Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 17


By Jim Shooter, Jim Starlin, Roger Stern, Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, David Michelinie, Bill Mantlo, Mark Gruenwald, Sal Buscema, Dave Wenzel, Tom Morgan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302903411 (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. With the team now global icons, let’s look again at the stories which form the foundation of that pre-eminence.

Re-presenting Avengers #164-177, Avengers Annual #7 plus the concluding half of the legendary crossover epic from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (cumulatively spanning October 1977 to November 1978), these stories again see the team in transition and against the biggest threats ever imagined.

During this period Jim Shooter, having galvanised and steadied the company’s notional flagship, moved on, leaving David Michelinie to impress his own ideas and personality upon the team, even as Cosmic Doomsmith Jim Starlin recruited the team to inscribe an epic ending to his seminal interpretation of tragic antihero Adam Warlock

Opening this titanic tome is an informative Foreword from scripter Roger Stern, followed by a stunning 3-part saga by Shooter, John Byrne & Pablo Marcos which reinvented one of the team’s oldest adversaries.

It begins in #164 as, after months of speculation and experimentation, the resurrected Wonder Man is finally revealed to have evolved into a creature of pure ionic energy. Elsewhere, aging Maggia Don Count Nefaria recruits Whirlwind, Power Man (the original mercenary who had undergone the same transformative experiment as Wonder Man) and Living Laser to amass plunder for him. This tactic is mere subterfuge…

After the thieves trash a squad of Avengers, Nefaria uses his flunkies’ bodies as templates and power source to turn himself into a literal Superman before attacking the already-battered heroes in ‘To Fall by Treachery!’

The tension builds in #165 as ‘Hammer of Vengeance’ sees the out-powered team fall, only to be saved by elderly speedster The Whizzer who points out that, for all his incredible strength, Nefaria too is an old man with death inevitably dogging his heels…

Panicked and galvanised, the Overman goes berserk, carving a swathe of destruction through the city whilst seeking a confrontation with Thunder God Thor and the secret of his immortality. Before too long he had reason to regret his demands. The surprise arrival of the Thunderer in ‘Day of the Godslayer!’ ends the madman’s dreams but also highlights growing tensions within the victorious team…

This superb thriller is followed by ‘The Final Threat’ (Jim Starlin & Joe Rubinstein) from Avengers Annual #7, wherein Kree warrior Captain Marvel and Titanian mind-goddess Moondragon return to Earth with vague anticipations of an impending cosmic catastrophe.

Their premonitions are confirmed when galactic wanderer Adam Warlock arrives with news that death-obsessed Thanos has amassed an alien armada and built a Soul-gem powered weapon to snuff out the stars like candles…

Broaching interstellar space to stop the scheme, the united heroes forestall the stellar invasion and prevent the Dark Titan from destroying the Sun, but only at the cost of Warlock’s life…

Then ‘Death Watch!’ (Starlin & Rubinstein from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2) finds Peter Parker plagued by prophetic nightmares, disclosing how Thanos had snatched victory from defeat and now holds the Avengers captive whilst again preparing to extinguish Sol.

With nowhere else to turn, the anguished, disbelieving Spider-Man heads for the Baxter Building, hoping to borrow a spacecraft, unaware that The Thing also has history with the terrifying Titan.

Although utterly overmatched, the mismatched champions of Life subsequently upset Thanos’ plans enough so that the Avengers and the Universe’s true agent of retribution can end the Titan’s threat forever… or at least until next time…

Back in the monthly, an epic of equal import was about to unfold. Shooter’s connection to the series, although episodic, was long-lived and produced some of that period’s greatest tales, none more so than the stellar – if deadline-doomed – saga which occurred over succeeding months: a sprawling tale of time-travel and universal conquest which began in Avengers #167-168 and, after a brief pause, resumed for #170 through #177.

In previous issues a difference of opinion between Captain America and Iron Man over leadership styles had begun to polarise the team. Cracks appeared and tensions started to show in #167 with ‘Tomorrow Dies Today!’ (Shooter, George Pérez & Marcos).

In the Gods-&-Monsters filled Marvel Universe there are entrenched and jealous Hierarchies of Power, so when a new player mysteriously materialises in the 20th century the very Fabric of Reality is threatened…

It kicks off when star-spanning 31st century superheroes the Guardians of the Galaxy materialise in Earth orbit, hotly pursuing cyborg despot Korvac. Inadvertently setting off planetary incursion alarms, their minor-moon sized ship is swiftly penetrated by an Avengers squad, and – after the customary introductory squabble – the future men (Charlie-27, Yondu, Martinex, Nikki, Vance Astro and enigmatic space God Starhawk) explain the purpose of their mission…

Captain America had fought beside them to liberate their home era from Badoon rule and Thor battled the fugitive Korvac before, so peace soon breaks out, but even with the resources of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the time travellers are unable to find their quarry…

Meanwhile on Earth, a mysterious being named Michael lurks in the background. At a fashion show staged by the Wasp, he achieves a psychic communion with model Carina Walters before they both vanish…

‘First Blood’ (Avengers #168) stirs up more trouble as Federal liaison and hidebound martinet Henry Peter Gyrich begins making life bureaucratically hot for the maverick team. In Colorado, meanwhile, Hawkeye gets a shock as his travelling partner Two-Gun Kid vanishes before his eyes whilst in suburban Forest Hills, Starhawk – in his female iteration of Aleta – approaches a quiet residence…

Michael/Korvac’s plan consists of subtly altering events as he gathers strength in secret preparation for a sneak attack on those aforementioned Cosmic Hierarchies. His entire plan revolves around not being noticed. When Starhawk confronts him, the villain kills the stellar intruder and instantly resurrects him minus the ability to perceive Michael or any of his works…

The drama screeches to a halt in #169, which declares ‘If We Should Fail… The World Dies Tonight!’ The out of context potboiler – by Marv Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Dave Hunt – sees Cap, Iron Man and the Black Panther scour the planet in search of doomsday bombs wired to the failing heart of a dying man, after which the major mayhem resumes in #170 with ‘…Though Hell Should Bar the Way!’ by Shooter, Pérez & Marcos.

As Sentinel of Liberty and Golden Avenger finally settle their differences, in Inhuman city Attilan, ex-Avenger Quicksilver suddenly disappears even as dormant mechanoid Jocasta (designed by maniac AI Ultron to be his bride) goes on a rampage before vanishing into the wilds of New York City.

In stealthy pursuit and hoping her trail will lead to Ultron himself, the team stride into a trap ‘…Where Angels Fear to Tread’ but nevertheless triumph thanks to the hex powers of the Scarlet Witch, the assistance of pushy, no-nonsense new hero Ms. Marvel and Jocasta’s own rebellion against the metal monster who made her. However, at their moment of triumph the Avengers are stunned to see Cap and Jocasta wink out of existence…

The problems pile up in #172 as Watchdog-come-Gadfly Gyrich is roughly manhandled and captured by out-of-the-loop returnee Hawkeye and responds by rescinding the team’s Federal clearances.

Badly handicapped, the heroes are unable to warn other inactive members of the increasing disappearances even as a squad of heavy hitters rush off to tackle marauding Atlantean maverick Tyrak the Treacherous who is bloodily enacting a ‘Holocaust in New York Harbor!’ (by Shooter, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson)…

Answers to the growing mystery are finally forthcoming in ‘Threshold of Oblivion!’, plotted by Shooter, with David Michelinie scripting for Sal Buscema & D(iverse) Hands to illustrate.

As the vanishings escalate, the remaining Avengers (Thor, Wasp, Hawkeye and Iron Man – with the assistance of Vance Astro) finally track down their hidden foe and beam into a cloaked starship to liberate the ‘Captives of the Collector!’(Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Dave Wenzel & Marcos)…

After a staggering struggle, the heroes triumph and their old foe reveals the shocking truth: he is in fact an Elder of the Universe who foresaw cosmic doom millennia previously and sought to preserve special artefacts and creatures – such as the Avengers – from the slowly approaching apocalypse.

As he reveals that predicted end-time is here and that he has sent his own daughter Carina to infiltrate the Enemy’s stronghold, the cosmic curator is obliterated in a devastating blast of energy. The damage however is done and the entrenched hierarchies of creation may well be alerted…

Issue #175 began the final countdown as ‘The End… and Beginning!’ (Shooter, Michelinie, Wenzel & Marcos) sees the amassed and liberated ranks of Avengers and Guardians follow the clues to Michael, just as the new god shares the incredible secret of his apotheosis with Carina, before ‘The Destiny Hunt!’ and ‘The Hope… and the Slaughter!’ (Shooter, Wenzel, Marcos & Ricardo Villamonte) depicts the entire army of champions destroyed and resurrected as Michael easily overpowers all opposition but falters for lack of one fundamental failing…

Spread through a series of lesser adventures, the overarching epic ponderously and ominously unfolds before finally exploding into a devastating and tragic Battle Royale that is the epitome of superhero comics. This is pure escapist fantasy at its finest.

Despite being somewhat diminished by the artwork when the magnificent Pérez gave way to less inspired hands and cursed by the inability to keep a regular inker (Pablo Marcos, Klaus Janson Ricardo Villamonte and Tom Morgan all pitched in), the sheer scope of the epic plot nevertheless carries this story through to its cataclysmic and fulfilling conclusion.

Even Shooter’s reluctant replacement by scripters Dave Michelinie and Bill Mantlo (as his editorial career advanced) couldn’t derail this juggernaut of adventure.

If you want to see what makes Superhero fiction work, and can keep track of nearly two dozen flamboyant characters, this is a fine example of how to make such an unwieldy proposition easily accessible to the new and returning reader.

Available in hardback and digital iterations, and supplemented by original cover art by Pérez and Dave Cockrum, contemporary House Ads, editorial material and covers from previous compilations plus an epilogue strip by Mark Gruenwald & Tom Morgan, this archival tome and this type of heroic adventure might not be to every reader’s taste but these – and the truly epic yarns that followed – set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and informed all those movies everybody loves. This tale can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the quietly isolated and no less dangerous 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…
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sub-Mariner Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Roy Thomas, Marie Severin, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Jack Katz & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5048-0 (HB)

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner is the offspring of a water-breathing Atlantean princess and an American polar explorer; a hybrid being of immense strength, highly resistant to physical harm, able to fly and exist above and below the waves. Created by young, talented Bill Everett, Namor technically predates Marvel/Atlas/Timely Comics.

He first caught the public’s attention as part of the elementally appealing fire vs. water headlining team in the October 1939 cover-dated Marvel Comics #1 which became Marvel Mystery Comics with issue #2. He shared honours and top billing with The Human Torch, but had originally been seen (albeit in a truncated monochrome version) in Motion Picture Funnies: a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

Rapidly emerging as one of the industry’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (Spring 1941) and was one of the last super-characters to go at the end of the first heroic age. In 1954, when Atlas (as the company then was) briefly revived its “Big Three” (the Torch and Captain America being the other two) costumed characters, Everett returned for an extended run of superb darkly timely fantasy tales, but even his input wasn’t sufficient to keep the title afloat and Sub-Mariner sank again.

When Stan Lee & Jack Kirby began reinventing comic book superheroes in 1961 with the groundbreaking Fantastic Four, they revived the awesome and all-but-forgotten amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac anti-hero. Decidedly more bombastic, regal and grandiose, the returnee despised humanity; embittered at the loss of his sub-sea kingdom (seemingly destroyed by American atomic testing) whilst simultaneously besotted with the FF’s Susan Storm.

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for a few years, squabbling with other star turns such as the Hulk,Avengers, X-Men and Daredevil, before securing his own series as one half of Tales to Astonish, and ultimately his own solo title.

This fourth subsea selection – available in hardback and eBook editions – collects Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner #14-25, spanning June 1969 to May 1970 and opens with another heartfelt appreciation and some creative secret-sharing from sometime-scribe and life-long devotee Roy Thomas in his Introduction.

Innovative action and shameless nostalgia vie for attention as Thomas, Marie Severin and Mike Esposito (moonlighting as Joe Gaudioso) decree ‘Burn, Namor… Burn!’ in Sub-Mariner #14, as the Mad Thinker apparently resurrects the original – android – Human Torch and sets him to destroy the monarch of Atlantis. This epic clash was one prong of an early experiment in multi-part cross-overs (Captain Marvel #14 and Avengers #64 being the other episodes of the triptych).

Inked by Vince Colletta, ‘The Day of the Dragon!’ finds Namor back in Atlantis after months away, only to find his beloved Lady Dorma has been abducted by old foe Dr. Dorcas. The trail leads to Empire State University and brutal battle against mighty android Dragon Man

“Gaudioso” returned for Namor’s voyage to a timeless phenomenon in search of mutated foe Tiger Shark who had conquered ‘The Sea that Time Forgot!’, after which the Sub-Mariner contends with an alien intent on draining Earth’s oceans in ‘From the Stars… the Stalker!’ pencilled in tandem by Severin and Golden Age Great Jack Katz, using nom de plume Jay Hawk.

The saga ends calamitously in ‘Side by Side with… Triton!’ (Thomas, Severin & Gaudioso) as, with the help of the aquatic Inhuman, Namor repels the extraterrestrial assault, but loses his ability to breathe underwater. Now forced to dwell on the surface, the despised Atlantean then crushingly clashes with an old friend in the livery of a new superhero in ‘Support your Local Sting-Ray!’ This bombastic battle yarn also offers a delicious peek at the Marvel Bullpen, courtesy of (ex-EC veterans) Severin and inker Johnny Craig’s deft caricaturing skills…

John Buscema returns for #20, with Thomas scripting and Craig inking a chilling dose of realpolitik. ‘In the Darkness Dwells… Doom!’ sees Namor lured by the promise of a cure to his breathing difficulties into the exploitative clutches of the mad Monarch of Latveria. Trapping the Sub-Mariner and keeping him, however, are two wildly differing concepts…

Informed of Namor’s condition, the armies of Atlantis are marshalled by Dorma and disgraced Warlord Seth in ‘Invasion from the Ocean Floor!’ (art by Severin & Craig) besieging New York and almost invoking a new age of monsters.

As Namor’s malady is treated by Atlantean super-science, a key component of a new Superhero concept begins.

Last of the big star conglomerate super-groups, the Defenders would eventually count amongst its membership almost every hero – and a few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No surprise there as initially they were composed of the company’s bad-boys: misunderstood, outcast and often actually dangerous to know.

The genesis of the team in fact derived from their status as publicly distrusted “villains”, but before all that later inventive approbation linked tales of enigmatic antiheroes as best exemplified by Prince Namor, and the Incredible Hulk. When you add the mystery and magic of Doctor Strange the recipe for thrills, spills and chills became simply irresistible…

Following on from Dr. Strange #183 (November 1969) – which introduced the infernal Undying Ones, an elder race of demons hungry to reconquer the Earth – February 1970’s Sub-Mariner #22 ‘The Monarch and the Mystic!’ brought the Prince of Atlantis into the mix, as Thomas, Severin & Craig relate a moody tale of sacrifice in which the Master of the Mystic Arts apparently dies holding the gates of Hell shut with the Undying Ones pent behind them.

In case you’re curious, the saga concludes on an upbeat note in Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970). You might want to track down that yarn too…

Even restored to full capacity, there’s no peace for the regal, and Sub-Mariner #23 finds Namor still contending with Dorcas and arch villain Warlord Krang after the human mad scientist uses his power-transfer process to create an Atlantean wonder with the might of killer whales in ‘The Coming of… Orka!’ The slow-witted psycho subsequently sets an army of enraged cetaceans against the sunken city as John Buscema & Jim Mooney step in artistically to depict how ‘The Lady and the Tiger Shark!’ finds Namor enslaved and Dorma making Faustian pacts to save Atlantis.

This scintillating volume concludes with a landmark tale as – restored to rule and ready to be riled – Namor becomes an early and strident environmental activist after surface world pollution slaughters some of his subjects. Crafted by Thomas, Sal Buscema & Mooney, ‘A World My Enemy!’ follows Sub-Mariner’s bellicose confrontation with the UN as he puts humanity on notice: clean up your mess or I will…

From this point on the antihero would become a minor icon and subtle advocate of the issues, even if only to young comics readers…

These tales feature some of Marvel’s greatest artists at their visual peak, with all the verve and enthusiasm still shining through. Many early Marvel Comics are more exuberant than qualitative, but this volume, especially from an art-lover’s point of view, is a wonderful exception: a historical treasure fans will delight in forever.
© 1968, 1969, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ghost Rider Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Tony Isabella, Gary Friedrich, Bill Mantlo, Marv Wolfman, Steve Gerber, Jim Mooney, Frank Robbins, George Tuska, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, John Byrne & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2214-6 (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. 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 watchword was fashion: what was hitting big outside comics was 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 digital compendium collects more of those early flame-filled exploits: specifically Ghost Rider #6-20 pairing with the Thing in Marvel Two-in-One #8 and a crossover with Daredevil #138, spanning June 1974 to June 1976, and preceded by an informative Introduction in writer Tony Isabella’s ‘The Remembrance Run’

What Has Gone Before: Carnival cyclist Johnny Blaze sells his soul to the devil in an attempt to save his foster-father Crash Simpson from cancer. As is the way of such things, Satan follows the letter but not spirit of the contract and Simpson dies anyway. When the Dark Lord later comes for Johnny, his beloved virginal girlfriend Roxanne Simpsonintervenes. 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…

Creative team Isabella, Gary Friedrich, Jim Mooney & Sal Trapani hit the kickstart here as GR #6 sees a perhaps ill-considered attempt to convert the tragic haunted biker into a more conventional superhero. ‘Zodiac II’ sees Blaze stumble into a senseless fight with a man possessing all the powers of the Avengers’ arch-foes. However, there’s a hidden Satanic component to the mystery as Blaze discovers when reformed super-villain turned TV star Stunt-Master turns up to help close the case and watch helplessly as the one-man Zodiac falls foul of his own diabolical devil’s bargain in ‘…And Lose His Own Soul!’ (Isabella, Mooney & Jack Abel).

A final confrontation – of sorts – begins in Ghost-Rider #8 as ‘Satan Himself!’ comes looking for Johnny’s soul, with a foolproof scheme to force Roxanne to rescind her protection. She finally does so as the Hell-biker battles Inferno, the Fear-demon and most of San Francisco in a game-changing epic called ‘The Hell-Bound Hero!’. Here Blaze is finally freed from his satanic burden by the intervention of someone who appeared to be Jesus Christ

The cover of issue #10 (by Ron Wilson & Joe Sinnott) featured GR battling the Hulk, but a deadline cock-up delayed that tale until #11 and the already included origin from Marvel Spotlight #5 filled those pages. Gil Kane & Tom Palmer reinterpreted the scene for their cover on #11 as the issue finally detailed ‘The Desolation Run!’ (by Isabella, Sal Buscema, Tartaglione & George Roussos).

As Johnny joins a disparate band of dirt-bikers in a desert race, he collides with the legendarily solitary and short-tempered Green Goliath and learns who his true friends are, after which we divert to Marvel Two-in-One #8, teaming Ben Grimm with the supernatural sensation in a quirkily compelling Yuletide yarn. Crafted by Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito ‘Silent Night… Deadly Night!’ sees the audacious Miracle Man attempting to take control of a very special birth in a modern-day stable…

Artists Frank Robbins, Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito limn Ghost Rider #12 wherein Isabella reveals the fate of World War I fighter ace Phantom Eagle. When Blaze tries to rescue a stranger from a ghostly aerial assault, he soon learns he has innocently thwarted justice and helped the warrior’s murderer avoid the ‘Phantom of the Killer Skies’

Ghost Rider #13 declares ‘You’ve Got a Second Chance, Johnny Blaze!’ (Isabella, George Tuska & Vince Colletta) as the terms of the hero’s on-going curse are changed again, just as the dissolute biker heads to Hollywood and a promised job as Stunt-Master’s body-double. No sooner has he signed up, however, than Blaze becomes involved with starlet Karen PageDaredevil’s one-time girlfriend – and a bizarre kidnap plot by super-villain The Trapster.

‘A Specter Stalks the Soundstage!’ features Blaze’s revenge-hungry nemesis The Orb who returns to destroy the Ghost Rider, an action yarn that spectacularly concludes with ‘Vengeance on the Ventura Freeway!’ (illustrated by Bob Brown & Don Heck).

Whilst hanging out on the West Coast Blaze joins new superteam The Champions, but they play no part in Bill Mantlo, Tuska & Colletta’s fill-in yarn ‘Blood in the Waters’, as the Ghost Rider oh, so topically tangles with a Great White Shark in the gore-soaked California surf.

Back on track in #17, ‘Prelude to a Private Armageddon!’ by Isabella, Robbins & Colletta sees a team-up with the Son of Satan wherein fellow stunt-actor Katy Milner is possessed by a demon and only Daimon Hellstrom can help…

The saga continues in ‘The Salvation Run!’ as Blaze must race through the bowels of Hell and relive his own traumatic past before finally saving the day, Katy and his own much-tarnished soul in ‘Resurrection’.

All this time the mystery of Karen’s attempted abduction had percolated through the subplots here, but explosively boil over in Daredevil #138 as ‘Where is Karen Page?’ (by Wolfman, John Byrne & Mooney) reveal the machinations of criminal maniac Death’s-Head to be merely part of a greater scheme involving Blaze, Stunt-Master, the Man without Fear and the homicidal Death Stalker. The convoluted conundrum cataclysmically climaxes in Ghost-Rider #20 with ‘Two Against Death!’ by Wolfman, Byrne & Don Perlin…

This spooky compendium compounds the chilling action with a cover gallery from repint series The Original Ghost Rider #14-20, and original art covers from Gil Kane to truly complete your fear-filled fun fest.

One final note: backwriting and retcons notwithstanding, the Christian boycotts and moral crusades of a later decade were what compelled the criticism-averse and commercially astute corporate Marvel to “translate” the biblical Satan of these early tales into generic and presumably more palatable or “acceptable” demonic creatures such as Mephisto, Satanish, Marduk Kurios and other equally naff downgrades, but the original intent and adventures of Johnny Blaze – and indeed series spin-offs Daimon Hellstrom and Satana, respectively the Son and Daughter of Satan – tapped into the period’s global fascination with Satanism, Devil-worship and all things Spooky and Supernatural which had begun with such epochal films as Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski’s 1968 film more than Ira Levin’s novel) and remember these aren’t your feeble bowdlerised “Hell-lite” horrors.

These tales are about the real-deal Infernal Realm and a good man struggling to save his soul from the worst of all bargains – as much as the revised Comics Code would allow – so brace yourself, hold steady and accept no supernatural substitutes…
© 2020 MARVEL.

The Human Torch Marvel Masterworks volume 2

By Stan Lee, Larry Ivie, Dick Ayers, Bob Powell, Jack Kirby, Carl Burgos & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3505-0 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Superhero Frolics… 9/10

Hot on the heels of the Fantastic Four’s stunning success, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby spun the team’s most colourful and youngest member into his own series, eager to recapture the 1940s glory days when the Human Torch was one of the company’s “Big Three” superstars.

This captivating, esoteric and joyously exuberant collection of pure 1960s superhero shenanigans gathers those the latter end of those eclectic but crucial yarns from Strange Tales #118 to 134, (spanning March 1964 to July 1965) and comes with an evocative Introduction from Bruce Canwell before all the hot action kicks off…

Filled with fabulous classics of old school Marvel Fights ‘n’ Tights mayhem and mirth, this particular compendium (available in scarce but sturdy Hardback and assorted eBook formats) is a perfect antidote to angst overload.

Within a year of FF #1, magic-&-monsters anthology Strange Tales became the home for our hot-headed hero as issue #101 saw mostly-typical teenager Johnny Storm start an ancillary solo career. The non-stop riot of adventure begins here with Stan Lee & Dick Ayers highlighting the return of envy-obsessive hyper-intellectual the Wizard who has yet another go at the Flaming Kid in ‘The Man Who Became the Torch!’, an act which consequently nearly kills the Thing and Reed Mister Fantastic Richards besides.

A first brush with Marvel’s soon-to-be core readership came in #119. ‘The Torch Goes Wild!’ details how Commie AgentRabble Rouser mesmerises decent citizens, making them surly and rebellious, after which Jack Kirby pops back for #120 as ‘The Torch Meets Iceman!’: a terrific action-extravaganza with Ayers inks that pretty much closes the glory days of this strip. From then on, despite every gimmick – and occasional burst of sheer inspiration the Bullpen could muster – a slow decline sets in as quirky back-up strip Doctor Strange grew in popularity and cover space…

ST #121 sees Johnny as ‘Prisoner of the Plantman!’ (by Lee & Ayers) and #122 finds a thug, a conman and a crooked yogi all augmented by Dr. Doom and mustered as a woefully inadequate Terrible Trio ordered to launch an ill-conceived attack in ‘3 Against the Torch!’

Strange Tales #123 has a creepy inventor build himself an impressive insectoid exo-suit to get rich the easy way, as – in an effort to boost ratings – The Thing becomes a permanent fixture in ‘The Birth of the Beetle!’

This saga was most notable for the pencil job by Golden Age Human Torch originator Carl Burgos, after which Johnny and Ben tackle a fully re-designed ‘Paste-Pot Pete’ (Ayers inked by Paul Reinman) before going after another old adversary in ‘The Sub-Mariner Must Be Stopped!’

‘Pawns of the Deadly Duo!’ host a fresh assault by the Puppet Master, allied to the Mad Thinker in a smart yarn, after which #127 pits Ben and Johnny against a bizarre and baffling puzzle thanks to ‘The Mystery Villain!’

After a stunning Kirby pin-up of the Thing, the Fantastic Two then unwillingly battle ‘Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch’in #128 (this one inked by Frankie Ray, AKA Frank Giacoia), as the Homo Superior siblings make an abortive first attempt to quit Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, after which ‘The Terrible Trio!’ once more fail to impress or assassinate our heroes…

Pop culture at its most opportunistic reeled and staggered with #130 in ‘Meet the Beatles’ (not villains, but actually some sort of popular musical combo of the times, whom they actually didn’t meet at all), although sublime Golden Age artist Bob Powell (with inking from Chic Stone) did take over the art chores for the comedy of errors/crime caper.

Ayers returned to ink #131, a frankly dire Lee script entitled ‘Bouncing Ball of Doom!’, with the Mad Thinker siccing a cybernetic bowling bowl on our torrid twosome before Larry Ivie scripts a capable Space Race thriller in ‘The Sinister Space Trap!’ (inked by Mike Esposito under his Mickey DeMeo alias).

Lee returned for the last two Torch tales in ST #133 and #134: beginning with sharp-looking saga ‘The Terrible Toys’, wherein Puppet Master tries a new modus operandi and closing with ‘The Challenge of… The Watcher!’ (inked by the majestic Wally Wood) wherein Torch and Thing are transported to ancient Camelot to battle time-reaver Kang the Conqueror.

It was clear the writer’s mind was elsewhere, most likely with the new Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. strip that would replace the FF pair from Strange Tales #135 onwards.

Wrapping up this memory lane meander is a tantalising cover gallery from the 1974-75 reprint series of Golden and Silver Age Torch Tales, rendered by John Romita, Joe Sinnott, Larry Lieber, Ron Wilson, Frank Giacoia, Gil Kane, Al Milgrom &Vince Colletta, to complete your visit with the hottest duo in early Marvel history.

It’s remarkable to note that as the parent Fantastic Four title grew in scope and quality, the Human Torch’s own series diminished. Perhaps there is something to be said for concentrating one’s efforts or not overexposing your stars. Maybe it was just having Kirby do some plotting? Here, however, what was originally a spin-off for younger readers faded as Marvel found its voice and its marketplace, although there would be periodic efforts to reinvigorate the Torch.

Perhaps the historic value supersedes the quality of most of these strange tales, but there’s still a great deal that’s great about this series and Costumed Drama devotees with a sense of tradition and love of fun will find this book irresistible and unmissable.
© 2020 MARVEL.

The Human Torch Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein, Ernie Hart, Jerry Siegel, Dick Ayers & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2070-4 (HB) 978-0-7851-8781-3 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Superhero Entertainment… 9/10

Hot on the heels of the stunning success of Fantastic Four, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby spun the most colourful and youngest member of the team into his own series, hoping to recapture the glory of the 1940s when the Human Torch was one of the company’s “Big Three” superstars.

This captivating, esoteric and joyously exuberant collection of pure 1960s superhero shenanigans gathers those eclectic but crucial yarns – no less than five major Marvel villains debuted in blistering battle against the Flaming Kid – from Strange Tales #101 to 117, as well as the bombastic lead tale from Strange Tales Annual #2 (spanning October 1962 through February 1964) and comes with a fantastically informative Introduction from artist/inker Dick Ayers before all the hot action kicks off…

Filled with fabulous classics of old school Marvel Fights ‘n’ Tights mayhem and mirth, this particular compendium (available in scarce but sturdy Hardback, reassuring trade paperback and assorted eBook formats) is a perfect antidote to angst overload.

Within a year of FF #1, the magic-&-monsters anthology title Strange Tales became the home for our hot-headed hero as issue #101 saw mostly-typical teenager Johnny Storm started an ancillary solo career in the eponymous ‘The Human Torch’.

Scripted by Larry Lieber (over a plot by his brother Stan) and spectacularly illustrated by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, the plucky lad here investigates sabotage at a new seaside amusement park and promptly discovers Commie-conniving, thanks to a Red spy called the Destroyer. Starting a recurring pattern, Kirby would pencil the first few adventures before moving on, after which inker Ayers assumed control of the series’ look for most of its run – although The King would generate some of the best covers of his Marvel career throughout the Torch’s tenure in Strange Tales.

An odd inconsistency or, more likely, tension and drama-inducing gimmick did crop up here. Although public figures in the Fantastic Four, Johnny and his sister Sue live part-time in the Long Island hamlet of Glenville and, despite the townsfolk being fully aware of her as the glamorous and heroic Invisible Girl, they seem communally oblivious to the fact that her baby brother is the equally famous Torch.

Many daft-but-ingenious pages of Johnny protecting his secret identity would ensue before the situation was brilliantly resolved…

Although something of a hit-or-miss proposition in itself, the strip was – as previously mentioned – the starting point for many of Marvel’s best bad-guys. The first of these appeared in the very next issue. ‘Prisoner of the Wizard’ (Lee, Lieber, Kirby & Ayers) sees a spiteful, publicity-hungry intellectual giant determined to crush the Torch to prove his superiority to the callow kid who steals all the newspaper headlines…

The same creative team then produced Sci Fi captivating classic ‘Prisoner of the 5th Dimension’, wherein Johnny defeats an imminent invasion and frees a captive populace from tyranny before a month later easily trashing adhesive-toting adversary ‘Paste-Pot Pete!’ (later revamped as the terrifying Trapster). He then teams with sister Sue to tackle the perilous ‘Return of the Wizard’.

When Kirby moved on to engineer and design a host of fresh characters and concepts (occasionally returning as necessity or special events warranted), Ayers assumed full art duties with Strange Tales #106 (March 1963). This Lee & Lieber yarn was notable in that it revealed that the entire town of Glenville had always known the Torch’s secret identity, but were just playing along to keep him happy…

When Carl Zante AKA the Acrobat knocks on Johnny’s door and offers him a better-paying gig in ‘The Threat of the Torrid Twosome’, the kid’s head is swelled and swayed, but he soon learns he’s been played by a master conman and diabolical bandit…

This first hint of tongue-in-cheek whimsy presaged an increasing lightness of touch which would come to characterise the Marvel style as much as the infighting between team-mates. The villainous Zante would return for another milestone in issue #114…

Issue #107 was Lieber’s last, and Ayers drew a splendid punch-up with the ‘Sub-Mariner’ a tale reminiscent of the spectacular and immensely popular Golden Age battles of their publishing forebears. Veteran writer Robert “Berns” Bernstein scripted the next two – frankly daft – sagas over Lee’s plots, but the saving grace of both ‘The Painter of a Thousand Perils!’ (empowered by an alien art kit which brought illustrations to life in ST #108) and ‘The Sorcerer and Pandora’s Box’ (#109, with monstrous demons attacking humanity) was the brief return of Kirby as penciller.

H.E. Huntley (Ernie Hart) typed the words for Ayers to illumine in ‘The Human Torch vs. the Wizard and Paste-Pot Pete!’: a cunning clash presaging the villains’ eventual evolution into FF’s evil counterparts the Frightful Four.

In #111 the Torch made short work of ‘Fighting to the Death with the Asbestos Man!’ – yet another demented scientist experiencing the travails and tragedies of simpler times.

Strange Tales #112 (scripted by Jerry Siegel under pen-name Joe Carter) introduced murderous electrical marauder the Eel, who accidentally swiped and activated a miniature A-Bomb in tense, multifaceted thriller ‘The Human Torch Faces the Threat of the Living Bomb!’, after which1963’s Strange Tales Annual #2, featured ‘The Human Torch on the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!’

This terrific romp from Lee, Kirby & Steve Ditko details how the wallcrawler is framed by international art thief The Fox, whilst back in regular comic book Strange Tales #113, “Carter” created another long-term, always-employed villain in ‘The Coming of the Plantman!’

November’s Strange Tales #114 then changed the face of the Marvel Firmament forever…

Written by Lee himself and illustrated by Kirby & Ayers, it featured the return of the third of Timely Comics’ Golden Age Big Three – or at least an impersonation of him by the insidious Acrobat – in a blockbusting battle entitled ‘The Human Torch meets…Captain America!

Here’s a quote from the last panel…

“You guessed it! This story was really a test! To see if you too would like Captain America to Return! As usual, your letters will give us the answer!” I wonder how that all turned out?

Lee took over as full scripter with ST #115’s ‘The Sandman Strikes!’, wherein Johnny impersonates Spider-Man to defeat granular gangster Flint Marko, after which the Torrid Teen and team-mate Ben Grimm battle each other while ‘In the Clutches of the Puppet Master!’ (#116, with Ayers inked by George Roussos in his own secret identity of George Bell).

Ending this initial offering with #117, ‘The Return of the Eel! sees the vengeful reprobate prove far more of a challenge this time, thanks to some careful planning and Johnny’s own impetuosity…

Wrapping up this memory lane meander are some rousing house ads and a marvellous gallery of original art pages from Ayers.

It’s interesting to note that as the parent Fantastic Four title grew in scope and quality the Human Torch’s own series diminished. Perhaps there is something to be said for concentrating one’s efforts or not overexposing your stars. What was originally a spin-off for the younger audience faded as Marvel found its voice and its marketplace, although there would be periodic efforts to reinvigorate the Torch.

Sadly, the historic value sometimes supersedes the quality of these strange tales, but there’s still a great deal to enjoy about this series and Costumed Drama devotees with a sense of tradition and love of fun will find this book irresistible and unmissable.
© 2020 MARVEL

Ant-Man/Giant-Man Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Leon Lazarus, Al Hartley, Dick Ayers, Don Heck, Steve Ditko, Carl Burgos, Bob Powell & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2911-0 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Little Bit of Vintage Wonderment… 8/10

If you’re of a particularly picky nature – and what comic fan isn’t? – you might consider the Astonishing Ant-Man one of the earliest heroes of the Marvel Age of Comics. He first appeared in Tales to Astonish #27 (cover-dated January 1962), in one of the splendidly addictive men-vs-monsters anthology titles that dominated in those heady days of Science Fiction Double-Feature B-Movies.

As superheroes proliferated to explosively dominate the early 1960s, he was rapidly retooled and recycled to become a key pillar of the company’s powerhouse pantheon… but not for long…

This second episodic, eclectic and entomologically edifying compendium – available in hardback and digital formats – gathers the pertinent portions of Tales to Astonish #53-69: spanning March 1964 to July 1965 and tracing the first gradual decline and fall of the “Man of Many Sizes”. The comic adventures herein are preceded by a typically voluble Stan Lee Introduction before the action and drama recommences.

TTA #53 led with a spectacular battle-bout rematch as our hero and his partner Janet Van Dyne are ‘Trapped by the Porcupine!’ (by Lee & Dick Ayers) and closed with the Wonderful Wasp narrating short fantasy yarn ‘When Wakes the Colossus!’ (actually crafted by Lee, Larry Lieber & Don Heck).

The next issue saw Heck illustrate the Crusading Couple’s catastrophic trip to Santo Rico and finding ‘No Place to Hide!’: trapped and powerless in a South American banana republic run by brutal commie agent El Toro. This was neatly counter-balanced by the Wasp’s sci fi saga ‘Conquest!’ by Lee, Lieber & Sol Brodsky.

An implacable old foe defeated himself in ‘On the Trail of the Human Top!’ when the psychotic mutant killer steals Giant-Man’s size-changing pills in #55, following which Lee, Lieber & George Bell produce the Wasp’s fable ‘The Gypsy’s Secret!’

A larcenous stage conjuror proves far more trouble than you’d suspect in ‘The Coming of The Magician!’ – even successfully abducting the Wasp before his defeat, which Jan celebrated by regaling us all with tall tale ‘Beware the Bog Beast!’ (Lee, Lieber & Paul Reinman) after which TTA #57 featured a big guest-star as the size-changing sweethearts set out ‘On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!’, courtesy of Lee, Ayers & Reinman, with sinister savant Egghead waiting in the wings and pulling strings. A minor landmark occurred in the back of that issue as the Wasp participated in a complete solo adventure. ‘A Voice in the Dark!’, by Lee, Lieber & Chic Stone, saw Jan defeat a big burly jewel thief. It was precious little to crow over, but Marvel had finally let a lady loose on her own with no apparent riot or collapse of the macho social order. Things would certainly get better… but not soon…

These were not only signs of the increasing interconnectivity Lee was developing but also indicated that the strip was losing impetus. In a market increasingly flooded with superheroes, the adventures of Giant-Man were not selling as well as they used to or should…

Captain America cameo-ed in #58’s epic Africa-based battle with a giant alien in ‘The Coming of Colossus!’ (Lee, Ayers & Reinman), supplemented by the Wasp’s second lone hand, played this time against an old enemy in ‘The Magician and the Maiden!’ by Lee & Lieber.

The beginning of the end for Giant-Man came in Tales to Astonish #59 and ‘Enter: The Hulk!’ (Lee, Ayers & Reinman), with the Avengers inadvertently prompting the Size-Shifting Sentinel to hunt down the Green Goliath. Although the Human Top engineered the blockbusting battle, Lee was the real mastermind as, one month later, The Hulk began co-starring in his own series and on the covers, whilst Giant-Man’s adventures shrank back to a dozen or so pages. Ten issues later Hank and Jan would retire making way for amphibian antihero Namor, the Sub-Mariner

Before then though there’s a rousing house ad and comic fact-feature ‘Let’s Learn About Hank and Jan’, leading to the first half-sized yarn. Produced by Lee, Ayers & Reinman, Tales to Astonish #59’s ‘The Beasts of Berlin!’ was a throwback in many ways to the daft old days, as the duo smuggle themselves over the Wall and into the Russian Sector to battle Commie Apes (no, really!) behind the Iron Curtain.

The writing was on the wall by issue #61. With the Hulk already most prominent on the covers, hastily-executed stories and a rapid rotation of artists, it was obvious Giant-Man was waning. ‘Now Walks the Android’ was a fill-in rather rapidly illustrated by Steve Ditko & George (Bell) Roussos, starring Egghead and his latest technological terror-weapon after which ‘Versus the Wonderful Wasp’ (by Golden Age icon Carl Burgos & Ayers) recycles an ancient plot wherein a thief steals Giant-Man’s costume and equipment, leaving the mere girl to save the day…

‘The Gangsters and the Giant’ in #63 – by Lee, Burgos & Stone – incestuously reproduces the plot of #37 with the gem-stealing Protector here re-imagined as “the Wrecker” and comes with a Marvel Masterwork pin-up of the Diminutive Duo by Chic Stone. ‘When Attuma Strikes’ (Burgos & Reinman) offers a crumb of imagination and wit as Hank and Jan split up and the heartbroken lass gets herself abducted by an undersea tyrant. This last was scripted by incredibly under-appreciated and almost anonymous comics veteran Leon Lazarus.

One last attempt to resuscitate the series came with the addition of another Golden-Age legend. Bob Powell signed on as artist for issue #65’s ‘Presenting the New Giant-Man’ (scripted by Lee, inked by Heck) wherein the Master of Many Sizes built a better costume and powers, but almost dies at the hands of a cat and spider he accidentally enlarges in the process.

With a fresh new look, the last five issues are actually some of the best tales in the run, but it was clearly too late.

Frankie (Giacoia) Ray inked Powell for ‘The Menace of Madam Macabre’, with a murderous oriental seductress attempting to steal Pym’s secrets, and Stone applied the brushes for ‘The Mystery of the Hidden Man and his Rays of Doom!’, wherein a power-stealing alien removes Hank Pym’s ability to shrink, before the series concludes with a powerfully impressive 2-parter in Tales to Astonish #68 and 69. ‘Peril from the Long-Dead Past’ and ‘Oh, Wasp, Where is Thy Sting?’, were inked by Vince Colletta and John Giunta respectively.

So far along was the decline that Al Hartley had to finish what Stan Lee started: concluding a tense and thrilling tale of the Wasp’s abduction by the Human Top and the abrupt retirement of the weary, shell-shocked heroes at the saga’s end.

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

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

By turns superb, stupid, exciting and appalling this tome and these tales epitomise the best and worst of Early Marvel (with the delightful far outweighing the duff) and certainly won’t appeal to everybody, but if you’re a Fights ‘n’ Tights fan with a forgiving nature the good stuff here will charm, amaze and enthral you whilst the rest could just be considered as a garish garnish to provide added flavour…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Ant-Man/Giant-Man Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, with Ernie Hart, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2049-0 (HB) 978-0-7851-6768-6 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Nostalgic Marvel Mayhem… 8/10

Marvel Comics initially built its fervent fan base through strong, contemporarily relevant stories with strikingly illustrated art, but most importantly by creating a shared continuity closely following the characters through not just their own titles but also through frequent guest appearances in other comics. Such interweaving meant that even today completists seek out extraneous stories for a fuller picture of their favourite’s adventures. The quest was not helped by the House of Ideas releasing vintage tales in any kind of chronological order, and Henry Pym (in all his many costumed iterations) was one of the last Marvel Superheroes to get the prestigious Masterworks treatment. The movie franchise might also have had something to do with it…

If you’re of a particularly picky nature – and what comic fan isn’t? – you could consider the Astonishing Ant-Man to be one of the earliest heroes of the Marvel Age of Comics. He first appeared in Tales to Astonish #27 (cover-dated January 1962), in one of the splendidly addictive men-vs-monsters anthology titles that dominated in those heady days of Science Fiction Double-Feature B-Movies.

This episodic, eclectic and entomologically edifying compendium – available in hardback, trade paperback and digital formats – gathers pertinent portions of January 1962 cover-dated Tales to Astonish #27 and the first tranche of the succeeding superhero series that eventually followed. Included herein are the relevant contents of issues #35-52, spanning September 1962 to February 1964, preceded by a fascinating and informative Introduction from Dick Ayers who inked the debut tale and was artistically associated with the characters for much of the run.

The itty-bitty sagas reveal the scintillating solo outings of a brilliant but troubled scientist who became an unlikely, uncomfortable and even mentally unstable superhero and here begins with what was just intended to be another throwaway filler thriller…

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

This engaging piece of fluff, which owed more than a little to classic movie The Incredible Shrinking Man, was plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by Larry Lieber and stunningly illustrated by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers.

Clearly, the character struck a chord with someone since – as the DC Comics-inspired superhero boom flourished – Pym was rapidly retooled as a full-fledged costumed do-gooder, debuting again with TTA #35 in ‘The Return of the Ant-Man’(Lee, Lieber, Kirby & Ayers). The plot concerns a raid by Soviet agents (this was during the height of Marvel’s “Commie-Buster” period when – a bit like now – every other villain was a Red somebody or other and rampaging socialism was a cultural bête noir) wherein Pym is captured and held prisoner in his own laboratory. Forced to disinter the abandoned shrinking gases and cybernetic devices he’d ambitiously built to communicate with ants, Dr. Pym soundly trounces the spies and resolves to use his powers for the good of Mankind…

The same creative team produced the next four adventures, beginning with ‘The Challenge of Comrade X!’ (#36) as an infallible Soviet super-spy is dispatched to destroy the Diminutive Daredevil, after which Ant-Man is temporarily ‘Trapped by the Protector!’ – a cunning jewel-thief and extortionist who ultimately proves no match for the Tiny Titan.

‘Betrayed by the Ants!’ features the debut of intellectual arch-foe Egghead, a maverick and mercenary research scientist who attempts to usurp the hero’s control of insects whilst ‘The Vengeance of the Scarlet Beetle!’ sees a momentary return to scary monster stories as a radioactively mutated, super-intelligent bug seeks to eradicate humanity with only Pym capable of stopping him…

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

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

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

Ant-Man uses his discoveries to endow bereaved and vengeful Janet with the power to shrink and grow wings and she becomes his crime-fighting partner. In double-quick time they overcome ‘The Terrible Traps of Egghead’ (Lee, Huntley & Heck) before travelling to Greece to thwart another alien invasion ‘When Cyclops Walks the Earth!’

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

Lee scripted and Heck inked Kirby who had returned to pencil the epic story of how Pym learns to enlarge as well as reduce his stature, just in time to tackle the threat of trans-dimensional kidnapper The Eraser. In the next issue Steve Ditko inked The King in ‘The Human Top’, the first episode of a 2-part tale showing how our hero struggles to adapt to his new strength and abilities.

The blistering conclusion ‘Showdown with the Human Top!’ was inked by Ayers who would go on to draw the bulk of the succeeding stories until the series’ demise. Moreover, with this issue (#51) back-up feature The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale began. It initially mixed sci-fi mystery vignettes narrated by the heroine, fact-features and solo adventures, before evolving into Marvel’s first female starring solo feature. Here however Janet is simply a whimsical narrator detailing chilling space thriller ‘Somewhere Waits a Wobbow!’ (actually related by Lee, Lieber & George Roussos in his Marvel identity of George Bell).

The super-hero adventures settled into a rather predictable pattern from then on: individually effective enough but rather samey and uninspired when read in quick succession. You’ll need the next volume for most of those but here at least the comics craziness concludes with a straightforward super-villain clash as TTA #52 ‘The Black Knight Strikes!’ (Lee & Ayers) is supplemented by the Wasp’s crime & punishment homily ‘Not What They Seem!’

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

By turns superb, stupid, enthralling and merely engaging, this tome is augmented by house ads and a gallery of original art pages by Kirby & Brodsky and Don Heck, epitomising the best and worst of Early Marvel (with the delightful far outweighing the duff). It certainly won’t appeal to everybody, but if you’re a Fights ‘n’ Tights fan with a forgiving nature or a movie-goer looking for extra input, the good stuff here will charm and amaze you whilst the rest could just be considered as a garish garnish to provide added flavour…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Bill Mantlo, Gerry Conway, Roger Stern, Sal Buscema, Ron Wilson, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2218-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Simply Superb Merry Marvel Madness … 8/10

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 the mass 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 awarded 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, after abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man (created for the magazine market in 1968) died after two issues, Marvel Team-Up was the second full Spider-Man title. Debuting in March 1972, it was a resounding hit.

This fifth fabulous compilation (in hardback and digital formats) gathers material from MTU #41-52, plus a crossover from Marvel Two-in-One #17, and a rare seasonal sage from tabloid rarity Marvel Treasury Edition #13, cumulatively spanning January-December 1976. The book opens with an informative assessment and appreciation from historian and archivist Bruce Canwell in his Introduction before we plunge into the many-starred dramas…

A major 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, however, neophyte scripter Bill Mantlo begins an era of closer continuity with an extended time travel epic that took taking the wallcrawler to the farthest, weirdest corners of Marvel’s ever-expanding universe…

With artists Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito in control of the horizontal and vertical, a truly impressive and ambitious multi-part epic opens with the Amazing Arachnid visiting the past and a number of alternate tomorrows beginning with ‘A Witch in Time!’

Here mutant Avenger Scarlet Witch is abducted from her rightful time and place by infamous witch-hunter Cotton Matherwho uses Doctor Doom’s time machine to drag her back to Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Her plight is observed by Spider-Man who naturally follows, but after failing to save her, the webspinner is himself accused of infernal sorcery in that rabid Massachusetts township…

Whilst Mather fans hysterical flames of paranoia, the Avenger’s synthezoid husband time-travels to her side in #42’s ‘Visions of Hate!’, only to fall before the witchfinder’s mysterious power too. As the innocents of Salem prepare themselves for death, our heroes make their escape only to fall to Mather’s hitherto unseen benefactor The Dark Rider.

Just as the master manipulator reveals himself, however, the stakes change again when a severely affronted Victor Von Doom appears, angrily demanding to know who’s been playing with his toys in #43’s ‘A Past Gone Mad!’

The frantic battle against an immortal chronal predator seems predestined to fail until the time-tides are unexpectedly turned in MTU #44 with the last-minute arrival of mind-goddess Moondragon, but in the aftermath Spider-Man tragically discovers that history is well-nigh impossible to alter in ‘Death in the Year Before Yesterday!’

The arachnoid adventurer is the last to return to the 20th century but his departure in issue #45 results in deadly diversions and understandable ‘Future-Shock!’ as he overshoots his home time and lands in devastated (and now defined as an alternate future) New York City circa 2019 where Warrior of the Worlds Killraven helps him survive numerous attacks by mutants and Martians in terrifying tripods before sending the spider back on his way home..

Unfortunately, before he gets there the wallcrawler experiences another shocking stopover in ‘Am I Now or Have I Ever Been?’, with cyborg warrior Deathlok saving him from a mutant hive-mind in a Manhattan shattered by war a mere fifteen years after his own lost and longed-for era…

A scared, sad and sobered Spider-Man finally makes it home in Marvel Two-In-One #17 just in time for a crossover with Ben Grimm AKA the Thing. The blockbuster opens with ‘This City… Afire!’ by Mantlo, Sal B & Esposito where, after battling beside Ka-Zar in the dinosaur paradise of the Savage Land, big Ben is ignominiously returned to the Big Apple by mutated madman Basilisk. This manic malcontent has manifested an erupting volcano in the Hudson River and it needs to go…

Already reeling, Spidey swings into action for the cataclysmic conclusion in Marvel Team-Up #47 where Mantlo, Ron Wilson & Dan Adkins render the spectacular clash of heroes who boldly proclaim ‘I Have to Fight the Basilisk!’

Proving there’s no rest for the wicked or the righteous, MTU #48 begins another suspenseful extended saga when ‘Enter: the Wraith!’ (Mantlo, Sal B & Esposito) introduces Police Captain Jean DeWolff whilst Spidey and Iron Man struggle to stop a mad bomber using model planes to destroy city landmarks and Stark International properties. As the heroes fruitlessly pursue leads, the enigmatic Wraith turns his attention upon them, proving to be not only connected to Jean but some kind of psionic metahuman…

With Iron Man again the guest-star, issue #49 reveals that ‘Madness is All in the Mind!’ as the masked maniac resumes his irresistible psychic assaults: explosively attacking Manhattan even as the tragic story of Jean’s Police Commissioner dad and murdered cop brother comes out…

However, the connection between them and the unstoppable villain is only exposed after the webslinger and Golden Avenger recruit Master of Mystic Arts Doctor Strange who applies his unique gifts to the problem in #50’s ‘The Mystery of the Wraith!’

The saga concludes with Marvel Team-Up #51 and ‘The Trial of the Wraith!’: a legal confrontation steered by a most unusual panel of judges whose hidden abilities are not enough to prevent one last crack of the whip by the unrepentant renegade…

The thrills, spills and chills are followed with blatant fill-in ‘Danger: Demon on a Rampage!’: a rather rushed but action-heavy pairing of Spidey and Captain America from Gerry Conway, SB & Esposito which sees the heroes unite to take down Gallic mercenary Batroc and an enraged monster that has somehow slipped out of an adjacent dimension…

The bulging bonus section begins with a house ad for the Mighty Marvel Bicentennial Calendar of 1976 which follows in its entirety, featuring the artistic excellence of John Romita Sr, Frank Robbins & Frank Giacoia, Herb Trimpe, Bob Brown, Gil Kane, John Buscema, Ross Andru, Joe Sinnott, Sal Buscema, Frank Brunner, Jim Starlin & Alan Weiss, and Jim Mooney.

After original art and covers from the text of this collection, Gil Kane’s sketches and finished art for the covers and frontispieces of Marvel Treasury Edition #9 (Giant Superhero Team-Up) and Marvel Treasury Edition #13 (Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag) precede a delightful lost gem from the latter: an all-new clash between the Fantastic Four and Avengers by Roger Stern, George Tuska & Don Perlin. Thankfully, as the battle – with snowballs in Central Park – escalates, Daredevil, the Defenders and Champions are on hand to maintain the proper seasonal spirit…

These stories all have an honest drive to entertain and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about. Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented enthusiasts, there’s plenty of fun on hand here and younger readers will have a blast, so there’s no reason not to add this tome to your comics library…
© MARVEL 2020 Marvel.

Marvel Two-in-One Marvel Masterworks volume 3

By Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter, Ron Wilson, Ernie Chan, Marie Severin, Sal Buscema, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0964-2 (HB)

Above all else, Marvel has always been about team-ups. The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing, or battling – often both – with less well-selling company characters – was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the same deal DC had with Batman in The Brave and the Bold.

Although confident in their new title, they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch. In those long-ago days, editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline they may well have been right.

Nevertheless, after the runaway success of Spider-Man’s guest vehicle Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas carried on the trend with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic and popular member – beginning with a brace of test runs in Marvel Feature #11-12, before awarding him his own team-up title, of which this third eclectic compendium gathers together (in hardback or digital editions) the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #21-36, covering November 1976 – February 1978.

Preceded by a comprehensive reminiscence from artist Ron Wilson in his Introduction, the action begins with Marvel Two-In-One #21 (November 1976), which featured a pairing with legendary pulp superman Doc Savage. For years this tale has been omitted from collections: unavailable for fans due to Marvel having no access to the Man of Bronze’s proprietary rights. Thankfully an accommodation has been reached, allowing ‘Black Sun Lives!’ by Bill Mantlo, Wilson & Pablo Marcos to be included here. Good thing too, as the tale of cosmic peril across two eras is a cracker that would impact upon many epics still to be seen in Ben Grimm’s fantastic future…

In 1976, a desperate young woman named Janice Lightner asks The Thing and teammate Johnny Storm to prevent her brother Tom from completing an experiment that will destroy the world. In a contiguous moment four decades previously, Janice’s mother approaches Clark Savage Junior and his troubleshooting team to help her end a mad project her husband has initiated. Nobel laureate Raymond Lightner intends using his sky cannon to tap the infinite power of the stars.

As two teams “simultaneously” converge on Lightner’s ancestral home the cannon is triggered, shredding the time barrier and bringing the heroes together to face the combined creature called Blacksun, formed when father and son merged across the decades…

Ultimately triumphant, the heroes separate as the timestream heals, leaving Tom Lightner in need of medical attention…

That comes as Ben contacts physician Dr. Don Blake, leading to #22-23’s Thor pairing against the Egyptian God of Death in ‘Touch Not the Hand of Seth!’ (Mantlo, Wilson & Marcos); a fantastic cosmic extravaganza concluded with the assistance of Jim Shooter & Marie Severin in ‘Death on the Bridge to Heaven!’

Ben then enjoys a far more prosaic time with neophyte hero Black Goliath as a devastated downtown Los Angeles asks ‘Does Anyone Remember… the Hijacker?’ (by Mantlo, Shooter, Sal Buscema & Marcos).

A new era opens as a much delayed and postponed team-up with Iron Fist, the Living Weapon heralds the start of writer/editor Marv Wolfman’s impressive run on the title. ‘A Tale of Two Countries!’ – illustrated by Wilson & Grainger – sees Ben and the master martial artist shanghaied to the Far East as part of a Machiavellian plan to conquer the island kingdom of Kaiwann. Naturally, they both strenuously object to the abduction…

The innate problem with team-ups was always a lack of continuity – something Marvel had always prided itself upon – and Wolfman sought to address it by the simple expedient of having stories link-up through evolving, overarching plots taking the Thing from place to place and guest to guest to guest.

Here the tactic begins with bustling bombast in ‘The Fixer and Mentallo are Back and the World will Never be the Same!’(Wilson & Marcos) uniting Ben with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. to battle a brace of conniving bad guys trying to steal killer-cyborg-from-an-alternate-future Deathlok.

The good guys spectacularly fail and the artificial assassin is co-featured in #27 as ‘Day of the Demolisher!’ sees the now-reprogrammed killer targeting the inauguration of new US President Jimmy Carter. This time Big Ben has an alien ace up his sleeve and the hit fails…

The tempestuous Sub-Mariner shares the watery limelight in #28 as Ben and his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters ferry the deactivated Deathlok to a London-based boffin. When they are shot down in mid-Atlantic by a mutated fish-man, Grimm must fight against and beside Namor whilst Alicia languishes ‘In the Power of the Piranha!’ (with John Tartaglione inks).

Master of Kung Fu Shang-Chi then steps in as Ben and Alicia finally landed in London. Inked by Sam Grainger, ‘Two Against Hydra’ sees aforementioned expert Professor Kort snatched by the sinister secret society before the Thing can consult him: the savant’s knowledge being crucial to Hydra’s attempts to revive their own living weapon…

As part of Marvel’s compulsive ongoing urge to protect their trademarks, a number of their top male characters had been spun off into female iterations. Thus, at the end of 1976 Ms. Marvel debuted (with a January 1977 cover-date), She-Hulkarrived at the end of 1979 (Savage She-Hulk #1 February 1980) whilst Jessica Drew premiered in Marvel Spotlight #32 as The Spider-Woman, a mere month after Ms. Marvel…

Her cameo appearance in Marvel Two-In-One #29 (July 1977) began an extended 6-chapter saga designed as a promotional lead-in to her own series. ‘Battle Atop Big Ben!’ (#30 by Wolfman, John Buscema & Marcos) saw her meet the Thing as she struggled to be free of her Hydra controllers, even as a couple of petty thieves embroiled Ben and Alicia in a complex and arcane robbery scheme involving a strange chest buried beneath Westminster Abbey.

Unable to kill Ben, the Arachnid Dark Angel kidnaps Alicia, who becomes ‘My Sweetheart… My Killer!’ (#31 by Wilson & Sam Grainger) after Kort and Hydra transform the helpless waif into a spidery monster. In #32’s ‘And Only the Invisible Girl Can Save Us Now!’ (inked by Marcos) Sue Storm joins the repentant Spider-Woman and distraught Thing in battling and curing an out-of-control Alicia. In the wings, those two robbers continue their campaign of acquisition and accidentally awake a quartet of ancient elemental horrors…

It requires the magics of the Arthurian sorcerer Modred the Mystic to help Spider-Woman and Ben triumph over the monsters in the concluding chapter ‘From Stonehenge… With Death!’ before a semblance of normality is restored…

Back to business as usual in Marvel Two-In-One #34, Ben and sky-soaring Defender Nighthawk tackle a revived and cruelly misunderstood alien freed from an antediluvian cocoon in ‘A Monster Walks Among Us!’ (Wolfman, Wilson & Marcos) before Ernie Chan joins Wolfman to illustrate a 2-part wrap-up to one of Marvel’s recently folded series.

Marvel Two-In-One often acted as a clearing-house for old, unresolved series and plot-lines and #35 saw Ben dispatched by the US Air Force through a time-portal in the Bermuda Triangle to a fantastic world of dinosaurs, robots, dinosaurs, E.T.’s and more dinosaurs as ‘Enter: Skull the Slayer and Exit: The Thing’ details the short history and imminent deaths of a group of modern Americans trapped in a bizarre time-lost land.

Marooned in the past with them, it takes the intervention of Mister Fantastic to retrieve Ben and his new friends in #36’s ‘A Stretch in Time…’, bringing this compilation to a satisfactory halt.

These stories from Marvel’s Middle Period are unarguably of variable quality, but whereas some might feel rushed and ill-considered they are balanced by many timeless classics, still as captivating today as they always were.

Even if artistically the work varies from only adequate to superb, most fans of Costumed Dramas will find little to complain about and there’s lots of fun to be found for young and old readers. So why not lower your critical guard and have an honest blast of pure warts ‘n’ all comics craziness? You’ll almost certainly grow to like it…
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Jack Kirby, with Frank Giacoia, John Verpoorten, Mike Royer, Dan Green, John Tartaglione & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1702-9 (HB)

These days Captain America is as much a global symbol of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave as Uncle Sam or Apple Pie ever were. Thus, I’m enjoying a lazy and rather obvious way to celebrate Independence Day (for them and perhaps us if we’re successfully incorporated as the nation’s 51st State soon…) by recommending this bellicose blockbuster featuring material first seen in 1976 as the nation commenced its third century of existence…

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, he was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss, but quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased. Fading away during post-war reconstruction only 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 (plus – so nearly – seminal TV paranoia-fest The Prisoner), as well as drafting a wealth of bombastic covers for almost every title in the company.

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 sturdy hardback and reassuring tree-friendly digital formats – reprints Captain America and the Falcon #201-214 and the fourth Captain America Annual, cumulatively spanning September 1976-October 1977. It also offers an Introduction by Mark Waid revealing how, when Kirby came aboard as writer, artist and editor, his biggest battle was against unnamed editorial staff who sought to sabotage his efforts…

At the end of the previous volume the original Fighting American had saved the nation from a conclave of aristocratic oligarchs attempting to undo two hundred years of freedom and progress with their “Madbomb”. After saving the nation, the Star-Spangled Avenger reunites with his partner for issue #201, set in the aftermath of their struggle…

Inked by Frank Giacoia, the tone shifts to malevolent moodiness and uncanny mystery with the introduction of ‘The Night People!’: a street-full of maladjusted maniacs who periodically phase into and out of New York City, creating terror and chaos with every sunset. When Falcon Sam Wilson and girlfriend Leila are abducted by the eerie encroachers, they are quickly converted to their crazed cause by exposure to the ‘Mad, Mad Dimension!’ the vile visitors inhabit during daylight hours. This leaves Cap and folksy new millionaire colleague Texas Jack Muldoon hopelessly outgunned when their last-ditch rescue attempt results in them all battling an invasion of brutally berserk other-dimensional beasts in ‘Alamo II!’

On bludgeoning, battle-hardened top-form, the Star-Spangled Avenger saves the day once more, but no sooner are the erstwhile inhabitants of Zero Street safely re-ensconced on Earth than ‘The Unburied One!’ finds the indefatigable champions battling against a corpse who won’t play dead. The concluding chapter reveals the cadaver has become home to an energy-being from the far future as (inked by John Verpoorten) ‘Agron Walks the Earth!’ Thankfully, not even its pulsating power and rage can long baulk the indomitable spirit and ability of America’s Ultimate Fighting Man…

The non-stop nightmares resume in #206 as ‘Face to Face with the Swine!’ (Giacoia inks) sees the Star-Spangled Sensation illegally renditioned by secret police to deepest Central America. Here he subsequently topples the private kingdom and personal torture ground of psychotic sadist Comandante Hector Santiago, unchallenged monarch of the prison of Rio del Muerte

Never one to go anywhere meekly, Cap escapes and begins engineering the brute’s downfall in ‘The Tiger and the Swine!!’ but soon finds the jungles conceal actual monsters. When they exact primal justice on the tormentors, Cap’s escape with the Swine’s cousin Donna Maria down ‘The River of Death!’ is interrupted by the advent of another astounding “Kirby Kreation” …‘Arnim Zola… the Bio-Fanatic!!’

The former Nazi geneticist is absolute master of radical biology, abducting Cap and Donna Maria to his living castle and inflicting upon them a horde of diabolical homunculi at the behest of a mysterious sponsor, even as the Falcon is closing in on his long-missing pal.

Indomitable against every kind of shapeshifting horror, Captain America battles on, enduring a terrible ‘Showdown Day!’(with Mike W. Royer taking over the inking), whilst back home Steve Rogers’ girlfriend Sharon Carter uses her resources as SHIELD’s Agent 13 to trace wealthy Cyrus Fenton and expose ‘Nazi “X”!’ as Zola’s sponsor and the Sentinel of Liberty’s greatest nemesis…

With his time on the title counting down, Kirby ramped up the tension in #212 as ‘The Face of a Hero! Yours!!’ finds Zola preparing to surgically insert the Red Skull into Cap’s form, triggering a cataclysmic clash which leaves the hero bloodied and blind, but ultimately victorious…

With the hero recuperating in a US hospital, Dan Green steps in to ink #213 as ultimate assassin ‘The Night Flyer!’ targets the ailing Cap at the behest of unfettered capitalist villain Kligger (from the insidious Corporation), inadvertently restoring his victim’s vision in time for spectacular – if abrupt – conclusion ‘The Power’ (Royer inks)…

Reading slightly out of sequence here, Captain America Annual #4 wraps up the Kirby contributions to the career of the Star-Spangled Avenger with ‘The Great Mutant Massacre!’: a feature- length super-shocker which again eschews convoluted back-story and the cultural soul-searching which typified the character before and after Kirby’s tenure.

It sees America’s Super Soldier strive against humanity’s nemesis Magneto and his latest mutant recruits Burner,Smasher, Lifter, Shocker, Slither and Peeper. This riot of rampaging action and end-of-the-world wonderment pits the Sentinel of Liberty against a Homo Superior hit-squad aiming to take possession of a super-powered being whose origins are far stranger than anybody could conceive…

This tome then concludes with a wonderful gallery of original art pages and covers for fans to drool over…

The King’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read and this stuff is as good as anything Jack crafted over his decades of creative brilliance.

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…
© 2019 MARVEL