Black Panther Marvel Masterworks, volume 1


By Don McGregor, Rich Buckler, Gil Kane, Billy Graham, Keith Pollard, Klaus Janson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4198-3 (HB)

Acclaimed as the first black superhero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since his debut.

In fact, the cat king actually attacked Marvel’s First Family as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father. He was also the first black superhero in American comics, catapulting to instant fame and glory in Fantastic Four #52 (cover-dated July 1966).

As created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee, T’Challa, son of T’Chaka, is an African monarch whose clandestine domain is the only source of vibration-absorbing wonder mineral Vibranium. The miraculous alien metal – supposedly derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in lost antiquity – is the basis of the country’s immense wealth, enabling Wakanda to become one of the wealthiest and most secretive nations on Earth. These riches also allowed the young king to radically remake his country, creating a technological wonderland even after he left Africa to fight as one of the mighty Avengers.

For much of its history Wakanda has been an isolated, utopian kingdom with the tribal resources and people safeguarded and led since time immemorial by a human warrior-king deriving cat-like physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb. This has ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s Panther Cult and Royal Family…

The top-secret “Vibranium mound” had guaranteed the country’s status as a clandestine superpower for centuries but in modern times has increasingly made Wakanda a target for subversion, incursion and even invasion as the world grew ever smaller.

After wandering around the Marvel Universe, enjoying team-ups and saving the world on a semi-regular basis as one the “Earth’s Mightiest Superheroes”, in the summer of 1973 the Black Panther finally won his own solo series, Scripter Don McGregor opted to return the King to his people for an ambitious epic of love, death, vengeance and civil war: inventing from whole cloth, and Kirby’s throwaway notion of a futuristic jungle, the most unique African nation ever seen…

Gathering the groundbreaking stories from Jungle Action volume 2 #6-24 (spanning September 1973 to November 1976 and available in hardback and digital formats), the saga opens with an erudite and informative Introduction by Don McGregor.

‘Panther’s Chronicles’ discusses the author’s work practises, close relationship with his artistic collaborators, and the cultural context and milieu surrounding the creation of the series at a time when segregation and civil rights were still a hot button topic in America…

Now with the Panther’s own big-budget big-screen blockbuster imminently expected, the long-lauded, brilliantly effective and fantastically poetic work of Don McGregor and his collaborators can be enjoyed as the groundbreaking narrative landmark it is, free of the torturous months-long wait between cliff-hanging chapters…

Jungle Action launched with an October 1972 cover-date, a cheap reprint vehicle for old Atlas-era Tarzan and Sheena knock-offs like Tharn, Jann and Lorna (…of the Jungle). The fifth issue abruptly changed tack, reprinting the Black Panther-starring contents of Avengers #62 as prelude to the start of T’Challa’s own all new adventures, which open here with #6 and the eponymous ‘Panther’s Rage’ illustrated by Rich Buckler & Klaus Janson.

The story opens with the Panther back in his African homeland and stumbling upon the torture of an elderly farmer. Despite his best efforts the victim dies in his arms, swearing he never lost faith in king or country…

Learning the attack is the work of a mysterious, brutal rebel leader named Erik Killmonger, T’Challa sets all the resources of his inner court circle to finding the monster. With reports of further atrocities mounting, he leaves his American lover Monica Lynne to hunt the perpetrators and soon confronts his potential usurper at the potently symbolic Warrior Falls roaring above the life-sustaining River of Grace and Wisdom.

The barbarous-seeming giant is not cowed by the Panther’s power or prowess and easily wins the no-holds barred battle that follows…

The initial episode is supplemented by detailed maps of Wakanda (the first fans had ever seen) before JA #7 mobilises ‘Death Regiments Beneath Wakanda’. Barely surviving his fight with Killmonger, T’Challa is nursed back to health by Monica at the Palace even as hideously disfigured American Horatio displays his skill with snakes and poisons to his friend N’Jadaka.

Known to their recruits as Venomm and Erik Killmonger, these rebel leaders plot their next attack which results in the reptilian insurgent ambushing T’Challa when the king investigates an illegal mine. This shocking atrocity is being used to siphon off raw Vibranium to pay for Killmonger’s increasingly violent and widespread attacks on the outlying population centres…

Although triumphant this time, T’Challa realises this is many-layered war: one he might not win…

Cover-dated January 1974, Jungle Action #8 introduced another super-powered rebel as – whilst the Black Panther renews his powers through ancient ritual – ‘Malice by Crimson Moonlight’ sees a spear-wielding wonder woman invade the Royal Palace.

Advisor Taku is interrogating Venomm and gradually making inroads into turning the bitter outcast when Malice attacks. Only the power of the Panther saves him and prevents the brutal jailbreak from succeeding…

After more maps of the hidden country and detailed plans of ‘Central Wakanda’s Palace Royale’ the saga resumes in #9 with ‘But Now the Spears Are Broken’ (illustrated by Gil Kane & Janson) as T’Challa goes in-country to learn the effects of the power-struggle on ordinary Wakandans.

After saving little boy Kantu from a rhino, the king is made painfully aware that the common people view his foreign woman Monica with as much suspicion as the constantly-raiding insurgents. That feeling even penetrates to the heart of the palace. When advisor Zatama is murdered, Monica is arrested for the crime…

T’Challa is not there to protest or defend her: he has returned to Kantu’s village to investigate strange disappearances, discovering a seeming mass-rising of zombies led by a skeletal maniac called Baron Macabre. Once more the Great Cat is forced to ignominiously retreat…

Supreme stylist Billy Graham takes over the pencilling with #10 as the Black Panther returns to the zombie nest, exposing a cunning charade beneath the deserted village as well as a super-scientific base run by a malignant, mind-warping mutant in ‘King Cadaver is Dead and Living in Wakanda!’

Accompanying the dark drama here are examples of ‘Black Panther Artistry’: specifically, Kirby’s first designs for the hero back when he was going by the provisional title of ‘The Coal Tiger’ and Buckler and Janson’s first depiction of ‘Erik Killmonger’

Due to an extremely unfavourable publishing schedule, Panther’s Rage unfolded with agonising slowness, but the lengthy wait between episodes allowed McGregor the latitude to pick and choose key events, with readers accepting that some stuff was actually occurring between issues.

In #11 (September 1974), the civil war had proceeded unchecked and ‘Once You Slay the Dragon!’ sees the Panther and his forces launching a long-awaited counterattack on Killmonger’s base in N’Jadaka Village. The battle is vicious and brief, introducing yet another powered lieutenant in the shape of pitiless high-tech armourer Lord Karnaj

And on the home front, T’Challa finally clears Monica and captures Zatama’s killer…

With Killmonger temporarily pushed back, the Panther goes on the offensive, using the rebel’s most inconsequential converts – Tayete and Kazibe – as guides to follow his ultimate enemy to his most secret strongholds. Heading into the mountains and the fabled Land of Chilling Mists, the Panther discovers mutagenic temple the Resurrection Altar.

Used by Killmonger to create his grotesque super-warriors, it is presided over by scientifically-spawned vampire Sombre. When T’Challa confronts them, he is again overpowered by Erik and left for the wolves to devour in ‘Blood Stains on Virgin Snow!’

Craig Russell inked the next chapter as, enduring incomprehensible hardships in sub-arctic conditions, T’Challa perseveres to follow Killmonger into the temperate swamps of Serpent Valley in #13.

However, this is only after facing a pack of Wakanda’s white apes. To survive, the Panther must blasphemously ignore the sacred religious aspect of the mighty carnivores and become ‘The God Killer’

Following a Venomm pin-up, JA #14 reveals that ‘There Are Serpents Lurking in Paradise’ (inked by Pablo Marcos) as T’Challa again clashes with Sombre and encounters an affable forest sprite guarding Serpent Valley. Pixie-like Mokadi asks difficult moral questions as T’Challa rushes towards his next battle with Killmonger, making him too late to stop the rebel capturing a legion of the valley’s awesome dinosaurs. The usurper even has time to leave one behind as a lethal parting gift for the embattled Wakandan chieftain…

The endgame rapidly approached in #15 as ‘Thorns in the Flesh, Thorns in the Mind’ (inked by Dan Green) finds T’Challa tracking his nemesis only to be overcome by Killmonger’s archer assassin Salamander K’Ruel and left to be dismembered by a ravenous Pterosaur before – against all odds – staggering back to Monica for another bout of recuperation…

Graham inked his own pencils for the beginning of the end in #16 as T’Challa and Monica’s time of idyllic passion culminates in catastrophe when ‘And All Our Past Decades Have Seen Revolutions!’ reveals the origins of Killmonger and sees the vast cast all converge for one final battle…

That comes in #17 as an army of war-trained dinosaurs invades Central Wakanda only to be finally crushed by the Panther’s forces and superior technology. The affair concludes as it began at Warrior Falls, but ‘Of Shadows and Rages’ also holds a shocking twist as the great game of kings is decided by a player no one considered of any relevance…

With its nuanced emotional interplay, extended scope and fiercely independent supporting cast, Panther’s Rage was a milestone in dramatic comics storytelling but it harboured one last punch in a gripping ‘Epilogue!’ (Jungle Action #18, November 1975). Bob McLeod inked McGregor & Graham’s forceful look at the repercussions of conflict as T’Challa and maimed security chief Wakabi are targeted by feral woman Madame Slay: Killmonger’s ardent and unsuspected lover who believes her loss can only be assuaged by having her pack of loyal leopards eviscerate the victorious Wakandans…

Cover-dated January 1976, Jungle Action #19 opened McGregor’s most audacious and ultimately frustrating project, as T’Challa accompanies Monica back to America. The Panther versus the Klan shifted focus from war stories to detective fiction, replacing fabulously exotic Africa for America’s poverty-wracked, troubled Deep South and a head-on collision with centuries of entrenched and endemic racism.

Illustrated by Graham & McLeod, ‘Blood and Sacrifices!’ sees Monica reunite with her family after her sister is murdered. All too soon T’Challa is battling a gang of purple-hooded killers who appear to have set up in opposition to the ancient white-hooded Ku Klux Klan. Moreover, both sects seem determined to conceal the truth of Angela Lynne’s death…

A break comes when bumbling, well-meaning reporter Kevin Trublood stumbles into an attack on the newcomers by the strangely multi-racial Klan sect calling itself the Dragon Circle

With neither townsfolk nor lawmen offering any welcome, T’Challa faces unbridled hostility and suspicion at every turn. He is even attacked by cops and a mob of citizens when he thwarts a knife attack on Monica. Although Sheriff Roderick Tate makes all the right noises and seems helpful, in ‘They Told Me a Myth I Wanted to Believe’, the Panther opts to pursue his own investigation before being overwhelmed by an army of white-robed Klansmen who tie him to a burning cross and leave him to die…

As Monica and Kevin puzzle out the convoluted web of mysteries, the Panther exerts all his gifts to escape becoming ‘A Cross Burning Darkly Blackening the Night!’ Later, as he slowly recovers in hospital, the family, Kevin and Tate review the few verifiable facts of Angela’s demise before patriarch Lloyd Lynne urges T’Challa to stop looking. He only has one daughter left after all…

Nevertheless, when the Panther and Trublood invade and disrupt a Klan rally, Lloyd is right there with them…

With Rick Buckler joining Graham on pencils and Jim Mooney alternating with McCleod on inks, Jungle Action #22 takes a bizarre turn as ‘Death Riders on the Horizon’ explores a Lynne family legend dating back to the formative days of the Klan in 1867 when old Caleb was targeted by the vile southern knights and their seemingly supernatural sponsor the Soul Strangler. As Monica listens to the ghastly, appallingly unjust tale, her mind fills in how T’Challa would have acted in such a hopeless situation…

Issue #23 (September 1976) was a deadline missed and a rapidly-sourced reprint from Daredevil #69 – represented here only by the pertinent cover and a Buckler pin-up – before this tantalising tale is unhappily cut short in final published instalment ‘Wind Eagle in Flight’ (by McGregor, Buckler & Keith Pollard).

The multi-layered, many-stranded plot suddenly expands as the Black Panther is almost killed by a mysterious new player who flies into the ever-more bewildering clash between cops, Klan, Dragon Circle and Lynne family, but, before the mystery could move any further, Jungle Action was cancelled…

A wholly different kind of Black Panther and utterly unrelated adventures would reappear two months later, under the auspices of returning creative colossus Jack Kirby. It would be years before the enigma of Angela’s death and the hero’s war against the Klan would be resolved…

So that’s what to look forward to in the next volume…

Here, however, a passionate reminiscence and appraisal follows in an ‘Afterword by Dwayne McDuffie’, as well as John Romita’s cover for Jungle Action #5; original cover art, pages and sketches by Buckler & Janson and Kane; pencils and layouts by Graham and Buckler as well as Steve Gerber’s ‘Jungle Re-Actions’ feature from JA #7, plus the un-inked Buckler story pages that would have been #25.

Also included are McGregor’s correspondence with then-fan Ralph Macchio and the author’s original working notes, plot synopses and candid contemporary photos of the close-knit creative team.

A truly bold masterpiece of comics narrative, Don McGregor’s Black Panther is stark, vibrant proof that the superhero genre works best when ambitious and passionate creators are given their head and let loose to get on with it. Now, supported by a major movie, perhaps readers will finally see how the Fights ‘n’ Tights game should be played…
© 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 2016 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

The Incredible Hulk Epic Collection volume 2: The Hulk Must Die


By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, John Romita, Bill Everett, Gil Kane, Bob Powell, John Buscema, Mike Esposito, Jerry Grandenetti, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0445-6

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors can cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the gamma-irradiated gargantuan finally found his size 700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, The Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour until a new home was found for him and this trade paperback (and eBook) volume covers his years as co-star of Tales to Astonish; specifically issues #60-96, spanning October 1964 to October 1967, and even includes a silly spoof yarn from Not Brand Echh #3.

Way back then, the trigger for the Hulk’s second chance was a reprinting of his origin in the giant collection Marvel Tales Annual #1 (the beginning of the company’s inspired policy of keeping early tales in circulation and which did so much to make fervent fans out of casual latecomers). Thanks to reader response, Ol’ Greenskin was awarded a back-up strip in a failing title…

Giant-Man was the star turn in Tales to Astonish, but by mid-1964 the strip was visibly floundering. In issue #59 the Master of Many Sizes was used to introduce his forthcoming co-star in a colossal punch-up, setting the scene for the next issue wherein the Green Goliath’s own feature began.

‘The Incredible Hulk’ (TtA #60) opens with Banner still working for General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, despite the military martinet’s deep disgust and distrust of the puny milksop who had won his daughter’s heart. Aloof and standoffish, Bruce keeps secret his astounding condition: an affliction which subjects him to uncontrollable transformations into a rampaging, if well-intentioned, engine of destruction.

The 10-page instalments were uncharacteristically set in the Arizona/New Mexico deserts, not New York, and espionage and military themes were the narrative backdrop of these adventures.

Lee scripted, Ditko drew and comics veteran George Roussos – as “George Bell” – provided the ink art. The first episode details how an anonymous spy steals an unstoppable suit of robotic armour built by the radiation-obsessed Banner, and concludes with a shattering battle in the next instalment as the Hulk is ‘Captured at Last!’

Cliffhanger endings such as the exhausted Gamma Giant’s imprisonment by Ross’s military units at the end of the yarn would be instrumental in keeping readers onboard and enthralled. Next chapter ‘Enter… the Chameleon!’ has plenty of action and suspense as the spy infiltrates Ross’ command, but the real punch is the final panel, hinting at the mastermind behind all the spying and skulduggery. The enigmatic Leader would become the Hulk’s ultimate and antithetical nemesis…

The minor Spider-Man villain works well as a returning foe; his disguise abilities an obvious threat in a series based on a weapons scientist working for the US military during the Cold War. Even the Leader himself has dubious connections to the sinister Soviets – when he isn’t trying to conquer the world for himself.

Preceded by a titanic Jack Kirby Marvel Masterwork Pin-up of the Green Goliath, ‘A Titan Rides the Train!’ (Astonish #63, January 1965) provides an origin for the super-intellectual menace whilst setting up a fresh subplot wherein new cast addition Major Glen Talbot begins to suspect Banner of being a traitor. The action comes when the Leader tries to steal Banner’s new anti-H-bomb device from a moving freight locomotive….

‘The Horde of Humanoids!’ features the return of guilt-stricken former sidekick Rick Jones who uses his Avengers connections to obtain a pardon for the incarcerated Banner just by letting the American President in on the secret of the Hulk! Ah, simpler times!

Free again, Banner joins Talbot on a remote island to test his hotly sought-after atomic device only to be attacked by the Leader’s artificial warriors – providing a fine example of Ditko’s unique manner of staging a super-tussle.

The chaotic clash continues into the next issue when Ayers assumes the inking and Banner is taken prisoner by those darn Commies. ‘On the Rampage against the Reds!’ sees the Hulk go ballistic behind the Iron Curtain: a satisfyingly gratuitous crusade that spans three issues with #66 – ‘The Power of Doctor Banner’, inked by Vince Colletta and ‘Where Strides the Behemoth’ in #67, (inked by Frank Giacoia), cumulatively exhibiting the brute’s shattering might.

His Commie-Busting fury finally expended, the Hulk reverts to human form and is captured by Mongolian bandits who see a chance to make lots of ransom money…

Jack Kirby returned as illustrator – supplemented by Mike (“Mickey Demeo”) Esposito – in Tales to Astonish #68. ‘Back from the Dead!’ sees plucky Glen Talbot extricate the tragic scientist only to lose him again on the way back to America. Even so, Banner falls again into military custody and is ordered to activate his Atomic Absorbatron for one last test.

Yet again the process is interrupted by the Leader’s attacking Humanoids, but this time the Veridian Villain succeeds and the Hulk is ‘Trapped in the Lair of the Leader!’ …but only until the US Army bursts in…

Issue #70 saw Giant-Man benched and replaced by the Sub-Mariner, making Tales to Astonish a title dedicated to aggressive, savage anti-heroes. Increasingly the Hulk stories reflected this shift, and ‘To Live Again!’ sees the furious Leader launch a 500-foot tall Humanoid against the local US missile base, with the Jade Giant caught in the middle.

Kirby reduced his input to layouts and Esposito handles the lion’s share of the art with #71’s ‘Like a Beast at Bay’: a minor turning point with the Hulk actually joining forces with the Leader whilst ‘Within the Monster Dwells a Man!’ then has Major Talbot getting ever-closer to uncovering Banner’s dark secret.

‘Another World, Another Foe!’ (with the legendary Bob Powell pencilling over Kirby’s layouts) details how the Leader dispatches Hulk to The Watcher’s homeworld to steal an ultimate weapon, just as an “unbeatable” intergalactic rival arrives. ‘The Wisdom of the Watcher’ descends to all-out, brutal action with a shocking climax, and is followed by TtA#75’s conclusion: an abrupt return to Earth and to basics as the rampaging Hulk falls victims to one of Banner’s most bizarre atomic devices…

‘Not all my Power Can Save Me!’ sees the man-monster helplessly hurled into a devastated dystopian future, and in ‘I, ‘Against a World!’ (with pencils by Gil Kane moonlighting as “Scott Edward”), the devastation is compounded by a doom-drenched duel with time-lost Asgardian immortal The Executioner.

A true milestone occurred in Tales to Astonish #77 when the tragic physicist’s dread secret is finally exposed. Magnificently illustrated by John Romita (the elder, and still over Kirby layouts), ‘Bruce Banner is the Hulk!’ concludes the time-travel tale and reveals the tragic horror of the scientist’s condition to the military and the general public.

It didn’t make him any less hunted or haunted, but at least now the soldiery were in an emotional tizzy whilst trying to obliterate him.

With #78, Bill Everett began a short but vividly evocative run as penciler (Kirby remaining on layouts throughout). To his very swift and last regrets, megalomaniacal scientist Dr. Zaxon tries to steal the Gamma Monsters’s bio-energy in ‘The Hulk Must Die!’ Before his body is even cold, follow-up ‘The Titan and the Torment!’ propels the fugitive gargantuan into a bombastic battle against recently Earth-exiled Olympian man-god Hercules.

Losing a desperate war with fellow subterranean despot Mole Man, not-so-immortal Tyrannus resurfaced in ‘They Dwell in the Depths!’ Seeing the Hulk as a weapon of last resort, he abducts the man-brute to Subterranea, but still loses his last battle and when Hulk returns topside he shambles into a plot by the insidious Secret Empire in #81’s ‘The Stage is Set!’

The convoluted mini-epic spread into a number of other Marvel series, especially Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Sub-Mariner. Here, however, the monster is targeted by the Empire’s hired gun Boomerang as they strive to steal the military’s new Orion missile…

As the epic unfolds ‘The Battle Cry of the Boomerang’, ‘Less then Monster, More than Man!’, and ‘Rampage in the City!’ wove strings of sub-plot into a gripping whole which indicated to the evolving reader just how close-knit the Marvel Universe was.

Obviously such tight coordination between series caused a few problems as art for the final episode is credited to “almost the whole blamed Bullpen” (which to my jaded eyes is mostly Jerry Grandenetti). During that climax the Hulk is marauding through the streets of New York City in what I can’t help but feel is a padded, unplanned conclusion…

Everything’s back on track with #85 however, as John Buscema and John Tartaglione step in to illustrate ‘The Missile and the Monster!’ as yet another spy diverts the experimental Orion rocket onto the city. The obvious discomfort the realism-heavy Buscema experienced with the Hulk’s appearance has mostly faded by second chapter ‘The Birth of… the Hulk-Killer!’, although the return of veteran inker Mike Esposito to the strip also helps.

As General Ross releases a weapon designed by the Leader to capture the Grim Green Giant, the old soldier has no inkling what his rash act will lead to, nor that Boomerang is lurking behind the scenes to make things even hotter for the Hulk…

Issue #87’s concluding part ‘The Humanoid and the Hero!’ depicts Ross’ regret as the Hulk-Killer expands his remit to include everybody in his path and Gil Kane returns for #88 as ‘Boomerang and the Brute’ shows both the assassin and the Hulk’s savage power.

Tales to Astonish #89 once more sees the Hulk become an unwilling weapon as a nigh-omnipotent alien subverts and sets him to purging humanity from the Earth.

‘…Then, There Shall Come a Stranger!’, ‘The Abomination!’ and ‘Whosoever Harms the Hulk…!’ comprise a taut and evocative thriller-trilogy which also includes the origin of the malevolent Hulk counterpart who would play such a large part in later tales of the ill-fated Bruce Banner.

A new narrative tone comes with ‘Turning Point!’ (TtA #92, June 1967) by the superb and criminally underrated Marie Severin and inker Frank Giacoia, depicting the Jade Giant hunted through a terrified New York City as a prelude to a cataclysmic guest-battle in the next issue. Back then, the Hulk didn’t really team-up with visiting stars, he just got mad and smashed them. Such was certainly the case when he became ‘He Who Strikes the Silver Surfer!’; ironically battling with and driving off a fellow outcast who held the power to cure him of his atomic affliction.

Herb Trimpe, associated with the character for nearly a decade, began his tenure as Marie Severin’s inker with #94’s ‘To the Beckoning Stars!’: the initial instalment of a terrific 3-part shocker which found the Hulk transported to the interstellar retreat of the High Evolutionary to battle against recidivist beast-men on ‘A World He Never Made!’ before escaping a feral bloodbath in #96’s ‘What Have I Created?’.

Returned to Earth by the now god-like Evolutionary, the Hulk was gearing up to the next being change in his life.

To Be Continued…

Adding even more lustre and appeal to this tome are a bevy of intriguing extras, starting with a not-so-serious alternative back-story in ‘The Origin of Brucie Banter… and Friend’, by Gary Friedrich & Severin from spoof mag Not Brand Echh #3 (October 1967).

That outing of the “Inedible Bulk” then segues into rare pencil art from Ditko, original pages by Kirby & Everett, Buscema & Tartaglione, Kane and Severin & Trimpe; T-shirt and sweatshirt designs by Kirby, Sol Brodsky & Joe Sinnott from 1965 and 1966 plus house ads and Kirby’s cover from Tales to Astonish #77 modified by painter Richard Isanove and used to front Marvel Masterworks: The Hulk volume 2.

This titanic tome of Hulk heroics is occasionally hit-and-miss, with visceral thrillers and plain dumb nonsense running together, but the enthusiasm and sheer quality of the awesome artistic endeavours should go a long way to mitigating most of the downside. These tales are key to the later, more cohesive adventures, and even at their worst the work of Kirby, Ditko, Everett, Kane, Buscema, Severin and the rest in full-on, butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” mode is a thrill to delight the destructive eight-year-old in everyone. Hulk Smash(ing)!
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 7


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott, with Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5062-6 (PB)                     : 978-0-7851-1585-4 (HB)

The FF was the indisputable central title and most consistently groundbreaking series of Marvel’s ever-unfolding web of cosmic creation: a forge for new concepts and characters at a time when Jack Kirby was in his conceptual prime and continually unleashing his vast imagination on plot after spectacular plot as Stan Lee scripted some of the most passionate superhero sagas that Marvel – or any publisher, for that matter – has ever seen.

Both were on an unstoppable roll, at the height of their creative powers, and full of the confidence that only success brings, with The King particularly eager to see how far the genre and the medium could be pushed.

This full-colour compendium – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – re-presents Fantastic Four #61-71 and includes the fifth giant-sized Annual: issues of progressive and increasingly impressive landmarks spanning April 1967 through February 1968 with Stan & Jack cannily leading from the front as an ever-expanding and cohesive shared universe grew around the fruits of their labours.

As seen in the landmark premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm – with Sue’s tag-along teenaged brother Johnny – survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and the kid could turn into living flame, but poor, tragic Ben horrifically devolved into a shambling, rocky freak…

Following a vivid reminiscence from star inker Joe Sinnott in his Introduction, the magic resumes with Fantastic Four #61.

Even though the team had just defeated a cosmically-empowered Doctor Doom and returned to the Silver Surfer his purloined life-energies there was never a dull moment: no sooner had the heroes relaxed than a new and improved foe attacked once more in ‘Where Stalks the Sandman?’.

This began another explosive multi-part tale wherein Johnny and his imprisoned beloved Crystal were reunited even as Reed is defeated in battle and lost to the anti-matter hell of the Negative Zone’s sub-space corridor…

It was Crystal to the rescue in ‘…And One Shall Save Him!’ as guest-star Triton (of the newly liberated Inhuman Royal Family) plucked the doomed genius from the jaws of disaster and inadvertently introduced another unique enemy who followed Reed back from the anti-matter dimension and straight into partnership with the still-seething Sandman. The resulting battle against ‘Blastaar, the Living Bomb-Burst!’ (FF #63, June 1967) wrecked half the city before some modicum of security was restored…

Looking for a little peace and quiet the exhausted team then tackled ‘The Sentry Sinister’: a frenetic south seas adventure romp pitting the vacationing heroes against a super-scientific robot buried for millennia by an ancient star-faring race.

This tropical treat expanded the burgeoning interlocking landscape to an infinite degree by introducing the ancient, imperial and alien Kree who would grow into one of the fundamental pillars supporting the continuity of the Marvel Universe.

Although regarded as a long-dead race, the Kree themselves resurface in the very next issue as the team is targeted by an alien emissary of vengeance ‘…From Beyond this Planet Earth!’ The formidable Ronan the Accuser has come looking to see what could possibly have destroyed an invincible Sentry and finds out to his great regret but whilst the fight ensues Bens’s blind girlfriend Alicia is abducted by a super scientific stranger…

The mystery of her disappearance is revealed in #66 in ‘What Lurks Behind the Beehive?’ as the outraged team trail the seemingly helpless artisan to a man-made technological wonderland where a band of rogue geniuses have genetically engineered the next phase in evolution, only to lose control of it even before it can be properly born…

‘When Opens the Cocoon!’ exposes the secret of the creature known as Him and only Alicia’s gentle nature is able to placate the nigh-omnipotent creature (who would eventually evolve into tragic cosmic voyager Adam Warlock), after which the tight continuity pauses to allow the Inhumans (a time-lost race of paranormal beings long secluded from mortal men) and old FF ally the Black Panther to share the stage in that year’s Fantastic Four Annual wherein the sinister invader Psycho-Man attempts to ‘Divide… and Conquer!’ the Earth.

Frank Giacoia inked this yarn, with the emotion-bending micro-marauder holding both the King of Wakanda and the Royal Family of hidden Attilan at bay until the FF can pitch in, delayed as they were by the news that the Sue Richards is pregnant… and soon to confined in the most appallingly sexist manner until the birth…

The Annual also includes another comedy insight into the creation of Marvel Epics as Stan, Jack and Frank ask ‘This is a Plot?’ and – after the now customary Kirby pin-ups (Inhumans Black Bolt, Gorgon, Medusa, Karnak, Triton, Crystal and Maximus, a colossal group shot of Galactus, the Silver Surfer and others plus a double-page spread of the quirky quartet) – a rapidly rising star-in-the-making got his first solo appearance in ‘The Peerless Power of the Silver Surfer’: a pithy fable of cruel ingratitude reintroducing and upgrading the threat-level of the Mad Thinker’s lethal Artificial Intelligence murder-machine Quasimodo

In FF #68 (inked as ever by the remarkable Joe Sinnott), the Thinker resurfaces to enact his latest scheme, ‘His Mission: Destroy the Fantastic Four!’ beginning with the cogitating criminal replacing a famous doctor to subvert a potential cure for The Thing’s rocky condition.

Phase two involves a mind-warping scheme to turn the rocky stalwart against his comrades, progressing in ‘By Ben Betrayed!’ as the newly malevolent Grimm tries to mercilessly murder his comrades only to be driven temporarily away.

Desperately searching for their brainwashed friend, the FF quickly capture the Thinker and free Ben’s shackled mind in ‘When Fall the Mighty!’, but the victory leaves the heroes unconscious with only Sue conscious to tackle the villain’s last-ditch killer android in ‘…And So It Ends…’

Art lovers can also enjoy a boundless hidden bounty at the end of this volume as the titanic tome wraps up with a selection of Kirby pencil pages, including alternative covers to FF #64 and #71, plus a gallery of Sinnott-inked covers and pages from #61, 63, 65 and 66.

Epic, revolutionary and unutterably astounding, these are the stories which made Marvel the unassailable leaders in fantasy entertainment and remain the most unmissable superhero comics ever crafted.
© 1967, 1968, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Sub-Mariner volume 1


By Bill Everett, Paul Gustavson, Alan Mandel & others (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1617-2 (HC)                    978-0-7851-5789-2 (PB)

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

He first caught the public’s attention as part of the Fire vs. Water headlining team in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939, before becoming Marvel Mystery Comics with the second issue). His elementally apposite co-star was the Human Torch, but Namor had originally been seen – albeit in a truncated version – in the monochrome freebie Motion Picture Funnies: a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier that year.

Quickly becoming one of Timely’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (cover-dated Spring 1941) and was one of the last super-characters to go at the end of the first heroic age.

In 1954, when Atlas (as the company had become known) briefly revived its “Big Three” (the Torch and Captain America being the other two), Everett returned for an extended run of superb fantasy tales, but the time wasn’t right and the title sunk again. Once more Subby was the last revived character to be cancelled, as rumours of a possible TV series deal kept the book afloat…

When Stan Lee & Jack Kirby began reinventing the superhero genre in 1961 with the Fantastic Four, they quickly revived the forgotten amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac, yet decidedly more regal and grandiose anti-hero, understandably embittered at the loss of his sub-sea kingdom (seemingly destroyed by American atomic testing).

He also became a dangerous bad-boy romantic interest: besotted with the FF’s golden-haired Sue Storm

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for few years, squabbling with assorted heroes such as Daredevil, the Avengers and X-Men, before securing his own series as part of “split-book” Tales to Astonish with fellow antisocial antihero the Incredible Hulk and went on to become a cornerstone of the modern Marvel Universe.

Following his dynamic relaunch/debut in the anthological Marvel Comics #1, the Sub-Mariner solo title began in Spring 1941, and the first four issues are gathered here (available as a sturdy hardcover, titanic trade paperback of electrifying eBook) with a reminiscence-packed, fact-filled Introduction from comics scribe and historian Roy Thomas to provide all the context and backstory any finny fun-fan would ever need, and also incorporates all the rousing in-situ ads seen in the original releases.

Sub-Mariner Comics #1 featured two complete strip-stories starring the conflicted overlord of Atlantis plus a chilling yarn featuring costumed detective and adventurer The Angel: the first of a long run of macabre thrillers…

In first tale ‘Deep-Sea Blitzkrieg’, Namor goes to war against the perfidious Nazis after a fleet of German U-Boats depth-charges the underwater city of Atlantis. The Avenging Prince immediately retaliates in a bombastic show of super-power that perfectly displays the unmatched graphic virtuosity of his creator Bill Everett.

The second story (by Everett and unknown assistants) concerns a deadly disease afflicting his aquatic subjects, necessitating the Sub-Mariner’s return to New York to obtain – by any means necessary – a supply of Radium. The dual Hero/Villain nature of the character was always a major factor in Namor’s popularity, so even a shared enemy couldn’t keep him on the good side of the American authorities for long…

For most of these stories Everett and other lead artists used a string of assistants culled from the comicbook “Shop” outfits. With no accurate records, best guesses for uncredited contributors include Charles Nicholas (née Wojtkoski), Witmer Williams, Ben Thompson, Sam Gilman, George Mandel, Mike Roy, Al Fagaly & Jimmy Thompson.

These deluxe collections also include those mandatory text features comics were compelled to run to maintain their postal status (an arcane system that allowed them to procure large postal discounts as “second class mail”) so you can also enjoy prose fable ‘Namor… His Boyhood’ by Roy Gill before moving on to Paul Gustavson’s caped and costumed detective in the 20-page gothic chiller ‘The Angel and the House of Horror’.

Although dressed like a superhero, this dashing do-gooder was actually a blend (knock-off would be perhaps a bit unkind) of Leslie Charteris’s The Saint and The Lone Wolf (Louis Vance’s urbane two-fisted hero who was the subject of 8 books and 24 B-movies between 1917 and 1949).

One marked difference was the quality of the Angel’s enemies: his foes tended towards the arcane, the ghoulish and the just plain demented…

The globe-trotting paladin also seemed able to cast a giant shadow in the shape of an angel. Not the greatest aid to cleaning up the scum of the Earth but he seemed to manage…

Sub-Mariner Comics #2 (Summer 1941) starts off with another (untitled) Nazi-busting tale – even though America was officially neutral until December 8th of that year – as Namor foils a scheme to spring thousands of German POW’s from internment in Canada.

Everett’s hand is still in evidence but by this time an increasing number of those aforementioned assistants were slowly diluting his work as he struggled to produce a monthly strip in Marvel Mystery and his other commitments.

‘Steaming Statistics of Fire and Water’ – illustrated by Harry Sahle – offers a package of fun facts before the second adventure finds Namor in a Pennsylvania town hunting fifth-columnists and spies who have fomented a strike amongst the miners producing coal for ships fuel. Cartoonist Lewis Glanzman provided a ‘Bum Jokes’ gag-page and young Stan Lee wrote a text feature entitled ‘The Story behind the Cover: Namor “Blitzes” a Nazi Sub’ before The Angel (illustrated by Alan Mandel) quashes a sinister plot in New England to free ‘The Slaves of the Python’.

The Fall 1941 issue then opens with ‘The Mystery of the Disappearing Island’: a strikingly topical two-part tale that mixes Winston Churchill, the thorny question of Irish neutrality and a submerged city of druids invaded by Nazis as a staging post for future bomber raids on Britain.

This exotic fight-heavy romp, tinged with immediacy by political issues, was an extra-long one (40 pages) followed by a mediocre and uncredited prose tale ‘Dispatch from Africa’ before culminating with a rather incestuous murder mystery wherein the Angel hunts for a killer when ‘Death Draws a Comic Strip!’

Sub-Mariner Comics #4 begins with ‘Murders by Ghost Light’ and Namor investigating a haunted hospital hiding all manner of non-Hippocratic shenanigans. The spooky themes continue when he then encounters a giant madman-made monster in ‘The Horror That Walked.’

‘Fresh Meat for a Raider’ is a prose naval adventure written by a promising young writer named Mickey Spillane, whilst ‘Pop’s Whoppers’ (by Art Gates) is a jolly comedy feature starring an inveterate tall-tale teller, followed by another sinister horror puzzler for the Angel: ‘Death’s Merry-Go-Round!’.

The vintage voyages then conclude with a lost gem from the legendary Basil Wolverton who wraps things up with a comically surreal Dr. Dimwit page.

Before we leave, however, a selection of Sub-Mariner Comics house ads and photo features of a contemporary comics newsstand and Everett himself further enhance the period experience…

Many early Marvel Comics are more exuberant than qualitative, but this volume, even if largely devoid of premiere league talent, is a wonderful exception. Offering high-octane, outrageously jingoistic tub-thumping and staggering action: a splendid, historically unvarnished read as well as forgotten treasure Fights ‘n’ Tights fans will find irresistible.
©1941, 2005, 2012, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Johnny Craig & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4129-7

Having finally overtaken the aging colossus of National/DC, upstart Marvel Comics sometimes seemed to be at a loss for what to do next. The answer is obvious to us: more of the same… but back then the rules were being constantly rewritten, the country was changing and conflict was everywhere. Perhaps what was needed was more experimentation…

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions, the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison employing Yankee ingenuity, invention and wealth to safeguard and better the World seemed inevitable.

Combined with the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and business could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil, and the concept behind the Invincible Iron Man seems an infallibly successful proposition.

Of course where once Tony Stark was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous millionaire industrialist/inventor and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his metal alter-ego, the tumultuous tone of the times soon resigned his suave, fat-cat image to the dustbin of history and, with ecological disasters and social catastrophe from the abuse of industry and technology the new mantras of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting some tricky questions from the increasingly socially conscious readership.

All of a sudden maybe that money and fancy gadgetry weren’t quite so fun or cool anymore…?

With an Iron Clad promise of stunning action and compelling intrigue this iconic hardback (and digital) chronological compendium covers Iron Man #14-25, spanning June 1969 – May 1970, and opens with an educational and fascinating Introduction from dynamic draughtsman George Tuska, detailing the stellar career and achievements of the veteran yet rising star artist…

Writer Archie Goodwin and illustrious illustrators Tuska & Johnny Craig continued a sterling run of solidly science-flavoured action epics as IM #14 revealed that ‘The Night Phantom Walks!’ with the scripter craftily paying tribute to Craig’s past history drawing EC’s landmark horror comics. Here the latter artist pencilled and inked the tale of a zombie-like monster prowling a Caribbean island and destroying Stark Industry installations. As well as being a terse, moody thriller, this story marks the first indications of a different attitude as the menace’s ecologically inspired reign of terror includes some pretty fair arguments about the downsides of “Progress” and rapacious globalisation…

With Craig again inking, Tuska returned with #15 and ‘Said the Unicorn to the Ghost…!’ as the demented former superspy allies himself with Fantastic Four foe the Red Ghost in a desperate bid to find a cure for his drastically shortened his life-span.

Attempting to kidnap Tony Stark, the Ghost betrays the Unicorn and retrenches to an African Cosmic Ray research facility in concluding instalment ‘Of Beasts and Men!’, where it takes a fraught alliance of hero and villain to thwart the phantom mastermind’s ill-conceived plans…

A suspenseful extended epic began in Iron Man #17 when an advanced android designed to protect Stark’s secret identity achieves sinister sentience and sneakily replaces him.

‘The Beginning of the End!’ also introduces the enigmatic Madame Masque and her malevolent master Midas, who plans to take control of America’s greatest technology company…

Dispossessed and on the run Stark is abducted and aligns with Masque and Midas to reclaim his identity, only to suffer a fatal heart-attack in ‘Even Heroes Die!’ (guest-starring the Avengers) before a ground-breaking transplant – still practically science fiction in those distant days – gives him renewed hope in ‘What Price Life?’

When the ruthlessly opportunistic Midas instantly strikes again, the mysterious Madame Masque switches sides and all hell breaks loose…

The X-Men’s dimensionally displaced alien nemesis attacks the restored and recuperating hero in ‘Who Serves Lucifer?’ (inked by Joe Gaudioso – AKA Mike Esposito) before being rudely returned to his personal dungeon dimension after which African-American boxer Eddie March becomes the new Iron Man in #21’s ‘The Replacement!’ as Stark – free from the heart-stimulating chest-plate which had preserved his life for years – is briefly tempted by a life without strife. Unfortunately, and unknown to all, Eddie has a little health problem of his own…

When Soviet-sponsored armoured archenemy Titanium Man resurfaces, it’s in conjunction – if not union – with another old Cold War warrior in the form of a newly-upgraded Crimson Dynamo in #22’s chilling classic confrontation ‘From this Conflict… Death!’

With a loved one murdered, a vengeance-crazed Iron Man then goes ballistic in innovative action-thriller ‘The Man Who Killed Tony Stark!!’ before ultimately finding solace in the open arms of Madame Masque as Johnny Craig returns to fully illustrate superb mythological monster-mash ‘My Son… The Minotaur!’ and stays on as Archie Goodwin pins Iron Man’s new Green colours to the comic’s mast in #25’s stunning eco-parable ‘This Doomed Land… This Dying Sea!

Teamed with and battling against antihero Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Armoured Avenger is forced to destroy one of his own hyper-polluting facilities, consequently overruling and abandoning his company’s previous position and business model…

Tragically, his attempts to convince other industry leaders to do likewise meets with the kind of reaction that tragically then (and again now) typifies America’s response to the real-world situation…

The galvanised wonderment concludes with a sublime selection of Tuska original art pages and covers to wrap up this collection with the Golden Gladiator being politically repositioned at a time when Marvel solidly set itself up at the vanguard of a rapidly changing America increasingly at war with itself.

These are epic exploits, still charged with all the urgency and potency of a time of crisis and a nation in tumult, so what better time than now to finally tune in, switch on or return to the Power of Iron Man?
© 1969, 1970, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1266-2 (HB)                    978-0-7851-5060-2 (TPB)

The monolith of 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 comes due to the quirky quartet and the groundbreaking, inspired efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby…

This full-colour hardcover or trade paperback compendium – also available in digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #51-60 plus the new material from Fantastic Four Annual #4: issues of progressive landmarks spanning June 1966 to March 1967 with Stan & Jack topping themselves with every successive issue, consolidating an impossibly addictive shared universe with the FF as the central title and most innovative outpost in that web of cosmic creation.

What You Should Already Know: maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm – with Sue’s teenaged tag-along little brother – miraculously survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

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

Following an Introduction from Lee the wonderment resumes here with what many fans consider the greatest single FF story ever. Illustrated by Kirby and inked by Joe Sinnott, ‘This Man… This Monster!’ finds the Thing’s grotesque body usurped by a vengeful and petty-minded scientist with a grudge against Reed Richards. The anonymous boffin subsequently discovers the true measure of his unsuspecting intellectual rival and pays a fateful price for his envy…

Another innovation and unforgettable character debuted in the next issue. ‘The Black Panther!’ was an enigmatic African monarch whose secretive kingdom was the only source of a vibration-absorbing alien metal. These mineral riches had enabled him to turn his country into a technological wonderland and he lured the FF into his savage super-scientific kingdom as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father. He was also the first black superhero in American comics (Fantastic Four #52, cover-dated July 1966).

After battling the team to a standstill, King T’Challa revealed his tragic origin in ‘The Way it Began..!’, which also introduces sonic super-villain Klaw. Johnny and his college roommate Wyatt Wingfoot embark on a quest to rescue the Torch’s Inhuman lover Crystal (trapped with her people behind an impenetrable energy barrier in the Himalayas). Their journey is interrupted when they discover the lost tomb of Prester John in #54’s ‘Whosoever Finds the Evil Eye…!’ and almost perish…

After aiding the quartet against world-devourer Galactus, the Silver Surfer was imprisoned on Earth. The brooding, perpetually moralising ex-herald had become a fan-favourite, and his regular appearances were always a guarantee of something special.

When Strikes the Silver Surfer!’ features him in uncomprehending, brutal battle with the Thing, whose insecurities about his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters explode into searing jealousy, when the gleaming demigod comes calling after which business as unusual resumed when ‘Klaw the Murderous Master of Sound!’ ambushed the team in their own home in issue #56.

Throughout all the stories since their imprisonment a running sub-plot with the Inhumans had been slowly building, with Johnny and Wyatt stuck on the other side of the Great Barrier: wandering the wilds and seeking a method of liberating the Hidden City. Their quest led directly into the landmark tale ‘The Torch that Was!’: lead feature in the fourth FF Annual (November 1966) in which The Mad Thinker recovers and resurrects the original Human Torch (actually the World’s first android and a major star of Timely/Marvel’s Golden Age) to destroy the flaming teenager…

The blistering battle briefly reunites the entire team and leads into an epic clash with their greatest foe. Fantastic Four #57-60 displayed Lee & Kirby at their very best; with incredible tension, drama and action on a number of fronts as the most dangerous man on Earth steals the Silver Surfer’s cosmic power, even as the Inhumans finally win their freedom and we discovered the tragic secret of mighty mute Black Bolt in all its awesome fury.

It all begins with a jailbreak by the Sandman in #57’s ‘Enter… Dr. Doom!’, escalates in ‘The Dismal Dregs of Defeat!’ as Doom tests his limitless stolen power; builds to a crescendo in ‘Doomsday’ with the heroes’ utter defeat and humiliation before culminating in brains and valour saving the day – and all humanity – in truly magnificent manner with ‘The Peril and the Power!’

This breathtaking epic concludes an incredible run of classic yarns in this volume, but there is still room to include some fascinating freebies in the form of pages of the initial designs for Coal Tiger (who evolved into the Black Panther) and Kirby & Sinnott’s unused cover for FF #52 featuring him.

These are the stories that cemented Marvel’s reputation and enabled the company to overtake all its competitors. They’re also still some of the best stories ever produced and as exciting and captivating now as they ever were. This is a must-have book for all fans of graphic narrative.
© 1966, 1967, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2072-8

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

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists and a plethora of super-villains (and – as seen in this collection – even the occasional monster or alien invasion), quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.

Covering October1967-June 1968 and re-presenting Daredevil #33-41 and crossover issue Fantastic Four #73, this fourth compilation (in both hardback and eBook formats) sees a continuing gain in story quality as scripter Stan Lee blended soap operatic plot-threads with a string of guest supervillains to string together the unique fight scenes of the increasingly bold and artistically audacious Gene Colan…

Following another typically frothy Introduction from Stan Lee the action opens with ‘Behold the Beetle’ (Daredevil #33, and inked by John Tartaglione) and sees the entire cast – legal partner Foggy Nelson, secretary Karen Page and Murdock in the guise of his own (fictitious) twin brother Mike – heading to Canada for World’s Fair Expo ’67 and encountering another borrowed costumed crazy in search of easy glory and untold riches…

With Daredevil crushed and captive the prospects look bleak north of the border, but Ol’ Hornhead soon outsmarts and outfights his techno-savvy foe in the stunning sequel ‘To Squash the Beetle!’

Safely back in the Big Apple, DD’s undeserved reputation as a mere costumed acrobat induces another fearsome felon to attack in ‘Daredevil Dies First!’ The sightless wonder is targeted by old Fantastic Four foe The Trapster, who considers the Scarlet Swashbuckler a mere stepping-stone in his overly-complex plan to destroy the World’s premier super-team. Typically, Murdock manages to turn the tables in #36’s ‘The Name of the Game is Mayhem!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia): a clash that leave the blind hero triumphant but weakened and easy prey for another FF arch-foe. Tartaglione then returned to ink the startling ‘Don’t Look Now, But It’s… Doctor Doom!’

Helpless before the Iron Dictator, DD is trapped in ‘The Living Prison!’(Giacoia inks) as Doom swaps bodies with the sightless crusader to facilitate his own sneak attack on the FF, which culminates in a stupendous Lee, Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott crafted Battle Royale in Fantastic Four #73’s crossover conclusion with the Human Torch, Thing and Mr. Fantastic battling Daredevil, Thor and Spider-Man in ‘The Flames of Battle…’.

As always when involved in mind- swap cases, it’s always prudent to advise your friends when you defeat the bad guy and regain your original body…

The Man Without Fear finally found some of his own bad guys to bash in Daredevil #39 when old enemies the Ani-Men return with a new name and a new boss. Inked by George Tuska ‘The Exterminator and the Super-Powered Unholy Three’ reintroduces Bird-Man, Ape-Man and Cat-Man, now in the pay of a criminal genius working with time-based weapons, but the real meat of the tale is Foggy’s campaign to become New York City’s District Attorney.

That potential glittering prize is threatened, however, after the portly advocate unexpectedly revives his romantic relationship with ex-convict Deborah Harris, but at least now Matt Murdock’s only rival for Karen’s affections is his imaginary twin-brother Mike…

That story proceeded in #40 with DD banished to a timeless other-realm world but still led to a spectacular clash in ‘The Fallen Hero!’ (inked by Tartaglione) before concluding the only way it could with ‘The Death of Mike Murdock!’ as Matt takes advantage of his final catastrophic battle with the Exterminator to end the clumsy secret identity charade.

He doesn’t come clean though, preferring to keep Daredevil’s secrets and let his friends grieve needlessly…

To Be Continued…

Rounding out the experience are number of bonus pages including the unused (presumed lost forever) original cover to DD #35, plus a gallery of original art pages and covers by Colan. Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1967, 1968, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby with Vince Colletta, Joe Sinnott and others (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5058-9 (PB)                     :978-0-7851-1184-9 (HB)

The monolith of Marvel all started with the quirky and fractious adventures of a small super-quartet who were as much squabbling family as coolly capable costumed champions. Everything the company produces now stems from their exploits and the groundbreaking, inspired efforts of Stan Lee & Jack Kirby…

This full-colour compendium – available in hard cover, trade paperback and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #41-50 plus the third giant-sized Annual: issues of progressive landmarks spanning August 1965 to May 1966 with Stan & Jack cannily building and consolidating an ever-expanding and cohesive shared universe with the FF as the central title and most consistently groundbreaking series of that web of cosmic creation.

As seen in the landmark premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm – with Sue’s tag-along teenaged brother – survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak.

Eschewing preamble, the titanic tales of suspense resume here with the first chapter of a tense and traumatic trilogy (inked by Vince Colletta) in which the Frightful Four (The Wizard, Sandman, Trapster and enigmatic Madame Medusa) brainwash the despondent and increasingly isolated Thing: turning him against his former team-mates.

It starts with ‘The Brutal Betrayal of Ben Grimm!’, continues in rip-roaring fashion as ‘To Save You, Why Must I Kill You?’ pits the monster’s baffled former comrades against their friend and the world’s most insidious villains and concludes in bombastic glory with #44’s ‘Lo! There Shall be an Ending!’

After that Colletta signed off by inking one of the most crowded Marvel stories ever: Fantastic Four Annual #3. Inexplicably here it is reassigned to the back of the book however so ignore the huge chronological blip and soldier on: we’ll get there when we get there…

Cover-dated November 1965, FF #44 was a landmark in many ways. Firstly, it saw the arrival of Joe Sinnott as regular inker, a skilled brush-man with a deft line and a superb grasp of anatomy and facial expression, and an artist prepared to match Kirby’s greatest efforts with his own. Some inkers had problems with just how much detail the King would pencil in; Sinnott relished it and the effort showed. What was wonderful now became incomparable…

‘The Gentleman’s Name is Gorgon!’ introduces a mysterious powerhouse with ponderous metal hooves instead of feet, a hunter implacably stalking Medusa. She then embroils the Human Torch – and thus the whole team – in her frantic bid to escape, and that’s before the monstrous android Dragon Man shows up to complicate matters.

All this is merely prelude, however: with the next issue we are introduced to a hidden race of super-beings secretly sharing Earth with us for millennia. ‘Among us Hide… the Inhumans’ reveals Medusa to be part of the Royal Family of Attilan, a race of paranormal aristocrats on the run ever since a coup deposed the true king.

Black Bolt, Triton, Karnak and the rest would quickly become mainstays of the Marvel Universe, but their bewitching young cousin Crystal and her giant teleporting dog Lockjaw were the real stars here. For young Johnny it is love at first sight, and Crystal’s eventual fate would greatly change his character, giving him a hint of angst-ridden tragedy that resonated greatly with the generation of young readers who were growing up with the comic…

Those Who Would Destroy Us!’ and ‘Beware the Hidden Land!’ (FF#46 – 47) see the team join the Inhumans as Black Bolt struggles to regain the throne from his brother Maximus the Mad, only to stumble into the usurper’s plan to wipe “inferior” humanity from the Earth.

Ideas just seem to explode from Kirby at this time. Despite being halfway through one storyline, FF #48 trumpeted ‘The Coming of Galactus!’ The Inhumans saga is swiftly wrapped up by page 6, with the entire clandestine race sealed behind an impenetrable dome called the Negative Zone (later retitled the Negative Barrier to avoid confusion with the gateway to sub-space that Reed worked on for years).

Meanwhile, a cosmic entity approaches Earth, preceded by a gleaming herald on a surfboard of pure cosmic energy…

I suspect this experimental – and vaguely uncomfortable – approach to narrative mechanics was calculated and deliberate, mirroring the way TV soap operas were increasingly delivering their interwoven storylines, and used as a means to keep readers glued to the series.

They needn’t have bothered. The stories and concepts were enough…

‘If this be Doomsday!’ finds planet-eating Galactus setting up shop over the Baxter Building despite the team’s best efforts, whilst his cold and shining herald has his humanity accidentally rekindled by simply conversing with the Thing’s blind girlfriend Alicia.

Issue #50’s ‘The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer!’ then concludes the epic in grand style as the reawakened ethical core of the Surfer and heroism of the FF buy enough time for Richards to literally save the World with a borrowed Deus ex Machina gadget…

Once again, the tale ends in the middle of the issue, and the remaining half concentrating on the team getting back to “normal”. To that extent, Johnny finally enrols at Metro College, desperate to forget lost love Crystal and his unnerving jaunts to the ends of the universe.

On his first day, the lad meet imposing and enigmatic Native American Wyatt Wingfoot, destined to become his greatest friend…

That would be a great place to stop but now at last you can see how Reed and Sue get hitched as Fantastic Four Annual #3 famously features every hero, most of the villains and lots of ancillary characters in the company pantheon (such as teen-romance stars Patsy Walker & Hedy Wolf and even Stan and Jack themselves).

‘Bedlam at the Baxter Building!’ spectacularly celebrates the Richards-Storm nuptials, despite a massed attack by an army of baddies mesmerised by the diabolical Doctor Doom. In its classical simplicity it signalled the end of one era and the start of another…

With these tales Lee & Kirby began a period of unmatched imagination and innovation which cemented Marvel’s dominance and confirmed that they were crafting a comics empire. The verve, conceptual scope and sheer enthusiasm shines through on every page and the wonder is there for you to share. If you’ve never thrilled to these spectacular sagas then this book of marvels is the perfect key to another – better – world and time.
© 1965, 1966, 2011, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Mighty Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 9


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Neal Adams, Bill Everett, Vince Colletta, John Verpoorten, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4220-1

The Mighty Thor was the title in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with the Cosmic Unknown was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s career-defining string of power-packed signature pantheons all stemmed from 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 fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This bombastic full-colour hardback tome – also available in eFormats – re-presents Kirby’s final Asgardian exploits and the initial efforts of his successors. Taken from Thor #173-183 the sagas collectively cover February to December 1970, as universe-builder Jack abandoned the worlds he’d cultivated with Stan Lee for DC Comics and a cosmos uniquely his own…

Once upon a time lonely, lamed American doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, Blake found a gnarled old walking stick, which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder!

Without any hesitation or preamble, the reborn godling was soon defending the weak and smiting the wicked. As months swiftly passed, rapacious extra-terrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs gradually gave way to a vast panoply of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces. Eventually the magnificent warrior’s ever-expanding world of Asgard was a regular feature and mesmerising milieu for the hero’s earlier adventures, heralding a fresh era of cosmic fantasy to run almost tangentially to the company’s signature superhero sagas.

The astounding action begins here – after a fascinating and revelatory Behind the Scenes Introduction from Will Murray – with the earthbound fury of ‘Ulik Unleashed!’ (inked by Bill Everett) as the ferocious super-troll is sent to Earth by Loki only to be hypnotised into aiding old adversaries The Circus of Crime in the robbery of the century…

Single-issue adventures continue with an epic clash between Thor and a tormented young genius whose strength-stealing robot runs amok in ‘The Carnage of the Crypto-Man!’ before the last great epic of the Kirby-era hits its stride, but that’s a saga for another time and place…

Behind a Marie Severin cover ‘The Fall of Asgard!’ sees valiant Asgardian Balder and his Warriors Three allies Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg escape the clutches of lovestruck sorceress Karnilla only to confront the assemble hordes of giants and trolls marching on the Home of the Gods.

With All-Father Odin incapacitated by his annual Great Sleep, Loki has perfidiously seized the throne forcing war-goddess Sif to call Thor back home for perhaps the Last Battle…

Inked by Vince Colletta, ‘Inferno!’ reveals the folly of the usurper as terrifying Fire-demon Surtur breaks free of his Odinian captivity to begin his pre-ordained task of burning down the universe.

With everything appearing ‘To End in Flames!’ Loki flees to Earth, having first hidden Odin’s sleeping form in the life-inimical Sea of Eternal Night. As Thor leads a heroic and Horatian last stand, Balder penetrates the Dimension of Death to rescue the All-Father just as Surtur fires up for his fulminating final foray…

Thor #178 (July 1970) is a landmark: the first issue created without Jack Kirby. Clearly a try-out or fill-in yarn, ‘Death is a Stranger’ – by Lee, John Buscema & Colletta – depicts the Thunderer snatched away from Asgard by the nefarious Abomination to an epic battle with the alien Stranger – an extra-galactic powerhouse who collects unique beings for scientific study…

The interrupted epic resumed in #179 (inked by John Verpoorten) with ‘No More the Thunder God!’ as Thor, Sif and Balder are dispatched to Earth to arrest the fugitive Loki. This issue was Kirby’s last: he left the entire vast unfolding new mythology on a monumental cliffhanger just as the Thunder God is ambushed by his wicked step-brother. Using arcane magic, the Lord of Evil switches bodies with his noble sibling and gains safety and the power of the Storm whilst Thor is doomed to endure whatever punishment Odin decrees…

More than any other Marvel strip Thor was the feature where Kirby’s creative brilliance matched his questing exploration of an Infinite Imaginative Cosmos: dreaming, extrapolating and honing a dazzling new kind of storytelling graphics with soul-searching, mind-boggling concepts of Man’s place in the universe.

Although what followed contained the trappings and even spirit of that incredible marriage, the heart, soul and soaring, unfettered wonderment just were not there any longer: nor would they be until 1983 when Walt Simonson assumed creative control with #337 (see Mighty Thor: the Ballad of Beta Ray Bill).

Here, however, ‘When Gods Go Mad!’ introduced the radically different style of Neal Adams to the mix, inked by the comfortably familiar Joe Sinnott, as the true Thunder God was sent to Hell and the tender mercies of Mephisto, whilst on Earth Loki uses his brother’s body to terrorise the UN Assembly and declare himself Master of the World…

In #181’s ‘One God Must Fall’ Sif leads the Warriors Three on a rescue mission to the Infernal Realm whilst Balder struggles to combat the power of Thor combined with the magic and malice of Loki until Mephisto is thwarted. Then a cataclysmic battle of brothers on Earth soon sets the world to rights…

The new Post-Kirby era truly began with Thor #182 as John Buscema assumed the artistic reins and began his own epic run as illustrator with ‘The Prisoner… The Power… and… Dr. Doom!’ as the Thunderer is entangled in Earthly politics. When a young girl entreats him to rescue her father from the deadly Iron Monarch, the noble scion cannot refuse, especially as the missing parent is an expert on missile technology and is capable of making Doom the master of ICBM warfare…

The decidedly down-to-Earth and mismatched melodrama concludes with Don Blake ‘Trapped in Doomsland!’ until Thor can retrieve his mislaid mallet, but even after his deadly mission of mercy is accomplished, tragedy is his only reward…

Closing out this key transitional volume is the cover of the Kirby tour de force Tales of Asgard #1 and his unused cover for Thor #175 (inked by John Verpoorten) plus a Buscema house ad for the aforementioned clash with Dr. Doom.

The Kirby Thor is a high-point in graphic fantasy and all the more impressive for its sheer timeless readability, but the end was truly a new beginning and a testament to the sheer pulling power of the mightiest son of Asgard. These tales are a Fantasy fan’s delight and an absolute must for all devotees of the medium.
© 1970, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iron Man Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Johnny Craig with Roy Thomas, Don Heck, Dan Adkins & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3493-0

Marvel’s rise to dominance of the American comicbook industry really took hold in 1968 when most of their characters finally got their own titles. Prior to that – and due to a highly restrictive distribution deal – the company was contractually tied to a limit of 16 publications per month.

To circumvent this drawback, Marvel developed “split-books” with two features per publication, such as Tales of Suspense where Iron Man was joined by Captain America with #59 (cover-dated November 1964). When the division came, the armoured Avenger started afresh with a “Collectors Item First Issue” – after a shared one-shot with the Sub-Mariner that squared divergent schedules – with Cap retaining the numbering of the original title; thus his “premiering” in number #100.

Tony Stark is the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous millionaire industrialist and inventor – and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the ultra- high tech armour of his alter-ego, Iron Man.

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions, the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard and better the World, seemed inevitable. Combine the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and business could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil and the concept behind the Golden Avenger seems an infallibly successful proposition. Of course, it helps that all that money and gadgetry is great fun and very, very cool…

With an Iron Clad promise of stunning adventure and suspenseful drama this iconic hardback (and digital) chronological compendium covers Iron Man #2-13, spanning June 1968 – May 1969 and also includes an educational Introduction from comics historian Dewey Cassell, running down the stellar career and achievements of debuting artist George Tuska. Also tipped in to enhance the reading experience is a comedy short gleaned from Marvel’s comedy pastiche magazine Not Brand Echh #2.

A new era began with Invincible Iron Man #2. Long-established illustrator Gene Colan had moved on and ‘The Day of the Demolisher!’, saw EC star Johnny Craig assume the art-chores. His first job is a cracker, as scripter Archie Goodwin introduces Janice Cord as a new romantic interest for the playboy inventor. The problem is the monolithic killer robot built by her deranged father and the start of a running plot-thread examining the effects of the munitions business and the kind of inventors who work for it…

Goodwin and Craig then brought back Stark’s old bodyguard Happy Hogan in time to help rebuild the now-obsolete Iron Man armour and consequently devolve into a monstrous menace in ‘My Friend, My Foe… the Freak!’ for #3 and retool a long-forgotten Soviet super-villain into a major threat in ‘Unconquered is the Unicorn!’

This particular tech-enhanced maniac was dying from his own powers and thought Tony would be able – if not willing – to fix him…

With Iron Man #5 another Golden Age veteran joined the creative team. George Tuska – who had worked on huge hits such as the original (Fawcett) Captain Marvel and Crime Does Not Pay plus newspaper strips such as The Spirit and Buck Rogers – would illustrate the majority of Iron Man’s adventures over the next decade and become synonymous with the Armoured Avenger…

Inked by Craig, ‘Frenzy in a Far-Flung Future!’ is an intriguing time-paradox tale wherein Stark is kidnapped by the last survivors of humanity, determined to kill him before he can build the super-computer that eradicated mankind. Did somebody say “Terminator”…?

A super-dense (by which I mean strong and heavy) Cuban Commie threat returned – but not for long – in ‘Vengeance… Cries the Crusher!’

Next the sinister scheme begun way back in Tales of Suspense #97 finally bore brutal – and for preppie S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell (assigned as Stark’s security advisor) – painful fruit in two-part thriller ‘The Maggia Strikes!’ and ‘A Duel Must End!’ as old Daredevil foe the Gladiator leads a savage attack on Stark’s factory, friends and would-be new love…

The saga also reveals the tragic history of mystery woman Whitney Frost and lays the seeds of her evolution into one of Iron Man’s most implacable foes…

A bold 3-part saga follows as ultimate oriental arch-fiend The Mandarin resurfaces with a cunning plan and the certain conviction that Tony Stark and Iron Man are the same person. Beginning with a seeming Incredible Hulk guest-shot in #9’s ‘…There Lives a Green Goliath!’, proceeding through the revelatory and explosive Nick Fury team-up ‘Once More… The Mandarin!’ before climaxing in spectacular “saves-the-day” fashion as our hero is ‘Unmasked!’, this epic from Goodwin, Tuska & Craig offers astounding thrills and potent drama with plenty of devious twists, just as the first inklings of the social upheaval America was experiencing began to seep into Marvel’s publications.

As the core audience started to grow into the Flower Power generation, future tales would take arch-capitalist weapon-smith Stark in many unexpected and often peculiar directions. All of a sudden maybe that money and fancy gadgetry weren’t quite so fun or cool anymore…?

Goodwin and artists George Tuska & Johnny Craig conclude their sterling run of solid science-flavoured action epics with the introduction of a new sinister super-foe in #12 as ‘The Coming of the Controller’ sees a twisted genius using the stolen life-energy of enslaved citizens to power a cybernetic exo-skeleton. Along the way he and his brother embezzle the fortune of Stark’s girlfriend Janice Cord to pay for it all. Of course, Iron Man is ready and able to overcome the scheming maniac, culminating in a cataclysmic climax ‘Captives of the Controller!’ as the mind-bending terror attempts to extend his mesmeric, parasitic sway over the entire populace of New York City…

As well as some Tuska original art pages and covers, this galvanic grimoire ends by supplementing and counterpointing the traumatic tension with a slice of period silliness from spoof comic Not Brand Echh #2 (September 1967). Here Roy Thomas, Don Heck & Dan Adkins pit clownish 20th century crusader the Unrinseable Ironed Man against a parody-prone 40th century stalwart fans will recognise even if here he’s known as ‘Magnut, Robot Biter!’

This is a fantastic period in the Golden Gladiator’s career and one that perfectly encapsulates the changes Marvel and America went through: seen through some of the best and most memorable efforts of a simply stellar band of creators.
© 1968, 1969, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.