Sub-Mariner Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Marie Severin, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3487-9 (HB)

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner is the offspring of a water-breathing Atlantean princess and an American polar explorer; a hybrid being of immense strength, highly resistant to physical harm, able to fly and exist above and below the waves. Created by young, talented Bill Everett, Namor technically predates Marvel/Atlas/Timely Comics.

He first caught the public’s attention as part of the elementally appealing fire vs. water headlining team in the October 1939 cover-dated Marvel Comics #1 which became Marvel Mystery Comics with issue #2. He shared honours and top billing with The Human Torch, but had originally been seen (albeit in a truncated monochrome version) in Motion Picture Funnies: a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

Rapidly emerging as one of the industry’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (Spring 1941) and was one of the last super-characters to go at the end of the first heroic age. In 1954, when Atlas (as the company then was) briefly revived its “Big Three” (the Torch and Captain America being the other two) costumed characters, Everett returned for an extended run of superb fantasy tales, but even so the time wasn’t right and the title sunk again.

When Stan Lee & Jack Kirby started reinventing comicbook superheroes in 1961 with the Fantastic Four, they revived the awesome and all-but-forgotten amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac anti-hero. Decidedly more bombastic, regal and grandiose, the returnee despised humanity; embittered at the loss of his sub-sea kingdom (seemingly destroyed by American atomic testing) whilst simultaneously besotted with the FF’s Susan Storm.

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for a few years, squabbling with other star turns such as the Hulk, Avengers, X-Men and Daredevil, before securing his own series as one half of Tales to Astonish, and ultimately his own solo title.

This third subsea selection – available in hardback and eBook editions – collects The Sub-Mariner #2-13, spanning June 1968 to May 1969 (plus a spoof yarn from August 1968’s Not Brand Echh # 9) and opens with another heartfelt appreciation and some creative secret-sharing from sometime-scribe and life-long fan Roy Thomas in his Introduction.

Following the premiere issue’s recapitulation of the hero’s origins and some plot ground-laying regarding malign super-telepath Destiny (who was responsible for those memory-deficient years), Sub-Mariner #2 contrived an eagerly-anticipated undersea team-up as ‘Cry… Triton!’ (by Thomas, John Buscema & Frank Giacoia) more than made up for the confusion as Namor’s true origin with a blockbusting battle epic in which the aquatic Inhuman stumbles into combat with Namor while exploring a monster-making lab run by D-list villain Plant Man.

Even as the heroes pummel each other, in the Destiny-wracked ruins of Atlantis, Lady Dorma leads an exodus of survivors to a new site to rebuild the empire. Meanwhile, Triton’s fellow Inhumans seek his rescue, prompting the vegetable villain to rapidly relocate…

Issue #3 sees Plant Man unleashing his colossal floral horror against London with his vegetable monsters in concluding clash ‘On a Clear Day You Can See… the Leviathan!’, before the undersea stalwarts unite to end his threat for the immediate future.

Still hunting Destiny, Namor then falls into the sadistic clutches of subsea barbarian Attuma after the merciless warlord attacks the wandering Atlanteans. Although he triumphs in ‘Who Strikes for Atlantis?’ and liberates his people, the Sub-Mariner swims on alone, believing beloved Dorma to have perished in the battle…

Twin nemeses debut next, in the forms of deranged bio-engineer Dr. Dorcas and crippled Olympic swimmer Todd Arliss who is mutated by mad science via Namor’s own hybrid powers into a ravening amphibian killer in ‘Watch Out for… Tiger Shark!’

As Dorcas’s blind ambition and lust for power unleash an aquatic horror he cannot control, Lady Dorma stumbles into Tiger Shark’s’ clutches after he seemingly kills Namor, which the man-monster parlays into an attempt to seize the throne of Atlantis (once it’s rebuilt) in …And to the Vanquished… Death!’ (inked by Dan Adkins).

Namor has been rescued by Arliss’ sister Diane (a beautiful surface-dweller who will be a romantic distraction for Sub-Mariner for many years) but has no time for gratitude as he tracks the mutated human and defeats him in personal combat.

Restored to his throne, people and beloved, the Sub-Mariner is immediately called away when his greatest enemy is located. The telepathic tyrant is about to seal his plans by taking control of America in ‘For President… the Man Called Destiny!’, but as Namor and Dorma challenge him in Manhattan, the villain’s own pride proves to be his downfall…

An epic clash in #8 pits the arrogant, impetuous Sub-Mariner against the Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm – AKA the Thing – to possess the eerie helmet that furnished Destiny’s mental powers. However, the pointless devastation ‘In the Rage of Battle!’ is almost irrelevant: what is truly significant is the reintroduction of a woman from Namor’s past who can reason with him with as no other mortal can…

Penciller Marie Severin joins writer Thomas and inker Adkins for a landmark moment as the helmet of power metamorphoses into an arcane artefact that will reshape the history of the Marvel Universe for years to come. In ‘The Spell of the Serpent!’ the helmet is revealed as a seductive mystic crown that takes over the citizenry in Namor’s absence, recreating an antediluvian empire ruled by elder god Set. On his return, Namor steals the corrupting crown and is given a glimpse of the Earth’s secret history as well as a vision of a lost pacific subsea race… the Lemurians.

There’s no such thing as coincidence, so when their emissary Karthon the Quester suddenly attempts to take the serpentine totem, Namor is ready to resist in ‘Never Bother a Barracuda!’ (drawn by Gene Colan). As a tale of dawn age skulduggery unfolds involving a demonic immortal priest named Naga and valiant Lemurian heroes who saved the world by stealing his crown, the water-breathers are ambushed by human pirate Cap’n Barracuda and forced to assist his scheme of nuclear blackmail…

Seizing his chance, Karthon swipes the crown and flees, leaving Namor to face ‘The Choice and the Challenge!’ (inked by George Klein), and eventually scuttle the scheme of atomic armageddon, before making the perilous journey to Lemuria to challenge the mystic might and deadly illusions of Naga in ‘A World Against Me!’ (gloriously pencilled, inked and coloured by Severin). The epic encounter then concludes in the Joe Sinnott inked ‘Death, Thou Shalt Die!’ as Naga oversteps and loses the world, the crown and everything else…

Before the end, though, there’s a brilliant bonus bonanza…

Anyone who knew (or even knew of) Marie Severin soon learned she was a gifted gag cartoonist with a devasting wit and this tome includes her at her most devilish: adding a not-so-serious alternative spin to one of her own classics with ‘Bet There’ll be Battle!’, from satire mag Not Brand Echh #9. Here the Inedible Bulk and Prince No-More, the Sunk Mariner, create cartoon carnage and comedy gold in a brisk and brutal brouhaha…

in the form of pages of original art and covers by Colan and Everett.

These tales feature some of Marvel’s very best artists at their visual peak, and the verve and enthusiasm still shine through. Many early Marvel Comics are more exuberant than qualitative, but this volume, especially from an art-lover’s point of view, is a wonderful exception: a historical treasure that fans will find delightful.
© 1968, 1969, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 7


By Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema, John Romita & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8799-8 (HB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a bombastic, dynamic and 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.

By the time of the tales gathered in this seventh Masterworks volume (available in luxurious hardback and accessible eBook formats) – comprising issues #149-159 of Captain America and the Falcon from May 1972 to March 1973 – the Star-Spangled Avenger had become 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…

Following a fond, forthright and informative reminiscence from scripter Steve Englehart in his Introduction, the action opens here with the Star-Spangled Avenger – 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 hero is also attempting to revive his secret identity as a New York beat cop…

Gerry Conway assumed the writing chores for issues #149-152, an uncharacteristically uninspired run that began with ‘All the Colors… of Evil!’ (illustrated by Sal Buscema & 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) pits Cap against enfeebled villains Mr. Hyde and the Scorpion as 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 comicbook and here we discover what happened to the originals during that period. Assuming S.H.I.E.L.D. was responsible for their woes, the thugs target Steve Rogers and his secret agent girlfriend Sharon Carter with disastrous results, climaxing with the 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 Steve Englehart came aboard, hitting the ground running with a landmark epic rewriting Marvel history and captivating die-hard fans simultaneously.

The wonderment opens with ‘Captain America… Hero or Hoax?’ (inked by Mooney) as Falcon, Sharon and Cap endure an acrimonious confrontation with Nick 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 sexy activist Leila and stamps his mark on the local gangs as the Falcon – Steve and Sharon book a holiday in the Bahamas, but it isn’t long before Falcon catches Captain America committing racist attacks in New York. Enraged, Falcon tracks him down but was easily beaten since supposed 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 and 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 holiday refuge but is too late to prevent an ambush wherein Steve 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, 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 Buscema & John 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…

Wrapping up the patriotic revival is a stirring short selection of original art.

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 depicted by top rank artists and storytellers. Here 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…
© 1972, 1973, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Deadpool Classic volume 1


By Fabien Nicieza, Rob Liefeld, Mark Waid, Joe Kelly, Joe Madureira, Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks, Ken Lashley, Ed McGuiness & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3124-3 (TPB)

Bloodthirsty killers and stylish mercenaries have long made for popular protagonists. Here’s one we prepared earlier. Deadpool is Wade Wilson: a survivor of genetics experiments that have left him a scarred, grotesque bundle of scabs and physical unpleasantries – but practically invulnerable and capable of regenerating from literally any wound.

In his modern incarnation he’s also either one of the few beings able to perceive the true nature of reality or a total gibbering loon…

Collecting – in paperback and digital editions – his early outrages from New Mutants #98, Deadpool: The Circle Chase, Deadpool: Sins of the Past and Deadpool #1 (spanning February 1991 to January1997), this tome is the first in a series archiving his ever more outlandish escapades…

The wisecracking high-tech “merc with a mouth” was created by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza and first appeared in the aforementioned New Mutants #98 in ‘The Beginning of the End’. A throwaway killer in a convoluted saga of mutant mayhem with little else to recommend it, he was another product of the Canadian “Weapon X” project that created Wolverine and so many other second-string mutant and cyborg super-doers. Here he fails to kill future warrior Cable and his teen acolytes (imminently rebranded as X-Force)…

His first shot at stardom came with 4-issue miniseries The Circle Chase from August to November 1993 and by Nicieza, Joe Madureira & Mark Farmer. A fast-paced if cluttered thriller sees Wade pursuing an ultimate weapon as one of a large crowd of mutants and variously enhanced ne’er-do-wells trying to secure the fabled legacy of arms dealer and fugitive from the future Mr. Tolliver.

Among the other worthies after the boodle in ‘Ducks in a Row’, ‘Rabbit Season, Duck Season’, ‘…And Quacks Like a Duck…’ and ‘Duck Soup’ are Black Tom and the Juggernaut, the then-latest iteration of Weapon X, shape-shifter Copycat and a host of disposable yet fashionable cyborg loons with odd names like Commcast and Slayback.

If you can swallow any nausea associated with the dreadful trappings of this low point in Marvel’s tempestuous history, there is a sharp and entertaining little thriller underneath…

The second miniseries (from August to November 1994) revolves around Black Tom and Juggernaut.

Collaboratively contrived by writer Mark Waid, pencillers Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks, Ken Lashley and inkers Jason Minor, Bob McLeod, Bub LaRosa, Tom Wegryzn, Philip Moy & W.C. Carani, ‘If Looks Could Kill!’, ‘Luck of the Irish’, ‘Deadpool, Sandwich’ and ‘Mano a Mano’ offer a hyperkinetic race against time heavy on explosive action.

During the previous yarn it was revealed that Irish arch-villain Black Tom was slowly turning into a tree. Desperate to save his life the bad guy and his best bud Juggernaut manipulate Wade by exploiting the mercenary’s relationship with Siryn (a sonic mutant and Tom’s niece).

Believing Deadpool’s regenerating factor holds a cure, the villains cause a bucket-load of carnage at a time when Wilson is at his lowest ebb. Packed with mutant guest stars, this is a shallow but immensely readable piece of eye-candy.

Closing this debut Classic collection is the first fun-&-fury filled issue of Deadpool by Joe Kelly, Ed McGuiness, Nathan Massengill & Norman Lee. Opting for devious, daring, near-the knuckle comedy to balance the manic action, it is the true beginning of the killer clown we all know and love…

Extra-sized spectacular ‘Hey, It’s Deadpool!’ reintroduces the mouthy malcontent, and depicts his “office” and “co-workers” at the Hellhouse where he picks up his contracts. We are also afforded a glimpse at Wade’s private life in San Francisco where he has a house and keeps an old, blind lady as a permanent hostage. This was never your regular run-of-the-mill hero comic…

The insane action part of the tale comes from the South Pole where the Canadian government has a super-secret gamma weapon project going, guarded by the Alpha Flight strongman Sasquatch. Somebody is paying good money to have it destroyed so cue merc, mouthiness, and mayhem…

Featuring a frenetic blend of light-hearted, surreal, fighting frolics and incisive, poignant relationship drama that is absolutely compulsive reading for dyed-in-the-wool superhero fans who might be feeling just a little jaded with four-colour overload, this is the real deal and promises more and better to come…
© 1993, 1994, 1996, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Marvel Masterworks volume 9


By Gerry Conway & Gene Colan, with Tom Palmer, Syd Shores, Ernie Chan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-78519-152-0 (HB)

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…

DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists and a plethora of super-villains; quipping his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody quasi-religious metaphor he was seen as in later years.

Covering March 1972 to February 1973 and re-presenting Daredevil (and the Black Widow) this ninth swashbuckling compilation (available in both hardback and eBook formats) sees the once staid and so-very-Establishment Murdock cohabiting with a Russian spy and dumping New York for the sunny climes of the West Coast, the reason for which are covered in writers Gerry Conway’s Introduction ‘Matt and Natasha’s San Francisco Adventure or Wherever you go, There You Are’

This volume opens in the aftermath of a grand cataclysmic clash against future-born hidden mastermind Mr. Kline which leaves the odd couple in Switzerland and #85 sees the couple tentatively beginning a romantic alliance and returning to America on a ‘Night Flight!’ courtesy of Conway, Gene Colan & inker Syd 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) before Matt and Natasha relocate from the Big Apple to San Francisco and stumble into one more ancient Daredevil enemy in #87’s ‘From Stage Left, Enter: Electro!’

The memory lane menaces continue in ‘Call Him Killgrave!’ as the mind-bending Purple Man emerges from the anonymous shadows, erroneously convinced his nemesis has tracked him down to queer his nefarious schemes.

As the origin of the Black Widow is revealed for the first time (something that has been overwritten, back-written and chucked in a plot blender interminably ever since) the sinister spellbinder attacks and is temporarily repulsed only to regroup with Electro and attack again in ‘Crisis!’ just as a mysterious man from Natasha’s sordid past resurfaces with portentous news of a long-forgotten mission…

Daredevil #90 explores ‘The Sinister Secret of Project Four!’ as Hornhead starts suffering inexplicable, incapacitating panic attacks, explained a month later in ‘Fear is the Key!’ when Mister Fear strikes again… only to be revealed as far more than he seems…

Issue #92 finally bowed to the inevitable and became Daredevil and the Black Widow, just as a new menace manifests ‘On the Eve of the Talon!’ before the Project Four saga roars to a conclusion with the introduction of industrialist and paranoid arms-dealer Damon Dran who claims ‘A Power Corrupt!’ before being transformed into a proto-Kaiju and monolithic Indestructible Man rampaging through San Francisco…

Callously, arrogantly aware that ‘He Can Crush the World!’, Dran severely underestimates the power of superhuman heroism and an ultimate sacrifice which tragically saves the day…

Ending this collection – and the trawling of the Scarlet Swashbuckler’s rogues gallery – ‘Bullfight on the Bay!’ saw the metamorphic Man-Bull break jail and start a storm of destruction to revenge himself upon Daredevil, forcing Natasha to do her very worst in the concluding chapter ‘The Widow Will Make You Pay!’(inked by Ernie Chan), a complex tale of love, obsession, revenge and mutagenic potions in the water supply….

Topped off with a far too short selection of original art pages, and despite a few bumpy, dated moments, this book highlights a period where Daredevil blossomed into a truly potent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart, contemporarily astute stories, human and fallible characters and always, always magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1970, 1971, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Silver Surfer: Parable


By Stan Lee & Moebius; Keith Pollard, with Tom DeFalco & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785162094 (HB) 978-0785106562 (TPB)

With a celebratory 30th Anniversary Edition due out in summer here’s a cheap look at an earlier edition, collecting a landmark reboot tale featuring the fabled Sentinel of the Spaceways (and also including one not so well known).

The most eclectic of comicbook cult figures, the Silver Surfer saga began with the deservedly lauded and legendary introductory story. Although pretty much a last-minute addition to Lee’s plot for Fantastic Four#48-50’s ‘Galactus Trilogy’, Jack Kirby’s gleaming creation became a watchword for depth and subtext in the Marvel Universe, and one Lee kept as his own personal toy for many years.

Sent to find planets for star god Galactus to consume, the Silver Surfer discovers Earth, where the latent nobility of humanity reawakens his own suppressed morality. He rebels against his master and helps the FF save the planet and in retaliation, Galactus imprisons the Surfer on Earth, the ultimate outsider on a planet remarkably ungrateful for his sacrifice.

The Galactus Saga was a creative highlight of a period where the Lee/Kirby partnership was utterly on fire: an adventure with all the power and grandeur of a true epic and one which has has never been surpassed for drama, thrills and sheer entertainment.

That’s not here but can be found in many other compilations. Sorry.

‘Parable’ was released as an Epic Comics micro-series in 1988-1989, featuring an all-new interpretation of Galactus’ initial assault on our backwards world, illustrated by legendary French artist Jean Giraud/Moebius. As with the 1978 Fireside Books/Simon & Schuster Silver Surfer book by Lee & Kirby, the story is removed from normal Marvel continuity, allowing the creators to focus on the unique philosophical nature of the Surfer and his ravenous master without the added distraction of hundreds of super-heroes.

It’s a beautiful piece of work you really should read.

Following is The Enslavers: a self-indulgent but oddly entertaining slice of intergalactic eye-candy featuring the legendary icon of the counter-culture generation. Once again it depicts the ex-herald of planet-devouring Galactus as a tragic saviour and Christ metaphor. Now however it’s not our troubled humanity but the overwhelming power of slavers from space that threatens humanity, and there’s a lot less breast-beating and soul-searching and far more cosmic action.

The story by Stan Lee (and Keith Pollard) has a rather odd genesis. Commissioned in the early 1980s by Jim Shooter, Lee’s original plot was apparently much transformed in the eight years it took to draw. By the time it was dialogued, it was a much different beast and Lee almost jokingly disowns it in his Afterword. Nevertheless, there’s lots to enjoy for the fan who doesn’t expect too much in this tale of love and death in the great beyond. It’s inked by Josef Rubinstein, José Marzan & Chris Ivy, coloured by Paul Mounts and lettered by Michael Heisler.

After a frantic rush through cosmic gulfs, Silver Surfer Norrin Radd crashes into the home of Reed and Sue Richards, just ahead of the colossal invasion craft of monstrous Mrrungo-Mu, who has been drawn to our world by the well-intentioned but naïve Nasa probe Voyager III.

The Surfer’s homeworld Zenn-La has already been depopulated by the awesome space slaver and Earth is next…

Moving swiftly, and exploiting the good intentions of an Earth scientist, the Enslavers incapacitate all our world’s superbeings and prepare to enjoy their latest conquest, but they have not accounted for the vengeful resistance of the Surfer or the debilitating power of the love Mrrungo-Mu is himself slave to: for the unbeatable alien warlord is weak and helpless before the haughty aloofness and emotional distance of his supposed chattel Tnneya

Despite being dafter than a bag of space-weasels in far too many places, there is still an obvious love of the old, classic Marvel tales delivered at an enthusiastic pace informing these beautifully drawn pages and the action sequences are a joy to behold. If you love cosmic adventure and can swallow a lot of silliness, this might just be worth a little of your time and money.

Altogether a very strange marriage, this is a compelling tome spanning the vast divide of comics from the ethereal and worthy to the exuberant and fun: a proper twofer you can get your teeth into…
© 1988, 1989, 1990, 2012 Marvel Entertainment Group/Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Nova Classic vol 2


By Marv Wolfman, David Anthony Kraft, Sal Buscema, Carmine Infantino, Bob Hall, Don Perlin, Keith Pollard & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8544-4 (TPB)

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

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

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

As seen in this second no-nonsense compilation collecting Nova #13-19 plus guest shots from Defenders #62-64, Fantastic Four Annual #12 and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #3, (cumulatively covering September 1977-September 1978), the neophyte learned quickly and on-the-job, earning a sterling reputation, but never quite settled on what he should be doing…

The Man Called Nova was in fact a boy named Richard Rider. The new kid was a working-class teen nebbish in the tradition of Peter Parker – except he was good at sports and bad at learning – who attended Harry S. Truman High School, where his strict dad was the principal.

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

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

Nova borrowed heavily from Green Lantern as well as the wallcrawler’s origin, as Rider’s life changes forever when a colossal star-ship with a dying alien aboard transfers to the lad all the mighty powers of an extraterrestrial peacekeeper and warrior. Centurion Rhomann Dey was tracking a deadly marauder to Earth. Zorr had already destroyed the warrior’s idyllic homeworld Xandar, but the severely wounded, vengeance-seeking Nova Prime was too near death and could not avenge the genocide.

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

This compelling trade paperback and/or digitally formatted epic resumes the non-stop action courtesy of Wolfman, Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott, Nova #13 begins another extended tale with the introduction of debutante hero Crime-Buster in ‘Watch Out World, the Sandman is Back!’

After the once-formidable villain takes a beating, he falls under the influence of a far more sinister menace. Meanwhile, Rich Rider’s dad is going through some bad times and succumbed to the blandishments fallen of a dangerous subversive organisation…

The story continues in the Dick Giordano inked ‘Massacre at Truman High!’ as Sandman attacks Nova’s school and the mystery mastermind is revealed for in-the-know older fans, before guest-star-stuffed action-riot ‘The Fury Before the Storm!’ sees veteran illustrator Carmine Infantino take over pencilling as Tom Palmer returns to the brushstrokes.

When a bunch of established heroes attack the newbie all at once, it’s even money they’re fakes, but Nick Fury of super-spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. is real enough and deputises the fledgling fighter for #16’s ‘Death is the Yellow Claw!’ and #17’s spectacular confrontation ‘Tidal Wave!’

As the kid comes good and saves the city of New York from a soggy demise, the long-anticipated conclusion occurs in ‘The Final Showdown!’, inked – as is ‘Beginnings’ (a short side-bar story dealing with the fate of the elder Rider) – by the agglomeration of last-minute-deadline-busters dubbed “the Tribe.”

A new foe premieres in #19: ‘Blackout Means Business and his Business is Murder!’ opens the final large story-arc of the series, as an ebon-energy wielding maniac attacks Nova, but before that epic completely engages, the Human Rocket guest-stars in some other Marvel titles.

Although included here November 1977’s Fantastic Four Annual #12, isn’t one of them. It proclaims ‘The End of Inhumans… and the Fantastic Four’ (by Wolfman, pencillers Bob Hall & Keith Pollard and inker Bob Wiacek) and lacks any sight of Nova, but does involve the aforementioned heroes battling rogue Inhuman tyrant Thraxon, and his mysterious sponsor. That is old Nova foe the immortal Sphinx, who shares his origins and plans for the Human Rocket before being trounced by the assembled team…

Just slightly lightly less notional is Nova’s appearance in Defenders #62-64, (August to October 1978 by David Anthony Kraft, Sal Buscema, Don Perlin & Jim Mooney). ‘Membership Madness’, ‘Deadlier by the Dozen!’ and ‘D-Day!’ depict how a poorly-judged and unwanted TV documentary leads an army of superheroes – Nova included – to seek membership in the Defenders, leading to chaos and blockbusting battle with Zodiac and an army of villains trying to legitimise their crimes…

This side-bar saga comes with the first two pages of #65 (illustrated by Perlin & Bruce D. Berry) to complete the experience before moving on to a proper team-up from Marvel Two-In-One Annual #3 (September 1978).

Battling beside the Thing in a simple yet entertaining tussle with god-like cosmic marauders Nova resists mightily ‘When Strike the Monitors!’ – crafted by Wolfman, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt – to save an alien princess and save Earth from demolition.

Adding even more value is a selection of original art pages from Buscema & Giordano, Hall & Wiacek, Buscema & Hunt, Giacoia and Perlin, plus past collection covers by John Romita Jr. Bob Layton, Ed Hannigan, Rich Buckler and John Buscema,

There’s a lot of good, solid fights ‘n’ tights entertainment and fabulous superhero art here, and Nova has proved his intrinsic value by returning again and again. This stalwart edition is one readers can rely on to deliver the blockbusting basics in the approved Marvel Manner.
© 1977, 1978, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Ricardo Villamonte & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1194-8 (HB) 978-0-7851-4570-7 (TPB)

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

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

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

Although the 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 refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories until Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique with a brand-new team in Giant Size X-Men #1 in 1975.

To old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire was added one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine, and all-original creations Kurt Wagner, a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler, African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin, who transformed at will into a living steel Colossus and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

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

Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster shifted and changed the series rose to even greater heights, culminating in the landmark Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved and imaginative character.

In the aftermath team leader Cyclops left but the epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the epochal working relationship of Claremont and Byrne. Within months of publication they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with the mutants whilst Byrne moved on to establish his own reputation as a writer on series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionised and freshly-groundbreaking Fantastic Four

After Apache warrior Thunderbird became the team’s first fatality, the survivors slowly bonded, becoming an infallible fighting unit under the brusque and draconian supervision of Cyclops.

This third titanic compilation (available in luxurious hardcover, trade paperback and eBook editions) is perfect for newbies, neophytes and even old lags nervous about reading such splendid yarns on fragile but extremely valuable newsprint paper. It celebrates the unstoppable march to market dominance through the pivotal early stories: specifically, issues #111-121 of the decidedly “All-New, All-Different” X-Men – spanning June 1978 to May 1979.

The drama resumes cloaked in moody mystery as ‘Mindgames’ (by dream team Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Terry Austin) sees the Beast visit a circus in search of the new team. They have been missing for weeks…

His presence disrupts a devilish scheme by mutant hypnotist Mesmero to subjugate the heroes through false memories and implanted personalities, but the reawakened team’s vengeance is forestalled when their greatest enemy ambushes them…

In X-Men #112 the revived and furious heroes fight and fail, leaving ‘Magneto Triumphant!’ and his enemies helplessly imprisoned miles beneath Antarctica in the tense, action-packed battle bonanza follow-up ‘Showdown!’

However, by the time the Polaric tyrant returns after terrorising the humans of Australia, the X-Men have broken free and are waiting for him…

In the apocalyptic battle which follows the base is utterly destroyed and Magneto grievously wounded. With boiling lava flooding everywhere, only Beast and Phoenix manage to reach the surface and, in horror, realise they are the only survivors…

They could not be more wrong.

Unable to go up, the remaining mutants tunnel downwards and ‘Desolation!’ turns to joy as they emerge into the antediluvian wilderness dubbed the Savage Land.

Linking up with old ally Ka-Zar, the team slowly recover in a dinosaur-filled elysian paradise. The idyll is rudely shattered when former foe Karl Lykos succumbs to his old addiction and absorbs their mutant energies to become lethal leather-winged predator Sauron

His ‘Visions of Death!’ are readily dispelled by the assembled heroes, but he’s just the first course in a campaign of terror as crazy, colonializing barbarian queen Zaladane revives proto-god Garokk as the figurehead of her army of conquest…

When the insane imperialists meddling disrupts the tropical climate of the sub-polar region, Ka-Zar and the X-Men invade their noxious citadel ‘To Save the Savage Land’, where the brutal battle demands the best and worst from the young warriors before the job is done…

With the distasteful task completed, the mutants opt to try a perilous sea-passage back to the outside world…

Uncanny X-Men #117 begins with their rescue by an Antarctic exploration vessel, heralding a slow torturous voyage to Japan, before lapsing into an untold tale of Charles Xavier in his globe-trotting days prior to losing the use of his legs. ‘Psi War!’ is full of clever, in-filling insights as it details how the dispirited, restless young telepath fetches up in Cairo and meets his first “Evil Mutant”…

Amahl Farouk uses his psionic abilities to rule the city’s underworld: a depraved, debauched monster who thinks he is beyond justice. The enraged, disgusted Xavier defeats the beast and in doing so find his life’s purpose…

A revelatory 2-part epic follows as the X-Men – still believed dead by Xavier, Jean and the wider world – arrive in Agarashima, just as the port is being devastated by a vast firestorm. Inked by Ricardo Villamonte, ‘The Submergence of Japan!’ sees tectonic terrorist Moses Magnum undertake a most audacious blackmail scheme, countered by the valiant mutants who briefly reunite with old – and still belligerently surly – comrade Sunfire.

Perhaps he is just surprised to discover Wolverine has unsuspected connections to Japan and has turned the head of local highborn maid Lady Mariko. A bigger surprise awaits the American specialist the government have brought in. Misty Knight is Jean Grey’s roommate in Manhattan and grieved with her at the X-Men’s deaths.

Now she has to tell Cyclops his girl has moved on and Professor X has abandoned Earth for the Shi’ar Empire…

Of course, all of that is moot if they can’t stop Magnum and his Mandroid army sinking Japan into the Pacific, but after a catastrophic conflict inside a volcano there’s a seasonal reunion in store for all in the Austin-inked ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…’

This volume concludes with another tumultuous two-parter and the introduction of a foreign super-squad in ‘Wanted: Wolverine! Dead or Alive!’, as the enigmatic wild man – accompanied by Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Banshee and Nightcrawler – returns from a bombastic battle and heartbreak in Japan only to be covertly herded into Canadian airspace so that the Ottawa government can confiscate their former property…

Forced down by a magical tempest, the heroes are soon on the run in Calgary, ambushed by the aforementioned Alpha Flight – specifically battle-armoured Vindicator, super-strong Sasquatch, First Nations magician Shaman, shapeshifting Snowbird and mutant speedster twins Northstar and Aurora – all ordered to repossess at any cost former special operative and top super-agent “The Wolverine”…

After a brutal but inconclusive clash at the airport the X-Men fade into the city but only after Wolverine and Nightcrawler are captured…

The retaliation results in a ‘Shoot-Out at the Stampede!’ with the mutants confronting their pursuers as Shaman’s eldritch blizzard spirals out of control, threatening to destroy the entire province. Even after Storm fixes the problem, the Canadians are adamant, so to end hostilities Wolverine surrenders himself in return for his comrades’ safe passage.

Of course, he never promised to stay arrested…

These are some of the greatest stories Marvel ever published; entertaining, groundbreaking and uncannily intoxicating: an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
© 1977, 1978, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 8


By Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Chris Claremont, Gary Friedrich, Herb Trimpe, Dick Ayers, John Severin& various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8854-4 (HB)

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

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

This chronologically-curated hardback and eBook compendium re-presents issues #145-156, encompassing cover-dates November 1971 to October 1972 and opens after a self-deprecating Introduction from Trimpe offers a few more intimate behind-the-scenes secrets…

Incredible Hulk #145 is a double-length package which finds the man-monster invading a film-set in Egypt and accidentally awakening a prehistoric alien war-weapon in ‘Godspawn’. Crafted by Thomas, Len Wein, Trimpe and sublime inker John Severin, it offers plenty of mindless Hulk Smash action and a portion of pathos, even as back in the USA, the military – in the form of Ross and Major Glenn Talbot – open dedicated anti-Hulk base “Project Greenskin”…

Gerry Conway scripted Thomas’ plot for ‘And the Measure of a Man is… Death!’, wherein the Jade Juggernaut faces sandstorms, bitter memories and the Israeli army in the deserts of Northern Egypt whilst in America the Hulk-buster base is already being infiltrated by android facsimiles constructed by the Hulk’s greatest foe.

Drawn instinctively homeward, the Gamma Goliath reaches the base just as said infiltration threatens the US President himself, leading to a catastrophic clash between Old Greenskin and The Leader as well as ‘The End of Doc Samson!’. The issue (#147) also includes a moving and powerful vignette ‘Heaven is a Very Small Place!’ wherein Thomas, Trimpe & Severin take the tormented titan to the very edge of paradise before horrifying reality once more reasserts itself…

Archie Goodwin debuted as scripter – with a little plotting assistance from a very junior Chris Claremont – in ‘But Tomorrow… the Sun Shall Die!’ as the monster’s lost love Jarella travels to Earth and a longed-for reunion just as Banner is apparently cured of his curse by radical solar-energy experimentation. Unfortunately, the princess from the micro-verse accidentally brings with her a super-assassin determined to end her life at all costs and the double voyage somehow sparks the sun into going nova…

Forced to become the monster once again to save his beloved, the Hulk is captured by Ross’s forces only to escape when an ancient threat crashes back to Earth in #149, hungry for radiation to survive in ‘… And Who Shall Claim This Earth His Own? The Inheritor!’

After dispatching that creepy threat the Gamma Goliath wanders into the wilderness where he encounters on-sabbatical X-Man Alec Summers. He had banished himself – with girlfriend Lorna Dane visiting at just the wrong moment – to the deserts of New Mexico, terrified of his uncontrollable cosmic power in ‘Cry Hulk, Cry Havok!’ (#150 April 1972).

When Lorna clashes with a menacing biker gang and an Emerald Giant violently protective of his privacy, Summers finally proves himself against the rampaging but easily distracted titan…

‘When Monsters Meet!’ then pits the Hulk against a flesh-consuming radioactive horror resulting from a disastrous cancer cure derived from Banner’s blood after which Gary Friedrich, Dick Ayers & Frank Giacoia ask ‘But Who Will Judge the Hulk?’, wherein the helpless, freshly captured Banner is sent to trial for the destruction wrought by his emerald alter ego. The guest-star studded 2-parter concludes in suitable calamity and chaos in #153’s ‘My World, My Jury!’, which includes additional art by Trimpe & Severin.

After explosively escaping the kangaroo court, the fugitive fury discovers ‘Hell is a Very Small Hulk!’ (Goodwin, Trimpe & Severin) when he swallows a defective shrinking formula. The serum was created and discarded by the Astonishing Ant-Man, but it’s worth the risk for Hulk’s forlorn attempts to rejoin Jarella in her subatomic world.

Snatched up by the face-shifting Chameleon and assembled hordes of Hydra, the diminished brute still manages to quash their treasonous schemes – at the apparent cost of his life.

In actuality, the Hulk is shrinking in sporadic bursts, propelled into a succession of micro-worlds, including an impossible “Earth” where Nazis seemingly won WWII in ‘Destination: Nightmare!’ The incredible truth reveals the meddlings of a cosmic entity named Shaper of Worlds who tempts the Green Gargantuan with an empty paradise, before another shrinking spasm happily deposits Hulk on Jarella’s world in time for ‘Holocaust at the Heart of the Atom!’ (inked by Sal Trapani): pitting the monster against his worst nightmare – himself – before once again losing his true love to the vicissitudes of cruel fate and cosmic chance…

Wrapping up the smashing fun is the cover to Incredible Hulk Annual #4 and a fascinating glimpse into editorial thinking in creating a cover.

The Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, TV shows and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these yarns so why not Go Green.
© 1971, 1972, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 3

By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2063-6 (HB)                    978-0-7851-8803-2 (TPB)

During the Marvel Renaissance of the early 1960’s Stan Lee & Jack Kirby tried the same tactic that had worked so tellingly for DC Comics, but with mixed results. Julie Schwartz had scored an incredible success with his revised versions of the company’s Golden Age greats, so it seemed natural to try and revive the characters that had dominated Timely/Atlas in those halcyon days.

A new Human Torch had premiered as part of the revolutionary Fantastic Four, and in the fourth issue of that title the Sub-Mariner resurfaced after a 20-year amnesiac hiatus (everyone concerned had apparently forgotten the first abortive attempt to revive an “Atlas” superhero line in the mid-1950s).

The Torch was promptly given his own solo feature in Strange Tales from issue #101 on, and in #114 the flaming teen fought an acrobat pretending to be Captain America. With reader reaction strong, the real thing promptly resurfaced in Avengers #4 and, after a captivating and centre-stage hogging run in that title, was granted his own series as half of the “split-book” Tales of Suspense (from #59, cover-dated November 1964).

Marvel’s inexorable rise to dominance in the American comicbook industry really took hold in 1968 when a number of their characters finally got their own titles. Prior to that and due to a highly restrictive distribution deal, the company was tied to a limit of 16 publications per month. To circumvent this, Marvel developed titles with two series per publication, such as Tales of Suspense where original star Iron Man shared honours with Cap. When the division came, Shellhead started afresh with a First Issue, and Cap retained the numbering of the original title; thereby premiering with #100.

This resoundingly resolute full-colour collection – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – gathers Captain America #101-#113, spanning May 1968 to May 1969, and also includes a fervent Introductory reminiscence from John Morrow plus a fascinating Afterword by Steranko wherein he meticulously deconstructs the landmark epic that fills the end of this titanic tome…

Crafted by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & 1940s Cap illustrator Syd Shores, Captain America #101-102 sees the return of fascist revenant the Red Skull and another appalling Nazi revenge-weapon in ‘When Wakes the Sleeper!’ and furious finale ‘The Sleeper Strikes!’ as our hero and his support crew Agent 13 and Nick Fury hunt a murderous mechanoid capable of ghosting through solid Earth and blowing up the planet…

Although the immediate threat is quashed, the instigator is still at large and #103 reveals ‘The Weakest Link!’ as a budding romance with S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent 13 (finally revealed after two years as Sharon Carter) is interrupted by the nefarious Nazi.

The über-fascist’s new scheme of nuclear blackmail extends to a second issue, wherein his band of war-criminal assassins, The Exiles, test Cap nigh to destruction on the hidden isle where he becomes the ‘Slave of the Skull!’

That issue and following super-villain team-up – wherein Living Laser and the Swordsman ally with another old Cap foe to attack ‘In the Name of Batroc!’ – feature the loose, flowing inking of Dan Adkins, whilst Frank Giacoia embellished the all-action, spies-&-evil-doppelgangers romp ‘Cap goes Wild!’ in issue #106, before Shores returned in #107.

Sinister mystery ‘If the Past Be Not Dead…’ is an action-packed psycho-thriller introducing malevolent, mind-bending psychiatrist Doctor Faustus

The Star-Spangled Avenger is rescuing Agent 13 again – at least he thinks he is – in breakneck thriller ‘The Snares of the Trapster!’ before Captain America #109 redefined his origin with ‘The Hero That Was!’: a spectacular wrap-up to Kirby’s run on the Sentinel of Liberty – at least for the moment…

Comics phenomenon and one-man sensation Jim Steranko then took over the art direction with #110 for a too-brief stint that became everybody’s favourite Cap epic for decades to come.

After a swift and brutal skirmish with the Incredible Hulk, teen appendage Rick Jones becomes the patriotic paladin’s new sidekick in ‘No Longer Alone!’, just in time for the pair to tackle the memorably lascivious Madame Hydra and her obedient hordes in #111’s ‘Tomorrow You Live, Tonight I Die!’ – both inked by Joe Sinnott in a landmark saga that inspired and galvanised a generation of would-be comics artists.

With the Avenger seemingly killed at the issue’s close, the next month saw a bombastic account of Captain America’s career by fill-in superstars Kirby & George Tuska, before Lee, Steranko & Tom Palmer concluded the Hydra epic with ‘The Strange Death of Captain America’ in #113. This yarn reset the hero’s character for years to come…

Also on offer are a selection of Kirby’s original art pages and covers, including rejected and unseen pencil versions prior to editing and the draconian interference of the Comics Code Authority…

These are tales of dauntless courage and unmatchable adventure, fast-paced and superbly illustrated, which rightly returned Captain America to the heights that his Golden Age compatriots Human Torch and Sub-Mariner never regained. They are pure escapist magic: glorious treats for the eternally young at heart, and episodes of sheer visual dynamite that cannot be slighted and should not be missed.

© 1968, 1969, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Silver Surfer Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, John Buscema, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1177-1(HB)                     978-0-7851-4596-1(TPB)

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

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

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

The Galactus Saga was a creative highlight from a period where the Lee/Kirby partnership was utterly on fire. The tale has all the power and grandeur of a true epic and has never been surpassed for drama, thrills and sheer entertainment. It’s not included here…

In 1968, after increasingly frequent guest-shots and a solo adventure in the back of Fantastic Four Annual #5, the Surfer finally got his own (initially double-length) title at long last.

The stories in this series were highly acclaimed – if not really commercially successful – both for John Buscema’s agonised, emphatic and truly beautiful artwork, as well as Lee’s deeply spiritual and philosophical scripts.

The tone was accusatory; with the isolated alien’s travails and social observations creating a metaphoric status akin to a Christ-figure for an audience that was maturing and rebelling against America’s creaking and unsavoury status quo.

This stellar collection – available in deluxe hardback, sturdy trade paperback and assorted eBook formats – gathers Silver Surfer #7-18, spanning August 1969 to September 1970 when the classy experiment ended on a never to be properly resolved cliffhanger.

Consider yourself warned…

Just in case you need reminding: Norrin Radd, discontented soul from an alien paradise named Zenn-La, voluntarily became the gleaming herald of a planetary scourge to save his homeworld. Radd had constantly chafed against a civilisation in comfortable, sybaritic stagnation, but when Galactus shattered their million years of progress in a fleeting moment, the dissident without hesitation offered himself as a sacrifice to save his people from the Devourer’s hunger.

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

Following a customarily florid Introductory reminiscence from author Stan Lee, the cosmic Passion Play resumes, illustrated by John Buscema & his brother Sal.

Times and tastes were changing and by the August 1969 cover-dated Silver Surfer #7 many of the Comics Code injunctions against horror stories were being eroded away. Thus ‘The Heir of Frankenstein!’ and his misshapen but noble assistant Borgo debuted to terrorise their small Balkan community and tap into the growing monster movie zeitgeist of the era.

The last maniac of a sullied line of scientists wants to outdo his infamous ancestor and achieves his aim by his tricking the Skyrider into becoming the victim of a deadly duplication experiment.

As a result, the Surfer has to battle a cosmic-fuelled facsimile with all his power but none of his noble ideals or merciful intentions…

Despite some truly groundbreaking comics creativity, the title remained a disappointing seller and, with #8 (September 1969) the title was reduced to a standard 20-page story format and boosted to monthly frequency in an attempt to bolster and build a regular readership.

With Dan Adkins lavishly inking John Buscema, Lee’s stories also became more action-adventure and less contemporary parable, with ‘Now Strikes the Ghost’ bringing back Satan-analogue Mephisto to further plague and imperil the shining sentinel. This he does by resurrecting and augmenting the tortured spectre of cruel and callous mariner Captain Joost Van Straaten, promising that phantom eternal peace in return for crushing Norrin Radd.

The Lord of Lies’ sinister scheme ‘…To Steal the Surfer’s Soul!’ concluded in #9 when the hero’s compassion trumps the tormented Flying Dutchman’s greed and Mephisto’s demonic lust for victory, after which events take another convoluted turn for the solitary starman…

In ‘A World He Never Made!’ long-lost true love Shalla Bal hitches a ride with ambitious and lustful Zenn-Lavian Yarro Gort, who had built a starship to ferry her to Earth and prove he is a far worthier paramour than her former beau.

Her silver-metal lover, meanwhile, has again attempted to integrate with humanity, becoming embroiled in a South American war and saving dedicated rebel Donna Maria Perez from the marauding soldiers of sadistic dictator El Capitan. When the freedom fighter thanks him with a kiss, Gort ensures his ship’s scanners pick up the gesture for Shalla’s benefit…

Issue #11 then sees the sleek star-craft shot down by El Capitan’s forces and Gort join the dictator to build world-conquering weaponry. The combined villains are still no match for the Surfer’s fury, but Radd’s joy in reunion with his true love is quickly crushed when Shalla is gravely injured and he must despatch her back beyond Galactus’ barrier to be healed in ‘O, Bitter Victory!’

In Silver Surfer #12, Lee, Buscema & Adkins mix a few genres as ‘Gather Ye Witches!’ exposes a British coven accidentally summoning gamma-ray mutation the Abomination from exile on a far planet (rather than the intended supernatural slave from Hell), leaving the Skyrider no choice but to battle the brute through the ruins of London, after which ‘The Dawn of the Doomsday Man!’ in the following issues sees seemingly repentant scientist Dr. Kronton implore the Surfer to destroy an apparently unstoppable killer robot stored in a US military bunker.

The sinister savant only wants the trusting alien to afford him access to a prototype Cobalt bomb, but their unwise invasion triggers the assassin automaton’s awakening anyway…

With sales still dropping, #14 saw the adoption of team-up tactics goose interest. ‘The Surfer and the Spider!’ details how a typical Marvel misunderstanding provokes a fighting mad and deeply humiliated Spider-Man into repeatedly attacking the gleaming extraterrestrial, accidentally endangering a young boy in the process…

A similar snafu in ‘The Flame and the Fury!’ pits an angry and distrustful Surfer against former ally Johnny Storm – AKA the Human Torch – when Norrin misconstrues a military request for aid as a betrayal.

The shock and shame leave the humbled exile easy prey when a wicked devil hungry for the Surfer’s soul resurfaces in #16’s ‘In the Hands… of Mephisto!’

Inked by Chic Stone, the tale reveals how the tempter abducts the now-healed Shalla Bal from Zenn-La and forces his anguished pious prey to betray his principles and ensure her safety. The saga concludes in ‘The Surfer Must Kill!’ when the vile seducer orders his victim to destroy peacekeeping espionage force S.H.I.E.L.D., while clandestinely hiding the Surfer’s beloved amidst the agents, intending that she die by her oblivious lover’s cosmic-powered hand…

Happily, the scheme is foiled, though more by luck than intent, and the poor lass is (apparently) returned home. The Surfer’s fate is not so fortunate…

With nothing else working to boost sales, Marvel’s miracle worker returned to his creation but it was too late. Silver Surfer #18 (September 1970) features ‘To Smash the Inhumans!’ by Lee, Jack Kirby & Herb Trimpe and depicts the puzzled, embattled alien philosopher overtaken by rage against all humanity after surviving a misguided attack by Black Bolt and the warriors of hidden city Attilan.

The “Savagely Sensational New Silver Surfer” promised at the end of that unfinished tale was never seen. Kirby was on his way to DC to create his magnificent Fourth World Trilogy and the bean-counters at the House of Ideas had already decreed the Skyrider’s publishing demise.

He vanished into the Limbo of fond memory and occasional guest-shots which afflicted so many costumed characters at the beginning of the 1970s, making way for a wave of supernatural heroes and horrors that capitalised on the periodic revival of interest in magic and mystery fare.

It would 1981 before Norrin Radd would helm his own title again…

That’s not quite the end of this spectacular tome, however. Included for your delectation are a host of original art pages and covers, a reprint cover gallery from Fantasy Masterpieces, and a brace of Buscema covers from the 2001 Marvel Essential collection.

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

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

After the Lee/Kirby/Ditko sparks had initially fired up the imaginations of readers in the early days, the deeper, subtler overtones and undercurrents offered by stories like these kept a maturing readership enthralled, loyal and abidingly curious as to what else comics could achieve if given half a chance, and this fabulously lavish tome offers the perfect way to discover or recapture the thrill and wonder of those startlingly different days and times.
© 1969, 1970, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.