Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Len Wein, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Tony Isabella, Herb Trimpe & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9596-2 (HB)

During the 1970s the Incredible Hulk settled into a comfortable – if spectacularly destructive – pattern. A globe-trotting, monster-mashing plot 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 his daughter – the scientist’s unobtainable inamorata – Betty, with a non-stop procession of guest-star heroes and villains providing the battle du jour.

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. Beginning with Roy Thomas – unofficial custodian of Marvel’s burgeoning shared-universe continuity – a string of skilful scripters effectively played the afflicted Jekyll/Hyde card for maximum angst and ironic heartbreak as the Jade Juggernaut became a pillar of Marvel’s growing pantheon.

This chronologically-curated hardback and eBook compendium re-presents issues #171-183, encompassing cover-dates January 1974 to January 1975, and begins with a brace of revelatory Introductions from then Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas and returning scripter Len Wein on the creation of a certain mutant Canadian…

Before that debut, however, the drama commences with excessive bombast but no appreciable fanfare as ‘Revenge!’ (by Gerry Conway – from a Steve Englehart plot – with art by Trimpe & Jack Abel) finds the Green Goliath a stowaway on a plane back to military Mecca Hulkbuster Base. The jet carries a new Project: Greenskin commanding officer. Spit-&-polish Colonel John D. Armbruster has taken over from the politically sidelined Thunderbolt Ross….

The camp is eerily deserted and the reason soon becomes clear as bludgeoning brutes Abomination and The Rhino attack the new arrivals. Having subdued the entire garrison, they plan on detonating the base’s gamma-bomb self-destruct device but are utterly unprepared for the Hulk’s irascible intervention…

Roy Thomas plotted Tony Isabella’s script for #172 wherein the Hulk – captured by the ungrateful soldiers he saved – is hurled into another dimension, allowing a mystic menace to inadvertently escape. ‘And Canst Thou Slay… The Juggernaut?’ reveals that even that magically augmented menace cannot resist our favourite monster’s might and features a telling cameo by the X-Men, after which Thomas scripts all-Trimpe art-fest ‘Anybody Out There Remember… The Cobalt Man?’, wherein another old X-adversary – Ralph Roberts – picks up the Jade Giant at sea before sailing his research vessel into a nuclear test explosion…

Dying of radiation exposure, the deranged technologist then determines to demonstrate atomic bombs are bad to a callous, uncaring world by detonating one over Sydney in Doomsday… Down Under’ (Conway, Thomas, Trimpe & Abel). The second clash with the azure-armoured Cobalt Man results in a blistering battle in the stratosphere, a cataclysmic explosion and Hulk crashing to earth far, far away as a ‘Man-Brute in the Hidden Land!’ (#175, Thomas, Trimpe & Abel)…

Here a typically short-tempered encounter with the Uncanny Inhumans and devastating duel with silent super-monarch Black Bolt, after the usual collateral carnage, ends with the gamma gladiator hurtling to the far side of the sun in a rocket-ship for a date with allegory if not destiny.

During the early 1970s a throwaway Fantastic Four character dubbed Him was transubstantiated into a modern interpretation of the Christ myth and placed on a world far more like our own than the Earth of Marvel’s universe.

That troubled globe was codified as Counter-Earth and upon it messianic Adam Warlock battled a Satan-analogue known as the Man-Beast. Hulk had briefly visited once before and now he crashed there again to complete the allegorical epic beginning with ‘Crisis on Counter-Earth!’ by Conway, Trimpe & Abel.

Since the Hulk’s departure, Man-Beast and his animalistic minions (all spawned by godlike genetic meddler The High Evolutionary) had become America’s President and Cabinet. Moving decisively, they had finally captured Warlock and led humanity to the brink of extinction, leaving the would-be messiah’s disciples in utter confusion.

Now with the nation in foment, the Hulk’s shattering return gives Warlock’s faithful flock an opportunity to save their saviour in ‘Peril of the Plural Planet!’ but the foray badly misfires and Warlock is captured. Publicly crucified at the behest of the people, humanity’s last hope perishes…

Meanwhile on true-Earth, Ross and Armbruster discover trusted comrade (and Ross’ son-in-law) Major Glenn Talbot has escaped from a top security Soviet prison and is making his triumphant way back to the USA…

The quasi-religious experience concludes with ‘Triumph on Terra-Two’ (Conway, Isabella, Trimpe & Abel) as the dead prophet resurrects whilst Hulk is waging his last battle against Man-Beast just in time to deliver a cosmic coup de grace before ascending from Counter-Earth to the beckoning stars…

Incredible Hulk #179 signalled a long-overdue thematic reboot as Len Wein signed on as writer/editor with strong ideas on how to put some dramatic impact back into the feature. It began with ‘Re-enter: The Missing Link’, as the Jade Juggernaut loses patience during his return trip and bursts out of his borrowed spaceship just as America’s military defences shoot it down.

He crashes to earth in the mining district of Appalachia and, reverting to befuddled Bruce Banner, is adopted by the dirt-poor Bradford family. They have a habit of taking in strays and have already welcomed a strange, huge yet gentle being they’ve named Lincoln.

As time passes Banner recognises the creature as a former Hulk foe known as the Missing Link. The colossal brute is neither evil nor violent (unless provoked) but is lethally radioactive, and the fugitive physicist faces the dilemma of having to break up a perfect happy family before they all die.

The Link, of course, refuses to cooperate or go quietly…

Next comes the most momentous story in Hulk history which starts with ‘And the Wind Howls… Wendigo!’ (#180, October 1974, Wein, Trimpe & Abel). Here the Green Giant gallivants across the Canadian Border and encounters a witch attempting to cure her brother of a curse which has transformed him into a rampaging cannibalistic monster.

Unfortunately, that cure means Hulk must become a Wendigo in his stead…

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

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

Back south of the border, Major Talbot has been reunited with his wife and family and is eagerly expecting a meeting with President Ford as ‘Between Hammer and Anvil!’ (with Trimpe taking sole charge of the art chores) finds the ever-isolated Hulk meeting and losing a true friend in jolly hobo Crackerjack Jackson.

The über-action portion of the tale comes from two escaped convicts who despise each other but are forced to endure togetherness because of an alien chain which shackles them whilst imparting overwhelming physical power. It’s not, nearly enough, however, enough to stop a fighting-mad, heartbroken Hulk…

This catastrophic compilation concludes with the return of electrical vampire and life-stealer ZZZAX in ‘Fury at 50,000 Volts!’: wrecking a new life Banner surreptitiously starts carving out for himself in Chicago…

To Be Continued…

This superbly cathartic tome also reproduces John Romita’s first design sketches for Wolverine, a page of original art from the debut and house ads for the issue, as well as covers and frontispieces by John Byrne & Abel and Trimpe from later Hulk/Wolverine reprint collections.

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, honestly vicarious and cathartic experience of Might literally making Right, you can’t do better than these yarns.
© 1974, 1975, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain Marvel Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Jim Starlin, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Mike Friedrich, Steve Englehart, Wayne Boring, Al Milgrom, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3016-1 (HB)

In 1968, upstart Marvel was in the ascendant. Their sales were rapidly overtaking industry leaders National/DC and Gold Key Comics and, having secured a new distributor which would allow them to expand their list of titles exponentially, the company was about to undertake a creative expansion of unparalleled proportions.

Once each individual star of “twin-books” Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales was awarded their own title, the House of Ideas just kept on going. In progress was a publishing plan which sought to take conceptual possession of the word “Marvel” through both reprint series like Marvel Tales, Marvel Collector’s Items Classics and Marvel Super-Heroes. Eventually, showcase titles such as Marvel Premiere, Marvel Spotlight and Marvel Feature also proudly trumpeted the name, so another dead-cert idea was to publish an actual hero named for the company – and preferably one with some ready-made cachet and pedigree as well.

After the infamous DC/Fawcett copyright court case of the 1940s-1950s, the prestigious designation Captain Marvel disappeared from newsstands. In 1967, during the “Camp” craze superhero boom generated by the Batman TV series, publisher MLF secured rights to the name and produced a number of giant-sized comics featuring an intelligent robot able to divide his body into segments and shoot lasers from his eyes.

Quirky, charming and devised by the legendary Carl Burgos (creator of the Golden Age Human Torch), the series nevertheless failed to attract a large following in that flamboyantly flooded marketplace and on its demise the name was quickly snapped up by Marvel Comics Group.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a brand new title: it had been reconfigured from double-sized reprint title Fantasy Masterpieces, which comprised vintage monster-mystery tales and Golden Age Timely Comics classics, but with the twelfth issue it added a showcase section for characters without homes such as Medusa, Ka-Zar, Black Knight and Doctor Doom, plus new concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy and Phantom Eagle to try out in all-new stories.

To start the ball rolling, the title headlined an alien spy sent to Earth from the Kree Galaxy. He held a Captain’s rank and his name was Mar-Vell.

After two appearances, Captain Marvel catapulted straight into his own title and began a rather hit-and-miss career, battling spies, aliens, costumed cut-ups such as Sub-Mariner, Mad Thinker and Iron Man. Most frequently however he clashed with elements of his own rapaciously colonialist race – such as imperial investigative powerhouse Ronan the Accuser – all the while slowly switching allegiances from the militaristic Kree to the noble, freedom-loving denizens of Earth.

Disguised as NASA scientist Walter Lawson, he infiltrated a US airbase and grew closer to security chief Carol Danvers, gradually going native even as he was constantly scrutinised by his ominously orbiting commanding officer Colonel Yon-Rogg – Mar-Vell’s ruthless rival for the love of the teeming starship’s medical officer Una

The impossible situation came to a head when Mar-Vell gave his life to save the empire from overthrow from within. As a reward, colossal hive-mind the Supreme Intelligence inextricably bonded the expiring warrior with voice-of-a-generation and professional side-kick Rick Jones who – just like Billy Batson (the naïve lad who turned into the original Fawcett Captain Marvel by shouting “Shazam!”) – switched places with a mighty adult hero whenever danger loomed.

By striking a pair of ancient, wrist worn “Nega-bands” together they could temporarily trade atoms: one active in our universe whilst the other floated, a ghostly untouchable, ineffectual voyeur to events glimpsed from the ghastly anti-matter Negative Zone.

The Captain was an alien lost on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree who fought for humanity three hours at a time, atomically chained to Rick by mysterious wristbands which enabled them to share the same space in our universe, but whenever one was active here the other was trapped in a terrifying isolated antimatter hell…

The book was cancelled soon after that… only to return some more!

A series which would not die, Captain Marvel returned again in the summer of 1972 for another shot at stardom and intellectual property rights security.

This third stellar Masterworks compilation (spanning September 1972 to July 1974 whilst gathering Captain Marvel #21-33 plus a pivotal crossover appearances from Iron Man #55) finds him at his best and worst as mediocre tales by veteran creators were brushed aside and the hero was overnight transfigured by the talents of a very talented newcomer, making the directionless Kree Warrior briefly the most popular and acclaimed title in Marvel’s firmament.

Following another comprehensively contextualising reminiscence in Roy Thomas’ Introduction, it all begins rather inauspiciously with Captain Marvel #22 wherein scripter Gerry Conway and artists Wayne Boring & Frank Giacoia reintroduce the cosmic crusader. ‘To Live Again!’ sees Mar-Vell still bonded to Rick by the uncanny Nega-bands, having languished in the Negative Zone for a seeming eternity. Jones had been trying to carve out a rock star career and relationship with new love Lou-Ann, but eventually his own body betrays him and the Kree Captain is expelled back into our reality…

Luckily, Lou-Ann’s uncle Benjamin Savannah is a radical scientist on hand to help Rick’s transition, but as the returned Marvel unsteadily flies off, across town another boffin is rapidly mutating from atomic victim to nuclear threat and #23 (by Marv Wolfman, Boring & Frank McLaughlin) sees the Kree Warrior calamitously clash with rampaging maniac Megaton, resulting in ‘Death at the End of the World!’.

Wolfman, Boring & Ernie Chan then deal ‘Death in High Places!’ as Rick is targeted by lethal Madame Synn and felonious cyborg Dr. Mynde. They need Mar-Vell to help them plunder the Pentagon…

After seemingly running in place, perpetually one step ahead of cancellation (folding many times, but always quickly resurrected – presumably to secure that all important trademark name), the Captain was handed to a newcomer named Jim Starlin who was left alone to get on with it…

With many of his friends and fellow neophytes he began laying seeds (particularly in Iron Man and Daredevil) for a saga that would in many ways become as well regarded as Jack Kirby’s epochal Fourth World Trilogy which it emulated.

However, the “Thanos War”, despite superficial similarities, soon developed into a uniquely modern experience. And what it lacked in grandeur it made up for with sheer energy and enthusiasm.

The first inkling came in Iron Man #55 (February 1973) with Mike Friedrich scripting Starlin’s opening gambit in a cosmic epic that changed the nature of Marvel itself. ‘Beware The… Blood Brothers!’(inked by Mike Esposito) introduces haunted humanoid powerhouse Drax the Destroyer, trapped by extraterrestrial invader Thanos under the Nevada desert and in dire need of rescue. That comes when the Armoured Avenger blazes in, answering a mysterious SOS…

A month later in Captain Marvel #25, Friedrich, Starlin, & Chic Stone unleashed ‘A Taste of Madness!’ and the alien outcast’s fortunes changed forever.

When Mar-Vell is ambushed by a pack of extraterrestrials, he is forced to admit that his powers are in decline. Unaware that an unseen foe is counting on that, Rick manifests and checks in with Dr. Savannah, only to find himself accused by his beloved Lou-Ann of the scientist’s murder.

Hauled off to jail, Rick brings in Mar-Vell who is confronted by a veritable legion of old foes before deducing who in fact his true enemies are…

Issue #26 sees Rick free of police custody and confronting Lou-Ann over her seeming ‘Betrayal!’ (Starlin, Friedrich & Dave Cockrum). Soon, however, he and Mar-Vell realise they are the targets of psychological warfare: the girl is being mind-controlled whilst Super Skrull and his hidden “Masterlord” are manipulating them and others in search of a lost secret…

When a subsequent scheme to have Mar-Vell kill The Thing spectacularly fails, Thanos takes personal charge. The Titan is hungry for conquest and wants Rick because his subconscious conceals the location of an irresistible ultimate weapon.

Rick awakes to find himself ‘Trapped on Titan!’ (Pablo Marcos inks) but does not realise the villain has already extracted the location of a reality-altering Cosmic Cube from him. Rescued by Thanos’ father Mentor and brother Eros, the horrified lad sees first-hand the extent of genocide the death-loving monster has inflicted upon his own birthworld and summons Captain Marvel to wreak vengeance…

Meanwhile on Earth, still-enslaved Lou-Ann has gone to warn the Mighty Avengers and summarily collapsed. By the time Mar-Vell arrives in #28 she lies near death. Inked by Dan Green, ‘When Titans Collide!’ reveals another plank of Thanos’ plan. As the heroes are picked off by psychic parasite The Controller, Mar-Vell is assaulted by bizarre visions of an incredible ancient being. Fatally distracted, he becomes the massive mind-leech’s final victim…

Al Milgrom inks ‘Metamorphosis!’ as the Kree captain’s connection to Rick is severed and he is transported to an otherworldly locale where an 8-billion year old being named Eon reveals the origins of life whilst overseeing the abductee’s forced evolution into the ultimate warrior: a universal champion gifted with the subtly irresistible power of Cosmic Awareness…

Returned to Earth and reconnected to his frantic atomic counterpart, the newly-appointed “Protector of the Universe” goes after The Controller, thrashing the monumentally powerful parasite in a devastating display of skill countering super-strength in #30’s ‘…To Be Free from Control!’

Much of this saga occurs in other titles and for the full picture you will need to hunt down more comprehensive compilations but here and now, the story continues in Captain Marvel #31 with ‘The Beginning of the End!’ (inked by Green & Milgrom) wherein the Avengers – in a gathering of last resort – are joined by psionic priestess Moondragon and Drax – one of the Titan’s many victims resurrected by supernal forces to destroy Thanos…

The Titan has been revealed as a lover of the personification of Death and he wants to give her Earth as a betrothal present. To that end, he uses the Cosmic Cube to turn himself into ‘Thanos the Insane God!’ (Green) and with a thought captures all opposition to his reign. However, his insane arrogance leaves the cosmically aware Mar-Vell with a chance to undo every change; brilliantly outmanoeuvring and defeating ‘The God Himself!’ (inks by Klaus Janson)…

With the universe saved, this volume of cosmic conflict and stellar spectacle concludes with a choice selection of bonus bits, beginning with a comprehensive cutaway ‘Map of Titan’ from Captain Marvel #27, original artwork and covers and endpieces from 1980s reprint series The Life of Captain Marvel.

The Good Captain has never claimed to be the company’s most popular or successful character and some of the material collected here is frankly rather poor. However, the good stuff is amongst the very best the company has produced in its entire history. If you want to see how good superhero comics can be, you’ll just have to take the rough with the smooth and who knows… you might see something that will blow your mind…
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 13


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Ross Andru, Ramona Fradon, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5040-4 (HB)

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

This full-colour compendium – available in hardcover and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #129-141: spanning December 1972 to December 1972 with Stan Lee leaving his most significant co-creation to his top disciple Roy Thomas – and latterly Gerry Conway – whilst John Buscema & Joe Sinnott did their utmost to remake Jack Kirby’s stellar creation in their own style and image and outdoing themselves with every successive issue.

…And when they weren’t around there was a ready pool of visual talent to tap…

What You Should Already Know: maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged tag-along little brother Johnny miraculously survived an ill-starred private space-shot after cosmic rays penetrated their stolen ship’s inadequate shielding. As they crashed back to Earth the uncanny radiation mutated them all in unimaginable ways…

Richards’ body became astoundingly elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project forcefields whilst Johnny could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. They agreed to use their abilities to benefit mankind and thus was born the Fantastic Four.

Following an effusive Introduction from Thomas and a candid, context-creating and fact-filled second essay – ‘Foreword into the Past’ – from Conway, the dramatic tensions resume with the team in turmoil as usual. Having just survived a three-way war between Mole Man, Kala, Empress of the Netherworld and immortal dictator Tyrannus, the exhausted team return to their Baxter Building HQ just in time for lovesick, heartsore Johnny to leave for the hidden kingdom of Attilan and explosively confront lost love – and Inhuman Princess – Crystal.

Tragically as he leaves, ‘The Frightful Four… Plus One!’ (by Thomas, Buscema & Sinnott) sees the Thing ambushed by The Sandman, Wizard and Trapster, beside their newest and almost uncontrollable ally… super-strong amazon Thundra.

Happily, Crystal’s sister Medusa is there to pitch in as the clash escalates and spread to ‘Battleground: the Baxter Building!’ wherein baby Franklin Richards begins exhibiting terrifying abilities. Always left holding the baby and fed up with her husband’s neglect, Sue finally leaves Reed, whilst in the Himalayas Johnny has forced his way to Crystal’s side only to find his worst nightmares realised…

Fantastic Four #131 describes a ‘Revolt in Paradise!’ (illustrated by Ross Andru & Sinnott) as Crystal, her new fiancé Quicksilver, and the rest of the Inhumans are attacked by their genetically-bred and programmed slave-race the Alpha Primitives.

At first it seems that insane usurper Maximus is again responsible for the strife but a deeper secret lurks behind the deadly danger of ‘Omega! The Ultimate Enemy!’, and when the rest of the FF arrive Reed soon ferrets it out…

Issue #133 celebrated the holiday season with plenty of fireworks in ‘Thundra at Dawn!’ as the mysterious Femizon returns to battle Ben once more, courtesy of incoming scripter Gerry Conway, guest penciller Ramona Fradon & Sinnott, after which ‘A Dragon Stalks the Sky!’ in #134 (Buscema & Sinnott) finds Reed, Johnny, Ben and Medusa fighting forgotten super-rich foe Gregory Gideon and his latest acquisition the Dragon Man: a bombastic battle which concludes in a struggle to possess ‘The Eternity Machine’

The secret of that reality-warping device is revealed in a two-part thriller as cosmic entity Shaper of Worlds creates a horrific paranoid pastiche of 1950s America: re-running the conflicts between rebellious youth and doctrinaire, paternalistic authority in ‘Rock Around the Cosmos!’ and the surreal conclusion ‘Rumble on Planet 3’ which also taps into the ongoing struggles of the Civil Rights movement…

In the sub-plot arena, the never-ending stress had forced Sue Richards away from her husband but their son’s rapidly-developing strange, undiagnosed cosmic powers and problems were pulling them reluctantly back together …

Mr. Fantastic was not taking the trial separation well and issue #138 finds him left behind in an increasingly disturbed depressive state when old comrade Wyatt Wingfoot comes looking for assistance against impossible, unimaginable disasters.

Madness is… The Miracle Man’ began a period when rocky everyman Ben Grimm became the de facto star of the Fantastic Four and here he, the Torch and Medusa travel to Wingfoot’s tribal lands in Oklahoma to battle a cheesy hypnotist first encounter in their third adventure.

Now, however, thanks to the charlatan’s subsequent studies under mystic Cheemuzwa medicine men, the maniac actually can reshape reality with a thought…

The battle concluded in the next issue as ‘Target: Tomorrow!’ sees the villain able to control matter but not himself spiralling frantically out of control, with our heroes struggling indomitably on until the Miracle Man makes a fatal, world-threatening error…

Reed’s travails take a darker turn in Fantastic Four # 140 as ‘Annihilus Revealed!’ finds the insectoid Negative Zone tyrant of a dying antimatter universe kidnapping the ever-more powerful Franklin before invading the Baxter Building in search of new worlds to ravage.

In triumph, the bug horror discloses his incredible origin to the helpless Wingfoot before dragging all his enemies back to his subspace hell to engineer ‘The End of the Fantastic Four!’

However, even though the beaten heroes counterattacked and gained an unlikely victory, Annihilus’ prior tampering with Franklin triggers a cosmic catastrophe. As the boy’s limitless power spikes out of control, his tormented father is compelled to blast the boy, shutting down his mutant brain and everything else.

Appalled at the callous cold calculations needed to put his own son into a coma, Johnny and Ben joined Sue in deserting the grief-stricken Mr. Fantastic and declaring their heroic partnership defunct.

To Be Continued…?

This power-packed package also includes unused a full cover gallery – including that of all-reprint Annual 10 – by Buscema, Frank Giacoia, Rich Buckler, Jim Steranko and John Romita, as well as many examples of original art and covers to add to the overall Costumed Drama and delight fans everywhere.

Although Kirby had taken the explosive imagination and questing sense of wonder with him on his departure, the sheer range of beloved characters and concepts he had created with Lee served to carry the series for years afterwards and these admittedly erratic and inconsistent stories kept the Fantastic Four ticking over until bolder hands could once again take the World’s Greatest Comics Magazine Heroes back to the stratospheric heights where they belonged.

Solid, honest and creditable efforts, these tales are probably best seen by dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but can still thrill and enthral the casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 1972, 1973, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4200-3 (HB)

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

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

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

This groundbreaking full-colour compilation (available in hardback and digital editions) spans May 1970 to April 1971 and re-presents Captain America #125-#136, with the action and drama occurring at an unprecedented moment of social, political and generational upheaval in the Land of the Free, as evocatively contextualised by historian and archivist Bruce Canwell in his potent Introduction.

Captain America #125 dips into sensational contemporary headline fare as the Sentinel of Liberty seeks to rescue a kidnapped peacemaker only to become ‘Captured… in Viet Nam!’ The mystery villain du jour is anything but politically motivated and the hero’s brief visit – as recounted by Stan Lee, Gene Colan and Frank Giacoia – owes more to super-villainy than nationalistic interventionism…

The Star-Spangled Avenger’s long-anticipated reunion with his erstwhile associate and partner Sam Wilson features in #126’s ‘The Fate of… the Falcon!’: tapping into the blossoming “blaxsploitation” trend to recount an entertaining (although, sadly, not always intentionally) caper of gangsters and radicals in funky old Harlem that still has a kick to it. Just play the (original) theme from Shaft whilst reading it…

Still working off-the-books for super-scientific government spy-agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division), Cap demands ‘Who Calls Me Traitor?’ (#127, July 1970, by Lee, Colan & the astounding Wally Wood).

This pacy romp finds the veteran hero framed and manipulated by friend and foe alike in the search for a double agent in the ranks, after which the embittered warhorse drops out and decides to “discover America” – as so many kids were doing in the era of Easy Rider – on a freewheeling motorcycle.

Inked by Dick Ayers, ‘Mission: Stamp Out Satan’s Angels!’ finds the Red, White and Blue wanderer barely clear the city limits before encountering a nasty gang of bikers terrorising a small-town rock festival, after which his oldest enemy resurfaces to exact ‘The Vengeance of… the Red Skull’ as a simple albeit satisfying by-product of his main plan to start a Middle East war…

Issue #130 finds Cap ‘Up Against the Wall!’ when old foe Batroc the Leaper leads the Porcupine and Whirlwind in a fully paid-for ambush by a hidden villain just as the Sentinel of the Establishment is attempting to defuse an imminent college riot. The mysterious contractor then resorts to a far subtler tactic: launching a psychological assault in ‘Bucky Reborn!’

With the mystery manipulator finally exposed, the tragic true story behind the resurrected sidekick comes out in ‘The Fearful Secret of Bucky Barnes!’ – a powerful, complex drama involving ruthless science terrorists A.I.M., their murderous master Modok and even Doctor Doom

Back in New York, Advanced Idea Mechanics again feature prominently in #133 as Modok foments racial unrest by sending another killer cyborg to create ‘Madness in the Slums!’ The inner-city crisis allows Cap to reunite with his protégé the Falcon – whose name began appearing on the cover from the next issue…

Operating as full-fledged, official partners, the dynamic duo battle ghetto gangsters in ‘They Call Him… Stone-Face!’ (Captain America and the Falcon #134, with Ayers inking), before the Avenger introduces his new main man to S.H.I.E.L.D. in the chilling ‘More Monster than Man!’

Inked by Tom Palmer, this moody spin on the Jekyll and Hyde theme sees a love-struck scientist turn himself into an awesome anthropoid to steal riches, only to end up in ‘The World Below!’

With the Falcon coming to the rescue (and the legendary Bill Everett applying his brilliant inks to Colan’s eerily effective pencils) the battle of man against beast continues with the greedy technologist soon reduced to a collateral casualty of the Mole Man’s latest battle with the champions of the surface world….

With a cover gallery by Marie Severin, Jack Kirby, Herb Trimpe, John Romita and Colan plus the cover to all-reprint Captain America Annual #1 (January 1971) to round out the riotous adventure, this is a titanic tome no Fights & Tights fan could possibly do without…

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 illustrated by one of the greatest artists and storytellers American comics has ever produced.

As the nation changed 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…
© 1970, 1971, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Chris Claremont, Mary Jo Duffy, Bob Layton, John Byrne, Terry Austin, John Romita Jr., Bob McLeod, Dave Cockrum, Ricardo Villamonte, John Buscema, Klaus Janson, George Pérez, Alfredo Alcala & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5872-1 (TPB) 978-0-7851-1698-1 (HB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. When Jean seemingly died to be reborn as a fiery godlike super-psionic, the team’s adventures became unmissable reading as there seemed to be no telling what shocks might come next…

This fifth fabulous 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 absolute peak of Claremont & Byrne’s collaborative synergy (with regular inker Terry Austin very much a part of the magical experience) as the mutants confirmed their unstoppable march to market dominance through groundbreaking, high-quality stories: specifically, issues #132-140 of the decidedly “All-New, All-Different” X-Men plus Annual #4 – spanning April 1980 to July 1981, plus chronologically askew treats from Phoenix: the Untold Story and Bizarre Adventures #27.

In the previous volume two new mutants – Kitty Pryde and Disco diva Alison “the Dazzler” Blair – debuted as the X-Man clashed with plutocratic secret society The Hellfire Club: a battle the heroes survived by the skin of their teeth, and now the saga resumes in #132 as ‘And Hellfire is their Name!’ brings the Angel back into the fold. Their latest foes are in actuality a centuries-old association of the world’s most powerful and wealthy individuals and Warren Worthington’s family have been members in good standing for generations.

What better way of infiltrating the organisation than with someone already deep on the ultra-privileged inside?

As Wolverine and Nightcrawler scurry through sewers beneath the society’s palatial New York headquarters, Warren inveigles the rest in through the grand front doors into the year’s swankiest soiree whilst he and the Professor await events.

It’s a bold move but a pointless one. Although the rank and file are simply spoiled rich folk, there is an Inner Circle led by mutant powerhouse Sebastian Shaw which comprises some of Earth’s most dangerous men and women… and they have been waiting and watching for the mutants-in-mufti’s countermove…

As soon as the heroes are inside, mystery mindwarper Jason Wyngarde strikes, pushing Jean Grey until she succumbs to a fictitious persona he has woven over months to awaken her darkest desires. With the Phoenix’s overwhelming power added to the Inner Circle’s might, former friends quickly fall before the attack of super-strong Shaw and cyborg human Donald Pierce. Even Wolverine is beaten, smashed through the floors to his doom by mass-manipulating mutant Harry Leland

As the Inner Circle gloat, Cyclops – connected to Jean by their psionic rapport – sees the world through his lover’s corrupted, beguiled eyes and despairs. However, when Wyngarde, revealed as mutant illusion caster Mastermind, apparently stabs Cyclops, the effect on “his” Black Queen is far from anticipated…

Far below their feet, a body stirs. Battered but unbowed, ‘Wolverine: Alone!’ begins to work his ruthless, relentless way through the Club’s murderous minions. His explosive entrance in #134’s ‘Too Late, the Heroes!’ gives the captive heroes a chance to break free and strike back, soundly thrashing the Hellfire blackguards. Sadly for Mastermind, not all his tampering has been expunged, and when Jean catches him, Jason Wyngarde’s fate is ghastly beyond imagining…

As the mutants make their escape the situation escalates to crisis level as the mind-manipulation finally unleashes all Jean’s most selfish, self-serving desires and she shatteringly transforms into ‘Dark Phoenix’

Manifested as a god without qualm or conscience, Jean attacks her comrades before vanishing into space. Soon she reaches a distant system and, cognizant that she is feeling depleted, consumes the star, indifferent to the entire civilisation that dies upon the planet circling it…

Passing the D’Bari system is a vast and powerful ship of the Shi’ar star fleet. Rushing to aid the already extinct world, they are merely a postprandial palate cleanser for the voracious Phoenix…

X-Men #136 opens with the horrified Shi’ar Empress Lilandra mobilising her entire military machine and heading for Earth, determined to end the threat of the ‘Child of Light and Darkness!’ On that beleaguered world Cyclops has called in the Beast to build a psychic scrambler to disrupt Jean’s immeasurable psionic might but when she cataclysmically reappears to trounce the team, the device burns out in seconds.

Sporadically Jean’s gentler persona appears, begging her friends to kill her before she loses control, but Dark Phoenix is close to destroying the world before, in a cataclysmic mental duel, Xavier shuts down her powers and establishes psychic circuit breakers to prevent her ever going rogue again…

With Jean left as little more than mind-maimed human, the exhausted heroes shudder in the aftermath of Earth’s latest close call when suddenly, in a flash of light, they all vanish…

The epic concludes in X-Men #137 as the outraged and terrified Shi’ar arrive in orbit to settle ‘The Fate of the Phoenix!’

With observers from the Kree and Skrull empires in attendance, Lilandra has come to exact justice and prevent the Phoenix from ever rising again. She is not prepared to accept her fiancé Charles Xavier’s word that the threat is already ended…

Summary execution is only avoided when Xavier invokes an ancient rite compelling Lilandra to accept a form of trial-by-combat. Relocating to the enigmatic Blue Area of the Moon (with its artificial pocket of breathable atmosphere) the mutants engage in all-out war with a brigade of cosmic champions the Shi’ar Imperial Guard (an in-joke version of DC’s Legion of Super Heroes). However, despite their greatest efforts they are pushed to the brink of defeat.

With collapse imminent and her friends doomed, Jean’s psychic shackles slip and the Phoenix breaks free again. Horrified at what will inevitably happen, Jean commits suicide to save the universe…

Days later on Earth, the X-Men mourn her passing in #138’s ‘Elegy’ as Cyclops recalls his life with the valiant woman he loved so deeply – and we get a comprehensive recap of the mutant team’s career to date. Heartbroken, the quintessential X-Man resigns just as phase shifting teenager Kitty Pryde moves in…

Breaking from the monthly run, X-Men Annual #4 then describes ‘Nightcrawler’s Inferno!’ (by Claremont, John Romita Jr.& Bob McLeod) as Doctor Strange is called in after Kurt Wagner is targeted by a demonic Lord of Limbo and uncovers a secret family connection to uber-witch Margali Szardos

A new day dawns in issue #139’s ‘…Something Wicked This Way Comes!’ as the Angel returns to the squad just in time to see Nightcrawler join Wolverine in heading north for a reconciliation with the Canadian’s previous team, Alpha Flight. The visit turns into a hunt for carnivorous magical monster Wendigo, culminating in a brutal battle and an increasingly rare clean win in #140’s concluding chapter ‘Rage!’

Wrapping up the mutant mayhem are a selection of tales retroactively crafted for this period of X-history. The first is a marketing oddity of the period. Phoenix: The Untold Story was released in 1984 and reprinted in X-Men #137… mostly.

By all accounts that epic conclusion was originally completed with a different ending and Jean Grey surviving the battle against the Shi’ar. That was before then Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter overruled the outcome and decreed that she should die for her sins. You can judge the merits of the decision for yourself. Also included here are ‘The Dark Phoenix Tapes – a candid conversation between Byrne, Shooter and Claremont’ on the contentious issue.

That’s followed by monochrome magazine Bizarre Adventures #27 (published in July 1981) which offered untold tales under the umbrella heading of ‘Secret Lives of the X-Men’

Preceded by ‘X-Men Data Log’ pages by illustrated by Dave Cockrum, solo tales of idiosyncratic stars begin with Phoenix in ‘The Brides of Attuma’ by Claremont, John Buscema & Klaus Janson. Here the dear departed mutant’s sister Sara Grey recalls a past moment when they were abducted by the undersea barbarian and Jean proved to be more than any mortal could handle…

That’s followed by Iceman vignette ‘Winter Carnival’ by Mary Jo Duffy, George Pérez & Alfredo Alcala, wherein Bobby Drake becomes embroiled in a college heist with potential catastrophic consequences before ‘Show me the way to go home…’ by Bob Layton, Duffy, Cockrum & Ricardo Villamonte pits Nightcrawler against villainous teleporter the Vanisher in a light-hearted trans-dimensional romp involving warrior women, threats to the very nature of reality and gratuitous (male) nudity…

For many fans these tales – and those in the next volume – comprise the definitive X-Men look and feel. Rightly ranking amongst some of the greatest stories Marvel ever published they remain thrilling, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating and an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 1979, 1980-1984, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 9


By Steve Englehart, Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Herb Trimpe & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9194-0 (HB)

As the 1970s tumultuously unfolded, the Incredible Hulk settled into a comfortable – if excessively and spectacularly destructive – niche. A globe-trotting, monster-mashing plot 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 his daughter – the scientist’s unobtainable inamorata – Betty, with a non-stop procession of guest-star heroes and villains providing the battle du jour.

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. Beginning with Roy Thomas – unofficial custodian of Marvel’s burgeoning shared-universe continuity – a string of skilful scripters effectively played the afflicted Jekyll/Hyde card for maximum angst and ironic heartbreak as the Jade Juggernaut became a pillar of Marvel’s growing pantheon.

This chronologically-curated hardback and eBook compendium re-presents issues #157-170, encompassing cover-dates November 1972 to December 1973, and opens after a revelatory Introduction from new regular writer Steve Englehart offers a few more intimate behind-the-scenes secrets…

Having just returned to Earth and normal size after a heartbreaking sojourn in a sub-atomic realm, the Jade Goliath promptly and potently battles a brace of old enemies in ‘Name My Vengeance: Rhino!’ (written by Archie Goodwin, with art by Trimpe & Sal Trapani) before being deviously dispatched – thanks to gamma genius The Leader – to the far side of the Sun. Here he discovers bizarre parallel world Counter-Earth and clashes with both the messianic Adam Warlock and his satanic antithesis in ‘Frenzy on a Far-Away World’, courtesy of Thomas, Steve Gerber, Trimpe & Trapani.

Meanwhile, on our planet heartbroken Betty Ross, believing her one true love is forever gone, marries the over-attentive, ever-present military martinet Major Glenn Talbot

Steve Englehart took over the scripting chores with #159 as ‘Two Years Before the Abomination!’ sees Banner and the Rhino explosively returned to our embattled globe only to again be attacked by General Ross’ Hulkbuster forces. The grizzled soldier is more determined than ever to kill Banner – to safeguard America and preserve his unsuspecting daughter’s new marriage. However, the resulting conflagration awakes a comatose Gamma monster even more deadly than the Hulk…

‘Nightmare in Niagara!’ sees the misunderstood man-brute instinctively drawn to the honeymooning couple, only to encounter deranged amphibian outcast Tiger Shark in another blockbusting battle issue, after which his northerly rampage takes the Green Goliath into Canada. Typically, ‘Beyond the Border Lurks Death!’ as the Hulk becomes a reluctant ally of the recently hyper-mutated Hank McCoy – better known as the Bludgeoning Beast – in a battle against the Mimic. This veteran X-foe possesses the ability to absorb the attributes of others, but this gift has become a curse, going tragically, catastrophically haywire and threatening to consume the entire planet…

Still under Northern Lights, Hulk encounters a terrifying carnivorous, cannibalistic horror called the Wendigo in ‘Spawn of the Flesh-Eater!’ but the maniacal man-eater harbours a shattering secret which makes it as much victim as villain…

Pushing ever Pole-ward, the Hulk reaches the top of the world but cannot elude Ross’ relentless pursuit. After a cataclysmic arctic clash, both man-monster and his stalker fall into the super-scientific clutches of Soviet prodigy the Gremlin (mutant offspring of the Hulk’s very first foe the Gargoyle) in ‘Trackdown’ and, although the Gamma Giant breaks free with ease, the American General is left behind to become a highly embarrassing political prisoner…

Shambling into Polar seas, the Hulk then is captured by a fantastic sub-sea colony of human aquatic nomads in #164’s ‘The Phantom from 5,000 Fathoms!’ Decades ago, egomaniacal Captain Omen had created his own mobile submarine nation and roamed the ocean beds at will, and foolishly thought the Jade Goliath would be his latest freakish beast of burden. Sadly, the draconian dictator has no idea how his dissatisfied clan hungers for freedom, fresh air and sunlight and would disastrously rebel to follow ‘The Green-Skinned God!’ to their doom…

Incredible Hulk #166 finally sees the Green Goliath back in the USA, hitting New York just in time to clash with Battling Bowman Hawkeye and a brain-eating electrical monster dubbed Zzzax in ‘The Destroyer from the Dynamo!’ Meanwhile in the sub-plot section, a bold bid to rescue General Ross from the godless Commies succeeds, but seemingly costs the life of his new son-in-law…

Jack Abel took over the inking duties in #167 with ‘To Destroy the Monster!’ as grieving widow Betty Ross-Talbot suffers a nervous breakdown and is targeted by intellectual murder mutant Modok and his agents of Advanced Idea Mechanics who need an infallible weapon to break the Hulk.

Just as ghetto kid Jim Wilson reconnects with the Emerald Behemoth, Bruce Banner’s bestial alter ego effortlessly destroys Modok’s giant robot body but fails to prevent Betty’s abduction. She returns in the next issue as a Gamma-mutated avian horror programmed to destroy her former lover in ‘The Hate of the Harpy!’

Issue #169 finds the temporarily triumphant Harpy and her verdant victim trapped aboard an ancient floating fortress in the sky in ‘Calamity in the Clouds!’ and battling together against a monstrous android Bi-Beast. When Modok attacks, intent on controlling the alien tech of the flying city, the response destroys the last vestige of the sky-citadel, propelling the now-human Banner and Betty onto a lost tropical island inhabited by incredible alien creatures…

The Englehart, Chris Claremont, Trimpe & Abel monster-romp ‘Death from on High!’ cataclysmically concludes this volume in tried and true terrain-trashing style.

Before it all ends, though, there’s one last treat in the form of a gallery of original art pages by Trimpe & Abel…

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, honestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these yarns.
© 1972, 1973, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5885-1 (HB)

With the constantly expanding Marvel Universe growing ever more interconnected as it matured, characters literally tripped over each other in New York City and its environs, but such was not the case with Thor.

The Asgardian milieu and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had long drawn the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning new landscapes. When the unthinkable happened and the increasingly discontented King of Comics jumped ship from the House of (His) Ideas for arch-rival DC in 1970 an era ended.

Left to soldier on, Stan Lee called in artist John Buscema to carry a seemingly unbearable burden and after initial loss of focus and impetus a new type of tale began to emerge…

In case you came in late: 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.

This bombastic transitional compendium (available in hardcover and digital formats) reprints Mighty Thor #195-205, spanning January-November 1972, with the puissant Thunder God going both forward and back between mortal and godly realms. By the time of these monthly episodes the Thunderer and his Asgardian companions were slowly devolving into a muddled, self-doubting band of fantasy spacemen roving the outer limits of the Marvel Universe under the earnest governance of young science fiction novelist Gerry Conway and a dedicated, talented but still unsettled string of artists. Now, however, a new path was being forged…

The new era is contextualised by scribe Conway in his Introduction before the action resumes with ‘In the Shadow of Mangog!’ (illustrated by John Buscema & Vince Colletta): the first part of another extended odyssey wherein Thor and friends are dispatched to the ends of the Universe. In his righteous rage All-Father Odin had banished second son Loki to a fantastic world, momentarily forgetting that once there the Prince of Evil might awaken the most vicious, unbeatable monster in the Asgardian universe ….

Now the Storm God, with Warriors Three Fandral the Dashing, Voluminous Volstagg and Hogun the Grim, finds himself lost ‘Within the Realm of Kartag!’ and facing slug-men and bewitching temptress Satrina, even as the All-Father and the hosts of the Shining City struggle to hold the liberated Mangog at bay.

Meanwhile, on the planet Blackworld Lady Sif and her muscular shield-maiden Hildegarde are undertaking another Odinian quest and find themselves caught up in a time-bending nightmare…

Thor #197 witnesses the heroes overcoming all odds to find ‘The Well at the Edge of the World!’, meeting the conniving, all-powerful Norns and recruiting colossal former foe Kartag for their desperate return to shattered Asgard.

On Blackworld, Sif and Hildegarde encounter monsters and men making uncontrollable evolutionary leaps towards an unguessable future, but make an unlikely ally and guide in aged sailor Silas Grant.

The male heroes return to find Asgard in flaming ruins and the cataclysmic confrontation with the Mangog nearing an apocalyptic end, whilst on Blackworld Sif, Hildegarde and Silas met alien Rigellian Colonizer Tana Nile and the horrendous creature behind the evolutionary jumps. Simultaneously, the battle in Asgard reaches a horrific climax when Mangog is at last defeated ‘…And Odin Dies!’

In issue #199, the ravaged home of the gods becomes adrift in a dimensional void, allowing Thor – clutching to a desperate last hope – to cocoon his deceased father in a timeless forcefield. This prevents Death Goddess Hela from claiming his soul, but sadly, she isn’t the only deity hungry for the All Father’s spirit and ‘If This Be Death…!’ reveals Grecian netherlord Pluto invading the broken realm to take Odin into his own dire domain.

…And, on Blackworld, Tana Nile hints at the origin of the monstrous Ego-Prime and how it can force such terrifying uncontrollable time-warps…

Back in free-floating Asgard, things go from bad to worse as brave Balder’s beloved Karnilla deserts him just as invincible Pluto bests Hela and aims a killing blow at Thor…

The denouement was aggravatingly delayed as anniversary issue #200 hit the pause button to flashback to an earlier age.

‘Beware! If This Be… Ragnarok!’ was crafted by Stan Lee, John Buscema & John Verpoorten and spectacularly depicts the fall of the gods through the mystic visions of Volla the Prophetess, with only a bridging Prologue and Epilogue by Conway & Buscema revealing how the Norns save Thor’s life just in time for the concluding battle against Pluto to resume in #201 (with Jim Mooney providing lush finished art over Buscema’s layouts).

When Hela relinquishes her claim to the father of the gods and Odin enjoys a miraculous ‘Resurrection!’, on Earth absentee Asgardians Heimdall and Kamorr began seeking out mortals for a another Odinian master-plan even before the battle with Pluto is fully concluded…

As they scour Midgard, on Blackworld Ego-Prime advances the civilisation into atomic Armageddon and Sif barely transports her companions to Earth in time to escape thermonuclear conflagration.

Luckily Thor, Balder, and the Warriors Three are in New York City to meet the refugees, since the deadly, now self-evolving, Ego-Prime has followed the fugitives…

Thor #202 boasts ‘…And None Dare Stand ‘Gainst Ego-Prime!’ (Colletta inks) although Silas, Tana Nile and the assembled Asgardians try their best as the now-sentient shard of Ego, the Living Planet rampages through the city. It makes monsters and shatters entire streets whilst Odin calmly observes the carnage and Heimdall and Kamorr gather their human targets for the concluding ‘They Walk Like Gods!’

Here all Odin’s machinations are finally revealed as Ego-Prime inadvertently creates a new race of 20th century deities. Sadly, the All-Father’s long and single-minded scheme appals his son and weary, war-torn subjects, and their wholly understandable rebukes lead to them all being ‘Exiled on Earth!’ in #204 (Buscema & Mooney) and immediately targeted by terrifying satanic tempter Mephisto

Soon, only the Thunderer is left to oppose the devil: recklessly invading his private hell and gloriously liberating hundreds of demon-possessed humans from ‘A World Gone Mad!’ (Colletta inks). Their triumphant return, however, is merely to Midgard, not the gleaming spires of forbidden Asgard…

To Be Continued…

This book (which also includes a gallery of Buscema original art pages and a cover by Gil Kane) is an absolute must for all fans of the superhero genre. Although the tales gathered here may lack the sheer punch and verve of The King, fans of cosmic Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy will find this tome magnificently rendered by artists who were every inch his equal in craft and dedication, making this a definite must for all fans of the character and timeless adventure.
© 1971, 1972, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 4


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 17


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

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

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

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

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

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

Next follows that aforementioned crossover…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Marvel Masterworks volume 3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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