Deadpool Epic Comics volume 1: The Circle Chase 1991-1994


By Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza, Glenn Herdling, Gregory Wright, Tom Brevoort, Mike Kanterovich, Mark Waid, Dan Slott, Pat Olliffe, Mark Pacella, Greg Capullo, Mike Gustovich, Joe Madureira, Isaac Cordova, Jerry DeCaire, Bill Wylie, Ian Churchill, Sandu Florea, Terry Shoemaker, Al Milgrom, Scot Eaton, Ariane Lenshoek, Tony DeZuñiga, Lee Weeks, Don Hudson, Ken Lashley & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-302-3205-3 (TPB/Digital edition)

With a long, LONG awaited cinematic combo clash finally headed our way this summer and in the year of a certain Canadian Canucklehead’s 50th Anniversary, expect a few cashing-in style commendations and reviews in our immediate future. Here’s a handy starter package to set the ball rolling…

Bloodthirsty killers and stylish mercenaries have long made for popular protagonists and this guy is probably one of the most popular. Deadpool is Wade Wilson: a survivor of sundry experiments that left him a scarred, grotesque bundle of scabs and physical unpleasantries – albeit functionally immortal, invulnerable and capable of regenerating from literally any wound.

Moreover, after his initial outings on the fringes of the X-Universe, his modern incarnation makes him either one of the few beings able to perceive the true nature of reality… or a total gibbering loon.

Chronologically collecting and curating cameos, guest shots and his early outrages from New Mutants #98, X-Force #2, 11 & 15, Deadpool: The Circle Chase #1-4, and Secret Defenders #15-17, as well as pertinent excerpted material from X-Force #4, 5 10, 14, 19-24; X-Force Annual #1, Nomad #4; Avengers #366 & Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #23 & 30, (spanning February 1991 to November 1994), this tome is merely the first in a series cataloguing his ever more outlandish escapades.

After Gail Simone’s joyous Foreword ‘He was always Deadpool’ justifies and confirms his fame, escalating antics and off-kilter appeal, his actual debut in New Mutants #98’s ‘The Beginning of the End, part one’ opens proceedings. The “merc with a mouth” was created as a villain du jour by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza, as that title wound down in advance of a major reboot/rebrand. He seemed a one-trick throwaway in a convoluted saga of mutant mayhem with little else to recommend it. An employee of enigmatic evildoer Mr. Tolliver, Deadpool was despatched to kill to kill future-warrior Cable and his teen acolytes… but spectacularly failed. The kids were soon after rebranded and relaunched as X-Force though, so he had a few encores and more tries…

With appropriate covers and text to precis events between excerpt moments, we learn Deadpool first popped back in September 1991’s X-Force #2’s ‘The Blood Hunters’ where he clashed with another product of Canada’s clandestine super-agent project (which had turned a mutant spy into feral, adamantium-augmented warrior Wolverine as well as unleashing so many other second-string cyborg super-doers). Gritty do-gooder Garrison Kane was dubbed Weapon X (first of many!) and the tale also included aging spymaster GW Bridge

Still just a derivative costumed killer for hire popping up in bit part roles, the merc continued pushing Tolliver’s agenda and met Spider-Man until as seen here via snippets from X-Force Annual #1 (1991) before stumbling through Nicieza-scripted crossover Dead Man’s Hand. Illustrated by Pat Olliffe & Mark McKenna, ‘Neon Knights’ (Nomad #4, August 1992) finds Deadpool just one of a bunch of super-killers-for-hire convened by a group of lesser crime bosses seeking to fill a void created by the fall of The Kingpin. His mission is to remove troublemaking fellow hitman Bushwacker, but former super sidekick Jack “Bucky” Monroe has some objections…

Excerpts from X-Force #10 (May 1992) presage #11’s extended fight between Deadpool, the teen team, Cable and mutant luck-shaper Domino in ‘Friendly Reminders’ (Nicieza, Liefeld, Mark Pacella & Dan Panosian) before a clip from X-Force #14 (September 1992 limned by Terry Shoemaker & Al Milgrom) reveals a shocking truth about Domino and Deadpool’s relationship with her, prior to X-Force #15’s ‘To the Pain’ (October 1992 with art by Greg Capullo) wrapping up a long-running war between Cable’s kids, Tolliver and The Externals

Excerpts from X-Force #19-23 – as first seen in 1993 – find the manic merc hunting Domino and/or Vanessa and sparking a mutant mega clash before Wade Wilson guests in Avengers #366 (September 1993 by Glenn Herdling, Mike Gustovich & Ariane Lenshoek). A tie-in to Deadpool’s first solo miniseries, ‘Swordplay³’ sees the merc and a group of meta-scavengers embroiled in battle with each other and new hero Blood Wraith with The Black Knight helpless to control the chaos…

That first taste of solo stardom came with 4-issue miniseries The Circle Chase: cover-dated August-November 1993 by Nicieza, Joe Madureira & Mark Farmer. A fast-paced but cluttered thriller, it sees Wilson doggedly pursuing an ultimate weapon: one of a large crowd of mutants and variously-enhanced ne’er-do-wells seeking the fabled legacy of arms dealer/fugitive from the future Mr. Tolliver. Among other (un)worthies bound for the boodle in ‘Ducks in a Row’, ‘Rabbit Season, Duck Season’, ‘…And Quacks Like a Duck…’ and ‘Duck Soup’ are mutant misfits Black Tom and The Juggernaut; the then-latest iteration of Weapon X; shape-shifter Copycat and a host of fashionably disposable cyborg loons with quirky media-buzzy names like Commcast and Slayback. If you can swallow any understandable nausea associated with the dreadful trappings of this low point in Marvel’s tempestuous history, there is a sharp and entertaining little thriller underneath…

A follow-up tale in Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #23 (April 1994, Gregory Wright, Isaac Cordova & Hon Hudson) pits Wilson against Daredevil and notional heroes-for-hire Paladin and Silver Sable before uniting to thwart fascist usurpers The Genesis Coalition, prior to a relatively heroic stance in Doctor Strange team-up title Secret Defenders.

Beginning in #15’s ‘Strange Changes Part the First: Strangers and Other Lovers’ (May 1994 by Tom Brevoort, Mike Kanterovich, Jerry Decaire & Tony DeZuñiga) the Sorcerer Supreme sends Doctor Druid, Shadowoman, Luke Cage and Deadpool to stop ancient life-sucking sorceress Malachi – a task fraught with peril that takes #16’s ‘Strange Changes Part the Second: Resurrection Tango’ (pencilled by Bill Wylie and debuting zombie hero Cadaver), and #17’s ‘Strange Changes Part the Third: On Borrowed Time’

A moment from Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #30 (November 1994, by Wright, Scot Eaton & Jim Amash) depicting Wade’s reaction to his rival’s fall from grace segues into the second 4-part Deadpool miniseries (August – November 1994) which revolves around auld acquaintances Black Tom and Juggernaut. Collaboratively contrived by writer Mark Waid, pencillers Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks and Ken Lashley with inkers Jason Minor, Bob McLeod, Bub LaRosa, Tom Wegryzn, Philip Moy & W.C. Carani, ‘If Looks Could Kill!’, ‘Luck of the Irish’, ‘Deadpool, Sandwich’ and ‘Mano a Mano’ delivers a hyperkinetic race against time heavy on explosive action.

The previous miniseries revealed Irish archvillain Black Tom Cassidy was slowly turning into a tree (as you do). Desperate to save his meat-based life, the bad guy and best bud Cain “The Juggernaut” Marko manipulate Wade Wilson: exploiting the merc’s unconventional relationship with Siryn (a sonic mutant, Tom’s niece and X-Force member). Believing Deadpool’s regenerating factor holds a cure, the villains stir up a bucket-load of carnage at a time when Wade is at his lowest ebb. Packed with mutant guest stars, this is a shallow but immensely readable piece of eye-candy that reset Deadpool’s path and paved the way for a tonal change that would make the Merc with a Mouth a global superstar…

All Epic Collections offer bonus material bonanzas and here that comprises images from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Master Edition, many cover reproductions (Deadpool Classic volume 1 by Liefeld & John Kalisz, Deadpool Classic Companion by Michael Bair & Matt Milla, Deadpool: Sins of the Past and The Circle Chase TPBs by Madureira, Farmer & Harry Canelario), pin-ups by Rob Haynes & John Lowe from X-Force Annual #2 and Annual #3 by Lashley & Matt “Batt” Banning, plus Sam Kieth’s Marvel Year-in-Review ’93 cover. That magazine’s parody ad by Dan Slott, Manny Galen, Scott Koblish & Wright, follows with Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti & Mark McNabb’s foldout cover to Wizard #22 and Liefeld’s “Marvel ‘92” variant cover for Deadpool #3 (2015).

Featuring a far darker villain evolving into an antihero in a frenetic blend of light-hearted, surreal, full-on fighting frolics these stories only hint at what is to come but remain truly compulsive reading for dyed-in-the-wool superhero fans who might be feeling just a little jaded with four-colour overload…
© 2021 MARVEL.

Iron Man Epic Collection volume 6: The War of the Super Villains 1974 – 1976


By Mike Friedrich, Barry Alfonso, Tom Orzechowski, Bill Mantlo, Len Wein, Archie Goodwin, Roger Slifer, Jim Shooter, Steve Gerber, Gerry Conway, George Tuska, Herb Trimpe, Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard, Chic Stone, Tuska, Sal Buscema, Marie Severin & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1302948801 (TPB/Digital edition)

Arch-technocrat and supreme survivor Tony Stark has changed his profile many times since his debut in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963) when, whilst a VIP visitor in Vietnam observing the efficacy of the munitions he had designed, the inventor was critically wounded and captured by sinister, savage Communists.

Put to work building weapons with the dubious promise of medical assistance on completion, Stark instead created the first of many technologically augmented suits to keep himself alive and deliver him from his oppressors. From there it was a simple – transistor-powered – jump to full time superheroics as a modern Knight in Shining Armour…

First conceived in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis at a time when Western economies were booming and “Commie-bashing” was an American national obsession, the emergence of a new and shining young Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity, wealth and invention to safeguard the Land of the Free and better the World, seemed an obvious development. Combining the then-sacrosanct faith that technology and business in unison could solve any problem, with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil, Stark –The Invincible Iron Man – seemed an infallibly successful proposition.

Of course, whilst he was the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism – a glamorous millionaire industrialist/scientist and a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the super-scientific armour of his alter-ego – the turbulent tone of the 1970s soon relegated his suave, “can-do” image to the dustbin of history. With ecological disaster and social catastrophe from the myriad abuses of big business the new zeitgeists of the young, the Golden Avenger and Stark International were soon confronting a few tricky questions from the increasingly politically savvy readership.

As glamour, money and fancy gadgetry lost its chic and grew evermore tarnished, questing voices of a new generation of writers began posing uncomfortable questions in the pages of a series that was once the bastion of militarised America

This chronological compendium concludes that transitional period: reprinting Iron Man #68-91 and Annual #3 (June 1974 – October 1976) and opens without fanfare on an ambitious action epic. IM #68-71 comprised the opening sortie in a multi-part epic which saw mystic menace The Black Lama foment a covert clash amongst the world’s greatest villains, with ultimate power, inner peace and a magical Golden Globe as the promised prizes.

Written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by George Tuska & Mike Esposito, it begins in Vietnam on the ‘Night of the Rising Sun!’ where The Mandarin struggles to free his consciousness – currently locked within the dying body of Russian super-villain The Unicorn. This is probably the ideal moment to remind potential new readers that these stories were crafted in far less accepting times with racial and gender stereotypes used as narrative shorthand and occasionally so on the nose that they could make a caveman chuck up. If you can’t look past that historically accurate accounting it might be best to seek your fun elsewhere…

Stark’s ardently pacifist love interest Roxie Gilbert had dragged the inventor to the recently “liberated” People’s Republic in search of (part-time Iron Man) Eddie March’s lost brother. Marty March was a POW missing since the last days of the war. Before long, however, the Americans are separated after Japanese ultra-nationalist, ambulatory atomic inferno and occasional X-Man Sunfire is tricked into attacking the intrusive Yankee Imperialists…

The assault abruptly ends once Mandarin shanghaies the Solar Samurai and uses his mutant energies to power a mind-transfer back into his own body. Reinstated to his original form, the Chinese Conqueror-in-waiting commences his own campaign of combat in earnest, eager to regain his castle from rival oriental overlord The Yellow Claw.

First though, he must crush Iron Man – who has tracked him down and freed Sunfire in ‘Confrontation!’ That bombastic battle ends when the Golden Avenger is rendered unconscious and thrown into space…

‘Who Shall Stop… Ultimo?’ finds the revived giant robot-monster targeting Mandarin’s castle (claimed by the Claw in a previous battle) as the sinister Celestial duels the ancient enemy to the death, with both Iron Man and Sunfire arriving too late and forced to mop up the sole survivor of the contest in ‘Battle: Tooth and Yellow Claw! (Confrontation Part 3)’. After all that Eastern Armageddon, a change of pace is called for, so Stark takes in the San Diego Comicon in #72’s ‘Convention of Fear!’ (by Friedrich, Tuska & Vince Colletta, from a plot by Barry Alfonso), only to find himself ambushed by fellow incognito attendees Whiplash, Man-Bull and The Melter – who are made an offer they should have refused by the ubiquitous and iniquitous Black Lama…

Next issue the Super-Villain War kicks into high gear with ‘Turnabout: A Most Foul Play!’ (illustrated by Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard & Jim Mooney and derived from a premise by letterer Tom Orzechowski). After secret-sharing confidantes Pepper Potts-Hogan and her husband Happy settle a long-festering squabble with Tony at Stark International’s Manila plant, Iron Man returns to Vietnam and dives into a deadly clash with Crimson Dynamo in a hidden, high-tech jungle city subsequently razed to the ground by their explosive combat.

Inked by Dick Ayers, Iron Man #74’s ‘The M.O.D.O.K. Machine!’ brings Black Lama’s contest to the fore as The Mad Thinker electronically overrides the Avenger’s armour, setting helpless passenger Stark upon the malevolent, mutated master of Advanced Idea Mechanics…

Without autonomy, the Golden Gladiator is easily overwhelmed and ‘Slave to the Power Imperious!’ (Chic Stone inks) sees the hero dragged back to The Thinker’s lair and laid low by a strange psychic hallucination, even as M.O.D.O.K. finishes his cognitive co-combatant and apparently turns the still-enslaved steel-shod hero on his next opponent: Yellow Claw.

As this is happening, elsewhere radical terrorist Firebrand is somehow sharing Stark’s Black Lama-inspired “psycho-feedback” episodes…

The tale wraps on a twisty cliffhanger as the Claw destroys M.O.D.O.K.  and his clockwork puppet Avenger, only to discover that the Thinker is not only still alive but still holds the real Iron Man captive. That’s quite unfortunate as issue #76 blew its deadline and instead reprinted Iron Man #9 (represented here by its cover) before Friedrich, Jones & Stone’s ‘I Cry: Revenge!’ finds the fighting-mad hero breaking free of the Thinker’s control, just as Black Lama teleports the Claw in to finish his final felonious opponent…

Still extremely ticked off, the Armoured Avenger takes on all comers before being ambushed by late-arriving Firebrand who has been psionically drawn into the melee. As Shellhead goes down, the Lama declares non-contestant Firebrand ultimate victor, gratuitously explaining how he has voyaged from an alternate universe before duping the unstable and uncaring flaming rabble-rouser into re-crossing the dimensional void with him. Although a certifiable loon and cold-blooded killer, Firebrand is Roxie Gilbert’s brother and groggily reviving Iron Man feels honour-bound to follow him through the rapidly closing portal to elsewhere…

Deadline problems persisted however, and the next two issues are both fill-in tales, beginning with #78’s ‘Long Time Gone’ Crafted by Bill Mantlo, Tuska & Vince Colletta it harks back to the Avenger’s early days and a mission during the Vietnam war which first brought home the cost in blood and misery Stark’s munitions building had caused. IM #79 then shares a ‘Midnite on Murder Mountain!’ (Friedrich, Tuska & Colletta) wherein our hero emphatically ends scientific abominations wrought by deranged geneticist/mind-swapper Professor Kurakill…

At last, Iron Man #80 sees Friedrich, Stone & Colletta return to the ongoing inter-dimensional operations as Mission into Madness!’ follows the multiversal voyagers to a very different America where warring kingdoms and principalities jostle for prestige, position and power. Here the Lama is revealed as King Jerald of Grand Rapid: a ruler under threat from outside invaders and insidious usurpers within. He’d come to Earth looking for powerful allies but had not realised travel to other realms drives non-indigenous residents completely crazy…

With the mind-warp effect already destabilising Iron Man and Firebrand, it’s fortunate treacherous Baroness Rockler makes her move to kill the returned Jerald immediately, and the Earthlings are quickly embroiled in a cataclysmic ‘War of the Mind-Dragons!’ before turning on each other and fleeing the devastated kingdom for the less psychologically hazardous environs of their homeworld…

With an extended epic spanning the world and alternate dimensions completed, long-term writer Mike Friedrich moved on, and Iron Man #82 began a new era and tone as Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Marie Severin & Jack Abel revamped the armour just in time for the Red Ghost and his super simians to kidnap super genius Stark in ‘Plunder of the Apes!’ Debuting in that tale was NYPD detective Michael O’Brien, who holds Stark responsible and accountable for the tragic death of his brother Kevin. The deceased researcher had been Stark’s confidante until his mind snapped. He had died running amok wearing a prototype suit of Guardsman armour. Here and now, Mike smells a corporate cover-up…

Inked by Marie Severin, IM #83 exhibits ‘The Rage of the Red Ghost!’ as the rogue Russian forces Stark to cure his gradual dispersal into unconnected atoms, only to realise, following a bombastic battle, that the inventor has outwitted him once again, after which Wein, Roger Slifer, Trimpe & John Tartaglione detail how the infamous never fully tested Enervator ray again turns grievously injured Happy Hogan into a mindless monster. This time, the medical miracle machine saturates him with so much Cobalt radiation that he becomes a ticking inhuman nuke on the ‘Night of the Walking Bomb!’

The tense tick-tock to doom is narrowly and spectacularly halted in ‘…And the Freak Shall Inherit the Earth!’ (Slifer, Wein, Trimpe & Severin) after which Mantlo, Tuska & Vince Colletta revive and revamp one of the Golden Avenger’s oldest and least-remembered rogues when disgraced thermal technologist Gregor Shapanka sheds his loser status as Jack Frost to attack Stark International in a deadly new guise.

In # 86 we learn ‘The Gentleman’s Name is Blizzard!’ but despite his improved image, the sub-zero zealot can’t quite close ‘The Icy Hand of Death!’ in the next instalment, leading to mid-year spectacular Iron Man Annual #3 (June 1976) which unveils ‘More or Less… the Return of the Molecule Man!’ courtesy of Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema & Abel.

When Tony Stark looks into redeveloping some soggy Florida real estate, a little girl finds a strange wand and is possessed and transformed by the consciousness of one of the most powerful creatures in existence. Although Iron Man is helpless to combat the reality-warping attacks of the combination petulant girl/narcissistic maniac, luckily for the universe, the shambling elemental shocker dubbed Man-Thing had no mind to mess with or conscience to trouble…

Iron Man #88 signalled the too-brief reunion of veteran scribe Archie Goodwin with Tuska as ‘Fear Wears Two Faces!’ finds the Armoured Avenger battling escaped aliens The Blood Brothers after the vicious space thugs are psychically summoned to a mystery rendezvous by another old enemy of Iron Man. Inked by Colletta, the tale concludes in ‘Brute Fury!’ as Daredevil deals himself in to the cataclysmic clash and just barely tips the scales before the hidden manipulator is exposed in #90 ‘When Calls the Controller!’ (Jim Shooter, Tuska & Abel). The life-force thief seeks to escape months of entombment by enslaving and feeding off hapless down-&-outs, but his rapid defeat is only a prelude to greater catastrophe as Gerry Conway scripts and Bob Layton inks #91’s ‘Breakout!’ as the fiend tries too hard, too fast and again fades into helpless captivity…

Closing the covers on this stellar compilation are Gil Kane’s stellar front to all-reprint Giant-Size Iron Man #1 (1975 and including the original artwork prior to edits), House ads and an 8-page gallery of original art covers and pages by Kane, Jones, Esposito, Ed Hannigan, Frank Giacoia, Jim Starlin, Sal Buscema & Pollard.

From our distant vantage point the polemical energy and impact might be dissipated, but the sheer quality of the comics and cool thrill of the eternal aspiration of man in partnership with magic metal remains. These Fights ‘n’ Tights classics are amongst the most underrated tales of the period and are well worth your time, consideration and cold cash…
© 2023 MARVEL.

Avengers Epic Collection volume 10: The Yesterday Quest 1978-1979


By Jim Shooter, David Michelinie, Roger Stern, Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Bill Mantlo, Roger Slifer, Steve Gerber, Tom DeFalco, Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, Scott Edelman, Dave Wenzel, John Byrne, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino, Jim Mooney, Don Newton, Michael Netzer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8790-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

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 #167, Avengers Annual #8 & 9 and material from Marvel Tales #100 (cumulatively spanning January 1978 to October 1979), these stories still see the team in turbulent transition. That was as much a result of creative upheaval at the House of Ideas as narrative exigency. Times were changing for the company which would soon become a plaything of relentless corporate forces.

The storytelling begins in #167 as an epic opens. Jim Shooter’s connection to the series, although episodic, was long-lived and produced some of that period’s greatest tales, none more so than the stellar – if deadline-doomed – saga that unfolded over succeeding months: a sprawling tale of time-travel and cosmic conquest which began in Avengers #167-168 before an enforced brief pause saw a diversion before resuming for #170 through #177.

In previous issues Captain America and Iron Man’s difference of opinion over leadership styles had begun to polarise the team. Cracks appeared and tensions showed in #167’s ‘Tomorrow Dies Today!’ (by Shooter, George Pérez & Pablos Marcos).

In the Gods-&-Monsters filled Marvel Universe there are entrenched and jealous Hierarchies of Power, so when a new player mysteriously materialises in the 20th century the very Fabric of Reality is threatened. It all kicks off when star-spanning 31st century freedom Fighters Guardians of the Galaxy blip into Earth orbit, in hot pursuit of cyborg despot Korvac. Their arrival inadvertently sets off planetary incursion alarms, so their moon-sized ship is swiftly boarded by an Avengers squad, where – after the obligatory introductory squabble – the future men (Charlie-27, Yondu, Martinex, Nikki, Vance Astro and enigmatic Space God Starhawk) explain the purpose of their mission…

Captain America had once fought beside them to liberate their home era from Badoon rule and Thor recently battled the fugitive Korvac, so peace soon breaks out, but even with the resources of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the time travellers are unable to find their quarry…

Meanwhile on Earth, a mysterious being named Michael lurks in the background. At a fashion show staged by The Wasp, he achieves a psychic communion with model Carina Walters before they both vanish…

‘First Blood’ (Avengers #168) stirs up more trouble as Federal liaison/doctrinaire martinet Henry Peter Gyrich makes life bureaucratically hot for the government-funded superhero team. Meanwhile in Colorado, Hawkeye gets a shock as his travelling partner Two-Gun Kid vanishes before his eyes.

In suburban Forest Hills, Starhawk – in his female iteration Aleta – approaches a quiet residence. Michael/Korvac’s scheme consists of subtly altering events as he gathers strength in secret preparation for a sneak attack on those aforementioned Cosmic Hierarchies. His entire plan revolves around not being noticed. Thus, when Starhawk confronts him, the villain kills the stellar intruder but instantly resurrects him – minus the ability to perceive Michael or any of his works…

The drama screeches to a halt in #169, which instead declares ‘If We Should Fail… The World Dies Tonight!’ The out of context potboiler – by Marv Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Dave Hunt – sees Cap, Iron Man and The Black Panther scouring Earth in search of doomsday bombs wired to the failing heart of a dying man, after which the major mayhem resumes in #170 with ‘…Though Hell Should Bar the Way!’ by Shooter, Pérez & Marcos. As Sentinel of Liberty and Golden Avenger finally settle their differences, in Inhuman city Attilan, ex-Avenger Quicksilver suddenly disappears, even as dormant mechanoid Jocasta (designed by maniac AI Ultron to be his bride) goes on a rampage before vanishing into the wilds of New York City.

In stealthy pursuit and hoping her trail will lead to Ultron himself, the team stride into a trap ‘…Where Angels Fear to Tread’, but nevertheless triumph thanks to the hex powers of The Scarlet Witch, the assistance of pushy, no-nonsense new hero Ms. Marvel and Jocasta’s own rebellion against the metal monster who made her. However, at their moment of triumph the Avengers are stunned to witness Cap and Jocasta winking out of existence…

Problems pile up in #172 (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson) as Watchdog-come-Gadfly Gyrich is roughly manhandled and captured by out-of-the-loop returnee Hawkeye. He responds by rescinding the team’s Federal clearances. Badly handicapped, the heroes are unable to warn other inactive members of the ongoing disappearances even as a squad of heavy hitters rush off to tackle marauding Atlantean maverick Tyrak the Treacherous who is bloodily enacting a ‘Holocaust in New York Harbor!’

Plotted by Shooter, with David Michelinie scripting for Sal Buscema & D(iverse) Hands to illustrate, answers to the growing mystery are finally forthcoming in Threshold of Oblivion!’ As the vanishings escalate, the remaining Avengers (Thor, Wasp, Hawkeye and Iron Man – with the assistance of Vance Astro) track down their hidden foe and beam into a cloaked starship to liberate the ‘Captives of the Collector!’ (Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Dave Wenzel & Marcos)…

After a staggering struggle, the heroes triumph and their old foe reveals a shocking truth: he is an Elder of the Universe who foresaw cosmic doom millennia previously and sought to preserve special artefacts and creatures – such as The Avengers – from the approaching apocalypse. As he reveals that predicted end-time is here and that he has sent his own daughter Carina to infiltrate the Enemy’s stronghold, the cosmic curator is obliterated by a devastating blast of energy. The damage, however, is done and the entrenched hierarchies of creation may well be alerted…

Issue #175 started the final countdown as ‘The End… and Beginning!’ (Shooter, Michelinie, Wenzel & Marcos) sees the amassed and liberated ranks of Avengers and Guardians follow clues to Michael, just as the new god shares the incredible secret of his apotheosis with Carina, before ‘The Destiny Hunt!’ and ‘The Hope… and the Slaughter!’ (Shooter, Wenzel, Marcos & Ricardo Villamonte) depict the army of champions eradicated and resurrected when Michael easily overpowers all opposition but falters for lack of one fundamental failing…

Spread through a series of lesser adventures, the overarching epic ponderously and ominously unfolds before finally exploding into a devastating and tragic Battle Royale that is the epitome of superhero comics. This is pure escapist fantasy at its finest.

Despite being somewhat diminished by the artwork when the magnificent Pérez gave way to less enthused hands and afflicted by the inability to keep a regular inker (Pablo Marcos, Klaus Janson, Ricardo Villamonte and Tom Morgan all pitched in), sheer epic scope nevertheless carries this story through to its cataclysmic and fulfilling conclusion. Even Shooter’s reluctant replacement by scripters Dave Michelinie and Bill Mantlo (as his editorial career advanced) couldn’t derail this juggernaut of adventure. If you want to see what makes Superhero fiction work, and can keep track of nearly two dozen flamboyant characters, this is a fine example of how to make such an unwieldy proposition easily accessible to the new and returning reader…

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 some water-treading fill-ins were necessary before progress resumed.

After the death and resurrection of the heroes, focus slipped seamlessly into Avengers Annual #8, getting back to business with monolithic Fights ‘n’ Tights melee ‘Spectrums of Deceit!’, courtesy of Roger Slifer, Pérez, Marcos & Villamonte as the sentient power-prism of archvillain Doctor Spectrum systematically possesses Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The upshot is another blockbusting battle against The Squadron Sinister and ethically ambivalent extra-dimensional “Femizon” Thundra and offers 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. Then 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 back on track, Avengers #181 introduces new regular creative team Michelinie & John Byrne (augmented by inker Gene Day) as ‘On the Matter of Heroes!’ sees intrusive, obsessive Gyrich lay down the law and winnow the legion of heroes down to a federally acceptable seven. As the Guardians of the Galaxy head 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 recruit 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. Claiming mutants Wanda and Pietro Frank as his long-lost children, the mage traps their souls inside little wooden dolls, with the resultant clash in #182’s ‘Honor Thy Father’ (inked by Janson) creating even more questions as overwhelming evidence seems to confirm Django Maximoff’s story. The upshot sees Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver leave with him on a quest for answers…

Michelinie, Byrne, Janson & D 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 Wanda. Elsewhere in the Big Apple, the formidable Absorbing Man has opted 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 ‘Death on the Hudson!’

Historical continuity addicts Mark Gruenwald & Steven Grant plotted #185’s ‘The Yesterday Quest!’ for Michelinie, Byrne & Dan Green to execute as, in America, robotic ally Jocasta strives to entice The Vision even as his wife and brother-in-law arrive in Balkan state 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 midwife to Pietro’s mother years ago…

‘Nights of Wundagore!’ unpicks years of mystery with secrets of the mutants’ origins: how Bova passed them off as the stillborn children of American WWII superhero Bob Frank and offers big hints as to their true father’s identity. Wanda, meanwhile, has lost a magic duel with Modred and is now 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, it is 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’ (Bill Mantlo, Byrne, Green & Frank Springer) begins with a side trip to 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 introduce a deadly robotic sleeper locked for decades beneath Avengers Mansion. ‘…Today the Avengers Die!’ reprises Iron Man’s recent battle against deadly vintage mechanoid Arsenal and reveals how 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) as time-displaced Two-Gun Kid and Hawkeye battle Killgrave the Controller in ‘Killers of a Purple Rage!’ by Scott Edelman, Michael Netzer & Terry Austin.

Supplemented by previous compilation covers courtesy of Pérez & Joe Rosas and Steve Epting & Tom Palmer, contemporary House Ads, editorial material debating the new origins for Pietro and Wanda, an epilogue strip by Mark Gruenwald & Tom Morgan from Avengers: The Korvac Saga, and a wealth of original covers/page art by Pérez, Byrne, Dave Cockrum and more, this archival tome and type of heroic adventure might not be to every reader’s taste but these – and the truly epic yarns that followed – set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and informed all those movies everybody loves. This science fiction double feature can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the quietly isolated and no less dangerous 21st century…
© 2023 MARVEL.

Guardians of the Galaxy Epic Collection volume 1: Earth Shall Overcome 1969-1977


By Arnold Drake & Gene Colan, Steve Gerber, Roger Stern, Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Scott Edelman, Stan Lee, Sal Buscema, Don Heck, Al Milgrom, John Buscema & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-5043-9 (TPB/Digital edition)

With the final GoTG Marvel Cinematic interpretation done and dusted, there’s little to look forward too other than the past, but at least in this anniversary year – 55 and counting! – there’s this timely collection ideal for boning up on some of the lesser-known original stars

There are two distinct and separate iterations of the Guardians of the Galaxy. The films concentrated on the second, but with inescapable connections between them and the stellar stalwarts here so pay close attention. The original comic book team were freedom fighters united to defeat an invasion a thousand years from the present. The other were a later conception: springing out of contemporary crises seen in The Annihilation publishing event.

This treasury of torrid tales gathers landmark moments of the former as seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #18, Marvel Two-In-One #4-5, Giant-Size Defenders #5, Defenders #26-29, the time-busting team’s first solo series as originally seen in Marvel Presents #3-12 and Thor Annual #6: collaboratively and monumentally spanning cover-dates January 1969 to December 1977. It features a radically different set-up than that of the silver screen stars, but is grand comic book sci fi fare all the same. One thing to recall at all times, though, is that there are two teams. Never the twain shall meet …until they one day did…

Despite its key mission to make superheroes more realistic, Marvel also always kept a close connection with its fantasy roots and outlandish cosmic chaos – as typified in the pre-Sixties “monsters-in-underpants” mini-sagas. Thus, this pantheon of much-travelled space stalwarts maintains that wild “Anything Goes” attitude in all of their many and varied iterations.

A blistering battle-fest opens with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Earth Shall Overcome!’ as first seen in new-concept try-out/Golden Age reprint vehicle Marvel Super-Heroes #18. Cover-dated January 1969, it went on sale mid-October 1968, just as the Summer of Love was dying.

This terse, grittily engaging episode introduced disparate freedom fighters reluctantly rallying and united to save Earth from occupation and humanity from extinction at the scaly claws of the sinister, reptilian Brotherhood of Badoon. It began when Jovian militia-man Charlie-27 returned home from a 6-month tour of scout duty to find his entire colony subjugated by invading aliens. Fighting free, Charlie jumped into a randomly-programmed teleporter and emerged on Pluto, just in time to accidentally scupper the escape of crystalline scientist and resistance fighter Martinex.

Both survivors are examples of radical human genetic engineering: manufactured subspecies carefully designed to populate and colonise Sol system’s outer planets, but now possibly the last individuals of their respective kinds. After helping the mineral man complete his mission of sabotage – by blowing up potentially useful material before the Badoon can get their hands on it – the odd couple set the teleporter for Earth and jump into the unknown. Unfortunately, the invaders have already taken the homeworld…

The Supreme Badoon Elite are there, busily mocking the oldest Earthman alive. Major Vance Astro had been humanity’s first interstellar astronaut; solo flying in cold sleep to Alpha Centauri at a plodding fraction of the speed of light. When he got there a millennium later, humanity was waiting for him, having cracked trans-luminal speeds a mere two centuries after he took off. Now Astro and Centauri aborigine Yondu are a comedy exhibit for the cruel conquerors actively eradicating both of their species.

The smug invaders are utterly overwhelmed when Astro breaks free, utilising psionic powers he developed during hibernation, before Yondu butchers them with the sound-controlled energy arrows he carries. In their pell-mell flight, the escaping pair stumble across incoming Martinex and Charlie-27 and a new legend of valiant resistance is born…

As envisioned by Arnold Drake, Gene Colan & Mike Esposito, the eccentric team were presented to an audience undergoing immense social change, with dissent in the air, riot in the streets and the ongoing Vietnam War being visibly lost on their TV screens every night.

Perhaps the jingoistic militaristic overtones were off-putting, or maybe the tenor of the times were against The Guardians, since costumed hero titles were entering a temporary downturn at that juncture, but whatever the reason the feature was a rare “Miss” for the Early Marvel Hit Factory. The futuristic freedom fighters were not seen again for years.

They drifted in limbo until 1974 when Steve Gerber incorporated them into some of his assigned titles (specifically Marvel Two-In-One and The Defenders), wherein assorted 20th century champions travelled into the future to ensure humanity’s survival…

In MTIO #4, ‘Doomsday 3014!’ (Gerber, Sal Buscema & Frank Giacoia) sees Ben Grimm – AKA The Thing – and Captain America catapulted into the 31st century to free enslaved humanity from the Badoon, concluding an issue later as a transformed and reconfigured Guardians of the Galaxy climb aboard the Freedom Rocket to help the time-lost champions liberate occupied New York before returning home.

The fabulous Future Force returned that visit in Giant Sized Defenders #5: a diverse-handed production with the story ‘Eelar Moves in Mysterious Ways’ credited to Gerber, Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer, Len Wein, Chris Claremont & Scott Edelman. Dependable Don Heck & Mike Esposito drew the (surprisingly) satisfying and cohesive results, revealing how the Defenders met with future heroes Guardians of the Galaxy in a time-twisting disaster yarn where their very presence seemed to cause nature to run wild. It was simply an introduction, setting up a continued epic arc for the monthly comic book…

Beginning with ‘Savage Time’ (Defenders #26 by Gerber, Sal Buscema & Colletta) it depicts The Hulk, Doctor Strange, Nighthawk and Valkyrie accompanying the Guardians back to 3015 AD in a bold bid to liberate the last survivors of mankind from the all-conquering and genocidal Badoon. The mission continued with ‘Three Worlds to Conquer!’, becoming infinitely more complicated when ‘My Mother, The Badoon!’ reveals sex-based divisions that so compellingly motivate the marauding lizard-men to roam and tyrannise, before climaxing triumphantly in rousingly impassioned conclusion ‘Let My Planet Go!’

Along the way the Guardians picked up – or been unwillingly allied with – an enigmatic stellar powerhouse dubbed Starhawk. Also answering to Stakar, he was a glib, unfriendly type who referred to himself as “one who knows” and infuriatingly usually did, even if he never shared any useful intel…

That portion of the saga is interspersed with the covers of latterday compilations Guardians of the Galaxy: Earth Shall Overcome Premiere Hardcover (by Gil Kane & Chris Sotomayor and Ron Wilson & Matt Milla), before the next giant leap…

Rejuvenated by exposure, the squad rededicated themselves to liberating star-scattered Humanity and having astral adventures, in a short-lived series in Marvel Presents (#3-12, February 1976-August 1977) before cancellation left them roaming the MU as perennial guest-stars in cosmically-tinged titles like Thor and The Avengers. That first solo run began with ‘Just Another Planet Story!’ by Gerber, Al Milgrom & Pablo Marcos – with all Badoon removed from an exultant Earth and our now purposeless Guardians realising peace and freedom were not for them. Unable to adapt to civilian life, they reassembled, stole their old starship “The Captain America and rocketed off into the void…

More compilation covers – Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Heroes Omnibus (by John Romita Sr & Veronica Gandini) and Guardians of the Galaxy: The Power of Starhawk Premiere HC by Milgrom & Tom Chu – interleave the unfolding saga, but the original text feature ‘Readers Space’ (episodically delineating future history of Marvel Universe Mankind using various deceased company sci fi series as mile markers, way stations and signposts) is bundled to the bonus section at the back of the book. At the time the roadmap firmly established a timeline which would endure for decades…

Back to comics and in MP #4, Gerber & Milgrom descended ‘Into the Maw of Madness!’ as the noble nomads pick up feisty teenage Nikki: a Mercurian survivor of the Badoon genocide, and noted first inklings that something vast, alien and inimical was coming from “out there” to consume the galaxy. The warriors also met cosmic enigma Starhawk’s better half Aleta: a glamorous woman and mother of his three children sharing his/their body at that time…

When the star-farers and their ship are swallowed by star-system-sized monster Karanada, they discover a universe inside the undead beast and end up stranded on the ‘Planet of the Absurd’ (Gerber, Milgrom & Howard Chaykin), allowing the author to indulge his gift for political and social satire as our heroes seek to escape a society comprising a vast variety of species which somehow mimics 20th century Earth…

Escape achieved, the fantastic fantasy accelerates to top gear when they crash into the heart of the invading force on a galaxy-sized planet in humanoid form. ‘The Topographical Man’ (inked by Terry Austin) holds all answers they seek in a strange sidereal nunnery where Nikki is expected to make a supreme sacrifice: one that changes Vance’s life forever in ways he never imagined.

This all transpires as they spiritually unite to ‘Embrace the Void!’ (Bob Wiacek inks) in a metaphysical rollercoaster which ends the menace of the soul-sucking galactic devourer. At this time deadlines were a critical problem and Marvel Presents #8 adapted a story from Silver Surfer #2 (1968) as the team find an old Badoon data-log and learn ‘Once Upon a Time… the Silver Surfer!’ had saved Earth from the alien predators in a two-layered yarn attributed to Gerber, Milgrom, Wiacek, Stan Lee, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott…

Back on track for MP #9, Gerber & Milgrom revealed ‘Breaking Up is Death to Do!’ as the Guardians’ ship is ambushed by predatory Reivers of Arcturus, leading into the long-awaited shocking origins of Starhawk and Aleta. It also set the assembled heroes on a doomed quest to save the bonded couple’s children from brainwashing, mutation and murder by their own grandfather in ‘Death-Bird Rising!’ before concluding ‘At War with Arcturus!’ (both inked by Wiacek).

The series abruptly concluded just as new scripter Roger Stern signed on with ‘The Shipyard of Deep Space!’, as the beleaguered and battered team escape Arcturus and stumble onto a lost Earth vessel missing since the beginning of the Badoon invasion. “Drydock is a mobile space station the size of a small moon, built to maintain and repair Terran starships. However, what initially seems to be a moving reunion with lost comrades and actual survivors of many gene-gineered human subspecies eradicated by the saurian supremacists is revealed to be just one more deadly snare for the Guardians to overcome or escape…

The time-busting mayhem concludes for now with ‘Thunder in the 31st Century!’ (from Thor Annual #6, December 1977) by Stern, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson,in which the mighty Thunderer is accidentally deposited in the Guardians’ era by a cyborg maniac named Korvac. The god warrior eagerly joins them in battling a gang of superpowered aliens to thwart Korvac’s scheme to make himself master of the universe before returning to his own place and time…

The aforementioned bonus bounty ending this titanic temporal tome also includes the cover of Astonishing Tales #29 (April 1975 and reprinting Marvel Super-Heroes #18), articles on Guardians of the Galaxy by Gerber and Stern from F.O.O.M. #21 (Spring 1978), original art pages and covers by Sal Buscema, Colletta, Milgrom, Rich Buckler, Wiacek & Janson and one last past collection cover – from Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers vol. 2 TPB by John Buscema, Joe Sinnott & Thomas Mason.

This rousing record of riotous star-roving derring-do is a non-stop feast of tense suspense, surreal fun, swingeing satire and blockbuster action tightly tailored and on-target to turn curious moviegoers into fans of the comic incarnation, and beguile even the most jaded interstellar Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatic into dreaming again with eyes wide open.
© 2023 MARVEL.

Marvel Masterworks Daredevil volume 14


By Jim Shooter, Roger McKenzie, Gil Kane, Gerry Conway, Jo Duffy, Don McGregor, Gene Colan, Carmine Infantino, Frank Miller, Lee Elias, George Tuska, Frank Robbins, Tom Sutton & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2163-7 (HB/Digital edition)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. A second-string hero for much of his early career, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due mostly to the captivatingly humanistic art of Gene Colan. DD fought gangsters, super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion, quipping and wisecracking his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody, quasi-religious metaphor he became.

After a disastrous on-again, off-again relationship with his secretary Karen Page, Murdock took up with Russian emigre Natasha Romanoff, infamous and notorious ex-spy The Black Widow. She was framed for murder and prosecuted by Matt’s best friend and law partner Franklin “Foggy” Nelson before the blind lawman cleared her. Leaving New York with her for the West Coast, Matt joined a prestigious San Francisco law firm but adventure, disaster and intrigue sought out the Sightless Sentinel and ultimately drew him back to the festering Big Apple. When they finally split up, Murdock and his alter ego remained to champion the law and justice their way…

Spanning April 1977 to March 1979, this pivotal collection gathers Daredevil #144-158, plus a sidebar spin-off from Marvel Premiere #43, subtly shifting the tone and feel of the long-running feature as the Man Without Fear hovers on the brink of a major overhaul and global super-stardom.

Following incoming scripter Roger McKenzie’s reflective Introduction ‘Dreams’, the heroic endeavours resume with writer Jim Shooter, penciller Lee Elias & inker Dan Green amping up the edginess and darkening the foreboding shadows by proving ‘Man-Bull Means Mayhem’ as the petty thug-turned-mutated-menace Bill Taurens again clashes with the Crimson Crusader. The battle begins when he breaks jail to join DD’s oldest archenemy The Owl and it emerges the avian ganglord is critically enfeebled, under attack by rivals and needs the Man-Bull to kidnap the one scientist who can fix him. Sadly, the boffin might also be able to cure Taurens, and the brute’s selfish betrayal leads to disaster when Daredevil intervenes again…

The Owl’s fate is sealed in ‘Danger Rides the Bitter Wind!’ (Shooter from Gerry Conway’s plot, illustrated by George Tuska & Jim Mooney) as the desperate raptor goes after Dr. Petrovic personally, raiding a hospital and triggering his own doom in a rooftop clash with Daredevil. Shooter then amped up the tension as #146 saw Gil Kane pencilling for Mooney as maniac marksman Bullseye returned to force a showdown ‘Duel!’ with the hero by taking a TV studio hostage before being defeated again…

Throughout The Jester’s media reality war, Daredevil had dated flighty socialite Heather Glenn. When, as both masked hero and lawyer he discovered her father was a corrupt slumlord and white collar criminal, he began looking for proof to exonerate his potential father-in-law, but everywhere came further damning proof. Matt Murdock’s girlfriend knows her dad isn’t a ruthless, murdering monster and that someone must have framed him. All evidence says otherwise…

Now another long running plot thread – which had seen Foggy’s girlfriend Debbie Harris kidnapped and held for months – converges as DD confronts Maxwell Glenn and the true culprit reveals himself to readers if not the hero. As Glenn confesses to everything and is arrested, the hero hits his ‘Breaking Point!’ (Shooter, Kane & Janson) after dramatically liberating the broken captive but failing to catch the true villain – mindwarping former foe Killgrave, the Purple Man

With Kane co-plotting, and Glenn actually believing himself guilty, #148’s ‘Manhunt!’ sees the increasingly overwhelmed adventurer lash out at the entire underworld in search of the malign manipulator, only to stumble into a wholly separate evil plot instigated by the diabolical Death-Stalker. Murdock’s relationship with Foggy also takes a hit as the usually genial partner deals with a PTSD ravaged Debbie and can’t understand why his best friend is defending self-confessed perpetrator Glenn…

For DD #149 Carmine Infantino joined Shooter & Janson as ‘Catspaw!’ sees Heather dump Matt and super-thug The Smasher target Daredevil in a blistering battle bout that is mere prelude to #150’s ‘Catastrophe!’ which finds the hero stretched beyond his capacity in court and on the streets just as charming mercenary Paladin debuts in a clash of vigilante jurisdictions. The debuting mercenary hero for hire is also after the Purple Man and has advantages DD can’t match, but no scruples at all…

Kane returns as plotter and penciller with Shooter giving way to McKenzie who joins the creative crew to script ‘Crisis!’ as another tragic death blights Murdock’s soul. As a result Heather accidentally uncovers Matt’s heroic secret and DD simply quits. However the horrors of the world and his own overzealous Catholic conscience soon force him back to work again…

Both Paladin and Infantino return for ‘Prisoner!’ (DD #152) with McKenzie & Janson reintroducing Death-Stalker just as our masked hero makes an intervention to reunite Foggy with his traumatised fiancé Debbie. Although that ploy is successful, another clash with the mercenary leaves DD beaten and open to a surprise attack by The Cobra & Mr Hyde in #153.

Crafted by McKenzie, Gene Colan & Tony DeZuñiga, ‘Betrayal!’ introduces Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich – who will play a huge part in Daredevil’s future – as the weary hero is ambushed, eventually defeated and dragged to the ‘Arena!’ (inked by Steve Leialoha) where Killgrave seeks ultimate victory by mind-piloting a squad of DD’s foes – including The Jester, Gladiator, Cobra & Hyde – to kill the swashbuckler in front of a captive audience. It proves to be the fiend’s final mistake when Paladin shows up to shift the balance of power…

Guest-starring Black Widow, Hercules and The Avengers, aftermath episode ‘The Man Without Fear?’ is illustrated by Franks Robbins & Springer, as a brain-damaged Murdock repeatedly attacks innocent bystanders and his allies before collapsing. Keenly observing, Death-stalker spots an opportunity and follows the hospitalised hero into #156’s ‘Ring of Death!’ (McKenzie, Colan & Janson). As DD undergoes surgery and suffers deadly delusions of fighting himself, the teleporting terror with a death-touch seeks to end his meddling forever, but finds the Avengers almost too much to handle…

The assault ends in 157 ‘The Ungrateful Dead’, with Mary Jo Duffy scripting from McKenzie’s plot as, after frustrating the vanishing villain, Matt is cruelly kidnapped by a new squad of the Ani-Men (Ape-Man, Cat-Man & Bird-Man) all leading to Frank Miller’s debut as penciller in ‘A Grave Mistake!’

With McKenzie writing and Janson inking, all plot threads regarding Death-Stalker spectacularly conclude as the monster gloatingly explains his true origins and reasons for haunting the Sightless Swashbuckler for so long. As always, Villain underestimates Hero and the stunning final fight in a graveyard became one of the most iconic duels in superhero history…

Also included here is a Paladin pilot from Marvel Premiere #43. Cover-dated August 1978 and devised by Don McGregor & Tom Sutton as a super hero/bodyguard/private eye mash-up, it sees Paladin Paul Denning learning ‘In Manhattan, They Play for Keeps’ as the suave merc faces a new iteration of Mr Fear calling himself Phantasm. Mutated in a radiation accident, the maniac soon graduates from abusive boyfriend to enemy of capitalism, fixated on old girlfriend Marsha Connors until she hires Paladin to save her…

Supplementing the resurgent rise in comics form are a gallery of covers by Ed Hannigan, Al Milgrom, Dave Cockrum, Kane, Joe Sinnott, Ron Wilson & Frank Giacoia, Janson, Terry Austin, Colan, Steve Leialoha, Frank Springer, Miller and Joe Rubinstein, contemporary house ads and original art (full pages and covers) by Kane, Infantino, Janson, Colan, DeZuñiga & Leialoha, Al Milgrom & Miller, plus the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page heralding Miller’s debut and biographies on the many creators involved in setting Daredevil back on the path to multimedia greatness.

As the 1970s closed, these gritty tales laid the groundwork for groundbreaking mature dramas to come, promising the true potential of Daredevil was finally in reach. Their narrative energy and exuberant excitement are dashing delights no action fan will care to miss.

…And the next volume heads full on into darker shadows, the grimmest of territory and the breaking of many boundaries…
© 2020 MARVEL.

Wolverine: Weapon X Gallery Edition


By Barry Windsor-Smith, with Chris Claremont, Frank Tieri, Avalon’s Raymund Lee, Jim Novak, Tom Orzechowski & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-3395-1 (HB/Digital edition) TPB

Wolverine is all things to most people and in his long life has worn many hats: Comrade, Ally, Avenger, Teacher, Protector, Punisher. He first saw print in a tantalising teaser-glimpse at the end of The Incredible Hulk #180 (cover-dated October 1974 and Happy 50th, Eyy?): prior to indulging in a full-on scrap with the Green Goliath – and accursed cannibal critter The Wendigo – in the next issue. The Canadian super-agent was just one more throwaway foe for one of Marvel’s mightiest stars, and vanished until All-New, All Different X-Men launched.

The semi-feral Canadian mutant with fearsome claws and killer attitude rode – or perhaps fuelled – the meteoric rise of those rebooted outcast heroes. He inevitably won a miniseries try-out and his own series: two in fact, in fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents and an eponymous monthly book (of which more later and elsewhere).

In guest shots across the MU plus cartoons and movies he carved out a unique slice of super-star status and screen immortality. He hasn’t looked back since, and over those years many untold tales of the aged agent (eventually revealed to have been born in the 19th century) explored his erased exploits in ever-increasing intensity and detail. Over decades, his many secret origins and a stream of revelatory disclosures regarding his extended, self-obscured life slowly seeped out. Cursed with recurring periodic bouts of amnesia, mind-wiped ad nauseum by sinister or even well-meaning friends and foes, the Chaotic Canucklehead packed a lot of adventurous living into decades of existence – but mostly didn’t remember much of it. This permanently unploughed field conveniently resulted in a crop of dramatically mysterious, undisclosed back-histories, the absolute best of which is re-presented here.

Spanning March to September of 1991 in 8-page instalments, Marvel Comics Presents # 72-84 hosted a much-demanded semi-origin for the mystery mutant, revealing how he was internally enrobed with wonder-metal adamantium. The tale delivered a ‘Prologue’, 12 highly visual revelatory chapters and a concluding ‘Interlude & Escape’. In 1993, when the tale was collected into a graphic novel, Larry Hama wrote a prose ‘Epilogue’ to dot all the “I”s and cross all the “T”s, and that’s included here, plus thematic continuations to the saga that shook the Marvel firmament. Those include an excerpt from Wolverine #166 and the contents of the Smith co-crafted X-Men #205.

A visual tour de force with truly visceral imagery – almost medical torture porn – the story of how a burned-out spy walks into a bar and eventually regains his senses sometime later, changed beyond all recognition, is told in overlapping, interwoven flashbacks within flashbacks.

The abduction, who did to what to “Logan” under the illicit auspices of “Experiment X” – and why – is all here to experience in gorge-rising detail, but the easy answers you want won’t be easy to see. The monstrous tale of forced transmutation, fight for survival and autonomy and the dichotomy of what separates Man from Animal reveals facts yet leaves truths to later stories. What you have here is how a victim of atrocity overcomes his tormentors and lives free by not dying… and it is truly spectacular.

Written, illustrated, coloured and lettered by Barry Windsor-Smith, Weapon X is short and pretty to look upon, a masterpiece of visual storytelling that must be seen to be believed. It’s also a superb shock-horror tribute to Frankenstein, exposing the true nature of the tortured soul underneath the imposed layers unknown enemies have smothered Logan in for so very long and the first step towards his ultimate emancipation.

Following the Hama conclusion, an extract from Wolverine #166 (September 2001) sees Windsor-Smith return to his opus in a flashback sequence scripted by Frank Tieri: focusing on one of the nameless army grunts (and rare survivor) who faced the berserk escaping Experiment X. Accompanied by Windsor-Smith’s cover for #167 and mirrored by his cover for Uncanny X-Men # 205 (May 1986), they precede his collaboration with Chris Claremont on ‘Wounded Wolf’; another boldly visual triumph as Wolverine faces vengeance-crazed, adamantium augmented cyborg Lady Deathstrike in a compelling fable of obsession guest-starring little Katie Power from pre-teen titans Power Pack.

Although there are many versions of this collection available, this Gallery Edition is a dream for fans of Windsor-Smith art, closing with 17 pages of original art and a selection of X-related covers, images and pin-ups by the author. These are culled from the back of Wolverine #4, Marvel Comics Presents # 72-84, and assorted X-collections including Weapon X Hardcover (1993), Weapon X Trade Paperback (2001), Wolverine: Weapon X Marvel Premiere Classic Hardcover,  X-Men: Lifedeath Marvel Premiere Classic Hardcover, There are also house ads, promo posters, and variant covers for Uncanny X-Men #395, New X-Men #115,and Deadpool #57-60.

Short, fierce, relentless and unmissable.
© 2022 MARVEL.

Incredible Hulk Epic Edition volume 8 (1976-1978): The Curing of Dr. Banner


By Len Wein, Roger Stern, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, Jim Starlin, David Anthony Kraft, George Tuska, Keith Pollard, Joe Staton, Ernie Chan, Tom Palmer, Alfredo Alcala, Frank Giacoia, Mike Esposito, Joe Sinnott, Josef Rubinstein & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-4879-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, stress and other factors trigger transformations into a big green monster of unstoppable strength and fury. One of Marvel’s earliest innovations and first failure, after initially troubled early years he finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of the company’s premiere antiheroes and most popular features.

The Gamma Goliath was always graced with artists who understood the allure of shattering action, the sheer cathartic reader-release rush of spectacular “Hulk Smash!” moments, and here – following in the debris-strewn wake of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Marie Severin and Herb Trimpe – Sal Buscema was showing the world what he could do when unleashed…

This chronologically complete compendium re-presents Incredible Hulk King Size Annual #6 and issues #201- 226 of his monthly magazine, spanning July 1976 – August 1978.

Crafted by writer Len Wein and illustrated by Buscema & Joe Staton, Hulk #201 features ‘The Sword and the Sorcerer!’ wherein the monster is marooned on a perilously primitive sub-atomic world just long enough to liberate its people from brutal despot (and demon-possessed pawn) Kronak the Barbarian before starting to shrink uncontrollably. He soon arrives in the promised land of his beloved long-lost alien love Queen Jarella

 ‘Havoc at the Heart of the Atom’ reveals how his last visit had rendered the barbarous world tectonically unstable and wrecked the ancient civilisation which once had the power to blend Banner’s mind with the Hulk’s body. Moreover, the once-gentle population then turned on the queen they held responsible…

Reunited with his beloved, the simplistic brute swears to fix the problem confronting the antediluvian horror who first hijacked him to the Microverse… and who still craves bloody revenge. Once again evil fails at great personal cost. The ‘Assault on Psyklop!’ delivers crushing defeat to the vile insectoid and a guardedly happy ending for the man-brute – until a rescue attempt from Earth brings Hulk home, carrying an astounded Jarella with him…

Herb Trimpe briefly returned in #204 to plot and pencil a tale of time-bending might-have-beens, as brilliant theoretician Kerwin Kronus offers to eradicate Banner’s problems by turning back time and undoing the accident which created the Hulk. Sadly, the experiment succeeds all too well: briefly forming an alternate timeline wherein original sidekick Rick Jones died and the time-master became an even greater menace to reality. Banner/Hulk must make a heartbreaking sacrifice to close that unacceptably ‘Vicious Circle’

‘Do Not Forsake Me!’ in #205 depicts the most tragic moment in the Green Goliath’s tortured life when Jarella sacrifices herself to save a child from rampaging robbery robot Crypto-Man, leaving the bereft Hulk ‘A Man-Brute Berserk!’ His trail of destruction leads from Gamma Base, New Mexico all the way to New York City where even his friends and allies cannot calm the grieving green goliath, leading to a brutal battle ‘Alone Against the Defenders!’ who finally realise compassion is the only method that will work against their traumatised ally-turned-foe…

The bereft beast is still beside Defender-in-Chief Doctor Strange for David Anthony Kraft, Trimpe and inkers Frank Giacoia & Mike Esposito for Incredible Hulk King Size Annual #6’s ‘Beware the Beehive!’ wherein a band of mad scientists attempt to recreate their greatest success and failure. Morlak, Hamilton, Shinsky and Zota were a rogue science collective known as The Enclave, who – from their hidden “Beehive” lair – had originally spawned puissant artificial man Him (latterly AKA Adam Warlock).

Here, three of them reunite for another go at building a compliant god they can control, but when they abduct Stephen Strange to replace their missing fourth, the magician has the Jade Juggernaut save him from the experiment’s inevitable consequences: a compassionless super-slave dubbed Paragon whose first task is to eradicate Strange and subdue mankind. Happily, after a border-shattering, army-crunching global rampage, that’s when the Hulk kicks the wall in and goes to work…

In Incredible Hulk #208 Wein, Buscema & Staton reveal ‘A Monster in Our Midst!’ as Bruce Banner finally rejects ending his pain-wracked existence and begins a new and – hopefully – stress-reduced life where his alter ego will never be seen again. That resolve only lasts as long as it takes maniacal Crusher Creel – freed as a consequence of the Jade Juggernaut’s most recent rampage – to accept a commission from a triumvirate of hooded schemers who want the Hulk dead. Of course, even though ‘The Absorbing Man is Out for Blood!’, the super-thug proves no match for Hulk’s unfettered fury, but his well-deserved drubbing results in Banner collapsing unconscious in alley where he is eventually found by a mystic do-gooder in search of an ally…

With #210, Ernie Chan became Buscema’s regular inker as Wein’s ‘And Call the Doctor… Druid!’ finds both Banner and his brutish alter ego crucial to a plan to defeat ancient mutant Maha Yogi, his vast mercenary army and alien bodyguard Mongu before they complete their preparations for world domination. Although the battles of ‘The Monster and the Mystic!’ are a close-run thing, virtue is eventually victorious, but makes little difference to the Hulk’s former teen companion Jim Wilson as he hitchhikes across America, utterly unaware he is the target of a vicious criminal conspiracy. The plots hatch once Jim reaches New York City where his hidden tormentors decide that he must be ‘Crushed by… the Constrictor!’ Neither they nor their ruthless high-tech hitman expected the Hulk to intervene…

With a friend and confidante who shares his secrets, you’d expect Banner’s life to get a little easier, but the authorities never stop hunting the Hulk, who initially realises ‘You Just Don’t Quarrel with the Quintronic Man!’ (inked by Tom Palmer) before bouncing back to trash a formidable five-man mecha suit. As Chan returns, this bout leads to a frenzied clash with a new hyper-powered hero resolved to make his name by defeating America’s most terrifying monster in ‘The Jack of Hearts is Wild!’

Macabre old enemy Bi-Beast is resurrected in #215; still eager to eradicate humanity in ‘Home is Where the Hurt Is’ and nearly succeeding after seizing control of SHIELD’s Helicarrier. Only desperate action by General Thaddeus Ross saves the day, as the old soldier uses the carrier’s tech to shanghai Banner: letting nature take its savage course and hoping the right monster wins the inevitable blockbuster battle before a ‘Countdown to Catastrophe!’ leaves the planet a smoking ruin…

A moodily poignant change of pace comes in #217 as ‘The Circus of Lost Souls!’ sees the shell-shocked Hulk lost somewhere in Europe, defending a band of carnival freaks from the dastardly depredations of The Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime: a solid demarcation signalling Wein’s move  away from scripting in favour of co-plotting, allowing Roger Stern to find his own big green feet to guide the Green Goliath’s future…

That begins with ‘The Rhino Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore’ (#218 by Wein & Stern, with George Tuska, Keith Pollard & Chan handling visuals) as super-strong, gamma-tainted psychologist “Doc” Leonard Samson takes centre stage battling the ruthless Rhino, whilst in #219 Banner learns ‘No Man is an Island!’ (Wein, Stern, Sal Buscema & Chan) after hiring on as a freighter deckhand, only to have it sunk from under him by submarine-based pirate Cap’n Barracuda. Washed ashore on a desert atoll, Hulk is befriended by a deluded soul who believes himself to be Robinson Crusoe. As events unfold an even stranger truth is revealed when Barracuda captures the madman to pluck the secret of making monsters from his broken mind. The cruel corsair has utterly underestimated the ferocious loyalty and compassion of the Hulk, who unleashes devastating destructive ‘Fury at 5000 Fathoms!’

With Stern in authorial control, Sal Buscema is joined by Alfredo Alcala for #221’s ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home’, with still all-at-sea Banner rescued from drowning by marine explorer Walt Newell. He ferries his exhausted passenger back to Manhattan where he is recognised as Banner. Realising he has unwittingly unleashed The Hulk on a major population centre, Newell exposes his own secret identity as subsea superhero Stingray and pursues his former guest. The battle is painfully one-sided and Stingray near death when Jim Wilson intervenes, saving the marine crusader’s life, but only at the cost of Hulk’s trust…

Wein returned for one last hurrah in #222, scripting a plot by artist Jim Starlin (abetted by Alcala). A potently creepy horror yarn begins as the Jade Juggernaut tears through another unfortunate army unit before being gassed into unconsciousness. Banner awakens in the care of two children living in a cave, but they’re not surprised by the fugitive’s transformations: not since the radioactive stuff changed their little brother…

Now people have been disappearing and although they haven’t grasped the truth of it yet, Bruce instantly grasps what is involved in ‘Feeding Billy’… and what his intended role is…

Now firmly established, Stern began an ambitious storyline in #223 (illustrated by Sal & Josef Rubinstein) as ‘The Curing of Dr. Banner!’ sees the monster’s human half spontaneously purged of the gamma radiation that triggers his changes. Heading for Gamma Base to verify his findings, Bruce discovers the entire facility has been taken over: mind-controlled by his ultimate archenemy…

As the villain makes everyone ‘Follow the Leader!’, Doc Samson and General Ross escape and beg Banner to again sacrifice his humanity for the sake of mankind. Only the Hulk has ever defeated The Leader and their only hope is to recall and harness his unstoppable fury. Tragically, the halfway measures fail at the final moment and the villain has cause to ask ‘Is There Hulk After Death?’ With Bruce seemingly deceased, his compatriots jumpstart his system with another overwhelming dose of gamma rays and soon everybody involved has cause to regret the resurrection of the original Gamma Goliath as another ordnance-obliterating clash with the military in #226’s ‘Big Monster on Campus!’ (Stern, Buscema & Joe Sinnott) leads to the man-monster invading his old college and suffering a psychological trauma that could end his rampages forever…

To Be Hulk-inued…

Graced throughout with covers by Rich Buckler, John Romita, Trimpe, Dan Adkins, Dave Cockrum, Marie Severin, Giacoia, Ed Hannigan, Chan, Starlin, Rubinstein and Ron Wilson, this cataclysmically cathartic tome is rounded out with a blitz of bonus features. Front & back covers for The Incredible Hulk Marvel Treasury Edition #17 (1978) by Jeff Aclin & Tony DeZuñiga precede a panoramic landscape pin-up poster by Trimpe of Hulk smashing the Hulkbusters from a UK Marvel mag (by way of F.O.O.M. #19). These are followed by an airbrush treat by Ken Steacy, starring old Jade Jaws, Ant-Man & The Wasp as first seen on Marvel Comics Index #7A (1978) plus its star-studded frontispiece by Franc Reyes. Contemporary house ads lead into an unused Cockrum cover and a selection of original art by Buckler, Chan, Starlin, Alcala, Buscema & Rubinstein, said pictorial treasure treats climaxing with 5 stunningly beautiful pencilled pages of a never-completed story by Wein and Swamp Thing co-creator Bernie Wrightson.

The Incredible Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the cartoons, TV shows, games, toys, action figures and movies are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, earnestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these exciting episodes, so why not Go Green now?
© MARVEL 2023

Mighty Marvel Masterworks Thor volume 3: The Trial of The Gods


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, with Vince Colletta, Chic Stone, Frank Giacoia, Art Simek, Sam Rosen & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-4893-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

These stories are timeless and have been gathered many times before, but today I’m once again focussing on format. The Mighty Marvel Masterworks line launched with economy in mind: classic tales of Marvel’s key creators and characters re-presented in chronological publishing order. It’s been a staple since the 1990s, but always in lavish, hardback collectors editions. These editions are cheaper, on lower quality paper and – crucially – smaller, about the dimensions of a paperback book. Your eyesight might be failing and your hands too big and shaky, but at 152 x 227mm, they’re perfect for kids. If you opt for digital editions, that’s no issue at all…

Even more than The Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor was the arena in which Jack Kirby’s boundless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s plethora of power-packed signature pantheons began in a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-&-true comic book concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by the rapidly resurgent company who were not yet Marvel Comics: adding a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

Cover-dated August 1962, JiM #83 saw a bold costumed Adonis jostling aside the regular fare of monsters, aliens and sinister scientists in a brash, vivid explosion of verve and vigour. The initial exploit followed disabled American doctor Donald Blake who took a vacation in Norway and encountered the vanguard of an alien invasion. Fleeing, he was trapped in a cave where he found an old, gnarled walking stick. When, in frustration, he smashed the stick into the huge boulder blocking his escape, his puny frame was transformed into the Norse God of Thunder!

Plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Lieber and illustrated by Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott (at this juncture a full illustrator, Sinnott would become Kirby’s primary inker for most of his Marvel career), that introduction was pure primal Marvel: bombastic, fast-paced, gloriously illogical and captivatingly action-packed. It was the start of a new kind of legend and style of comics’ storytelling…

Spanning February to October 1964, this third titanic tome reprints the godly exploits from Journey into Mystery #101-109 in a blur of innovation, seat-of-the-pants myth-revising and universe-building. By this time, the ever-expanding world of Asgard was fully established: a mesmerising milieu for Thor’s earlier adventures and exotic setting for fresh wonders hinting at an imminent era of cosmic fantasy to run parallel with the company’s signature Manhattan-based superhero sagas. ‘Every Hand Against Him!’ (by Lee, Kirby & Stone) combines both, as sinister step-brother Loki compels earthly miscreants Cobra and Mr. Hyde to kidnap and wound nigh unto death Thor’s forbidden beloved Jane Foster, even as Odin again overreacts to Thor’s affections for the mortal.

Following a stunning Kirby & Stone Thor Pin-up, and balancing that tension-drenched clash of Good and Evil, is a crafty vignette of Young Thor describing ‘The Defeat of Odin!’ in an old and silly plot sweetened by breathtaking battle scenes. It’s followed by the concluding clash with Cobra & Hyde, redefining ‘The Power of the Thunder God!’ With a major role for Balder the Brave and further integrating “historical” and contemporary Asgard in a spellbinding epic of triumph and near-tragedy, it’s complimented by a Loki Pin-up preceding a fable co-opting a Greek myth (Antaeus if you’re asking) as ‘The Secret of Sigurd!’ (inked by Vince Colletta) is ferreted out by youthful godlings Thor, Balder & Loki.

Journey into Mystery #112 gave readers what they had been clamouring for with ‘The Mighty Thor Battles the Incredible Hulk!’: a glorious gift to all those fans who perpetually ask “who’s stronger…”? Arguably Kirby & Stone’s finest collaborative moment, it details a private duel that apparently appeared off-camera during a free-for-all in The Avengers #3 when the heroes battled Sub-Mariner and the Green Goliath. The raw aggressive power of that clash is balanced by an eagerly anticipated origin yarn in ‘The Coming of Loki!’ (Colletta inks): a retelling of how Odin adopts the baby son of Laufey, the Giant King.

In #113’s ‘A World Gone Mad!’ the Thunderer – right after saving the Shining Realm from invasion – again defies Odin to court Jane: a task made more hazardous by the return of the Grey Gargoyle. A long-running plot strand – almost interminably so – was the soap-opera tangle caused by Don Blake’s love for his nurse: a passion his alter ego shared. Sadly, the Overlord of Asgard could not countenance his son with a mortal, resulting in another heavy-handed example of an acrimonious triangle.

The mythic moment at the back shared ‘The Boyhood of Loki!’ (inked by Colletta), a pensive, brooding foretaste of the villain to be, before JiM #114 began a 2-part tale starring a new villain of the kind Kirby gloried in: a vicious thug who lucks into overwhelming power.

‘The Stronger I Am, The Sooner I Die!’ sees Loki imbue hardened felon Crusher Creel with the ability to duplicate the strength and attributes of anything he touches, but before Creel endures ‘The Vengeance of the Thunder God’ (inked by Frank Giacoia as “Frankie Ray”) we’re graced with another Asgardian parable: ‘The Golden Apples!’

Issue #115’s back-up micro-myth ‘A Viper in our Midst!’ sees young Loki clandestinely cementing relations with the sinister Storm Giants, before a longer Thor saga began in #116, with Colletta becoming regular inker for both lead and support features. ‘The Trial of the Gods’ disclosed more aspects of Asgard as Thor and Loki undertake a brutal ritualised trial by combat, with the latter cheating at every step, after which ‘Into the Blaze of Battle!’ finds Balder protecting Jane even as her godly paramour travels to war-torn Vietnam seeking proof of his step-brother’s infamy.

These yarns are supplemented by stellar novellas ‘The Challenge!’ and ‘The Sword in the Scabbard!’, wherein Asgardian cabin-fever informs an official Quest instituted to expose a threat to the mighty Odinsword, the unsheathing of which will destroy the universe…

Journey into Mystery #118’s ‘To Kill a Thunder God!’ ramps up the otherworldly drama as Loki, to cover his tracks, unleashes ancient Asgardian WMD The Destroyer. When it wrecks Thor’s mystic hammer and nearly kills The Thunderer in ‘The Day of the Destroyer!’, the God of Mischief is forced to save his step-brother or bear the brunt of Odin’s anger.

Meanwhile in Tales of Asgard the Quest further unfolds with verity-testing talisman ‘The Crimson Hand!’ and ‘Gather, Warriors!’ as a band of literally hand-picked “Argonauts” join Thor’s flying longship in a bold but misguided attempt to forestall Ragnarok…

To Be Continued…

There’s a relative paucity of bonus material here but it’s all first rate: two pages of original artwork, and Kirby & Stones 1965 design for a tee-shirt.

These early tales of the God of Thunder show the development not only of one of Marvel’s core narrative concepts but, more importantly, the creative evolution of perhaps the greatest imagination in comics. Set your common sense on pause and simply wallow in the glorious imagery and power of these classic adventures and revel in what makes comic book superheroes such a unique experience.
© 2023 MARVEL.

Doctor Strange Epic Collection volume 2: I, Dormammu 1966-1969


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Dennis O’Neil, Raymond Marais, Jim Lawrence, Dan Adkins, Bill Everett, Marie Severin, George Tuska, Tom Palmer, Gene Colan, John Buscema, Herb Trimpe, George Klein, Sam Grainger & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-5315-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

When the budding House of Ideas introduced a warrior wizard to their burgeoning pantheon in the summer of 1963 it was a bold and curious move. Bizarre adventures and menacing monsters remained incredibly popular but mention of magic or the supernatural – especially vampires, werewolves and their eldritch ilk – were proscribed by a censorship panel which dictated almost all aspects of story content.

At this time – almost a decade after a painfully public witch hunt led to Senate hearings – all comics were ferociously monitored and adjudicated by the Comics Code Authority. Even though some of the small company’s strongest sellers were still mystery and monster mags, their underlying themes and premises were almost universally mad science and alien wonders, not necromantic or thaumaturgic horrors.

That might explain Stan Lee’s low-key introduction of Steve Ditko’s mystic adventurer: an exotic, twilit troubleshooter inhabiting the shadowy outer fringes of rational, civilised society.

The company had already – and recently – published a quasi-mystic precursor. Trench-coated savant Doctor Droom – later redesignated Dr. Druid – had an inconspicuous run in Amazing Adventures (volume 1 #1-4 & #6: June-November 1961). He was a psychiatrist, sage and paranormal investigator tackling everything from alien invaders to Atlanteans (but not those Sub-Mariner ruled). Droom was subsequently retro-written into Marvel continuity as an alternative candidate and precursor for Stephen Strange’s ultimate role as Sorcerer Supreme.

Nevertheless, after a shaky start, the Marvel Age Master of the Mystic Arts became an unmissable icon of the cool counter-culture kids who saw in Steve Ditko’s psychedelic art echoes and overtones of their own trippy explorations of other worlds and realms. That might not have been his intention but it certainly helped keep the mage at the forefront of Lee’s efforts to break comics out of the kids-stuff ghetto…

This enchanting full colour compilation collects the mystical portions of Strange Tales #147-168, Doctor Strange #169-179 and Avengers #61, plus a minor mystic mirthquake from Not Brand Echh #13, collectively spanning August 1966 to May 1969.

The previous volume had seen Stephen Strange defeat his arch nemesis Baron Mordo, extra-dimensional overlord Dormammu, Mordo’s unnamed and now-unemployed disciples and sundry other minor menaces before the dark lord returned to seemingly destroy himself in a hubris-fuelled, suicidal attack on the omnipotent embodiment of the cosmos called Eternity

The cataclysmic chaos ruptured the heavens over infinite dimensions and when the universe was calm again both supra-deities were gone. Rescued from the resultant tumult, however, was the valiant girl Strange had loved and lost who finally introduced herself as Clea. Although Strange despondently left her in the decimated Dark Dimension, everyone knew she would be back…

This time-period – encompassing a full-blown Marvel expansion and Strange’s solo-star status – saw the magician entering a period of creative instability under a welter of briefly employed writers and artists after the originator abruptly left the company at the height of his fame and success in early 1967. The catastrophic cosmic swansong was Ditko’s last hurrah. Issue #147 saw a fresh start under the auspices of co-scripters Lee & Denny O’Neil, with comics veteran Bill Everett suddenly and surprisingly limning the arcane adventures. As Strange returns to his Greenwich Village abode ‘From the Nameless Nowhere Comes… Kaluu!’ sees sagacious mentor The Ancient One rush to his pupil’s side mere moments before an ancient enemy launches a deadly attack from beyond the unknown. O’Neil & Everett then trod new ground by revealing ‘The Origin of the Ancient One!’ even as the mysterious foe intensifies his siege of the Sanctum in #149’s ‘If Kaluu Should Triumph…’

Roy Thomas stepped in to write concluding battle bonanza ‘The Conquest of Kaluu!’ as Master and Student defeat the overwhelmingly powerful intruder through grit and ingenuity. ST #150 then wraps up on an ominous note as with Dormammu gone another ancient evil begins to stir in the Dark Dimension. Throughout his despotic reign the Dread One had apparently been keeping captive a being every bit his equal in power and perfidy and his superior in guile and cruelty. She was his sister and in #151 ‘Umar Strikes!’ returning scribe Lee & Everett document her ascent to the throne, revenge on Clea and plans for Earth before hurling Strange ‘Into the Dimension of Death!’ in #152. Naturally, she also underestimates the puny mortal and Strange begins his retaliation even as he finds himself traversing outer dimensions and ultimately ‘Alone, Against the Mindless Ones!’ The episode is notable for the pencilling debut of magnificent Marie Severin, who applies a sense of potent wonder and film-inspired kinetics to the storytelling. Strange Tales #154 sees Lee, Severin & Umar declare ‘Clea Must Die!’, but the task proves harder than imagined once Strange finds macabre and unlikely allies in the demonic dictator’s own dungeons.

Winning a temporary reprieve, Strange and Clea voyage to Earth where the Ancient One moves her beyond Umar’s reach forever, before ‘The Fearful Finish…!’ escalates the dark goddess’ determination and wrath. In #156 she resolves to dirty her own hands and all too soon, ‘Umar Walks the Earth!’ She is too late. Strange’s mentor has despatched him to a distant realm beyond all worlds on a suicide mission that could endanger all creation…

Artistic superstar-in-waiting Herb Trimpe signed on as inker for #157’s ‘The End of the Ancient One!’ as Strange and his unleashed secret weapon arrive back in time to see off Umar, but only at an unforgivable cost…

Bereft and aghast, Strange then faces alone the monster he has unleashed, unaware that his liberation of the beast Zom has not only sparked an awakening of mystic force all over the world but also invoked the draconian assessment of supernal arbiter The Living Tribunal who rules that Earth must die. With Thomas again scripting, the Cosmic Judge manifests ‘The Sands of Death’ to eradicate the destabilising wild magic infesting the planet but grudgingly accepts Strange’s plea bargain to save the universe from ‘The Evil That Men Do…’

This constant ramping up of tension proceeds as Strange enlists old enemy Mordo, who magnanimously agrees to absorb all that empowering evil energy the Doctor siphons from a legion of newly-empowered sorcerers.

In Strange Tales #160 Raymond Marais, Severin & Trimpe show what a bad idea that is as ‘If This Planet You Would Save!’ depicts the amped-up Baron turning on his benefactor, exiling Strange to a fantastic alien cosmos in #161’s ‘And a Scourge Shall Come Upon You!’ (Marais & new star-turn artist Dan Adkins). In that uncanny other-realm Strange meets former romantic entanglement Victoria Bentley before both are accosted by a macabre mystic tyrant offering aid against the nigh-omnipotent Mordo… for a price.

‘From the Never-World Comes… Nebulos!’ (scripted by James Bond strip writer Jim Lawrence & rendered by Adkins) sees Strange pull all the stops out: smashing Mordo, outwitting Nebulos and stymying The Tribunal’s ‘Three Faces of Doom!’ just in time to save Earth. As his reward, the Good Doctor is despatched by the Grand Arbiter into a ‘Nightmare!’ pursuit of Victoria, arriving on a monster-ridden planet ruled by a techno-wizard named Yandroth who declares himself Scientist supreme of the universe…

The subject of a case of hate at first sight, Strange endures more gadget-laden peril in issue #165 as Yandroth inflicts testing to destruction on ‘The Mystic and the Machine’. Defeated by the hero’s courage and magic, the bonkers boffin activates his doomsday scenario, stating ‘Nothing Can Halt… Voltorg!’ (Lawrence, George Tuska & Adkins) until science proves him wrong…

O’Neil & Adkins teamed up in ST #167 for ‘This Dream… This Doom!’ wherein Strange returns to Earth, indulges in a spot of handy resurrecting and tracks down still-missing Victoria Bentley. That excursion takes the Wizard of Greenwich Village deep into the realm of imagination where Yandroth is waiting for him. The end comes suddenly in #168 as ‘Exile!’ apparently sees the end of the villain and a quick return to home in time for a bold new start.

Big things were happening at Marvel in 1968. After years under a restrictive retail sales deal, The House of Ideas secured a new distributor and were finally expanding with a tidal wave of titles. “Split-Books” like Strange Tales were phased out in favour of solo series for their cohabiting stars and, for the Master of the Mystic Arts at least, that meant a bit of rapid reset. The expansion brought a measure of creative stability as the mystic master now explored the unknown in his own monthly solo title thanks to a neat moment of sleight of hand: assuming the numbering of Strange Tales under his own shingle.

To begin the new era of sorcerous super-shenanigans Thomas & Adkins resumed with a reworking of the Mage’s origins. Extrapolating and building upon the Ditko masterpiece from Strange Tales #115, ‘The Coming of Dr. Strange’ details how he was once America’s greatest surgeon. A brilliant man yet greedy, vain and arrogant, the healer cared nothing for the sick except as a means to wealth and glory. When a self-inflicted, drunken car-crash ended his career, Strange hit the skids.

Fallen as low as man ever could, the debased doctor overheard a barroom tale leading him on a delirious odyssey – or, perhaps more accurately, pilgrimage – to Tibet, where a frail, aged mage changed his life forever. Eventually, enlightenment through torturous daily redemption transformed Stephen the derelict into a solitary, dedicated watchdog at the fringes of humanity, challenging every hidden danger of the dark on behalf of a world better off not knowing what dangers lurk in the shadows.

The saga also featured his first clash with the Ancient One’s other pupil Mordo, revealing how Strange thwarted a seditious scheme, earning the Baron’s undying envious enmity…

The expanded exploration of the change from elitist, dissolute surgeon to penitent scholar and dutiful mystic guardian of humanity neatly segues into another clash with a lethally persistent foe as ‘To Dream… Perchance to Die!’ (#170) finds the Ancient One trapped in a coma thanks to the malevolent lord of dreams. To wake his master, Strange impetuously enters the astral realms and defeats Nightmare on his own terms and turf after which #171 introduces someone who will become a key contributor to the mystic’s career.

Pencilled by eventual inker supreme Tom Palmer, with Adkins supplying finishes, ‘In the Shadow of… Death!’ sees Strange lured away from Earth by news of long-lost Clea. To facilitate her rescue, the sorcerer unthinkingly calls on Victoria Bentley, unaware or uncaring of her romantic feelings for him.

Their trek through the outer deeps of The Realm Unknown is fraught with deadly traps and peril, but does lead to missing Clea… after Bentley is captured and Strange is ambushed by his most powerful and hate-filled foe…

A magical creative team formed for Doctor Strange #171 as Gene Colan signed on for an astoundingly experimental run, with Palmer now handling inks. Humanity is endangered by ‘…I, Dormammu!’ as the Dark Lord reveals how he has orchestrated many recent attacks designed to weary and drain Earth’s champion. The gloating fiend shares how his apparent destruction battling conceptual being Eternity in fact resulted in transdimensional exile and the subjugation of a demonic race dubbed Dykkors: now his eager and willing foot-soldiers lurk, ready to ravage the realms of Mankind. The Dark Despot has even suborned his hated sister and former foe Umar the Unspeakable to his scheme…

As always, Dormammu underestimates the valour and ingenuity of Strange. ‘…While a World Awaits!’, the monstrous conqueror leads a demonic army through the Doorway of Dimensions, leaving the human mage time to liberate Clea and Victoria, before engaging the fearsome forces in a mystic delaying tactic that again allows Dormammu to defeat himself…

With former associate Dr. Benton seeking to convince Strange to abandon crazy charlatanry for a life of respectable medical consultancy, #174 sees the Master of the Mystic Arts helping magical Clea adapt to mundane life on Earth. However, ‘The Power and the Pendulum’ also finds him accompanying brave, secretly despondent Victoria home to England, before being diverted to a foreboding castle where sinister Lord Nekron has laid an eldritch trap.

The crazed noble has made a bargain with hellborn Supreme Satannish, offering his soul for fame and immortality. Instead, the Lord of Lies devised a counter-offer, calling for the substitution of another mystic at the end of one year. With time running out and Strange fitted up for the switch, doom seems inevitable, but Earth’s champion has a timely trick to play…

The late sixties were an incredibly creative period and comics greatly benefitted from that atmosphere of experimentation. Colan used page layouts in wildly imaginative ways to stun readers, but that same expanded vision has often been cited as the reason for the title’s poor sales. I suspect the feature’s early cancellation was as much the result of increasingly sophisticated and scary stories from Thomas, who early on tapped into growing global fascination with supernatural horror and urban conspiracy such as seen in #175’s ‘Unto Us… the Sons of Satannish!’ – coincidentally, the last issue to carry the original title logo.

Just like Ira Levin’s 1967 book and hit 1968 movie Rosemary’s Baby, Strange’s next case involved devil-worship in safely mundane Manhattan, working in secret to achieve diabolical aims. Denied access to the film’s simmering sexuality and mature themes, Thomas, Colan & Palmer stuck to comic book strengths as Clea’s immigrant experience abruptly encompasses ostracization, isolation, suspicious reactions and even assault by ordinary New Yorkers. This leads her straight into the hands of hidden cult The Sons of Satannish, whose charismatic   leader Asmodeus deals with the devil, attempting to win ultimate power by eradicating Strange and replacing him in #176 which whilst sporting a new, eerie and abbreviated logo and masthead, asked ‘O Grave Where is Thy Victory?’

Those aforementioned sales problems were not going away and #177’s concluding chapter ‘The Cult and the Curse’ addressed the issue in tried & true manner. Exiled from his own existence and persona, Strange saved Clea but could only strike back and reclaim his life by magically reinventing himself… by devising a brand new look. The mask & tights of a traditional superhero were apparently the only way to outmanoeuvre Asmodeus, but sadly, not in time to stop him activating a deathbed curse to destroy the world…

The super-suited & booted thoroughly modern mage needed information to proceed, and Dr. Strange #178 has him seeking to question the Satannish worshippers Asmodeus had cruelly banished. Once again exploiting poor Victoria Bentley, Strange recognises her new neighbour Dane Whitman as part-time Avenger The Black Knight and a plea for aid results in an assault on the dimension of decay-god Tiborro ‘…With One Beside Him!’

The saga concluded in Avengers #61 with ‘Some Say the World Will End in Fire… Some Say in Ice!’ by Thomas, John Buscema & George Klein. After Asmodeus’ recued minions reveal the cult’s failsafe spell unleashed Norse demons Surtur and Ymir to destroy the planet, Strange and Black Knight recruit The Vision, Black Panther and Hawkeye to help them save the globe on two fronts…

Although the comics spellbinding ends here, also on offer is the cover of Dr. Strange #179: a Barry Smith treat from 1969 fronting an emergency reprint of Lee & Ditko’s ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange’ from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2. It precedes one last strip surprise: Marie Severin’s cover of Not Brand Echh #13 (May) and comedy treat ‘Dr. Deranged vs Deadpan!’: a frantic spoof by Thomas, Colan & Sam Grainger with “Marble Comics’” madcap mage facing off against lampooned DC supernatural stalwarts Deadman and The Spectre (or Spookter right here, right then…). Also on view are the covers by Jack Kirby, Everett, Jim Steranko, Severin Adkins, Colan, John Buscema and Barry (not yet Windsor) Smith and a selection of original art, beginning with an unused try-out page by Palmer & Adkins, full pages by Adkins, Colan & Palmer and cover art to #174 and 175, topped off with a House Ad heralding the 1968 bifurcation of Strange Tales.

The Wizard of Greenwich Village was always an acquired taste for mainstream superhero fans, but the pioneering graphic bravura of these tales and the ones to come in the next volume left an indelible mark on the Marvel Universe and readily fall into the sublime category of works done “ahead of their time”. Many of us prefer to believe Doctor Strange has always been the coolest of outsiders and most accessible fringe star in Marvel’s firmament. This glorious grimoire is a miraculous means for old fans to enjoy his world once more and a perfect introduction for recent acolytes or converts created by the movie iteration.
© 2024 MARVEL.

Doctor Strange: Dimension War


By James Lovegrove (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-8033-6257-1 (HB/Digital edition/Audio book)

Modern Marvel is a multimedia entertainment colossus but all those multitudinous branches and subdivisions ultimately derive from stories in comic books. Thanks to recent on-screen exposure, ultimate Marvel outsider Stephen Strange is now a popular hot property, which no doubt inspired this prose reinterpretation based on his founding exploits as originally detailed by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee…

Marvel’s sustained presence on non-graphic bookshelves really began in the 1990s with a string of hardback novels. Since then, those who want to supply their own pictures to MU exploits have basked in a procession of text-based thrills in all book formats. Of late, Titan Books has been supplying powerhouse prose publications and here addresses the interests of fans brought in by the recent movies as well as those lifelong devotees of the ever-enlarging continuity who can’t bear to miss a single instance of their fave raves.

Written by British author/designer/illustrator James Lovegrove (Hope, Redlaw, Age of Odin, The Clouded World, Untied Kingdom, Pantheon series, Firefly), Dimension War takes Ditko & Lee’s early episodic exploits of the “Master of Black Magic”: tweaking and shuffling them into one cohesive story arc detailing the coming of the mage and his accession to the role of Sorcerer Supreme.

By downplaying more esoteric episodes – such as battling Asgardian god Loki and stealing Thor’s hammer, rescuing Queen Cleopatra, banishing a sentient predatory house, evicting body-stealing aliens, battling decadence demon Tiborro and saving human burglars from enslavement in the Purple Dimension – the author delineates and extrapolates an intriguing ongoing war from Strange’s frequent clashes with rival student Baron Karl Mordo.

The origin is included and expanded upon as morally bankrupt, crippled superstar surgeon Dr. Stephen Strange finds new purpose after losing everything he thought mattered. By saving aged Tibetan mystic The Ancient One from his ambitious murderous disciple Mordo Strange dedicates himself to become a magical adept: resolved to save humanity from diabolical and extradimensional threats.

Focussing on the many battles with dream demon Nightmare, implacable Mordo and his extradimensional tyrant god patron Dread Dormammu as well as the start of a prolonged but doomed romance with beguiling alien witch-with-a secret Clea, the saga traces a far hipper and less aloof mage than most comics fans will be used to: one who tirelessly strives to keep Earth safe and frustrate demonic schemes of monsters consumed by avarice and arrogance and who ultimately learn there’s always someone bigger and stronger and that pride invariably goes before a great fall…

Reprocessing material from Strange Tales #110, 111 and 114-146, spanning July 1963 to July 1966, as an added treat, the epic ends in an epilogue as first seen in pictures in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 (October 1965). There and then the Good Doctor first fully entered the glamourous, bright and shiny superhero universe, joining the wondrous wallcrawler to defeat thieving wizard Xandu who ensorcelled thugs to make invulnerable zombies and purloined the terrifying Wand of Watoomb…

Slick and fast paced at the cost of much of the mood of the comics, the tale will certainly please movie converts and apostles, and should you wish to see the way it all began and unfolded in pictorial terms, the basis for all this arcane armageddon action can be found in Doctor Strange Epic Collection volume 1 (1963-1966): Master of the Mystic Arts.
© 2024 MARVEL.