Captain America: Man Out of Time


By Mark Waid, Jorge Molina, Karl Kesel & Scott Hanna (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5128-9 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1-84653-487-4 (UK TPB)

One of the pivotal moments in Marvel Comics history occurred when the Mighty Avengers recovered a tattered body floating in a block of ice (#4, March 1964) and resurrected World War II hero Captain America. This act followed the return of the Sub-Mariner in Fantastic Four #4 and completed a bridge back to the years of Timely and Atlas Comics. With it, newly-minted Marvel Comics Group confirmed and consolidated a solid, concrete, potential-packed history: evoking an enticing sense of mythic continuance for the fledgling company and instantly granting it the same cachet and enduring grandeur of market leader National/DC.

In 2010, after years of conflicting continuity (and with a movie coming) Marvel tasked fan-favourite writer Mark Waid with updating those pivotal events and early future-shocked days for the contemporary world. Of course, that modern milieu was the year 2000, not 1964…

This captivating re-interpretation and updating collects 5 issue miniseries Captain America: Man Out of Time (November 2010-April 2011) and opens in the dying days of the war as Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes are officially removed from the European frontline. Their destination is England and an appointment with doom-laden destiny…

After the world goes fiery red and then black, the Sentinel of Liberty is stunned to awaken in tomorrow’s world before reacting automatically and uncompromisingly to meeting this World’s Mightiest Heroes…
Waid, perfectly complimented by artists Jorge Molina, Karl Kesel & Scott Hanna, wisely leaves the classic adventures largely unchanged, to concentrate on the missing, contemplative moments and personal crises confronting the uncomprehending Steve Rogers, which means readers completely unaware of the character’s comic book history and exploits could experience some confusion in places. However, the narrative, although superficially disjointed, is clear-cut enough to counter this and those interested in the fuller picture can easily fill in the gaps by perusing one of so many available reprint collections to cover the entire period featured here…

In chapter 2, the reeling hero meets former Hulk sidekick Rick Jones (an absurdly close double for the departed Bucky), gets a rapid reality check on his new home and finally accepts that there’s no way home for this Old Soldier.

Except, that’s not strictly true…
Among the many technological miracles his new allies introduce him to the embryonic science of time-travel, and even while battling threats like the Lava Men and Masters of Evil, the unhappy warrior only thinks of returning to his proper place and saving his best friend…

The old adage “be careful what you wish for” never proves more true than when time-reiver Kang the Conqueror attacks: utterly overwhelming the 21st century heroes and casually dispatching Captain America back to 1945. However, the Sentinel of Liberty’s sense of duty, threat to his new allies and the unpalatable things he had forgotten about “the Good Old Days” prompt Cap into brilliantly escaping his honeyed time-trap and returning to the place and moment where he is most needed to once again save the day…

Resolute and resolved to tackle his Brave New World, Captain America is now ready to carve out a whole new legend…
I’m generally less than sanguine about updates and reboots of classic comics material, but I will admit that such things are a necessary evil as years go by, so when the deed is done with sensitivity and imagination (not to mention dynamic, bravura flamboyance) I can only applaud and commend the effort.

Balancing the reinterpretation is the classic inspiration as the book ends with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos’ reprinted epic ‘Captain America joins… The Avengers!’ cover-dated March 1964, and proving magic can be retooled but never replaced…

Thrilling, superbly entertaining, compelling and genuinely moving, Captain America: Man out of Time is a wonderful confection to delight and enthral old aficionados, impress new readers and should serve to make many fresh fans for the immortal Star-Spangled Avenger.
© 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk: Hulk Vs. The Marvel Universe


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roger McKenzie, Bill Mantlo, Peter David, Howard Mackie, Marie Severin, Frank Miller, Sal Buscema, Todd McFarlane, John Romita Jr., Jorge Lucas & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3129-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Incredible Hulk #1 hit newsstands and magazine spinners on March 1st 1962. The comic book was cover-dated May. He was technically (excluding once-&-future Ant-Man Henry Pym) the second superhero star of the dawning Marvel Age. A few more debuted that year – so Happy Anniversary all – before the true Annus Mirabilis Atomicus (stop sniggering: it hopefully means Year of Atomic Miracles) that was 1963…

This 2008 collection was unleashed on readers due to the World War Hulk event. Reprinted here are Fantastic Four #25-26, Journey into Mystery #112, Tales to Astonish #92-93, Daredevil #163, Incredible Hulk #300 & 340, Peter Parker: Spider-Man #14 and Hulk Vs. Fin Fang Foom cumulatively spanning cover-dates April 1964 to February 2008.

With the Big Green Galoot and his chartreuse cousin both making new screen appearances this year, it seems sensible to take another look at the original Marvel antihero’s irascible interactions with his fellow power-packed pals. First, though…

Bruce Banner was a military scientist caught in a gamma bomb detonation of his own devising. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors caused him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the irradiated idol finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and misunderstood miscreant of the moment, until a new home was found for him in “split-book” Tales to Astonish: sharing space with fellow maligned misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner, who proved an ideal thematic companion from his induction in #70.

This book is for every fan (isn’t that all of us?) that asked eternal question “who would win if…?” and we open without preamble on an early landmark as Fantastic Four #25 (April 1964) sees a cataclysmic clash that had young heads spinning then and ever since.

The Hulk’s own title had folded after six issues, and he joined debuting solo star assemblage The Avengers, before explosively quitting in #2: joining Namor’s assault on them in #3. That globe-trotting romp delivered high energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history but you’ll need to go elsewhere to see it.

Here and now, it’s 3 months later and Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos use FF #25 to establish an evergreen tradition – the first of many instances of ‘The Hulk Vs The Thing’.

Accompanied by FF #26’s concluding episode ‘The Avengers Take Over!’, the is an all-out Battle Royale as the disgruntled man-monster searches Manhattan for former sidekick Rick Jones, with only an injury-wracked Fantastic Four to curtail his destructive rampage.

A definitive moment in the character development of The Thing, the action ramps up when a rather stiff-necked and officious Avengers team horns in, claiming jurisdictional rights on “Bob” Banner – this tale is plagued with pesky continuity errors that haunted Lee for decades – and his Jaded alter ego. Notwithstanding bloopers, this is one of Marvel’s key moments and still a visceral, vital read.

The second chapter of the Hulk’s career began in Tales to Astonish #59 (September 1964) as his became co-star to fading property Giant-Man – soon to be replaced by Marvel’s Man from Atlantis – whilst the Green Goliath’s guest star career continued unabated. Next up is a perfect example of that pulling power: the lead story in Journey into Mystery #112 (January 1965) where ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’

The Hulk and Mighty Thor share their 60th anniversary and whether in print, in animations or in blockbuster movies, that eternal question has been asked but never answered to anyone’s satisfaction whenever applied to the modern iteration of the age-old mythic war between gods and monsters. This tale is the first of many return engagements: a glorious gift to every fight fan and arguably Kirby & Chic Stone’s finest artistic moment, detailing a private duel between the two super-humans that occurred during that free-for-all between Earth’s Mightiest, Sub-Mariner and Ol’ Greenskin back in Avengers #3. The raw power of that tale is a perfect exemplar of what makes the Hulk work as a returning foe and yardstick of heroism and determination of those unlucky enough to battle him.

Technical aside: I’m reviewing the digital release and here that blistering bout is followed by JIM #112’s Tales of Asgard back-up ‘The Coming of Loki!’ by Lee, Kirby & Vince Colletta. I suspect you won’t find it in the physical copies of this book…

In Tales to Astonish #92 (June 1967) Lee, superb Marie Severin & Frank Giacoia promised a ‘Turning Point!’, depicting Banner hunted through a terrified New York City as prelude to his alter ego clashing with an incredible opponent in the next issue. Back then, Hulk didn’t really team-up with visiting stars, he just got mad and smashed them. Such was certainly the case as he became ‘He Who Strikes the Silver Surfer’: ironically driving off a fellow outcast who held the power to cure him of his atomic affliction.

There’s a big leap to March 1979 next as Daredevil #163 sees Matt Murdock offer the fugitive Banner sanctuary before the tormented scientist again loses his eternal struggle to suppress the monster inside. Inevitably, the forgone conclusion is the Man without Fear outclassed and punching up before getting creamed to save New York from the Hulk in ‘Blind Alley’ by Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller & Josef Rubinstein, after which we hurtle to Incredible Hulk #300 (cover-dated October 1984) and the end of an epic run by scripter Bill Mantlo and illustrator Sal Buscema. The Hulk had gone from monster outcast to global hero and Banner’s intellect had overridden the brute’s simplistic nature, but now, thanks to the insidious acts of dream demon Nightmare, banner was gone leaving only a murderous, mindless engine of gamma fuelled destruction to ravage New York City.

Inked by Gerry Talaoc, extended epic ‘Days of Rage!’ saw the unstoppable monster easily defeat every superhero in town before being exiled to another universe…

Of course, he came back and was mostly restored, but radical change remained a constant. October 1984’s Incredible Hulk #340 was highpoint in a game-changing run by Peter David and sensation-in-waiting Todd McFarlane. The Hulk was notionally de-powered and returned to the grey-skinned cunning brute of his first appearances just in time for a savage rematch with Wolverine in ‘Vicious Circle’. That inconclusive bout segues here to another battle with another shared-birthday boy.

The wondrous crawler was wracked with agonising ‘Denial’ (Peter Parker: Spider-Man #14, February 2000, by in Howard Mackie, John Romita Jr. & Scott Hanna) in a mismatched clash that occurred with Peter Parker reeling in shock and grief, believing his wife Mary Jane and baby daughter had died in a plane crash. All he had left was great responsibility and something to hit…

We end on a raucously rowdy light-heartedly cathartic note with a modern take on the classic monster battles motif. One-shot Hulk vs Fin Fang Foom #1 (February 2008) was by Peter David, Jorge Lucas & Robert Campanella, revealing an “untold tale” of the early Kirby-era with the gamma goliath headed to the far north in time to see a dragon decanted from the ice.

Parody pastiche ‘The Fin from Outer Space’ is a furious flurry of fisticuffs and fantastic force unleashed with the sole intent of making pulses pound…

With covers from Kirby – with Roussos and Stone, Marie Severin & Giacoia, Miller & Rubinstein, Bret Blevins, McFarlane & Bob Wiacek, Romita Jr. and Jim Cheung, John Dell & Justin Ponsor, this is a straightforward, no-nonsense, all-battle bill of fare no Fights ‘n’ Tights fan could have the strength to resist. Grab it if you can!
© 2020 MARVEL.

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.

Captain Britain: Legacy of a Hero


By Chris Claremont, Steve Parkhouse, David Thorpe, Alan More, Jamie Delano, Herb Trimpe, John Byrne, John Stokes, Alan Davis, Fred Kida, Dave Hunt, Mark Farmer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0668-9 (TPB/Digital Edition)

Marvel UK set up shop in 1972, reprinting the House of Ideas’ earliest hits in our traditional weekly papers format, and swiftly carving out a substantial corner of the market. It wasn’t the first time American glitz and glamour turned staid heads here: the works of Lee, Kirby, Ditko, et al had appeared in British comics Smash!, Wham!, Pow!, The Eagle, Fantastic! and Terrific! since the early 1960s and, in the case of Alan Class Publications’ anthologies, since before they actually became Marvel Comics…

In 1976, Marvel UK augmented their recycled output with an all-new British superhero. The eponymous weekly offered original material, with the majority of the page count reprinting fan favourites Fantastic Four and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. One bold departure was full colour printing for the debutante champion to supplement standard monochrome reproduction in the titles remaining pages.

This compilation/primer gathers #1-2 of Captain Britain; US Marvel Team-Up #65-66 and select material from #1, 3-5 and 57-59 of the 1979 UK Hulk Comic/Hulk Weekly; Marvel Super-Heroes #377-384 & 386; The Daredevils #3-4, The Mighty World of Marvel #8-12 and Captain Britain volume 2 #14, collectively spanning October 1976 to May 1986, and also includes a fondly reminiscing Introduction from scripter Dave Thorpe.

Extras include cover roughs, concept and costume sketches by Herb Trimpe plus Alan Davis’ revamp designs and character studies for Slaymaster, The Fury and Crazy Gang. Sadly, not every pertinent cover is included, but those that are come from Larry Lieber & Frank Giacoia, George Pérez & Joe Sinnott, John Byrne, and Alan Davis.

Captain Britain’s earliest adventures read quite well in the hyper-tense 21st century. There is a matter-of-fact charm and simplicity to them that is sorely missing in these multi-part, multi-issue crossover days, and the necessity to keep reader-attention riveted and hungry for more in eight page instalments sweeps the willing consumer along.

Chris Claremont was given the original writing assignment – apparently due to his being born here – and Trimpe the pencilling chores because he was actually resident here for a while. Gary Friedrich eventually replaced Claremont, but the artist, inked by golden age legend Fred Kida (Airboy, The Heap, Black Knight) provided rip-roaring art for much of the initial run. Later artists included John Buscema, Larry Lieber, Ron Wilson and Bob Budiansky, before the feature folded. It was later revived by British creators Steve Parkhouse, John Stokes, Dave Thorpe, and ultimately, Alan Moore and Alan Davis…

Cover-dated Week-Ending October 13th 1976, Captain Britain #1 began his origin, told in ‘Captain Britain!’ and completed in #2 with ‘From the Holocaust… A Hero!’. Together, they reveal how physics student Brian Braddock was in just the wrong place when raiders attacked the Atomic research centre on Darkmoor. Fleeing imminent death, he stumbled onto a source of fantastic power and inescapable destiny. Chosen by the legendary Merlin himself, the teen Braddock was transformed into the symbolic paragon of our Island Nation, destined to battle incredible threats as its valiant and indomitable champion…

The weekly Captain Britain closed with #39 and in tried-&-true tradition was merged with a more successful title. Braddock’s exploits continued in Super Spider-Man & Captain Britain Weekly (#231-253). Except for covers, the book reverted to black-&-white and featured reprints for the last months. Before too long though, he resurfaced in America…

Crafted by Claremont and British-born, Canada-bred John Byrne, ‘Introducing Captain Britain’ in Marvel Team-Up #65, was the first half of a riotous romp. It depicted Brian Braddock on a student transfer to Manhattan and as the unsuspecting house-guest of Peter Parker. Before long the heroes had met, fought and then teamed-up to defeat flamboyant, games-obsessed hit-man Arcade. The transatlantic tale concluded in #66 as the abducted antagonists systematically dismantled the maniac’s ‘Murderworld’.

And then the Lion of Albion disappeared on both sides of the pond… until March 1979, when British weekly Hulk Comic debuted with an eclectic mix of Marvel reprints that veteran editor Dez Skinn felt better suited the British market.

There were also all-new strips featuring Marvel characters tailored – like the reprints – to appeal to UK kids. The Hulk was there because of his TV show, Nick Fury (by babe-in-arms Steve Dillon) – because we love spies here, and noir-tinged pulp/gangster thriller Night Raven came courtesy of David Lloyd, John Bolton & Steve Parkhouse.

…And then there was The Black Knight.

This feature appeared in issues #1, 3-30, 42-55 and 57-63 – the comic’s last issue. The paladin was a former member of the Avengers, but for this engrossing epic, costumed shenanigans gave way to classical fantasy set in modern Britain, but with Tolkienesque/Alan Garner overtones and Celtic roots interwoven into Arthurian myths.

Dispatched on a mission by Merlin (sometimes Merlyn here) to the wilds of Cornwall, the Knight and his winged horse Valinor are tasked with saving the Heart and Soul of England from Modred and a host of goblins and monsters. The selection here sees the quest spring into high gear with the reluctant/openly hostile aid of a broken, amnesiac Captain Britain.

Delivered in 3-page, monochrome episodes by writer Parkhouse & John Stokes (joined from #6 by penciller Paul Neary) this fantastical pot-boiler captured the imagination of the readership, became the longest running original material strip in the comic (even The Hulk lead feature reverted to reprints by #28) and often stole the cover spot from the lead feature.

It’s still a captivating read, beautifully realized, and the only real quibble I have is that the whole thing isn’t included here. If you’re wondering, the sword-and-sorcery action ends on a cliffhanger with our heroic Captain swearing fealty to a newly arisen King Arthur…

When the weekly ended in 1979, Captain Britain began a period of renewal plagued by peripatetic wanderings through numerous UK titles: starting with monthly reprint anthology Marvel Super Heroes #377-389 and continuing in The Daredevils #1-11. Eventually, he got another short-lived solo title…

Here we resume in colour (a fringe benefit of later reprint editions) with Captain Britain reimagined and redesigned by editor/plotter Neary and a new creative team, writer Dave Thorpe and artist Alan Davis. Their serial debuted in MSH #377 (September 1981).

Lost in the gaps between alternate worlds the hero and elf sidekick Jackdaw are drawn back to Earth, but upon arrival they discover it is a hideous parody of Britain, bleak, distressed, hopeless and depressed – a potent vision of the country that would exist after real-world tyrannical fanatic Margaret Thatcher had finished with it.

Thorpe’s desire was to inject some subversive social realism into the feature – and he encountered plenty of resistance – but the resultant analogies and allegories didn’t diminish the strip’s wildly escapist, potently dynamic, fabulously entertaining injection of fresh air. Coupled with Davis’ strikingly purist superhero art, the feature at last delivered a truly British-flavoured adventure. In short order the confused Captain met anarchic bandits The Crazy Gang, reality-warping mutant Mad Jim Jaspers, electorally-sanctioned British Nazis and a truly distressed population in ‘Outcasts’ (MSH #378).

The Good Captain then tackled animated rubbish monster ‘The Junkheap that Walked Like a Man’ (#379), and was introduced to the pan-Reality colossus The Dimensional Development Court and its sultry, ruthless operative Opal Luna Saturnyne, who intended to compulsorily evolve the whole dimension, beginning with ‘In Support of Darwin!’, ‘Re-Birth!’, ‘Against the Realm’ and ‘Faces of Britain!’ in #380-383).

‘Friends and Enemies’ is a pretty-looking but thoroughly de-clawed examination of sectarianism and racism, after which – now deeply involved in Saturnyne’s plan to force humanity to evolve – Captain Britain was trapped in a clash between the underclasses and the government in Thorpe’s final story ‘If the Push Should Fail…’

His departure heralded the beginning of Alan Moore’s landmark tenure on the character but most of that is also absent here. The feature migrated from Marvel Super-Heroes #389 to The Daredevils, beginning with #1. During that passage, Braddock and Jackdaw were destroyed and rebuilt with reality-warping Jim Jaspers crossing over to a new Earth, intent on destroying all superbeings. Also surviving a catastrophic dimensional collapse was an artificial killer which would evolve itself into an unstoppable Fury…

Here, however, The Daredevils #3 reveals how Brian Braddock’s sister Betsy reappeared in ‘Thicker than Water’. Alans Moore & Davis detail a purple-haired telepath hunted by an assassin taking out esper-agents recruited by British covert agency S.T.R.I.K.E – and yes she is the girl who became Psylocke in The X-Men.

The battle against the killer Slaymaster concluded in a spectacular in-joke clash among the shelves of the Denmark Street Forbidden Planet store – in 1982, arguably the country’s best fantasy/comic book store – so any old fans might want to try identifying the real staff members who “guest-star” – in ‘Killing Ground.’

There’s a whole book’s worth of material omitted before we return to Braddock’s Britain – interdimensional imbroglios; cosmic clashes; multidimensional mercenaries, metamorphic love interest Meggan’s debut, alternate universe superheroes; the multiversal Captain Britain Corps, shock, awe, intrigue, and the aforementioned assassin artifact’s relentless advance – but here we resume with the shattering conclusion of all those intersecting plot points…

Mighty World of Marvel #8 sets up a cataclysmic confrontation in ‘The Twisted World (Reprise)’ as the Fury continues its hunting, even though Jaspers has reshaped this world into his own twisted version of a totalitarian paradise. As Jaspers consolidates his psychotic hold on the nation, Captain Britain, Betsy, Omniversal fugitives Saturnyne and Captain UK – sole survivor of her murdered dimension – lead the last few rebels against the New Reality. The fugitives’ consensus choice is “fight or die”…

Meanwhile in the higher realms, Merlin and his daughter Roma move their human pieces in the great game to save existence. In ‘Among These Dark Satanic Mills’, Braddock struggles on despite telling losses, confronting Jaspers as the madman begins an ascent to literal godhood in ‘Anarchy in the UK’.

Even so, the cause seems hopeless until the Fury enters the fray on nobody’s side, but intent on taking out the greatest threat first. ‘Fool’s Mate’ is only the beginning of an unbelievably intense and imaginative battle with Jaspers across the multiverse, using the building blocks of reality as ammunition. The chaotic clash continues in ‘Endgame’ with shocks and surprises aplenty, leading to unexpected victory, the death of a major player in Mighty World of Marvel #12. Moore left after the next chapter – not included here – leaving artist Davis in charge of the strip. The great responsibility came with a new home…

Captain Britain volume 2 ran for 14 issues (January 1985 to February 1986) and is represented here by closing story ‘Should Auld Acquaintance…’ from the last issue. An all-Davis affair, it shows the hero and Meggan reunited after more incredible trials: a far from happy family experiencing one last hurrah by rescuing a mutant-powered “Warpy” from a exploitation at the hands of a Glasgow vigilante, in an expansive display of Happy Ever After…

Captain Britain took a long time and a very twisted road to becoming a key component of the Marvel Universe. Most of that material is astounding and groundbreaking and deserving of a far more comprehensive home than this book. Although a solid introduction to the character, Legacy of a Hero merely skims some cream from a powerful and rewarding comics confection that fed decades of stories and still underpins much of modern continuity. Consider it a teaser for old-timers and lure or newer readers and a promise of more to come. If that fails you can always hunt down the 5-volume complete Captain Britain library published by Marvel UK/Panini between 2007-2011. Trust me, you won’t be sorry
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor: For Asgard


By Robert Rodi, Simone Bianchi & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4445-8 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1-84653-482-9 (TPB Marvel/Panini UK)

In his anniversary year and with another motion picture interpretation of Marvel’s Thor eagerly anticipated, it appropriate to remember his roots and that there’s plenty for established fans and freshly-interested parties to grapple with in book form. Here’s one that might tickle the fancy of older readers…

In an effective and beautiful re-imagining by Robert Rodi, illustrated with astounding imagination and beauty by Simone Bianchi (assisted by Andrea Silvestri and colourist Simone Peruzzi), the long dreaded Twilight of the Gods has begun and cracks are beginning to show in the heroic façade of the noble and mighty Asgardians…

Reprinting a six-issue miniseries published in 2010 under the Marvel Knights imprint, our saga opens in the second icy year of the dread Fimbulwinter, with shining god Balder long dead, all-father Odin long missing and Thor as long-suffering Regent.

A better warrior than ruler, the Thunderer leads an embattled, increasingly contentious and disgruntled populace in punitive forays against old enemies such as the Frost Giants. All around them, former vassal states are stretching long unused muscles and airing old grievances whilst the unhappy ruler’s two closest advisors are at constant odds with each other…

With the snowy streets of Asgard awash with resentment, if not outright sedition, Idunn informs the out-of-his-depth Storm Lord that the Golden Apples – source of Asgardian immortality – are almost gone and with Spring and Summer banished, no more will grow.

Asgard’s enemies are gathering, led by a secret mastermind, Odin’s mysterious mission has gone awry and, in the gleaming city, mutterings have become desperate, traitorous acts. With even Valhalla – glorious Hall of the Dead – threatened, and now murder in the streets, Thor needs all his powers to help him, but even his faithful magic mallet has betrayed him: it has been long indeed since the Prince of Asgard was worthy enough to wield the Hammer of the Gods…

With chaos and destruction from every faction and direction, can hard-pressed Thor hold things together, or is the truly heroic action letting Ragnarok come and starting afresh amid the ruins…?

Bleak, subtly allegorical and utterly enchanting, this moody epic of endings and new beginnings is a powerful tale of a deftly different pantheon that will delight newcomers to the character but possibly irritate long-term Marvelites. Moreover, by ending on a foreboding note – completists should take heed – the tale is not completely done yet and more may follow…

The moody, sexy, and uncompromisingly violent tale is augmented in this 2019 re-release by a ‘Spotlight’ addendum, featuring stills from the movies and heavily-illustrated background feature ‘For Asgard!’ by historian Mike Conroy, covering author Rodi’s other Thor sagas (The Deviant Saga, Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers and Astonishing Thor). This volume is also still readily available in a British released edition from Marvel/Panini UK.
© 2019 MARVEL.

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.

Incredible Hulk Epic Collection volume 6: Crisis on Counter-Earth 1972-1974


By Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Tony Isabella, Herb Trimpe & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1302929169 (TPB/Digital)

The Incredible Hulk #1 hit newsstands and magazine spinners on March 1st 1962. The comic book was cover-dated May, so happy sort-of birthday Big Guy!

Bruce Banner was a military scientist caught in a gamma bomb detonation of his own devising. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors caused him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the irradiated idol finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain of the moment, until a new home was found for him in “split-book” Tales to Astonish: sharing space with fellow misunderstood misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner, who proved an ideal thematic companion from his induction in #70.

As the 1970s tumultuously unfolded, the Jade Juggernaut settled into a comfortable – if excessively, spectacularly destructive – niche. A globe-trotting, monster-mashing plot formula saw Banner hiding and seeking cures for his gamma-curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and his daughter – the afflicted scientist’s unobtainable inamorata – Betty, with a non-stop procession of guest-star heroes and villains providing the battles du jour.

Herb Trimpe made the Hulk his own, displaying a gift for explosive action and unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great military ordnance and vehicles. Beginning with Roy Thomas, a string of skilful scripters effectively played the Jekyll & Hyde card for maximum angst  and ironic impact as the monster became a pillar of Marvel’s pantheon.

This compelling compendium re-presents The Incredible Hulk #157-178, encompassing cover-dates April 1971 to November 1972-August 1974 and opens without delaying preamble as the Hulk – having just returned to Earth and normal size after a heartbreaking sojourn in a sub-atomic realm – promptly and potently battles a brace of old enemies in ‘Name My Vengeance: Rhino!’ (written by Archie Goodwin, with Trimpe inked by Sal Trapani). That clash is only resolved after gamma genius The Leader despatches Hulk and Rhino to the far side of the Sun. Here orbits a bizarre parallel world…

During the early 1970s, throwaway Fantastic Four character Him was transubstantiated into a modern interpretation of the Christ myth and placed on a world far more like our own than the Earth of Marvel’s universe. That troubled globe was codified as Counter-Earth and upon it messianic Adam Warlock battled a Satan-analogue known as Man-Beast.

Here and now, Hulk battles both the golden saviour and his evil antithesis in ‘Frenzy on a Far-Away World’, courtesy of Thomas, Steve Gerber, Trimpe & Trapani. Meanwhile on “true Earth”, heartbroken Betty – believing her lover forever gone – marries over-attentive, ever-present military martinet Major Glenn Talbot…

Steve Englehart assumed scripting duties with #159 as ‘Two Years Before the Abomination!’ sees Banner and the Rhino explosively returned to our embattled globe, only to be again attacked by General Ross’ Hulkbuster forces. The grizzled soldier is more determined than ever to kill Banner – to safeguard America and preserve his unsuspecting daughter’s new marriage. However, the resulting conflagration accidentally awakens a comatose gamma monster even deadlier than the Hulk…

‘Nightmare in Niagara!’ finds the misunderstood man-brute instinctively drawn to the honeymooning couple, only to encounter amphibian outcast Tiger Shark and another blockbusting battle issue, after which his northerly rampage takes the Green Goliath into Canada. ‘Beyond the Border Lurks Death!’ has the Hulk a reluctant ally of recently hyper-mutated Hank McCoy – best known as the bludgeoning Beast – in battle against the Mimic. This veteran X-foe possesses the ability to absorb the attributes of others, but the gift has become a curse, going tragically, catastrophically haywire and threatening to consume the entire planet…

Still under Northern Lights, Hulk encounters carnivorous, cannibalistic horror the Wendigo in ‘Spawn of the Flesh-Eater!’, but the maniacal man-eater harbours a shattering secret which makes it as much victim as villain…

Pushing ever Pole-ward, Hulk reaches the top of the world but cannot elude Ross’ relentless pursuit. After a cataclysmic arctic clash, ‘Trackdown’ sees man-monster and his stalker fall into the super-scientific clutches of Soviet prodigy the Gremlin (mutant offspring of the Hulk’s very first foe the Gargoyle). Although the Gamma Giant breaks free with ease, the General is left behind to become a highly embarrassing political prisoner…

Shambling into Polar seas, Hulk is captured by a fantastic sub-sea colony of aquatic human nomads in #164’s ‘The Phantom from 5,000 Fathoms!’ Decades previously, egomaniacal Captain Omen had created his own mobile submarine nation, roaming the ocean beds at will, and foolishly thought the Jade Goliath could be his latest freakish beast of burden. Sadly, the draconian dictator has no idea how his dissatisfied clan hungers for freedom, fresh air and sunlight. They disastrously rebel, following ‘The Green-Skinned God!’ to their doom…

Incredible Hulk #166 finally finds “Ol’ Greenskin” back in the USA, hitting New York just in time to clash with Battling Bowman Hawkeye and brain-eating electrical monster Zzzax in ‘The Destroyer from the Dynamo!’ Meanwhile in the sub-plot section, a bold bid to rescue General Ross from the godless Commies succeeds, but seemingly costs the life of his new son-in-law…

Jack Abel took over inking duties in #167 with ‘To Destroy the Monster!’ as grieving widow Betty Ross-Talbot suffers a nervous breakdown and is targeted by intellectual murder-mutate M.O.D.O.K. and his minions of Advanced Idea Mechanics who need an infallible weapon to break the Hulk.

As ghetto kid Jim Wilson fortuitously reconnects with the Emerald Behemoth, Banner’s bestial alter ego effortlessly destroys M.O.D.O.K.’s giant robot body but fails to prevent Betty’s abduction, and next issue’s ‘The Hate of the Harpy!’ reveals her as gamma-mutated avian horror programmed to destroy her former lover…

Issue #169 finds the temporarily triumphant Harpy and her verdant victim trapped aboard an ancient floating fortress in the sky, enduring ‘Calamity in the Clouds!’ before battling together against monstrous android Bi-Beast. When M.O.D.O.K. attacks, intent on possessing its alien tech, the response eradicates the last vestige of the sky-citadel, propelling a now-human Banner and Betty onto a lost tropical island inhabited by incredible alien creatures…

Englehart, Chris Claremont, Trimpe & Abel’s monster-romp ‘Death from on High!’ features an army of alien castaways in all-out terrain trashing aggressive action who fall to someone even tougher, after which subplots and human drama recommence with excessive bombast but no appreciable fanfare as ‘Revenge!’ (by Gerry Conway – from an Englehart plot) finds the Green Goliath a stowaway on a plane back to military Mecca Hulkbuster Base.

The jet carries Project: Greenskin’s new commanding officer. Spit-&-polish Colonel John D. Armbruster has taken over from the recently rescued but now politically sidelined Thunderbolt Ross….

The camp is eerily deserted and the reason becomes clear as bludgeoning brutes The Abomination and The Rhino attack the new arrivals. Subduing the entire garrison, they try to detonate the base’s gamma-bomb self-destruct device but are utterly unprepared for the Hulk’s irascible intervention…

Roy Thomas plotted Tony Isabella’s script for #172 wherein the Hulk – captured by the ungrateful soldiers he saved – is hurled into another dimension, allowing a mystic menace to inadvertently escape. ‘And Canst Thou Slay… The Juggernaut?’ (with a telling cameo by The X-Men) proves even a magically augmented menace can’t resist our favourite monster’s might.  Thomas then scripts all-Trimpe delight ‘Anybody Out There Remember… The Cobalt Man?’, as another old X-adversary – Ralph Roberts – picks up the Jade Giant at sea before sailing his research vessel right into a nuclear test explosion…

Dying of radiation exposure, the deranged technologist is determined to demonstrate atomic bombs are bad to a callous, uncaring world… by detonating one over Sydney in ‘Doomsday… Down Under’ (Conway, Thomas, Trimpe & Abel). A second clash with the azure-armoured Cobalt Man results in a blistering battle in the stratosphere, a cataclysmic explosion and Hulk crashing to earth far, far away as a ‘Man-Brute in the Hidden Land!’ (#175, by Thomas, Trimpe & Abel)…

Here – after the usual collateral carnage – a typically short-tempered encounter with the Uncanny Inhumans and devastating duel with silent super-monarch Black Bolt ends with the gamma gladiator stuck in a rocket-ship hurtling to the far side of the sun for a date with allegory, if not destiny…

Hulk had briefly visited once before and now crashes there again to complete a long lain fallow allegorical epic. It begins with ‘Crisis on Counter-Earth!’ by Conway, Trimpe & Abel. Since Hulk’s departure, Man-Beast and his animalistic minions (all spawned by godlike genetic meddler The High Evolutionary) had become America’s President and Cabinet. Moving decisively, they finally captured Warlock and led humanity to the brink of extinction, leaving the would-be messiah’s disciples in utter confusion.

With the nation in foment, the Hulk’s shattering return gives the messiah’s faithful flock opportunity to save their saviour in ‘Peril of the Plural Planet!’ but the foray badly misfires and Warlock is captured. Publicly crucified at the behest of the people, humanity’s last hope perishes…

Meanwhile on true Earth, Ross and Armbruster discover trusted comrade Glenn Talbot has escaped from a top security Soviet prison and is making his triumphant way back to the USA…

Scripted by Conway & Isabella, the quasi-religious experience concludes with ‘Triumph on Terra-Two’ as the dead prophet resurrects whilst Hulk wages his last battle against Man-Beast, just in time to deliver a cosmic coup de grace before ascending from Counter-Earth to the beckoning stars…

To Be Continued…

This superbly cathartic tome also offers some seminal extras, beginning with a Hulk-themed crossword puzzle from in-house fan vehicle F.O.O.M. (Friends of Ol’ Marvel; February 1973). The second issue – September – was an all-Hulk affair and from it comes a stunning cover and editorial illustrated by Jim Steranko, a ‘Hunt the Hulk’ game and ‘Many Faces of the Hulk’: a collage of previous artists (Kirby, Ditko, Dick Ayers, Trimpe, Marie & John Severin, Kane, Steranko, Bob Powell, Mike Esposito/Demeo, John Romita Sr., Bill Everett, John & Sal Buscema), plus a history by Martin Greim, a checklist of appearances to date and strip spoof ‘Hunk’ by Thomas, Len Brown, Gil Kane & Wally Wood.

Also on view are 8 original art pages by Trimpe and assorted inkers from the stories contained herein.

The Incredible Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, cartoons, TV shows, games, toys and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious and cathartic experience of Might literally making Right, you can’t do better than these yarns.
© MARVEL 2021

Morbius: Preludes and Nightmares


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Mike Friedrich, Joe Keatinge, Dan Slott, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Paul Gulacy, Valentine DiLandro, Marco Checchetto & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2592-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

The transition of Marvel’s print canon to whatever passes for celluloid this century seems unstoppable and with their pioneering hero/villain Michael Morbius now a big screen presence, the company fast-tracked a few archival collections to anticipate/support the release. The most useful for casual readers is undoubtedly this slim, sleek tome: an introductory primer perfect for film fans hunting up a little comic book context. It re-presents Amazing Spider-Man #101-102 and 699.1; Marvel Team-Up #3-4; (Adventure into) Fear #20, and fact-packed excerpts from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #7, spanning October 1971 to February 2013, mixing the origin and earliest 1970s appearances with a relatively latter-day reappraisal.

A fuller archival treatment of his scattered career can be found in a brace of Epic Collections, and I’ll get around to them in the fullness of time.

It begins with The Amazing Spider-Man #101, the second chapter in an anniversary trilogy tale begun by Stan Lee, Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia which saw the wallcrawler accidentally mutate himself, gaining four extra arms…

Now Roy Thomas takes over with ‘A Monster Called… Morbius!’ as the 8-limbed hero desperately seeks a way to reverse his condition. Whilst hiding in Dr. Curt Connors’ Long Island home/lab, he stumbles across a murderous costumed horror who drinks human blood. The newcomer has just reached shore, from a ship that he left a charnel house…

Making matters even worse is Connors’ sudden arrival in the scaly savage form of The Lizard. Suddenly surprised and always enraged, the saurian attacks, set on killing all intruders…

Amongst the many things banned by the Comics Code Authority in 1954 were horror staples zombies, werewolves and vampires, but changing tastes and rising costs of the early 1970s were seeing superhero titles dropping like flies in a blizzard.

With interest in suspense and the supernatural growing globally, all comics publishers were pushing to re-establish scary comics again, and the covert introduction of a “Living Vampire” in superhero staple Spider-Man led to another challenge to the CCA, the eventually revision of the Code’s horror section and a resurgent rise of supernatural heroes and titles.

For one month Marvel also experimented with double-sized comicbooks (DC’s switch back to 52-page issues lasted almost a year – August 1971-June 1972 cover-dates). Thus, Amazing Spider-Man #102 featured an immense 3-chapter blockbuster brawl beginning with ‘Vampire at Large!’ wherein the octo-webspinner and anthropoid reptile joined forces to hunt a science-spawned bloodsucker after discovering a factor in the bitey brute’s saliva could cure both part-time monsters’ respective conditions.

‘The Way it Began’ abruptly diverges from the main narrative to present the tragic secret origin of Nobel Prize winning biologist Michael Morbius and how be turned himself into a haunted night-horror in hopes of curing a fatal blood disease, before ‘The Curse and the Cure!’ brought the tale to a blistering conclusion and restored the status quo and requisite appendage-count.

Gerry Conway assumed the writer’s role for the third appearance of the living (not dead; never ever dead but living), breathing humanoid predator who drank blood to live, as Marvel Team-Up # 3 (July 1972, illustrated by Rossa Andru & Giacoia) found Spidey and Human Torch Johnny Storm hunting the resurgent Morbius after he attacks student Jefferson Bolt and passes on his plague of thirst. The conflicted scientist still seeks a cure and tracks old colleague Hans Jorgenson to Peter Parker’s college, but his now-vampiric servant Bolt wants just what all true bloodsuckers want in ‘The Power to Purge!’…

The new horror-star was still acting the villain in MTU #4 as the Torch was replaced by most of Marvel’s sole mutant team (The Beast having gone all hairy – and solo – in another science-based workaround to publish comic book monsters who were anything but supernatural) in ‘And Then… the X-Men!’

This enthralling thriller was illustrated by magnificent Gil Kane at the top of his form and inked by Steve Mitchell with the webslinger and X-Men at odds while both hunting the missing Jorgenson. After the unavoidable butting of heads, the heroes united to overcome Morbius and left him for Professor Charles Xavier to contain or cure…

As superheroes continued to decline and horror bloomed, Morbius established himself in Marvel’s black-&-white magazine title Vampire Tales, but returned to four-colour publishing with (Adventure into) Fear #20 (cover-dated February 1973). The title had previously hosted the macabre Man-Thing, and his/its promotion to a solo title gave Morbius opportunity to spread his own wings.

Spawned by scripter Mike Friedrich and artist Paul Gulacy, Jack Abel & George Roussos, ‘Morbius the Living Vampire!’ revealed how he escaped the X-Men and fled to Los Angeles and lived (whenever possible) off victims who deserved his voracious bite. The initial tale also set up a bizarre relationship with Rabbi Krause and Reverend Daemon who sought to cure him, before one was exposed as a human devil, catapulting Morbius into intergalactic conflict that had shaped humanity over millennia. That saga also is fully detailed in the Epic Collections, but frustratingly not here…

Brushing past decades of history and character development, there’s a huge jump to the twenteens and a more nuanced revision of the origin to close this book’s story section, as The Amazing Spider-Man # 699.1 (February 2013, by Joe Keatinge, Dan Slott, Valentine DiLandro & Marco Checchetto) finds Morbius in supermax penitentiary The Raft, ruminating on his childhood in Greece, living with an imminently fatal but unpredictable blood condition, but still finding love, friendship and adventure.

Sadly, as we already know, his Nobel Prize winning research only led to the death of his greatest friend and colleague, the abandonment of his true love and an unlife sentence as a rampaging killer…

Rounding out the red reading, fact-filled picture-packed pages from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #7, offering dry history and statistics from those intervening years.

A compelling and beguiling bunch of beginnings well told and superbly illustrated, this treat is superficially entertaining but won’t satisfy those with a deep thirst for true knowledge…
© 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.

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