Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 15


By Steve Englehart, Tony Isabella, Scott Edelman, George Tuska, George Pérez, Don Heck, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9196-4 (HB)

The Avengers have always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when all Marvel’s classic all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either.

As explained in Steve Englehart’s Introduction – which also includes everything you need to know about the pre-superhero Patsy Walker – a new era was supposed to begin in Avengers #136 but a deadline was missed and instead ‘Iron Man: DOA’ by Englehart, Tom Sutton & Mike Ploog was reprinted from Amazing Adventures #12, wherein the newly-mutated and furry Hank McCoy AKA the Beast had attacked the Armoured Avenger whilst mind-controlled by evil mutants. You can find the story here.

But in this book – available in hardback and digital formats and collecting Avengers # 136-149 and spanning June 1975 through July 1976 – all you’ll enjoy is the spiffy cover by Gil Kane, Joe Sinnott & John Romita sr.

Although an excellent story in its own right, it rather gave the game away for the next issue after the painfully depleted team declared ‘We Do Seek Out New Avengers!!’ Illustrated by George Tuska & Vince Colletta, #137 depicted an eclectic mix of applicants – comprising Moondragon, Yellowjacket and the Wasp – and included an athletic, enigmatic guy bundled up in a raincoat…

No sooner had the introductions begun than a cosmic interloper attacks, hunting for the honeymooning Scarlet Witch and Vision, but at far from his expected level of puissance. Easily escaping imminent doom, our heroes smell a rat – but unfortunately not before the Wasp is gravely injured, resulting in a blazing battle with a ‘Stranger in a Strange Man!’ who proved to be far from what he claimed in the next issue…

After all the intergalactic hyper-cosmic extravaganzas and extended epic-ing, Avengers #139’s ‘Prescription: Violence!’and #140’s ‘A Journey to the Center of the Ant’ resort to mayhem on a comfortingly down-to-Earth scale as the malevolent Whirlwind tries to murder the bed-ridden Wasp even as her devoted defender Yellowjacket succumbs to a growing affliction which dooms him to exponentially expand to his death… but only until the refreshed, returned Vision and the bludgeoning Beast save the day in an extraordinary riff on classic Avengers history (you can see Avengers #93 for that, if you want)…

A new extended saga began in #141 which welcomed George Pérez & Vince Colletta as new art team. ‘The Phantom Empire!’ (scripted by Englehart,) heralded another complex, multi-layered epic combining superheroic Sturm und Drang with searing – for 1975, at least – political commentary. It all starts when Beast is ambushed by mercenaries from corporate behemoth Roxxon Oil.

He’s saved by ex-Avenger Captain America who had been investigating the company on a related case and, after comparing notes, realises something very big and very bad is going on…

Linking up with Thor, Iron Man, trainee Moondragon and the newly-returned newlyweds Vision and Scarlet Witch, the pair learn of another crisis after Hawkeye goes missing: probably captured by time-tyrant Kang the Conqueror

Just as the Assemblage are agreeing to split into teams, former child model Patsy Walker-Baxter (star of a bunch of Marvel’s girl’s market comics such as Patsy Walker and Patsy & Hedy) bursts in, threatening to expose Beast’s secret identity…

When he had first further mutated, Hank McCoy had attempted to mask his anthropoid form and Patsy helped him in return for his promise to make her a superhero. Now she resurfaces, prepared to blackmail him into honouring his pledge. She is dragged along as one squad (Cap, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch and Vision) join Beast in returning to his old lab at Brand/Roxxon… where they are ambushed by alternate-Earth heroes Squadron Supreme

Meanwhile, Moondragon and Thor co-opt sometime ally Immortus and follow Hawkeye back to 1873. Bushwhacked, they are soon battling Kang beside a coterie of cowboy legends (Kid Colt, Night Rider, Ringo Kid, Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid) in ‘Go West, Young Gods!’, even as the present-day team learn their perilous plight involves a threat to two different dimensions, because Roxxon have joined with the corporations which rule the Squadron Supreme’s America – thanks to the malignly mesmeric Serpent Crown of Set

Inked by Sam Grainger, Avengers #143 sees the Wild West showdown culminate with the apparent death of a deity in ‘Right Between the Eons!’

Elsewhen, the 20th century heroes are beginning their counterattack in the esoteric weaponry factory at Brand, and during all that running wild, liberate the technologically-advanced, ability-enhancing uniform of short-lived adventurer The Catin a storeroom. When Patsy dons it, the hero-groupie neophyte dubs herself Hellcat in ‘Claws!’ (Mike Esposito inks)…

Soon after, the Avengers are cornered by the Squadron and as battle recommences Roxxon president Hugh Jones plays his trump card and transports all the combatants to the other Earth…

The dreaded deadline doom hit just at this crucial juncture and issues #145-146 were taken up with a 2-part fill-in by Tony Isabella, Don Heck & John Tartaglione, with additional pencils by Keith Pollard for the concluding chapter.

‘The Taking of the Avengers!’ reveals how a criminal combine takes out a colossal contract on the World’s Mightiest Superheroes, but even though ‘The Assassin Never Fails!’, the killer is thwarted and Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Beast, Vision and Scarlet Witch – plus Wasp, Yellowjacket and the Falcon – are all safely returned to their various cases untroubled by the vagaries of continuity or chronology… which makes this rather impressive and thrilling yarn such an annoyance in this specific instance…

The trans-dimensional traumas resume in Avengers #147, describing a ‘Crisis on Other-Earth!’ courtesy of Englehart, Pérez & Colletta). With the corporate takeover of other-America revealed to have been facilitated by use of the mind-bending serpent crown, the Scarlet Witch takes possession of the sinister helm whilst her teammates try desperately to keep the overwhelming Squadron Supreme from regaining it.

On our Earth, Hawkeye brings Two-Gun Kid to the modern world but chooses to go walkabout rather than rejoin his comrades, even as Thor and Moondragon start searching for their missing colleagues…

‘20,000 Leagues Under Justice!’ (Grainger inks) features the final showdown and the Avengers’ victory over a wiser and repentant Squadron Supreme, and as the heroes return to their home dimension ‘The Gods and the Gang!’ reunites them with Moondragon and the Thunder God to clean up Brand/Roxxon. The Corporate cabal has one trick left to play however: a colossal, biologically augmented Atlantean dubbed Orka, the Human Killer Whale

The next issue would see a drastic changing of the guard, but this epic tome now concludes with splendid as-standard extras including the covers – by Jack Kirby & Frank Giacoia – and contents page of tabloid Marvel Treasury Edition #7, house ads and pages of original art by Tuska & Colletta.

This type of timeless heroic adventure set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights dramas for decades to come and can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the sleek, cool and permanently perilous 21st century…

No lovers of Costumed Dramas can afford to ignore this superbly bombastic book and fans who think themselves above superhero stories might also be pleasantly surprised…
© 1974, 1975 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ms. Marvel Epic collection volume 2 1978-1981: The Woman Who Fell to Earth


By Chris Claremont, Peter B. Gillis, David Michelinie, Jim Shooter, George Pérez, Bob Layton, Simon Furman, Jim Mooney, Mike Vosburg, Dave Cockrum, Michael Golden, Carmine Infantino, Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin,Jeff Aclin, Mike Gustovich, Dave Ross & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1802-6 (TPB)

For a very long time, American comics and especially Marvel had very little in the way of positive female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Although there was a woman starring in the very first comic of the Marvel Age, Invisible Girl Susan Storm took years to become a potent and independent character in her own right. It was more than 30 years before she became Invisible Woman

We’ve come a long way since then…

Ms. Marvel launched in her own title, cover-dated January 1977. She was followed by the similarly copyright-protecting Spider-Woman in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977, and securing her own title 15 months later) and Savage She-Hulk (#1, February 1980). Then came the music-biz sponsored Dazzler who premiered in Uncanny X-Men #130 the same month, before inevitably graduating to her own book.

Once upon a time Ms. Marvel was United States Air Force security officer Carol Danvers. She was first seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968): the second episode of the saga of Kree warrior Mar-Vell – AKA Captain Marvel – who had been dispatched to Earth as a spy after the Fantastic Four repulsed the alien Kree twice in two months…

That series was written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Gene Colan with the immensely competent Carol perpetually investigating Mar-Vell’s assumed and tenuous cover-identity of Walter Lawson for many months.

This was until Danvers was collateral damage in a devastating battle between the now-defecting alien and his nemesis Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel #18 (November 1969).

Caught in a climactic explosion of alien technology, she pretty much vanished from sight until revived as and in Ms. Marvel #1 (January 1977), heralding a new chapter for the company and the industry…

This sturdy trade paperback volume (or enthralling eBook if you prefer), brings a close to the first career of Carol Danvers, via Ms. Marvel #1-23, and includes guest appearances from Marvel Team-Up #76-77, Marvel Two-in-One#51, Marvel Super-Heroes #10-11, material from Avengers #197-200, Avengers Annual #19 and Marvel Fanfare #24, cumulatively cover-dated from March 1978 to January 1986, and dives straight in to the ongoing mystery and drama…

Never having fully recovered from her near-death experience, Danvers had left the military and drifted into writing, slowly growing in confidence before relocating to New York City to work for publisher J. Jonah Jameson on his new project Woman Magazine.

During this time Carol learned that she had gained Kree-based abilities, psychic powers and partial amnesia: creating the role of Ms. Marvel without her own knowledge. Eventually her personality split was healed and she became a fully conscious and ferociously competent costumed champion…

With Chris Claremont scripting and Jim Mooney & Tony DeZuñiga providing the art, ‘The Shark is a Very Deadly Beast!’ opens this edition as the two-fisted titan clashes with undersea villain Tiger Shark. The action begins after Carol stumbles over him abducting the Sub-Mariner’s teenaged cousin Namorita. Despite a brief side trip to Avengers Mansion, only Ms. Marvel is on hand to provide succour in cataclysmic concluding ‘The Deep Deadly Silence!’ (inked by Frank Springer).

‘Shadow of the Gun!’ (Mooney & DeZuñiga) then enhances the X-Men connection by introducing shape-shifting mutant Mystique in a raid on S.H.I.E.L.D. to purloin a new super-weapon which then sees impressive service in #18’s ‘The St. Valentine’s Day/Avengers Massacre!’ (inked by Ricardo Villamonte): a blockbuster battle featuring the beginnings of a deadly plot originating at the heart of the distant Kree Imperium…

The scheme culminates in ‘Mirror, Mirror!’ (illustrated by Carmine Infantino & Bob McLeod) as the Kree Supreme Intelligence attempts to reinvigorate his race’s stalled evolutionary path by kidnapping Earth/Kree hybrid Carol Danvers. However, with both her and Kree warrior Captain Marvel hitting hard against his emissary Ronan the Accuser, eventually the Supremor and his plotters take the hint and go home empty-handed…

Ms. Marvel #20 highlights a huge and abrupt makeover as Danvers dumps her Mar-Vell-inspired uniform and finally finds her own look and identity in ‘The All-New Ms. Marvel’, courtesy of Claremont, Dave Cockrum & Bob Wiacek. Here our utterly re-purposed hero tackles a hidden kingdom of predatory, intelligent, post-atomic dinosaurs infesting the American deserts, leading to a catastrophic clash with ‘The Devil in the Dark!’ (inked by Al Milgrom) in the following issue.

Danvers was a key component in an extended adventure in in Marvel Team-Up #76-77 (December 1978 and January 1979). Crafted by Claremont, Howard Chaykin, Jeff Aclin & Juan Ortiz ‘If Not for Love…’  sees Doctor Strangeattacked by old enemy Silver Dagger: a grudge rematch that draws in Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man as well as deadly Marie Laveau. The “Witch-Queen of New Orleans” naturally has her own agenda which comes into play as ‘If I’m to Live… My Love Must Die!’, finds the non-magical comrades battling the deranged exorcist, whilst Strange struggles with his own demonically-altered paramour Clea

Now one of the most hands-on, bombastic battlers in the Marvel pantheon, Ms. M is more than ready for a return match with Death-Bird in her own comic book. Issue #22 offers a ‘Second Chance!’ (art by Mikes Vosburg & Zeck) but sees Danvers thrown for a total loop in her personal life after being fired from Woman Magazine. All these bold changes came too late as the series’ dwindling sales had earmarked it for cancellation.

Inked by Bruce D. Patterson, ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ resolves a long-running plot thread involving the disappearance of old friend Salia Petrie in a tale guest-starring the time-travelling Guardians of the Galaxy, just in time for the end of the road.

The series stopped there but two more stories were in various stages of preparation. They eventually saw print in 1992 (the Summer and Fall issues of oversized anthology publication Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10-11). Before them, though, comes a minor classic from Marvel Two-in-One #51.

Scripted by Peter B. Gillis, up-&-coming artist Frank Miller & Bob McLeod, ‘Full House… Dragons High!’ details how a weekly poker session at Avengers Mansion is interrupted by rogue US General Pollock, who again tries to conquer America with stolen technology. Happily, Benthe ThingGrimm and Nick Fury round up Ms. Marvel, Wonder Man and the Beast, who prove to be better combat comrades than poker opponents…

Complete with the cover of unreleased Ms. Marvel #24, Marvel Super-Heroes Magazine #10 presents originally untitled yarn ‘Sabretooth Stalks the Subway’: a ferocious fight against the feral mutant maniac by Claremont & Vosburg. It’s followed by ‘Cry, Vengeance!’ (Claremont, Simon Furman, Vosburg & Mike Gustovich) as Ms. Marvel, now a card-carrying Avenger, faces off against Mystique and her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

This tale incorporates an additional section explaining how Carol is later attacked by young mutant Rogue, permanently loses her powers and memory and is eventually reborn as the cosmic-powered adventurer Binary: which is all well and good but somewhat takes the punch out of the later tales in this collection…

Relegated to an ensemble role in the World’s Mightiest Heroes, Danvers’ life took a strange and disturbing turn in Avengers 197-199 (July to September 1980 and represented here by pertinent extracts from those issues). Written by David Michelinie with art from Infantino & Brett Breeding and George Pérez & Dan Green, the snippets follow a strange and terrifyingly rapid transformation as Carol finds herself impossibly pregnant and bringing an unknown baby to term in a matter of days…

The mystery is solved in ‘The Child is Father To…?’ (Avengers #200, October 1980 by plotters, Jim Shooter, Pérez & Bob Layton and scripter Michelinie, illustrated by Pérez & Green). The mystery baby is born and hyper-rapidly matures as time goes wild, with different eras overwriting the present. The unearthly boy begins building a machine to stabilise the chaos but the heroes misunderstand his motives.

“Marcus” claims to be the son of time-master Immortus, trying to escape eternal isolation in other-dimensional Limbo by implanting his essence in a mortal tough enough to survive the energy required for the transfer. Literally reborn on Earth, his attempts to complete the process are foiled by the World’s Most Confused Heroes and he is drawn back to his timeless realm. Carol, declaring her love for Marcus, unexpectedly goes with him…

Ms. Marvel only plays a peripheral role in ‘By Friends… Betrayed!’ (Avengers Annual #10 (1981, by Claremont, Michael Golden & Armando Gil), as powerless, amnesiac Carol is rescued from drowning by Spider-Woman, prior to Mystique launching an all-out attack on the Avengers whilst attempting to free her Brotherhood from custody. In the melee, Danvers’ mind and abilities were taken by power-leaching Rogue, seemingly ending her adventuring life, and in the aftermath, the Avengers learn the horrific truth of her relationship with Marcus and their part in his doom…

One final sentimental moment comes with Claremont, David Ross & Wiacek’s ‘Elegy’ (Marvel Fanfare #24, January 1986) as Carol – now stellar-energy warrior Binary – returns to Earth to catch up with old friends and learns of the tragic death of Captain Mar-Vell…

Extras in this stellar compendium include a full cover gallery, a Ross alternative cover; ‘The RE-Making of Ms. Marvel’promo article from F.O.O.M. #22, house ads for her 1978 makeover relaunch and original art.

Always entertaining, often groundbreaking and painfully patronising (occasionally at the same time), the early Ms. Marvel, against all odds, grew into the modern Marvel icon of affirmative womanhood we see today.

In both comics and on-screen, Carol Danvers is Marvel’s paramount female symbol. These adventures are a valuable grounding of the contemporary champion but also still stand on their own as intriguing examples of the inevitable fall of even the staunchest of male bastions – superhero sagas…
© 2019 MARVEL.

X-Men: Worlds Apart


By Christopher Yost, Diogenes Neves & Ed Tadeo; Priest, Sal Velluto & Bob Almond; Chris Claremont & John Byrne, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4030-6 (HB) 978-0-7851-3533-3 (TPB)

In 1963 The X-Men #1 introduced Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Marvel Girl and the Beast: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants – Homo Superior.

After years of eccentric and spectacular adventures the mutant misfits disappeared at the beginning of 1970 as mystery and all things supernatural once more gripped the world’s entertainment fields and triggered a sustained downturn in costumed hero comics.

Although their title was revived at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel universe and the Beast was transformed into a monster to cash in on the horror boom, until Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas green-lighted a bold one-shot in 1975 as part of the company’s line of Giant-Sized specials.

Giant Size X-Men #1 detailed how the classic team had been lost in action, leaving Xavier to scour the Earth for a replacement team. Recruiting old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire and throwaway Hulk villain Wolverine, most of the savant’s time and attention was invested in newcomers. These comprised Kurt Wagner, a demonic German teleporter who would be codenamed Nightcrawler, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin, who could transform into a living steel Colossus, embittered, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird and a young woman who was regarded as an African weather goddess.

Ororo Munroe AKA Storm was actually the lost daughter of Kenyan royalty and an American journalist. On joining Xavier’s team, she spent years fighting the world’s most deadly threats as part – and eventually leader – of the outlaw, unloved, distrusted mutant hero horde, before eventually leaving her second home to marry a boy she had met whilst trekking across the Dark Continent decades previously.

In Fantastic Four #52 (August 1966) an incredible individual calling himself the Black Panther tested himself against the Cosmic Quartet and disclosed in the following issue how, as a child, he had lost his father to a ruthless scientist’s mercenary army when they invaded his hidden African homeland Wakanda.

Young Prince T’Challa had single-handedly avenged the murder of his father T’Chaka and driven off the raiders, inheriting the role of king and spiritual leader of his people. Eventually, he became a member of the Mighty Avengersand introduced his country to the world, with technologically-advanced Wakanda swiftly advancing to the forefront of nations by trading its scientific secrets and greatest natural resource – incredible alien mineral Vibranium.

Whilst a boy wandering the plains of Africa, he had encountered a beautiful young girl with incredible powers trekking from Egypt to West Africa. Years later he found her again as one the X-Men. Slowly rediscovering old feelings, the pair married and Storm became the First Lady of Wakanda…

This compilation collects 4-issue miniseries X-Men: Worlds Apart from 2008-2009, Black Panther volume 3, #26 (January 2001) and material from Marvel Team-Up #100 (December 1980), and follows the African Queen through her darkest hours even as it affords a little space to examine key moments in her tempestuous relationship with the earthly agent of the very-real, very paws-on Panther God.

The romance commences with the eponymous ‘Worlds Apart’ crafted by Christopher Yost, Diogenes Neves, Ed Tadeo & Raul Treviño, with the action opening in New York’s sewers where Storm and some-time comrade Cyclops seek to convince hidden Morlock refugees to join the West Coast mutant enclave and safe-haven known as Utopia. When she is suddenly called back to Africa, Ororo’s erstwhile friend contentiously questions her loyalties…

Even as august and elevated co-ruler of a fabulous kingdom, Ororo iq adi T’Challa is still painfully aware of humanity’s – and more specifically her own subjects’ – bigotry regarding the genetic offshoot politely dubbed Homo Superior. When one of her protégés – young Wakandan mutant Nezhno Abidemi – is accused of murder she rushes to defend him.

…But the evidence is overwhelming, incontrovertible and damning…

Nevertheless, she knows something is amiss and when she arbitrarily frees him, the entire country turns against her. Even her adoring husband wants her blood…

The cause soon smugly reveals himself as Amahl Farouk: a sinister, soul-corrupting telepath she and Charles Xavier killed years ago, when she was merely an orphan child-thief in Cairo. Sadly, the dying monster evolved into a malign body-stealing psychic force; an untouchable Shadow King feeding on hatred and polluting everything it touches…

Biding its time, Shadow King insinuated itself into Wakanda, stoking ill-feeling throughout. Now wearing her beloved T’Challa, it plans on extracting a much-postponed final vengeance…

As the poisonous presence gloats, Ororo realises it is not just her at risk: the Shadow King has simultaneously taken Cyclops in America and is using her fellow X-Man as a weapon to kill the only earthly threat to Farouk’s power – supreme telepath Emma Frost, who is also Scott Summers’ lover…

With an entire nation and the precious body of her beloved mercilessly hunting her and Nezhno, the wondrous weather-warrior must first direct her powers half a world away to stop Cyclops whatever the cost, before somehow destroying a foe no power on Earth can touch.

Happily, the Spiritual co-ruler of Wakanda has her own direct line to the country’s cat god – or is that goddess?

Short, sharp, spectacularly action-packed and wickedly satisfying – especially the climactic battles with the assembled X-Men and friendly rival Cyclops – this bombastic Fights ‘n’ Tights adventure is rather bafflingly complemented with ‘Echoes’ from Black Panther #26. Created by Priest, Sal Velluto & Bob Almond, it’s the opening part of a longer epic entitled ‘Stürm und Drang – a Story of Love and War’. Here T’Challa’s childhood friendship with Ororo is slowly and painfully re-cultivated during an incursion into Wakanda by alien-hunting US Federal Agents, and a barely-civil embassy from the secret race known as Deviants, all seeking possession of an unearthly parent and child. The untenable situation eventually forces a drastic reaction from the sympathetic African heroes…

As an orphaned part of an ongoing storyline, this interlude, although smart and pretty, is pretty baffling and aggravating too, ending as it does on an unsatisfying cliffhanger, and unless you already know the greater tale, is far more annoying than elucidating…

Still at least you can track down the entire tale in numerous Black Panther collections…

This intriguing safari into the unknown concludes with the far more pleasing – and done-in-one – story of Ororo and T’Challa’s first meeting as kids in the wilds of Africa. It first appeared as a back-up in Marvel Team-Up #100 in 1980, cleverly revealing how the kids enjoyed an idyllic time on the veldt (reminiscent of Henry De Vere Stacpoole’s 1908 novel The Blue Lagoon) until a South African commando team tried to kidnap the Wakandan prince as a bargaining chip.

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

Clearly designed as an outreach project to draw in audience demographics perceived to be short-changed by mainstream Marvel, Storm and the Black Panther have proved to be a winning combination in terms of story if not sales, and Worlds Apart is the kind of tale that will please fans of the genre and followers of the film franchises.
© 1980, 2001, 2008, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Epic Collection volume 4 1970-1972: A Woman Called Widow


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Alan Weiss, Barry Windsor-Smith, Bill Everett & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2034-0 (TPB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him capable of astonishing acrobatic feats, a formidable fighter and a living lie-detector.

Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, an eclectic mix of established and new super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion. He quipped and wise-cracked his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody quasi-religious metaphor he became under modern authorial regimes…

In these tales from the pivotal era of relevancy, social awareness and increasing political polarisation, the Man Without Fear was also growing into the judicial conscience of a generation turning its back on old values…

Covering May 1970 -April 1972, this trade paperback and digital compilation chronologically re-presents Daredevil #64-86 plus a crossover with Iron Man #35-36 and sees the once-staid and so-very Establishment Murdock move with the shifting cultural mores as scripter Roy Thomas hands over the reins to newcomer Gerry Conway in an increasingly determined move to make the Man Without Fear cutting edge and relevant… …

The action opens here with Horn-Head prowling the rooftops of Los Angeles. He’s there to find the love-of-his-life, who quit New York when the pressure of sharing DD’s secrets proved too much…

After trailing the star-struck Karen Page to Hollywood, DD gets to take out his bad mood on a handy hood in ‘Suddenly… The Stunt-Master!’ (Thomas, Gene Colan & Syd Shores) before eventually helping his old enemy (a petty criminal biker) get a TV show of his own…

Murdock remains in LA to oversee Karen’s first acting gig – a pastiche of then-hot spooky TV phenomenon Dark Shadows – and prevents her becoming part of a murder spree in ‘The Killing of Brother Brimstone’: a classy whodunit which cataclysmically climaxes one month later in ‘…And One Cried Murder!’

Still stuck on the West Coast, DD tackles another grudge-bearing villain as ‘Stilt-Man Stalks the Soundstage’ (Gary Friedrich, Thomas, Colan & Shores) with now-respectably reformed Stunt-Master ably assisting our hero. Matt eventually leaves Karen to the vicissitudes of Tinseltown, landing back in the Big Apple just in time to become embroiled in a plot blending radical politics and the shady world of Boxing – ‘The Phoenix and the Fighter!’

The Black Panther returns seeking a favour in ‘A Life on the Line’ as kid gangs and the birth of the “Black Power” movement leap from news headlines to comic pages. The same consideration of youth in protest also inspired the seditious menace of ‘The Tribune’ (written by Friedrich) as youthful ideologues, cynical demagogues and political bombers tear a terrified and outraged city apart.

The unrest peaks in Daredevil #71 as Thomas contributes his swansong script and concludes the right-wing manufactured anarchy in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee…!’

New find Gerry Conway assumed the scripting with #72, easing himself in with an interdimensional fantasy frolic wherein the Scarlet Swashbuckler encounters a strange rash of crimes and a mirror-dwelling mystery man named Tagak in ‘Lo! The Lord of the Leopards!’ before plunging readers into an ambitious cosmic crossover yarn which begins in Iron Man #35.

Here the Armoured Avenger, seductive, morally-ambivalent free agent Madame Masque and S.H.I.E.L.D. supremo Nick Fury all seek‘Revenge!’ (illustrated by Don Heck & Mike Esposito) for various vile acts, and specifically the near-fatal wounding of valiant young American agent Jasper Sitwell at the hand of the mercenary Spymaster.

Their efforts – and those of their assembled enemies – are somehow fuelling an alien artefact called the Zodiac Key and, when its creators suck Daredevil into the mix to battle Spymaster and a bunch of super-villains affiliated to the cosmic device, everybody is ultimately shanghaied to another universe for more pointless fighting in ‘Behold… the Brotherhood!’(Daredevil #73, illustrated by Colan & Shores with plot input from Allyn Brodsky) before the epic concludes with extreme briskness in Iron Man #36.

So brisk, in fact, that only the first 8 pages of ‘Among Us Stalks the Ramrod!’ (Conway, Heck & Esposito) are reprinted here, leaving this potent brew of action and suspense to wrap up with Daredevil #74: an impressive and mercifully complete conundrum with DD trapped ‘In the Country of the Blind!’ (art by Colan & Shores) and calling on a group of sight-impaired volunteers to help him thwart a criminal plot to cripple New York…

The social upheaval of the period produced a lot of impressively earnest material that only hinted at the true potential of Daredevil. These beautifully illustrated yarns may occasionally jar with their heartfelt stridency but the honesty and desire to be a part of a solution rather than blithely carry on as if nothing was happening affords them a potency that no historian, let alone comics fan, can dare to ignore.

The Sightless Swashbuckler makes a politically-charged appearance in Daredevil #75 (April 1971) in a drama of devious intrigue and kidnapping that begins as Murdock travels to the banana republic of Delvadia where ‘Now Rides the Ghost of El Condor!’ (Conway, Colan & Shores) offers a canny yarn of revolutionary fervour, self-serving greed and the power of modern mythology.

The saga concludes in ‘The Deathmarch of El Condor!’ – wherein inker Tom Palmer (perhaps Colan’s most effective inker) starts his long association with the penciller.

Guest stars abound in ‘…And So Enters the Amazing Spider-Man!’ when an uncanny artefact appears in Central Park, inviting DD, the webspinner and the Sub-Mariner to participate in a fantastic battle in a far-flung, lost world. The adventure concludes in the Atlantean’s own comic (#40) but as our hero didn’t join the quest, that sequel isn’t included in this tome.

Issue #78 returns to more traditional territory as ‘The Horns of the Bull!’ traces the downfall of petty thug Bull Taurusafter enigmatic mastermind Mr. Kline has him transformed into a savage beast and sets him upon the Scarlet Swashbuckler…

Friedrich scripted cataclysmic conclusion ‘Murder Cries the Man-Bull!’, but plotter Conway was back the following month to spectacularly reintroduce a vintage villain ‘In the Eyes… of the Owl!’: presaging a major format change for the series…

From issue #81’s ‘And Death is a Woman Called Widow’ (inked by Jack Abel), Soviet defector Natasha Romanoff bursts onto the scene as the ubiquitous Mr. Kline is finally unmasked and revealed to be behind most of DD’s recent woes and tribulations…

Sometimes called Natalia Romanova, she is a Soviet-era Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s earliest and most successful female stars. She started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days, battling Iron Man in her debut exploit (Tales of Suspense #52, April, 1964).

She was subsequently redesigned as a torrid tights-&-tech super-villain before defecting to the USA, falling for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – before finally enlisting as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., freelance do-gooder and occasional leader of The Avengers.

Throughout her career she has always been considered ultra-efficient, coldly competent, deadly dangerous and yet somehow cursed to bring doom and disaster to her paramours. As her backstory evolved, it was revealed that Natasha had undergone experimental processes which enhanced her physical capabilities and lengthened her lifespan, as well as assorted psychological procedures which had messed up her mind and memories…

Following a stunning pin-up of the bodacious Black Widow by Bill Everett, the conspiracy crisis continues with ‘Now Send… the Scorpion’, as Kline – AKA the Assassin – sets a manic artificial arachnid against DD and the Widow, even as his Machiavellian master attempts to suborn Murdock’s greatest friend Foggy Nelson.

At the end of that issue the Scorpion is apparently dead and ‘The Widow Accused!’ by Nelson of the villain’s murder. A sham trial intended to railroad and pillory the Russian émigré ensues in #83, (rendered by Alan Weiss, Barry Smith & Everett), with the Assassin subsequently dispatching brutish Mr. Hyde to ensure his victory.

Against all odds, however, Murdock exonerates Natasha of the charges, prompting the hidden mastermind to take direct action in ‘Night of the Assassin!’ (Colan & Syd Shores). After attacking DD and the Widow in Switzerland – whence the jetsetting former spy had fled to nurse her wounded pride – Kline at last meets final defeat in a stunning and baroque climax to the extended saga.

In the aftermath of that cataclysmic clash, the odd couple are stranded in Switzerland before #85 sees them tentatively beginning a romantic alliance and returning to America on a ‘Night Flight!’ courtesy of Conway, Colan & Shores.

Typically, the plane is hijacked by the bloodthirsty Gladiator, after which another long-forgotten foe resurfaces – for the last time – in ‘Once Upon a Time… the Ox!’ (with stunning Tom Palmer inks) culminating in the broken romantic triangle of Matt, Karen Page and Natasha compelling a life changing relocation for our players from the Big Apple to San Francisco…

The next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…

Rounding out the comics experience are bonus pages including the covers to all-reprint Daredevil Annual #2 and 3, a selection of house ads, unused cover pencils by Colan and his contribution to the 1970 Marvel Artist Self-Portrait project.

Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart, contemporarily astute stories, truly human and fallible characters and always magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.

© 2019 MARVEL.

 

Marvel Masterworks Luke Cage, Power Man volume 3


By Marv Wolfman, Don McGregor, Chris Claremont, Bill Mantlo, Ed Hannigan, Roger Slifer, Frank Robbins, Lee Elias, Marie Severin, Ron Wilson, Bob Brown, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1635-0 (HB)

As a sickly pale kid growing up in a hugely white area of the Home Counties in the 1960s and 1970s, I got almost all my early experience of black people from television and films (for which I’m most profoundly sorry) – and, of course, comics – for which I’m not.

Blithely unaware of other people’s struggle for equality in my formative years, the incredible consciousness-raising explosion of Black Power after the 1968 Olympic Games rather politicised me, and even though some comics companies had by this time made tentative efforts to address what were national and global socio-political iniquities, issues of race and ethnicity took a long time to filter through to the still-impressionable young minds avidly absorbing knowledge and attitudes via four-colour newsprint pages that couldn’t even approximate the skin tones of African-Americans, Africans, Asians or even white folk with sun-burn or a deep tan.

As with television, breakthroughs were small, incremental and too often reduced to a cold-war of daringly liberal “firsts.” Excluding a few characters in Jungle comic-books of the 1940s and 1950, Marvel clearly led the field with a black member of Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos (the historically impossible Gabe Jones who debuted in #1, May 1963, and was accidentally re-coloured Caucasian at the printers – who clearly didn’t realise his ethnicity – for the debut issue), as well as the first negro superheroes Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966), and the Falcon in Captain America #117 (September 1969).

The honour of America’s first black hero to carry his own title came in a little-remembered or regarded title from Dell Comics. Lobo was a gunslinger/vigilante in the old west who sought out injustice just like any cowboy hero would, first appearing in December 1965, and created by artist Tony Tallarico & scripter D.J. Arneson.

Arguably a greater breakthrough was Joe Robertson, City Editor of Marvel’s Daily Bugle, an erudite, brave and magnificently ordinary mortal distinguished by his sterling character, not a costume or skin tone. He first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man # 51 (August 1967), proving in every panel that the world wouldn’t end if black folk and white folk worked and ate together…

This big change slowly grew out of raised social awareness during a terrible time in American history – although Britain had nothing to be smug about either. Following the advent of the “Windrush Generation”, race riots in Blighty had started early in the Sixties here (in all honesty, they weren’t a new thing then, either) and left simmering scars that only comedians and openly racist politicians dared to talk about. Shows such Till Death Us Do Part and Love Thy Neighbour made subtly telling headway but still raise a shudder when I see clips today…

Back in the USA, more positive ethnic characters were slowly let in, with DC finally getting a black hero in John Stewart(Green Lantern #87 December 1971/January 1972), although his designation as replacement Green Lantern might be construed as more conciliatory and insulting than revolutionary. The first DC hero with his own title was Black Lightning, who didn’t debut until April 1977, although Jack Kirby had introduced Shilo Norman as Scott Free’s apprentice (and eventual successor) in Mister Miracle #15 (August (1973).

As usual, it took a bold man and changing economics to really promote change, and with declining comics sales at a time of rising Black Consciousness cash – if not cashing in – was probably the trigger for “the Next Step.”

Contemporary “Blacksploitation” cinema and novels had fired up commercial interests throughout America and in that atmosphere of outlandish dialogue, appalling apparel and barely concealed – if justified – outrage, an angry black man with a shady past and apparently dubious morals debuted as Luke Cage, Hero for Hire in the summer of 1972. A year later the Black Panther finally got his own series in Jungle Action #5 and Blade: Vampire Hunter debuted in Tomb of Dracula #10.

Cage’s origin was typically bombastic: Lucas, a hard-case inmate at brutal Seagate Prison always claimed to have been framed and his inflexible, uncompromising attitude made mortal enemies of the racist guards Rackham and Quirt whilst not exactly endearing him to the rest of the prison population – such as proudly adamant bad-guys Shades and Comanche

The premiere issue was written by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by George Tuska & Billy Graham (with some initial assistance from Roy Thomas and John Romita), detailing how a new warden promised to reform the hell-hole into a proper, legal and decently administered penal institution.

Having heard the desperate con’s tale of woe, new prison doctor Noah Burstein convinced Lucas to participate in a radical experiment in exchange for a parole hearing…

Lucas had grown up in Harlem, a tough kid who’d managed to stay honest even when his best friend Willis Stryker had not. They remained friends even though walking different paths – at least until a woman came between them. To be rid of his romantic rival, Stryker planted drugs and had Lucas shipped off to jail. While he was incarcerated, Lucas’ girl Reva – who had never given up on him – was killed when she got in the way of bullets meant for Stryker…

With nothing left to lose, Lucas underwent Burstein’s process – an experiment in cell-regeneration – but Rackham sabotaged it, hoping to kill the con before he could expose the guard’s illegal treatment of convicts. It all went haywire and something incredible happened. Lucas, now incredibly strong and pain-resistant, punched his way out of the lab and the through the prison walls, only to be killed in hail of gunfire. His body plunged over a cliff and was never recovered…

Months later, a vagrant prowling the streets of New York City stumbled into a robbery. Almost casually downing the felon, he accepted a cash reward from the grateful victim, prompting a bright idea…

Super-strong, bullet-proof, street-wise and honest, Lucas would hide in plain sight while planning his revenge on Stryker. Since his only skill was fighting, he became a private paladin – A Hero For Hire

Whilst making allowances for the colourful, often ludicrous dialogue necessitated by the Comics Code’s sanitising of “street-talking Jive” this was probably the edgiest series of Marvel’s early years (especially under the always evocative and culturally astute Don McGregor) but even so, after a few years the tense action and peripheral interactions with the greater Marvel Universe led to a minor rethink and the title was altered, if not the basic premise…

The private detective motif proved a brilliant stratagem in generating stories for a character perceived as a reluctant champion at best and anti-hero by nature. It allowed Cage to maintain an outsider’s edginess but also meant adventure literally walked through his shabby door every issue.

Cage had set up an office over a movie house on 42nd Street and met a young man who would become his greatest friend: D.W. Griffith – nerd, film freak and plucky white sidekick. Dr. Burstein resurfaced, running a rehab clinic on the dirty, deadly streets around Times Square, aided by beautiful Dr. Claire Temple. Soon, she too was an integral part of Luke’s new life…

This turbulent third hardback (or eBook) compilation collects #32-47 of Luke Cage, Power Man as well as his first Annual – spanning June 1976 through October 1977 – and begins with McGregor’s passionate Introduction ‘Luke Cage and the Big Bad City’ before the inner city, “outasight” action resumes….

Having rebranded himself Luke Cage, Power Man the urban privateer made ends meet whilst seeking a way to stay under police radar and dreamed of clearing his name. A new level of sophistication, social commentary and bizarre villainy began when McGregor took over as writer to craft a run of macabre crime sagas, culminating in saving the entire city from stolen nerve gas…

Issue #32 opens with Cage in the leafy suburbs, hired to protect a black family from literally incendiary racist super-villain Wildfire in ‘The Fire This Time!’ (by McGregor, Frank Robbins & Vince Colletta). This champion of moral outrage is determined to keep his affluent decent neighbourhood white, and even Power Man is ultimately unable to prevent a ghastly atrocity from being perpetrated…

Back in Times Square again, Cage is in the way when a costumed manic comes looking for Noah Burnstein, and learns that ‘Sticks and Stone Will Break Your Bones, But Spears Can Kill You!’ Even as shady reporters, sleazy lawyers and police detective Quentin Chase all circle, looking to uncover the Hero for Hire’s secret past in ‘Death, Taxes and Springtime Vendettas!’ (inked by Frank Springer), Cage’s attention is distracted from Burstein’s stalker by a deranged wrestler dubbed The Mangler, leading to savage showdown and near-fatal outcome in ‘Of Memories, Both Vicious and Haunting!’ (plotted by Marv Wolfman, dialogued by McGregor and illustrated by Marie Severin, Joe Giella & Frank Giacoia) wherein the reasons for the campaign of terror are finally exposed…

Power Man Annual #1 follows as ‘Earthshock!’ – by Chris Claremont, Lee Elias & Dave Hunt – takes Cage to Japan as bodyguard to wealthy Samantha Sheridan. She is being targeted by munitions magnate and tectonics-warping maniac Moses Magnum, who intends tapping the planet’s magma core, even though the very planet is at risk of being destroyed.

Thankfully not even his army of mercenary is enough to stop Cage in full rage…

Next is the cover for Power Man #36 (October 1976). Another casualty of the “Dreaded Deadline Doom”, it reprinted LCHFH #12, which featured the debut of the villain who follows in #37’s all-new ‘Chemistro is Back! Deadlier Than Ever!’ by Wolfman, Ron Wilson & A Bradford, as the apparently grudge-bearing recreant attacks Cage at the behest of a new mystery mastermind. He clarifies his position in follow-up ‘…Big Brother Wants You… Dead!’ (Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, Bob Brown & Jim Mooney) as minions Cheshire Cat and Checkpoint Charlie shadow the increasingly-frustrated PI, and repeated inconclusive and inexplicable clashes with Chemistro lead to a bombastic ‘Battle with the Baron!’ (inked by Klaus Janson) who turns out to be a rival mastermind hoping to corner the market on crime in NYC…

The crazed and convoluted clash concludes in ‘Rush Hour to Limbo!’ (Wolfman, Elias & Giacoia) as one final deathtrap for Cage turns into an explosive last hurrah for Big Brother and his crew…

Inked by Tom Palmer, a new vigilante debuts in #41’s ‘Thunderbolt and Goldbug!’ as a super-swift masked hero makes a name for himself cleaning up low-level scum just as Cage is hired by a courier company to protect a bullion shipment. Sadly, when the van is bombed and the guards die, dazed and furious Cage can’t tell villain from vigilante and takes on the wrong guy…

Answers if not conclusions are forthcoming in ‘Gold! Gold! Who’s Got the Gold?’ (with Alex Niño on inks) as Luke learns who his real friends and foes are, only to be suckered into a deathtrap only barely escaped in #43’s ‘The Death of Luke Cage!’ In the aftermath, with the legal authorities closing in on his fake life, Cage flees town and sheds the Power Man persona, but even in the teeming masses of Chicago can’t escape his past as an old enemy mistakenly assumes he’s been tracked down by the hero he hates most in all the world…

Plotted by Wolfman and scripted by Ed Hannigan with Elias & Palmer on regular artistic duties, ‘Murder is the Man Called Mace!’ sees Luke dragged into the dishonoured soldier’s scheme to seize control of America and despite his best and most violent efforts, beaten and strapped to a cobalt bomb on ‘The Day Chicago Died!’ (Wolfman & Elias).

Sadly, after breaking free of the device, it’s lost in the sewers, prompting a frantic ‘Chicago Trackdown!’ and another savage showdown with Mace and his military madmen in a chilling ‘Countdown to Catastrophe!’ (scripted by Roger Slifer) as a fame-hungry sniper starts shooting citizens whilst the authorities are all searching for the missing nuke…

With atomic armageddon averted at the last moment, this collection – and Cage’s old life – end on a well-conceived final charge. With issue #48, Cage’s life – and his comics title – would be henceforth be shared with mystic martial artist Danny Rand in the superbly enticing odd couple feature Power Man and Iron Fist, but before that there’s still a ‘Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight!’ courtesy of Claremont, George Tuska & Bob Smith as Chicago is attacked by brain-sucking electrical parasite Zzzax! Thankfully, our steel-skinned stalwart is more than a match for the mind-stealing megawatt monstrosity…

With the comics sagas suspended, there’s still treats aplenty here, beginning with a house ad for 1976 Annuals, continuing with Wilson and Joe Sinnott’s art for the ‘Marvel Comics’ Memory Album Calendar 1977’ and ending with a short selection of original art pages by Brown, Mooney & Janson.

Arguably a little dated now (us in the know prefer the term “retro”), these tales were nonetheless instrumental in breaking down many social barriers in the complacent, intolerant, WASP-flavoured American comics landscape, and their power – if not their initial impact – remains undiminished to this day. These are tales well worth your time and money.
© 2019 MARVEL.

Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 4

By Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane & various (Marvel)
ISBN:  978-1-3029-1520-9 (HB)

In the 1970s, Marvel grew to dominate the comic book market despite losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators. They did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties. The only real exception to this was an en masse creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

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

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

This fourth fabulous compilation (in hardback or digital formats) gathers material from MTU #31-40 plus the contents of team-up styled Giant-Size Spider-Man #4-5, spanning March to December 1975, and opens with an informative recollection from former Editor Ralph Macchio in his Introduction before we plunge into the many-starred dramas…

Another attraction of those early comics combos was an earnest desire to get things “done in one”, with tales that concentrated on plot and resolution with the guest du jour. Here on the crest of a martial arts boom in film and TV, the action explosively commences with MTU #31 as the webspinner and kung fu star Iron Fist experience time unravelling whilst battling reverse-aging Drom, the Backwards Man in ‘For a Few Fists More!’ by Gerry Conway Jim Mooney & Vince Colletta.

This is followed by Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 (April 1975, by Conway, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) which sees an eagerly-anticipated reappearance of Marvel’s most controversial antihero in an expanded role. The Giant-Size titles were quarterly double-length publications added to the schedule of Marvel’s top tier heroes, and the wallcrawler’s were used to highlight outré and potentially controversial pairings such as Dracula and Doc Savage. Here, ‘To Sow the Seed of Death’s Day’ finds the webslinger uncomfortably allied with the Punisher when ruthless arms dealer Moses Magnum perfects a diabolical chemical weapon and begins testing it on randomly kidnapped victims.

Tracking down the monster in ‘Attack of the War Machine!’, the unlikely comrades infiltrate his ‘Death-Camp at the Edge of the World!’ before summary justice is dispensed… as much by fate as the heroes’ actions…

That same month back in MTU, Conway & Colletta welcomed Sal Buscema aboard as penciller in #32 for a fiery collaboration between Human Torch Johnny Storm and Son of Satan Damian Hellstrom, who inflicts ‘All the Fires in Hell…!’ on a demon possessing Johnny’s pal Wyatt Wingfoot and assorted fellow members of his Native American Keewazi tribe.

The craving for conventional continuity commences in #33 when Spider-Man and Nighthawk acrimoniously tackle raving mega-nutcase Norton Fester – who had forgotten he had super strength – in ‘Anybody Here Know a Guy Named Meteor Man?’

Whilst Nighthawk is happy to drop the case at his earliest opportunity, Defenders comrade Valkyrie is ready to step in and help Spidey finish off the looney Looter, but they both miss the real threat: mutant demagogue Jeremiah, Prophet of the Lord, who has acquired Fester’s home to house his mind-controlled cult of human psychic batteries in ‘Beware the Death Crusade!’

The religious maniac’s predations only end in Marvel Team-Up #35 when the Torch and Doctor Strange save Valkyrie from becoming a sacrifice in the zealot’s deranged ‘Blood Church!’

Giant-Size Spider-Man #5 (July 1975, by Conway, Andru & Esposito) offers a strange yet welcome break from conventionality as ‘Beware the Path of the Monster!’ sees Peter Parker despatched to Florida to photograph the macabre Man-Thing, only to discover the lethal Lizard is also loose and hunting ‘The Lurker in the Swamp!’

It takes all the web-spinner’s power and the efforts of a broken man in sore need of redemption to set things right in climactic conclusion ‘Bring Back my Man-Thing to Me!’

In Marvel Team-Up #36 Spider-Man is kidnapped and shipped off to Switzerland by assuredly insane Baron Ludwig Von Shtupf, who proclaims himself The Monster Maker in ‘Once Upon a Time, in a Castle…’

The bonkers biologist wants to pick-&-mix creature traits and has already secured The Frankenstein Monster to practise on, but after the webslinger busts them both out and they stumble upon sexy SHIELD Agent Klemmer, their rapid counterattack goes badly wrong. Von Shtupf unleashes his other captive – the furiously feral Man-Wolf – and only big Frankie can prevent a wave of ‘Snow Death!’ in #37.

As writer Bill Mantlo and inker Esposito join Sal Buscema, the Amazing Arachnid is back in the USA for MTU #38, meeting again The Beast and barely surviving the ‘Night of the Griffin’ when the former X-Man’s constantly-evolving manmade monster foe goes on a ruthless murder spree…

Ending this shared glory session, another extended epic begins when Spider-Man and the Torch are simultaneously targeted by supposedly deceased archenemies Crime-Master and The Big Man in #39’s ‘Any Number Can Slay!’ The masked mobsters are fighting for control of the city and each has recruited their own specialist meta-thugs – Sandman and The Enforcers respectively – but the shady double-dealers are all utterly unprepared for the intervention of mystic kung fu collective The Sons of the Tiger in #40’s concluding ‘Murder’s Better the Second Time Around!’

Capping off this collection is the cover to all-reprint Giant-Size Spider-Man #6 (December 1975 and starring Spidey and the Torch in tale from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4) plus a selection from the ‘Mighty Marvel Calendar for 1975’, featuring new art by John Romita, Barry Windsor-Smith, Rick Buckler, John Buscema, Mike Ploog, Gil Kane & Sal Buscema, wedded to classic clip art from Marvel’s mightiest artists, topped off with house ads and Romita’s front and back cover art for tabloid-sized Marvel Treasury Edition #8 AKA Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag.

Although not really a book for the casual or more maturely-oriented enthusiast, there’s lots of fun on hand and younger readers will have a blast, so why not make this tome part of to your comics library?
© 1974, 1975, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk: Heart of the Atom


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Archie Goodwin, Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Peter Gillis, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema& various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6212-4 (TPB)

Love is in the air and it’s a Leap Year too, so if you’re a typical guy you’ll want to pay attention. Don’t wait for February 13th. Start looking for a St. Valentine’s Day present for The One now. I’m reviewing romance-themed graphic novels sporadically between now and then as a prompt.

PAY EVEN MORE ATTENTION. A graphic novel – no matter how good – is not suitable as a romantic gift on its own. For Pete’s Sake buy something else – and more thoughtful – too.

Bruce Banner is a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, any kind of stress causes him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury. He was one of Marvel’s earliest innovations and first failure but, after an initially troubled few years, finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of the company’s premiere antiheroes and most popular features.

As such a rambunctious, rampaging monster, it’s hard to imagine the Hulk as a heartbroken star of romantic tragedy but that’s just what this compilation – collecting stories from Incredible Hulk #140, 148, 156, 202-203, 205-207, 246-248, What If? #23 and pertinent pages from The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, collectively covering June 1971 to October 1980: the everyday love story of a meandering monster and a sub-atomic alien princess…

By the close of the 1960s the Hulk had settled into a comfortable niche and satisfyingly effective formula: world-weary Banner sought cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains. Artist Herb Trimpe made the character his own, adapting the “house” Jack Kirby-based art-style into often startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by his unmatched facility for drawing technology: especially honking great ordnance and vehicles…

And, of course, no one can deny the cathartic reader-release of a great big “Hulk Smash!” moment…

The titanic trysts open with the concluding chapter of a landmark crossover that had opened in Avengers #88 (but not included here). In that missing fragment, Psyklop – insectoid servant of Elder Gods – abducted the Hulk to fuel their resurrection…

This leads directly into Incredible Hulk #140 and ‘The Brute that Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom’ (by Harlan Ellison & Roy Thomas, pencilled & inked by Sam Grainger over Trimpe’s layouts). Banished and imprisoned on sub-atomic world K’ai, Banner’s intellect and the Hulk’s body are reconciled and form one unbeatable warrior champion. He becomes a barbarian hero to an appreciative populace, and lover of their perfect noble princess Jarella. However, at the moment of his greatest joy, the Green Goliath is snatched away by Psyklop and exacts justified vengeance even as his departure cause havoc on the microversal paradise….

For issue #148 (February 1972) Archie Goodwin debuted as scripter – with a little plotting assistance from a very junior Chris Claremont – in ‘But Tomorrow… the Sun Shall Die!’ Lost love Jarella travels to Earth and a longed-for reunion, just as Banner is cured of his curse by radical solar-energy experimentation. Unfortunately, she accidentally brings with her a super-assassin determined to end her life at all costs, which somehow triggers the sun into going nova…

Forced to return to her planet, Jarella becomes an object of obsession for the Jade Juggernaut – as detailed in a text précis of his months-long hunt for her – before we resume in Incredible Hulk #156 (October).

Having swallowed a defective shrinking formula created by the Astonishing Ant-Man in a forlorn attempt to rejoin Jarella in her subatomic world, Hulk reduces in sporadic bursts and is propelled into a succession of micro-worlds, before a shrinking spasm happily deposits him on Jarella’s world in time for ‘Holocaust at the Heart of the Atom!’(Goodwin, Trimpe & Sal Trapani) to pit him against his worst nightmare – himself – before once more losing his true love to the vicissitudes of cruel fate…

With Hulk #202-203 (August and September 1976) Len Wein, Sal Buscema & Joe Staton start bringing the romance to its inevitable close as a once more miniaturised man-monster plunges through micro-space before arriving in the promised land of his beloved and long-lost alien queen…

Havoc at the Heart of the Atom’ reveals how his previous visit rendered the world tectonically unstable, shattering the civilisation which once had the power to blend Banner’s mind with the Hulk’s body. Moreover, the once-civilised population have turned on the queen they hold responsible…

Reunited with his beloved, the simplistic brute swears to fix the problem but is soon embroiled again with the antediluvian horror who first stuck him in the microverse, and who still craves bloody revenge…

The ‘Assault on Psyklop!’ proves another crushing defeat for the vile insectoid and a guardedly happy ending for the man-brute as a coincidental rescue attempt from Earth brings Hulk home, carrying his astounded lover with him…

In Hulk #205, Wein, Buscema & Staton depict the most soul-shattering moment in the Green Goliath’s tortured life as ‘Do Not Forsake Me!’ finds Jarella adapting to life on Earth only to sacrifice herself to save a child from rampaging robbery robot Crypto-Man.

Stunned and bereft, the Hulk becomes ‘A Man-Brute Berserk!’: his grief-stricken trail of grief-fuelled destruction leading from Gamma Base, New Mexico all the way to New York City where even his closest friends and allies are unable to calm the green gargantuan, leading to a brutal battle ‘Alone Against the Defenders!’ who finally realise compassion is the only method that can work against their traumatised foe…

Another catch-up text page brings us to Incredible Hulk #246 (April 1980) for another traumatic experience. ‘The Hero and the Hulk!’ by Bill Mantlo & Buscema reveals that Jarella’s body has been kept for study by the military and opens with an infuriated Gamma Giant determined to take her back home for decent burial: a grim task made easier with the assistance of Kree-born Protector of the Universe Captain Marvel

Returned to ‘Jarella’s World’, Hulk finds a desolate planet on the edge of death, with only one solitary oasis of verdant life remaining. It is jealously guarded by wander Universal Elder the Gardener – who will brook no intrusions of any kind – but a combination of Banner’s empathy and the Hulk’s forceful nature eventually convince him to allow her interment: triggering an unexpected blossoming of new life in ‘How Green My Garden Grows!’

Completing this collected star-crossed tale of woe, is an alternate take originating in October 1980’s What If? #23. Concocted by Peter Gillis, Trimpe & Mike Esposito ‘What If… Hulk’s Girlfriend Jarella Had Not Died?’ posits what might have occurred if Jarella had not died and the lovers had returned to K’ai to liberate that world from the influence of the Elder Gods…

Packed with bonus features such as informational pages about Jarella and The Gardener (from the Marvel Universe Handbook), this potently passionate primer of love without limits is a vibrantly verdant delight to charm any savage beast…
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Black Panther: The Bride


By Reginald Hudlin, Scot Eaton, Klaus Janson, Dean White & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2107-7 (TPB)

If you’re still looking for a St. Valentines’ Day gift for your one and only (or one of many: I don’t judge even if I do reserve the right to scorn…), you won’t find much help here. At least you better not…

I do, however, have an intriguing, romantically-themed suggestion you can read for inspiration or, latterly, consolation…

Regarded as the first black hero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since July 1966 when he first attacked the Fantastic Four as part of an extended plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

T’Challa, son of T’Chaka, is an African monarch whose secluded kingdom is the only source of a miraculous alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth is founded. Those mineral riches – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in lost antiquity – enabled him to turn his country into a technological wonderland.

Moreover, the tribal resources and the people have been eternally safeguarded by a cat-like human champion deriving incredible physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb simultaneously ensuring the generational dominance of the nation’s Panther Cult.

In recent years that continuity-mythology was retooled to reveal that the “Vibranium” mound had actually made the country a secret Superpower for centuries, but now increasingly makes Wakanda a target for subversion and incursion.

This slim, unassuming but extremely engaging Costumed Drama – available in trade paperback and eBook editions – collects Black Panther volume 4 #14-18 (May – September 2006). Set during the first Superhero Civil War, it tackles a thorny, perennial political issue with earthy wit and wisdom as the Great King of Wakanda confronts the most contentious issue of his reign thus far…

Previously: the dutiful son of Queen Mother Ramonda at last accedes to her increasingly strident demands that the nation needs an heir, and goes looking for a suitable queen. That turned into a full-blown fiasco but the needs of State remain, so the drama here begins as 4-chapter quest ‘Bride of the Panther’ sees the Panther eschew new flames and set off to woo and win back the first girl he ever loved…

With streetwise Power Man Luke Cage as his smirking wingman, T’Challa recalls his early days and a certain something…

Ororo Munroe AKA Storm is actually a lost daughter of a Kenyan princess and an American journalist. She grew up an orphan in Cairo following their deaths in a war. After joining Charles Xavier’s X-Men, she spends years fighting the world’s most deadly threats as part – and often leader – of the unloved, distrusted mutant hero horde.

As puberty triggered her mutant powers long ago, the wily thief left Egypt, walking across Africa, drawn by a yearning she could not explain. Eventually she settled with nomadic tribes, using her weather powers to ease their burdens. They called her “Goddess”. However, before she reached that part of her life, Ororo encountered a determined boy also trekking across the Dark Continent…

Young Prince T’Challa had single-handedly avenged the murder of his father T’Chaka and driven off the resource raiders of deranged scientist Ulysses Klaw, but before he could inherit the role of king and spiritual leader of his people there were certain trials and rituals to undertake.

Whilst wandering the plains of Africa in a walkabout manhood trial, he met a beautiful young girl with incredible powers trekking from Egypt to West Africa. Together they found love and survived a deadly attack by South African mercenaries. Ultimately, his sense of duty tore them apart. Years later, T’Challa found her again before once more rejecting her for the needs of Wakanda.

Now as she visits Africa, he has to make her forgive him, because no other woman can be his First Lady of Wakanda…

As Ororo makes him really earn her love, elsewhere malign forces gather. The possibility of a union between mutants and Wakandans is seen by many as a dangerous alliance. An Iraqi dictator creates his own super-powered Arabian Knight to attack them, Hydra attempts to abduct relatives Ororo doesn’t even know she has and even the Kenyan government are taking steps to maintain a status quo the gradually reunited couple couldn’t care less about…

Once Storm finally accepts the marriage offer, the insanity escalates. The Wakandans all adore their new queen-in-waiting and aren’t shy in letting her know it: the world’s fashion and media goes crazy at the prospect of a super Royal Wedding and become ultra-intrusive, and T’Challa’s old enemy Princess Zanda starts impersonating Ororo in the world’s most expensive boutiques, determined that only she shall have the Panther…

Ororo might be – grudgingly – okay with T’Challa’s old flames (the ladies in question, not so much), but tensions still abound. His formidable Dora Milaje bodyguards are imperiously withholding final judgement, SHIELD wants to take over security for the bride and groom and Cage is obnoxiously determined to organise the greatest Bachelor Party of all time…

The King only agrees after Invisible Woman Susan Richards pre-empts his stag debacle with a Bachelorette do unlike any other…

Eventually, the day arrives and a host of heroes and villains, politicos, family and journalists descend on Wakanda for the Wedding of the Century in ‘Here Comes a Storm’. It’s everything you’d expect from a ceremony packed with drunk and angry powered types, and a sinister psychic parasite hidden amongst the entourage and determined to possess the groom and rule the kingdom. Ororo is more concerned with last-minute detail. Wakanda’s god is the Panther Spirit: a live predator deity prone to eating anyone considered unworthy of joining the Royal family…

This deliciously light and frothy Fights ‘n’ Tights romp is perfectly balanced between suspense, comedy and brutal action (as all good weddings are) and also offers Jim McCann’s text feature ‘Diving the Design’ describing the creation of the wedding dress by Shawn Dudley.

What more could any True Romantic need?
© 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Silver Surfer Epic Collection volume 1 1966-1968: When Calls Galactus


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Marie Severin, Joe Sinnott, Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9002-8 (TPB)

Cautiously bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, Fantastic Four #1 (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule) was crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it and the raw storytelling caught a wave of change starting to build in America. It and succeeding issues changed comicbooks forever.

In eight short years FF became the indisputable central title and most consistently groundbreaking series of Marvel’s ever-unfolding web of cosmic creation: bombarding readers with a ceaseless salvo of new concepts and characters at a time when Kirby was in his conceptual prime and continually unleashing his vast imagination on plot after spectacular plot. Clearly inspired, Stan Lee scripted some of the most passionate superhero sagas that Marvel – or any publisher, for that matter – had or has ever seen.

Both were on an unstoppable roll, at the height of their creative powers, and full of the confidence that only success brings, with The King particularly eager to see how far the genre and the medium could be pushed. A forge of stunning creativity and endless excitement, the title was the proving ground for dozens of future stars and mesmerising concepts; none more timely or apt than the freewheeling cosmic wanderer and latter-day moral barometer dubbed The Silver Surfer.

Collecting every scrap of pertinent material from Fantastic Four #48-50, 55-61, 72, 74-77 FF Annual #5 and Tales to Astonish #92-93, this compendium reprints all appearances of the Starry-eyed Sentinel from March 1966 to August 1968 (admittedly some only in excerpt): a chronological countdown to the outcast winning his own landmark title.

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

The tale was a creative highlight from a period where the Lee/Kirby partnership was utterly on fire. The tale has all the power and grandeur of a true epic and has never been surpassed for drama, thrills and sheer entertainment, so you should really read it in all its glory.

Here, however, and without preamble the wonderment commences with a mere portion of ‘The Coming of Galactus!’ (by Lee, Kirby & Joe Sinnott from FF #48) as halfway through one storyline, the origins of the Inhumans saga is swiftly wrapped up by page 6, with the entire clandestine race sealed behind an impenetrable dome called the Negative Zone(later retitled the Negative Barrier to avoid confusion with the gateway to sub-space Reed Richards worked on for years).

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

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

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

Issue #49 declares ‘If this be Doomsday!’ and sees planet-eating Galactus setting up shop over the Baxter Building despite the team’s best efforts, whilst his coldly gleaming herald has his humanity accidentally rekindled by simply conversing with the Thing’s blind girlfriend Alicia Masters.

The first 13 pages of FF #50 concludes ‘The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer!’ as the reawakened ethical core of the Surfer and gallantry of the human heroes buys enough time for Richards and the Human Torch to literally save the world with a boldly-borrowed Deus ex Machina gadget…

Once again, the tale ends in the middle of the issue, with the remaining half concentrating on the team getting back to “normal”, but that’s the work of a different review. Here we resume with FF #55 as ‘When Strikes the Silver Surfer!’sees the naive alien exiled on Earth by his former master and locked in uncomprehending, brutal battle with the Thing, whose insecurities over his relationship with Alicia explode into searing jealousy when the soaring skyrider comes innocently calling…

A portentous excerpt from #56 then tantalisingly teases another forthcoming epic. Fantastic Four #57-60 is Lee & Kirby at their very best; with unbearable tension, incredible drama and breathtaking action on a number of fronts as the most dangerous man on Earth steals the Silver Surfer’s Power Cosmic, even as the Inhumans finally win their freedom and we discover the tragic secret of mighty mute Black Bolt in all its awesome fury.

It all begins with a jailbreak by The Sandman in #57’s ‘Enter… Dr. Doom!’, escalates in ‘The Dismal Dregs of Defeat!’ as Doom tests his limitless stolen power in acts of random cruelty and destruction; builds to a crescendo in ‘Doomsday’ with the heroes’ utter defeat and abject humiliation, before culminating in brains and valour saving the day – and all humanity – in truly magnificent manner in ‘The Peril and the Power!’

A 2-page postscript from #61 shows the return to the Silver Surfer of his purloined life-energies, but there was never a dull moment: no sooner had the exile returned to his solitary wandering than he encountered another of Earth’s incredible denizens…

It coincided with a new narrative tone for The Hulk in his strip in split-book Tales to Astonish. After months on the run, fugitive Bruce Banner reached a ‘Turning Point!’ (TtA #92, June 1967, by Lee and superb, criminally underrated Marie Severin & Frank Giacoia), as the Jade Giant – hunted through a terrified New York City – has a close encounter with a gleaming light in the sky…

Back then, the Hulk didn’t really team-up with visiting stars, he just got mad and smashed them. Such was certainly the case when he became ‘He Who Strikes the Silver Surfer!’; ironically battling with and driving off a fellow outcast who held the power to cure him of his atomic affliction…

He was only driven as far as November’s Fantastic Four Annual #5, where – after a Kirby & Giacoia pin-up depicting a colossal group shot of Galactus, The Watcher, Silver Surfer and others – a rapidly rising star-in-the-making won his first solo appearance.

‘The Peerless Power of the Silver Surfer’ (Lee, Kirby & Giacoia) is a pithily potent fable of ambition and ingratitude reintroducing and upgrading the threat-level of the Mad Thinker’s lethal Artificial Intelligence murder-machine Quasimodo

Things went quiet until FF #72 (March 1968) and ‘Where Soars the Silver Surfer!’ as the sky-born wanderer, cruelly imprisoned on Earth by Galactus, goes cage-crazy and attacks humanity, forcing the quarrelsome quartet to make a violent and valiant intervention. Slightly calmer, the skyrider was back in #74 ‘When Calls Galactus’ as the world-eater returns to Terran skies, demanding his one-time herald once more become his food-finding slave. However, despite his increasingly violent and world-shaking probing and the FF’s holding action against the ravenous invader’s robotic Punisher, mighty Galactus cannot locate his target.

That’s because the Surfer has already – and utterly obliviously – departed for ‘World Within Worlds!’, forcing Reed, Ben and Johnny’s pursuit to save humanity from consumption. When the pioneering micronauts are subsequently attacked by sadistic alien Psycho Man, our heroes are subsequently ‘Stranded in Sub-Atomica!’

As they struggle to survive, Galactus applies ever-more pressure in ‘Shall Earth Endure?’ until the now-fully-apprised Surfer turns himself in to save Earth by finding the great Devourer an alternative snack. His reward is to be summarily returned to his captivity here as soon as ungrateful Galactus finishes feeding (just in time to begin his own landmark series – but that’s also the subject of another review, another time…)

Art lovers and history buffs can also enjoy a boundless bounty at the end of this volume as we close with fascinating freebies such as pages of original art by Kirby, a cover reproduction of earlier collection Silver Surfer: The Coming of Galactus! (Ron Lim, Dan Panosian & Paul Mounts), composite cover art for Wizard Ace Edition: Fantastic Four(2002) #48 by Mike Wieringo, Karl Kesel & Mounts, José Ladrönn’s cover for The Fantastic Four Omnibus volume 2and Dean White’s painted cover based on FF #49 for Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four volume 5.

Also on show is a gallery of new covers crafted for 1970s reprint series Marvel’s Greatest Comics (#35-7 by John Buscema & Sinnott, Sal Buscema and Gil Kane & Giacoia) and Marvel Triple Action #1-4 (John B & Giacoia, Kane & John Romita, Vince Colletta and Sal B & Sinnott) which previously reprinted the material contained herein.

Epic, revolutionary and unutterably unmissable, these are the stories which made Marvel the unassailable leaders in fantasy entertainment and which remain some of the most important superhero comics ever crafted. The verve, conceptual scope and sheer enthusiasm shines through on every page and the wonder is there for you to share. If you’ve never thrilled to these spectacular sagas then this book of marvels is the perfect key to another – far brighter – world and time.
© 2019 MARVEL. All rights reserved.

Captain America Epic Collection volume 4 1971-1973: Hero or Hoax?


By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, John Romita Sr., Sal Buscema, Gil Kane, Gray Morrow & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1003-7 (TPB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic, highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss. He faded away during the post-war reconstruction but briefly reappeared after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every brave American kid’s bed.

Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time for the turbulent, culturally divisive 1960s where the Star-Spangled Avenger was in danger of becoming an uncomfortable symbol of a troubled, divided society, split along age lines and with many of the hero’s fans apparently rooting for the wrong side. Now into that turbulent mix crept issues of racial and gender inequality…

This resoundingly resolute full-colour Epic Collection re-presents Captain America #139-#199 (spanning July 1971 to March 1973) with the Sentinel of Liberty adjusting to having a new full-time crimefighting partner in the form of Harlem-based social worker Sam Wilson AKA the Falcon

As the Falcon works to end a gangster’s dream of monetising New York’s racial unrest, the Good Captain is whisked away for a top-secret mission heralding the beginning of a lengthy and direction-changing saga…

For years Captain America had been the only expression of Steve Rogers’ life, but now goes undercover as a police officer to solve a series of disappearances, subsequently regaining a personal life which would have long-term repercussions…

With the Red, White and Blue subsumed by plain Rookie Blues in ‘The Badge and the Betrayal!’ (by Stan Lee & John Romita) Steve finds himself on a Manhattan beat as the latest raw recruit to be bawled out by veteran cop Sergeant Muldoon

As police officers continue to disappear in increasing numbers and Rogers is getting into more fights on the beat than in costume, Wilson is challenged by seductive black activist Leila Taylor and undergoes a far from voluntary and unwanted audition for S.H.I.E.L.D. …

Inked by George Roussos, issue #140 exposes the plot’s perpetrator as ‘In the Grip of Gargoyle!’ takes events in a frankly bizarre direction, with moody urban mystery inexplicably becoming super-spy fantasy as the nefarious Grey Gargoylesteals a mega-explosive from S.H.I.E.L.D. and turns the Falcon into his petrified minion.

With Joe Sinnott inking, Lee & Romita deliver ‘The Unholy Alliance!’ as the stony duo attack a secret base stockpiling ultimate explosive Element X, with Cap, recently-renewed love interest Sharon Carter and Nick Fury attempting to save the world and the Falcon from the Gargoyle…

Spectacular but painfully confusing until now, the epic is dumped on new writer Gary Friedrich to wrap up with ‘And in the End…’ (Captain America and the Falcon #142) wherein the resurgent heroes race a countdown clock of doom to save the day…

All this time Sam has been trying to get friendly with “Black Power” advocate Leila and, with the sci fi shenanigans over, a long-running subplot concerning racial tensions in Harlem boils over…

‘Power to the People’ and ‘Burn, Whitey, Burn!’ (both from giant-sized #143 with Romita inking his own pencils) sees the riots finally erupt with Cap and Falcon caught in the middle, before copping out in the final chapter by taking a painfully parochial and patronising stance and revealing that the seething unrest of the ghetto underclass has been instigated by a rabble-rousing fascist super-villain in ‘Red Skull in the Morning… Cap Take Warning!’

Nevertheless, Friedrich makes some telling and relevant points – and continues to do so in CA&F #144’s first story ‘Hydra Over All!’ (illustrated by Romita) with the creation of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s all-woman attack squad Femme Force One(stop squirming – at least they were trying to be egalitarian and inclusive…).

To facilitate their efficacy the women are assigned to train with the Sentinel of Liberty himself…

The issue also offers a solo back-up tale ‘The Falcon Fights Alone!’ (by Friedrich and drawn by the great Gray Morrow) wherein the street hero designs a new uniform and rededicates himself to tackling the real problems on his turf: drug-dealers, thieves, racketeers and thugs endangering the weakest, poorest members of society…

Captain America and the Falcon #145 expanded the Hydra storyline with ‘Skyjacked’ (stunningly limned by Gil Kane & Romita) as the hooded terrorists kidnap Cap’s students in mid-air…

Sal Buscema began his long tenure on the series with ‘Mission: Destroy the Femme Force!’ and ‘Holocaust in the Halls of Hydra!’ (#146 and inked by John Verpoorten) wherein devious dealings in the halls of power are uncovered before Falcon races to the rescue of the severely embattled and outgunned heroes, culminating in the unmasking of a hidden kingmaker in #147’s ‘And Behind the Hordes of Hydra…’: a staggering Battle Royale in Las Vegas with a hierarchy of old villains exposed, before the ultimate power behind the power reveals himself in Friedrich’s swansong ‘The Big Sleep!’

Now increasingly at odds with super-scientific government spy-agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division) and its Director Nick Fury, the troubled Patriotic hero returned to his secret identity as a New York beat cop as Gerry Conway assumed the writing chores for issues #149-152: an uncharacteristically uninspired run that begins with ‘All the Colors… of Evil!’ (illustrated by Sal B & Jim Mooney) wherein Gallic mercenary Batroc resurfaces, kidnapping ghetto kids for an unidentified client. This turns out to be the alien Stranger (or at least his parallel universe incarnation Jakar) who intervenes personally in ‘Mirror, Mirror…!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) but is still defeated far too easily.

‘Panic on Park Avenue’ (Buscema & Vince Colletta) then pits Cap against enfeebled villains Mr. Hyde and the Scorpionas Conway sought to retroactively include Captain America in his ambitious Mr. Kline Saga. Android copies of the super-creeps had attacked Daredevil and the Black Widow in their own comic book and here we discover what happened to the originals during that period.

Assuming S.H.I.E.L.D. is responsible for their woes, the thugs target Steve Rogers and his secret agent girlfriend Sharon Carter with disastrous results, climaxing in Frank Giacoia inked ‘Terror in the Night!’ featuring all-out battles and new plot-complications for officer Rogers and his hard-boiled boss Sgt. Muldoon…

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

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

While Sam Wilson goes back to Harlem – splitting his time between social work, chasing Leila and stamping his mark on the local gangs in his costumed persona – Steve and Sharon book a holiday in the Bahamas. Shockingly, not long after, Falcon catches Captain America committing racist attacks in New York. Enraged, he tracks down the perpetrator but is easily beaten since his partner has somehow acquired super-strength and a resurrected Bucky Barnes

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

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

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

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

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

Rounding out the riotous adventure, bonus extras include the cover to the all-reprint Captain America Annual #2, assorted house ads, rare Romita colour roughs for Captain America #139 and 144, plus a stirring short selection of original art pages and covers by Romita, Morrow, Kane and Buscema…

Any retrospective or historical re-reading is going to turn up a few cringe-worthy moments, but these tales of matchless courage and indomitable heroism are fast-paced, action-packed and illustrated by some of the greatest artists and storytellers American comics has ever produced.

As the nation turbulently changed Captain America was finally discovering his proper place in a new era and would once more become unmissable, controversial comicbook reading, as we shall see when I get around to reviewing the next volume…
© 1971, 1972, 1973, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.