Rawhide Kid Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Ross Andru, Paul Reinman, Dick Ayers & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2117-6 (HB) 978-0-7851-8848-3 (TPB)

For the greater part of the 1960s nobody did superheroes better than Marvel Comics. However, even fully acknowledging the stringencies of the Comics Code Authority, the company’s style for producing their staple genre titles for War, Romance and especially Western fans left a lot to be desired. Hints at sex, the venality of authority figures or sticking a proper gun in a character’s hand and boldness and innovation gave way to overwhelming caution and a tone that wouldn’t be amiss in kids’ cartoons or pre-Watershed family TV shows.

Mercifully for revivals of such venerable stars as the Rawhide Kid, the company’s meagre art-pool consisted of such master craftsmen as Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers and others…

Technically the Kid is one of the company’s older icons, having debuted in his own title with a March 1955 cover-date. A stock and standard sagebrush centurion clad in a buckskin jacket, his first adventures were illustrated by jobbing cartoonists such as Bob Brown and Ayers but the comicbook became one of the first casualties when Atlas’ distribution woes forced the company to cut back to 16 titles a month in the autumn of 1957.

With Westerns big on TV and youthful rebellion a hot new societal concept in 1960, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby concocted a brand new six-gun stalwart – little more than a teenager – and launched him in summer of that year, economically continuing the numbering of the failed original.

Reprinting Rawhide Kid #17-25, spanning August 1960 to December1961, these western wonders are available in hardback, trade paperback and digital editions (there’s even a Marvel Essential monochrome tome out there): all offeringan eclectic mix of hoary clichés, astounding genre mash-ups and the occasional nugget of pure cowboy story-gold with some of the King’s most captivating and impressive art as well as significant contributions from a number of other laudable pencil-pushers.

Most important to remember is that these yarns are not even trying to be gritty or authentic: they’re accessing and addressing the vast miasmic morass of wholesome, homogenised Hollywood mythmaking that generations preferred to learning of the grim everyday toil and terror of the real Old West, so sit back, reset your moral compass to “Fair Enough” and relax and revel in simple Black Hats vs. White Hats, delivered with all the bombast and bravura Jack Kirby and his contemporaries could so readily muster…

Following an Introduction from honorary hombre Stan Lee, it all begins with the 17th (but still, quirkily, debut) issue as Lee, Kirby & Ayers introduce adopted teenaged Johnny Bart who teaches all and sundry in cow-town Rawhide to ‘Beware! The Rawhide Kid’

That happened after his retired Texas Ranger Uncle Ben was gunned down by fame-hungry cheat Hawk Brown. After very publicly exercising his right to vengeance, the naive kid fled Rawhide before he could explain, resigned to life as an outlaw…

Following text thriller ‘Dynamite Trail’ the comic marvels resume with ‘Stagecoach to Shotgun Gap!’ as youthful fugitive teaches passengers not to judge an outlaw by appearances, before we pause for a salutary fable in the Don Heckillustrated ‘With Gun in Hand!’ revealing the deadly downside of being the most infamous shootist, after which we return to Kirby and The Kid for a bout of rustler outwitting in ‘When the Rawhide Kid Turned… Outlaw!’

More Lee, Kirby & Ayers magic opens #18 as the lonely outsider joins a real outlaw gang only to find he cannot stomach his new allies and finds himself ‘At the Mercy of Wolf Waco!’ The continued tale concludes in ‘The Rawhide Kid Strikes Back!’ as Rawhide saves a besieged  train from the brutes before riding off into the night. Genre prose piece ‘The Brave White Man’ – illustrated by Joe Maneely – brings us to Ross Andru & Mike Esposito’s tale of an old sheriff and ‘The Midnight Raiders!’ before the Kid closes the show by taking down an ignorant bully in ‘A Legend is Born!’

Another extended tale opened Rawhide Kid #19 with ‘Gun Duel in Trigger Gap’ divided into ‘Chapter 1: The Garson Gang Strikes!’ and ‘Chapter 2: Revenge of the Rawhide Kid!’ as the fugitive tries to build a new, peaceful life until fate and marauding outlaws ruin everything…

Text vignette ‘Two-Gun Justice’ leads to Paul Reinman’s pocket précis of Kit Carson in ‘The Rip-Snorter’ before ‘Fight or Crawl, Kid!’ again finds a big man taken to task for bad behaviour by the increasingly impatient Rawhide…

Issue #20’s ‘Shoot-Out with Blackjack Bordon sees the Kid fooled by a canny brute with a fake badge and spurious pardon as ‘Chapter 1: The Treachery of Blackjack Bordon’ leads inevitably to ‘Chapter 2: The Rawhide Kid Strikes Back!’ Text tale ‘Old Mining Town’ precedes Heck’s moral homily ‘Return of the Gunfighter!’ which echoes the Kid’s sacrifice in turning a child’s hero worship into loathing and disgust in ‘The Defeat of the Rawhide Kid!’

The first instalment of #21’s extended tale ‘The Gunmen of Sundown City!’ finds Rawhide respectfully surrendering to an aging marshal, only to assist the lawman when’s ambushed in ‘The Kid Fights for his Life!’ The drama continues in ‘The Rawhide Kid… Outlaw!’ and spectacularly ends in the traditional manner in a ‘Showdown with Grizzly Younger’. Prose mystery ‘The Ghostly Prints’ then ushers us into lowkey, Heck limned revenge yarn ‘The Gunslinger!’

In the months before Fantastic Four #1 debuted, the former Atlas outfit found that for them aliens ruled. Thus, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that Rawhide Kid #22 (June 1961) mashed up Monsters and Indians for ‘Beware!! The Terrible Totem!!’, as restless Rawhide stumbles into a silver mine staffed by slaves just in time for the criminals in charge to incur the wrath of a giant terror.

‘The Totem Strikes!’ and the Kid resists, learning that his incredible foe is an awakened alien who is extremely angry at everyone… and bulletproof. Its rampage leaves Rawhide ‘Trapped by the Totem!’, but still swift and smart enough to engineer ‘The End of the Totem’

Prose yarn ‘No Guns in Town’ then takes us neatly to Heck’s ‘Slap Leather, Lawman!’ as another well past it lawman faces down his final foe…

A year after his debut, Stan, Jack& Dick – mostly Stan, I suspect – felt it was time for the western wonder to revisit and recap the way it began. Issue #23 delivered a remastered masterpiece with ‘The Origin of the Rawhide Kid!’ for new readers to enjoy, before text tale ‘Golden Trail’ cleared the palate for more action in extended saga ‘A Place to Hide!’ The Kid’s latest shot at peace and romance go south when the gang of Montana Joe hit town and stern steps need to be taken to save civilians in ‘No Place to Hide!’ after which Reinman recounts a tale of mistaken identity in ‘They Called Him Outlaw!’

Kirby & Ayers’ were reaching a peak of artistic excellence when Rawhide Kid #24 proclaimed a ‘Showdown in Silver City!’ with the Kid ambushed and replaced by a cunning imposter who learned too late the folly of his actions, and prose yarn ‘Tie Your Sixgun Low’ segued into an all Ayers affair of ‘The Man Without a Gun’ proving you don’t need firearmsto deal with trouble before rejoining the King for ‘Gunman’s Gamble!’ as the Kid saves a widow’s home from repossession by a small demonstration of shooting skills…

This initial compilation concludes with #25 and a classic clash seeing the Kid ride into a town already plagued by a (masked and costumed) bandit. As much whodunnit as action adventure, ‘The Bat Strikes!’ and text filler ‘Trail of Long Ago’ takes us a brutal battle with outraged Indians and turbulent skies in ‘The Twister!’ After inking Kirby’s epic vistas Ayers illustrates a tale of foolish assumptions in ‘The Man who Robbed the Express!’ before he, Kirby & Lee reveal who ‘Those who Live by the Gun…’ shouldn’t try to bushwhack the Rawhide Kid when he’s sleeping…

Also on view is a bonus cover gallery of Mighty Marvel Western #1-16 by Herb Trimpe, Frank Giacoia, John Verpoorten and John Severin, highlighting the 1968-71 reprint run of Rawhide Kid Classics.

To be frank, unless you’re an old school western buff, the stories here are mostly mediocre, occasionally insensitive, and once or twice borderline offensive. If the social climate and your own conscience trouble you, stay away from here. If however, you can see this stuff in historical context – created by genuine reformers who pioneered diversity in comics and even created the Black Panther together – take a look. Here is work that built the groundwork of the Marvel revolution and some of the very best narrative artwork ever seen.
© 2020 MARVEL.

Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Bill Mantlo, Chris Claremont, Sal Buscema, John Byrne, Keith Giffen & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2931-2 (HB)

The concept of team-ups – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with new or less well-selling company characters – has been with us since the earliest days of comics, but making the brief encounter/temporary alliance a key selling point really took hold with DC’s The Brave and the Bold before being taken up by their biggest competitor.

Marvel Team-Up was the second regular Spider-Man title, launching at the end of 1971. It went from strength to strength, proving the time had finally come for expansion and offering a regular venue for uncomplicated action romps to supplement the House of Ideas’ complex sub-plot fare in regular books. However, even in the infinite Marvel Multiverse, certain stars shine more brightly than others and some characters turn up in team-ups more often than others…

In recent years, carefully curated themed collections from the back-catalogue have served to initiate new readers intrigued by Marvel’s Movie and TV endeavours, but there’s no real substitute for seeing Marvel’s continuity unfolding in chronological and this compelling hardback/eBook compilation gathers the contents of Marvel Team-Up #53-64; MTU Annual #1 and includes a pertinent debut from Marvel Premiere #31; collectively covering August 1976 to December 1977.

Following Chris Claremont’s Introduction offering fond remembrances of the times and key writer Bill Mantlo, open with an epic length adventure from Marvel Team-Up Annual #1 by Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito (from a plot by Mantlo, Claremont & Bonnie Wilford).

‘The Lords of Light and Darkness!’ sees Spider-Man and the then-newly minted and revived X-Men, Banshee, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Phoenix and Cyclops helping Charles Xavier combat a pantheon of scientists mutated by atomic accident and elevated to minor godhood.

Like most deities, the puissant ones believed they knew what was best for humanity…

Mantlo then teamed with John Byrne & Frank Giacoia to bring closure to a tale begun – and left hanging – in August 1976’s Marvel Premiere #31, which can be found at the back of this book.

Marvel Team-Up #53 detailed a ‘Nightmare in New Mexico!’ as The Hulk meets troubled and AWOL gene-splicing experiment Woodgod as the tragic construct flees from corrupt Army Colonel Del Tremens. By the time the wallcrawler drops in, the fugitive outcasts have joined forces leaving him a  ‘Spider in the Middle!’ (inked by Esposito).

As Tremens seeks to suppress the calamitous crisis – and his own indiscretions – by killing everyone, the final scene sees the webspinner trapped in a rocket and blasted into space…

Marvel Team-Up #55 revealed a ‘Spider, Spider on the Moon!’ (Mantlo, Byrne & Dave Hunt) with returned cosmic Avenger Adam Warlock intercepting the ship before assisting the Arachnid and mysterious alien The Gardener against The Stranger: all seeking possession of the Golden Gladiator’s life-sustaining Soul Gem…

Back on Earth but still a trouble-magnet, in #56 Spider-Man assists Daredevil against ‘Double Danger at the Daily Bugle!’ (Mantlo, Sal B & Hunt) when Electro and Blizzard take the entire Newsroom hostage, after which Claremont assumed full scripting duties, laying the groundwork for a complex extended thriller embroiling the still-naïve hero in a deadly espionage plot.

With artists Sal Buscema & Dave Hunt, Claremont began redefining the Widow’s ways in Marvel Team-Up #57 (May 1977). ‘When Slays the Silver Samurai!’ sees Spidey saved from lethal ambush by the Black Widow, implausibly holding up a collapsing building, and reluctantly taking possession of a strange statuette that he soon forgets all about. That’s an oversight he’ll later regret…

In #58, the webspinner aids Ghost Rider against The Trapster in ‘Panic on Pier One!’ (Pablo Marcos inks) before he can investigate further.  Another distraction comes when MTU #59 declares ‘Some Say Spidey Will Die by Fire… Some Say by Ice!’ (Claremont, Byrne & Hunt) when veteran Avenger Yellowjacket is apparently murdered by rampaging mystery maniac Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man. The Amazing Arachnid is hard-pressed to stop the traumatised Waspexacting bloody vengeance in concluding episode ‘A Matter of Love… and Death!’ in MTU #60…

The secret of the clay artefact is revealed in #61 as Human Torch Johnny Storm joins his creepy-crawly frenemy in battle against the Super-Skrull and learns ‘Not All Thy Powers Can Save Thee!’, with the furious clash calamitously escalating to include Ms. Marvel Carol Danvers with the next issue’s ‘All This and the QE2’

Despite the very best efforts of Claremont & Byrne, their Kung Fu fantasy Iron Fist never quite achieved the kind of sales traction that rewarded their collaboration on the X-Men. The living weapon lost his circulation battle with issue #15 of his own title. Although ending in spectacular fashion, the cancellation was clearly unplanned, as two major subplots went unresolved: private detective Misty Knight had disappeared on an undercover assignment to investigate European gang-boss John Bushmaster and K’un Lun kid Danny Rand was suffering repeated attacks on his chi by the enigmatic and murderous Steel Serpent

Frustrated fans didn’t have to wait long for a resolution. Marvel Team-Up was becoming the creative team’s personal clearing house for unresolved plot-lines. Issues #63 & 64 exposed the secret of the sinister K’un Lun pariah on the ‘Night of the Dragon’ before Rand and Spidey – with the assistance of Daughters of the Dragon Misty Knight and Colleen Wing– finally ended his threat in blistering martial arts manner with ‘If Death Be My Destiny!’

This epic tome is packed with rarely-seen extras, beginning with the contents of the Marvel Comics Memory Album Calendar 1977, released in late 1976 and preceded here by a ‘Special F.O.O.M. Preview!’ from the fabled fan-mag’s #16 (December 1976) issue. The Calendar pages follow, written by Roy Thomas and limned by Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr., Joe Sinnott, Ed Hannigan, Frank Giacoia, Gil Kane, John Buscema, Ron Wilson, Gene Colan, Jack Abel, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, George Pérez, Tom Palmer, P. Craig Russell and John Verpoorten.

As an added treat, the debut/origin of “The Man-Brute Called Woodgod” (Marvel Premiere #31, August 1976) comes next as Mantlo, Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson explore the merits, ethics and repercussions of manufacturing life and meddling with nature. ‘Birthday!’ finds a modern-day faun rampaging through the ruins of a murdered town, searching for meaning and answers from the savage military men and technicians whose only solution to oversight and potential censure is murder and cover-ups…

The sinister science project saga is supplemented by F.O.O.M. #13’s interview ‘Woodgod Wanderings’ plus a gallery of Byrne original art pages.

These tales are of variable quality but all have an honest drive to entertain and please, whilst artistically the work – particularly action-man-on-fire Byrne – is superb, and most fans will find little to complain about. Although not perhaps a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s lots of fun on hand and young readers – or Marvel Cinematic supporters – will have a blast, so why not consider this tome for your “Must-Have” library? © 2021 MARVEL

Mighty Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor volume 1 – The Vengeance of Loki


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby with Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein, Joe Sinnott, Al Hartley, Don Heck & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-302931681 (PB)

These stories are timeless and have been gathered many times before, but today I’m again focussing on format. The Mighty Marvel Masterworks line launched with economy in mind: classic tales of Marvel’s key creators and characters re-presented in chronological order. It’s been a staple since the 1990s, but always in lavish, hardback collectors editions. These editions are cheaper, on lower quality paper and – crucially – smaller, about the dimensions of a paperback book. Your eyesight might be failing and your hands too big and shaky, but at 152 x 227mm, they’re perfect for kids. If you opt for the digital editions, that’s no issue at all…

1962 was a big year for New-Kid-on-the-Block Marvel, with star debuts aplenty all celebrating sixty glorious years in 2022. Most oldsters will cite the Amazing Spider-Man as the most significant premier, but after the Marvel Movie revolution, this guy can probably claim equal star status…

Even more than The Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor was the arena in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s string of power-packed signature pantheons began in a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by the rapidly resurgent company who were not yet Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This gloriously economical full-colour tome – also available in eFormats – re-presents those pioneering Asgardian exploits from JiM #83-100, cover-dated August 1962 to January 1964 in a blur of innovation and seat-of-the-pants myth-revising and universe-building…

Cover-dated August 1962, Journey into Mystery #83 found a bold costumed warrior jostling aside the regular fare of monsters, aliens and sinister scientists in a brash, vivid explosion of verve and vigour. The initial exploit followed disabled American doctor Donald Blake, who takes a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Fleeing, he is trapped in a cave where he finds an old, gnarled walking stick. When, in his frustration, he smashes the stick into a huge boulder obstructing his escape, his puny frame is transformed into the Norse God of Thunder!

Plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Lieber and illustrated by Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott (at this juncture a full illustrator, Sinnott would become Kirby’s primary inker for most of his Marvel career), ‘The Stone Men of Saturn’ is pure early Marvel: bombastic, fast-paced, gloriously illogical and captivatingly action-packed. The hugely under-appreciated Art Simek was the letterer and logo designer.

It was clear that they were making it up as they went along – not in itself a bad thing – and that infectious enthusiasm shows in the next adventure…

‘The Mighty Thor Vs. the Executioner’ is a “commie-busting” tale of its time, with a thinly disguised Fidel Castro wasting his formidable armies in battle against our hero. Dr. Blake’s nurse Jane Foster is introduced: a bland cipher adored from afar by the Norse superman’s timid alter-ego. The creative team settled as Dick Ayers replaced Sinnott, and with #85’s ‘Trapped by Loki, God of Mischief!’ the final element fell into place with the “return” of a suitably awesome arch-foe; in this case the hero’s half-brother.

This evil magician and compulsive trickster escaped divine incarceration and his first thought was to bedevil Thor by causing terror and chaos on the world of mortals he was so devoted to. Here also, a new and greater universe was first revealed with the tantalising hints and glimpses of the celestial otherworld and more Nordic gods…

Issue #86 introduced another recurring villain. Zarrko, bristling at the sedentary ease of 23rd century life, travels to 1962 and steals an experimental “C-Bomb”, forcing the Thunderer into a stirring hunt through time and inevitable clash with super-technology ‘On the Trail of the Tomorrow Man!’

On his return, Blake became a target of Soviet abductors. Those sneaky spies even managed to make Thor a ‘Prisoner of the Reds!’ before he eventually emerges unscathed and triumphant…

‘The Vengeance of Loki’ sees the God of Mischief’s return in #88,wherein the malevolent miscreant uncovers Thor’s secret identity and naturally menaces Jane Foster whilst ‘The Thunder God and the Thug’ offers adventure on a much more human scale, with a gang boss running riot over the city and roughshod over a good woman’s heart. It gives the Asgardian a chance to demonstrate a more sophisticated and sympathetic side by crushing him and freeing her from Thug Thatcher’s influence.

Issue #90 was an unsettling surprise as the grandeur of Kirby & Ayers was replaced by the charming yet angst-free art of Al Hartley, who illustrated Lee & Lieber’s stock alien-invasion yarn ‘Trapped by the Carbon-Copy Man!’ A month later the Storm Lord tackles ‘Sandu, Master of the Supernatural!’, with Sinnott handling all the art, in a thriller starring a carnival mentalist who – augmented by Loki’s magic – comes catastrophically close to killing our hero…

Sinnott drew JiM #92’s ‘The Day Loki Stole Thor’s Magic Hammer’ (scripted by Robert Bernstein over Lee’s plot), moving the action fully to the mythical realm of Asgard for the first time as Thor seeks to recover his stolen weapon after Loki ensorcelled the magnificent mallet. Kirby & Ayers momentarily returned for Cold War/Atom Age thriller ‘The Mysterious Radio-Active Man!’ – again scripted by Bernstein – as Mao Tse Tung unleashes an atomic assassin in retaliation for Thor thwarting China’s invasion of India. Such “Red-baiting” was common in early Marvel titles, but their inherent jingoistic silliness can’t mar the eerie beauty of the artwork. With this tale, the rangy, raw-boned Thunder God completed his slow metamorphosis into the husky, burly blonde bruiser who dominated any panel he was drawn in.

Sinnott illustrated the next three adventures – ‘Thor and Loki Attack the Human Race!’, ‘The Demon Duplicator’ and ‘The Magic of Mad Merlin!’ – but these mediocre tales of magic-induced amnesia, science-fuelled evil doppelgangers and an ancient mutant menace were the last of an old style of comics. Lee took over scripting with Journey into Mystery #97 and a torrent of action wedded to soap opera melodrama resulted in a fresh style for a developing readership.

‘The Lava Man’ in #97 was again drawn by Kirby, with the subtly textured inking of Don Heck adding depth to the tale of an invader summoned – at the behest of Loki – from subterranean realms to menace humanity. More significantly, a long running rift between Thor and his overbearing father Odin was established after the Lord of Asgard refuses to allow his son to love the mortal Jane.

This acrimonious triangle was a perennial sub-plot fuelling many attempts to humanise Thor, because already he was a hero too powerful for most villains to cope with. Most importantly, this issue is notable for the launch of a spectacular back-up series. ‘Tales of Asgard – Home of the Mighty Norse Gods’ provided Kirby with a vehicle to indulge his fascination with legends. Initially adapting classic tales, but eventually with all-new material particular to the Marvel pantheon, he built his own cosmos and mythology, which underpinned the company’s entire continuity. This first saga, scripted by Lee and inked by George Bell (AKA old Golden Age collaborator George Roussos), outlined the origin of the world and the creation of the World Tree Yggdrasil.

‘Challenged by the Human Cobra’ introduces the serpentine villain (bitten by a radioactive Cobra, would you believe?) in a tale by Lee & Heck, whilst Kirby – with them in attendance – offered ‘Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants!: a short, potent fantasy romp laying the groundwork for decades of cosmic wonderment to come.

The same formula held for issues #99 and #100, closing the story portion of this collection. The lead tale (the first 2-part adventure of the run) introduces brutal, ‘Mysterious Mister Hyde’ – and concludes a month later with‘The Master Plan of Mr. Hyde! It reveals a contemporary chemist who transforms into a super-strong villain at will and who frames Thor for his crimes, whilst in primordial prehistory, Kirby details Odin’s war with ‘Surtur the Fire Demon’ and latterly (with Vince Colletta inking) crafts an exploit of the All-Father’s so different sons in ‘The Storm Giants – a tale of the Boyhood of Thor’. As always, Lee scripted these increasingly influential comicbook histories…

To Be Continued…

Rounding off the increasingly spectacular shenanigans are bonus features comprising pre-edited original art from Kirby, Sinnott Ayers and Heck plus a landmark house ad.

These early tales of the God of Thunder show the development not only of one of Marvel’s core narrative concepts but, more importantly, the creative evolution of perhaps the greatest imagination in comics. Set your common sense on pause and simply wallow in the glorious imagery and power of these matchless adventures and discover the true secret of what makes comic book superheroes such a unique experience.
© 2021 MARVEL

Mighty Marvel Masterworks The Incredible Hulk volume 1: The Green Goliath


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, with Steve Ditko & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-3180-3 (TPB)

Their stories are timeless and have been gathered many times before, but today I’m once more starting with format. The Mighty Marvel Masterworks line launched with economy in mind: classic tales of Marvel’s key creators and characters re-presented in chronological order. It’s been a staple since the 1990s, but always in lavish, hardback collectors editions. These editions are cheaper, on lower quality paper and – crucially – smaller, about the dimensions of a paperback book.

Your eyesight might be failing and your hands too big and shaky, but at 152 x 227mm, they’re perfect for kids. If you opt for the digital editions, that’s no issue at all…

1962 was a big year for burgeoning Marvel with plenty of star debuts who all celebrate six decades of glory this year. Most oldsters will cite the Amazing Spider-Man as the most significant premier, but this guy can probably claim equal star status…

Spanning May 1962 to March 1964, and collecting the Jade Juggernaut’s earliest appearances and first run, this tiny-yet-titanic Trade Paperback tome (also available in digital editions) gathers Incredible Hulk #1-6: a short, bright burst of monster chic that was ahead of its time but nonetheless laid the ground for more than half a century of cathartic fun…

The Incredible Hulk was Marvel’s second superhero title, although technically Henry Pym debuted earlier in a throw-away yarn from Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962). However, he didn’t become actually become a costumed hero until the autumn, by which time Ol’ Jade Jaws was not-so-firmly established.

Firmly channelling comics’ still-popular atomic monster trend, The Hulk smashed right into his own bi-monthly comic but, despite some stunning action romps by Young Marvel’s finest creators, crashed right out again. After six issues, the series was cancelled and Editor Stan Lee retrenched, making the Gruff Green Giant a perennial guest-star in other Marvel titles until such time as he could restart the drama in their new “Split-Book” format. That came when the monster stomped into Tales to Astonish where Ant/Giant-Man was proving to be a character who had outlived his time.

Without more preamble then, let’s go…

Cover-dated May 1962, the Incredible Hulk #1 sees puny atomic scientist Bruce Banner – sequestered on a secret military station in the desert – perpetually bullied by bombastic base commander General “Thunderbolt” Ross as the clock counts down to the world’s first Gamma Bomb test. Besotted with Ross’s daughter Betty, Dr. Banner stoically endures the General’s constant jibes as the timer ticks on and tension increases.

In the final moments, Banner spots a teenager lollygagging at Ground Zero and frantically races to the site to drag the boy away. Unknown to everyone, the assistant he’s entrusted to delay the countdown has an agenda of his own…

Rick Jones is a wayward but good-hearted kid. After initial sassy-mouthing, he lets himself be pushed into a safety trench, but just as Banner prepares to join him The Bomb detonates…

Somehow surviving the blast, Banner and the boy are secured by soldiers, but that evening, as the sun sets the scientist undergoes a monstrous transformation. He grows larger; his skin turns a stony grey…

In six simple pages that’s how it all starts, and no matter what any number of TV or movie reworkings or comic book retcons and psycho-babble re-evaluations would have you believe, it’s still the best and most primal take on the origin. A good man, an unobtainable girl, a foolish kid, an unknown enemy and the horrible power of destructive science unchecked…

Written by Lee, drawn by imaginaut-on-fire Jack Kirby and inked by veteran Paul Reinman, ‘The Coming of the Hulk’barrels right along with the man-monster and Jones subsequently kidnapped by Banner’s Soviet counterpart the Gargoylefor a rousing round of espionage and Commie-busting.

For the second issue, the plot concerns invading aliens, and the Banner/Jones relationship settles into a traumatic nightly ordeal as the good doctor transforms as darkness comes, and is locked into an escape-proof cell whilst the boy stands watch helplessly. Neither ever considers telling the government of their predicament…

‘The Terror of the Toad Men’ is formulaic but viscerally and visually captivating as Steve Ditko inks Kirby: imparting a genuinely eerie sense of unease to the artwork. Incidentally, this is the story where the Hulk inexplicably (to us readers at the time) changed to his more accustomed Green persona.

Although cleverly back-written years later as a continuing mutation, the answer was simply commercial: the grey tones of the monster printed unreliably and erratically on the cheap newsprint pages, causing problems for production colourists so it was arbitrarily changed to the simple and more traditional colour of monsters: a far more tractable shade of green…

The third issue presented a departure in format as issue-long, chaptered epics gave way to complete short stories. Dick Ayers inked Kirby in the transitional ‘Banished to Outer Space’, which radically altered the relationship of Jones and the monster, and the story thus far was reprised in 3-page vignette ‘The Origin of the Hulk’. A Marvel mainstay of villainy debuted in ‘The Ringmaster’, with the Emerald Apparition literally (please note a term used correctly here) mesmerised into working for a band of criminal performers we now know as the Circus of Crime

The Incredible One goes on an urban rampage in #4’s first tale ‘The Monster and the Machine’ before sneaky Commies masquerade as invading aliens in second escapade ‘The Gladiator from Outer Space!’

The Incredible Hulk #5 is a joyous exemplar of cataclysmic Kirby action, introducing immortal villain Tyrannus and his under-earth empire in ‘The Beauty and the Beast!’, after which those pesky and incorrigible Commies come in for another drubbing when our Jolly Green freedom-fighter prevents the invasion of Lhasa by ‘The Hordes of General Fang!’; a barely disguised poke at China’s still ongoing occupation of Tibet.

Despite the sheer verve and bravura of these simplistic classics – some of the greatest, most rewarding comics nonsense ever produced – the Hulk series was not doing well, and Kirby moved on to more appreciated arenas. Steve Ditko handled all the art chores for final issue #6: another full-length epic and an extremely engaging one. He would be the penciler when the Monster eventually regained his own solo series…

‘The Incredible Hulk Vs the Metal Master’ offers astonishing action, sly and subtle sub-plots and a thinking man’s resolution, but nonetheless the title (temporarily) died with the issue. After shambling around the nascent Marvel universe for a year or so, first as the odd man out in the Avengers and thereafter as a misunderstood villain/menace, the Hulk eventually got another shot at the big time in Tales to Astonish

The rest is history and the momentous meat of another volume and review, but this jade-hued journal closes with some welcome traditional extras: original art pages from Kirby and Ditko and a contemporary house ad.

Hulk Smash!

He always was, and with material like this he always will be.
© 2021 MARVEL

Marvel Two-in-One Masterworks volume 1


By Steve Gerber, Len Wein, Mike Friedrich, Chris Claremont, Jim Starlin, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, Bob Brown & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6633-7 (HB)

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

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

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing, or battling – and usually both – with less well-selling company characters, was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of this new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch. In those long-lost days, editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline, they may well have been right.

After the runaway success of Spider-Man’s collaborations in Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas reinforced the trend with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic member – beginning with two test runs in Marvel Feature before graduating to its own somewhat over-elaborate title.

This compelling compendium – available in hardback and digital formats – gathers the contents of Marvel Feature #11-12 and Marvel Two-In-One #1-10, covering September 1973 – July 1975, and opens with a Roy Thomas Introduction explaining how it was Stan’s idea…

Then the much told tales take centre stage with a perennial favourite pairing and the Thing once more clashing with The Incredible Hulk in ‘Cry: Monster! by Len Wein, Jim Starlin & Joe Sinnott (from MF #11).

Here, Kurrgo, Master of Planet X and the lethal Leader manipulate both blockbusting brutes into duking it out – ostensibly to settle a wager – but with the mighty minded, misshapen masterminds each concealing hidden agendas…

That ever-inconclusive yet cataclysmic clash leaves Ben stranded in the Nevada desert where Mike Friedrich, Starlin & Sinnott promptly drop him in the middle of the ongoing war against mad Titan Thanos with Iron Man helping Ben crush monstrous alien invaders in ’The Bite of the Blood Brothers!’ (Marvel Feature #12, November 1973): another spectacular and painfully pretty all-action punch-up.

Still stuck in the desert when the dust settles, Ben laboriously treks to a minor outpost of civilisation just in time to be diverted to Florida for the grand opening of his own title. Cover-dated January 1974, Marvel Two-In-One #1 sees Steve Gerber, Gil Kane & Sinnott magnificently detail the ‘Vengeance of the Molecule Man!’, with Ben learning some horrifying home truths about what constitutes being a monster after battling with and beside ghastly, grotesque anti-hero Man-Thing.

With the second issue Gerber cannily trades a superfluous supporting character from his Man-Thing series to add some much-needed depth to the team-up title. ‘Manhunters from the Stars!’ pits Ben, old enemy Namor, the Sub-Mariner (another series Gerber was currently writing) and the Aquatic Avenger’s feisty and single-minded cousin Namoritaagainst each other as well as aliens hunting the emotionally and intellectually retarded superboy Wundarr. Another dynamically, intoxicating tale illustrated by Kane & Sinnott, this case also leaves the Thing as de facto guardian of the titanic teenaged tot…

Sal Buscema signed on as penciller with #3 as the Rocky Ranger joins the Man Without Fear ‘Inside Black Spectre!’: a crossover instalment of the extended epic then playing out in Daredevil #108-112 (in case you’re wondering, this action-packed fight-fest occurs between the second and third chapters) after which ‘Doomsday 3014!’ (Gerber, Buscema & Frank Giacoia) finds Ben and Captain America visiting the 31st century to save Earth from enslavement by the reptilian Brotherhood of Badoon, leaving Wundarr with Namorita for the foreseeable future…

The furious future-shocker concludes in MTIO #5 as the original Guardians of the Galaxy (not the movie group) climb aboard the Freedom Rocket to help our time-lost heroes liberate New York before returning home. The overthrow of the aliens was completed by another set of ancient heroes in Defenders #26-29 (which is also the subject of a different review)…

Marvel Two-In-One #6 began a complex crossover tale with the aforementioned Defenders as Dr. Strange and the Thing witness a cosmic event which begins with a subway busker’s harmonica and leads inexorably to a ‘Death-Song of Destiny!’ (Gerber, George Tuska & Mike Esposito) before Asgardian outcasts Enchantress and the Executioner attempt to seize control of unfolding events in #7’s ‘Name That Doom!’ (pencilled by Sal Buscema).

As they are thwarted by Grimm and the valiant Valkyrie, there’s enough of an ending here for casual readers, but fans and completists will want to hunt down Defenders #20 or Defenders Masterworks link please volume 3 for the full story…

Back here, however, MTIO #8 teams Grimm and supernatural sensation Ghost Rider in a quirkily compelling Yuletide yarn. ‘Silent Night… Deadly Night!’ – by Gerber, Buscema & Esposito – finds the audacious Miracle Man trying to take control of a very special birth in a stable…

Gerber moved on after plotting Thor team-up ‘When a God goes Mad!’ for Chris Claremont to script and Herb Trimpe & Joe Giella to finish: a rushed and meagre effort with the Puppet Master and Radion the Atomic Man making a foredoomed power play, before issue #10 concludes this initial compendium.

Crafted by Claremont, the still much-missed Bob Brown & Klaus Janson, it is a slice of inspired espionage action-intrigue with Ben and the Black Widow battling suicidal terrorist Agamemnon who plans to detonate the planet’s biggest nuke in blistering thriller ‘Is This the Way the World Ends?’.

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

Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s still buckets of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so why not to add this colossal comics chronicle to your straining superhero bookshelves?
© 2020 MARVEL

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 17


By Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Mike Friedrich, Gerry Conway, Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter, Archie Goodwin, Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Sal Buscema, Ron Wilson, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9192-6 (HB)

Monolithic Marvel truly began at the end of 1961 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. Happy Anniversary, all…

With Lee & Kirby long gone but their mark very much still stamped onto every page of the still-prestigious title, this full-colour compendium – available in hardcover and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #176-191, spanning November 1976 to February 1978.

What You Should Already Know: maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimmand 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 a Preface by outgoing scribe Roy Thomas and Introduction from incoming writer/editor Len Wein a new direction begins with #176 and ‘Improbable as it May Seem…The Impossible Man is Back in Town!’ by Thomas, George Pérez & Joe Sinnott as the mighty manic shapeshifter – having just saved everybody from World-Devourer Galactus – returns to Earth with our heroes and promptly turns the city upside down in his search for amusement and entertainment…

High point of the day is his impromptu visit to the Marvel Bullpen where even more hilarity and hysteria ensue…

By the time the flustered four drag him back to the Baxter Building in #177 it’s straight into an ambush as ‘Look Out for the Frightful Four!’ finds their evil counterparts gain the upper hand. There are only three – The Wizard , Sandman and Trapster – but with the heroes shackled there’s no better time for a casting call of evil and soon a succession of potential fourths (such as latterday B-Listers Texas Twister and Captain Ultra) are filing through in search of fame and glory…

Also in the queue are a few valiant allies such as Thundra and Tigra who almost manage a last-minute rescue until an unstoppable mystery candidate crushes all opposition and hurls the Thing into the antimatter Negative Zone…

Inked by Dave Hunt, FF #178 ‘Call My Killer… The Brute!’ sees a devious, deadly monster revealed as the Reed Richards of Counter-Earth, carrying grudges and enacting his own masterplan until Impossible Man – oblivious to everything since discovering television – now responds to the horrific home invasion in typical manner. The Fantastic Four, Thundra and Tigra soon rescue Ben and drive off the bad guys but in the melee the Brute is fittingly lost in the Negative Zone.

At least, one of the Reeds is…

A joint effort by Thomas, Gerry Conway, Ron Wilson & Sinnott, FF #179 sees the good Dr. Richards ‘A Robinson Crusoe in the Negative Zone!’ and – deprived of his stretching powers (a long running plot-thread finally paying off) – struggling to survive in hostile conditions against appalling monsters…

Until ultimate predator Annihilus finds him…

Back on Earth, everything seems fine and the deadly doppelganger continues to insinuate himself into all aspects of FF life. The power loss works to his advantage and reed’s oldest friend Ben is distracted by a giant robbing robot and an increasingly flirtatious Tigra…

Fantastic Four #180 was a new Jack Kirby cover on a deadline-busting reprint (from issue #101) so only it stands between us and next episode ‘Side by Side with… Annihilus??’ – from #181 by Thomas, Wilson & Sinnott – wherein the zone-lost genius allies with the antimatter monster.

Meanwhile, Ben, Impy, Tigra and Thundra form an impromptu quartet to sort out that robot and Susan Richards – just starting to suspect something’s wrong with her man – is distracted when former governess and still-current witch Agatha Harkness flamboyantly abducts her old charge Franklin from Sue’s arms…

Fantastic Four #182 reveals the nigh-omnipotent Annihilus has a problem he can’t handle: an incredibly adaptable, constantly mutating android once banished to the Zone after failing to destroy the quirky quartet. Now its creator has regained control and ‘Enter: The Mad Thinker!’ (Bill Mantlo, with Len Wein, Jim Shooter, Archie Goodwin, Sal Buscema & Sinnott) sees Reed and Annihilus working together to stop it even as on Earth evil Reed tricks the Thing and the Torch into the Negative Zone too. Sue, meanwhile, has rushed to spooky Whisper Hill to confront Harkness and arrives just in time to see the eldritch elder and Franklin spirited away by ghostly beings…

Her return to the Baxter Building is even more traumatic as the now exposed Brute attempts to murder her, culminating in a spectacular all action conclusion from Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Sinnott as #183’s ‘Battleground: The Baxter Building!’sees all the opposing elements clash and an unexpected turn of events restore the status quo with one last-minute change of heart and tragic sacrifice…

A new era dawned as Wein took on the role of writer/editor and his artist partners George Pérez & Joe Sinnott began as they meant to go on with #184 as ‘Aftermath: The Eliminator!’ saw romantic rivals Tigra and Thundra go their own ways as the restored First Family of heroes took up the search for missing Franklin and arrive at the Whisper Hill mansion just as mystic cyborg began removing all traces of it and its former occupier…

Brutal, pointless battle proved useless but science scored again in #185 as Reed tracks the Eliminator to the Colorado Rockies and the team – with Richards using tech to pinch-hit for his lost powers – head incognito for the isolated town of New Salem. Once there they soon discover ‘Here There Be Witches!’… and they be hostile…

The next issue and ‘Enter: Salem’s Seven!’ delivers an explanation for Harkness’ actions, Franklin’s kidnapping and tantalising hints of a hidden town of mystic refugees led by deranged demagogue Nicholas Scratch, whose dark secret doesn’t stop him unleashing a septet of sorcerous sentinels on the cosmic-powered but woefully human heroes. It does, sadly, ultimately lose him the support of his peers and the battle, leaving #187 to see our heroes and the help heading home just in time for ‘Trouble Times Two!’ When “Master of Sound” Klaw and the almighty Molecule Man ambush the FF, the furious fight raises the ire of TV-addicted Impy and the resultant rumble results in the Molecule Man’s disembodied intellect possessing Reed’s weary body…

‘The Rampage of Reed Richards!’ in #188 sees the city wrecked and events of cosmic import occur, with Uatu the Watcher closely observing as the heroes triumph in the end, but only at the cost of their leader’s confidence. Weary, devoid of superpowers, Richard makes the only logical decision and calls it a day for the team…

At the time tensions were especially enhanced as the next issue was another reprint (from FF Annual #4 and again represented here only by the cover art of #189) before normal service resumes with #190 and next writer/editor Marv Wolfman collaborating with Sal Buscema & Tony DeZuñiga to reassess past glories in ‘The Way It Was’. Shellshocked Ben and girlfriend Alicia Masters review the glory days leading up to his current unemployment, before #191 closes this compilation’s story component with ‘Four No More’ wherein Wein, Pérez & Sinnott detail the decommissioning of the Baxter Building and track the fond farewells as the team go their separate ways. However, even here there’s time and space for one last hurrah as the scurrilous Plunderer tries to steal all the FF’s toys and rapidly learns to regret his impertinence…

To Be Continued…

This power-packed package also includes the letters page from FF #176, explaining how the Impossible Man’s visit to the Marvel Bullpen came about, and full biographies to satisfy the completists in attendance…

Although the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” never quite returned to the stratospheric heights of the Kirby era, this collection offers a tantalising taste-echo of those heady heights. These extremely capable efforts are probably most welcome to dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but will still thrill and enthral the generous and forgiving casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Two-in-One Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Bill Mantlo, Jo Duffy, John Byrne, Peter B. Gillis, Steven Grant, Marv Wolfman, Allyn Brodsky, David Michelinie, George Pérez, Chic Stone, Alan Kupperberg, Frank Miller, Jim Craig& various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2220-7 (HB)

It’s the anniversary of the Fantastic Four this year and we couldn’t let it go without celebrating the team’s most iconic member…

Above all else, Marvel has always been about team-ups. The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing, or battling (often both) with less well-selling company characters – was not new when Marvel awarded their most popular hero the same deal DC had with Batman in The Brave and the Bold. Although confident in their new title, they wisely left options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch.

In those long-ago days, editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline they may well have been right.

Nevertheless, after the runaway success of Spider-Man’s guest vehicle Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas carried on the trend with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most popular star. They began with a brace of test runs in Marvel Feature #11-12 before awarding him his own team-up title, with this fifth classy compendium gathering in hardback or digital editions the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #47-60, MTIO Annuals #2-3 and Avengers Annual #4, covering January 1979-February 1980. Preceded by a comprehensive and informative reminiscence in Ralph Macchio’s Introduction, the action begins a true golden age for the title.

The innate problem with team-up tales was always a lack of continuity – something Marvel always prided itself upon – and which writer/editor Marv Wolfman had sought to address during his tenure through the simple expedient of having stories link-up through evolving, overarching plots which took Ben from place to place and from guest to guest.

Arguably the very best of these closes this volume; the vast-scaled, supremely convoluted saga known as “The Project Pegasus Saga”…

Although the company’s glory-days were undoubtedly the era of Lee, Kirby & Ditko leading through to the Adams, Buscema(s), Englehart, Gerber, Steranko and Windsor-Smith “Second Wave”, a lot of superb material came out the middle years when Marvel was transforming from inspirational small business to corporate heavyweight.

This is not said to demean or denigrate the many fine creators who worked on the tide of titles published after that heady opening period, but only to indicate that after that time a certain revolutionary spontaneity was markedly absent from the line.

It should also be remembered that this was not deliberate. Every creator does the best job he/she can: posterity and critical response is the only arbiter of what is classic and what is simply one more comicbook. Certainly high sales don’t necessarily define a masterpiece – unless you’re a publisher…

Nevertheless, every so often everyone involved in a particular tale seems to catch fire at the same time and magic occurred. Before that, though, a gradual increase in overall quality begins after perpetual gadflies The Yancy Street Gangheadlined in MT-I-O #47 as ‘Happy Deathday, Mister Grimm!’ (Bill Mantlo & Chic Stone) saw a cybernetic tyrant take over Ben’s old neighbourhood. The invasion concluded – once awesome alien energy powerhouse Jack of Hearts joined the fight – with ‘My Master, Machinesmith!’ in #48 by Mantlo, Stone & Tex Blaisdell.

Mary Jo Duffy, Alan Kupperberg & Gene Day piled on spooky laughs in #49 as the ‘Curse of Crawl-Inswood’ found Doctor Strange manipulating Ben into helping crush a paranormal incursion in a quaint and quiet seaside resort…

Anniversary issue #50 was everything a special issue should be. ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ by Byrne & Joe Sinnott took a powerful and poignant look at the Thing’s history as a monster outcast and posited a few what-might-have-beens…

Following another failure by Reed Richards to cure Ben’s rocky condition, The Thing steals the chemical and travels into his own past, determined to use the remedy on his younger, less mutated self, but his bitter, brooding, brittle earlier incarnation is hardly prepared to listen to another monster and inevitably, catastrophic combat ensues…

Issue #51 was even better. ‘Full House… Dragons High!’ by Peter Gillis, up-&-coming artist Frank Miller & Bob McLeod, details how a weekly poker session at Avengers Mansion is interrupted by rogue US General Pollock, who again tries to conquer America with stolen technology. Happily, Ben and Nick Fury finds Ms. Marvel (not today’s teenager Kamala Khan but Carol Danvers – the current Captain Marvel), Wonder Man and the Beast better combat comrades than Poker opponents…

A note of sinister paranoia creeps in with Marvel Two-In-One #52 in ‘A Little Knight Music!’ (by Steven Grant, Jim Craig & Marcos), as the mysterious Moon Knight joins the Thing to stop CIA Psy-Ops master Crossfire from brainwashing the city’s superheroes into killing each other…

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #4 then provides an old-fashioned, world-busting blockbuster as ‘A Mission of Gravity!’(plotted by Allyn Brodsky, scripted by David Michelinie and illustrated by Jim Craig, Bob Budiansky & Bruce Patterson) brings the Thing and Inhuman monarch Black Bolt together to stop unstable maniac Graviton turning into a black hole and taking the world with him…

That disaster averted, the Thing hits that aforementioned high note in the self-contained mini-saga which partnered him with a succession of Marvel’s quirkiest B-listers and newcomers…

Project Pegasus had debuted in Marvel T-I-O #42-43: a federal research station tasked with investigating new and alternative energy sources and a sensible place to dump super-powered baddies when they’ve been trounced. Ten issues later writers Mark Gruenwald & Ralph Macchio flexed their creative muscles with a 6-issue epic seeing Ben return to Pegasus just as a sinister scheme by a mysterious mastermind to eradicate the facility goes into full effect.

Scripted by Mark Gruenwald & Macchio, it begins as ‘The Inner War!’ (illustrated by Byrne & Joe Sinnott) sees Ben visiting his educationally and emotionally challenged ward Wundarr – who had been left at the secret base after exposure to a reality-warping Cosmic Cube.

Ben meets light-powered security chief Quasar – who technically debuts here, although he was first seen as Marvel Boy in Captain America – only to stumble into a treacherous plot to sabotage the facility…

The consequent clash is augmented by a handy schematic of The Federal research station designated the Potential EnergyGroup/Alternate Sources/United States that will prove invaluable as the saga unfolds.

The tension mounts in ‘Blood and Bionics’ as a reprogrammed Deathlok cyborg stalks the base until the Thing and Quasar crush it. Elsewhere, Ben’s old sparring partner Thundra is recruited by a team of super-powered women wrestlers (I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, it works) with a secret and nefarious sideline…

One of the resident scientists at Pegasus is Bill Foster – who had a brief costumed career as Black Goliath – and he resumes adventuring with a new/old name just in time to help tackle freshly-liberated atomic monster Nuklo in ‘Giants in the Earth’. Sadly, the traitor who let the infantile walking atomic inferno out is still undiscovered and, in the darkest part of the Project, something strange is whispering to the comatose Wundarr…

George Pérez & Gene Day took over as illustrators from #56 as Thundra and her new friends invade in ‘The Deadlier of the Species!’ but even their blistering assault is merely a feint for the real threat and soon a final countdown to disaster is in effect. Doomsday begins ‘When Walks Wundarr!’ and, in his mesmerised wake, a horde of energy-projecting villains incarcerated in the research facility break free…

With chaos everywhere the traitor triggers an extra-dimensional catastrophe, intent on destroying Pegasus ‘To the Nth Power!’, but as a living singularity tries to suck the entire institution into infinity, the end of everything is countered by the ascension of a new kind of hero as The Aquarian debuts to save the day…

Released as one of Marvel’s earliest trade paperback collections, the high-tension bombastic action of The Project Pegasus Saga rattles along without the appearance of any major stars – a daring move for a team-up title but one which greatly enhanced the power and depth of The Thing.

Moreover, by concentrating on rebooting moribund characters such as Deathlok and Giant-Man whilst launching fresh faces Quasar and The Aquarian instead of looking for ill-fitting, big-name sales-boosters, the story truly proves the old adage about there being no bad characters…

Another sound decision was the use of Byrne & Sinnott for the first half and Pérez & the late, great Gene Day to finish off the tale. Both pencillers were in their early ascendancy here and the artistic energy just jumps off the pages.

Publishing schedules wait for no one, however, and the landmark epic is immediately followed by a rather lesser yarn as Marv Wolfman, Macchio, Chic Stone & Al Gordon depict ‘Trial and Error!’ in #59 as Ben and the Human Torch play matchmaker for a dopey dreamer, after which #60 balances the thrills with fun and frolics with Ben and impish ET Impossible Man in hilarious combat with three of Marvel’s earliest bad guys….

Augmented by original art and covers by Pérez; Macchio’s essay ‘Project Prelude’ from that early Marvel collection and its wraparound cover by Ron Frenz; covers from reprint title The Adventures of the Thing (by Sam Keith and Joe Quesada) and biographies for the legion of creators contained herein, this tome of tales from Marvel’s Middle Period are admittedly of variable quality. They are, however, offset by truly timeless classics, still as captivating today as they ever were. Most fans of Costumed Dramas will find little to complain about and there’s lots of fun to be found for young and old readers. So why not lower your critical guard and have an honest blast of pure warts ‘n’ all comics craziness? You’ll almost certainly grow to like it…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Ka-Zar Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Arnold Drake, Steve Parkhouse, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Len Wein, Mike Friedrich, George Tuska, Barry Windsor-Smith, Herb Trimpe, John Buscema, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Rich Buckler, Dan Adkins & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5957-5 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Fabulous Feast of Fantastic Forest Fun and Fury… 9/10

Beginning as a Tarzan tribute act relocated to a lost world in a sub-polar realm of swamp-men and dinosaurs, Ka-Zar eventually evolved into one of Marvel’s more complex – if variable – characters. Wealthy heir to one of Britain’s oldest noble families, his best friend is Zabu the sabretooth tiger, his wife is feisty environmental-crusader Shanna the She-Devil and his brother is a homicidal super-scientific bandit. Kevin Reginald, Lord Plunder is perpetually torn between the clean life-or-death simplicity of the jungle and the bewildering constant compromises of modern civilisation.

The primordial paragon is arguably Marvel’s oldest star, having begun life as a prose pulp star, boasting three issues of his own magazine between October 1936 and June 1937. They were authored by Bob Byrd – a pseudonym for publisher Martin Goodman or one of a fleet of writers on staff – who latterly had him shoehorned into his speculative new-fangled comic book venture Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939), beside The Angel (another pulp line graduate), Masked Raider, Human Torch and Sub-Mariner

In 1965, when he reappeared all rowdy and renovated in X-Men #10, it was clear the uncrowned Sovereign of the Savage Land was destined for bigger and better things, but for years all we got was guest shots as a misunderstood foe du jour for Daredevil, Sub-Mariner, Spider-Man, and the Hulk.

Eventually in 1969 he got his shot at a solo saga in Marvel Super-Heroes and later that year – after Roy Thomas & Neal Adams used him so effectively in their X-Men run (#62-63) – he was awarded a giant-sized solo title reprinting all his previous appearances but strangely offering all-new stories of Hercules and the Angel. That same month, his first regular series began in a new split book entitled Astonishing Tales

Gathering material from Marvel Super-Heroes #19; Savage Tales volume 1 #1 and Astonishing Tales #1-16, spanning March 1969 to February 1973, this initial hardback and digital volume traces Lord Plunder’s path from misjudged superhero to barbaric fantasy star. Following a revelatory Introduction by Roy Thomas, we plunge straight in to ‘My Father, My Enemy’ from Marvel Super-Heroes #19 March 1969. Scripted by Arnold Drake and Steve Parkhouse with art from George Tuska & Sid Greene it gathers scraps from previous stories to forge an origin for Ka-Zar the Jungle Master!, revealing a murky web of deceit and intrigue as Kevin Plunder quits British High Society in search of the truth about the father who apparently abandoned him and his unsavoury super-villain brother Parnival years earlier in search of a lost continent and mystery anti-metal.

At the behest of Parnival – AKA The Plunderer – Ka-Zar’s return to his spiritual home soon descends into a brutal clash with tribesmen of the Golden People safeguarding the menacing mineral and another painful half-victory for the his scurrilous sibling…

August 1970 saw the launch of Astonishing Tales with the Jungle Lord sharing space with Latverian Liege Doctor Doom. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Sam Grainger displayed ‘The Power of Ka-Zar!’ as crazed “sportsman” Kraven the Hunter sets his sights on Zabu’s pelt. A successful ambush in Antarctica sees the toothy tiger trapped and dragged back to “civilisation”. However, his human brother survives the assault and grimly follows the villain, leading to ‘Frenzy on the Fortieth Floor!’ as the second issue sees our hero – retitled Ka-Zar, Lord of the Jungle! – track his prey to Manhattan and score a stunning rescue and victory. Thomas replaced Lee here, but gave way to Gerry Conway, with Barry (Windsor) Smith joining Grainger to detail the hero’s first meeting with living god Garokk the Petrified Man urgently demanding his help in getting ‘Back to the Savage Land!’ where his ambitious Queen Priestess Zaladane has begun a war of conquest against the many tribes of the hidden continent. After sharing his all-too human origins and connection to the primordial domain, the constantly-mutating stranger is brought home just in time to become ‘The Sun God!’ in thought and deed as well as appearance; going on a destructive ‘Rampage!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) and forcing harsh choices from Ka-Zar and his comrade Tongah of the Fall People

AT #6 sees a stunning art job from Smith & Bill Everett as Conway’s ‘Ware the Winds of Death!’ pits the war’s survivors against reawakened alien god Damon, returned after centuries to destroy the world that took his lover Lelania, even as in faraway England a mysterious woman seeks to warn Lord Plunder of impending doom…

Thomas returns to script with Herb Trimpe illustrating concluding chapter ‘Deluge!’ as Damon is repelled – but only at tragic cost to Tongah – before Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caspak and Caprona (with hints of Romeo and Juliet) tales inform #8’s ‘The Battle of New Britannia!’ by Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Trimpe & Tom Sutton, as Ka-Zar and Zabu explore a new region of the vast under-ice region, discovering warring colonies populated by the remnants of British and German soldiers still fighting WWII. Into this mass mess of monsters, man-apes and secret pacts and lies, parachutes the mystery girl from England, a formidable force who will eventually be superspy/Avenger Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse

Astonishing Tales #8 was an experiment with increased page count and included an origin tale by Len Wein, George Tuska & Mike Esposito. ‘This Badge Bedeviled!’ reveals how twins Damian and Joshua Link – one a cop, the other a crook – are changed by an abortive experiment. The result was that they could combine their physicality and abilities into one body as Gemini, but sadly only one personality could dominate…

The next issue was normal-sized but now only Ka-Zar was in situ, retitled Ka-Zar, Lord of the Hidden Jungle. Moreover, thanks to scheduling problems it was as a fill-in: a pure barbarian fantasy in the manner of Conan. ‘The Legend of the Lizard Men!’ by Lee & John Buscema pitted the outraged savage against a conquering witch-queen enslaving tribes and hiding a big secret…

The ongoing storyline continues and concludes with #10 (February 1972) as Thomas, Conway, Windsor-Smith & Sal Buscema usher in a minor Götterdämmerung with an horrific secret exposed in ‘To End in Flame!’

A newish direction beckons as #11’s ‘A Day of Tigers!’ revisits, clarifies and expands upon Ka-Zar’s origin in superb tale by Thomas, Gil Kane & Giacoia detailing how a young boy lost in Savage Land forms a primal bond with a sabretooth tiger, gains a lifelong enemy in Maa-Gor the Man-Ape becomes unwilling custodian to the most dangerous element on Earth…

Astonishing Tales #12 abruptly relocates the entire cast to Florida for ‘Terror Stalks the Everglades!’ with Thomas, John Buscema & Dan Adkins recasting the Jungle King as a consultant for S.H.I.E.L.D. assisting aging biologist Dr. WilmaCalvin – who just happens to be Morse’s mentor – in tracking down missing scientist Ted Sallis

What Ka-Zar doesn’t know is that the project all of them are working on is the recreation of the super-soldier serum that created Captain America and what nobody living knows is that Sallis succeeded. However, when Advanced Idea Mechanic agents tried to steal it, Sallis injected himself and the chemicals reacted with the swamp’s magical energies to create a mindless shambling monster.

Readers are clued in thanks to an unused interlude intended for Savage Tales #2, with Wein & Neal Adams providing a chilling recap sequence detailing the macabre Man-Thing’s previous relationship with Calvin, before we slip back to now with AIM attacking and trapping Ka-Zar with the bog-beast…

AT #13 sees Thomas, J. Buscema, Rich Buckler & Adkins expand the mystery as the Jungle Lord escapes the ‘Man-Thing!’ to focus on the real monsters, subsequently routing out a traitor and defeating AIM… for now…

Scheduling continued to be tricky and #14 featured Lee & John Buscema’s ‘The Night of the Looter’: a bowdlerised, colourised version of a rather racy thriller first seen in Savage Tales #1 wherein Ka-Zar scorns the temptations and dodges the perils brought by destructive treasure hunters from civilisation invading his hidden home, before continuity returned with #15 as Mike Friedrich, Kane & Sutton ask ‘And Who Will Call Him Savage?’

Increasingly enamoured of Barbra Morse, Ka-Zar opts to give the modern world another go, but quickly comes to despise the greed, the dirt, the greed, the callous brutality and the sheer greed of petty people, especially after encountering the drug crisis first hand and clashing with dope peddler The Pusher

When his vile schemes almost end Wilma Calvin’s life, Ka-Zar goes wild in ‘To Stalk a City!’ (Friedrich, Buckler & Chic Stone) rampaging through the concrete jungle of New York City and delivering a king’s justice in an edgy action packed conclusion.

Also included here is the original, unedited monochrome version of Lee & Buscema’s ‘The Night of the Looter’ as seen in May 1971’s Savage Tales (volume 1 #1) lush with grey-tone washes with some gratuitous female nudity to keep readers attention high. Also on display is a pertinent text ‘Bullpen Bulletins’ page, and house ads, and the covers from aforementioned 1970 reprint series Ka-Zar volume 1, #1-3, rendered by Marie Severin and John Romita (Sr.)

Boldly bombastic, brilliantly escapist and crafted by some of the biggest and best in comics, these wild rides and riotous romps are timeless fun from the borderlands of Marvel’s endless universe: a fabulous excursion in to forgotten worlds you’ll want to treasure forever…
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mighty Marvel  Masterworks The X-Men volume 1: The Strangest Super-Heroes of All


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2980-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Utterly X-traordinary Entertainment… 10/10

These stories are timeless and have been gathered many times before so I’m once more digressing to talk about format first. The Mighty Marvel Masterworks line has been designed with economy in mind. Classic tales of Marvel’s key creators and characters re-presented in chronological order have been a staple since the 1990s, but always in lavish, expensive hardback collectors editions. These new books are far cheaper, on lower quality paper and – crucially – are smaller, about the dimensions of a paperback book. Your eyesight might be failing and your hands too big and shaky, but at 152 x 227mm, they’re perfect for kids. If you opt for the digital editions, that’s no issue at all…

Way back in 1963 things really took off for the budding Marvel Comics as Stan Lee & Jack Kirby expanded their diminutive line of action titles, putting a bunch of relatively new super-heroes (including hot-off-the-presses Iron Man) together as The Avengers; launching a decidedly different war comic in Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos and creating a group of alienated heroic teenagers who gathered together to fight a rather specific, previously unperceived threat to humanity.

Those halcyon days are revisited in this splendid trade paperback and eBook compilation: gathering from September 1963 to March 1965, the contents of X-Men #1-10.

Issue #1 introduced Cyclops, Iceman, Angel and the Beast: extremely special students of Professor Charles Xavier, 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. The story opens as the students welcome their newest classmate, Jean Grey, aka Marvel Girl: a young woman with the ability to move objects with her mind.

No sooner has the Professor explained their mission than an actual Evil Mutant – Magneto – singlehandedly takes over American missile base Cape Citadel. A seemingly unbeatable threat, the master of magnetism is nonetheless driven off in under 15 minutes by the young heroes on their first mission …

It doesn’t sound like much, but the gritty dynamic power of Kirby’s art, solidly inked by veteran Paul Reinman, imparted a raw energy to the tale which carried the bi-monthly book irresistibly forward. With issue #2, a Federal connection was established in the form of FBI Special Agent Fred Duncan, who requests the teen team’s assistance in capturing a mutant threatening to steal US military secrets in ‘No One Can Stop the Vanisher!’.

These days, young heroes are ten-a-penny, but it should be noted that these kids were among Marvel’s first juvenile super-doers (unless you count Spider-Man or Human Torch Johnny Storm) since the end of the Golden Age, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that in this tale of a terrifying teleporter the outmatched youngsters needed a little adult supervision…

Issue #3’s ‘Beware of the Blob!’ displays a rare lapse of judgement when proselytising Professor X invites a sideshow freak into the team, only to be rebuffed by the felonious mutant. Impervious to mortal harm, The Blob incites his carnival cronies to attack the hidden heroes before they can come after him, and once again it’s up to teacher to save the day…

With X-Men #4 (March 1964) a thematic sea-change occurs as Magneto returns, heading ‘The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants!’ Intent on conquering a South American country and establishing a political powerbase, he ruthlessly dominates Mastermind, Toad, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch: all very much his unwilling thralls in the bombastic struggle that follows. From then on, the callow champions-in-training are the prey of many malevolent mutants…

‘Trapped: One X-Man!’ in issue #5 sees early results in that covert hunt as Angel is abducted to Magneto’s orbiting satellite base Asteroid M, and only a desperate battle at the edge of space eventually saves him…

‘Sub-Mariner Joins the Evil Mutants!’ is a self-explanatory tale of gripping intensity elevated to magical levels of artistic quality as superb Chic Stone replaced Reinman as inker for the rest of Kirby’s tenure. The issue also incorporates a stunning ‘Special Pin-up page’ starring “Cyclops”.

Genuine narrative progress is made with ‘The Return of the Blob!’ as their mentor leaves on a secret mission, but not before appointing Cyclops acting team leader. Comedy relief comes as Lee & Kirby introduce Beast and Iceman to the Beatnik-inspired “youth scene” whilst the high action quotient is maintained courtesy of a troubled teaming of the Blob and Magneto’s malign brood…

Another and very different invulnerable mutant debuted in ‘Unus the Untouchable!’: a wrestler with an invisible force field who attempts to enlist in the Brotherhood by offering to bring them an X-Man. Also notable is the first real incident of “anti-mutant hysteria” (a shaded reference to civil rights struggle being waged in America at that time) after a mob attacks Beast. The theme that would become the cornerstone of the X-Men mythos. The issue ends with a ‘Special Pin-up page’ featuring ‘The Beast’.

X-Men #9 (January 1965) is the first true masterpiece of this celebrated title. ‘Enter, the Avengers!’ reunites the mutants with Professor X in the wilds of Balkan Europe, as lethal, lurking Lucifer seeks to destroy Earth with a super-bomb, subsequently manipulating the teens into an all-out battle with the World’s Mightiest heroes. This month’s extra treat is a‘Marvel Masterwork Pin-up’ of ‘Marvel Girl’

This is still a perfect Marvel comic story today, as is its follow-up ‘The Coming of Ka-Zar!’: an incredible excursion to Antarctica, featuring the discovery of the Antediluvian Savage Land and the modern incarnation of one of Marvel/Timely’s oldest heroes. Kazar the Great was a pulp Tarzan knock-off who migrated to the comics page, with in October/November 1939’s Marvel Comics #1.

Dinosaurs, lost cities, spectacular locations, mystery and all-out action: it doesn’t get better than this…

Sadly, this would be King Kirby’s penultimate outing with the “strangest teens of all time”…

To Be Continued…

Supplemented by a house ad and gloriously unused cover for X-Men #10 by Kirby & Stone, these quirky tales are a million miles removed from today’s angst-ridden, breast-beating, cripplingly convoluted X-brand, and in many ways are all the better for it. Superbly rendered, highly readable adventures are never unwelcome or out of favour, and it must be remembered that everything here informs so very much of the mutant monolith. These are tales for dedicated fans and rawest converts alike  Everyone should have these stories.
© 2021 MARVEL

Mighty Marvel Masterworks – The Amazing Spider-Man: With Great Power…


By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, with Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2977-0 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An Immaculate Confection… 10/10

As any fule kno, Spider-Man turns 60 in 2022. In advance of that, here’s a little preliminary stocking-stuffer to start next year’s party early. I’m celebrating it here and now… and in a rather controversial new format.

These stories are timeless and have been gathered many times before so I’m digressing to talk about format first. The Mighty Marvel Masterworks line has been designed with economy in mind. Classic tales of Marvel’s key creators and characters re-presented in chronological order have been a staple since the 1990s, but always in lavish, expensive hardback collectors editions. These new books are far cheaper, on lower quality paper and – crucially – are smaller, about the dimensions of a paperback book. Your eyesight might be failing and your hands too big and shaky, but at 152 x 227mm, they’re perfect for kids. If you opt for the digital editions, that’s no issue at all…

Marvel is often termed “the House that Jack Built” and King Kirby’s contributions are undeniable and inescapable in the creation of a new kind of comic book storytelling, but there was another unique visionary toiling at Atlas-Comics-as-was, one whose creativity and even philosophy seemed diametrically opposed to the bludgeoning power, vast imaginative scope and clean, broad lines of Kirby’s ever-expanding search for the external and infinite.

Steve Ditko was quiet and unassuming, voluntarily diffident to the point of invisibility, but his work was both subtle and striking: innovative and meticulously polished. Always questing for detail, he ever explored the man within. He saw heroism and humour and ultimate evil all contained within the frail but noble confines of humanity. His drawing could be oddly disquieting… and, when he wanted, decidedly creepy.

Crafting extremely well-received monster and mystery tales for and with Stan Lee, Ditko had been rewarded with his own title. Amazing Adventures/Amazing Adult Fantasy featured a subtler brand of yarn than Rampaging Aliens and Furry Underpants Monsters: an ilk which, though individually entertaining, had been slowly losing traction in the world of comics ever since National/DC had successfully reintroduced costumed heroes.

Lee & Kirby had responded with Fantastic Four and the ahead-of-its-time Incredible Hulk but there was no indication of the renaissance ahead when officially just-cancelled Amazing Fantasy featured a brand new and rather eerie adventure character.

This compelling and economical full-colour paperback/digital compilation re-presents that auspicious tale from Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1-10, (spanning cover-dates August 1962-March 1964): allowing newcomers and veteran readers to relive some of the greatest moments in sequential narrative.

The initial burst of wonderment came and concluded in 11 captivating pages. ‘Spider-Man!’ offers the parable of Peter Parker: a smart but alienated kid bitten by a radioactive spider on a high school science trip. Discovering he’s developed arachnid abilities – which he augments with his own ingenuity and engineering genius – Peter does what any lonely, geeky nerd would do when given such a gift… he tries to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Creating a costume to hide his identity in case he makes a fool of himself, Parker becomes a minor celebrity – and a vain, self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief flees past him, he doesn’t lift a finger to stop the thug, and days later returns home to find that his Uncle Ben has been murdered.

Crazy for vengeance, Parker stalks the assailant who made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, only to find that it is the felon he couldn’t be bothered with. Since his social irresponsibility led to the death of the man who raised him, the boy swears to always use his powers to help others…

It wasn’t a new story, but the setting was familiar to every kid reading it and the artwork was downright spooky. This wasn’t the gleaming high-tech world of moon-rockets, mammoth monsters and flying cars… this stuff could happen to anybody…

Amazing Fantasy #15 came out the same month as Tales to Astonish #35 – the first to feature the Astonishing Ant-Man in costume, but it was the last issue of Ditko’s Amazing playground. In this volume you’ll find the ‘Fan Page – Important Announcement from the Editor!’ that completely misled fans as to what would happen next…

However, the tragic last-ditch tale struck a chord with the public and by year’s end a new comic book superstar was ready to launch in his own title, with Ditko eager to show what he could do with his first returning character since the demise of Charlton’s Captain Atom

Holding on to the “Amazing” prefix to jog reader’s memories, the bi-monthly Amazing Spider-Man #1 arrived with a March 1963 cover-date and two complete stories. It also prominently featured the Fantastic Four and took the readership by storm. The opening tale, again simply entitled ‘Spider-Man!’, recapitulated the origin whilst adding a brilliant twist to the conventional mix…

By now the wall-crawling hero was feared and reviled by the general public thanks mostly to J. Jonah Jameson, a newspaper magnate who pilloried the adventurer from spite and for profit. With time-honoured comic book irony, Spider-Man then had to save Jameson’s astronaut son John from a defective space capsule in extremely low orbit…

Second yarn ‘Vs the Chameleon!’ finds the cash-strapped kid trying to force his way onto the roster – and payroll – of the FF whilst elsewhere a spy perfectly impersonates the webspinner to steal military secrets. This is a stunning example of the high-strung, antagonistic cameos and crossovers that so energised the jaded kids of the early 1960s. Heroes just didn’t act like that and they certainly didn’t speak directly to the fans as in the editorial ‘A Personal Message from Spider-Man’ page reprinted here…

With #2, our new champion began a meteoric rise in quality and innovative storytelling. ‘Duel to the Death with the Vulture!’ catches Parker chasing a flying thief as much for profit as justice. Desperate to help his aunt make ends meet, Spider-Man starts taking photos of his cases to sell to Jameson’s Daily Bugle, making the gadfly his sole means of support.

Matching his deft comedy and moody soap-operatic melodrama, Ditko’s action sequences were imaginative and magnificently visceral, with odd angle shots and quirky, mis-balanced poses adding a vertiginous sense of unease to fight scenes. But crime wasn’t the only threat to the world and Spider-Man was just as (un)comfortable battling “aliens” in ‘The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer!’

Amazing Spider-Man #3 introduced possibly the apprentice hero’s greatest enemy in ‘Versus Doctor Octopus’: a full-length saga wherein a dedicated scientist survives an atomic accident only to find his self-designed mechanical tentacles have permanently grafted to his body. Power-mad, Otto Octavius initially thrashes Spider-Man, sending the lad into a depression until an impromptu pep-talk from Human Torch Johnny Storm galvanises Spider-Man to one of his greatest victories. Rounding out the tense drama is a stunning ‘Special Surprise Bonus Spider-Man Pin-up Page!’

‘Nothing Can Stop… the Sandman!’ was another instant classic wherein a common thug who gains the power to transform to sand – another pesky nuclear snafu – invades Parker’s school, and must be stopped at all costs, whilst #5 finds the webspinner ‘Marked for Destruction by Dr. Doom!’ – not so much winning as surviving his battle against the deadliest man on Earth.

Presumably he didn’t mind too much, as this marked the series’ transition from bi-monthly to monthly status. Here Parker’s social nemesis, jock bully Flash Thompson, first displays depths beyond the usual in contemporary comic books, beginning one of the most enduring love/hate buddy relationships in popular literature…

Sometime mentor Dr. Curtis Connors debuts in #6 when Spidey comes ‘Face-to-face with… The Lizard!’ with the wallcrawler fighting far from the concrete canyons and comfort zone of New York – specifically in the murky Florida Everglades. Parker was back in the Big Apple for #7 to breathtakingly tackle ‘The Return of the Vulture’ in a full-length masterpiece.

Fun and puckish hi-jinks were a signature feature of the series, as was Parker’s budding romance with “older woman” Betty Brant – Jameson’s secretary/PA at the Daily Bugle. Youthful exuberance was the underlying drive in #8′s lead tale‘The Living Brain!’ wherein an ambulatory robot calculator threatens to expose Spider-Man’s secret identity before running amok at beleaguered Midtown High, just as Parker is finally beating the stuffings out of school bully Flash.

This 17-page triumph is accompanied by ‘Spiderman Tackles the Torch!’: a 6-page vignette drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Ditko, wherein a boisterous wall-crawler gate-crashes a beach party thrown by the flaming hero’s girlfriend… with suitably explosive consequences.

Amazing Spider-Man #9 is a qualitative step-up in dramatic terms, as Aunt May is revealed to be chronically ill – adding to Parker’s financial woes – with the action supplied by ‘The Man Called Electro!’ – an accidental super-criminal with grand aspirations.

The wallcrawler was always a loner, never far from the streets and small-scale-crime, and with this tale – wherein he also quells a prison riot single handed – Ditko’s preference for tales of human-scaled lawbreakers starts to show through: a predilection confirmed in #10’s ‘The Enforcers!’

This is a classy mystery with a masked mastermind known as the Big Man using a position of trust at the Bugle to organise all New York mobs into one unbeatable army against decency.

Longer plot-strands are also introduced as Betty mysteriously vanishes, although most fans remember this one for the spectacularly climactic 7-page fight scene in an underworld chop-shop that has still never been beaten for action-choreography.

And more and even better is yet to come…

The jumbo-economy selection is supplemented by an early 1960s monochrome promotional pin-up, unused covers, and house ads – including one from Fantastic Four #14 (May 1963) that announced the company’s new branding and name… the Marvel Comics Group!

These immortal epics are something no fan can be without, and will make the ideal gift for any curious newcomer.

Happy birthday Spidey and many, many more please…
© 2021 MARVEL