Black Widow: Marvel Team-Up


By Chris Claremont, Tom DeFalco, Marv Wolfman, Roger McKenzie, Bill Mantlo, Priest, Fabian Nicieza, Robert Campanella, Dan Slott, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema, Will Meugniot, Ron Frenz & Greg LaRocque, Rob Liefeld, Larry Alexander & Dwayne Turner & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-3029- (TPB)

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

Marvel Team-Up was the second regular Spider-Man title, launching at the end of 1971. It went from strength to strength, heralding expansion and spawning a second collaborative vehicle in Marvel Two-In-One (with the Fantastic Four’s strong man The Thing), both offering regular venues for uncomplicated action romps in addition to the House of Ideas’ complex sub-plot fare.

However, even in the infinite Marvel Multiverse, certain stars shine more brightly than others and some characters turn up in team-ups more often than others…

In recent years, carefully curated themed collections from the back-catalogue have served to initiate new readers intrigued by Marvel’s Movie and TV endeavours, and this engaging trade paperback/eBook compilation gathers a selection of potent pairings starring superspy The Black Widow, taken from MTIO #10; Marvel Team-Up #57, 82-85, 98, 140-141 and short tales from fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents #53, 70 and 93: collectively spanning July 1975 – January 1992.

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 major female stars. She started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during the early “Commie-busting” days, targeting Tony Stark and battling Iron Man in her debut (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 superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – before finally enlisting as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., setting up as a freelance do-gooder and joining/occasionally leading the Avengers.

Throughout her career she was always 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 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…

Traditionally a minor fan favourite, the Widow only really hit the big time after the Marvel Movie franchise was established, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her print escapades have always offered a cool, sinister frisson of delight.

The multi-player mayhem opens with Marvel Two-In-One #10 by Chris Claremont, Bob Brown & Klaus Janson: a slice of inspired espionage action-intrigue with Ben Grimm joining the Widow’s war against suicidal terrorist Agamemnon who plans to detonate the planet’s biggest nuke at the bottom of the ocean in a blockbuster 007-styled thriller ‘Is This the Way the World Ends?’.

With artists Sal Buscema & Dave Hunt, Claremont continues defining the Widow’s ways in Marvel Team-Up #57 (May 1977) starting a complex extended thriller embroiling Spider-Man in a devious and deadly espionage plot which begins ‘When Slays the Silver Samurai!’ After being saved from a lethal ambush by Natasha and implausibly holding up a collapsing building, Spidey takes reluctant possession of a strange statuette but soon forgets all about it

The scheme comes to fruition in MTU #82 (June 1979) when Claremont, Sal B & Steve Leialoha craft a 4-part, multi-operative conclusion starting with Spider-Man saving Natasha from street thugs. In ‘No Way to Treat a Lady’ the lethal superspy has escaped capture and torture by retreating into a timid, ineffectual cover personality, and the Arachnid must keep “Nancy Rushman” alive until he learns how and why. The job gets even harder after S.H.E.I.L.D.’s Strike Forcecome mercilessly gunning for her…

The first (white) Nick Fury joins the fray in ‘Slaughter on 10th Avenue!’ capturing Nancy before discovering – when Spidey steals her back – that his entire organisation has been taken over by hidden mastermind Viper and her super hench-thugs Silver Samurai and Boomerang

‘Catch a Falling Hero’ (MTU #84) reveals the purpose of that long-forgotten statuette, as Viper targets Washington DC and President Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile Spider-Man and the slowly recovering Nancy infiltrate the compromised flying fortress Helicarrier and Fury calls in British operative Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu for a distracting frontal assault, culminating in all-out war above the Capitol and the closest of close shave conclusions for all concerned in ‘The Woman Who Never Was!’

A far simpler motive reunited the widow and the webspinner when separate cases overlapped in MTU #98 (October 1980, in an untitled tale by Marv Wolfman, Roger McKenzie, Will Meugniot & Bruce Patterson). Here dockside gunrunners and ambitious mobsters draw the heroes into a clash with The Owl, after which we jump to April 1983 and MTU #140 for the first part of a morally trying dilemma posed by Bill Mantlo, Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz & Mike Esposito with ‘Where Were You …When the Lights Went Out?’

A city-wide blackout provokes riots and looting and Spider-Man is on scene when a skeevy pawnshop owner is shot dead. The next day, lawyer Matt Murdock is appointed to defend gangbanger teen Juan Santiago who is indicted for the murder. Press photographer Peter Parker is also in attendance, and both know the kid is not guilty. As Spider-Man resolves to investigate further, Daredevil’s old flame Natasha Romanoff volunteers to fact-find for the overworked attorney. When investigations overlap a street gang are exposed as behind the incident, but the new murder suspect triggers a deadly car chase and hostage situation before being apprehended.

Frustratingly, although responsible for much of the tragedy on that night, he quickly proves to also be innocent of the pawnbrokers’ death…

This yarn takes place at the beginning of Marvel’s Secret Wars event and pauses for Spidey to go to The Beyonder’s Battleworld; fight lots and come back with his all-black Symbiote uniform, so it’s a much-altered Spider-Man who joins Daredevil and the Widow in obtaining ‘Blind Justice’ in #141 (DeFalco, Jim Owsley AKA Priest, Greg LaRoque & Esposito) as the heroes uncover mob connections and a trail to Kingpin Wilson Fisk, the real killer and the true nature of the kid they’ve been defending…

The team-ups conclude with a selection from twice monthly rotating anthology Marvel Comics Presents, starting with ‘Heads I Win, Tails You Lose’: a jurisdictional clash between Natasha and mercenary antihero Silver Sable from #53 (July 1990) by Fabian Nicieza, Rob Liefeld & Bob Wiacek, and continuing with ‘One into Three Won’t Go!’ (#70, February 1991 by Robert Campanella, Larry Alexander, Jack Abel & Al Milgrom) as the Widow and fellow former Champion Darkstar battle the hyper-irradiated Red Guardian when her master The Presence orders her to capture them for his harem.

Their valiant resistance inspires Tania Belinskaya to overthrow her own mental shackles and transform into new hero Starlight before this collection closes with an early outing for superstar scripter Dan Slott & artist Dwayne Turner who end the ultra-espionage alliances with a ‘Split Seconds’ reunion for the Widow and Daredevil from MCP #93, battling Hydra goons and deactivating deadly booby traps in a midtown building.

The book’s bonus section offers original art from Meugniot & Patterson; Frenz & Esposito and cover-art by Ed Hannigan & Klaus Janson, plus data pages of Black Widow and her weapons and gear from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and a painted cover by Al Milgrom.

These stories may vary in quality, but all stem from an honest drive to entertain and most fans will find little to complain about. Although primarily a tome for casual or new readers – who will have a blast – there’s also a ton of nostalgic delights and patented Marvel mayhem to be had by veteran viewers, and surely that’s reason enough to add this titanic tome to your secret stash of great reads…
© 2020 MARVEL

Captain America and the Falcon: The Swine


By Jack Kirby, with Frank Giacoia, Mike Royer, Dan Green, John Verpoorten, John Tartaglione & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2078-0 (TPB)

These days Captain America is as much a global symbol of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave as Uncle Sam or Apple Pie ever were. Add to that this year is his 80th anniversary and you have all the excuses you need to revisit some classics comics…

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss. However, the concept quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased. Fading away during post-war reconstruction only to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed.

Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Land of the Free’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

He quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties, but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually, however, he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, after nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s successes, Jack Kirby had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamically inspiring pantheon. Eventually he accepted that even he could never win against any publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce whilst enduring micro-managing editorial interference.

Well aware of which way the winds were blowing and bolstered by a signed promise of editorial free rein, Kirby exploded back into the Marvel Universe in 1976 with another stunning wave of iconic creations. These included Machine Man, The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur plus media adaptations 2001: A Space Odyssey, and – so nearly – seminal TV paranoia-fest The Prisoner. The King’s return was capped by a regular gig crafting a veritable blizzard of bombastic covers for almost every title in the company, bestowing the Kirby magic on old stalwarts like Thor, Iron Man and the FF, and fresh stars like Skull the Slayer and Nova.

Crucially, Kirby was also granted absolute control of two of his most iconic co-creations: firmly established characters Black Panther and Captain America – to do with as he wished…

His return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial since his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity: Jack always went his own bombastic way. Whilst those new works quickly found many friends, his tenure on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on Cap and the Panther as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of the Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty…

This collection – available in trade paperback and relatively carbon neutral digital formats – reprints Captain America and the Falcon #206-214 plus the third and fourth Captain America Annuals, cumulatively spanning January 1976 to October 1977.

Previously, the original Fighting American had saved the nation from a conclave of aristocratic oligarchs attempting to undo two hundred years of freedom and progress with a debilitating “Madbomb”, before rescuing a lost tribe of lunatics trapped in extra-dimensional space and repelling an invasion by a manic refugee from the future. Now it was time for a radical change of pace and emotional impact…

Inked by Frank Giacoia, Kirby sets a tone of malevolent moodiness and uncanny mystery as the freedom-loving warrior comes ‘Face to Face with the Swine!’ which sees the Star-Spangled Sensation illegally renditioned by secret police to deepest Central America. Here he endures torture and terror to topple the private kingdom and cruel personal playground of psychotic sadist Comandante Hector Santiago, unchallenged monarch of the prison of Rio del Muerte

Never one to go anywhere meekly, Cap soon escapes and engineers the tormentor’s downfall in ‘The Tiger and the Swine!!’, but soon finds the surrounding jungles conceal actual monsters. When they exact primal justice on the petty tyrant and his gang of willing bullies, Cap’s escape with the Swine’s cousin Donna Maria down ‘The River of Death!’ is soon interrupted by the advent of another astounding Kirby Kreation… ‘Arnim Zola… the Bio-Fanatic!!’

The former Nazi geneticist is absolute master of radical biological manipulation: abducting Cap and Donna Maria to his living castle. Even as the Falcon is closing in on his long-missing pal, Zola inflicts upon them a horde of diabolical homunculi: all done at the behest of a mysterious sponsor…

Indomitable against every kind of shapeshifting horror, Captain America battles on, enduring a terrible ‘Showdown Day!’ (Mike W. Royer inking) whilst back home, Rogers’ beloved Sharon Carter uses her resources as SHIELD Agent 13 to investigate wealthy Cyrus Fenton: subsequently exposing ‘Nazi “X”!’ as Zola’s patron and the Sentinel of Liberty’s greatest nemesis…

With his tenure on the title inexorably counting down, Kirby ramped up the tension for #212 as ‘The Face of a Hero! Yours!!’ sees Zola preparing to surgically insert the personality of the Red Skull into Cap’s form, triggering a cataclysmic clash leaving our hero bloodied and blind, but ultimately victorious…

With Cap recuperating in a US hospital, Dan Green steps in to ink #213 as ultimate assassin ‘The Night Flyer!’ targets the impaired warrior on the orders of unfettered capitalist despot Kligger (agent of the ubiquitous, insidious Corporation). With Royer inking, the shocking clash inadvertently restores the far-from-helpless victim’s vision in time for spectacular – if abrupt – conclusion in #214’s ‘The Power’

Filling out this King-Sized Kompilation are a brace of out-of-continuity yarns originally gracing the Annuals for 1976 and 1977, with the Star-Spangled Avenger revelling in the business basics of super-heroism.

With inks from Giacoia and John Verpoorten, Captain America Annual #3 offers a feature-length science fiction shocker eschewing convoluted back-story and cultural soul searching by simply pitting the valiant old soldier against a cosmic vampire: ‘The Thing from the Black Hole Star!’. This is a rollercoaster riot of rampaging action and end-of-the-world wonderment featuring a fallible but fiercely determined fighting man free of doubt determined to defend humanity at all costs…

Captain America Annual #4 (inked by Verpoorten ana John Tartaglione) then brings the fury and furore to a close with‘The Great Mutant Massacre!’: a feature-length super-shocker pitting America’s Super Soldier against humanity’s nemesis Magneto and his utilitarian recruits Burner, Smasher, Lifter, Shocker, Slither and Peeper: a Homo Superior hit-squad aiming to take possession of a potential mutant being whose origins are far stranger than anybody could conceive…

This tome concludes with biographical secrets and career background courtesy of fact-packed prose essay Marvel Spotlight: Jack Kirby – Official Handbook and Matt Adler’s historical appreciation of the early days of Marvel in Simon, Kirby and Captain America.

King Kirby’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read. These late adventures are cruelly overlooked romps as good as anything Jack crafted over his decades of creative brilliance: fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing Fights ‘n’ Tights masterpieces no fan should ignore and, above all else, fabulously fun tales of a true American Dream…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 18


By David Michelinie, Roger Slifer, Steve Gerber, Tom DeFalco, Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter, Scott Edelman, Mark Evanier, John Byrne, George Pérez, Carmine Infantino, Jim Mooney, Don Newton, Michael Netzer, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0960-4 (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. With the team now global icons, let’s look again at the stories which form the foundation of that pre-eminence.

Re-presenting Avengers #178-188, Avengers Annual #8-9, plus Marvel Premier #49 and material from Marvel Tales #100 (cumulatively spanning December 1978 to October 1979), these stories again see the team in transition.

Jim Shooter, having galvanised and steadied the company’s notional flagship, moved on, leaving David Michelinie to impress his own ideas and personality upon the team, but such transitions are always tricky and a few water-treading fill-ins were necessary before progress resumed. For behind the scenes details you can read Michelinie’s fascinating Introduction before diving in to the fabulous action and drama…

After the death and resurrection of the heroes in the previous volume, Korvac’s defeat leads seamlessly into Avengers Annual #8, getting back to business with a monolithic Fights ‘n’ Tights melee in ‘Spectrums of Deceit!’, courtesy of Roger Slifer, George Pérez, Pablo Marcos & Ricardo Villamonte. It sees the sentient power-prism of archvillain Doctor Spectrum systematically possessing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The upshot is another blockbusting battle against the Squadron Sinister and ethically ambivalent Femizon Thundra and another guest shot for mighty Ms. Marvel

A subtle change of pace and tone came in Avengers #178. ‘The Martyr Perplex!’ – by Steve Gerber, Carmine Infantino & Rudy Nebres – sees mutant Hank McCoy/The Beast targeted by master brainwasher The Manipulator in a tense psycho-thriller teeming with shady crooks and government spooks, after which Tom DeFalco, Jim Mooney, Al Gordon & Mike Esposito deliver a 2-part yarn introducing tragic mutant Bloodhawk and an ambitious human hitman in ‘Slowly Slays the Stinger!’

Whilst Stinger cautiously executes his commission, another cohort of champions accompany Bloodhawk to his desolate island home of Maura for a ‘Berserkers’ Holiday’, just in time to battle an animated and agitated stone idol. When they return victorious, Stinger is waiting and the assemblage loses its newest ally forever…

Finally getting back on track, Avengers #181 introduces new regular creative team David Michelinie & John Byrne – augmented by inker Gene Day – as ‘On the Matter of Heroes!’ sees intrusive and obsessive Government Agent Henry Peter Gyrich lay down the law and winnow the army of heroes down to a federally acceptable seven.

As the Guardians of the Galaxy headed back to their future, Iron Man, the Vision, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Beast and Wasp must placate Hawkeye after he is rejected in favour of new member The Falcon – reluctantly parachuted in to conform to government affirmative action quotas…

Almost immediately, Gyrich’s methodically calculated plans are in tatters as an elderly Romani sorcerer attacks. He claims mutants Wanda and Pietro Frank as his long-lost children and traps their souls inside little wooden dolls, and the resultant clash in #182’s ‘Honor Thy Father’ (inked by Klaus Janson) creates even more questions, as overwhelming evidence seems to confirm Django Maximoff’s story. The upshot sees the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver leave with him on a quest for answers…

Michelinie, Byrne, Janson & D(iverse). Hands provide a breathtaking all-action extravaganza in #183-184 as ‘The Redoubtable Return of Crusher Creel!’ finds Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel cleared by Gyrich to replace the Witch…

Elsewhere in the Big Apple, the formidable Absorbing Man has decided to leave the country and quit being thrashed by heroes. Unfortunately, his departure plans include kidnapping a young woman “for company”, leading to a cataclysmic showdown with the heroes and Hawkeye (still determined to win back his place on the team) and resulting in carnage, chaos and a ‘Death on the Hudson!’

Historical continuity addicts Mark Gruenwald & Steven Grant plot #185’s ‘The Yesterday Quest!’ for Michelinie, Byrne & Dan Green to execute as, in America, new robotic ally Jocasta strives to entice the Vision even as his wife and brother-in-law arrive in Balkan Transia. In the shadow of mystic Mount Wundagore Wanda is beguiled by Modred the Mystic, leaving Quicksilver to perish if not for the ministrations of talking humanoid cow Bova.

The wetnurse once employed by the High Evolutionary doesn’t mind, after all she was his mother’s midwife years ago…

‘Nights of Wundagore!’ then unpicks years of mystery with secrets of the mutants’ origins; how she passed them off as the stillborn children of American superhero Bob Frank and offers big hints as to their true father. Wanda meanwhile has lost a magic duel with Modred and is possessed by ancient demon Chthon. Pietro barely survives his clash with her/it, and calls for help, but thanks to more pointless bureaucracy from Gyrich, its hours before the Avengers – missing Iron Man but including Wonder Man – arrive to face the world rending

‘Call of the Mountain Thing!’ Although they ultimately triumph, not every participant makes it out alive…

The way home is just as momentous as #188’s ‘Elementary, Dear Avengers’ (by Bill Mantlo, Byrne, Green & Frank Springer) begins with a side trip to Inhuman City Attilan and news that Quicksilver is about to become a dad, and ends with the team causing an international incident by diverting over Russian airspace. Thankfully, the incident overlaps with a secret Soviet science experiment going badly wrong, compelling the heroes to tackle sentient elements with a taste for death and destruction

Avengers Annual #9 then introduces a lethal secret from the past as Mantlo, Don Newton, Jack Abel & Joe Rubinstein reveal a deadly robotic sleeper locked beneath Avengers Mansion. ‘…Today the Avengers Die!’ reprises Iron Man’s battle against deadly vintage mechanoid Arsenal and reveals that the Howard Stark-built weapon was cached in his old townhouse. Now ‘Something Deadly Lurks Below!’ proves that they should have let sleeping bots lie…

Rounding out the chronologically completist action is a snippet from Marvel Tales #100 (February 1979) and a solo yarn from Marvel Premier #49 (August 1979). The first finds time-displaced Two-Gun Kid and Hawkeye battle Killgrave the Controller in ‘Killers of a Purple Rage!’ by Scott Edelman, Michael Netzer & Terry Austin, after which Mark Evanier, Sal Buscema & Dave Simons craft a try-out mission for The Falcon who faces the sinister ‘Sound of the Silencer’: finding profit not patriotism motivates his string of assassination attempts

Available in hardback and digital iterations, and supplemented by original art from Pérez, Dave Cockrum, Byrne, Gene Day & Green; previous collection covers by Steve Epting & Tom Palmer and letters columns debating the new origins for Pietro and Wanda, this archival tome and this type of heroic adventure might not be to every reader’s taste but these – and the epic yarns that followed – set the tone for decades to come and informed all those movies everybody loves.
© 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man/Iron Man: Marvel Team-Up


By Gerry Conway, Bill Mantlo, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, David Michelinie, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema, Greg LaRocque & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1368-7 (TPB)

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

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

In recent years, carefully curated themed collections from the back-catalogue have served to initiate new readers intrigued by Marvel’s Movie and TV endeavours, and this engaging trade paperback/eBook compilation gathers a selection of pairings co-starring Golden Avenger Iron Man and the wondrous wallcrawler, taken from Marvel Team-Up #9-11; 48-51; 72, 100 and 145: collectively covering May 1973 – September 1984.

It begins with a time-twisting three-part saga that exposes ‘The Tomorrow War!’ (by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru & Frank Bolle) as Iron Man and Spidey are abducted by Zarkko the Tomorrow Man to battle rival chronal creep Kang the Conqueror. The Human Torch got involved to help deal with the intermediate threat of a literal ‘Time Bomb!’ in #10 (with art by Jim Mooney & Frank Giacoia), before the entire Inhuman race led by king Black Bolt pile in to help the webslinger stop history unravelling in culminatory clash ‘The Doomsday Gambit!’ – this last chapter scripted by Len Wein over Conway’s plot for Mooney & Mike Esposito to illustrate.

The steel shod centurion next appeared in MTU #29 beside the Torch, but his next Spider-Man collaboration didn’t happen until #48 and the beginning of a suspenseful extended saga. ‘Enter: The Wraith!’ (Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Esposito) introduces feisty, stylish and fiercely independent Police Captain Jean DeWolff as Spidey and Iron Man struggle to stop a mad bomber using model planes to destroy city landmarks and Stark International properties. As the heroes fruitlessly pursue leads, the enigmatic Wraith turns his attention upon them, proving to be not only connected to Jean but also some kind of psionic metahuman…

With Iron Man again the headline guest-star, issue #49 reveals that ‘Madness is All in the Mind!’ The masked maniac intensifies his irresistible psychic assaults: explosively attacking Manhattan even as the tragic story of Jean’s Police Commissioner dad and murdered cop brother comes out…

However, the connection between them and the unstoppable villain is only exposed after the webslinger and Golden Avenger recruit Master of Mystic Arts Doctor Strange who applies his unique gifts to the problem in #50’s ‘The Mystery of the Wraith!’

The saga concludes with Marvel Team-Up #51 and ‘The Trial of the Wraith!’: a legal drama and character confrontation steered by a most unusual panel of judges whose hidden abilities are not enough to prevent one last assault by the unrepentant renegade…

DeWolff features heavily in the Wraith’s demented revenge plot ‘Crack of the Whip!’ (#72; August 1978 by Mantlo & Mooney) which sees the superheroes battling Maggia stooges and assassin Whiplash whilst MTU #110 (October 1981) pitted Stark-tech and web-shooters against tectonic terror deep under the earth. Herb Trimpe plotted and pencilled breakdowns, with David Micheline scripting and Esposito inking the blistering ‘Magma Force’

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

The book’s bonus section begins with original art from Andru, Mooney, Sal Buscema and inkers Bolle, Giacoia & Esposito plus cover-art from earlier collections courtesy of John Romita Sr., John Byrne, Bob Layton, Jeff Aclin & Al Milgrom.

These stories are admittedly of variable quality, but all stem from an honest drive to entertain and most fans will find little to complain about. Although primarily a tome for casual or new readers – who will have a blast – there’s also a ton of nostalgic delights and patented Marvel mayhem to be had by veteran viewers, and surely that’s reason enough to add this titanic tome to your library…
© 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 7: 1980-1981 – The Fate of the Phoenix


By Chris Claremont & John Byrne, Jo Duffy, Scott Edelman, John Romita Jr., Ken Landgraf, Brent Anderson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2253-5 (TPB)

In autumn 1963, The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: unique students of Professor Charles Xavier. Their 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 almost 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 as in the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genres dominated the world’s entertainment fields. The title returned at year’s end as a reprint vehicle, and the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe. The Beast was refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories.

Everything changed in 1975 when Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique with a brand-new team in Giant Size X-Men #1. To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire were added one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine, and new 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 groomed into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

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

After Thunderbird became the team’s first fatality, the survivors slowly bonded, becoming an infallible fighting unit under the brusque and draconian supervision of Cyclops. Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster changed the series rose to even greater heights.

This comprehensive compilation (available in 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 absolute peak of Claremont & Byrne’s collaborative synergy (with regular inker Terry Austin very much a part of the magical experience) as the mutants confirmed their unstoppable march to market dominance through groundbreaking, high-quality stories: specifically issues #129-143 of the decidedly “All-New, All-Different” – (latterly re-renamed “Uncanny”) X-Men; Annual #4, vignettes from Marvel Treasury Edition #26-27 and material from Marvel Team-Up #100, spanning January 1980 to March 1981. Also included are chronologically askew additional treats from Phoenix: The Untold Story #1 (April 1984).

Having saved Edinburgh and perhaps the world from reality-warping Proteus, Uncanny X-Men #129 sees another happy reunion as the heroes (all but the now retired Banshee) find Charles Xavier awaiting them when they reach their Westchester home in ‘God Spare the Child…’.

Thanks to sinister psionic predator Jason Wyngarde, 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 training 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 murder and conquest. 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 almighty 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 now falls through floors and walks through walls…

However, no sooner does the Professor offer to admit enrol her in 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 Homo Superior neophyte debuts in #130 as Cyclops, Phoenix and Nightcrawler head to Manhattan’s club district, tracking a disco singer dubbed ‘Dazzler’. They are unaware that they too have been targeted for capture…

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

The war with the plutocratic Hellfire Club resumes in #132 as ‘And Hellfire is their Name!’ brings The Angel back into the fold. Their foes are in actuality a centuries-old association of the world’s most powerful and wealthy individuals, and Warren Worthington’s family have been members in good standing for generations. What better way of infiltrating the organisation than with someone already deep on the ultra-privileged inside?

As Wolverine and Nightcrawler scurry through sewers beneath the society’s palatial New York mansion, Warren inveigles the others in through the grand front doors, attending the year’s swankiest soiree whilst he and the Professor await events…

It’s a bold but pointless move. Although the rank and file are simply spoiled rich folk, there is an Inner Circle led by mutant supremo Sebastian Shaw comprising some of Earth’s most dangerous men and women who have been waiting and watching for the mutants-in-mufti’s countermove…

As soon as the heroes are inside, Wyngarde strikes, pushing Jean Grey until she retreats into to a manufactured persona he has woven over months to awaken her darkest desires. With the Phoenix’s overwhelming power added to the Inner Circle’s might, former friends quickly fall before the attack of super-strong Shaw and cyborg human Donald Pierce. Even Wolverine is beaten, smashed through the floor to his doom by mass-manipulating mutant Harry Leland

As the Inner Circle gloat, Cyclops – connected to Jean by a psionic rapport – sees the world through his lover’s corrupted, beguiled eyes and despairs. However, when Wyngarde – exposed as illusion caster Mastermind – apparently stabs Cyclops, the effect on “his” Black Queen is far from anticipated…

Far below their feet, a body stirs. Battered but unbowed, ‘Wolverine: Alone!’ begins to work his ruthless, relentless way through the Club’s hired minions. His explosive entrance in #134’s ‘Too Late, the Heroes!’ gives the captive heroes a chance to break free and strike back, soundly thrashing the Hellfire blackguards. Sadly for Mastermind, not all his tampering has been expunged, and when Jean catches him, his fate is ghastly beyond imagining…

As the mutants make their escape the situation escalates to crisis level. Months of mind-manipulation finally unleash all Jean’s most selfish, self-serving desires and she shatteringly transforms into ‘Dark Phoenix’

Manifested as a god without qualm or conscience, Jean attacks her comrades before vanishing into space. In a distant system, and feeling depleted, she casually consumes the local sun, indifferent to the entire civilisation that dies upon the planet circling it. Passing the D’Bari system is a vast and powerful ship of the Shi’ar fleet. Rushing to aid the already extinct world, they are merely a postprandial palate cleanser for the voracious Phoenix…

Uncanny X-Men #136 opens with horrified Shi’ar Empress Lilandra mobilising her entire military machine and heading for Earth, determined to end the threat of the ‘Child of Light and Darkness!’ On that beleaguered world, Cyclops has called on the Beast to build a psychic scrambler to disrupt Jean’s immeasurable psionic might, but when she cataclysmically reappears to trounce the team, the device burns out in seconds.

Jean’s gentler persona erratically appears, begging her friends to kill her before she loses control, but Dark Phoenix is close to destroying Earth before – in a cataclysmic psychic duel – Xavier shuts down her powers and establishes mental circuit breakers to prevent her ever going rogue again. With Jean left as little more than mind-maimed human, the exhausted heroes suddenly vanish in a flash of light…

The epic concludes in X-Men #137 as the outraged and terrified Shi’ar arrive in orbit to settle ‘The Fate of the Phoenix!’ With observers from the Kree and Skrull empires in attendance, Lilandra has come to exact justice and prevent the Phoenix from ever rising again. She is not prepared to accept her fiancé Charles Xavier’s word that the threat is already ended…

Summary execution is only avoided when Xavier invokes an ancient rite compelling Lilandra to instigate trial-by-combat. Relocating to the enigmatic Blue Area of the Moon (with its artificial pocket of breathable atmosphere) the mutants engage in all-out war with a brigade of cosmic champions – the Shi’ar Imperial Guard (an in-joke version of DC’s Legion of Super Heroes). However, despite their greatest efforts, the mutants are pushed to the brink of defeat.

With collapse imminent and her friends doomed, Jean’s psychic shackles slip and the Phoenix breaks free. Horrified at what will inevitably happen, Jean allows herself to be killed to save the universe…

Days later on Earth, the X-Men mourn her passing in #138’s ‘Elegy’ as Cyclops recalls his life with the valiant woman he loved so deeply – and we get a comprehensive recap of the mutant team’s career to date. Heartbroken, the quintessential X-Man resigns just as Kitty Pryde moves in…

Breaking from the monthly run, X-Men Annual #4 then describes ‘Nightcrawler’s Inferno!’ (by Claremont, John Romita Jr.& Bob McLeod) with Doctor Strange called in after Kurt Wagner is targeted by a demonic Lord of Limbo and uncovers a secret family connection to uber-witch Margali Szardos

A new day dawns in issue #139’s ‘…Something Wicked This Way Comes!’ as the Angel returns just in time to see Nightcrawler join Wolverine in heading north for a reconciliation with the Canadian’s previous team, Alpha Flight. The visit turns into a hunt for carnivorous magical monster Wendigo, culminating in a brutal battle and an increasingly rare clean win in #140’s concluding chapter ‘Rage!’

An evocative and extended subplot opens which would dictate the shape of mutant history for years to come follows as ‘Days of Future Past’ depicts an imminently approaching dystopian apocalypse wherein almost all mutants, paranormals and superheroes have been eradicated by Federally-controlled Sentinel robots. These mechanoids rule over a shattered world on the edge of utter annihilation. New York is a charnel pit with most surviving superhumans kept in concentration camps and only a precious few free to fight a losing war of resistance.

In this dark tomorrow, aging Katherine Pryde is the lynchpin of a desperate plan to unmake history. With the aid of telepath named Rachel (eventually to escape that time-line and become a new Phoenix), Pryde swaps consciousness with her younger self in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the pivotal event which created the bleak existence where all her remaining friends and comrades are being pitilessly exterminated, one by resolute one…

‘Mind Out of Time’ sees the mature Pryde in our era, inhabiting her own 13-year-old body and leading disbelieving team-mates on a frantic mission to foil the assassination of US senator David Kelly on prime-time TV by a sinister new iteration of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – super-terrorists determined to make a very public example of the human politician attacking the cause of Mutant Rights…

Rocket-paced, action-packed, spectacularly multi-layered, bitterly tragic and agonisingly inconclusive – as all such time-travel tales should be – this cunning, compact yarn is one of the best individual tales of the Claremont/Byrne era, resetting the mood, tone and agenda for all the following decades of mutant mayhem…

With the timeline restored and tragedy averted, things slow down at the X-Mansion, but in the real world, John Byrne had left for pastures new. His swan song in #143 is a bombastic romp which finds lonely, homesick Kitty home alone at Christmas… except for a lone N’garai ‘Demon’ determined to eat her. Her solo trial decimates the X-Men citadel and proves once and for all that she has what it takes…

An era might have ended but mutant life goes on, as seen here in a brace of short stories taken from tabloids Marvel Treasury Edition #26 and 27.

The first is a light-hearted clash between off-duty, grouchy Logan and fun-loving, girl-chasing godling Hercules inadvertently gracing the same bar ‘At the Sign of the Lion’ (by Mary Jo Duffy, Ken Landgraf and a young George Pérez), proving exactly why most pubs reserve the right to refuse admission…

It’s accompanied by The Avenging Angel taking a ‘Joyride into Jeopardy’ courtesy of Scott Edelman, Brent Anderson & Bob McLeod before being attacked by a vengeance-crazed killer seeking payback for the sins of his father…

An intriguing safari into the unknown comes next: the untold story of how Storm and Black Panther T’Challa first met as kids in the wilds of Africa. By Claremont, Byrne & McLeod, it originated as a back-up in Marvel Team-Up #100, cunningly revealing how the kids enjoyed an idyllic time on the veldt (reminiscent of Henry De Vere Stacpoole’s 1908 novel The Blue Lagoon) until a South African commando team tried to kidnap the Wakandan prince for a bargaining chip.

Now, as adults in America they are hunted by the vicious Afrikaner Andreas de Ruyter who has returned, seeking to assassinate Ororo before exacting final revenge upon the Black Panther. Cue long-delayed lover’s reunion and team-raid on an automated House of Horrors…

Wrapping up the mutant mayhem are a selection of snippets retroactively crafted for this period of X-history. The first is a marketing oddity of the period. Phoenix: The Untold Story was released in 1984 and reprinted X-Men #137… mostly…

By all accounts, that epic conclusion was originally completed with a different ending and Jean Grey surviving the battle against the Shi’ar. That was before then Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter overruled the outcome, decreeing she should die for her sins. You can judge the merits of the decision for yourself from the alternate version delivered here.

Also included are Jim Salicrup’s editorial ‘She’s Dead, Jim!’: ‘The Dark Phoenix Tapes – a candid conversation between Byrne, Shooter and Claremont’ on the contentious issue.

More extras include a wealth of original art pages, unseen pencils, house ads, pin-ups, lost and spoof covers; character sketches; the pertinent entry from 1981’s Marvel Comics 20th Anniversary Calendar and images from Marvel Super Hero Portfolio: The Uncanny X-Men with 4 original Byrne drawings remastered by painters Steve Fastner & Rich Larson and monochrome plates from Éditions Déese 1993 World’s Finest Comic Book Artists Portfolio by John Byrne. There’s also a gallery of X-Men collection covers by Byrne, Salvador Larroca, Bill Sienkiewicz and others.

For many fans these tales comprise the definitive X-Men. Rightly ranking amongst some of the greatest stories Marvel ever published, they remain thrilling, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating: an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 2021 MARVEL

Black Panther Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Peter B. Gillis, Don McGregorGene Colan, Denys Cowan, Tom Palmer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2869-8 (HB)

Lauded 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 the 1960s when he first attacked the FF (in Fantastic Four #52; cover-dated July 1966) as part of an elaborate plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father. Happy 55thAnniversary, guys!

T’Challa, son of T’Chaka was revealed as an African monarch whose hidden kingdom was the only source of a vibration-absorbing alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth was founded. Those mineral riches – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in primeval antiquity – had powered his country’s transformation into a technological wonderland. That tribal wealth had long been guarded by a hereditary feline-garbed champion deriving physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb that ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s warrior Panther Cult.

Peter Gillis’ Introduction ‘Travels with T’Challa’ details the long journey to publication for the original deeply-politicised anti-apartheid yarn and is followed by ‘To Follow the track of The Great Cat with renewed wonder on his Panther’s Quest (From “Panther’s Rage” to “Panther’s Prey”)’: a typically effulgent and informative Introduction from venerable author McGregor detailing his own lengthy association with “The Great Cat” and the landmark saga re-presented here…

Collected in this sterling hardback and digital collection is a much-delayed miniseries conceived and mostly crafted in 1984 but only completed and released between July to October 1988, as well as the astounding serial from fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents # 13-37 running (February to December 1989).

As the 1980s closed, the Panther made a dynamic comeback after years of absence and occasional cameos, 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 – Wakanda developed uninterrupted into the most technologically advanced human nation on Earth, utterly unmolested by rapacious European imperialism. That did not mean, however, geographical neighbours were allies, …

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

Deprived of his feline blessings 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 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…

That notion was confirmed mere months later when new fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents offered a long-clamoured-for thematic sequel to a legendary epic. Lyrical intellectual Don McGregor immortalised T’Challa in a stunning 1970s periodical run which generated the revered Panther’s Rage saga and controversial Panther vs the Klan storyline. After years away from mainstream comics, crafting groundbreaking graphic novels such as Sabre: Slow Fade of an Endangered Species and Detectives Inc. and series such as Ragamuffins and Nathaniel Dusk, he was lured back to his roots to spin a shocking tale of contemporary intolerance and the end-days of Apartheid…

He was joined by a deeply sympatico, semi-regular collaborator whose credentials in crafting human-scaled tales of adventure, horror and empathetic emotional drama were second to none. He was also one the industry’s earliest exponents of strong black characters…

Eugene Jules “Gene” Colan (September 1st 1926 – June 23rd 2011) was one of comics’ greatest talents: a quietly professional artist who valued accuracy and authenticity in his work, whether science fiction, horror, war, satirical humour or the vast number of superheroes he brought to life.

A devotee of classic adventure strips, Colan studied at the Art Students League of New York, before beginning his own career in 1944 (on Wings Comics) before military service in the Philippines. The war had just ended and Colan had time to draw for local paper The Manilla Times.

By 1946 he was a civilian again, and working under Stan Lee for Atlas on supernatural, crime and other genre stories. He illustrated the last Golden Age Captain America (Captain America’s Weird Tales #75; February 1950), an all-horror issue sans any superhero material at all. It was like a sign…

As the industry radically transformed, he began freelancing at DC/National Comics whilst remaining an Atlas mainstay. His assignments increasingly focused on new genres: War and Romance.

As Superhero stories returned, he moved exclusively to Marvel (except for a range of monochrome horror stories done for Archie Goodwin at Warren Magazines), where his dynamic realism offered a powerful alternative to the graphic stylisations of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita and Don Heck.

Colan became renowned for Daredevil (where he created blind black detective Willie Lincoln), Captain America, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Avengers, Sub-Mariner and Howard the Duck. During this period, he co-created Guardians of the Galaxy, two Captain Marvels (Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers), drew all of Tomb of Dracula – thereby introducing Blade the Vampire Slayer to the world – and was responsible for another black comic book icon (and the nation’s first African American costumed hero), The Falcon.

In the 1980s he returned to DC, working on Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and The Spectre, co-creating Night Force, Silverblade, Jemm, Son of Saturn and period private eye Nathanial Dusk before graduating into independent comics at the forefront of innovation that marked the rise of the Direct Sales Market.

His later career was blighted by health issues, but he continued drawing whenever he could, for many companies. On one of his periodic returns to Marvel he reunited with McGregor for this astounding tale: serialised in in 25 fortnightly chapters in MCP #13-37 (February to December1989).

One of the most thought-provoking mainstream comics tales ever created, Panther’s Quest added pressure to the ever-growing Anti-Apartheid movement in comics and western media, by examining not only the condition of racial inequality but also turning a damning eye on sexual oppression. Whether in his numerous solo series or as part of super-teams such as The Avengers, Fantastic Four or The Ultimates, Black Panther has always been one of Marvel’s most politically strident and socially-crusading characters.

Inked in its entirety by perfect partner Tom Palmer, it begins on a dark night as the Panther infiltrates neighbouring totalitarian South Africa where a white minority oppresses the millions of blacks who live there. T’Challa has heard ‘A Rumour of Life’ and come seeking his stepmother Ramonda. His father’s second wife had raised the bereaved boy when T’Challa’s birth mother died, but one day when he was only three, she vanished and no one would speak of her. Now, he’s invaded the most dangerous land on Earth – for his kind – in search of answers from unscrupulous information peddler Patrick Slade

‘Forgotten Corpses’ observes that clandestine meeting savagely interrupted by white paramilitaries seeking to kill them – but without alerting police or security services…

McGregor has always a fascination with the real effects and consequences of violence, and this tale contains some pretty shocking moments that will make many readers wince. Suffice it to say I’m staying vague throughout this review, but will say that vicious brute Elmer Gore graphically tortures the Panther with barbed wire in ‘Lost Blood in Copper Dust’, leading to the maimed hero staggering into the arms of ‘The Man Who Loved Sunrise’.

Narrative voice of the ordinary man Zanti Chikane is a black miner and second-class citizen crushed by his intolerable life, but he stifles his understandable caution to offer assistance to torn, bleeding T’Challa. That leads to his own brush with death as white killers employ what they consider ‘Reasonable Force’ against the suspects, before being trounced by the still-fighting cat-man…

The scene changes with ‘Naked Exposures’ as government Magistrate of Communications Anton Pretorius orders his well-pummelled, furious minions to capture invading masked terrorist Black Panther. The invader is a threat to national security but the mercenaries need no other reasons to kill the treacherous “kaffir”. Just to be sure, though, Pretorius also uses his position to send out a nationwide TV alert…

‘Battered Artifacts’ finds T’Challa tracking Slade to an impoverished township, unaware that he’s under surveillance and about to step into the other side of the deadly politics that wracked South Africa at this time. ‘Hatred under Tears’ sees the mercenaries attack, uncaring of the small children they are endangering. As the Great Cat stops to aid a tear-gassed toddler, ‘Justifiable Action’ sees him shot for his efforts and arrested in ‘Personal Risk’ before breaking free and escaping…

‘The Official Version’ gives T’Challa a lesson in realpolitik from Slade’s wife, even as the State intensifies its hunt for him, with Security Minister Doeke Riebeek officially branding the entire emergency a communist plot…

In the township ‘Voices Heard, Voices Ignored’ finds Zanti pondering the terrifying dangers to his family before returning to aid the Panther, whilst ‘A Right to Kill’ shows Riebeek beginning to suspect Pretorius’ motives. Meanwhile, the enraged township men move against a suspected traitor determined ‘Somebody’s Going to Pay’. They’re carrying petrol and tyres needed for the appalling punishment they call “necklacing”. Do not google it or buy this book if you have a weak stomach…

When the Panther acts to save a life, he is horribly burned but events escalate to total tragedy as ‘Last Night I Wept for Freedom’ shows how the boy he helped returns the favour and pays the ultimate price, despite his own superhuman efforts and the initially-reluctant intervention of a white doctor in ‘Lost Promises’

Traumatised and repentant, T’Challa returns to Slade whose ‘Dark Maneuvers’ lead them into a trap laid by Pretorius’ mercenaries in ‘So Many Nameless Enemies’. The battle is brief but provides a crucial clue in the true quest, as the trader reveals how, years ago, he learned of a black woman held in glittering bondage for decades in the home of a high-ranking government official…

‘Chances’ see Riebeek’s forces closing in as T’Challa follows his fresh clue to Johannesburg, confronting one merc in ‘The Great Cat in the City of Gold’. Now focused on Pretorius, the Panther and Zanti attempt to save his precious stealth-ship from being taken by Riebeek in ‘Losing Control’… but at a terrible cost…

After ‘Saying Goodbye’, the quest moves into its endgame as T’Challa assaults Pretorius’ luxurious citadel, circumventing deadly ‘Barriers’; crushing human and canine ‘Opponents’ (still more grimly authentic action in need of a strong stomach advisory…) to ultimately rescue Ramonda from the luxurious cell she has inhabited ever since Pretorius abducted her decades ago.

The tyrannical hypocrite’s obsessive, abusive passion for her was also his downfall: a secret capable of destroying him in a nation and government that decreed interracial mixing immoral, unnatural and illegal. Ultimately, it’s Ramonda who decrees his fate whilst enjoying a ‘Dawn Reunion’ with her long-lost child…

The edgily barbed political fantasy is augmented by a full cover gallery, pages and maps of Wakanda fromThe Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, featuring T’Challa, Central Wakanda, Klaw, Klaw’s Blaster and Kiber the Cruel. There are also text features from Marvel Age #20 and #63 covering the Gillis/Cowan revival, plus pinups from Steve Rude (Marvel Fanfare #45) and Bill Reinhold (Marvel Fanfare #41), and the cover of Panther’s Quest 2017 collection it was eventually adapted for …

An explosive rocket ride of thrills, spills, chills, delayed gratification, and potent commentary, 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!” You should, and you must…
© 2021 MARVEL

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 12


By Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber, Don Glut, Roger McKenzie, Scott Edelman, David Anthony Kraft, Peter B. Gillis, Roger Stern, David Michelinie, Sal Buscema, George Tuska, Dave Cockrum, John Buscema, Bob Budiansky, Steve Leialoha, Mike Zeck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2210-8 (HB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of ferocious patriotic fervour and carefully-manipulated idealism, Captain America was a dynamic and exceedingly bombastic response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss.

He quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased: fading during post-war reconstruction to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Land of the Free’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

The old-world hero quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties, but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually however he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, after nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s triumphs, Jack Kirby had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamics pantheon before accepting that even he could never win against any publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce whilst enduring micro-managing editorial interference.

His eventual return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial as his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity and went explosively his own way. Whilst his new works quickly found many friends, his tenures on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base. Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on Cap and the Panther as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of Captain America, and you can judge his endeavours in other collections.

This collection – available in hardback and digital editions – features a return to house continuity: abruptly returning the patriotic paragon fully to Marvel’s restrictively overarching, interlinked continuity. Gathered within are Captain America #215-230 (cover-dated November 1977 to February 1979), plus a bonus crossover tale from Incredible Hulk #232, preceded by an informative Introduction by Don Glut, one of many who sought to fill the King’s boots in the months following his departure.

When Kirby moved on it left a desperate gap in the schedules. Captain America #215 saw Roy Thomas, George Tuska & Pablo Marcos respond by revisiting the hallowed origin story for the latest generation with ‘The Way it Really Was!’: reiterating simultaneously the history of the heroes who had inherited the red, white & blue uniform whilst Steve Rogerswas entombed in ice and ending with our hero desperately wondering who the man beneath his mask might truly be…

For all that, #216 was a deadline-filling reprint of November 1963’s Strange Tales #114, represented here by Gil Kane’s cover and a framing sequence from Thomas, Dave Cockrum & Frank Giacoia.

Thomas, Glut, John Buscema & Marcos actually began ‘The Search for Steve Rogers!’ in #217, with S.H.I.EL.D.’s record division, where the Falcon is distracted by a surprising job offer. Nick Fury, busy with the hunt for capitalist cabal The Corporation, asks Cap’s partner to supervise the agency’s newest project: the SHIELD Super-Agents

These wonders-in-training consist of Texas Twister, Blue Streak, The Vamp and a rather mature-seeming Marvel Boy, but the squad are already deeply flawed and fatally compromised…

Issue #218 sees Cap targeted by a Corporation agent: fed data which bends his legendarily-fragmented memory back to his thawing from the ice. Heading north to retrace his original journey, Cap spends ‘One Day in Newfoundland!’ (Glut, Sal Buscema & John Tartaglione), uncovering a secret army, an unremembered old foe and a colossal robotic facsimile of himself…

In #219, ‘The Adventures of Captain America’ (Glut, Sal B & Joe Sinnott) reveals how, during WWII, Cap and junior partner Bucky were ordered to investigate skulduggery on the set of a movie serial about them and exposed special effects wizard Lyle Dekker as a highly-placed Nazi spy.

Now in modern-day Newfoundland, that warped genius has built a clandestine organisation with one incredible purpose: revealed in ‘The Ameridroid Lives!’ (inked by Tartaglione & Mike Esposito) as the captive crusader is mind-probed and dredges up shocking submerged memories.

In 1945, when he and Bucky were chasing a swiftly-launched secret weapon, the boy (apparently) died and Rogers fell into the North Atlantic: frozen in a block of ice until found and thawed by the Avengers. At least, he always thought that’s how it happened…

Now as the probe does its devilish work, Captain America finds that he was in fact picked up by Dekker after the spy was punished by the Red Skull and exiled for his failures. Deciding to work only for his own interests, Dekker then attempted to transfer Cap’s power to himself and it was only in escaping the original Newfoundland base that Rogers crashed into the sea and froze…

In the Now, the vile scheme is finally accomplished: Cap’s energies are replicated in a 15-foot-tall super-android with aging Dekker’s consciousness permanently embedded in its metal and plastic brain.

…And only then does the fanatic realise he’s made himself into a monster at once unique, solitary and utterly apart from humanity…

The deadline problems still hadn’t eased and this episode is chopped in half with the remainder of the issue affording Falcon a short solo outing as ‘…On a Wing and a Prayer!’ by Scott Edelman, Bob Budiansky & Al Gordon finds the Pinioned Paladin hunting a mad archer who has kidnapped his avian ally Redwing

The remainder of the Ameridroid saga appears in #221 as Steve Gerber and David Kraft co-script ‘Cul-De-Sac!’, wherein the marauding mechanoid is finally foiled – by reason not force of arms – whilst ‘The Coming of Captain Avenger!’(Edelman, Steve Leialoha & Gordon) provides another space-filling vignette with former sidekick Rick Jones given a tantalising glimpse of his most cherished dreams…

Captain America #222 sees Gerber fully in the writer’s seat as ‘Monumental Menace!’ (Sal B, Tartaglione & Esposito) relocates “The Search for Steve Rogers” storyline to Washington DC. As our hero examines army records at the Pentagon, the Corporation’s attempts to destroy him become more pronounced and bizarre. After escaping an animated, homicidal Volkswagen, Steven Grant Rogers learns at last that he was born the son of a diplomat and lost a brother at Pearl Harbor (all these revelations were later rather ingeniously retconned out so don’t worry about spoilers).

However, contemporary events spiral and Liberty’s Sentinel is attacked by the Lincoln Memorial, sacrilegiously brought to lethal life…

The madness continues as the hulking, monstrous horror responsible screams ‘Call Me Animus’ before unleashing a succession of blistering assaults resulting in hundreds of collateral casualties before being finally repulsed…

The epic is again interrupted as Peter Gillis, Mike Zeck, Esposito & Tartaglione contrive a thrilling mystery with a battered, partially amnesiac Cap awakening in a river with a new face. Investigating what happened, the sinister trail leads Cap to guest-villains Senor Suerte and Tarantula in ‘Saturday Night Furor!’

The Search for Identity saga resumes in #225 with ‘Devastation!’ (Gerber, Sal Buscema, Esposito & Tartaglione) as Fury gives Captain America access to incarcerated mind-master Mason Harding (inventor of the “Madbomb”, as seen in previous collections), who uses his embargoed technology to unlock the Avenger’s closed memories at long last…

Sadly, the cathartic shock has terrifying repercussions. Although Rogers regains many memories, the machines somehow denature the Super-Soldier serum in his blood and he is forced to ask ‘Am I Still Captain America?’ when his perfect warrior’s frame reverts to the frail, sickly mess it used to be.

New scripter Roger McKenzie begins his superb run of tales – with Sal B, Esposito & Tartaglione still illustrating – as SHIELD puts all its resources into restoring the One-Man Army before being suddenly brought low by an invasion of body-snatching Red Skulls.

Back in fighting trim, the incursion is rapidly repelled by the resurgent Patriotic Paragon in ‘This Deadly Gauntlet!’ but the aftermath sees the too-often compromised Peacekeeping agency mothball many of its facilities. During the closure and destruction of the Manhattan branch, Cap is ambushed by The Constrictor in #228’s ‘A Serpent Lurks Below’, but subsequently provides the first real lead on the Corporation…

The trail leads back to Falcon and the Super Agents, and with ‘Traitors All About Me!’, Cap exposes the rotten apples working for elusive boss Kligger – and another enemy force – leading to an ‘Assault on Alcatraz!’ (McKenzie, Roger Stern, Sal B & Don Perlin) to rescue hostage friends and end the Corporation’s depredations in Captain America #230…

While this slowly-unfolding epic was entertaining readers here, fans of The Hulk were reading of equally shady shenanigans in his title (and Kirby’s Machine Man) where the Corporation’s West Coast Chief Curtiss Jackson was ruthlessly enacting his own perfidious plans. This volume concludes in a crossover conclusion from Incredible Hulk #232 as parallel plotlines converge into bombastic action-extravaganza ‘The Battle Below’ by Stern, David Michelinie, Buscema & Esposito…

Also displaying house ads, original art pages, covers and sketches, these are thoughtful yet fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing fights ‘n’ tights masterpieces no fan should ignore and above all else, more fabulously fun tales of a true American Dream in his anniversary year…
© 2011 MARVEL

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 16


By Roy Thomas, Bill Mantlo, George Pérez, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785188452 (HB)

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

With Lee & Kirby long gone but with their mark very much still stamped onto every page of the still-prestigious title, this full-colour compendium – available in hardcover and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #164-175, Fantastic Four Annual #11 and a crossover epic from the first Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1 and #20 of the monthly MTIO: cumulatively spanning November 1975 to October 1976.

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.

Following another effusively fact-filled Introduction from writer/editor Roy Thomas, a new direction begins with #164 (part one of a reconditioned yarn originally intended for Giant-Size Fantastic Four), courtesy of Thomas and neophyte illustrator George Pérez, backed up by veteran inker Joe Sinnott. ‘The Crusader Syndrome!’ finds the team battling a veteran superhero gone bad since his last outing as Atlas-Era champion Marvel Boy.

The Crusader wages savage war on the financial institutions whose self-serving inaction doomed his adopted Uranian race in the 1950s. However, his madness and savagery are no match for the FF and ‘The Light of Other Worlds!’ sees his apparent demise. It also sparks many successful additions to Marvel Continuity, such as new hero Quasar, the 1950s Avengers and Agents of Atlas whilst introducing Galactus’ herald-in-waiting Frankie Raye as Johnny’s new girlfriend …

Vince Colletta inks #166 as ‘If It’s Tuesday, This Must be the Hulk!’ sees the team hunting the Gamma Goliath with a potential cure for Bruce Banner. Sadly, military treatment of their target enrages fellow-monster Ben Grimm who unites with the Hulk to menace St. Louis, Missouri as ‘Titans Two!’ (with Sinnott back on inks).

Constantly bathed in Gamma radiation, Ben is permanently reduced to human form and, as Rich Buckler pencils #168’s ‘Where Have All the Powers Gone?’, Reed is forced to replace him with Hero for Hire Luke Cage. The former Thing has his greatest dream realised at last, but happiness still eludes him and events take a worse turn in #169 as ‘Five Characters in Search of a Madman!’ sees Cage attack his new teammates thanks to the machinations of a veteran FF foe…

Pérez and Sinnott reunite for concluding chapter ‘A Sky-Full of Fear!’ as Ben returns to his team and spectacularly saves the day wearing a Thing exoskeleton suit built by Reed. The original and genuine is back at last (sort of), but there’s no time to pause for applause…

The yarn segues directly into Fantastic Four Annual #11 which features time-travel saga ‘And Now… Then… the Invaders! by Thomas, John Buscema & Sam Grainger, wherein Marvel’s First Family flash back to 1942 to retrieve a cylinder of miracle-metal Vibranium. When it somehow fell into Nazi hands it had started unwriting history as a consequence…

On arrival, the FF are attacked by WWII super-team The Invaders – comprising early incarnations of Captain America, Sub-Mariner and the original, android Human Torch. The time-busting task goes better once all the heroes finally unite to assault a Nazi castle where the Vibranium is held, but after the quartet return to their own repaired era, Ben realises the mission isn’t over yet…

Thanks to Uatu the Watcher, the action continues in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1 as – with the present unravelling around him – Ben blasts back to 1942. ‘Their Name is Legion!’ (Thomas, Sal Buscema, Grainger, John Tartaglione & George Roussos) finds him linking up with Home Front Heroes the Liberty Legion (collectively The Patriot, Thin Man, Red Raven, Jack Frost, Blue Diamond, Miss America and The Whizzer) to thwart Nazis Skyshark and Master Man, Japanese agent Slicer and Atlantean turncoat U-Man’s invasion of America.

The battle proves so big, it spills over and concludes in Marvel Two-In-One #20 (October 1976): a shattering ‘Showdown at Sea!’ pitting the myriad heroes against diabolical Nazi boffin Brain Drain, courtesy this time of Thomas, Sal B & Grainger.

Cover-dated June, Fantastic Four #171 reveals ‘Death is a Golden Gorilla!’ (Thomas, Pérez, Buckler & Sinnott) as a giant alien anthropoid rampages through Manhattan until corralled by the FF. Calmed and physically reduced to standard gorilla proportions, the talking ape delivers a desperate plea for help from the High Evolutionary

Bill Mantlo scripts Thomas’ plot and Pérez & Sinnott excel themselves as ‘Cry, the Bedeviled Planet!’ sees the heroes head for the other side of the Sun to save Counter-Earth from certain annihilation only to meet their nemesis in the depths of space…

Thomas writes and John Buscema steps in as penciller with #173’s ‘Counter-Earth Must Die… At the Hands of Galactus!’ Inexplicably, the world-devourer debates minor deity High Evolutionary: offering hope to his intended repast before despatching the heroes across the universe in search of a planet that will voluntarily sacrifice itself for Counter-Earth…

‘Starquest!’ (Thomas, Buscema & Sinnott) follows each unsavoury search to its logical conclusion, but as the Evolutionary abandons rhetoric for cosmic combat in a desperate delaying tactic, Sue Richards accidentally locates a civilisation willing to make the ultimate gesture…

Returned and augmenting the Evolutionary, a reunited FF attack Galactus ‘When Giants Walk the Sky!’ (drawn & inked by JB), with the Devourer delivering a cruel delayed punishment to Ben before consuming the planetary substitute and realising he has been tricked in a bizarre and wry conclusion that only adds fresh complications to the First Family of the Marvel Universes…

To Be Continued…

This power-packed package also includes the covers (by freshly returned Jack Kirby) and all-new material from The Fabulous Fantastic Four Marvel Treasury Edition #11; house ads and cover and splash page by Dave Cockrum & Sinnott from November 1977’s Marvel Super Action #4 which reprinted Marvel Boy stories from the early 1950s.

Although the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” never quite returned to the stratospheric heights of the Kirby era, this later collection offers a tantalising taste-echo of those glory days. These extremely capable efforts are probably most welcome to dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but can still thrill and enthral the generous and forgiving casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 1975, 1976, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America – Two Americas


By Ed Brubaker, Luke Ross, Butch Guice, Rick Magyar, Dean White & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4510-3 (HB) 978-0-7851-4511-0 (TPB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, the Star-Spangled Avenger debuted in his own title in an era of anthology publishing. Cover-dated March 1941, Captain America Comics #1 was a shattering success. The Sentinel of Liberty was the absolute and undisputed star of Timely (now Marvel) Comics’ “Big Three” (the other two being the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner). He was also in the first rank to fade as the war changed tastes and the Golden Age closed.

When the Korean War and Communist aggression dominated America’s collective psyche in the 1950s, he was briefly revived – with the Torch and Sub-Mariner – but sank once more into obscurity until a resurgent Timely/Atlas reinvented itself as Marvel Comics. Resurrected again in Avengers #4 (March 1964) with the Vietnam conflict just starting to pervade the minds of the American public, this time he stuck around…

Whilst perpetually agonising over the death of teen sidekick (James Buchanan Barnes AKA Bucky) in the final days of the war, living war story Steve Rogers first stole the show in the Avengers, promptly graduated to his own series and, ultimately, returned to solo stardom.

He waxed and waned through the most turbulent period of social change in US history, but always struggled to find an ideological niche and stable footing in the modern world.

In 2006-2007 – as another morally suspect war raged in the real world – he became an anti-government rebel for Marvel event Civil War: subsequently arrested and assassinated on the steps of a Federal Courthouse.

Over the course of 3 epic volumes, he was replaced by the presumed-dead sidekick. In actuality, Bucky had been captured by the Soviets in 1945 and systematically transformed into their own super-agent/assassin The Winter Soldier.

Once rescued from his unwanted enslavement, artificially young and semi-cyborg Barnes reluctantly stepped into his mentor’s big crimson boots…

Set squarely in the immediate aftermath of the original Star-Spangled Avenger’s return from the dead (see various Captain America Reborn collections), this politically-charged compilation – written by Ed Brubaker – collects one-shot Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield? and issues #602-605 of the monthly Captain America comic book. Available in hardback, trade paperback and digitally, it explores extremism with potent passion and cynical skill…

A rabble-rousing tale of ideology and patriotism begins with ‘Who Will Wield the Shield?’ (art by Luke Ross & Butch Guice), as the liberated Winter Soldier ponders his future in the wake of the “real” Captain America’s recent return to life and considers returning the role and unique Star-emblazoned disc to its rightful owner…

Meanwhile Steve Rogers, fresh from a timeless suspension where he perpetually relived his life over and again, battles debilitating, haunting memories by prowling snow-bound streets where he encounters his replacement and immortal super-spy Black Widow in combat with the ferociously brutal Mr. Hyde.

Content to observe his old partner at first, Rogers soon joins the fray. As the dust settles, the comrades-in-arms reach an understanding: Bucky Barnes will stay as the one-&-only Sentinel of Liberty as the President of the USA has a far more strategic role in mind for his mentor Steve…

That one is the meat of a different tome. Here we jump directly to the eponymous ‘Two Americas’ (Brubaker, Ross, Guice & Rick Magyar), focussing on a deranged duplicate super-soldier who briefly played Captain America in the 1950s, whilst the original languished in icy hibernation in the arctic.

William Burnside was a student from Boise, Idaho, obsessed with the war hero. The lad had ferreted out the hero’s true name, rediscovered most of the super-soldier serum which had created the Star-Spangled Avenger and even had his name and features changed to perfectly mimic the Missing-In-Action Rogers.

Volunteering his services to the FBI, at that time conducting a nationwide war on spies, subversives and (potential) commies, Burnside and impressionable youngster Jack Monroe briefly became the new Captain America and Bucky: crushing poorly-perceived threats to the Land of the Free.

Sadly, it quickly became apparent that their definition of such included not only criminals but also non-whites, independent women and anybody who disagreed with the government…

Some months later the reactionary patriot was forcibly “retired” as the super-soldier serum he and Monroe used turned them into super-strong, raving, racist paranoids.

Years later, when the fascistic facsimiles escaped suspended animation in Federal prison, they attacked the revived real deal, only to be defeated by Cap, his new partner Sam Wilson (AKA the Falcon) and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter. Monroe was eventually cured, but Burnside’s psychosis was too deeply rooted and he returned often to confront the man he felt had betrayed the real America…

Used most recently as a pawn of the Red Skull, malign psychologist Dr. Faustus and genetic wizard Arnim Zola in a plot to plant a Nazi stooge in the Oval Office, the dark Captain America escaped, fleeing to the nation’s heartland and planning…

When police in Idaho raid a den of reactionary separatist fanatics the Watchdogs, they are butchered by the delusional Burnside who has aligned himself with them in a crazed bid to take back the nation for right-thinking ordinary people like himself. Alerted by Nick Fury, Barnes and the Falcon head for the economically-depressed Midwest where crumbling economy and lack of prospects has driven hard-pressed, hardworking folk into the open arms of the seditionists.

Intending to infiltrate the movement now led by the faux Captain America, things go sideways after Burnside recognises Barnes from his college researches…

Intent on starting a second American Revolution, the crazed patriot ambushes the newest Cap and the Falcon and, whilst planning to set off the biggest bomb in history against the Hoover Dam, demands Barnes returns to his first and proper heroic identity: becoming Bucky to Burnside’s one-and-only Cap…

Determined to convince the equally time-lost Winter Soldier that modern America must be destroyed and the Good Old Days restored, Burnside is still savvy enough to use the hostage Falcon to achieve his ends, but far too prejudiced to accept that a mere black man and flunky sidekick could be competent enough to foil his schemes…

Imprisoned on a train packed with explosives, Wilson busts free, trashing his Watchdog jailers and – with the aid of a simple working Joe (yes, a true “ordinary American”) – diverts the runaway bomb. Burnside and his fanatics then invade Hoover Dam with an even more devastating device, ready to send a message that will spell the end of the failed country and signal the return of the madman’s cherished if illusory idealised America…

However, when Bucky learns the Falcon is safe, he lashes out with ruthless efficiency…

This thoroughly readable thriller is a fascinating examination of idealism and the mutability of patriotism: a sharp, scary saga that avoids the usual trap of overly-depending on a working knowledge of Marvel continuity by providing in situ what little back-story new readers might need. It thunders along to its climactic conclusion, providing thrills, spills and chills in full measure for all fans of Fights ‘n’ Tights action and – sadly – offers insights into nationalism that are more pertinent now than they ever have been…
© 2009, 2010, 2012 Marvel Characters Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Machine Man: The Complete Collection by Kirby and Ditko


By Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, with Marv Wolfman, Tom DeFalco, Roger Stern, Mike Rockwitz, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9577-1 (TPB)

Jack Kirby was – and nearly 30 years after his death, remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are innumerable accounts of and testaments to what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium.

Off course, I’m now adding my own tenpence’s worth, pointing out what you probably already know: Kirby was a man of vast imagination who translated big concepts into astoundingly potent and accessible symbols for generations of fantasy fans. If you were exposed to Kirby as an impressionable child you were his for life. To be honest, the same probably applies whatever age you jump aboard the “Kirby Express”…

For those of us who grew up with Jack, his are the images which furnish and clutter our interior mindsets. Close your eyes and think “robot” and the first thing that pops up is a Kirby creation. Every fantastic, futuristic city in our heads is crammed with his chunky, towering spires. Because of Jack we all know what the bodies beneath those stony-head statues on Easter Island look like, we are all viscerally aware that you can never trust great big aliens parading around in their underpants and, most importantly, we know how cavemen dressed and carnosaurs clashed…

In the late 1930s, it took a remarkably short time for Kirby and his creative collaborator Joe Simon to become the wonder-kid dream-team of the new-born comicbook industry. Together they produced a year’s worth of the influential monthly Blue Bolt, dashed off Captain Marvel Adventures (#1) for overstretched Fawcett and, after Martin Goodman appointed Simon editor at Timely Comics, co-created a host of iconic characters such as Red Raven, the original Marvel Boy, Mercury, Hurricane, The Vision, Young Allies and of course million-selling mega-hit Captain America.

When Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations, Simon & Kirby were snapped up by National/DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a fat chequebook. Bursting with ideas the staid industry leaders were never really comfortable with, the pair were initially an uneasy fit, and awarded two moribund strips to play with until they found their creative feet: Sandman and Manhunter.

They turned both around virtually overnight and, once established and left to their own devices, switched to the “Kid Gang” genre they had pioneered at Timely. Joe & Jack created wartime sales sensation Boy Commandos and a Homefront iteration dubbed the Newsboy Legion before being called up to serve in the war they had been fighting on comic book pages since 1940.

Once demobbed, they returned to a very different funnybook business, and soon after left National to create their own little empire…

Simon & Kirby heralded and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not just by inventing the Romance genre, but with all manner of challenging modern material about real people in extraordinary situations – before seeing it all disappear again in less than eight years.

After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby had finally established their own publishing house, producing comics for a far more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by an anti-comicbook pogrom. Their small stable of magazines – generated for the association of companies known as Prize, Crestwood, Pines, Essenkay and/or Mainline Comics – blossomed and as quickly wilted when the industry abruptly contracted throughout the 1950s.

Hysterical censorship-fever spearheaded by US Senator Estes Kefauver and opportunistic pop psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham led to witch-hunting Senate hearings. Caving in, most publishers adopted a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulatory rules. Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high. Crime comics vanished and mature themes challenging an increasingly stratified and oppressive society were suppressed…

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Jack soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, more conventional and less experimental, companies. As the panic abated, Kirby returned briefly to DC Comics where he worked on mystery tales and Green Arrow (at that time a mere back-up page-filler in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics) whilst concentrating on his passion project: newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

During that period Kirby also re-packaged an original super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and Joe Simon had closed their innovative, ill-timed ventures. At the end of 1956 Showcase #6 premiered the Challengers of the Unknown

After three more test issues they won their own title with Kirby in command for the first eight. Then a legal dispute with Editor Jack Schiff exploded and the King was gone…

He found fresh fields and an equally hungry new partner in Stan Lee at the ailing Atlas Comics outfit (which had once been mighty Timely) and there created a revolution in superhero comics storytelling…

After a decade of never-ending innovation and crowd-pleasing wonderment, Kirby felt increasingly stifled. His efforts had transformed the little publisher into industry-pioneer Marvel but now felt trapped in a rut. Thus, he moved back to DC for another burst of sheer imagination and pure invention.

Kirby always understood the fundamentals of pleasing his audience and strived diligently to combat the appalling state of prejudice about the comics medium – especially from industry insiders and professionals who despised the “kiddies world” they felt trapped in.

After his controversial, grandiose Fourth World titles were cancelled, Kirby looked for other projects that would stimulate his own vast creativity yet still appeal to a market growing ever more fickle. These included science fictional heroes Kamandi and OMAC, supernatural star The Demon, war stories starring The Losers, and even a new Sandman– co-created with old Joe Simon – but although the ideas kept coming (Atlas, Kobra, Dingbats of Danger Street), once again editorial disputes increased. Reluctantly, he left again choosing to believe in promises of more creative freedom elsewhere…

His return to Marvel in 1976 was much hyped and eagerly anticipated at the time, but again turned controversial. New works such as The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur found friends rapidly, but his return to earlier creations Captain America and Black Panther divided the fanbase.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity, and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on titles as a “Day One”: a policy increasing at odds with the close-continuity demanded by a strident faction of the readership…

Kirby was fascinated by the evolution of humanity and how it was ultimately defined. Gods, devils, ascension, devolution and especially artificial intelligence were themes he regularly revisited. As early as 1957, in his second Challengers of the Unknown yarn, tragic Ultivac was a misunderstood mechanoid built by war criminals who spontaneously achieved sentience, sapience and a profound sense of self-preservation. This concept of machine soul re-emerged constantly in characters as diverse as King Kra, Recorder 211, Torgo, Mother Box and many others but found its greatest expression in a strip spun off from licensed property 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Although not included here, Machine Man actually debuted in July to September 1977 in #8-10 of that series – so Marvel are being a tad generous with the term “complete” in this epic trade paperback and digital compilation. X-51/Aaron Stack/Mister Machine was a government-built war droid who achieves passionate, unique self-actualisation after an encounter with the enigmatic alien Monolith of Kubrick and Clarke’s movie classic. When the publishing license expired, Jack’s metal miracle catapulted into his own eccentric series and a little slice of history was made…

Collecting the 19-issue run of Machine Man spanning April 1978 to January 1989, and including material from Incredible Hulk #234-237 and Marvel Comics Presents #10, this canny compilation offers a rare chance to see how a single character can fare under the widely differing and unique artistic visions of the visual founders of the Marvel Universe.

Brushing over the embargoed origins, a fully sentient but unschooled and inexperienced ‘Machine Man’ exploded into the Marvel Universe in his first issue (April 1978, by Kirby & Mike Royer), on the run from the US Army.

As X-51, he had been condemned to eradication when his 50 predecessors malfunctioned, attacking the soldiers they were designed to replace. “Aaron” was different, however, reared as a human in the household of psychologist Dr. Abel Stack. When the official order came to scrap all X-models, Stack gave his life to remove his “son’s” self-destruct trigger, sending the innocent out to find his place in the world. On his trail was veteran warrior Colonel Kragg, maimed sole survivor of a brutal X robot assault…

On the run and plagued by nightmares, Aaron makes friends easily in the easy-going, post-Hippie region around Central City, California, and holes up in the asylum run by psychiatrist Dr. Peter Spalding. As they debate the nature of existence, soldiers close in and a fresh crisis is triggered in the ‘House of Nightmares’ when an inmate psionically connects to an alien being about to die countless light years away…

Stack’s on-board technologies confirm the contact is no delusion, and empathy moves the assembled earthlings to open a door for the dying stranger. Sadly, ‘Ten-For, the Mean Machine’ is a devious, arrogant professional world-conqueror who believes his kind of mechanical life superior to organics and sets about adding Earth to the Autochron empire, just as Kragg’s forces breach the building…

The Colonel is no fan of artificial beings but is soon overwhelmed, leaving Machine Man to ‘Battle on a Very Busy Street’, before briefly abandoning humanity and questioning the point of his tormented existence. His status as a despised ‘Non-Hero’ changes after attending a wild party and meeting empathetic communications executive Tracy Warner, who inspires Aaron to defeat the rapidly-approaching invasion fleet with a ‘Quick Trick’

Issue #7 opens in the aftermath as a Special Congressional Committee convenes to rule on the robot’s autonomy and continued existence. ‘With a Nation Against Him!’ shows humanity’s prejudices and willingness to exploit Aaron, and when Spalding is kidnapped, Congressman Miles Brickman sees a way to ride that bigotry all the way to the White House…

As Aaron seeks to save Peter from nefarious capitalist criminals The Corporation, Kragg undergoes a change of heart and helps foil their plans to mass-produce X-Units, resulting in a spectacular ‘Super-Escape’ and a tenuous détente between mankind and Machine Man when they cooperate ‘In Final Battle!’ (Machine Man #9, December 1978)…

The series ended there, with the unresolved issues carrying over to a story arc in Incredible Hulk. Here a 6-page extract from #234’s ‘Battleground: Berkeley’ (April 1979 by Roger Stern, Sal Buscema & Jack Abel) sees Corporation high flyer Mr. Jackson frame Machine Man for kidnapping the Hulk’s friend Trish Starr, and lure the Jade Juggernaut to Central City…

Followed by the entirety of #235-237, the resultant clash gears up the metal marvel for a fresh run, opening with ‘The Monster and the Machine’ (Stern, Sal Buscema & Mike Esposito) as the Hulk runs amok and shreds the real Aaron Stack, whilst in Washington DC, opportunistic Brickman is elevated to the Senate…

The rematch in #236 furiously escalates in ‘Kill or Be Killed!’, but by the time the truth has emerged, the Hulk is beyond all reason and turns his wrath on Jackson with horrific effect in concluding chapter ‘When a City Dies!’ (by Stern, S Buscema & Abel)…

One month later Machine Man returned to his own title but it couldn’t have been more different…

In an industry and medium packed with imaginative graphic iterations of mechanoid marvels and malcontents, nobody ever drew robots like Steve Ditko…

He was one of comics’ greatest and most influential talents and – during his lifetime – probably America’s least lauded. Reclusive and reticent by inclination, his fervent desire was always to just get on with his job, telling stories the best he could: letting his work speak for him.

Whilst the noblest of aspirations, that attitude was a minor consideration – and even actual stumbling block – for the commercial interests which controlled comics production and still exert overwhelming influence upon the bulk of comic industry’s output.

In 1966, after Ditko’s legendary disagreements with Stan Lee led to the artist quitting Marvel, he found work at Warren Comics and resumed a career-long association with Charlton Comics. That company’s casual editorial attitudes had always offered the most creative freedom, if not financial reward, but in 1968 their wünderkind editor Dick Giordano was poached by rapidly-slipping industry leader National Comics. He took his key creators with him, but whilst Jim Aparo, Steve Skeates, Frank McLaughlin and Denny O’Neil found a new home, Ditko began only a sporadic – if phenomenally productive – association with DC.

It was during that heady, unsettled period that the first strips stemming from Ditko’s interpretation of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy began appearing in indie publications like Witzend and The Collector, whilst for the “over-ground” publishing colossus, he devised cult classics The Hawk and the Dove and Beware the Creeper. Later efforts included Shade, the Changing Man, Stalker and The Odd Man, plus anthological Sci Fi and horror yarns; truly unique interpretations of Man-Bat, Kirby’s The Demon, Legion of Super-Heroes and many more…

In 1979, Ditko grudgingly returned to Marvel to work on Micronauts, Captain Marvel, Fantastic Four, Captain Universe, licensed properties and new characters like Speedball, Squirrel Girl and the automaton in question…

MM #10 offered ‘Renewal!’ courtesy of Marv Wolfman & Steve Ditko. Severely damaged in combat, the artificial avenger is frantically rebuilt by Spalding and X-Project originator Dr. Broadhurst, at the cost of much of his awesome armament. This arbitrary adjustment forces Aaron to reassess his status and condition, and after finding a message from Abel Stack, he resolves to chart a fresh course as part of the human race.

Even after Aaron saves the Senator from certain death, Brickman pins his future career on capturing the mechanical “menace”, but the robot perseveres and a battle with a high-tech thief in ‘Byte of the Binary Bug!’ leads to a new cover secret identity as an insurance investigator, a new confidante in businessman Byron Benjamin and a new nemesis in exotic millionaire Khan of Xanadu

When a freak accident turns ordinary mortals into ascendant angels in #12’s ‘Where Walk the Gods!’ Aaron is forced to confront his own biases and moral imperatives to save his life, and learns the value of mercy from a small child, before Khan returns in ‘Xanadu!’, determined to achieve immortality by occupying Aaron’s mechanical body…

Wolfman & Ditko sought to humanise Machine Man through a cast of fellow workers at Delmar Insurance, such as freeloading lazy moocher Eddie Harris and office vamp Maggie Jones, but the real counterbalance to Aaron is Brickman who announces his run for the White House based on a publicity pogrom against the synthetic superhero in #14. Here, the action stems from ‘The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls’: a tragic scientist accidentally turned super-dense and hired by the Senator’s assistants to impersonate and defame the robot champion…

Further inroads into mainstream continuity come as Tom DeFalco joins Ditko from #15 onwards. Transformed into a cloud of energized gas, Dr. Voletta Todd calls herself Ion and – demanding ‘Kill Me or Cure Me’ – crushes Machine Man. As the robot is repaired by garrulous blue collar engineering savant Gears Garvin, the Thing and Human Torch tackle the deranged suicidal monster but are grateful for Aaron’s last-minute save…

Issue #16 introduces the first in a string of maniacal baddies as ‘Baron Brimstone and His Sinister Satan Squad!’ go on a magic-backed crime spree, after which #17 debuts evil industrialist Sunset Bain and macabre Madame Menace who seek to profit from selling Aaron’s stolen limbs in ‘Arms and the Robot!’

Brickman makes his move in #18, using dubious political connections and outright lies to trick Canadian super-agents Sasquatch, Aurora and Northstar into attacking the metal marvel who stands ‘Alone Against Alpha Flight!’ before the quirky series ends with #19 (February 1981) and a brutal battle against a manic mercenary: a cruel clash that leaves Aaron dejected, deformed and dispirited after being ‘Jolted by Jack O’Lantern!’

Marvel Comics Presents #10 (January 1989) then offers one last hurrah as – written by Ditko & Mike Rockwitz with Dave Cockrum inking the abstract master’s compelling pencils – ‘Machine Man Meets the F.F…Failure Five’ finds Aaron Stack targeted by a robot fiasco determined to continue his own existence by occupying the astounding X-51 frame… irrespective of who might already be using it…

With extras including a complete cover gallery by Kirby, Ditko, Royer, Al Milgrom, Frank Giacoia, Dan Green, Joe Sinnott, Steve Leialoha, Walter Simonson, John Byrne, Rich Buckler & Frank Miller, plus a quartet of ‘Machine Mail’editorials by Kirby; house ads; original art pages by both titans and unused cover art from the period and full biographies of the founding titans, this compilation is a dose of utter, uncomplicated comics magic: bold, brash, and completely compelling. How can you possibly resist the clarion call of sheer eccentric escapism?
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.