Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 11


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

During the 1970s, the Incredible Hulk settled into a comfortable – if cathartically destructive – pattern. A globe-trotting, monster-mashing plot formula saw tragic physicist Bruce Banner perpetually running and hiding whilst seeking cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and his daughter – unobtainable inamorata Betty – with a non-stop procession of guest-star heroes and villains providing the battle du jour.

Herb Trimpe had made the character his own, displaying a penchant for explosive action and an unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance and vehicles. Beginning with Roy Thomas – unofficial custodian of Marvel’s burgeoning shared-universe continuity – a string of skilful scripters effectively played the afflicted Jekyll/Hyde card for maximum angst and ironic heartbreak as the Jade Juggernaut became a sturdy pillar of Marvel’s growing pantheon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued?

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

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

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

Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 13


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 9


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 14


By Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Rich Buckler, Ross Andru, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5963-6 (HB)

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

This full-colour compendium – available in hardcover and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #142-150 (January-September 1974) and includes a blockbusting battle-bouts from Giant-Size Super-Stars #1 and Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2, as well as the other half of a rather significant crossover tale begun in Avengers #127.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 13


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

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

Defenders Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Len Wein, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Jim Starlin, Sal Buscema, Vince Colletta, Gil Kane, Dan Adkins, Don Newton, Don Heck, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5961-2 (HB)

The Defenders were the last of the big star-name conglomerate super-groups, and would eventually number amongst their membership almost every hero – and some few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No real surprise there, since the initial line-up was composed of the company’s major league bad-boys: misunderstood and mad, outcast and bad and so often actually dangerous to know.

The genesis of the team derived from their status as publicly distrusted “villains”, and they never achieved the “in-continuity” fame or acceptance of other teams, but that simply seemed to leave the creators open to taking a few more chances and playing the occasional narrative wild card.

This third titanic hardcover/eBook Masterworks collection assembles a veritable host of Fights ‘n’ Tights wonders from a large list of sources: Defenders #17-21, Giant Sized Defenders #2-4 and Marvel Two-in-One #6-7, cumulatively encompassing cover-dates October 1974 to April 1975. The action commences after team originator Roy Thomas shares recollections of his time as Editor-in-Chief of Marvel and as the series began to find its singularly unique voice and tone…

The action opens with a supernatural thriller from Giant Sized Defenders #2 (October 1974), scripted by Len Wein and fabulously limned by master craftsman Gil Kane and rising star inker Klaus Janson. ‘H… as in Hulk… Hell… and Holocaust’ pits the always-embattled Jade Giant against sinister cult the Sons of Satanish and their dead leader Asmodeus before the Defenders (core-group Doctor Stephen Strange, Valkyrie and reformed bad-boy Nighthawk) must perforce call on Daimon Hellstrom, Son of Satan, for some highly specialised assistance…

In Defenders #17 the heroes set up housekeeping in a converted Long Island Riding Stables, courtesy of Nighthawk’s civilian alter ego Kyle Richmond just as displaced Asgardian soul Valkyrie leaves to seek out the truth about the human body she currently inhabits.

The main plot of ‘Power Play’ (by Wein, Sal Buscema & Dan Green) sees the remaining heroes engage with and then enlist the aid of Hero for Hire/Power Man Luke Cage, as super strong thugs the Wrecking Crew topple a number of Richmond’s New York’s buildings hunting for a hidden super-weapon. The spectacular ‘Rampage!’ reveals their object is a pocket gamma bomb, before the furious finale (Chris Claremont, Wein, Buscema & Janson) sets everybody frantically ferreting out the location of a deadly ‘Doomball!’ whisked away by some foolish bystander…

Immediately afterwards Strange, his disciple Clea and Fantastic Four lynchpin The Thing encounter a disharmonious cosmic challenge in Marvel Two-In-One #6’s ‘Death-Song of Destiny’ (by Steve Gerber, George Tuska & Mike Esposito) that concludes in MTIO #7 with ‘Name That Doom!’ (Sal Buscema pencils) wherein Valkyrie joins the melee just in time to cross swords with the egregious Asgardian exiles Enchantress and Executioner who are beyond a cosmic scheme to reorder the universe…

The aftermath of that eldritch encounter spills over into Defenders #20 as Gerber came aboard as regular scripter, beginning a truly groundbreaking run of stories. ‘The Woman She Was…’ (art by Sal B & Vince Colletta) starts unravelling the torturous backstory of Valkyrie’s unwitting human host Barbara Norris during a breathtakingly bombastic battle that also reanimated the diabolical threat of the Undying Ones. Late arriving, Strange and Nighthawk almost perish at the hands of the demons’ human worshippers…

Steve Gerber was a uniquely gifted writer who combined a deep love of Marvel’s continuity minutiae with irrepressible wit, dark introspection and measured imagination, all leavened with enticing and surreality. His stories were always at the extreme edge of the company’s intellectual canon and never failed to deliver surprise and satisfaction.

In Defenders #21, he began a long and epically peculiar saga with ‘Enter: The Headman!’ (illustrated by Buscema & Sal Trapani) wherein a trio of thematically linked scientists and savants, all originating in Marvel’s pre-superhero fantasy anthologies, opened their insidious campaign of conquest and vengeance by driving New York city temporarily insane…

Before the next chapter however, a brace of extended sagas play chronological catch-up here: firstly ‘Games Godlings Play!’ from Giant-Size Defenders #3 (written by Gerber, Jim Starlin & Wein with art from Starlin, Dan Adkins, Don Newton & Jim Mooney), sightless swashbuckler Daredevil joins Strange, Valkyrie, and Sub-Mariner Prince Namor to save the Earth from Elder of the Universe The Grandmaster: a cosmic games-player whose obsession with gladiatorial combats pits the heroes against intergalactic menaces from infinity… and beyond…

Then follows a more down-to-Earth tale as sometime-Avenger Yellowjacket pops in to help crush insane criminal genius Egghead and Nighthawk’s old gang the Squadron Sinister on ‘Too Cold a Night for Dying!’ (Giant Sized Defenders #4, by Gerber, Don Heck & Colletta) before this compendium concludes with the Atlas Era short tales that originally introduced Gorilla Man Arthur Nagan, human horror Dr. Jerold Morgan and Chondu the Mystic who comprise the heinous Headmen…

Nagan debuted in in ‘It Walks Erect!’ by Paul S. Newman & Bob Powell (Mystery Tales #21, September 1954): a driven obsessive surgeon performing appalling transplant research on gorillas who ultimately take an unholy revenge upon him, whilst biologist Morgan’s matter compression experiments terrified – but saved – the city in ‘Prisoner of the Fantastic Fog’ by an unknown writer and Angelo Torres from World of Fantasy #11, April 1958.

Tales of Suspense #9 (May 1960) then revealed how stage magician Chondu was far more than he seemed in mini-thriller by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber, wonderfully rendered by the miraculous Doug Wildey.

The vignettes had all been reprinted in horror anthology Weird Wonder Tales #7 (December 1974) and the cover of that issue opens a selection of added extras which also include house ads and creator biographies.

For the longest time The Defenders was the best and weirdest superhero comicbook in the business, and this bitty, unwieldy collection was where it all really kicked off. The next volume would see the inspirational unconventionality reach stellar heights…

If you love superheroes but crave something just a little different these yarns are for you… and the best is still to come.
© 1974, 1975, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 8

By Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Tony Isabella, Mike Friedrich, Sal Buscema, Alan Weiss & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9929-8 (HB)

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

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

By the time of the tales gathered in this eighth Masterworks volume (available in luxurious hardback and accessible eBook formats and re-presenting issues #160-175 of Captain America and the Falcon from April 1973 to July 1974), the once convinced and confirmed Sentinel of Liberty had become an uncomfortable symbol of a divided nation, but was looking to make the best of things and carve himself a new place in the Land of the Free. Real world events were about to put paid to that American dream…

Into an already turbulent mix of racial and gender inequality played out against standard Fights ‘n’ Tights villainy came creeping overtones of corruption and betrayal of ideals that were fuelled by shocking real-world events…

Following an informative behind-the-scenes reminiscence from scripter Steve Englehart in his Introduction, the action opens here with ‘Enter: Solarr!’ (illustrated by Sal Buscema &Frank McLaughlin), offering an old-fashioned clash with a super-powered maniac as the main attraction.

However, the real meat is the start of twin sub-plots that would shape the next half-dozen adventures, as the Star-Spangled Avenger’s newfound super-strength increasingly makes partner-in-crimefighting Sam – the Falcon – Wilson feel like a junior and inferior hindrance, even as Steve Roger’s long-time romantic interest Sharon Carter leaves him without a word of explanation…

Inked by John Verpoorten, Captain America and the Falcon #161 ramps up the tension between Steve and Sam as the heroes search for Sharon in ‘…If he Loseth His Soul!’, and find a connection to the girl Cap loved and lost in World War II in a deadly psycho-drama overseen by criminal shrink Dr. Faustus. This culminates one month later in a singular lesson in extreme therapy which only proves ‘This Way Lies Madness!’

‘Beware of Serpents!’ heralded the return of super snakes Viper and Eel, who combine with the Cobra to form a vicious but ultimately unsuccessful Serpent Squad to attack the heroes. Defeated former ad-exec Viper then vengefully begins a media manipulation campaign to destroy the Sentinel of Liberty with the “Big Lie”, fake news weapons and the worst tactics of Madison Avenue. Although the instigator quickly falls, his scheme rumbles on with slow, inexorable and dire consequences…

Issue #164 offers a stunningly scary episode illustrated by Alan Lee Weiss, introducing faux-coquette mad scientist Deadly Nightshade: a ‘Queen of the Werewolves!’ who infects Falcon with her chemical lycanthropy as an audition to enlist in the fearsome forces of one of the planet’s greatest menaces…

The full horror of the situation is only revealed when ‘The Yellow Claw Strikes’ (Englehart, Buscema & McLaughlin); renewing a campaign of terror begun in the 1950s, but this time attacking his former Chinese Communist sponsors and the USA indiscriminately. Giant bugs, deadly slave assassins and reanimated mummies are bad enough, but when the Arcane Immortal’s formidable mind-control dupes Cap into almost beating S.H.I.E.L.D. supremo Nick Fury to death during the ‘Night of the Lurking Dead!’, the blistering final battle results in further tragedy when an old ally perishes in the Frank Giacoia inked ‘Ashes to Ashes’

One of the Star-Spangled Avengers most durable foes sort-of resurfaces in tense, action-heavy romp ‘…And a Phoenix Shall Arise!’ (scripted by Roy Thomas & Tony Isabella and inked by John Tartaglione & George Roussos) before Viper’s long-laid plans begin to finally bear bitter fruit in #169’s ‘When a Legend Dies!’ (with additional scripting from Mike Friedrich).

As anti-Captain America TV spots make people doubt the honesty and sanity of the nation’s greatest hero, the Falcon and his “Black Power” activist girlfriend Leila Taylor depart for the super-scientific African nation of Wakanda in search of increased powers, leaving Cap to battle third-rate villain the Tumbler.

In the heat of combat the Avenger seemingly goes too far and the thug dies…

‘J’Accuse!’ (Englehart, Friedrich, Buscema & Vince Colletta) sees Cap beaten and arrested by too-good-to-be-true neophyte crusader Moonstone, whilst in Africa Leila is kidnapped by exiled Harlem hood Stone-Face: far from home and hungry for some familiar foxy ghetto friendship…

‘Bust-Out!’ in #171 finds Cap forcibly sprung from jail by a mysterious pack of “supporters” as Black Panther and the newly-flying Falcon crush Stone-Face preparatory to a quick dash back to America and a reunion with the beleaguered and tarnished American icon.

‘Believe it or Not: The Banshee!’ opens with Captain America and the Falcon beaten by – but narrowly escaping – Moonstone and his obscurely occluded masters, after which the hard-luck heroes trace a lead to Nashville, encounter the fugitive mutant Master of Sound and stumble into a clandestine pogrom on American soil.

For long months mutants have been disappearing unnoticed, but now the last remaining X-MenCyclops, Marvel Girl and Professor Charles Xavier – have tracked them down, only to discover that Captain America’s problems also stem from ‘The Sins of the Secret Empire!’, whose ultimate goal is the conquest of the USA…

Eluding capture by S.H.I.E.L.D., Steve and Sam infiltrate the evil Empire, only to be exposed and confined in ‘It’s Always Darkest!’ before abruptly turning the tables and saving the day in #175’s ‘…Before the Dawn!’, wherein the vile grand plan is revealed, the mutants liberated and the culprits captured.

In a shocking final scene, the ultimate instigator is unmasked and horrifically dispatched within the White House itself…

At this time America was a nation reeling from a loss of unity, solidarity and perspective as a result of a torrent of shattering blows such as losing the Vietnam war, political scandals like Watergate and the (partial) exposure of President Nixon’s lies and crimes.

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

Unable to process the betrayal of all he has seen, the Star-Spangled Avenger cannot accept that this battle has any winner: a feeling that will change his life forever – in the next volume…

Any retrospective or historical re-reading is going to turn up a few cringe-worthy moments, but these tales of matchless courage and indomitable heroism are fast-paced, action-packed and still carry a knockout conceptual punch. Here Captain America was finally discovering his proper place in a new era and would once more become unmissable, controversial comicbook reading, as we shall see when I get around to reviewing the next volume…
© 1973, 1974, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 3 1968-1970: The Sentinels Live


By Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Gary Friedrich, Dennis O’Neil, Linda Fite, Jerry Siegel, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Werner Roth, Don Heck, George Tuska, Barry Windsor-Smith, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1275-8 (TPB)

X-Men was never one of young Marvel’s top titles but it did secure a devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek prettiness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of the college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

The core team still consisted of tragic Scott Summers/Cyclops, telepath and mind-reader Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, wealthy golden boy Warren Worthington/Angel, ebullient Bobby Drake/Iceman, and erudite, brutish genius Henry McCoy/Beast in training with Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound (and temporarily deceased) telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the gradually emerging race of mutant Homo Superior.

However, by the time of this massive full-colour paperback and digital tome (collecting issues #46-66 from July 1968 to February 1970) of the turbulent teens’ original series, plus material from Ka-Zar volume 1 #2-3 and Marvel Tales #31, despite some of the most impressive and influential stories and art of the decade, the writing was definitely on the wall for Marvel’s misunderstood mutants…

Following the supposed death of their mentor and founder the team was in for even greater heartache when ‘The End of the X-Men!’ (by Gary Friedrich, Werner Roth, Don Heck & John Tartaglione) was declared in issue #46, with the reading of Charles Xavier’s will.

Former government liaison FBI Agent Duncan reappeared and ordered the team to split-up: monitoring different parts of the country for mutant activity just as the unstoppable Juggernaut turned up once more…

The series was at that time offering ‘The Origins of the Uncanny X-Men’ in the back of each issue and Iceman’s past concludes here with ‘…And Then There were Two!’ (Friedrich, George Tuska & Tartaglione) as Cyclops rescues the kid from a human mob and recruits him to Xavier’s school…

Friedrich was joined by Arnold Drake to script Beast and Iceman’s adventure ‘The Warlock Wears Three Faces!’ wherein the ancient mutant once called Merlin once more re-branded himself: this time as the psychedelic guru Maha Yogi, whilst Drake, Roth & John Verpoorten explained the cool kid’s powers in the info feature ‘I, the Iceman.’

Drake penned the Cyclops and Marvel Girl tale ‘Beware Computo, Commander of the Robot Hive’; a fast-paced thriller with a surprise guest villain, whilst ‘Yours Truly the Beast’ wrong-footed everybody by explaining his powers before actually telling his origin epic.

X-Men #49 gave a tantalising taste of things to come with a startling and stylish Jim Steranko cover, behind which Drake, Heck, Roth & Tartaglione revealed ‘Who Dares Defy… the Demi-Men?’: nominally an Angel story, but one which reunited the team to confront the assembled mutant hordes of Mesmero and Iceman’s new girlfriend – the daughter of Magneto! This shocker was supplemented by Drake Roth & Verpoorten’s natal chapter ‘A Beast is Born.’

Drake, Steranko & Tartaglione reached astounding heights with the magnificent ‘City of Mutants’ in #50: a visual tour de force that remains as spectacular now it did in 1968, but which was actually surpassed by Magneto’s return as ‘The Devil had a Daughter’ in #51 before the saga concluded in a disappointing ‘Twilight of the Mutants!’

Don’t misunderstand me, however: This isn’t a bad story, but after two issues of Steranko in his creative prime, nobody could satisfactorily end this tale, and I pity Heck & Roth for having to try.

The pertinent Beast origin chapters in those issues were ‘This Boy, This Bombshell’; ‘The Lure of the Beast-Nappers!’ and ‘The Crimes of the Conquistador!’ and that particular epic of child exploitation and the isolation of being different ended in #53’s ‘Welcome to the Club, Beast!’ but that last issue’s main claim to fame was a lead feature drawn by another superstar in the making.

Hard to believe now, but in the 1960s, X-Men was a series in perpetual sales crises, and a lot of great talent was thrown at it back then. ‘The Rage of Blastaar!’ was illustrated by a young Barry Smith – still in his Kirby appreciation phase – and his unique interpretation of this off-beat battle-blockbuster from Drake, inked by the enigmatic Michael Dee, is memorable but regrettably brisk.

More mutant mayhem commences with ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive… Cyclops!’ (X-Men#54 by Drake, Heck & Vince Colletta), which introduces Scott’s kid brother Alex just in time for the lad to be kidnapped by Egyptian acolytes of The Living Pharaoh. It appears the boy has a hidden power the Pharaoh covets, necessitating framing the X-Men’s leader for murder…

At the back, ‘The Million Dollar Angel’ (Drake & Roth) began the tale of Warren Worthington III, precocious rich boy rushed off to prep school. When he grew wings, he hid them by making himself the most despised and lonely person on campus…

Roy Thomas returned as scripter for #55’s ‘The Living Pharaoh!’ (Heck, Roth & Colletta) which saw the full team follow the Summers brothers to the Valley of the Kings and soundly thrash the faux king’s minions, only to have the new mutant’s unsuspected power go wild. Meanwhile, in ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread!’ (Thomas, Roth & Sam Grainger) little Warren has left school and plans a superhero career until an atomic accident brings him into contact with a couple of kids code-named Cyclops and Iceman…

Nobody knew it at the time – and sales certainly didn’t reflect it – but with X-Men #56 superhero comics changed forever. Neal Adams had already stunned the comics buying public with his horror anthology work and revolutionary adventure art on Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow but here, with writer Thomas in iconoclastic form, they began expanding the horizons of graphic narrative with a succession of boldly innovative, tensely paranoid dramas pitting mutants against an increasingly hostile world.

Pitched at an older audience, the run of gripping, addictively beautiful epics captivated and enchanted a small band of amazed readers – and were completely ignored by the greater mass of the buying public. Without these tales the modern X-phenomenon could not have existed, but they couldn’t save the series from cancellation. The cruellest phrase in comics is “ahead of its time…”

Courtesy of Thomas, Adams & inker extraordinaire Tom Palmer, ‘What is… the Power?’ reveals the uncanny connection between Pharaoh and Alex Summers, and as the Egyptian mastermind transforms into a colossal Living Monolith, the terrified boy’s mutant energies are unleashed with catastrophic results. At the back, an unbalanced Angel had become ‘The Flying A-Bomb!’ but luckily is defused in time to become the newest X-Man…

Issue #57 revives the team’s most relentless adversaries in ‘The Sentinels Live!’, as a public witch-hunt prompts the mutant-hunting robots to capture X-Men across the globe. Amongst the first victims are magnetic Lorna Dane and Alex Summers, but the sinister cybernoids have their unblinking eyes set on all mutants…

That issue also offers a rundown on Marvel Girl’s abilities in the final back-up feature ‘The Female of the Species!’. From the next issue, Thomas & Adams would have all the pages to play with…

‘Mission: Murder!’ ramps up the tension as the toll of fallen mutants increases, with Iceman, the Pharaoh, Angel and Mesmero all falling to the murderous mechanoids, but when their human controller discovers an unsuspected secret the automatons strike out on their own…

With all other mutants in the Marvel universe captured, Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Beast are reduced to a suicidal frontal assault in ‘Do or Die, Baby!’: pulling off a spectacular victory, but only at great cost to Alex Summers, now known as Havok

Badly injured, Alex is brought to an old colleague of Professor Xavier’s named Karl Lykos – a discreet physician hiding a dark secret. ‘In the Shadow of Sauron!’ reveals that the not-so-good doctor had been bitten by Pterodactyls from the Antarctic Savage Land and become an energy vampire. Now, with a powerful mutant to feed on, his addiction fully manifests as Lykos transforms into a winged saurian with hypnotic powers, determined to sate himself on the other X-Men.

After a shattering struggle in ‘Monsters Also Weep!’ Lykos is defeated, instinctively flying South to the Savage Land. Drained of his power, he reverts to human form and when the X-Men track him down, the tormented leech chooses suicide rather than become Sauron once more…

Searching for his body, Angel is also attacked by Pteranodons and crashes to the bottom of a vast crevasse, precipitating the mutants into another primordial encounter with wild man Ka-Zar as ‘Strangers …in a Savage Land!’

Marooned once more in a lost world, Angel is healed by the enigmatic Creator: a wounded genius protecting the Savage Land’s mutant population with his own team of X-Men counterparts.

As his team-mates search for him, the Winged Wonder switches allegiance, unaware that his benefactor is actually the X-Men’s ultimate enemy…

‘War in the World Below!’ sees the villain’s plans revealed and finally thwarted by the heroes and Ka-Zar, leaving the returning team to tackle a controversial Japanese extremist in ‘The Coming of Sunfire!’ (#64, with stalwart Don Heck doing an impressive fill-in job for Adams) before the next issue revives the long-dead Professor Xavier – only to nearly kill him again in the Denny O’Neil scripted alien invasion yarn ‘Before I’d Be Slave…’: an astounding epic that ended Neal Adams’ artistic tenure in grand style.

The rapid staffing changes were hints of a bigger shake-up and with X-Men #66 (March 1970), despite all the frantic and radical innovations crafted by a succession of supremely talented creators, the series was at last cancelled. ‘The Mutants and the Monster’ by Thomas, Sal Buscema & Sam Grainger, is a potent swansong though, as the team hunt for Bruce Banner in an attempt to save Professor X from a coma induced by his psychic battle against the aliens.

Unfortunately, when you hunt Banner what you usually end up with is an irate Incredible Hulk

Although gone, the mutants were far from forgotten. The standard policy at that time to revive characters that had fallen was to pile on the guest-shots and reprints. X-Men #67 (December 1970) saw them return, re-presenting early classics and in that same month a 3-chapter miniseries began in the pages of Ka-Zar #2. Crafted by Jerry Siegel, Tuska & Dick Ayers, ‘From the Sky… Winged Wrath!’ focused on the Angel and his plutocratic home life, as his father is murdered by a super-scientific foe. Hungry for justice the enraged winged mutant quickly falls ‘…In the Den of the Dazzler!’ (Ka-Zar #3 March 1971), before gaining his revenge in concluding episode ‘To Cage an Angel!’ (from Marvel Tales #30, April 1971).

A hoard of graphic goodies packs out the bonus section here. As well as unused original Roth and Adams art, there is a gallery of original Heck, Steranko and Adams pages; 20 pages of colour Adams’ guides; covers and additional story pages by Mike Zeck & Palmer from 1980s Classic X-Men reprints plus cover art for Adams’ X-Men Visionaries volume, and previous collection covers painted and modified by Richard Isanove…

Although a little scrappy and none too cohesive, these disparate stories are wonderful comics sagas that were too radical for the readership of the times but have since been acknowledged as groundbreaking mini-masterpieces that reshaped the way we tell stories to this day.

These tales perfectly display Marvel’s evolution from quirky action romps to more fraught, breast-beating, convoluted melodramas that inexorably led to the monolithic X-brand of today. Well drawn, highly readable stories are never unwelcome or out of favour, and it should be remembered that everything here informs so very much of today’s mutant mythology. Everyone should own this book.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 2019 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 8


By Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Mimi Gold, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Alan Weiss, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8841-4 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him capable of astonishing acrobatic feats, a formidable fighter and a living lie-detector.

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

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, an eclectic mix of established and new super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion. He quipped and wise-cracked his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody quasi-religious metaphor he became under modern authorial regimes…

In these tales from the pivotal era of relevancy, social awareness and increasing political polarisation the Man Without Fear was also growing into the judicial conscience of a generation turning its back on old values…

Covering August 1970 to February 1972, this hardcover and digital compilation chronologically re-presents Daredevil #75-84 and includes the entire run of the Black Widow’s first solo series, which appeared in “split-book” Amazing Adventures #1-8. Those mini-epics kick off the Marvel Magic following scripter Gerry Conway’s introduction ‘Strange Days’ which shares memories of this transitional period whilst paying dues the superspy’s contemporary influences… Modesty Blaise and Emma Peel.

Natasha Romanoff (sometimes Natalia Romanova) is a Soviet Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s earliest and most successful female stars.

The Black Widow started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days, battling Iron Man in her debut exploit (Tales of Suspense #52, April, 1964).

She was subsequently redesigned as a torrid tights-&-tech super-villain before defecting to the USA, falling for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – before finally enlisting as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., freelance do-gooder and occasional leader of the Avengers.

Throughout her career she has always been considered ultra-efficient, coldly competent, deadly dangerous and yet somehow cursed to bring doom and disaster to her paramours. As her backstory evolved, it was revealed that Natasha had undergone experimental processes which enhanced her physical capabilities and lengthened her lifespan, as well as assorted psychological procedures which had messed up her mind and memories…

Despite always being a fan-favourite, the Widow only truly hit the big time after the dawn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her printed-page escapades have always offered a cool yet sinister frisson of dark delight.

The first of those was ‘Then Came…’ (Amazing Adventures #1, August 1970 by Gary Friedrich, John Buscema & John Verpoorten) as the agent comes out of retirement to become a socially-aware crusader, defending lower-income citizens from thugs and loan sharks. That act of charity leads her to help activists ‘The Young Warriors!’ as their attempts to build a centre for underprivileged kid in Spanish Harlem are countered by crooked, drug-dealing property speculators…

Gene Colan & Bill Everett take over the art with ‘The Widow and the Militants!’ as her actions and communist past draw hostile media attention, more criminal attacks and ultimately precipitate an inner-city siege, before the ‘Deadlock’ (scripted by Mimi Gold) comes to shocking end…

Roy Thomas steps in for a bleak and powerful Christmas yarn as ‘…And to All a Good Night’ sees Natasha and faithful retainer/father figure Ivan, meet and fail a desperate young man, only to be dragged into a horrific scheme by derange youth cult leader the Astrologer who plans to hold the city’s hospitals to ransom in ‘Blood Will Tell!’ (illustrated by Don Heck & Sal Buscema).

Convinced she is cursed to do more harm than good, the tragic adventurer nevertheless inflicts ‘The Sting of the Widow!’ (by Conway, Heck & Everett) on her ruthless prey and his kid killers, after which the series wraps up in rushed manner with a haphazard duel against and Russian-hating super-patriot dubbed Watchlord in ‘How Shall I Kill Thee? Let Me Count the Ways!’ scripted by Thomas.

The Man without Fear finally makes an appearance with his own politically-charged tale from Daredevil #75 (April 1971): a period when the company was making increasingly determined moves to make the hero cutting-edge and relevant…

A drama of political intrigue and kidnapping begins as Murdock travels to the banana republic of Delvadia where ‘Now Rides the Ghost of El Condor!’ (Conway and the incomparable art team of Gene Colan & Syd Shores) offers a canny yarn of revolutionary fervour, self-serving greed and the power of modern mythology which concludes in ‘The Deathmarch of El Condor!’ – wherein inker Tom Palmer (perhaps Colan’s most effective inker) starts his long association with the penciller.

Guest stars abound in ‘…And So Enters the Amazing Spider-Man!’ when an uncanny artefact appears in Central Park, inviting DD, the webspinner and the Sub-Mariner to participate in a fantastic battle in a far-flung, lost world. The adventure concluded in the Atlantean’s own comic (#40) but as Daredevil didn’t join the quest, that sequel isn’t included in this tome.

Issue #78 returned to more traditional territory as ‘The Horns of the Bull!’ traces the downfall of petty thug Bull Taurus after enigmatic mastermind Mr. Kline transforms him into a savage beast and sets him upon the Scarlet Swashbuckler…

Friedrich scripted cataclysmic conclusion ‘Murder Cries the Man-Bull!’, but plotter Conway was back the following month to spectacularly reintroduce a vintage villain ‘In the Eyes… of the Owl!’: presaging a major format change for the series…

From issue #81’s ‘And Death is a Woman Called Widow’ (inked by Jack Abel), Soviet defector Natasha Romanoff burst onto the scene as the ubiquitous Mr. Kline is finally unmasked and revealed to be behind most of DD’s recent woes and tribulations…

Following a stunning pin-up of the bodacious Black Widow by Bill Everett, the conspiracy crisis continues with ‘Now Send… the Scorpion’, as Kline – AKA the Assassin – sets the manic artificial arachnid against DD and the Widow even as his Machiavellian master attempts to suborn Murdock’s greatest friend Foggy Nelson.

At the end of that issue the Scorpion was apparently dead and ‘The Widow Accused!’ by Nelson of the villain’s murder. A sham trial intended to railroad and pillory the Russian émigré ensues in #83, (rendered by Alan Weiss, Barry Smith & Everett), with the Assassin subsequently dispatching brutish Mr. Hyde to ensure his victory.

Against all odds, however, Murdock exonerates Natasha of the charges, prompting the hidden mastermind to take direct action in ‘Night of the Assassin!’ (Colan & Syd Shores). After attacking DD and the Widow in Switzerland – whence the jetsetting former spy had fled to nurse her wounded pride – Kline at last meets final defeat in a stunning and baroque climax to the extended saga.

Rounding out the comics experience here are bonus pages including the cover to all-reprint Daredevil Annual #3, a selection of house ads and a brief gallery of (pre-edited) Everett original art pages, revealing a little too much of the sexy spy, and which were toned down for eventual publication…

As the social upheaval of this period receded, the impressively earnest material was replaced by fabulous fantasy tales which strongly suggested the true potential of Daredevil was in reach. These beautifully limned yarns may still occasionally jar with their earnest stridency and perhaps dated attitudes, but the narrative energy and sheer exuberant excitement of the adventures are compelling delights no action fan will care to miss. And the next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…

Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s unbeatable formula for success: smart, contemporarily astute stories, truly human and fallible characters and always magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Black Panther Epic Collection volume 2 1977-1988: Revenge of the Black Panther


By Jack Kirby, Ed Hannigan, Peter B. Gillis, Jim Shooter, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Jerry Bingham, Denys Cowan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1542-1 (TPB)

Acclaimed as the first black superhero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since he first appeared in Fantastic Four. In fact, back then the cat king actually attacked Marvel’s First Family as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father. He was also the first black superhero in American comics, debuting in summer 1966.

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

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

Wakanda has never been conquered by outsiders. The primary reason is an unbroken line of divinely-sponsored warrior kings who safeguard the united, unified tribes. Another is that miraculous super-mineral found nowhere else on Earth. The top-secret “Vibranium mound” had guaranteed the country’s status as a clandestine superpower for centuries but in modern times has increasingly made Wakanda a target for subversion, incursion and even invasion as the world grew ever smaller…

In contemporary times the chieftain is T’Challa: an unbeatable, super-smart, feline-empowered strategic genius who divides his time between ruling at home and serving abroad in superhero teams such as The Avengers, Fantastic Force, The Illuminati and The Ultimates, beside the world’s mightiest costumed champions.

This trusty trade paperback (and eBook) gathers the entire blockbusting, mind-bending reinvention by Jack Kirby and others from Black Panther volume 1 # 1-15 (January 1977-May 1979), the continuation in Marvel Premiere #51-53 (cover-dated December 1979 to April 1980), material from Marvel Team-up #100 (December 1980) and a groundbreaking, 4-issue miniseries spanning July to October 1988.

Jack Kirby’s return to Marvel in the mid 1970’s was much hyped at the time but swiftly proved to be controversial. His new creations (2001, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man) found friends rapidly, but his tenure on established earlier creations Captain America and Black Panther divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on titles as a “Day One”. His commitment was to wholesome, eye-popping adventure, breakneck action and breathless, mind-boggling wonderment. Combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, it all makes for a captivating read, but will never satisfy those readers fully committed to the minutiae of the Marvel Universe.

Beginning here with Black Panther #1, what they got was a rollercoaster ride of classic Kirby concept-overload as the Hereditary King of a miraculous Lost Kingdom gallantly pursues fabulous time machines, fights future men and secret samurai clans, thwarts the plots of super-rich artefact stealers and foils schemes to nuke his hidden homeland, usurp his rule and even consume his faithful subjects…

This feline funfest is about frantic action and begins at full pelt with a re-introductory romp spotlighting diminutive treasure hunter Abner Little. This devious gentleman entices T’Challa into a search for ‘King Solomon’s Frog!’ after introducing himself as a friend and colleague of the Panther’s grandfather Azzari the Wise

Soon, the mismatched pair are in hot pursuit of a historical wonder machine that sows death and destruction in its wake. The ancient brass amphibian has the ability to open time-portals, bringing lethal threats from other eras, but its real capacity for catastrophe comes from Little’s rival Collectors, who bring astounding ordnance and unsurpassed riches into play in their own efforts to possess the mystic time-machine.

Most ruthless and relentless is Queen Zanda of Narobia, who expertly ambushes the questers with a highly-skilled mercenary taskforce before accidentally triggering the frog into shanghaiing a hyper-evolved walking WMD from his own far-flung future era. She also assures T’Challa’s continued assistance by targeting Wakanda with atomic missiles…

Reluctantly uniting to sedate ‘The Six-Million Year Man’, T’Challa, Little and Zanda then race to uncover King Solomon’s tomb where a twin of the Brass Frog rests. This particular item possesses the most welcome function of returning objects and creatures to their point of origin…

Their ‘Race Against Time’ is exacerbated when the groggy tomorrow-man revives just as the searchers locate the tomb. He angrily unleashes psionic hell and awakens King Solomon’s formidable funereal guardian Ogar. Thankfully, reluctant teamwork saves them and the newly-found second frog restores order, if not sanity…

Tragically for the tomb-raiders, the time to determine if they are ‘Friends or Foes’ swiftly passes, since the calamitous clashes have destabilised the long-lost treasury trove. With mighty explosions wracking the site, it is all T’Challa can do to drag his artefact-lusting companions to safety before Armageddon occurs…

Unfortunately for the Panther, he has proved his worth and – with Wakanda still a nuclear target – ultimate ineffectuality. When the assembled Collectors – Zanda, Count Zorba, Colonel Pigman and withered coffin-dodger Silas Mourner – see the warrior king in battle, they determine he must win for them the ultimate prize…

The ‘Quest for the Sacred Water-Skin!!’ begins as T’Challa and equally reluctant Abner Little set off to find a fabled hidden land where a sect of Samurai warriors have dwelt for centuries; sustained by honour, their martial arts and a literal fountain of youth.

Overcoming monsters and warriors, T’Challa establishes a bond of honour with the last proponents of Bushido, but sadly his venal companion upsets the applecart by secretly stealing A Cup of Youth’

Meanwhile in Wakanda, internal trouble flares when the Panther’s half-brother General Jakarra makes a power-grab, bolstered by a sacrilegious utilisation of unrefined vibranium…

Black Panther #7 sees the hero and his scurrilous sidekick escape the Samurai city even as ‘Drums!’ sound across Wakanda and the incredible secret origin of Panther Cult and Vibranium Mound are simultaneously revealed.

When the awesome sky metal first crashed to Earth in primordial times, it transformed many men into monsters. Thankfully mighty chief Bashenga – taking the black cat as his totem – created a force to destroy the creatures and police the metal: preventing alien infection from spreading and forever after shielding his people through a line of dedicated defenders.

As his latest successor heads for a final confrontation with the Collectors, King T’Challa has no way of knowing his devoted regent N’Gassi has been captured or that Jakarra has gained deadly power through exposure to the gene-warping force of raw Vibranium…

Having battled his way free, T’Challa heads for home. His people, however, are already suffering the increasingly crazed depredations of a Jakarra no longer even remotely human.

Further delayed by a mercy mission – plucking dying men from the sea – the king bemoans his absence whilst half a world away, N’Gassi takes a desperate gamble and “requests” that the sedentary royal cousins – Ishanta, Joshua Itobo, Khanata and Zuni – step up to lead the fight against Jakarra. But are they ‘Panthers or Pussycats?’

Surprising everybody with a show of solidarity and unconventional tactics, the ‘Black Musketeers’ manage to contain the monstrous usurper until T’Challa returns, but his arrival coincides with the loss of Jakarra’s last vestige of humanity. Now a shambling beast resolvs that ‘This World Shall Die!’ in an Earth-shattering detonation. The horrific abomination is barely defeated inside the Mound by a true Black Panther who does not escape the mineral’s mutagenic properties…

Issue #11 finds T’Challa recovering from his struggle against Jakarra and plagued by eerie recurring dreams of future battles. As citizens begin vanishing all over Wakanda – including Prince Khanata – the medical team reaches the conclusion that the king has developed some form of Extra-Sensory Perception.

This new gift – or perhaps curse? – promptly leads the Panther to the abductors’ HQ where phantasmal madman ‘Kiber the Cruel’ is converting abducted humans to energy and consuming them…

Following ‘The Kiber Clue’, T’Challa strives mightily to save his kinsman and subjects, but arrives too late for anything but vengeance…

As Jim Shooter, Ed Hannigan, Jerry Bingham & Gene Day take over from the abruptly departed Kirby, the saga swiftly wraps up with the true nature of Kiber grotesquely exposed and the Panther’s judgement delivered in #13’s ‘What is… and What Should Never Be’

With Hannigan scripting, the Black Panther rapidly re-entered the mainstream Marvel universe in ‘The Beasts in the Jungle!’ (#14 March 1979): opening Wakanda’s first Embassy in New York City, applying to the United Nations and rejoining his former allies in the Avengers.

All too soon smothered in red tape and diplomatic hurdles, T’Challa welcomes working with his superhero guests but is quickly embroiled in a deadly scheme by old enemy Klaw, the Master of Sound, and blithely unaware that other relationships are about to be renewed…

After the resurgent villain battles the World’s Mightiest Heroes to a standstill, T’Challa manages to inflict the ‘Revenge of The Black Panther!’ in the final issue (May 1979), yet leaves everything on a cliffhanging note as former lover and consort Monica Lynne breaks into the Wakandan Embassy…

When Kirby took over the character, Black Panther had just ended a highly-acclaimed run in Jungle Action. Following the epic ‘Panther’s Rage’ saga, scripter Don McGregor began an even more groundbreaking saga in ‘The Panther Versus the Klan’.

That convoluted yarn had been abruptly cancelled before conclusion the previous year, but the contents of Marvel Premiere#51-53 provided an ending to the Klan clash as well as an acceptable in-universe explanation as to why wise and noble T’Challa abruptly dropped his hunt for answers and abandoned his adored beloved Monica

Opening minutes after Black Panther #15 finished, ‘The Killing of Windeagle!’ sees T’Challa arriving back at his new American Embassy, only to be attacked by an unknown flying warrior who claims to be an old foe.

After subduing the assailant, the King experiences even more turmoil as Lynne and Georgia journalist Kevin Trublood accost him. Although his staff all seem familiar with the woman, T’Challa has no memory of either of them…

Granting an audience with the couple, the Panther hears how Monica’s sister Angela was murdered, and how the death seemed to involve both the Ku Klux Klan and rival offshoot the Dragon’s Circle. As he listens, T’Challa hears that for a time he was the prime investigator of the murder, but his mind is clouded and he recalls none of it. Suddenly Windeagle attacks again, but as the Panther fights back his opponent is assassinated by a sniper…

Working with the police, T’Challa uncovers the sordid history of a petty gangster who somehow became a flying fury and establishes links to yet another organisation: The Spiritual Light Society. At every turn, events seem to be pushing him towards one inescapable conclusion: Monica’s ridiculous, unbelievable story is true and someone has tampered with his mind and memory…

When they are ambushed again by armed thugs – later identified as Klansmen – their spirited resistance is supplemented by more sniper fire and the Panther’s ‘Journey Through the Past!’ impels him to invade a Klan gathering. This conclave is subsequently violently disrupted by a costumed maniac called Soul Strangler

Despite not remembering, the Panther believes he’s deduced the nature of the contemporary civil war between KKK and Dragon’s circle, and more importantly, who killed Angela. With resignation and trepidation, T’Challa, Kevin and Monica head for a showdown in the Deep South…

Inked by Alan Gordon, Marvel Premiere #53 delivered ‘The Ending, In Anger!’ as T’Challa visits Monica’s family home and the dam in his memory finally shatters. Acting with clarity at last, the Black Panther tracks down the villains who captured and brainwashed him during his previous visit, exposes a tawdry truth behind all the death and intimidation and brings a kind of closure to all the innocents touched by the tragedy…

With the major story-arcs at last concluded it was back to relative obscurity and bit-parts for the Panther, with the exception of a short tale that would have huge repercussions on the hero’s life in the future.

‘Cry… Vengeance!’, by Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Bob McLeod, first appeared in Marvel Team-Up #100 and saw African X-Man Storm targeted by assassins. Easily defeating her attackers, she learns they were hired by Boer hardman Andreas de Ruyter

This sends her mind winging back to her childhood journey across Africa as teenager: an arduous trek made easier after she linked up with a young boy on his own rite of passage ritual. His name was T’Challa and she learned that he was a prince only after South African mercenaries led by de Ruyter tried to kidnap the boy for political advantage.

After driving the thugs off, the youngsters spent a brief but idyllic time together before their paths diverged and duty pulled them apart.

Decades later, the villain is back and seeking vengeance, so Ororo reunites with the boy the world now calls Black Panther to end the maniac’s threat forever…

As the 1980s closed, the Panther made a dynamic comeback in 1988, courtesy of writer Peter B. Gillis and illustrators Denys Cowan & Sam DeLarosa…

The Black Panthers rule over a fantastic African paradise which isolated itself from the rest of the world millennia ago. Blessed with unimaginable resources – both natural and not so much – the nation of Wakanda developed uninterrupted into the most technologically advanced human nation on Earth, utterly unmolested by rapacious European imperialism. That did not mean that geographical neighbours were allies, however…

In ‘Cry, the Accursed Country!’ technologically-advanced white nationalist country Azania has subjugated and tormented its own black majority population for centuries whilst plotting the downfall of Wakanda. As global condemnation of the apartheid regime mounts, T’Challa learns that the Panther God has withdrawn his blessing and instead consecrated and empowered an imprisoned priest in Azania as a new Black Panther. When this savage avatar begins inflicting bloody retribution on the ruling class, the Azanians blame Wakanda…

Deprived of his feline gifts and herding war-hungry dissidents in his own nation, T’Challa faces a crisis of confidence – and faith – in ‘For Duty, For Honor, For Country!’ which is no help when Azania targets Wakanda with its own team of super-agents: The Supremacists

Soon T’Challa’s people face international condemnation and nuclear Armageddon after ‘The Moorbecx Communique!’ adds layers of espionage to the escalating crisis, compelling the outcast king to risk his principles and challenge his god to regain his birthright in ‘A Cat Can Look at a King…’

Most tragically, the Panther must defeat his dark mirror image and knows that win or lose, nothing will ever be the same again…

This collection is also augmented by Kirby-era Editorial pages, house ads, a potted history of the Black Panther from #14, the Rich Buckler & McLeod cover to the never-released BP #16 and unused Bingham pencil pages. Also on show, are info pages and maps of Wakanda from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, featuring T’Challa, Klaw, Klaw’s Blaster, Vibranium, and Kiber the Cruel.

There are also text features from Marvel Age #20 and #63; covering the much-delayed Gillis/Cowan revival, plus a pinup by Bill Reinhold, and Kirby/Ernie Chan and Al Milgrom/Klaus Janson original art pages as well as unused Bingham pencils to feast your eyes upon…

An explosive rocket ride of thrills, spills, chills and too-long delayed gratification, these long-lost classics confirm the Black Panther as one of the most complex and versatile characters in comics and simply scream “Read me! Read me!” So you should and you must…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1988, 2019 Marvel. All rights reserved.