Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 15


By Steve Englehart, Tony Isabella, Scott Edelman, George Tuska, George Pérez, Don Heck, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9196-4 (HB)

The Avengers have always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when all Marvel’s classic all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either.

As explained in Steve Englehart’s Introduction – which also includes everything you need to know about the pre-superhero Patsy Walker – a new era was supposed to begin in Avengers #136 but a deadline was missed and instead ‘Iron Man: DOA’ by Englehart, Tom Sutton & Mike Ploog was reprinted from Amazing Adventures #12, wherein the newly-mutated and furry Hank McCoy AKA the Beast had attacked the Armoured Avenger whilst mind-controlled by evil mutants. You can find the story here.

But in this book – available in hardback and digital formats and collecting Avengers # 136-149 and spanning June 1975 through July 1976 – all you’ll enjoy is the spiffy cover by Gil Kane, Joe Sinnott & John Romita sr.

Although an excellent story in its own right, it rather gave the game away for the next issue after the painfully depleted team declared ‘We Do Seek Out New Avengers!!’ Illustrated by George Tuska & Vince Colletta, #137 depicted an eclectic mix of applicants – comprising Moondragon, Yellowjacket and the Wasp – and included an athletic, enigmatic guy bundled up in a raincoat…

No sooner had the introductions begun than a cosmic interloper attacks, hunting for the honeymooning Scarlet Witch and Vision, but at far from his expected level of puissance. Easily escaping imminent doom, our heroes smell a rat – but unfortunately not before the Wasp is gravely injured, resulting in a blazing battle with a ‘Stranger in a Strange Man!’ who proved to be far from what he claimed in the next issue…

After all the intergalactic hyper-cosmic extravaganzas and extended epic-ing, Avengers #139’s ‘Prescription: Violence!’and #140’s ‘A Journey to the Center of the Ant’ resort to mayhem on a comfortingly down-to-Earth scale as the malevolent Whirlwind tries to murder the bed-ridden Wasp even as her devoted defender Yellowjacket succumbs to a growing affliction which dooms him to exponentially expand to his death… but only until the refreshed, returned Vision and the bludgeoning Beast save the day in an extraordinary riff on classic Avengers history (you can see Avengers #93 for that, if you want)…

A new extended saga began in #141 which welcomed George Pérez & Vince Colletta as new art team. ‘The Phantom Empire!’ (scripted by Englehart,) heralded another complex, multi-layered epic combining superheroic Sturm und Drang with searing – for 1975, at least – political commentary. It all starts when Beast is ambushed by mercenaries from corporate behemoth Roxxon Oil.

He’s saved by ex-Avenger Captain America who had been investigating the company on a related case and, after comparing notes, realises something very big and very bad is going on…

Linking up with Thor, Iron Man, trainee Moondragon and the newly-returned newlyweds Vision and Scarlet Witch, the pair learn of another crisis after Hawkeye goes missing: probably captured by time-tyrant Kang the Conqueror

Just as the Assemblage are agreeing to split into teams, former child model Patsy Walker-Baxter (star of a bunch of Marvel’s girl’s market comics such as Patsy Walker and Patsy & Hedy) bursts in, threatening to expose Beast’s secret identity…

When he had first further mutated, Hank McCoy had attempted to mask his anthropoid form and Patsy helped him in return for his promise to make her a superhero. Now she resurfaces, prepared to blackmail him into honouring his pledge. She is dragged along as one squad (Cap, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch and Vision) join Beast in returning to his old lab at Brand/Roxxon… where they are ambushed by alternate-Earth heroes Squadron Supreme

Meanwhile, Moondragon and Thor co-opt sometime ally Immortus and follow Hawkeye back to 1873. Bushwhacked, they are soon battling Kang beside a coterie of cowboy legends (Kid Colt, Night Rider, Ringo Kid, Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid) in ‘Go West, Young Gods!’, even as the present-day team learn their perilous plight involves a threat to two different dimensions, because Roxxon have joined with the corporations which rule the Squadron Supreme’s America – thanks to the malignly mesmeric Serpent Crown of Set

Inked by Sam Grainger, Avengers #143 sees the Wild West showdown culminate with the apparent death of a deity in ‘Right Between the Eons!’

Elsewhen, the 20th century heroes are beginning their counterattack in the esoteric weaponry factory at Brand, and during all that running wild, liberate the technologically-advanced, ability-enhancing uniform of short-lived adventurer The Catin a storeroom. When Patsy dons it, the hero-groupie neophyte dubs herself Hellcat in ‘Claws!’ (Mike Esposito inks)…

Soon after, the Avengers are cornered by the Squadron and as battle recommences Roxxon president Hugh Jones plays his trump card and transports all the combatants to the other Earth…

The dreaded deadline doom hit just at this crucial juncture and issues #145-146 were taken up with a 2-part fill-in by Tony Isabella, Don Heck & John Tartaglione, with additional pencils by Keith Pollard for the concluding chapter.

‘The Taking of the Avengers!’ reveals how a criminal combine takes out a colossal contract on the World’s Mightiest Superheroes, but even though ‘The Assassin Never Fails!’, the killer is thwarted and Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Beast, Vision and Scarlet Witch – plus Wasp, Yellowjacket and the Falcon – are all safely returned to their various cases untroubled by the vagaries of continuity or chronology… which makes this rather impressive and thrilling yarn such an annoyance in this specific instance…

The trans-dimensional traumas resume in Avengers #147, describing a ‘Crisis on Other-Earth!’ courtesy of Englehart, Pérez & Colletta). With the corporate takeover of other-America revealed to have been facilitated by use of the mind-bending serpent crown, the Scarlet Witch takes possession of the sinister helm whilst her teammates try desperately to keep the overwhelming Squadron Supreme from regaining it.

On our Earth, Hawkeye brings Two-Gun Kid to the modern world but chooses to go walkabout rather than rejoin his comrades, even as Thor and Moondragon start searching for their missing colleagues…

‘20,000 Leagues Under Justice!’ (Grainger inks) features the final showdown and the Avengers’ victory over a wiser and repentant Squadron Supreme, and as the heroes return to their home dimension ‘The Gods and the Gang!’ reunites them with Moondragon and the Thunder God to clean up Brand/Roxxon. The Corporate cabal has one trick left to play however: a colossal, biologically augmented Atlantean dubbed Orka, the Human Killer Whale

The next issue would see a drastic changing of the guard, but this epic tome now concludes with splendid as-standard extras including the covers – by Jack Kirby & Frank Giacoia – and contents page of tabloid Marvel Treasury Edition #7, house ads and pages of original art by Tuska & Colletta.

This type of timeless heroic adventure set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the sleek, cool and permanently perilous 21st century…

No lovers of Costumed Dramas can afford to ignore this superbly bombastic book and fans who think themselves above superhero stories might also be pleasantly surprised…
© 1974, 1975 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Masterworks Luke Cage, Power Man volume 3


By Marv Wolfman, Don McGregor, Chris Claremont, Bill Mantlo, Ed Hannigan, Roger Slifer, Frank Robbins, Lee Elias, Marie Severin, Ron Wilson, Bob Brown, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1635-0 (HB)

As a sickly pale kid growing up in a hugely white area of the Home Counties in the 1960s and 1970s, I got almost all my early experience of black people from television and films (for which I’m most profoundly sorry) – and, of course, comics – for which I’m not.

Blithely unaware of other people’s struggle for equality in my formative years, the incredible consciousness-raising explosion of Black Power after the 1968 Olympic Games rather politicised me, and even though some comics companies had by this time made tentative efforts to address what were national and global socio-political iniquities, issues of race and ethnicity took a long time to filter through to the still-impressionable young minds avidly absorbing knowledge and attitudes via four-colour newsprint pages that couldn’t even approximate the skin tones of African-Americans, Africans, Asians or even white folk with sun-burn or a deep tan.

As with television, breakthroughs were small, incremental and too often reduced to a cold-war of daringly liberal “firsts.” Excluding a few characters in Jungle comic-books of the 1940s and 1950, Marvel clearly led the field with a black member of Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos (the historically impossible Gabe Jones who debuted in #1, May 1963, and was accidentally re-coloured Caucasian at the printers – who clearly didn’t realise his ethnicity – for the debut issue), as well as the first negro superheroes Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966), and the Falcon in Captain America #117 (September 1969).

The honour of America’s first black hero to carry his own title came in a little-remembered or regarded title from Dell Comics. Lobo was a gunslinger/vigilante in the old west who sought out injustice just like any cowboy hero would, first appearing in December 1965, and created by artist Tony Tallarico & scripter D.J. Arneson.

Arguably a greater breakthrough was Joe Robertson, City Editor of Marvel’s Daily Bugle, an erudite, brave and magnificently ordinary mortal distinguished by his sterling character, not a costume or skin tone. He first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man # 51 (August 1967), proving in every panel that the world wouldn’t end if black folk and white folk worked and ate together…

This big change slowly grew out of raised social awareness during a terrible time in American history – although Britain had nothing to be smug about either. Following the advent of the “Windrush Generation”, race riots in Blighty had started early in the Sixties here (in all honesty, they weren’t a new thing then, either) and left simmering scars that only comedians and openly racist politicians dared to talk about. Shows such Till Death Us Do Part and Love Thy Neighbour made subtly telling headway but still raise a shudder when I see clips today…

Back in the USA, more positive ethnic characters were slowly let in, with DC finally getting a black hero in John Stewart(Green Lantern #87 December 1971/January 1972), although his designation as replacement Green Lantern might be construed as more conciliatory and insulting than revolutionary. The first DC hero with his own title was Black Lightning, who didn’t debut until April 1977, although Jack Kirby had introduced Shilo Norman as Scott Free’s apprentice (and eventual successor) in Mister Miracle #15 (August (1973).

As usual, it took a bold man and changing economics to really promote change, and with declining comics sales at a time of rising Black Consciousness cash – if not cashing in – was probably the trigger for “the Next Step.”

Contemporary “Blacksploitation” cinema and novels had fired up commercial interests throughout America and in that atmosphere of outlandish dialogue, appalling apparel and barely concealed – if justified – outrage, an angry black man with a shady past and apparently dubious morals debuted as Luke Cage, Hero for Hire in the summer of 1972. A year later the Black Panther finally got his own series in Jungle Action #5 and Blade: Vampire Hunter debuted in Tomb of Dracula #10.

Cage’s origin was typically bombastic: Lucas, a hard-case inmate at brutal Seagate Prison always claimed to have been framed and his inflexible, uncompromising attitude made mortal enemies of the racist guards Rackham and Quirt whilst not exactly endearing him to the rest of the prison population – such as proudly adamant bad-guys Shades and Comanche

The premiere issue was written by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by George Tuska & Billy Graham (with some initial assistance from Roy Thomas and John Romita), detailing how a new warden promised to reform the hell-hole into a proper, legal and decently administered penal institution.

Having heard the desperate con’s tale of woe, new prison doctor Noah Burstein convinced Lucas to participate in a radical experiment in exchange for a parole hearing…

Lucas had grown up in Harlem, a tough kid who’d managed to stay honest even when his best friend Willis Stryker had not. They remained friends even though walking different paths – at least until a woman came between them. To be rid of his romantic rival, Stryker planted drugs and had Lucas shipped off to jail. While he was incarcerated, Lucas’ girl Reva – who had never given up on him – was killed when she got in the way of bullets meant for Stryker…

With nothing left to lose, Lucas underwent Burstein’s process – an experiment in cell-regeneration – but Rackham sabotaged it, hoping to kill the con before he could expose the guard’s illegal treatment of convicts. It all went haywire and something incredible happened. Lucas, now incredibly strong and pain-resistant, punched his way out of the lab and the through the prison walls, only to be killed in hail of gunfire. His body plunged over a cliff and was never recovered…

Months later, a vagrant prowling the streets of New York City stumbled into a robbery. Almost casually downing the felon, he accepted a cash reward from the grateful victim, prompting a bright idea…

Super-strong, bullet-proof, street-wise and honest, Lucas would hide in plain sight while planning his revenge on Stryker. Since his only skill was fighting, he became a private paladin – A Hero For Hire

Whilst making allowances for the colourful, often ludicrous dialogue necessitated by the Comics Code’s sanitising of “street-talking Jive” this was probably the edgiest series of Marvel’s early years (especially under the always evocative and culturally astute Don McGregor) but even so, after a few years the tense action and peripheral interactions with the greater Marvel Universe led to a minor rethink and the title was altered, if not the basic premise…

The private detective motif proved a brilliant stratagem in generating stories for a character perceived as a reluctant champion at best and anti-hero by nature. It allowed Cage to maintain an outsider’s edginess but also meant adventure literally walked through his shabby door every issue.

Cage had set up an office over a movie house on 42nd Street and met a young man who would become his greatest friend: D.W. Griffith – nerd, film freak and plucky white sidekick. Dr. Burstein resurfaced, running a rehab clinic on the dirty, deadly streets around Times Square, aided by beautiful Dr. Claire Temple. Soon, she too was an integral part of Luke’s new life…

This turbulent third hardback (or eBook) compilation collects #32-47 of Luke Cage, Power Man as well as his first Annual – spanning June 1976 through October 1977 – and begins with McGregor’s passionate Introduction ‘Luke Cage and the Big Bad City’ before the inner city, “outasight” action resumes….

Having rebranded himself Luke Cage, Power Man the urban privateer made ends meet whilst seeking a way to stay under police radar and dreamed of clearing his name. A new level of sophistication, social commentary and bizarre villainy began when McGregor took over as writer to craft a run of macabre crime sagas, culminating in saving the entire city from stolen nerve gas…

Issue #32 opens with Cage in the leafy suburbs, hired to protect a black family from literally incendiary racist super-villain Wildfire in ‘The Fire This Time!’ (by McGregor, Frank Robbins & Vince Colletta). This champion of moral outrage is determined to keep his affluent decent neighbourhood white, and even Power Man is ultimately unable to prevent a ghastly atrocity from being perpetrated…

Back in Times Square again, Cage is in the way when a costumed manic comes looking for Noah Burnstein, and learns that ‘Sticks and Stone Will Break Your Bones, But Spears Can Kill You!’ Even as shady reporters, sleazy lawyers and police detective Quentin Chase all circle, looking to uncover the Hero for Hire’s secret past in ‘Death, Taxes and Springtime Vendettas!’ (inked by Frank Springer), Cage’s attention is distracted from Burstein’s stalker by a deranged wrestler dubbed The Mangler, leading to savage showdown and near-fatal outcome in ‘Of Memories, Both Vicious and Haunting!’ (plotted by Marv Wolfman, dialogued by McGregor and illustrated by Marie Severin, Joe Giella & Frank Giacoia) wherein the reasons for the campaign of terror are finally exposed…

Power Man Annual #1 follows as ‘Earthshock!’ – by Chris Claremont, Lee Elias & Dave Hunt – takes Cage to Japan as bodyguard to wealthy Samantha Sheridan. She is being targeted by munitions magnate and tectonics-warping maniac Moses Magnum, who intends tapping the planet’s magma core, even though the very planet is at risk of being destroyed.

Thankfully not even his army of mercenary is enough to stop Cage in full rage…

Next is the cover for Power Man #36 (October 1976). Another casualty of the “Dreaded Deadline Doom”, it reprinted LCHFH #12, which featured the debut of the villain who follows in #37’s all-new ‘Chemistro is Back! Deadlier Than Ever!’ by Wolfman, Ron Wilson & A Bradford, as the apparently grudge-bearing recreant attacks Cage at the behest of a new mystery mastermind. He clarifies his position in follow-up ‘…Big Brother Wants You… Dead!’ (Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, Bob Brown & Jim Mooney) as minions Cheshire Cat and Checkpoint Charlie shadow the increasingly-frustrated PI, and repeated inconclusive and inexplicable clashes with Chemistro lead to a bombastic ‘Battle with the Baron!’ (inked by Klaus Janson) who turns out to be a rival mastermind hoping to corner the market on crime in NYC…

The crazed and convoluted clash concludes in ‘Rush Hour to Limbo!’ (Wolfman, Elias & Giacoia) as one final deathtrap for Cage turns into an explosive last hurrah for Big Brother and his crew…

Inked by Tom Palmer, a new vigilante debuts in #41’s ‘Thunderbolt and Goldbug!’ as a super-swift masked hero makes a name for himself cleaning up low-level scum just as Cage is hired by a courier company to protect a bullion shipment. Sadly, when the van is bombed and the guards die, dazed and furious Cage can’t tell villain from vigilante and takes on the wrong guy…

Answers if not conclusions are forthcoming in ‘Gold! Gold! Who’s Got the Gold?’ (with Alex Niño on inks) as Luke learns who his real friends and foes are, only to be suckered into a deathtrap only barely escaped in #43’s ‘The Death of Luke Cage!’ In the aftermath, with the legal authorities closing in on his fake life, Cage flees town and sheds the Power Man persona, but even in the teeming masses of Chicago can’t escape his past as an old enemy mistakenly assumes he’s been tracked down by the hero he hates most in all the world…

Plotted by Wolfman and scripted by Ed Hannigan with Elias & Palmer on regular artistic duties, ‘Murder is the Man Called Mace!’ sees Luke dragged into the dishonoured soldier’s scheme to seize control of America and despite his best and most violent efforts, beaten and strapped to a cobalt bomb on ‘The Day Chicago Died!’ (Wolfman & Elias).

Sadly, after breaking free of the device, it’s lost in the sewers, prompting a frantic ‘Chicago Trackdown!’ and another savage showdown with Mace and his military madmen in a chilling ‘Countdown to Catastrophe!’ (scripted by Roger Slifer) as a fame-hungry sniper starts shooting citizens whilst the authorities are all searching for the missing nuke…

With atomic armageddon averted at the last moment, this collection – and Cage’s old life – end on a well-conceived final charge. With issue #48, Cage’s life – and his comics title – would be henceforth be shared with mystic martial artist Danny Rand in the superbly enticing odd couple feature Power Man and Iron Fist, but before that there’s still a ‘Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight!’ courtesy of Claremont, George Tuska & Bob Smith as Chicago is attacked by brain-sucking electrical parasite Zzzax! Thankfully, our steel-skinned stalwart is more than a match for the mind-stealing megawatt monstrosity…

With the comics sagas suspended, there’s still treats aplenty here, beginning with a house ad for 1976 Annuals, continuing with Wilson and Joe Sinnott’s art for the ‘Marvel Comics’ Memory Album Calendar 1977’ and ending with a short selection of original art pages by Brown, Mooney & Janson.

Arguably a little dated now (us in the know prefer the term “retro”), these tales were nonetheless instrumental in breaking down many social barriers in the complacent, intolerant, WASP-flavoured American comics landscape, and their power – if not their initial impact – remains undiminished to this day. These are tales well worth your time and money.
© 2019 MARVEL.

Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel Masterworks: Ghost Rider volume 1


By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench, Len Wein, Mike Ploog, Tom Sutton, Jim Mooney, Herb Trimpe, Ross Andru & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302918170 (HB)

At the end of the 1960s American comicbooks were in turmoil, much like the youth of the nation they targeted. Superheroes had dominated for much of the decade; peaking globally before explosively falling to ennui and overkill. Older genres such as horror, westerns and science fiction returned, fed by radical trends in movie-making where another, new(ish) wrinkle had also emerged: disenchanted, rebellious, unchained Youth on Motorbikes seeking a different way forward.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen, Captain America and many others all took the Easy Rider option to boost flagging sales (and if you’re interested the best of the crop was Mike Sekowsky’s tragically unfinished mini-masterpiece of cool Jason’s Quest in Showcase). Over at Marvel, a company still reeling from Kirby’s defection to DC/National in 1970, canny Roy Thomas green-lighted a new character who combined the freewheeling, adolescent-friendly biker-theme with the all-pervasive supernatural furore gripping the entertainment fields.

Back in 1967, Marvel published a western masked hero named Ghost Rider: a shameless, whole-hearted appropriation of the cowboy hero creation of Vince Sullivan, Ray Krank & Dick Ayers (for Magazine Enterprises from 1949 to 1955), who utilised magician’s tricks to fight bandits by pretending to be an avenging phantom of justice.

Scant years later, with the Comics Code prohibition against horror hastily rewritten – amazing how plunging sales can affect ethics – scary comics came back in a big way and a new crop of supernatural superheroes and monsters began to appear on the newsstands to supplement the ghosts, ghoulies and goblins already infiltrating the once science-only scenarios of the surviving mystery men titles.

In fact, the lifting of the Code ban resulted in such an avalanche of horror titles (new stories and reprints from the first boom of the 1950s), in response to the industry-wide down-turn in superhero sales, that it probably caused a few more venerable costumed crusaders to – albeit temporarily – bite the dust.

Almost overnight nasty monsters (and narcotics – but that’s another story) became acceptable fare within four-colour pages and whilst a parade of pre-code reprints made sound business sense, the creative aspect of the contemporary fascination in supernatural themes was catered to by adapting popular cultural icons before risking whole new concepts on an untested public.

As always in entertainment, the watch-world was fashion: what was hitting big outside comics was to be incorporated into the mix as soon as possible. When proto-monster Morbius, the Living Vampire debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #101 (October 1971) and the sky failed to fall in, Marvel moved ahead with a line of shocking superstars – beginning with a werewolf and a vampire – before chancing something new with a haunted biker who could tap into both Easy Rider’s freewheeling motorcycling chic and the prevailing supernatural zeitgeist.

The all-new Ghost Rider debuted in Marvel Spotlight #5, August 1972 (preceded by western hero Red Wolf in #1 and the aforementioned Werewolf by Night in #2-4).

This sturdy hardback and equivalent yet barely tangible digital compendium collects those earliest flame-filled exploits: adventures from Marvel Spotlight #5-12, Ghost Rider #1-5 and a terror-tinged Marvel Team-Up (#15), spanning August 1972 to November 1973 and supplemented by an informative Introduction from then editorial head honcho Roy Thomas on how the series came to be. At the collection’s conclusion there’s also an effusive Afterword by Mike Ploog as he relates ‘My Ride with the Ghost Rider’

The comics thrills, spills and chills begin with that landmark first appearance introducing stunt biker Johnny Blaze, his fatally flawed father-figure Crash Simpson and Johnny’s devoted girlfriend: sweet innocent Roxanne Simpson.

Plotted by Thomas, scripted by Gary Friedrich and stunningly illustrated by Ploog, ‘Ghost Rider’ sees carnival cyclist Blaze sell his soul to the devil in an attempt to save his foster-father Crash from cancer. As is the way of such things, Satan follows the letter but not spirit of the contract and Simpson dies anyway, but when the Dark Lord later comes for Johnny his beloved virginal girlfriend Roxanne intervenes. Her purity prevents the Devil from claiming his due and, temporarily thwarted, Satan spitefully afflicts Johnny with a body that burns with the fires of Hell every time the sun goes down…

Haunting the night and terrorising thugs and criminals at first, the traumatised biker soon leaves the Big City and heads for the solitary deserts where – in ‘Angels From Hell’ – the flaming-skulled fugitive joins a biker gang led by enigmatic Curly Samuels: a resurrected agent of Satan attempting to destroy the protective Roxanne and claim Blaze’s soul.

No prizes for guessing Curly’s true identity then, since the next chapter (inked by Frank Chiaramonte) is entitled ‘Die, Die, My Daughter!’

The origin epic concludes with a monumental battle against ‘…The Hordes of Hell!’ (offering a rather uncomfortable artistic collaboration by Ploog & Jim Mooney), resulting in a torturous Cold War détente between the still nightly-transforming Blaze and the Lord of Lies, as well as the introduction of a new eldritch enemy in Native American Witch Man Snake-Dance

With Marvel Spotlight #9 the tragically undervalued Tom Sutton takes over the pencilling – with inks by Chic Stone – for ‘The Snakes Crawl at Night…’ as Medicine Man magic and demonic devil-worship combined to torment Blaze just as Roxanne goes west to look for him. To further confound the accursed cyclist, Satan decrees that although he must feel the pain, no injury will end Johnny’s life until his soul resides in Hell… which comes in very handy when Roxanne is sacrificed by Snake-Dance and the Ghost Rider has to battle his entire deviant cult to rescue her…

In #10, ‘The Coming of… Witch-Woman!’ (Friedrich, Sutton & Mooney) opens with Blaze a fugitive from the police and rushing the dying Roxanne to hospital. Meanwhile, on the Reservation tensions remain high as Snake-Dance’s daughter Linda Littletrees reveals her own connection to Satan, culminating in a devastating eldritch assault on Blaze in #11’s ‘Season of the Witch-Woman!’ (inked by the incomparable Syd Shores).

That cataclysmic conflict continued into Ghost Rider #1 (September 1973), which further extends the escalating war between Blaze and the Devil whilst introducing a new horror-hero who would take over the biker’s vacant slot in Spotlight.

Linda Littletrees isn’t so much a Satan-worshipping witch as ‘A Woman Possessed!’, but when her father joins fiancé Sam Silvercloud in calling Boston-based exorcist Daimon Hellstrom for help, they are utterly unprepared for the kind of assistance the demonologist offers.

With Roxanne slowly recovering and Blaze still on the run, Ghost Rider #2 depicts the bedevilled biker dragged down to Hell in ‘Shake Hands With Satan!’ (Mooney & Shores) before the saga concludes in Marvel Spotlight #12 with the official debut of ‘The Son of Satan!’ by Friedrich, Herb Trimpe & Frank Chiaramonte, which reveals Daimon Hellstrom’s long-suppressed inner self to be a brutal scion of the Infernal Realm eternally at war with his fearsome father.

The liberated Prince of Hell swiftly rushes to Blaze’s aid – although more to spite his sire than succour the victim – and, with his own series off to a spectacular start, continues to take the pressure off the flaming-skulled hero. From Ghost Rider #3’s ‘Wheels on Fire’ (Friedrich, Mooney & John Tartaglione) a fresh direction is explored with more mundane menaces and contemporary antagonists such as the thuggish gang of biker Big Daddy Dawson – who has kidnapped the still frail Roxanne…

Blaze also learns to create a spectral motorcycle out of the Hellfire that perpetually burns through his body: a most useful trick considering the way he gets through conventional transport…

Eager to establish some kind of normal life, the wanted fugitive Blaze accepts a pardon by the State Attorney General in GR #4’s ‘Death Stalks the Demolition Derby’ (inked by Vince Colletta) in return for infiltrating a Las Vegas showman’s shady operation, leading to another supernatural encounter, this time against a demonic gambler dubbed Roulette in ‘And Vegas Writhes in Flame!’ by the transitional creative team of Marv Wolfman, Doug Moench, Mooney & Sal Trapani.

Closing up the show here – and slightly out of chronological order – is a yarn where Ghost Rider and Spider-Man battled a demented biker bad-guy. Marvel Team-Up #15 (November 1973 and by Len Wein, Ross Andru & Don Perlin) introduces lame-duck villain The Orb who had been maimed and disfigured years previously in a confrontation with Crash Simpson and now seeks belated revenge against his heirs in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee!’ He’d have been smarter to wait until Blaze’s roadshow was far away from superhero-stuffed New York City and its overly protective friendly neighbourhood webslinger…

Adding extra cachet following Ploog’s afterword are the August 1972 Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page announcing the debut of the Biker Ghost Rider and stunning selection of original art pages, cover and design sketches by Ploog, Chiaramonte, John Romita, Mooney & Shores, Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia and Andru & Perlin plus an eerie back-cover from FOOM #7 featuring early Ploog visualisations of the Blazing Biker.

In the 1990s The Original Ghost Rider reprinted these classic tales and the 13 covers by Mark Teixeira, Jimmy Palmiotti, Javier Saltares, Andy Kubert, Joe Quesada, Jan Anton Harps, Kevin Maguire, Brad Vancata, Mark Pacella, Jeff Johnson, Dan Panosian, Ploog, Klaus Janson, Michael Bair, Darick Robertson, Chris Bachalo, Kris Renkewitz & Andrew Pepoy suitably bring the fearsome fun to close for now…

One final note: backwriting and retcons notwithstanding, the Christian boycotts and moral crusades of 1980s and 1990s compelled the criticism-averse and commercially astute corporate Marvel to “translate” the biblical Satan of the early episodes into generic – and presumably more palatable or “acceptable” – demonic creatures such as Mephisto, Satanish, Marduk Kurios and other equally naff, low-rent downgrades.

However, the original intent and adventures of Johnny Blaze – and spin-offs Daimon Hellstrom and Satana (respectively the Son and Daughter of Satan), tapped into the late 1960’s global fascination with Satanism, Devil-worship and all things Spookily Supernatural which had begun with such epochal releases as Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski’s 1968 film more than Ira Levin’s novel), so please remember these aren’t your feeble bowdlerised “Hell-lite” horrors here. These tales are about the real-deal Infernal Realm and a good man struggling to save his soul from the baddest of all bargains – as much as the revised Comics Code would allow – so brace yourself, hold steady and accept no supernatural substitutes…
© 2019 MARVEL.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 10


ISBN: 978-1-3029-0956-7 (HB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic and highly visible 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.

He 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 successes, Jack Kirby had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamically inspiring pantheon. Eventually he accepted that even he could never win against any publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce whilst enduring micro-managing editorial interference.

Seeing which way the winds were blowing, Kirby exploded back into the Marvel Universe in 1976 with a signed promise of free rein to concoct another stunning wave of iconic creations – 2001: a Space Odyssey, Machine Man, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur (and – so nearly – seminal TV paranoia-fest The Prisoner). He was also granted control of two of his previous co-creations – firmly established characters Black Panther and Captain America – to do with as he wished…

His return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial since his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity: Jack always went his own bombastic way. Whilst those new works quickly found many friends, his tenure 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 the Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty…

This sterling collection available in hardback and digital formats reprints Captain America and the Falcon #193-200, Marvel Treasury Special: Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles and Captain America Annual #3 (cumulatively spanning January-August 1976) revealing how, when Kirby came aboard as writer, artist and editor, he had big plans for the nation’s premiere comicbook patriotic symbol in the year of its 200th anniversary…

All that is covered with far more attention to detail in Jon B. Cooke’s Introduction before a crucial battle for the nation begins with Captain America and the Falcon #193 offering the opening salvo in an epic storyline leading up the immortal super-soldier’s own Bicentennial issue (sort of).

Gone now was all the soul-searching and breast-beating about what the country was or symbolised: America was in peril and its sentinel was ready to roar into action…

Inked by fellow veteran Frank Giacoia ‘The Madbomb’ exposes a‘Screamer in the Brain!’ as a miniscule new weapon is triggered by unknown terrorists, reducing an entire city block to rubble by driving the populace into a mass psychotic frenzy.

Experiencing the madness at close hand, Cap and the Falcon are swiftly seconded by the US government to ferret out the culprits and locate a full-scale device hidden somewhere in the vast melting pot of America…

‘The Trojan Horde’ introduces plutocratic mastermind William Taurey who intends on correcting history, unmaking the American Revolution and restoring a privilege-ridden aristocracy upon the massed millions of free citizens. Using inestimable wealth, a cabal of similarly disgruntled millionaire elitists, an army of mercenaries, slaves cruelly transformed into genetic freaks and other cutting-edge super-science atrocities, the maniac intends to forever eradicate the Republic and plunder the resources of the planet. Thank every god you know that it couldn’t happen today…

Moreover, when he is finally elevated to what he considers his rightful place, the first thing Taurey intends to do is hunt down the last descendent of Colonial hero Steven Rogers: a rebel who had killed Taurey’s Monarchist ancestor and allowed Washington to win the War of Independence…

Little does he suspect the subject of his wrath has already infiltrated his secret army…

In‘It’s 1984!’ (inked by D. Bruce Berry), Cap and Falcon get a first-hand look at the kind of fascistic world Taurey advocates, battling their way through monsters, mercenaries and a mob fuelled by modern mind-control and pacified by Bread and Circuses, before ultra-spoiled elitist Cheer Chadwick takes the undercover heroes under her bored, effete and patronising wing…

Sadly, even she can’t keep her new pets from being sucked into the bloody, brutal Circus section of the New Society, where American loyalists are forced to fight for their lives in ultra-modern gladiatorial mode in the ‘Kill-Derby’ even as the US army raids the secret base in ‘The Rocks are Burning!’ (Giacoia inks).

Soon, the Patriotic Pair realise it has all been for nought since the colossal full-sized Mad-Bomb is still active: carefully hidden somewhere else in their vast Home of the Brave…

The offbeat ‘Captain America’s Love Story’ then takes a decidedly different and desperate track as the Bastion of Freedom has to romance a sick woman to get to her father – the inventor of the deadly mind-shattering device – after which ‘The Man Who Sold the United States’ accelerates to top speed for all-out action as the hard-pressed heroes race a countdown to disaster with the Madbomb finally triggering by ‘Dawn’s Early Light!’ for a spectacular showdown climax which surpasses all expectation.

Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles was originally released as part of the nationwide celebration of the USA’s two hundredth year in Marvel’s tabloid-sized Treasury Format (80+ pages of 338 x 258mm dimensions), taking the Star-Spangled Avenger on an incredible excursion through key eras and areas of American history.

An expansive, panoramic and iconic celebration of the memory and myth of the nation, this almost abstracted and heavily symbolic 84-page extravaganza perfectly survives reduction to standard comic dimensions, following Captain America as cosmic savant (and retrofitted Elder of the Universe the Contemplator) Mister Buda propels the querulous hero into successively significant segments of history.

Enduring a blistering pace of constant change, Cap encounters lost partner Bucky during WWII, meets Benjamin Franklinin Revolutionary Philadelphia and revisits the mobster-ridden depression era of Steve Roger’s own childhood as ‘The Lost Super-Hero!’.

In ‘My Fellow Americans’ Cap confronts Geronimo during the Indian Wars and suffers the horrors of a mine cave-in, before ‘Stop Here for Glory!’ finds him surviving a dogfight with a German WWI fighter ace, battling bare-knuckle boxer John L. Sullivan, resisting slavers with abolitionist John Brown, and observing both the detonation of the first Atom Bomb and the Great Chicago Fire…

‘The Face of the Future!’ even sees him slipping into the space colonies of America’s inevitable tomorrows, and segueing into pure emotional fantasy by experiencing the glory days of Hollywood, the simple joys of rural homesteading and the harshest modern ghetto, before drawing strength from the nation’s hopeful children…

Inked by such luminaries as Barry Windsor-Smith, John Romita Sr., Herb Trimpe and Dan Adkins, the book-length bonanza is peppered with a glorious selection of pulsating pin-ups.

After thus exotically absorbing the worth of a nation, the Star-Spangled Avenger abruptly diverts back to business basics as Captain America Annual #3 offers a feature-length science fiction shocker which eschewed convoluted back-story and cultural soul searching and simply pitted the valiant hero against a cosmic vampire in ‘The Thing From the Black Hole Star!’: a riot of rampaging action and end-of-the-world wonderment featuring a fallible but fiercely determined fighting man free of doubt and determined to defend humanity at all costs…

This supremely thrilling collection also has room for a selection of bonus treats beginning with a Kirby tribute page by Bob Budiansky & Duffy Vohland (from F.O.O.M. #10), the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page announcing the King’s return in all October issues, assorted house ads, and extracts and articles from company fanzine F.O.O.M. (#11, September 1975 ) an all-Kirby issue declaring – behind a new Kirby/Joe Sinnott cover – that ‘The King is Here! Long Live the King!’ and that ‘Kirby Speaks!’,

Supplemented by stunning artwork from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alex Boyd’s Appreciation ‘The Once and Future King!’ is balanced by Charley Parker’s ‘The Origin of King Kirby’, ‘Kirby’s Kosmik Konsciousness’ and a caricature from the wonderful Marie Severin.

Also on show are cover roughs and un-inked pencils to delight art fans and aficionados, as well as original page art by Kirby inked by Giacoia & Windsor Smith.

The King’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the medium and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read and this stuff is amongst the most bombastic and captivating material he ever produced. Fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing Fights ‘n’ Tights masterpieces no fan should ignore and, above all else, fabulously fun tales of a true American Dream…
© 1975, 1976, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Brent Anderson, Bob McLeod, Dave Cockrum, Terry Austin, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3013-0 (HB)

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 Kurt Wagner, a demonic German teleporter codenamed 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 and unstoppable hit, with Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont writing the series from the second story onwards. The Uncanny X-Men reclaimed their own comicbook with #94 and it quickly became the company’s most popular – and high 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 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 and 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

This sixth superb compilation (available in luxurious hardcover, trade paperback and eBook editions) is perfect for newbies, neophytes and even old lags nervous about reading such splendid yarns on fragile but extremely valuable newsprint paper.

Gathering Uncanny X-Men #141-150 – spanning January to October 1981 – the action opens without preamble or hesitation as an evocative and extended subplot opens which would dictate the shape of mutant history for years to come. ‘Days of Future Past’ depicts an imminently approaching dystopian apocalypse wherein almost all mutants, paranormals and superheroes have been eradicated by Federally-controlled Sentinel robots.

The mechanoids rule over a shattered world on the edge of utter annihilation. New York is a charnel pit with most surviving superhumans kept in concentration camps and only a precious few free to fight a losing war of resistance.

Middle-aged Kitty Pryde is the lynchpin of a desperate plan to unmake history. With the aid of telepath named Rachel(eventually to escape that time-line and become the new Phoenix) Pryde swaps consciousness with her younger self in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the pivotal event which created the bleak, black tomorrow where all her remaining friends and comrades are being pitilessly exterminated one by resolute one…

‘Mind Out of Time’ sees the mature Pryde in our era, inhabiting her own 13-year-old body and leading her disbelieving team-mates on a frantic mission to foil the assassination of US senator David Kelly on prime-time TV by a sinister new iteration of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – super-powered terrorists determined to make a very public example of the human politician attacking the cause of Mutant Rights…

Fast-paced, action-packed, spectacularly multi-layered, bitterly tragic and agonisingly inconclusive – as all such time-travel tales should be – this cunning, compact yarn is indubitably one of the best individual tales of the Claremont/Byrne era and set the mood, tone and agenda for the next two decades of mutant mayhem…

With the timeline restored and tragedy averted, things slow down at the X-Mansion as John Byrne left for pastures new. His swan song in #143 was a bombastic romp which finds lonely, homesick Kitty home alone at Christmas… except for a lone N’garai ‘Demon’ determined to eat her. Her solo trial decimates the X-Men citadel and proves once and for all that she has what it takes…

The changing of the guard in X-Men #144 was marked by ‘Even in Death…’, scripted by Claremont and illustrated by Brent Anderson & Joseph Rubenstein wherein heartbroken Scott Summers (who quit the team after the death of Jean Grey AKA the Phoenix) fetches up in coastal village Shark Bay and joins the crew of Aleytys Forester’s fishing boat.

Trouble is never far from the man called Cyclops, however, and when she introduces him to her dad, the hero must draw upon all his inner reserves – and uncomprehending help of the macabre swamp guardian Man-Thing – to repel the crushing, soul-consuming assaults of pernicious petty devil D’spayre

Dave Cockrum returned to the team he co-created in #145, joining Claremont & Rubinstein in an extended clash of cultures as ‘Kidnapped!’ sees the team targeted by Doctor Doom thanks to the machinations of deranged assassin Arcade. With half of the team – Storm, Colossus, Angel, Wolverine and Nightcrawler – invading the Diabolical Dictator’s castle, a substitute-squad consisting of Iceman, Polaris, Banshee and Havoc are despatched to the maniac’s mechanised ‘Murderworld!’ to rescue a kidnapped coterie of innocent family and friends…

Sadly, in the interim Doom has triumphed over the invaders to his castle, but his act of entrapping claustrophobe Ororo has backfired, triggering a ‘Rogue Storm!’ that might erase the USA from the globe…

Issue #148 opens with Scott and Aletys shipwrecked on a mysterious island holding the remnants of a lost civilisation but the main event is a trip to Manhattan for Kitty, accompanied by Storm, Spider-Woman Jessica Drew and Dazzler Alison Blair. That’s a good thing as wandering mutant empath Caliban calamitously attempts to abduct the child in ‘Cry, Mutant!’ by Claremont, Cockrum & Rubinstein…

A major menace resurfaces in #149 to threaten Scott and Aletys, but the X-Men are too busy dealing with resurrected demi-god Garokk and an erupting volcano in ‘And the Dead Shall Bury the Living!’ before all the varied plots combine and coalesce in anniversary issue #150 (October 1981).

Extended epic ‘I, Magneto…’ sees the merciless, malevolent master of magnetism threaten all humanity. with Xavier’s team helpless to stop him… until a critical moment triggers an emotional crisis and awakening of his long-suppressed humanity…

These are some of the greatest X-stories Marvel ever published; entertaining, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating, offering an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 1980, 1981, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 14


By Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Bill Mantlo, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9188-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Eternal Escapism at its best… 8/10

Whilst the ever-expanding Marvel Universe had grown ever-more interconnected as it matured through its first decade, with characters literally tripping over each other in New York City, the Asgardian heritage of Thor and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had most often drawn the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning, unique landscapes and scenarios.

However, by the time of this power-packed compendium, the King was long gone and was in fact readying himself to return to the House of (mostly his) Ideas, and only echoes of his groundbreaking presence remained. John Buscema had visually made the Thunder God his own, whilst a succession of scripters struggled to recapture the epic scope of Kirby’s vision and Stan Lee’s off-kilter but comfortingly compelling faux-Shakespearean verbiage…

Once upon a time, disabled doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to stumble into an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, he found an ancient walking stick which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder! Within moments he was defending the weak and smiting the wicked.

Months swiftly passed with the Lord of Storms tackling rapacious extraterrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs, but these soon gave way to a vast kaleidoscope of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces, usually tackled with an ever-changing cast of stalwart immortal warriors at his side…

Just prior to these monthly episodes from Thor #229-241 (November 1974 to November 1975, plus a bonus tale from Marvel Premiere # 26 – and all available in hardcover and digital formats), the Thunder God and his cosmic companions had become a quarrelsome, self-doubting band of fantasy spacemen generally roving the outer limits of the Marvel Universe, only occasionally touching base with Earth and Asgard, but that editorial policy had changed as more and more adventures began – and ended – in the troubled lands of Midgard…

With these sagas scripter Gerry Conway ended his long association with the Asgardians – fondly covered in his Introduction ‘Looking Backward 2015-1974 (with Apologies to Edward Bellamy)’ – and a brief period of instability but never a drop in quality ensued before a new regular scribe could begin…

“Homaging” Kirby, penciller Rich Buckler and veteran inker Chic Stone depicted the godly prince safely back on Earth and facing a new kind of terror in Thor #229 as ‘Where Darkness Dwells, Dwell I!’ sees fellow Avenger Hercules uncover an uncanny string of suicides amongst the mortals of Manhattan. After consulting the Storm Lord and his recently returned lover Sif, the Prince of Power is ambushed by a shadowy figure and himself succumbs to dark despondency…

Plucked from psychological catatonia by Iron Man and the recuperating Asgardian Krista, severely shaken Hercules recovers enough to lead Thor deep beneath the city to jointly confront and conquer a horrific lord of fear in #230’s climactic ‘The Sky Above… the Pits Below!’ (inked by Joe Sinnott).

Of greater moment is the revelation in hallowed Asgard that almighty Odin is mysteriously missing…

John Buscema returned in #231, inked by Dick Giordano to limn ‘A Spectre from the Past!’, wherein Thor learns that former true love Jane Foster is dying, another victim of the recently defeated fear lord. Whilst doting current paramour Sif fruitlessly returns to Asgard seeking a cure, the grieving Thunderer is momentarily distracted when Hercules is attacked by an unbelievably powerful anthropoidal throwback. Disembodied spirit Armak the First Man has somehow possessed the body of an unwary séance attendee and now runs savagely amok in the streets…

Since gaining his liberty Galactus’ herald Firelord had been aimlessly travelling the globe. Lured by Asgardian magic he now becomes wicked Loki’s vassal in ‘Lo, the Raging Battle!’

Heartsick Thor, meanwhile, will not leave Jane’s hospital bedside, prompting Sif and Hercules to travel alone to the ends of the universe to retrieve the mystic and fabled Runestaff of Kamo Tharnn. No sooner do they depart than the ensorcelled Firelord attacks and whilst incensed, impatient Thor is knocking sense back into him, his evil half-brother leads an Asgardian army in a sneak attack on America…

With ‘Midgard Aflame’ (Buscema & Stone) Thor furiously leads the human resistance and learns for the first time that his father is missing. Odin’s faithful vizier reveals that the All-Father has deliberately divested himself of his memory and chosen to reside somewhere on Earth as a hapless mortal, the better to learn humility…

With humanity preparing to unleash their atomic arsenal against the occupying Asgardians, the invasion suddenly ends with a savage duel between Thor and Loki in ‘O, Bitter Victory!’ (Buscema & Sinnott) after which the Thunderer returns to Jane’s side, unaware that he is being stalked by a merciless old enemy.

Simultaneously but far, far away Sif and Hercules have clashed with he ‘Who Lurks Beyond the Labyrinth!’ and secured a remedy for Thor’s mortal beloved…

Thor #236 opens as the Thunder God revels in furious combat with the Absorbing Man. Unknown to the blockbusting battlers, at that very moment Sif is expressing her own love for her wayward prince by using the Runestaff to fix Jane in ‘One Life to Give!’

…And somewhere in California, an imposing old man called Orrin ponders his strangely selective amnesia and wonders how he can possibly possess such incredible strength and vitality…

With battle concluded, Thor hastens back to Jane and finds her completely cured. His joy is short-lived however, as he realises that Sif is gone, seemingly forever…

Issue #237 finds reunited lovers Don Blake and Jane Foster cautiously getting reacquainted and pondering Sif’s incredible sacrifice when a horde of Asgardian Trolls led by ‘Ulik Unchained’ calamitously attack New York. Before long they have made off with the recently restored Jane under cover of the blockbusting melee that inevitably ensues…

Conway concluded his contributions with Thor #238 as the Thunderer capitulates to his hostage-taking foe and is taken below the worlds of Earth and Asgard on the ‘Night of the Troll!’

Ulik wants to overthrow his king Geirrodur and is confident his hold over his mighty arch foe will accomplish the act for him, but is utterly unprepared for the new martial spirit which now enfuses his formerly frail mortal hostage…

…And in California old man Orrin decides to use his power to help the poor, quickly arousing the ire of big business, brutal strike-breakers and the local authorities…

Writer/Editor Roy Thomas and artist Sal Buscema join Sinnott in Thor #239 as the Thunder God brutally ends his association with the trolls even as in California Orrin’s rabble-rousing civil unrest is cut short when a colossal pyramid containing Egyptian gods erupts from the ground in ‘Time-Quake!’

Thor knows nothing of the latest upheaval. He has returned to distant Asgard, uncovering a mysterious force draining his people of their power and vitality. Warned by duplicitous seer Mimir, the anguished godling rushes back to Earth to clash with the puissant Horus ‘When the Gods Make War!’ (Thomas, Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson).

The depleted Egyptian pantheon have desperate need of an All-Father and have conditioned Odin/Orrin to believe that he is their long-lost patron Atum-Re

Go-getting, proactively take-charge Jane is already waiting in California when Thor arrives and she is present when the elder deity devastatingly assaults his astounded son. Happily, her cool head prevails and soon the warring deities are talking. An uneasy alliance forms and the truth comes out. Horus, Isis and Osiris are in an apocalyptic battle with vile Death God Seth and need the power of a supreme over-god to assure a victory for the forces of Life. Sadly, that energy is being siphoned from Asgard…

The cosmic conflict concludes in #241 as ‘The Death-Ship Sails the Stars!’ (Mantlo, John Buscema & Sinnott) with the ghastly Seth and his demonic servants ultimately repulsed and Jane again playing a major role: even triumphally shaking Odin out of his compliant, mind-wiped state…

Also included here is a contemporaneous solo tale of Hercules, taken from Marvel Premiere #26 (November 1975), setting up his forthcoming role in new team title The Champions. Crafted by Mantlo, George Tuska & Vince Colletta – and sporting a new Kirby cover – ‘The Game of Raging Gods’ finds the legendary hero relocated to California on the college lecture circuit and targeted by old enemies Typhon the Titan and witch woman Cylla

Also adding lustre are the cover to all-reprint Giant-Size Thor #1, and original art covers by Gil Kane, Al Milgrom & John Romita and Kirby & Frank Giacoia.

The tales gathered here may lack the sheer punch and verve of the early years but fans of ferocious Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy will find this tome still stuffed with intrigue and action, magnificently rendered by artists who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, were every inch his equal in craft and dedication, making this a definite and decidedly economical must-read for all fans of the character and the genre.
© 1974, 1975, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 15


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Tony Isabella, Marv Wolfman, Chris Claremont, Rich Buckler, Bob Brown, Dick Ayers, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6625-2 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Frantic Festive Fireworks… 8/10

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

This full-colour compendium – available in hardcover and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #151-163 and Giant-Size Fantastic Four #3-4: collectively spanning November 1974 to October 1975 with Stan Lee long gone from the prestigious title but with his co-creator still very much in evidence through a new generation of artists mimicking his visual verve and punch.

What You Should Already Know: maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimmand 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 an effusive and fact-filled Introduction from writer editor Roy Thomas the dramatic tensions resume withGiant-Size Fantastic Four #3 courtesy of plotter Gerry Conway, scripter Marv Wolfman and illustrators Rich Buckler & Joe Sinnott. The extra-special quarterly magazine was devoted to offering epic thrills, herein revealing ‘Where Lurks Death …Ride the Four Horsemen!’ as cosmic aliens arrive, intent on scourging the Earth.

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

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

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

Rapidly reworked by Len Wein, Fantastic Four #154 features ‘The Man in the Mystery Mask!’ – a recycled partial reprint from Strange Tales #127 in which Stan Lee, Dick Ayers & Paul Reinman pitted Ben and Johnny against ‘The Mystery Villain!’.

Here, however, Bob Brown, Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito find that Reed’s early lesson in leadership has been hijacked by another old friend with explosive and annoying results…

Meanwhile over in Giant-Size Fantastic Four #4 Wein, Chris Claremont, John Buscema, Chic Stone & Sinnott unite to introduce ‘Madrox the Multiple Man’: a young mutant who grew up on an isolated farm unaware of the incredible power he possessed.

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

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

A minor classic follows from Fantastic Four #155-157 as the long dormant Silver Surfer resurfaces in ‘Battle Royal!’(by Wein, Buckler & Sinnott), apparently now a murderous and willing thrall of Doctor Doom.

The dictator can command the Stellar Skyrider because he holds the alien’s lover Shalla Bal – threatening to take her in marriage – but as seen in ‘Middle Game!’ (with Roy Thomas joining as co-writer and Editor) the Surfer cannot kill and merely delivers the defeated FF as prisoners to the Devil Doctor’s citadel.

However, there are schemes within schemes unfolding and Doom is playing a waiting game whilst he covertly siphons the Skyrider’s Power Cosmic to fuel a deadly Doomsman mechanoid…

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

The furore is followed by another nostalgia-tinged 2-part epic beginning with FF #158’s ‘Invasion from the 5th (Count it, 5th!) Dimension’ – by Thomas, Buckler & Sinnott – wherein one of the Torch’s earliest solo scourges returns to occupy the homeland of the Inhumans.

Extra-dimensional dictator Xemu opens his campaign of vengeance by dispatching mutant Quicksilver to lure his sister-in-law Medusa back to Attilan. The intention is to force defiant King Black Bolt to utilise his doomsday sonic power on the invader’s behalf, for which the conqueror needs the silent king’s beloved as a bargaining chip.

However, when the FF accompany her into the obvious trap, they bring a hidden ally who unobtrusively turns the tables on Xemu, unleashing ‘Havoc in the Hidden Land!’ coincidentally and at long last reuniting the First Family of comic book fiction…

This formidable high-tension Fights ‘n’ Tights tome terminates in pan-dimensional panic which ensues when a multiversal conflict is cunningly concocted by a hidden mastermind orchestrating Armageddon for a trio of dimensionally-adjacent planets in ‘In One World… and Out the Other!’

Devised by Thomas, J. Buscema & Stone, the first chapter sees shapeshifting Reed Richards sell his patents to a vast corporation, even as in the streets his counterpart from another universe is kidnapped by barbarian warlord Arkon the Magnificent. That abduction is investigated by a very Grimm Thing who has uncomfortable suspicions about what’s occurring…

With Buckler & Sinnott assuming the delineation, ‘All the World Wars at Once!’ expands the saga as Johnny Storm visits the recently liberated 5th Dimension Earth to discover it under assault by androids from yet another slightly different one…

As the Thing teams up with his other-earth counterpart to quell a dinosaur invasion, “our” world is assaulted by an army from the 5th dimension led by the Human Torch. With each realm believing itself provoked by trans-terrestrial aggressors, the divided team only knows one thing: each invading force is using weaponry invented by Richards…

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

This power-packed package also includes the covers to all-reprint Giant-Sized Fantastic Four #5 and 6; the original unused cover for GSFF #5 (which became FF #158-159); house ads and the all-new material from The Fabulous Fantastic Four Marvel Treasury Edition (#2, December 1975).

This bombastic oversized tabloid edition featured a bevy of classic yarns and is represented here by front-&-back cover art from John Romita, a frontispiece by Marie Severin, a Stan Lee Introduction, the contents page and a double-page pin-up of the team and supporting cast by John Buscema & Giacoia.

Although Kirby had taken the unmatched imagination and questing sense of wonder with him on his departure, the sheer range of beloved characters and concepts he had created with Lee carried the series for years afterwards. So once writers who shared the originators’ sensibilities were crafting the stories a mini-renaissance began…

Although the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” didn’t quite return to the stratospheric heights of yore, this period offers fans a tantalising taste of the glory days. These honest and extremely capable efforts are probably most welcome to dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but will still thrill and enthral the generous and forgiving casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 1974, 1975, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Defenders Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Steve Gerber, Bill Mantlo, Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Scott Edelman, Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, Don Heck, Sam Grainger & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6627-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Monumental Marvel Magic for Festive Fun Seekers… 8/10

The Defenders were the last of the big star-name conglomerate super-groups, and would eventually number amongst their membership almost every hero – and some few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No real surprise there, since the initial line-up was composed of the company’s major league bad-boys: misunderstood and mad, outcast and bad and so often actually dangerous to know.

The genesis of the team derived from their status as publicly distrusted “villains”, and they never achieved the “in-continuity” fame or acceptance of other teams, but that simply seemed to leave the creators open to taking a few more chances and playing the occasional narrative wild card.

This Fabulous fourth hardcover/eBook Masterworks collection assembles a veritable host of Fights ‘n’ Tights wonders from across the Marvel firmament to star in Defenders #22-30 and Giant-Sized Defenders #5: cumulatively encompassing cover-dates April-December 1975 and irrevocably reshaping their shared and ever-expanding universe.

The action commences after Steve Englehart shares recollections of the brilliant and much missed Steve Gerber before the action opens with Defenders #22’s ‘Fangs of Fire and Blood!’ (by Gerber, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito) as the sinister secret society known as the Sons of the Serpent begin another hate-fuelled, racist terror-pogrom, forcing the outcast champions into an uncomfortably public response.

The stakes are raised in ‘The Snakes Shall Inherit the Earth!’ with Hank Pym – in his Yellowjacket persona – returning to the Defenders to confront his most reviled old enemies. Even with his assistance, the Defenders are defeated in combat and left ‘…In the Jaws of the Serpent!’ (inked by Bob McLeod), necessitating a nick-of-time rescue by Daredevil, Luke Cage and Son of Satan Daimon Hellstrom before the epic ends in a stunning and still sickening realistic twist as ‘The Serpent Sheds its Skin’ (inked by Jack Abel)…

Giant Sized Defenders #5 was an all-hands-on-deck production, detailing a story that would transform a seminal and rare early Marvel non-event. ‘Eelar Moves in Mysterious Ways’credited to writers Gerber, Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer, Len Wein, Chris Claremont & Scott Edelman – was illustrated by dependable Don Heck & Esposito: a spectacular and satisfyingly cohesive result revealing how the Defenders meet with future heroes the Guardians of the Galaxy in a time-twisting disaster yarn that sets up the next continued arc for the monthly comicbook…

‘Savage Time’ (Defenders #26 by Gerber, Buscema & Vince Colletta) has Hulk, Doctor Strange, Nighthawk and Valkyrie accompany the Guardians back to 3015AD in a bold bid to liberate the last survivors of mankind from the alien, all-conquering Badoon, after hearing the future history of the world as dictated by time-lost space explorer Vance Astro.

The mission properly commences with ‘Three Worlds to Conquer!’ which introduces stellar enigma and future god Starhawk to his soon to be companions Martinex, Yondu and Charlie 27 (as well as us).

Events becomes infinitely more complicated and satirically scathing when ‘My Mother, The Badoon!’ reveals the sex-based divisions that so compellingly motivate the marauding lizard-men and then triumphantly climaxes in the stirring ‘Let My Planet Go!’

The pressures of producing regular comics is staggering and constant, with the slightest communications delay, illness, personal emergency or even work lost in transit causing all manner of costly hiccups. During the 1970s these “Dreaded Deadline Dooms” occurred all too often and in response Marvel instituted a policy of keeping one-size-fits-all, complete stories for every title in “inventory”: i.e. stashed in a drawer ready to use in an emergency. Designed to fill pages on time but produced with the intention of never being used, most of them were not that good, but despite at first glance seeming to be one of those, ‘Gold Diggers of Fear!’ (Defenders #30, by Bill Mantlo, Sam Grainger & Abel) manages to tap into Gerber’s off-the-wall sensibilities with impressive effect.

The done-in-one yarn pits Strange, Hulk, Nighthawk and Valkyrie against Tapping Tommy, a high-tech Maggia assassin who bases his murderous modus operandi and weaponry on Busby Berkeley musical numbers…

This bizarrely appealing volume ends with a rerun of the first appearance of future warriors from Marvel Super Heroes #18 (January 1969).

‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Earth Shall Overcome!’ is a terse, grittily engaging encounter which introduces a disparate band of freedom fighters united to save Earth from occupation and humanity from extinction at the scaly hands of the reptilian Brotherhood of Badoon.

It all starts when Jovian militia-man Charlie-27 returns home from a six-month tour of scout duty to find his entire colony subjugated by invading aliens. Fighting free, he jumps into a randomly programmed teleporter and emerges on Pluto, just in time to scotch the escape of crystalline scientist Martinex.

Both are examples of radical human genetic engineering: subspecies carefully designed to populate and colonise Sol system’s outer planets but now possibly the last of their kinds. After helping the mineral man complete his mission of sabotage – blowing up potentially useful material before the Badoon can get their hands on it – the odd couple set the teleporter for Earth and jump…

Unfortunately, the invaders have already taken the homeworld…

The Supreme Badoon Elite are there, busily mocking the oldest Earthman alive. Major Vance Astro had been humanity’s first intersolar astronaut; solo flying in cold sleep to Alpha Centauri at a plodding fraction of the speed of light.

When he got there 1000 years later, humanity was waiting for him, having cracked trans-luminal speeds a mere two centuries after he took off. Now he and Centauri aborigine Yondu are a comedy exhibit for the cruel conquerors actively eradicating both of their races…

The smug invaders are utterly overwhelmed when Astro breaks free, utilising psionic powers he developed in hibernation, before Yondu butchers them with the sound-controlled energy arrows he carries.

In their pell-mell flight, the pair stumble across incoming Martinex and Charlie-27 and a new legend of valiant resistance was born…

The eccentric team, as originally envisioned by Arnold Drake, Gene Colan & Mike Esposito were presented to an audience undergoing immense social change, with dissent in the air, riot in the streets and with the Vietnam War on their TV screens every night.

Perhaps the jingoistic militaristic overtones were off-putting or maybe the tenor of the times were against the Guardians, since costumed hero titles were entering a temporary downturn, but whatever the reason the feature was a rare “Miss” for Early Marvel and the futuristic freedom fighters were not seen again for years until Gerber incorporated them into his run on Marvel Two-In-One

And once the action concludes you can still enjoy a brief gallery of original art pages by Buscema & Colletta and Grainger & Abel.

For the longest time The Defenders was the best and weirdest superhero comicbook in the business, and this bitty, unwieldy collection was where it all started. The next volume would see the inspirational unconventionality reach even greater heights of drama and lunacy…

If you love superheroes but crave something just a little different these yarns are for you… and the best is still to come.
© 1968, 1975, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.