Thor: Vikings


By Garth Ennis, Glenn Fabry & various (Max Comics/ MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1175-7 (TPB)

It’s the anniversary year of Marvel’s thunder god. Here’s a strange saga sparked during that time that will delight some and annoy the leather pants off others. Still, in my fathers’ Valhalla there are many mansions… unless the drunken warriors have wrecked them…

In the middle of 1962, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby launched their latest offbeat superhero creation in anthology monsters-and-mysteries title Journey into Mystery #83. The tale introduced disabled American doctor Donald Blake who took a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion fleet.

Fleeing in terror, he was trapped in a cave wherein lay an old, gnarled walking stick. When, in helplessness and frustration, the puny human smashed the cane into the huge boulder obstructing his escape, Blake’s insignificant frame was transformed into the bold and brawny Norse God of Thunder, Thor!

The series grew from formulaic beginnings battling aliens, commies and cheap thugs into a vast, panoramic and breathtaking cosmic playground for Kirby’s burgeoning imagination. Anthological Journey into Mystery inevitably became Mighty Thor where, after years of bombastic adventuring, the inconsistencies of the Blake/Thor relationship were re-examined and finally clarified to explain how an immortal godling could also be locked within a frail short-lived mortal.

That startling saga took the immortal hero back to his long-distant youth and finally revealed that the mortal surgeon was no more than an Odinian construct designed to teach the Thunder God humility and compassion…

As decades passed the series underwent numerous reboots and re-imaginings to keep the wonders of fabled Asgard appealing to an increasingly jaded readership. An already exceedingly broad range of scenarios spawned even greater visual variety after the Thunderer’s introduction to the pantheon of cinematic Marvels with his ongoing triumphs making him a bona fide blockbuster movie star. To be frank, there were always comics ventures that allowed for some fairly broad interpretations of the god and his universe, such as this rousing yarn…

In this scintillating gore-spattered traditional fantasy yarn – collecting Thor: Vikings #1-5, which originally ran from July- November 2003 – scripter Garth Ennis  and illustrator Glenn Fabry indulge their inner barbarians with a yarn strictly not for the young or sensitive…

In 1003 AD, pitiless reiver Harald Jaekelsson has just finished destroying the village of Lakstad when its shaman curses the lawless raiders who have destroyed his family and friends.

Maybe, if Harald hadn’t butchered him at that moment, allowing the elders’ blood to feed the runestone he held, the sadistic killer’s ship and crew would not have spent the next thousand years crossing the ‘Endless Ocean’ to the New World…

On finally arriving in the port of New York, the undead accursed monsters set about their old ways of rapine and slaughter, before their rampage is briefly halted by a challenge from the sky as Thunder God Thor demands their surrender…

Sorcery-stained zombie lord Harald is unimpressed and as his undead crew grotesquely devastate Manhattan, he savagely beats the god nigh unto death. With his longship now sailing the skies above the city, the northman basks in carnage in his new-won ‘Kingdom of Iron’, unaware that the Thunderer still lives and has been joined by Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Strange

As Harald builds his throne on the city’s highest tower, the magical medic sees to Thor and marshals resources to battle a foe that outmatches him in mystic might. ‘Time Like a River’ finds the embattled heroes exploring chronal echoes, seeking a solution to the old wise man’s curse… and finding it in the blood he spilled casting it.

To counter Harald’s horde, Strange searches history for the old man’s bloodkin, and plucks them from their own times to battle the rapacious revenants. Outcast and frustrated Viking battle-maiden Sigrid, Teutonic knight Magnus of the Danesand disillusioned Luftwaffe Ace Oberstleutnant Erik Lonnroth arrive in the ravaged city just after the Marines are slaughtered and Mighty Avengers admit defeat and regroup.

Horrified by the atrocities being perpetrated, the time-strayed trio determine to ‘Fight the Good Fight’, suitably enhanced by Strange’s sorceries…

As Jaekelsson squats on his high seat, the heroes go to work with a will, and soon the Viking lord is compelled to join the battle. Once more easily outmatched by the ruthless reiver, the outraged god needs all he’s got to win the day and save his people in ‘See You in Valhalla’

Although shocking at the turn of the century, the Asgardians and greater Marvel pantheon have by now fully integrated into our movie-led culture, and contemporary readers won’t be taken aback at the themes and uncompromising action scenes so lovingly crafted here. Thor: Vikings is bold and brutal, filled with action and leavened with dark, dark humour and well worth any thunder follower’s time and attention.
© 2021 MARVEL

Spider-Man: Secret Wars


By Paul Tobin, Patrick Scherberger, Clayton Henry & Terry Pallot, with Jim Shooter, Mike Zeck, John Beatty &various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4449-6 (digest TPB)

Presented in the manner of the company’s all-ages Marvel Adventures format, this inviting tale offers cosmic thrills, chills and light drama by in-filling on one the House of Ideas’ biggest successes. Assiduously revisiting the epic “maxi-series”, writer Paul Tobin, penciller Patrick Scherberger and inkers Clayton Henry & Terry Pallot cannily crafted an engagingly expanded selection of Spider-sagas faithful to the original whilst adding contemporary complexity and depth to the iconic wall-crawler.

This delightful digest-sized paperback (and eBook) collection collects a 4-issue miniseries from February-May 2010, and also re-presents the original Secret Wars #1 (May 1984): specifically its opening chapter by James Shooter, Mike Zeck & John Beatty.

The premise of the original 1980s blockbuster was that an all-powerful alien calling itself The Beyonder briefly abducted an army of Earth heroes and villains to a purpose-built alien Battleworld created as an arena in which to prove which was mightier – Good or Evil.

Whilst by no means a new plot, it gave the entire company a massive commercial boost and allowed a number of major series to radically retool at a time when comic book sales were in a dire downturn. This canny slice of infilling explores some of the saga’s untold moments in an engaging and appealing way, adding contemporary sensibilities and a lighter take to a classic but straightforward Fights ‘n’ Tights yarn.

I would strongly suggest, however, that if you’ve never seen the original epic, you track it down before tackling Spider-Man: Secret Wars – it’s not actually necessary, but you will get the most out of the new material that way…

The drama opens at a most critical moment, seconds after the almighty Molecule Man has dropped an entire mountain on top of the embattled heroes. With the Incredible Hulk holding up millions of tons of rock, the entombed good guys perforce take a few moments to chill and reminisce.

Top of Spider-Man’s list is the many gaffes he’s made since arriving, particularly the way he’s treated Captain America and the monstrous Green Goliath currently holding all their lives in his big green hands…

Thanks to heroic teamwork, all the buried brigade eventually emerge safely, but the wall-crawler has learned a hard lesson in a most harrowing manner…

The second chapter also focuses strongly on damaging mis- and pre-conceptions as the residents of Denver, Colorado – simultaneously shanghaied by the Beyonder and dumped on his remodelled planet as some kind of control group – is assaulted by a horde of marauding aliens, and the heroes form a living barricade with the valiant but all-too-human civilian defenders to lives and property.

They are surprisingly assisted by arch-nemesis and ultimate evil Doctor Doom, but try as he might Spider-Man cannot fathom the Iron Dictator’s true purpose…

At one critical juncture, the world-devouring cosmic god Galactus decided to end the contest early by eating Battleworld, prompting a desperate alliance by the transplanted heroes and villains to stop him. Here, portions of their combined assault are examined in detail as Spider-Man experiences bizarre reality-warping episodes – a natural side effect of proximity to the perilous planetivore – and flashes back and forward through his personal past and futures, experiencing happiness and the darkest of imagined terrors…

The original miniseries culminated with Doom stealing the Beyonder’s power to become omnipotent. In this modern re-visitation, that conditional triumph is examined as the web-spinner is granted a taste of paradise by the troubled new god who is finding it hard to hang on to lust for conquest – or even personal ambition – after achieving all-consuming divinity…

The cleverly introspective human adventure is capped off by a re-presentation of the original saga’s first issue from 1984, wherein ‘The War Begins’ with the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four; Magneto, the Hulk and an utterly out-of-his-depth Spider-Man all teleported into the deep unknown to see a galaxy destroyed and a world constructed purely so that a cosmic force can determine which of two philosophies is correct.

Arrayed against them were Doom, Galactus, Molecule Man, Ultron, the Lizard, Dr. Octopus, the Enchantress, Absorbing Man, Kang the Conqueror and the Wrecking Crew: all of whom have no problem with a disembodied voice telling them “Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours”…

Unceremoniously dumped on the brand new world, the sides split into factions and the War begins…

This blockbusting little box of delights also includes a full cover gallery by Scherberger, Christina Strain, Chris Sotomayor, Veronica Gandini, Jean-Francis Beaulieu, Zeck & Beatty as well as pages of Scherberger’s early character sketches.

Fast-paced and impressive, bright and breezy with lots of light-hearted action and some solid sly laughs, this book really sees the alternative web-spinner hitting his wall-crawling stride with the violence toned down and “cartooned-up” whilst the stories take great pains to keep the growing youth-oriented soap opera sub-plots pot-boiling on but as clear as possible.

In 2012 the Marvel Adventures line was superseded by specific titles tied to Disney XD TV shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”, and these days there’s an entire TV and movie based Marvel Action line to play in, but these collected stories are still an intriguing and perhaps more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born often two generations or more away from those far-distant 1960s originating events. However even though these Spidey super stories are extremely enjoyable yarns, parents should note that some of the themes and certainly the violence might not be what everybody considers “All-Ages Super Hero Action” and might perhaps better suit older kids…
© 2018 MARVEL.

Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 6


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without more preamble then, let’s go…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hulk Smash!

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

The Amazing Spider-Man: The Complete Alien Costume Saga – Book 1


By Tom DeFalco, Al Milgrom, David Michelinie, Louise Simonson, Cary Burkett & Tony Isabella with Roger Stern, Jim Owsley & Bob DeNatale, Ron Frenz, Greg LaRocque, Rick Leonardi & Paul Neary with David Mazzuchelli & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8867-4 (TPB)

Spider-Man exchanged his heavily-copyrighted and thoroughly trademarked costume whilst on another planet during the first Marvel Secret Wars. It was replaced with a magnificently stylish black & white number for the duration of the 12 issue maxi-series in his own titles (except the all-reprint Marvel Tales) which over the course of the year revealed the true horrifying nature of the extraterrestrial ensemble…

Collecting Amazing Spider-Man #252-258; Marvel Team-Up #141-145 and MTU Annual #7 and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #90-95 and covering May-November 1984, this rather rare paperback or instantly accessible digital tome seeks to chronologically cover all the bases in regard to the black bodysuit’s every appearance and thus opens with relevant clips from clips from Secret Wars #8, 9 and 12

Continuity-wise, the extended epic opens at the conclusion of the Secret Saga with Spider-Man and Curt Connors – occasionally lethally maniacal monster the Lizard – explosively returning to Earth after a week when the world’s greatest heroes and villains had simply vanished.

To clear up any potential confusion: Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars debuted in May 1984 and ran for 12 monthly issues until April 1985. In it, a selection of metahumans good and bad were shanghaied by a godlike being dubbed The Beyonder: compelled to interminably battle each other. Every other Marvel comic  of that month chronologically occurred in the apparent aftermath of that struggle with most of the returned heroes and villains refusing to divulge what had happened on Battleworld …a cheap but extremely effective ploy which kept fans glued to the Limited Series in the months that followed.

This compendium catapults us into action with ‘Homecoming!’ by Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz & Brett Breeding as spectators in Central Park see a mysterious black garbed stranger explode out of an alien artefact … only the first of many costumed characters to escape the Beyonder’s world.

Spider-Man takes the shell-shocked Connors back to his family and then begins to explore his new uniform: a thought-controlled, self-activating, metamorphic ball with chameleon capabilities, able to construct webbing out of its own mass.

The smart-cloth is astonishing, but weary Peter Parker has family to see and a city to reacquaint himself with. The hero promises himself he’ll further research the incredible material at a later date…

Not included here, Marvel Team-Up #140 posed a morally trying dilemma as a city-wide blackout provoked riots and looting. Spider-Man was on scene when a pawnshop owner was shot dead and the next day, lawyer Matt Murdock was appointed to defend a teenager indicted for the murder. Parker was there too, and knows the kid is innocent. As Spider-Man investigates, Daredevil’s old flame Natasha Romanoff volunteers to fact-find for the overworked attorney. When investigations overlapped a street gang was confirmed to be behind the incident, but the new murder suspect triggered a deadly car chase and hostage situation before being apprehended. Frustratingly – although responsible for much of the tragedy on that night – he quickly proves to also be innocent of the pawnbroker’s death…

This yarn happened at the beginning of Secret Wars and it’s a much-altered Spider-Man who joins Daredevil and the Black Widow in obtaining ‘Blind Justice’ in #141 (by DeFalco, Jim Owsley AKA Priest, Greg LaRoque & Mike Esposito) as the heroes uncover New York mob connections, a trail to Kingpin Wilson Fisk, the real killer and the true nature of the kid they’ve been defending…

In Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #90, Al Milgrom & Jim Mooney’s ‘Where, oh Where Has My Spider-Man Gone…?’ sees occasionally reformed adventurer and thief the Black Cat scouring the city and encountering many foes and friends before finally finding her transformed man, after which the wonderful Rick Leonardi & Bill Anderson illustrate DeFalco’s powerful crime thriller ‘By Myself Betrayed!’

Here a prominent football player, sucked into gambling and match-fixing, drags the Web-spinner into conflict with new gang-lord The Rose. As his new uniform increasingly, obsessively amazes Peter with its rather disturbing autonomy (it comes to him unbidden and regularly envelops him while he sleeps), the hero uncomprehendingly alienates his beloved Aunt May when he drops out of college…

Milgrom & Mooney’s ‘If it Wasn’t for Bad Luck…’ in PPSS #91 sees the Black Cat keeping secrets from her frankly now-creepy paramour even as mutant menace the Blob goes on a grief-fuelled rampage before Amazing Spider-Man #254 questions ‘With Great Power…’ (DeFalco, Leonardi & Joe Rubinstein) as the ebon wallcrawler battles terrorist mercenary Jack O’Lantern for possession of a hi-tech battle-van designed and built by the terrifying Hobgoblin. Peter should have been reconciling with May, and suffers another heartbreaking personal setback…

PPSS #92 (Milgrom & Mooney) bombastically introduces the Kingpin’s latest diabolical fixer in ‘And the answer is…’, with the Cat desperate to keep Spider-Man in the dark about her deal with Wilson Fisk, whilst Marvel Team-Up #142 and 143 take the wallcrawler very far from home in a cosmic mini epic by David Michelinie, LaRoque & Esposito.

‘Foiled!’ sees living light source Monica Rambeau (the second Marvel Captain Marvel) trapped in energy form following a high-tech heist and dependent on Spidey and Titan Starfox to save the day and secure a trans-dimensional remedy in ‘Shifts and Planes’

In Amazing Spider-Man #255, DeFalco, Frenz & Rubinstein introduce charismatic septuagenarian cat-burglar Black Fox(whose outfit coincidentally resembled Spidey’s new kit) who is a hapless pawn and target of the ruthless but cash-strapped Red Ghost and his Super-Apes in ‘Even a Ghost Can Fear the Night!’ Compelled to rob until caught by Spider-Man, the Fox orchestrated a spectacular battle between the hero and the Ghost before getting away with all the loot…

Marvel Team-Up Annual #7 (by Louise Simonson, Paul Neary & Sam De La Rosa) saw Spider and Cat meet Alpha Flight as a certain Elder of the Universe goes after aliens to complete a set and falls for ‘The Collected Spider-Man’.

The issue also revealed ‘No Place to Run’ for a loving ordinary couple forever unsettled by witnessing the world of Superheroes and villains by Bob DeNatale, David Mazzuchelli & Brett Breeding…

Milgrom & Mooney crafted ‘A Hot Time in the Old Morgue Tonight!’ for Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man#93 as The Answer stalks the Black Cat to unearth Spider-Man’s secrets, only to see love being poisoned and Spidey’s suit start to malfunction…

Subsequently kidnapping the Cat is only part of his masterplan – as is letting the wallcrawler win her back…

Cary Burkett, LaRoque & Esposito pit the webslinger and Moon Knight against Chinese ganglord White Dragon in ‘My Sword I Lay Down!’ as a prelude to Milgrom & Mooney bringing Cloak and Dagger into the game with PPSS #94’s ‘How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down at the Morgue After They’ve Seen N.Y.C.?’ as the Kingpin resurrects his former rival Silvermane and the mindless cyborg goes wild. The tale ends but does not conclude here with #95 and ‘The Dagger at the End of the Tunnel’ as the Kingpin’s grand scheme is exposed and one hero falls…

Closing the team tussles, MTU #145 (September 1984, by Tony Isabella,  LaRocque & Esposito) delivers ‘Hometown Boy’: from the period when Tony Stark first succumbed to alcoholism. He lost everything, and friend/bodyguard Jim Rhodes took on the role and duties of the Golden Avenger. As Stark tried to make good with a new start-up company, this engaging yarn sees the substitute hero still finding his ferrous feet whilst battling oft-failed assassin Blacklash (formerly Whiplash) at a Cleveland trade fair, as much hindered as helped by visiting hero Spider-Man wearing his enigmatic black duds…

Having granted readers a period of adjustment, the saga hits its stride in Amazing Spider-Man #256 as ‘Introducing… Puma!’ finds an increasingly weary and listless Spider-Man attacked by a Native American super-mercenary hired by the Rose. The Arachnid’s gang-busting crusade beside Black Cat was making life too hot and unprofitable for the ambitious mobster…

That calamitous clash carries over into ‘Beware the Claws of Puma!’ furiously escalating until The Kingpin steps in to stop it, forcing the Rose to ally himself with the murderous Hobgoblin. The issue ends with an exhausted Parker confronted with a stunning revelation from former lover Mary Jane Watson

The shock prompts Peter into seeking out ‘The Sinister Secret of Spider-Man’s New Costume!’ Plagued by nightmares, perpetually tired and increasingly debilitated, the webslinger visits the Fantastic Four and is disgusted and horrified to learn that his suit is alive: a parasite slowly attaching itself to him body and soul…

Meanwhile, Hobgoblin and the Rose’s uneasy alliance has resulted in bloody, undeclared war on the Kingpin…

With Reed Richards’ help the creature is removed from Spider-Man and imprisoned, but the story is still unfinished and there’s so much more to come.

To Be Continued…

Also on show here are Leonardi designs from Mike Zeck’s design for the black costume from Marvel Age #12; text pieces by Bob Sodaro & Mark Lerer from #14; covers by Ron Lim, Larry Mahlstedt, Keith Williams, Milgrom, Terry Austin, from Marvel Tales #266-272 (reprinting the Amazing Spider-Man stories) and two previous collection covers by Ron Frenz, Rubinstein and John Romita Sr.

Rounding out this initial collection is a foreword by Jim Salicrup from the 1988 collection; seven original art pages by Frenz & Breeding, LaRocque, Rubinstein & Esposito, and front and back covers from Essential Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man volume 4 by Milgrom, tom chu and Tom Smith.

This run of tales marvellously rejuvenated the Amazing Arachnid: kicking off a period of gripping and imaginative stories that culminated with the creation of arch antihero/villain Venom and today’s whole symbiote super-subculture.  If you’re a fan of superhero comics these are tales you just don’t want to miss, specially in Spder-Man’s anniversary year!
© 2019 MARVEL

Marvel Two-in-One Masterworks volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decades: Marvel in the ‘60s – Spider-Man Meets the Marvel Universe


By Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Roy Thomas, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, John Romita Sr, Gene Colan, Werner Roth & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1660-2 (TPB)

The Amazing Spider-Man was first seen in the middle of 1962, so expect plenty of wallcrawling reviews over the next twelve months, and if any of us make it to the end I’m sure we’ll all be well-versed in Arachnid Lore with our book shelves (physical or digital) positively groaning with sublimely re-readable tales and tomes…

For Marvel, it’s always been all about the team-ups…

In the company’s 80th Anniversary year of 2019, they published plenty of reprint material in archival formats designed to highlight specific triumphs of the House of Ideas. One of the mot interesting was the Decades project: collecting material from each era seen through a themed lens. For the 1960s – with so very much astounding innovation to be proud of – the editors opted to re-present critical confrontations of the company’s signature star with the other breakthrough characters that formed the bedrock of the Marvel Universe. After all, it’s always been all about the team-ups…

Within this trade paperback/digital delight – in full or in extract – are bombastic battles and eccentric encounters between the wondrous wallcrawler and the other growing stars of the ever-expanding firmament, culled from Amazing Spider-Man #1, 8, 14, 16; Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2; Fantastic Four #73; Fantastic Four Annual #1; Strange Tales Annual #2; Tales to Astonish #57; The Avengers #11; The Avengers Annual #3; Daredevil #16, 17, 27 and The X-Men #35 spanning March 1963 to 1968. The curated cruise begins with a context-setting Introduction from Jess Harrold, before we see a skinny kid in a costume meet his heroes for the first time…

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

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

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

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

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

The debut of Spider-Man and his pathetic, loser, young alter ego Peter Parker was a landmark moment. The hard luck hero effortlessly made the jump to his own title. Holding on to the “Amazing” prefix to jog reader’s memories, the bi-monthly Amazing Spider-Man #1 arrived with a March 1963 cover-date and two complete stories. It also prominently featured the aforementioned FF and took the readership by storm. Excerpted here are the 5 pages wherein the cash-strapped youngster breaks into the Baxter Building determined to get himself hired by the team and ends battling his idols…

That’s followed by a back-up story from 1963’s Fantastic Four Annual #1 which expanded the incident into a proper yarn. ‘The Fabulous Fantastic Four Meet Spider-Man sees Kirby redraw the moment with Ditko inking and it is superb, smartly segueing into the lead feature from the same year’s Strange Tales Annual #2. This terrific romp from Lee, Kirby & Ditko depicts an early Marvel Misapprehension as the wallcrawler is framed by international art thief and disguise-master The Fox, and hot-headed Johnny Storm determines to bring the aggravating arachnid to justice. Guess how that works out…

Cover-dated January 1964, Amazing Spider-Man #8 led with a battle against the computer dubbed the Living Brain, but you’ll need to look elsewhere for that. An extra vignette in that issue provided another Lee/Kirby/Ditko delight. ‘Spiderman Tackles the Torch!’ is a 6-page comedy romp wherein a boisterous and envious wall-crawler gate-crashes a beach party thrown by the flaming hero’s girlfriend… with suitably explosive consequences.

Marvel’s growing band of stars were pooping up everywhere in others titles by this time, and the next snippet – 5 pages culled from Amazing Spider-Man #14 (July 1964) – sees the webspinner’s battle against the Green Goblin and Enforcers interrupted by the Incredible Hulk who delivers an unforgettable lesson in staying in your own weight class. That same month, Tales to Astonish #57 saw Giant-Man and the Wasp ‘On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!’ – courtesy of Lee, Dick Ayers & Paul Reinman – with sinister mastermind Egghead pulling strings to make the complete strangers into mortal enemies…

September 1964 found Amazing Spider-Man #16 extending the wallcrawler’s circle of friends and foes whilst battling the Ringmaster and his Circus of Evil and encountering freshly minted fellow loner hero in a dazzling and delightful‘Duel with Daredevil’ (Lee & Ditko), after which The Avengers #11 (by Lee, Don Heck & Chic Stone) details how ‘The Mighty Avengers Meet Spider-Man!’ This is a clever and classy cross-fertilising tale featuring time-bending tyrant Kang the Conqueror who attempts to destroy the team by insinuating within their serried ranks a robotic duplicate of the outcast hero.

Next up is arguably Ditko’s greatest artistic triumph of this era: the lead tale from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 (October of that year and filled out with vintage Spidey classics).

Ditko was on peak form: fast enough to handle two monthly strips, and at this time also blowing away audiences with another ill-fitting, oddly tangential superhero. The disparate crusaders met in ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange!’: an entrancing fable unforgettably introducing the Amazing Arachnid to arcane realities and metaphysical mysteries as he joins the Master of the Mystic Arts to battle power-crazed mage Xandu in a phantasmagorical, dimension-hopping masterpiece involving ensorcelled zombie thugs and the stolen Wand of Watoomb. After this, it was clear that Spider-Man could work in any milieu and that nothing could hold him back…

Now sporting his signature all-red outfit, the Man Without Fear re-encountered Spider-Man in Daredevil #16-17 (May & June 1966 and crafted by Lee, John Romita the elder and inker Frank Giacoia) as ‘Enter… Spider-Man!’ introduces diabolical criminal mastermind Masked Marauder who has big plans; the first of which is to get DD and the wallcrawler to kill each other…

With chapter ‘None are so Blind…’ opens a convoluted a sub-plot which would lead to some of the highest and lowest moments of the early Daredevil series – such as Spidey accusing Law-firm partner Foggy Nelson of being the Scarlet Swashbuckler and Matt Murdock inventing a twin brother Mike – but the art is superb and the action is nonstop, so there’s not much to complain about…

Next comes Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 3 and ‘…To Become an Avenger!’ with the World’s Mightiest Heroes offering the webspinner membership if he can capture and bring them the Hulk. As usual, all is not as it seems but the action-drenched epic, courtesy of Lee, Romita (on layouts), Don Heck, & Mike Esposito is the kind of guest-heavy, power-punching package that made these summer specials such a prize…

Jumping to April 1967, Daredevil #27 (Lee, Gene Colan & Giacoia) closes a chapter as a leaner, moodier Man Without Fear manifested. Earlier episodes saw the hopeless romantic triangle of Murdock, best friend Foggy and their secretary Karen Page become a whacky quadrangle by introducing fictitious twin Mike Murdock. Now he would be “exposed” as Daredevil to divert suspicion from the blind attorney who actually battled all those weird villains…

Well that happened, and – still skulking in the background – arch-villain Masked Marauder slowly honed in on DD’s actual alter ego. He got closest in ‘Mike Murdock Must Die!’ after Stilt-Man teams with the Marauder before Spider-Man abrasively helped out in a brief cameo to take down the long-legged loon…

Cover-dated August 1967, The X-Men #35 finally found Marvel’s top teens in the same story. At that time the mutant heroes were hunting secret cabal Factor Three who had used robot arachnoids to kidnap Professor X.

When ally Banshee is captured mid-sentence during a crucial communication with the team in ‘Along Came A Spider…’(by Roy Thomas, Werner Roth & Dan Adkins) everybody’s favourite wallcrawler is mistaken for a foe. After the desperate, distraught mutants find the hero amidst robot wreckage, he is forced to battle for his life against the increasingly unstable teens…

Ending this chronological collaboration excursion is Fantastic Four #73 (April 1968) which carried an instant-classic crossover that overlapped an ongoing Thor storyline and conclusion to a long-running Daredevil story wherein the sightless crusader is ousted from his own body by Doctor Doom. After warning the FF of imminent attack, the Swashbuckler subsequently defeats Doom on his own, but neglects to tell the heroes of his victory…

Thus, outmatched and unable to convince them any other way, DD enlists currently the de-powered Thunder God and ever-eager webspinner in to solve the problem Marvel style – with a pointless, spectacular and utterly riveting punch-up – in ‘The Flames of Battle…’

These timeless team-ups of Marvel’s original loner comprise a superb catalogue of splendid triumphs to be enjoyed over and over again. How can you not?
© 2019, MARVEL

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 17


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

Monolithic Marvel truly began at the end of 1961 with the adventures of a small super-team who were as much squabbling family as coolly capable costumed champions. Everything the company produces now is due to the quirky quartet and the groundbreaking, inspired efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Happy Anniversary, all…

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

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

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

Following a Preface by outgoing scribe Roy Thomas and Introduction from incoming writer/editor Len Wein a new direction begins with #176 and ‘Improbable as it May Seem…The Impossible Man is Back in Town!’ by Thomas, George Pérez & Joe Sinnott as the mighty manic shapeshifter – having just saved everybody from World-Devourer Galactus – returns to Earth with our heroes and promptly turns the city upside down in his search for amusement and entertainment…

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

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

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

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

At least, one of the Reeds is…

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

Until ultimate predator Annihilus finds him…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

Marvel Two-in-One Marvel Masterworks volume 5


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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