Sub-Mariner Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Marie Severin, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3487-9 (HB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 7


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 9


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 3


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

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

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

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

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

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

The revision was an instantaneous and unstoppable hit, with Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont writing the series from the second story onwards. The Uncanny X-Men reclaimed their own comicbook with #94 and it quickly became the company’s most popular – and high quality – title.

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

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

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

This third titanic compilation (available in luxurious hardcover, trade paperback and eBook editions) is perfect for newbies, neophytes and even old lags nervous about reading such splendid yarns on fragile but extremely valuable newsprint paper. It celebrates the unstoppable march to market dominance through the pivotal early stories: specifically, issues #111-121 of the decidedly “All-New, All-Different” X-Men – spanning June 1978 to May 1979.

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

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

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

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

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

They could not be more wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, he never promised to stay arrested…

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

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 8


By Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Chris Claremont, Gary Friedrich, Herb Trimpe, Dick Ayers, John Severin& various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8854-4 (HB)

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

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

This chronologically-curated hardback and eBook compendium re-presents issues #145-156, encompassing cover-dates November 1971 to October 1972 and opens after a self-deprecating Introduction from Trimpe offers a few more intimate behind-the-scenes secrets…

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

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

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

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

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

After dispatching that creepy threat the Gamma Goliath wanders into the wilderness where he encounters on-sabbatical X-Man Alec Summers. He had banished himself – with girlfriend Lorna Dane visiting at just the wrong moment – to the deserts of New Mexico, terrified of his uncontrollable cosmic power in ‘Cry Hulk, Cry Havok!’ (#150 April 1972).

When Lorna clashes with a menacing biker gang and an Emerald Giant violently protective of his privacy, Summers finally proves himself against the rampaging but easily distracted titan…

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

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

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

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

Wrapping up the smashing fun is the cover to Incredible Hulk Annual #4 and a fascinating glimpse into editorial thinking in creating a cover.

The Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, TV shows and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these yarns so why not Go Green.
© 1971, 1972, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 3

By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2063-6 (HB)                    978-0-7851-8803-2 (TPB)

During the Marvel Renaissance of the early 1960’s Stan Lee & Jack Kirby tried the same tactic that had worked so tellingly for DC Comics, but with mixed results. Julie Schwartz had scored an incredible success with his revised versions of the company’s Golden Age greats, so it seemed natural to try and revive the characters that had dominated Timely/Atlas in those halcyon days.

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

The Torch was promptly given his own solo feature in Strange Tales from issue #101 on, and in #114 the flaming teen fought an acrobat pretending to be Captain America. With reader reaction strong, the real thing promptly resurfaced in Avengers #4 and, after a captivating and centre-stage hogging run in that title, was granted his own series as half of the “split-book” Tales of Suspense (from #59, cover-dated November 1964).

Marvel’s inexorable rise to dominance in the American comicbook industry really took hold in 1968 when a number of their characters finally got their own titles. Prior to that and due to a highly restrictive distribution deal, the company was tied to a limit of 16 publications per month. To circumvent this, Marvel developed titles with two series per publication, such as Tales of Suspense where original star Iron Man shared honours with Cap. When the division came, Shellhead started afresh with a First Issue, and Cap retained the numbering of the original title; thereby premiering with #100.

This resoundingly resolute full-colour collection – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – gathers Captain America #101-#113, spanning May 1968 to May 1969, and also includes a fervent Introductory reminiscence from John Morrow plus a fascinating Afterword by Steranko wherein he meticulously deconstructs the landmark epic that fills the end of this titanic tome…

Crafted by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & 1940s Cap illustrator Syd Shores, Captain America #101-102 sees the return of fascist revenant the Red Skull and another appalling Nazi revenge-weapon in ‘When Wakes the Sleeper!’ and furious finale ‘The Sleeper Strikes!’ as our hero and his support crew Agent 13 and Nick Fury hunt a murderous mechanoid capable of ghosting through solid Earth and blowing up the planet…

Although the immediate threat is quashed, the instigator is still at large and #103 reveals ‘The Weakest Link!’ as a budding romance with S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent 13 (finally revealed after two years as Sharon Carter) is interrupted by the nefarious Nazi.

The über-fascist’s new scheme of nuclear blackmail extends to a second issue, wherein his band of war-criminal assassins, The Exiles, test Cap nigh to destruction on the hidden isle where he becomes the ‘Slave of the Skull!’

That issue and following super-villain team-up – wherein Living Laser and the Swordsman ally with another old Cap foe to attack ‘In the Name of Batroc!’ – feature the loose, flowing inking of Dan Adkins, whilst Frank Giacoia embellished the all-action, spies-&-evil-doppelgangers romp ‘Cap goes Wild!’ in issue #106, before Shores returned in #107.

Sinister mystery ‘If the Past Be Not Dead…’ is an action-packed psycho-thriller introducing malevolent, mind-bending psychiatrist Doctor Faustus

The Star-Spangled Avenger is rescuing Agent 13 again – at least he thinks he is – in breakneck thriller ‘The Snares of the Trapster!’ before Captain America #109 redefined his origin with ‘The Hero That Was!’: a spectacular wrap-up to Kirby’s run on the Sentinel of Liberty – at least for the moment…

Comics phenomenon and one-man sensation Jim Steranko then took over the art direction with #110 for a too-brief stint that became everybody’s favourite Cap epic for decades to come.

After a swift and brutal skirmish with the Incredible Hulk, teen appendage Rick Jones becomes the patriotic paladin’s new sidekick in ‘No Longer Alone!’, just in time for the pair to tackle the memorably lascivious Madame Hydra and her obedient hordes in #111’s ‘Tomorrow You Live, Tonight I Die!’ – both inked by Joe Sinnott in a landmark saga that inspired and galvanised a generation of would-be comics artists.

With the Avenger seemingly killed at the issue’s close, the next month saw a bombastic account of Captain America’s career by fill-in superstars Kirby & George Tuska, before Lee, Steranko & Tom Palmer concluded the Hydra epic with ‘The Strange Death of Captain America’ in #113. This yarn reset the hero’s character for years to come…

Also on offer are a selection of Kirby’s original art pages and covers, including rejected and unseen pencil versions prior to editing and the draconian interference of the Comics Code Authority…

These are tales of dauntless courage and unmatchable adventure, fast-paced and superbly illustrated, which rightly returned Captain America to the heights that his Golden Age compatriots Human Torch and Sub-Mariner never regained. They are pure escapist magic: glorious treats for the eternally young at heart, and episodes of sheer visual dynamite that cannot be slighted and should not be missed.

© 1968, 1969, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Silver Surfer Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, John Buscema, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1177-1(HB)                     978-0-7851-4596-1(TPB)

Although pretty much a last-minute addition to Fantastic Four #48-50’s ‘Galactus Trilogy’, Jack Kirby’s scintillating creation the Silver Surfer quickly became a watchword for depth and subtext in the Marvel Universe and one Stan Lee kept as his own personal toy for many years.

Tasked with finding planets for space god Galactus to consume and, despite the best efforts of intergalactic voyeur Uatu the Watcher, one day the Surfer discovers Earth, where the latent nobility of humanity reawakens his own suppressed morality; causing the shining scout to rebel against his master and help the FF save the world.

In retaliation, Galactus imprisons his one-time herald on Earth behind an energy-barrier, making him the ultimate outsider on a planet remarkably ungrateful for his sacrifice.

The Galactus Saga was a creative highlight from a period where the Lee/Kirby partnership was utterly on fire. The tale has all the power and grandeur of a true epic and has never been surpassed for drama, thrills and sheer entertainment. It’s not included here…

In 1968, after increasingly frequent guest-shots and a solo adventure in the back of Fantastic Four Annual #5, the Surfer finally got his own (initially double-length) title at long last.

The stories in this series were highly acclaimed – if not really commercially successful – both for John Buscema’s agonised, emphatic and truly beautiful artwork, as well as Lee’s deeply spiritual and philosophical scripts.

The tone was accusatory; with the isolated alien’s travails and social observations creating a metaphoric status akin to a Christ-figure for an audience that was maturing and rebelling against America’s creaking and unsavoury status quo.

This stellar collection – available in deluxe hardback, sturdy trade paperback and assorted eBook formats – gathers Silver Surfer #7-18, spanning August 1969 to September 1970 when the classy experiment ended on a never to be properly resolved cliffhanger.

Consider yourself warned…

Just in case you need reminding: Norrin Radd, discontented soul from an alien paradise named Zenn-La, voluntarily became the gleaming herald of a planetary scourge to save his homeworld. Radd had constantly chafed against a civilisation in comfortable, sybaritic stagnation, but when Galactus shattered their million years of progress in a fleeting moment, the dissident without hesitation offered himself as a sacrifice to save his people from the Devourer’s hunger.

Converted into an indestructible, gleaming human meteor, Radd agreed to scour the galaxies seeking uninhabited worlds rich in the energies Galactus needs to survive, thus saving planets with life on them from destruction. He didn’t always find them in time…

Following a customarily florid Introductory reminiscence from author Stan Lee, the cosmic Passion Play resumes, illustrated by John Buscema & his brother Sal.

Times and tastes were changing and by the August 1969 cover-dated Silver Surfer #7 many of the Comics Code injunctions against horror stories were being eroded away. Thus ‘The Heir of Frankenstein!’ and his misshapen but noble assistant Borgo debuted to terrorise their small Balkan community and tap into the growing monster movie zeitgeist of the era.

The last maniac of a sullied line of scientists wants to outdo his infamous ancestor and achieves his aim by his tricking the Skyrider into becoming the victim of a deadly duplication experiment.

As a result, the Surfer has to battle a cosmic-fuelled facsimile with all his power but none of his noble ideals or merciful intentions…

Despite some truly groundbreaking comics creativity, the title remained a disappointing seller and, with #8 (September 1969) the title was reduced to a standard 20-page story format and boosted to monthly frequency in an attempt to bolster and build a regular readership.

With Dan Adkins lavishly inking John Buscema, Lee’s stories also became more action-adventure and less contemporary parable, with ‘Now Strikes the Ghost’ bringing back Satan-analogue Mephisto to further plague and imperil the shining sentinel. This he does by resurrecting and augmenting the tortured spectre of cruel and callous mariner Captain Joost Van Straaten, promising that phantom eternal peace in return for crushing Norrin Radd.

The Lord of Lies’ sinister scheme ‘…To Steal the Surfer’s Soul!’ concluded in #9 when the hero’s compassion trumps the tormented Flying Dutchman’s greed and Mephisto’s demonic lust for victory, after which events take another convoluted turn for the solitary starman…

In ‘A World He Never Made!’ long-lost true love Shalla Bal hitches a ride with ambitious and lustful Zenn-Lavian Yarro Gort, who had built a starship to ferry her to Earth and prove he is a far worthier paramour than her former beau.

Her silver-metal lover, meanwhile, has again attempted to integrate with humanity, becoming embroiled in a South American war and saving dedicated rebel Donna Maria Perez from the marauding soldiers of sadistic dictator El Capitan. When the freedom fighter thanks him with a kiss, Gort ensures his ship’s scanners pick up the gesture for Shalla’s benefit…

Issue #11 then sees the sleek star-craft shot down by El Capitan’s forces and Gort join the dictator to build world-conquering weaponry. The combined villains are still no match for the Surfer’s fury, but Radd’s joy in reunion with his true love is quickly crushed when Shalla is gravely injured and he must despatch her back beyond Galactus’ barrier to be healed in ‘O, Bitter Victory!’

In Silver Surfer #12, Lee, Buscema & Adkins mix a few genres as ‘Gather Ye Witches!’ exposes a British coven accidentally summoning gamma-ray mutation the Abomination from exile on a far planet (rather than the intended supernatural slave from Hell), leaving the Skyrider no choice but to battle the brute through the ruins of London, after which ‘The Dawn of the Doomsday Man!’ in the following issues sees seemingly repentant scientist Dr. Kronton implore the Surfer to destroy an apparently unstoppable killer robot stored in a US military bunker.

The sinister savant only wants the trusting alien to afford him access to a prototype Cobalt bomb, but their unwise invasion triggers the assassin automaton’s awakening anyway…

With sales still dropping, #14 saw the adoption of team-up tactics goose interest. ‘The Surfer and the Spider!’ details how a typical Marvel misunderstanding provokes a fighting mad and deeply humiliated Spider-Man into repeatedly attacking the gleaming extraterrestrial, accidentally endangering a young boy in the process…

A similar snafu in ‘The Flame and the Fury!’ pits an angry and distrustful Surfer against former ally Johnny Storm – AKA the Human Torch – when Norrin misconstrues a military request for aid as a betrayal.

The shock and shame leave the humbled exile easy prey when a wicked devil hungry for the Surfer’s soul resurfaces in #16’s ‘In the Hands… of Mephisto!’

Inked by Chic Stone, the tale reveals how the tempter abducts the now-healed Shalla Bal from Zenn-La and forces his anguished pious prey to betray his principles and ensure her safety. The saga concludes in ‘The Surfer Must Kill!’ when the vile seducer orders his victim to destroy peacekeeping espionage force S.H.I.E.L.D., while clandestinely hiding the Surfer’s beloved amidst the agents, intending that she die by her oblivious lover’s cosmic-powered hand…

Happily, the scheme is foiled, though more by luck than intent, and the poor lass is (apparently) returned home. The Surfer’s fate is not so fortunate…

With nothing else working to boost sales, Marvel’s miracle worker returned to his creation but it was too late. Silver Surfer #18 (September 1970) features ‘To Smash the Inhumans!’ by Lee, Jack Kirby & Herb Trimpe and depicts the puzzled, embattled alien philosopher overtaken by rage against all humanity after surviving a misguided attack by Black Bolt and the warriors of hidden city Attilan.

The “Savagely Sensational New Silver Surfer” promised at the end of that unfinished tale was never seen. Kirby was on his way to DC to create his magnificent Fourth World Trilogy and the bean-counters at the House of Ideas had already decreed the Skyrider’s publishing demise.

He vanished into the Limbo of fond memory and occasional guest-shots which afflicted so many costumed characters at the beginning of the 1970s, making way for a wave of supernatural heroes and horrors that capitalised on the periodic revival of interest in magic and mystery fare.

It would 1981 before Norrin Radd would helm his own title again…

That’s not quite the end of this spectacular tome, however. Included for your delectation are a host of original art pages and covers, a reprint cover gallery from Fantasy Masterpieces, and a brace of Buscema covers from the 2001 Marvel Essential collection.

The Silver Surfer was always a pristine and iconic character when handled well – and sparingly – and these early forays into a more mature range of adventures, although perhaps a touch heavy-handed, proved that comicbooks could be so much more than cops and robbers or monsters and misfits.

That exploratory experience and the mystique of hero as Christ allegory made the series a critically beloved but commercially disastrous cause célèbre until eventually financial failure killed the experiment.

After the Lee/Kirby/Ditko sparks had initially fired up the imaginations of readers in the early days, the deeper, subtler overtones and undercurrents offered by stories like these kept a maturing readership enthralled, loyal and abidingly curious as to what else comics could achieve if given half a chance, and this fabulously lavish tome offers the perfect way to discover or recapture the thrill and wonder of those startlingly different days and times.
© 1969, 1970, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, Dennis O’Neill, John Romita, Gene Colan, with Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0804-7 (HB)                    978-0-7851-5050-3 (TPB)

As the remnants of Atlas Comics grew in popularity in the early 1960s it gradually supplanted its broad variety of genre titles with more and more super-heroes. The recovering powerhouse that was to become Marvel was still hampered by a crippling distribution deal that limited the company to 16 titles (which would curtail their output until 1968), so each new untried book would have to fill the revenue-generating slot (however small) of an existing title.

Moreover. as the costumed characters were selling, each new similarly-themed title would limit the breadth of the monster, western, war, humour or girls’ comics that had been the outfit’s recent bread and butter. It was putting a lot of eggs in one basket, and superheroes had failed twice before for Marvel.

It all worked out in the end though…

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, enabling him to perform astonishing acrobatic feats and fight like a demon. He is a formidable fighter for justice in both identities and a living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who illustrated the strip.

DD battled thugs, gangsters, a plethora of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat. His civilian life consisted of assorted legal conundra and manfully standing back while quenching his own feelings as his portly best friend and partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson romanced their secretary Karen Page

Still, Lee and a rotating line-up of artists plugged on, concocting some extremely engaging tales until the latest Marvel Sensation found his feet. This potent compilation from the much-loved and crucial series of Marvel Masterworks – available in hardcover, trade Paperback and eBook formats – traces the fascinating transition of moody masked avenger to wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler, which can be enjoyed in this collection. It gathers Daredevil #12-21 (spanning January to October 1966) into one boldly boisterous package of thrills and spills which commence following another effervescent Introduction from Stan Lee…

The previous year had seen Golden Age giant Wally Wood leave his own unmistakable mark on the series but with his departure Lee turned to an old friend who had left during the harshest days of the Atlas implosion. He was to eventually become Marvel’s top – and most loyal – star…

‘Sightless, in a Savage Land!’ was laid out by Jack Kirby and illustrated by John Romita, who had worked for Timely/Atlas in the 1950s before moving to relatively steady work on National/DC.’s romance comics, as well as freelance advertising.

He returned to take DD on an epic quest, guest-starring Tarzan-analogue Ka-Zar, ranging from the dinosaur-haunted Savage Land via an extended battle with high-tech pirates led by The Plunderer to Jolly Olde England-land (in #13’s ‘The Secret of Ka-Zar’s Origin!’) and ultimately to a US Early Warning Base (#14, ‘If This be Justice…’, and with what I’m sure is some un-credited assistance from George Tuska).

With this multi-part globe-girdling epic, Daredevil began to confirm his persona as a wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler: one that would carry him all the way to the grim ‘n’ gritty Frank Miller days, far, far in the future.

Romita’s graceful, flamboyant style and expressiveness imparted new energy into the character (especially since Frank Ray Née Giacoia had been inking the series since # 14) and #15’s ‘…And Men Shall Call Him… Ox!’ showed the artist’s facility for explosive superhero action as the dim strongman last seen in DD #6 resurfaced, albeit in a new and sinister fashion as the lummox is made the subject of a macabre brain-swapping experiment…

When a certain webslinger guest-starred in #16, little did anyone suspect how soon Romita would be leaving…

‘Enter… Spider-Man!’ introduces criminal mastermind Masked Marauder who has big plans; the first of which is to get DD and the wallcrawler to kill each other…

With next issue ‘None are so Blind…’, a convoluted a sub-plot began which would lead to some of the highest and lowest moments of the early Daredevil series, beginning after the wondrous wallcrawler accuses Foggy of being the Man Without Fear!

Although the webspinner quickly realizes his mistake, others present don’t…

Issue #18’s ‘There Shall Come a Gladiator!’ introduces a manic armoured villain and archetypal super-thug in a tale two-thirds scripted by legend-in-waiting Denny O’Neil. Here Foggy tries to sway Karen by bolstering the idea that he is Daredevil… and almost perishing as a result of the deception.

Issue #19 then sees the Masked Marauder ally with Gladiator in action-packed big fight tale ‘Alone… Against the Underworld!’: a fitting farewell for Romita who was moving over to Amazing Spider-Man after Steve Ditko’s abrupt, controversial and utterly unexpected departure.

Originally tipped for a fill-in issue, Gene Colan came aboard as penciller with #20’s ‘The Verdict is: Death!’ Inked by Mike Esposito (as Mickey DeMeo). Colan’s superbly humanistic drawing and facility with expressions was a little jarring at first – since he drew Daredevil in a passable Romita imitation and everything else in his own manner – but he soon settled in and this two-part revenge thriller featuring the Owl (concluding with the Giacoia, Dick Ayers & Bill Everett inked ‘The Trap is Sprung!’) is a fine beginning to his long, impressive run on the series, incorporating the Sightless Swashbuckler’s battle against his ferocious arch-foe, an army of thugs, deadly flying robots and even an exploding volcano to keep the readers on their toes….

Augmented by Kirby’s designs for the Plunderer, his pencil page layouts, house ads and Romita’s very first pencil sketch of ‘Ol Hornhead, this classy compendium is a nostalgic delight for one and all.

Despite a few bumpy false starts Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. If you’ve not read these tales before I strongly urge you to rectify that error as soon as superhumanly possible.
© 1965, 1966, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Silver Surfer Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1187-0 (HB)                    978-0-7851-4282-9 (TPB)

Although pretty much a last-minute addition to Fantastic Four #48-50’s ‘Galactus Trilogy’, Jack Kirby’s scintillating creation the Silver Surfer quickly became a watchword for depth and subtext in the Marvel Universe and one Stan Lee kept as his own personal toy for many years.

Tasked with finding planets for space god Galactus to consume and, despite the best efforts of intergalactic voyeur Uatu the Watcher, one day the Silver Surfer discovers Earth, where the latent nobility of humanity reawakens his own suppressed morality; causing the shining scout to rebel against his master and help the FF save the world.

In retaliation, Galactus imprisons his one-time herald on Earth, making him the ultimate outsider on a planet remarkably ungrateful for his sacrifice.

The Galactus Saga was a creative highlight from a period where the Lee/Kirby partnership was utterly on fire. The tale has all the power and grandeur of a true epic and has never been surpassed for drama, thrills and sheer entertainment. It’s not included here: for that treat you’ll need to see an upcoming Fantastic Four Epic Collection or many other Marvel collections…

In 1968, after increasingly frequent guest-shots and even a solo adventure in the back of Fantastic Four Annual #5 (happily included here at the back; chronologically adrift but well worth the wait), the Surfer finally got his own (initially double-length) title at long last. There’s also a sassy spoof from Not Brand Echh #13 to puncture any pomposity overdose you might experience…

This stellar collection – available in deluxe hardback, sturdy trade paperback and assorted eBook formats – gathers the first six extra-length adventures from August 1968 to June 1969 and, following a fond Introductory reminiscence from author Stan Lee, begins with ‘The Origin of the Silver Surfer!’

Illustrated by John Buscema & Joe Sinnott, the drama unfolds after a prolonged flashback sequence and repeated examples of crass humanity’s brutal callousness and unthinking hostility, detailing how Norrin Radd, discontented soul from an alien paradise named Zenn-La, became the gleaming herald of a planetary scourge.

Radd had constantly chafed against a civilisation in comfortable, sybaritic stagnation, but when Galactus shattered their vaunted million years of progress in a fleeting moment, the dissident without hesitation offered himself as a sacrifice to save the world from the Devourer’s hunger.

Converted into an indestructible, gleaming human meteor, Radd agreed to scour the galaxies looking for uninhabited worlds rich in the energies Galactus needs to survive, thus saving planets with life on them from destruction. He didn’t always find them in time…

The stories in this series were highly acclaimed – if not really commercially successful – both for Buscema’s agonised, emphatic and truly beautiful artwork as well as Lee’s deeply spiritual and philosophical scripts. The tone was accusatory; with the isolated alien’s travails and social observations creating a metaphoric status akin to a Christ-figure for an audience that was maturing and rebelling against America’s creaking and unsavoury status quo.

The second 40-page adventure exposes a secret invasion by extraterrestrial lizard men ‘When Lands the Saucer!’ This forces the Surfer into battle against the sinister Brotherhood of Badoon without human aid or even awareness in ‘Let Earth be the Prize!’

A little side-note for sad nit-picking enthusiasts like me: I suspect that the original intention was to drop the page count to regular 20-page episodes from #2, since in terms of pacing both the second and third issues divide perfectly into two-parters, with cliffhanger endings and splash page/chapter titles that are dropped from #4 onwards.

Silver Surfer #3 is pivotal in the ongoing saga as Lee & Buscema introduced Marvel’s Satan-analogue in ‘The Power and the Prize!’

Mephisto is Lord of Hell and sees the Surfer’s untarnished soul as a threat to his evil influence on Earth. To crush the anguished hero’s spirit, the demon abducts Norrin Radd’s true love Shalla Bal from still-recovering Zenn-La and torments the Sentinel of the Spaceways with her dire distress in his sulphurous nether-realm…

The concluding chapter sees mortal angel of light and devil of depravity conduct a spectacular ‘Duel in the Depths’ wherein neither base temptations nor overwhelming force are enough to stay the noble Surfer’s inevitable triumph.

Just as wicked a foe then attempted to exploit the Earth-bound alien’s heroic impulses in #4’s ‘The Good, The Bad and the Uncanny!’ (inked by new art collaborator Sal Buscema) wherein Asgardian God of Evil Loki offers lies, deceit and even escape from Galactus’ terrestrial cage to induce the Silver Stalwart to attack and destroy the mighty Thor. The net result is a staggering and bombastic clash that just builds and builds as the creative team finally let loose and fully utilise their expanded story-proportions and page count to create smooth flowing, epic action-adventures.

This magical collection continues with a powerful parable about race, prejudice and shared humanity as the Surfer is befriended by ostracised black physicist Al Harper in ‘…And Who Shall Mourn Him?’

As the two outcasts bond, the scientist realises he might have a way to free the Surfer from his Galactine incarceration, but just as they put their plan into operation, remorseless alien entity The Stranger arrives, determined to erase the potential threat mankind offers to the rest of the universe.

To stop him both, Harper and Radd must sacrifice everything they cherish most for a world that doesn’t care if they live or die…

Officially closing this volume ‘World Without End!’ from issue #6 embraces dystopian fantasy as the Surfer reasons that by breaking the time-barrier he might escape the energy shield binding him to Earth. Tragically, although the plan works, the lonely wanderer discovers that the far future harbours little life, and what there is owes fealty and its own precarious continuation to a monstrous mutant who lives simply to conquer and kill.

Appalled, overwhelmed and utterly unable to beat the horrific Overlord, all the Surfer can do to preserve all Creation is to escape back into time and seek to prevent the murderous freak from ever being born…

As foretold, this compulsive comicbook chronicle concludes with a groundbreaking vignette from Fantastic Four Annual #5 – released in November 1967 – wherein the rapidly rising star-in-the-making got his first solo shot.

‘The Peerless Power of the Silver Surfer’ (Lee, Kirby & Frank Giacoia) is a pithy fable of cruel ingratitude that reintroduced the Mad Thinker’s lethal A.I. assassin Quasimodo

The Quasi-Motivational Destruct Organ was a malevolent murder machine trapped in a static computer housing which dreamed of being able to move within the real world. Sadly, although its pleas initially found favour with the gullibly innocent stranger from the stars, the killer computer itself had underestimated the power and conscience of its foolish saviour and the gleaming guardian of life was explosively forced to take back the boon he had impetuously bestowed in a bombastic bravura display of Kirby action and Lee pathos…

One last sally comes with ‘The Origin of the Simple Surfer!’ – by Roy Thomas and the sublime Marie Severin from Not Brand Echh #13,May 1969 – as alien émigré Borin-Kadd ruminates on his strange fate and pines for his daftly-beloved Shallo-Gal when… well you get the idea, right?

Completing the treats are a reprint cover gallery from Fantasy Masterpieces, house ads and a stunning original art cover by Buscema & Sinnott

The Silver Surfer was always a pristine and iconic character when handled well – and sparingly – and these early forays into a more mature range of adventures, although perhaps a touch heavy-handed, showed that there was far more to comicbooks than cops and robbers or monsters and misfits.

That exploratory experience and the mystique of hero as Christ allegory made the series a critically beloved but commercially disastrous cause célèbre until eventually financial failure killed the experiment.

After the Lee/Kirby/Ditko sparks had initially fired up the imaginations of readers in the early days, the deeper, subtler overtones and undercurrents offered by stories like these kept a maturing readership enthralled, loyal and abidingly curious as to what else comics could achieve if given half a chance, and this fabulously lavish tome offers the perfect way to discover or recapture the thrill and wonder of those startlingly different days and times.
© 1968, 1969, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Team Up Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Sal Buscema, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5933-9 (HB)

Inspiration isn’t everything. In fact, as Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in the wake of the losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators, they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties. The only real exception to this was the 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 at that time they may well have been right.

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

This second sturdy compilation (in hardback or digital formats) gathers material from MTU #12-22 plus a crossover with Daredevil (and the Black Widow) #103 spanning August 1973 to June 1974 and opens with a fond, if self-proclaimed foggy, recollection from then Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas in his cheery Introduction before we plunge into the many-starred dramas…

Len Wein scripted a Gerry Conway plot for ‘Wolf at Bay!’ from MTU #12 as the Wall-Crawler meets the Werewolf By Night Jack Russell and malevolent mage Moondark in foggy San Francisco, as deftly delineated by Ross Andru & Don Perlin, after which we divert to the Man without Fear and the Black Widow’s own title. Here they share the left coast limelight as Daredevil #103 sees them joining with the still California-bound wallcrawler. A merciless cyborg attacks the odd couple while they pose for roving photojournalist Peter Parker in ‘…Then Came Ramrod!’ – by Steve Gerber, Don Heck & Sal Trapani – and the only response can be battle…

Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia illustrated ‘The Granite Sky!’ wherein Wein pits Spider-Man and Captain America against Hydra and the Grey Gargoyle in a simple clash of ideologies after which ‘Mayhem is… the Men-Fish!’ (inked by Wayne Howard – and, yes bad grammar, but great action-art!) matches the webslinger with the savage Sub-Mariner against vile villains Tiger Shark and Doctor Dorcas as well as an army (navy?) of mutant sea-beasts.

Wein, Andru & Perlin created The Orb to bedevil Spidey and the Ghost Rider in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee!’ in #15 after which Kane & Jim Mooney illustrated ‘Beware the Basilisk my Son!’: a gripping romp featuring (the original Kree) Captain Marvel, which concludes in ‘Chaos at the Earth’s Core!’ (inked by “everybody”!), as Mister Fantastic joins the fracas to stop the Mole Man from inadvertently blowing up the world.

Human Torch Johnny Storm teams with the Hulk in MTU #18 to stop antimatter malcontent Blastaar in ‘Where Bursts the Bomb!’ (inked by Giacoia & Esposito), but Spidey blazes back a month later with Ka-Zar in situ to witness ‘The Coming of… Stegron, the Dinosaur Man!’ (Wein, Kane & Giacoia) whose plans to flatten New York by releasing ‘Dinosaurs on Broadway!’ is foiled with the Black Panther’s help – as well as the artistic skills of Sal Buscema, Giacoia & Esposito.

Dave Hunt replaced Esposito and aide Giacoia inking ‘The Spider and the Sorcerer!’ in #21 as Spidey and Doctor Strange once more battle Xandu, a wily wizard first seen in Spider-Man Annual #2, before ‘The Messiah Machine!’ brings the story glories to a conclusion by depicting Hawkeye and the Amazing Arachnid frustrating deranged computer Quasimodo’s ambitious if absurd mechanoid invasion.

Adding extra lustre before we close, there’s a brace of original art pages from Andru & Perlin and Kane and Mooney to drool over, too…

These stories are of variable quality but nonetheless all have an honest drive to entertain and please, whilst artistically the work – particularly action-man-on-fire Gil Kane – is superb, and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about. Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s lots of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so there’s no real reason not to add this tome to your library…
© 1973, 1974, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.