Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 3

By Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, Gil Kane & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0970-3 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Classic Comics Collaborations… 8/10

In the 1970s, as Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in the wake of the losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators, they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties. The only real exception to this was the en masse creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

The concept of team-up books was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of this new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch. In those long-lost days, editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline at that time – they may well have been right.
Nevertheless, Marvel Team-Up was the second full Spider-Man title (abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the magazine market in 1968 but had died after two issues). It launched in March 1972, and became a resounding hit.

This third titanic compilation (in hardback or digital formats) gathers material from MTU #23-30 plus the team-up styled Giant-Size Spider-Man #1-3: spanning July 1974 to February 1975 and opens with a fond, informative recollection from then Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas in his cheery Introduction before we plunge into the many-starred dramas…

Following a try-out in Giant-Size Super Heroes that pitted the wallcrawler against Living Vampire Morbius and the manic Man-Wolf, a quarterly double-length Spider-Man team vehicle was added to Marvel’s schedule.

Giant-Size Spider-Man #1 was cover-dated July 1974 and saw the web-spinner in frantic search of an experimental flu vaccine, improbably carried on an ocean liner in ‘Ship of Fiends!’ The quest brought him into clashing contact with newly-revived vampire lord Dracula and a scheming Maggia Capo at ‘The Masque of the Black Death!’, all courtesy of Gerry Conway, Ross Andru & Don Heck…

Here that bizarre battle is accompanied by its original editorial text feature ‘An Illuminating Introduction to Giant Size Spider-Man’ before we move on to the monthly MTU wherein The Torch and Iceman fractiously unite to stop Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man on ‘The Night of the Frozen Inferno!’ (by Len Wein, Gil Kane & Mike Esposito).

Still embracing supernatural themes and trends, the webslinger discovers ‘Moondog is another Name for Murder!’ in a defiantly quirky yarn illustrated by Jim Mooney & Sal Trapani which brings the decidedly offbeat Brother Voodoo to the Big Apple to quash a Manhattan murder cult…

Wein, Mooney & Frank Giacoia then determine that ‘Three into Two Won’t Go!’ as Daredevil joins Spider-Man in thrashing inept costumed kidnappers Cat-Man, Bird-Man and Ape-Man, after which Giant-Size Spider-Man #2 sees the amazing arachnid drawn into battle with Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu as sinister immortal Fu Manchu frames Spider-Man in ‘Masterstroke!’ The duped heroes clear the air in ‘Cross… and Double-Cross!’ before uniting to foil the cunning Celestial’s scheme to mindwipe America from the ‘Pinnacle of Doom!’ and MTU #26 finds the Torch and Thor battling to save the world from Lava Men in The Fire This Time…’ by Wein, Mooney, Giacoia & Dave Hunt.

At this time, in a desperate effort to build some internal continuity into the perforce brutally brief encounters, the scripters introduced a shadowy trio of sinister observers with an undisclosed agenda who would monitor superhero episodes and eventually be revealed as providers of outrageous technologies for many of the one-shot villains who came and went so quickly and ignominiously…

They weren’t involved when the Chameleon frames Spider-Man (again) and tricks the Hulk into freeing a man – for the most unexpected reason of all – from the New York Men’s Detention Center in #27’s ‘A Friend in Need!’ (Wein, Mooney & Giacoia). They did, however, have a hand in ‘The City Stealers!’ (#28 by new regular creative team Gerry Conway, Mooney & Vince Colletta) when strange mechanoids swipe the island of Manhattan, necessitating Spidey and Hercules (mostly Hercules) having to drag it back to its original position…

After that minor miracle Spider-Man experiences an odd, time-displaced disaster as Giant-Size Spider-Man #3 explores ‘The Yesterday Connection!’ wherein lovely alien Desinna seeks the aid of Spidey in 1974 and – in ‘The Secret Out of Time’ – the hands-on help of legendary 1930s adventurer Doc Savage.

Across a gulf of four decades the heroes individually discover something is not right in ‘Other People in Other Times!’, and with the escape of a savage rampaging monster, two eras seem doomed to destruction. At least until until wiser, more suspicious heads and powers prevail in ‘Tomorrow is Too Late’ and ensure that ‘The Future is Now!’

Marvel Team-Up #29 displays a far less constrained – or even amicable – pairing as flaming kid Johnny Storm and patronising know-it-all Iron Man butt heads whilst tracking a seeming super-saboteur in ‘Beware the Coming of Infinitus! or How Can You Stop the Reincarnated Man?’

Spider-Man and The Falcon then find that ‘All That Glitters is not Gold!’ in #30 whilst tracking a mind-control drug back to its crazy concoctor Midas, the Golden Man, closing the comics capers for another volume. Adding extra lustre there’s still visual treats aplenty in the form of contemporaneous house ads, covers and frontispieces from seasonal tabloid treasury Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag (with art from John Buscema and John Romita) and a triptych of original art pages and covers Gil Kane, Esposito & Giacoia.

These stories are of variable quality but nonetheless all exhibit an honest drive to entertain and please. Artistically the work is superb, and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about so, although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers, there’s bunches of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so there’s no real reason not to add this tome to your library…
© 1974, 1975, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 14


By Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Dave Cockrum, Joe Staton, George Tuska, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8805-6 (HB)

The Avengers have always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when all Marvel’s classic all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either.

This monumental tome (available in hardback and digital editions) collects the team’s world-saving and universe-preserving from issues #129-135 of their monthly comic book, plus Giant-Size Avengers #2-4 – spanning November 1974 through June 1975 – and sees scripter Steve Englehart explore the outer limits of Marvel history and cosmic geography as he begins an epic revelation of universal structure, the beginnings of Marvel time and the formative years of some of the most intriguing characters in comics…

Preceded by his reminiscent commentaries and secrets of his cognitive process in a fulsome Introduction, the drama opens with issue #129’s ‘Bid Tomorrow Goodbye!’ (illustrated by Sal Buscema & Joe Staton) as Kang the Conqueror appears, determined to possess the legendary female figure he calls the Celestial Madonna.

Apparently, this anonymous creature will birth the saviour of the universe, and since no records survive disclosing which of the three women in Avengers Mansion at that crucial moment (mutant sorcery student Scarlet Witc, martial artist Mantis and aged witch Agatha Harkness) she actually is, the time-reaver is resolved to abduct all three and forcibly make himself the inevitable father of the child…

This time, not even the assembled Avengers can stop him and, after crushing and enslaving them, Kang makes off with his hostages, leaving only the swiftly declining Swordsman free to contest him…

The tale continues into Giant-Size Avengers #2 with ‘A Blast from the Past!’ (rendered by Dave Cockrum) as reluctant returnee Hawkeye rushes to the team’s rescue, reuniting with old adversary/mentor Swordsman and enigmatic entity Rama-Tut – who eventually reveals himself as Kang’s reformed future self…

Against all odds, the merely mortal heroes manage to free the enslaved Avengers and rout the unrepentant Kang – but only at the cost of Swordsman’s life…

Avengers #130 poses ‘The Reality Problem!’ (Sal B & Staton) depicting the heartbroken and much-chastened Mantis joining the team in Vietnam to investigate her mysteriously clouded past, only to be drawn into pointless combat with Communist exiles and former Avenger foes Titanium Man, Radioactive Man and Crimson Dynamo thanks to the devious manipulations of petty sneak thief The Slasher

Brief but heated battle concluded, the origin trail then leads to ‘A Quiet Half-hour in Saigon!’ during which the American Adventurers are again attacked by Kang who traps them in Limbo and unleashes a macabre Legion of the Unliving – comprising enslaved dead heroes plucked from the corridors of time – against them…

With yet another chronal villain Immortus added to the mix, ‘Kang War II’ sees temporarily resurrected heroes and villains Wonder Man, 1940’s android Human Torch, the Monster of Frankenstein, martial arts assassin Midnight, the actually ghostly Flying Dutchman and Baron Zemo decimate the Avengers and the trauma and tragedy are further exacerbated as Mantis keeps seeing the spectre of her deceased lover…

This absorbing thriller by Englehart, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema & Staton segues inexorably into Giant-Size Avengers #3’s ‘…What Time Hath Put Asunder!’ Illustrated by Cockrum & Joe Giella, it shows Earth’s Mightiest Heroes pulling victory from the ashes of defeat and receiving a unique gift from one of the assembled Masters of Time…

Avengers #133 travels to ‘Yesterday and Beyond…’ (by Englehart, Sal B & Staton) as the shocked heroes accompany Mantis to the beginnings of recorded Galactic history and the unravelling of her true past, whilst Vision is separately dispatched to glimpse his own obscure and complex origins; a double quest which encompasses both the Kree and Skrull empires, the previously defeated Star-Stalker, the long-deceased Priests of Pama, Thanos and the telepathic Titan dubbed Moondragon, as well as a goodly portion of classic superhero history in ‘The Times That Bind!’ before #135 reveals that ‘The Torch is Passed!’ (limned by George Tuska & Frank Chiaramonte), before bringing all the disparate elements together in Giant-Size Avengers #4.

‘…Let All Men Bring Together’ (art by Don Heck & John Tartaglione) brought a satisfactory conclusion to the long-standing and pitfall-plagued romance between the Scarlet Witch and Vision and detailed another, far more cosmic union with a brace of weddings and the ultimate ascension of the Celestial Madonna – even though demonic extra-dimensional despot Dormammu attempts to spoil the celebrations…

Supplementing the circumstances above described, this collection also offers contemporary features from Marvel’s FOOM magazine #12 which spotlighted the romance and weddings with a vision cover by John Buscema & P. Craig Russell, back cover image by Paty (Cockrum) & Al Milgrom; an overview of the awesome android in ‘Visions’ and ‘Vision, This is Your Life!’ and David Anthony Kraft’s ‘The Scarlet Witch: Meditations on a Ms.’ – all including early art contributions from John Byrne, Paty, Dave Wenzel and an extended family pin-up.

Also on view are a Charley Parker spoof strip starring ‘The Visage’, extended interviews ‘Steve Englehart Speaks!: Journey to the center of a Vision’ and ‘Roy Thomas Speaks!: Journey to the center of a Vision’, plus the cover to all-reprint Giant-Size Avengers #5, house ads, original cover art by Dave Cockrum and interior pages by Sal Buscema & Staton and Tuska & Chiaramonte as well a gallery of covers from previous collections dedicated to the Celestial Madonna…

Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers, brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creation of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko: spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to. Between them they also showed how much more graphic narratives could become and these terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right.

Don’t trust my opinions; check out the wonderment for yourselves…
© 1974, 1975 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Mike Friedrich, Barry Alfonso, Tom Orzechowski, Bill Mantlo, George Tuska, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Chic Stone & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0351-0 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Iron Clad Entertainment Gold… 8/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

This grand and gleaming chronological compendium – available in hardback and digital editions – completes that transitional period; reprinting Iron Man #68-81 (June 1974 – December 1975) and offering one last insightful measure of historical context courtesy of then-departing writer Mike Friedrich’s Introduction.

Iron Man #68-71 comprised the opening sortie in a multi-part epic which saw mystic menace The Black Lama foment a war amongst the world’s greatest villains, with ultimate power, inner peace and a magical Golden Globe as the promised prizes.

Written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by Tuska & Mike Esposito, it all begins in Vietnam on the ‘Night of the Rising Sun!’ where the Mandarin struggles to free his consciousness which is currently trapped within the dying body of Russian super-villain the Unicorn.

Stark’s pacifist love interest Roxie Gilbert had dragged the inventor to the recently “liberated” People’s Republic in search of (part-time Iron Man) Eddie March’s lost brother Marty: a POW missing since the last days of the war. Before long, however, the Americans are separated after Japanese ultra-nationalist, ambulatory atomic inferno and sometime X-Man Sunfire is tricked into attacking the intrusive Yankee Imperialists…

The assault abruptly ends once Mandarin shanghaies the Solar Samurai and uses his mutant energies to power a mind-transfer back into his own body. Reinstated in his original form, the Chinese Conqueror commences his own campaign of combat in earnest, eager to regain his castle from rival oriental overlord Yellow Claw.

Firstly, though, he must crush Iron Man – who had tracked him down and freed Sunfire in ‘Confrontation!’ That bombastic battle ends when the Golden Avenger is rendered unconscious and thrown into space…

‘Who Shall Stop… Ultimo?’ then finds the reactivated giant robot-monster targeting the Mandarin’s castle (claimed by the Claw in a previous battle) as the sinister Celestial duels the ancient enemy to the death, with both Iron Man and Sunfire arriving too late and forced to mop up the sole survivor of the contest in ‘Battle: Tooth and Yellow Claw! (Confrontation Part 3)’…

After all that Eastern Armageddon, a change of pace was called for, so Stark takes in the San Diego Comicon in #72’s ‘Convention of Fear!’ (by Friedrich, Tuska & Colletta, from a plot by Barry Alfonso), only to find himself ambushed by fellow incognito attendees Whiplash, Man-Bull and The Melter – who are made an offer they should have refused by the ubiquitous Black Lama…

Next issue the Super-Villain War kicks into high gear with ‘Turnabout: A Most Foul Play!’ (illustrated by Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard & Jim Mooney and derived from a premise by letterer Tom Orzechowski).

After secret-sharing confidantes Pepper Potts-Hogan and her husband Happy settle a long-festering squabble with Tony at Stark International’s Manila plant, Iron Man returns to Vietnam and a deadly clash with the Crimson Dynamo in a hidden, high-tech jungle city which is subsequently razed to the ground by their explosive combat.

Iron Man #74’s ‘The MODOK Machine!’ (inked by Dick Ayers) brings the Black Lama’s contest to the fore as the Mad Thinker electronically overrides the Avenger’s armour and set helpless passenger Stark upon the malevolent, mutated master of Advanced Idea Mechanics…

Without autonomy, the Golden Gladiator is easily overwhelmed and ‘Slave to the Power Imperious!’ (inked by Chic Stone) sees him dragged back to the Thinker’s lair and laid low by a strange psychic hallucination even as MODOK finishes his cognitive co-combatant and apparently turns the still-enslaved steel-shod hero on his next opponent… Yellow Claw.

As this is happening, elsewhere radical terrorist Firebrand is somehow sharing Stark’s Black Lama-inspired “psycho-feedback” episodes…

The tale wraps on a twisty cliffhanger as the Claw destroys MODOK and his clockwork puppet Avenger, only to discover that the Thinker is not only still alive but still holds the real Iron Man captive.

That’s quite unfortunate as the following issue – #76 – blew its deadline and instead reprinted Iron Man #9 (represented here by just the cover) before Friedrich, Jones & Stone’s ‘I Cry: Revenge!’ finds the fighting-mad hero breaking free of the Thinker’s control, just as Black Lama teleports the Claw in to finish his final felonious opponent…

Still extremely ticked off, the Armoured Avenger takes on all comers but is ambushed by the late-arriving Firebrand who has been psionically drawn into the ongoing melee.

As Iron Man goes down, the Lama declares non-contestant Firebrand the ultimate victor, explaining he has voyaged from an alternate universe before duping the unstable and uncaring flaming rabble-rouser into re-crossing the dimensional void with him…

Although a certifiable maniac and cold-blooded killer, Firebrand is Roxie Gilbert’s brother and the groggily reviving Iron Man feels honour-bound to follow him through the rapidly closing portal to elsewhere…

Deadline problems persisted, however, and the next two issues are both hasty fill-in tales, beginning with #78’s ‘Long Time Gone’ – by Bill Mantlo, Tuska & Vince Colletta – which harks back to the Avenger’s early days and a mission during the Vietnam war which first brought home the cost in blood and misery Stark’s munitions building had caused. IM #79 shares ‘Midnite on Murder Mountain!’ (Friedrich, Tuska & Colletta) wherein the hero emphatically ends the scientific abominations wrought by deranged geneticist and determined mind-swapper Professor Kurakill…

At last, Iron Man #80 returned to the ongoing inter-dimensional saga as Mission into Madness!’ – Friedrich, Stone & Colletta – follows the multiversal voyagers to a very different America where warring kingdoms and principalities jostle for prestige, position and power.

Here the Lama is revealed as King Jerald of Grand Rapid: a ruler under threat from outside invaders and insidious usurpers within. He’d come to our Earth looking for powerful allies but had not realised that travel to other realms slowly drives non-indigenous residents completely crazy…

With the mind-warp effect already destabilising Iron Man and Firebrand, it’s fortunate that treacherous Baroness Rockler makes her move to kill the returned Jerald immediately, and the Earthlings are quickly embroiled in a cataclysmic ‘War of the Mind-Dragons!’ before turning on each other and fleeing the devastated kingdom for the less psychologically hazardous environs of their homeworld…

Closing the covers on this stellar compilation are Gil Kane’s stellar front to all-reprint Giant-Size Iron Man #1 and a short gallery of original art covers and pages by Kane, Jones & Pollard.

With this volume Marvel fully embedded itself in the camp of the young and the restless who experienced at first hand and every day the social upheaval America was undergoing. Their rebellious teen sensibility and increased political conscience permeated forthcoming publications as the core audience grew beyond Flower Power protests into a generation of acutely aware activists. Future tales would increasingly bring reformed and repentant capitalist Stark into many unexpected and outrageous situations…

These Fights ‘n’ Tights classics are amongst the most underrated tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold cash…
© 1974, 1975, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain Marvel Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Steve Englehart, Mike Friedrich, Chris Claremont, Jim Starlin, Alfredo Alcala, Al Milgrom & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5877-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Maximum Marvel Mayhem… 8/10

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 Marveldisappeared 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 missile base 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, vast, immortal 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 and secured its place when Jim Starlin used the title to wage a cosmic war with his greatest creation: the Mad Titan Thanos.

This fourth stellar Masterworks compilation (available in luxurious hardback and far-ranging eBook formats and spanning September 1972 to September 1976 whilst gathering Captain Marvel #34-46) details what happens after the ultimate villain was defeated and seemingly killed.
It is preceded by an Introduction by incoming scripter Steve Englehart who – with co-plotter and illustrator Al Milgrom – charted an even more cosmic course for the Good Captain…

With the universe saved and restored, Starlin’s run ended on a relatively minor note in Captain Marvel #34 as ‘Blown Away!’ – plotted by Jim, inked by Jack Abel and dialogued by Englehart – explored the day after doomsday.

As Rick tries to revive his on-again, off-again musical career, newly extant secret cabal the Lunatic Legion despatches Nitro, the Exploding Man to acquire a canister of nerve gas from an Air Force base where Carol Danvers is Chief of Security…

Although the Protector of the Universe defeats Nitro, he succumbs to the deadly toxin which escapes its canister in the explosive melee. From this exposure he would eventually contract the cancer that killed him – as depicted in Marvel’s first Graphic Novel, The Death of Captain Marvel – but that’s a tale for a different review…

Issue #35 finds Mar-Vell all but lifeless in ‘Deadly Genesis’ (Englehart, dialoguer Mike Friedrich & artist Alfredo Alcala). Simultaneously, Rick languishes in the Negative Zone where he is attacked by insectoid monster Annihilus …until a barely-remembered 3-hour time-limit automatically switches his body with the comatose Kree hero.

Later, as Rick’s manager Mordecai Boggs drives him to a gig, Rick’s consciousness slips into the N-Zone and animates Mar-Vell’s unresponsive body to escape Annihilus, and the lad realises this new power is merely one tactic in a cunning plan devised by the duplicitous, devious Supreme Intelligence…

Meanwhile on Earth, Rick’s vacated body has been taken to hospital where old friends Ant-Man and the Wasp are fortuitously visiting when the Living Laser attacks. The villain has been artificially augmented by his new masters, but it’s not enough to stop the retired Avengers or prevent Rick reclaiming his body and using the Nega-bands to restore his bonded soul mate to their particular brand of normality…

At this time, deadline difficulties caught up with the title and #36 was reduced to running a reprint of his origin from Marvel Super-Heroes #12. This Essential edition only includes the foreboding 3-page bookend ‘Watching and Waiting’ by Englehart, Starlin, Alan Weiss & friends, before the saga properly relaunches in #37 with ‘Lift-Off!’ from Englehart, Milgrom & Klaus Janson.

Although Mar-Vell easily discerns that the Lunatic Legion’s attacks stem from the Moon, Rick insists on playing a gig before they set off. After bidding farewell to Mordecai and his sometime stage partner Dandy, they wisely prepare for their trip by outfitting the boy with an advanced spacesuit…

Mar-Vell blasts off but only makes it as far as the outer atmosphere before being attacked by another Lunatic agent. Cyborg Nimrod is no match for Kree firepower, however, and in the Neg-Zone implacable Annihilus endures a painful defeat when he again assaults Rick who joyously revels in the sheer power packed into his EVA gear…

Crisis averted, the bored, naive kid swallows a “vitamin” Dandy slipped him before departure and is transported on a trip unlike any he’s ever experienced. Tragically, as Mar-Vell reaches the air-filled lost city in the “Blue Area of the Moon” he too begins to experience bizarre hallucinations and is utterly unable to defend himself when the all-powerful Watcher ambushes him…

The austere, aloof cosmic voyeur Uatu is part of an ancient, impossibly powerful race of immortal beings who observe all that occurs throughout the vast multiverse but never act on any of it. Non-interference is their fanatical doctrine, but Uatu has continually bent – if not broken – the adamantine rule ever since he debuted in Fantastic Four #13…

Now, somehow, the Legion have co-opted the legendarily neutral astral witness. Once Uatu defeats Mar-Vell, the demi-god despondently dumps his victim with the Lunatic Legion who are exposed as rebel, supremacist Kree plotting to overthrow the Supremor. Fundamentalists of the original race which assimilated the millions of other species, the colonially aggressive and racially purist Blue Kree plan to execute their captive who seemingly has ‘…No Way Out!’, but are unprepared for the closer psychic link which the hallucinations have forged between Earth kid and Kree captain…

With the insurgents defeated, Mar-Vell and Rick follow the repentant Uatu as he returns to his own distant world in #39 to voluntarily undergo ‘The Trial of the Watcher’

In the aftermath of that mind-bendingly bizarre proceeding, Rick and Mar-Vell are finally liberated from their comic bond. With both now independently existing in the positive-matter universe and able to return and leave the Negative Zone at will, their troubles seem over. They couldn’t be more wrong…

CM #40 shifts focus as ‘Rocky Mountain ‘Bye!’ (inked by Al McWilliams) reveals how the space-farers return to an Earth which has no real use for them. As Mar-Vell battles a deadly beast possessing the corpse of his first love Una, Rick finds his music career and even his beliefs are considered irrelevant and of no value. Equally heart-sore and dispirited, the former cellmates reunite and decide to travel to the stars together…

The first stop is Hala, capital of the Kree Empire and Mar-Vell’s birthworld as #41 reveals ‘Havoc on Homeworld!’ (Englehart, Milgrom, Bernie Wrightson, P. Craig Russell, Bob McLeod & Terry Austin) with the populace suddenly swept up in a race war against “Pinks” (human flesh-toned Kree mulattos like our hero).

Determined to warn the Supremor of the conflict and the schemes of the Lunatic Legion, the heroes are appalled to learn the strife has been actively instigated by the colossal mind-collective…

It transpires that, from his earliest moments in military service, Mar-Vell has been groomed by the Supremor to be its ultimate foe. As the ruthless amalgamation of military minds seeks to jump-start the development of the evolutionarily-stalled Kree, it desperately needs an enemy to contend against and grow strong…

Distracting his baffled, betrayed opponents with Ronan the Accuser, the Supreme Intelligence places one Nega-band on Rick and another on Mar-Vell and casually banishes them to the farthest reaches of the empire…

Issue #42 sees them deposited in an insane pastiche of Earth’s wild west mining towns and quickly embroiled in interstellar claim-jumping and a ‘Shoot-Out at the O.K. Space Station!’ (inks by Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito). As the Kree with a star on his chest lays down the law and has a showdown with the cosmically-charged Stranger, close by Drax the Destroyer is ravaging worlds and planetoids, slowly going insane for lack of purpose. Rick goes his own way and is almost fatally distracted by a beautiful girl nobody else can see…

Drax was created to kill Thanos, but since the Titan’s defeat – by someone else – the devastating construct has wandered the universe, slowly going crazy.

CM #43 shows how – unaware that Thanos still lives – the purposeless nemesis takes the opportunity to assuage his frustrations by attacking the hero who stole his glory in ‘Destroy! Destroy!’ (Englehart & Milgrom).

The epic clash ends in #44 as ‘Death Throws!’ sees the pointless conflict escalate until Rick’s imaginary friend intervenes and opens the Destroyer’s eyes…

With sanity restored all round, Mar-Vell then voyages to a Kree colony world ravaged by cyborgs and life-absorbing Null-Trons and discovers Supremor has been subtly acting to merge him and Rick into one puissant being to further his evolutionary agenda in ‘The Bi-Centennial!’

Forewarned, and with a small band of most unlikely allies, the cosmic conflict then wraps up in blockbusting fashion as Rick and Mar-Vell unite by not combining to defeat the Supremor in a battle ‘Only One Can Win!’ (scripted by Chris Claremont, and limned by Milgrom & Austin)…

This bombastic battle book of cosmic conflict and stellar spectacle also incorporates bonus treats in the form of the cover of all-reprint Giant-Size Captain Marvel #1, cover art from Ron Wilson & Giacoia and original artwork and colour guides from Starlin.

Captain Marvel was never the company’s most popular or successful character but the good stuff is amongst the very best the House of Ideas 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…
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, Tony Isabella, Bob Brown, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0346-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Unbeatable Fights ‘n’ Tights Fun… 8/10

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

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

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

This eleventh hardback and eBook collection re-presents Daredevil #108-119, spanning March 1974 through March 1975, as well as Marvel Two-in-One #3, wherein twin storylines converged, and offers a heartfelt reminiscence eulogising unique authorial voice and much-missed scripter Steve Gerber in an effusive Introduction by sometime collaborator Mary Skrenes.

Following a period of cosmic intensity which saw the heroes battling aliens and monsters as part of the first war against Thanos, a new direction began in #108 after Daredevil rebukes the Widow for using increasingly excessive force on the thugs they stalked.

In ‘Cry… Beetle’ (by Gerber, Bob Brown & Paul Gulacy) their heated arguments are forcibly curtailed when Matt’s oldest friend – and current New York DA Foggy Nelson – is shot and she refuses to rush to his side with Murdock…

Back in the Big Apple for #109, Matt meets Foggy’s radical student sister Candace and learns of a plot by a mysterious criminal organisation. Black Spectre seek to steal government printing plates but rapidly en route to stop the raid, the Scarlet Swashbuckler is intercepted by a larcenous third party whose brutal interference allows the sinister plotters to abscond with the money-making plates…

Even the arrival of the cops can’t slow the bludgeoning battle against the Beetle in ‘Dying for Dollar$!’ (Brown & Heck), but as the exo-skeletoned thugs breaks away in Manhattan, back in San Francisco Natasha is attacked by a terrifying albino mutant called Nekra, Priestess of Darkness, who tries to forcibly recruit her into Black Spectre.

After tracking down and defeating the Beetle, Daredevil meets Africa-based hero Shanna the She-Devil, unaware that the fiery American ex-pat is back seeking bloody vengeance against the same enemies who have attacked Foggy, Natasha and the US economy…

The next chapter came in Marvel Two-in-One #3 (May 1974, by Gerber, Sal Buscema & Joe Sinnott), providing a peek ‘Inside Black Spectre!’ as destabilising attacks on US prosperity and culture foment riot in the streets of the beleaguered nation. Following separate clue trails, the Thing links up with the Man without Fear to invade the cabal’s aerial HQ but are improbably overcome soon after discovering the Black Widow has defected to the rebels…

Daredevil #110 sees the return of Gene Colan – inked by Frank Chiaramonte – as the perfidious plot further develops in ‘Birthright!’, revealing Black Spectre is an exclusively female-staffed organisation, led by a pheromone-fuelled male mutant called Mandrill.

One of the first “Children of the Atom”, the ape-like creature had suffered appalling abuse and rejection until finding the equally ostracised Nekra. Once they met and realised their combined power, they swore to make America pay…

‘Sword of the Samurai!’ (Brown & Jim Mooney) in issue #111 opens with DD and Shanna attacked by a monstrous Japanese warrior even as the She-Devil at last discloses her own tragic reasons for hunting Nekra and Mandrill. When she too is taken by Black Spectre – who want to dissect her to discover how she can resist Mandrill’s influence – DD is again attacked by the outrageously powerful sword-wielding Silver Samurai

Triumphing over impossible odds, DD then infiltrates the cabal’s flying fortress in #112 before spectacular concluding with ‘Death of a Nation?’ (illustrated by Colan & Frank Giacoia) which finds the mutant duo seemingly achieving their ultimate goal by desecrating the White House and temporarily taking (symbolic) control of America.

…But only until Shanna, a freshly-liberated Natasha and fighting mad Man without Fear marshal their utmost resources…

Even with the epic over, Gerber still kept popping away at contemporary socio-political issues, as with #113’s ‘When Strikes the Gladiator!’ – illustrated by Brown & Vince Colletta – which opens with the Black Widow calling it a day, continues with Candace Nelson arrested for treason, teases with her then being kidnapped by one of DD’s most bloodthirsty foes and climaxes with the creation of a new major villain and an attack by one of Marvel’s most controversial monster heroes…

Ted Sallis was a government scientist hired to recreate the Super-Soldier serum that turned a puny, 4-F volunteer into Captain America. Due to corporate interference and what we today call “mission creep”, the project metamorphosed into a fall-back plan to turn humans into monstrous beings able to thrive in the most polluted of toxic environments…

When Sallis was subsequently captured by spies and consumed his serum to stop them from stealing it, he was transformed into a horrific mindless Man-Thing and vanished into the swamps of Florida…

Candace, an idealistic journalism student, had uncovered illicit links between Big Business, her own university and the Military’s misuse of public funds in regard to the Sallis Project, and when she attempted to blow the whistle, the government decided to shut her up. More worryingly, sinister scientific mastermind Death-Stalker imagined far more profitable uses for a solution that made unkillable monsters…

Trailing Candy’s abductors to Citrusville, Florida, Daredevil is ambushed by Gladiator and his macabre senior partner, but saved after a furious fracas by the mysterious muck-monster in #114’s ironically entitled ‘A Quiet Night in the Swamp!’ (Brown & Colletta). Deathstalker unfortunately escapes, returning to New York where he tries to kill Foggy and restart the clandestine Sallis Project.

Even though DD foils the maniac in #115’s ‘Death Stalks the City!’, the staggering duel ends inconclusively and the potential mass-murderer’s body cannot be found…

Colan & Colletta reunited for ‘Two Flew Over the Owl’s Nest!’ wherein Daredevil jets back to San Francisco in search of reconciliation with Natasha, only to blunder into the latest criminal enterprise of one of his oldest enemies. This time however, The Owl isn’t waiting to be found and launches an all-out attack on the unsuspecting and barely reconciled heroic couple.

Chris Claremont scripted the conclusion over Gerber’s plot, with Brown & Colletta back on the art as Natasha and She-Devil Shanna desperately hunt for the missing Man without Fear, before the avian arch-criminal can add him to a pile of purloined personalities trapped in his diabolical computerised ‘Mind Tap!’

With Gerber moving on to other projects, a little messy creative shuffling results in ‘Circus Spelled Sideways is Death!’ (#118 by Gerry Conway, Don Heck & Colletta). Here Daredevil leaves Natasha, resettles in New York and promptly battles the infamous but always-inept Circus of Crime and their latest star turn – a bat-controlling masked nut called Blackwing, after which Tony Isabella takes the authorial reins and end this outing with a clever piece of sentimental back-writing in ‘They’re Tearing Down Fogwell’s Gym!’ – rendered by Brown & Heck.

As Murdock negotiates a plea deal for Candace, the man who trained his boxer father Battling Jack Murdock comes by with a little problem. It seems a crazy crooked doctor is offering an impossible muscle and density boosting treatment that turns bantamweight pugilists into unstoppable rock-hard giant monsters…

Addling lustre to the proceedings, this tome also includes contemporary house ads and a wealth of original art page by Brown, Gulacy, Heck, Colan, Chiaramonte, Colletta & Mooney, plus pre-production-amended cover art.

As the social upheaval of the 1960s and early 1970s receded, the impressively earnest but often strident material was gradually replaced by fabulous fantasy tales strongly suggesting the true potential of Daredevil was in reach. These classic adventures are dramatic delights no action fan can afford to miss.
© 1974, 1975, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 11


By Len Wein, Herb Trimpe & Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0349-7 (HB)

During the 1970s, the Incredible Hulk settled into a comfortable – if cathartically destructive – pattern. A globe-trotting, monster-mashing plot formula saw tragic physicist Bruce Banner perpetually running and hiding whilst seeking cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and his daughter – 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 sturdy pillar of Marvel’s growing pantheon.

This chronologically-curated hardback and eBook compendium re-presents issues #184-196 (encompassing cover-dates February 1975-February 1976) and opens with author Dewey Cassell reviewing the end of an artistic era in his Introduction

The action commences with ‘Shadow on the Land!’ by Len Wein & Trimpe, which finds the wandering man-mountain battling insubstantial extraterrestrial invader Warlord Kaa – a revival from the company’s pre-superhero monsters & aliens anthology era – who foolishly takes possession of the Hulk’s shadow and thinks himself indestructible…

This close encounter leads to Banner’s capture by Hulkbuster Base commander Colonel Armbruster just in time for the US President’s visit and a shocking ‘Deathknell!’ as the truth about Banner’s love rival Glenn Talbot (and Betty’s new husband) is revealed when the so-trustworthy major attempts to assassinate the Commander-in-Chief.

During the attendant death and chaos, Hulk busts out and General Ross regains his shattered credibility by recapturing the man-beast, but Soviet infiltration of the base is rife as a cunning traitor dons super-armour to continue the deadly attacks in ‘The Day of the Devastator!’

This time, when the Jade Juggernaut smashes their common foe, the American army are suitably grateful…

Sometime later, SHIELD intelligence gathers discover the real Talbot is a prisoner in Siberia and that Hulkbuster Base’s current problems have been caused by a Soviet mutant genius they’ve all battled before…

‘There’s a Gremlin in the Works!’ (Incredible Hulk #187, with Joe Staton joining the team as inker) features the return of the son of the Green Goliath’s very first foe The Gargoyle – a vicious juvenile mastermind with plans far beyond merely serving the Soviet state.

The little maniac is holding Talbot at his Bitterfrost fortress and fully prepared for Ross and SHIELD agent Clay Quartermain to stage a rescue bid, but all the cyborg super-soldiers and giant mutant monster dogs in the world are not enough when mission stowaway Bruce Banner gets scared and goes green…

The Russian fiend’s personality-altering technology is exposed in ‘Mind Over Mayhem!’, but as the heroes desperately flee the base with Talbot’s comatose body, Hulk seemingly dies in Bitterfrost’s explosive death-throes. Nothing could be further from the truth and #189 sees the monster battle the Mole Man to secure a miracle-remedy for a sightless little Russian girl in ‘None Are So Blind…!’

Veteran Hulk illustrator Marie Severin inks Trimpe on ‘The Man Who Came Down on a Rainbow!’ as alien philanthropist Glorian whisks the solitary man-monster to a veritable promised land in the stars, only to have the idyll shattered by invading Toad Men hungry for the secret power fuelling the ready-made paradise…

After murdering Glorian, ‘The Triumph of the Toad!’ (Trimpe & Staton) is short-lived and catastrophically self-destructive after the enraged Hulk and the cosmically divine Shaper of Worlds extract a measure of justice for their fallen friend…

Unwillingly banished back to Earth, the Green Giant lands in Scotland in time to get between feuding hotheads with violently opposing attitudes to ‘The Lurker beneath Loch Fear!’! after which Banner makes his way to America where Ross and Quartermain have recruited a famous psychologist to fix the catatonic Glenn Talbot…

‘The Doctor’s Name is… Samson!’ finds the formerly Gamma-powered psychiatrist falling victim to another scientific gaffe and accidentally reborn as a green-haired superhero, yet still unable to cure his patient. For that he needs Banner, but when this wish comes true, Leonard Samson just isn’t tough enough to hold onto him…

After almost a decade pencilling the strip Trimpe moved on to other things and Incredible Hulk #194 saw Sal Buscema take over in ‘The Day of the Locust!’ (with Wein & Staton still doing what they did best).

Lost in the American heartland, the Hulk stumbles upon young lovers pursued by an overly possessive dad determined to end the affair. However, this angry, overreaching parent is a former X-Men adversary who can enlarge insects to immense size, so the kids are more than grateful for the assistance of a Jolly Green Cupid…

With Samson and the US army one step behind him, the Hulk then befriends a small boy running away from home in ‘Warfare in Wonderland!’ Eager for any advantage, Ross tricks gamma-powered maniac the Abomination into attacking the Jade Giant but is unprepared for the green gladiators to team up rather than tussle in #196’s ‘The Abomination Proclamation!’

Sadly, the villain’s innate viciousness quickly alienates his temporary ally and, after winning another spectacular fight, Hulk blasts off on a runaway rocket and is apparently atomised when it blows up…

To Be Continued?

This fast and furious fun-filled tome also includes the covers from and some interior pages from Hulk-themed Marvel Treasury Edition #5, crafted by John Romita, Marie Severin and Trimpe, as well as the latter’s double page pin-up of Hulk foes from that tabloid-sized graphic treat, as well as house ads, the cover to Giant-Size Hulk #1 and a gallery of original art including unused Trimpe covers.

And gilding that bunch of viridian lilies is Sal Buscema’s 1960s try-out art page…

The Incredible Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, cartoons, TV shows, games, toys and action figures are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, earnestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these yarns, so why not Go Green – even if it’s only in monochrome and in your own delirious head?
© 1975, 1976, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 13


By Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8856-8 (HB)

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

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

As this bombastic compendium (available in hardcover and digital formats and reprinting Mighty Thor #217-228, spanning November 1973 through October 1974) opens, our cosmic cast returns to long-abandoned Asgard after interstellar escapades and bravely endured exile. However, before the narrative wonderment begins there’s time for more candid revelations and contextual history from sole scripter Gerry Conway in his Introduction ‘Lo. There Shall Come an Ending’

Thor #217 sees the triumphant return of Thor and his fellow heroes – with their recently rescued from alien enslavement All-Father Odin – discover a mysteriously rebuilt Eternal Realm filled with their fellow Asgardians who brandish ‘All Swords Against Them!’ (with art by Sal Buscema inking brother John). Facing them are as impossible doppelgangers of Odin, Thor and the rest, all offering murderous hostility. Whilst the Thunderer furiously struggles to unravel this latest mystery and defeat the invading doppelgangers, in another sector of the universe the all-conquering Colonizers of Rigel are put to flight; abandoning their worlds to an all-consuming force of sheer destruction…

Issue #218 proves there is no rest for the weary as the again-victorious true Asgardians once more take ship to the stars to prevent the Rigellians’ doom from reaching Earth. ‘Where Pass the Black Stars There Also Passes… Death!’ (illustrated by J. Buscema & Jim Mooney) finds the hard-travelling heroes facing a nomadic race of colossal, decadent star-farers who fuel their unending flight by converting thriving civilisations into food and power.

In distant Asgard, war woman Hildegarde’s young sister Krista is slowly falling under the sway of sinister seductive evil, even as her hereditary protectors are a cosmos away, daringly infiltrating one of the Black Stars’ cosmic scoops and encountering a race of mechanical slaves in ‘A Galaxy Consumed!’ (inked by Mike Esposito) before they and their charismatic messiah Avalon are at last freed – and untold galaxies subsequently saved – from callous consumption in ‘Behold! The Land of Doom!’

With scripter Conway firmly in the driving seat and legendary illustrator John Buscema (aided by inker Mike Esposito) delivering the art, the mythic mayhem intensifies with ‘Hercules Enraged!’ as Thor brutally invades Olympus, in search of the Grecian Prince of Power.

After Asgardian maiden’s Krista abduction, the All-Father has seen a vision of her chained in Hades with the Thunder God’s trusted ally gloating over her beside vile Grecian netherlord Pluto

By the time lordly Zeus stops the shattering clash that follows, half of the celestial city is in ruins, but in that breathing space he proves Hercules’ innocent of the atrocious act and the abashed comrades duly turn their attentions to the true culprit…

Inked by Joe Sinnott, Thor #222 finds the earnest comrades in search of Hercules’ insidious impersonator and taking advice from a scary sorceress even as war-god Ares receives an eldritch summons to meet his co-conspirator ‘Before the Gates of Hell!’

Sadly for him, the war god is intercepted by our heroes before he gets there and receives the sound thrashing he deserves, prior to the enraged companions storming their way into the netherworld itself. At the moment of their triumph, however, Pluto snatches up his hostage and vanishes. The infernal trail leads straight to Earth where one final confrontation results in ‘Hellfire Across the World!’ (Esposito inks) and leaves kidnapped Krista wounded unto death…

After a lengthy hiatus, 224 finds Thor resuming his mortal alter ego of surgeon Don Blake to operate on the dying Asgardian, even as elsewhere in Manhattan, a rash scientist accidentally reactivates Odin’s unstoppable battle construct and discovers ‘No One Can Stop… the Destroyer!’

With Krista saved, Thor joins sorely-pressed Hercules and – although outmatched by the Asgardian killing machine – devises a way to stop its human power source, only to then face ‘The Coming of Firelord!’ (inked by Sinnott). The tempestuous, short-tempered herald of planet-consuming Galactus has been sent to fetch Thor and will brook no refusals…

Issue #226 sees the voracious space god on Earth again, beseeching the Thunder God’s aid in ‘The Battle Beyond!’ (Esposito) against living planet Ego, who has seemingly gone mad and now poses a threat to the entire universe…

Deftly channelling Jack Kirby, penciller Rich Buckler (aided by his pals Arvell Jones & Keith Pollard) joined Conway & Sinnott in #227 as the Storm Lord God and Hercules – with Firelord in tow – go ‘In Search of… Ego!’ Penetrating deep within the sentient-but-raving planet and defeating incredible biological horrors acting as planetary antibodies, the trio reach his malfunctioning brain and experience the incredible origin of the “bioverse” in ‘Ego: Beginning and End!’, before contriving an earth-shaking solution to the wild world’s rampages. In a final act of unlikely diplomacy, the Thunderer then finds a replacement herald and secures Firelord’s freedom from Galactus…

To Be Continued…

This collection also includes assorted House ads, covers created by John Romita and a frontispiece by Marie Severin for the Thor-starring Marvel Treasury Edition plus a Buscema double page pin-up of the Asgardian cast, as well as an always enticing selection of original art pages.

Thor is one of modern comics’ greatest attractions and a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. Always a high-point in graphic fantasy, his longevity is all the more impressive for the sheer imagination and timeless readability of the tales crafted by an army of creators. This chronicle is an absolute must for all fans of the medium and far-flung fantasy thrills.
© 1973, 1974, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 9


By Steve Englehart, John Warner, Tony Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Marv Wolfman, Sal Buscema, Frank Robbins, Herb Trimpe & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-3029-0345-9 (HB)

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

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

By the time of the tales gathered in this nifty ninth Masterworks volume (available in luxurious hardback and accessible eBook formats and re-presenting issues #176-192 of Captain America and the Falcon from August 1974 to December 1975), the once convinced and confirmed Sentinel of Liberty had become a lost symbol of a divided nation, uncomfortable in his red, white and blue skin and looking to carve himself a new place in the Land of the Free. Calamitous events were about to put paid to that particular American dream…

Following an informative behind-the-scenes farewell reminiscence from scripter Steve Englehart in his Introduction, the action opens here with a shocking transformation.

At this time America was a nation reeling from a loss of idealism caused by Vietnam, Watergate and the (partial) exposure of President Richard Nixon’s crimes.

The general loss of idealism and painful public revelations that politicians are generally unpleasant – and even possibly ruthless, wicked exploiters – kicked the props out of most Americans who had an incomprehensibly rosy view of their leaders, so a conspiracy that reached into the halls and backrooms of government was extremely controversial yet oddly attractive in those distant, simpler days…

Following an attempt by sections of the elected government to undemocratically seize control of the country by deceit and criminal conspiracy (sounds like sheer fantasy these days, doesn’t it?) Captain America had foiled and exposed the plot but could no longer be associated with a tarnished ideal.

Issue #176 sees shocked, stunned Steve Rogers search his soul and realise he can not be the symbol of such a country. Despite the anxious arguments and advice of his Avenging allies he decides that ‘Captain America Must Die!’ (by Englehart, Sal Buscema & Vince Colletta).
Unable to convince him otherwise, staunch ally Sam Wilson/the Falcon carries on alone, tackling the following month an invasion by body-snatching old X-Men foe in ‘Lucifer be thy Name’ before wrapping up the threat in KIf the Falcon Should Fall…!’

Meanwhile, as Steve Rogers settles into an uncomfortable retirement, a number of painfully unqualified civilians begin trying to fill the crimson boots of Captain America… with dire results…

Captain America and the Falcon #179 finds unsettled civilian Rogers hunted by a mysterious Golden Archer whose ‘Slings and Arrows!’ convince the ex-hero that even if he can’t be a Star-spangled sentinel of liberty, neither can he abandon the role of do-gooder: leading to a life-changing decision and ‘The Coming of the Nomad!’ in #180. Typically, the sinister Serpent Squad turn up again with psychotic Princess Python in tow and maniac nihilist Madame Hydra murderously assuming the suddenly vacant role of the Viper

When “the Man Without a Country” tackles the ophidian villains, he fares badly but stumbles across a sinister scheme by the Squad and Sub-Mariner‘s arch-nemesis Warlord . The subsea tyrant – in the grip of ancient evil forces – seeks to raise a sunken continent and restore an ancient civilisation in ‘The Mark of Madness!’

At the same time Falcon is ignoring his better judgement and training a determined young man to become the next Captain America…

A glittering era ended with #182 as Sal Buscema surrendered Captain America and newspaper-strip creator Frank Robbins came aboard for a controversial run, beginning with ‘Inferno!’ (inked by Joe Giella). Whilst Nomad successfully mops up the Serpent Squad – despite well-meaning police interference – Sam and Cap’s substitute encounter the Sentinel of Liberty’s greatest enemy… with fatal consequences…

The saga shifts into high gear as ‘Nomad: No More!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) find shamed, grief-stricken Steve Rogers once more taking up his stars and stripes burden as the murderous Red Skull simultaneously attacks the hero’s loved ones and dismantles America’s economy by defiling the banks and slaughtering the financial wizards who run them.

Beginning in the chillingly evocative ‘Cap’s Back!’ (Herb Trimpe, Giacoia & Mike Esposito), rampaging through the utterly shocking ‘Scream of the Scarlet Skull!’ (art by Sal Buscema, Robbins & Giacoia), it all climaxes in ‘Mindcage!’ (with additional scripting from John Warner and art by Robbins & Esposito) wherein our titular hero’s greatest ally is apparently revealed as his enemy’s stooge and slave…

The Red Skull, in all his gory glory, gloatingly revealed that his staggeringly effective campaign of terror was as nothing to his ultimate triumph, and that the high-flying Falcon had been his unwitting secret weapon for years: originally a cheap gangster named “Snap” Wilson, radically recreated and reprogrammed by the Cosmic Cube to be a perfect partner for Captain America and a tantalising, ticking time bomb waiting to explode…

Captain America and the Falcon #187 opens on ‘The Madness Maze!’ (Warner, Robbins & Frank Chiaramonte) with the Skull fled and a now-comatose Falcon in custody of super-spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. Suddenly, the Star-Spangled Avenger is abducted by a mysterious flying saucer and attacked by alchemical androids employed by a rival espionage outfit, culminating in a ‘Druid-War’ (Warner, Sal B & Colletta), before Tony Isabella, Robbins & Chiaramonte put Cap into an ‘Arena For a Fallen Hero!’ wherein psychological warfare and unarmed combat combine into a risky shock therapy to kill or cure the mind-locked Wilson.

Just as the radical cure kicks in, an old foe takes over S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying HQ in ‘Nightshade is Deadlier the Second Time Around!’ (Isabella, Robbins & Colletta), after which the crimes of forcibly-reformed Snap Wilson are re-examined and judged in an LA courtroom in climactic wrap-up ‘The Trial of the Falcon!’ (Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Robbins & D. Bruce Berry): proffering a predictable court ruling, a clutch of heroic cameos and a bombastic battle against the sinister Stilt-Man – hired by mob bosses to ensure Snap’s silence on his gangland activities…

With the narrative decks cleared, Captain America and the Falcon #192 featured an ingenious, entertaining filler written by outgoing editor Marv Wolfman, illustrated by Robbins & Berry, wherein Cap hops on a commercial flight back to the East Coast and finds himself battling deranged psychiatrist Dr. Faustus and a contingent of mobsters on a ‘Mad-Flight!’ thousands of feet above New York.
With all plots safely settled, the stage was set for the return of Captain America’s co-creator: Jack Kirby was returning with a bombastic fresh take that would take the Sentinel of Liberty into regions never before explored… but that’s the concern of another book and review…

Back here, however, there’s still more fun to be had via selections from Marvel fan mag FOOM #8: an all cap issue.

As well as a John Romita & Esposito cover, there’s historical overview “Well Come on, All You Big Strong Men…” by Roger Stern – and with early art from John Byrne -, text profiles of Bucky (‘Manchild in a Troubled Land’) and Falcon (“He Was Only Waiting For This Moment to Arise…”) and a photo-feature on the wartime cinema serial in ‘Star of the Silver Screen’.

The extracts conclude with bio page ‘Joe Simon and Jack Kirby: “By their works shall ye know them” and a back cover by Romita and Byrne, after which the cover of all-reprint Giant-Size Captain America #1 precedes a gallery of original art pages by Ron Wilson, Romita & Giacoia, Buscema & Colletta, and Robbins and Chiaramonte & Berry. Wrapping up the extras are the Cap & Falcon pages by Romita from The Mighty Marvel Calendar for 1975.

Despite the odd cringe-worthy story moment (I specifically omitted the part where Cap battles three chicken-themed villains for example, and still wince at some of the dialogue from this forthright and earnest era of “blaxsploitation” and ethnic awareness) these tales of matchless courage and indomitable heroism are fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing fights ‘n’ tights that no comics fan will care to miss, and joking aside, the cultural significance of these tales were crucial in informing the political consciences of the youngest members of post-Watergate generation…

Above all else ‘though, these are fabulously fun tales of an irresistible American Dream…
© 1974, 1975, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 14


By Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Rich Buckler, Ross Andru, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5963-6 (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 #142-150 (January-September 1974) and includes a blockbusting battle-bouts from Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 and Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2, as well as the other half of a rather significant crossover tale begun in Avengers #127.

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.

Before the pictorial pleasures commence, scripter Gerry Conway offers more behind-the-scenes insights in his Introduction ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ after which dramatic tensions resume with the team in tatters.

In the previous collection the never-ending stress forced Sue Richards apart from her husband and Inhuman warrior-queen Medusa had taken her place in the team whilst the Invisible Girl (as she was condescendingly dubbed) cared for son Franklin, now a toddler with strange, undiagnosed cosmic powers and problems. When an attack by antimatter tyrant Annihilus escalated little Franklin’s powers and triggered a cosmic catastrophe, his tormented father was compelled to blast the child, shutting down his mutant brain and plunging him into a coma to save the universe. The act of desperation revolted his teammates and triggered mass resignations…

Appalled at the callous cold calculations needed to neutralise his own child, Johnny and Ben joined Sue in declaring their heroic partnership defunct. With only ruthlessly pragmatic Medusa remaining, FF #142 finds the shell-shocked Richards with ‘No Friend Beside Him!’ (as Conway inker Joe Sinnott were joined by new artist Rich Buckler, whose faithful pastiche of Jack Kirby produced a wave of favourable nostalgia in fans then and now) whilst the Thing followed long-time girlfriend Alicia Masters to central Europe.

She has been lured to the Balkans with promises of a medical breakthrough that can cure her blindness, but after Ben arrives, they are promptly attacked by a sinister supernatural horror named Darkoth the Death-Demon

Back in the USA, Johnny and old pal Wyatt Wingfoot head for Metro College to see their old sports coach Sam Thorne on his way to an Alumni reunion. Reed is another attendee, despondently dragged there by Medusa, but nobody expects that weird foreign kid who had been expelled so long ago to turn up, leading to ‘The Terrible Triumph of Doctor Doom!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia)…

The Iron Dictator was never one to forgive a slight, real or imagined, and as he gloatingly reveals himself to be the creator of Darkoth and jailer of the Thing, Victor von Doom further boasts to his captives of his latest scheme… to utterly eradicate human free will.

Typically, though, the tyrant hasn’t considered how his death-demon might react to the news that he is sham. The outraged artificial puppet rebels and the monster’s ‘Attack!’ (#144 by Buckler & Sinnott) results in a cataclysmic clash and Doom’s defeat…

Back together but still disunited, the FF part company again in #145, as the Torch accompanies Medusa on a visit to the Himalayan citadel of Attilan – the hidden city of the Inhumans – only to be brought down by a lost race of ice people and forced to endure a ‘Nightmare in the Snow!’ (illustrated by Ross Andru & Sinnott).

The snow troglodytes’ plans to transform the world into an ice-ball only they can inhabit go bizarrely awry as the Thing joins the frozen heroes. When a dissident faction trained by a Buddhist monk pitch in too, the conclusion is a happy ending all round in ‘Doomsday: 200 Below!’

This was period of great experimentation and expansion at Marvel, with new formats and lines launching almost continuously. Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 (May 1974) was a forerunner in a line of supplementary, double-sized titles starring the company’s most popular stars.

In this initial exploratory outing – the title became Giant-Size Fantastic Four with the next quarterly release – Conway, Buckler & Sinnott crafted ‘The Mind of the Monster!’: a shattering reprise of earlier titanic team-up triumphs as Bruce Banner came calling upon the FF, still seeking a cure for his mean green alter ego. Unfortunately the Thing is overly sympathetic, and in his self-loathing foolishly allows the fugitive physicist to modify one of Reed’s devices…

Unfortunately, that mutual meddling with the Psi-Amplifier switches their minds, leaving the Rampaging Hulk trapped and furiously running amok in the Thing’s body whilst Ben/Hulk struggles to stop him.

The situation descends into more chaos when trans-dimensional Femizon Thundra pitches in, mistakenly believing she is helping her intended main squeeze Ben battle a big green monster, and the violence intensifies to the max when Reed, Johnny and Medusa get involved in second chapter ‘Someone’s Been Sleeping in My Head’

Ultimately it takes everybody and a cunning plan to set the world to rights in the spectacular, full-throated conclusion ‘…And in This Corner: The Incredible Hulk!’

Following a bunch of editorial extras from the special, the monthly mayhem continues in

Fantastic Four #147, which offers up action-tinged melodrama with ‘The Sub-Mariner Strikes!’ (Conway, Buckler & Sinnott) wherein Sue starts divorce proceedings whilst taking comfort in the arms of long-time admirer/stalker Prince Namor of Atlantis. When Reed, Johnny and Ben tried to “rescue” her, the Atlantean thrashes them and she sends them packing…

To add insult to injury, the dejected men return home to find the Baxter Building once more invaded by the Frightful Four and are forced to fight a ‘War on the Thirty-Sixth Floor!’ Sadly for The Sandman, Wizard and Trapster, they have no idea their newest ally Thundra is smitten with the Thing…

Issue #149 then finally resolves the scandalous Sub-Mariner storyline as the undersea emperor invades New York in ‘To Love, Honour, and Destroy!’. Happily, his awesome attack is only a cunning plan to trick Sue into reconciling with her husband…

Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2 then reveals a time-twisting ‘Cataclysm!’, courtesy of Conway, John Buscema & Chic Stone, wherein cosmic voyeur The Watcher warns of a hapless innocent who has inadvertently altered history, thanks to Dr. Doom’s confiscated time platform.

Moreover, the imposing, supposedly non-interventionist extraterrestrial expects the FF to fix the problem…

With more than one temporal hot-spot, Reed and Johnny head for Colonial America to rescue the Father of the Nation in ‘George Washington Almost Slept Here!’ whilst Ben and Medusa crash into the “Roaring Twenties” and save the time-lost wanderer from being rubbed out by racketeers in ‘The Great Grimmsby’

Thinking their mission accomplished, the heroes are astounded to then find themselves trapped in timeless Limbo, battling monstrous giant Tempus before escaping to their restored origin point in ‘Time Enough for Death!’

For months lovelorn Johnny had fretted and fumed that his first true love Crystal intended to marry super-swift mutant Quicksilver. That plot-thread finally closes with a 2-part crossover tale opening in Avengers #127. ‘Bride and Doom!’ (by Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema & Joe Staton) sees the Assemblers travel to the hidden homeland of the Inhumans for the wedding of the aforementioned Pietro to elemental enchantress and Royal Princess, only to stumble into an uprising of the genetic slave-race known as Alpha Primitives.

Once again, sinister robotic colossus Omega has incited revolt, but this time it isn’t insane usurper Maximus behind the skulduggery but an old Avengers enemy who reveals himself in the concluding chapter from in Fantastic Four #150.

‘Ultron-7: He’ll Rule the World!’ (by Conway, Buckler & Sinnott) finds both hero teams joining Black Bolt’s Inhumans against the malign A.I., but only saved by a veritable Deus ex Machina after which, at long last, ‘The Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver’ finally ends events on a happy note… for everybody but the Torch, that is…

The narrative concluded for the moment, one last treat is supplied via a selection of contemporary house ads to wrap up this morsel of Marvel magic.

Although Kirby had taken the unmatched imagination and questing sense of wonder with him on his departure, the sheer range of beloved characters and concepts he had created with Stan Lee carried the series for years afterwards. So once writers who shared the originators’ sensibilities were crafting the stories a mini-renaissance began…

Certainly the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” didn’t quite return to the stratospheric heights of yore, but this period offers fans a tantalising taste of the glory days and these solid, honest and intriguing efforts will be welcomed by dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but will also thrill and enthral the generous and forgiving casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 1974, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 13


By Steve Englehart, Jim Starlin, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Bob Brown, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Rich Buckler, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6629-0 (HB)

The Avengers have always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when all Marvel’s classic all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either.

This monolithic and monumental tome collects the ever-amazing Avengers’ exploits from issues #120-128 (between March and October 1974), plus Giant-Size Avengers #1 and crossover appearances in Captain Marvel #33 and Fantastic Four #150), and sees scripter Steve Englehart probe the outer limits of Marvel history…

Preceded by his reminiscent commentaries in a fulsome Introduction, this epochal tome opens with Avengers #120. ‘Death-Stars of the Zodiac!’ by Englehart, Bob Brown & Don Heck, sees terrorist astrological adversaries and super-criminal cartel Zodiac attack; instigating a manic plan to eradicate everyone in Manhattan born under the sign of Gemini, with Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Swordsman and Mantis seemingly helpless to stop them.

In the blistering battle of #121’s ‘Houses Divided Cannot Stand!’ (illustrated by John Buscema & Heck), even the added assistance of Captain America and Black Panther is of little advantage. After Mantis is injured, the team begin questioning her mysterious past, only to be lured to their seeming doom and ‘Trapped in Outer Space!’ (Brown & Mike Esposito) before at last turning the tables on their fearsome foes when Zodiac crime chief Libra discloses a shocking secret…

Rendered by Brown & Heck, Avengers #123 then begins a vast and ambitious saga with ‘Vengeance in Viet Nam – or – An Origin for Mantis!’ wherein Libra’s claim to be the Vietnamese warrior’s father (a story vigorously and violently denied by the Martial Arts Maestro) brings the team to Indo-China.

Former mercenary Libra states that he left baby Mantis with pacifistic Priests of Pama after running afoul of a local crime-lord, but she has no memory of such events, nor of being schooled in combat techniques by the hermit monks. Meanwhile, gravely wounded Swordsman has rushed to Saigon to confront his sadistic ex-boss Monsieur Khruul and save the Priests from being murdered by the gangster’s thugs… but is again too late. It’s the tragic story of his wasted life…

Issue #124 finds the team stumbling upon a scene of savage slaughter as clerics and criminals lay dead and a monstrous planet-rending alien horror awoke in ‘Beware the Star-Stalker!’ by J. Buscema & Dave Cockrum…

Mantis is forced to accept that her own memories are unreliable after Avengers #125, which unleashes ‘The Power of Babel!’ when a vast alien armada attacks the Earth and, while combating it, the planet’s Mightiest Heroes are trapped out of phase with their homeworld.

This blockbuster battle bonanza was a crossover, and the penultimate episode of the spectacular Thanos War Saga that had unfolded for a year in Captain Marvel, Marvel Feature, Daredevil and Iron Man.

Thoughtfully included in this compendium is the stunning conclusion ‘The God Himself!’ from Captain Marvel #33 (scripted by Englehart. plotted and illustrated by Jim Starlin & Klaus Janson) wherein mad Titan Thanos finally falls in combat to the valiant Kree warrior: a stunning piece of comics storytelling which stands up remarkably well here despite being seen without benefit of the preceding chapters…

In response to reader demand, a range of quarterly Giant-Size specials began at this time: augmenting the regular output of Marvel’s most popular titles. The first Giant-Size Avengers was crafted by Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler & Dan Adkins, who delved into superhero history with ‘Nuklo… the Invader that Time Forgot!’

The stirring saga reintroduced 1940 Marvel sensation the Whizzer – AKA Bob Frank – in a tragic tale of duty, desperation and loss as the aged speedster first attacks and then begs the heroes’ help in rescuing his son: a radioactive mutant locked in stasis since the early 1950s. Unfortunately, within the recently unearthed chrono-capsule the lad has grown into a terrifying atomic horror…

Moreover, while in the throes of a stress-induced heart-attack the Whizzer let slip that he was the also the father of mutant Avengers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver

Supplementing the rousing Kirby-inspired pastiche are editorial pages ‘Avengers Re-assemble!’, explaining the process of expansion…

It’s back to business in #126 as in ‘All the Sights and Sounds of Death!’ (Brown & Cockrum) creepy villains Klaw and Solarr assault Avengers Mansion in a devious attempt to achieve vengeance for past indignities, after which Sal Buscema & Joe Staton came aboard as regular art team with ‘Bride and Doom!’ wherein the team voyage to the hidden homeland of the Inhumans for the marriage of The Scarlet Witch’s brother Quicksilver to elemental enchantress Crystal, only to stumble into a uprising of the genetic slave-race known as Alpha Primitives.

Robotic colossus Omega again incited the revolt but this time it is shanghaied by an old Avengers enemy who reveals himself in the concluding chapter of the crossover…

Fantastic Four #150 then declaims ‘Ultron-7: He’ll Rule the World!’ (Gerry Conway, Buckler & Joe Sinnott, in which an escalating unwinnable clash between FF, Inhumans and Avengers is ended by a veritable Deus ex Machina after which, at long last ‘The Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver’ closes events on a happy note.

But not for long: in Avengers #128’s ‘Bewitched, Bothered, and Dead!’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Staton) the FF’s nanny Agatha Harkness begins tutoring Wanda Frank in the arts of sorcery to augment her mutant power, unwittingly allowing dark mage Necrodamus access to Avengers Mansion and their souls. In the meantime, the increasingly troubled Mantis makes a romantic play for the Scarlet Witch’s synthazoid boyfriend The Vision; heedless of the hurt and harm she might bring to her current lover The Swordsman…

To Be Continued…

Gilding this graphic lily – available in hardback and digital formats – fans can also enjoy a large and lovely gallery of cover sketches and original art plus house ads.

Steve Englehart was a crucial component of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers; brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creations of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko while spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to. These tales laid the groundwork for his most ambitious and absorbing masterpiece and the best is yet to come…

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right and also a pivotal step transforming the little company into today’s multinational corporate colossus. Best of all, Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new acme of cosmic adventure…
© 1974, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.