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

Marvel Two-in-One Marvel Masterworks volume 2

By Bill Mantlo, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Roger Slifer, Marv Wolfman, Scott Edelman, Tony Isabella, Ron Wilson, Sal Buscema, Bob Brown, Herb Trimpe, Arvell Jones, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0352-7 (HB)

Innovation isn’t everything. As Marvel slowly grew to a position of dominance in the wake of losing their two most groundbreaking and inspirational creators, they did so less by risky experimentation and more by expanding and exploiting proven concepts and properties.

The only real exception to this was their en masse creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

The concept of team-up books – 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 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, they may well have been right.

After the runaway success of Spider-Man’s collaborations in Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas reinforced the trend with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic member – beginning with two test runs in Marvel Feature before graduating to its own somewhat over-elaborate title Marvel Two-In-One. After a stunning experimental first ten issues, the title settled into a comfortable and entertaining format designed to draw in casual browsers as well as dedicated fans by featuring characters from far and wide across the MU…

This second compelling compendium – available in sturdy hardback and instantly-accessible digital formats – gathers the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #11-20, Annual #1, Marvel Team-Up #47 and Fantastic Four Annual #11, cumulatively covering the period September 1975 to October 1976, and kicks off with a fond remembrance by occasional scripter Roy Thomas in his Introduction before the action recommences…

During this period, this team-up title became a kind of clearing house for cancelled series and uncompleted storylines. Supernatural series The Golem had run ran in Strange Tales #174, 176 & 177 (June-December 1974) before being summarily replaced mid-story by Adam Warlock, and MTIO #11 provided plotter Thomas, scripter Bill Mantlo and artists Brown & Jack Abel the opportunity to offer some spectacular closure when ‘The Thing Goes South!’

This resulted in stony bloke and animated statue – after the traditional misapprehensions and mistaken brawl between good guys – finally combining forces to crush the insidious plot of demonic wizard Kaballa

Ron Wilson began his lengthy association with the series and the Thing in #12 as Iron Man and Ben tackle out of control, mystically-empowered ancient Crusader Prester John in ‘The Stalker in the Sands!’: a blistering desert storm written by Mantlo with inks from Vince Colletta, after which Luke Cage, Power Man pops in to help stop a giant monster in ‘I Created Braggadoom!, the Mountain that Walked like a Man!’ – an unabashed homage to Marvel’s anthological blockbuster beasties, scripted by Roger Slifer & Len Wein – after which Mantlo, Trimpe & John Tartaglione deliver a spooky encounter with spectres and demons in #14’s ‘Ghost Town!’ This moody mystical mission of mercy is shared with exorcist Daimon Hellstrom, The Son of Satan and leaves Ben rattled for months to come…

Mantlo, Arvell Jones & Dick Giordano brought on ‘The Return of the Living Eraser!’: a dimension-hopping invasion yarn introducing Ben to Morbius, the Living Vampire, before a canny crossover epic begins with the Thing and Ka-Zar plunging ‘Into the Savage Land!’ to dally with dinosaurs and defeat resource plunderers.

The action then switches to New York as Spider-Man joins the party in MTIO #17 to combat ‘This City… Afire!’ (Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Esposito) after mutated madman Basilisk transports an active volcano from Antarctica to the Hudson River, with the cataclysmic conclusion (from Marvel Team-Up #47) following, wherein Mantlo, Wilson & Dan Adkins have our heroes finish off the furore and save the day in fine style with ‘I Have to Fight the Basilisk!’

Another short-changed supernatural serial is laid to rest in MTIO #18. ‘Dark, Dark Demon-Night!’ – Mantlo, Scott Edelman, Wilson, Jim Mooney & Adkins – sees enigmatic mystical watchdog The Scarecrow escape from its painted prison to foil a demonic invasion with the reluctant assistance of the Thing, after which Tigra the Were-Woman slinks into Ben’s life to vamp a favour and crush a sinister scheme by a rogue cat creature in ‘Claws of the Cougar!’ by Mantlo, Sal Buscema, & Don Heck.

That yarn segued directly into Fantastic Four Annual #11 which featured portentous time-travel saga ‘And Now Then… the Invaders!’ by Thomas, John Buscema & Sam Grainger, wherein Marvel’s First Family dash back to 1942 to retrieve a cylinder of miracle-metal Vibranium. It had somehow fallen into Nazi hands and had begun to unwrite history as a consequence…

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

The action continues in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1 as, with the present unravelling around him, Ben blasts back to 1942 in ‘Their Name is Legion!’ (Thomas, Sal Buscema, Grainger, Tartaglione & George Roussos), to link up with Home Front Heroes The Liberty Legion (collectively The Patriot, Thin Man, Red Raven, Jack Frost, Blue Diamond, Miss America and the Whizzer) in thwarting Nazi raiders Skyshark and Master Man, Japanese agent Slicer and Atlantean traitor U-Man’s invasion of America. The battle proved so big it spilled over and concluded in Marvel Two-In-One #20 (October 1976) in a shattering ‘Showdown at Sea!’: pitting the heroes against diabolical Nazi scientist Brain Drain, courtesy this time of Thomas, Sal B & Grainger.

That yarn ends the narrative thrills and chills for now, but there’s still room for a brief gallery of original art by Sal Buscema and Jack Kirby to delight and astound.

These stories from Marvel’s Middle Period are of variable quality but nonetheless represent an honest attempt to entertain and exhibit a dedicated drive to please. Whilst artistically the work varies from adequate to utterly superb, most fans of the frantic Fights ‘n’ Tights genre would find little to complain about.

Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s still buckets of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so why not to add this colossal comics chronicle to your straining superhero bookshelves?
© 1975, 1976, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 13


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Killraven Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Don McGregor & P. Craig Russell, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Herb Trimpe, Rich Buckler, Gene Colan, Keith Giffen & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1135-5 (HB)

When the first flush of the 1960s superhero revival began to fade at the end of the decade, Marvel – who had built their own resurgent renaissance on the phenomenon – began desperately casting around for new concepts to sustain their hard-won impetus. The task was especially difficult as the co-architect of their success (and the greatest and most experienced ideas-man in comics) had jumped ship to arch-rival National/DC, where Jack’s Kirby’s battalion of Fourth World series, The Demon, Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth, OMAC and other innovations were opening up new worlds of adventure to the ever-changing readership.

Although a global fascination with the supernatural had gripped the public – resulting in a huge outpouring of mystery and horror comics – other tried-&-true genre favourites were also revived and rebooted for modern sensibilities: westerns, war, humour, romance, sword & sorcery and science fiction…

At this time Stan Lee’s key assistant and star writer was (former-English teacher and lover of literature) Roy Thomas. As he gained editorial power Thomas increasingly dictated the direction of Marvel: creating new concepts and securing properties that could be given the “Marvel Treatment”. In a decade absolutely packed with innovative trial-&-error concepts, the policy had already paid huge dividends with the creation of Tomb of Dracula, Monster of Frankenstein and Werewolf by Night, whilst the brilliantly compelling Conan the Barbarian had quickly resulted in a whole new comicbook genus…

This hardback/digital compilation collects the bold and mercurial science-fiction thriller from Amazing Adventures #18-39, as well as the saga’s notional conclusion in Marvel Graphic Novel #7: an eclectic and admittedly inconsistent hero-history that has at times been Marvel’s absolute best and strong contender for worst character, in a sporadic career spanning May 1973 to 1983.

The feature struggled for a long time to carve out a solid identity for itself, but finally found a brilliantly effective and fantastically poetic voice when scripter Don McGregor arrived – and stayed – slowly recreating the potential epic into a perfectly crafted examination of contemporary American society in crisis; proving the old adage that all science fiction is about the Present and not the Future….

He was ideally complimented in his task by fellow artisan P. Craig Russell whose beautifully raw yet idealised art matured page by page over the long, hard months he illustrated the author’s increasingly powerful and evocative scripts.

The tone of those times is scrupulously recalled in McGregor’s Introduction before Marvels most successful Future Past opens…

The dystopian tomorrow first dawned in Amazing Adventures #18, conceived by Thomas & Neal Adams – before being ultimately scripted by Gerry Conway – wherein a ‘Prologue: 2018 A.D.’ introduces a New York City devastated by invasion and overrun by mutants, monsters and cyborgs all scavenging for survival.

The creative process was a very troubled one. Adams left the project in the middle of illustrating the debut episode, leaving Howard Chaykin & Frank Chiaramonte to flesh out the tale of how, at the turn of the 20th century, a refugee mother sacrifices her life defending her two young sons from terrifying alien Tripods and the vile human turncoats who had early switched allegiance to their revolting, human-eating new masters…

Nearly two decades later, escaped gladiator Killraven overcomes all odds to kill a monstrous genetic manipulator dubbed the Keeper and save his brother Joshua, only to discover his sibling long gone and his despised tormentor grateful for death.

The elderly scientist had been compelled to perform countless mutagenic experiments for his alien masters but had secretly enacted a Machiavellian double-cross, creating hidden powers in Jonathan Raven which might eventually overthrow the conquerors. All the boy had to do was survive their horrific arena games until he was old enough to rebel against the Martians who have occupied Earth since 2001…

With his dying breath, Keeper provides his uneducated murderer with the history of ‘The War of the Worlds!’: of Free Mankind’s furious futile, atomic last stand and how the alien conquerors had possessed the shattered remnants of Earth…

Keeper reveals how gladiatorial training and scientific abuses shaped Killraven into the perfect tool of liberation and retribution, even to the warrior’s recent escape and first attempts at raising a resistance movement. However, just as the story ends, the designated-liberator realises he has tarried too long and mutant monsters close in…

The adventure resumed in #19 as Killraven narrowly escapes the psionic snares of ‘The Sirens of 7th Avenue’ (by Conway, Chaykin & Frank McLaughlin) and the other myriad terrors of the devastated metropolis to link up with second-in-command M’Shulla and strike a heavy blow against the alien butchers by destroying two hulking mechanical Tripods.

Newly elevated by the conquerors to the status of genuine threat, the rebel and his followers plan a raid on a New Jersey base but are instead captured by the mesmerising Skarlet, Queen of the Sirens, who hands them over to the Martian governing the city…

Forced to fight a mutated monstrosity in the alien’s private arena, Killraven unexpectedly turns the tables and drives off the gelatinous horror before boldly declaring he is the guardian of Mankind’s heritage and will make Earth free again…

Amazing Adventures #20 was written by Marv Wolfman, with Herb Trimpe & Frank Giacoia illustrating ‘The Warlord Strikes!’, wherein the Freemen raid a museum and acquire weapons and armaments, and create a brand-new look for Killraven…

Easily defeating the traitorous lackeys of the Martian Masters, the rebels are blithely unaware that the carnivorous extraterrestrial devils have deployed their latest tool: a cruelly augmented old enemy who hunts them down and easily overcomes their primitive guns, swords and crossbows with his own onboard cyborg arsenal…

The ambitious new series was already floundering and dearly needed a firm direction and steady creative hands, so it’s lucky that the concluding chapter in #21 (November 1973) saw the debut of Don F. McGregor: a young ambitious and lyrically experimental writer who slowly brought depth of character and plot cohesiveness to a strip which had reached uncanny levels of cliché in only three issues.

With Trimpe & “Yolande Pijcke” illustrating, ‘The Mutant Slayers!’ began the necessary task of re-establishing the oppressive, hopeless, all-pervasive horror and loss of Well’s original novel. Determined to translate the concept into modern terms for the new generation of intellectual, comics-reading social insurgent, McGregor also took the opportunity to introduce the first of a string of complex, controversial – and above all, powerful – female characters into the mix…

Carmilla Frost is a feisty, sharp-tongued geneticist and molecular biologist ostensibly faithful to her Martian masters, but she takes the earliest opportunity to betray their local human lieutenant to help Killraven and the Freemen escape the Warlord’s brutal clutches. For her own closely-guarded reasons, she and her bizarrely devoted monster anthropoid Grok the Clonal Man join the roving revolutionaries in their quest across the shattered continent…

In issue #22 (art by Trimpe & Chiaramonte), the motley crew arrive in America’s former capital and encounter a ‘Washington Nightmare!’ After defeating a band of slavers led by charismatic bravo Sabre, Killraven forms an uneasy alliance with local rebel leader Mint Julep and her exclusively female band of freedom-fighters.

The green-skinned warrior woman has also battled Sabre and cautiously welcomes Killraven’s offer of assistance in rescuing her captured comrades from the literal meat-market of the Lincoln Memorial, where flesh-peddling mutant horror Abraxas auctions tasty human morsels to extraterrestrial patrons.

The raid goes badly and Killraven ends up on the conquerors’ menu in ‘The Legend Assassins!’, before the liberated resistance fighters unite in a last-ditch attempt to save their tempestuous leader from The High Overlord. The captured leader, meanwhile, finds himself main course in a public propaganda-feeding/execution, about to be devoured by a debased vermin-controlling freak named Rattack

The hero’s faithful followers – including gentle, simple-minded strongman Old Skull and embittered Native American Hawk – arrive just in time to join the furious fray in #24’s spectacular ‘For He’s a Jolly Dead Rebel’ (inked by Jack Abel) but their escape is only temporary before they are quickly recaptured. Their valiant example impresses more than one disaffected collaborator, however. When former foes led by Sabre unite in battle against the Martian Overlord, the result is a shattering defeat for the once-unbeatable oppressors…

A returning nemesis for the charismatic rebel and his freedom fighters debuted in Amazing Adventures #25. ‘The Devil’s Marauder’ (art by Rich Buckler & Klaus Janson), sees Killraven inconclusively clash with cyclopian Martian flunky Skar. During the battle, the hard-pressed human is unexpectedly gripped by a manifestation of hidden psychic power – granting him visions he cannot comprehend…

Travelling across country, the rebels stumble onto another forgotten glory of Mankind’s past in the state once called Indiana. The race circuit of the Indianapolis 500 is now a testing-ground for new terror-tripods and thus a perfect target for sabotage. However, when the fury-filled Killraven tackles human-collaborators and Skar resurfaces, the incensed insurgent steps too far over ‘The Vengeance Threshold!’

Gene Colan & Dan Adkins illustrated #26’s ‘Something Worth Dying For!’ as the Freemen reach Battle Creek, Michigan and the Rebel Rouser encounters a feral snake/horse hybrid he simply must possess. Soon after the band is ambushed by human outlaws guarding a fabulous ancient treasure at the behest of petty tyrant Pstun-Rage the Vigilant

Since the place was once the site of America’s breakfast cereal empire and this wry yarn is filled with oblique in-jokes – many of the villains’ names are anagrams of Kellogg’s cereals – you can imagine the irony-drenched secret of the hoard the defenders give their lives to protect and pragmatic Killraven’s reaction to it all…

The drama kicks into spectacular high gear with AA #27 and the arrival of P. Craig Russell (inked by Jack Abel) for the start of a dark epic entitled ‘The Death Breeders’.

Whilst crossing frozen Lake Michigan in March 2019, the band is attacked by monstrous lampreys and Grok suffers a wound which will eventually prove fatal…

McGregor loathed the notion of simplistic, problem-solving, consequence-free violence which most entertainment media slavishly thrived on. He frequently tried to focus on some of the real-world repercussions such acts should and would result in…

The heroes headed to what was once Chicago; now a vast industrialised breeding-pen to farm human babies for Martian consumption. En route, they met pyrokinetic mutant Volcana Ash, who has her own tragic reason for scouting the ghastly palaces of Death-Birth

While the new allies undertake an explosively expensive sortie against the Death Breeders, in the far-distant halls of the Martian Kings of Earth the Warlord is tasking the repaired Skar with a new mission: hunt down Killraven and destroy not only the man, but most importantly the legend of hope and liberation that has grown around him…

In #28 (pencilled, inked and even coloured by Russell in the original) Ash reveals her horrific origins and the purpose of her quest as the Freemen battle monsters thriving in the chemically compromised lake. Elsewhere, chief butcher The Sacrificer watches his depraved boss Atalon live up to his decadent reputation as ‘The Death Merchant!’: emotionally tenderising the frantic “Adams and Eves” whose imminent newborns will be the main course for visiting Martian dignitaries…

Everything changes during Killraven’s fateful raid to liberate the human cattle. When the disgusted hero skewers one of the extraterrestrial horrors, he experiences severe psychic feedback and realises at last his debilitating, disorienting visions are an unsuspected ability to tap into Martian minds…

And in the wastelands, Skar murderously retraces the Freemen’s route, getting closer and closer to a final showdown…

With Amazing Adventures #29 the series was rebranded Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds and ‘The Hell Destroyers’ reveals the rebel leader’s greatest victory, inspiring thousands of freshly-liberated earthlings by utterly destroying the temple of atrocity before gloriously escaping into the wilderness and a newborn mythology…

The pace of even a bi-monthly series was crippling to perfectionist Russell, and ‘The Rebels of January and Beyond!’ in #30 was a frantic 6-page melange from him, Adkins, Trimpe, Chiaramonte & Abel, all graphically treading water as The Warlord “reviewed” (admittedly beautiful) fact-file pages on Killraven, M’Shulla and Mint Julep.

The saga continued in #31 on ‘The Day the Monuments Shattered’ wherein McGregor & Russell close the Death Breeders storyline in stunning style. Pursued by Atalon and The Sacrificer into the icy wilds from Gary, Indiana to St. Louis where broken Earth outcasts hide as the Twilight People, the fugitives take refuge in a cavern. This is to allow an accompanying Eve to give birth in safety, but only leads to an attack by a monolithic mutant monster just as their pursuers find them. The battle changes the landscape and ends three ghastly travesties forever…

In #32, ‘Only the Computer Shows Me Any Respect!’ (art by Russell & Dan Green) sees the reduced team in devastated Nashville, where Killraven, M’Shulla, Carmilla, Old Skull and Hawk wander into leftover holographic fantasy programs conjuring both joy and regret, even as Skar’s tripod brings him ever-closer to a longed-for rematch.

Things turn nasty when Hawk’s painful memories of his father’s addictions to fantasy detective Hodiah Twist then manifest as cruelly realised threats and the malfunctioning program materialises a brutally solid savage dragon…

Issue #33 was another deadline-busting fill-in. Written by Bill Mantlo and illustrated by Trimpe & D. Bruce Berry, ‘Sing Out Loudly… Death!’ finds the Freemen sheltering from the elements in a vast cave and discovering a hostile tribe of refugee African Americans who had returned to tribal roots in the aftermath of invasion. The hidden wild men observed only one rule – kill all honkies – but that changed once Killraven saved them from a marauding giant octo-beastie…

The long-delayed clash with Skar at last occurred in #34 as the cyborg ambushes the wanderers when they reach Chattanooga, Tennessee resulting in ‘A Death in the Family’ (McGregor & Russell) – two deaths, actually – before the heartbroken, enraged Warrior of the Worlds literally tears his gloating nemesis to pieces…

Amazing Adventures #35 followed the epic tragedy as the last battered survivors stumble into Atlanta, Georgia and meet ‘The 24-Hour Man’ (McGregor & Russell, with finishes by Keith Giffin & Abel), encountering an addled new mother and instant widow, even as Carmilla is abducted by a bizarre mutant with an irresistible and inescapably urgent biological imperative…

‘Red Dust Legacy’ (illustrated by Russell & Sonny Trinidad) focuses on Killraven’s ever-developing psychic powers with the charismatic champion gaining unwelcome insights into the Martian psyche, even as The Warlord travels to Yellowstone and taunts the rebel leader with news that his long-lost brother Joshua still lives. The hero has no idea it is as an indoctrinated pawn codenamed Death Raven

The self-appointed defender of humanity then invades a replica Martian environment in Georgia, shockingly destroying the Martians’ entire next generation by contaminating their incubators…

Inked by Abel, #37 reveals the origins of affable Old Skull in ‘Arena Kill!’ when the wanderers discover a clandestine enclave of humans in the Okefenokee Wildlife Preserve before one final fill-in – by Mantlo, Giffin & Al Milgrom – appeared in #38. ‘Death’s Dark Dreamer!’ sees Killraven separated and stumbling into a wrecked but still functional dream-dome to battle the materialised fantasies of its ancient occupant. His pre-invasion, memories-fuelled attacks reconstitute strangely familiar defenders patterned after Iron Man, Man-Thing, Dr. Strange and almost every other hero you could think of…

The beautiful, troubled and doomed saga stopped – but did not end – with Amazing Adventures #39 (November 1976) as McGregor & Russell introduced the decimated Band of Brothers to an incredible new life-form in ‘Mourning Prey’. This beguiling meeting of vastly different beings pauses the voyages on a satisfyingly upbeat note, with understanding and forgiveness wining out over suspicion and ingrained violence for once…

And that’s where the gloriously unique, elegiac, Art Nouveau fantasy vanished with no comfortable resolution until 1983 when Marvel Graphic Novel #7 featured an all-new collaboration by McGregor and Russell starring Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds.

That painted full-colour extravaganza is reproduced here and commences after a catch-up Prologue and six pages of character profiles to bring readers old and new up to speed…

‘Last Dreams Broken’ opens in February 2020 at Cape Canaveral where Killraven connects again to a distant consciousness and sets off for Yellowstone in search of answers to inexpressible questions…

Along the way the rebels meet 59-year old Jenette Miller – probably the last surviving astronaut on Earth – as ‘Cocoa Beach Blues’ finds her teaching the warrior wanderers some history and human perspective in between the constant daily battles, whilst in ‘Blood and Passion’ The Warlord prepares his deadliest trap for his despised antagonist as Killraven is finally reunited with Joshua. The drama runs its inevitable course in ‘Let it Die Like Fourth of July’ as all the hero’s hopes and fears are cataclysmically realised…

McGregor’s long-anticipated conclusion did not disappoint and even set up a new beginning…

Also included here is the text introduction page from Amazing Adventures #18 for a fascinating insight into Roy Thomas’ expectations of what became a landmark of visual narrative poetry that was far beyond its time and mass audience’s taste. These are augmented by working materials – notes, photos, plots and more – from McGregor’s copious files, plus house ads. Also on view are a Russell pin-up from Marvel Fanfare #45, and the Killraven-starring wraparound cover to The Official Marvel Index to Marvel Team-Up #3 by Sandy Plunkett & Russell and an expansive Biographies section on the many creators who contributed to this unique series…

Confused, convoluted, challenging, controversial (this series contained the first ever non-comedic interracial kiss in American comics – in 1975 if you can believe it!), evocative, inspirational and always entertaining, this is graphic narrative no serious fan or fantasy addict should miss. Do it now: the future is not your friend and Mars needs readers…
© 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1983, 2001, 2005 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Archie Goodwin, Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer, Jim Shooter, Herb Trimpe, Steve Gerber, Roger Stern, George Tuska, Sal Buscema, Jeff Aclin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1090-7(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 of many technologically augmented suits to keep himself alive and deliver him from his oppressors. From there it was a simple – transistor-powered – jump to full time superheroics as a modern Knight in Shining Armour…

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

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

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

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 – completes that transitional period; reprinting Iron Man #82-94 (January 1976 – January 1977) plus Annuals #3 and 4: aided and abetted by an informative and insightful measure of historical context courtesy of historian and author Bruce Canwell in his Introduction.

With an extended epic spanning the world and alternate dimensions finally completed long-term writer Mike Friedrich moved on, and Iron Man #82 welcomed a new era and tone as Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Marie Severin & Jack Abel revamped the armour just in time for the Red Ghost and his super simians to kidnap super genius Stark in ‘Plunder of the Apes!’

Debuting in that issue was NYPD detective Michael O’Brien, who holds Tony responsible and accountable for the tragic death of his brother Kevin. The deceased researcher had been Stark’s confidante until his mind snapped. He had died running amok whilst wearing a prototype suit of Guardsman armour. Here and now Mike smells a cover-up…

IM #83 reveals ‘The Rage of the Red Ghost!’ (inked by Marie Severin) as the deranged Russian forces Stark to cure his gradual dispersal into component atoms, only to realise, following a bombastic battle, that the inventor has outwitted him once again, after which Wein, Roger Slifer, Trimpe & John Tartaglione detail how the infamous Enervator again turns a grievously injured Happy Hogan into a mindless monster. This time, the medical miracle machine saturates him with so much Cobalt radiation that he becomes a ticking inhuman nuke on the ‘Night of the Walking Bomb!’

The tense tick-tock to doom is narrowly and spectacularly stopped in ‘…And the Freak Shall Inherit the Earth!’ (Slifer w/Wein, Trimpe, Severin) after which Bill Mantlo, George Tuska & Vince Colletta revive and revamp one of the Golden Avenger’s oldest and least-remembered rogues when disgraced thermal technologist Gregor Shapanka sheds his loser status as Jack Frost to attack Stark International in a deadly new guise in # 86’s ‘The Gentleman’s Name is Blizzard!’

Despite his improved image, the sub-zero zealot can’t quite close ‘The Icy Hand of Death!’, leading to the first of this cracking chronicle’s mid-year spectaculars as Iron Man Annual #3 (June 1976) unveils ‘More or Less… the Return of the Molecule Man!’ courtesy of Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema & Abel.

Whilst Tony Stark looks into redeveloping some soggy Florida real estate, a little local girl finds a strange wand and is possessed and transformed by the consciousness of one of the most powerful creatures in existence…

Although Iron Man is helpless to combat the reality-warping attacks of the combination petulant girl/narcissistic maniac, luckily for the universe, the shambling elemental shocker dubbed Man-Thing had no mind to mess with or conscience to trouble…

Iron Man #88 signals the too-brief reunion of veteran scribe Archie Goodwin with George Tuska as ‘Fear Wears Two Faces!’ finds the Armoured Avenger battling escaped aliens the Blood Brothers after the vicious space thugs are psychically summoned to a mystery rendezvous with another old enemy of Iron Man. Inked by Colletta, the tale concludes in ‘Brute Fury!’ as Daredevil deals himself in to the cataclysmic clash and just barely tips the scales…

The hidden manipulator is exposed in #90 (By Jim Shooter, Tuska & Abel) ‘When Calls the Controller!’, as the life-force thief seeks to escape months of entombment by enslaving and feeding off hapless down-&-outs. His rapid defeat is only a prelude to greater catastrophe as Gerry Conway scripts and Bob Layton inks #91’s ‘Breakout!’ wherein the fiend tries too hard, too fast and again fades into helpless captivity…

The manic Melter soon regrets his ill-advised grudge rematch in ‘Burn, Hero… Burn!’ (Conway, Tuska & Abel) before Herb Trimpe returns as plotter and penciller in Iron Man #93, pitting Old Shellhead against a British-based modern-day pirate in ‘Kraken Kills’ (Conway Script & Abel inks), with the self-declared Commander deducing Stark’s secret identity before blackmailing the inventor into building weapons for his super-submarine fleet. Never at a loss, Stark turns the tables, sparking ‘Frenzy at Fifty Fathoms!’ to scupper the madman’s plans…

This bombastic book concludes with Invincible Iron Man Annual #4 (August 1977) and an all-action alliance with newly constituted super-team The Champions by Mantlo, Tuska & inker Don Perlin. When psychic assassin M.O.D.O.K. overwhelms the Golden Avenger, Iron Man calls in old allies Black Widow and Hercules (plus teammates Ghost Rider, Iceman, Darkstar and the Angel) to thwart ‘The Doomsday Connection!’

Also from that issue comes an out-of-place martial arts vignette by Roger Stern, Jeff Aclin & Don Newton. ‘Death Lair!’ stars former Master of Kung Fu villain Midnight on a mission of murder against old Iron Man enemy Half-Face

Closing the covers on this stellar compilation are a selection of house ads and a short cover gallery of original art by Gil Kane, Esposito, Ed Hannigan & Frank Giacoia.

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…
© 1976, 1977, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 12


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Hulk-inued…

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

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

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 16

By Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, Scott Edelman, Bill Mantlo, Stan Lee, George Pérez, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, Sal Trapani, Don Heck, George Tuska, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9542-9 (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 #150-163, Avengers Annual #6 and Super-Villain Team-Up #9 (spanning August 1976 to September 1977), these stories again see the team in transition. That was a much a result of creative upheaval as narrative exigency – as explained in Gerry Conway’s Introduction When Chaos was King – detailing a time of editorial turbulence at Marvel. Times were changing for the company which would soon become a plaything for relentless corporate forces…

In the simple world of goodies and baddies, however, #150 saw an official changing of the guard in ‘Avengers Assemble’ by Steve Englehart, George Pérez, John Tartaglione & Duffy Vohland. The anniversary epic was supplemented part-way through by half of ‘The Old Order Changeth!’ (reprinted from Avengers #16 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers) as it settled the membership drive question begun way back in #137. It made way for new scripter Conway in #151 whose ‘At Last: The Decision’ (with additional scripting by Jim Shooter & Englehart and art from Pérez & Tartaglione) set the group off on new, less cosmic adventures.

No sooner had the long-delayed announcement been made, though, than a mysterious crate disgorges the long-dead body of Wonder Man who shockingly shambles to his feet and accuses the stunned android Vision of stealing his mind…

Long ago, Simon Williams had been turned into a human powerhouse by arch-villain Baron Zemo and used as a Trojan horse to infiltrate the team. He eventually turned on his monstrous creator, giving his life to redeem himself. After he was buried, Williams’ brain patterns were used to provide an operating system for The Vision, inadvertently creating a unique human personality for the cold thing of plastic, wires and metal…

In #152 ‘Nightmare in New Orleans!’ kicks the simmering saga into high gear as the team start hunting for Wonder Man’s grave robber/re-animator, in a tale by Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott which soon finds the team facing voodoo lord Black Talon in New Orleans…

‘Home is the Hero!’ then reintroduces 1940 Marvel sensation Bob Frank (AKA former Invader The Whizzer). In a tragic tale of desperation, the aged speedster seeks the heroes’ help before he is seemingly possessed and attacks the team…

Avengers Annual #6 reveals why, and answers all the meandering mysteries, wrapping up the storyline with ‘No Final Victory’ (illustrated by Pérez, Mike Esposito, Tartaglione & Vohland), as a conspiracy involving the Serpent-helmed Living Laser, Whizzer’s government-abducted mutant son Nuklo and rogue US Army General Pollock almost succeeds in conquering California, if not America – at least until the resurgent Avengers lay down the law…

Also included in the annual – and here – is by Scott Edelman & Herb Trimpe’s ‘Night Vision’: a stirring solo story of the Android Avenger battling super swift psychopath Whirlwind.

In Avengers #154, Conway, Pérez & Pablo Marcos begin a blockbuster battle bonanza which was in part a crossover with Super-Villain Team-Up. That series followed the uneasy coalition of Dr. Doom and Namor the Sub-Mariner, and this initial chapter ‘When Strikes Attuma?’ finds the Vision captured by subsea barbarian Attuma even as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are ambushed and defeated by the warlord’s augmented Atlantean thrall Tyrak the Treacherous. The scheme is simple enough: use the enslaved surface champions as cannon fodder in an assault against Namor…

At this time, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had recently signed a non-aggression pact with the Dictator of Latveria, with Doom subsequently blackmailing the Sub-Mariner into serving as his unwilling ally. One American vigilante observed no such legal or diplomatic niceties. The Shroud thought he had freed the Atlantean from his vow by “killing” Doom, but the villain had survived the assault: rescued and secretly imprisoned by Sub-Mariner’s cousin Namorita and alien girlfriend Tamara under the misguided apprehension that they could force the Metal-shod Monarch into helping Atlantis and their lost Prince.

Simple, no?

SVT-U #9 expanded on the epic encounter with the heroes now ‘Pawns of Attuma’ (scripted by Bill Mantlo, with art by Jim Shooter & Sal Trapani). As the Avengers are unleashed upon the Atlanteans, they discover Doom is now in charge and easily able to thwart their half-hearted assault. In Avengers #155 (Conway Pérez & Marcos), the beaten heroes are abjectly enslaved, leaving only confused, despondent and battle-crazed Namor ‘To Stand Alone!’ Before long, though, he is joined by lone stragglers the Beast, Whizzer and Wonder Man to hunt down the triumphant barbarian sea lord.

The epic conclusion comes in ‘The Private War of Doctor Doom!’ (Avengers #156, by Shooter, illustrated by Sal Buscema & Marcos) wherein the liberated and furious heroes join forces to crush Attuma whilst simultaneously preventing Doom from turning the situation to his own world-conquering advantage…

A change of pace begins in #157 as kA Ghost of Stone!’ (Conway, Don Heck & Marcos) addresses a long-unresolved mystery. As seen in the Avengers/Defenders war, the Black Knight’s body had been petrified whilst his soul was trapped in the 12th century, but now a strange force reanimates the statue and sets it upon the weary heroes, after which ‘When Avengers Clash!!’ (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Marcos) sees the revived, restored, compos mentis and now fully-recovered Wonder Man clash with an impossibly jealous Vision over the Scarlet Witch.

That Wanda loves the android Avenger is seemingly forgotten as his “borrowed” brain patterns fixate on the logical assumption that eventually his flesh-and-blood wife will gravitate to a “normal” man with his personality rather than stay married to a mere mobile mechanism…

Domestic tantrums are quickly laid aside when the entire team – plus late arrivals Black Panther and Thor) battle research scientist Frank Hall following a lab-accident which grants him complete control over the forces of gravity…

Apparently unstoppable, Graviton almost destroys New York in #159 as the ‘Siege by Stealth and Storm!’ (Shooter, Sal B & Marcos) results in a savage clash and the unbeatable villain defeating himself…

Avengers #160 spotlights Eric Williams, the deranged Grim Reaper. With portentous hints of a hidden backer and his dead brother seemingly returned, he conducts ‘…The Trial!’ (Shooter, Pérez & Marcos) to see whether Wonder Man or the Vision is the “true” Simon Williams… but doesn’t like the answer he gets…

The next issue extends the sub-plot as ‘Beware the Ant-Man’ finds the team attacked by a frenzied Henry Pym, whose mind has somehow regressed to mere days after the Avengers first formed. The crazed hero has allied with the homicidal robot he no longer remembers creating and is unwittingly helping it build ‘The Bride of Ultron!’ (#162): pitifully oblivious that for the almost completed Jocasta to live his own wife Janet has to die…

At the close, the Avengers believe they have finally destroyed the murderous mechanoid, but yet again they are wrong…

This classic collection of costumed clashes closes with Shooter, George Tuska & Marcos’ stand-alone tale ‘The Demi-God Must Die!’, wherein mythological maniac Typhon returns to capture the team. Despite forcing Iron Man to attack Hercules to save his imperilled Avenging comrades – and even after lots of spectacular smashing – the scheme naturally fails and the World’s Mightiest are triumphant again…

Available in hardback and digital iterations, and supplemented by contemporary House Ads and an original art gallery by Pérez and John Buscema, 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 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…
© 1976, 1977 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 15

By Len Wein, David Anthony Kraft, Steve Englehart, John Buscema, Pablo Marcos & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9919-9 (HB)

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

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

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

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

This power-packed hardback and digital compilation gathers the contents of Thor #242-254, Annual #5 and Marvel Spotlight #30 spanning December 1975 through December 1976, and leads with a forthright Introduction from writer/editor Len Wein on his assumption of the title.

After a rapid, round-robin flurry of writers who detailed how lordly Odin went missing and was found and freed from bondage to a pantheon of Egyptian gods, a semblance of creative stability resumed with #242 as Wein joined John Buscema & Joe Sinnott to commence their tenure with epic time travel tale ‘When the Servitor Commands!’

In the 20th century, the colossal all-conquering construct scoops up Thor, his lover Jane Foster (mystically imbued with the life force of goddess Sif) and visiting Asgardians Fandral the Dashing, Voluminous Volstagg and Hogun the Grim at the behest of despotic chrononaut – and old enemy – Zarrko the Tomorrow Man

The time tyrant claims to be on the side of the angels this time: looking for heroes to help stop a trio of entropic entities travelling back from the end of eternity, callously destroying all life as they go. Although suspicious, the assembled crusaders agree to help stop< ‘Turmoil in the Time Stream!’ caused by the uncanny Time-Twisters

Clashes with vagrant monsters and warriors plucked from other eras barely slows the heroes, but neither do they hinder the widdershins progress of the Armageddon entities in ‘This is the Way the World Ends!’ However, by the time the voyagers discover ‘The Temple at the End of Time!’ which originally spawned the Time-Twisters and end the crisis before it began, Zarrko has already reverted to type and tried to betray them… much to his own regret…

A rematch between Thunder God and extraterrestrial Flaming Fury sparks up in #246 as ‘The Fury of Firelord!’ follows the unworldly alien’s meeting with a lovely witch working for Latin American rebel and would-be tin pot dictator El Lobo. Whilst Thor heads south to stop a civil war, in Asgard his boon companion Balder comes to a staggering conclusion: Odin may be back in body but his spirit is still ailing. In fact, the All-Father might well be completely insane…

When Thor also succumbs to sinister gypsy enchantments and ‘The Flame and the Hammer!’ unite to crush the feeble democracy of Costa Verde, once again vibrant valiant Jane is there to save the day…

An out-of-chronology break follows as the 30th issue of try-out title Marvel Spotlight delivers a tale of the Warriors Three. In ‘A Night on the Town!’ (by Wein, Buscema & Sinnott) Fandral, Volstagg and Hogun are drawn into a tale of love on the rocks when their Manhattan carousal is interrupted by a woman’s suicide attempt. Her call for help soon impels the heroic trio to save her fiancé from a life of crime and leads to action, adventure and ultimately matrimony…

Back in Thor #248, ‘There Shall Come… Revolution!’ (inked by Tony DeZuñiga) starts the build-up to anniversary issue #250 with the earthbound Asgardians called back to the Realm Eternal by bold Balder whose battered body is living proof that Odin has become a brutal, vicious tyrant. The rebellion builds in kThe Throne and the Fury!’ (by Wein, Buscema & DeZuñiga, and featuring the first of a series of covers by returning Jack Kirby) as Thor and Company batter their way into the godly citadel. As the heroes seek to ally with old enemy Karnilla the Norn Queen, amidst the madness, Jane assumes the form of Sif just in time to join in a potential universe-shattering battle as Odin is proved an imposter and defeated in ‘If Asgard Should Perish…!’

In the aftermath – AKA #251 – the search for the true All-Father takes Thor into the underworld to see if Odin is dead. Despite cataclysmic combat against the legions of the dead, ‘To Hela and Back’ proves a frustrating waste of time, barely ameliorated by a new clue in #252. ‘A Dragon at the Gates!’, by Wein, Buscema & DeZuñiga, sees the Thunderer undertake a quest for knowledge that draws him into another brutal battle with ultimate troll Ulik which concludes in the next issue with ‘Chaos in the Kingdom of the Trolls’ and seeming defeat for the Prince of Asgard…

These issues also include a return for venerable back-up series Tales of Asgard, Home of the Mighty Norse Gods: a saga of Thor’s boyhood by David Anthony Kraft & Pablo Marcos wherein the young warrior learns the value of restraint and self-reliance while learning how to wield Mjolnir in The Weapon and the Warrior!

Thor’s hunt for his father will be continued in the next Masterworks volume but this one holds still more action and drama in the form of Mighty Thor Annual #5 which depicted ‘War of the Gods!’

Crafted by Steve Englehart, Buscema & DeZuñiga, it opens with the origin of Asgard’s gods and explains the geographical limitations of pantheons and worship before adolescent Thor is drawn by his earthly worshippers into battle with a pantheon he never knew of.

As the territorial clash between Norsemen and invading Greeks escalates, Asgardians and Hellenics fight to the death but aloof Odin and Zeus know a secret that makes all the bloodshed simultaneously pointless and crucial…

This peek into the underpinnings of the ever-expanding Marvel cosmology is followed by the cover of Mighty Thor #254 (which reprinted #159, due to another deadline crisis) and concludes with Kirby’s wraparound cover for Marvel Treasury Edition #10 (which collected the original Mangog saga from Thor #154-157), house ads, original pre-correction cover art for #253 and a gallery of Buscema art pages.
The tales gathered here may lack the sheer punch and verve of the early years but fans of ferocious Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy will find this tome still stuffed with intrigue and action, magnificently rendered by artists who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, were every inch his equal in craft and dedication, making this a must-read for all fans of the character and the genre.
©1975, 1976, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 12


By Tony Isabella, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Bob Brown, Gene Colan, Klaus Janson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0968-0 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for much of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in very 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, quipping and wisecracking his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody, quasi-religious metaphor he became in later years.

After a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page, Murdock took up with Russian émigré Natasha Romanoff, the infamous and notorious spy dubbed Black Widow. She was railroaded and framed for murder and prosecuted by Matt’s best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson before the blind lawman cleared her. Leaving New York with her for the wild wacky and West Coast, Matt joined a prestigious San Francisco law firm but adventure, disaster and intrigue sought out the Sightless Swashbuckler and ultimately drew him back to the festering Big Apple…

This 12th hardback and eBook collection re-presents Daredevil #120-132, spanning April 1975 through April 1976, and opens with a brace of Introductions from successive scripters Tony Isabella – ‘Man Without Fear Meets Writer with a Plan and How the Latter Went Somewhat Awry’ – and Marv Wolfman who reminisces over ‘Searching for a Hero’…

Crafted by Isabella, Bob Brown & Vince Colletta, Daredevil #120 began an extended story-arc focussing on the re-emergence of the world’s most powerful secret society. ‘…And a Hydra New Year!’ sees Black Widow hit New York for one last attempt to make the rocky relationship work, only to find herself – with Matt and Foggy – knee-deep in Hydra soldiers at a Christmas party.

The resurgent terrorist tribe has learned America’s greatest security agency needs to recruit a legal expert as one of their Board of Directors and – determined to prevent the accession of ‘Foggy Nelson, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D’ at all costs – have dispatched the formidable wild man El Jaguar and an army of masked thugs to stop him before he can start. Thankfully, Nick Fury and his crack commandos arrive in time to drive off the attackers but the rumour is true and Foggy is now a marked man…

The new organisation has scoured the ranks of the criminal classes – and Marvel’s back catalogue – for its return and the B-Lister likes of Dreadnought, Commander Kraken, Man-Killer, Mentallo, The Fixer, Blackwing and many other not-so golden oldies happily toil for the enigmatic new Supreme Hydra as he continually strives to take out the increasingly harried Foggy. Eventually, they succeed in capturing the portly District Attorney and the Widow goes off the deep end in #122’s ‘Hydra-and-Seek’, turning New York into a war-zone as she hunts for clues, culminating in a brutal showdown and ‘Holocaust in the Halls of Hydra!’

The times, mood and scripter were changing however, and the next two issues comprise a turn to darker, more gothic dramas beginning with #124 and the advent of a vigilante killer patterned on an old pulp fiction hero.

Written by Len Wein & Marv Wolfman and illustrated by veteran penciller Gene Colan (with Klaus Janson inking) ‘In the Coils of the Copperhead!’ courts the controversial gritty realism then remaking Batman over at DC Comics as the Widow finally really and truly walks out on DD, leaving the frustrated hero to bury himself in the mystery of a murdering madman savagely overreacting to petty crime and leaving a trail of bodies behind him…

Foggy meanwhile is up for re-election and losing on all counts to the too-good-to-be true Blake Tower. Sadly, Matt can’t offer any help or support as he tracks down the secret of the vigilante. The resultant clash doesn’t go the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s way either, and he starts issue #125 with the terrifying realisation that ‘Vengeance is the Copperhead!’ (by Wolfman, Brown & Janson) before achieving a last-minute, skin-of-the-teeth hollow victory…

Fully in command as writer and editor, Wolfman began a long-term revision of the character as ‘Flight of the Torpedo’ (art by Brown & Janson) introduces insurance agent and gone-to-seed football hero Brock Jones who – in classic Hitchcockian manner – stumbles into a plot to control the world and inherits a rocket-powered super-suit coveted by deadly enemy agents. Unfortunately, DD has just been almost killed by the rocket suit’s previous owner and, blithely unaware, seeks to renew the brutal grudge fight…

The battle escalates in #127 as ‘You Killed that man Torpedo… and Now You’re Going to Pay!’ sees the inevitable misunderstanding escalate with both weary warriors losing all perspective and almost killing a family of innocent bystanders until shamed into a ceasefire..

Guilt-ridden and remorseful, Murdock swears off swashbuckling in #128 until uncanny events dictate and demand the return of the Man Without Fear. ‘Death Stalks the Stairway to the Stars!’ introduces a mysterious figure literally walking into intergalactic space and features the return of teleporting psychopath Death-Stalker in pursuit of ancient objects of power, but the real inducements to intrigue are Matt’s pushy, flighty girlfriend Heather Glenn and the increasing efficacy of attack ads targeting Foggy. Not only do they slanderously belittle the incumbent DA, but – 40 years before our own problems with “Fake News” – increasingly challenge consensus reality with patently absurd and scurrilous statements about all authority figures…

The media maelstrom intensifies in ‘Man-Bull in a China Town!’ as “leaked” films “prove” that both John F. and Robert Kennedy are still alive even as Murdock scours the city for his latest client. Rampaging monster Man-Bull escaped court during his lawyer’s summing up and stalks the city, aided and abetted by one of DD’s oldest enemies, but ultimately cannot escape his dreadful fate…

Urban voodoo and a slickly murderous conman infest #130 as ‘Look Out, DD… Here Comes the Death-Man!’ finds the prestigious blind lawyer opening a storefront legal services operation for the disadvantaged even as the misinformation campaign peaks. Meanwhile brutal Brother Zed demands a human sacrifice and a terrified mother finds her only hope is a devil in red…

Closing this spectacular compilation is the 2-part debut of a villain who would become one of the most popular psycho-killers in the business. ‘Watch Out for Bullseye… He Never Misses!’ sees wealthy men very publicly targeted for extortion by a mystery murderer who can turn any object – from paper plane to garbage can – into a deadly weapon. Hunted by the Man without Fear, the lethal loon turns the table on DD in ‘Bullseye Rules Supreme!’, until a final fateful battle settles the case and begins a lifelong obsession for both men…

Supplementing the circumstances above described, the book also offers contemporaneous features from Marvel’s F.O.O.M. magazine #13 (March 1976) spotlighting the Scarlet Swashbuckler. Following a stunning cover by Colan, numerous articles explore the character – such as ‘Through the eyes of a Beholder’ (by Naomi Basner & Chris Claremont, featuring Colan pencil art and gorgeous model sheets crafted by Wally Wood when he took over the strip) and Basner’s ‘The Women in Daredevil’s Life’.

‘Buscema’s Bullpen’ offers art from the illustrator’s then students – and yes, some of them went on to far greater things! – after which Claremont interviews Stan Lee & Wolfman in ‘A Talk with the Men behind the Man Without Fear’ before a Daredevil Checklist segues into Gil Kane’s cover sketch for Giant-Size Daredevil #1 and a repro of the published image.

Both issues #120 and 121 were supplemented by text pages outlining the convoluted history of Hydra and they’re reprinted here too to keep us all in the arcane espionage loop, before a selection of original art pages by Brown & Colletta, Colan & Janson and Brown and Janson remind just how good this hero can look…

As the social upheaval of the 1970s receded, these fabulous fantasy tales strongly indicated the true potential of Daredevil was in reach. Their narrative energy and exuberant excitement are dashing delights no action fan will care to miss.

…And the next volume heads into darker shadows and the grimmest of territory…
© 1975, 1976, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.