorical roof caves in…

Acting with sublime overconfidence and seemingly blessed by good fortune, Osborn chooses that moment to invade the Baxter Building with his H.A.M.M.E.R. troops, determined to shut down the Fantastic Four and confiscate all their incredible technologies.

Outraged and ready for trouble, Invisible Woman, the Torch and the Thing head for the ground floor just as Osborn’s men cut power to the building. The resultant surge in energy interacts with Reed’s Bridge and collapses space-time. When the elevator doors open they find themselves in another realm: a primitive jungle where men, dinosaurs and space gods co-exist…

With the adults out of action, children Franklin and Valeria take charge of the situation, bluffing the H.A.M.M.E.R. heavies into leaving, but little Val knows it’s only a matter of time until Osborn comes in person. She might be only three, but she’s already as smart as her father…

Setting to, Val begins repairing the building’s electrical and defence systems even as somewhen else her devoted guardians battle hordes of time-lost terrors and, in a region where all places meet, her dad views universe after universe and sees few happy outcomes…

As hours pass in the normal world, Sue, Johnny and Ben are bounced from one bizarre alternity to the next, gradually gathering a stout band of like-minded heroes about them.

In fact they are strange variations of themselves: a gentle, noble erudite Thing, chamberlain to the court of the Virgin Queen; a blazing pirate Torch on a flying galleon, sharp-shooting sheriff Black Susan from an extremely wild, Wild West frontier town and so many more, all assisting as they determinedly fight their way to somewhere they can get home from…

After a night on their own, Val and Franklin are awoken by Security Czar Osborn and his forces, accompanied by Dark Avenger “heavy” Spider-Man (actually deranged impostor Scorpion possessed by the Venom symbiote). In a moment of sublime bravado, the forces of Big Bad Government are stalled and legally finessed by the really annoying little girl…

In Collapsed Time, Sue, Johnny and Ben inexorably carve their way through a cascade of colliding realities whilst, in No Space, Reed – having analysed an infinity of alternate Earths – is forced to accept a truly humbling hypothesis…

His switching off The Bridge instantly returns the displaced FF to the Baxter Building where Osborn, having lost all patience, is trying to shoot the kids. After a brief but brutal battle the Federal forces are routed. When Osborn tries to shoot Reed in the back after surrendering, Franklin displays a burst of the dormant power which will make him the terror of reality in years to come…

In the tense aftermath of a temporary, portent-laden standoff, Mister Fantastic dismantles The Bridge at Sue’s insistence, but keeps from her the incredible beings he met before returning and the new resolution he has made: a decision that will also have devastating repercussions for all the universes in the months to come…

Rounding out this spectacular segue into the unknown is a sinister snippet from Dark Reign: The Cabal. ‘And I’ll Get the Land’ (limned by Adi Granov) gives a salutary glimpse into the scary mind of Doctor Doom as he negotiates a side deal with fellow Cabal associate Sub-Mariner whilst pondering what to do with maniac upstart Osborn once his usefulness is ended…

The wonderment resumes with Hickman’s initial arc on the monthly Fantastic Four title – #570 to 574 from October 2009 to February 2010 and dubbed Solve Everything. These first forays of a truly mind-boggling confirmed Hickman as someone who truly lived up to the series’ “Big Sky Thinking” antecedents…

Illustrated by Dale Eaglesham ‘Is It Playing God If You’re Truly Serious About Creation?’ sees certified super-genius Richards – driven by childhood memories of his demanding father – face the greatest challenge and most beguiling seduction of his fantastic life.

After foiling the latest mad assault by scientific criminal Bentley Wittman – AKA the Wizard – involving giant robots piloted by hideously modified clones of the deranged hyper-intellectual, Wittman upsets and destabilises the victorious Richards by challenging him to examine some cold hard facts. He postulates that the world is broken and about to tear itself apart, but everyone is too busy applying band-aids to try fixing it…

The exchange stays with Richards. Even as the family goes about its usual business, Mister Fantastic discusses things with 3-year old Valeria – a prodigy even smarter than he is – before retiring to his private lab to mull things over.

The Room of 100 Ideas is the place where Richards has made his greatest breakthroughs and triumphs, the sanctum from which he has changed the world over and over again, but it also harbours one last dream and goal – Idea 101: Solve Everything…

Now, he contacts a mysterious inter-dimensional organisation of intellectual supermen to help him fix the world and at last discovers that the benevolent Council is completely composed of alternate Earth iterations of himself, all waiting patiently for him to join their elevated ranks. The self-appointed champions of rationality and guardians of the multiverse feel it is time he lived up to his true potential. He is sorely tempted…

The grand tour of perfect possibilities continues in ‘You Stood Beside Me, Larger Than Life and Did the Impossible’ as the newcomer proves his worth by killing a planet-devouring Galactus and army of Silver Surfers on Earth 2012, all before popping home to touch base with his friends and family at breakfast.

They’re preparing for Franklin’s birthday and, even though Richards cannot share his new experiences, Sue knows something big is troubling him. After a frank but vague discussion, the distracted super-mind promises to have everything sorted one way or another in seven days…

His time “in the lab” actually finds him travelling to every incredible corner of Creation where his agglomerated alternates police and improve the lot of all humanities. Over and again their combined efforts have created a fantastic technological paradise but still Richards has unresolved, inexplicable reservations, especially at night in bed, thinking about his family and recalling conversations with his own father…

The intellectual idyll is rudely shattered in ‘We Are Men We Have No Masters’ when the multiversal Council is attacked by Celestials: Space Gods intent on taking control of all realities. The apocalyptic battle decimates the ranks of the Richards before a solution and ultimate victory is achieved. As the cosmic dust settles, Reed at last makes his decision – the only one a really smart man can…

Originally published as ‘Adventures on Nu-World’ (and illustrated by Neil Edwards & Andrew Currie) the next tale focuses on the Thing and Human Torch as they take a long-anticipated vacation-break on an artificial resort much like a cosmic Las Vegas, blithely unaware of two extremely important facts…

The first is that Reed and Sue’s kids have stowed away aboard their transport, but probably more critical is the realisation that the man-made world is in the midst of civil war prompted by the entire planet having slipped into the event horizon of a Black Hole…

With a host of guest including Skaar, Son of Hulk, ‘These Are the End Times’ follows the slow procession and brutal struggle to total obliteration, highlighting the astounding gifts of toddler Valeria who secretly solves the problem and gets (almost) everyone home safely…

The story portion of this splendid celebration of all things Fantastical continues with ‘All Hope Lies With Doom’(Edwards & Currie again) as the boy’s birthday finally arrives and the extended family – including Dragon Man, uncle Spider-Man, the kids from Power Pack and mutant orphans Artie and Leech – enjoy the party of a lifetime. It’s only slightly spoiled when a time-travelling raider crashes the affair, and he’s soon sent packing by the adults – but not before he delivers a secret warning to Valeria and a unique gift for the birthday boy.

Valeria isn’t worried: after all, if there’s one person she can trust, it’s her grown up brother Franklin…

Originally collected as graphic compilation Prime Elements, FF #575 to 578 (October 2009-February 2010) follows, as the author and illustrator Dale Eaglesham set the scene for future epics with a series of exploratory fables classified as ‘This is a Summoning’

It begins as the Mole Man dumps mutated moloids on the Richards’ clan, alerting them to ‘The Abandoned City of the High Evolutionary’ deep beneath the world. Here, hyper-evolved beings are apparently running rampant and will soon be let loose on the surface world…

Alerted to secrets in the Earth, the team head into the oldest lake in existence in #576, encountering incredible ancient beings who claim to be ‘The Old Kings of Atlantis’

In #577, the secrets of primordial Kree genetic tampering seems to signal the end for the lunar colony of Black Bolt: revealing links to four other cosmic species and the rise of all-conquering ‘Universal Inhumans’

The innovation revolution then concludes – for now – with #578 as ‘The Cult of the Negative Zone’ ominously reveals that the insectoid hordes of Annihilus have established a deadly fifth column on Earth, but are unable to maintain dominance in the antimatter realm that spawned them. Are they then prepared for an assault by the new Inhuman alliance’s war-hungry Light Brigade?

Fast-paced, action-drenched, profoundly imaginative and wickedly funny, this sharp sortie into strange worlds includes a covers-&-variants gallery by Simone Bianchi & Simone Peruzzi; Pasqual Ferry & Dave McCaig; Alan Davis, Mark Farmer; Marko Djurdjevic, Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic, Daniel Acuña, John Rausch, Javier Rodriguez, Eaglesham & Paul Mounts, John Cassaday & Laura Martin, Marcelo Dichiara, Christopher Jones & Sotocolor, to deliver the perfect package for all tried-and-true Fights ‘n’ Tights aficionados with a hunger for mind-expanding marvels…

Smart, tense, thrilling and exhibiting genuine warmth and humanity, this is a grand starting point for new or returning readers with a view to recapturing the glory days of fantasy and science fiction, and especially a different kind of Fights ‘n’ Tights theatre…
© 2019 MARVEL

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 12


By Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber, Don Glut, Roger McKenzie, Scott Edelman, David Anthony Kraft, Peter B. Gillis, Roger Stern, David Michelinie, Sal Buscema, George Tuska, Dave Cockrum, John Buscema, Bob Budiansky, Steve Leialoha, Mike Zeck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2210-8 (HB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of ferocious patriotic fervour and carefully-manipulated idealism, Captain America was a dynamic and exceedingly bombastic response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss.

He quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased: fading during post-war reconstruction to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Land of the Free’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

The old-world hero quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties, but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually however he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, after nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s triumphs, Jack Kirby had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamics pantheon before accepting that even he could never win against any publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce whilst enduring micro-managing editorial interference.

His eventual return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial as his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity and went explosively his own way. Whilst his new works quickly found many friends, his tenures on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base. Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on Cap and the Panther as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of Captain America, and you can judge his endeavours in other collections.

This collection – available in hardback and digital editions – features a return to house continuity: abruptly returning the patriotic paragon fully to Marvel’s restrictively overarching, interlinked continuity. Gathered within are Captain America #215-230 (cover-dated November 1977 to February 1979), plus a bonus crossover tale from Incredible Hulk #232, preceded by an informative Introduction by Don Glut, one of many who sought to fill the King’s boots in the months following his departure.

When Kirby moved on it left a desperate gap in the schedules. Captain America #215 saw Roy Thomas, George Tuska & Pablo Marcos respond by revisiting the hallowed origin story for the latest generation with ‘The Way it Really Was!’: reiterating simultaneously the history of the heroes who had inherited the red, white & blue uniform whilst Steve Rogerswas entombed in ice and ending with our hero desperately wondering who the man beneath his mask might truly be…

For all that, #216 was a deadline-filling reprint of November 1963’s Strange Tales #114, represented here by Gil Kane’s cover and a framing sequence from Thomas, Dave Cockrum & Frank Giacoia.

Thomas, Glut, John Buscema & Marcos actually began ‘The Search for Steve Rogers!’ in #217, with S.H.I.EL.D.’s record division, where the Falcon is distracted by a surprising job offer. Nick Fury, busy with the hunt for capitalist cabal The Corporation, asks Cap’s partner to supervise the agency’s newest project: the SHIELD Super-Agents

These wonders-in-training consist of Texas Twister, Blue Streak, The Vamp and a rather mature-seeming Marvel Boy, but the squad are already deeply flawed and fatally compromised…

Issue #218 sees Cap targeted by a Corporation agent: fed data which bends his legendarily-fragmented memory back to his thawing from the ice. Heading north to retrace his original journey, Cap spends ‘One Day in Newfoundland!’ (Glut, Sal Buscema & John Tartaglione), uncovering a secret army, an unremembered old foe and a colossal robotic facsimile of himself…

In #219, ‘The Adventures of Captain America’ (Glut, Sal B & Joe Sinnott) reveals how, during WWII, Cap and junior partner Bucky were ordered to investigate skulduggery on the set of a movie serial about them and exposed special effects wizard Lyle Dekker as a highly-placed Nazi spy.

Now in modern-day Newfoundland, that warped genius has built a clandestine organisation with one incredible purpose: revealed in ‘The Ameridroid Lives!’ (inked by Tartaglione & Mike Esposito) as the captive crusader is mind-probed and dredges up shocking submerged memories.

In 1945, when he and Bucky were chasing a swiftly-launched secret weapon, the boy (apparently) died and Rogers fell into the North Atlantic: frozen in a block of ice until found and thawed by the Avengers. At least, he always thought that’s how it happened…

Now as the probe does its devilish work, Captain America finds that he was in fact picked up by Dekker after the spy was punished by the Red Skull and exiled for his failures. Deciding to work only for his own interests, Dekker then attempted to transfer Cap’s power to himself and it was only in escaping the original Newfoundland base that Rogers crashed into the sea and froze…

In the Now, the vile scheme is finally accomplished: Cap’s energies are replicated in a 15-foot-tall super-android with aging Dekker’s consciousness permanently embedded in its metal and plastic brain.

…And only then does the fanatic realise he’s made himself into a monster at once unique, solitary and utterly apart from humanity…

The deadline problems still hadn’t eased and this episode is chopped in half with the remainder of the issue affording Falcon a short solo outing as ‘…On a Wing and a Prayer!’ by Scott Edelman, Bob Budiansky & Al Gordon finds the Pinioned Paladin hunting a mad archer who has kidnapped his avian ally Redwing

The remainder of the Ameridroid saga appears in #221 as Steve Gerber and David Kraft co-script ‘Cul-De-Sac!’, wherein the marauding mechanoid is finally foiled – by reason not force of arms – whilst ‘The Coming of Captain Avenger!’(Edelman, Steve Leialoha & Gordon) provides another space-filling vignette with former sidekick Rick Jones given a tantalising glimpse of his most cherished dreams…

Captain America #222 sees Gerber fully in the writer’s seat as ‘Monumental Menace!’ (Sal B, Tartaglione & Esposito) relocates “The Search for Steve Rogers” storyline to Washington DC. As our hero examines army records at the Pentagon, the Corporation’s attempts to destroy him become more pronounced and bizarre. After escaping an animated, homicidal Volkswagen, Steven Grant Rogers learns at last that he was born the son of a diplomat and lost a brother at Pearl Harbor (all these revelations were later rather ingeniously retconned out so don’t worry about spoilers).

However, contemporary events spiral and Liberty’s Sentinel is attacked by the Lincoln Memorial, sacrilegiously brought to lethal life…

The madness continues as the hulking, monstrous horror responsible screams ‘Call Me Animus’ before unleashing a succession of blistering assaults resulting in hundreds of collateral casualties before being finally repulsed…

The epic is again interrupted as Peter Gillis, Mike Zeck, Esposito & Tartaglione contrive a thrilling mystery with a battered, partially amnesiac Cap awakening in a river with a new face. Investigating what happened, the sinister trail leads Cap to guest-villains Senor Suerte and Tarantula in ‘Saturday Night Furor!’

The Search for Identity saga resumes in #225 with ‘Devastation!’ (Gerber, Sal Buscema, Esposito & Tartaglione) as Fury gives Captain America access to incarcerated mind-master Mason Harding (inventor of the “Madbomb”, as seen in previous collections), who uses his embargoed technology to unlock the Avenger’s closed memories at long last…

Sadly, the cathartic shock has terrifying repercussions. Although Rogers regains many memories, the machines somehow denature the Super-Soldier serum in his blood and he is forced to ask ‘Am I Still Captain America?’ when his perfect warrior’s frame reverts to the frail, sickly mess it used to be.

New scripter Roger McKenzie begins his superb run of tales – with Sal B, Esposito & Tartaglione still illustrating – as SHIELD puts all its resources into restoring the One-Man Army before being suddenly brought low by an invasion of body-snatching Red Skulls.

Back in fighting trim, the incursion is rapidly repelled by the resurgent Patriotic Paragon in ‘This Deadly Gauntlet!’ but the aftermath sees the too-often compromised Peacekeeping agency mothball many of its facilities. During the closure and destruction of the Manhattan branch, Cap is ambushed by The Constrictor in #228’s ‘A Serpent Lurks Below’, but subsequently provides the first real lead on the Corporation…

The trail leads back to Falcon and the Super Agents, and with ‘Traitors All About Me!’, Cap exposes the rotten apples working for elusive boss Kligger – and another enemy force – leading to an ‘Assault on Alcatraz!’ (McKenzie, Roger Stern, Sal B & Don Perlin) to rescue hostage friends and end the Corporation’s depredations in Captain America #230…

While this slowly-unfolding epic was entertaining readers here, fans of The Hulk were reading of equally shady shenanigans in his title (and Kirby’s Machine Man) where the Corporation’s West Coast Chief Curtiss Jackson was ruthlessly enacting his own perfidious plans. This volume concludes in a crossover conclusion from Incredible Hulk #232 as parallel plotlines converge into bombastic action-extravaganza ‘The Battle Below’ by Stern, David Michelinie, Buscema & Esposito…

Also displaying house ads, original art pages, covers and sketches, these are thoughtful yet fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing fights ‘n’ tights masterpieces no fan should ignore and above all else, more fabulously fun tales of a true American Dream in his anniversary year…
© 2011 MARVEL

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 16


By Roy Thomas, Bill Mantlo, George Pérez, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785188452 (HB)

Monolithic Marvel truly began at the end of 1961 with the adventures of a small super-team who were as much squabbling family as coolly capable costumed champions. Everything the company produces now is due to the quirky quartet and the groundbreaking, inspired efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Happy Anniversary, all…

With Lee & Kirby long gone but with their mark very much still stamped onto every page of the still-prestigious title, this full-colour compendium – available in hardcover and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #164-175, Fantastic Four Annual #11 and a crossover epic from the first Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1 and #20 of the monthly MTIO: cumulatively spanning November 1975 to October 1976.

What You Should Already Know: maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged tag-along little brother Johnny miraculously survived an ill-starred private space-shot after cosmic rays penetrated their stolen ship’s inadequate shielding. As they crashed back to Earth the uncanny radiation mutated them all in unimaginable ways…

Richards’ body became astoundingly elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project forcefields whilst Johnny could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. They agreed to use their abilities to benefit mankind and thus was born the Fantastic Four.

Following another effusively fact-filled Introduction from writer/editor Roy Thomas, a new direction begins with #164 (part one of a reconditioned yarn originally intended for Giant-Size Fantastic Four), courtesy of Thomas and neophyte illustrator George Pérez, backed up by veteran inker Joe Sinnott. ‘The Crusader Syndrome!’ finds the team battling a veteran superhero gone bad since his last outing as Atlas-Era champion Marvel Boy.

The Crusader wages savage war on the 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 ‘The Light of Other Worlds!’ sees 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 …

Vince Colletta inks #166 as ‘If It’s Tuesday, This Must be the Hulk!’ sees the team hunting the Gamma Goliath with a potential cure for Bruce Banner. Sadly, 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).

Constantly bathed in Gamma radiation, Ben is permanently reduced to human form and, as Rich Buckler pencils #168’s ‘Where Have All the Powers Gone?’, Reed is forced to replace him with Hero for Hire Luke Cage. The former Thing has his greatest dream realised at last, but happiness still eludes him and events take a worse turn in #169 as ‘Five Characters in Search of a Madman!’ sees Cage attack his new teammates thanks to the machinations of a veteran FF foe…

Pérez and Sinnott reunite for concluding chapter ‘A Sky-Full of Fear!’ as Ben returns to his team and spectacularly saves the day wearing a Thing exoskeleton suit built by Reed. The original and genuine is back at last (sort of), but there’s no time to pause for applause…

The yarn segues directly into Fantastic Four Annual #11 which features time-travel saga ‘And Now… Then… the Invaders! by Thomas, John Buscema & Sam Grainger, wherein Marvel’s First Family flash back to 1942 to retrieve a cylinder of miracle-metal Vibranium. When it somehow fell into Nazi hands it had started unwriting history as a consequence…

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

Thanks to Uatu the Watcher, the action continues in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1 as – with the present unravelling around him – Ben blasts back to 1942. ‘Their Name is Legion!’ (Thomas, Sal Buscema, Grainger, John Tartaglione & George Roussos) finds him linking up with Home Front Heroes the Liberty Legion (collectively The Patriot, Thin Man, Red Raven, Jack Frost, Blue Diamond, Miss America and The Whizzer) to thwart Nazis Skyshark and Master Man, Japanese agent Slicer and Atlantean turncoat U-Man’s invasion of America.

The battle proves so big, it spills over and concludes in Marvel Two-In-One #20 (October 1976): a shattering ‘Showdown at Sea!’ pitting the myriad heroes against diabolical Nazi boffin Brain Drain, courtesy this time of Thomas, Sal B & Grainger.

Cover-dated June, Fantastic Four #171 reveals ‘Death is a Golden Gorilla!’ (Thomas, Pérez, Buckler & Sinnott) as a giant alien anthropoid rampages through Manhattan until corralled by the FF. Calmed and physically reduced to standard gorilla proportions, the talking ape delivers a desperate plea for help from the High Evolutionary

Bill Mantlo scripts Thomas’ plot and Pérez & Sinnott excel themselves as ‘Cry, the Bedeviled Planet!’ sees the heroes head for the other side of the Sun to save Counter-Earth from certain annihilation only to meet their nemesis in the depths of space…

Thomas writes and John Buscema steps in as penciller with #173’s ‘Counter-Earth Must Die… At the Hands of Galactus!’ Inexplicably, the world-devourer debates minor deity High Evolutionary: offering hope to his intended repast before despatching the heroes across the universe in search of a planet that will voluntarily sacrifice itself for Counter-Earth…

‘Starquest!’ (Thomas, Buscema & Sinnott) follows each unsavoury search to its logical conclusion, but as the Evolutionary abandons rhetoric for cosmic combat in a desperate delaying tactic, Sue Richards accidentally locates a civilisation willing to make the ultimate gesture…

Returned and augmenting the Evolutionary, a reunited FF attack Galactus ‘When Giants Walk the Sky!’ (drawn & inked by JB), with the Devourer delivering a cruel delayed punishment to Ben before consuming the planetary substitute and realising he has been tricked in a bizarre and wry conclusion that only adds fresh complications to the First Family of the Marvel Universes…

To Be Continued…

This power-packed package also includes the covers (by freshly returned Jack Kirby) and all-new material from The Fabulous Fantastic Four Marvel Treasury Edition #11; house ads and cover and splash page by Dave Cockrum & Sinnott from November 1977’s Marvel Super Action #4 which reprinted Marvel Boy stories from the early 1950s.

Although the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” never quite returned to the stratospheric heights of the Kirby era, this later collection offers a tantalising taste-echo of those glory days. These extremely capable efforts are probably most welcome to dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but can still thrill and enthral the generous and forgiving casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 1975, 1976, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 5: Proteus 1978-1979


By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, George Pérez, Michael Netzer, Rick Buckler & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2252-8 (TPB)

In the autumn of 1963, The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier.

The teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

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

Although the title was revived at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe and the Beast was refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories until Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique with a brand-new team in Giant Size X-Men #1 in 1975.

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire was added one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine, and all-original creations such as demonic-seeming German teleporter Kurt Wagner/ Nightcrawler; African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe AKA Storm; Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin who transformed at will into a living steel Colossus and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The revision was an instantaneous, incontrovertible hit. With Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont writing the series from the second story onwards, the Uncanny X-Men reclaimed their own comicbook within months (#94). It quickly became the company’s most popular – and highest quality – title.

Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster shifted and changed the series rose to even greater heights, culminating in the landmark (and with this tome, imminently ensuing) Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character.

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

After Apache warrior Thunderbird became the team’s first fatality, the survivors slowly bonded, becoming an infallible fighting unit under the brusque and draconian supervision of Cyclops.

This monolithic trade paperback – and eBook – compilation is the ideal artefact for newbies, neophytes and even old lags nervous about reading such splendid yarns on fragile, extremely valuable newsprint paper. It celebrates the unstoppable march to market dominance through the pivotal early stories: specifically, X-Men #111-128 and Annual #3 of the decidedly “All-New, All-Different” ones, plus crossover yarns from Marvel Team-Up #89 and The Incredible Hulk Annual #7 – all cumulatively spanning June 1979-March 1980.

The drama kicks off with that Hulk Annual as ‘The Evil That is Cast…’ by Roger Stern, Byrne & Bob Layton finds retired X-Men Angel and Iceman targeted by a madly-mutated, mutant-hunting Sentinel Master Mold, who has merged with a manic former foe. Happily, the peripatetic pistachio powerhouse is on hand to balance the odds…

Meanwhile, the modern members are the subject of ‘Mindgames’ (Claremont, Byrne & Terry Austin) with Avenging alumnus The Beast visiting a circus in search of the new team. They have been missing for weeks…

His presence disrupts a devilish scheme by mutant hypnotist Mesmero to subjugate the heroes through false memories and implanted personalities, but the reawakened stalwarts’ vengeance is forestalled as their greatest enemy ambushes them…

X-Men #112 finds the revived and furious heroes fighting but failing, leaving ‘Magneto Triumphant!’ With his enemies helplessly imprisoned miles beneath Antarctica, a valiant turnabout and escape results in tense, action-packed battle bonanza ‘Showdown!’ On the Polaric tyrant’s return – after terrorising the humans of Australia – the X-Men have broken free and are waiting for him…

In the apocalyptic battle which follows the base is utterly destroyed and Magneto grievously wounded. With boiling lava flooding everywhere, only Beast and recently-ascended Phoenix Jean Grey manage to reach the surface to realise, in horror, that they are the only survivors.

They could not be more wrong…

Unable to go up, their fellow champions tunnel downwards and ‘Desolation!’ turns to joy as they emerge into the antediluvian wilderness dubbed the Savage Land. Linking up with old ally Ka-Zar, the X-Men slowly recover in a dinosaur-filled, elysian paradise. The idyll is rudely shattered when former foe Karl Lykos succumbs to his old addiction and absorbs their mutant energies to become lethal leather-winged predator Sauron

His ‘Visions of Death!’ are readily dispelled by the assembled heroes, but he’s just the first course in a campaign of terror as crazy, colonialising barbarian queen Zaladane revives proto-god Garokk as the figurehead of her army of conquest…

When the insane imperialists’ eco-meddling disrupts the tropical climate of the sub-polar region, Ka-Zar and the X-Men invade their noxious citadel ‘To Save the Savage Land’. The brutal battle demands the best and worst from the young warriors before the job is done…

With the distasteful task completed, the mutants opt for a perilous sea-passage back to the outside world…

Uncanny X-Men #117 begins with their rescue by an Antarctic exploration vessel, heralding a slow torturous voyage to Japan, before lapsing into an untold tale of Charles Xavier in his globe-trotting days prior to losing the use of his legs. ‘Psi War!’ is full of clever, in-filling insights as it details how the dispirited, restless young telepath fetches up in Cairo and meets his first “Evil Mutant”…

Amahl Farouk uses psionic abilities to rule the city’s underworld: a depraved, debauched monster who thinks he is beyond justice. The enraged, disgusted Xavier defeats the beast and in doing so find his life’s purpose…

A revelatory 2-part epic follows as the X-Men – still believed dead by Xavier, Jean and the wider world – arrive in Agarashima, just as the port is being devastated by a vast firestorm. Inked by Ricardo Villamonte, ‘The Submergence of Japan!’ sees tectonic terrorist Moses Magnum undertake a most audacious blackmail scheme, countered by the valiant mutants who briefly reunite with old – and still belligerently surly – comrade Sunfire.

Perhaps he is just surprised to discover Wolverine has unsuspected connections to Japan and has turned the head of local highborn maid Lady Mariko. A bigger surprise awaits the American specialist the government have brought in. Misty Knight is Jean Grey’s roommate in Manhattan and grieved with her at the X-Men’s reported deaths. Now she has to tell Cyclops his girl has moved on and Professor X has quit Earth for the Shi’ar Empire…

Of course, all that is moot if they can’t stop Magnum and his Mandroid army sinking Japan into the Pacific, but after a catastrophic conflict inside a volcano there’s a seasonal reunion in store for all in the Austin-inked ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…’

Marvel further expands its borders with the introduction of a foreign super-squad in ‘Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!’, as enigmatic wild man Logan – accompanied by Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Banshee and Nightcrawler – returns from bombastic battle and heartbreak in Japan only to be herded into Canadian airspace so the Ottawa government can reclaim their former property…

Forced down by a magical tempest, the X-Men are soon on the run in Calgary, ambushed by the aforementioned Alpha Flight – specifically battle-armoured Vindicator, gamma-powered, super-strong Sasquatch, First Nations magician Shaman, shapeshifting Snowbird and mutant speedster twins Northstar and Aurora: all ordered to repossess at any cost former special operative and top agent “The Wolverine”…

After a brutal but inconclusive clash at the airport, the X-Men fade into the city but only after Wolverine and Nightcrawler are captured…

The retaliation results in a ‘Shoot-Out at the Stampede!’, with the mutants confronting their pursuers while Shaman’s eldritch blizzard spirals out of control, threatening to destroy the entire province. Even after Storm fixes the problem, the Canadians are adamant, so to end hostilities Wolverine surrenders himself in return for his comrades’ safe passage.

Of course, he never promised to stay arrested…

The drama resumes with Byrne producing light breakdowns and regular inker Terry Austin stepping up to produce full art finishes for issue #122’s ‘Cry for the Children!’ as the long-gone heroes finally return to the Xavier School only to find it boarded up and deserted.

Months previously, following the catastrophic battle against Magneto, heartbroken Professor X had grieved for his fallen pupils and left Earth to be with his fiancée Empress Lilandra of the far-flung extragalactic Shi’ar Imperium. In the interim, Jean Grey – reborn as the cosmic-powered Phoenix – went globetrotting to bury her woes. She is currently in Scotland, unaware that she has been targeted by one of the team’s oldest enemies for a cruel assault…

As the weary team slowly settle in at the mansion again, attempting to return to previous routines, psychological stress testing shows Russian teen Colossus has second thoughts about deserting his family and country…

In New York, Storm is tracing her roots, visiting the old home of her American father, only to find it now a vile junkie squat filled with doped-up, feral kids who viciously attack her. Stabbed and bleeding, she lashes out and only the sudden arrival of hero for hire Luke Cage and his friend Misty Knight prevents a tragedy. None of them are remotely aware that they have been targeted by the world’s most outrageous hit-man…

With Byrne back in full penciller mode, #123 includes a cameo from Spider-Man as jolly psycho-killer Arcade picks off the oblivious mutants and runs them through his fatal funfair Murder World in ‘Listen… Stop Me if You’ve Heard It… But This One Will Kill You!’: subjecting the abductees to perils mechanical and psychological.

The former proves understandably ineffectual, but family guilt and cunning conditioning soon transform the already homesick and despondent Colossus into a vengeful mind-slave dubbed The Proletarian, determined to smash his former comrades in concluding chapter ‘He Only Laughs When I Hurt!’ Happily, his inner child and the assorted heroes’ gifts and training prove too much for the maniacal killer clown…

Marvel Team-Up #89 then diverts to a follow-up as Claremont, Michael Nasser/Netzer, Rick Buckler & Josef Rubinstein depict a ‘Shoot-Out over Center Ring!’ as the wallcrawler and former acrobat Kurt Wagner again clash with Arcade and assassin Cutthroat at the circus…

X-Men Annual #3 then offers a fantastic interlude as extradimensional barbarian warlord Arkon the Magnificent returns to Earth courtesy of Claremont, George Pérez & Austin. ‘A Fire in the Sky!’ sees him again seeking to save his unstable world of Polemachus from eternal darkness. Last time, Avenger Thor provided the lightning necessary to illuminate his realm, but with the Asgardian unavailable, Arkon decides Storm will do. He never learned how to ask, though, and his violent abduction of his target provokes a furious response from her mutant comrades…

With Byrne back drawing, Jean re-enters the picture in X-Men #125, when her stay with geneticist Moira MacTaggertleads to the release of a long-secret family shame in ‘There’s Something Awful on Muir Island!’ Throughout her long holiday, Phoenix has been gradually weakened and psychically seduced by a psionic predator: groomed for a life of refined cruelty and debauchery by a man calling himself Jason Wyngarde. His intention is to create a callous and wicked “Black Queen” for the mysterious organisation known as the Hellfire Club

At the other end of the galaxy, Charles Xavier reviews records of how Phoenix once reconstructed the entire fragmenting universe and is gripped with terror at the thought of all that power in the hands of one frail human personality, whilst in his former home the Beast checks a tripped alarm and discovers his long-mourned friends are all alive.

The reunited comrades’ first thought is to tell Jean the incredible news, but no sooner is a transatlantic call connected than a scream echoes out and the line goes dead…

Issue #126 resumes frantic hours later as the X-Men approach Muir Island in their supersonic jet. With all contact lost and no telepath aboard, Cyclops assumes the worst and the squad infiltrate in battle formation, only to find a withered corpse and badly shaken comrades Lorna Dane, Havok, Madrox, Moira and Jean slowly recovering from a psionic assault. In ‘How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth…!’ Dr. MacTaggert bitterly reveals the attacker is a psychic bodysnatcher imprisoned on Muir for years. He’s also her son…

Rapidly burning out one of Madrox’s duplicate bodies, the monster has already reached the Scottish mainland, but as the mutants disperse to hunt him down Jean is hampered by a torrent of seductive mirages projected by the smugly confidant Wyngarde, allowing predatory Proteus to ambush the X-Men and attempt to possess Wolverine.

It is his first mistake. Metal has an inimical effect on the formless horror and the feral fury’s Adamantium skeleton forces him to flee his victim in screaming agony. It is then the creature unleashes his most terrifying power: warping reality to drive Wolverine and Nightcrawler to the brink of madness. Only the late-arriving Storm prevents their immediate demise but soon she too is at the edge of destruction…

‘The Quality of Hatred!’ finds the badly shaken team undergoing desperate “tough-love” remedies from Cyclops to regain combat readiness, whilst Moira tries to make up for her dangerous sentimentality by putting a bullet into her deadly offspring.

Frustrated by the idealistic Cyclops but having divined the path Proteus is taking, she then heads for Edinburgh and an unpleasant reunion with her former husband: brute, bully, Member of Parliament and father of most merciless monster the world has yet produced…

As Jean finally shrugs off her distractions and telepathically homes in on Proteus, the team swing into action a little too late: the sinister son has possessed his scurrilous sire and created an unstoppable synthesis of world-warping abomination…

With Edinburgh and perhaps the entire world roiling and rebelling as science goes mad, X-Men #128 sees the valiant champions strike back to spectacularly triumph in ‘The Action of the Tiger!’ : scoring a hard-fought but bittersweet victory…

Also offering original art, fanzine covers, portfolio pages, previous collection artwork and a barrage of house ads, this is a stunning treasure trove of action and adventure. For many fans these tales – and those in the next volume – comprise the definitive X-Men look and feel: some of the greatest stories Marvel ever published; entertaining, groundbreaking and utterly intoxicating. These stories are an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 2020 MARVEL.

Incredible Hulk Epic Collection volume 5: Who Will Judge the Hulk? 1971-1972


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Gary Friedrich, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Archie Goodwin, Herb Trimpe, Sam Grainger, Sal Buscema, Dick Ayers, John Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2206-1 (TPB)

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

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

As the 1970s opened the Incredible Hulk had settled into a comfortable – if excessively and spectacularly destructive – niche. The globe-trotting formula saw tragic, haunted Banner hiding and seeking cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains.

Herb Trimpe had made the character his own, displaying a penchant for explosive action and an unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance, vehicles and robots. Scripter Roy Thomas – unofficial custodian of Marvel’s burgeoning shared-universe continuity – played the afflicted Jekyll/Hyde card for maximum angst and ironic heartbreak even as he continually injected the Jade Juggernaut into the lives of other stalwarts of Marvel’s growing pantheon…

This chronologically-curated trade paperback and digital compendium re-presents issues #139-156 plus a crossover tale from Avengers #88, encompassing cover-dates April 1971 to October 1972, and opens without delaying preamble as the Hulk – returned to Earth after an epic outer space excursion – encounters an old enemy in ‘…Sincerely, the Sandman!’(Thomas, Trimpe & Sam Grainger) wherein the vicious villain turns Banner’s true love Betty Ross to brittle, fragile glass, after which #139’s ‘Many Foes Has the Hulk!’ looks in on archfoe The Leader’s latest attempt to kill his brutish nemesis: employing illusion and exhaustion, as seemingly hundreds of old villains attack the man-monster all at once…

A landmark crossover follows as Harlan Ellison, Thomas, Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney craft ‘The Summons of Psyklop!’for Avengers #88 (May 1971) wherein an insectoid servant of the Elder Gods abducts the Hulk to fuel their resurrection…

This leads directly into Incredible Hulk #140 and ‘The Brute that Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom’ (pencilled & inked by Grainger over Trimpe’s layouts). Trapped on a sub-atomic world, Banner’s intellect and the Hulk’s body are reconciled, and he becomes a barbarian hero to an appreciative populace, and lover of perfect princess Jarella, only to be snatched away by Psyklop at the moment of his greatest happiness.

The sudden return to full-sized savagery is the insectoid’s undoing and the Hulk resumes his ghastly existence… at least until #141 when an experimental psychologist provides a means to drain the Hulk’s gamma-energy and utilise it to restore crystalline, petrified Betty. He even uses the remaining gamma force to turn himself into a superhero in ‘His Name is … Samson!’ (with wonderful John Severin inking).

Next is a satirical poke at the “Radical Chic” movement through the return of “feminist” villain Valkyrie, with the Hulk made a media cause celebre by Manhattan’s effete elite in the wryly charming ‘They Shoot Hulks, Don’t They?’ Don’t fret, there’s plenty of monumental mayhem as well…

Picking up the pace comes an inevitable but long-delayed clash as the Green Goliath battles Doctor Doom in a 2-part epic begun by Thomas, Dick Ayers & Severin wherein fugitive Banner finds ‘Sanctuary!’ in New York City’s Latverian Embassy. The deal is a bad one, however, since the Iron Dictator enslaves the Gamma scientist for his bomb-making knowledge, in an attempt to make his awesome alter ego into an unstoppable war machine…

The scheme goes awry in ‘The Monster and the Madman!’ (scripted by Gary Friedrich over Thomas’ plot), as brainwashed Banner shucks his mind-warped conditioning – thanks to Doom’s conflicted consort Valeria – just in time for the Hulk to deliver a salutary lesson in mayhem throughout the dictator’s domain.

Incredible Hulk #145 is a double-length package finding the man-monster invading a film-set in Egypt and accidentally awakening a prehistoric alien war-weapon in ‘Godspawn’. Crafted by Thomas, Len Wein, Trimpe & Severin, it offers plenty of joyfully mindless Hulk Smash action and a portion of pathos, even as, back in the USA, the military – in the form of Ross and Major Glenn Talbot – open dedicated anti-Hulk base “Project Greenskin”…

Gerry Conway scripted Thomas’ plot for ‘And the Measure of a Man is… Death!’, wherein the Jade Juggernaut faces sandstorms, bitter memories and the Israeli army in the deserts of Northern Egypt, even as in America the Hulk-buster base has already been infiltrated by android facsimiles constructed by the Hulk’s greatest foe.

Drawn instinctively homeward, the Gamma Goliath reaches the base just as said infiltration threatens the US President himself, leading to a catastrophic clash between the brute and The Leader in ‘The End of Doc Samson!’. The issue (#147) also includes a moving and powerful vignette ‘Heaven is a Very Small Place!’ wherein Thomas, Trimpe & Severin take the tormented titan to the very edge of paradise before horrifying reality again reasserts itself…

Archie Goodwin debuted as scripter – with a little plotting assistance from a very junior Chris Claremont – in ‘But Tomorrow… the Sun Shall Die!’ as lost love Jarella voyages to Earth and a longed-for reunion, just as Banner is apparently cured of his curse by radical solar-energy experimentation. Sadly, the princess from the micro-verse accidentally brings with her a super-assassin determined to end her life at all costs and the double voyage somehow sparks the sun into going nova…

Forced to become the monster once again to save his beloved, the Hulk is captured by Ross’s forces only to escape when an ancient threat crashes back to Earth in #149, hungry for radiation to survive in ‘… And Who Shall Claim This Earth His Own? The Inheritor!’

After dispatching that creepy crawler, the Gamma Goliath wanders into the wilderness where he encounters on-sabbatical X-Man Alec Summers. He had banished himself – with girlfriend Lorna Dane visiting at just the wrong moment – to the deserts of New Mexico, terrified of his uncontrollable cosmic power in #150’s ‘Cry Hulk, Cry Havok!’ When Lorna clashes with a menacing biker gang and an Emerald Giant violently protective of his privacy, Summers finally proves himself against the rampaging but easily distracted titan…

‘When Monsters Meet!’ then pits the Hulk against a flesh-consuming radioactive horror resulting from a disastrous cancer cure derived from Banner’s blood, before Friedrich, Dick Ayers & Frank Giacoia ask ‘But Who Will Judge the Hulk?’, as helpless, freshly captured Banner is sent to trial for the destruction wrought by his emerald alter ego. The guest-star-studded 2-parter concludes in suitable calamity and chaos in #153’s ‘My World, My Jury!’, which includes additional art by Trimpe & Severin.

After explosively escaping the kangaroo court, the fugitive fury discovers ‘Hell is a Very Small Hulk!’ (Goodwin, Trimpe & Severin) when he swallows a defective shrinking formula. The serum was created and discarded by the Astonishing Ant-Man, but any risk is acceptable in Hulk’s forlorn attempts to rejoin Jarella in her subatomic world.

Snatched up by the face-shifting Chameleon and assembled hordes of Hydra, the diminished brute still manages to quash their treasonous schemes – at the apparent cost of his life.

In actuality, the Hulk is shrinking in sporadic bursts, propelled into a succession of micro-worlds, including an impossible “Earth” where Nazis seemingly won WWII. ‘Destination: Nightmare!’ reveals the incredible truth: meddling by a cosmic entity named Shaper of Worlds who tempts the Green Gargantuan with an empty paradise, before another shrinking spasm happily deposits Hulk on Jarella’s world in time for ‘Holocaust at the Heart of the Atom!’ (inked by Sal Trapani): pitting the monster against his worst nightmare – himself – before once again losing his true love to the vicissitudes of cruel fate and cosmic chance…

To Be Continued…

Wrapping up the smashing fun are the covers to reprint collections Incredible Hulk Annual #3 and 4; original artwork and covers by Trimpe & Grainger, Ayers & Severin, Trimpe & Severin and a fascinating glimpse into editorial thinking in creating a cover…

The Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, TV shows and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t beat these evergreen classics.
© MARVEL 2021

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 13


By Len Wein, Roger Stern, Jim Starlin, David Anthony Kraft, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, George Tuska, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1926-9 (HB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, stress and other factors cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury. He was one of Marvel’s earliest innovations and first failure, but after an initially troubled few years finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of the company’s premiere antiheroes and most popular features.

The Gamma Goliath was always graced with artists who understood the allure of shattering action, the sheer cathartic reader-release rush of spectacular “Hulk Smash!” moments, and here – following in the debris-strewn wake of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Marie Severin and Herb Trimpe – Sal Buscema was showing the world what he could do when unleashed…

This chronologically complete hardback and digital monolith re-presents Incredible Hulk King Size Annual #6 and issues #210-222 of his monthly magazine, spanning April 1977 – April 1978 and opens with an Introduction and curated reminiscence from Roger Stern who assumed the writing reins from Len Wein.

The drama and destruction commence however with David Anthony Kraft, Trimpe and inkers Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito tale ‘Beware the Beehive!’ from Incredible Hulk King Size Annual #6, wherein a band of mad scientists attempt to recreate their greatest success and failure.

Morlak, Hamilton, Shinsky and Zota were a rogue science collective known as the Enclave. Their hidden “Beehive” had originally spawned puissant artificial man Him (latterly Adam Warlock). Here and now, three of them reunite for another go at building a god they can control, but when they abduct Dr. Stephen Strange to replace their missing fourth, the magician summons the Jade Juggernaut to save him from the experiment’s inevitable consequences: a marauding, compassionless super-slave dubbed Paragon whose first task is to eradicate Strange and subdue mankind.

Happily, after a border-shattering, army-crunching global rampage, that’s when the Hulk kicks the wall in and goes to work…

In Incredible Hulk #210, Ernie Chan became Sal Buscema’s regular inker as Wein’s ‘And Call the Doctor… Druid!’ finds both Banner and his brutish alter ego crucial to a plan to stop immortal mutant Maha Yogi, his vast mercenary army and alien bodyguard Mongu before they complete their preparations for world domination…

Although the battles of ‘The Monster and the Mystic!’ are a close-run thing, virtue is eventually victorious, but that makes little difference to the Hulk’s once-companion teenager Jim Wilson as he hitch-hikes across America, utterly unaware that he is the target of a vicious criminal conspiracy. The plots hatch once Jim reaches New York where his hidden tormentors decide that he must be ‘Crushed by… the Constrictor!’ Neither they nor their ruthless high-tech hitman expected the Hulk to intervene…

With a friend and confidante who knows all his secrets, you’d expect Banner’s life to get a little easier, but the authorities will never stop hunting the Hulk, who initially realises ‘You Just Don’t Quarrel with the Quintronic Man!’ (inked by Tom Palmer) before bouncing back to trash the formidable five-man mecha suit.

As Chan returns, this battle leads to a frenzied clash with a new hyper-powered hero resolved to make his name by defeating America’s most terrifying monster in ‘The Jack of Hearts is Wild!’

Macabre old enemy the Bi-Beast is resurrected in #215; still hungry to eradicate humanity in ‘Home is Where the Hurt Is’ and close to succeeding after seizing control of SHIELD’s Helicarrier. Only desperate action by General Thaddeus Ross can save the day, as the old soldier uses the carrier’s tech to shanghai Banner, letting nature take its course and hoping that the right monster wins the inevitable blockbuster battle before a ‘Countdown to Catastrophe!’ leaves the planet a smoking ruin…

A moodily poignant change of pace graces #217 as ‘The Circus of Lost Souls!’ sees the shell-shocked Hulk lost somewhere in Europe, defending a band of carnival freaks from the dastardly depredations of the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime: a solid demarcation as Wein moves away from scripting in favour of co-plotting, allowing Roger Stern to find his own big green feet to guide the Green Goliath’s future…

It all begins with ‘The Rhino Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore’ (#218 by Wein & Stern, with George Tuska, Keith Pollard & Chan handling the visuals) as super-strong, gamma-tainted psychologist “Doc” Leonard Samson takes centre stage battling the ruthless Rhino, whilst in #219 Banner learns ‘No Man is an Island!’ (Wein, Stern, Sal Buscema & Chan) after hiring on as a deck hand on a freighter, only to have it sunk from under him by submarine-based pirate Cap’n Barracuda.

Washed ashore on a desert atoll, Hulk is befriended by a deluded individual who believes himself to be Robinson Crusoe, but as events unfold an even stranger truth is revealed. Barracuda captures the madman, to pluck the secret of making monsters from his broken mind.

The cruel corsair has completely underestimated the ferocious loyalty and compassion of the Hulk, who unleashes devastating destructive ‘Fury at 5000 Fathoms!’

With Stern in complete authorial control, Sal Buscema is joined by Alfredo Alcala for #221’s ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home’, with the still all-at-sea Banner rescued from drowning by marine explorer Walt Newell who ferries his exhausted passenger back to New York where he is recognised as Bruce Banner. Realising he has unwittingly unleashed the Hulk on a major population centre, Newell exposes his own secret identity as sub-sea superhero Stingray and pursues his former guest.

The battle is painfully one-sided and Stingray is near death when Jim Wilson intervenes, saving the marine crusader’s life, but only at the cost of Hulk’s trust…

Wein returned for one last hurrah in #222, aided and abetted by Jim Starlin & Alcala for a potently creepy horror yarn. It begins as the Green Goliath tears through another unfortunate army unit before being gassed into unconsciousness. Banner awakens in the care of two children living in a cave, but they’re not surprised by the fugitive’s transformations: not since the radioactive stuff changed their little brother…

Now people have started disappearing and although they haven’t grasped the truth of it yet, Bruce instantly grasps what is involved in ‘Feeding Billy’ and what his intended role is…

The remainder of this catastrophically cathartic tome – available in hardback and digital editions – is an art lovers delight, featuring a gallery of original art and covers by Trimpe, Giacoia, Esposito, Rich Buckler, Chan, Sal Buscema, Starlin & Alcala and also includes 5 stunningly beautiful pencilled pages of a never-completed story by Wein and Swamp Thing co-creator Bernie Wrightson, plus a panoramic pin-up of Jade Jaws vs the Hulkbusters by Trimpe originally published in F.O.O.M. #19.

The Incredible Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the cartoons, TV shows, games, toys, action figures and movies are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, earnestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these exciting episodes, so why not Go Green – even if it’s only in monochrome and in your own delirious head?
© 2019 MARVEL.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 12


By Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Chris Claremont, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1029-7(HB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, stress and other factors cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury. He was one of Marvel’s earliest innovations and first failure but after an initially troubled few years finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of the company’s premiere antiheroes and most popular features.

During the 1960s, artist Herb Trimpe had made the character his own; the Jack Kirby-based “house” art-style he initially employed quickly evolving into often startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by an unmatched facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance and vehicles – and, crucially, who could possibly deny the sheer cathartic reader-release rush of those spectacular “Hulk Smash!” moments…

However, during the time of the tales in this chronologically complete hardback and digital monolith (re-presenting Incredible Hulk #197-209 and Incredible Hulk King Size Annual #5, March 1976-March 1977), the artistic reins would pass to another illustrator who would become inextricably associated with the Jade Juggernaut, whilst writer Len Wein continued to insert fresh ideas and characters, redefining the man-monster for the modern age…

Following a fond reminiscence from artist Sal Buscema in his Introduction, the blockbusting battle-action starts with the aftermath of the Jade Juggernaut’s latest battle with arch-nemesis the Abomination: a clash that left Hulk unconscious in the Florida Everglades…

Here the invidious Collector has made his latest lair and soon scoops up a trio of terrors. The phenomena fanatic is on a monster kick and, having scooped up Banner and a mute young man who is in actuality resurrected felon The Glob, feels ‘…And Man-Thing Makes Three!’ (by Wein, Buscema & Joe Staton) to be the perfect set.

The immortal maniac has grossly underestimated the deeply-buried humanity of his living trinkets and soon faces a mass-escape and the loss of all his living exhibits after ‘The Shangri-La Syndrome!’ hits home…

Hulk Annual #5 (November 1976) was the first all-new King-Size compendium since 1968 and featured a huge monster-mash, reviving a half dozen iconic threats and menaces from the company’s pre-superhero phase. Written by Chris Claremont, with art by Sal B & Jack Abel, ‘And Six Shall Crush the Hulk!’ offers little in the way of plot but stacks of sensational action as a procession of resurrected reprobates attack one after another, beginning with ‘Where There’s Smoke, There’s Diablo!’, ‘And Taboo Shall Triumph!’ before ‘It Is Groot, the Monster from Planet X!!’ weighs in, after which ‘For I am Goom!!’ and ‘Beware the Blip!’ pile on the pressure until an evil mastermind is revealed as grudge-bearing Defenders foe Xemnu in ‘A Titan Shall Slay Him!’

Naturally, even exhausted, the Hulk is too much for the spiteful schemer…

Building up to a spectacular anniversary, Incredible Hulk #199 sees ambivalent frenemies Leonard “Doc” Samson and General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross employ all America’s most advanced assets in ‘…And SHIELD Shall Follow!’ (Wein, Sal B & Staton) to capture the critically necessary Green Gargantuan, but in the end it is the psychologist’s sheer guts and determination which win the day, allowing the big issue #200 resolution as Hulk is shrunk to infinitesimal size and injected into amnesiac Glenn Talbot’s brain to battle materialised memories and a viciously sentient tumour as ‘An Intruder in the Mind!’

The struggle to restore the mind of Banner’s rival for Betty Ross-Talbot’s undying affections is not without complications, however, and at the moment of his greatest triumph and sacrifice Hulk suffers a major setback and begins uncontrollably shrinking beyond the ability of Samson and his team to rescue him…

Issue #201 features ‘The Sword and the Sorcerer!’ wherein the Hulk finds himself marooned on a perilously primitive sub-atomic world just long enough to liberate a primitive people from the domination of brutal despot (and demon-possessed pawn) Kronak the Barbarian before starting to diminish once more. His last stop is the promised land of his beloved and long-lost alien queen Jarella

Sadly, ‘Havoc at the Heart of the Atom’ reveals how his last visit had rendered the world tectonically unstable, shattered the ancient civilisation which once had the power to blend Banner’s mind with the Hulk’s body. Moreover, the once-gentle population had turned on the queen they held responsible…

Reunited now with his beloved, the simplistic brute swears to fix the problem and is soon embroiled with the antediluvian horror who first hijacked him to the Microverse and who still craves bloody revenge…

Once again evil is defeated as the ‘Assault on Psyklop!’ heralds another crushing defeat for the vile insectoid and a guardedly happy ending for the man-brute as a rescue attempt from Earth brings Hulk home, carrying an astounded Jarella with him…

Herb Trimpe briefly returned in #204 to pencil a tale of time-bending might-have-beens, as brilliant theoretician Kerwin Kronus offers to eradicate Banner’s problems by turning back time and undoing the accident which created the Hulk. Sadly, the experiment succeeds all too well: briefly forming an alternate timeline wherein original sidekick Rick Jones died and the time-master became an even greater menace to reality. Banner/Hulk must make a heartbreaking sacrifice to close that ‘Vicious Circle’

‘Do Not Forsake Me!’ in #205 then depicts the most tragic moment in the Green Goliath’s tortured life as Jarella sacrifices herself to save a child from rampaging robbery robot Crypto-Man, leaving the bereft Hulk ‘A Man-Brute Berserk!’

His grief-stricken trail of destruction leads from Gamma Base, New Mexico all the way to New York City where even his friends and allies are unable to calm the grieving green goliath, leading to a brutal battle ‘Alone Against the Defenders!’ who finally realise compassion is the only method that will work against their traumatised foe…

Hulk #208 finds ‘A Monster in Our Midst!’ as Bruce finally rejects ending his pain-wracked existence and begins a new and – hopefully – stress-free life where his alter ego will never be seen again. That resolve only lasts as long as it takes the maniacal Crusher Creel – freed as a consequence of the Jade Juggernaut’s most recent rampage – to accept a commission from a triumvirate of hooded schemers who want the Hulk dead…

However, even though ‘The Absorbing Man is Out for Blood!’, the super-thug is no match for Hulk’s unfettered fury, but his well-deserved defeat results in Banner collapsing unconscious in alley where he is eventually found by a mystic do-gooder in search of an ally…

To Be Hulk-inued…

This catastrophically cathartic tome is rounded out with original art pages and covers by Jack Kirby, Frank Giacoia, John Romita, Dave Cockrum and others…

The Incredible Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, cartoons, TV shows, games, toys and action figures are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, earnestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these exciting episodes, so why not Go Green – even if it’s only in your own delirious head?
1976, 1977, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incredible Hulk: Heart of the Atom


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Archie Goodwin, Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Peter Gillis, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema& various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6212-4 (TPB)

Love is in the air and it’s a Leap Year too, so if you’re a typical guy you’ll want to pay attention. Don’t wait for February 13th. Start looking for a St. Valentine’s Day present for The One now. I’m reviewing romance-themed graphic novels sporadically between now and then as a prompt.

PAY EVEN MORE ATTENTION. A graphic novel – no matter how good – is not suitable as a romantic gift on its own. For Pete’s Sake buy something else – and more thoughtful – too.

Bruce Banner is a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, any kind of stress causes him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury. He was one of Marvel’s earliest innovations and first failure but, after an initially troubled few years, finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of the company’s premiere antiheroes and most popular features.

As such a rambunctious, rampaging monster, it’s hard to imagine the Hulk as a heartbroken star of romantic tragedy but that’s just what this compilation – collecting stories from Incredible Hulk #140, 148, 156, 202-203, 205-207, 246-248, What If? #23 and pertinent pages from The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, collectively covering June 1971 to October 1980: the everyday love story of a meandering monster and a sub-atomic alien princess…

By the close of the 1960s the Hulk had settled into a comfortable niche and satisfyingly effective formula: world-weary Banner sought cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains. Artist Herb Trimpe made the character his own, adapting the “house” Jack Kirby-based art-style into often startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by his unmatched facility for drawing technology: especially honking great ordnance and vehicles…

And, of course, no one can deny the cathartic reader-release of a great big “Hulk Smash!” moment…

The titanic trysts open with the concluding chapter of a landmark crossover that had opened in Avengers #88 (but not included here). In that missing fragment, Psyklop – insectoid servant of Elder Gods – abducted the Hulk to fuel their resurrection…

This leads directly into Incredible Hulk #140 and ‘The Brute that Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom’ (by Harlan Ellison & Roy Thomas, pencilled & inked by Sam Grainger over Trimpe’s layouts). Banished and imprisoned on sub-atomic world K’ai, Banner’s intellect and the Hulk’s body are reconciled and form one unbeatable warrior champion. He becomes a barbarian hero to an appreciative populace, and lover of their perfect noble princess Jarella. However, at the moment of his greatest joy, the Green Goliath is snatched away by Psyklop and exacts justified vengeance even as his departure cause havoc on the microversal paradise….

For issue #148 (February 1972) Archie Goodwin debuted as scripter – with a little plotting assistance from a very junior Chris Claremont – in ‘But Tomorrow… the Sun Shall Die!’ Lost love Jarella travels to Earth and a longed-for reunion, just as Banner is cured of his curse by radical solar-energy experimentation. Unfortunately, she accidentally brings with her a super-assassin determined to end her life at all costs, which somehow triggers the sun into going nova…

Forced to return to her planet, Jarella becomes an object of obsession for the Jade Juggernaut – as detailed in a text précis of his months-long hunt for her – before we resume in Incredible Hulk #156 (October).

Having swallowed a defective shrinking formula created by the Astonishing Ant-Man in a forlorn attempt to rejoin Jarella in her subatomic world, Hulk reduces in sporadic bursts and is propelled into a succession of micro-worlds, before a shrinking spasm happily deposits him on Jarella’s world in time for ‘Holocaust at the Heart of the Atom!’(Goodwin, Trimpe & Sal Trapani) to pit him against his worst nightmare – himself – before once more losing his true love to the vicissitudes of cruel fate…

With Hulk #202-203 (August and September 1976) Len Wein, Sal Buscema & Joe Staton start bringing the romance to its inevitable close as a once more miniaturised man-monster plunges through micro-space before arriving in the promised land of his beloved and long-lost alien queen…

Havoc at the Heart of the Atom’ reveals how his previous visit rendered the world tectonically unstable, shattering the civilisation which once had the power to blend Banner’s mind with the Hulk’s body. Moreover, the once-civilised population have turned on the queen they hold responsible…

Reunited with his beloved, the simplistic brute swears to fix the problem but is soon embroiled again with the antediluvian horror who first stuck him in the microverse, and who still craves bloody revenge…

The ‘Assault on Psyklop!’ proves another crushing defeat for the vile insectoid and a guardedly happy ending for the man-brute as a coincidental rescue attempt from Earth brings Hulk home, carrying his astounded lover with him…

In Hulk #205, Wein, Buscema & Staton depict the most soul-shattering moment in the Green Goliath’s tortured life as ‘Do Not Forsake Me!’ finds Jarella adapting to life on Earth only to sacrifice herself to save a child from rampaging robbery robot Crypto-Man.

Stunned and bereft, the Hulk becomes ‘A Man-Brute Berserk!’: his grief-stricken trail of grief-fuelled destruction leading from Gamma Base, New Mexico all the way to New York City where even his closest friends and allies are unable to calm the green gargantuan, leading to a brutal battle ‘Alone Against the Defenders!’ who finally realise compassion is the only method that can work against their traumatised foe…

Another catch-up text page brings us to Incredible Hulk #246 (April 1980) for another traumatic experience. ‘The Hero and the Hulk!’ by Bill Mantlo & Buscema reveals that Jarella’s body has been kept for study by the military and opens with an infuriated Gamma Giant determined to take her back home for decent burial: a grim task made easier with the assistance of Kree-born Protector of the Universe Captain Marvel

Returned to ‘Jarella’s World’, Hulk finds a desolate planet on the edge of death, with only one solitary oasis of verdant life remaining. It is jealously guarded by wander Universal Elder the Gardener – who will brook no intrusions of any kind – but a combination of Banner’s empathy and the Hulk’s forceful nature eventually convince him to allow her interment: triggering an unexpected blossoming of new life in ‘How Green My Garden Grows!’

Completing this collected star-crossed tale of woe, is an alternate take originating in October 1980’s What If? #23. Concocted by Peter Gillis, Trimpe & Mike Esposito ‘What If… Hulk’s Girlfriend Jarella Had Not Died?’ posits what might have occurred if Jarella had not died and the lovers had returned to K’ai to liberate that world from the influence of the Elder Gods…

Packed with bonus features such as informational pages about Jarella and The Gardener (from the Marvel Universe Handbook), this potently passionate primer of love without limits is a vibrantly verdant delight to charm any savage beast…
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.