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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection volume 4 1967-1968: The Goblin Lives


By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Arnold Drake, John Romita, Don Heck, Jim Mooney, Ross Andru, Larry Lieber, Marie Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1780-7 (TPB)

Amazing Spider-Man was always a comicbook that matured with – or perhaps just slightly ahead – of its fan-base. In this superbly scintillating compilation of chronological webspinning wonderment, the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero survives another rocky period of transformation as the second great era of Amazing Arachnid artists moved inevitably to a close. Although the elder John Romita would remain closely connected to the Wall-Crawler’s adventures for a little time yet, these tales would be amongst his last sustained run as lead illustrator on the series.

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

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

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

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

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

The rise and rise of the Amazing Arachnid increased pace as the Swinging Sixties drew to a close. By the time of the tales collected in this fulsome, full-colour Epic Collection (available in ponderous paperback or ephemeral eBook formats and re-presenting Amazing Spider-Man #53-67, spurious spoofs from parody mag Not Brand Echh #6 and 11, plus an obscure thriller from Marvel Super-Heroes#14, and cumulatively spanning October 1967 to December 1968 and the usual basket of editorial extras), Peter and his ever-expanding cast of comrades were on the way to being household names as well as the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia.

Stan Lee’s scripts were completely in tune with the times – as understood by most kids’ parents at least – and the increasing use of soap opera plots kept older readers glued to the series even if the bombastic battle sequences didn’t.

Thematically, there’s still a large percentage of old-fashioned crime and gangsterism and an increasing use of mystery plots. Dependence on costumed super-foes as antagonists was finely balanced with the usual suspect-pool of thugs, hoods and mob-bosses, but these were not the individual gangs of the Ditko days.

Now Organised Crime and Mafia analogue The Maggia were the big criminal-cultural touchstone as comics caught up with modern movies and headlines.

A multi-part saga began in #53 with ‘Enter: Dr. Octopus’, wherein the many-tentacled madman tries to steal a devastating new piece of technology. After being soundly routed, Otto Octavius goes into hiding as a lodger at Aunt May’s house in ‘The Tentacles and the Trap!’, before regrouping and finally triumphing in ‘Doc Ock Wins!’

The madman even convinces a mind-wiped webslinger to join him before the astonishing conclusion in ‘Disaster!’ as, despite being bereft of memory, the wallcrawler turns on his sinister subjugator and saves the day…

Shell-shocked and amnesiac, Spider-Man is lost in New York in #57 (with lay-outs by Romita and pencils from the reassuringly reliable Don Heck) until he clashes with Marvel’s own Tarzan analogue in ‘The Coming of Ka-Zar!’, whilst in the follow-up ‘To Kill a Spider-Man!’, vengeance-crazed roboticist Professor Smythe again convinces J. Jonah Jameson to finance another murderous mechanical Spider-Slayer and hunt down his personal bête noir…

With Heck still in the artist’s chair, Amazing Spider-Man #59 sees the hero finally regain his memory and turn his attention to a wave of street-crime in ‘The Brand of the Brainwasher!’ Here a new mob-mastermind starts taking control of the city by mind-controlling city leaders and prominent cops – including Police Captain George Stacy, the father of Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen…

The tension builds as the schemer is revealed to be one of Spidey’s old foes in ‘O, Bitter Victory!’ This revelation creates even bigger problems for Peter and Gwen before concluding chapter ‘What a Tangled Web We Weave…!’ sees our hero save the day but still stagger away more victim than victor …

Amazing Spider-Man #62 declaimed ‘Make Way for …Medusa!’ as Lee, Romita, Heck & Mike Esposito supplied a fresh change-of-pace yarn with the webspinner stumbling into combat with the formidable Inhuman due to the machinations of a Madison Avenue ad man.

Spider-Man’s popularity led to Marvel attempting to expand his reach to older readers via the magazine market.

July 1968 saw the launch of Spectacular Spider-Man #1 by Lee, John Romita & Jim Mooney: a lengthy political thriller with charismatic reformer Richard Raleigh ferociously campaigning to become Mayor. The run results in his being targeted and hunted by a brutish monster seemingly determined to keep the old political machine in place at all costs…

Rendered in moody wash tones, the drama soon discloses a sinister plotter behind the campaign of terror… but his identity was the last one Spidey expected to expose…

Also included was a retelling of the hallowed origin tale ‘In the Beginning…’ by Lee, with Larry Lieber pencils and inks-&-tones added by the great Bill Everett.

Back in the four-colour world, Amazing Spider-Man #63 saw the original elderly Vulture return to crush his youthful usurper Blackie Drago in ‘Wings in the Night!’ before taking on Spidey for dessert.

The awesome aerial assaults concluded with carnage on the city’s highest buildings in ‘The Vultures Prey’ leading to another art-change (with the sumptuous heavy line-work of Jim Mooney briefly replacing the workmanlike Heck & Esposito) in #65 as a wounded Spider-Man is arrested and has to engineer ‘The Impossible Escape!’ from a Manhattan prison, incidentally foiling a mass jailbreak along the way.

A psychotic special-effects mastermind returns seeking loot and vengeance in #66’s ‘The Madness of Mysterio!’ (Romita, Heck & DeMeo) as the master of FX illusions engineers his most outlandish stunt, whilst in the background amnesiac Norman Osborn slowly regains his memory.

Although the wallcrawler is subjected to a bizarre form of mind-bending it nevertheless results in an all-out action-packed brawl (rendered by Romita & Mooney) entitled ‘To Squash a Spider!’. Perhaps more interestingly, this yarn introduces Randy Robertson, college student son of the Daily Bugle’s city editor and one of the first young black regular roles in Silver Age comics.

Lee and his staff were increasingly making a stand on Civil Rights issues at this time of unrest and Marvel would blaze a trail for African American and other minority characters in their titles. There would also be a growth of student and college issues during a period when American campuses were coming under intense media scrutiny…

The magazine experiment then concludes with The Spectacular Spider-Man #2 (November 1968). To offset disappointing sales, Marvel had abruptly switched to a smaller size and added colour, but it was to be the last attempt to secure older-reader shelf-space until the early 1970s. At least the story was – and remains – top-rate…

Following monochrome recap ‘The Spider-Man Saga’ Lee, Romita & Mooney deal with months of foreshadowing by finally revealing how Norman Osborn shakes off his selective amnesia and returns to full-on super-villainy in ‘The Goblin Lives!’

Steeped in his former madness and remembering Peter Parker is Spider-Man, Osborn plays cat and mouse with his foe, threatening all the hero’s loved ones until a climactic battle utilising hallucinogenic weapons again erases the Goblin personality… for the moment…

Closing the drama division of this colossal comics compendium is a one-off yarn from Marvel Super-Heroes #14 (May 1968).

‘The Reprehensible Riddle of the… The Sorcerer!’ reads to me like an inventory tale rushed out to fill a deadline gap or printed just before its “use-by” date expired. Nonetheless, as crafted by Lee, Ross Andru & Bill Everett, it offers an enticingly different spin on the wallcrawler with an enigmatic psychic targeting Spider-Man using psionic strikes and voodoo tricks to draw the hero to New Orleans and a death duel with a synthetic, science-tinged homunculus…

Always fond of a giggle himself, the hero was a regular star of comedy vehicle Not Brand Echh. All romance issue #6 (February 1968) featured Gary Friedrich & Marie Severin’s ‘With This Ring, I Thee Web!’ as the young man pursues his destined true love only to suffer a tragic loss, whilst December’s #11 provided a trenchant fable decrying success and merchandising in Arnold Drake, Severin & John Tartaglione’s ‘Fame is a Cross-Eyed Blind Date with B-a-a-a-d Breath!’

Also on show are a wealth of art treats including original art and production photostats; unused pencil pages by Romita and Lieber; sketches and painted magazine covers by Harry Rosenbaum and Romita; house ads; character sketches and notes, and reproductions of earlier collection covers by Romita & Dean White.

Spider-Man became a permanent unmissable part of many teenagers’ lives at this time and did so by living a life as close to theirs as social mores and the Comics Code would allow. Blending cultural authenticity with glorious narrative art, and making a dramatic virtue of the awkwardness, confusion and sense of powerlessness most of the readership experienced daily, resulted in an irresistibly intoxicating read, delivered in addictive soap-opera slices, but none of that would be relevant if the stories weren’t so compellingly entertaining.

This book is Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. Why not see why…?
© 1968, 2019 Marvel. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 10


By Len Wein, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Tony Isabella, Herb Trimpe & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9596-2 (HB)

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

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

This chronologically-curated hardback and eBook compendium re-presents issues #171-183, encompassing cover-dates January 1974 to January 1975, and begins with a brace of revelatory Introductions from then Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas and returning scripter Len Wein on the creation of a certain mutant Canadian…

Before that debut, however, the drama commences with excessive bombast but no appreciable fanfare as ‘Revenge!’ (by Gerry Conway – from a Steve Englehart plot – with art by Trimpe & Jack Abel) finds the Green Goliath a stowaway on a plane back to military Mecca Hulkbuster Base. The jet carries a new Project: Greenskin commanding officer. Spit-&-polish Colonel John D. Armbruster has taken over from the politically sidelined Thunderbolt Ross….

The camp is eerily deserted and the reason soon becomes clear as bludgeoning brutes Abomination and The Rhino attack the new arrivals. Having subdued the entire garrison, they plan on detonating the base’s gamma-bomb self-destruct device but are utterly unprepared for the Hulk’s irascible intervention…

Roy Thomas plotted Tony Isabella’s script for #172 wherein the Hulk – captured by the ungrateful soldiers he saved – is hurled into another dimension, allowing a mystic menace to inadvertently escape. ‘And Canst Thou Slay… The Juggernaut?’ reveals that even that magically augmented menace cannot resist our favourite monster’s might and features a telling cameo by the X-Men, after which Thomas scripts all-Trimpe art-fest ‘Anybody Out There Remember… The Cobalt Man?’, wherein another old X-adversary – Ralph Roberts – picks up the Jade Giant at sea before sailing his research vessel into a nuclear test explosion…

Dying of radiation exposure, the deranged technologist then determines to demonstrate atomic bombs are bad to a callous, uncaring world by detonating one over Sydney in Doomsday… Down Under’ (Conway, Thomas, Trimpe & Abel). The second clash with the azure-armoured Cobalt Man results in a blistering battle in the stratosphere, a cataclysmic explosion and Hulk crashing to earth far, far away as a ‘Man-Brute in the Hidden Land!’ (#175, Thomas, Trimpe & Abel)…

Here a typically short-tempered encounter with the Uncanny Inhumans and devastating duel with silent super-monarch Black Bolt, after the usual collateral carnage, ends with the gamma gladiator hurtling to the far side of the sun in a rocket-ship for a date with allegory if not destiny.

During the early 1970s a throwaway Fantastic Four character dubbed Him was transubstantiated into a modern interpretation of the Christ myth and placed on a world far more like our own than the Earth of Marvel’s universe.

That troubled globe was codified as Counter-Earth and upon it messianic Adam Warlock battled a Satan-analogue known as the Man-Beast. Hulk had briefly visited once before and now he crashed there again to complete the allegorical epic beginning with ‘Crisis on Counter-Earth!’ by Conway, Trimpe & Abel.

Since the Hulk’s departure, Man-Beast and his animalistic minions (all spawned by godlike genetic meddler The High Evolutionary) had become America’s President and Cabinet. Moving decisively, they had finally captured Warlock and led humanity to the brink of extinction, leaving the would-be messiah’s disciples in utter confusion.

Now with the nation in foment, the Hulk’s shattering return gives Warlock’s faithful flock an opportunity to save their saviour in ‘Peril of the Plural Planet!’ but the foray badly misfires and Warlock is captured. Publicly crucified at the behest of the people, humanity’s last hope perishes…

Meanwhile on true-Earth, Ross and Armbruster discover trusted comrade (and Ross’ son-in-law) Major Glenn Talbot has escaped from a top security Soviet prison and is making his triumphant way back to the USA…

The quasi-religious experience concludes with ‘Triumph on Terra-Two’ (Conway, Isabella, Trimpe & Abel) as the dead prophet resurrects whilst Hulk is waging his last battle against Man-Beast just in time to deliver a cosmic coup de grace before ascending from Counter-Earth to the beckoning stars…

Incredible Hulk #179 signalled a long-overdue thematic reboot as Len Wein signed on as writer/editor with strong ideas on how to put some dramatic impact back into the feature. It began with ‘Re-enter: The Missing Link’, as the Jade Juggernaut loses patience during his return trip and bursts out of his borrowed spaceship just as America’s military defences shoot it down.

He crashes to earth in the mining district of Appalachia and, reverting to befuddled Bruce Banner, is adopted by the dirt-poor Bradford family. They have a habit of taking in strays and have already welcomed a strange, huge yet gentle being they’ve named Lincoln.

As time passes Banner recognises the creature as a former Hulk foe known as the Missing Link. The colossal brute is neither evil nor violent (unless provoked) but is lethally radioactive, and the fugitive physicist faces the dilemma of having to break up a perfect happy family before they all die.

The Link, of course, refuses to cooperate or go quietly…

Next comes the most momentous story in Hulk history which starts with ‘And the Wind Howls… Wendigo!’ (#180, October 1974, Wein, Trimpe & Abel). Here the Green Giant gallivants across the Canadian Border and encounters a witch attempting to cure her brother of a curse which has transformed him into a rampaging cannibalistic monster.

Unfortunately, that cure means Hulk must become a Wendigo in his stead…

It is while the Great Green and Weird White monsters are fighting that mutant megastar Wolverine first appears – in the very last panel – and that’s what leads into the savage fist, fang and claw fest that follows.

‘And Now… The Wolverine!’ captivatingly concludes the saga as the Maple nation’s top-secret super-agent is unleashed upon both the Emerald Goliath and man-eating Wendigo in an action-stuffed romp teeming with triumph, tragedy and lots of slashing and hitting. The rest is history…

Back south of the border, Major Talbot has been reunited with his wife and family and is eagerly expecting a meeting with President Ford as ‘Between Hammer and Anvil!’ (with Trimpe taking sole charge of the art chores) finds the ever-isolated Hulk meeting and losing a true friend in jolly hobo Crackerjack Jackson.

The über-action portion of the tale comes from two escaped convicts who despise each other but are forced to endure togetherness because of an alien chain which shackles them whilst imparting overwhelming physical power. It’s not, nearly enough, however, enough to stop a fighting-mad, heartbroken Hulk…

This catastrophic compilation concludes with the return of electrical vampire and life-stealer ZZZAX in ‘Fury at 50,000 Volts!’: wrecking a new life Banner surreptitiously starts carving out for himself in Chicago…

To Be Continued…

This superbly cathartic tome also reproduces John Romita’s first design sketches for Wolverine, a page of original art from the debut and house ads for the issue, as well as covers and frontispieces by John Byrne & Abel and Trimpe from later Hulk/Wolverine reprint collections.

The Incredible Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, cartoons, TV shows, games, toys and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious and cathartic experience of Might literally making Right, you can’t do better than these yarns.
© 1974, 1975, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Invincible Iron Man Epic Collection volume 3 1968-1970: The Man Who Killed Tony Stark


By Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Johnny Craig & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1630-5 (TPB)

Marvel’s rise to dominance of the American comicbook industry really took hold in 1968 when most of their characters finally got their own titles. Prior to that – and due to a highly restrictive distribution deal – the company was contractually tied to a limit of 16 publications per month.

To circumvent this drawback, Marvel developed “split-books” with two solo features per publication, such as Tales of Suspense wherein Iron Man was joined by Captain America with #59 (cover-dated November 1964).

When the division came, the armoured Avenger started afresh with a “Collectors’ Item First Issue” – after a shared one-shot with the Sub-Mariner that rationalised divergent schedules – with Cap retaining the numbering of the original title: thus his “premiering” in number #100, while the Steel-Shod Avenger got a first issue at last….

Tony Stark is the acceptable face of 1960s Capitalism; a glamorous millionaire-industrialist and inventor. He is also a benevolent all-conquering hero when clad in the ultra high-tech armour of his alter-ego, Iron Man.

Created in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and at a time when “Red-baiting” and “Commie-bashing” were American national obsessions (just like now), the emergence of a brilliant new Thomas Edison, using Yankee ingenuity and invention to safeguard and better the World, seemed inevitable.

Combine the then-sacrosanct belief that technology and commerce could solve any problem with the universal imagery of noble knights battling evil and the concept behind the Golden Avenger seems an infallibly successful proposition. Of course, it helps that all that money and gadgetry is great fun and very, very cool…

With an Iron Clad promise of stunning adventure and suspenseful drama, this iconic trade paperback (and digital) chronological compendium covers Iron Man #2-24, spanning June 1968 – April 1970, and features a creative dream sequence as master scripter Archie Goodwin worked with EC legend Johnny Craig and Golden Age veteran George Tuska.

A bold new era began with Invincible Iron Man #2. Long-established illustrator Gene Colan had moved on and, with ‘The Day of the Demolisher!’, the slick understated mastery of Craig adds a sheen of terrifying authenticity to proceedings. His first job was a cracker, since Goodwin introduces Janice Cord as a new romantic interest for the playboy inventor. The problem thwarting true love is a monolithic killer robot built by her deranged father and the start of a running plot-thread examining the effects of the munitions business and the nature of those inventors who work for it…

Goodwin & Craig then bring back Stark’s old bodyguard Happy Hogan to help rebuild the now-obsolete Iron Man armour before consequently devolving him back into a monstrous super-strong menace in ‘My Friend, My Foe… the Freak!’ for #3; surpassing themselves one issue later by retooling a long-forgotten Soviet super-villain into a major threat in ‘Unconquered is the Unicorn!’

This particular ultra-enhanced maniac is dying from his own powers and believes Tony would be able – if not initially willing – to fix him…

With Iron Man #5, another venerated veteran from the industry’s dawn joined the creative team. George Tuska – who had worked on huge hits such as the original (Fawcett) Captain Marvel and Crime Does Not Pay, plus newspaper strips such as The Spirit and Buck Rogers – would illustrate the majority of Iron Man’s adventures over the decade and become synonymous with the Armoured Avenger…

With Craig adding his solid dependable inks, ‘Frenzy in a Far-Flung Future!’ is an intriguing time-paradox tale wherein Stark is kidnapped by the last survivors of humanity. They are determined to kill him before he can build the super-computer that eradicated mankind. Did somebody say “Terminator”…?

A super-dense (by which I mean strong and heavy) Cuban Commie threat then returned – but not for long – in ‘Vengeance… Cries the Crusher!’

Next, a sinister scheme started way back in Tales of Suspense #97 finally bears brutal – and for preppie S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell (assigned as Stark’s security advisor) – painful fruit in 2-part thriller ‘The Maggia Strikes!’ and ‘A Duel Must End!’, as old Daredevil foe the Gladiator leads a savage attack on Stark’s factory, friends and would-be new love…

The saga also reveals the tragic history of mystery woman Whitney Frost and lays the seeds of her evolution into one of Iron Man’s most implacable foes…

A daring 3-part saga follows as ultimate oriental arch-fiend The Mandarin resurfaces with a cunning plan and the certain conviction that Stark and Iron Man are the same person… Beginning with an apparent Incredible Hulk guest-shot in #9’s ‘…There Lives a Green Goliath!’ and proceeding through the revelatory and explosive Nick Fury team-up ‘Once More… The Mandarin!’, the epic climaxes in spectacular “saves-the-day” fashion as our hero is ‘Unmasked!’

This epic from Goodwin, Tuska & Craig offers astounding thrills and potent drama with plenty of devious twists, just as the first inklings of the social upheaval America was experiencing began to seep into Marvel’s publications.

As the core audience started to grow into the Flower Power generation, future tales would take arch-capitalist weapon-smith Stark in many unexpected and often peculiar directions. All of a sudden maybe that money and fancy gadgetry weren’t quite so fun or cool anymore…?

The sterling run of science-flavoured dramas resumes with the introduction of a new sinister super-foe in #12 as ‘The Coming of the Controller’ sees a twisted genius using the stolen life-energy of enslaved citizens to power a cybernetic exo-skeleton.

Along the way, he and his brother embezzle the fortune of Stark’s girlfriend Janice Cord to pay for it all. Of course, Iron Man is ready and able to overcome the scheming maniac, tensely culminating in cataclysmic clash ‘Captives of the Controller!’, wherein the mind-bending terror attempts to extend his mesmeric, parasitic sway over the entire populace of New York City…

IM#14 revealed that ‘The Night Phantom Walks!’, with Goodwin craftily paying tribute to Craig’s past history drawing EC’s landmark horror comics. Here the artist pencilled and inked the story of a zombie-monster prowling a Caribbean island and destroying Stark Industry installations. As well as being a terse, moody thriller, this story marks the first indications of a different attitude, as the menace’s ecologically-inspired reign of terror includes some pretty fair arguments about the downsides of “Progress” and rapacious globalisation…

With Craig again inking, Tuska returned with #15 and ‘Said the Unicorn to the Ghost…!’ The demented former superspy allies himself with Fantastic Four foe Red Ghost in a desperate last-ditch bid to find a remedy for his drastically shortened life-span.

Attempting to kidnap Stark, the Ghost betrays the Unicorn and retrenches to an African Cosmic Ray research facility in concluding instalment ‘Of Beasts and Men!’, where it takes a fraught alliance of hero and villain to thwart the phantom mastermind’s ill-conceived plans…

A suspenseful extended epic kicked off in Iron Man #17 when an advanced android designed to protect Stark’s secret identity achieves sinister sentience and sneakily replaces him.

‘The Beginning of the End!’ also introduces enigmatic Madame Masque and her malevolent master Midas, who plans to take control of America’s greatest technology company…

Dispossessed and on the run, Stark is abducted and reluctantly aligns with Masque and Midas to reclaim his identity, only to suffer a fatal heart attack in ‘Even Heroes Die!’ (guest-starring the Avengers), before a ground-breaking transplant – still practically science fiction in those distant days – gives him renewed hope in ‘What Price Life?’

When the ruthlessly opportunistic Midas instantly strikes again, the mysterious Madame Masque switches sides and all hell breaks loose…

The X-Men’s dimensionally displaced alien nemesis attacks the restored and recuperating hero in ‘Who Serves Lucifer?’ (inked by Joe Gaudioso – AKA moonlighting Mike Esposito) before being rudely returned to his personal dungeon dimension, after which African-American boxer Eddie March briefly becomes a new Iron Man in #21’s ‘The Replacement!’ Stark – free from the heart-stimulating chest-plate which had preserved his life for years – is understandably tempted into a life without strife, but unfortunately, and unknown to all, Eddie has a little health problem of his own…

When Soviet-sponsored armoured archenemy Titanium Man resurfaces, it’s in conjunction – if not union – with another former Cold War warrior in the form of a newly-upgraded Crimson Dynamo in #22’s chilling classic confrontation ‘From this Conflict… Death!’

With a loved one murdered, vengeance-crazed Iron Man goes ballistic in innovative action-thriller ‘The Man Who Killed Tony Stark!!’ before ultimately finding solace in the open arms of Madame Masque.

Ending this compilation in classic style, Johnny Craig returns to fully illustrate a superb mythological monster-mash in ‘My Son… The Minotaur!’

The galvanised wonderment is supplemented with a sublime selection of Tuska and Craig original art pages and covers to wrap up this collection with the Golden Gladiator being politically repositioned at a time when Marvel solidly set itself up at the vanguard of a rapidly changing America increasingly at war with itself – so, no change there then…

This is a fantastic period in the Golden Gladiator’s career and one that perfectly encapsulates the changes Marvel and America went through: seen through some of the best and most memorable efforts of a simply stellar band of creators.
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 2019 Marvel. All rights reserved.

Captain Marvel Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Jim Starlin, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Mike Friedrich, Steve Englehart, Wayne Boring, Al Milgrom, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3016-1 (HB)

In 1968, upstart Marvel was in the ascendant. Their sales were rapidly overtaking industry leaders National/DC and Gold Key Comics and, having secured a new distributor which would allow them to expand their list of titles exponentially, the company was about to undertake a creative expansion of unparalleled proportions.

Once each individual star of “twin-books” Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales was awarded their own title, the House of Ideas just kept on going. In progress was a publishing plan which sought to take conceptual possession of the word “Marvel” through both reprint series like Marvel Tales, Marvel Collector’s Items Classics and Marvel Super-Heroes. Eventually, showcase titles such as Marvel Premiere, Marvel Spotlight and Marvel Feature also proudly trumpeted the name, so another dead-cert idea was to publish an actual hero named for the company – and preferably one with some ready-made cachet and pedigree as well.

After the infamous DC/Fawcett copyright court case of the 1940s-1950s, the prestigious designation Captain Marvel disappeared from newsstands. In 1967, during the “Camp” craze superhero boom generated by the Batman TV series, publisher MLF secured rights to the name and produced a number of giant-sized comics featuring an intelligent robot able to divide his body into segments and shoot lasers from his eyes.

Quirky, charming and devised by the legendary Carl Burgos (creator of the Golden Age Human Torch), the series nevertheless failed to attract a large following in that flamboyantly flooded marketplace and on its demise the name was quickly snapped up by Marvel Comics Group.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a brand new title: it had been reconfigured from double-sized reprint title Fantasy Masterpieces, which comprised vintage monster-mystery tales and Golden Age Timely Comics classics, but with the twelfth issue it added a showcase section for characters without homes such as Medusa, Ka-Zar, Black Knight and Doctor Doom, plus new concepts like Guardians of the Galaxy and Phantom Eagle to try out in all-new stories.

To start the ball rolling, the title headlined an alien spy sent to Earth from the Kree Galaxy. He held a Captain’s rank and his name was Mar-Vell.

After two appearances, Captain Marvel catapulted straight into his own title and began a rather hit-and-miss career, battling spies, aliens, costumed cut-ups such as Sub-Mariner, Mad Thinker and Iron Man. Most frequently however he clashed with elements of his own rapaciously colonialist race – such as imperial investigative powerhouse Ronan the Accuser – all the while slowly switching allegiances from the militaristic Kree to the noble, freedom-loving denizens of Earth.

Disguised as NASA scientist Walter Lawson, he infiltrated a US airbase and grew closer to security chief Carol Danvers, gradually going native even as he was constantly scrutinised by his ominously orbiting commanding officer Colonel Yon-Rogg – Mar-Vell’s ruthless rival for the love of the teeming starship’s medical officer Una

The impossible situation came to a head when Mar-Vell gave his life to save the empire from overthrow from within. As a reward, colossal hive-mind the Supreme Intelligence inextricably bonded the expiring warrior with voice-of-a-generation and professional side-kick Rick Jones who – just like Billy Batson (the naïve lad who turned into the original Fawcett Captain Marvel by shouting “Shazam!”) – switched places with a mighty adult hero whenever danger loomed.

By striking a pair of ancient, wrist worn “Nega-bands” together they could temporarily trade atoms: one active in our universe whilst the other floated, a ghostly untouchable, ineffectual voyeur to events glimpsed from the ghastly anti-matter Negative Zone.

The Captain was an alien lost on Earth, a defector from the militaristic Kree who fought for humanity three hours at a time, atomically chained to Rick by mysterious wristbands which enabled them to share the same space in our universe, but whenever one was active here the other was trapped in a terrifying isolated antimatter hell…

The book was cancelled soon after that… only to return some more!

A series which would not die, Captain Marvel returned again in the summer of 1972 for another shot at stardom and intellectual property rights security.

This third stellar Masterworks compilation (spanning September 1972 to July 1974 whilst gathering Captain Marvel #21-33 plus a pivotal crossover appearances from Iron Man #55) finds him at his best and worst as mediocre tales by veteran creators were brushed aside and the hero was overnight transfigured by the talents of a very talented newcomer, making the directionless Kree Warrior briefly the most popular and acclaimed title in Marvel’s firmament.

Following another comprehensively contextualising reminiscence in Roy Thomas’ Introduction, it all begins rather inauspiciously with Captain Marvel #22 wherein scripter Gerry Conway and artists Wayne Boring & Frank Giacoia reintroduce the cosmic crusader. ‘To Live Again!’ sees Mar-Vell still bonded to Rick by the uncanny Nega-bands, having languished in the Negative Zone for a seeming eternity. Jones had been trying to carve out a rock star career and relationship with new love Lou-Ann, but eventually his own body betrays him and the Kree Captain is expelled back into our reality…

Luckily, Lou-Ann’s uncle Benjamin Savannah is a radical scientist on hand to help Rick’s transition, but as the returned Marvel unsteadily flies off, across town another boffin is rapidly mutating from atomic victim to nuclear threat and #23 (by Marv Wolfman, Boring & Frank McLaughlin) sees the Kree Warrior calamitously clash with rampaging maniac Megaton, resulting in ‘Death at the End of the World!’.

Wolfman, Boring & Ernie Chan then deal ‘Death in High Places!’ as Rick is targeted by lethal Madame Synn and felonious cyborg Dr. Mynde. They need Mar-Vell to help them plunder the Pentagon…

After seemingly running in place, perpetually one step ahead of cancellation (folding many times, but always quickly resurrected – presumably to secure that all important trademark name), the Captain was handed to a newcomer named Jim Starlin who was left alone to get on with it…

With many of his friends and fellow neophytes he began laying seeds (particularly in Iron Man and Daredevil) for a saga that would in many ways become as well regarded as Jack Kirby’s epochal Fourth World Trilogy which it emulated.

However, the “Thanos War”, despite superficial similarities, soon developed into a uniquely modern experience. And what it lacked in grandeur it made up for with sheer energy and enthusiasm.

The first inkling came in Iron Man #55 (February 1973) with Mike Friedrich scripting Starlin’s opening gambit in a cosmic epic that changed the nature of Marvel itself. ‘Beware The… Blood Brothers!’(inked by Mike Esposito) introduces haunted humanoid powerhouse Drax the Destroyer, trapped by extraterrestrial invader Thanos under the Nevada desert and in dire need of rescue. That comes when the Armoured Avenger blazes in, answering a mysterious SOS…

A month later in Captain Marvel #25, Friedrich, Starlin, & Chic Stone unleashed ‘A Taste of Madness!’ and the alien outcast’s fortunes changed forever.

When Mar-Vell is ambushed by a pack of extraterrestrials, he is forced to admit that his powers are in decline. Unaware that an unseen foe is counting on that, Rick manifests and checks in with Dr. Savannah, only to find himself accused by his beloved Lou-Ann of the scientist’s murder.

Hauled off to jail, Rick brings in Mar-Vell who is confronted by a veritable legion of old foes before deducing who in fact his true enemies are…

Issue #26 sees Rick free of police custody and confronting Lou-Ann over her seeming ‘Betrayal!’ (Starlin, Friedrich & Dave Cockrum). Soon, however, he and Mar-Vell realise they are the targets of psychological warfare: the girl is being mind-controlled whilst Super Skrull and his hidden “Masterlord” are manipulating them and others in search of a lost secret…

When a subsequent scheme to have Mar-Vell kill The Thing spectacularly fails, Thanos takes personal charge. The Titan is hungry for conquest and wants Rick because his subconscious conceals the location of an irresistible ultimate weapon.

Rick awakes to find himself ‘Trapped on Titan!’ (Pablo Marcos inks) but does not realise the villain has already extracted the location of a reality-altering Cosmic Cube from him. Rescued by Thanos’ father Mentor and brother Eros, the horrified lad sees first-hand the extent of genocide the death-loving monster has inflicted upon his own birthworld and summons Captain Marvel to wreak vengeance…

Meanwhile on Earth, still-enslaved Lou-Ann has gone to warn the Mighty Avengers and summarily collapsed. By the time Mar-Vell arrives in #28 she lies near death. Inked by Dan Green, ‘When Titans Collide!’ reveals another plank of Thanos’ plan. As the heroes are picked off by psychic parasite The Controller, Mar-Vell is assaulted by bizarre visions of an incredible ancient being. Fatally distracted, he becomes the massive mind-leech’s final victim…

Al Milgrom inks ‘Metamorphosis!’ as the Kree captain’s connection to Rick is severed and he is transported to an otherworldly locale where an 8-billion year old being named Eon reveals the origins of life whilst overseeing the abductee’s forced evolution into the ultimate warrior: a universal champion gifted with the subtly irresistible power of Cosmic Awareness…

Returned to Earth and reconnected to his frantic atomic counterpart, the newly-appointed “Protector of the Universe” goes after The Controller, thrashing the monumentally powerful parasite in a devastating display of skill countering super-strength in #30’s ‘…To Be Free from Control!’

Much of this saga occurs in other titles and for the full picture you will need to hunt down more comprehensive compilations but here and now, the story continues in Captain Marvel #31 with ‘The Beginning of the End!’ (inked by Green & Milgrom) wherein the Avengers – in a gathering of last resort – are joined by psionic priestess Moondragon and Drax – one of the Titan’s many victims resurrected by supernal forces to destroy Thanos…

The Titan has been revealed as a lover of the personification of Death and he wants to give her Earth as a betrothal present. To that end, he uses the Cosmic Cube to turn himself into ‘Thanos the Insane God!’ (Green) and with a thought captures all opposition to his reign. However, his insane arrogance leaves the cosmically aware Mar-Vell with a chance to undo every change; brilliantly outmanoeuvring and defeating ‘The God Himself!’ (inks by Klaus Janson)…

With the universe saved, this volume of cosmic conflict and stellar spectacle concludes with a choice selection of bonus bits, beginning with a comprehensive cutaway ‘Map of Titan’ from Captain Marvel #27, original artwork and covers and endpieces from 1980s reprint series The Life of Captain Marvel.

The Good Captain has never claimed to be the company’s most popular or successful character and some of the material collected here is frankly rather poor. However, the good stuff is amongst the very best the company has produced in its entire history. If you want to see how good superhero comics can be, you’ll just have to take the rough with the smooth and who knows… you might see something that will blow your mind…
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine


By Jason Aaron, Adam Kubert & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785140801 (TPB)

Remember when comic stories were fun, thrilling and, best of all, joyously uncomplicated? Here’s one of those…

Eschewing mind-boggling continuity-links and crossover overload, writer Jason Aaron and artist Adam Kubert – with the impressive support of inkers Mark Morales, Dexter Vines & Mark Roslan (as well as colourist Justin Ponsor and letterer Rob Steen) – simply set out to craft a well-told, action-packed and even poignant time-travel fun-fest that does everything right… and superbly succeeded. The result was 6-issue miniseries Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine.

Without giving away too much delicious detail (trust me you’ll be grateful once you read the full epic adventure) 65-million years ago, as a giant asteroid hurtles towards Earth and an impact which will wipe out the dinosaurs and at least two emergent species of proto-hominid, a warring couple of marooned superheroes from the 21st century sadly make peace with their fate if not each other…

Lost in time for months through the most ridiculous of circumstances, Wolverine and Peter Parker are ready to die. The feral mutant has become leader of the smart but diminutive Small People, leading them to salvation from the predations of their giant evolutionary rivals the Kill People and all other threats, whilst the erstwhile Spider-Man has isolated himself from all contact, terrified of rewriting the future even if he is no longer part of it.

Moreover, Parker’s dreams are haunted by a woman he doesn’t know, but who has become the only thing he cares for…

At a most precipitous moment, the pair are snatched from their time zone and returned to what appears to be an utterly devastated present. The Small People have survived humanity’s fall and are new rulers of a shattered society, but are currently at risk of losing their own shot as overlords of Earth. A fresh Armageddon from leftover human technology, a time-travelling z-list villain and a terrifying sentient planet with the ghost consciousness of Doctor Doom appears to be about to end civilisation one more time…

After Wolverine saves the day and is brought back from beyond death by Parker, they are separated in time and dumped at significant and harrowing moments of each other’s early life; but all the while sinister forces wielded by a hidden cosmic mastermind are manipulating not just the heroes but time itself…

After literally saving the world and perhaps the universe, the heroes are still hunted and continually assaulted by Temporal Gangstas The Czar and Big Murder, until Spider-Man and Wolverine finally strike back and seemingly triumph, only to be stranded in the American West for years…

At least this time Peter is happily united with the mysterious girl of his dreams.

However, the epic is far from finished and heartbreak is just around the chronal corner…

Fast-paced, spectacular, incredibly ingenious and uproariously witty, this tale – available in trade paperback and digital editions – is a sparkling timeless gem and the perfect antidote for over-angsty costumed drama overload.
© 2012 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Thor Epic Collection volume 5: 1970-1971 The Fall of Asgard


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Neal Adams & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1274-1 (TPB)

The Mighty Thor was the title in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with the Cosmic Unknown was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s career-defining string of power-packed signature pantheons all stemmed from a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This bombastic full-colour trade paperback tome – also available in eFormats – re-presents Kirby’s final Asgardian exploits and the exemplary efforts of his unlucky over-pressured successors. Taken from Thor #175-194, the sagas collectively cover April 1970-December 1971, as universe-builder King Kirby abandoned the worlds he’d tirelessly cultivated with Stan Lee for the hopefully fresher fields of DC Comics and a cosmos uniquely his own…

What needs knowing: Once upon a time lonely, lamed American doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, Blake found a gnarled old walking stick, which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder!

Without any hesitation or preamble, the reborn godling was soon defending the weak and smiting the wicked. As months swiftly passed, rapacious extra-terrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs gradually gave way to a vast panoply of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces. Eventually the magnificent warrior’s ever-expanding world of Asgard was a regular feature and mesmerising milieu for the hero’s earlier adventures, heralding a fresh era of cosmic fantasy to run almost tangentially to the company’s signature superhero sagas. With a further revelation that Don Blake had never existed: but was a spell crafted to teach an arrogant god humility and humanity…

The astounding action begins here behind a Marie Severin cover as ‘The Fall of Asgard!’ (Lee, Kirby & inker Bill Everett) sees valiant Asgardian Balder and his Warriors Three allies Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg escape the clutches of lovestruck sorceress Karnilla only to confront the assemble hordes of giants and trolls marching on the Home of the Gods.

With All-Father Odin incapacitated by his annual Great Sleep, Loki has perfidiously seized the throne forcing war-goddess Sif to call Thor back home for perhaps the Last Battle…

Inked by Vince Colletta, ‘Inferno!’ reveals the folly of the usurper as terrifying fire-demon Surtur breaks free of ancient Odinian captivity to begin his pre-ordained task of burning down the universe.

With everything appearing ‘To End in Flames!’, Loki flees to Earth, having first hidden Odin’s sleeping form in the life-inimical Sea of Eternal Night. As Thor leads a heroic Horatian last stand, Balder penetrates the Dimension of Death to rescue the All-Father just as Surtur fires up for his fulminating final foray…

Thor #178 (July 1970) was a shock and is a landmark: the first issue without Jack Kirby since the strip’s earliest days. Clearly a try-out or hasty fill-in yarn, ‘Death is a Stranger’ – by Lee, John Buscema & Colletta – depicts the Thunderer snatched away from Asgard by the nefarious Abomination and duped into an epic clash with the alien Stranger: an extra-galactic powerhouse who collects unique beings for scientific study…

Inked by John Verpoorten, the interrupted epic riotously resumed in #179 with ‘No More the Thunder God!’ as Thor, Sif and Balder are dispatched to Earth to arrest the fugitive Loki. This issue was Kirby’s last: he left the entire vast unfolding new mythology on a monumental cliffhanger just as the Thunder God is ambushed by his wicked step-brother. Using arcane magic, the Lord of Evil switches bodies with his noble sibling and gains safety and the power of the Storm whilst Thor is doomed to endure whatever punishment Odin decrees…

More than any other Marvel strip Thor was the feature where Kirby’s creative brilliance matched his questing exploration of an Infinite Imaginative Cosmos: dreaming, extrapolating and honing a dazzling new kind of storytelling graphics with soul-searching, mind-boggling concepts of Man’s place in the universe.

Although what followed contained the trappings and even spirit of that incredible marriage, the heart, soul and soaring, unfettered wonderment just were not there any longer: nor would they truly return until 1983 when Walt Simonson assumed creative control with #337 (see Mighty Thor: the Ballad of Beta Ray Bill).

Here, however, ‘When Gods Go Mad!’ introduced the radically different style of Neal Adams to the mix, inked by the comfortably familiar Joe Sinnott, as the true Thunderer is sent to Hell and the tender mercies of Mephisto, whilst on Earth Loki uses his brother’s body to terrorise the UN Assembly and declare himself Master of the World…

In #181’s ‘One God Must Fall’ Sif leads the Warriors Three on a rescue mission to the Infernal Realm even as Balder struggles to combat the power of Thor merged with the magic and malice of Loki until Mephisto is thwarted. Then, a cataclysmic battle of brothers on Earth subsequently sets the world to rights…

The new Post-Kirby era truly began with Thor #182, as John Buscema took up the artistic reins and began his own epic run as illustrator with ‘The Prisoner… The Power… and… Dr. Doom!’

The Storm Lord is unwillingly entangled in Earthly politics when a young girl entreats him to rescue her father from the deadly Iron Monarch of Latveria. The noble scion cannot refuse, especially as the missing parent is an expert on missile technology and is capable of making Doom the master of ICBM warfare…

The decidedly down-to-Earth and mismatched melodrama concludes with Don Blake ‘Trapped in Doomsland!’ until Thor can retrieve his misappropriated mallet, but even after his deadly mission of mercy is accomplished, tragedy is his only reward…

Comfortably settled in Lee, Buscema & Joe Sinnott began crafting their own ambitious cosmic saga, opening with #184 and exploring ‘The World Beyond!’ wherein an implacable, sinister force is discovered devouring the outer galaxies, with psychic reverberations of the horrific events impacting and unravelling life on Earth and in Asgard. With all creation imperilled, Odin departs to combat the enigmatic threat alone…

Sam Grainger inked ‘In the Grip of Infinity!’, as universal calamity intensifies and the All-Father falls to the enigmatic, seemingly all-consuming invader before ‘Worlds at War!’ exposes a hidden architect behind the ultimate Armageddon. That revelation leads to a desperate last-ditch ploy, uniting the forces of Good and Evil together in ‘The World is Lost!’ before one final clash – inked by Jim Mooney – answers all the questions before celebrating ‘The End of Infinity!’

Although vast in scope and drenched in powerful moments highlighting the human side of the gods in extremis, this tale suffers from an excess of repetitive padding and a rather erratic pace. Without pause, though, we plunge on as Thor #189 sees sepulchral goddess Hela come calling, demanding Thor feel ‘The Icy Touch of Death!’ to pay for all the souls she didn’t get in the recent sidereal showdown…

After a big chase around planet Earth she is finally dissuaded in ‘…And So, To Die!’, but the distraction has meanwhile allowed ever-opportunistic Loki to seize the Throne of Asgard and unleash ‘A Time of Evil!’ This typically tyrannical behaviour results in the deranged despot using Odin’s stolen power to manifest an unstoppable artificial hunter/killer dubbed Durok the Demolisher. Unleashing his merciless engine of destruction on Earth, Loki gloats at the ‘Conflagration!’ (Grainger inks) he has instigated…

Completing the retiring of the Old Guard, Gerry Conway came aboard as writer for double-length tale ‘What Power Unleashed?’ (#193, with Sal Buscema augmenting and inking brother John) to conclude the epic tale. Prevented by vows from taking up arms against Loki’s puppet, Balder and Sif cunningly enlist the Silver Surfer to aid the embattled Thunderer as Asgard totters on the brink of total destruction.

Free to act against the real enemy, Thor then retaliates with staggering power and ‘This Fatal Fury!’: occupying the usurper’s full and furious attention until wily All-Father Odin finally resumes his rightful place.

To be continued…

The Kirby Thor will always be a high-point in graphic fantasy, all the more impressive for the sheer imagination and timeless readability of the tales. With his departure the series foundered for the longest time before finding a new identity, yet even so the stories in this volume are still packed with intrigue and action and magnificently rendered by an illustrator who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, was every inch his equal in craft and dedication. This book (which also includes his covers to Thor Annuals #3 and 4, plus the unused cover to #175, inked by John Verpoorten, pertinent house ads and a selection of Buscema original art pages and covers) is an absolute must for all fans of the medium, and all disciples of the modern Norse gods.
© 1970, 1971, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spider-Man: Fever


By Brendan McCarthy & Steve Cook, with Stan Lee & Steve Ditko (Marvel)
ISBN: 987-0-7851-4125-9 (TPB)

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

Hiding behind a home-made costume (in case he fails and makes a fool of himself), Parker becomes a minor media celebrity – and a criminally self-important one. To his eternal regret, when a thief flees past him one night, the cocky teen doesn’t lift a finger to stop him. When the boy returns home that night, he learns that his beloved guardian uncle Ben Parker has been murdered.

Crazed with a need for vengeance, Peter hunts the assailant who made his devoted Aunt May a widow and killed the only father he had ever known, and discovers, to his horror, that it is the self-same felon he neglected to stop. The traumatised boy is fixated on the fact that his irresponsibility resulted in the death of the man who raised him, and swears to forevermore use his powers to help others…

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

It wasn’t too long after his spectacular launch that Stan Lee & Steve Ditko’s astonishing Spider-Man proved himself a contemporary hero who fitted every possible milieu and scenario; equally at home against cheap hoods, world-busting super-menaces or the oddest of alien incursions, and this superbly outré modern masterpiece – available in trade paperback and digital formats – celebrates that astounding versatility by reprising one of the most brilliantly bizarre team-ups from the early Marvel Age.

The legendary classic first meeting of Mystic Master and Wondrous Wallcrawler occurred in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 and it’s rightly included at the end of this beguiling tome featuring über-imaginatively narrative art trendsetter Brendan McCarthy’s tribute to Ditko’s dazzling graphic magic.

London-born McCarthy came to prominence in comics on 2000AD before branching out into international comics stardom whilst pursuing parallel careers in film, television and design. His most notable works range from Strange Days and Paradax to Judge Dredd, The Zaucer of Zilk, Zenith, Skin, Rogan Gosh, Dream Gang and innumerable stunning covers. His moving media credits include The Storyteller, Highlander, Lost in Space, Reboot, Mad Max 4: Fury Road and so much more.

Collected here is a digitally-psychedelic, intoxicatingly appealing 3-issue miniseries from 2010 and produced for the mature-audience Marvel Knights sub-imprint. Written and illustrated by McCarthy with lettering and additional colouring from old comrade Steve Cook, it begins with the web-spinner battling frequent flyer archfoe The Vulture even as Sorcerer Supreme Stephen Strange explores a few Outer Realms and inadvertently activates an ancient trap set in an old grimoire – the Lost Journal of Albion Crowley

The “webwaze” energy escapes into the very architecture and infrastructure of New York City, finding its way to the cornered Vulture: possessing the bad old bird before passing through him, permeating and infecting the Friendly Neighbourhooded one…

When Strange further examines the cursed chronicle, he discovers the sorry tale of Crowley and his unlucky acolyte Victor Neumenon, whose long ago trans-dimensional forays led them into fateful contact with cosmically peripheral spider-demons dubbed Arachnix, lurking in the darkest corners and crannies of Creation.

Both were subjected to unimaginable atrocity at the many hands of the hairy horrors, but only Crowley returned to recount his experiences, and spin their adventures his way…

Meanwhile, ensorcelled Spider-Man, reeling in delirious torment, has instinctively crawled into the bathroom of Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum where his now-tainted soul is suddenly snatched away by arcane Arachnix-Hunter Daddy Longlegs, who drags the essence of the hero to its hideous homelands to be devoured by the ghastly King Korazon

Arriving too late to assist, the Master of the Mystic Arts gives chase through increasingly impossible planes of existence, following the ethereal webwaze paths in his frenzied attempts to save his old friend from utter horror and eternal damnation…

Along the way the wizard meets keenly helpful void-dwellers Fetch Doggy Fetch and Pugly, even as Peter Parker’s enmeshed spirit faces consumption by the Eight-Legged Tribe. Somehow, however, the hero’s dual nature confounds the beasts. They cannot determine if he is Spider – and therefore kin – or Man, and thus the most appealing meal ever presented to any Arachnix…

To decide his prey’s future fate Korazon despatches the befuddled soul-shell through the Insect Gate to catch the fabled feast known as the Sorror-Fly from the home dimension of all arthropods. If the arbitrary man-spider can snare the elusive treat he is their brother, but if he returns empty-handed, he’s just lunch…

Whilst the englamoured hero hunts in the insect realm, Strange rescues fellow Earth-born traveller Ms. Ningirril, long-trapped during her own dimensional Walkabout. In gratitude, the Antipodean wanderer provides the mage with useful intelligence, sound advice and a safer, swifter means of navigating his search for Spider-Man…

In a fantastic City of Termites our befuddled hero has succeeded in his task and is dragging the woeful Sorror-Fly back to the Arachnix: further succumbing with each passing moment to the inexorable, bestial allure of his Spider side, even as his garrulous meal relates the dread history of the insect dimension and a prophecy of telling magnitude.

When the Sorcerer Supreme and his allies fortuitously arrive, the Fly transforms back to a form he has not held for over a century, presaging the redemption and cure of the fallen Wall-crawler and a spectacular end to an infinitude of eight-legged terrors…

Bold, ambitious and visually compelling and off the wall, this superb magical mystery tour is perfectly augmented here by that aforementioned first meeting…

In 1965 Steve Ditko was blowing away audiences with another oddly tangential, daringly different superhero. Amazing Spider-Man King Size Annual #2 revealed ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange!’: introducing the webslinger to other realities after he accidentally interrupts an attack by wannabe wizard Xandu upon the Master of the Mystic Arts.

The villain had stolen the puissant Wand of Watoomb from Strange to achieve ultimate power, and when that pesky, interfering Spider-Man butts in, the power-crazed dilettante exiles him to an alien dimension – but not before the hero’s webbing snatches the arcane artefact from Xandu’s hand and takes it with him…

Cue an involuntary incredible journey to phantasmagorical, mind-bending worlds pursued by unstoppable zombie slaves and a desperately determined Doctor Strange in a dimension-hopping masterpiece of mystery and imagination…

Moody, creepy and staggeringly engrossing, this eerie eldritch escapade also includes the author/artist’s ‘Notes on the Design and Story Ideas for Spider-Man: Fever’ – a selection of commentary, roughs and sketches offering a fascinating glimpse of into the creative process of a truly unique talent, as well as a selection of Ditko pinups detailing the M.O.’s of The Circus of Crime, The Scorpion, The Beetle, Jonah’s Robot and the Crime-Master

Here’s another superb and crucial selection starring the timeless teen icon, superhero symbol and big screen superstar fans just cannot afford to do without
© 1965 and 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 12


By Steve Englehart, Bob Brown, Sal Buscema, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5879-0 (HB)

One of the most momentous events in comics (and now, film) history came in the middle of 1963 when a disparate gang of heroic individuals banded together to combat an apparently out of control Incredible Hulk.

The Avengers combined most of the company’s fledgling superhero line in one bright, shiny and highly commercial package. Over the intervening decades the roster has unceasingly changed, and now almost every character in the Marvel multiverse has at some time numbered amongst their colourful ranks…

The everchanging roster proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket can pay off big-time. Even when all Marvel Royalty such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, there’s no detriment: it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, the founding stars are never away for too long due to a rotating, open door policy ensuring most issues include somebody’s fave-rave.

After instigators Stan Lee & Jack Kirby moved on, the team prospered under the guidance of Roy Thomas who grew into one of the industry’s most impressive writers, guiding the World’s Mightiest Heroes through a range of adventures ranging from sublimely poetic to staggeringly epic. He then handed over the scripting to a young writer who carried the team to even greater heights…

This stunning hardcover compilation – also available in eBook iterations – assembles Avengers #112-119, plus crucial crossover episodes from Defenders #8-11: collectively covering June 1973 to January 1974 and celebrating the beginning of an era of cosmic catastrophe and cataclysmically captivating creative cross-pollination…

This bombastic tome commences with Avengers #112 in ‘The Lion God Lives!’ (illustrated by Don Heck & Frank Bolle) wherein a rival African deity returns to destroy the human avatar of the Panther God. As the Black Panther and his valiant comrades tackle that threat, in the wings an erstwhile ally and enemy and his exotic paramour made their own plans for the team…)

Unreasoning prejudice informed #113’s ‘Your Young Men Shall Slay Visions!’ (Bob Brown & Bolle) as a horde of fundamentalist bigots – offended by the “unnatural” love between Wanda, the mutant Scarlet Witch and the Vision – turn themselves into human bombs to destroy the sinful, unholy couple. Soon after, ‘Night of the Swordsman’ in #114 (Brown & Esposito) formally introduces the reformed swashbuckler and his enigmatic psychic martial artist paramour Mantis to the team… just in time to thwart the Lion God’s latest scheme.

In 1973 wunderkind scripter Steve Englehart (who provides a context-enhancing Introduction in this collected volume) was writing both Avengers and Defenders (as well as Doctor Strange, the Hulk and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire) and, yearning for the days of DC’s summer blockbuster annual events, decided to attempt his own massive multi-player epic.

Bravely given the editorial go-ahead at a time when deadline crunches regularly interrupted ongoing storylines, the author and his regular pencillers Sal Buscema and Bob Brown laid their plans…

Threads had been planted as early as Defenders #4 with Englehart carefully putting players in place for a hugely ambitious cross-over experiment: one that would turn the comics industry on its head.

For kids – of any and all ages – there is a simply primal fascination with brute strength and feeling dangerous, which surely goes some way towards explaining the perennial interest in angry tough guys who break stuff and as best exemplified by Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner and the Incredible Hulk. When you add the mystery and magic of Doctor Strange the recipe for thrills, spills and chills becomes simply irresistible…

Last of the big star-name conglomerate super-groups, the Defenders would eventually number amongst its membership almost every hero – and some few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No surprise there then since the initial line was composed of the company’s major league bad-boys: misunderstood, outcast and often actually dangerous to know. For Marvel in the 1970s, the outsider super-group must have seemed a conceptual inevitability – once they’d finally published it.

Apart from Spider-Man and Daredevil, all their heroes regularly teamed up in various mob-handed assemblages, and in the wake of the Defenders’ success even more super-teams featuring pre-existing characters would be packaged: The Champions, Invaders, New Warriors, Inhumans, Guardians of the Galaxy and so on… but never again with so many Very Big Guns…

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

After earthly madwoman Barbara Norris was cursed by amoral Asgardian Amora the Enchantress, the human was transformed into an incarnation of old Avengers enemy Valkyrie. The denouement of the tale also left part-time Avenger and Defender the Black Knight an ensorcelled, immobile stone statue. As Strange and Co. searched for a cure, aided by the Silver Surfer and tempestuous Hawkeye (another ex-Assembler looking to forge a solo career), they all fell into a subtle scheme orchestrated by two of the greatest forces of evil in all creation….

The classic confrontation finally commenced in Avengers #115 with lead story ‘Below Us the Battle!’ (Brown & Esposito) wherein the still-understaffed heroes travel to England and the castle of the Black Knight, only to encounter mystic resistance, a troglodytic race of scavengers and a comrade long missing…

The issue also contained a brief prologue at the end. ‘Alliance Most Foul!’ reveals other-dimensional Dark Lord Dormammu and Asgardian god of Evil Loki allying to secure an ultimate weapon which will give them ultimate victory against all their foes. This despotic duo plan a false flag operation to deceive the Defenders into securing the six component parts: surreptitiously “revealing” that the reconstructed Evil Eye can de-petrify and restore the Black Knight – a plan that opens with a similar prologue at the end of Defenders #8…

‘Deception’ (Englehart, Sal Buscema & Esposito) is the first chapter in ‘The Avengers/Defenders Clash’, disclosing how a mystic SOS from the spirit of the Black Knight is intercepted by the twin gods of evil, leading directly to ‘Betrayal!’ in Avengers #116, wherein the World’s Mightiest Heroes, hunting for their missing comrade, “discover” their oldest enemies Hulk and Sub-Mariner may have turned Black Knight to stone…

This and third chapter ‘Silver Surfer Vs. the Vision and the Scarlet Witch’ see the rival teams split up: one to gather the scattered sections of the Eye and the other to stop them at all costs…

Defenders #9 (with Sal Buscema & Frank McLaughlin art) begins with tense recap ‘Divide …and Conquer’ before ‘The Invincible Iron Man Vs. Hawkeye the Archer’ and ‘Dr. Strange Vs. the Black Panther and Mantis’ sheds more suspicion and doubt on the vile villains’ subtle master-plan…

In Avengers #117, ‘Holocaust’, ‘Swordsman Vs. the Valkyrie’ and crucial turning point ‘Captain America Vs. Sub-Mariner’ (all illustrated by Brown & Esposito) lead to the penultimate duel in Defenders #10 (Sal Buscema & Bolle) in ‘Breakthrough! The Incredible Hulk Vs. Thor’ and the inevitable joining together of the warring camps in ‘United We Stand!’. Tragically, understanding comes too late as Dormammu seizes the reconstructed Evil Eye and uses its power to merge his entire dimensional realm with Earth’s.

Avengers #118 delivers the cathartic, climactic conclusion in ‘To the Death’ (Brown, Esposito & Frank Giacoia) wherein all the heroes of the Marvel Universe resist demonic invasion on hideously mutated home soil whilst Avengers and Defenders plunge deep into the Dark Dimension itself to end forever the threat of the evil gods (well, for the moment, at least…).

With the overwhelming cosmic threat quelled, the victorious Defenders attempt to use the Eye to cure their petrified comrade, only to discover that his spirit has found a new home in the time of the Crusades.

In #11’s ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight’ (Sal B & Bolle), the group battle 12th century black magic, fail to retrieve the Knight and acrimoniously go their separate ways – as did overworked scripter Englehart, who dropped the “non-team” to concentrate on “The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes”…

Those never-ending struggles resume and the adventuring pauses after a delightfully traditional spooky Halloween tale as the Avengers – warned by clairvoyant vision from enigmatic Mantis – head once more to Rutland, Vermont for the ‘Night of the Collector’ (#119, by Brown & Heck): encountering old friends, a dastardly and determined foe, blistering action, staggering suspense and blistering battle…

As if extra enticements be needed, also included in this compendium are pages and pin-ups from company fanzine F.O.O.M. (#5, 6, 7: Mantis by John Byrne & Duffy Vohland, Jarvis by Marie Severin and a bombastic team shot by John and Sal Buscema), plus house ads for Avengers #116, previous collection covers from Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino & Ang Tsang, John Romita & Richard Isanove and original art pages by Brown & Esposito and #119’s Romita cover.

Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers; brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creations of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko while spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to.

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right and also a pivotal step transforming the little company into today’s multinational corporate colossus. Best of all, Englehart’s forthcoming concoctions would turn the Marvel Universe on its head and pave the way for a new acme of cosmic adventure…
© 1973, 1974, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 13


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, John Buscema, Ross Andru, Ramona Fradon, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5040-4 (HB)

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

This full-colour compendium – available in hardcover and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #129-141: spanning December 1972 to December 1972 with Stan Lee leaving his most significant co-creation to his top disciple Roy Thomas – and latterly Gerry Conway – whilst John Buscema & Joe Sinnott did their utmost to remake Jack Kirby’s stellar creation in their own style and image and outdoing themselves with every successive issue.

…And when they weren’t around there was a ready pool of visual talent to tap…

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

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

Following an effusive Introduction from Thomas and a candid, context-creating and fact-filled second essay – ‘Foreword into the Past’ – from Conway, the dramatic tensions resume with the team in turmoil as usual. Having just survived a three-way war between Mole Man, Kala, Empress of the Netherworld and immortal dictator Tyrannus, the exhausted team return to their Baxter Building HQ just in time for lovesick, heartsore Johnny to leave for the hidden kingdom of Attilan and explosively confront lost love – and Inhuman Princess – Crystal.

Tragically as he leaves, ‘The Frightful Four… Plus One!’ (by Thomas, Buscema & Sinnott) sees the Thing ambushed by The Sandman, Wizard and Trapster, beside their newest and almost uncontrollable ally… super-strong amazon Thundra.

Happily, Crystal’s sister Medusa is there to pitch in as the clash escalates and spread to ‘Battleground: the Baxter Building!’ wherein baby Franklin Richards begins exhibiting terrifying abilities. Always left holding the baby and fed up with her husband’s neglect, Sue finally leaves Reed, whilst in the Himalayas Johnny has forced his way to Crystal’s side only to find his worst nightmares realised…

Fantastic Four #131 describes a ‘Revolt in Paradise!’ (illustrated by Ross Andru & Sinnott) as Crystal, her new fiancé Quicksilver, and the rest of the Inhumans are attacked by their genetically-bred and programmed slave-race the Alpha Primitives.

At first it seems that insane usurper Maximus is again responsible for the strife but a deeper secret lurks behind the deadly danger of ‘Omega! The Ultimate Enemy!’, and when the rest of the FF arrive Reed soon ferrets it out…

Issue #133 celebrated the holiday season with plenty of fireworks in ‘Thundra at Dawn!’ as the mysterious Femizon returns to battle Ben once more, courtesy of incoming scripter Gerry Conway, guest penciller Ramona Fradon & Sinnott, after which ‘A Dragon Stalks the Sky!’ in #134 (Buscema & Sinnott) finds Reed, Johnny, Ben and Medusa fighting forgotten super-rich foe Gregory Gideon and his latest acquisition the Dragon Man: a bombastic battle which concludes in a struggle to possess ‘The Eternity Machine’

The secret of that reality-warping device is revealed in a two-part thriller as cosmic entity Shaper of Worlds creates a horrific paranoid pastiche of 1950s America: re-running the conflicts between rebellious youth and doctrinaire, paternalistic authority in ‘Rock Around the Cosmos!’ and the surreal conclusion ‘Rumble on Planet 3’ which also taps into the ongoing struggles of the Civil Rights movement…

In the sub-plot arena, the never-ending stress had forced Sue Richards away from her husband but their son’s rapidly-developing strange, undiagnosed cosmic powers and problems were pulling them reluctantly back together …

Mr. Fantastic was not taking the trial separation well and issue #138 finds him left behind in an increasingly disturbed depressive state when old comrade Wyatt Wingfoot comes looking for assistance against impossible, unimaginable disasters.

Madness is… The Miracle Man’ began a period when rocky everyman Ben Grimm became the de facto star of the Fantastic Four and here he, the Torch and Medusa travel to Wingfoot’s tribal lands in Oklahoma to battle a cheesy hypnotist first encounter in their third adventure.

Now, however, thanks to the charlatan’s subsequent studies under mystic Cheemuzwa medicine men, the maniac actually can reshape reality with a thought…

The battle concluded in the next issue as ‘Target: Tomorrow!’ sees the villain able to control matter but not himself spiralling frantically out of control, with our heroes struggling indomitably on until the Miracle Man makes a fatal, world-threatening error…

Reed’s travails take a darker turn in Fantastic Four # 140 as ‘Annihilus Revealed!’ finds the insectoid Negative Zone tyrant of a dying antimatter universe kidnapping the ever-more powerful Franklin before invading the Baxter Building in search of new worlds to ravage.

In triumph, the bug horror discloses his incredible origin to the helpless Wingfoot before dragging all his enemies back to his subspace hell to engineer ‘The End of the Fantastic Four!’

However, even though the beaten heroes counterattacked and gained an unlikely victory, Annihilus’ prior tampering with Franklin triggers a cosmic catastrophe. As the boy’s limitless power spikes out of control, his tormented father is compelled to blast the boy, shutting down his mutant brain and everything else.

Appalled at the callous cold calculations needed to put his own son into a coma, Johnny and Ben joined Sue in deserting the grief-stricken Mr. Fantastic and declaring their heroic partnership defunct.

To Be Continued…?

This power-packed package also includes unused a full cover gallery – including that of all-reprint Annual 10 – by Buscema, Frank Giacoia, Rich Buckler, Jim Steranko and John Romita, as well as many examples of original art and covers to add to the overall Costumed Drama and delight fans everywhere.

Although Kirby had taken the explosive imagination and questing sense of wonder with him on his departure, the sheer range of beloved characters and concepts he had created with Lee served to carry the series for years afterwards and these admittedly erratic and inconsistent stories kept the Fantastic Four ticking over until bolder hands could once again take the World’s Greatest Comics Magazine Heroes back to the stratospheric heights where they belonged.

Solid, honest and creditable efforts, these tales are probably best seen by dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but can still thrill and enthral the casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 1972, 1973, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.