Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection volume 3 1966-1967: Spider-Man No More

By Stan Lee, John Romita, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Marie Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1023-5 (TPB)

Outcast, geeky high school kid Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and, after attempting to cash-in on the astonishing abilities he’d developed, suffered an irreconcilable personal tragedy. Due to the teenager’s arrogant neglect, his beloved guardian Uncle Ben was murdered and the traumatised boy determined henceforward to always use his powers to help those in dire need.

For years the brilliant young hero suffered privation and travail in his domestic situation, whilst his heroic alter ego endured public condemnation and mistrust as he valiantly battled all manner of threat and foe…

Spanning August 1966 to September 1967, this fulsome, titanic, full-colour Epic Collection (available as massive paperback or ephemeral eBook) gathers the gems from Amazing Spider-Man #39-52 plus Annuals #3-4 and a deliciously daft snippet from spoof mag Not Brand Echh #2, heralding the start of a brand new era for the Astonishing Arachnid with Peter and his ever-expanding cast of cohorts well on the way to being household names as well as the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia.

By 1966 Stan Lee and Steve Ditko could no longer work together on their greatest creation. After increasingly fraught months the artist simply resigned, leaving Spider-Man without an illustrator.

In the coincidental meantime John Romita had been lured away from DC’s romance line and given odd assignments before assuming the artistic reins of Daredevil, the Man Without Fear. Before long, he was co-piloting the company’s biggest property and expected to run with it.

After a period where old-fashioned crime and gangsterism predominated, science fiction themes and costumed crazies began to predominate as the world went gaga for superheroes and creators experimented with longer storylines and protracted subplots…

When Ditko abruptly left, the company feared a drastic loss in quality and sales but it didn’t happen. John Romita (senior) considered himself a mere “safe pair of hands” keeping the momentum going until a better artist could be found but instead blossomed into a major talent in his own right. The wallcrawler continued his unstoppable rise at an accelerated pace…

When Amazing Spider-Man #39 appeared with the first of a 2-part adventure declaiming the ultimate victory of the hero’s greatest foe, no reader knew what had happened – and no one told them…

‘How Green Was My Goblin!’ and ‘Spidey Saves the Day! (“Featuring the End of the Green Goblin!”)’ calamitously changed everything whilst describing how the arch-foes learned each other’s true identities before the Goblin “perished” in a climactic showdown. It would have been memorable even if the tale didn’t feature the debut of a new artist & a whole new manner of story-telling…

The issues were a turning point in many ways, and – inked by old DC colleague Mike Esposito (under the pseudonym Mickey Demeo) – they still stand as one of the greatest Spider-Man yarns of all time, heralding a run of classic tales from the Lee/Romita team that saw sales rise and rise, even without the seemingly irreplaceable Ditko.

With #41 and ‘The Horns of the Rhino!’, Romita began inking his own pencils and although the debuting super-strong criminal spy proved a mere diversion, his intended target, J. Jonah Jameson’s astronaut son, was a far harder proposition in the next issue.

Amazing Spider-Man #42 heralded ‘The Birth of a Super-Hero!’, wherein John Jameson is mutated by space-spores and goes on a Manhattan rampage: a solid, entertaining yarn that is only really remembered for the last panel of the final page.

Mary Jane Watson had been a running gag in the series for years: a prospective blind-date arranged by Aunt May who Peter had avoided – and Ditko skilfully not depicted – for the duration of time that our hero had been involved with Betty Brant, Liz Allen, and latterly Gwen Stacy.

Now, in that last frame the gobsmacked young man finally realises that for two years he’s been ducking the hottest chick in New York!

‘Rhino on the Rampage!’ gave the villain one more crack at Jameson and Spidey, but the emphasis was solidly on foreshadowing future foes and building Pete and MJ’s relationship. Next comes Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 3 and ‘…To Become an Avenger!’ as the World’s Mightiest Heroes offer the webspinner membership if he can capture the Hulk. As usual, all is not as it seems but the action-drenched epic, courtesy of Lee, Romita (on layouts), Don Heck, & Esposito is the kind of guest-heavy power-punching package that made these summer specials a child’s delight.

The monthly Marvel merriment resumes with the return of a tragedy-drenched old foe as Lee & Romita reintroduce biologist Curt Conners in #44’s ‘Where Crawls the Lizard!’ The deadly reptilian marauder threatens Humanity itself and it takes all of the wallcrawler’s resourcefulness to stop him in the concluding ‘Spidey Smashes Out!’

Issue #46 introduced an all-new menace in the form of seismic super-thief ‘The Sinister Shocker!’ whilst ‘In the Hands of the Hunter!’ brought back a fighting-mad Kraven the Hunter to menace the family of Parker’s pal Harry Osborn. Apparently, the obsessive big-game hunter had entered into a contract with Harry’s father (Green Goblin, until a psychotic break turned him into a traumatised amnesiac). Now, though, the hunter wants paying off…

Luckily, Spider-Man is on hand to dissuade him, but it’s interesting to note that at this time the student life and soap-opera sub-plots became increasingly important to the mix, with glamour girls Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy (both superbly delineated by the masterful Romita) as well as former bully Flash Thompson and the Osborns getting as much – or more – “page-time” as Aunt May or the Daily Bugle staff, who had previously monopolised the non-costumed portions of the ongoing saga.

Amazing Spider-Man #48 launched Blackie Drago; a ruthless thug who shared a prison cell with one of the wall-crawler’s oldest foes. At death’s door, the ailing and elderly super-villain reveals his technological secrets, enabling Drago to escape and master ‘The Wings of the Vulture!’

Younger, faster, tougher, the new Vulture defeats Spider-Man and in #49’s ‘From the Depths of Defeat!’ battles Kraven until a reinvigorated arachnid can step in to thrash them both.

Issue #50 featured the debut of one of Marvel’s greatest villains in the first of a 3-part yarn that saw the beginnings of romance between Parker and Gwen. It also contained the death of a cast regular, re-established Spidey’s war on cheap thugs and common criminals (a key component of the hero’s appeal was that no criminal was too small for him to bother with) and saw a crisis of conscience force him to quit in ‘Spider-Man No More!’.

Life being what it is, Peter’s sense of responsibility forces his return before he is trapped ‘In the Clutches of… the Kingpin!’ until he ultimately and tragically triumphs in ‘To Die a Hero!’ This gang-busting triptych saw Romita relinquish the inking of his art to Esposito.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4 follows as Lee – with his brother Larry Lieber & Esposito handling the art chores – crafts an epic battle-saga wherein Spidey and the Human Torch are tricked into appearing in a movie.

Sadly ‘The Web and the Flame!’ is just a deviously diabolical scheme to kill them, devilishly orchestrated by old enemies The Wizard and Mysterio, but the titanic teens are up to the task of trashing their attackers…

From the same issue – and all courtesy of Lieber – come pictorial fact-features ‘The Coffee Bean Barn!’ – face-checking the then-current Spider-Man regulars – while sartorial secrets exposed in ‘What the Well-Dressed Spider-Man Will Wear’ and superpowers are scrutinised in ‘Spidey’s Greatest Talent’.

Also included are big pin-ups of our hero testing his strength against Marvel’s mightiest good guys, a double-page spread ‘Say Hello to Spidey’s Favorite Foes!’ plus another 2-page treat as we enjoy ‘A Visit to Peter’s Pad!’

With the action over there’s still time for a hearty ha ha as Not Brand Echh #2 shares an outrageous comedy caper from Lee, Marie Severin & Frank Giacoia starring the Aging Spidey-Man! Here ‘Peter Pooper vs. Gnatman and Rotten’ reveals how rival comics icons duke it out for the hearts and minds of fandom in a wry jab at the madness of the era’s Batmania craze.

Also on view are gems of original art – including unused pages – and Romita’s first sketch of Mary Jane, plus a painted cover repro from Romita & Dean White.

After a shaky start The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages. Before long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera was the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

This book is Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. You really should read it.
© 1966, 1967, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Nova Classic volume 1

By Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Ross Andru, Carmine Infantino Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6028-1 (TPB)

By 1975 the first wave of fans-turned-writers were well ensconced at all the major American comic-book companies. Two fanzine graduates, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, had achieved stellar successes early on, and then risen to the ranks of writer/editors at Marvel, a company in trouble both creatively and in terms of sales.

After a meteoric rise and a virtual root-&-branch overhaul of the industry in the 1960s, the House of Ideas – and every other comics publisher except Archie – were suffering from a mass desertion of fans who had simply found other uses for their mad-money.

Whereas Charlton and Gold Key dwindled and eventually died and DC vigorously explored new genres to bolster their flagging sales, Marvel chose to exploit their record with superheroes: fostering new titles within a universe it was increasingly impossible to buy only a portion of…

As seen in this no-nonsense compilation collecting the first dozen issues plus a crossover with Amazing Spider-Man #171 (September 1976-August 1977), The Man Called Nova was in fact a boy named Richard Rider. The new kid was a working-class teen nebbish in the tradition of Peter Parker – except he was good at sports and bad at learning – who attended Harry S. Truman High School, where his strict dad was the principal.

His mom worked as a police dispatcher and he had a younger brother, Robert, who was a bit of a genius. Other superficial differences to the Spider-Man canon included girlfriend Ginger and best friends Bernie and Caps, but he did have his own school bully, Mike Burley

An earlier version, “Black Nova” had apparently appeared in the Wolfman/Wein fan mag Super Adventures in 1966, but with a few revisions and an artistic make-over by the legendary John Romita (Senior), the “Human Rocket” was launched into the Marvel Universe in his own title, beginning in September 1976, ably supported by the illustration A-Team of John Buscema & Joe Sinnott.

‘Nova’ – which borrowed as heavily from Green Lantern as the wallcrawler’s origin – was structured like a classic four-chapter Lee/Kirby early Fantastic Four tale, and rapidly introduced its large cast before quickly zipping to the life-changing moment in Rider’s life when a colossal star-ship with a dying alien aboard transfers to the lad all the mighty powers of an extraterrestrial peacekeeper and warrior.

Centurion Rhomann Dey was tracking a deadly marauder to Earth. Zorr had already destroyed the warior’s idyllic homeworld Xandar, but the severely wounded, vengeance-seeking Nova Prime was too near death and could not avenge the genocide.

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

The tale is standard origin fare beautifully rendered by Buscema & Sinnott, but the story really begins – after text feature Nova Newsline! – with #2’s ‘The First Night of… The Condor!’ as Wolfman, playing to his own strengths, introduces an extended storyline featuring a host of new villains whilst concentrating on filling out the lives of the supporting cast.

There’s still plenty of action as the neophyte hero learns to use his new powers (one thing the energy transfer didn’t provide was an instruction manual) but battles against winged criminal mastermind Condor and his enigmatic, reluctant pawn Powerhouse only lead the green hero into a trap…

Nova #3 debuts another brutal super-thug in ‘…The Deadly Diamondhead is Ready to Strike!’ (illustrated by new art-team Sal Buscema & Tom Palmer), but the battles are clearly not as important as laying plot-threads for a big event to come. The next issue

features the first of many guest-star appearances – and the first of three covers by the inimitable Jack Kirby.

‘Nova Against the Mighty Thor’ introduces The Corruptor: a bestial being who transforms the Thunder God – with one magic touch – into a raging berserker whom only the new kid on the block can stop, before ‘Evil is the Earth-Shaker!’ pits the lad against subterranean despot Tyrannus and his latest engine of destruction, although a slick sub-plot concerning the Human Rocket’s attempt to become a comicbook star still delivers some tongue-in-cheek chuckles to this day…

Issue #6 saw those long-laid evil mastermind plans begin to mature as Condor, Diamondhead and Powerhouse return to capture Nova, whilst their hidden foe is revealed in the Frank Giacoia inked ‘And So… The Sphinx!’

The Egyptian-themed bad guy is another world-class, immortal impatiently awaiting his turn to conquer the world…

Meanwhile, young Caps has been abducted by another new nasty who would eventually make big waves for the Human Rocket….

‘War in Space!’ sees Nova a brainwashed ally of his former foes in an invasion of Rhomann Dey’s still orbiting star-ship. The awesome craft will be an invaluable weapon in the encroaching war with the Sphinx, but the boarding raid results in Nova being marooned in deep space once his mind clears.

On narrowly escaping, Rider finds himself initially outmatched and outfought by Caps’ kidnapper in ‘When Megaman Comes Calling… Don’t Answer!’: a tumultuous, time-bending epic that concludes in #9’s ‘Fear in the Funhouse!’

Nova #10 began the final (yeah, right) battle in ‘Four Against the Sphinx!’ with Condor, Diamondhead and Powerhouse in all-out battle against the immortal mage whilst the hapless Human Rocket is caught in the crossfire, after which ‘Nova No More’ focuses on the hero’s short-term memories being removed to take him out of the game. The tactic only partially works since he’s back for the next issue’s classy crossover with the Spectacular Spider-Man.

Closing out this collection ‘Who is the Man Called Photon?’ is by Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Giacoia: teaming the neophyte hero with the much more experienced webslinger in a fair-play murder mystery, after Rich Rider’s uncle is killed by a costumed thief.

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

Enthusiastic and action packed, this tome offers lots of competent, solid entertainment and beautiful superhero art and Nova has proved his intrinsic value by returning again and again. If simple, uncomplicated Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction is what you want, look no further.
© 1976, 1977, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Masterworks volume 2

By Stan Lee, Dennis O’Neill, John Romita, Gene Colan, with Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0804-7 (HB)                    978-0-7851-5050-3 (TPB)

As the remnants of Atlas Comics grew in popularity in the early 1960s it gradually supplanted its broad variety of genre titles with more and more super-heroes. The recovering powerhouse that was to become Marvel was still hampered by a crippling distribution deal that limited the company to 16 titles (which would curtail their output until 1968), so each new untried book would have to fill the revenue-generating slot (however small) of an existing title.

Moreover. as the costumed characters were selling, each new similarly-themed title would limit the breadth of the monster, western, war, humour or girls’ comics that had been the outfit’s recent bread and butter. It was putting a lot of eggs in one basket, and superheroes had failed twice before for Marvel.

It all worked out in the end though…

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, enabling him to perform astonishing acrobatic feats and fight like a demon. He is a formidable fighter for justice in both identities and a living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who illustrated the strip.

DD battled thugs, gangsters, a plethora of super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat. His civilian life consisted of assorted legal conundra and manfully standing back while quenching his own feelings as his portly best friend and partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson romanced their secretary Karen Page

Still, Lee and a rotating line-up of artists plugged on, concocting some extremely engaging tales until the latest Marvel Sensation found his feet. This potent compilation from the much-loved and crucial series of Marvel Masterworks – available in hardcover, trade Paperback and eBook formats – traces the fascinating transition of moody masked avenger to wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler, which can be enjoyed in this collection. It gathers Daredevil #12-21 (spanning January to October 1966) into one boldly boisterous package of thrills and spills which commence following another effervescent Introduction from Stan Lee…

The previous year had seen Golden Age giant Wally Wood leave his own unmistakable mark on the series but with his departure Lee turned to an old friend who had left during the harshest days of the Atlas implosion. He was to eventually become Marvel’s top – and most loyal – star…

‘Sightless, in a Savage Land!’ was laid out by Jack Kirby and illustrated by John Romita, who had worked for Timely/Atlas in the 1950s before moving to relatively steady work on National/DC.’s romance comics, as well as freelance advertising.

He returned to take DD on an epic quest, guest-starring Tarzan-analogue Ka-Zar, ranging from the dinosaur-haunted Savage Land via an extended battle with high-tech pirates led by The Plunderer to Jolly Olde England-land (in #13’s ‘The Secret of Ka-Zar’s Origin!’) and ultimately to a US Early Warning Base (#14, ‘If This be Justice…’, and with what I’m sure is some un-credited assistance from George Tuska).

With this multi-part globe-girdling epic, Daredevil began to confirm his persona as a wisecracking Scarlet Swashbuckler: one that would carry him all the way to the grim ‘n’ gritty Frank Miller days, far, far in the future.

Romita’s graceful, flamboyant style and expressiveness imparted new energy into the character (especially since Frank Ray Née Giacoia had been inking the series since # 14) and #15’s ‘…And Men Shall Call Him… Ox!’ showed the artist’s facility for explosive superhero action as the dim strongman last seen in DD #6 resurfaced, albeit in a new and sinister fashion as the lummox is made the subject of a macabre brain-swapping experiment…

When a certain webslinger guest-starred in #16, little did anyone suspect how soon Romita would be leaving…

‘Enter… Spider-Man!’ introduces criminal mastermind Masked Marauder who has big plans; the first of which is to get DD and the wallcrawler to kill each other…

With next issue ‘None are so Blind…’, a convoluted a sub-plot began which would lead to some of the highest and lowest moments of the early Daredevil series, beginning after the wondrous wallcrawler accuses Foggy of being the Man Without Fear!

Although the webspinner quickly realizes his mistake, others present don’t…

Issue #18’s ‘There Shall Come a Gladiator!’ introduces a manic armoured villain and archetypal super-thug in a tale two-thirds scripted by legend-in-waiting Denny O’Neil. Here Foggy tries to sway Karen by bolstering the idea that he is Daredevil… and almost perishing as a result of the deception.

Issue #19 then sees the Masked Marauder ally with Gladiator in action-packed big fight tale ‘Alone… Against the Underworld!’: a fitting farewell for Romita who was moving over to Amazing Spider-Man after Steve Ditko’s abrupt, controversial and utterly unexpected departure.

Originally tipped for a fill-in issue, Gene Colan came aboard as penciller with #20’s ‘The Verdict is: Death!’ Inked by Mike Esposito (as Mickey DeMeo). Colan’s superbly humanistic drawing and facility with expressions was a little jarring at first – since he drew Daredevil in a passable Romita imitation and everything else in his own manner – but he soon settled in and this two-part revenge thriller featuring the Owl (concluding with the Giacoia, Dick Ayers & Bill Everett inked ‘The Trap is Sprung!’) is a fine beginning to his long, impressive run on the series, incorporating the Sightless Swashbuckler’s battle against his ferocious arch-foe, an army of thugs, deadly flying robots and even an exploding volcano to keep the readers on their toes….

Augmented by Kirby’s designs for the Plunderer, his pencil page layouts, house ads and Romita’s very first pencil sketch of ‘Ol Hornhead, this classy compendium is a nostalgic delight for one and all.

Despite a few bumpy false starts Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. If you’ve not read these tales before I strongly urge you to rectify that error as soon as superhumanly possible.
© 1965, 1966, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Fantastic Four Epic Collection volume 3: The Coming of Galactus 1964-1966

By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby with Chic Stone, Vince Colletta, Frank Giacoia, Joe Sinnott and various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1331-1 (TPB)

Concocted by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule, Fantastic Four #1 (bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961) was crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement.

Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it and the raw storytelling caught a wave of change starting to build in America. It and succeeding issues changed comicbooks forever.

This full-colour compendium – also available as a digital download – collects issues 33-51 plus the third giant-sized Annual (spanning December 1964 to June 1966): astonishing tales and progressive landmarks as Stan & Jack cannily built on that early energy to consolidate the FF as the leading title and most innovative series of the era.

As seen in the ground-breaking premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancée Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak.

Here the wonderment resumes

Supplemented by a glorious Kirby & Chic Stone ‘Prince Namor Pin-up’, the wonderment begins ‘Side-by-Side with Sub-Mariner!’, bringing the aquatic anti-hero one step closer to his own series as the team lend surreptitious aid to the embattled undersea monarch against deadly barbarian Attuma who makes his debut in FF #33.

In ‘A House Divided!’, the team are nearly destroyed by Mr. Gregory Hungerford Gideon, the power-hungry “Richest Man in the World” after which (and following a wry ‘Yancy Street Pin-Up’), ‘Calamity on the Campus!’ sees the team visit Reed’s old Alma Mater in a tale designed to pander to the burgeoning college fan-base Marvel was assiduously cultivating.

Incorporating a cameo role for then prospective college student Peter Parker, the rousing yarn brings back demon alchemist Diablo whilst introducing the monstrous misunderstood homunculus Dragon Man. Fantastic Four #36 premiered the team’s theoretical nemeses ‘The Frightful Four’: a team of villains comprising The Wizard, Sandman, Trapster (he was still Paste Pot-Pete here, but not for much longer) plus enigmatic new character Madame Medusa, whose origins were to have a huge impact on the heroes in months to come…

Most notable in this auspicious, action-packed, but inconclusive, duel is the announcement after many months of Reed and Sue’s engagement – in itself a rare event in the realm of comicbooks.

Issue #37 finds the team spectacularly travelling to the homeworld of the shape-shifting Skrulls in search of justice or vengeance (for Sue and Johnny’s recently-murdered father) in ‘Behold! A Distant Star!’ They return only to be ‘Defeated by the Frightful Four!’ in #38: a sinister sneak attack and catastrophic clash of opposing forces with a startling cliff-hanger that marked Chic Stone’s departure in suitably epic manner.

Frank Giacoia – under the pseudonym Frank Ray – stepped in to ink #39’s ‘A Blind Man Shall Lead Them!’ wherein a suddenly-powerless Fantastic Four are targeted by an enraged Doctor Doom with only sightless vigilante Daredevil offering a chance to keep them alive.

The tale concludes in #40 with ‘The Battle of the Baxter Building’ as Vince Colletta assumes the inking duties for a bombastic conclusion that perfectly displays the undeniable power, overwhelming pathos and indomitable heroism of the brutish Thing.

A new era of fantastic suspense begins with the first chapter of a tense and traumatic trilogy in which the other FF brainwash the despondent and increasingly isolated Thing: turning him against his former team-mates.

It starts with ‘The Brutal Betrayal of Ben Grimm!’, continues in rip-roaring fashion as ‘To Save You, Why Must I Kill You?’ pits the monster’s baffled former comrades against their best friend and the world’s most insidious villains before concluding in bombastic glory with #44’s ‘Lo! There Shall be an Ending!’

After that Colletta signed off by inking the most crowded Marvel story yet conceived: Fantastic Four Annual #3. Cover-dated November 1965, it famously features every hero, most of the villains and lots of ancillary characters in the company pantheon (such as teen-romance stars Patsy Walker & Hedy Wolf and even Stan & Jack themselves).

‘Bedlam at the Baxter Building!’ spectacularly celebrates the Richards-Storm nuptials, despite a massed attack by an army of baddies mesmerised by the diabolical Doctor Doom. In its classical simplicity it signalled the end of one era and the start of another…

FF #44 was also landmark in so many ways. Firstly, it saw the arrival of Joe Sinnott as regular inker: a skilled brush-man with a deft line and a superb grasp of anatomy and facial expression, and an artist prepared to match Kirby’s greatest efforts with his own. Some inkers had problems with just how much detail the King would pencil in; Sinnott relished it and the effort showed. What was wonderful now became incomparable…

‘The Gentleman’s Name is Gorgon!’ introduces a mysterious powerhouse with ponderous metal hooves instead of feet, a hunter implacably stalking Medusa. She then entangles the Human Torch – and thus the whole team – in her frantic bid to escape, and that’s before the monstrous android Dragon Man shows up to complicate matters.

All this is merely prelude, however: with the next issue we meet a hidden race of super-beings secretly sharing Earth with us for millennia. ‘Among us Hide… the Inhumans’ reveals Medusa to be part of the Royal Family of Attilan, a race of paranormal aristocrats on the run ever since a coup deposed the true king.

Black Bolt, Triton, Karnak and the rest would quickly become mainstays of the expanding Marvel Universe, but their bewitching young cousin Crystal and her giant teleporting dog Lockjaw (“who’s a Goo-hood Boh-oy?”) were the real stars here. For young Johnny it is love at first sight, and Crystal’s eventual fate would greatly mature his character, giving him a hint of angst-ridden tragedy that resonated greatly with the generation of young readers who were growing up with the comic…

Those Who Would Destroy Us!’ and ‘Beware the Hidden Land!’ (FF#46 – 47) see the team join the Inhumans as Black Bolt struggles to take back the throne from his bonkers brother Maximus the Mad, only to stumble into the usurper’s plan to wipe “inferior” humanity from the Earth.

Ideas just seem to explode from Kirby at this time. Despite being halfway through one storyline, FF #48 trumpeted ‘The Coming of Galactus!’ so the Inhumans saga is swiftly wrapped up by page 6, with the entire clandestine race sealed behind an impenetrable dome called the Negative Zone (later retitled the Negative Barrier to avoid confusion with the gateway to sub-space that Reed worked on for years).

Meanwhile, a cosmic entity approaches Earth, preceded by a gleaming herald on a surfboard of pure cosmic energy…

I suspect this experimental – and vaguely uncomfortable – approach to narrative mechanics was calculated and deliberate, mirroring the way TV soap operas were increasingly delivering their interwoven storylines, and used as a means to keep readers glued to the series.

They needn’t have bothered. The stories and concepts were enough…

‘If this be Doomsday!’ sees planet-eating Galactus setting up shop over the Baxter Building despite the team’s best efforts, whilst his cold and shining herald has his humanity accidentally rekindled by simply conversing with the Thing’s blind girlfriend Alicia Masters.

Issue #50’s ‘The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer!’ then concludes the epic in grand style as the reawakened ethical core of the Surfer and heroism of the FF buy enough time for Richards to literally save the world with a boldly-borrowed Deus ex Machina gadget…

Once again, the tale ends in the middle of the issue, and the remaining half concentrating on the team getting back to “normal”. To that extent, Johnny finally enrols at Metro College, desperate to forget lost love Crystal and his unnerving jaunts to the ends of the universe.

On his first day, the lad meets imposing and enigmatic Native American Wyatt Wingfoot, destined to become his greatest friend…

That would be a great place to stop but there’s one last titanic story treat: one many fans consider the greatest single FF story ever. Illustrated by Kirby and inked by Sinnott, ‘This Man… This Monster!’ finds Ben’s grotesque body usurped and stolen by a vengeful, petty-minded scientist with a grudge against Reed Richards. The anonymous boffin subsequently discovers the true measure of his unsuspecting intellectual rival and pays a fateful price for his envy…

Topped off with a swathe of enticing house ads, pages of original art (including Kirby’s astounding collage pieces), contemporary apparel art designs and painted Kirby/Dean White covers to previous compilations, this tome teems with tales of unmatched imagination and innovation that cemented Marvel’s dominance and confirmed that they were crafting a comics empire.

The verve, conceptual scope and sheer enthusiasm shines through on every page and the wonder is there for you to share. If you’ve never thrilled to these spectacular sagas then this book of marvels is the perfect key to another – far brighter – world and time.
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Silver Surfer Marvel Masterworks volume 1

By Stan Lee, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1187-0 (HB)                    978-0-7851-4282-9 (TPB)

Although pretty much a last-minute addition to Fantastic Four #48-50’s ‘Galactus Trilogy’, Jack Kirby’s scintillating creation the Silver Surfer quickly became a watchword for depth and subtext in the Marvel Universe and one Stan Lee kept as his own personal toy for many years.

Tasked with finding planets for space god Galactus to consume and, despite the best efforts of intergalactic voyeur Uatu the Watcher, one day the Silver Surfer discovers Earth, where the latent nobility of humanity reawakens his own suppressed morality; causing the shining scout to rebel against his master and help the FF save the world.

In retaliation, Galactus imprisons his one-time herald on Earth, making him the ultimate outsider on a planet remarkably ungrateful for his sacrifice.

The Galactus Saga was a creative highlight from a period where the Lee/Kirby partnership was utterly on fire. The tale has all the power and grandeur of a true epic and has never been surpassed for drama, thrills and sheer entertainment. It’s not included here: for that treat you’ll need to see an upcoming Fantastic Four Epic Collection or many other Marvel collections…

In 1968, after increasingly frequent guest-shots and even a solo adventure in the back of Fantastic Four Annual #5 (happily included here at the back; chronologically adrift but well worth the wait), the Surfer finally got his own (initially double-length) title at long last. There’s also a sassy spoof from Not Brand Echh #13 to puncture any pomposity overdose you might experience…

This stellar collection – available in deluxe hardback, sturdy trade paperback and assorted eBook formats – gathers the first six extra-length adventures from August 1968 to June 1969 and, following a fond Introductory reminiscence from author Stan Lee, begins with ‘The Origin of the Silver Surfer!’

Illustrated by John Buscema & Joe Sinnott, the drama unfolds after a prolonged flashback sequence and repeated examples of crass humanity’s brutal callousness and unthinking hostility, detailing how Norrin Radd, discontented soul from an alien paradise named Zenn-La, became the gleaming herald of a planetary scourge.

Radd had constantly chafed against a civilisation in comfortable, sybaritic stagnation, but when Galactus shattered their vaunted million years of progress in a fleeting moment, the dissident without hesitation offered himself as a sacrifice to save the world from the Devourer’s hunger.

Converted into an indestructible, gleaming human meteor, Radd agreed to scour the galaxies looking for uninhabited worlds rich in the energies Galactus needs to survive, thus saving planets with life on them from destruction. He didn’t always find them in time…

The stories in this series were highly acclaimed – if not really commercially successful – both for Buscema’s agonised, emphatic and truly beautiful artwork as well as Lee’s deeply spiritual and philosophical scripts. The tone was accusatory; with the isolated alien’s travails and social observations creating a metaphoric status akin to a Christ-figure for an audience that was maturing and rebelling against America’s creaking and unsavoury status quo.

The second 40-page adventure exposes a secret invasion by extraterrestrial lizard men ‘When Lands the Saucer!’ This forces the Surfer into battle against the sinister Brotherhood of Badoon without human aid or even awareness in ‘Let Earth be the Prize!’

A little side-note for sad nit-picking enthusiasts like me: I suspect that the original intention was to drop the page count to regular 20-page episodes from #2, since in terms of pacing both the second and third issues divide perfectly into two-parters, with cliffhanger endings and splash page/chapter titles that are dropped from #4 onwards.

Silver Surfer #3 is pivotal in the ongoing saga as Lee & Buscema introduced Marvel’s Satan-analogue in ‘The Power and the Prize!’

Mephisto is Lord of Hell and sees the Surfer’s untarnished soul as a threat to his evil influence on Earth. To crush the anguished hero’s spirit, the demon abducts Norrin Radd’s true love Shalla Bal from still-recovering Zenn-La and torments the Sentinel of the Spaceways with her dire distress in his sulphurous nether-realm…

The concluding chapter sees mortal angel of light and devil of depravity conduct a spectacular ‘Duel in the Depths’ wherein neither base temptations nor overwhelming force are enough to stay the noble Surfer’s inevitable triumph.

Just as wicked a foe then attempted to exploit the Earth-bound alien’s heroic impulses in #4’s ‘The Good, The Bad and the Uncanny!’ (inked by new art collaborator Sal Buscema) wherein Asgardian God of Evil Loki offers lies, deceit and even escape from Galactus’ terrestrial cage to induce the Silver Stalwart to attack and destroy the mighty Thor. The net result is a staggering and bombastic clash that just builds and builds as the creative team finally let loose and fully utilise their expanded story-proportions and page count to create smooth flowing, epic action-adventures.

This magical collection continues with a powerful parable about race, prejudice and shared humanity as the Surfer is befriended by ostracised black physicist Al Harper in ‘…And Who Shall Mourn Him?’

As the two outcasts bond, the scientist realises he might have a way to free the Surfer from his Galactine incarceration, but just as they put their plan into operation, remorseless alien entity The Stranger arrives, determined to erase the potential threat mankind offers to the rest of the universe.

To stop him both, Harper and Radd must sacrifice everything they cherish most for a world that doesn’t care if they live or die…

Officially closing this volume ‘World Without End!’ from issue #6 embraces dystopian fantasy as the Surfer reasons that by breaking the time-barrier he might escape the energy shield binding him to Earth. Tragically, although the plan works, the lonely wanderer discovers that the far future harbours little life, and what there is owes fealty and its own precarious continuation to a monstrous mutant who lives simply to conquer and kill.

Appalled, overwhelmed and utterly unable to beat the horrific Overlord, all the Surfer can do to preserve all Creation is to escape back into time and seek to prevent the murderous freak from ever being born…

As foretold, this compulsive comicbook chronicle concludes with a groundbreaking vignette from Fantastic Four Annual #5 – released in November 1967 – wherein the rapidly rising star-in-the-making got his first solo shot.

‘The Peerless Power of the Silver Surfer’ (Lee, Kirby & Frank Giacoia) is a pithy fable of cruel ingratitude that reintroduced the Mad Thinker’s lethal A.I. assassin Quasimodo

The Quasi-Motivational Destruct Organ was a malevolent murder machine trapped in a static computer housing which dreamed of being able to move within the real world. Sadly, although its pleas initially found favour with the gullibly innocent stranger from the stars, the killer computer itself had underestimated the power and conscience of its foolish saviour and the gleaming guardian of life was explosively forced to take back the boon he had impetuously bestowed in a bombastic bravura display of Kirby action and Lee pathos…

One last sally comes with ‘The Origin of the Simple Surfer!’ – by Roy Thomas and the sublime Marie Severin from Not Brand Echh #13,May 1969 – as alien émigré Borin-Kadd ruminates on his strange fate and pines for his daftly-beloved Shallo-Gal when… well you get the idea, right?

Completing the treats are a reprint cover gallery from Fantasy Masterpieces, house ads and a stunning original art cover by Buscema & Sinnott

The Silver Surfer was always a pristine and iconic character when handled well – and sparingly – and these early forays into a more mature range of adventures, although perhaps a touch heavy-handed, showed that there was far more to comicbooks than cops and robbers or monsters and misfits.

That exploratory experience and the mystique of hero as Christ allegory made the series a critically beloved but commercially disastrous cause célèbre until eventually financial failure killed the experiment.

After the Lee/Kirby/Ditko sparks had initially fired up the imaginations of readers in the early days, the deeper, subtler overtones and undercurrents offered by stories like these kept a maturing readership enthralled, loyal and abidingly curious as to what else comics could achieve if given half a chance, and this fabulously lavish tome offers the perfect way to discover or recapture the thrill and wonder of those startlingly different days and times.
© 1968, 1969, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Human Torch and the Thing: Strange Tales – the Complete Collection

By Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein, Ernie Hart, Jerry Siegel, Larry Ivie, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Bob Powell, Steve Ditko, Carl Burgos, Wallace Wood & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1334-2 (TPB)

Hot on the heels of the runaway success of Fantastic Four, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby spun the most colourful and youngest member of the team into his own series, hoping to recapture the glory of the 1940s when the Human Torch was one of the company’s “Big Three” superstars.

This captivating, esoteric and economical collection of pure 1960s superhero shenanigans gathers those eclectic but crucial yarns – no less than five major Marvel villains debuted in blistering battle against the Flaming Kid – between Strange Tales #101 – 134, as well as the lead tale from Strange Tales Annual #2 (spanning October 1962-July 1965).

Filled with fabulous classics of old school Marvel Fights ‘n’ Tights mayhem and mirth, this particular compendium (available in trade paperback and assorted eBook formats) also finally acknowledges that for a large part of that run his rocky companion and elder gadfly Ben “the Thing” Grimm was an equal player and partner in crime-busting.

Within a year of FF #1, the magic-&-monsters anthology title Strange Tales became the home for the hot-headed hero. In issue #101, teenager Johnny Storm started his ancillary solo career in the eponymous ‘The Human Torch’.

Scripted by Larry Lieber (over a plot by his brother Stan) and sublimely illustrated by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, here the plucky lad investigates sabotage at a new seaside amusement park and promptly discovers Commie-conniving thanks to a Red spy called the Destroyer. Kirby would pencil the first few adventures before moving on, after which inker Ayers would assume control of the series’ look for most of its run – although The King would generate some of the best covers of his Marvel career throughout the Torch’s tenure in Strange Tales.

An odd inconsistency or, more likely, tension- and drama-inducing gimmick did crop up here. Although public figures in the Fantastic Four, Johnny and his sister Sue live part-time in Long Island hamlet of Glenville and, despite the townsfolk being fully aware of her as the glamorous and heroic Invisible Girl, they seem oblivious to the fact that her baby brother is the equally famous Torch. Many daft-but-ingenious pages of Johnny protecting his secret identity would ensue before the situation was brilliantly resolved…

Although something of a hit-or-miss proposition in itself, the strip was the origin point for many of Marvel’s greatest villains. The first of these appeared in the very next issue. ‘Prisoner of the Wizard’ (Lee, Lieber, Kirby & Ayers) sees a spiteful and publicity-hungry intellectual giant determined to crush the Torch to prove his superiority to the callow kid who steals all the newspaper headlines…

The same creative team then produced captivating classic ‘Prisoner of the 5th Dimension’, as Johnny defeats an imminent invasion and frees a captive populace from tyranny before easily trashing adhesive-toting adversary ‘Paste-Pot Pete!’ (later revamped as the terrifying Trapster), before teaming with sister Sue to tackle the perilous ‘Return of the Wizard’.

When Kirby moved on to engineer and design a host of new characters and concepts (occasionally returning as necessity or special events warranted), Ayers assumed full art duties beginning with Strange Tales#106 (March 1963). This Lee & Lieber yarn was notable in that it revealed that the entire town of Glenville had always known the Torch’s secret identity but were just playing along to keep him happy…

When Acrobat Carl Zante knocks on Johnny’s door and offers him a better-paying gig in ‘The Threat of the Torrid Twosome’, the kid’s head is swelled and swayed, but he soon learns he’s been played by a master conman and diabolical bandit…

This first hint of tongue-in-cheek whimsy presaged an increasing lightness of touch which would come to characterise the Marvel style as much as the infighting between team-mates. The villainous Zante would return for another milestone in issue #114…

Issue #107 was Lieber’s last as Ayers drew a splendid punch-up with the ‘Sub-Mariner’ – a tale reminiscent of the spectacular and immensely popular Golden Age battles of their publishing forebears. Veteran writer Robert “Berns” Bernstein scripted the next two – frankly daft – sagas over Lee’s plots, but the saving grace of both ‘The Painter of a Thousand Perils!’ (empowered by an alien art kit which brought illustrations to life in ST #108) and ‘The Sorcerer and Pandora’s Box’ (#109, with monstrous demons attacking humanity) was the brief return of Kirby to the pencilling.

H.E. Huntley (Ernie Hart) typed the words for Ayers to illumine in ‘The Human Torch vs. the Wizard and Paste-Pot Pete!’: a cunning clash presaging the villains’ eventual evolution into FF’s evil counterparts the Frightful Four.

In #111 the Torch made short work of ‘Fighting to the Death with the Asbestos Man!’ – yet another demented scientist experiencing the travails and tragedies of simpler times.

Strange Tales #112 (scripted by Jerry Siegel under pen-name Joe Carter) introduced murderous electrical marauder the Eel who accidentally swiped and activated a miniature A-Bomb in tense, multifaceted thriller ‘The Human Torch Faces the Threat of the Living Bomb!’, after which1963’s Strange Tales Annual #2, featured ‘The Human Torch on the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!’

This terrific romp by Lee, Kirby & Steve Ditko details how the wallcrawler is framed by international art thief The Fox, whilst back in regular comicbook Strange Tales #113, “Carter” created another long-term always-employed baddie in ‘The Coming of the Plantman!’

November’s Strange Tales #114 then changed the face of the Marvel Firmament forever…

Written by Lee himself and illustrated by Kirby & Ayers, it featured the return of the third of Timely Comics’ Golden Age Big Three – or at least an impersonation of him by the insidious Acrobat – in a blockbusting battle entitled ‘The Human Torch meets…Captain America!

Here’s a quote from the last panel…

“You guessed it! This story was really a test! To see if you too would like Captain America to Return! As usual, your letters will give us the answer!” I wonder how that all turned out?

Lee took over as scripter with ST #115’s ‘The Sandman Strikes!’ wherein Johnny impersonates Spider-Man to defeat the granular gangster Flint Marko, after which the Torrid Teen and team-mate Ben Grimm battle each other while ‘In the Clutches of the Puppet Master!’ (#116, with Ayers inked by George Roussos in his own secret identity of George Bell).

‘The Return of the Eel! proved far more of a challenge in #117, after which the Wizard has another go as ‘The Man Who Became the Torch!’, consequently nearly killing the Thing and Reed Richards besides.

A first brush with Marvel’s soon-to-be core readership came in #119. ‘The Torch Goes Wild!’ details how Commie Agent the Rabble Rouser mesmerises decent citizens, making them surly and rebellious, after which Kirby stepped back in for #120 as ‘The Torch Meets Iceman!’: a terrific action-extravaganza that pretty much ended the glory days of this strip. From then on, despite every gimmick and occasional burst of sheer inspiration, the Bullpen could muster, a slow decline set in as quirky back-up strip Doctor Strange grew in popularity – and cover space…

ST #121 saw Johnny as ‘Prisoner of the Plantman!’ (Lee & Ayers) and #122 found a thug, a conman and a yogi all augmented by Dr. Doom and mustered as the woefully lame Terrible Trio ordered to launch an ill-conceived attack in ‘3 Against the Torch!’

Strange Tales #123 has a creepy inventor build himself an impressive insectoid exo-suit to get rich the easy way, as – in an effort to boost ratings – The Thing becomes a permanent fixture in ‘The Birth of the Beetle!’

This so-so saga was most notable for the pencil job by Golden Age Torch creator Carl Burgos, after which Johnny and Ben tackle a fully re-designed ‘Paste-Pot Pete’ (inked by Paul Reinman) before going after another old adversary in ‘The Sub-Mariner Must Be Stopped!’

‘Pawns of the Deadly Duo!’ sees Puppet Master return, allied to the Mad Thinker in a clever but shallow yarn whilst #127 pits Ben and Johnny against a bizarre puzzle and ‘The Mystery Villain!’

After a stunning Kirby pin-up of the Thing, the Fantastic Two then unwillingly battle ‘Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch’ in #128 (this one inked by Frankie Ray, AKA Frank Giacoia), as the Homo Superior siblings make an abortive first attempt to quit Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, after which ‘The Terrible Trio!’ once more fail to impress or assassinate our heroes…

Pop culture reeled and staggered with #130 in ‘Meet the Beatles’ (not villains, but actually some sort of popular musical combo of the times, and they actually didn’t meet them at all), although brilliant Golden Age artist Bob Powell (with inking from Chic Stone) did take over the art chores for the comedy of errors/crime caper.

Ayers returned to ink #131, the dire ‘Bouncing Ball of Doom!’ with the Mad Thinker siccing a cybernetic bowling bowl on the pair before Larry Ivie scripts a capable Space Race thriller in ‘The Sinister Space Trap!’ (inked by Mike Esposito under his Mickey DeMeo alias).

Stan Lee returned for the last two tales in ST #133 and #134; ‘The Terrible Toys’ wherein Puppet Master tries a new modus operandi and ‘The Challenge of… The Watcher!’ (inked by the majestic Wally Wood) wherein Torch and Thing are transported to legendary Camelot to battle time-reaver Kang the Conqueror, but it was clear the writer’s mind was elsewhere, most likely with the new Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. strip that would replace the FF pair from Strange Tales #135 onwards.

Wrapping up this memory lane meander are a marvellous melange of original art pages by Kirby and/or Ayers, nostalgia-invoking House Ads and a cover gallery from the 1974-75 reprint series of Golden and Silver Age Torch Tales, rendered by John Romita, Joe Sinnott, Larry Lieber, Ron Wilson, Frank Giacoia, Gil Kane, Al Milgrom &Vince Colletta, plus the Kirby/Richard Isanove paint cover from Marvel Masterworks: The Human Torch #1.

It’s interesting to note that as the parent Fantastic Four title grew in scope and quality the Human Torch’s own series diminished. Perhaps there is something to be said for concentrating one’s efforts or not overexposing your stars. What was originally a spin-off for the younger audience faded as Marvel found its voice and its marketplace, although there would be periodic efforts to reinvigorate the Torch.

Sadly, the historic value often supersedes the quality of most of these strange tales, but there’s still a good deal that’s great about this series and Costumed Drama devotees with a sense of tradition and love of fun will find this book irresistible and unmissable.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Team Up Marvel Masterworks volume 2

By Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Sal Buscema, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5933-9 (HB)

Inspiration isn’t everything. In fact, as Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in the wake of the losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators, they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties. The only real exception to this was the en masse creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

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

Nevertheless, Marvel Team-Up was the second full-Spider-Man title (abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the magazine market in 1968 but had died after two issues), launching in March 1972, and becoming a resounding hit.

This second sturdy compilation (in hardback or digital formats) gathers material from MTU #12-22 plus a crossover with Daredevil (and the Black Widow) #103 spanning August 1973 to June 1974 and opens with a fond, if self-proclaimed foggy, recollection from then Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas in his cheery Introduction before we plunge into the many-starred dramas…

Len Wein scripted a Gerry Conway plot for ‘Wolf at Bay!’ from MTU #12 as the Wall-Crawler meets the Werewolf By Night Jack Russell and malevolent mage Moondark in foggy San Francisco, as deftly delineated by Ross Andru & Don Perlin, after which we divert to the Man without Fear and the Black Widow’s own title. Here they share the left coast limelight as Daredevil #103 sees them joining with the still California-bound wallcrawler. A merciless cyborg attacks the odd couple while they pose for roving photojournalist Peter Parker in ‘…Then Came Ramrod!’ – by Steve Gerber, Don Heck & Sal Trapani – and the only response can be battle…

Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia illustrated ‘The Granite Sky!’ wherein Wein pits Spider-Man and Captain America against Hydra and the Grey Gargoyle in a simple clash of ideologies after which ‘Mayhem is… the Men-Fish!’ (inked by Wayne Howard – and, yes bad grammar, but great action-art!) matches the webslinger with the savage Sub-Mariner against vile villains Tiger Shark and Doctor Dorcas as well as an army (navy?) of mutant sea-beasts.

Wein, Andru & Perlin created The Orb to bedevil Spidey and the Ghost Rider in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee!’ in #15 after which Kane & Jim Mooney illustrated ‘Beware the Basilisk my Son!’: a gripping romp featuring (the original Kree) Captain Marvel, which concludes in ‘Chaos at the Earth’s Core!’ (inked by “everybody”!), as Mister Fantastic joins the fracas to stop the Mole Man from inadvertently blowing up the world.

Human Torch Johnny Storm teams with the Hulk in MTU #18 to stop antimatter malcontent Blastaar in ‘Where Bursts the Bomb!’ (inked by Giacoia & Esposito), but Spidey blazes back a month later with Ka-Zar in situ to witness ‘The Coming of… Stegron, the Dinosaur Man!’ (Wein, Kane & Giacoia) whose plans to flatten New York by releasing ‘Dinosaurs on Broadway!’ is foiled with the Black Panther’s help – as well as the artistic skills of Sal Buscema, Giacoia & Esposito.

Dave Hunt replaced Esposito and aide Giacoia inking ‘The Spider and the Sorcerer!’ in #21 as Spidey and Doctor Strange once more battle Xandu, a wily wizard first seen in Spider-Man Annual #2, before ‘The Messiah Machine!’ brings the story glories to a conclusion by depicting Hawkeye and the Amazing Arachnid frustrating deranged computer Quasimodo’s ambitious if absurd mechanoid invasion.

Adding extra lustre before we close, there’s a brace of original art pages from Andru & Perlin and Kane and Mooney to drool over, too…

These stories are of variable quality but nonetheless all have an honest drive to entertain and please, whilst artistically the work – particularly action-man-on-fire Gil Kane – is superb, and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about. Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s lots of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so there’s no real reason not to add this tome to your library…
© 1973, 1974, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Two-In-One Epic Collection volume 1 1973-1976: Cry Monster

By Steve Gerber, Bill Mantlo, Len Wein, Mike Friedrich, Chris Claremont, Roy Thomas, Roger Slifer, Marv Wolfman, Scott Edelman, Tony Isabella, Jim Starlin, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, Bob Brown, Ron Wilson, Arvell Jones & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1332-8 (TPB)

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

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

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

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

This trade paperback and eBook compendium gathers together the contents of Marvel Feature #11-12, Marvel Two-In-One #1-19, 22-25 and Marvel Team-Up #47, covering the period September 1973 – September 1976, and kicks off with a perennial favourite pairing as the Thing again clashes with the Hulk in ‘Cry: Monster! (by Len Wein, Jim Starlin & Joe Sinnott) wherein Kurrgo, Master of Planet X and the lethal Leader manipulate the blockbusting brutes into duking it out – ostensibly to settle a wager – but with both misshapen masterminds concealing hidden agendas…

That ever-inconclusive yet cataclysmic confrontation strands Ben in the Nevada desert where Mike Friedrich, Starlin & Sinnott promptly drop him into the middle of the ongoing war against mad Titan Thanos as Iron Man – helped by the Thing – crushes monstrous alien invaders in ‘The Bite of the Blood Brothers!’ (#12, November 1973); another spectacular and painfully pretty, all-action punch-up.

Still stuck in the desert when the dust settles Ben eventually treks to an outpost of civilisation just in time to be diverted to Florida for Marvel Two-In-One #1 (January 1974). Here Steve Gerber, Gil Kane & Sinnott magnificently reveal the ‘Vengeance of the Molecule Man!’ as Ben learns some horrifying home truths about what constitutes being a monster, battling with and beside ghastly grotesque anti-hero Man-Thing.

With the second issue Gerber cannily traded a superfluous supporting character from the Man-Thing series to add some much-needed depth to the team-up title. ‘Manhunters from the Stars!’ pits Ben, old enemy Sub-Mariner and the Aquatic Avenger’s powerful cousin Namorita against each other and aliens hunting the emotionally and intellectually retarded superboy Wundarr in another dynamically intoxicating tale illustrated by Kane & Sinnott. That case also leaves the Thing de facto guardian of the titanic teenaged tot…

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

The furious future-shocker concluded in MTIO #5 as the Guardians of the Galaxy (the future team not the modern movie sensations) climb aboard the Freedom Rocket to help the time-lost heroes liberate New York before returning home. The overthrow of the aliens was completed by another set of ancient heroes in Defenders #26-29 in case you’re the kind of reader that craves comics closure…).

Marvel Two-In-One #6 (November 1974) began a complex crossover tale with the aforementioned Defenders as Dr. Strange and the Thing are embroiled in a cosmic event which begins with a subway busker’s harmonica and leads inexorably to a ‘Death-Song of Destiny!’ (Gerber, George Tuska & Mike Esposito) before Asgardian outcasts Enchantress and the Executioner attempt to seize control of unfolding events in #7’s ‘Name That Doom!’ (pencilled by Sal Buscema), only to be thwarted by Grimm and the valiant Valkyrie. There’s enough of an ending here for casual readers but fans and completists will want to hunt down Defenders #20 or one of many collected volumes for the full story…

Back here, though, issue #8 teamed the Thing and supernatural sensation Ghost Rider in a quirky yet compelling Yuletide yarn for a ‘Silent Night… Deadly Night!’ (Gerber, Buscema & Esposito) wherein the audacious Miracle Man tries to usurp a very special birth in a stable…

Gerber moved on after plotting the Thor team-up ‘When a God goes Mad!’ for Chris Claremont to script and Herb Trimpe & Joe Giella to finish: a frankly meagre effort with the Puppet Master and Radion the Atomic Man making a foredoomed powerplay, but issue #10 serves up a slice of inspired espionage action with Ben and the Black Widow battling suicidal terrorist Agamemnon. He plans to detonate the planet’s biggest nuke in the blistering thriller ‘Is This the Way the World Ends?’ by Claremont, Bob Brown & Klaus Janson.

Marvel Two-In-One had quickly become a clearing house for cancelled series and uncompleted storylines. Supernatural star The Golem had featured in Strange Tales #174, 176 and 177 (June-December 1974) before being summarily replaced mid-story by Adam Warlock and MTIO #11 provided plotter Roy Thomas, scripter Bill Mantlo and artists Brown & Jack Abel opportunity to end the saga when ‘The Thing Goes South’ results in stony bloke and animated statue finally crushing the insidious plot of demonic wizard Kaballa.

Young Ron Wilson began his lengthy association with the series and the Thing in #12 as Iron Man and Ben tackle out of control, mystically-empowered ancient Crusader Prester John in ‘The Stalker in the Sands!’; a blistering desert storm written by Mantlo and inked by Vince Colletta, after which Luke Cage, Power Man pops in to help stop a giant monster in ‘I Created Braggadoom!, the Mountain that Walked like a Man!’: an old fashioned homage scripted by Roger Slifer & Len Wein, after which Mantlo, Trimpe & John Tartaglione collaborate on a spooky encounter with spectres and demons in #14’s ‘Ghost Town!’ This moody mission is shared with bellicose newcomer The Son of Satan

Mantlo, Arvell Jones & Dick Giordano bring on ‘The Return of the Living Eraser!’: a dimension-hopping invasion yarn introducing Ben to Morbius, the Living Vampire before a canny crossover epic begins with the Thing and Ka-Zar plunging ‘Into the Savage Land!’ to dally with dinosaurs and defeat resource-plunderers, after which the action switches to New York as Spider-Man joins the party in MTIO #17 to combat ‘This City… Afire!’ (Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Esposito) when a mutated madman transports an active volcano from Antarctica to the Hudson River with the cataclysmic conclusion (from Marvel Team-Up #47) following, wherein Mantlo, Wilson & Dan Adkins reveal how the day is saved in fine style with ‘I Have to Fight the Basilisk!’

Another short-changed supernatural serial was finally sorted out in MTIO #18. ‘Dark, Dark Demon-Night!’ by Mantlo, Scott Edelman, Wilson, Jim Mooney & Adkins, sees mystical watchdog The Scarecrow escape from its painted prison to foil a demonic invasion with the reluctant assistance of the Thing, after which Tigra the Were-Woman slinks into Ben’s life to vamp a favour and crush a sinister scheme by a rogue cat creature in ‘Claws of the Cougar!’ by Mantlo, Sal Buscema, & Don Heck.

This initial compendium also includes house ads, and loads of original art and covers from Kane, Wilson and Buscema to seal a splendid deal. These stories from Marvel’s Middle Period are of variable quality but nonetheless all are honest efforts to entertain and exhibit a dedicated drive to please. Whilst artistically the work varies from adequate to quite superb, most fans of frantic Fights ‘n’ Tights genre would find little to complain about.

Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s lots of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so why not add this titanic tome to your straining superhero bookshelves?
© 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 7

By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Gary Friedrich, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, Dick Ayers, John Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6668-9 (HB)

As the 1970s opened the Incredible Hulk had settled into a comfortable – if always excessively and spectacularly destructive – niche. The globe-trotting formula saw tragic Bruce Banner hiding and seeking cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains.

Herb Trimpe had made the character his own, displaying a penchant for explosive action and an unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance and vehicles. Scripter Roy Thomas – unofficial custodian of Marvel’s burgeoning shared-universe continuity – played the afflicted Jekyll/Hyde card for maximum angst and ironic heartbreak even as he continually injected the Jade Juggernaut into the lives of other stalwarts of Marvel’s growing pantheon…

This chronologically-curated hardback and eBook compendium re-presents issues #135-144 plus a crossover tale from Avengers #88 and a delightful surprise from Marvel Super-Heroes #16 (September 1968), encompassing cover-dates January to October 1971 and opens – after Thomas’ Introduction shares a few more intimate behind-the-scenes secrets – with Incredible Hulk #122.

Inked by Sal Buscema, one of the strangest Marvel team-ups occurred in ‘Descent into the Time-Storm!’ as Kang the Conqueror dispatches the Jade Juggernaut to the dog-days of World War I to prevent the Avengers’ ancestors from being born, only to fall foul of the enigmatic masked aviator known as the Phantom Eagle.

Apparently as the result of a Gerry Conway suggestion, Moby Dick (among other cross-media classics) was then homaged in ‘Klattu! The Behemoth From Beyond Space!’ and ‘The Stars, Mine Enemy!’ (this last inked by Mike Esposito) as a vengeance-crazed starship captain pursues the Brobdingnagian alien beast that had maimed him, consequently press-ganging the Hulk in the process and pitting him against old foe the Abomination.

It was back to Earth and another old enemy in ‘…Sincerely, the Sandman!’ (inked by Sam Grainger) as the vicious villain turns Banner’s true love Betty Ross to brittle, fragile glass, whilst #139’s ‘Many Foes Has the Hulk!’ looks in on the Leader’s latest attempt to kill his brutish nemesis: by exhaustion, with seemingly hundreds of old villains attacking the man-monster all at once…

A most impressive crossover follows as Harlan Ellison, Thomas, Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney craft ‘The Summons of Psyklop!’ for Avengers #88 (May 1971) wherein an insectoid servant of the Elder Gods abducts the Hulk to fuel their resurrection… This leads directly into Incredible Hulk #140 and landmark yarn ‘The Brute that Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom’ (pencilled & inked by Grainger over Trimpe’s layouts). Trapped on a sub-atomic world, Banner’s intellect and the Hulk’s body are reconciled, and he becomes a barbarian hero to an appreciative populace, and the lover of the perfect princess Jarella, only to be snatched away by Psyklop at the moment of his greatest happiness.

The sudden return to full-sized savagery is the insectoid’s undoing and the Hulk resumes his ghastly existence… at least until #141 when an experimental psychologist provides a means to drain the Hulk’s gamma-energy and utilise it to restore the crystalline Betty.

He even uses the remaining gamma force to turn himself into a superhero in ‘His Name is … Samson!’ (with the wonderful John Severin inking).

Next comes a satirical poke at “Radical Chic” and the return of the “feminist” villain Valkyrie when the Hulk is made a media cause celebre by Manhattan’s effete elite in the oddly charming ‘They Shoot Hulks, Don’t They?’

But don’t fret, there’s plenty of monumental mayhem as well…

This titanic tome terminates with an inevitable but long-delayed clash as the Green Goliath battles Doctor Doom in a two-part epic begun by Thomas, Dick Ayers & Severin wherein the hunted Banner finds ‘Sanctuary!’ in New York City’s Latverian Embassy. The deal is a bad one, however, since the Iron Dictator proceeds to enslave the Gamma scientist for his bomb-making knowledge in an attempt to make his awesome alter ego into an unstoppable war machine…

The scheme goes awry in ‘The Monster and the Madman!’ (scripted by Gary Friedrich over Thomas’ plot) as the brainwashed Banner shucks his mind-warped conditioning – thanks to Doom’s conflicted consort Valeria – just in time for the Hulk to deliver a salutary lesson in mayhem throughout the dictator’s domain.

Did I say it was all over? Not so as wrapping up is the cover to Hulk Annual #3 and original artwork by Ayers & Severin as well as the debut tale of ‘The Phantom Eagle’ by Friedrich & Trimpe as seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #16.

It’s March 1917 and barnstorming aviator Karl Kaufman chafes at his inability to enlist in the US Army Air Corps. America is not in the Great War yet, but everyone knows it’s coming and Karl’s best friend cannot understand his pal’s reticence. Despite a crash-created infirmity, Rex Griffin signed up immediately but doesn’t realise that Karl can’t be an allied air warrior until he has smuggled his German parents out of the Fatherland and beyond the reach of reprisals…

All too suddenly the war comes to Karl as, while testing his new super-plane, he encounters a gigantic Fokker-carrying zeppelin over Long Island Sound, and realizes the Kaiser has launched an invasion of America…

Mobilising his meagre resources and masked as a Phantom Eagle, Karl takes to the skies but his sortie, although successful, will cost him dearly…

The Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, TV shows and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these yarns so why not Go Green.
© 1970, 1971, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 2

By Chris Claremont, Bill Mantlo, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Bob Brown, Tony DeZuñiga & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1193-1 (TPB)                  978-0-7851-3704-7 (TMB)

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

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

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

Although their title returned at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the ongoing Marvel universe, whilst the bludgeoning Beast was opportunistically transformed into a scary monster to cash in on the horror boom.

Then, with sales of the spooky stuff subsequently waning in 1975, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas green-lighted a bold one-shot as part of the company’s line of Giant-Size specials and history was made…

This second startling selection (available in luxurious hardcover, trade paperback and eBook editions) is perfect for newbies, neophytes and even old lags nervous about reading such splendid yarns on fragile but extremely valuable newsprint paper. It celebrates the unstoppable march to market dominance through the exuberant and pivotal early stories: specifically, issues #101-110 of the decidedly “All-New, All-Different” X-Men – spanning October 1976 to April 1978 and tracing the reinvigorated merry mutants from young, fresh and delightfully under-exposed innovations to the beginnings of their unstoppable ascendancy to ultimate comicbook icons, in their own title and through an increasingly broad clutch of guest shots…

As #101 unfolds, scripter Chris Claremont and illustrators Dave Cockrum & Frank Chiaramonte were on the on the verge of utterly overturning the accepted status quo of women in comics forever…

Led by field-leader Cyclops, the team now consisted of old acquaintance and former foe SeanBansheeCassidy, Wolverine, and new creations Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus and part-timer Jean Grey still labouring under the nom-de guerre Marvel Girl… but not for much longer…

‘Like a Phoenix from the Ashes’ sees a space-shuttle cataclysmically crash into Jamaica Bay. The X-Men – fresh from eradicating a space station full of mutant-hunting Sentinels – had safely travelled in a specially-shielded chamber but Jean had manually piloted the vehicle, unprotected through a lethal radiation storm…

As the mutants escape the slowly sinking craft, a fantastic explosion propels the impossibly alive pilot into the air, now-clad in a strange gold-&-green uniform screaming that she is “Fire and Life Incarnate… Phoenix!”

Immediately collapsing, the critically injured girl is rushed to hospital and a grim wait begins.

Unable to explain her survival and too preoccupied to spare time for teaching, Xavier packs the newest recruits off to the Irish mutant’s home in County Mayo for a vacation, blissfully unaware that Cassidy Keep has been compromised and is now a deadly trap for his new students…

Within the ancestral pile, Sean’s mutant cousin Black Tom has usurped control of the manor and its incredible secrets before – at the behest of mysterious plotter Eric the Red – contriving an inescapable ambush, assisted by an old X-Men enemy.

‘Who Will Stop the Juggernaut?’ (Sam Grainger inks) sees the inexperienced heroes in over their heads and fighting for their lives, but still finds room to reveal the origins of Storm and provide an explanation for her crippling claustrophobia, before ‘The Fall of the Tower’ explosively ends the tale with mutant heroes and the Keep’s Leprechaun colony (no, really!) uniting to expel the murderous usurpers.

Although still bi-monthly at the time, the series kicked into confident top gear with ‘The Gentleman’s Name is Magneto’ as the weary warriors head for Scotland to check on Moira MacTaggert’s island lab: a secret facility containing myriad mutant menaces the X-Men have previously defeated.

It’s a very bad move since the ever-active Eric has restored the dormant master of magnetism to full power…

The mutant terrorist had been turned into a baby – a strangely commonplace fate for villains in those faraway days – but he was all grown up again now but indulging in one last temper tantrum…

Freshly arrived from America, Moira (who had been acting as the team’s US housekeeper) and Cyclops are only just in time to lead a desperate, humiliating retreat from the triumphant Master of Magnetism. Scott doesn’t care: he realises the entire affair has been a feint to draw the mutant heroes away from Xavier and Jean…

He needn’t have worried. Although in ‘Phoenix Unleashed’ (inks by Bob Layton) Eric orchestrates an attack by Firelord – a cosmic flamethrower and former herald of Galactus much like the Silver Surfer – Jean is now fully-evolved into a being of unimaginable power who readily holds the fiery marauder at bay…

In the interim a long-standing mystery is solved as the visions which have haunted and tormented Xavier for months are revealed as a psychic connection with a runaway warrior-princess from a distant alien empire.

Lilandra of the Shi’ar had rebelled against her imperial brother and, whilst fleeing, somehow telepathically locked onto her trans-galactic soul-mate Charles Xavier. As she made her circuitous way to Earth, embedded Shi’ar spy Shakari had assumed the role of Eric the Red and attempted to remove Lilandra’s potential champion before she even arrived…

During the blistering battle which follows the X-Men’s dramatic arrival, Shakari snatches up Lilandra and drags her through a stargate to their home galaxy, before, with the entire universe imperilled, Xavier urges his team to follow.

All Jean has to do is re-open a wormhole to the other side of creation…

A minor digression follows as overstretched artist Cockrum gains a breather via a fill-in “untold” tale of the new team featuring an attack by psychic clones of the original X-men. ‘Dark Shroud of the Past’ is a competent pause by Bill Mantlo, Bob Brown & Tom Sutton, set inside a framing sequence from Cockrum.

The regular story resumes in a knowing homage to Star Trek as ‘Where No X-Man Has Gone Before!’ (Claremont, Cockrum & Dan Green) sees the heroes stranded in another galaxy where they meet and are beaten by the Shi’ar Imperial Guard (an in-joke version of DC’s Legion of Super Heroes in the inimitable Cockrum manner). The odds change radically when bold interstellar rebel freebooters the Starjammers bombastically arrive to turn the tables once again whilst uncovering a mad scheme to unmake the fabric of space-time.

Lilandra’s brother Emperor D’Ken is a deranged maniac who wants to activate a cosmic artefact known alternatively as the M’Kraan Crystal and “the End of All that Is” in his quest for ultimate power. He’s also spent time on Earth in the past and played a major role in the life of one of the X-Men…

This tale (from issue #107) was Cockrum’s last for years. He would eventually return to replace the man who replaced him. John Byrne not only illustrated but also began co-plotting the X-tales and, as the team roster expanded, the series rose to even greater heights. It would culminate in the landmark Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character and the departure of the team’s heart and soul. The epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the epochal working relationship of Claremont and Byrne.

Within months of publication they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with the mutants whilst Byrne moved on to establish his own reputation as a writer on series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionised Fantastic Four

Here though, the X-Men and Starjammers battle the Crystal’s astoundingly deadly automated guardians, as this final chapter depicts the newly puissant Phoenix literally saving all Reality in a mind-blowing display of power and skill.

Trapped inside a staggering other-realm, and appalled and enthralled by the intoxicating, addictive nature of her own might, Phoenix rewove the fabric of Reality and for an encore brought the heroes home again.

The conclusion of this ambitious extended saga was drawn by Byrne and inked by Terry Austin and their visual virtuosity was to become an industry bench-mark as the X-Men grew in popularity and complexity.

However, even though the bravura high-octane thrills of ‘Armageddon Now’ seem an unrepeatable high-point, Claremont & Byrne had only started. The best was still to come, as in X-Men #109’s ‘Home Are the Heroes!’ (Claremont, Byrne & Austin) Wolverine finally begins to develop a back-story and some depth of character after technological wonder Weapon Alpha attacks the recuperating team in an appallingly misjudged attempt to force the enigmatic Logan to rejoin the Canadian Secret Service.

Renamed Vindicator Alpha would later return leading Alpha Flight – a Canadian government sponsored super-team which would eventually graduate to their own eccentric high-profile series.

The drama concludes with X-Men #110 (April 1978) wherein Claremont, and illustrators Tony DeZuñiga & Cockrum, detail ‘The “X”-Sanction!’: a rather limp and hasty fill-in with cyborg mercenary Warhawk infiltrating the Xavier mansion in search of “intel” for a mysterious, unspecified master… before getting his shiny silver head handed to him…

Entertaining, groundbreaking and incredibly intoxicating, these adventures are an invaluable and crucial grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can be allowed to ignore.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.