Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, John Romita Sr., John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2936-3 (HB)

During the Marvel Renaissance of the early 1960’s Stan Lee & Jack Kirby tried a tactic that had reaped huge dividends for DC Comics. Although initially generating mixed results, their efforts eventually changed the nature of comicbooks. Julie Schwartz had scored an incredible success with his revised versions of the company’s Golden Age greats, so it seemed natural to try and revive the characters that had dominated Timely/Atlas in those halcyon days.

A new Human Torch had premiered as part of the revolutionary Fantastic Four, and in the fourth issue of that title the Sub-Mariner resurfaced after a 20-year amnesiac hiatus (everyone concerned had apparently forgotten the first abortive attempt to revive an “Atlas” superhero line in the mid-1950s).

The Torch was promptly given his own solo feature in Strange Tales from issue #101 on and in #114 the flaming teen fought an acrobat pretending to be Captain America. With reader-reaction strong, the real thing promptly resurfaced in Avengers #4 and, after a captivating and centre-stage-hogging run in that title, was granted his own series as half of the “split-book” Tales of Suspense with #59 (cover-dated November 1964). An unmissable string of classics ensued and in 1968 the Star-Spangled Avenger won his own solo title… but not for long…

This groundbreaking full-colour compilation (available in hardback and digital editions) gathers Captain America #114-124 – spanning June 1969 to September 1970 – and opens with a captivating Introduction from illustrator Gene Colan revealing amongst other things how he created The Falcon

The comics portion of this treat opens as the Sentinel of Liberty has just acrimoniously retired from superhero service and reclaimed his anonymity after impetuously revealing his secret identity to the world mere months earlier.

The hiatus doesn’t last long as, again a man of mystery, Captain America bursts into action to save his lover Sharon Carter (SHIELD Agent 13) from a suicide mission against Advanced Idea Mechanics.

The tale coincided with an ongoing period of artistic instability as here John Romita the Elder (inked by Sal Buscema) illustrated Stan Lee’s tense spy-caper ‘The Man Behind the Mask!’.

The action and suspense were merely prologue to an extended war against the Red Skull. Issue #115 – ‘Now Begins the Nightmare!’ – was drawn by John Buscema and inked by his brother Sal, wherein the fascist arch-villain uses the reality-warping Cosmic Cube to switch bodies with the shield-slinger and trash the hero’s reputation, after which ‘Far Worse than Death!’ in #116 follows Cap’s frantic attempts to escape his own friends and allies the Avengers, as well as the villain’s callous reality-warping torments.

This issue saw the start of Gene Colan’s impressive run on the character, here augmented by the smooth, slick inks of Joe Sinnott.

This next instalment returns him to the Isle – and clutches – of aging war criminals the Exiles in a tale that introduced Marvel’s second black superhero.

‘The Coming of … the Falcon!’ in issue #117 was a terse, taut build-up to a cataclysmic clash before the neophyte hero-in-training takes centre-stage in ‘The Falcon Fights On!’ after which all the ducks drop neatly into place for a spectacular finale in ‘Now Falls the Skull!’ in #119.

As 1970 dawned, Marvel imposed a moratorium on continued stories for most of their titles, and Cap – having returned to his hectic twin lives as unofficial SHIELD Agent and mighty Avenger – here hops on the disaffected youth/teen revolt bandwagon for a series of slight but highly readable puff-pieces promising nothing but delivering much.

Kicking off is ‘Crack-up on Campus!’ by Lee, Colan & Sinnott: an odd mélange of student radicalism and espionage that sees itinerant cipher Steve Rogers become a Physical Education teacher to foil a scheme by the sinister cyborg Modok and his AIM cohorts.

Demented bio-chemist Silas X. Cragg then rediscovers the fabled Super Soldier serum that had originally created Captain America in ‘The Coming of the Man-Brute!’ Sadly, the bonkers boffin picks the wrong candidate to become his Blockbuster stooge…

Spider-Man’s old sparring partner mugs the wrong guy in #122’s ‘The Sting of the Scorpion!’ and subsequently falls to Cap’s bludgeoning fists before issue #123 taps into the seemingly eternal “battle of the sexes” zeitgeist with ‘Suprema, The Deadliest of the Species!’ turning her espionage-tinged attentions to the Star-Spangled Avenger…

The blazing battle action then concludes here as AIM returns with a deadly new hi-tech human weapon. Despite all their efforts the Sentinel of Liberty triumphs yet again in ‘Mission: Stop the Cyborg!’

Supplementing the drama is Romita’s original art cover for #114s and its colour roughs.

These are tales of dauntless courage and unmatchable adventure, fast-paced and superbly illustrated, which rightly returned Captain America to the heights that his Golden Age compatriots the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner never regained. They are pure escapist magic. Glorious treats for the eternally young at heart, these are episodes of sheer visual dynamite that cannot be slighted and should not be missed.
© 1969, 1970, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks volume 17


By Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Archie Goodwin, Scott Edelman, Marv Wolfman, Ross Andru, Don Perlin, John Romita Jr., Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9186-5 (HB)

Peter Parker was a smart yet alienated kid when he was bitten by a radioactive spider during a school science trip. Developing astonishing arachnid abilities – which he augmented with his own natural chemistry, physics and engineering genius – the boy did what any lonely, geeky nerd would do with such newfound prowess: he tried to cash in for girls, fame and money.

Making a costume to hide his identity in case he made a fool of himself, Parker became a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief fled past him one night, the cocky teen didn’t lift a finger to stop him. When Parker returned home he learned that his beloved guardian uncle Ben Parker had been murdered.

Crazed with a need for vengeance, Peter hunted the assailant who had made his beloved Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, finding, to his horror, that it was the self-same felon he had neglected to stop. His irresponsibility had resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and the traumatised boy swore to forevermore use his powers to help others…

Since that night he has tirelessly battled miscreants, monsters and madmen, with a fickle, ungrateful public usually baying for his blood even as he perpetually saves them.

By the time of the tales in this 17th superbly scintillating full-colour hardcover compendium (and eBook) of web-spinning adventures the wondrous wallcrawler was a global figure and prime contender for the title of the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero. Spanning May 1976 to May 1977 and chronologically re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man#169-180 and Annual #11, plus a crossover story that began in Nova #12 (spanning cover-dates June 1977 to May 1978). The dramas are preceded by an appreciative appraisal from Len Wein in his Introduction before the action resumes with ‘Confrontation’ (by scripter Wein and illustrators Ross Andru & Mike Esposito), wherein obsessive personal gadfly J. Jonah Jameson accosts Peter Parker with photographic proof that confirms the lad is the hated wallcrawler. The evidence has been supplied by a mystery villain but even as our hero seemingly talks his way out of trouble, a new foe emerges in the corpulent form of evil psychologist Doctor Faustus who targets Spider-Man with drugs and illusions to prove ‘Madness is All in the Mind!’ (co-inked by Frank Giacoia)…

Next follows that aforementioned crossover…

The Man Called Nova was in fact a boy named Richard Rider. The new kid was a working-class teen nebbish in the tradition of Peter Parker – except he was good at sports and bad at learning – who attended Harry S. Truman High School, where his strict dad was the principal.

His mom worked as a police dispatcher and he had a younger brother, Robert, who was a bit of a genius.

Rider’s life changed forever when a colossal star-ship with a dying alien aboard bequeathed to the lad all the mighty powers of an extraterrestrial peacekeeper and warrior. Centurion Rhomann Dey had been tracking a deadly marauder to Earth. Zorr had already destroyed the warrior’s idyllic homeworld Xandar, but the severely wounded, vengeance-seeking Nova Prime was too near death and could not avenge the genocide.

Trusting to fate, Dey beamed his powers and abilities towards the planet below where Rich is struck by an energy bolt and plunged into a coma. On awakening, the boy realises he has gained awesome powers… and all the responsibilities of the last Nova Centurion…

Nova #12 (August 1977, by Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Giacoia) asks ‘Who is the Man Called Photon?’ by teaming the neophyte hero with the far-more experienced webslinger in a fair-play murder mystery, brimming with unsavoury characters and likely killers after Rich’s uncle Dr. Ralph Rider is killed by a costumed thief…

However, there are ploys within ploys occurring and, after the mandatory hero head-butting session, the kids join forces and the mystery is dramatically resolved in Amazing Spider-Man #171’s ‘Photon is Another Name For…?’ courtesy of Wein, Andru & Esposito.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #11 follows as ‘Spawn of the Spider’ (by Archie Goodwin & Bill Mantlo, Don Perlin & Jim Mooney) pits the wallcrawler against a deranged and disgruntled movie special effects man who creates a trio of bio-augmented arachnoid monsters to destroy the wallcrawler…

Brief back up ‘Chaos at the Coffee Bean!’ was written by Scott Edelman and inked by Al Milgrom and details how Peter and Mary Jane Watson are caught up in a hostage situation at their college bistro. It’s probably most noteworthy as the pencilling debut of future superstar creator John Romita Jr.

ASM #172 features ‘The Fiends from the Fire! (Wein, Andru & Giacoia) as Spidey trashes idiotic skateboarding super-thief Rocket Racer only to stumble into true opposition when old enemy Molten Man attacks, desperately seeking a way to stop himself evolving into a blazing post-human funeral pyre…

Mooney inked concluding chapter ‘If You Can’t Stand the Heat…!’ as a cure for the blazing villain proves ultimately ineffectual and personally tragic for Parker’s oldest friends, after which #174 declares ‘The Hitman’s Back in Town!’ (inks by Tony DeZuñiga & Mooney). This sees still relatively unknown vigilante FrankThe PunisherCastle hunting a costumed assassin hired to remove Jameson, but experiencing an unusual reticence since the killer is an old army pal who had saved his life in Vietnam.

Despite Spider-Man being outfought and out-thought in every clash, the tale resolves with the hero somehow triumphant, even though everything ends with a fatality in the Mooney-embellished conclusion ‘Big Apple Battleground!’ in #175.

The remainder of this volume is taken up with an extended epic that sees the return of Spider-Man’s most manic opponent. Illustrated by Andru & DeZuñiga, ‘He Who Laughs Last…!’ features the return of the Green Goblin, who targets Parker’s friends and family…

When the original villain – Norman Osborn – died, his son Harry lost his grip on sanity and became a new version, equally determined to destroy Spider-Man. On his defeat, Harry began therapy under the care of psychiatrist Bart Hamilton and seemed to be making a full recovery. Now both patient and doctor are missing…

The assaults on Parker’s inner circle increase in ‘Goblin in the Middle’ (Esposito inks) with the emerald psychopath expanding operations to challenge crime-boss Silvermane for control of New York’s rackets whilst in ‘Green Grows the Goblin!’ (inked by Mooney) and ‘The Goblin’s Always Greener!’ (Esposito) a devious plot and shocking twist lead to a near-death experience for Aunt May before an astonishing three-way Battle Royale ends the crisis in ‘Who Was That Goblin I Saw You With?’

Added extras this time around include Gil Kane & Giacoia’s front-&-back covers for Marvel Treasury Edition #14 (The Sensational Spider-Man), and its frontispiece by Andru; House ads for Spider-family titles and 1977 Annuals, plus the usual biography pages to complete another superb and crucial selection starring this timeless teen icon and superhero symbol.
© 1976, 1977, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America: War & Remembrance


By Roger Stern & John Byrne, with Joe Rubinstein & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785126935 (TPB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in a previous 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 to briefly reappear during the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel, ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every brave American kid’s bed. He quickly vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time for the turbulent, culturally divisive 1960s. He’s been with us – in one form or another – ever since…

Although not the USA’s original patriotic superhero, the Star-Spangled Avenger was the first to truly dominate public attention, and over the years a vast number of talented artists and writers have crafted his adventures. It is therefore quite odd to realise just how few of those exploits are truly memorable.

I’ll leave you to compile your own top ten, but I’ll wager that this all-too-brief run by Roger Stern, John Byrne & Joe Rubinstein will provide at least one of them.

This slim volume – available in all the usual physical and digital formats – collects Captain America #247-255 (cover-dated July 1980-March 1981) seamlessly blending epic adventure with spectacular superhero art: a fans’ delight that is also readily accessible to the newcomer or casual reader.

Following fond reminiscence ‘Remembering Cap’ from author Stern, the action explosively opens with ‘By the Dawn’s Early Light’, offering insight into the hero’s World War II career and uncovering a mystery apparently involving leftover Nazi mastermind and sworn foe Baron Wolfgang von Strucker.

The episode leads Cap to uncover secrets from his past whilst setting up a new threat from deadly robotic villain Machinesmith, leading directly into extended saga ‘Dragon Man’ and ‘Death, Where is Thy Sting?’.

This complex and convoluted yarn explains many seeming inconsistencies in Marvel continuity: combining all-out action with a genuine moral dilemma that perfectly illuminates the character of this American Dream. Cap is always at his best when overcoming overwhelming opposition and ethical enigmas…

These stories were first released in an election year and the truly uplifting ‘Cap for President!’ is still a wonderful antidote for sleaze and politicking whilst confirming the honesty and idealism of the decent person within us all. This tale of honour, duty and worthiness was developed from an abandoned idea conceived by Roger McKenzie & Don Perlin, and is all the more poignant in today’s febrile world of political expediency, Fake News and raw self-promotion…

It’s back to basics after that as Cap unexpectedly teams up with long-time foe Batroc the Leaper to save New York City from flaming Armageddon in ‘The Mercenary and the Madman’ and concluding chapter ‘Cold Fire’: a classic thriller that returned Mr. Hyde to the first rank of Marvel villains.

A short infomercial bonus feature follows, sharing ‘The Life and Times of Captain America’, and revealing ‘The Apartment of Steve Rogers, Esq.’ as well as ‘Steve Rogers’ Friends and Neighbors’ and highlighting ‘Captain America’s Partners Against Crime’ in a breezy, accessible manner before the drama resumes with ‘Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot’.

Captain America is called to England and the deathbed of WWII comrade Lord Montgomery Falsworth who battled Nazis as the legendary Union Jack, and finds brooding menace, family turmoil and a returned supernatural horror. The menace escalates in the concluding ‘Blood on the Moors’, which even now is still one of the best-handled Heroic Death/“Passing of the Torch” sagas in comics history…

The story portion of the book concludes with a brilliant new version of Captain America’s origin: a stripped down, rationalised retelling designed to celebrate the Sentinel of Liberty’s 40th Anniversary: drawn and inked by Byrne and which became the definitive history for decades to come.

It’s also where the creative team, for unspecified reasons, called it a day.

Supplementing the narrative wonderment is ‘Remembering “Remembrance”’: an illustrated interview and commentary with Stern & Byrne conducted by Dugan Trodglen, augmented by numerous illustrations. Following is the six pages of Byrne’s art from the never-completed tenth issue, a tantalising glimpse of missed magic. Their collaboration was inexplicably curtailed and the creators abruptly left the series for reasons still largely unknown…

The thrills conclude with a selection of Byrne’s covers from various earlier collected editions.

This tome is a sheer escapist thrill-ride, endlessly gratifying and tremendously satisfying. After Jack Kirby, these are probably the purest evocation of this American Icon that you could ever read, so you really should.
© 1980, 1990 Marvel Entertainment Group. © 2008, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. volume 1 This is What They Want and volume 2 I Kick Your Face


By Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen & Wade Von Grawbadger (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2278-4 (Vol. 1 HB); 978-0-7851-1910-4 (Vol. 2 TPB)

Even for the most dedicated fans, superhero comics can become a little samey and pedestrian, so when gifted big- name creators such as Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen decide to have a little fun with the fringes of such a ponderous continuity as Marvel’s, expectations are always understandably high.

In 2006 Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. (Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort) launched for a breathtaking and controversial 12 issue run and happily proved to be everything a jaded old fan could hope for…

The series has been compiled into one complete volume, these two collections (re-presenting #1-6 and #7-12 respectively) as well as in digital formats. That’s the illusion of choice right there, that is…

Wry, cynically Post-Modern and malevolently mischievous, the saga borrowed shamelessly from kid’s bubblegum pop culture – especially trans-pacific animation. There was even a theme-song you could hear online and a variant-issue that readers could colour in to win prizes – as well as the forgotten contents of the daftest corners of Marvel’s decades of accumulated continuity to captivatingly satirise the genre, the medium and itself.

Best of all, it was hilariously anti-globalisation, counter-capitalist, rude, sexy and excessively ultra-violent…

H.A.T.E. is another of those numerous acronymic quasi-governmental, covert high-tech agencies dedicated to keeping us all safe in our overpriced, indolent beds – at least that was what their eccentric team of operatives initially believed.

When they discovered that their employers were in fact a fully owned subsidiary of the Beyond Corporation© and the latest iteration of diabolical terrorist cabal S.I.L.E.N.T., former Avengers Monica Rambeau (Captain Marvel II/Photon/Spectrum, etc…) and artificial individual Aaron (Machine Man) Stack rightly rebelled.

With ex-X-Man Tabitha Smith (Meltdown/Boom Boom); stroppy immortal monster-hunter Elsa Bloodstone and hyper-powered, unimaginative enigma The Captain in tow, they went AWOL, intending to stop their former paymasters at all costs.

Incidentally, the last-cited was formerly Captain $#!£ until ostracized by all the other military-monickered mystery-men, after which Captain America punched his foul-mouthed head in and washed his mouth out with soap.

Further investigation disclosed that the terrorist conglomerate was actually planning to product-test potentially lucrative BWMDs (Bizarre Weapons of Mass Destruction) on American soil and ordinary folks, so the disgruntled quintet promptly stole a super-ship and all the plans, determined to stop the callous campaign and take down the despicable Beyond©-ers forever…

With their increasingly deranged, suicidal and sexually outré former commander Dirk Anger in hot pursuit, the team begins its fightback in Abcess, North Dakota where the legendary giant dragon-in-underpants Fin Fang Foom has been awakened and… stimulated… into going on a rampage of destructive frustration…

On the streets of Abcess, hordes of Beyond©’s mass-produced vegetable warriors are attacking the citizenry and exacerbating the chaos until Elsa and The Captain intervene with their signature lack of restraint and disregard for human life or private property.

As municipal damage and general unrest spiral upwards, Monica devises an unsavoury plan and orders Aaron – a fantastic, military-created robot who despises human “fleshy ones” and has reprogrammed himself to crave vast amounts of beer – to get himself swallowed and deal with the dragon from the inside…

With no rest for the Wicked-crushers, the renegade revengers then head to Sink City, Illinois where brutally corrupt cop Mac Mangel has been infected with a mechanistically mutating program, transforming him into a colossal flesh-and-steel beast hungry to eat metal and/or children…

With mounting carnage everywhere, the Captain still gets distracted into an origin flashback, leaving Tabitha to deal with the Transformer-ed Mangel in her stylishly simple yet permanent manner…

In Wyoming, the Nextwave discover a Beyond© War Garden and set about destroying the next crop of broccoli berserkers and cabbage crusaders, just as Dirk Anger and his other – still-loyal – agents of H.A.T.E. arrive in their flying citadel to unleash all the insane instruments of doom in their arsenal. However even the Drop Bears of Cuddly Koala Death, a flock of Assault PterosaursSamurai Robots and Homicide Crabs cannot contain the righteous indignation of the forgotten heroes, and when Aaron counterattacks by stealing Dirk’s chic-est most secret possession the deviant Director has no choice but to retreat…

To Be Continued…

 

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. volume 2: I Kick Your Face

The action barely pauses for a primer recap before Beyond©orp’s follow-up BWMD event sees the terrorist entrepreneurs summon an extremely minor and rather juvenile Elder God, Rorkannu, Lord of the Dank Dimension. The malefactors trade that for access to a deadly invading army of mystic behemoths that Dr. Strange fans will recognise as merciless “Mindless Ones” to decimate the town of Shotcreek, Colorado.

Ready to back-up the embattled townspeople are Monica and her crew, but things take a decidedly surreal turn as the monolithic marauders prove to be not all that mindless after all…

In the blistering last-stand battle, Elsa becomes lost in fond reminiscences of her truly unique and bloody childhood, before, against all odds, the Captain stumbles onto Rorkannu and -contrary to everyone’s expectations – finally does something right…

When Steve Rogers became Captain America in 1941, nobody realised that a second Nazi spy stole his urine sample. Now, through a most torturous and arcane path, that last remnant of the original Super-Soldier serum has allowed the ruling elite of the Beyond© group to create whole battalions of customised metahuman champions…

When Nextwave finally track the terrorists to their inverted floating fortress, they are confronted by an army of esoteric adversaries derived and developed from the misappropriated hero-pee and aligned in specifically themed teams such as The Surgery, The Vestry and The Homosexuality, but even such lethally dedicated foes as Dr. Headless, Father Pain, Dr. Nosexy, Sun King, Red Rosary and Slightly Creepy Policewoman pale into feeble insignificance beside the reality-altering threat of Forbush-Man and his eerily familiar comrades the New Paramounts

Once again plunged into horrifically violent combat, the Nextwave are slowly making bloody headway until the diminutive demon plunges the team into depressing and dreary alternate lives from the worst recesses of their inner visions. Tragically for Forbush-Man, nobody had ever found any evidence of intellect or imagination in Tabitha, just an overwhelming vacuity, urge to steal and need to blow stuff up…

With the end in sight, the triumphant heroes invade the Beyond Corporation©’s hidden HQ State 51 just as Dirk Anger, transformed and degraded beyond imagination, arrives, culminating in an even more spectacular clash before finally confronting the utterly macabre mastermind behind the monstrous marketing campaign of destruction. The elation is non-existent as the team discover an even more bizarre kingmaker behind it all and finally bring the hammer down once and for all…

As action comics in their purest form, the tales are laced with light-hearted lethality and superbly smutty innuendo, with hints of Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s Hitman, Ben Edlund’s The Tick, Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill’s Marshall Law and Keith Giffen’s Ambush Bug, with all the verve, panache and invention of the Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory, all wrapped up in pithy corporate sloganeering a la Better Off Ted, Corporate and Joseph Goebbels…

Jam-packed with in-joke extras, this is a glorious comic series – in every sense of the word – and an experience no, fun-loving fan could possibly find fault with.

“Healing America by Beating People Up” and making us laugh by taking the piss…

© 2006, 2007, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man Vs. The Vulture


By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko, Roger Stern, Louise Simonson, J. M. DeMatteis, Peter David, John Romita, Don Heck, John Romita Jr., Greg LaRocque, Sal Buscema, Scot Eaton & various (Marvel)

ISBN: 978-1-3029-0706-8 (TPB)

Heroes are only truly defined by their enemies and superheroes doubly so, with the added proviso that costumed crusaders generally have a rogue’s gallery of fantastic foes rather than just one arch-nemesis. Even so, there’s always one particular enemy who wears that mantle: Moriarty for Sherlock Holmes; Blofeld for James Bond; Luthor for Superman.

Spider-Man has always had two top contenders… but the Vulture isn’t one of them. (*If you can’t guess who, check out the end of the review, puzzle-fans!).

Devised to cash in on the movie Spider-Man: Coming Home, this nifty trade paperback (and eBook) compilation gathers many of the now-cinematic sky bandit’s key clashes with the Wondrous Wallcrawler, tracing his rather rocky development whilst offering an uncomplicated, no-frills thrill-ride of frantic spills and chills, equally appetising to film-inspired new meat and grizzled old veterans of the Fights ‘n’ Tights arena.

Enhanced by an informative Introduction by former Spidey-Editor Ralph Macchio, this titanic tome explores the criminal career of elderly Adrian Toomes: a brilliant scientist twisted by tragedy and persecution into becoming a ruthless predator scavenging on the society which constantly betrayed him and made him unjustly suffer as a shunned outcast.

Amazing Spider-Man #1 (not included in this comprehensive paperback and digital compilation) had a March 1963 cover-date and two complete stories. The opening tale recapitulated the origin whilst adding a brilliant twist to the conventional mix…

The wall-crawling hero was feared and reviled by the general public thanks in no small part to J. Jonah Jameson, a newspaper magnate who pilloried the adventurer from spite and for profit. With time-honoured comicbook irony, Spider-Man then saved Jameson’s astronaut son John from a faulty space capsule…

The second tale found the cash-strapped kid trying to force his way onto the roster – and payroll – of the Fantastic Four whilst elsewhere a spy perfectly impersonated the web-spinner to steal military secrets, in a stunning example of the high-strung, antagonistic crossovers and cameos that so startled the jaded kids of the early 1960s.

With the second issue our new champion began a meteoric rise in quality and innovative storytelling. He also faced his first genuine super-powered, costumed crazy…

Opening the action here is ‘Duel to the Death with the Vulture!’ which revealed how a bizarre flying thief was plundering Manhattan at will, with no police effort effective against him.

Desperate to help his aunt make ends meet, Spider-Man began to take photos of his cases to sell to Jameson’s Daily Bugle, transforming his personal gadfly into his sole means of support.

Along with comedy and soap-operatic melodrama Ditko’s action sequences were imaginative and magnificently visceral, with odd angle shots and quirky, mis-balanced poses adding a vertiginous sense of unease to fight scenes. In the end, however, it was Peter Parker’s brains not the webslinger’s power that brought the Vulture down…

Amazing Spider-Man #7 (December 1963) boasted ‘The Return of the Vulture!’ as the creepy Bird of Ill-Omen became the webslinger’s first bad guy to come back for more. This time the cataclysmic final clash took place inside the Daily Bugle building and remains one Spidey’s best staged fights…

Amazing Spider-Man #48 had introduced Blackie Drago: a ruthless thug who shared a prison cell with the Vulture. After Drago orchestrated a near-fatal-accident for his cellmate, the cunning convict inveigled the ailing super-villain into revealing his technological secrets, enabling Drago to escape and take over the role: a younger, faster, tougher foe who nevertheless failed in every attempt to kill Spider-Man.

In Amazing Spider-Man #63 (August 1968, by Lee, John Romita, Don Heck & Mike Esposito) revealed the old buzzard had not died as Toomes vengefully stalked his successor in ‘Wings in the Night!’ The duel extended into the next issue with both Drago and the wallcrawler reduced to ‘The Vulture’s Prey’ until Spider-Man barely drove the aged maniac away…

A generation later, Amazing Spider-Man #224 (January 1982 by Roger Stern, John Romita Jr. & Pablo Marcos provided a fresh take on the bird bandit in ‘Let Fly These Aged Wings!’ as the now decrepit villain slumped into his imminent death-decline until inadvertently given a new perspective by Aunt May’s latest beau Nathan Lubensky.

By attempting to boost the confidence of a fellow octogenarian, Nathan instead unleashed Toomes’ dormant inner killer and revived the Vulture’s predatory career… at least until Spidey showed up…

Amazing Spider-Man #240 (May 1983, by Stern, Romita Jr. & Bob Layton) then details how the carrion crook wised up and moved out of NYC, until the business partner who first cheated him out of all his inventions resurfaced. On ‘Wings of Vengeance!’ Toomes soared back into action, even defeating Spider-Man in his righteous fury before the tale concluded with #241’s ‘In the Beginning…’ by Stern, Romita Jr. & Frank Giacoia.

Behind a stunning John Byrne cover, Web of Spider-Man #3 (June 1985 by Louise Simonson, Greg LaRoque & Jim Mooney) ‘Iron Bars Do Not a Prison Make… …Or Vulture is as Vulture Does!’ relates the fate of a gang of thugs who appropriate Toomes’ flying tech to plunder the city as Vulturions. Even the webslinger is unable to stop the old buzzard’s quest for vengeance…

‘Funeral Arrangements’ is a story arc from The Spectacular Spider-Man #186-188 (March-May 1992 by J. M. DeMatteis & Sal Buscema), with the Vulture on a rampage and pitilessly settling old scores. Believing his life to be imminently ending, in ‘Settling Scores’ Toomes murders old allies and contacts before targeting May Parker and J. Jonah Jameson, leading Spider-Man to ‘Desperate Measures’ and a devasting showdown in ‘Final Judgement’

Set during the first superhero Civil War, 3-parter ‘Taking Wing’ is by Peter David, Scot Eaton & John Dell and comes from Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #14-16 (January-March 2007). Peter Parker and his loved ones are on the run, since Spider-Man’s secret identity has been revealed on live TV. To stay safe, Peter has assumed the role of his former clone Ben Reilly

Unwillingly allied with Wolverine and the Punisher, Spider-Man is learning to be a true outlaw when the government offer the Vulture a shady deal: capture the wallcrawler and earn a pardon…

The scheme instantly goes south when Toomes turns Parker’s old girlfriend Debra Whitman into live bait to draw out his prey and ensnares Betty Brant and Flash Thompson too…

The final battle pushes the wallcrawler to the edge of sanity, almost costing him his life, honour and integrity…

The Vulture has always been one of the most visually arresting of foes and a gallery of covers is supplemented at the close by a wealth of stunning images. Starting with Ditko’s data-file pin-up from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, successive covers include Annual #7 (December 1970, by Romita Sr.), Spider-Man Classics #3 (June 1993 by Tom Lyle) and #8 (November 1993 Bret Blevins) plus illustrations by Blevins, Ron Frenz & Josef Rubinstein from Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition 1985.

Also on show are original art pages by Ditko, Romita Sr./Heck/Esposito, Romita Jr. & Layton and Sal Buscema, as well as cover reproductions from Essential Spider-Man vol. 11 by Romita Jr. & Layton, a textless version of this book’s cover by Sal Buscema and those from Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #14-16 by Eaton.

Epic and engaging, this grab-bag of aerial assaults ant titanic tussles is pure comicbook catharsis: fast, furious fun and thrill-a-minute-melodrama no Fights ‘n’ Tights fan could resist.
© 2010, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

* Green Goblin Norman Osborn and Doctor Otto Octavius share the dishonours of being Spider-Man’s most dastardly nemeses. If you had trouble with that, you need to read more mainstream comics, Fanboy…

Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, George Pérez & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1630-1 (HB) 978-0-7851-5869-1 (TPB)

In the autumn of 1963, The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier.

The teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After nearly eight years of eccentrically spectacular adventures the mutant misfits virtually disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just like in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes once more dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although the title was revived at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe and the Beast was refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories until Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique with a brand-new team in Giant Size X-Men #1 in 1975.

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire was added one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine, and all-original creations Kurt Wagner, a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler, African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin, who transformed at will into a living steel Colossus, and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The revision was an instantaneous and unstoppable hit, with Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont writing the series from the second story onwards. The Uncanny X-Men reclaimed their own comicbook with #94 and it quickly became the company’s most popular – and high quality – title.

Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster shifted and changed the series rose to even greater heights, culminating in the landmark (and with this tome, imminently ensuing) Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character.

In the aftermath team leader Cyclops left but the epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the epochal working relationship of Claremont and Byrne. Within months of publication they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with the mutants whilst Byrne moved on to establish his own reputation as a writer on series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionised and freshly-groundbreaking Fantastic Four

After Apache warrior Thunderbird became the team’s first fatality, the survivors slowly bonded, becoming an infallible fighting unit under the brusque and draconian supervision of Cyclops.

This Fabulous fourth compilation (available in luxurious hardcover, trade paperback and eBook editions) is perfect for newbies, neophytes and even old lags nervous about reading such splendid yarns on fragile but extremely valuable newsprint paper. It celebrates the unstoppable march to market dominance through the pivotal early stories: specifically, X-Men #122-131 plus the X-Men Annual #3 of the decidedly “All-New, All-Different” – spanning June 1979 to March 1980.

The drama resumes with Byrne producing light breakdowns and regular inker Terry Austin stepping up to produce full art finishes for issue #122’s ‘Cry for the Children!’ as the long-missing heroes finally return to the Xavier School only to find their home boarded up and deserted.

Months previously, following a catastrophic battle against Magneto in which Beast and Phoenix believed themselves the only survivors, heartbroken Professor X had grieved for his fallen pupils and left Earth to be with his fiancée Empress Lilandra of the far-flung extragalactic Shi’ar Imperium. In the interim, Jean Grey – reborn as the cosmic-powered Phoenix – went globetrotting to bury her woes and is currently in Scotland, unaware that she has been targeted by one of the team’s oldest enemies for a cruel assault.

As the weary team slowly settle in at the mansion again, they try to resume their previous routines but psychological stress testing shows Russian teen Colossus is having second thoughts about deserting his family and country…

In New York, Storm has at last taken the time to trace her roots, visiting the old home of her American dad, only to find it now a disgusting junkie squat filled with doped-up, feral kids who viciously attack her…

Stabbed and bleeding, she lashes out and only the sudden arrival of hero for hire Luke Cage and his friend Misty Knight (coincidentally Jean’s Manhattan room-mate) prevents a tragedy. None of them are remotely aware that they have been targeted by the world’s most outrageous hit-man…

With Byrne back in full penciller mode, Uncanny X-Men #123 includes a cameo from Spider-Man as jolly psycho-killer Arcade proceeds to pick off the oblivious mutants and run them through his fatal funfair Murder World in ‘Listen… Stop Me if You’ve Heard It… But This One Will Kill You!’: subjecting the abductees to perils mechanical and psychological.

The former prove understandably ineffectual but family guilt and cunning conditioning soon transform the already homesick and despondent Colossus into a vengeful mind-slave dubbed The Proletarian, determined to smash his former comrades in concluding chapter ‘He Only Laughs When I Hurt!’ Happily, his inner child and the assorted heroes’ gifts and training prove too much for the maniacal killer clown…

X-Men Annual #3 then offers a fantastic interlude as extradimensional barbarian warlord Arkon the Magnificent returns to Earth courtesy of Claremont, George Pérez & Austin. ‘A Fire in the Sky!’ sees him again seeking to save his unstable world of Polemachus from eternal darkness. Last time the Avenger Thor provided the lightning necessary to illuminate his world, but with the Asgardian unavailable, Arkon decides Storm will do. He never learned how to ask, though, and his violent abduction of his target provokes a furious response from the X-Men…

With Byrne doing the drawing, Jean re-enters the picture in #125, when her stay with biologist Moira MacTaggert leads to the release of a long-secret family shame in ‘There’s Something Awful on Muir Island!’ Throughout her long holiday, Phoenix has been gradually weakened and psychically seduced by a psionic predator: groomed for a life of refined cruelty and debauchery by a man calling himself Jason Wyngarde, whose intention is to create a callous and wicked “Black Queen” for the mysterious organisation known as the Hellfire Club

At the other end of the galaxy, Charles Xavier reviews records of how Phoenix once reconstructed the entire fragmenting universe and is gripped with terror at the thought of all that power in the hands of one frail human personality, whilst in his former home the Beast checks a tripped alarm and discovers his long-mourned friends are all alive.

The reunited heroes’ first thought is to tell Jean the incredible news, but no sooner is a transatlantic call connected than a scream echoes out and the line goes dead…

Issue #126 resumes frantic hours later as the X-Men approach Muir Island in their supersonic jet. With all contact lost and no telepath aboard, Cyclops assumes the worst and the squad infiltrate in battle formation, only to find a withered corpse and badly shaken comrades Lorna Dane, Havok, Madrox, Moira and Jean slowly recovering from a psionic assault.

In ‘How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth…!’ Dr. MacTaggert bitterly reveals the attacker is a psychic bodysnatcher imprisoned on Muir for years. He’s also her son…

Rapidly burning out one of Madrox’s duplicate bodies, the monster has already reached the mainland, but as the mutants disperse to hunt him down Jean is hampered by a torrent of seductive mirages projected by the smugly confidant Wyngarde, allowing the predatory Proteus to ambush the X-Men and try to possess Wolverine.

It is his first mistake. Metal has an inimical effect on the formless horror and the feral fury’s Adamantium skeleton forces him to flee his victim in screaming agony. It is then the creature unleashes his most terrifying power: warping reality to drive Wolverine and Nightcrawler to the brink of madness. Only the late-arriving Storm prevents their immediate demise but soon she too is at the edge of destruction…

‘The Quality of Hatred!’ finds the badly shaken team undergoing desperate “tough-love” remedies from Cyclops to regain their combat readiness whilst Moira tries to make up for her dangerous sentimentality by putting a bullet into her deadly offspring.

Frustrated by the idealistic Cyclops but having divined the path Proteus is taking, she then heads for Edinburgh and an unpleasant reunion with her former husband: brute, bully, Member of Parliament and father of most merciless monster the world has yet produced…

As Jean finally shrugs off her distractions and telepathically homes in on Proteus, the team swing into action a little too late: the sinister son has possessed his scurrilous sire and created an unstoppable synthesis of world-warping abomination…

With Edinburgh and perhaps the entire world roiling and rebelling as science goes mad, X-Men #128 sees the valiant champions strike back to spectacularly triumph in ‘The Action of the Tiger!’ after which ‘God Spare the Child…’ sees another happy reunion as the heroes (all but the now retired Banshee) discover Charles Xavier awaiting them when they reach Westchester.

Jean is increasingly slipping into visions of a former life as a spoiled, cruel child of privilege, contrasting sharply with her renewed love for Scott, but the home atmosphere is troubled by another discordant factor. Xavier is intent on resuming the training of the team, haughtily oblivious that this group are grizzled, seasoned veterans of combat, rather than the callow teenagers he first tutored.

Elsewhere a cabal of mutants and millionaires plot. Black King Sebastian Shaw, White Queen Emma Frost and the rest of the Hellfire Club hierarchy know Wyngarde is an ambitious and presumptuous upstart, but the possibility of subverting the Phoenix to their world-dominating agenda is irresistible…

When two new mutants manifest, Xavier splits the team to contact both, taking Storm, Wolverine and Colossus to Chicago and meeting the nervous parents of naive 13-year old Kitty Pryde who has just realised that along with all the other problems of puberty, she can now fall through floors and walk through walls…

However, no sooner does Professor Xavier offer to admit her to his select and prestigious private school than they are all attacked by war-suited mercenaries and shipped by Emma Frost to the Hellfire Club. Only Kitty escapes, but instead of running she stows away on the transport; terrified but intent on saving the day…

The other mutant neophyte debuts in X-Men #130 as Cyclops, Phoenix and Nightcrawler head to Manhattan’s club district to track down a disco singer dubbed ‘Dazzler’ unaware that they too have been targeted for capture. However little Kitty’s attempts to free the captives at the Hellfire base forces the villains to tip their hand early and with the assistance of Dazzler Alison Blair – a musical mutant who converts sound to devastating light effects – the second mercenary capture team is defeated…

The drama concludes for now in #131 where Kitty is forced to frantically ‘Run for Your Life!’ – fortunately straight into the arms of the remaining X-Men. Soon the plucky lass – after an understandable period of terror, confusion and kvetching – leads an incursion into the lair of the White Queen to free Wolverine, Colossus and Xavier as Frost faces off in a deadly psionic showdown with a Phoenix far less kind and caring than ever before…

For many fans these tales – and those in the next volume – comprise the definitive X-Men look and feel: some of the greatest stories Marvel ever published; entertaining, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating. These adventures are an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 1979, 1980, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, Chris Claremont, Steve Englehart, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Sam Kweskin, Rich Buckler, Jim Starlin, Bob Brown & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9917-5 (HB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, 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 captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. He fought gangsters, a variety of 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 latterly became.

After spending years in a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page, Murdock took up with former client and Russian émigré Natasha Romanoff, the infamous and notorious spy dubbed The Black Widow.

She was railroaded and framed for murder and prosecuted by Matt’s best friend and law partner Foggy Nelson before the blind legal eagle cleared her. Subsequently leaving New York with her for the wild wacky and West Coast, Matt joined prestigious law firm Broderick & Sloan but adventure, disaster and intrigue seemed capable of finding the Sightless Swashbuckler anywhere…

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…

This dynamic collection (available in sturdy hardback and handy digital formats) re-presents Daredevil #97-107, covering March 1973-January 1974 and also includes Avengers #111, wherein twin storylines converged and concluded.

The Marvel Magic recommences following an overview from commentator, biographer and documentarian Jon B. Cooke whose Introduction ‘Look Back in Angar’ adds crucial context to the rapid turnover of creative staff at this juncture.

With DD and the Widow firmly ensconced in San Francisco, Steve Gerber took over scripting with DD #97 (from Conway’s plots and illustrated by Gene Colan & inker Ernie Chan/Chua) for ‘He Who Saves’ as a street acrobat suffers a calamitous accident and is subsequently mutated by sinister hidden forces into proto-godling the Dark Messiah.

The already unstoppable Agent of Change is joined by three equally awesome Disciples of Doom in #98’s on the streets in ‘Let There be… Death!’, but even though physically overmatched, the heroic couple’s psychological warfare proves fatally effective in ending the crisis, if not ferreting out the real villains…

Daredevil and the Black Widow #99 featured ‘The Mark of Hawkeye!’ by now-autonomous Gerber, with Sam Kweskin & Syd Shores providing the pictures, which finds Natasha Romanoff’s old boyfriend turning up determined to reclaim her…

The caveman tactics lead to the Archer’s sound and well-deserved thrashing and result in a quick jump into Avengers #111. Crafted by Steve Englehart, Don Heck & Mike Esposito, ‘With Two Beside Them!’ sees the West Coast vigilantes join a ragtag and much-depleted team of heroes to rescue a number of X-Men and Avengers enslaved by the malevolent Magneto.

Dumped by Natasha and returning alone to the City by the Bay and for his anniversary issue, Daredevil agonisingly relives his origins and danger-drenched life in ‘Mind Storm!’ (Gerber, Colan & John Tartaglione) just as a savage and embittered psionic terrorist launched a series of mind-mangling assaults on the populace, culminating one month later in a shattering showdown between the blind hero and Angar the Screamer as well as a shaky reconciliation with the Widow in ‘Vengeance in the Sky with Diamonds!’, illustrated by Rich Buckler & Frank Giacoia.

Scripted by Chris Claremont, and limned by Syd Shores & Frank Giacoia ‘Stilt-Man Stalks the City’ finds Hornhead hunting psychedelic assassin Angar, which accidentally brings him into conflict with a merciless and similarly displaced old foe. The skyscraping scoundrel has kidnapped the daughter of an inventor in order to extort enhanced weaponry out of the traumatised tinkerer but isn’t expecting interference from his oldest adversary or his utterly ruthless Russian paramour….

No sooner have DD and the Widow ended the miscreant’s rampage than #103 sees a team-up with Spider-Man as a merciless cyborg attacks the odd couple while they pose for roving photojournalist Peter Parker in ‘…Then Came Ramrod!’ by new regular team Gerber, Heck & Sal Trapani.

The barely-human brute is after files in Murdock’s safe and hints of a hidden master, but ultimately his blockbusting strength is of little use against the far faster veteran heroes…

Even as the distracted Murdock realises that his own boss is sabotaging the attorney’s cases, the mystery manipulator is hiring warped mercenary Sergei Kravinoff to make Daredevil ‘Prey of the Hunter!’

Matt’s priorities change when Kraven abducts Natasha, and even after the hero rescues her, the Hunter explosively returns to defeat them both, throwing the swashbuckler to his death…

Daredevil #105 sees the Widow brutally avenging her man’s murder, but Murdock is far from dead, having being teleported from the jaws of doom by a ‘Menace from the Moons of Saturn!’ (inked by Don Perlin)…

In a short sequence pencilled by Jim Starlin, earthborn Priestess of Titan Moondragon is introduced, revealing how she has been dispatched to Earth to counter the schemes of death-worshipping proto-god Thanos. She also inadvertently discloses how she has allied with a respected man of power and authority, providing him with a variety of augmented agents such as Dark Messiah, Ramrod and Angar…

Gerber, Heck & Trapani bring the expansive extended epic closer to culmination as the manipulator is unmasked in ‘Life Be Not Proud!’… but not before the wily plotter redeploys all his past minions, shoots his misguided ally Moondragon, usurps a Titanian ultimate weapon and unleashes a life-leeching horror dubbed Terrex upon the world.

With all Earth endangered, DD, the Widow and guest-star Captain Marvel are forced to pull out all the stops to defeat the threat, and only then after a last-minute defection by the worst of their enemies and a desperate ‘Blind Man’s Bluff!’ courtesy of Gerber, Bob Brown & Sal Buscema.

This supremely enticing volume also offers extra treats: the promotional cover for #100, and John Romita & Michael Esposito’s original art for the cover of issues #105. 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 illustrated yarns may still occasionally jar with their heartfelt stridency and sometimes dated attitudes, but the narrative energy and sheer exuberant excitement of such classic adventures are graphic joys no action fan will care to miss. And the next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…
© 1973, 1974, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sub-Mariner Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Marie Severin, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3487-9 (HB)

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

He first caught the public’s attention as part of the elementally appealing fire vs. water headlining team in the October 1939 cover-dated Marvel Comics #1 which became Marvel Mystery Comics with issue #2. He shared honours and top billing with The Human Torch, but had originally been seen (albeit in a truncated monochrome version) in Motion Picture Funnies: a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

Rapidly emerging as one of the industry’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (Spring 1941) and was one of the last super-characters to go at the end of the first heroic age. In 1954, when Atlas (as the company then was) briefly revived its “Big Three” (the Torch and Captain America being the other two) costumed characters, Everett returned for an extended run of superb fantasy tales, but even so the time wasn’t right and the title sunk again.

When Stan Lee & Jack Kirby started reinventing comicbook superheroes in 1961 with the Fantastic Four, they revived the awesome and all-but-forgotten amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac anti-hero. Decidedly more bombastic, regal and grandiose, the returnee despised humanity; embittered at the loss of his sub-sea kingdom (seemingly destroyed by American atomic testing) whilst simultaneously besotted with the FF’s Susan Storm.

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for a few years, squabbling with other star turns such as the Hulk, Avengers, X-Men and Daredevil, before securing his own series as one half of Tales to Astonish, and ultimately his own solo title.

This third subsea selection – available in hardback and eBook editions – collects The Sub-Mariner #2-13, spanning June 1968 to May 1969 (plus a spoof yarn from August 1968’s Not Brand Echh # 9) and opens with another heartfelt appreciation and some creative secret-sharing from sometime-scribe and life-long fan Roy Thomas in his Introduction.

Following the premiere issue’s recapitulation of the hero’s origins and some plot ground-laying regarding malign super-telepath Destiny (who was responsible for those memory-deficient years), Sub-Mariner #2 contrived an eagerly-anticipated undersea team-up as ‘Cry… Triton!’ (by Thomas, John Buscema & Frank Giacoia) more than made up for the confusion as Namor’s true origin with a blockbusting battle epic in which the aquatic Inhuman stumbles into combat with Namor while exploring a monster-making lab run by D-list villain Plant Man.

Even as the heroes pummel each other, in the Destiny-wracked ruins of Atlantis, Lady Dorma leads an exodus of survivors to a new site to rebuild the empire. Meanwhile, Triton’s fellow Inhumans seek his rescue, prompting the vegetable villain to rapidly relocate…

Issue #3 sees Plant Man unleashing his colossal floral horror against London with his vegetable monsters in concluding clash ‘On a Clear Day You Can See… the Leviathan!’, before the undersea stalwarts unite to end his threat for the immediate future.

Still hunting Destiny, Namor then falls into the sadistic clutches of subsea barbarian Attuma after the merciless warlord attacks the wandering Atlanteans. Although he triumphs in ‘Who Strikes for Atlantis?’ and liberates his people, the Sub-Mariner swims on alone, believing beloved Dorma to have perished in the battle…

Twin nemeses debut next, in the forms of deranged bio-engineer Dr. Dorcas and crippled Olympic swimmer Todd Arliss who is mutated by mad science via Namor’s own hybrid powers into a ravening amphibian killer in ‘Watch Out for… Tiger Shark!’

As Dorcas’s blind ambition and lust for power unleash an aquatic horror he cannot control, Lady Dorma stumbles into Tiger Shark’s’ clutches after he seemingly kills Namor, which the man-monster parlays into an attempt to seize the throne of Atlantis (once it’s rebuilt) in …And to the Vanquished… Death!’ (inked by Dan Adkins).

Namor has been rescued by Arliss’ sister Diane (a beautiful surface-dweller who will be a romantic distraction for Sub-Mariner for many years) but has no time for gratitude as he tracks the mutated human and defeats him in personal combat.

Restored to his throne, people and beloved, the Sub-Mariner is immediately called away when his greatest enemy is located. The telepathic tyrant is about to seal his plans by taking control of America in ‘For President… the Man Called Destiny!’, but as Namor and Dorma challenge him in Manhattan, the villain’s own pride proves to be his downfall…

An epic clash in #8 pits the arrogant, impetuous Sub-Mariner against the Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm – AKA the Thing – to possess the eerie helmet that furnished Destiny’s mental powers. However, the pointless devastation ‘In the Rage of Battle!’ is almost irrelevant: what is truly significant is the reintroduction of a woman from Namor’s past who can reason with him with as no other mortal can…

Penciller Marie Severin joins writer Thomas and inker Adkins for a landmark moment as the helmet of power metamorphoses into an arcane artefact that will reshape the history of the Marvel Universe for years to come. In ‘The Spell of the Serpent!’ the helmet is revealed as a seductive mystic crown that takes over the citizenry in Namor’s absence, recreating an antediluvian empire ruled by elder god Set. On his return, Namor steals the corrupting crown and is given a glimpse of the Earth’s secret history as well as a vision of a lost pacific subsea race… the Lemurians.

There’s no such thing as coincidence, so when their emissary Karthon the Quester suddenly attempts to take the serpentine totem, Namor is ready to resist in ‘Never Bother a Barracuda!’ (drawn by Gene Colan). As a tale of dawn age skulduggery unfolds involving a demonic immortal priest named Naga and valiant Lemurian heroes who saved the world by stealing his crown, the water-breathers are ambushed by human pirate Cap’n Barracuda and forced to assist his scheme of nuclear blackmail…

Seizing his chance, Karthon swipes the crown and flees, leaving Namor to face ‘The Choice and the Challenge!’ (inked by George Klein), and eventually scuttle the scheme of atomic armageddon, before making the perilous journey to Lemuria to challenge the mystic might and deadly illusions of Naga in ‘A World Against Me!’ (gloriously pencilled, inked and coloured by Severin). The epic encounter then concludes in the Joe Sinnott inked ‘Death, Thou Shalt Die!’ as Naga oversteps and loses the world, the crown and everything else…

Before the end, though, there’s a brilliant bonus bonanza…

Anyone who knew (or even knew of) Marie Severin soon learned she was a gifted gag cartoonist with a devasting wit and this tome includes her at her most devilish: adding a not-so-serious alternative spin to one of her own classics with ‘Bet There’ll be Battle!’, from satire mag Not Brand Echh #9. Here the Inedible Bulk and Prince No-More, the Sunk Mariner, create cartoon carnage and comedy gold in a brisk and brutal brouhaha…

in the form of pages of original art and covers by Colan and Everett.

These tales feature some of Marvel’s very best artists at their visual peak, and the verve and enthusiasm still shine through. Many early Marvel Comics are more exuberant than qualitative, but this volume, especially from an art-lover’s point of view, is a wonderful exception: a historical treasure that fans will find delightful.
© 1968, 1969, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 7


By Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema, John Romita & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8799-8 (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 seventh Masterworks volume (available in luxurious hardback and accessible eBook formats) – comprising issues #149-159 of Captain America and the Falcon from May 1972 to March 1973 – the Star-Spangled Avenger had become an uncomfortable symbol of a troubled, divided society, split along age lines and with many of the hero’s fans apparently rooting for the wrong side. Now into that turbulent mix crept issues of racial and gender inequality…

Following a fond, forthright and informative reminiscence from scripter Steve Englehart in his Introduction, the action opens here with the Star-Spangled Avenger – now increasingly at odds with super-scientific government spy-agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division) and its Director Nick Fury. The troubled hero is also attempting to revive his secret identity as a New York beat cop…

Gerry Conway assumed the writing chores for issues #149-152, an uncharacteristically uninspired run that began with ‘All the Colors… of Evil!’ (illustrated by Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney) wherein Gallic mercenary Batroc resurfaces, kidnapping ghetto kids for an unidentified client…

This turns out to be the alien Stranger (or at least his parallel universe incarnation Jakar) who intervenes personally in ‘Mirror, Mirror…!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) but is still defeated far too easily.

‘Panic on Park Avenue’ (Buscema & Vince Colletta) pits Cap against enfeebled villains Mr. Hyde and the Scorpion as Conway sought to retroactively include Captain America in his ambitious Mr. Kline Saga. Android copies of the super-creeps had attacked Daredevil and the Black Widow in their own comicbook and here we discover what happened to the originals during that period. Assuming S.H.I.E.L.D. was responsible for their woes, the thugs target Steve Rogers and his secret agent girlfriend Sharon Carter with disastrous results, climaxing with the Frank Giacoia inked ‘Terror in the Night!’ featuring all-out battles and new plot-complications for officer Rogers and his hard-boiled boss Sgt. Muldoon

Captain America and the Falcon #153 heralded a renaissance and magical return to form for the Sentinel of Liberty as Steve Englehart came aboard, hitting the ground running with a landmark epic rewriting Marvel history and captivating die-hard fans simultaneously.

The wonderment opens with ‘Captain America… Hero or Hoax?’ (inked by Mooney) as Falcon, Sharon and Cap endure an acrimonious confrontation with Nick Fury and decide to take a break from S.H.I.E.L.D.

While Sam Wilson goes back to Harlem – splitting his time between social work, chasing sexy activist Leila and stamps his mark on the local gangs as the Falcon – Steve and Sharon book a holiday in the Bahamas, but it isn’t long before Falcon catches Captain America committing racist attacks in New York. Enraged, Falcon tracks him down but was easily beaten since supposed partner has somehow acquired super-strength and a resurrected Bucky Barnes

In ‘The Falcon Fights Alone!’ (Verpoorten inks) the maniac impostors claim to be “real” American heroes and reveal what they want: a confrontation with the lily-livered, pinko wannabe who has replaced and disgraced them…

Even after torturing their captive they are frustrated in their plans until the faux Cap tricks the information out of the Avengers.

Battered and bruised, Falcon heads to the holiday refuge but is too late to prevent an ambush wherein Steve Rogers learns ‘The Incredible Origin of the Other Captain America!’ (Frank McLaughlin inks and including repurposed excepts from the 1950s comics by John Romita): a brilliant piece of literary sleight-of-hand that ties up the Golden Age, 1950s revival and Silver Age iterations of the character in a clear, simple, devilishly clever manner, leading to an unbelievably affecting fabulously gratifying conclusion in ‘Two into One Won’t Go!’

After meeting and defeating a shade of the nation’s ugly past, Rogers hopes for less troublesome times, but instead ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici: Viper!’ (plotted by Englehart, scripted by Steve Gerber, with Sal Buscema & John Verpoorten illustrating) begins an epic, engrossing storyline by introducing a despicable advertising executive-turned snaky super-villain ostensibly working for an enigmatic boss named the Cowled Commander.

It transpires that corrupt connections at the police precinct where Rogers serves have been stirred into murderous action by our hero’s presence, leading to good cops being framed, bombs in offices and the Viper taking out survivors with lethally experimental poisonous darts…

When Falcon follows news of Cap’s death he also succumbs to toxins until ‘The Crime Wave Breaks!’ (Englehart, Buscema & Verpoorten) sees last-second salvation, a ramping-up of criminal activity and Rogers’ abduction, leading to a ‘Turning Point!’ wherein super-scum-for-hire Porcupine, Scarecrow, Plantman and the Eel’s ill-conceived attack give the game away and expose a hidden criminal mastermind in the heroes’ midst…

Wrapping up the patriotic revival is a stirring short selection of original art.

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 depicted by top rank artists and storytellers. 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…
© 1972, 1973, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Deadpool Classic volume 1


By Fabien Nicieza, Rob Liefeld, Mark Waid, Joe Kelly, Joe Madureira, Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks, Ken Lashley, Ed McGuiness & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3124-3 (TPB)

Bloodthirsty killers and stylish mercenaries have long made for popular protagonists. Here’s one we prepared earlier. Deadpool is Wade Wilson: a survivor of genetics experiments that have left him a scarred, grotesque bundle of scabs and physical unpleasantries – but practically invulnerable and capable of regenerating from literally any wound.

In his modern incarnation he’s also either one of the few beings able to perceive the true nature of reality or a total gibbering loon…

Collecting – in paperback and digital editions – his early outrages from New Mutants #98, Deadpool: The Circle Chase, Deadpool: Sins of the Past and Deadpool #1 (spanning February 1991 to January1997), this tome is the first in a series archiving his ever more outlandish escapades…

The wisecracking high-tech “merc with a mouth” was created by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza and first appeared in the aforementioned New Mutants #98 in ‘The Beginning of the End’. A throwaway killer in a convoluted saga of mutant mayhem with little else to recommend it, he was another product of the Canadian “Weapon X” project that created Wolverine and so many other second-string mutant and cyborg super-doers. Here he fails to kill future warrior Cable and his teen acolytes (imminently rebranded as X-Force)…

His first shot at stardom came with 4-issue miniseries The Circle Chase from August to November 1993 and by Nicieza, Joe Madureira & Mark Farmer. A fast-paced if cluttered thriller sees Wade pursuing an ultimate weapon as one of a large crowd of mutants and variously enhanced ne’er-do-wells trying to secure the fabled legacy of arms dealer and fugitive from the future Mr. Tolliver.

Among the other worthies after the boodle in ‘Ducks in a Row’, ‘Rabbit Season, Duck Season’, ‘…And Quacks Like a Duck…’ and ‘Duck Soup’ are Black Tom and the Juggernaut, the then-latest iteration of Weapon X, shape-shifter Copycat and a host of disposable yet fashionable cyborg loons with odd names like Commcast and Slayback.

If you can swallow any nausea associated with the dreadful trappings of this low point in Marvel’s tempestuous history, there is a sharp and entertaining little thriller underneath…

The second miniseries (from August to November 1994) revolves around Black Tom and Juggernaut.

Collaboratively contrived by writer Mark Waid, pencillers Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks, Ken Lashley and inkers Jason Minor, Bob McLeod, Bub LaRosa, Tom Wegryzn, Philip Moy & W.C. Carani, ‘If Looks Could Kill!’, ‘Luck of the Irish’, ‘Deadpool, Sandwich’ and ‘Mano a Mano’ offer a hyperkinetic race against time heavy on explosive action.

During the previous yarn it was revealed that Irish arch-villain Black Tom was slowly turning into a tree. Desperate to save his life the bad guy and his best bud Juggernaut manipulate Wade by exploiting the mercenary’s relationship with Siryn (a sonic mutant and Tom’s niece).

Believing Deadpool’s regenerating factor holds a cure, the villains cause a bucket-load of carnage at a time when Wilson is at his lowest ebb. Packed with mutant guest stars, this is a shallow but immensely readable piece of eye-candy.

Closing this debut Classic collection is the first fun-&-fury filled issue of Deadpool by Joe Kelly, Ed McGuiness, Nathan Massengill & Norman Lee. Opting for devious, daring, near-the knuckle comedy to balance the manic action, it is the true beginning of the killer clown we all know and love…

Extra-sized spectacular ‘Hey, It’s Deadpool!’ reintroduces the mouthy malcontent, and depicts his “office” and “co-workers” at the Hellhouse where he picks up his contracts. We are also afforded a glimpse at Wade’s private life in San Francisco where he has a house and keeps an old, blind lady as a permanent hostage. This was never your regular run-of-the-mill hero comic…

The insane action part of the tale comes from the South Pole where the Canadian government has a super-secret gamma weapon project going, guarded by the Alpha Flight strongman Sasquatch. Somebody is paying good money to have it destroyed so cue merc, mouthiness, and mayhem…

Featuring a frenetic blend of light-hearted, surreal, fighting frolics and incisive, poignant relationship drama that is absolutely compulsive reading for dyed-in-the-wool superhero fans who might be feeling just a little jaded with four-colour overload, this is the real deal and promises more and better to come…
© 1993, 1994, 1996, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.