Doctor Strange Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Dan Adkins, Tom Palmer, John Buscema, George Klein & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851- (HB/Digital Edition)

When the budding House of Ideas introduced a warrior wizard to their burgeoning pantheon in the summer of 1963, it was a bold and curious move. Anthologically, bizarre adventures and menacing aliens were still incredibly popular, but most dramatic mentions of magic or the supernatural (especially vampires, werewolves and their equally eldritch ilk) were harshly proscribed by a censorship panel which dictated almost all aspects of story content.

Almost a decade after a public witchhunt led to Senate hearings on the malign influences of words and pictures in sequence, comic books were ferociously monitored and adjudicated by the draconian Comics Code Authority. Even though some of the small company’s strongest sellers were still mystery and monster mags, their underlying themes and premises were almost universally mad science and alien wonders, not necromantic or thaumaturgic horrors.

Companies like ACG, Charlton and DC – and the remnants of Atlas/pre-Marvel – got around the edicts against thaumaturgical thrills and chills by making all reference to magic benign or even humorous… the same tone adopted by massively popular TV series Bewitched a year after Doctor Strange debuted.

That eldritch embargo probably explains writer/editor Stan Lee’s low key introduction of Steve Ditko’s mystic adventurer: an exotic, twilight troubleshooter inhabiting the shadowy outer fringes of society.

Capitalising on of the runaway success of The Fantastic Four, Lee had quickly spun off the youngest, most colourful member of the team into his own series, hoping to recapture the glory of the 1940s when The Human Torch was one of the company’s untouchable “Big Three” superstars. Within a year of FF #1, long-lived anthology title Strange Tales became home for the blazing boy-hero (from #101, cover-dated October 1962), launching Johnny Storm on a creatively productive but commercially unsuccessful solo career.

Soon after, in Tales of Suspense #41 (May 196), latest sensation Iron Man battled a crazed scientific wizard dubbed Doctor Strange, and with the name successfully and legally in copyrightable print (a long-established Lee technique: Thorr, The Thing, Magneto, The Hulk and others had been disposable Atlas “furry underpants monsters” long before they became in-continuity Marvel characters), preparations began for a truly different kind of hero.

The company had already devised a quasi-mystic troubleshooter for an short run in Amazing Adventures (volume 1 #1-4 & #6 spanning June-November 1961).

The precursor was balding, trench-coated savant Doctor Droom – later retooled as Doctor Druid when his exploits were reprinted in the 1970s. He was a psychiatrist, sage and paranormal investigator tackling everything from alien invaders to Atlanteans (albeit not the ones Sub-Mariner ruled). He was subsequently retro-written into Marvel continuity as an alternative candidate for Stephen Strange’s ultimate role as Sorcerer Supreme…

After a shaky start, the Master of the Mystic Arts became an unmissable icon of the cool counter-culture kids who saw, in Ditko’s increasingly psychedelic art, echoes and overtones of their own trippy explorations of other worlds. It might not have been the authors’ intention but certainly helped keep the mage at the forefront of Lee’s efforts to break comics out of the “kids-stuff” ghetto…

After the originator abruptly left the company at the height of his fame and success in early 1967, the feature went through a string of creators before Marvel’s 1968 expansion allowed a measure of creative stability as the mystic master won his own monthly solo title in neat moment of sleight of hand by assuming the numbering of Strange Tales. Thus, this enchanting full colour compilation gathers Doctor Strange #169-179 plus a crossover from Avengers #61, spanning cover-dates June 1968 to April 1969. It also sagely includes every issue’s stunning cover – a gallery of wonders from Dan Adkins, Gene Colan, John Buscema and Barry (not yet Windsor) Smith.

Previously, Dr. Stephen Strange had entered and escaped the terrifying dimension of imagination; defeated Scientist Supreme Yandroth; learned the origin of the his mentor The Ancient One and lost his extradimensional lover Clea to the outer infinities. Now a new era dawned for the mystic master just as Big Things were happening at Marvel…

In 1968, after more than a decade under a restrictive and limiting retail contract, The House of Ideas secured a new distributor and explosively expanded with a tidal wave of titles. Twin-featured “Split-Books” such as Strange Tales were divided: replaced by full-length solo series for the cohabiting stars. For the Master of the Mystic Arts, that meant a bit of rapid resetting…

Following an Introduction from sole scripter Roy Thomas, sorcerous super-shenanigans resume with a reworking of the Mage’s origins.

Extrapolating and building upon the Ditko masterpiece from Strange Tales #115, ‘The Coming of Dr. Strange’ by Thomas & Dan Adkins details how he was once America’s greatest surgeon. A brilliant man, yet greedy, vain and arrogant, he cared nothing for the sick except as a means to wealth and glory. When a self-inflicted, drunken car-crash ended his career, Strange hit the skids.

Fallen as low as man ever could, the debased doctor overheard a barroom tale leading him on a delirious odyssey – or, perhaps more accurately, pilgrimage – to Tibet, where a frail, aged mage changed his life forever. Eventual enlightenment through daily redemption transformed Stephen the derelict into a solitary, dedicated watchdog at the fringes of humanity, challenging every hidden danger of the dark on behalf of a world better off not knowing what dangers lurk in the shadows.

The saga also featured his first clash with the Ancient One’s other pupil Mordo revealing how Strange thwarted a seditious scheme, earning the Baron’s undying envious enmity…

The expanded exploration of the transformation from elitist, dissolute surgeon into penitent scholar and dutiful mystic guardian of humanity neatly segues into another clash with a lethally persistent foe as ‘To Dream… Perchance to Die!’ (#170) finds the Ancient One trapped in a coma thanks to the malevolent lord of dreams. To wake his master, Strange impetuously enters the astral realms and defeats Nightmare on his own terms and turf after which #171 introduces someone who will become a key creator in the mystic’s career.

Pencilled by eventual inker supreme Tom Palmer, with Adkins supplying finishes, ‘In the Shadow of… Death!’ sees Strange lured away from Earth by news of long-lost Clea. To facilitate a rescue mission, the sorcerer unthinkingly calls on English associate and sometimes arcane ally Victoria Bentley, unaware or uncaring of her romantic feelings for him.

Their trek through the outer deeps of The Realm Unknown is fraught with deadly traps and peril, but does locate missing Clea… after Bentley is captured and Strange ambushed by his most powerful and hate-filled foe…

A magical creative team formed for Doctor Strange #171 as Gene Colan signed on for an astoundingly experimental run with Palmer handling inks. Humanity is endangered by ‘…I, Dormammu!’ as the Dark God reveals he has orchestrated many recent attacks designed to weary and de-power Earth’s magical champion. The gloating fiend shares how his apparent destruction battling conceptual being Eternity in fact resulted in transdimensional exile and the subjugation of a demonic race dubbed Dykkors: now his eager and willing foot-soldiers ready to ravage the realms of Mankind. The Dark Despot has even suborned his hated sister and former foe Umar the Unspeakable to his scheme…

As always, Dormammu has underestimated the valour and ingenuity of Stephen Strange. ‘…While a World Awaits!’ the monstrous conqueror leads a demonic army through the Doorway of Dimensions, leaving the human mage time to liberate Clea and Victoria, and engage the fearsome forces in a mystic delaying tactic that once again allows Dormammu to defeat himself…

As former associate Dr. Benton seeks to convince Strange to abandon his crazy charlatanry for a life of respectable medical consultancy, #174 sees the Master of the Mystic Arts helping magical Clea adapt to mundane life on Earth. However, ‘The Power and the Pendulum’ finds him accompanying secretly despondent Victoria home to England, before being diverted to a foreboding castle where weirdly flamboyant Lord Nekron has laid a devilish trap.

The crazed noble has made a bargain with hellborn Supreme Satannish, offering his soul for fame and immortality. Instead, the Lord of Lies devised a counter-offer, calling for the substitution of another mystic at the end of one year. With time running out and Strange fitted up for the switch, doom seemed inevitable, but Earth’s champion had one timely trick left to play…

The late sixties were an incredibly creative period and comics greatly benefitted from the atmosphere of experimentation. Colan used page layouts in wildly imaginative ways that stunned many readers of the time, but that same expanded vision has often been cited as the reason for the title’s poor sales. I suspect the feature’s early cancellation was as much the result of increasingly sophisticated and scary stories from Thomas, who early on tapped into the growing global fascination for supernatural horror, and urban conspiracy such as seen in #175’s ‘Unto Us… the Sons of Satannish!’ – coincidentally, the last issue to carry his original title logo.

Just like Ira Levin’s 1967 book and hit 1968 movie Rosemary’s Baby, Strange’s next case involved devil-worship in safely mundane Manhattan, working in secret to achieve diabolical aims. Deprived access to the film’s simmering sexuality and mature themes, Thomas, Colan & Palmer stuck to comic book strengths as Clea’s immigrant experience abruptly encompasses ostracization, isolation, suspicious reactions and even assault by ordinary New Yorkers. This leads her into the hands of hidden cult The Sons of Satannish, whose charismatic leader Asmodeus deals with the devil, and attempts to gain ultimate power by eradicating Strange and replacing him in #176’s ‘O Grave Where is Thy Victory?’, with a new, eerie and  abbreviated masthead.

Those aforementioned sales problems were not going away and #177’s concluding chapter ‘The Cult and the Curse’ addressed the issue in a tried and true manner. Exiled from his own existence and persona, Strange rescued Clea but could only strike back and reclaim his life by magically reinventing himself and devising a brand new look. The mask and tights of a traditional superhero were apparently the only way to outmanoeuvre Asmodeus, but sadly, not in time to stop him activating a deathbed curse to destroy the world…

The super-suited and booted modern mage needed information to proceed, and Dr. Strange #178 finds him seeking to question the other Satannish worshippers Asmodeus had callously banished. Once again hoping to exploit poor Victoria Bentley, Strange recognises her new neighbour Dane Whitman as part-time Avenger The Black Knight and his plea for aid results in an assault on  the dimension of decay-god Tiborro ‘…With One Beside Him!’

The saga finally concluded in Avengers #61 with ‘Some Say the World Will End in Fire… Some Say in Ice!’ by Thomas, John Buscema & George Klein. After Asmodeus’ recued minions reveal that the satanic cult’s failsafe spell unleashed Norse demons Surtur and Ymir to destroy the planet, Strange and Black Knight recruited The Vision, Black Panther and Hawkeye to help them save the world on two fronts…

Although the comics spellbinding ends here, also on offer is the cover of Dr. Strange #179: a Barry Smith treat from 1969 that fronted an emergency reprint of Lee & Ditko’s ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange’ from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2. It joins a House ad for the 1968 relaunch, a half dozen original art pages by Adkins, Colan & Palmer plus the cover art to #174 and 175.

The Wizard of Greenwich Village has always been an acquired taste for mainstream superhero fans, but the pioneering graphic bravura of these tales and the ones to come in the next volume left an indelible mark on the Marvel Universe and readily fall into the sublime category of works done “ahead of their time”. Many of us prefer to believe that Doctor Strange has always been the coolest of outsiders and most accessible fringe star of the Marvel firmament. This glorious grimoire is a miraculous means for old fans to enjoy his world once more and the perfect introduction for recent acolytes or converts created by the movie iteration.
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 16


By Len Wein, Roger Stern, John Buscema, Walter Simonson, Tony DeZuñiga, Sal Buscema & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0358-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Once upon a time, disabled physician 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…

Whilst the ever-expanding Marvel Universe had grown ever-more interconnected as it matured through its first decade, with characters literally tripping over each other in New York City, the Asgardian heritage of Thor and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had most often drawn the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning, unique landscapes and scenarios.

However, by the time of this power-packed compendium, the King was long gone and in fact enacting his Second Coming – technically third, but definitely Second Return to the House of (mostly his) Ideas – and only echoes of his groundbreaking presence remained. John Buscema had visually made the Thunder God his own over the interceding years, whilst a succession of scripters had struggled with varying success to recapture the epic scope of Kirby’s vision and Stan Lee’s off-kilter but comfortingly compelling faux-Shakespearean verbiage…

Spanning January-December 1977, this power-packed compilation re-presents The Mighty Thor #255-266 and Annual #6, and leads with ‘Over the Rainbow Bridge’: an engaging Introduction intriguingly illustrated  from involved illustrator and eventual redeemer of the Thor franchise – Walter Simonson.

The action opens behind the Kirby cover for Thor #255, as Len Wein & Tony DeZuñiga launch a new epic interstellar adventure in ‘Lo, the Quest Begins!’ Previously, embattled Asgard survived invasion only to learn their divine Liege Lord Odin had gone missing. Now, having exhausted every avenue of location available, Thor is compelled to search the galaxies, prompted by vague hints from all-knowing spirit Mimir of a distant destination – the Doomsday Star…

Boarding spacefaring dragonship Starjammer, Thor, Lady Sif, and Warriors Three Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg set (solar) sail, leaving a beleaguered Eternal Realm under the stewardship of Balder the Brave and his dark inamorata Karnilla the Norn Queen. However, before they even leave local space, the seekers encounter – and battle – malign aliens marooned ever since they initially fought the Storm Lord in his debut adventure…

A classic case of Marvel Misunderstanding occurs in #256 as the voyagers encounter an ancient and colossal colony ship populated by the last survivors of a civilisation that died from over-exploiting their environment. As the Asgardians are joined by Rigellian Recorder Memorax, the slowly-fading Levianons reveal how their poverty and resource-blighted existence has been further threatened by an invasive beast who takes the elderly like a ‘Lurker in the Dark!’ (Wein, John Buscema & DeZuñiga).

When the hideous Sporr also abducts recently wounded Sif, enraged Thor leads a savage counter-assault that sparks incomprehensible tragedy in concluding chapter ‘Death, Thou Shalt Die!’

Another mineral-based miscreant resurfaces in #258. ‘If the Stars be Made of Stone!’ sees the Starjammer attacked by space pirates inexplicably led by human super-villain – and early Thor foe – the Grey Gargoyle. The job is not one he wants, but as the unwilling captain conspires with the beaten-&-enslaved Asgardians for a chance to see again the Green Hills of Earth, their plot is exposed by fanatical second-in command Fee-Lon.

The brutal usurper is a truly ferocious brigand, but ultimately fights in vain to end the gods’ ‘Escape into Oblivion!’

Meanwhile in Asgard, Balder and Karnilla have been resisting an invasion helmed by arch-traitors Enchantress and Executioner. As Walter Simonson signs on beside Wein & DeZuñiga from #260, that subplot expands and intensifies even as ‘The Vicious and the Valiant’ sees the interstellar questors finally locate the Doomsday Star and falter before ‘The Wall Around the World!’ (inked by Ernie Chan).

The terrifying global construct is comprised of the power-drained husks of dead gods, but determinedly pushing on, the seekers discover Odin has been captured and slowly diminished by the energy-leeching Soul-Survivors whose civilisation subsists on stolen divine power. As they valiantly strive to save their sovereign, the Asgardians learn to their cost that ‘Even an Immortal Can Die!’ (#262, illustrated by Simonson & DeZuñiga).

Thankfully, ‘Holocaust and Homecoming!’ proves Odin is both wily and mighty as the heroes’ ferocious clash and inevitable victory results in a weary and wounded pantheon returning to Asgard to find it taken over by Loki and his cohort of treacherous allies.

With Odin in a coma – and ultimately abducted again – a covert civil war erupts between the returned champions and the city Loki has subverted. ‘Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me!’ sees a sinister scheme exposed, but not before Loki unleashes ultimate weapon The Destroyer against his step-brother in #265’s ‘When Falls the God of Thunder…!’ (inked by Joe Sinnott). As before, it’s not long before Loki loses control of his ultimate sanction…

Once again, everything hinges on the power and determination of Thor and his valiant resistance to chaos. In #266’s ‘…So Falls the Realm Eternal!’, Wein, Simonson & DeZuñiga show the Thunderer at his indomitable best, keeping Loki at bay and off kilter until the Warriors Three rescue and revive an extremely unhappy All-Father…

This saga presaged a change of focus that we’ll cover in the next volume but before then the epic entertainment concludes with ‘Thunder in the 31st Century!’ by Roger Stern, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson from Thor Annual #6 (December 1977).

A riot of time-busting mayhem, it commences with Mighty Thor plucked from contemporary Manhattan: accidentally summoned to the time period of the original/future (time travel tenses suck!) Guardians of the Galaxy by a cyborg maniac named Korvac.

The legendary god-warrior briefly joins Vance Astro, Charlie 27, Yondu, Nikki, Martinex and Starhawk to bombastically battle super-powered aliens and thwart the sinister cyborg’s scheme to become master of the universe. At the conclusion, Thor returns to his own place and time, unaware how Korvac will reshape the destiny of reality itself in coming months…

To Be Continued…

Augmenting this volume is a blockbusting original art gallery, offering 21 pages of sketches, layouts, pencils and fully inked covers, splash and story-pages by Kirby & John Verpoorten, Buscema, DeZuñiga, Simonson, Joe Sinnott &Ernie Chan: a true treat for every art lover.

The tales gathered here may lack the sheer punch and verve of the early years but fans of ferocious Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy will find this tome still stuffed with intrigue and action, magnificently rendered by artists who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, were every inch his equal in craft and dedication. In Thor’s anniversary year, this a definite and decidedly engaging must-read for all fans of the character and the genre.
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Rawhide Kid Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jack Davis, Dick Ayers, with Don Heck, Paul Reinman, Al Hartley, Sol Brodsky, Gene Colan & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2684-3 (HB/digital edition)

For most of the 1960s nobody did superheroes better than Marvel Comics. However, even fully acknowledging the stringencies of the Comics Code Authority, the company’s style for producing their staple genre titles for War, Romance and especially Western fans left a lot to be desired. Hints at sex, the venality of authority figures, or using proper guns the way they were meant to be used, capitulated to overwhelming caution and a tone that wouldn’t be amiss in kids’ cartoons or pre-Watershed family TV shows.

Eventually, though, the company’s innate boldness and hunger for innovation overwhelmed common sense. Moreover, and mercifully for revivals of pre-superhero veterans like Rawhide Kid, their meagre art-pool consisted of such master craftsmen as Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers and others…

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

With Westerns huge on the small screen and youthful rebellion a hot societal concept in 1960, owner/publisher Martin Goodman – via Stan Lee & Jack Kirby – unleashed a brand new six-gun stalwart – little more than a teenager – and launched him in summer of that year, economically continuing the numbering of the failed original…

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

It all (re) began when Lee, Kirby & Ayers introduced adopted teenaged Johnny Bart who showed all and sundry what he was made of after his retired Texas Ranger Uncle Ben was gunned down by a fame-hungry cheat. After very publicly exercising his right to vengeance, the naive kid fled Rawhide before explanations could be offered, resigned to life as an outlaw…

Reprinting Rawhide Kid #26-35, spanning February1962 to August 1963, this second selection offers another eclectic mix of hoary clichés, astounding genre mash-ups and the occasional nugget of pure wild west story-gold with some of the King’s most captivating and impressive art augmented by significant contributions from a number of other laudable pencil-pushers comprising the first inkling of the fabled Marvel Bullpen.

Following an outrageous introduction by dis-honorary owlhoot Mark Evanier, describing the publishing theories of Publisher Martin Goodman, the bangs for your buck begin with #26 and lead yarn ‘Trapped by the Bounty Hunter’ with Lee, Kirby & Dick Ayers showing how The Kid falls for a smarter man’s snare before impressing him with his honesty and earning another chance. Uncredited prose piece ‘Stagecoach Race’ describes a battle of wits and a risky wager after which comic action turns to melodrama as the ‘Shoot-Out in Scragg’s Saloon’ sees the Rawhide Ripsnorter mistaken by a tragic old man for his missing son. At this time comic books needed to offer a variety of material to qualify for cheaper postage rates and as well as prose shorts would include one generic cowboy tale per issue.

Here, it’s the uncredited ‘Strong Man’ – probably a Lee script limned by veteran by Bob Forgione – which could easily have fitted into one of the company’s mystery titles. Town bully Slade always gets his way but when he steals a mine map he also gets what he deserves…

The issue concludes with The Kid exposing the seeming miracle of ruthless gunslinger ‘The Bullet-Proof Man’…

Rawhide Kid #27 opens ‘When Six-Guns Roar!’, as the restless wanderer finds honest work on a ranch. If only the other hands had welcomed rather than bullied the diminutive newcomer, a lot of violence might have been avoided and history quite different A text story about a ‘Mustang Maverick’ then leads to action-packed hokum as ‘The Girl, the Gunman, and the Apaches!’ finds our hero saving a captive from the repercussions of her idiot father taking pot-shots at innocent Indians after which ‘The Fury of Bull Barker!’ (illustrated by Don Heck) turns the cliché of rough cowboy and slick city dude on its head before Lee Kirby & Ayers reveal how ‘The Man who Caught the Kid!’ had a change of heart and gave the outlaw his freedom…

The team are on top form for ‘Doom in the Desert!’, which opens #28, as the Kid survives a ruthless predator’s trap thanks only to his tragic sister, whilst text treat ‘The Travelling Show’ details a cunning robbery scheme foiled in advance of ‘The Guns of Jasker Jelko!’ Here a circus shootist gone bad is taught a salutary life-lesson by someone used to facing as well as firing hot lead, after which Paul Reinman draws the stand-alone saga of ‘The Silent Gunman’ who taught a town what is more powerful than a fast draw before Rawhide indulges in some relatively gentle remonstration ‘When a Gunslinger Gets Mad!’ Of course, it’s arguably provocation on his part to order milk in a saloon…

Our hero’s perennial search for a little peace and quiet is again scuttled in #29’s opening story as he accepts a dying sheriff’s deal to capture an outlaw in return for a pardon. Sadly ‘The Trail of Apache Joe!’ is long and the battle to subdue him hard and by the time he gets back both the lawman and the deal are dead…

Deceptively anodyne prose vignette ‘Warpath’ segues  in to action interval ‘The Little Man Laughs Last!’ as The Kid’s small scrawny physique attracts bullies who soon regret their actions just as Lee & Ayers’ done-in-one diversion ‘Yak Yancy, the Man who Treed a Town’ reinforces the point that brawn does not trump brains, before Rawhide saves a starry-eyed boy from a life of delinquency in ‘The Fallen Hero!’

Rawhide Kid #30 was cover-dated October 1962 and big things were happening. That month also saw the release of Fantastic Four #7; Strange Tales #101 (debut of the Human Torch in a solo series); Tales to Astonish #36 (second costumed Ant-Man); Journey into Mystery #85 (third Thor), and the Incredible Hulk #4 was due four weeks later. Although the company’s standard genre fare was still popular, it was gradually disappearing as Lee reallocated his top creative resources to what was rapidly becoming the “Marvel Age of Comics”. Thus it was approaching High Noon for Rawhide artisans Lee, Kirby & Ayers when hypnotist Spade Desmond rolled into a western town, and his uncanny influence showed everyone what happened ‘When the Kid Went Wild!’, after which an intolerant biddy from “Back East” learns her lesson in prose tale ‘The Silent Man’. The Kid’s ‘Showdown with the Crow Mangum Gang!’ saves an embattled family of homesteaders and Lee & Heck trace the story one particular sidearm in ‘This is… a Gun!’ before his slight stature again gets The Kid in trouble with bullies, and his response triggers a ‘Riot in Railtown!’

Issue #31 replays the theme as a prelude to Rawhide battling a greedy land baron seizing spreads and leading to a ‘Shoot-Out with Rock Rurick!’, after which a mild replay of the war between ranchers and homesteaders is re-examined in cheery text titbit ‘Sheep Run’. The Kid is easily outfoxed and ‘Trapped by Dead-Eye Dawson!’, but earns his freedom thanks to his noble nature, unlike the prodigal brother who features in Lee & Heck’s solo yarn ‘Return of Outlaw!’ Rawhide rides into the wrong town and is jumped by many old enemies in ‘No Law in Lost Mesa!’ before showing just why he’s a legend…

Rawhide Kid #32 (cover-dated February 1963) signalled the end of an era. It opened with Beware of the Barker Brothers!’ as the Kid exposed gunrunners masquerading as local dignitaries and philanthropists and was followed by ‘Home Trail’ – a prose homily on welcoming strangers and a comic advocating guns over gavels in ‘The Judge!’ by Lee & Al Hartley. Kirby’s last hurrah was ‘No Guns for a Gunman!’ as our hero fails to fall for a rigged scam that would leave other gunfighters helpless…

Although he remained as cover artist, this was Kirby’s swan song issue. Ultimately, and via a brief Ayers solo art run, the series would end up as a vehicle for writer/artist Larry Lieber – but before that Lee latched onto another artistic legend who was at that moment in the process of becoming synonymous with America’s favourite humour magazine: Jack Davis.

John Burton Davis Jr. (1924-2016) is probably one of the few strip art masters better known outside the world of comics than within it. His paintings, magazine covers, advertising work and sports cartoons reached more people than his years of comedy cartooning for such magazines as Mad, Panic, Cracked, Trump, Sick, Help!, Humbug, Playboy, etc., but few modern collectors seem aware of his horror and war and western masterpieces for EC, his pivotal if seminal time at Jim Warren’s Eerie and Creepy magazines, and his westerns for Marvel Comics. And that’s a true shame, because they’re quirky but terrific: rough, rowdy, loose and rangy, just like The Kid himself…

Scripted throughout by Lee, three issues of Jack Davis’ bombastic action, comedy and drama begin in #33 (April 1963) with ‘The Guns of Jesse James’, as the perpetually hunted Kid swallows pride and caution and joins the infamous outlaw’s gang. Initially swayed by James’s story of being misunderstood and unfairly accused, Rawhide soon realises he’s been gulled by a master conman and quits in his own unmistakable fashion…

Following the prose fable of a kid finding his place in ‘The Tenderfoot’, Lee & Sol Brodsky play with archetypes in ‘There’s a Shoot-Out Comin’!’ before Davis wraps up his debut with a tale of a young heart broken for the best of reasons in ‘The Gunfighter and the Girl!’

Issue #34 added to The Kid’s growing posse of returning villains as our hero proves utterly unable to beat ‘The Deadly Draw of Mister Lightning!’ however the carnival showman turned gunslinger learns a valuable lesson in their rematch…

Text vignette ‘Bushwacked!’ sees a young man trick his father’s killer into jail before Davis resumes with ‘Prisoner of the Apaches!’ as Rawhide again sacrifices himself to save idiot settlers with no respect for the First Nations. The issue is rounded off with an epic elegiac independent story perfectly capturing that era’s mythology and world view. Crafted by Lee, Kirby, Ayers, ‘Man of the West!’ details one man’s pioneering spirit and achievements. Beautiful and haunting, it’s possibly the most dated and contentious thing in this collection: venerating – like John Ford/John Wayne’s The Searchers – an attitude of exceptionalism and manifest destiny that will appal most modern readers…

Our sagebrush storytelling concludes with Rawhide Kid #35 and another nod to changing times as our hero is inexplicably targeted by a costumed crazy in ‘The Raven Strikes!’ Following a text tale of an old salt proving his worth in ‘Man to Remember’ and a wry rewriting of history by Lee & Gene Colan in ‘The Sheriff’s Star’ everything ends up in a charming tall tale as The Kid overhears boasting bar hounds relating ‘The Birth of a Legend!’ and scarcely recognises himself amidst the blather…

Also included is a bonus cover gallery by John Severin, Gil Kane, Joe Sinnott, Ayers, Frank Giacoia, Alan Weiss, Rick Buckler, Mike Esposito & Larry Lieber of reprint series The Mighty Marvel Western (#17-32; June 1972- June 1974), where many of these tales also appeared.

To be frank, although the art is astounding, the stories here are mostly mediocre. Unless you’re an old school western buff, what’s on offer is derivative, formulaic, occasionally insensitive, and once or twice borderline offensive. If the social climate and your own conscience trouble you, stay away. If, however, you can see this stuff in historical context – created by genuine reformers who pioneered diversity in comics and created breakthrough characters like Wyatt Wingfoot or Black Panther together – take a look. Here is work that stoked the boilers of the Marvel revolution, blessed with some of the very best narrative artwork ever seen.
© 2021 MARVEL.

Ant-Man/Giant-Man Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Roy Thomas, Mike Friedrich, Tony Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Chris Claremont, David Micheline, Herb Trimpe, P. Craig Russell, George Tuska, John Byrne, Ross Andru, Jim Starlin, Ron Wilson, Rich Buckler, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1079-2 (HB/Digital edition)

Marvel Comics built its fervent fan base through strong and contemporarily relevant stories and striking art, but most importantly by creating a shared continuity that closely followed the characters through not just their own titles but also through many guest appearances in other comics. Such an interweaving meant that even today completists and fans seek out extraneous stories to get a fuller picture of their favourite’s adventures.

In such an environment, series such as these Marvel Masterworks are a priceless resource approaching the status of a public service for collectors, especially when you can now purchase and peruse them electronically from the comfort of your own couch, or the lesser luxury of your parents’ basement, garage or attic…

If you’re of a particularly picky nature – and what comic book superhero fan isn’t? – you could consider the Astonishing Ant-Man to be the second star of the Marvel Age of Comics. The unlikeliest of titans first appeared in Tales to Astonish #27 (cover-dated January 1962, so on sale during the last months of 1961), in one of those splendidly addictive men-vs-monsters anthology titles that dominated in the heady days of Science Fiction Double-Feature B-Movies.

It was intended as nothing more than another here-today, gone-tomorrow filler in one of the company’s madly engaging pre-superhero “monster-mags”. However, the character struck a chord with someone since, and as the DC Comics-inspired superhero boom flourished, and Lee sprung The Hulk, Thor and Spider-Man on the unsuspecting kids of America, Pym was economically retooled as a fully-fledged costumed do-gooder for TtA #35 (September 1962).

You can read about his extremely eccentric career elsewhere, but suffice it to say Pym was never settled in his persona: changing name and modus operandi many times before junking his Ant-Man identity for the reasonably more stable and more imposing identity of Yellowjacket…

This episodic, eclectic and entomologically edifying compendium gathers the last full series of the original Ant-Man, plus the legacy of science adventurer Hank Pym as his size-shifting discoveries were employed by other champions. Contained herein are pertinent portions of Invincible Iron Man #44; Marvel Feature #4-10; Power Man #24-25; Black Goliath #1-5, The Champions #11-13 and Marvel Premiere #47-48, convolutedly spanning January 1972 to June 1979.

There are three heroes on offer here and each comes with an Introduction by his key scripter: Mick Friedrich’s ‘Downsizing Hank Pym’; ‘Professor Bill’s Big Adventure’ by Tony Isabella and David Micheline’s ‘New Kid on the Block’, all sharing insights and reminiscences to delight every true ant-ficionado (yes. I said that, and I’m not sorry!)

The ball starts rolling with a brief back-up vignette from Invincible Iron Man #44 as Roy Thomas, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito light-heartedly deliver ‘Armageddon on Avenue ‘A’’ as Ant-Man Pym clashes again with the sinister Scarlet Beetle. The evil arthropod stills seeks to eradicate mankind, but is too busy battling Pym to notice his new secret citadel catching alight as part of a seedy insurance scam. Bah! Human scum!

Marvel Feature #4 then begins a new series with ‘The Incredible Shrinking Doom!’ (by Friedrich & Herb Trimpe) as a hero history recap segues into ‘The Beginning’ with Peter Parker interviewing Dr Pym before they team up to rescue a kidnapped boy. The son of Curt Conners (The Lizard) has been snatched to force the surrender of a valuable formula. However, while cleaning up M’Sieu Tête’s thugs, Pym is injected with a bacterial enzyme that traps him at the size of an insect and even Spider-Man cannot help him…

The saga proceeds in #5’s ‘Fear’s the Way He Dies!’ as arch enemy Egghead returns even as Ant-Man loses all the precious technology that bolsters his powers. Deprived of his insect-controlling cybernetic helmet, Pym is helpless until the maniac’s niece Trixie Starr makes him new duds. It’s not quite enough to defeat the villain, but at least the shattering explosion of his mobile HQ seems to drive the killer away…

Pym’s wife Janet resurfaces in Marvel Feature #6’s ‘Hellstorm!’ (inked by Mike Trimpe) as the beleaguered hero – thanks to trusty pet hound Orkie the dog – finally reaches his own home only to be attacked by another old foe… Whirlwind. In the aftermath the house is totally destroyed and Mr & Mrs Pym are officially declared dead…

P. Craig Russell, Dan Adkins & Mark Kersey illustrate ‘Paranoia is the Para-Man!’ in #7 as a new android enemy captures Hank and Jan. escape and the mechanoid’s defeat mutates the Wasp into a true insectoid predator for #8’s deadline wracked ‘Prelude to Disaster!’ Russell, Jim Starlin & Jimmy Janes’ framing sequence here originally supported a Lee, Kirby & Don Heck origin flashback but you can just consult the first volume in this series if you’re feeling a little completist…

Here and now, however, Marvel Feature #9 ‘…The Killer is My Wife!’ – limned by Russell & Frank Bolle – finally finds Hank battling his mutated killer wife as Pym’s lab partner Bill Foster and Iron Man investigate their “deaths.” Tragically, not so far from them, the tiny terror is overwhelmed and temporarily cured by her husband, just in time for both to fall victim to new nutcase Doctor Nemesis, before the saga and the series are hastily wrapped up in concluding chapter ‘Ant-Man No More!’ by Friedrich, Russell & Frank Chiaramonte.

Ant-Man faded from view, eventually replaced by Yellowjacket again, and one among many in the Avengers.

Time passed and a new writer decided it was time to try the size-shifting concept again. It began as so often with a try-out taster in an already established title…

While hiding in plain sight as a Hero for Hire in Times Square, escaped convict Luke Cage fell in love with doctor Claire Temple. When she abruptly vanished, Cage and buddy D.W. Griffiths scoured America looking for her. The trek fed directly into a 2-part premier for another African American superhero with the trail leading to the Ringmaster’s Circus of Crime in Power Man #24 (January 1975) where ‘Among Us Walks… a Black Goliath!’ by Tony Isabella, George Tuska & Dave Hunt.

One of the earliest returning black characters in Marvel’s comics, the above-mentioned Bill Foster was a highly educated biochemist working for Tony Stark and with Henry Pym. Foster first appeared in Avengers #32 (September 1966), working to find a cure when – as Goliath – Pym was trapped at a 10-foot height. Foster faded from view when Pym eventually regained his size-changing abilities…

Having continued his own experiments in size-shifting, Foster was now trapped as a freakish colossus, unable to shrink to human proportions. Cage painfully learned he was also Claire’s former husband and when he became trapped at 15 feet, she had rushed back to Bill’s substantial side to help find a cure.

After Luke turns up, passions are stoked, resulting in another classic heroes-clash moment until the mesmeric Ringmaster hypnotises all combatants, intent on using their strength to feather his own three-ring nest. ‘Crime and Circuses’ (Isabella, Bill Mantlo, Ron Wilson & Fred Kida) sees the heroes helpless until Claire comes to the rescue, before making her choice and returning to New York with Luke. Foster soon gravitated to his own short-run series, becoming Marvel’s fourth African American costumed hero under a heavy-handed and rather uninspired sobriquet…

Cover-dated February 1976, and courtesy of Isabella, Tuska & Vince Colletta, Black Goliath #1 reintroduced a far more together hero. Foster was now in complete control of his powers and led an exotic, eccentric Stark International Think Tank in Los Angeles. Sadly, his arrival coincided with a spate of high tech burglaries that revealed how out-of-depth ‘Black Goliath!’ was when the gang boss was exposed as living nuclear nightmare Atom-Smasher, who doled out ‘White Fire, Atomic Death!’ in #2 as scripter Chris Claremont joined Tuska & Colletta.

Barely surviving the first assault, Foster brought in his team of maverick geniuses for the second and decisive round, blissfully unaware the thermonuclear thug was working for a hidden mastermind…

‘Dance to the Murder!’ in #3 offers partial explanations as mystery man Vulcan leads multiple attacks on the Think Tank in an effort to liberate an enigmatic alien artefact. The result is chaos and catastrophe, exacerbated in #4 when ‘Enter Stilt-Man …Exit Black Goliath!’ – with art from Rich Buckler & Don Heck – finds the hero distracted by a supervillain hungry to upgrade his powers and status, and the mystery box swiped from the rubble by a looter…

The series came to an abrupt halt with #5 (November 1976), with Keith Pollard illustrating a tale of ‘Survival!’ as Foster and two bystanders are exiled on a lethal alien planet. Meanwhile on Earth, the Box is beginning to awaken…

The storyline was completed in LA based team title The Champions where #11 (February 1977) opened proceedings with ‘The Shadow from the Stars’ by Mantlo, John Byrne & Bob Layton. Returned without explanation, Foster was building tech for the team (Black Widow, Angel, Iceman, Hercules, Ghost Rider and Dark Star) as a side bar to the main event wherein Hawkeye and Two Gun Kid call for help to repel an alien incursion by vintage villain and sentient shadow Warlord Kaa…

Back to the plot for #12, ‘Did Someone say… the Stranger?’ sees Black Goliath ambushed by Stilt-Man as the long-contested Box begins to activate. When universal Elder The Stranger comes to reclaim his planet-destroying Null-Life Bomb, he deems it too late once the device warps reality and dumps the Champions in the realm of former Thor foe Kamo Tharnn, leaving Foster on Earth to prevent ‘The Doom That Went on Forever!’

Foster again faded from sight until revived for 1980s classic the Project Pegasus Saga, where he reclaimed the name Giant-Man, but this collection concludes with arguably the most successful size-shifting centurion: solo superhero, Avenger, entrepreneur, comedy turn and screen superstar Scott Lang… a true legacy hero made good.

Comics creators are six parts meddler and five parts chronic nostalgia buff and eventually somebody convinced somebody else that the concept and property of Ant-Man could be viable again, so we end here with the introduction of reformed thief Lang who debuted in Marvel Premiere #47 (cover-dated April 1979).

Those first somebodies were David Michelinie, John Byrne & Bob Layton who produced ‘To Steal an Ant-Man!’, revealing how a former electronics engineer had turned to crime – more out of boredom than necessity – and, after being caught and serving his time, joined Stark International as a resolutely reformed character. However, when his daughter Cassie developed a heart condition that wiped out his savings, Scott reverted to old ways to save her…

Desperate to find the wherewithal to hire experimental surgeon Dr. Erica Sondheim, he begins casing likely prospects, but is shattered when Sondheim is abducted by psychotic industrialist Darren Cross. The magnate is already using all the resources – legal and otherwise – of his mega-corporation Cross Technological Enterprises to keep himself alive…

Needing cash just to broach the CTE complex, Lang goes back to Plan A, burgling the lab of retired superhero Henry Pym and discovers mothballed Ant-Man gear and size-changing gases. In a moment of madness, Lang decides not to sell the stolen tech but instead use it to break into Cross’ citadel and rescue Sondheim…

That plan doesn’t go so great either, as Lang discovers the dying billionaire – in a desperate attempt to stay alive – has been harvesting the hearts of homeless people to power an experimental device which has mutated him into a monstrous brute…

After learning with horror ‘The Price of a Heart!’ (June 1979), Lang eventually triumphs; unaware until the very last that Pym had allowed him to take the suit and was backstopping him every inch of the way. With Cassie saved, Yellowjacket then invites Lang to continue as the new Ant-Man…

And so it begins again…

Completing this triptych treat are extras including original art pages by Trimpe; pencil art and the unused ending to Marvel Feature #10 by Russell (compared in situ with what actually got published as the series was rapidly concluded); two unused covers to Marvel Premiere #48 (by Layton), biographies of all concerned and peppered throughout with rousing covers by Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, Joe Sinnott, Trimpe, Starlin, John Romita & Sal Buscema, Russell & Adkins, Rich Buckler, Jack Kirby, Al Milgrom, Layton, Dave Cockrum and Bob McLeod.

These itty-bitty sagas range from lost gems to true classics and will delight Marvel Movie buffs as well as the redoubtable ranks of dedicated comic book readers all cheerfully celebrating Pym’s 60 years of service and inspiration.
© 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Savage She-Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 1 


By Stan Lee, David Anthony Kraft, John Buscema, Mike Vosburg, Chic Stone, Frank Springer & various (Marvel) 
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0354-1 (HB/Digital edition) 

Until comparatively recently, American comics – especially Marvel – had very little in the way of strong female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Although there was a woman starring in the very first comic of the Marvel Age, Invisible Girl Susan Storm took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right. She didn’t even become Invisible WOMAN until the 1980s… 

The company’s very first starring heroine was Black Fury, a leather-clad, whip-wielding crimebuster lifted from a newspaper strip created by Tarpe Mills in April 1941. The slinky vigilante was repackaged as a resized reprint for Timely’s funnybooks and renamed Miss Fury: enjoying a 4-year run between 1942 and 1946, with her tabloid incarnation surviving until 1952. 

Miss Fury was actually pre-dated by the Silver Scorpion who debuted in Daring Mystery Comics #7 (April 1941), but was always relegated to a minor position in the book’s line-up. She enjoyed a very short shelf-life. 

Miss America first appeared in anthological Marvel Mystery Comics #49 (November 1943), created by Otto Binder and artist Al Gabriele. After a flurry of appearances, she won her own title in early 1944. Miss America Comics lasted but the costumed cutie didn’t, as with the second issue (November 1944) the format abruptly altered, becoming a combination of teen comedy, fashion feature and domestic tips magazine. Feisty take-charge super-heroics were steadily squeezed out and the publication is most famous now for introducing virginal evergreen teen ideal Patsy Walker. 

A few more woman warriors appeared immediately after WWII, many as spin-offs and sidekicks of established male stars, like female Sub-Mariner Namora (debuting in Marvel Mystery Comics #82, May 1947 and graduating to her own 3-issue series in 1948). She was followed by the Human Torch’s secretary Mary Mitchell who, as Sun Girl, starred in her own 3-issue 1948 series before becoming a wandering sidekick and guest star in Sub-Mariner and Captain America Comics. 

Decked out in mask and ball-gown, detective Blonde Phantom was created by Stan Lee & Syd Shores for All Select Comics #11 (Fall 1946), and (sort-of) goddess Venus debuted in her own title in August 1948, becoming the gender’s biggest Timely/Atlas/Marvel success… until the advent of the Jungle Girl fad of the mid-1950s. This was mostly by dint of the superb stories and art from the incredible Bill Everett, and by ruthlessly shifting genres from crime to romance to horror every five minutes… 

Jann of the Jungle (by Don Rico & Jay Scott Pike) was just part of an anthology line-up in Jungle Tales #1 (September 1954), but she took over the title with the eighth issue (November 1955). Jann of the Jungle then ran until June 1957 (issue #17), spawning a host of in-company imitators like Leopard Girl, Lorna the Jungle Queen ad nauseum… 

During the costumed hero boom of the 1960s, Marvel dallied with a title shot for Madame Medusa in Marvel Super-Heroes (#15, July 1968) and a solo series starring the Black Widow (Amazing Adventures #1-8; August 1970-September 1971). Both were sexy, reformed villainesses, not wholesome girl-next-door heroines… and neither lasted alone for long. 

When the costumed crazies craze started to subside in the 1970s, Stan Lee & Roy Thomas looked into founding a girl-friendly boutique of heroines written by women. Opening shots in this mini-liberation war were Claws of the Cat by Linda Fite, Marie Severin & Wally Wood and Night Nurse by Jean Thomas & Win Mortimer (both #1’s cover-dated November 1972). Modern jungle goddess Shanna the She-Devil #1 – by Carole Seuling & George Tuska – debuted in December 1972; but despite impressive creative teams, none of these fascinating experiments lasted beyond a fifth issue. 

Red Sonja, She-Devil with a Sword, caught every one’s attention in Conan the Barbarian #23 (February 1973), eventually securing her own series whilst The Cat mutated into Tigra, the Were-Woman in Giant-Size Creatures #1 (July 1974), but the general editorial position remained that books starring chicks didn’t sell. 

To be fair, the company kept trying and eventually found the right mix at the right time with Ms. – now Captain - Marvel. She launched in her own title (cover-dated January 1977), to be followed by equally copyright-protecting Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977, and securing her own title 15 months later).  

Savage She-Hulk #1 came in February 1980, and was followed by music-biz sponsored Dazzler, who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before graduating to her own book. 

This hulking hardcover volume (or enthralling eBook, if you prefer), collects Savage She-Hulk volume 1 #14, spanning February 1980 to March 1981 and opens with fact-packed, behind the scenes Introduction ‘The Savage Subversive’, courtesy of David Anthony Kraft.  

The new era begins with a publicity-attracting first issue crafted by old guard stars Stan Lee & John Buscema, inked by equally acclaimed veteran Chic Stone. Here, with deliberate tones of the Hulk’s early exploits and in the manner of the mega-hit TV show, we meet crusading Los Angeles lawyer Jennifer Walters, whose latest case is defending minor hoodlum Lou Monkton.  

Just as her infamous fugitive cousin hits town, Walters is gunned down by killers working for Monkton’s rival Nick Trask, and saved by a hasty blood transfusion from her kinsman. He is Dr. Bruce Banner and he should have known better… 

Fleeing when the cops arrive, he doesn’t know how the rapidly recovering Jennifer is targeted again in her hospital room or how the stress of the second murder attempt triggers a shocking transformation. Easily thrashing the would-be killers, a gigantic green woman then rampages through the medical facility and the city before reverting to human. However, LA is now fearfully aware that ‘The She-Hulk Lives’… 

The second issue is where the story truly begins as scripter David Anthony Kraft and artists Mike Vosburg & Chic Stone kick off a string of unconventional thrillers slightly askew of standard Marvel Fights ‘n’ Tights fare. Resuming the Monkton case piles on more stress for the recuperating legal eagle, as do smug assistant DA “Buck” Bukowski and her own father Sheriff Morris Walters. Thankfully, iron willpower and strong drugs keep her raging fury at bay until a confrontation with Trask prompts another murder attempt.  

This time though, the mobster’s thugs accidentally snatch her best friend Jill, triggering a second change – just as overly-attentive neighbour Danny “Zapper” Ridge walks by… 

A frantic freeway car chase ensues with the green goliath easily pacing high performance engines, but ends in failure and tragedy at the end of the ‘Deathrace!!’ with a body everyone believes is Jennifer Walters… 

Since Jen had cleared Monkton, her emerald alter ego is now the only thing LA is talking about and ‘She-Hulk Murders Lady Lawyer!’ sees the situation escalate as Trask’s men are assassinated in jail by something with giant green arms that can punch through walls. In hiding and cared for by unwilling confidante Zapper, Walters is traced by Trask’s deadly She-droid (a stolen Stark tech robot painted green and wearing a wig) but proves too much for mere mechanisms. In the aftermath of brutal battle, She-Hulk – savage, super-strong and far smarter than her male counterpart – resolves to deal with Trask once and for all… 

However, as detailed in #4, when ‘The She-Hulk Strikes Back!’ she finds sheriff Walters still believes the monster killed his daughter. Seizing his opportunity, Trask – now revealed as more Bond-villain than local Godfather – offers to join forces with the grief-stricken policeman and provide a superweapon to kill the unsuspecting monster woman… 

Surviving the traumatic family encounter drives She-Hulk to her ‘Breaking Point!’, but her very public terror tantrums simply divert focus as Jennifer Walters quietly re-emerges and resumes her life. Her latest client is Roxxon Oil: suffering inexplicable losses in their storage facilities. When Jennifer investigates, She-Hulk ends up battling Trask’s subterranean theft device and seemingly ends his threat forever. 

‘Enter: The Invincible Iron Man’ sees the Golden Avenger finally hit town to find out who stole his tech, and manoeuvred by Sheriff Walters into going after She-Hulk, even as Jen defends Tony Stark from accusations of criminal collusion with Trask, after which ‘Richard Rory… Winner’ sees Steve Gerber’s everyman loser strike it rich, move to California and – having seen the good side on another green beast – immediately side with the fugitive She-Hulk in her latest clash with the cops. As romance blossoms, Jen returns with Rory to Florida only to stumble, as She-Hulk, into the mystically-tainted swamp that birthed the muck-monster.  

Captured by the last eternally-young occupants of secret retreat La Hacienda – who wish her company forever – She-Hulk’s time ‘Among the Ogres!’ ends in strife when she rejects their bovine passivity and clashes with Rory’s old associate the mossy Man-Thing… 

Danny Bulanadi “and friends” ink #10 as ‘The Power of the Word’ introduces a charismatic preacher/cult leader with vast ambitions and very strange ideas about personal empowerment. College science student Zapper meanwhile, has offered to have Jenifer’s blood secretly tested, and his efforts have brought him to the attention of radical researcher Dr. Michael Morbius… 

The Word believes his positive affirmations have unleashed his daughter’s physical and mental potential, but her emotional state is as fragile as any teen and when Ultima mistakes’ Jen Walters’ patient enquiries as a play for her boyfriend it results in brutal battle with the Green Queen and a ‘War of… the Word!’ (inked by Frank Springer) as Jen gets a day in court against the malevolent master of motivation, but – as is increasingly commonplace – loses out to chicanery and her own evermore uncontrollable other self… 

Zapper’s meeting with Morbius revealed a degenerative blood disease in Jen’s sample and that plot thread culminates now ‘In the Shadow of Death!’ as the critically enfeebled gamma transmute collapses and is arrested. At UCLA, Morbius has his own problems. Students have started rioting after learning of his previous life as a blood-drinking “living vampire”. Marked for death by Mr & Mrs LeClerc (parents of one of his victims), the “outed” professor is saved by Zapper in time to treat the recently escaped and almost expired She-Hulk… 

Initially ineffective, the cure eventually resurrects her, but ‘Reason and Rage!’ war uncontrollably within both of her, especially after Jen’s inexplicably hostile father rails at her for representing “mass-murderer” Morbius in court. With nobody satisfied by the eventual verdict, the scientist is released only to be targeted again by the LeClercs who convince philosophically-motivated android Gemini to go after him and Jen in the name of a higher balance. Things go very bad very quickly when She-Hulk tips the scales of justice… 

A long-dangling plot thread is plucked in #13 as Richard Rory’s return completes a romantic triangle with Jen and Zapper, even as trans-dimensional star god Man-Wolf resurfaces and Defenders Hellcat and Valkyrie cameo in ‘Through the Crystal!’  

When the divine wolf’s forces seek to abduct She-Hulk to liberate their leader, the result is a cosmic chain reaction and potential end of existence unless Hellcat Patsy Walker can orchestrate a cleansing clash between wolf and she-beast in ‘Life in the Bloodstream’… 

The fearsomely furious Savage She-Hulk would eventually evolve into a scintillating semi-comedic superstar and tragic paragon but for now these early epics pause with an extras section including original art pages by Buscema & Stone and Vosburg/Stone; original plot ages for #2 and character bio sheet; Vosburg’s pencil thumbnail layouts; unused script pages and a draft for comedic ‘How Dave and Mike Write & Draw the She-Hulk!’ story plus house ads, John Romita’s pencil art and Frank Springer’s inked version for the first ad. 

Lean, mean, and evergreen, these are intriguing and long-overlooked Marvel Masterpieces in need of your attention. Why are you waiting?  
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved. 

Mighty Marvel Masterworks Doctor Strange volume 1: The World Beyond 


By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, with Don Rico, George Roussos & various (Marvel) 
ISBN: 978-1-3029-3438-5 (PB/Digital edition) 

When the budding House of Ideas introduced a warrior wizard to their burgeoning pantheon in the summer of 1963 it was a bold and curious move. Bizarre adventures and menacing monsters were still incredibly popular, but most mature mention of magic or the supernatural (especially vampires, werewolves and their eldritch ilk) were harshly proscribed by a censorship panel which dictated almost all aspects of story content. Almost a decade after a public witchhunt led to Senate hearings on the malign influences of words and pictures in sequence, comics were ferociously monitored and adjudicated by the draconian Comics Code Authority. Even though some of the small company’s strongest sellers were still mystery and monster mags, their underlying themes and premises were almost universally mad science and alien wonders, not necromantic or thaumaturgic horrors. 

Companies like ACG, Charlton and DC – and Atlas/Marvel – got around the edicts against mystic thrills and chills by making all reference to magic benign or even humorous… the same tone adopted by massively popular TV series Bewitched about a year after Doctor Strange debuted. That eldritch embargo probably explains writer/editor Stan Lee’s low key introduction of Steve Ditko’s mystic adventurer: an exotic, twilight troubleshooter inhabiting the shadowy outer fringes of society. 

Capitalising on of the runaway success of The Fantastic Four, Lee had quickly spun off the youngest, most colourful member of the team into his own series, hoping to recapture the glory of the 1940s when The Human Torch was one of the company’s untouchable “Big Three” superstars. Within a year of FF #1, long-lived anthology title Strange Tales became home for the blazing boy-hero (from #101, cover-dated October 1962), launching Johnny Storm on a creatively productive but commercially unsuccessful solo career. 

Soon after, in Tales of Suspense #41 (May 196), latest sensation Iron Man battled a crazed scientific wizard dubbed Doctor Strange, and with the name successfully and legally in copyrightable print (a long-established Lee technique: Thorr, The Thing, Magneto, The Hulk and others had been disposable Atlas “furry underpants monsters” long before they became in-continuity Marvel characters), preparations began for a truly different kind of hero. 

The company had already published a quasi-mystic precursor: balding, trench-coated savant Doctor Droom – later rechristened (or is that re-pagan-ed?) Dr. Druid – had an inconspicuous short run in Amazing Adventures (volume 1 #1-4 & #6: June-November 1961).  

He was a psychiatrist, sage and paranormal investigator tackling everything from alien invaders to Atlanteans (albeit not the ones Sub-Mariner ruled). Droom was subsequently retro-written into Marvel continuity as an alternative candidate and precursor for Stephen Strange’s ultimate role as Sorcerer Supreme… 

After a shaky start, the Master of the Mystic Arts became an unmissable icon of the cool counter-culture kids who saw, in Ditko’s increasingly psychedelic art, echoes and overtones of their own trippy explorations of other worlds… 

That might not have been the authors’ intention but it certainly helped keep the mage at the forefront of Lee’s efforts to break comics out of the “kids-stuff” ghetto… 

This enchanting full colour paperback compilation – also available as a digital download – gathers the spectral sections of Strange Tales #110, 111 and 114-129: spanning cover-dates July 1963 to February 1965. Moreover, although the Good Doctor didn’t rate a cover blurb until #117 or banner insert visual until #118 and was barely cover-featured until issue #130, it also magnanimously includes every issue’s stunning frontage: thus offering an incredible array of superbly eye-catching Marvel masterpieces from the upstart outfit’s formative heyday by Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Chic Stone and George Roussos, John Severin and others. In case you were wondering: Strange’s first shared split-cover came with Strange Tales #121 (June 1964)… 

Our first meeting with the man of mystery comes courtesy of a quiet little chiller which has never been surpassed for sheer mood and imagination. ‘Doctor Strange Master of Black Magic!’ by Lee & Ditko debuted at the back of Strange Tales #110 and saw a terrified man troubled by his dreams approach an exceptional consultant in his search for a cure… 

That perfect 5-page fright-fest introduces whole new realms and features deceit, desperation, double dealing and the introduction of both a mysterious and aged oriental mentor and devilish dream demon Nightmare in an unforgettable yarn that might well be Ditko’s finest moment… 

A month later in #111 he was back, ‘Face-to-Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo!’ which introduced a player on the other side. The esoteric duel with such an obviously formidable foe established Strange as a tragic solitary guardian tasked with defending the world from supernatural terrors and uncanny encroachment whilst introducing his most implacable enemy, a fellow sorcerer with vaulting ambition and absolutely no morals. In the astounding battle that ensued, it was also firmly confirmed that Strange was the smarter man… 

Then things went quiet for a short while until the letters started coming in… 

Strange Tales #114 (November 1963) was one of the most important issues of the era. Not only did it highlight the return of another Golden Age hero – Captain America – but it contained the fabulously moody resurrection of Doctor Strange: permanently installed in an eccentric and baroque little corner of the growing unified universe where Ditko let his imagination run wild… 

With #114, the Master of the Mystic Arts took up monthly residence behind the Torch as ‘The Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo!’ (uncredited inks by George Roussos) finds the Doctor lured to London and into a trap, only to be saved by unlikely adept Victoria Bentley: an abortive stab at a romantic interest who would periodically turn up in years to come. 

The forbidding man of mystery is at last revealed in all his frail mortality as Strange Tales #115 offered ‘The Origin of Dr. Strange’: disclosing how Strange was once America’s greatest surgeon. A brilliant man, yet greedy, vain and arrogant, he cared nothing for the sick except as a means to wealth and glory. When a self-inflicted, drunken car-crash ended his career, Strange hit the skids. 

Then, fallen as low as man ever could, the debased doctor overheard a barroom tale which led him on a delirious odyssey or, perhaps more accurately, pilgrimage to Tibet, where a frail and aged mage changed his life forever. It also showed his first clash with the Ancient One’s other pupil Mordo: thwarting a seditious scheme and earning the Baron’s undying envious enmity… 

Eventual enlightenment through daily redemption transformed Stephen the derelict into a solitary, dedicated watchdog at the fringes of humanity, challenging every hidden danger of the dark on behalf of a world better off not knowing what dangers lurk in the shadows… 

‘Return to the Nightmare World!’ sees the insidious dream predator trapping earthly sleepers in perpetual slumber until the doubtful authorities ask Strange to investigate. The subsequent invasion of his oneiric enemy’s stronghold is a masterpiece of moody suspense, followed by ‘The Many Traps of Baron Mordo!’: showing the malign mage devising an inescapable doom, which once more founders after Strange applies a little logic to it… 

The wild and infinite variety of Strange’s universe offered Ditko tremendous opportunities to stretch himself visually and as plotter of the stories. In ST #118 the Master of Magic travels to Bavaria to combat ‘The Possessed!’; finding humans succumbing to extra-dimensional invaders neither fully mystic nor mundane, whilst ‘Beyond the Purple Veil’ has Strange rescue, from ray-gun wielding slaver-tyrants, the burglars who stole one of his arcane curios… 

Strange Tales #120 plays with the conventions of ghost stories as a reporter vanishes during a live broadcast from ‘The House of Shadows!’ before the Doctor diagnoses something unworldly but certainly not dead… 

Mordo springs yet another deadly trap in ‘Witchcraft in the Wax Museum!’ but is once more outsmarted and humiliated after stealing his rival’s body whilst Strange wanders the world in astral form, after which Roussos returned as an uncredited inker for #122’s ‘The World Beyond’ as Nightmare nearly scores his greatest victory after the exhausted Strange falls asleep before uttering the nightly charm shielding him from attack through his own dreams. 

Strange hosts his first Marvel guest star in #123 whilst meeting ‘The Challenge of Loki!’ (August 1964 by Lee, Ditko & George Roussos as George Bell) as the god of Mischief tricks the earthly mage into briefly stealing Thor’s hammer before deducing where the emanations of evil he senses really come from… 

Strange battles a sorcerer out of ancient Egypt to save ‘The Lady from Nowhere!’ from time-bending banishment and imprisonment, and performs similar service to rescue the Ancient One after the aged sage is kidnapped in ‘Mordo Must Not Catch Me!’, after which Roussos/Bell moved on whilst Lee & Ditko geared up for even more esoteric action. 

Strange Tales #126 brings the Master of the Mystic arts to ‘The Domain of the Dread Dormammu!’ as an extra-dimensional god seeks to subjugate Earth. In a fantastic realm, Strange meets an enigmatic, exotic woman who reveals the Dread One operates by his own implacable code: giving the overmatched Earthling the edge in the concluding ‘Duel with of the Dread Dormammu!’ which saw Earth saved, the Ancient One freed of a long-standing curse and Strange given a new look and mystic weapons upgrade… 

Restored to his homeworld and Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village, Strange solves ‘The Dilemma of… the Demon’s Disciple!’ by saving a luckless truth-seeker from an abusive minor magician and – after a stunning pin-up by Ditko - wraps up this initial volume with one more done-in-one delight. 

Scripted by Golden Age Great Don Rico (Bulletman; Human Torch, Captain America; Jann of the Jungle and more), #129’s ‘Beware… Tiborro! The Tyrant of the Sixth Dimension!’ sees Strange tackling a demonic deity of decadence stealing TV guests and execs from a show debunking magic and mysticism… 

But wait, there’s still more: a page of original art from ST #125 and that rarest of all artefacts, un-inked Ditko pencils in the form of a preliminary sketch for an unused Strange/Ancient One pin-up. 

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

Doctor Strange has always been the coolest of outsiders and most accessible fringe star of the Marvel firmament. This glorious grimoire is a magical method for old fans to enjoy his world once more and the perfect introduction for recent acolytes or converts created by the movie iteration to enjoy the groundbreaking work of two thirds of the Marvel Empire’s founding triumvirate at their most imaginative. 
© 2022 MARVEL  

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 13 


By Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter, Chris Claremont, Bob Brown, John Buscema, John Byrne, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Frank Robbins, Al Milgrom & various (MARVEL) 
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1634-3 (HB/Digital edition) 

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. A second-string hero for much of his early career, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due mostly to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. DD fought gangsters, 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 became.  

After a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page, Murdock took up with Russian émigré Natasha Romanoff, infamous and notorious ex-spy Black Widow. She was framed for murder and prosecuted by Matt’s best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson before the blind lawman cleared her. Leaving New York with her for the West Coast, Matt joined a prestigious San Francisco law firm but adventure, disaster and intrigue sought out the Sightless Sentinel and ultimately drew him back to the festering Big Apple… 

Spanning May 1976 to May 1977, the 13th compilation re-presents Daredevil #133-143, Annual #4, a crossover from Ghost Rider #19-20, and a spin-off from Marvel Premiere #39-40, cover-dated December 1977 and January 1978.  

We kick off with an Introduction from Marv Wolfman, recalling the strange days of his tenure as writer/editor before arguably the best proof possible of that opinion follows… 

Marvel was always keenly aware that any real-world attention was beneficial. Daredevil #133 begins laying groundwork for an unfolding epic about fake news and disinformation in public office (and remember this set just after Watergate and long before Trumpism!) before digressing with a fanciful fluff piece co-starring real-world stage trickster and headline-seeker Uri Geller. Concocted by Wolfman, Bob Brown & Jim Mooney, ‘Introducing: Mind-Wave and his Fearsome Think Tank!’ is a happily forgettable yarn about a maniac in a super-tank attacking Manhattan. Thankfully, Mind-Wave’s arch enemy (Geller, claiming to have psychic powers granted him by aliens) is there to aid the Scarlet Swashbuckler… 

More sinister secrets of the perception-shaping masterplan of The Jester are revealed in #134’s ‘There’s Trouble In New York City…’ as disgruntled former football star/insurance salesman Brock Jones returns. Previously, he had stumbled into a plot to control Earth and took possession of a rocket-powered super-suit coveted by enemy agents. DD had almost been killed by the suit’s original owner, leading to the usual superhero misunderstanding and a savage clash. Now, as TV news showed Daredevil killing cops and with the shapeshifting Chameleon robbing at will, Brock again dons the suit to help the common man as The Torpedo, innocently adding to the chaos and confusion before the Chameleon is caught … 

The Jester’s grand scheme is revealed in ‘What Is Happening?’ The Manic Mountebank has exploited a computer pioneer to create a wave of stories making the public mistrust the authorities by manipulating the media. (I’m not commenting, I’m not commenting…) 

Seeing newspaper reports, photos and even news tapes of John and Robert Kennedy alive, superheroes killing cops and “proof” that Viet Nam never happened, but secret wars in Chile and Saudi Arabia did, much of the public readily accepts the villain was framed, resulting in DD being arrested and subsequently handed over to an army of thugs and gangsters. 

John Buscema assumed pencilling with #136 as the Jester’s endgame is exposed. When President Gerald Ford announces that New York City’ s police and all its superheroes have gone insane, citizens are urged to defend themselves at all costs. The entire scheme has been devised to leave the city open to plunder by the Jester’s hastily-united army of mobsters… 

Unable to keep away, DD takes action but is quickly captured and subjected to ‘A Hanging for a Hero!’ As a lynch mob of panicked citizens and enraged criminals almost execute the Man without Fear he flamboyantly escapes but is forced back into action for concluding episode 137 ‘The Murder Maze Strikes Twice!’ as “President Ford’s” broadcasts demand citizens take up arms and “take back Wall Street” from the thugs that now control it… 

Deducing the Jester’s location, DD storms in, dismantles all the villain’s traps – and minions – and restores order and justice, only to discover personal crises boiling over… 

Throughout the media reality war, Daredevil has been seeking to prove the innocence of Heather Glenn’s father. Matt Murdock’s current girlfriend knows her dad isn’t a ruthless, murdering slumlord but that someone must have framed him. All evidence says otherwise. 

Now, as Matt and Foggy return to the case, word comes (for readers, as two excerpted pages from Ghost Rider #19 – August 1976 by Tony Isabella, Frank Robbins & Vince Colletta) depicting Karen Page being kidnapped by friend and ally Stuntman… 

It leads directly into Daredevil #138 where Wolfman, John Byrne & Mooney ask ‘Where is Karen Page?’ as the Man Without Fear drops everything for his one true love: heading for Los Angeles where Page is a Hollywood star with a complex convoluted life. However her relationship with hell-tainted Johnny Blaze is not why she was targeted, but rather from her father’s inventions and career as super-maniac Death’s Head …and the impostor now using the name to further his own insane plans… 

The saga concludes in Ghost Rider #20 (Wolfman, Byrne & Don Perlin) as ‘Two Against Death!’ exposes who is truly pulling all the strings with Satan-spawn and Scarlet Swashbuckler pairing to save Karen. Meanwhile in Manhattan, Foggy continues investigating Glenn Industries and is shot… 

The plot thread expands in Daredevil Annual #4’s ‘The Name of the Game is Death!’ Plotted by Wolfman, scripted by Chris Claremont, drawn by George Tuska and inked by Frank Chiaramonte, it finds The Black Panther aiding an industrialist whose son is abducted. 

Thanks to friendship with King T’Challa and judicious use of Vibranium, Robert Mallory has built the world’s first Tidal Power Station. Someone thinks holding his son will win them the plans but hasn’t counted on T’Challa paying his friend a visit at this inopportune moment… 

Daredevil, meanwhile, fights for his life, having stumbled into a furiously rampaging Sub-Mariner. Prince Namor has returned to the vile surface world because of a man named Mallory and a power station that while providing cheap clean energy for mankind will overheat the seas and divert the tides…  

Concluding chapter ‘And Who Shall Save the Panther?’ begins with the Great Cat prowling Manhattan, having tracked the crime to ambitious mobster Ruffio Costa. Sadly, he is unable to defeat the gangsters alone and eventually DD steps in to deliver a ransom, accidentally brining Sub-Mariner along for the ride… 

When the superbeings converge and clash, Costa is caught in the carnage and a lab explosion transforms him into something far worse that gradual climate crisis and the factions must all temporarily unite to defeat the threat of Mind-Master…  

The editorial story behind Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Mooney’s ‘A Night in the Life’ (Daredevil #139) is a true insight to comics at their best, but for readers it’s simply a chance to enjoy enhanced drama, suspense and action as the search for a missing haemophiliac boy overlaps a police manhunt for a mad bomber demanding the return of his drug-addicted wife. Wolfman was unsurpassed at interleaving soap opera melodrama with costumed cavorting, and the fraught tone carried over to in #140 as Bill Mantlo, Sal B & Klaus Janson detailed ‘Death Times Two!’ when a runaway bus dumped Daredevil into a hunt for accidentally united old enemies The Gladiator and The Beetle who then aimed a runaway train at Grand Central Station and attempted to settle old scores with the hero amidst the dead and dying… 

An even bigger change in tone began in #141. ‘Target: Death!’ was plotted by Wolfman, and scripted by Jim Shooter, with pencils divided between Gil Kane and Bob Brown, and Jim Mooney inking. It is very much a forerunner of what Roger McKenzie and Frank Miller would conceive of in months to come, opening with another murder attempt on Foggy and fresh insights into the abduction of his fiancée Debbie. More secrets of Glenn Industries are teased out, a killer dies and DD’s ultimate arch-nemesis returns for another killing spree before abruptly changing his mind and tying defeated Daredevil to a giant arrow and firing him at the New Jersey Palisades… 

Pulling out all the stops for his final forays, Wolfman – with Brown & Mooney – resurrected more classic villains for #142. Escaping one doom, DD meets new hero Nova, even as Mr. Hyde and The Cobra reunite, targeting the Scarlet Swashbuckler as he passes the rooftop rainforest garden of a young millionaire – ‘The Concrete Jungle’…  

This transitional selection concludes for now with ‘“Hyde and Go Seek” Sayeth the Cobra!’ (Wolfman, Brown & Keith Pollard) wherein the villains leave our hero to the carnivores populating the skyscraper Eden while they plunder the penthouse below. The goal is not wealth but ancient books and formulas to enhances their powers, but as ever, they grievously underestimate the boldness and ingenuity of the Man Without Fear… 

Also included in my dynamic digital edition is the two-issue try-out tale starring hero/villain The Torpedo who first accidentally battled DD in Daredevil #126-127. After the brief reprise recounted above he was given his big shot at fame Marvel Premiere #39-40 (from December 1977-January 1978) before ultimately dying in Rom: Spaceknight and being replaced by a teenaged female.  

‘Ride a Wild Rocket!’ and ‘…Battle with the Big Man!’ was a rushed-seeming collaboration of Wolfman, Mantlo, Brown, Al Milgrom, Josef Rubinstein, Bob Wiacek and Alan Weiss showing Brock hunting the rocketeer gang who originally owned his turbo-suit, but all his efforts to reclaim the acclaim of his quarterbacking days seem pointless. Harassed at home and bored at work, his American Dream is dying.  

After almost triggering a nuclear meltdown he is considered a menace, even though he saved the state from atomic catastrophe, and a critical change comes after the hidden mastermind behind all his woes and superhero aspirations decides enough is enough.  

As seen Captain America, Machine Man, and The Incredible Hulk, long-time villain Senator Eugene “Kligger” Stivak is a leader of criminal capitalists The Corporation and decides he will take care of Brock personally, but he has seriously underestimated the over-the-hill hero’s stubbornness and desperate need to regain his self-esteem… 

Supplementing all the amazing comics adventures, the extras sections include Wolfman’s editorial from #133 detailing the circumstances of Geller/Marvel’s publicity stunt, followed by original art pages all inked by Jim Mooney, a cover and splash page from John Buscema plus a splash each for Byrne and Brown, and an extensive biography section.  

As the social upheaval of the 1970s receded, these fabulous fantasy tales strongly indicated that the true potential of Daredevil was finally in reach. Their narrative energy and exuberant excitement are dashing delights no action fan will care to miss. 

…And the next volume heads into darker shadows, the grimmest of territory and the breaking of many boundaries… 
© 2019 MARVEL  

Rawhide Kid Marvel Masterworks volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 6


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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