Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, John Romita Sr., John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2936-3 (HB)

During the Marvel Renaissance of the early 1960’s Stan Lee & Jack Kirby tried a tactic that had reaped huge dividends for DC Comics. Although initially generating mixed results, their efforts eventually changed the nature of comicbooks. Julie Schwartz had scored an incredible success with his revised versions of the company’s Golden Age greats, so it seemed natural to try and revive the characters that had dominated Timely/Atlas in those halcyon days.

A new Human Torch had premiered as part of the revolutionary Fantastic Four, and in the fourth issue of that title the Sub-Mariner resurfaced after a 20-year amnesiac hiatus (everyone concerned had apparently forgotten the first abortive attempt to revive an “Atlas” superhero line in the mid-1950s).

The Torch was promptly given his own solo feature in Strange Tales from issue #101 on and in #114 the flaming teen fought an acrobat pretending to be Captain America. With reader-reaction strong, the real thing promptly resurfaced in Avengers #4 and, after a captivating and centre-stage-hogging run in that title, was granted his own series as half of the “split-book” Tales of Suspense with #59 (cover-dated November 1964). An unmissable string of classics ensued and in 1968 the Star-Spangled Avenger won his own solo title… but not for long…

This groundbreaking full-colour compilation (available in hardback and digital editions) gathers Captain America #114-124 – spanning June 1969 to September 1970 – and opens with a captivating Introduction from illustrator Gene Colan revealing amongst other things how he created The Falcon

The comics portion of this treat opens as the Sentinel of Liberty has just acrimoniously retired from superhero service and reclaimed his anonymity after impetuously revealing his secret identity to the world mere months earlier.

The hiatus doesn’t last long as, again a man of mystery, Captain America bursts into action to save his lover Sharon Carter (SHIELD Agent 13) from a suicide mission against Advanced Idea Mechanics.

The tale coincided with an ongoing period of artistic instability as here John Romita the Elder (inked by Sal Buscema) illustrated Stan Lee’s tense spy-caper ‘The Man Behind the Mask!’.

The action and suspense were merely prologue to an extended war against the Red Skull. Issue #115 – ‘Now Begins the Nightmare!’ – was drawn by John Buscema and inked by his brother Sal, wherein the fascist arch-villain uses the reality-warping Cosmic Cube to switch bodies with the shield-slinger and trash the hero’s reputation, after which ‘Far Worse than Death!’ in #116 follows Cap’s frantic attempts to escape his own friends and allies the Avengers, as well as the villain’s callous reality-warping torments.

This issue saw the start of Gene Colan’s impressive run on the character, here augmented by the smooth, slick inks of Joe Sinnott.

This next instalment returns him to the Isle – and clutches – of aging war criminals the Exiles in a tale that introduced Marvel’s second black superhero.

‘The Coming of … the Falcon!’ in issue #117 was a terse, taut build-up to a cataclysmic clash before the neophyte hero-in-training takes centre-stage in ‘The Falcon Fights On!’ after which all the ducks drop neatly into place for a spectacular finale in ‘Now Falls the Skull!’ in #119.

As 1970 dawned, Marvel imposed a moratorium on continued stories for most of their titles, and Cap – having returned to his hectic twin lives as unofficial SHIELD Agent and mighty Avenger – here hops on the disaffected youth/teen revolt bandwagon for a series of slight but highly readable puff-pieces promising nothing but delivering much.

Kicking off is ‘Crack-up on Campus!’ by Lee, Colan & Sinnott: an odd mélange of student radicalism and espionage that sees itinerant cipher Steve Rogers become a Physical Education teacher to foil a scheme by the sinister cyborg Modok and his AIM cohorts.

Demented bio-chemist Silas X. Cragg then rediscovers the fabled Super Soldier serum that had originally created Captain America in ‘The Coming of the Man-Brute!’ Sadly, the bonkers boffin picks the wrong candidate to become his Blockbuster stooge…

Spider-Man’s old sparring partner mugs the wrong guy in #122’s ‘The Sting of the Scorpion!’ and subsequently falls to Cap’s bludgeoning fists before issue #123 taps into the seemingly eternal “battle of the sexes” zeitgeist with ‘Suprema, The Deadliest of the Species!’ turning her espionage-tinged attentions to the Star-Spangled Avenger…

The blazing battle action then concludes here as AIM returns with a deadly new hi-tech human weapon. Despite all their efforts the Sentinel of Liberty triumphs yet again in ‘Mission: Stop the Cyborg!’

Supplementing the drama is Romita’s original art cover for #114s and its colour roughs.

These are tales of dauntless courage and unmatchable adventure, fast-paced and superbly illustrated, which rightly returned Captain America to the heights that his Golden Age compatriots the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner never regained. They are pure escapist magic. Glorious treats for the eternally young at heart, these are episodes of sheer visual dynamite that cannot be slighted and should not be missed.
© 1969, 1970, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 17


By Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Archie Goodwin, Scott Edelman, Marv Wolfman, Ross Andru, Don Perlin, John Romita Jr., Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9186-5 (HB)

Peter Parker was a smart yet alienated kid when he was bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Developing astonishing arachnid abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the boy did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Making a costume to hide his identity in case he made a fool of himself, Parker became a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night, the cocky teen didn’t lift a finger to stop him. When Parker returned home he learned that his beloved guardian uncle Ben Parker had been murdered.

Crazed with a need for vengeance, Peter hunted the assailant who had made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, finding, to his horror, that it was the self-same felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility had resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and the traumatised boy swore to forevermore use his powers to help others…

Since that night he has tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them.

By the time of the tales in this 17th superbly scintillating full-colour hardcover compendium (and eBook) of web-spinning adventures the wondrous wallcrawler was a global figure and prime contender for the title of the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero. Spanning May 1976 to May 1977 and chronologically re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man#169-180 and Annual #11, plus a crossover story that began in Nova #12 (spanning cover-dates June 1977 to May 1978). The dramas are preceded by an appreciative appraisal from Len Wein in his Introduction before the action resumes with ‘Confrontation’ (by scripter Wein and illustrators Ross Andru & Mike Esposito), wherein obsessive personal gadfly J. Jonah Jameson accosts Peter Parker with photographic proof that confirms the lad is the hated wallcrawler. The evidence has been supplied by a mystery villain but even as our hero seemingly talks his way out of trouble, a new foe emerges in the corpulent form of evil psychologist Doctor Faustus who targets Spider-Man with drugs and illusions to prove ‘Madness is All in the Mind!’ (co-inked by Frank Giacoia)…

Next follows that aforementioned crossover…

The Man Called Nova was in fact a boy named Richard Rider. The new kid was a working-class teen nebbish in the tradition of Peter Parker – except he was good at sports and bad at learning – who attended Harry S. Truman High School, where his strict dad was the principal.

His mom worked as a police dispatcher and he had a younger brother, Robert, who was a bit of a genius.

Rider’s life changed forever when a colossal star-ship with a dying alien aboard bequeathed to the lad all the mighty powers of an extraterrestrial peacekeeper and warrior. Centurion Rhomann Dey had been tracking a deadly marauder to Earth. Zorr had already destroyed the warrior’s idyllic homeworld Xandar, but the severely wounded, vengeance-seeking Nova Prime was too near death and could not avenge the genocide.

Trusting to fate, Dey beamed his powers and abilities towards the planet below where Rich is struck by an energy bolt and plunged into a coma. On awakening, the boy realises he has gained awesome powers… and all the responsibilities of the last Nova Centurion…

Nova #12 (August 1977, by Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Giacoia) asks ‘Who is the Man Called Photon?’ by teaming the neophyte hero with the far-more experienced webslinger in a fair-play murder mystery, brimming with unsavoury characters and likely killers after Rich’s uncle Dr. Ralph Rider is killed by a costumed thief…

However, there are ploys within ploys occurring and, after the mandatory hero head-butting session, the kids join forces and the mystery is dramatically resolved in Amazing Spider-Man #171’s ‘Photon is Another Name For…?’ courtesy of Wein, Andru & Esposito.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #11 follows as ‘Spawn of the Spider’ (by Archie Goodwin & Bill Mantlo, Don Perlin & Jim Mooney) pits the wallcrawler against a deranged and disgruntled movie special effects man who creates a trio of bio-augmented arachnoid monsters to destroy the wallcrawler…

Brief back up ‘Chaos at the Coffee Bean!’ was written by Scott Edelman and inked by Al Milgrom and details how Peter and Mary Jane Watson are caught up in a hostage situation at their college bistro. It’s probably most noteworthy as the pencilling debut of future superstar creator John Romita Jr.

ASM #172 features ‘The Fiends from the Fire! (Wein, Andru & Giacoia) as Spidey trashes idiotic skateboarding super-thief Rocket Racer only to stumble into true opposition when old enemy Molten Man attacks, desperately seeking a way to stop himself evolving into a blazing post-human funeral pyre…

Mooney inked concluding chapter ‘If You Can’t Stand the Heat…!’ as a cure for the blazing villain proves ultimately ineffectual and personally tragic for Parker’s oldest friends, after which #174 declares ‘The Hitman’s Back in Town!’ (inks by Tony DeZuñiga & Mooney). This sees still relatively unknown vigilante FrankThe PunisherCastle hunting a costumed assassin hired to remove Jameson, but experiencing an unusual reticence since the killer is an old army pal who had saved his life in Vietnam.

Despite Spider-Man being outfought and out-thought in every clash, the tale resolves with the hero somehow triumphant, even though everything ends with a fatality in the Mooney-embellished conclusion ‘Big Apple Battleground!’ in #175.

The remainder of this volume is taken up with an extended epic that sees the return of Spider-Man’s most manic opponent. Illustrated by Andru & DeZuñiga, ‘He Who Laughs Last…!’ features the return of the Green Goblin, who targets Parker’s friends and family…

When the original villain – Norman Osborn – died, his son Harry lost his grip on sanity and became a new version, equally determined to destroy Spider-Man. On his defeat, Harry began therapy under the care of psychiatrist Bart Hamilton and seemed to be making a full recovery. Now both patient and doctor are missing…

The assaults on Parker’s inner circle increase in ‘Goblin in the Middle’ (Esposito inks) with the emerald psychopath expanding operations to challenge crime-boss Silvermane for control of New York’s rackets whilst in ‘Green Grows the Goblin!’ (inked by Mooney) and ‘The Goblin’s Always Greener!’ (Esposito) a devious plot and shocking twist lead to a near-death experience for Aunt May before an astonishing three-way Battle Royale ends the crisis in ‘Who Was That Goblin I Saw You With?’

Added extras this time around include Gil Kane & Giacoia’s front-&-back covers for Marvel Treasury Edition #14 (The Sensational Spider-Man), and its frontispiece by Andru; House ads for Spider-family titles and 1977 Annuals, plus the usual biography pages to complete another superb and crucial selection starring this timeless teen icon and superhero symbol.
© 1976, 1977, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Dick Ayers & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4212-6 (HB)

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos began as an improbable, decidedly over-the-top, rowdy and raucous WWII combat comics series similar in tone to later ensemble action movies such as The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch and The Dirty Dozen. The surly squad of sorry reprobates premiered in May 1963, one of three action teams concocted by creative men-on-fire Jack Kirby & Stan Lee to secure fledgling Marvel’s growing position as the comics publisher to watch.

Two years later Fury’s post-war self was retooled as the big-name star of a second series (beginning with Strange Tales #135, August 1965) when TV espionage shows such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. or Mission: Impossible and the James Bond film franchise became global sensations.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. combined Cold War tensions with sinister schemes of World Domination by subversive all-encompassing hidden enemy organisations: with captivating super-science gadgetry and iconic imagineering from Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko.

For all that time, however, the original wartime version soldiered on (sorry: puns are my weapon of choice), blending a uniquely flamboyant house-bravado style and often ludicrous, implausible, historically inaccurate, all-action bombast with moments of genuine heartbreak, unbridled passion and seething emotion.

Sgt. Fury started out as a pure Kirby creation. As with all his various combat comics, The King made everything look harsh and real and appalling: the people and places all grimy, tired, battered yet indomitable.

The artist had served in some of the worst battles of the war and never forgot the horrific and heroic things he saw (and more graphically expressed in his efforts during the 1950s genre boom at a number of different companies). However, even at kid-friendly, Comics Code-sanitised Marvel, those experiences perpetually leaked through onto his powerfully gripping pages.

Kirby was – unfortunately – far too valuable a resource to squander on a simple war comic (or indeed the X-Men and Avengers: the other series launched in that tripartite blitz on kids’ spending money) and he was quickly moved on, leaving redoubtable fellow veteran Dick Ayers to illuminate later stories, which he did for almost the entire run of the series (95 issues plus Annuals) until its transition to a reprint title with #121 (July 1974). The title then carried on until its ultimate demise, with #167, in December 1981.

Ex-serviceman Lee remained as scripter until he too was pulled away by the developing Marvel phenomenon after which a succession of youthful, next-generation writers took over, beginning with Roy Thomas who provide welcome background in his Introduction, after which this third hardback and eBook compendium re-presents the contents of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #24-32 and the second Annual (collectively spanning November 1965 to August 1966) opening with a Lee scripted, Ayers and Frank Giacoia (AKA Frankie Ray) inked milestone as the war-weary squad head back to America in ‘When the Howlers Hit the Home Front!’

Of course, they still find plenty of trouble when battle comrade and Kentucky gentleman “Rebel” Ralston and his family are captured by Nazi Bundists and the First Attack Squad forgoes leave to rush to the rescue. At adventure’s end, however, the victorious team are forced to leave grievously wounded corporal Dum Dum Dugan behind to recuperate…

John Tartaglione signed on as regular inker for ‘Every Man My Enemy!’ as the unit return to Britain to commence a secret mission and expose a spy who has infiltrated their Army camp. The hunt eventually uncovers one of history’s greatest super-villains and leads to the first of many deadly clashes between Fury and the most dangerous man alive…

Golden Age veteran Carl Hubbell deployed his pens and brushes on ‘Dum Dum Does It the Hard Way!’, as the doughty corporal is shot down in the Atlantic whilst seeking to rejoin the Howlers, precipitating a stirring saga of privation and courage as the flight crew’s life raft is picked up by merciless U-Boat commander Vice Admiral Ribbondorf – the Sea Shark! That move was only the Nazi’s first mistake…

Issue #27 – by Lee, Ayers & Tartaglione – then reveals the origin of the sturdy sergeant’s optical injury (which would, in later life, lead to his adopting that stylish eyepatch) when the squad are despatched to Germany to destroy a new Nazi beam weapon. A now-obligatory SNAFU separates the squad and ‘Fury Fights Alone!’ before finally escaping “Festung Europa” and battling his way back to Blighty…

In the previous volume readers saw how Hitler demanded that his elite field commander should form a specialist unit to surpass Fury’s Commandos. The result was The Blitzkrieg Squad of Baron Strucker and they proved utterly ineffectual. Now the Fuhrer gives his once-favoured Prussian aristocrat one last chance to prove himself by obliterating the French town (and Resistance stronghold) Cherbeaux: a task even the disaffected Junker feels is a step too far…

With the town mined and the population imprisoned within, Fury’s Commandos are sent to stop the promised atrocity in ‘Not a Man Shall Remain Alive!’ The battle in the streets ends with another spectacular face-off between the icons of two warring ideologies and ‘Armageddon!’ for the hostage city…

With Strucker’s threat seemingly ended, Roy Thomas begins his run with ‘Incident in Italy!’ as the First Attack Squad parachute into a trap and are locked up in a POW camp. With the spotlight on former movie idol Dino Manelli, the Howlers link up with partisans, bust open the camp, free the captives and blaze their way back to liberty, before ‘Into the Jaws of… Death!’ sees the heroes retraining for underwater demolitions before being distracted by the abduction of their commander, Captain Samuel “Happy Sam” Sawyer. It’s the biggest and last mistake this bunch of Gestapo goons ever make…

The monthly missions conclude here with another episode of infernal intrigue as one of the Howlers is insidiously indoctrinated and turns against his comrades as they battle for their lives in Norway while dealing with ‘A Traitor in Our Midst!’

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Annual #2 was released in August 1966, and offered a brace of reprints (not included here) plus an all-new but out-of-continuity tale by Thomas, Ayers & Tartaglione. ‘A Day of Thunder!’ is set on June 5th 1944 and stirringly reveals the pivotal role the Howling Commandos play in paving the way for D-Day…

Closing this comics campaign is an unused cover art by Ayers.

Whereas close rival DC increasingly abandoned the Death or Glory bombast at this time in favour of humanistic, practically anti-war explorations of war and soldiering, Marvel’s take always favoured action-entertainment and fantasy over soul-searching for ultimate truths. On that level at least, these early epics are stunningly effective and galvanically powerful exhibitions of the genre. Just don’t use them for history homework.
© 1965, 1966, 2017 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, George Pérez & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1630-1 (HB) 978-0-7851-5869-1 (TPB)

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

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

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

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

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire was added one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine, and all-original creations 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 (and with this tome, imminently ensuing) Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character.

In the aftermath team leader Cyclops left but the epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the epochal working relationship of Claremont 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

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

This Fabulous fourth 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. It celebrates the unstoppable march to market dominance through the pivotal early stories: specifically, X-Men #122-131 plus the X-Men Annual #3 of the decidedly “All-New, All-Different” – spanning June 1979 to March 1980.

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

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

As the weary team slowly settle in at the mansion again, they try to resume their previous routines but psychological stress testing shows Russian teen Colossus is having second thoughts about deserting his family and country…

In New York, Storm has at last taken the time to trace her roots, visiting the old home of her American dad, only to find it now a disgusting junkie squat filled with doped-up, feral kids who viciously attack her…

Stabbed and bleeding, she lashes out and only the sudden arrival of hero for hire Luke Cage and his friend Misty Knight (coincidentally Jean’s Manhattan room-mate) prevents a tragedy. None of them are remotely aware that they have been targeted by the world’s most outrageous hit-man…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Issue #126 resumes frantic hours later as the X-Men approach Muir Island in their supersonic jet. With all contact lost and no telepath aboard, Cyclops assumes the worst and the squad infiltrate in battle formation, only to find a withered corpse and badly shaken comrades Lorna Dane, Havok, Madrox, Moira and Jean slowly recovering from a psionic assault.

In ‘How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth…!’ Dr. MacTaggert bitterly reveals the attacker is a psychic bodysnatcher imprisoned on Muir for years. He’s also her son…

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

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

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

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

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

With Edinburgh and perhaps the entire world roiling and rebelling as science goes mad, X-Men #128 sees the valiant champions strike back to spectacularly triumph in ‘The Action of the Tiger!’ after which ‘God Spare the Child…’ sees another happy reunion as the heroes (all but the now retired Banshee) discover Charles Xavier awaiting them when they reach Westchester.

Jean is increasingly slipping into visions of a former life as a spoiled, cruel child of privilege, contrasting sharply with her renewed love for Scott, but the home atmosphere is troubled by another discordant factor. Xavier is intent on resuming the training of the team, haughtily oblivious that this group are grizzled, seasoned veterans of combat, rather than the callow teenagers he first tutored.

Elsewhere a cabal of mutants and millionaires plot. Black King Sebastian Shaw, White Queen Emma Frost and the rest of the Hellfire Club hierarchy know Wyngarde is an ambitious and presumptuous upstart, but the possibility of subverting the Phoenix to their world-dominating agenda is irresistible…

When two new mutants manifest, Xavier splits the team to contact both, taking Storm, Wolverine and Colossus to Chicago and meeting the nervous parents of naive 13-year old Kitty Pryde who has just realised that along with all the other problems of puberty, she can now fall through floors and walk through walls…

However, no sooner does Professor Xavier offer to admit her to his select and prestigious private school than they are all attacked by war-suited mercenaries and shipped by Emma Frost to the Hellfire Club. Only Kitty escapes, but instead of running she stows away on the transport; terrified but intent on saving the day…

The other mutant neophyte debuts in X-Men #130 as Cyclops, Phoenix and Nightcrawler head to Manhattan’s club district to track down a disco singer dubbed ‘Dazzler’ unaware that they too have been targeted for capture. However little Kitty’s attempts to free the captives at the Hellfire base forces the villains to tip their hand early and with the assistance of Dazzler Alison Blair – a musical mutant who converts sound to devastating light effects – the second mercenary capture team is defeated…

The drama concludes for now in #131 where Kitty is forced to frantically ‘Run for Your Life!’ – fortunately straight into the arms of the remaining X-Men. Soon the plucky lass – after an understandable period of terror, confusion and kvetching – leads an incursion into the lair of the White Queen to free Wolverine, Colossus and Xavier as Frost faces off in a deadly psionic showdown with a Phoenix far less kind and caring than ever before…

For many fans these tales – and those in the next volume – comprise the definitive X-Men look and feel: some of the greatest stories Marvel ever published; entertaining, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating. These adventures are an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 1979, 1980, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 9


By Mike Friedrich, Jim Starlin, Steve Gerber, Bill Everett, George Tuska, P. Craig Russell, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9190-2 (HB)

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

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

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

Of course, whilst he was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism – a glamorous millionaire industrialist/scientist and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his alter-ego – the turbulent tone of the 1970s soon relegated his suave, “can-do” image to the dustbin of history.

With ecological disaster and social catastrophe from the myriad abuses of big business the new zeitgeists of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting a few tricky questions from the increasingly politically savvy readership.

With glamour, money and fancy gadgetry not quite so cool anymore the questing voices of a new generation of writers began posing uncomfortable questions in the pages of a series that was once the bastion of militarised America …

This grand and gleaming chronological compendium – available in hardback and digital editions – navigates that transitional period; reprinting Iron Man #54-67 (January 1973 to April 1974) and offering tone and context for the times comes courtesy of main writer Mike Friedrich’s Introduction.

Issue #54 found Stark in California and drawn into what became one of Marvel’s most successful crossover epics. ‘Sub-Mariner: Target for Death!’ debuted pitiless alien researcher Madame MacEvil – later re-branded during the Thanos Saga as Moondragon after this opening salvo – a bald, sexy siren who manipulated Iron Man into attacking the Prince of Atlantis in a spectacular bout with the bonus of additional art from the legendary Bill Everett supplementing the efforts of Friedrich, George Tuska & Vince Colletta…

The Thanos story moved into full gear in Iron Man #55, as Friedrich scripted illustrator Jim Starlin’s opening gambit ‘Beware The… Blood Brothers!’ introducing haunted humanoid powerhouse Drax the Destroyer, trapped by extraterrestrial invader Thanos under the Nevada desert and in dire need of rescue…

(This was all merely a prelude to the full saga which appeared in Captain Marvel #25-33, Marvel Feature #12 and Avengers #125, and has been collected in such compilations as The Life of Captain Marvel and others.)

Iron Man #56 was a literally magical palate-cleanser, as Steve Gerber joined Starlin & Mike Esposito to tell the satirically hilariously tragedy of ‘Rasputin’s Revenge’, wherein a street corner doom-prophet accidentally gains the power to fulfil his prognostications but still falls sadly short of engineering the apocalypse…

It was back to business as usual with Gerber, Tuska, Esposito & Frank Giacoia in #57 as a devastating ‘Strike!’ hits troubled Stark Industries, engineered by an insidious old enemy who inevitably overplays his be-ringed hand in concluding episode ‘Mandarin and the Unicorn: Double-Death!’ (with Friedrich returning to script Gerber’s plot) after which ‘A Madness in Motown!’ sees Stark battling the revenge-maddened anti-capitalist Firebrand whilst unknowingly falling for the torrid terrorist’s sister Roxie Gilbert.

Another 2-part clash follows – this time against a deadly technology-thief – which began with ‘Cry Marauder!’ after a masked malcontent steals Stark’s experimental space shuttle, culminating in ‘Death Knells over Detroit!’ as the purloined prototype is unerringly aimed like a monstrous missile into the heart of Motor City, leaving a crippled Iron Man only seconds to save the day…

Don’t fret folks; it all turned out alright in the end…

With Mike Friedrich scripting, the action stays in Detroit where Stark is inspecting one of his factories until former Maggia assassin ‘Whiplash Returns!’ (illustrated by P. Craig Russell, Esposito, Giacoia & John Romita Sr.). The crazed killer is raging for revenge and especially ticked off that his girlfriend has been made his boss…

An extended epic began in #63 with ‘Enter: Dr. Spectrum’, illustrated by Tuska & Esposito. Here, as Stark relentlessly – and fruitlessly – romantically pursues pacifist dissident Roxie Gilbert in Detroit, obnoxious Ugandan financier and diplomat Dr. Kinji Obatu visits the Long Island plant and is attacked by a gang of masked thugs.

The assault is repelled thanks to the timely assistance of stand-in Iron Man Eddie March, who is promptly offered a bodyguard job by the creepy ambassador and invited to accompany him to a meeting with Stark in “Motor City”.

On arrival, photonic fiend Dr. Spectrum ambushes the inventor, before being driven off by the Armoured Avenger after a titanic and costly struggle. A far more serious problem emerges later when old friend Happy Hogan accuses Tony of having an affair with his wife Pepper

Spectrum strikes again in the next issue, with a similar lack of success, before Happy blows his top and takes a swing at Stark, but that confrontation is curtailed when a gigantic monster kidnaps the just-arrived Obatu in ‘Rokk Cometh!’ When the beast targets Roxie, the exhausted Iron Man intervenes but is too drained to resist the relentless Spectrum…

Issue #65 exposes ‘The Cutting Edge of Death!’ when the Golden Avenger learns the true parasitical nature of Spectrum’s Power Prism as it transfers itself from the wilfully disobedient villain Obatu to the worn-out hero.

Its glee is short lived though, as the possessed Iron Man is challenged by recently arrived comrade Thor, resulting in a blockbusting ‘Battle Royal!’ which only ends after the Thunderer crushes the crystal conqueror to discovered the dying man inside the armour is neither Stark nor Obatu…

As a consequence of that climactic clash of myth and mechanism, IM #67 sees the impostor Iron Man temporarily mutated by Stark’s medical miracle machine the Cobalt Enervator into a rampaging monster in ‘Return of the Freak!’ but no sooner do the genuine Armoured Avenger and surgeon Don Blake (who we all know was Thor back then) stop and save the berserk victim than Stark is drawn into another conflict in South East Asia…

To Be Continued…

With this volume (which also offers a stunning original art gallery of pages and covers by Tuska, Everett, Starlin, Romita and Gil Kane), Marvel completely entrenched itself in the camp of the young and the restless who experienced at first hand and every day the social upheaval America was undergoing.

Their rebellious teen sensibility and increased political conscience permeated the company’s publications as their core audience moved beyond Flower Power protests towards a generation of acutely aware activists. Future tales would increasingly bring reformed capitalist Stark into many unexpected and outrageous situations…

But that’s the meat of another review, as this engrossing graphic novel is done. From our distant vantage point the polemical energy and impact might be dissipated, but the sheer quality of the comics and the cool thrill of the eternal aspiration of man in perfect partnership with magic metal remains.

These Fights ‘n’ Tights classics are amongst the most underrated but impressive tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold hard cash…
© 1973, 1974, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Steve Englehart, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Sam Kweskin, Rich Buckler, Jim Starlin, Bob Brown & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9917-5 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and a living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. He fought gangsters, a variety of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion. He quipped and wise-cracked his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody, quasi-religious metaphor he latterly became.

After spending years in a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page, Murdock took up with former client and Russian émigré Natasha Romanoff, the infamous and notorious spy dubbed The Black Widow.

She was railroaded and framed for murder and prosecuted by Matt’s best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson before the blind legal eagle cleared her. Subsequently leaving New York with her for the wild wacky and West Coast, Matt joined prestigious law firm Broderick & Sloan but adventure, disaster and intrigue seemed capable of finding the Sightless Swashbuckler anywhere…

In these tales from the pivotal era of relevancy, social awareness and increasing political polarisation, the Man Without Fear was also growing into the judicial conscience of a generation…

This dynamic collection (available in sturdy hardback and handy digital formats) re-presents Daredevil #97-107, covering March 1973-January 1974 and also includes Avengers #111, wherein twin storylines converged and concluded.

The Marvel Magic recommences following an overview from commentator, biographer and documentarian Jon B. Cooke whose Introduction ‘Look Back in Angar’ adds crucial context to the rapid turnover of creative staff at this juncture.

With DD and the Widow firmly ensconced in San Francisco, Steve Gerber took over scripting with DD #97 (from Conway’s plots and illustrated by Gene Colan & inker Ernie Chan/Chua) for ‘He Who Saves’ as a street acrobat suffers a calamitous accident and is subsequently mutated by sinister hidden forces into proto-godling the Dark Messiah.

The already unstoppable Agent of Change is joined by three equally awesome Disciples of Doom in #98’s on the streets in ‘Let There be… Death!’, but even though physically overmatched, the heroic couple’s psychological warfare proves fatally effective in ending the crisis, if not ferreting out the real villains…

Daredevil and the Black Widow #99 featured ‘The Mark of Hawkeye!’ by now-autonomous Gerber, with Sam Kweskin & Syd Shores providing the pictures, which finds Natasha Romanoff’s old boyfriend turning up determined to reclaim her…

The caveman tactics lead to the Archer’s sound and well-deserved thrashing and result in a quick jump into Avengers #111. Crafted by Steve Englehart, Don Heck & Mike Esposito, ‘With Two Beside Them!’ sees the West Coast vigilantes join a ragtag and much-depleted team of heroes to rescue a number of X-Men and Avengers enslaved by the malevolent Magneto.

Dumped by Natasha and returning alone to the City by the Bay and for his anniversary issue, Daredevil agonisingly relives his origins and danger-drenched life in ‘Mind Storm!’ (Gerber, Colan & John Tartaglione) just as a savage and embittered psionic terrorist launched a series of mind-mangling assaults on the populace, culminating one month later in a shattering showdown between the blind hero and Angar the Screamer as well as a shaky reconciliation with the Widow in ‘Vengeance in the Sky with Diamonds!’, illustrated by Rich Buckler & Frank Giacoia.

Scripted by Chris Claremont, and limned by Syd Shores & Frank Giacoia ‘Stilt-Man Stalks the City’ finds Hornhead hunting psychedelic assassin Angar, which accidentally brings him into conflict with a merciless and similarly displaced old foe. The skyscraping scoundrel has kidnapped the daughter of an inventor in order to extort enhanced weaponry out of the traumatised tinkerer but isn’t expecting interference from his oldest adversary or his utterly ruthless Russian paramour….

No sooner have DD and the Widow ended the miscreant’s rampage than #103 sees a team-up with Spider-Man as a merciless cyborg attacks the odd couple while they pose for roving photojournalist Peter Parker in ‘…Then Came Ramrod!’ by new regular team Gerber, Heck & Sal Trapani.

The barely-human brute is after files in Murdock’s safe and hints of a hidden master, but ultimately his blockbusting strength is of little use against the far faster veteran heroes…

Even as the distracted Murdock realises that his own boss is sabotaging the attorney’s cases, the mystery manipulator is hiring warped mercenary Sergei Kravinoff to make Daredevil ‘Prey of the Hunter!’

Matt’s priorities change when Kraven abducts Natasha, and even after the hero rescues her, the Hunter explosively returns to defeat them both, throwing the swashbuckler to his death…

Daredevil #105 sees the Widow brutally avenging her man’s murder, but Murdock is far from dead, having being teleported from the jaws of doom by a ‘Menace from the Moons of Saturn!’ (inked by Don Perlin)…

In a short sequence pencilled by Jim Starlin, earthborn Priestess of Titan Moondragon is introduced, revealing how she has been dispatched to Earth to counter the schemes of death-worshipping proto-god Thanos. She also inadvertently discloses how she has allied with a respected man of power and authority, providing him with a variety of augmented agents such as Dark Messiah, Ramrod and Angar…

Gerber, Heck & Trapani bring the expansive extended epic closer to culmination as the manipulator is unmasked in ‘Life Be Not Proud!’… but not before the wily plotter redeploys all his past minions, shoots his misguided ally Moondragon, usurps a Titanian ultimate weapon and unleashes a life-leeching horror dubbed Terrex upon the world.

With all Earth endangered, DD, the Widow and guest-star Captain Marvel are forced to pull out all the stops to defeat the threat, and only then after a last-minute defection by the worst of their enemies and a desperate ‘Blind Man’s Bluff!’ courtesy of Gerber, Bob Brown & Sal Buscema.

This supremely enticing volume also offers extra treats: the promotional cover for #100, and John Romita & Michael Esposito’s original art for the cover of issues #105. As the social upheaval of this period receded, the impressively earnest material was replaced by fabulous fantasy tales which strongly suggested the true potential of Daredevil was in reach. These beautifully illustrated yarns may still occasionally jar with their heartfelt stridency and sometimes dated attitudes, but the narrative energy and sheer exuberant excitement of such classic adventures are graphic joys no action fan will care to miss. And the next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…
© 1973, 1974, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sub-Mariner Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Marie Severin, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3487-9 (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 fantasy tales, but even so the time wasn’t right and the title sunk again.

When Stan Lee & Jack Kirby started reinventing comicbook superheroes in 1961 with the 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 third subsea selection – available in hardback and eBook editions – collects The Sub-Mariner #2-13, spanning June 1968 to May 1969 (plus a spoof yarn from August 1968’s Not Brand Echh # 9) and opens with another heartfelt appreciation and some creative secret-sharing from sometime-scribe and life-long fan Roy Thomas in his Introduction.

Following the premiere issue’s recapitulation of the hero’s origins and some plot ground-laying regarding malign super-telepath Destiny (who was responsible for those memory-deficient years), Sub-Mariner #2 contrived an eagerly-anticipated undersea team-up as ‘Cry… Triton!’ (by Thomas, John Buscema & Frank Giacoia) more than made up for the confusion as Namor’s true origin with a blockbusting battle epic in which the aquatic Inhuman stumbles into combat with Namor while exploring a monster-making lab run by D-list villain Plant Man.

Even as the heroes pummel each other, in the Destiny-wracked ruins of Atlantis, Lady Dorma leads an exodus of survivors to a new site to rebuild the empire. Meanwhile, Triton’s fellow Inhumans seek his rescue, prompting the vegetable villain to rapidly relocate…

Issue #3 sees Plant Man unleashing his colossal floral horror against London with his vegetable monsters in concluding clash ‘On a Clear Day You Can See… the Leviathan!’, before the undersea stalwarts unite to end his threat for the immediate future.

Still hunting Destiny, Namor then falls into the sadistic clutches of subsea barbarian Attuma after the merciless warlord attacks the wandering Atlanteans. Although he triumphs in ‘Who Strikes for Atlantis?’ and liberates his people, the Sub-Mariner swims on alone, believing beloved Dorma to have perished in the battle…

Twin nemeses debut next, in the forms of deranged bio-engineer Dr. Dorcas and crippled Olympic swimmer Todd Arliss who is mutated by mad science via Namor’s own hybrid powers into a ravening amphibian killer in ‘Watch Out for… Tiger Shark!’

As Dorcas’s blind ambition and lust for power unleash an aquatic horror he cannot control, Lady Dorma stumbles into Tiger Shark’s’ clutches after he seemingly kills Namor, which the man-monster parlays into an attempt to seize the throne of Atlantis (once it’s rebuilt) in …And to the Vanquished… Death!’ (inked by Dan Adkins).

Namor has been rescued by Arliss’ sister Diane (a beautiful surface-dweller who will be a romantic distraction for Sub-Mariner for many years) but has no time for gratitude as he tracks the mutated human and defeats him in personal combat.

Restored to his throne, people and beloved, the Sub-Mariner is immediately called away when his greatest enemy is located. The telepathic tyrant is about to seal his plans by taking control of America in ‘For President… the Man Called Destiny!’, but as Namor and Dorma challenge him in Manhattan, the villain’s own pride proves to be his downfall…

An epic clash in #8 pits the arrogant, impetuous Sub-Mariner against the Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm – AKA the Thing – to possess the eerie helmet that furnished Destiny’s mental powers. However, the pointless devastation ‘In the Rage of Battle!’ is almost irrelevant: what is truly significant is the reintroduction of a woman from Namor’s past who can reason with him with as no other mortal can…

Penciller Marie Severin joins writer Thomas and inker Adkins for a landmark moment as the helmet of power metamorphoses into an arcane artefact that will reshape the history of the Marvel Universe for years to come. In ‘The Spell of the Serpent!’ the helmet is revealed as a seductive mystic crown that takes over the citizenry in Namor’s absence, recreating an antediluvian empire ruled by elder god Set. On his return, Namor steals the corrupting crown and is given a glimpse of the Earth’s secret history as well as a vision of a lost pacific subsea race… the Lemurians.

There’s no such thing as coincidence, so when their emissary Karthon the Quester suddenly attempts to take the serpentine totem, Namor is ready to resist in ‘Never Bother a Barracuda!’ (drawn by Gene Colan). As a tale of dawn age skulduggery unfolds involving a demonic immortal priest named Naga and valiant Lemurian heroes who saved the world by stealing his crown, the water-breathers are ambushed by human pirate Cap’n Barracuda and forced to assist his scheme of nuclear blackmail…

Seizing his chance, Karthon swipes the crown and flees, leaving Namor to face ‘The Choice and the Challenge!’ (inked by George Klein), and eventually scuttle the scheme of atomic armageddon, before making the perilous journey to Lemuria to challenge the mystic might and deadly illusions of Naga in ‘A World Against Me!’ (gloriously pencilled, inked and coloured by Severin). The epic encounter then concludes in the Joe Sinnott inked ‘Death, Thou Shalt Die!’ as Naga oversteps and loses the world, the crown and everything else…

Before the end, though, there’s a brilliant bonus bonanza…

Anyone who knew (or even knew of) Marie Severin soon learned she was a gifted gag cartoonist with a devasting wit and this tome includes her at her most devilish: adding a not-so-serious alternative spin to one of her own classics with ‘Bet There’ll be Battle!’, from satire mag Not Brand Echh #9. Here the Inedible Bulk and Prince No-More, the Sunk Mariner, create cartoon carnage and comedy gold in a brisk and brutal brouhaha…

in the form of pages of original art and covers by Colan and Everett.

These tales feature some of Marvel’s very best artists at their visual peak, and the verve and enthusiasm still shine 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 that fans will find delightful.
© 1968, 1969, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 7


By Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema, John Romita & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8799-8 (HB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a bombastic, dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss.

He faded away during the post-war reconstruction but briefly reappeared after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every brave American kid’s bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time for the turbulent, culturally divisive 1960s.

By the time of the tales gathered in this seventh Masterworks volume (available in luxurious hardback and accessible eBook formats) – comprising issues #149-159 of Captain America and the Falcon from May 1972 to March 1973 – the Star-Spangled Avenger had become an uncomfortable symbol of a troubled, divided society, split along age lines and with many of the hero’s fans apparently rooting for the wrong side. Now into that turbulent mix crept issues of racial and gender inequality…

Following a fond, forthright and informative reminiscence from scripter Steve Englehart in his Introduction, the action opens here with the Star-Spangled Avenger – now increasingly at odds with super-scientific government spy-agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division) and its Director Nick Fury. The troubled hero is also attempting to revive his secret identity as a New York beat cop…

Gerry Conway assumed the writing chores for issues #149-152, an uncharacteristically uninspired run that began with ‘All the Colors… of Evil!’ (illustrated by Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney) wherein Gallic mercenary Batroc resurfaces, kidnapping ghetto kids for an unidentified client…

This turns out to be the alien Stranger (or at least his parallel universe incarnation Jakar) who intervenes personally in ‘Mirror, Mirror…!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) but is still defeated far too easily.

‘Panic on Park Avenue’ (Buscema & Vince Colletta) pits Cap against enfeebled villains Mr. Hyde and the Scorpion as Conway sought to retroactively include Captain America in his ambitious Mr. Kline Saga. Android copies of the super-creeps had attacked Daredevil and the Black Widow in their own comicbook and here we discover what happened to the originals during that period. Assuming S.H.I.E.L.D. was responsible for their woes, the thugs target Steve Rogers and his secret agent girlfriend Sharon Carter with disastrous results, climaxing with the Frank Giacoia inked ‘Terror in the Night!’ featuring all-out battles and new plot-complications for officer Rogers and his hard-boiled boss Sgt. Muldoon

Captain America and the Falcon #153 heralded a renaissance and magical return to form for the Sentinel of Liberty as Steve Englehart came aboard, hitting the ground running with a landmark epic rewriting Marvel history and captivating die-hard fans simultaneously.

The wonderment opens with ‘Captain America… Hero or Hoax?’ (inked by Mooney) as Falcon, Sharon and Cap endure an acrimonious confrontation with Nick Fury and decide to take a break from S.H.I.E.L.D.

While Sam Wilson goes back to Harlem – splitting his time between social work, chasing sexy activist Leila and stamps his mark on the local gangs as the Falcon – Steve and Sharon book a holiday in the Bahamas, but it isn’t long before Falcon catches Captain America committing racist attacks in New York. Enraged, Falcon tracks him down but was easily beaten since supposed partner has somehow acquired super-strength and a resurrected Bucky Barnes

In ‘The Falcon Fights Alone!’ (Verpoorten inks) the maniac impostors claim to be “real” American heroes and reveal what they want: a confrontation with the lily-livered, pinko wannabe who has replaced and disgraced them…

Even after torturing their captive they are frustrated in their plans until the faux Cap tricks the information out of the Avengers.

Battered and bruised, Falcon heads to the holiday refuge but is too late to prevent an ambush wherein Steve Rogers learns ‘The Incredible Origin of the Other Captain America!’ (Frank McLaughlin inks and including repurposed excepts from the 1950s comics by John Romita): a brilliant piece of literary sleight-of-hand that ties up the Golden Age, 1950s revival and Silver Age iterations of the character in a clear, simple, devilishly clever manner, leading to an unbelievably affecting fabulously gratifying conclusion in ‘Two into One Won’t Go!’

After meeting and defeating a shade of the nation’s ugly past, Rogers hopes for less troublesome times, but instead ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici: Viper!’ (plotted by Englehart, scripted by Steve Gerber, with Sal Buscema & John Verpoorten illustrating) begins an epic, engrossing storyline by introducing a despicable advertising executive-turned snaky super-villain ostensibly working for an enigmatic boss named the Cowled Commander.

It transpires that corrupt connections at the police precinct where Rogers serves have been stirred into murderous action by our hero’s presence, leading to good cops being framed, bombs in offices and the Viper taking out survivors with lethally experimental poisonous darts…

When Falcon follows news of Cap’s death he also succumbs to toxins until ‘The Crime Wave Breaks!’ (Englehart, Buscema & Verpoorten) sees last-second salvation, a ramping-up of criminal activity and Rogers’ abduction, leading to a ‘Turning Point!’ wherein super-scum-for-hire Porcupine, Scarecrow, Plantman and the Eel’s ill-conceived attack give the game away and expose a hidden criminal mastermind in the heroes’ midst…

Wrapping up the patriotic revival is a stirring short selection of original art.

Any retrospective or historical re-reading is going to turn up a few cringe-worthy moments, but these tales of matchless courage and indomitable heroism are fast-paced, action-packed and depicted by top rank artists and storytellers. Here Captain America was finally discovering his proper place in a new era and would once more become unmissable, controversial comicbook reading, as we shall see when I get around to reviewing the next volume…
© 1972, 1973, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 9


By Gerry Conway & Gene Colan, with Tom Palmer, Syd Shores, Ernie Chan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-78519-152-0 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him capable of astonishing acrobatic feats, a formidable fighter and a living lie-detector.

Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists and a plethora of super-villains; quipping his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody quasi-religious metaphor he was seen as in later years.

Covering March 1972 to February 1973 and re-presenting Daredevil (and the Black Widow) this ninth swashbuckling compilation (available in both hardback and eBook formats) sees the once staid and so-very-Establishment Murdock cohabiting with a Russian spy and dumping New York for the sunny climes of the West Coast, the reason for which are covered in writers Gerry Conway’s Introduction ‘Matt and Natasha’s San Francisco Adventure or Wherever you go, There You Are’

This volume opens in the aftermath of a grand cataclysmic clash against future-born hidden mastermind Mr. Kline which leaves the odd couple in Switzerland and #85 sees the couple tentatively beginning a romantic alliance and returning to America on a ‘Night Flight!’ courtesy of Conway, Gene Colan & inker Syd Shores.

Typically, the plane is hijacked by the bloodthirsty Gladiator, after which another long-forgotten foe resurfaces – for the last time – in ‘Once Upon a Time… the Ox!’ (with stunning Tom Palmer inks) before Matt and Natasha relocate from the Big Apple to San Francisco and stumble into one more ancient Daredevil enemy in #87’s ‘From Stage Left, Enter: Electro!’

The memory lane menaces continue in ‘Call Him Killgrave!’ as the mind-bending Purple Man emerges from the anonymous shadows, erroneously convinced his nemesis has tracked him down to queer his nefarious schemes.

As the origin of the Black Widow is revealed for the first time (something that has been overwritten, back-written and chucked in a plot blender interminably ever since) the sinister spellbinder attacks and is temporarily repulsed only to regroup with Electro and attack again in ‘Crisis!’ just as a mysterious man from Natasha’s sordid past resurfaces with portentous news of a long-forgotten mission…

Daredevil #90 explores ‘The Sinister Secret of Project Four!’ as Hornhead starts suffering inexplicable, incapacitating panic attacks, explained a month later in ‘Fear is the Key!’ when Mister Fear strikes again… only to be revealed as far more than he seems…

Issue #92 finally bowed to the inevitable and became Daredevil and the Black Widow, just as a new menace manifests ‘On the Eve of the Talon!’ before the Project Four saga roars to a conclusion with the introduction of industrialist and paranoid arms-dealer Damon Dran who claims ‘A Power Corrupt!’ before being transformed into a proto-Kaiju and monolithic Indestructible Man rampaging through San Francisco…

Callously, arrogantly aware that ‘He Can Crush the World!’, Dran severely underestimates the power of superhuman heroism and an ultimate sacrifice which tragically saves the day…

Ending this collection – and the trawling of the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s rogues gallery – ‘Bullfight on the Bay!’ saw the metamorphic Man-Bull break jail and start a storm of destruction to revenge himself upon Daredevil, forcing Natasha to do her very worst in the concluding chapter ‘The Widow Will Make You Pay!’(inked by Ernie Chan), a complex tale of love, obsession, revenge and mutagenic potions in the water supply….

Topped off with a far too short selection of original art pages, and despite a few bumpy, dated moments, this book highlights a period where Daredevil blossomed into a truly potent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart, contemporarily astute stories, human and fallible characters and always, always magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1970, 1971, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Ricardo Villamonte & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1194-8 (HB) 978-0-7851-4570-7 (TPB)

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

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

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

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

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire was added one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine, and all-original creations 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

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

This third titanic 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. It celebrates the unstoppable march to market dominance through the pivotal early stories: specifically, issues #111-121 of the decidedly “All-New, All-Different” X-Men – spanning June 1978 to May 1979.

The drama resumes cloaked in moody mystery as ‘Mindgames’ (by dream team Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Terry Austin) sees the Beast visit a circus in search of the new team. They have been missing for weeks…

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

In X-Men #112 the revived and furious heroes fight and fail, leaving ‘Magneto Triumphant!’ and his enemies helplessly imprisoned miles beneath Antarctica in the tense, action-packed battle bonanza follow-up ‘Showdown!’

However, by the time the Polaric tyrant returns after terrorising the humans of Australia, the X-Men have broken free and are waiting for him…

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

They could not be more wrong.

Unable to go up, the remaining mutants tunnel downwards and ‘Desolation!’ turns to joy as they emerge into the antediluvian wilderness dubbed the Savage Land.

Linking up with old ally Ka-Zar, the team slowly recover in a dinosaur-filled elysian paradise. The idyll is rudely shattered when former foe Karl Lykos succumbs to his old addiction and absorbs their mutant energies to become lethal leather-winged predator Sauron

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps he is just surprised to discover Wolverine has unsuspected connections to Japan and has turned the head of local highborn maid Lady Mariko. A bigger surprise awaits the American specialist the government have brought in. Misty Knight is Jean Grey’s roommate in Manhattan and grieved with her at the X-Men’s deaths.

Now she has to tell Cyclops his girl has moved on and Professor X has abandoned Earth for the Shi’ar Empire…

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

This volume concludes with another tumultuous two-parter and the introduction of a foreign super-squad in ‘Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!’, as the enigmatic wild man – accompanied by Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Banshee and Nightcrawler – returns from a bombastic battle and heartbreak in Japan only to be covertly herded into Canadian airspace so that the Ottawa government can confiscate their former property…

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

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

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

Of course, he never promised to stay arrested…

These are some of the greatest stories Marvel ever published; entertaining, groundbreaking and uncannily intoxicating: an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 1977, 1978, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.